Saturday, July 21, 2012

David and Monika's Polish/Greek Wedding

When my girlfriend Monika invited me to her wedding in Poland to her Greek husband David, she completely undersold the event in her typical, calm yet smiling style. She summarily said, "We plan for one bottle of vodka per person." What more do I need to know?

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The wedding cake was cut sometime after 1 am.

I didn't ask a lot of questions about it because it didn't matter, I had to find a way to go. We were invited to Poland, and then after the wedding, to Greece for more cultural experiences. There was just one little detail to figure out: what to do with my charming 2 year old while I jaunt across Europe for 2.5 weeks? I spent several months looking at travel itineraries and running through scenarios with my husband. It wasn't going to be easy, but I thought I could make it work and bring Liam along if Liam's grandma would come along. I will blog more later about traveling with a toddler and why I did it.

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We were shuttled to the wedding in a double decker bus. Liam wouldn't put his clothes on so we got on the bus with a naked child. I practice the whatever it takes style of parenting.

Getting to Poland was going to be complicated, we had to fly 10 hours to Amsterdam (oh hey, my friend Judith lives in the Netherlands! We should stop and see her, but that's yet another blog!) and then a 2 hour flight to Warsaw. Long story short, a storm in Warsaw caused flight delays and Eurocup madness added to the trouble so we flew into another town, Katowice, and drove all day to get to the wedding rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding.

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In case you haven't looked at a map of Europe recently.

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Hey my legs look great in this photo from the rehearsal dinner. Check me out! ;-)

The wedding wasn't until 5pm the next day, so I had a while to pull myself together but it didn't help. We had a power converter but couldn't get hair dryers or straighteners to work on full power. My eyes were puffy and red from jet lag, my skin was breaking out because it was hot and I was stressed, and my hair was a frizzy, wavy mess from the humidity. Girl problems. Thank goodness I wasn't the bride, who looked so stunning, I wanted to cry when I saw her.

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A prettier princess does not exist

My friend Monika is an impressive lady, as you can see, but even more so because she came to the US on a swimming scholarship and was able to get a masters degree while holding down a relationship with David, who lived in Seattle at the time, so Moni was shuttling back to forth from Oregon to Washington on the weekends while getting an MBA and working in the same office as I do. Upon graduation, she turned an internship at HP into a full time job in a down economy. She's smart, tough, and embodies grace under pressure. If you ask me about Monika after I've been drinking, I will tell you a whole lot more about her, I really can't say enough, and I have huge respect and love for my friend. David is a lucky and wise man to have chosen her as his wife. Plus, she's really fun which is enough for me in the first place.

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Meat, cake, vodka. What more do you want? Nothing! We're happy!

Finally, the wedding. It was held in a catholic church in Lublin (no photos in the church please) and then we took the charming double decker bus back to her hometown Swidnik for the reception. We were greeted by tables packed with amazing food. Then, they started serving the "formal" dinner which was something like 4 main dishes served throughout the night, the reception was to last until the next morning.

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We sat down to eat but little Liam was called to duty. The DJ had disco lights going, something my little boy had never seen before. The music and lights spoke to him, and before I could snag him, he ran through the tables to the dance floor and started doing something that looked like break dancing and everyone in the place had a full view of him. And me, trying to control him while wearing a totally non-mom-like dress and heels. Enjoy your dinner folks, I'm just going to try to herd my fun loving but slightly out of control child outdoors.

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Kiss each other and drink vodka, that's what I got out of this moment.

Meanwhile, my mom is back at the table enjoying the amazing food which is made all that much better by Moni's cousins who kept refilling my Mom's shot glass with vodka. By the time I made it back with Liam, she had 4 shots ("I didn't know how to say no!") and she was looking very happy. Meanwhile, I'm sweating, stressed, and not sure if Liam's fun is causing a cultural conflict since it is a somewhat formal dinner. Liam broke free again while Moni and David were trying to have their first dance together and I think Liam was trying to cut in on David. It could have been funny, or it could have been disrespectful, I wasn't sure what Polish people thought about kids. 

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Since it was already 8 pm, I thought it was a good time for grandma to take Liam back to the hotel so mommy could focus on the wedding and have some fun with the childless people. Nostrodamous! Oh, is that not how you say cheers here? It sounds like that to a drunk American.

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This bottle says "Drink Vodka for Maximum Hangover"

If there is one thing I can tell you about the Polish people, in general, is that they don't mess around honey. There is a long, not so cheerful history in this country, and if you see a Polish person walking down the street, you might think, these people are a little stoic. Serious looking. Take driving, for instance, you are stopped at  a red light, then the light flashes yellow, alerting you green is coming so you can get your foot on the gas because these people don't mess around, they have to go somewhere and they aren't going to wait one more second. GO!

Then you stop at a gas station and find it outfitted with a full automatic espresso machine and nice looking snacks. Because they drink good coffee and eat good food here. Then you go to the hotel and she's offering you an espresso, or a gelato, or some cake, and No you cannot pay for it, she's giving it to you. And she won't let you pay for anything. 

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Caleb putting pantyhose on over his pants, of course,
because that's how you roll at a Polish wedding.

Then you go to a crazy Polish wedding, and these people are going to drink the place dry, feed you more food then you can eat in a week, and play music and dance all night long because the Polish people aren't messing around. I told you, Cheers! Or Nostrodamous! I mean Na zdrowie! I'll get there. I love it here. Poland is an amazing revelation. 

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Just guessing that Colin and I are feeling no pain right about now.

The best thing about traveling like this, when a group of people is involved, is meeting other adventurous people. People who are down for fun. These are my people, not full time of course, I'm not that energetic, but I love people who seek out life's adventures. 

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This is Florian and Agata. They met in Oregon where Agata was a swimmer with Moni and he was going to school. He's Dutch, but he sounds like he's Californian, where they live now. Florian loves Polish weddings, which is a very good thing since Agata is Polish and they are slightly in love with each other. At the reception, they had traditions an American would recognize, like tossing the bouquet (Agata caught it) and the garter (Florian caught it) so now they get to dance together in front of everyone, wearing flippers on their feet.

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The game part of the wedding was a blast, probably because I'm a married old hag and didn't have to participate. At one point, there was a race and two guys had to chew up and swallow a bunch of breadcrumbs, apparently a horrible thing to have to do based on the look on their faces. Like eating sand when you are drunk. Fun!!!

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Then we had the Greek part of the wedding, with lots of hand holding and dancing, and kicking and running around in circles. It was a blast. Then, the most universal thing happened. The freaking chicken song came on and the dance floor was flooded with people doing the chicken dance. The what? You know, the squatting, clucking, plucking, whatever it is you are supposed to do, that you thought was some horrible, corny thing only done at cheesy American weddings, oh no. It's international and they are loving it.

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The lovely couple in a rare quiet moment.

This Polish wedding makes an American wedding look like a snooze fest, sorry Americans, but most of you are trying to figure out how quickly you can get out of a wedding reception without offending. A Polish wedding is a commitment for everyone involved, because you are going to be up all night and you aren't going to feel good the next day. Or the next week if things go right.

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I left sometime after they served borsct, or beet soup, which seems like a wonderful way to cure whatever ails you. It was approaching 4 am and I was drunk and had a toddler to go home to, not a good place to be. There was another party the next day, to help clean up the reception hall. I couldn't make it, I couldn't even talk. All I could do is grunt, sleep, and drink water. I said goodbye to a few people who were leaving the hotel and that was the extent of my socialization. This is where grandma became the quarterback and entertained Liam for the day while mommy suffered.

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Erika, Monika, and Cheri, my girls, minus Heather, who was home and about to give birth so we gave her a pass this time.

I expected the hangover so it didn't feel like a big loss to me. The next day was Monday and we visited Monika's family's house and picked up Cheri to go to Warsaw for some sightseeing. I had reservations at a swank hotel and we were armed with a guidebook and GPS so it was time to roll... up next: Warsaw and the naked guy at pool.

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Moni with her swimmer friends from OSU. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

When the right person says the right thing

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My first painting, "Fertile Flowers" inspired by my strong friend, Kirsten

I have been fortunate in many ways, and less fortunate in some others, but to be less general and get to the point before the story gets long, because when I talk, the story gets long, I turn 40 this year and I have finally figured something out that I think is a revelation for me and where I need to go, and I hope you can learn from it too:

Get over it.

Yes, you. Me, everyone, we all hold on to memories and stories about ourselves that we are convinced are true and that we think define us and blah blah blah. There is a time to move on and get a new story. Please allow me to clarify:

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"Marching Soldiers" inspired by my hilarious friend, Gayle who observed the clouds coming to Spokane as soldiers marching in.

One of the ways I have been fortunate, is to allow people in my life to have an effect on me. Twelve years ago, a much respected co-worker told me I was too much. I had been getting attention at work for successfully implementing a project in a short time frame. I was taking vocal lessons with the intention of performing with a band, and I had just started competing in triathlons. The respected co-worker, truly a beacon of light who everyone respected, stopped at my desk one day at lunch and found me fiddling with a 35 mm camera, I was intending to go take photos of nearby trees that caught my eye. She had no malice in her voice, I think just she blurted out exactly what she was thinking, "You are TOO much!"

Those words hit me like a punch from Mike Tyson. And I still hear those words today, but from different voices, and in the look in people's eyes when I reveal some new hobby I am exploring. This hurt me so much that I have minimized my passion, lied to myself, held myself back, and started and stopped so many things that my life has been a meandering journey ever since the day she said that.

Ten years later, I found myself in a haze of postpartum depression, staring at a community college adult learning schedule looking for painting classes.  I needed something, something important to shake up my malaise, to challenge myself, to stop hiding from the fact that I AM A CREATIVE PERSON. I am shouting because the bullshit story I had been telling myself was that I can't draw, I'm not artistic, and that the universe was telling me to stay away from who I really am. Hide yourself, you hideous beast.

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"Autumn Welcome" inspired by Manito Park and my husband who moved to Spokane for me and went to the trouble of loving it here like I do.

And then I met Kathleen Cavendar. In a down economy, one of the top artists in our region was offering painting classes to help pay her expenses. In a few painting lessons Kathleen helped me see that I needed to stop abusing myself with these BS stories I was telling myself. Here is what she said:

"Everything you do, from singing, to writing, to painting, to screen printing, to running, they all inform each other. Writing improves painting, running improves writing, they all come together to inform your creativity."

With those words, I finally became whole. The phrase jack of all trades, master of none, is used to abuse people like me, people who are driven to explore. I appreciate those on the journey to mastery, it is something to marvel at, but I am not one of those. I like to read two books at a time, train in 3 sports, eat different foods, challenge myself in different artistic mediums, drink beer and wine and... I have a love of life!

But all the things I do, they are taking me somewhere.

And it is with love and appreciation for all the wonderful people in my life that I say this:

When someone says something to you that hurts, when the universe tries to knock you down, take the lesson, and then get over it. There are things I cannot tell you, things that hurt me deeply that I won't write down for perpetuity out of respect for the people involved, but trust me when I say: everyone has been knocked down at a critical point in their life. It's time to move on. Let your friends love you, and let those who care a little less for you move on. 

Thank you Kathleen Cavendar, for being amazing. Your heart and creativity are a gift to everyone who meets you. You say that when you tell people you are a musician and a painter, that people only ask about the music. I will always ask about you as a friend.