WOLFVILLE, N.S. - It was a special holiday season the Miller family is not likely to forget any time soon.
That's because the Millers usually spend their holidays a few time zones away in Manitoba. This year it was Wolfville for the holidays, interspersed with some Acadia University basketball, visiting relatives and a New Year's Eve lobster feed.
It all started a few years ago when their youngest son Ben opted to take his game and education 3,600 kilometres away from home. The tightly-knit Miller family was faced with a bit of a challenge.
However, as soon as their highly-recruited point guard son left Winnipeg for Wolfville, Jan and Don Miller devised a plan to reunite with their son.
Don's job as a professor at the Health Science Centre at the University of Manitoba provided for a sabbatical. A meeting with university president Ray Ivany on a visit to see Ben brought Don the necessary Acadia contacts to make everything fall into place.
Jan and Don decided to make it happen during Ben's third year, transplanting their lives, along with their Grade 10 daughter MeiMe, to the Annapolis Valley for six months.
So late last summer they packed what they could _ mostly clothes and Jan's KitchenAid mixer _ into their Jetta and set out on the drive to start a new temporary life in the Annapolis Valley with Ben.
The Millers, who rented a furnished apartment in Wolfville, made the best of their journey east by doing plenty of sightseeing along the way and spreading the 40-hour drive over 10 days. They made stops in Lake Superior Provincial Park, visited with Jan's sister in upstate New York, and made stops in Quebec City, Saint John and Halifax.
When they planned the timing of Don's sabbatical, the Millers did not know they would be leaving a two-month-old grandson back in Manitoba. Their oldest son Nicholas and his wife Dara welcomed a baby boy shortly before the Millers headed east.
The family pulled together a plan that saw Jan's parents and sister and her family make it out east for Christmas, while son Nick and wife Dara toted their six-month-old son Robinson to Wolfville just after Christmas and were regular spectators at the Shoveller tournament in Halifax where Jan could be seen regularly walking alongside the hardwood while holding Robinson in her arms.
It was a busy holiday season to say the least.
"There were two days when we had 13 people here, but having dedicated time for each group was perfect," said Jan.
Last year during the holiday season the Millers hosted the Axemen men's team for dinner when they were in Winnipeg for the Wesmen Classic.
Don has kept busy doing research while in Wolfville.
His work is directed at how drugs get into the brain and how various neurological diseases influence blood-barrier function and while at Acadia he has continued the research using new animal and cell culture models.
"I have made research connections here that I believe will continue even when I am back at the University of Manitoba. I cannot believe how fast the season and our time here has gone."
The Miller family is used to being on the move.
Jan, born and raised in Saskatchewan, and Don, born and raised in Kansas, met in Newton, Kansas where Don was on a football scholarship. They wed in 1985 and both pursed graduate degrees at the University of Kansas. Don has PhD in pharmacology and toxicology and Jan a PhD in physiology and cell biology.
They started their family and raised their first two children, Nocholas and Jacob in Kansas, where the family became lifelong Kansas Jayhawk basketball fans.
Don took on work at Nebraska Medical Centre and the family lived in Omaha for 13 years and welcomed a third son, Ben.
The Millers later moved to Manitoba where their two oldest sons played university basketball and the family added daughter MeiMei via China in 2002. Nick and Jacob now both attend medical school.
Ben played on provincial basketball teams for years and his skills attracted plenty of interest from university coaches, but one visit to the Acadia campus had him hooked on playing for the Axemen.
MeiMei, who has been attending Horton High School and is a member of the school's volleyball team, will be the first family member to head back to Manitoba and will leave at the end of January. Jan and Don will head back in March.
Some highlights of their time in the Valley include sampling local fruit, vegetables and seafood; seeing an eagle most every day; the charms of downtown Wolfville; local wines and wineries and the local farmers' markets.
They have also been on the move during their stay here, travelling to several parts of the province. They have been whale watching, driven the Cape Breton Trail, been Blomidon, hiked Cape Split and have been to P.E.I.
Ben has enjoyed having his family nearby these past few months.
"It's been great having my parents and sister here, it has made my third year extremely enjoyable," said Ben.
"Seeing my nephew again was incredible after being away from him for so long and was definitely the highlight of my holidays."
One of the special benefits to having his Manitoba family with him in Wolfville, is access to home cooked meals.
"It's made my life easier in many aspects, especially when it comes to meals. Homemade meals at university are nothing to take for granted."
While Jan and Don leave Wolfville at the end of the basketball season, Ben has two more years of basketball eligibility. The Millers say they will be back next year, but likely only for a week or two and expect to be in Manitoba for the holiday season.
Source: Frank De Palma