Monday, December 28, 2020


Last year I learned all about the Polish Christmas traditions, for example 24 December is the big family hoopla where you start on a 12 course feast once the first star in the sky becomes visible. Since we committed to the traditions last year, Cameron and I had our own plans for 2020. We had cheese fondue on Christmas Eve, and our 25 December meal also did not meet Polish standards (meaning we did not have barszcz, pierogi, or a carp that had been living in our bathtub for the week leading up to the holiday, nor did we set a plate for Jesus or other unexpected guests).  I did, however, add one Polish tradition to our Christmas table this year–a bundle of hay, which was actually some packing material leftover from a gift that was shipped to us.

Nothing new really came to my attention, except for Kevin. From what I've picked up Kevin is the colloquial name given to the Home Alone movies, probably because the Polish name is Kevin Sam w Domu (literally, 'Kevin Alone at Home'). And Home Alone, as I've learned, is a very popular Christmas movie in Poland. 

For my job's virtual holiday party we played a series of puzzle games, one of which was to watch a five minute clip from the movie and try to keep track of all of the nuances (what color was the phone, what letter is on the doorknob, what did the tall robber get hit in the head with, etc.) There was a big uproar when each group was sharing answers to the question "what is Kevin's last name." Half of the group had correctly surmised that Kevin calls 911 and says his name is 'Murphy.' The other half of the group complained that the question was misguided because everyone knows that Kevin's last name is 'McCallister.' 

As of 2013, Kevin ranked as the most popular Christmas movie in Poland since it was released in Poland in 1992. It seems its popularity is tied with the timing of the fall of communism (1989). It was, after all, one of the early American films, and definitely one of the first Christmas/children films. Apparently Die Hard is also quite popular, and one article writer, Bartosz Staszczyszyn, points out he thinks it's because "Die Hard is essentially Home Alone for adults." 

Maybe I'll have to see if Die Hard can be found for free on the internet, because Home Alone sure holds up! While writing this article, Cameron and had the movie playing in the background (it's free on YouTube). I hadn't seen the film in a few years, and other than the broad strokes I had almost no memories. I'll leave you with some of the winning quotes I jotted down from the first five minutes:

"You are what the French call, 'les incompetent.'"

"When I grow up and get married, I'm living alone."

"Mom, does Santa have to go through customs?"

Like I said, I really enjoyed the movie but watching all of the pain the robbers go through made me feel so bad for them!

I wasn't lying when I said people buy live carp and then keep them in their bathtubs. This tank was set up inside the grocery store and there are plenty more at all of the outdoor markets. 

Leading up to Christmas, Poland loosened some of it's Covid restrictions, including allowing non-essential businesses to open. This store (TK Maxx, not TJ Maxx) was one of the busiest in the mall.

I thought our Christmas hay was very cutely displayed with our bunny salt and pepper shakers having a snack out of it. 

We had a really lovely Christmas, including seafood pasta and some good friends. We were within the legal limits for number of people allowed at a Christmas gathering, plus it was nice to band together when none of us had any families we could visit. 

Christmas activities also included gingerbread decorating. 

Not really Christmas related, but I feel an obligation to update you on my mound progress. I did find the fifth and final mound, but it is not worth visiting- it's tiny, fenced off, and right next to a major road. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

My First Retirement

That's right—I have decided to "retire." My dad thinks this is very funny and he now wants to start a podcast with me, him, and Grandpa discussing retirement across three generations. That probably won't happen (for many reasons, one being that Grandpa can't hear anything anymore) but it is true that I have quit my job and have no intentions of looking for a new one in the foreseeable future. While technically I'm still a PwC employee until the end of the month, I kept my already booked vacation days making yesterday my last working day. I am so excited and relieved!

Yes, I know that actively choosing unemployment is an indicator of my immense privilege. I battled managing that privilege the first time I was a housewife and this time I think it is even more apparent. All I can say is that I am very grateful this option is available to me, but beyond that I won't start another privilege rant here. You can surely see breadcrumbs in my previous posts if you care to re-read them. 

I want to share the background of my time at work and why I ultimately decided leaving my job was the best choice for me. To do that, let me take you on the journey of my employment. *key dream sequence music*


When we first moved to Krakow I did not like being a housewife. I was bored, there was no structure to my days, and I had no social life. I didn't need a job for the money, but I wanted a purpose and a community to be a part of five days a week. At that point, too, I thought we would probably live in Poland for three or four years and the prospect of not working for that long was daunting. Even though I was beginning to doubt my previously gung ho resolve to stay in public accounting forever, it was the obvious choice to look for employment since my skillset would be directly transferable and I felt relatively confident they would hire an English-only speaker. Plus, I didn't want my CPA experience to atrophy. I interviewed with PwC on 24 October 2019, got a call the next day offering me the job (with the knowledge that my work permit would need to be approved before I could start working), and then I flew to the US for visa stuff on the 28th. This was all within three weeks of moving to Krakow, so pretty much since the beginning I was ~90% sure I would be working eventually.

I was told to expect the work permit approval process to take 3-6 months, so even when I was unhappy about my housewifing I always knew that it was temporary. However, in the four months between my interview and my start date I started to really enjoy the routine I set for myself. It was plenty of time to build up a social life, plus I think Cameron developed a reliance on me handling all of the administrative parts of life. Essentially, I decided that if the work permit didn't come through, I wouldn't actively look for another job. 

First Impressions

I started at a weird time of year and in a weird position. Coming in mid-February (which also means mid-busy season) as an experienced senior does not lend well to traditional onboarding procedures. Yet, I still received all the standard corporate "welcome onboard" emails and I expected my first week to be pretty low-key; probably sitting in a conference room watching culture-infused training videos. Unexpectedly, two days before my first day I got a text message saying I should meet at the client's office, which of course put me into a little bit of a panic. It did get straightened out and I started in the PwC office on my first Monday morning, but I also ended up spending the second half of the day on the client site.

Right off the bat I was in charge of a few projects. I both liked that the team had enough confidence in me to give me those early responsibilities, but I was also overwhelmed because I was trying to prove my competence while trying to learn so many things from scratch. I had never worked on a for-profit client or in an IFRS environment and trying to catch the nuances while taking a trial-and-error approach to figuring out the general admin and PwC-specific methodologies was exhausting. I know I should have asked more questions early on, but everyone else seemed too busy to burden, plus I wanted to live up to the praise I was getting for being self-reliant and capable.

I also felt like I was a bit of a nuisance because I only speak English. Most of the time in the audit room people would talk amongst themselves in Polish unless I was specifically being drawn into the conversation. That's fine, but it is harder to passively pick up tidbits about your coworkers when you don't follow the rolling conversation. Perhaps if the general stress level was lower I might have been a more active conversation leader so I could insert myself into the discussions better, but probably not since I was still trying to learn my new workplace's etiquette. It might sound like I am complaining about my coworkers—I assure you I'm not—but I felt bad that I was interrupting their routine because I didn't know Polish. I'm not a particularly self-conscious person, but I do pride myself on my ability to fit in and not being able to converse in the "normal" way meant I didn't fit in as seamlessly as I would have liked.


I kept reminding myself that close connections take months, and I did feel like I was making progress connecting with the team. That progress slowed down significantly once we all began working from home, which was less than a month after I started at PwC. This was terrible timing because now the casual information gathering I did have was cut off. Working from home took away my ability to gauge "normal" working hours and daily productivity. I also could no longer call out to the room and ask, "does anyone know how to..." but instead I had to choose to impose my question on someone. The problem was I didn't have enough of a relationship with anyone yet to feel comfortable constantly pinging my problems to. 

There were good things about working from home, though. I liked that I no longer had a commute and I could eat whenever I wanted (rather than waiting for the group to collectively decide it was lunchtime). It also made me very grateful to have a job. When Poland did a full lockdown I was so thankful to have something specific to focus on each day. There was also a lovely two month period of time where we were told not to work any overtime and I really liked working a true eight-hour workday. Like everyone else, my team figured out how to adjust to the virtual environment and I began to feel like I (kind of) knew what I was doing. 

Stress & Anxiety

As is the nature of public accounting, as soon as you start to feel confident with one aspect of the job things are bound to change. Some key members of my team left PwC, leaving a handful of projects to be distributed amongst the remaining seniors. When available, people transitioned onto our team to fill in but it still meant more projects were falling into my lap. I didn't have a good sense of how long things would take, so when I was told I should be able to finish up part A today and get through parts B-D by the end of the week I would meekly agree that it seemed possible. But "possible," I learned, only happened in an ideal world and we were not living on that planet.

For example, the initial project I was assigned on my first day at PwC should have wrapped up in less than two weeks. It took me about double that time, partially because of the learning curve, partially because I was also trying to juggle other side projects, and partially because the client was not ideal. And that was only to mostly finish. There was one little holdup, and while I waited for that to be resolved I focused on other projects. Periodically, I would have a lull and would check in on the little holdup—sometimes I would be able to progress a smidge further but typically I was told, "it will happen soon." That little holdup stayed in limbo for months and months, and ultimately it never was resolved in the 10+ months at the job. 

Some people would be able to brush that off with a "not my problem" attitude. I am not one of those people. I really care about my work and I work off a running checklist, so until something is truly done it lingers on that list indefinitely. Effectively that results in a very long list, and long to-do lists are really just a visual representation of increasing stress. Some weeks I did take those on-hold projects off the list, just to manage my stress a little bit, but even so I knew that if that one little piece came through it would be all hands on deck to finalize that project. 

The workload was definitely the most potent ingredient in my personal anxiety cocktail, but it wasn't the only one. I started to be part of weekly calls with the client which were fully in Polish until it was my turn to speak; again, that's fine, except I couldn't gauge if I was using the right tone or saying the right things because I couldn't match the others. I was also learning that my options to get CPE (continuing professional education—a requirement for maintaining my CPA status) were very limited, which left me to seek out webinars outside of work. Essentially, I would take the same trainings twice–once for work and once for CPE—and the CPE ones would always be at weird hours (think 10 pm on a Tuesday) thanks to the time difference. 

I also wasn't getting to enjoy my favorite part of my job, which is helping and teaching others. Yes, I periodically had an associate working with me whom I would guide via video chats, but most of the time I felt so bogged down with my own workload that I didn't feel like I could be an effective guide to others. It both helped and hindered having new people rotate onto our team as I could sympathize and commiserate with them about the onboarding process, but since I couldn't dedicate much time to them I also knew I was perpetuating the stressful cycle the "figure it out yourself" attitude creates. 

Quitting Thoughts

There were some ups, but it seemed like the ups only came after a long series of downs. I had one project (which ended up expanding into three or four, but that's a different story) that we needed to finish by the end of August. I had many 12+ hour days leading up to 31 August… and then we didn't issue. Panic mode kept on rolling for another week and that's probably when I first started toying with the idea of quitting.

It took me a long time until I truly decided to quit, but I started testing out the idea with small things. I laid out my grievances to see which ones would be acted upon. My boss agreed I shouldn't work longer than ten-hour days, and I was tentatively granted a week off during busy season for a ski trip in the Alps. Also around this time, Cameron and I decided we would only stay in Krakow another year so I knew I would need to quit by mid-summer 2021 anyways. Every change (good and bad) helped to hone in on when in our 12-month scale I would quit. 

My mood was souring and the urge to quit kept growing, especially as my expectations about project competition dates kept getting dashed over and over again and more and more of my coworkers quit. I'm pretty positive (even for an American) but I was having a harder and harder time maintaining a professionally cheerful attitude. I tried lots of remedies: meditation apps, gratitude journals, CBD oil, Bright Mood tea, and breathing exercise all supplemented my already daily exercise and weekly socializing routines. Although they probably helped to some extent, I still kept inching closer to the "quit now" side of the scale.

Decision Time

Even with my mood-lifting attempts I was still crying regularly. (Maybe another pro to working from home is that you can cry while you work and no one has to be the wiser?) Somewhere in the late September time frame everything compiled together and culminated in a panic attack. I was already starting to tear up thinking about the absurd number of things I needed to do when an email came through with another set of impossible tasks. I started to feel dizzy, I couldn't breathe, and I wanted to throw up. I made it to the bathroom where I sat on the toilet lid and leaned into the wall so that the cool surface could cool my now-sweating face. 

I heard a statistic (that I will probably misquote) that Americans typically feel miserable for five years before they will seek out help. I was not willing to be an average American. At this point I tried my final maybe-I-won't-quit option and I made an appointment with a counselor. 

I signed up via a counseling service that PwC provided. My call was in mid-October and I was a little hesitant to complain about work to someone provided to me by my employer. I quickly learned that the counselor I was matched with had no practical knowledge about what PwC does and I opened up about my complaints. I expected she would be a mostly passive listener who would leave me with some tips on how to manage my stress better. Somewhat to my disbelief, she seemed very invested in my plight and told me I wouldn't be able to thrive so long as I kept having to operate in survival mode. She adamantly agreed that I needed to fully disconnect from work, whether through quitting or via a psychologist-prescribed mental health sick leave. I set a time slot in my bosses' calendars for the next week to share my "2021 intentions."

Practicalities of Quitting

In Poland, if you have worked at a job for more than three months you have to give a minimum one month's notice. I wanted to give a full two months because I wanted my transition to go as smoothly as possible. I figured with two months they would be able to find my replacement and I would be able to finish up everything on my to-do list. On 27 October, I formally announced my intentions to only continue working for PwC through the end of December. 

The reasons I gave for quitting were all sincere. I was truthful that the stress was negatively impacting my mental health and that I did not want to subject myself to a full busy season's demands. I shared that I wasn't getting some of the simple things I wanted out of this job (CPE, community) and that I wanted to ensure I had time to enjoy living in Europe. I admitted that I didn't feel like I was a good employee and that I constantly felt I was outputting at a mediocre standard. Another big reason was that I didn't feel like I was making the world a better place by auditing a huge telecommunications client. I know from my experience with nonprofits and tribal governments that I am willing to put up with a lot of shit if I feel like I am assisting with a greater mission of good. 

I knew my announcement was a blow to my team, but amazingly everyone was happy for me and really supportive. I caught a glimpse of jealousy in some people—I'm sure quitting had crossed their minds at some point as well. I knew it would have to happen, but I still felt guilty as I watched my unfinished tasks being doled out to the few remaining team members. I wasn't sure how much to share, or how widely to share it, so I found myself giving cryptic responses to the client and some colleagues as the topic of 2021 planning came up in conversation. 

The last few weeks were by no means a breeze, and in some ways they were the toughest weeks of the year. I think if I didn't have the knowledge that it would be over soon I probably would have had a second panic attack. At one point my manager asked if I would be willing to extend my time for a few weeks if the current projects didn't wrap up by the end of December. I snapped at him and not-so-politely said, "definitely not. I am fed up with this job. The reasons these projects are still ongoing are not my fault and I feel no obligation to fix the problems that other people made." Yes, that was not a shining moment, but I am happy to say I did fully wrap up the one huge project that everyone was most worried about on my last day.

Looking Back

I know that I did not handle everything ideally. From the beginning I could have been more open about my concerns and I could have been more upfront with my questions. I could have tried to better separate myself from my work and I could have been more demanding about my needs. I could have stayed for a full year. I could have played it out even longer and just kept at it until we moved. If I wanted, I'm sure I could have even kept going beyond that by transitioning from PwC Poland to PwC USA. 

I could have, but I didn't, and that's ok. Clearly, I felt like there were plenty of reasons to quit, but I also had many reasons to stay which made the decision not-so-clear-cut: I like having purpose, I like making money, I care about my coworkers, I worry I'm unfairly attributing pandemic/politics/expat stresses to work, I pride myself on not being a quitter, I'm worried that a multi-month gap on my resume will make it harder to get a job, I also worry that my knowledge/skills/drive/critical thinking will disintegrate the longer I don't work, and biggest of all—I don't like disappointing people. 

Quitting was hard and scary, but I'm really proud of myself for going through with it. When I was still debating with myself, one friend shared his story of quitting a job and the relief it brought him. That was the predominant emotion I felt, too. There was also excitement and anticipation but the relief is still so strong I'm almost giddy. 

All that said, I am grateful for this job. As one coworker put it, "it was quite absorbing and particularly unusual," but I made good connections and I learned a lot. Many of the lessons learned were about myself rather than about audit and accounting, although there were plenty of those, too. I've finally admitted to myself that counter to popular opinion, I want to be a big fish in a small pond. Also, and probably more importantly, I now know that I won't be fully satisfied unless I connect to my work's mission. We'll see how those come together for my next act. 

What's Next? 

When I was feeling particularly frustrated and overwhelmed, one of my outlets was to fill out two lists: 1) other things I could do with my time, and 2) other jobs I could consider. I won't look for another job while I'm in Poland. For one, I don't really have time to go through the job permit process, but also I don't really know what I want to do next. Some of my other jobs are accounting- and finance-related, but I also have a few wacky ones on there, too. My favorites are: environmentalist, party planner, licensed joyologist, dating advisor, and local government official/mayor. Before I commit to the next phase of my career I want to take this time to truly figure out what I want to do and what I require out of a job. I'm considering this my first retirement since it will be a time to reflect, relax, and recoup. 

Although I don't have a title to give myself at the moment other than "housewife," I don't think I will be wearing the stereotypical housewife heels and pearls this time around. This time, housewifing is completely my choice and I have a plan! I anticipate splitting the average day into segments: three hours for life planning, three hours for education, two hours for reading, and one hour of exercise will make up my workday. I have a few big personal projects that I've been daydreaming of for months now and I'm excited to finally get started on them. I'm also offering my services as a copy editor, resume reader, mock interviewer, vacation researcher, and old undies mask maker.

I may not know exactly where I'm going next, but I know I made the right choice for me right now. 

Just a pretty photo from one of Wawel Castle's archery holes. I suppose you could apply some related inspirational message like "bright look at the future" to make the photo fit the theme, if you want to. 

One week I had three late nights of CPE in a row. I started to watch the webcasts from the bathtub to try and decrease my stress levels even though it still felt like I was working at 10 pm. 

The doodlings of an unhappy employee. 

I wasn't kidding when I said I would make you a mask out of your old underwear, but no promises that they'll look very good. I can promise, though, that I'm a pretty good resume editor and proofreader.  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas Factory

Last weekend Dom Little'a became Warsztat Mikołaja (Santa's workshop). On the morning of the 6th we woke up with candy in our shoes, courtesy of Świętego Mikałaja. Throughout the weekend we took out the Christmas decorations, hung the lights, and baked lots and lots of cookies: cranberry citrus shortbread, ginger triangles, lemon meltaways, and peanut butter cups. After two full days of baking I hopped on my sled (bike) and travelled across the city to deliver the treats. In the evenings we listened to Christmas carols and watched the 2020 editions of the rom-com Christmas movie staples. 

In some ways last weekend was an example of "fake it 'til you make it." I was not feeling the holiday spirit this year until we started to put some Christmas activity into action. I wasn't being a total Scrooge, but I just didn't think we needed to make a fuss for the holiday. Now I'm starting to feel the itchy desire to wrap presents and tie a red ribbon in my hair (which I might actually do for my company's Zoom holiday party on Monday). When friends inquire about our holiday plans my response has changed from "nothing" to "I'm not sure"–progress!

There have been some outside influences that have helped, too. I walked into Old Town for the first time in a while and it was nice to see the city's decorations strung across the streets and a lit up tree in the town center. The highly decorated nativity scenes are sprinkled around town and twice this week I spotted the Wesołych Świąt (Merry Christmas) tram. Plus, as a super bonus, it snowed twice in the last two weeks. It's only one more week of work until Cameron and I start our winter holiday, but the 6:30am church bell next door is already starting to ring more like a Christmas chime than a morning alarm to my ears. On a bit of tangent, it's been surprisingly pleasant living right next to a big church. The bells go off at 6:30, 12:00, and 18:30 so it's not incessant, and the predictability isn't so unwelcome either. Although I think the 6:30 bells don't chime on Sundays.

But back to the matter at hand–Christmas...although I always start thinking about my New Year's resolutions this time of year as well. I typically pick one or two each year, and normally I'm pretty good about keeping them. I'd say on average I hit about 80% of my full-year goal on average. Last year's resolutions were to have moments of gratitude every day (which I wasn't so good at) and to actively practice Polish every day. Thanks to Duolingo and Drops I actually did pretty well with this one- I bet there were less than 10 days this year that I did not "do my Duos," and even some of those days I had the excuse of participating in a Polish meeting at work. 

This year I've been developing a list of potential 2021 resolutions. Some are food based (no sugar, no processed food, vegan a few days a week), a few are personal habit-building (daily flossing, read 50 books, no pimple picking, practice cursive), others are consumerism related (no clothes shopping, zero waste, no plastic bags). Although I like them all, I am not committed enough to go for 10+ goals this year, nor do I think all are practical for me right now. Even though I would love to live a zero-waste life I don't have the resources to succeed at that. 

Over the years I've learned that the trick to a good New Year's resolution is to have built in loopholes. One of my most successful years was no buying alcohol for myself unless the situation required it. That meant I could order a cocktail if I went to a friend's birthday dinner and if Cameron was paying then I could buy a beer. That year I also held a lot of house parties so I had an excuse to buy some alcohol. Between now and 1 January I will be working out which resolutions I can find ways to weasel out of, and those will probably be the ones that I go for in 2021. Suggestions from the reading audience are welcome! 

We tried to go ice skating with some friends, but we didn't know you have to come by the rink 2 hours early to buy tickets, so instead we went to an Alice in Wonderland Garden Lights exhibit. 

Me with my spiritual sister, the Queen of Hearts plus Cameron and I taking our annual bunny clan holiday photo. The light exhibit was 30zł to get in and it was VERY crowded (an artifact of the limited activities available to families right now) but overall worth it.

The lights are everywhere though. The second photo is at outside of the malls. Leading up to Christmas there are many shopping Sundays and the government has lifted some of the shopping restrictions so that people can do their Christmas shopping. 

It's more than just Christmas lights; in one of the squares in the historic Jewish district there is a large menorah making the nights of Hanukah. 

Some of the intricate nativity scenes that can be found throughout the city. They look really lovely when they are lit up at night. 

My favorite nativity scenes, though, are these ones made by a local artist. 

The treats Świętego Mikałaja left us contributed to our gingerbread house decorations. 

Building the house felt more like performing surgery. We weren't sure if it would actually come together. 

But it did and now I've very pleased with our little Christmas corner. 

It was also fun to go on a snowy hike (to Piłsudski's Mound). I'm glad to have some experience with a snowier winter because I think next year Cameron and I will be living in Utah. Our moving to America plans will surely be the topic of a future blog post. 

And I'll finish this up with a little pride point, which is that I am a Duolingo power user, apparently. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Kudos to the Polish Medical System

To begin, Cameron has approved this post. And to make short of it, neither of us have Covid, but we were worried for a bit. But maybe that's because I'm a mild hypochondriac and will think that every minor ailment is Covid.

It started Thursday night. Cameron did not sleep at all and when he woke up on Friday he wasn't feeling well. As the day progressed his symptoms increased from a light general discomfort to more significant muscle aches and temperature swings. In addition, he felt a persistent and painful need to pee. I did some internet research to see if frequent urination was a Covid symptom. Although the common answer is "no", one study found 7 out of 57 males diagnosed with Covid reported more frequent than normal urination during their illness, which did not provide much relief. We decided to wait one more night before making any medical decisions, but Cameron went another night without sleep and woke up feeling fairly certain he had a UTI.

First thing Saturday morning was to call up Luxmed, our private medical insurance provider. They told Cameron that a doctor would call him at 10am for a phone consultation. While Cameron sat around in the bath I went to the drug store to pick up a thermometer, ibuprofen, vitamin C, cranberry juice, and adult diapers. I thought that at least Cameron might be able to sleep through the night if he could pee in bed. Rossman is not the biggest store and I circled the place three times in my search. I ended up settling on the largest children's diapers I could find (for kids up to 32kg) and some heavy duty menstrual pads. By some miracle, as I pulled out the pads I saw hidden in the back of the shelf some proper adult diapers! By another miracle, Rossman has self check out stations.

By the time I got back home, Cameron had confirmed he was running a fever and his phone consultation had mostly confirmed his UTI suspicions. The doctor promised Cameron an antibiotic prescription and set him up with an appointment for a pee test on Monday to verify. She also recommended picking up some Urosept supplements and two pee cups so that Cameron could have a quicker Monday appointment.

We called Luxmed at 8:30, Cameron had a consultation at 10:00, and I was able to pick up Cameron's meds around 15:00—all I needed was a prescription code that the doctor texted to him and his PESEL (the Polish equivalent to a SSN). I didn't have to go to a particular pharmacy, and other than the PESEL number I didn't have to give any form of ID on Cameron's behalf. It was a good thing I was able to go, too, because Cameron was in too much pain to move much beyond the distance between the toilet and the bedroom.

Between the antibiotics and the confirmation that Cameron was most likely not suffering from Covid, he started to feel better that evening. He even was able to sleep a little—he only woke up five times! If you are curious, he did wear a diaper to bed but elected to get up and use the toilet nonetheless.

Monday's lab results confirmed that Cameron did indeed have a UTI, but that it already was improving after just a few days. It's now been a week, and everything is back to normal. Cameron is still taking some Urosept and I'm still figuring out creative ways to feed him cranberries but the antibiotics are done and his pee schedule is back to normal. I was quit impressed by how efficient everything went. Yes, a UTI is a super common occurrence and the medical attention Cameron received was very impersonal, but it was all settled with very little stress on our part. Plus, the combined cost for the prescription antibiotics, pee cups, and Urosept was only 25 złoty—about six bucks. I'd call that a point in favor of publicly funded health care systems!

I found a cranberry citrus shortbread cookie recipe as a way to feed Cameron cranberries last weekend. I ended up making a second batch this weekend because I liked them so much. 

By Sunday Cameron was already feeling well enough to go out for a walk. I'm real pleased because otherwise he would have missed the first snow of the season!

Mound update- here's Krakus mound covered in snow. 

There are a number of Nordic skiing routes marked around town- this was the first time they actually seemed like they might be relevant. 

The snow was gone after about two days, and today was actually pretty warm- a high of 12 C. We did a little stroll into the grounds of Wawel Castle. 

It was strange to be in Wawel- it wasn't that early but it felt like we were the only one's there. 

There is no Christmas markets this year, but the city still hung up the holiday lights around town. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

Cameron and I celebrated Thanksgiving a week early, mainly because that's when we took time off and I wasn't about to cook a multi-course meal on a workday. On proper Thanksgiving, I mostly forgot it was a holiday until an occasional "Happy Thanksgiving" text message popped up or I saw someone's Instagram story about turkey prep. The rest of my day was pretty stressful, so the reminders that everyone in the US were celebrating a day off was a little disorienting.  

But our premature Thanksgiving was great! It's always fun to have an occasion to make a fuss over, but part of the fun of fussing is hosting other people. We were hesitant about having anyone over, and went through the same logic loops as everyone else surely does these days around social engagements.  Ultimately, we felt more pull towards social celebration so we conceded to the five person group legal limit.

While two of our guests were American, it was one person's first Thanksgiving. I'm pleased to say that we showed him a pretty good feast! Cameron made turkey, turkey gravy, brioche rolls, and pumpkin pie. I prepared cranberry sauce, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash soup, salad, salad dressing, and whipped cream. All of that was supplemented by our friends' dishes: roasted yams, green bean casserole, and apple pie. I'm sure I said it last year, but this year it's even more true- I'm pretty sure this was my favorite Thanksgiving meal I've ever had!

Like any good Thanksgiving, we had a little drama. Right as our friends were arriving a huge splash of water (maybe 2 liters) came out of the living room ceiling lamp. I was trying to not burn my Brussels while looking for an unused bowl we could put under the continuing drip. Cameron started sending photos to our landlord while one of our Polish-speaking friends and I went upstairs to talk to our neighbors. No one answered the door and it didn't seem like we needed to expect a second wave so we went on with the rest of our evening. 

We found out the next day that there was a burst pipe upstairs, but that we shouldn't have to worry about additional leaking. The only thing we had to worry about was the grinding sound of construction the whole next week- that surely didn't reduce my stress levels!

But back to Thanksgiving. Clearly, it is not a celebrated holiday in Poland, but many of my Polish friends and colleagues know of the holiday's existence. However, other than a few glimpses of it from American media, most people don't really know what the point is. Although they are British, not Polish, I would very much recommend listening to the Birthday Girls House Party podcast episode on Thanksgiving if you want a laugh about what foreigners think about our American traditions. 

Despite asking me for my thoughts on the holiday, I don't know what to tell people. It's a long conversation to talk about the controversial history and I haven't done enough research of my own to give an educated summary. Instead, I give the same white-washed answered everyone else probably gives- simply that it's a holiday to celebrate family and give thanks. And it should be about just family and thanks. So for what it's worth- I'm thankful for my health, my family's health, and an optimistic outlook for the future. 

The most important part of Thanksgiving is the pie- I'm glad we had two! 

Cameron made turkey for the first time. It was a little bit of a challenge finding turkey. I probably could have ordered a full bird from a butcher but was happy to settle for some big cutlets from the refrigerator section of a not-so-near grocery store. 

It was great to have a proper feast.

Cameron prepping the turkey. I refused to touch it. 

Some of the food on the table...

...and some of the food on a plate.

Post-dinner dishes. 

The amount of water that had accumulated overnight from the ceiling leak. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Mounds Abound

There are four mounds in Krakow and this week Cameron and I finally went out in search of the fourth and final one. 

No one really knows what the mounds were for. Some hypothesize they were constructed as part of the city's defense mechanism, others say they are just memorial mounds. There's also no consensus about when the oldest were erected- some say the 8th century, others say the 1st or 2nd century. It's probably no surprise that there is also some uncertainty about who built them- it might have been Celts or Slavs, but the modern ones at least were built by the residents of the surrounding communities as tributes and memorials.

Since Cameron moved to Krakow about one month before I did, he is the one who introduced me to the mounds. I had never heard of anything referred to as a "mound" before, other than perhaps a large ant hill, so I had no clue what to expect. Upon first sight, my thought was "woah!" 

My first mound introduction was Kościuszko Mound. It is the most popular one since it is the closest to downtown and once you know to look for it you can spot it from many areas around town. It's also the only one fortified by a barrier wall, which makes it look more regal and imposing than the other mounds, even though it is not the largest (34 meters tall) nor the oldest (finished in 1823). The mound was constructed in honor of Tadeusz Kościuszko, a beloved military leader (who for some reason fought in the US Revolutionary War, become chummy with Thomas Jefferson, and made the future US president the executor of his will).  I think this site is one of the better ones for a little more information. 

Because of it's visibility from town, it's not uncommon to see a long ribbon-like flag running down the mound's slope. For Poland's Independence Day last week there was a red and white patriotic display which was then replaced a few days later with a Woman's Strike message. Although I feel that I can confidently say I've visited the mound, I've never actually climbed it. It's a small fee (maybe only 14 PLN/ 4 USD) but my excuse has been I will wait to pay to go up when I have visitors to take with me.
Surrounding Kościuszko Mound is a fortified wall and this small cathedral. 

This model sits outside of the paid area of the mound.

Kościuszko Mound is in the Wolski Forest. There are some really nice trails for hiking, running, and biking so you will see a lot of people hanging around on a nice day. 

I know this is not a great quality photo, but just right of center you can see some lights on the horizon which are the Kościuszko Mound lit up. 

This is not my photo, but it was sent to me by a women's solidarity texting group I'm part of. The banner translates to "you will never go alone."

Piłsudski Mound (aka Independence or Freedom Mound) is also in the Wolski Forest and there are many trailed routes you can take to connect this mound with the former one. It is the highest point in Krakow, and at 35 meters high it is also the tallest of the mounds. Constructed between 1934-1937, it is also the newest of the mounds. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Center, it was built using earth from WWI and WWII battlefields and "commemorates the Polish struggles for independence and the Polish pre-WWII marshal, Józef Piłsudski." If you want to learn more about Józef Piłsudski, I recommend checking out this site

Another name for this mound is Mogiła Mogił- "Grave of Graves." As the mound was built by regular citizens, people around Poland brought earth from the battleground sites using special urns. It's believed that dirt from over 3,600 sites is included in the mound, including earth from Józef Piłsudski's mother's grave. According to Discover Crakow, tens of thousands of people wanted to help and pay tribute, which is largely why they got such diverse dirt. 

At the foot of Piłsudski Mound. 

The first time I visited was on a sheepdogging adventure with Cameron last February. 

There weren't any leaves on the trees in February, but if you look to the north you see some agricultural fields and a small irrigation lake. 

I really like the stone pathways going up this mound.

I went back with a friend in October, and you can tell the mound was a lot greener than in February. 

The views were also a lot more lush in October. On this side of the mound (I think the west side) is a park and playground. 

Views from the other direction- some of the trees were starting to turn yellow but trees did really reach their peak fall colors until late October this year. 

Krakus Mound is the one I visit most regularly since it's only about half an hour walk from my flat. It is the oldest structure in Krakow and thought to be the resting place of Krakow's founder, King Krak. There have been excavations of the mound which uncovered a solid wooden core, artifacts from the 8th and 10th centuries, and a child's skeleton but no human remains that can be attributed to the King. Standing at 16 meters tall, it apparently used to be ringed by four smaller mounds but those were torn down in the 19th century to make a city wall. 

Approaching Krakus Mound for the first time. I'm not sure what the stone piles are that are smattered around the mound but perhaps they are remnants of the defense wall that replaced the four smaller mounds that used to exist here. 

The steeples from various churches and cathedrals are the most prominent markers on the horizon.
Unfortunately with just a small turn of the head you also see some large smoke stacks and industrial buildings which are not quite as picturesque. 

View 1: January

View 2: October

I'm not entirely sure why the surrounding grounds are so uneven; maybe it's remnants from the excavation. 

Behind Krakus Mound is this quarry, which was largely worked on by prisoners in the nearby concentration camp. The structures you can see inside the quarry are included in the film Schindler's List

You can walk all the way around (and in) this quarry and get pretty good views of the mound. 
Lastly is Wanda Mound- the subject of our sheepdogging adventure earlier this week. Wanda is pretty far (a minimum of 45 minute bike ride from my house) and is the smallest (14 meters) of the four mounds. The mound is inspired by the legendary Princess Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula River to avoid marriage with a German prince. The mound is close to the part of the river where her body was found (although not that close-it's at least 3km away from where the Vistula flows these days) and apparently houses her tomb; before being called Wanda Mound, it used to be referred to as "the Grave". 

Princess Wanda was the daughter of King Krak, and the two mounds may be connected in honor of that relationship. Every year, on 4 November and 6 February you will see the sun set over Krakus Mound if you stand atop Wanda Mound. You'll experience the same phenomenon over Wanda Mound if you visit Krakus Mound on 2 May or 10 August. That leads some to think that these two mounds were used as a form of calendar. The exact timeline of construction of these mounds is unknown, but it seems like somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries is a fair guess, which would mean they were likely constructed by Celts or Slavs, giving more credence to the astrological theory- those dates match up with the approximate periods for various Slavic holidays. 

A small side note from me- when Cameron and I visited I looked really hard for other Krakow landmarks. I specifically was looking for other mounds on the horizon, but to no avail. Maybe it was a little smoggy or maybe I just didn't know what I was looking for but I did not see Krakus Mound. 

Wanda sits within a small park, but there aren't many walking trails as it's largely surrounded by train tracks and large roads. 

There is a decent view in one direction, but good luck seeing the other mounds on the horizon! 

Small monument at the top of the mound. I was surprised at how many other people were on top when we went mid-week. 

Wanda definitely felt the most rugged of the mounds. There was just a narrow animal track-type trail weaving up it. 

One great thing about the mound was some oversized wooden lounge chairs to sit at and gaze up at the mound. 

Remember when I said there were four mounds in Krakow- well upon doing some research for this post I learned that there are in fact five mounds, and there actually used to be a sixth, too. There's not much information about the John Paul II Mound other than it is the newest (raised in 1997) and smallest (only 7 meters). It seems like it is on some church grounds and "commemorates the sixth pilgrimage of the Polish Pope to his homeland" ( I would like to write it off but I know it will nag at me until I visit it. Luckily, it's pretty close to a few parks I really like and my favorite ice cream shop so chances are I will be over there soon enough...that is unless the nag motivates me to head out this weekend. 

I'm not able to find much about the non-existing mound, Esterka, either and the "facts" I do find are contradicted across various websites. The general legend is that Ester was the mistress of King Kazimierz the Great. Upon hearing of his infidelity, Ester jumped out of a window–I guess she didn't know she was the mistress? The mound was erected somewhere between the 14th and 18th centuries at the site that was expected to be her grave, and then was bulldozed in the 1950s, '60s, or '70s to make way for the WKS Wawel football club stadium. Like I said, the information available is quite inconsistent. However, Ester seems like she was a good force in Krakow's history. King Kazimierz is known for welcoming in a large Jewish community to Krakow (that's why the historic Jewish district is called Kazimierz) and it seems to be largely due to Ester's influence ( 

Apparently, according to a few sites, Krakow is the a record holder when it comes to mound numbes. Some sits say it's the most mounds in Poland, others say in the world, and what constitutes a mound and what other locations are contenders are mysteries to me. Nonetheless, when you visit I will recommend a mound walk at some point during your stay. Not only are they great spots for a picnic with a view but then you can say you climbed a record-making mound–I bet you don't have any friends at home who can say that. 

A map of the four main mounds.