Friday Gratitude: MY PARENTS ARE COMING!

Hey, Everyone! This will be my last blog post of 2017! That’s right, I am taking two weeks off from blogging. It will be the longest break I’ve taken from this blog. If you miss me, you can always follow along with me on Instagram.

MY PARENTS ARE COMING TO KOSOVO NEXT WEEK! I am so excited! We are spending two nights in Pristina, two nights at my host family’s house, and then we are going to London for four nights.

We have many fun things planned, including a church service at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve, a bus tour, and a ghost tour. Visiting London with my mom has always been a dream of mine, since we both love many British musicians and actors. (Also, I’m excited that my dad is coming, too, of course!)

In his autobiography, Billy Idol refers to his parents as his “first friends.” I found that to be a very sweet description, and it is now how I think of my parents. They’re my parents but they are also my friends, you know? I am thrilled they are going to spend time with me before I leave Kosovo. Their visit will help break up the rest of my Peace Corps service.

(Side note: Funny how we tell our closest friends that they are “like family” in order to compliment them, and we assure our relatives that we would be friends with them even if we weren’t related.) 🙂

Anyway, my next blog post will be Monday, January 1. I will be posting a video to share my goals for 2018.

Usually, I feel like years have “themes,” either being mostly good or mostly bad. But this year, the highs were really high and the lows were really low. I don’t even know how I’d characterize 2017. On the high side, I got to travel more than I ever have.

Places I visited in 2017:

  • Paris, France (I think of this trip as happening last year, but I left January 2, so I guess that counts!)
  • Skopje, Macedonia
  • Tirana, Albania
  • Rome, Italy
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Gothenburg, Sweden
  • London, England (soon-to-be)

Finally, thank you to ALL my friends and family, my friends who are like family, and my family who are like friends. I love you all so much and am so grateful for the tremendous support you’ve shown me. Every Facebook message, email, postcard, phone call, and care package means the world to me. I appreciate you as the awesome individuals you are, and wish you every good thing in the coming year. Happy (early) 2018, and best wishes for the holidays!

Talk to you January 1st!

Monthly Photo Project: A Year in Kosovo

This last year, I did a monthly photo project where each month, I posted a photo that captured the spirit of that month. While I didn’t love this project (I’ve seen it done better on other blogs), 2017 is the only full calendar year I will be living in Kosovo. Here is the year in photos. (Note: I hadn’t previously published December’s photo. It is here at the end.)

january-kosovo
January
february-landscape-pristina-kosovo
February
Mosque in Peja Kosovo
March
Kosovo Mountains
April
Mirusha Kosovo
May
yard kosovo
June
July landscape
July
Peja Kosovo
August
chickens in kosovo
September
October landscape
October
Landscape photo November
November
December in Kosovo.JPG
December

 

Books I Read in 2017

I read a total of 56 books this year, surpassing my goal of one book per week!

Below is a list of every book I read this year. (A * denotes a re-read.) After the list, I have broken the books into categories. If you are looking for something to read, check out my best (and worst!) books of 2017.

Faithful Place* by Tana French
Buddha and the Borderline by Kiera Van Gelder
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Wild* by Cheryl Strayed
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Veronia by Mary Gaitskill
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon
Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Girl at War by Sara Novic
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Beautiful Bodies by Laura Shaine Cunningham
White Oleander* by Janet Fitch
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
A Good Year by Peter Mayle
The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
The Stand by Stephen King
Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Dolores Claiborn by Stephen King
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Best American Short Stories of 2011 (edited by Geraldine Brooks)
My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
Born to Rock by Gordon Korman
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickett
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Horse Whisperer* by Nicholas Evans
The Time Traveler’s Wife* by Audrey Niffenegger
The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Books About How Shitty/Depressing it is to be Middle-Aged
Veronica
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Beautiful Bodies
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Woman Upstairs

Books with a Creative/Unusual Premise
Mirror in the Sky
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
The One I Left Behind

Funny Autobiographies
Scrappy Little Nobody
Dad is Fat
Food: A Love Story
We are Never Meeting in Real Life
My Horizontal Life

Serious Autobiographies
Buddha and the Borderline
A Mother’s Reckoning
Wild*
Truth and Beauty
Dancing with Myself

Kids’ Books
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Bad Beginning

Young Adult Novels
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Mirror in the Sky
Born to Rock
Eleanor & Park

Books About Obsession/Obsessive Love
All He Ever Wanted
The Woman Upstairs
The Silver Linings Playbook
I’d Know You Anywhere
The One I Left Behind

Historical Fiction
Orphan Train
The Book Thief
The Nightingale
The Remains of the Day

Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness
Far from the Tree
Buddha and the Borderline
A Mother’s Reckoning

Fiction Books About Mental Illness
The Silver Linings Playbook
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

My Favorite Books I Read This Year (that I hadn’t previously read):
Far From the Tree
The Stand
All He Ever Wanted
Feast of Sorrow
Best American Short Stories of 2011
The Power of Now
Truth and Beauty
Eleanor & Park
Dancing with Myself
No Country for Old Men
Let the Right One In

Books I Did Not Like (but finished)
Swing Time
Pretty Girls
The Bastard of Istanbul
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
I’d Know You Anywhere

The Worst Book I Have Ever Completed
Go Set a Watchman

Goodbye to Oz

My parents put their cat down this weekend. At first, I hesitated to write a tribute here because I didn’t want to be a bummer right before the holidays, talking about our dead cat. But then I figured, this is my blog, I loved our cat, and so I’m going to dedicate a post to how awesome he was.

My sister adopted Oz when she was in high school. She named him Oz after one of the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show my whole family enjoyed. When my sis moved out a few years later, my mom had gotten so attached to Oz that she asked Kristen to leave Oz behind. Thus, Oz became my parents’ cat.

Oz was abnormally shiny as a kitten. He looked like he was made of patent leather. Visitors to our house would say, “Your cat is so … shiny,” with a dazed look on their faces.

As Oz got older, his fur dulled to a more normal sheen. But his hatred for me sharpened. Oz liked my other family members to varying degrees, but he loathed the very sight of me. It became a running joke in our family. His hatred did not stop me from trying to heft his 16.5-lb. body (he was a big cat) into my arms and sticking my face in his fur. He would hiss and growl, swat me with his paws, and run away.

Oz + Chick
Me: “Why do you hate me, Oz? Is it because I put toys on you?”
When I lived in Chicago and would get ready to visit my family in Michigan, my excitement at getting to see Oz far eclipsed my excitement at getting to see my parents. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. You know where you stand in the line-up. After cats, is where.)

Oz was a weird cat. Here are some fun facts about him:

  • He loved feet, particularly men’s feet, particularly my grandfather’s feet.
  • He loved human food. Cheese was his favorite, but I also saw him happily eat pepperoni, lettuce, and bread. He begged for food like a dog.
  • He loved a stuffed toy gorilla I’d left in my bedroom when I moved away to college. And by “loved,” I mean he “had intimate relations with it.”
  • He loved being groomed. It was the only time he allowed me to touch him. His love of being groomed outweighed his hatred for me.
  • He hated change and would freak out if you so much as left a sock on the floor.
  • Despite being a scaredy-cat, he loved the outdoors and would try to sneak out if you left the door open.
  • He could do yoga better than any human.

oz
“Silly human. Yoga is for cats!”

OzWindow
“Let me go outside, damnit!”

Halloween kitty
FINALLY outside!

OzRug
Black cats on Halloween ARE THE BEST!

OzBox
Oz was a typical cat in some ways …

black cat gray cat
Oz and Sweeney Todd, my two great loves

Oz (1)
A close-up of Oz … probably getting ready to smack me.
Serving in the Peace Corps is hard. I had a distinct picture in my head of my joyous return home, but now that picture has to change. It will be hard to walk into my parents’ house for the first time knowing that Oz isn’t there anymore.

I last saw Oz this summer when I visited the United States. I don’t distinctly remember the last time I held or petted him. I wish I did. I didn’t know it would be the last time.

Rest in peace, Ozzymodo. You were a great pet. I love you so much.

(Note: I moved the post I originally had scheduled today to tomorrow, so I’ll be posting Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday this week.)

Friday Gratitude: Here Comes the Snow, Do-En-Do-Do

Sunday morning, I opened my blinds and was shocked to see snow! I was so surprised I stood there for a moment, taking in the scene. We’d had pouring rain the few days previous, so I was not expecting snow. How cozy, I thought, looking out at the blanketed yard. Then I thought to myself, “I wonder how long it’ll be until I get sick of it.” Haha! I’d guess January. 😉

Those living in the mountains of Kosovo will probably turn their noses up at me. The mountain villages had snow back in like, October. But I live in a valley (thank God), so this was the first snow I’d seen for the winter!

<– I made a few small changes to the blog. Now when you click on “my photography portfolio” or “my videos on Vimeo” you will be taken directly to those sites.

Media Consumption this week:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, so I was curious to read one of his novels. I read The Remains of the Day in one day. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a story about a stuffy English butler, but I thought the main character was sympathetic and I felt like I at least partially understood the choices he made in life. (Also, I was interested to learn Ishiguro wrote the book in just four weeks.)
  • I saw Murder on the Orient Express. While I didn’t think the mystery was that interesting, this was the most aesthetically-pleasing movie I have ever seen. 

scary nails made with paper
The latest fad at my school …
My host cousin brought home a letter puzzle her English teacher had given her. Supposedly, one could make 111 words with the letters in the puzzle. We worked together and came up with 115 words. HA!

***

I’ve mentioned this before: there has been a huge spike in traffic to this blog from France. I’d love to hear from some of my French readers to learn what makes you so interested in Kosovo. If you’re game, please shoot me an email via the contact form. Merci!

My Favorite Photos from The Third Quarter

On Monday, I mentioned how, by my own method of counting, I have completed my third quarter of Peace Corps service. Here are my favorite pictures from the third quarter.

I love pets! 🙂

pets 2
Check out the bear paws …

I got a lot of good family photos when I visited the U.S. in June, but for privacy reasons I don’t want to post them here. Instead, I will post this picture of me eating Del Taco. Want to know why I love Del Taco? Because I can eat tacos and French fries AT THE SAME TIME!

IMG_6654
DEL TACO!

This is about the zillionth time I’ve mentioned my rug on this blog, but who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll talk about my rug as much as I want to. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

My friend Chester and I spent a summer day at Batlava Lake in Kosovo.

Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view

Despite melt-your-face-off heat, Sierra, Chester and I made it to Pristina to have lunch together one day this summer.

These two … #friends #kosovo #100degrees 🔥

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

I volunteered as the jury coordinator for the Anibar International Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo. I can easily say it was the most fun week I’ve had in Kosovo!

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo
The jury

And, of course, there was partying after the film festival. 🙂

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

I crocheted this cute Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a friend.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical

And I crocheted a minion trick-or-treat bag …

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag
Minion

Summer had me feeling a bit down, but encouraging words from Peace Corps volunteers serving in other parts of the world made me feel better.

While my visit to Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia was a bit disappointing, I do like this photo:

kale skopje 4
Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

I loved this door at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo.

door cathedral of saint mother teresa
Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo

I WENT TO GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN! Sorry for the caps but I got a little excited. I loved my trip!

park gothenburg sweden 1
Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo cracks me up for some reason. There are so many stories it could tell. Did the one lion get mad at the other, and shove him off his post? Or, did a drunk person walk by and kick the lion?

broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?

I GOT TO SEE JOSE GONZALEZ IN CONCERT! (More excitement.)

Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 2
Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 1
Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

The following weekend, I attended a wedding in Tirana, Albania. Though it poured rain, I had fun with my friends.

Christian Val April
Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

The weekend after that, I went to a JFK photo exhibit with more friends …

IMG_7529
April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee, JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks! #thanksgiving #kosovo #sharingculture #howiseepc

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

So, there is my photo summary of the last six months. 🙂 Thanks for reading.