I love Christmas. I really do. I can so easily get caught up in the MAGIC of the season. The sights, the smells, the songs, the excitement over finding that perfect gift to give, the laughter, the cookies, the sweets, the holiday merriment. It's all magical. And more so with t-*-w-*-i-*-n-*-k-*-l-*-y lights and a fresh dusting of snow.
While I was in Albania, My Love and I took nightly walks. (Well, on the nights that we could convince each other that it really was warmer outside than inside that crumbly concrete apartment. Which, it usually was warmer outside than inside.) It's "our" thing to talk long walks together in whatever city we're currently. We usually don't have a destination in mind, and often, we don't really talk much. But they are some of my favorite times with My Love. This time in Albania, there was an added layer of magic and excitement to our walks. We headed out, down the street past the fountain, past the three gelato shops in a row, past ever-changing window displays of the latest fashion, round the corner at the ancient Venetian tower, down the boardwalk and back again. And along the way, we'd look for all the new Christmas lights and displays being put up.
C'mon, every city needs their own ancient Venetian tower decked out in Christmas lights.
It really is magical, isn't it?
Since I've been back in the States, I've had a hard time feeling the magic of Christmas. Most of it is because I just haven't had any time to enjoy the little traditions that make Christmas so magical. I realized that most of the magic of Christmas is related to the cheesy traditions we create and keep. Sure, I remember with a smile, most of my Christmas presents, but the things that made and still make Christmas magic are the traditions. Going to the candy store on Christmas Eve, wearing new PJs while listening to Dad read The Night Before Christmas, going for a drive to see all the Christmas lights, warm cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven on Christmas, watching all the Christmas movies in a dogpile on the couch with my brothers.
So, I've decided, this year, I'm focusing on the excitement of seeing my parents and my brothers for Christmas. Next year, you best be believing that I will most likely drive My Love nuts with starting Christmas traditions of our own and going for lots of walks to see Christmas lights.. ;-)
It is possible to have an entire conversation in Albanian even if you know exactly one word in Albanian (and you're okay with being on the receiving end of some strange looks and laughter). "Mire" means "good." And in Albania, "good" is a perfectly acceptable answer for just about anything:
"How are you today?" "Mire."
"How is the weather today?" "Mire."
"Want kind of coffee would you like?" "Mire."
"Want some oranges?" "Mire."
"It will take you 3 hours to travel there." "Mire."
I have just one picture regret from my first trip to Albania. And it's a doozy.
Just a block down from My Love's apartment, there is a little library sponsored by the British embassy. Similar in concept to American Corners. Inside the British library are tons of British books, including an expansive children's section. And right next to the children's section there is a low platform that is covered with a jumble of machine guns from WWII. And, even more importantly, you can pick up these machine guns and play with them! Unlike Western displays, this was a hands-on military history display, and My Love totally geeked out. (Rightfully so.)
So, this time around, whenever we got to play with military history, My Love and I took A LOT of pictures:
Because, really, how often do you get to actually play with real military history?
To be perfectly honest, My Love and I were worried about hosting our first Thanksgiving. Really worried. Especially when you factor in the fact that we were in a crumbling communist-era apartment in Albania with a poorly working stove and oven and both of our mothers thousands of miles away. Frantic phone calls for help would be out of the question. Emergency runs to the grocery store for the boxed version of stuffing or a pre-made pie were not options.
After 24 hours of travel the day before, I wasn't exactly the earliest riser. My Love opted to wait for my input before buying groceries, so at about 1 in the afternoon, we started cooking our Thanksgiving dinner tenatively scheduled for 5 pm. We decided on roasting two chickens (we had absolutely no faith in My Love's oven's ability to cook a turkey even if we stuck it in the oven for 3 days), stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli with cheese, and dinner rolls. We had exactly one working burner on the stove, and the chickens took an hour to thaw out under cold water and about 3 hours to cook.
So, naturally, My Love was looking up translations to explain Thanksgiving to his neighbors. The translations he looked up included "food poisoning is an essential part of the Thanksgiving tradition," "you must overeat," and "please call the fire department! my stove has exploded!"
Fortunately, he never actually had to say any of those things in Albanian. In fact, he never even had to explain Thanksgiving. Turns out, his neighbors had watched Obama eating turkey on TV and knew exactly what we were celebrating.
It's not Thanksgiving until you have a paper turkey on the table.
Against all odds, everything we cooked came out perfectly.
Thankful that our first Thanksgiving was a success (surprisingly, the stuffing was a HUGE hit!), My Love and I were able to relax and enjoy the absurdity of having a sweet little Albanian man singing Albanian love songs as we ate. I also danced with the man later on in the evening. We ate too much, drank just enough, and laughed often. Then, as the evening wrapped up, My Love's neighbors invited us over for lunch the next day.
Note: 3 bottles of wine on the table, including 1 bottle of homemade wine. (I was thrilled that the moonshine raki wasn't offered to me.)
Turns out, the Friday after Thanksgiving is an Albanian holiday (what exactly it celebrates escaped me). So, after a lengthy lunch on Friday, My Love and I passed out from major food comas.
But, the amazing part is, My Love and I survived hosting our first ever Thanksgiving. In style. Successfully. In Albania. Next year, fancy feast for 20 guests in America? No problem! Bring it on!
We're SO willing to relinquish holiday cooking duties back to our Mothers. We'd much rather just be responsible for the overeating instead of the cooking, overeating, and mountain of dishes....)
On Saturday, DC got walloped with an amazing snowstorm. I heard my part of town got 22 inches of snow in about 24 hours. By mid-afternoon, I was a bit stir-crazy. So, naturally, I bundled up and went for a walk.
The snow was almost knee-deep. Reminded me of the days I trekked to class as an undergrad. In DC, this kind of snowfall shuts down the entire city. In western Michigan,with all the lake-effect snow, this kind of snowfall doesn't even cancel classes.
It was so beautiful, and quiet, outside.
Some serious record-breaking snowfall for DC.
I like the occasional snowstorm. Especially when I have nowhere to go. Then of course, I trudged home for hot tea, a movie, and down blankets on the couch.
Whoops. Is it just me or did the last three weeks just fly right on by? I really did think I would toss up a few blog posts once I got to Albania. But truthfully, I was totally okay with ignoring the rest of the world. I opted to live in the world of KtMac and My Love and pretend nothing else existed. It was perfect. Okay, okay....maybe not perfect*. But pretty damn close.
Since 24 hours of non-stop travel topped off by a full day of work can leave a girl a bit tired, it's going to take me a few days to organize and write all the posts I so want to write. (*Including mention of why perfect may not be the best word to use...)
In the meantime, I leave you with this silly, but somehow, oh-so-classic-KtMac picture from our mini-trip to Gjirokaster in southern Albania.
Born about 50 years too late. I bet I could've been one famous WWII pin-up girl...