Monday, December 23, 2019

Polish Class

It's the first truly raining day I've experienced in Krakow, and also the first Monday in three weeks that I don't have a Polish class to go to. I considered doing some Polish self-study, but given that it's Christmas week Cameron is also at home so it seems like I ought to take a small break as well (even though I don't want one). I really enjoyed having a place to go everyday, consistent people to interact with, and a challenge to pursue, and now I dread the self-inflicted pressure of finding something valuable to spend my time on.

Even though it was only three hours of class each day, during those three weeks I had a routine (which I could describe in simple Polish but will relay in English for the purpose of this blog). After waking up and eating breakfast, I would typically study until I had to leave for school. The school was about a 20 minute walk away through a fairly uninspiring stretch of residential roads so I would listen to my podcasts during the walk (something I try to avoid doing while at home by myself unless I'm folding laundry). The school was on the second floor of an old, dark building but was itself a well-lit cheerful set of classrooms. Class got out at 12:45 and I would walk home, sometimes buy an obwarzanek on the way home, and then study while eating leftovers for lunch.

There were seven of us in the class, and two teacher who rotated out during our 15-minute coffee break. Despite the limited number of students, our group was amazingly diverse. I was the only American, and the youngest in the class by almost a decade. There was a Vietnamese woman who splits her time in three-month blocks between Vietnam and Poland because of her Polish boyfriend. A Chinese woman had just moved to Poland but was trying to convince her Polish husband to move back to China. Two Brazilians, one of whom was also taking English classes but who had moved to Poland recently to get married to a Polish woman and the other who was in his 50s and hadn't lived in the same location for more than six months over the last ten years. I never really got the story behind the Ecuadorian man, but he was about 40 and . The last person to join was originally from Vancouver, BC, but had been living in Poland for the past three years with his Polish wife.

I was quite jealous that most people in the class had native-Polish speakers at home to study with, but I'm sure my extra time (because I wasn't working or taking a second language class) was envied by them. Our little group became quite amicable during our coffee breaks and after-class pack-up. I had brought in banana bread at some point during the first week and almost every day after that someone else brought in a treat to share with the group. Over the three weeks I tried traditional Polish doughnuts covered with an orange glaze and filled with rose-flavored jelly, Portuguese custard tarts, and healthy-feeling seed cookies, among a variety of other small snacks and treats. I became good enough friends with my seat-neighbor to go out to lunch one day after class and to seek out a yarn shop on another day once she learned I was taking on some crocheting projects. A few of us went to lunch together on the last day, and many of us are friends on Facebook or Instagram now, but I don't have high hopes for continuing friendships.

The course ended with a 90-minute final exam followed by a small awards ceremony where we received a report card and certificate of completion. Even though I had more classroom time in my three weeks as someone would get taking the semester-long course, I might have preferred the more drawn-out option. For one, there would have been more time to bond with my classmates. Also, learning a language requires a lot of memorization and repetition, and despite studying for up to four hours a day after class I could have used more time to let the vocabulary steep into my usable lexicon. It's nice to have a crash-course of most-needed phrases, but I think if I were to sign up for another one it would be the longer-lasting evening class.

I do feel more confident out in the world, and being able to say numbers and ask about the price of something has already been quite helpful out in the world. I was able to ask for four small boxes, three big boxes, and eight envelopes at the post office the other day. Also, thanks to inspiration from the "common Polish foods" section of my Polish book Cameron made naleśniki, Polish pancakes, for breakfast the other day. Some days for homework we were told to ask about the price of something at a shop or to order a meal at a restaurant or repeat back the price of something we were buying an because I was instructed to do these tasks as a school assignment I felt more empowered to make mistakes or look like a tourist. At lunch one day I even took out my textbook and read from it directly when asking to split the check.

Once Christmas is over, I think I will try to keep up some of the routine that was set by my class. I plan to set aside at least 40 minutes each day to walk around town, even if there isn't a particular destination I need to go to, followed by three hours of Polish-related studying. That might include re-reviewing my textbook or making an attempt to read Matylda. Since the primary library is quite close to the school, I'm thinking that might be a good alternative spot to head to in order to get out of the house. Maybe starting next week I'll be a common visitor to the children's section.

Even when my day was filled up with class-related things, I still found time to take care of most of the little tasks I had created for myself on my keep-busy list. After crocheting a matching mittens and scarf set, I made myself a beanie followed by a doily-like table centerpiece. I've baked pretzels, banana bread, apple muffins, and Christmas cookies. Because of Christmas there aren't many people on Bumble BFF who have time to meet up. All of the specialty shops I've needed I've  found. I've even taken to running two miles a day when the air quality is good. Fingers crossed that the work permit is processed soon, but in the mean time let me know if you have any clever ways to stay busy!

Jorge, Binh, Christian, Tran, Luis, Me and Xiaoli 

One of our teachers, Aga, and the picture of a room that we drew as a class.

Tran, me and Jorge

Monday, December 16, 2019

Shopping in Poland and Christmas Preparation

Ah, another week and many more projects undertaken!

I'm still quite amazed by how simple errands and chores become such grand adventures here. It's a mix of not knowing the language, but also the organization of the world is laid out differently here than in the US. In America, if I needed some semi-obscure thing I would go to a mega-store like Fred Meyers or Walmart. On rare occasions I would go to Home Depot for home projects. I might quickly Google "where can I buy..." and then if nothing showed up immediately I'd order it on Amazon. And if it was something really obscure I would search on Etsy. Since none of those are viable options here, I have to resort to alternatives.

Allegro is the best alternative to Amazon, but with some key drawbacks. For one, the site does not have an English language option, so any online shopping requires the aid of a Polish/English translator. But of course, not everything has a direct translation, and sometimes we don't know the correct English term to try and translate. For example, we wanted a "sifter" for sifting flour and powdered sugar with, but when I type in the Polish translation"przesiewacz" into Allegro's search bar I get a series of concrete mixing machines. So next I go to Amazon and search for "sifter" to learn that it is more appropriately called a "mesh strainer." Per Google Translate I now type in "filter siatkowy" into Allegro. This time I am recommenced various bolts and washers that look like they might be used for some sort of plumbing? Ok, back to Amazon. Some of the appliances there are labeled as "flour sifters" so I try the Polish version–"przesiewacz do mąki" in Allegro. Alas! A search result that actually is what I was looking for!

Even once we find what we want online, getting it delivered to us is another adventure. We've had a few packages arrive at our apartment, but they all have come in different forms. Sometimes we get an official slip in our mailbox directing us to pick up a package at the post office. One time a note was left taped to our door informing us that we had a package at the front desk. Another time we received an email from the online store telling us a package was delivered, but nothing was on our door or in our mailbox, so we just had to know to go down to the front desk. Also, with Allegro, sometimes a package will be delivered to a community drop-off point rather than your house. Surely there is a logical explanation as the various postal deliveries, but you can see why it's typically easier to buy something in person, when possible.

Galeria Krakowska, the mall, is naturally the best place to start when looking for a new product. There is a big grocery store that also sells a selection of office/school supplies, toiletries, kitchen appliances, cleaning supplies, and seasonal items (like wrapping paper). If they don't have something surely one of the other more specialized stores in the mall will. Media Markt is where we go for electronics, Rossman or Hebe carry a similar array of household products and toiletries as a Walgreens, and there are a few kitchen-supplies stores. Even with all of these options we've struggled to find a pie dish, a fondue pot, and (as previously mentioned), a sifter.

When we need something, I will typically do a search of my own after Polish class. Even when I don't have anything in particular I'm looking for, I'll often wonder into miscellaneous stores just to catalog who sells what for future needs. If my attempts and tracking down our item du jour come up empty handed I'll enlist Cameron to ask his coworkers. Although very willing to share advice, often times the things we are looking for are beyond the normal shopping knowledge of his coworkers. I think we will have to make do without chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk during our time here. One coworker did say she found corn starch, but I haven't been able to verify that, so in the meantime we are swapping in potato starch.

Most the time I'm satisfied with an alternative or living without, but there are a few things for which that will not work. In those cases, I turn to the Krakow Expats Facebook group. Most of the time I get a handful of likes and then two or three comments. Usually, one of the three comments will be truly helpful. Thanks to other Expats I found a pretty good post office for shipping packages internationally (which no matter how convenient is always going to be expensive) and a lovely garden shop. I would have loved to buy a full-sized Christmas tree, but I wasn't willing to carry it over my shoulder for 40 minutes and there was no way I was going to try and walk onto a bus with a Christmas tree. Instead Cameron and I have a 40cm pine tree of some sort that is planted in soil and will hopefully keep living until next Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, our house is about as decorated as it's going to get, however with our orange curtains it's hard to feel like we've taken on the Christmas spirit, no matter how many lights we hang up. We have a few strings of lights, some mistletoe hanging in the main hallway, and our little tree is decorated with homemade crocheted snowflakes. Cameron and I have already done all of our Christmas shopping and have thoroughly explored the Christmas markets, however there was a one-weekend Christmas bazar that we went to on Saturday. As we approached the address, we realized it was in a very ugly concrete building that is covered in one big advertisement and which I regard as a general eyesore on the river bank. Just the previous weekend Cameron and I had been debating whether the building was used for anything, and it turns out it makes a great spot for a 200+ vendor Christmas bazar! Other than a little art for our apartment (happy Christmas to us!) and some homemade treats we didn't buy anything, but it was fun to walk around.

The next day (prompted by our need for a sifter and fondue pot) we headed off to the mall. Being so close to Christmas, this weekend was an exception to the no-shopping-on-Sundays rule. On the way there, Cameron pointed out a sign for a "book, ornaments and pastry fair." Intrigued, we had to go in! We went into our first Krakowian church, which was filled vendors that sold either books, ornaments, or pastries (nothing else) and tons of huge religious-themed art on the walls! The vendors were setup in a series of vestibules next to the main chapel, which was simultaneously holding Sunday mass (a bit odd, in my opinion). Still on sugar-overload from the previous day's treats, we turned down the pastries being peddled to us, but for some reason decided to buy Polish copies of Harry Potter (books 2 & 3) and Matilda. Cameron is already through the first 11 pages of Harry Potter i Komnata Tajemnic (he claims he's pretty much memorized the book in English so he can easily translate it) but I've opted to wait until my Polish class is over before I start on Matylda. I know the book is way over my current language skill level and will take intense translating time to get through it.

As mentioned in a previous post, there is a small Christmas market outside of the mall. I had not yet tried grzane piwo–hot beer–and Cameron was keen to get his hands of some hot market meat. The beer was defiantly an experience...but not necessarily one I'm going to seek out again. I watched as the woman poured some cinnamon into a plastic cup and then started to dispense hot foam from a spigot. The foam slowly condensed into liquid beer,  but it was a series of her pouring foam, waiting a minute for it to mellow out, and then repeating the cycle until 3/4 of the glass was drinkable liquid. In between one of the cycles she also poured in a reddish liquid, which I'm guessing was raspberry or cherry syrup. In the end, the primary flavor was an amplification of the tinniness that I associate with cheap beer. Cameron said his sausage (which ended up being 3x bigger than he anticipated) tasted exactly like he expected–low-quality meat that had been overcooked but was a good hearty way to fill yourself up. Both, I'd say, are experiences that are rightfully reserved just for once a year at a Christmas market.

The Christmas markets, alongside the rest of the city, will close down on the 24th. Knowing that we will have limited shopping and activity options December 24-27th, I'm trying to make sure Cameron and I have a Christmas plan in place. Christmas Eve is the primary celebratory day here, and after deciding against cooking a traditional 12-course Polish dinner for just Cameron and I, we decided to make a reservation at one of the few places that will be open that night. Depending on how we're feeling afterwards, we might try to follow Polish tradition and attend midnight mass at one of the nearby churches. For Christmas dinner, I'm hoping to invite a few people over for cheese fondue (typically a Christmas Eve tradition in the Leapley household). We'll have to make sure to do our grocery shopping in bulk beforehand so we actually have ample food to feed anyone who can make it. Based on my research, I'm also keen to go to a living nativity scene on Christmas Day, go ice skating, or check out the Christmas crib exhibit at Museum Celestat. Mostly, I want to make sure the day feels like a holiday and isn't just an excuse to watch another season of Ru Paul's Drag Race mid-week. Feel free to share ideas with me!

Our little Christmas tree. 

Mistletoe and lights hung around the house.

The building you see in the background with the big blow-up image of a guy leaning forward is the ugly advertisement building which hosted this weekend's Christmas bazar. 

At the bazar we tried a vegan Kinder Country-flavored cream tart and a raspberry/pistachio/cherry cake. 

Baked some Christmas-themed sugar cookies.

Mega market sausage.

Hot beer.

Polish Matylda

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Very Long Night to Remember

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day (Dzien Świętego Mikołoja) in Poland. From what I can tell, it's mostly a children's holiday and as an adult your day is unchanged; you still go to work and there isn't a big dinner to fuss over. However, since it was Cameron's first St. Nicholas Day, I woke up early to uncover what St. Nicholas had left for him. After that, though, the rest of the morning was business as usual. I went to my Polish class, and one of the students brought in Pączkis, the famous rose-filled doughnuts, but it was just because he was hungry on his way to class, not in celebration of St. Nick.

Coincidentally, the Remitly holiday party was scheduled for that evening and was the true excitement for the 6th. I was excited to dress up, put on some makeup, and go out for an evening of socializing. I was feeling very festive with some sparkly gold eyeshadow until Cameron got home and said with shock "you look scary." I wasn't willing to change my makeup but I did modify my hair a little to appease him; I still don't really know how my festive look translated to "scary."

Despite my disappointment we left the house late and the six-bell chime at St. Mary's officially marked that we would be fashionably late. Out tardiness was lengthened since Cameron had forgotten about the white elephant exchange so we quickly stopped by one of the Christmas markets and mall to pick up two gifts along the way. It was around 18:30 when we walked into Bistro 11, which seemed to be the exact wrong time to arrive. Of the two long farmhouse tables one was completely full and one was completely empty so we were left with the decision to either sit by ourselves at a 20-person table or to awkwardly hover over the shoulders of those who had arrived before we did. Luckily there was an appetizers bar to mingle by and a few people stood up to join us.

I had expected to be on the high-end of the dress code based on my observations at some previous Remitly parties but Cameron's Polish coworkers were a much trendier group; I was done up to the perfect amount. The little restaurant that Remitly rented out was really cute with all of the Remitly Christmas decorations and was well suited to the vibe of the party. Once both tables were filled with Remitly's employees and their plus ones (apparently a little unusual for Krakow) we were treated to a seated three-course meal accompanied by seemingly unlimited beer and wine. Even though everyone stayed stationary during the meal, there was lots of mixed mingling afterwards. I had such a nice time talking to everyone there!

White elephant was also really successful, and despite no one else ever having played it before the quality of gifts was superb! There was a good number of gag-gifts (which of course are a staple to a well-rounded game) but we ended up with relatively good snatches. Cameron got a four-person espresso cup and saucer package and I got a bag of local chocolates accompanied by the game Dobble (it looks fun but it is hard to tell exactly how it's played since the instructions are in Polish). Surprisingly, the most stollen gift was a large fleece-covered piggy bank about the size of a classroom globe.

At some point after midnight Cameron and I head out. The whole way home we complimented the organization of the evening and how we each really enjoyed ourselves. I know I don't work for Remitly, but it really feels special being part of this small group of people who seem really excited about their work. It feels a bit like being part of a start up without the risks. We were also both really excited to get home and immediately snuggle into bed after our 25 minute walk in the cold. Unfortunately we were about to find out that we still had a long night ahead.

It took a minute for me to realize that Cameron wasn't able to open the door; his key was turning but the door remained latched. Each of us tried multiple times, with both of our keys, but it felt like the door was still dead bolted. Our door has two key holes but we were only give keys to the top one and it seemed like the bottom lock had been engaged. The illogical thought that popped into my mind was that we had forgotten to pay rent so someone came by while we were out and locked us out. Naturally, we went down to the security desk to try and explain the situation.

I already mentioned that I drank a lot, but it was over the course of many hours and our chilly walk home was sobering. However, I was very self-conscious of the fact that we were going to try to explain this very bazar situation while dressed up in our nice clothes while carrying two gift bags and a helium-inflated golden star balloon. Through the aid or Google Translate, an electronic copy of our lease, and a display of our keys we were able to explain to the security guard that we had lived in our apartment for 3 months (and weren't just temporary Air B&B guests) and did not have the second key that we needed to get in. To my dismay, he didn't have a spare key nor did he have any useful advice or contact information. He recommended we call our apartment owner and property manager, but of course neither of them were answering their phones at 1am.

I looked for an open locksmith, but no one was answering their phone. Clearly, we weren't going to get back into our house that night. My suggestion was to go to a nearby hotel but Cameron suggested calling Mike (the other American) first. Mike didn't answer his phone, presumably because he already had gone to sleep after the party, so we set off in search for a room. Cameron's phone was on very low battery and my maps seemed to be loading very slowly which added to the intensity of the situation, but at that moment I still wasn't particularly worried. I could think of at least three hotels within a few blocks of our apartment and figured we wouldn't have an issue getting a cheap room.

Just because of the proximity, our first stop was the Pegasus Hostel directly across the street; I figured it wouldn't be great, and there was a chance we would be in communal rooms, but it was just for one night. The doors were open, but I thought that might only be because of the young woman smoking outside. A taped up piece of paper pointed us up to the first floor. Upstairs was a series of corridors and communal bathrooms but nothing that was indicative of a receptionist desk. I used the toilet while Cameron did a little more scoping, but we ended up heading back out.

There was another hostel down the street, but Cameron vetoed that right away because of it's sketchiness (i.e. graffiti). The next stop was Radisson Blu; I figured it would be our last stop, even if it meant spending a few hundred dollars. At 1:30am we showed up with our gift bags and gold balloon and asked for a room. Nothing. I was more shocked than upset, and the receptionist began to call other hotels in the nearby area on our behalf. He called at least four hotels within a 20 minute walk. Nothing. I didn't know what the next step was going to be until a second receptionist said she was seeing rooms available on for the nearby Sheraton. We used the lobby computer and saw that their room was going to cost us $500! I was hesitant but Cameron was ready for this nightmare to be over so he tried to book it. Of course, since it was past midnight, wouldn't let us book the room.

We grabbed our balloon (which was starting to feel like the red coat in Schindler's List) and walked another two blocks. At least we knew there was going to be a room. The Sheraton receptionist greeted us with surprise and when we asked for a room he said he didn't have any. I corrected him and informed him of the rooms shown on, but he said even if there are empty rooms the Sheraton software won't let him rent them out after midnight. He recommend we try again, but as expected, it didn't work. With growing desperation we asked for any recommendations and he pointed us to a group of three more nearby hotels.

I still wasn't panicking since we still had multiple options. That started to crack after the next hotel turned us down, and then when the one after that also had no availability I began to resign myself to sleeping in the hallway floor outside of our apartment. The final hotel we tried looked very luxurious (read: expensive) and had a pretentious sounding name. When we walked in we were greeted by a doorman dressed in a gold suit and invited to sit on the plush victorian furniture while a large group finished checking out. The doorman sensed that we were pretty beat (I'm sure it wasn't hard given some obvious context clues we were exuding) but was very kind. He asked if there was anything he could help with and when we explained we were looking for a room he gave me immense hope by saying he didn't think that would be a problem.

Moments after I sat down Cameron noticed a miss call from Mike. Mike had apparently not heard his phone ring because he was still at the party when Cameron first called but he invited us to stay in his spare room. Part of me hesitated at the prospect of walking another 25 minutes when we were potentially could get a hotel room, but it was probably best to leave before we were coerced by comfort into spending upwards of $1000.

It was cold out, but we were hustling. There were only a few other people on the street: a couple who were happily looking up at the stars while staggering on the cobblestones, a group of loudly singing men, and two women running across a large but empty street. Overall, a pretty tame crowd. It might have been the tradition of not drinking leading up to Christmas but more likely it was the freezing temperatures that kept people indoors. We made it to Mike's apartment building just after 2am.

Mike and Natalia greeted us with sympathy and a cup of hot tea. I was very happy to sit and drink tea, but I was more excited for finally laying down. Mike apologized for the accommodations (a pull-out sofa and a thin blanket) but they were much appreciated! I just piled my jacket and scarf on top of me and stayed comfortably warm.

I woke up a little after 8:00. Cameron's phone had died over night so we had to get back into our house before my phone suffered the same fate. We wrote a quick thank you note and then snuck out of the house. The plan was to call a locksmith, but we decided to make a few detours on the way home. We were trying to walk with intention, but the freezing rain paired with our party shoes made that a little difficult. There was a locksmith's address listed close by, but there was no business identifiers from the outside so we kept going. The next stop was to walk by our property manager's office to see if they had an emergency number posted. Of course there wasn't anything new and we had already left emails and voice messages with them.

I started calling locksmiths on our walk home but the first three didn't speak English and one week of Polish class is quite insufficient to communicate our situation. I was able to pick up a suggestion to email one guy, but when I went to his website the email form was broken. Finally I got ahold of an English speaking locksmith who promised he could be at the house in about an hour. Finally we felt reassured that this would be over with soon. The next thing to do was to let the doorman know we were expecting someone and to get breakfast.

It was a different security guard than the night before, and when we told him we were getting a locksmith he disallowed it. Once again we went through the charade of using Google Translate to explain our situation. Finally, after following us upstairs to try his hand at our lock, he acquiesced that calling a locksmith was the only option.

Luckily there are dozens of breakfast places nearby so we stopped in one for paninis and hot chocolate. Thankfully the staff was quick because I wanted to be back at the apartment in case the locksmith was early (not likely, but it would have been awful if he left because we weren't there when he arrived). Cameron left in the opposite direction in search of a phone charger and I got the max amount of cash I could from a nearby ATM in order to pay the locksmith; I wasn't sure how much it would cost and I was expecting the worst. Not long after Cameron returned (without a charger) the locksmith called and explained he was having car troubles and wouldn't be there for another 40 minutes.

Cameron went back out to continue searching for a charger and I entertained myself by trying to interpret the Dobble instructions. My phone was at less than 50% battery so I didn't want to weaken it by listening to a podcast or unnecessarily using Google Translate. The time alone also gave me a reason to practice my upcoming Toastmasters speech (in my head of course! I wasn't going to speak allowed in English in our semi-public hallway!)

Cameron returned with a charger only to find out the accessible outlet was turned off. We waited mostly in silence.  Not long after the revised timeframe the locksmith showed up. He agreed with our hypothesis that the second deadbolt was loose and jiggled into the locked position when we last closed the door. Ultimately he had to break the lock. It took him about 10 minutes and cost 300PLN (about $75), which I thought was very reasonable. It was almost noon, which meant that it had been almost 12 hours since we learned that we were locked out.

Cameron's relief was palpable. He had held it together, but just barely. Once it was over he shared that this had been a true nightmare he had; being locked out of his home and unable to communicate his situation was a worst-case scenario for him. I think I handled the stress pretty admirably, but my reactions probably annoyed Cameron further. As we walked around searching for a hotel I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head. The whole situation was so ridiculously unbelievable! One of the reasons I was able to stay optimistic was that I always had a next-step in the back of my mind. The one time I almost broke down though was at the last hotel; if that one didn't have a room I didn't have another backup plan to fall back on. I think another thing that helped was knowing that this would make a really good blog story. I wouldn't go so far as to say "blogging saves lives" but it did help me through this unbearable situation.

Since getting home, we've forwarded all of the follow-up information to our property manager but we won't know until Monday what they think and if they'll reimburse us. My email to them was very terse and I informed them they needed an emergency number, we need to be provided all keys to the apartment, and the security desk needs to have back up keys. In our minds, this was a lot of stress caused by a structural malfunction so the owner should be charged with the cost of the locksmith and lock replacement, but I'm worried they will argue that we made a unilateral decision to break the lock. For now, at least, we are home and have duct tapped the malfunctioning deadbolts so it (hopefully) won't happen again.

Santa in the mall, outside of where we bought the gift bags for our white elephant gifts. 

The one photo we have from the party (holding the pined-after piggy bank).

Sitting outside our door, very tired. This is me trying to smile. 

Locksmith breaking our lock. You can see our gifts we were tracking around in the bottom left corner of the picture. We ended up ditching the gold balloon at Mike's house.  

Monday, December 2, 2019

Productive in Poland

Over the last month of hotel stays, I've had a lot of time to daydream about my "regular" life back in Poland and all of the things I would do to fill my time. Some ideas are practical, like taking online CPE (required trainings to maintain my CPA status), and other plans are more whimsical, such as setting up scenarios for Cameron and I to pretend we are contestants on Nailed It or The Great British Bake Off (which I might argue is still somewhat practical). Well, I've found so much to fill my time that I'm worried that finding time to work again will be nearly impossible! I guess this is the ideal that I everyone pines after when they hear the term "housewife." Here are a few thing's I've done to keep busy:

  1. Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies. Well, they were at least chocolate-chunk cookies. I went into three grocery stores of varying sizes and could not find chocolate chips, so I ended up buying a chocolate bar and chopping it up. Of course a dozen cookies is too much for me and Cameron, so I delivered most of them to Cameron's office, but they either were no good or were not well advertised because Cameron brought most of them back home at the end of the week. 
  2. Crocheting. While visiting Bellevue I stopped in a craft store that was going out of business and bought a crocheting hook and a huge spool of yarn. I've made a pair of mittens but I have to redo them since they are too small for my hands and I'm pretty sure I used the wrong stitch. I also went to a crocheting workshop here in Poland and learned to make snowflake ornaments. They are currently our sole Christmas decorations.
  3. Joined Bumble BFF. Thanks to my friend Heather's suggestion I'm finally getting to live out my fantasy of being on a dating app! Unfortunately there are not a ton of people who've joined in Krakow so the app only shows me a couple of people a week, but I did meet a real-life person from the app! I joined up with her and one of her other friends to try and do a free tour of Wawel (a bust because the tickets were all sold out) and walk around the Christmas markets.
  4. Christmas Markets! Although not as big as what I remember in Germany, there is still a lot to see. Of course the main attraction is the rows of stalls selling homemade crafts, including Polish pottery, handmade clothes, and Christmas decorations. Food is also in abundance, the most common seeming to be big grilled meat stalls and pirogi stations. Gluhwin is available, but I'm more keen to try to "grzane piwo"–hot mulled beer! I've found three Christmas markets, the biggest of course being in Old Town, but even the smallest of the three has a stage set up for periodic traditional Polish dancing and singing. 
  5. Planning a Ski Vacation. I feel like my friend Brittany, having done hours (really days) of research on various skiing options for our first European ski adventure. I pondered lists upon lists of recommendations from various websites and people I've met in person to ultimately decide on a week at Jansa Chopok, the largest ski area in Slovakia. The last week of January Cameron and I will drive about three hours south, cross the Polish-Slovakian boarder, and spend the week skiing in the Tatras Mountains, visiting an indoor waterpark, touring Slovak castles, and exploring an ice cave. Multiple websites referred to Jansa as "the next best thing to the Alps" and I figured since Cameron hasn't seen the Alps yet there's a chance this will be the coolest ski area he's ever gone to. Plus, the whole trip, including hotels, ski passes, passes for the other attractions, and food should cost less than $1,000. 
  6. Toastmasters. I had been to one Toastmasters meetings the week before we left for our visa trip to the US, and I was excited to go back for round two. The meeting is setup to ensure everyone speaks, even if it's just for a 30 second introduction, but this time I volunteered to do a two-minute impromptu speech. Somehow I walked away with a certificate marking me as the best table topics speech of the night (being a native English speaker definitely helped) and a request to prepare a five minute speech for a meeting in a few weeks. Now I just have to decide if it would be totally inappropriate to share my opinions about sperm and egg donation during my inaugural introduction speech. 
  7. Thanksgiving! I knew that Mike (the other Remitly American) wanted to do a proper Thanksgiving dinner but I didn't know until Tuesday that we would be hosting that dinner at our house. It made sense, since I had time to prep and to cook and Mike doesn't have a proper oven, plus I love hosting. I was quite smitten with the formal table setting and 12-dish meal we managed to put together. Nothing screams domesticity like a notebook outlining two days worth of cooking prep! But honestly, hosting fancy dinner parties with multiple courses is my dream in life.
  8. Continuing Professional Education (CPE). It doesn't sound like a ton of fun but sitting down to watch two hours of accounting-professionals talk about self reporting to the SEC for two hours was somewhat comforting. It's a good reminder that I am a professional and that I can maintain my edge even during my three-month hiatus. I've signed up for practically every free CPE course offered by the AICPA and am planning on doing at least one session a week.
  9. I work out! It might not be every day but it's at least close to every-other day. Heather had told me that if I'm not the fittest I've ever been during these months off then I'm doing something seriously wrong, and I've taken that a bit to heart. My current gym routine is an hour on the elliptical while I read my Kindle (right now I'm giving Sophie's Choice a shot) followed by 30-60 minutes of miscellaneous weightlifting machines and free weights. My favorite is a rotating disc that you stand on and swivel while you hold onto some hip-height handle bars; for the life of me I cannot find an example of this on Google.  
  10. Learn Polish. I'm still slowly making my way thorough the Duolingo lessons, but I also signed up for a three-week intensive language course. Today was my first day, and for three hours me and four other students struggled through our alphabet, numbers, and basic dialogue. I'm getting the feeling that I will need to come home and do some serious practicing every night, which might mean taking a pause on Duo. 
There seems to be tons of other things I still want/need to do–I truly do not know how regular working people have time for anything! Even with seemingly unlimited hours to myself I'm not sure if I will get to everything on my list and keeping a clean house and having a timely dinner overnight have already fallen to the wayside. But there is still more I want to do, so for my sake I'm using this as a to-do list:
  1. Christmas shopping (also need to wrap and mail presents)
  2. Decorate for Christmas- check out Pepco at Galeria Kazimierz
  3. Set up itineraries for people's visits to Poland. Try to include a mix of paid activities (salt mines, Auschwitz) and free things (walking tours, some museums). Let me know when you want to visit and what sort of things pique your interest!
  4. Find a knitting shop, craft shop, plant shop, and ski shop
  5. Write down all of the words I've learned on Duolingo
  6. Bake pretzels- for some reason I cannot get pretzels out of my brain!
Phew! Well they say that only boring people get board, so I guess I must be pretty interesting!

One of the many szopki (nativity scenes) around town. Most of them look like large colorful churches or castles and will ultimately be judged by a panel of judges in the Market Square (Rynek). 

Smok blowing some fire while I wait to meet my Bumble BFF outside of Wawel. 

Traditional Polish dance at the main Christmas market. 

Christmas market lights and crowds.

Our Thanksgiving feast. 

Joined by Mike and Natalia for Thanksgiving. It was Natalia's first Thanksgiving dinner and her first taste of pumpkin pie. 

Enjoying some mushroom soup at the Christmas market. 

A second Christmas market in Kazimierz. This one is smaller but it seems to cater more towards the locals so I think it's better. Also, it had the best pierogis I've had so far!