Four Sisters and a Passel of Other People

The first page…

I have seen lots of my sisters, Anne, Barb, Cathy since arriving in Kamloops last June. We have cooked, shopped, wine tasted, gone for drives along back roads and dog walked. Not earth-shattering entertainment – but just the sorts of things that sisters enjoy together.

We have all recently moved into new digs. I am in Canada just part time, but still, I’ve had an apartment to fix up. My sisters have all downsized. Not having so much house to care for is great, but the inconvenience of a smaller place is less storage. My sisters wonder what to do with the memorabilia they have collected over the years – their children don’t want it – and they have nowhere to keep it. The photographs are fading and the letters are dog-eared – but they can’t bear to throw the stuff out. And really, it would be a shame to lose all that history. So, we came up with the idea of a “posterity project”.

It did not take long to collect four big plastic storage bins of “treasure”. The apartment where I live in Kamloops seemed like the logical place to keep it all  – I don’t have much space either but I am the one with the most time to separate, cull and organize.

We call our project: “The vdG Repository”.  My dictionary defines repository as : a central location in which data is stored and managed. Perfect, eh?

And we are off to a great start. In the living room, next to the window, we’ve placed an old photograph of our granddad’s family in Amsterdam, and below it, a photograph of the family taken at my grandmother’s 65th birthday party. Above the couch, we have three of Granddad’s paintings –  and the family memoir I wrote about Aunt Gisele’s life is on the book shelf – as are other books written by family members.

We’ve sorted the letters, photos and keepsakes into piles and have started to make scrap books. We don’t have much of cataloguing system. The four are called: “Granddad and Further Back”, “Dad, his Siblings and Cousins”, “Us Kids and Our Cousins”, and “Our Kids and Their Kids”

We have a copy of the family tree that Aunt Gisele put together, and the chart that accompanies it. Her birth, 105 years ago is the last recorded entry, so obviously we have a lot of catching up to do.

The van der Gracht family is an interesting mix of characters. Artists, explorers, pirates, n’er-do-wells, humanitarians, businessmen, real estate developers, teachers, farmers, nurses – and even a saint! We hope that future generations will want to know more about us than just our birth and death dates, so we are adding stories to the scrap books, and postcards, kid’s drawings, first communion photos, and wedding invitations.

It goes without saying that this project is also a tribute to our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They instilled in us a love of family, and we want to carry that on.

We hope that other family members will send us the missing links and data, but if not, we’ll do the best we can.

Do you or anyone you know have a project like ours?  Any suggestions?

The Pumpkin Patch

The weather has turned cold in Kamloops. I don’t know exactly how cold, but when I go outside, within seconds my fingers and toes feel like they’ve been dunked in ice water and my nose starts running like a tap.

But staying cooped-up all day is not an option either. So, yesterday when my niece, Kelly invited me to join her and her daughter, Emily on the Grade One  outing to the Pumpkin Patch, I dressed in five layers (literally) and off we went.

After about a half-hour’s drive we arrived at Pete Murray’s Corn Farm . Wow – I had forgotten that little Canadian kids are tough – the cold didn’t faze them at all. They wanted to forego their cumbersome gloves, hats and scarves. But when the teacher said, “II fait froid” (this is a French immersion class) they allowed her and the rest of us adults to button, wrap and zipper. And all bundled up, out they clambered from the bus and onto the hay wagon!

The hay wagon

We jostled along through dried corn stocks until we reached a paddock with dozens of sheep (les moutons) – and those sheep know what a wagon full of kids means for them.  Each child had been given an ear of corn each to feed their wooly friends.  Ba-a-a-a-a-a – Ba-a-a-a-a-a – Ba-a-a-a-a-a!  means, “Watch out for your fingers – I’m hungry!”

Watch your fingers!

Now, on to the main event. Pumpkins  of every size lay scattered around, and the kids got to choose one to take home. But there was a catch – they had to be able to carry it themselves. Whooping and laughing, they B-lined to the bigg-est, bright-est,  orange-est pumpkins. But when they straddled the biggies with their little legs, and tried to encircle them with their arms, they found out that pumpkins are heavy! All except for one tough little guy, ended up with much smaller pumpkins than they originally chose.

Which is the perfect pumpkin for me?

The hay wagon brought us back to the entrance and after eating our snacks, we set off on the nature walk. By this time I was freezing, but the kids were still going strong. We dodged “sheep pies” all the way to the river bank, and there we found piles of dead salmon. The teacher reminded her students that salmon lay their eggs in the river and then die. Eagles swooping overhead were intent on having their fill. The little troopers were fascinated.

On the nature walk

For the children, this day was one of experiential learning at its best.

  • Bundling-up and constant movement will keep the body warm (thermodynamics)
  • The bigger the pumpkin, the heavier the load (mathematics)
  • Never let your fingers get between the cob of corn and a hungry sheep (actions and consequences)
  • Another thing about sheep – they have “efficient” digestive tracts (biology)
  • The life cycle of salmon includes their demise while ushering in new life (ethics)
  • Eagles help “clean up” the environment (natural sciences)
  • Spontaneous use of French words and expressions (language and cultural studies)

Emily and all her hardy classmates reminded me that FUN and LEARNING are one – and this can happen wherever you are. Looking at life through the eyes of a child is a sure path to joy.

Fall foliage

 

 

Loving Vincent and other surprises in store

Mid October already – fall has definitely arrived here in the interior of British Columbia. Outside, the air feels like the inside of a fridge set on the coldest setting. Not as cold as a freezer yet, although that is not far away. The other day I was downtown early and I saw cars with snow on their roofs. They must have come into Kamloops from slightly higher elevations.

However, I have my winter clothes all ready for the day when I spy the white stuff on the lawn. I tried the whole “ensemble” on the other day and I felt so constricted. So many layers!

As winter approaches, the city’s recreation & arts dept. has lined up a long roster of activities to keep the citizens happily occupied. The library and the university offer courses, lectures, and field trips. There are book clubs, writers’ groups, chess competitions, and lots more. For $60.00 CAD a month, I can take advantage of the YMCA’s recreation facilities – they have a 25 m. pool, exercise machine room, yoga, and just about any other health-related interest you can think of. Kamloops also has a small classical orchestra and a beautiful theater. Plays, recitals, concerts and film nights happen often.

On Thursday, I will have a pot-luck dinner at my apartment with three friends, and then we are going to see “Loving Vincent” a film about the life of Vincent van Gogh. It is the first full feature crafted entirely from hand-painted oils. Forty artists from all over the globe have participated in the project. I CAN’T WAIT to see the finished product. You can watch the trailer at this link:

Then on Saturday, I will attend a still life painting workshop. When I asked what I need to bring, I was told – “Yourself and an open mind.” That sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

Another of my activities this week is all about Halloween. My sister Anne designed a dragon costume for our grand niece. She got the gorgeous wings made and I am helping to sew them on to the body of the costume. The dragon is glittery purple and besides the huge scaled wings, she’ll also have a long spiked tail and 3 inch claws attached to her hands and feet. Little Emily is so excited – I will post a photo when the outfit is ready.

When I don’t have any special activity planned, I sometimes play Scrabble with one of my neighbors. She and I are different kinds of players. She is a genius at placing two or three tiles across one of the existing words already on the board. 40 points is not an uncommon  tally for one of her moves. But on Thursday night I made: C-L-O-I-S-T-E-R-S. You got it – I used my seven tiles! 50 extra points!

I live right downtown, so shopping and all my entertainment are close by. I walk everywhere and carry home all my purchases – it’s a practical way to get exercise.

But the best news is that this “winter wonderland” lifestyle will only last for a short time. I won’t have a chance to grow weary of the short-cold days or even-colder-and-longer nights. In two months time, I will return to Merida and the balmy December temperatures.

I can’t say what the future will hold, but so far I like this 6 months in Canada – 6 months in Mexico arrangement. I like it very much. Jorge has not embraced the idea as I have. He is a Yucatecan through and through. He is happiest in his home town – and we all need to choose what makes us happy – right?

All of us have different priorities; we make different decisions and take different paths. Life offers so many options. But one fact is constant for us all – these “golden years” are NOT what any of expected them to be. Just when we think we have everything figured out, a bolt from the blue can turn it all upside down.

All the more reason to remain flexible as we grow older and stay open to the ever-surprising changes in our lives.