Monday, December 17, 2012


 Beautiful landscape outside Bogota, where our team retreat was held in November.

 This butterfly mask was at a clever ad for a resort near where we stayed!

 Carport/ patio where the kids enjoy playing. 

 Park near our house

 Baby bananas! This photos is from my trip to the Atlantic Coast a few weeks ago.

Apres bath!

Assembling our Christmas Tree! Valerie is currently fascinated by how things work. She pretty much put together the whole tree by herself, a big 3D puzzle!

Monday, December 03, 2012


No photos yet... but I just got back from a trip to the Atlantic (or Caribbean) coast of Colombia, visiting one of our partner organizations and several MCC volunteers placed there. Miraculously, I feel more rested upon returning than I did before I left! Part of that is due to the fact that I ate something that disagreed with me - rather violently - on my second day, and couldn't keep anything down, not even water. I know that doesn't sound particularly restful - but my hosts became concerned enough that I was actually urged to lie in a hammock and nap at every opportunity. Plus, I had a double bed all to myself for three nights... try co-sleeping with a nursing toddler for a few years, and then you will know exactly how bountifully restful sleeping alone can be! So despite the heat, despite long meetings and despite bumpy road trips to visit projects in the rural communities, I returned to our home in Bogota feeling amazingly rested and restored.

About ten years ago, paramilitaries devastated this area of Colombia, displacing thousands of people, mostly farmers of Afro-Caribbean descent. Slowly now people are returning to the land and trying to re-establish community. Personal trauma, issues over land titles, and basic agricultural livelihoods are all struggles these internally displaced people are working to overcome.

Many aspects of the context on the coast reminded me of my childhood in the Peruvian Amazon - the heat, the parrots flying overhead, the tropical fruits - but in other aspects it's an entirely different context. Different lingo, different music, different foods and ways of being. Our first month in Colombia has been exhausting - dizzying, even. I feel like right now things might be slowing down enough to catch a breath.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Home, Sick

Well, I'm back in Bogota, with some kind of bug - sore throat and bone-tired. Hit the ground running but then took the day off yesterday to just be at home with the kids. It was good. And only coincidence that it was Thanksgiving! We ate noodles, canned beans, peanut butter and jelly, yoghurt. It was a quiet and peaceful day that I think we all needed.

This morning we walked to a private preschool nearby where we're thinking of enrolling Valerie for the coming school year, which starts in January. I have to meet with the director soon to learn more. After that I took the kids with me to the office for the weekly Bogota-staff lunch we share together. It was fun for them, and apparently the whole adventure wore them out because they both fell asleep around 7 p.m.! Amazing.

Off to bed myself.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


It was crazy-strange, less than two weeks after landing in Bogota, to get back on a plane and fly to San Francisco via Houston. By myself. This is the longest I've ever been away from Gabriel. Terry's been sending me nightly updates. I have to say that I've been vastly enjoying my time at the conference, just soaking up all this intellectual and social energy. But it's been tiring too and I think I'm beginning to get sick. My presentation is tomorrow so I should probably get some shut-eye.

Less than 48 hours til I'm back in Colombia again!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Home

Here are some photos of our apartment. It's very much a work in progress... I didn't include photos of the bedrooms because the level of chaos is just unreal. 

The door you see is the front door we come in. Opposite this door, on the other side of the wall you see by the table, is the big bedroom. Just behind those hat trees is the small bedroom which we are only using for storage right now (we inherited a lot of MCC detritus...)

To the right of the dining room table is the kitchen/laundry area (you can see the top of one of the dining room chairs there at the bottom left). Clothes take forever to dry inside; smaller, more frequent loads seem to be the thing to do.

To the right of the laundry area, on the other side of a dividing wall, is a little nook where we put this couch. The view out this window is actually prettier than what you see here - you can look down into the patio garden, and to the right you see the trees from the small park and the University grounds nearby. The kids LOVE playing in this little nook.

Opposite the nook is this small fireplace, and a painting we inherited from someone. (The butterfly wings were acquired in the States and have spawned a really fun series of bedtime stories about Caterpillar and Butterfly and their adventures in the garden. Opportunity to insert morality tales about sharing and taking turns!!!)

 Wider angle view - another play area (imagine that!) The two doors you see there are both bathroom doors - why we have two adjacent bathrooms, I do not know. But it works. One or the other is always running out of toilet paper. 

Like I said, I've been impressed by how well the kids have been doing (so far). They are very much looking forward to visits from their grandparents, though!


So I'm in San Francisco! The past two weeks in Bogota have been a bit of a blur - days packed with meetings, traveling to and from the office, applying for our ID cards (oh bureaucracy...), spending time with the kids. We also had a four-day retreat with the entire MCC Colombia team, partly at the office and partly at a LOVELY little village just outside the city, so we were out of contact for a good chunk of time there.

And I can't find the cord to upload photos from my camera to my laptop... I did take some pictures on the iPod Touch that I can post here so will do more of that later today (now that I'm connected to free wireless at the hotel here!)

I'm in SF for a six-day Anthropology conference; I'll be re-connecting with grad school friends, attending talks and panels on topics related to my research, hopefully getting some sleep and maybe even some writing time. And updating my poor neglected blog! Beginning with this picture, of our kids hanging out at home:

More soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A really, really long way of saying "we arrived safely" :-)

We are in our new home in Colombia! It doesn’t feel that far away, despite the long haul to get here. Exiting the airport into the crowd felt so familiar. The ambiance of Bogota reminds me a lot of Lima, except that Lima is sea level and Bogota is what, 8,000 feet? Enough that we’re feeling it, anyway. Huge, bustling, noisy, smoggy city with riches, poverty, and “getting by well enough” rubbing shoulders on each corner.

Our neighborhood is near the University and a lot of Mennonites live here, apparently. It’s a quiet nook of a neighborhood with small groceries dotted throughout and a little park with a playground just half a block from our building that the kids LOVE.

Our building is a four-story brick apartment building with purple bougainvillea foaming over the gate. We have six keys, two gates, and three deadbolts to get through every time we want to go in and out. Oh, and a flight of steps since we are on the 2nd floor. We’ve met our neighbors briefly – a family with tween/teen kids – and they seem very nice. There’s a small patio for parking cars and bikes, but the kids like to pretend it’s the ocean and they are fish swimming away from the ‘octopus’ (me) to hide under the huge spreading potted plants in the corner. Our bedroom overlooks this patio and yesterday I saw an emerald-green hummingbird darting around the plants briefly.

Our apartment is spacious and well-lit, although the lay-out is very odd. A number of the inside walls are set in at non-right angles, and there are some slightly awkward nooks the intended functions of which are unclear. But the kids seem to like it; a lot of furniture left over from previous MCCers is stacked in one corner and we unearthed a box of children’s books that also contained four My Little Ponies. Valerie keeps asking where they came from, I think their appearance was like magic to her.

We’ve been incredibly warmly welcomed by the MCC team here. We arrived late Thursday night and were met by two volunteers – I was so bummed the battery on my camera ran out, because we’d stacked the four suitcases on a cart and then Terry perched the kids on top of the stack of suitcases and they were just too cute sitting there riding backwards.

Friday we all went to the office together for a celebratory lunch – cookout on the roof (including an AMAZING quinoa salad and fresh-squeezed guava juice). The office occupies most of a four-story building, an old home not too far from where we live. We got to meet the MCCers who are based in Bogotá although I’m still putting together names, faces, and service assignments. After lunch we had a short meeting during which both kids fell asleep on my lap… fortunately we were able to transfer them to a bed upstairs (there are two guest rooms here for out-of-town service workers who are passing through the capital). We also met the very sweet woman who will be providing us childcare.

Saturday we puttered around the house sorting ourselves out, went to the playground, and had lunch at the home of the MCCer who has been our primary guide, and her hostess/housemate, an older Colombian woman affiliated with the Mennonite church. More amazing food (potato soup with capers, cream, and shredded chicken; fresh-squeezed passion fruit juice) and great conversation.

Today (Sunday) we went to the Mennonite church that Terry and I had visited in 2007; it was nice to be in a familiar-ish place even though I didn't really know anybody. People kept coming up to Terry and commenting on how much he looks like Vern :-).

I have to say that it’s SOOOOOO NICE to be fluent in the language. There are a few differences in accent and vocabulary but wow. I can just, like talk to people. Terry still tends to default to Albanian so I have to translate for him sometimes. The kids are very receptive to learning new words in Spanish, so I hope that comes along quickly for them. 

Valerie has been talking a lot about Tirana but overall the kids both are doing really well. Of course when they get tired or hungry they get a little fragile, but for the most part they seem to be having a lot of fun. I think they’re really enjoying getting so much time and attention with Daddy.

We have internet at our apartment but it’s super-slow and not very reliable… so that’s mostly why it took me so long to post anything here. We’re going to get a different kind of connection… eventually… so hopefully I’ll be able to blog more often before too long.

I have tons of great photos to post from our time in the US, too! Little by little...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Photo: Arrival in Dulles Airport 4/9/12

So, here we go again! Our two(ish) months in the States flew by... and tomorrow (barring complications) we'll be headed south for a new adventure. 

Photo: mid-flight on Turkish Airlines

I still haven't downloaded my photos from our trip to NY to see family and stop by Cornell, but it was a good trip (albeit highly compressed!) I hope to have those up soon.

Today was a full day packing, taking care of loose ends, voting (!!! we were able to vote in person by going to the city registrar and filling out applications for absentee ballots, which they gave us then and there and we just filled them out and slid them into the counting machine). (I was super excited about that.)

More soon as time permits... almost too much to process right now!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Zoo (and Visas!)

We are very excited to have our visas to Colombia in hand! I’m still not completely sure whether or not it was necessary for us to take the kids with us to the consulate in DC, but we did, and it turned out to be a [mostly] fun family outing both last Friday when we submitted the applications, and this Wednesday when we went back to pick up the visas. Overall the whole process went smoothly, aided I’m sure by Gabriel’s dimple when he returned the restroom key for me to the woman behind the counter at the consulate.

Both days, we drove to the Metro station in Vienna, loaded the kids into the double stroller that I am SO glad I decided to bring, and made our way into DC. The kids loved riding the train (what kid doesn’t?) At the consulate, Terry entertained the kids while I interacted with the consulate staff (all in Spanish). MCC staff in the US, Canada, and Colombia all provided different pieces of instruction, advice and supporting documentation that got us through without any major hitches. We were given 2-year religious visas because MCC in Colombia works entirely through the Mennonite and Brethren churches there. (One piece of advice we were given beforehand: “dress like missionaries!”)

Since the consulate is on the same Metro line as the National Zoo, and since our kids love animals, and we’d never yet taken them, both trips then included a zoo visit. The second visit went much more smoothly than the first, to my mind, since we packed a lunch instead of waiting in a line for 45 minutes at the one cafeteria that was open like we did the first time (glacial pace + hot sun = grumpy mommy), only to get extremely expensive fried-and-over-salted food that was not very good anyway. So, word to the wise when you visit the zoo: PACK A LUNCH!

The kids’ favorite part of the zoo was the small mammal house. Valerie’s favorite animal there was the armadillo, trotting around on its little wee feet, though she was also a big fan of the meerkats. Gabriel could not be torn away from the naked mole rats scurrying blindly through clear plastic tunnels. Terry enjoyed making other zoo visitors laugh with his off-the-cuff humor (“Don’t you think those naked mole rats look exactly like Grandpa?” or “We’re going to play a game called Let’s Sit Quietly
For a Long Time”), and I enjoyed being outdoors and getting to look at amazing animals FOR FREE!

We have three weeks left in the US before our next big move and it just dawned on me that soon I’ll have to start thinking about packing again. I’m so glad and thankful for all the different pieces coming together. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


It's been a crazy two weeks here since Terry got back... but good, in most ways. We're trying to cram so much into the time that we have. A lot of that time, though, is spent doing fun things with the kids - doing the rounds at nearby parks, visiting the Children's Museum about twice a week, going to the Farmer's Market, watching ducks.

And my sister and her two girls came to visit for a WHOLE WEEK! It was such a marked change from the last time we saw each other a year and four months ago - this time the kids really played together and she and I were able to have real, prolonged, in-depth conversations. Not without interruption, of course, but we could focus enough on what each other was saying to have some really satisfying times together.

(My camera and I got caught in the rain and now the shutter won't open all the way...)

And it was awesome watching the kids interact. There's nothing quite like cousins who are close in age. No other playmates develop quite the same vibe, I think. The first night after the cousins went back to their hotel, Valerie just sat staring out the window sadly, and every morning she would ask (in Albanian) "Ku është Solana? Ku ështe Lotus? Ku është Aunt Anita?" Gabriel was always ready to bestow hugs and kisses (which inevitably culminated with somebody - or everybody - getting knocked down). So it was awesome (chaotic, but awesome). And thanks to Dot for accommodating the extra chaos around the house!

The same day they left, I also left for my first trip ever away from Gabriel!!!!!!!! I was in Winnipeg for two days visiting the MCC Canada offices, since they fund the MCC programs in Colombia. It was a good time to meet a lot of people and get re-oriented to different facets of the work. Many MCC structures and procedures have changed quite a bit since my previous volunteer term (1995-1999 in Bolivia), plus in the country representative (director) role Terry and I will be handling new responsibilities. So it was a good visit.

I also got to see a good friend from MCC Bolivia days, Jodi Read (Hi Jodi!) whose PhD research overlaps a good bit with mine - related to the US/Mexico border - so that was a lot of fun (it would have been a lot of fun even if our research interests didn't overlap at all) ;-) and she showed me around the Forks area of Winnipeg which is super, super cool and I highly recommend you check it out sometime if you get the chance.

I will have to say that I did not realize prior to this trip how much milk Gabriel was still getting from me. *****Breastfeeding content ahead****** but it quickly became clear to me after about 12 hours that I had severely underestimated that, and I spent most of the trip in a LOT of pain as a result. I didn't have a pump with me, or really much opportunity or space for hand-expressing, but I did what I could and mostly just had to grin and bear it. Whenever we do get around to weaning (and since this is my last baby I'm not in a huge hurry) it will hopefully be a much more gradual process because wow. I have never felt so much sympathy for cows that miss a milking. Nor so happy to see my little calf again. Moo.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Terry is right this minute en route to the US - I'm sure experiencing a mix of emotions similar to what the kids and I have been processing (or just watching a movie... or sleeping...) We're all super excited to have him back very soon.

I'm slowly starting to dig through my long list of things to do. Made some good headway this morning which felt great.

Photos soon :-)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Snow Shoes in Jello

We've been here six days, but it still doesn't feel like we've quite landed...

I realized that while I am navigating familiar and comfortable ground, that's not quite true for the kids. Valerie seems to remember a lot of things, but it's hard to gauge how clearly, and what the emotional dimension of the memories are for her. She feels thing intensely to begin with, so I watch her staring with her solemn little face out the window as we drive places and wonder what she is feeling. For Gabriel, it's all a new adventure. He's meeting the experience with a sense of play and adventure, but is also at that volatile 2-year-old stage where he'll instantly flip over into whining limp-noodle mode if he's a little tired or hungry. We've been doing fun things every day but they've also been more tired than usual - and of course recovering from jet lag (although I think we're just about back to normal on that front).

Grammy and Grandpa's house is a paradise of toys and books. We've been made very comfortable in the family room on our own king-size mattress, with space for a train set given to us by a friend whose kids have outgrown it, and our little toddler table with two matching chairs is the perfect place for eating meals or playing with play-dough.

I have a varied range of things I need to attend to; while I'm starting to chip away at my list, I often feel like I'm running as fast as I can through a pool filled with Jello. With snow-shoes on. (I stole that line from one of my elementary school yearbooks, but that's exactly what it feels like.) So much of my energy and attention is soaked up by the kids, which is exactly as it should be. I just wish there were two of me sometimes!

I'll post some photos once Terry gets here with my lap-top.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

We Made It!

So, that was an adventure!

21 hours door to door. 11 hours from Istanbul to DC. One mom, two little ones, and a sanity-saving iPad filled with apps for preschoolers.

It was pretty cool seeing Istanbul from the air, too bad that was all I saw other than a seriously confusing (if posh and shiny) airport.

We're still adjusting to the jet lag, slowly starting to re-acquaint ourselves with the 'Burg, and spending a lot of time exploring the wealth of toys and books at Grammy's house.

More soon when my brain starts working again!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Kuq e Zi

Okay, so it's a little over the top but this was one of the kids' favorite music videos on the "traditional" music channel here (I forget what Shqiptars call it, turbo-something). I can't find the lyrics but what I can make out says things like "Albania, my heart, there is no sweeter name," etc. etc. "Kuq e Zi" means "Red and Black" and refers not only to the colors in the flag, but also to a nationalistic movement that seeks to encompass all ethnic Albanians living in the surrounding area. My understanding is that many if not most of the singers in this video are Kosovar.

We've loved living here, learning to know the language, people, culture, and history of this place. I'm sending out a generalized thank-you to all Albania for your hospitality and kindness to us. We'll always carry part of your story in our hearts.

O sa mirë, më qen Shqiptar!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Briefly, from Lebanon

Excerpted from an e-mail from Terry:

Lebanese are...energetic....hosts.  We drove up to Byblos - oldest continually inhabited city in the world, oldest port still standing.  Walked aroound old city, had a coffee at a cafe, walked some more, ate a huge meal at a nice restaurant overlooking the port, then drove to Harissa to climb a big Jesus statue for awesome 11:00 p.m....and it was full of people....Lebanese don't live in our universe...:) [Editor's note: I can count on one hand the number of times I have been out after dark in the last 2 years]

Too tired to write a long and rambling analysis of Beirut, but just a quickie - one other meaning for the word "Holy Land".  It's not just the place where Jesus walked, etc.  It's also the place where there are literally thousands of religions all rubbing up against each other.  So a literal "Holy Land".  It was interesting to hear glimpses of lots of different flavors of Christianity that I hadn't heard of before.  Same for Islam.  

Also, I don't know why, but Lebanon seems to be just packed with ethnic groups from elsewhere - Syrians, Palestinians, Armenians, Sri Lankans (!?), etc. And people will often speak French...or Arabic...or Armenian...or Italian...or English... VERY different place from Albania.  

Super excited to be picking Terry up from the airport tonight!!!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Goodbyes are hard

Last night I pulled a sheet over myself instead of turning on the air conditioner. Last week I noticed that the angle of the shadows has shifted on the balcony, and the days are perceptibly shorter. The mornings are cool before the sun gets high. The arc of the sun across the sky is lower; it's only a few weeks until the Equinox.

Yesterday I packed up and mailed the first of about five boxes to books plus a few odds and ends to Colombia. All of a sudden it felt real - that we are leaving in a few short days. I almost started crying in a souvenir shop, and then I did start crying while watching Shpresa play with Gabriel.

By far the hardest part of leaving Albania, for me, is saying goodbye to Shpresa. Sure, I'll miss the ubiquity of local fresh fruits and vegetables, macchiato e gjate, roasted eggplant in everything (pizza! quesadillas!), learning Albanian; I'll miss Fun Cafe and the lake. I'll miss walking everywhere and the delicious range of fruit juices available. And I'll miss some of the women from church. But Shpresa has been like a sister to me, more than a friend. Her affection and care for our children has gone far beyond that of a paid employee.

I think part of it is just not knowing if or when we'll be able to come back, thinking of how much the kids will have changed if/when we do, wondering if Gabriel will remember her. She's almost like a second mom to him right now. She gave him his first "solid" food, she was there when he started walking. He talks to her in Albanian.

"It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," right? I know our lives are richer for having shared them with her, and I hope she can say the same about us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I had so much fun with my balcony garden this summer. I don't know the name of that succulent at the top, but it has thrived in the heat. In addition to the flowers, I also had a planter with mint, rosemary, and basil - just brushing by it smells so good.
Tomorrow night Terry leaves for one more trip - three days in Lebanon. He gets back Saturday night. I'm planning to spend the morning doing some souvenir shopping and taking a gift to my Albanian teacher.
Friday I'd like the kids to go to the pool so I can dig into the packing some more. In the evening some friends are coming over for pizza, another farewell-ish event.

Saturday more packing, and an evening with friends.

Sunday I hope to zip the suitcases shut and weigh them.
Monday I hope to have a quiet day without much to do except whatever we feel like doing. Hopefully go out somewhere, maybe go pick up Terry from work.
And Tuesday we leave.


Monday, August 27, 2012


I have butterflies in my stomach today - our last full week in Albania. 
Trying to cram everything in as the days slip by like water.

Saturday we rented a car and drove to Dajti
since Valerie refuses to get on the cable car anymore.

It was perfect - cool, quiet, sunlit, breezy, fun.

We totally wore the kids out - both of them fell asleep in the car on the way home.

(I think this white horse was pregnant. I felt bad!)

 I know, I know, no helmets. What can I say. 

We're treating G. for giardia. V. probably has it too, but no symptoms. She's not eating anything except pizza and milk, but that seems to be due to something in her mouth since she'll only chew on the left side. Wish we could get a good look. Otherwise we're doing pretty well, all things considered! Down to the wire!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


This is from this past winter - it was so cool, Samueli made a self-propelling little car out of an empty toilet paper roll, a balloon, a straw, four plastic caps, and two Q-tips. The kids loved playing with it although they needed help blowing up the balloon again!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And More Packing

I didn't think I was stressed, until I developed a headache last Tuesday that lasted four days. I thought it was lack of sleep, so made sure I got a super-long nap. Headache still there. I wondered if it was my glasses (I really need to get bifocals). But then Saturday and Sunday I took a holiday from even thinking about packing - and the headache vanished by midmorning Saturday. I even ended up giving myself the day "off" on Monday, and didn't start sorting through bins of toys until today, Tuesday (glad to say the headache has not come back so far).

In a way we're still far enough out that for the most part it's just normal daily life.

We had a great weekend, taking the kids to parks and mall playgrounds. We totally wore them out, it was awesome.

Right now it's all feeling doable. I have boxes of books and toys to ship to Colombia, boxes to ship to the US, and boxes to give away. I'm giving away stacks of books, and household items we bought here. I've started talking to Valerie about the new home we'll be going to in Colombia, so that's slowly starting to sink in. She hopes there is a balcony with plants on it (note to self: check on that...) There are dozens of tiny little decisions and in each case I hope I'm guessing right about what's most important to the kids. This morning Valerie asked for a toy that's currently in storage at Aunt Gin's - a giant colorful caterpillar that we call Mr. Peekaboo - at least I could tell her where it was, and it was understandable to her, and she is fine because she knows she will see it again soon.

Gabriel has been fussy and sensitive the past couple days. I'm not sure if it's an intestinal thing or that he senses a shift in the wind. He's been very clingy and wanting to nurse a lot.

It breaks my heart a tiny little bit every time he says something in Albanian. 

I guess we knew the risks when we came.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I actually like packing. I like sorting things into categories. I like the 3D puzzle of suitcases and boxes. I LOVE getting rid of stuff. Sometimes I overdo it and get rid of things I wish I hadn't, later, but that's rare. "When in doubt, throw it out." I'm married to a pack rat so that balances things out a bit...

Today I sorted out the kids' books. Shpresa's son Samueli is helping me put things in boxes, creating labels, scouting dumpsters for cardboard boxes discarded from grocery stores. I have boxes of books to mail to Colombia, boxes to mail to the US, and a short stack of books that will go with us in our luggage. Yesterday I took Valerie with me to the post office and UPS to compare shipping prices. 15-20 kilos costs about $75 to send to anywhere in the Americas by post, and 337 Euros by UPS. I think we're going to take our chances with the post office! I made a list of the books in the boxes just in case, though. I also did a quick check on Amazon to see if it would make more sense just to leave the books here and buy them again in the US - I have probably about $1,000 worth of books here.

I feel like we're in really good shape to be ready to leave in just over 2 weeks. It's nice not to feel too stressed out (so far!!!)!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Song and Dance

A couple times recently I forgot to take my camera along and missed some cute moments. So I’ll have to write about them instead.

About 10 days ago we attended the birthday party of a little friend from church who turned three! It was a tea party so we brought little tarts and cheese-sprinkled bread sticks from the bakery across the street. The children’s table was set beautifully and they all had a chance to practice pouring “tea” (cold water) from our hostess’s collection of teapots from all over the world, after the requisite rendition of “I’m A Little Teapot.”

I was so surprised when my normally reserved girl jumped up at the front of the crowd and sang out with the song, a huge smile on her face! She did the motions and everything. I think she was so excited to recognize a song I’ve sung to her dozens of times – but it was the first time I’ve ever heard her produce it!

She also did an expert job pouring (we’ve been using a neti pot to water the plants outside so I guess she was getting some good practice there), and sang out with “Happy Birthday” later on.

The kids just had so much fun. They also enjoyed taking turns in the hammock on the balcony and ringing the wind chimes. Valerie still asks me to “tell the story about when we went to Abby’s birthday party” every night at bedtime, and we play “birthday party” with big round pieces of bread and candles every day at home!

Another day Valerie and I walked (!!!!!!! Remember this is Stroller Girl we’re talking about – whose comfort object long after we arrived in Albania was her stroller) to the lake to look for a shoe we’d lost a couple days earlier. We didn’t find the shoe, but we enjoyed the walk. When we got there, she had fun throwing little dirt clods into the water until a young dog – still in that rollicking puppy stage – came bounding towards her; she got a little scared, but didn’t cry. Then we climbed up on a concrete block (remnant of something) and she wanted to do the Chicken Dance, which I taught her in a moment of boredom some time ago.

It was one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this moments, standing by an artificial lake in the capital of Albania, doing the Chicken Dance with my daughter. But it was fun.

And then we walked home for supper. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Saying goodbye

I realized this week that we have less than a month left in Albania. Exact travel dates haven't been set yet, but we're thinking that the kids and I will return to the US the first week in September (Terry will come a little later after wrapping up some projects here and closing down the apartment).

As TCKs, Terry and I have had a lot of experience with transitions like these, so we will need to draw on that wisdom for shepherding our kids through it. Even though Gabriel has really only known life in Albania - except for our 2-week trip to Akron - after a few years he won't remember this phase of our life as a family at all. And that's a really strange thought.

It's been a pleasure raising him from tiny baby to two-year-old here.

You'll be hearing more about this transition in the coming weeks, I'm sure. For now I want to share a song my sister and I used to sing over and over again when we were kids:

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye's such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It's time for saying goodbye

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we've had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It's time for saying goodbye
Don’t want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it's better to go

Somehow I know we'll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when
You're in my heart, so until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye
La la la la la la la la
It's time for saying goodbye

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Enjoying the struggle

Sometime about two months ago or so, I was sitting in the living room with my family and I looked around and realized… I’m relaxed. I’m relaxed, at home, with my family. And yet, everyone is awake...! And I realized that it’s been about, what, four years? Since I’ve felt that way.

I’m not sure if it’s because the kids have hit a developmental stage where they can play more independently, or because something has shifted internally in the way I approach parenting, or a little of both. Up until this point, parenting has been for me a source of constant tension – always worrying about what and whether they’re eating, timing their sleep just right, wondering in just what ways I'm doing permanent damage to their psyches, and of course the ever-present risk of bodily harm as they careen through a world full of sharp corners and hard surfaces. Short of raising them inside a padded room, though, I didn’t really see any other way to do it.

When we were in Akron I heard a quote that began to revolutionize the way I think about my role as their parent: “children are hard-wired for struggle.” And I thought, wow, that’s true. That’s how we learn. Remove from their world all struggle and pain, and you remove the opportunity for them to learn and grow up to be resilient, adaptable, resourceful individuals. Not only is it impossible, but it’s actually not good for them. They are born with the inner resources to meet the challenges of life and grow through the struggle. It’s my job to nurture them through that process in a timely manner, to judge what struggles they’re ready for, to coach them through it. Not over or around it. Through it.

The tension and fear that has shadowed me as I shepherd them through life is abating somewhat. I find that these moments of relaxation are becoming more frequent and longer in duration. I still find myself at times drawing in to that place of tension and fear, that robs me of my breath and joy. I remind myself to breathe, to shake it off. (This is something I’ve been working on a bit with my sister-in-law who just started a business as a life-coach, she’s fabulous – I highly recommend her!)

This is who I want to be as a parent: patient, playful, positive, and peaceful. I’m also looking for a word that starts with P that means teaching – pedagogic? Professorial? Not sure those capture the idea – but focusing on these notions has recently helped me recently as I confront trying moments.

When Valerie was born, someone said to me “Enjoy your baby.” I want to remember to do that every day. Enjoy my children.