Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Fishes

Open your presents at Christmastime but be thankful year round for the gifts you receive.
~Lorinda Ruth Lowen

The danger in talking about 2009 is that this could become one of Those Christmas Letters. Those bragging ones. If it strikes you this way, I apologize in advance. It was an unusual year for us, largely because, for much of it, Dave was on sabbatical. It was a full year – with wonderful gifts in each month.

Travel was a major theme, starting in January when my sister Heather and I joined our parents for a few days in Florida. It’s been many years since I’ve been somewhere warm in the winter and I enjoyed the greenness of everything, finding the most comfortable shoes ever, and, of course, all-you-can-eat buffets. Dave’s sabbatical began at the end of January – after 19.5 years of teaching. He quickly settled into a sabbatical routine: never watched Oprah, never got underfoot, and didn’t attempt any big renovations, but was able to watch the Leafs lose on the west coast, nap occasionally, make lunches for kids, think about his courses and philosophy of education, and work with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Our first family trip was to Quebec City for Carnival, with a little Winterlude in Ottawa. Unlike Florida, Quebec is un peu froid. The boys enjoyed ziplining over the Plains of Abraham (did Wolfe and Montcalm imagine this?), Dave and Megan drove a dogsled, and I enjoyed a drink called Caribou in an ice glass.

At the beginning of March, Megan turned eight – with a dog-themed party – and two days later, Dave and I were on a plane to Florence, Italy, with my Mom and Dad holding down the fort. (Thank you!) The eight weeks of Italian conversation classes we took stood us in good stead, especially at the convent we stayed at – where the nuns spoke NO English. We had never seen anything as beautiful as the Italian landscape and enjoyed a wonderful ten days – including a road trip to Parma for cheese! We learned to make ravioli and did not succumb to Stendhal Syndrome (an overdose of art).

In May, we took the kids on the First Plane Ride of their Lives. It was fun to watch John strolling through the airport in shades, pulling his carry-on like he had done it a million times, while Matt took photos of every single thing – in the first 24 hours, he took 600 photos! We visited Dave’s cousin Diane and the aquarium in Vancouver. On Vancouver Island, we searched in vain for Nanaimo bars in Nanaimo, fell in love with the ancient cedars in Cathedral Grove, loved the winding turns of the corduroy-road-turned-highway and landed in Tofino in time for my 40th birthday. We hiked the island – despite cougar and tsunami warning signs – and enjoyed great food. Back on the mainland, we spent a night with my cousin Jane-Anne’s family, before heading into the mountains. We arrived in Jasper for the May long weekend – and were greeted by 8 inches of snow! In Edmonton, we spent an entire day in the waterpark in the Mall. The Badlands struck us at first as weird and eventually as stunning. Our trip concluded after three weeks with a visit to Dave’s aunt Margaret’s family, and a last hurrah to see Banff and Lake Louise.

Matt gave me a Soccer Mom keychain for my birthday – and this year was the first time I enthusiastically embraced the title. It helped that the kids all played on successful teams with really nice kids. Matthew’s hardware collection grew with each tournament, while Megan got called up to play at an older girls’ tournament – and they played (and won) their finals at the same time as John’s team won their finals on the adjacent field. We were literally running back and forth.

In July, the kids and I had some sort of flu – we thought maybe swine – while Dave enjoyed a return visit to CERN in Switzerland. (Still no black holes.) We said goodbye to our old van and hello to a new one. Our favourite of the kids’ various camps was John’s week at chef camp. (Mmm...) Dave’s dad Don turned 80 and we enjoyed a good party at Dave’s brother Steve’s house.

In August, we helped look after my sister Karen’s three children at her cottage in Quebec, with Megan as the best babysitter ever. We really enjoyed our camping trip to Forillon National Park four years ago, so we decided to go back, but this time we rented a trailer in the park - a wonderfully civilized way to camp. We enjoyed hiking to the top of a mountain and to the tip of the Gaspé, where we saw whales.

In September, it was back to real life: Dave returned to school, while Matthew and John were in new and different schools – Matthew in junior high and John in a gifted class. I have been busy with a number of writing projects. I hosted a dinner for the Stephen Lewis Foundation in October – which was the #3 fundraiser in Canada for this project – the same week that Dave was a physics busker at the Quantum to Cosmos Festival. I also took on the coordination of Sunday School for our church.

Some people assume that we will try to continue the jet-setting life of this past year. (They have not apparently been privy to our bills!) But, while we are grateful for the adventures and beauty of the last year and the connections we’ve made, we are also very happy to enjoy normal daily life. There’s no place like home.

And before we lose all our Italian, Per un Natale pieno di pace, amore, e tanta felicità. May your Christmas be full of peace, love and much happiness.

The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and good will of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.