Monday, April 30, 2012

A Phantzi Adventure

Ever since I heard of Gramsh, I wanted to go there - mostly because of the connection to Antonio Gramsci (social theory nerd alert). So when Terry suggested we join a hiking club that one of his coworkers belongs to for a Sunday trip there, I agreed (cue dramatic footfalls-of-doom music).

We left bright and early Sunday morning, around 8, loading up into assorted vans with about 100 young, well-equipped hikers eager to see the famous waterfall at Sotira. The plan was to drive to a small village, hike 1.5 hours to the Falls, then back to the village for a barbecue before heading back to Tirana. Our family plan was to hike as far as we felt like it, then have a little picnic before going back to the vans.

We were doing more or less ok - despite having dragged Valerie out of bed without breakfast, feeding her dried fruit and water in the van, only to have it all come back up on the windy roads - only her clothes got yuck on them (not the seat in the van) and we always pack back-up outfits for the kids - and we were very glad to be out of the van, except - we weren't at the village. Instead, we were dropped off at this shallow river, because the drivers couldn't find the road. The guides assured us that the village was "just over that ridge, about half an hour's walk," so off we went.

It wasn't long before a hot and tired Gabriel started fussing in the Ergo (Valerie was very happy in the Kelty backpack carrier we bought three years ago and were very happy to be putting to good use at last). I tried to distract him with songs and sprigs of rosemary (see dark green patch in photo above), or pointing at goats munching leaves in the thickets, but pretty soon he started screaming for "Gak-gak" (his word for nursing, from Albanian "xhoks"). We were already bringing up the rear, and the guides were anxious to keep the group together because this was a (ahem) short-cut and the path was not clearly marked (cue more footsteps of doom).

A fellow hiker (this was the groom at the wedding we attended last September!) very kindly helped carry Gabriel part of the way, at least as long as G would consent to it. (See that mountain? Gorgeous.)

I have no photo record of the next phase of the journey, when we got lost in brambles on steeply descending goat-paths, and Valerie started crying because the prickers hurt her and she needed to pee (we had a successful pee break under a tree, thankfully), and Gabriel screamed himself into a frenzy asking for gak-gak, though there was no place to stop and sit... Our fellow hikers were so solicitous, holding aside branches and offering helping hands every step of the way.

(There was no turning back at this point because the vans were going to a different point to pick us up.)

At last, we made it to the village, about 2.5 hours after setting out from the river.

Check out that lovely, lovely road.

It does, actually, go all the way to the river.

It takes about 15 minutes in a van. 

Not that I'm bitter, or anything...

Good grief, though, is this not stunning scenery???

Gabriel fell asleep about 15 minutes before we reached the village, as soon as we were out of the brambles, so when we reached the originally-planned jumping off point - a small farm - we Phantzis gladly accepted the hospitality of the family there while the rest of the group went on ahead to the waterfalls. 

I laid Gabriel down on a couch inside the two-room farmhouse and he slept soundly for the next 2 hours, while Valerie ran in and out and Terry and I visited with the family. 

Actually, it was one of those afternoons that you remember and treasure for the rest of your life. The family was so kind and hospitable, so generous in sharing their home with us, and it was so interesting to talk with them and learn about their lives.

The kids had so much fun just running around in the soft grass thick with clover, watching the farmer sharpen his scythe, drinking fresh cow's milk sweetened with sugar, eating fresh thick-crusted bread from their oven. We had turkish coffee served up in tiny little cups and drank yoghurt mixed with fresh well water. Gabriel was especially fascinated by all the farm animals we saw - cows, goats, sheep (the funniest moment of the day was when a very woolly young sheep started running away from some of the city girls, appearing to be running after one of them, and she ran away screaming. Scary, scary sheep!), chickens, roosters, dogs, cats, horses, and donkeys.

By this time the drivers had fortunately found the road to the village and so we didn't have to walk back over the ridge. The ride back to Tirana was fairly uneventful, except it was my turn to get carsick (half a bar of dark chocolate on a nearly-empty stomach + windy roads = bad news) and it just took what seemed like FOREVER. At one point one of our fellow travelers, tired of the patchy sound-track coming from the van radio, started playing music off his phone, and Terry reports thinking in that moment "have we actually died and gone to Purgatory?" We left the village around 7 p.m. as the sun was going down and rolled into town around 10:30 (for the record, Terry had told me we'd be home around 1 p.m. and I'd mentally adjusted that to around 4 p.m. Right). The kids fell asleep periodically but it was a very windy, bumpy road, so not as much as I'd hoped.

We were all awake and grinning like maniacs as we rode the elevator up to our floor, and as we came into our apartment all four of us were running around and jumping up and down waving our arms going "Yay! Yay!" we were just sooooo glad to be home.

Few things feel so good as a soft bed in a dark room with plenty of water to drink and a bathroom down the hall after a trip like that. On balance it was a good day, but I did say to Terry in the late afternoon, "your next suggestion may be greeted with some measure of skepticism."

I put a bunch more photos up on Facebook than I did here, if you want to check them out. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

photo post (updated with captions)

Scrub-brushes! Best! Toy! Ever! of the week

This could be a: a) crooked castle, b) Christmas tree, or c) birthday cake (I think in this case it was (c)) And yes, she made it all by herself!

I don't actually remember what they were looking at here - ants? daisies? soap bubbles popping?

Encore! (This is so typical - she's looking at her reflection, he's looking at her in order to copy everything she does!)

Friday, April 20, 2012

More kid stuff

Here's a little video to take you into the weekend. They are imitating a guy we saw on a video who goes, "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Go!" And then does a silly little arm-pump saying "I won!" I think they are adorable.

More funny little stories:

We watched a youtube video based on "Hickory Dickory Dock" in which a parade of small animals all take turns going up and down the clock as it strikes one, then two, then three, etc. But when it got to six, an Elephant went up the clock - and crushed it with his great weight. Valerie was so involved in the video that when the clock collapsed - she started crying! And then of course Gabriel had to join in too because he does everything big sister does. For day after that she's been telling me she doesn't want to see the elephant go up the clock. And seeking reassurance that we will not allow any elephants to go up our clock at home.

But Gabriel had a different response - he'll look at me, make his elephant noise, then go "tick tock, tick tock," wanting me to re-tell the story. Then one morning he found a little toy elephant doll that Terry brought back from Cambodia last year. He looked around, picked up a full pack of disposable diapers, leaned it against the wall on one end, and then marched the little elephant up the side going "tick tock, tick tock" and then CRASH! Sometimes he'll end these re-tellings by saying "Pooh, Pooh," and pretending to cry. He's very attuned to her.

It's been pooooouring rain this week and last. We've made it out a few times between showers but it hasn't been a great month for going outdoors. I'm growing some cilantro on the balcony, which is so fun to see the little leaves poking up out of the earth. The two seedlings that I put in next to our bean plant (remember, Mom? From January?) are doing the best.

One day I bought some scrub brushes for the house, and they were instant hits - each kid grabbed one, got down on hands and knees, and diligently started dry-scrubbing the floor. For a day, the brushes went with them EVERYWHERE - even to bed that night. I am so not exaggerating. Again - why do we buy toys...?

There are so many micro-moments, things they say and do. I keep thinking "I have to remember that for the blog" and then I sit down here, and it's gone already. Gabriel is getting so big! I see my baby vanishing and I feel a little sad. But the little boy who has come to live with us is so charming and fun, it makes up for it :-)

Valerie challenges us with her almost-4-year-old drama - but then she'll wrap her arms tight around my neck, her legs around my waist, and it's all worth it too. She's been learning more and more sight words, and starting on some basic math with an app we got for the iPad. Fun little games for adding and subtracting. She LOVES the Dr. Seuss book I ordered - but didn't give the Dick and Jane more than a passing glance! Oh well, good to know! She can't read more than a word or two on each page of the Seuss book but I've noticed she's started playing with rhymes - rattling off rhyming words in long strings (mostly made-up words, but it's she's showing that she understands the pattern concept).

More photos soon once I get around to downloading them. Have a great weekend!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

funny kids

On the go!

Can you tell what the play activity is here? (hint: steering wheel)

I rarely wear makeup, so when Valerie saw an ad on TV for beauty products she identified it all as "medicine" - what she calls chapstick. I said the lady is putting makeup on her eyes and fixing her hair to look beautiful. Then V was playing with crayons, saying "Mama put makeup on your [Valerie's] eyes, fix your hair," and then she said "Pooh was so, so sick, now Pooh is all better!"

Gabe got in on the act too, with a red marker - put it all over his face - then put red "lipstick" on all the animal posters we had made and taped above the couch. His aim was not bad! Even the letter "c" on the alphabet poster got the lipstick treatment.

We've been having a rainy spring, so between that and broken strollers haven't been going out much. We got some learn-to-read and preschool math apps on the iPad... which may have been a mistake; it's a challenge to enforce time limits for V, and G is sad he's not allowed to play with it.

I also found a big bouncy ball at a thrift store I recently discovered (gold mine! LOVE IT!) just up the street - the kind of ball with a handle, that kids sit on and bounce. G is too little to sit on it so he just kicks it.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Daily Life

I know you're not here for photos of laundry - but I just love this shot.

She's pretending to be covered in snow.




Our new stroller... not exactly what we were looking for, but it's working for getting the kids out of the house. Miss Princess still refuses to walk much on her own.