In what seems to have become a pattern for Toronto at Christmas, I am writing this surrounded by green grass and not a trace of snow, and temperatures are in the 5 degree Celsius range (any Americans reading this will have to do the translation into Fahrenheit themselves — I think it’s multiply by 2.1341 and then add the square root of 11). It’s quite nice not to have to shovel, and to only have to put on a light jacket when going out, but it also feels a little odd, and somewhat disturbing. I mean, I love the personal effects of global climate change, but I can’t really enjoy them fully because I’m worried about all the ways it could go wrong for the planet and life as we know it.
In any case, on to the letter! As usual, I will focus on the great events of this year and skim over (or ignore completely) the not-so-great ones, like multiple car accidents (everyone is fine! Our insurance didn’t even go up!). If everything works properly, 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 slideshow. You can also find larger versions of all of them, along with a whole bunch more pictures that I haven’t included here, at the Ingram Family Photo Library (unless my server is down, in which case I apologize). If you have any questions about the letter or just about the Ingram family in general, my email is [email protected] — unless of course you have a criticism to make about this letter, in which case please feel free to use the email [email protected].
As some of you may remember from last year’s letter, this year started off very differently compared to every other year. Usually we get together at Marc & Kris’s farm near Buckhorn for New Year’s, but this time we were all in a ballroom at the Stone Mill Inn in St. Catherines, toasting the marriage of our eldest, Caitlin, to a wonderful young man named Wade Hemrica. It was a great wedding, with beautiful bridesmaids and great food and a lot of good friends and family gathered, and of course there were hilarious and touching speeches from the bride and groom’s parents, which Becky and I managed to get through without too much trouble. Caitlin also convinced me to record myself singing and playing “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney, and then played that as the music for our father-daughter dance, which was pretty special. I may have had something in my eye at one point, but made it to the end without too much blubbering.
It’s hard to believe that two people as youthful as Becky and I could have a daughter as beautiful and accomplished as Caitlin, but there you have it. And despite the fact that I don’t drink, I had nine-and-a-half shots of tequila with various family members and still managed to remain vertical for most of the evening! All in all it was a terrific party, and a great way to ring in the New Year. I told Caitlin and Wade it was so much fun that we should do it every year, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.
The ink was barely dry on Caitlin and Wade’s marriage certificate when Becky and I headed out west to Calgary, because her work was having an all-hands get-together (at which everyone got an Apple Watch for their service, which was pretty cool). We took a whirlwind trip up to Edmonton while we were there to see our old friends Greg & Helen and Paula & David, and then it was back down to Calgary where we stayed with our friends Alan and Jilaine. We even took a little drive out to Banff to see the mountains, which I must admit I miss a lot every time I see them. In February it was off to The Farm in Buckhorn to look after Marc & Kris’s dogs, which gave us an excuse to do some snowshoeing through their lovely woods.
In March, we decided enough was enough with the whole winter thing, and we headed down to Florida with Becky’s brother Dave and his wife Jenn, where we rented a condo right next to the beach on Siesta Key, which has sand that is so soft it feels like you are walking in icing sugar. We rented some bikes and toured around the Key, and one day we rented some kayaks and paddled around on the intracoastal waterway, which was great fun — we even paddled up to a restaurant and got out and had lunch there. And one day we drove up to Anna Maria Island to visit my old Globe and Mail colleague Geoff Rowan and his wife Sue Brophey, where we watched the sun go down at the Beach House restaurant. It was a nice break.
In April, Becky and I headed off to Perugia again, the little town in central Italy where we’ve been half a dozen times or so now for a journalism conference they have there. We wandered the streets and visited our favorite former pagan temple, built in the year 326 or so, and had some great porchetta that was to die for. Also, a warning: If you order a steak Florentine, you will get something that is about 24 ounces of meat, and you will find it very difficult to walk afterwards. After Perugia, we met up with our friends Marc & Kris, Barb & Lori, Dave and Jenn and Sandra in Rome, and did a whirlwind tour of the Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Pantheon and the Colosseum, where we took the tour that gets you into the upper floors of the ancient stadium, which was fascinating.
Then we rented a couple of cars and drove down to the Amalfi Coast, where we stayed in a fantastic villa we rented near the little seaside town of Massa Lubrense, which is just south of Sorrento. It was a lovely place with four bedrooms in the main house and a little cottage with another bedroom, and it had an amazing deck overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. And up on top of the house there was yet another deck, from which we could see the famous island of Capri. We made most of our own meals, which we ate at the outside dining table, but we also walked to a lovely family restaurant in the small town near the villa, and on our last night we ate at a fantastic little place perched on a hillside and watched the sun set over Capri. While we were there we hiked up Vesuvius (where of course there is an espresso stand at the very top) and explored Pompeii, and took a private boat tour of Capri, where we saw the Faraglioni rocks and the various grottos, and I finally got to see the Villa San Michele, an amazing home built by Axel Munthe, a Swedish doctor, that has incredible views of the coast and the Bay of Naples.
But the best part of all was the day we spent with our boat captain/tour guide Guglielmo travelling down the coast and visiting Amalfi and Positano (where Dave and I swam in the ocean, which wasn’t too bad despite it being April). And the second best part was driving a standard-shift car at high speed around the incredibly winding streets of the Amalfi Coast — something I enjoyed hugely, but was possibly not enjoyed quite as much by some of my passengers 🙂
Our Italy adventure was over much too soon, and then it was back to reality. In May, I went to San Francisco for a conference that I helped organize for the Columbia Journalism Review at the city’s old press club, featuring an interview with the guy who was running the Facebook news feed at the time, Adam Mosseri. That was fascinating, but I also just enjoyed being back in San Francisco and seeing some of my favorite sights there. And I even managed to find one of the “hidden gardens” that are located all over the city — public spaces that corporations have created in return for zoning allowances on their office towers, but are usually somewhat difficult to find. Back home, I spent the spring hauling my kayak around to new places, including Statford — where I bugged the swans before we all got dressed up to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show (which was great) — and Lovesick Lake near Burleigh Falls.
I also paddled up Eels Creek just north of there to High Falls, which was a lovely trip with a few little rapids to make things interesting. In June we made it up to the cottage for the summer, and it was a beautiful summer indeed, with warm days and nights perfect for paddling and sunset coffee cruises on the pontoon boat with my mum, and visits from duck families. We also did a spent a week in Muskoka in a great old cottage on Bala Bay with Becky’s family — I think we had about 16 of us at one point in a four-bedroom cottage, and we did some stress-testing to see just how many could fit on a couple of floating “party islands.” Back at Golden Lake, we introduced my cousin Jessica’s tiny twins to the beach, and had a great 1st birthday party for them that was one of the highlights of the summer. Becky and I also celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary with a delicious dinner at the funky Blackbird Cafe, in the thriving metropolis of Burnstown (population maybe 25 or so) near Renfrew.
As we have done for the past few years, we also went on a canoe expedition with our friends Marc & Kris and Sandra, and this time we went to the east side of Algonquin Park — a three-day trip that started at Achray campground on Grand Lake (which also happens to be where Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson’s ranger cabin is) and took us through Stratton Lake and into St. Andrew’s Lake, a lovely quiet little lake with only about half a dozen campsites on it. We got a nice big flat one at the end of a point, and did a couple of great day trips from there, including a hike up to the lower part of High Falls. I went for a beautiful moonlight paddle one evening, with just the fog to keep me company, and one morning we were greeted by a loon family that swam out of the morning mist to say hello. It was a great trip.
On our way out we also did a hike along the top of Barron Canyon, a spectacular 300-foot-deep gorge that was carved out of the Canadian Shield by a glacier at some point — almost twice as deep as Niagara Falls (after we came down from the trail, which had no fence or barrier, I mentioned to a young park ranger that we had a small child when we went up there but had lost them somehow and could he keep an eye out for them, and without missing a beat he said: “Oh, don’t tell me that — that would mean soo much paperwork”). By sheer coincidence, later in the summer, our friends Nathan & Glenna came up to the cottage for a visit, and we did Barron Canyon from the other side — paddling up it one afternoon, about 15 kilometres in all of classic Canadian scenery with a 250-metre portage thrown in there just for fun (if you do this, I would recommend not trying to do it in an afternoon).
As summer drew to a close, the mornings got foggier (I ran into this little guy paddling through the mist), and then it was time to move Meaghan and Zoe into their new apartment. Zoe is in third year at Queens and Meaghan transferred the Best Buy in Scarborough to the one in Kingston, so now they are sharing a tiny little flat that overlooks an artsy little alleyway. Zoe spent the summer working at a diner in downtown Toronto, where we dropped in one day and made her serve us. And Caitlin and Wade went on an amazing honeymoon through Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France — a trip that was marred slightly by the airline they booked a return trip on going bankrupt. But they made it home safely, and even got upgraded to first class! We also had a nice big Thanksgiving get-together at the cottage with all sorts of nieces and nephews and assorted boyfriends and girlfriends. And of course, a few more early morning fog-burning-off paddles around the lake while we were there, which was great.
After we moved back to Toronto, I made a quick trip out to Calgary to speak at a conference there and saw our friends Alan and Jilaine again and made another whirlwind trip up to Edmonton to see our friend Paula Simons, who is now a senator! I made another quick drive out to Banff just to say hello to the mountains. And thanks to fate, I had another great experience while I was there — through a total coincidence, my best friend from high school, Garry Hansen, who I haven’t seen since we graduated in 1979, happened to be in Calgary as well, so we met up for brunch down by the Eau Claire market and had a great time catching up on almost 40 years of each other’s lives. And soon it was time for Christmas to begin, with the Christmas market down at the Distillery District in Toronto and a great early present to ourselves: A concert by one of our favorite bands, Mumford & Sons!
As I write this, Meaghan and Zoe and Zoe’s boyfriend Jacob (yes, Zoe has a boyfriend) are home madly wrapping presents and decorating the Christmas tree, and then we are off to see Caitlin and Wade and our favorite furry grandson Kip in Mount Hope for a quick visit before the madness of Christmas truly begins. 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 always find them at The Ingram Family Photo Browser. My email is [email protected] and Becky’s is [email protected]. We are both on Facebook (here and here). And if you’re on Twitter, you can follow me here. although I am trying to reduce my time on it, so far without much success. I’m also on Instagram here. And with that, as always, we at Ingram and Co. wish you all the best of the season and all the best in the year to come!