Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 comes to a close ...

1 December 2012, Sandomierz, Poland
Ah, jet lag is such fun.  I was awake at 4:30 am yesterday ... and today at 2:30.  I’ll be adjusted to this time zone by the time I leave for the US.  

Ewa, our translator, Steve from TechnoServe and I met for dinner last night as other board members were arriving later.  The professor joined us shortly after we started, but I was too tired to wait for Ryszard M. who took the train. Yes, amazingly the train has returned to Sandomierz after the tracks were flooded out a few years ago.  One train to/from Warsaw each day and it takes five hours!

Today we celebrated the Center’s 20th anniversary with presentations by the managers and kudos from various local entities -- government, non-government, banks. clients -- with whom we’ve worked over the years.  Interestingly the mayor recently told a group including at least one Center staff member that tourism offered nothing to Sandomierz development.  But today he complimented the Center for taking the risk of building Hotel Basztowy which he called a great success.  Ah, politicians, the same everywhere.

After lunch, we had a concert by a trio from the Kielce Philharmonic.  Although they got off to a strange start with “Memories” and “Hello, Dolly,” the rest of the program was actually quite nice.  Later in the day Steve, Ryszard J. and I got into a discussion of American idioms after I described a US politician as “a brick shy of a full load.”  Ryszard J. had never heard that before so we parsed it so he’d understand, then went on to other idioms, including one I hadn’t heard, “dumb as a bag of hammers,” Steve’s offering.  

We also got to talking about forgetfulness.  Since I have had an exceptional memory all my life (due to undiagnosed bad eyesight, I unconsciously started memorizing things as a child).  So when I can’t remember something, it is especially troubling. I’m never quite sure how much forgetfulness is “normal.”  Steve shared a very funny poem “Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins. In order not to violate copyright, I won’t copy/paste but rather will provide you with this link.   Remember where you got it.

7 December, Warsaw Chopin Airport
Where to begin?  Well, I was awake at 4 am today because I thought I had a 6:20 flight to Amsterdam, then onward to Minneapolis.  Not.  It seems Amsterdam is experiencing such bad weather that the flight was cancelled.  After an hour of standing in the “Sky Priority” line for rerouting, I was finally put on a Lot (Polish airline) flight to London with a Delta flight from there to Minneapolis.  At least both are non-stop.  More lines to get a boarding pass, then check my bag, through security, then passport control, here I sit at the gate waiting with only three other people.  One finally figured out how we could get into free wifi, so we’re all online.  I got a call through to my friend Janet who was set to pick me up from the AMS-MSP flight at 12:40 pm.  Didn’t realized that I’d awakened her until after I hung up ... I did the time zone change backwards.  It was still yesterday in Minneapolis too, so it took us a bit to get on the same page.  Can you tell that it’s waaaay too early for me to have to think?

Once again, I’ve been busy and not journaled daily.  So a brief recap.  Saturday’s formal board meeting went well.  We completed Hala’s performance evaluation, set the next meeting, agreed that we needed to find a replacement for Piotr Sz. who will resign due to ill health (he didn’t attend this meeting).  Steve and I had dinner at Hala’s farm and gave Michal his birthday presents.  He especially liked the “bullshit” button that Steve found.  When you push, it says various phrases around that word.  

We go waaaay back.  Piotr, Hala, Halinka and Ania are 'old originals.' They were working at the Center when I started in February 1994.

Sunday morning Hala, Steve and I drove to Poznan in western Poland to see Anna, a former board member who resigned last year when she was diagnosed with colon cancer.  Later she was diagnosed with a tumor on her liver and recommended to start chemotherapy.  She even bought wigs to prepare.  Then, thankfully she went for a second opinion and after the second doctor did a battery of scans and tests, nothing was found.  That was a close call.  The drive was long, full of good stories and the occasional “re-calculating” by Birdie the Lark (who looked a lot like Gertie the Garmin).  We had a lovely dinner and visit with Anna and her family that night, then the next day we took an informative and interesting tour with a guide that Anna arranged.  She gave us a history and tour of Poznan.  

Anna, Hala and Steve with guide in Poznan's Old Town.

We visited Poland's oldest cathedral, too tall to get a decent photo.  Inside we saw many crypts with reclining statues atop.  In the early middle ages this was a common way for important people to be buried.

At Anna’s suggestion we also visited the “Cathedral of Commercialism” -- a gigantic shopping mall, hotel, conference center, you name it that was constructed in an old brewery.  A wealthy Pole’s wife fell in love with the building, bought it cheaply and pushed the commercial development.  Unfortunately I couldn't get any photos. 

But I couldn't resist taking this shot of Hala while we were having lunch with Anna and her husband.

On Tuesday Hala insisted she would drive through Warsaw to return home, a longer route but at least she knew the roads from Warsaw to Sandomierz well and snow was predicted ... and arrived.  The car and everything else were blanketed whitely when we woke up.  But the trip on the toll freeway was both smooth and quick.  

I stayed with my friend Dorota, her partner Jacek and their son Franiu for two nights, then moved to the Hotel MDM, an old favorite, because I thought it was more convenient to the airport.  Jacek said a new road south of the city makes their flat just as convenient and quick, something to remember for May.  One of the delights of staying with Dorota is the variety of fascinating discussions we have -- Polish politics, US election, world economics, interpersonal communications, raising children.  We’re never at a loss for topics.  After I told her about Ryszard J. and idioms, Dorota recapped an article she had recently read about how some idioms just cannot be translated to another language due to cultural differences.  Her example was a Russian idiom that literally means two best friends cry together which is often translated as one is sympathizing with the other. But it has significantly stronger emotional meaning than the word “sympathize” implies.  Having lived in Eastern Europe I totally understood what she was saying ... and can’t do a better explanation or translation for you.

Dorota, Franiu and Jacek

When I was in Michigan last month, I promised Ewa, a friend from my Poland days, that while in Poland I’d visit a professor who is writing about her family ... and I did (see photo).  We met at the main building of the Warsaw Polytechnic University, a stunning structure with an awesome central court with leaded class ceiling high above.  We had an informative chat over tea, and I’m excited to read the final book.  Ewa has a very interesting background.  Her father was a lawyer who spoke Polish, English, German, French, Spanish, Russian and Turkish because his father, who owned a big trading company, insisted that languages were important.  During the war, Ewa’s father was conscripted by the Germans because of both his legal and language backgrounds.  After the war, he was among a group of conscripts brought to General Patton.  As Patton asked about languages the men spoke, the group got smaller and smaller until only one spoke all the languages he’d mentioned already plus Russian.  So Ewa’s dad became Patton’s adjutant.

8 December 2012, Minneapolis MN USA -- at last
Well, I made it.  Ran through Heathrow to catch a bus to another terminal (felt like it was in central London), another long line of folks who’d also been re-routed.  The gate agent talked to someone, then sent us to our gate to get boarding passes.  So off I ran.  Since I didn’t have a seat assignment, I wanted the best chance possible of getting an aisle seat -- which I got.  Granted, as the agent said, it was way in the back, but at least it was on the aisle.  My legs cannot stand that narrow leg space, and Economy Comfort was already sold out (no surprise there.  I hope whoever got the seat I paid for on the AMS-MSP flight appreciated my sacrifice!).  I gave the agent a handful of Polish caramels as a ‘thank you’ for the aisle seat.  And he was good on his promise not to seat someone next to me.  Hoohah.  One final travel note, then I’ll stop kvetching.  As we were landing, the pilot came on and said that the air traffic controller said we were “too close” to the preceding aircraft so we were doing a 360 to get into a better (read: safer) position.  TMI as far as I was concerned.  Janet, wonderful friend that she is, was awaiting my arrival in Minneapolis and all was well with the world.  

Happy Hanukkah
Back in the old days when my best friend still lived in Minneapolis, her kids were in high school and I was married, tonight my husband, son and I would have gone “over the river and through the woods to Mark and Jean and Lisa’s.  The car knows the way to carry the boy through the white and drifting snow.”  Peter made up that song on our first drive over to Jean’s.  (Mark and Lisa are her children.)  One of her annual traditions was a dinner party on the Saturday that fell during Hanukkah. Her eclectic group of friends and their families gathered to celebrate and eat, and I was excited to introduce the holiday to Bob and Peter.  While growing up in the ‘50s-’60s, we didn’t celebrate Hanukkah in our Presbyterian household, but I was always aware of Jewish holidays.  My group of Sunday Schoolers and youth from a nearby synagogue had many activities together, including a seder at Passover in our church.  And Mom and later I worked in a Jewish country club which, although closed once the snow fell, was open for holiday celebrations, which one or both of us worked.  So I was pleased to introduce my family to Hanukkah, a holiday I always felt both religions should celebrate.  And that we did at Jean’s each year.  Jean made potato latkes from her mom’s recipe.  Lisa taught Peter how to play dreidl with M&Ms, which he loved.  But my (and Jean’s) favorite memory of those Saturdays is about my ex.  Bob drank “blue wine” by mistake one year.  It was actually plant food that Jean had in a Blue Nun wine bottle way in the back on the counter, and Poison Control said he’d be okay.  But neither Jean nor I could figure out why he drank it after seeing its blue color.  Go figure.  

9 December 
Had a long catch-up email last night from my old friend Kathy who’s now in Atlanta.  Her husband Chuck had surgery this morning for a brain tumor.  Will it never end?  I left her a message before going to the holiday concert of the Gay Men’s Chorus, offering to fly down if she needed help. Talked with her in the afternoon.  Chuck’s surgery went well; now to look at treatment options.  I’m sending her links that we got for David.

Then I got a text message from my nephew Craig that his oldest brother David had had an emergency appendectomy.  I called David’s wife Heidi and learned he was out of surgery and asking for a Subway sandwich.  He’s definitely okay.

10 December
There is a God and she loves me.  Why, you ask.  The long story.  We had eight or so inches of snow fall yesterday.  My sister and niece baled on dinner because the roads were so bad.  But it was beautiful outside, everything blanketed thickly in white. Unfortunately I have to destroy the serenity outside my doors and shovel off the decks.  I did that before meeting Shari from Minnesota International NGO Network (MINN).  We met halfway between our residences, and the driving was slow and slower but worth the trip.  MINN seems like a group that I’d enjoy and be able to contribute something to.  They are making changes in their board and committees this month, so I’ll wait until January to get started.  The snow continued most of the night, making driving this morning treacherous, but since my  appointment at Apple wasn’t until 10, I went out.  

Despite the months of bad weather, Minnesotans just do not know how to drive in snow.   They’re either speeding or inching along, meaning lots of blockages when they skid into a snow bank or cause someone else to.  My 15-minute drive took 45.  Just before I got to Southdale, shopping mall where Apple is located, an idiot light lit up the dashboard: “low tire pressure.”  Figured I was already at the mall, I’d go there first, then deal with the tires.  In a half hour of “One on One”, I learned what I needed to know about the new iTunes, then I made a quick trip to the ladies room, put on my coat and googled on my iPhone to find a tire place.  Aha, Tires Plus was a block away.  And the nice guy checked and filled all four tires gratis.  Since that street was pretty clear, I decided to venture to the supermarket a mile onward.  Did that safely, bought necessities for my Sunday open house for my late son’s friends, and got onto the freeway.  I had taken city streets to the mall, but figured the freeway was worth a try, and it was.  Home sweet home.  Before unloading the trunk, I went to grab my purse and laptop from the back seat ... only the laptop wasn’t there.  I checked the whole car, then realized I sat the laptop on a low table while I put my coat on.  I must have left it there.  In a total panic and constantly reminding myself to stay calm, drive carefully, and praying to any God who might listen, I returned to Southdale.  And there, right on the table where I’d left it, was my laptop in its maroon case.  I drove back thanking all the Gods who had answered my prayers.

14 December
Going to Southdale on Monday was pushing things.  My sinus infection morphed into a head cold of major proportions.  I have skipped water exercise all week and only gone out as needed, dosed myself with antihistamines and flushed my sinuses with salt water using a netia pot daily.  Not fun, but I am feeling much better.

While laying low, I went on line and joined some “meet up” groups.  They’re an in-person social networking medium.  If you have an interest and want to find others with a similar one, you can start a group; others sign on; you meet etc.  I joined three groups -- one interested in wine that’s meeting next Wednesday at my favorite wine bar and two that focus on social dancing.  I may not be so great at dancing, but I have always enjoyed it.  This started with a conversation with my friend Marilou about how I haven’t had a real date in too many years to count.  She’s in the same rut.  So we vowed to do something about it.  She took a trial offer on an Internet dating site.  We’ll see how that goes.  I checked out “” at the suggestion of another friend.  I found scores of groups for virtually any interest, age, gender or sexual preference.  Tonight we take the plunge -- the “we” is my friend Marilou and I.  We’re going to our first dance, which starts with a West Coast swing lesson.  Wish us luck!

16 December
Well, there were almost as many men as women at the dance.  We took part in the dance lesson, even danced a few times.  The band was playing songs all over the spectrum, rather than tunes more appropriate to the dance lesson.  So we left after about 30 minutes.  But next weekend the band is the Whitesidewalls, which we haven’t seen in years.  May give it another try.


Today was near perfect.  I had invited some of my son’s friends and their families to an open house since I haven’t seen them in ages.  Ray and his boys Hunter and Ryder, Heather and her son Samuel, Jody and Gary and their daughters Ada and Lydia, Wade, and Mark (my late friend John’s nephew) all joined my sister Barbara and me this afternoon. 

What a beautiful group of friends Peter had -- inside and out.

Jody's daughters

Everyone sampled the cookies and candies that I’ve been making all week.  Wade brought a scrumptious key lime pie. The kids had fun decorating the gingerbread men and sugar-cookie angels and snowmen.  The grownups interspersed reminiscing with catching up.  It was just the right way to spend a Sunday afternoon during this holiday season.

Ray & sons


(Some day I am going to learn how to insert
photos properly!)

18 December
I’m getting a crown for Christmas.  No, not the kind with gold and jewels.  My crown will be of porcelain or whatever the current material is.  

I’ve had crowns made in Poland, Macedonia and Uganda as well as the US.  And more than one has needed replacing over the years ... but never until it’s absolutely necessary.  I am not a fan of dentists, the result of having my six-year molars dug from my jaw when I was five.  I’ve been with my current dentists 20+ years, and they know that unless I’m in pain, they won’t see me more than quarterly for regular cleanings.  This crown first broke two-plus years ago, just as I was getting ready to leave for overseas.  So dentist Gary did a fantastic “temporary” fix, that finally started to come apart about six months ago.  And I ignored it; no pain.  Over the weekend the crown broke further, and although I’m not in pain, the jagged edge didn’t feel good.  So off to the dentists’ office, and Gary gets to do what he recommended originally -- make me a new crown.

Yesterday I took my friend Susan shopping.  Despite a flu shot, she got a bad case of the flu ... and has been at home in bed and alone for more than a week because she was contagious.  Her fever finally broke, and she needed food.  So off we went grocery shopping.  

21 December
Yesterday I had lunch with Deb, a friend from my days at The St. Paul.  We both had been wondering about another friend of ours from that time, Anne.  So I used my iPhone, found a number for her and called.  She’s alive and well at 83, and we’re all having lunch in January.  

When Annie answered the phone, I asked if she was the ‘bag lady of St. Paul.‘  As Annie neared 60, she started to feel old and wonder how she’d exist in retirement, kept saying she’d end up a bag lady.  So for her 60th birthday, I arranged for each of the PR directors in our subsidiaries and colleagues in major cities in the US to get a bag from their most famous and/or expensive department store.  I collected bags from Harrod’s and Liberty of London, Bullocks of Wilshire, Nieman Marcus, Marshall Field’s, Frank Murphy of St. Paul and more, and I gave them to Annie for her birthday with a note that said while she might end up a bag lady, at least she’d still be the classy lady she was that day.  Maybe I’ll go to Saks downtown and buy Annie a small something so I can give her the bag.

23 December
Saturday’s dance was lots of fun.  It was billed as a ‘Christmas ball,’ so we got dressed up. I wore the black linen ‘harem’ pants and hot pink jacket with a white turtleneck beneath.  The Whitesidewalls played our kind of music -- late ‘50s and early ‘60s -- and were as good as we remembered.  We danced although mostly we had to ask men to dance.  As Marilou noted on the way home, the men weren’t very forthcoming but were certainly willing to dance when asked.  We’ll go again in January when The Rockin’ Hollywoods is the band.

25 December, Merry Christmas, Wesołych Świat, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale
N.B. I finally figured out how to get Polish letters.  New skill of the month!

Last night was wonderful with my sister, niece, nephew and his girlfriend here for dinner and holiday cheer.  Christopher built a fire in the fireplace with wood leftover from last year, courtesy of Jen’s dad, who’s their suburban neighborhood’s wood cutter.   

I know how much Barbara loves prime rib ... and Lund’s had a special on standing rib roasts ... so that’s what I made.  I followed the butcher’s directions to a T and had a perfectly cooked medium-rare roast right on time. Barbara requested “Dad’s fried potatoes,” which I agree are the best, so we had those in lieu of baked.  I’d made cookies, shortbread, fudge and we had those with ice cream for dessert.   

Jen, Chris, Tomery & Barbara
Tomery stayed over with me, and I made us breakfast this morning, treating her to breakfast in bed.  Then she, I and Barbara went to see a movie, “This is 40,” a bit too long, occasionally raunchier than I prefer but very funny.  The two daughters in the film, sisters in real life, reminded me so much of Frankie and Tosia in their relationship and arguments.

28 December
It snowed last night, not a lot but enough to cover the black lumps and bumps of the previous snowfall.  Only three of us at water ex this morning, but Andrew’s workout is always worth getting for 7:15.

I’m not going to Northfield as planned.  Lois wasn’t feeling well when I called to confirm last night.  She has a bad cough but thankfully no temperature or signs of pneumonia.  

31 December
Moment of panic as I tried to recall where I had put the tickets that I bought a few days ago to the April concert of Diana Krall.  I had cleaned out my purse the other day and tossed out a ticket envelope, thinking it was from Elf ... and it was.  The concert tickets were in my purse. Phew.  I’m taking Roz, a Polish-American friend from my water exercise class.  All of the handicapped seating was taken, but I was able to get two aisle seats, one behind the other, so we can both be comfortable.  I’m looking forward to finally hearing Diana Krall after having to miss her Warsaw concert.

Made arrangements to fly to DC on 20 January to spend 10 days with David, Inga and the girls.  David has a big battery of tests on 10 January that will give a sense of where he is treatment wise.  On one hand my fingers are crossed, American style, and on the other my thumb is buried in my fist, Polish style -- for good luck.

I’m spending my usual quiet NYE.  Movie with a friend, then a glass of wine and a bit of reading and television ... in between finalizing things for tomorrow.  I’m having eight for my “annual” Hungarian New Year’s Day dinner -- pork and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, peas, homemade applesauce.  Ed and Janet are bringing some bubbly, Marilyn’s making a fresh loaf of bread, and I’ve made my mom’s “curr’n’ cake” (raisin squares to most folks) for dessert.

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