Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Videos

A Verduzco Christmas

Hope you all had a good Christmas! We had a festive and cozy one here. The pics pretty much speak for themselves. But we did have a small feast that we didn't photograph which included veggie hotdogs, actual hotdog buns, sprouts, french mustard, onions and canned baked beans. Now for some this may sound like a typical meal, easy enough to purchase at HEB or Albertson's. But for us this was a Christmas feast. First time we had veggie hotdogs since we left the states. Same for the sprouts and beans. And to top it off we had a nice bottle of Malbec from Argentina. Pretty good.

Videos from Germany

The Duo Daytrips to Deutchland

So pretty much on the spur of the moment we decided to pop over to Gorlitz, Germany for a day. Something different for a Sunday afternoon. We caught the 7:15 am train out of Wroclaw and arrived by 10:30. It was freezing, but lucky for us there was a great little Christmas market on the north side of town. As we made our way there we noticed something strange: this little town only a half mile or so from the border looked like a typical Polish town but with 15 years' more development, investment and graffiti control. Immediately the public transport seemed to sparkle and hum with a new efficiency. The streets were flat and evenly paved. Signs and buildings were marked clearly in traditional German fonts. And most strangely many fellow pedestrians flashed us friendly and welcoming smiles -- something almost unheard of on this side of the border. So suffice to say we were pleasantly surprised.

The Christmas market was also a surprise. We had no idea it was there or that it was its last day when we stumbled upon it. It came complete with hot vino, carolers, ponies on parade, liqueur sampling, a horn quartet, artisan-made cinnamon rolls over an open fire, plenty of bratwurst which Bethanie happily avoided but I had my fill of (if you're in the area try the lemon seasoned), and a small mouse farm with like 50 mice playing without a cage just happy to be together on a table top with a few feeders and a miniature mouse town setup -- a little bizarre but incredibly enjoyable.

So we passed the afternoon here and in a pub making beer last over a game of Jenga, during which most of the patrons were glancing over in anticipation of the final and oh-so-enjoyable tumble. Bethanie won. Hope you enjoy the pics from our afternoon out!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Hey Pilgrims! Last Thursday we resisted the urge to stalk home from classes, make a grilled cheese sandwich and eat it while watching some tacky Polish variety show, and did Thanksgiving up right. We invited some of our teacher friends over to our place to put together a pot-luck Thanksgiving meal. Bhads and I made a nutroast, some devilled eggs, mushroom gravy, and even a pumpkin pie (from scratch!). The Englishfolks, Claire and Holly, brought two different salads and a big whole chicken (a.k.a. turkey) for the meat eaters, and Mike brought the wine. John, the only other American soul at IH, made his now famous garlic mashed potatoes and picked up some delicious cranberry jam from a specialty store. Having them over really made the night feel like semi-home. We felt like true Americans, introducing our British friends to pumpkin pie. Seriously, before trying some they thought it would be salty. Oh, how much they have to learn... So we sat around, talking about baseball, Bhad's showing off the intricacies and uniquities of his glove, talked about family traditions and "I'm-thankful-for" circles, it was fantastic.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Boys' Jam Session

Nasty Day, but Bright Outlook (and Cheesy Title)

The past few days here in Wroclaw have been disgustingly gray, depressingly rainy, and painfully windy. The sun will pop out for a 5 minute tease and then scuttle back under the clouds a couple times a day. I'm equating the weather right now to adolescence: it's not sunny and fresh like youth and it's not snowy and crisp like adulthood--it's just hovering in that awkward and uncomfortable stage.

But regardless, I'm forcing myself to take in this reality. Yes, the weather is crapola, but my life is not. Walking to work today without an umbrella (because I left it in the warm apartment with Booster), the freezing rain was spitting down, I could barely lift my gaze from my feet without a splat of frozenness to the face. But as I did I saw this beautiful city, still glowing with orange and yellow leaves half on the trees, half beneath them, many-colored umbrellas with quick legs scurrying around, and ahh the four swans on a double date, lazily paddling across the Odra River. My feet are still wet in my black boots, but Winter is here. That makes me happy. Winter is Poland is extraordinary. It's so cold outside that you feel every inch of skin on your body and can even feel the contours of your lungs as the freezing air cycles in and out (or maybe I'm just imagining that...). But when we get to the place you're going, walking through the door and feeling the rush of cozy warm air. It goes beyond just a physical warmth.

Booster likes to take his morning stroll around the oldest part of the city, Ostrow Tumski. Situated on two islands, there's about 4 ancient cathedrals and countless beautiful buildings belonging to the Catholic diocese. Sandwiched between these buildings and the River Odra are sweet little, well-maintained gardens, perfect for a dog-walk. We'll swoop around the garden paths, and perch on a bench overlooking the water, Booster will make a friend, and we'll think: how crazy is it that we live here? And after he gets a nice trot, we walk the five minutes home and get the towel out and wipe his feet off (a new ritual since the recent rains that he absolutely loves! Especially when we wipe HIM on the towel instead of the other way around). We'll hang out with him, maybe make some lunch, and head back out for work. The photo with the two bridges shows our usual route to school (we take the closest bridge called Most Pokoju).

Tomorrow we have another Conversation Club, the pub nights that the school organizes for adult students here. Bhad's agreed to host it and do another of his award-winning pub quizzes. I think it'll be a good time, although it's always hard to make yourself go out for drinks at 9:00pm after being at work since 10:00am. Usually, we just want to get home to the pup and a nice hot meal. But it's just once a month, and hot, mulled wine might give me a boost.

We borrowed a few dvds from some of the teachers at work. Amongst them, 24. Ok, this is seriously addictive stuff. I'm sure most of you guys have seen the series, but we didn't used to watch that much tv back home so it's really our first contact with the show. It's crazy good, especially for two homesick over-worked American teachers looking for cheap thrills. We watched 3 episodes last night, and were up past midnight. Not so good for Bhads who had to be at an early morning class today. I'm a bit wiped, but believe me, it's gonna be round two tonight!

It's 2:00 and I think it's about time for lunch. Cheese, tomato, and mustard sandwiches on white rolls and surowka--shredded cabbage salad with red bell peppers, fresh herbs, onions, and maybe some secret ingredients, too. I could really go for an orange pop, too, but I think I spent my last bit of change on the lunch today. Two out of three of my classes today are in the computer room, which means easy-breezy planning for me. It's always nice to have a bit of a break.

Ok, Bhads is summoning me for lunch. And, whatdaya know, he just found 2 zloty for an orange pop! What a husband!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Honeymoon: Vernazza Town

Our base for the 6 days we were in Italy, Vernazza was sheer paradise.

Honeymoon: Italian Signs

Bhadri is a huge fan of the sign, so he took a few artistic shots of ones he really liked. Handpainted signs are everywhere and you forget how special they are when you're there and engrossed in it all...

Honeymoon: Bergamo Italy

The last day of our honeymoon we made our way north to a town an hour from Milan called Bergamo (pron: BER-ga-mo). We thought we'd just stay the night in the hostel, get some rest, and not bother with the town. What kind of town has a cheap airline just outside? Katowice, and other crappy towns, that's what. But Bergamo was a shocking surprise. It's a ski town at the base of the Italian Alps, but in good weather it's also a great tourist destination (shh: without any tourists!). The old town was so ancient and mysterious, walled and sitting atop a large hill (or tiny Alp). We walked for hours and hours through the winding streets, small parks, snipping at focaccia bread pizza, peering into boutique store windows, and finally riding the funicular down to catch our bus back to the hostel late into the evening.

Honeymoon: Italian Food is Tops

The food doesn't get any better than in Italy. We ate like royalty while we were there--everything was fresh. We made fresh pasta with sundried tomatoes and regional pesto most days for lunch. With a little side of focaccia bread and 5 euro wine. Bhads tried out the little sardines in lemon juice at our fancy restaurant (you had to eat the fish whole!). We picnicked on the beach and roasted like veggie-turkeys. Speaking of, the little bird carcass things are marzapan. The man at the cafe said it takes 3 weeks to make the candy--and this was the stage right before they painted them. How creative. Little chickens or turkeys...?

Honeymoon: Our Apartment in Vernazza

Irish Birthdays and Best Buddies

We were honored with our good friend Patrice's presence a couple weeks ago. She flew in from Shannon, Ireland on Thursday and managed--and quite successfully--to find us at our school in the city center. She was cheery and cold and such a wonderful treat for us!

We spent the long weekend hanging out, watching movies, eating pizza and Polish food, drinking Zywiec and wine, hanging out in pubs, talking walks in parks, eating Taytos and posh chocolates, and not getting any sleep. The last bit deserves more explanation. Since we have no real bedding for guests, other than two fake leather loveseats which don't really count, we forced Pats to sleep in our bed with us. Poor girl. So we cuddled together under the faux-down comforter, sweating and struggling to not kick each other out of the bed. She's a trooper, along with us, and we all survived. She even made us tea (no one makes tea like Patrice) in the mornings.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Around Poland with a Friend

It's been forever since we traveled Poland with Kara, but it's still worth posting a few images of our journey. And here's something I wrote for the blog way back when...

When our friend Kara came to visit us last month, we noticed a disturbingly funny trend. All over the country, people were out in their casual clothes doing their thing, without knowing…they were wearing t-shirts with [duhn, duhn, duuuhn] bad English!

Ok, no, this isn’t a new occurrence. We have blogged about it before. But we did make it a point to scout out and write down evidence of each sighting. They are all authentic bad English actually being worn in Europe as you read this. Hopefully it makes an enjoyable blog.

Please note: the following are spelled as they appeared.

Calm Down: Street Tribe Report
Ambush 72
Finish: We Made it, CHS 1986
Gastro Blues Festival
The Blood Thirst
Life is a New York City Generation
North European Tournament Sail Contest Back Long Harbour Reserved
Night Effect
Yours Style Express Our Style
Ready to Meet You
District of Southern Area
In the Love
I Want to Fly to… [butterfly icon here]
Cajun Annual Alabama 69 [with eagle crest behind lettering]
Super Best
Desert Storm: Welcome to the Desert Area
The First and Only
Strong Power Taurus (seen twice)
Darkness Passage
Player One 01
West Coast City
Getting Records
Wonder Places

I’ll end this blog with a quote:

“There’s like a God-reason you’re here and this is it.”
--Bhadri to Kara on her ability to spot bad English on t-shirts

Monday, October 15, 2007

Happy Birthday

Dear long lost friends and fam,
Today's my birthday! It isn't quite the same without you all. It's been really strange, I just realized it that my bday was coming up about 3 days ago and since then Bhadri's been working hard trying to get me excited about my day. We've been at school since around 11:00 and will be here until 9:00 tonight--so it's hard to enjoy a birthday that's spent almost entirely at work.

But no complaints here. Bhads worked very hard on my gifts and I was so surprised and delighted when he gave them to me this morning. A beautiful porcelain tea cup (it'll be my cup...we have pretty crappy and tiny cups for morning beverages courtesy of our landlords), a book I've wanted to read for a while, and the biggun, a Bhadri-made book stamp. His design was inspired by the 1970s Ukrainian book marks we found in a little antique shop in Lviv last year. They are basically the book owner's seal or symbol to insert into their books. So he made one for me with lots of Bethanie-symbolism and it's gorgeous. It was so thoughtful, he always is, and I love it.

Another great bday present is our buddy Patrice from Ireland, who is staying with us for about 4 days. She's about to leave the continent for a year long trip in Australia, so she came to visit us before she set sail. It's so wonderful to have her here, especially during my birthday. She's family now and I really miss my family! She brought so many goodies with her from Ireland! Two huge bags of Taytos, 6 packages of good chocolate, a couple of nice frames, and even our old books from Dingle. She also brought a scarf made by her mom Patricia for me for my birthday--it's beautiful and it makes me so happy that her mom knitted each row. Booster loves having her here--she plays with him constantly and even sneaks him bits of her tasty dinners, much to Bhad's dismay. He'll be sad, like us, when she's gone.

The three of us are going out for pizza and beer tonight after work. We heard about a place called Oregano and we're gonna try it out. Hopefully some of the other teachers from work will want to go out tonight too. Holly and Claire, two of the new teachers here, got me the most delicious chocolates and instigated a card-signing for me, too. Very cool.

So in five minutes, we're off to teach our first of three slots today. Hopefully they'll go birthday-smoothly and we'll be off for pizza in no time. Please have a wonderful day for me and grab a slice of over-the-top-sweet-frostinged grocery store cake with assorted color icing for me!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

27 Years Old

Sept 1 I turned 27. It's been a great year: Got married to a wonderful wife (planning our honeymoon in Hungary in a few weeks), living and teaching in Poland, picked up the harmonica, plenty of travel (even made it to the Ukraine) and topped it off with a fun summer bumming it around Poland with our friend Kara from Texas.

Last night the three of us hit the streets of Warsaw to celebrate. Kara treated to an awesome sushi dinner complete with red wine (sold illegally according to the waitress. I asked for a wine list and the waitress said we don't have one because we don't sell alcohol with a grin. Then, she asked if we would like red or white. Too wierd.) The dinner was topped off with a surprise cheesecake that Beth picked up for me complete with big 2 & 7 candles. Kara smuggled it in (a Verduzco tradition) and the waitress brought it out along with coffee. Beth and Kara sang and the party was complete...

Well almost complete -- then of course we headed to the Irish pub for a pint of guinness topped off by a liter (and that's a lot of beer) of Belfast. Made it home before 1 am to see kara off today. It was a night to remember.

Kara gave me an awesome book -- a little early actually -- and I've already finished it. If you haven't read it, check out "The Life of Pi". Beth gave me a guidebook to Amsterdam and an open invitation to enjoy the city with her, so plans are under way.

Well, got to run. I just had breakfast and we're seing Kara off in a few minutes. Will post soon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Summer Camp

It seems like we’ve been sprinting through these last couple of months, running from teaching in Katowice to visiting friends and family in Austin to getting married in Tulsa to teaching at a summer camp in Sobieszewo and finally we’re back home in Katowice…for now. It’s been an exhausting—yet exhilarating—ride, but it’s nice to be married and unemployed.
What a blur. For two weeks we worked for Bell, an English language school putting on their annual English immersion summer camp just outside of the tiny village of Sobieszewo on the Baltic Sea. The work was good. The camp’s theme was ancient Greek Olympics, so the six groups chose names (Argos, Athens, Corinth, Sparta, Megara, and Troy) and carried the theme throughout with the teaching projects, group chants, sports competitions, and a Trojan horse building (which was tragically mediocre). We created one project that we could adapt for six different language levels and ages and taught three hours a day for six days out of the two weeks. My project was how to make your own soccer jersey; Bhad’s was how to create your own sports invention and then make a commercial for it. The kids came from all over Poland and ranged from 10 to 18 years old. We each had a group that we worked closest with, we led them on some activities and taught nightly drama workshops. I had the 12 year old pre-intermediates (Corinth) and Bhads had the older ones with the more advanced English (Troy). They performed their dramas on the last day. Corinth’s was Shrek 13 and Troy’s was The Adams Family Has a Party. Bhadri played lurch and was undoubtedly the star. He’s a natural, he can’t help it. We both got very close to our own groups. Just like summer camp should be!
Accommodation at the hotel Orle was paid for by the school, so all the staff and students stayed there in two halls and most of our activities happened in or around the hotel. It was about a 5 minute walk to the beach, a beautiful and clean sandy beach. Unfortunately it was rainy or overcast most of the two weeks, but we did get a couple of really lovely walks down the coast, even one in the rain. Meals were thrown in, too. If I had to complain about one thing at the camp, the food would be the big winner. Let me just outline a day for you.
Breakfast: cereal, bread, rolls, butter, jam, sliced cheese, cottage cheese (salty and sweet), sliced tomatoes, cold cuts (for carnivores), scrambled eggs.
Lunch: the hot meal. Soup, main course, juice. Every day for a week and a half we struggled with reminding them that I (and 8 students) did not eat meat. That didn’t mean that I didn’t just not like the taste of meat, as they assumed, but that I did not want to eat any meat at all. No, that doesn’t include baby bits of bacon. No, that doesn’t include tiny shreds of chicken in the mushroom casserole that you’ve served me twice now already, each time with smaller chicken bits. The last 3 days were better. It took Bhadri getting up from his seat and getting angry to get the point across (we’d formed a vegetarian table upon the chef’s request and they were still bringing us various meated items). Lunch always included boiled potatoes, and occasionally included filets of fried cheese for us vegetarians. Not kidding.
Dinner: bread, butter, sliced cheese, sliced tomatoes, cold cuts, eggs doused in mayo and ketchup. (Can you see the resemblance to breakfast?)
Every day the breakfast and dinners were exactly the same. Every day. Two weeks. I felt so overlogged with tomatoes, eggs, and potatoes and deficient in every other kind of food. It’s just nice to be at home with our own kitchen.
We met a couple of girls on the camp named Julia and Tania. They were and are the most amazing people, and made our time on the camp so much more fun and much less stressful. I’m still shocked but they are both 13 years old, but are so balanced, confident, wise, open-minded, and dignified. It just goes to show that age isn’t so important and we place way too much significance on it. We had a couple of lovely late night chats, meals together, hang-out times in the afternoon that included Polish tongue twisters, camp songs, and goofy pictures (posted), and dance-offs at the disco. Of course, as there always is, there was a few older bullies who loved to aim their insults at them. Picking at anything they could find. Bhads and I were really shocked at how cruel these kids could be and seemingly without reason. They just “didn’t like them.” But it was so clear that the real reason they bullied our buddies was because they saw their confidence and their individuality as a threat. This group was supposed to be the cool ones, they were supposed to just run their game and everyone would look on in awe. But our gals didn’t pander to them and they just did what made them happy (which included talking to us, and singing and dancing non-sluttily—all things which weren’t exactly cool). Our gals were very open about their feelings of hurt, but could see through those kids’ game and they knew that it lacked substance. I just can’t say enough about our two new friends—I’m very proud to know them.
Booster came with. Needless to say, he was the celebrity guest star of the camp. The kids goggled over him every time he peaked his nose out of the door, they begged to walk him across the hotel grounds, and they taught him the relevant dog-related words in Polish. Students asked me day and night: Where’s Booster? What is Booster doing right now? Why does Booster sleep so much? What does Booster eat? And repeatedly said: Booster is sweet. I like Booster. Booster is so sweet. Talk about a love hound, geez.
The kids struggled to get Bhadri’s name right. Bogri. Barty. After a while we all just let it go. Anything that started with a B and had two syllables passed. One of the campers, on the train ride home, walked into our cabin and said: “Hey Barty, can I crips?” Bhads was holding a bag of potato chips (also called crisps), and little Rafal wanted a piece of the action. Can I crips?
In between project days we had a couple of trips. The first and best trip was to Sopot. Sopot is a resort town, smushed between Gdansk and Gdynia on the Baltic shore. It’s main street is lively with tourists and merchants selling everything from postcards to flip flops to shimmery bandanas. It was a gorgeous, sunny, warm day and although we didn’t get to swim, we were at the beach and feelin’ fine. After a cup of coffee at a fancy tea shop with our counselor friend Linh, we grabbed a chocolate dipped ice cream cone and headed for the pier. Sopot boasts the longest pier in Europe and it was fantastic. A half kilometer long, the white wooden pier jutted out into the clear Baltic, flags strung between posts waved energetically in the air as red and happy tourists skipped its length. It took a good few minutes to walk to the end where all the activity was. Apparently the European Yachting Championship finals were going on that day. So we plopped down on the edge of the pier, hung our legs over and watched the boats cruise around the obstacles. We even saw the Polish Dancing with the Stars host, sitting all debonair inside the cafĂ© at the pier’s end. It was a pretty posh scene. You know when you have the Polish Dancing with the Stars host hanging out with you that you’ve really made it. After the boat race we met up with the kids (who had gone to see a movie in Polish earlier and left us and Linh to have some fun in Sopot). We headed out on an hour long walk down the beach to the next town called Ilowo, filled with jellyfish washing up on the beach, stories of my girls’ animals and dreams of traveling the world, searches for amber, and Bhadri teaching some of the kids how to skip stones in the ocean. It was a magical afternoon.
It really was a great two weeks, and we’re hoping to be back next year for round two. But for now, we’re really enjoying waking up late (8:30 am), watching lots of old Sex and the City episodes, making elaborate and labor-intensive meals, and talking quiet walks around Katowice with the pup.

More Wedding Photos Part 3