Colleen Meade
1996 Christmas Letter

November, 1996       
Wow, I can't believe I'm writing my Christmas letter in November - what a concept ! Now if I can just get them actually sent out before December 21st, that'll be great ! Don't know how I did it at all last year, without a computer; what a difference it makes. I did get my old computer fixed (it only needed a new power supply), but then I ended up trading it for a newer, faster (but still used) one, with all sorts of neat things like a CD-ROM and a modem (thanks, Bruce!). I still haven't gotten myself set up with E-mail and connected to the Internet though - oh well, have to leave something for next year. If you have an E-mail address, could you let me know for my data base?

Half our back fence had blown over in the early winter storms last year, so it had to be replaced. I used the opportunity to extend the property back another eight feet, to match the two houses on either side of me (it is an easement). The ground is also higher there, so together with a higher fence, the yard is more private than ever now. I didn't really want another 400+ square feet of lawn to water and mow, so I decided to have a deck on one side of the yard and a series of retaining walls (with planters built in, the old river rock and bench, and a walkway) on the other. This also meant new steps up to the new deck - boy, these projects do just grow and grow. Anyway, it was the most fun I have had in a long, long time. I had a really fantastic contractor (thanks Brad!) and that makes all the difference, doesn't it. We did it in a series of phases, and as we got to know each other better and each got more confidence in the abilities of the other, I started to do more and more of the design work (and he worked out the details and made it happen, making me look really good). It was one of those collaborations where the result is better than what either could have done alone. The highlight was the gazebo - custom designed and built - with matching (removable) benches and a table that I helped him make from the leftover bits and pieces. The yard really needed something like that, since there's nowhere shady on a hot summer day until quite late in the afternoon. It's a perfect place for lunch, reading and even for supper. I also put a light out there, so it's neat at night too. Of course, the first thing they had to do was rip out and cart away all the old stuff. We had a large size dumpster absolutely full - it took three guys all day, about 9 hours, to fill it up. And, of course, none of this could be done from the back, since that's the United States, so it all had to be hauled out to the front. I talked to the customs people on both sides of the border, but there was no way they were going to go for it. Oh well, I guess one can't blame them for being suspicious, but it sure would have been a lot easier (as well as cheaper). Mind you, later on, when I had to cart out wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of dirt when we were doing the retaining walls, it was very handy to be able to just open the gate and dump it into the ditch out back - there usually is a plus side.

I started that project in the first week of the new year and it wasn't completely done until July, though the majority of the work happened in the early spring. That sure made time fly - no need to jet off to Mexico. Good thing, too, since I didn't exactly feel like I could afford a trip by the time I was finished paying for all the things I wanted to do in the yard. In the late spring I was busy putting in the garden and getting the house ready for the Fashion Party that I had at the end of May. It turned out to be a really bad date for most people and so there weren't too many who were able to come, but we did have a good time anyway (thanks, Linda!).

For the last several years, I'd been thinking of taking Kathleen to Disneyland. I didn't want to go in the heat and crowds of summer vacation, but I also didn't want to go when it was cool and/or rainy, because to me, it just wouldn't seem like Disneyland unless it was nice weather. So, I'd always thought that the Victoria Day weekend would be a good time (as long as it wasn't the American's Memorial Day weekend too). However, with my Fashion Party on May 29th, that wasn't going to work, so a week or so later, when I saw that Kathleen had a teacher's professional day on a Friday, I had the idea of taking an extra day and going down to Los Angeles then. I came up with this brilliant plan about five days before, but with the help of my wonderful travel agent (thanks again, Laurie!) we managed to get it all together (including, of course, the standard notarized letter from Curt giving me permission to take Kathleen out of the country). And just to make it even more interesting, I decided to try to keep it all a secret and surprise Kathleen. I had thought we'd go down on the Wednesday evening, so she'd only miss one day of school, but we couldn't get the flights we wanted, so we ended up going mid-afternoon Wednesday instead. She went off to school in the morning, all unsuspecting (I'd been up all night packing, after she went to bed) and I just came by and picked her up at lunchtime. The teacher was in on it too - he was great. She was totally stunned - it came off perfectly ! Anyway, it was the most incredible five days. The weather was fantastic, all our flights and transfers and motel - everything - went exactly like it was supposed to, and after two and a half days at Disneyland, we'd pretty well done everything there that we really wanted to, so we took a full day trip to Universal Studios (including a stop in Hollywood - Sunset Boulevard, Graumann's Chinese Theatre - to look at the stars in the sidewalk). It's really worth a visit - lots of neat things to see and do, though one day is lots of time. Unfortunately, the Jurassic Park ride was just going to open the next day. Still, I'm not sure I could have gotten Kathleen on it. After she had twisted my arm to go on Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad at Disneyland, I was feeling game for anything. We'd seen the Main Street Electrical Parade (twice!), Fantasmic (twice - how did they ever get that name past the Disneyland censors!), the fireworks (once), the Pocahontas stage show and the Lion King parade - all just incredibly, wonderfully fantastic - as well as Mickey, Minnie and too many other characters to list here. I got pictures of it all, of course (nine rolls in total), including shots of Kathleen with each of the characters (and she got their autographs too) and lots of night shots. I still haven't put the album together - I haven't even completely finished the diary. Besides, I want to get my own copy of the book that a friend lent us (thanks, Gill!) to Xerox parts of it for the scrapbook. It was called "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland" and I highly recommend it.

We got home feeling really great (thanks for housesitting, Christine!), but two days later we had a really sad thing happen - we lost Sara, presumably to the coyotes. At least 16 cats were lost here in June, including one two doors down the street. We went into the U.S. and searched up and down the roads and ditches and talked to the people there, as well as putting an ad in the paper here and going all around the neighborhood handing out a flyer describing our missing cat, in the hopes that she'd just gotten shut in someone's garage or something. No luck, though. We didn't have the heart to think about replacing her then, but by September, we were sure she was really gone, so we got another kitten. Her name is Mocha (since Kathleen had named our gerbil Latte) and she is a Lynx-point Siamese. That's just a fancy name for a Siamese-Tabby cross, but according to our cat book, she has all the "show-acceptable" characteristics of the breed. Of course, we don't intend to show her, but it's nice to know we could. We had to do some serious catproofing on the house - boy, she sure is a fearless little dynamo - but she's just so damn cute that it's impossible to stay mad at her. That's her on the front of the card. Snowball is amazingly tolerant of her, though she really does pester him unmercifully - we're really proud of him for adjusting.

Because I'd gotten the house all clean and neat for my Fashion Party, I actually had some people over on a few different occasions in the early summer, including three mini-parties for Kathleen's birthday (no more big groups!). Still, there are a lot of people that I haven't managed to have down yet. I was supposed to go to my 30-year reunion in Edson at the end of July, but I jammed out - partly because it was just too beautiful to leave here, partly because it was a long period of time for someone to watch the cats and water the garden (and I hated to lose all the work - and money - that I'd put into it) and partly because I was already getting into my August depression - God, I hate summer to end ! Once the days start to get noticably shorter, I start to get noticably sadder. In September, I took myself in to see the doctor to see if there wasn't something pharmaceutical that we could do about this. We've been trying one of the new anti-depression drugs (one without too many side effects), but so far it doesn't seem to be working at all and I'm just about up to the maximum allowable dose. Oh well, I just try to make it through one day at a time, and keep in mind that things have always gotten better before and I presume that they will again.

Kathleen is in Grade Seven now - her final year of elementary school. She likes being top dog, but other than that, she hates it as much as ever. I keep hoping she'll mature out of it, but so far, it's a constant struggle. She has a really good teacher this year, which certainly helps. Curt moved into a house with his ladyfriend (Cecelia) in September (he's still at university at Simon Fraser). Kathleen is really happy that Cecelia has a daughter who is only a few months older than she is, so now she has a stepsister. Halloween was fun - she had an easy costume to do (gypsy) and we had a record number of kids. Nice to have good weather for it for a change ! And now, we're into Christmas preparations. It should be much simpler this year, since I got those artificial trees last year (which I didn't disassemble - in fact, I didn't even take off the lights or the garland - we'll see how that works out). I'm looking forward to decorating the new gazebo, too ! I doubt we'll be going to Mexico in the new year - I'm feeling really broke - but I never say never. Who knows what might happen - thank heavens !

Hope all is well with you and yours ...

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