Friday Gratitude: Close-of-Service and Winding Down

Hi, Everyone! I’ve been in Pristina since Tuesday, attending my Peace Corps close-of-service conference.

Thanks to my parents for sending me this awesome care package:

care package

My parents have been ON their care package GAME since I came to Kosovo. I so appreciate it, and not just for the snacks. It is nice to feel remembered but it is also comforting. Thanks also to others who have sent me packages: my sister, my aunt, and my friends Katie, Dana, Lisa, Heather, Whitney, and SJ.

Remember when I was crocheting kids’ trick-or-treat bags? I wanted to get them lined so my mom sent me some cute material from the U.S. I hired a local friend’s mother to sew linings into the bags and I got them back this week. They turned out beautifully, SO adorable! She sewed pockets inside and I didn’t even ask for pockets! Here are just a few pics:

Media consumption this week:

  • I enjoyed recently reading Sarah’s Key, so I decided to read another book by the same author: A Secret Kept: A Novel. It was the story of a man who makes a discovery about the life of his long-deceased mother. I enjoyed it.

This post will be the last time I blog on any kind of schedule. For my first nine months of service, I blogged every week day. Since March of 2017, I’ve consistently posted 3x per week. I have enjoyed involving all of you in my life and service. However, by this point, my mind is consumed with topics other than this blog. I am bursting at the seams with ideas for jobs, new creative projects, travel, and people I want to see and talk to when I return home to the States. The last thing I want to do is post blog content just for the sake of posting. I want to provide interesting and useful information to my readers.

Please be sure to follow my blog via email so that you will receive a notification the next time I post. Also, I will continue to update my book list every time I finish a book. If you’re looking for something to read, be sure to check it out!

Finally, I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. Due to anti-spam laws, I actually need you to opt in if you are interested. Please click here to sign up.

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 budgeted 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 Amsterdam 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. 🙂

Crochted Christmas Lights

Crocheted Christmas Lights
Crocheted Christmas Lights

My mom recently told me about a cute crochet project she’d seen — Christmas Lights! I decided to make some for her as a surprise (but then I ruined the surprise by telling her about them).

I followed this easy pattern. The project was easy, just a bit slow and tedious. I am pretty happy with the end result, though.

A string of crocheted Christmas lights
I don’t have a mantle …
Crocheted bulb
For scale

Umm … Merry Christmas in February?

Lights
Christmas, Christmas time is here …

Friday Gratitude: Little Changes

Several Peace Corps volunteers in the group ahead of mine told me that their second year of service was easier than their first. I fantasized about my service becoming easier once I started my second year of school. But, for me, it has not been true. My emotions are as up and down as they’ve ever been. I feel like I am constantly having to re-set my own mental health button, and constantly having to set boundaries with other people. (Gee, you and your wife want to come to my house so I can give you free English lessons? I am afraid I am busy all of the days.)

This week, I have consciously made a series of small changes in an attempt to cheer myself up:

  1. I got a haircut. Back in Chicago, I would get a haircut every four months (so, three times per year). I’ve really let my standard slack here in Kosovo. The water at my site is particularly bad (Peace Corps gave me a boiling filtration system so I can at least drink it), and it’s wrecked havoc on my hair. I was going to put off getting a haircut until I returned to the U.S., (kind of a disheartened “what’s the point?” feeling), but this past weekend I bit the bullet and got a much-needed trim. My hair feels better, and so do I.
  2. I’ve made small changes to my morning routine, including switching up my breakfast food (I like variety) and trying to keep a “gratitude” journal. Given how faithfully I’ve kept up with this blog, it may surprise some of you to know that I’ve never been a big journaler. Any time I tried in the past, my entries became dull lists of daily activities, or they would devolve into complaining. But this week, I’ve taken to jotting down a list of things I am grateful for in that moment, and I try to be specific (“I am grateful for talking to this person”) rather than general (“I am grateful for my family and for my health.”) I also list any goals I think of for the day or week.
  3. Furthermore, I have been trying to start my day with ten minutes of yoga. I used to feel guilty if I didn’t do a full-on routine, but this week, I tried to get in the habit of just loosening my muscles and joints first thing in the morning.
  4. I re-arrange my bedroom furniture again, to give myself a fresh perspective.
  5. I signed up for an online course through Coursera titled “Buddhism and Modern Psychology.” I’ve signed up for online courses in the past and have had varying degrees of success in sticking with them. But I am determined to finish this one!

Media consumption this week:

  • I finished the last Harry Potter book. It is one of my least favorite in the series and I didn’t re-read the whole thing, just skipped around to different parts.
  • I’m a fan of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” and so I read the book (same title) on which the series is based. Perhaps it isn’t nice to compare the Peace Corps to prison, but I was really having trouble drumming up sympathy for Piper Kerman and her fifteen-month prison sentence. (I was like, “Oh, her family visits her in prison every week? I haven’t seen my family in months!”) Once I got over my own superiority complex, though, I enjoyed the book.
  • I watched The Shape of Water. Though I didn’t love it as much as Guillermo del Torro’s other fairtytale, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” I enjoyed it and think it is worth seeing.
  • I watched The Disaster Artist, and it was every bit as funny as the book. If you’re a fan of the cult movie “The Room,” you really should see this movie.

And finally, I crocheted this Hello Kitty toy from the book Whitney sent in my recent care package. Toys are so hard to make! I have a much easier time with scarves, headbands, and purses!

crochet hello kitty

Happy weekend! Talk to you Monday.

My Favorite Photos from The Third Quarter

On Monday, I mentioned how, by my own method of counting, I have completed my third quarter of Peace Corps service. Here are my favorite pictures from the third quarter.

I love pets! 🙂

pets 2
Check out the bear paws …

I got a lot of good family photos when I visited the U.S. in June, but for privacy reasons I don’t want to post them here. Instead, I will post this picture of me eating Del Taco. Want to know why I love Del Taco? Because I can eat tacos and French fries AT THE SAME TIME!

IMG_6654
DEL TACO!

This is about the zillionth time I’ve mentioned my rug on this blog, but who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll talk about my rug as much as I want to. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

My friend Chester and I spent a summer day at Batlava Lake in Kosovo.

Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view

Despite melt-your-face-off heat, Sierra, Chester and I made it to Pristina to have lunch together one day this summer.

I volunteered as the jury coordinator for the Anibar International Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo. I can easily say it was the most fun week I’ve had in Kosovo!

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo
The jury

And, of course, there was partying after the film festival. 🙂

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

I crocheted this cute Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a friend.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical

And I crocheted a minion trick-or-treat bag …

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag
Minion

Summer had me feeling a bit down, but encouraging words from Peace Corps volunteers serving in other parts of the world made me feel better.

While my visit to Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia was a bit disappointing, I do like this photo:

kale skopje 4
Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

I loved this door at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo.

door cathedral of saint mother teresa
Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo

I WENT TO GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN! Sorry for the caps but I got a little excited. I loved my trip!

park gothenburg sweden 1
Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo cracks me up for some reason. There are so many stories it could tell. Did the one lion get mad at the other, and shove him off his post? Or, did a drunk person walk by and kick the lion?

broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?

I GOT TO SEE JOSE GONZALEZ IN CONCERT! (More excitement.)

Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 2
Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 1
Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

The following weekend, I attended a wedding in Tirana, Albania. Though it poured rain, I had fun with my friends.

Christian Val April
Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

The weekend after that, I went to a JFK photo exhibit with more friends …

IMG_7529
April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee, JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

So, there is my photo summary of the last six months. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

Crocheted Kids’ Trick-or-Treat Bags for Halloween

For the last two months, I have been working on a lengthy crochet project. I wanted to make a trick-or-treat bag for every child in my life. Between my closest friends back at home, I have seven little nieces (and no nephews, but that’s okay. I am digging the feminine energy).

Anyway, my goal was to start them now and finish over the coming months. Then, when I go home (YAY!) next summer, I’ll mail these to my friends’ children before Halloween.

Here’s what I’ve got so far …

candy corn crochet trick or treat bag

The candy corn is my favorite. I followed this pattern, though I modified it a bit. I didn’t chain 2 at the beginning of each row, because that caused huge gaps to appear in the bag.

pumpkin crochet trick or treat bag

I made this pumpkin by free-wheeling it. It is pretty small, and would be best for a baby or toddler. (My mom insisted I add a Jack-O-Lantern face, but after several failed attempts, I quit.)

frankenstein crochet trick or treat bag

I made Frankie by following this very easy pattern, which I have used many times before, and just adding my own embellishments. He turned out okay … he’s not my favorite.

crochet trick or treat bag monster 1
All the better to see you with …

crochet trick or treat bag monster 2

I made this mummy/monster without a pattern. I just took a few ideas I saw on Pinterest (chain handle, wrapped eye, dangling eyeball) and combined them into one thing. This may be too creepy for a little girl … though I think I would have liked it as a kid.

I made a minion.

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag.JPG

I think the minion is so cute that I may scrap the idea of making each girl a unique bag, and just making them all minions. (Isn’t that what a minion is, anyway? One of many?)

I don’t know … would anyone like to share an opinion? Which do you like best?

Happy Halloween! I watched The Shining and The Sixth Sense this weekend with some friends … both excellent movies I hadn’t seen in a long time. 🙂 I hope you are having fun celebrating!

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
Cowabunga!

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: