Friday, September 23, 2011


Picture this:

You hear the door open; Shpresa and Gabriel are back from their walk. You look down the hall, and you see him being lowered to his feet, his fat little legs sticking out like prongs to meet the floor.

He turns to you and his whole face lights up with the beaming smile that says you are the person he loves most in the world. Shpresa puts a posy of marigolds in his dimpled fist, the flowers exactly matching the orange in his shirt, and he toddles straight down the hall towards you, with that dimple in his cheek and the fine brown hair falling across his forehead.

You crouch to meet him, arms open wide, and he throws himself against you and you lift him up. He sniffs the flowers, looking up at you, then pushes the posy into your nose and plants a wet kiss on your cheek.

You hug him tight - Hijito lindo, pequeño, precioso, mi amor.

That glowing puddle on the floor? That's me - a melting pool of pure happiness and love.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guest Blog Post!

Please welcome with a warm round of applause, our first guest blogger here at Phantzi Little Yarns, Grammy Dot!

The Jantzi grandparents are adapting to this wonderful ancient culture and reconnecting with the grandchildren. Since Valerie now calls herself Panther (after Pink Panther), we all have become Panthers. Gabriel is Baby Panther, Elizabeth--Mama Panther, Terry--Dada Panther, Dot--Grammy Panther, Vern--Grandpa Panther. If we forget, we hear a shriek, or a correction of some kind. The use of ValVal Panther, though, is permitted. But then she confuses the issue and Elizabeth becomes Grandma Panther, too!! Some days she decides she's Piglet, or Duck, or some other animal, but mostly it's Panther. It's a lot of fun being here and interacting face to face (rather than through Skype video) with Valerie and dear little Gabriel with the great big flirty smile that lights up his whole face!! They all came to the airport to meet us and Valerie still talks about how "Grammy and Grandpa came out of airplane." They both enjoy the stuffed animals--Pooh and Tigger, and the "button" books with sounds of Pooh and Tigger experiences.

Today the grandparents bought Valerie new shoes that light up when she walks as a bonus gift for how well she is adapting to potty training. There are a few misses, but mostly hits.

We particularly enjoyed our trip to Macadonia and our stay in the old city. Pooh and Tigger are constant companions wherever we go.

One Year in Albania!

Today marks one year since we arrived in Albania; a point in time to reflect and remember, to celebrate successes and set goals for the coming year.

Yesterday we (the Jantzi grands and I) took Valerie to Tregu Çam near our first apartment in Tirana, to buy her a pair of shoes – the kind that have little lights that flash when you walk – as a reward for her potty training successes. She seemed a little subdued and emotional, although I’m not sure if it was due to visiting our old neighborhood, or because she overheard Dot and I talking about them leaving next week. I know that I always feel a little pang when I get near our old place. We only lived there five months, but there was an intensity and tenderness of emotion imbued in those five months that can’t be matched in “ordinary life.” Perhaps that’s why Terry and I like to change things up so often (jobs, homes, countries) – to keep reaching that emotional high, even though it can also be painful at times.

After shopping we went to the “orange couch” park (Compleksi Taiwan in Parku Rinia) for juice and coffees. The guy who waited on us was the same guy who waited on us (and whom I invariably tipped extravagantly) all through last winter when I would take the kids there 3-4 times a week. He commented that Valerie “është e rritur” – she has grown. And she has – she seems so long and tall now! When we came here a year ago, she was barely talking – now she narrates funny little stories all day long (and well into the night), recites ditties she’s learned from Shpresa in Shqip, and stays dry all day (and sometimes all night!)!

Gabriel has probably changed the most – from a wobbly infant who slept all the time (albeit in short increments) to a goofy, affectionate toddler who tries to copy everything his sister does – and often everything we do, too. Yesterday after I emptied a sugar packet into my coffee, he took the empty packet and shook it over my cup, stirred it with the spoon, and then carefully blew on it before letting me have a sip!

Terry will have to tell you himself about his life as an office drone; I will say that he continues to blow people away with how well he can speak Shqip. He’s not where he wants to be – which would be completely fluent – and this keeps him up at night studying grammars and children’s books, or surfing YouTube for traditional Shqip songs (which also impresses the heck out of people, that he even knows who Vaçe Zela is, for example, and that he knows all the words to “Unë Jam Njëzet Vjeç.” I’m very proud of him.

I’ve found a balance, I think, thanks to Shpresa’s invaluable help, between motherhood, expat life, and dissertation writing. It’s amazing how much energy each of these pursuits can absorb. There’s not much left for “wife” afterwards (and absolutely none for knitting), though we’ve been able to squeeze in the occasional date night (more like date afternoon) here and there. In a way it’s good we had 8 solid years just the two of us to lay a strong foundation.

It’s hard to believe that a year from now Gabriel will be two – the same age Valerie was when we came – and that Valerie will be four, ready for preschool. I will hopefully be close to finishing a draft of my dissertation (I try to keep my goals realistic!), and Terry will be contemplating life in the classroom once again.

Or else orchestrating a move to Mongolia. ;-) Keep your seat belts fastened!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Travelogue: the cute kids post

Valerie at the wheel of our rental car

Valerie sharing her çubuk with "Xhaxhi" (uncle) on a boat ride along the shore of Lake Ohrid

Skipper's littlest helper!

Ah, naps! I had to wear G down in the sling pretty much every time. He's getting really heavy!

Back in Tirana, we took the grandparents up to Mt. Dajti National Park. Valerie was beyond excited. Gabriel had his first horseback ride! I took one too - first time in about 20 years I've been on a horse. The smells reminded me of when I was a kid and we would ride horses in to Chumbakiwi, one of the Quechua villages my parents worked in a long time ago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Travelogue, part II

sunrise over Ohrid

something old emerging from the earth near the Amphitheater

There are a lot of fascinating old cars in the old city. If I knew more about cars I bet they'd be even more fascinating. This is a Lada; I also saw a number of Zastavas.

On Terry's birthday, we got to go out to dinner sans kids, thanks to Grandpa and Grandma! What a treat!

Moonrise over Lake Ohrid.
So lucky we got to see the full moon rise on both our visits to this beautiful spot!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Travelogue, part I

Here's a little summary/overview of our recent trip:
We left Sunday morning in hopes of avoiding some of the city traffic as Terry got used to driving in Albania. It sort of worked.

We drove to Lin, a small village on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid and stayed there one night in hopes of avoiding some of the nightclub noise in the old city of Ohrid on the Macedonian side (that sort of worked too). It was the first time ever that both kids spent the night in the same room! I'd say it... sort of worked. Getting them to fall asleep seemed impossible until I stuck Gabriel in the sling and took him for a walk under the moonlight. He conked out in under 10 minutes. With him out of the room, Valerie was able to fall asleep too.

Monday we drove to Villa Lucija in Ohrid - the same place we stayed before. Lovely as always, if a tad bit hotter. The spring peepers were not out in force like they'd been in June but there seemed to be a lot more gulls around. They were cool too.

Monday we took a short boat ride along the lakeshore; Tuesday we walked around the old city looking at old Orthodox churches and things like that; Wednesday we took the ferry across the lake to Sveti Naum where we took another little row-boat to see some of the springs that are the source of the lake.

I don't think these photos can fully convey the ambiance of the place - the water was incredibly clear and incredibly cold, and you could see it bubbling up from under the sand or trickling in from among the rocks. From the boat, we picked blackberries that hung out over the water - plump and fresh and sweet. Too bad we could only reach one each!

Thursday we drove back to Tirana, stopping at noon in Pogradec where I was able to connect with a HNGR intern currently placed there - that was really cool, as I'd been unable to reach her by phone and wasn't sure if we'd be able to see her or not. But as we drove into the city, we saw a young woman walking along the road side and said "she looks like she might be American, let's ask her if she's Rachel!" So we stopped and asked and she WAS! So I was able to have a coffee with her while the other three adults wrangled the tired and weary kids before the last leg of our journey. I did this same internship program 17 years ago (wow), only in Bolivia, so it was really cool to see that the spirit of the program has remained the same.

More photos coming soon!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I don't have a photo that's less than a year old... so here's a rose for your birthday.
Love you, miss you, Mom!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Birthdays!

Happy birthday, Solana!
And Terry!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out of Office Notice

We're leaving today for a week-long trip around Lake Ohrid, both the Macedonia side and the Albania side (at least that's the plan...) I'm not sure if I'll be able to blog much until next weekend, so until then here are some goofy pictures of the kids to keep you entertained!
Gabriel beginning computer literacy with the help of Shpresa's son, Samuel

Another rare ponytail moment!


Wednesday, September 07, 2011


One of our fish died :-( The one I called Rosencrantz. It was looking pretty listless for the past few days so I wasn't surprised. I buried it in a flowerpot.

We've been having a lot of fun showing the grandparents around Tirana. It's been pretty hot, but they seem to be managing pretty well so far!

Potty training is going better than I expected with more hits than misses. I'm proud of our Panther-girl.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


So this week has been devoted to potty training. FINALLY, after three previous attempts spaced out over the past eight months (I think?), we had some success. We've been using a timer for reminders to sit on the potty, and celebrating successes with balloons, ice cream, and fun toys like stickers and blowing bubbles. V refuses to wear underpants so it's mostly "au naturel" at home, and pull-ups when we go out. The pull-ups clearly feel exactly like diapers to her so I'm not sure how useful they are as a transitional item.

Anyway. My goals are modest: to be using regular underpants and mostly accident-free by Christmas.