2013 Christmas Letter

Christmas time is a good time to reflect on the past year. It is at this time we remember the Gift God gave to the world. It is also a time of giving gifts to each other, appreciating and enjoying these gifts. We were given the gift of another year, with all of the good and exciting things that happened in it. While 2012 revolved around the growth of our family, this year was more about travel and milestones.

Introducing D to Sesame Street

Introducing D to Sesame Street

We were in Edmonton twice this year to visit with our Grandson D and his parents. He is growing up so quickly. Our last visit in October was wonderful, because D, now walking, is so responsive. We visited the zoo together where he became totally enamored with the domestic pigs, mimicking their grunts at every opportunity. Google talk has been a wonderful tool for keeping, and growing our relationship. I find it amazing the way a eighteen month old can seem to understand that the folks on the screen talking to him are real, as he interacts with us, just as if we were in the same room. Our son-in-law, J, has finished his PhD, with his defense in September. R, continues to work on the last stages of hers and hopes to complete this spring. They are doing a great job of balancing their lives as students and parents.

J and Clementine out for a drive

J and Clementine out for a drive

In February we traveled to San Francisco to visit J and L and our newest grand puppy, Clementine.   J continues his work with Google and seems to be flying around the world on business even more than he did before. L has left Google for a job with a company that makes a robot which is run by an iPhone. This company is based in San Francisco, saving her the commute to Mountain View which J continues to make. Clementine goes to work with one of them, most days.

J and M in Toronto came home a couple of weeks ago with news. They are going to be parents to more than two dogs and a cat. The baby is expected to arrive sometime in June. This news has put a little more pressure on them to finish the work they have been doing on their house.

Doggie messengers

Doggie messengers

They have been renovating the attic for a master bedroom and still have work to do on the main floor. M completed the requirements for his engineer’s stamp this year and also got his real estate licence. J continues to be active in her church as a youth leader and in her knitting group.

Last month we said goodbye to Liia. It was tougher to let her go than either of us had imagined.

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Over the years on the farm we had, in one way or another, had animals come and go in our lives. Liia had entrenched herself in a much more intimate spot  than any of those others. We still feel her absence every day. For the first time in over 30 years, our house is pet-free.

History and cow pastures in Ireland

History and cow pastures in Ireland

This year, we joined the group we walked the Camino with in 2011 to visit the high holy crosses of Ireland. We decided that an eleven day bus trip in Ireland was not really an active enough holiday for us, so we extended it with a sixteen day bicycle trip. Ireland was a wonderful experience. The people are amazingly friendly and the history of the place is deep. The history surrounds you in castles, tower houses, and cottages.

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Much of it just left where it is, protected by law and maintained by sheep and cattle. We were gone nearly a month.

J continues to work at the local YMCA as a personal trainer. She has also rediscovered knitting putting together socks, shawls, sweaters, and most recently Christmas balls. She has also started playing with clay at a local pottery shop.

Some of the many Christmas balls

Some of the many Christmas balls

The first days were pretty frustrating, but now warns me a new shelf might be required for all of the pottery she is bringing home this week and is hoping to make in the future.

A couple of years ago, J and I started taking dance classes. Initially, it was to keep from embarrassing ourselves at J & M’s wedding, but, finding that we enjoy doing this together we have continued. We don’t get a lot of chances to show off our skills, and maybe that is not even the point of the classes for us. For us, it something we can do together when biking, canoeing, and travelling are not possible. It’s good to have a best friend to share life with.

In April, I finished the last class of the MDiv I have been working on since 2009. In June, I was declared a candidate for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. In September the congregation in Lucknow, my home congregation, called me to be their interim pastor.

Graduation October 2013

Graduation October 2013

While it seems like the end of the journey, it’s really just another way point. I’m enjoying the work at the church and look forward to the next couple of years here. The call is a part time one and I continue to consult with sheep and goat farmers through Threefold Consulting.

As the year draws to a close, we look forward to 2014.  We’re already talking about the cycle trip we hope to make, the canoe trip in Algonquin, the new grand baby. How many times will we get on an airplane next year?  Even as we talk about these things, we recognize life is fragile and we’re in God’s hands; whatever comes, we trust it’s part of God’s plan.

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Ireland: Week One

We’ve been in Ireland for a week now, biking, exploring, eating. We’ve travelled a little over 450 km, all on our trusty tandem bicycle. J has been keeping a running blog of each day’s adventures at beyonddonnybrook.wordpress.com which I won’t repeat. This morning I just want to share a few general impressions about this wonderful place.

Since we are traveling by bike, slowly, our impressions cannot be extrapolated to the entire country. Much of our time, this week, has been spent in County Clare, on the midwest side of the island.

Paul, the hardware man and historian, from Kilrush. One of our many new acquaintances along the way.

Paul, the hardware man and historian, from Kilrush. One of our many new acquaintances along the way.

The people really make this place! They are so friendly. They may be particularly friendly to us because we are odd, showing up in an area with apparently few bikes, and on a tandem yet too. But, even as we walk in the evening, in our street clothes, folks have time to stop and talk, beyond just answering our requests for directions. As we meet folks walking along the narrow roads we often greet them and receive a greeting in return. J suggested that it was our greeting causing the response, not the friendliness of the people so, we experimented and waited for their greeting, and it still came. When we are not greeted we now assume the folks we are meeting are other tourists!

The castle on Inisheer. Not even a sign board for this one. Go right inside, but watch for cow paddies.

The castle on Inisheer. Not even a sign board for this one. Go right inside, but watch for cow paddies.

I find it intriguing the way, in the area we’ve travelled anyway, the people live in their history. The countryside is littered with skeletons of churches, castles, ring forts, and innumerable stone houses. We did pay to visit an ring fort interpretive centre, but otherwise these monuments to the history of this place are just there, the grass cut by cattle and sheep, sometimes with a signboard describing the happenings in the place, sometimes not. It’s such a contrast to our “build something new, bury the old thing” mentality. I’m sure the things we are seeing are now protected, but the fact they survived till now is amazing, providing the people with a constant reminder of those who came before them.

We have three more weeks here, another nine days on the bike north of Galway, then back to Dublin to join our friends, and a bus, to explore more of this wonderful island.

Filian (or Philian?)

Tuesday was nearly a disaster. We are on holiday, cycling in Ireland on a tandem bicycle. We were on the loop ride in the south west corner of the island. The day was cloudy and we had already ridden through a downpour. The wind was strong and cold. As we came around a bend we could see the “village” of Kilhaha about three kilometres ahead, when suddenly, going up a small rise, there was no resistance in the pedals. The first thought was that we had thrown the chain, unusual in itself. More unusual, though, was the snake of chain extended on the road behind the bike. It was a most disconcerting sight.

imageWe had prepared for most eventualities, but not this one. In the thousands of kilometres we had ridden, we had never broken a chain. We had a tool to take the broken bits off, but nothing to put it back together. We started walking toward what appeared to be a pub in the distance.

Arriving at the village, it was obvious there was no bike shop. We went into the bar and initially got a rather blank stare, following our request for someone to work on our bike, from the woman behind the bar. She turned to a wizened character, the only other occupant of the bar, nursing a Guiness in the corner.

“Filian, do ye think ye can fix it”

“Oh, aye, oh aye, I can fix it better than new” he mumbles.

imageHis appearance didn’t evoke much confidence, but he was all we had. He took a quick look and, from his diagnosis of the situation left us feeling even less confident. He returned to his Guiness, and I took the chain apart at the repair link, but could not get it back together.
Returning to the bar, Filian was our only hope.

“I’ll just finish me drink and we’ll walk to my shop, aye I can fix it”

It starts to rain again so we decide to order a cup of tea to warm up. Filian seeing the delay orders another Guinness.

The walk to the shop is about half a kilometre, up hill. I keep looking ahead for something that looks like a repair shop but nothing fits. We got lots of history on the way, some of which we could understand though the Irish.

“It’s right here” he says, pointing at a delapitated Quonset hut which he opened after struggling with what he claimed to be a brand new lock. The door slid open and there was an electic hoist with a car on it with no wheels. Maybe we had found a mechanic!

Our optimism flagged as he started to dig around in a corner and came up with a length of dirty, rusty, bicycle chain.

“This’ll do the trick”he says.

I examine the chain for a repair link, but there doesn’t seem to be one.

” We need a repair link”

” No we don’t, those things are no good,” which prompted a story about a repair link and a motorcycle.

J and I exchanged dispairing looks, while Filian (we actually don’t know his name at this point,we’d missed it at the bar)starts digging around in an old cookie tin full of bits of hardware, nuts, and bolts, muttering to himself the whole time. He finds what he wants, not a repair link, but a nut which he uses in conjunction with the a hammer and punch to take a link out of the old chain.

“It’s not a repair link,” I say.

“I know, I know, we’ll get you going better than new.”

He seems to be getting grumpy and we are a little more than anxious as our day slips away with the opportunity to get to a proper bike shop rapidly fading.

Filian did get the chain together, squeezing the old link with vice grips till it held. Of course bike chains need to be put together in place because they are on both sides of the chain stay which makes using a hammer on it almost impossible. A concrete block, topped with a chunk of native Irish rock was set up and we were ordered to put the bike on its side, chain on rock. With great trepidation we did it, trying to keep the shiny frame away from the rocks, and he proceeded to tap the rivets flat with a long punch and a hammer (the two pound mini sledge was almost more than we could bear).

Believe it, or not, the fix worked. Oh, the gears skipped a bit because the link was actually a bit to wide, but otherwise we were down the road and finished our day.

Wednesday we altered our route into Kilrush, found a bike shop, and got a brand new chain, but that’s another story altogether.
There is a moral to this story, I’m sure. It might have to do with judging books by their covers, or multiple ways to skin cats.