The Ingram Christmas Letter for 2016

As I write this, Toronto is getting its first real snowfall and the temperature has gone below zero for what feels like the first time all year. So I guess the Game of Thrones folks were right, and winter really was coming (and no, that’s not a metaphor for the political situation south of the border, although it would be a good one). The nice part is that the cold weather means it will soon be time to gather with friends and family and eat way too much turkey and other delicious food, and see family members who we don’t get to see a lot, like Zoe who is away at university and Caitlin who lives with her boyfriend Wade near Hamilton (Meaghan is living at home with us after finishing her degree, while working at Best Buy and planning her next move). The links below should open in a new window — and if you want to go and look at the photos afterwards, you can find them in a Flickr album. Just click the slideshow icon in the upper right once you get there to watch them as a slideshow. You can also find much larger versions of all of these photos, along with a whole bunch more pictures that I haven’t included here, at the new and improved, amazing and incredible Ingram Family Photo Library (unless my server is down).

The year began with our usual New Year’s tradition of great food at Marc and Kris’s farm near Buckhorn, interspersed with a variety of activities designed to work off all that food, such as shovelling the pond in order to get it ready for skating. Then it was off to even more winter activities at Winterlude in Ottawa, where the frigid temperatures were made somewhat easier by copious quantities of beaver tails with brown sugar and cinnamon. After that, Becky got a bit of time in the sun when she took my mother down to Mexico for a couple of weeks with her sister Kathy, which was my mom’s first trip back south since she had her stroke back in 2012. No sooner had she gotten back and we were off to the sunny Dominican Republic with Becky’s brother Dave and his wife Jenn and our friends Kathy and Steve, where we stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo. I had the flu for almost the entire time we were there, unfortunately, but it was a great resort, with a huge beach that we mostly had to ourselves, complete with some of those thatched roof beach umbrella things, whatever they are called. We went on a bunch of great excursions, including a horseback ride to a waterfall, our first zip-line experience — which Becky chose to embark on in her own inimitable fashion — and a trip to see the humpback whales. I took about a thousand photos and accidentally managed to catch one breaching. And the captain even let us climb up and watch from the roof of the boat. While we were in the Dominican, Zoe was on a school trip to Italy and Greece and had a little adventure of her own: She forgot her passport in the hotel in Rome and they wouldn’t let her fly with the rest of the class to Greece, but her teacher begged and pleaded with them and they let them go, and the passport showed up soon after. All’s well that ends well! On a brighter note, Zoe was also in some great plays at school, including a starring role in one called Boxed In that got special mention from a visiting drama instructor. So proud!

In April, Becky and I headed off to Perugia in Italy, for a journalism conference that we’ve been to a few times now. While we were there, we had a great tour of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, where our guide told us all about the frescoes and the secrets they contained. Then it was off to Sorrento, which is on the Amalfi coast in the southern part of Italy. We took a ferry from Naples, and as we came into the harbour we could see the grand old hotels lined up along the massive cliffs that the town is built on. And one of them was ours! I didn’t even know that when I booked it. By some fluke, we also got a corner room with a huge balcony overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. At the front of the hotel was a lovely deck with hanging wisteria, where we watched the sunset. We took a boat tour around the nearby island of Capri, where we saw the various grottos formed by the ocean smashing into the limestone cliffs, as well as the Faraglioni rocks. And then we got to the famous Blue Grotto, where we had to get into tiny rowboats and lie down, because the entrance is only a few feet high — but once you are inside it is a huge cavern, and the blue light from underneath is truly spectacular. We also went up to the top of the island on an old ski chair-lift, and on the walk down we took a detour to see a fascinating old hermitage. And we visited Pompeii, which is a short train ride from Sorrento, as well as Herculaneum, which is much smaller, but has some amazing features. And of course, we had some great meals at outdoor cafes, and spent a lot of time just wandering around town, eating gelato.

Before we had even caught our breath from Italy, it was time to get ready for Zoe to graduate from high school — which meant much talk about dresses and hairstyles, all of which I was blissfully removed from, on account of being a dad. Zoe looked beautiful in her dress, as she arrived in style in a limo etc.. Then she and a few friends went up north to Marc and Kris’s farm in Buckhorn for their post-grad party. and it was great to see a second generation rediscovering all our old ways (or at least some of our old ways). For Mother’s Day, Zoe and Meaghan and Caitlin took Becky to see Kinky Boots at the Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, which they all enjoyed immensely. And soon it was time to take my mom up north to Golden Lake for the summer. I won’t go into too much detail, in deference to those who weren’t able to be close to a lake, but it was a spectacular summer — lots of hot days and warm nights and flat lakes to paddle around on in the kayak, and plenty of great sunsets for Becky and I to paddle into, and for all of us to enjoy from the seats of our trusty pontoon boat, also known as the floating living room. We also bought a second-hand Mini Cooper, which is super fun to drive! We bought it for Zoe and Meaghan to share, but Becky and I like it so much we drive it most of the time. We also did our usual trip to Go Home Lake with Marc and Kris and Barb and Lori, and our usual canoe trip — which unfortunately came to an abrupt halt when a monsoon started, so we cut it short and headed back to the cottage. After that, we spent a lot of time lounging around in the lake and had our annual breakfast of French toast and maple syrup and blueberries on the dock, and Lori and I had a wonderful kayak paddle in the moonlight one evening. We also spent a week again this summer in Muskoka with the rest of Becky’s family, at a lovely old cottage on Lake Muskoka near Bala, where I spent a lot of time in the hammock and we all spent most of our days on the party float in the water and playing board games at night. Here’s a picture of us all looking sunburned on the dock.

September brought a rush of trips — first came a trip to Kingston, where we got Zoe installed in residence at Queen’s University and tried not to cry. After that, I went to Denver for the Online News Association conference, and Becky went to New Hampshire with her mom to visit her aunt Aggie, who wasn’t well. Then the two of us spent a great evening with our friend Rob at a John Prine concert at Massey Hall for my birthday, and that night we headed up to Buckhorn to get ready for another canoe trip with Marc and Kris and our friend Sandra. Despite having very little sleep, we managed to get up early and got on the lake in good time — and after about three hours of paddling and two 300-metre portages with four or five full packs and canoes and a kayak, we made it to our campsite in plenty of time to set up our tents and gather firewood before we had to cook dinner. And since it was my birthday, not only did we have steak, we also had a unique form of birthday cake that Kris had found a recipe for — cake mix cooked inside hollowed out oranges. We scooped out the oranges, put the cake mix in, wrapped them in foil and cooked them in the coals of the fire. The result was a kind of goopy, partially cooked orange-flavored cake, but what the heck! It was delicious. We sat on the rocks with our coffee and watched a beautiful sunset on a lake we had all to ourselves. The next day, we went for a paddle and a hike through the woods, then had another fantastic meal and I went out after dark for a moonlight paddle in the kayak, just me and the bats and the owls — it was spectacular. On the following day, we packed up and worked our way back to the lake we started from, and stopped by a waterfall for some lunch before heading home. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and a great way to celebrate a birthday.

After we recovered from the camping trip, it was time for a very different kind of trip — Becky and I did a whirlwind three-day trip to Paris. I had been invited to speak at a conference there, so we made a mini vacation out of it. We stayed in a fantastic old hotel about a block from the Arc de Triomphe, and saw as much of Paris as we possibly could in three days. We climbed to the top of the Arc (which is a lot larger than it looks in pictures) so we could see the “etoile” as they call the circle with 12 streets all feeding into it (with no lane markings). We walked down the Champs Elysees and through the park, grabbed a ham-and-cheese crepe and then sat in some lovely lounge chairs around a large pond in the Jardins Touilleries and fell sound asleep for about an hour. Then it was down to the Louvre, across the river and all the way back around to the Eiffel Tower. We found a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall bistro with about four tables off a side street and had a fantastic meal, and then walked down by the river where the party barges are tied up. The next day I went to the conference while Becky saw as much of the Louvre as she could, and then we went to the conference organizer’s mother’s apartment for dinner with him and his family. The following day we met friends for coffee in Le Marais, a funky neighborhood with great cafes and some wonderful old covered malls with little artisan shops, then we stopped in at Saint Chapelle, a beautiful chapel near Notre Dame with some amazing stained glass windows. Then it was off to dinner at a restaurant part-way up the Eiffel Tower. We had a great meal, and watched night fall on the city from the deck, then after we got down we did a night cruise of the Seine. It was truly a magical trip. I can still taste the Croque Monsieurs we had at the little cafe across from the hotel!

After Paris it was back to reality in Toronto, where we threw a surprise 80th birthday party for my mom. We took her to the Lobster Trap on Avenue Road, where she was joined by her brother John and her sister Kathy, and Becky and I and Meaghan and Zoe and my brother Miles and a bunch of nieces and nephews and friends. The next event was Thanksgiving at the cottage — which we celebrated twice, because Caitlin and her boyfriend Wade couldn’t make the real Thanksgiving, and neither could Meaghan or Zoe, because they were all working. So we had a big gang the weekend before, including my nephew Scott and his friend Cody, who came up and reshingled the back cabin in return for beer and food. Then we stayed through the week and had another Thanksgiving dinner with my cousin Chris and his partner Susan. The week in between was so beautiful and warm, Becky and I went out for a spectacular kayak ride on a mirror-flat lake, and I went swimming not once but twice. After Thanksgiving, Becky got some sad news: her Aunt Aggie had passed away in New Hampshire. So Becky and her sister Barb and her cousins Libby and Charlie did a road trip to New Hampshire for the funeral, and to help their cousin Amy and Uncle Bert with the reception afterwards. When we used to drive to Florida with all of the kids, we would often go and visit Bert and Aggie near Siesta Key, and Aggie was always so kind to us — she was a lovely lady and we will miss her. On the other side of the coin, we got some wonderful news from Caitlin in November: Wade asked her to marry him, and gave her a beautiful ring while they were spending the weekend at the spa at Blue Mountain. Wade will make a fine son-in-law I think, as long as he keeps letting me win at golf.

In December, Becky and I squeezed in a quick trip to New York, where we took in some of the lights of Fifth Avenue and some of the Christmas window displays at stores like Bergdorf Goodman’s and Macy’s, and had some wonderful meals at places like Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Grill and the new Eataly food emporium near the World Trade Center. And that’s about all the news from the Ingrams this year — 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 CaitlinMeaghan 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.