Thursday, March 31, 2011


A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit Durres with some friends from church and work.
Durres is an old coastal city that was once the capital of Albania; it is now undergoing rampant and somewhat frenetic development as a beach resort town.

Valerie loooooved playing in the sand there although it was too cold for swimming!

In some ways, Durres is still an agricultural community.

And of course, the remnants of the communist era remain: those pink and blue concrete mushrooms are old military bunkers.

We enjoyed a delicious Albanian lunch with the Yzeraij family - this is only a small part of the spread! To the far right you can see little Isaiah - he's about Valerie's age and she appreciated his sharing her toys with her!

Whenever V sees this picture she says "Val-val fun play sand, share cow with you, Val-val fall off swing, Val-val crying, Mama get BIG hug"

Gabriel enjoyed his first time playing in the sand as well!

Our host for the day enjoying the view from the patio of his hostel. They open for business in May and we're thinking it would be a nice place to go with Anita and her family when they come to visit!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

comparisons 5: "Tate Map"

When Valerie saw this picture of Gabriel, she said "Baby Val-Val tate map" (take nap):

Can you blame her?

Friday, March 25, 2011


In this crazy journey called life, it's good to know your traveling companion is someone you can depend on, someone who will always make you laugh no matter how tired/grumpy/depressed you are, someone really smart, who has enough self-confidence for the both of you. Someone who might come across as a bit of a clown, but who has a solid core of commitment to values you both share. A good dad. My beloved husband. Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

the kids

I think Gabriel is feeling better. By late afternoon yesterday he seemed himself again, smiling and red-cheeked. He slept ok the first part of the night, although from midnight til 5 a.m. he woke up every hour. I wonder though if that was because I was sleeping in his room? I wanted to keep an eye on him in case he threw up again, but perhaps my being there woke him up (I'm pretty sure I snore, and I know I talk in my sleep!). So I feel pretty tired right now.

This morning I gave him rice cereal and he nursed well, then had the most foul-smelling poop he's ever produced, all up his back too. He got a sink bath before his first nap!

It's been awhile since I've commented here about the kids' development. Valerie's been on a long plateau speech-wise, but recently made another leap. She's adding more words, plus pronouncing others more clearly - e.g. "Mmamma" --> "Bananana." And she's starting telling little stories, narratives of things that have impacted her.

Here's one she tells a lot, about our trip to Durres (post and pictures forthcoming):

Val-Val fun play sand. Val-Val play ocean just [like] seagulls, go walk, run agua Dada.

(She loved running away from the waves with Terry)

Here's another one:

Val-Val got stuck outside, can't open door, Val-Val crying. Pesh [Shpresa] find, hear crying, 'Where's Val-Val?" open door, Mama get Val-Val big hug.

So, a translation:

One day Shpresa and I were in the living room, where I was showing her how to carry Gabriel in the ring sling. Valerie was running around and we weren't paying too much attention to her. A minute or two later Shpresa said "I'll just go check on Valerie" and went down the hall towards the kids' bedrooms. The next thing I knew, Valerie was running towards me sobbing, with Shpresa behind her looking stunned. My first thought was that V had hurt herself because her hand was on her own forehead, so I gathered her into my arms to comfort her, but Shpresa said that she'd been outside the apartment. Val couldn't open the apartment door in our other place by herself, but here she can! She'd gone outside and the door had shut behind her and she couldn't open it to come back in. Shpresa had heard her crying and opened the door to find her there. So now we always put the deadbolt on when we're at home, so she can't open the door by herself.

(Some of the elements of her story are things I told her, like "Shpresa went looking for you, she said 'where's Val-Val?' and she heard you crying so she opened the door.")

That was like two weeks ago and she's still talking about it.

Gabriel is getting ready to crawl! He's been pushing up on his hands and knees. Up until this latest illness, his sleep was getting better too - waking twice at night to nurse, and taking much longer naps in the daytime - sometimes only two naps almost 2 hours each, instead of four half-hour naps or three 45-minute naps like before. It feels like three steps forward and two steps back sometimes, but I think overall we can see progress. He also loooooves to be supported in a standing position and will lock his knees so you can't get him to sit down!


Terry (not technically one of the kids, I know, but it's hard to tell sometimes) has been having terrible insomnia - waking up at 1 or 2 a.m. and not being able to fall back asleep. He joined a gym this week hoping more regular exercise will help him sleep better at night, and is cutting back on coffee in the afternoons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

a day

Poor little G was sick today; I'm not sure what he ate that disagreed with him so much (the minuscule crumb of egg yolk? The quarter cup of yoghurt? Something he stuck in his mouth when I wasn't looking?) but when it came back up it brought everything else with it. From about noon til five today all he did was throw up, cry, and (thankfully) sleep. He was such a pitiful little bundle, all pale and sleepy. He slept in my arms part of the afternoon and Shpresa held him the other half of the afternoon. At about 5:30 he nursed and kept it down, so I nursed him again then at 6:00 and then we put him to bed. He's still sleeping (it's almost 9) so I'm hoping we're in the clear.

Just another day in the life of a stay-at-home-mom/dissertation-writer in Albania.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cause I know you guys really come here for the pictures!

Man herding sheep down a main street in Tirana

Valerie playing with her flannelgraph animals

Gabriel doing what he does best: being cute!

Spring! and other thoughts

We've been here six months today: two full seasons, half a year - half a trip of the earth around the sun. Gabriel has lived in Albania twice as long as in the US.

We've moved the last of our stuff from the old apartment into the new one. I was surprised by how sad I felt the last time I went to the other house. It felt like home. Everything seemed profoundly familiar and beloved, and I had a hard time detaching from the things there that aren't ours but stay with the furnished apartment - things like mugs, towels, sheets. I guess maybe we imprinted on the place since it was the first place we lived here. When everything was strange and overwhelming, it was a safe and quiet retreat for our family.

So is this place, but I think part of me (I can't speak for the rest of the family on this) has held back a little bit emotionally, in part reserving judgement - is it really better than the other apartment? We shall see.

I think our reasons for moving were solid, and this is a good place. I think it will take a season or two before it really feels like home though.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Elbasan: The City

Something to take my mind off other things.

Before I tell you about our trip to Durres last Monday, I want to finish telling you about our trip to Elbasan.
This is a portion of an old fortified wall that used to surround the city (when it was much smaller). Someone told Terry that Elbasan used to be a collection point for gold mined from the nearby mountains. In any case, it had military significance for the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans alike.
If I had to come up with one word to describe Elbasan today, it would be "modest." Compared to Tirana, it's just smaller, lower to the ground, quieter, with a lot less cars.
A big chrome refinery was built here during the communist era, and as a result the city has a reputation for being very polluted. The days we were there were quite cold - first rainy and then windy (like Chicago windy) so the air was crystal clear, and you could see snow on the mountains nearby.
We liked Elbasan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


So, my mom's journey has unfortunately been delayed due to visa issues. I am super bummed but also expecting that things will work out, just later than what we had planned. It just seems so unfair, that the privilege of being able to travel easily and freely is so unevenly distributed. I'll just keep daydreaming about hanging out with her and my kids, learning a new land.

Monday, March 14, 2011


...and a belated happy birthday to my father-in-law, Vern! (This is an old picture but no less cute for that!)

Oh, and the post title is Albanian for "happy," not "geezer" :-)

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I am feeling supremely blessed today (although it might just be the sugar buzz)!

We had a great day today; I'm so glad it was a Saturday and Terry could be home with us. We took advantage of a gorgeous, sunny day by going to an amusement park nearby - literally 15 minutes' walk - where Valerie enjoyed jumping on a trampoline and riding some toddler-friendly swings.

Over lunch we skyped with Terry's folks, enjoying our wireless connection out on the balcony.

After naps, we had some friends over - our first time hosting company in Albania! - for coffee and cookies. I had bought a cake but forgot it in the refrigerator, so had a slice after supper.

Counting my blessings:
  • Healthy, happy children
  • Supportive spouse
  • Spacious, safe home
  • Books to read
  • Friends near and far
And, my mom is coming to visit NEXT WEEK!!!!! Best birthday present ever!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Elbasan: The Fun Hotel

So Terry gets back tonight after his second week at the "fun hotel," as Valerie deemed it. I'm just as glad we didn't go along this week since we've all been sick - again.

We did a lot of meals like this - yoghurt, bread, cheese, chips, fruit. Oranges are in season now - cheap and delicious!

We got two adjoining rooms, so we had plenty of room. They put a little folding bed in one room for Valerie and I was happily surprised that she slept really well in it!

Valerie also enjoyed playing in the second-floor lobby here, where I got in some language practice with the lady who came to clean. It was a little hard figuring out how to make sure V was safe while I was putting G down for naps though.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Another landmark I missed was my mother-in-law's birthday at the end of February! I blame the juxtaposition of moving, illness, and our trip to Elbasan. Dot, I found myself at 2 a.m. pondering an acrostic of your name, and here's what I came up with:

Young at heart!

May you have a wonderful year!

(And yes, I did try for the middle and last names too but ran out of steam! Maybe next year!)

Running Behind - Gabriel 8 months!

Gabriel and Valerie in church nursery

An elusive sleeping photo (usually the room is too dark - this was in the Elbasan hotel)

I'm so behind on my blogging! We all seem to have colds AGAIN - bleah - poor G has a fever that comes and goes, but I took him to the clinic to check for ear infections and he's clear. So just another annoying virus. I'm all stuffed up in my head and glad we elected not to go back to Elbasan with Terry again this week (speaking of Elbasan, I have lots more to say about that trip but it will have to wait for another day).

Meanwhile, I missed Gabriel's 8-month mark on Monday. His latest accomplishment just about 10 days ago was getting up on hands and knees! Getting ready to crawl, so look out world! This post is woefully inadequate to express how much fun he is - you'll just have to use your imaginations :-)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Elbasan: The Trip

This picture, a view from our hotel balcony, will stand for the trip to Elbasan. I was a little bit nervous about taking public transportation by myself (with the two kids) but I didn't think we could be ready before 8 a.m. when Terry was leaving with the World Vision van. And we did it! It worked out fine, and it made me feel more confident - and in many ways more like myself - to navigate the trip on my own even with two little ones in tow.

After breakfast and Gabriel's first nap, I packed up our bag - a process made easier by our recent move which had forced me to define carefully what basic things we need the most with us. The hardest part was actually getting down the elevator, out of the building, and walking two blocks with a rollerbag, backpack, and stroller (and Gabriel in the Bjorn) to the taxi stand. Pushing a stroller one-handed on uneven sidewalks is a little tricky. But we made it, with a 20-minute interlude out front for Valerie to play on the sidewalk. I wasn't in a particular hurry so I let her get her wiggles out.

The taxi took us to the street corner from where 8-passenger vans leave for Elbasan as they fill up with people. We were the first people in our van and waited about 40 minutes until it filled up, which was a drag. Gabriel got fussy and tired and as soon as we took off he fell asleep on my lap. Valerie had her own seat by the window and would have fallen asleep had the road not been comprised primarily of hairpin turns. I think she enjoyed looking out the window because we occasionally saw cows and other animals (once we got out of the city), and on the return trip when we got in the van she said "see animals!"

The van ride was about an hour and fifteen minutes. If it weren't for the intervening mountains, apparently it would be a 20-minute trip! We got off in the city center and waited there for Terry to come get us in the World Vision vehicle, which then took us to the hotel. It was a bright, sunny day, and Valerie was excited to see Daddy!

The road into the city parallels the river in the picture above, and that's the direction we came from to come in. Elbasan is much smaller than Tirana; the word that came to my mind was "modest." There is much less traffic, the buildings are smaller and fewer, but the mountains are equally beautiful and the people equally kind (to us!). There's an enormous factory complex there that was built during communist times and I've heard rumors of concentrated health problems resulting from pollution/environmental degradation, but being there for just a few days we didn't really see any of that.

The return trip went smoothly as well, just a reverse of the trip there, and I timed it similarly so we were home in time for lunch and naps. I am so glad that Valerie didn't get carsick either way!

Next up: The Hotel

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Last week we spent four days together as a family in Elbasan, a city just over the mountains from Tirana. Terry stayed until Friday (he was there for work) so we only had one night without Daddy. The trip went really well overall. I posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook so check them out if you're my FB friend! ;)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Grand Tour Part III

Welcome to our new home! This is what you see when you come in the front door and turn right (north). Right now you are looking all the way through our kitchen and living room area, into the master bedroom which is mint green. You can see a mirror on the wall in the bedroom.

Behind you is a small bedroom (photos forthcoming). As you walk down this hallway, you pass: 1) a piece of furniture for stowing shoes, bags, and coats
2) a bathroom with a washing machine
3) a full-length mirror
4) another bedroom, slightly bigger than the first.

Again, you are looking into the master bedroom. (Hey, is it safe to post all this stuff to the web, I wonder? What say you, dear readers?)
Here, my back is to the balcony. I think this room used to be mint green but it's now been repainted yellow.

Here's a view of the living room. Beyond the sliding glass doors there (behind the couch) is the balcony from Part II.

Everything is newer and less run-down than in our previous apartment, and feels tighter against wind and rain. I'm very glad that they replaced the glass-topped coffee table with a sturdy wooden one because V likes to sit on it!

These photos are all from the day we moved in.