Friday Gratitude: GOING HOME!

YOU GUYS! I AM GOING HOME TO THE UNITED STATES FOR A WEEK! I’ve been waiting for this vacation since the day I left! It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I’ve seen my home country.

I still tear up when I think of saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. BUT I’LL GET TO SEE THEM TOMORROW! I AM SO EXCITED, CAN YOU TELL BY MY CAPS LOCK?!? I will also be excited to push them aside so I can hug our kitties, Sweeney Todd (mine) and Oz (theirs). (Who are we kidding here? Of course I miss the cats the most!)

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A photo of Sweeney Todd and me from last spring

“Being American” is my defining characteristic here in Kosovo. But once I am back in the United States, “being American” will cease to be remarkable. Identity is a strange thing to consider … we think of it as something so “fixed” (as I wrote about nearly a year ago, in this post), but it really isn’t.

I’ve heard reverse culture shock (returning to one’s own country, after a long time away) is even harder than the initial culture shock of being in a new place. I have a hard time believing that America may seem strange to me, but maybe it will. So much about my country has changed since I’ve been away.

On a lighter note, it’s hard to believe I haven’t driven in a year. While I miss the convenience of having a car, I don’t miss the physical act of driving (and I thought I would). I also miss cooking (and I thought I wouldn’t).

Here are some other things I am looking forward to, in no particular order:

  • Yoga class! In a studio!
  • Dunkin Donuts iced coffee
  • Del Taco!
  • Shopping with my mom at Target, the Dollar Store, Goodwill, and Kohls. (I’m a Midwesterner … what can I say? We like good deals.)
  • Buying presents to bring back to Kosovo.
  • Shopping my own closet at my parents’ house. I don’t have tons of clothing left behind, but it’ll be nice to do some swapping.
  • AIR CONDITIONING! OMG, it’s already a billion degrees here in Kosovo. (It’s possible I am exaggerating. I dislike hot weather.) Family, if you want to know where you can find me, I’ll be lying across the air conditioning vent in my bedroom, weeping softly.
  • Sleeping at night without the sound of a barking dog(s) to wake me. And let’s add my usual 4:30 a.m. rooster wake up call to this bullet point. Sleeping! In peace! With a cat at my feet! That’s what I like.
screw you
Of course, I don’t actually mean this. I like my blog readers! But Cartman! He’s funny!

I won’t be posting next week. I’ll catch you on Monday, June 26!

Friday Gratitude: Cuddling Baby Animals

I was in Pristina yesterday to attend meetings. At the end of the day, I felt inspired and motivated to get started on secondary projects for the summer (workshops) and fall (volunteering with an orphanage). 🙂

While I was in Pristina, I took advantage of some down time to visit a pet shop. It feels wrong to be enamored of these animals when there are so many strays everywhere, but it is also nice to see healthy, well-tended animals for a change.

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Why, yes, I did ask a pet shop employee to take photos of me.
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He kept licking me with his little black tongue!
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Selfie with a Siamese
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Aww, makes me miss my kitty at home.

This is my favorite photo. I posted it to Instagram and inadvertently cropped out the Chow Chow’s bear-paw feet! And you can’t edit Instagram photos once they’re posted (another reason to dislike Instagram). Anyway, here’s the un-cropped version:

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BEAR PAWS!

Media consumption this week …

I mentioned last Friday that I needed some light/funny things to watch and read.

  • My friend Katie suggested trying a Peter Mayle novel for something lighthearted. I downloaded A Good Year from the Chicago Public Library. It is a story about a man who inherits a vineyard in France (yes, please). It was a fun read.
  • I downloaded The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri. This was an easy-to-read, whodunnit murder mystery set in Sicily.
  • After seeing this author’s apartment featured on one of my favorite blogs, I decided to download her book Mirror in the Sky. I usually avoid books about teenagers. I had an atypical high school experience, and don’t really relate to “normal” high school stories. However, this was an engaging read. It’s a teenage love story that takes place during a time when a new, Earth-like planet has just been discovered.

I’ve been reading A TON lately. I just haven’t felt like doing much else. A friend suggested writing a post about my summer reading plan. I was like, “I don’t have one.” But I think it’s a great idea! I’d like to compile a master list of books to tackle in my free time this summer. If you have a book suggestion, please message me. I like reading a wide variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Also, I’d like to keep writing three times per week throughout the summer, but I’m already stumped for ideas. If you have a suggestion or questions, please also let me know!

Friday Gratitude: Food for Thought

On Tuesday evening, I attended a school dinner with teachers from my school, plus the surrounding villages. In typical Kosovo style, I found out about this event just a few hours beforehand. I was told it was free. When I asked who was paying for it, the answer I received was, “The president.” And I was like, “The president of what? Of Kosovo?”

Indeed, the president of Kosovo came and gave a speech! I would have taken his photo, but I didn’t expect him to leave so quickly. 😦

I haven’t ever posted a photo of my current host parents, as I try to respect their privacy. But since we all look so fancy, why not? (They both work at my school and attended the dinner, too.)

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Apologies for the weird cropping … I was trying to cut out distracting stuff in the background

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Media Consumption this week …

  • I caught up on Handmaid’s Tale
  • I watched the documentary There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane. The filmmakers interviewed the family of Diane Schuler, who, in 2009, drove the wrong way on a New York freeway and caused an accident that killed 8 people.
  • At the prodding of my friend, I watched the documentary Tickled. The filmmakers intended to make a documentary about tickling contests (yes, that exists), and found themselves being threatened with legal action. The resulting story is deeply bizarre.
  • I binge-watched The Keepers on Netflix. The documentary follows the unsolved 1969 murder case of a nun in Baltimore. Along the way, sexual abuse in the Catholic church and a massive cover-up are discovered.
  • I finished reading Far From the Tree. It centers on the ways children can turn out to be very different from their parents, due to reasons like disability, mental illness, genius, or life choices (like crime). This was a riveting book and yet, parts were very hard to read.

Here are some quotes from Far From the Tree that I found to be particularly thought-provoking (and there were many):

“Little is more gratifying than successful and devoted children, and few situations are worse than filial failure or rejection.”

“It is often ourselves we would like to see live forever, and not someone with a personality of his own.”

” ‘In America, every kid has to be well rounded. They have ten different activities, and they never excel at any of them. Americans want everyone to have the same life; it’s a cult of the average.’ ”

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The things I’ve been watching/reading lately have all been heavy. I could use a laugh! If you can recommend something funny, please do so. 🙂

Have a good weekend, and I’ll talk to you on Monday.

Friday Gratitude: Looking Ahead

We are rapidly approaching my cohort’s one-year anniversary in Kosovo AND the arrival of the next group of volunteers. It is wild to even think about!

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One of the schools where I teach just got new playground equipment. Previously, all the students had was an old volleyball net, basketball backboards without nets, and an empty yard. Now they’ve got a new volleyball net, functioning basketball hoops, monkey bars, a swingset, a swing tire, a slide, and a seesaw.

I showed up to school one day and it was like this equipment had just appeared overnight. I asked about it, and learned it was donated by families of Kosovars living abroad. I feel like this playground is a great reminder of what life in Kosovo is like … full of surprises. You never know when a playground is going to drop out of the sky.

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Only three more weeks left of the school year … 🙂

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Media Consumption this week:

  • I’m not usually a big movie or TV consumer, but this week, I re-watched two full-length films: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite of the HP books and films), and Shakespeare in Love. I much prefer Joseph Fiennes as love-struck Shakespeare than the creep he plays on Handmaid’s Tale (which I also caught up on this week).
  • I finished a book I had picked up from the Peace Corps library: The Bastard of Istanbul. After a promising first chapter, the point of view switches from the book’s most interesting and vibrant character to those of other, less interesting people. Much of the book centers on the political and philosophical ideologies of its characters, and their long-winded discussions. I hate that. If an author has certain views, why doesn’t he or she just write an essay?

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My Peace Corps friends, Chester and Charlie, have launched an ambitious project, called Faces of Kosovo. Similar to the popular “Humans of New York,” this project offers a way for Kosovars to share their personal stories. If you are interested to learn more, please follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FacesofKosovo/

Have a good weekend, everyone! I’ll talk to you on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of next week.

Friday Gratitude: Being a Hippie

I had a blast last weekend at the Spark Yoga Festival in Gjakova, Kosovo.

Since moving to Kosovo, I’ve been good about practicing a little yoga each day. However, I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed practicing with other people. This is the first time in nearly a year that I’ve attended a yoga class.

I also got to spend some time with some volunteer friends. We made tacos … kind of. 🙂 With no meat or beans on hand, we had to improvise with corn and rice. But it was still a decent meal.

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In December, the Peace Corps Kosovo post was evaluated by the Office of the Inspector General. Inspections are common in the PC world, and an inspection doesn’t necessarily mean something is gravely wrong with a post (or so, we’ve been told). The OIG inspector interviewed about half of the volunteers here in Kosovo, and I was one of them. The report was posted publicly last week. It is a whopping 69 pages long. (Personally, I found it to be an interesting read.) Click here to read the report.

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As far as media consumption goes, I am caught up with Handmaid’s Tale and I picked up a novel from the Peace Corps library. I also need a laugh last night, so I re-watched Legally Blonde. 🙂

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I posted less frequently this week. I am going to post less frequently (only Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) for the next few weeks to see how I like it/how you all like it. Maybe I’ll do a little survey after that to see what you all think.

Thanks, as always, for following along! Have a great weekend.

Friday Gratitude: Reading, Friends, Yoga

On this day last year, I was on a plane heading to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with five of my best girl friends. Now, that’s the proper way to say goodbye to someone who is leaving for the Peace Corps!

In Vegas, saying goodbye to some of my favorite women.

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Media consumption this week:

After re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I downloaded Go Set A Watchman (Harper Lee’s second book) from the Chicago Public Library. I was surprised I didn’t have to wait for it, given that it’s a relatively new release.

Well, it is flipping terrible. About 1/4 of the way through, I emailed a friend and was like, “OMG, THIS IS SO BAD.” For her, the terribleness of Watchman confirms Truman Capote wrote Mockingbird, and not Harper Lee. I, too, am beginning to see the merit in that old conspiracy.

The book is so bad, I started taking note of my favorite terrible sentences. Here are two:

“Jean Louise was snatched from her quiet realm and left alone to protect her sensitive epidermis as best she could.” (Has a clunkier sentence ever been written?!?)

“She … sat gazing at her long legs, startled to find them twenty-six years old.” (HUH?)

I usually don’t finish books I don’t like. But I forced my way through this one. Ugh, so bad.

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I am going to a yoga festival here in Kosovo this weekend. I am looking forward to yoga, seeing friends, and visiting a Kosovar city I have not yet been to. (Although yesterday, I was doing yoga in socks with treads, and I kicked a gouge in my mat. I am mad at myself.)

In other bad news, I over-plucked my eyebrows, and I heard that Sweet Bean Bakery is now closed.

But, it was a good week. Really! I’ve been crocheting a ton. I haven’t posted pictures because I am making gifts for people and don’t want to spoil any surprises. And did I mention I am going to a yoga festival? Woo hoo! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Next week: I am going to post only 3x (Mon, Wed, Friday). I want to see how this will affect my blog stats/overall readership.

Happy Birthday to My Sister!

One day, I slid into the front seat of the car after a day at preschool. (I’m showing my age here. In my time, little kids were allowed to ride in the front seats of cars). Anyway, I got into the front seat and started telling my mom about my day at school. Then I heard a noise from the back seat. It was my baby sister. I had completely forgotten about her existence. And I was struck with the heavy thought, “She’s always going to be here.” I pictured myself as an old woman, the first time in my young life it occurred to me that I would someday get old. I pictured my sister as an old woman, too. She’s always going to be here.

A sibling is a complicated gift. It is only now, as an adult, that I have come to appreciate what a tremendous gift a sibling really is. I think siblings are our true life partners. Older generations die, friends drift apart, and romantic relationships end. But a sibling is there from the beginning and, God willing, will be there until the end.

So, Happy Birthday, Kris! I’m glad to have you as a life partner.