Sunday, July 31, 2011


A couple weekends ago, we took a long, hot, uphill trek to America's Favorites food store, an income-generation project by a missionary couple who also run their own printing business here on the outskirts of Tirana. I was looking for oatmeal and mac-and-cheese, but also interested in seeing what else they might have that I would like to get but isn't available here. They were out of mac-and-cheese but I scored some delicious 5-minute oatmeal which I used the last of today - I'm going to have to go back sometime this week and get more, because the kids love it too. People here don't eat oatmeal because it's considered horse food. Imagine if someone told you they like alfalfa for breakfast!

I also bought a big bottle of vanilla flavoring, and double-strength baking powder, because in the grocery stores here I've only seen baking soda (not powder) and the vanilla flavoring is in tiny little ampules and doesn't even really taste like vanilla.

I also bought a huge box of Cheerios for about 8 US$... a quick google search suggests that the same size box would probably retail for about $3 in the US. So, expensive Cheerios. And even though we have a handy little snack cup with a lid that reduces spills... well, reduces isn't the same as eliminates, and I was suddenly remembering the thick Cheerio carpet that ossified on the floor of our car and under V's carseat in the States. So I've been a little obsessive-compulsive following the kids around picking up Cheerios as they drop them, and depending on the relative cleanliness of the surface they fell on, either putting them back in the cup or eating them myself. They're just such a handy, easy, perfect toddler snack, and the honey-nut variety you can get here just aren't the same - a lot more sugar, for one thing, and also harder to chew for some reason.

So, all this to say that when I came across this blog post from "Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like," I just had to laugh at myself: "Expat aid workers like food. More specifically, they like talking about all the trouble they go through to get it. Items that had very little value in their pre-EAW life now get elevated to the same level of importance as, for example, oxygen. Get a few EAWs together and sooner or later the conversation will migrate to cereal."

Touché, mon ami; touché.

Sa i madh?

I do have some Valerie videos, that I will upload sometime this week. This is G being cute in the high chair. Here is the youtube link.

Here's a transcript:

0:03 - imitates me shaking head vigorously
0:08 - I say "lepurushi!" (little rabbit) and sign rabbit off camera
0:12 - he signs rabbit, just as I ask him "where's your head?"
0:15 - he pats his head
0:21 - I ask "How big is Gabriel? Sooo big!" He looks at me funny.
0:24 - I ask in Albanian, "Sa i madh është Gabrieli? I madh!" He lifts his arms
0:30: I say "shumë mirë, shumë mirë" (very good, very good) and he begins opening and closing his hands and being thoroughly entertained by this activity for the rest of the video clip.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Go See Dada

(wow, I really need to cut her bangs!!!)

Tuesday afternoon we took the bus to Terry's office to pick him up. The crew there were in the middle of a workshop that involved, inexplicably, a whole pile of balloons! So my little people were in 7th heaven. Also super-fun: plastic cups!!!!

Valerie picked out this dress to wear, also inexplicably, since she normally refuses to wear a dress, even to church. Whatever. At least she was super-cute in a context where we saw a lot of people!

Gabriel got passed around as always, although he's kind of over it right now - becoming very clingy to Mama. I'm sure it's a phase. Mostly he enjoyed stomping around the office complex, babbling, chewing on pens, trying to stick his fingers in outlets, and chasing balloons.
We took the bus back, too, since it was a) hot and b) late. Quick baths and then bed (I packed a supper to take along since I never know how long it's going to take to extricate ourselves from the office...) We don't do this very often but it's fun when we do.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Shpresa is away at a retreat this week, so I'm on duty now from x:00 a.m. (whenever Gabriel wakes up) until x:00 p.m. (whenever Valerie falls asleep). Terry has a work trip today and gets back late tonight so I don't have anybody around to shoo me off the computer. I'm waiting for Valerie to fall asleep so I can cut her fingernails. Meanwhile, here are a few photos representative of fun at home! While I'm making an effort to re-instate our twice-daily outings, we do have a lot of fun just hanging around the house.
Monkey just had a bath and is about to have his diaper changed.

This is "Panther's" picnic - I think baby panther is holding a "tomato." The blue triangles are fish, the books are sandwiches, and I'm not sure what the pelican is supposed to be but it's something edible.

I just thought this was too cute: Mama giraffe giving baby giraffe "a BIG hug!"


Tonight before I said goodnight to V, she told me "Doggie [her current alter ego] ate fish all day, just like the llama."

I said, "Llamas don't eat fish; seals eat fish, llamas eat grass."

"NO. Llamas eat çubuk!" (breadsticks).

Friday, July 22, 2011


Now that we've done some heavy pondering on power/privilege,
let's look at some pretty pictures!

Welcome to broody, moody Sveti Naum. This was part of our trip to Ohrid.

Valerie still pretends that she's going on a boat to look at peacocks. None of them fanned their tails for us but they were still a big hit with our animal lover!


I went to the US Embassy in Tirana yesterday just past noon to renew my passport, which will expire in December, inside the six months recommended. As I walked up towards the high yellow walls along Rruga e Elbasanit, I could feel the sweat start to trickle down my back, and I couldn’t help but think how different this was from my visit last November, when I went for an affidavit of something or other as part of my residency visa application. Then it was cold, wet, and windy; I was wrapped up in warm woolen layers (scarf, hat, sweater, coat). Yesterday was a warm, clear summer day, and this change of seasons more than anything else makes me feel like we’ve been here for a solidly long time.

So I arrived at the back entrance to the complex, the entrance for visa and citizen services, and had to wait in a narrow alley in the hot sun with about thirty other people – all Albanians, as far as I could tell – since the office was still closed for lunch. It was moderately interesting to see how different people reacted differently to the situation; the woman whose swollen feet strained in her cheap black shoes humbly took her place in line; the woman carrying an expensive purse and the prosperous-looking man with his cell phone in a belt holster stood in the shade near the wall until the security guard told them to move; then they stood at the edge of the sidewalk (still in the shade) about six inches closer to the rest of us but nowhere near the rest of us, on the other side of the alley where they’d been told to go.

At five minutes to 1:00, the guard (heavy night-stick, but no gun) motioned me over towards the entrance and asked “citizen?” I said yes, and he nodded and opened the heavy door for me. At the security booth I relinquished my cell phone, went through the metal detector, and was in. As I walked across a small, shaded courtyard, I could see obliquely the long line of Albanians watching me through the gate.

It’s a weird feeling, getting shunted to the front of the line. I remember the same thing happening to me in Peru when I was 19 and had to renew my US passport while there on a break from college. The difference is that I am also a Peruvian citizen, and the long line of people I walked past that time were all Peruvians. And it felt wrong. It felt wrong to have a privilege that these men, women, and children didn’t have, as I walked past them feeling in the pit of my being “I am one of you, too!” and knowing at the same time that in many ways I am not.

If you think the DMV is a strange place, the visa application office at the US Embassy in Albania is even stranger. It’s a small room, with six glassed-in windows. 1-4 are for visa services, 5 is for citizen services and the sixth is the teller where you pay the fees. There are eleven chairs, but the ebb and flow of people means that up to 25 or so can stuff themselves in at once. Framed photos on the wall of Barak Obama, Joe Biden, and Hilary Clinton smile with shining teeth across from a painting of an girl in traditional Albanian costume holding a sheep, her long flowing brown hair enveloping a dove. You wonder if staunch Republicans waiting in this room for citizenship services feel more, or less, at home when they see the photos.

There is no real privacy. You can hear every conversation that takes place. The woman trying to explain to the visa officer where she actually lives, since she spends part of the year in her home in Albania and part of the year in her home in Macedonia (where her husband lives and works); the man applying for a visa for his young wife and three-month-old baby who is told he has to “bring proof that you were in Albania during the dates you say you were,” even though he has everything the web site said he should bring; the family of three who talk in nearly-perfect English with the visa officers but in Albanian with each other; the man answering extremely personal questions about his relationship history with his American wife; you can hear everything they say, and it feels awkward and wrong to be privy to the complexities of these strangers’ lives.

You think about the performance each interaction entails; wondering how people decided what to wear that day; noting body language, tone of voice, the phrasing of responses. You notice yourself acting more American – using colloquialisms, making unabashed eye contact with a strange man to show you are a liberated American woman. Even with the security guard, you say “thank you” when you retrieve your cell phone, not “Faleminderit.” Like every other applicant there, you are extremely polite.

I left the Embassy just short of an hour after I had arrived, with a receipt to pick up my new passport in a couple of weeks. I realized I was hungry since I’d left for my 1:15 appointment (which is kind of a joke, since up to four people can have an appointment for the same time slot, and they just take you in the order you show up; but since everybody wants to be on time, it’s a weird mad little scramble as all four jockey for their place in line) without eating. Dealing with bureaucrats is always unnerving, even when you have in your hand that magical talisman, that blue and gold passport; even when you know that the minute you open your mouth to speak the American officer behind the window will smile and you will see him relax just the tiniest little bit and he will meet your gaze with friendliness and regard, and you know he will be thinking “oh, she’s American; she’s an expat in Albania, like me,” and you will let him think that you are just like him, because it will help you get what you want.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Proof of my domesticity

I made carrot cake cupcakes for Gabriel's birthday!
(That little yellow vial is vanilla flavoring)
Normally I never make anything that requires a recipe - cause I'm just too lazy to read directions (this does not apply to knitting patterns, so apparently it's laziness, not inability).
So I just grabbed the first recipe that came up on google when I put in a search for "carrot cake cupcakes"
Cream cheese frosting! It was really runny, but tasted yummy.
He wasn't sure about this new taste... (but Valerie loved them!)
And another time, I made fruit salad.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Take a hike...

Last Saturday, we went for a "little" hike outside the city limits with a bunch of Terry's friends from work. (Or I should say, our friends from Terry's work!) It was blistering hot sun out and we were pretty tuckered out by the time we got home, but the kids slept great that night so it was not all for naught! Oh, and the views were kinda cool too:Terry and I zoomed in on the photo above and actually found our apartment building. It's a little to the left of the lake. See it? The light green one. :-)

A little bit short of the final destination, I stopped with the kids under this tree for a water and snack break. This was pretty much the first shade we came to outside the city. Don't think for a minute that Valerie walked a single step of the way - Terry carried her all the way up, and all the way down. I had Gabriel in the Ergo and he slept for most of the way up.
Getting the hang of it!

The rest of the crew went on to check out some old underground military bunkers, relics of Hoxha's own little pocket of the cold war here.
Then Terry came back ahead of the others to walk home with us. On our way back down we got to see a turtle!
...and a little farmette with chickens.
It felt A-MA-ZING to get home, cool off, drink lots of water, and all take naps. As the saying goes, "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun" in Tirana in the summertime!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Before I forget...

Some cute things the kids have been doing.

WALKING!!! (See video in previous post.) And climbing. EVERYTHING.

Yesterday I was making lunch and the kids were playing quietly in the living room. Perhaps TOO quietly. I turned around and saw that Gabriel was standing on the armrest of the couch! Apparently he had climbed up on some sofa cushions that were stacked on the floor, then up onto the couch, then the armrest and onto his feet. Scary!

Beginning to blow kisses, peekaboo expert, eating almost 100% table food with us, ever-louder babbling, and recently became very interested in books, finally! He especially likes pictures of animals and babies, and books with textures (like Feely Bugs, or That's Not My Dinosaur). He also enjoys playing with Valerie's baby doll (although he does try to bite its head sometimes).

She saw a couple Pink Panther clips on Youtube, and she has now adopted a new identity. If I say "Val-Val, do you want some milk?" She'll answer "Panther wants some milk." She calls me Mama Panther, Terry is Dada Panther, and Gabriel is Baby Panther. Except sometimes now she's Bird, and occasionally even Panther-Bird. She acts out portions of the video, like when the panther tries to kill the flea on its nose with a baseball bat (she uses a drinking straw, thankfully) or freeze it off its back with ice cream (she uses plastic toy ice cream, thankfully).

She likes to act out pictures from the big Richard Scarry Storybook Dictionary Anita brought for her. One recurring theme in the book is a pig eating pickles. I commented off-hand one day, "You've never had a pickle, but someday you will get to try one." So for days after that she'd say "someday Val-Val eat a pickle" (this was before the Panther persona). Finally I bought some pickles for her to try and she didn't like them, which I kind of expected, and I felt kind of bad because she was soooo excited when I got them out for her to try. But then she talked about it afterwards a lot, "Val-Val ate a pickle!" so it wasn't a total loss.

She also re-creates the picture of all different kinds of buildings with her blocks, making castles with post-it note flags, "brick" houses, barns, etc.

Today she helped me make cupcakes. Well, first she found the muffin tin I used to make carrot cake cupcakes for Gabriel's birthday, and she got super excited "Mama make cupcakes! Mama make cupcakes!" So I looked around for something to make them special and decided just to add some orange juice for flavor to the basic cake recipe my mom taught me when I was 12. Panther helped me dump in the ingredients and mix them together, and then while they were baking she ate a huge bowl of alphabet soup BY HERSELF, switching back and forth between right and left hands. This is huge for me because even though she CAN feed herself, she hates getting food on her face and so usually insists that I help her eat. But she was so fascinated by the tiny letters that she didn't once ask for my help. Yay! And I don't bake much (ever), so there's not much cooking I do that she can help with since everything else involves knives and heat. So it was really fun to do this together.

Some absolutely golden moments that make everything worth it:
  • One day I was singing a dance song and V wanted to dance with G but wasn't sure how, so I suggested she hold his hand. He was standing supporting himself with one hand, and she took the other, and did a little running dance step back and forth while he grinned from ear to ear! By the time I ran to get the camera she was done, but it was SO CUTE. You'll just have to use your imaginations.
  • Another day G was standing unsupported and I suggested V give him a hug. She stood behind him and put her arms around his shoulders and they both smiled. It was beautiful. Again, same story with the camera, but someday I'll get a shot since she's done it a few times since then as well.
  • They've been learning to play together like little puppies on our bed - rolling around, tickling each other's feet and hands, giggling and laughing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Video of Gabriel Walking!

I took this video two days after G's birthday (July 9). He was a little tired, so that's why he seems kind of floppy when he sort of half-falls against the chair.

"Look out World Cup, here I come!"

(and here it is on youtube for those of you using an iTouch)

The View From Our Balcony

One of the things I enjoy about our new apartment is the view from the balcony. It's not the panoramic view of the city, hills, and mountains that we had from the old place, but it's a closer peek into a slice-of-life here in Tirana.

These two gentlemen play chess or dominoes together on a regular basis, next to a vacant grocery store.

Every day I can look down and see people making a living by scavenging through the dumpsters where we dispose of our household trash.

The kids both love watching the rain come down (though it hasn't in a while). They also like looking for dogs - both household pets being taken out for walks on leashes, and the many street dogs that patrol the area. Occasionally we spy a stray cat making a mad dash to hide under a car. And there are always people to see.

One day we watched a bride being escorted from her home with great fanfare - she looked absolutely jubilant.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

One Year Old!


We are so beyond blessed to have you in our lives, our beautiful and beloved son. You are a delight to everyone who knows you. You bring smiles and laughter into our hearts and home. When I hold you in my arms I feel like there isn't room in my chest for all the love I feel for you. I know that you will be a blessing to many people during your life. You are important to me beyond measure, and you have made our family complete. I can't wait to know you in five, ten, fifteen years as you grow up and show us all that you are capable of. I love you forever, your Mami

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Time Lapse

Here's a look back through Gabriel's first year
(each photo taken on or near the 7th of that month)
(edited to add hyperlink from each month title to the corresponding milestone blog post):

Can you believe he was so tiny and skinny and red? Where did this wee baby go? Where did this loving, laughing, funny, adorable little boy-child come from? What a blessing you are to us, beloved Gabriel!

Monday, July 04, 2011


Gabriel is walking! Yesterday afternoon he started taking unsupported steps by himself and has been doing it off and on again since. He still likes to drop to comfortable, fast crawl, but by and large I'd say he's achieved this milestone - just days before his first birthday. Good job, little G!

(And of course, as is traditional with the second child, we managed to capture none of it on camera)

Friday, July 01, 2011

I could get addicted to this...

Oh this is too much fun!

Testing: Video

Let's see if this works: a short video of Gabriel laughing at S's fake sneezing. I also put it on Youtube here.

Little Updates

wrapping monkey in his towel post play-bath

Anyone know how to get a 3-year-old to take a nap already????

We've been doing a new thing this week; setting a timer at bedtime and naptime. I lie down with her until the timer goes off, then I leave the room. It's working great at bedtime - instead of fighting sleep and trying to play with me, she actually lies down and puts herself to sleep, like she's trying to fall asleep before the timer goes off (I set it for 20 minutes, though I plan to cut back over time). Naptime is another story. Right now she has been in bed for an hour and a half and is still shouting intermittently. I went in twice to check on her in case she had a diaper issue going on but she was fine. Just not SLEEPING.

And I reeeeeally wanted a nap, myself, today.

Oh well.

Gabriel's been up to some cute new things; he is an enthusiastic mimic and has started imitating hand motions with little songs - adorable! Also, mooing when he holds a toy cow. He really wants to feed himself with a spoon but it's hit-or-miss whether he'll actually get any food into his mouth. He also likes putting the spoon in MY mouth!

We've been trying out our Ergo since I think he's outgrown the Bjorn - he loves the Ergo! I think it's a lot more comfortable for both of us! I haven't figured out yet, however, how to get him on and off my back without help. So when I'm on my own I still use the ring sling.

Valerie and Gabriel have been playing together more which is awesome. They have crawling races down the hallway which both of them find hugely hilarious, laughing all the way. Valerie is learning to touch him gently, and likes to play with his feet and touch his hair.

She's been living in a world of imagination lately - clothespins tossed onto a blanket become beans growing in a jar; her stuffed animals get pretend baths, then the "tub" (any random object will do - a shoebox, a basket, a plastic bowl, a shoe) turns into a cable car, a boat, monkey bars at the playground...

I've night weaned Gabriel this week too, and while he still wakes up two or three times at night, I only give him water and then a quick cuddle and he's back to sleep again with no tears. I wonder what it will take, though, for him to sleep through the night? I'm just don't like not checking on him at all when he wakes up at night, not knowing if he might be cold, or hot, or thirsty, or poopy. So a little drink and a little cuddle it is (exactly one verse of "Like A River Glorious" in my arms, then into the crib). The exception is when he wakes up at around 5:00 a.m. (which is every single morning, no joke). Then I let him sort of grunt and fuss because usually he doesn't actually cry, until he goes back to sleep until 6 or 7. The only problem is that it's light out by that time and I have a hard time falling back asleep myself then.

We've had cooler temperatures this week which as been nice. I've heard August is really really hot so we'll see how we fare with that!