Thursday, April 19, 2018


Continuing the Springtime Catch-up blog marathon... 

When I was in the States for a conference in December, I bought a couple of gingerbread kits - one to make "Ninjabread men" and one to make little houses. We had so much fun with these. I looked EVERYWHERE for molasses, so we could make more, but none was to be found - luckily my Jantzi grands were able to bring some in January. But the kits actually came with everything needed. 

We invited some friends to help us with the little houses - Abby, Daniel, and Elsa - they all had so much fun. Their mom Lizzy and I imagined that they'd keep the houses to look at but actually the kids just couldn't wait to eat them right away.

We made them wait until we could take a picture of all five!

 And then I made my own with leftover pieces. That one hung around a few days before Hansel and Gretel ate it all up. Nobody except Ninjabread men ended up in the oven though. Yay!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


So, Christmas!

gingerbread house at the fancy bakery
 I realise that this was like 5 months ago... nonetheless...

Val and I attended a women's brunch at the church we used to go to, where there was this fun activity to assemble aromatic bags of dried fruits and spices. Basically you simmer the bag in lightly boiling water to fill the house with a nice aroma. And they're really pretty!

Christmas morning, bright and early of course... this was the first year that we had the kids pick out gifts for each other and for other family members.

What she specifically asked for...! 

Painting the model solar system (it glows in the dark!)

The kids participated in the pageant at the church we attend now (the deciding factor is that Sunday School here is in English); they sang songs in English and Albanian.

I think this is the only photo I have of the tree... 
We seem to keep starting over with trees. But we found a nice set of wooden ornaments at a big box store, and we had these little "Christmas mouse" books that are kind of an advent calendar of sorts. We made a better star than the one you see here for a topper. At the end of the day the tree was much more ornamented than this, but for whatever reason I never did take pictures of it.

Part of the Christmas Village shops that popped up in Pazari i Ri

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Time to Revive the Blog

It's Spring in Tirana - what better time to revive the blog? 

Everywhere there is new life blooming. 

Flowering trees counteract the odiferous canal

It's a thrill to watch the grapevines that twine up the stair railings to our balcony leaf out after a vigorous pruning.

The day after spring break, we arrived at school to see this exuberance of wisteria greeting us:

And we have found this balmy mound of earth covered in daisies, about halfway home - a respite to sit and read and eat snacks en route. 

It was a busy and often difficult winter and early spring; the week before break the kids and I were all sick just as I faced down a deadline for a consultancy I did. I am hoping here to catch up a bit on the highlights - Christmas, Jantzi grandparents visit, my trip to southern Africa, and so much Lego action. Next month we will celebrate Val's 10th birthday, I'll go to my cousin's wedding in Japan, and my parents will visit to celebrate my dad's 75th birthday! Terry and I are hoping to get out of the city on weekends with the kids to see and enjoy more of the country while we can. Meanwhile, I leave you with this photo of the kids, from when it was still cold out: 

Two minutes later: 

Just kidding, it's posed :-)

Monday, December 18, 2017


At the end of November, I went to DC for the annual anthropology conference; we also like to call it the nerd circus. I made incredible progress on my current sock project!
knitting + Star Wars = happy!
I also chaired a panel, that I was really proud of. We had 7 papers on reception of immigrants in rural US areas and there was really great synergy between the presentations, plus we had about 30 people show up to our 8 a.m. panel which is a really good showing (I have been at panels with 4 or 5 attendees, so that was what I was expecting). We didn't even have to add "in the age of Tr*mp" to the panel title (although that was kind of a secondary theme of the conference, so many talks had that as a reference point). So I'm looking at how to mobilize that energy and take it the next step (i.e. something published collectively). 

Ready to chair my panel
(75% repeat outfit from last time I presented)
I also had a couple days in Harrisonburg which was super helpful to start getting over the jet lag, connect with a bunch of people, update my ethnographic material, and pick up about 2/3 of our Lego collection to bring back to Tirana.

It's a lot more than it looks like
I've given the kids 3 of these bags and am holding back the rest for actual Christmas, along with a few other things. Legos are surprisingly heavy! But worth it - in addition to Lego Bethlehem, they've already created 4 or 5 different sets of their own, each with its own cast of characters and dramatic storylines. It's fun to be back.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas coming

Every afternoon on the way to pick up the kids from school, we pass by this man roasting chestnuts over a charcoal grill! He showed up when the weather started to get cold. He is very kind and always gives me about 50% extra when I buy from him. We have chatted a bit about his family living in New York City and he gladly let me take this picture. Someday I'll ask him his name :-) And hopefully someday the kids will agree to just try one of the chestnuts.

 Near where we live there is a market area called Pazari i Ri, or the New Market. It was recently renovated and fancied up and often there are special events happening there, like this little Christmas bazaar - can you tell what inside the cabin is real and what is fake? (The boy and his mischief are both real, that's a freebie)

And the malls look exactly like malls all over the world at Christmastime. This is Toptani, the newest mall and the only one located near the city center. We also walk past here on the way to and from school. 

So, we bought a little tree! And ornaments that are supposed to look old-fashioned. The kids made a Lego Bethlehem (pics on Facebook).

Today the kids had a make-up school day to replace a day missed a few weeks ago due to heavy rains. It's just a half day, and then in the afternoon they have rehearsal for the church Christmas pageant. So I spent the morning making gingersnaps and listening to Christmas music, so uncharacteristically festive of me!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Kruja tower
The weather this fall has been strangely warm, like everywhere else around the globe - though it's been nice to have some more rain this week. Well, nice except when we're walking to or from school. Building character! We have had some cold days, a couple weeks ago the nights were hovering around freezing - but this week has been Bogota-like weather: 16 degrees C and rainy. I'm trying not to use the space heater too much though to keep our electric bill down. 

A couple weekends ago I had the opportunity to play tour guide to a friend-of-a-friend who was wandering loose in Tirana, so we took a bus to Kruja - the stronghold of national hero Sk├źnderbeu. The sky was so blue and clear, it felt like you could cut your finger on the line of the mountain edge against the sky. It was fun to be the "local expert" even though the trip definitely gave me a sense of the many gaps in my knowledge - especially of Albanian history.  

Then on Sunday we took the kids to Dajti - they'd go every weekend if we'd pay for it, but we've made it a once-a-month treat. Even though we could see from below that the mountaintop was swathed in clouds, they still wanted to go. 

These photos do not nearly do justice to the intensity of the fall colors. So beautiful.

Just as we sat down to eat the clouds rolled in and it started to rain - Terry took Gabe outside to try to punch the fog, it was such a little-boy heaven out there climbing the rocks and fighting the elements. Val got into it a bit too.

I was happy to stay inside and enjoy our delicious meal! The waiter actually knows us now - I think we tip pretty well - and he brought us a carafe of fresh squeezed blackberry juice and a fruit plate of apple and orange slices sprinkled with blackberries, walnuts, and honey - on the house!

Thursday, November 02, 2017


Moving is such a process. This move has been so, so much easier than the last two, in that we were coming back to something beloved and familiar.

Street Art
Albeit we have been in the midst of a major decision just now, that brought me at least to face some of my lingering grief from leaving in 2012. We have the opportunity to move back to our old apartment, where we lived before, and in the beginning that was our plan. In fact when I inquired to find out if the apartment would be available for us this fall, it felt like a "sign" that the answer was "very likely."

So at first we thought we'd be in this villa for a few weeks, but as time dragged on regarding the other apartment we got more and more used to being here. We have our rhythms and routines organized, we know where to shop for everything, and people in the neighborhood are friendly. Our landlady is... very involved, with both the pros and cons that come with that, but on balance it's mostly great. But after two months in this home it has grown on us, and there are enough pros and cons both ways that it has been really, really hard to make a final decision.

Evening moonrise
But, I think we are going to stay here. There are so many things I love about this flat, and I've come to realize over the past couple of days that it's not about trying to recapture the past but about moving into and building something new.

Our life now is not what it was then, the kids are in school, far from the baby/toddler stage. So this is not the room where we celebrated Gabriel's first birthday or where Valerie taught herself to read, but it is the place where we can make new good memories.

Halloween Ninjas
 So we have a little time yet to make a sure decision but I feel a lot of peace and happiness about staying here.