Thursday, May 31, 2007

Trying new things

May 31, 2007
I ate my first fresh fig today. Nothing like a Newton! I haven't decided if I actually like it or not. Of course, given that I bought 2, I have another chance to find out. The lady at the produce cart is very sweet and I am always asking her about things I have never seen before. She steered me toward a small melon a few weeks ago that she said was incredibly sweet, I guess the season was early because it was refreshing but definitely not very sweet. It looks like a large grapefruit with cantaloupe markings on it, if you can envision that, and has green flesh inside like a honeydew. Tasted a bit like a honeydew too. It is still there, so I imagine we are deeper into the season, so I really should try again. It is hard buying produce for one, for example I got a bunch of lettuce last week and even with having 1-2 salads every single day it took a whole week, and lots of tossed wilting pieces, to finish it up. I haven't gotten watermelon since Terry left because it is just too big for just me, even though these melons are smaller than the ones at home, and rounder, and the outside is a darker green.

I also tried an orange from our tree. There was a fruit that has been there almost a whole month and it never got orange, stayed yellowish, and I finally picked it. Very tart, like a grapefruit. I don't know if that if what that tree produces or if it was too early. It was getting soft, though, so I have to assume it was ripe.

Finally, I have been a lemonade fiend. Our tree is in full production and I recently discovered that the smaller ones are juicier and tarter so the quality of the lemonade has gone up. Some of the lemons are starting to turn yellow, as mentioned last week, but most are still green. There are not nearly enough yellow lemons for marmalade (oh yeah, and since we don't have our stuff we don't have what we need to make marmalade anyway!) so I am hoping the green ones continue to ripen in a staggered enough fashion that I can continue to find uses for them. Lately I have been less enthusiastic about water than normal, so the lemonade is helping keep my liquid consumption up. Yeah, yeah, I have to take care of myself for the baby, blah blah. I have been very good about eating well, but I admit I have added a certain amount of chocolate to my diet because mom will truly have a heart attack and die if I haven't gained weight at my next doctor's visit. At least it is heart-healthy dark chocolate!! (only found in the baking aisle. Ah, these Maltese have things to learn.)

June 2, 2007
It appears that Malta has no noise pollution laws. At 6:30am (yes this is a Saturday) there was hammering and power tools. Needless to say, Kirby wanted in on the action and I couldn't get him back to bed until I had at least let him out to potty. I am desperately hoping this is not a new, permanent trend. Even I prefer to sleep a little later than 6:30am, and poor Terry when he returns!

Other news is it seems our original beliefs that our container of stuff is either floating on the Med or has sunk to the bottom may still be accurate. The government agency that is supposed to review the paperwork for the container and historically returns the documents within one day has now had our documents for more than 2 weeks, which makes me suspect a coverup - that this whole agency-holding-our-documents story is a lie and really the shipping company is trying to have our statute of limitations run out on the claim we are entitled to make because they threw our container overboard and now must reimburse us for all our stuff.

The good news is we get what is called a "layette shipment", which is 250lb of stuff sent air freight (for some reason air doesn't seem to have a problem clearing customs). It has to be stuff for the baby, but since the things we had acquired and put in our ship freight before we left are now at the bottom of the Med, at least we get a weight limit 250lb for getting replacement stuff for the baby. We're entitled to have the layette shipment sent as early as 120 days before the due date - which is next week!!! (the 120 days, not the due date) Things are moving along. My belly is getting huge. When Terry returns we'll post another photo of it.

By the way, it was brought to my attention that I had not yet mentioned that I have been feeling the baby kick for about a week now. I never felt the "flutter" feeling people talk about, baby went straight to trying to pound its way out. I am glad baby is still small and weak, I don't think I will appreciate the jabs and elbows I expect a month from now!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Diplomatic spouses, and more

May 23, 2007
There is a program here, I am sure it exists elsewhere, whereby the spouses of foreign service employees gather and do fun things in and around where they are posted. It is for all diplomats, so (for example) at this event there were folks from the USA, Italy, Belgium, Venezuela, Tunisia, etc.

We got a tour of Fort St. Angelo, which is where the original Knights of Malta first settled when they arrived. The Fort is usually only open for tourists on Sundays; hence the wonder of the cachet of the diplomatic spouse group! Further, the tour was led by the Knight in Residence - an actual Knight of Malta, one of the very, very few who have actually taken the religious orders. It was wonderful - we got to see the chapel (normally off limits to tourists), wander the ramparts, and learn about the history of the fort.

As an aside, the view of Valletta and the water from there is amazing, but of course I didn't think to bring a camera.

May 27, 2007
Today is a gray day. It actually looks like it could rain. I didn't think such things happened in May in Malta. One week down without Terry, two weeks to go. Kirby is supposedly getting onto a plane today and heading my way - less than 24 hours from now I should have my furry first son with me!

May 28, 2007
Amazing as it may sound, Kirby actually made it to Malta alive! No heart attack on the plane, as we had feared. I (sort of) almost didn't make it, though, just couldn't find the darned cargo area. I knew it wasn't on the premises of the airport, but I thought there would be signs somewhere on or near the airport property. Nope. So I stop at the airport and ask directions from some Air Malta employees. When those don't pan out, I stop at a gas station and get directions. Again, I'm closer but not quite there yet. At the next place I stopped and asked directions (I don't even know where I was but there was a gate and guards and the very nice man who thought he was being perfectly clear and obviously had no idea at the extent of my ability to get lost) one of the guys offered to show me where to go if I'd drive him right back. As they had told me, it was truly only about 2 minutes down the road from where I was, but I definitely would not have gotten there based on the directions. In fact, when I drove the guy back and returned, I had to go all the way around the roundabout a full 360 because I wasn't sure which way to turn off. I had given myself so much time to get there, though, I still made it before the plane landed.

It took a while for him to be unloaded and brought to cargo, and when I walked into the cargo area he was quietly freaking out while what looked like every guy working in that warehouse was gathered around. He is just too cute for his own good! I went over with the food and water I'd brought and fed him through the wire part of the crate - not allowed to release him - and poured water into the dish in his crate. Once he'd been fed and watered, I guess, his energy was restored because he started barking and howling.

The vet who had to check his paperwork and microchip was absolutely wonderful and helped me through a few snags we hit but all in all, about 3 hours after I'd arrived at the airport, I was leading Kirby toward the car and home.

He actually managed to settle down in the car, as I once again managed to get lost on my way home. I can generally get wherever I want to go without problem, but for some reason I can never manage to get back without problem. He has explored the yard and the house, he has barked incessantly at the nice basset hound 2 doors down who I was hoping he could become friends with (King was being walked by his owner and we happened to be outside as they walked by), he has barked at our landlord, and he has managed to ignore the gardener (for this last item, he was handsomely rewarded). He really seems to like the carpet in the study, in the absence of any of his beds or anything else soft on any floor in the house. I did get a pillow for him to sleep on, and he is currently resting half on and half off it. I think he likes the coolness of the tile floors.

For the hell of an adventure he had over the last 24 hours, he seems very well adjusted. We'll see how things go over the next few days as he has to adjust to no real schedule and being left alone in a strange house.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May in Malta Part II

May 16, 2007

Monday was our second power outage of the month. The first reached even Sliema, and according to the newspaper this one was pretty big, although the Sliema-ites didn't seem to be complaining about it the next day. The first one was in the middle of the night, we woke some time in the night and noticed the alarm clock was black and at a later point noticed the alarm clock was blinking. This one happened around 7-8pm, as we were just finishing dinner. We had some plans for the evening that included phone calls home, but as all that was impossible we simply moved ourselves to the veranda – where there was still outside light – and continued our conversation. Our landlord/neighbor came by and asked if we had flashlights or candles, and we realized we had neither. He came by with 2 candles which we stuck to glass dishes with the wax and I felt very old fashioned, like I was in pre-electricity days walking around with my little candle in its holder. By 10pm the power had still not returned and all the light we had were these 2 candles, so we decided to go to bed. The grocery list does now include candles, since this appears to be a more-frequent-than-expected phenomenon!

Yesterday I took the car to be inspected. One of the embassy drivers came with me to give directions and do a little translating, which turned out to be a good thing. PA is one of a tiny number of states that only has one license plate. In Malta we are required to have 2 plates, and we have not yet obtained our Maltese plates – this inspection was one of the prerequisites to getting our plates and registration (obviously there will be 2 plates when we get the Maltese ones). Since we had a couple of extra plates from other vehicles we had gotten rid of prior to coming here, we just threw one of the other plates on the front. The guy doing the inspection was very confused about the non-matching plates, and we were advised it would be better to have one plate than 2 different ones, so I guess the front plate comes back off.

In driving I discovered that I am significantly more comfortable driving on my usual side of the car, even if it is the other side of the road. I had suspected this may be the case before the car arrived, and it turned out to be true. This is a good thing as I am about to be 3 weeks solo. I also discovered that living in Philly and getting all that good parallel parking experience will be handy here. Finally, the Maltese do not drive significantly differently from the Philadelphians. Terry fit right in from the start, I admit I am a bit too hesitant for the Maltese but I really don't want to crash our car and I am not always convinced people will slow down for my merge.

Today I finally wandered into Attard. We live in Attard but really we are on the Balzan line and most of our venturing out locally takes us into or beyond Balzan. I figured it would be good to get to know the town I actually live in, and it is a stunningly gorgeous day today, sunny, just warm enough without being oppressively hot (we had unseasonably hot weather this weekend, in the 80s but felt more like 90s. All the Maltese say that is more like late June weather ... Terry may not die here after all). I discovered a shop truck, which I don't need because the grocery stores are close enough to me but I hadn't realized they were as common as they seem to be. I'll try to venture out with the camera and get some shots of this. It is basically a cart, like the produce carts (I guess we should photo one of them too) but has basic grocery items like bread, juice, soap, etc. I also discovered Etienne's, which is the restaurant of the Ambassador's French chef. It is reported to be wonderful, and as our food exploring has not gone too well so far, I am sure we will try it out as a treat when my dad comes for a visit in only one month. He'll be here 4 days I am not sure I have 4-8 restaurants (lunch too!) worthy of taking visitors in my repertoire.

Oh, and I discovered this week that one of the cable channels here has Grey's Anatomy on at 4pm. I am pretty sure they are on Season 1 right now, so I can get caught up, since I never actually watched it in the USA. My first episode, I think, was the one Valerie made me watch when she helped me move, so that was back in January. I wouldn't say I'm hooked, like I am with Heroes, but I am getting into it. I hate that stupid doesn't let outside-USA IP addresses watch the show online like I did in the USA when I missed an episode.

May 19, 2007

Terry is at the airport. I managed to make it home without getting lost – the route I took wasn't the route we had taken to get there, and it wasn't the route that kept me on the biggest roads, but it is actually technically a little more direct and I never had to ask directions or turn around, so I consider it a success. Now I have three whole weeks to fend for myself!

I think I have mentioned that I had heard when we started this whole state department thing that smaller posts tended to be a more close knit community – in fact some larger posts are completely community-free. This is certainly turning out to be true! Several people have made sure I have their phone numbers if I need anything, and I have received a couple of dinner invitations for while I am alone. My strategy is to have at least one planned interaction with other people each day so I don't become too much of a recluse (and definitely not a brown recluse). Of course, the rumor is that my stuff will be delivered to me on Thursday and I should be getting Kirby next Monday so I think I have plenty to keep me busy for the next 3 weeks (see mom, I am planning to take a good long time with unpacking. Not rushing it or doing too much at all). I really, really hope it works out this way because we have less than a week's worth of dog food for Kirby here and we were really hoping to get our ship freight before he arrived, because our boy likes to eat.

The other good news is our pool is finally clean. Our landlord is changing out the water so although I can swim this week, it will be drained at the end of the week and (hopefully) new water put in soon thereafter. There is probably still a good week or two before it is properly and permanently swimable, but if I really needed it I could jump in. The weather got cooler again – we are in the low to mid 70s now during the day – so I really don't need it quite yet.

There is a neighborhood cat who, my landlord warned, would walk in an open door and make himself (herself?) right at home in my house. It does come around and is so cute so we pet it, and it sometimes comes and meows at our back door. We are having fun with the cat for now – I can only imagine its visits will be curtailed when Kirby arrives – most cats don't appreciate the force of the loving attentions he pays them.

May 20, 2007

I should probably include an update of our garden. The callas are pretty much gone now (note to self, their season seems to be around April – May). The roses are in full bloom, some varieties are really in full swing now and some are heading the way of the callas. Also, somewhat surprisingly, we have hibiscus! The lemon tree is producing heavily – I really should go pick a bunch – a few are starting to turn yellow so I think the season may be closing soon too. The orange tree is just starting to get going, there are lots of little green balls but only 2 full grown fruit.

This morning I went on another of the weekend walks. It was very pretty, a short hike along the cliffs to the ruins of an ancient city, then further along to a defunct church. I did take lots of photos but will leave it to Terry to edit them and put them up so you will have to wait 3 weeks for that.

I was just about to take a nap in the heat of the afternoon and I heard violins. I got up and walked around the neighborhood, and it turns out there is an event at the Presidential Gardens (called Villa Bologna), which are across the street from me. It is usually all closed off and gated, but today the gates are open. I am assuming it is a wedding because the live music is interspersed with what I am assuming is a DJ playing USA sappy wedding type songs. Also, as I took a peek in, there are lots of little tables for people to sit, and tables of food, everything draped in white, everyone dressed up, lots of flowers, etc. Seems more wedding-y than concert-y, which would be the other choice. I took my tea to our bedroom balcony and sat and listened for a while.

Have I mentioned I am very happy with our choice of housing?

May 22

Of course rumors should never be trusted. Our papers are taking an unreasonably long time to clear, so now the earliest our stuff will arrive is Friday – but that is unlikely and would require the documents to be returned to the embassy today and there are only 2 hours left in the work day – so Monday or Tuesday or even later, it is. Of course, this butts us right up against the second-worst case scenario – movers in and out of the house on Kirby's first few days here, when he will already be highly anxious and uncomfortable.

Ah, the joys of our glamorous life, right?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Looking pregnant

A few folks have asked about how far along I am and how it looks, so here is a photo of me and my pregnant belly.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

bringing the dog to the rock

More on the Kirby front

I am so, so grateful that modern technology has given us Vonage. After the discouraging Monday of last week, I spent hours on the telephone with various agencies, veterinarians, and airlines. Having a USA phone number for them to return my phone calls was a huge help in getting the communication flowing. At the end of the day, there are still various moving parts to getting Kirby into Malta but they are starting to come together. He has an appointment with a vet down the road from Terry's dad to get the health certificate filled out, and the USDA office in Harrisburg knows our Fedex will be on its way. I ended up getting in touch with a whole new set of people at Lufthansa who actually had a clue, and Kirby has a reservation on the day we wanted to ship him out. I had decided to give Lufthansa another chance because there is no other airline that flies from the USA to Malta, and keeping Kirby on one airline is a priority for avoiding me having to go to Europe somewhere and get him.

Finally on the Malta side of things, I had gotten in touch with the lady in charge of the Bureau of Pet Importation before we left the USA and she had been very helpful and friendly. So, I contacted her again and this woman is amazing! I sent an email Sunday, she had replied before 9am Monday morning. She had me scan and send our application for a permit and I explained we needed the permit issued before Friday so Terry could go home with the original in his hands – she returned a .pdf of the official permit with her signature within an hour or two. I have never in my life received such service from a government worker in any country in the world.

The permit allows us to bring Kirby into the country but to get the folks at airport quarantine to release him to me I need a customs form signed and stamped by three different agencies. The first place I went was in Valletta, after a long, windy path that seemed to go nowhere (turns out lots of government offices are located in “you really need our services if you are going to find us” locations). The very nice man there told me he can't stamp our documents until the other 2 places have done so, and that his office is normally only the first stop if people don't already have the forms they need. I did get his name and direct telephone number, though, which turned out to be essential later, so it was not a wasted trip.

The next day I wandered over to the MEPA office in Floriana (about a 10-15 minute walk from the embassy, so very convenient) and after going to the wrong building first, was soon walking out of the correct office with the proper stamps and signatures. The next office, Veterinary Services, is located in an abattoir, along the dockyards. I took my first solo car journey, figuring it would be only moderately difficult to find this place. I actually did manage to get myself to within a mile or so of the office on my own, then spent a good 20-30 minutes, and 4-5 stops for directions, getting myself to the correct place. This guy saw my forms, told me they were the old ones (the MEPA lady had also said that) and that he was uncomfortable signing it. He called some folks in his office, nobody had an answer, then I gave him the nice Trade Services man's phone number. He was in (thankfully!), they spoke, and in the end the forms were signed. I only got lost once on my way back to Valletta, and it wasn't really my fault.

By the time I returned to Valletta, the Trade Services office was closed for lunch and I had to get back home in case I got a phone call from the vet regarding Kirby's health certificate – the appointment was at 2pm my time. Amazingly, nothing went wrong at the appointment, and the really amazing lady at the vet's office called me to let me know the visit was over and it had gone well. She even offered to overnight the forms to the USDA office so Terry's dad could get back to work!! And she told me about an interaction between Kirby and one of the dogs in the vet office and it made me miss him so bad. We'll be sending this woman flowers next week, she really went over and above her job for us. I think she really loves pets :-)

The next day, I went back to the Trade Services office to get their final stamp on the document. The guy there said it was good, gave his stamps, then said “What about the customs form?” Aaarugh! Because we are diplomatic neither he nor I knew whether I had to do anything with Customs, but he gave me the phone number so I can verify. Nobody at the embassy has said anything about a customs form, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Every time I think I am done something new pops up.

At the end of the day I got a message from the nice vet lady back home saying the documents went out overnight to the USDA and that she's asked Terry's dad to call her to let her know when the docs are returned to him because she was as anxious as we are that everything is in order. We had asked her to wait a day before sending the docs because she said the USDA routinely stamps the docs right away when they get them, and we couldn't have a stamp reading May 16 because the airline only accepts the form 10 days in advance and Kirby is flying out on the 27th. Such stupid, tiny little details. And it is only the airline – the USA form is good for 30 days and the EU form is good for 4 months. But airlines get to make up their own rules, more stringent than even the accepting country!! How insane is that?!?!?

So today's agenda includes calling the Customs office to find out if there is anything else I need to do to satisfy them. I really want to be sure I can bring Kirby home right away rather than have him languish in Quarantine ... the whole reason we didn't bring him with us in the first place was we didn't want him hanging out in Quarantine so it would be stupid if he has to now.

Each day we get on step closer to actually having Kirby in our home.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

touristing, finally

May 12, 2007
An auditor came to the post to do … well I am not sure what exactly his purpose was, it was something to do with Terry and the tech stuff. He is a pretty cool guy and Terry and I had planned to do something on the weekend that would be difficult or impossible to get to without the car, just because we could. We invited him along, and ended up going to the Blue Grotto, Hagar Qim and the Mnajdra Temple.

As tourist sites go, the blue grotto was OK. You get down there and get on a luzzu (the Maltese fishing boat that, if Terry gets his way, will some day grace the waters of Harvey’s Lake) that takes folks into several caves along the way before entering the Blue Grotto. The water is clear and beautiful and the caves are, well, caves. Terry took some wonderful photos and it was nice on the water. You can click on the above photo to see the Blue Grotto photos.

Just up the road are two World Heritage sites, ancient megalithic temples that were built around 3000-4000 BC. The construction feats of getting some of these huge blocks of stone into place is a wonder. Between the tourists and Mother Nature the sites have taken a beating and now we are not allowed to go inside either of the sites. You can see a decent bit from the outside, but some of the informational plaques describe features that no longer exist. At least for these sites the trouble is not all caused by humans – the stones are limestone, so they are soft, and the air and water are salty, winds are high, and erosion can’t really be stopped.
Photos from Hagar Qim
Hagar Qim from Google Earth
Photos from Mnajdra
Mnajdra from Google Earth

For more information about the temples click here
Hagar Qim

For more information about the Blue Grotto click here
Blue Grotto

When you add in the time it took us to get lost several times on the way there and anticipating the time it would take to get lost on the return, by the time we had visited these sites it was time to go home.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New House

Our house is semi-detached (as it is called here, also known as a twin in Philly, and in some places a duplex [although I thought a duplex was when each floor was its own apartment, whereas ours is a side-by-side]). When you first walk in, you see the hallway to the rest of the downstairs and the stairway upstairs. We were first struck by all the Maltese tile, which is original (1920s, we are told) and throughout the house. The hallway goes the entire length of the house and it to the left, with all the rooms to the right. Immediately to your right is the den/causal living room. It is where our TV lives, as well as the phone and internet for now. There is a small fireplace in the corner and beautiful stained glass windows. All the furniture is leather although it is not quite as comfortable as one might wish.

Next down the hall is the formal dining/living room. On one side of a huge room are two couches and a large coffee table, on the other side is an antique dining room table, glass cabinet for dishes, and marble and solid wood sideboard. This is a room we expect to use rarely, and it is only of two rooms where we compromised with our landlord to not get A/C (we had first requested he install A/C in every room, he had been expecting something more like only 2 rooms. We are NOT Maltese!)

The next room, our kitchen, is roomy enough for a casual kitchen table. This is where we eat when it is too dark or cold to eat outside. Although it looks like we have spacious cabinet space, it is surprisingly inefficiently designed. However, given that we expect our stuff is floating in the Med, we won’t have trouble fitting our kitchen items in the space we have. At the end of the hall, just past the kitchen, is a set of glass doors that lead to another small hallway. About 1-2 steps beyond the glass doors are the heavy security doors to the outside. The hallway goes the entire width of the house, so if you step into the hallway and turn right you see glass doors to the kitchen and at the end of the hall is a small bathroom with shower head, although we don’t really plan to shower there. The bathroom will be very useful when we are in the pool all the time, as you don’t have to go into the main part of the house to get there, and it is also the only bathroom on the first floor.

Beyond the small hallway is the outdoors. You step out to a veranda where the grill will live if it ever gets off the floor of the Med and finds its way to us. We also have a couple of outdoors tables and chairs, and our landlord has promised us an awning once it is fixed. It isn’t too necessary, though, as it does not get sun in the early morning (breakfast) or by mid-afternoon (dinner). From the veranda you look out over the rest of the yard, and the pool. The stairs to the yard are at the end of the veranda and we had the landlord put a fence so when baby starts walking and crawling we can keep it from tumbling down the stairs if we turn away for a minute.

The pool butts right up against the neighbor’s property. Just to its right is a grassy area and a garden, including a Maltese lemon tree. We made lemonade with the fruit and it is a little sweeter and not as tart, as juice, or quite as flavorful as the traditional lemon. However, it is super cool to have the tree and we will likely find good uses for its fruit. In fact, our landlord told us when the fruit gets a bit more ripe and turns yellow it gets a little sweeter and is good for marmalade. We also have an orange tree back there but I am not really sure what it is doing or what its best season is.

There is also a little shed where the grassy area meets the tiled area, and it is where the lawn mower and gardening tools live. It is very pretty, ivy covered, and will be tons of fun to keep in shape! The side yard includes a swingset! In the front is enough room to park several cars – our landlord has fit 4 in there.

The upstairs has 3 bedrooms, the laundry room, and study. There is the same kind of layout as the downstairs, where the rooms are along the right and the hallway to the left. Also, there is the same strange small hallway at the back end. In the upstairs, however, instead of a bathroom the end of the hallway has the laundry room. Also, directly to the right of the laundry room is a tiny room we will use as the study, assuming we can fit the study furniture in it, assuming the study furniture arrives from its current watery home at the bottom of the Med. Working your way back up the hall you’ll see the big, fancy bathroom with the bathtub. Next is the smaller guest room, which is the other casualty of our compromises with the landlord. Let’s just say we hope not too many folks visit at the same time during the deep summer, because there is no A/C. The next room back up the hall is the main guest room, with ensuite bathroom. Lastly, at the front of the house, is the master bedroom. It is ridiculously large but that means enough room for baby stuff like bassinet, glider chair and changing table. It also has an ensuite bathroom, and stained glass windows. There is also a balcony.

Finally, there is the third floor. It is really just a hallway that wraps around the house. There is plenty of space up here (we think/hope) to store all the extra stuff we either don’t need because we had no way of knowing which things we would or wouldn’t need here. Also we have roof access , which has a lovely view.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May in Malta Part I

May 4, 2007
Moving day! After Terry heads off to work I rush around the apartment and try to pack up all the last minute things, which always seem to take as long as packing all of the not-last-minute things combined. I sadly disconnect the phone and internet and pack things away until next week (hopefully) when communication will be reinstated. The movers arrive early and they seem confused. They don’t speak much English, they ask if the things are being transported overseas (no, just to Attard!) and they ask if I am riding with them in their truck. I had understood that someone would be driving me in a real car and the movers would follow, but since the someone had not arrived I was no longer certain. I was proud of myself for being so calm as I called GSO and asked what exactly was going on. He clarified that yes someone was coming but he hadn’t arrived yet – I was being fit in between two other official embassy events – but I would not be riding in the moving van. Relief! The move itself is rather uneventful as is the unpacking, except that each time I couldn’t find an item where I thought it was supposed to be I panicked that a box had been left behind. At the end of the day all the essentials had been located and I had unpacked all but 3 boxes. I had also refilled several of the plastic tubs that Terry made me buy with things to be stored, such as winter clothing or anything that fit me as of 2 weeks ago (yes, Terry was right, you can never go wrong having lots of plastic storage tubs in the foreign service. See, I admit when I am wrong)
I decide to take a walk because I need to get out of the house and the unpacking. Wandering around hoping to eventually be able to find my way back I stumble onto the local grocery store! And there is a produce truck right in the parking lot across the street! How easy is that? I get a few essentials – not too much because I am not really sure how to get home – and ask the nice checkout lady how to get to San Anton Gardens. I am grateful to live so close to such a well known site. Clocking the return trip, it takes me 6 minutes. At 9 months pregnant, it will probably be 15. Not too bad.

May 5, 2007
Cinqo de Mayo and farewells to a couple of embassy folks who are finishing their tours and heading into new worlds. This is my first trip to Marine House, party central and housing to the USA Marines on the island. The view is amazing – better to spot invaders by – and the digs are quite nice too. There is a chili cook off and I have to admit only one of the chilies really got my attention at all, and none of them were hot enough.

May 6, 2007
We rearranged the living room furniture as we’ve been dying to do since we moved in (yes all of 2 days). Mom, don’t read this part … there was an old desk in the living room that we decided not only did not fit in to the living room, but also that it would be great to put it in the study as a second desk so when we are both on computers we can be in the same room. So we haul it upstairs and into the study, where we realize that it is larger than we thought and the study is smaller than we thought, and not only will the desk not fit once our stuff arrives but also we are pretty sure the bookcase that used to live in the study will also not fit. It is good for now, though, as a place to set up the desktop while we wait for our stuff to arrive.

Our lovely friend and CLO (Community Liaison Officer, an embassy position involving lots of different things but mainly - for my life - helping the spouses navigate the new country) Lisa invited us to brunch at her place, where she treated us to amazing French toast made with Maltese bread (note to self to pick up Maltese bread) and real brewed coffee (that one is more for Terry than me). She drove us home because she needed to stop by the San Anton Gardens, where there was a flower show this weekend and she had made a submission on behalf of the USA embassy – she had been a florist in a past life and it really showed! She was also picking up some folks she had dinner plans with, and ended up leaving Kodiak (her dog) briefly in my care. Big mistake on her part. I was walking along the edge of the pool to check out a couple of the trees on the far side of the garden (they hang over the pool – the only access is along the pool’s edge) and behind me hear a splash. Dog overboard! Because the pool it not yet fit for swimming I panic, when I see he is struggling to get out I panic some more, reach into the water, grab his harness, and haul him out of the water. I run him out of the pool area and close the gate. Wouldn’t you know it, he returned to the gate time and again to see if it was open because he clearly wanted to go back in! He was only damp as opposed to soaking wet, and slightly smelly and slightly green, by the time Lisa returned. Each time I am left alone with this dog the chances of him ever becoming Kirby’s playmate and being left in my care alone all day become more and more remote.

We then all went to the flower show and wouldn’t you know it – two different people asked to get Kodiak’s photo because they thought he was such a pretty dog! Apparently swampy slimy pool becomes him.

May 7, 2007
Today was our first work day at the new house. As post-pregnancy usual, when Terry got up to get ready for work I stayed in bed a bit longer. I heard strange thumps and water going on and off during what was meant to be his shower in our ensuite bathroom and when he came out he announced that there was no hot water. Good morning! (strike 1 for today)

We discover that the downstairs has plenty of hot water and figure that as a last resort we could shower in the tiny, ship-like bathroom on the first floor (ship like because there is just a shower head, no actual sectioned off area, so showering there involves soaking every other item in the bathroom.) I had several things to accomplish at the embassy so I decided it was time to get up and I’d try to catch our landlord if he was around – it was too early to call him – and I’d run to the grocery store before heading to the embassy rather than after.

At the grocery store that is conveniently a 6-7 minute walk from our house, I discover that several very basic items are not to be found (we are talking red wine vinegar and frozen chicken). However, I can find shredded parmesan cheese and Haagen Dasz, neither of which I was able to find at the huge supermarket near our former home that carried things like oat milk. Apparently, each grocery store can only stock so many items that I need. I really want our car. (strike 2)

After hanging out hoping to spot my landlord and finally submitting to the freezing and oh so short shower I decide to try the rubber band – button trick with my biggest pair of pants, rather than submit to another day of maternity jeans that fall down because they are too big. The other maternity clothing I have are either too cool for this weather (skirt, dress, capris) or too big (nice black pants). Having no rubber band, I use a hair elastic which is a bit too small to really make much of a difference. Heeding the words of a mother who advised me that any pants I stretch out to try to avoid maternity clothes will not revert to their previous size even after I do, I give up and put on the jeans. I really need to do laundry.

As I am in the bedroom, I notice that the toilet seems to still be running from quite a long time ago. I take the lid off the tank and see that the water is gushing into the tank as it should to fill it, yet none of the water is staying in the tank. I can’t figure out where the drain is but the water is clearly going straight down the drain. Have I mentioned that water is a precious and rather expensive commodity in this lovely land of no natural sources of water? (strike 3 – you’d think I’d be out by now, but wait … there is more) I lift the bubble/bladder thing that makes the water stop running when it is lifted and think about what to do. I try to shut off the water but no dice. Complicating things is the fact that the toilet is British style, where you push a button in the middle of the top of the tank to flush, and that button is connected to a piece in the tank itself so it is not possible to simply remove the top. I can appreciate that I looked comical with the top of the tank in one hand, and the bubble/bladder thing in the other hand. I finally run downstairs where a load of outdoor trash was waiting for the trash collectors, grabbed a brick, and just in case also grabbed a plastic bottle waiting for recycling. I figured one of these things could prop up the bubble/bladder thing. After several awful attempts to wedge the brick in, it was just too big to fit the space. I was able to crumple up the water bottle enough to get it in and prop up the bubble/bladder thing so that it shut off the water. This is clearly a very temporary solution.

Finally, I head out towards the embassy. At the embassy my lovely friend and CLO, Lisa, had planned to help me sort through what I need to do to get Kirby into the country, as she had jumped through all these same hoops only one year ago to get her fluffball Kodiak in country. Before we begin I head down to the GSO office where one of the GSO staff was supposed to have copies of the form I needed to get signed by various people for Kirby’s customs and vet clearances when he got to Malta. Turns out the form he gave me is old, and not the right form. (strike 4) I was very lucky that lovely Lisa had an extra copy.

We started going through step by step everything she had done to get her dog into Malta and she’s showing me all the forms she got signed and stamped, etc. One form is essentially the health certificate; it is filled out by Kodiak’s veterinarian and it is stamped, signed and sealed by the USDA. My heart sinks. According to this form a USDA certified vet is not sufficient, we do need to get the paperwork to the USDA itself which is of course only open on week days and only located in Harrisburg, Annapolis and Richmond for the states Terry might pass through while he is home. (strike 5) Lisa had shipped her dog from California, where there is a USDA office just outside the San Francisco airport. I double check the list of USDA agents online and yes, there is one at JFK but none at any of the other remotely local airports. I could call the vet where we have made Kirby’s appointment for his health certificate and ask them what their process is for USDA certification, but since we have moved I have neither phone nor internet (and therefore Vonage phone) at the house, and anyway it is only 7am in the USA.

I also learned from the GSO staff that although we had expected our car to be cleared and available for pickup today, it would not actually be available until tomorrow. (strike 6) Further, our household goods that had been ship freighted and were meant to arrive a week ago would arrive tonight and not clear customs for at least five more days, although we had been led to believe by others the customs process was a 1-2 day event. (strike 7) The five days would expire on a week where Terry was unable to take any time off, so we would be unable to receive the ship freight until the two days before Terry left for training in the USA, and we were not sure his boss could spare him those extra two days.

At this point I lose it. I actually start crying. I hope I can convincingly blame pregnancy hormones, lack of sleep due to a persistent mosquito last night, and hunger (it is past my second breakfast time and almost rounding the corner to lunch). Lisa handles it and me beautifully. We sum up today’s troubles – no hot water, no car, no stuff, no dog. I then add that my pants are falling down and she starts laughing, which gets me laughing too. Part of the frustration is that I have lived overseas in more difficult circumstances than this before and managed, for example I NEVER had a car any other time I lived overseas, so why am I getting so upset now? Again, I hope to blame pregnancy, low blood sugar, and fatigue.

Soon after I finally pull myself together Terry comes in with my Maltese driver’s license. I even manage to make a joke about having nothing to drive.

(This is the part where I warn everyone against ever using Lufthansa cargo – pet shipping). I called them last week and after 5 transfers was allegedly connected to a woman who handled pet shipping. She asked me to send the documents I had as well as some basic info about Kirby, his crate, etc. I sent the email and the reply I got from her contained a thread of her and a woman who is alleged to be THE one who handles dog shipping for Lufthansa. We’re not just talking pets, she was specifically referred to as the DOG shipping expert. This woman indicates that I need to obtain a transit permit for Kirby to go through Frankfurt airport and also that I (yes I) need to figure out with Frankfurt what to do about the fact that his rabies shot is a 3 year shot and the old rules required the shot me no more than 12 months old. Why THE dog shipping expert does not know this answer herself is a mystery to me, and how it is possible that she does not have a copy of the transit permit to send me is another mystery. Lisa kindly gets on the phone with the Frankfurt embassy, which actually has a whole customer service line (wow!!!) and after some research and even a conversation with Lufthansa in Germany, it turns out nobody in all of Germany has ever heard of this transit permit. It is moderately unfortunate as I had been told by Lufthansa in the USA that it was one of the documents they needed before I could even book Kirby’s flight. (strike 8)

Did I mention that Lufthansa is a German airline? I mean, yes the people I was dealing with were the USA office, but shouldn’t they know something? Anything at all?

Did I also mention that it is only 1pm at this time?

(This is the part where things turn around) I go home, an on the way field a phone call from Lisa that she has started researching Northwest Airlines – apparently they have always had the best pet cargo shipping reputation in the airline business – and needed to know Kirby’s crate size. I didn’t have it yet but promised to call her back with it. When I got home I ate (finally) and rang my landlord’s doorbell (he’s my next door neighbor). He came out and went with me to check the hot water situation. He determined that the hot water in the laundry room and the bathroom that only has a bathtub was operating properly, but the hot water that leads to the 2 showers were not. He promised to get the plumber out as soon as possible. As we walk downstairs I ask – as Terry and I had been discussing over the weekend – if he would mind if we put in shelving in the tall pantry area (there is a closet-y thing in the kitchen that is about 5’ high and maybe 2-3’ wide, and just one large space). He thought I was asking him to do it, agreed to do it, and said his workman would come by some time this week. Yippee!

May 8, 2007
After awful Monday, today was a day of getting things accomplished. First the air conditioning folks came to do something with the units outside, then to check the last 2 units they hadn’t been able to check when they were installed. One was fine, the other needed a new fan so they said they would return Thursday morning. Next, Lisa arrived with Kodiak, who was going to spend the day with me and give me some furry company as I fielded various workpeople. My landlord came by to tell me the electrician would be coming late afternoon to fix the hot water heater – only one day without hot showers – not too bad. I ran out to Smart (a grocery store, further explained below) to get Terry a coffeemaker and a few other things before the cable guy came, thinking the cable guy would be early because they had been early when they came in our previous apartment.

I have already mentioned the grocery store that is a 6-7 minute walk from our house, that doesn’t carry such basic items as red wine vinegar. Well, there is also a big fancy grocery store in a nearby village, and when we aren’t getting totally lost and wandering in circles it only takes 10-15 minutes to get there. When I say big and fancy, I am talking a patisserie in the store, a whole aisle of one kind of fruit juice (conveniently, the kind I like best, although the kind Terry likes best takes up half of another aisle). In the same complex is a cafĂ©, a toy store, a phone store where we can get cards for more minutes on either my cell or our home phone - once we get the home phone installed. After only going once the straightforward way with Terry I managed to find my way there on my own and felt like I might actually find my way around this country some day maybe.

After I returned home I got a call from the telephone guy to schedule getting that set up and he will come tomorrow. I got through four loads of laundry – not as much as it sounds like, European machines are smaller than in the USA – and read and relaxed. The cable guy showed up at 4:30 (he was scheduled to come between noon and 5pm) and the electrician some time later. Terry showed up in the midst of all this and informed me that he had in fact obtained our car today and Malta is now our oyster because we have transit that won’t make him sick. While the workmen were doing their work, our landlord came by so we could go over the inventory and sign off on it. It turns out there are a few items he plans to give us that we haven’t received yet, so we can look forward to them. He also showed me the pool pump and where the lights and Jacuzzi function switches are. Summertime parties at my house!

Interesting factoid – in Malta, what we would call a dustpan is called a shovel.

May 9, 2007
It is amazing how small setbacks can send you into tears but small victories can also completely make one’s day. I ran to the produce vendor to get some parsley, which we have been needing for about a week now, and she gave it to me free! Now I am just waiting for the telephone guy to show up and get that installed, then I am off to the embassy to try to get things moving on the Kirby front.

May 10, 2007
Sometimes my own naivetĂ© amazes me. The telephone guy showed up only about 15 minutes late, not too bad … about an hour and a half later he came to ask if I minded if he went out for ½ hour to have something for lunch. I can’t say no to that! So almost an hour later he returns, and finishes about an hour later. Yup, I spent almost the whole day with this telephone guy.

One thing I do need to note. Before we came, even Maltese people told me that nobody would ever be on time. If an appointment was for 10am, the person may arrive around 11:30am. So far, the people I have dealt with have uniformly been punctual. The telephone guy was all of 15 minutes late, and you can’t even get better service than that in the USA

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

We have a car.

A lot has happened since I last wrote. Here is the big stuff. We moved into our house last Friday. We then spent Saturday at the Marine House for a Cinco De Mayo party. Lots of fun. Sunday we went to the San Anton Garden for a flower show, and had brunch with some people from the Embassy. Monday was back to work for me and really busy. Monday morning is also the morning that we figured out that the hot water heater for our shower was not working since there was no hot water in the morning when I went to shower. Landlord was good about getting someone on that to fix it. Monday evening we walked to the slightly farther but much bigger grocery store to check it out. Pretty impressive. One thing Malta has is an awesome selection of fruit juices. There is an entire aisle of just one brand in about 30 or more flavors [Lynne edit: there are just many rows of about 15 or so juices]. Yesterday (Tuesday) two Marines, two local hires from the embassy, and myself went to a boys school to teach the kids dodge ball and kickball. The embassy also may a donation to the school's library with books about sports. It is part of an outreach program to the host country. For me it was a chance to get outside. It was loads of fun and the kids really enjoyed dodge ball. The school administration was extremely nice and happy to have us there. One of the local TV stations had a reporter there. They were filming during the event. There is no word if I was on the local TV. I figure I will hear about if I was. Lastly, we got our car last night. So all we have left is all of our stuff. That should be here this week and then up to a week to clear customs. During the last 3 days Lynne has been really busy letting workmen in and out of the house to fix things and setup phone and cable. This meant she has been very busy as well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Another day off

Because Malta is full of holidays, we had another day off today. May 1 is Labour Day here. We celebrated by taking another walk, this time close to our "home" in Sliema. We started at the water park and walked along the coast toward an old watchtower. Terry of course took lots of photos of the water and rocks and flowers we saw along the way. One thing we have noticed is that there are many flowers and plants that are similar to the ones back home, but not. Some examples we photographed:
  • Tiny iris-looking flower, but blooming among sand and rock and seriously tiny
  • A white flower that looks nothing like a hyacinth but smells exactly like one
  • Wild thyme, that smells exactly like thyme but doesn't look like it
  • a small flower in white and in pink that looks like a morning glory
Another interesting point about Malta is that, much like Ford's comment about the Model T, you can build your house with any color/material as long as it is limestone. Malta could be renamed "Beige"

More Photos

Here is the latest update from sunny Malta. Sunday we went with some other people from the embassy for a little hike/walk (depends on your definition of a hike). We went to a bay on the western part of the main island called Gnejna Bay ("Golden Bay"). You can click on the photo to go our online photo gallery. It was a nice little walk along the sea. The wildflowers are really in bloom now and it is very lovely. The weather is still decent - not too hot yet. In the near future we are expecting the heat to really pick up and make these types of walks really difficult to do. Check out the walk on google earth.

Yesterday we went to the house we want to rent for the next two years to check on the progress of the work there and to make sure all of the air conditioners are there. Everything was coming along nicely. With that inspection we signed the lease last night and have a current projected move in date of Friday May 4th. We will see how that works out for sure but hopefully next week I will have photos of the new house to show. Here is where the Attard house is on google earth