Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Year in Review

I tried to find photos that I haven't posted here before - click on the name of the month to read through my blog archives!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Kids Are So Cute

I'm enjoying a day at home alone today - an introvert's bliss! Here are some cute pictures for your enjoyment. Now I'm off to watch a DVD and knit. Thanks to Owl, Rabbit, and the other Owl for taking Pooh and Piglet out on a grand little excursion sans Eeyore!

Is this not the cutest little boy you have ever laid eyes on? You know he is.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gabriel says "no" - and other things!

Gabriel has been adding some new words to his repertoire - "Nana" (banana), "Nena" (Grandma), "Up," "Gja" (Giraffe), and, most charmingly, "Noooooo." Don't believe me? Behold:
There are more - all the time. I'm still trying to catch him running around trying to jump, with his hands over his head, kicking a ball and shouting "Gooo! Gooo!" [Gol] My little dude is getting SO BIG!!!



I've been trying to upload some videos of the kids and it takes so long it never finished uploading.

Meanwhile, life continues apace; Terry was home for 24 hours and then went to Cyprus; it's been raining and cold; the kids have been exceptionally cranky and clingy although today was a better day (especially for V).

Terry gets back in just a few hours and we're so excited!

I'll try to get the videos up soon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Snapshots of a Phantzi life

1. This is the view from our balcony looking south. I think we are in for an obnoxiously noisy couple months ahead of us...

Seriously. Noise reverberates like crazy through this building. Apparently the recent change in government means a lot of people are suddenly flush with cash and are looking for ways to invest it.


2. Multi-generational households contribute positively to the socialization of young children: all eating breakfast together at the table! Unheard of in the Phantzi household.

3. Cardboard tube from a package of saran wrap plus rope and two kitchen chairs = a fun swing for a little plastic toy (see yellow spot near V's elbow):

4. Gabe is experimenting early with body art:

5. They've finished renovating Skenderbeg Square, finally - just in time for Christmas! Also: the rains have come at last!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


From Terry:

"I found out that evidently Armenians don't like to be called Orthodox. Georgians are Orthodox, Russians are Orthodox, Greeks are Orthodox, but Armenians are in the Armenian Apostolic Church - NOT Orthodox. I made a comment that the church feels like an Orthodox church and my host sort of shuffled and mumbled that yes, the Armenian church has a lot of overlap with the Orthodox church but there are a lot of differences too. So I asked for an example of a difference and she said, "the Orthodox church believes that Jesus was God and Man, but the Armenian Church believes that Jesus was God and Man"... What?

"So what the implications seems to be that the difference between Orthodox and the Armenian Church is an italicized emphasis on the word 'and'...maybe after 1700 years of debate, this type of thing is important …

"I'm sorry to be leaving the ADP [direct implementation site outside the capital] today … The area is gorgeous plus the people are nice and there is tons of history here - like 8000+ years worth of history. The two positives for going back to Yerevan will be a warm hotel room (they don't heat the hotel rooms in the ADP for some reason - much to the annoyance of the WV employees from Yerevan who come here) and internet access in the room.

"I gotta admit though that this last day here does feel like a slog - I'm sort of guessing we aren't going to hear anything new :)"


Three more days until Owl comes home!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Postcards from Armenia

So five days after Terry left for Armenia, his parents arrived and we are having a grand time Chez Pooh. I plan to head home shortly for a nap but meanwhile I've culled some gems from Terry's e-mails, should you care to get a feel for his time in Armenia. He gets back Saturday, then turns around to leave Sunday again for 5 days in Cyprus. Then Vacation! Yay!

Things that are cool about Armenia:

1) Mt. Ararat (found the ark, btw).

2) Armenia was actually part of the Soviet Union

3) The Armenian Alphabet

#2 sounds odd because of course it was - but I didn't actually make that connection before. So this is the first country I've been to which was actually inside the old Evil Empire as opposed to just a satellite state like Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia or Mongolia. Also the fact that everything is connected to Moscow is kind of cool. Makes me want to go there (Moscow).

#3 is for the linguists among us -but I found out last night during a long (very long) dinner that Armenia is the center of the Universe. But also that the Armenian Orthodox church was established in the 300s and shortly thereafter the alphabet was developed here. It seems to have been made up by the Church fathers and isn't connected to Latin, Arabic or Cyrillic scripts. It looks totally different from any of them.

The fact that Armenians developed their own alphabet system and didn't draw on any of the three major standard international scripts should give you an insight into all you need to know about Armenia culture. I would say it's like Albania but it's not - Albanians have borrowed heavily and freely from everyone around them except for the Hoxha era. Armenia is the exact opposite on that - they didn't borrow from anyone and preferred to reinvent the wheel than borrow a neighbor’s.

I also found out that Armenians invented wine. They introduced beer to Europeans thousands of years ago, plus they taught the Greeks how to make those little grape leaf rolls that are supposedly a Greek traditional food.... I'm sort of guessing that some of these pieces of information may need to be triangulated for confirmation.... but the very fact that I was told these things should tell you something about Armenians at any rate...


In general, Armenia reminds me a bit more Soviet and a bit more down at the heels than Albania - although similar in many ways too. I do like the fact that there aren't very many vehicles (in comparison) and no new vehicles. Lots of old beat up Ladas from Russia but no Hummers (at least in the circles that I am moving).

The weather is cold, but not so cold as Mongolia. However, there's no heat inside the hotel either - so win some lose some.


Armenia is starting to grow on me a bit. Amazing scenery in the area I am in now - reminds me a lot of Lesotho - big grassy mountains and snow. Of course, Yerevan is kind of a pit… The only thing I like about Yerevan more than Tirana is that there are far fewer cars here and much less ostentation - there's a lot of corruption, but it looks like they keep the earnings offshore. But other than the cars (oh, and the insane construction - Yerevan doesn't have that either) but aside from those two things - Tirana is nicer I think. However, I really like the Armenian countryside.


Not much to say, went out this morning to small beautiful village in the mountains, breathtaking scenery, blah blah. Did an interview with the local mayor. Very pleased with WV - blah blah blah. Child well-being blah blah blah.


Some more things to like about Armenia:

1) Armenia has Cilantro! The most common food I've eaten here: Take a tortilla-like piece of dough, put a slice of cheese on it accompanied by a handful of Cilantro. Roll up - eat - rinse- repeat. It's amazing.

2) Red beet salad. They have this red beet salad that combines red beets, walnuts, pomegranate seeds and cilantro. I've eaten about 3x the amount of the average Armenian just because it's so great.

3) The Armenian Orthodox church. I don't know how to describe it, but it's one thread of history that Albania doesn't have in full force.

4) A really really long history. While it's kind of annoying to be in the center of the cultural universe, it is true that Armenia is part of the "out of Africa" migrations of humanity which spread up through the Middle East and then up through the passage way between the Black sea and the Caspian Sea (the Caucauses) - so there's a lot more history here then in many places outside of Africa simply because people were here for much much longer.

5) There's an Armenian version of Stonehenge (just about 10 minute drive from the ADP offices) plus there is a 1200 year old Monastery within an hour's drive - one of the oldest in the world.

6) The Soviet thing is really really cool.


Long day - but interesting. Google "Tatev Monastery" and "Armenian Stonehenge" to check out two places I was at today. We interviewed the Abbot of the monastery as part of the evaluation. It was interesting. I think you'd like Armenia - it's gloomy.

So evidently the Armenian Orthodox church is the oldest national church in the world - predating Constatine by a decade. The Orthodox are kind of like Catholics from an alternative universe. The Armenian Orthodox church is about 1700 years old. So picture a Jantzi and a Phelps having 1700 years to decorate a cathedral in the best way they know how. The Jantzi would be all like "hey, let's put even MORE curly-cue gold fillagree everywhere - shiny stuff" and the Phelps would say "Let's make it big and dark and gloomy so people feel their insignificance in the universe" - combine the two and viola – Armenian Orthodox Church.

The Armenian priests are interesting - they can marry - but they dress funny. They reminded me either of the Deep Down Dwarfs from Pratchett - or Darth Vader...or maybe those desert sand people from Star Wars. Either way I sort of half expected either light sabers or chainmail throughout the evening.

We got there about the time evening prayers were about to start - so we stayed through that service (about 30 minutes) and then had tea with one of the head priests who is connected to some of WV's projects.

It was an amiable chat - but I kept thinking how odd my life is. If you could put little picture slice montages of my life and show it to me as a youngster, I think I would be puzzled ... Candle-lit drum music in African huts, motorcycles in Bolivian jungle, meat feasts in Mongolia, chatting with Darth Vader bearded priests over tea in Armenia...etc. I bet I could put together a really pretentious blog!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

from last week

Here is a video I took near the old Tirana castle on Flag Day last week; some traditional Albanian dancing. It was very cool.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


It's raining, so we were somewhat housebound today (actually very glad for the rain as it's been terribly dry this year). Terry is gone to Armenia for 2 weeks, and my in-laws arrive Friday. Shpresa has gone to see her mother for a few days. So we're just doing our usual thing. Here are a few pictures to while away the time.

A word of explanation in this one: the baby doll has been put to bed under her blankie. The frisbee is her hat to keep her head warm, and the carrot peeler is an iPod. I can't remember what the other item is supposed to be! Whatever it represents, it bears absolutely no resemblance to that thing, I do remember that much. *Just remembered: it's supposed to be a head-lamp :-)
Gabriel loves music.
We put up our Christmas tree today but I don't have pictures of it yet. I'm off to take a quick nap while I still can before the kids wake up.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

photo post

I finally got around to downloading pictures from my camera, and here is a somewhat random selection - mostly the kids and some of our artistic endeavors.

Does she look like an intellectual yet? Maybe not the Dora T-shirt...

Valerie provided the art direction on these little cards I made. The green rectangle in the owls wing is his iPod. Of course.

This, in case you couldn't tell, is a monkey. Riding a horse. Here's the key, from top to bottom and left to right: 5= butterfly resting on the monkey's hat, which is the A. H= monkey's head, B= monkey's tummy. L and 7 (both sideways) = monkey's arms. He is holding a fish and a balloon (the Q). M and M = monkey's legs, with little toesy-toes. R = grass, U= horse's head, 1 (sideways) = horse's body, and Y Y (upside down) = horse's legs. Can you see it now? Try squinting. Or maybe just close your eyes and picture a monkey riding a horse that's eating grass. There, that's better!

Moments of lovely sibling harmony

I actually finished a pair of socks!

The first day I got out these paints, Valerie sat and painted for 3.5 hours straight. Right now she's into drawing with markers - she drew her first face! She's been drawing families of faces with arms and legs and wild sunburst hair. The best part is the little grin and chuckle she makes every time she puts a smiling mouth on one of her faces.
Of course, everything big sis does G has to do too. He usually gets bored after five minutes though. (By the way, his shirt says "Little Rascal" - very apropos!)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Things I haven’t done in more than a year, that used to be very frequent components of my life:

  • · Driven a car
  • · Seen my mom and dad
  • · Had a full night’s sleep
  • · Seen a movie in a theater
  • · Drunk soy milk
  • · Eaten sushi
  • · Gone to a library
  • · Taught a class
  • · Graded a paper
  • · Written a paper
  • · Stepped foot on an airplane
  • · Used a clothes dryer
  • · Knitted a baby sweater or hat (although I have knit three and a half socks)
  • · Gone ice-skating (ok, I’ve never actally gone ice skating. Ever)

Monday, November 28, 2011


(Check out our family photo from last year, same place!)

Today Albania celebrated Independence from the Ottoman Empire. It's a complicated and fascinating history that I'll try to summarize for you some other time when I'm not about to fall asleep sitting, that includes such gems as Ismail Qemali coming from Italy on a ferry, landing in Vlora with a customs form that stated the purpose of his visit as "To liberate Albania."

We also took advantage of the holiday to celebrate Thanksgiving a second time - wait, did I not tell you about the first time? Oh my. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Anyway, here are some photos I took around town today.
These guys are dressed up like the Albanian founding fathers or something.
(um... I think I have some research to do...)

Friday, November 25, 2011


{This photo is from about a year ago}

Recently we went to Orange Couch Park for juice and popcorn, and Gabriel entertained himself by running back and forth across the bridge that joins the cafĂ© and the park proper. As I ran after him, I remembered a little girl I saw there months ago – probably around the age then that Gabriel is now.

She was probably just about a year old; her contented delight with her own ability to walk was evident in her pleased little smile and continual motion. She had discovered the footbridge that arcs between the cafes at Compleksi Taiwan and the green spaces of Parku Rinia, and was toddling happily back and forth.

A little boy, apparently her big brother, came running to her with a soccer ball tucked under his arm and an angry expression on his face. He shouted at her and pulled at her arm, trying to get her to go back with him into the park, but she shook him off and just kept walking. Pretty soon the little boy retreated down the steps at the park end of the bridge and stood behind a holly bush crying loudly in frustration. He was so tiny himself, probably little more than three years old himself. Maybe a very small four.

I watched then as one of the waiters from the restaurant next to the bridge came striding over purposefully. He spoke sharply to the little girl, lifted her up with a hand under each armpit, and placed her next to her brother who again grabbed her arm. She, of course, headed straight back towards the bridge, where the waiter who had removed her stood with arms folded staring down at her.

Then I saw a young Roma woman (I’m guessing the mother) come running across the grass. She lifted the girl in one arm, grabbed the boy’s hand with her other one, and hurried them back to the rest of the family.

The children were so adorable, yet so small and ragamuffin; the boy’s anguish and girl’s delight so apparent; the man’s authority so absolute; I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry as the scene unfolded, but I felt like doing both. While my own children, healthy and well-dressed, were permitted access to the whole complex, these two little ones were removed.

and yet more little bits

The other day I told Valerie she was being selfish. Her response: "NOT A FISH! PANTHER!!!"

Sometimes V will look at the cover of a book she wants to read, press it with a finger and shout "click on it!" and then open it up to read it (well, technically she's not reading, but you know what I mean). Compare this too the fact that in college I was still writing term papers out by hand before typing them up onto an Apple 2g (I think that's what it was, anyway). (Credit to Aaron K for jogging this memory!)

V has three mosquito bites, one on her foot and two on her hand. This is how my kids react to mosquito bites:
(This is an old picture, for illustration purposes)

Where the heck are these mosquitos coming from??? It's almost winter!!! Anyway, she was rubbing at the bites and saying "Mama take it off!" Poor little boo.

This morning we were in the kitchen and Gabriel walked out of our room with a bundle of dirty clothes in his arms, his head thrown back to see around them. He took them all the way to the laundry room down the hall and started stuffing them into the washing machine! Then he attempted to turn the dials and bang on the door (front-loader) to make it start, like I do. Too cute for words.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I am thankful for so many things this year.

1.- Gabriel is so healthy. He rarely gets sick, and then recovers quickly. Sometimes the rest of us will get something and it will miss him. It’s a real blessing.

2.- Valerie using the potty!!! I can’t emphasize enough how thankful I am for this – for her sudden willingness and interest, for how quickly she took to doing #2 only in the potty (I think only 2 true accidents, and only a couple times in a pull-up), for her slowly increasing independence – just enough so I don’t lose hope. There was a time when I literally could not picture her willingly using the potty on her own.

3.- Terry taking on night duty with the kids. I feel all kinds of guilty and grateful at the same time, that I can go off the clock from 8:30 until 5:00 a.m. It is such a relief.

4.- Shpresa’s help and friendship. She’s my right arm. Being able to trust her with the kids and rely on her help with household tasks makes it possible for me to do my dissertation work and feel at peace when I come home to clean floors, happy kids, and often dinner bubbling on the stove.

5.- Life in Albania. I can understand why some have called this the “armpit of Europe,” but they’re really just snobs. I enjoy living here and learning the language, culture, and history. Somehow I feel most like myself when I'm living as an expat.

6.- Awesome, loving family who are willing to make the long trek here to see us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

funny little things

This morning Valerie was sniffling; Gabriel noticed, walked to the coffee table and picked up a tissue, then proceeded to attempt to wipe her nose. She did not appreciate his help (but I thought it was very sweet!)

Gabriel is starting to say actual words beyond "Mama" - this week he started saying "apf" for apple! And he finally started calling Terry Dada after calling him Mama for weeks (for the record, Valerie often calls me "the other Dada").

Valerie is really into Winnie the Pooh these days. Currently I'm Eeyore, Terry is Owl, Gabriel is Christopher Robin (or sometimes Roo), and she's Pooh. Shpresa is Kanga and Shpresa's son Samueli is Tigger. The room at the end of the hall where Terry gets his extra shut-eye in the mornings from 5-8 is Owl's Nest, and the middle bedroom where Gabriel now sleeps is Piglet's House. (Valerie has been sleeping in the extra bed in our room - it's a long story.)

Valerie saw an animated video clip of will-o-the-whisps and christened them "dancing lights." One day she was playing with plastic animals in a bowl of water, and I found her wiping drops of water off the bowl with her index finger and then tasting the water. She said with delight, "Panther's eating dancing lights!" (That was back when she was still Panther, not Pooh.) Now any time she sees drops of water she calls them dancing lights - even the occasional spray when using the toilet: "Mama wipe off the dancing lights!"

We're having Thanksgiving dinner with American and Albanian friends from church tomorrow night. I'm taking pumpkin muffins and rotisserie chicken. I was thinking of making chicken dumplings but I'm not sure about transporting hot liquid food to their house - might get messy.

Valerie's using more and more Shqip, like "ke ftoht" (you are cold).

I bought some finger paints for Valerie and the first afternoon she painted steadily for three and a half hours! She prefers to use a brush since she doesn't like getting her hands dirty. She loves mixing the goopy paints together, "racing" the brushes around in circles, hiding colors under other colors, dripping long thick strings of paint in swirls across other colors. She's practicing her letters with me some too. It takes focused concentration for me to supervise her, but it's fun to see her so into it.

More and more, Gabriel wants to do everything he sees Valerie doing. It's in turns funny, adorable, and heart-stoppingly scary, like when he tries to climb the furniture. These kids, they just keep GROWING!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Little bits

Christmas is coming! For some reason, whenever Gabriel sees this billboard, he mimes playing the piano and says "la la la." I have no idea why. The family in the apartment above us has a piano and we often hear the kids practicing, but he's never actually seen them. We showed him pictures of pianos and tried to make the connection but I'm not sure what he's actually imagining when he hears the music and imitates our miming.

I trimmed about an inch off the back of Valerie's hair, and it looks much better - cleaner and healthier. I'd never, ever cut that part before and it was all uneven. I like the change. She was good about letting me do it, too.

Thanksgiving is coming! This is the closest we got to a Halloween costume. Then I sat on the "hat" and it broke. I've been enjoying cooking pumpkins and squash while they last though. Amazingly, we can get cranberries here so I'm hoping to do a Thanksgiving meal with some American friends next week.

A couple days ago Valerie has a very first-Thanksgiving-ish lunch - popcorn, roasted chestnuts, and an apple. She's become a very picky eater this year, but I think it's just a stage, since she was not picky at all until recently. I try to feed her a wide variety of fruits and nuts since she refuses most vegetables now (even tomatoes, which she used to love). Apples, tangerines, figs, plums, grapes, dried blueberries, dried cranberries... hopefully she's still getting some vitamins. If I mix real vegetable broth in with her alphabet soup, she'll eat that (but not if she can visually identify an actual vegetable) and she also likes beans still (but not rice). She drinks like 4-5 or more glasses of milk every day.

Gabriel has been having terrible teething pain. All four eye teeth are coming in at the same time and taking a long time about it as well. He seems to take teething pain much harder than Valerie did. Poor little guy.

Today I ordered what I thought was a hot chocolate at the cafe where I'm working, and I got a cup of steaming hot chocolate pudding! With two sugar packets (which I did not use). I'm trying to cut back on coffee, though I don't suppose this was the most frugal substitute.

It's getting cold here.