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: Double Digits

Hi, Everyone! I have a countdown on my phone until the day I COS (that means “close-of-service”) and I am now down to the double digits! WOW!

My media consumption list is from the last several weeks, since I took a break from blogging:

  • I read Looking for Alaska by John Greene. This is a book I found on my Kindle after a friend had downloaded a bunch of books for me. I hated Greene’s “The Fault in Our Stars” despite all the hype it got. “Alaska” was a bit better but … meh.
  • I read Killing Floor (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. My mom and grandpa love Lee Child’s books but this is the first time I’d ever read anything by him. It was an easy read though pretty violent. I probably won’t continue with the series. I’m not a big series reader in general … too much commitment. 🙂
  • I read Firefly Lane: A Novel by Kristin Hannah. This was a quick read but not very well written, especially compared the other novel of hers I read, “The Nightingale.” It is also the type of book I hate, which I’ve come to think of as “miserable middle-aged women” novels. If you’re a middle-aged woman who is married with children, you’re probably unappreciated and miserable. If you’re a single middle-aged woman with a career, you’re probably lonely and miserable.
  • I read Holes by Louis Sachar before giving it to a student. I’d been curious about this book for years given how much acclaim its received. It was very … strange.
  • I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It is a story that skips back and forth between the collapse of civilization and the time before and focuses on a handful of characters that are loosely connected to one another. It was one of the best books I’ve read since I’ve been in Kosovo (and I’ve probably read 100 or more books).

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I tried my hand at cross-stitch recently. I had fun doing it and am looking forward to completing more projects in the future.

Next week’s posts will be more about my trip to Ireland, as will the following Monday’s post. I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my trip. I’ve got posts about the Guinness factory tour, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher coming up … all exciting stuff!

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?!) We took our class with Liadian Aiken.

knitting class
Knitting class
choosing yarn
Choosing our yarn colors
plotting colors
Plotting colors on a grid
loom
Setting up the loom …
threading the loom
.
sample
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 …
knitting mistake
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. 🙂 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!

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 …

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!