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.