This Christmas feels a little different than it did last year, where we were worried about the Omicron variant of COVID. This time, we’re worried about the BF.7 variant, and a resurgent flu virus, and RSV, all of which have combined to create what the news calls a “tri-demic” 🙂 Remember when we weren’t worried about pandemics, and we just wandered around hugging and kissing people without a care in the world? It seems like so long ago now. Anyway, we are going to try and make Christmas as normal as it could be this year, while still taking reasonable health precautions. And why are we concerned about RSV, you might ask, since it mostly affects young children? Because we have one! Not Becky and I, of course, but our daughter Caitlin and her husband Wade, who had a beautiful baby girl named Quinn Leanne Hemrica in June. We are grandparents! And yes, this means we are really old!
Note: If you just want to see the photos from this letter all in one place, there’s a Google Album of them. And if you want to see more photos of the Ingram clan, check out the Ingram Family photo album, which has every photo I’ve ever taken, plus a bunch of old print photos that I’ve scanned in over the years.
Okay, now that I’ve given away the big news, back to the letter. We started the year, as we often do, by eating a huge amount of delicious food in a kind of New Year’s smorgasbord, and we did some skating on the pond near the house. Just to recap, we moved to Buckhorn (about two hours north of Toronto) a few years ago, just before COVID hit. Good timing! We live in a duplex with our good friends Marc and Kris, on a lovely piece of property out in the country with acres of hiking trails. It is basically paradise. In February, we went to Ottawa for our annual Winterfest trip, but there was a warm spell so they closed the Ottawa canal (the world’s longest skating rink supposedly, although the Dutch might disagree). So since we couldn’t go skating and have poutine and Beaver Tails, we just went bowling (A note for the non-Canadians: Beaver Tails are fried dough and sugar, not actual tails from actual beavers). We were even joined by our niece Lindsay, who enjoyed bowling despite being nine months pregnant!
Then it was off to Florida with Becky’s brother Dave and his wife Jenn, where we rode bikes and spent a lovely day kayaking and just generally enjoyed being warm and not surrounded with snow. After a few days back home to catch our breath, we were off to Italy for the annual journalism conference I go to in Perugia, a lovely town about two hours north of Rome, in Umbria.
We haven’t been able to go to Italy for the past couple of years, so we were even more excited to go this time than we usually are. After the conference, we finally got to do the trip that we had planned for 2020 — a drive with our Italian friend Anna, down to Puglia in the south of Italy, near the heel of the boot. We stopped for lunch by the sea in Trani and eventually we arrived at our destination: a bed-and-breakfast near Lecce, owned and operated by Anna’s stepdaughter. Since it was early in the season, we had the whole place to ourselves — just us and the cook, who made sure we had pastries for our breakfast on the patio. If you are ever in the area, be sure to check out At The Aia. It was lovely.
We made a number of day trips around Puglia, including Lecce (where we did not eat at this hilariously terrible restaurant) and Sant Isidoro, where we had a seafood lunch, including sea urchins, which were delicious. We went to a nearby park by the Ionian sea, where Anna and I went for a (chilly) swim while Becky sunbathed on the rocks. Another day, we strolled the boardwalk in Santa Caterina and Santa Maria al Bagno, two seaside towns where I also swam, after diving in off the rock shelf surrounding the bay. We did a day trip to Gallipoli (not the one where there was a huge battle in World War One, but the quiet Italian one).
The piece de resistance came when we drove a few hours north to Matera, which has been continuously inhabited for about 150,000 years. The shepherds lived with their families (and sometimes their livestock) in caves carved out of the cliffs, and over the past few decades a lot of those ancient cave homes have been transformed into cafes, bed-and-breakfast rentals, and restaurants. We stayed in a former cave that had been turned into a modern-style Airbnb just beside the main cathedral, with an amazing view of the old town (which was even more amazing at night). And we hiked about two kilometres down a goat track, across a Tibetan swing bridge, and up the hill on the other side to get a view from one of the ancient caves, looking back at the old town.
The only real downside of the trip was that both Becky and I got COVID — not a big surprise, I guess, since we spent several days at a conference with thousands of attendees from different countries. We tried to mask and obey all the protocols, but it is difficult to do while eating in an Italian restaurant! Anyway, whether because of all the boosters and vaccinations and whatnot or because of our strong constitutions, we both got a very mild case — no fever at all, or any other symptoms for that matter, apart from a sore throat.
Back in Ontario, we made a quick trip up to our cottage at Golden Lake, and then jumped on a plane and headed to Colorado, where we attended the wedding of Kris’s niece Becca and her partner Allee, and stayed in the small town of Palmer Lake, in an Airbnb that just happened to be right beside a great hiking trail (I was huffing and puffing and thought I was just getting old, and then remembered we were about 8,000 feet above sea level). After the wedding, we visited the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, these huge spikes of red sandstone and limestone that were pushed upwards millions of years ago, around the time the Rocky Mountains were formed.
Towards the end of June, we spent the week with Becky’s family at a resort on Otter Lake near Kingston, where they have a bunch of small cabins by the lake. We had a stretch of pretty beautiful weather, so I got out in the kayak a lot, and managed to see both a bald eagle and a little loon baby. I went out one evening and there was a loon sitting on a nest on this tiny island, and the next morning there was a mom and dad loon and a little baby one, maybe six inches long. He rode on his mom’s back for awhile before swimming around on his own. I also took my lovely bride out for a paddle on a standup paddleboard while we were there, and I am glad to say that we both survived!
Just as we got done with that week, Quinn made her entrance. Trust me when I say that even though Quinn is only six months old, we probably have about 10,000 photos and videos of her, because of course she is the cutest baby that has ever been born — and is also a genius 🙂 Becky and I got to see her in the hospital when she wasn’t even a day old, and we got to hold her when she was very tiny, and then got to spend a bunch of time with her at the lake as well (where we baptized her both in the lake and in the kitchen sink). I got to nap while holding Quinn a few times, which has to be one of the most peaceful and relaxing things ever — although I’m not sure whether I helped put her to sleep or she helped put me to sleep. Probably a bit of both!
In addition to holding Quinn as much as possible, we also squeezed in a backcountry camping trip with Marc and Kris in Massasauga Provincial Park, which is second in size only to Algonquin Park. We spent several days on Spider Lake (named for its shape, not its inhabitants). It was lovely and warm, which was great for swimming but not so great if you don’t like mosquitoes. Back at the cottage, an unexpected surprise! A young boy who was making sand castles on our beach dug up a carved stone arrowhead, which looks to be about 4,000 years old or so. I’ve dug on that beach my whole life, and all I’ve ever found are old fishing lures, and the occasional cigarette butt 🙂
In the fall, Becky got whisked off for a whirlwind trip to a resort in British Columbia by her work, where they went salmon fishing and Becky caught a big one, which we hope to eat soon! While she was fishing, I was paddling up Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park, which is one of my favourite places. There were some magical days in the fall, when the lake was just like a mirror, and lots of time out on the porch playing guitar with our nephews Scott and Curtis (practicing Bob Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn”). Speaking of guitars, in one of the best gifts next to Quinn’s arrival, I got a brand new guitar for my 60th birthday! I also got another special treat: my nephew Matthew organized a big party, cleverly disguised as his wedding 🙂 On Thanksgiving, we had a fairly big gang at the cottage, we did our usual hike up to a lookout over the lake.
In December, Becky and I made another whirlwind trip to Calgary for her work Christmas party and to see some old friends, and managed to get out to Banff for a quick mountain visit. Then we helped move our youngest daughter Zoe from Kingston, where she was living with our middle child Meaghan, to a new apartment in Toronto. Unfortunately, it also involved trying to manhandle a 400-pound pullout couch into her apartment (pivot!). The couch refused to shrink in order to make it through the door, so we eventually left it by the side of the road so it could become someone else’s problem 🙂
In conclusion, we had a pretty action-packed year. As always, we hope that you and yours had a great year as well, and we wish you all the best for the coming one. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!