Babia Góra

I lived for seven years at the foot of Babia Góra and never once climbed it. Well, not to the top. I tried at least twice, but once — here come the excuses — my friend and I turned back because it was too close to dark to continue, and the second time, I’d already injured my knee and decided not to risk it as it had already started to pain me on the ascent.

So now my eight-year-old daughter has outdone me: she made it to the top, with, according to K, relatively little complaining about how tired she was. (In my defense, I will point out that neither of my attempts were on this nice tourist trail that begins on the eastern side of the mountain but a more raw trail right up the southern face.)

As for the two boys who didn’t even initially want to go — they made it to the summit about forty minutes before everyone else.

As usual, you can click on the image for a larger view.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

The Bird and the Museum

It’s surprising that the bird actually survived until I found it. While our older gray cat is not much of a hunter, our young kitten — she’s just a little over a year old, so still a kitten for all intents and purposes — is a killing machine. A bird with its leg caught in the plastic netting we put over our berries would have been almost anticlimactic for such a hunter as Elsa, but somehow, despite all the bird’s desperate flapping and flopping about, it escaped the cat’s notice. I noticed the bird when I went out to the street to take the trash out in the morning.

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Birds often get caught in our netting, but it’s usually because they’ve found a small opening, hopped in, eaten their fill of berries, and then can’t find their way back out. Usually, such birds are easily assisted: just pull up the corner of the net and out they go. If we don’t cover the berries, though, we’ll never have any. The birds don’t wait until the berries are ripe, so it’s not even a contest. And I’m just a suburban “farmer” — it’s just enough for decoration, just enough to give the kids a snack sometimes and to get a bit of sweet when I’m mowing.

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As I approached the bird this morning, though, I realized that the bird was outside the net. Nearing, I saw my suspicions were correct: the net had gotten wrapped around the bird’s leg. No doubt it had gotten hung up in the net, and the resulting struggle had only made the situation worse. The bird stilled for a moment as I stood over it; it was worse than I suspected. The netting was wrapped several times around the bird’s right leg, and it clearly required more intervention than merely taking the bird gently in my hand and unwrapping the netting with a couple of twists. I knew I’d need to cut the net, but with what?

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From my initial glance, it seemed to be twisted around the bird’s leg tightly, perhaps even tight enough to be digging into the leg’s scaly skin. The question was not what would cut the net, of course, but what could I use to cut it without cutting the bird? Compounding the problem was the fact that I would not have both hands free. I looked in a drawer in the kitchen, but nothing seemed appropriate.

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Heading downstairs to the basement, I began wondering what I might do if I couldn’t actually cut the part of the netting that was wrapped around the bird’s leg. One option would be to cut the net around the area, leaving a bit of net still attached the bird’s claw. This wouldn’t do, though, because it would only get tighter, maybe cutting off blood and doing serious damage, or perhaps the net would get caught in something else, trapping the bird once again. The extreme option was to amputate the leg just above the point where the net was wrapped.

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Thinking about that option, though, I realized it would likely be more humane to just put the bird down if it came to that. I’m no vet, but I don’t think taking wire snipers and cutting part of a bird’s leg of does much more than hobble the bird. Could it survive if it came to that? I don’t know. And what would be more merciful? Giving it the chance to survive, painful though that chance would be, or just putting it out of its potential misery? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done it. A couple of birds have damaged their wing while fluttering about in the net, and in such a case, there’s only one thing to do.

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As I wandered about the house, wondering about the dilemma, I realized the simplest solution was not in the kitchen, not in the workshop, but in the bathroom: fingernail clippers. “Just slide the corner of the blades under the net,” I mumbled as I went back outside, “just slip the corner under and pop. No problem.”

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Returning to the front yard, I took the bird in my left hand, turned it over, and with my middle finger and thumb, held the bird’s injured leg as best as I could. The bird fell still, though its heart was racing. Finally getting a closer look, I saw that it was worse than I’d been expecting. It wasn’t just tight; the net was cutting in the bird’s leg, to the point that I wasn’t sure I could get any bit of the metal even close to touching the net, let alone slide it under the strand of plastic. I slide my thumb along the scaly leg, wondering just how delicate it was. It looked no bigger than the smallest twig that the lightest wind might blow from a tree, but I suspected it might be tougher than I thought, especially the scaly covering that, when seen up close, is so incongruous with the rest of a bird.

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With a little hesitation, I pressed down, digging slightly into the scaly leg,wiggled the tip of the blades a bit, and caught the line of plastic. Snip! And in an instant, the bird was active, struggling, wiggling, fighting. I gave it a gentle toss, and it fluttered across the street to our neighbor’s yard. Yet it’s right leg hung limp, not tucked up under it naturally but sort of tugged along behind it. And so I was able to minimize the impact my little garden has on a single creature, but of course not everyone is so concerned, and I’m not even so concerned all the time. After all, I continued buying tuna despite the potential impact on dolphins, and I keep eating pork in spite of the environmental effects large hog “ranches.” And I’m still willing to spread put fertilizers on my lawn and weed killer on the tufts of weeds that sprout in the cracks of our driveway.

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There was a time when none of this had any real bearing on anything, a time when no one gave a real thought to the effects humans might have on the environment because, other than clearing some land, there were very few. Just outside of Jabłonka, there is an outdoor museum that takes visitors back to that very time. And each and every time we go back to Poland, we visit. In in 20082010, and 2013. Apparently I didn’t write about it in 2013 — it was part of a field trip L went on with her newly-adopted Polish kindergarten class. And of course K and the kids went again today.

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In those days, though, not only did people not really worry about birds getting caught up in their plastic netting, they were growing food for diametrically opposite reasons we grow it. They had no choice. We do. In fact, when it comes down to it, growing your own food can be more expensive than just going to the supermarket for it. It’s a hobby, then, and little more, which is probably why we do it so very poorly.

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I would hope that such a visit would make L, in particular, more appreciative of the things she has, more thankful for the ease of her life. If our crops don’t do well, we just shrug it off and move on. If these folks’ crops didn’t do well, they didn’t have as much to eat in the winter. They were hungry — something almost unthinkable for L and most children in the Western world of her generation, or mine. Or maybe her taking everything for granted is just a function of age.

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This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Six Kids, One Mom, and a Babcia

All the kids in the immediate family (plus one from the other side) are now at Babcia’s. That means six kids and two adults.

There are the chores, and with four bigger kids, that means the love is spread out through the day. The boys take the morning, the girls take the evening.

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Time for an electronic break — television and computer. The twenty-first century generation.

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Afterward, an outing to visit Dziadek’s grave and pick up some treats on the way home.

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And to end the day, some silliness in the yard.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Nowy Targ Afternoon

Every time we go to Poland, we do the same things — and I make that observation. Yet Poland is changing, growing. It’s got one of the strongest economies in Europe now, and when that simple fact is coupled with additional funds that come from the EU, it’s easy to understand why. Yet this is the second day that I look at the pictures and say, “Where in the world is that?” I know where it is: K told me in an email what they did today, and I knew about the afternoon visit long before. But the first part? They’re in Nowy Targ, but where in the world is this park?

I do see one thing that’s not a mystery: the Boy being a gentleman, helping a young friend — dare we say a cousin? After all, K and D are as close to sisters as you might possibly be without an actual genetic bond.

It’s easy to identify the location of the second batch of pictures: the rynek in Nowy Targ. Yet had I not known about the renovations, I never would have guessed it. Until I saw the ice cream: NT has a little hole in the wall with the best ice cream on the planet.

Finally, at the end, familiar faces, familiar location.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Babcia’s Day

Not having a driver’s license, Babcia is not able to go where she wills when she wills. For the last few days, K has been taking the lead, I believe, more or less deciding on the agenda. Today was Babcia’s day.

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She wanted to visit a friend. Where? I can’t recall, and the area doesn’t really look familiar at all. There’s a restaurant — karczma it would be called — that looks like a place near Spytkowice, but I don’t think Spytkowice has apartment blocks like that.

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So odd to be looking at your own family’s pictures but not really knowing much more than a stranger at times.

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Playgrounds don’t tell you much, but the architecture of the wooden buildings shows that it’s still in the general area K grew up, still in the mountains.

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Perhaps you should ask K.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Odpust 2015

Because almost every village is its own parish, almost every village has an odpust. During the last trip to Poland, we were in Pyzówka for their odpust. We were there strictly as visitors, as observers.

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Today, however, the Girl got to participate in Jabłonka’s odpust, as did K.

“I cleaned the church!” K told me, relating her part of the experience. The excitement came from the fact that she cleaned the altar, dusting and wiping down all the statuary that’s part of Jabłonka’s main church’s impressive altar piece. It’s something she’d looked at all her life growing up, so I guess seeing it all so up close, from a different perspective both literally and figuratively, was certainly exciting.

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L’s part, though was as visible as K’s was behind-the-scenes: she was helped lead the procession to the church, sprinkling flowers before the priests and dignified guests as they processed. The whole experience must certainly be novel to the Girl, for even though we’re members of a vibrant and active parish here in Greenville, there’s not a lot of processing going on, not of this nature. And besides, how would everyone treat that?

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In Jabłonka — and elsewhere in Poland — everyone treats it as such a special occasion that all the traditional garb comes out and it becomes a visually lovely experience. In America, everyone would come out in shorts and flipflops because in the summer, that’s about as close as we come to traditional garb. It’s one of the disadvantages of living in such a relatively young country that has, for generations, been much more mobile than the Old Country. We mix and match and before you know it, any sense of tradition that stretches back into the mists of memory have disappeared. The only people that hold to that are the Native Americans (who often have to fight on onslaught of competing cultures that see themselves as somehow extensions of that very culture) and the minority populations, Asian, South American, and to some degree African. It’s a sad thing, but perhaps somewhat unavoidable, given our history and our lack of homogeneity.

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But Poland, especially in the rural areas of the mountains, really exemplifies homogeneity. It was something that took some getting used to when I first moved to Lipnica Wielka, which is just about seven or eight kilometers from K’s home village of Jabłonka. Everywhere I looked I saw homogeneity: white people speaking a single language. When, on a trip to Warsaw, I saw African students in the the main train station, I almost wanted to hug them and say, “Let me just look at you! It’s so refreshing to see some diversity again!” When I saw a young Asian girl and a black girl on a popular TV series, both speaking flawless Polish, I became enthralled, wanting to learn everything I could about them. Heterogeneity was so rare that I just gawked at it.

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That was the Poland of the latter mid-90s. Twenty years on, so much has changed. Emigration from Poland has increased with the open EU borders, creating a certain brain drain as many of the more educated young adults move west, and immigration from the east, often illegal, has increased as well, as people from the former Soviet republics move to their own West, which is now Poland. And about all that, I have mixed feelings. I know that Poland will never become America, ethnically speaking, but might it become Germany? France? Diversity is a wonderful thing, but as with everything, it comes with a certain price. Still, I don’t see the highlanders of southern Poland diluting their own culture and pride in it at all for anyone.

Not that I’m suggesting anyone would try to dilute it — it’s just a byproduct, I think, of competing cultures. Not so for the gorals of the south: they’d cling to it ferociously, ever more mindful of the competition. And to some degree, that competition, with the level playing field that the Internet creates, already exists.

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Back to the story: after odpust, everyone went to aunty’s for dinner. And it was a huge feast, in keeping with the Polish saying, “A guest in the house is God in the house.” And even though they’re family, K and the kids are still guests, and the Polish spirit demands sharing on a massive scale.

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L hit it off with K’s cousin, R, who is a technophile as L is becoming. She loves showing people how to play this game or that game on the family tablet, which, truth be told, is more hers than anyone else’s.

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When L and I were there two years ago, we attended R’s and M’s wedding — our daughter’s first experience with a Polish wedding. As a girl who loves — absolutely loves — dancing, she was hooked immediately.

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There’s another family wedding coming up in mid-July, one which I’m hoping to attend myself. Still no decision yet: the to-do list still has a lot to get done, but maybe. Hopefully.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Basement

Step one: take almost everything from one side of the basement and put it on the other side. Cram everything in as much as possible — make it look like a complete wreck.

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Step two: clean and paint the now-clean side of the basement with water-proofing paint to reduce eliminate the risk of future flooding. (This should be done in conjunction with a complete renovation of the gutters’ drainage system.)

Step three: move everything else out of the basement storage room into only other room in the basement. Pack it all as ridiculously tightly as possible.

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Step five (the previous one counts as two steps): clean the other half of the basement storage room floor

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Step six: dread reversing all the steps.

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There was an almost fifty-degree temperature difference between Jabłonka and Greenville this third day of the 2015 summer. There, it was raining all day; here, the sun was merciless. That being said, we all had the same reaction: stay in as much as possible.

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Aunty came by for a visit — she lives just about a mile away, so it’s convenient, and visiting is just what you do when it’s forty-eight degrees and raining in June.

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K told me that she “couldn’t put enough layers on today.” But being trapped indoors leads to discoveries: “We played a couple of games of battleship, and then we discovered the Qwirkle game upstairs in the wooden room. It is a great game, I think we will play it a lot when the rest of the kids join.”

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That will be next week, when Polish schools are done for the year and the cousins come to grandma’s.

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On this side of the ocean, I spent the day cleaning out one half of the basement in preparation for a thick, heavy coat of water-sealing paint. “Withstands up to 15 PSI” proclaims the label. Sounds like you could submerge your house in that case. Still, it was a job that required a lot of work that doesn’t leave a lot to show for it. The before and after pictures look almost the same. A little less dirt on the floor, and some patches where I scraped up the old paint entirely.

In theory, this is unnecessary: I’ve discovered the source of our occasional flooding (poorly clogged drainage that leaves the downspouts to pour water along the house), and I’ve fixed the problem. In theory. But I’m not about to take a chance, so I have plans to paint both the basement walls and floor as well as the portion of the crawlspace where water was likely entering.

But it wasn’t all inside work today. I worked in our small garden, finishing pulling up the old peas, straightening some of the tomato stakes, and dreaming of the not-too-distant future when I’m overwhelmed with tomatoes.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Bonfires, Walks, and a Jet

I make a pile of the junk found in the basement today as I cleaned: broken hoe handles, bird feeders that had seen their last winter so long ago that I can’t even remember using them, spare wood that I’ve been saving — triangles, short pieces, long half broken pieces, even two broken pool cues well over a year after we gave away our pool table on Craigslist, a pizza box a little over a week old that had been sitting in a refrigerator that entire time holding bits of Howie’s bread that I’ve been nibbling on here and there. A pile of trash collected through the day will soon be nothing bad nothing but ash.

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Ordinarily I would be a bit worried about starting a fire this late in a South Carolina June. Usually the grass is brutally brittle by now and brown, but back to back monsoons have thoroughly soaked the ground so that the grass looks like it’s early May, and there should be no danger. Still I keep the hose pipe next to me just in case a stray ember ignites a small patch of grass light or, perhaps worse, a concerned neighbor (read: worried; read: nosey?) calls the authorities. “Yes officer, I have a means to extinguish the fire immediately right beside me. No, officer I do not have a permit.”

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It’s probably appropriate that today of all days I have set a fire a bonfire in our backyard, for today Kinga and the kids went for a walk down to the small river that runs through Jablonka, near which teens for decades burned bonfires legally (possibly) and down vodka illegally. When we still lived in Poland, K and I took numerous walks to that same spot. I took my parents to that spot when they came in 2004 for our wedding. I took L to that spot several times when we spent the summer there together in 2013. It’s about a mile from her house, maybe more, but it always seems both shorter order and longer, a path through fields of potatoes, beets, cabbage, grass for livestock. It’s comfortably known, that walk, and it’s always one of the very first things we do when we go back

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Bonfire always makes you think all is well with the world. They’re so calming, so simple, so primitive, so hypnotic. Just sitting looking at the fire (and if you’re lucky enough to hear the crickets around you) seems to square everything in the world. Even if you’re an adult who never really experienced bonfires as a child, it still seems to bring about a rebirth of youth, If you’re with friends, conversation always leave early always meaningful and always nostalgic; if you’re alone, you feel as if you’re the only person on Earth. You can hear cars passing in the distance, your neighbors chatting on their back porch, but you’re still alone in the world.

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I sit in the backyard at our fire thinking of my family in Poland as I hear a jet fly overhead, approaching the regional airport some 15 miles away. I miss them terribly, and our daily Skype chat is a small little blessing. Yet I’m strangely content because because I know that, like the bonfire, the separation is only temporary. And that’s really the trick to getting on in the world contentedly: understanding that so much of it is temporary and making your peace with that simple fact.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Cold Sunday

The Boy likes to help. It’s a common theme here: he helps me mow, he helps us with the garden, he helps us in the kitchen. He just follows along behind and asks, “Can I help?” not expecting any answer other than the affirmative.

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And we rarely say, “No.” Occasionally, we might be in a hurry and so we compromise: “How about you help clean up?”

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Babcia, of course, is never going to say, “No.” But I wonder how this situation came about. Did she ask him if he wants to help grind — what is that? liver? are they working on pate? — or did he manage, “Babcia, moge pomoc?”

The rest of the pictures seem self-explanatory enough. A festival during a cold Sunday when temperatures were almost in the single digits (Centigrade, of course).

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This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.

Drain, Rain, and a Snail

Our crawl space flooded at least five times in the last couple of years, and our half-basement itself flooded once or twice as well. It quickly became clear what was the cause: two downspouts of our gutters were gushing water straight into the foundation, which meant that our drainage system (already redone twice) was insufficient, clogged with roots, dirt, and who knows what. So earlier this year, I replaced the system with a temporary fix. An ugly fix. But it solved the problem. I knew I’d have to do it for a second time (the first time was done by a contractor before we moved in, part of our closing deal), but I as in no hurry.

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“Your number one priority while we’re in Poland,” K clarified, though, “is to redo the drains in the front.” So for the last few days, I’ve been digging, tugging, leveling, and getting everything ready for a final fix. I knew it’d be overkill, but I also figured I’d rather not do it another time, so the replacement system is with three-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe. But before I could get everything set, the sky began to gray, and I decided I might need to reattach the old temporary system, just in case.

What followed was a storm unlike anything I’d seen here. “It would have been the perfect test,” I muttered to myself.
Yesterday and today, though, I was able to get back out, finish up the leveling, and finish up the project, by and large. I decided to include two clean-outs in the plan just in case: I do not want to do this yet again. I reattached the hose to the spigot, rammed it down it not the newly constructed system, and turned it on. Perfection.

“Now if I could only get a real test,” I thought. Wish granted: another storm blew through this afternoon and everything worked like a charm. All that’s left is packing a bit more gravel around it and replacing the mulch.

Job one, done. More or less.

But who cares about drains and rain when across the ocean there are snails and soccer games?

K took the kids and Babcia to visit A, K’s sister-in-law, and their kids, who live just outside of Krakow. There was soccer and silliness until L discovered a snail — “na prawda duzy slimak!” K assured me (though probably with better grammar) before I’d had a chance to see the pictures — and that entertained them for a couple of hours.

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L has fallen back into Polish with no problem, K tells me. In fact, she’s eager to accompany her cousin S for a two-week camp up at the coast. The Boy, though, is a different story. Though K speaks almost exclusively in Polish, he’s still not really speaking that much Polish. I would imagine he feels a little left out as a result. “I translate for him a lot,” L explained today during our Skype time, but there’s something about this picture, his hands held in front of him as he watches, that makes me just want to hug him and assure him that he’ll be able to jabber away in no time as long as he makes a real effort. Or maybe there’s something else entirely going on with that picture. Maybe he’s just hungry, ready to head to the kitchen for some chicken and potatoes.

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Or maybe not.

This post is part of the following threads: Trips to Polska, Polska 2015 – ongoing stories at MTS. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.