Wishes of the Heart

DSC07562Sitting at school, counting my blessings, Prishtina Kosova

Greece, one of my favorite places. A six hour drive (kind of like from Chino Hills to San Francisco) through chaparral and blue shadowed hills brings you to the turquoise water of the Aegean and the beautiful city or Thessaloniki (again, kind of like the drive from Chino Hills to San Francisco).  I have been there a couple of times since we have lived in Kosova.

I have visited the ancient ruins of Pilippi with Ted

DSC07449and wandered through Stobi with Mom and Patti (OK – Stobi is in Macedonia, but it is on the way to Greece).

DSC08329I have eaten Greek food with friends in Kavala

DSC07514and enjoyed the bounty of American franchises in Thessaloniki.

DSC07541Yes, Greece is a wonderful place full of memories of ancient times and pleasures of modern times.  But this past weekend was a bit different.

Sure I managed to down some of these guys

1491587_10205119542012797_283938516290026854_nwith good friends.

10418417_10205130208879462_1164781631598860557_nand we did have Greek pastries

10171780_10205130202759309_2242092085254918349_nlike chocolate filled DONUTS for breakfast!

10411771_10205130206399400_2299757248315230226_nYes, we even managed to hit the highlights of TGIFridays for d-unch

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Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

And we even made a trip to this place for Chai Tea Latte.

10629783_10205130201279272_4624301282092627276_nBut much as I love all of that, those things are not the reason we headed to Greece last weekend.  The trip actually began with a Bible study.  Last summer Maureen began leading us in a Beth Moore Bible study based on the book of Daniel. Why Daniel? Because someone had given Ruth the study and some books that we could use and we thought why not?

A few weeks into the study I began seeing friends of mine on Facebook saying that they were getting ready to head off to hear Beth Moore speak in San Diego.  I remember thinking, “I wish I could have one of them tell Beth how much she blesses our little group of ladies in this far away place through her study and her words of encouragement.” Not to worship at the feet of Beth Moore, but because she helps us worship at the feet of our Father and sometimes, even the encourager needs some encouragement. But really, could any of my friends get close enough to Beth Moore in a stadium size audience to talk to her personally? Well, maybe I could write her a letter. Hmmm like a letter could even get from here to there and into her hands. Oh well, I thought, that is that.  I will just tell Our Father how much I appreciate His words through her and that will be enough.

But, Our Father knows the desires of our hearts.  Even when we are just wishing, he listens to us.  A week ago Monday sweet Heather came to the Bible study and said, “Guess who is going to be in Thessaloniki in November — Beth Moore!!” We all started screaming at the same time – oh we have to go!!  So, Heather said she would check into it. But I am going to be in the states for much of November (more about that later), so I figured they would be going without me.

Then on Tuesday Ruth came by the school to tell us that we would be heading off on Friday – yes, that fast!  Beth Moore was speaking at a conference on Saturday and Sunday.  Quickly arrangements were made for some of us to stay with friends in Greece and for a rental car from Skopje (Ruth and John’s Kosovar car can not enter Greece without paying a huge insurance bill because Greece does not like Kosova – my friend Maureen says that they act like a bunch of Jr. High students around these parts, so true).  Then on Friday right after school we headed out on our big adventure.

Three of us stayed at a cute little apartment between two flower shops

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and just down the street from this place, good location!

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Have I mentioned that Greek pastries taste as good as they look?

After a late arrival on Friday night, we were up bright and early Saturday morning to get to the Olympic Sports Museum for the conference.  Once inside the cosy little room, we noticed a huge screen and the fact that the room had about 270 seats (yes, I counted – I am my daddy’s girl). So, we prepared ourselves.  Often in these parts things are not what they seem.  We figured that we were probably going to see a live feed from somewhere  else. After all, we had only paid 5 Euro to get in.

Well, at least there were instruments on the stage and we had also been promised a group named Hillsong leading worship. While I had not heard of Hillsong (since I am an old lady and apparently not with the times), the other ladies were excited about that.

So worship began

Hillsong - London.  Great group, VERY loud and enthusiastic worship.

Hillsong – London. Great group, VERY loud and enthusiastic worship.

and someone in our group said. “There she is, in the front row!” yep, Beth Moore was there in person.  Again, we weren’t there to worship Beth, we were there to worship God, but I so wanted to be able to let her know how her message blesses even small groups of ladies is places that she would have to have a map to find.

Turns out that we were at a conference for Zoe church, a small group of churches based in Sofia, Bulgaria,  Warsaw, Poland, and Thessaloniki, Greece.  We began the day being led in the word by Jo Ramos, from City Church, Seattle speaking about the paralyzed man whose friends did what they needed to do (letting him down through the roof) to get him help from our Savior. Sounds like good friends to me – the kind of friends who would do anything for you, kind of like my Bible study ladies here.

Then after a break, Beth led us in a study of Ephesians 1:1-6, telling us that we are blessed by God (wasn’t that what I wanted to say to her?).

68139_10205119545292879_3482058029884603915_nThen we had our d-unch (I know, TGIFridays – don’t judge – when you have been out of the states for awhile, real American food is just amazing!) and returned for an evening session with Christine Caine – founder of Zoe Church and of A21, an organization that leads women out of sex trafficking. She spoke on First Kings 17 about the time Elijah asked a woman to bake him some bread with the little oil and flour that she had left. Christine reminded us that sometimes Our Father takes very unlikely people from very unlikely places and has them do very unlikely things with a very unlikely outcome so that only He can be glorified.  We looked at each other thinking – sounds like us, right?

I was sensing a pattern.  Our Father was speaking right to me.  Me – a highly unlikely lady in a highly unlikely place who is truly blessed by great friends who are working with me for a highly unlikely outcome. What a great day of singing and teaching and just being filled to the brim with good news.

But that was just the beginning.  On Sunday morning we arrived to find the reason that Beth Moore had made the long trek – at her own expense we had figured out – to Thessaloniki.

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Two years ago she had come to Thessaloniki to begin writing her study on Thessalonians. During her stay she met Christine Caine and had formed a bond with the Zoe church.  This trip was to tell the church that they had been in her heart the whole two years she had been writing and not only that, but she had dedicated her study to them, the church of Thessaloniki.  She then proceeded to preach to the Thessalonians out of the book of Thessalonians (how cool is that), reminding them of their roots and encouraging them to grow and become the “mothers and fathers” of a great church. She called for a great revival in the entire region, which I would say would include Kosova. Such a moving morning.  She ended the day by asking all of the people who lived in Thessaloniki to come forward so that she could pray over the church of the Thessalonians. Wow!

Beth introduced the group, "May I present the church of the Thessalonians."  They are all holding her Bible study of Thessalonians that has been , at her request, translated into modern Greek.  She left plenty of books and the CD's with Greek subtitles for the church to use to bless people.

Beth introduced the group, “May I present the church of the Thessalonians.” Again, all I can say is, Wow!    They are all holding Beth’s study of Thessalonians that has been, at her request, translated into modern Greek. She left plenty of books and the CD’s with Greek subtitles for the church to use to bless people.

If that wasn’t more than enough, at the end of the day, we made our way down to the front to see if we could get a picture with Beth Moore.  Ruth had had a chance encounter with Beth earlier (in the bathroom ;] ), so we sent her in the lead.  Of course Beth was gracious and let us silly ladies crowd around her.

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Then I just felt I had to say it.  I had to tell her.  Those of you that know me well know it is not like me to walk up to people I barely know and talk to them, but I felt this tugging so I touched her arm and as she turned, I quietly said, ” I just need you to know that we are a small group of ladies from Kosova working with you through the book of Daniel. I want you to know that you have truly blessed us with this study.  We live in a land that is mostly Muslim and in these days, that is not always an easy thing, but you have helped us to have a bright spot in our week. You have helped us to understand the commitment Daniel had  and that it needs to be our commitment too.  Thank you.”  Well, maybe I wasn’t that eloquent, I am sure I mostly babbled, but Beth*  and I both had tears in our eyes and I knew Our Father had taken care of my smallest little wish.  Isn’t it so humbling to know that the Father of the universe, knows our smallest thoughts and the wishes of our heart so well.

It was a weekend to end all weekends, such great teaching, such great worship, such fun company. Praise His name.

* By the way, my friend Maureen told me that since Beth put her arm around my back for the picture, I may now call her by her first name :]

Two Delicious Dishes, One Delightful Day!

Lindita's Mother-in-law making avjar on a lovely September day

Lindita’s Mother-in-law making avjar on a lovely September day

Sitting, drinking cocoa, watching the snow come down, in my cozy living room, Prishtina, Kosova

Last week, as I sat chatting with students, one of them asked me what is my favorite Kosovar food.  “Ajvar!”, I said without hesitation.  I love that lovely stuff.  It is roasted red peppers cooked into a perfect sauce.  It is used to spread on sandwiches, as a dip for bread, as an ingredient in spaghetti sauce. I even use it to thicken up my homemade tomato soup.  Yes it is versatile as well as yummy.

September is canning month in Kosova.  Ladies spend long days pickling peppers and making ajvar (eye-var) – enough to last the year.  This year as September came near, I asked Lindita, our school receptionist and neighbor, if I could get in on the fun when they made ajvar.  I need to know how to make that stuff because someday we will move home and my ready supply will be gone (picture a grocery isle filled with choices of barbecue sauce – now change that to choices of ajvar, get the picture?).

So, one Friday Lindita told me that the next day would be the day.  To come on over and she would help me learn to make perfect ajvar. And now, you lucky folks, I am about to let you in on the secret! I would print a recipe for you, but like all good traditional food cooked from the heart, there really isn’t a recipe.

Here we go!

First of all, you need to buy about 40 kilos of red peppers. That is about 80 lbs for all you non-math people out there – yes, that is a lot of peppers!! When we go to the bazar in September there are cars lined up, trunks open full to the brim with peppers.

After you return from your adventure at the bazar with your car full of peppers, make a fire in your wood burning stove (Don’t have one of those? Lindita told me a barbecue would work almost as well. The wood smoke is part of the whole deal). Lindita’s family has a wood burning stove in their basement for just this purpose.  It keeps the big mess out of their super tidy kitchen.

Once the stove is all heated, you cook red peppers (whatever kind you like, they can be hot or mild – I like the mild kind myself) on the top flat grill until they are nice and charred.  If you have cooked Mexican food, you know what I mean. Nice and black all over.

There is even a tool to take the stem and the seeds out of the pepper - quite nice when you have 40 kilos of peppers to attend to.

There is even a tool to take the stem and the seeds out of the pepper – quite nice when you have 40 kilos of peppers to attend to.

Some people add eggplant to their ajvar, but Lindita says the traditional way is without eggplant.

I personally like the eggplant.  It has little taste, but it makes the sauce ricer and thicker.

I personally like the eggplant. It has little taste, but it makes the sauce thicker and richer. It doesn’t need to be cooked, just cut it into chunks.

The next step is to take all of the black charred skin off of the peppers – this takes awhile, but is lots of fun if you have ladies sitting around talking with you while you work. DSC08622 Then it is time to get out the old meat grinder.  You know, the kind your grandmother had and is still in the back of your cupboard because of all the memories.

and you get the whole family in on grinding up all those peppers.  If you have eggplant, just plop the chunks in there to be ground up too.

Get the whole family in on grinding up all those peppers. If you have eggplant, just plop the chunks in there to be ground up too.

Sometimes the peppers need a little help going through. A tap with the end of a wooden spoon will help.

Sometimes the peppers need a little help going through. A tap with the end of a wooden spoon will help.

Now it is time to put all that yummy goodness back onto the wood stove. DSC08615 It needs to cook for about 3 or 4 hours on a very low heat.  After it has cooked for about 1 1/2 hours, add some bay leaf, some salt, and some chopped up garlic. DSC08627 While all that yummy goodness is cooking, it is time to start chopping some more wood because . . .DSC08651we are about to make some fli (flee)! Yes, fli, Kosova’s national dish and since we are already out back, and the ajvar is cooking away, why not? Pile up that wood, DSC08625 and get the ash can out,DSC08626 we are about to begin.  Once you have a bit of a fire going, pour ashes on top of two lids, and put the lids on the fire to heat up. DSC08631Once the lids are heated, mix up a batter of flour, water, and salt to about the consistency of thin pancake batter.  Then, place a fli pan flat on level ground (you might need a brick or two to get it level) and cover the bottom of the pan with cream. DSC08649 The cream is like creme fraiche, the container looks like this:

just in case you wondered.

just in case you wondered.

Then spoon the batter in “spokes” over the top of the cream. DSC08633Once you have the spokes made, put a hot lid on top.  Do not put the fli pan on the fire, just put the lid on the top of the pan.

A pitch fork works well for this step.

A pitch fork works well for this step.

See, the lid on the pan, the pan is not on the fire.

See, the lid on the pan, the pan is not on the fire.

Ok, so why the second lid?  Because at this point you can start a second pan, that gives the first pan a chance to cook a bit. Once the batter is cooked, place the lid back on the fire to heat up DSC08643 and put some more cream on the cooked batter spokes. DSC08638Then fill in the spokes with more batter DSC08642and put the lid back on to cook this batter. Then check the second pan and add cream and layers to it. Keep rotating lids on the fire, adding cream and spokes of batter until the pans are full of layers. DSC08645 While all this is going on, don’t forget to stir the ajvar every once in awhile. DSC08644 Finally, after all that time and all that love, it is time to eat. DSC05869You can cut it into pieces to serve, DSC05874but traditionally, the diners just reach in and pull off layers and enjoy.  Oh, and don’t forget the olives, picked peppers, and the freshly made ajvar. Yummy, yummy!  We had such a delightful day followed by a delicious dinner.  Thank you Lindita.

Now I just have to get her to teach me how to make those stuffed bell peppers that Ted loves so much!

Inspired by Our Father

10448757_655715710069_8810849315269801187_nDrinking tea at our favorite little retreat in Skopje, Macedonia.

3 months!  Yes it has been over 3 months since I have last written.  Wow!  Time sure does fly.  Actually, I have been thinking about this lately. A lot.  Why has it been so long?  I am sure you are wondering too. I have been perplexed, but I have come upon a reason.  First, though, I must tell you about Gretchen.

Gretchen is the daughter of my cousin, Derek and his wife Brenda (does that make her my second cousin or my first cousin once removed? Hmmmm). Nearly 3 years ago she felt called by Our Father to begin painting a 5 foot by 4 foot picture of a young Cambodian girl who had been sold into the sex slave industry.  Gretchen was inspired  to call attention to this horrific industry.  Gretchen said it best herself in an interview done by “Wood TV” in Grand Rapids,  “She was sold when she was about 14,’ said Lauer. ‘She was told that she was going to be a waitress so she got in the cab and when she got to the Thai border she found out that was not the case.” This story is happening over and over throughout southwestern China and southeast Asia. It is a cause near and dear to our hearts because most of the children sold as slaves in southeast Asia originally come from the very area we lived in in China

The thing is, Gretchen has had one art class, way back in high school :] (yes, she is just a youngster to me, but that was a few years back) and according to her, she got a C.  Our Father called her to do something that, I am sure, was completely out of her comfort zone. And she did it.  This year she finished the painting.  Then she did something very courageous, she entered it in ArtPrize, Grand Rapids. ArtPrize is a huge art exhibition that occurs every year in Grand Rapids.  Art is displayed all over the city – over 1500 entries spread over 174 venues all over Grand Rapids (sounds fun – we need to put that on our bucket list!). Most of the artists entered their art in the 2D category, paintings, just as Gretchen did with her painting, Outcry.

Well, a few days ago the winners were announced and guess what, Gretchen won her category! Yes! The best of the paintings, based on popular vote, was Outcry. Does this surprise you? It didn’t surprise me.  Gretchen was doing something that stretched her far beyond her means, but she felt called by our Father and she answered that call.  Because of that, through many interviews and through this prize, Gretchen has gotten her original message out.  She has called attention to sex trafficking in southeast Asia. But most of all, she has honored her Father in Heaven.

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Gretchen and her proud parents in front of her painting Outcry at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

In some small ways, I feel like this blog is like Gretchen’s painting.  While I do not have the large public venue Gretchen had, I am doing something that stretches me and pulls me a bit out of my comfort zone.  You see, I am not a writer by nature.  Just ask good old Mr. Kemper, my 11th grade composition teacher, he continually gave me C’s because I continually was unable to put my thoughts down on paper coherently. So, when I began this blog over 3 years ago (Yikes! 3 years!), I asked Our Father to give me words, to help me express to my family and friends the thoughts and emotions going through me as we traveled through this adventure.

Since that time, every time I write, I pray for help and every time, He inspires my words.  Do not think I am saying that my words are inspired as those of the Bible. No, those are the words of Our Father.  I mean He gives me the words to express my thoughts and my feelings in a good, understandable way.

Then, last July it just stopped.  Literally stopped.  I was in the middle of a blog about the visit we had with my mom and my Aunt Patti when I just couldn’t get the words down. I was writing and it just didn’t make any sense.  I put it away for awhile and I just couldn’t come back.  Every time I tried, I just couldn’t write.  It wasn’t like writer’s block, no it was different than that.  I had plenty of ideas to write about.

Brett and Susie got married in China.

Brett and Susie got married in China.

Mom and Aunt Patti arrived in town

Mom and Aunt Patti arrived in town

We all took a really fun trip to Greece.

We all took a really fun trip to Greece.

We welcomed back old friends and welcomed new friends to Kosova (Jackie - on the right - is Mrs. Zeqiri now, and Maureen is our new English teacher)

We welcomed back old friends and welcomed new friends to Kosova (Jackie – on the right – is Mrs. Zeqiri now, and Maureen is our new English teacher)

We moved some of the library and

We moved some of the library and

set up classrooms.

set up classrooms.

I learned to make ajvar

I learned to make ajvar

and fli - all in one day.

and fli – all in one day.

We had our share of dog problems

We had our share of dog problems

and I finished a long awaited embroidery project.

and I finished my own mater piece, a self designed embroidery project, not as big or as striking as Gretchen’s, no message to be learned, but it decorates my kitchen quite nicely.

Yes, I had plenty of ideas.  I just for some reason I couldn’t get them down in writing (I promise I will get to some of them soon). It was like 11th grade all over again!

Then, as Ted and I were chatting on our way to Skopje this weekend (where we came for a much needed rest), I stumbled upon the reason.  Ted asked me if I felt, as he did, that we were no longer staying in Kosova, but we were living in Kosova.  The difference being passing through vs. making this our home.  I really think that Our Father knew that is what I needed this summer, a time to make Kosova home rather than just a place to be. So, He didn’t give me words to write. He gave me quiet peace.  No taking pictures just for the blog; no thinking, “What would all those reading think of this?”  Just being.  Learning what it was like to live here as a home, not just a place to pass through.  So, no words, no thoughts, just living for a summer. We have found a home here, a place to snuggle down and be content.

Just as I pray that Gretchen will continue to paint, and listen to His message, I will continue to write. Yes, I will stretch and write and live and love, in our new home, Kosova, inspired by Our Father.

 

Friends, Silver and Gold

Lu, 3rd gradePrishtina, Kosova

When I was a third grade girl, all dressed up in a brownie uniform, my troop leader taught us this song:

Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver and the other gold.

Did any of you sing that song in your youth?  And did any of you wonder, as I did, which was silver and which was gold?  I was never sure about that.  But one thing I am sure of, new friends are a good thing – most of the time.

Over the past few weeks, Ted and I have had quite a few friends show up at our door.  It all started in the midst of summer sports camp.  We had almost 200 kids here for a couple of days playing games and just having kid fun. It was all organized by a team from Germany and sailed along very smoothly.

Hockey in the parking lot

Hockey in the parking lot

and some sort of frisbee game in the gym were just a couple of the many things going on around the property during sports camp.

and some sort of Frisbee game in the gym (look, can you find the Frisbee?) were just a couple of the many things going on around the property during sports camp.

About that time, our fridge went on the blink. When I mentioned it to Lindita and Luli (year old friends- they are true gold), they asked if, since it could only be a year old fridge, didn’t it have a warranty? When I said, no we bought it refurbished, they both literally rolled their eyes and sighed in unison.  Lindita made a call and a few days later Ted and I opened our door to one of our new friends, Mr. Refrigerator Repairman.  He took one look at the thing and decided that he needed to take it to his home to work on it – huh?  Yep, to his home for an undetermined number of days.  Luckily, Lindita volunteered to keep our frozen stuff for us and the school has a fridge for lunches and stuff, so we could keep things cold in that.  Yes, that meant running back and forth dodging the sports camp kids every time we needed something from the fridge. Life is never dull around here.

So, while Mr.RR was busy working on getting our old friend the fridge working, these guys showed up at our door.

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Yes, the lovely Elizabeth and her handsome husband Sam the Music, Math, Social Studies, Drama teacher. They came by to say goodbye (sniff, sniff, we will miss them) because they are off to new adventures in the US and possibly France.  Anyway, they also came by to bring me a new friend.

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Yep, if you guessed sourdough starter, you would be right. Which, you may know, has to be kept in the fridge. You know, the one that our friend Mr. RR had taken away. Anyway, when I talked to Liz about adopting the starter, I told her I have been known to kill starter in the past.  I told her all about the friendship bread back in the 80′s (do you remember it?) that was more like a friendship burden because I would never remember to stir it, feed it, hug it, kiss it, and do whatever else I had to do to keep it alive.  She told me that this would be much easier all I had to do was to feed her once a week when I was making things like pizza dough and English muffins with it.  English Muffins!!!  Ted and I love English muffins and haven’t had one in, well, years! So that decided it. Hello, new friend!

A couple of days later (after Mr. RR returned our fridge) I tried my hand at those English muffins and all I can say is WOW!

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I think Ted nearly fainted when he tried one.  Warm and fresh and crunchy, I am in love.

They are even better with strawberry freezer jam - thanks Ruth and Lydia!

They are even better with strawberry freezer jam – thanks Ruth and Lydia!

Then a week after that I made some pizza dough. Oh, yum.

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I think I am going to love my newly adopted friend, Miss Sourdough Starter.  I will try my very, very best to keep her alive – really Liz!

All of this brings us to someone else who arrived at our door.

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A few weeks back Ted and I were eating steak on the front porch when Ted’s new friend happened by.  Ted said that the poor guy was starving and we could at least throw him a bone. Then on our next trip to Viva Fresh, I looked in my grocery cart and saw that someone had mysteriously put dog food in the cart when I wasn’t looking. Hmmmm. Yep, I think Ted hasn’t learned life’s lesson, if you feed a dog, he WILL NOT go away.  So, we have a new friend. His name is Frodo.  He sleeps on the front porch, fends off burglars, and keeps Ted company wherever he goes.

Look at Frodo's face - doesn't he look quite contented?

Look at Frodo’s face – doesn’t he look quite contented?

And, he has a couple of friends that keep coming by to visit.  I think Frodo has been roaming the neighborhood telling his friends, “There is a soft touch in that yellow house over there; look pitiful and he will feed you. Just stay away from the wife. She will growl if you try to come into the house.”

After all that, we spent last week getting our guest room ready

Ted replaced this lovely light,

Ted replaced this lovely light,

I covered the blue wardrobe with contact paper to make it look like wood,

I covered the blue wardrobe with contact paper to make it look like wood (this is kind of a before and after shot),

and we made the beds up for some of our best friends ever!

and we made the beds up. All ready for company.

for by far the best friends ever.  I was so excited when they showed up at our door yesterday morning!  Well, OK we met them at the airport, but they did eventually make it to the front door.

Mom and Aunt Patti - two fun gals!!

Mom and Aunt Patti – two fun gals!!

I know they are relatives, but they are golden friends too.  I have so been looking forward to this day. Ask anyone who has been around me for the last couple of months! We are going to have sooooo much fun over the next few days, touring and eating (you bet, English muffins and pizza are on the menu!) and just relaxing together.

So, while will miss some of our golden friends like Sam and Elizabeth and we will enjoy the short stay of other golden friends like Mom and Patti, we will try to keep our silver friends Frodo and Miss Sourdough Starter alive and well. And, no offense Mr. Refrigerator Repairman, you are a nice guy, but I really hope we don’t have to see you again for awhile.

Oh and just for your amusement, my friends,

Why did the chickens cross the road?

On June 29 we were wondering, why did the chickens cross the road?

To wish Ted a happy birthday!

To wish Ted a happy birthday!

Love to all of you our friends near and far.  If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by, our door is always open to friends, silver and gold.

 

Dear Father

DSC05900Our Dear Father,

It has been quite a year.  One year ago today You led us here to this land, to this school.  We praise You and we thank You for this glorious opportunity to be built up, to be molded like clay, to lead and to serve.  You have given us so much this past year, sometimes it is beyond comprehending.DSC05827

 

You gave us a home,

 

 

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a school,

 

 

 

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and a country that we have come to love.  A place where we have learned greater love for people and greater dependence upon You.

 

 

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You gave us a dedicated, loving staff to not only work with, but to call our family.

 

 

 

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You gave us kids that at times were a bit crazy, but always fun. Sponges, there to soak up Your love shown through us.

 

 

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You gave us partners in the US, who love us. Some we have never even met, but still love us.  People like the members of a church in Kentucky who spent hours and hours purchasing and packing equipment to be sent to this place that most of them have never even seen, but still hold in their hearts.

 

 

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Places like a church in Southern California, who when we sent out the plea for a well, answered quickly and lovingly. Places like another church in California who knew we needed help with payment for accreditation and stepped up to help.  Oh Lord, you have had so many, many people and churches bless us.  Not just with needed money or things, but we could feel You, through them, telling us, when we needed it most, ‘keep going, you are doing the right thing’.

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You were always there beside us.  In times of frost,

 

 

 

 

as well as the times of sun shining through the rain.

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Yes, One year ago today we landed in this place that we now call home.  A place we really didn’t know, a place we had not yet had a chance to come to love. But, You knew. You knew, not only did this place need us, but we needed this place.  Thank you Lord.

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Thank you Lord for the privilege you have given us of calling Kosova and PHS our home.

You have guided us through the maze that has been this past year.

 

We ask now that you guide our white tennis shoed feet along your path through this next year and the years to come.

To You be the glory, forever and ever,

Amen

 

 

 

All My Loving Families

Late, late, late (too late to be writing) at night in Prishtina Kosova,

I have to be honest with you all.  I usually try to look at the good side of life, and for the most part my glass is usually half full, but this morning I woke up feeling blue.  Has that ever happened to you? You know, nothing really has happened, but you just feel sad.  Well, that is how it was this morning.  Things are going great around here. The year is wrapping up quite nicely and things have slowed down a bit from the last time I wrote, but I just was sad. Not sobbing, crying, terribly upset, just a bit blue.

I sat down in my living room to have a bit of a quiet time with the Lord and it was hard.  I was reading from the Psalms with all of its praises and it was not sinking in.  I thought, it is hard being in this place, being away from those I love, having no one I could tell how I feel. I didn’t want to burden Ted, he has enough going on right about now without a sad, grumbling wife.  And then I remembered, I have someone right here beside me, someone who has been with me every step of the way, someone who loves me so very much and wants the very best for me. I began praying.  “God, I am sad.  I miss my family, I miss my kids. I am sad because my son and his wife are moving away from California and I can’t be there to help them.  I am sad because sometimes I just don’t know why I am here and not there.” On I went, I poured out my heart to my loving Father, telling Him all the reasons I was sad.

But you know what, He knew all of that. He just wanted me to tell Him, to really talk to Him, to let Him show me He loves me.  God knew how I was going to wake up feeling, and He took care of things even before I knew they needed to be taken care of.  You see, while I was sleeping, He was busy taking care of my needs.

After I was done praying, I slipped on over to that fount of encouragement (really!) Facebook.  And do you know what what there at the very tip top of my wall, just waiting for me?  This.

Thank you Susie!!

Thank you Susie!!

7 pictures actually.  Just waiting to warm my heart.  Not only did it mean so much to me that I could see my granddaughter, but the pictures were taken by my newest daughter-in-love, Susie.  Which told me that my sons had met up.  I don’t know about you, but it warms my heart when I know my kids are getting together, just because they like each other and for no other reason than that.  You know, no holiday, no birthday, just because.  My heart was melting a bit and then I scrolled down to see this.

1908031_798259470184607_8216212933824804577_nYep, it is a picture of my sis, but not only that, Andi, the lovely lady who took the picture (and the lady who is grandmother to the cuties in the picture) wrote, “This picture was taken especially for you, Luanne Erskin.”  That picture had been taken way before I was pouring out my heart to God and guess what, Andi took the picture with me in mind, sweet and thoughtful as she is, she hasn’t done that for me before.  I think that is more than just a coincidence.

Then as I scrolled down a bit further, from out of no where, suggested by Facebook, there was this “Suggested Post”. I am not kidding, a post called “5 Ways to Stop Discouragement From Getting the Best of You.” Really, God is so good.  If you are the least bit discouraged, it is worth the read (just click on the link).   It tells of 4 men, Job, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Peter, who found reasons to be discouraged and then it went on to give 5 solid steps I could take when I was feeling a bit down.  God knew it was exactly what I needed to read today.

After I danced a bit around the house getting ready for the day, I walked out the door and looked across the way to see the sun shining down on my handsome husband who was sitting on top of the picnic table next to the school.  I walked over and plopped myself down right next to him and we talked. Not about anything in particular, just talked.  Then a 10th grader happened by and joined the conversation.  We laughed and joked and passed the time away waiting for school to begin. And  I realized that God was with me, helping me just be there, enjoying the sun and the good company, resting in His goodness, enjoying His blessings.

Then I gathered all my 14 little ducks and we headed on out to the middle school end of the year outing.  We were going bowling. I was a bit worried about how it would go. Something about middle schoolers and bowling balls frightened me a bit.

Yea, with these guys and about 30 others!

Yea, with these guys and about 30 others!

You know what, it was fantastic!  They kids were so good and had such a great time.  But, you know what the best part was, i realized I have a whole bunch of kids right here who need me.  Midway through his game, one boy had not even knocked down one pin, so I said, “Let me throw one for you.” And I did.  And I got a gutter ball. My boy laughed and relaxed, and actually did much better after that.  Then, while we’re eating lunch at the old food court, my kids somehow found helium balloons.  They came over to me a few at a time, saying, “Hey Mrs. Erskin, listen to this!” not knowing that I had already listened to 13 other kids just before them.  It was like, “Hey Mom watch this!”  If you have kids, I am sure you have heard that before.  I realized that this year I had become their “teacher-mom.”

While all that was happening, I was eating and talking with some of the greatest people around, other teachers from the school.  Teachers who have not only become my dear friends, but teachers who truly love each one of the kids at the school. They were as happy as I was to listen to each helium filled song that was sung.

Then this afternoon, after all the excitement had died down I sat down with a Magnum bar (chocolate, raspberry, with vanilla ice-cream – oh yum!; ice-cream can cure all kinds of ills :] ) and read a newsy e-mail from my sister. I so love hearing news from home, all the antics with her granddaughters, the birthday celebrations, the dinners with friends.  It makes my heart happy to hear of the fun.

A bit later, Ted and I sat on our porch, in the glow of dusk, listening to the sound  of cow bells lightly ringing from the field next to us, feeling like summer is upon us, while we dined on steak and pasta. Just a sweet, relaxing time with me and my sweetie, thinking life is good.

So, now as I sit here (way too late at night) thinking back upon my day, I am peaceful, and happy. God has walked me through this day and shown me so many of my blessings.  I still miss my family, but I have Ted and I have my Lord and  I am making a new family here of ragamuffin kids and loving teacher friends.  I thank you, God, for pointing this out to me so lovingly today. Lucky me, I have family literally the world around.

I love you all and thank you for all of your encouragement.  I so enjoy seeing your happy moments on Facebook, I pray for you when I see your needs.  I want you all to know you mean so much to Ted and I. And I pray that someday all my families will meet each other, here on earth or with our Father in heaven. All my loving families, I think you would like each other, a lot.

 

 

Ready, Set, It’s the End of the Year!

Sitting in my living room resting up before the next party, in Prishtina, Kosova

Ok, so all you teachers and room moms and otherwise involved school people out there know about the end of the school year.  It seems like every year it is a little bit crazy.  Well, we are about to end our first school year here (can you believe it?) and in Kosova it is no exception.

The only thing is that the end of the school year here is about a month long.  Yes, instead of a last week, we have a last month.  For some reason the Ministry of Education deems that seniors should end school about mid May (finals and all), have the graduation ceremony at the end of May, have finals for the rest of school the first week of June, and then have another week before school actually ends. Yea, crazy!

What do you do with kids between the time they take finals and the time they graduate or the school year ends?  Well, I’ll tell you, you keep everyone pretty busy.  So, here we go, I am telling you get ready to be amazed at what we have done in the past few weeks, I know I am (and we haven’t even officially ended the year yet!).

Remember our, nice, beautiful, restful trip to Albania? Well, the next day I took the 6th graders out to the country for a field trip.

Yea, these guys!

Yea, these guys!

I mean way out in the country.

DSC07823Way, way out.

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Yea, those are sheep surrounding our van!

Yea, those are sheep surrounding our van!

Once we got there, the father of one of the kids showed us around his farm.

We pulled up little baby potatoes

We pulled up little baby potatoes

and stomped through fields

and stomped through fields

 

to pick

to pick

these little babies!

these little babies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw blueberries

We saw blueberries

and baby apples

and baby apples

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ate bajillions of fresh cherries right from the tree.

We ate bajillions of fresh cherries right from the tree.

 

Although some of us had other ideas about what cherries were for - gotta love 6th graders!

Although some of us had other ideas about what cherries were for, yep, that is a cherry in his ear – gotta love 6th graders!

 

 

 

We donned suits

We donned suits

to look at bees.

to look at bees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Had a barbecue

Had a barbecue

full of yummy stuff.

full of yummy stuff.

And then we played games like throw the boot

And then we played games like throw the boot,

swing from the ladder,

swing from the ladder,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and carry the egg up the ramp

and carry the egg up the ramp

and over the teeter-totter.

and over the teeter-totter.

Then we ended the day with birthday cake for one of my boys - what fun!

Then we ended the day with birthday cake for one of my boys – what fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And after all of that did they sleep on the way home? No. Sigh.

When I got back from that exciting day, it was time for the next segment in our end of the year saga; I made cinnamon rolls (sorry no picture, they didn’t last that long :]).  The next morning at 3 am these guys

The lovely Liz and her handsome husband Sam (history, music, math, art teacher extraordinaire)

The lovely Liz and her handsome husband Sam (history, music, math, art teacher extraordinaire)

were taking the senior class (all 12 of them) here

Alanya, Turkey

Alanya, Turkey (tough job but someone has to do it!)

And that is what you do in these parts with senior who have over a week between their last finals and graduation.

Oh, and yes, Ted and I did get up and serve those cinnamon rolls – along with some hot chocolate- to all of them at 3 am. That is what principals (and their wives) of small schools do. And, yes we love every minute of it.

After getting all of them off it was time to plan that graduation. So, we thought since we have a lovely round room that is to be our theater, why not have it in there.

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We decided we could paint, stretch the school budget enough to buy some curtains and we would have a great room for the graduation, but as soon as he saw what we were up to, our builder jumped right in with both feet and began finishing things around the place – bless his heart!

Sooooo ……. all those workers

painted,

painted,

 

 

evened out the stairs with marble,

evened out the stairs with marble,

 

 

turned this wall into

turned this wall into

 

this opening,

this opening,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hung some curtains,

hung some curtains

painted some more,

painted some more,

laid some marble sills,

laid some marble sills,

and worked on the stairs some more.

and worked on the stairs some more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They even took the time to clean up outside.

They even took the time to clean up outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, this picture taken the afternoon before graduation tells it best.

DSC07981 (1)Yep, those men are laying a sill while standing UNDER the ladder of the man hanging the curtains.  And those men to the right, well they just finished putting in the latch in the window right next to all of this. Ted said it is a bit like Extreme School Makeover.  And, did I mention that all this drilling, pounding, grinding, noisemaking was going on just down the hall while we were teaching?  Quite a week!  But, it was all worth it because in the end this

DSC05839became this,

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and finally this.

DSC07998Pretty impressive, huh! Those workers and our staff worked right up until the last minute spiffing the place up – our thanks go out to all of them.

We were all set for a wonderful night.

The handmade scarfs and diplomas were set out,

The handmade scarfs and diplomas were set out,

these guys had the kitchen under control,

these guys had the kitchen under control,

and last minute tags were removed from new suits.

and tags were removed from new suits at the last minute.

Pre-graduation pictures were taken (isn't the background cool- so Hollywood!)

Pre-graduation pictures were taken (isn’t the background cool- so Hollywood!),

and appetizers were served.

and appetizers were served.

The graduation began with a song.

The graduation began with a song.

Our management team was introduced - what a great group of men!

Our management team was introduced – what a great group of men!

As chairman of the board, John had some good words for the graduates

As chairman of the board, John had some good words for the graduates

Then Ted had some personal words for each graduate as he placed their graduation scarf around their neck.

Then Ted had some personal words for each graduate as he placed their graduation scarf around their neck.

and gave them their diploma - very touching and personal.

and gave them their diploma – very touching and personal.

After the ceremony each graduate had to sign the register for it to be official.

After the ceremony each graduate had to sign the register for it to be official.

Finally, here they are - all 12 of them, what a great group!

Finally, here they are – all 12 of them, what a great group!

Then it was time to eat and celebrate.

Then it was time to eat and celebrate!

Yep. a great time was had by all,

Yep. a great time was had by all,

but by the time it was all done, we were a bit done in.

but by the time it was all over, we were a bit done in.

So what did we do the next day?  Had a shower for Jackie at my house of course!

Yes, how could we not celebrate this beautiful bride to be (and "Po" means "Yes" for all you non Albanian speakers out there)!

How could we not celebrate this beautiful bride to be (and “Po” means “Yes” for all you non Albanian speakers out there)!

We played that all American, toilet paper bride game. Yep, those are Kosovar ladies we dressed up!

We played that all American, toilet paper bride game. Yep, those are Kosovar ladies we dressed up!

Ate some yummy goodies (thanks to Liz, Donna, and Ruth for the great treats!)

Ate some yummy goodies (thanks to Liz, Donna, and Ruth for the great treats!)

And we even used this

And we used this (very strong tea in the top, boiling water in the bottom)

To have "The Bride" serve tea (which is a very Kosovar thing to do).

To have “The Bride” serve “Russian Tea” (which is a very Kosovar thing to do).

Victoria even showed up with her little secret, thanks to Ruth's recent trip to the US.

Victoria even showed up with her little secret, thanks to Ruth’s recent trip to the US.

A good time was had by all!

What a fun group of ladies!

But this is not the end! No, the next day Ted and I took a long walk in the country

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Where we wondered, "Why did the turtle cross the road?"

Where we wondered, “Why did the turtle cross the road?”

Yes, turtle.

Yes, turtle, way out in the middle of nowhere – no I don’t know why.

And we just enjoyed the beauty of it all.

And we just enjoyed the beauty of it all.

When we got back,

the school looked like this.

the school looked like this.

Yep, there was a wedding going on. Luckily, we didn't have to do anything for this. Just enjoy the fun of our newly finished space being put to such good use.

Yep, there was a wedding going on. Luckily, we didn’t have to do anything for this. Just enjoy the fun of our newly finished space being put to such good use.

And that folks is how we have almost ended the school year.  I say almost because we still have:

A celebration for the three new dads on our staff (two in May and one coming in June) – tomorrow (Tues.)
Bowling with the Middle School – Thursday
School wide beautification and educational resource projects involving all students – next Mon. – Wed.
School wide trip to the California Resort water park – Thursday the 12th (last day for kids)
Afternoon and dinner in the country for all the staff – Friday the 13th (last day for staff)

I have a note on my calendar for Saturday the 14th, it says, “Collapse!” and that is just what I plan to do.  At least for a day and then it is time to begin getting ready for next year.

It is hard to believe a year has come and almost gone.  Just a year ago we were leaving China, not really sure what the Lord had planned for us.  What a great plan He had in mind.  Why do I find myself surprised by His loving plans? I should know by now just to rest in Him and all will fall into place.

I can hardly wait to see what He has in store for the year to come.

 

 

 

Deja Vu all over again

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Sitting in the kitchen, eating sweet, juicy melon, on a sunny Sunday in Prishtina Kosova

And thus begins a week of hurrying and scurrying, it is less than a week until graduation; all is abuzz around these parts.  While I am making tablecloths for the dinner ahead, the construction crew is busy finishing the new soccer stadium, and the drapery people are getting ready to install curtains in our new theater. Ted is managing the final paperwork and poor Sefedin (our business manager) is trying to remember that all this money is well spent.

It hardly seem that just a week ago Ted and I headed off with some friends for a restful weekend in Albania.

Yeah, these guys.  The best travel partners around.

Yeah, these guys. The best travel partners around.

First stop, breakfast at the gas station.  Yep, that is how they do things in these parts.  Well, when I looked at the egg dishes, I noticed they had tortilla and I recognized the word for potatoes, so I ordered (and talked Ted into ordering) what I thought would be a yummy, thick, eggy, potato-filled Spanish tortilla (like a frittata) and this is what we got.

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A wrap of cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese and hot sauce with french fries. Not an egg in sight.  It was yummy though.  I find that is what happens around here, always expect the unexpected.  Kind of reminds me of another place I know.

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Only this meal involved a trip to the village leader’s home and goose eggs.

Anyway, after picking up some snacks for the road,

These goodies were recommend by Jackie as things best not kept in her house if she wants to fit into that wedding dress of hers.

These goodies were recommend by Jackie as things best not kept in her house if she wants to fit into that wedding dress of hers.

and, yeah, they were yummy.  Sweet shortbread  on the outside and gooey chocolate in the middle!

and, yeah, they were yummy. Sweet shortbread on the outside and gooey chocolate in the middle!

we headed off through the countryside, past villages nestled into the mountainside.

 

Albania, 2014

Albania, 2014

Somehow, it all looked familiar.

China 2011

China 2011

Finally we arrived in Tirana.  Which is a lovely city,

DSC07698

even in the pouring rain.

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There were beautiful Mosques,

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statues of heroes,

Skenderbeau - more about him later, I promise.

Skenderbeu – more about him later, I promise.

I have know idea who this guy is, but he just looks so Albanian.

I have no idea who this guy is, but he just looks so Albanian.

and even a birthday candle clock tower.

Yes, the candles lit up red at night.

Yes, the candles lit up red at night.

But somehow, we kept thinking we were somewhere else.

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Tirana, Alania

Kunming, China

Kunming, China

Well, somethings were not exactly as we remembered.

Well, somethings were not exactly as we remembered. I think the fine people of Shanghai  might be appalled at this :]

After our soggy wet, walk, we decided that it was time to go back to the hotel and do what we really needed to do – take a nap! I will say the accommodations were more updated, but just as cozy as some places we remember.

View from our bed in Tirana

View from our bed in Tirana

View from our bed in China

View from our bed in China

Window view Tirana

Window view Tirana

Window view, China

Window view, China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our wonderful, well needed nap, we met up with these guys for dinner.

Skender and Jackie with Jackie's friends from college, Andre (from Brazil) and Maria  (from France) who were working for a couple of weeks in Tirana, but live in Rome.  Did you get all that?

Skender and Jackie with Jackie’s friends from college, Andre (from Brazil) and Maria (from France) who were working for a couple of weeks in Tirana, but live in Rome. Did you get all that?

What was on the menu?

Look at the offering at the top.  Poor Pooh!

Look at the offering at the top. Sorry Pooh!

I decided on the non-piglet pizza.  Pretty darn good!

DSC07708

What a lovely time we had, talking and eating, and talking some more.  It was so fun to meet up with new friends.  We have an invitation to meet up with them in Rome sometime, sounds good to me!

The next morning we woke up bright and early to the quiet murmurings of the morning market.

No, not this one.  Although, once again we were reminded of our time in Lijiang.

No, not this one. Although, once again we were reminded of our time in Lijiang.

This market

This market

We did just have to get up and wander through.

and melons

with all its fresh produce,

and eggs.

and eggs,

and men just sitting around.

and men just sitting around.

Then we rounded the corner and saw this.

DSC07722

What in the world were all those men congregated there for?  Then we got a closer look and began chuckling.

DSC07723

They were there to buy birds.  That may not seem so funny to you, but you see, in China there is a flower and bird market in every town.  Why? because old, retired men love birds.

These men are in a park in Kunming, China.  Look in the trees, you will see the bird cages.  Get between the birds and the men and you are in big trouble!

These men are in a park in Kunming, China. Look in the trees, you will see the bamboo bird cages. Get between the birds and the men and you are in big trouble!

Birdie at the Kunming bird and flower market.

Birdie at the Kunming bird and flower market.

Here we were in Albania and what were the old men lining up to buy? Birds! What were they selling right across the street? Flowers of course. Well, it was funny to us.

DSC07719

We really were beginning to think that we had made a wrong turn somewhere heading into Albania. Even the traffic reminded us of our former home.

Although, in China, I am sure that truck of furniture would have been loaded much higher!

Although, in China, I am sure that truck of furniture would have been loaded much higher!

After buying some flowers (no bird – Ted isn’t old enough yet!) and dodging all that traffic, we moseyed on out to Skenderbeu town, the village of Krujë. See I told you I would get to him later. In case you were wondering, beu means lord and Skender is the Albanian form of Alexander.  So, who we are talking about here is Lord Alexander that hero of Albania.  During the 1400′s, good old Lord Alexander held off the Turks for, well, depending upon whom you ask, either 4 years or 500 years. As in China, history around these parts is a bit fluid at times.

The village is set on a hill overlooking the valley below and with a pretty good view of the Adriatic Sea.  A great place to ward off Turks, no matter how long it was.  As we got to the village as walked a bit, past the wall topped with red tile,

OK, I know I am saying it a lot, but, China anyone?

OK, I know I am saying it a lot, but, China anyone?

and the doggie print street.

DSC07743

 

At least the Albanian doggie print street didn't have a telephone pole in the middle of it.  Oh how I miss village life :]

At least the Albanian doggie print street didn’t have a telephone pole in the middle of it. Oh how I miss village life :]

And of course, since there are doggie print streets, there are

DSC07745

dogs lying around everywhere.  Almost made me miss these guys!

Almost.

Almost.

Then I saw something that made me stop in my tracks.

DSC07747

If Skender and Jackie hadn’t been there, I would have thought I had been transported back to Lijang!  Cobblestone streets, handmade goods and “antiques” for sale.

Not exactly the same antiques as China, but the same idea - let's gather some old things, make them look older and sell them to people!

We resisted the temptation to buy and headed on up the hill to get some lunch. We stopped at this place, well, because who can’t resist a good sign with a skull?

I won't show you the China picture with the whole got skeleton hanging out side the restaurant, I will leave that one to your imagination.

I won’t show you the China picture with the whole goat skeleton hanging out side the restaurant, I will leave that one to your imagination.

Really we went for its charm,

DSC07750

good food, and

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

just maybe because we had to walk through this arched doorway to get into the patio.

DSC07755

Finally, after lunch we got to the top of the hill and reached what we had come for.  The Skenderbeu museum.

The museum sits on the foundation of the old fort and is made to be a replica of the fort.

The museum sits on the foundation of the old fort and is made to be a replica of the fort.

We got lucky because it was National Museum Day, so all museums were open (as opposed to closed on Sunday) and free.  Lucky us!  First up two Skenders.

The Skender in the black coat is our hero!  he does so much for us and for the school.

The Skender in the black coat is our hero! He does so much for us and for the school.

Then it was the usual museum stuff.  You know, murals

DSC07765

and helmets,

DSC07768

and weapons, oh my!

DSC07790

Actually it was quite interesting. If you are ever in the area, you should stop by, it is worth a visit.  What I liked the most were the grounds though.

up the steps, around the fort,

up the steps, around the fort,

to the beautiful grounds and

to the beautiful grounds and

the awe inspiring view. Yes, that little strip of blue under the clouds is the Adriatic Sea.

the awe inspiring view. Yes, that little strip of blue under the clouds is the Adriatic Sea.

Oh, and of course we had to get a picture of me sitting on the edge of the local well,

DSC07801

just because it made me think of these guys and what it must have taken to build that big of a well back in the 1400′s.

DSC01343

Kaiwen Village a couple of years ago

PHS well being built this year.

PHS well being built this year.

I guess I am just enamored with wells these days.

After all of that it was time to head on back, through the mountain passes to home.DSC07817

What a lovely weekend it was.  Wonderful sights, great friends, lots of rest and memories of things near to our heart.  Thanks Skender and Jackie for inviting us along; we loved every minute of our time together.

And now, the school year needs to wrap up, and we are about to have a crazy, busy week, so back to work! Good thing we got a rest while we could.

 

 

 

 

 

As Simple as That!

DSC07664Prishtina Kosova, a  lazy May Day, resting and baking

I love baking. Some people run or exercise to relax.  I bake.  I remember growing up being fascinated with my mom’s cookie cutter collection.  She had some for any occasion.  Of course, we mostly used them at Christmas time, but the possibilities were there.

So, one year, when the kids were little,  I decided at every holiday I would buy some cookie cutters.  Then, by the end of the year I would have my own collection.  And I do have quite a collection, packed away somewhere in Chino Hills. I learned some things that year. First of all metal cookie cutters tend to get caught in overfull drawers and get smooshed (yes, that is a word I just thought up!) all out of shape. And, simpler is better.  I actually found the best plastic, simple cookie cutters at the local Hallmark store of all places (Michaels didn’t exist back then – I know the dinosaur age!).  Such fun rummaging around to find just the right ones.

I actually brought a few cookie cutters to Kosova.  Some came back with me last November thanks to my giving sis,

Yes, they are metal, but I keep them safely tucked away in a tupperware container, so they won't get smooshed in a drawer.

Yes, they are metal, but I keep them safely tucked away in a tupperware (sorry Patti!) plastic container, so they won’t get smooshed in a drawer.

and a couple made it through from California to China to here.

I love this heart and I always have to have a gingerbread man so these made the great trek around the world with me.

I love this heart and I always have to have a gingerbread man so these made the great trek around the world with me.

I even bought a cute little gingerbread man and lady in Colmar at Christmas time.

Actually, we bought the whole family in Colmar - the tag on the package even said so!

Actually, we bought the whole family in Colmar – the tag on the package even said so!

Most of them, of course, are for Christmas cookies.  So, when we were in Greece and I happened upon a little paper/cake decorating store (kind of like the local Hallmark only with cake stuff, I guess),  I found myself gravitating towards the Easter cookie cutters.

I saw the cutest little bunny and I couldn’t resist!  All my thoughts of simple is better long forgotten.

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I had dreams of making cute little bunny cookies as an Easter treat for the staff.  Ted said, “Won’t the dough get stuck in all those nooks and crannies?”

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I said, “No problem.”  I am the expert baker after all.

I was all set, the Thursday before Easter was to be bunny day!  Then, it snowed. The Thursday before Easter became “snow day!” and there was no school. So, I decided, that’s OK, since we have a five day weekend, I will make the Tuesday after Easter be bunny day.  I had it all planned, a bunny decorated in chocolate, in a cute little bag, with a card saying, “Just a short hop until the end of the year!”.

Monday, the day after Easter, I began in the morning by making the dough.  Then as I was washing up the dishes, we ran out of water – ugh! Yes, the well has been dug, but because of the weather – you know the no rain or snow all winter, until you dig a well in the spring kind of weather – we have not yet been able to get it all hooked up.  I do have to say that Luli, our head of maintenance, hopped right on it on Tuesday morning when he found out.  He drug a hose over from the well to our reservoir  and filled our tank right up so we were back in business – with well water! Thank you to all who have contributed to the well, my clean dishes and I appreciate you:]

Anyway, Monday afternoon I rolled out the dough and started cutting.  And guess what, Ted was right (Oh, how he loves to hear me say that!). The dough got stuck.

It cut beautifully

It cut beautifully

and then I tried prying it out - I even used a knife to get it started - ugh!

and then I tried prying it out – I even used a knife to get it started – ugh!

Yeah, really stuck!

Yeah, really stuck!

Yes, I made sure the dough was chilly cold; Yes, I dipped the cutter into flour; Yes, I twirled three times, threw salt over my shoulder and danced a jig to make sure that cookie dough would not get stuck in the cutter. OK, not really, I just made that up – but I did try whatever I could think of to keep the dough from sticking. I managed to get 3 pried out when the electricity went off (yep, we have an electric oven).  I needed 30. That is when I decided that since I have some simple flower cookie cutters, May Day cookies sounded even better.

Aren't they pretty! Thanks  Home Goods!

Aren’t they pretty! Thanks Home Goods!

Decisions, decisions, which size should I make?

Decisions, decisions, which size should I make?

Later when the electricity went back on, I did bake up the 3 bunnies along with some flowers for Ted and me to eat.

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And, even though they were quite yummy, all those cute little features on the bunny, well, I could just make them out on one bunny,

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but the other two, were sort of winking at me.

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Yeah, pretty disappointing – sigh!

The flowers were definitely better, thin crispy, delicious.

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So much easier – i had them cut out and baked in no time!

All that brings me to why I decided long ago with cookie cutters, simpler is better.  If you have cute little features in your cookie cutter, not only do you run the risk of getting the dough stuck, but you have to roll the dough thicker to get the impression.  Thicker dough will rise more, wiping out that cute little bunny face you so longed to have and the cookie will be soft, not crispy.  I know, I know, some of you just love those soft sugar cookies with the pink frosting and sprinkles you get by the dozens at Costco.  You may have them.  I happen to like my sugar cookies crispy.

When we were first married, I looked and looked for a good, crispy sugar cookie recipe, I just couldn’t find one.  The cookies always came out too soft or too bland or too, sugary sweet.  Then one day I found it, the perfect sugar cookie recipe – right there in my good old Betty Crocker cookbook!  And the secret is (drumroll, please!) . . . powdered sugar!  Instead of granulated sugar, the recipe calls for powdered sugar.  This makes the cookie light, crispy, and a little less sweet, perfect! Of course at Christmas time I like to frost them, but other times of the year, a bit of sugar sprinkled on before baking, or a swirl of chocolate after baking will do nicely.

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And speaking of sprinkling on sugar – another trick I learned from a friend is (get ready this is great!) instead of using that expensive sanding sugar from Michaels or the cake decorating store, use Sugar in the Raw.  Isn’t that amazing!  The crystals are about the same size and a whole big box costs about the same as one tiny little bottle of sanding sugar.  And it just so happens that, unlike sanding sugar, you can get raw sugar in Kosova. Perfect!

So, there you have it.  A simple shape, a bit of the right kind of sugar, a few decorations and you have a thin, crisp delight. I’m thinking  this lesson might be a good thing for me to remember in other areas of my life too. Having company over? – simple is better.  Teaching a new lesson to my 6th graders? – use just the right kind of sugar and simple is better. Planning a vacation? – a few decorations make it fun, but remember simple is better.

I am still trying to learn this lesson. Sometimes I try to complicate things; I tend to over extend and do too much. Sometimes I have Ted there to remind me that life is going to get stuck in all those nooks and crannies I am creating.  Sometimes I have to remember what good old Forrest would have said about this, “Life is like a cookie cutter – simple is better.” It really is as simple as that.

 

Oh! and of course I couldn’t let you go without giving you the best, most perfect, sugar cookie recipe. Like I said, the recipe is from my old Betty Crocker cookbook.  The one I have had since before I got married all those years ago.  For some reason, the newer versions of Betty Crocker just aren’t the same.  Like I try to tell myself every February 7th, sometimes older is better too!  Enjoy the cookies.

DSC07672Crispy Delicious Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
1 cup Butter (or Margarine*), softened
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/2 teaspoon Almond Extract**
1 Egg**
2 1/2 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar**

Preheat oven to 375°F (about 190° C). In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, almond extract, and egg.  Beat until light and creamy.  Stir in the flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar until it is well blended and makes a soft dough. Refrigerate for at least one hour until the dough is well chilled.

Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured pastry cloth until it is about 1/8 inch thick (about the thickness you roll pie dough).  If you like softer cookies, roll it out a bit thicker – about 1/4 inch. Cut into shapes with a simple cookie cutter.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  If desired, sprinkle with granulated sugar or sanding sugar (if you want the crystals to show when the cookies are done baking).  Bake at 375° for about 7 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges (the thicker the cookies, the longer they will take to bake).

Decorate as desired and enjoy!

* While butter gives a nicer, buttery taste, margarine actually will make the cookies crispier.  I like to use 1/2 cup margarine and 1/2 cup butter to get the best of both.

**For my friends in Kosova:
Almond Extract: I can’t find it here, so I just left it out.  I did miss it though when I tasted the cookies, so next time I am going to try adding orange zest to see if that adds a nice touch to the cookies.

Eggs – I find that the eggs here are sometimes small, so if the egg seems small to you, use 2 eggs.

Cream of Tartar – I haven’t found any here, but there just happened to be some in my cupboard when we moved in. I am willing to share until it runs out and then the next person going to the states will need to buy us all
some :]

 

 

I Believe

DSC07627Easter Sunday, Prishitna, Kosova

As we were walking home from church today I saw these flowers popping their heads up among the dirt and weeds.  Flowers that have made it through the snow and pouring rain of the last couple of days to bloom so beautifully in the afternoon sunshine.

This morning began dark and gloomy, rain pouring, and flooding the streets.  Being a good California girl, if it weren’t Easter I would have been tempted to stay inside and just watch a service on-line, all cuddled up by the fire.  But it was Easter morning, so we bundled up, got out the umbrellas and off we trudged through the soggy streets.

At Christmas time in Kosova, there was a bit of the spirit of Christmas about. There were trees and decorations because the Kosovars celebrate New Years with all the splendor in which we celebrate Christmas. They really like Santa, but they won’t acknowledge that Christ was born.   And, if they don’t want to celebrate His birth, they are certainly not going celebrate His death and resurrection.  So, as we made our way up Mother Theresa Blvd., we saw not a hint of celebration.  No bunnies, no Easter lilies, no chocolate candies, nothing.  It was just another wet Sunday as far as most of the people here were concerned.

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Ted and I had our own little celebration by going to the Swiss Diamond for breakfast.  It is always a bit of European charm to sit and relax over their lovely breakfast.

The chocolate cake did give a bit of a nod to Easter with the little flowery decorations.  They weren't jelly beans though :]  golden raisins did the trick.  And yes, they do serve dessert with breakfast, one of the joys of having breakfast at the good old Swiss Diamond!

The chocolate cake did give a bit of a nod to Easter with the little flowery decorations. They weren’t jelly beans though, golden raisins did the trick. And yes, they do serve dessert with breakfast, one of the joys of having breakfast at the good old Swiss Diamond!

After breakfast as we left the building, the bells of the Catholic Cathedral were chiming.

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Ahhhh, I could feel myself breathe out a sigh, it is Easter, Christ Arose.  I know it should not take trappings to help us celebrate our Lord, but the chimes did my heart good.

Then it was off to church which was all gussied up

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with “Happy Easter” in the air everywhere.

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People were elated to see us.  They didn’t think we would come.  They thought we would stay home, safe and sound.  Although we feel very safe here, the Kosovar Christians have been through so much, they always feel a threat from the Muslim majority, and even more so on Easter.

The service began and we sang some celebratory songs.

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But it was one line, in one song that really hit me:

Unë Besoj, Unë Besoj

The congregation sang those words over and over.  “I believe, I believe”. As we sang I looked around the congregation and saw the conviction with which they sang those words.  “I believe, I believe.”

As we walked home in the bright sunshine, past the police officers who were sent to guard the church on this Holiest of days, up the hill towards home we walked, lightly, uplifted by the service and the fellowship we had just had.

Then, I saw those  charming little blue flowers.  I thought of the people in the congregation singing “I believe.”  That is when it hit me.  Many of the people I had been watching had grey hair, they had been around and loved the Lord for many years, but what does that mean in this Balkan country?  Think back, it wasn’t that many years ago that this was a communist country, think of the persecution.  And even fewer years ago these people were deeply involved in a war.  What conviction, what steadfastness must these people have to still be singing, “Unë Besoj, I believe.”

Just like those flowers, they had made it through the snow and the pouring rain to stand in the sunshine. They stand out in this country just as those little blue flowers stood out among the weeds.  Beautiful, steadfast, not worried for tomorrow, because they know, they believe that the One who cares for the flowers has always cared for them.

God help me to be as steadfast as those in this country who have been through so many, many trial over the years.  Help me to remember that you will take care of me through the snow and the rain. Thank you God for showing me this morning that Easter isn’t the breakfast, the chimes, or even the decorations. Although all of those point to you and remind us to celebrate, Easter is about You and how much You love all of us, care for all of us,  no matter where we bloom.

Thank you God for sending your Son.

Unë Besoj, I believe.

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