Books I Read in 2017

I read a total of 56 books this year, surpassing my goal of one book per week!

Below is a list of every book I read this year. (A * denotes a re-read.) After the list, I have broken the books into categories. If you are looking for something to read, check out my best (and worst!) books of 2017.

Faithful Place* by Tana French
Buddha and the Borderline by Kiera Van Gelder
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Wild* by Cheryl Strayed
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Veronia by Mary Gaitskill
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon
Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Girl at War by Sara Novic
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Beautiful Bodies by Laura Shaine Cunningham
White Oleander* by Janet Fitch
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
A Good Year by Peter Mayle
The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
The Stand by Stephen King
Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Dolores Claiborn by Stephen King
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Best American Short Stories of 2011 (edited by Geraldine Brooks)
My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
Born to Rock by Gordon Korman
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickett
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Horse Whisperer* by Nicholas Evans
The Time Traveler’s Wife* by Audrey Niffenegger
The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Books About How Shitty/Depressing it is to be Middle-Aged
Veronica
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Beautiful Bodies
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Woman Upstairs

Books with a Creative/Unusual Premise
Mirror in the Sky
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
The One I Left Behind

Funny Autobiographies
Scrappy Little Nobody
Dad is Fat
Food: A Love Story
We are Never Meeting in Real Life
My Horizontal Life

Serious Autobiographies
Buddha and the Borderline
A Mother’s Reckoning
Wild*
Truth and Beauty
Dancing with Myself

Kids’ Books
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Bad Beginning

Young Adult Novels
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Mirror in the Sky
Born to Rock
Eleanor & Park

Books About Obsession/Obsessive Love
All He Ever Wanted
The Woman Upstairs
The Silver Linings Playbook
I’d Know You Anywhere
The One I Left Behind

Historical Fiction
Orphan Train
The Book Thief
The Nightingale
The Remains of the Day

Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness
Far from the Tree
Buddha and the Borderline
A Mother’s Reckoning

Fiction Books About Mental Illness
The Silver Linings Playbook
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

My Favorite Books I Read This Year (that I hadn’t previously read):
Far From the Tree
The Stand
All He Ever Wanted
Feast of Sorrow
Best American Short Stories of 2011
The Power of Now
Truth and Beauty
Eleanor & Park
Dancing with Myself
No Country for Old Men
Let the Right One In

Books I Did Not Like (but finished)
Swing Time
Pretty Girls
The Bastard of Istanbul
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
I’d Know You Anywhere

The Worst Book I Have Ever Completed
Go Set a Watchman

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:

Friday Gratitude: Ain’t No Cure

“Sometimes I wonder that I’m a gonna do, but there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” — Eddie Cochran, Summertime Blues

The summertime blues have set in a bit (I’m BORED) … but, let’s focus on some good things about this last week.

I crocheted a mermaid using this easy pattern. I was inspired by the funkiness of the doll in the example photo, and decided I wanted my doll to have a Betty Boop look. I think she turned out okay (note: I think she’s actually much cuter in real life). Also, I ran out of yarn, but have since gotten more and will finish the fins for her tail.

crocheted mermaid

My (very kind and thoughtful) site mate brought me a bottle of wine from her vacation to Greece. I love a good port!

Greek port wine

And finally, here is what my new rug looks like in my current bedroom. Yes, this is the third photo I have posted of the rug. Because I love it and it makes me happy! 🙂

hand made rug kosovo

As far as media consumption this week, I saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and have been re-watching Breaking Bad. I also finished reading A Year in Provence, which I thought was pretty “meh.”

***

I continue to try to find ways to fill my time, now that I’m on a break from teaching. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be hosting a writing workshop next month in Pristina. I had wanted to host a different workshop at a nearby NGO, but they are closing for the month of August due to extreme heat/no air conditioning. So, that project will have to wait.

I had a meeting in Peja about helping out with a film festival next month. It’ll be nice to work on a project that has nothing to do with teaching English. I’m ready for a change.

Aaaand … it took almost 5 months, but my grant proposal has finally been approved. 🙂 I’ll be posting more about that project this fall.

***

The weather has been slightly cooler (though humid) this week. I took an evening walk with my host mother and 12-year-old host cousin. Along the way, we picked up a neighbor and her granddaughter. There was a wedding going on down the road, and the sound of traditional dance music filled the air. The sun was just setting and the moon was a sliver tucked among the clouds. Occasionally, someone at the wedding would set off a burst of fireworks. I told myself to remember the walk, because someday I won’t live in Kosovo anymore, and I won’t have nights like that to enjoy.

***

If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed I made some updates to the sidebar. <—- I added links to my photography portfolio (non-Kosovo, non-Peace Corps stuff) and to my Vimeo video page (all are videos I’ve previously published within blog posts). I keep playing around to see how I like the layout and if I need to add or remove anything. Feedback is welcome!

Happy weekend! Talk to you on Monday.

The Island of Misfit Toys, and Other Adventures in Crochet

I haven’t posted about many crochet projects lately. That’s because most of what I have been working on have been gifts for other people (and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise). Now that I am back from my trip to the States (and have distributed said gifts), I want to share what I’ve been working on over the last few months. I have also included some small projects I didn’t bother posting earlier.

Back in the fall, I crocheted this small heart pillow for my host mother. I followed along with this YouTube video.

crocheted heart pillow

My sister asked me to make her a winter headband. I made two — one for her, and one for my friend Nicole (who I met up with in Paris for New Years). I followed along with this easy YouTube video.

I’ve followed this pattern numerous times to create different scarves. I crocheted this one for my mama, modifying it slightly by adding a single crocheted row of red for extra ridging.

crocheted striped scarf

My mom had sent me this crochet book in a care package. I used one of the patterns in it to create this cardinal for her. (I followed the pattern exactly … I have no idea why its head turned out so big.)

crocheted cardinal.JPG

I modified a “beaver” pattern from the same book to make this panda bear for my friend Chelsea’s birthday:

My parents have an inside joke about alligators, so I crocheted this toy, following along with the free pattern I found here. My critter did not turn out as cute as the one pictured … I thought this pattern was pretty difficult to follow.

crocheted crocodile
In progress and unstuffed …

Isn’t it funny when serendipitous things happen? My friend Lisa sent me this book, after purchasing a copy to support the Michigan Humane Society (which happens to be where I adopted my cat, Sweeney Todd). Then, my friend Christian asked me if I could crochet a hat and scarf for his kitty back home. I said yes, but I told him he’d have to wait until after my trip to the U.S. I wanted to use Sweeney Todd as a model for pictures.

cat crocheted hat
This is why cats don’t like humans …

Last, I followed along with this very easy YouTube video to create a series of crocheted purses.

purple crocheted purse
.
crocheted purse
.
purple striped crocheted purse
.

crocheted beach bag

If you like to crochet, follow along with me on Ravelry at http://www.ravelry.com/people/hellofromkosovo.

Jax the Unicorn

I pay attention to my blog stats and lately, I’ve noticed a big spike in the number of times my post, Jennifer the Unicorn, has been looked at. It is by far my most popular blog post to date.

Around the same time, I noticed a big spike in blog traffic from Canada. (Hello, Canadian friends!) I don’t know if it is a coincidence, or if Canadians really like crocheted unicorns …

Anyway, I mentioned to my mom that I was thinking of doing another unicorn project, since the first one had been so successful. (Hey, I’m not above pandering to the masses.) She suggested I make my unicorn, Jennifer, a boyfriend. My mom also suggested that I give my new unicorn a “J” name to go along with Jennifer, so I chose Jax. (And no, I’m not a Sons of Anarchy fan. I just think it’s an interesting name.)

Processed with MOLDIV
Jax

I used the same crochet pattern that I did for Jennifer. It was much faster going this time. Jennifer took me weeks to complete, while Jax only took the better part of a few days. Maybe that’s because it was my second time using the pattern.

The only change I really made this time around was to follow a different pattern for the horn and mane.

Unicorn Mohawk

So now I have two crocheted unicorn toys. (Are you worried that I’m cracking up over here? I know! Me, too!) 😛

So happy together!

 

Guest Blogger: Andrew Bivins (Outdoor Sports and Ecotourism in Kosovo)

A while back, I asked my friends and family members to send me questions to answer on the blog. My Dad asked about sports and the outdoors in Kosovo. Since I’m not exactly Sporty Spice, I decided to outsource his questions to someone more knowledgeable than I. My friend Andrew has participated in a lot of outdoor fun since he moved to Kosovo. Without further adieu … –April

skiing kosovo
Andrew Bivins

Përshëndetje! I am excited and honored to be taking over April’s blog this week. Apparently I have gained a bit of a reputation for loving the outdoors, especially in Kosovo. In fact, the nature here is so beautiful that I started documenting it, which led me to discover another passion of mine, photography.

waterfall Kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

Back in the U.S., I was just getting into hiking and kayaking before I moved to Kosovo for my service. I am from Atlanta, so it was quite common for my friends and I to flee the city for the weekend for some fresh air on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn’t sure what to expect once I found out I was moving to Kosovo. I had read that Kosovo was mountainous and forested, so I knew there was potential, but I wasn’t sure how accessible outdoor activities would be.

rock climbing kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

During my first year, I went on a lot of hikes with other volunteers and we usually found some great trails on our own through trial and error. The town I live in is pretty flat, so I usually relied on my friends who live in the more rugged areas to ask around and get an idea of where we should go. Unfortunately, unexploded landmines from the war are still a concern, especially in the mountainous border regions. It’s best not to get too adventurous, unless you really know where you are going and that the area has been confirmed to be free of mines. Luckily, there are many public and private organizations in Kosovo that are actively working to rid Kosovo of mines and other unexploded ordnance. There are also a lot of resources available, such as maps and local tour guides, that will allow you to safely enjoy the nature here.

mountain skiing Kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

I was talking with a local friend the other day and we were discussing how we have both noticed the recent increase in opportunities to take part in organized outdoor events. It has been amazing to watch Kosovo develop in this way during my nearly two years of living here because I truly believe that Kosovo has an incredible potential for ecotourism. Seeing that potential slowly turn into reality is pretty cool. Every week you can see new tour companies popping up on your newsfeed, advertising organized group hikes, bike rides, rock climbing, cultural tours, etc. These offers are usually at a pretty low price and they include transportation, food, and an expert guide. I recently took advantage of one of these opportunities and I went snowshoeing for the first time. We started in a village called Restelica and walked 10+ km over a mountain to the village of Brod. This was in one of the most remote regions of Kosovo and I never would have felt comfortable to do this without a guide, especially in the snow when visibility is so low and avalanches are such a risk. It was certainly a challenge, my legs are still burning three days after the fact, but it was an amazing experience. The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and I was able to learn the basics. My only disappointment is that it is the end of winter and I only just now discovered that I love snowshoeing. Next winter I plan to snowshoe as often as possible. I am also hoping to pick up skiing. I went once when I was in high school, but I would hardly call myself an expert. Kosovo is definitely a great place to learn! Depending on where you are, you can find slopes for beginners, or more challenging ones if you already know what you’re doing. I’ve also seen a lot of snowmobiles during my visits to Brezovica (the main ski resort in Kosovo) and I think it would be awesome to learn how to do that as well. With that said, PCVs aren’t allowed to drive cars or motorcycles, so I assume there is some sort of rule about snowmobiles. If you are currently serving, it’s probably just best to wait until you close your service before you give that a shot.

snowy mountain kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

I think a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers in Kosovo will tell you that winter is tough. My first winter was the most difficult part of my service. I didn’t know how to deal with it and I spent far too much time sitting inside and feeling sorry for myself. My second winter has been the exact opposite. Yes, it was still cold, but I got out as often as possible, enjoyed myself, and stayed busy. Winter was still there, it didn’t change, actually it was colder this winter, but my perspective changed and it made all the difference in the world. My family and friends back home have been shocked to see me enjoying the snow so much. I was never really a winter-type of guy, but I suppose you can count it among the MANY things I have learned to love during my almost two years in Kosovo.

April’s Note: If you enjoyed Andrew’s beautiful pictures, please follow him on Instagram: instagram.com/seekosovo

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