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.

Christmas Vacation Re-cap and Back to School!

A group of students perform a skit at the "carnival"
A group of students perform a skit at the “carnival”
A choral group performed a beautiful song at the "carnival"
A choral group performed a beautiful song at the “carnival”

We headed back to school today after a two-week vacation.  It’s always hard to go back after some time off, but I’m thankful that I had a very relaxing, quiet vacation.  Other than two short trips (one overnight and one day trip) to Chisinau, I just hung out at home and with my host family.  We celebrated my birthday, New Year’s, and Orthodox Christmas (this past weekend).  I enjoyed holiday celebrations at school and in the community, including the town’s “carnival” which was a lot like a variety show in the United States: skits, singing, dancing, and even some activities and competitions.  I went with my host niece Valerica and she performed “Jingle Bells”.  After the scheduled performances there was a singing and modern dance competition.  As they announced the judges they said, “Domnisoara Elena, Doamna Galina, si Domnisoara Elisabeth!”  I didn’t know I was going to get to be a judge, but one of the things you learn in the Peace Corps is to just go with the flow!  Thankfully, I had thought ahead enough to dress nicely, so when I went up on stage to help announce the winners I didn’t feel under-dressed.

Our first "real" snowfall
Our first “real” snowfall
My host nieces, Valerica and Eva
My host nieces, Valerica and Eva
A group of students came to carol
A group of students came to carol

This past weekend, my host brother and his family and host sister and her husband joined us to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.  The temperatures and weather were pretty brutal (cold, very strong winds, and heavy snow), so it was a pretty relaxed celebration.  They left Saturday afternoon, leaving the house very quiet.  I was very, very thankful that the inside bathroom was completed earlier this week and I didn’t have to brave the -10 and below (plus windchill) temperatures outside!  I actually didn’t even step outside the house for four days because it was so cold out!

Our road near our house
Our road near our house
This pretty dog was on our road
This pretty dog was on our road
All bundled up for our walk
All bundled up for our walk
My first visit to Ermoclia, the next town over.
My first visit to Ermoclia, the next town over.
My host mom's friends have four huge cats, but they didn't want their picture taken!
My host mom’s friends have four huge cats, but they didn’t want their picture taken!

Yesterday, on my last day off, my host mom asked if I’d like to go to the next town over with her to visit a friend.  I figured it would be good to get out of the house and I was very bored, so I agreed.  We actually walked there (about a 1-hour walk, I think).  It was a bit warmer (though definitely still cold) and the snow was deep- my favorite weather to be outside in (and I am NOT being sarcastic! I love winter!).  It was quiet and calm and beautiful, although a little hard.  The road was more-or-less cleared, but there were parts that hadn’t been cleared where the snow was at least a foot deep (my legs are sore today!).  We visited with my host mom’s friends and had a light meal with them, then headed out as it started to get darker out.  Thankfully, we only had to walk half the way back and were able to catch a ride into the rest of the way (I wouldn’t have minded walking, but it was pretty dark at that point).  It was probably one of the best parts of my vacation!

Today, classes were back in session, but our raion (kind of like a county, but within a country) determined it was too cold out, so only grades 5 and up had to come to school.  Most of our Monday classes are with the younger grades, so we just had two simple classes and then got to go home.  In my second class (one of my 7th grade classes), four of the girls sang a carol for us and we also had a discussion about learning languages (English for them vs. Romanian for me).  One of them mentioned that it is easier for the them to understand when my partner teacher (a Moldovan teacher) reads aloud than it is when I read aloud (both because I read slightly faster an because I have an accent they aren’t used to).  They asked me if when I read Romanian if it’s like when they read English.  After the bell rang, I agreed to read a paragraph in Romanian for them.  My language learning was focused on being able to speak and understand rather than read and write, while theirs is focused more on reading and writing and grammar.  They thought it was very interesting to hear me (attempt) to read Romanian!  I was happy today was a bit more relaxed at school and we could have discussions like this.  I think it’s good to talk about both the difficulties and importance of learning another language, and we rarely have time to have discussions like this.

Celebrating the Holidays at School

This past week was our last week of school before our Christmas vacation.  As in the United States, this meant end-of-semester grades, tests, and holiday celebrations.  Although the date on which Christmas and New Year are celebrated varies throughout Moldova, in my town Christmas is celebrated on the traditional Orthodox date of January 7th, while New Year is celebrated on the 14th.  In some towns, the main celebration or perhaps a smaller celebration will take place on December 25th, but January 7th is the primary celebration in most areas.

Festelita

On Thursday, one of my fourth grade classes surprised me with balloons, singing “Happy Birthday” in English, and a card.  We had mentioned a few weeks ago that my birthday was on the same day as Christmas is celebrated in the United States, and they had remembered and planned the surprise all on their own.  It was so sweet of them and I really appreciated it!

Learning "Jingle Bells"
Learning “Jingle Bells”

I was excited that we were able to do a couple of lessons this week in which we were able to talk about Christmas and winter holidays in the United States.  In our third and fourth grade classes, I taught the students “Jingle Bells”.  I was surprised and amused when we got to the refrain and all the students seemed to know it quite well.  In one fourth grade class, we finished teaching the song, and they all broke out simultaneously into the Romanian version of the song, which I wasn’t aware existed.  In our ninth grade classes, we had a lesson on Christmas.  It was primarily focused on Christmas carols and songs, which was a lot of fun.  I shared some of my favorite Christmas songs with the students.  They particularly seemed to like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”.  In one class, one of the boys stood up and started dancing, and in both, they asked me for the names of the songs.  I could hear several of them humming or singing along to the songs later in the day.  In one of my ninth grade classes, two of my students sang one of their traditional Christmas carols in perfect harmony.  It was truly beautiful, and I think the students really enjoyed the lesson.

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On Thursday, after classes, the older students had a concert and performance.  The fifth through seventh graders had their celebration first.  There were hours of songs, dances, and games, all organized and put on by the students.  I swear that children in Moldova know how to dance before they can even walk or talk.  Practically all Moldovans dance well, particularly the traditional dances.  I’m always so impressed by my students when they dance or sing.

One of my favorite performances was done by my seventh graders.  Two of them sang, while a few others danced.  The song is also super catchy, you can find it here if you want a song stuck in your head!  After the more formal concert, and scattered throughout, there were different activities.

One was that two students from each class (a boy and a girl) had to do a traditional partner dance.  As far as I could tell, the students were not pre-selected and hadn’t specifically prepared, but they all danced so well!  There was also a game where four students were selected and they had to blow a balloon until it popped and then there was a paper inside the balloon with an activity they had to complete: select a partner and do a dance, what is a talent you have and share it with the audience (dance, sing, etc.), give a few compliments to each teacher in the room, and another activity I don’t remember.  The M.C. insisted that they had to give my compliments in English (in case you’re wondering, I’m beautiful, smart, and friendly).  At the end of the celebration, there was some dancing with Moș Crăciun.

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After the 5th-7th grade celebrations, there was a break so people could go home and eat and such.  At 4:00, I returned to the school for the 8th and 9th grade celebration.  This was much the same, though with a bit more variety of performances: dancing, singing, and instrument-playing, as well as skits.

See more photos and videos here: https://goo.gl/photos/kS3BSueZrfdT57cs8

Once again, I was amazed at their ability to dance.  There was also one performance that I have to admit I still have no idea what it was (song? skit? dance? comedy?).  One of the 9th grade boys dressed up as a girl, including wig and makeup.  Two other 9th grade boys accompanied him and there was a very interesting performance that followed.  Beyond that, I really don’t know how to describe it.  Sorry.  It was truly interesting, confusing, and everyone was laughing very hard.  They had the same activities after, and this time the student who had to give compliments had a bit of a harder time because he just recently started at the school and hadn’t had many of the teachers in the room.  They tried to tell him that he needed to give mine (he does have me as a teacher) in English, but he didn’t know any of the words (if you’re curious, this time around I was “beautiful, a good teacher, and American”).   This time around the celebration ended with a typical “high school dance”, complete with a disco ball, dimmed lights, and loud music.

I was really glad I went to both of the celebrations.  I usually only get to see and interact with my students during class, and it was nice to see them have fun, use their numerous talents, and interact with one another.  It was also a nice reminder that teens and pre-teens are similar in many ways, regardless of where in the world they live.  Sometimes it feels like the school system here doesn’t really allow kids to be kids, but during these celebrations, everything felt a lot more relaxed.

Hand-Lettered Christmas Cards

For the past several years, I have made hand-lettered Christmas cards for several of my friends at college.  I’ve shared some of those here.  This year is the first year that the designs were 100% my own, and also the first year that I’ve incorporated color.  I went simple in the color department- black pen on white paper, with some bright red.  I’m going to apologize in advance for the poor camera quality- I didn’t finish the cards until just before our gift exchange, so I rushed to get pictures and they didn’t turn out well.2015-12-05 19.12.09This first design was quite simple and more graphic than the others.  I liked the idea of a somewhat “busier” background, with a bold message in the middle.

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I was really happy with how this one turned out- I played around a lot with the lettering for ‘night’ and love how it turned out.

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I really love this one as well.  I think this is the most “fun” of the designs, and it has a certain childlike feel to me.

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Although I like this one, it’s not my favorite.  It feels a bit too unbalanced to me.

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This is another favorite.  I actually wasn’t sure I liked it until I added the stripes to the “jolly”, then I discovered I really loved it.

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This is the design and lettering I’m most proud of!  I thought of the idea when laying in my bed last weekend, not wanting to get out of bed.  I’m really happy with the way it turned out!

Life Lately 12-26-2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been more than a month since my last Life Lately post, and lots has happened since then, so I figured it was time for another one.

Enjoyed…Christmas and my birthday yesterday.  It feels very strange to be 20 now.  It’s like I’m grown up or something.  I’m not sure I like it.

Had a good time…with my family yesterday.  We opened our presents in the morning, ate some breakfast, then just hung out for awhile.  My grandparents, my cousin and her fiance, and my aunt and her boyfriend came over for dinner.

Baked…a lot the past few days.  I made my great-grandmother’s rolls (cinnamon and plain rolls).  I made my grandma’s almond bark.  We baked and decorated several different cookies.  Baking is one of the things I miss most when I’m at college, so I always love to bake when I’m home.

Sad about…the fact that I have to return to college in just one and a half weeks.  I don’t think I’ll be ready.

Recently read… The Christmas Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini.  It was a nice, quick Christmas read.  I enjoyed it.

Received…lots of wonderful gifts.  I got some new boots, shoes, a Brita water bottle for college, and some other cool stuff.  My grandma and grandpa gave me, my sister, and my cousin some really old bone dishes that originally belonged to my great-grandmother’s parents.  They are really gorgeous.