Something to SEA: “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt”

Last year, I started a tradition with my niece and nephew that turned out to be much more fun than I had ever hoped for.

I noticed just how many Christmas Trees were on display in business windows and in other public places around town, and I thought that it would be pretty neat to take a picture of every tree I saw.

Thus this new holiday tradition of “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt” was born.

My nephew is Agent 101 (he is now 11), with my niece as Agent 202 (is now 13). I am Agent 303, boss of the mission. I recycled our Agent names from a game we played several years ago when my nephew devised these names for each of us. Sidebar: Agent 101 didn’t give my husband (his uncle) an Agent name; rather, he named him Dr. Coconut.

Anyway, I kept a running list of the trees I saw, then added to it every day as my husband and I would make our daily rounds and beach runs.

slide7I then began to “tease” my two co-agents with cryptic messages after I set a date with my sister-in-law as to when our “Operation” could take place. I would leave messages like the one to the left in their mailbox (I know the images are a bit blurry-if you click on them, you will be able to read them better).

Agent 101 and Agent 202 accepted the mission, even though they had no idea what I was up to! All they knew is that they were going to spend the afternoon with their crazy aunt, and it had nothing to do with Six Flags or Artie Farty (yeah, my sister-in-law loves me for teaching the kiddos all sorts of inappropriate ditties like that).

On the mission date, each agent was dressed in black and all ready to go at the designated pick up time of 2:30 pm. I handed over their “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt” Classified Folders, which contained the mission instructions, a pen, a map of all of the trees I knew of, and a list in “route order,” so to speak, of the places we would be stopping.slide3

As they read the instructions, they were laughing and loving it:

Today’s Mission:

  1. Rapidly enter the buildings on the Map.
  2. Say NOTHING.
  3. Stand in front of the formal Christmas tree. 
  4. Smile for a photo. 
  5. Rapidly exit the building.

Agent 101 and Agent 202 had a lot of fun sneaking around and became more stealthy with each mission location. I was glad that none of the businesses gave us a hard time about going into their stores just for a picture with their tree. In fact, many of the people working at each spot laughed and loved the idea.

We ended up with photographs of 49 different Christmas Trees, most of them from my map, but we found others along our journey too. When they would find a new one, they would scream, “There’s one! Can we use that one too?” My answer was slide1always “Of course!” Both agents were silent for each business visit and neither uttered a word inside any of the stops along the way. Their poses in each picture are a crack-up, too (I didn’t include any so as to protect their privacy), and as I am looking at the pictures now, I am literally laughing out loud.

Photo 22 is actually a picture of the agents with Dr. Coconut posing as a tree; they wanted to stop by and say hi to their uncle to include him in our mission.

When Operation Christmas Tree Hunt 2015 was completed, I took them out to dinner to celebrate our successful mission.

I made a photo book for each Agent with the pictures I took. Even though the books didn’t arrive until January, they didn’t care. Agent 101 and Agent 202 loved their books just the same.

I’m already keeping a list of the trees I spot for this year’s Operation Christmas Tree Hunt, but I’m going to make a few changes to the mission parameters. This year, I am going to add riddles to some of the stops, where Agent 101 and Agent 202 will have to figure out the next stop along the way instead of plotting every location on the map. I’m also going to make “Thank You” cards for the Agents to hand to each business. Agent 303 (me) will keep some singles in my pocket, and if a business has a charity collection bucket, I’ll have Agent 101 or Agent 202 give a dollar towards the cause.  Maybe next season we can call up Agent 404 (my 5-year-old nephew) to the ranks of big kid Agent and have him join us for our adventures.

slide5Agents 101 and 202 might not remember the present I gave them last year or the year before. However, I know Agent 101 and Agent 202 will always remember Operation Christmas Tree Hunt and the many laughs they shared with mission boss Agent 303 along the journey.

I know Agent 303 will.

 

 

The Signs of a New Direction, Perhaps?

Author’s note: If you know me, you are aware that I’ve been experiencing a year full of “signs from the universe,” so to speak, which is leading me on a pilgrimage to Ireland in August. Today’s post is the latest in the web of signs guiding me to “sea“k my soul; these opened up an entirely new path on that web. Everything is mysteriously connected, and someday I intend to share the whole story. For now, please enjoy this small anecdote from my journey so far…

I started researching my family history yesterday at the local library, mostly because I am interested in learning more about my dad’s father’s heritage. We think there’s Irish somewhere in that lineage. Since I am headed to Dublin, Ireland, next month, I thought I’d see if I could find any ties to locations or to family that might be there. So far, that search has amounted to nothing.

Zilch.

The day, though, did not leave me disappointed.

Rather, it left me invigorated, and perhaps even a little spooked (in a good way).

My dad’s mother, Tillie, was one of 8 children. I thought her parents immigrated together from Russia. I also recall hearing they came from Austria, and they might have come to the USA separately. Various family legends speak of her two older siblings being born here, no…the oldest was born in Austria…no, the two were born abroad, and so on.

Nobody really knows the true story.  I regret never asking any of my grandparents about their heritage when they were still here. (Advice: If you have that chance, do it today before it’s too late).

Yesterday turned out to be an amazing day, as the truth started to reveal itself.

While using the local library’s Ancestry.com account, I search my paternal grandmother’s name and found a record from the 1920 census listing the people in her family. I knew the names of her brothers and sisters (Sam, Helen, Emilie, Michael, Sophie, Vladimir, Alice-she wasn’t born yet for the 1920 census) and that their last name was Gibey, but I never knew the names of her father or mother.

Well, I learned that her parents’ names were Joseph Gyby and Eva (Bybel) Gyby.  Both were born in Galicia.

Galicia?

Where is that? I never heard of it, or at least I don’t recall hearing of it before yesterday (July 25, 2016).

Turns out Galicia is a region in Central Eastern Europe that is between Poland and Ukraine. It was absorbed into Poland (Western Galicia) and Ukraine (Eastern Galicia) during the first half of the 1900’s.

Both Joseph and Eva spoke Russian, according to the 1920 census, and both were 37 years old. That meant they were born sometime in 1883-1884.

They apparently came to the USA separately, Joseph in 1909 and Eva in 1898. The 1920 census states that both Joseph and Eva were naturalized as citizens in 1919, and the spelling of their last name changed to Gibey somewhere along the line.

Just when things were getting good, I ran out of time and had to leave the library.

I have had this eastern European heritage inside me that I never realized, including roots from a country/region that no longer exists! Pretty exciting!

Fast forward to about 6:30 pm.

I picked up a book I am in the middle of reading but didn’t read for a few days. It was a gift from a former student who said it was the best book he ever read: The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. (Sidebar: When a former student gives me a book, you can bet that I will read it.)

I read about 15 pages, took a break, then started reading Chapter 5, Section 8 on page 139:

“In 1889, Louis and Regina Borgenicht boarded an ocean liner in Hamburg bound for America. Louis was from Galicia, in what was then Poland.”

I stopped in my tracks right there.

Galicia? Again?

Why did I happen to read that particular page on the same day I found out I have ties to this mysterious location named Galicia, that I had never heard of before?

I believe the universe had a hand in this huge “coincidence,”; it’s too uncanny, like so many of the other signs I’ve been experiencing this year.

I put the book down and just sat there, shaking my head in disbelief and in awe.

That was the perfect spot to stop reading for the night, as my brain was getting tired and I didn’t want to uncover a whole new path of discovery while I was fatigued.

But it doesn’t end there…

About thirty minutes later, the Yankees versus Houston Astros game started at Minute Maid Field in Houston.

In the bottom of the first inning, the first Astros player in the lineup was George Springer, who hit a home run on the first pitch he saw from Michael Pineda. I did a double take as I watched the replay: behind him, on the electronic sign behind home plate, the following ad was on screen (and was for the rest of the inning): EVA AIR.

While Springer and subsequent Astros players were at bat, the AIR part was conspicuously covered up, and all that was visible most of the time was EVA.

EVA.

My great grandmother’s name that I never knew before yesterday.

Shivers and tingles and reassurance and pure awesomeness sent from the Universe.

All along, I thought I’d easily uncover a tie to Ireland, but I was mistaken.  While I still might unearth an Irish connection, I am now aware of a new and different path. I am observing and documenting everything, and as Seamus Heaney put it, I will be “digging” to uncover and learn all that I can.

Galicia. Eva.

I can’t wait to go back to the library to see what else I can dig up.

PS: Malcolm Gladwell threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Friday, July 22, 2016. It was Malcolm Gladwell night. Never really heard of him before my student gave me The Outliers, but I am now an avid follower of Mr. Gladwell.

IMG_4065
The Gyby/Gibey Family in 1927: Top: Tillie (my grandmother-also known as Matilda, Tekla), Helen, Sam, Eva (my great-grandmother, maiden name Bybel), Emilie (also known as Millie), Sophie (also known as Cleo). Bottom: Michael, Alice, Joseph (great-grandfather), Vladimir (also known as Laddie/William/Bill). Ironically enough, the name Gibey/Gyby died as none of the males had a son.