On Easter…from a Polish Perspective


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If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, some of the thoughts and images in this post may seem rather familiar. In truth, many of them I am copying them from a blog post I wrote in 2009, while I was studying in Krakow. It’s strange to think it’s been 5 years since I was there, and yet, my time in Poland remains the best adventure I’ve ever been on, and I’m pretty surprised I haven’t been back. If I could drop everything and move anywhere right now, I’d move back to Poland in a heartbeat. But anyway, that spring in 2009 I found myself in the midst of a Polish Easter, and while I expected the holiday to be a bit lonely with all my friends gone and my family far away–perhaps it was–with no hustle and bustle and preparations to get caught up in, it was the kind of aloneness that just gives way to quiet reflection and simple appreciation. In fact, that holiday spent abroad became one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had. I loved it.

I did buy myself flowers at the market to keep me company.

Poland is still a very religious (Catholic) country, and the various days of the liturgical calendar that I tend to overlook are very much remember there. Beginning on this Thursday, Maundy Thursday,  all businesses and schools are officially closed. I wasn’t expecting it because I didn’t grow up learning anything about Maundy Thursday, and I was lucky that someone warned me ahead of time to stock up on groceries, because the stores and most of the restaurants were beginning to close early and would remain so through the weekend (if you’re traveling over Easter, no worries, there’s always McDonalds, which shuts for no one). The one big exception was the bustling Easter Market located in the Rynek Glowny, or main square, in the center of Krakow. This square was historically used by merchants who brought their wares there to sell and trade; today it is host to many community events and festivities, such as this Easter market.

The carts are filled with Easter baskets, flowers, eggs, gifts, candy, and other seasonal treats that delight just about everyone who passes by. There were carts of oscypki (smoked cheeses brought up from the Tatras) men roasting sausages on large outdoor grills, and smearing lard from heavy pots onto thick slices of bread, zapiekanki (toasted french bread loaded with sauteed mushrooms, cheese, and ketchup) and polish piwo and mulled wine.

The churches were busy all week and into the weekend. Throughout my time in Poland, I regularly liked to sneak in and observe from a back pew, and over the holidays, the lines of parishers were out the door as everyone came for the Easter blessings, prayers, and confessions. There is no normal schedule of mass during these days, instead the chancel is stripped bare and altar covered with black cloth. Of course, Poland has chocolate bunnies, Easter greeting cards, and even a man in a bunny suit roaming the mall, but the secular celebration really seemed to take a backseat to the church’s holiday. It was refreshing to remember that this is, in fact, a week set apart to remember the death and resurrection of Christ, not the coming of the Easter Bunny, and I was envious of the Poles’ seemingly unadulterated worship compared to the distracted traditions I grew up with.

Thursday and Friday are days of remembering Jesus’ last moments and his suffering, but they are also a time to prepare for the coming celebrations. These are the days that the family gathers together to decorate eggs, to carve lambs out of butter, and to bake the traditional Babka, or Easter bread–a rich loaf studded with raisins and orange zest. On Saturday, the bakba, butter, eggs, kielbasa, salt, and other traditional accoutrements of the Easter table are packed into baskets and carried to the church to be blessed by the priests.

A family exiting the church with their Easter baskets—I really hate taking pictures of people without permission, but in this case I couldn’t resist.

Many congregations also create a “tomb” somewhere in their church, so that people can visit the grave of Jesus and, i guess, pay their respects. There is often an honor guard composed of boy scouts or even the military who stand alongside. Saturday evening is marked by a special church service in Poland, which begins in darkness to demonstrate the emptiness of the world without God. A bonfire is lit in the back of the church to symbolize hope in darkness. As the candles are lit and the lights turned back on, we are reminded of the brilliance of the resurrection. As the service progresses, hymns of thanksgiving and praise are sung. I did not actually go to this service because I thought the language barrier might make my attendance futile, but I do wish I had tried. It sounds like a beautiful, passionate service.

Easter Sunday itself was pretty uneventful for me, as most of the Poles were at home with their families, enjoying the day and eating their Easter meals. I met up with a friend and we hunted for somewhere to eat, without a whole lot of luck, but we did eventually find a restaurant open, catering mostly to tourists and the few odd stragglers such as ourselves. Other than that, it was a quiet day of rest and contemplation.

Easter Monday is also public holiday. According to Wikipedia, it was a holiday in North Carolina as well up until 1988, but that had more to do with an annual baseball game between NC State and Wake Forest University than any religious significance. In Krakow there were a couple festivals going on—in the Zwierzyniec District, a nice walk down the river from where I lived, was the Emaus Festival. The modern-day festival stems from a centuries-old fair that commemorated All Soul’s Day,  and although All Souls was later moved to a different date, the celebration continued. I decided to go,  and sadly it turned out to be not that exciting. There were a lot of vendors selling cheap kids toys and candy, and some dumpy looking fair rides for babies to get some excitement out of…but not a lot for older people. I did buy a REALLY good ear of corn there,though, and of course some candy.

More famously, the Monday after Easter marks another popular celebration, called Smigus Dyngus. It is, in the words of my roommate, “a very primitive holiday,” and all that happened was that guys walked around with squirt guns and buckets of water and tried to get the girls as wet as they could manage. Apparently, getting water dumped on you means you’ll have good luck in the coming year, but–luck or not– I was still happy I managed to avoid it.  My roommate had an entire trashbag of water dumped on her from a window on the street, and another friend got egged by some drunks in a passing car. Traditionally, girls would have their turn to get back at the boys on Easter Tuesday, but unfortunately I didn’t see a lot of that going on. Too bad, those boys deserve it.

Tuesday isn’t technically a holiday, so on this day the Easter Market began to get dismantled and shops started opening again.  I still had a day off of school, so I traveled to Podgorze, which is sadly best known as the location of the Jewish ghetto on the opposite side of the river from Krakow. There I found an interesting festival taking place at the base of the Mound of King Krakus, the city’s founder. What the Mound is  no one knows, and if you didn’t know better you’d think it was just a rather strange looking hill on the outskirts of the city. It doesn’t seem like much in pictures, but when you see it up close you find it it’s quite monumental and impressive for being an ancient, man-made structure. You can read more HERE if you want.

The festival was to commemorate another centuries-old Krakowian fair, Renkawka, which has been reinvented in modern times as a Renaissance Festival. According to one source, “The fiesta probably has roots in pagan rites in honor of the dead celebrated here in the Dark Ages. Its feature used to be scattering coins and sweets that boys fought over. There were also bonfires and various contests, from fencing to pole climbing.”

There were reenactments, artisans selling crafts, and lots of tasty “medieval-inspired” snacks. It was really worth going, and seeing an Krakowian landmark I would have otherwise probably not ventured out to see…not to mention the fantastic view of Krakow from the top:

And with that, I finish up my little summary of a Polish Easter. I know it’s a long post but I hope it has been interesting and informative, and I hope I got all my facts right! While it’s always a little bit difficult to imagine not being at home with your own family and traditions over a holiday, I think it’s always worth taking an opportunity to discover some other traditions that are out there. That said, however it is you celebrate this season, I hope you all have a joyous and blessed day.

Happy Easter!!

Love Jenny





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Well, spring has sprung, so I guess I can return from my hibernation. Not that a change in the weather necessarily improves blog content, but it does provide a few nice pictures. We had a burst of warm this weekend, followed by a few days’ return to chilly, dreary, rainy weather…but it turns out that those April showers were just what the plants needed to burst out in blooms.

IMG_2598 IMG_2605 IMG_2606 ometI guess no matter what wind and rain may come our way, it’s difficult to be unhappy when the air is clean and there are flowers in the garden.


I’ll be back for another update soon.


Six Photos of Manhattan


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IMG_2406A writer I follow recently wrote a wonderful essay on Philadelphia, in which she described the city as having a sort of “gritty sincerity.” I love that. It’s a description I would also tie to New York—-sometimes worn, sometimes battered, sometimes mean, sometimes dirty—but always real. You see, we only pretend to live in a world of manicured lawns and neatly whitewashed fences and cleanliness and convenience. We expect trash to be turned out neatly in cans on the curb, waiting for a truck to come by to pick it up. We expect our sewers to work properly and we expect our neighbors to respect our right to a good night’s sleep by keeping the noise down and the lights off. We don’t expect to smell urine on the street corner, or see bags and bags of waste piled up at the base of a stop sign. We don’t believe that paint should be chipped, or curtains faded, or sidewalks riddled with cracks. We don’t want to have to come face to face with the dirtiness of human life and the passage of time. We turn our heads away from scents, sights, and sounds we disapprove of, cast a blind eye toward the waste we create, and overall just pretend that the reality of life doesn’t exist.

Many times, we find cities like New York repulsive. It is dirty. It’s bright lights and sparkly billboards are downright gaudy. There is trash littered everywhere. Unpleasant smells often linger in the air. But it’s real. In New York, you can’t hide from waste and dirt and weeds, you can’t ignore the reality of this world. Sometimes it’s rough, sometimes it’s polished, sometimes it’s green, sometimes it’s concrete. Chipping paint reveal colors that once were, rusty staples in the telephone pole give testament to the many flyers and notices that have been hung there, the sidewalks are embellished with scratches made by children trying to write their names with sticks. In New York City, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the mess we create; instead, it confronts us.  Maybe it is gritty, but it’s got the mark of life. Underneath it, there’s a beauty–the type of beauty that adds texture to the otherwise flat portrait of our world. In New York, tribute is paid to generations of people who passed through the world before us…each one, it seems, has left his mark on this place, even just by adding a bit of grit.

IMG_2411 IMG_2403IMG_2409IMG_2400 IMG_2413And there is something beautiful about it, isn’t there?

The Daily Photo

It was suggested (jokingly, I hope) that every day I post a picture of what I make at my new job. That is never going to happen because a) I have never in my life been that consistent with anything and b) I forgot to take a picture of the first day so the plan was ruined before it even began.

For the record, it was jerk chicken. I’m not a big fan of jerk chicken, but it was sold out before 12:30, so I was happy enough. More importantly, all the people I needed to impress were happy, and all is well with the world.

I did, however, get my coworker to take a picture for day two and email it to me. It’s a pork loin with an apple-ginger chutney, sweet potato wedges and roasted cauliflower. It was a pretty fall-ish menu, fitting for the chilly weather we had today. I never quite feel that the plate is balanced without something green on it, but it still looks pretty good to me.

I guess if someone wanted green today, they had to go to the salad bar.IMG_2419I was holding a plate in this picture because I was starving and ready for lunch. I actually didn’t get to eat what I made other than a few snacks in the kitchen and some of the end pieces I set aside while slicing the meat, because I was a little worried we’d run out. Maybe next time…..

Oh, you can see a little of the eating area and the big windows/panoramic view of Raleigh (mostly trees, apparently) behind me (and it’s not dark like it was in the last picture). It’s not really a cafeteria per-say, just a little cafe area, and then some tables and couches for people to work or relax, along with the pool tables and ping pong tables and whatever else they’ve got scattered around the room for people to entertain themselves with.

But who really cares about that, lets look at the food again: IMG_4163We do try to make it look pretty.

On a semi-related note, someone asked me recently whether it was hard to go from a place like the Farm, where nearly everything was from scratch and locally-raised and where I got to see pieces of the entire food puzzle–from the livestock in the fields and the plants in the garden, to the homemade sausages in the butcher shop and the cheese aging in the cheese rooms and so on and so forth—to a place like this, where most things come on a truck from big suppliers like Sysco. The answer is no, it wasn’t hard. The reasons are a little big complicated, but I don’t feel like I’m having to compromise my values and what I think food should be just because I’m not on a farm anymore. Granted, to get ourselves started we’ve bought a few prepackaged things just to provide a safety net until we can get a good routine down, but ultimately, I look forward to it being a completely from-scratch kitchen. And to be fair, everything you see above was 100% homemade. Just because the food isn’t grown right outside the window doesn’t mean I can’t still be responsible with the products I choose and put out fresh, healthful, interesting, and delicious food. And just because the sausage isn’t made next door and I don’t have time to roll my own pasta every day and I don’t have a team of people to go forage some little-known plant to garnish my plate doesn’t limit me to a life without homemade sausage or fresh pasta or interesting greenery. It just means that I have to be a bit more proactive and dedicated if it’s going to be part of my life.

After all, in the real world, these things don’t just fall on your doorstep. The Farm is an extreme anomaly even in the world of fine dining, and it was a privilege to be a part of that for any amount of time. But it’s also a responsibility to take all those things I learned about and introduce them to people who have never been to a place like that, and I guess that’s what I’m doing now. It’s not particularly easy to rethink food I know and enjoy so that it fits this environment (as well as the challenges and limitations that come when you have to prepare a bulk amount of food in advance), but it’s still inspiring and exciting to try.

Plus, I enjoy the people I work with, the hours I get to work, and the freedom to be creative. I like my work, but I don’t like working odd hours and holidays and not being able to see my family or friends or commit to any other activities I wanted to do. I already feel like I’ve been given 100 extra hours in a week just because now I get to clock out of work at 2pm instead of clocking in to work at 2pm, and I feel much happier and well-balanced as a result.

The only reason I’m sorry I quit is because I realize that I’ve given up the rare opportunity to learn from the best of the best, and frankly, I’m not done learning yet. I’ve cut my education short, more-or-less. There’s a lot of interesting things that many top restaurants are doing that, frankly, I will never find an opportunity (or the  budget) to try somewhere like this. And yes, there are some ingredients and products that I simply cannot get now, at least not without buying it with my own money or jumping through hoops to find it. I guess I’ve just had to accept that I made a choice here, and that I believe a balanced life that reflects my values is more important than having an enviable career, even if it means giving up a job at one of the coolest restaurants in the region.

Anyway, I guess that’s all I really have to say today about that.

Love Jenny

Raleigh at 7am

IMG_2245IMG_2243I love the landscape of the mountains, but the great thing about living in a flat  city is you can usually get a really good view of the sunrise. No mountains gettin’ in my way anymore.

I took these two from our 9th Floor Cafe a little after 7am, just as the sun began to peek out over the horizon. Yes, there’s a pool table. and ping pong tables, and air hockey. Those Red Hat employees have no room for complaints.


IMG_2233-001This is a picture of my new kitchen so far. We passed our health inspection today and got in our first big order of food, so we’ll be ready to start cooking tomorrow! In other words, we’ll be learning how to use our giant, super fancy combi ovens (which totally make that little range in the corner look like an antiquated dwarf appliance…in fact, don’t even look at it, it’s about to be replaced with a flattop) before opening for real next week. I guess some of us food-service employees really can’t complain, either.

You Know it’s Hot When….



PS—None of these are my pictures. Some I’ve seen  posted and reposted across the internet, but thought ya’ll might enjoy them so  I decided to share them here!!! I don’t know who the original source of any of these images is, but i swiped them from here. Lots of other funny things on that site too :)

Photo Tour of the Museum of Appalachia


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IMG_2047-This log cabin is one of dozens of structures that have been moved to the site—most of which have been beautifully restored and decorated.

Schoolhouse interior.

Schoolhouse interior.

IMG_2016  IMG_2031 IMG_2033“what?”IMG_2040-The more rarely seen members of the peacock flock.IMG_2036-All buildings are accompanied by stories of their colorful inhabitants. For example, this still was actually in use until quite recently. It was built here by “the notorious Popcorn Sutton”, a lifelong moonshiner. He last made whiskey here in 2003, but despite warnings, passed out “tasting samples” to visitors during a demonstration. When authorities told Popcorn he must cease and desist, he indignantly packed up his gear and went home.IMG_2007 -Inside the “Display Barn” are piles of crafts, instruments, toys, and tools made by Appalachian people, often accompanied by hand-written histories of the items and the people who made them.IMG_2005-recreation general store in the “Display Barn.”IMG_2006-The strange work of Cedar Creek Charlie, who covered every surface of his home in polkadots. This apparently included his own clothes, which he liked to wear while greeting Sunday visitors on his front porch.IMG_2009From the 1940′s until his death in 1988, Henry Harrison Mayes–an Appalachian coal miner–created these 1,400 pound concrete signs, which he placed along highways across America.  Apparently, before his death he mapped out a plan to place his crosses on every corner of the globe…and throughout the solar system. Many of the signs at the museum have instructions to “place this cross on Saturn” or “place this cross in Egypt.” Apparently they have yet to make it that far. IMG_2049-A herd of goats, accompanied by an authentic Appalachian cantilever barn in the background.

These are our people. They are world renowned, unknown, famous, infamous, interesting,diverse, different, but above all, they are a warm, colorful and jolly lot, in love with our land, our mountains, and our culture. May their memories ever be preserved—not so much in reverence to them but as a gift to us and to generations to come.”

—John Rice Irwin, Museum Founder.


For More information on the Museum of Appalachia, visit http://museumofappalachia.org.



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IMG_1898I still remember my first assignment as a 10th grade art student. My teacher herded us outside and set us down on the concrete patio adjacent to our classroom, and instructed us to draw. I looked around, and picked a subject: a ratty bush directly in front of me. Leaning up against the side of the building, pencils in hand, I carefully outlined the curves of the branches, and filled in the shape with bright green leaves. My teacher peered over my shoulder. “It’s good,” she said. “But do you notice anything else about the color of the leaves?”

I looked again. The leaves were still green. I shrugged my shoulders.

She instructed me to look closely. Is green really all I see? Is any color really what it seems?IMG_1894


The easiest way to take yourself from being a poor artist to passable is to look a little closer, and to notice that green is really not so green. Trees are not green, grass is not green.  In each of these, there are a million other colors in that will never be captured by a single colored pencil. The blue of the sky is reflected in shadows, the play of light gives golden highlights to each sunlit leaf. In this way all nature performs together to create one perfect, harmonious picture.

Once you start seeing the world in full color, You’ll never again return to the monotone green grass you once knew. 

IMG_1896You’ll begin to notice all the flowers hidden underneath the tall grass, with their cheerful faces turned up bravely to the sky. 

And if you’re lucky you’ll meet this little blue swallow, whose looks out on the world with fierce curiosity.IMG_1893You’ll see beyond the greenish waters near the bank–made so by the thick moss growing on the rocks below–and greet the turtle before he dives back into the blue.IMG_1899On the opposite bank, duck families are paddling out for their afternoon exercise. The tiny ones, in suits of mottled yellow and brown, hop and trip over the flower stalks as they make their way toward the water’s edge.IMG_1911 And nearby, this red-faced friend gives his wings a defiant stretch after losing an embarrassing battle over pond territory to a pair of geese. IMG_1913All these things you would miss if you chose to only see the world in green.

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men’s sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Spring



Post Prompted by The American Resident as part of her weekly “Where I Live” Linkup.

Red Barns and Buttercups


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Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
And I’m feelin’ good.IMG_1865Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ goodIMG_1843Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel..
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
IMG_1864Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don’t you know?
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean.
Sleep in peace when day is done: that’s what I mean.

And this old world is a new world and a bold world for me.


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