Tag Archives: in-laws

Plum dumplings?

We had dinner at our in-laws’ tonight, because MIL was planning a plum dumpling dinner and talked about it like it was the Best Thing Ever.  I’m not sure if it’s a Czech thing specifically, or maybe a more general eastern European thing.

Has anyone ever had this?

Let me describe:

It seems you take full plums (pits included, though I suppose they aren’t requisite if you were so inclined to remove them), wrap them in some sort of pastry dough, then I’m guessing they were steamed.  You put these on your plate, top them with some sort of shredded semi-soft cheese (I didn’t ask what it was for fear it was made from something ungodly), melted butter, and either granulated or powdered sugar (your choice).

And this is dinner.

They made a modified version for my husband which had jam inside instead of whole plums, because Frank is generally loathe to eat cooked fruit.  He makes an exuberant exception for my apple pie, wise man he is.

Anyway, these people were gaga over it.  Me and the kids, not so much.  I thought it tasted decent enough, but I was sick of eating it before I’d eaten more than a snack’s worth.  We came back to our house and topped it off with dino-chicken nuggets and french fries.

Selectively embracing research

We’ve been staying with Frank’s parents for the last week and a half while we beat our own new house into shape.  It’s coming along, and I think we’re actually going to sleep there tomorrow night.  Yay!

One thing I’ve noticed about my mother in-law lately is how she only selectively believes “research”.  Mostly, if something goes against the firmly-held superstitions old wives’ tales beliefs she has, then the research is simply dismissed out of hand.  If, however, she gets junk mail that says eating cream cheese is good for your kidneys, then she would find a way to incorporate cream cheese into her next twelve meals, and insist we all eat it too.

I cannot convince her that:

Cold feet do not cause colds. She makes Jake wear slippers every minute he’s in her house, because he might walk on the tile floor in the kitchen and his feet would get cold, and then he’d get sick.  Even when it’s 80 degrees out, like today.

Sitting too close to the TV will not cause brain damage. Maybe a little temporary eye strain, but it will not give you cancer or brain damage.  She firmly suspects being too close to a TV can cause a variety of ills.

Men determine the gender of babies. She understands the basic science, I think.  But she still insists that the mother must have something to do with it, too.  Like with enough will, their cervixes can block out all Y-chromosome sperm or something?

The slippers thing is the most exasperating.  I don’t really fight her on it.  She buys the slippers for my kids, and puts them on their feet.  And it’s not like it’s detrimental for them to have warm feet.  But I never insist that the kids wear them against their will.  But she’s crazy-insistent on it sometimes.  Because, if they got a cold (assuming even for a second that having non-toasty feet is virus-inducing) it would be the Worst Thing Ever.  But then in the next breath will imply I’m overprotective because I insist the kids use car seats (even in Aruba, where they’re not even required so why would I bother?!?) and didn’t want to use the crib they saved from when Frank was a baby, with every modern crib-safety violation on the books.  These are things that could be the difference between life and death, and I’m silly.  But slippers to prevent a sniffle are requisite.  I don’t get it!


John McCain referred to “Czechoslovakia” in a couple public statements recently, and a few people noticed.

He did it last year, too.

Problem is, as you may or may not realize, Czechoslovakia isn’t a country anymore, and hasn’t been for like 15 years. If he were making the reference in an historical context that would certainly be OK, but not when he’s talking about current events.

Now, I really don’t care much. I mean, GWB referred to people from Greece as “Grecians” and still got elected. The fact is that like 90% of Americans are probably saying “Czechoslovakia isn’t a country anymore? When did that happen?” (Linkified in case you care to learn more about it.) Normally I would probably really not care at all.

But it raises an interesting little scenario in my family. My husband is Czech. His parents are from the Czech Republic. They came here to escape Communism in the late 60s. Thus, Frank is the first of his whole family born in the U.S.

And they are all die-hard Republicans.

I showed Frank the story, and he read it with interest, but kept a good poker face (he very much dislikes talking politics and I mostly respect that and just make sure I vote to cancel out his vote). I’m not sure where his reaction fell. But his parents are HAPPY to talk politics. I’m so interested to ask them what they think. They get very offended when people don’t know that their country was dissolved and refer to them as Czechoslovakians. (Technically I guess they were born Czechoslovakians, and when they came here they were still Czechoslovakians, but even then, the Czech side and the Slovak side had very separate identities. The sides were further broken up into different regions – Moravia, Bohemia, etc. – and folks very much identify with their home regions. On a “Don’t Mess With Texas” level of allegiance.)

Anyway, we’re having dinner with them tomorrow so I shall report back. I doubt the gaffe will be enough to sway them away from the GOP camp, but it will be interesting to see how forgiving they are.

Not a calendar girl

My memory is odd.

I can remember numbers forever.  I know all my credit card numbers (and expiration dates) by heart.  I know my current checking account number by heart.  I used to know my old driver’s license number when we used to live in NY, and know most of my NJ driver’s license number.  I know my checking account from when I was in college.  I remember a bunch of my friends’ old phone numbers going as far back as middle school.

But if it’s not numerical, forget it.  I suck with names, I suck with dates in general, and birthdays specifically.  I only remember my dad’s birthday because it’s two days before July 4th.  My brother and one of my friends have birthdays on February 1st and 2nd… but often I cannot sort out who has which birthday.  If you asked me, I would be hard-pressed to come up with my mother’s birthday, though I would be within a day or two.  One of my kids was born on July 21st, and one was born on February 23rd, and I am constantly forgetting which one was born when.  I have to take time to process to make sure I don’t decree one birthday July 23rd and the other February 21st.  And even then, I’ve made the mistake more than once.  I totally suck.

And the dates I do remember, I never remember them on the date.  My grandmother’s birthday is May 31st.  Do you think I’d have any sort of red-flag go up in my head when that date was approaching, so that I could remember to send her a card?!?

I’m sure part of the problem is that I have a lackadaisical attitude about dates in general.  I don’t care much to know what date it is.  I’ve tried, but the interest peters out pretty quickly.  I like to know the day of the week, and am pretty consistently good about knowing what day it is even when schedules are screwy.  It’s rare for me to say “Today feels like a Tuesday even though it’s a Monday” or something similar.  But that today is the 25th?  It just never crosses my mind, unless a very specific need comes up, to activate such information in my brain.  Maybe I’m just clogged up with old phone numbers.

Anyway, today’s weather was forecast to be gorgeous, so it seemed a trip to our town pool (which is fabulous) was in order.  We hadn’t seen them in a few days, so I called the in-laws and asked if they wanted to meet us there.  They had nothing pressing on their schedule for the afternoon, so they met us at the pool, where we hung out and frolicked with the kids and just had fun for a couple hours.  Then as we’re packing up, my mother in-law asks if we’d like to come over for dinner tonight.  I thought about how, with more forethought than is normal for me, I’d prepped all the ingredients to make chili tonight.  So, I asked if it would be OK if we did it Saturday or Sunday instead.  They said OK, but my mother in-law seemed miffed, or disappointed, or something.  I noticed it for like a millisecond and then Jake was trying to launch himself into the pool with his clothes on, so I didn’t dwell on it and put it out of my mind.

Then Frank called this evening.  He said he was out of work but was going to stop at his parents before coming home.  Why, I wondered aloud.  Because it’s his mom’s birthday, duh! he responds.  Oh… well doesn’t that explain a lot.  Seriously, I would have sworn three ways ’til Tuesday that her birthday was August 3rd.

My husband’s a kind soul and tried to make me feel better by shouldering a little of the blame, because he didn’t remind me.  Really, he shouldn’t need to.  But at least he knows my date-memory enough to realize that maybe date reminders are a good idea.  And I’d love to take the opportunity to lay the blame at his feet but I don’t have the heart.  I need a system for this stuff.  Maybe something like, oh I don’t know… a method of tracking dates, perhaps in grid format.  Possibly on paper, to allow for writing in pertinent information.

I should look into that.

Oh, Pour Cheats!

Lane is very aural.  Sometimes you think she’s not listening… and she acts like she’s not listening… but she is.  She always is!  She can nearly always tell you what you just said even if she was in another room.

She picks up people’s phrases very quickly.  Like, I call Jake “buddy”, so does Lane.  I say “oh man” when something goes wrong, so does Lane.  I say “dammit” when get ticked off, and much to my chagrin, so does Lane.  (We’re working on that one, mainly through not acknowledging when she says it.  It’s working.)

When we got down to Aruba, we reunited with Lane after she’d spent 2 full days with her grandparents.  And, she picked up a phrase in Czech from them.  I cannot spell it to save my life but it sounds like “Oh, Pour Cheats!”  This is something they utter when something gets screwed up, or they are trying to do something but they can’t quite make it work right.  I haven’t asked for a translation to English but it’s a mild curse.  So, Lane said it a couple times in the first evening we were there, and we all giggled.  (Yeah, I know, it only encourages her.  But it was funny.)

Out of curiosity, I asked her what it meant.  She said, “It means Grandma’s trying to do something!”

Blabbity blah blah swollen glands

We had a make-up Easter dinner at the in-laws’ today.  It was OK.

So, there’s this thing with my in-laws.  They are from the Czech Republic; they came to the U.S. in the late 60s.  They met here, married, had my husband, and in that time found a whole network of Czech people to be friends with, who also mostly came here as adults in the late 60s or early 70s.  Thus, everyone they socialize with is Czech and speaks Czech.

Except me.

(They all speak English, too… but none have the conversational English skills like they do in their native tongue.)

In most circumstances this isn’t a big deal.  When it’s just us, my in-laws largely speak English.  However, the more Czech people you add, the lower the likelihood of conversations taking place in English.

Today’s dinner wasn’t just us.  It was also my husband’s aunt & uncle (both Czech) and another woman they are friends with (also, Czech).  The gobbledy-gook abounded.

After being around the Czech-speak for years and years now, I can make some of it out.  I can listen to most Czech conversations and figure out the general subject, both from the smattering of Czech words I know and the occasional English words that lack suitable Czech translations thrown in.  (The first time I heard Frank speak Czech was on a phone call from college to his parents, where he was telling them he had mono.  The conversation went something like this: “Blahbitty blah blah mono blah blah health center blabbity blah blah swollen glands.”)

So anyway… today = lots of Czech people = not so much English spoken.  Frank, lovely man he is, often tries to steer the conversation back to English.  But if he’s not involved in the conversation, or isn’t in the room, there’s little hope for me.  I know that there is no malicious intention here.  These folks are most comfortable speaking Czech, and it’s just sort of their default setting.  And I’m outnumbered.

This all used to make me feel nothing but outrage, and scorn, and rejection.  Part of me realizes that really, my attendance at these social gatherings pits me as a stranger in a foreign land.  I do still feel like there is a level of rudeness in their negligence to not try to actively include me in conversations, like where I’m sitting at the dinner table with them and they are blabbering on in Czech… but it’s been so ongoing I’m sort of numb to it, too.  I have made a habit of sort of staring blankly into space when they speak in Czech, and I find it’s quite effective to switch them back to English, at which point I start paying attention and smiling and looking engaged and interested.  (That psychology degree does come in handy sometimes… operant conditioning, anyone?)

It does help that I know it’s not malicious, and they do make an effort: it’s not like I sit there for four hours without a word of English being spoken!  I would say that today, it was maybe 60% Czech, 40% English when I wasn’t being directly spoken to.

Anyway, I’m getting all rambly and I’m sorry.  After these gatherings I always feel a little disorganized and out of sorts, and just generally blah at not feeling like I have a solid place in the inner circle, or something.  Then there’s just the general frustration at the language barrier thing.  How do I fix it?  Do I become a bratty diva and insist everyone speak English around me?  Do I take all my oodles of free time (note of sarcasm here) and try to learn more Czech?  Should I just make sure my kids don’t learn Czech so I always have at least someone to talk to?

Trial run

We’re going to Aruba in a week and a half with the in-laws.  Yes, I’m excited about going to Aruba… not quite as excited about spending 8 solid days with my in-laws but I’d rather be in Aruba with them than here in the cold without them.

Lane is going down with them, two days before we go.  We’re talking up how she’s going to go to the beach with Grandma and Grandpa and how much fun she’s going to have, and all in all I think it will be good.

Tonight and tomorrow night, though, we’re doing a sleepover trial run, where she’s spending tonight and tomorrow night at the in-laws’.  Despite missing her a bit, I certainly don’t need the trial run.  When we suggested it to the in-laws, it was intended with two purposes – for Lane to experience two nights away from us before she has to do it a five-hour plane ride away from us, and for the in-laws to get a feel for what it’s like to spend 48 straight hours with Lane, without a break except at night.  For either part of the equation, I’d like them to experience any kinks now, when we’re just a phone call and a 4 minute drive away.

And… just maybe… I can get the house cleaned up tomorrow too.  Jake doesn’t have the knack for utter destruction that his sister has.  But he does like to put his feet in the dog’s water an awful lot.