Top Memories 2017

2017 was a good year.  This was my only complete calendar year spent in Moldova, and I’m so lucky that I’ve had such an amazing adventure here.  2017 wasn’t without its challenges, but it really was a year full of wonderful memories, fun adventures, and special moments.  Here my top 20 memories and moments from the past year.

Graduation Ball.  In July, the 9th grade students graduated from our school and had a dance and ceremony.  I think this will remain one of my very favorite memories of my time here.  It was one of the first moments when I felt completely a part of my community.  Together with the new graduates, their parents and families, and the other teachers at school, I ate and danced until the early hours of the morning.  It was a special celebration and I was so glad I got to be a part of it.

Walking through the fields.  In August, right before the first day of school, I walked through the fields on the margin of my village with my host mom, host sister, host niece, my sister, and a fellow volunteer.  It was such a beautiful day and it was such a nice escape into nature before the school year started again.

Visiting Et Cetera Winery.  When my sister was visiting, we visited this winery with a friend.  It was such a peaceful mini-vacation with excellent food, great lodging, and friendly people.

My parent’s visit to Moldova and our trip to Romania.  It was so cool to be able to show my parents around the country that is my home now, as well as to go to Romania.  It was a wonderful vacation and I’m so grateful they were able to make the trip.

My sister’s visit to Moldova.  On the same note, I was so happy my sister was able to make it here as well!  It was fun to show her around Chisinau and my village and my students still talk about her sometimes (she went to the first day of school with me).

Language Day Celebration.  Our village went all out this year for the Language Day and Independence Day celebrations, with culinary competitions, dancing, and sports competitions.  The pole climbing competition made me a bit nervous, but was fun to watch.

My host niece dressing up in my clothes.  One afternoon, my 7-year-old host niece, Valerica, dressed up in one of my skirts, my sunglasses, my earrings, and even my name tag!  She then declared she was a model and I was her photographer.  It was a fun way to spend the afternoon and she always makes me laugh!

English Club.  This is more like a lot of wonderful moments combined.  So many of my best days in the last year are thanks to the English Club I do with my 7th to 9th grade students.  Most recently, some of my students in 7th grade told me that they don’t want me to leave this summer because everything is better now that I’m here.  When I asked them what they meant, they said that they want to come to school now and that they love having something to do after school.

Teacher’s Day Party.  Instead of doing a small celebration at the school like they normally do, the teachers at my school decided to pay a bit of money and have a larger celebration at a restaurant in the next town over to celebrate Teacher’s Day.  We ate, drank, and danced the night away and everyone (including me) had a lot of fun.  I also mastered (at least as much as I probably ever will) our village’s version of Moldova’s national dance, the hora.

Mini-Vacation to the North of Moldova.  This past spring, my friend Andrea and I took a weekend trip to the northern part of Moldova and also spent some time in Chisinau.  We visited Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi on a guided tour.  We also ate at some nice restaurants in Chisinau and attended the opening of a Himalayan restaurant.  It was a really nice trip before the last leg of school.

Winter Walk to Ermoclia.  Last winter, after a snowstorm and freezing temperatures for too many days, my host mom and I took a long walk to the next village.  The snow was pristine and the temperatures warmer and after several days cooped up inside, it was a welcome escape.  We visited her friends there then walked halfway back before someone offered us a ride back to town.

Teachers’ Excursion.  Last summer, the teachers at my school took a trip one Saturday to two monasteries in the northern part of the country.  We visited Saharna Monastery and Tipova Monastery, taking in the gorgeous views and nice (though very hot!) weather.  On our way back, we had a full picnic on the side of the road.  It was a lot of fun and helped me get to know the other teachers better!

PCV Thanksgiving.  A little over a month ago, I got together with a group of volunteers to celebrate Thanksgiving.  The food was great and the company even better.  After spending the entire autumn in my little village, it was nice to get together with other Americans and eat all the foods we had been missing.

Constelatia Talentelor.  One recent Friday, I got to accompany the student dance ensemble from my village to an international competition in Chisinau.  The students are all my students at school and I went to film it for them.  They did a great job and I spent most of the afternoon with them, helping me get to know my students better.  They actually ended up getting called back for the finals and won Grand Prize!

A Day in Chisinau with Valerica.  This past summer, I spent most of a day showing my host niece Valerica around Chisinau.  Although she’s been to Chisinau, she hadn’t seen most of the tourist attractions, and it was really fun to see it all through her eyes.  We ate (at her request) at Smokehouse, an American BBQ restaurant, where she had mac and cheese and a strawberry milkshake.  Then we walked around Cathedral Park and Stefan cel Mare Park, where she got to ride on a carousel.  Finally, we rode on a trolley bus (a first for her).  We had so much fun!

Harvesting Locust Flowers with My Host Mom.  This past spring, I helped my mom harvest locust flowers to use in tea.  It was great bonding time with her and I was happy to help out with something (although my fingers hurt a bit).

Planting Potatoes and Collecting Grapes.  My family in the United States has a small garden, but I had never really planted potatoes.  I helped my host mom plant several rows one afternoon and can’t wait to do the same when I return to America in our family’s garden.  I also spent some time helping my host parents pick grapes to make into wine.

Welcoming Turul Moldovei to my village.  Turul Moldovei, a group of Peace Corps volunteers doing a walking tour and spreading peace along the way, spent a night with my host family and me this summer.  We visited our school and the local library and cultural center and spent an evening eating great food.

Being Home for the Holidays.  I am so, so happy I had the opportunity to come home for Christmas and the winter holidays.  After spending Christmas abroad last year, it was nice to be home with my family and friends.  We’ve had a great two weeks and I’ll be sad to head back to Moldova later this week (but also excited to see everyone there again as well).  I love my life and experience in Moldova, but there really is no place like home (however cliche that is).

Well, that’s a wrap.  Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful 2018!

Home for Christmas

When I left the United States one and a half years ago to start my Peace Corps journey in Moldova, I didn’t really plan to come home again until my two-plus year commitment was up.  This past summer I was talking to my grandparents and they encouraged me to come home for Christmas, and since it’s always good to listen to your grandparents, I took their advice and booked a flight home.

Being home for Christmas and just hanging out with my family and friends has been absolutely wonderful!  I love Moldova and my life there, but there really is no place like home.  The first couple days home were packed with things to do and people to see, so we spent a quiet Christmas at home, just hanging out and relaxing.  We ate comfort foods, watched a Hallmark movie, and played some cards.  In the evening, my mom’s parents came over and we celebrated my birthday with some yummy cake.

Yesterday morning, I went plowing with my dad.  We were super lucky to get a nice snowfall and have a white Christmas and we got a bit more snow the night after Christmas.  After he finished plowing, we went up to my family’s Christmas tree farm and took a nice walk through the farm.  It was a cold but calm day and everything was covered with a fresh coat of snow.  It was gorgeous!

Later in the afternoon, we celebrated “Thanksgiving” since none of us kids were home this year.  My dad’s family came over and we had a full turkey dinner.  It was delicious!  After, we opened some presents and had dessert.  My aunt gave me a beautiful ring that had been my grandma’s as well as a pair of earrings that had belonged to my great-grandmother, both of which were very special and meaningful gifts.

Travel in Moldova: My Village

My host family with my parents
My host family, my parents, and me

After flying to Moldova, my parents drove their rented car to my village, where we spent the next three days.  This was one of the best parts of our trip, not because of all the cool sites we saw (although there were visits to our public library, my school, and walks to some sunflower fields) but because my American parents were able to meet and spend time with my Moldovan family and see the place that has been my home for a year.

My dad with one of my host nieces
My mom with another host niece

They got to see what my daily life is like, see firsthand how lucky I was to be placed with my host family, and visit the places in town I see every week.  They got to experience the joy of no running water (I usually do have running water and since living here, my host family has even installed an indoor toilet and shower, but there was a problem with our village’s water system while my parents were visiting, so it was all outhouse and bucket bathing for us!), eat the food my host mom prepares, play with my host nieces, and drink house wine.

Sunflowers on a drive through my village the first day
A dinner toast

Three of my young host nieces (ages 2, 4, and 7) were staying with my host parents when my parents were here, and we spent a lot of time playing with them and coloring.  Each night at dinner, I could barely get a bite to eat because I was so busy translating all of the conversations from English to Romanian and Romanian to English.  There were exchanges of gifts: my host parents gave my actual parents bottles of wine to take home and some little trinkets, my actual parents gave my host mom some oven mitts and an apron and my host dad a multi-tool.

My parents with the librarian and an assistant in the public library
My parents with the public librarian and an assistant, in the Casa de Cultura

We visited the public library, where my parents were treated like honored guests.  The librarian and an assistant presented them with the customary loaf of bread with salt, welcoming them and wishing them health and happiness.  We also toured the entire casa de cultura (cultural house), including the auditorium, music and dance school, and wedding hall, as well as the library.  After, we shared tea and cookies with the library staff.  Later, we visited my school and I got to show them where I spent a large chunk of time each day during the school year.

Our walk to the sunflower fields
Our walk to the sunflower fields
Overlooking my village

We walked through my village, and I showed them where the stores are, as well as the mayor’s office, preschool, sports fields, post office, church, and cemetery.  On our last evening, we walked to some fields at the outskirts of town to see the views of the village and the never-ending fields of sunflowers and wheat.  As we returned, we ran into one of the women who cleans my school and we chatted for a short while.

My mom, host mom, and the girls before saying goodbye

Though it was wonderful to see my parents interact with my host family, it was also a bit bittersweet.  When it was time to say goodbye, there were plenty of teary eyes.  We all knew that this is likely the only time my real parents and my Moldovan parents will ever meet.  I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a host family that truly treats me as if I am their daughter.  As we said goodbye, my host mother thanked my parents for raising me in the way that they did, and my real parents thanked my host parents for welcoming me into their family and treating me so well.  And then we went on our way.

To My Dad

dadbirthdaycolllage

Back in June, for my Mom’s birthday, I posted a bunch of reasons I love her.  Today is my dad’s birthday (Happy Birthday Dad!) and I figured it was only fair to write a post to him as well.  So to wish him “Happy Birthday”, here are some of the reasons I love my dad.

1. He has always been there with open arms when I was upset, angry, or just needed to feel loved.  One of the hardest things about being away for so long is that when I’m upset, angry, and need a hug, my dad isn’t there to provide it.  He has always been there for me, and has always comforted me when I most needed it.

2. He never told me I couldn’t help because it was something “men” do.  As far back as I can remember, the thing I most wanted to do was whatever my dad was doing, whether that meant painting walls, sanding cabinet fronts, building things or stacking wood.  He always let me help and taught me how to use all of his tools.  My brother may not be able to use an electric drill (just kidding, Chris- I think you maybe have learned by now!), but I certainly can, as well as the circular saw and table saw.

3. For allowing us to choose the sports we wanted to play even though they weren’t “his” sports, and for being there at every game, meet, and match.  For several years, my dad taught my booster club basketball team, only for me to switch to an entirely different sport in high school.  He never once second-guessed my decision, and continued to be at every sporting event to cheer for me.  Even the many-hours long track meets where I competed for less than five minutes or the soccer games that were a couple hours away.

4. He has always encouraged me to chase my dreams.  I have never wondered if my parents supported me in my dreams.  When I told him that I had applied to the Peace Corps, he was a little surprised and then told me he was proud of me.  When my siblings and I talk about opening our own business, he sends us links of similar businesses or how-to guides.

5. He encouraged us enthusiastically to be involved in music from a young age.  And then he spent hours upon hours researching instruments and then spending even more hours finding excellent instruments to buy for us at prices my parents could afford.  Seriously, if you know him personally and need help purchasing instruments (well, violins and saxophones to be specific), he has a lot of knowledge (and I played those instruments while he did not)!  Also, he put up with my sister and I learning to play the violin at 5 and 7 years old, and that is not a pretty sound!

6. He (along with my mom) ingrained in us a love of travel, new experiences, and exploring.  Throughout my life, they have made sure we traveled and experienced new things.  They saved, went without other things, and planned carefully so that we could travel each year and see new places.  I can’t wait until my parents visit me here in Moldova and I can be the one to plan their trip after all these years of them planning my trips.

7. He taught me the basics of spending time outdoors: squatting in the woods, thrashing through briar patches, and appreciating the natural beauty that abounds around us.  I can’t remember the time before I knew how to squat (a skill that has been very useful here!), and he taught me that both literally and figuratively, getting off the path can be more adventurous and (sometimes) more fun.

8. He let me “steal” from his secret stash of peanut M&Ms and bought me ice cream on occasion behind my mom’s back (sorry for telling on you!).  It may not have been the healthiest thing, but it made me feel special and we often had the best discussions while eating the ice cream in his truck.

9. He made my birthday special by taking me on an annual father-daughter Christmas shopping trip.  I am a Christmas baby, and just like any other Christmas baby, it is easy to feel like your special day is overshadowed by the amazing holiday that we share our day with.  When I was five, my dad decided to take me Christmas shopping for my mom and siblings as a way to make it a bit more special.  This year will be the first year since I was five that we won’t be able to continue this tradition, and I’m missing it.  More than the actual shopping (I’m not big on shopping, actually), it was a special time to just spend time together, as well as get a nice lunch/dinner (though that first year when my dad asked me where I wanted to go I proudly told him “the place with the little girl”, which happened to be Wendy’s).

10. For sharing his love of houses and architecture with me.  For as long as I can remember, we have driven around talking about which houses we liked, and he even occasionally has taken me to check out houses he has for sale and took me along on a couple of his showings.  For the past few years, we have gone to historic home tours in our town.

There are so many more things I could add to this list.  He has supported me, loved me, has shown me what a good husband/dad should be.  He has spent time with me, was patient with me as I learned new skills, and was simply there for me.  Dad, I love you and hope you have an amazing birthday!  Thank you for everything you have done for me!

To My Mom

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up surrounded by many strong, independent, and wonderful women.  Among these women was my mom.  As I’ve grown up, we’ve had our fair share of arguments and fights.  But I also know just how lucky I have been to have her as a role model, to be showered with her love.  Today is my mom’s birthday.  To wish her a “Happy Birthday”, here are some of the things I love about her!

1. She has always encouraged and supported my dreams (and my siblings’ dreams), even the ones that seemed (or seem) a bit difficult to attain.  Many of my fellow Peace Corps trainees, as well as other friends from home, have shared that their parents, particularly their moms, weren’t particularly fond of the idea of them leaving home to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in a country very far away.  Those that knew my sister was also abroad when I departed seemed even less convinced when I told them that both my sister and I had the full support of our parents.  I know that my mom misses us now and will miss us in the future when we are halfway around the world from her, but she has also supported us on our journeys.  When I told her I had applied to the Peace Corps, she was a bit surprised, but she was also so, so happy for me.

2. Even though I may have (ok, and sometimes still do) fight her on getting outside, I’m so thankful that much of my childhood was spent in the outdoors.  My mom loves being outside, and she made sure that we spent lots of time playing outside when we were growing up.  I didn’t often appreciate it when I was younger, but I’m glad that I spent much of my time as a kid enjoying the outdoors.

3. She taught me that if you are determined and willing to work hard, you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to.  And she demonstrated this countless times, from insisting that she could plant trees on her own (which is actually very hard work), or carrying 70+ pounds of groceries into the house at one.

4. She shared the gift of reading with me and my siblings.  We are all very good readers, and we also all enjoy reading for entertainment.  When we were young, she would read to us every day.  I remember being about 6 or 7, and she would read Indian Captive, a few pages at a time, to my younger sister and I every night before bed.  It was a book that was well beyond our reading capabilities, and it is a book I still remember quite well today.

5. She (along with my dad) provided us with amazing travel opportunities.  Whenever my parents are asked how they came to have kids so eager to travel the world, I can’t help but think in my head, “Well, they ingrained it in us.”  They saved their money so that we could travel both far and near.  When they took us to Switzerland in 2008, our first international trip (and my mom’s first time off the continent of North America), they opened up a whole world of opportunities.

6. She provided countless opportunities to be creative.  When we were younger, my mom stayed home with us.  She would comb through Family Fun Magazine for cute craft ideas, which we would then make.

7. She taught us that having fun and living life are way more important than a perfectly clean house.  My friends always loved coming over to our house, because they knew that we could build forts, make a mess in the kitchen baking cookies, or sing karaoke at the top of our lungs, and my mom wouldn’t care (okay, we did have to clean up after ourselves).

8. She encouraged us to have our own opinions and allowed us to voice them.   I think she sometimes regrets this now, as she ended up with three highly opinionated kids, but I’m so glad we were allowed to be a part of discussions and debates.

9. She didn’t let us quit half-way through a commitment.  If we said we were going to do something, we were expected to carry through with it.  I think this is a really important trait to have.

10. I’ve never wondered if my mom loves me.  There was never any doubt.

Mom, I know you hate being the center of attention, but I wanted to make sure you knew that I love you and that I wish you the happiest of birthdays and year to come!  I wish I could be home to celebrate with you, but I know Chris is going to make sure you have a good birthday at home!  Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me!  I love you!!