Friday, October 3, 2014

First Storm of the Season

At about 330AM, I rolled over in bed, thinking my phone had a message blinking. But the low rumble vibrating the house told me otherwise. We'd been hearing all week that the rains were on their way, but we've heard that a few times this fall.

Chris and I both got up to enjoy the natural fireworks show in the night sky, snaps of bright light followed by just low grumbling from outside. The air smelled different as the veranda doors shuttered from the wind. We knew it was a matter of time before 4 little feet wandered out of their room.

The booming thunder started in with the sound of fat raindrops on the window glass. It didn't take long before the drops turned into a curtain of water, rinsing away the grime and sand from a long summer. And just as suspected, 4 little feet found their way down the hallways, up 6 stairs and into our room. Ceiba was crying, as usual in a storm, while Ceti just wanted an excuse to snuggle and talk. Chris picked them both up, swinging them over his body and plopped them in between us, the blankets stretching to cover us all. Ceiba was quickly comforted by Papa's warmth beside her, as Ceti "ticked" herself into my side. Arms intermingled with arms, as little faces nuzzled in. Our two are definitely as cuddly as they come, and several sweet "Me love you Mama"s landed on my ears. The scent of the rain mixed with the bedtime smell of little girls, their breath on our shoulders, made for a sweet night. My left arm laced under Ceti's head, as her body leaned into my side, and then my hand was pulled and tucked into Ceiba's underarm. To hold them both close calmed us all. I could feel the occasional little petting from tiny hands, maybe their own sweet reassurance to me.

Ah, but how sweetness always comes to an end, when the rains stops and it's been an hour of tossing and turning in the wee morning hours. So back to bed they went, tucked in tight with kisses, reassurance and yawning. And back to a much bigger bed we returned. But after years of a no kid policy in our bed (aside from family naps or sick kid nights), those little moments of togetherness are savored and important. The love and reassurance is important.

Usually rain here is accompanied by suspended sand from North Africa, and judging by the state of our pool this morning, last night's storm was no different. The house lingered longer than usual in their beds in the morning, but Ceti enjoyed her breakfast watching the giant snails by the merky pool. Am sure their will be many more similar nights in the coming autumn/winter months, but we'll enjoy the snuggles for a while longer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rhubard Custard Pie

My grandpa used to keep half a dozen hoops of rhubarb growing at their house in town. He would tie the plants up inside washtubs or hand made square wooden boxes, the bottoms removed to encircle the plants. Rhubarb is a cold weather perennial, rolling beautiful red/pink/lime green fronds out in the early spring. By summer, the leaves would be giant elephant ear shaped fans jetting out of the rings. We had a constant supply of rhubarb, fresh or in the freezer, year round.

As kids, we thought rhubarb was tart... and it is. But over the years, we acquired the love for rhubarb custard pie, homemade by Grandpa or Mom every summer and as treats through the cold winter.

Last week at the market, my eyes fell upon rhubarb (not local to Malta), and my heart compelled me to buy some. While I only bought a few stalks, I'll substitute space with raspberries (or sometimes strawberries), which gives the pie an even lovelier color.
 The girls asked lots of questions about this new plant and helped to put the pies together. Let's hope we can get them to love it too... eventually!

Grandpa Kueker's Rhubarb Custard Pie

Mix together 1 c sugar, 1/8 tsp salt, 1 1/2 tsp flour.
Add 4 c rhubarb (raspberries/strawberries) into pie shells and spoon dry mix atop.
Let sugar mixture sit atop rhubarb for 15 minutes (to juice).

Combine 1 c milk, 3 eggs (slightly beaten), 1/2 tsp vanilla & 1/2 c sugar. 
Pour onto pie mixture.

Bake @ 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake another 25-30 minutes
until pie custard is firm. Cool and refrigerate.
Yields 1x9" pie.

*can add strawberries or raspberries with rhubarb to = 4 cups

Monday, July 28, 2014

4th of July in "America"

After wrapping up a fun week with the Embassy 4th celebration of Route 66 night, we planned our first long weekend getaway. For 9 months, we've been in Malta... loving it! But for the 4th weekend, we arranged our first little excursion to our neighboring SICILY! It is a quick hour and a half ferry ride and enabled us to take our car. The ride was super easy, basically an airplane type atmosphere, but with a movie playing, clean restrooms, a cafe at each end and a LOT more room for girlies to run. Such an easy mode of transportation.

Driving also afforded us the luxury of bringing home groceries, as we stayed at the US Air Base in Sigonella, so enjoyed access to the commissary and exchange. Heaven! Aisles of American food. I think I shed a tear or two.
So here are some pics of our 4th celebrations, with our other excursions to come. We loved being with so many Americans for Independence Day! Military folks, most tattooed & in their red/white/blue, kids in bouncy houses, beer on tap, food stands, music, fireworks... felt like home. Just what we needed!
We couldn't have picked a better weekend to head to Sicily!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Teaching Green

Growing up, dirt was under my nails, on my hands and knees and usually behind my ears (for the potatoes to grow). In the summer, I woke every week day to my Grandma and Grandpa in the garden, their car in the driveway with the trunk open full of hoes and rakes for the garden, and always a couple canes poles for when we needed a break in the shade by the pond to fish. I always raced out of bed, grabbed a running breakfast and joined them for hours of learning and quality time. My grandpa carried a salt shaker in his pocket in the summer, to garnish the vegetables he picked straight from the garden to snack on. He made eating a fresh tomato look so perfect... I found it much less appetizing until only recently, now enjoying the Mediterranean as an adult with changed taste buds.

We stopped along country roads in the summer to pick blackberries, dewberries and his special hidden grove of sweet tiny plums, pears and apples, not to mention the many apples, grapes, raspberries and cherries in our own farm yard. While money was not of abundance, we were NEVER hungry, growing most of our own food or raising animals for eating. In the springtime we hunted wild mushrooms and caught fish and turtles.  In the summer, we hunted squirrels and fished for hours for bluegill by day or catfish by night. Fall brought bird hunting season, with our dogs and family coming to make a day of it. In the winter, we trapped furs for extra money. We learned early in life how to provide for ourselves and live from the wonderful and fertile land surrounding us. Loving animals, baby raccoons, squirrels and all the farm animals were instilled in us from our first breathes. While we also relied on animals for food, we were taught love and respect as well. We never took more than we needed and loved and cared for each animal until it was time for them to feed us. Learning to turn emotions on and off was hard, but necessary, though we also had special pets who lived to ripe old age.

When Chris got offered the Foreign Service job now nearly 5 years ago, Ceiba was very small. Yet even then, the thought of her not enjoying the upbringing I had been afforded made me sad. I wanted our children to run barefoot in the grass, skipping over cow pies and jumping streams, swimming in muddy ponds and fishing for hours, seeing babies chicks hatch and calves be born, using a dip net better than a tennis racket and loving their childhood. I wanted to be the one to teach them those things.

So though the farm I was raised and those who raised me are gone, though we don't live in a cornfield or have a creek in our backyard, we have improvised. While in Bangladesh, though we were in a flat with not a blade of grass, we gardened on the roof and enjoyed daily trips to pick vegetables or papayas, herbs and chili peppers and cut fresh flowers. Giant flying fox bats would dip by the roof at night, dwarfing even more the tiny bats and hawks who hung out nearby. Mangos next door tempted us all summer. And trips to the villages offered the chance to see the amazing citrus, pomelos and mangoes in abundance outside of Dhaka.

 Now in Malta, we have tended the tiny garden of flowers and select herbs/vegetables. The girls have a resident locust in the backyard and the front garden, who they pet every day. We love our rolly pollies and to watch the bats fly over the pool at night. We've added a tiny bowl water garden in the shady center garden, enjoying the goldfish who waddly swim around inside. 

We visit our neighbor's farm down around corner, a maze of narrow streets, enjoying the chance to pick peaches and nectarines, squash and tomatoes and gaze at the glistening blue Mediterranean Sea below. He always meets us with a smile and carries the girls through the "itchies" (weeds) or lifts them to pick the high fruit. I can not explain how warmed I am by our friend's generosity and even more by the luxury to show them traditions I feared we might not have the opportunity to enjoy. Two of our great neighbors are names Freddie... a coincidence maybe, but makes me feel my father's presence too.

We've also had the great opportunity to visit other local farms, meeting wonderful people!

Gardening is such a large part of me, it has been my joy and the remedy to cure sorrows over and over. It brings me such satisfaction from growing life and offers me peace like few things in this world. Teaching this to the girls is priceless.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


It was no surprise that we drew attention when we moved into our sleepy little village. Obviously, small towns are (im)famous for gossip, but here I never feel we are gossiped about so much as we are just unusual. Chris jokes that I look American... my (au so naturale) blonde hair and style not becoming of the local Mediterranean so-genetically-sexy-that-you-can't-help-but-oogle-at-them. We look not Maltese. And standing at the bus stop with a pretty little Mayan Guatemalan and a perky little toddler, generally in a tutu and rain boots, is not the norm around here.

But the receiving we have gotten here makes my heart smile. We feel so at home and genuinely welcomed here. Yes, I have a habit of making small talk in an elevator, the airport, the playground, the bus stop with strangers, and here is no different. We enjoy being friendly, and the girlies are no different. They are not generally shy or be seen not heard children. We have learned to make the most of a place and make friends fast, as soon we'll be POOF again.

This morning, we met and chatted with the neighbors' contractor, who has one of his men knock on our car nearly every morning between 6AM and 8AM to move on of our car parked where a crane or a cement truck or a stone mason or someone would like to park. He went on about loving Americans and dreaming to go to America one day. After Ceiba got on the bus, Avocet and I walked some banana bread over to the crew for a morning snack. We had overmade for a funeral this week and thought they'd enjoy the bread (more than my butt needed it). Smiles all around and just happy conversation. Now the 0600 moving of our car might be a little more cheery all around. 

Then no sooner did we turn to meet our water truck delivery man, when another little man neighbor starting talking flowers with me and invited us to view his garden. I LOVE TO SEE GARDENS and traditional Maltese homes. So after the water man was finished, Ceti and I teetered over to his man getaway (he actually lives with his wife a town over, but keeps this as a daily retreat as he is retired). 
My mouth may have hung open as my eyes feasted on the old stone, flowers everywhere and feeling like we walked into a 1920s war movie. Time stopped here in his garden. Just a celler, the center garden and 3 little rooms existed, but they were perfect, just as I envisioned as I occasionally peeked through cracks in the doors on walks around town. Avocet dove into beds and couches, asked for the tv to come on, bounced down stairs, marveled at his pair of singing canaries and flirted with Mr. Alfred all morning. Bliss.
He insisted we take some potatoes from his farm, just down the road, inviting us to come with the girls soon to see and play. Invite me to any local home, and I am there with bells on!! He said when the peaches come in season, we'll go with the girls to pick fruit. He carried the potatoes in for us, very grandfatherly and toured our garden as well. Pumpkins muffins were forced upon him, as I'd just given our banana bread to the construction men. He...was...wonderful! So warm, like we'd known him for years. Laughing with Ceti and offering multiple times to call him "for anything you need, ta?". We talked of families and offered to please have his granddaughter come swim with the girls this summer. Hugging goodbye, and kisses blown from Ceti, we bid him thanks and a good day. These moments are the best part of living here... feeling so welcomed and seeing the beautiful Maltese as friends.  


National Museum of Archaeology- Valletta, Malta

My blog is definitely becoming more of a photo journal vs actual information, but in the limited time I have, if I don't at least post pics, I won't post anything. 

And since they already wrote it better, and I don't want to plagiarize... :)