Dear Friends and Relatives: Christmas, 2003
Hello, and thank you for choosing the 17th Annual Paukert Christmas Letter as your provider of Christmas Letter entertainment for the 2003-2004 holiday season. We here at PCL Industries understand that you have a choice when it comes to Christmas Letter entertainment and we appreciate your choosing PCL. Please observe the following safety rules when reading this Christmas Letter. In the very likely event that you should at many points experience queasiness while reading, we recommend that you simply close your eyes for an hour of two and the feeling often will go away. If it should persist, a reading-sickness bag is attached at the bottom of page two. Under NO circumstances should you EVER attempt to read this (or any other Christmas letter) while operating heavy machinery. If for any reason you should begin to lose consciousness during the reading of this letter, an auxiliary letter concerning the lives of far more interesting people will automatically deploy from the top of the page. Pull this far more interesting material toward you and read slowly, making sure that you read the material to yourself before assisting any small children reading with you. This PCL model 737-300 contains emergency exits at the end of each paragraph, in the event that you just can’t take any more of it. Your author today refuses to be identified but informs me that our reading time will be approximately 11 minutes, unless we experience unexpected turbulence due to other reader’s panicked attempts to avoid the Vacation Recap paragraph. Now, please sit back and enjoy your read. We promise it won’t hurt. Much.
I don’t know how something this important could have slipped my mind, but I left some immense news out of last year’s PCL. My softball team, the intrepid Calgary Diamond Dogs, won the 2002 Division 8 title last year. I know, I know, you DIDN’T see any mention of this on CNN, despite our calls, but it was BIG news. You see this team defined mediocrity. (If you looked up ‘mediocre’ in the dictionary, they had our 1993 team photo there). Since 1980, this team had studiously avoided winning anything at all for 23 long years. Twenty-three years! The Chicago Cubs were worried about losing their masochistic fans to us. But in 2002 something magical happened – some have implied it was all those games I missed - and suddenly we were contenders. Thus, I found myself crouched at 2nd base on a cold October night with two outs in the last inning praying ‘please, Lord, don’t let him hit it to me, I’m too old to be a hero.’ The crack of the bat, a fly ball to the outfield, (thank you Lord), and Victory, as they say, was ours. Look for the heart-warming story portrayed in a made-for-TV-special this summer on HBO.
‘What is Barb doing these days?’ you ask, wanting to change the subject to something interesting. And, being the sensitive, caring husband that I am, I can immediately tell you all the things that are near and dear to her heart after I ask her what they are. First, her Tuesdays are full as she again leads a small Bible Study group as part of a larger women’s fellowship at our church, where she is also on the Ministry Team for Mentoring. She attended the Willow Creek Conference broadcast into the church in August and wants to attend again this coming spring up in Edmonton. She helps out cooking meals in the church kitchen for the lucky Seniors group as well. There are still some volunteering opportunities at Katherine’s school. She, Katherine and the Food Channel are engaged in an evil scheme to increase my waistline by cooking me way too much good food, especially desserts. And she prays. A lot. For me. The lack of apparent results from such efforts gives theologians pause.
DREADED VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPH: This year we were frightened into going to England and Scotland as Air Canada filed for bankruptcy. I started waking up screaming in the middle of the night with dreams of 180,000 frequent flier points disappearing with the thud of a gavel in some bankruptcy hearing. Unlikely, perhaps, but after EARNING those points with the sweat of my….er…brow, sitting for endless claustrophobic hours on airplanes the last thing we wanted to do was lose ‘em. Arriving in England we were shocked to discover a famine in progress as evidenced by the average price of a restaurant meal which was, if I remember correctly, more than two thousand dollars. Fortunately, we discovered some innovative ways to save money in the U.K., such as not eating for two weeks and as a family, donating 3 pints of blood per day to earn money. Our itinerary included three days at what the Brits call a ‘hotel,’ (we here in North America would instead say ‘a tiny box rented out by wicked price-gougers’), off Hyde Park in London. We then rented a car and drove 1,800 miles south to Dover, then north though the Cotswolds on the Welsh border, through the Lake District to central Scotland and then back to London. (You can take the Paukerts out of the country, but you can’t make them drive reasonable distances every day). Katherine was highly bored with all the musty old buildings we had to visit in London, but really enjoyed seeing My Fair Lady at a London theatre and roaring all over the city in the ‘Tube.’ I suddenly realized my little girl was growing up when we were talking about what we’d do if we got split up on the subway and Katherine said ‘well I would just go back to our hotel and we’d meet there.’ Suddenly my baby is more than capable of navigating a city of 20 million people. Barb really liked the rural bed and breakfasts at which we stayed, the hiking we did in the Malvern Hills and our ‘ascent’ of Scotland’s Cairn Gorm, the 5th highest peak in the U.K. I was amazed by the National Gallery, (just mentioned that so that I would sound cultured), and the challenge of learning to drive like James Bond on the left-hand side all over the country. At least that is what they said I was murmuring when they pried my fingers from the steering wheel and carted me, catatonic, off ‘to hospital.’ Final tally: A mere 3 angry horns, 1 middle finger and zero mangled fenders in all that mileage. Not bad, methinks.
Katherine is 11 years old in grade 6 and attending a new school this year, Master’s Academy, a private Christian school. The public school she was attending had been OK, but last year she had a couple of teachers who seemed rather unmotivated, and not much for keeping a quiet classroom. That little light in Katherine’s eyes that shone so brightly when she talked about school had dimmed, so we decided it was time to make a move. She has adjusted well, seems to have lots of new friends and really likes her new school, especially science and math classes. It’s a ‘Junior High’ type environment where she has her own locker and a different class schedule each day, so there is more independence and responsibility and we enjoy seeing her encounter those. In addition to that, I’m doing ‘spare-time home-schooling’ with her in algebra, trig, geometry and American history. She seems to have an intuitive gift for understanding math that will probably exceed my own. We still pay money each week for the privilege of nagging her to practice piano and she likes singing in the choir at church. Biggest news of the year was that her softball team, the Strathcona Jays, won the championship for the 2nd time in 3 years. Katherine was one of 4 girls who shared the pitching duties. She was the starting pitcher for the championship game and how she could pitch with all that pressure and all the parents yelling I’ll never know – I think I would have melted on the mound. But all four girls pitched well that game and Katherine had a few whacking good hits at the plate to help the effort, so they all ended up with medals around their necks and grins on their faces.
In August, my good friend Robert Oggy and I joined 10 other pretend cowboys in mid-life crisis in leading a string of pack-horses into the mountains surrounding the Oldman River headwaters in southwestern Alberta. This 5-day trip was a scouting mission for me, as I hope to make the Father-Daughter trip with the same outfit a yearly event with Katherine, (Mommy doesn’t ‘do’ horses). The scenery and fellowship were wonderful, but best of all was becoming versed in how to saddle, pack and ride horses properly. What a thrill to have a responsive, trustworthy and energetic horse beneath you, instead of the plodding trail-bred type. The outfit is Blue Bronna Wilderness Camp of Three Hills, Alberta, and we hope to have a continuing support and participation in their ministry.
The Indiana Paukert phase of my career continues, as I continue to travel with some regularity to places that I can make sound dangerous and exotic; this year Bogotá, and Cartagena, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela. What to say about these places? I could try to impress you all with my bravado (or stupidity) for traveling to places where you have to be sniffed by dogs trained to detect explosives every time you enter a public building. I could tell you about how two muscular men with guns stand outside our restaurant while we dine each night to protect us. I could tell you how in the past there was reputed to be a pricelist for the kidnap value of foreign executives (I got a copy, I’m listed at $4.93). But our stays in-country are never more than a few days and have thus far consisted of nothing more than boring partner meetings and a couple nights in a nice hotel, all the while being very well protected by our crack security boys. Risk is always hard to objectively assess. The last time I was in Houston the cabbie hit 90 mph on the EastTex Freeway heading into downtown and I suspect I was in greater danger there than I ever have been in Colombia. Anyway, please don’t mention to my parents what I do. They still think I am de-activate landmines for a living.
Bogotá lies at an elevation of 8,500 feet right up against the western flank of a pretty, tree-covered mountain range. Although there are terrible slums in some areas, the parts of Bogotá I get to see are as modern and clean as many cities in North America. It is a wealthy city by Latin American standards, which is surprising since an undeclared civil war has been raging there for the last 4 decades. Weather-wise, every day is springtime or about 75°F. Cartagena on the other hand is located on the Caribbean and is a rather strange mixture of tropical tourist paradise, container port and oil refinery. Someone decided it would be a nice place to have a conference and so I got to present a technical paper there for the VIII Simposio Bolivariano. Most of the time I spent pacing around in my hotel room trying to get both the English and Spanish portions of my talk straight, but we did get to head out on a boat one day and go snorkeling in the nearby Rosario Islands. (Snorkeling was invented so sharks could have a chance to taste what poor swimmers taste like). Our focus in Latin America is expanding, initially to Perú, and I’m hoping to spend more time there and less time in Colombia in the coming year.
Once again we come to the end of an enthralling PCL, (quick! Open your eyes and pretend you were
reading). Here are our wishes that we
saw you more often. We were blessed by
time with David and
More and more our culture shakes it’s fist at God in hatred and rebellion. At Christmas we see part of God’s response: overwhelming love toward mankind and the opportunity for forgiveness. Isn’t it amazing that He still reaches out to us, despite our constant attempts to take His place and be our own gods, make our own rules? In the cacophony that is Christmas in our times, we hope you will find some time to experience the ‘peace that passes all understanding.’
Love in Christ,
Gary, Barb, & Katherine