Category Archives: Family and Friends

Special occasions and remembrances

The Wall

Our  Memory Wall

In our world there are many famous walls: the Vietnam Memorial Wall, The Great Wall of China, and the Walls of Jericho. Some walls are notorious like the former Berlin Wall and the current Wall along the México-USA Border. Ancient civilizations and great manors built walls around themselves to keep invaders out. Prisons have walls to keep people in…

In our house we have lots of walls: the outside one with purple bougainvillea cascading over the top and of course the ones that hold up our roof! But in the guest room we have a Memory Wall.

The Memory Wall is just what its name implies. There are photographs, small souvenirs, bits of art… We often change the pictures or add new ones. Yesterday I spent several hours doing just that.

Some of the wedding pictures have been up for quite a while; we’ll            celebrate our 35th anniversary very soon. And some aren’t even a year old; both our children were married in 2011.

There are little mementoes of trips…

And some of the memories have been given to us by our friends

The oldest photo is of my paternal grandmother, taken in 1917

My parents are both remembered, as are Jorge’s… And we have photos of uncles and aunts like Gisele who will    turn 100 this year… Cousins and old friends…And presiding at center stage is a large reproduction of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

When we have overnight guests, they always say they enjoyed looking at everything on our wall. Do you have a Memory Wall?

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What kind of bread?

Usually culinary efforts that make it into the public eye are perfect or darn near so. Today I am going to give you a wonderful recipe for _ _ _ _ bread, but believe me, the results were not perfect.

My sister Barb, who is a chef gave me her “fail proof” formula, and my daughter Maggie, a young but talented baker was on hand to share the experience.

_ _ _ _ Bread

Attach the bread hook to your mixer, put the bowl in place and add 2 cups of luke warm water. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. of active dry yeast on top and let it stand for 10 minutes.

(This was easy…)

Add ¼ cup of olive oil, ½ Tbsp. of salt and 4 cups of flour.  Turn on the mixer and let it run until the mixture starts sticking to the side of the bowl.

(Boy did it ever stick!)

Then add more flour, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until the mixture comes away from the sides.

(We ended up using an additional cup of flour)

Continue to let the dough kneed for 8 minutes.

(I don’t know what you do if you don’t have a strong mixer)

Remove the bread hook, cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap and let it rise for 1 hour.

(At this point we took Nacho (Maggie’s dog) for a walk)

Now get the oven really hot (450 F) and place the rack on the lowest position.  Place a baking sheet on the rack to get it hot before you put the breads on it..

Shape the  breads.  Leave them on the counter for 10 minutes. Roll out as thin as possible, 6 – 8 inches in diameter and place them on the hot baking sheet. Bake for just 3 minutes

(Now… that doesn’t sound too hard does it? The problem was that our dough came out too sticky. We had to coat our hands in flour to even get “blobs.” No way could you roll them out, so we stretched them out as best we could. We then flopped the oddly-shaped breads onto to hot baking sheet… I managed to burn my arm a couple of times)

Repeat until all are baked. They will puff up

(Puff up? Ha, ha, ha…)

What kind of bread were we trying to make? Well, pita of course

 (Can’t you tell?)

Now, when you attempt this at home, let me know if you got the “Shape the breads” part a little better than we did

Nacho liked them!

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A pipe organ… Where?

Through the years I’ve met a few people who have accomplished singular, extraordinary feats. For example, one couple I know bicycled from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. But until a few weeks ago, I had never met anyone who did what Jim Smiley did…

At the age of 5, he announced to his parents that he wanted to play the pipe organ. They smiled at his childish ambition but he insisted… “But you’re not big enough to reach the floor pedals,” they reasoned, “why don’t you learn to play piano?” He did learn to play piano and he pursued his dream to play the pipe organ.

During his career in vintage costume design, Jim continued his interest in the organ but had little time to play. Upon retirement, he moved to Mérida and purchased a high-ceilinged residence – the perfect home  for a pipe organ!

On the Internet, he located one for sale, and traveled to Rome, NY where it languished, not played in more than 30 years. Nonetheless, it was in good condition, and Jim acquired the “Hinners & Albertsen” 1899 pipe organ. One problem: it was in New York and he wanted it for his home in Mérida.

Jim had no experience with organ building, but with the help of Internet forums for organ builders and organists he managed to dismantle, pack, ship and reassemble it in Mérida.

Last night Jim invited a group of 12 to meet his friend David McIntosh, a virtuoso organist.

David constantly tours and en route to a concert in Mexico City, he agreed to give a recital on the century-old pipe organ installed in Jim’s living room.

David McIntosh is Australian born, but he lives in Amsterdam… and as coincidence would have it… he has a home just one canal away from my 100 year-old aunt. My husband Jorge, David and I enjoyed talking about the cosmopolitan Dutch city, the people and places we enjoy there.

David played a selection 17th and 18th century pieces. When I closed my eyes, the music transported me to the nave of a European baroque cathedral. It was magnificent to see and hear such a unique performance.

David is actually “Dr. David;” he  has another career as a pediatrician – infectious diseases specialist and vaccinologist, and has received a medal and citation from the Queen of England for his service to Medicine and Music.  As well he is the founder and artistic director of the “GlebeMusic Festival”, now in its 23rd year.

Jim later talked about Oaxaca. He told us that this Mexican state has the largest collection of  baroque period pipe organs. Every two years he attends the “Oaxaca Organ Festival.” The next one will be in 2014.

He also told me that he is very willing to allow musicians to play and practice on the organ. If anyone reading this piece would like the opportunity, you can contact Jim through me. Just send an email: writingfrommerida@gmail.com

David and Jim entertained us further with their stories about the famous pipe organs of the world like the grand Parisian 8,000 pipe organ in Notre Dame Cathedral.

After the recital, we enjoyed a light dinner. The serviettes had musical notes printed on them; Jim picked one up and said, “Oh this is Chopin!”

I had to pinch myself … how often does one have the chance to hear a pipe organ played by a world class musician in a private home? The evening was indeed magical. Thank you David and Jim for including us.

  David McIntosh

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Mothers Day in Mexico: 2012

Mom and Me: North Vancouver 1954

The children don’t have school today. The sidewalks are lined with flowers for sale (Quick! Buy them before they wilt in the fierce Yucatecan sun!) Restaurants are filled to capacity…

It is Mothers Day in Mexico. I am not sure why Mexicans have chosen May 10th to honor “Las Mamás” … but honor them, they do.

Jorge and I invited his 94 year old mom and Victoria her lovely nurse to our house for lunch. Jorge’s brother and his family, as well as our daughter Maggie made up our festive table of eight.

I miss being with our son Carlos and his wife Jeanette … we tried all morning to at least talk with one another on the phone but had no success. I guess the phone circuits are as saturated as the eateries. Tomorrow will have to do.

Skip forward a few hours… our baked ham, lemon pasta, salad and fruit tart  were thoroughly enjoyed, and the left-overs have been stored in the fridge. The dishwasher is sloshing away, and the guests have gone home. At this precise moment, I imagine they are doing just what we’re doing: taking a siesta in the AC cooled room.

But I am not sleeping… I am missing my mom. I was born just a day before Mothers Day, and my dad said she cried when he gave her a card that he signed from, “Your baby daughter,  Joany” I have that card saved with my special mementoes… It has faded but my memories of her remain crystal clear. Thank God I have so many…

One of the most cherished is of her presence at the birth of my daughter. It was 3:00 am when Jorge, Mom and I arrived at Clinica Mérida; we all knew the birth was imminent. “The doctor will be here as soon as possible,” said the nervous admitting nurse. I had begun to pant and her coworker whispered urgently, “That baby is ready!”

“My mom has to come with me,” I insisted, “She’s an obstetrics nurse in Canada.” The labor room nurse agreed and   handed Mom a gown and mask… My mom and the nurse hoisted me up on the table, they both scrubbed up, and at 03:20, my mother “caught” Maggie as she came hollering into the world. “Look at your daughter!” she said, then added, “She will be a good daughter to you because you have been a good daughter to me.”

The nurses, Mom, Maggie and I were all in tears when Dr. Canto strode into the delivery room at 03:30. “You’re too late!” my mother said in English. He just smiled… “I don’t think so; it looks as though I came at just the right time.”

I feel blessed to have such memories. And because she made so many for me, this is what I try and do for my children. Simon and Garfunkle said it well:

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

The photos are part of my memories:

Mom and me

Carlos and Me

Maggie and Me

Happy Mothers Day to all…

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Hobbsie…

Hobbsie under the Christmas tree

Twelve and a half years ago, a “little bundle of joy” came into our lives. He weighed about a pound, had a long fluffy orange tail and ears that seemed far too big compared with the rest of him. He also had a loud, long, non-stop meow…

His favorite thing in all the world was raw meat. And so it should have been; he had been abandoned in the local market, and the butchers’ stands were good places to find a tasty morsel or two.

Stray dogs would also congregate near the meat area but as they weren’t as small and nimble, they rarely made it inside the inner sanctum to where the wee orange fluff ball dined happily on pork scraps, chicken guts and bits of beef offal. One of those scruffy canines decided that the impertinent cat had taken one liberty too many, and as the puss pranced past the pack, he was caught in the “jaws of death.”

Enter I… see what’s going down … and smack the mutt’s snout! Out tumbled the kitty. I stuffed him into my market bag for safety and he promptly fell asleep. I think he must have been exhausted by his brush with the Hereafter.

Well, there’s nothing harder to resist than a fluffy baby cat… and home with me he came.

The kids and Jorge were enchanted; we named him Hobbsie and he has been an integral part of our household ever since. He grew and grew and grew, and got fluffier, fluffier and fluffier. He knew he was beautiful and he lorded it over all the other cats; he even scorned us! He never was very affectionate, but he was funny! He was a great hunter and regularly brought me tokens of his loyalty: birds, snakes, mice, bugs, lizards… Once a day he’d jump up on my lap, allow me to pat him a few minutes… and that was enough mushy stuff until tomorrow.

As you’ve gathered… Hobbsie is gone. He died today at 5:00 pm. I watched him take his last breath and his eyes glassed-over. I don’t believe he suffered… he was just old… for a tropical kitty.

He’s already buried, underneath the palm tree against the back wall. There are lots of crawly things back there, and there’s lots of shade… I think it’s a good resting place. But I… I will miss my furry friend very much.

Maggie saying goodbye to Hobbsie as she left our home for her wedding

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Past, Present and Future

My paternal grandfather’s family in Amsterdam about 1900

This is a photograph of my great grandparents: Walther Simon Joseph van Waterschoot van der Gracht and Maria Cornelia Adriana Josepha van der Does de Willebois. You will note they had three sons and one daughter.

My next writing project will tell the story of my family, beginning with Walter Simon and Maria Cornelia’s marriage about 1870. I will illustrate daily life in the Netherlands and then follow my grandfather all over the globe… to Arabia, Borneo, Indonesia, Australia, Antarctica and everywhere in between.

Joseph was trained as a geologist. He was also an accomplished painter and learned many other skills during his lifetime. He and his brother Willem, also a geologist, traveled to San Francisco in about 1915 to explore oil reserves in the southern USA. My grandmother, a suffragette, soon arrived on the scene to sweep him off his feet.

A small pretty woman, Florence Ross had a powerful persona. It was she who asked her husband to shorten the family moniker from “van Waterschoot van der Gracht” to a more manageable “van der Gracht.” Joseph never returned to Holland, and his large family (about 100 descendents) lives primarily in Canada.

Our family story is full of interesting characters, migration between continents, adventure and no small share of mystery and intrigue. The research alone is taking a great deal of sleuthing – thank God for Google Search and the assistance of a couple of historians that I am in touch with. I am looking for the recommendation of a book about 19th century Western Europe. Anyone who can point me in the right direction will have my eternal gratitude.

So if I don’t post for a few consecutive days… just assume I am digging through the past, comparing it with the present and wondering how it will affect the future…

Me with my grandparents in 1953

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Parque de las Americas

A Chac Mool at Parque de las Americas

When we think of Saturday night in Mérida, “Noche Méxicana” with its folkloric dancing, handcrafts and regional goodies comes to mind. So does Calle 60. The restaurants set out tables where vehicles usually run back and forth, the musicians tune up and dancing begins… But there’s another ‘happening place’ for young families: “Parque de las Americas.

We live a short distance from this popular park and when our children were small, we walked there almost every evening that it didn’t rain. Contained within four city blocks, this park features an amphitheater, a large fountain, a cultural center and a children’s playground.

The little ones seem to be drawn like magnets to the rental go-karts and other motorized kiddie-sized cars. I declare THIS is where the future drivers of our fair city get their first ‘driving lessons’ – many of those angelic, chubby cheeked 4 year olds turn lean and mean the minute they get into the driver’s seat!

But thankfully demon-drag-racing is not the only attraction for the small set – a jungle gym, trampoline, sand box and lots of other entertainment is to be found. (Some of you will recognize the two little sweeties playing with the giant abacus.)

But with no small children; why do Jorge and I go to the Parque de las Americas? For the street food of course! There are 16 carts selling everything from corn on the cob to marquesitas… Do you maybe not know what a marquesita is?

Have a look at these pictures and you’ll get the idea. It’s like a r0lled waffle cone stuffed with cheese… the whole thing is prepared as you wait. Very yummy!  The couple we bought ours from at “Marqusitas Arco Iris” say that they go through 12 of those big gouda cheeses every Saturday night! And there are 5 carts selling marquesitas… 

Architecturally speaking, the park is quite unique because of its pre-Columbian   style featuring rain gods, feathered serpents and chac mools. There is also a column dedicated to each of the countries that call the American continent their home. Originally, trees from every one of those countries were planted (the maple did not survive!) A few are still standing but most of them blew down in the severe wind storms over the years.

The Parque de las Americas is easy to find (straight up Calle 80 from Centro) you’ll find buses that also go by there (the 62, 66 and 82) If you haven’t done so already, get acquainted with the park… you’ll be happy you did.

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