Dear Friends and Relatives: Long after Christmas, 2000, as per usual
History abounds with men saddled with seemingly impossible tasks. You’ll recall that Sisyphus had to roll a giant boulder up to the top of a hill. King Arthur was charged with removing the sword imbedded in stone. Nimitz had to wage war in the Pacific with a crippled fleet. Likewise, I face a task so daunting it would drive most men to tears: Write two pages about the Paukerts’ boring lives this past year and make it seem interesting. You’d think that having failed at the same task for 13 years running, I’d be discouraged, (certainly my readers are), or that I’d give up, (there’s been pressure, real pressure). But with the announcement of a new Pulitzer Prize category this year – Infantile Humour in a Holiday Epistle – it looks like I’ve got a real shot at finally raking in some bucks off of all this. (And I’d like to apologize to those of you who received invoices for subscriptions last February; I realize now that was a little bit tacky). So now, because no one cared enough to do an intervention, I present the 14th Annual Paukert (After-) Christmas Letter.
Not the most important moment of the year, but perhaps the one that focused my attention the fastest occurred the morning of October 2nd. Rising early that morning to check the e-mail I noticed that the little automatic ticker running across my computer screen with my employer’s stock price wasn’t showing it’s usual depressingly low number. Instead it advised ominously: “Crestar Energy: Trading Suspended.” Hey, maybe I don’t have to go in this morning after all! A little web surfing soon identified another energy company with a similar notice and it was then just a matter of determining who had bought whom. In the end it turned out I had the pleasure of living through my first corporate takeover and I now work for my 4th company, one Gulf Canada Resources Ltd. Subscribers living in the Excited States of America will remember Gulf as an exploration company prior to being bought by Chevron, (which has since been bought by Texaco, do you see a pattern here?), in the late 1980’s. Gulf Canada is the piece they didn’t buy, (uh oh, why?), and has since existed as a (really badly run) Canadian exploration company, with international operations in Indonesia and the Dutch North Sea. But now that they have the wonderful financial resources that Crestar worked so hard to cobble together, I’m sure THAT will change! (Roll eyes and fill voice with dripping cynicism here).
One reason Gulf may have decided to buy Crestar was that, in June last year the team I work on was finally able to close Crestar’s first International deal. And what a bargain, we only spent C$150,000,000! What we bought was a 14% interest in a block of land in Ecuador that contains both oil production and potential. Silly Crestar, they thought this purchase was a good one because it would allow them to make some money. Let’s be clear and objective about this. The REAL reason this was a good purchase was that it meant I would get to go to Ecuador! And go there I have, twice so far. Quito is a spectacular place, 9,300 ft. up in the Andes and ringed by snowcapped volcanoes. Courtesy of our friends Dave and Marilyn Tippett who work for a church organization based there, I was treated to excursions into the countryside on my days off. We visited the hot springs at Pappallacta, and the market towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi. I can get you a great deal on alpaca wool sweaters; we’ll talk. So it’s been a good year back in the international travel saddle, (Quito, Santiago, Buenos Aires, London), after a 5 year absence.
And what of poor, long-suffering, Barb? Often I come home to find her simultaneously scanning my frequent-flier points statements and vacation brochures for Tahiti and Bora Bora. If she ever figures out the password on those accounts she’ll be gone for a month, minimum. But I know it’s just a ploy to throw me off the trail. Given a free airline ticket, she’d hop the first flight to Sandpoint, Idaho and the Coldwater Creek store. So to keep her in town, I try to limit the travel days to less than 40 per year and she busies herself with much of what she was doing last year. Mothers Who Care (for school), Hands to Heart (at church), and Barb’s Chauffeur Service (all over the city of Calgary, with only one very reliable customer). Once again this year the Olympic Heights Elementary would have collapsed into rubble were it not for her volunteer efforts.
Katherine meanwhile does the 8-year-old Grade 3 thing. She is to books what Godzilla was to Japanese cities – she devours them by the armload. Best of all are the ‘Too Smart Jones’ series. When we travel by car, we can drive 8, 10, even 12 hours per day…all we have to do is keep throwing books at the big lump under the sleeping bag in the backseat. Katherine did her longest hike ever this year, about 7 miles up to the crest of the Big Snowy Range and back, and had another good year in Little League baseball – looks like she’ll move to girls softball next year. She continues with piano lessons, and got to perform duets at a coffeehouse with her Daddy for a recital this year, (guess who was the more nervous of the two?). She’s in choir at church now, and is taking Spanish lessons on Saturday mornings so she and her dad can talk secretly behind her mom’s back.
Amazingly, I continue to have reason to mention Kootenai The Wonder Dog, who, as you can see from the attached Official Paukert Christmas Photo, lives on. April will see 14 candles on her birthday cake, (that’s 98 in dog years, right?), and that’s a lot of years for a dog that once tipped the scales at over 100 pounds. Stone deaf, cloudy of vision, arthritic and with nerve degeneration and weakness in her hips, yet last night she walked over 2-1/2 miles with me. No discomfort is too great if there is dog wee-wee to be sniffed on a lamppost somewhere.
DREADED VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPH: In August we headed south to Big Sky Country for a little backpacking and horseback riding. We chose the Big Snowy Mountains in Central Montana, near Lewistown and pretty much had the entire mountain range to ourselves for the week. One might venture that that was largely because most of the surrounding state was on fire. So we packed in up Swimming Woman Canyon, as the clouds of forest fire smoke rolled overhead. Swimming Woman Canyon turned out to be Swimming-in-Pollen-Canyon. It appears that we interrupted a long-awaited orgy of weed reproduction. After a couple days with my continuous sneezing echoing up and down the range, Barb evacuated me to Lewistown and we emptied the drugstore shelves of every available antihistamine. Then on to a guest ranch where once again we had the place to ourselves. Grueling daily schedule: 1) Eat Breakfast, 2) Take horses for beautiful 2-hour morning ride through foothills covered with scrub pine, 3) Lounge around cabin, 4) Eat dinner, 5) Take horses for 2-hour sunset ride through foothills covered with scrub pine, 6) Fall into contented sleep, 7) Repeat. And Katherine? Do eight-year-old girls likes spending four days on horseback? Is that your final answer?
A number of years ago I became involved with the Samaritan’s Purse organization, which is the humanitarian relief arm of the Billy Graham organization. Every year they conduct Operation Christmas Child, in which people in schools, churches and businesses all over the world pack necessities, candy and toys into shoeboxes, which are then shipped to poor children around the world. This year over 4.5 million boxes will go out. I was lucky enough to be able to accompany two distribution teams to the southern state of Chiapas in Mexico, for a week in January and another in December. Lest this begin to sound like the altruism of Mother Teresa, recall that my passions of late have ranged across baseball, camping, international travel and the Spanish language. So what did I have to do on this great sacrificial effort? Played baseball with kids, camped out in rustic villages, traveled internationally and translated Spanish to English for the group. Torture, pure torture. We got to go back into some amazing places, 9,000 feet high in the mountains in areas controlled by Zapatista rebels, and up the world famous Sumidero Canyon, and to the Mayan ruins at Tonina. All told, we delivered over 2,500 shoeboxes from North America to children who have virtually nothing and what a joy it is to see 2,500 kids open what is often the first present they’ve every received. In addition to the shoeboxes, we set up water filters, helped run rudimentary medical clinics, put a roof on a church and passed out beans and rice in the villages we visited. I like the work Samaritan’s Purse does because it works not just to meet people’s physical needs, but through local pastors works to meet their need for God as well. If you get a chance to put a shoebox together next fall, don’t hesitate!
Various and sundry: Finally, after 9 years in our house, the trees have grown large enough to harbor birds, and our birdfeeder overfloweth. We got sick and tired of the ‘scratched linoleum’ look and replaced much of the flooring with slate. Gary did the sub-floor prep work. This involved a hilarious 3:00 a.m. emergency run to the 24-hour Home Depot across town after the drill burned out just hours before the installers were to arrive. We still smile about the whole incident. We attended my 20th College Reunion in Spokane in June, (you will recall I graduated college at age 9, quite the prodigy, and will turn 30 next July). We found a neat place called the Cypress Hills on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan for a ski weekend in February and to meet Grandma and Grandpa Paukert in August…don’t tell anyone, it’s nice and undiscovered! Gary continues to be grand poobah of the Calgary Christian Mixed Slowpitch League, which grew to 51 teams this summer.
And that was our year, not bad considering some predictions that would have had us living in stone-age conditions due to Y2K. I guess if you read this far, you were interested in what went on in the Paukert’s lives in 2000. Even more amazing is our God, who is intimately interested in what we did in 2000 and every other year. How fortunate we are, to have His friendship and yours. May he bless you richly in 2001.
Barb, Gary and Katherine Paukert (& The Koot)
P.S. The 2000 Official Paukert Christmas Photo was taken in our family room, just before the paramedics arrived.