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theextraordinarydaisy1

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    The Sling Diaries: Voice

     I can’t remember the first time I realized my voice had power. Maybe it is something I have known all along.  I’ve at least had an opinion since I can remember. But, I do know the first time I realized that I wanted to use my voice to make a difference in the world. It was like this inner feeling just knowing, I was supposed to do something big, something to change lives. I feel like I am still figuring this out because like most things, my strength and the power behind my voice ebbs and flows.

    I am not actually sure if it is my voice that is meant to be heard or if I am an outlet to advocate for others. As if I am here to tell their stories to a wider audience, give light to injustices, show the strength of those who have defied odds and fought for their rights and to share stories of survival.

    It took me years to figure out what cause I wanted to lend my voice to, until I traveled to Cambodia, fell in love with the country and then learned of its dark side. When I returned home, I was guided towards an organization where I volunteered my time to write stories and share news on the issue of human trafficking and specifically, sex-trafficking in South East Asia. I dug deep and I was shocked. And shortly after that, I traveled far to lend my voice and writing again to a project that still has my heart, with an organization that works with children who have been trafficked or are at risk in West Africa. I disconnected, put my emotions on the side. I still have hopes that one day, these stories can see greater light and these issues and these beautiful people, who have gone through hell and survived, will be heard.

    As I sit, I am listening to the power behind the voice of Leopoldo Lopez, the Venezuelan politician who refuses to be silenced and has gone against all odds to continue to speak. I am in awe of the strength behind his voice, his story, his refusal to give up. It is voices like this, strength like this, that change the course of history, fuels fire and advocates for others. His voice fuels me.

    So, where does that leave me now… what will I use my voice for. I still feel that inner knowing that I am supposed to do something great and use my voice and the power of storytelling to create change… but where? We need to hear from the Rohingya, those in Syria, the people of Libya and the people of Venezuela and we need to listen. Is right now my time to navigate and find a way to tell these stories? I am not sure. I am figuring it out. I am listening.

    Perhaps for now I can focus on how I use my voice in my daily life and with my family. My voice is a tool to teach my daughter to have strength and also to guide her, calmly, with care through this life. Having a powerful voice does not mean that it has to be loud but it can simply be a useful tool to help others and to help yourself. So, that is it. And it is perfect. For now, I may not travel far to witness what is happening around our world and write about it, but I will be right here, beside my daughter to guide her, to let her speak up and to fuel her to use her voice as power. I will tell our stories. I will let her write her own. For we need more youth who speak up, for themselves and for others and who feel confident with their voice. And maybe, this inner feeling of knowing I am supposed to do something great with my voice, maybe that something great is this sweet girl full of strength that I am raising in a chaotic world.

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    The Sling Diaries: Love

    Love yourself first. Something that I need to remind myself of, always. And right now. Show yourself love. Even just with the little things. For me, it’s the rose water I splash on my face, the toast and hazelnut spread I sneak with my hibiscus tea before bed, my solo coffee dates where I write and research, my travels and my guided bedtime and sunrise meditations. There are other people and things that I love, deeply, but to show myself love, I try to remember a few little things because… I lose myself easily.

    If you’ve been loved by me you know that when I love, I love hard, completely losing myself in you. I’ve changed plans, changed my life and lost my own way. But man, I have loved.

    When I met Eric, my husband, I was the best me and when I fell in love with him even before we had much of a conversation, it was perfect. I loved myself, I was happy, I had a job I loved, in a home I loved, surrounded by good company. In turn, I was able to love Eric, just right. We loved fully, honestly and just enough to give each other time to ourselves, time I needed to continue to grow.

    Our long distance helped us learn to love from afar and when I chose to move back to him, it was for me. You see, I loved travel first, his country next and then him. Not that I did not love him as much, but I loved more than just him. The sun, the water, my friends, my decisions and myself. I was disconnected from much of the outside of my little world. No stable internet connection, no tv and therefore no news. It was just me, my books, the ocean and my love.

    When he moved to the U.S. I started to sense myself slowly slipping away. Not because we were together, but because, it seems that I feel most alive when I am a bit out of my element, immersed in a new culture. I love myself the most during those times. I feel the most alive. So here, in the States my comforts can seem dull and I dive head first into love. I was lost in making sure Eric was happy. I mean, he left his life, his home, his culture and his family for me. I felt responsible for his happiness. I nagged, constantly asking if he was happy. I made endless plans to continue the fun forgetting to also, take time for myself.

    Shortly after Eric moved, I was pregnant with Aurelia. This was new, exciting and we were thrilled. My focus switch back to include myself, my baby and Eric. I glowed. Pregnancy for me, was one of the most beautiful times in my life. I felt perfect and I had this tiny life to care for yet still had the freedoms to roam about and make my own decisions and go on endless date nights with Eric without a sitter.

    And then, she came. The sweetest love. I love her endlessly. And that love, consumed me. I found the first few months of my life with Aurelia in my arms to be beautifully easy, comfortable and I thrived in it. But slowly, I was slipping. I wasn’t only forgetting myself but forgetting Eric, my husband as well. I was consumed by my love for her, making sure she was happy, snuggling with just her, co-sleeping, rocking her to sleep and being her food source. My mojo went from an all time high to an all time low after Aurelia. I was touched out by the end of a long evening. I felt almost completely gone. I wasn’t able to show Eric the love he deserved because I didn’t feel I had time to even love myself. I’d catch a glimpse every so often but it would fade in the constant nap battles and sleep deprived evenings.

    So, I am here now. 2 years later, finally writing this all out, saying it out loud. I can feel myself again. I can feel the love I have for Aurelia as she sings Taylor Swift in the mirror and makes a 30 minute hike turn into an hour and a half as she explores. I can feel the love for myself, taking the time I need to get exercise, having coffee at a local spot and writing stories. And I can feel the love for Eric, how unexplainably wonderful he is, his kind soul always there to support me but also push me when I’m getting in my own way again. I feel the love and I have learned lessons and have learned something about myself. I let love consume me and if ever I feel myself slipping again I am going to fight back, secure myself, the love I need, the time I need and then allow the rest to follow. If I can not love myself fully I can not have the energy I need to love others. I love me. Love you.

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    Lifestyle, Travel

    My September Issue. Manifesting the Life of My Dreams

    September. The most beautiful month. New York City was cooling down just enough to make it tolerable and fashion week was getting ready to kick my butt for another season.

    For as long as I could remember I had been constantly chasing, something. A boy, a new job, a distant place, swallowed in my hopes for a dream life and internal happiness. I’d have meetings with others that I thought had what I was looking for. Then, somewhere between daily yoga, an exciting career, 5:30 a.m. runs and the decision to stop giving a fuck, I found me, just a little. I had been drowning in a situation I so desperately wanted to change but it just wouldn’t change for me, I let go. September.

    My mornings consisted of a trail run, home, dog walk, dress and drive 45 minutes to the train, a laugh with the sweet African man that worked where I parked my car, 15 minute train ride and 15 minutes walking upstream in a sea of city dwellers and commuters to my Flatiron 5th Ave office. My job as a production assistant for a small but incredibly wonderful fashion production company was exciting, fulfilling and in the opposite direction of my hope to work in writing and human rights, but I was happy. My bosses were two fantastic individuals who kept me excited and laughing. I had a fashionista’s dream, working backstage at fashion week for major designers, mingling at events with top movers and shakers in the business and flying to Paris for fashion week twice a year. And in my down time, I volunteered with an anti-trafficking organization who was rallying and actively rehabilitating girls who had been trafficked for sex in South East Asia ( I know, I know… two completely different worlds.) This was where my passion and my heart felt it was doing the right work for the right reasons.

    And then, like a shock to my heart and my plans, that thing I was slowly trying to change, let go of me. I felt confused but free. My girlfriends would text me and tell me it was time for me to leave this home and go see the world. Travel, write, explore and find myself even deeper. I spent my time after work exploring opportunities in anti-trafficking organizations abroad. I’d put an open search in idealist.org and fill in the location as, Africa or Asia. I needed to go, but where?

    A month later, that exciting and fulfilling fashion job, let me go. Not because they didn’t love me, but because they needed to and I guess, I needed them to also. The next day I had an email back from an organization in Ghana I had reached out to. By chance, the founder was looking to write a book and needed a ghost-writer. We skyped, our excitement jumping through the screen. But was I really ready to cross an ocean to chase my dream work?

    2 weeks after my job let me go, my roommates decided they wanted their own place. I was jobless, dumped, and had to move out of my apartment. But, I was happy. All of these things, as they came crumbling down, they didn’t shake me. I embraced them, and slowly realized, I had actually manifested this entire situation. The following week I was on the train to Washington D.C. to meet with the organization funding the book idea in Ghana and quickly following that, I got the offer.

    I don’t really think I had a choice, during my September issue. Perhaps that is why it felt so right, there was no weight. And now I know, that this manifestation of mine was completely driven by fate, something I never believed in. I was a huge cynic with the whole, love at first sight, find your destiny, business. I thought it was only about persistence and hard work, which is surely part of it, but there is a huge component in letting go and trusting.

    On December 31st, 2012, I flew through the night and landed in Ghana in a new year and new life.

    This story, a long one full of love, hope, happiness, tragedy and lots and lots of testing, is something I never dreamed could be real. But it is. It is my life. And I am so damn lucky. And now, 5 years later, as I feel a bit stuck again,  it is time for me to open up, believe and take some guidance from where the universe is pushing me. This time, I have some wonderful companions, my husband, daughter and all of you, along for the ride.

    There are stories to be told, places to be seen and a lot of letting go to do. So… here we go!!

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    Family, Lifestyle, Travel

    The Sling Diaries VII: Memory

    Jackie- logic. It is a phrase coined by my two dearest friends who hold the stories to some of my wildest times, some that only they will be able to replay as memories and will never be said out loud, hopefully. Jackie-logic is an idea, thought or suggestion, usually followed by action, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but typically turns out quite wonderfully. For example: renting a car in Thailand, leaving our passports behind as a security deposit and touring Northern Thailand with just a map, making pit stops at caves and waterfalls, off roading into unknown towns and pulling over to take a ride on an elephant with some strangers. Or, the time where I saw a photo of a hot tub in the snow, nestled in the Swiss Alps and had to go check it out in real life. A train, a bus, a hike and a gondola ride later, it was everything I dreamed of.

    I’ve always felt that life was really for LIVING and perhaps I have tamed a bit in the last few years, but that wild heart still exists. Recently I decided to get transport directly to and from the airport in Cancun to our apartment in Tulum rather than rent a car and I felt like I didn’t even know myself anymore. I always go for the car rental so I can do my own touring but I was going for convenience this time. I am trying to hold onto this logic, these ideas that have created so many wonderful memories while also trying to be a mother, a wife and the maker of decisions for the entire family. In all of this I am trying to still be me which is a practice that takes time and effort and the occasional bad but good idea.

    You may call me stubborn, I know my husband would, when it comes to how passionately I feel about an idea that will take us on a wild ride or create a memory. I have the art of being able to research the hell out of things, digging deep and weighing the pros and cons, then not listening to the cons at all. And I especially do not listen to the people around me who may have suggestions.

    This logic, it isn’t always completely crazy. Sometimes it is just a little voice in the background questioning, pushing and wanting    to know and learn more. The most recent experience I have had with this, the greatest memory yet, was when I decided that at 32 weeks I was going to switch my doctor and forgo a hospital birth to have my daughter at home. Wild and crazy? Nope! To me the wild and crazy decision was when I had decided to have a hospital birth. Now, I am not by any means knocking hospitals or any women who     has decided to or has had to give birth in a hospital, this is merely my story of birth and was my decision. I thank that voice for giving me the push to decide to have my daughter at home. I labored in a blow up fishy pool I bought on amazon and delivered a posterior baby girl in her own nursery after 20 hours of labor with the support of amazing midwife’s, my husband and my Mom.

     

    So, while although this voice, this Jackie-logic has been tamed, although I may not at this time rent a car in a foreign country and off-road leaving the car on the side of the road as I hike to a Gibbon conservation project, this logic and this love for life is still very much there.

     

    And as I write this, I am getting the itch to do something a bit out of the ordinary. Last year it was a pixie cut (I know not quite as wild but I needed to shake it up a bit) and I am not sure what is in store for me yet in the coming months. But what I do know is that I have some pretty kick ass memories and will continue to push the limits, baby in tow. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if Aurelia is as bold as I was, I am okay with it. For I dream of a life full of passion and adventure for her. (Okay, there may be a few things I would like her to forgo- but those are secrets I will never tell.)

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    Lifestyle, Travel

    Where to donate this holiday season: 2017

    Legos, and bicycles; baby dolls and puzzles; coffee mugs and graphic teas… it feels good to be able to purchase a gift for someone that you know they will love. But, this holiday, you could take the opportunity, forgo that cute mug that says, “Monday’s suck,” and put that $15 toward providing emergency transport to a woman in labor. Check out a few places I have donated to this holiday season and learn a little about how to narrow down you search.

    Near and dear to my heart: Challenging Heights

    Almost 5 years ago now, I moved to Ghana, West Africa to work for an organization called Challenging Heights, an anti-trafficking and child’s rights organization. While there, I witnessed first hand that a grassroots organization can be run well, and really do great work.  Challenging Heights is an all-star in my eyes. The entire staff is Ghanaian except for a few interns and one or two positions that rotate an international candidate every year or two. This staff is incredibly knowledgable and experienced in child’s rights and the trafficking issue on Lake Volta in Ghana. CH has programs in rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and also offers support to the family of the trafficked child. I could go on and on about the amazing programs and how well this organization runs but please check them out yourself. This staff and this organization changed my life and I am hoping maybe this holiday, you would consider changing the life of the children they work with. To donate visit, http://challengingheights.org/donate/

     

    Circle of Health International: This organization has been on the ground helping moms, babies and pregnant women in crisis zones, working with local clinics on the ground to provide needed health care, supplies and training. In their 13 years they have trained over 7 thousands health care professionals, delivered $800,000 worth of supplies and in just 2016 they have served over 212,000 refugees providing prenatal, neonatal and reproductive care. Domestically, in Texas,  they have trained 385 nurses and healthcare providers on identifying human trafficking survivors. Check them out at http://cohintl.org/our-work/impact and follow them on instagram @circleofhealth. 

    Partners in Health International: This long time running organization has an excellent rating on charity navigator and has established long term relationships with organizations on the ground in areas hardest hit by poverty, building health systems and strengthening communities. Partners in Health has programs providing mental health care, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and is currently crowdfunding to build a maternity ward in Pleebo, Liberia. Check out their amazing work and consider that $100 can provide a safe, attended childbirth in Sierra Leone where 1 in 16 women will die in pregnancy or childbirth. https://www.pih.org

     

    Locally base in Southeastern CT and RI:

     

    Alliance for Living:  Alliance for Living is based in New London, CT and provides support and care for people living in the area with HIV/AIDS. They have programs in case management, housing, medication adherence and nutrition. For many people living with HIV/AIDS in the area, Alliance for Living has provided them with the needed support and services to maintain a happier healthier life. http://www.allianceforliving.org/our-services/

     

    WARM Center: Located in Westerly, RI, is the only comprehensive shelter services to adult men and women in South County, Rhode Island and Southeastern CT and is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They also have a soup kitchen that provides lunch and dinner to the public 365 days a year. Other programs include: work Readiness and Culinary Job Training; Attire for Hire and a children’s summer lunch program. Check out their site for a full list of what they do for the area. http://warmcenter.org

     

    Wherever you decide to give this season, pick a cause, do your research and feel confident in your giving. And give the best gifts you ever could.

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    Family, Travel

    The Sling Diaries Volume VII: Kinship

    I can still feel the heat, the way it wrapped itself around me like a thick blanket, the sun so bright it gave me squinty eye lines and tickled my nose with freckles. And I can still hear the late night Afro beats- it made even the shyest dance till the early morning hours. But what I can remember most, what I am still trying to recreate back in the States, is community. Relationships, kinships, friends and family. I am married to a Ghanaian man. I have three husbands and their wives are my rivals. Their children are also my children and my daughter belongs to them as well. Kinship in Ghana is far different than the family culture we are used to in the States. The USA is more of an individualistic society, while Ghana thrives on community. Its deep traditions are not always practiced in modern times, but they remain a reminder of the extended family bond and that we are all for each other.       

                                                                     

    So while although my husband’s brothers do not actually play the role of a husband in my life, nor are my sister-in-laws truly my rivals, we still do share a different family bond, a closeness that is rooted in traditions and a communal way of survival.

    When I lived in Ghana, I lived in a multi-family home. There were constantly people around, at least 15 children from newborn to teen and about four different families. Many children were living with their Grandmothers while the parents were out working in neighboring towns, another normalcy in Ghana. Some children lived with their aunty and uncles, whoever in the family was financially well enough to send the kids to school.

    I never had a moment of peace and quiet when I lived in Ghana- constantly surrounded while I tried to sit and read, wash my clothes or eat breakfast. Sometimes I loved it. Other times I would have just burst. But I find myself, as I sit in my cute little individual family home, just us, surrounded by other families in their own homes, just them, longing for that community.

    The community in Ghana has taught me a great deal of what I hope for while I raise my family. I try and channel the closeness of Ghanaian families in how I treat others, how I open my home and how much alone time I spend. I have learned to say “yes” more when people ask for favors and to reach out in times of need.

    Sometimes living in the states I can feel a bit isolated but I still have hope and continue to search for my own little tribe of like minded mamas, asking ladies out on mom dates and stopping people with toddlers in the store. For it truly takes a village and if you don’t live in one, you gotta create your own.

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    Lifestyle

    How to keep culture alive at home

    Ghana- Filled with dance, loud music, spicy food and positivity. My life in Ghana as an American was an extraordinary experience. When I first arrived I lived on bananas, bread and uncertainty but as the weeks went by and I let go, the culture, the people, the food and the music opened my heart and my eyes. With my husband (then boyfriend) as my guide, I danced to Afro beats till 2am and spent afternoons with his family talking over an open fire, spicy peanut soup cooking.

     

    Now that we are in the States, I do what I can to keep his culture alive in our home. Below are a few ways we are doing our best to live a culturally diverse life.

    Food: Soup. Fufu. Stew. Rice. Repeat. Primarily in our house, we eat  Ghanaian style which typically is a soup or stew with a starch on the side. On Tuesday afternoon’s our house is filled with the smell of hot spicy chilis, peanut soup and ginger or spicy tomato stew; red palm oil dominating the air. We eat these meals with our hands and family style (all in one bowl), as you would in Ghana. Tip: try adding some spice to your cooking. Curry, Cumin and Smoked Paprika. My favorite: Egg Stew and Ga Kenke (fermented corn dough). Eric’s favorite: Banku (fermented corn and cassava dough) and whole fish. Aurelia’s favorite: Ground Nut soup and fufu (dough made from boiled cassava and plantain). 

    Music and dance: Music has the power to transform us, move us and bring us to a different world. In my house, music is almost as needed as food. Right now I am loving a French Cafe playlist on Spotify- it brings me to Paris as I sip my morning coffee. In the evening, it’s a choice between African Hip Life and Latin dance music as we cook. Ever tried stirring some boiling soup while shaking your hips to Shakira? If ever looking for an afternoon activity, put on some loud music from another land and DANCE! Our favorites: Nico and Vinz, Sarkodie, P-Square, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, Moana Soundtrack. 


    Language:  We speak a mixture of English and Fante (language of the Central Region in Ghana.) It’s incredibly important to us as parents that Aurelia embraces her Ghanaian culture and language. She is quickly picking it up and I am slowly introducing Spanish as well. I am not fluent, but I can hold a conversation and am teaching her word by word. Right now she can answer, “How are you?” in 3 languages, say hello in 5 and is on her way to being trilingual. Our tips: If you live in a bilingual home try and have one parents speak English and the other speak the other language. If you remain consistent than your child should pick up both languages. If you do not have a bilingual household, I welcome your advice and thoughts on this. Right now I am teaching Aurelia one word each day and repeating words that I know in English and following with the other languages. Example: Typically I ask her to say, Thank you. Gracias and Medase (Fante).

    @ammarheaphoto

     

    Travel is the most essential part of keeping our lives rich in culture. Check out the article on how we manage to travel on a small salary. When I travel, I love to dive into the culture and local scene. There is nothing quite like dancing in the streets of Riomaggiore or getting lost in the sea of trinkets at a market in the hills of Thailand. So, I have decided that while home,  one night a week, we will travel around the world and learn a new culture using food, music and language. Where should we visit first?

     

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