Thursday, January 29, 2009

Celebrating 30!

I'm 30! I woke up on Tuesday thinking, "Oh my goodness, I'm out of my 20s." I am willing to embrace the new decade optimistically! I met Demetra going down stairs, who gave me my first birthday hug. She said, "You know Holly, you picked a wonderful day to be born. It's Mozart's birthday too." I told her that my mom had always hoped that I would follow in the composer's footsteps... Then Demetra said, "Well, it's your birthday and Mozart's birthday, but today is also my wedding anniversary!" Yay!

I got to school and saw Egla in the window. That seemed odd, since I usually beat her to school. Egla met me at the door with flowers. She had decorated the entire classroom with "Happy Birthday" banners, streamers and tissue paper flowers! It totally made my day. Egla said that she loves to surprise people and I happen to love surprises!

This is what happens when the only people around are under four feet tall... My Embassy kids are my early birds. I wanted a picture with Egla and the flowers. Sasha eagerly volunteered to take the picture! Not bad for a five year old!
Attempt number 2! Sasha had her finger over the lens, but it makes the picture all the more endearing.
A few of the Albanian parents caught wind of my birthday. I received beautiful bouquets of lilies and awesome makeup imported from Italy. No, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

That evening, I went out with my closest friends (minus Florian) to an Italian restaurant called Amor. It was a bit of a challenge to get their with 11 people. Two bus rides and one wrong turn later and we were there! Oh my, the food was worth it!!!
During the antipasto course, the electricity went out. It really wouldn't have been an Albanian birthday otherwise! Travis happened to have a lighter in his pocket. (Really, I don't know why he carries a lighter. I forgot to ask him.) Everyone burst out in a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Birthday." Anyhow, the salads were yummy; the mushrooms and vegetables were incredibly simple but tasty.
I couldn't get enough of the pasta course! Neither could Mary Jo, Doug and Tracey. It was decadence on a plate. The chef took our order, but really ordered for us. He makes everything, including the pasta, fresh from his kitchen. I'm in love with Amor. It's by far my new favorite restaurant on the planet.
Aren't Stephen and Valbona fun? Stephen teaches the 11 year olds and both are in my Bible Study. I love this community.
Even after all that pasta, we still wanted to try the fillet that we had heard about. Sarah and I shared one (the others shared too). It was the perfect fillet, the best I've had in this country for sure (beats the Burns Ball and Marine Ball by a long shot!). Tasty!!!
I'm so blessed to have amazing friends with whom to share a milestone birthday. Entela certainly is a lifetime friend.
Yippee! I have my very own Entela card. She's such a great artist. I love the symmetry. I can see the Swedish influence, can't you? (Entela used to work for the Swedish Embassy.) Anyhow, everyone signed the card and the girls gave me a gift certificate for a "relax session" that we all are going to experience (Entela got a gift certificate for her birthday and Tracey and Sarah each got one for Christmas). A student's mother has this tea house where she serves teas and cakes and does massages. Can't wait. We returned to the apartments for the carrot cake that Sarah had made for me from scratch! Florian met us there. Candles are a scarce commodity, but Sarah did find a single "4" candle. She decided it could mean "For your birthday" or "The Fearsome Foursome" which is what Mary Jo has Christened us.

Thank you to everyone who sent birthday greetings either over e-mail or Facebook! I celebrated with my friends here, but did sort of long to be home too. I had a memorable 30th birthday (with no tears or major breakdowns)!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Burns Ball

How about a little Scottish culture in Albania? I didn't think it was possible either.... A parent from our school is Scottish. He asked his wife, Hilary, (an American and one of my book club friends) to organize the first annual Tirana Burns Ball. And what is a Burns Ball? It a celebration of the acclaimed Scottish poet's, Robert Burns, birthday. This was the 250 year since Robby's birth. (He shares a birthday with my aunt, Anita. Happy birthday Aunt Anita!) I remember some of his poetry from British Literature. Burns traveled around Scotland collecting old Scottish ballads. He also wrote a very famous one called "Auld Lang Syne". (Ring any bells now?) In the words of one speaker, "The English have Shakespeare, the Americans have Longfellow, and the Scots have Burns..." Now, think of something stereotypically Scottish: Bagpipes. Check. Haggis. Check. Kilts. Check. Dancing. Check. Poetry. Check. Whiskey. Check, check. Put them all together for an all-things-Scottish evening!
Here I am with my very awesome friend, Amy. I tagged along with Amy and Travis. (Travis is behind his camera for this shot.) We were all excited to be transported to Scotland!
Cocktail time! These additional friends are two really fun parents from school. I have Sylvie's son and will have Agnieszka's daughter next year. Really, this was the social event of the season... so far.
My Bible study pals, Amy and Mary Jo!
The ceremony started out with a salute to the Haggis. This bagpiper was imported from Scotland, along with his pipes of course! He told Mary Jo and me that he was "77 years young." He paraded the Haggis all around the room. It actually smelled really tasty as it passed by our table... Then came the gruesome part. The Haggis was placed in the center of the room. Words were said over it, to the effect of "let's chop you up in the most disgusting manner possible with this dagger I'm holding over you." After the Haggis tribute, came the tribute to the Lassies and the Lassies' response. The American ambassador read a poem in American English (can't remember it off the top of my head, but I swear it was memorable) and then a lady read another poem that had been translated into Albanian. I really can't count the times that we were told to "raise our glasses." I had Scottish warm on the throat... and they kept the wine flowing! It was amazing that I wasn't hung over, since the waiters filled my glass at every available moment.
Now for the answer to everyone's question. YES! I tried the haggis; it was a rule after all and I'm such a rule follower. The taste was meaty and smokey. Not bad. The TEXTURE, on the other hand, left something to be desired. It was like chewing gummy meat crushed up into little balls. I didn't finish mine.
Travis and Amy polished their portions off! Brave souls.

After our dinner and dessert came the dancing! I learned only one of the two dances that were introduced (but danced it twice...once with an authentic Scotsman who really knew how to twirl!!!). This dance (once again, I can't remember the dance's name...maybe the whiskey harmed my long-term memory) was complicated and I was a side-line observer. The live band for the "disco" dancing was actually good too. Although this ball was in the same room as the Marine Ball, it had a completely different feel. It was a culture experience, but also a let-your-hair-down night!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Unmarked Trail

Today started out as a normal hash hike. The plan was to go to the cave that we had visited in November. I don't think any of us were overjoyed about visiting the same place twice when there is so much that we haven't seen. However, we were given options. Once at the cave we could either go in or proceed on to the "runner's trail." By the time we reached the cave, I had fallen three times, even with my new hiking shoes. My confidence level was really very low. Florian was leading another group down the hill (what the three of us girls thought was the runner's trail). I decided that I would walk back with other people and just visit the cave again. Someone had said that the alternative trail was very slippery and muddy and I figured I needed to be wise. Sarah turned to me and said, "Holly you did the seven hour Djati hike, you can do this." She's so good at encouraging me. So, I began the tree to tree descent down the trail with the rest of my friends. Slowly, it dawned on me. There was no flour that marked the path. We were headed into uncharted territory. We were not on the runner's trail.
The view of the waterfall made the initial climb down so worthwhile and was such a promise of beauty to come. The entire path was indeed slippery and muddy. I knew that going slowly and watching for adequate foot placement was the key... also holding tightly to my friends' hands when necessary. At one point Tracey asked if tonight I was going to thank God for the trees that we were all grabbing onto. I said that I already was thanking God for planting the trees right where we needed them.

We reached this photo opportunity place after the rock slide that Florian led me down. It was actually such a fun journey sliding down the side of a mountain with stones falling down, but also preventing a fall. Imagine snow boarding without the snow and the equipment. I was so thankful for my Keen shoes!
The last stage of our hike led us down by the river. We had to rock climb down. No injuries and it was so fun! We were walking through an area that had a pool of water in it. We were supposed to straddle the water and walk on the slippery rocks. I was managing just fine until one foot slipped and then the other. I absolutely love water and didn't mind at all. It was the water's way of calling to me! My dad had suggested that I stand in water to really get the shoes to form to my feet. Guess I took care of that today!
Yes, it was a muddy and slippery trail. My jeans can attest to that. I've never seen a dirty pair in my life. If you are going to have an adventure...make it big!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Duck Hunt or Albanian Nintendo

This Saturday, seven of us headed out of Tirana to the skeet shooting range. I knew that I was in for another adventure. Entela saved my life and brought along an extra set of ear plugs. There was one shot gun between the seven of us and four cases of cartridges. It was sort of encouraging that the two marines with us were pretty good shots! They were also pretty good teachers. I didn't hit any of the clay discs, but the other girls hit at least one. I was concentrating on not shooting my eye out! (Or anyone else's for that matter). The discs were bright orange and came out from overhead and also out from the cliff down by the water. There were a few that simply rolled across at a break-neck speed. I didn't even attempt the "rabbits!" I really never realized how extremely heavy a gun is. My arms are still stiff. Now I know how to aim (sort of), fire, load and unload a gun. Just don't ask me to actually hit anything...

Apparently, I should be leaning forward. At least I have my "warrior stance." I seriously practiced to get my footing right! Casey had me walking like a warrior all over the place. At least I know my friends are never truly laughing at me...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Oh Happy Day

After releasing my frustration about the lost luggage on my last post, I got a phone call. It was seriously 1 1/2 hours after posting. A nice Albanian woman was trying to figure out where I live so that she could tell her father where to bring my luggage!!! Finally, we determined to meet in front of the Embassy. I raced out the door and made it to the Embassy in record time. (It helped burn calories before dinner too). The driver gave me and my luggage a lift back to the apartment. I'm so glad that I know my direction words in Albanian! This was the first time I really didn't mind a crazy driver (he was turning left in a make-believe lane). I was just so thankful to be situated. Funny how two bags had me running crazy. It was an unsettled feeling. Losing my luggage has always been a concern of mine, but now I don't think I'll be as preoccupied with that possibility. The experience has certainly had its merits. And I agree with April... what doesn't kill you makes you stronger....and builds more character....and makes you humble.

Monday, January 5, 2009

To Have and to Have Not!

Sorry, but I'm posting this as self imposed therapy. My luggage is lost somewhere between Tirana and LA. My Internet still isn't working at home. I need an attitude check. Time to bring out the Pollyanna, count your blessings, glass is half full optimism!

What I have:
Power cord
Cell phones
2 pair of jeans
1 pair of black pants
1 pair of striped (springtime) pants
3 sweaters
Black boots
Black shoes
Brown shoes
Wireless Internet in my classroom
All my spring/summer skirts
My health!
I'm surviving (barely). I really don't consider myself to be a materialistic person but I'm really grieving the loss of my tennis shoes, jeans, sweatshirts and new Christmas presents. (Plus for practical purposes, I need my clothes. It's freezing here.) There are so many people who get by on half the number of jeans and sweatshirts. If they can do it, so can I!