Swienconka for Two?

The Real Butter Lamb

The Real Butter Lamb

My husband and I awoke to an empty house today. We think it might be the first time in over 20 years we haven’t had at least one of the kids here with us on Easter morning. We are fine with it. My husband is in his Polish food glory. I’m happy that I’m not staring down two candy-filled Easter baskets knowing that I’m going to end up losing the battle of willpower and diving in to them. It’s a happy empty nest.

Preparations for Easter or, in our case, a Polish Easter can take days. Hard boiling eggs, buying and cooking up the Polish sausage (the holiday variety, if we can get it around here. Side Note: Yes, we know about Ostrowski’s, but they do not use the same recipe as Redlinksi’s (in Buffalo, NY), which is my husband’s favorite, so we usually just get a decent stand in from Wegman’s.), getting the butter lamb (Side Note: We got a “REAL Butter Lamb this year!), getting the ham, getting the seedless rye bread, and that is the bare minimum for the Polish traditional meal of the day on Easter Sunday: Swienconka.*

The food for this meal is usually blessed. In the Buffalo area, churches are overflowing with folks bringing huge baskets, stuffed with everything for the swienconka to be blessed the Saturday before Easter. I’ve heard that at some churches, the priest has had to come out and do a mass blessing in the parking lots to all the folks trapped in the gridlock in their cars. Around here, our church has done the Blessing of the Food Mass but attendance is considerably lighter. In fact, the few times we’ve gone, there have been probably fewer than 30 baskets. This year, with just the two of us, we did not make it to have our food blessed. I often wonder how many years of blessing we can get out of, say, our salt and pepper shaker’s contents…I guess I would need to pay attention to how often I refill them during the year. Anyway, the lack of actual, current blessing, however, did not stop us from having the traditional meal. 

The Basic Traditional Polish Meal

The Basic Traditional Polish Meal

I was happy to not have to dye the eggs, buy candy, or decorate the house. Our daughter made it over to our house in time for church, which was nice. We got a nice Easter note from our son. My parents are having us over for Easter dinner. It’s a very happy empty nest, indeed.


*Swienconka – I do not know how to speak or write in Polish, so I’m using the word tweeted out by my sister-in-law, who will know better than I the ins and outs of Polish Easter words.



Thirty Years Later

La Sagrada Familia Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain

Rocky, exasperating, frustrating, overwhelming, and hard are a few of the words I would use to describe my first few weeks in Spain, where I was transplanted for my Junior year of college. However, those aren’t any of the words I actually use to describe my study abroad experience, mind you. I look back on my study abroad experience with happiness, excitement, pride, and a deep yearning to go back. In fact, I have a number of stories about things that I experienced when I first arrived that I laugh about now, but that I did not find funny at all at the time. So, having a child go overseas for his semester abroad program, has reminded me of the not often talked about parts of study abroad: the culture shock. We used the terms “culture shock” and “reverse culture shock” before and after my study abroad experience, back in the day. But, talking about it and learning what types of feelings are bundled under the umbrella of the term “culture shock,” does not prepare you for it happening to you. Funny thing about feelings. And, while I believe that everyone experiences some sort of culture shock, not everyone’s culture shock manifests in the same way. But, I guess, it was helpful to have the idea that what one is experiencing is normal. Although, I don’t once recall thinking, “Oh, yes. This is my culture shock talking,” when I was having a frustrated moment.And, communication has changed so much since I lived in Spain, it is mind-boggling to me. While I had pushed all of my entry into Spain and Spanish culture issues (READ: my culture shock) well to the back of my mind, I was brought back face to face with them through my son.

And, while it was a bit uncomfortable to hear he was experiencing his culture shock, it was nice to be able to say, “Yeah, I remember that. I felt that way, too.” So, while the sum total of our parenting advice has been something along the lines of, “Hang in there!” and “You can do it!” I had more peace about the place my son found himself in those early weeks of his Junior year. I knew that he was so close to getting over the biggest hump and would be fine. It just takes time.

While I mentally wrestled with ways I could “help” him, I began thinking about thirty years ago. One thing that came to me was an analogy. Undertaking a study abroad program is like panning for gold in the late 1800s. The conditions are physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. You’re standing in unfamiliar waters, performing unfamiliar tasks, like bending down and scooping up rocks and dirt and water and shaking out the unwanted parts. It’s demanding all of your attention to find the gold nuggets. But, you find them. Some are small, some a little bigger, and every now and then, you find a sizeable chunk of gold. You put all the nuggets that you find in a pouch or off to the side and continue panning. When you stop at the end of the day, you may not find that you have many nuggets. But, at the end of the week or month or semester, you will have lots of gold nuggets. Those gold nuggets are what you will be proud of, thankful for, and will be what you remember about your study abroad experience. The lack of reliable 24/7 WiFi will fade into the deep recesses of your mind, crowded out by the awesome, shiny gold nuggets you are holding.

Another thing that came to me was a word of advice: Don’t compare your insides (READ: what you are feeling) to somebody else’s SnapChat stories, Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, or tweets on Twitter. Seeing people who are also studying abroad appearing to be having an amazing time without any of the culture shock piece does not mean they are not also struggling to come to terms with their new environment. They are. And, just a P.S. Everyone is thinking the same thing about your cool photos and posts on social media.

And finally, I thought, it’s important to find your inner warrior. Be fearless. Face the day resolving to do your best, make the best of every situation, and have fun. I used to picture a map of the world and then picture where I was compared to my family and friends. I used that image to propel me through days I didn’t want to get out bed, as well as days I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to go to sleep.

Monserrat Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia, Spain







This Time It’s Not Me

Hearth and Home

Hearth and Home

I started out having an exceedingly difficult time accepting that my son is going to be leaving for Spain for his semester abroad program soon. But, I was not having a difficult time for reasons one may expect from an Empty Nest mom. No, I’m not worried about missing him too much. Of course, I will miss him a lot. I’m not afraid for any struggles he may have getting accustomed to living in a foreign country, as that is part of studying abroad. I’m not concerned about being able to keep in touch with him, as there are dozens of ways we can communicate these days. No, my problem is me, actually. I have been struggling to accept that I am not the one going. I had tried to figure how I could go and stay for the semester, too. Although, like the mouse who gets a cookie, I was definitely going to want more. Like staying for the whole school year. I know this because I’ve done it before. I spent my Junior year abroad in Pamplona, Spain. Am I excited about my son’s upcoming experience? Yes! But, it’s an excitement that is tinged with what I must admit is jealousy. 

Lladro From Spain

Lladro From Spain

Fast forward a month or so and I think I’m finally making the transition from being jealous and bummed it’s not me going to being very excited and happy for my son. The excitement is stemming from the waves of memories I’m having about my Junior year in Spain. I’m remembering details about the people, and lifestyle, and how different I found it from my own; realizations I made while abroad that haven’t occurred to me in years (decades, actually).

The memories began flooding back to me at a rate in which I honestly did not think my brain could produce, from the minute Alex came home from school for the summer. Dozens of them. Some with accompanying advice. And, I am so excited to share them I can barely contain myself. As we sit at the dinner table a memory will pop into my head, and I will say, “You may want to start listening to a Spanish language radio or television station to get your ear accustomed to hearing the language. It’s really hard to get the feel for how fast Spaniards speak in real time from the classroom.” And, “Don’t be alarmed by the crazy dreams you may have in the beginning. It’s just your brain trying to process your second language.” And, then there are the stories of what I experienced and how funny or charming or nerve wracking it was.  

Now, although it has taken several weeks for me to reign in my zeal about Alex’s trip, I think I’ve just about come to terms with it. It is his trip after all. And while I can’t wait to find out what aspects of Spain and Spanish life my son notices, likes, appreciates, and Etc. I must stand back and let it unfold as it did for me all those years ago.

Bull Fight Madrid, Spain 1982

Bull Fight Madrid, Spain 1982


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Sunday Rail Trail Ride in Western Maryland


Well, the Empty Nesters were at it again! We had wanted to do the second half of the Western Maryland Rail Trail this summer, so we took advantage of the kids being away visiting college friends this weekend to do it.

The weather was perfect — mid 70's and sunny. We jumped onto the trail in Hancock, MD at one of the trail parking lots. The lot was probably a half mile before the spot we turned around the first time we rode the first half of the trail. This Rail Trail trail is paved and flat, so think non-stop pedaling.

There were not many people on the trail at all today. The last ride we took on this trail (from Big Pool to Hancock) was on a week day and there weren't many folks on it then. So, I expected more weekend warriors on the trail, but, alas it was mostly couples probably more just a hair older than us. But, overall, around our age. The trail was peaceful and only the sound of nature could be heard. It was beautiful. It was completely wooded. While we could hear the traffic and see glimpses of route 70 on the first leg, this part of the trail was nothing but nature. I was on the lookout for black bears the whole time. They are found in great numbers (or at least high-ish numbers) in this area.

I never saw one. I guess I should be happy about that. But, we did enjoy the scenic views with tree-covered mountains in the background. We made it to the end of the trail from Hancock in about and hour and 15 minutes. So, round trip took us 2 ½ hours. We stopped and took water and stretch breaks, but by the end we were both ready to be done. I posted a 25.42 mile ride on my Map My Run mobile phone app. Yowza. That was a longer ride than I thought we'd do, but we Empty Nesters are tough. And when the going gets tough, we get really quiet and our focus intense as we try to get back to the car before we fall over (which we managed to do!).



That’s A Wrap on a Busy Week!

Some of the Columbia Masters Swimmers Sporting Their Tie Dyed Team Shirts

I can't believe how long it's been since I blogged. It is far more difficult to find the time to write when the kids are home. This past week was also filled to the brim with work for me. I worked endless hours at the swim shop getting kids ready for summer swim team. I worked a last minute Kitchen Angel job. And, I taught a couple of private swim lessons. Whew! All the while, I managed to keep up with my own swimming and lifting.

Today, I was able to bask in the glory of having nothing to do except go to my daughter's Women's Premier Soccer League game. Of course, “basking” for a mom means running around the house trying to clean, straighten, and otherwise get the house back on track from at least a week plus of my neglecting it. I did enough to be able to stand it until I can get more done tomorrow.

I wanted to make sure I updated you on how amazing my tie dye shirt turned out. We all had three universal thoughts on the whole Dish n Dye Tie Dye party for our Masters group: 1) My shirt is not going to turn out good, 2) Wow, my shirt turned out great, and 3) I can't believe I made that shirt! We have all gotten tons of compliments on the shirts already, and most people add a comment about how they'd never be able to make such a cool shirt. So, now I can speak with some level of beginner success expertise when I say, “Yes, you can do it! Erin is awesome and will lead you in creating a cool shirt of your own!” If you still have not checked out the Roll Up N Dye website, Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter, do it this weekend. You'll be inspired to plan a tie dye party of your own, I bet!


We’re All Adults Here


We have officially moved into a new realm as parents. Yes. Another noticeable milestone has been reached. Alex wanted to come with John and me to the HoCoBlogs party at Alexandra's Restaurant at Turf Valley this evening. He was looking forward to meeting some bloggers and seeing what it's all about. It was such an adult thing to want to do. I was surprised and happy he was willing to come. Alyssa had attended a HoCoBlogs party (also at Alexandra's) back in January, and I appreciated her coming with us then.

The party was another delightful event. We were treated to delicious appetizers that everyone was raving about. I met a couple more bloggers and was able to say hello to several familiar ones. Alexandra's once again proved to be a warm and inviting location for the bloggers and their readers. I'm glad we made it out tonight.


Scrumptious Lobster Lunch in Newport, RI


Need another hot tip on what to do while in Newport, RI? Visit the Newport Lobster Shack for the freshest lobster you can get short of catching it yourself (and cooking it and eating it on the boat). The trick is that the Lobster Shack is only open Thursday – Sunday. So, you need to plan accordingly. We planned our weekend well, and we were able to buy three lobsters and steam them at our condo for lunch. Talk about a “This is the Life!” experience. We didn't even make any side dishes, we just melted some butter.


I was a little nervous about cooking them ourselves, but the option to have them cooked by the Lobster Shack was not available yet (it will be available sometime this Summer). And, I was a little sad to put the lobsters in the boiling pot of water. But, I quickly got over it when I saw the beautiful red color of the cooked lobster. They cooked in no time and didn't require any of the seasonings and prep work that steaming Maryland Blue Crabs does. We pulled the claws off, then pulled the tails off. We put all the meat in a huge pile on a plate with the claws and dug in.

It was so delicious. The kids loved it and were so thrilled with the fact we cooked them ourselves. It turned the notion of getting lunch into a culinary adventure and something we will remember for a long time to come.


Cooked Lobster