What I’ve Been Up To (May-June 2018)

In May, I attended my Peace Corps Close-of-Service conference. The U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, attended on our last day. I had met him twice before. At lunch I sat at his table and was able to speak with him for longer than I had before. It was an honor.

Ambassador COS photo
The ambassador is seated in the front row, wearing a blue tie.

Since I decided to stop blogging regularly around the time of the conference, I didn’t take many photos. It was an emotional week and I wanted to sit back and process my feelings. However, I did take this photo and it is one of my favorites:

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Sierra and Chester

As I mentioned in this post, my friend Ingrid visited from Amsterdam at the end of May/beginning of June.

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Stephanee, Todd, April, Ingrid
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Visiting Rugova
Ingrid visit
Group dinner with Ingrid
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Visiting Prizren

My friend Val and I presented another writing workshop at KosovaLive.

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Photo courtesy of KosovaLive

Sierra came to my site for a sleepover. I made her watch my favorite bad movie, Boxing Helena.

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April and Sierra

Chester came to my site the next day and the three of us had lunch.

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Famous chicken restaurant!

I attended a Faces of Kosovo exhibit at the National Library.

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Faces of Kosovo exhibit
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April at the National Library

I visited Mitrovice for the first time. Mitrovice is one of Kosovo’s largest cities, but I had never been there. Mitrovice is divided, Albanians in the south and Serbians in the north. The bridge behind us in this photo famously links the two halves of the city:

Mitrovice TedSylvie
Mitrovice bridge

I made a few “goodbye” gifts:

I attended my director’s retirement dinner, said goodbye to my students, and took my counterparts out for a “thank you” lunch.

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April, director, counterpart
school goodbye
Grades 1-5. Yep, it’s a tiny school!
A and D
Saying goodbye to students
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Lunch with my counterparts

In other news, I turned 37. Spending another milestone far away from home was rough. I really miss all of you at home and can’t wait to see you! xoxo

Knitting Class in Dublin, Ireland

Hi, everyone! Did you miss me? I am back to blogging after a full two weeks off. It’s been nice to have time away. I spent my spring break in Ireland with Whitney, my childhood friend.

I got to Dublin on a Saturday afternoon. Whit arrived the next morning (Easter Sunday) from Los Angeles. If it were me I would have been dead tired, but Whit was a real champ and arrived ready to see the city. She had a surprise planned for me and I had no idea what it was.

But first! We had to stop for a drink at Dublin’s oldest pub.

brazen head pub.jpg

Next up was the surprise. I had kind of thought it would be a facial or massage or something. I was wrong, though! Whitney took me to a loom knitting class where we got to make our own Merino wool scarves. (How cool is that?!)Β We took our class with Liadian Aiken.

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Knitting class
choosing yarn
Choosing our yarn colors
plotting colors
Plotting colors on a grid
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Setting up the loom …
threading the loom
.
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Starting with a sample

Things went well at first but then my yarn kept falling off the hooks. Righting it was a tedious process where our instructor had to re-hook each loop back on the loom. My yarn fell off about five or six times. 😦

knitting going well
When things went well …
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When things did not go well 😦 !!!

But FINALLY we finished and I am really happy with the result.

Now I have a beautiful, warm scarf that I handmade and that will remind me of Ireland and spending time with Whitney. πŸ™‚ I love it so much! I wore it all week.

Here’s a little video of some live pub music that evening:

I’ve got lots more to share about Ireland. Four upcoming posts will be about my trip.

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!

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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™‚

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.

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His name is Adam.
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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.

Friday Gratitude: The Last Semester

I started the week with a typical vacation “hangover,” meaning I was feeling blue about returning to work and Kosovo after spending time in London and then Serbia. However, I am happy I started my last semester of teaching! πŸ™‚

Media Consumption this week …

  • I finished re-reading books 4, 5, and 6 of Harry Potter.

I’ve been feeling all Blanche DuBois lately, as I have had to depend on the kindness of strangers:

  • The bus ride to Serbia made several stops. At one station, I got off the bus to use the bathroom. Well, it was a pay toilet and I didn’t have any Serbian money. The money collector actually turned his back on me when I tried to offer him Euro. Then, another woman joined the line behind me. I explained my predicament to her, and she paid for me to use the bathroom.
  • When I turned down my road on Tuesday, I came upon a dog. Several months ago, I was almost attacked by a stray dog on my road, so I have been particularly wary of dogs since then. I turned around and walked the short distance back to the main road. A man walking by saw me pick up the rock, noticed the dog, and then he also picked up a rock and walked me all the way down my road until we safely reached my house.

I am grateful to have more Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! Sierra spent Christmas in the States and brought us presents! (You know you’re getting old when coffee, thermal socks, and floss excite you.) Thanks, Sierra!

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Grown-up Christmas gifts

You know what’s awesome? When your care package arrives on a day when you were at the Peace Corps office anyway … it’s only happened to me twice. Yesterday, I got this awesome care package from Whitney:

peace corps kosovo care package
THANK YOU, WHITNEY!

The package contains basically everything I could ever want: chips and salsa, Annie’s mac and cheese, my face cleanser kit, a tote bag for my yarn, a Hello Kitty crochet book (WHAT!?), Hershey’s and Reese’s candy, Muddy Buddies, and TWO board games (Clue and Sorry … I cannot wait to play these with my 13-year-old host cousin!)

Thank you so much Whitney! (Here is a close-up of the Hello Kitty crochet book. OMG, two greater mediums could not exist.)

hello kitty crochet book

I also got cards from my friend Katie and my uncle. I am feeling extra loved and adored this week. πŸ™‚ Thank you, everyone!

Happy weekend! Monday’s post will be all about my trip to Belgrade, Serbia, so stay tuned! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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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!

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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. πŸ™‚

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.

These two … #friends #kosovo #100degrees πŸ”₯

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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. πŸ™‚

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. πŸ™‚

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 …

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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:

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Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

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

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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!

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Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
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View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
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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?

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Aww … what happened here?

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

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Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
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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.

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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 …

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

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks! #thanksgiving #kosovo #sharingculture #howiseepc

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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