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.