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December 2017
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Christmas Letter 2010

It’s really beginning to feel like Christmas. When I first sat down to write this letter/ posting the snow was really falling for the first time this winter. There’s now about 12″ of snow on the terrace and all around – and the roads run like normal. That’s good news because it means skiing can begin, snowmen can be built, sledging can commence and so much more – Awesome.

As the year comes to an end, we realise that we’ve now been in Canada for over two years now, and still enjoying life and everything Canada offers. It is such a great country, with something for everyone. There is a more positive outlook on life in general. Maybe it is Montreal, but there is more of a feeling that life is for enjoying rather than wasting. For example, we have two ways of getting to the office, either race down the autoroute, fighting with the other traffic, or amble along the lakeshore, often seeing the sun glisten off the water in between the houses that front the lake, sometimes seeing a canoe on the lake – guess which we choose?

The Family Balmer at Moraine Lake

We moved house just before last Christmas, and fell on our feet. We’re now maybe 50m from the lake in a wonderful house, and it is only a short walk to get the canoe onto the water. We have great landlords and we’re trying to be great tenants, looking after the house as much as we can. We had some fantastic evenings eating and drinking with friends and family on the terrace, whilst the girls played in the pool during the summer.

It would be wrong to say that everything is perfect in Canada. When we saw Billy Connolly ‘Live in Montreal’, he summed up the politicians really well. He called them beige – uninspiring and entirely forgettable. It’s fair to say that most Canadians have a pretty low opinion of their politicians, maybe even lower than the view in the UK after all the expenses scandals.  In Quebec you then have the separatists, those who still wish to tear Canada apart, seemingly just to protect the french language. Then you have the alleged corruption, especially in Quebec, with various mafia families who appear to be trying to kill each other off. The health service is nothing special, and makes you lust after the NHS in the UK – it has taken Jo nearly a year to get her knee treated after a fall during a curling match!

But for us the Canadian people make it special. We’ve met some wonderful people whilst in Canada. The story that a Canadian lottery winner had given away all their winnings summed it up for us. In Montreal, the city goes wild when the Habs are winning. During the playoffs at the end of the last hockey season, they played above and beyond all expectations, and the support grew on an almost hourly basis. And then the winter Olympics – Awesome and we were nearly 4000km away! I hope that when the Olympics hit London in 2012 it is half as good as the atmosphere was in Canada throughout the games. We celebrated every Canadian medal. It was quite interesting to see the divide in our house. Doug, Sophie and Millie were all routing for Canada, whilst Jo still hankered after a GB success – when they competed. Then we bearly watched the soccer world cup – it was so slow compared to hockey!

The Balmer Posse

In the summer we tried to see a bit more of Canada. We went to Algonquin in June for a long weekend. A good weekend with some canoeing fishing, walks and learning about how the English raided the Canadian forests to provide timber for the UK. The Forestry museum was definitely worth a visit.

Then in August we headed out West to Calgary and the Rockies. The first week was spent around Calgary and Banff, seeing dinasaurs, bears, Elk, but no Moose (except in  Calgary Zoo, so that doesn’t count). Then we had the the holiday of a lifetime at Three Bars Ranch near Cranbrook, BC. There’s more on our blog, but in summary, Jo thought that Doug was having a midlife crisis and doing the ‘City Slickers’ thing. Jo wasn’t looking forward to a week on a horse, but in the end really enjoyed it. The girls had movie stars as horses, both Trigger and 402 had been in Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood. We rode each day, sometimes twice, went White Water rafting (or white water waterfighting), and just enjoyed and chilled and enjoyed some more. In fact we chilled so much, we really questioned what we are doing with our lives, and who knows…one day we might get to put some of the ideas into practice. Never have we all left a vacation with tears in our eyes, and such a yearning to stay.

After feeling totally settled in Canada, this year Doug decided that he really needed to give something back (Jo’s already heavily involved with the Home and School committee). Initially we thought this might mean getting involved with Scouts in Canada, but the girls had other ideas. They decided they didn’t want to go to Cubs, instead they wanted to play in a Ringette team. So Ringette has become a big part of our lives this year. Last winter, Millie and Sophie participated in a learn to skate programme, and had a bit of Ringette thrown in. But from September, they’ve been playing for BKRA Novice C team (Novice because they are between 8 and 10, and C because they are just learning). The girls called the team the BK Penguins – which as far as we can see is an excuse to skate hard then slide across the ice during practice.  Doug offered to help on the ice and this quickly turned into finding himself as assistant coach and desparately trying to learn the rules, and how to play the game, oh and how to skate. At least he can now go forwards and backwards and stop!

The girls are loving Ringette, their skating is getting better and better, and whilst not the fastest, they are getting stuck in. We know they

BK Penguins in action (Millie in Goal, Sophie No 4)

are enjoying it as there is never a grumbled when they have to get out of bed at 6.30am on a Sunday morning to get to a game or practice. The team is really just learning both how to skate and how to play Ringette, and to that end has lost more games than they have won. But when they win, you see their faces really light up. The other great thing is the spirit around the team, all the girls and parents are great, and having a lot of fun in the process. In the New Year, we have four tournaments which should be fun. We end with a tournament in Trois Rivieres so it’s a weekend in a hotel with the 13 girls and their parents for us all. Let’s Go Penguins Let’s Go!!

Millie has decided to be one of our part time goalies, playing half the games in net. She’s really taken to it and again learning all the time. We’ve had her practicing down in the basement in front of a big cardboard box as a goal, with Sophie firing shots at her. Strange as it may sound, she skates faster in all the goalie padding than when she is dressed normally.

Jo’s curling goes from strength to strength. She joined two teams this year, and has had a successful start to the season with both teams being promoted within their in-house leagues.

So do we miss anything from the UK, – only friends and family really. It was great to see the Pens in the summer, and a good excuse to get a cabin near Tremblant. We’ve had other visits from parents, and we’re just about to launch into a Balmer Christmas with Granny, Grandpa, Uncle Pigs and Aunty Linda coming to stay – wish Jo luck, especially when the parlour football starts! We’re going to be back in the UK next July for Jo’s brother’s wedding (after a quick trip to Chamonix for Doug’s cousin Lizzie’s wedding). So we hope to catch up with many friends and family then, but we’ll apologies now if we don’t get to see everyone.

So as this ramble draws to a close, we hope that everyone gets to enjoy Christmas and the New Year. Let’s hope the economy picks up in the UK and it makes life easier for all, and maybe allows a few Councils to acquire a few more snow ploughs! If not enjoy the snow while you can. We will have it until March now, and that means lots of fun. Now, where are the skis?

All the best and lots of love,

Doug, Jo, Millie and Sophie