Lest we Forget

At Riverside Park, Kamloops residents gathered around the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day Laying of the Wreaths ceremony.

Starting promptly at 11 am, the ceremony included a Fly Past by the 419th Squadron from Cold Lake Alberta… the singing of O Canada and God Save the Queen and the recital of In Flanders Fields, the poem by Lt-Col. John McRae. Bagpipes wailed the Lament and trumpets sounded Reveille.. There were prayers and 2 minutes of silence.

All around the base of the centotaph, many wreaths were laid by government and private groups.  And when the private citizens approached to salute the vets, they tossed poppies on top of the wreaths.

I was happy to be a part of the celebration.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Remembrance Day in Kamloops

 

 

Shelley Joyce is the anchor of CBC Kamloops’ morning radio program, “Daybreak”. Yesterday she prerecorded a short  interview with me about a presentation I’ll give to commemorate Remembrance Day. The talk will be held at:

  • The downtown Kamloops Library, Wednesday November 8th , 7:00 pm

I told Ms.Joyce that from 1939 until 1945, my father served as a private in the BC Engineering Corps of the Royal Canadian Armed Forces. He was only 19 years old when he signed up, and just before he shipped out, his father gave him the address of a first cousin, Gisèle – If Dad ever found himself in Amsterdam, Granddad wanted him to visit her.

In 1945, my father did indeed end up in Amsterdam – his division was among those that participated in the liberation of the Netherlands – and he could hardly wait to join in the victory celebrations. But first, he wanted to honor his father’s request. When he got leave, he and his friend made their way to her home, a small apartment on the Herengracht.  Coincidentally this is the same canal street where my grandfather was born. What Dad found there dampened every bit of enthusiasm for partying.

During occupation by the Nazi forces, Gisèle hid her Jewish friends. They survived, but on the day Dad met them, before food distribution was reestablished, he figured none of them weighed more than 80 pounds. All plans for his celebration were cancelled – Dad and his friend returned to their base, got food and fuel and returned to Gisèle’s home as quickly as they could.

Almost six decades later in 2003, my sister and I travelled to Amsterdam and met Gisèle – she was 91 years old and still living in the same building. She showed my sister and me where she’d hidden her friends during the raids (in the dumbwaiter) and she told us about the hardship and fear they endured. She jumped over to one of the front windows, and said she’d looked out from there and seen Dad.  She added that the provisions he and his friend brought to her and her friends, had saved their lives.

In memory of my father and to honor her, I wrote my book, CIRCLES. Reflecting on their lives, I am impressed by how both of them went on to live happy, full lives – and in the case of Gisèle – a famous one. She was a painter and a writer. She lived a 100 year-long life of curiosity and joy.

Her bravery was officially recognized by three countries. Initially Gisèle came to the attention of the German government. She received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the federal cross awarded to people of great valor.. The second citation bestowed on Gisèle was that of Righteous Among Nations. This honor is the highest tribute a non-Jewish person can be given by Israel. Gisèle’s third honor, Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau — “Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau,” pleased her immensely – it is presented to Dutch citizens who deserve appreciation and recognition from society for special service to the country.

With characteristic humility and generosity, my father said his award was life itself. He added that Mom and us eight children filled him with all the joy and recognition he wanted.

I look forward to Wednesday and the opportunity to share the story of my dad and his Dutch cousin. I hope those who come to the Library will also bring photos or other mementoes of their loved ones who served Canada. I would like them to tell their stories too.

I am not sure if my interview will air today (Tuesday Nov. 7) or tomorrow (Wedneday Nov. 8) but you can listen live to ”Daybreak” with Shelley Joyce at this link: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/daybreak-kamloops

And to end today’s post, I will reprint one of the most iconic of all poems written about war.  Those who attended elementary school in Canada,  no doubt memorized it – and perhaps still remember it – as I do.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– by John McCrae, May 1915

A Writer? You?

Yesterday I met a young woman who told me her dream is to write a book.  She said she has never taken any writing courses, and she has no writing experience.  She said she has no idea how to start writing. She feels her dream is unattainable.

Later in the evening, my mind returned to our conversation.  I thought back to the time when I first turned to writing.  I was 24, newly-married and living far away from my family. I wanted everyone to feel part of my adventures, and so I wrote letters. Lots and lots of them. I tried to write as expressively as I could, and in the process, I built up my vocabulary and I learned to trim my sentences for clarity.

A few years later, a friend showed one of my letters to Joe Nash, a legendary editor at “The Mexico City News”. Before the internet, the paper was the largest English language daily in Latin America. Joe invited me to be the correspondent for Yucatan – a unique learning experience that lasted 12 years. People read my column and some of them asked me to write for their publications – travel articles mostly. I did make sporadic attempts at structuring a longer piece but I never got far.

Then one January night in 2007, I woke up with an idea that would not leave me alone – I wanted to write something “long”.  Literary terms like: “genre”, “point of view”, “the story arch” or “the hero’s journey” meant nothing to me. But I sat down at the computer and began. I typed my first paragraph:

I’ve often wondered what would happen if we could recognize pivotal times in our personal journeys – the “forks in the road” that present themselves. Do we ever see them coming? Does a vague premonition warn us that certain decisions are destined to truly change our path? If we could anticipate these critical junctions, would we have the nerve to follow through? Thirty-plus years ago, I surely did not sense that my life was about to veer radically off course. I had no idea what was in store for me for the rest of my days. I was caught completely unawares… and I went headlong through the door that opened to me…”

And that was it – I followed my own advice – I went headlong through the door that opened to me. Since that night, four books, many short stories and umpteen blog posts have been composed, letter by letter, on my trusty HP.

I can’t fully explain why I need to write, but I can describe how I write.

No mincing of words here – determination is essential. When I want to write, I sit in the chair with my fingers on the keyboard – this is the only way I can get going. I get up to drink water or to stretch a bit – but I stay in place until I finish – or am forced to leave.

Even when not writing, my thoughts are always wandering through the years and my life experiences – to such an extent that it sometimes feels as though I’m reliving them. When I write, I draw on those experiences and feelings.

I watch people – how they move and how emotions show on their faces. This helps me portray my characters.

My head is always full of ideas, memories, and plans. This helps me to spin plots, to create characters and find the words to develop them.

After pondering my afternoon’s encounter – this is what I wish l had said to that young woman:

NEVER give up on your dream. The time to start your book might not be here yet, but you will absolutely know when it has arrived. Meanwhile, you need to practice. Start a journal and write something every day, even if it is just a few lines. Read as much as you can, and try to figure out how authors craft their sentences. You could benefit from some creative writing workshops and learn a lot at book presentations. Watch Ted Talks by authors (Anne Lamott has an amazing one)

Be an observer – watch how an old man trudges up a hill, and how a little girl scampers down the front steps. You need to remember how a kiss tastes, and how it sounds when your mother calls your name. Fill your word bank so that you have a healthy balance – just in case you need to withdraw some – to describe the smell of the rain, or the sound of your boots crunching in the snow. Little by little, you will learn to put your thoughts and emotions into words, and then write those words down for others.

That’s what a writer does – and you can do it too.

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.

Sleepless in Merida…

At 2 a.m. something startled me.  Music from a party somewhere? A dog barking? A car horn honking? My foggy mind couldn’t quite figure it out – I wanted so badly to roll over and go back to sleep.

This day will be a busy one, I told myself, and you need your rest.  

I forced my eyes shut.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…

Come on, come on –  let’s settle back down now.

I closed my eyes tight and wiggled my head into the soft pillows.

Sigh-igh-igh-igh…

How soft my sheets are – how comfy I feel– I’m so ready to go back to dreamland.

Yaw-aw-aw-awn…

One minute passed, two minutes. The self-motivational tactic was NOT working.  I tried counting backwards from 100 to 0 with no slip-ups.

 – Ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven… ninety-eight…  

NO – O – O -O-O-O-O !

– Maybe some of that Sleepy-Time tea might help?  

I climbd out of bed and padded to the kitchen. Of course the tea was at the back of the cupboard. After groping around and locating the tin, I  dusted it off, filled the kettle, waited for the boil, and let the tea steep. Ugh! The hot raspberry, mint and licorice liquid tasted ghastly, and I was more awake than ever.

 – Well, maybe a little time with facebook might help?

Oh-oh – oh-oh

But after twenty minutes of scrolling through inane comments and out-of-focus photos, my eyes started feeling heavy.

Hurray-ay-ay!

I was just about ready to pack it in when this post caught my eye:

 

Social media is leading the way, and in just two days, 1,300,000 Mexicans have made their views known.

2018 will be an electoral year in Mexico and the political parties traditionally receive funds from the “government” (the money of course comes from taxes paid by all Mexicans). The amount is 12 billion pesos! The change.org petition urges the parties to decline the 12 billion pesos slated for their electoral campaigns in 2018, which would free up the funds for use in earthquake relief and rebuilding efforts.

We don’t need to hear empty promises on TV and radio and see banners blowing in the wind. We want the parties to stand up for Mexico and be of some real use.

If they do, they will be acting like the LEADERS they claim to be – and God knows we desperately need some good leadership!

¡VIVA MÈXICO SEÑORES!

If you’d like to sign the petition, here’s the link:

https://www.change.org/p/senadomexicano-mx-diputados-canalizar-los-recursos-de-los-partidos-pol%C3%ADticos-a-la-reconstrucci%C3%B3n-de-zonas-afectadas?utm_medium=email&utm_source=welcome_new_user&utm_campaign=triggered&j=141343&sfmc_sub=553483212&l=32_HTML&u=26920992&mid=7233052&jb=58200

It seems like TOO MUCH

Yesterday, Tuesday September 19th, the central region of Mexico was struck by a powerful earthquake. As I painfully type this post, the death toll stands at 241 – twenty one children are among them – they were crushed when their primary school collapsed.

It seems perverse that yesterday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake came on the anniversary of the devastating 1985 quake that caused so many deaths in Mexico City. To compound the irony – the shaking started just after a citywide earthquake drill. No “plan” can possibly cope with such sudden destruction, but I wonder – I hope – the simulation exercise saved at least a few lives.

Since the last BIG one – 32 years have passed – and our world has changed. Mexico has suffered from countless natural and man-made disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, environmental catastrophes, a breakdown of traditional values, corruption, narcos, devaluations, one political mess after another, inflation, slander by the international media, bullying by neighboring countries – I did not think one more thing could possibly befall the country – and now this.

It seems like TOO MUCH.

And yet, the minute the shaking stopped yesterday, men and women ran through choking dust and began clawing at the rubble – moving anything they could lift. As others began hauling the rubble away – buckets, shovels, work gloves and masks materialized. TV footage showed bare-backed young men balancing on the top of twisted metal and broken concrete – swinging sledge hammers to loosen the girders and beams. The crowd raised their arms and passed the twisted steel over their heads to those who loaded it into the dump trucks that soon were on the scene.  All through the night, the makeshift rescue workers have continued working. They know that each passing minute reduces the chances of finding survivors.

They remember the horrors of 1985 and they remember the acts of heroism, like those of Los Topos—The Molesa group of young people who spontaneously grouped together and risked their lives by crawling into collapsed buildings to look for survivors. The Moles had no equipment, training, or knowledge of rescue tactics, but they were instrumental in saving countless people, including newborn babies from Hospital Juárez—the most heart-wrenching, heart-warming story to come after the earthquake.

That quake brought the citizens of México City solidly together and caravans arrived with relief supplies from Canada, the U.S., Central America, and from every state in México.

What will it be like this time? Will the world help?

The students at our college here in Merida are collecting baby supplies for needy families. You can help by bringing diapers, wet-wipes, talc, formula, new or used clothing, blankets, bottles, or whatever you think would be useful. On Friday morning (Sept 22) they will deliver the collected goods to the Red Cross , who will in turn distribute them. TTT’s address is:

Calle 57 No. 492, Between 56 & 58, Centro Histórico, Merida.

If you’d rather, the link provided below will direct you to a number of verified agencies who will make good use of anything you can give:

http://themexicoreport.com/2017/09/12/mexico-earthquake-relief-efforts-and-links-to-donate/

Mexico does not have the resources to get through this on its’ own. PLEASE do all you can.

 

*Photo credits: found on Google Images    /     http://www.ocregister.com   /    AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

 

Eccentricity

I went to a small gathering the other day and struck up a conversation with a woman I was meeting for the first time…

We exchanged the usual pleasantries and before long, she confided that she felt a bit out-of-place in Kamloops, but she figured this was because she’d lived most of her life in Vancouver, a much larger city with many more amenities and lots of “diversity”. She then asked me if I have ever lived anywhere else.

My new acquaintance was full of questions when I told her that indeed I had lived in another place – another country in fact – for most of my life. After a brief description of my lifestyle in Mexico, she threw her arms up in the air and shook her head back and forth. “I could never do anything so eccentric,” she said.

That rattled me a bit. I’ve always considered an artist like van Gogh, an actor like Robin Williams, an entertainer like Lady Gaga or those older ladies in purple hats to be eccentric – but me?

I decided to go on line to read some definitions and more opinions. I found psychiatrist David Weeks website – he has conducted a study called, “Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness”. The short video on the site

http://celebratingeccentrics.com/eccentrics-a-study-of-sanity-and-strangeness/ )

intrigued me and I delved further. Bingo! I found Dr. Weeks’ inventory of the 25 descriptors of eccentricity. He lists them in descending order of importance – the first five being the most significant.

  • Enduring non-conformity
  • Creativity
  • Strongly motivated by an exceedingly powerful curiosity and related exploratory behavior
  • A constant and distinct feeling of differentness from others
  • Idealism
  • Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)
  • Intelligent, in the upper fifteen per cent of the population on tests of intelligence
  • Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them
  • Non-competitive
  • Not necessarily in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society
  • Unusual eating habits and living arrangements
  • Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except perhaps in order to persuade them to their contrary point of view
  • Possessed of a mischievous sense of humor, charm, whimsy, and wit
  • More frequently an eldest or an only child
  • Eccentricity observed in at least 36% of detailed family histories, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. (It should be noted that the family history method of estimating hereditary similarities and resemblances usually provides rather conservative estimates.)
  • Eccentrics prefer to talk about their thoughts rather than their feelings. There is a frequent use of the psychological defense mechanisms of rationalization and intellectualization.
  • Slightly abrasive
  • Midlife changes in career or lifestyle
  • Feelings of “invisibility” which means that they believe other people did not seem to hear them or see them, or take their ideas seriously
  • Feel that others can only take them in small doses
  • Feel that others have stolen, or would like to steal, their ideas. In some cases, this is well-founded.
  • Dislike small talk or other apparently inconsequential conversation
  • A degree of social awkwardness
  • More likely to be single, separated, or divorced, or multiply separated or divorced
  • A poor speller, in relation to their above average general intellectual functioning

Hmm-m-m-m-m… I do fit a number of those descriptions, especially the last one… thought I. Maybe I’m a a bit unconventional, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to call myself eccentric.

What about you? Do you see yourself as someone who fits this profile?

Words and pictures together

“Angels are needed in the world right now. Aren’t they always?”

Something I enjoy about blogging is getting to know other bloggers. We form a friendship online, and sometimes we get the opportunity to meet in person. On occasion, I discover that someone I already know is a blogger. This happened with Alexandra Wallner, a woman I often see at the symphony and other musical events. I now find out she is the author of a delightful weekly blog – Sylvia Saltwater ( http://www.sylviasaltwater.com )

Alex, as she prefers to be called, was born in Germany after WWII, and at six years of age she immigrated with her family to the U. S.  She found first grade torturous because she did not understand English. There were no learning assistance programs – everyone sank or swam – and she was sinking fast. Her father, a doctor working in tuberculosis sanatoriums, already knew several languages, and he came up with a way to improve his daughter’s “F” grades. He read comic books to her and his wife – words and pictures together – Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, and Katy Keene became learning tools.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were fewer new TB cases, and the sanatoriums were closing. Alex told me that her family moved many times, but mostly to towns in upstate New York.

She attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N. Y. for her BFA, and was then accepted to the Tyler Institute of Art’s MFA program at Temple University in Philadelphia. But her mother passed away the summer between her senior year at Pratt and the start of the MFA program. Devastated by her loss, Alex decided to stay put. She knew and loved New York and had friends there who would support her.

Sitting in her first class, on the first day of her MFA studies at Pratt, serendipity stepped in. “I believe my mother was my angel,” she says, “I was wearing a silk dress and alligator pumps, and John sported a coat and tie. Nobody dressed like that in art school during the 1960’s.” Alex and John must have looked like a pair of swans in a pond of common ducks – they married three years later.

Once she finished her MFA, she worked as an associate art director for American Home Magazine and New Ingénue Magazines. And after a few years, she and John found themselves working together in their own place, Greywood Studios.

Collaborating on the illustrations for children’s books made their career. The comic books Alex’s father read to her left a deep impression, and in the 1990s, she started writing and illustrating her own works.  Like wet cement sticking to Daisy Duck’s oversized shoes – a love for words and pictures together had firmly adhered to Alexandra Wallner’s alligator pumps.

(See samples of Alex’s books at:  www.alexandrawallner.com  )

Alex gets her inspiration from real life. She says that when she and John lived in Maine, they belonged to “probably one of the worst homeowner’s associations in the U. S. A.” The couple kept sane by making up humorous stories about Sylvia and Max Saltwater, a retired catering couple who believe they have moved to an upscale island community, only to find out it is anything but.

“It was rough living there,” says Alex, “but the place provided me with lots of material. I tell the story of Sylvia and Max in my as-yet-unpublished book, PINOCCHIO ISLAND.”

Eventually Alex and John left the USA and they now live in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Every Wednesday she publishes a charming and insightful post, inspired by characters from her novel, but set in her new home. (You can see her latest one today)

Always enthused, Alex is now writing her memoir. She laughs, “I have old family photos and stories to go with them – more words and pictures together,” she laughs. Mornings find her painting angels. “Angels are needed in the world right now,” she states emphatically. That said, she peeks out from under her floppy hat and asks rhetorically, “Aren’t they always?”

“Merida is an excellent place for writers and painters,” says Alex. “The colors, the textures of the city, the warmth of the people, the music, the rich Mayan / Spanish culture all blend to stimulate creativity. Often artists and writers live in a vacuum and being able to mingle with other artistic people and those who support the arts is inspiring and stimulating.”

Alex and John have just celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.  Remembering how they met, she says, “We were two squares meant for each other” – like words and pictures together.