Lessons “While” Abroad
As we left early that morning on June 13th, I had no idea what kind of adventure would lie in front of us, but for weeks the anticipation had been building.
The story from Jan 16th until now is well documented on this site, through a collection of blogs and Facebook status updates, that were used to help narrate the timeline of a fascinating process that began at least 8 months ago.
I was preparing to reenter my home country with a new wife, a new stepdaughter and with 21 days that we were determined to get the most out of.
Primarily, and of the utmost importance, was my stepdaughter’s (Gabi’s) comfort, safety, and happiness. Both Sunniva and I had a deep feeling that it would be seamless. That “Nana” and “Grandpa Ray,” her two new grandparents in a new land, would embrace her as one of their own as she would them.
Unlike our pace of family introductions here in Norway, Sunniva and Gabi would face an overwhelming amount of family meetings, friends in several states, and all the while seeing just how Gabi would be able to communicate with what was at that point, broken English.
After day one, Gabi had shifted quickly into a natural attachment to my mom and Ray. This child is going to be lucky in having grandparents on both sides of the globe, as well as this new extended family. We are grateful to have this opportunity to help us teach the cultural importance and show respect for all types of living, especially as we bring in our second and third child and make sure none of them feel “different.”
You see an international family has to be cautious with things you just wouldn’t have to if the blending was say Arkansas and New York. If we land in the states long term, it’s vital that Gabi keeps her connection to Norway and Norwegian roots, both languages highly developed, the same goes for her future brothers and sisters. We see this is as a big blessing and not a challenge. Does it make it trickier at moments? Yes… But life and blessings often come with some work through transitory periods of change and assimilation.
Now, what would it be like for me to be back home? It had been 6 months and so much had changed. I decided to give up on a good job, sell my car, and leave with one bag of clothes, with the belief that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I’ve told people that the 21 days in the US was like a microcosm or a tiny reflection of my entire life within those 3 weeks. What do I mean by that? Well, where to begin…
Remember that I decided to live by a code of 6 things that I scribbled down on that sheet of paper in the cabin early in January. Being honest, and authentic even when it hurt was a big part of this man’s spiritual evolution. Some of that authenticity hurt a bit during this trip, but it was balanced out by what I see with some hindsight as the most powerful realization of what my growth and life today is really like.
I noticed “Energy Differences” between the two countries. Growing up, I used to admire the Socialist model because of a strong feeling that everyone deserved to be taken care of in some way. It would break me heart to see people hurting or going without (food or shelter), and it seemed that these countries had found a way to make sure the ones on the bottom were safe, and had health care, etc.
Energy is something I’m learning a lot about today. It’s taken a lot of living, learning, discerning and being more in tuned to my own energy, but man… It’s clear that the different parts of the world, the different communities, and all people give off a unique “energy.” What I recognized so clearly here in Norway was how the energy seemed more balanced. Police don’t carry guns. The response to one of Norway’s biggest tragedies was not one of hate and war but finding a way to unite in love and peace. A powerful example of what’s possible.
People just trust each other more. After being here less than a month, Sunniva sent a saddle to a girl that she had sold via an online exchange like Craigslist, and without receiving payment first sent the saddle. I remember thinking how crazy that sounded. “Why?” She asked? “What if she doesn’t pay? What do you do?” “I guess we just expect that people do what they say and she’ll pay.” And she did…
When income gaps are smaller and few people live below the poverty level (at least this is how it feels here in the Swedish/Norwegian area where I’ve lived the last 8 months) trust is higher. Crime is lower. Substance abuse numbers are lower. People seem much healthier. They exercise a lot! You will see people on bikes every single place you go, spring, summer, and fall. There are large paths for bikes on the side of nearly every single road in this country. It’s amazing to see how many people from the age of 8 to 80 are out riding bikes, every day.
From Sunniva’s perspective and my own perspective having a new set of eyes after being gone so long, I realized in the US you have a much wider range of “energies” that come from a variety of things. Primarily we have 50 different states, 314 million people, a media that does a really good job of dividing people into red and blue states politically with constant elections and 24-hour news keeping people both informed, and in my humble opinion, misinformed. With no television, no network news or cable news since this project began (shortly before I left the US and turned off my TV at that lake house) I realize the power of media, the power of thinking I’m embracing ideas that are my own that may be well manipulated and marketed, or packaged ideas. This isn’t unique to the US at all, but I’m just saying it’s a powerful and well-used vehicle. We have a large number of very poor people, a declining middle class as well as having many of the wealthiest in the world. We have ideologies that differ drastically based on a “help the poor via government” or “let them learn to help themselves” and both have merit. Energy wise though, I think these extremes do bring more distrust. Societies with a high rate of poverty just face a higher rate of crime and societal issues that we have to continue to keep a close eye on.
With ALL THIS SAID, the United States is a land of opportunity, a land where you can take a dream, an idea, and some hard work and build a company of your own. Unlike in these more balanced countries where the energy is more the same, and as Sunniva says, “You are not supposed to be different,” the US allows you to rise up to a star potential. As a dreamer, I now see that while philosophically I admire and in some ways desire a land of equality (playing field is equal for all), I have to say that as we are building our own brand and company, this dream of ours, I realize in a new, respected way what that capacity of reaching for the stars really means for you and your family. I’d love to touch more on this in a deeper fashion in future blogs, but I think the key for us is that this new international family is recognizing the good in both. It’s an incredible set of eyes to have both cultural and economical ideologies as part of your consciousness.
Back to our trip to the US and lessons learned while abroad. You have to see that the trip touched on so many things… it was a powerful expression of so many things happening in our life today; healing, growth, acceptance, respect, facing up to challenges, rising to meet fears, and daring to dream, trust, and love.
After our first few days of being settled in at the farm, Gabi had went from day one of being excited about the pool, but scared to get in it, to day four where she was doing jumps from the edge with a smile, falling in backwards, and going under the water holding her nose.
This kid is AMAZING! We could not get her out of the water. As far as the possible language concerns went, by week one she was speaking as well as the 4 year old natives. She had a cute date night with Tobin (son of a family friend) where Sunniva took her to a nearby town where the kids had popcorn and set together to see Madagascar 3.
Being a girl who clearly loves attention and the social aspects of meeting new people, mingling with all the guests that came in and out to meet my new family was so natural. Due to the amount of visitors it was clear that for months this story had been getting people intrigued, and seeing it through my mother’s eyes (her close friends especially) knew this “was for real.” These people had been seeing my life filled with plenty of misery, a tough marriage that ended probably three years overdue, and for the first time ever, I think an intense feeling of “Jared has found the one” arrived and the celebratory feelings and gratitude was intense.
After our first wave of initial greetings, we went to Little Rock, AR to visit someone who is not only a friend, but also our primary mentor for this dream. Whether it be showing us how to tap into resources for start up businesses (in a variety of ways), linking up to a PhD candidate doing research that might align with our vision allowing us to join in and help use their funding for research to help seed Solgave a bit, to little things like tweeting every celebrity or large foundation with a heart tied to things Solgave define, she kept inspiring us.
That weekend was magical. We got to hang out in one of my favorite capital cities with Marta and her husband Terrance, see the sunset on the Clinton Memorial Bridge, and end our visit with an amazing experience at the Little Rock Zoo. Gabi and Sunniva were introduced to American food classics such as s’mores and corndogs, plus shaved ice and lemonade.
Because of construction coming into Little Rock we were in the car six hours (two hours delayed) and Gabi did awesome. The four-hour trip home was quicker, and we settled back into Nana’s and got to just enjoy a week of bonding and relaxation time, as Sunniva and I prepared for a quick trip to Dallas and back to see Coldplay! This was a concert I bought tickets for the week we met, while I was still living in Texas early December 2011 (two weeks before loading up to that cabin on the lake and a month before we met in person).
Our whirlwind trip there was like something out of a movie. Perhaps one day we’ll share all the details if a movie gets made about Solgave…but I’ll just say it was loads of fun.
In order for her to see The Stockyards in Fort Worth, we had to travel straight there, getting lucky on parking, and having two hours to see some of the most famous sights. We had one beer and the best burger we had ever had, at a famous pub – The White Elephant. Sunniva got to see the infamous stores where they make the saddles and boots and walk around just enough to get some photos. We realized that we need to come back, and the next time we’ll plan much more time there. We needed to race towards our hotel to make this show, so we loaded up and headed into Dallas.
We stayed at the Adolphus by chance, a very historic and nice hotel in downtown Dallas, because of its proximity to the Coldplay concert. We were in awe of the beauty, service, and luxury amenities. This was a wedding present from a relative, that allowed us to live large for one night; the antithesis of typical days on the farm. Dirty, muddy, and not caring much about our appearances due to daily stable work, we got to feel really special and a bit pampered this one night. Finally getting to feel like a newly married couple in love and felt like two horses in a summer graze.
From us being in full stride out the door, Sunniva running barefoot to the concert (literally) due to being late, to the chance pick up of a Hard Rock Cafe van that ended up dropping us off at the front door, LOL, to the epic performance of one of our favorite bands it was a night of memories we will NEVER FORGET. You have to realize the night I bought those tickets in December we knew….we knew that this love would be unlike anything else we had ever known, but with that said, neither of us had any idea whether we could ATTEND this show 7 months out but what we did know, is that our life together would defy odds, it would break molds, and it would be the life we had both dreamt about. So to hear songs that defined our relationship or came out during tough periods of this union such as “Us Against the World” brought tears as we held hands during the song in Dallas, Texas that night.
Leaving the venue in the dark (when we left Sweden it was the time of year that it doesn’t really get dark), we actually came out the wrong side and on foot headed out the wrong direction. By luck we were able to link up to a family from the concert whose phone worked (our batteries were dead) as we hoped to catch a cab with them. Grateful to use their phone and get back on track, I paid their cab fair and Sunniva and I would head out to dance.
We shifted from Deep Ellum, which used to be the happening spot in Dallas (I realized quickly I was ten years removed from knowing a hip area in Dallas to dance) to “Uptown” where we bumped shoulders with tons of young people and danced until late into the night.
We had to wake up very early the next morning, and hustle to drive 8 hours to an event known as Camp Hippy, a yearly meeting of friends of ours that happened to be in some cabins outside of Branson, Missouri this year. Not an ideal day to drive that far on little sleep, but we were on adrenaline and made the trip in record time. That included Sunniva getting pulled over by the Highway Patrol as I was reading the paper in the passenger side. She got a good taste of what they see in the movies… She was told to get in the squad car, we were questioned separately, and I was politely asked to sit back down as he reached for his gun. Remember that Sunniva had no driver’s license as she’s not from this country, and with immigration issues in the US they have a strict protocol they go by. We still appeared a bit in the rock and roll mode as we looked like Bonnie and Clyde strolling across the country to get to our friends outside of Branson.
When we arrived at the lodge in Branson, to say we were travel weary is an UNDERSTATMENT. Remember, by this time we had been in the US ten days, the amount of attention we needed on Gabi to assure her transition was seamless took a lot out of us.
So, we continued our second night of freedom. Again, I can’t state enough that our life on the farm is one of such dirty work, that taking showers (especially in the colder months) is something we probably don’t take enough of, but when you are mucking out in the morning, or getting dirty doing something else, what’s the point, right? Horse owners and farmers get this. These 48 hours was one of the most intensely paced of my life when you consider being in a car almost 20 hours, and the pace of our flow.
After that second cross country drive, we pulled in at the cabins, and were immediately greeted by our friends! “Where are we going to eat dinner, our group of 14 discusses as we roll in not even able to unpack yet?” “The Rowdy Beaver!” The only place in town where you could get some live music, food, and a cold beer. We had people fly in from the Denver area, Australia, Phoenix, and New York. This mix of people was diverse. It was powerful for us because Sunniva and I actually met in this Facebook group, and in some ways owe our union to them.
It was another long night and one that with hindsight I wish we had some sleep under our belt, or a few days between Dallas and here. The lessons I think that I came away with are that people are all unique, remember there were fourteen of us from several countries there, with what can amount to a very subjective experience.
As Gabi joined us night two of Camp Hippy we shifted back into mom and dad mode and enjoyed a quiet night with great grilled foods, early to bed, and a cool final morning of photos, hugs, and off we went. This part of our trip still had legs!
We got to take Gabi to a place in the Midwest known as Silver Dollar City. One of the most unique theme parks in the world tucked deep in the woods of the Ozark Mountains. It has a historical theme of the late 1800’s that blends the history of that era with crafts, demonstrations of glass blowing, making homemade lie soap, saloon shows, rides of all types, and so much more. It’s a place that young and old can find plenty to enjoy. This day for me was one I had dreamed of since I was in my early 20’s. What would it be like to finally see it through the eyes of a child? It was incredible.
We started big, with “the American Plunge,” which was a nice cool down as the temperature was already in the 100s early in the morning. Walking the park, Gabi became mesmerized by music played from an outdoor theater. She walked in and stopped mid aisle to watch the folks sing and dance in their old saloon style garb. Gabi began with bobbing her hips and zoned in like Jedi would on Darth Vader… Then it happened! The lead singer and dancer noticed her, and came straight at her, and asked her if she wanted to come on stage to dance! She hesitated for a moment, but it was clear that this was her shining moment! We grabbed our iPhones and got to film the entire thing as an epic memory in our early life together. Barely 4, a new country, new language and she danced, she grooved, and she had so much fun. It was more than a proud moment, it was one of those that moves you to your core, reminded me as a new step dad why parenting is such a gift, such an honor, and such a joy.
One of the final days of this journey was probably the most special to Sunniva, as we got to visit a stable and ride horses for a day at friends of my mom. With a wedding held in these stables just a few weeks before, the detailed work they put into the interior of the barn, made this amazing stable shine even more. I am new to the horse world but Sunniva is not, and she can safely say it’s the one of the most amazing stables she’s ever seen. We have plenty of pictures on our Facebook page of this day but just getting back around the animals, taking a slow ride on some Midwestern pastures for about an hour does nothing but create extreme Zen. On our way back, we stopped by this tiny towns new library that had recently opened and yet again, through new eyes we got to see a children’s book center in a public library. Every thing in life I have to tell you will change when you begin to see the world through those magical eyes of the child.
This US trip was in many ways a chance to show the new me. I had not lived nor visited this area much in the last three years after living in Texas, and as I began documenting this story in December publicly, as a personal challenge and awareness of what was coming in my life, the real visits and contact and observations from family and friends was like a warm blanket wrapped around you. The feeling of “you have arrived” and “found your purpose” was echoed back to me. I do want to change the world, I do want to create a business and a brand known around the world, but since I was a boy I knew that my greatest purpose and role would be that of being a father. I just knew…
Any and all of my fears of Gabi struggling with the language, bonding with family and friends were removed within 24 hours. Concerns of how Sunniva would fit into my own network of friends (although they were dim concerns with her international background) were not just removed, but thrown out the back of the truck. From some romantic time at the lake house watching sunsets with my wife, to Gabi proving to be a formidable swimmer in just days, to a Lonesome Dove type day with horses, an incredible trip to Little Rock that included seeing a sunset on the Clinton Bridge over the Arkansas River, followed by a perfect morning at the Zoo, this trip was an epic adventure.
What I came away with was a new appreciation of my own country seen with new eyes. It is a land of opportunity, it is flawed in ways I’d love to see continue to evolve, but it’s a place that dreamers can dream. Stars can shine. I know that no matter where we settle long term, our family is going to be international through and through. To have each child see not the worst, but the best in ideology, philosophy, and history of two sides of the planet helps grow children in the way we both dreamed of…a “One World” concept as Gandhi put it. The Lessons “While” Abroad were rich, deep, and transformative.
Whether we’re in London, Norway, or the US, it’s clear this family is rooted with love, steeped in a desire to keep changing with humility through the process, hungry to carve out a business and life of our own, and realize that the future lies in the children of today and the children of tomorrow. Show them that it’s possible to dream….show them it’s possible to love intensely by “loving each other intensely”, show them that you can heal, understand, and transform the world by doing those same things to yourself. You will have a generation believing, not just believing, but also KNOWING they can do just that.