Year in Review 2016

Written 24 December 2016, Panama

20161218_26calledelaqua

How to build a snowman in 30 Celsius heat? Use plastic drinking cups!

This is my 12th “year in review”. It’s hard to believe that the first was written from Texel Island in the Netherlands in Dec 2005). In 2008, I wrote from Panama as we introduced our first born to his “abuelos”. This is the second year, since I started writing the “year in review” that I am writing from Panama. This year the “abuelos” have two big kids from Toronto with whom to celebrate. Ray is 9 and Lucas is 6. It is unbelievable how quickly the time has flown!

When I wrote this it was snowing and cold at our current home in Toronto while we were sweating it out in Panama’s humid transition from the wet to dry season. This will be Ray’s second Christmas in a hot climate, but the first that he remembers. It is certainly Lucas’s first. For hubby, it is what he knows from childhood. I’ve had several Christmases in hot climates, most in Panama from 2000 to 2003, but also one in Mauritania in 2006. For someone who grew up where it is cold in December, sweating on Christmas still doesn’t feel quite right, but I don’t miss trying to get around in the snow.

It has been a trying year for many in terms of world events (depending on your point of view), but it has been a fairly good year for our family. Other travels this year included a lovely few days for the boys and I, with very close friends, at a rented cottage in Oxbow Lake (near Algonquin Park). As a family, we also did another wonderful canoe trip, this time further north in Temagami. This trip to Panama is our send off to 2016 (though we will be back in Toronto to ring in the New Year).

Our boys continue to grow physically, intellectually and emotionally. This year they started in a new school so that Ray could begin extended French. He is in grade 4 and has 50% of his classes in French and 50% in English. This means that Ray is starting on his third language. He’s made friends at his new school and is generally doing well. Physically, he is developing skills in running (he joined the cross-country team), swimming (he joined the swim team), biking, and other general sports like monkeying on the monkey bars. He continues to be our social and talkative guy, but despite this gregariousness, he remains our pensive one. He thinks and feels deeply and he is working on strategies to deal with strong emotions. The kids and I have been experimenting with mindfulness (the book Sitting like a Frog is a great intro for kids) and we are all finding it helpful.

Lucas is in grade 1!     He struggled a bit with the transition to the new school (he missed his old school and his friends) but he is now making new friends and is doing well. He remains very kind, always quick to help others and to ensure that everything is fair for everyone. He is developing his logical, mathematical and organizational skills with patterns, puzzles and (of course) collecting rocks. Like his brother, he is developing his physical skills in biking and swimming. He also still loves singing and dancing – and to my delight – he still skip-walks when he is excited. Even though he is firmly in kid territory now (not anywhere near a baby), he will always be my baby.

As for the adults, hubby has found a place that he loves professionally. As bike culture continues to increase in Toronto, he found a job as a bike mechanic at Urbane Cyclist. It is a workers co-op with like-minded colleagues and it is close enough to bike commute. In fact it is also close to the University of Toronto, so he and I can sometimes meet for lunch. The job allows hubby to use his technical skills on something he is passionate about – getting people riding safely by building and fixing bikes. He is basically getting paid for his hobby. Not bad. The job is still somewhat seasonal, but even that works since it allows us to do things like visit Panama for the winter holidays.

This has been a busy year for me professionally. Last year I learned the day-to-day operations of graduate student education and funding (it reminds me of ecology in its complexity) and I began to research several topics around enhancing graduate funding. This year I added to that by deepening the research and data analysis and working with senior leaders to implement several major projects that included an increase to grad student funding, better transparency around that funding, optimizing international student funding, and new programs for professionalization and progress through PhD programs. There were certainly challenges, but overall I have learned an immense amount this year! I’ve deepened my understanding of the intricacies of graduate education and funding, and how senior leaders make tough decisions in higher education amid multiple, and often conflicting, demands. Next year I will start a yearlong secondment doing similar work but around research and research funding.

The year 2016 has been trying for many, but for my family it has been a year of strengthening our souls and our relationships. It seems prudent to look for solidity in oneself and close relationships when other aspects of life are turbulent. I wish you all the best for 2017!

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