The Ingram Christmas Letter for 2011

As I write this, I find myself torn between loving the warm weather that has made December in Toronto feel more like October — with green grass and warm breezes instead of howling winds and snowdrifts — and feeling anxious because it just doesn’t really seem like Christmas. Global climate change is a harsh mistress. Our year started with a strange omen, included a lot of travel to distant lands (if San Francisco and Greece qualify), saw offspring graduate from various educational institutions, and brough a summer of unparalleled beauty, a couple of mini-vacations at fancy resorts and a hectic fall filled with conferences in two different countries and three separate provinces.

The links below should open in a new window — and if you want to just read the text first, and then look at the pictures separately, they are all in a Flickr slideshow which you can browse at your leisure.

The year began with the usual New Year’s tradition of great food interspersed with a variety of outdoor activities at our friends’ farm near Buckhorn, northeast of Toronto. The activities included snowshoeing around the property, and the great food included my trademark (okay, Marc’s trademark) caviar pie. Then it was back to reality, and the usual kind of outdoor activies that winter brings — such as shovelling the driveway during a massive blizzard. And then came the strange omen: I looked out the window at the back of our house, and there was a shape in the snow on the roof of our shed — a red fox, curled up for a nap in the drift there, nose tucked under its black tail. I thought it was pretty special and took a photo, but he (or she) turned up again the next day, and the next, and the next. We had seen the fox in the neighborhood before, but having it sleep on our shed was a surprise.

January also saw my first of many trips to San Francisco, for an on-site meeting at GigaOM’s office there. I saw some great SF sights — including one of the historic cable-cars that run up and down Powell street, and the lights of Union Square, where I stayed in the beautiful old Sir Francis Drake hotel. In February it was off to Victoria for a conference on digital privacy, where I got to run around the harbor near the parliament buildings and stay in the beautiful old Fairmont Empress hotel, with its wonderful tea room. When I got back, we made our annual visit to Ottawa for Winterlude with Becky’s sister Barb and brother Dave and their families — lots of skating on the canal, with the usual huge helpings of poutine, beaver tails, hot chocolate and maple ice-taffy.

And then it was time to head to New York for a GigaOM event there — my first trip to the Big Apple, where I stayed at the beautiful W hotel right on Times Square and took the obligatory shots of the billboards there, as well as the lights of Broadway, Penn Station, and so on. March brought another trip to the farm, with some more snowshoeing and other related activities (snow angels, etc.) as well as Zoe demonstrating a rather unusual snow-shovelling getup. March also saw Meaghan and her Grade 12 head to Greece for a trip to see all of the famous ruins like the theatre thingamajig and other sights — a trip that was supposed to take them to Egypt originally, but had to be rescheduled after the government fell there and violence erupted. We also made the annual trip to Becky’s mother Edie’s place in Venice, Florida for some sand and swimming fun during March break, where we also celebrated Zoe’s 13th birthday with some presents and a little bowling — and lots of time at the massive white-sand beach on Siesta Key. And in April we went to the other extreme with a visit to the cottage at Golden Lake, where there was still plenty of snow.

I made another trip to New York in April as well, and managed to time it just as spring was arriving — temperatures soared into the 20s and all the flowers in Central Park burst into bloom. We went up to Golden Lake for May 24th, and I paid tribute to my ancestors by going for a swim (okay, it wasn’t actually a swim — I just went under and came back out really quickly). And then it was time for the Mesh conference (which I’m a co-organizer of), a two-day web conference about how digital is changing the way we live and work. It was at the Allstream Centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto, a giant building with a main ballroom that you could park an airplane in, and we had about 800 people there over two days — including a couple of folks who do a show on Al Jazeera, which broadcast from the lobby (I even walked into the shot once, but they were very understanding).

June saw a visit from Becky’s brother Dave and the rest of the Stone family, and we spent part of the time “geocaching” — which involves using an iPhone app with a built-in GPS receiver to track down a hidden treasure left by someone else. We found one that was incredibly elaborate: someone had made a box that looked like a bird house and put it on a tree deep in the woods near a ravine, but when you looked closer the bottom of the house came off and there was a spool of wire — attached to a container high up in the tree. We also did our first non-Toronto version of Mesh, a one-day conference in Calgary. June also saw Caitlin graduate (with honours) from nursing at the University of McMaster, a great event that was four years in the making, and before she even graduated she already had a full-time job on the pediatric intensive care ward at McMaster hospital, which she is incredibly excited about.

Becky and I also spent a day and night in June standing around a muddy field near Bobcaygeon to see the Tragically Hip play, and had a great time until the buses got stuck and we had to walk about five miles in the rain back to the car. Live concerts are clearly for the young. In July we headed up to the cottage at Golden Lake, where I moved into my summer office: a desk on the verandah overlooking the lake. Meaghan went off to camp to work as a counsellor with her friend Nicole, and we spent many beautiful days sitting on the beach and swimming or spending time in the hammock, trying to cope with the 30-plus temperatures. It was pretty tough, but we managed it — and we got some incredible sunsets out of the deal as well, and some great canoeing weather to boot. I even had a special visitor come and hang out with me during my cereal break down by the water, and he cleaned out my bowl and never even said thank you.

July also saw a trip to Muskoka, where Becky’s mother Edie got married to her new husband Ron, and we spent a fun-filled weekend at a resort by the lake with a double water trampoline connected by an inflatable bridge we tried (and mostly failed) to run across. The wedding was held on the antique steamship the Segwun, which is where Becky and I had our reception after our wedding almost 30 years ago, so that brought back some great memories — and it was a beautiful sunny day, just as ours was. We also made a trip to Go Home Lake for Becky’s birthday, which featured presents on the dock and lots of swimming and great food and canoe trips and so on. August saw more beautiful sunsets and “sky paintings” as I like to call them — and we managed to spend some time with Becky’s sister Barb and her family at Sand Banks provincial park near Picton, which has a great beach and some vistas of its own. Barb’s husband Steve spent hundreds of hours on the park website trying to book just the right campsite, and he certainly did — we were steps from what sometimes felt like our own private beach.

September not only meant that we had to finally leave the cottage, but we also had to move Meaghan into university at the U of Ottawa, where she is taking linguistics. It was a sad day in some ways, but we all pitched in and helped get her settled in her room, and within no time she had made friends and was having a great time. Meanwhile, Zoe and I had some great bike rides through the ravine at Highland Creek and then we had a great zoo visit with the Stone family, featuring some stingray petting and elephant watching. We also spent some time at the historic Distillery District, and later that month was my birthday (guess which one). In October we moved Caitlin and her friend Richelle into their own apartment — another massive life-changing event (for us parents, anyway) to go along with her full-time job and brand new car.

Then it was up to Golden Lake for Thanksgiving, which featured some awesome colours and great canoe rides, as well as a mountain-climbing trip to lookout point. I also spent a week in California that month as part of a GigaOM retreat at a lodge in Carmel, which is on the coast near Monterey. We had a catered dinner on the beach and some great chats around the pool, as well as golf and other fun events (including a hill run that almost killed me). November saw another momentous graduation — this one being Meaghan’s convocation from high school — and then another trip to San Francisco, where I got to take a walk around the amazing Palace of Fine Arts, which looks like an ancient Roman ruin.

In December I made a trip to Vancouver for another Mesh one-day event and spent far too little time near False Creek watching the boats — and even said hello to Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, who happened to be on the same flight. December also brought yet another trip to San Francisco, where I finally rode on a cable-car (which was awesome) and got to eat at the famous In ‘n Out Burger chain (which was a lot less awesome). And then we closed the year out as we did in 2010 — with a fantastic retreat weekend at Blue Mountain near Collingwood organized as a working vacation for the Mesh team and their families. We had a day of meetings at the Westin, but also a couple of days and nights of great food and swimming in the outdoor heated pools, plus a Swedish massage for Becky and I. Thanks to global warming there was no skiing to be had, but otherwise it was a pretty fantastic end to another great year.

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