Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Little Bits of Random

So it's been awfully quiet around here - as quiet as it gets with a 3-year-old Shrieking Eel in residence, that is! Anita et al left on Monday, and Terry did too - he's in Vlorë for 10 days. We'll be joining him later this week. I decided the kids and I should stay in Tirana for a few days to relax at home before another trip. So far I think I made the right decision.

Gabriel is standing unsupported for longer and longer periods of time! He's up to about 30 seconds, I think. It's very exciting! The first day he really stood on his own was May 29, Sunday, in Durrës.

Valerie has about 20-30 angry red welts on her arms and feet from mosquito bites. Gabriel only got two! One on his hand and one on his forehead, and neither reacted the way Valerie's have - dime-sized red circles. She was looking at them yesterday and remarked "Got red spots on arms."

I introduced a new story into our repertoire - the Three Little Pigs. It totally cracks me up every time I say the iconic line, "not by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin," Valerie responds "Pigs not go buy hair!" (It's very clear to me that she means BUY because "go buy" is the phrase she always uses for shopping.) She laughs too, not sure if it's because I'm laughing or because the idea of buying hair is funny to her!

I've started spelling out words very intentionally with her, using some alphabet cards Anita gave us. I figured she knows the alphabet backwards and forwards (quite literally)* so she is perfectly capable of memorizing how to spell her own name. Mostly I'm focusing on Val, Mama, Dada, Babi (she calls Terry Babi often), and some other simple words (dog, cat, sun, etc.). It's fun!

Anita also brought her a couple jigsaw puzzles and she's getting quite good at putting them together! They are 25 pieces and labeled for ages 3-7. One is of dinosaurs and one of balls and other sports gear (like baseball bat and glove, etc.). She refers to some of the pieces as "cats" and some as "dogs," depending on their shape, and to the wavy line of the puzzle's edge as a "river." When a "cat" piece (an edge piece with one bump, opposite the flat side) goes along the top edge, she says "cat hanging upside down."

And not to ignore little G - he's getting increasingly vocal and will "chatter" on and on about only he knows what! When he's very interested in or curious about something he will stare at it and say "Ta! Ta!" He calls me "Mama" and makes a "bababababa" sound with his fist against his open mouth. I should probably start working on baby sign language with him soon. I can't believe we are one month and one week away from his FIRST BIRTHDAY!!!!


*I've seen her stack the cards from Z to A, in the correct order, starting with the Z on the bottom and working backwards through the alphabet to A. I've also seen her correctly name letters through a glass window, painted on the other side, that were backwards and lower-case!

Sunday, May 29, 2011


We just got back from Durrës - lovely weekend at a little family-run hotel (where we visited before), actually in a suburb of the city called Golem, just a stone's throw from the Adriatic Sea.
It was idyllic. The sun and sand completely wore out my little ones (and my big one too) who are all sleeping at the moment! Can't wait to go back!
Anita, David, Solana, and Lotus leave tomorrow morning. This week has flown by! There is so much more I wanted to show them and do together. They'll just have to come back next year, right guys?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dajti Again

Today we went to Dajt with the Lukawitskis - Terry was at work, though, and I decided to leave Gabriel with Shpresa so he could stay on schedule and I could be less stressed, with only one child to wrangle.
The rain held off until we were eating lunch in the restaurant, and then it let up for us to walk back to the cable car for the return trip, during which we outran it! It was HOT back in the city but then the rain caught up with us again for a little refreshment.
The kids enjoyed the cable car trip SO much, that alone would have made the trip worth it! But then there were horsie rides, and a delicious lunch, and play time at the playground as well! Valerie missed her nap completely so hopefully will sleep a long time tonight.

Further dispatches as events unfold!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lukawitskis in Tirana!

Prepare for an overload of cuteness!
Lotus and Gabriel exploring at the hotel

Gabriel has been SO EXCITED to meet his cousins again!

Valerie has been taking it all in stride better than I expected - I think she remembers them!
We've been having real summer weather here in Tirana - at least, the warmed I've experienced so far, although I've been getting warnings about August... David's hay fever has been bothering him, and the time difference has thrown Lotus a little out of whack, but other than that we've been having a great time so far. Yesterday we spent some time with the kids playing at the hotel where the Lukawitskis are staying, then came over to the J/Phantzis' for lunch and afternoon naps. After naps we all went to the "twisty slide park" for a late-afternoon excursion, where Solana made friends with some Albanian girls who wanted to practice their English!

Today we went to the "Big Park" near the lake for a picnic lunch, where Solana enjoyed exploring the "nature trails" through the grass and Valerie enjoyed poking the water with a stick - until her shoes got muddy.

Solana and Lotus have been a big hit with the the ladies in the various shops we went to yesterday - they scored two chocolate bars, a baked tart, strawberries, and cherries!

We're not sure exactly what we're going to do for the next few days but options include another visit to Mt. Dajt, a trip to the beach at Durrës, and hanging out at our apartment here in the city.

Monday, May 23, 2011


My sister and her family are currently en route to Albania! I am beyond excited. More news and photos after they arrive :-)


On Saturday, we did a little family excursion to Krujë (or Kruja, if it's the subject of the sentence) and saw the famous Skenderbeg castle. (Skenderbeg is the dude on the horse - the national hero of Albania.)
We're slowly figuring out how to do this kind of thing while respecting the needs of our two little ones. We packed lots of food and water for them along with the usual extra diapers and changes of clothes. We left immediately after Gabriel's morning nap, and took a bus to catch a van ride ($2 a seat). Valerie napped the whole way out, which wasn't really in our plan but it was fine.
In retrospect, I wish we'd all worn sunscreen, but that's probably the only thing I'd do differently. For myself, I would have liked to have explored the ruins more but it was so hot and bright out in the sun that I didn't think we should. So when we got there, at around 11:30 a.m., we went to a cafe for snacks and drinks before walking over to the castle and visiting the museum on the site.
After that we met up with some American friends - three young guys, two are working for WV (one is a former student of Terry's) - for lunch at a nearby restaurant. At that point, around 1 p.m., Gabriel started getting very tired and fussy but he wouldn't go to sleep on my lap or in the Bjorn. Finally when we got on a van for the return trip, at around 2 p.m., he fell asleep nursing and Valerie fell asleep on Terry's lap. So they got short naps (the drive back to Tiranë is less than an hour), but short is better than none.
Then we hopped on a city bus back to our street. We got home around 4 p.m. and felt exhausted, but I think it's safe to say a good time was had by all. Like our last excursion (to Dajt), it took a full day and 2 nights for the kids to recover their energy. Long naps are great!

(Phil and Mel have some great pictures from their trip a week or two before ours, and you can always check Wikipedia for more history on Krujë and Skenderbeg.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!

As they say in Albania - "Edhe një qind!" (and 100 more!)
Love you and miss you - hope you are enjoying life today!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Elbasan: The Village

This is a post I've been sitting on for months!

In early March we went to Elbasan, a city not too far from Tirana. One day while we were there, the kids and I went with Terry and his evaluation team to visit a nearby fshati, or village. Neither of the village photos on this page is of the actual place we visited; they're what I imagined it would be like!
I was picturing something truly remote, with lots of sheep and olive trees, but it was really more like a suburb of Elbasan, literally 10 minutes' drive from the WV office. Our destination was a school where the team met with project administrators and sponsored children. (The only pictures I actually took were of the kids who mobbed us in the schoolyard but I don't feel comfortable posting pictures of them here since they're not my kids.)

While the interviews were taking place, Valerie cuddled on Daddy's lap in the principal's office and I went out with Gabriel for a little walk. We made it about two blocks on a dirt road before a light drizzle drove us into a little shop right next to the school. There was a woman there holding a toddler and talking with the proprietress, and I waited while scanning the shelves for something to buy Valerie for a snack. But they were very curious about me and gushed over Gabriel, so we actually got to chatting. Pretty soon Gabriel fell asleep, and the shop-owner urged me to come into her house and lay him down. I looked out the side door where she gestured, and felt a bit dubious as all I could see was part of a roof and wall that looked like a shack, but after the third invite I agreed, and her husband came to walk me over to their home.

As we walked out the door I was hit with the strong smell of sheep - and realized oh! that's not their house, it's a stable! Sure enough, we walked past the shed and up a stone walkway to a lovely villa with a wide front porch shaded by a grapevine. Just inside was a highly decorated living room with lots of comfortable furniture. I sat on the couch and visited with the husband for a good hour - all in Shqip! It helped a lot that he'd lived in Italy for five years and had a meta-linguistic awareness of how to talk to somebody who is just learning the language: slow, repetitive, and with lots of hand gestures.

I just let Gabriel sleep in the bjorn during the visit, and after a while Terry called me on my cell and said the were getting ready to leave. So I took my leave and dashed off feeling more like myself than I have in a long time... it was such a gift to be able to connect with some ordinary people, across gaps of language and culture, but finding common ground and making a connection through conversation, human beings all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Valerie's birthday

In her own words:
"Got on red cable car, cable car moving, doors shut, can't fall out!"
"Saw horsies at the top! Hold on tight, don't let go!
Dada right there. Man pulled rope on horsy's nose. Went fast!"
"Had a little picnic in the grass"
"After got off, went home. Had a little party, had cake, got butterfly card. Got new toy*"
"Ready for cake!** Blow out candle!"

*(Not actually a new toy - recycled hand-me-down brought from the US and kept hidden until now. She's been playing with it non-stop!)
**(And no, I didn't make the cake, we bought it at the bakery across the street. And the only candles Terry could find at the store were zeros...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I'm working on posting some pictures of Valerie's birthday, but Blogger seems to be having issues. It says they're posted but they're not showing up. So... I'll try again later.

We had a good day, took the kids to Mt. Dajti for a picnic and wore them completely out! They spent most of Monday recovering as well! It was a good time though, and worth it.

It's been raining yesterday and today so just as glad we went Sunday.

More later when I can get the photos up.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Girl

"Val-Val so much fun!"


A retrospective...


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Almost Three: What a year!

Valerie is almost three years old! And holy cow has it ever been a full year for her. I'm going to imagine her telling you about it herself:

May: I had a birthday! Mama got me this lame cake from Red Front but I liked it. Some kids came over, mostly the ones that I allow to play near me. We played in the sandbox.

June: Mama rested on the couch a lot. She has a big tummy and can't pick me up. Dada went on a loooooong trip and Grandma Irma and Grandpa Conrad stayed with us. I spent a lot of time with Miss Rachel and Grammy Dot.

July: We brought home this BABY. I call him Blablirl. I don't like it when he makes noise. Dada says "that's your baby brother." Aunt Anita came with Uncle David and Solana and Lotus and I had to share my toys.

August: We did a lot of fun things! We went saw animals and a circus! [Rockingham County Fair] That BABY was still here.

September: Tia Rosanne came to visit and some stuff went away. We got on an airplane for a long time and I cried a lot. I felt safe in my stroller because we were in a different place and I was scared. The BABY came too.

We stayed at a hotel and I played in the playground. I ate french fries. It was fun.

November: It rained and rained and rained. Pesh came to help Mama clean the house. Mama played with me a lot. I decided to start talking.

December: Dada put lights in the windows and it was pretty. Some big boxes came and Mama found lots of books and toys that I remember. I was so happy playing with my Noah's Ark!

January: It was cold. Sometimes I stay with Pesh when Mama has to go to the store. Pesh is nice. She holds Blablirl a lot. Mama tried to make me go pee-pee on the potty but I cried for my diaper so she let me keep my diaper on.

February: We went to live in New House. I have a blue bed. I like playing on the balcony. I like turning all the lights off and on. Blabril came too. Pesh still comes here.

March: We saw the Ocean again! I had fun playing in the sand. I fell off the swing and cried. I ate food and the boy shared his cow with me. Blabril came too.

April: I like going to Fun Cafe and playing on the swing and slide and riding the bike. I like to go to Zoo Park to see the animals. I like going on walks with Dada and riding up high on his shoulders. I like playing on the steps and looking at all the yucky [trash]. No step in dog poop! I like playing on the balcony with Mama or Pesh.
May: I am THREE! I can count like this: Një, dy, tre, katër, pesë, gjashtë, shtatë, tetë, nëntë, dhjetë. Everybody claps! I love jumping, climbing, dancing, spinning, playing in the park, and playing on the balcony. I can turn somersaults and climb trees. I like to say letters and read books - not Mama, just Val-Val. I like to go to Fun Cafe and ride up high on Dada's shoulders. I like to take baths with Blablirl and then stay up late after he goes to sleep. I'm thinking about peeing on the potty but I don't like to take off my diaper. I like to play Baby Up and Down and Come Get Me Mama! I have so much fun!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Just the drama of daily life...

A couple weeks ago, the light burned out in our bathroom and while Terry was trying to change it, the whole fixture came detached from the ceiling into his hands. He didn't have time to work on it so he cut the wires, taped over the hole, and said to call Shpresa's husband, Berti, who is an electrician.

It was great, actually, to have a professional fix everything! He also replaced a light switch in the kitchen that wasn't working. Valerie was totally fascinated by the whole process and has been talking about it ever since: "Xhaxhi [Uncle] Berti fixed the light, went up the ladder, got pieces, made loud noise [the drill], liked watching, good job Xhaxhi Berti!"

Then this week, I was heating water on the stove when the electricity went out in our apartment. I could tell something had shorted it out but couldn't figure out what. I had spilled water on the stove just as the lights went out but I didn't see how the two events could be connected.

The reason I was heating water was for Valerie's bath, since we had turned off our water heater at night to save electricity, and forgot to turn it back on in the morning, so there was no hot water. She was standing in the bathroom crying because I wasn't filling up the bathtub, even though I'd just promised her a bath (my how far we've come! But that's another story!). So I was rushing to heat the water for her and that was why I'd spilled a lot.

I called Terry, and shortly after that two men showed up at the door with a toolbox. They immediately identified the problem: the clicker on the gas stove that ignites the flame - it's an electric clicker, and when I'd spilled water on it, it shorted out. They had to take the whole stove apart, clean it up good, and I don't know what all else, but Gabriel was asleep by the time they'd finished putting it back together. I didn't mind, we had our electricity back and now I know to be more careful when pouring water near the stove.

Once again, Valerie was completely fascinated - plus, now there were two Xhaxhi Bertis fixing the lights! And the stove! :-) Cost of the labor? $10 - great for us, kind of a bummer for the workmen, don't you think?


So I think the kids are getting sick again - BOOOOO! Gabriel was up every 2 hours and CRANKY. His nose was all stuffy, poor guy. Valerie had a rough night too but slept in a little. She seemed to have a fever this morning so I deceived her into taking some infant tylenol hidden in a spoonful of ice cream. Her face was flushed and her eyes heavy. She perked up a little after that, and went to the grocery store with me, but she was pretty tired around noon and went down for a nap quickly (after a bath - her SECOND today already!). Gabriel has been clingy and sad. I think we're going to postpone our family vacation until June (we were thinking of going next week).


Elections for mayor of Tirana were last Sunday. Instead of Mother's Day, they celebrate Women's Day here, in March, so it was an ordinary Sunday (other than the elections of course). The results have been too close to call so far and it's making people a little tense and worried, I think, with concerns about corruption.


Speaking of Mother's Day - I had a whole post planned out with lots of pictures but have not had the time to find and upload all the photos I wanted - so I will say with words instead, that I spent the day thinking of my mom, my mother-in-law, my grandmothers, my sister, my cousins, my sister-in-law, my aunts, and all the important women in my life who have "mothered" me in some way or other in the span of my life. First and foremost my mom, Irma. Love you and miss you - every day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Typical Day

Even though I've never gone surfing, I think of my days with the kids like riding a wave; some days you catch the wave and glide into shore, other days it lifts you up and slams you into the ocean floor. Maybe that's a bit melodramatic! But I find it helpful to follow my late therapist's advice and "find [their] rhythm." I spend the day riding the ebb and flow of their energy. Sometimes they're in sync with each other, sometimes they're at odds, but usually there is a pattern to our day and it is something like this:

5:00 or 5:30 a.m. Gabriel wakes up
6:00 or 6:30 a.m. Valerie wakes up
Either Terry or I gets to sleep in a little while the other one plays with the kids and gives Gabriel breakfast.
8:00 ish Gabriel goes down for nap, Terry gets in the shower to get ready for work. I make breakfast for me and Valerie while Gabriel is sleeping (sometimes, though, he doesn't go down until 9). It's really nice to have someone here to stay with Valerie while I put Gabriel down for nap; this is probably the hardest 10 minutes of my day when Terry's not here.
8:50 Terry goes to work
sometime between 9 and 10 Gabriel wakes up, I take the kids out somewhere
12:00 lunch at home. Actually, this can be a rough time too if I'm trying to put lunch together while the kids are both hungry and demanding my attention. I usually give them a snack around 10 or 11 and that helps. It also helps to have something I can give them really quickly.
1:00 Valerie's nap time (sometimes not until 2:00)
Depending what time Gabriel woke up from his first nap, the second nap is anytime from 11:30-2:00 and lasts 45-90 minutes. This can be another rough spot if Valerie is tired and wants my attention, but isn't ready for her nap yet at the point in time when Gabriel is, and I have to leave her by herself again. If Shpresa is here, though, she puts Gabriel down and I can focus on Valerie.
3:00 or 4:00 Valerie wakes up, has a snack, then we either play at home or go out somewhere (usually a shorter outing, either to Fun Cafe or grocery shopping)
5:00 Gabriel eats supper, then has bath, then to bed between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. Lately Valerie has been getting in the bath with him too!
8:00 pm Valerie's bedtime
9:00 Valerie falls asleep and I go to bed. Seriously - I have a night owl and an early bird. I doesn't matter what time I put Valerie to bed she falls asleep at 9. The only exceptions are 1) when she has skipped her afternoon nap, she falls asleep around 8 or 8:30, and 2) when she has taken a late nap (like, waking up around 5) then she'll be awake until 10 or 10:30 which is RIDICULOUS so I have put a moratorium not late naps. If it's 3:00 and she's still awake, there will be no nap that day.
These days Gabriel is waking up around 3 times during the night. I think for awhile he was feeling a lot of teething pain, so I treated it like he was sick and just went in and nursed him every time.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Ten months!

Gabriel is ten months old today! He's growing big and strong, eating lots, pulling himself up to standing and starting to cruise around the furniture. He likes to feed himself as much as possible and is just starting to try out the finger-and-thumb "pincer" grasp. He can handle chunks of soft food like bread and apples, and seems to love bread more than anything else in the world except maybe Mommy. He's got six teeth: four on top, and two below. He adores his sister and loves going out for walks - as soon as he sees me or Shpresa strapping on the Bjorn he gets all excited and holds up his arms to be picked up! He's not very interested in books unless they have parts that move (like googly eyes) or interesting textures. It's so easy to make him laugh! He loves playing in the bath and trying to stick things in my mouth. He likes music, too - when we put on the music channel on TV he waves his arm like a conductor and smiles really big. He's just so stinkin' cute it's impossible not to sweep him up and cover him in kisses and cuddles and hugs at every opportunity. Të dua shumë, Diali im! (I love you very much, my son!)

Friday, May 06, 2011

Potty Training Take Two

Today was our first diaper-less excursion to the park - this was entirely Valerie's idea, and while I wasn't 100% on board with it I decided we might as well give it a go. She lasted about an hour before wetting her pants (I kept telling her she could pee in the grass but she had to tell me so we could take her pants off first. I'm not sure she understood), so I just changed her into dry pants and we kept on playing. It was a gorgeous warm, sunny day and there were daisies and buttercups everywhere. So overall we enjoyed ourselves.

After we got home she had an accident in the living room and then wanted me to put her diaper back on which I did since it was getting close to nap time anyway.

That, however, is when the real drama began. She was tired, rubbing her eyes, and screaming at the tiniest provocation (and I mean TINY), but refused to go to bed, so I finally carried her kicking and screaming into her darkened room and rocked her in my arms standing up while she wailed and wailed. After about five minutes I sat down on the bed with her in my lap while she wailed some more. After some time (not sure how long) she was relaxed enough I could lie down with her. Then I had to wait about 15 minutes before I was able to really put her down and creep away, but by then she was so deeply asleep she didn't even flinch when I kicked a toy in the dark and it made a very loud bang.

This is the first time I can remember, other than the nightmare flight from the States to Europe, that she has really and truly thrown a tantrum. She's almost 3, so I'm actually expecting that they will become more frequent in the coming year. And I can't help but thinking that it's connected to the re-initiation of potty training. I've been very slow to start it up again after our disastrous first attempt in November (was it that long ago???) because it was so emotionally hard on both her and me. But it's time. She's started putting her baby doll on the potty again, and has shown interest in not wearing a diaper herself. I don't think she understands how to control her bladder yet, or how to anticipate the need to pee and all that. I think we're going to have a looooooot more accidents before it clicks for her. But we're heading in that direction, and even though there wasn't really any drama about it this morning - we just took it all in stride - oh yes, you wet your pants, let's get changed, no big deal but next time try to wait until you're sitting on the potty before you pee - but I think it was strange and new enough that it precipitated this afternoon's tantrum in some way.


On a more fun note, last night when we were putting her to bed I said "good night, Mama loves you," and she said "Val-Val loves you" back! That was a first too, and very sweet.

At the park today she kept saying "so much fun!" which is her latest favorite new phrase. It's nice to see her identifying and verbalizing how she's feeling about things. She's also recently said "Val-Val sad" (I don't remember about what) and in recent months has also identified when she's scared.

She's even had some good moments with Gabriel, playing with his toes, or touching his hands and hair very gently. That's nice to see too.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Oh my gosh, MORE cute pictures!

Goofing off in the Pack-n-Play

He is growing up so fast!!!!!
This is at the "Fun Cafe", $2 for unlimited time with the toys

Swinging at the Fun Cafe

Terry bought these Russian Nesting Dolls en route home from Mongolia. They're a great toddler toy, Valerie loves taking them apart and putting them together in novel ways. She calls the pieces "bowls," and then she'll say the Albanian word - "tas - RIIIIIGHT!" (she always says "RIIIIIGHT!" after she uses a word in Albanian - sometimes that's the only way I know she's talking Shqip!)

Fun with construction paper!