Graduation Day at the School on the Hill

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My luscious dinner. Lots of banana makes any cereal better.

Home alone eating breakfast for dinner, Pristina Kosova

Yes, it is a quite evening here at home.  Every Wednesday night Ted has dinner out with a young man he is mentoring and I usually have dinner out with my friend Ruth.  But, Ruth has abandoned me for the summer.  She went home for a graduation and a wedding. Although, I can’t say that I blame her. And I have abandoned her a time or two (like this time and this time). If Ruth is reading this right now – and I am sure she is :] – Have great fun and “See You in September” (doesn’t that make you want to break out in song?) So, I am home alone, enjoying the quiet, eating breakfast for dinner.

Before I continue, may I take a minute to address the Kellog’s company:

Dear Kellog’s

The first time I ate Special K was as a young girl at my grandparent’s home (and that was mannnnny years ago).  Those light delicate flakes became one of my favorite cereals. I ate them often as I was growing up. Imagine my joy these many years later when I found them in Kosova.  Only you have changed them to be whole grain flakes of cardboard. Did you not learn anything when “New Coke” came out a few years back. I don’t think you did, so I am going to tell you the lesson – Leave a Good Thing Alone!! Thank you, I hope you will now change them back.

Sincerely, Luanne

Thank you all for letting me rant, but discussing my breakfast cereal is not actually why I am writing.  I want to let you in on the great celebration that happened here last Friday night.  Graduation!  Yes, the 2nd graduation since we have been here.  Pretty exciting!

The day began with everyone who was available pitching in to get ready.  They set out chairs and decorated,

Yes, it is outside.  We needed more room for families, so we moved on out.

Yes, it is outside. We needed more room for families, so we moved on out.

put up a platform and podium,

put up a platform and podium,

and hung up our “Hollywood Style” photo background.

DSC00128Yep, everyone helped, even this guy.

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By the time all that was done, everyone was a bit tuckered out.

Lindita, beautiful even when she is exhausted.

Lindita, beautiful even when she is exhausted.

So we went home for a little break (actually Ted and I had a nice nap) and to get all cleaned up for the celebration ahead.  All too soon it was time to set out the flowers for the parents,

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get the diplomas and scarves all set,

DSC00137and practice a bit before the big night. Oh, and pray that those big old dark clouds didn’t mean rain ahead.

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We had some time before the festivities began to get some pictures.

Friends and colleagues - such a fun group!

Friends and colleagues – such a fun group!

Our cleaning ladies - they clean up very nicely :]

Our cleaning ladies – they clean up very nicely :]

Future graduates

Future graduates

True Paul, kilt and all (notice I didn't call it a skirt - he says that it is called a kilt because many people have been "kilt" for calling it a skirt - I am staying out of that mess)

True Paul, we love him, kilt and all (notice I didn’t call it a skirt – he says that it is called a kilt because many people have been “kilt” for calling it a skirt – I am staying out of that mess).

and of course, Ted and I had to get in on the action.

DSC00143We did have a bit of down time while we waited for one graduate and her parents to make it through the downtown/accident on a Friday night traffic.

Yes, that is our Physics and Calculus teacher making those bunny ears behind those unsuspecting men. That is how we do things here.

Yes, that is our Physics and Calculus teacher making bunny ears behind those unsuspecting men. That is how we do things here.

Finally, after all that prep, we were ready to begin.   Anita and a student translator were our hosts for the evening.

Anita and her student translator were our hosts for the evening.

Ted had a few encouraging words to say to the graduates,

DSC00156and a lovely woman from the local community sang for us all.

DSC00159Soon the graduates were called up on the stage one by one.

DSC00160They were draped with a graduation scarf,

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and Ted had something uplifting to say about each of them.

DSC00164He gave some awards,

DSC00171cracked some jokes,

DSC00187and introduced our valedictorian.

DSC00195It was a delightful ceremony.  I love that since we have such small graduating classes, Ted can talk about and encourage each student individually. And may I brag about them a bit.  All 12 of them have been accepted to college, most have been given nice scholarships and their average SAT scores were just about the same as the average SAT scores in the US.  Think about that.  They do not know the culture of the US and for all but one of them, English is not their first language.  Pretty impressive!

After the ceremony, the cafeteria brothers (really, they are brothers and they run our cafeteria) served up some yummy appetizers

DSC00201with sweet treats made by some of the staff.

DSC00202Students were there to serve with a smile.

DSC00206We had a wonderful evening catching up with parents

DSC00205and finding out the latest about lunch boxes for 5 year olds.

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Notice the grass in the background. Thanks to all who contributed to our well last year, that is our newly planted soccer field. We are hoping to have graduation on the grass next year. We, as always, are so thankful for your support.

While all of that was going on, the graduates were called in one by one to sign “the book”  It is a legal register for school documents, when they sign it, their diploma is then legal in Kosova.

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To finish the delightful day, the seniors showed a sweet video they made to thank the staff and celebrate their accomplishments.

DSC00210All that was left was the clean up, which was done in a snap!

Yes, that is Ted with a plastic table on his head :]

Yes, that is Ted with a plastic table on his head :]

As we walked back home, the first few rain drops began to fall, tears of sadness, we will miss these kids, tears of joy at all they have accomplished. A delightful day celebrating delightful kids. What could be better or more rewarding than to know that we are able to touch these students lives and help them begin a beautiful future. May the Lord be with them wherever they go and may they remember all the life lessons they learned from the dedicated staff at this little school on a hill.

 

Slovenia – Love at First Sight!

Sunset over Pristina. This mosque is very near our home and school. (Thanks, Angela for the picture)

Sunset over Pristina. This mosque is very near our home and school. (Thanks, Angela for the picture)

Relaxing and resting up for the end of the school year – Skopje, Macedonia

Do you ever feel like life is a merry-go-round?  You know, up and down, around and around.  We feel like that at times here.  Take one day just last week, My friend messaged me and expressing her frustration with her plumber.  He was back after having “fixed” the water in her bathroom the week before. He had already made 3 trips to the hardware store for parts that day (yes, this is a professional plumber making multiple trips to the hardware store!) and on the last trip he brought a bright red hose to fix something – perhaps hooking the line to her other bathroom.  In the midst of all that, her electricity went out (luckily she has a generator to fall back on), she had company coming in from the states that night, and she was fighting a doozy of a cold.  Sometimes we just want to go and hide somewhere, which is what I think she did :]

On that same day I had a bit of a victory. Clear back in January, Ted and I had (with the help of a kind fabric merchant) found a man who could machine embroider the school emblem and students’ names on the scarfs we use for graduation (last year a sweet little lady did it by hand). We gave him the material and a sample scarf and all that had to be done was for someone to send him the file that had the logo to put in the machine. Of course, in the hustle and bustle of life, we never got that done. So, one day last week, our technology genius Labinot, and I went on a scavenger hunt looking to find the place again – I mean I had to find the place in a warren of streets!! Anyway, I found it, fairly easily actually. And when we walked in the guy remembered me and knew exactly what we wanted. He didn’t even blink.  No, in true genuine Kosovar fashion, he acted like we had just been there yesterday. He took our material and the sample off the shelf (that was piled with bags and fabric and such) like he had just placed it there and said they will be ready by the end of the week – No problem! Can you imagine that happening in the states? Another catastrophe avoided. Sometimes I love it here, and sometimes the pipes break and the electricity goes out when you are sick and about to have company come. Ahhhh – Kosova!!

All that is to say, sometimes we have to find somewhere to rest to reflect on the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  Our go to place in Southern California was Santa Barbara.

Thanks Google images for the photo

Thanks Google images for the photo

Our go to place in the Balkans is Skopje.

That statue has water flowing everywhere and lights up at night, it is quite a sight.

While the aesthetic is certainly different, Skopje and Santa Barbara both have good shopping (OK, being honest I must admit that Santa Barbara has cute boutiques and Skopje has, well, Carrefour – a French version of Target – which is very important to my happiness here :] ) , delightful food

Yes, those are fresh, donuts, hot out of the fryer!

Yes, those are fresh, donuts, hot out of the fryer!

walks along the water, and nice places to just sit and do nothing.  Which, in a nutshell, is my list of what makes a perfect place to get away.

So, all that is to say that when spring break came along this year we were ready for a place to get away for the week. Hmmmm, good shopping, delicious food, walks along the water, a place to sit and rest.  We did some investigating and found Slovenia.  There is a reason that the word “love” is right there in the middle of that country’s name. Slovenia is tucked away in the Alps between Austria, and Italy.  Think about that – Alps, Austria, Italy.  Yep, it was love at first sight!

I think that streak coming down from the heavens is a message telling us that we need to start a school right there!  Or, it could just be a reflection in the glass of the train window. I am going to think about that one.

I think that streak coming down from the heavens is a message telling us that we need to start a school right there! Or, it could just be a reflection in the glass of the train window. I am going to have to think about that one.

What is there not to love about a country that serves you this as you sit and wait for the bus to take you from the airport into the city?

Yes, that is thick, creamy hot chocolate!

Yes, that is thick, creamy hot chocolate! You eat it with a spoon!!!!

I am telling you, if you haven’t been there, you have to put it on your bucket list!!

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As we traveled from the airport to the capital city, we drove through darling village after village.

Yes, the villages all look like this and they all have a church as a center point.

Yes, the villages all look like this and they all have a church as a center point.

When we made it to the city of Ljubljana (loo-bli-ana – you’re welcome), it was dinner time.  As we got off the bus, we turned and saw it.

Can you see it down there?

Can you see it down there?

Yep, those golden arches!!! Now, don’t judge.  We hadn’t had an American hamburger in sometime and for the hungry and weary, those arches look a lot like home. Besides in Slovenia, McDonalds serves:

They had hamburgers with grilled onion - like In-n-Out!

hamburgers with grilled onion and a yummy sauce more like In-n-Out than McDonalds!

And they have fried - yes I said FRIED!! - pies in your choice of apple (like that of your youth) or blueberry vanilla cream!!

And they have fried – yes I said FRIED!! – pies in your choice of apple (like that of your youth) or blueberry vanilla cream!!  They will even serve it with ice cream and hot fudge if you ask nicely (and pay a bit more :] )

and 3 kinds of donuts for breakfast!!!!

Oh, and 3 kinds of donuts for breakfast!!!!

OK – now do you understand why we were happy to see that place.

But that was not the highlight of Slovenia.  No the highlights were:

Good Shopping,

Streets like this were just filled with shops full of cuteness.

Streets like this were just filled with shops full of cuteness.

Easter Chocolates

Easter Chocolates

I am not kidding even the grocery stores were charming!

I am not kidding even the grocery stores were charming!

Delightful food

Breakfast at the B&B

Breakfast at the B&B

Easter Sunday morning our B&B had this to great us - just like home :]

Easter Sunday morning our B&B had this to greet us – just like home :]

Pork in red wine sauce with cheese filled noodles - oh yeah!

Pork in red wine sauce with cheese filled noodles at a sweet little cafe – oh yeah!

Chocolate Mousse with berry sauce for afternoon tea.

Chocolate Mousse with berry sauce for afternoon tea.

The best barley soup ever!  Big chunks of ham, beans, carrots and of course a bit of barley.  So good, we had it twice :]

The best barley soup ever! Big chunks of ham, beans, carrots and of course a bit of barley. So good, we had it twice :]

Oh and I have to mention we found this place!!!!!

Do you see what it says on that big red wall?

Do you see what it says on that big red wall? Uhmmmm – Cantina Mexicana!

Yep - chips and guacamole

Yep, as in chips and guacamole

and tacos with CORN tortilla that had been fried (instead of formed, like taco bell). Oh my!!

and tacos with CORN tortilla that had been fried (instead of formed, like taco bell). Oh my – my love for Slovenia went up 100% with this place.

Complete with fresh produce,

And if all that wasn’t enough, you should have seen the farmer’s market we discovered! Complete with fresh produce,

herbs,

herbs

and even a food hall

and even a food hall full of meat, cheese, and

other goodness!

other goodness!

Walks, not only along the water,

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but also,

We walked around the fortress.

up to the fortress..

OK,  actually we didn't walk up to the fortress, we took the funicular,

OK, actually we didn’t walk up to the fortress, we took the funicular,

but we did walk up these steps all the way to the tippy top.

but we did walk up these steps all the way to the tippy top.

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we walked through a beautiful park,

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past some lovely churches

and even into a few

and even into a few

We walked up the hill

We walked up the hill

to explore a small town

to explore a small town while waiting for a train to arrive and whisk us away

We wandered through the countryside

We wandered through the countryside

to have a picnic.

to have a picnic.

We even did our own version of a 5k walk around Lake Bled to view the church on the island.

We even did our own version of a 5k walk around Lake Bled to view the church on the island.

Which is where we learned that if you feed the beautiful swan

Which is where we learned that if you feed the beautiful swan

these

these

then this happens.  Swans are pretty tall when they get up out of the water (but not as mean as geese!)

then this happens. Swans are pretty tall when they get up out of the water (but not as mean as geese!)

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After all that walking we finally found the finish line.

this and

Where they served steak salad, pesto tagliatelle and

this to the weary wanderers.  Hey, we deserved it - it only took us about 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish that 5k!!!

cream cake  to the weary wanderers. Hey, we deserved it – it only took us about 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish that 5k!!!

And we found just the right places to just sit and rest

Along the lake (why do you think it took us 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish our 5k?)

Along the lake (why do you think it took us 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish our 5k?)

and along the street to watch the locals.

and along the street to watch the locals.

This guy made the most amazing things out of balloons.

Balloon art at its finest.

This man played beautiful music non-stop on that trumpet, you would think his lips would get tired!

This man played beautiful music non-stop on that trumpet, all day, every day. You would think his lips would get tired!

We rested in some charming B&Bs

We rested in some charming B&Bs

that had views like this from our back balcony!

but one of the most restful places was to sit on the balcony and just enjoy at the view.

Did I mention that I am in love? Yes, we chose the perfect place to get off the merry-go-round and rest during spring break.  I can’t wait until we go back! Want to come along?

 

 

Puzzling It Out

Thinking about life and things in Prishtina, Kosova

It has been awhile since I’ve written, so what have we been up to?  Well, for one thing, we have been trying to get this mess

DSC09795to look like this.

DSC09796It has kept us busy many an evening so far.  You know how it goes, you think you have all the pieces and then you put them together and you end up with. . .

DSC09799No matter how hard you try and how many times (at least 5 or 6) you look through the box of extra pieces one by one you can not find that missing piece.  Oh, you think you have found it! In fact you are positive that you have found it.

DSC09800Then you try to put it in andDSC09801It just doesn’t fit. Ughhhh. You stew about it for a couple of days, you look through the box 3 or 4 more times, you complain to you husband – a lot.  And then one day you are sitting there taking pictures (not that I have done all of this or anything :] ) and you realize that the piece below that space doesn’t fit right. So you take it out and realize that

DSC09802those two pieces look a lot alike. Hmmm.  Switch them around and . . .

DSC09804perfect fit. Sigh.  All that worrying and the pieces were just a bit switched around. Now that is something to think about, isn’t it.

But, I must say, then there are days that seem like this.

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Light on a Hill

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Thank you Google images for the picture.

Enjoying my four day Independence Day weekend in Prishtina, Kosova

Yep, 4 whole days off for the 17th of February also known as Kosova Independence Day.  I am enjoying the time off to rest and relax.  There has been a lot going on around these parts lately and a good long weekend is just what we needed.  Yesterday I helped a friend buy a mattress which I am sure sounds like a short, easy thing to do.  Nothing around these parts is short or easy, especially when you are still struggling with language and toddling around in a taxi – think about that.  It turns out that it takes about 5 hours to buy a mattress and get it delivered from start to finish.  I love this place.  Today we went to church and had a good Sunday afternoon nap.  Good accomplishment for the day. Tomorrow I will work on catching up at school and then Tuesday we will try to catch some of the Independence Day celebration. Somewhere in there I am trying to get caught up on the laundry that has been piling up.   And so our days go.  Busily getting on with life, resting up when we can.

One thing that kept me busy last weekend was that I had another birthday.  Yep, according to my calculations last year, I turned 35 on February 7. What a fun weekend, on Friday night, my friends from school got together to throw a surprise party.

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It involved lots of good food – including a 7 layer bean dip which meant making every layer from scratch, like I said, nothing here is short or easy. And of course there was cake – again made from scratch (an evening long production).  It was all so yummy and fun!  Thanks friends!!

Just ignore those candles, I guess they forgot I was turning 35 :]

Just ignore those candles, I guess they forgot I was turning 35 :]

Then it was off to Macedonia to celebrate with my sweet hubby.  Again there was cake; compliments of the hotel.

DSC09504The festivities were topped off by a flat tire.DSC09508and lots of nice people spending their entire Sunday afternoon helping us.

DSC09511Yes, nothing is short or easy here, but people are always right there ready to lend a hand.  Whether it is to pantomime their way through buying a mattress, making a girl a birthday cake (or two) or spending the afternoon fixing a tire, we can always can count on nice people to help us.

But, some of you might have seen in the news that other things have been happening around here.  More sobering or serious things.  Yes, a couple of weeks back, this happened.

thank you again, Google images for the picture.

thank you again, Google images for the picture. Rest assured, I was nowhere near when this picture was taken.

The Kosovar’s scheduled a protest about some things going on in the government that they weren’t happy about (for more about that go here) and the protests turned sour. The protesters started throwing rocks at the glass Government building, the police started lobbing tear gas and in the end some people were hurt.  It wasn’t a pretty sight and not the finest hour for the country.  These days many, many people are getting on busses and leaving the country.  The best estimate is that in the last two months, over 120,000 (yes, one hundred twenty thousand – two thousand a day!) have headed off to live with relatives in other countries and to find work.

But, up on a hill, a little way out of town is a light.  A light in the darkness that is becoming more and more a stable place for the children of Kosova. That place is Prishtina High School.  What were we doing during all of this craziness?  We were having school and loving our kids.  Yes, there was discussion, should we close up until the protests are over?  We decided what these kids need is love and consistency. While the community raged, we went on as usual. We expected that the kids would come to school upset, ready to protest, ready to disrupt class, but you know what?  They didn’t.  Our little light on the hill was a sanctuary, a place of peace when it was needed.  We went about our days as usual. Teaching science,

DSC09462math,

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history,

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and art

DSC09564While some kids worked on projects,

DSC09484DSC09521other kids just felt free to have some fun.

DSC09477Yes, the days just went on as normal. Teachers planned,

DSC09518consulted with students,

DSC09517tutored during their planning time,

DSC09534and drank lots of cappuccino.

DSC09516We ate lunch together, as usual,

DSC09535in the midst of noise and laughter.

DSC09536But, you know what we talked about as we sat there? Well, we said things like – “Look!  the middle school girls are friends again”, “See those boys, they have such potential,” and “Did you see ______ skipping through the door smiling and calling to friends? Remember how he came to school at the beginning of the year, timid and lonely.  Afraid, because his father had recently passed away.”  Yes, we talk like proud parents looking over our chicks. And I know the kids feel our love for them.

Yes, during those days, school just went on as usual. Lindita still reigned over the reception desk taking care of everything from new parents to sick kids.

DSC09529Skender and the rest of the management team went about the task of running the school,

Skender and the other managers about the business of running the school.

the cleaning ladies kept the place sparkling clean,

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Angela is also a registered nurse and helps out as school nurse when needed.

and Ted?

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Just joking, he is the hardest worker of all!!

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We unstuck stuck zippers

DSC09515and we had club meetings.

DSC09530We even had a snowball fight or two.

DSC09456Yes, we are a place where kids from around the country can come to feel safe, learn and have some fun.

But, that is not the only light shining from atop our hill.  A couple of weeks ago, flyers went out around the community

DSC09586and just like that a new Saturday sports program was started on our campus.  The first Saturday was a try-out day, so that teams could be set up fair and square.

OK - I know you can do this!

OK – Go to the first line and then just head on through each activity, got it?

DSC09497 DSC09498 DSC09501About 20 kids were expected and about 80 showed up!  So, everyone available – even a couple of our middle schoolers – were pressed into service. Quite a day.  Then yesterday, the locker room was set,

DSC09584the balls were ready,

DSC09580the kids arrived with their shoes in their “gym bag” (over 100 showed up on day 2!),

DSC09587and the teams were ready to play

DSC09578indoor soccer at its finest!

DSC09582Yes, here the school sits.  Atop the hill, a place of peace and quiet and fun.  A sanctuary from the hard times in this small new country.  A place where all who look can see a light shining in the darkness. Happy 7th birthday Kosova, may you rest and see the light.

 

So, some of you have been asking how you can help us shine our light.  Recently we have established a new scholarship fund. This fund will enable kids from the villages to come to our school.  Right now about half of the students at our school are on a full or partial scholarship.  We have quite a list of students who would like to attend, but are unable to because of finances.  If you would like to contribute towards this fund, please make your contribution to “American Schools International” and mail it to:

Mary Weiss
American Schools International
8840 Carrousel Park Circle, Unit 32
Cincinnati, Ohio 45251

Please mark your check “Village Scholarship Fund”.  All contributions are tax deductible.

We truly thank you for any help you can give.  We also truly covet your prayers.  Thank you for all of the ways that you all support us.  Just reading this blog and leaving an encouraging word in the comments is such a blessing.

A Whoville Christmas and a Frozen New Year

Thawing out in Prishtina, Kosova

I’ve spent some time lately thinking about Chirstmases past.  I have spent lots of time looking at pictures on Facebook and loving it. Seeing all those happy faces surrounded by family, food and glitz. All the fun, all the joy of the season.  Our Christmas was a bit different this year.  After bringing in the season spending a lovely afternoon with friends, things calmed down, a lot.

I had decorated a bit and baked some, but I then I realized I was done.  That was it.  You see it is VERY expensive to mail presents to or from this country, so we decided to trim our list to the bare essentials (our kids and granddaughter) and use Amazon.  We also decided that we had bought ourselves lots of goodies while we were in the states, so we would forgo presents to each other.

Then I noticed that the lights that went up on Mother Teresa Blvd. last year in November, weren’t lit this year.  And there were fewer decorations around town.  It was just kind of bare.  It seems the mayor didn’t want the New Year’s lights up until after the 25th for some reason.

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Even the local churches decided that it was a better idea to have smaller services at each church rather than one big gathering on Christmas Eve as they did last year.

How does one celebrate when the glitz and presents and all the trappings are gone.  Then one day, it hit me.  It was like Whoville (don’t you love Dr. Seuss).  We didn’t need all the falderal to have Christmas.

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Yes, maybe Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more. So we celebrated Christmas Eve with a couple of friends by having dinner (they brought us thoughtful presents, by the way) and going to church together.

Then, by choice, Ted and I spent Christmas day, just the two of us.  We went to the lovely Swiss Diamond for breakfast.  Afterwards we took a walk down Mother Teresa Blvd.  We walked and talked to each other. Every once in awhile we would stop and talk to Our Father.  It was, perhaps the loveliest Christmas ever. Quiet, restful, full of the meaning of the season.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all the fanfare of Christmas.  I can’t wait to have a Christmas full of family and loud noisy fun back in the states someday, but our little Whoville Christmas was just perfect this year.

When New Year’s came around it reminded me of another children’s tale, Frozen.  I haven’t seen the movie, but in this case, the title says it all.  It began the day after Christmas.  We woke to a gorgeous blanket of snow.  We decided that the best thing for these California kids to do was to light a big fire in the fireplace and hibernate.  It was beautiful looking at the large snowflakes drifting down outside our window as we watched Netflix and drank tea, like living in a snow globe.  We couldn’t even work because the heat was off at the school and the building was just too cold – delightful.

On the 30th we headed of on an adventure with two of our favorite travelers, Skender and Jackie.  Skender had borrowed his brother’s car and over the rivers and through the mountains to Montenegro we went.

First stop, bathroom break at a gas station in Albania. Where it was more than a bit windy!!

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We were going to have a cup of tea to warm up at the restaurant (yes, almost all gas stations have a restaurant attached), but it was all set up for a wedding.

Yes, a wedding at the local gas station.

Yes, a wedding at the local gas station.

Then we passed these guys.

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Why were they huddled out there in the blowing wind?

To sell New Year's turkeys of course.  Yes, fresh turkey for dinner, feathers and all.  We just passed on by.

a To sell New Year’s turkeys of course. Yes, fresh turkey for dinner, feathers and all. We just passed on by.

Then on we went down the curvy, one lane road past the border into Montenegro and what should we meet running full speed down the middle of the road, coming right at us?

a herd of sheep!

a herd of sheep!

Yes, running, full speed!

Yes, running, full speed! Guess they wanted out of the wind too.

Such a lovely drive, but even better, was the lovely town of Kotor that met us when we arrived.  Kotor is a town straight out of the middle ages, complete with a full wall and doors into the old city.

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Inside the wall, entering the old town

Inside the wall, entering the old town

We stayed in a darling, modestly priced hotel

That is our room, second floor on the left.

That is our room, second floor on the left.

with engaging views of the old city.

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On New Year’s Eve Ted and I spent the day wandering the streets, just enjoying the view. One of the best things about going to Kotor at this time of the year is that most tourists want to come when it is warm and sunny, not when it is cold and the wind is blowing you off of your feet.  Why is that good?  Well, we had the whole hotel and practically the whole town to ourselves to explore.  Fun!

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We did lots of window shopping because most shops were closed for the New Year.  Ted thinks that is a great way to save money :]

We did lots of window shopping because most shops were closed for the New Year. Ted thinks that is a great way to save money :]

There were lots of churches to explore

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The orange light at the base of the altar is a beautiful nativity.

There was even a town well,

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a draw bridge,

The draw bridge no longer works, but see those metal balls hanging there?  Those are the weights from when it did work.

The draw bridge no longer works, but see those metal balls hanging there? Those are the weights from when it did work.

and a moat

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The gate on the right is the outside of the draw bridge.

As we explored outside the gates, we found a market

Not many vendors on this windy, colder than normal day.

Not many vendors on this windy, colder than normal day.

and some ruins that we could walk all over, no one seemed to care about them.

DSC09377Why weren’t archeologists all over this digging, we wondered.  Then as we explored, we figured it out. It is a grave yard.

Yes, those roman numerals say 1600

Yes, those roman numerals say 1561!

Our wanderings then took us around the bay a bit to enjoy the view.

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Beautiful day, but did I mention that it was so cold and windy that we had to hold onto each other for support!

We even had a little pork for lunch!

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Well, really it looked more like this :]

Well, really it looked more like this :] Yum!

And what were Jackie and Skender doing while we wandered the town?  Climbing straight up the mountain side to the fort at the tippy top.

They told us the view was well worth it.  We will have to try it sometime when it is A) not so cold and windy and B) we feel a lot younger.

They told us the view was well worth it. We will have to try it sometime when it is A) not so cold and gusty and B) we feel a lot younger.

That night to prove once again that Skender and Jackie are young, they stayed up until midnight, while the old fogies went to bed.  Turns out that since most of the people in town decided that it was a good idea to stay inside for the blustery New Year, so there wasn’t much of a celebration at midnight.  But, Skender and Jackie did see a couple fireworks over the bay while we snoozed away.

New Year’s Day we decided we should all go exploring the countryside. We had heard that out in the bay a short distance from town are two islands.  One is a natural island and has had a monastery on it since the 1100’s.  The other island is a man made island.  The story goes, back in the  1300’s, some fishermen found a painting of a Madonna and Child on a rock out in the bay.  They saw that as a sign to build.  After 200 years, a lot of rocks and some sunken pirate ships, the town had an island and a church to house the painting.

Thank you google images for this picture.  I don't know why, with all of the pictures I took, I did not get a good picture of the little island church.

Thank you Google images for this picture. I don’t know why, with all of the pictures I took, I did not get a good picture of the little island church. And yes, it was this beautiful!

This seemed like something we just had to see, so off we went to the town of Perast.

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We hoped on a ferryDSC09398and within a few minutes we were there

DSC09402Once again we enjoyed the luxury of winter travel.  We were the only people on the ferry and when we got into the church we got our own private tour from a sweet little lady with lots of great stories to tell.

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See the painting above the altar? That is the painting that started this whole thing.

When there is a wedding in the church, the bride leaves her bouquet to ensure a long and happy marriage.

When there is a wedding in the church, the bride leaves her bouquet to ensure a long and happy marriage.

After the tour, we took a walk around the town

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Palm trees always remind me of home.

Palm trees always remind me of home.

I told Ted we should buy this and fix it up into a bed and breakfast, just like people do on House Hunters International.

I told Ted we should buy this and fix it up into a bed and breakfast, just like people do on House Hunters International.

Then he looked inside and said, "Yeah, just like on House Hunters International."  I think that means he doesn't think it is a good idea.

Then he looked inside and said, “Yeah, just like on House Hunters International.” I think that means he doesn’t think it is a good idea.

After our walk about the town, we took a drive into the mountains to enjoy the cute little villages in the snow. Then it was back along the bay for dinner and to the hotel in time for me to cuddle up with the i-pad and watch the Rose Parade with Bob and Stephanie! Those of you who know me well, know that Bob and Stephanie are critical to beginning my New Year well.

The next day dawned bright, relatively warm, and without a breeze, so of course it was time to head home.

But, all of that wonderfulness, as cold and windy as Montenegro was, that was not the most frozen part of our New Year, no that happened upon our return.

Editor’s Note: While I was writing this blog, my daughter-in-law, sweet Andrea, reported on her Facebook page that she was out pumping her own gas in the -30° weather. Yes, that is MINUS 30° FAHRENHEIT. So, I do apologize to Matthew and Andrea Erskin and all the good people of Fairbanks, Alaska, but that is not going to keep me from whining for the next little bit.

When we left for our time away, we, like all good energy conscience people who have never lived in a snowy place before, turned off all of our heaters.  Well, except for the one in the kitchen, which we turned down low because we were plant sitting for a friend and didn’t want to kill her orchids.

Anyway, as we made our way home, a man at a gas station was all too happy to tell us that the coldest place in the Balkans over the new year was Prishtina!  Hooray!  It got down to about 0°F. So, when we walked into our little brick, uninsulated home, it was freezing!! Well, except for the kitchen which was barely bearable. We started up the heaters and got some fires going, but all of that didn’t do much for our frozen chunk of a bed.  Ted slept in his clothes, I slept in my warmest jammies and socks and my cuddly robe and we piled on extra blankets and still we shivered through the night.

The next morning we woke up to find that the water was just a trickle, until it stopped all together.  That meant frozen pipes.  So, we consulted the weather channel to find out how long this would last – about a week or more – and then we consulted some people who have actually lived through this weather before in these ice box houses.  We were told to leave a tap open, get the house warmed up and then the water should flow again.

That night at dinner time Ted decided we should go out to eat because he could tell, while I am a trooper, making dinner in a walk-in freezer with no water was not an option. So, we bundled up and went on down to warmth and good food at our local hangout, Picnic.

When we got home, Ted said, “Listen, water.”  Oh no, not the kind of water coming from a tap, no the kind of water spraying everywhere from the WALL!!!!  Luckily it had just started and it was hot water (as opposed to icy cold water spraying all over us). We found the location – under the stairs where it is almost impossible to get to, of course – and got a bucket.

Yes, that is water pouring directly from a pipe in the wall. And yes, the only light nearby was a flashlight.

Yes, that is water pouring directly from a pipe in the wall. And yes, the only light nearby was a flashlight.

We thought, since it was hot water, once the hot water heater on the other side of that wall was empty, the water would stop. No, once the hot water stopped, the cold water started.  So, Ted searched around and found the main shut off valve and turned all the water to the whole house off.  Did I mention that this was a Saturday night and we would have to wait until Monday to get our maintenance man to help us?  That is about the time we decided that we should crawl into our newly warmed bed and get some sleep.

Then on Sunday we found out why there are chimney sweeps in this world.  We were finally getting it a bit warmer in the house with the help of a fire in the fireplace when the wind kicked up outside.  It turns out that if your chimney in full of creosote, it doesn’t draw well and so when a gust of wind comes by, it shoots the smoke and ash back down the chimney and into your living room.  We had to douse the fire and get out of the smoky room.  So, Ted added chimney sweep to our list of Monday maintenance and that is when I decided that a Sunday afternoon nap was in order – at least I was getting some rest.

On Monday, Luli took care of us, got the water up and running and got a chimney sweep to come to the house. We finally got the house to a reasonable temperature and we found out that in this house all of the water pipes end in a panel behind the wall in the bathroom, so if the bathroom is warm, the water will run.  We got a new heater and now the warmest room in the house is the bathroom!  I have been thinking of filling the bathtub with cushions, turning it  into a giant  couch and spending my evenings in there.

So, things are looking up this frozen new year. We are back to work and the school is slowly thawing out.  The house is warming up, the fire is roaring without a smoke filled room, and the water is running. We are doing well.

Spring and warmer weather are just around the frozen corner. We try to keep in mind what that perky little girl Annie sang,

The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
there’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow ’til there’s none

When I’m stuck with a day that’s grey and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say, oh

The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on
’til tomorrow, come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow
You’re always a day away!

Yes, tomorrow it is predicted to be sunny and warmer.  Next week? More snow, but this time I think we are ready.

Tradition!

Enjoying the first day of Christmas Break, in Prishtina, Kosova

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Our tiny tree sits on our buffet – all lit up to celebrate the season.

Tradition! Tradition! Don’t you just love traditions, especially at this time of the year?  Christmas shopping with my sis, the tree with the perfect ornaments, coffee cake and quiche are a must for Christmas morning (right kids?), and then there is baking day.  Every year Katie and I would put aside a day just to make goodies for Christmas.  What a day it would be, flour and icing every where – treats galore. We always had so much fun.

Well, with our move out of the country, a few things had to change.  My sis and I are thousands of miles apart, our tree has shrunk to an itty-bitty size, Christmas breakfast is just Ted and I while Katie is in Boston, so baking day is a bit different.

But, as things change, new traditions are born.  This year a new tradition began back about the end of November, the day before Thanksgiving.  You see, Maureen and I had both promised to bring more than a few things to Ruth’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.  We talked it out and decided it would be much more fun to cook, and stir, and bake together, so off to my kitchen we went.

I know this is fuzzy, but here we are in the midst of the fun!

Here we are in the midst of the fun! I hear you look younger when the picture is fuzzy – what do you think :]

By the end of the day we had treats galore!

truffles and sweet potatoes, and stuffing, and fruit salad, and cheesecake, and pies - oh my!

truffles and sweet potatoes, and stuffing, and eggs, and fruit salad, and cheesecake, and pies – oh my!

Oh yes, and I will admit it,  this

Yes, a hazard of all the baking :]

Yes, a hazard of all the baking :]

We even invented a new desert

When you make this filling and pour it into the pie shell and it doesn't quite fill that deep dish and it is not like you are in a country where you can go out and buy some more pumpkin in a can, what so you do?  Well, you bake that pie anyway and the crust collapses on the top of the filling and you end up with "stuffed crust pumpkin pie"! Not very pretty, but delicious.  Pumpkin on every tiny bit of crust.  we are going to try it again next year - tradition!

When you mix up the filling and pour it into the pie shell and it doesn’t quite fill that deep dish and it is not like you are in a country where you can go out to buy some more pumpkin in a can, what do you do? Well, you bake that pie anyway and the crust collapses on the top of the filling and you end up with “stuffed crust pumpkin pie”! Not very pretty, but delicious. Pumpkin on every tiny bit of crust. we are going to try it again next year – tradition!

We had tons of fun! Baking with friends is the best! So, the next day as friends gathered

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and we were partaking of the bounty of food brought from kitchens around Kosova,

DSC09064we had an idea. Why not have friends in for a Christmas baking day! Plans began and grew for a day of fun and fellowship. As the day grew near, we sent out invitations for “a day of baking, eating, talking, and enjoying each other” to our friends and told them to invite their friends.  We made sure we had enough supplies

butter and cream cheese

butter and cream cheese,

a bowl full of powdered sugar,

a bowl full of powdered sugar,

and of course, multiple kinds of chocolate!

and of course, multiple kinds of chocolate, nuts and other goodies!

We rolled out and

DSC09151baked some cookies

DSC09152We whipped up some icing;

DSC09150then we were set for a day of fun!

The ladies arrived amidst chattery “Mirë mëngjes”, “Good morning”, and kisses on both cheeks.  We set up places in the living room for traditional American Christmas fun.

Decorating cookies

Decorating cookies

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and dipping chocolates

and dipping pretzels into chocolate

constructing "gingerbread" houses (out of cookies)

constructing “gingerbread” houses (out of cookies)

and what better use of the fireplace, than

roasting marshmallows

roasting marshmallows

to make

SMORES!  Yum!

SMORES! Yum!

Meanwhile in the kitchen we were

Making Natchez cookies (sorry, no picture of the finished product, they went that fast - hit cookie of the day!)

Making Natchez cookies (sorry, no picture of the finished product, they went that fast – hit cookie of the day!)

and some other goodies

peanut butter fudge, chocolate fudge, and peppermint bark.

peanut butter fudge, chocolate fudge, and peppermint bark.

And of course we had time to just sit and enjoy each other

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Ruth was a great translator, telling funny stories and passing stories on to us.

Ruth was a great translator, telling funny stories and passing stories on to us.

About 20 ladies joined in on the fun.  Many of them had never done any of this before, but were delighted to be able to partake in American traditions in an American home.

And what were the men doing while all this was going on you ask?  Well, the school was having a basketball tournament in our gym.

DSC09186and of course they needed

coaches,

coaches,

and spectators,

and spectators,

and we even gave Miranda a break from rolling out cookies to go over and ref a bit.

and we even gave Miranda a break from rolling out cookies to go over and ref a bit.

All in all a delightful day.

full of yumminess,

full of yumminess,

holiday cheer,

holiday cheer,

and delightful smiles!

and delightful smiles!

We sent all the ladies home with a big hug, kisses on both cheeks, and a plate (or two) full of Christmas cookie cheer. Can’t wait to do it all again next year. Tradition!

OK – I couldn’t stand it.  I told you that the biggest hit of the party were the Natchez Cookies, but I didn’t have a picture to show you.  So, this afternoon, in all my Christmas break-stay at home glory, I baked some up just for you.  Well, for me too.  I only made a half a recipe because 1) I didn’t want a whole recipe sitting around the house for me to eat (and I would) and 2) I didn’t have enough cookies, and as I already said, just running to the store is not an easy thing around here (probably the true reason :]).  Anyway, here is the recipe, complete with pictures!

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Natchez Cookies

(My favorite cookie because it tastes amazing and takes about 15 minutes to make about 5 dozen cookies.  I think it should be named the magically delicious cookie)

About 15 Graham Crackers (or for my friends in Kosova, Petit Biscuits)
1 cup Dark Brown Sugar (Muscovado in Kosova)
1 cup Butter (1 whole package in Kosova)
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Usually I use walnuts, sometimes pecans, but this time I used a mixture of almonds and hazelnuts because that is what I had on hand.

Usually I use walnuts, sometimes pecans, but this time I used a mixture of almonds and hazelnuts because that is what I had on hand

About 1 1/3 cup chopped Nuts
About 1 1/2 cups Chocolate Chips (or chopped up baking chocolate in Kosovo)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease (or spray) an 11×17 cookie sheet that has sides liberally with butter.

 

 

 

 

See the little pieces on the edge, I cut those to fit the pan.  It is important that all of the pan is covered .

See the little pieces on the edge, I cut those to fit the pan. It is important that all of the pan is covered .

 

Cover the entire sheet with graham crackers – do don’t leave any space uncovered, cut some of the graham crackers, if you must.

 

 

 

 

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In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the brown sugar. Stir over medium heat, until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla (stand back, it will start bubbling quickly).  Bring to a full boil and boil for 1 minute.

 

Use a wooden spoon to smooth the caramel over every bit of the graham crackers

Use a wooden spoon to smooth the caramel over every bit of the graham crackers

 

 

Pour the caramel over the graham crackers and then sprinkle with nuts.

 

 

 

 

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Put in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, until the caramel is bubbly and dark brown.

 

 

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Put the whole pan on a cooling rack, sprinkle with chocolate, and cool for 4 minute – yes I set the timer!  If it doesn’t cool long enough, all the goodies fall off as you take it out of the pan – too long and it sticks like you wouldn’t believe!

 

 

DSC09239After 4 minutes, carefully, take the cookies out of the pan (I use what you might call a wide spatula, but the home ec teacher in me can only call it a pancake turner).  I try to take them out in big pieces – 2 crackers at a time, if possible. Do not spread the chocolate.  It looks and tastes best in big pieces.

Let the cookies cool until the chocolate is cool and hard again.  Break into small pieces and you are ready to serve to friends or eat the whole thing by yourself.

Great is His Faithfulness

All bundled up in blankets and my cozy Boston jammies feeling blessed in Prishtina Kovova DSC08986

I woke up this morning humming a tune.  “Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God my father, morning by morning new mercies I see.”  Oh, and we do see His mercies every morning here.  “All I have needed they hand hath provided.” This school is a testament to His provision. “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” Wow! What a great way to wake up – knowing and feeling His provision and faithfulness.

Back in November we were especially feeling grateful. The school has benefited so much from the faithfulness and generosity of so many people. The management team of the school decided that it was our turn to go to an international conference to promote the school and look for teachers.

The conference is held each year in a different location in the US to showcase work being done throughout the world.   It is a great place to network and let people know about our school in Prishtina. The conference lasts 4 days with main speakers about twice a day and classes on specific subjects throughout the rest of the day.  Also there is a huge hall full of hundreds of booths to introduce people to workers from around the world. Thousands of people attend each year.

One of the main conferences.  The speaker is way up there by the green lights - you can see this is a well attended event.

One of the main conferences. The speaker is way up there by the green lights – you can see this is a well attended event.

Next year the conference is in Richmond, Virginia – you should plan on going, it is very inspiring to see what is happening out there away from our comfy homes.  It might motivate you to come to a place, like say Prishtina High School, and help our kids.

On November 7, our tickets were booked, we said our good-byes, telling everyone that the school would be fine while we were gone, and off we went.

Our first stop was Boston, but then it was off to the conference in Columbus.Our friend Pat met us at the airport with a smile, a plan for lunch (Max and Erma’s we highly recommend it!) , and a tour of downtown to get us situated before we headed off to the hotel.

The next morning it was the to get our booth all set up and ready to greet people passing by.  We took a tour of other booths to see what was going on.

We found booths after our own hearts. Kosovars consider themselves Albanian.

We found booths after our own hearts. Kosovars consider themselves Albanian.

Booths set up to promote camps

Booths set up to promote camps (uhmm- no that is not a real fire),

And work on reservations

And work on reservations

More camps

More camps

Africa, I believe

Africa, I believe

Well, you get the picture.  Our little booth seemed kind of modest, compared to some, but it made a great home for a few days. DSC08913

I think next year we need to do something involving popcorn.  This was a very popular booth!

I think next year we need to do something involving popcorn. This was a very popular booth!

We made some great contacts over the 4 days.  We found a few people who might be interested in coming, and  many teachers who had friends they would pass our information on to. We talked to 3 universities who would like to work with us by helping our teachers further their education (on-line) and by encouraging their students to think about the possibility of working overseas for a bit after graduation.  All in all, it was a great few days of networking.

You can help also!  We are still looking for teachers in mathematics, English, science and social science for next year. We have wonderful teachers at the school who first learned about us at the international conference. If you know of young people, graduating from college and looking for an adventure, tell them about us.  If you know of teachers looking for a change in location.  We have a great place.

Another side benefit of being there was that we got to see some friends and family.

My brother Brad attends each year to represent CDF. The organization he works for.

My brother Brad attends each year to represent CDF. The organization he works for.

One day Brad came to get me to bring me to meet someone he said I hadn't seen in 45 years.  Sure enough - there was Randy Richardson, the son of the man who pastored our church when I was just a girl.

One day Brad came to get me to bring me to meet someone he said I hadn’t seen in 45 years. Sure enough – there was Randy Richardson, the son of the man who pastored our church when I was just a girl.

We even got to meet friends from Facebook in person for the first time.

We even got to meet friends from Facebook in person for the first time.

As we walked around in our free time, we got to talk to people from Team Expansion and Master Provisions, we met board members for the first time and met the couple responsible for organizing shipment of containers full of equipment to our campus. People whose generosity and purpose we feel every day.  For once, we got to say thank you – in person.  Truly morning by morning new mercies we were seeing.

One morning we had a fun surprise.  A man stepped into our little booth.  I said,”Can I help you?” and he just stood there.  It took me a few seconds before I realized it was my cousin, Derek, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.  You know, the father of Gretchen, who painted that amazing picture.  He thought it was hilarious that I didn’t recognize him right away, but it is a matter of context I tell you :]  We had a great time catching up a bit and then I asked about Gretchen and that picture.  Well guess what.  He told me that, Sophorn, the young lady in the picture, was there at the conference!

Derek and the girl in Gretchen's painting.  How amazing is that!

Derek and Sophorn, the girl in Gretchen’s painting (How amazing is that!) I just love her smile.

She was one of three girls featured in a documentary made by Rapha House called “Finding Home” which was being shown at the conference.  I must say that Rapha House sells beautiful things made by the girls whose lives they literally save, if you would like to find some beautiful, meaningful Christmas gifts, look here.

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The girl in the middle, with the big smile, is Sophorn.

Another great thing at the conference happened Saturday afternoon.  At our end of the building there was some very loud hammering going on. DSC08927 It turns out that these teenagers were being taught how to build a wall.  Each group of kids were working on a wall and there were many groups. DSC08925 At the end of the day the walls were put on a truck to be shipped off to a Children’s Home in Oklahoma where they will be put together to make a new home for orphaned children.

This organization builds homes, not just for orphanages, but for many other needs.  Pretty cool.  The group doing this will bring wood to any group who wants to participate and let whole communities in on the fun.  I am sorry to say that I have lost the name of the organization, but if you would like to do this, contact me and I will find the information for you.

Then at the other end of the building whole families were filling meal bags.

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Luckily I got a picture of this one. Ides is an organization dedicated to disaster relief.

They filled the bags,

They filled the bags with multiple grains, spices, and soy product.  One teenage girl I talked to said that they had eaten this for breakfast.  She said it was actually pretty good, it was the consistency of oatmeal, but tasted a bit like chicken soup.

and sealed them up.  These [articular bag were being loaded into boxes to send off to Haiti.

Then sealed them up. These particular bag were being loaded into boxes to send off to Haiti.

Again, IDES will set this up in your community, if you’re interested, you can contact them directly.

As you can see, the conference showed us truly, “All we have needed, the Lord’s hand hath provided.” It was so very touching and inspiring to see all that is going on in our own backyards and around the world.

There were some other highlights that were just side benefits of being in Columbus.  Lunch at North Market for instance. DSC08968 North market is a building full of deliciousness!  There are 35 vendors who sell all things wonderful and food related – my kind of place.

Dishes and gadgets

Dishes and gadgets

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

Beautiful flowers (OK so you don't eat those, but you do make centerpieces with them :} )

Beautiful flowers (OK so you don’t eat those, but you do make centerpieces with them :] )

And what’s for lunch?

Choices,

Choices,

Choices,

Choices,

oh yeah, choices!

oh yeah, choices!

Barbecue - Oh yum!!  So good, we had it two different times.  That is saying something since we had a limited amount of meals to get all of our American food cravings in.

Barbecue – Oh yum!! So good, we had it two different times. That is saying something since we had a limited amount of meals to get all of our American food cravings in.

And on Sunday we hitched a ride out to Fairfield Church North Campus, where Derek is now the pastor.  A side note – John and Ruth, our dear friends and fellow workers, were the pastoral couple here when this building was built many years ago. What a fun coincidence. DSC08942

Derek's wife, Brenda and his son, Gregory led the worship.

Derek’s wife, Brenda and their son, Gregory led the worship. I took a couple of pictures of Derek preaching, but they are both fuzzy – I think he moves around too much :]

After church we went out for Mexican food (the love must run in the family!) and had a great time talking and talking about what is happening with each of us.  What could be more fun.

Later in the week, after the conference, we awoke to this one morning. DSC08950Pat and Bob had loaned us a car, but we decided to spend the morning in the hotel.

Working and

Working and

well, you can tell by the picture what I was doing :]  Thanks to Derek for the Sees candy!

well, you can tell by the picture what I was doing :] Thanks to Derek for the Sees candy!

Later we decided to venture out.

Uhmmm - this is something we haven't done too much in our lifetime.

Uhmmm – this is something we haven’t done too much in our lifetime.

What would make us leave the warm hotel to venture out in the cold?

This place of course.

This place of course.

Where we could find

lovely fish pillows and

lovely fish pillows and

this.  Yes, that is a dead dear the mountain lion is getting ready to eat in that tree. Sigh.

this. Yes, that is a dead dear the mountain lion is getting ready to eat in that tree. Sigh.

OK – I have to confess, I got the best socks ever here and Ted picked up a shirt or two. Oh, and that place was not far from this place.

No, not the Cheesecake Factory (although that is a good place) the other place.

No, not the Cheesecake Factory (although that is a good place) the other place.

We walked around the mall oohing and awing – fun day. DSC08965The next day we drove out to the Amish country, where apparently I took exactly 0 pictures (sorry), but we loved the beauty of the drive and even in all that snow we saw some buggies out for a ride and got to visit some cute stores. Yes Columbus was a beautiful and inspiring place.

By the time we got ready to leave this reminder was on display.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

DSC08985   I do need to say that while we were having a lovely time in the states, the school (that we promised would run smoothly without us) did have a couple of hiccups.  While we had two teachers who had medical problems which could be addressed in country, we had two other teachers need to leave the school. Our Algebra and Geometry teacher needed to leave immediately to attend to personal concerns and Kara, our middle school math and science teacher, made the decision to leave in December for health reasons. We will miss them both.

But, as we know, “All we have needed Thy hand hath provided”.  Last summer we made the decision to hire two Social Science teachers when we really only needed one.  It turns out that one of those ladies is able to teach in the high school math position. And I am available to fill the middle school math and science position.  The good news is that before we even knew our needs, He took care of them.

The school did well without us, when needs arose, they stepped in and took care of them. How blessed we all are. Yes, we have “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”  Great is His faithfulness!

Boston & a Birthday

Listening to Christmas music, and getting ready for Tuesday Night Dinner

15745063416_06f39e022c_zI always love Tuesdays because of Tuesday night dinners; staff gathered around the table for nothing more than good food and warm conversation.  The number one rule?  No talking about school.  Now that is hard sometimes, but we mostly hold to it and we have all gotten to know each other and love each other so much more over these dinners.

Tonight is special though because, not only is it the last dinner before we break for Christmas, and the last dinner that our dear friend Kara will be with us for awhile (more on that next post), but dinner involves CORN TORTILLAS and REALLY GREAT SALSA (from a mix sent to us by our friends Steven and Jenny. You MUST order some – really! It is super easy to make and it reminds us of the best restaurant salsa from home – which is saying a lot)!

Most of you know by now how much I love and miss corn tortillas (no, I can not make them – it is quite a process), so I am sure you are wondering where I got my hands on enough corn tortillas that I can even share them with my friends.

It all began back in November.  Shortly after I returned from my trip to Greece (to see the one and only Beth Moore!), Ted and I headed off to the states.  Yes, as in United States of America! Our intended destination was ICOM – a conference to help us in recruiting teachers and networking with colleges among other things – in Columbus, Ohio. Since there is no direct flight from here to there, we just had to land in BOSTON!  Which is not only one my favorite places to visit, but even better, is home to our daughter, Katie and her husband, Nathan.  OK -OK, I know we could have landed somewhere closer to Ohio, like say Chicago, but Boston was a great plan, don’t ya think?

Our first stop was Istanbul where the airport has things like this

DSC08818

and this to keep you busy during the wait for your next flight.

DSC08819 I have fallen in love with Turkish Airlines.  Within 5 minutes of being on board they come around with a candy called Turkish Delight that is, well, delightful and the service just gets better and better from there.  The meals actually begin with a warm towel to wash with and have real silverware – like the chrome metal kind! They give every passenger (not just those in first class) a little tin box filled with comfy socks, toothpaste, lip gloss and an eye mask for sleeping. And they set out snacks and drinks if you need something between the yummy (for airline food) meals.  If you ever get a chance, you should fly with them. OK commercial over (and no, they did not give me a free flight for that commercial, but they should :] )

When we landed in Boston there were big hugs and lots of squeals (from Katie and me, Ted and Nathan wanted me to be clear about that) as we raced through the airport.  Where was our first stop, you ask?  Here, of course!

Well, maybe not, of course.  I am sure many of you could think of other places to stop, but we really wanted a hamburger and fries that tasted American.

Well, maybe not, of course. I am sure many of you could think of other places to stop, but we really wanted a hamburger and fries that tasted American.

Then it was off to Katie and Nathan’s cute place.

DSC08832No, they don’t live in that whole place.  Actually the building is a church. Yes, like an active, meets every Sunday (and some days in between) church. See those windows at the tippy top?  Katie and Nathan rent an attic apartment from the church and those windows are theirs.  The advantage of walking up 4 flights of stairs to get home?  Your view out the window looks like this.

Pretty nice, wouldn't you say.

Pretty nice, wouldn’t you say.

Such a cute little apartment surrounded by such beauty.  Made me want to move in, but don’t worry kids, I will resist.

While in Boston we spent lots of time walking through the neighborhood

DSC08833and shopping

Yea! Costco!!

Yea! Costco!!

We came with extra suitcases, just ready to fill with warm coats, new jammies, and lots of other fun stuff, like corn tortillas (you just knew I would get back to those!).  Actually I must note that Costco in Boston does not carry corn tortillas.  Can you believe it!!  But, Katie took me to her grocery store to get some, so all was well.

We also managed to get in a dinner at this place.

The one on the left, but I did think that it was strategically located - don't you?  Dessert just waiting for us next door.

The one on the left, but I did think that it was strategically located – don’t you? Dessert just waiting for us next door.

Where we had this

Tacos with corn tortillas filled to the brim!

Tacos with corn tortillas filled to the brim!

with such good company.

DSC08836

Doesn’t that just make you want to smile.

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We went to Nathan’s favorite breakfast spot one morning.

DSC08825

Where Ted indulged in a real fluffy American omelete

DSC08827 (1)

and I had hazelnut crusted french toast with wild blueberries.

Ted's omelet may have been heavenly, but I think I won the best breakfast award!

Ted’s omelet may have been heavenly, but I think I won the best breakfast award!

But really the most fun thing was that we were in town for Katie’s birthday. Hooray! Yes, my little girl turned 3 again, because that is how old she was the first time I turned 35.  And as we all know, that is the age I have decided to turn in February.

 

Well, maybe she isn't 3, but she will always be my baby.  Oh and may I take this opportunity to thank our son-in-law, Nathan for the use of some of his pictures on this post.  Those pictures that are fuzzy, underexposed, or look like the photographer doesn't know what they are doing (like this one) are all mine.  The beautiful, carefully thought out pictures are Nathan's. Thanks again Nathan.

Well, maybe she isn’t 3, but she will always be my baby.

She opened some presents.

Janelle, Katie's mother-in-law always sends the prettiest packages.

Janelle, Katie’s mother-in-law always sends the prettiest packages.

A new Dutch oven from her loving husband

A new Dutch oven from her loving husband

And a Turkish "pomegranate" vase from us.  We won't discuss the fact that ours was wrapped in bubble wrap and a bag.

And a Turkish “pomegranate” vase from us. We won’t discuss the fact that ours was wrapped in bubble wrap and a bag from the store where we bought it.

We worked on a birthday cake together.

Yes, a s'more cake.  A recipe that Katie made up and it was as delicious as it looks. I will give you the details below.

Yes, a s’more cake. A recipe that Katie made up and it was as delicious as it looks. I will give you the details below.

Then it was off for a day of seeing Boston sights.  We started off at Dunkin’ Donuts where this is always a good sight.

DSC08849 I got a hot chocolate and a pumpkin donut too because we all need a good 2nd breakfast to start the day.

DSC08851Then we took a walk through the Commons

15148806144_f1b8a02534_zPast the families playing.

I just love that they don't rake up the leaves, but leave them for families to play in.  Have I mentioned before that I love Boston!

I just love that they don’t rake up the leaves, but leave them for families to play in. Have I mentioned before that I love Boston!

Took quite a lot of pictures.

15766908051_586c2f3de9_z

The frame is there for just this purpose. The post is lined up perfectly with our legs, so it looks like it isn’t there (thanks Nathan for the great picture)

Stopped for a rest,

15766909051_b524f72c12_zAnd took in the sights.

A one man band

A one man band,

A Veteren's Day parade (Shhh - her brother's think after all of these years that we get a day off because of Katie's birthday!)

a Veteren’s Day parade (Shhh – her brother’s think, after all of these years, that we get a day off because of Katie’s birthday!),

and these guys.  I don't know - I didn't ask.

and these guys. I don’t know – I didn’t ask.

We took a stroll past Katie and Nathan’s church

Yep, the one they attend, not the one they live in.

The one they attend, not the one they live in.

and picked up sandwiches for a picnic in the park.

DSC08855

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah! (Oh dear brothers who run our cafeteria, can you make me one of these for lunch today?)

We ended our little tour with dairy free ice cream – yum

DSC08887

Katie is allergic to dairy, but Nathan has managed to take good care of her and find just the right places to pick up yummy treats for her.

That night we were off to PF Chang’s to celebrate

DSC08891

Yummy food and good company!

Yummy food and good company!

Then it was back home for that cake!

DSC08901

The next day it was up and off to the conference (new post coming soon!).  Yep, we had a super fun few days with our kids. Can’t wait to do it all over again.

15148818504_36ffdb719d_z

 

 

Thanks to Nathan for letting me steal some of his pictures from Flikr. Any pictures that are beautifully composed are definitely Nathan’s.  The fuzzy, out of focus, off center ones belong solely to me :]

 

 

For all of you wondering about the cake.  Well, here is how we made it (well, Katie made it and I helped)

S’more Cake

Make a graham cracker crust in the bottom of two 9 inch round cake pans (if you need a recipe here is a good one – you do not have to refrigerate the crust for an hour though).

DSC08840

If you are dairy free, like Katie, use dairy free margarine instead of butter. Good news the margarine is cheaper than butter :]

Then mix up a cake mix according to package directions.

Duncan Hines cake mix is dairy free

Duncan Hines cake mix is dairy free

Pour the cake mix into the two pans and bake at 350º for about 30 minutes, until the top springs back when touched.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 5 minutes and then take them out of the pans and cool them crust side down.

Looks good already - doesn't it?

Looks good already – doesn’t it?

While they are cooling, mix up some 7 minute icing (you can find that recipe here)

DSC08892and some yummy chocolate ganache – melt chocolate chips and add just enough cream (or almond milk, if you are dairy free) to make it creamy and smooth.

DSC08894

Then start assembling

DSC08895

Icing on the bottom layer

Ganache . . .

Ganache . . .

and icing on the top layer

and icing on the top layer

There you have it – oh yum!

DSC08903Enjoy!  I know we did :]

 

 

 

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

1461597_10205130201199270_7110076849653214296_n

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

1969369_10205129724107343_2648963036633733806_n

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

63405_10205130203039316_3924895183495452078_n

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.

16121_10205129720987265_4215745290563593454_n

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.

10799778_10205130187598930_1670489259_n

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!

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