Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dedicated to my tribes, whom I love

Sometimes I write about my personal experiences, beliefs and value systems knowing full well that I might challenge other people's value systems. I like to make people think. Sometimes there are stories I share that I think one of the "tribes" in my wwworld might get more than others - but there are so many diverse tribes I've been a part of in this life so far. Which one are you from?

On facebook I have recently pruned my community down to include almost exclusively people whom I have shared the same air with in some physical time and space along the course of my life's journey so far. (Oh yes, and I had to like you too, or you got cut.) What an amazing difference that has made in how much I enjoy facebook these days. I highly recommend it.

And what a gift. I have lived all over the world, and loved people all over the world. When I first started living abroad, the world didn't yet have email or mobile phones. Now there's facebook, and it's so easy. Not only can I easily share my daily highs and lows with people who care about me, but I can also be a better friend by interacting more regularly with others I care about - even from a distance.

I currently have many of my friends at facebook organized in lists by the place that I knew them. But there are too many places, and it's often not the place that has defined the content of our relationship. In my mind, a new kind of time-stamped grouping system is coming together instead. There are key people who have impacted my life for significant periods of time. They are the people around which my friends cluster in my mind.

The tagline on my pArtY @ christinaswwworld! blog now reads: Dedicated to my tribes, whom I love. It's a public blog, but it feeds into my facebook stream. If you're seeing this, you are part of the 7 tribes in my mind that the celebration at this "pArtY" is dedicated to.

Here's what you look like:
  1. Evvy - If you've ever met my mother, or if you happened to know me when I still lived with my mother, you are part of my Evvy tribe. In my mind, that includes my time spent in Finland and Germany and at UCLA. I love interacting with this tribe about life, kids and general stuff. More than anyone, it's the people who've ever known my mother who remind me that I am real.

  2. Epko - If you ever met Epko or knew me while I was married and living as a couple with my husband, then you are part of my Epko tribe. (Yes, many of you are definitely part of more than one tribe.) That includes if you knew me in Geneva, or at Georgetown.

  3. BLT - if my kids, Ben, Lucas and Thomas know you, then I call you my BLTs :)

  4. Nobs - if you met N, or knew me in Uganda when he was the center of my life, you're my Nobs people.

  5. Mary Joanna - this dear friend's global path and mine have crossed many times in this life - usually in inspiring ways. I recently spent time with her in Holland, and I'm still inspired. If you and I have shared the delight of Mary Joanna's presence in our midst, you belong to this tribe.

  6. PamO - If your path crossed with mine in a real-world PamO related context, you are the PamO tribe in my new wwworld. You know who you are.

  7. John - When I decided to pare down my facebook to mostly only people that I've shared air with, my cyberfriend John immediately became symbolic of the exceptions to the rule that would need to be made. If you and I have never actually met and shared air but you're reading this, you are in my mental John tribe.
You are all so beautiful! I feel so blessed to have so many lovely people connected to my life after so many years as a global gypsy. Thank you, for being in my wwworld. Are there particular people and timespans that define your online tribes as well? Do you know which of my tribe(s) you're in?

Next time: Alas, there are gaps in the virtual re-creation of my life's journey. Whole countries of people I lived with have failed to resurface in my facebook stream. How do I find the clans that have been lost from my tribes?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Relationship Status: It's Complicated!

I guess Grandmothers have influenced me quite a bit in my life. While my own grandma taught me the value of hunting for wildflowers, a roommate I loved at UCLA passed on some "wisdom" from her grandma about LOVE that I never forgot: "We should fall in love as many times as we can in our lives, because whenever we allow ourselves to love, we learn something important about ourselves."

Well thanks, roommate's granny, and here's the rub 20 years down the line - Relationship Status: It's Complicated.

My complicated status is changing lately, however, and it's time I can and should say it outloud. After 8 years of separation, my Dutch husband and I are both aimed in the direction of a reconciliation. Yes, with each other. As of about a month now we are embracing this decision with baby steps, with the joint hope of eventually getting the whole family functionally under one roof again.

E will be moving from Ethiopia back to Brussels by early December - possibly earlier - to take up a new post at the EU headquarters. For the first year, he will live in an apartment he's just bought that is within walking distance to where the boys and I live. The boys will have easy access to his place whenever they want, and we will also start spending some family and couple time together. At the end of the first year, we'll see if we're ready - or not yet ready - for another step.

Of course, there are still lingering ties to N (see: The Truth about WHY I am leaving Uganda). He has been talking about a visit soon. N knows what's going on with E - they actually get along very well - and says it's a direction he can only support, all things considered. Nonetheless, N and I both know that our relationship needs a level of closure that it's not yet achieved. Ah... the heartbreak of it all. But I feel strong.

I believe in marriage, and I know what kind of life I want for the boys and I. I know why I first fell in love with their father - the resilient, adaptive Beaver in our family's totem pole that he is. It feels right to be working in a respectful partnership with my husband again, on developing a plan to get us through to the end of this thing called life. We did have some big challenges in the past, but in our recent conversations it seems as though the biggest of those issues can be put behind us now. I am hopeful, and happy that things are moving in this direction.

So please keep us in your prayers now and again as we try once more during this coming year to get our marriage back on track... Oh - and please pray for us too that we successfully avoid getting pregnant again this time! Thank you 5 year old Ben for inspiring that prudence in me. The last time Ben's dad and I tried again, his conception was the only lasting good that came of it. But getting pregnant also introduced a whole bunch of other issues that I don't want us to have to deal with this time around, so I'm taking measures (may the Pope forgive me.)

Next time: Sometimes I write about my personal experiences, beliefs and value systems knowing full well that I might challenge other people's value systems. Sometimes there are stories I share that I think one of the "tribes" in my wwworld might get more than others - but there are so many diverse tribes I've been a part of in this life so far. Which one are you from?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hunting for Wildflowers with Grandma Jordan

One of Aunt Mer's Gifts to me recently was my grandmother's collection of Tonala figurines. They too have had quite a global journey. From Mexico to San Pedro (L.A.) to Uganda to Ethiopia, they finally arrived in Belgium via suitcase about a month ago, with only one tiny glue-able injury among them. I love having them with me.... even though they are just one more bit of stuff that nobody really needs.

Grandma originally bought them on a trip that she and Grandpa took to go hunting for wildflowers, shortly after she retired. I always thought it was so cool that they went wildflower hunting together. They used to take us kids lots of places, but we were never invited on a wildflower trip (at least not that I know of).

In my memory it was their thing together, and I imagine it was probably very romantic. Grandpa just loved serving grandma like a queen. How gallant it must have made him feel to still take his beloved to such romantic destinations. How important, the reading of the map well in advance. How flattering that his driving skills (especially in their later years together) could still be put to noble romantic use.

Grandma especially loved the world's blue flowers, particularly those that dare to grow wild and take over whole hillsides and valleys. They brought her joy, and she traveled the world to see them while she could. When she'd traveled to Mexico with Grandpa by train, she was so moved by the wildflowers that she found a way to bring them back with her.

Yes, Grandma went just a little bit crazy at the Tonala Pottery factory shop. For the living room she had the collection of Tonala animal figurines and a non-useful tea set, neatly displayed on a round corner table. What made those seem a bit crazy were the plates, cups, saucers, and bowls in a complete set of at least 20, plus serving bowls, wine decanters, trivets and serving platters that she'd also brought. Our dining experience at Grandma's house became, forever more, a meal among Mexico's blue wildflowers. (I can't find a picture of it - does anyone else have a photo of us eating in the blue?)

All these years later, this lively - if relatively little - bunch of Grandma's Mexican wildflowers fits right into my global eclectic home decorating approach. Of course, it would, since the way I decorate my own homes is so completely Grandma-inspired.

Behind her chair and the sofa, for as long as I can remember, was a huge wall with an amazing collection of paintings she and Grandpa had collected together in their travels around the world. Barns they had seen, works from artists they knew or had met. A prominent feature overlooking the family from another wall was a large landscape painting of a Spanish valley. They had bought it from the artist on a market in Spain together - an adventure I never got tired of hearing about.

@Grandma's with Aunt Mer and another of her gifts gifts I still have, circa 1985

Much of what I have around me in my "portable" home also offer physical reflections of the global journey that my life has been. Our posters and paintings are from places I've visited or lived. Our photographs are of family groupings of us with our various families in different countries. Much of the better art is by artists I've personally known. I've no idea, nor do I care, if my collection of "valuables" is meaningful to anyone else. If I love it so much, should I insure it? I don't think my global collection is altogether worth a lot of money, but it grounds me - and for that, it's worth it's weight in gold.

Much as I hate to admit it, I am very "attached to my stuff." I have a hard time throwing anything that has a story away. Expensive as it is to ship so much useless stuff, my various collections and special pieces of globally acquired junk are important emotional tools for me as I pick myself up and move from home to home. They help me define my portable comfort zone. My castle is my armament. My home is who I am, what I've experienced, and what I've loved in this life so far. It's getting a bit cluttered, but Grandma's free blue adventure spirit inspired a lot if it.

As my Grandma might say, though, if you ever see me overdoing it on the blue again, then somebody please shoot me! Though I always felt I understood her desire to paint herself up in blue for the last years of her life - and loved her for it - I did feel the blue "meadow" she later turned the living room into was a tiny bit much ;-)

But the visible touch of her free blue spirit that Grandma's Tonala brings into my home fully deserves the new space of prominence I've created for it in our portable living room. These silly little animals remind me daily to hunt for wildflowers everywhere! That's the most important life lesson my Grandma taught me. As a general philosophy, it's been what's helped me keep love for this thing called life alive, through bad times and good.

Thank you Grandma Jordan, for your inspiration that has guided my global journey, and so strongly shaped my personal sense of "home."

By the way, if you're a facebook friend, you can see photos of my latest "portable global home" project in Brussels over here:

Next time: A roommate I loved at UCLA passed on an unforgettable piece of "wisdom" she said she'd received from her grandmother: "We should fall in love as many times as we can in our lives, because whenever we allow ourselves to love, we learn something important about ourselves." Well thanks, roommate's granny, and here's the rub 20 years down the line - Relationship Status: It's Complicated.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Aunt Meredith's Gifts

On Sunday morning while the kids were still busy with their art project, I rode the tram for an hour to another part of Brussels to pick up a package from Uganda. And then another hour back.

The only thing I knew I wanted in that package was an antique Jingle Bell, part of my eclectic collection of unique gifts from my Aunt Meredith. I had to get it.... the dried pineapple slices and banana chips that padded it were a welcome and treasured bonus treat for the whole family, but I traveled for two hours there and back to save the bell.

The bell's journey to reach me has been a noble one. The package was sent by a friend in Uganda, through a family friend who was returning from a visit in Kampala to her job with the ICC at The Hague in the Netherlands. She in turn gave it to a workmate who spends most of her weekends with her boyfriend in Brussels. This woman and I have been on the phone for 3 weekends trying to arrange a hand-off. 2 hours on the tram seemed like such a big chunk of day to spend.

Some of my most treasured "things" in my home - that move with me everywhere I go - are gifts I received from my Aunt Meredith. An antique Jingle Bell that has always hung on a door in my house, wherever I've lived (and that I left on door in the house I moved out of in Uganda). A black frame around 2 panes of plexiglass with 40 antique blue industrial glass marbles inside. The Victoria's Secret sleepshirt that I wore when I gave birth to all of my children (disclaimer: Ben arrived before I got a chance to put it on, but it was packed for the planned trip to the hospital and went on just after he was born!)

There's a lot on my walls that has a connection to Aunt Mer - a black and white blow-up of my grandparents on a motorcycle honeymoon in 1945 that she had made, a wood mounted shot of the lighthouse ont the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where my husband and I held one of our USA wedding celebrations.

My favorite Aunt Mer Gift story is the one about these paintings I found in an alley of old town in Stockholm when I was 18 or 19. The blue one spoke to me very strongly - had to have it. The other I bought just to match it so I'd have two. It wasn't til about 2 years later that I was sitting in my aunt Mer's house and saw the blue one on her wall. Of course it would seem familiar! I had seen it peripherally all of my life.

She had also bought hers in an alley shop in Stockholm - she remembered it well, and it sounded like it could have been the same one. But that would have been in the year I was born, when she was about 19. Her gift to me was to have them framed. I love them most because of their connection to her spirit of adventure.

With Aunt Meredith in my life, my eyes were open to the world at an early age. She took me without mom and dad to San Francisco when I was 5. She was a flight attendant then and through her job got my Grandparents standby tickets to fly around the world. She lived in Delaware for a while, had tons of friends in Seattle. She drove a VW bug for years in LA that she'd actually bought in Germany. Later on she even went to live in Alaska to work on the pipeline! Aunt Mer showed me that it was possible to find ways to just go and live places. And so I have.

The Jingle Bell, and the framed marbles that I adore, well... Aunt Mer's Gifts often contain surprising meanings that I didn't know I was looking for. At times they have been so unusual that I've never found a meaning for them! She gave me a crystal doorknob once, that I unfortunately didn't manage to save. I have to admit, when I first received the antique Jingle Bell, I had absolutely no idea I'd one day love it so much as to ride a tram for 2 hours to save it. But the truth is, I have missed it's jingle on the door. To me, it's those little things now - kitchen window light streaming through blue marbles, the jingle on the door - that help me create a portable sense of home for myself and the kids.

More often than not, there are cool stories behind my Aunt Mer's Gifts, and I appreciate her so much for the kind of thoughtfulness that she is capable of. I too aspire to give gifts that are rich with meaning, and I especially love giving the gift of new life experiences to the people I love.

Thank you, Aunt Meredith, for inspiring so much in me.

P.S. As I was finally on my way there, I started thinking about my Aunt Meredith's gifts, and what a good blog post they'd make. Then I thought up another title, and another, until I got out my pen, and wrote the 5 blog post titles down that I've been trying to think up:
  • Aunt Meredith's Gifts
  • Hunting for wildflowers with Grandma Jordan
  • Relationship Status: It's Complicated
  • My face2Facebook Tribes
  • The lost tribes of my world
(Thank you yet again, Aunt Mer, for unwittingly inspiring me to think about how to frame what I want to do with this blog. That's an item on the checklist underway - relief!)

Coming next - One of Aunt Mer's Gifts to me recently was my grandmother's collection of Tonala figurines. They too have had quite a journey this year - from LA to Uganda to Ethiopia... they finally arrived in Brussels about a month ago, and I love having them with me. Grandma bought them on a trip into Mexico by train with my grandfather, to see the wildflowers....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Totems and gemstone energy art - made by my kids!

Artists and the artistic process have always inspired me. Now my childrens' art is inspiring me in surprising ways. Nice!

When Thomas and Lucas were younger, I used to have a special project box filled with kids-craft & art supplies that we would pull out on a regular basis. In Africa we didn't have a TV until year 4. Ben didn't get quite as much art at an early age It's actually been a while since we did much art or crafting together as a family. But yesterday we had an amazing and all absorbing art-creating time together.

Our weekend activity schedule started to take shape when Thomas got a social studies assignment to make a Native American totem pole. I remembered when I was a kid my mom would make dough out of flour, salt and water that we would shape into all sorts of stuff bake til it was hard & paintable. Maybe we could make a log-like looking something? So Thomas got on the internet and found several recipes for homemade clay.

This weekend we tried the simplest clay recipe (2 parts flour, 1 part each of water and salt), and the kids all had fun making amazing creations. What I so enjoyed most was watching them put so much meaning and detail into their pieces. .

Thomas' loves to draw. His creativity was structured to his assignment, and he really did a fabulous job drawing the animals with a toothpick.

His totem pole represents our family's spirits. We all agreed and mused at how much rings true about each of us in the descriptions Thomas was provided with from class.

The beaver is his father, whose totem is known for being resilient. Beavers are strategic planners, capable of completely changing their environment for their own peace and security. They are among the most sensible and adaptable mammals on Earth. Regardless of obstacles, he tends to fulfill his dreams, simply because of his amazing determination. He is a force to be reckoned with in work and in love. (Sounds just like Epko)

The deer under the beaver is me, his mother and everyone’s friend. Peaceful and gentle, yet protective of our families, in some tribes the deer represents the heart and is considered the gatekeeper to the spirit world. In addition to special insight, deer are playful, sensitive and with this totem’s combination of kindness and grace, we are cherished by everyone we know.

The snake is Thomas himself, mysterious. Snakes can be intense and sometimes secretive. No one knows exactly how the snake feels or thinks. At the same time, he is sensitive to his environment and to others. He is creative and wise when solving problems. In fact in the Ojibwa tribe, snakes represent patience, because they are so slow to anger. (And when Thomas does get angry on those very rare occasions, he can be a little sharp tongued).

The deer below the snake is Lucas, who shares my totem and is also everyone's friend. Protective, playful and kind, and most definitely a gatekeeper to our family's spirit world. Wait til you see what he made yesterday!

The salmon
represents Ben,
determined and filled with purpose. This energetic fish is associated with perseverance as shown by its determination to swim upstream to spawn. And just like them, nothing can hold him back (ahem- this is my child that was born on the bathroom floor!)

While Thomas' totem pole was baking, Lucas worked out an idea to create a really cool pyramid shaped tray for his gem collection out. He's been collecting gemstones for years and has really gotten into them lately, after discovering that each has it's own associated energy attributes.

Lucas likes to meditate, and has decided that if he meditates with this "gem tri-amyd" it will attract tons of positive energy into his life. I've asked him if I can borrow it from time to time. I love it.

Benjamin needed more help, but with some of that from Thomas and I, he made a rainbow to hang in his playroom. That's in the same open space as my office at the top of the stairs. So we can both enjoy it. (Note to self - let Ben start painting more).

If anyone out there has family art project ideas to share that my teens and 5 year old could enjoy, I'd love to read them. With the cold winter ahead, it would be good to have a few more winners like this up my sweater sleeves. This weekend was a welcome reminder of how surprisingly creative my kids are, and how much we all enjoy it when they are able to exercise that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Putting my online house in order: a special message to my peoples on Facebook

My Christinaswwworld blog feeds into my Facebook profile, and nobody else is paying attention to it right now... so as I think about starting to blog again, the dear family and old friends who I've found through Facebook over the past year or so are the audience I find myself wanting to write to.

Just in case you didn't know this about me, my calling in this life has turned out to be organizing creative ways of bringing people together to make good things happen. Some of you will remember that since way back in High School I have loved throwing parties and designing fun events. For over a decade now, I've been making a quasi-career out of it. I've done a lot of pretty wacky community building and community event stuff in the online world, and in Africa, as well as at the intersection of the two.

Over the coming year I'll be developing yet another social experiment online, involving the use of several platforms for managing my connected life and making good things happen. My overarching aim, as I set out to start modeling these new ideas, is to increase the positive impact that participating on the Internet can have in the world, on real peoples' lives.

In all of my past online social experiments, an important key to success has been rooting my work for the world at an online home, where I could feel comfortable to let my cyber hair down and really be the real me. Over the past couple of months I've been agonizing over where to really put down those online roots as I begin the new project I have in mind. Just yesterday I finally realized that Facebook - which I hadn't actually been considering - currently offers the very best of what I personally need in an online home. Namely: YOU!

So many of you from different parts of the world I've once called home are here! You are the cozy furniture sets and the artwork on my cyberwalls. You are the music and the interesting books that I keep on my shelves. You are my memories, and the reassuring voices that I hear in my head as I go about my day. The faces I now see daily at Facebook reflect the real world journey I've experienced as a serial expat, as a work at home mom, and as a global thinking social entrepreneur. You are "where I come from" as the next part of my professional journey now begins.

Seeing your faces online, I am sometimes overwhelmed by all that I want to know about you now. I imagine the stories we'd tell each other if we found ourselves seated next to each other on a plane for 5 hours, or if we ran into each other again at another conference. If you were sitting in front of me over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, what paralells and coincidences would we find in what we've each learned about this world, and experienced in this life? I so long to know your stories - the paths you followed, the challenges you've overcome, the kind of parents you've chosen to be... I am so very grateful to have you in my life, and it's important to me personally to keep nurturing that as I continue my work. Y'all keep me grounded, and I love you (and Facebook) for that.

So with this note I wanted to give you all a heads up that over the next year or so, I'm going to be thinking more deliberately about the way that I engage with my wwworld at Facebook. In addition to blogging notes about some of the experiences we've shared and inviting you to share your stories (I'll tag you when there's something I particularly hope YOU personally will see), I'm also going to start playing around with some of the other tools that Facebook offers... in ways that can hopefully help us get to know each other better. Certainly you are not at all obliged to participate in any of my wacky experiments here, but my sincere hope is that at some point you will. I'm not trying to sell you or convince you of anything except that I value the opportunity to have known you in the real world and to share my life with you now.

The Internet has long been criticized as impersonal, but the way my Facebook experience is shaping up convinces me that it doesn't have to be that way any more. As a social entrepreneur, I have come to believe that a really important key to co-creating the kind of world we all want to see lies in finetuning how we use today's online tools; especially for deepening our relationships with the people we know, like, respect and love.

So hang onto your hats, and get ready for what will hopefully be a fun Facebook rooted ride in the next year or so. I, for one, am really glad you are part of my wwworld right now. May many good things come!

.piece, peace and peas...


(aka: Tina, C, Kirabo, Jordan, Haitsma)