I've never really done the ritual of the Christmas letter, but this year I intended to, at least for the relatives I feel closest to to whom I was sending EFRC calendars. I'd planned to write it Sunday night so I could get the calendars in the mailers I bought Saturday and get it all in Monday's mail, but I was just too tired. And then the bomb dropped Monday. I still want the relatives to have the calendars, but I couldn't write quite the letter I'd meant to.
Well, here I am finally sitting down to write a Christmas letter, and I find that I’m going to have to violate the social norm, so I must apologize. You see, the Christmas letter is supposed to be a bright, cheery, somewhat boastful account of the preceding year, but it hasn’t been a particularly bright and cheery year, and I don’t feel up to lying about it.
Actually, that’s not quite fair. The year was going along pretty well; it’s just the last couple of weeks that have been bad. So I will go back to the beginning of the year and try to hit a few of the highlights along the way.
Last Christmas, I bought myself an extravagant Christmas present: a Canon Digital Rebel camera, plus a 75-300 zoom lens, a sturdy case, a gigabyte memory card, and a Canon i960 photo printer. It has been a major part of my life for the intervening year. I have taken pictures of birds, animals, insects, flowers, sunsets, and any other nature subjects that I’ve happened to come across. I have taken pictures of people at the science fiction conventions I’ve attended. And I have taken lots pictures of the cats at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. I have had a lot of fun with the camera, and I’m absorbing some of the craft of photography in the modern digital age.
Throughout the year, I have continued to do as much as I can with big cats. I have continued my volunteer work at EFRC, making the 180-mile round trip every weekend that I am not out of town or unable to travel due to the weather or ill health. This is a heavy commitment, in that it really limits what I can do with my weekends, but it is worth it all when Raja Baby comes eagerly up to the fence, chuffs, and asks me to scratch his head, or when one of the regular keepers says “Let Phil handle Nona’s slide gate. She loves Phil. She hates me!”
My interest in cats also led me to overcome my aversion to the hassle of flying and attend the Feline Conservation Federation convention in Las Vegas in August. This trip was not a total success – I spent the first two days with a constant headache which kept me from enjoying myself, and our group’s scheduled behind-the-scenes tour of Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and meeting with Roy himself was cancelled at the last minute when the TV studios required S&R to be out of town – but it is always uplifting to spend time in the company of a bunch of other people who actually understand and value big cats.
For a couple of years, I have been looking for a new 6-string guitar. In October, my friend Barry Childs-Helton let me play his Tacoma Road King RM6C. I’ve tried dozens of guitars in my search, but this is the first one that spoke to me other than to say “I cost more than you can possibly afford”. I loved the way this guitar sounded and the way it felt when I played it, so when I found one of the same model on the rack in the guitar store down the block from work, I bought it.
This covers the big events that happened up to December, and it was a pretty good year to that point. Then in the first week of December, my mother fell on the ice and broke her right arm, and I came home late one night to discover that Lori, my 13½ year old Alaskan Malamute, was too sick to stand up. She’d been fine that morning. $1700 in vet bills later, I had a diagnosis of Stage 4 Lymphoma and chemotherapy was started. She’s adjusting to the treatment, still weak but not showing signs of pain, and with luck she’ll be with me another 6 months.
This is where I was Sunday night when I meant to write this letter, but I was too tired and didn’t do it. Monday when I came in to work, my boss came into my office and told me that all of the large contracts for future work that they had been negotiating had fallen through. Prairie City Computing, Inc., was closing its doors; all of the employees were laid off effective immediately, with a severance package of 4 weeks’ pay and health care through the end of January.
So my apologies for this letter being a bit of a bummer, but that’s where I am right now: freshly unemployed after 5 years of working for the best company I’ve ever worked for.
To attempt to share some of what’s good in my life with you, I’ve enclosed the 2005 calendar from EFRC, which shows off the beautiful cats I help care for and also (in July) one of my best photographs. I hope the new year brings joy, prosperity, and absolutely none of the stress I’ve had the last couple of weeks here.
(A copy of my LJ userpic to the right side of the final paragraph, with a handwritten signature just to the bottom left of the picture.)
I'm sorry I'm not in a position to give a copy of the calendar to all of my LJ friends, but if you'd like to order one, the info is here (sorry, no on-line ordering). It's a really great calendar, and the money goes to care for the cats.