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Christmas Letter 2009

All Merry Christmas to all our friends,
2009 has been a year of new experiences and challenges, so maybe now is time to reflect upon what we’ve learnt. Another year older but are we any wiser? So what have we learnt this year?

The girls on the trail

The girls on the trail

1) Winter in Canada is cold. Your nose freezes at about -20? C, and quickly thaws when you go inside. We must have averaged -15? C last winter, but it’s all relative. As winter ended the temperature rose to a balmy 1? C and we were out in T shirts. It is also very sunny in winter, having blue skies coupled with snow on the ground is just magical. Freezing rain is ok up to a point but does make the roads slippy and is difficult to ski in.

2) Cross country skiing is good fun but dangerous. Jo, Millie and Sophie learnt to go slowly downhill, Doug crashed and broke bones in both hands. Skiing on the lake is much easier due to the lack of downhill bits. Snowshoeing is also fun especially when the snow is fresh and deep.

3) Summer in Canada can be hot; you can swim in the lakes, have water fights and not be shivering at the end of it. It was never too hot this year, although all our friends told us it was a bad summer and it should be hotter and much more humid.

Our first river trip

Our first river trip


4) Canada is made for canoeing. After purchasing our family canoe, Doug took Millie and Sophie on their first river trip with a few small rapids. Jo had some quiet time with a book. Didn’t see any moose though. Doug’s currently resigned to drinking Moosehead beer as being the closest thing to actually seeing a Moose.

5) Cabins are a great weekend getaway, unless it rains and the lake rises nearly 3 feet whilst you’re there. We’ve had lots of fun fishing, canoeing and swimming at a couple of cabins this year. The girls both caught their first fish, and then refused to touch them – girls! Doug decided to move on from the worm and a hook to fly fishing. A decision which promptly led to a huge decline in the number of fish caught. Next spring will be the time to catch those trout! A big thank you to Lawrie for the wet morning fishing at Packington lakes.

Cheers, Caribou in an ice glass

Cheers, Caribou in an ice glass

6) Millie and Sophie are now experts on the subject of caring for bears, wolves, otters, porcupines, caribou, deer, racoons etc after spending a week at the Ecomuseum this summer. They had a whale of a time, learning about the animals and feeding them breakfast. They loved going into the bear enclosure to hide food for the bears. They also enjoyed falling in the bog as they looked for frogs, but loved being hosed down afterwards even more.

7) Flying back to the UK overnight with Millie and Sophie means one sleepless night, which results in Millie falling asleep in a shoe shop the next morning. We spent a couple of weeks back in the UK during the summer, it was great to see old friends again, and to run (plod) around the hills of Scotland for a week at the Scottish 6 day orienteering event.

8) Work could have been easier this year. It seems to have been unrelenting pressure all year, with deadline after deadline. We really feel as if we’ve been trapped in the middle as we try to deliver this project and been trying to keep everyone happy, but when the client and our disparate design teams have opposing views, most of the time that’s not always possible.

The smiles say it all

The smiles say it all

9) Le français est tres difficile, or put another way – French is bl**dy hard to learn, especially when they all talk so fast. After a year of lessons, we’re getting better but it’s slow. The area where we live is so Anglophone it’s difficult to practise and they all reply in English even if you try to speak French. Doug’s brain is still processing the first few words in a sentence and they are already halfway through the next topic. We’ve been trying some phonics in our recent classes, can you spot the difference between the u, ou, eu sounds at 100 miles an hour?

10) Canadians are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. We’ve made some good friends here. We held a BBQ to celebrate a year in Quebec and invited all the friends we had made since arriving as a way of saying thank you for making us so welcome.

11) Ringuette – a sport kind of like ice hockey but for girls. Instead of a puck, there’s a ring; after that it’s similar but different. Millie and Sophie have been having “learn to skate” and “learn Ringuette” lessons. When you see some of the little kids charging about the ice at one hell of a speed, you can understand all the padding. It takes a good 15 minutes to get the girls kitted out each time. Their skating is coming on steadily, and maybe they’ll be on a team after Xmas.

Is this the first Moose we've seen!

Is this the first Moose we’ve seen!

12) If World war III broke out, whether the Montreal Ice Hockey team – The Habs won or lost would still be the top story on the News. Millie and Sophie like ice hockey but seemed to prefer the fights more, oh and whacking a folded up piece of card on the rail in front in time with the music.

13) Jo will be curling for Great Britain at the next Olympics, either that or our floors will be the cleanest ever – boom boom. Bet all the curlers out there have never heard that one before! Seriously, Jo has found her sport, sliding across the ice, with her bum a mere 2” from the ice, broom in hand – get that rock in the house!

It’s fair to say we’ve really enjoyed our time in Canada. If work eases up a bit next year, we will really be able to enjoy it.

We’ve decided we will stay in Canada …………. next summer, so we can enjoy the hot sunny summer and see other parts of Canada whilst we are here. We’re thinking of maybe heading back to the UK and Europe for the first week in March as it is a school holiday here. Our current thoughts are maybe a week skiing in the Alps and then to try to spend a few days either before or afterwards seeing friends and family.

As for our future, who knows. We’ll definitely explore all our options. It is unlikely that Arup will open an office in Montreal in the near future, so we’ll see what the situation is with our office in Toronto amongst other places. We’re keeping our house in the UK as well, so that option is always open to us. Decisions, decisions.

Jo and Doug

Jo and Doug

Some breaking news just in, we’re moving house just before Christmas! So we’ll be welcoming in the New Year from a new home. It’s closer to the lake so with a bit of luck there will be more skiing in the winter, and canoeing in the summer. There’s plenty of space for visitors so if you feel like a trip to Montreal let us know.

We hope that 2009 has been kind to you. From what we pick up on the BBC website, we know that conditions in the UK and US have been harder economically than in Canada (not sure about Belgium?), so let’s hope that 2010 is better for everyone.

Here’s to a great Christmas and New Year… now where’s that sleigh.