We are so blessed (#andyouarenot)

Last night my wife and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary, a big milestone that seemed to just sneak up on us in a blink. We asked my mother to come spend the evening with her grandson, and realized that for the first time in a few months, we were going on a date.The realization that we hadn’t taken the time to connect alone in this way was something that also struck a nerve. Nights like this are necessary, and although we have our walks (more on that later), we also need some romantic moments as well.

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk

Last year we were still in Malta for our anniversary. We celebrated with an evening in the beautiful fishing village of Marsaxlokk and a dinner at Tartarun restaurant. For both of us, one of our most magical evenings, as each anniversary should be. We talked as we ate about how lucky we are, what we thought the future would hold, and toasted to the promise of many, many more years together. I remember taking some pictures of the amazing presentation of dishes that came to the table. Tartarun is truly a unique experience, and we wanted to share it with all of our friends as we posted images to Facebook & Twitter.

Last night our longitude had changed a bit since we were now back in California. We were enjoying a view of Soquel Creek from the beautiful Shadowbrook Restaurant. It’s hard to imagine that our conversations were any different than the ones we had had 12 times before on other anniversaries. But one thing we did notice this time was people.

One couple came in and sat across from us. She wore a simple blouse, ankle length skirt and flats, he was in a polo shirt with pinstripes and old sneakers. The entire time they didn’t say a word to one another, and it almost seemed as if they were regulars. The waiter brought their meal before ours and when he cleared their table, wished them a happy anniversary. They walked out as quietly as they dined.

Across the creek were a some younger people enjoying one of the summer creekside rentals. They walked in and out of the wood framed glass doors and stood to look around and take selfies, one had her phone held to her ear for over thirty minutes, and then we looked up from talking to find them gone, obviously headed to the Capitola Esplanade for dinner or drinks.

And behind us, out of view, were two couples that talked about money. Well, one couple talked. The other said hardly a word as they carried on about their 10 million dollar estate, how it was being willed to the kids and grands, how they bought their deadbeat son a new car because ‘I’m not about to have him drive my grandchildren around in that piece of junk’ and how their daughter was very upset about how their inheritance was being split, but that she ‘makes three times as much money as our son’.

This conversation was one that captivated us, and we just couldn’t stop snickering. The patriarch was an obese man with oxygen tubes feeding into his nostrils and I kept thinking that the kids would be seeing an inheritance fairly soon. Perhaps he sensed the end as much as I did, thus the conversations leaned all night towards what he would be leaving behind. It was sad to me that they talked about their children and grandchildren, but never once did the conversation lead down the path of whether they were happy, fulfilled or loved.

All of these experiences really made us think about the ego and how we are always seemingly trying to ‘one-up’ each other. The kids across the way with their selfies, the old couples behind us with their fixations on money, even ourselves with a lot of the pictures that we had taken of our experiences in Malta. We might as well have tagged them all with #andyouarenot at the end of them.

Look at this 2lb super burrito I am eating #andyouarenot

I’m in Rome #andyouarenot

I’m rich #andyouarenot

I’m buying these new shoes #andyouarenot

Why do we do this? It’s so sad, because most of the time I don’t think we realize we are even doing it. I know that this seems strange to write about, but we both decided last night that social media is really a bizarre thing. That smart phones are so popular in wealthy countries because of the ability to instantly boost an individual’s ego. It’s not often people post things that paint them in a lesser light, probably because those people can’t even afford a smart phone, or have evolved to the point of not having to post every moment of their lives to instagram.

I’m hungry #andyouarenot

I’m dying of cancer #andyouarenot

I am drinking filthy water #andyouarenot

I am homeless #andyouarenot

One thing my wife and I are going to be doing this year is practice more social responsibility in our daily lives & communities, volunteering even more than we have in the past. We are so grateful for the love and health that are so abundant in our lives. So this time next year we will have a brand new hashtag – what do you think it should be?


Making Malta Home

I’m finally able to take a moment to write my first post after my first full week at work and 10 days on the island. I leave for work at 8 and come home by 6, quite a change from the last seven years. But, it’s a welcome one. The TRC team is smart and fun; the environment – dynamic and exciting. The office is being built out as we work, so there’s lots of activity. We’re all crammed together on the same floor while saws and hammers pound in the background. My only requests – an awesome coffee machine and a microwave. Comin’ up!

Last weekend was spent getting our flat in order — unpacking and shopping at this huge Walmart-like store called Pavi for essentials that we need. We wandered the streets of the Sliema shopping district, not far from where we live. I love how safe we feel walking around; lots of kids and families out until late in the evening. Friday and Saturday nights, I feel like I’m back in college — it’s a party out there! What a bustling little town.

Our son being inappropriate with one of the local statues during our stroll through Sliema, our new home town.

I was hoping to get out this weekend with the family, but Malta is experiencing a storm it hasn’t seen in decades. Our landlord is a native; probably in her mid-40s. She said she has never seen a storm like this before; it’s a “sandy” storm coming in from the Sahara, apparently. Check out the news posted here. I’m sure Trent will be uploading more of the videos he took later on. Pretty incredible.

I’m loving the small City experience — buying food and other items as we need them from the small businesses around us, not being tied to a car, and affording a weekly house cleaner, Sandra — at 6 Euros, or less than $8, an hour! I feel your seething jealously…

I do like what this low humidity is doing for my skin, but not my hair. Frizz, Frizz, Frizz! It’s my goal to find out how these beautiful Maltese women keep their hair calm…

We are desperately trying to figure out the coffee situation. Since the office has yet to install its heavy duty espresso machine that makes a perfect cup every time, we bought a drip coffee machine. But the only coffee available is either espresso (which stops up the filter due to its density) or – brace yourself – Nescafe instant coffee. Yes, instant coffee. And there is no creamer. Just Coffeemate powder or evaporated milk.

Needless to say, we are returning the drip coffee maker to Pavi and investing in a serious espresso machine, switching to cappuccinos as our mainstay. This desperation will be worth weathering this storm and heading to The Point — an AWESOME shopping center about a half mile away. In the meantime, we park ourselves at Mint next door, an incredible cafe run by New Zealanders — different homemade foods and desserts made every day based on what they have available. And the cappuccinos? We’re addicted.

The other two items we really miss: a microwave and a clothes dryer. We have a washing machine, but air dry our clothes! Those things that need dry cleaning go there, but electricity is expensive so dryers are not a default installation. We have arranged to have our towels and sheets changed every week by Sandra, and she takes them with her – returning them the following Friday. She also irons anything we ask. She’s my new best friend….Anyways, we’re working through both of these inconveniences because we’re spoiled Americans who need to experience at least a few of the ways locals actually live.

Aidan is doing GREAT! I’m so proud of his adventurous spirit. He and Trent get out every day to explore our surroundings and fill me in at dinner. They have created a list of “must sees” from their explorations and plot out when we go again as a family. After my stamp of approval, it becomes a place to go when we have guests.

Trent is an amazing partner, as usual. He’s lining up work during breaks in the day so that he’ll be ready to go when Aidan starts school after Spring Break in mid-April.

What can I say? I’m a lucky girl.


Our First Morning in Malta

It may have taken 28 hours and 5 airports before we arrived early Thursday morning, and I do mean early, but we got here in one piece. 12:45am Malta time which put us home with our ridiculous amount of baggage around 1:35am. Linda, exhausted and running on adrenaline, somehow shuffled out the door on 2 hours of sleep to report for her first day of work that very morning.

Mediterranean Sunrise

Not a bad way to start our day and our stay here in Malta

My task was much easier. My son and I slept in a bit longer, then began unpacking the few things we brought from California to start making our new ‘flat’ home. Our first morning in Malta was sunny and mild, and I am still stopped short when I look out of our windows at the view we are blessed with here.

The journey wasn’t too bad at first. After researching cargo shipping from San Francisco we decided that we would just fly with extra baggage, take the hit there. According to everything we found online it seemed that this option was going to be $1,500 to $2,000 cheaper. Shipping meant crate delivery, pickup, shipping, customs taxes in Malta, then delivery to our flat were going to be in the range of $4-$5k for a small 4’x4′ crate.

We should have shipped everything.

When we checked bags in SFO with Virgin America, things seemed like they were going so well. Only $400 to check our bags through to Gatwick! And we had FOURTEEN checked bags (Mostly donated by neighbors and family). Amazing right? We should have saved the celebrating. It went downhill from there.

We had one layover in Las Vegas where we were to transfer to our long flight with Virgin Atlantic. This is where things got ugly. They informed us that they had no record of our payment to Virgin America for our checked bags, and to make matters worse, the boarding passes that they gave us which tell how many checked bags we had didn’t include another essential item recording our bags. After a long, messy conversation at the Virgin Atlantic counter with management, we had to cough up another $1,400 for our excess baggage. Ok, fine…we are still on track for our estimate, except for one thing; Virgin Atlantic refused to check our baggage through on our connecting flight out of Gatwick to Malta (which we found out later at Virgin ticket counters in Gatwick was totally absurd). So for 10 hours we begin to worry—will we make our connection in Gatwick to our Air Malta flight?

Have you ever flown into Gatwick or Heathrow? They are amazing sprawls from the gate to customs/baggage claim. Miles of walking (and cajoling a nine year old to hustle). Once we reached customs, non-UK citizens are escorted to a line made up of ever other nationality. To put it mildly, that line took us out of the running to make our flight. Regardless, we still had the nightmare of baggage claim (remember the fourteen bags I mentioned – oh, boy!). After piling this plethora of bags (I’m beginning to think about throwing a match on the lot of them) onto three pushcarts, we head over to talk to another ticket officer to find out that the next flight to Malta from Gatwick is not in a few hours, but the next day. Our options are now find a cab that will take all of this hot mess to a hotel (way more money) or take a bus to Heathrow to catch an Air Malta flight 9 hours later (more money). We choose the latter of two evils.

After we are loaded on the bus to Heathrow, unloaded, repacked onto three new puchcarts, we head to the Air Malta counter. This is when every fiber of my being is needed to keep me from being locked up in some UK dungeon. Air Malta’s policy (which is never stated anywhere on their website) is to charge for, get this, not the extra bags, but extra kilos over a certain amount.

£15 per kilo.

And we had 185 extra kilos—that’s £2,775 or, $4412.78.

At this point you are a hostage. What do you do? Wheel everything out into a dumpster? You are exhausted, you have a child with you, and your wife looks like she is going to join you in a collective meltdown that leaves nothing but a crater where London once stood. So you beg. You get ignored. So you pay. We even spoke with management. He was no help whatsoever.

Ship it. Period.