Sunday, June 24, 2007

Visitors, finale

Saturday was a busy day. They finally came to see the house - rather than chance them getting so horribly lost trying to find our town, I went to the hotel and they followed me home. Dad could be a bit better about sticking with the car in the lead, but we did manage to make it all in one piece. After touring our complete mess of a house (we are in the process of unpacking, everything arrived on Tuesday and they arrived on Wednesday so understandably much of the unpacking has been delayed) we wandered over to the San Anton Gardens. It is easy to see that things are going to much less pretty come deep summer, many of the flowers and plants are already wilting and dying off. The Gardens will always have the trees and some of the shrubbery, though, and it is largely shaded so the walk was pleasant.

We were hungry and in need of cold water after the stroll, so we headed to the Corinthian across the street. I had heard good things about the restaurant Rickshaw - pan-Asian - and it was the only thing open so we ended up there by default. I can honestly say it was the best Asian food we have had yet in Malta, with the exception of Emperor of India. My dish was the weakest but everyone else's was quite tasty. Even better, the prices were much more reasonable than I had expected and they deliver to Attard and Balzan so when baby comes, we may have Rickshaw dinner more often than anything else!

Comfortable and sated, we piled into dad's air conditioned car and set out for Qormi, as the nearest of the weekend's festas. We had heard fireworks generally begin around 10pm at the festas and at 9:45 they had already started. We could see them from the highway as we drove in. Finding the center of town was easy enough, finding parking was much more difficult. We were pretty sure we would never find the car once we'd left it, and Terry and I worked hard to remember routes and landmarks so that we would in fact find the car before flights out the next evening. Dad had thought that by remembering the name of the street where the car was parked we would be assured of finding our way back. You'd think that after 3 days in the country he would know better :-)

Fireworks continued nearly continuously as we wandered into the center of town, where there was not much going on other than all the food and "stuff" stands. We all got sweet treats and walked the length of the festa area. There had been bands playing earlier but they were long gone now. We watched the fireworks for a while - it was essentially what everyone was doing - and noted a whole series of firework displays set up in the center of town. They looked like they would be quite a finale, and were told they would go off around 11:30pm. Dad and Yvonne had to pack, and we still needed to find the car and find our way out of Qormi, so we regretfully decided not to wait. Around 11pm we set out back home. Miraculously, we did find the car without getting lost. However, it took us 3 tries and a very roundabout route to get out of Qormi ("...you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave..."). At 11:30pm, when we were finally back on the main road, we could still see the fireworks. Two hours of nearly consistent fireworks, and they weren't even at the finale yet - we were incredibly impressed. Terry and I promised ourselves to attend all the festas we could - as long as they were walkable. No more driving to a festa.

On dad's last day in Malta, we didn't do much other than pack and get ourselves to the airport. Terry dropped me off at the hotel - we ended up having dessert with them before he headed home - and we set out to get to the airport our full 2 hours before takeoff.

As we thought may happen, there were no ticketing booths open for our flight more than 2 hours before the flight was meant to take off, so we settled ourselves in the cafe. Some time less than 2 hours before the flight I decided to take a walk to check out the airport and discovered the British Jet desk. There were people ahead of me in line, and it turns out they were being told our flight would not leave until 12:30am. Our flight was scheduled for 6:45pm. The lady claimed mechanical problems - which is always a good thing if an overnight stay at the airport is looking likely - but a huge frustration for us. With such a late departure, we had to notify the car rental and the hotel in the UK. I tried to convince them to return to my house where we could be comfortable and make all the necessary phone calls - one more reason to love Vonage, calls to 5 European countries are also free now - but they preferred to stay at the airport. Dad's calling card and even the credit card charge calls were not working properly, so I ended up relaying phone numbers and contacts to Terry back home, who would make calls and report the information back to us. Dad started calling Terry our private operator. I was glad to see that the news stand carried Go Mobile top up cards because I was pretty sure I was going to run out - luckily everything got sorted before that happened.

Dad bought a deck of cards and we discovered we didn't really remember how to play any card games. We ended up playing gin rummy but I am pretty sure we did it wrong because someone won a hand within 2-3 rounds, and I remember the game going on much longer than that. We also headed up to the more comprehensive restaurant for a change of pace and hot food for dinner, and being Malta even an airport meal took over an hour.

Amazingly, the plane did actually take off at 12:30am, as we were first told.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Visitors, Part II

Friday we decided to take things easy, and met up for a night of dining and casino. We met up with them at their hotel and proceeded to get more lost than we should have for going from the Le Meridien to the Westin Dragonera. Ended up late for our dinner reservations at Quadro. Dinner was quite good, although none of the dishes were perfect. The fish was excellent and fresh, but the creme brulee was eggier and less smooth than a creme brulee should be. Although my dad has spent extensive time in Europe, and his wife is European-born, they were both surprised that dinner lasted more than 3 hours. Welcome to the Med.
Next up was the casino - they are open 24/7 so there were no concerns about getting there by a certain time. Unfortunately, the casino requires everyone who enters to have ID and get registered, and in Yvonne's tiny evening bag no ID had been placed. Terry and I got our registration cards, so for the next visitors who are dying to gamble we can just walk on in. By this time it was past midnight - way past my bedtime - so we called it a night and went home.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Visitors

My dad is our first visitor. He and his wife arrived Wednesday afternoon, and as they had rented a car and were staying in a hotel I didn't meet them at the airport. Although Terry and I agree my assistance wouldn't have been much assistance, if I had been with them the chances are good we would have been lost somewhat less than the 2.5 hours that they were lost. Yes, folks, you heard correctly. It is not possible to drive 2.5 hours in Malta without going in some serious circles, as well as hitting some major traffic, and I am sure they did just that!

Understandably, they were hot, tired and frazzled by the time they reached their hotel, so we kept it low key and ate dinner together at their hotel (Le Meridien St. Julian. centrally located, but has some housekeeping issues)

Thursday we met up for the "Knights of Malta - 1565" performance. It was held at the Powerhouse Theatre, which was formerly a powerhouse (electricity) when the Brits were here. Located at the Valletta Waterfront, it is of course in Floriana, not Valletta. I can't really recommend the show - there were many of what I would call non sequiteur scenes to showcase the various performer talents (i.e., belly dancing, ballet, baton twirling, dressage - yes, the cast included 8 horses) and they were pretty good. However, you leave the performance knowing no more about the Siege of 1565 than you did when you arrived, and the love story was simply annoying and distracting. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend 2 hours, but I also admit I don't think we'll go again. One interesting issue we ran against was that we were to be at the theatre at 8:30pm, yes could not find a restaurant that opened before 7pm. When I called that one, I was told we'd only make the 8:30 show if we took their recommendations on what to order, i.e. pasta rather than steak, one course rather than two, etc.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What I Did Today

I honestly didn't believe it would really happen. In fact, when Terry called me at 8:30am to tell me the movers would be at the house around 9am, I still didn't believe.

Well, by noon I was busy ..... Unpacking. My. Stuff.

WOO-HOOOOO. Tons of things we had forgotten we had even packed. Things we had been pining away for. It is amazing the things you realize you love. Butter dish. Cheese grater. Mixing bowls.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pregnancy

June 13, 2007
I am so obviously pregnant that 2 ladies offered me their seats on the bus! Also, I feel baby kicks every day now. Baby really likes 5-6am to do gymnastics. Without fail, every day, I have been awakened at that time. Oh goodie.

We finally heard the heartbeat - on all previous visits we just saw it beating on the ultrasound but this time my doctor has the thing that plays the heartbeat. Baby's got a good strong, slow beat - it never went above 150. Baby is measuring perfectly for its age, and overall doctor is pretty happy with our health. On the ultrasound we saw it scratch its head, then it waved to us.
This stuff is pretty cool.

Oh, and I finally have weight gain. I seem to be starting on the recommended 1lb/week gain and, again, doctor is happy with the progress. Mom is less happy, because it is still a net negative from when I became pregnant. Will I become a Jewish mother when I become a Jewish mother?

June 15, 2007
I don't think I mentioned that the pregnant lady who's been in the hospital for the last 3 months finally delivered her well-over-5lb-perfectly-healthy baby this week! This means she finally left the hospital and went home this week! I went to see them yesterday and her little boy is so, so cute, and so tiny, and he slept the whole time I was there (guiltily overstaying the "guidelines" for visiting new parents, but she had so much to tell me about the delivery and what they do and don't do here with a newborn, etc). She let me hold him and it was the first time I have held a baby so young (for both of my nephews' births I was in a different state and couldn't get back quite so quickly). One good thing to know - the preemie clothes were swimming on him. I have no real idea what to expect for size for my baby, but neither of us are particularly big so I am assuming something under 7lb - which means the newborn size may be big! I never thought that would happen. I guess we'll just figure it out in approx. 16 weeks. Or less, or more, depending on how baby feels.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

June in Malta part 1

June 8, 2007
I am once again being tempted by rumors, and hope that my heart will not again be broken. I have been told that the documents that have been in Maltese government hands for more than 3 weeks (instead of the usual 1 day) have been released and we can schedule delivery of our ship freight. The date set right now is next Thursday, June 14, which gives me about 4 days to unpack everything before book club at our house and then my dad showing up 2 days later. Think I can do it?!?!

This week will really be like Christmas in July, between all the stuff Terry is bringing back from his trip home and now having access to my stuff again. Who knows, maybe I'll even be more parsimonious with my blog entries :-)

June 9, 2007
Today the hospital where I plan to have my baby had an open house for mothers-to-be so I went, having no idea at all what it would be about. Turns out it was lots of vendors of baby products and some seminars on topics like banking cord blood, postpartum depression, natural childbirth, etc. The schedule of seminars was totally wrong, so I didn't know when the ones I wanted to attend were, so after accidentally getting sucked into the cord blood one (we're not planning to pay to bank cord blood and certainly wouldn't be doing it at a facility in the UK if we did want to) I stayed away from the lecture room.

The very interesting thing is that they had a lovely assortment of warm hors d'oeuvres, mini sandwiches, etc. The sandwiches had either (1) gbejniet - Maltese goat's milk cheese, it MAY have been pasteurized but that is doubtful; (2) shrimp and smoked salmon, or (3) prosciutto. In the USA, every one of these sandwiches would have been verboten for pregnant women, and this was at an event specifically for pregnant women.

I walked away with bags of reading material and goodies such as samples of formula, diapers, baby massage creme ... mmmmm.... One thing I found very interesting is that for many of the vendors, they didn't have any real offices. Everyone gave me a card and said I could call or SMS for more information or to place orders. One vendor of formula said they deliver for free and will even deliver diapers. Now that is service! I did find it interesting that in a country where breast feeding is completely assumed - every hospital that has labor wards has lactation specialists, 24-hour hotlines, etc. - that there were so many formula vendors. And even the vendors acknowledged they assume we will all breast feed, but that when people return to work or want to have a break there is formula to fill the gap. I wonder if they don't pump and store breast milk - the way most breastfeeding women I know in the USA would do - because of the
apparently frequent power outages that would spoil any milk in the freezer. Something to think about.

I was also amazed this morning when I was walking Kirby in the Gardens (aka San Anton Gardens) and got yelled at by a lady in Maltese for allegedly not picking up my dog's poop. First, of course I picked it up. Second, it had happened long before she walked in so the person she thought she saw could not have been us. Third, and most importantly - NOBODY cleans up after their dogs here. At first I was greatly put out by her, then I decided I should appreciate that there is actually someone else here who wants the sidewalks and pathways to be clean.

June 11, 2007
When will I learn?!?!?!?!? Our ship freight can't be delivered in Thursday because ... are you ready for this ... IT IS NOT IN MALTA. We just pissed away 4 weeks of our lives waiting for MFA to finally give our docs back, and when we contact the shipping company to arrange the delivery, they realize they can't find our container. Oh wait, they left it in Italy.

I had been joking that they pushed the container overseas and are now stalling to avoid paying the insurance, but now I am not so sure that isn't what happened here. We'll hope to find out more today. Poor Terry, first day back after 3 weeks away and he has to run around dealing with admin crap that should have been dealt with weeks ago!

June 12, 2007
OK, our container is still in Italy (allegedly) and who knows when it will be put on a boat? Im'shalla, we will receive our container some time before March 2009, when we leave this post.

On to good news ... I am getting off the island! Although I have not felt the island fever everyone talks about, I have been desperately missing good red meat. Baby needs extra iron, so I think I am taking it harder than I would have otherwise - I didn't have these cravings when I was in India for the summer. When my dad comes to visit a week from tomorrow, he will be heading off to England before back to the USA, and through the good work of a good travel agent, I will be heading to England with him. As an extra bonus the flight home includes an 8 hour layover in London so I get to get out into the city a little, at least hit a museum and a restaurant. My wonderful husband then gets to pick me up at the airport at 1am. He's very good to me.

Other good news - baby kicked for Terry tonight. He got to feel a few good ones - it was the first time he'd felt it (the other night when I think baby had the hiccups at 5:15am I didn't think he wanted to be awakened, so I let him sleep through that one) I have heard the baby's sleep and wake schedule in utero is the same one they will have once they come out, so I have been trying to keep general track of when baby's active.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

And the adventure continues

What could top Monday? But of course .... Tuesday!

Tuesday starts off with some Kirby SNAFUs - getting too close to people on the walk and having anxiety and snapping, and tripping me, causing me to land rather heavily on his paw (he didn't try to bite me for that, though, which is unusual for him. Maybe he is starting to see me as "in charge of him"?) He also had some stress because some things were delivered from the embassy warehouse and I had to shut him out on the porch while the guy was in the house.

I had to run to the grocery store - less than an hour round trip. In that time he managed to pee and somehow get my purse off the front door side table, which resulted in his eating my Luna bar mini and who knows what else. At least it was lemon and not chocolate but I really don't know, in the aftermath, if it would have made a difference.

The day passes and everything seems OK. Then around 7pm the power goes out. Given that this has happened twice so far I didn't worry too much about it, and it was still too light out for me to tell if it was just my house or if it struck the whole neighborhood. Some time before 8pm I notice others have their power, so I call my landlord/neighbor. Turns out he is away for all of 2 days but his daughter (who also lives there) comes over and together we play with the breakers/fuses/whatever they are called. She calls the electrician but he declines to come out, even after she pulled out all possible pity excuses (I'm alone and pregnant) but says he can come in the morning. She and her husband very kindly offer for me to pack a bag and come stay at their house, but at this point it is past 9pm, I have candles and a torch [flashlight] and I have Kirby to deal with, so I decline.

While all this is going on, it seems Kirby's digestive system really gets a whiff of what he's done and rebels. First come the dry heaves, then comes the grass eating, and finally the puke - we were outside at the time, for which I am incredibly thankful. Apparently that didn't make him feel better enough, because he went back for more grass. He puked chewed up grass a mere 1/2 hour later - again outside - so I decided that even though he wanted to go back for more it was time to come in for the night.

My lovely neighbor plugged in extension cords from their bedroom to mine (they are both at the front of the house and my balcony practically reaches their window) so I was able to plug in a side lamp and I read and knitted before bed, which at this point was pretty soon.

Although her tales of woe were not enough to motivate the electrician to come last night, they worked well enough that he was at my house around 7:45am. He did find the problem and I had electricity by around 8:30am. There were remarkably few casualties from the fridge and freezer, mostly because lots of things were able to become Kirby treats. Hey, if the dog can eat partly decomposing dead pigeon parts without any ill effect, he can eat cooked chicken that got cool (not all the way to warm).

I was out today for a few hours and had debated crating Kirby while I was gone, given that his pee-while-I'm-gone rate is around 50%. VERY glad I decided against it because when I came home there was waiting for me the nastiest, smelliest, watery-and-yet-chunkiest poo explosion on the floor. It would not have been nice to have to clean that off Kirby himself. Obviously, the Luna bar had not yet completely worked its way out of his system. I sincerely hope it is over now, though.

Tomorrow is a Maltese holiday, Sette Giugno. It commemorates something like the Boston Tea Party that occurred in Malta in 1919. The gist is the British raised the price of bread, the Maltese rioted, and British soldiers shot into crowds and innocents were killed.
Here are some links about it

Monday, June 4, 2007

An adventure, of sorts

Today was an adventure to top all. Mom, you probably don't want to read this one. It starts off well enough. It was a horrible rainy day – completely uncommon for June in Malta, it was raining pretty hard and flooding on the street next to mine when I drove off. The plan for today was that I would do some sightseeing with the lovely parents of the lovely lady here who is in the hospital, because they have only really seen her apartment and the hospital and I have time and I haven't seen much yet myself.

I pick them up at the apartment, and in trying to not take the long way back, we get completely lost in Sliema for a good 20 minutes or so. Remember, this is a tiny island so 20 minutes lost is a lot of time. They have a good sense of humor about it, which I had made sure about before I offered to take them out. We finally get onto a road I know and we are off to Rabat to check out the catacombs. Rather than repeat the exciting adventure we just had, we decide to park in a known area and walk to the sights of Rabat, because everything is incredibly close together. First stop: St. Paul's Church and Grotto. The grotto is allegedly where St. Paul stayed for the 3 months he was in prison when he came to Malta. It is more interesting than my guidebook led me to believe it would be. We also got to see a crypt for some important church people, which is also down there. The church itself is insanely ornate, and definitely overwhelming, but if you focus on one piece at a time (not that you would ever get through all of them that way) and focus on the skill/craft involved in creating the piece, and how long it must have taken the artisan, and then look around at ALL the ornate pieces, it is quite impressive. There are paintings, frescoes, statues, altars, tapestries ... everything you can think of is there, and all hand crafted about 300-400 years ago. It is remarkably well preserved.

Next stop, St. Paul's Catacombs. Here you get audio guides that lead you through first the outside courtyard then down into the catacombs. In several places the lights were out, and we all cursed ourselves for not having brought flashlights. The catacombs are pretty impressive, they go much farther back than we are allowed to go, and the audio guide does a pretty good job explaining how it all worked. It is amazing to think all the now empty tombs or whatever they are called were once filled with dead people. And without the electric lights it was pitch black ... back in the day they only had small oil lamps (there were some artifacts of these lamps in the reception area where you pay and pick up the audio guides) and these lamps didn't look like they shed much light.

At this point it is already close to noon. We head over for a quick walk through Mdina and go to lunch. Because Laurie's mom requires gluten free food, our options were limited. We headed to Cafe Jubilee on the Sliema strand and actually found it pretty easily. Lunch was fun, and we picked up something to go for Laurie – I was bringing her parents to the hospital before I went home. When we walked out of the restaurant it was pouring down rain. Pouring may have even been putting it lightly. Where the road seemed to have the lowest water point the water was above my ankles. Wet feet! We ran to the car, got in, and turned the ignition. Dead, deader than a doornail dead. Silent dead – not even a sputter.

I do a pretty good job not panicking. I know we have our insurance docs in the glovebox so I take them out to see if we have anything there. It is just car-crash insurance. I am thinking we didn't get roadside assistance service. We both had AAA back home and Terry is so handy I think we just forgot all about getting something for overseas. I call Post 1 and because I start my sentence with “I'm not sure if this is something I'd call post 1 about” he doesn't even listen to what's wrong, he transfers me to the operator. Luckily it was Charlie who answered the phone. Charlie works with Terry and is a really wonderful guy. I explain what is going on and that I don't know what to do. He says he can call a tow service and give me the number for getting the roadside assistance service. He takes my number and says he will find out what my options are and call me back. Meanwhile, Laurie's dad has an idea about what is wrong so he has me pop the hood and he jumps out and is playing with the battery cable. He tells me to turn the ignition. The car starts!

Charlie calls back and I tell him the car is running. We are trying to get the windows a bit defogged before heading out, and I finally put the brake on to put the car into drive from park. It goes dead again. Laurie's dad says he knows what the problem is – we have the loosest battery cable he has ever seen. He has seen cables 10 times tighter than ours that didn't work. I call Charlie and he suggests we find a store, restaurant, something in the area that might have pliers and we can get the cable tightened. Not a perfect fix but something to hold until we can get a new one. Laurie's father has another great idea, goes running out of the car yet again, and eventually knocks on my window to have me turn the ignition again. It starts. He jumps in and we drive away. He had put a pin somewhere wedged into something and it should at least hold until I get home ... and I am advised not to turn the car off until I am somewhere safe. Yes, sir!! I get them to the hospital just fine, and head out to go home. Somehow I manage to go the wrong way at one point and have to drive around lost trying to find the right way back. When I find the way back to the main road, there is no way to get to the correct side of the road except to keep going down the wrong way until I get to a roundabout. I go a distance and realize that there may not be any place to turn around until I am practically at Valletta, so when I see a U-turn cutout – meant for folks going the other direction – I check the road is clear and I take it! Meanwhile, the defroster isn't working hard enough and the only way to see is to keep the windows open, so rain is pouring into the car. At one point the rain is so hard that even with the windshield wipers going full blast I can barely see, it is like a faucet of water running all over the car. Finally, finally, I am on the way home, this time I do it all correctly and make it home in one piece. I park under our very new carport, and am home. Wet, completely freaked out, but home.

In the midst of all the hoopla, I had to cancel our stuff coming from the warehouse because I got home too late. The embassy has a certain amount of stuff available to embassy families, like dehumidifiers, space heaters, refrigerators, etc. so we had placed an order for a few things and they were to come today. When the guy comes tomorrow, though, he will bring pliers and we will try to get the cable fitted more tightly to the battery, and when Terry returns we'll probably get a new cable and he can probably put it in himself. I don't have anywhere I have to drive until I pick him up at the airport on Sunday – this is part of why we decided to live where we do – i can walk to whatever I need and a friend is picking me up and driving me to lunch when we go out one day this week.

Completely off topic but it also happened today: occasionally there is a produce vendor across the street from me. I can't figure out which days he comes and he never stays long, in fact I had thought he was just stopping for lunch or something and wasn't actually selling anything. He was out when I got home so I decided to take this opportunity to get a few things without having to leave Kirby because I was very low on fruits and veggies. Turns out this guy is sort of a ripoff, I paid way more to get way less than any other trip to the carts since i got here. Maybe there is a premium for the special trip, the guy told me he comes here because he makes a delivery to one of my neighbors.