Home for the Holidays

I made a sneaky trip home to Pennsylvania to surprise my family and some friends during this holidays season. I decided back when I had been home in August that I would try to make it home for the holidays this year. Many thanks to my amazing brother, we were able to make it possible.

It’s been great to be able to catch up face-to-face with family and spend some quality time together. I’m thankful for the time to be able to come home and fully enjoy this season since it’s been a few years .

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I was also able to make a few surprise appearances for some friends too since very few people knew.

I even made a familiar megabus quick trip to Harrisburg to surprise my college roommate. I’m a fan of the megabus and think nothing now of a 2 hour trip with comfortable seating, a bathroom on board, and free wifi. I’ll take this public transport over the public transport in Moldova any day.

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Thanks to the ninja-planning skills of my friend’s sister, we were able to spend some short, but great quality time together pampering ourselves and catching up on life. Texting every couple of days on what’s going on is great, but being able to catch up in person is much, much better. I was also able to meet up with two friends I hadn’t seen since I had left in 2013. I feel so full of happiness since I’ve been able to visit with all of these friends although for a short time, but incredibly sweet.

It’s been a good, low-key time of being home and fully enjoying being able to spend it with loved ones. I’m thankful for last minute Starbucks dates, baking with mom, playing board games, and puppy snuggles.

Next up, bringing in the 2017 new year this weekend with friends before making my way back to Moldova.

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Top 30 Things To Do… In 30 Days!

Today marks 30 days until I will be home for special home leave for a month! I will get to spend quality time with friends and family before I return to complete a 3rd year with Peace Corps in Moldova. In honor of this occasion, I have made a list of the top 30 things I want to do while I am home for 30 days.

Naturally, the #1 thing I want to do while I am home is to spend time with loved ones. That goes without listing it in this list. However, if you’re not from the State College, PA area, a lot of these things may not make much sense to you.

So here goes, the top 30 things (in no particular order) that I want to do while I am back home in Central PA for a month… who wants to join me!?

  1. Attend a Calvary service (preferably more than once)
  2. Visit Harvest Fields during sunset or sunrise
  3. Make waffles and eat them with friends!
  4. Eat at all the local restaurants I miss (yes, there is a list)
  5. Visit the crew at the Central PA Visitors Center (where I used to work)
  6. Get my drivers license renewed
  7. Go to the Arboretum at Penn State and play in the new children’s garden
  8. Visit one of the many local farmer’s markets
  9. Eat ice cream from the PSU Creamery
  10. Walk around downtown State College and drink bubble tea
  11. Start running again
  12. Game night at a friends house
  13. Go for a hike at Mt. Nittany or Shingletown
  14. Get a haircut (Recommendations? My favorite hair stylist is booked already)
  15. Have a cookout/BBQ with friends and/or family
  16. Roadtrip!
  17. Share Moldovan wine with local cheese with friends and/or family
  18. Journal and do some writing while at a local coffee shop
  19. Listen to live music
  20. Sit around a campfire with friends and/or family
  21. Attend a local community event
  22. Do some shopping
  23. Read while enjoying the outdoors (even better if in a porch swing or in a hammock)
  24. Go on a picnic at the University duck pond
  25. Surprise someone (or multiple people)
  26. Eat ice cream from Meyer Dairy
  27. Take a lot of photos
  28. Run errands with a friend or two
  29. Play outside in the rain
  30. Prepare Moldovan food and share the culture with friends and family

I’m anxious to see how many of these things can be accomplished while visiting with family and friends. Until then, I have a bit of a whirlwind month of July ahead. More to come on that soon!

Traveling Adventures in Europe with Family

My mom and brother visited me in Moldova a few weeks ago. After an amazing time together in Moldova we embarked on an adventure that I don’t think we’ll ever forget. This was our first time traveling internationally together as a family (minus my father who was unable to make it).

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I met my mom and brother at the airport — it had been about a year and a half since we last saw one another.

My mom made all the plans where we started out in Venice, Italy for a day and a half. We wandered the streets, got lost a few times, tried some new tasty Italian foods, toured the city by water bus, and visited some fun sites. I’m looking forward to going back and exploring this city a little more again soon.

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The view of St. Marks Square at sunrise. How many sites can you name in this photo?

After our adventure in Venice, we boarded a cruise for some quality family time at sea. Sunrises and sunsets from the balcony, playing shuffleboard with new friends, reading and relaxing in the open sea air, and enjoying the random activities and entertainment provided. It was a fun time.  

Our first stop for a day-trip was on the island of Malta where we did a quick excursion of seeing the “best of” all things Malta. I had been there previously last winter, where I had fallen in love with the sea and was eager to visit again since I enjoyed it so much. I’m glad that my mom and brother at least got a chance to see and experience it since I raved so much about it last Christmas.

Our next stop took us to the island of Palma Mallorca for a quick tour around the center city and a few historic sites.

The next day we ended our cruise along the Mediterranean sea in Barcelona where we spent a day and a half and soaked up the last of our adventures in Europe together.

We checked out a few of the popular sites of Barcelona and on the last day we participated in a fun cooking class where we learned how to make an authentic 4-course Spanish meal. It was complete with a visit to the famous Boqueria market where we went with the chef to pick up fresh ingredients and sample some delicacies of the area. This last part was my most favorite part of the trip — quality time with my mom and brother in a fun, creative, and tasty atmosphere!

At the Boqueria Market with the chef before the cooking class…

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Lots of laughs during the cooking class! Not sure if this is before or after all the tears from mom cutting up the onions…

After our time together I made my way back home to Moldova while my mom and brother made their way back home to PA. I realized on this return flight at how normal it felt for me to travel back to Moldova and didn’t think twice of referring to it as ‘home’.

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Flying home from Barcelona.

When family meets Moldova

The colors of fall were beginning to pop with bright yellows and deep reds as my mom and brother came to visit me in Moldova for a short visit. This was something we had talked about even before I knew where I was going as a Peace Corps volunteer. Thankfully, it became a reality a few weeks ago.

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All three of us together again — me with my mom and brother.

They met both of my host families, ate a lot of traditional food, took public transportation, tried house wine, learned some Romanian words and phrases, and followed me around as I translated my current life before their eyes.

It was a wonderful time, although it rained most of the days they were here and we weren’t able to make it to my host family’s village house. But we made the best of our short time together in Moldova.

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Another rainy day as we walked through one of the parks in Balti.

Did I mention that this was their first time traveling outside of the US?! I am so proud of them for their willingness and bravery in stepping beyond their comfort zones. I know it was not an easy feat for them and hope that the memories and laughs we shared together were worth it for them.

I was so grateful to both host families and their warm hospitality. My host family from pre-service training (PST) met me at the airport to greet my mom and brother when they arrived.  After we loaded up their car with the luggage, they took us to their home where a warm bowl of zeama (chicken soup) was waiting for all of us.

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My family with my PST host family (except Zina who is not pictured since she is taking the photo)

My mom and brother were overflowing with stories from their travels and their excitement of finally being in Moldova was apparent to all. After we warmed up with zeama, my PST host family whisked us all off to a popular touristic site, Orhei Vechi. All within the first couple of hours of their arrival and going on little to no sleep, they had a traditional Moldovan meal (especially prepared for when traveling) and visited one of the most popular touristic sites in Moldova.

After an evening with my PST host family, we made our way the next day to my permanent site in Balti where we stayed with my host family there. Between traditional Moldovan meals that my host mom prepared each day and the autumn rain that periodically fell each day, my mom and brother followed me around as I gave them a tour of the city and got some work done. They met some of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, my office-mates at my primary organization, a group of local youth, and some dear local friends. I was so grateful that they got the opportunity to meet so many people here who are part of my life in Moldova.

Although it was a whirlwind and quick stay for them during their visit in Moldova, they now have a better understanding of where I am living and what I have been doing for the past year and a half now.

There was so much more I wish I could have shared with them and more people they could have met, but we had to keep moving as more traveling adventures awaited us… I will share more next time from our travels as we explored mostly Italy and Spain for the remainder of our time together.

When family comes to visit…

For the past 2 weeks I  got to spend some good quality time with my mom and brother. They came to visit me in Moldova for 5 days, where they got a little taste of my life here as a Peace Corps volunteer (literally). Then we explored a bit of Europe and my favorite sea, the Mediterranean for the rest of our time together. I’ll be sharing more soon — and who knows, maybe they will share a little bit from their experience as well. More to come soon!

…and now you know why it’s been so quiet lately on my blog. 😉

{Photo Friday}: Dancing in Circles

My host family recently had a celebration in honor of the baptism of my host nephew. After the baptism (botez) at the church the family gets together for the cumatria, which is the celebration party in honor of this momentous occasion. There was a lot of food, toasting, and dancing. I will be sharing more later, until then…

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There was a lot of dancing during the cumatria celebration. I’m not sure if this would be considered the hora or a different traditional dance. I learned a little bit that evening… but mostly I learned that I am not a very good hora dancer.

Welcome to Summer in Moldova – A Recap from June & July

It’s summertime here and it is HOT. When it gets in the high 90’s and you need to take public transportation to get to your destination 2-3 hours away, it can be the biggest challenge to your day this time of year. You see, most Moldovan’s have a strong aversion to the current, which means that most if not all of the windows in public transportation stay closed, and if they are open they won’t stay open for long. If you’re lucky, maybe one will remain partially open and you’ll be situated in the perfect spot to receive the little breeze that comes your way. A few weeks ago it had to be way over 100 degrees in the rutiera (think big over-sized van) full of people and I’m surprised that I or anyone else didn’t pass out from the 2-3 hour ride. It was like riding in a smelly steamy sauna. Last week I got to experience a mini-bus ride in the village with 50+ people on it in 90+ degree heat. I think that my definition of personal space by the end of my service will look very different.

It was so hot that they had 2 upper windows open here and the doors open as we started to drive away. But... it didn't last very long, the doors closed not long after we moved further down the road and the other overhead window was also forced closed. Too much current.
On this mini-bus it was so hot that they had 2 windows and the doors open. But it didn’t last long… the doors were asked to be closed and one of the windows wouldn’t stay open. Too much current. I liked how one of the windows was being kept open with a full water bottle though. Creative!

This summer has kept me pretty busy over the past two months. In June I traveled to Switzerland and France to visit a friend. I shared photos and some stories from my travels in previous posts.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.
The view from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

In June, 68 new Peace Corps Moldova volunteers arrived and they have been going through pre-service training, which has brought back all kinds of memories for me from a year ago. (How is it a year ago already?!) I helped with some training sessions for 4 weeks which had me traveling back and forth from site a lot and left me exhausted by the 4th week. Lots of hot 2-hour rutiera rides in those weeks.

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I’m doing a presentation for the trainees and their partners about creating a SWOT analysis for their organizations. (photo by: Cat Richardson)

In Balti, we said goodbye to 3 of our site mates who we spent the last year with. It feels different with them not being here and they are missed.

Now Returned Peace Corps Moldova Volunteers, Paden, Barbara, & Leah from the M28 group!
Now Returned Peace Corps Moldova Volunteers, Paden, Barbara, & Leah from the M28 group!

The kids in our apartment complex area put on a concert for us, especially for Leah and Paden who at that time were leaving and going back to the US in a few days. It was incredibly touching and so sweet. The evening consisted of dance performances, singing songs, reciting poems and skits in a mix of Russian, Romanian, and English.

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All of us together after the concert the kids put on for us.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to play games outside with them in the evenings. We’ve played dominoes and UNO in a mashup between Russian, Romanian, and English. It’s been a lot of fun to get to know these kids and also challenging as we try to communicate between 3 different languages.

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Thanks for leaving the dominoes behind, Leah! They’ve come in handy!

At the end of June, I traveled to a friend’s village to celebrate her birthday with her host family along with a few other volunteer friends. Moldovan’s celebrate well, check out this incredible spread of food!

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So much food was prepared for Eliz’s birthday! I’m so glad I was able to celebrate with her and meet her host family! (photo by: Katie Bennett)

In July, we celebrated America’s Independence Day in Balti with a BBQ at another PCVs apartment complex outdoor area and invited our host families. You can read more about that experience HERE. Of course, I brought bubbles for the kids that would be there and it was a big hit for some of the neighborhood kids, especially this little guy pictured below.

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This adorable neighborhood kid loved the bubbles.

A few days later in July, my primary organization I work with celebrated their 10 year anniversary. We had a big celebration with some of their partners and beneficiaries with a lunch at a really fancy banquet hall complete with speeches, certificates, gifts, and an abundance of delicious food.

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My coworkers about to cut the cake in celebration of ProCoRe’s 10 year anniversary.

We have a children’s park in our city with old soviet style amusement park rides. One Saturday in July a friend and I decided to go for a ride on the ferris wheel as we were passing through on the way home… because, why not?

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Fun fact: the ferris wheel doesn’t stop and you have to literally hop on and off to ride it (it does go really slow though). It was a beautiful day to see the view of the city from the top!

I met up with some the girls from my Technovation Challenge team to see one of them sing in a choral concert. I enjoyed the concert and spending time with them afterward hearing about what they have been up to this summer.

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Lots of laughs with the girls after the concert trying to take photos.

Later in July, we had a fun get-together/meeting at another volunteers site. He just moved into a new apartment and we made pizza cake and ate amazing food all day because he’s quite the talented cook. I thought they were joking when they said we were going to make a pizza cake for dinner… no joke, it happened. Best meeting ever!

Pizza cake?! I have to admit, this is something I thought only lived on pinterest and couldn't be replicated... I have been proven wrong.
Pizza cake?! I have to admit, this is something I thought only lived on Pinterest and couldn’t be replicated well, especially in Moldova… I have been proven wrong.

A few times between June & July, I went to my host family’s village house and enjoyed learning more about their honey bees, helped collect the fruit from the trees and potatoes from the ground, assisted my host mom on some home decorating, and saw a bit of the process that goes to making homemade rachiu with fruit (more on all that another time).

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We collected potatoes from the field one Saturday morning. My host dad was sad because there hasn’t been much rain and didn’t allow them to grow bigger than expected or produce a large amount. When we work in the garden, I’m not allowed to help without wearing a hat or proper work slippers. My mother would approve.

August is going to be a busy month with a friend’s visit from the US, beginning the work for a grant project for two communities in the North of Moldova, and helping out with a summer camp focusing on IT skills for young girls. I’m really looking forward to the next month ahead! PLUS… I recently received fun news that my blog has been selected as one of the finalists in the Peace Corps Third Goal “Blog It Home” contest! Voting on Facebook will happen August 3-10. I will share more details soon as I receive them. Stay tuned!