Monday, November 14, 2005


I finally overcame five years of procrastination and hung some pictures on the walls. As always with projects like that, you have a "why didn't we do this sooner" moment as you admire your handiwork. I can't even remember the reason we didn't when we first moved in, but I'm sure it had something to do with the fact that we never, ever imagined that we would be here this long. Now that they're up there, it's a sure-fire bet that M will get a job offer somewhere else and we'll have to move.

After some online research, I found a site that sells decorative iron work. I think some of the iron crosses would look super in the living room. I'm going to call today to find out where their stuff is made as I'd prefer to buy something made in the USA, not mass-produced elsewhere.

A busy week ahead... aside from our usual commitments, we're hosting D's playgroup this Friday which is doubling as a Bon Voyage party for our friends who are moving to D.C. Very sad. But we'll have a nice final playgroup with them. I'm going to get some t-shirts for the kids to decorate for each other and of course there'll be cake.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

First Halloween

D was a Pumpkin Fairy for Halloween. We went to a Halloween party at a neighbor's, went trick-or-treating at 2 or 3 houses and then spent about an hour handing out candy, which I think was her favorite part of the night. She made sure EVERYONE went home with a package of candy corn. It was hilarious to hear her commenting on the other kids costumes - they'd say "oh what a cute little pumpkin" and she'd respond with "thanks, I like your [insert costume] too!" So grown up.

She got about 5 pieces of candy, which is perfect for a three-year-old. We have about a half-bucket leftover from trick-or-treating. I've scavenged all the Reese's cups out of it and the rest is just a giant orange bucket o' temptation. Lucky for me, basically all we have left are M&Ms and Snickers, and I'm not too fond of either of those except when I'm desperate for a chocolate fix.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Vegan conspiracy?

Mercury in our fish, mad cow and now bird flu in chickens. So what's a red-blooded carnivore like me supposed to eat? I suppose the people over at PETA are feeling pretty happy these days. I guess it's time to drag out my ancient Moosewood cookbook and try out some of their yummy veggie casseroles and soups. Actually though, I was a bit alarmed that bird flu was showing up in the Balkans, Croatia to be specific. Hygiene and food safety were HUGE issues when we were over there and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see problems in Kosovo because of it. I'm glad M is not going back over after all.

In other news, I am so thankful that my family in Naples, FL was spared the worse of Hurricane Wilma. Actually Naples, which is mostly new construction, withstood the storm very well. I guess there is a lot of tree and foliage damage, but not to much structurally other than roofs, shingles and signs. Not at all like New Orleans, or even what Wilma did to Miami. My parents, sister and brother are all fine, and are waiting to get the utilities back on line. Actually my parents had phone service Monday night, which says a lot about Naples infrastructure, I think. My brother was hosting a Halloween party this weekend, which D, M and I were really looking forward to, but it's on hold until they know if they'll have electric and water (they have a well system).

In the meantime, here in St. Pete, we had some very blustery, rainy weather but the only catastrophic damage was to our Halloween decorations. You know that white cobwebby stuff you string up? Yeah, well, it's not made to withstand 40 mph wind gusts.

Have a spook-tacular Halloween! I'll post picture of D in her pumpkin costume next week!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Storm watch

Hello. I've dragged myself away from the Weather Channel's continuous coverage of Hurricane Wilma. I had to take a break. We have our evacuation plans. We've collected our important papers, precious mementos and of course, my iPod, and are ready to flee if need be. And this is all on the remote chance it heads toward the Bay area. Right now we're just on the fringes - close enough to need to prepare, far away enough to not take those preparations TOO seriously. For instance, my "supply" trip to Publix this morning. Sure I stocked up on more bottled water. But in trying to prepare, but not overprepare, I also found myself buying M&Ms, yogurt raisins, Tostitos, Stove Top stuffing, and Chocolate-flavored Silk. Mmmm. Random food items! There might be a meal in there, but basically, we'll be eating movie theatre snacks for a few days if we lose power.
At least they'll be easy to throw in the car in a hurry.

Probably the best comment I've heard so far on the hurricane was this morning at school drop-off. D was sitting with some of her little girlfriends and another little girl came running up saying, "Guys, guys...I have important and bad news! My daddy says this storm is going to hook a hard right and come right at us!" Immediately all the other little girls jumped in with their own commentary and opinions. It was so innocent and cute and grown up all at once.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Change in the air

I woke up - okay, I was woken up - at 7:00 and noticed the Change when I went into the kitchen to make the coffee. I quickly checked the thermostat, yep holding steady at 78 and the a/c wasn't even running. I opened the back door to cool(ish), dry air - Autumn has come to West Central Florida. Hurrah! While poor miserable Northerners get ready for months of cold and slush and thousand-dollar heating bills, Floridians are now looking forward to months of blue skies, low mosquito counts and beautiful weather. Beach weather! The temperature this morning was 76. A woman I used to work with had a theory that you knew it was going to be a good day if the first number of the temperature was the same - or lower - than the hour (e.g., 76 at 7 a.m. is good; 84 at 6:30 is bad.) Good day today!

The other big Change is my good friend Katy and her family are moving to Washington, D.C. She's the organizer for D's playgroup and her daughter and D have been playing together for over a year, which may not seem like a lot to you & I, but that's 1/3 of our kids lives! Anyway, when you've bonded over things like potty-training and pre-school, it's hard to say good-bye, but it's an exciting opportunity for their family, so we're happy for them too.

M was in D.C. this week as well, presenting on the Kosovo project. His presentation went very well and was well received. He came back energized and re-charged, just what he needs right now. I hope he starts seeing some more benefits from all the work he's put in this year.

But today we'll be enjoying the weather.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Adults only

This is our anniversary weekend - M & I have been married six wonderful years today. It is amazing to look back at all we've accomplished and done as a couple and a family; I couldn't have asked for more. It's amazing to see some of the things we discussed in our "five year plan" five years ago actually happening now. Equally as amazing is it has been 10 years almost to the day since I first met M and fell in love at first sight.

But the best part of this weekend is having some much needed time alone. D is spending the weekend with Aunt Debbie. It's been great - conversations go uninterrupted, we can watch whatever we want on TV (a Michael Douglas movie marathon) and walking the dogs takes an appropriate 10-15 minutes. I even slept in until 7 this morning. Last night we went to Bern's for dinner. Probably the most famous local restaurant/steakhouse in the area, we had a wonderful meal made even more wonderful by not having to rush back home to relieve a babysitter. This morning I'm suffering from still-full syndrome, I think my stomach is just getting around to processing dessert.

We pick D up at 4 this afternoon. So we have a whole day before we have to get back to being parents.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Night out

I am going out tonight! Alone! My sister Debbie is having a dinner & games girls-only night at her house, my other sister Bunky is driving up from Naples and M is watching D for the night, so I'm going out! I think this will be the first "fun" time I've had away from M & D since May, so I'm waaaaay overdue.

It comes at a great time too because it was sort of a rough week. M's been working "lawyers hours" - up at 5, home at 10. D's been waking up early too, and so we're all a bit sleep deprived. Not that it's an unfamiliar feeling. I think the last time I slept all the way through the night was in Budapest and before that.... maybe when M & I went to Aruba last year. D wakes up 2, maybe 3, times a night, either from bad dreams or she needs a drink of water or has to go potty or her sheets have gotten tangled. There's always some reason to yell for Mom & Dad. I imagine one day she'll be able to do all that stuff completely unassisted and then I'll feel sad because she's NOT waking me up every night, but then again, she'll probably be waking me up for different stuff. M tries to help but sometimes she just wants me. And I always feel really guilty for waking M up, after all he's the one that has to go to work, where if we're too tired we can just pod out at home all day. Not that the days are much fun when everyone is tired and cranky.

Truly, the biggest sufferer here is the ever-patient Fizzy, our dog (see picture). She must be wondering what in the world she did to be brought back here (hot, bugs, sketchy walks) from North Carolina (cool, no bugs, cats to play with, big deck overlooking mountain valley to play on, 4 walks/day). M's parents really took great care of her while we were away. She's not really ignored though - D's at the age where she just loves to "play" with the dog. Unfortunately this usually means running after or from her through the house. And since I have a rental car while my Murano is in the shop D and Fizzy have to sit next to each other in the back seat, which is always fun. The first time we all had to go somewhere I heard Fizzy shake and then D shout happily "OOOH, Fur!" Looked back to see a cloud of dog hair. They'll love me at the rental place.

I'm really looking forward to tonight.

Monday, September 26, 2005


We had a pretty busy week. Besides the regular school and volunteer stuff, on Wednesday D and I also attended a cool program at Boyd Hill Nature Park, one of our favorite local parks. The program, called "Jungle Boogie," focuses on a different native animal every week and includes a story, short nature walk and a craft project. It's really neat.

On Thursday we had a bit of a car accident. I was driving down the street when one of my neighbors pulled out of the alley and ran right into the side of my car. It seemed like mostly cosmetic damage at the time, but it turns out my car wasn't drivable. Luckily my neighbor (who we're friends with) has great insurance and they had no problem getting me a rental car and taking care of towing my car to the body shop. They're supposed to have an estimate today of how long it will take to repair. I hope soon because the rental they gave me is a Pontiac Grand Prix, which is a perfectly fine car but just a wee bit flashy for me. I've never really felt that your car is a reflection of who you are, but I might change my mind if I have to drive around in a sports car for a few weeks.

So. On Friday, D suddenly spiked a fever so we spent the day resting and ended up doing the same on Saturday. M worked from home all day and I made homemade chicken noodle soup. It was my first try at homemade soup and frankly I don't think I'll ever eat canned again. It was delicious and had none of that funny, salty, tinny taste that even the best canned soups always have. M and I ate practically the whole pot on Saturday.

Inspired by my soup-er success, I went on to make homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast Sunday and a broccoli salad for a party we went to Sunday night. So now I'm kind of cooked out. Luckily my sister Debbie has invited D & I for dinner tonight so I'll have a day off from the kitchen.

The big news this week is that we're getting TiVo installed tomorrow! I never thought I'd need something like this in my life, but I saw it in action a few weeks back and it made a convert out of me. Plus M won't have to rush home from work on Wednesdays to watch "Lost." After this my last big technical challenge is converting everything to wireless, and if you think it takes a long time to roll this kind of stuff out at work, try doing it with a three-year-old interrupting you every 20 seconds.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In the midnight hour

M comes home from Kosovo today. His part of the project has wrapped up although it looks like it will be another year before the UN pulls out. Maybe they can use that time to pin down exactly how the Kosovars expect to support themselves once they are independent.

I've not been sleeping well, staying up far too late. In part because I can't calm my brain down enough to get a good night's sleep and in part because the cable channels have been showing Titanic a couple times a week and really, I just can't get enough of that movie. I have no idea why I haven't bought the DVD yet, but if it's on TV I can't resist watching and hoping - again and again - that Jack makes it out alive and he and Rose live happily ever after. (For the two or three people out there who haven't seen it AND coincidentally stumble on this blog: sorry for giving away the ending.) Anyhoo, the movie clocks in at three hours and change and tends to start around 11:00 pm so, you do the math, but generally it means I'm up until 2:00 watching the ship go down. Even after seeing it dozens of times, I still cry a bit during the "Jack! I'm flying!" part and when Rose can't wake Jack up at the end and when Celine starts singing at the credits. But at least I'm not thinking about my own misery during all this so for me the movie has fulfilled it's promise of Escapist Entertainment. But now that M's home I may have to switch to something a wee more highbrow, or at the very least something we haven't seen before.

For me, working through the grief and loss of the baby has resulted in my trying to stay very busy, which it turns out isn't that hard to do with a three-year-old in the house, especially since her school requires volunteer hours. I've signed up for a couple classroom projects and I'm in charge of their Valentine's Day party (OK, that's February but I'm thinking about it now!). Also I'm working on Teacher Appreciation Week, there's the school Silent Auction in October, field trips, etc. Then we've got our neighborhood playgroup, which has been so supportive of our family during all this. Plus I'm still in the Junior League and between committees and monthly meetings (which start again this month), it's that time of the year where I start wondering if I should buy a PDA and get myself organized instead of wandering around town with random dates and times scribbled on the backs of whatever loose paper I find in my purse.

Life does go on, whether you like it or not.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


(Warning: Graphic details ahead!)

Has it really been two weeks since my last post? Seems like two days with everything that has been going on. Our week in North Carolina turned into an exercise in grief and loss. First D and I had to cut short our visit in Atlanta to stay ahead of any hurricane Katrina-related storms. Then Tuesday we weathered through a day with no power, no water at my in-laws house as the remnants of Katrina blew through. When the power did come back on, it was almost as if we were glued to the TV unable to turn away from the horrible devastation on the Gulf Coast. One day with no power, no water a small penance for what was happening there.

The loss got personal on Wednesday however. Mid-morning I started bleeding a little bit and when it didn't stop even after I lay down for awhile, I called my OB in St. Pete and he said I needed to go to the ER. Where, to my horror and disbelief, I found out that I was miscarrying our precious baby. Loss and grief don't even begin to describe what I felt and am still feeling. I called M who made arrangements to fly up a day early on Thursday to be with us. The ER doctor at Haywood Regional Medical Center was very compassionate and wisely made arrangements for me to see a local OB in the morning just to confirm what was happening. Unfortunately, the next morning (Thursday) I woke up feeling like I was in labor. The cramping/contractions were so severe I couldn't stand up. By the time my MIL got me to the OB I was bleeding heavily and couldn't really walk. So I ended up having emergency surgery - a D&C - under general anesthesia. With M not there. With D in the waiting room with my MIL. With me crushed under a black hole of loss and sadness.

Even after seeing my own OB back here in town and being reassured that it was just "one of those things" and we could try again as soon as we wanted to and yes, my age (almost 39) is a risk factor, but only in the 20-30% range since I already have a healthy baby, I wake up every morning not really comprehending that I'm NOT pregnant, that it really did happen. And have to cope with the fear that it could happen again. The one beautiful thing is D, who I am so grateful for. I can't imagine what it would be like not to have a child to hold during all of this and my heart breaks for women who miscarry on their first pregnancies, or who may have miscarried several times, or who may be waking up every morning wondering if they'll ever be able to carry a baby of their own.

I am fortunate to have two close friends who have been through miscarriages who understand how it feels and the emptiness you feel. They reassure me that it's OK, really, to feel like you're not over it yet. I wake up in the morning thinking, it's been two weeks (exactly two weeks today) and I'm still sad and depressed. I'm not over it. Is that OK? Shouldn't I have snapped out of it by now? No, I guess not. I am surprised at how many other women that I know have said that they also had one (and in a lot of cases, gone on to have more children!). It really is just something that we (as women) don't talk about. I don't like talking about it because the grief and fear is so personal and overwhelming that I ache and could just cry and cry all day thinking about it.

So, we are trying to resume our normally scheduled programming of preschool and playdates and parties and grocery shopping. We eat our meals, although sometimes a bit later than usual, and we walk the dog and I email my friends. I think it's called getting back to normal.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Recent developments

I can't believe it's been over a week since I last posted. When we were abroad I was obsessed with writing something every day. Then again, I didn't have much else to do.

Hectic times here lately! M is trying to figure out a way to go back to Kosovo and work with all the various organizations through the transition period this fall. It's hard to believe that Kosovo thinks it's ready for independence, but I guess that's why everyone is working so hard. IMHO it would be a bit like sending your 8th grader to college just because he bought college-level textbooks. What do I know! Anyway, the debate here is whether D and I would return with him, complicated by the fact that we recently discovered that I'm a bit over two months pregnant! Very exciting and we've been talking about expanding our family for a while now, but I never thought it would happen while we were in Kosovo. Anyway, I'm not sure I'm ready to brave Pristina while I'm in the throes of morning/noon/night sickness. It's hard enough to keep down foods that I like, let alone think about the stuff that we ate over there. The water situation is also a concern. But I totally support M going back and finishing what he started. It would be lonely, but it would just be for a few months (or so they say).

Other than that, we're firmly in the pre-school routine and D is really enjoying it. It gives me a few hours of rest time a week, which I really look forward to.

Next weekend D & I are driving to Atlanta to visit my b.f. Lisa and her family. Then off to North Carolina for a week at my in-law's house in the mountains and to pick up our dog Fizzy, who's been boarding with them since May. Ought to be lovely and I hope the blueberries are still in season!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

First Day of School

Today was D's first day of school. In preparation, we've been practicing a "School Day" routine for about a week and it's a good thing that we didn't try to wing it because it turns out D needs a considerable amount of time to wake up in the morning (takes after her father that way). But by this morning, we were all ready to get up and at 'em at 6:15 in the morning. I let her have five minutes to get the sleep out then time to wash up, dress and go through the agony of what to do with her curly, un-ruly hair. Ponytail, of course. All in all it went very smoothly and she looked adorable with her backpack.

We got to the school in a torrential downpour, so instead of dropping off in the car line I had to carry her in under the umbrella. I helped her get her things stashed away, then Ms. Donna asked all the kids to come sit on the carpet at the front of the room. We had a touch-and-go moment because D wanted to sit in "her" chair with her name tag on it, but I reminded her that she was there to learn and listen to Ms. Donna. She seemed OK with that and then I got out of there as quick as I could.

It was weird when I went back to pick her up. She seemed...older. Talking about kids I didn't know, singing songs I didn't know. Now I know how parents end up out of touch with their kids.

She's only going Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so I'm making a special effort to enjoy the time we will get to spend together.

Friday, July 22, 2005

High hopes

Ah, the weekend. Well, for D & I anyway. M is working really long hours just now. I don't think he's been home before 9 one night this week and he had to work last Saturday and this Saturday as well.

My parents are coming up to visit us tomorrow and then D & I will be down in sunny Naples all next week. My sister, Bunky, is taking three days off to hang out with us. I can't wait to see everyone. I'd also like to catch up on some movies, like Madagascar, and get a pedicure and maybe leave D with mom & dad for a few hours and just relax somewhere. Except for one 20 minute break in Macedonia I haven't had any time to myself for months.

In other developments, there is a new Chinese restaurant, Great Wall 2, on Fourth Street and rumor has it the food is very good. I've gotten my hopes up before only to be disappointed, but I'm willing to give them a try. Saint Petersburg really needs a good Chinese take-out place. Maybe this is it.

I finished the new Harry Potter last night and I'm more a fan than ever. Such great story-telling! So many loose ends! Can I pre-order Number Seven now?! As much as I (and probably a million other readers) don't want to see the end of the series, i can imagine how hard it must be on J.K. Rowling to let it go. In the meantime, I'll move on to some of the other (i.e. adult) books that I've been wanting to read or that have been recommended to me: The Kite Runner, Family Matters (by Rohinton Mistry who wrote A Fine Balance, which was excellent!) and The Historian - a new book that has something to do with vampires and history and, well, I can't remember any more right now but it sounded interesting at the time and I put it on my must-read list.

Another boiling hot day here. I'm happy to stay inside where it's nice and cool. D told me today at the supermarket that she likes hot weather cause it makes everything "so warm and cozy." She may be more of an optimist than I am.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Little big girl

Our little big girl is growing up. D is officially potty training. I wish I could say trained, but I'm still putting her in pull-ups at night, when we go out or on long car rides. She did it "all by herself" in just two days! Kind of gives credence to the theory that you just need to educate, introduce and then let the kid take it from there. I am very proud of her and look forward to crossing diapers off my grocery list. I'll keep wipes on there though. Lots of uses for them.

D's doing really well. You'd never know we only got back a week ago. The biggest holdover from our time in Kosovo is that we're no longer dependent on TV. We're down to barely an hour a day - she gets 30 minutes in the morning while I take my shower and 30 in the evening (if we've had a good day). Even I no longer look to it as a "babysitter." She seems so much older - happy to play with her Care Bears or Calico Corner animals. She'll stage massive tea parties for all her stuffed animal friends. Or look at her books. Or she'll sit on the couch with this great, wrinkled-brow, concentrating look and when I ask her what she's thinking about she'll say "What's the name of that song, the one about the mountains?" And I'll have to wrack my brain and try to sing or hum all the songs she may have heard about mountains. It's like playing Cranium, all day long.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back to normal

We've been home almost a whole week now. Time just flies when you're having fun...or unpacking, organizing, doing mountains of laundry, sorting mail.

Our homecoming was pretty smooth, even though only 1 out of our 4 big suitcases made it to Tampa. We also had an hour wait in customs because a thunderstorm prevented them from unloading the plance. When we finally cleared customs and got to the terminal, I spotted my sister and pointed her out to D, who popped out of her stroller and sprinted across the terminal screaming "Aunt Debbbbieeeeeeee" and wrapped herself around her. It was so touching, it makes me tear up even now. I'm so glad that they have such a strong relationship.

The first few days back were a bit tumultuous. M was down with a ferocious case of jet-lagged induced traveler's tummy. He ended up being up all night Tuesday throwing up and then slept all day Wednesday. Our bags made it home on Thursday night. We got a call at about 1 in the morning from a nice man informing us that they were on the way. I informed him he could leave them on the doorstep for us. They were too heavy for anyone to steal anyway.

We had a few mornings of waking up at 4:00 or so, but now we're all sleeping until our regular times and D is back on schedule - HURRAY! In bed by 7:45, sleeping until 7:30. As my good friend Lisa once told me (speaking from her experience with two active boys): "sleep begets sleep." Something I take to heart.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I'll get around to it...

I was going to write a full account of our transition back to the U.S. complete with pithy observances on life, commentary on our horrible case of jet-lagged induced traveler's tummy and an update on the Saga of the Lost Luggage, except my copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" arrived in the post this morning.

The blog (and dinner, laundry, etc.) will have to wait... .

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Home! We got back last night, although most of our luggage didn't. It feels weird posting in "real time" instead of six hours before everyone over here wakes up.

The trip back was smooth, thanks in part to British Airways, their great customer service and excellent, comfortable planes. We almost had too much to eat on the flight. Too bad our luggage didn't enjoy the same treatment although the problem originated in Pristina. My greatest fear is that our luggage will get sent back to Kosovo, disappear into a great yawning maw of bureaucratic nonsense and we'll never see it again. Which would be horrible because all of M's business clothes are missing as well as all of D's & mine, plus souvenirs, gifts, DVDs, etc. Oh well. They assure us that it will turn up eventually.

My wonderful sister, Aunt Debbie to D, stocked our fridge with all kinds of goodies: milk, watermelon, broccoli and BACON. Yes, I had my much dreamt about BLT on Sourdough for lunch today. It was as good as I had imagined it would be. Unfortunately M couldn't share in the treat since he's down with a horrible case of traveler's tummy. He did manage a half a banana and some water at lunch, so maybe he's on the mend.

Anyway, we're all in transition. D has every single one of her toys out in the living room, M is lying on the couch resting and I'm in heaven unpacking the bags that did make it, organizing and going through seven weeks of backlogged mail.

Do I miss Kosovo? Heck no, not yet.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Over and out

Final post from Kosovo. We leave for the airport shortly after lunch, overnight in London, then head for Florida on Tuesday morning. It's rainy and cool this morning - just like when we arrived. It will be very hard getting used to the steamy Florida summer weather.

I've been feeling bittersweet about leaving for the last few days. I realized there were a few things I would miss - the laid-back atmosphere, our new friends, meeting people from all over the world and the sense that this was an introduction to a new way of life for our little family of three. Being an "international" is a career in itself, whether or not you have a job to do. It has been an amazing experience, complete with hardships, challenges, lots of improvisation and wonderful, rewarding adventures.

We had a first rate final lunch out at Pishat, an Albanian restaurant, yesterday - chicken kebabs, shopska salad, fried cheese, country bread and peppers in cream followed by an enormous platter of assorted fresh fruits on the "house." It was lovely, sitting outside and enjoying the wonderful weather on the terrace while munching on melon and enjoying macchiatos.

D woke up this morning so excited to be going back to "St. Pete home." She's especially excited to see her Aunt Debbie who is meeting us at the airport. I think she thought Debbie would be coming to pick us up because she was looking all over the apartment for her this morning. I haven't quite managed to get through to her that we have to spend the night in London before we get home; I anticipate lots of tears when we check into the airport hotel.

OK. So that's it from this edge of the world. Final bit of packing to do. Drop off some leftover supplies and groceries for our American Neighbor Eric. One last slapdash lunch (pudding? fruit? pasta?) to throw together. Then we're off. I'd leave for the airport right now if I could.

Next post from home.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A few of my favorite things

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite things from the last seven weeks:

1) Sour cream on everything! Especially good on the lasagne in Macedonia.
2) Chilled sour cherry soup
3) Fried cheese
4) Gerbaud Cafe, Budapest
5) Burek with djath (and a Coca-Cola Light or Fanta)
6) Eating ice creams for lunch
7) Cassandra Peninsula, Halkidiki, Greece
8) Garlicky roasted potatoes
9) Bootleg DVDs
10) Talking at night instead of watching TV
11) Bakery Wednesday with D
12) Farmer's markets
13) Seeing the Chain Bridge at night for the first time
14) St. Stephen's Basilica
15) Watching D eat grilled sardines
16) Collecting rocks from the crystal clear waters of Lake Ohrid
17) Pogasca
18) Playing in the pools at Szechenyi
19) Having two people ask me for directions in Budapest!
20) Afitos & the Best Vanilla Milkshake Ever
21) Looking for yarn with Sharon at the Pristina farmer's market
22) Lake Bled, Slovenia
23) The triple bridges, Ljubjana
24) D polka-ing on the street in Ljubjana
25) Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm (on DVD)
26) Fresh, soft sheets and towels at Four Seasons
27) Listening to M speaking Hungarian
28) The blue-eyed stare
29) Fresh fruit
30) Thinking I can't handle living here, then supposing I could, then realizing I am

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Six days in Budapest

Day One - We fly to Budapest. We knew it was going to be good when Malev, Hungary's national airline, served real food on the 90 minute flight from Pristina. The hotel was absolute luxury and after 7 weeks in the Balkans your appreciation of things like hot showers, potable water and Frette sheets is heightened. I could have spent six days just in the room! It was heaven coming "home" every evening to a soft bed, hot bath and fresh ice in the bucket.

Day Two - We explore the Buda Hills Castle District. We took the furnicular (what we called an incline in Pittsburgh) up to the top of the Hill which provided us with a beautiful view of the city. The Castle District is unique because there are no castles, but lots of beautiful gardens, museums, churches and other fascinating architecture. It also has the Budapest Labyrinth, which runs along the old tunnels beneath the Hill. It's part history, part Disney, part tongue-in-cheek spoof. We had ice creams (for D) and coffees at a lovely cafe at the top of the hill. In the evening, we walked over to St. Stephen's Basilica, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. There was a choir singing inside and the setting sun lit up the building. It was so moving I actually cried a bit.

Day Three - We see the City Park. We woke up terrifically late today, probably because of the ultra-comfortable hotel room. Even D slept until almost 9 in her little rollaway bed. After we got moving, we had breakfast at Gerbaud's - mine included brioche and a banana "omlette" which was actually sliced bananas atop a decadent whipped mousse atop a shortbread biscuit. Yumm. We then took the metro out to Hero's Square and the City Park and walked for miles through the park and the different neighborhoods. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by the Farmer's Market, which is housed in this fantastic old building. As with all the Farmer's Markets over here, the wares ran the gamut from produce to sausage to meat to folk art and other goods. The building was breathtaking though, as is so much of the architecture in Budapest.

Day Four - We visit M's old school. Wednesday, after a quick lunch for D at the local McDonalds, we took the Blue line metro (as D calls it, the "quiet one") out to see M's old school. It is in a working class neighborhood outside of the city. This is where M taught English to 4 - 8 graders back in the mid-90s. Since it was summer holidays no one was around, but it was neat to see where he worked. We had lunch in the metro stations at one of the street food vendors. Pogasca are popover-type muffins with either cheese or ham or plain and they are cheap, filling and delicious. I ate about a dozen as we walked around the city. The rest of the day we spent souvenir-hunting and then had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. I had Shrimp Scampi, my first real shellfish in seven weeks. Note: I did have prawns in Slovenia, but they were whole prawns, complete with shells, claws, eye-stalks and innards, and they were a lot of work to eat and so I tend to think of them as something other than shellfish.

Day Five - We go swimming. On Thursday we spent the day at the Szechenyi furdo (thermal baths). The pools are located in the main City Park, in their own beautiful baroque building. We had quite an adventure just getting in. After buying the tickets, D & I were herded down to the ancient, decrepit locker rooms. It was like an 80-year-old school locker room, complete with 80-year-old naked ladies dressing and drying. We were completely freaked. When we finally emerged on the pool deck, M told us we had actually paid for a private family cabin - sort of like a cabana - in the updated, clean and remodeled part of the locker rooms. Thank goodness for someone who understands the language! Anyway, the rest of the day was fabulous and D really enjoyed the hot and cold pools, playing in the thermal springs and the "wave pool," which was actually a large circular current which spun you around and around a small pool. It was an amazing day and really made us feel part of the city. We had dinner at Goa, which serves great fresh, modern Hungarian, Continental and Asian food. It was odd to see stir-fried shrimp and bok choy on the same menu as Chicken Paprikas, but somehow it worked. I had a starter of grilled Cyprus cheese and blood oranges, then followed it up with papardelle (my new favorite noodle) with beef tenderloin and mushrooms. Mmm.

Day Six - We celebrate D's birthday. We had arranged for the hotel to bring up a birthday muffin for D, complete with candle for a birthday surprise. M took some great video of us singing Happy Birthday and then her blowing out the candle (I helped a bit). I hope she remembers some of this trip, but if not she'll enjoy looking back at the video.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Back from Budapest

We're back from Budapest, safe and sound. I plan on writing a full recap when we get back home to Florida next week, but suffice it to say we had an amazing week. It was great seeing all the places where M used to hang out back in the early 90s. A lot has changed too, so it was neat for him to see all the progress the city has made over the last decade. It's truly a model of a great European capital city. We've already decided our favorite family memory of Budapest was Thursday's visit to the Szecheny furdo. This is the giant thermal pool right in the heart of the city, housed in a wonderful baroque building. There is a hot pool - about 80 bubbling hot degrees - and a cool pool - at about 73 degrees. We stayed and played all day and then walked around the city and had dinner and stayed out until wayyyyy after 10.

Which is why we didn't hear about the London bombings until this morning. What a horrible shock. Not the least because we're due to fly through London on Monday on our way back home. Of course that's only if Hurricane Dennis stays away from the St. Petersburg area and we can get back at all. Or if Dennis doesn't stray to far west affecting Dallas/Ft. Worth, which is where M has to fly through. Sigh. Always something when you're traveling.

Anyway, today is D's third birthday. We had arranged to have a birthday muffin, complete with candle, delivered to the hotel room this morning and she was very surprised! M got video of her reaction. She's been a little trooper, being dragged all over the place, and only had a few blowouts in Budapest. I hope she can hang in there for a little bit longer until we get home sweet home.

Now it's time to unpack (before we pack again, that is), do some last minute laundry, buy our last six-pack of water and try to figure out what we're having for dinner. I know we'll be seeing our friends this weekend to say goodbye. It's hard to believe we're down to a weekend. I just hope our trip home goes smoothly.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Pristina in the news

Hello friends, family and readers - You may have seen the reports that there were bombings at UN headquarters in Pristina Saturday night. Not to worry, our neighborhood is a few miles from the area that was damaged and we are all fine and dandy. Plus we have some good UN contacts who would be sure to alert us if there was a serious problem for Americans.

That said, when we leave for Hungary today we will be taking our return tickets to America with us, just in case. We are playing it safe because while M is on the official evacuation list, neither D nor I are. Kosovo is not considered a "family posting," so one of the things that was made clear to us when we came over was that families are low priority for evacuation. Not that I think our friends would leave us behind to fend for ourselves, but I'd rather make my own plans to get us home, thank you very much.

Anyway, we are safe. Please keep in prayer all the folks at the UN, EU, NCSC, USAID and, of course, the KFOR troops who are working so hard to help the Kosovars attain independence.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

For the birds

Summer here is crazy. Really hot. Really dusty. Huge bugs and birds everywhere. And just when you're getting used to it, suddenly the temperature drops 15 degrees in three hours and it feels like Fall. Go figure.

Hitchcock must have visited Pristina at some point. Every summer, parts of the city, luckily not ours, are invaded by HUGE flocks of gigantic black birds. They are about the size of crows, but up close look like black-and-gray pigeons. At night they swarm the treetops looking for roosting places. You can also catch them in silhouette, sitting on the roofs like poorly designed weathervanes. The Bird Problem is especially terrible in the neighborhood known as Dragodan Hill were they say the bird droppings can pile so high it will completely cover a car. Just another special little something to look out for if you ever decide to vacation here. There was a flock of them in the field behind our house yesterday and the noise was terrible.

The food situation has improved for us. Not only have I managed to create several edible meals right here in my own kitchen, but we've found a handful of restaurants where the meat is reliable, the veggies fresh and the waiters speak enough English to communicate that D's pasta must be plain - no sauce, butter, cheese or the dreaded "spices." Last Thursday we had dinner at Rio 2. M had the "Germia flower" - beefsteak filet stuffed with tomatoes and "djath" - the local soft cheese. I had grilled chicken medallions with djath. D had fried trapist cheese and some of my chicken. Rio is a great restaurant with a super outside terrace. It's on the way to Germia, which is a large park with hiking trails, cafes, soccer fields and even a pool.

It's nice to eat outside since it has been so hot lately and nothing is air-conditioned. Being inside a shop or restaurant in this heat can be an unbearably hot, smelly, stuffy experience. In general, no windows are opened because the Albanians don't like drafts. Someone told me this story how a local told her that a draft could "make your uterus fall out." Uh...whatever. But even in this heat you see little kids walking around in long sleeved shirts, heavy jumpers and tights. It must be horrible for them. But relief is on the way. This morning (Saturday) it is in the 60s again and I saw an Internet weather report that the high on Sunday is only 59. (I'll believe it when I feel it.) I guess that's the deal for this area of the world -- the weather is as unpredictable as anything else.

D's tummy is still off-kilter, but she's happy and active anyway. And back to napping every day. I don't feel as guilty blogging, surfing, e-mailing, etc. if she's not awake and asking me to play or watch a video.

Friday was M's official last day of work here. We're off on holiday tomorrow and I'm looking forward to some Hungarian delicacies -- and a real shower. We'll be home in ten days. Woo-hah! Life is grand.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I got tagged!

My friend Kim tagged me, so I guess I'm it! This is a cool blog-game. Here's what is supposed to happen. You remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog's name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross pollination effect.

1. the stories of a girl
2. Write on Right Now!
3. One Over-Caffeinated Mom
4. Blerg
5. Three's Company

Then you're supposed to select new friends to add to the pollen count. But here's where it bogs down a little for me, as I don't know of any other friends with blogs! So we'll skip over that part and go straight to part three, which is were you add your memories. (But do check out those other blogs, especially Kim's, which is #4 on the hit parade.)

Five things I miss from my childhood:

1. Sunday afternoons in Jamaica - All of my cousins would come over and there would be tons of food: either Chinese dishes homemade by my grandparents (early childhood) or Daddy's famous BBQ on his big homemade brick grill (later childhood). We'd eat and then play tag or hide-and-seek in the yard until way after dark.

2. Honing my competitve edge by playing board games or cards with my mom, grandmother and siblings on rainy afternoons, or playing rummy with Daddy. We still talk about how Dad would never ever show us his hand, whether he was winning or losing, because he didn't want us to figure out his "strategy." Now I think the fact that we were so fixated on seeing his hand that we barely paid attention to our own was his strategy.

3. Early morning swim practice. We had to be in the pool by 6:00 a.m. Good thing we lived in nice, warm Florida, huh?

4. Making up silly songs on car trips. And saying "Mooooooo" every time we saw a herd of cows.

5. Ohtahiti Apples from the tree in our backyard. Ohtahitis are pear-shaped, bright red Jamaican apples. They have juicy, snowy white flesh and a sweet-tart flavor. Absolutely delicious and the only apple I ever knew until I was about 11. I haven't had one since about 1987, but I still remember the taste.

Go check out those other blogs. And if you get inspired and start one of your own, let me know and I'll list it.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A woman's right to choose

I feel, as a woman, I have a basic right to choose. My own fruits and vegetables that is. (What? Did you think I was going all political on you?) Here's the way it works in Kosovo: customer approaches produce stand; customer makes half-English/half-Albanian request for produce, with a lot of pointing and holding-up-of-fingers; customer negotiates tricky territory of quantity, as the amount here typically refers to kilos, not pieces; produce vendor or shop clerk then picks for you. It totally eliminates the "squeeze-and-smell" method of personal choice that we use in the USA and as a result you have zero quality control. Your tomatoes could be rock hard, potatoes green with age, fruit moldy...and you'd never know it until you got home. A small gripe, yes, because when you get good stuff it is REALLY good in a way that the mass-transported, irradiated and chemically-grown produce back home can't even approach. But I'm hesitant to hoof that 10 kilo watermelon home without truly knowing if it is ripe, sweet and juicy.

We're in the home stretch here. There's a lot to do...organize, pack, get ready to leave. We're thinking about having a goodbye party combined with a party for D's third birthday, which is next week. We might try to get a bunch of friends together at a restaurant or maybe have a BYOB party on the patio here at the apartment. I've finally figured out how to give people directions here. It would be something like: take the main road up past NCSC, at the big intersection in front of the Ardi Mart go right, then a quick jog left by the store with the chandeliers, then straight up the hill, past the egg store. Go left at Mercy Corps, then make your first right. We're the second building on the right, white, four-stories, next to the abandoned, bombed-out brick house. Third floor on the left. Give us a call, we'll buzz you up.

Sunday we leave for six days in Budapest, Hungary. I'm really looking forward to it, not the least because we're staying at the Four Seasons and I know we'll be pampered beyond our wildest dreams. They've already contacted me asking if D has any dietary preferences (yeah, grilled sardines and plain pasta please) and asking if we need help making any reservations or arrangements. This is the customer service you get BEFORE you arrive. Yowza!

For those readers wondering how the knitting club went...not good. I did learn to knit while we were in Pittsburgh, but my fingers have forgotten how. Plus I had to use these giant wooden needles as long as my arm and apparently the part of my brain that controls hand coordination is decayed. It was a mess. I did have a very helpful "instructor" - a German woman who was in Iran before coming here with her husband. She tried hard and had a great sense of humor. Knitting is a year-round activity here, but is really taken seriously in winter.

D just came out in her "Wedding Outfit" - green skort, purple tee-shirt and hot pink plastic flip-flops. Apparently I'm officiating at a Care Bear Wedding before lunch. Wish Bear and Proud Heart Cat are the lucky couple, although Good Luck Bear usually gets to join in.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

To market, to market

Today was the last Bakery Wednesday for D & I. We went to our favorite Bakery at the End of the Road for a chocolate bun (for D) and a cherry jam bun (for me) and juice. We've spent most Wednesday mornings this way since we've been here so it was a bit sad being as our last. Next Wednesday we'll be in Budapest; the Wednesday after at home!

Then our Kosovo Friend Sharon took us to the Pristina green market. Green markets, or farmer's markets, are huge over here. They're open every day selling everything from produce to electronics to clothing and textiles. The Pristina one doesn't have as much variety as the one in Thessaloniki, nor is at as clean and beautiful as the one in Ljubjana, but there is more variety than the corner produce stands and the stuff looks fresher too. But we were on a find the yarn stalls so that we could get supplies for the IWG Knitting Club meeting this afternoon. We walked the aisles and streets for about 30 minutes looking for the yarn area; all Sharon knew was that it was near the live chickens and egg stalls. Finally, Sharon asked some of the local merchants for directions, Pristina style, "Do you know where the live chickens are? I want to do some knitting." And darn if they didn't know exactly what she meant! Only in Pristina....

So we got our knitting supplies. I may be in way over my head here, but a pair of needles and three skeins of yarn were only 2.50 euro, so it's not that big an investment. Tomorrow we're off to the textile markets and some other shops....I've seen more of Pristina in two days than the last five weeks, but that's the way things happen here.

M really enjoyed the cobbler, by the way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Baking day

Woo-hah! I've mastered the crazy oven! Today, in an effort to use up a bunch of peaches, apricots and nectarines, I made a cobbler. Not that significant a thing back home, I know. But here, lacking any kind of measuring tools, a bowl, proper ingredients or knowledge of's a major accomplishment. And it turned out yummy! So we're having dinner in for a change tonight. Rotiserrie chicken, rice, green beans and cobbler. Pretty cool.

D is down with a bit of a tummy ache. Too many grilled sardines in Ohrid I guess. It's the B.R.A.T. diet for a few days for her. At least I know where to buy stuff for her now, unlike the first time she got sick here.

Our new friend Sharon took us to the International Women's Group (IWG) coffee meeting this afternoon. It was at the Grand Hotel (such an aspirational name) and it was just a lovely afternoon. Our server was the worst though. We practically had to get our own drinks. Tomorrow we're going to the IWG Knitting Club meeting. Figures we meet all these people minutes before we leave. I actually thought about bringing my knitting with us when we came, but didn't think I'd have time to work on it. I'm about three inches in to a "scarf."

Our friend Janis from Pittsburgh emailed me today asking if I thought the time had gone quickly here. Which is a really good question. During our first few weeks here it seemed really long, but about two weeks ago it started to seem short. There's a lot that we never got to do and a lot that we never got to see. It's like I said at the halfway point....everything seems faster when you're heading for home.

Monday, June 27, 2005


It feels like I barely got caught up from our trip to Slovenia and then we were off to Macedonia. The trip down was fine, easy because we had a car through NCSC, long because D was asleep on my lap for several hours, making sitting and breathing mighty uncomfortable. I can't wait to go back to using a car seat! I'm still amazed at how pretty the countryside is outside of the cities. Even Kosovo has its charms. Macedonia outside of Skopje is very rural, even today a sort of primitive farming country. We saw people using horses and cows to plow, harvesting with sickles and scythes. Manual labor is the norm. The drive was lovely, through farming communities, small villages and very large mountains. Lake Ochrid was beautiful, a bit like Lake Erie. The hotel had the feel of a lakeside lodge resort, Balkans-style. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm days, very cool at night (good thing too, since no a/c there!) The lake was too cold to swim, but D had fun splashing in the shallows and collecting more rocks. It's a UNESCO heritage site, but the Macedonians displayed the same carefree attitude to littering and garbage as Kosovars. A real shame to have such a beautiful site marred by soda bottles, chip bags and cigarette butts. At least our hotel had someone sweep the rocky beach each morning. I'm not saying similar problems don't exist in the US, but I think Americans on the whole really are more conscious of their impact on the environment. The lake itself is fed by natural springs or streams - crystal clear. Very pretty and very popular vacation spot.

I was all worried about what D would eat at a remote Macedonian lake resort, but it turns out her favorite thing to eat was grilled sardines with yogurt sauce. Good thing I didn't pack the peanut butter!

The second day of our stay we woke up to no water. The whole town was without for the entire day. Everyone seemed to take it in stride (we are from Pristina, after all) but the people at M's conference were un-showered and trapped in a stuffy, warm conference room. I felt very sorry for them as D & I lounged by the lake all day. D & I also went into town with some of the other spouses attending the conference. Ohrid was a medieval walled city and still retains some original buildings and, judging by their condition, streets as well. Cobblestones, half-timbered buildings and beautifully frescoed ancient churches everywhere. D, who is completely frescoed- and-churched out, prevented us from exploring a lot of the city (to M's disappointment) but we did get to walk around a lot, sit at waterfront cafes for lunch and soak up the atmosphere. I also got a rockin' tan.

D was a dream and (I think) impressed a lot of M's co-workers with her ability to communicate in a very "big girl" fashion. A lot of locals aren't used to hearing a small child speak English (a phenomena we ran into in Slovenia as well) and they just love to hear her talk. I was amazed at how well she could hold a conversation and how opinionated she is! I wonder how that will fly at pre-school.

On the way back last night we stopped in Skopje for dinner. We drove into the city center to have dinner at a restaurant M had been to before. Down in the city it was brutally hot and reminded me of what we're going to face when we get back to Florida in a few weeks. But we had a nice meal (turkey! ham!) and it was better than trying to scrap around for dinner at home. The city center is next to the 1500-year-old Turkish Quarter. I passed on a Turkish Bath though - one of our friends here had one in Istanbul and described it to me and it just didn't sound like my kind of gig. She was bathed by what she described as a "nude female hobbit with gigantic breasts." Uh, no thanks.

I'm determined to really enjoy what's left of our time here. Excluding our trip to Budapest next week, we only have 7 more days in Pristina! After our initial rough start, I'm enjoying international life and will miss some of the friends we've made here almost as much as I've missed our family and friends back home. As we were unpacking and unwinding last night, our neighbor Eric made stove-top popcorn (what a boy scout!) and we enjoyed a twilight snack with him on the back balcony, watching a game of pick-up football/soccer. It was the perfect end to a great vacation week.

Lots doing this week: a friend with a car is going to take D & I around to see some sights and stores, lots of laundry, some preliminary packing up...hard to believe that two weeks from today we'll be on our way home.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Slovenia soujourn

We just got back from a wonderful weekend in Slovenia. The country looks like something straight out of "The Sound of Music" - sub-Alpine mountains, forests, lakes. Plus the awesome city of Ljubljana. As M called it, "the land of milk and honey." Walking the city streets was a pleasure, with plenty of pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and cross-lights and not a single car or bus tried to run us over! The shopping looked awesome too, unfortunately since we were there over the weekend we didn't get a chance to enjoy that fully since the shops all conveniently closed at 1:00 on Saturday and weren't open at all on Sunday. At least my credit cards were spared a workout.

Saturday we walked all over Ljubljana, toured Ljubljana Grad (castle) and explored the Old Town area. The Town is a wonderful mix of architecture, lively people, music, food. We ate in some fine restaurants and also had some delicious burek from a street vendor. Another feature of the city is the huge - HUGE - farmer's market. Fresh produce, hand-crafted items, artwork, clothes, honey, it was truly awesome.

On Sunday we took a tour out to Lake Bled to see Slovenia's oldest castle (dedicated in 1004!) and the lake there. In the middle of the lake is Slovenia's only island, complete with an ancient church and the "wishing bell" - legend has it that anyone who rings the bell five times will have a wish granted. You reach the lake via rowboat and we discovered our oarsman had just returned from a trip to Tampa. Small world, indeed. After a few hours in Bled, we went over to Bohinj to visit Slap Savica, a waterfall. Unfortunately, D, exhausted from touring the castle, had fallen asleep on the drive to Bohinj and objected heartily to having to go see a waterfall in the middle of her nap. I had to carry her, literally, up the 500 steps to the top of the falls with her screaming and crying the whole way. At the top of the falls, she stopped crying but refused to have her picture taken (I had to resort to trickery) and pouted until we left. Then of course, because she's three, she was all smiles and sunshine and told stories and chatted merrily the whole way down. I'm sure our tour guide thought she was bi-polar.

I'm exhausted after traveling all day, so I'm sure I'm not doing it justice. We leave early tomorrow to spend the rest of the week in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Not sure what our Internet access will be like there, so I'm not sure how much posting I'll be able to do. Stay tuned though and I'll get caught up when we get back next weekend.

p/s - For everyone wondering why there's no pictures attached to this blog, I'm not able to upload them via our satellite Internet connection. It takes forever! So you'll just have to wait until we get back to the States in July.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Weekend plans

We're off to Llubjana, Slovenia today for a weekend trip. We got some good recommendations on what to see and do (and eat and drink) from a law school friend of M's who is Slovene and spends a lot of time there. It ought to be a great weekend. I'm looking forward to getting out of Pristina anyway.

We had a nice dinner last night with some American friends. The restaurant was very local, very Albanian. They have neither menu or price list, they just show up at the table and start rattling off what they've cooked for the night. M had baked lamb and I had a delicious veal/chicken kebab with some spicy vegetables. D had a chunk of bread, 3/4 of an apple with Nutella and a sugar cube. I just can't get her to eat anything anymore. I worry about malnutrition, scurvy, what if her brain stops developing, but it's only for a few more weeks and then I can stuff her arteries full of transfats and processed meat again. Hahaha just kidding, she's always been a pretty good eater - broccoli, carrots, fruit, etc. - but lately she's just stopped. We'll get back to normal once we get back home. I'm hardly an example of healthy eating myself.

We get back Monday afternoon from Slovenia and then leave early Tuesday for a week in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. M has a big meeting there and we're tagging along. It ought to be interesting, the weather should be nice, the Lake is supposed to be beautiful, I've heard the shopping is decent, they say there's a lot of historic sites there. That's a lot of "ifs" and "maybes," but that's life in the Balkans - a plate of conjecture, with a dash of hearsay and a side of practical advice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Halfway home!

Hurrah! Today is the official halfway point in our stay here. From now on it is all downhill to the big return to Florida. I'm hoping the last half of our visit is less stressful than the first. Marking time here must be a popular pastime because I mentioned it to someone else this morning and she said it was her halfway point too.

A happy halfway-home discovery: my favorite Bakery at the End of the Road (BER) has a name: Furra Qerimi 2. (Furra = bakery, Qerimi = ???) I also found the bigger and better Furra Qerimi 1 which is down the road from M's office. They have, in addition to all my favorite bread products, a huge array of pastries and cakes and tortes and foccacia-like things. I justified our trying several varieties as we had to walk the steep hill down and back. Probably only about a mile, but an obstacle course of potholes,constructions sites, moving cars, parked cars, schoolkids and people. Walking here makes me feel like I'm in a video game called Mortal Street Combat.

I've learned a lot of things about myself in the past few weeks, some flattering some not. I've learned that I am soooo NOT a "Survivor" type person, happy to be cast out into the world with a bare minimum of tools and comfort items. I am REALLY dependent on my car. I LOVE my family wholeheartedly or I would have turned tail and ran weeks ago. I am ALWAYS an optimist at heart. I've also discovered a previously unknown Zen-like streak. I'm much more content to live in the moment, not rush around multi-tasking. I'll look at the clock after a busy afternoon playing Care Bear Mail Delivery with D and be amazed to see it's almost dinner time. Ok, so maybe that doesn't really qualify as a Buddha-like quality but it's a far cry from my usual mantra of "Hurry, hurry, c'mon, hurry." or worse, "Hang on a minute, we'll do it later." I will cherish these long, uninterrupted days of playing and talking and Hokey Pokey-ing in the living room. It is unusual to really not have anything else, let alone anything better, to do. I'm thankful for this, if nothing else. Ju faleminderit, Pristina.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Arts n' crafts

We were downtown again today, making the rounds of the travel agencies trying to get our weekend/vacation plans firmed up. Then I saw it..right there on the plain view...a SOUVENIR STAND. The first one I've seen since we've been here. For such an ancient culture and for a people with such a strong ethnic identity there is a shocking lack of evidence of their cultural heritage here in Pristina. Other than the Kosovo Art Gallery (more like a History of the War) there is very little local artwork, and no handicrafts, tchochkes, memorabilia, not even a T-Shirt shop. I asked someone more familiar with the area what the Kosovars were known for before the war, and the answer was a very vague non-answer about embroidery. But there seems to be nothing that is made here (anymore). So it was a shock to see the souvenir stand. Sadly, on closer inspection it was selling the cast offs of other countries' souvenirs. Things like a figurine made of out dried coconuts that said "no worries"; an assortment of plastic bead jewelry straight out of the Oriental Trader catalog; carved wooden pots that screamed "made in China" - and not one thing reflected anything about Pristina or Kosovo (other than the coating of dust on everything). Looks like we're only taking pictures back with us.

Come to think of it, even when we were in Prizren we didn't see anything that was representative of the culture. Where did all the artifacts go? Why aren't there shops on every corner selling local native handicrafts to the huge international population here? The only things you see on the corner are the omnipresent cigarette-and-prepaid-cell-phone-card vendors.

My new mission is to find something representative of traditional craftsmanship.

Something made locally, besides bread.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Out on the town

We had a nice family weekend in Pristina. We explored some of the ethnic restaurants in town and Sunday we had Gushta (our favorite taxi driver) take us 90 minutes south to the town of Prizren.

The ethnic restaurant tour surprised me. We started off Friday night at an authentic Italian restaurant (Il Pescatore) up on Dragodan Hill. It's run by a lady from Italy and she makes everything by hand - pasta, sauces, desserts, etc. - in her little home kitchen. The plates and silverware look like they're right off her family table too. But the food was delicious. We had the antipasto buffet - grilled fresh veggies, frittatas, marinated cheeses - the lasagna, and I indulged in a slice of the most heavenly tiramisu. Such a friendly, homey atmosphere - the proprietor spent 10 minutes at the end of the meal talking to us and trying to get D to say "Ciao!"

For lunch on Saturday we went to a Mexican restaurant that was also surprisingly authentic, with touches like real steamed flour tortillas, cumin-rubbed chicken, beans and rice, and tortilla chips with dip! Yum! I'd go back just for the chips and dip and an ice-cold Coca-Cola Light. Especially since besides the regular salsa and sour cream they served my favorite dip - a mixture of sour cream, yogurt, farmer cheese and green onion. It's fresh and delicious and good on everything, including tortilla chips. The only thing missing was the large-screen TV in the corner showing some college ball and we could've been in any small TexMex restaurant back home.

Saturday night we walked to downtown Pristina. It was beautiful - a bit warmer than the last week or so (although we still need long sleeves and fleeces) and the rain has dampened the dust. Ok, ok, it was actually quite muddy, but still better than being indoors. We bought some bootleg DVDs, and I was amused to see they had a copy of Madagascar, which I believe just opened last weekend in the States. Then we went to a nice Thai restaurant in downtown Pristina for some good Pad Thai. It was nice having a change from the regular, albeit delicious, fish and potatoes or curries or grilled sausages that are standard fare in most restaurants here.

Sunday we woke up bright and early (I feel like I'll never sleep past 5:30 a.m. again) to the nicest day we've had since I've been in Kosovo. We decided to hire Gushta to drive us to Prizren, a small border town about 90 minutes south of Kosovo. Gushta is quite the character. He's a Kosovar, but has lived in London, Germany and all over the Balkans. He speaks five languages, including English. Anyway, he knows everything about anything in the grand tradition of taxi drivers. The drive to Prizren was lovely, up through the mountains, and Prizren itself is a real treat to Pristina-weary eyes. It has a very charming "old city" alongside a river, with real Balkan-style stone houses, monasteries, mosques and some old ruins. There were also a LOT of KFOR troops there from France, Germany and Italy. I'm beginning to get used to seeing tanks and Bradleys and heavily armed soldiers everywhere. We had a nice lunch, walked along the river and then sat at a cafe (which is almost an art form here) for a bit. Altogether a lovely day and a great break from the city. I think M was a little disappointed that there wasn't more to do (i.e., ruins to explore, museums, something with a cultural feel) but it was just so relaxing to be outdoors near water and people watch. Plus D was NOT in the mood to go exploring. I think she just wanted to sit and people watch too.

My outlook for the day really depends on the weather, so I was happy to wake up this morning to more sunny skies and mild temperatures. D and I made our regular Monday morning bread-and-fruit excursion, then it was back home to do some Laundry.

We've finally settled into a routine here. I think.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Hoard mentality

I've always been slightly amused and confused by what I always thought was my parents' tendency to hoard food and household supplies. A pantry stuffed to overflowing with canned goods, a second refrigerator/freezer in the garage, the main freezer stuffed to overflowing with meat, veggies, leftovers. Why? I wondered, you can always go to the store if you run out of something. Their explanations that they were stocking up for hurricane season or that it was a mentality brought on by the severe shortages they sometimes experienced when we were living in Jamaica in the '70s, the uncertainty of never knowing if you could find food, made sense but always made me shake my head.

Ahh, how things have changed. My experiences with food here --the finding, buying and cooking of food-- have been one of the most difficult things about living in Pristina, and have made a hoarder out of me in just three short weeks. I can't wait to get back home to cut up and freeze whole sides of beef, entire pigs, as much fish as I can stuff into Ziplocs. I may even take up canning. I will always have a special shelf or maybe a whole closet dedicated to nothing but paper products. I will be like those crazy cat collectors you see on "Animal Cops" but with toilet paper and crackers instead of animals. It's not that you can't get food here. It's the energy that it takes to get to the store, to try to interpret what is there, to determine if it is fresh, to communicate with the people in the stores, not to mention that without a car you are limited as to how much you can buy. It makes you want to stock up, hoard, buy it all, because you never know if and when you'll be able to get back. There's also no take-out, delivery or fast food, those mainstays of busy city lives, to fill in the gaps. Add to that the pressure of feeding a three-year old who could live on Fruit Snacks and Chik-fil-A, and believe me, you start fantasizing about supermarkets.

I'm going to go inventory the pudding supply right now.

A note to readers who may stumble onto our blog by chance or happenstance: the reason we are in Kosovo is that my husband (M), who is a lawyer, is part of a joint effort between local and international agencies that are working to develop a court system for Kosovo. In a nutshell. There is much more to it than that I'm sure. Because he was asked to be here for a couple months, we decided that it would be better for my almost-3 year old daughter (D) and I to join him rather than hang out all alone in Florida for the summer. So yeah, despite all my griping, we actually chose to come here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Getting creative

Slightly warmer today and the sun was playing peek-a-boo so I decided to do laundry. I'm hoping our duvet cover dries before bedtime! We'll definitely need it.

Pristina demands creativity from its residents. Last night, right in the middle of D's bath the hot water gave out, then ALL water stopped. Quickly, creatively I told her we were camping and you only have cold water when you camp.

The last few days have demanded I ramp up my creative parenting skills, inventing such indoor games as Balloon-y Soccer, Tap Your Pen, Rock-and-Play-Doh Stack 'Em, Broomdog Chase and the really popular, Where Did Mommy Hide It? Thank goodness for D's latest video obsession, Alice in Wonderland. It prompts hours of discussions and re-enactments. Too bad she's terrified by the Queen, and either hides or demands I sit with her through the last 15 minutes or so.

Right now we're playing Camping with the Care Bears, tents courtesy of some English-language newspapers our next door neighbor Eric left for us.

Mealtimes are the one area where my creativity seems to have lapsed. I don't know whether to blame it on myself or the lack of proper equipment, supplies or food. I can barely muster breakfast, let alone lunch & dinner. So we try to eat dinner out as much as possible, but it's hard with M's schedule. My only interest is in making sure D is eating regularly, if not properly.

I've been able to talk to my mom, dad and sister back home via Skype for the last two nights and it has done a lot to improve my mood. So good to hear their voices and get caught up on what's going on back home.

The sun is shining again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Chilling out

Rain. 49 degrees today. And rainy. Did I mention it was cold? And rainy? Is it really June? D and I are totally stir crazy. Three days trapped inside. Today when M left for work we took a taxi with him down to the Bakery at the End of the Road (BER). Normally we'd walk. But not in 49 rainy degrees. D & I split a cherry pastry and a box of apple juice. The BER people think D is the cutest baby, at least I think that's why everyone who works there pops out to pinch her cheeks whenever we come in. They even point her out to other customers who responded likewise. At least D no longer shrieks and runs from all the pinching and cheek-kissing. Now she just shrinks back as much as she possibly can and then, when she can go no further, stands their stoically. All my Stranger Danger training is out the window for sure.

The BER is the nicest, cleanest bakery within walking distance. Their stuff is good, fresh, identifiable. They have a nice clean refrigerated case with juices and yogurt and a coffee vending machine - regular, espresso, with milk, extra sugar. All sorts of fresh breads, soft pretzel-type things and sweet rolls. It's sort of a Pristina Panera, without the bagels. Don't get it confused with Cafe Boston right next door though. They're more of a real coffee shop that serves cakes, baklava and towering, whipped-cream intensive pastries. They're also open in the morning, but here the morning coffee ritual is reserved exclusively for men. The one showing D and I made was very awkward. All these middle-aged men openly staring, clearly hostile, wondering what some Amerikana chick and her kid were doing in the middle of all their manliness. You don't have to speak the language to understand.

Since we're having an indoor week, I'm thankful I brought D's favorite DVDs with us. I'm also thankful for my iPod. What are we listening to? Thanks for asking. Lo Fidelity All-Stars, Massive Attack, PJ Harvey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack and the Wee Sing 25th Anniversary Celebration are currently in heavy rotation. I have to resist listening to Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve) more than once a day though. It makes me all nostalgic for the stuff that we used to dance to in college. (Y'know what I mean Lisa?)

Gotta go crank up the heater now.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Rainy days and Mondays...

...always get me down. Rainy and cold today. Everyone says it's just like that here. You'd never guess it was June. We had a very low-key weekend while trying to recuperate from the cold bug that's got all of us. D has chest and throat problems, M has nose and chest and I'm throat and nose. So we've pretty much covered all the bases. Saturday we had dinner at a friend's house. They've been here for over a year so were able to track down goat cheese, Brie and hummus for appetizers, a bechamel-sauced lasagna, apple pie and chocolate covered strawberries. The conversation was lively, even with M & I zoned out on cold medicine, and D had several little friends to play with. A nice way to spend a Saturday night. All the men ended the evening with the fine Balkan tradition of downing shots of potent fruit liquors - slivo and homemade pear brandy. Sunday we stayed inside all day and rested, then capped off the weekend by going to Ristorante Pinnochio - home of the only reliable steaks in Pristina. It is up on Dragodan Hill, which overlooks the city, so the air was clear and we had a gorgeous view of Pristina and the surrounding hills.

We were inside all day today because of the rain. It would've been nice to have access to a car, but then again, where would we go? M brought some balloons home at lunchtime which helped to occupy the afternoon hours. Thank goodness D is back to taking regular naps (helped along by cold medicine, of course). I may start taking them myself.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Things I never thought I'd say - part 1

Here are some I'd never thought I'd say, but have in the last two weeks:

"The clothes dry quicker hanging on the front balcony."

"Who wants chocolate pudding for breakfast?"

"Would you like to watch another video?"

"Hey, that's the door where I hang my towel!" (No hooks in the bathroom.)

"Sit down while the car is moving!"

"It's sunny today - let's do laundry."

I'm sure there'll be more over the next few weeks.

On a down note, the highly anticipated care package got caught at the border. Customs will not permit any medicines or food products - not even M&Ms. Boo! Now we're at the mercy of the local pharmaceuticals. Like the "Tretesire fiziologjike" (we were supposed to put that in D's nose to help the stuffiness) or the "Sirup od jagorcevine," which is supposedly a cough syrup/expectorant, but the box just has pictures of wildflowers, no ingredient list and no English instructions at all. If anyone reading this is fluent in Albanian and can interpret medical terms, please drop me a line.

Beautiful weekend though. We found a faux-American BBQ place called the Saloon and Steakhouse. They featured the usual suspects of grilled fish, salads, curries and a mixed bag of Italian pasta dishes, along with BBQ chicken and ribs. We were highly suspicious of the ribs, but took a chance on the chicken. It was what BBQ would taste like if you were trying to describe it to someone who's never had it before. The most unusual thing was the side of potato salad - the potatoes were mashed with tons of herbs, shredded carrots and green onions. No dressing or sauce though. Not my fave, but M liked it.

Another decent night's sleep so we're all feeling much better today. Hopefully we won't have any other setbacks this week and will get to do some more traveling over the next few weekends.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Picking our battles

D is still pretty sick, but we all had a better night's rest. She only woke up a few times and was able to get herself back to sleep. More importantly, she stayed in her bed until 5 (prayers, light) and then she & I went out to the couch where it is marginally darker and went back to sleep. I woke up with M at 7 (coffee, light), but she slept until a little after 8. The bad news? Now I'm coming down with the same thing. But at least now I'll be able to sympathize with how she's feeling.

Yesterday we were worried enough to round up an interpreter and take D to a local pediatrician who prescribed some antibiotics. Not happy about it, but she says D has a throat infection, and no one could translate the word for "strep," and I'd rather be safe than sorry. So now we're doing battle over the antibiotics. They are liquid, but because we're living in the Stone Age here, the meds aren't flavored. Not even with that nasty synth-cherry taste. With the first dose, she made a face like we gave her rat poison flavored with cat poo. By the second, she was on to our game, and absolutely refused to take it. Kicked, screamed, coughed, choked, flailed and wailed - with her lips tightly pressed together - for about 45 minutes. Luckily the kicking, screaming, coughing, choking, flailing and wailing of the last few nights had prepared M & I and we were able to stay calm and cool. First we tried reasoning, then bribing, then force, then getting mad, then stern, then loving. Did you know it's almost impossible to sing Hush Little Baby to a screaming child, while rocking them on your lap, while your husband tries to force a spoon of amoxycillin into their clenched lips? I never imagined we couldn't. Most of our clothes now have a thin, sticky layer of antibiotic protection.

Finally, we brainstormed and gave it to her mixed into a container of chocolate pudding. At 9 at night. This morning, I didn't even mention it to her just calmly mixed it into some yogurt and we had a "breakfast picnic" while she watched her Kipper video. At lunch? My deception took the form of a small cup of choco-vanilla swirl ice cream, which she helped pick out during our morning supply expedition. I don't know if I can keep up the parade of doctored dairy products for another 7 - 10 days though. At some point she's gonna get suspicious.

Since she's hardly ever, ever been sick before - and certainly never to the point where she needed antibiotics! -- we're in uncharted territory here. Just like the rest of our life in Kosovo.

Anyway, if any of our neighbors (Hi, Eric!) here ever stumble onto this blog and recognize us, my sincere and heartfelt apologies for all the ruckus. We're only here until mid-July!! If we were in the States someone would have probably called DCF by now, based on the screaming and crying. They're probably talking about us behind our backs, but I just keep a pleasant smile on my face when I see them in the hall and nod and say "hi hi hi" over and over.

Tomorrow we're hoping a friend with a car will be able to take us to the grocery store for supplies. We'll be able to load up on the things that are too hard to lug back to the apartment on foot. Like liters and liters of water. I hope they have a good supply of this water that doesn't upset my stomach as much as some of the other brands. It's called "Bonita," but we don't know if it means the same thing in Albanian as in Spanish. Although I suppose they could be using the Spanish word in a purely ironical sense. The big grocery where we're going is also rumored to have frozen potato products, which will provide welcome variety to my all-carb-dairy-fruit diet. If I come back lean and mean, I'm writing my own diet book.

Oh, and another new experience, we ran out of TP! That's because on yesterday's supply expedition I grabbed a package of Zewa (which is the brand) and because I couldn't read the label and the package was opaque yellow we didn't know until this morning that it was paper towels instead of TP. Yes, over here they use the same packaging and brand names for all the paper products. Can you imagine buying Brawny toilet paper in your local supermarket? Marketing is different here because I guess they don't care that the attributes of one product may be associated with another. I mean, we all hope that our TP is the "quicker picker-up" but we don't want to be reminded of it everytime we buy it. Right? Our current bout with illness has also introduced us to the local brand of kleenex, the literally-named Wood Flowers. Imagined heavily perfumed wood pulp. It's a bit like those "green" recycled paper products in the States, but without the soft texture and thickness. When in Rome...

When we were still just planning to come over, I remember thinking how nice it would be to not have TV, get D weaned from the shows she watches, spend more time talking and enjoying each other's company. Yeah, right. I forgot that when your kid is sick nothing's better than a day of quiet TV watching. I let her watch a bunch of old Warner Bros. hyper-violent cartoons - you know, the ones we loved when we were kids - like Roadrunner and Tom & Jerry and stuff. They were dubbed in Albanian or something, but Roadrunner still said "beep! beep!" Imagine trying to explain The Coyote's horrible accidents to a child who's never seen anything more violent that Oswald the Octopus falling down while roller-skating. She doesn't seem too scarred by it, although she walks around saying "beep! beep!" a lot.

Anyway, a good night's sleep and I've recovered a bit of my sense of humor about things. As someone very loving and wise recently emailed me, I've got to learn to stop worrying about the stuff I can't control. Still, I'm secretly hoping there are M&Ms in the care package!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

There and back again...part 2

If you ever get a chance to visit the Halkidiki region of Greece, pack your bags and go! The region, although covering a large inland area, is best known for the "Three Fingers" -- three peninsulas that jut out into the ocean. We visited Cassandra, the first peninsula, as it was the closest to Thessaloniki but we heard the other two were less populated and had more wild terrain. Cassandra has gorgeous beach/mountain scenery, a little similar to the Monterey, CA coastline. We drove from village to village making a tour of the entire finger. Rolling hills and wide-open greenland give way to sheer cliffs; mountains covered with lavender and other wildflowers become dense pine forests. It's amazing. Nestled in between all of the natural beauty are villages, beachside communities and farms - and lots and lots of hotels and villas. We spent a good chunk of the day in Afitos, on the eastern coast of the peninsula. We spent some time at the beach where D collected rocks for her burgeoning global collection. Unfortunately, the water was take-your-breath-away, turn-your-feet-numb, only-Germans-swimming, freezing cold. So we dipped our toes in, but no way was this Florida girl going in! I hope we can go back when the weather warms up a bit, but everyone says the busy season starts in June and I'm not sure I want to battle the rest of Europe who come to visit as well.

After (another) delicious meal in Afitos, including the Best Vanilla Milkshake Ever for D, we continued our drive, stopping along the way to take pictures, sightsee and check out the beaches. Then back to Thessaloniki for some rest in our comfy hotel room and to luxuriate in one last steaming hot shower from a real showerhead before bedtime.

The drive back to Pristina was uneventful, except for us getting lost at exactly the same point we did on the way in and having to turn around at the same old tollbooth. It was a bit of a shock returning to Kosovo, and D unfortunately developed a bit of a chest cold seemingly overnite. So now I await a care package from the States with some good old cough medicine.

M came back to a frantically busy week. Some colleagues from his Firm were in town for a series of meetings that lasted pretty much all day Tuesday and Wednesday, including a reception that M helped to coordinate and organize.

Between work and D's cold it doesn't look like we'll get to travel this weekend, but maybe we'll get together with some of the other expats here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

There and back again - part 1

We had an amazing weekend in Greece. M was able to leave around noon so we had Gushta, our regular taxi driver, drive us to the Macedonian border where we were picking up the rental car. It was wonderful to get out in the countryside and leave the dust and pollution of Pristina behind. The rental car people met us at the border and took us into Skopje to complete the paperwork. M, D and I were traveling with our friend Elvira, whose husband John is a colleague of M's here, and their daughter Emma. John was meeting us in Skopje, but got a bit delayed, so we ended up having a nice lunch at the local McDonald's while we waited. Double cheeseburgers, fries and happy meals all around!

We left Elvira and Emma at a local hotel to wait for John, then headed for Greece. The Macedonian countryside has something for everyone - mountains, rivers, farmland, gorges, tunnels and country villages. The mountains are much higher than anything we have on the East Coast of the US -- probably comparable to the Rockies, actually. Some of the peaks had snow on them. There were masses of bright red poppies all along the roadside for color, and every so often there was a picturesque little village, complete with donkeys, sheep herds and a horse-drawn cart or two.

We got a little lost when we got near Thessaloniki, mainly because roads in this part of the world don't necessarily go by numbers, you mostly follow place names and of course, we missed the English sign for T'niki and we don't read Greek. So we took a stab in the wrong direction. Luckily, I finally got to put my days as a sorority girl to good use, when my knowledge of the Greek alphabet helped us to identify that we were headed toward Athens. We turned around at a toll booth and headed back - right into a torrential downpour. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is more stressful on a car full of weary travelers than driving in heavy rain, in an unfamiliar city/country, trying to read signs in not just another language but another alphabet, following sketchy verbal instructions to "head toward the airport, you can't miss it" (which usually means you will), while in the back seat your 3-year-old chants over and over "want to swim in the pool." But after finally finding the airport and a nice policeman who spoke English, we eventually found the Hyatt. Thank goodness it was worth the journey!

Saturday we went into Thessaloniki with John, Elvira and Emma. We split up for the day as they wanted to shop and we wanted to sightsee. The city is an ancient Byzatine port city, but cleverly combines the old with the new. Saturday is a major shopping day and the stores are very cosmopolitan and hip, as are a lot of the people who live there. We saw a couple of the attractions, had some coffees at a waterfront cafe, and did a lot of walking around. There are ruins, excavations and ancient churches everywhere. Unfortunately, most of them are closed sites and a lot of them are informal garbage dumps. Strange to see a stone wall a couple of thousand years old next to a dumpster of garbage, discarded boxes and maybe an old appliance or two.

Another incredible attraction was the local farmer's market, which was about three square city blocks of people selling every kind of foodstuff you could imagine. Piles of fruits and vegetables, stands with sacks and sacks of nuts, herbs, spices, candies, pastries, cases of baklava, meat pies, spinach pies, cheeses, and of course, meat. Fresh fish laid out on huge trestle tables, sides of beef ready for carving, pork, chicken... food everywhere. Food heaven. I wish we had something even remotely comparable in St. Pete. At the end of the day we met up with our friends for dinner at a local restaurant. The food was to die for - grilled haloumi cheese, fried red peppers stuffed with feta, garlick-y potato slices grilled and topped with tzatziki, meat pie, lamb meatballs on pitas... it was probably one of the best meals I've ever had. D, unfortunately, slept through the whole thing. But she'd had a slice of Greek pizza and a bunch of pastries earlier. I'd drive down again tomorrow for the pastries - and the market.

Next post - Halkidiki here we come!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Greek getaway

We're heading out of here tomorrow morning for Greece. Our itinerary? First we take a taxi to the Macedonian border where the rental car company will meet us. Then it's a 3.5 - 4 hour trip to Thessaloniki. Reverse and repeat on Monday. We'll be staying at the Hyatt there - very American, but they could guarantee us a king-size bed plus a rollaway for D. Breakfast is included with the room and since every single person I've met here has mentioned how good the breakfast is, we just couldn't pass it up.

M is meeting with a VIP supreme court judge tonight, so our plans to go out to dinner are off. Ordinarily I'd just call Domino's... Looks like it's corn flakes and pudding for dinner again! We tried to heat up a roasted chicken last night, but since the oven's temperature gauge is in Celsius and there are no words for "bake" "broil" "roast", just very vague drawings of a box with different sides highlighted, the chicken was still stone cold after 45 minutes at 225 Celsius. Yuck. No idea what I did wrong. Perhaps the dial was only set to "oven light?"

It was sunny again today, but very cool and super windy. Good day for laundry, so I got caught up on that.

All for now. I won't have a chance to post over the weekend, so to all our family and friends back home, have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend. Save some BBQ for me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Cold feet, warm greetings

Weather turned wintry again today. I suppose if I understood Albanian I could have watched the local news and seen the story about the un-seasonal icy rain and wind blowing into Pristina, but as it is, D and I were caught unawares. So much for the t-shirts and shorts we were sporting yesterday! Forget the ice creams we enjoyed on the rooftop patio! Today we're back in our fleeces.

We were kept warm by the friendly and down-to-earth people we met at our first Pristina playgroup today. They group is comprised of international families with children who have been here anywhere from a couple weeks to 6 years. They are very welcoming, used to new faces, and it was nice to watch D play with new friends -- she fit right in. I am also amazed at how child-bearing-and-rearing results in such common experiences. Luxembourg to Lithuania to Pristina to St. Pete, it's all the same. Kids! The biggest difference I could tell were that we're not being posted anywhere after this assignment. Many of the international workers here are part of a vast, nomadic employee population, working for NGOs, the EU, the UN and the many private relief agencies. They travel from place to place, for years and years, always with an eye to the future and where they might be placed next.

Today there have been many more people than usual visiting the war memorials in the field behind the house. We might be coming up on an anniversary of a battle. I'll have to ask our landlady.

Looks like plans are coming together for our first trip to Thessaloniki, Greece this weekend. It's a bit of a pain getting out of Kosovo. There are no regularly scheduled flights to anywhere but Vienna and the UK. There are no trains. Cars with Kosovo plates are (at this time) not allowed to cross the borders of many of the countries around here, and most Kosovars aren't allowed to leave Kosovo at all. So the best option is to take a country bus (unreliable and slow) or a taxi to the border of Macedonia, and the rental agencies from Skopje will come out to meet you there. Much different than just jumping in your car, gassing up and taking off. I'm learning how much I've taken for granted in my life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Quick update

Today I activated the comments feature on the blog, so feel free to comment, respond, disagree, etc.

Back to reality

Over our first weekend here, it was easy to forget that M is actually here to work. We're the ones on vacation (although Moms are never truly on vacation, are they?). His project is really hitting and there is a big meeting early next week so that means longer hours and a bit more stress for him. No matter, we're used to that! Dinner can keep in the oven just as easily here as in Florida.

Summer blew in suddenly yesterday and today is warmer and very windy. It really kicks up the infamous dust and pollution problem that everyone complains of. It's a shame; we can't open the windows to let in the fresh air or everything is quickly coated in a layer of grit. The dust here is very clay-y, red and sticks to everything. We walked down to where M works today to meet him for lunch and the road dust was terrible. D was miserable, had dirt in her hair and eyes, so we got a cab the rest of the way to the restaurant. It is much better up on our little hill, cooler and much less dirt, for which I'm thankful. Still, it's strange. There is a funny burning smell in the air today, which I'm told is the coal-powered electric plant (still unfiltered in 2005!) blowing our way. I think we'll stay inside until after dinner.

For dinner tonight, we are walking down to one of the many corner markets to try out the rotisserie chicken. It's the Kosovar version of a "to go" meal. You'll see these huge cases of grilling chickens rotating everywhere. Not sure where the chickens come from, but I'm pretending they're straight off the farms somewhere outside of town. They must get delivered and then stuck right on the rotisseries, because I've yet to see fresh chicken in the stores. I can see why obesity just isn't a problem here. You walk everywhere, the choking dust kills your appetite and there is very little processed food. We have found a few treats - English and German chocolates, these rice cereal "cookies" (don't get the idea they're like Oreos -- more like a lightly sweetened Wheat Thin) and Sesam Fischi - poppyseed and sesame goldfish crackers. D continues to be a trooper though. Today at lunch she happily chowed on grilled bread covered with caramlized onions and bits of spinach (she passed on the eggplant dip) washed down with a glass of peach juice. Not her typical fare!

She's napping now, which is good, because she'll be able to stay up a bit later to see M and maybe we'll play in the field behind the house after dinner. It's light until about 9 here, which is great. Last night there were probably 200 people out there - families walking to and fro, kids playing chase, teenagers hanging out, at least 3 soccer games and, of course, the grazing cows.

I just heard some thunder, so we may be in for some afternoon rain. Just like summer in Florida! At least it will keep the dust down.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Monday in Kosovo

Happy Monday! It's our first weekday here and it's very quiet. The kids are in school, so there's no one playing in the field behind our apartment, unlike on the weekend when by 9 it was packed with people playing soccer, stickball, walking dogs and grazing their cows.

We did laundry last night. We have a new washer in the apartment, but no dryer so all the laundry is drying on the balcony this morning. Any guesses on how long it takes jeans to dry in the sun? I have to watch and only do one load every day otherwise we won't have enough room to dry everything.

Someone told me there is a playgroup that meets today, but I'm not sure where -- something about the Luxembourg mission compound. We'll see. There's a lot of hurry up and wait here, so I'm trying to be patient and just go with the flow.

Yesterday it was very pretty - a cool, sunny spring day and we went hiking with some of M's colleagues in a local park. It was pretty mountainous and we're fairly high up in the Balkans anyway so I was huffing and puffing like a steam engine from the get go. Then D got tired so we had to carry her - actually mostly me since every time M picked her up she started crying and screaming "Mommy, hold me!" An older couple hiking nearby gave her a licorice candy to distract her. They love, love, love kids here. Everyone pinches cheeks, waves hello, makes a fuss over little kids and other kids will just run up and kiss her on the cheek or try to touch her. D --ever cautious of stranger danger -- freaks out and runs away.

The wife of one of M's co-workers took me shopping last night for more staples. Flour, sugar, salt and pepper, cinnamon, raisins. Tuna in water (the can label showed some kind of salad so there was no way to tell it was tuna!) and cheese. Honey-nut Cheerios too! She also knows a decent fresh fish shop and says the sea bass and salmon are both good. We may try that this week, just to get some protein. There is an egg shop at the end of our street (as mentioned in a previous post) and I think the eggs are fresh. They look freshly laid anyway. It's very strange as I've always thought eggs needed to be refrigerated, but you never see them cool here. They're just laid out in these cardboard cartons all over the place.

People are very friendly and helpful. The locals are used to foreigners because of the UN and all the international aid people here, and most everyone speaks a few words of English. I guess we'd stick out as foreign anyway, even if I weren't the only person traipsing around in capris.

We live near a local mosque and hear the call to prayer throughout the day. The first one is at dawn - about 4:30 a.m. here. At 10:00 every night they have the final call. It's very beautiful, peaceful, not that we understand what's being said. Completely different than anything I could have imagined.

We'll try to get some pictures up later this week.