Hidden Bookshelves: Poland…And when we first arrived.

When we first arrived in Poland, it was evening.  Our director picked us up in Warsaw and then we took the very long and torturous ride 7 hours back to the city where we would be living, Poznan.

The thing is, Warsaw is technically only about a 3-hour-drive from Poznan.  But back in 2001, the roads were mostly 2-lanes and big lorries and lots of small cars that it didn’t matter how rich or important you were (no, we were not rich nor important), it was going to take you 7 hours to drive approximately 195 miles.

And so we arrived to our first “home” in Poland around 3 in the morning.

I remember it very clearly.  We drove down a very dark street and went through a very dark tunnel and emerged into a very bumpy parking area.

Huge gray walls surrounded us on all sides.

On the building closest to us a large spray of art was decorating the walls with the very colorful language “F (you can spell the rest) the Police!”

We took it all in.

We were 25 years old and full of great spirits of adventure.  In fact, we probably thought—Awesome!  We live in the ghetto.  Can’t get any better than this.

Again—25.  No kids.  Full of adventure.

We grabbed all of our luggage and followed our director to a broken door that we entered through.  If we thought the outside was scary-the inside was just as uniquely dangerous.

We tried to find the lights.

Finally successful in our search for light, we began the trek up the stairs to our first apartment—4 flights up.  We had to stop and hit the lights at every level because they kept going out on us.

And then we came to our door.

Our door was just as run down as the rest of the building, so we didn’t hold out too much hope for the other side.

When we entered, though, it was lovely.

It was old.  It was about 100 years old (the building).  But the inside of our new home “flat-mieszkanie-apartment” was pleasantly warm and inviting.

I am not sure that the decorations had changed since the days of Communism.

Our phone was large and stationary and orange.  And it didn’t ring.  It went “Grrrrr.  Grrrrrr. Grrrrr,” when someone would call.  The first time we heard it, we had no idea where the noise was coming from or if we should be concerned.  But eventually we followed the noise to the large orange box that turned out to be a telephone.

Again—even the smallest things, like phones, were adventures!

And, four flights up we had a piano in our flat.  A piano!  We later asked our landlord how he got a piano up four flights of stairs into our flat (you would have to see our stairwell to know that it was not possible to get the piano up that way—picture Ross from Friends and his “Pivot!” couch.  Well, this was even more of an impossibility).  He said that they had to take out the windows and then pull it up.  Four flights.

Another adventure!

And then we had huge curtains that hung from the floor to the ceiling.  And behind them were hidden bookcases.  I was informed that “banned” reading materials used to make their homes on the bookshelves behind what appeared were merely curtains for the windows.

I felt as if I had traveled back in time.  Except—we were there 12 years after the Wall had actually fallen.

We heard stories—so many stories.  But I’ll share more of those another day of what it was like to live through the times of Communism.

Our respect for Poland and the people of Poland intensified a hundred-million fold.

Standing in line for hours, as a child, to simply receive a pair of shoes that may or may not fit…It was something inconceivable to me.  And yet, it took place merely a decade before.

One friend told us that it didn’t matter what was being distributed.  If there was a line, you dropped what you were doing and stood in it because, even if you did not need it or could not use it, you could use it for bartering or trading with someone that might.

One of my most vivid memories of stories told was when our director told us that during the Christmas season everyone would wait for the announcement on the radio that brought the great news…No, not of the Savior’s birth!  That was already known—but the news that the boat was making its way with fresh citrus to arrive in time for Christmas.  Oranges.   Fresh oranges.  And how precious that cargo was.

From the moment I arrived in Poland, I realized that my spirit would not only learn to become humbled or more content…But I realized that I had a lot to learn about appreciating everything.  Even the smallest of items.  Like an orange.

A funny story we were told, and of course it was shared jovially with us, was that during one season toilet paper became scarce.  And so they said you could always tell who had or had not according to their gait.

And, of course, we all laughed as stories were being shared.  But I knew that every story told came with the history that at the time of the actual event, it probably wasn’t funny.

It made me appreciate the country even more.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Moving to any country as a foreigner is very difficult.  And so we were not always whistling joyful tunes in Poland.  Often times we were also stumbling around with angry pouts because it was so hard sometimes to even accomplish the simplest of things.

But that’s part of adventure, right?

The neighborhood where we lived didn’t have a grocery store nearby.  Only small skleps (stores, except I added the s at the end…I English-ized sklep ;)).  Our shopping took place like this:  meat store for warm meat.  (Dear Lord, please keep us healthy after eating said meat)  Bakery for fresh goods.  Little spozywczy for other necessities and butter and yogurt.  The store, however, was so small that it was impossible to maneuver through safely.  I am not a large woman and yet I would always manage to hit a yogurt or a jar of pickles or something and knock it down.  And, of course, get charged for it.  Forget the fact that the yogurts were stacked 12 high and to even take the top yogurt had the “Jenga” effect…Would it topple?  Would it not?  Every time I went shopping I wondered how successfully I would pull items from the shelves.

More often than not, I was not successful.

But it was even at these small stores where I was able to witness the beauty of simplicity.

You see, like oranges, chocolates were also special during the days when the Wall separated the East from the West.  And it was on one of my many shopping trips that I saw a little babcia (grandma), probably in her 80s, buying a simple chocolate bar.

And then she asked the shopkeeper to wrap it for her.

You have to understand that the neighborhood we lived in was not under any circumstances a wealthy neighborhood.  People lived very simply and had very, very little.

And to watch this precious babcia buy a candy bar, I knew came at a great expense to her.  After all, we are only 12 years after the fall of the Wall.  That is not a long time, folks.

And the shopkeeper was so happy to help her.

She took the candy bar and found some wrapping paper and took her time wrapping it as if it were the most priceless item to be found.

And the babcia put her treasure in her little, worn handbag and pulled out her coin purse, dumped the coins in her hand, and the shopkeeper counted out the coins owed.

The babcia left with her treasure and a huge smile on her face.

I left shopping that day with a warm heart and an even greater appreciation for simple joys.

Yes, when we arrived in Poland, in the dark, through the daunting tunnel, into the pot holes and dirt lot with the graphic writing on the walls, I had no idea that it would be in this same dirty neighborhood that I would see such beauty.

And that beauty is called contentment.

And that beauty is called simplicity.

And that beauty made up for the lack of anything we thought we may or may not be missing.

And that, my friends, was one of the most profound lessons I have learned in my life.

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Our first neighborhood in Poland…

No, we didn’t take a photo in front of the “decorative” poetic  wall

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Believe it or not, at one time we actually had 5 people in a little Maluch-

4 of the 5 were guys!  I was the only gal stuck in there.

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More coal living…Except I didn’t have to shovel this coal. 

It was brought down to the basements and then was shoveled throughout the day

so that the apartments in the building would have hot water and warm radiators.

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Don’t worry, I’ll come back with more experiences at a later date.  There is still so much to share.

Reminding Your Children to Enjoy “Simplicity”. Oh, and you too.

In today’s world, there is so much to enjoy!  And most of it costs money.  Lots and lots of it.

I don’t take that away from any entertainment park or movie or ride or indoor play area.  I love it all, too.

After all, we are stimulated by excitement and colors and smells and food.  We get excited with all of the whizzing and whirling around us.  It is good!  Must do that!  Must go again!  Me want more.

Yep.  My kids are the same (Well, at least my oldest.  She is 7, after all.  My youngest, he’s 1—he’s happy simply if his diaper is clean).

BUT—the problem with all of the excitement of the world is that it costs money.  And sometimes it costs lots and lots of money.

So, today, I would like to share with you some treasures that we frequently forget.  Some will cost a little money.  Some with cost absolutely nothing.  But, overall, they will remind us all that Simple Joy can exist—and children do love it so!

1.  Go on walks with your children

But don’t set time limits.  Okay, maybe two hours 😉

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You see, we live in a little village of Poland and we have approximately 2 neighbors.  The rest of our neighborhood is wheat fields, corn fields, and pine trees.  It’s also dirt roads, and mud, and blueberry bushes, and rocks, and sticks, and dandelions, and insects.  It is glorious.  And, when in Poland, we go on walks.  Daily.

We don’t rush our walks.  We take our dogs.  We observe every inch of nature along the way.  We even pick up sticks.  Sit ourselves down in the dirt.  And sometimes draw pictures for an hour—with our sticks—in the dirt.

Walks are grand!

Walks are also great times to visit about the day.

Hold hands.

Run.

Jump.

Skip.

Giggle.

And walks are free.

So, I say, “Walk On!”

2.  Put up a swing:

May it be a rope swing, tire swing, or swing set.

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We currently have a very large tree outside of the house we are renting.  It has large and strong branches.  My husband, a former (well, maybe present-day but hasn’t gone in a LONG time) rock climber has many, many feet of good, sturdy rope.  Rope PERFECT for the PERFECT outdoor invention—The Swing!

And he rigged it up.  Rigged it up real good.  Safe and Secure.  Voile!  Our kids.  Our cousins.  Our friends.  They all have a swing.

If you think a rope swing will only entertain the youngest, you are wrong!   Even the teenagers will spend an hour swinging—rather wildly, I must admit—but it’s as if their inner-child (which existed, you know, approximately a year ago) comes out.

Cheeks extend.  Teeth show.  Smiles abound.

And so I say, “Swing On!”

3.   Incorporate Water:

Be it a small pool, big pool, Slip and Slide, sprinkler, water soaker, or even frozen water!  Water rocks all.

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While it is still warm and sultry, it’s the perfect time to get your kids outdoors.  The problem is that sometimes it’s a bit too hot.

Solution:  Water!

Kids will play all morning, all afternoon, or all evening outside IF there is water (and of course appropriate swim wear and suits and hats and sunscreen)!

And don’t limit the water toys.  If they have plastic toys that can get wet-incorporate them.  My daughter will play for hours with her friends in the water while their imaginations take them to castles and kingdoms beyond my adult creativity!

Maxwell…well (for the younger tykes), throw out a few plastic buckets, and he’s good to roll.

But don’t limit the water play to just when the skies and the sun are out and shining.  Play with water in the wintertime too!

In our backyard, God has given us a gift—our very own flooded area of land that freezes!

And, so, what do we do…My husband sticks on thick boots.  My daughter pulls on warm clothes and skates, and the two of them run out on the ice and skate all around!  And, as long as Mr. Frost does not get their noses, they play and play and play long into the night.  Coming in only when their lips are blue, their toes are frozen, and their tummies desire cocoa goodness (Hot, of course!).

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So, be it warm Summer water or cold Winter ice—Water is possibly kid’s best friend!

Therefore, “Water On!”

4.  Camp:

Camping can be in your backyard—or at a site.  The idea, however, is to leave everything fancy behind and just be.  Be.In.Nature.  Oh, yeah…And fish!

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As you can tell from my previous blog, “I’m all for naked babies, but naked rollerbladers?!  Woe.To.Me!” I am a huge fan of camping.

First of all, if you don’t have money for a lavish vacation, camping still helps take you away from home, leaving all the dirty dishes and unkempt floors and rooms and piles of laundry behind, and allows you to go be in nature.

Camping teaches you peace.

Camping teaches you quiet.

Camping teaches you simplicity.

Camping teaches you to appreciate all you do have upon returning home!

And camping gives kids the GREATEST gifts of all:  mud, water, nature, pinecones, wild animal spotting, and the likes.

It allows the kids to roam in their bathing suits for days on end.  It allows you the opportunity to sit in a lawn chair (or camping chair) and read a book.

When is the last time you actually got to read anything (Other than my blog, of course)?

Camping requires effort—but its rewards are GREAT!

My motto will always be, “Ditch the home and Camp On!”

5.  Visit a local Fire Station

Give your children an opportunity to visit local heroes, check out the awesome trucks, receive some free loot, and say THANKS all in one visit!

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The best way to go about this is to find someone that knows a local firefighter, and then set up a time for you to stop by his/her station.  If they are not on a call, they are (usually) more than happy to say “Hi!” to your children.

And even pose for photos.  Can’t beat that.

So I say, “Community Visit On!”

(Not as catchy as the other slogans, eh?!)

6.  Involve them in free after-school activities:

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One blessed thing about the school that Adelyne attends are the clubs!  We have enrolled Adelyne in both the Running Club, which is great for the heart, and the Junior Chorus, which is great for the soul!  Get it?  Heart and Soul!

The Running Club only lasts a season, keeps the kids in shape, promotes healthy lifestyles and living, and even has races with other local schools.

I did mention that it’s FREE, didn’t I?

Can’t beat that!

The Junior Chorus would meet once a week.  And the songs they learned from their phenomenal choir teacher were awesome (Drag out awesome…that’s how great they were).  And, after the season of Junior Chorus was over, there was a fantastic concert!

The kids got dressed up.  The parents got dressed up.  The kids sang their hearts out.  The parents cheered their hearts out.

Awesome (Drag out awesome again-that’s how awesome it was)!

So, make sure to check your child’s school for what clubs they have—and especially keep your eyes open for the FREE ones!

Definitely, kids, “Club On!”

7.  Last but not least-“Simply” Give them your TIME:

Time, the rarest and yet most precious commodity in the world!  And it’s the one thing your children crave the most from you.  You!  And your time.

I know that we as mom or dad are busy, busy, busy.  And we usually have more than one kid.  And we have the laundry.  And we have work.  And we have the cooking.  And we have the cleaning.  And we have the poopy diapers, the homework, the children’s activities, the church activities.

And in all of that, you want me to exert extra time?  From where does this magical time come?”  You may ask.

Great question.

It comes in the midst of work.  In the midst of cleaning.  In the midst of cooking (okay, not literally in the midst of burning the food, by the way).  In the midst of taking off your shoes and sitting down to relax for 5 stinking minutes.

This magical time comes ONLY when you, the magician, make it appear.

And that is why it is such a precious commodity—because sometimes we don’t make it appear.  And, unfortunately, it is far too rare.

We as the mom.  We as the dad.  We as the parent need to realize that the house can stay dusty or the floor messy or the laundry undone so that we can invest in our greatest commodity-our children!

And we need to go outside with them.  We need to get on the floor with them.  We need to see them at their level—and we need to play.

Play like there is no tomorrow!

Or, perhaps, if you are a dad with a daughter…

Put a little British spice in your life—have a tea party, at your house, and tell your daughter to invite all of her friends!

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Adelyne and Maxwell’s daddy has a name.  And it’s Puk Puk (sounds like pook—but it means knock-knock in Polish).  It’s his name as their horse.  Isn’t that the most appropriate name a daddy horse could have?  After all, that’s what our children are doing—many times—for our attention:  Puk.  Puk.  They are knocking at our doors-for our attention.   Puk.  Puk.

And sometimes, we don’t even answer.

So, my friends, give your children the simplest gift of all—time.  Their hearts will forever thank you for it.

And your soul will sing.

Therefore, put the laundry down and “Time On!” parents.  “Time On!”

*What other grand and rather free ideas can you share?  We all want to hear*