Top Memories of 2018

I’m sure we all say this most years, but wow! What a year 2018 has been! Before we leap into 2019, I thought I had better wrap up 2018 with some of my top memories from the past year (in years past I’ve limited myself to 20 or so, but there were so many great moments in the past year, this list is longer than usual!).

  1. Went cross-country skiing with my mom. Winter seems like such a better season when you actually get out and enjoy the snow and cold, and this is one of the best ways to do that!
  2. Made it home to my village just in time to celebrate Christmas with my host family. After a VERY long journey back to Moldova from the United States (I got stuck in JFK airport for 24 hours), I was so happy to celebrate Christmas with my host family and snuggle with my host nieces.
  3. My students coming to our house for caroling, uraturi, and seed-throwing. It was nice to see the various Moldovan traditions for both Christmas and New Year.
  4. Found out when my last day in Moldova would be. We had a COS (Close of Service) lottery with all of the volunteers in my group and selected the days we would finish our Peace Corps service.
  5. Visited Andrei with my partner teacher, Liuba. Andrei is a man from my village who suffers from health issues that leave him bed-ridden, but had been asking for some time to meet the “American girl”. We had a really nice visit.
  6. Got ambushed by some neighborhood kids (my students) in a snowball fight. I’ve determined Moldovan kids are ruthless when it comes to snowball fights!
  7. Celebrated English Week at school. This year, English Week was actually two weeks and combined with Russian Week. We held lots of competitions, played games, and organized fun activities with our students. At the end of the two weeks, we had a dance for the older students, which they always really enjoy.
  8. Attended my host cousin’s wedding. It was a simpler affair than my first Moldovan wedding, but this time I could actually speak Romanian and everyone had a lot of fun dancing the hora (Moldova’s traditional dance).
  9. Organized a week of activities for Peace Corps Week. We held a mini “International Film Festival”, skyped with an American class of 5th graders, and hosted several other Peace Corps Volunteers at an event about what home means to each of us.
  10. Successfully completed our “control” (audit) at school. Each year, the education officials come to the school and observe every teacher, class, and audit the records. It’s a stressful week, but I enjoyed working together with my partners on some really good lessons. On the last day of the audit, my partner teachers and I didn’t have any lessons, so we were responsible for cooking a meal for the auditors in the school cafeteria.
  11. Celebrated Easter with my host family. Easter is the most important holiday in the year for Moldovans, and I celebrated it with my host family.
  12. My host niece, Valerica, visited and we celebrated her birthday. I can’t believe the little 6-year-old that was my first friend when I moved to my village is now 8! We had lots of fun playing together and spending time together over the Easter break from school.
  13. Celebrated one of my partner teacher’s birthdays. I was so happy to go to my partner teacher’s birthday party. It was moments like these that I felt like I had found my place in Moldova and in my village.
  14. Attended our COS conference in central Moldova. To help prepare us for closing out our service and returning home to the United States, Peace Corps held a 3-day conference for the group of volunteers I arrived in country with. We had a great time reminiscing and reflecting on our two years of service.
  15. Held an American meal at English Club. To thank my students for coming to English Club regularly for 2 years, my site mate and I prepared several American foods and had a small party with the regular participants. They especially loved the tacos (we had taco seasoning mailed to us from the U.S.) and mac and cheese!
  16. Attended the Peace Corps Moldova 25th anniversary celebration. My partner teachers and school director joined Peace Corps in the capital for a celebration of 25 years of work and service in Moldova.
  17. Went to my final Last Bell celebration at school and celebrated in the forest with my colleagues. I gave a short speech, received lots of flowers, poems, and letters, and said goodbye to many of my students on the last day of school. After lessons had ended, the teachers gathered for a barbecue in the forest, which lasted for several hours.
  18. Accompanied the dance ensemble from my village to an International Traditions Festival. I helped chaperone the students and afterwards, I enjoyed a meal with the other chaperones while the students had some free time to explore the festival.
  19. Had a farewell dinner with my fellow English Education volunteers. We all spent the first 10 weeks in Moldova living in the same town and completing our training together, and remained close throughout the two years. It was a bittersweet dinner, since for many of us it was also goodbye, but we had a good time and enjoyed each others’ company.
  20. Held two day camps in my village. My site mate and I held a week-long Leadership Camp for our older students, and I held a week-long English Camp for the younger students.
  21. Milked a cow! This was one of my goals while living in Moldova and just before I left, I was finally able to milk a cow at my host aunt’s house.
  22. Said goodbye at farewell parties both at school and with my host family. My colleagues, students, and partner teachers surprised me with a farewell party at the school, complete with some of my favorite foods, a gorgeous cake, and gifts. My host mom’s sisters and brothers came for a farewell party at home as well.
  23. Rang the COS bell, marking the end of my service in Moldova. I was proud to have made it all the way to the end, and excited to figure out what was next.
  24. Traveled to Iceland with my family! On my way home from Moldova, I met my parents and brother in Iceland for a week-long trip. Some favorite highlights were swimming in a hot spring pool, visiting a greenhouse combined with a restaurant, and all of the beautiful sights we saw.
  25. Picked blueberries! Blueberries don’t grow in Moldova but are my absolute favorite food, so I was so happy to make it home in time for blueberry season!
  26. Spent lots of time with family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles visited this past summer and we spent a lot of time hanging out and soaking up this rare time together. The reason for their visits was bittersweet, as we were also saying goodbye to our Grandma Jeri, but I treasured the time spent with them and with Grandma Jeri.
  27. Went to my cousin’s wedding! My cousin got married and the whole family came for it. We had SO much fun celebrating her and her new husband!
  28. Went to Rochester to visit some friends and have a girls’ weekend. We hung out, went mini-golfing, and spent some time on a beach.
  29. Baked a crazy amount of recipes with pears. Our pear tree produced a ton of pears this year, so my brother, sister, and I made just about every possible recipe with pears: pear cider, pear sauce, pear pie, pear crisp, pear cake, baked pears, etc. It was fun to bake together with my siblings and everything was delicious!
  30. Went on an apple adventure with the family. We drove a couple of hours and visited an apple orchard known for its hard cider and wood-fired pizza then headed to another orchard to pick a bag of apples.
  31. Took a short trip to Vermont. We spent a couple of days in Middlebury, Rutland, and Bennington.
  32. Traveled to Scotland and Ireland! It was my first ever solo trip, and I fell in love with Scotland and enjoyed spending time with my sister in Ireland.
  33. Helped out at the family’s Christmas Tree Farm. My parents took over my grandpa’s tree farm a couple of years ago, and I helped out each weekend for a few hours.
  34. Published an advent calendar of activities for our town together with my brother. We provided ideas for things to do at home or in our community for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. It was a success and we had fun doing the activities.
  35. Spent a quiet and simple Christmas Day at home. We had a lazy, slow morning of eating breakfast and opening presents, then some family came over in the afternoon for good food and conversation. We ended the night with my birthday cake and gifts, then after our guests left watched a funny movie.

I could probably add more to this list, but that might be a little excessive. What were some of your favorite memories this year? Here’s to a happy, healthy, and fresh New Year!

Apple Adventure

2018-09-15 17.43.072018-09-15 17.42.56-012018-09-15 17.51.23-01

Nothing says fall in New York like apples. A few weekends ago, our family went on an apple adventure in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Our first stop was at Westwind Orchard. The orchard didn’t produce enough apples this year for u-pick, but there is a nice area for hanging out, along with a small restaurant serving Italian tapas and wood-fired pizza, a variety of hard ciders, and a small store selling locally made goods and foods.

2018-09-15 17.49.082018-09-15 18.04.482018-09-15 18.44.46

My sister and I ordered a flight of hard cider to try and we all got some pizzas to share. There are a bunch of tables outside and we played some cornhole while waiting for our food. There were lots of families enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous location.

2018-09-15 19.35.252018-09-15 19.36.192018-09-15 19.38.402018-09-15 19.38.43

After eating our fill, we headed down the road to a small U-pick orchard. Stone Ridge Orchard is a traditional apple orchard. The apple trees are 200-plus years old and the orchard doesn’t have the commercial feel typical of many U-pick orchards in New York. There were no lines and the employees were incredibly friendly and helpful. We explored the orchard after a long conversation with one of the employees. In addition to plenty of apple trees, we were encouraged to walk up the short hill to see the 300-year-old white oak tree. The tree is massive and absolutely stunning.

2018-09-15 20.01.212018-09-15 20.18.242018-09-15 20.05.50

We picked a bag of apples, then bought some apple cider and donuts. Before heading out, we sampled some of the hard cider made with apples from the orchard.

By then, it was late afternoon, so we headed home. It was a perfect outing on a beautiful day!

Life Lately 7/23/18

Hanging out with my mom’s parents- they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary by dancing the night away at my cousin’s wedding on Saturday

After a bit of a blog break, I thought it was time for a Life Lately post to catch up on the past few weeks. The last two plus weeks have been a blur of being busy, and it looks like the next few weeks will be just about as busy. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Traveled to Iceland. For my COS (Close of Service) trip, I flew from Moldova to Iceland (with flight changes in Ukraine and London on the way), where I met my brother and parents. We spent a week traveling in Iceland, doing both the Golden Circle and South Coast. I’ll be posting more about that soon, but it was a nice trip in a gorgeous location! We had a lot of fun!

Returned home to the U.S.A. After the trip to Iceland, I flew home with my family. Although I was sad to leave behind my life in Moldova, I was also ready to come home. So far, I’m enjoying being back home in upstate New York.

Went blueberry picking. The very first thing I did after coming home (besides sleep) was to pick blueberries the following morning with my mom. I love blueberries, but they are hard or almost impossible to find in Moldova, and picking blueberries several times each summer is a family tradition I love. We often pick at least 30 quarts to freeze each year.

Visited with both sets of grandparents. I’ve missed my grandparents a lot over the past two years, and I’m happy to be home and able to spend time with them. On my first day home I visited both sets of grandparents and began to catch up.

Helped get things ready for some summer guests. My parents own an old farmhouse, which is where my grandpa grew up and my great-grandma lived until her 90s. As with many old farmhouses, it needs a fair amount of work. Some family members are going to stay there for a visit in a week or so, so we spent some time up there one afternoon deep-cleaning and clearing stuff out.

Went to my cousin’s wedding. This past weekend was my cousin’s wedding. The ENTIRE family came, and both the wedding and the bride were gorgeous! We had such a great time and it was so nice to see my entire extended family on my mom’s side.

Started to get my room back in order. I left for the Peace Corps pretty soon after I finished college, so I never really unpacked for college. After two years, I really needed to go through things and get things organized and cleaned. I also decided to change up one wall of my room, which is still a work in progress.

I think that’s it for now! Of course, I’ve also been eating lots of my favorite foods and I briefly hung out with a close friend the other day. I was worried about the process of getting back into the swing of things here, but we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to get stressed or miss Moldova too much. I’m looking forward to seeing some more family, (including cousins I haven’t seen in years), meeting up with friends, swimming, kayaking, and just enjoying this summer to the fullest in the coming weeks!

Goodbyes and New Beginnings

Ringing the COS bell
Many of the English Educators group ringing the bell to end their service.

This is my last post as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in Moldova. As you read this, I’ll already be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, otherwise referred to as an RPCV, and be on a plane headed west. It’s so strange to think that I have spent the past 25 months here in Moldova and that my time here has come to an end. It has been a wonderful journey that I am so thankful to have had.

A last picture with my host mom and host nieces.

The last week has been full of bittersweet goodbyes. I will dearly miss my host family, who has supported and loved me as a daughter. I will miss my host nieces a lot as well- they’ve given me plenty of laughs and cuddles (and a handful of headaches). I will miss my colleagues at school, who helped me navigate a new environment and supported my projects and ideas. I’ll especially miss the two teachers that I taught beside for two school years, Ina and Liuba. They helped translate when I didn’t understand me, and I’m really proud of the work we did together and the friendships we developed. I’ll miss my students, who have been at the center of my work here. They are the ones who often made a bad day better and who made me smile and laugh when things were hard or I was missing home. I’ll miss this village and community, who opened me with open arms. I couldn’t have been placed in a better place, and I loved living in this small, quiet community. And I’ll miss Moldova, with its sunflower fields, bright sunsets, hot bus rides, and beautiful churches.

A surprise farewell party at the school.

The goodbyes have been hard, but I’m also ready for the next stage in my life. I’m so glad I spent the past 2 years here. Now it’s on to new things and new adventures (though to be honest I’m still figuring that part out). For now, I’m returning to my hometown and I’m looking forward to  spending time with my family, picking and eating quart upon quart of blueberries, going hiking in the woods, and kayaking down the river. I’m anticipating that the adjustment back to life in the USA might be a bit difficult and might take some time. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey for the past 25 months! I’ll still be posting here (first up: my COS- or Close of Service- trip to Iceland with my family), so I hope you’ll keep reading!

Last 100 Days, Days 5-1

As I’ve mentioned, I’m sharing a photo and a look back on my favorite memories in moments in Moldova for each of my last 100 days here.  I’m counting down, so here are days 5-1.  Tomorrow I will be leaving Moldova so this is the final post for the Last 100 Days.  See all of my “Last 100 Days” posts here.

Day 5: I was once again invited to accompany my village’s dance ensemble, this time to an international festival. Knowing it was likely my last chance to see my students dance, I immediately agreed to go. The festival was held outside under the shade of big trees, and the kids and teenagers from my village did a great job! After they finished, we had a bit of time to walk around and eat some food, and then we headed back to the village. I have loved getting to attend these performances over the past two years, and it is something I will dearly miss. (June 2018)
Day 4: I finished out my service with two summer day camps in my village. The first one, with students in grades 6 through 8, was a leadership camp. The second was an English Camp with the theme of “Around the World” for students in grades 3 through 5, where we imagined we were traveling to a different country each day. Both camps were a lot of fun, and it was great to see our students be active and motivated! (June 2018)
Day 3: My school community had a surprise farewell party for me my last week in site. Several teachers and students gathered at the school, and surprised me with a beautiful Moldovan flag cake, champagne, a beautiful gift, my favorite Moldovan food (pelemeni), and kind words. I was so lucky to work at this school with these people, and a fair number of tears were shed as I said goodbye for the last time to my school director, partner teachers, colleagues, students, and school staff. (June 2018)
Day 2: I was so fortunate to live with a wonderful host family for two years in my village. I will miss my host mom and host nieces so, so much! My last two days in the village were spent with them, as well as with my extended host family, who all came to celebrate a delicious meal together one last time. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to call my own in Moldova. (July 2018)
Day 1: Before we leave the country and become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), we get to ring the COS (Close of Service) bell at Peace Corps headquarters in the capital. The ringing of the bell signifies the end of our service here in Moldova and the beginning of our next adventures. (July 2018)