As I type this from my garrett somewhere in the wilderness of suburban Toronto, it’s raining slightly and about 10 degrees Celsius, which is pretty strange considering it’s the middle of December. We haven’t had any snow at all so far — not even a flurry. And it has been as high as 15 Celsius in the past week. I know global warming is supposed to be bad, but I can’t really see the downside at this point. The only real negative is that it doesn’t feel a lot like Christmas — there’s no snow around the Christmas lights, and no chill in the air as you walk around the city. Not that I’m complaining! Anyway, on to this year’s letter. As a quick update, Caitlin bought a house in Hamilton with her boyfriend Wade this year and is loving her job as a pediatric nurse at McMaster Hospital, Meaghan graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in Gender Studies and a minor in Linguistics and moved home and got a job at Best Buy while she considers her next move, and Zoe went into Grade 12 and got a job at HMV, which she does along with serving on student council, playing hockey and being in multiple plays. As usual, what follows is a more or less random selection of photos from our lives this year. If you want to just look at the pictures separately, you can see them as a slideshow on Flickr. I added a bunch of extra ones as a special treat.
Our year began with our usual tradition of skating and eating way too much with our friends Marc and Kris at their farm near Buckhorn, northeast of Toronto. Luckily, we were able to work off much of the New Year’s food by shovelling the pond that makes up the skating rink, something we had to do multiple times. And of course we listened to the Swedish bells at New Year’s and watched “Dinner For One,” this weird Nordic tradition that I couldn’t explain if I tried. As if that wasn’t enough cold weather and skating, we visited Ottawa in February for Winterlude — another annual tradition — and skated as much of the giant canal/rink as we could, while keeping our energy levels up by consuming poutine and hot chocolate and Beaver Tails and maple taffy. Luckily, this year there wasn’t a poutine shortage like there was last year because one of the main cheese curd factories in Quebec burned to the ground (I am not making this up). Zoe also starred in her school’s performance of the musical Legally Blonde, in which she played the sarcastic lesbian character Enid and got rave reviews. And she was one of two students who won an award as part of a separate performance during the prestigious Sears Drama Festival, which covers all of Toronto.
In March, Becky and I joined her brother Dave and his wife Jennifer and some other friends for a short cruise out of Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel and Key West. Before we left, we did a swamp tour through the Everglades on an air boat and saw some amazing gators, which was a ton of fun. Then we got on the boat, which was a great ship with lots to do — but of course we mostly just sat around the pool. In Cozumel, we rented these giant dune buggy things called X-rails, and spent about two hours driving through the jungle and then swimming in an ancient rock spring. We also did some close-up fish watching using these cool mini-subs, which were basically little scooters that we sat on, with our heads inside a large bubble that was filled with air. We didn’t really get to drive them around, but it was a great introduction to scuba diving, without all of the tanks and whatnot (although Becky admitted later that she was kind of terrified the whole time). In Key West, we rented jet-skis and drove them around for about an hour and a half at high speed, on a tour that led us almost all the way around the main island. Quite a blast.
When we came back from the cruise to Florida for a few days, I got a nasty shock: I found out that Gigaom, the San Francisco-based blog where I’d been working for five years or so, had basically run out of money and was shutting down, putting about 40 of us out of work. This came as a surprise to virtually everyone, and it still hasn’t really sunk in to be honest. I mean, I think we knew that we were under financial pressure — everyone in the media is under financial pressure almost all the time — but I don’t think anyone expected them to just turn out the lights one day and change the locks (here’s an interview I did about it with the Columbia Journalism Review). As it turned out, I had already been talking with the Wall Street Journal about a job before the news hit, so I at least had one opportunity waiting in the wings when it happened — and several more emerged once the news came out, which was nice. I wound up accepting a job with Fortune magazine in New York (although I’m still based in Toronto) and so far the transition has been pretty seamless, knock on wood. They actually hired a bunch of the Gigaom team, so that kind of eased some of the pain of starting all over again. Anyway, to make a long story short I certainly don’t regret my time at Gigaom, despite how it ended. Onward!
In April, Becky and I headed off to Italy for the journalism conference that we’ve been going to for a few years now — which is hosted in Perugia, an ancient Etruscan city located roughly in the middle of Italy at the top of a large hill. Before we headed to Perugia, we took a train from Rome (where we stayed in our favorite little hotel, coincidentally in the same room we stayed in last year) to Venice, and spent a wonderful couple of days wandering around that beautiful city. The weather was perfect — about 22 degrees and sunny the whole time — and we had a lovely little hotel room that looked out over the Grand Canal. We walked for hours down all the little alleys, saw St. Mark’s Square, and had a great time taking the vaporetto or water bus out to the islands of Lido, Murano (the one where they make the glass) and Burano, which is the one with the really colorful houses. We even caved in and did the ultimate tourist thing of taking a gondola ride, where we learned a surprising amount about the architecture of Venice. We also toured the shops of the famous Rialto Bridge and had a lovely romantic dinner at a quaint little family restaurant next to one of the smaller canals. Venice is such an amazing city, and it is so walkable that I could have spent days there just wandering up and down alleyways. And a tip if you are visiting: Get the all-you-can-ride vaporetto card — you can hop on and hop off anywhere. It really pays for itself.
After Venice, it was off to Perugia. But first, a little adventure! While waiting for the train to leave Venice, my backpack was stolen from underneath my seat — along with my laptop, wallet and credit cards, and a bunch of other stuff. Apparently this is not uncommon — when I told Italian friends about it, they nodded their heads like I had told them it rained. The police at the train station in Florence (where we had to change trains) cared about as much about my backpack as if I had told them I stepped on a bug. Despite it being a pain in the ass, however, it wasn’t really that much of a problem — since we were travelling with cash cards, we just had them cancelled, along with my credit cards, and I didn’t really need a laptop that much. Once we got home to Toronto, insurance paid for all of the lost items, which meant I got to upgrade the laptop and my iPad. Win! And the organizers of the Perugia conference felt so bad about my experience that they gave Becky and I the Royal Suite in the Brufani Palace, a two-room extravaganza with a huge balcony and a fireplace, which normally rents for about 1,200 Euros a night. I quickly forgot about the theft, as Becky and I walked around Perugia eating some amazing meals and enjoying the ancient city — including a visit to an ancient church that was built in the year 300. We also took a side trip to the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, which is about an hour’s drive away from Perugia. It was a fascinating place, and I managed to sneak a couple of photos, even though you aren’t supposed to.
After Italy, it was pretty soon time to head to the cottage at Golden Lake, where there was much lying around in hammocks and on beaches, as well as the usual daily — or sometimes twice daily — kayak trips for yours truly (Becky and I were also working all summer, but no one wants to hear about that). We also made a new acquisition: A pontoon boat with multiple couches and cupholders, to replace the one we had to get rid of many years ago. And the boat paid for itself this summer alone, with multiple sunset coffee cruises and trips “out deep” to go swimming in the bay. I also built a number of things out of wood, in an attempt to prove that I have skills beyond just typing — I built a viewing platform for Becky and I to sit on in our Muskoka chairs, as well as a fancy-looking canoe and kayak rack for the beach that has managed to withstand at least one major storm. In July, we spent some time at Go Home at Marc and Kris’s cottage, where we did a day-long, canoe-and-kayak trip back to a little lake a short portage away, played around in the rapids and had a great afternoon of sun and swimming. Later in July, we took a week and spent it in Muskoka with Becky’s family at a cottage we rented on a point that sticks out into the bay near Bala. It was an awesome choice, since it was the hottest week of the summer and the cottage not only had a boathouse that got morning sun, but a deck that got afternoon and evening sun, and a large hammock right on the end of the point looking out over the bay (where I spent a lot of time).
In September, I happened to be on a panel at a media conference in New York right around my birthday, so Becky decided to join me for a birthday trip to the Big Apple and we had a great few days walking around looking at all the touristy stuff like Rockefeller Center and whatnot — and we had a lovely lunch in Bryant Park, which is right behind the New York Public Library and has a great fountain and an even better carousel or merry-go-round. For my birthday dinner, we went to a great old-fashioned steakhouse just off Broadway called Bond 45, where I had one of the biggest ribeye steaks I’ve ever had: 22 ounces, bone in, aged for 60 days. It was perfection. Then we somehow rolled our way back to the Airbnb we were renting on the lower West side. When we got back, we went from the luxury and sophistication of New York to the complete opposite: We embarked on a three-day camping trip with Marc and Kris, where we paddled and portaged our way through three different lakes to a little island in the middle of nowhere, where it proceeded to pour rain all day and all night — plus our tent leaked! Once the rain stopped, it actually got quite beautiful though, and the last day was sunny and gorgeous. We even saw a black bear (from a safe distance) on our way back out. It was about as far away from downtown Manhattan as you can possibly get.
The fall was warm right into December, so Becky and I got to kayak up and down the Rouge River, which is right near our house and feeds into Lake Ontario. We paddled all the way up to Highway 401, and the whole time it seemed like we were barely even in a city. Then we spent Thanksgiving up at Golden Lake, which was fantastic — it was so warm we hiked up to the top of the lookout near my uncle’s cottage, which gave us an amazing view of the beautiful fall colors. I even went swimming after Wade and I took the dock out (although I got out fairly rapidly after going under). Then in November, I spent a few days in Phoenix at a media conference, and since I had a free afternoon I decided to do a local hike. The one I chose turned out to be one of the hardest hikes in the state, up Camelback Mountain outside of town — it took about an hour to climb 1,000 feet, and there were parts of it that were almost straight up, climbing over boulders and giant rocks. But the view from the top was spectacular. In December, Becky and I returned to New York City and squeezed in some more Manhattan fun: We went to a taping of The Daily Show thanks to some free tickets that we got from a friend, Becky toured the 9/11 memorial, we had a fantastic pastrami sandwich at the legendary Katz’s Deli (where the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed), we had a burger at the awesome Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, and we went for a great run along the boardwalk by the Hudson River in the Financial District (mostly to run off all those burgers and pastrami sandwiches).
All in all, it was a pretty great year — despite some ups and downs, like having my company go under and getting robbed! Anyway, here’s hoping your year was a good one, that your family and friends are all well, and that you have (or had) plenty of time with them over the holidays. If you want more photos of us, you can find them here or at Mathew’s Flickr page. For e-mail purposes, Mathew is here and Becky is here, and you can reach Caitlin, Meaghan and Zoe too. Mathew and Becky are both on Facebook here and here). And if you’re on Twitter, you can follow Mathew here. We at Ingram and Co. wish you and yours all the very best of the season.