Saturday, April 28, 2007
It is Saturday morning and so far a very lazy day. After getting up I spent most of the morning so far watching the highlights on espn.com of last night's games. God I love the Internet. Later today I will going paint balling. I went once before and it was a lot of fun. The little balls actually sting when they hit you. So hopefully I will not get shot up too bad.
After a long day of getting shot we have the draft tonight (day on East Coast). So that means I will not be going too far my computer. I realized last night as I was reading a message board about who the Browns should draft at number 3 that I really love the NFL draft. I will get into why in a minute. I need to rant for a second. I love the NFL style of you draft based on how well you did the season before. I really hate the NHL and NBA style of the ping pong ball lottery. If you are the worst team in the league you should go first and if you win it all you go last. Period. It is so ridiculous that a team can be the worst team and pick 3rd in the draft.
Some may argue that I am just pissed that the Flyers got the second draft pick when they were the worst team. Fair enough argument but I never liked that style. I think it is an idiotic way of doing things. There are few things that the NFL does really well: length of schedule, draft, and salary cap. All the major sports league should more closer to that standard. Obviously a hockey season should not be 16 games but 50-60 would be more then enough with the current playoff schedule. Let not even get into the utterly ridiculous 162 games of the baseball season. 80 games would be more than enough. Maybe then the games in April would not be a total waste since they don't count for anything anyway.
Ok I will move on slightly now. Here is why I really love the draft. Because no matter where you finished last year it time to start anew. There is large pool of young talent that is available to take. Nobody really knows who will be a bust (and someone will). It is a time of hope and anticipation for all fans. You can look a the draft and dream about how good these guys could be. Most of the players taken this year will not see any significant action or play time for a few years. An even smaller amount will ever be stars, but you can always hope. It's so much fun. The format is a bit slow. I tend to come back and forth every half hour to hour and see who was taken and read up more on some of the guys I don't know, but it is really fun none the less. So as I read Browns fans argue back and forth about whether the Browns should draft Quinn I realized that all fans have their teams and everyone is looking towards the new year hoping to see the team improve and win it all. For the record I think the Browns should draft a linemen since what good is franchise quarterback (especially one that folds in games that are not against division 2 teams) if you have no line to protect him. It all starts in the trenches.
Lynne started asking my what I am doing. I explain what I was writing about. Her response is what does this have to do with Malta. The answer is nothing really, but I am in Malta and it is what is on mind. So I will write what I like. Now I will move on to some of the updates.
Monday we are going to the new house. If all the air conditioners are there and all the inventory of the furniture looks correct we are going to sign the lease. At that point we will be moving in withing the next week. I will take some photos once we are in and post them so people can see our crib before they come to visit.
Next Tuesday is Labor day in Malta so the Embassy is closed. I do love the fact that Malta has holidays coming out the whaazooo. I also looks like very likely that I will be going to DC in late May for some training. This means that Lynne is probably not going back to states to get Kirby. I will do this on one of the weekends that I am in the states. Once things are a little more confirmed I will let people know who are in the DC area. I have babbled on enough for now. So more should come later.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I forgot to mention in the last post our amazing bus ride. On Sunday when we were on our way home from Valletta there was a festa or protest or something that involves people holding flags and blocking traffic. All the buses were backed up (cars too, actually) for quite a ways up. Our bus driver backed up, swung around the roundabout just outside the bus terminal at about 60 mph, (according to Terry he was within inches of another bus during the about-face) then zoomed up side streets to get us around the blockage and back on track. This guy was impressive.
Also, today was my 16 week visit and it turns out I am having a ... baby. Too early to tell gender, so we are still debating both boy and girl names. I did get to see baby's head moving, and its heart beating, on the ultrasound, and it is the right size for its age so all is good.
For those of you waiting for me to show and to get into my maternity pants ... well you'll be waiting a bit longer. I actually lost about 1 pound since my last visit. Doctor isn't worried, and I am sure it is due to walking everywhere and the ice cream either sucking or costing $10 for a pint. I am sure I'll be showing soon when the ship freight is delivered and the ice cream maker is fired up!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
The other news of the week is that we passed the embassy housing board and are on to negotiating the lease with the landlord of the house we want. We are supremely excited and still keeping our fingers crossed. I had tons of lawyerly fun completely revising the lease and making it more fair and more suited to our situation and I was very surprised that the landlord didn't fight most of the provisions I thought he would really want to negotiate. This means either he does recognize what a cash cow the embassy is, or he isn't actually planning to do any of the things we are putting in the lease that he has to do. Since he is our next door neighbor, though, I doubt he will be too difficult. As many of you know, I can be quite difficult myself and does he really want me knocking on his door every day asking when things will be done? So, we have passed a couple of hurdles and we still need to get the lease finalized, signed, and for him to get the work on the house completed. We saw most of the furniture that is in the house and we are perfectly pleased with what he has done (for the most part, and he is changing some things around to meet our requests).
Our car is scheduled to arrive in 2 weeks at at that point we should really become explorers around the island. So far we have not ventured too very far away because of the unpleasant roads and bumpy buses. Today our fun event was a self-determined walking tour of the gardens of Valletta (there are 3 rather large and supposedly very nice gardens). We both decided we prefer our gardens to actually have a certain level of trees, bushes and other plants in them and decided none of the ones Valletta boasts are worthy of the name. Also, Terry has decided that a garden that has a pond or fountain but doesn't have red ear slider turtles living in it should not call itself a garden. I thought that was a bogus complaint. So far "our" garden (the one local to the house we are pretty sure we will live in) is the best we have seen so far. Go us!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Well it is official! We have been here a month. Things are going along. Yesterday we went to Mdina to see the walled city. Mdina is the old capital of Malta. The city is fully walled of and no cars are allowed in except residents. Very nice city kind of quiet. It is on a bit of a hill so you can see all the way to Valletta and the some. He is a link to the wikipedia site for Mdina if people are interested in learning more.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mdina
After walking around the city a bit we came home and went out for dinner. We tried another Indian restaurant. It was not the really good one (as the reviews go) since that one was booked full. We went to another that was near by. It was really not that great but it was ok. Malik's really spoiled us. Today I didn't feel great so we spent the whole day doing nothing.
At work we are still waiting on the housing. The security and maintenance guy did their inspections so at this point we are waiting for the housing board to give a yeah or nay still. Hopefully all will go well. We are really dying to get our house and then our stuff so we can start to feel like we are settled.
One thing Malta has a lot of is cats roaming around. Maybe that is why I don't see many rodents around. Not too many places for them to hide on the island.
Anyway here are some more photos.
Some more photos of Sliema Beach.
Some photos from our trip to Mdina.
Friday, April 13, 2007
I have been craving pasta in tomato sauce practically since I became pregnant, and every time I have ordered this in restaurants here I have been painfully disappointed. The tomato sauce sucks so bad sometimes it was completely inedible. Terry and I had a conversation about how I keep choosing the wrong dish at dinner and we realized it was the tomato sauce. When we have had cream or olive oil based sauces they have been tasty. We can not wait until we get our ship freight with the jars of pasta sauce from home ... mmmmm ... we may also try our hand at homemade sauce, it can't be worse than this. Anyway, it is NOT like being in Italy here. Do not be fooled.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Ok so I have been really bad about updating, but Lynne has been decent. Here is the scoop on what is going on. Shortly after arriving I had one week with my boss to go over everything before he left for 3 weeks of training and left me by myself. So I have been very busy at work between learning as much as I can and making sure everything is done in a timely fashion. We have not had internet at home till now so I could not do the updates in the evening. That is my reason for being behind. Lynne has kept the blog mostly update to date as to what is happening. Here is my quick highlight reel.
Found Housing, now the Embassy will need to say yeah or nay.
I went paint balling one Saturday afternoon. What a blast. If you have a chance do it.
Lynne went to doctor a few weeks ago. Baby is still doing well.
Not new but some people don't know. Girls name is determined, boys name is still being debated.
Fresh Fruit here kicks ass.
Old time butchers are still here (Very cool)
The rabbit here is awesome.
Fish is surprisingly expensive.
Haven't had chance to play tourist because we are looking for housing.
I work in an area that is like a dungeon with no windows or sunlight and I realized it does not bother me very much.
Everyone has an opinion on where we should live and none of them remotely correlate with our interests.
Lots of connection to Pennsylvania (read Lynne's post for all the details). We really kick ass.
Our Unaccompanied Air Baggage came on time and nothing was broken. Not sure that means how bad things will be with the rest of our stuff or the car.
That is the big stuff. I will try to consistently post once or twice a week going forward. I make no promises though. Also I will link photo albums of anything interesting that we shot. Below is a link to some photos I took on Sliema's beach.
Pictures From Silema's Beach.
April 6, 2007
Good Friday is a holiday in
We were unable to go visit the third and last of the top contender houses yesterday so we had to make another appointment with the same realtor as yesterday to see that house. Terry liked it a lot more than I thought he would, so this replaces the Kappara house as our #2. So, both of our top 2 houses are with the same realtor. I guess in any case Roslyn will be getting our enormous realtor fee! This place is the opposite of the one we love best – totally modern instead of very traditional Maltese, and the location is close to the thick of things rather than out in the village, but it suits our needs almost as well. Also, like the first choice house, it has a pool so that we can cool off in the summer without destroying our budget on air conditioning.
Easter at an embassy means Easter party at the ambassador’s residence. The weather was beautiful, the kids got chocolate-y and messy, and the adults really got into the games. The ambassador won the sack race – she is an athletic lady!
I got to put on my suit and feel important today – I was one of a panel of 3 interviewing Maltese academics seeking Fulbright grants to conduct research in the USA. The other panelists were an embassy guy and last years’ Fulbright awardee, who I know and will be working with at the University of Malta Law School.
April 11, 2007
We got internet set up at the house!!!!!!!!
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Today was daylight savings day, so for everyone I told we’d be only 5 hours behind east coast time during summer, sorry, I was wrong. I am sure in the fall we will have another lovely 2 week stint of being only 5 hours ahead of you, rather than the usual 6. The weather turned strangely wonderful yesterday so we have spent a lot of the last 2 days outside. Today we went to a couple of the neighborhoods where our top contender housing is located to see just how far away they really are from things like grocery stores and bus stops. Unfortunately, we were completely unable to find any grocery stores! At least there were lots of restaurants, so I guess we just eat out every meal … maybe not such a great idea.
I decided that I needed to have food that wasn’t Continental/Italian/Maltese tonight, so we decide to try one of the 3 Indian restaurants in a 5block stretch a little ways down from our apartment. The 2 places that were not in a hotel were closed – we were hungry too early, this is the Med, you know, only children and pensioners eat at 6pm! The one place where we did eat was in a hotel and … this is the best part … it is an Indian and Chinese restaurant. There are 2 entrances, but into one big main room. You can ask for either the Indian or Chinese menu. Bollywood music was blaring but the side of the room we were on was decked out in Chinese paraphernalia – red lanterns, dragons, scrolls. I imagine the other side had elephants and Buddha but I couldn’t see it from where we were sitting. It was surreal. On the plus side, the lamb curry was quite good and even had a kick, which impressed us. The minus side included the naan that wasn’t very naan-like and, horror of horrors, “butter chicken” that was, truly, chicken doused with a barbecue sauce. Ick! I thought that by surrounding it with rice and naan it would become edible, but alas we just finished off the curry and it was enough. I guess next time we’ll be trying one of the other places.
March 31, 2007
This was a week of errands. On Monday I went out for the first time with the new realtor, and saw another top contender house (for those keeping count, we are now at 4, although not one is really perfect for our needs). Because we can’t bring any kind of disk or thumb drive to the embassy, we got to do a lovely convoluted dance of putting our tax forms on a thumb drive, taking it to an internet café, sending the documents to ourselves, then on my next trip to the embassy downloading and printing the forms. Until we have our internet in the house, this is how we get anything from our computer to the rest of the world. Luckily, we found an internet café near the house with good rates and they are usually open. They are even a true café, so we can have cappuccino and sweets while we are there!
After spending parts of both Monday and Tuesday at the embassy, I took a break on Wednesday and joined the Spouse Coffee Morning, which is a chance for embassy spouses to meet at someone’s house, eat and chat and find out what everyone else is doing. I met more people – at even turn I am meeting more people, so although the embassy seems small, it is like clowns in a car – more fit inside than it looks like they can hold. I am pretty sure I haven’t even met everyone yet! Also, “coffee morning” is a euphemism for “hanging out until the mid-afternoon and even later if there is nothing else you have to do.” In the middle of things, I ran out for … drumroll … my 12 week prenatal appointment. I met the OB who’d been recommended to me and she is lovely and will be my doctor. In Europe you get an ultrasound at every visit so I got to see baby’s heartbeat, and she showed me the spine growing, and that it measured perfectly for its age, and we even saw its little hand up in the “air”. It was fun to come back to the other spouses with the photos and then hear all the mothers’ stories about their pregnancies. It was also a huge relief to know I am past the first trimester hurdle and the baby is so far so good.
On Thursday Terry and I went back to one of the top contender houses, since he now needs to see them so we can decide where we will live. The couple who own it live there now (not that common, actually, most places are rented) and are moving. After we toured the house they more or less insisted we sit and have cappuccinos and we chatted with them for a while. One interesting thing I should mention … at home I generally drink Tetley’s tea, it is a cheap mass brand but better than Lipton. Here, I got a box at the store and after a few days it was really making me feel sick – I just figured it was a problem of the tannins getting in the way of iron absorption and lay off the tea. At the same time, for some reason, cappuccinos have started tasting good to me, and with only 2 sugars! I guess carrying Terry’s baby is making me have a taste for coffee. Is this kind of thing genetic?!?!
Friday was a big day of accomplishing things. We had been warned that Malta was very Mediterranean and that when people spoke about time and schedules and deadlines, they really are only talking in general terms. A 3pm appointment could be at 3pm, or 3:30pm, or later. On Friday, our air freight was due to arrive between 2-3pm. Imagine my shock and surprise when at 2pm precisely there was a buzz at the door! Having learned from our previous delivery of air freight in DC, I asked them to unload everything from the boxes so they could cart the boxes away (the boxes are big and thick and not easy to dispose of.) I started putting things away to give them more room for laying things out. Suddenly, one of the men gestures for me to come over to where they are opening the second box. “Ma’am, there is a white powder.” The three of us (me and the 2 men) then behave exactly as we are NOT supposed to act in the event of an emergency. I walked over to the box, looked at what they were pointing at, touched it, and wondered out loud what I had packed. Admittedly, I was present when the box was packed and sealed, so I was pretty sure it was something I had packed, but in retrospect it was still stupid. Of course, it turns out that when I packed baking soda in a Tupperware, the Tupperware opened up and it was baking soda that made everything look like Christmas.
Another important event on Friday was we finally got our telephone figured out. Here in Malta, many landline phones are on a system where you need to buy phone cards and essentially charge up the phone they way you charge up a pay-as-you-go cell phone in the USA. The problem is that we could not figure out how to add money to our home phone, so we were unable to make outgoing calls for a full week (which is part of the reason I ended up at the embassy so many days this week). The instructions on the phone cards are not actually correct. The instructions given to me by my landlord were not correct. The instructions given to one of the nice embassy guys who called the phone company and spoke to them in Maltese for me were not correct. Finally, on Friday I called the phone company myself on their toll free line and we went through, step by step, everything I had tried and what the errors were. He told me to try one small tweak to what I had been doing; I was dubious and told him I’d be calling back when it didn’t work. Of course, it worked like a charm and I finally had communication once again.
Friday night we went bowling with some embassy folks, some of whom I had not yet met. I sucked, and we all had a good time. Terry was thrilled to find that there were other big bowlers in the crowd – at least 2 people had their own balls and shoes. He also lamented that we had put his bowling ball in ship freight instead of UAB – who would have known?
April 2, 2007
Have I mentioned the joy that is produce in Malta? I still can’t wrap my brain around being at a similar latitude as in the USA but having in-season, local strawberries to snack on. Yep, you heard right boys and girls, tonight’s dessert was a bowl full of tasty strawberries, some as good as anything I picked in Bucks County. And the tomatoes …. Terry has become quite skilled in the cucumber and tomato salad, which we have been gobbling up most nights for dinner and I have been finishing off at lunch time. The tomatoes are also, presumably, local because how on earth could they possibly ship such tasty food, and if it were possible to be shipped, why don’t we get this in the USA? I have to admit, the grapes and bananas are imported, so I am not totally talking about local produce, but to have such variety in March (now April) is so mind-blowing that I just need to talk about it. Here, it is summer time, with the parched land not seeing any water for several months, when fresh produce is said to be at its lowest in quality, quantity and diversity. On the other hand, shouldn’t the tomatoes be in their prime (as thought they can get better than this)? Check back with me in 4 months and we should have some answers.
I should also mention that we are starting to notice the things that will probably drive us crazy over the next 2 years. First, give up all hope of finding any kind of shop or store, including the pharmacy or grocery store, open past 8pm. Being spoiled with all of our 24 hour conveniences, 8pm seems remarkably early to close down, in my humble opinion. Also, although I had noted that many restaurants and tourist-focused shops do remain open on a Sunday, that is about all you can expect to find open. It is a good way to enforce down time, although we continually find ourselves venturing to the neighborhoods where our top contender houses are located on Sundays, to scope the area and see how far away things are on foot. This Sunday we went to Attard, which is a small village inland, where there is a gorgeous house with a pool. I have been warned that if I find a house that has actual grass on the land, I am likely to be a target for mosquitoes in the summer. This is something to consider, however, Kirby will be enamored with the spacious yard and lots of things to sniff. We do need our realtor to actually set up the appointment to bring us back there, then get the embassy to agree to let us live there, but these are hurdles for another day. It is strange to me that after days and days of driving me around the island looking for housing, now that I am actually ready to make a decision which will make some realtor quite a chunk of change, I can’t get these people to call me back! We may end up sleeping on park benches after all.
April 3, 2007
The newspaper here is surprisingly good. It is not too thick, a little smaller than the Northeast Times, which was our local paper in Philly. However, the letters to the editor are completely worth reading. This is a pretty highly-informed little nation, and I have read some very interesting arguments and facts I hadn’t known about various issues. One big debate these days is about hunting. In Malta, there are rabid hunters (well, like anywhere, some hunters are rabid) and they want to shoot anything that flies – literally. And they want to shoot at any time of the year. Now that Malta is part of the EU it needs to abide by the EU laws, which forbid spring hunting. Malta has ignored this directive for the first 3 years since it became part of the EU and it set to ignore it this year, but the EU is getting pretty annoyed with this behavior. There is also a new series of articles about a newborn baby that had been abandoned as trash. These kinds of things don’t happen in Malta – where the first murder in over a year occurred a few weeks ago!
April 4, 2007
Today’s adventure was with the fishmonger. Like the fruit and veg trucks, on certain days of the week there is a guy in a truck with various fresh fish on ice, mostly whole fish. Since I know nothing about fish, was worried he might not speak English, and knew that we didn’t have a fillet knife in the house, I have stayed away. I figured that one of these days Terry would come with me and we’d sort it out. I walked past, heard the fishmonger speak English with a customer, and decided to ask him to identify the various fish he had. Some I recognized by name – snapper, mullet, whiting, tuna. I recognized the salmon by sight. Then there was a fish I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I am still not sure what it was, but he had it in big and small sizes. He recommended the baby tuna, which was one of the whole fish, then explained that he can fillet it for me. I was sold. Now we just need to figure out how to cook it.