Crochet Project: A Scarf of My Own Invention

My friend Charlie’s birthday was a few weeks ago. I wanted to crochet something for him. I¬†tried making¬†a hat, but it didn’t turn out so well.


I don’t know what happened … I followed along with this YouTube video. My hat was shapeless, and the brim was too floppy to stand up. I scrapped that idea.

I decided to make a scarf instead. I started along with another YouTube video. But after crocheting about seven rows, I realized I hated the design. I decided to scrap that project, too.

I decided to just crochet a scarf using my own pattern. It is a pretty simple design¬†… it’s possible I didn’t actually invent it. But anyway, it’s the first thing I’ve crocheted without following someone else’s pattern.

I like the subtle texture. I also really ended up liking the color combination (navy blue, dark gray, and white), though it wasn’t a completely intentional choice. I was running low on yarn.

**I created this downloadable PDF, if you would like to try¬†the scarf pattern¬†yourself. ūüôā scarf-pattern-by-april-gardner



In retrospect, I probably would have made this a few rows wider. But, I was also running short on time. I wanted to give this to Charlie at his birthday party!


Urime ditelindja, Charlie!


I then used the same pattern to crochet a birthday scarf for my counterpart. I made it a bit thicker this time, connected the ends to make it circular, and triple-wrapped it around my neck to look like this:

mens striped scarf free pattern.JPG

Case of the Mondays, √ádo Dit√ę

This last week has been really hard for me. I’ve been struggling with a lot of feelings … which can overall be summed up as “isolation, boredom, and uselessness.”

Another volunteer posted these documents on Facebook a few months back. I am unsure of their¬†origin, but it breaks down the “normal” feelings Peace Corps Volunteers can expect to feel during their 27 months of service. (The¬†social worker¬†in me loves this stuff.)

Processed with MOLDIV

Processed with MOLDIV

According to this handy chart, during months 3-6, volunteers can expect to struggle with:

  • Fright (eh … kind of a strong word for what I am feeling)
  • Frustration with Self (YES!)
  • Loneliness (kind of)
  • Weight or Health Changes (thankfully, no)
  • Homesickness (YES!)
  • Uselessness (YES!)

I am feeling frustrated with myself for not being “better”: not knowing the language better, not making a bigger impact on my students, not meeting more people in my community, the list goes on. I think¬†I need to give myself a break.

I wouldn’t say I feel lonely, exactly. I’ve felt lonely before. This is something different, more akin to isolation. I’ve got all kinds of wonderful, supportive people in my life, but right now, you’re all at the other end of a screen. Even my new Peace Corps friends are far away. I no longer see them 6 days per week. Sometimes, it feels like my most significant relationship is with my phone.

It’s hard being away from someone you love. Being away from EVERYONE you love, all at once,¬†is overwhelming.

I miss my life in the U.S. like crazy. The big things, the little things. EVERYTHING. I’ve enjoyed snuggling up the last few nights with a good mystery novel (Tana French’s The Trespasser), but I can’t help wishing my cat were curled at my feet.

I’ve also been feeling kind of useless. I have now worked with all of the English teachers at my school (my counterpart, and two others), and they all do a fine job with the students. I keep asking myself, “How can I be most useful in this situation?”

I reached out to a few of my volunteer friends this weekend. It was a relief to discover I am not alone in my feelings. I also re-read this New York Times article.

Here is my plan, for now:

  • Be easier on myself
  • Remember to take this experience one day at a time
  • Continue reaching out to people I love, both in Kosovo and back home
  • Continue using my coping skills (yoga, reading, writing, crochet)
  • Continue to improve my Shqip skills/study (I finally have a tutor, yay!)
  • Focus on “little wins” in the classroom, rather than expecting to re-haul the whole system
  • Continue to have things to look forward to (I’ve got several fun events coming up this month.)

Any other suggestions or words of advice?

Friday Gratitude

“May I be amazing at you?” — Tina Fey, Bossypants

It’s been a strange week, mixed with highs and lows. The lows mostly have to do with electricity. And it not working. Because Kosovo. (I’d say, “Where’s Thomas Edison when you need him?” but I have always been a Tesla fan. :))

Shortly after waking up Sunday morning to no power (which continued for 7 hours), a friend from Southern California texted me. SoCal is going through a massive heat wave right now and the vegetation is dead. My friend was all, “Kosovo is so beautiful!” And I was like, “I HATE EVERYTHING.”

But enough of the lows. Here are some of the highlights of my week:

    • I began Saturday morning by talking to my best friend. It’s been a while since we’ve caught up. Every time I speak to her, I feel a love so strong it is palpable.
    • Another volunteer and I found an Albanian language tutor!
    • I was walking home from tutoring midday Sunday, and was spontaneously invited to a neighbor’s for coffee. They are a lovely family (somehow distantly related to my host family … I am unsure of the connection). Each member can speak a little English, and I can speak a little Albanian, so between everyone present we were able to patch together a conversation.
    • My host family has relatives visiting from Switzerland. I’ve met several people this week who can speak three languages: Shqip, English, and German. One of those people was a 5-year-old girl.
      Little girl’s mom: “This is April. You can speak English to her.”
      Little girl (in English): “I don’t want to.”
    • My host mother bought me a pair of slippers. They are stiff and too big, causing me to cling to the bannister to avoid injury whenever I walk down the stairs. But it was a sweet gesture and I appreciate it. ūüôā
    • One of my classes is particularly noisy/disruptive. After talking it over with my counterpart, we gave them assigned seating. And they were actually quiet for two whole class periods!

As far as media consumption goes, I finished two books: Hillybilly Elegy and Bossypants. I was previously, weirdly, unfamiliar with Tina Fey’s work. I’m not a regular SNL watcher, and I’ve never seen 30 Rock. Not that you have to choose between the two, but I’ve always thought of myself as solidly an Amy Poehler fan (I love Parks & Rec!). But, shocker, I discovered after reading her book that¬†Tina Fey is really funny.

P.S. Hillybilly Elegy was a great read, too … part autobiography, part sociological examination of poor whites in America. And inspirational.

Aaaaand … I downloaded Tana French’s new novel! And I started burning through it. If you haven’t read anything of Tana French’s, let me do you the favor of informing you. I’d say her writing is reminiscent of Gone Girl, but everything gets compared to Gone Girl these days. Let’s just say Tana French is a great mystery writer, and as my grandfather pointed out, sometimes you forget to pay attention to the mystery because the writing is so good. (Or maybe my mom said that. One or both of them did.)

Have a good weekend, everyone! Come back here on Monday. ūüôā

Colors of Autumn

Autumn is magic. The days have been a sunny mid-70. We are tilting away from the sun, casting shadows long and deep. It is my favorite time of year.

I shot these photos in my host family’s garden, using both my Canon Powershot, and my iPhone 5 with a macro lens attachment (not a bad $18 investment).

If you would like to see some photos I have taken over the years, you can click here for my portfolio.

Stealth American

People often mistake me for being Kosovar. There is a game I like to play when I am out in public, where I try to see how long an interaction can last before the other person realizes I am not Kosovar. This means I don’t use much Shqip (which is bad), because I don’t want people to hear my accent, or risk making a grammatical mistake that would give me away. At the grocery store checkout, I’ll often make noises or gestures to convey meaning, and pretend to understand what the other person is saying even if I don’t.

I once got halfway through a taxi ride before the driver realized I wasn’t Kosovar. He made a few basic, chit-chatty comments that I was able to answer with one-word responses. It wasn’t until he said something more complicated that¬†I had to give myself away by replying, “Nuk kuptoj.” ([I] don’t understand.)

This gave me a sense of satisfaction, like, I TRICKED YOU FOR HALF A CAB RIDE. Imagine this scene: Me in a crowd of people, wearing a disguise. Suddenly I throw my cape aside and rip off my fake moustache. “ALL THIS TIME! AN AMERICAN! IN YOUR MIDST!”

It is well-known in Kosovo that a group of Americans live here¬†(several groups, actually, counting the Peace Corps, the embassy, the military base, and random expatriates). We have also been told that some people don’t understand what the Peace Corps is, and think that we’re the CIA. I am¬†so bumbling that¬†I can’t imagine someone mistaking me for a CIA agent. (Or is that just my cover? Muwaahahaha.)

Do you want to know a secret? I like to think of myself as having at least average intelligence. But there is a way in which I am really dumb: I CANNOT, for the life of me, follow the plot of spy movies.

My whole family loves the Bourne Identity series. I sat down with them to watch the first one and was determined to remain focused. But within the first ten minutes of the movie, I had completely lost the thread of the plot. Who is that man? Who is that woman? Why are they driving that car down those stairs?

I love Gary Oldman, and so I went to see Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy, despite the fact I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow it. At the end of the movie, I turned to my friend Dana and asked, “So, who was the mole?” She¬†said I would make a good patsy. I asked what a patsy is. She told me, and I was like, “Oh, man, I would totally make a good patsy!”

So, no, I am not with the CIA. I am also¬†not Kosovar. I’m just an American with brown hair and brown eyes, trying to blend in …

TEFL: Activities Using Little to No Resources

One of the more challenging aspects of teaching in Kosovo is working with few resources. We have chalkboards/chalk and (some) textbooks (half of my classes don’t have books yet … and school started a month ago). That’s pretty much it. The Peace Corps wants us to develop sustainable new ideas for the classroom. Even if I could afford to buy extra materials, that really isn’t fair to the other teachers, who might not be able to do so.

I’ve mentioned previously that this is my first experience teaching in a classroom. I’ve been scouring the Internet for ideas for classroom activities. Printouts are a challenge. My school has one printer, and it isn’t even an industrial-sized one you see in offices across the U.S. It’s closer to the size you might have in your home office. So, printing out materials for dozens of students every day isn’t really an option.

I’ve rounded up some of the best activities I’ve found so far¬†that require few to no resources. I’ll likely continue to add posts like these to the blog as I discover/come up with more ideas. There are a million “icebreaker” games out there, but I’ve focused on educational activities where students have to speak or write in English.

Teaching Present Continuous
1. One student comes up to the front of the classroom and acts out a daily activity.
2. The other students have to call out what he/she is doing. “He is brushing his teeth.” “He is washing the dishes.”

Hangman (for use with any vocab words)
1. Allow students to take turns acting as the “hangman,” choosing words and calling on their classmates to guess.

Teaching Parts of the Body
1. Sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
2. Draw a body on the chalkboard and have students come up to label parts

A Tree Map (used to teach are/can/have)
Draw something that looks like this on the board:
|             |           |
Are       Can     Have

And ask students to help you fill in the tree. Example: Spiders
“Spiders are hairy.” “Spiders can jump.” “Spiders have eight legs.”

1. Describe a room and have students draw what they hear
“There is a coffee table in the middle of the room. On the table is … Under the table is …Beside the table is … ”

Stand Up If …
1. Have students make a circle with their chairs. Remove one of the chairs.
2. Have a student volunteer stand in the middle of the circle.
3. The student volunteer has to come up with a sentence, such as, “Stand up if you’re wearing a white shirt.”
4. All the students wearing a white shirt must stand and try to find a different chair, while the person in the middle also tries to find a chair.
5. The last person standing has to come up with the next sentence.

**I compiled these into a downloadable PDF: tefl-esl-activities-using-little-or-no-resources.

If anyone out there has other ideas, please feel free to share!