Roads without names... 

Welcome to read about my journey along the roads without  names...

Jablonka 2007

December 10th, 2007 - We Are Not Here Long


“Stare, pry, listen, eavesdropping. Die knowing something. You are not here long” -  Walker Evans.


You know you do it, stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. We stare at the tabloids at the super market check out aisle as we wait our turn This curiosity is what makes soap opera’s so popular, prying into other people’s lives, anybody, even fictional ones. We pry into our friends lives, stare at the unusual among us out of the corner of our eyes. Somehow we can’t resist getting caught up in another’s world. Could be we just are bored with our own routine or is it to escape our current problems. Why are we so curious, nosey, empathetic, judgmental, always comparing? Whatever the reason, we do it and in the moment we delight to feel their pain, their worry, the devastation of perhaps someone’s life that we have never met. There are times, though, when the tragedy is of people we do know.


And so I let CNN tell me of the disasters around the world,  disasters I am thankfully missing out on. People tell their stories, tell of their losses, tell how thankful they are to be alive while all the time we know they are wondering what they will do tomorrow when the camera is gone. I grieve for the small Thai child born with 4 limbs due to her conjoined twin that never developed a head. I stare at her bubbling countenance amid flailing limbs because it is TV and I can.


Forty years of living in Southern California spared me from the many wild fires that raged through familiar places this summer, places I once admired and dreamed of living there. CNN interviewed the couple who clung to the side of their swimming pool as the roar of their burning house filled their ears. I read the e-mail of my friend, Brenda,  evacuating her beloved home with her 9 dogs. With no shelter to go to, what does one do with 9 dogs, or horses for that matter. It could have been me. 


I know quite well about earthquakes as the “gigglers“ came often. Again I had been spared any devastation of my own, only left with amusing stories to tell. So, when the 8.0 quake struck in Indonesia in August near Jakarta, my heart sank. My on-line friend Juliet had written me the day before that she had mailed me a gift from her country. We have never met except through e-mail and of course shared our lives with our Cockers quite often. She knew I had been to Borneo to see the endangered Orangutans. She told me about a rare miniature monkey in her country.


“It is small but something you will enjoy. It will take a while to arrive as it is boat mail”, she wrote.


It is now December and no package has arrived but worse yet, no word from Juliet since that e-mail. I “pry”, writing  for word, but nothing comes back. Is she alright? Did the package ever get to the mail boat? Each day I scan my incoming e-mail for her name. I peek into my mailbox, looking for the package. Nothing.


I do some eavesdropping on nature, too. The cycle of the seasons brings fresh new colors and smells with each passing day. Autumn came and went in a flash  and I am quick to take a photo of the trees with their fallen leaves that have swallowed up my little lane. The leaves are gone now, blown hither and yon.  The songbirds are now snow birds in some warmer climes, and the chickadees now take their place in my garden and the forest. I spot a small fellow outside my window. He is quite chubby with a full orange belly and small dark blue wings and head. I wonder where he spent the summer. Quail and pheasant stop by the garden and soon depart when the dogs appear. Unashamed, the owls and hawks perch in the empty branches in full view. Small nests left by the songbirds fill exposed limb nooks and crannies.


There is nothing better than home made bread on a chilly afternoon unless it is freshly baked by the baker in Myjava. Opening the door to the bakery, my nostrils are overwhelmed with the fragrance as I take my place in line. It is Slovak bread with a crust washed delicately in salt and caraway seeds. The fragrance of my loaf fills the Rover as I make my way home past the golden balls of frozen apples, clinging steadfast like Christmas ornaments to the bare branches of the Jablonka trees that line the road. Only these yellow apples remain as the last of the red ones have long fallen to the ditch below.


I purchased a collection of  8 foot long branches at IKEA as my Christmas tree and have decorated it with lights and ornaments. I’m staying longer this year so I can enjoy the holidays with my dogs. I carefully unpack my favorite ornament, a  heavy dark blue glass bulb my grandmother brought with her from Germany in 1904. She had given it to me when I was quite small and it was mine to hang on the family tree. Even then, I was intrigued by her homeland so far away and so it made many a trip to school as a show and tell over the years. Now it has made the trip back across the Atlantic to rest in Jablonka until I pass it on to my grandchild.


Early November brought the first meaningful snowfall. It is good because now the crisp fallen leaves do not cling to the coats of my dogs and decorate my floors. The sun masquerades as the moon, dressed in shinny silver, overseeing musky gray skies. At night I lay in bed and listen to the horrendous thud of snow slipping off the red tile roof .


Mornings are spent gathering wind fallen kindling the Lipa tree has delivered during the night, while the dogs make their beer and cigar trails in the snow. Bailey and Murphy look at me with “I got milk” muzzles from eating the cold white mush. So much to eat, so little time, as I call them inside. It is freezing in Jablonka now, 20 degrees on some mornings. I bring arm loads of wood from the stack along side the house, inside for a welcoming fire. The slapping sound you hear is me patting myself on the back for discovering the Lipa twigs are what I needed to make a real fire on the first try. And when the Lipa and Birch trees no longer deliver, there is a forest full of more kindling right next door. Before I discovered this bounty, it took bottles of  starter fluid and endless attempts before the roar of the flames could be heard. Proudly, three weeks have now passed without a failure to produce electric red coals within the hour. Bailey and Murphy rest before the glass window, mesmerized by the dancing flames.


We make our last trip of the day outside. Saturday races to the far corner of the garage to sniff out the hibernating hedgehog. It is her thing she must do. Nicholas makes his way through the snow to patrol for anything that may be lurking in the far corners. That is his chosen job. Murphy and Bailey watch with pensive eyes. Murphy runs after his father, learning the tricks of the trade. He resembles Nicholas both in both mind and form. Bailey, on the other hand, is his mother’s son in image and personality, giving watch over the sensuous smell of the hibernating hedgehog. He is quick to learn what is proper on the first try and knows he gets a cookie for doing his business outside, making sure I am watching when he does. Sometimes he makes more than one sitting, thinking more cookies will come. Murphy watches and when the cookie overflows Bailey’s chomping mouth, like his father, he is quick to snatch away any fallen morsels. Nicholas can be counted on to snatch morsels from any plate left unguarded, something proper Saturday and Bailey would never do.


I confess I also stare into shopper’s carts at Tesco. It is my personal survey to find out what Slovak brands are popular. Sometimes I find a long lost friend in a cart, something I couldn’t find on a shelf.


“Where did you find your Porkert”, I ask pointing to the meat grinder in their cart while displaying a questioning look.


They don’t speak English, but understand, pointing and indicating aisle 27. “Dequiem” I reply as I scurry off to collect my prize. How I have longed for common hamburger and since I haven’t found it in any of the markets, I need to make my own. Maybe it is a good idea anyway, as CNN reports of a million pounds of hamburger recalled due to e-coli spoilage in the US. Beef seems more of a lump than a cut I am familiar with, so I just pick a package that is middle priced with a little fat. Fatty beef is rare. Home, I take my Porkert out of the box and fresh memories race through my mind of a time in Chicago when my mother let me crank the handle to make hamburger. I could assemble the parts blindfolded but glad there were pictures to show the sequence . As I turn the handle, I am thinking about my favorite spaghetti sauce, crunchy taco’s and lip smacking chili beans. When I finished, I carefully wash the Porkert and place the silvery parts in the oven to dry just as I had watched my mother do so many years ago.


I have learned so many things this season, that the snow comes and goes and then  comes again. In the spaces between, I continue to tidy up the garden and collect kindling from the forest next door. I find a convenient branch to haul up my lane before another snow fall. I have learned about what plants do well in this climate and what can’t take the alkaline soil. I place mulch around the junipers and ferns as my little men watch. Their nostrils sniff the marvelous scent of the cedar bark strips and believing they are chew sticks, they race off with their prizes. As the days go by, slowly the black weed abatement cloth beneath the mulch becomes bare where strips have been carried away by these earnest devotees. I am afraid for them, but there is no stopping their feast.


 Alas poor Granny is still sleeping in the rock house pergola. No one came to put her feet in the ground before it froze hard. I just don‘t know about Granny Smith. I checked her out on the Internet and apparently she is native to New Zealand and likes a long growing season, something Jablonka does not have. So I must decide if Granny deserves a place in the sun come spring, or will just  be some nicely cut kindling wood.


I have also learned that a small hit and run by a semi means I must repair the Rover’s bruising quickly or the police will issue me a fine for prolonging the repair of the injury. Then there is the lesson that if the satellite refuses to send me a signal, I must live for days without a TV until I jump through all their hoops to obtain a repairman. I went to the computer store in Myjava for advice from the young man who speaks English. He is not there. I ask the older man if he speaks English. He does not, but the young customer behind me was eavesdropping and does and he is eager to ask me what I need. Together we go to another shop where he finds a phone number and calls a shop in Piestany. It is possible to have someone to come. This stranger that volunteered was there asking how he could get Internet service in Myjava and I was all to happy to help him with my suggestion. This is how it goes, living in a country where I cannot speak the language. There is always someone close who comes to the rescue of this old lady.


I purchased a collection of  8 foot long branches at IKEA for my Christmas tree and have decorated it with lights and ornaments. I am staying longer this year so I can enjoy the holidays with my dogs. I carefully unpack my favorite ornament, a  heavy dark blue glass bulb my grandmother brought with her from Germany in 1904. She had given it to me when I was quite small and it was mine to hang on the family tree. Even then, I was intrigued by Europe and  so it made many a trip to school as a show and tell. Now it has made the trip back across the Atlantic to rest in Jablonka until I pass it on to my grandchild.


Staying longer in Jablonka, I am experiencing the joys of a winter. I leave for Vegas next month and returning late February. I’ve prepared a list of purchases to bring back. The usual brown sugar tops the list as does vanilla for baking. There is no brown sugar as we know it and vanilla flavoring comes in teaspoon size bottles and tastes more like vodka.  I‘ll make room for more bed sheets as well because the sizes here do not match the mattress I brought over. Already the two suitcases stand ready for their trip like Santa’s bag, to be filled with my favorite things.


I am learning that heating is very expensive, more so with the help of the low dollar.  Now I only turn my heaters on for 4 hours in the morning and again in the evening when the rate is lower. The clay bricks inside hold enough heat to last during the in-between hours. In the afternoon, I coax the wood in the fireplace to take over the job. Only if the temperature falls below 20 degrees do I put the heaters on during the late hours, then only on very low. Most of all I have learned that one can embark on a foreign  adventure in their later years, and that I can survive quite well without the comforts I once knew. Living in Jablonka is a cherished adventure and I am glad I took this chance to be a part of my childhood dream. We are not here long.


Until next year, Dovidenia, gyn.  


October 11th, The Midnight Visitor.


“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and kind of fear is fear of the unknown”  H. P. Lovecraft


The night was stealing the last of the day when it was time to give Nicolas and Saturday their last run before bedtime. As we made our way past the rock garden, the automatic sensor turned on the cobble stone driveway light. Nicholas ran on  to patrol the property boundary as he always does, but Saturday began barking at a huge organic looking ball of what appeared to be a seed head. It lay just at the corner of the Tulip bed.


In the dimness of the light, I came closer to inspect the 5 inch ball as Saturday continued to stand guard, emitting her voice of concern. Bending down, I could see the ball begin to pulse and suddenly knew this was not organic, but a critter, possibly of some hedgehog family. And then, as quick as a “God Bless You” following a sneeze, my mind torn past the pages of  the calendar to the morning I heard some creature stirring among the plastic mulch bags inside the garage. I hesitated as it found a way out by his own doing through one of the inside crevices. My thoughts sped back to a time before I had installed the ceramic heaters inside the house, before I had brought my Cockers to share this glorious school house, to a time I huddled under mounds of down comforters and fur coats for warmth as I lay in my bed in my new found home. Now, in this moment I could still remember the clatter of toe nails across the bedroom floor that brought me to a wide awake fear of knowing I was not alone, of knowing some creature of size had come into the dark of my bedroom.


I sat up in bed and looked down the three steps to the moonlit library to see with nearsighted eyes, a round ball about the same size as this gently pulsating ball before me now. Then, upon hearing me exclaim “What are you?”, it had dashed off to the dining room and I could hear it escaping above the wooden planks of the ceiling to the safety of the attic and then hopefully perhaps somewhere beyond. Now at last I was certain that the mystery midnight visitor of so long ago was this member of the hedgehog family just as afraid of me now.


The prior owner had made a hole through the tile of the shower room next to the bedroom to allow the heat of the classroom fireplace to warm the little room. It was this hole that provided a way inside the house from the attic as well. That next morning I stuffed a towel in the hole and when Andrej came, I had him cement it shut so no more creatures would find their way to my bedroom by that route.


Happy in my thoughts that the critter was not the discover of my three little puppies, but their brave mother instead, I quickly gave Nicholas a call and ushered the two dogs inside. Returning to the creature, I took a shovel and lifted his 3 pound or so weight and with a heave, flung him over the fence. I shivered as I heard a thud when he fell on the Tizik side of the stone wall and where I hoped he would remain.


With everyone to bed, I searched Google for the particulars of the European wild hedgehog. I discovered there are breeders and shows devoted to the sport of hedgehogs as pets. Apparently these animals are a prize to own as one advantage, they gorge themselves on insects, mice and happily, slugs, the latter making my lips stretch into a grateful smile. I wondered now if my new friend survived the drop over the fence and would be back to patrol my garden of the slimy creatures that were feasting upon my hostas all summer and the mice that ate the insulation in my Rover engine one winter while I was in Vegas. Then as I read further, I discovered their mating season was spring and fall. That thud I had heard now concerned me that perhaps this was not an overweight male, but a female heavy with offspring. With sadness I turned off the computer, hoping my new found friend was not injured by my rudeness. The following morning I felt much relief as both Nicholas and Saturday circled the tree just outside the door and near the slug heaven of my hosta garden. Obviously my new friend had no hard feelings and felt welcome to continued his feast at my pleasure.


It had been a rainy summer with little time to enjoy the garden or complete the landscaping. The wet soil is quite compact, clinging strongly to my shovel when lifted from the planting holes, then resisting its return around the root balls of my chosen plants. Yet if I wait  for a sunny day, the ground is hard as the rocks and un-yielding. So, I must wait for that precious moment in between when the soil agrees with my efforts.


My problem is there just is not anybody who wants to work here for any price and my grass grows taller with each rainfall. New bought junipers still in their pots, wait their turn in the meditation garden. The family network is very strong and  people only do for family. It is you do for me and I do for you in exchange. What can an old woman do in exchange? Nothing they can see, so they do not come. Money is not the carrot. I understand it was taught in the schools under Communism, the importance of sharing your wealth and labor with those dear to you. Small business people are scarce and when you do find them, they do not feel an obligation to show up as scheduled. I see many houses taking upwards of three years to finish construction.  It has been two years for the renovation of the Jablonka Pub and still no signs of a completion. So, I go without help for the grass and the odd jobs around the house I cannot do. Janko is too busy putting a heating system in his house to come, and even though I had paid him a bonus for putting down my stones thinking it would be an incentive to come back, he hasn't shown up for 7 weeks now.


My dear friend Zuzana brought two of her Briard friends to aid in getting some needed chores done. Milosh cut half of the front lawn before the mower broke. Meanwhile, Vlado worked inside to put up a drape in the dog room and the wall coat rack. At last I have a place for winter coats to hang other than over the dinning room chairs. It was something arthritic hands could not do.


Then, while Vlado took a cigarette break outside in the soccer field, he discovered the field to be filled with mushrooms of various shapes and sizes. Slovakia is known for its abundance of forest mushrooms and some of the dried varieties in the stores are from Jablonka. The wet summer had brought them out like weeds, growing in abundance like I had never seen before.. He had gathered an armload of huge foot long ones and said they would be quite delicious. This was the first I had seen any mushrooms outside and the ones inside that had plagued my walls until I installed the heaters, were of course poisonous.  I don’t know a safe mushroom from a poison one, so was happy to give him what he  had gathered, but keeping just a small one for myself to try. Later than evening I get a text message from Zuzana that Vlado had said not to eat the mushroom. She did not tell me why.


 I remember walking the woods around Chicago with my father. As a child in Germany, he had learned from his father how to tell the good from the bad and we would gather a bounty for a soup he would make when we got home. I trusted my father and together we sipped the warm soup while my mother stood over us in protest, fearing to see if she needed to call the doctor.


The morning came and they sped first to the front lawn, their little black ears flying in their own breeze. “Harley, Murphy, Bailey” I called and like 10 year old boys, became instantly deaf to my voice. “I have cookies”, I pleaded. Nothing. They were out of sight. Then I saw them heading along the far fence to the soccer field in a straight line of determination. I called repeatedly again but without notice by the three black rascals.


As I came upon them, their little black noses were rooting the grass for their banquet of the savory mushrooms. Stems hung from their busy mouths as they looked up at me and then paid me no mind as they continued filled their bellies with gusto. I try to herd them away, but it is useless. Finely, with mushroom breaths, they come inside to sleep off their foray.


Vlado said they were not poisonous, but still I am with fear a poisonous one may be lurking in the grass. Gripped with fear, I listen to my puppies breathing while they sleep in the pen beside my computer. In the morning,  I take my bucket, walking the lawns and soccer field hoping to gather as much of the invaders as I can find. At least a dozen exciting varieties with their little hoods poke among the grass wet with morning dew. Even so, the little black noses find many I cannot see. If only, if only I dream, they were good for tasting, how much I would welcome my finds for tonight’s dinner. Instead I pour my treasured finds into the garbage and buy what looks like the same mushrooms at Tesco.


It is October and mornings already have frost on the Lipa tree leaves that now cover the ground and find their way into the house. There is much weeding and cleaning to be done before putting the garden to bed. Hosta leaves are already transparent from the chill of the mornings and must be removed. Rain soaked Lipa tree leaves piled high in clumps against the iron gate from the wind, waiting for gathering as a mulch over next year’s garden. Plastic bags of  last years leaves await for spreading now. Saturday rummages in the garage, her nose seeking out the scent of the hedgehog who may have found refuge among the empty boxes and mulch bags. In the distance we can hear the tractors working the wheat field earth for a winter‘s crop. Apples and pears fresh from the road’s trees beckon passing motorists. I stop and take as many as I can reach. Cars and bicycles can be spotted now and then while people gather the walnuts dropped from the road trees. Is there anyone who buys apples and walnuts at Tesco?


I make my way to Tesco for Friday’s shopping, stopping in Vesele at the Garden Skola. The bare root fruit bins are full of root stock. I am attracted to the group of Granny Smith trunks. Apples are free for the eating, but no Granny Smith’s for baking ligers along the roads. Impulsively I pull one from the bin and dream of having my own Granny Smith for the next year‘s Apple cake and my grandmother‘s strudel.


As I drive home with Granny straddling th groceries, I am overcome with the thought of penetrating the earth in the soccer field deep enough to swallow her roots. I knew my impulse purchase would be trouble in the doing as the salesperson had instructed me of how deep I must dig the hole. “Toto”, she indicated in Slovak, a mark requiring at least a 20 inch deep hole. When I got home, I put Granny in a bucket of mulch and water. And there she stays until I can find the will to begin the daunting task or a willing visitor to plant her feet before the frost sinks hard into her waiting bed.


Good night Granny, sleeping in the rock pergola. Good night hedgehog tucked in the garage. Good night mushrooms waiting to spring forth in the  morning. Sleep well little puppies in their pen. Good night my dear reader, until our next visit.

September 10th  And The Rains Came


“Life is our dictionary……this time, like all times, is a very good one, it we know but what to do with it”  Ralph Waldo Emerson


I begin throwing rocks, the biggest ones that give  pause in my path. Janko and Marek had arrived late one night to lay the weed abatement cloth and cover it with the river boulders. It was not at all what I had dreamed of for the meditation garden, but it was there now and up to me to try to make it work. With the welcome rain, the dirty clay that had made them so yellow, now began to wash down onto the hollow spaces where one day soon I would find the dastardly weeds taking root in spite of the cloth.  I tossed out clumps of clay left here and there between the stones.


So, began the daily task of arranging the stones and tossing the bigger ones to the edges. The vastness of the project was daunting, but doable. But in spite of my disappointment, the weeds and mud beyond my door were now gone and while not perfect, there was something better to come, something that told me progress was finally in the making of my garden. I began to clear some spaces for a bit of greenery in hopes of calming the current tumultuous mood of the garden. And as each morning came, with it the rain washed more of the mud until finally the yellow stones began to take on the gray tone of the stone wall and gazebo. Some day I would soften the paths by carving a bit of rhythm into them. Then the plan is to purchase some pea gravel (as I had originally requested) to fill in between the rocks. My feet ached from traversing the undulating base. My right arm that sported my arthritic shoulder ached as I began to build up the muscles once again. It was good therapy, I told myself, as I placed a heating pad on the throbbing places, rejoicing in the thought of getting back some use of my arm.


The rains came again and again like never before, soaking the hillside  and the patio outside my door. I see cracks forming in the enclosed porch plaster and wet walls in the cellar below. It is not good. Outside, The iron gates creak, moving slowly apart now as the stone pillars begin their cracking and leaning. It is not a good sign.  I am helpless to nature.


It is Friday and in spite of the rain, I venture out to Piestany for my weekly shopping at Tesco. I put the bicycle chain around the gate closing so keep it from opening on its own while I am gone. The Rover heads towards the village center on the one lane road and as we make our way we see the State road vehicle with its long arm cutting the weeds at the road side. It is hogging the single narrow lane road as I cautiously try to pass and in so doing, the Rover takes the opportunity to once again meet with a ditch. I am suddenly at a 45 degree angle and not in motion as the wheels spin uselessly. I climb out of the car with the driver side wheels now in the air.


“Prosiem, Proseim” I call to the vehicle as it moves away from me, cutting the tall weeds from the other side of the road. The driver finally hears me and stops and comes out to see me and my wayward Rover. He replies in Slovak and I recognize the word “tractor” in his verbiage. I announce I speak only English and beg again for his help. Finally, he pulls a change from his cab and signals to another road vehicle to come and while he applies his bulky weight to the Rover’s driver side, the second vehicle pulls the Rover onto the road. Once again I an delighted to see my Rover waiting with all four wheels on the pavement.  I give him some Krowns as I repeat my many dakujems. He refuses, but I am stalwart and he finally takes the payment for his generosity. As I turn the key in the ignition, my heart stops until the engine finally kicks in and the Rover is once again on the way to Tesco, the rain washing the mud from the car. I stop only to pluck some red apples from the lower branches of the trees along the roadside. I shall make an apple pie.


I look forward to my Friday’s at Tesco, walking the aisles to see what’s new to find. They now carry many items I have missed from the USA. Salted butter, cranberry sauce, sage and onion stuffing, all make for a the finishing touches to a glorious Thanksgiving day. Tortillas, salsa and corn chips from El Polo Loco are another summer treat with Haagan Daz for desserts. I seem to be buying the same things each week, but the $30 I used to spend now becomes $45. I tighten my belt, adjusting to the dollar/euro crisis.  And what the Stock Market giveth today, the Stock Market takes away tomorrow.  I forgo my semi monthly trips to Bratislava and Ikea.


The rain is unwelcome now, depressing and not good with 8 week old puppies who want to run and play outside. I had made the trek to Virginia a few weeks earlier to gather up Saturday and her three little men with only a backpack and two dog crates to worry about. A quick overnight and my friend Kathy helps me to the airport. A few hours later I was in Vienna and the two crates were already waiting, this time filled with little black noses. I pushed the cart to my waiting Rover and with help from a gentleman, loaded the 4 dogs in the back seat. Soon we were on our way to Jablonka, tired, but none the less for wear. The arthritis and my 74 years told me not try this adventure again.


Everyone settled in quickly and after a day of recuperation, in no time the pups were learning  to be my best friends. While the routine to potty train outside is being spoilt with the rain that continues day after day, they have made good progress.  I am the  happiest when having the joy of puppies in my life.


Nicholas is not so happy to be sharing my time with these new arrivals, but he seems happy to see Saturday once again and doesn‘t mind sharing my bed at night while we watch the TV. While I tell him these are his puppies too, he keeps reminding me he is my protector, my young man, as he presses against my leg and looks up at me with his soulful eyes.


Spring had sped into fall this year, hesitating only for about a week of warm summer weather. The rumor is that this will be a cold year in Jablonka. The stacks of heating wood outside each house seems double from last year. I have plenty wood left from the year before since installing my heaters last year. I hold my breath for the day I get the first yearly electric bill.


The upscale Pub in Jablonka comes closer to opening as finishing touches are made to the outside. It has been almost two years in the making, not unusual for Slovakia. I am in hopes it will be a nice place to take visitos for lunches and perhaps an afternon respit of my own. I miss the choice of places to while away an hour or two. The road side to Piestany has swallowed up the once beautiful fields of corn and sunflowers, replaced with many industrial buildings now rising high. There is also traffic, much more truck and trailer traffic on the once lazy country lanes, narrow lanes without shoulders. They are not built for progress.


The many plans for this year have dwindled to a precious few. The new bathroom sink and the way connecting to the big classroom (I had learned was not a gymnasium) will wait for next year. Finding willing workers remains difficult and the dollar against the euro makes everything so much more expensive now. I am content to have puppies to play with and inroads to completing the meditation garden. It is enough while I wait for the return of the sunshine and that chance to watch the three little men run about the garden.


Dovidenia until next month…..gyn

August 3rd - You Are My Sunshine


“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it”. John Steinbeck.


I laid face down in the slippery mud, my Croc’s having a mind of their own, bolted taking my legs behind me when I pushed on the hood. I looked up to see the Rover was free of the ditch and on the pavement, waiting to go home. They say no good deed goes unpunished, and so it was. The rain storm came on with a sudden thrust that sent Marek scrambling over the fence for cover. He had come to chop the brambles that grow outside my fence and continually find their way through the fence boards. But the downpour stopped his progress and I in turn offered to take him home. “No“, he insisted, he would walk the 2 km. “Yes” I insisted and got the keys to the Rover. As we drove he kept insisting we had gone far enough, he could continue on his own, but the mother inside of me kept on driving as I also wanted to see just where his Uncle Janko lived. Finally we came to Janko’s driveway and I agreed to let him out. As he headed towards the house, I headed in reverse back to the road and soon found myself with the Rover stuck, which now refused to extricate us from the ditch I had failed to see.


In seconds, neighbors came from out of nowhere to help. I could feel them saying “The American’s in the ditch!”. One man brought 2 logs to put under my front tire and while Marek put his foot to the peddle, 3 ladies, 2 men and this “American”, pushed on the hood. Like a bad tooth, the Rover was extracted while I was left behind in the mud. Helped to my feet  by my benefactors amid my requisite gratitude’s, I saw my freed Rover happily waiting to take me home. The storm had passed and being drenched in mud, there would be some cleaning up to do.


Every Wednesday is Farmers Market day in Myjava and since I had gone to town to find a source for stones to put in my meditation garden, I stopped to see what was the latest offerings. A group of ladies in their blue traditional Myjava dress and starched white lace hats were gathered on one corner. One of them was selling a basket of cherries. I thought they were the big sweet meaty ones, so bought a bag full. They were so thrilled when I asked if they spoke English. Of course they didn't but gathered around to watch me speak. The owner began adding more and more cherries to the little bag as I brought forth my 20 krown note. It is worth about 50 cents. When I got home, my waiting mouth found them to be sour pie cherries. I was disappointed but had to find something to do with them. So, "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy", I sang to myself. That was the first song I learned when I was a child. I found a Gramophone in my grandmother's basement and it was on a record along with "You Are My Sunshine" on the reverse side. So had begun my entrance into singing. Now I will bake such a  pie for the first time while I reminisced of those visits to my German grandmother's house and her two sour cherry trees in the back yard fit for climbing.


I also bought some Zucchini and made my wonderful moist Zucchini bread. Taking a couple pieces over to Anna Tizik along with a Zucchini to show her what was in the bread as Zucchini is not a commonly grown here. Well, I think she really didn't look at it much because yesterday she came with an armload of cucumbers from her garden, all excited and perhaps she thinks I will make a bread from them (LOL). The two veggies do look similar. I must wait now for her son to come for a visit so I can explain why I didn’t return with another Zucchini bread in appreciation.


Myjava is my closest commercial village and in the past three years has built two new chain super markets. I still travel the 30 km to big box Tesco in Piestany on Fridays because it offers more English products. Now the word is that Tesco will be adding a market in near by Myjava. I am hoping it is so and it will be a big box as well as Myjava is only 5 km away. With the cost of gasoline being so high, the savings should help to balance the diminishing value of the  dollar.


It has been three years now since I first designed my meditation garden, three years of planning but without the stones for walking on. Many visitors offered to help bring the stones from the river, but as usual, this never came to pass. Finding a building supply store in Myjava, I made my way to purchase the stones and have them delivered.. I was lucky to find a clerk who understood some English but unlucky when he tried to convert the square meters of the stones I needed into kilos. As that is how stones are sold, the result was an extraordinary cost that would require some more savings on my part. This past year the dollar has fallen to a record low against the euro, making a discouraging 25% increase in the price of everything. When I first bought my house, the dollar was worth 35 Slovak Krowns. Today it is only worth 24 and still falling in sympathy with the euro.


Janko shook his head. It was not possible to cost so much and as he looked over the figures the clerk had written down, he offered to get me my stones for 1/10th the cost. That was more like it. One hundred dollars is better than one thousand. I showed him exactly what I wanted, but when the truck dumped the load in my driveway, much to my surprise out came huge yellow boulders, some almost 8 inches across. Both the size and the color was wrong. While I was thankful for Janko’s help, I now faced the difficulties of figuring what to do about the mistake I would now have to live with. There was no way to put them back on the truck.


Janko proceeded to tell Marek how he was to make the area ready for the stones. I had bought a cloth for the underlayment to keep the weeds out and the stones from sinking into the earth. Marek looked dazed at the daunting task before him. I felt afraid for this slip of a boy as I felt the weight of the stones. It would be a summer at his uncle’s house he would never forget.


The committee of sleep kept me awake all night, tossing and turning over solutions with what was now “my” stones. And, indeed it did looked better in the morning. The boulders could line the garden paths with the smaller stones inside for walking. It will take some sorting out. I discovered about 1/4th of the “boulders” were mud balls with smaller gravel inside. In time the stones might turn to gray in the light of the sun and welcoming rain. Placing some of the boulders in other areas of the garden will help to relieve the shock of the now bright garden surface. As the huge mound of yellow boulders seemed to be singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when clouds are gray“, over and over again, I took consolation in that I now in fact did have stones for my meditation garden. No longer would a chorus of weeds and dirt greet me when I opened my door in the morning. Nicholas, Saturday and Sera would lay close on them as I would relax on the garden bench. We would savor the fresh air and listen to the song birds, knowing we are among the lucky to be here in Jablonka. Dovidenia until next time, gyn.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble”. Helen Keller.


July 4th - When The Wind Cometh


We approached the Boarder Control. Zuzana handed the officer our 5 passports, three Slovak children, one Slovak adult and one USA adult. He went directly the  blue booklet, bypassing the 4 red ones, and placed the Hungarian stamp on an empty page. As we drove away, Zuzana and I laughed. Now, if I should get interrogated for being illegally in Slovakia, they can see I was in Hungary since June 9th and what ever day I may be question, we can say I just arrived from Hungary “Yesterday“.


“Of course” began Zuzana, “ all the member countries of the European Union will no longer have any passport control. As of December, it all goes away. Slovakia will not care if you are here”. 


Well, Slovakia doesn’t seem to care right now that I am here illegally. They don’t have rules for people coming or going, they didn’t bother stamping my passport for the past three years that I have been coming here. My efforts to apply for a Residency Permit seemed useless as they knew all the Boarder Control jobs will go away in a few months anyway.


Zuzana took the first turn off for the village of her friend Ivan. It seems 50% of the residence in this village are Slovakian as it is located just 15 minutes from Bratislava where they work and the cost of homes around 50% less in price. So, Ivan who is an owner of the Mercedes Dealership in Bratislava, has an estate and we are going to see the beautiful landscaping. He has a friend who is a Bone Specialist and he will try to get me an appointment to further analysis of my painful arm. While we are visiting him, Ivan will make sure my Rover gets the  annual servicing.


Ivan’s estate is beautiful, with several weeping willows on the edge of a small lake. While we did see some coi, I also saw huge fish fit for eating jumping about. Several bridges carried one from small islands with beautiful statues placed here and there. Zuzana’s twin daughters found red ripe cherries for us to nibble on. I sat besides his newest acquisition, a large Japanese bonsai pine tree that is 150 years old. It cost $34,000 US. Zuzana thought this was so very stupid, but Ivan said he liked it and it was what his money was for.


The house has 3 floors of large rooms and many bedrooms for guests. There is also an indoor swimming pool and a wine cellar, all quite expansive for a 40 year old bachelor. But then a few people have said my little school house is far too big for this 74 year old woman living alone. I am sure it suits him like my house suits me. I also splurged when I bought my Korean pine tree with the blue pine cones, but only at $85. All things are relative.


The Lipa trees are beginning to sing with the buzz of the bees once again. Anna Tizik’s son Mario was visiting and told me that the small trailer I see just where my nameless road bends on its way to the village belongs to a bee keeper from another village. He brings his hives in the trailer and waits to collect the honey from the Lipa blossoms. Then he sells it to anyone who likes.


“Just bring some jars and you can have fresh honey” Mario told me. “however, you may not go down to his trailer because any one with dyed hair makes the bees go wild and they will attack”. Anna, like me, must wait for the bee man to knock on her door. I am just to bring her my jars.  I think about my sitting under the Lipa tree, listening to the song of the bee chorus as I always do but I suppose I am far enough distance from the hives, so they don’t bother me. Anna let me taste some of the honey from last year and I could sense the  Lipa tree taste was the same as from the tea I make from the dried blossoms. The Lipa tree is the National tree for Slovakia as it contains many healing properties. I am anxious to have some of “my” honey from the bees that have sung to me.


Then Mario chuckled as he said his mother hears me talking to the cuckoo birds. Yes, I confess I do mimic their mating call. It is infectious. I remember one time on a tour when our bus stopped along side a field with cows. Several men in the bus could not resist rolling down the window and giving a moo or two to the cows chewing their cud. So, it is not unusual to have the urge to talk to the animals (and birds). One time I heard the cuckoo off in the woods. I called and slowly he came closer and closer until he was just in viewing range. When he saw who I was, he flew away. I doubt if he is fooled again, but there are others who stop to listen, then mimic the number of cuckoo calls I utter.


“But it is a tradition here in this area, you must carry coins in your pocket when the cuckoo calls, or you will be poor for the rest of the year”, Mario told me. So, I went home and put the coins in my clothes for the rest of the mating season. Cuckoos only call from March through July. I have a little bit of time left to improve my financial luck.


Stano does not come to cut the grass and it grows. It is summer and now his time for fun, not more work. The Mayor sends me Emile. The frail man arrives with his scythe. I show him my Huscavarna mower and my Stihl stringer. He doesn’t know how they work. Stano comes and show him how they start. Off Emile goes, taking my new plants with the grass. It is not good. Andrea and Rudi arrive just in time. She tells him what he is to do. He looks dazed. We know this old man is not up to the job. Andrea will send me her friend Janko who also lives now in Jablonka. Two weeks later comes Emile. I put him to work digging for my patio. He digs two times and stops for 5 minutes. After some time I decide it is too much for this man. I envision a heart attack coming on. I decide to pay him and send him on his way. I am sad because he tries and needs the money. With great hope I wait now for Janko to come.


The wind came from the West in a second of time without any notice before hand. We had been out for a final trip around the garden before retiring for the night. It hit us strongly and we rushed inside. Sera was not with us. I peeped outside and called again and again. Finally I saw her outside the window and tried again. This time, bewildered she rushed inside to safety. The house is sound and without telling what is going on outside except for a flickering of the TV. I thought about the people who live in hurricane and tornadoes where houses blow away to another county. How do they manage a life that way?


Morning came and all was still. Then my eyes were drawn to a spot of yellow ochre outside my front window. It was the cherry tree, now straddling my fence as a remembrance of the night. Outstretched arms of Lipa limbs lay on the lawn making for new patches of blue from within it‘s umbrella. And that was all the wind had sent me. I felt lucky to be in Jablonka and not in Kansas or Florida.


As I made my way into the village, I noticed two women in black waiting for the bus to come. I though about giving them a ride. The next stop revealed three more neighbors in black and so it went from bus stop to bus stop. It was then I remembered Anna getting a call while I talked with her son Mario. He explained that some one they knew was in the hospital, and since Anna was the only one with a phone, it was her duty to inform the other members on the Tizikov hill. Now the figures I saw told the story of their hospitalized neighbor and they were now waiting for the bus to take them to the cemetery. I did not know who it was who had left the village, but I could feel the emptiness in their faces that told me she will be missed.


The road to Myjava had many yellow ochre signals the wind had left behind. Days later when I went the 100 km to bring Sera to Zuzana, the remains of the wind followed the road as I drove westward through village after village.


My arm is without further looking after. Ivan’s Specialist was on vacation. I searched my memory and recalled a similar problem I suffered with my hand some years ago and decided to try something for arthritis. I researched it on the Internet I bought the Arthroscopy (chondroitin with Glukosamin) in Myjava. It is worth a try.


Each time I venture out on my own to solve the needs of living in a foreign land, it is as if I am on a Scavenger Hunt and with each task completed, I enjoy a  feeling of exhilaration in my independence. Finding the right shop and being able to communicate my needs is a game to keep one’s youth alive. Yet, even grander is when you find in some remote village a person who speaks your own language. So it was when I found a mechanic who understood my rare old automatic Rover in the village of Myjava. Then finding Velcro to send my friend Claire in France and the special shop for over the counter medicines for the Arthrostop. It took four such stores to find a place that sold small Phillip head screw drivers. Then there is Tesco bringing in familiar products I long to buy. Always another  new English labeled treasure gets tucked into the aisles each week. We take much for granted in our homelands. 


It is now just Nicholas and me in the school house. Nicholas is not as interested in chasing the ball now without Sera. She is getting ready for her European show debut with Zuzana. Saturday is in Virginia with her friend Kathy waiting for puppies to be born. We wonder and wait for word of the arrival. Andrea and Rudi wait for the Tizik estate to settle so they can buy the old house. And we wait for the peas to grow on the vine, and tomatoes and peppers to blossom. We wait for the honey to fill the jars and someone to come to cut the cherry tree from the fence. I wait for the Arthrostop to take the pain away and once again to have mobility with my right arm as I have much to do. But the grass does not wait for Janko, but grows taller with each of the many rainy days. It is July now and we wait for the warmth to come as there is still cold in the air. There is always some waiting to be done no matter where you live, but the spaces in between the waiting are a joy in Jablonka. I can wait….Dovidenia until next time, gyn.



June 5th - The Sanitarium


“In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertook, but by what you accomplished”…… Donald Trump


Carroll, the Mayor’s husband picked me up for the Jablonka Mother’s Day Celebration. I had not met Carroll before, but he had been to my house several times when I was in Las Vegas. Martina had recruited him to drain my water pipes and on another occasion when temperatures dropped, to make sure my heaters were working properly. Martina is a wealth of knowledge in finding the right people to help this crazy American living in her small village.


The Village Hall was filled with the Jablonka mothers, some older ones in their traditional dress and lace caps and the younger modernized ones all wearing conservative business jackets. I on the other hand, had arrived in my corduroy jumper and jeans jacket, looking very American. I wasn’t sure what the dress code was in Jablonka for an afternoon luncheon and decided to go casual rather stand out too posh for a country village. I stood out too casual instead.


Anna Tizik spotted me and rushed to sit me with the other Tizikov mothers. The ten of us exchanged smiles and while they spoke freely to me in Slovak, I retained my fixed smile in response. It was nice to be among my neighbors and belonging, even if I didn‘t understand a word they were saying. Martina joined me on the other side of the clan. She is not a mother nor a Tizikover, but my translator. With her are two of her college classmates, Andi and Matty. They have more complicated names, but that is the American translation. Both are teachers as well as Martina, visiting her for a reunion in the Jablonka cabin for the weekend. I have yet to find this house, but it is the local’s get-away, about a distant 5 minutes away from town up on a hill overlooking the valley. I understand it is also available to rent for guests as there is no hotel in these parts.


The program consisted of local children singing and praising their mothers. I could pick up the Mommy, Mama and Mum’s in their speeches and was amazed to learn it is the same as in America, there is no difference in their language. Proud mothers snapped their cameras as their children came forth to the microphone, some shyly bowing their heads while others who had done this before were unafraid of the sea before them. Children are the same the world over.


After the 15 minutes of local fame, a group wearing the traditional blue and white dress of the area came forth and presented their program of traditional music, dance and song. Martina explained that they all come from a nearby private school dedicated to preservation of the Myjava Valley traditions, traditions dating back many centuries. I was struck by the knowing I was sitting among purebred women with many generations of genes from this area, enjoying these traditions part of their being. While there was a difference in their stature and hair color, most shared the similar classic nose profile, being thin, straight and petite. It made me reflect on my own culture and how us Americans are mostly of a mixed pedigree today. If there are family traditions, it was brought over on the boats from somewhere else some generations before. Few of us as Americans can claim a cultural heritage of centuries or blood so American pure as these Slovak farmer’s wives.


But a deep burning question dwelled inside me as I sat listening. It was about the business that may buy the old Tizik house next door to me for some kind of sanitarium. What kind, I had wondered. Would it be for the elderly (like me) to live out their lives listening to the birds singing in the forest? Down side of that would be the constant reminder of those arriving by ambulance and exiting by hearse. Maybe an infectious disease sanitarium like my friend Emily was confined in when she had tuberculosis. Would I catch something as this neighbor woman peaked their curiosity? The past weeks had my mind envisioning all sorts of activity going on next door. I had so wanted it to be my new friend Andrea who spoke English, raised dogs like me, and shared many other interests as well.


Finally, there was a break in the dancing and I ask Martina if she knew what kind of sanitarium it would be. As the words drifted from her lips, mine fell apart. I could feel the blood drain from my body in horror as I found myself planning my exit from my beloved school house. The thought of living next door to a Drug Rehabilitation Center was worse than I could have imagined. I would be out of there fast as the birds that flew from the forest. All the other options now seemed tame in comparison. “But don’t worry”, Martina said. “All the neighbors must approve any business before they could  buy it”.


I looked into the faces of the other Tizikov mothers, my neighbors on the hill. Like me they were all older women living alone, and who had once learned their ABC’s in my house. No way would they approve of any sanitarium on the Tizikov hill. As I smiled to them, they smiled back not knowing what I had just heard. We were one now, a band of mothers, a family there to preserve the Loc u Tizikov Hill. Together we will one day be welcoming Andrea, Rudi and Rebeka as our new neighbors after all.


I turned left from my driveway. I usually turn right which takes me to the village and all my usual daily journeys. But today I turned left on my nameless road, through the forest, past the cluster of house to the next road where I turned left again to another nameless road. Soon a right took me down a single lane to a gully of houses, past a gaggle of geese, past a small pond and to the nameless main road that ran from Myjava to Nova Mesto. Armed with a note of explanation of my continued shoulder pain, I was on my way to visit Dr. Amelia by myself. Martina had a competition at her school and couldn‘t go with me, but she had alerted them I would be there on my own at 9am.


This road was not new to me as last year this was the way I would go to Nova Mesto to get Andrej. Several tiny villages hugged the road along the way. As I joined the scant traffic,  one pink house sat largely alone to my right. On the top of it was a neon figure of an unclad woman. I had asked Andrej why the whore house was on this little two lane road. “It is main road from Czech to Poland”, he had said. I wonder even now if inside lives young girls like I heard who were brought from Russia for a better life and then found themselves confined as sex slaves.


There is not much neon in these small villages, in fact more often than not they don’t have any sign as to what they are about. The villages are so small, everyone there knows where they must go for their shopping, so there is no need to announce their presence. But as I pass through each village, I wonder what secret goodies are inside the seemingly empty houses for me not to discover.


The road had been in repair for the three years I had known of it and it was still being rebuilt, sections at a time. Twice, a temporary light signaled our lane for waiting while the other side was allowed to pass until it was our turn with a green light. The only permanent signal lights in the area are in Nova Mesto and then Verbove in the opposite direction. Not even Myjava can claim a signal light, using turnabouts instead for traffic control.


Then, just past Stara Tura was the sign for my left turn to the village of Bzince pod Javorinou. The small road led me past a strip of road hugging houses, one having been painted a pale green with a row of four leaf clovers protruding in the stucco. Perhaps it was a pub, but who would know what the one small door led to. Not I. When the group ended, I made another left turn that pointed me to my doctor’s clinic. Inside I sat with three other women and when the door opened to admit one of them, I thrust my note from Martina into the hand of the nurse. She smiled and ushered me inside to wait my turn.


Mrs. Donalova welcomed me with her hands cradling  my cheeks warmly as if I were a child and proceeded to speak as she injected the medicine into my shoulder. I sat wordless while she continued her treatment, using some kind of electric gun held to the painful area. When it was over, I paid the $10 for the 6 injections and treatment and presented her with a bottle of wine as payment. Martina told me this was the way, to bring wine or coffee or candy in exchange for services. Then she ushered me into the pharmacy next door and obtained my new boxes of pills before leaving me to return to her other waiting patients. Written on the sides of my boxes, was 1-0-1. I knew this meant to take one each morning and again at night before I went to bed. She would call Martina for further instructions.


Proud to have managed this journey by myself, I made it back to Jablonka hoping the shoulder and arm would soon find relief. I still do not know what is wrong with it, but I do know it is now 5 months since it first struck me in Borneo and too slowly I am finding the easing of the pain. It still hurts to bend my arm backwards when putting on clothes. There is a comfort knowing I now have a doctor who can handle this wordless patient if more important issues arise one day.


The garden is filling out. My tomatoes and peas are about a foot high and surviving the teeter totter of morning temperatures. But most exciting, on my last trip to the Visele Garden Center and School, I discovered a very exciting young cedar called Abies Koreana Moliii. It is a soft pale spring green with silver undersides and  pine cones of about 1 to 2 inches in a deep navy blue color. The contrast of the needles and cones is spectacular. It’s young needles are as soft as a puppy’s fur to the touch. The larger tree already with cones had been sold, but a smaller one was still available. Eagerly I snatched it up for my planter next to the garage. Next year I should get cones also.


Andrea and Rudi have sold their much beloved cabin for a down payment on the Tizik property. Most Slovaks have a dacha, a place in the wilderness for weekend vacations. Leisure here is very important, something learned by Communist traditions. Weekends are reserved for family and friends, never work. Village businesses close at noon on Saturday and don’t resume until Monday morning unless it is a holiday. There are many holidays and it is not unusual for them to close if it falls two days before or after the weekend. I find this difficult to plan for in my daily shopping as I do not know the holiday schedule. 


But living in the country rather than the polluted city is like living on an extended vacation. The clear skies, growing their own food, listening to the song birds as Andrea and Rudi groom their horses, is their dream now. “No chickens” said Andrea. “I don’t want roosters waking me at dawn”. “But Andrea”, I said. “hens do not need roosters to lay eggs. Roosters are only if you want the eggs to make tiny chicks”. I did not tell her of the other Tiziker’s roosters that herald the raising of the sun, only the joy of collecting fresh eggs from free range chickens.


As a small child, even through we were hard hit during the depression, we did manage to go away for a week each year, to the country. Growing up in polluted Chicago, I remember Paddock Lake where one year cousin Marilyn caught my brothers casting hook in her cheek when we went with him to fish. And Dave’s Falls was another favorite where I decided that living in the country is what I wanted to do one day.  When it became my time as a parent, the summer vacation tradition seemed to have evaporated and working through out the year to collect the income instead became the norm. The American work-a-holic’s even take on additional jobs so they can invest in bigger houses and cars instead of  needed rest for their souls. As more of the availability of the conveniences Americans have enjoyed, I wonder if the Slovaks will forego some of their leisure for the newest toys. 


Andrea shared more of her dreams as she sat across the table sipping our tea and eating my carrot cake. “This is so good a cake“, she said. “what is it”.  I was surprised she did not know this cake I have baked since before she was born. I had not topped it with the traditional cream cheese frosting as I have not found out what cream cheese is called in Slovakia, but instead some Haagen Dazs ice cream. When she is my neighbor, we shall go to Tesco and together to continue my search for familiar ingredients I cannot find. Recipe in hand, she left. “I shall make it for my birthday next week”. And so she did and her mother, grandmother and neighbor wanted to make it also. It is good to bring a bit of America to my wonderful Slovak family.


Tesco has been a big help as each year I see more and more items with English spelling. My favorite Hallmark channel advertises Philadelphia Cream Cheese, but it is not in Slovakia as yet, only in Hungary which broadcasts the ads for the channel in Hungarian. 


Dovidenia until next time.



“Just the idea of going out to get your milk and coffee is an adventure. You see everything fresh. It gives you a chance as an adult to see things in a more childlike way”. Ken Kalfus (on living abroad).


May 11th - Dark Clouds Brewing


I shall never forget it. It was Monday morning, the day after Easter. I had been reading my e-mail when the gate bell insisted I respond to its call. Saturday and Sera led the way, giving sound as they raced ahead. The four stood at the gate, jabbering in Slovak, insisting I give them something, of which I did not know. They held their switches high and bid me to turn around and began beating my backside through the gate bars. One by one they had their turn, always reciting some medieval verse. My cries could be heard throughout the land. “Please” I begged, “I did not know”. But they would not stop, still insisting I must give them something or they will not leave.


 “Rabbit” said one of the hooligans as he showed me his sack of contraband. It was obvious the pack had been to other houses. Then the other three began to shout “Money, money”. I rushed inside the house and gathered what coins I could find and distributed them among the culprits. “Thank you” each said as I dropped my coins in their little palms. As they left I recognized the leader of the bunch to be the boy of the gate, Martin. There was a sublime feeling of joy at this adventure into the cultural Slovak ritual of the ancient Easter myth. I had been finally become part of  the Loc U Tizik community.


Later, Anna Tizik’s son Mario came by. He had heard me pleading in jest with the boys and invited me to visit with his mum. He explained that this ritual dated back to before Christian times and was celebrated through out the area we had known then as Czechoslovakia. The ritual was performed from sun up until noon on the day after Easter.  Eostre, a pagan goddess was believed to have saved a bird who had it’s wings frozen in the early spring. Eostre turned the bird into a rabbit but still had the ability to lay eggs. So, began the pagan spring ritual of children going into their neighborhood to ask for the eggs from the rabbit. So doing, it allowed them to expand beyond their own close family circle.  But when Christianity decided to use this festival as their own, the pagans resisted and they took spring boughs and hit the Christian women if they did not keep to the pagan ritual  to offer the eggs from the rabbit. In the eastern part of the country, the children throw water on the women as there the snow is just beginning to melt and new growth has not begun. Today, the switches with ribbons tied to the ends are sold in the stores along with the candy eggs and bunnies. Since I had not been prepared for the visit from the neighboring boys, I had not thought to gather my supply. In America, this ritual of expanding a child’s territory is practiced at Halloween. Here, the eve before All Saints day is reserved for decorating the graves of loved ones with candles and flowers.


I made my way to the village office to pay my annual property taxes. I do not complain as it is just $60 and Anna Ciganekova as mayor of Jablonka has spent our tax money wisely. The roads are in good repair and the bus shelters are being rebuilt to perfection. The front of the village hall has been re-landscaped with a garden and benches for the villagers to enjoy. The Sports Park now has a colorful jungle gym for the smaller children. With the new Pub still under construction, once dreary Jablonka is becoming a desirable village befitting the beautiful countryside. More and more, new homes are being tucked into the hidden nooks and crannies of the hillsides. 


I ask Anna if I can pay her to help FAX the contract to Las Vegas for Nicholas‘s voyage. Katarina will FAX it but they will have none of any payment. Anna invites me to the village Mother’s day celebration next month. I go home and bake peanut butter cookies and bring them to the office as a thank you. Being a part of the community has taken a while, but with the help of Anna’s daughter, Martina, this crazy foreigner feels quite accepted now and as I wave to villagers as I drive along the road, they are waving back.


The roar of the blaze sends Saturday and Sera scampering for a safe distance. The birds chatter in the forest as smoke fills the air. Flames eagerly eat the dried Lipa leaves Stano had added to the burn pile. Enter Stano. Martina brings me the 27 year old son of her neighbor Stephan who helped me unplug my stopped up sink. Stano will be my new handyman. I am thrilled by his enthusiasm and willingness to help me as he also speaks some English. He tries to start up the power mower and it stalls.  By day he is a mechanic and knows what to do. It is a dirty spark plug. He cleans it and is off and running to tackle the eager spring growth. Once a week he will come to manicure my lawns and do what needs doing. I eagerly begin my wish list.


I feel as if I am in the center of the largest bouquet one could imagine. It is the end of April and the surrounding forest and apple orchards are ablaze with white blossoms as far as the eye can see. The hills are a collage of green spring wheat, brilliant yellow rapeseed, and fresh plowed dirt. Lilacs are bursting with color along the roads and my tulip garden is in full bloom. Spring is my favorite season in Slovakia and the wild flowers are abundant this year. Because of the milder than usual winter, I am finding flowers I had not seen before. I busy myself with transplanting  the chive and cilantro plants emerging in odd places, perhaps from seeds carried by the wind when they were in bloom last fall. Outside my gates, there is a discovery of strange bulbs blooming. I bring my shovel and find places for them in the tulip garden. Then, with the arrival of the fist Cuckoo call, the forest drew its mantle of green, hiding the road beyond the swath of trees and Anna Tizk’s house from my window’s view. Inside, I fill vases with purple lilacs and red tulips. 


Overhead the ominous cry of the circling hawks means there are babies in the nests below. The songbirds become quiet in the moment. Only white apple blossom petals float in the soft breeze. Either tired or satisfied,  once the hawks have moved on, the sounds of the of the forest returns. Nicholas, Saturday and Sera look on as I place my new for-get-me-knots in the dirt under the Lipa tree. My visit to the nursery in Vesele has been successful with many new flowers to plant. Only after I have put them in the ground do I realize the lawns are also filled with wild volunteers of the same variety. The days are warming up and my seedlings inside are waiting their turn to fill my planter.


Mornings and evenings I sit on the patio bench while my dogs play in the sunshine. The orchestra of songbirds in my trees is amazing.  I watch the army march past my feet on their way to the Hostas. I am told I should buy them some beer to drown in, but instead I kill them under my foot. It is slug time in my garden.


Nicholas has fit in and his enthusiasm finally returned after his ordeal. He runs after Sera’s ball and brings it to me when it is his turn to catch it. My gimpy arm makes it necessary to use my left hand and while the dogs charge ahead in anticipation, th eball has a mind of its own. Nicholas had arrived with much ado at the airport in Vienna. “What is the value of the hund” asked the Customs Officer. “Millions of dollars” I proclaimed. “He is my dog since his birth, and I am glad to finally have him here”. The agents conferred in German, then asked “How old is the hund?” “Almost six years”, I answered. The officer went to his computer and finally issued the needed stamp on his papers without my paying any duty. After a two hour run around with much legal paperwork,  I could finally collect my beloved Nicholas. All the way home, he pressed his body close to mine, turning only now and then to plant a kiss on my cheek. He looked tired from his ordeal. The Pet travel service had to drive him from Vegas to Los Angeles where he boarded his KLM flight to Amsterdam. Then due to a scheduled Vet check, had to spend the night there before going on to Vienna. 


It had been three days of travel for my boy, and six weeks since I had left him at the airport counter in Las Vegas. We had made the trip the week before and weather had also turned us back. We rescheduled for the following week. Our connection to Vienna had a stop in Washington DC. Once again, “No dogs can fly due to the weather at Dulles” the clerk had said. So, this time I bid Nicholas a tearful good bye as my friend Don took him back to the car while I boarded the escalator to my gate. It meant  Nicholas would have to make his journey later, but alone. I wasn’t too worried as he had done that a few weeks earlier when arriving from Costa Rica. It had been a hard decision to send him off, but I had Saturday and Sera to bring to Jablonka and a third dog was a bit too much at the time. So, when Ariel Cuckier asked if he could show Nicholas for me, I thought it was a good plan. So, Nicholas had arrived in Vegas, bounding out of his crate no worse for wear, after  having overnighted in Houston enrout.


My sore shoulder had not improved with time, so I relented and had Martina take me to her doctor. Dr. Amelia practices in another village that begins with a Bz…..that I cannot pronounce and with a last name that also I cannot pronounce.  Slovak contains some strange letter combinations. The office was busy with patients coming and going, but she was able to fit me in. There was no payment for her time, only about $5 for the many shots she injected into my shoulder. In short order I finally found some relief and some needed mobility of my arm. Prescriptions in hand, we left with a follow-up appointment in two weeks. There is a small monthly charge to the citizens for the medical system in Slovakia, one that does not accommodate payments for visits. Visits are free and available to the patients at their discretion or need. Amelia charged my time to Martina who conveniently picked up a prescription for acne.


I have grown to enjoy my new friend Andrea. We chat daily via e-mails and she has visited me a few times now in anticipation of becoming my neighbor. She brought me a local poltice for my shoulder pain and a wonderful local wine. We both are fraught with anticipation of her and Rudi moving here. She sends me pictures of the draft horses they will buy to graze on the hill behind my house.


But today there is a dark cloud hanging over the Tizik house. I see a different car in the driveway and I hear voices coming from inside. It is not Andrea and Rudi. It is another potential buyer, a buyer that puts a sinking feeling in my being. They have offered more money than Andrea and Rudi have. They want to use it for a sanitarium. It is not what I want for my neighbor. It is not for the Loc U Tizik homestead. It is not for the tranquility of Jablonka. But it is not up to us to decide. It is for the Tizik daughter to do what she will do. I must wait to know who my new neighbor will be. Dovidenia.


April 9th - Another Birthday Comes


“All the world’s a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed” Sean O’Casey.


“Take a nice full onion and carefully cut the root end off so it will sit level. Then scoop out the center but not through to the root end, making a well. Fill the well with sugar and set aside overnight. In the morning the sugar will have melted into a liquid in the bottom of the bowl. If you drink this syrup, you will quiet your cough.”


I hacked away as  Martina, the Mayors daughter, sat before me sipping her tea. I knew there was a nice onion waiting for me in the pantry. I decided to give this Slovakian remedy a try. It is not as if there is an aisle of cough medicine waiting for me to peruse in the grocery store like I would find in America. Here one must consult a pharmacist for any simple over the counter medicines. And even if they were on display, how would one read the label to know which is for what when you don‘t understand the language? So, I will do the Slovak way and try the onion remedy to cure the nagging cold I brought with me from Vegas.


It is not the only thing I brought with me this time, for I have an unwanted souvenir from Borneo, a dislocated shoulder. It happens, I am told by others. Suddenly one stoops to pick up a shoe and something goes “pop”. I am packing to leave for home, no time for Doctors. Home in Vegas, I visit a Doctor and she tells me to take IBPROFEN for 10 days. The 9th day puts me on the plane for Vienna. My suitcases are heavy with prized purchases not found in Slovakia and as I pull them off the carrousel, another  ”pop” comes from the shoulder again. Aye Carumba! Now it is not just  sore shoulder/arm muscles, but sheer crippling agony as the muscles refuse to lift even a hand. Home  in my Jablonka bed a few days, and finally another unexpected ”pop” issues much needed relief from most of the pain. So I decide it will be better with more rest just as my compatriots suggested, and I set out to do just that. I cough less now since the onion treatment but blow my nose more. Saturday and Sera comfort me as we spend more time in my bed. Sigh.


Global warming spent the winter in Jablonka and with my new heaters, my school house was quite warm and toasty in spite of my 3 month absence to Vegas. At last I have control of the heating situation and the house is now to my comfort. Except for some wind that put the Satellite disk askew, the house survived in fit condition. No more broken pipes from the cold. The faucets and the commode no longer waited in jeopardy thanks to Martina recruiting her stepfather to drain the water from the pipes. Only on  rainy days I build a fire in the fireplace to take the dampness from the air. The wood that Dodo chopped for me will last another year at least. I think I have finally solved the ills of mountain living.


The spring days are growing warmer and  Saturday, Sera and I inspect the buds on the plants for promising growth.  If watched pots never boil, so it seems watched buds take their time to open.  Will my Wisteria vines bloom? I read somewhere that when you purchase Wisteria, make sure it has blossoms because, if not it can take 10 years before the blooms appear. And the Magnolia, will it be just leaves or will flowers come this year? The buds swell without giving a hint of their intentions.


The lawns are cacophony of colors. We inspect many new blossoms from volunteers, perhaps brought by the wind or maybe the forest birds. Bright yellow buttercups, deep purple violets, pink and white miniature daisies hug the grass that begins its campaign to  sprout. Blue lupine and aguja blossoms add to the carpet underfoot as well as a myriad of other flowers I do not know the names of. I move some violets to the bulb garden to join with its own rainbow of colors. I ask Martina to find me a retired gentleman in Jablonka who can keep this carpet from swallowing my house, and perhaps help to make small repairs as they come about. The appointment to meet is marred by his recently broken leg. We are gifted now with only the sweet aroma of the Tizik Apricot tree’s blossoms wafting our way.


The Tizik house still sits idle without occupants. It has been a year now since their passing. Only the two dogs remain on guard. But just as I am living my dream, there is some one in Bratislava who also has a vision and a dream of raising their young daughter Rebeka on this idyllic country land. The window I look out on as I write overlooks the Tizik apple orchard and at this moment ablaze in white bloom. Will the dreamers fill the orchard with muscular Percherons to graze under the trees? The silence of the countryside that now has only the song birds of the forest to whisper in my ear, might  also have the baa of spring lambs and the naa of frisky goats to complete their dream. Will I have a neighbor who speaks my language and also shares the love of  raising their Leonbergers, Estrala Mountain dogs and a Yorkshire Terrier as I do my Cockers. Will they make the deal with the Tizik daughter? Daily e-mails between us dreamers conjure up a shared enthusiasm. I have made new friends in Andrea and Rudi months ago without their even signing a contract to buy the Tizik house let alone to have met them in person.


Friday is my day to go to Tesco. I walk the aisles to see what is new.  Tesco is importing items from Britain, many with English labels I can read.  At long last I find salted English churned butter for my popcorn, my baked potatoes, and many of my favorite recipes. I also find the long sought after elusive canned artichoke hearts for my favorite chicken dish and a bounty of canapé crackers never having rested on these shelves before. And then, above all wonders I push my cart to a stand alone freezer filled only with a selection of Haagen Dazs Ice Cream! The familiar flavors beckon me. To this ice cream lover, it is a gift of gold as Slovak ice cream is just an ice milk  or whipped cream mixture, not the real thing. Do the other shoppers know of this treat? I think not and with the price three times more than in America, perhaps they will never know. Hmm, I see enough to last me  for the year . I select a Dolce de Luche and toss into my cart. Today, price is no object.


They were having a special on some cut of pork. I knew I could recognize a pork loin, but I had watched a shoulder cut being used on a British cooking show and it looked like a nice change, a bit more moist. So I asked the two butchers if sthey poke English and they did not. Then I pointed at this boneless sheet of pork which they were featuring and pointed to my shoulder. They nodded yes (along with their Slovak “Anno“). The butcher thumbed through the pile and finally selected a nice 1 k piece and collected it into a log. Then using charades, I tried to indicate if it was to be used in the oven or on top of the stove. They didn't understand my request. The woman butcher finally went over to the packaged meat counter and showed me some ground pork. I am not sure if this cut was to be ground up or if the meat was for  stuffing, then rolled and tied up. Finally she went to the Deli section and brought back a woman who knew some English. Roast was not in her vocabulary. Then when I said “bake,” her eyes lit up and she said yes, it was to be baked for one hour. Eureka! I had what I wanted for the black truffles my dear American friend living in France, Claire Chennault of Dogpatch, had sent me. At $850 a pound, Truffles are more costly than gold and therefore not something I had ever been able to savor. These are the treasured fungi found  by rooting pigs every fall in the French countryside.. Claire had exclaimed how delicious they were when inserted in  a pork roast.  My mouth began to water as I placed my prize in my cart.


So, after I removed the banana bread from the oven, I inserted the pork roast I had studded  with the garlic and truffles as Claire had instructed me, rubbed it with olive oil and sprinkled it with a few caraway seeds, salt and pepper.  I also tossed in the remaining potatoes I had so they could bake as well. Two hours later I finished off the sauce with the truffle juice while the roast rested. I topped the pork slices with the wonderful sauce and doused a few potatoes with my salted English  butter, sour cream and chives from the garden. Add a glass of a wonderful red wine given to me by Andrea and Rudi (who finally came for a joyous visit last week) and I was in utter heaven. It was absolutely everything Claire had promised.  Not be outdone, later I succombed with a bit of my Dolce de Leche Haagen Dazs ice cream. So, thank you my dear friend for the wonderful memory that now lingers with me. It is a meal I will not soon forget. The perfect topper to a very enjoyable day.


Easter has passed and next week another birthday will add another year to this writer. It happens. But even as the birthday’s come, I still believe I have 20 more years to enjoy my chosen life. It is always 20 more years, never less even though I began this calculation when I turned 50. Ten years would be not enough to extend ones life, but twenty years is a long way off to realize most of ones dreams, so I always say I have 20 years yet to go. This year I am hoping my Nicholas will be bestowing birthday kisses on me as at  long last he joins my Jablonka family. I miss this sweet boy and it has been a struggle trying to get him here. I am in contact with a pet shipping company and have great hopes they  will be the key to make my birthday dream happen. “Will you still want me, will you still need me, when I’m ninety four?” Saturday, Sera and Nicholas will say “yes“.


Before I leave you for now, and at the request of the many viewers of my “Letters From Jablonka” who have never met this crazy American adventurer,  I have included a picture of myself in Borneo giving a supposedly lucky high five to the legendary Kaching Cat. I am not so sure about the “luck”  in the legend as that is the arm and shoulder that continues to pain me today as I impatiently wait for the healing to begin. Ahh, the price of being a world traveler. Dovedenia for now, gyn

March 7th - Back To Jablonka


They came on droves, fulfilling their dreams of richness, excitement, or whatever it is that makes 300,000 people swell the population  to welcome in the New Year. Meanwhile, the other 1.8 million residents of Las Vegas avoided The Strip and the fan fair, mostly retiring early or watching the fireworks on TV, safely tucked in their beds. I was also tucked in my bed by 9pm, dreaming of my own pilgrimage to take place later that month, fulfilling my dream to romp among the Orangutans in Borneo.


January is not the most desirable time of the year to visit this third largest Island on the planet Earth as it is the height of the rainy season. But ape watching doesn’t care about the weather of the rain forest. Whether it is the season for rain or sun, it still rains in the rain forest. More important, it is the least expensive time to take a tour as well as avoiding the crowds. So I went.


A Muslim controlled country, Borneo is the third largest Island and lies between the South China Sea, Sulu Sea, and the Celebes Sea. The lush jungle cover and many streams claim home to at least 50 new species each year and is a haven for wild orchid aficionados. It is also home to the last remaining Orangutans, one of three remaining and endangered ape species in the world.


We flew first to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, then on to Kuching, Borneo. While Borneo is a member country of Malaysia, we went through a second Immigration Control. Seems Borneo made that a condition of joining Malaysia to retain a sliver of their independence. But, our bags were waiting for us in our luxury 5 star Kuching hotel and just enough time to refresh before heading down to the dinner orientation. The food is mainly tropical Chinese and we never went without a substantial breakfasts to start our day.  The variety was astounding and included oranges we could squeeze ourselves, made to order omelets and eggs, and a selection of tropical fruits, hundred year old eggs, strange fruits and many tempting American and Chinese specialties to try. This was the order of the day throughout our tour.


Kuching is one of the cleanest cities in the world and I was struck by its friendly people and tropical beauty situated on the China Sea. Huge models of cats welcomed us on some street corners, representing the protector of the city. After a few says of sightseeing, we packed a small bag and  drove to Bantang Ai where we boarded a small boat to take us to the Long House Hilton Resort for two nights.  The natives live in what is called a long house because it is just that, sort of like a covered motel stretched out with about 30 small apartments fronted with a front communal area and all under one roof. The Hilton was a modern replica of such a building, only quite elegant as only a Hilton can be.


The following day we squeezed into 8 motorized longboats and  headed out through the jungle for the China Sea . We had to watch the tide charts as the river is quite shallow. Along the way we watched for the many wild animals and birds and the fishermen working the river.  Then suddenly we saw fishermen with their boats stuck in the mud as was the other tourist boats in our group.  Our guide luckily did get us within 50 yards of the Bako National Park shoreline. One by one the four of us were dropped into the water waist high and guided safely to shore by the boat driver‘s arm, the slick mud squishing between our toes and often giving the feeling of a skating rink. The tide table had fooled even the most experienced fishermen, still stranded somewhere back behind us.


Once all our other members had succeeded in arriving, the last of which had only inches to navigate to shore, we hiked through the jungle in search of the almost extinct Proboscis Monkey. This monkey has a very large Jimmy Duarante nose that hangs over his upper lip. We found a few and one huge 5 ft male. Interesting enough, this harem ruler suffers from a permanent erection do to the leaves he eats, a wild Viagra that lasting longer than the 4 hours.


The trip back to the Hilton was easier now that the tide was fully in, but we continued on in our boats to visit a school house. Because of the remoteness of the families in the jungle, the children live at the school during the week.  One room contained 5 computers for teaching and the Principal was quite proud of this as the children were able to keep abreast of technology.


Finally, we headed to one of many remaining Longhouses to meet the jungle natives and have lunch there. It was the home of our guide Teddy and he was the cook in the kitchen. They perform several of their native dances in costume and saluted us with a special home brewed rice wine. Out on the porch we saw their crop of black and white pepper seeds drying in the sweltering sun, one of the many  products of Borneo we enjoy. They also raise a lot of the  latex we use as well as the cocoa oil in our food products. The torrid sun provided us with stinging sunburns from the 7 hour boat ride on the river as we journeyed back to the Hilton.


Then it was on to Kiota Kinabalu by air with a brief stop enroute for  a delicious dimsum lunch before flying on again to our next destination, Sandakan on the Sulu Sea, where we would at last visit the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. This preserve is dedicated to rescuing the babies where mothers had been killed by poachers or the adults who were kept as pets by the natives. Owners cried when they were taken away as they not only are much like children, having a 97% same DNA as humans, they also are smart enough to perform small chores around the house. 


Hiking into the jungle, we arrived at the feeding station in time for their dinner of banana hands and a slurry with milk. I counted 12 apes converging for food on the tree platform. The younger ones grabbed a banana hand and swung to their private tree to enjoy the bounty. They do not have legs with feet, but 4 arms with hands containing disposable thumbs for swinging from the branches of the trees they live in. Mr. G arrived and in his glory, frightened the attendants as they delivered the food. Mr. G is famous for denuding a man of his clothes in one easy opportunity. The Orangutans are quite strong, so much so they can grasp a person and it would take 5 men to lift just on finger  from their fist. We kept our distance from them on the boardwalk as we observed their activities.  While observing, a group of smaller long tailed and pig tailed Macas (monkeys) came onto the boardwalk and began to attempt to snatch our belongings from our hands.


The next day after returning by plane to Kota Kinabalu we visited the last of the Headhunter Tribes and saw the skulls now some 100 years old. Decapitating humans served only the purpose of the ultimate revenge for their enemies. The Japanese were extremely ruthless to these people during occupation in WWII, and so were the last to leave earth by this method. Since then, the tribes no longer practice this headhunting ritual, but retain their craft through tourist performances using the blow gun dart. What I found fascinating, was a huge 8 foot rock pillar plunked in the ground at the center of their village, flanked by 4 poles that served to hold the drying heads. The purpose was to ensure the tribe never forgot a particular childless leader of long ago they so much adored. It is their belief that this pillar carries forth their memory that cannot be handed down through their own generations. When they move camp, the pillar is taken with them to the new location.


Before our two week trip ended, we returned to Kuala Lumpur for a last day enjoying the Twin Towers, which is the current holder of the tallest building in the world, and a shopping spree at the Chinese Market of big name copies. Rolex watches were a favorite of many of our fellow travelers. The predicted rainy season passed without a drop of rain to be felt as we enjoyed perfect weather each day. Was the trip worth it? You bet it was.



Back in the USA, the results of my annual physical were waiting for me. All went well and I am good to go for another year in Jablonka. Nicholas arrived from Costa Rica and the dear man also had his eye exam and is good to go as well. He greeted me with exuberance that brought tears to my eyes. It was necessary to purchase two pair of prescription glasses as my host has a Particolor who managed to eat the two pair during my three month stay. This was my first experience living with a Parti and while I loved the dear dog, he managed to steal them too quickly to be caught, even with them thought to be out of harms way. It was also a first glasses stealer I have experienced in my 38 years breeding Cockers. Sigh.


The days lagged while I prepared for my return to Jablonka. Reports have it that there was no snow this year, but a warmer than usual winter and my bulbs are beginning to crack the earth. Then on February 27th, we made our trip to the airport in Vegas only to be turned back due to the storms in Washington DC that prohibited any dogs flying. We tried again March 5th only to have Nicholas return home while I headed to Jablonka without him due to another storm. Now we have the trial to see when he can come to Slovakia by himself. It is my guess it will be another month in Vegas at least for the sweet boy. In the meantime, I will have my Saturday and Sera to console the ache in my heart for leaving him behind. Dovidenia for now……gyn


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Gyn Gerhardt