Overview: Velma has seen many extraordinary things in her lifetime, being born to missionary parents who were teachers in S. Africa and Kenya she enjoyed a childhood growing up in Africa and the States and Canada and had the good fortune to travel and experience different cultures. She was one of the youngest sisters in the world to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with her dad. Velma is a woman who has been influenced by the amazing woman who have gone before her – especially by her grandma who lived to be 108 in her own home. What an amazing era to live through, they are a generation that impacted the world with grace and dignity. Woman didn’t even have the right to vote in the USA when her grandma was born. Both her dad and step dad served in WWII, her step dad in Belgium, Normandy and France as a medic. She survived the tragedy of having four members of her immediate family in a plane crash that took the life of her dear dad so she became acquainted with the stages of grief at a tender age. My younger sis was just 11 when she was in that plane crash. When I watched Michael Jackson’s funeral online and his daughters sobbing “I love you daddy” it struck me that ‘we were that same age when we lost our daddy!” Many thanks to all those in our African community who held us children in their hearts all these years! She earned a 4.0 GPA during academy/high school in spite of everything and she earned a honors degree in Psychology from Queen’s University in Kingston. She survived a brain aneurysm bleed out which is very rare (her doctor told her 50% don’t survive and of those that do 92% are paralyzed) so she has shared the life lessons gifted her by her near death experience to gently inspire others in blog posts and through Living Full Out life coaching as a Contentment Catalyst. One more thing, she is happily married to a computer guru who created a start up company that merged with McAfee – lucky her! Share her posts on facebook or google plus or your favorite social media, sign up for her newsletter and follow along as she shares her experience and knowledge.
This is my story on how I survived.
I lived in Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the States.
I’m Velma and there is this plaque in my hallway that reads “Home is where our story begins”.So begins my ‘Out of Africa’ story as I was born in Butterworth, South Africa.
Missionary kid and 4th generation vegetarian and 4th generation SDA (christian) who outgrew it and started thinking, I have a favorite mug that says ‘Start Thinking” and I love to pour my African grown coffee in it – supporting the small farms in Kenya and other African countries consciously. Also tea – we use to drive by the tea fields of Kericho when we lived in Kenya making the six hour drive from Kisii to Nairobi during my formative year. Spent some time in Religious Science and am now leaving that and becoming ‘skeptical’.
Passion I had as a child was I loved working with animals. I was indelibly impressed by the wild life of S. Africa where I was born, the lions, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, Thompson Gazelle and crested cranes, finding nests full of ostrich eggs, finding wild chameleons and prickly hedge hogs that we would play with for an hour or two and then let them go back into the wild, and later after our family moved to Kenya – the lakes full of flamingos that we drove by in Nakuru.
We left Rhodesia when I was four and I got to meet my grandparents and aunt Velma for the first time in the States. Aunt Velma, who I was named after, raised peacocks, I can remember searching for peacock feathers that had been discarded in her yard, what a cherished memory. I still have a vase full of peacock feathers gleaned from her home. She rescued dogs that the Humane Society was going to have to put down, what a big heart she had..
I got to see snow for the first time, how cold it was on my fingers! I knew nothing about ear muffs and long johns after living in tropical Africa.
Between age 4 and 7 we lived in Michigan in the States on a 33 acre fruit farm with apple orchards, grape vineyards and a pear lane and 3 beloved horses, my colt was named Prancer and his mom was called Beauty. Can’t you just imagine the playful energy of this colt? We worked on my parents farm growing cucumbers that we sold at the market, we pooled the money we earned to buy 3 horses, how is that for learning the value of money as a child?
My mom remembers us doing cartwheels down the hallway of our house. I aced gymnastics as a young first grader, and made the University team. My coach wanted me to go to the Olympics but then my parents got a call from the conference to go serve and help people as teachers in Kenya. So even us kids made sacrifices It was painful to leave our three horses Flash, Beauty and my foal Prancer. We couldn’t just get horses in Africa due to the tetsie fly that killed them. So what does an athletic child do when she can’t pursue gymnastics and moves to Kenya? Why she climbs the highest mountain on the continent of Africa of course with her sisters and dad! After you finish reading every word of this page you can scroll back up here. See http://www.climbingmoutkilimanjaro.rocks
I well remember being woken up in the middle of the night on the farm to help lite the fires to keep the grape vineyard from freezing. Pruning the grape vineyard, picking apples at harvest time, planting cucumbers and asparagus, canning enough vegetables to last through the cold winter, it all was a part of the hobby farm my parents who were both full time teachers, had. Anyone else remember playing with computer punch cards that dad brought home in the late 60’s?
Grandma had a bee farm, mom and dad would often ask us where we wanted to go explore on the weekend and we would chime “Grandma’s house, grandma’s house!
We use to help her nail bee frames together when I was 4-8 years old, and again as a teenager – a penny a nail, that is how much we made, a penny a nail! Wow was the honey delicious straight out of the extractor in the fall! So many joyous memories of helping out at the honey booth at the county fair and 4H clubs. Beekeeping is in our blood, my sis and niece both have bee hives now. There are so many different flavors of honey made from the different flowers and nectars, I love trying different ones. My grandma use to press various flowers and make a display for the fair with them showing what color honey each flower produced. Loved it!
Our generation was all girls, there were four girls in our family, no boys at all, and all our cousins were also girls and we grew having a lot of sisterhood moments. We 4 sisters have a very close bond. .
My mom worked at a time when the SDA church did not pay woman equally for equal work, my mom, our neighbors Dorothy and Irene all three had to split one male salary! So my mom made 1/3 what my dad did for the same job. In my generation this happened. I saw a video on FB where two monkeys were given different rewards, grapes and cucumber for the same task, and boy did the monkey receiving the cucumber throw a fit! Even monkeys can tell it isn’t fair
Had my 8th birthday in Kenya and had a pet vervet monkey.
Remembering how we use to play kick the can, tag, and cut paper snowflakes out of paper and hung them from the ceiling, we played all through the compound and neighbors yards, playing hide and seek by climbing on roof tops, climbing the water tower, wonderful years of climbing trees and shaking hands with all we passed and learning some beginning Swahili. Jumbo! We were the youngest sisters to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with our dad who taught science and math at Kamagambo Teachers College between 1970-1976. If you want to make a donation in honor of the climb Kamagambo needs a new girls dorm. P.O. Box 591, Kisii, Kenya, East Africa…I remember that from my childhood!
Indelibly imprinted in my memory are glimpses of the amazing wild life of Africa. I loved the crested cranes that walked in front of our house! Can almost imagine hearing the scratching of feet across a corrugated tin roof.
When school let out we would spend time on Safari, always hoping to see all of the big five in one day, which we were so excited to do! We were locals, not tourist and didn’t stay in fancy hotels in Africa but camped with other missionaries on a shoe string budget. I remember when I was 12 and my oldest sister was earning her Silver Medal, we built and camped in lean to’s just outside of a game park, boy do we have stories to tell from that experience! The lions eyes that glinted in the firelight, the elephants that slowly walked through camp…see crocodiles where we had washed our breakfast dishes! We even hiked at the scene famous in the movie Out Of Africa. (Which was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater!)
People of my generation know of the old Africa I loved so well. I was amazed at how the woman especially would carry water or wood on their heads, and as a kid I use to practice carrying a bowl on my head to be more like them! And the mothers who carried a toddler with a mutengi wrapped around the waist, how precious is that!
Indelible imprints of Africa in my memory. No phones, no TV and no daytime electricity! We were too rural to have phones, even if someone was taken to the hospital you couldn’t just call and see how they were! We climbed trees a lot and played outside a lot and took correspondence (homeschooling) classes. Somedays we would go to the local school where the teacher would ask questions in Swahili and we would answer in English. Loved the sound of rain on our tin roof! The sound of the birds chirping as they woke up, and the special memory of my older sister playing the flute or my other sis playing the piano after dark, what a sweet time that was!
Every year we would spend time at Watamu on the beach close to Mombasa. Many an hour was spent collecting shells and learning to waterski and swim in the salty ocean water with my dad driving the boat, telling us we never knew what skills we would need later on in life, and sure enough my eldest sister ended up teaching water skiing at summer camp.. We learned about high tide and low tides and spent hours in the sun searching through tidal pools, finding seashells and cowrie shells and sea urchins and so much more. Blissful. My mom says out of all her daughters I was the one content to watch the waves come in. No wonder I love Hawaii now!
We would buy a basketful of ripe dripping mangoes and feast in the warm tropical breeze. We picked ripe bananas and pineapple and passion fruit from our own garden and enjoyed the tropical breezes and four oclock thunderstorms and the haunting sound of rain on our tin roof. What a rich emotional tapestry did our time in Africa weave!
The people of Africa are so precious. Community is valued as wealth in Africa, what a beautiful value to participate in. We grew up playing with Masaii, Kisii and Luo chldren as well as other missionary kids. The Luo’s were studied by anthropologist for being one of the most altruistic tribes, and we were influenced by their values in our formative years, what a gift! Here is my childhood friends Kiki and Masaii children.
Below is the expansive Savannah under the shadow of snow capped Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. Four sisters and dad who set world record climbing Mt. Kili, newer pics of Mt. Kilimanjaro don’t have as much snow, you can see the effects of global warming by the snow cap melting.
Remember that I said there were no phones, no TV and no daytime electricity where we lived in Africa! Even if someone was in the hospital there was no way to phone them, you had to go to the hospital in person to see how they were. Imagine the difficulty of that with the next piece of my story.
Four members of my family were in a plane crash which took the life of my dear father from 3rd degree burns after a wind gust slammed the Cessna they were in into Nagong hills just outside of Nairobi in Masaii territory – and we were abruptly uprooted from Africa,
I had returned to the States two weeks earlier with my sis two years older than myself and we both went to boarding school. We didn’t even get to return to Africa for the funeral. What started out as a happy adventure for us sisters turned into a tragedy. “What a tragedy, what a tragedy” a neighbor of ours at Solusi said over and over even years later at my niece’s wedding over my dad’s death. I borrowed one suitcase from my dad and that was all I had to survive with, I had just two outfits to my name, one dress and one pantsuit (you remember the 70’s?) That was all I owned in the whole world – two outfits! Still in elemenary school I would wash one by hand at night and wear the dry one the next day. Then the plane crash happened and my sis and I went through the cultural shock of being in the States, the first time I bought something I thought I was being robbed when they charged over the printed price, I didn’t know about taxes, there weren’t any in Kenya at that time and we bargained for everything like the locals.
My dad and eldest sister had just climbed Mt. Kenya and were on their way to Uhuru Point on Mt. Kilimanjaro when the plane crash happened.They wanted to climb both mountains within a week of each other, that was their goal. The country shut down for 3 days to attend dads funeral, he was that well loved by the community, people lined the streets to see his casket go by and there was standing room only in the parking lot outside of the church where the service was held. My younger sis was just 11 when she was in that plane crash. When I watched Michael Jackson’s funeral online and his daughters sobbing “I love you daddy” it struck me that ‘we were that same age when we lost our daddy!” Many thanks to all those in our African community who held us children in their hearts all these years! My mom and younger and oldest sis had a broken back and concussions and were in the hospital in Africa for quite some time, then moved to Canada where mom taught elementary kids. I helped take care of my oldest sis in the states as she struggled with brain trauma and trying to attend college where she would fall asleep standing up. The doctors assumed she had gotten medical help in Africa, no, they had sent her to the States to get medical help. How many nets we fell through. Tragic, as our childhood neighbor said. More than one night I went to sleep hungry, having had no food and no money for food that day. In Africa people use to ask ‘Have you eaten today” when they met, they cared that much. People in the States never asked. Life was shattered with the plane crash and being uprooted from Africa.
My younger sis was just eleven when dear dad passed away. Maya Angelou, well known poet says something along the lines of ‘There have been a lot of clouds in my life, but there have been a lot of rainbows too”. I like that a lot, since there have been both clouds and rainbows in my life. There are gifts that come from hard times, the gift of resilience and the gift of having compassion for others who have suffered loss and experienced the 5 stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. We lost everything, we lost our dad, our home, our community, our support network, only those who have experienced it truly understand, until it happens to you you don’t understand.
How do you rent a place when you are under 18? Another said ‘You don’t have a dad to protect you” and were inappropriate, so that time was a mixed bag. “I’m a veteran’s daughter, my dad risked his life to save strangers, imagine what he would do to protect me.”
.I’ve had an aneurysm, and one of the lessons I learned from that was to come into the present moment and fully live the present moment, forgive the past and move forward. I didn’t even have the paperwork to move with my mom to Canada from Africa, I knew nothing about immigration, it was hard not having normal guidance into adulthood. Life is tough when your mom has a concussion, broken bones and 3rd degree burns and is hospitalized in another country! But you have to understand, in Africa we didn’t even have a phone, even if someone was in the hospital you couldn’t call and see how they were doing, you had to go there in person. So I see things cross culturally. Forgiveness helps you not become a bitter person. .
My mom is a breast cancer survivor When one person gets cancer it affects the whole family, as you could imagine. Who’s life is ever perfect? Instead we live and love fully through whatever comes. My cousin, a swede who married another swede, had a disabled child with Jouberts syndrome – a malformed brain stem, which has only a one in a million chance of happening but when you are that one it matters. One of my relatives experienced what no parents should ever have to live through, the passing away of her daughter from complications to cerebral palsy so we have been touched by disabilities too. I remember my relative often referred to her disabled daughter as a teacher. Even with her never saying a word I really learned that presence is enough just by being in this little light-beings presence.
I worked as a secretary to pay my way through school. Achieved a 4.0 GPA (straight A’s) continuously throughout high school. Going to a work study boarding school allowed me to work half days and attend school. During my childhood in Africa I had seen what a difference education made and poured my soul and spirit into studying.
Formal schooling was getting my Bachelor’s Honors degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario reunited with my younger sister. We had some wonderful sister time in University. We actually marched together and both received our Psychology degrees together, some of the best years of my life.
Had fun working as a carpenter’s helper one summer, for peer counselors at Health Services, receptionist as the John Deutsch University Center, for career planning and placement, and as a dorm counselor etc.They call that time being a starving student for a reason.
Met my husband volunteering on the staff of a suicide prevention hotline. He was staffing the hotline table looking for new volunteers, that is how we met. They say volunteers make a difference because they genuinely care. The most wonderful people there who just wanted to help people and make a difference. It’s been a long time ago now but I was drawn to Darren’s intellect and mind and his teaching and writing and could listen to him by the hour, he’s a genius as my mother says.
We both worked as Research Assistants in the Psychology Department of Queen’s University at Kingston, we had offices next door to each other so we saw each other all the time. He’s a brilliant computer guru who invented with his two university friends what would become the McAfee personal firewall. He is one of the brightest rainbows in my life. I finally found solace in the beauty of our relationship. He is my anchor in life.
I delighted to attend my younger sisters wedding.. She had a snowball wedding, meaning all of the bridesmaids got to wear white! Grandma flew out to British Columbia and we rode up the ski lift together for the first ever picturesque wedding on the top of Blackcomb/Whister Resort in B.C. At the reception at the lake an artist was spontaneously painting portraits of the gathering. All the grads from Queen’s got together and did an oil thigh with school spirit!
A couple years later there was an intimate gathering of family in the quaint and picturesque town of Banff in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. Hubby surprised me with a horse and carriage ride just because he knew I loved horses! A romantic day to remember! We had our reception at Lake Louise over looking the arched doorways and expansive view of the romantic Rockies, one of the most beautiful, gorgeous and romantic places on earth!
Long story short, we moved to Silicon Valley in California, going where the work was, so I am now a ‘California girl,” if you have heard the song: “I wish they all could be California girls.”
Assisted a Reverend in Religious Science with his website on guided imagery. Got pneumonia and quit. Am getting to the place where you can have your freedom back, more time to do what I want when I want and with whom I want, more time for what i love.
My dear gramdma lived to be 108 in her own home so I feel for those who are caregivers. It is the season of life over 50 to have to care for aging parents. I really relate to those who are caregivers, feeling foggy, exhausted, wondering when you’ll ever have time for a shower, wearing a hat to cover hair you haven’t had time to wash in a couple days, you need rest right now. Exhausted. Some of the most selfless people I know are caregivers, not just nurses but those who care for less than able bodied children or aging parents, I feel honored to know each and every one.
I’m a brain aneurysm bleed out survivor, do you know someone who survived a stroke? It was the beginning of an unexpected, grueling, and often terrifying chapter in my life. But like so many life lessons, a bit of courage and plenty of love ensured a happy ending although the first two years were really rough. Am married to a computer guru, who is wonderfully supportive, lucky me.
Grew up with a family with 4 daughters so know sister bond’s quite deeply. I can be the sister you never had.
So many other life experiences, like traveling through Europe and visiting museums and exquisite architecture with my sisters and parents, my mom with her baby in arms visiting Holland without my dad, (we practiced, we practiced holding hands she said when I asked her about it). One of my earlier memories is my mom holding me up high so I could see the acres of tulips, was I ever impressed with the windmills and wooden shoes and brightly decorated gingerbread of Holland. There is so much more that I have experienced like surviving an ice storm without electricity in minus 25 degree Celsius, a storm that killed over 25 people in our county, snake stories beyond anything you ever imagined, but this gives you a flavor for the rich tapestry of depth in my life.
Began a Living Full Out Life Coaching business in 2003, that I call being a Contentment Catalyst after the lessons learned from my near death experience which is a unique, unforgettable and rare perspective to offer to the steps in the Self Love Blueprint.
I bring who I am to the work. I had the commitment to earn a Psychology degree from Queen’s University in 1989 which is rare in the life coaching business. I also bring the life lessons learned from life experience, such as that presence is enough which i learned from my disabled niece.
Below – this is how I look when I’m casually at home or on vacation in Hawaii at fifty something. My mom didn’t go grey for decades and so I think I take after her. My cousins are already grey, it is surprising to see the difference. Aging, it always surprises me because I still feel 20 inside. How about you? From my Psychology background I know that is because the neuron pathways set in early adulthood so the framework is set at that age. I am one of the most non-judgmental people you’ll meet – I loved the books “The Little Prince” and the “Velveteen Rabbit”. Have you read them?
Tired of having to pretend you are always happy and that everything is fine? We sometimes had to put on a front and be role models and smile when we were missionary kids. It was a different time. I’ve so outgrown that and my presence gives other permission to be real too.
Being vulnerable about my story and loving myself through it is one of the bravest things I’ve ever done.
I’ve been certified as a Master Results Coach and certified as a Catalyst. I’ve shared what space allows of my authentic story, rather than pretending to be a big success, for the things that look like freaking problems and impossible situations are the leanings that impact others – which I hope moves, touches and inspires you. Some rare learning came from my near death experience which taught me to face death with gratitude of each moment of life and other learning which arise from honoring the generations before us and the beautiful countries in which we’ve lived and their unique values such as that community can be true wealth.
I invite you to reach out to me and work with me as a Perception Shift & Mindset Personal Life Coach if this story resonates with you.