I'm sorry. I'm truly, truly sorry. I know what you were thinking. As the December days grew shorter, somehow the idea popped into your head. Then, as you reached Christmas unscathed, that idea grew and you started to think it just might be possible. When New Year's had safely passed, you allowed yourself to feel the first, faint stirrings of Hope. And as January waned, that Hope grew and then one day you could no longer contain yourself! "Ethel!," you shouted in amazement one afternoon. "Ethel, maybe they took us off THE LIST!" Yes, maybe this was to be the year the agony would abate, you thought. Perhaps now the suffering would cease and there would be no more of those tedious, inane Christmas letters from Calgary to read. Maybe once again you could go to the mailbox without that gnawing fear in the pit of your stomach. BUT NO! It is my sad duty to inform you that (1) You are still on THE LIST, (2) Your postman has received his yearly bribe, and therefore (3) You are now in possession of the GALA 10th ANNIVERSARY PAUKERT CHRISTMAS LETTER!
"Why?," you wail, searching the room for a convenient blunt object with which to strike yourself over the head. "Why did the PCL arrive SO LATE, thus dashing my fledgling hopes that maybe life would once again be worth the living?" Well, as with any horrific tragedy, there are any number of factors to blame. Sloth, idiocy, football playoffs, declining literary talent, just to name a few. But the major reason for the delay was an unusual November vacation which caused a delay in our annual 6-month production schedule here at PCL Industries. And this, I'm afraid reminds me of an even greater tragedy, namely that this year we begin the 'meat' of the PCL (rump roast, one would guess), with the:
EVEN MORE DREADED TRIPLE VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPHS: We finally gathered up all those frequent flier points Gary earned during the 3 years he lived at O'hare, Pearson and Miami Int'l airports, and went to Costa Rica for the better part of a month. In case anyone ever asks you, now you KNOW what kind of idiots would drag their 4-year-old around Central America for a month. We started with two days in the capital, San Jose, (civic motto: We may drive like maniacs, but it's not like we're Argentines or anything). This was followed by a week at a beach hotel at Playa Flamingo on the northwest coast near the Nicaraguan border. After this we rented some wheels and wandered about the country for the next two weeks, eventually hitting every one of the 7 provinces. We adult-types subsisted on Pinto Gallo, (national dish of beans and rice), and Casado (just cook everything in the fridge and pile it 6" high on a plate). Major Child Psychology Research Discovery: 4-year-olds are not tremendously adventurous when it comes to foreign cuisine. Katherine tried bravely to hold out for Cheerios and McDonalds, but eventually was forced to subsist on toast and orange juice, (tostadas y jugo naranja, por favor).
Gary's favourite spot was a cabin we rented for 3 days on the slopes of Volcan Arenal, a volcano that has been active almost continuously since 1968. From there, about 3 km from the summit, we watched a constant stream of lava and incandescent rocks roll down from the summit. There were frequent roars and emissions of gas, too, (some from the volcano, and some from us due to the aforementioned Pinto Gallo). It was more than a little surreal to be awakened at 3:00 a.m., roll over in bed and look out the window to see a lava flow coming down the mountain in your general direction. Gary rented a horse and was able to get even closer, to the toe of a lava flow, still steaming, only 7 months old. Katherine's big event was a midnight 6-km hike, on a beach lit only by moonlight and phosphorescent waves, to seek out elusive Leatherback and Lora turtles. While we watched, these turtles dug holes, laid eggs, covered 'em up and headed back into the ocean. When I say turtles I am not talking about the kind that died in your terrarium and had to be flushed away to that giant sandy beach in the sky. No, I'm talking about turtles that apparently were involved in some hideous radiation disaster that caused them to grow as big as your dinette table. Barb found caffeine shangri-la on a tour of a coffee farm and is jealously guarding the treasure trove of 5 lbs. of fresh coffee beans which she brought back. Visitors to our house this year will be given an entire 1/2-cup of the good stuff if you say please. We saw lots of neat animals, jungles, volcanoes, beaches and cloud forests and no one was surprised to find that Gary could make sounds exactly like a Howler Monkey.
Our other '96 adventure was a 4-day backpacking trip into the Mt. Assiniboine region of S.E. British Columbia. Mt. Assiniboine is a very remote 12,000 ft. peak, not visible from any road, and is a spittin' image of the Matterhorn. In August, while sister Anne babysat in Calgary, we drove to a ski area on the Continental Divide and started our 30 km hike to the mountain. We followed the divide through two provincial parks and one national park, back and forth across the B.C./Alberta border and eventually made it to a spectacular lake at the foot of the mountain, where we spent two days, then hiked out via another route. Aren't we just a couple of mountain studs? See, we're NOT getting old! It is at this point that my gaze falls to the floor and I am forced to admit the awful truth - we had our backpacks helicoptered in on the regular supply run to a nearby alpine hut. Oh, the SHAME! But it was a wonderful trip through a spectacular remote alpine area.
As you no doubt recall, at press time of PCL '95, evil space aliens had been in control of the minds of the management of my company for over a year and I was desperately trying to escape from their evil clutches. In fact I was negotiating a position with a new employer. A thorough search of the new company's offices failed to turn up any evidence of inter-galactic communication devices or human-dissection facilities, so I felt fairly safe in accepting their offer of employment in early January. The new company, Crestar Energy, is a medium-sized oil and gas company that you've never heard of. Crestar was formed about 5 years ago when Amoco Canada spun off a number of oil producing properties from which it felt it couldn't make any money. Crestar has taken those dogs, made money hand over fist, and is now one of the fastest growing companies in the oil patch, having grown from 320 to 400 people just in the last year. I am the only Geophysicist working with 3 Geologists on a team exploring for oil and gas in Central Alberta. I hated to leave behind the interesting International work I was doing, but some additional years of Western Canada expertise on my resume will help keep me employable here in Calgary. Also, Crestar intends soon to be 'going international', specifically to South America, so I'm keeping my Spanish up. This is a great company, and 1996 has been many orders of magnitude better than my last year at Norcen with Zoltan and his six-legged friends from the planet X-345, (not that I'm bitter).
Tonight as I write this the temperature has dropped to almost -40 degrees, the snow is thigh-deep and the snow pile next to the driveway has for the second year in a row exceeded 6 feet tall. After many mild winters we have now had two of the most severe of the century, back to back. But the most damaging weather occurred this summer. For years we have watched as the thunder- and hailstorms have avoided the hill we live on. Giggle, we did, as the storms here in 'hail alley' chose to follow the Bow River valley to our north, or the Elbow River to our south, pounding houses and denting cars along the way. "We'll never get hit!," we chortled. Well, on July 16th I watched from my office tower as a monster storm engulfed our hill. Marble-sized hail was a foot deep in places as we spent two hours trying to get home. When we did we found 80% of the foliage stripped from our trees, the garden in ruins, and $2,000 worth of damage to the house., (wiping the smirk right off MY face!). Worst of all, the hail had stopped up the gutters, causing them to overflow directly into the window wells and on into the finally-finished-after-five-years-of-back-breaking-work basement. Fortunately Barb got to me before I threw myself over a cliff. In reality, we count ourselves lucky knowing of the snow-, ice- and firestorms friends in places like Spokane have had to deal with lately!
Katherine will be five this March and in her Senior year at the Kids Country Club Pre-school, which involves a rigorous 2hours/3day per week schedule. Right now there is no greater joy for her than a new episode of The Magic School Bus. We also appear to be the Western Canada Central Distribution Warehouse for Barbie paraphernalia. Katherine and I love to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy together, read words I type in
large font on the computer screen, and play baseball on the diamond we have set up in the basement. Barb and Katherine do the ice-skating/swimming lesson thing. Katherine sure likes science and animals, at this point I would bet on a career in zoology, (or driving a school bus, or selling Barbie clothes).
Barb contracted a horrible illness, diagnosed as Golfitis Strokei. She has been seen exhibiting bizarre behaviour, running around local grasslands hitting a small white ball with a stick. It's upsetting to see someone you love deteriorate in this fashion, and the only thing I've been able to do is humour her by letting her take lessons. If you're going to have this sickness, at least be good at it. Barb has really enjoyed making friends of many of the other pre-school mothers this year. And wonder of wonders, she was even enticed to play a little softball on the church team for the first time in a decade!
In April, Gary talked three friends from church into a second trek to Seattle for another Promise Keepers conference and they were lucky enough to link up with Whitworth friends Dave Erickson and Rick Grandy from Richland, Washington. Another enjoyable weekend of worship and learning......Just before dawn one day last summer I was treated to a rare sight, (not Barb awake before 7:00). The space shuttle (Columbia?) passed right over Calgary on it's final orbit before landing. After watching it cross the B.C. coastline on the TV map, I ran outside to see a thick white streak racing over the mountains and then off to the southeast. A minute later the sonic boom hit Calgary and 17 minutes later the shuttle landed in Florida. What a sight, and what a way to travel....Softball consumed another summer, and my batting average did not fall so Father Time has been staved off for yet another year. I was able to talk one of my teams into entering a February (yes, February) snow-pitch tournament which gets played regardless of field or weather conditions. Yes, that usually means knee-deep snow and -30 windchills, what's your point - we get to PLAY BASEBALL don't we??
Come visit! Don't be afraid - what are the odds the basement bedroom will flood while you're here? God bless you all in the coming year, and we wish for each of you to experience even more fully the joy and peace that come from each day surrendering control of your lives to Jesus the Christ of God.
Gary, Barb, Katherine, Kootenai and Toquima
P.S. An electrical surge last spring effectively wiped most of you off our computer. I SWEAR I had a backup disk, but as I patiently explained to Barb, the tiny green men who live in my closet destroyed it. Anyway, we need you to send us your E-mail addresses again, to: 76355.3470@Compuserve.com.
P.P.S. This year's official Paukert Christmas Photo was taken of us beneath Devil's Head Peak, near the Ghost River Wilderness northwest of Calgary. I know, it looks like every other year's photo. We promise to do something more original next year, (yes, with clothes, don't worry).