Friday, March 30, 2012


Spring is probably my favorite season. The bloom of flowers and lovely shades of spring green in emerging leaves lifts my heart. The angle of the sun has changed dramatically and our apartment is once again flooded with light and warmth.

One thing that's a little hard about the warmer weather and recent plethora of holidays is just being faced again and more directly with socioeconomic inequalities. The first really warm weather we had, it seemed like the streets just filled with people begging or trying to earn pittance washing car windows, selling odds and ends, hawking flowers. During school holidays I've noticed that all of a sudden there are kids working everywhere - selling gum or snacks on the street, or standing in for their parents at the local vegetable stand.

It helps a little knowing that Terry is here working with an organization that strives directly to help these specific kids - to discourage parents from putting kids to work, to support them in schools, and so on - but I know it's hard for families under economic duress to cope sometimes.

Recent economic hardships in Greece have reverberated here, too, as waves of Albanian emigrants working there back return home, jobless. It's a tough time right now in this corner of the world. And yet the apple and peach trees continue to bloom in all their spring-time glory.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Twelfth Anniversary trip: Berati

Sunday Terry and I celebrated twelve years of marriage! We did end up taking a weekend trip to Berat with the kids, stopping on the way at a quiet beach, deserted in the cool pre-season winds.

Valerie enjoyed digging in the dirt and Gabriel loved throwing sticks into the surf. I made a little Zen garden out of random things I found near me. We had a picnic lunch under the cypress trees near the beach. It was quiet and peaceful and lovely. Gabriel took a nap in the rental car during the drive to Berat but Valerie just enjoyed the ride.

Berati is beautiful. It was one of the historic "museum cities" preserved during the communist era. As a city, it's about 2,500 years old - older than Christianity! It has cobblestone streets, white-plastered tiled-roof houses, and olive groves. I wish we could have spent more time learning about its cultural history and exploring more of its streets.

Saturday after arriving all we did was check in at the hotel (Mangalem, for those taking notes), take baths (the kids loved the huge jacuzzi-tub with a porthole window in the side, even though we didn't even use the bubble jets!), and eat supper. The hotel felt very old-world and it was fun just soaking up the vibe there.

Sunday morning we walked up a very steep hill (a great workout if you have a small child on your shoulders!) to the old city walls which also enclose the castle.

(I don't know what this building was - other than abandoned. It was inside the old city walls. We stopped here for a breather on the way to the castle.)

It was so peaceful and quiet up there, and the kids just loved running around on the green grass. We left just as a couple big groups started arriving so we felt like our timing was good!

We had a little picnic lunch in the car on our way out of town and then G fell asleep during the long, hot drive back to Tirane. Valerie didn't nap at all but played happily with the toys we brought (a cat, two buckets and shovels, a car, a tractor). We arrived in Tirane during the mid-afternoon Sunday traffic lull, and Terry turned in the rental car minutes before it started to rain. The whole thing went so smoothly that we kept holding our breaths wondering when disaster was going to strike - but it didn't! Sometimes... sometimes things just go well. Go figure!

Happy Anniversary to us!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thursday was a holiday, and we were planning for Terry to take Friday off as well so we could go to Berat or Gjirokastra or someplace not too far away that I haven't been yet. I haven't left the city since the end of September! There is much of Albania I haven't seen yet, much less the surrounding area ... I still hope to make it to Greece, Italy, and Croatia before we leave the region.

Anyway, I'd read about Albania's "museum cities" where historic religious buildings were preserved during the communist era but I've only been vaguely near one of them - Gjirokastra (see blurry picture taken from the bus).

Alas, Tuesday night I developed a sore throat that continued all day Wednesday. Thursday I felt worse, so it was a blessing Terry was off that day and could take the kids out while I rested. I don't think I changed out of my pajamas all day! Today I feel a lot better, so maybe we'll still do an overnight away Sat/Sun.

My little couch potatoes. What did parents do before YouTube???
Oh yeah. "When I was your age, television was called books!"
(That line is from one of my favorite all time movies, The Princess Bride)

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Yesterday we went to this amusement park near the big lake.

It was a gorgeous, warm day and the kids had so much fun.

Gabriel was so enamored of these little cars, he cried and cried when it was time to go.

And during his afternoon nap, every time he woke up he'd go "BRRRRMMMM!" and then go back to sleep. So I think he was even dreaming about them.

I think it was the best day I've had in ages.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Summer Day

Yesterday was Summer Day in Tirana, a national holiday, and this is what everybody did:

We didn't attend any of the festivities last year, because one of Terry's co-workers told him that people just go to the parks and throw their plastic bags on the ground. He said "oh, we can do that, we have lots of plastic bags lying around the house!" Actually it was because we had just come back from a trip to Elbasan, were settling into our new apartment, and for all I can remember it was probably raining.

But yesterday was gorgeous out. The traffic was blocked off the length of the main boulevard between Skenderbeg Square and Mother Teresa Square, with live music at one end and vendors selling sweets and meats and balloons and toys the whole length of it.

The kids were a little wigged out by all the people and noise, but Valerie enjoyed running up the side of the pyramid with Terry:

And we had a nice pause by the "twisty slide park" where we often play with the kids. (I don't have any pictures of Gabriel or myself because I was carrying both him and the camera. And then I ran out of space on my memory stick.)
It felt so good to feel the warm sun on our faces.

Monday, March 12, 2012


So as I enter my 40th year of life, the last year I will spend in my 30s, I invite my readers to give me your best words of advice. How might I best live life to the fullest in the next 365 days? How should I think about this moment in time? If you are past this point in time, what do you wish you had done differently at this point, or what do you think you did well?

Of one thing I have no doubt: the next 365 days will bring many, many changes and new challenges. As a parent, a spouse, an academic, and a human being in this world, I hope to grow and rise to meet those challenges.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pooh Can Read!

Valerie is really and truly learning to read. At night when she's going to sleep, she'll often go through the alphabet with a litany of words she knows how to spell (although she says "write" she doesn't actually write the letters yet):

"You know how to write 'apple': A P P L E! You know how to write 'bee': B E E! You know how to write 'cat': C A T!" etc. all the way to Z O O and Z O O M.

(Sometimes she mixes it up and counts to 100. Perfectly.)

She understands how to substitute in different letters to change the word: "Take out T and put in P and it says 'cap'!"

She understands "put S at the end says 'caps'!"

And she can look at a page she's never seen before and sound out a new word - "You see the word says 'soon'!" (an example from this morning).

A couple days ago I thought of writing out sentences using words she knows mixed with new words and see how she did. She read this:

and she only needed help with "and." However, she also had some edits to suggest (note the sentences that are crossed out, with her suggested substitutions written sideways on the right).

She's having so much fun with it, and I'm hoping that continued practice will help her improve her oral use of articles and subordinating conjunctions (which, that, etc.) which she tends to drop (or else she'll over-correct and use "an" for everything).

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Fun with little ones

Two little monkeys jumping on the bed
Why yes, those are underpants on their heads!
And not crash helmets... please don't call CPS.

So last night we were hanging out on the big bed, and Valerie caught sight of a Forbidden Toy on the top shelf of Terry's closet (it's just an annoying, noisy plastic ball with a bell inside it that the kids love cheap plastic junk, I don't know why we haven't just pitched it) and wanted it. So I tried to distract her with the first thing that caught my eye - a round little hotel soap in its wrapper.

WHO KNEW it would be such a hit? Both kids wanted it, crying ensued, and so I went to the bathroom to get some unused bath soap in the wrapper for them to play with. I just sat there laughing, watching them - not for the first time asking myself why we spend money on toys, at all, ever, because they were just so entertained by this ordinary household object. I opened one end of the wrapper on each of two bars, and they spent the longest time just taking the soap out and putting it back in. Valerie would say "Happy Birthday, Pooh!" every time. And then I suggested they pretend-wash their armpits and feet, so they did that (V took this very, very seriously) for a long time.

It was the last toy they said goodnight to last night and the first thing they wanted to do this morning when they woke up. The fun tapered off a bit after Gabriel took an experimental bite of his bar... Just another life lesson.

It wasn't his last mishap of the day, either. This morning I took them to the big park by the lake and he took a face-first spill down some low steps, scraping his nose and getting a big red and blue bump on his forehead, right at the hairline. I might have shrieked louder than he did when I saw him go down - just out of reach - but he recovered quickly.
Nights without Terry here have been very hard, but there are many bright spots during the days... and even in the nights. This morning at around 5:45 after I got them both to fall back asleep (which I wasn't counting on, so was very grateful) in bed with me, saw them drifting into deep breathing relaxation, it was just a very sweet moment. Especially since I got to go back to sleep too!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Postcard from Tbilisi

This from Terry in Georgia:

The sun came out today so of course I was like "Let's move to Georgia!"

Very Russian sort of place - more so than Armenia. Lots of 2500 year old towns, fortress monasteries, Orthodox churches, blah blah blah.

Georgia itself reminds me a bit of Gambia - but not at all. What I mean is that the main part of the country is a giant river valley moving east west to the Black Sea with mountain ranges above and below. Down by the Black Sea, the river valley is enormously wide and flat (where the ADP is) and Tbilisi is up at the narrow end where it sort of oozes up on to the Eurasian Land scene.

Georgia is a country way more divided by conflicts and separatist movements. The bulk of the ethnic Georgians (85% of the country) live in the big river valley while the other ethnic groups who want to separate live up on the mountains that border either Russia or Turkey. So suddenly that was more understandable.

Another thing about Georgia, you can't throw a brick without hitting a castle. I mean, they are everywhere - plus stuff like 2000 year old towns, monasteries from before the birth of Christ (joking), and all sorts of history here - I mean, history that we don't know anything about in US or even in Europe. The joke here among the Georgians is that Armenians claim to be Christians from the 4th Century B.C.

Sneeze-Gargle (name of the town) is cool in an old, small town sort of way. The ADP manager and the assistant manager took me out to eat tonight as a host thingie. It was cool, but didn't work out the greatest since the place we went to had drunken old Russians and live music set at deafblaster levels. So we spent most of the meal making faces at each other and shouting "WHAT?" - not the best environment for reasoned discussion on international development dynamics.

He gets back next Thursday.

Friday, March 02, 2012


Spring has sprung in Tirana; the acid-green mimosas are in bloom by the lake and hawkers amble the avenues selling big bunches for a few lek. I'm told they're late this year, probably because the rains were late as well. It's so nice to have some warmer weather at last.

But my photo stock is still replete with indoor shots, so here's a healthy dose of Indoor Cuteness to get your Friday started off right.

This last photo is from the day a few weeks ago when we did NOT go on the cable car to Dajti. Some friends with a boy V's age had invited us to go along with them but it was a Saturday and an absolute madhouse. People were bussing in from all up and down the coast to see the snow! I had bundled the kids (and myself) up in layers upon layers of warm clothes, packed a picnic lunch, sent Terry back when I forgot the camera and their sunglasses, and then in the end we got to the cable car station and V threw an epic screaming hysterical fit and refused to get out of the car.

Hm. Awkward.

It didn't feel right to force her to do something she so clearly didn't want to do, and it wasn't just toddler stubbornness - the kind where they refuse to do ANYthing you ask, just out of sheer cussedness. It was specific to the cable car. Which was weird because she used to LOVE it.

Anyway, so we left our friends to wait in line for their tickets (almost 2 hours, it turned out later), and instead took the kids to a little park for a snack and then to Kolonat for pizza. Which was fine except that I was SWELTERING in all my layers of warm clothes.

I talked about it later with V and it seems like she's scared of the loud noise that the machinery makes at either end. I don't know why it was an issue this time when it hasn't been before (we've been at least 4 times) but maybe the last time we went she noticed it particularly for some reason. I've noticed before that she's very sensitive to loud noises, so I'm guessing that's what was up. We role played for a long time then going on the cable car with Dada holding her and helping her cover her ears when we go by the noisy part. I think next time the opportunity comes up I might be able to persuade her to go. But we've missed the high point of the snow.


We're surviving ok without Terry; nights are the toughest. A good night is one in which Valerie sleeps straight through without waking up. A bad night is one in which they both wake up at the same time and then keep each other awake while I try to get everyone calmed down and settled in to one bed. I wish I knew why G is such a restless sleeper. Hopefully he'll outgrow it like V did.