Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prague

We took the opportunity of a Maltese holiday on Monday to go away for a week. After a weekend visiting friends in Frankfurt, we headed to Prague - a destination I've been dying to see since I was 18 years old. Yes, that's a long time. Terry reveled in the cold - it hovered just above, or below (at night) freezing.

First, Czech Airlines rocks. They had toys for Alex. When was the last time an airline gave toys to a little kid? Or, did we not get any on previous trips because she was too young to play? hm....she did also get a little stuffed animal on Lufthansa ...

Second, we got to stay in an embassy owned (leased?) apartment, which is a huge benefit with a little baby who needs darkness to sleep and parents who would rather not hit the sack at 8pm. Some of the embassies that have apartments for the folks who come to work temporarily will rent them out to embassy folks who just want to vacation, and it turns out December isn't exactly high season. It's also a huge benefit because it was right by the embassy, which is in a very sweet location. We could have walked everywhere we went, and did walk everywhere except one place.

Third, wow they give Americans a run for our money in terms of turnover at restaurants. With Alex we are not lingerers anymore and really want to get our food FAST and be acknowledged when it is time to ask for the check. We were in and out of most meals within an hour.

I love the mix of traditional European but a nod to practicality - like most places in Europe, there was plenty of outdoor seating at the restaurants and cafes even though, as mentioned above, the temperature hovered around 0 Celsius. One place we saw actually had a blanket at every seat in deference to the cold. I still opted for the indoor cafes for warming up.

Speaking of warming up, I should mention gluvein, spelled the same way in Czech and Germany. It is very similar to sangria, but served hot. It was instrumental to getting me through several long spells outside. How did Alex stay warm, you may ask? Well, not gluvein! She once again showed up she's daddy's girl and was pretty content with her hat and mittens, sweater and raincoat. Yes, raincoat. In my defense, it is lined, and for comparison sake, Terry wore a T shirt and leather jacket.

Link to the Photos.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving

Some very lovely embassy folks hosted Thanksgiving this year, so we were only responsible for bringing a dish - my apple pie, of course, as Terry only gets pie when I make it for others (sorry, but it's pretty busy around here!). For my job, though, I did conduct a relatively thorough search for fresh turkeys on the island, as I had located several vendors of frozen turkeys.

Maltese traditionally eat turkey for Christmas. So .... lots of places had small, live turkeys that were not ready for slaughter yet because it is still another month until their turkey season. Plan for next CLO - make nice with a butcher or 2, tell them about Thanksgiving, and convince them to get some turkeys fattened up in time for the American hordes.

Our next adventure is to find Terry a ham for Christmas. I wish him all the luck in the world.

We haven't been adventuring much lately between the craziness of managing Thanksgiving and Christmas as CLO (will never do this again, and I hear it is a common refrain) and the turning weather. Stay tuned though, as we head off the island on Friday for a week on the mainland.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beating a world record

Tonight Terry came home and said he wasn't in the mood for the dinner we'd planned for tonight, instead he was in the mood for fried chicken after driving past a place on the way home. Once he said it, I immediately craved greasy fried yumminess so I agreed. We gathered food for Alex's dinner and left.

The place is in Birkirkara, so we had to drive. We left the house at 6pm. We got there, drove around the block to find parking, ordered, ate and returned home ... at 6:45pm.

Has such speed ever been met in Malta?? (OK I bet I could get a pastizzi in that time too). Even Burger King takes longer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Amazing Alex

We try really hard to keep the blog about life in Malta (or, soon, life in St. Petersburg) but sometimes the antics of the diaper set just have to be described. Alex is just over a year old, and took her first real, identifiable steps the day before her 1st birthday. She is also very strong, has been pretty much always.

Last night, she took the empty laundry basket, walked it all the way down our hallway (yes she fell a couple of times but always picked herself up by herself), put it down near-ish to the washing machine, then went over and opened and closed the washing machine door a few times (it's a front loader, she isn't THAT tall). I started giving her small pieces of dirty laundry, a shirt of hers, a sock of Terry's and one by one she stuffed them all into the machine. A few times when i slowed down she would try to shut the door, then she'd open it again when i handed her another piece.

Yep, she's ready for her own set of chores!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Photos of Sicily

Here are the photos taken from our trip to Sicily. Click on the image above to take a look.

Olives

I wrote about Sammy and Matty Cremona last year after the lovely evening at their olive plantation. This year, we planned a day full of olives ... Terry, Alex and me, plus a handful of other intrepid do-it-yourselfers arrived at the Ambassador's residence around lunchtime and got olives off the trees. Sammy had said he thought it would take a few hours and we scoffed - yeah, it took a long time. Their trees are very very tall so we used these jerry-rigged poles with little rakes taped to the top to shake and scrape olives off their branches. With about 6 of us rotating time on 2 rakes, everyone else gathering the dropped olives off the ground, we acquired 3/4 of the olives our DCM managed to pick by hand by himself (with some help from the rest of the family) in an hour.

We called it quits around 2:30 because we had to head over to the Cremona's. We were met there by about half the embassy who had decided that although the picking was too strenuous, learning about indigenous maltese olives and the pressing process was just their speed.

Once again there was a delicious spread of brick oven foccaccia , fresh olive oil, sun dried tomatoes, gbejniet, and bigilla (olive paste). In addition they quenched out thirst with Maltese wine. We have been advised to expect about 3 liters of oil for our efforts, I'll find out on Monday when I go back to pick it up - our olives hadn't gotten pressed yet by the time we departed around 5pm.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Maltese cuisine

Friday night we went to a restaurant that specializes in Maltese cuisine, and that has performances of traditional folk dances on Friday and Wednesday nights. Terry and I had been there once before, this time it was a group of 19 of us from the embassy. He of course jumped at the chance to have rabbit again; I tried their steak Diane - the place had been a chop house decades ago and still prided itself on its meats.

Wine flowed, hearty portions were eaten eagerly, and wandering musicians serenaded several different members of the party. The dances were accompanied by explanations of both the type of dance and the context in which they were traditionally performed, and also the dancers' costumes. At the very end of the night, Terry's boss performed the quintessential Sinatra karaoke.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sicily

For Alex's first birthday we got her ... a trip to Sicily and a 5th country visited in one year. Our little world traveler did marvelously, actually sleeping in her pack n play for naps and at night. The downside was we had to have the room completely dark for her to sleep, so mom and dad also went to bed around 8pm - but we needed the rest!

Photos and more commentary to come. Highlights include her first "real" steps (2 at a time!), Alex NOT sleeping through major tourist attractions, and a trip to the naval base commissary where we reveled in USA prices and goods we can't get in Malta. An ode to kielbasa may be created the next time Terry gets into the Glencoe.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Trackless train


The new touristy schtick in the Mdina area is the Trackless Train (read: tram-like vehicle that is designed and painted to look like a train.) You can see in the photo.


We went on a sunset tour ... it has good and bad points. The trip is nice, pretty scenery and it takes you through parts of Malta you wouldn't ever have reason to visit otherwise. BUT the automated tour spiel was difficult to hear from some parts of the train and there would be a several minute history of a building but no explanation of which of the 50 buildings you drive past during the spiel it's talking about. All in all it was a fun time, and doing the tour plus taking some time to see Mdina is probably a good way for a tourist to spend some time.

Farsons Brewery

There is one brewery on the island. At a few different times a second upstart came by but each time it was decided that there could be only one and in each case the two merged. On Labor Day we took a tour of the brewery - Simonds Farsons Cisk. In addition to seeing the beer brewing, fermenting and the fun Rube Goldberg example of bottling we also got to see the boardroom - that contains a priceless antique tapestry - and examples of old adverts touting beer as something healthy and nutritious.

It was long for being un-air conditioned but Alex did remarkably well for being out and about at naptime, even managed to fall asleep in her Snugli.

Photos will be posted when I can get to them.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In the home stretch

When we came to Malta, we brought from the States the result of a massive Costco run before our packout almost 2 years ago. This weekend we realized, after fruitless searches for several things we "knew" we still had Costco-sized containers of, that we will soon have to buy cling film (no Saran Wrap here), and sponges. I was delighted last month to see real vanilla showing up on the shelves of the bakery aisle and am no longer panicking about the next-batch-of-cookies end to the vanilla we brought.

The depletion of goods is a tangible reminder that our journey here is ending. Terry will say that 5 months is forever and why am I even thinking about it now. I have been told by those who prefer 3 years to a post that it takes a good year to feel settled and for me, at a year here I had a 4 month old child who didn't sleep. It has only been a month or two since I feel relatively at home here, and it is almost time to uproot. How will Alex take the transition? What will we end up doing with Kirby? What will I regret that we never got around to doing while we were here (I always have a list every time I leave a place - usually the stuff I "saved for later" like the ferris wheel in Chicago, that i could walk to from my apartment)

On a happier note - Alex has for the last 2 days stood up by herself a few times. One more milestone toward her impending walking. As she gets heavier (the girl likes her food!) I am looking forward to no longer lugging her everywhere.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Paintball request.

A Michael had commented earlier about paintballing in Malta. If you are interested I will put you in touch with the person who organizes our events. Shot me an email. My email is listed under my blogger profile.

South Philly is coming to Italy

Apparently Italy's football league president is considering installing a jail in the football stadiums to deter violence. As I heard about this on BBC this morning I instantly thought of the old Vet stadium with its jail. The Italian may want to look at the experience in South Philly. I don't think the jail did a lot to deter people from getting rowdy, although I have no numbers to support my assumption. I do have to say European football hooligans are much worse then anything in American football stadiums. So maybe it will have an effect in Italy.

The International Herald Tribune has and article here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

This is what we don't love about Malta

The maltaweather.com web site used to have a very helpful jellyfish report. It simply stated which beaches would have jellyfish washing up and therefore you should avoid them. I noted that it existed but never had need of it because we are not beach people.

As I mentioned previously, Alex loved the beach. So we decided instead of doing chores all weekend this weekend we decided to take her to the beach and hopefully we'll all have a good time and she will nap well from the sun and fun. But where to go? I pulled up the trusty web site only to find that the jellyfish report had vanished. Now, I can pay 1 Euro any day I want to get the report SMS'd to my phone at 8:30am. Grrrr.

The handy thing about being married to Terry is the weather report did give the wind direction and he figured which beaches were likely safe and he was right. We really, really love our daughter because we both relived why we don't like beaches but she was so happy we will probably go again, especially as the next 2 weekends are both long holiday weekends. But, next time, she better give us that nap she promised!!!

This is what we love about Malta

On Wednesday - my only totally free day each week since I started working - I ran errands. On Friday afternoon I tried to buy chlorine and discovered my credit card was not in my wallet. I got Terry on the phone and had him check our account - no funky charges. Then he said the last charge was from a pharmacy. I had completely forgotten about that errand! It turns out the pharmacy was on the way home from the pool place so I was passing it anyway. I went in and before I even said anything the pharmacist - who was the same guy who had helped me when I went in Wednesday - said I had left my card there. He went to get it and said he tried to run after me when I left but didn't find me, and that he tried calling the credit card company in the USA to have them contact me to tell me the card was there but he couldn't get through.

THAT'S customer service and I am now a huge fan and lifetime patron of the Balzan Pharmacy, in case anyone in Malta reads this :-)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Embassy living is like a small town

As I think about plans for a baby shower I'm co-hosting, and the play group Alex usually half sleeps through, and the welcome get together for new families, it occurs to me this is in my fantasy land what small town living used to be like (having never experienced small town living I can't attest to the veracity of this fantasy). OK, neighbors aren't showing up at doorsteps with baskets of muffins and a casserole, but something pretty close does happen - families do check in with new folks and take them around, help them find the grocery store and the best route to work, etc. There is a real - small - community, with the attendant goods and bads ... someone is always around if you need them, and everyone knows everyone else's business. Making sure people are included is just something you do.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Working girl

After more than a year of unemployment, I am now working part time at the embassy. It is lots of fun - when an employee's spouse pops into my office to chat about schools and finding a piano teacher for her kid, that doesn't take me away from my work, that IS my work. Woo-hoo! It's 3 not-full days at the office, which is for me a perfect amount of time to be away from Alex. When I need to take her in, though, nobody has any problem with it and we have our pack 'n play set up in my office for that purpose.

Alex has a nanny who comes when I am working and the two of them are already pretty attached. She naps better for Jennifer than she does for me and I'm OK with that. Jennifer and Kirby are fast friends too.

With the heat we haven't been doing much fun stuff for a while. We're looking forward to next month when things cool off and we pull out our list of things we want to see and do before we leave the island. Now that we are on our home stretch we really need to get moving!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Village life


After about 1.5 years here, I realized we never posted any photos of our little village. My walking route for most things takes me past the church in Balzan (technically not our village, we live in Attard, but it is close enough) For once, I remembered to bring the camera with me to snap some photos that illuminate our world.

These are traditional Maltese balconies. I have not heard a satisfactory explanation as to why they are designed this way.

You'll find ornate ironwork on many houses, whether it is grillwork, the door knocker, or a gate or fence. You will also often find cats in the most unlikely locations. Here are more photos (and yes that is a fish cart. There are fish stores but most mongering is done on trucks/carts).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The strike is over.

The transportation strike that crippled the island has now ended. Actually, it ended yesterday. In a strange twist the hearse drivers pulled out of strike because they did not like the way the strike was going and how is was handled by the union. The hearse liberalization was the original reason the whole strike started. So the union has now accept that liberalization is the way of the future and the buses are starting to run again. It was very interesting to watch it play out but I am glad that traffic is returning to normal on the island.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strike on the Island

A transportation strike is on in Malta. The government is liberalizing the license for the hearse companies. Basically they are allowing more companies to get licenses to drive hearse on the island. In a strange twist of fate the bus, taxis, and mini buses drivers are part of the same union as the hearse drivers. The drivers have been blocking road on the island to protest the liberalization of the hearses. This is cause major headaches in with traffic. Also with no public transportation on the island some Maltese are having a tough time getting around. One of the major roads on the island St. Anne Street that runs through Floriana to Valletta was completely blocked yesterday with mini buses and taxis. So far the protests have been mostly peaceful, but very annoying and disruptive. The Transportation Union claims they will not stop striking until the government reverses its position. The government claims it won’t reverse the decision and has removed the subsidies it gives the bus drivers (EU pressure might have something to do with that). Not sure who will break first. In the mean time, it is taking for ever to get to work and leave work since they are blocking the road in front of the embassy. Ah the joys of living overseas. Below are some links to local papers about the fun.

Photo is from the Times of Malta.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

She's a carnivore!

We hang out with some folks with slightly older kids, and it helps me get over some of my hangups ... one being the fear that Alex will choke on anything that is not pureed. So in the spirit of some day having a child who actually eats the same things I do at the dinner table, we cut up tonight's steak into very very small pieces. Oh man did she love it! we also mashed up some of the baked potato and she went to town on that too. Mind you, this is after more than 1 1/2 cups of largely pureed fruit, veg and oatmeal. She can EAT. Of course, she only weighs 15.5 lb at almost 9 months. Where does she put it???

In other news, because we were such slackers we never got around to finding babysitters for Alex, so we had to tag team the 4th of July party at the Ambassador's residence. This was only possible because we live a block away. So, when Terry put Alex down to sleep I headed on over, and about halfway through I said my goodbyes and went home so Terry could enjoy the party. There is a goodbye party this coming weekend for a high mucky-muck leaving next week and we are really hopeful that we'll have childcare lined up. One of our friends offered her teenage daughter if all else fails.

Another reason we really need to get child care lined up is that I'll be working at the embassy part time starting in a couple weeks. The job is the Community Liaison Officer and mostly involves keeping the spouses and other family members happy; for example, I'll be providing the welcome briefing and handbook, information about schools and realtors, etc to the incoming folks. I'm looking forward to putting on a suit once in a while and going into an office again. As much as I hate leaving Alex, I also think she and I will both benefit from a little time away from each other.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summer is Here

Summer is here in Malta. Actually it has been here a while now. The pool is getting regular use and air conditioner use have sky rocketed. As will the electric bill in 3 months (when we finally get it). I am progressively hiding out more and more inside with shutters close to keep out any hot sun rays I can. Diaper only fashion statement is more and more the rage for Alex. Lynne is not really bothered. I am already looking forward to the late September rains to break the heat. For now I do my best to deal with the heat.

Couple of things going on here. There is a goodbye luncheon for my boss today. For whatever reason the dress code is business suit. Then on Friday is the July 4th reception. The reception is also business suit. Maltese summers are not a good time for business suits. You combine the heat of Malta with the extra clothing of business suits and you have a very hot and sweaty Terry. This is shortly followed by a stinky and generally grumpy Terry. It is odd because most people like to avoid the cold posts and go to place like Malta. It truly baffles me. Personally I would rather deal with 5 months of winter at sub zero then 5 months of constantly over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and often in the 100s. Hopefully that means there will be more cold post open for me. For now just I just have to curl up on the tile floor and do my best not to melt.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Malta in the Times (New York)

Sorry for the long gap. Not much is really going on. Everyday life of living in Malta is kind of boring like the states. We spend most of our time parenting Alex and doing the chores that are required. This does not leave a lot of fun time. But I will give you the headlines. Most are not that exciting. The frugal traveler reviewed Malta in the New York Times. Here is the link. So that is kind of exciting. The writer keeps talking about Horsemeat he had in a Bar. This is one of the many traditional foods of Malta, but it is not really anywhere near as big as rabbit or snails. Occasionally you run into a restaurant that serves it but it is far from everywhere like other foods of Malta. Two things that are everywhere is Pastizzi and Ġbejna. Neither of these items are even mention. Otherwise kind of an interesting article. I would like to thank Nate for send us the link.

Some bigger news is that the lots of the embassy community are rotating out this summer so it will be a whole new flock of people to meet. By September probably more than half the Americans here will be new. We will be the old kids on the block. Kind of crazy. Seems like it was not long ago we were just arriving. Hopefully some nice people come to post. For now that is all.

Friday, May 2, 2008

culinary adventures at the Arches

A friend of ours who must be nostalgic for her 6 year old's babyhood offered to watch Alex so Terry and I could go out. We jumped at the offer before she could change her mind, and decided to go to The Arches, a fancy restaurant recommended by several people.

When we got there we were offered either going straight to the table or reading the menu and having a drink in a small lounge area. The house red wine was by far the best Maltese red I have had, although it was too fruity to legitimately be called a Cabernet Sauvignon; however, that was apparently the grape used. We had heard rave reviews of the Chateaubriand, so went with that, and shared a duck starter.

We first received an amuse bouche (small taste complimentary of the chef). Although we missed hearing what it was, the shot sized glass of soup was clearly a curried cauliflower with a rich chicken base. Yum! The duck was one of the best I have ever had. Flavorful, juicy, just the right amount of crispy fat still attached to each sliver. They somehow managed to slice the Chateaubriand so I had the rarer pieces and Terry had the more medium pieces, which is exactly how we like it. The end piece I had was overcooked even for medium, though. I also realized that I prefer cuts with more fat - and therefore more flavor - to them. It was an incredibly high quality cut of meat, but there is only so much you can do to a plain piece of meat with no fat and no seasonings.

Too full for dessert, we opted for cappuccinos. They were truly perfect and a nice way to end the meal. Folks just arriving from the USA will love this place - the service is incredibly attentive and courses arrive practically on top of each other. Anyone who has gotten used to the languid rhythm of European meals might find it a bit rushed. I think we ran 2 hours from walking in the door to paying the check.

All in all, I would definitely return, but get the duck main course and maybe the Kobe beef starter.

We have also been cooking more lately, and making some of Alex's baby food. More on those adventures another night.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

White nights, vodka and Kirov ballet!

Yippee, we're heading to St. Petersburg, Russia some time in early 2009. Of our family of 4 (two adults, one baby, and one furry) one of us can tolerate heat - me. So everyone is ecstatic about the news.

Now we just need to learn Russian :-(

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Orange Juice

When we went home for R and R we had to hire a gardener because there was no way we'd keep up with this jungle after being gone a whole month. The guy did an amazing job (with Terry's promotion maybe we can hire him more often!) and one thing he did was pick all the oranges off our trees and leave them in bags for us. The oranges are a bit bitter but incredibly juicy, so one afternoon while Alex and I took a nap, Terry went and juiced the whole thing. He'll post photos of his hard work.

The experience prompted him to go buy an electric juicer. This will also help with our massive lemonade campaign during the summer.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Finally made it to Gozo!

Terry and I realized chores will always be there and never be completely done so we decided over this long weekend we were finally going to get to Gozo, Malta's little sister island. According to most Maltese, everything is better in Gozo (better food, fresher air, less traffic, etc, etc). We kept holding off partly because Terry can't be off the island if his boss is away, and partly because we feared it would be a huge time-consuming painful process - which we hear it is in the summer.

Well, traffic and air are certainly better. When we boated to Gozo last summer we anchored by Fungus Rock. This trip we ended up taking a walk/hike in the same area, which is called Dwerja. Our walk/hike along the cliffs was nicer than anything we had done in Malta, but only by a little. The ferry to Gozo was a highlight in some ways - it is the first thing we found in Malta that was completely efficient and smoothly run. We happened to arrive at the ferry just a few minutes before boarding began on our way there, and from the time we left the house to the time we sat down for lunch in Rabat (Victoria) - after wandering around the center a bit - was 2 hours.

Otherwise we really didn't see the draw. Of course, we really didn't see or do much, we wanted to focus on the festival and outdoor things because the weather was so good, so we didn't stay long in Rabat or see any of the sights. Then when we got to Gharb where the festival was, it turns out we hit in the afternoon lull when nothing was going on. So that's why we got such good parking! The village itself is reported to be a sight itself because it is still very traditional but we didn't see much that was so different from in our own village in Malta.

We'll be back at least a couple of times - we need to see the Citadel and Ggantija and we want to do some snorkeling by the Azure Window - but we certainly won't be every-weekend visitors unless the next trip really wows us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I met Pippa today

In a previous post I went through our hunt for a good Maltese cookbook, finally settling on 25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen by Pippa Mattei. Back when I had time to cook (pre-Alex) we tried about 10 recipes from the book and there was only one dud, in fact her tomato sauce recipe is the first one we have liked, and back in Philly we tried at least 1/2 dozen when our tomato crop went out of control.

This week when I went to our produce lady for groceries, I picked out some fava beans (called broad beans) and asked Joyce - the lady who runs the produce stand - how to cook them. She indicated a lady who was looking through the vegetables and said she was the person to ask, she was an excellent cook and even wrote her own cookbook. Yes, that was Pippa! When I went home I checked the book jacket and it turns out she lives in my village.

She also offered to answer any questions I had via email, as the address is on the book jacket. Terry suggested I get the book autographed :-)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Greece

We took our first vacation since Terry joined the foreign service in mid-January. Wow.

First, traveling with an infant is nothing like traveling without one. We are normally carry-on-baggage-only people, and this time we checked 2 bags. Sheesh!

Second, the Greek people are incredibly child-friendly and gracious. Every single time we were on the metro (which was every day) someone offered us a seat because we had Alex in the Snugli. Sometimes multiple people offered. Of course, our girl hates for mommy or daddy to be comfy sitting down so we had to decline every time.

Thirdly, the Greek people are, like the Maltese, convinced that we are abusing our child because we don't dress her warmly enough, in their estimation. More than one person made it clear that Alex needed at least a hat. One old woman tried to pull Terry's jacket closed over Alex.

For our trip to Athens, we were very graciously hosted by Terry's good high school buddy who had moved to Greece a few years after college. He and his wife could not have been more kind or more accommodating, and it was truly a luxury in so many ways to be staying with them. It gave Terry time to catch up in the evening when Alex and I went to bed, it gave us a local interpreter and tour guide, and it let us stay in a residential neighborhood rather than somewhere more touristy.

On to the sights ... we arrived Saturday evening so Sunday was our first opportunity to tour around. Poseidon's Temple is reportedly lovely at sunset so off we set in the afternoon for a 90-120 minute trip. The Temple truly was lovely, and when Terry finally gets through editing the photos you will all see just how lovely. Terry and I each thought the other had brought the bottle so there was no bottle so a starving Alex screamed for an hour while driving there.

Monday was a hang out and organize ourselves day, and touristing began in earnest on Tuesday. We went to the Acropolis because we decided to do the thing we most wanted first in case something got in the way of getting back later. It is amazing to walk around the Dionysius Theatre where Euripedes' plays were first performed, and to see the temples at the top of the mountain. I can understand why the gods wanted to reside up there! The Parthenon was under scaffolding, which annoyed me, but the rest of the structures were pretty amazing. Alex was snug in her Snugli and slept through the whole thing!

We did a lot of wandering around and some requisite gift-buying on Wednesday, and we visited the Agora (ancient marketplace). The weather was icky so we didn't stay too long, but it was a place I could see bringing some food and picnicking in better weather.

We meant to update the blog right when we got back, because now I can't remember what we did the other weekdays :-(

Saturday we tried to go visit the Oracle at Delphi but we arrived 10 minutes after they closed. Part of the delay was because Alex decided to have her first massive poop explosion, the type where you just throw away the clothes she's wearing at the time. Anyway, there were other sights nearby that were open, and when Terry links the photos I'll remember the names. There was an ancient gymnasium and something for Athena. It was a beautiful day so we just wandered around for a while and even sat in the sun. It was a wonderful way to end our trip, as we woke and left before dark on Sunday.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Off on vacation

Now that we got into something of a groove and are posting more often, we will be away for the next 8 days on our first vacation since we joined the foreign service, and our first trip with Alex. I am sure we will have many stories to tell upon our return.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Today is Beer day (oops I mean Marmalade)

I brewed my second batch of beer a little before the New Years and it has been fermenting for two weeks. I was planning this weekend to be the bottling weekend, but when I popped open the fermenter to have a peek, the sediment had still had not settled. When you brew beer you take this measurement called original gravity, which tells how dense the liquid is in comparison to water. As the yeast changes the sugars (heavier then water) to alcohol (lighter then water) and Carbon Dioxide (escapes from the brew) the gravity drops and the beer becomes thinner and closer to the density of water. Since all the things that go into beer never come out completely you are left with a number that is denser then water but much lighter then when you start. Consequently you can use this number to tell you alcohol percentage by volume. Most recipes include an original gravity and ending gravity so you can tell when the fermenting is done. Also all the sediment will settle to the bottom about the time the fermenting is done. So seeing all the sediment floating around was the first clue it was not done. I took a gravity reading and it was only about 2/3 of the way there at best. So I sealed everything back up and will wait some more. Now what to do with my day?

Malta has really good strawberries when in season and since we have run out of the last years jam we asked my mom to ship us some pectin. We expected one, maybe two, packs. Each pack makes two batches of jam. My mom shipped 5 packs. So with more pectin then we expected (or probably needed) we decided to try some new things. Citrus plants grow well in Malta. In our backyard we have 5 citrus trees. Most of the fruit is kind of sour and not really tasty fresh. But the main ingredient of jam is lots of sugar so tart fruit actually works better then sweet fruit. With my day now free and the trees full of fruit I decided to try orange marmalade. It will take up to two weeks to set to know if it is any good. It tasted good this morning but was runny so we will have to see if it sets properly. If not we have a lot of Orange Syrup. So anyone who comes to visit may get a departing gift of orange marmalade. That should entice the people to come flocking to Malta.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

So far behind.

Ok I know I am really far behind but with the holidays everything is a bit out of whack. So here is the run down of what has been going on. Lynne has posted a fair amount so I will try not to repeat.

Last weekend I brewed my second batch of beer. I will write more on that later. New Years was quiet. I made dinner for Lynne’s birthday and took the baby the rest of the night so Lynne could get a break. New Years Day was the first day of the Euro in Malta. Lynne and I took Kirby and Alex for a walk to a local ATM machine to see if it would actually spit out Euros. Much to my surprise it did. I was kind of sure it would still be giving out Maltese Pounds. So now until the end of the month when we pay with Maltese Pounds we get Euros for change. It is kind of neat going through the change over. In January we are going to Greece so having the Euro will make that trip easier. No money exchange needed is very convenient. This should help Malta be more appealing to tourist from the mainland who now don’t have to change their money to the pound.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Holidays with Alex

The ambassador hosts a holiday party in December, and Terry's grandmother had sent over the most adorable party dress for Alex to wear for Christmas ... so, guess who was the belle of the ball? I'll have Terry link a photo of her here, I made him take nice pictures of her for posterity. Our girl, as you will eventually notice, is more of a Mona Lisa smile kind of girl. There aren't many caught on film, although the one good shot of her "elusive smile" confirmed the presence of a dimple. Just one. So precious.

She handled the party very well, getting passed around to several people and having one hunger meltdown that was quickly corrected with some tasty vittles. Terry had gotten bamboozled into playing Santa and it actually worked out relatively well ... there is a photo of Alex with him somewhere in the world (wasn't my camera) and she isn't crying, probably because she could tell it was him - babies' sense of smell is the only one fully developed at birth.

Terry was Santa's helper on Christmas eve, going into work on his day off with a couple of other guys to unload the mail so kids could have their gifts on Christmas morning. We were invited to a friend's for dinner that night, so we even got to make one house call! There is nowhere good to park a sleigh in the Med.

On New Year's we began what will probably be the Mad-zak family tradition - modeled after Terry's family's - of a gift-free birthday, celebrated by the birthday person demanding whatever dinner and whatever cake or other dessert s/he desires. Of course, this will be subject to availability, and I guess I have to start learning how to make cakes.

Did we make it to midnight? Hell no! Sleep is more important than tradition and children and pets don't know about weekends or holidays.

Alex has finally started actually playing with things, such as the Skwish mom got her for Hanukkah and a baby rattle that had been mine many moons ago. She can hang out happily in her bouncy seat for a good 40 minutes, which means I actually eat many dinners with both hands and Terry doesn't have to cut my meat most of the time. She also likes the Snugli and is sometimes the only way to get a nap out of her. She is too bright for her own good, and I think we may not survive her toddler-hood!

On a sad note, today Terry brought my mom to the airport. Her 3.5 months in Malta were an invaluable help and I am not quite sure how we will manage on our own.