Trip to the Motherland

travel 2This summer our family was able to experience one of the greatest family trips and language/cultural emersion opportunities: a trip to Poland.

We spent 2 weeks in Poland and it was wonderful in every regard. I got to see my family whom I haven’t seen in over 6 years. I got to see and celebrate my remarkable younger cousin/brother-from-a-different-mother get married to his beautiful bride. I got to show my son and husband my motherland. And most importantly, I got to see my worlds combine when my family in Poland and my son and husband met one another. Just thinking of that moment would make my ugly cry from happiness weeks before our trip.

My son handled the flight like a champ! I was expecting the worst and packed everything but the kitchen sink, but ended up not using majority of the items (check out my suggested carry-on packing list so you won’t make the same mistakes I did). When we finally met up with my family, my son was a little timid but by no means freighted of his surroundings. Although he wanted to be held either by me or my mom, he was going up to my cousins and aunt after settling in at my aunt’s house (which was filled with balloons and toys just for him). One playful toss up in the air from my younger cousin and my son was sold on his uncle.

katedraI was pleasantly surprised how quickly my son adjusted to the trip. My son walked around town like he owned the place and interacted with my family members as if he has known them for years. The neighborhood playground became his favorite place to play. He felt comfortable around all of his aunts and uncles (who spoiled him rotten) that he would at times cry and run to the door when they left.

Aside from being constantly showered with attention and affection, my son enjoyed straight-from-the-bakery rolls and different soups daily. And we can’t forget that time where I asked my grandma if she could make him a couple of apple pancakes and she comes out holding a huge platter that could feed our entire family. “Everything for the little guy” was the motto of our stay.

I fully embraced and basked in the fact that my son would be immersed in the Polish language 24/7. Granted it was only for 2 weeks, but that is a lot more than he gets at home. However, a strange thing happened a week into our stay. Although my son understood everything that was said to him and even started repeating some Polish words, he suddenly began speaking in English! And this was before my English-speaking husband joined us. When he wanted to go outside, he would call for his shoes instead of buty like he has in the past. The trip was quite the cultural and language exchange, as my grandma can now say “shoes” and “ball.” 🙂

My husband and I were also very fortunate to be able to sightsee. En route to Krakow, we toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and toured/paid our respects at the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. IMG_2824While in Krakow, we visited the Wawel Cathedral and Castle, and had dinner in the Old Town (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

IMG_3030A couple of days later we drove to the opposite side of Poland to Gdansk. There, we visited Westerplatte (where World War II began), the highly interactive and recommended Solidarity Museum, and Old Town, where we climbed over 400 steps to the tower at St. Mary’s Church and then had lunch and dinner in two of the many cute restaurants that line the gorgeous streets.

I was worried about how the trip will be for my husband given that he doesn’t speak Polish. It can be frustrating and exhausting for the non-language speaker to be surrounded by a language one doesn’t understand for 24/7. Similarly, it can be exhausted for the bilingual person to constantly have to translate conversations and have all forms of communication go through you. Yet everyone, from my husband to my non-English speaking relatives, were very understanding and patient, which helped make the situations more pleasant.

During our trip I was able to stock up on a lot of Polish children’s books, toys, games, and DVDs. My son is too young for majority of them (like this adorable map puzzle), and can’t quite sit still to watch a movie, but I look forward to him playing with the games and watching the movies in the future. He does, however, love to dance with his little Polish speaking puppy.

Although we have been back home for less than a month, I already can’t wait to be back in Poland.

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Happy 239th Birthday, USA!

This post comes late as we just moved and are still trying to contain the chaos that is unpacking ones entire life from hundreds of boxes.

Nonetheless, we were very excited to celebrate our first holiday in our new home/neighborhood: Independence Day.

Dressed in red, white, and blue attire, we headed to our neighborhood park for the annual Independence Day festival.  Although my son was still too young to participate in the kiddie carnival games, we enjoyed spending time outside as a family and even got to take a picture with Uncle Sam.

Independence Day is actually one of my favorite non-religious holidays.  There’s something about the sunny weather and everyone and everything decked out in the Stars and Stripes that makes me step back and realize just how fortunate I am to live in the United States.  Yes, the USA has its share of issues and has lots of room for improvement, however, we have incredible freedoms that many people in the world are denied.  The fact that we are able to celebrate our freedom to begin with is a blessing.  I know that sometimes I get too caught up in the whirlwind that is life and take my freedoms for granted.  And as a mom, I hope to instill in my son that although we celebrate freedom once a year with parades, BBQs, and festivals, it is important to remember that every day is Independence Day.

So in honor of Independence Day, here is my quick list of my top 10 favorite things about America (aside from my American husband ;)).

  1. Freedom. The spirit and zeal to fight for it (e.g., Declaration of Independence and our Armed Forces) to the laws/rights put in place to guarantee it (e.g., Constitution/Bill of Rights). And the fact that we say that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator “with certain inalienable rights” is self-evident (that word is written in the Declaration) is powerful.
  2. The diversity of Americans. There is a reason why America is dubbed the melting pot, and I personally think it is one of our country’s biggest strengths.
  3. The natural beauty of the land—from sea to shining sea!
  4. Separation of Church and State. Because I can live my life according to my faith and worship my God freely.
  5. The people. From the Founding Fathers to all of the amazing writers, inventors, scientists, social activists that have made significant contributions to the country and world.
  6. The American Dream. The idea of it and the idea that anything is possible.
  7. The friendliness of Americans. The first thing I noticed when I moved to the United States was how passersby say hello. It was a pleasant change from the blank stern faces I was used to seeing on the streets/buses in Poland. And it never fails to amaze me how Americans can come together (especially through volunteering or monetary donations) in face of a tragedy/disaster.
  8. California. Best. State. Ever. 🙂
  9. Customer service. Whether genuine or not, I can count on receiving polite customer service (majority of the time) where ever I go.
  10. Wide open spaces. Big shopping malls and wide freeways are great, especially during Christmas season. But it’s that wide open land seen while on a road trip or through the window of a plane that just embodies the possibility, dreams, and opportunity that America has to offer.  Not to mention, the sights are beautiful (see no. 3 above).

Freedom, liberty, kielbasa and dancing Highlanders: Polish Constitution Day

PolishfestivalWe spent the weekend celebrating May 3rd/Polish Constitution Day. We went to a very small lawn program at the House of Poland at Balboa Park where we watched a Polish Highlander’s folk dancing group, Tatry, perform. Although it wasn’t much, I wanted to take my son to the event, especially since Polish events are few and far between where we live. Plus, I needed my Polish folk music fix. And kiełbasa. And pączki. And it is always nice to hear one’s native language.

The Polish May 3rd Constitution of 1791 was the first democratic constitution in Europe, and second in the world (with the U.S. constitution being first). It established the separation of the three branches of government, thus limiting the power of the King, and promoted tolerance, freedom, and liberty.

Since its signing, the May 3rd Constitution has served as a symbol of hope for an independent society/country during Poland’s tumultuous and trying history of being occupied by foreign powers. The day is a national civic holiday in Poland, and its importance is equivalent to what July 4/Independence Day is to Americans.

Śmigus-Dyngus: Celebrating Easter Monday with a Water Fight

SmingusDingusEvery year on Easter Monday, Poles, especially young girls, are on the lookout. Perhaps they choose to wear a raincoat that day. Or they decide to not venture out of the house. Because not even a raincoat or a sturdy umbrella can save them from Śmigus-Dyngus.

Śmigus-Dyngus, also known as lany poniedziałek (Wet Monday), is a celebration held on Easter Monday where people drench their friends with water. Yes folks, Poland engages in a huge water fight.

Traditionally, boys would seek out their female friends. The celebration has pagan roots and ties with the end of winter, with water ensuring fertility in the upcoming spring. Once Christianity established in the county, the purification element of water was added to the celebration’s symbolism.

As a kid, my cousins and I would fill multiple egg-shaped squirt guns and go at it, squirting everyone from our friends to family. Not even babcia was safe.

The average Pole uses 5 liters (approximately 1.3 gallons) of water for drenching on Easter Monday, according to news sources. Seems quite wasteful given we are experiencing a drought in California, but I digress.  There are even laws associated with Śmigus-Dyngus. A person can be fined between 500 to 5,000 złotych (approximately $134-$1,340) if they drench strangers/passersby, homes, vehicles (e.g, cars, buses, trams), etc. After all, it is supposed to be a fun and lighthearted event, not an opportunity for vandalism.

At our house, my son and I celebrated Śmigus-Dyngus by patiently waiting with a squirt gun in hand for daddy to return home. Once he pulled into the driveway, we greeted him with smiles and a squirt of water to the face! He did not see it coming! Daddy did get us back—especially me, even though it was our son who squirted him in the face. Our son held the squirt gun; I just held him and may or may not have guided his little hand…

I hope everyone had a fun Easter!

Święconka: Celebrating Easter the Polish Way

One of my favorite Polish Easter traditions is Święconka—the blessing of the food to be eaten on Easter Sunday. I love everything about it—the preparation, the going to church for the blessing, and the eating!

Swieconka

The tradition of blessing food on Holy Saturday first appeared in Poland in the 14th century. In those days, the priest would come to people’s home for the blessing. It wasn’t until centuries later that the tradition evolved to what it is today—the faithful bringing baskets to church.

Traditional items for the Easter basket include:

  • colored/decorated eggs (pisanki)—symbolize new life and the Resurrection
  • butter—traditionally molded into a lamb, represent Jesus Christ
  • bread—symbolizes Jesus as the Bread of Life
  • sausage—symbolizes prosperity
  • horseradish—symbolizes the bitterness of Jesus’ sacrifice
  • salt—symbolizes purification

Many families also include cakes and other sweets. I included a couple of toddler snack bars so my son can enjoy a blessed treat on Easter morning. 🙂

My favorite part of the basket is definitely the pisanki—traditional Polish Easter eggs. Their vibrant colors and impressive designs (created by hand) are stunning. The designs vary by technique and the region of Poland. Each is impressive in its own right.

My great-grandmother and grandmother used to dye eggs in onion peels, which would give the eggs a rich reddish-brown tint. They would then create skrobanki by scratching the surface of the egg to reveal the white eggshell. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my grandmother’s pisanki artistry skills. Luckily for me, I came across these gems. Traditional looking pisanki in 3 seconds–the answer for the artistically challenged like me.

I hope you all have a blessed Easter!