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November 2019
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Christmas Letter 2013 and beyond

The end of 2013 and early 2014 was a really hectic time, and we dropped the ball on a number of things which we really should have done. One of which was Christmas cards and the Christmas letter that we normally write to go with the letters. In addition, we struggled to keep the blog up to date throughout 2013, but at least that gives us the opportunity to write about a lot of the things we have done in the past year in our 2013 Christmas/early 2014 Letter, so here goes.

So where to start? Let’s go with hockey (as that is the most important aspect of Canadian life) and ringuette. Doug has continued to played hockey throughout the year, still thoroughly enjoys it and would like to think that he is slowly getting better (if not faster). He certainly feels fitter as a result of playing, and is convinced it helps to cure all known ailments and injuries, as there is not much which stops him heading out to play later every Wednesday evening. It is a sport that is really demanding, and even with missing two weeks over Christmas , it took a while to recover and get back up to speed. That could have been all the food that we ate over the holiday season, but more of that later. We continue to avidly follow the Montreal Canadiens, enjoying the shortened 2012-13 season and what felt like an even shorter play off run. Sophie is still our oracle for all hockey related facts and trivia, and quietly becoming a budding statistician. We can see signs of improvements, especially with the new General Manager gradually changing the shape of the time. It is interesting to see the effect of the Canadiens on the mood of Montreal. Throughout the season, when the team plays well the city is more upbeat, but during a losing streak, the city almost goes into mourning. More recently it is fun to see some of the players at the Olympics, and we are hoping and praying along with the rest of Canada for the gold medal in the hockey.

Millie & Sophie playing ringuette

Millie & Sophie playing ringuette

And so to Ringuette, this is one of the main reasons for not having much time at the end of 2013. Millie and Sophie are still playing. This year they are both on the Benjamin C (U14) team which is in theory a mix of girls turning 13 and 14 during that year. In practice, through a variety of reasons, we have a team that is with one exception a first year team, so it has been a really tough year, especially as half of their games have been against some U16 teams. There is a huge difference in the size, development, and maturity of the girls between the age of 12 and 16, so it has been a year of looking for successes in terms of skill development and attitude. Doug has been coaching the team this year, which has been more of a challenge than previous years, not just in terms of keeping everything positive, but also when you have 11 out of 13 girls wanting to play forward, there are certain motivational challenges! The team had an away tournament in Gatineau last November, which once again was more about pools, food and fun off the ice than it was about ringuette.

Sophie, in addition to playing in Ben C, has also been playing as the fulltime goalie for the Junior B (U16), which is with the 15/16 year old girls, and a step up in terms of ability, typically there are A,B, and C divisions, which help ensure the girls playing with others of the same ability. Sophie has really enjoyed the challenge, and has certainly developed as a goalie as a result of the experience. We often say to her that it is more of a mental challenge than physical one, as every save and every mistake the goalie makes is seen by everyone, and can have in impact upon the result of the game, where as all the other players can get away with mistakes, and they are often forgotten. It is interesting to see the difference in mentality between Millie and Sophie, with Sophie being much better suited to being a goalie than Millie.

But perhaps the biggest ringuette challenge this year has fallen to Jo. Jo has spent the past year organising the annual BKRA tournament. This is the largest ringuette tournament in Quebec, with over 1200 players in 93 teams playing over 150 games. It is a huge undertaking that really does take a year to plan, and all culminates with a manic week in the middle of January, where every waking hour seems consumed by ringuette. To do this in isolation would be one thing, but Jo has also been working full time, so it is a real credit to her that it was another successful tournament. One of the highlights for her was being able to give Sophie a huge hug on the ice, when her Junior B team won their division.

Millie and Sophie's first day at College de Montreal.

Millie and Sophie’s first day at College de Montreal.

The other big reason that free time has been limited is that work has gone crazy throughout the past year. Jo started thinking about going back to work last year, then started on a three day per week contract with Arup in May, essentially doing her old job for the Toronto office. This then turned into looking after the management systems in Toronto, Montreal and St Johns, and project managing the move to a new office in Montreal. Doug was working to complete the business case for a new bridge over the St Lawrence River in Montreal, and then had this contract extended to accelerate the project through the next phase. This has meant a busy end to 2013 and an increasingly busy 2014.

Family Balmer in the White Mountains

Family Balmer in the White Mountains

We did get some downtime during 2013. We went to the White Mountains in New Hampshire in the summer, for a family adventure camp. It was a good opportunity to get outdoors and do some hikes and for the girls to have some fun with other girls of a similar age. It also involved an overnight stay in one of the huts, which has given us ideas of what we might do this summer. Hopefully it has gone someway to curing Sophie’s fear of bears, despite the fact we saw one next to the road near to where we were staying. We also got to go on our first camping trip since arriving in Canada. We headed up to Parc du Trembant and spent a great weekend camping, hiking, canoeing, and sitting by the campfire in the evenings.

We also headed to the UK for Christmas. W weren’t sure what to expect, but it turned into a great holiday, as we caught up with friends and family, managed to spend some time in the Lakes and in London. It was fantastic to see some friends who we ended up realising we had not seen for around 17 years, despite the regular facebook contact. Jo managed to get her hugs with Daisy, her niece, who we saw for the first time.

Other events in the past year include Millie and Sophie graduating from elementary school, and starting high school. This means getting up at 6am to get the 7am train to downtown Montreal, to get to College de Montreal. They are enjoying it and seem to have grown more independent as a result. This also coincides with Millie and Sophie turning 13, so we now have two teenagers in the house, with all the challenges that that brings.

We’ve also been trying to get the house in order, and ended up with getting a large amount of work done during fall. We replaced most of the electrics, the furnace, and heating system, together with replacing the garage floor and insulating the whole of the garage. We now have a garage that Jo thinks is more luxurious then her first student house.

And there we have it, a snapshot of some of the events of 2013, and so we look forward to the rest of 2014, and will try harder to get more organised at the end of the year.