Tuesday, February 5, 2008


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.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dental care

I had to get 2 cavities filled (grrr) and i have been warned that here they are not so into comfort/pain management. So I ask about the Novocaine before the dentist begins. She tells me the first cavity is pretty shallow and we won't get anywhere near the nerves, and she thought I could easily get through it without Novocaine but if i felt uncomfortable at any time to just raise my hand and she'll stop immediately.

As we all know (med-free childbirth notwithstanding) I am a big baby when it comes to pain. But they had only booked me for getting one cavity filled and I wanted to move quickly so maybe we could fit both in. So the first goes without meds. Actually didn't feel anything at all. The dentist said the second one was a bit deeper, i could get numbed if I wanted but she thought we could make it through without meds. In the spirit of expediency i agreed to try. Yep, made it through also without Novocaine.

I feel tougher already - 2 cavities without pain meds. See, this living overseas thing really does let you find out what you're capable of.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Not Slug Bait

So the beer is ready. I have tried it and shared it with some of the people in the Embassy. All in all I am really happy with it. It is not the best beer ever, but very respectable. The color is almost perfect for a porter. It is a little more bitter then Lynne would like but I find it pleasant. It is at least as good as anything else brewed on this island. So now we are starting to clear bottles for the next batch.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mythical lamb sausage

I think I wrote a while back that we finally found a butcher that Terry deems worthy enough to supply us with animal flesh. They happen to be the one closest to us, which is great. Well, this being a 98% catholic country nobody has really created a market for not-pig processed food items like sausage.

However, a decent portion of the 2% not-catholic is muslim and there is a small community in our area. Our butcher told me about 5 months ago that they did make lamb sausage but only in small batches and only once a week, and that only one butcher in the shop was authorized to make it (leading me to believe it is halal). Since then, I have asked about this lamb sausage no fewer than a dozen times. Either they sold out, or didn't make it that week, or forgot to make it, or something. I started to think it was just a big joke and there really was no lamb sausage. I even left my name and phone number one time so they could call me when there was sausage ready to buy.

My mom heard me talk about the lamb sausage and decided she was going to get some before she left Malta. She spoke with one of the butchers who told her it is only available by pre-order (not that anyone ever told me this!) so she went ahead and ordered a batch and ... miracle of miracles, when she went to pick it up on the designated day, they had it ready and waiting for her!

After all the anticipation, it was only OK. For sausage, it was not very seasoned.

When we go home in February, although Terry is fighting me on this point since he doesn't care either way, we ARE going to Bolton's for their turkey sausage and turkey bacon. I have never had better. If I also get a whole chicken to roast while there Terry may stop giving me grief about it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Brewing Part Two

Last Saturday was bottling day. I took the now fermented wort and added some more sugar and put it bottles. Cap the bottles wait a week or two then enjoy. Easy enough. I tasted the wort which is basically flat beer at that point and I am not sure what to make of it yet. It wasn’t terrible, but tough to tell for sure without carbonation. This coming weekend it should be ready for a test drive. Then we should determine if it is tasty or 2 plus case of slug food.

BTW – One gardening trick is if you have a slug problem leave container of beer in your garden. For some reason slug are attracted to the beer and they will drown themselves in the brew. This is a safe way to get rid of slug without chemicals. Also a get way to get rid or some bad beer that didn’t come out the way you hoped it would.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quick update

My mom has Alex for a walk so I can actually type something. Alex has been the most wonderful and exhausting experience, and all the veteran parents keep telling me it never ends. I can believe it, but someday she will walk on her own and sleep more than a few hours at a time.

Part of the dearth of postings has been that there is little more to say about our house, and nothing really to say about our pediatrician, and those are the only 2 places I had been since Alex was born. Well, there was Alex's first social event, Halloween at the Ambassador's. She very kindly slept through the first couple of hours and when she woke and got cranky we beat a hasty goodbye. Tragically, we got no photos of her in her "first halloween" outfit.

Alex also experienced her first "Bunco" experience 2 weeks later. It was wonderful to be in a room full of moms who missed the newborn days - I only held her when she had to eat and reveled in the relatively rare experience of eating food with 2 hands. My meal plans these days generally include a mental list of what can and can not be eaten with one hand.

We did get a turkey for Thanksgiving, and made it with mashed potatoes, green beans (aka wonder sticks and yes, when they are fresh/not canned they are tasty!) cranberry sauce, and apple pie. It turns out the French must have free range turkey b/c the bird was juicy - so obviously not overcooked - but surprisingly tough. It worked well in the soup Terry made later, though. Alex also had a "first thanksgiving" outfit and we did get photos this time.

Many of the cities in Malta have market days one day per week. The one in Valletta has more touristy fare and less produce, although it does have live animals for pets and for dinner (Sundays), the one in Marsaxlokk has fish and a somewhat better balance between produce and touristy t-shirts (Sundays), and a friend invited us to accompany her to the market in Birgu (Tuesdays). Birgu's market is for the Maltese - about 1/2 mile of the best looking fruits and veg I have seen on the island, lots of Christmas decorations, cards, and treats, breads (the Maltese do amazing things with flour, water and yeast) and cheap clothing. Although Alex decided mommy's arms were way better than the stroller, it was great to see what they had and make a mental note to go back when we needed more supplies. Next time I will take photos, I have just figured out how to use and send photos from my camera.

I completely screwed up when the first night of hannukkah was, and we never got around to finding candles anyway, but Alex did get her photo opp of her in her "first hannukkah" bib. Nope, not a whole outfit this time.

Whew, now we are caught up.