Christmas Letter 2019

Usually I start these things by talking about the weather — except for last year, of course, when the big news was the wedding of our daughter Caitlin and her husband Wade. This year there is some news, but possibly not quite as big, or at least big in a different way: Becky and I have moved out of our house in Toronto and into a new home near Buckhorn (which seems like such a quintessentially Canadian name, but is also very popular in other parts of the world). It’s just northeast of Peterborough, which in turn is northeast of Toronto. This home has an interesting feature, which is that it’s attached to another home, one belonging to our old friends Marc and Kris (old meaning we’ve known them a long time, not old as in aged).

If you’ve seen any of these letters, you’ve probably seen a mention of the Farm, where we usually go for New Year’s and other visits during the year, sometimes with a large group of friends from our university days. So the Farm is where we are living now — this is a recent picture of it. It’s actually two distinct houses put together, with a large atrium in between, and the basements are connected. We live on the right-hand side. Kris’s mother used to live there until earlier in 2019, when she moved into a retirement home — and since we were planning to move out of our four-bedroom house in Toronto now the kids are gone, we decided to take over the house.

This was not an easy process, as anyone who has moved out of a house they have lived in for decades with multiple kids can attest — it involved countless trips to dumps and the Salvation Army and other similar places, plus a five-ton dumpster living in our driveway for weeks, and endless journeys up and down stairs with boxes. At this point, we are more or less moved in, but still have no idea where some things are, and the garage will barely fit a car because there are so many boxes of “treasured belongings,” otherwise known as stuff we haven’t figured out what to do with yet. But it is lovely living out in the country on a large chunk of land with woods and hiking trails, and it is two hours closer to the family cottage, which is also a plus. The girls are also doing well — Caitlin is busy being a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at McMaster in Hamilton, and Zoe and Meaghan are living together in Kingston, where Zoe is about to graduate from Queen’s with an honours degree in psychology and Meaghan is working at Best Buy. 

And now, on to the rest of the newsletter! If everything works properly, the links below should open in a new window — and if you just want to look at the pictures, you can find all of them as well as many others 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].

Our year started with a total eclipse of the moon, which was spectacular despite the fact that it was minus 30 Celsius or so. Becky and I had to bundle up, and even then our viewing of the eclipse took place in two or three-minute segments, after which we had to duck inside to warm up. After that it was a trip to Ottawa (or Awatto, according to this photo) for some skating on the canal — an exercise that we only engage in, as many of you know, so that we can justify eating a lot of poutine and Beaver Tails. And that was about as much winter as we wanted to experience, so Becky and I and some friends headed off to Fort Lauderdale, where we spent a few days on the beach and had some fun driving these cute little buggies known as “Scoot Coupes” around. Then it was onto a cruise ship to Grand Cayman, Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. In addition to a lot of sitting on the balcony watching the flying fish leap through the waves (which I totally was not expecting, and was quite amazing) we had some great excursions, like a trip on a boat out to play with the stingrays in Grand Cayman and then a visit to the Turtle Farm; a tour of Aruba on some rental ATVs, including a great drive along the rocky coast, a visit to the ruins of a pirate fort that later became the Bushiribana gold-smelting operation, and a fascinating tour inside a cave in Arikok National Park that was covered in graffiti, much of it done by the native Arawak people.

In Curacao, we watched the famous floating swing bridge (which moves horizontally rather than vertically, the way most swing bridges do) and went on a catamaran trip to a couple of great swimming and snorkeling spots; and then a fun tour of the island of Bonaire on some rental scooters, where we saw the slave huts — used to house workers who processed salt in the nearby flats — did some great snorkeling, including at the famous Thousand Steps beach (this appears to be mostly marketing, since there are only about 67 steps). Back on the ship, we hung out with the crew a bit during a cocktail reception on the helicopter landing pad, and then back in Fort Lauderdale we spent some time on the beach again, and also toured a local landmark called Bonnet House, built by a legendary resident named Frederic Bartlett, who toured the world collecting bizarre art with which to fill his estate, which stretches for more than 35 acres and is now a state park. After we got home, I headed off to Denver for a business trip, where I did a self-guided tour (via electric scooter no less) of some of the beautiful old stone houses in the fancy part of town. After that, it was time for Becky and I to make our annual pilgrimage to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, where we got some time to tour our favorite ancient temple, and then it was off to nearby Florence for a few days. We stayed in a great Airbnb right near the Duomo (which we didn’t climb, having done that a few years ago when we were in Florence) walked along the beautiful Arno river at night, saw an impromptu concert in the square, and gorged ourselves on Renaissance art at both the amazing Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery. The Accademia Gallery’s starring resident is Michaelangelo’s statue of David, which was even more impressive than I was expecting.

I didn’t realize David would be so huge — he’s about three times life-size, and weighs about three tons. I also didn’t know that his head and hands are out of proportion because they were initially planning to put him up on top of a building, so they wanted the head and hands to stand out from a distance. And I didn’t know the legs were done by a different artist, and they sat outside for over a decade until Michaelangelo came along. There were some other great paintings and sculptures at the gallery as well — and we got a nice surprise when we showed up to try and get in (the lines are almost as legendary as David). We were in a line that usually takes about two hours, and a French couple came along and said they didn’t have enough time and gave us their tickets, which also allowed us to skip the big line and we got into the Gallery in about 15 minutes. Sometimes complete strangers can be very nice for no reason! Since we were in the neighborhood, we did a side trip to Pisa, so we could see the famous leaning thing. And I’m glad we did, in part because Pisa is lovely — I didn’t realize it used to be a pretty big deal in the old days, and in addition to the tower, it has a beautiful basilica that is almost as lovely as the more famous one in Florence. On our way back through Rome, we made a pilgrimage to the newly-cleaned Trevi fountain, so that we could throw a penny in, to make sure we come back again.

After we got back, I made a couple of quick trips to New York for work, including a visit to Columbia University and a pilgrimage to my favorite eatery: the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. I also got to attend a swanky dinner at Cipriani, a famous high-end restaurant located in a cavernous old bank building (there was a giant, marble, wood-burning fireplace in the men’s bathroom, among other things). I was there because something I wrote was nominated for a Mirror Award, which was pretty great. I didn’t win, but it was pretty cool. I also got to see Ronan Farrow up close, and yes, he is just as good-looking as everyone says. Pretty soon, it was time to head up to the cottage for the summer — a stay that was broken only by a weekend trip to Toronto, to a conference where I actually won something: the James Carey award for contributions to journalism, named after a famous communications theorist and disciple of literary icon Marshall McLuhan. It was quite an honor, as was receiving the award from Marshall’s son Michael. I also got to stay in a room at Massey College, a famous part of the University of Toronto, where I hung out for a bit one night in the Robertson Davies reading room, named after another Canadian literary giant, and ate in the vaguely Harry Potter-esque dining room. I felt smarter just for being there.

Summertime consisted of lots of beach time, hammock time, sunset time and kayak time, including our annual trip over to Muskoka for a visit with Becky’s side of the family, where Zoe and I did a marathon kayak trip into Bala to get ice cream, and saw a young bear wandering around town, which was fun. This year was a special one because there was a reunion of the Lee side of the family, who total more than 130 across four generations — we managed to get  75 of them in a room, a great party that was planned and stage-managed by Becky. We also did our usual trip to Go Home Lake to visit friends, along with a canoe day-trip, and later in the season we did a three-day canoe camping trip in the Kawartha Lakes region, although this time we took it easy on ourselves and didn’t do a bunch of long portages. We had one short one and then we were in a small lake that we had almost to ourselves. The nights were cool, but it was fantastic regardless. Before too long it was time to actually move into our new home, a work that is still in progress — but it has been great to have so much beautiful land to walk around in with the dogs, even if winter did come a little earlier than we were expecting. We spent Thanksgiving back up at the cottage, and it was as gorgeous as it has ever been at that time of year: warm enough to swim, combined with some amazing colours, and calm enough that paddling around in the kayak looked like paddling on a mirror. One morning we watched the mist burn off, and I caught a couple of birds roosting in the river.

In addition to lots of hikes in the lovely woods around our new home, the fall brought a trip to New York with Becky’s brother and his wife, who had never been before. We got a chance to see Billy Joel in Madison Square Garden, which was fantastic, as well as doing some of the usual stuff like Rockefeller Center, the Christmas window displays at Macy’s and Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and a horse-and-buggy ride through Central Park. We also wandered around what they call the Oculus, a soaring mall built near the site of the old World Trade Center, and we made a visit to my favorite place in New York: Bryant Park, which has a great skating rink and Christmas market. We also toured the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which was even more touching and heart-wrenching than I expected it to be. We spent about three hours in it, and it was emotionally overwhelming in a way I did not expect. I thought I knew all about it, because I’ve read and written a lot about it, but it hit me much harder than I thought it would. And then it was back home to get ready for Christmas!

And that was our year in a (large) nutshell. Hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, and that you and your loved ones have lots of time to spend with each other this holiday season. If you need to reach Becky or I, you can reach Becky by email here or she’s also on Facebook here, and you can reach me by email here or on Facebook here. I also have a blog where I post things I’ve written or that I find on the Internet (or shots from Instagram) and I have a daily email newsletter with media-related links, if you’re into that sort of thing.  All the best for 2020!

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