Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I just received word that my grandmother in Peru is gone.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wet Christmas

Albania is still pretty excited about the no-visa thing.

Here's our completed homemade Advent calendar! Valerie got really into it and it was fun telling and re-telling the story for her.
Christmas morning we went out for a walk and got caught in a rainstorm, so ducked into a restaurant for juice, coffee, and roasted potatoes (they didn't have french fries). We thought the rain might be letting up around 11:30 and both kids were starting to fade, so we headed for home, but it started raining even harder - Valerie held one umbrella over herself in the stroller, and I had the other one over me and Gabriel in the Bjorn. Poor Terry was hatless and umbrella-less in the rain which was intermittently mixed with HAIL! He said he didn't mind and even laughed about it (yes, I married the right person!) :-) My feet got soaked in muddy water but the kids stayed warm and dry and it felt good to get home, eat a little more lunch and then segue into nap time.

After naps, we went to a Christmas party with the congregation of the church we've been attending. It was at a fancy restaurant in a room with an uncovered swimming pool. We got to chat a little bit with people but Valerie was fascinated by the pool - and the diving board! - so we spent a lot of time keeping her corralled. It wasn't the most kid-friendly event ever but the food was good and I met some people. Gabriel got passed around until he got over-tired and fussy.

I was really happy to find a burgundy-colored corduroy dress with long sleeves and velvet trim in our shipment - the perfect Christmas dress! I'd not bought one this year because it seemed like an unnecessary expense (at home I get them second hand for like $3). She looked perfect. Gabriel wore Valerie's hand-me-down Christmas footie pajamas. I'll post more pictures soon once I get them uploaded from my camera.

I didn't even let Valerie see most of the stuff that came in our shipment - I pulled out about 30 of her books and a few toys and put the rest away. It was still almost too much for her! I'm glad we didn't buy her anything, it would have been overkill for sure! Gabriel's been happy chewing on a teething ring that came in the box, and I'm happy to have my food mill so I can start mushing up fruit for him to try. He loves the rice cereal!

Gezuar Krishtlindjet!

Merry Christmas, all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Just in time for Christmas!

Our boxes came today!!! Yep - it took three months. But they're here. We haven't opened them yet. I'm so excited - knitting needles! Sock yarn! Clothes for Gabriel (who is now in 9-12 month onesies)! Toys for Valerie! Books! It might be a little overwhelming when we do cut through the masking tape and cardboard...

Maybe Valerie will enjoy playing with the boxes even more than their contents :-) Today at the park she entertained herself for a long time picking up stones and throwing them back down, or putting them on the bench and then knocking them off.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Three months in Shqiperia

Some pieces of random now that we've been here 3 months:

I'm enjoying browsing through the archives of a blog I found titled "Our Man In Tirana." The blogger was here from 2005-2008 and is now in the UK but I enjoy reading his impressions and comparing them to my own. His life as a guy without kids was very different from mine but he noticed a lot of the same things I see around here.

One day when Valerie woke up in the morning I took her out on the balcony to show her that the weather was nice. "Look, no rain!" I said. Sleepily she answered, "take rain off."

The way I explained the concept of "time-outs" to Shpresa was that it's like a yellow card and then red card in soccer. She finds this hilarious.

Yesterday was unseasonably warm, for a change - we went to the park and Valerie spent an hour and a half running around, jumping, and scratching in the dirt with sticks. (Why do we buy toys???) It felt like spring and I wore short sleeves on my walk to my Albanian lesson in the afternoon.

Gabriel is trying desperately to grab things with his hands. He rolls over like a pro now!

Terry is on another overnight work trip. We thought about going along but it was going to be a lot of time in the van and didn't really seem like that much fun to me. We might take a short trip to another city in Albania over the Christmas break.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lotus is 2!!

Happy Birthday to my niece Lotus, who is two years old today!

We love you, cutie!

Gezuar Ditlindjen!

Friday, December 17, 2010

White Christmas???

So I was under the impression before we came here that temperatures in Tirana rarely drop below 40 degrees F; but lately we've been freezing, literally. At night the temperature has dropped into the high 20s several times. And, today, SNOW. All morning long, a brief transition to rain during the middle of the day, and now big fluffy flakes sifting over the city. There is slush on the sidewalks and the roofs of cars and buildings are painted white. This, I never thought I'd see.

I'm thinking today of the men I've seen sleeping in public parks, and the children I saw yesterday burning trash by the side of the river.

Thoughts of these children, the cold, the snow, it all wraps up in my mind with the refugee family celebrated in the creche I bought the other day, Jesus among barnyard animals, their shelter his shelter the day he was born.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


When I was growing up in Peru, power outages (un apagon, in Spanish) were not unusual. Apparently neither are they in Tirana - although from what I hear it's much better now than it used to be. We've had three so far since we came; the longest one was Saturday lasting from about 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

It was a gorgeous sunny day but breathtakingly cold; we went out in the morning to see a youth photo exhibit sponsored by World Vision at the national museum of culture. The sky was pure blue but the wind was knife-like. We bundled the kids up well but it still felt soothing and relaxing to come home to an apartment warmed both by passive solar heat through our south-facing windows as well as by electric space heaters.

So we were a little worried when night fell and the temperature dropped even more, because without electricity our heaters didn't work. We lit candles all around the house and lit up the gas burners on the stove but we knew it was a matter of time before the air would grow chill.

We made plans to all sleep in one bed, to keep the kids warm with our bodies and blankets. Terry moved the furniture around so our bed would be against a inside wall. But at bedtime, we put the kids down each in their own bed where they both fell asleep, still warm enough. Thankfully the lights came on around 10 and we were able to turn on the space heaters and turn off our worry.

Well, as much as you ever do, as a parent.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


This morning I took Valerie and Gabriel out for a walk because the sun was out, even though it was cold enough out that one man actually scolded me for bringing the children out. I guess by that time the sun had disappeared behind thick white clouds, and shortly after we got home I looked out the window and saw SNOW falling!

The tiny made-in-China Christmas tree I bought this morning seems a little more fitting now. I also found a creche at a tchotchke shop that sells mostly tourist-oriented souvenirs like clay statuettes of Albanians in traditional garb and keychains with photos of sunlit coastal cities. I spied a statuette of Mother Teresa in the same shop, so I'm guessing the proprietors are Christian (at least by tradition if not by conviction).

Anyway, it's cold, and I was glad for the handknits I have with me, even if none of them match each other and we all three looked as patchwork and motley as a family of gypsies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hiao: Bean

"Hiao" (or however it's spelled) is how Valerie says "here it is" (pronounced sort of like "He-ow" but all run together in one word. Incidentally, "Hisadidou" is how she says "horse," so it really takes a specialist like me to decipher a lot of what she has to say... it helps that mostly she narrates herself throughout the day.)

One of the most fun things we've done together this month has been to sprout beans in a jar. We got the idea from an E.lmo DVD and just used beans I bought at the local produce stand for cooking. I had no idea if they'd germinate or not, but I put four beans in a recycled glass jar with wet toilet paper and we looked at them every day. I kept the jar on top of the refrigerator, and every morning Valerie would see it and say "Hiao bean" and I'd get it down and put it on the table and we'd look at it while eating breakfast, and sometimes several times throughout the day. One day I saw that one of the beans was growing a little white sprout! I was so excited, that Valerie got excited too. It was so fun to see it growing, finally pushing its stem up and out of the jar and unfolding two green leaves (the following 3 pictures were taken on the morning, noon, and evening of the same day).

Of the four beans, all of them germinated, but one seemed to have been damaged as it didn't fully sprout along with the others. Another one seemed small and discolored.

But two are big and strong. Today we planted three of them in a pot at the base of a tall house plant that came with the apartment.

Shpresa remarked that normally one would plant beans in warm weather but the apartment is quite warm. (House update: no news, the attempted eviction seems to be mired in bureaucracy for the moment.)

In any case, it was a really fun little project that required minimal investment or effort but made me feel like I was helping Valerie connect to nature and her agricultural heritage somehow.

Friday, December 10, 2010


As of today, December 10, Gabriel has lived in Albania longer than he has in the US!

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Today felt like a long day. I started potty training Valerie in the morning, and in the evening gave Gabriel his first rice cereal! The second item was definitely more fun than the first!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

FIVE months!

Gabriel is three - *oops, FIVE* - months old today!
(This is what long-term sleep deprivation will do to your brain...)
  • He has been working very hard recently on mastering the skill of rolling over. He rolls very well from back to tummy, but only one direction (to the left, of course). He has more trouble going from tummy to back for some reason and gets really frustrated when he's stuck in one position.
  • He loves to watch Valerie playing and running around, he's completely fascinated by her. (For her part, she's warming up to him slowly but steadily and will now send me to him when he's crying - "Baby cry, Mama off!" - and offer him kisses on his hands.)
  • He's a big one, already about to burst out of the 6-month size sleepers we have here!
  • His tooth is still just a little white spot on his gum. It seems to bother him intermittently and produces vast amounts of drool.
  • It seems that I need to stay away from bread as well as dairy. I've been off eggs for awhile, too.
  • Consolidated sleep continues to elude us. He's doing better at going to sleep on his own, and is only nursing 2x at night, but he STILL wakes up around 5x every night. His daytime naps are also still very short, like 4-5 naps a day of around 45 minutes to an hour each. He did take two 2-hour naps at the beginning of last week but apparently that was just a tease.
  • He continues to be a healthy, laid-back, charming, smiley baby with wide eyes and an adorable dimple so I'm not complaining too much.
  • Oh, also I should mention that I've been talking to him in Spanish as much as possible. I was inspired by some of the young kids I've met here who've managed to become quite fluent in English without ever leaving Albania, and I thought you know, I'm doing my kids a disservice by not talking to them in Spanish. So they are now being exposed to three languages!
Love you, Little Dude. Now go to sleep. xoxo, Mama

Friday, December 03, 2010

Cabin fever

Rain, rain, and more rain. It's been causing serious flooding problems around Shkodra in the north. So I won't complain too much about the leaks in our roof (which the landlord has tried to repair four times, he's about DONE with the engineer he's working with) or how we can't go outside to play.

Meanwhile, Valerie has been finding lots to do at home, which is fun. Currently her favorite game is to "Book house" - we make houses out of her board books (ridiculously easy) and then she stacks her toy animals on top and inside them. She also likes clomping around in our shoes, making tents, and playing with her beanie babies. The frog and monkey are particularly subject to being fed "mupp" (pretend milk), having their diapers changed, getting baths - rushed through to the point where they're pulled out of the tub and wrapped in a towel and cuddled - and given rides in their "cars" (again, our shoes). This age is almost as fun as it is challenging :-).

I realized looking back through the past couple of months that I haven't been posting very many pictures of her, they're all of Gabriel! So here are a few fun ones:


In my experience so far, Albanians are kind, generous, and courteous to a fault - until they get behind the wheel of a car.


Another trivial update:

So, I said in October that one of the things I miss is recycling. I've since realized that recycling does happen here, just not in an institutionalized manner.

Every city street here has a set of big dumpsters that are emptied by the municipality on a regular basis. People gather up their household trash in plastic bags (usually grocery bags), and then when they leave the house to go somewhere - and most people walk, I think - they take the bag and then just chuck it in the nearest dumpster as they walk past it. Included in household waste are plastic and glass bottles of all shapes and sizes, and this is what I see people fishing out of the dumpsters, especially on Sundays. They seem quite organized about it - if unofficial. It's always the same people at the same dumpsters, and they have bicycles fitted out with big baskets or even basically push carts to haul stuff away. I don't know where they take it but if they're retrieving it I assume it must have some kind of reuse value if not technically recycling.

Terry heard that the people who do this are usually Roma; I wouldn't know for looking at them, necessarily. When I remember to I separate out our recyclable stuff so that people don't have to pick through dirty diapers in order to find it.

An assortment of updates (*updated)

So, there are a few random topics I've written about here that I thought I might follow up on.

When I asked for advice at the clinic where we took Gabriel for his 4-month well baby visit, specifically about his waking up to nurse every 2 hours, I basically got a textbook response about how to breastfeed your baby successfully, which was fine, but didn't really help me solve my problem. Anyway, I've learned since then that exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months is NOT the norm here, even though people do seem to appreciate the value of breastfeeding. According to an American woman I met who is a La Leche League Leader in the US, people here tend to switch pretty early to cow's milk, rice milk, and/or a combination of the two, sometimes as early as 2 months.

The woman who comes to clean our apartment once a week (who I thought was our landlord's wife, but isn't, I've since learned) tells me EVERY SINGLE TIME she comes that I need to be giving Gabriel FOOD, not just mother's milk; the reason he wakes up so much at night is he's hungry. SHE weaned her babies at 1 month old and gave them cow's milk, yoghurt, and fruit. The last time she was here, she grabbed Valerie's yoghurt off the table and shoved a spoonful into Gabriel's mouth! He spit it out and made a hilarious face. I was kind of annoyed but I didn't know how to ask her politely not to do that in my limited Shqip. Standard pediatric advice nowadays is to wait at least a year to introduce babies to cow's milk, because baby humans don't digest it very well as it is best suited for baby calves. And also because of potential allergic reactions.

2) I've also realized that what I thought were grandmothers doing nanny duty are - well, many of them probably ARE grandmothers, but they're actually nannies as well - the kids they are watching aren't they're own grandkids. It seems most mothers here work outside the home, at least once the 1-year paid maternity leave is over. Yep that's right - ONE YEAR PAID. It's not full pay, I've heard both 100% for 6 months and then 80% for six months, and I've also heard 80% for 6 months and 20% for 6 months. But still. NICE.

3) I don't know exactly how much weight I've lost since we came here but all my pants are way too big. Certainly all the baby weight is gone.

Off to play with Valerie now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Today was a bad day for naps, but the up side is everybody went to sleep early. I had the luxury of an afternoon nap, though, myself, because Shpresa was here to watch the kids for a few hours.

With all the rain lately, it seems like we go to the park about once a week instead of twice a day like we used to. I've had to come up with some rainy-day indoor activities - al
though Valerie is pretty good at that herself. Lately her fun has been playing pretend games with her toy animals - she changes their diapers, bathes them, feeds them raisins and juice, puts them in our shoes and drives them around, and of course hides them and pretends she can't find them.

One thing I started is a home-made Advent Calendar - I decided just to start Dec 1. Every day I will cut out another little picture and tape it to the tree. I haven't drawn 25 things yet but I have about 2 weeks' worth here. I'll put up the manger on the 24th and add the Baby on the 25th (so, out of chronological order a little bit since the shepherds and wise men didn't come til AFTER he was born... oh well).

There's a lot of Christmas stuff appearing in shops around the city, but I noticed it's all secular - trees, lights, snowmen, reindeer, Santas, etc. - nothing referencing Jesus at all. I wanted to get a nativity set but I guess I'll have to make my own - actually the idea for this "calendar" came when I started thinking how to make my own creche. If/When our shipment comes we have some Christmas books in it that I can use as well.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Today and tomorrow are holidays here, celebrating Independence Day here in Albania. Here is a nice news article with a short digest version of Albanian history. So far things are pretty quiet in the city; a lot of people take the long weekend to visit family in other cities - much like Thanksgiving in the US. I guess tonight there will be more festivities.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Wow, I didn't mean to let a whole week elapse without posting. My goal was to match the October record of 16 posts - an average of one every other day! Don't think I'll make it this time.

Anyway, Terry is currently in Cambodia for a week, and I've re-initiated sleep training with G., which we never quite picked up again after the hiatus when he got sick. I'm in it for keeps this time, full throttle, and it's actually working.... so far.... just about 30 hours in so I shouldn't really start bragging yet. I'm doing the Baby Whisperer method again.

I do have to say last night wasn't easy, as he woke up MORE than he normally does (from 4:30 on it was every half hour... so I don't know that I actually slept much from that point on) but he's been going to sleep much faster. The other goal is nursing more in the day so he'll nurse less at night.

So, I'm going to call it a night even though I don't feel like I've written anything particularly interesting here...

Love to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers - probably most of you :-)

I'm feeling a little nostalgic as I think of everyone all over the US eating a ton of good food today, hopefully in the company of loved ones.

It's not a holiday here but we're getting together with some expat missionaries tonight for a(nother) meal.


Ok, so I never posted this but it got saved as a draft - I was going to write a long thankfulness list but right now I'm too tired so it will be short.

I am thankful for:
  • My babies
  • My husband
  • Loving family scattered around the world - Mom, Dad, Anita, Rosanne, Dot and Vern
  • A warm, safe place to live
  • The pleasure of reading a good book
  • The sky
(I know, all obvious and boring but hey - it's true)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Someday my Shqip will come

Today marks my 500th post on this blog, and TWO MONTHS in Albania!

Whence the pun in the post title? (Shqip is the Albanian word for the Albanian language; the q is pronounced like a shch).

When I was a little kid in Peru, people used to talk about their barrels coming. It was common practice to ship barrels of stuff I presume on an actual boat when moving overseas for what was then assumed to be a career-long or even life-long commitment to another country, another culture, another people. We even had barrels one time, I think sent down to the jungle from the mountains? I should check with my folks about this - all I remember is that we had some dolls and toys that came around Christmastime when I was 4 or 5, and they had undergone some water damage but were generally ok.

We are still waiting for our shipment to come, four boxes of stuff (mainly all my academic texts, plus about 50 books for Valerie, more of her toys, clothes for Gabriel to grow into, and sundry various other random things). It's all tied up in bureaucratic red tape as far as I can tell, mainly on the receiving end. Hopefully it will come before Christmas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Early Thanksgiving

We had a really fun evening tonight with Phil and Mel, two of Terry's coworkers who arrived in Albania about a month after we did. Also present for the festivities was Kristela, an Albanian coworker who lived in the US for 5 years and was waxing nostalgic for an American holiday.

Phil and Mel (I got the impression it was mostly Mel!) knocked themselves out with some fantastic holiday fare including candied nuts, a ball of goat cheese encrusted with cranberries and more nuts, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, baklava, pumpkin pie, carrots stewed in the turkey broth, gravy, and of course turkey. Christmas music played in the background and after eating we watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Valerie liked watching Snoopy clown around with Woodstock, but was VERY VERY UPSET when Lucy pulled the football away from Charlie Brown.

I didn't really grow up with Thanksgiving being a big part of our family life but it was still fun to hang out and eat good food and participate in a long-standing expat tradition - recreating Thanksgiving overseas.

Phil very kindly took this picture of the four of us, a rarity!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

rainy day (bien shi)

(Today was actually very bright and sunny; I uploaded this picture a few days ago and scheduled it to post on Saturday in order to spread out my posts so you wouldn't get 2-3 in one day.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ku eshte dhemb?

... and this morning, no tooth. So weird.

Here is a picture of our ugly, skinny baby.
He's going to hate me for this someday...!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Gabriel cut his first tooth today! He's been drooling incessantly for awhile now, soaking through multiple bibs every day and chewing on his little fisties. So it wasn't a huge surprise. Just a fun one :-) He is not quite 4.5 months old today.

(Just for comparison's sake, Valerie was almost exactly 6 months old when she cut her first tooth, exactly two years ago. Already he's trying to one-up her!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Right Now

Valerie is walking around holding various books saying "Val-Val reading - miss page!" Gabriel is kicking around in the stroller grinning every time I look at him, and Terry is in Kosovo possibly having breakfast.

Valerie's favorite toys of the moment are:
  • a little accordion thing I folded out of paper, she calls it her "cute baby piece [of] paper"
  • a brush for cleaning the floor shaped like a lady bug
  • a green paper bag full of clothes for Gabriel (dump them out then put them back in)
  • a mop
Gabriel has learned to roll over!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hands full

Sorry things have been a little slow around here again; a little virus has been running through our household, starting with Terry, then on to me, Valerie, and finally Gabriel. Valerie had the lightest touch, with only a few hours of fever. Gabriel had me a little panicked when his temperature went up to 101 degrees F and he threw up. I know now it's not that high but at the moment I was scared - mostly because my cell phone went through the wash last Saturday and we haven't managed to get it replaced yet, and I couldn't reach Terry on Skype. I thought I was going to have to haul both kids to the clinic by myself, right at Valerie's naptime... I did reach Terry, finally, and he came home and I called the doctor on Terry's cell. The doctor is American and actually attends the same church we do and was very reassuring; he said just to watch and wait. We have some infant Tylenol that we brought from the US and we gave him that with the doctor's ok, and sometime during the night his fever went away. He was still a little fussy the next day but now is fine.

So, before that hiatus, sleep training was getting off to a good start. We'll resume tonight.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pa Visa

Tonight we were treated to a gorgeous fireworks display, which we had a fabulous view of from our 10th story apartment. "Ne Europe Pa Visa!" were the signs all over the city - as of today, Albanians can travel throughout Europe without visas. Shqiperia is proud.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Four months!

Gabriel is 4 months old today!

People here LOVE him. He's precisely the kind of baby people love anyway - chubby, happy, friendly - but there seems to be a culture of baby-appreciation here that is particularly effusive and demonstrative. Every time we go out, at least one person will stop to admire him and say "Mashalla," a word of blessing. It is not unusual for random people - usually young women - to ask me for permission to kiss his fat little cheek.

Valerie gets attention too - everyone wants to pinch her cheek (you can imagine she loves THAT! Our little agoraphobe/xenophobe/misanthrope...) - but Gabriel elicits shrieks (I'm not exaggerating) of admiration from older women and even indulgent smiles from hip young teens. And he eats it up! He smiles and laughs at everybody, and loves getting passed around at Terry's office.

He really likes sitting up and looking around, and prefers to ride in the Bjorn facing out. I think soon he is going to start rolling over. I don't know if we are giving him enough tummy time - I do it when I remember to.

And in honor of his 4-month mark, we are officially starting sleep training tonight. Wish us luck...!!!

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Sorry I haven't posted much this week. The EU went off Daylight Savings Time last Sunday, and consequently Valerie's been waking up at 5 a.m. all week... compounded with Gabriel's fondness for night waking (every 2 hours until 3 or 4 a.m. and then hourly... or more, depending how gassy he is) plus Terry's insomnia - it's been kind of a rough week. But sunny! So thankful for that.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Two weekends ago we took a family excursion up Mt. Dajti, which has a national park overlooking Tirana. The trip via cable car (do check out the link - there are some fantastic photos) was exhilerating - it seemed to go on forever as we went up and up and up. Valerie was fascinated watching the cable cars coming down the opposite direction (she said "bye" to each one in turn). Terry enjoyed the panoramic view of Tirana and the surrounding area, and I was entranced by the glimpses below into intimate small spaces - olive groves, terraced fields, old crumbling farmhouses with tiled roofs, villas with grapevines, and rampant new construction of apartment buildings going up in strategically beautiful locations. Gabriel didn't seem to notice anything particularly unusual happening from his vantage point in the Bjorn. :-)

The cable car takes you to a beautiful national park that also has a posh (but apparently inexpensive) hotel and nice restaurant. There was a big playground in pretty good shape and horses that you could pay to ride around on. It was cold up there so I kept Gabriel close. A young woman came up to me and asked permission to kiss him on the cheek! (He is very popular in Albania, it won't be long until they name a city park after him I am sure!)

We also saw old military bunkers built into the hillside in the forest, a relic of times past.

If you are ever in Tirana, I highly recommend the excursion.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to my beautiful sister Anita! I hope we can Skype later today but if it doesn't work out, I'll still be thinking of you all day! Love you!!!

(Sorry this is an old picture, my photos are all disorganized...)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do we fit in yet?

So of course as soon as I posted here that V. is taking regular, consistent naps, her naps fell apart. Ah well.

Today we were walking back from my weekly language lesson, and Valerie noticed that we had an umbrella along, so then she wanted me to open it up for her to hold.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, and there we trundled along, V in her stroller with a big black umbrella low over her head. I felt so completely ridiculous, I just had to embrace the funny and laugh at ourselves. It's not like we exactly blend in to begin with but this went above and beyond conspicuous!

Then as we were crossing a street near Skenderbej Square, the grandiose (currently under re-construction) main plaza in the middle of the city, a gust of wind blew the umbrella right out of Valerie's hands, and it went tumbling and twirling away down the middle of the street. I couldn't leave Valerie in the middle of the street to run after it, so I pushed her to the sidewalk as she cried and cried and reached for the lost umbrella. Cars were coming around the corner honking at the wayward device. I parked V and turned to see a very kind man rescue the umbrella and bring it back to us.

Oops, Valerie demanding mommy for sleep. More later.

Monday, October 25, 2010


What city do you live in?
I live in Domesti City. :P (ok so yeah, not that funny - still not getting a whole lot of sleep!)

Rain. I hear that the average rainfall in Tirana is twice as much in November as in October. Yikes. We're going to have to get creative here! I'm thinking it could be a good time to start potty training if we're going to be stuck at home a lot anyway... I think that overall Valerie feels pretty well settled here, although she does have her moments. The other day she was looking at a photo slideshow on our computer and all of a sudden she jumped off the chair just sobbing. I was on the couch nursing Gabriel, but when I looked up I realized she'd just seen a series of 5-6 photos of the inside of our house in Harrisonburg, that we'd taken to show potential renters. It just broke my heart that she was so sad! I held her on my lap for a few minutes and then she was fine. But I went back and hid those pictures anyway.

Today on our walk we went into a pet store where she really enjoyed seeing and hearing the birds, and looking at bunnies, mice, cats, and dogs. To American eyes it looks a little inhumane, I guess, all the puppies in cages lining the walls, but they do seem pretty pampered once they're bought. They go out on walks and run around leash-free at the park and I've seen some with little sweaters on too.

Someone Terry works with loaned us a pack-n-play and a baby bath tub which I hope will make our lives a little easier in the next few months. Valerie still hates, hates, hates taking a bath. It's been a little awkward bathing Gabriel in the sink. I hope this will work out better for both of them.

Last week I went to the local Botanical Gardens with a group of expat mothers of young children who get together there every Thursday morning. It was nice, although we did get rained on. Shpresa came along and knew one of the women, a missionary who attends the same church, so that was cool. The gardens are expansive and beautiful; the kids enjoyed climbing trees, running around, and sharing snacks.

I was encouraged this morning when Valerie played catch for a minute with another little girl at the playground! Then she was ready to go. But it was nice to see her engage with another kid (one we see pretty much every day that we go).

It's pouring rain right now so we're skipping our evening walk to meet Terry at his office. Valerie is watching Elmo so I stole a minute to write this post. I'm not sure how to wrap it up now - no bon mots - just a little slice of our life in Tirana.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Urdhero Brenda

This is the entrance to our building. There is no Americans with Disabilities Act here; you can see why it can be a bit of a production getting in and out of the building with a stroller, toddler, and infant. I have relied much on the kindness of strangers to navigate these stairs.
Behind Terry is the door to the elevator. Valerie insists on wearing this hat and sunglasses combo whenever we go out - we think she's trying to avoid the paparazzi...
Inside the elevator which Valerie, inexplicably, refers to with great enthusiasm as "Akyu."
The door to our apartment - urdhero brenda! ("come in" in Albanian)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

One Month

It's been a whole month since we said goodbye to Harrisonburg and hello to Tirana. It still feels like we just got here!

Things I miss, in no particular order:
  • knowing where to buy the things I need/want, knowing how to get there, and knowing whether the price is reasonable or not.
  • being able to understand what people are saying
  • Valerie and Gabriel's grandparents (all 4 of you!)
  • Mr. J's
  • dinners with WSK and his parents
  • my yarn
  • all my books!!!
Things I really like about Tirana:
  • seeing the sun set over the river
  • the view from our apartment (seriously, if you could see what I'm seeing right now...)
  • the kindness of strangers who help us navigate the stroller up and down stairs
  • the language - even though I don't understand it yet, I'm learning, and it's really really fun.
  • Shpresa
  • Valerie sleeping through the night and taking regular, consistent naps
  • beginning to lose the baby weight with all the walking around carrying G.
More later - I think G is waking up - got to run!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


When I lived in Cochabamba, I became aware of a class of older gentlemen whom I thought of as the "Latin gentlemen." They would pace through the plazas with their hands clasped behind their backs, wearing suits and fedoras, getting their shoes shined by scruffy urchins, invariable courteous and able to quote Aristotle at the drop of a hat.

I've noticed a similar type of gentleman here, about the same age and affect, although I wouldn't know about the courtesy or Aristotle since I can't talk with them. Last Sunday when we walked to church I saw lots of them congregated in one little plaza gathered around tables playing dominos. I wonder about all the changes they've seen in Tirana over the years, and I wonder what they think about it all - the end of communism in 1992, the financial collapse in 1997 - I doubt they're old enough to remember the German occupation, so for most of their lives Enver Hoxha would have been in power.

I also wonder what they think of us wandering around Tirana with our SUV stroller and Baby Bjorn - probably very little, come to that :-)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Four weeks since we left the US

Cribbed from an e-mail to my folks:

Terry has gone to Kosovo overnight for an event there honoring Mother Teresa. It's the anniversary of her beatification and a national holiday in Albania. Anyway, the president of Kosovo wanted to recognize World Vision (their Kosovo program is administered under WV Albania) as part of the event but the WV director wasn't able to go, so he asked Terry to go instead as an interchangeable foreigner :-) Terry even bought a suit in the local market here because he didn't bring any suits from the US... (Rosanne and Vern are now looking smug...)! The funny thing is that the president of Kosovo recently resigned so a stand-in for him is going to be presenting the award as well :-) Terry will be back tomorrow.

I asked Shpresa to come over this afternoon just so it wouldn't be such a long day without Terry home in the evening. She is such a big help. Yesterday she did a lot of cleaning so this afternoon I just asked her to help me study Albanian. Valerie even let Shpresa feed her some yoghurt so that was encouraging too. I felt kind of bad after I realized that I'd asked her to work on a holiday, but she seemed happy to come.

Tomorrow I'm supposed to meet a friend of a friend who lives in Tirana, we'll see if it all works out. Thursday I'm supposed to meet Terry's boss's wife who is Swiss, to go to the Botanical gardens. Friday I have no social plans.

Oh, and we discovered that we have earwigs in the apartment. Not a huge problem but they are really ugly! We didn't know what they were and a little internet research helped us identify them. I googled "common household pests" and looked around til I saw a picture that matched the bugs we have. So that's what an earwig is, I always wondered.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sleep Sagas

You know it wouldn't be a Phantzi blog without ongoing sleep drama.

First the good news:
  • For the most part, once over jet lag Valerie has been sleeping through the night since we got here.
  • She's been going down for naps really well for me, too (again with the occasional exception) - between 12:30 and 1, I'll tell her it's time for her nap. She'll say "A" (which is Valerese for "nap," because we traditionally sing the ABCs as a lullaby) and point to her room. We go in, I change her diaper, she gets into bed and pulls a little blankie over her lap. I give her a book, tell her "read your book and then lie down for your nap" and within half an hour (sometimes almost instantly) she's asleep.
I can't tell you how miraculous these two items feel to me.

On the flip side, unfortunately, she's regressed a bit in two areas:
  • She often fights going to bed - not the bedtime routine itself, but the end of the routine, where she's supposed to go to sleep. She usually wants one of us to stay with her until she's, if not actually asleep, then very close to it. I can understand this as she's still adjusting to this new environment, and the turning of day into night can feel like a very vulnerable time. So we're going along with it for now.
  • She's been waking up waaaay too early, at least according to us - this morning it was before 6 a.m. - not sure what's waking her up - street noise? cold? - but boy would we love to sleep in a little longer. Of course, this probably contributes directly to the ease of naptime which I'm not really willing to give up either!
Then there's sweet Gabriel.
  • Although he was the first to adjust to the time zone change, he soon after started this new thing where he gets really, really fussy just before he goes to sleep, both bedtime and naptime, but bedtime is worse.
  • The only thing that calms him is vigorous rocking in my arms, for at least 20 minutes.
  • I mean vigorous - I always have to stretch out my arms, legs, and back afterwards!
  • I keep trying to lay him down still awake so he can learn to go to sleep on his own, but even if he's calm in my arms, the second his bottom touches his bed he starts screeching instantly.
  • So I pick him up again.
  • Finally he falls asleep basically in my arms.
  • I don't feel like CIO is an option because sound carries so much in this apartment, I think it would really upset Valerie.
And then there's the night waking. Most of the time, he sleeps 4-5 hours straight at first, then wakes up to nurse. After that it's anybody's guess - every 2 hours, every hour, or more - and he seems gassy and uncomfortable. Two nights ago he went down at 9, woke up at 11, and then 1, and then every hour until the sun came up. I was beyond exhausted that day.

So I've cut out a bunch of stuff from my diet again - most sadly the Nutella and olives, but also eggs, onions, and anything gassy like broccoli or beans - I've been off dairy pretty much since he was born - and last night (24 hours after the purge) he slept 6.5 hours straight! And then 3 more! Heavenly! I also started using the gas drops (simethicone) again just for kicks.

Another change we made is where I put him down. I've been putting him to sleep in his bucket carseat in our room because it's dark and quiet at bedtime, but it seemed like he'd get restless when Terry and I came to bed an hour or two later, so then I'd move him into the stroller set up in reclining mode the living room - also so Terry wouldn't be disturbed by his noise. Last night I put Gabe to sleep directly in the stroller. Maybe that helped. It would be nice if he had his own room, but alas this is a 2-br apartment and I'm so not enthused by the idea of moving again...

And then there's naps... thankfully he goes down for naps a lot easier than for the night. They're just short. He takes a long nap in the Bjorn when we're out for our morning walk, but otherwise his naps are usually less than an hour. I suspect it's because he hasn't learned to put himself back to sleep, since he often seems to still be tired and grumpy when he wakes up. When Valerie was this age, I would nurse her down to sleep on our bed and then when she stirred and seemed to be waking up, I'd go back in and nurse her to sleep again, usually twice within a single long nap. Because of Gabriel's tendency to swallow a lot of air while nursing, I don't have this option with him (and in the long term it was not such a great practice with Valerie either). So I'm not sure what to do about lengthening his naps.

One of my biggest triage challenges - and this is where I hope Shpressa will be able to help me - is keeping Valerie happy while I'm putting Gabriel down in the other room - so this is mostly when I bring out the DVD player. Gabe is so good with other people, I'm hoping she can put him down while I stay with Valerie. Ne do te shohim (we shall see).

Shpressa = wonderful

On Monday (it already seems so long ago!) an American woman I met at church here - her husband is their youth pastor - introduced me to Shpressa, an Albanian lady who will be helping me out a couple times a week at home.

I LOVE her!

She's been working for expat families for fifteen years, and is going to help us out with just daily living stuff - some cleaning, some child care (mostly Gabriel at first, until Valerie gets used to her), some language practice. Shpressa speaks a little bit of English, but she's very good at understanding what I'm trying to say, making it into a real sentence in Shqip,* saying it slowly and clearly, and then making me repeat it back to her several times. Completely awesome. She also strikes me as a very compassionate person, and has adapted her head-nod to the American style (Albanians nod "yes" by wagging the head side to side, instead of chin up and down) which makes it easier for us foreigners to understand her.

So Monday afternoon she helped me fold laundry and wash dishes, then gave Gabriel a bath while I ran to the grocery store solo - Valerie was taking a nap this whole time so we haven't done that introduction yet. I'm so happy that she's going to be helping us!

Oh, and here's further proof that she's fabulous - her birthday is the same day as Gabriel's - 7/7! Amazing.

* Shqip = Albanian for "Albanian." The 'q' is pronounced sort of like a "shch."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Choose your own adventure

Both kids sleeping.

Nap, or blog?


Sorry faithful readers!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Futbolli Schiptar

How do you say "soccer" in Albanian?

During our morning walk today I noticed scads of sidewalk vendors hawking the Albanian flag in every size, as well as piles of red and black T-shirts and scarves. I wondered whether it was a national holiday, say Skanderbeg day or something like that?

It all became clear to me this afternoon as we walked out to the park and I saw throngs of young men in red shirts waving their arms in unison and chanting songs. It could only mean one thing: the national soccer team must be having an important match.

So, we found a corner of the park away from where the happy youths were congregating and I got out the ball I bought for Valerie this morning. She had a blast running after it, playing catch and chase and kicking it around, pausing every now and then to hop, dance, and twirl around. Every now and then, though, another group of soccer fans would walk by. At first she'd clap along with them but when they'd get close to us the volume and energy of their voices would scare her and she'd huddle up to me. Even Gabriel woke up and wore his frowny face.

Instead of waiting for Terry like we usually do (he walks home through this park so we usually meet him there and play for a bit before heading home for dinner) I put V back in her stroller and we walked over to his office. But it's 2 flights of steps up, and she wouldn't get out of her stroller, and no elevator, so we just went home.

It's funny - when T and I compared notes over dinner, it struck me how different our perceptions and experiences of the park were this afternoon. As a guy and soccer fan himself, he was curious and interested and energized by the throng of happy fans and thought it would have been fun to join them. (He also confirmed for me that there's an important match in Tirana tonight, Albania playing Bosnia-Herzegovina, which I'd also surmised by the very-outnumbered little groups of men in blue and white scarves exchanging taunts with the guys in red.) As a woman with two small children in tow, I didn't feel safe. I knew I was safe, if nothing else judging by the presence of other women with strollers in the park and even some very pregnant women, as well as the rows of old folks lining the park benches. I was also keeping a keen eye on what kinds of beverages were being consumed and saw only two beer cans, so it wasn't an inebriated crowd. But there was just something about the energy of all those male voices chanting together, flags waving, that didn't feel safe.

The city was very loud this late afternoon and evening, and it felt good to be in the quiet of our home making Gabriel laugh and watching Valerie play. If nothing else our walks do serve this purpose - they make this apartment feel more like home, a light and quiet sanctuary.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Three months old!

Gabriel is three months old today! or 13 weeks and one day. So much has happened in this short time.

He is truly a bundle of joy - full of smiles and chuckles and deliciously chubby. He's holding himself up really well and can ride front-facing in the Bjorn. I don't know how much he weighs but I've had to lengthen the strap on the Bjorn and he's outgrown some of the clothes we brought already.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Further Ponderings

Further thoughts springboarding from the previous post...

This relates also to something that was sort of niggling in the back of my mind all this past year - something about caring for other people's children.

It's a truism, but my life changed completely when we had kids. The commitments I was able to make before were no longer possible. Suddenly I noticed that all the staff at the agency where I cut my teeth on immigration issues in the US had no children. Thinking back through the past 10 years of staff turnover, I realized NONE of the staff at this agency had small children at the time that they worked there. Only one had kids at all, and they were in their teens. But we were a child-serving agency. So we spent all our time taking care of other people's children.

And I mean this in a good way. It was a good thing to be doing, working alongside people who through life circumstances and the arbitrary inequalities of our economic system were particularly vulnerable to scarcity and other related problems.

It's been a big change for me now to be spending so much time and energy taking care of my own children, to the exclusion of other people's children.

The thing is, though, that other people's children are my children, your children, our children. There is a sense in which we are responsible above all others to our own progeny, our genetic offspring, and those we've legally committed to being responsible for. But in another sense as a human race we're all responsible for all the children.

What does it mean to be responsible as an individual and as a society for the children that have been shoved to the side because of their particular heritage within the social system we have inherited?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


There's a playground we like to go to that's not too far from where we live; maybe a 15-minute walk through the city. It's located in a somewhat posh sector, on a wide avenue lined with old trees and traffic cops. For being in such a nice location the playground itself s a bit run-down - there are only two swings, even though there are three swing sets - the other two have empty rings along the top horizontal bar. The missing swings were probably broken by kids too big for them.

The second time I took Valerie to this park it was mid-morning, and I hoped that all the big kids would be in school and we'd only have to contend with the toddler set. I hoped she'd feel more comfortable and have fun instead of being scared the whole time, like when we went with Terry on a late afternoon over the weekend and there were just throngs of people there.

Just as we arrived I saw a big girl about 13 or 14 years old go barreling down the twisty slide yelling at the top of her lungs, knocking a small child of 3 or 4 onto the ground. Another big girl, I'm guessing her age around 12, came running over yelling at her and picked up the little one. As I watched and looked around I realized they were all together, a group of 7 kids in all, three big girls on the cusp of young womanhood, three younger boys (in the 7-9 age range) and the littlest child of indeterminate gender. I can't be sure, of course, but I think they were probably Roma.

There were also several Albanian grandmothers there with little ones; a couple times they exchanged glances of resigned resentment with me as if to say "can you believe these kids?" whenever one of the big kids did something particularly rambunctious.

I suppose I got a taste for why people tend to have negative stereotypes of the Roma, although at the same time I felt bad for them - obviously they weren't in school. One girl asked me for money (I pretended not to understand, then said I didn't have any, and then she pointed at the one pocket in my pants that had coins in it); another girl tried to sit on Valerie's stroller until I told her to get off. On the one hand I resented them for infringing on a playground designed for little children; on the other hand, what else are they supposed to do with themselves if they're not in school? And while I didn't like them taking away from Valerie's enjoyment of the place, I also felt kind of guilty for all the signs of privilege and wealth that surround my little girl - from her specially designed snack cup to her new, clean clothes and shoes. I felt bad for refusing to give the girl money, and then turning right around and using that same money later on to buy Valerie a snack she didn't really need (on the other hand, if I had given the girl money, what about the other 6 kids?) Anyway, we left when the little boys in the group started throwing gravel at each other because I wasn't too confident about their aim.

They weren't there today. I wonder where they are.

Monday, October 04, 2010


We took a 3-day trip to Montenegro this past week, departing Thursday morning and returning Saturday afternoon. It was really cool to see another country nearby, to see the Mediterranean for the first time (well technically the Adriatic), to see from a distance the walled city of Budva - just a tad too far to walk there with the kids in tow, but at least we saw the skyline across the bay.

The reason for the trip was a 3-day staff retreat for WV; expats were allowed to bring their families. We stayed at a hotel most of the time where there was a nice little playground that Valerie enjoyed almost as much as she does going up and down the elevator. She enjoyed walks down to the beach as well, and eating french fries at the hotel restaurant. (Luckily they also had a lot of fruit, bread, and some vegetables she likes like broccoli and beets.)

There was not much sleep to be had as it was yet another new place to get used to, so we were pretty beat by the time we got home. But I still enjoyed seeing the lines and lines of pomegranate trees along the road, cool silver-green olive groves, old-fashioned haystacks, and modest homes with their dining room tables on the front porch shaded by grape vines. I wish I had gotten more photos but my arms were inconveniently full of chubby baby.

Travel tip: If you go to Montenegro, be sure to wear a chubby baby on your chest. You will be gushed and fawned over like you wouldn't believe.

Oh, and apparently Madonna was also there that weekend giving a concert at the most posh of the seaside hotels. So they played her music nonstop everywhere. We didn't see her though.

Language lesson

I'm not sure how much time I have - both kids are napping (yay!) for the moment - so this may be a little random.

I had my first Albanian language lesson today; it was a 45-minute walk across the city navigating across rugged sidewalks and alongside very noisy traffic with Valerie in the stroller and Gabriel in the Bjorn. I took one of Valerie's favorite DVDs along but she still wanted to be close to Mommy. Gabriel had a huge blow-out poop (all up his back) and I used my last 3 wipes cleaning it up. The language teacher is very sweet, she held G. while I tended to V. She has two children in school (9 and 11) and we met her through church. She explains things very clearly and is quite patient but I'm not sure how well I'll be able to focus with the two kids in tow. We'll see. On the way back we stopped at the Kolonat (like a McDonald's) for V's favorite - french fries dipped in ketchup - and then had some more real food when we got home. But she was quite tired by the trip.

People here are so helpful with the kids (of course, if I didn't have kids I wouldn't need so much help...!). I was on the street struggling to put V's shoes and socks on her after the lesson while G was screaming in the Bjorn and a lady stopped and helped shoe the V. while I comforted G. She turned out to be the Albanian teacher's neighbor. Every time I go in or out of the building without Terry somebody comes over to help me get the stroller up or down the stairs.

I have two words in Albanian down pat:

Me falni = Excuse me/sorry
Faleminderit = Thank you

Monday, September 27, 2010

Some photos or Tirana

A view from our balcony. I have to stop myself from taking 100s of pictures of the same scene, because the constantly changing light makes such fascinating, subtle differences in the view. After rain, you can see individual trees on those mountains, the air is so clear.

The local fruit stand, literally around the corner from our place. We are on the 10th floor of an apartment building. The tiny elevator is precisely big enough for me carrying Gabriel in the Bjorn, Terry, and Valerie in her stroller (which I am SOOOOOOOO glad we brought!!!). There was nobody at the fruit stand at this moment because it was raining. I took the photo from in front of the 3-story grocery store where we get most of what we need. Each floor is a tiny maze of shelves: meat, dairy, and eggs on the first floor; pantry stuff and toiletries on the second (including Pampers and ketchup - the essentials of life with two littles); stuff like handbags and clothes on the third floor. Very handy! Except of course the stairs which I can't get the stroller up, so can't (yet) take Valerie there as she refuses to go anywhere except in the stroller. But that's another story.
Terry pushing V. down the street in said stroller.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Veze (there's supposed to be an umlaut over the second e)

On Thursday, I went to the corner grocery near our place to buy eggs. There was a whole big deli section full of meats and cheeses and olives of all kinds, but look high and low as I might I could find no eggs. Terry had said there were eggs there, so finally I approached the man behind the counter and said "eggs?" I pointed to a display of chocolate eggs hoping this might help facilitate communication.

"Chocolat," he said.

"Um... real eggs? Huevos?" I tried. "Eggs?"

The light bulb went on: "Ah! Veze! Jo, jo," he shook his head no, and reached behind the counter for a sample - a cracked egg. So, no eggs for breakfast on Saturday, but I had the satisfaction of communicating at least.

All Forlorn

We were walking home through the nearest park the other day and saw a little guy, maybe 8 years old, asleep in the middle of the sidewalk on a flattened piece of cardboard. His clothes and skin were dirty and he was very thin. He was fast asleep as people walked past, stepping carefully around him. There was a bag of popcorn by his head. (Now, writing this, all I can think of is the other guys who weren't the Good Samaritan.)

We've been told that during the communist era one didn't see this kind of abject poverty, nor the concentrations of wealth that exist now either. Not that Tirana strikes me as a hugely wealthy city - we went through the posh district and it was quite modest compared to Lima, or even Santa Cruz (Bolivia).

It was heartbreaking. I guess it's also why we're here.

"Breast Is Best" In Albania

Saturday afternoon we took the family out for our daily jaunt around the city, and walked to an extensive wooded park next to a lake. A wide brick road curved up over a hill past a snack kiosk; joggers and grandmothers pushing strollers passed us both ways. A group of old men sat on stumps in a circle playing cards while others lounged lakeside in their skivvies. It was a pleasant place, and Valerie had the time of her life playing with a small dog on a leash held by an indulgent gentleman.

On the way back, Gabriel started fussing and I realized he was hungry, so I sat down on a park bench to nurse him while Terry took Valerie to buy a snack. I wondered what Albanians might think of public breastfeeding but figured what the heck, I KNOW I look like a foreigner so hopefully they'll just avert their eyes if it bothers them. We settled in, listening to the sound of Michael Jackson classics ("Billie Jean," mostly) piped over a loudspeaker at what I surmised was a birthday party nearby. Nobody seemed put out by the fact that a baby was taking his repast in the park. Then a tall, tanned and toned couple walked by, maybe in their early 50s, and the man leaned in to say "Bravo! Bravo!"

"Thank you," I said, and he added in accented English, "is the best thing!" and gave me a thumbs-up.

Pictures coming soon - I put a lot up on Facebook but I'll get some up here too. They just take a long time to load on blogger for some reason.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

First days in Albania

Hello from Tirana! It's our 4th day here, if you count the day we arrived, and our first cloudy day.

Here are some first impressions in bullet points, starting with the trip:

  • Board books and beanie babies are really heavy.
  • I will never again mock the voice in US airports that announces "the moving walkway, is ending. The moving walkway, is ending." My knees still hurt!
  • International travel with a 2-month old? Piece of cake. International travel with a 2-year-old? Piece of headache!
  • Oh - I guess there was that spit-up issue. And that other time too. Spit-up being the biggest issue for Gabe and me.

First impressions of Albania/Tirana:
  • The mountains are really close to the ocean! And they're really big!
  • The outskirts of the city remind me of Cusco - tile roofs, green fields, same colors of paint
  • It's more subtropical than I expected or pictured in my mind - palm trees and oleander shrubs line the avenue coming in from the airport.
  • Big billboards, none of which I can read
  • Everyone seems to be really thin
  • Laundry hanging out from apartment block windows
  • Old and shabby next to new and shiny - lots of building projects going up
  • As Terry put it, the fashion moment here seems to be the "shrink-wrapped" look
  • Feels like a small city
We're still recovering from jet lag; Gabe has adapted the most (perhaps because he sleeps so much anyway!) and since I'm more or less on his schedule, I'm getting there too. Valerie is completely off kilter, and since Terry is doing the lion's share of night parenting for her, he's pretty messed up too. Our first night here V. slept SEVENTEEN HOURS. She was completely exhausted after not sleeping much at all on the airplane, and then being way too stimulated during our layover in Munich to nap at all. She conked out on the short flight to Tirana abut then was awake the rest of the afternoon until she went down kicking and screaming at 7:30 p.m. She woke up a few times asking for water (in fact, she wanted to sleep clutching her water bottle) but didn't get up until 1 p.m. the next day. Gabriel, for his part, was up EVERY HOUR on the hour wanting to nurse - I think he might have been dehydrated, since he only nursed twice on the 8-hour flight.

The second night was a different story - down at 11:30, up at 1:00 a.m., awake until 5 a.m., then we got her up around noon.

The third night was a little more successful - down at 9:30, and still sleeping now at 10:30 a.m.
There have been no naps, unless you consider the first part of the second night a "nap" (it would have been roughly naptime in the US - subtract 6 hours).

Right now Terry and Valerie are both still asleep and I'm just hanging out with the G-man.

Thursday and Friday after everyone was up and had eaten and dressed, we all went out for a walk through the city. Given our late rising that was around 3 or 4 p.m.! The first day we cruised around looking for parks and found a little playground nearby where Valerie had fun going down the twisty slide, swinging, and riding a little horse on a spring (you know what I mean?) She did NOT want to leave so we consoled her with potato chips, and she fell asleep in the stroller on the way home.

Aside: speaking of strollers, I've seen a lot of toddlers in strollers out and about but it wasn't until late Friday afternoon that I spotted actual babies - although I really had to peer to see them since they were so cocooned in their strollers - swathed in blankets and then draped in gauze curtains. Gabe's bare legs dangling from the Baby Bjorn have garnered a lot of attention!

Our walk yesterday took us to the World Vision office where Valerie had fun going up and down stairs and drumming on big plastic jugs of water. She wasn't sure what to do with all the attention she was getting from the staff so she mostly chewed on Daddy's shirt (a not-so-charming new habit under stress - his shoulder is a mass of welts and bruises from the trip) and said "NIEW!" ("No," in Valerese). Then we went to the playground. There were a lot of other kids there so she was ok with leaving when we decided it was time to go.

The city reminds me in some ways of parts of Lima, with wide shady avenues and noisy traffic. Lots of pedestrians. Old communist-era buildings are lined on the ground floor with shiny new shops selling just about anything you can think of - lots of clothes, shoes, stuff like that. On nearly every corner, it seems, someone is crouched over a small grill roasting ears of corn - Terry said they weren't there when he came in June, so it must be a seasonal thing. The building we are in is a 10-story apartment building, I guess it's pretty new. There are two crooked little alleys you can take - just wide enough for a car - to the main street in either direction. One of them takes you past a magnificent fruit stand which is open til well after dark, selling all manner of fresh fruit and vegetables. Just next to it is a tall, narrow grocery store where we've been getting our staples and things for the apartment (although it came fully furnished even with bed linens and towels, dishes and tea, there was no toilet paper or salt).

We've been eating crusty bread, fresh tomatoes that taste like they were picked ripe, olives, cheese -

oops, Valerie is up - more later!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One week

One more week until we move to Albania...!

I'm pretty excited. It feels like we're really close to ready, thanks to my fabulous sister-in-law who has done the lion's share, along with my mom (when she was here in June/July), of packing up and organizing all our stuff. Pretty much all that's left out yet is the stuff we're actually using, and we've got a group of friends coming over Saturday to help us get all that randomness bundled into the basement.

It's amazing how much STUFF we have.

I think about all the boxes upon boxes of stuff we've hauled downstairs, the truckload that went to Goodwill, the other truckload that went to the dump/recycling, and then I look around the house and think... hm, it doesn't really look all that different - I mean, the walls and bookshelves are bare, but there's still a lot of stuff lying around. It's the stuff we use everyday. Do we really need all the rest of it, then? All the stuff that's packed away now?


File this under "awesome"

Gabriel slept 7 hours straight last night !!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthdays!

Happy shared Birthday to Terry and Solana today!
(I know that's Valerie, not Solana, but I don't seem to have any pictures of Terry and Solana together, strangely enough!!)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Two months!

Gabriel is two months old today! Does his right cheek look bigger than his left to you? It does to me. He has a dimple although you can't see it in this picture.

We're in the midst of packing up our house to move out for two years, so stressed and exhausted. But having two little ones means we're also forced to stop and enjoy life. This morning we all took a walk to Red Front for a few groceries - Valerie in the stroller, Gabriel in the Bjorn. He fell asleep instantly as soon as we set out and slept the whole walk there and back. We had to go the long way around too, so Valerie wouldn't see the playground...

Gabriel is such a sweetheart. When I change his diaper he looks into my eyes and grins. He sleeps soundly at night, though he's still waking up every 3-4 hours or so (sometimes more) to nurse. But he goes back to sleep quickly. We've sort of started sleep training in that I'm working on establishing regular nap times, and putting him down still awake. It mostly works. Some days he's just fussy and takes a lot of wrangling, and he often wants to eat much sooner than my schedule says he should. But the fact that he CAN fall asleep on his own without any props or without being rocked or nursed to sleep is such a blessing, and I want to reinforce it as much as possible.

We've been using cloth diapers off and on, and the funny thing is that even with the disposable ones, he really hates being wet!

He's holding his head up really well and although I don't have proof, I believe he's over 13 pounds now - meaning he's about doubled his birth weight in two months!!! He's incredibly efficient at nursing - usually under 5 minutes. Still swallows air, but is burping better and hardly spitting up at all (with a few memorable exceptions). The gassiness is much improved. Whether it was the chiropractor, the probiotics, evening out our supply-and-demand, or a combination of all three, I'm very glad. I have learned the hard way, however, that I really MUST avoid dairy. The past 2 Friday nights I ate lots of cheese and the past 2 Saturday nights were pretty miserable, on into Sunday. So no more cheese. Or ice cream, or milk. Sad. Well, it won't be forever.

Valerie is doing much better with him as well, although if she's tired or hungry or both, she can't tolerate the smallest noise from him. But if she's happy and content she doesn't mind him, and will now even say "Beebee!" when she sees him, which is cute.

He's so soft and fuzzy and squishy and huggable, I'm trying to remember to soak up all the delicious baby-ness of him while it lasts, to kiss those adorable cheeks and rub his downy hair against my face. Such a sweetie.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


I think Valerie must be cutting her 2 year molars, for real this time. She's been sucking on her fingers constantly the past few days and last night was awake for 3+ hours (from 2 a.m. til well after 5) sucking on a pacifier and crying off and on. Poor thing!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Gabe stats

Length: 22 1/4 inches = 25th percentile
Weight: 12 lbs. 8 oz = 75th percentile

His happy smile is the best thing ever!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gabriel update

Two firsts today, at 7 weeks: 1) a real laugh! A wonderful little chuckle while looking up into my eyes, and 2) first visit to the chiropractor. Afterwards he slept and slept.

Monday, August 23, 2010


A couple things I forgot to include about Valerie:
  • While she's doing her twirling/dancing/running/stomping thing, she admires her own performance with a frequent "Wow!" She must hear us say it a lot... (actually she says "Vow!" It's pretty cute)
  • She is still also enamored of the alphabet, and will recite to herself at random moments. She skips a few letters, but she's also learning the sounds they make as well as their names.
  • It's been really fun lately seeing her expand her playground horizons, going down the big slide by herself, getting on and off the little horsies by herself, etc. It's fun just watching her have fun.
  • We went to the County Fair one morning last week and caught some of the visiting circus - which included a GIRAFFE! It was extremely cool. Valerie: "Aff! Aff! AffEEEE!" She got to feed him a carrot. She also thoroughly enjoyed seeing baby ducks and all kinds of other farm animals.
This past weekend we traveled to Lancaster for a Leaman family reunion, and the previous weekend we went camping (!!!). Both trips went well overall, although we learned that V does a lot better if she's not right next to her brother. We see these as sort of trial runs for the big move coming up in... less than a month!!!