Dear Friends and Relatives:                                                                                                                                                                                  Christmas, 1993


It is always difficult to be the bearer of bad news, especially during this joyous holiday season.  However, I feel obligated to pass along the following:  [1] Canada Post is not on strike, [2] World envelope stockpiles are adequate to meet current demand, [3] The gigantic Paukert computer processing centre is functioning properly and [4] Despite heinous attempts by a man known to us only as 'Guido' my fingers remain unbroken and able to type.  The frightening result of these ill-timed coincidences is that you now hold in your trembling hands the 7th ANNUAL PAUKERT CHRISTMAS LETTER!  Since last year's record-length 2p page PCL resulted in violent demonstrations and looting in major North American cities, the PCL Bored of Directors was forced to limit this year's award-losing epistle to a maximum of two compost-ready pages.  This will still be long enough to cure the most stubborn cases of insomnia, without the annoying stomach upset, hair loss and constipation so many complained of last year.  You have our word on this as respected journalists.


In a stunning upset, first place in the "Most Common Phrase Heard Around the Paukert Household in 1993 Contest" goes to "WELL, I'M OFF TO SOUTH AMERICA, SEE YOU LATER!"  (First runner up of course was "KATHERINE'S DIAPER'S DIRTY-IT'S YOUR TURN TO CHANGE IT!')  These frequent forays into the Southern Hemisphere were not (just) to avoid diaper duty as you might guess.  No, they were real-live business trips demanded of me by my new employer as of January 18th.  And therein lies the biggest story of the 1993 PCL.


Those of you who are regular PCL readers should have your heads examined, but nevertheless probably remember the dire situation we faced last year.  Former employer Exxon (now referred to as "{very bad word} Exxon"), was poised to airlift 10 divisions of crack military Green-Beret Seal Ranger Commandoes to capture us and move us to Houston.  My only strategic defense against this heinous corporate behemoth was to march into my boss's office and yell:  "Leave me in Canada or I'll quit!!"  Boy, you should have heard the begging and pleading that started when I did that!  "Please," they begged, "Please tell us who you are so we can remove your name from the payroll".  Actually I never even offered to stay because mere days before, on Christmas Eve, I received a wonderful present of an offer to become a Senior Geophysicist at Norcen International Limited.  


Who? You ask drowsily.  Norcen International is a Calgary-based, medium-sized oil & gas exploration/production company that has been rapidly expanding it's International Division.  Norcen is very aggressively exploring for oil and gas in such countries as Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Russia, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Mars and Jupiter.  After learning that I personally can pronounce the Spanish word "Cuando?," Norcen wisely assigned me to work critical exploration plays in the country of Argentina; a beautiful, long, skinny South American country full of colourful Gauchos, Tangos and other wild birds.  My job has 5 parts:  [1] Develop prospects that we can drill on the ten or so blocks of land to which we hold exploration rights, [2] Evaluate land blocks in Argentina that other companies want partners for, [3] Try not to offend our Argentine partners by accidentally calling them 'bugger-nose' in Spanish, [4] Sleep on airplanes so much that I make my chiropractor rich, [5] Combat cow flatulence-induced global warming by eating as much delicious Argentine beef as I possibly can.  In short, the job is better than I ever could have imagined.  The atmosphere at work is positive and energetic and something interesting and new comes along almost every week.  Since my boss and I both travel so much, by default I end up having a lot of autonomy and having to make my own decisions about how to proceed with exploration.  After so many years in the over-constrained, pessimistic atmosphere at Exxon, it's been tremendously re-invigorating to have all the new challenges of International travel and operating in Spanish.  Best of all, Norcen is a very conservative, stable company with a serious long-term commitment to exploration.  That translated into my first stretch of real-live job security since 1985...(at least until oil prices collapsed in late November - oh well, it was nice while it lasted). 


All this travel has been very exciting for someone like me who's biggest International trek prior to this job was being rowed across the Rio Grande by a man named Pepe for an hour walking around in Mexico.  Some of the highlights have been:  A geologic field trip in the Andean foothills on the border with Chile, a weekend in the Argentine high-country near Bariloche, two days stranded in Montevideo, Uruguay due to bad weather, a trip to Asuncion, Paraguay and two days working (really) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  It's been fun finally getting to really use my Spanish, but it does prove that all classes you were bad at in school eventually come back to haunt you, (I expect someone to show up any day now asking me to prove Calculus theorems upon pain of death).  The only bad part of all this has been a total of 72 days on the road since March which has been awful hard on Barb.  A typical 'Welcome Home, Daddy' conversation goes something like this:  ME: 'Hi Honey, I'm home.'  BARB: 'ARRRRRRRGGGGHHH!'  ME: 'What's the matter, dear?'  BARB: '(Pitiful Whimper).'   KATHERINE: 'Daddy change diaper, please?'  ME: 'Well, I'm off to South America, see you later!'  You can imagine what it's like being cooped up alone with a toddler for a week or more, (if you read a lot of Stephen King novels), but Barb's doing well and the pay-off comes when we start to use all the accumulated frequent flier miles.


So, you foolishly ask, how about that wonder-child Katherine that the whole country's talking about??  After finishing High School, we were so pleased for her as she was, at 21 months, the youngest ever to be admitted to Harvard Law.  OK, I exaggerate, she does struggle with 4-dimensional Quantum Mechanics, but she has known all the letters in the alphabet for a few months now and can count to ten.  She's a very vocal kid with a big vocabulary, even doing 4 or 5 word sentences now.  She loves to play rough with Daddy, and adores Big Bird and Barney (Sigh).  Kitty-cats are her favourite, but she also loves to play with Toquima and Kootenai.  (They are remarkably patient with her, not even yowling in protest until Katherine starts removing wads of fur, whiskers or ears).  SOMEHOW she has developed a great liking of 'Ball-game' and the 'Birdie Team' (which just happened to win the World Series again this year....sorry Bruce, not the Baltimore Birdies).  Whenever there's a ballgame on TV she needs to get her hat, ball and bat out to play.  She's loves to read books and wheedles at least three out of Daddy every night before bed.  Her greatest talent, however, seems to be her ability to start cutting a new tooth just before any long trip we have to take - that's the only time she's very cranky.


Speaking of cranky, time now for our regular feature, the DREADED VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPH, a traditional feature which includes long, boring reports on the bizarre, isolated no-man's lands the Paukerts decided to drive to this year.  This year we were hoping to do large amounts of hiking in the Interior Plateau country of central British Columbia in October.  However, as research scientists are just beginning to understand, the mere act of mentally planning a vacation results in the emission of sub-atomic 'fun-plan' particles from the brains of parents.  These in turn are captured by a special receptor organ within the brains of toddlers which alerts their bodies to either start teething furiously, or get the chicken-pox.  Teething furiously, Katherine repeated the words `wanna see Mommy' from the back-seat 2,347 times during the first 3 days of our trip.  I then proceeded to put the car into a full 180 degree James Bond spin on the highway and headed home as fast as I could drive while pulling out huge hunks of hair from my scalp.  It wasn't actually THAT bad, as we did get to see a lot of nice waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park and did some hiking and camping in the Cariboo Range.  Never ones to learn from our mistakes, we decided to bring her along to Argentina in December, through the magic of frequent flier points.  Barb and Katherine managed to avoid being run over by insane Argentine drivers, enjoyed the parks and pedestrian shopping malls and Katherine even learned to say Hello, Thank-you, French-fries and Ice Cream in Spanish.  We got to fly up to famous Iguazú Falls in the jungle on the Brazil/Paraguay/Argentina border to see banana trees, flocks of parrots and what appeared to be a global reunion of the Lizard genus.


Sadly, 1993 was the year youth and high metabolisms abandoned us for good, as we both had to start that evil activity known as exercise.  Barb, of course, has the convenient excuse of pregnancy to blame this on, my scapegoat is Argentine beef and ice cream.  Briefly I have considered simply gluing large slabs of raw steak around my midsection to save time, as the effect would be the same.  But my softball batting average dropped for the first time in 10 years, and when the guys on my team starting yelling 'DROP THE PIANO!' as I struggled to round second base, I decided disastrous measures were necessary and joined the company health club.  Barb has Spa-lady as her torture of choice.  We were shocked of course when we saw the instruments of torture these devious people foist upon the unwary.  But it's not so bad after the first few times you pass out.  This stuff seemed even wiser when my dad had a mild heart attack in early November.  He's doing fine and should be back to full strength in a matter of a couple months.


Barb's started going to a Mother's Fellowship at Church once a week which allows Katherine time with other kids and allows Barb some adult interaction, (since there's precious little chance of that around home).  In the three or four minutes Barb wasn't carrying Katherine around this year, she managed to put together a spectacular garden in the back yard, with vast fields of strawberries, vegetables and even some jalapenos and spearmint.  This was no small feat here at 52 north latitude and 3500 feet elevation, where the growing season often occurs on a weekend.  Things looked good in June when we got lots of rain.  Things didn't look too good by August when people were rowing boats through the backyard to get to work.  Oh well, there's always next year.  After a long layoff, I became re-inspired and picked up work again on the Evil Basement Development Project (EBDP).  All EBDP electrical and framing work has been successfully completed without a single fire or structural collapse, thus my last chance to really destroy the house will be in plumbing installation this winter.


We'll be Christmas-ing in Lac la Biche, Alberta, in the bush five hours north of Calgary.  Barb's sister Marlene and husband Cliff own a veterinary clinic up there.  It will be quite a shock going from +90F in Argentina to -30F in Northern Alberta in the space of a week.  We hope you have a wonderful time remembering God's greatest gift to mankind, and we look forward to hearing all about your lives.  Merry Christmas and remember our family slogan:  (come visit the Paukerts, we're not as weird as you think we are).



Gary, Barb, Katherine, Kootenai and Toquima


P.S.:  This year's poorly-composed "they're so far away you can't see their faces" official PCL photo was taken just on the other side of the hill we live on, overlooking beautiful downtown Springbank, Alberta, where, as you can see, a giant extra-terrestrial tootsie-roll recently fell to earth, scattering giant extra-terrestrial tootsie segments amongst the wheat fields.