Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Birthday P!

Happy Birthday to my beautiful, smart, creative, eternally youthful sister!
I love you!


She likes to pretend she is skiing or snowboarding on this green thing.
I'm not sure what she was doing here - slalom?

Wow, I didn't mean to let like ten whole days elapse between posts, but Shpresa has been away at a conference all week and my computer time completely evaporated. What little I've been able to carve out has been used for e-mails, mostly... I can keep up on Facebook using the iTouch, but it's hard to actually write anything on the tiny little touch pad. Right now I'm in a strange little bubble that never happens, wherein Gabriel went down for his morning nap before Valerie woke up for the day - I don't know how long it will last but I'll just stop where I am and hit "publish post" when she does wake up. Although I hear Gabriel still babbling in his crib so I don't know, he might need me again in a minute. He was just soooo sleepy!

It's been a good week - so many little stories I'm saving up to tell you - here's the best one, probably: one day we were hanging out by a park bench waiting for a friend to meet up for a morning walk, and I'd put Gabriel down from the Ergo so he could run around a bit. I noticed he had something in his hand, and I went to see what it was - a stick? Nooooooo - a dried up dog turd!!!!! So gross! His hands got a good sanitizing after that I tell you. The same day we were hanging out on the balcony in the afternoon and I noticed him looking contemplative, moving his mouth like he was eating something. I pried open his jaw and fished out a little green beetle! It was about the size of a black-eyed pea, pretty shiny green. I looked at it closely and the legs were still moving! We liberated onto the neighbor's balcony below, I hope it isn't a house-plant pest since she has a lot of potted plants.

That's my boy: playing with dog turds and eating bugs.


My mom passed the citizenship test and will be sworn in as a US citizen next week!


Oops - G calls. Ta...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Take the Yellow Train to Obama Nation

"Let's go to Obama nation!" says Valerie, running down the hall to Gabriel's room.

And yes, there's a back story.

Some time ago someone stole our three-year-old and replaced her with a 1984-style censor. Here are some of the words I'm not supposed to say, according to our resident representative of the Thought Police:

- happy ("Not happy, just HAP.")
- with
- Mama ("Not Mama, just Mimi!")
- Gabriel ("Not Gabriel, just GABE.")
- Valerie or Val-Val (Panther)
- Panther (Panthie)
- Panthie (Panth)

A lot of them are truncations of the full word. Like "milk" become "muh." Sometimes she doesn't like me to use Albanian words but will allow a Spanish substitution. (Although she does code-switch a lot - today she said "Panther put underwear on koka!" [head]).

I was starting to get really annoyed with these apparently random prohibitions (I mean come on, how am I supposed to get through the day without once using the word "with"???), but Terry of course made a game of it: "Is it an Abomination* to say 'with'?" he would ask. "Yes!" she would reply. The joke, of course, is that in stating the "Abomination" we state the forbidden word as well.

One day for some reason she said "let's go to Abomination!" And I said "How about Obama nation?" And she said "OK!" Obama Nation turned out to be Gabriels' room (which is also sometimes referred to as "the hotel."

Oh, and she has also re-named our apartment as "Yellow Train." We're not allowed to say "home" just "Yellow Train." So for example, when we play This Little Piggy we have to say "...and this little piggy went wee wee wee, all the way to the Yellow Train!" I know, it doesn't scan or rhyme - but we go with it. And it's not completely random, either - the etymology of Yellow Train comes from one of her Sandra Boynton books - there's a picture of a family of hippos in a car ("five works well for a ride in a car, as long as the car ride isn't too far") and the interior of the car is yellow. She got it in her head that they were in a train - a yellow train - and for a while every taxi we rode in was a yellow train. Then our home turned into a yellow train as well and thus it has remained. And her stroller is either a car or an airplane.

She also had me go through her entire huge Richard Scarry book, and cover up all the piggy feet and bunny feet with post-it notes (when I refused to actually cut them out). Also some mouse feet, also piggy dolls. She wanted me to cut off the nose of her beanie baby cat, but agreed to a compromise of covering it up with purple thread (got to practice my darning skillz!). She doesn't like pictures of monkeys either.

Most of her prohibitions seem completely random to me (with? WITH?). Some I can relate to something that scared or annoyed her. Some of them I choose to ignore (I'm not going to cut pictures of monkeys out of her storybooks or off Gabriel's shirt). I usually figure it's just a way for her to try to be in control of something, but Terry's joking that we need to set up a therapy fund for treating her OCD someday.

*Pratchett fans will recognize this reference.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Today was Mother Teresa day in Albania; although she was born and raised in Macedonian, she was ethnically Albanian and so Albanians feel like she belongs to "us." It was a national holiday and Terry didn't have to go to work! I kept feeling like it must be Saturday and thinking tomorrow is Sunday rather than Thursday.

It was a gorgeous, cold, crisp day.

The kids have been doing all kinds of hilarious cute things but they're such little things, it's hard to remember when I sit down to write exactly what they were. After watching Terry cut his hair with the electric clippers, Gabriel grabbed a tube of chapstick and pushed it across his head going "bzzzzzz." He has also begun sitting on Valerie's potty, then taking it and pretend-dumping the pretend-pee into the toilet. I also found a plastic toy dolphin and a dirty diaper taking a swim in said toilet, so... G and I need to sit down and have a little talk about that, I think.

Speaking of little talks - one day in nursery at church Valerie screamed at another child who wanted the toy she was playing with. Instead of making a scene I said "let's go have a little talk in the bathroom" and took her into the ladies' room which is quiet and private (often she just needs a break from the chaos of nursery) where we discussed sharing and taking turns. So now anytime she's misbehaving and I verbally correct her, she'll jump up and say "Go have a little talk!" and run to her room or to the bathroom ahead of me.

Her alter egos have expanded - Terry is usually Owl now, and Gabriel is usually Piglet or Tigger. I'm usually "the other Dada." Terry is never the "other Mama" though - go figure!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Our Potty Party

So here is our Potty Tale.

I have alluded on this blog a few times to my attempts to potty train Valerie, but not in very much detail. This was partly to protect her privacy and partly because it was such a Big Huge Deal in my mind, that I didn't quite know how to write about it without getting my proverbial knickers all in a twist myself. Now that we're at the point where she is, for all intents and purposes, DONE with diapers (can I hear a Halleluja, Amen?!?) I thought I'd reflect back on the process. Some things can really only be seen in hindsight, am I right?

The actual potty learning time (which, I realize, is still ongoing although the bulk of the work is done) still feels to me like a miraculous journey. After my first two attempts, which involved much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (mostly on Valerie's part), I realized I was completely unable to envision success. Like, I couldn't even picture V calmly and successfully using the potty. Even despite many, many occasions of practice (see photo above) during which she would walk through and narrate the entire process - but ONLY if she could keep her pants and diaper on.

But then she started asking to see Elmo's Potty Time DVD again, and was very intent on a little girl in the video who takes off her own diaper and sits on her own little potty in the middle of a party with lots of balloons. So I decided we should have a potty party. I made a count-down calendar, and we talked about it every day - how we would have balloons and ice cream and pizza - and then I got sick. Throwing up all night, flat out in bed sick. And then Valerie got sick. So I had to abandon the count-down - but a couple days later, we were both better, she was ready, so we did it.

I had bought a little blue potty (see photo below) with a picture of a duck on it, and decided to use a timer and have her sit on it every 20 minutes. Funnily enough, our iTouch has a duck-quack option for the alarm/timer so I chose that setting, and it seemed to really tickle her fancy - "When you hear the duck, time to sit on the duck potty!" she would say every time. It worked great, and upon her first success I jumped up and down and cheered, blew up a balloon, gave her a bite of ice cream to eat, and I think gave her a little gift even (I forget now; the point it, it was a big deal and I was beyond excited!).

From that point on, she little by little got better and better at it. There were some mishaps, and it was a little tough for her to deal with the trip to Ohrid in the middle of potty training month, but overall it just went soooooo much better than I expected. After a few days she got tired of using the duck timer, so we just went to verbal reminders. Then she got tired of being reminded all the time and showed that she was able to tell us on her own when she needed to go. She also very quickly decided that she much prefers making #2 on the potty than in her pants, so that's been a much easier transition than I expected. We also used some great padded underpants and special pull-ups that Dot brought from the States (and it was wonderful having so much extra help in those early weeks for the constant vigilance and reminders!). The thinner pull-ups actually helped, because after she had a major overflow spill in them once, she decided to treat them like underpants instead of diapers and not pee in them anymore either - even when I tell her she can (like when we're out and there's no toilet nearby).

In the past two weeks, she's had exactly two accidents, both while sleeping (pull-up overflow).

I can't tell you how happy I am not to be buying diapers for V anymore!!! If I'd known it was going to take this long I would have used cloth diapers with her from the get-go. I calculate we've spent around $2,000 on diapers for her over the three years. Even at $18 each, we would not have spent that much on cloth diapers.

Gabriel has been very, very interested in the proceedings - so much so I wonder if I should start him too? I think I'll wait until closer to 18 months but I definitely think I'll start sooner with him rather than later. He's so precocious in other ways, I think it's reasonable to expect he'll be trained by the time he's 2.

(The other potty in the photo above was one I bought last year in November; the middle piece comes out, and I wasn't sure whether or not it was pinching her legs when she sat down in it. Now I know it doesn't - but that's why we have two. The blue ring in the top photo has generally worked very well too.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Love U, Miss U

Sometimes it's really hard to be so far away from my family.

Friday, October 14, 2011

more pictures

Solana drew this picture of the Phantzi family after our last skype with them:
Didn't she do an awesome job?


I still haven't finished going through the 1000+ photos I uploaded from Dot's camera!
But here are some of them.

A fun thing about having extra family members around is that
I get to be in some of the pictures too for a change :-)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fighting the Forces of Darkness... One Committee Meeting at a Time

In lieu of an actual guest blog post from my Dear Husband, I've taken screen shots of his Tweets (see @TerrenceJantzi if you want more!) As always when dealing with my male-r half, please remember to take everything with a grain - ahem, a CUP - of salt!

Monday, October 10, 2011


edited slightly: I fixed the link on Gabriel's name below

I feel the shift of the earth in its orbit: the seasons have changed, and the first bite of winter came this weekend. It feels like one day we were sweating and hiding from the sun, and the next day shivering and seeking it out. This weekend I raised the awning over our balcony to let in more light, and dressed Gabriel in his winter pajamas. I noticed while walking to my Albanian lesson today that many of the sidewalk cafes and open-air produce vendors have either packed up or retreated indoors. Sure, it's 70 degrees out today, but there is a chill and clarity in the air that evokes the coming of the cold.

The turning of the seasons makes me contemplative all the more because it marks our first year in Albania. We moved here at Solstice last year, and we’ve now gone a full turn around the sun in this place. The coming of the cold usually makes me a little sad, but there’s a funny gladness in me this year as the angle of the light and the smell of roasting chestnuts evokes the memories of last year. It feels like we have come so far as a family in one year, in so many good ways – Valerie talking and engaging in pretend play, learning to use the potty, overcoming so much of her anxiety and fears from the first few months. And Gabriel – wow. Transformed from an infant into a toddler. All those milestones – rolling over, sitting up, teething, eating solids, standing, walking – if only he would SLEEEEEEP! Ah well.

I find that the same things that bothered me a year ago about Albania still bother me – the litter, the second-hand smoke – and the same things I enjoyed a year ago are still my favorite things about living here – the kindness and generosity of the people, learning the language, the plentiful fresh produce (which I’m told is de facto mostly organic, not so much from an ideological motive but more just because farmers can’t afford a lot of agrochemicals).

As we rode the bus to Saranda last week, I was struck with the feeling that this is where we are supposed to be right now. I don’t think I could give a reason or explanation; I just know, somehow.

And that’s a good feeling.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Albanian wedding

Last month Terry and I attended our first Albanian wedding - well, part of one! Here we are decked out in our finery pre-festivities (Shpresa loaned me the sweater, bracelet, and earrings - I think she was worried I wasn't going to be fancy enough!)
The part of the three-day affair that we were invited to was the Bride's farewell party, which is given by her family. The bride was one of Terry's co-workers so that's how we scored an invite. We went together with four other people from his office, as a "family" unit. The Bride's party is the second part of the process; the first part is a party thrown by the groom's family for their friends and relatives. The third part is when the groom's family goes to get the bride from her home and take her to the groom's home to live. For families that are not particularly religious (and remember that Albania was an atheist state for 50 years) there is no other ceremony such as we typically think of in the Americas.

We arrived at the locale, a ballroom at the top floor of a fancy hotel, a little late (the invitation was for 8:30 p.m., I think) but we weren't too late to see the bride make her grand entrance on her brother's arm (her father is deceased):
She was lowered through the ceiling on a special descending platform with dry ice billows, blue and red lights, and two adorable flower girls.

She was seated at the head table and everyone proceeded to eat two courses of a 5- or 6-course meal (salad, cheese and cold cut platter, grilled vegetables, sausage stew, roast lamb and potatoes, and probably a dessert that we missed because we skipped out a little early).

More than an hour after the bride arrived, the groom and his immediate family came down a flight of stairs:
And then there was eating and drinking and dancing until after 3:00 a.m. It was live music, kind of like this but livelier. It was very different from our Mennonite wedding in Lancaster, PA, 11 years ago!

The bride and groom danced together and people threw money at them.
Technically we were not supposed to leave until the groom and his family did, but by 3 a.m. we were pretty beat... so we made our retreat.
So fun! I wouldn't want to do it every weekend but people have been telling me since we got here that we need to see an Albanian wedding while we're here, so I was really glad we got to go to one!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Monday, October 03, 2011

O Sa Bukur! (Oh how beautiful!)

Some photos from our weekend trip to Saranda:

Gabriel enjoying the flowers during a pit stop

Valerie "playing soccer" with a mosaic ball (same pit stop)

Saranda at sunset

Another pit stop

Somewhere really beautiful near the coast

This past weekend we took a 9-hour bus trip to the southernmost part of Albania, spitting distance (almost literally) from Greece. We could see Corfu, but didn't make it there just because the ferry schedule didn't coincide with our retreat schedule.

Terry was participating in the annual WV day of prayer; last year we went to Montenegro for this same event, almost immediately after arriving in the country - still a bit shellshocked from the trip and trying to find our land legs (you totally have to click on the link to last year's post - if nothing else to see the photo of Gabriel and gape at how much he has grown!).

The kids and I were happy to go along even though it was a really, really long bus ride. The kids did great, actually, although the return trip didn't depart until after 1 p.m. so we didn't get home til almost 10. We went on a charter bus full of young, energetic WV staff who doted on the kids, sang to them, played with them, shared snacks and showed them little videos on their iPhones. So that made it a little easier.

Valerie did GREAT with the potty training - no accidents whatsoever. We took along her little potty as well as a ring that goes on top of an adult-sized toilet and used them at pit stops and at the hotel. I think it's safe to say at this point she's done with diapers. We use pull-ups at night but even so she's gotten to the point where she treats them like underpants anyway, telling me when she needs to go potty even in the middle of the night.

Saranda was absolutely gorgeous. In fact the whole trip was gorgeous. I decided I want to live in a village above Orikum :-)

The day and a half at the hotel were fun, too. The kids enjoyed the little playground by the hotel pool, and walking down to the beach to throw stones in the water. They really loved the elevator which dinged every time the doors opened. And the long gauze curtains in the dining room. And the constant admiring attention from the throngs of caring adults at the conference! They liked the big hotel bed and the balcony. Saturday afternoon Valerie took a bunch of rectangular cookies, spread them out on the table, and told me they were Jesus's sheep and he was looking for the lost one. Then she gave them some small blue tiles from the pool to eat (apparently they were acorns!). Gabriel showed off his receptive knowledge of Albanian (pointing to his head when prompted, making sounds or signs of different animals) and charmed one and all with his adorable smile.

We didn't get much sleep but we survived... and it's nice to be home now where we can rest and recharge our batteries.