Dear Family, Friends, and Readers of MadPadre:

When I sent out our Christmas cards this year (a pathetically small number considering the number of lovely folks who are in our lives), I promised a Christmas letter on the blog. Some folks are emailing me today and saying, “Hey, where’s that letter”? Doesn’t time fly when you’re procrastinating?

Kay says godbye to her garden in Kingston, NS, this August. The unsung sacrifices of the military wife and gardener.

Last Christmas Eve, Kay and I were in Kingston, Nova Scotia, in the heart of the Annapolis Valley. I remember it as being fairly mild, with some snow. This year, thanks to the great dartboard known as the Canadian Forces Chaplains’ Branch posting plot, we find ourselves almost clear across the country in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There’s snow here as well, though it’s dwindled to ankle-height after a few chinooks since the snow came in mid-November. It’s colder, too, that particularly dry, prairie cold that shocks your lungs with the first few breaths of outdoor air. It was a bracing -15C on my morning run, which is doable if you keep moving (moving slowly, given the ice everywhere).

At 60,000, Medicine Hat is somewhere between a small city and a big town. Down in the SE corner of Alberta, it feels somewhat isolated: three hours to Calgary, threeish to Swift Current, fiveish to Edmonton, a full day to Vancouver – moaning about our 90 minute drive from Greenwood to Halifax now seems rather lame by comparison. Locals call it “The Hat” and call themselves “Hatters”. I myself am a proud member of the Mad Hatters Running Club. The locals are friendly, perhaps because so many are from Atlantic Canada. It’s mostly an oil and gas and railway town, and since a lot of people find employment or connections to CFB Suffield, 45 kms to the west, it’s a military friendly community. Friendly, that is, except sometimes to the young Briish troops who come here in the summer times for training, and who like to spend money in town. One hears some mixed things about the squaddies, but if the British Army pulled out of Suffield, this town would be hurting.

CFB Suffield is home to BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield), its main reason for existing. While a Canadian base, it is part of the the UK Defence Training Estates, since its huge area of prairie has made it ideal for training with large numbers of tanks and troops. Suffield is also home to Defence Research and Development Canada, which does a lot of research with nasty stuff. While it sounds spooky and scary secret (there’s a Suffield joke that if the Zombie Apocalypse ever started anywhere, it would likely start here), they do good work, especially in the area of combat medicine and trauma research. As Canadian Forces Bases go, Suffield is quite small, with about a hundred Canadians in uniform and three times that many civilians, so my work is quite manageable. Some of my earlier posts here on Life in Suffield will give you a flavour of that work.

Our Medicine Hat house on Christmas Eve

Kay and I bought a “character home” in an older, settled part of town called SE Hill. “Character home” is a euphemism for money pit, I think, but we are slowly making it home and plan a kitchen reno over the winter and a new roof in the spring. Kay made a start on transforming the garden into something closer to her tastes, but that will be a long term project. Kay has found a congregation she likes in the Hat, St. Barnabas, where people seem to have a lively faith and a willingness to pray. She’s started some volunteer work with the local SPCA, and is sowly finding her way on Facebook, if you want to look for her there. Come the spring she hopes to get hired on with one of the local garden centres, even if the trees and shrubs here are different (and to her eyes uglier) than the ones she’s used to.

New dino friend at Tyrhell Museum, Drumheller, seen this August
We’ve done a very little sightseeing since we’ve arrived in Alberta. This August we visited the excellent Royal Tyrrhel Dinosaur Museum in Drumheller and saw a little bit of the Badlands. Today we’re off to have a look at Calgary and then north to visit friends in Edmonton.

I’ve transferred my membership in Lions to one of the local clubs. I like the people and the chance to give back to the community as time permits. I was invited to join the Board of the United Way of SE Alberta after getting involved with their campaign on the base, and enjoy working with the UW for the same reason. I’m slowly stepping up my running practice. This September I ran a very slow half marathon in Drumheller, my first in two years. Afterwards I remembered my promise to myself to do a full marathon before I turned fifty, and I only have eleven months to keep that promise.

That’s a little bit of our lives out here on the prairie. Kay and I hope that you were blessed in spirit, family and friendship this Christmas, and we wish you all good things in the year to come.