Friday Gratitude: Cuddling Baby Animals

I was in Pristina yesterday to attend meetings. At the end of the day, I felt inspired and motivated to get started on secondary projects for the summer (workshops) and fall (volunteering with an orphanage). 🙂

While I was in Pristina, I took advantage of some down time to visit a pet shop. It feels wrong to be enamored of these animals when there are so many strays everywhere, but it is also nice to see healthy, well-tended animals for a change.

pets1
Why, yes, I did ask a pet shop employee to take photos of me.
chow
He kept licking me with his little black tongue!
sk
Selfie with a Siamese
siamese kitten blue eyes
Aww, makes me miss my kitty at home.

This is my favorite photo. I posted it to Instagram and inadvertently cropped out the Chow Chow’s bear-paw feet! And you can’t edit Instagram photos once they’re posted (another reason to dislike Instagram). Anyway, here’s the un-cropped version:

pets 2
BEAR PAWS!

Media consumption this week …

I mentioned last Friday that I needed some light/funny things to watch and read.

  • My friend Katie suggested trying a Peter Mayle novel for something lighthearted. I downloaded A Good Year from the Chicago Public Library. It is a story about a man who inherits a vineyard in France (yes, please). It was a fun read.
  • I downloaded The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri. This was an easy-to-read, whodunnit murder mystery set in Sicily.
  • After seeing this author’s apartment featured on one of my favorite blogs, I decided to download her book Mirror in the Sky. I usually avoid books about teenagers. I had an atypical high school experience, and don’t really relate to “normal” high school stories. However, this was an engaging read. It’s a teenage love story that takes place during a time when a new, Earth-like planet has just been discovered.

I’ve been reading A TON lately. I just haven’t felt like doing much else. A friend suggested writing a post about my summer reading plan. I was like, “I don’t have one.” But I think it’s a great idea! I’d like to compile a master list of books to tackle in my free time this summer. If you have a book suggestion, please message me. I like reading a wide variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Also, I’d like to keep writing three times per week throughout the summer, but I’m already stumped for ideas. If you have a suggestion or questions, please also let me know!

Friday Gratitude: Food for Thought

On Tuesday evening, I attended a school dinner with teachers from my school, plus the surrounding villages. In typical Kosovo style, I found out about this event just a few hours beforehand. I was told it was free. When I asked who was paying for it, the answer I received was, “The president.” And I was like, “The president of what? Of Kosovo?”

Indeed, the president of Kosovo came and gave a speech! I would have taken his photo, but I didn’t expect him to leave so quickly. 😦

I haven’t ever posted a photo of my current host parents, as I try to respect their privacy. But since we all look so fancy, why not? (They both work at my school and attended the dinner, too.)

host family2.jpg
Apologies for the weird cropping … I was trying to cut out distracting stuff in the background

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Media Consumption this week …

  • I caught up on Handmaid’s Tale
  • I watched the documentary There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane. The filmmakers interviewed the family of Diane Schuler, who, in 2009, drove the wrong way on a New York freeway and caused an accident that killed 8 people.
  • At the prodding of my friend, I watched the documentary Tickled. The filmmakers intended to make a documentary about tickling contests (yes, that exists), and found themselves being threatened with legal action. The resulting story is deeply bizarre.
  • I binge-watched The Keepers on Netflix. The documentary follows the unsolved 1969 murder case of a nun in Baltimore. Along the way, sexual abuse in the Catholic church and a massive cover-up are discovered.
  • I finished reading Far From the Tree. It centers on the ways children can turn out to be very different from their parents, due to reasons like disability, mental illness, genius, or life choices (like crime). This was a riveting book and yet, parts were very hard to read.

Here are some quotes from Far From the Tree that I found to be particularly thought-provoking (and there were many):

“Little is more gratifying than successful and devoted children, and few situations are worse than filial failure or rejection.”

“It is often ourselves we would like to see live forever, and not someone with a personality of his own.”

” ‘In America, every kid has to be well rounded. They have ten different activities, and they never excel at any of them. Americans want everyone to have the same life; it’s a cult of the average.’ ”

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The things I’ve been watching/reading lately have all been heavy. I could use a laugh! If you can recommend something funny, please do so. 🙂

Have a good weekend, and I’ll talk to you on Monday.

Friday Gratitude: Looking Ahead

We are rapidly approaching my cohort’s one-year anniversary in Kosovo AND the arrival of the next group of volunteers. It is wild to even think about!

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One of the schools where I teach just got new playground equipment. Previously, all the students had was an old volleyball net, basketball backboards without nets, and an empty yard. Now they’ve got a new volleyball net, functioning basketball hoops, monkey bars, a swingset, a swing tire, a slide, and a seesaw.

I showed up to school one day and it was like this equipment had just appeared overnight. I asked about it, and learned it was donated by families of Kosovars living abroad. I feel like this playground is a great reminder of what life in Kosovo is like … full of surprises. You never know when a playground is going to drop out of the sky.

Kosovo playground.JPG

Only three more weeks left of the school year … 🙂

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Media Consumption this week:

  • I’m not usually a big movie or TV consumer, but this week, I re-watched two full-length films: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite of the HP books and films), and Shakespeare in Love. I much prefer Joseph Fiennes as love-struck Shakespeare than the creep he plays on Handmaid’s Tale (which I also caught up on this week).
  • I finished a book I had picked up from the Peace Corps library: The Bastard of Istanbul. After a promising first chapter, the point of view switches from the book’s most interesting and vibrant character to those of other, less interesting people. Much of the book centers on the political and philosophical ideologies of its characters, and their long-winded discussions. I hate that. If an author has certain views, why doesn’t he or she just write an essay?

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My Peace Corps friends, Chester and Charlie, have launched an ambitious project, called Faces of Kosovo. Similar to the popular “Humans of New York,” this project offers a way for Kosovars to share their personal stories. If you are interested to learn more, please follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FacesofKosovo/

Have a good weekend, everyone! I’ll talk to you on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of next week.

Friday Gratitude: Reading, Friends, Yoga

On this day last year, I was on a plane heading to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with five of my best girl friends. Now, that’s the proper way to say goodbye to someone who is leaving for the Peace Corps!

In Vegas, saying goodbye to some of my favorite women.

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Media consumption this week:

After re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I downloaded Go Set A Watchman (Harper Lee’s second book) from the Chicago Public Library. I was surprised I didn’t have to wait for it, given that it’s a relatively new release.

Well, it is flipping terrible. About 1/4 of the way through, I emailed a friend and was like, “OMG, THIS IS SO BAD.” For her, the terribleness of Watchman confirms Truman Capote wrote Mockingbird, and not Harper Lee. I, too, am beginning to see the merit in that old conspiracy.

The book is so bad, I started taking note of my favorite terrible sentences. Here are two:

“Jean Louise was snatched from her quiet realm and left alone to protect her sensitive epidermis as best she could.” (Has a clunkier sentence ever been written?!?)

“She … sat gazing at her long legs, startled to find them twenty-six years old.” (HUH?)

I usually don’t finish books I don’t like. But I forced my way through this one. Ugh, so bad.

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I am going to a yoga festival here in Kosovo this weekend. I am looking forward to yoga, seeing friends, and visiting a Kosovar city I have not yet been to. (Although yesterday, I was doing yoga in socks with treads, and I kicked a gouge in my mat. I am mad at myself.)

In other bad news, I over-plucked my eyebrows, and I heard that Sweet Bean Bakery is now closed.

But, it was a good week. Really! I’ve been crocheting a ton. I haven’t posted pictures because I am making gifts for people and don’t want to spoil any surprises. And did I mention I am going to a yoga festival? Woo hoo! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Next week: I am going to post only 3x (Mon, Wed, Friday). I want to see how this will affect my blog stats/overall readership.

Friday Gratitude: Sprung

The past several weeks have been joyful and surprising. I’ve met new people. I’ve seen friends I was not expecting to see. I took a trip I wasn’t expecting to take. I am so grateful for all of it.

Media consumption this week:

  • I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird while on vacation. I hadn’t read it since high school, and enjoyed it just as much this time around.
  • I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale. WOW. It is brilliant and terrifying. It has been keeping me awake at night. If you’re not already watching, I would highly recommend you start.  (You can watch the trailer here.) I read the book in college … I may have to re-read it once I finish the series.
  • Senator John McCain recently visited Kosovo and other Balkan countries, and here is what he has to say about America’s involvement in the region.

Also, today marks 11 months that I have been living in Kosovo! 🙂

In a month, the newest Kosovo cohort will arrive. I remember where I was this time last year: informing my employers (I had two jobs) that I was quitting, packing up my apartment in Chicago, moving my stuff (including my cat) into my parents’ house, and starting to say goodbye to everyone I love. I looked to the future and had no idea what my life would be like in just a few weeks.

If you’re reading this and about to head off to join the Peace Corps, take heart. You will find a way to survive and be happy.

Friday Gratitude: Reflections on Travel

April Gardner Rome Italy
Contemplating Rome … (Thanks to Nicole for taking this photo.)

This week, I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to travel. I didn’t start traveling internationally until I reached my 30s. I’d always wanted to, but I didn’t have much money when I was younger. And, many of the jobs I had in my 20s were contract positions (meaning, time off = no pay).

Once, I had a boss who made the comment, “I’ve already done Europe.” At the time, I’d never been to Europe, and I thought, What a stupid (and privileged) thing to say. (How does one “do” Europe, exactly? Check it off the list with a plan to never return?)

I had a conversation with several friends last week, where we discussed travel and being able to appreciate it. (As we were climbing the Spanish Steps in Rome, Nicole heard a kid protest, “I’m tired of traveling!”) I didn’t grow up in a family that took fancy trips abroad. And if I had, how much of that would I really remember now?

I am grateful for travel even when it isn’t fun. Like that time when my brain was fuzzy from consuming half a bottle of wine and prosciutto with the texture of butter, and I stuck our key in the wrong door. (Insert whatever joke you want here.)

That time Nicole and I (well, I) got our Airbnb keys stuck in the neighbor's door. #rome #springbreak2017 #shumeproblem

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Oh, and that time Nicole and I tried to stop someone from slipping into our building without a key, and got screamed at in a colorful mix of English and Italian. (How considerate of you to use the F-word, lady, so that we could understand you!)

But overall, Rome was a dream of a vacation. Our airbnb had a private, enclosed garden, where Nicole and I would have our morning coffee and our evening wine (and write postcards). I have always fantasized about living in a city apartment with a private garden. 🙂 This place was perfect.

Postcards from Rome
Postcards from Rome

While Berlin wasn’t my jam, I am privileged to be able to have an opinion about which cities I like and which cities I don’t.

The ease with which I am able to move about the world is astounding. Twice, I stopped people on the street to ask for directions in Berlin, and they were able to speak English. One man was on his bike at a stoplight, and the other was walking down the street in the rain. And both took the time to kindly point me in the right direction. I am lucky to have the money, time, unrestricted passport, and language to be able to explore other parts of the world.

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I read three books while I was on vacation:

  • Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter. This was a terrible, violent book. Don’t read it.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury. While I’m all for an existential crisis, this was a bit too much pontification for me. I did like the two main characters, though.
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. She’s one of my favorite authors, and this novel didn’t disappoint.

I also watched the series finale of Girls. Was anyone else disappointed by that slap-dash ending?

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I am grateful to be back in Kosovo. And I am grateful for a host family that will come and pick me up on the side of a two-lane highway, where the bus dropped me off (because the bus directly to my village wasn’t running on Sunday.)

Finally, one last note (and a plug!). My friend Crystal wrote a novel and got it published (by a real New York publishing house)! I am so impressed that someone I know published a book (which has long been a dream of mine). Crystal’s novel will be released this Tuesday. You can pre-order it on Amazon here. (It’s an historical fiction story set in ancient Rome — how appropriate!)

Feast of Sorrow

Friday Gratitude: Spring Break!

Next week is our spring break and I am flying from Tirana, Albania to Rome and then on to Berlin! Which means … I am taking a week off from blogging. My next post will be Monday, April 17, 2017.

I am SO excited for vacation … spending time with friends, eating good food, and exploring two new (for me) countries in Western Europe.

Media Consumption:

  • In preparation for our trip to Rome, my brilliant friend Nicole (with whom I started a book club in Boston) suggested we read the same Rome-themed book beforehand, so we can have a mini “book club” discussion while we are on vacation. She suggested The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, since it is 1) short and 2) written by Tennessee Williams. Well, it is SO short I pretty much sneezed and finished the first half, and then sneezed again and finished the second half. I told Nicole that it’s “basically a pamphlet.” The story is about a wealthy widow who gets taken for a ride (quite literally, haha!) by a much younger, handsome, Italian man. As such, Nicole suggested we add the word “sexy” to the description. So, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is a “sexy pamphlet.”
  • I finished listening to the podcast “S-Town” over last weekend. This brings my lifelong podcast count up to four. It was well done, though it felt a bit long at parts. The story follows a New York reporter as he pieces together the suicide aftermath of an eccentric Alabama man he had befriended.
  • I finished reading Girl at War, a fictional story about a young girl’s experience during the Croatian War. Living in Kosovo (which, along with Croatia and six other countries, used to be part of Yugoslavia), the story felt very real. As a foreigner living in the Balkans, I sometimes find myself forgetting just how much war and violence this part of the world has recently experienced. (If you’re interested in reading it, at the time of this writing, Girl at War is only $1.99 on Amazon for Kindle.)

All right, peeps. I am off on an adventure! I’ll catch you on the flip side. (Which is, remember, April 17.) I’ll have lots to post about my vacation, so stay tuned! And if you miss me in the meantime, you can follow along with me on Instagram.