The Good News or the Bad News?

I’ll start with the bad news as it’s simpler.

We rented an apartment in Malta that wasn’t quite finished (literally just needs kitchen and curtains and insect screens installed) everything else is stunning and brand new and finished). But at least we could store our stuff while went for our six week Molly adventure, and if it wasn’t finished on our return we could cook in Molly but sleep in the apartment.

The bad news is it’s not ready, which is fine, but the adorable landlords have rented us another gorgeous, furnished apartment, and set us up with food, towels, beds …everything just a few blocks away.

Which is very kind. But we need to unpack and start getting things sorted ASAP as we have visitors and things we need, and things to unpack, and and and …. so it’s annoying.

But the good news list grows longer by the day:

  • They won’t let us pay rent on either place.. for the furnished apartment or the one without a kitchen. So we’re saving a few bucks which is a bonus as we still haven’t sold the house back in Joburg.
  • That in turn gives them incentive to get finished, we feel really bad for them, but it’s good knowing that we’re taken care of and it’s in their interest to get things finished soon. So it will happen, and we don’t need to nag them.
  • We are in the ground floor apartment right on the edge of town, so unlike our apartment where Molly will sleep in the basement garage, here we can park her right at our front door. And with a washing machine and dishwasher etc, we have been able to bring everything in, in just a few steps (including my Molly mattress and put it on top of the bed here… not quite the same but pretty good), clean her out, unpack the Sphinx… it’s turned out be such a blessing … sorting out Molly without feeling like we should be unpacking the boxes.

  • I’m not very good at sitting still so if we were surrounded by boxes I’d constantly chip away at them and totally overwork myself very quickly. Instead, each morning we head over, work for three hours, he does all the lifting, I do the sorting and directing (which doesn’t always go well), then we head home for lunch and don’t think about the unpacking again till the next day. An impossible feat if we were right there.
  • Sometimes it’s easier to plan things when you’re one step removed. The serenity of a tidy, well appointed apartment with a fabulous view is a much better place to plan, regroup, restore and refresh, than an overwhelming apartment with boxes to the ceilings! A couple of Netflix binges are helping to do that somewhat, hence the radio silence of the last few days. It’s been great!
  • Part of the move included unpackers. After nearly a dozen international moves I know the drill and I hate it. A swarm of men descend at the crack of dawn and by nightfall, everything you own, including the dust bunnies under your bed in the old house, and the junk drawer (usually now upturned), and all the half bottles of shampoo from five people (now a quarter filled with the rest smeared over the rest of the bathroom contents), are now unpacked. If you don’t know what that looks like, imagine upturning every drawer, box, wardrobe, cupboard, in your entire home and garage and garden shed, onto your floor, beds, stairs, kitchen counter, and even the bath. Believe it or not, there are not enough flat surfaces to hold everything you own. You can’t eat for the laden kitchen and you can’t reach the cupboards to start loading them. You can’t get to your bed under all the linen you didn’t know you owned and the washing machine doesn’t work because the power plug is still from the wrong country so you can’t wash all the shampoo out the towels. You’re hungry, so exhausted you can’t breathe…. and everyone expects you to fix it… right now. But because we don’t have a kitchen, yet we need our stuff, the removal company agreed to spread the load over a few days. I asked for the weekend in between two of them, and the last third only once we have a kitchen. It’s still a zoo, it’s still a third of our belongings spread over half the house (not a bad ratio considering!!), but with the weekend to sort out much of what was unpacked on Friday, we’re getting to do this a little slower. I can’t begin to tell you how much better that is.

So the non-kitchen is proving to be a bonus. He still thinks that if we’d rented a different apartment, moved to a different country, owned different things, … or we’d simply put a match under it all before we’d left, it wouldn’t be nearly this stressful. In reality, it’s not a patch on all the other moves I’ve done while he’s in the office making all his new friends… Five people’s stuff instead of two, all on my own instead of with his help, no spotless apartment to retire to in the evening, unpacked in one day instead of three, and no one to nag us to find things for school or work the very next morning… this is bliss!

But it still sucks. Moving sucks. And tomorrow morning (Monday) will be round two of the proper unpackers. Hopefully they’ll find the linen … but that’s a story for tomorrow or the next day!

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50 Nights!

Today we arrived in Malta. We never planned it this way, but we’ve travelled over eight thousand kilometers, which is the same as there and back from Johannesburg to the Tanzania border, Melbourne to Perth or Toronto to San Fransisco… We slept exactly fifty consecutive nights in Molly (and tonight was going to be fifty one). We crossed nine country borders, lost our solar panels at speed, had an attempted robbery, a very embarrassing police escort, drove through weather that killed six people in weather related incidents, and I very nearly ran out of petrol in the middle of nowhere on my own.

We also missed all the babies terribly and often wished we were with them through some truly tough trials of their own.

But we also met many brave and interesting people, ate weird and wonderful food, saw so many breathtaking views and vistas, slept in Molly on the edges of cliffs, on all kinds of farms including an apple orchard and behind some of Britain’s cutest pubs. I got to attend my first international EDS conference and we found me a very expensive but life-changing bicycle.

We fought, we bonded, we laughed and we cried. We found some new rhythms and routines, and learnt so many new lessons both great and small. But above all, we absolutely, categorically, no-holds-barred, haven’t looked back… this was so the right thing to do on so many levels. Working on becoming a human being instead of a human doing is hard work, and I’ve never been more proud of this man. Watching him learn to cook, clean, help, and collaborate has been hard, but also such a privilege, and so humbling for both of us.

And as the song went at our wedding… here we are again on a new journey on which:

“We’ve only just begun…”

I can’t wait for the next fifty sleeps as we unpack our container again in Malta. To see our belongings again after four months on the road, to build yet another little home together, however temporary, to do another round of culling and simplifying. Fifty more sleeps till we fly to Australia for Christmas with all the babies, and the arrival of the newest one.

In the meantime, there’s videos to edit, books to write, a bicycle to collect from Devon (where Molly was born), and an Israel trip for him… So watch this space as always …

Here’s our arrival into Malta on the ferry at 4:30pm… and the drive to Molly’s new home:

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Tip of Italy Base Camp!

It’s been a tough few days, and we’re ready for the next chapter of our second half. The weather and baby worries of the last few days have taken their toll. The entrance roof to our Agri Camp-ground blew off last night and six people died across the country in separate tree and roof weather incidents.

We’ve not had decent WiFi or phone reception through it all either, so we’re behind in everything!

We didn’t get as much sleep as we needed and while we woke to a sunny day, it was still quite windy and neither Pompeii nor the Amalfi Coast felt like good ideas.

So we tag teamed and drove down the rest of the Italian mainland, and found ourselves the most wonderful place to park Molly, high on the cliffs looking over the tiny seaside town of Scilla to the north and the island of Sicily on the west of us.

We’re the only people here other than the caretaker who doesn’t speak a word of English. But we paid our €20 and we’re all happy.

I think we’ll be sleeping here a lot in the future… an AMAZING base camp for coming through the bottom tip of Italy.

My view from bed as I type:

Pink Gin in writing hand…

Goodnight…

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Pompeii!

Coming to you tonight from a wild and woolly Pompeii!!! I can’t believe I’m saying that! As a young girl, the Pompeii exhibition came to town and it’s the first memory I have of being truly mesmerized. My teacher was an archeology guru of sorts and dragged us all along. This rich experience lies at the deep core of my love and compassion for tribes, humans, tragedies, and rich love stories. The imagine of a young Pompeiian couple cast in plaster, cuddling together forever, is as crisp in my mind’s eye as the day it captured my imagination all those years ago.

Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii… two words that I rarely hear or think about, but when they do, my heart skips a beat. It’s on the bucket list, …and not planned for this trip.

We planned to take a “short cut”; the twenty-one hour ferry from Livorno to Sicily this evening and last week booked ourselves, along with Molly, Hitch, and the Sphinx (of course) for tonight’s evening departure.

Right after a fabulous weekend in northern Tuscany with my very special cousin Kathryn, where we all ate waaaay too much food, and talked waaay too much. There was also much to be done around the farm, but the weather turned for the worse in a big way, so a cozy fire, a crazy kitty, and the odd G&T or red wine, and there went the weekend. We were determined not to let the weather dampen our spirits but news from home of desperately ill babies cast its long-distance shadow.

Super important meetings and speaking engagements were cancelled, Miss Four’s birthday party was cancelled, and poor Mama Bear spent the whole weekend in bed in such a big single-bed-ward with her precious and fragile Miss Two. It’s the third time in as many weeks this bubba’s been in hospital, from broken foot to serious gastro, but this time it’s a whole new ball game. I won’t go into details but it’s been terrifying … and while they still aren’t out the woods (or hospital) yet, things look like they are beginning to turn around. It’s things like this that tear at our hearts and remind us we can’t be away from them for too long.

Thanks to the amazing (free) Australian medical system for their incredible care of our babies! I know they aren’t perfect but they’re streaks ahead of any other medical system we’ve experienced over the years and believe me, we’ve tested them.

As the weekend came to a close and the weather changed from bad to worse, the ferry was cancelled and we set out this Monday morning to drive down the length of Italy instead of sail. It was by far my preference, as I’m not keen on the ferry idea at all, but wind which slows the traffic down to a standstill on the freeway is not my idea of fun either. Hours and hours of fallen trees, torrential rain, a few roofs blown off, and many of the cars pulled over to wait out the worst of it. Too many cars, in fact, which meant the slipways were over-full and cars stuck out into the road, hazard lights not really doing much.

By four in the afternoon it became so dark and dangerous we pulled into a service station and prepared ourselves to sleep the night if necessary. Then I noticed the Mercedes parked next to us with a shattered terra-cotta roof tile sprinkled across its bonnet and roof, with the windscreen smashed.

The police arrived, the service station was closed down, the rain subsided somewhat, and we decided we’d best venture back onto the roads again and find a proper camp site for the night.

Twenty minutes later we found a decent Agri Camper site on our app and wound our way through skinny streets (you know how much we love those!!), rain, puddles, wind, and even drove UNDER a fallen tree! It had landed across the road with its top on a very high, now broken wall.

So here we are, right in the middle of Pompeii. The weather forecast for tomorrow is clear and sunny skies, so we think we might just stop a moment and visit the only museum of the whole trip.

But I’m not holding my breath!

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Mountain Bike Ride!

Many of you will know how much he loves mountain bike riding and here in the Italian Alps there are mountains and trails all around us. It would be crazy for him to leave here tomorrow without a truly decent ride down one of these slopes, wouldn’t it?

So we drove to the top, high above the line where things don’t like growing and the air is thin…

Past beautiful mountain lakes….

And teeny towns that clung to the sides of cliffs…

Up we climbed in tight switch backs that had our ears popping…

It’s very hard to capture how steep it was, but this photo shows the road we’ve come to the bend on from the left as well as the road ahead to the right….

We climbed through the tall forests with their leaves changing colour for winter…

Above the trees where far in the distance the bare peaks already have their first dustings of snow…

We were supposed to mark on the map where our current home is so he could ride straight down for a few hours while I drove Molly back to camp… but he was a little bit frazzled and excited… so off he went (he’s in this photo somewhere along those winding paths)…

I waved him off taking the obligatory video, then Molly and I started the trek home again … just as the fuel light came on. The steep climb had chowed up so much diesel that there wasn’t much left and clearly driving down again wasn’t dissimilar. She had to be an automatic as with Frank I can’t push a clutch any more. So I watched the last of the fuel meter drop before my eyes.

I quickly realized we weren’t going to get far and an automatic car doesn’t roll so well on empty, so while there was still something left of the red I moved her into neutral and we coasted ever so slowly down most of the bends and eventually, as flattened out into the valley we rolled into the only petrol station around … with three litres (less than a gallon) left in the tank!

I wasn’t super in the mood for running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere without a word of Italian and unable to walk anywhere, and nor was I much in the mood for getting lost. But I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction and Molly and I followed our noses and I kept an eye out for the right mountains as seen from camp and we eventually made it home absolutely shattered!

Thankfully it was all worth it as he had an AMAZING ride, with barely any uphills as he dropped nearly six thousand feet of elevation as he rode about thirty five kilometers back to camp!

(His Strava is in meters…)

One very happy (and therefore somewhat less grumpy) husband this afternoon 😊😊😊

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French catch up..

So… I’ve missed a few blogs. I’m not well. I don’t think of myself as a people pleaser but I haven’t yet learnt to explain to people that I need to rest, with my feet up, for most of every day. I shouldn’t try and sit at the dinner table on upright chairs for more than half an hour and I shouldn’t offer to go on shopping trips … even short ones.

So while I’ve loved seeing people the last few weeks, I shouldn’t have offered so much. The reality is I’m not sure how not to…

So I’m sore… very sore, which means I have brain fog, haven’t written my book in a while, and when I’m tired and my brain is foggy I knock and therefore hurt myself. So I’ve had a headache for three days and quite bad concussion. Bertha is doing ok because I’ve been very good with her with all the concussion rest… but I shouldn’t ever let it get this bad.

The weather hasn’t helped. I can’t stand wind and the stormy weather of the last four days mean my joints hurt. And husbands get grumpy in this kind of weather… who knew?!

So we’ve taken the opportunity to hide from the world a bit, pop into the odd IKEA for more storage options, and driven across about half of the southern coast of France.

I sent him out on a ride yesterday, to help him increase his niceness, and it even worked for a few hours.

What I don’t like about France is their tendency to use guns in clearly risky areas. We woke yesterday morning to someone shooting what appeared to be rabbits (hanging from his belt) with both joggers and cyclists on the same road as he was!

Right here:

We’ve since heard an English cyclist was accidentally shot and killed by a French farmer recently. We’re not surprised at all!

I’ve no idea where we are right now exactly, or what day it is. Nor do I care on either score. All I know is we’re trying to work out life together without the pressures which have dominated us for decades. That isn’t always easy. Especially with concussion and Mah Eeds and bad weather and grumpy old men!

But I love this man more than I could ever say!

PS: The book’s never going to happen if I don’t finish it! Or if I don’t have a support team So I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

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The Big Scare!

It’s easy to forget that things can go wrong in an instant, and today we learnt this the easy way. We woke up to the most beautiful sounds of the alpacas, dogs, chickens and kittens by the dozens. This place is magical on so many levels and many of my favourite memories are actually just in my head, like a “good morning” from Lorna as one of the dogs dragged her sideways past the fence on their return from their walk.

We ate scrambled eggs straight from the chickens for breakfast then he went for a ride while I thumbed back through Alan’s first book. It’s so different (and wonderful) reading it from the real life setting. Then it was time for a quick visit to town for money and groceries.

Montoro is such a beautiful town. It hugs the steep cliffs along the river with the town built high on the left.

The photos don’t do justice to the steepness of the hills.

We needed some cash but with siesta, of course everything was closed including all the ATMs. So we did a quick Google search, found the only 24 hour machine in the whole town and prayed it was true.

Google took us down an ancient, one way, cobbled street with stunning shade sails down it’s length. It ran parallel to the road along the river in the photos above, but was a whole story higher. It was single lane, so when the ATM on Google was closed but the bank across the road surprisingly open, he stopped Molly and ran in quickly.

It’s almost creepy how quiet these towns are during siesta, there really aren’t any people around and almost no cars. But we didn’t want to be rude, so I climbed into the driver’s seat in case I needed to move.

Sure enough, a car approached slowly from behind and I should have been brave enough to let them wait the thirty seconds or so till we were done, but it’s not the end of the world to drive around the block is it?

His version of what happened next:

I came out the bank in time to see Molly’s shadow disappear around the bend in the road. I had nothing but my wallet and the money, I hadn’t even thought to grab my phone, so I settled in to wait a few minutes for Jennifer to return.

After five minutes I wished I had my phone, after ten I felt annoyed. After twenty I started to worry, and at thirty, when a tow truck hurtled down the road after her I started to panic. Do I follow? Run? Or stick to the plan and stay exactly where she left me. I felt sick to my stomach!

Visions of Spanish hospitals and crumpled Molly raced through my head, was Jennifer even alive???

At forty minutes a police car emerged, blue lights flashing, traveling in the wrong direction down the one way street towards me, turning cars away as they backed up into the square around me.

My version:

I knew I couldn’t turn right. The hill climbed steeply up to my left, and down to my right. A right-right-right-right block was never going to be an option, but hopefully some version of lefts would work.

The road was beautiful and longer than I thought, but I eventually emerged into the original town square:

It was stunning and ancient and he would love it if he was here – we’ll have to come back later again.

But as I slowly crept around the tight, single lane circle, I quickly realised the roads only became thinner and thinner. So I pulled over to check Google maps:

The square was tiny, but incredibly, also had six roads feeding it. The photo of the church above was taken as I emerged into the square at the pin on the map. Road 1 was behind me, the one I’d come from and a one way. Number 2 was the same so not an option, numbers 3 & 4 quickly became so skinny no cars could use them at all. 5 had an arch over the entrance so 6 looked like the only option and also in the right direction.

So I drove slowly round to position Molly for number 6.

Again, the photos don’t do it justice, the road was so steep and I wasn’t entirely sure it was wide enough at the top. But I hesitated for only a second … all the time it took for a policeman to appear at my window.

Sadly, I don’t speak a single word of Spanish. But she was young, maybe thirty or so. Very pretty with bright orange lipstick and perfect eye liner. She appeared modern and I was glad she’d likely speak a few words of English but I was mistaken. Not even hello, or no, or help. But she was very kind. She clearly very much wanted to help me.

She spoke at length what may have been offers of all kinds of help, but no amount of sign language, gestures, showing of maps, helped either of us understand the other.

At five minutes we were both laughing, at ten it stopped being funny for me. She asked the few passers by for help but none spoke a word of English either. At twenty minutes she had a brain wave and took out her phone. She spent five minutes typing incredibly slowly, opening and closing things, eventually showing me her screen with beaming pride: A translator! Woohoo! Very clever!

“Why daughter from where with?”

Huh?!?!?! I didn’t expect it to be perfect, but I could not for the life of me work out her intended question.

At half an hour we were back to square one. Had it been a helpful stranger I would have thanked them profusely and driven off long ago, but this woman was a police officer and wouldn’t let me.

Just short of the forty minute mark a middle-aged woman and her mother walked past. Only the fourth people we’d seen the whole time. I called for them, praying hard they knew even a few words of English. They did, thankfully and I was quickly able to establish where I needed to go. They pointed up road 6, which is where I wanted to go all along. I asked is it wide enough further along. Yes they both assured me, nodding knowingly.

Trying not to be rude and fly out of there, I gently backed up a little, ready to take Molly up the steep cobbled road, nervous of my small audience, and making a stupid mistake. As they watched me they were all speaking at once to each other in speedy Spanish.

As I crept forward, the three of them suddenly stopped and raised their arms in the air in alarm, stopping me in my tracks. The police woman dashed to her car, and the ladies told me to go with her. I started climbing out of Molly when they shook their heads vigorously. It turned out I needed to follow her in Molly.

She turned her blue flashing lights on, and took off slowly down road 1… the wrong way up the one way, … arm out the window, gesturing madly for me to follow.

I was so embarrassed as I realized that the earlier strangers who’d shaken their heads and not been able to help the policewoman, had plonked themselves down to watch the crazy English woman in the camper van. They waved me through encouragingly and shouted loud Spanish farewells as our little procession of two drove slowly down the road.

I started laughing, I couldn’t help it, I was soooo embarrassed!

As we ventured round the last curve my heart just broke at the site of my love with his hands on his head in dread and fear! They dropped to his mouth as he saw Molly… I’d no idea what was going through his head but his fear and worry again, broke my heart.

He was beside himself with so many feelings mixed in with his relief at seeing me. I hobbled out the driver’s seat as he rushed to take my place. I could tell his heart was racing and the people-pleaser in him distraught at the group of backed up cars and the police, blue lights still flashing.

They all pointed in one direction to the short road out of town, but that would require us to drive round the circle to get there, right through the middle of the gauntlet of cars watching and pointing.

He was so frazzled he just wanted to bolt in the other direction…. straight back into the labyrinth of streets I’d just escaped from! Instead of taking the blue route they pointed to, we headed deeper and deeper into the old city, higgledy-piggledy all the way to the river. His stress levels rose the further we got, but there was no turning back…

We made it through streets so tight we had to fold in the mirrors on both sides. Thank goodness for siesta and the mostly empty streets, but it was another good half hour before we were out again and heading home to the Olive Mill…

It’s all part of the adventure. But as many know, the outcome could’ve been very different. Holidays go wrong, car accidents happen anywhere, and medical emergencies don’t care whether you’re at home or abroad. For the fourth time in as many weeks, we feel thoroughly thankful for a pretty good outcome….

PS: Thanks so much to those who’ve offered to support and keep asking where and how! I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

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