Friday Gratitude: Erin go Bragh

Hey, Everyone! I got exciting news this week: I finally learned the date for my Peace Corps Close of Service (COS). Not only did I get my first choice of dates (there were three), but so did everyone else in my cohort. 🙂 I’ve already shared the exact date with my family and friends via email. Here, I’ll just say that I’m going home in mid-July!

On Monday, I was really excited to get my date. I got the email while I was on the bus and when I got to my house, I immediately began looking for flights home. Then Monday night, I cried as I got ready for bed, thinking of leaving my friends here. Then Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling restless and bored and wanting to just leeeeeave already. Such is the roller coaster of PC emotions. :-/

Media consumption this week:

  • I read Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer after two different friends recently brought it up in conversation. It tells the story of Pat Tillman, who famously left the NFL to become an Army Ranger. Though I don’t have an interest in football or war, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
  • I found a copy of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen in our Peace Corps library. It is the writer’s memoir of growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in Grand Rapids, Michigan during the 1980s. She is only a few years older than I am and though I’m from eastern Michigan (I don’t think I’ve ever been to Grand Rapids), I could relate to much of what she had to say about growing up in the state.

I wrote another article for LinkedIn about my experiences with mindfulness as a Peace Corps volunteer. If you’d like to read it, click here.

And finally, I am heading to Ireland on Saturday! My friend and I are spending 3 days in Dublin and 3 days in Galway and then returning to Dublin to fly out. We have tours booked for Trinity College, Kilmainham Gaol Prison, and the Guinness brewery. We’re playing the rest by ear. Can’t wait!

My plan is to take two weeks off from blogging and be back online Monday, April 16 with posts about my Ireland trip. I’ll be traveling next week and then the week after, I’d like to spend time making changes to the back-end of the blog.

As always, you can follow along with me on Instagram. I’ll be sure to post some photos from Ireland along the way. 🙂

Image via weclipart

Chapters of Life

“When people change / They gain a peace but they lose one, too.” — Future Islands, Seasons

In coming (close to) the end of my Peace Corps service, I’ve done some reflecting on my life and I came to a kind of realization recently. I used to think of the “chapters” of my life as being centered around big, obvious changes: getting a new job, moving, beginning or ending relationships. But I have come to think that instead, my life has had overarching themes that transcend whatever changes are happening. The changes reflect the overall theme at the time, but they aren’t necessarily markers of larger shifts in perspective.

That may sound a bit confusing, so let me explain. It is easy to think of my Peace Corps service as this weird, two-year chapter of my life. But after doing some thinking, I realize that this big change I made (joining the Peace Corps and moving to Kosovo) is actually part of a larger theme, one that’s been going on for the last 7 years (all of my thirties to this point).

I spent my twenties in jobs I didn’t care about and relationships that did not make me happy. When I turned 30, I had a talk with myself and realized I needed to gain better focus and enthusiasm for life. I took the time to research and explore new career options, went to graduate school to earn a master’s degree, gained experience in my new field, and joined the Peace Corps. All of these changes have been part of an overarching theme — to become the best version of me. That sounds cheesy, but it is true.

I now have a career I love (social work) and I’ve finally reached my goal of traveling internationally. I used to be jealous of people who were able to travel, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. I once heard that jealousy can be used as a tool to highlight what we don’t have but what we want for our own lives. Traveling was always hugely important to me, and I cringed at the idea of “settling down” before I had a chance to get out and explore other countries.

As my Peace Corps service winds down, I wonder if this chapter of my life is also coming to a close. I could be wrong, but I think it is. It has had its challenges, certainly, but it has also been the best and most significant chapter of my life thus far.

If I had to make predictions about the next chapter of my life (which, again, could be wrong), I think I will spend time “digging deeply in the same ditch.” That’s an expression an improv teacher of mine used to use, which means committing to a scene and pushing further with the same idea. I would like to find a job where I’ll want to stay for a good long while, and make a home of my own (I want to buy a place but I’m not sure how quickly that will happen).

Several people have asked me whether I’ll return to Chicago or Boston or stay in Michigan. I may have said this before, but just to restate: I want to create a new life somewhere I haven’t previously lived (I guess Kosovo gets crossed off that list, too. Ha!) #movingon #lookingahead #freshstart

So, these are my “deep thoughts” for now. I know my Peace Corps friends are spending time doing reflections of their own, which is, I think, a natural part of ending our service. I wanted to share my own thoughts to let everyone know you aren’t alone!

I Visited a Mosque

One thing I wanted to do while living in Kosovo was to visit a mosque. Though Kosovo is a predominately Islamic country, I live in a Catholic village and we don’t have a mosque, so I hadn’t been to one. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know the rules for someone who 1) is a woman and 2) isn’t Muslim. I asked a local and he suggested covering my head as a sign of respect and taking care not to visit during the daily call to prayer times. Otherwise, he said visiting should be fine.

I’d seen this mosque in Pristina (pictures below) from the outside and decided that it was the one I’d visit. I covered my head with my scarf and took off my shoes (though I think that has more to do with culture and less to do with religion) before I went inside.

mosque 1.JPG
Outside view
mosque ceiling
Entrance ceiling
mosque light
mosque 2
My friend said only old mosques have corners like these and that they are probably used for prayer because the walls are thick.

It was dark inside the mosque and when I got home, I discovered most of my pictures were too dark or blurry to post. 😦

Here is a previous picture I had posted of the outside of a mosque and it is one of my favorite photos I’ve taken in Kosovo.

Friday Post

I usually title my Friday posts “Friday Gratitude” but in all honesty, I’m not feeling super grateful this week. I’ve been dealing with a safety issue at my site (nothing to do with my host family). Our Peace Corps safety and security manager came out to visit me this week. I thought about writing about the situation, but it would just be a long, ranting post and nobody wants to read that. But it has really been bumming me out. Not that there’s ever a time I welcome stress, but I had hoped the last few months of my service would be smooth sailing.

I leave for Ireland in a week and I am looking forward to a longer break from life here in Kosovo. When I get back, I’ll have roughly 12 weeks left of service. Not gonna lie — time has been dragging lately. I’ve tried to re-frame it as only 12 more weekends left to spend time with my friends here, and that does help shift the perspective a bit.

My creativity has been latent lately, too. I haven’t had the urge to crochet or write creatively much at all. Instead of getting down on myself about it, I’m just accepting it for what it is. Perhaps my vacation and a change of scenery will act as a catalyst to restart my left brain.

An exercise I like to do is to check in with the “Peace Corps Chart of Emotions” from time to time. According to the chart, which I find to be pretty accurate, this is how I should expect to feel:

new doc 27_1

Months 24-27:

  • Fright (I’ve been frightened at my site lately … does that count?)
  • Confusion (Not really …)
  • Alienation (At times, yes. I had heard that during the second year of PC service, people become busier and spend less time with their cohort. I have definitely found this to be true of myself and my friends.)
  • Anxiety (Oh, yes!)
  • Panic (Kind of an extreme emotion … I’d say no? But maybe that’ll come?)
  • Giddiness (When I think of going home, YES)
  • Impatience (When am I getting out of here?)
  • Obsession with planning and scheduling (Hahahaha, yes! [Sierra, I am looking at you, too!])

So, that’s where I’m at. How are all of you?

Media consumption this week …

  • I read Moon Called by Patricia Briggs upon the recommendation of another volunteer. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and wanted something lighter to read (this book is all about werewolves and shape shifters). It was okay but I probably won’t read more of the series.
  • I’ve started re-watched Top of the Lake, which I had watched shortly before moving to Kosovo. It’s a strange but compelling series and if you are looking for something to binge, I highly recommend it.
Snow day
It snowed again …

Thanks for listening. Have a good weekend, and I will talk to you on Monday.

Three Classroom Activities You Can Do Using Only Index Cards and Crayons

As the title of this post states, here are three classroom activities you can do using only index cards and crayons.

First up is Jeopardy! What I love about this is that it is endlessly adaptable to all different subjects and grade levels. You can swap out categories or add to them to re-use the game while keeping it fresh. (Also, my students LOVE it!)

classroom jeapordy 1

For younger kids, I’ve focused on simple topics like colors, animals, and shapes. For older kids, I’ve used topics like actions, professions, past tense, telling time, and U.S. trivia. (I’m always interested to see if students know who America’s first president was or when our Independence day is.)

classroom jeapordy 2

The only difficulty with this game is that the cards are small, so I end up circling the classroom for all the students to see the clues. This problem would be eliminated if I had an overhead projector (but I don’t).

To play Jeopardy in the classroom, I divide students into groups and then tape the cards to the chalkboard. The groups go back and forth, choosing clues until they are all gone. Then, we tally the points to see who won.

Jeopardy classroom game
Rhyme, Missing Letter, Food and Places make good topics, too!

Next up is this easy-to-make ABC challenge. I cut index cards in half and wrote out sets of the alphabet in different colors. Students formed groups and had to put the letters in order.

classroom activity alphabet

ABC classroom activity

For a further challenge, my teaching counterpart asked the students to see how many words they could make. Our students were clever enough to build on the words, crossword-puzzle style. (I wish I’d gotten a picture, but my phone died.)

Finally, here is an idea for a numbers challenge. Use index cards to write out the numbers 1-10. Divide students into different groups. Give one number to each student. Then, time each group to see who can line up in numerical order the fastest. (I let them do a practice run and then I time them.) 🙂

Here are some other activities, materials, and lesson plans I have used in my classroom:


Kulla e Zenel Beaut, a Restaurant in Peja, Kosovo

“The Kulla,” as my friends and I call it, is one of my favorite restaurants in Peja, Kosovo (which also happens to be my favorite city in Kosovo. Other people may tell you that Prizren is the best city. Don’t listen to them.)

The Kulla has great traditional Kosovar food (as well as some American favorites, like chicken fingers). They also make a great house wine. 😉

kulla restaurant peja kosovo 2
kulla restaurant peja kosovo
Nice atmosphere
chicken fingers kulla peja kosovo
Chicken fingers with awesome bread and dipping sauce
meat in a clay pot
Meat cooked in a clay pot, mmmmmm!
traditional albanian food
This dish has onion in it but it’s so good, even I will eat it!
skenderbag meat food dish
A Skenderbag … a popular food here in Kosovo. Meat is wrapped in cheese and then breaded and fried. Mmmm!
albanian clothing
Traditional clothing
albanian tea service

rakia peja kosovo.JPG

I highly recommend this place! Stop by the next time you’re in Peja. 🙂

Friday Gratitude: I Won a Poetry Contest

Happy Friday, everyone! I am so happy to announce that a poem I wrote, titled “Addiction,” won third place in a “reverse poetry contest” for The New Social Worker Magazine. You can read it here.

Media consumption this week …

The book’s author, Michael Booth, is an Englishman married to a Danish woman. After living in Denmark for several years, he decided to write a book about Scandinavia. As he noted: “A journalist writing in the British Sunday Times recently described this part of the world as ‘a collection of countries we can’t tell apart.'”

This book is laugh-out-loud funny in parts. “In Sweden, the concept of being ‘fashionably late’ is akin to being ‘fashionably flatulent.'” (I think Booth is a funnier writer than Bill Bryson.)

Haha. Here are some fun facts I learned while reading this book:

  • People in Denmark like hygge (pronounced “hooga”) which, according to this book, basically means you sit around with your friends and family and make endless hours of small talk while avoiding more interesting and potentially controversial topics of conversation.
  • Iceland underwent a major financial crisis in 2008 when all three major privately owned banks defaulted.
  • Norway used to be a land of fishermen and farmers until they struck oil in 1969, which means it now has: “the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. And I don’t mean per capita — we are talking in absolutes.”
  • According to PISA, Finland has the best education system in the world. Why? It isn’t due to classroom sizes (average) or the length of the school day (only four hours). It is because all of their teachers have master’s degrees. “In Finland, teaching attracts the brightest students … teacher-training courses can be harder to get into than those of law or medicine.” I also learned that Finns are extremely taciturn but blunt when they do speak. I think these might be my people.
  • Swedish women have subsequently seen their position in society advance even more comprehensively thanks to a raft of policies concerning gender equality, childcare, and positive discrimination.” Can I move there?

This book contained many more interesting facts about Scandinavia. I wish I could include them all here. Maybe you should just read the book. 🙂

Edit 3.19.18: I saw a book about Hygge written in Albanian at a bookstore in Pristina!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow! I’m not sure if I have any plans to celebrate but I’ll be in Ireland in two weeks anyway. 😉