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 café 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

More Wedding Pictures Part 2

More Wedding Pictures Part 1

The Wedding Story

Bethanie and I talked about marriage well before I ever proposed. I’ve known that we should be married. But it wasn’t the being married or even the getting married part that made me nervous. It was the planning to get married that had me concerned: where, when, who to invite, announcements, invitations, and the 100 other things that seem to pop up during the process. We kept checking things off of our to-do list, but it never got shorter. We had lists in each of our planners, on odd bits of paper. Napkins over lunch would be scrawled with more responsibilities and questions to answer. The lists not only got longer, but also seemed to multiply into other lists. One list included catering. Now we had a new list for what to have catered. Same with drinks, decorations and so on. I’m not complaining, but it was more than my mind could handle. On top of all this, we were planning it from Poland.

With Bethanie taking the reins and incredible support from our families back in the states we somehow managed. We designed our own invitations, got them printed, and mailed them two months before the wedding. Unfortunately, the US and Polish mail systems don’t seem to work well together. Some of the invitations took up to ten weeks to arrive. I got more than one email after the wedding that said an invitation had just been placed in their post box. That was probably one of the biggest problems in our planning process. However, we did manage to sort out our attire, and we were constantly trying to manage around the seven-hour time difference between Austin/Tulsa and Katowice to discuss details over the phone.

That’s where the real action was happening: in Tulsa. People were running around crazy. I don’t know when anyone found time to sleep. Bouquets, cakes, candles, centerpieces, colors, dates, décor, flowers, guests, how many people?, invitations still haven’t arrived?, lists, location, Monday won’t work, pink but not too pink – that’s the way she wants it.

We flew into Austin for a too-brief-four-day visit. Saw the fam and a few friends. Not enough time. Josh (my bro) and I did manage a few jam sessions. I’ve been working on my harmonica and he’s been playing guitar for years. Also squeezed in some good Mexican food – I forgot how good it is – some micro-brewed beer and a trip to the Green Belt. As I left Austin, I think one of my last conversations was with my brother a.k.a. my best man. Me: “Get your suit soon.” Him: “I will tomorrow.” One week to go and still no suit. But I wasn’t worried. He took care of it and looked great.

And then up to Tulsa. We spent most of that week at Kathi’s house, running errands and trying not to come completely unhinged – really, just looking forward to the day after the wedding – all the time with a thought tugging at the back of my mind telling me that I should really be enjoying this.

A couple days before the wedding Grandpa, Grandma and Badri made it in from California. That was cool. Got to hang with them and drink a lot of good coffee and chai. And just sit and talk. I really enjoyed that time.

On June 29, the day before the day, the wedding party headed out to Skelly Lodge for our rehearsal. It was our first time to the lodge. We had heard great reviews from Kathi and David, who had each visited the site and decided it was the best place for us. Despite the overwhelming number of animal heads, stuffed fish, and paintings of nude Indian women on the walls, it was a great place to get married. The scene was beautiful – the two-story, eight-bedroom B&B overlooked the Verdigris River valley. We could hear the rush of the river and see the fog rising from the forest. We walked the grounds and then walked through the procession. We rehearsed it twice outside and then headed indoors for one more run through – had to be ready for rain. It had rained something like 28 days straight, as everyone was reminding us.

After the rehearsal, we all headed to Kathi’s for the rehearsal brunch, which my mom had excitedly agreed to plan and host. Originally we were going to have our rehearsal brunch at McNellie’s Pub. We thought it would be easier and save a few bucks if we just had a little bagel brunch instead.

The conversation with my mom, when I told her the change of plans, went something like this: Mom, we’d like to have a rehearsal brunch at Kathi’s instead of a pub dinner. | Well, okay. To be honest, I was never a big fan of the pub anyways. I just went with it because that’s what you wanted. | Cool. But it’s not that I don’t like the pub idea, I just think this will be easier and save us some money. But I want to ask you to still be in charge of it. | Okay. What does that mean? | You know – organize it. Basically, get the food together. I was thinking something like bagels and cream cheese. Just something simple. | No, no, no, no. We can do better than that. Your grandmas and I will take care of it. Don’t worry. | Great. That sounds great. But really I just want it simple – a little bagels and cream cheese, juice. You know … simple. | (Yelling over her shoulder) Mom, Bhadri wants us to organize a rehearsal brunch for him and he says we just wants bagels. I told him we can do better than that. | (Granny’s response) He wants bagels? It’s his wedding and he wants bagels? No way! You tell him to leave it to us. | (Mom back to me) Don’t worry, honey, we will make it great. | Mom, just keep it simple. | Don’t you trust us? | Yes. | Then trust us and we will take care of it. | Just keep it simple. | I gotta go, honey. It will be great. We are going to blow your mind. Love ya.

Simple. I just wanted simple. Well, simple wasn’t what I got. After getting lost on the way to Tulsa, turning an eight-hour drive into twelve, Granny Norma, Grandma Betty, Nicole and mom stayed up into the early hours of the morning cooking at the apartment they rented for the weekend. They must have been dead tired, but they were cooking for the brunch. And when I walked into Kathi’s dining area after the rehearsal I was amazed. The dining table had a beautiful floral centerpiece and bagels and cream cheese … and sliced meats, sliced cheeses, croissants, fruit salad, peach halves stuffed with cottage cheese and olives, a tiered dessert tray with cheese cake bites and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting. The tables in the back yard were colorful, each with their own bouquet centerpieces. And Beth’s and my glasses were wearing a veil and a tux, respectively. I didn’t get simple. But what I did get was amazing. My family came through in a big way and I am so grateful. Everyone had a great time. That night the Verduzco’s did all get to the pub for a pint after all. It was a great day.

Finally, June 30, 2007 arrived. I woke up at David’s (Beth’s dad’s) apartment. I wasn’t going to see Bethanie until just before the wedding for photos. I picked up Josh in the early afternoon and we went to the driving range. Hit some balls. Just trying to calm my nerves. Had a good talk. Ate some greasy French fries. Headed to Skelly Lodge. Stay calm. Stay calm. Did some stretching and just tried to act as calm as I could. Mom gave me a small glass of orange juice spiked with vodka unbeknownst to me. I took one sip and nearly threw up. After Poland, I can’t do vodka any more. Josh and I did some stretching before he got his haircut and I went to get ready. It was 5 pm on the day of my wedding. The ceremony was at 7 and Nicole was cutting Josh’s hair on the upstairs porch. The idea of it still makes me laugh. But that’s how we roll.

Mom helped me put on my Guinness cuff links. Bethanie was getting ready with her sister. Guests started to arrive. The photographer, Evan (who would later confess to being called Ian, Ethan and Ivan, among other names throughout the night), arrived and was snapping away.

It did rain. People scrambled to get chairs inside. And we stared a little after 7. The band, Hot Club of Cowtown, generously arranged by David Erwin, was ready to go. I asked them to play something weddingish. And they took care of everything. That gives you an idea of how we looked at a lot of the details of the wedding. We just trusted people and knew everything would be okay. And it was.

Debra, our officiator, who was recommended by David, and was great, led the procession. She descended the stairs, took a u-turn up the short aisle and waited for me in front of the fireplace. Once she was out of sight I remember thinking when should I go. I didn’t know if she was trying to calm the crowd or beginning the ceremony. Then I, escorting Kathi and my mom, descended the stairs, and were greeted by a full room of friends, family and smiles. I loved the idea of escorting my mom and Bethanie’s mom. It was unusual, but to me wasn’t even a choice. That’s how it was supposed to be. Josh and Molly walked the aisle next, looking great. Josh joined me. He was smiling big with that patented Josh smile. Olivia, our flower girl, proceeded down the aisle next. And along the way she dropped 5, literally, 5 rose petals. We later joked that she was saving them for the next few weddings that she’ll be in.

And then the music changed. The three-piece band started in on Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song that David suggested and Bethanie thought would be perfect for her procession. The crowd rose to its feet. And Bethanie was gorgeous. Her dad and her slowly made their way down the aisle, trying to stretch it out as long as they could. At the end of the aisle, he raised her veil, they hugged and he gave her to me with a shake of the hand.

The ceremony went quickly, as we had hoped it would. It began and ended within 15 minutes. At the beginning of the ceremony Josh presented our rings and then they were passed around the audience. We liked the idea of the community being involved in the ceremony in this way. At one point the rings fell to the floor. Badri, wanting to make sure the rings made their way to Kathi on Bethanie’s side of the aisle, stood up to pass them over. They fell from his hands and one landed just behind us – from what I heard later it went under Bethanie’s train. I heard the rings fall, but at the time I had no idea that Badri was crawling around behind us searching for them on the floor. Eventually we did exchange rings and vows. We worked together to write vows that were special and unique for us. And I remember a specific moment during the ceremony when Beth said, “ … and I promise to play with you as much as I can …” that everyone, even Bethanie, broke into laughter. It was great. I managed to get through my vows, after an initial false start to fight back the tears. I just kept looking at Molly and Josh for support. They were great.

After the ceremony, we took portraits and Bethanie and I snuck a few moments alone upstairs. Then we descended the stairs and went to the porch for our first dance to “Paradise With You.” Unrehearsed, we did a nice little two-step, complete with a dip and a lift and spin and the end.

Then we moved on to dinner: a beautiful spread including a fruit and cheese sculpture, stuffed mushroom caps, salmon moose tartlets, bruscetta, and spinach pastries. The food was excellent. We had a little and made our rounds to say hello to everyone. Everyone was so supportive. And it was great to see everyone together. This is one of the few times in your life, Jeb pointed out, that everyone gets together to support you. It’s rare and wonderful.

After dinner we moved into speeches. I feel like the night was a rite of passage for Bethanie and me, but also for Josh and Molly. Josh began – he started with a joke, “Tonight Bhadri has finally realized something that I have known for a long time,” he said, as the room fell silent, “that I am the best man.” He continued with poise and confidence and finished his speech with words of advice, “Love each other with everything you have. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” Molly’s smile filled the room. It was all a blur. But she spoke of how proud of Bethanie she was and how happy she is to be her sister. She later told us that she wanted to say, “The first time I meant Bhadri he hit me in the head with a Frisbee…” But her better judgment decided against it. I think it would have been funny.

“We’re going to do this next,” I said, gesturing to the cake. Beth and I had just been given instructions in the kitchen on how to cut the cake and we were ready. Grandma Grace Ann yelled, “Be respectful!” not wanting me to smear cake down Bethanie’s face. And we were. We fed each other the best cake ever, a cream cake with raspberry sauce and toasted with champagne.

From there the night was full of dancing and drinking. It began with a father/daughter and mother/son dance and finished with Whitney (my cousin) doing her best impression of a honky tonk knee-slapping hoe down at midnight. In between everyone got into the action as the band went on for 3+ hours. Grandma Grace, after hurting her knee only a few weeks earlier, wasn’t sure if she’d be able to dance. But her and Grandpa Frank cut a rug just as well as ever. They are the ones who taught me how to swing and Beth and I did plenty of it that night. When they played “Take Me Back to Tulsa (I’m too Young to Marry” the night was complete.