Monday, December 31, 2012

Another year for the history books

I had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps I was out of town too much during the time that everyone else was getting ready for Christmas. Perhaps I was too stressed about the big project at work that I was wrapping up. Or perhaps knowing that I wouldn't see my sister's kids over the holidays this year left me feeling a little blah about the whole thing, since really, Christmas is about the kids. Whatever the reason, I was a bit of a Scrooge. No Christmas tree, no Christmas lights, no Christmas baking (not even the giant batch of cinnamon rolls that I make and give to all of our friends), and no Christmas cards.

For my lacklustre holiday showing, I have been feeling an awful lot of guilt. (So very Catholic of me, I know...) To assuage said guilt, I damn near killed myself trying to salvage some kind of Christmas for the family members that were here. At the very last minute, I rushed around like a maniac for gifts. At the eleventh hour, I decided to cook a turkey dinner, complete with all the fixings, on Christmas Eve. I hurriedly baked a few batches of cookies. And I dug some not-so-pretty Christmas decoration out of the bowels of the basement to at least have something seasonal in the house.

In the end, and despite the added stress that I put on my A-type self to get ready for the holidays in a mere 36 hours, I had a lovely Christmas. A quiet Christmas Eve dinner with Hubby, my parents, and our neighbour at our place. Les Misérables on Christmas Day, followed by dinner at my brother's house. Snowshoeing with Fergus and baking turkey pot pies on Boxing Day. And rounding out the week by entertaining one couple chez nous for a gastronomical adventure, while being entertained by another couple chez eux the following evening.

Now I am a few pounds heavier, and feeling a little less guilty.

Except for one thing. I never really did get around to those Christmas cards...

To friends and family, for this I apologize. Hubby and I had the best of intentions to put together a photo collage of us and Fergus to send to you, along with our annual Christmas letter. But alas, we simply ran out of time. Please accept the URL linking you to this blog post as the Christmas card that you should have received, and know that we think of you always, and are happy to share our lives with all of you.

Happy New Year, from my herd to yours.

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If some years are more eventful than others, I believe that 2012 is in this category. This was, after all, the year that Bruce Springsteen released his 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball, an important event in the life of any devoted fan, to be sure. Also one that prompted Hubby and I to travel across the Northeast to catch a few of his shows. There were other, non-Bruce milestones. Hubby turned 40 (gasp!!), we toured France, and Fergus herded sheep for the first time. It was a year full of precious memories, shared with one another, with family, and with friends. A year that we will not soon forget.

Let's start with my "old man". Indeed, one of the reasons that I love Hubby as much as I do is because he will always be older than me, which he proved by turning 40 first, earlier this spring. While some throw swanky parties to mark the occasion of four decades on Earth, Hubby wanted something a little more relaxed and low-key. So instead, we invited 40 people into our home. I fed them paella and cake, we drank wine, and Hubby was toasted and roasted by his nearest and dearest all night long.

Since Hubby's favourite thing (next to me, of course) is wine, he asked that we mark the occasion of his 40th with a trip to France. Specifically to the Bordeaux International Wine Festival, where 2km of wine tents along the shore of the Garonne River awaited us for three days in early July. Some of his closest friends joined us, as we tasted fabulous wines from the Bordeaux region and explored darling French towns such as St. Emilion. I, of course, shopped. Lots.

2km of wine tents along the Garonne River, with St. Andre in the background 

Overlooking the vineyards of St. Emilion

A wine cellar dating back to the 1600s, in St. Emilion

Standing on the streets of Bordeaux

Looking rather styling with my Bordeaux purse, my Bordeaux sunglasses, my Bordeaux ring, and my big, floppy hat 

One week before meeting friends in Bordeaux, Hubby and I toured the lavender fields of Provence, beginning and ending in Marseilles, and taking in charming destinations along the way: Aix en Provence; Chateauneuf-du-Pape; Orange; Arles; Avignon. We fell in love with the food, the wine, the people. They fell in love with my "charming" Canadian accent. Already we are planning our retirement in one of the many darling little corners of Mediterranean France. (And I am working on getting rid of that French Canadian twang...)

The not-yet-quite-ripe lavender fields of Avignon

Where's Hubby?

"Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse"

Poolside at our B&B in Chateauneuf du Pape

The vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape

Hubby in all his glory standing among the vines. 

Camarguaise bull-fighting in Arles

France was not our only travel destination in 2012. Over Easter, we found ourselves in Manhattan, so that I could live out my dream of seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Madison Square Gardens. I have wanted to do this ever since seeing the DVD of the 2000 E-Street Band performance there, as part of their 1999-2000 reunion tour. Our seats were not so good, but the concert was earth shattering. Two poignant tributes to Clarence Clemons during "My City of Ruins" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" left me sobbing. Watching Bruce - at 62 years old - crowd surf to the middle of the arena left me jumping up and down with excitement, wondering what it would be like to be one of those people who touch him as he surfs by. I laughed with sheer joy when he brought an eight-year-old girl up onto stage with him to sing "Waiting on a Sunny Day". By the time his Mom came out to dance in the dark with him, I was beside myself. Unlike boring Ottawa crowds, the MSG crowd was on its feet from start to finish, for 3+ hours, and his adrenaline carried deep into all reaches of the crowd to keep us all going. It was, in a word, incredible, and despite sore and tired feet, I practically floated the 15 blocks back to our hotel that night.

Look up. Look way up! The view from our seats at MSG

Hubby and I in our seats at MSG

I also knew that I had to go again. And so, when he announced additional dates, I keyed up the laptop and waited for the tickets to go on sale. Instead of picking some closer-to-us Canadian venues, I opted for Chicago (where we had never been) and New Jersey (where he is from). In Chicago, Hubby and I made it into the coveted Pit, where we found a spot in the second row. So close that Bruce stood right in front of us on at least 6 occasions, and squeezed my left hand on one of these, leaving me crying with delight, and ecstatic with the knowledge that all of the people farther back were jealous that the Boss held my hand. Eddie Vedder - an idol of Hubby's - came out to sing Atlantic City, leaving Hubby jumping up and down with excitement. Tom Morello, an insanely incredible guitar player, had both of us electrified when he sang "The Ghost of Tom Joad" with Bruce. Two weeks later, wondering what surprises would be in store for us next, we headed to Jersey to see him, where a two-and-a-half hour electrical storm delay kept the concert from starting until 10:30. When the clock struck midnight and the calendar flipped from September 22nd to September 23rd, 55,000 people broke out in a version of Happy Birthday, as the Boss turned 63. The concert did not end until 2:00 a.m, and there in the swamps of Jersey, as complete strangers threw their arms around Hubby and I during "Jungleland", I knew why I was a Springsteen fan.

Hubby and I in the Pit in Chicago

This is not zoomed in... We were that close.

Taking an architectural tour of Chicago

We closed out our year of Bruce here at home in October, when he came to Ottawa. And while I toyed with the idea of seeing him in Hamilton and Vancouver, I ended the Bruce-fest there. At least until next year, when Hubby and I are travelling to Germany to see him in May. There is already that to look forward to in 2013.

A few other trips rounded out 2012. As we always do, we travelled again to Grey Cup, this year the 100th edition of the hallowed game, held in Toronto. The Toronto Argonauts vs. the Calgary Stampeders. It was far form a great football game (Calgary forgot to show up), but as always, it was a great time spent with some of our closest friends, and meeting incredible people from across the country.

After a few too many beers in Riderville...

And finally, during the first week in December, I stole away to visit one of my best friends and his wife in Austin, Texas. We took in a Dallas Cowboys game, we took in some great live music, and we ate lots of barbecue. It was a great way to unwind a little before the hectic holiday pace set in.

While Hubby and I lived out our dreams of wine-tasting and Bruce-chasing, Fergus also had a fun-packed year. We began the year looking for ways to tone down his energy a little, which led to a whole bunch of new family activities. We enrolled him in beginner agility courses, at which he excelled - which is no surprise to us given how athletic he is. We also took him sheep-herding for the first time, which he instantly figured out and which he loved. This fall, he experienced Gatineau Park for the first time, which blew his little doggy mind as he got to run through a giant forest. And of course, he continued to make sure that Hubby and I got all the exercise we would need by keeping us active, from snowshoeing along the Ottawa River to walking around the Arboretum.

Learning the agility course with Hubby

Learning how to herd sheep

Snowshoeing

Learning how to swim

Hubby and Fergus on a fall hike through the Arboretum

After the first big snowfall

Hitting the Gatineau trails for the first time

Fergus also made a whole bunch of new friends in 2012. Like Sadie, his very first feline love:

Won't you come and play with me, Sadie?

And Bella the Husky, who goes for long runs with Fergus and I, and who is a championship tug-'o-warer:

Me with the mutts after being pulled by the powerful Husky for 8km 

Bella owns Fergus in the tug arena!

And Rudy, who loves to go for hikes through the forest with Fergus:

Chasing each other through the first snow of the season 

Making their way along the trails

And Fritz, the largest cat that Fergus has ever seen!

Getting to know each other under my supervision 

Yes, it has been a good year for Mr. Fergus, who continues to fill this house with laughter and absolute joy. We can't remember what life was like before he came to us. And we don't really want to, either.

2012 also saw our friendships deepen. From celebrating birthdays, to weddings, to the birth of children, we had the opportunity to be with many of you as you went through your own personal milestones. And we are, as always, grateful that you choose to share a part of your life with us.

And so, we are a little sad to see such a wonderful year come to an end. But we look forward to facing together all of the the surprises, adventures and challenges that 2013 will have to offer.

Happy New Year's everyone,
Love Jay, Hubby, and of course, the Beast

BARK BARK BARK BARK!!! (From Fergus...)