Bliss

bliss

Too much going on to write properly, or even gather my thoughts in a cohesive way. Being here is interesting, some things annoying, parts of it very pleasant, some things magical. I am definitively a foreigner here, although I am getting to know other aspects of Switzerland I never knew that are providing a different perspective. 

We’ve recently gotten a chance to travel a bit, I got to properly “meet” Vienna and yesterday we took a road trip to Germany, meeting friends and lots of laughter. Hand feeding monkeys, crossing the Bodensee by car-ferry and just playing on various playgrounds and giggling are recent highlights. We’ve seen lots of different animals and surroundings and I have enjoyed several concerts which are always very comfortable surroundings for me.

My favorite thing is to “see” everything through my kids eyes, for whom everything is new and different and exciting. It really is a different World for them and I am in awe of how easy they are entertained, a stick, a fountain, anything provided hours of entertainment. Watching them work together to build a damn or make a fort together is both the best and worst feeling, worst because I know what’s coming as soon as we get back. 
I can’t imagine how they’ll function apart, but somehow, I am sure they will. 

Until then, we will embark on more foreign adventures and laughter, like in the picture above, which you can’t help but smile at! Making every day count. In some way. What else could you possibly ask for….

Raindrops, Snails and Flip-Flops

raindrops

37 hours after leaving our house and we’re in Switzerland in the house I grew up in. Feels very strange. Not home, it hasn’t been that in 20 years. Just Swiss. Not even sure what that means but I intend to figure it out somehow in the next few weeks.

Til then, some funny things the kids ask and general observations about the Swiss and their (odd) ways, from a Caribbean, or at least foreign perspective.

The noises here are so different, streams of water and rain instead of waves. Birds, foxes, deer and snails instead of goats and chickens and fish. And the colours…. various shades of green, no turqouise. 
Odd how cold is like pain, you can’t really imagine it until you feel it. The temperatures are super cold here, 45 degrees, which for us might as well be freezing. No matter how hard I try to explain to the kids that it’s cold outside, every day, they don’t get it til they open a window. So every day they ask “can I put on my bathing suit and go play in the rain?”

Personal space here is “right on top of you”. 
“Personal space” for cars is also “right on top of you”, no clue how I am going to drive here. Also, they drive on the right. 
Everyone here in Switzerland moves slow, or at least slower somehow. Except when my Dad is driving. 
The Swiss clean their dishes, then put them in the dishwasher and wait two hours to get them back even cleaner. Very odd.
There is a distinct code of conduct here, the way you dress, speak, what you do and when you do it. Not sure I can quantify this one yet, but have noticed myself doing it a little already. Weird. 
Also, Switzerland is incredibly beautiful. Gorgeous. Meticulous. Pretty much all of it looks like a post card. Not a single piece of trash anywhere. 

“Mom, why do people lock their doors here?”
“What’s that noise?” (airplane)
“Why do we have to go to bed when it’s light outside”
“Why can’t I wear flip-flops to go shopping?”
“You can DRINK the water here???”
“Why are people so white here?”
“Is that a llama or alpaca over there by the wigwam?”
“Why do I have to wear clothes to go outside?”
“When can we go swim at the beach”

Beginnings and an Endings

This week marks the 4 year anniversary of us coming here from Texas, 2 suitcases in hand and a bucket full of naivete.

4 years ago is also when we went searching for adequate education for the 4 kids, which we somewhat found in the then frail Omololu  International school which was then operating out of temporary housing, one large room with grades K – 6th.

While the school had a long history of success, it had hit some hard times and was reduced to the then “barely functional” status with about 34 student.

Since then, a group of parents, the school’s founder and other community members have put our blood, sweat, tears, money and time into growing this institution with a special spirit, into a blossoming International school with 95 students in our new permanent site you see below. Many of you actually helped build it also in the form of a donation to the “Anguilla Luxury Raffle” that took place last year and for that I will forever be grateful. I wish you all could come visit, walk into that gate and feel the welcome, sense the spirit, enthusiasm and community that lives there. You would be so proud!

It’s taken us almost a year to accomplish but we recently received a $450K building grant from the Windsong Foundation, which has helped us construct and move into the school site you see below.

We’ve hired wonderful staff, created a board, got land from the Government of Anguilla and turned Omololu into an amazing place for local, regional and foreign children on the island, including special needs kids who previously had no place to get the attention they need. Omololu does have a long history of up’s and downs and I have no doubt that we’re not done struggling but if anyone had told me or anyone else that this is what we would be able to accomplish and leave behind for the next generation, I would have called you insane.

ois

The “next generation” bit is particularly heart breaking to me today, as my sons are right now spending their last few hours at Omololu. This afternoon we are leaving for Switzerland for 5 weeks on our first big family trip, our first visit to Switzerland in 6 years and our last few weeks together as a family in this configuration.

My oldest is done with 6th grade and here in Anguilla where we have the UK school system, that means he now has to go to high school, for which there is currently no feasible alternative on island. So the boys are moving back to the US with their Dad as soon as we get back from Switzerland.

boys

I’m not entirely sure what our household is going to look and feel like. I cannot imagine life without those two. But it’s the right thing to do for the boys, for their Dad, for their education and hence for us.

And if Anguilla has taught us one thing, it’s adaptation, creative problem solving and resilience.

wild things

Every end is also the beginning of something new.

I don’t know how the girls and I will cope without all the wild things – but we will.

The Great Equalizer

1-P1080590

There’s something about it…. the rhythmic noises, the steady back and forth…. in between two elements, with the waves caressing your feet.
The sand gives way to your weight as the ocean tries to draw you in further…. 
There’s something about it – the beach – probably any beach anywhere out there, not just in Anguilla… 

It requires no toys, no accessories, no suits, no armor…. we’re all the same at the beach somehow and I never get tired of watching it all happen, on Sundays, at the beach. 
The millionaires laughing with the fishermen, the foreigners talking to the locals, and even shy kids can’t resist getting drawn into the carefree games of others. No words required, somehow, at the beach, we’re all the same, no words required. With smiles on everyone’s faces, open to each other and the possibilities of the day. 
Just magical!

Fear Based Living – Part 2

Let’s face it, we’re all afraid of something…. aging, being laid off, getting sick, being inferior, alone, dying, something…  but when you take all those fears and indulge in them, bathe in them, surround yourself with thick layers of them, you get to a point where life becomes far too scary to live. I mean TRULY live or love, which includes making decisions that are sometimes risky, sometimes wrong and other times go completely against the “norm”.

Realistically, if you do a good job at making fear based decisions, being in love becomes far too scary to actually attempt.
So much easier to just suffer through the shitty job and stay in the relationship you hate, and go home and drink at night so you don’t really have to deal with it all. May be hard to breathe at times but somehow, that feels safe.
Those walls we build though, in the shape of alcohol, body mass, arrogance, workaholicism, make you completely inaccessible to anyone, including yourself and they eliminate any chance of open hearted interaction. Easy way to avoid getting hurt though, isn’t it?

It’s not just us internalizing our fears though, we get bombarded with those messages every day. The media loves that stuff and it’s the first thing I notice when getting to the “civilized” World even at the airport – TV’s blaring “be afraid of this! Be afraid of that! And you might as well quit while you’re ahead ’cause it all sucks!” No wonder people go postal, get ulcers and resent their spouse, their job and worst of all, themselves.

But if it’s one thing I know to be true, is that that sort of intentional or unintentional “cover up” operation isn’t sustainable, in the long run it will come to the surface, it’s only a matter of time. You may be a World champion at building walls and lying to yourself or keep yourself so tightly scheduled you don’t stand a chance at ever being still and hearing the little voices within you . The universe is funny that way though, if you don’t pay attention to the messages when they’re whispers, they will become louder….and louder…. all the way to the “perfect shit storm” level which will undoubtedly make you sit down and have a long and hard talk with yourself.
Trust me, I know a lot about this one…

As my super smart friend said not long ago:

“Human beings aren’t capable of truly keeping up shells and blocking things either in or out for too long. If you make choices that don’t align with who you are or what you want, you can tell yourself you’re making the right choice for a lifetime but you will never be able to find happiness, open hearted and open minded zen. It’s not possible.

Nothing stays buried without it destroying you first inside and then outside.The soul won’t allow things to stay buried. Our ego will fight even to the death to keep control, but eventually, one by one things in life become sacrificed just to live in denial.”

If you knew you had just one more year to live, what kind of choices would you make today?

“People are never more insecure than when they become obsessed with their fears at the expense of their dreams.” – Norman Cousins

Comfort Zone

As I was traveling to a conference last month, the usual travel issues followed…. delayed flights, no luggage, lost taxi drivers, found and broken luggage the next day.
I was standing in line at the Miami airport hotel, tired, frustrated, cranky and without luggage I had just walked half a mile for. My next flight was leaving at 7am and it was midnight and the check in line had not moved an inch in 15 minutes.
That’s when a random stranger came up to me and asked if I could witness some legal papers which were needed to allow him to go to Haiti. This was day 3 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti and I had already noticed the “FLIGHT TO PORT-AU-PRINCE CANCELLED” all over the boards at the airport and the number of rescue teams that gathered all over MIA.

So the three of us standing in line signed this strangers papers and he thanked us profusely, offering to answer any medical questions we would have in our lifetime, which made me laugh and share the fact that I have four very adventurous kids, which made his offer significantly bigger than he might have anticipated.
I watched him as he went to get his papers faxed. He looked so scared. I wanted to give him a hug so badly, but alas, he was a perfect stranger and we were in the lobby of a hotel and it was midnight.

But you know, sometimes it’s ok to step outside your limits and I just couldn’t walk away without somehow re-assuring this man, without letting him know how much the entire human race appreciated what he was about to do.
So we started talking and Paul told me that he and his team of four doctors and four nurses had made the decision to go to Haiti just hours ago and he was going early to survey the situation. I told him where I live and we talked about both of our families and his passion for diving and the look on his face changed, even if just for a few minutes.
By the time his papers were faxed and I had a hotel room key it was 1am and I was brave enough to ask for Paul’s email address as I wanted to make sure they all came back alive and well. I also gave him that “random stranger” hug hoping it would take off at least a fraction of the weight he was carrying that night.

Turns out my silly travel issues and lost luggage didn’t matter anymore and I was embarrassed I ever cared about such insignificance.
Turns out Paul is Dr Paul Auerbach, Professor of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine, Stanford University, School of Medicine who ended up staying in Haiti for 13 grueling days, becoming the chief medical coordinator of all NGO (non-governmental agencies).
You can and should read his blog from Haiti here, more amazing re-counts of the Stanford ER medical team here and more interviews with Dr Auerbach here, including the heartbreaking account of his collapse on his last day in Haiti.

a a

I got an email last night from Paul thanking me for helping him when he needed it, which is completely embarrassing after you read the above.
And I do think we all need to read all of the above and somehow share this burden with both the victims and the countless people who went there to help. I don’t really believe in random events and would like to think that in everything hides something we can learn if you just bother looking. Reading about how much of a difference a smile, holding someone’s hand or getting offered a cracker from a triple amputee child can make is now making me feel completely silly about worrying if giving some guy a hug in a hotel lobby was appropriate.

At the end of the day, we’re all vulnerable, we all deserve compassion, it’s what makes us human.

I continue to be amazed to learn of the extent of our limits as human beings, how adaptive we really are when given a chance/not given a chance and how much we can accomplish if we just try to go above and beyond our fears and step outside our comfort zone.

Thank you Paul, for all that you have done and continue to do. I am incredibly glad and honoured that we met!

Outside In – Inside Out

Have you ever gone to buy a house? Hunt for an apartment you were planning to live in for a really long time?
It’s a big deal. You spend hours and hours trying to figure out what you want.
You make a list of everything that is important to you. Three bedrooms, one story, a big kitchen, a garage for two cars, fenced in yard, comfortable neighbourhood, close to a specific school… whatever is important to you.

And then you go look with an agent that shows you what seems like a million and one places.
Some are too close to the neighbours house. Others have bad floors throughout. And some don’t give you the warm fuzzies even though they have all the attributes you want.
But then……
You just walked in the front door….
You haven’t even seen all of it yet….
You found it.
Finally.
It is THE ONE!

Except, it’s a two story house with a weird lay-out. And the tile in all the bathrooms is horrible. And the back yard comes up against a stream that has been known to overflow from time to time and it’s not in the right school district.
Complicated.
But…. you can feel it.
Like it was made for you.
It is. The one.

You know that feeling, it’s unmistakable. It’s when your inner voice calls something “home”. It’s hearing the perfect song just when you needed to hear it. It’s knowing you want to spend the rest of your life with someone even before you met them. It’s knowing “your” car before you even know the price. It’s pulling up to beach at just the right moment to see the green flash in that perfect sunset. It was made for you.
Made for you.

sunset

Most thing we evaluate in life – our hobbies, which company to work for, the right shoes for that dress – is usually done from the outside in. Strategic for the most part. Involving a concrete set of likes and dislikes, for most of which, compromise is NOT an option. Approaching from the outside, towards the center of a spiral. From the outside in.

But if you can hear even a little bit of yourself or you’re at least open to listen….. every now and then, something comes along that starts from the inside out.
Smack dab right in the middle of the center and details you thought were important just fade into the background.
It is.just.right.

And perhaps, this unintentional and unintended backwards approach scares the shit out of you.
Maybe it involves having to change something you weren’t anticipating.
Or perhaps you’re terrified of that right thing BECAUSE you can’t quantity it, because it makes no sense.
And how could anything that can’t be explained possibly work out for the best?
And what if you try and then fail? Or turn out to be wrong at some point in the future and that right thing no longer meets your needs?

Yup. You’re right. That could happen.

And there is but one way to find out.

Tile can be changed, can’t it?

Half Asleep

I don’t ever recall feeling ignorant in life, but I will never forget the way I felt when I first came to Anguilla.
I was working 12 hours a day, barely saw sunlight, but as I sat on the beach here, looking into the most beautiful infinity pool I’d ever seen…. I heard a whisper from a very unfamiliar voice.

I was 32 and barely knew who I was.
Somehow, I had been living my life half asleep.
Between the decisions I had made, a transatlantic move at a young age, moves around many cities, an education, marriage, kids, divorce, more kids and a career… I had managed to completely neglect myself and hence was not able to hear, think about, nor make choices based on what spoke to me deep inside.

But how could this happen? How could a relatively intelligent person, miss something so fundamental?
For me, part of it had to do with living in the country of unlimited opportunities, that pace of life, work, that amount of “stuff” and activities readily available 24/7 to help you distract, and actually cover up that voice.
But then, when I first heard that little voice, I didn’t like what it had to say.
It said something was wrong and I wasn’t fundamentally happy.
And who wants to hear THAT!
Much easier to cover it up with superficial things, friends and conversations.

Plus, more importantly, if you actually KNOW that there is something not in line with your core, then you actually have to DO something to change it and THAT would be scary.
People will get hurt, lives will be upset.
Easier to just stick your head back into the sand and go back to sleep.

But, if you’re lucky, once you actually feel something that is just.plain.right, regardless of what that is, it makes it almost impossible to remain content with the status quo.

I’m not sure why I seem to be having this having this conversation with others on repeat right now. Perhaps it has to do with our age range, our kids getting older and needing us less and hence being faced with more alone time. Or perhaps, you don’t really realize you’ve been living half asleep, until you meet someone or something that wakes you up.

Nothing that is not fundamentally grounded and balanced is sustainable.
Nothing.

Ready, Set – ACTION!

Non-Stop Action

In case you haven’t heard, I got a new camera and I LOOOOOVE it!
My new Panasonic Lumix affords me much needed flexibility around here, since it’s water, sand and shock-proof.
Not only does that grant me a new perspective, but it also helps me relax more as the camera most likely won’t break if the kids get a hold of it and break it.

I’ve been testing the camera in various conditions, low light, bright light, underwater etc and I am pleasantly surprised with the high quality of the pics. The BEST part though are the high definition videos it takes which look GORGEOUS and stay reasonably pretty even when uploaded to YouTube.
Check out my first attempt here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiTT9cIiePM

The last camera I was in love with, was my Kodak V610 Dual Lense camera. Actually, that was also my first camera I was ever in love with as I frankly didn’t know you could be in love with something that has an on or off switch before.
The Olympus Stylus I had after that just wasn’t the same. It was ok. Did it’s job, but nothing remotely what I would describe as “love”, much less “great enthusiasm”.

Thank you Volker for telling me about the Lumix.
I love it and the wonderful moments is allows me to capture!

I can see it now…. “Ghoat Island”

After this post on Twitter:

@duffbert Goat parties. Hm… wonder if I could make pillow cover ghost costumes for the bands of roving goats for Halloween #FreakedOutKids

[4:25:31 PM] Julian Robichaux: so Francie, I think your Halloween goat ghost costume idea is fantastic

[4:25:42 PM] Julian Robichaux: we want pictures of the ghoats

[4:25:48 PM] Francie Tanner: ghoats, I love it

[4:26:06 PM] Francie Tanner: can you imagine having dozends of ghoats running around your house on Halloween

[4:26:24 PM] Julian Robichaux: that would be hilarious, although would seriously freak out the kids

[4:26:43 PM] Francie Tanner: completely

[4:26:52 PM] Julian Robichaux: especially if you could teach them to say “boo” instead of “baa”

[4:27:04 PM] Julian Robichaux: not sure that ghoats are that smart though

[4:27:19 PM] Francie Tanner: i can tell you that for sure – they are not smart

[4:27:33 PM] Francie Tanner: although, I have seen several goats in town look both ways before crossing the road

[4:27:41 PM] Francie Tanner: not just once here and there, like all the time

[4:27:45 PM] Julian Robichaux: wow

[4:27:52 PM] Julian Robichaux: evolution?

[4:28:14 PM] Francie Tanner: must be, ’cause as soon as you get out of our “downtown” you see dead goats again

[4:28:37 PM] Julian Robichaux: those are the ones that have not been naturally selected

[4:28:45 PM] Julian Robichaux: or, naturally unselected

[4:30:09 PM] Francie Tanner: so basically, if I start now, there is a small chance my kids kids could get fraked out for life by island ghoats saying “boo”

[4:30:39 PM] Julian Robichaux: possibly

[4:30:45 PM] Julian Robichaux: how long is a generation in goat years?

[4:30:57 PM] Francie Tanner: smart one’s or stupid one’s

[4:31:07 PM] Julian Robichaux: the ones that survive

[4:31:11 PM] Julian Robichaux: so, smart ones

[4:32:11 PM] Francie Tanner: hold pls, checking

[4:32:50 PM] Francie Tanner: “between 15 and 18 years”

[4:33:01 PM] Francie Tanner: damn, but would imagine here in the wild it’s less

[4:33:43 PM] Julian Robichaux: probably

[4:33:55 PM] Julian Robichaux: I’m thinking it’ll take at least 7 generations

[4:34:10 PM] Julian Robichaux: but, they probably start reproducing after about 2 or 3 years…

[4:34:24 PM] Julian Robichaux: let’s say 3, to give you time to train them…

[4:34:30 PM] Julian Robichaux: yes, I think it just might work!

[4:35:23 PM] Francie Tanner: hm “goats are extremely curious and intelligent”

[4:35:55 PM] Francie Tanner: I think we’re onto something here

[4:36:35 PM] Julian Robichaux: there’s probably a government grant for this sort of activity too

[4:36:58 PM] Francie Tanner: it could boost tourism, for sure

[4:38:23 PM] Julian Robichaux: sadly, ghoat.com is already taken

[4:38:57 PM] Julian Robichaux: for what evil purpose, I don’t know

[4:39:48 PM] Francie Tanner: I can sue, it’s ok

[4:41:07 PM] Julian Robichaux: good point. The lawyers will probably be knocking at your door wanting to represent you in that landmark case.

[4:42:51 PM] Francie Tanner: a landmark case that changed the footprint of a nation

[4:42:55 PM] Francie Tanner: hey, I like that’

[4:43:13 PM] Francie Tanner: “changing the footprint of Anguilla” and there would be goat prints next to that

[4:43:22 PM] Julian Robichaux: HA

[4:43:30 PM] Julian Robichaux: yes, think of the merchandising!

[4:43:44 PM] Francie Tanner: “Experience Ghoast Island”

[4:44:13 PM] Julian Robichaux: I wonder if you could license the Scooby Doo characters?

[4:44:22 PM] Francie Tanner: “Tranquility, surrounded by Ghoats”

(our slogan is “tranquility wrapped in blue”)

[4:44:34 PM] Julian Robichaux: have them running in terror, away from square-eyed ghoasts

[4:44:58 PM] Julian Robichaux: hmm, we’ll need to decide on ghoat vs. ghoast

[4:45:30 PM] Francie Tanner: ghoat

[4:45:32 PM] Julian Robichaux: that could make all the difference

[4:48:02 PM] Francie Tanner: Just found a Chinese merchandiser that makes those plush animals that make noises when you push on their belly. Am about to order 500’000 Ghoats, you good with that?

[4:48:25 PM] Julian Robichaux: that’s enough for an initial order, sure

[4:48:43 PM] Julian Robichaux: as long as they can keep enough in stock for refills

[4:49:06 PM] Francie Tanner: next stop, Target exclusive beding and towel sets

[4:50:08 PM] Julian Robichaux: I’m going to start looking into voice talent for the inevitable kids show

[4:50:39 PM] Julian Robichaux: I’m thinking either computer animation or claymation

[4:52:27 PM] Francie Tanner: while at it, can you make a grown up version graphical novel

[4:52:55 PM] Francie Tanner: where unsuspecting tourists get eaten by Ghoats who got infected with this mysterious disease?

[4:55:49 PM] Julian Robichaux: well, I’ll have to check to make sure it hasn’t been done before of course

[4:56:04 PM] Julian Robichaux: it sounds like such an obvious plot

[4:59:24 PM] Francie Tanner: I am amazed at our brilliance

[5:00:34 PM] Julian Robichaux: this is like one of those amazing moments of clarity that people will talk about for years to come

[5:00:52 PM] Julian Robichaux: “How is it that it took so long for someone to think of this?”

[5:01:04 PM] Susan Bulloch: i was there when it started

Update: Julian was kind enough to provide a picture, for those of you that can’t imagine Ghoats …

ghoats