Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

Nan with Holland America's Eurodam in Grand Turk, Turks and CaicosDear Family and Friends,

This has been another busy year for us, full of activity and travel. Nan and I have just returned from a Caribbean cruise with a group from The Nation, a progressive magazine we started subscribing to during the contentious 2008 Presidential Election. Days at sea were spent in panel discussions on health care, the economy and what to make of Sarah Palin. Guest speakers included 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, author E.L. Doctorow, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the magazine’s publisher. It was encouraging to meet and talk with people who believe in the same principles we do: personal freedom, fairness, peace and social justice. Despite President Obama’s policy compromises and the loss of the public option, there was optimism on every front but global warming, which many believe is hastening human extinction.

Back in April, we were sailing again with our friend John Kretschmer on his 47-foot sailboat, this time in the Spanish Virgin Islands between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. Joining us were author Dallas Murphy and his partner and editor Genie Leftwich. John is also an author, so we spent many hours discussing book ideas and the writing profession. All were enthusiastic about the prospects for the book I was writing about Charlie, our beloved golden retriever who died of cancer the previous April.

The manuscript of Raising Charlie: The Lessons of a Perfect Dog was completed in time for our road trip home to Wisconsin at the end of June with our new golden retriever Scout. Nan stayed in Wauwatosa long enough to wish my father a happy 76th birthday and then continued on to Manitowoc to spend time with her family. Between museum trips, Brewers games and bad golf, I worked with my sister Jane, who is a freelance editor, to put Raising Charlie into final form.

The book was published at the end of August, just before Nan, Scout and I flew to Isla Mujeres, Mexico for a month. The trip was partly a vacation and partly an experiment to see if we could live in a foreign country with our dog. I worked part time using our rented apartment’s Internet connection, and Nan volunteered at an English school run by expatriates. We both spent three days a week with a tutor to improve our Spanish. And we started on book number two, in conjunction with our friend Juan and his family: a combination island photo guide and cookbook of authentic Yucatan recipes in both English and Spanish. Except for the unseasonably hot and humid conditions, which limited mid-day activity with Scout, it all worked out better than expected.

Thanksgiving this year was the first one we have spent apart since we were married twenty years ago. Nan wanted to be with her family in Wisconsin, so I traveled to my parents’ vacation home in Savannah to be with them. As my mother pointed out, it was the first time she and my father had had me all to themselves since my brother Stuart was born a year after I was. We toured the town, ate great seafood, played golf, and visited my friends Paul and Honey Caouette down the coast in St. Marys, where they were preparing their sailboat for an island-hopping trip to Trinidad.

This year’s Christmas card features a photo from the first Raising Charlie book signing, at our local Borders bookstore, in mid-November. They allowed Scout inside the store, and we tried to get him to pose with us, but only the back of his head is visible in the lower left corner. If you’re interested in the book, an information card with details is enclosed.

During the holidays, Nan and I remind one another to be thankful for our good jobs, good health and good friends. And we pause to remember the loved ones who are no longer with us. We hope the holidays provide you with your own occasions for reflection. Wishing you and yours all the best in the coming year.

John, Nan and Scout

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