In the heart of the holiday season, I just want to take a minute to say happy holidays and thanks for an incredible year.The GRN staff started off the week with our annual two-day staff retreat, this year out at Tickfaw State Park in Louisiana. Many times over those couple days, I was happily reminded about why I do this work to restore and protect the Gulf and why, despite all the difficulties facing the region, I’m optimistic about our future. It’s you, it’s our amazing staff, and all the other great people I get to work, interact, and collaborate with in this heroic effort.Of course, the biggest reason most any of us volunteer or work for the Gulf Restoration Network is a deep commitment to a healthy Gulf. I’ve grown to truly appreciate the natural wonders of this area in my 5 years living here. I get so much enjoyment out of pulling in speckled trout out in Bay Eloi, going for reds in the Biloxi Marsh, and just being out on the waters of the Gulf. My girlfriend and I love to wake up to the sunrise on the beach of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Perdido Key. I’m still amazed everytime I get to boat through a cypress forest (I grew up in the desert, mind you).We took some time at the staff retreat to go over our victories from 2011. In light of the rough 19 months the Gulf has had since the BP oil disaster began, it was nice to step back and look at we’re accomplishing. The first early restoration projects that BP is paying for being announced (and they’re good projects!) recently . . . 207 Defend the Gulf home screenings hosted by volunteers throughout the country . . . the end of the destructive Richton Salt Domes project that threatened the Pascagoula River . . . 232 acres of wetlands and 22,080 feet of streams in the Chickasawhay Creek watershed saved . . critical habitat for the Mississippi Gopher Frog protected . . . the RESTORE Act introduced in both chambers of Congress . . . pollution significantly reduced into Cane Bayou . . . 200+ acres set aside for conservation near Stennis, MS . . . the list goes on.Between the meetings and strategic planning, though, I was happy to just get to spend time with all the incredible folks who work at GRN. Eating meals together, watching Monday Night Football, singing happy birthday to Briana and Aaron, playing board games, and exchanging gifts (I got a great pizza cutter that looks like an old-timey bike from Michelle. Awesome!), it was like a family gathering. Of course, like most family gatherings, some folks were missing, and I wish our amazing volunteers and interns could have been there too, but there was still plenty of fun to be had. I enjoyed hiking to the oxbow point with Harry and Matt while other folks canoed through a swamp. Cyn managed to reunite some lost hunting dogs with their owners. Cathy showed her skill at Apples to Apples.It’s pretty amazing that in the process of working for a healthy Gulf and building power to combat the potent political forces bent on destruction, we also get to create a beautiful extended family that shares the values that hold our environment and our Gulf of Mexico dear. All of you who follow this blog, email your Senators to support the RESTORE Act, give your hard-earned money to GRN, spend your time volunteering for the Gulf, or even just continue to pay attention to our efforts here . . . all of you are part of this impressive movement.I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks for all you do. From everyone at GRN headquarters, we wish you a very happy holiday season. And, here’s to a healthy Gulf in 2012!Dan Favre is GRN’s Communications Director.