Last Post of 2016!

Hi, Guys! I am proud to say I have faithfully kept my promise of posting 5x per week since joining the Peace Corps. But now, for the first time, I am going to take a break. Tomorrow, I leave for a 10-day Parisian adventure with my friend Chelsea. Along the way, we are meeting up with another volunteer friend (Sierra), and a friend of mine from Boston (Nicole) who spontaneously decided to join us at the last minute. 🙂 I figure everyone will be busy with family and travel next week anyway, so I am taking a break from writing. My next post will be Monday, January 2, 2017.

2016 has been one of the most memorable of my life, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is that I have been fortunate to travel far more than I ever have in the past. Here is the list of places I traveled in 2016, in chronological order:

  • Chicago, IL
  • Barcelona, Spain*
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Las Vegas, NV*
  • Detroit, MI
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Kosovo* (all over)
  • Skopje, Macedonia*
  • Tirana, Albania*
  • Paris, France*+
  • London, England*+

(*=never been there before this year, *+= never been, but will have visited by next week!)

Of the places I have been, it’s hard to say which was my favorite. I found Barcelona to be breathtaking, particularly the Sagrada Familia. Las Vegas was one of the most fun/special vacations I’ve ever taken, because it was a proper send-off to the Peace Corps. I traveled 5,000 miles to Kosovo and discovered I had a home waiting for me here. As I’ve said, Tirana was one of the most thought-provoking cities I have ever visited. And though I haven’t actually been to Paris yet, in 24 hours I will get to experience the City of Lights for the first time.

This will also be the first time, in 35 years of being alive, that I won’t be spending Christmas with my family (and this is despite living outside my home state for 14 years ). Though I expect to fall in love with Paris, I know a part of me will long to be in Michigan on Christmas Day.

After an extremely difficult 2015, 2016 has reminded me that bad cycles pass, and that new and very surprising adventures can be waiting just around the corner. 2017 is bound to be interesting, as it is the only full year I’ll be living in Kosovo.

Whenever I start to wonder, “Who actually reads this thing?” one of you will contact me and tell me about a post you liked. So, thank you for your encouragement, and thank you for joining me on this adventure.

Since I recently posted some of my favorite photos since moving to Kosovo, I thought I would showcase a few photos from the first half of my year here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And don’t forget to check back here on January 2! In the meantime, you can follow along with me on Instagram.

Bedtime Yoga

Since I will not be going home for Christmas this year (for the first time in 35 years — wow!), I expected not to feel any holiday stress. But with lots going on (my trip to Albania, training for Peace Corps, the national poetry recitation competition my students participated in, and my upcoming vacation for the Christmas/New Year holidays), I have been feeling the holiday rush.

Previously, I wrote a post about my favorite yoga videos for neck, back, and shoulder pain. Since the holidays are a busy time, I thought I would share two videos I use to wind down before bedtime. Neither of these are marketed specifically as “bedtime yoga,” but they are gentle enough that I like following along with them at the end of my day.

This one is my absolute favorite because it is done entirely sitting down. I often sit on the edge of my bed while doing these stretches.

This next video requires a bit more movement, but instead of getting down on my mat on the floor (which is cold), I’ve been doing the movements in bed.


Books of 2016 (June-December)

Spending a few days away from site for in-service training the other week afforded me the chance to reflect on my goals for the coming months. How am I doing to stay mentally healthy and sane during a long winter? One of the things I want to do is read more … I’ve always been a reader, but the past year or so I’ve gotten strangely lazy about it.

Recently, I was looking at another Kosovo Peace Corps Volunteer’s blog, and she read 11 books in the last month alone! I thought, “This is someone who uses her free time well.”

To recap, here is (I think) a comprehensive list of the books I’ve read so far while in Kosovo. I’ve never kept a formal log of what I read, so I am pulling this from memory:

  1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver +
  2. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan +
  6. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  8. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  9. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  10. The Tresspasser by Tana French
  11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins +
  12. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
  13. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

(+ means a re-read)

I would like to create a “Books to Read for 2017” list. I’d also like to hear from all of you … what are some books you’d recommend? Please comment in the comment section so others can benefit from your suggestions, too. It would be fun to start a dialogue about this. 🙂

Lesson Plan: Teaching Emotions

I’ve posted a number of ESL/TEFL activities using little or no resources (you can find those here and here). Recently, I did the following lesson with my English club (which I host twice per week at a local NGO). I liked it so much I thought I would post my whole lesson plan.

I was inspired by something similar on Pinterest, and asked my awesome friend Katie to include some paint chips in a care package she was sending (she did). This lesson plan doesn’t require much else in the way of materials. Here is what I used:

  • Paint chips in yellow, blue, purple, green, red, and gray
  • iPhone + Jam speaker
  • Index Cards
  • Paper

(I used the paint chips to list a range of emotions in English. On one the side of the chip, I listed the main vocabulary word in Albanian.)



  1. Contented
  2. Glad
  3. Delighted
  4. Joyful


  1. Unhappy
  2. Blue
  3. Heartbroken
  4. Depressed


  1. Uneasy
  2. Tense
  3. Agitated
  4. Anxious


  1. Envious
  2. Covetous
  3. Jealous
  4. Possessive


  1. Irritated
  2. Mad
  3. Upset
  4. Furious


  1. Dread
  2. Afraid
  3. Frightened
  4. Horrified

The Lesson:

For a warm up, I played the song “Happy” by Pharrell twice, using my iPhone + speaker. First, I asked students just to listen to the song, in order to become familiar with it. After that, I asked students to listen to the song again, and count (using tick marks on a sheet of paper), how many times the word “happy” appeared in the song. (For the record, three of my students counted 28 times, while my other two students had different numbers. The point wasn’t to accurately discover how many times the word was used, but rather to have students practice listening for a specific English word.)

[As a variation to this, you could print the lyrics to the song but delete certain words, and have students listen for/fill in those words.]

Next, I had a discussion with my students about emotions and what they mean. I passed around the paint chips and asked them to copy down the new vocabulary words. ( I had a small group of students. I think this lesson plan could work with a larger group, but you would probably need more copies of the paint chips to pass around.)

Then, I wrote this sentence on the board: “Today I feel _____ because ____.” We went around the circle and each student stated how he/she was feeling, and why.

Next, I asked each student to draw three index cards from the pile I made. Each index card listed a different scenario. Here is what I wrote:

  • Your mom yells at you.
  • You are watching your favorite television show.
  • You got a stain on your favorite shirt.
  • You are playing outside with your friends.
  • You have a big test at school.
  • You broke your arm.
  • You are eating dinner with your family.
  • Your friend got a new iPhone.
  • You lost your dog.
  • Your little sister broke your favorite toy.
  • Your best friend gets a puppy.
  • Your best friend is moving away.
  • Two of your friends go to lunch and don’t invite you.
  • You are lost in Pristina.
  • You are walking alone in the dark.
  • You got into a fight with your best friend.

Students then had to read their scenarios aloud, and identify which emotion(s) they might feel in that situation.

Then, I asked students to write one sentence for each category of emotion, and read them aloud.

We were close to running out of time by this (the group runs for 1 hour), but in the last few minutes of class, I asked students to choose one of the sentences they wrote and draw a picture to illustrate it.

What I like about this lesson plan: 1) It doesn’t require much in the way of material. 2) It incorporates audio learning, visual learning, speaking aloud, critical thinking, creativity, and kinesthetic learning.

I did this lesson with a group of middle and high school students. I think it’s too advanced for younger kids, but there are probably ways to modify it and make it easier.

Tongue Tied

“All that I’ve been taught
And every word I’ve got
Is foreign to me” — Hozier, Foreigner’s God

I used to have grand ideas about learning Shqip (Albanian). I thought I’d be fluent in the language by the time I left Kosovo! I thought my volunteer friends and I would speak to each other using Shqip in public! I imagined myself rapidly switching between Shqip and English, AND EVERYONE WOULD BE IMPRESSED.

Haha. I am beginning to understand how a person can live in another country and not speak the native language.

Six months in, and I’ll confess, my motivation to learn has hit a recent slump. I can speak the language well enough to communicate with my host family. I can speak it well enough to communicate with shop owners and taxi drivers. But the rest of the time, I speak English. And that’s if I talk at all. I don’t like to talk much in any language.

I have Shqip tutor, and she’s great. But my once-per-week sessions are probably not going to make me fluent in the language. I am also struggling with the usefulness of learning Shqip … will I ever need to speak it once I leave Kosovo? If I want to get some kind of international job after Peace Corps, would my time be better spent brushing up on my high school French?

So, yes, it’s been a struggle. I recently came across this article from Babbel, though, which has given me some hope, and also some ideas on how to acquire language. (I also keep reminding myself that, prior to six months ago, I had never heard Albanian spoken or seen it written … maybe I should go easier on myself.) The article lists these helpful tips when learning a new language:

1) Choose the words you want/need to learn.
2) Relate them to what you already know.
3) Review them until they’ve reached your long­-term memory.
4) Record them so learning is never lost.
5) Use them in meaningful human conversation and communication.

If you live under a rock, perhaps you haven’t seen the following video. (It’s been all over the Internet lately.)

Isn’t that sweet? I sometimes feel like I need a greater motivator to learn Shqip, other than, “I live here so I guess I should.”

Friday Gratitude: Ya Filthy Animal

This blog title is a nod to my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone, which I just watched for the umpteenth time. Funny, I’d kind of forgotten the McAllisters were traveling to Paris for Christmas. That’s where I’ll be headed in a week!

Last week, I attended a 3-day Peace Corps conference.

We took this group photo. Can you see me? Probably not. I’m to the back, far right of the photo. And my face is partially covered.

Tip-toe FAIL

This seems to be a common theme with me in group Peace Corps photos. Here is our very first group photo, taken outside the airport when we arrived in Kosovo on June 5. My now-friend Val is blocking my face.

Where’s April?

Media Consumption:

  • The Peace Corps office has a small library, and I toted a few books back to my house. One of them was Still Alice (yes, I am way behind the times). It is a powerfully told story that has made me think about my concept of self, and what it would mean to lose that self.
  • Upon the recommendation of a friend, I watched the documentary, May I Be Frank? It’s an inspiring story about a man making active changes to improve his health and his relationships. It is worth a watch.
  • I chuckled when I read this article about “career disruption.” It was written in 2012 (again, I am behind the times), but this means career disruption has been in the public lexicon for a while now. And here I thought changing careers/returning to school at age 30 and joining the Peace Corps at age 35 was a sign of “general lack of planning.” But see? I’ve just been disrupting myself!

Last, I wanted to share this quote, which I have been meditating on for the last few days:

“How can I say this in a way it will be received?” — President Obama

I was reading an article about how tempered the president has been in his responses to the recent election, and it has given me much to consider. Haven’t I ever lashed out in angry words, only to have them fall on deaf ears? And when someone criticizes me, even if there is a kernel of truth in what they say, I’ll dismiss all of it as garbage if that kernel comes wrapped in hateful words.

Of course, the Universe — in its infinite wisdom — has since provided me with a way to practice giving a tempered response. I got an email from a friend this week, and something that was said bothers me. Now, I am off to respond in a loving, non-angry manner …

My Christmas Present to Myself

I’ve heard it said that if you’re a woman, you’re either into shoes or purses. That isn’t true for me. I don’t care much about shoes or purses. I’m a coat person. My mom likes to tease me about how many coats I have. (In my defense, I’ve always lived in places with four seasons.)

But having said that, my heavy, winter coat is over ten years old. I know this because I remember buying it on a shopping trip with my ex-boyfriend. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, I’ve been single for a long time, and this was two exes ago.

I love my coat, but it’s starting to fade and develop holes. I’m embarrassed to look so ratty (even though I’m in the Peace Corps). On my way to teach my English club the other week, I passed a store front and saw this coat on a mannequin in the window. After my class, I went in, tried it on, and bought it.


I have a traditional with myself where I buy myself a Christmas gift … either something frivolous, or something I normally wouldn’t spend money on. I decided that this coat is my gift to myself this year.

Always loved this sweater … Goodwill present from my mama 🙂

Kosovo has really cute clothes, and they’re inexpensive compared to American prices. (My coat was 47 Euro total. I know it would have been at least $100 in the States.) It’s hard not to shop here more often. I have to keep reminding myself that I no longer have a job or an American salary!

I haven’t decided what to do with my old coat. I’ve heard there are second-hand shops in Kosovo, though I’ve never seen one. My coat is still in okay shape, so I’d feel guilty just throwing it away. (I am also weirdly sentimentally attached to it … I’ve had it for ten years!)

I like that my new coat is a neutral color other than black. (And yes, the fur collar is fake.) I’m not sure how I feel about the asymmetrical collar … the front zipper is off-center, which is kind of cute and unexpected, but I worry that the collar looks too wonky.


I don’t know … what do you think of it?

(Thanks to Sierra for taking these glamour photos of me at our hotel last week.)