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?


Hope is a Four Letter Word

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story. I had several members of the family read it and all of them enjoyed it so much that I had my first burning desire to submit it for publication. Now that I look back, it seems strange that I have never submitted a single piece before. No…that’s not right. I remember many years ago my mother submitted a poem that was published in a compilation of poetry. So this would technically be the second piece submitted, the first submitted of my own volition. Besides, the poem that my mother submitted when I was 16 was awful, and when she has guests over and takes me through the horror of finding the tome it’s in and passing it about the room I become awash with embarrassment and want to vanish. So, for the sake of this story, this was my first writing submission for publication.

The requirements for submission were simple. I printed it up, double spaced, placed a short cover letter inside explaining that I lived in Malta, and that any correspondence should be sent to my U.S. post office box instead of the return address. At the time, Linda and I were formulating a way to return to the States, a story for another day, but one that has the same level of anxiety building up to our flight as the escape from Alcatraz and would have the Anglin brothers nod their approval. I stuffed everything into an envelope plastered with numerous Maltese stamps and walked it down to the nearest Malta Post drop box. I remember having some butterflies as I watched it slip into the darkness. Was this going to be my first published work? Would the world look back, long after fame and fortune had elevated me to unseen heights, to this first story as the keystone to my writing career?

Oh, the things I imagined. It’s amusing when you think about what you think about. As I strolled down Triq Guze Howard, back to our flat at the Howard-Milner Residence, my mind became filled with the wonders of a new, sweeping epic of a life, borne on the winds of this small, traveling envelope. Linda would never work again. We would build our dream home with the money earned from my novels. I would continue to write into my twilight years from my new study, surrounded by books, old and new, and the smells of decaying leather and paper. Travel & leisure, and more time to enjoy our remaining days would be ours.

Soon the letter was forgotten. My wife and I got caught up in the stresses of moving back home. Resignations needed to be submitted at work, items that weren’t going to make the trip with us sold or given away. Packing and shipping consumed us, and of course, goodbyes to all of our wonderful friends here in Malta. Yet every once in a while as the weeks wore on, I would remember the submission, and wonder what became of it. Thinking about it always gave me a pang of excitement. The small letter had evolved into something more than a container of a story. It contained limitless possibility.

We visited friends in North Carolina and Florida before we ended up back in our home state of California. My daughter was getting ready to attend her first year of college, my son desperately wanted to return to the same elementary school that he had left behind. And there are so many friends to see! First, we needed to find a home to rent. Our home was still going to be leased for another 3 years. We didn’t realize we would be returning from Malta so soon. And although we had taken a peek at the rental market from Malta, it didn’t sink in how things had changed in 2 years until we actively began our search. If it wasn’t for the generosity of friends and family, this experience would have been so much worse. What began in late July as casual house hunting became a desperate situation by late August. Because of the recession, construction on new homes had ceased. Banks had taken so many homes from people that what remained became rentals. Inventory quickly shrank to almost nothing, and landlords had an opportunity to raise prices to astonishing heights. Unfortunately, we were being priced right out of our home town. Add to this the need to find work!

Then it came! The response to my submission. This could change everything. It was as if the envelope would contain thousands of dollars. The gushing review of my masterpiece was inside, and the springboard to my career as a novelist/screenwriter/playwright/poet was in my grasp! The world had begun to spin anew.

I opened the envelope and began reading the letter inside.

It was a rejection. I kindly letter, stating that hundreds of submissions come through every day. That this was no reflection on the quality of my writing, just that it wasn’t a good fit for the magazine.

hopeAt first I was disappointed, but it only took a few moments to, strangely, feel elation. I held in my hand a response from strangers that had read my work. The important thing about this letter was that it was proof that I had taken a leap to submit it. I had put myself into the most vulnerable place a creative writer can. I had exposed my underbelly to be gored by the beast, and although my courage had left me bloodied, I was not shamed. It was at that moment that the letter became one of my most prized possessions.

I have always told my children that they need to feel failure to feel the triumph of success. That they will fall down numerous times on their way to their goal. That picking ourselves up after each misstep builds character and teaches us something. In my hands were my own words to them, but it was their beautiful faces, and my dear wife Linda’s, that were speaking them back to me now. This letter might be the first of many more rejections. I envisioned a box full of them in my near future, and that box was to be my greatest treasure. More submissions are forthcoming.

Now I write for you, and for myself. I can’t care who loves it or hates it. I just write. Because, as someone told me recently, that’s what writers do.

We write.

 


Never Gone

I am 26 years old. My mother has brought my grandmother out from Colorado to live with her in an effort to cure her stomach cancer. My mother beat her diagnosis of breast cancer into remission using home remedies, belief in them, and sheer will. It was obvious that she felt that she could best serve her Mother by keeping her in our home, close to her and her grandchildren. The doctors had given her only a few months to live after they removed an enormous tumor. My Mother’s faith in herself and God was my Grandma Mary’s last hope.

Peter, Mom, Mary, Dad

Grandpa Pete, Rose Marie (Mom), Grandma Mary, Michael (Dad)

At first my Grandmother was happy to be with us, but as her pain increased, and my Mother’s remedies and our love proved to be no match for the cancer attacking her, she just wanted to go back home to Colorado. It broke our hearts to hear her beg to let her go. She just wanted to go back to the home that she had made with her beloved Peter in the small coal mining town of Trinidad. It made sense to me then why she wanted to go. She was suffering and didn’t want us to watch her slowly erode. More importantly, the comfort of being in her home with it’s familiar surroundings, and the ghosts of those others that she was soon to join in death, was her last wish. This wish proved to be the thing that haunted my Mother most after my Grandmother passed away. She always wondered if she had done the wrong thing by keeping her in California.

I remember the night she died. She was laying in bed and had been unresponsive for 2 days, not eating or drinking. Just short, quick breaths marked the fact that she was still with us. I tried to give her a sip of water because her lips looked so dry, and she began choking and coughing. I felt like I had nearly drowned her and just kept saying I was sorry, over and over again. I laid there next to her frail body for an hour before going to bed. Several hours later my Mother woke me to tell me she had passed away. I walked into the room to see her, crawled in next to her again and just lay there, crying and saying goodbye.

I’m 38 years old. I get a call from Dad that Mom is in the hospital. She was experiencing acute pain in her abdomen, but they didn’t know what the cause was. They wanted to keep her overnight for observation. I raced to the hospital to see her.

mom_dad_gram

Mom and Dad as Newlyweds with Mary

Mother was there, smiling at me through eyes that looked a bit frightened. She told me not to worry, they think she just pulled a muscle. Still, the circumstances and symptoms had the doctors baffled and they wanted to keep her as a precaution. I stayed a while until she got me to promise to go home to help Pop make some dinner.

My father was always a craftsman in the kitchen, able to pull random objects and create a culinary experience that was always a joy. Delicious, as my wife would always say, but not necessarily healthy. Too much cream and butter. I remember enjoying the meal, helping clean up with my wife, calling my mother at the hospital to check in, and then we started heading home with our young son.

About a mile from our house I started to feel sick. So sick that I made my Wife stop the car. I leapt out onto the shoulder and projectile vomited several times. Linda was alarmed and we all wondered when the rest of us would fall ill from some kind of food poisoning. At home I declined rapidly, and a high fever set in. Still, Linda and Aidan felt fine. I lay there in bed, shivering. We discussed what I had eaten over the last 24 hours, but it was clear that I hadn’t had anything other than what my entire family had eaten. The illness was a mystery. For about an hour I went through a routine of jumping out of bed, staggering to the bathroom and ejecting fluids in some fashion from my body, all the while wracked with shakes and fever.

The next day I was still sick with a high fever. My Mother was feeling better and was going to be released from the hospital. Linda had made plans to visit friends in Sacramento weeks in advance of this day and was ready to cancel the trip. I insisted that I could take care of myself and not to worry about me. Somehow, I got her to leave with Aidan, leaving me alone in the house.

I woke again several hours later, still shivering. I am not sure why, but I felt compelled to leave, to go to my childhood home. I rolled out of bed, dressed, found my keys and drove away.

I got to my parents house in the mountains, which was always a beautiful place to be. Redwoods and pines, the gardens, the clean air. All of it familiar and inviting. I found where they kept the key hidden and let myself in. I remember drinking a glass of water and heading to the back bedroom where my Grandmother passed away. I looked down at the bed where she died, “Gram. I’m really sick. If you’re here, I need your help.”

I slid under the covers and fell asleep.

sunsetHours later I woke. The house was dark and still. I was soaked in sweat. The fever had broken and, although weak, I was already feeling better. I was able to find my way to the kitchen and make myself some dry toast, let myself out the way I came and started for home.

A few weeks later Linda and I are sitting with good friends, talking about all of the things you talk about with friends that you haven’t seen in a year. Somehow our conversation triggers Linda’s memory of what happened to me that night; My mothers hospitalization, the vomiting, the fever.

Natalie listened to the story, and said, “You had a lowlife attach to you.”

“What’s a lowlife?”, I asked.

Natalie is a Reiki healer. She got quiet for a moment. She began to tell me that sometimes spirits that are lost or malicious, hang around in places like hospitals. They sometimes attach themselves to the ‘bright light’ some people create around them. That one had attached to me. A very bad one.

I scoffed and told her that it was just food poisoning.

She slowly closed her eyes, and they started to flutter. As a tear trickled down her cheek, she described what she saw that night. She described my grandmother being there, helping me fight the lowlife. She mentioned an American Indian Chief, watching over me. The funny thing was, I hadn’t told her about how I drove to my Parents home, or that I had asked my Grandmother for help. I told her then about how I had felt compelled to go there, and she looked at me like she understood. Still, I asked about the Indian. Who was he?

We finally decided that it must have been an ancestor. Generations ago on my Fathers side of the family, I knew that we had some Cherokee blood.

About a week later, I was back at my Parents house for one of our Sunday dinners. I got up and walked to that back bedroom. I wasn’t sure If I really believed the things that Natalie had said. Mostly I like to believe that they are true, that some part of those that pass from our lives into death are still with us. That the purpose of life, love and our everlasting souls a greater mystery than we can imagine.

I stood there in the room alone. I told my Grandmother out loud, “Thank you”

As I turned to leave the room, on the wall over the bed, was a woodcut my Uncle Norman had given my father many years before he passed away. Woodcuts were a hobby that they both enjoyed.

I stared at my Uncle Normans woodcut. It was a profile of an American Indian Chief in full headdress.


Musings of a Stay at Home Dad

Yesterday was my birthday. My wife arrived home from work to her two boys, both of which have birthdays in the same month. But this was ‘my day’, so they asked what I wanted and I picked a local restaurant that I love and we headed over there for the evening. And being in Sliema that required all of 5 minutes of walking.

January is always an interesting month for me. Conversations about the New Year, being another year older, and reflections on the year that just went by always crop up. So here we sat, having our annual discussion.

At first I thought, “I didn’t do a thing.”

Mikey likes it!

Anyone see the remote?

Since January of last year, I have been “Mr. Mom”. Linda goes off to work, I stay at home. During Aidan’s school year I help get him out the door, watch Linda follow soon after to catch her ride to work, then I am home alone until they start to return. Summer’s are not all that different because we find activities and camps for Aidan. And Serena is still back in the U.S. with her mom from my first marriage, finishing up High School.

So if I die tomorrow, what goes on my tombstone?

Here lies Trent McNair

“Mr. Mom”

Made a MEAN Mac and Cheese

Human beings are creatures driven by Ego. Women desire equality, but need to play nice to get there, men desire dominance, but need to be more tolerant of the new rules. Acceptance of these desires by the opposite gender is an unspoken law, like gravity.  Let’s call it the ‘Law of Tolerance’.

So most of us quietly obey this new law until a certain point in our lives. Usually at around 30-35 women who are clambering up the career ladder go a little slack jawed on their way to work one day when they realize “I WANT TO HAVE A BABY. NOW.” Men tend to get more and more pissed and emasculated as they watch women excel at the jobs that they think they should have.

All the while I sit on the sidelines observing this phenomena unfold. It’s mildly amusing, really. I say mildly because sometimes it seems like the unspoken Law of Tolerance has created a generation of boys that don’t really have great male role models and just stay little boys into their adulthood (which is extremely dangerous), and women that are pissed off at their behavior (inflaming the situation further).

Why was I even talking about this? Oh, yeah. Because usually when I am introducing myself to new people around the island, I get a queer reaction when I don’t ramble off a job title that spans several words. What they are expecting to hear from a well spoken man of my age is:

“I’m the Senior Director of Worldwide Applications Development at Acme Corporation”

Instead they get:

“I’m a multimedia consultant and stay-at-home Dad”

Sometimes, when I know that they are really going to be shocked and because I enjoy registering their reactions , I just leave out the multimedia consultant and stick with ‘Stay-at-home Dad’. I’ve been smirked at, chuckled at, even called “Boy Toy” and “Kept Man”. Mind you, it was usually the women that would react this way. Men seem to sense something in me that could be life-threatening and seem to just numbly stand there.

But it really doesn’t matter what they think. We are all doing battle with our Ego, the Law of Tolerance, and life’s daily struggles. In general, we are all in the same boat. Rather than take it personally, it’s just easier to allow everyone their opinions.  My personal struggle is no more important than yours, even though we as human beings are so focused on self that we have a hard time seeing anything other than, well, self. So sometimes I am tempted to respond to the questions of “What do you do?” with “Don’t worry about it. I’m nowhere near as important as you think you are”

So that’s my new motto for a New Year: “I’m nowhere near as important as you think you are”.

So this year is going to be amazing. I really look forward to the challenges and opportunities that will be coming my way.  I look forward to whatever may come, and I embrace my nowhere-near-important role as a husband and father like a warrior.

Trent McNair is a stay-at-home Dad. Last year he didn’t own and operate an organic nursery, write an award-winning children’s book about nutrition, gardening and the environment, or assist in the creation of a community garden. He also didn’t build and maintain several websites or do any outstanding humanitarian work. He did, however, support his wife, cooked nearly every meal, helped his son with his homework and afterschool activities, and started to write the novel he has been babbling about for years.


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.


Day Trip: Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra

Ħaġar Qim

Ħaġar Qim is about 7,000 years old. Who built this temple complex, and what was it used for?

One of the main attractions of Malta are their many prehistoric temple structures. There are a few on the main island as well as some on Gozo. The history one can see and touch will leave you enthralled.

Each day I try to get Aidan and I out of the flat. Sometimes we walk around our neighborhood to discover local shops, talk to people, collect seaglass, and generally familiarize ourselves with our new surroundings. My son is a wonderful companion and explorer. On this day we decided to try out the local public transportation system and brave the two transfers that would take us to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, two of the oldest megalithic structures on earth, arguably pre-dating the pyramids of Egypt.

We start out from our flat in Sliema. I had packed us a nice lunch, squeezed it into a small pack, then we made our way downstairs to the bus stop which is conveniently right in front of our place. The people in Malta are very friendly, and I have had no qualms about walking up to strangers and illustrating my lack of knowledge. I usually always find someone who speaks English well enough to understand the help I seek. We immediately learn that we just need to get a bus that will take us to the capitol of Valletta.

The Valletta terminal is located at the City Gate square, surrounding the Triton Fountain, sculpted in 1959 by Vincent Apap. This now serves as the hub for the countries entire bus system. As far as I know, all buses begin and end here.  From Sliema, we could jump on one of several buses, then take the express (X4 or X5) to the airport. Once there you take the 201 to reach the Blue Grotto and Hagar Qim. But beware – a mis-timed arrival at the airport could mean you wait a while for the next bus since they arrive only once per hour (and vice versa on return). Time your day accordingly for some waiting.

As soon as you arrive you notice a large protective structure that shields the temples from wind, rain, and solar radiation. It also inhibits plant growth. By no means permanent, it does hinder the deterioration process that has been occurring over the centuries. It’s not the most attractive structure, but I do have to appreciate the invaluable protection it must provide. Perhaps someday they will have a new technology that will preserve these sites without the need to cover them so.

Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are located high above the Mediterranean

I was absolutely entranced by these two temples and the views of the surrounding Mediterranean sea that the sites offered. My appreciation for things this old is obviously related to how old I am. My son, barely nine, tended to be less interested, especially since we didn’t find any 10,000 year old artifacts like I had promised (you have to promise them something treasure-like, or how else will you get them to come along!).

Unlike the states, the temple areas are ‘loosely’ guarded and I was amazed at how easily people could touch the stones. The areas directly around the temples are fenced to keep vandals from striking again with graffiti and the dislodging of megaliths. However, the areas leading to the the cliff edge are wide open for exploring and it made for a delightful and picturesque excursion from the beaten path.

I highly recommend this day trip, and the Blue Grotto nearby looks like it would be beautiful as well when it gets warmer.


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.