Musings

What I learned reading about Slovak Jews

What I learned reading about Slovak Jews - Almost BananasFor the last month I’ve been busy reading 21 books in English about Slovakia – read the reviews and enter the giveaway here – and six of those books were about Jews during WWII.

Of course we learned about the horrors of WWII in school, of racism and concentration camps. Nazi soldiers often come up in ethical discussions as The Ultimate Evil That Has Existed, i.e. “If you were faced with Nazi soldiers, would x action still be unacceptable?”

But growing up in Canada, the idea of war was so far away. We keep every Remembrance Day, maybe heard stories from grandparents or read a historical fiction novel. It seems closer in Slovakia, to some degree, just because fighting was on this soil. People still go metal detecting in the hills behind our home, looking for war artefacts. It seems strange that those quiet hills, perhaps even some of the same trees, saw such violence and action. When in the Low Tatras, a memorial to partisans killed high up in the mountain seemed so startling.

Call me naive, but I had this idea that the Nazis were the bad guys, Jew and other targeted groups were the victims, and everybody else was just kind of didn’t know what was going on.  Click to continue reading

Traditions: finding the balance between the past and the future (October 2015 photos)

Are traditions your garbage or your treasure? - Almost Bananas

As any reader of my blog will know, I’m a big fan of keeping traditions alive, whether a village, song and dance, or lighting candles in the night. So many people, however, seem to take these traditions for granted or consider them as unimportant.

I was taking pictures in the old shed behind my inlaws’, grinning that they would not understand my fascination. A shed of old junk, to them.

Treasures in an old shed - Almost Bananas

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Connections, Love, and Death.

Connection, Love, and Death

There is a theme that has been running through my head and my heart recently: connections and community.

It started last year when a particularly grisly case was discovered in Slovakia. The only details necessary here is that a 3 year old girl died of physical abuse but her death wasn’t discovered for three years. Three years.

A bill was proposed to bring back the practice of social workers visiting the homes of all children under the age of three (when most children start going to playschool). These visits were carried out during Communism, and my mother in law said that those visits were nerve-racking.

I’m all for protecting innocent children but I also recoil at the thought of a stranger regularly coming into our home to check up on us.  What particularly bothers me, however, is that the government cannot replace the role of the community.

I think back to that little girl and wonder how it is possible that no one noticed that she was missing for three years. Where were her relatives? Family friends? Neighbours? Where was her community, the people that were connected to her?

In many ways the idea of community gets buried under our celebration of independence and individualism. We’ve all had nosy old grumps or judgmental ‘friends’ who shame us for the decisions we’ve made. We get angry and hurt, and respond “mind your own damn business.” And it’s true – how many children we have, what food philosophy we follow, or what religious beliefs we adhere to (among others) are not up for other people to judge.

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How to Live as a Big Family in a Small Space

6 people in 70m2

A few years ago I returned to Canada for a visit. I woke up at my sister’s house and looked out the window – everything seemed so BIG compared to Europe. Beefy trucks with bulky snowmobiles were parked in front of massive houses.

Now, I admit that I miss trucks. On the very rare occasion that I see one here, I wish I could buy one. I would seriously love some snow (although my type of sledding usually involves walking uphill).

But the huge houses…I’ll leave them. My dream house, for our family of 6, is about 110 m2 (1180 ft2). My dream house also has innovative furniture, like a desk on hydraulics that transforms into a guest bed without disturbing the stuff on the desk. (You can find more of my house aesthetics on Pinterest on the That Someday House board, as well as some separate bedroom boards.)

Right now though, I don’t have the fancy furniture or even custom storage. I’ve got 6 people in 70 m2 (750 ft2). I’m not crazy organized or a great housekeeper, but we manage to live in our home fairly comfortably. Click to continue reading

Basil Lemon Walnut Cookies

These delicious raw cookies use basil, normally a savoury herb, to increase the complexity of these easy cookies. Lemon adds a touch of sunshine to a walnut and honey base.

Basil Lemon Walnut Cookies

I recently attempted to do GAPS. Attempted is the key word.

For those who don’t know what GAPS is, it’s a protocol to heal the gut. This does not affect only digestive issues (bloating, constipation, diarrhea), but helps improve other health issues as well. The acronym stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome, as Dr. Campbell-McBride developed the program to help her autistic son.

The idea is that an impoverished digestive system can lead to a myriad of health problems because the food you eat actually becomes toxic to your body. The diet starves toxic pathogens in the gut by not eating disaccharides (like sugar, grains, potatoes, etc), heals the lining of the digestive tract with lots of bone broth (gelatin and lots of nutrients), and replaces the bad pathogens with good probiotics. As the gut heals, you slowly re-introduce foods back in, but it can take anywhere from six months to two years.

It’s pretty intensive, but I wanted to try for a number of reasons for our family, including dairy intolerance, bloating, ADHD, and a few other behavioural issues. (GAPS can also help heal allergies and food intolerances.)

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Basavel na plazi: Roma (Gypsy) Festival by Dive Maky

Cigansky Basavel: Roma (Gypsy) Festival

As a Canadian, when I used to think of gypsies (or more properly, Roma) I thought of colourful dresses, energetic music, and wood covered wagons. When I first heard Central Europeans speak about the Roma at college in the States, I was horrified, they seemed so racist. After being in Slovakia, I began to understand complications of the situation of the Roma in Central Europe.

The Roma  (or Romani, or Romany) originate from India and spread throughout Europe during the medieval ages. As nomadic people, they had various skills, like metalwork and carpentry, that they used to gain employment while camped on the outskirts of a town. The nomadic lifestyle was not so compatible with modern country borders, however. During Communism in Slovakia they were provided with housing and other needs, however, women were also subjected to coerced sterilization and the men lost the skills they traditionally had used for finding employment.

Roma are different from Slovaks in more ways than just skin colour. As groups, their behaviour is completely different; imagine packs of Italians in Germany. In public, Slovaks are reserved and somewhat cold (although not in private with friends). Gypsies, on the other hand, will have yelling matches in the town square. Roma have their own completely different language. They also have many children; some Slovaks are inclined to think it is a way to get more money from the government, but I’m inclined to wonder if it has to do with their traditional emphasis on and value of children and the tight knit extended family.

The Romany people have faced discrimination in various degrees throughout Europe since their arrival, and were a target of the Nazi regime. In Slovakia, at any time before 1989, I would attribute discrimination to simple racism. Since then, however, the problem is a little more complicated.

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Zucchini Pizza Frittata

This frittata is layered with zucchini, or courgettes, along with pizza like tastes – tomato, basil, oregano, and garlic. This dish is one of two ways my kids will eat zucchini, and it’s so simple to throw together.

Zucchini Pizza Frittata

My brother-in-law and his family have been put through the wringer this past year, and it looks like they may be starting the journey all over again. Last year, just after Easter, their five year old youngest son was diagnosed with leukemia. He was in the hospital for six straight weeks before he could come home to visit, my sister in law coming home for a visit once a week. Thus began over a year of hospital stays, chemotherapy, low immune system, and a host of other concerns. My nephew lost weight, lost his hair, but retained water due to the cortisone. They just finished the third intensive block of chemo, and are currently down to weekly checkups.

Cancer puts a strain on the whole family. The worries, the fears. Dad and four other children had to learn to get by without mom holding the fort together. There’s an overarching cloud of concern, running through all aspects of life.
But recently their next youngest son, 12, has been exhibiting some health problems. A couple check ups showed something wasn’t quite right, but it could be this or it could be that. His mom worried about cancer, but what are the chances, right? Well, it looks like he does have cancer, in the lymph system. They are currently doing tests to determine exactly what it is and how to proceed.

Bobette, my sister in law, said that she has been sustained by prayers these last few days. They would appreciate any prayers you could offer for them.

It’s sadly ironic. They live in Austria, the country that hates nuclear power, where everything is available as organic. Gaming is in the foothills of the Alps with clean air and pure water. She avoids plastic and cooks real food. Neither parent smokes, the kids play outside. No cell phones allowed. Why, why two kids with cancer??

Which got me thinking about one of the arguments against universal health care in the States, basically, “I don’t want to have to pay for slobs who don’t take care of themselves.” In other words, why should I, who takes care of myself, pay for the health problems of those who smoke/drink/do drugs/eat unhealthy food/are promiscuous/don’t exercise/etc. Click to continue reading

Bacon n’ Egg Salad with Probiotic Avocado Dressing

The classic combination of bacon and eggs combine to make a light summer meal salad. Topped off with an avocado dressing, it could be for breakfast or any other meal. The kids polished this off quickly!

Bacon n Eggs Chopped Salad with Probiotic Avocado Dressing

Is any woman, young or old, immune to a negative perception of their own body at some point? I exclude men, not because they don’t have issues with body image, but because I know little of their body-self relationship; not only have I not talked to many men about this subject, I’m inclined to think they speak less of it in general.

There is, of course, always the question of weight, but body image involves issues like uneven ears, large foreheads, or knobby knees. As a teenager I would have had nose surgery in a second, now the idea is abhorrent to me (although I am convinced it did grow before the rest of me).

But our views about ourselves are not always based on reality. For example, as a teen I always considered myself chubby, even though I was quite active in sports. I don’t really know if I was or not, to be honest, I haven’t looked at pictures from that age in an eon. I was rather laid back about it though and contented myself with dabbing fat off of pizza. Fortunately, I was never tempted to throw up or starve myself. After my first child, I could fit into a pair of shorts from high school and considered myself a skinny minny. Same size, different perspective.  Click to continue reading

Nettle Gomae

Nettle Gomae
My youngest sister and her daughter were visiting from Canada for two weeks. It was so lovely to have someone to chat with while cooking, giggle over family stories, and sing harmony with. She washed many sinkfuls of dishes and watched the kids so my husband and I could have a couple dates. Thank you, Miwa!

Having her here brought to mind something I’ve thought to myself in moments of mom-desperation. “We were meant to live in tribes, to have aunts and cousins and grandmothers help with children, and meals, and life in general.” Living close to family has it’s own perils, but so many of us live in relative isolation. Parents spend more hours at work than with children or spouses, extended family often lives far away. Some communities of friends support each other, others have yet to. Click to continue reading

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