Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Testing 1, 2, 3

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bye-bye Birdie

Yesterday this little guy (an ordinary house sparrow) was sitting in front of our front door. Apparently he took a tumble from the nest over the door (stolen by his parents from a house martin family that built it).

Obviously he was not yet ready for fledgling status. We've already seen one clutch of fledglings emerge and hop-fly their way into the world; this guy was from batch two of the season. We did our best to avoid frightening him and Emily put some water out in a shallow lid. (Baby had no idea what to do with it, but Mama Bird did - hello birdbath!)

When we came home from our afternoon in Tirana yesterday, birdie had moved to the base of a downspout, a much better location away from our doorway. I saw Mama in the vicinity several times, so all appeared well.

Unfortunately this morning birdie was dead. There was no sign of foul play, so he apparently didn't fall prey to one of the neighborhood cats. Perhaps it was a bit too cool overnight, or perhaps he suffered injury in the tumble from the nest. Either way, it was a bit sad, but not wholly unexpected. Every spring and summer in Manassas we invariably had dead baby robins in our yard. In Mexico we had one young dove that didn't survive the transition to adulthood. The situation reminds me of a classic Yes tune, "Survival."

In any case, this will be the last season for this particular nest. We've resolved to remove the nest this winter and put up something (boards, screen?) to prevent birds from rebuilding in that location. The nest litter and droppings on our doorstep quickly overpowered any warm, fuzzy feelings we had for the cheeping of little birds. Besides, Mama and Papa bird hate the activity of our door opening and closing. Better for all if they relocate. I'm sure there will be plenty of new house martin nests to steal with all the new construction in the neighborhood.

On another note, this blog posting marks my return to more regular updates. I'm pondering several sorts of "projects," some written and some photographic, that I hope to start here shortly. Stay tuned and keep in touch.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Albania at last!

We finally made it! Friday afternoon we flew in to Tirana and started our two years in Albania. Not having slept on the flights over enough to measure, we were exhausted. We pushed on, unpacking stuff and going grocery shopping in the evening. Saturday and half of Sunday were spent doing housework, unpacking, rearranging, and unwinding/resting. We went to a BBQ hosted by another Embassy employee and got a scenic tour of the area in which we live.

Here are two quick pictures just to show a bit of the neighborhood. First, a castle (don't know the name yet) that we can see to our south.

Second, a local farmer, his cow, and his sheep. Every evening he brings them down the hill behind us to graze in the empty field below us. Around dark, he takes them back up the hill. The little lamb, barely visible in the grass, is quite playful and last night followed two boys that walked by, much to the farmer's chagrin.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yes, it's been five months since my last posting, or so it seems. Facebook has taken what little time and energy I have for online postings, unfortunately, and I've neglected this space.

Quick updates:
My Albanian training ends next week. Woohoo! I won't be fully comfortable in Albania, but I feel I have enough of a grasp to get around. I'll have two weeks of intense pack-out work and last-minute purchases and then depart.

Boots will be going to live with my sister-in-law and her family soon. We have to work out the details soon. I'll miss her more than I care to think about, especially when we get to Albania and I'm alone each day while Emily is at work. It will be odd. Boots has been with us for over 14 years now. We'd love to take her, but don't see any scenario where a 15 year old dog, that has never flown before and doesn't like kennels/cages, would survive the long trip.

I'm getting used to my new laptop. It's the first time I've ever had to use just a laptop, so it's a bit of a learning curve. My old Powerspec PC is nearly ready for my brother. I plan to deliver it this weekend.

I just received my DVD of "Reclaiming the Blade" today (finally!). As with the majority of the movies I've purchased since I returned to the States last summer, it'll go into the "watch in Albania" pile, which is substantial. I still need to pick up a few more movies that I missed while in Mexico or just after we got back, but I've made a good start.

Once I arrive in Albania, I will resume my full-time student activities, either with NVCC or another institution. I also plan to spend some time developing a personal website as well as some practice/play sites, just for practice.

We will definitely be doing some serious traveling while in Albania: Albania itself, Monte Negro, Kosova, Macedonia, Greece, Italy - and maybe Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia. Mostly for fun, but we also want to scout out Macedonia, Italy, Kosova, and Monte Negro for possible future postings. Italian is pretty easy and I'm sure Emily could pick it up very quickly. Kosova is an Albanian post and both Macedonia and Monte Negro have Albanian as a minority language.

Well, time to run. I have to prepare a short presentation on human rights in Albanian for tomorrow.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yes, it's been over a month, again, since my last post. I have been busy, honest! Emily and I have been taking Albanian classes full-time (5 days a week, 5 hours per day) for the past eight weeks or so, just long enough to know how tough a language Albanian actually is.

Twice a week we've gone to an introductory Italian class at NVCC. Since neither of us needs the credits and neither wants the stress, we're auditing the course. So, two nights a week we spend two and a half hours learning Italian. Compared to Albanian, Italian is incredibly easy: far fewer irregularities and NO cases! I had forgotten how much of my high school Latin was memorization of tables.

For most of the first eight weeks, Emily was on the morning shift and I was on the afternoon shift. As of today, we switched. As a result, I had trouble getting to sleep last night and then woke up around five o'clock this morning. After trying unsuccessfully to get back to sleep for a bit, I got up around 5:30, a full hour before I had planned. Yuck. I was awake for my class, but by noon was beginning to get tired. Now I am quite tired, but know that I can't take a nap. Naps tend to make things worse for me: I get up from a nap groggier and later have trouble getting to sleep. Thankfully Heroes isn't on tonight, so I can go to bed a little earlier than usual perhaps. I'll be fine once I get used to the schedule. As it is, I came home today, ate lunch, checked email, did my homework quickly, did some laundry, watched a little TV, and am now awaiting Emily's return after her first afternoon class. I think she wants to go shopping, although just why eludes me at the moment.

The Italian class is mostly for fun, since we do intend to travel to Italy while living in Albania. In addition, we hope to visit Greece (at least Korfu, since it's close), Croatia (Dalmatian Coast here I come!), Monte Negro (pretty much sits between Albania and Croatia), Kosovo (as research for a future posting - one of only three places Emily can work with Albanian), Macedonia (ditto), and we are seriously pondering a return trip to Malta. With two R&Rs to London included in the benefits for serving in the undeveloped Albania, we could end up there instead. Right now it's impossible to say. If it sounds like we'd burn a lot of vacation time doing this, we would; on the flip side, Emily took very little vacation during our two years in Monterrey.

I have started a list of places in Albania that I want to visit, largely based on historic sites:

  • Butrint: Unesco World Heritage Site. Wonderful Greek and Roman ruins.
  • Berat & Gjirokastra: Unesco World Heritage Sites. Berat is home to an old citadel. Gjirokastra is often called the "museum town" and is home to a nice castle.
  • Durres. Home to a large amphitheatre.
  • Perhaps some caverns (Balkans are chock-full of them; the term "Karst topography" started with part of what is now Croacia, if I recall my Physical Geography terms correctly)
  • Pretty much any old castles or ruins I can find.
Other activities planned for Albania include 2009's NaNoWriMo. I would have loved to participate this year, but just do not have that kind of time. Next year I will be ready for it. I hope to draw some inspiration from Albania to flesh out some of the many story ideas I've jotted down over the years. Something I hope to start here and complete there is something like Conjuguemos, but for Albanian. It will be a labor of love rather than for money, but good experience I think. I'm planning an initial database, to be followed by a web interface later.

Next posting I will try and get some photos up. One last note: we really wish we could go to the Obama rally in the Manassas area tonight. Unfortunately with our split schedule (AM/PM), it just wasn't an option. We did manage to get our votes in last Thursday, since our absentee ballots were mistakenly sent to our old address. IF they successfully forward, twice, we'll probably see them later this month.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's been a month?!

What the heck? How could it have been a month since I posted? Sheesh, time flies and all that.

Emily and I are learning Albanian, albeit slowly, 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus homework. In addition, we are taking an introductory Italian class at NVCC two nights a week (2.5 hours each class), plus homework. Italian is way easier and is so close to Spanish.... Unfortunately it's the "disposable" of the two languages: if things get too difficult, we abandon Italian. We're only taking it for vacation/travel purposes. The biggest problem with the Italian class is the pace: glacial. The book isn't that big, yet it is supposed to cover four (yes, 4!) semesters of Italian. That would be 18 hours in one book! Given the confusion suffered by some of our classmates over various bits of grammar, however, I could easily see it taking an entire semester to cover a chapter in sufficient detail. What grammar is causing the trouble you ask? So far: syllables, adjectives, adverbs, and masculine/feminine/single/plural agreement of nouns and adjectives. Pronunciation contines to be a problem, although I have my own problems there, which I attribute to warring Spanish and Albanian neurons.

The house is fine. We *really* love the location. At a slightly brisk walk, I can be in class in 7 minutes. Ten minutes at a normal walk, 12-15 if you truly make it leisurely or you're in heels (not me, I'm just saying). We would love to buy in this neighborhood, but even with the downturn, houses are @ $500K. Sigh. Maybe one day I'll win that lottery or (as my parent's said when I was younger) my rich uncle will get out of the poor house.

On other news, when I read Sluggy Freelance this morning, there was a link to this video. I can only assume that's a mama bunny, but whatever the case, don't mess with that rabbit! (Unfortunately it's a MySpace video and doesn't give me an embed link.)

I managed to watch all of Heroes seasons 1 and 2 on DVD before the new season started. Emily only managed season 1 and the first episode of season 2. After that, I gave her a quick synopsis of the major plot points of the rest of the season. We happily watched the two hour (actually just two episode) season 3 premier on Monday. Woohoo! We finally have a clue what scary mom's power is, Sklyar is freaking more dangerous, and the previews for next week are a bit troubling.

We also watched the return of Big Bang Theory, our favorite sitcom (about the only one I watch regularly). Again, woohoo!

My only problem is that BBT was up against Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and I had to make a choice. Since moving back from Mexico, I've been unable to get my DVD player/recorder to work with Comcast cable. I hope this weekend I can find the time to completely disconnect, check cables/swap cables, and get it working.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Digs

As some of you know, when we returned to the States for training prior to our departure for Albania, Emily and I planned to buy a condo in the Arlington or Alexandria area. Unfortunately it didn't work out. We found a few acceptable places, but the condo fees were just too much, rendering it impossible to break even as a rental.

We got lucky. On Livelines, a Yahoo! Group designed for mutual support/commiseration of Foreign Service personnel and families, we found the perfect house: in Arlington, very close to FSI (Emily can walk to class in @ 10 minutes!), furnished, and adjacent to Alcova Heights Park. The owners are FS folks, too, currently abroad. We took the place over immediately after another officer, who was just wrapping up language training prior. The timing was right, the location perfect, and the house great. Best of all, rent is via per diem and all-inclusive, making our lives a lot easier.

Boots is having occasional problems with the hardwood floors upstairs and the Pergo in the basement den (she had the same problem in Mexico with tile and marble floors), but loves the park. She has become reaquainted with squirrels, something she didn't see at all in Monterrey, and soon enough we'll encounter a bunny or two on our daily walks; what more could she want? (Aside from cheese, of course.)