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.”Β 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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ˜‰


Friday Gratitude: Feeling Appreciated

Love from Chicago? I’ll take all of that you’ve got!

Thanks, Dana! πŸ™‚

March 7 is National Teacher Appreciation Day here in Kosovo. It is hard not to feel appreciated when you get messages like this:


Like last year, all the teachers at my school went out for a nice meal. Here are some pictures of me with my teaching counterparts:



Media consumption this week … I’m going pretty poorly in terms of my reading pace. I’m in the middle of a book about Scandinavia and I’ve starting re-watching Frasier (my favorite television series ever) from the beginning. That’s about it!

On Wednesday, I posted a guest blog post but then took it down so its author could add more to it. Sorry for the glitch. It’ll be back up in the future.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I will talk to you on Monday!

Friday Gratitude: March Forth

Someone once told me that she likes her birthday, March fourth, because it is a sentence: March forth!

After a mild winter with almost no snow in my village, on Monday I awoke to a large accumulation with snow still falling. It kept falling. We got Wednesday – Friday off school!

kosovo snow.JPG
End-of-February, so cruel

Want to know something funny? My most widely-read blog post, by far, is Jennifer the Unicorn. Sometimes I can see the Internet search terms that lead people to my site. I was curious to know what this resent Cyrillic search term meant, so I Google translated it and …

unicorn crochet

Hahaha! People love crocheted unicorns, I guess.

Media consumption this week …

  • I FINALLY finished reading the 800-page behemoth that had overtaken my life: The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch. I was determined to finish it because Fitch wrote my favorite novel of all time, White Oleander. “Marina” had none of the poetry of “Oleander.” I didn’t like the main character, found much of the history confusing (it is set during the Russian revolution), and the ending takes a bizarre turn. It also isn’t much of an ending, as Fitch is apparently working on a sequel. UGH. (Are you ever glad when a book is out of your life? That’s how I felt about this one.)
  • I watched a documentary titled The Search for General Tso, which goes into who the man was and how the famous chicken dish came to be named for him. Watching this was pure torture because the food looked delicious (and there is no Chinese food to be found in Kosovo). 😦 Still, this was a quick, informative film.

Speaking of food, I invented a salad. (Being a poor Peace Corps volunteer forces one to think creatively.) I bought a package of frozen broccoli, warmed it with water from my electric kettle, strained it, and added a can of tuna salad from a care package my parents sent me and crushed some crackers on top.

broccoli tuna salad crackers
Food porn alert!

Before I joined the Peace Corps, I looked at a few other people’s blogs and always wondered why their care package wishlists included food. Now I TOTALLY get it. I use my care package food to supplement my often poor diet. Also … it wasn’t until I joined the Peace Corps that I realized so many Americans are crazy about peanut butter. I’ve always had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the stuff, but lately, I’ve been scarfing peanut butter like nobody’s business. My body is like EAT. MORE. PROTEIN.

This week, I bought plane tickets, much to the dismay of my battered and bruised bank account. A childhood friend is traveling from L.A. to meet me in Ireland for my spring break. I realized this will probably be the last time I will be on an airplane until I fly back to the United States for good. It is a strange feeling. I have become so accustomed to European travel being inexpensive and quick. But soon, European travel will once again become expensive and time consuming.

I am so grateful for all the travel I’ve been able to do recently. Traveling was always a goal of mine, but I didn’t take my first international trip until I was 31.

Another volunteer commented that I seem to take a lot of weekend trips and asked how I’ve budgetedΒ my vacation time. I told her my longest trip was my first Christmas break (9? days in Paris). My only other longish trips were spring break last year and a week I spent in the U.S. last summer. Aside from that, I didn’t travel at all in the summer. I was afraid of blowing through all my money at once. It was hard at the time, sitting in my boiling-hot bedroom with a fan pointed at me while many of my friends were off traveling. But taking shorter, more frequent trips this fall and winter have done a lot for my mental health.

Since last summer, I have spent 2 nights in Sweden, 4 nights in London with my parents, took a bus trip to Serbia, and spent a long weekend in AmsterdamΒ at my friend’s place.

Now that my time serving in the Peace Corps is starting to wind down, it is hard to think about all the places I didn’t get to see while I was in Europe. But, I don’t have unlimited time or money (who does?). I am happy with the places I’ve been able to go and to be able to spend time with my family and friends.

Let me know if you have any food/fun suggestions for my Ireland trip! Talk to you on Monday. I read an interesting book about the Balkans and will be sharing more about that. πŸ™‚

Friday Gratitude: 15th Country

Hello! I had a BLAST in Amsterdam last weekend. The Netherlands is the 15th country I have visited (if you count Canada and the Bahamas).

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Amsterdam (though it probably helped that my friend lives there and knew all kinds of great things to show me). Amsterdam was never on my list of desired places to visit, because I unfairly assumed it wouldn’t appeal to a straight-laced person like me. However, it is a city of unusual contradictions … it is liberal (sex! drugs!) but also highly cultured. I visited both the Van Gogh and the Riks Museum in one afternoon and there was so much to see, I know I could return and have a different experience next time. I can’t imagine anyone could be bored in Amsterdam. The city offers something for everyone.

After having lived in Eastern Europe for a year and a half, whenever I visit the west I am 1) shocked by how expensive things are and 2) amazed by how delicious the food is. While in Amsterdam I ate: a burrito, Chinese food, a burger and fries, sushi, pancakes, Dunkin Donuts and waffles. I think my friend was alarmed by how much I ate. (Gotta shore up the fat reserves for the months to come!)


So, this week I have been feeling gratitude for Amsterdam and for the opportunity to visit my friend, whom I hadn’t seen in ten months. On my first afternoon in the city, I was so engrossed in our conversation that hours went by before I realize I hadn’t lifted my head to look at the city. πŸ™‚ Oops.

On my way to Amsterdam, I saw this ridiculousness at the airport. WHO BUYS PERFUME FOR A BABY?!?


Also, because I was traveling I missed Kosovo’s 10th Independence Day celebration. As soon as I arrived in Pristina, I went right to the Newborn sign to see its new design. Urime, Kosovo!

Media consumption this week …

  • I finally saw The Phantom Thread! I didn’t like it much … it was mediocre, boring, mildly creepy. Based on the trailer, I didn’t think I would like it, but as it is rumored to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, I was determined to see it.
  • I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It was violent, dark, and funny all at the same time. I’d recommend seeing it if you can handle being disturbed.
  • I’ve been doing bad at reading lately (and this after reading 62 books last year!) I’m in the middle of a long book I don’t know if I’ll finish, and I have since started two others. We’ll see how it all pans out …

My parents sent me an awesome care package that arrived on Thursday. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

care package

My friend in Amsterdam gave me the brilliant idea to publish professional articles on LinkedIn regarding my observations of Kosovo as a social worker. I published my first article the other day. If you would like to read it, click here.

Happy Friday! Stay tuned for next week. Monday and Wednesday’s posts will be all about Amsterdam! πŸ™‚

Friday Gratitude: In Amsterdam

Hi! I am in Amsterdam! Yay! I am here for the long weekend (tomorrow is Kosovo’s 10th anniversary of independence, hence, no school on Monday) to visit a friend. Expect an Amsterdam-related blog post or two in the coming weeks.

During this time last year, I was going through a long depression. I told myself that this winter, I would take a trip over independence day weekend in order to break up my service time more effectively. πŸ™‚

Also, I was especially excited to learn that Amsterdam has Dunkin’ Donuts. DD’s Valentine’s Day donuts are my FAVORITE, and I didn’t get one last year because, you know, I live in Kosovo. I don’t do drugs, but I am all for a nice sugar high. πŸ˜‰

Photo from

Media consumption this week …

  • In continuing on a Daniel Day-Lewis kick, I watched The Last of the Mohicans. I hadn’t ever seen it. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
  • I finished reading Albania’s Mountain Queen. I have so much to say I’m going to write a future blog post about it.

I hope you all enjoyed Wednesday’s “Love Letter” for Valentine’s Day. Writing the letter and filming the video put me in such a good mood. You all have done so much for me and it was a joy to reflect on the people I know and love and can count on for support.

I read a lovely speech about love on author Neil Gaiman’s blog. Here are a few of my favorite parts:

“… there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,

and not to be alone.”

Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn’t want to rescue you or send for the army to rescue them.”

“…Β it’s a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.”

— Neil Gaiman

Love and thanks to all of you! Have a happy weekend! Talk to you on Monday.

An Open Love Letter to My Family and Friends

“The way I feel is the way I write.” — Jose Gonzalez, Stay Alive

Happy Valentine’s Day to my family and friends. I wrote an open love letter to you all to thank you for seeing me through my Peace Corps service so far. (Sorry that the video’s volume is so soft. I suggest plugging in your headphones if you need to!)

If you’d like to skip ahead and only watch your part of the video, here are the time markers:

Mom (0:12)
Dad (0:25)
Kris (0:50)
Grandpa (1:10)
Aunt Nancy and Uncle Dave, Matt, Aunt Pat, and Aunt Tina (1:30)
Lisa (1:45)
Whitney (2:20)
Nicole (2:42)
Katie from Oakland (3:08)
Pauline (3:21)
Dana (3:40)
Katie from Chicago (4:00)
Jocelyn, Erica, Nina and Kristin (4:11)
Patrick, Lily, and Josh (4:29)
Heather (4:40)
Miriam (4:51)
Anna, Peg, Mary, Renee, and Paul (5:01)
Cheryl, Jodie, Shelby, Denise, Jennifer and Vandana (5:10)
Kushtrim (5:25)
Sierra (5:48)
Chelsea (6:06)
Chester (6:30)
Christian (6:56)
Val (7:11)
Charlie (7:29)
Todd (7:42)
Stephanee (7:54)
SJ (8:10)
Ingrid and Emily (8:17)
My entire cohort (8:29)
Blog readers (8:40)

Happy Valentine’s Day! πŸ™‚

Friday Gratitude: All Good Things

Happy Friday! Here are some pictures of my host family’s new German Shepherd puppy.

german shepherd puppy kosovo 1.JPG
His name is Adam.
german shepherd puppy kosovo 2
He is already huge … oh, boy.

(My parents got to meet the puppy when they visited Kosovo, and my mom asked me to share some photos. Here you go, Mom.) πŸ™‚

Cute story about a student … Last week, I noticed one of my fifth grade students had a key chain from the Melbourne Aquarium. I was reading a book about Australia, so Australia was on my mind. Plus, it isn’t a common place for Kosovars to travel so it stood out to me. I asked my student if she had been there and she told me her father had gone and brought back the key chain for her. This week, she brought in a photo album to show me pictures of her father’s trip to the aquarium. I thought it was so sweet of her to do that. πŸ™‚

Media consumption this week …

  • I re-watched the movie The Ballad of Jack and Rose. I was in the mood to watch a Daniel Day-Lewis movie and it is the only one I have saved to my external hard drive. Ever since hearing about his newest (and supposedly, his last) film, Phantom Thread, I have been trying in vain to find it on one of the *ahem* websites here, but with no luck. (Maybe if one of my fellow volunteers is reading this, you could point me in a helpful direction?)
  • No finished books this week. *gasp* I’m in the middle of a long, non-fiction book … more on that later.

Thank you to those of you who reached out with kind words regarding my decision to feature blog posts dealing with heavier topics. I may up put a few more posts in the future, but next week’s posts will have lighter content.

I’m in Pristina today to attend a Peace Corps town hall meeting, and I’m staying in the city afterward to celebrate a friend’s birthday. (Happy Birthday, Sierra!) I hope you all have a good weekend. I’ll talk to you on Monday.