Christmas Letter 2021

Travel

2021 has challenged the travel industry in fundamental ways, and I can assure you, being a dedicated traveller during a pandemic isn’t much fun. Consequently, JoeTourist hasn’t travelled much this year! The only cruise I had booked for 2021 didn’t happen, and I have stuck pretty close to home, taking short, local trips just to get away for a few days.

Alaska cruise route map

My 2021 Alaska cruise I had planned for September was cancelled thanks to the Canadian government refusing to permit any passenger cruise ships to land in the country until February 2022. That date was subsequently pulled back a bit to November 2021, but by then the cruise industry had cancelled all calls to ports in Canada. Of course, I was frustrated, but once the reopening date was announced by the Transport minister, Holland America announced new Alaska cruises for the 2022 season. After careful consideration, I rebooked my Alaska cruise with Holland America for May/June 2022.

My lei floating on Honolulu Harbour
My lei floating on Honolulu Harbour

I have also decided to run away from home for my 70th birthday (October 13, 2022) by booking another cruise with Holland America to Hawai’i. Both cruises depart from Vancouver and return to Vancouver, so I’m hopeful that in 2022 the cruise and travel industry will be functional again, and I will be able to enjoy some pampering aboard ship. As we all now realize, nothing to do with travel can be taken for granted anymore, since the pandemic drags on, governments react by rapidly changing travel restrictions, which means travellers such as me are reduced to making arrangements based on hope and optimism that everything will fall into place.

Speaking of travel challenges, my 50th High School Reunion planned for July was cancelled for the second year in a row due to the pandemic restrictions on gatherings. Since I had made reservations to stay at guest house in the Cowichan Valley for that summer weekend, I decided to keep the arrangements in place. It was good to get away for a few days on a local trip. The weather was lovely, I enjoyed my few days away from home, and I managed to meet up with a few of my fellow grads who are friends I have known for over 50 years. It is aways fun to reconnect, and the reunion committee is planning for our 50+2 reunion for 2022!

I take my Tesla Model S in for a service every year. I decided to wait until November to travel to Vancouver for that work to be done this year. I used my Marriott points to stay two nights in a much fancier hotel than I usually book, and I also experienced the rather posh Metrotown Mall that was nearby. I timed the trip so I could celebrate my cousin Cheryl’s birthday in person while I was in the big city. Using BC Ferries’ Saver Fares and taking advantage of BC seniors free mid-week travel, the cost of the ferry was surprisingly modest.

Family & friends

First meeting of two birth family cousins - Sylvia & Joe
First meeting of two birth family cousins – Sylvia & Joe

As I highlighted in last year’s Christmas Letter, I connected with my birth family through DNA matching. I met one of my cousins in person this year, since Sylvia lives in Victoria. Sylvia and I also had more DNA testing done in her family, which confirmed the ties to my birth family in an even stronger way than before.

After waiting a year after my birth mother’s death, I decided to try contacting my five siblings. Unfortunately, they made it known that they are not ready to connect with me further. I learned of my brother Dean’s death in September of this year through my cousin, so I now have four siblings instead of five. It’s so sad to be wasting precious time, but I must put my frustration behind me and concentrate on the positive results of this connection to my birth family. I have worked on genealogical research a great deal this year, expanding the family tree to some 329 people, covering at least 6 generations!

Beasley-Robinson family tree
Beasley-Robinson family tree

Around Home

We continue to stay home most of the time, only venturing outside for exercise with dogs walks, and to do essential shopping and errands. I have resumed meeting a few friends in person for coffee, but I mainly keep in touch with friends and relatives through social media, email, and telephone.

Mello and Coda on the couch
Mello and Coda on the couch

Our cat Coda is about 18 years old, according to our vet’s estimate. He seemed to be shutting down a month or so ago, not being able to keep food down and losing weight, so we took him into the veterinary. After an exam and tests, he was treated with some medication, fluids, and we came home with a new, bland cat food. This seems to have perked him up a bit, so he is happier (as are we). Our other cat Mello is hail and hearty, and constantly complaining about the unacceptable service levels provided by his personal manservants!

Our Jack Russell Terriers Rolly and Tanner are now 10 years old, but still behave as if they are pups. They haven’t caught any rats lately, but that doesn’t keep them from constantly being on the lookout for those vermin. Their hunting instincts keep them active and stimulated, and keep me on my toes too! Pet photos around home

Early yellow corn from Silver Rill farm, and homemade pizza using spicy ground turkey & mozzarella.

After a couple of years, the contruction of 8 townhouses on our street is finally finished, and all the units are sold and occupied. It is such a relief to no longer have big trucks, blasting, and construction noise to contend with. Our new neighbours are all very quiet, and thankfully the added density hasn’t impacted us. There is still contruction on our block, since one old house is being rebuilt into a triplex, and a new build is starting up on an empty lot. After many years of no changes, things are happening in our neighbourhood!

Kirk and I continue to be in pretty good heath, and keep as active as possible with lots of dog walks and other activities. That said, there is no denying that aging results in much less stamina, dexterity, and strength, which we find frustrating when we have to carefully consider an activity that we wouldn’t have previously given a second thought about.

We have come to appreciate the simple things, such as eating well using fresh, locally-produced food. We always look forward to in-season corn-on-the-cob from Silver Rill Farm, and we use a lot of Fraser Valley turkey throughout the year.

Astronomy

Eta Carinae Nebula
Eta Carinae Nebula

Observing with my local astronomy group from our observatory on nearby Observatory Hill has not happened this year due to the pandemic restrictions on groups. This is disappointing for me personally, since I can’t observe from home due to the light pollution and massive tree cover in my neighbourhood. I decided to subscribe to a shared telescope service called Slooh, so I could remotely observe this year. Slooh is a wonderful service, offering multiple telescopes located on two observatory sites atop Tenerife, Canary Islands, and in the mountains behind Santiago, Chile. I’m really enjoying using the Chile observatory in particular, since it gives me access to the celestial objects found in the southern hemisphere.

The Sun has been dormant for several years now, however it finally woke up this year, giving me some opportunities to observe and photograph sunspots and other features. I can do this observing from my front yard, which is so handy. I also observed the conjunction of the Crescent Moon with planets Mars, Mercury and nearby Venus in March.

To see what I’ve been up to with my interest in astronomy, please view my online astrophoto gallery for images I’ve taken this year, and if you want more details, read my observing log (click “View”).

Photography & video

I must confess to going a bit crazy this year, buying yet more high-end camera gear. I found a secret deal on a Canon R5 mirrorless camera offered exclusively to favoured customers by my preferred online photography dealer. So I now have two camera bodies (the Canon R and R5), which is an ideal setup since it minimizes lens swapping, keeping missed shots to a minimum. Speaking of lenses, I also acquired the Canon 100-500 telephoto zoom lens, which gives me some extra reach needed for my astrophotography as well as capturing wildlife much more easily. It will also give me more opportunities to pull in distant objects of interest when I travel in the Yukon and Alaska next year.

Canon RF 100mm macro, 15-35 wide angle zoom, and 100-500 telephoto zoom lenses, with an R5 mirrorless camera
Canon RF 100mm macro, 15-35 wide angle zoom, and 100-500 telephoto zoom lenses, with an R5 mirrorless camera

I finally moved from a traditional camera bag to a more practical sling bag, which can be packed on my back, or rotated around to the side and front for quick access. I also upgraded my 100mm Macro and a fast 15-35mm wide angle zoom from Canon EF to the latest RF versions. Although this involved spending lots of money, it is a good time to do these upgrades, since I’m not spending discretionary funds travelling due to the pandemic restrictions. I also sold or traded my older lenses while they still had decent resale value, reducing the net cost of upgrading significantly. I typically use photography gear for about 10 years before considering newer models, so this new photo gear should serve me well.

Technology

Apple iPhone 13 Pro
Apple iPhone 13 Pro – look at those cameras!

Apple debuted several new models of iPhones, Watches, iPads and Macs this year, and I must admit I helped them increase their profits! The Apple iPhone 13 Pro spoke to me, mainly because of the superb camera equipped with a 5x telephoto optical zoom and macro. Despite having just invested in some serious camera gear, I have a feeling I will be taking most of my photos with this new iPhone.

I also upgraded my M1 MacBook Air 13″ notebook to the M1 Max MacBook Pro 14″, which delivers enough performance increase to qualify this laptop as a high-end desktop computer! The Liquid Retina XDR display in the new MacBook Pro looks amazing, using mini-LED technology to increase the brightness, contrast ratio, and image detail to previously unheard of levels. Again, as with my camera upgrades, I offset these upgrade costs by trading or selling my older gear since Apple resale values are excellent. An added bonus to trading/reselling is that none of my old technology ends up in a landfill.

We hope you and your family have a joyous holiday season, and may the coming New Year bring everyone happiness and prosperity!

Joe and Kirk (the humans), Rolly and Tanner (the Jack Russell Terriers), and Coda and Mello (the cats).

Snoopy on his doghouse with Christmas presents
Snoopy on his doghouse with Christmas presents

4 thoughts on “Christmas Letter 2021”

  1. Sweet stories.. I especially like the run away for my 70th birthday. I think I will do the same, as I reach 70 , two days before you….
    Happy 2022!

  2. Great Christmas letter, Joe, and interesting to find your birth family connections. They are missing out by not meeting you. I loved all the animal pictures–looks like life is pretty good!
    All the best,
    Wendy

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