Friday Gratitude: Welcome, 2018!

Hi, Friends! I am so excited that it is 2018! It is the end year of my Peace Corps service (2016-2018)! Hip hip, hooray!

It was great to have my parents visit Kosovo for a few days to meet my host family, counterpart, and a few of my friends. It was interesting for me to see how they experienced Kosovo and to hear their observations. I am also grateful they were able to gain a better understanding of my life here.

Media consumption … Remember when I said I had read 56 books in 2017? Well, I pushed through and read an additional 6 books, bringing my year-end total to 62! I read:

  • Still Life by Louise Penny. I’d read another of her books, later in this series, after buying it on the cheap at a used book sale. I decided to go back and read the first. It was an engaging murder mystery. My favorite thing about both books was the setting — Quebec! (Somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit.)
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I watched the movie version of this story on the first evening I moved in with my current host family. The book was thoroughly enjoyable, though a bit heavy-handed with the “inspiring me to be a better person” parts.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This book has gotten tons of hype and after a recommendation from Dana (thanks!), I put my name down for it on the Chicago Public Library waiting list. I burned right through it — it’s worth the hype.
  • I have been saving the Harry Potter series as a re-read (my fourth, I think) for my last winter in Kosovo. As some of you know, I had a hell of a time getting back home from London. Being stuck at Luton Airport for 21 hours straight prompted me to get an early start on my re-reading. I love Harry Potter every bit as much as I did the first time I started the series.

I read a blog post by a woman who read 75 books last year (Good Lord, where did she find the time?) I agree with everything she says here.

Thanks to Pauline for sending the following Ted-Talk to me a few weeks back. It is hilarious and inspiring … it offers food for thought and I wanted to share it as we start a new year. 🙂

 

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

Friday Gratitude: Here Comes the Snow, Do-En-Do-Do

Sunday morning, I opened my blinds and was shocked to see snow! I was so surprised I stood there for a moment, taking in the scene. We’d had pouring rain the few days previous, so I was not expecting snow. How cozy, I thought, looking out at the blanketed yard. Then I thought to myself, “I wonder how long it’ll be until I get sick of it.” Haha! I’d guess January. 😉

Those living in the mountains of Kosovo will probably turn their noses up at me. The mountain villages had snow back in like, October. But I live in a valley (thank God), so this was the first snow I’d seen for the winter!

<– I made a few small changes to the blog. Now when you click on “my photography portfolio” or “my videos on Vimeo” you will be taken directly to those sites.

Media Consumption this week:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, so I was curious to read one of his novels. I read The Remains of the Day in one day. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a story about a stuffy English butler, but I thought the main character was sympathetic and I felt like I at least partially understood the choices he made in life. (Also, I was interested to learn Ishiguro wrote the book in just four weeks.)
  • I saw Murder on the Orient Express. While I didn’t think the mystery was that interesting, this was the most aesthetically-pleasing movie I have ever seen. 

scary nails made with paper
The latest fad at my school …
My host cousin brought home a letter puzzle her English teacher had given her. Supposedly, one could make 111 words with the letters in the puzzle. We worked together and came up with 115 words. HA!

***

I’ve mentioned this before: there has been a huge spike in traffic to this blog from France. I’d love to hear from some of my French readers to learn what makes you so interested in Kosovo. If you’re game, please shoot me an email via the contact form. Merci!

Friday Gratitude: i Shkurtër

It has been a good, easy week (love those) so this week’s recap is short …

Media consumption this week:

  • Since I’ve lived in Kosovo, I’ve read three historical fiction novels set in the WWII time period. I just read The Nightingale, and it was my favorite (the other two being All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief).
  • I watch plenty of videos on YouTube every week (mostly yoga, music performances, and sleep aids), and I rarely post about them. But, I found this video to be particularly interesting. Though the context is leadership (yuck), I think these tips can apply to other areas of life. I am trying to get into the habit of writing every day. A point made in the video is this: if you brush your teeth once, it will do nothing for you. But if you brush your teeth every day, the consistent behavior will keep your teeth healthy. Same thing with working out — do it once, no difference. Do it every day, and eventually you’ll get into shape. I began to think about how to apply this to writing. I can’t sit down and write a novel in one day, but if I write a little every day, I will eventually have a novel.
  • I had the chance to go to the movies Thursday night. I saw The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It’s been getting a lot of critical praise. I am not entirely sure why. The dialogue is flippin’ terrible. (Maybe it’s supposed to be a commentary on the falseness/woodenness of contemporary American ideals … or maybe it is just bad writing.) Minuses: aforementioned bad dialogue, characters were largely unlikable (seems to be a Nicole Kidman theme), very slow moving in the beginning. Pluses: creative premise once the movie got to the point, disturbing/thought-provoking ending.
chi-chis salsa cup
It is a sad day when the salsa runs out, my friends …

Talk to you on Monday! 🙂

Friday Gratitude: Is This Thing On?

For last Friday’s gratitude post, I forgot to add a title. Haha. Sorry!

I am predicting blog traffic will be low today, as those of you in the U.S. are probably recovering from your turkey-induced comas. But I will soldier on …

Media consumption this week:

  • I read Let the Right One In. Since I was going to Sweden right after Halloween, I thought it would be fun to read a Swedish vampire book. Alas, I had to wait on the download from the Chicago Public Library, so I started reading it after my trip. I’d seen the movie version years ago and remember finding it dull and strange. But the book was outstanding. It is one of the most disturbing things I’ve read but in a good way. There were a few pages of gore I had to skip, though.
  • So then I re-watched the movie version. There was so much going on in the book that they had to cut a lot out of the movie. It is pretty slow moving. There are certain parts you wouldn’t understand unless you read the book first. (The book is much better.)
  • I finished watching Master of None. Many people had recommended the show to me. Some episodes really hit the mark for me, while others I thought were too twee. Overall, though, it’s a good show. Next, it’s on to season two of Stranger Things
coca cola with shqip albanian writing
“Thanks for smiles”
IMG_7529
April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee at a JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo.

Yesterday (Thanksgiving), I treated myself to my favorite pasta dish in Pristina, and then I taught at the orphanage. Then I went home and called my entire family. 🙂 I’ll be celebrating the holiday with friends this weekend. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂 Talk to you Monday …

Friday Gratitude:

“‘I hope you don’t quit,’ he said. ‘I think we’re goin to need all of you we can get.'” — Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Lately, my web traffic from France has been booming. I’m not sure why, but … Bonjour, French readers! Bienvenue!

I had a blast at my friend’s wedding in Tirana, Albania last weekend. Normally, I hate weddings, but this one was fun. PCVs know how to party. I participated in some circle dancing (very popular in Albanian culture!), but sometimes it got a little too hardcore for me. Check this out …

I was happy to spend the weekend traveling with my friends. 🙂 (Despite the fact that it was pouring rain in Tirana.)

Christian Val April
Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.
Sierra April Chelsea Sam Christian
The family looking fancy: Sierra, April, Chelsea, Sam and Christian before the wedding.
Todd April Stephanee
At the wedding: Todd, April, and Stephanee

Media consumption this week:

  • No Country for Old Men is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I’d never read the book by Cormac McCarthy (so I did). The movie faithfully followed the book, so much so that when I was reading, the movie was playing in my head.

This is the 52nd book I’ve read this year, so I hit my goal of reading one book per week! (Not that I’m going to stop reading.)

***

Yesterday, I went to Rachel’s school. Christian, Tim, and I were judges for her school’s poetry recitation competition. (P.S. All three of them are volunteers.) (P.P.S. I am helping to organize the national poetry recitation competition next month.)

April Christian Tim
April, Christian, Tim

***

I was talking to my sister a few days ago and she mentioned Thanksgiving is next week. I was like, “whaaaaat?!” So soon?

With the holidays coming up, if you’d like to send me a holiday card *cough, cough* you can reach me here:

April Gardner
Peace Corps
Str. Mujo Ulqinaku No. 3
10000 Pristina
Kosovo

Hope you all have a great weekend and a great upcoming holiday week. Talk to you on Monday.

Friday Gratitude: More Travel

This weekend, I am going to Tirana, Albania to attend a wedding. I am traveling with a bunch of Peace Corps friends, as it is a mutual friend who is getting married. While I’ve only been to three Balkan capital cities (including Pristina, Kosovo and Skopje, Macedonia), Tirana is my favorite. I flew out of the Tirana airport back in April, but I haven’t been to the city center since this time last year.

Again, I am so glad I was able to travel to Sweden this past weekend. It was a lot of travel packed into a short amount of time, but it was worth it to see Jose Gonzalez in concert. If you’d like to learn more about him, here’s a performance/interview I really like:

I am fascinated to read about the creative processes of my favorite artists, so I also really enjoyed this interview The Telegraph did with Jose Gonzalez.

When I was leaving Sweden last Saturday morning, I saw this bus go by. I was amused by the name. (This bus is “angered.”) 🙂

angered bus in Sweden

Also, I am glad to have some point of reference for Sweden beyond just Ikea and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Visiting did little to dispel my idea that it is utopia, though. Gothenburg is a beautiful, clean, bike-friendly city full of beautiful, friendly people.

Sweden was the ninth country I have been to this year. I hadn’t done much international travel before joining the Peace Corps, and I am so grateful I’m able to do so now.

On another note, my parents are on their care package game! I got this in the mail this week. 🙂 Thank you, Mom and Dad!

peace corps care package

Media consumption (a combo from the last few weeks):

  • My friend, Lisa, suggested I read Eleanor and Park. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. It is a teenage love story, which is not something I’d normally read. However, the characters were believable and likable. The story was great.
  • When news of a Billy Idol autobiography came out a few years ago, I got really excited. Then I forgot to read the book. I finally did! It was an interesting, honest account of his life and musical journey. He really does not pull any punches.

Okay, I am off to Tirana! If you’d like to read more about my previous trip there, you can read these posts:

national-art-gallery-of-albania-1
My friend, Val, and me in Tirana last November