Skip to main content

My New Year's Letter

Hello awesome person,

Do you send out New Year's Letters? They were a big deal when I was a kid. Mom and Dad would receive a stack of Christmas cards in the mail and Mom would string them all up on the wall. If the cards came from within the city, from folks we saw often, there might only be a simple greeting. But if the card came from further away there would be a letter too. Long Distance telephone calls were expensive (I later learned how hard SaskTel worked to keep them expensive) and air travel was out of the question most of the time, so letters were all we had to stay connected to our extended friends and family.

Cindy and I kept the tradition alive when we got married, sending five or six page letters in the mail every year. I could never seem to get them out before Christmas though, so they became New Years letters. One year it was a Valentines letter. They were in the mail by Easter, for sure.

But with the rise of email and texting and social media, it's easier than ever to connect a little bit. Glance in from time to time. Share the best bits. But I still love getting a letter in the mail. So much so that I've started collecting mailing addresses again. It's a work in progress, a jumble of index cards in a box with my writing paper, stamps and envelopes. But it's a start. I try to sit down at the desk or typewriter and send some love notes every few weeks. All I know is it feels good to send them.

My friend Darcy Lee is on a similar journey. She sells cards through the awesomely titled website Hail the Snail Mail and is encouraging people to get back to sending notes and cards 'just because'. I love that.

This is a long and roundabout way of saying that this is my 2024 New Year's Letter, sent at the end of 2023. I don't have everyone's address yet, so email will have to do. Here we go!

(You could always hit reply and send me your address. I have more index cards waiting. 💖)

Where I sit #

I'm writing this note from my favourite chair, parked right beside my balcony window. I feel like Mother Bates when I sit here, looking out at the passing traffic, keeping an eye on my little corner of the neighbourhood. The totem poles across the street to my left have been watching the street for far longer than I have, but I've seen a lot in the four years we've been here. The huge oak tree tracks the seasons for me. In winter, I can see through the canopy to the water of inner harbour, watching the Coho ferry dock rather than only hear its horn. In summer, it casts glorious afternoon shade. And in fall, it's a bright red ball of awesomeness.

The intersection at Belleville and Douglas, right below me, tracks the human migration. Rows of tourists pulling suitcases. Lots of tourists means the ferry is here. Fewer tourists signal the busses from Swartz Bay. Later in the day, families or larger groups head for carb-efficient supper at the Spaghetti Factory on the corner.

The people give me a weather report. Are they carrying umbrellas? Using them? Wearing toques? Shorts? If I'm stumped I can walk out onto the balcony, but I usually get the information I need from people watching.

This is actually a noisy street corner. In summer, when the balcony door is open and the city busses are joined by the motor coaches bringing more tourists into town from the cruise ships, it gets uncomfortably loud in the afternoon. This time of year, it's much quieter, but always active. It takes the once-a-year snowfall to eliminate all the motorized sounds, at least until the snow melts in a day or two. We haven't been close to snow here this winter.

The tourism rhythm dominates this corner, but not always. During Covid, suitcases were replaced with shopping carts and backpacks, as unhoused people made the daily trek between Beacon Hill Park where they slept, and downtown, where there were showers and food. And we're blessed that the Mungo Martin house is right there on the corner too. I can't see it from my chair; it's directly behind the thickest part of the oak tree. But when the Lekwungen people have ceremony in the big house, I can smell the cedar fire burning and hear the drums and songs and I smile.

Further afield #

While we're figuring out a rhythm in our new home, connections with family shift and change. Time zones bother me. We shouldn't be so far apart.

We only made it back to Saskatchewan once this year, on separate trips. I went in June on a seat sale, and Cindy in July on her school break. I drove all over the place in June, back and forth between Regina and Moose Jaw, up to Saskatoon and Prince Albert. I don't drive at all here really, then drove 1500km in just over a week. Got it all done. I got to sit with my dad for several hours, out in the courtyard at the care home in Moose Jaw, and marvel at how his health has improved after a year of getting proper care and three square meals.

We talk on the phone, but the two hour time difference makes it tricky. Dad's 85 and the basics of life take longer. So I have to be diligent and pick a time to call when he's not washing up, in the dining hall, or having an nap. The best part of our visits this summer was simply sitting together, or looking at the plants in the vegetable garden. You can't just sit contentedly on a phone call, but we do our best.

The kids are the same but different. Eight hours apart means up is down. We talk in our morning, their evening. We're both tired for the opposite reason. But they are good. Ben flew down from Glasgow to spend Christmas with Robyn in Kent and we had several Zoom calls while they were together. They both look happy. The thing that fills my heart the most is seeing how happy and comfortable and connected Ben and Robyn are when they are together.

Ben's done his grad school and is looking for work in Glasgow with the NHS this year, so he can work as a physiotherapist while his paperwork gets transferred to Canada and he can sit the Canadian exam and get his certification here. Maybe 15 months before he moves back to Canada? March 2025? We'll see.

Robyn moved from teaching English to being the head of her school's Drama department. She loves the switch. I think it will keep her in the UK for a few more years. She's still living in Broadstairs on the coast and working in Canterbury. We got to see her live and in person this summer as she flew to Victoria for 10 days in August. It was fun to do all the parent things that we can't do when she's far away, like let her win at cards and make sure she has a good fall jacket and decent socks.

The connection that's strengthened the most this year is with my sister Wanda. She retired from the Health Authority this year and we got to talking more on the phone. From three times per year to every 2 - 3 weeks now. I still don't know what we talk about but it seems to take over an hour each time now. She and her husband Darcy came for a visit in November and we chatted up a storm then too. Very strange. I'm enjoying it though.

The Land #

We both get outside every day, but we haven't been active outdoors as much as we'd like. We didn't get any camping in this summer. Our summer plans were up in the air most of the time, which is bad if you want to reserve a campsite. There are so many more campers than sites on the island that you need to commit in spring. We didn't and we're still not comfortable with rough camping in our tent on the side of a logging road.

However, we did get some amazing hiking in this year. Cindy has a group of friends at work who are experienced hikers and they started inviting her out for day hikes that are more challenging than we might attempt on our own. Cindy gets the low down, then we go out again a few weeks later so I can see what she saw.

Cin's pushing herself even more next week, as the crew is heading out for a two night snowshoeing trip on a ridge near Port Renfrew. They're staying in a hut up on the mountain, which sounds amazing. I'm excited for her and hope they have snow up there.

Back at sea level, Cindy had me exploring more of the awesome cycling trails here. We did several day trips and made it as far as Michel's farm on the Saanich peninsula, around a 40km round trip. It was stellar and I want to do more.

I find the hardest part of cycling elevation wise is getting out of downtown. Once you get over the bridges and highway overpasses, it's smooth sailing as far as you like. Therefore the real worst part is the final bit when coming home. The bridges are so much more difficult when you're tired. I need a temporary e-bike just for the final kilometer.

The Inspirations #

If I had a resolutions section in this letter (ha!) it would be to read more. What I've been finding is that the good stuff affects me more than ever, so I sit with those feeling for longer, turning ideas over and over rather than picking up another book. I think writing more will help me put these ideas down and invite new ideas in.

There are a few ideas that I can't shake loose this year. This general feeling that the world is broken. More specifically, that the dominant systems that we live within are doing much, much more harm than good. Catastrophic harm. And also, that everything we've built is designed to drown out and eliminate any other narrative or worldview. So things are a mess but our system is the only system there is. The only system that works, even when it doesn't.

So it follows that the new ideas that have stuck with me the most this year are the ones that dig into different worldviews. Not utopias, but ways of looking at the world that are fundamentally different than what we are currently propping up no matter what.

Which makes these titles recommendation-worthy:

  • the work of fiction that stuck with me the longest is Fall; or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson. Long, strong, near term science fiction that challenges our assumptions of good vs. evil. Who is really the good guy in this story? Who am I rooting for? How is different from who I am supposed to root for in the 'real' world?

  • Even more fantastic is The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by the anthropologist Wade Davis. This book is based on Mr. Davis' 2009 Massey Lectures, where he tells the stories of several human cultures that are, unsurprisingly, under threat from colonialism, globalization and destruction of habitat. But the real gift here is the vibrant descriptions of how these people see the world and humanity's role in it. They are more powerful, interesting and far out than anything in Stephenson's work of fiction. As they say in TV, you can't write this stuff. And yet, these different worldviews might be exactly what we need to take seriously and begin to adopt, right now.

As an aside, can we please take a moment to share some gratitude for the Massey Lectures? I remember listening to the annual lectures on CBC Radio's Ideas and I'm diminished because I dropped that habit. I see they have a Massey Lectures audio archive - I'll be loading up my podcast player this weekend.

  • This is a cheat because I'm still reading it, but my friend June recommended Braiding Sweetgrass. My gosh I love this book. I can see why it's so hugely popular. The writing is stellar. It's such a beautiful, warm memoir. And the author faces this perfect storm of cultural biases as a single mother, American Indigenous woman in the sciences; it's a testament to her strength that she makes it through to tell her story. My goodness, I'm so grateful the book is written as a series of short stories and essays. My heart can only take all this beauty and emotion in small chunks. I'm too weak for strong gulps.

The Passions #

A big change for me this year is thinking of my projects as passions rather than Work.

This newsletter has always been a passion project. It's a way to stay connected with my friends. I share what I'm thinking about and you reply and give me even more to think about. We create this beautiful little connection.

But my other projects, the podcast and Bakers4Bakers were less clear. When I tell people I have a podcast, I will often get asked whether I make any money from it. Like the podcast might be my job. I don't want it to be my job. These things work best for me when they're my passion. When it's a gift I can share with folks.

Yes, I accept money from listeners / B4B members to keep things running. And I'm very grateful for everyone who helps me out. But I'm not a content creator. I'm not building a brand or developing an audience. I make things I like and share them.

There have been two Big Things I made recently that I haven't told you about, at least not in the letter:

Earlier in December, I shipped Episode #199 of the podcast, a lovely talk with my friend Claudia Fimbres. Claudia and I were such good friends in Regina that we moved in opposite directions at the same time, getting as far apart as possible while both remaining in Canada. Claudia and her husband Brad opened Mamacita Mexican Kichen on the eastern tip of Newfoundland and in the process, found a small but vibrant Latin community out on The Rock. They are feeding the people and taking care of their community and I cannot wait to get out there and see their place. But in the meantime, I will listen and re-listen to our conversation.

And then last week, we hit a big milestone. Episode #200. No way, no how did I ever think I'd make 200 episodes of the podcast. People thought I'd run out of people to talk to before I got to fifty and I sort of believed them.

I decided to mark five years and 200 episodes by going back to two of the OG's of the show. Two people who I met right at the beginning, when I was scared to put the first episodes out into the world. But when I met Daisy Chow and Nate Houge at WheatStalk I knew I wanted to share their stories, and they were on some of the very first episodes of the show. So we got back together for an extra long, wild and wooly, three way conversation right in the thick of US Thanksgiving preparations.

Their bakeries have changed a lot in five years. They have changed. And we talk about all of it, while Daisy rolls pie dough.

The Work #

At the end, where it should be, is the work. More accurately, the job. We're both finally at a point where we can Cindy is the one worth talking about here. She is back at Willows School in Oak Bay for her fourth year as an Educational Assistant. This year she's in a kindergarten classroom and is learning French along with the little ones. She loves the teacher she's working with and is having a fun time when she's in that class, although she always gets pulled away to other 'urgent' business.

It's one of the joys of my life to talk with Cindy after she gets home from work. Whether it was a good day or a challenging one, her approach to helping kids is so grounded, so empathetic that I am constantly in awe. And I'm constantly learning from her. It's brilliant to see someone so clearly in her element.

I haven't found 'my element' out of the apartment yet, but I'm still looking. I spent the past year working part time as a baker at a local coffee shop. It was a good experience because it reinforced that I need to be out and around people and I like being part of a team. Zoom calls aren't sufficient. And if I'm honest, it also reinforced that I don't need to be working a job more than part time (not emotionally or spiritually at least.) So I'm on the lookout for something part time, casual, volunteer even. Something where folks feel like they're better if I'm there, and I feel like I'm helping out. That's a pretty broad net, to be sure.

I'm also getting my personal contact fix through my hobby. I finally joined the local stamp club and meet with some of my fellow philatelists (phellow filatelists?) on at a cafe on Wednesdays. The first fellow I talked to grew up in Ormiston, Saskatchewan for goodness sake, so clearly this was meant to be.

(And yes, I'd love to hear about your old stamp collections that are in the back of your closet. Bring them into the daylight and let's see what you've got!)

The Future #

Nope. No resolutions here. Not gonna do it.

But perhaps I can end this letter with two wishes. First, that you are able to get out in the world this year. Among people, for sure, but on the land as well. With the birds and the trees, the fish and the water, the grass and the gophers. Whatever is where you are.

And second, I wish you are able to strengthen the connections with the people most important to you. Even a little bit. I'm not sure of the math, but if we can all be 1% more connected, more caring, more inter-dependent, then that's a good thing.

Yes, sure, please reply. I'd love to hear from you, to hear your stories. Always. If you can find someone to hug too, even better.

That's it for this week. I hope you're having fun in your own way. Stay healthy, stay happy. 💖