Friday Gratitude: Mid-Service Conference

Hello! I’ve been spending the week at a nice hotel, for a Peace Corps conference. We have four conferences during our service. This one was number three. The next one won’t be until May.

It has been rejuvenating to get away, spend time with my friends, and re-focus a bit. It has also been helpful to talk about and understand that everyone goes through a “mid-service crisis,” which I have definitely been experiencing as of late.

To give you an idea of what a Peace Corps conference is like, here is the list of sessions we had:

  • Intercultural Competecies
  • Personal Leadership Development
  • Project Check-in with Program Managers
  • Exploring Secondary Projects
  • Working in a Post-Conflict Setting
  • Open Forum with Local Staff
  • Opportunities to Work with Gender Focal Points
  • Volunteer Resiliency Strategies
  • Updates on Peace Corps Policy

We did a team-building exercise where we passed around sheets of paper and wrote down words to describe one another. Here is my list. 🙂


It is always interesting to learn what others think of me. I don’t consider myself particularly witty, so that was nice to see.

I am now participating in a second, optional Peace Corps conference, this one focused on youth development. I will be heading back to my site this afternoon.

A care package from my parents arrived yesterday, and PC staff brought it to the conference for me. I am excited to open it when I get back!

Media Consumption this week:

  • I read Born to Rock, which was okay. It’s a quick read about a teenager who discovers his biological father is a famous punk rocker.
  • Goodreads suggested I try The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket. Though I like Jim Carrey and Neil Patrick Harris, I’ve never been able to get beyond a few minutes of either of their screen versions of this story. The book was better, though I’m not interested in reading the rest of the series.
  • I started on season 3 of Broad City, after not watching the show for months. Lately, I’ve needed a laugh.

Happy weekend!

Adjective Contest at School

On Wednesday, my counterpart and I hosted an adjective memorization contest at school. I had the idea for it at the end of  last school year. I was tired of hearing students use the word “beautiful” to describe everything. “My friend is beautiful.” “The shirt is beautiful.” “The apple is beautiful.” All right. Time to learn some new adjectives.

I wrote a list of about 80 adjectives in English, and my counterpart wrote the corresponding words in Shqip (Albanian). We photocopied the list and passed it out to the students, telling them to memorize it over the summer. We told them we would host a content with prizes when they came back to school.

adjectives english albanian shqip

Between my counterpart and me, we came up with the following prizes:


(A stuffed dog and Venice puzzle that came in a care package from my parents; an American flag pencil from a pack I bought at Target; Hello Kitty candies I got in other care packages [I like Hello Kitty but don’t eat candy that isn’t chocolate]; and my counterpart brought in a book of Albanian poetry; a stuff bear; and a notebook.)

Seven students participated, and two girls actually memorized the entire list! Wow. 🙂

To put this into context, my second village school only averages about eight students per grade. So, a 7-student turnout is pretty good!

Friday Gratitude: So It Goes

Hello, Everyone. TGIF. This week has been full of ups and downs … power outages and an argument with Peace Corps staff had me down. But, the end of the week had some upturns, so let’s focus on that:

  • I am going to be working with KosovaLive (where I did this presentation) a few days per month, proofreading articles that have been translated from Shqip (Albanian) to English. I love their organization and am happy to be volunteering with them more regularly.
  • I started teaching at the orphanage yesterday (I’ll be teaching there every Thursday). The students are middle school age and we had fun. 🙂
  • FINALLY, the grant money came through! As in, I literally have it in my hands! (Well, not this second, seeing as how I am typing.) This project has been a headache from start to finish. I’m so glad it is almost over.


Processed with MOLDIV
A recent photo of me, in Peja

Media consumption this week …

  • I read Best American Short Stories of 2011. Again, why the year 2011? As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, it was available through the Chicago Public Library as a free download. I skipped one or two stories I didn’t like, but overall, they were delightful. I should read more short stories.
  • I read My Horizontal Life, by Chelsea Handler. It was a funny, easy read.
  • After reading something I wrote, an acquaintance told me my writing style reminds him of Aimee Bender. I had never read Aimee Bender, so I downloaded The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I didn’t connect with the characters, and I thought the ending was not enough of a pay-off … it turns out, three members of one family have extra-sensory powers. But none of them accomplishes anything of note. Eh …


Today, I am going to Pristina to get my second-year temporary residence I.D. I have to get a new photo taken, and I’m a little sad because I like my current photo. I think I look like a Bond Girl:

[Side story: My Illinois driver’s license had one of the best photos ever taken of me. People would comment on what a good photo it was. Then, when I moved to Massachusetts, the DMV made me turn it over to be destroyed. I’m STILL mad about it, and that was nine years ago … ]


When I went home this summer, I bought a couple U.S. wall maps at Dollar Tree. Now, they hang in my village schools in Kosovo. 🙂



I got two pieces of mail this week!

And …


(Katie, to answer your question … I love New Orleans, but I have my heart set on returning to Vegas once I finish PC. 🙂 )

Next week, I’ll be attending a week-long mid-service Peace Corps training. (I’ll be posting here regularly, though.) I am looking forward to seeing everyone in my cohort. Happy weekend!

A Little Writing Assignment

I recently took a little 4-week writing class through Coursera, called The Craft of Plot. I thought I would share my final, 1,000-word writing assignment here.

But first, I also wanted to share the following quote. I’ve been reading The Best American Short Stories of 2011. (Why 2011? Because it was available to rent online through the Chicago Public Library.)

“My advice to young writers is, read this book. Enjoy the stories, admire the craft. Then put it in your backpack and go. As far as you can, for as long as you can afford it. Preferably someplace where you have to think in one language and buy groceries in another. Get a job there. Rent a room. Stick around. Do something. Whatever it is, you will be able to use it in the stories you write later. And if that story turns out to be about grungy sex in an East Coast dorm room with an emotionally withholding semiotics major, that’s okay. It will be a better story for the fact that you have been somewhere and carried part of it home with you in your soul.” — Geraldine Brooks


Here’s what I wrote:

Howard Plans to Ride a Tiger by April Gardner

Howard was an old man. His memories tricked him all the time. He remembered riding a tiger, for instance. He was sure he had once done it – he could feel the tiger’s course fur rubbing against his thighs. But then his nurse would come by with a treat or something to drink. His desire for carrot juice would override his memories of tiger riding. Sometimes, he wouldn’t remember the tiger again until the next day. He could feel the heavy bolt in his hand, and the screeching sound it made as he opened the tiger’s cage.

Howard felt like he was in a cage, mentally and physically. Not only could he not trust his memories, he couldn’t trust anything about himself. He would be halfway to the can and his bowels would explode. Filthy and embarrassed, he would have to wait for the nurse to come by and change him. Life wasn’t good anymore.

Howard knew he was going to die soon. His prediction was practical. He was nearing his 90th birthday. Of course he was going to die soon. Accepting the fact of his own death became easier every day. His body was failing, his mind was failing, and he didn’t have much to live for anymore. His only daughter lived in Europe, because she and her husband both had careers with the embassy. Howard couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her.

With the approach of his birthday, Howard wanted to do something outlandish. As a child, his mother had doted on him, and always made certain his birthdays were gloriously celebrated. There had been clowns and magicians, ice cream bars and chocolate fountains, swimming and games. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember the last time he celebrated his birthday. He and his wife used to treat themselves to a nice dinner and an expensive bottle of wine. After Luisa died, so did Howard’s desire to celebrate. But with his 90th birthday approaching, he devised a plan.

He couldn’t get the image of that tiger out of his mind. Of course, the image came and went. But it would sneak up on him and torment him. Sometimes, he would awaken in the middle of the night. The tiger’s roar would still be ringing in his ears. Trembling, he would go to the bathroom and pour himself a glass of water.

Once, he was sitting in the Great Room, looking out at the expansive lawn of his nursing home. Without warning, the hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he whipped around, certain that the tiger was lying in wait behind him. There was no one in the room, except old Mrs. Pinkle, shuffling along with her walker and her ratty cardigan sweater.

Howard wasn’t usually the type to save postcards or letters, but he had saved one. It had a photo of a tiger on the front. The back was blank, except for his name and address, scrawled in a strange hand. The postmark was from Thailand.

With his life winding down to a miserable conclusion, Howard used the times when his mind was still lucid to piece together a plan. He would ride a tiger again, one last time, before he died.

He wrote out his plan on a piece of lined paper, which he kept tucked between his mattress and box spring. When he remembered, he would pull out what he had written and re-read it. Then, he would close his eyes and repeat it back to himself, trying to plant the words into the small, still-healthy part of his rotting brain.

Once, his night nurse had almost found his written plan. Howard had lost control of his bowels in the middle of the night (after dreaming about the tiger again, he was sure, though he could not recall), and the nurse came to change his sheets. As she pulled the fitted sheet free, the piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

“What’s this?” she asked, bending to retrieve it.

Though he was old and feeble, Howard somehow bent and grabbed the note before she could.

“Never you mind about this!” Howard snapped, waving the piece of paper. “A man has got a right to his privacy, even in a hellhole like this.”

“Mr. Jones!” she exclaimed.

As she reprimanded him for his negative attitude, Howard read the list again, and tried to commit it to memory.

His plan: First, he would ask Brad the orderly to take him on a walk to the corner convenience store. Brad was a big fellow, blond and handsome, but he was dumb, from what Howard could assess. He needed dumb people if his plan were going to succeed.

At the store, he would insist that his bowels were bothering him, and ask to use the restroom.

While in the restroom, he would call to Brad through the door that he had soiled himself badly. He would ask Brad to run back to the nursing home to get him a chance of clothes. Orderlies weren’t supposed to leave the seniors unattended in public, but Howard was certain he could convince Brad to leave him alone for a few minutes.

Once Brad was gone, Howard would leave the store and walk to a bus stop in the opposite direction, two blocks away. He used to wait at that same bus stop to take his daughter to school. The bus route passed right by the zoo.

He would have his “shopping” money tucked into his wallet. Since he wasn’t going to buy anything at the store, he calculated he would have more than enough to purchase one-way bus fare and entrance to the zoo.

Once inside, he would check the zoo map and find the tigers’ pen.

After that, he would admit, his plan got a little fuzzy. He was going to walk to the pen, climb the fence, and attempt to ride the tiger.

He knew he might die. But he didn’t care.

Friday Gratitude: September So Far

This week, I’ve been settling a bit more into my schedule. I’ve been struggling with feelings of not wanting to be here. My summer funk has not gone away yet. Add to this we had a huge storm this week which knocked out our power for 12 hours. The powder has been cutting out since then. Ugh. We had a lot of outages this time last year, too. 

My host family’s dog is pregnant with her third litter since I’ve lived here. (Do I have an opinion about this? You bet I do.) She has been barking even more than normal. I try to have patience with this poor creature, but having been awakened in the middle of the night more often than not, my patience is wearing thin.

Ugh. In a week, we have our Peace Corps mid-service training, and I am really hoping it helps me re-energize and re-focus. Anyway …

Last Friday night, I attend Hardh Fest. (Hardh is the Shqip [Albanian] word for “vine.”) I got to visit Rahovec for the first time, which is Kosovo’s wine country (I’d previously mentioned it in this post). It was beautiful. I wish I had taken some pictures from the bus window in the daylight.

Here is a picture of Stone Castle, probably the biggest/most well-known wine producer in Kosovo.

stone castle winery rahovec kosovo
Looks like Medieval Times …
Two local bands played at the fest that evening. I thought this violin player was incredible:

Media Consumption this week:

  • I read The Power of Now, twice. I have so much to say about it that I might write a separate post. I haven’t decided yet. But I will say, this book provided answers to spiritual questions I’ve had all my life. It has started to change the way I live daily. (I know you’re thinking, “She complained at the beginning of this post.” But truthfully, the teachings in this book have been helping me cope.)
  • A friend here and a friend at home both recommended Broadchurch, which I binge-watched in two days. It is about the murder of an 11-year-old boy in a British beach town. It was awesome, except I thought the murderer was totally implausible! Has anyone else watched this/care to weigh in?
  • I watched The Big Sick, which was equal parts funny/cute/sad. It is set in Chicago, which means I felt homesickness stabbing at me throughout the time I was watching. Fun fact: I know several people who are friends with comedienne/actress Aidy Bryant. Go ahead, be impressed with the cool. 😎

Happy weekend. Thanks for listening, as always. Talk to you on Monday.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet Project

I’m not a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when I saw this adorable crochet project on Pinterest, I was inspired to try it (the pattern is very easy to follow). Someone in my cohort is a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I decided I would crochet him a surprise TMNT doll.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 2
Turtle Power!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 4
Back details …
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 3

Fun Fact: The Shqip (Albanian) word for turtle is breshkë.

One of my most successful blog posts of all time is Jennifer the Unicorn, which is amusing but also a little disheartening. I’m supposed to be sharing information about my Peace Corps host country of Kosovo. But, everyone just wants to read about my unicorn.

You can see some of my other crochet projects here: