August 9th, 2008

     It's been two years since I made my last web letter, and a busy two years it has been.  It's time to make a new one.  This time, however, I'm going to incorporate links to photos or websites that illustrate elements of the letter, rather than putting the photos themselves right into this page.  Click on the word links for anything you might be interested in viewing or learning more about, and use your back button to return to this page.  I will keep any photos fairly small so that they won't take long to load; and if you follow any bad links, please let me know.

     I began curling two winters ago, driving out to Annandale for a men's league every Friday right after school.  I was pleased to discover that I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it was a good outlet from the stress of the work week. I also began training that winter for dragon boat racing. 

     Last summer, after attended the family summer campout and the wedding of Davin and Erin, my nephew and new niece-in-law, we returned to Toronto where I participated in several dragon boat races. My team, "Principalship", won several medals, including the Education Cup medal. One day between races at Marilyn Bell Park, a hungry young green budgie flew into our waiting area and surrendered himself to me.  I brought him home, and he turned out to be a wonderful bird with a lot of character who developed a lot of affection for us over the winter and became very tame.  I named him Puff, as in "Puff the Magic Dragon".  

     Deborah and I did some day-sailing on our Mirage (photo to come) that summer, and I continued to play league tennis once a week, as I do every summer.  We couldn't sail further afield because Maxie had become quite old and could no longer safely negotiate the docks and the boat. I also played three dates at the casino in Barrie with my once-a-week rock band, Random Notes.  And we went to Kingston for a wonderful first Hunter family reunion (my mother's family).

     In August I returned to Alberta to drive up to the North West Territories, to "do the Nahanni" in a canoe with my brother Peter, nephew Dylan, and three of Peter's white-water canoeing buddies, Jeff, Brian and Ed. That was a big trip, and a big event to recognise Peter's 50th birthday.

     I returned to a second year as vice-principal at Robert Service Sr. P. S., under a new principal.  It was a busy year for me: in addition to my vp duties, I taught a split grade 7/8 class with 15 ESL students ranging from brand new arrivals with minimal language skills to students with some degree of fluency who were virtually indistinguishable from regular Canadian kids, at least in their oral language skills.  I taught all morning five days a week with no teacher prep time, did my own home room and remedial in the afternoon; I delivered the full grade 7 and 8 curriculum in English, math, art, music, dance and drama - much more than a 1/2 time teaching load, although I was still expected to be a 1/2-time vp.  I put in long days, and spent at least one day of every weekend in the office. 

     Deborah taught grade 2 for the first time after a career as a self-described "grade 4 specialist".  She remains at the same school, Oakridge P. S., a very large but a very good school on the south-west edge of Scarborough.

     Through the winter, I curled for the second year, this time with a mixed league closer to home, at East York Curling Club.  I was invited to participate in a bonspiel, coincidentally back out at Annandale.

     We had to put Maxie down on Valentine's Day, when we returned home from work to realize that she was extremely ill, and she had finally become too old to recover from it.  She was two months short of fourteen years of age, close to a record for a Great Dane.

     I became very ill myself in March.  Following a routine biopsy, I was attacked by a terrible infection that the prophylactic antibiotic hadn't successfully screened, and spent my entire March Break, eight days in total, in a Scarborough General hospital room overlooking Eglinton Avenue, while Deborah shovelled almost record snowfall on our driveway at home in order to get her car out to come and visit me daily. It took me a further few weeks at home to complete my recovery.

     This summer Deb and I went to the family campout in the Rockies again, and continued down the very scenic and winding "Sea to Sky" Highway 99 to Campbell River, where my youngest brother Andrew has moved to manage the Story Creek Golf Club.  We visited with him and with my parents, who arrived at the same time, and took in some local sights. The annual chainsaw wood carving contest had just been held, and we got to see all the amazing carvings on the beach.

     We visited Stefanie, Silken and Una on Salt Spring Island for the third time (we saw Arnd here in Toronto upon our return), and then went to Gold River on the west coast of the island, where we visited the Upana Caves (and surprised a bear on the path back to our car) and a fish hatchery on a drive up to Tahsis, and then took a trip on the Uchuck III up to Kyuquot.  The scenery was spectacular, inside the fjords and out on the open ocean for one stormy passage that lasted for a few hours on the first afternoon.  The freighter takes supplies to the fishing lodges, lumber camps, fish farms and remote communities up the coast.  We stayed overnight in a bed-and-breakfast at Kyuquot, which has only one short four kilometre road over the hill to a nearby lumber camp - the community is spread out over a series of islands, and everyone gets back and forth in small boats.  We returned to Gold River on the freighter the next day. That was a memorable trip that we're quick to recommend to anyone.

     We drove my nephew Kenton's car for this trip - a Toyota Matrix.  Excellent gas mileage, and very comfortable for long distances.  We saw tons of wildlife - goats, deer, elk, bear, and even a cougar very early in the morning at the Lion's campground just outside of Gold River, as we were driving down to the dock to embark on the Uchuck III.  I had some great photos, but I lost half of them through what I can only describe as a "techno-idiot" push of the camera menu buttons...but why is there more than one meaning for the word "format" on a camera?

     On the way home we stayed at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, arriving in Harrison just in time to enjoy a sand sculpture international competition and a music festival on the beach just steps from the front door of the hotel.  We soaked in hot pools for two days before continuing our journey.  We stopped at Miette to soak in another hot pool, and compare the experience.  We stopped in a few other communities on Vancouver Island and in the Rockies.  Back in Edmonton, we visited my siblings, rode Ed and Heather's horses, Blue and Tex (did I remember their names correctly?) and went to dinner theatre with Mom and Dad.

     Upon our return to Toronto, we began enjoying our garden again.  It had exploded into something out of the Little Shop of Horrors during our three week absence, the result of record rainfall in Toronto, three times the normal amount (our weather while camping out west was exceptional, sunny and perfect the whole time). We haven't needed to water the garden more than once or twice, and the lawn not at all.  We have tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, lots of butternut and buttercup squash, romanesque zuchinnis, peas, raspberries, sunflowers, and all sorts of herbs, flowers and flowering shrubs.  We had a bowl of strawberries every day after work through June.

     We took a trip in our Mirage to Oakville, for the four day long weekend We got caught in one downpour in the middle of the lake, but steered by GPS until we could see the coastline and the entry to Oakville harbour, and when the weather cleared we went in.  We had a pleasant weekend.  We visited the Oakville Club, although we actually had a slip directly across a narrow channel up Sixteen Mile Creek, at the Oakville Yacht Squadron.  We went to the Erchless museum which is on the waterfront, which told the story of the settling of Oakville and the founding family, and had a fun exhibit on teenagers 80 years ago compared to now, and an exhibit on Oakville's status as a terminus of the Underground Railroad from the U.S. 

     There was an Emancipation Day picnic in the park on the same day, trying to bring back an annual tradition from 140 years ago, with speakers, drummers and a local steel drum band, and the author of I've Got A Home in Glory Land, which tells the very dramatic life story of the creators of the original cab company, the first in Toronto, created by a black couple from the U.S., escaped slaves, whose official yellow and red cab colours later became the official colours of the Toronto Transit Commission.  One of the fascinating things about that park was the horticulture: I counted fifteen fairly large banana trees!

     This week we also went to Barrie, where I played with my rock band on the patio at the Georgian Downs racetrack and casino on Thursday evening.  We had a great time and felt very good about how we played - we were "tight" (in a playing sense, of course, not a drinking sense...or a wardrobe sense).  The crowd was small this time because of the weather, but stayed on their feet dancing through all our sets.  Deb and I stayed, like last summer, in the log cabin at the local KOA campground.  We were going to pitch our tent, but we're enduring yet another four day stretch of thunderstorms, and felt more comfortable under a wooden roof. 


     For the rest of the summer we'll be connecting with Toronto friends, day-sailing, playing tennis, working on the house and in the garden, and beginning to go into our respective schools by about the middle of the month. I have to help interview for new staff, and get my office set up in my new school, Cedar Drive P. S.  (I'll be upgrading their website this fall!).  We've got a few yacht club socials coming up, we'll be watching the Olympic events on our living room wall, and I'll be playing at the Barrie casino again on the 28th for a bigger event, followed by a few more gigs through the fall at various places
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      I look forward to a calmer year at my new school, sharing the vice-principal's duties with one other (there will be two of this at the new school) and teaching about 1/4 time.  I'll be curling again, and with Maxie gone from our lives, Deborah and I will probably get to travel somewhere south at Christmas and at Easter once again.  We might be scouting for retirement locations, since she has fourteen more working months to put in before her official retirement, and I have decided to retire at the same time. It'll be three years ahead of schedule for me, but it makes sense for us to be able to time our retirement together, to travel and to learn a new retirement lifestyle together.  We're not sure what we'll do yet in our retirement: sail in the Bahamas or in the Caribbean?  Drive south at Christmas and become "trailer-trash" six months of the year, or find a winter home in Spanish-speaking Central America?  Go to the Pacific - Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji?  Teach overseas, if we can find the right situation?  Tutoring (online and off), professional website maintenance, playing music, writing stories, "soft news" or travel articles?  Sailboat salesman?  Crew on OPB's ("other people's boats"), or courier boats for other people?  Courier travel?  House-sitting or vacation-managing in exotic locales? Trading houses with other retired couples for a few weeks at a time? (There are websites that help you arrange all of these sorts of things).  We won't run out of ideas; perhaps we'll end up doing some combination of many of them; perhaps you can even suggest a few ideas for us!.

     We wish everyone a wonderful balance of the summer, less rain if you live here in the East, and a great year ahead.

Yours truly,

Steve and Deborah Gilchrist