Dear Friends:

Welcome to our holiday website for 2016! Grab a beer, wine, or the "holiday spirit" of your choice and read about our adventures this year!

A note about this page and our photos... "Slideshow" works on most browsers (computer or tablet/phone). You can even select mobile versus desktop layouts within the photo area. Look for "View in" at the bottom of the page and select the best option for you.

There are a LOT of photos -- we have a lot of different interests. You can browse the familiar categories for fun you may have shared with us, or check out the other crazy adventures you never knew we were into!

First, the executive summary:

Betsy and Mark

Betsy

Mark

Tootsie

Betsy

So the most significant information for 2016 has to do with Betsy's job. For the past 12+ years, she has been working within the Human Resources team at Frito-Lay/PepsiCo, but at the end of June 2016, she announced her retirement from the company and September 29th was her last day in the office. The team gave her a lovely retirement reception and there was a lot of reminiscing of stories of days gone by. She hasn't missed the work at all since leaving, but she does miss the people interaction and the great friends that she worked with on a daily basis. She's been kept busy helping out with her family during the last three months of the year (more on this later), and so she looks forward to really getting to enjoy her retirement during 2017. Likely, she'll decide that she needs to do something on a part-time basis to have something to get her out of the house and socializing with others, but nothing is currently in the works. You'll just have to check next year's holiday letter to see what new adventures she decides on in the future.

From a personal perspective, Betsy took a week long trip to Boston to attend the Worlds Figure Skating Championships. Her friend, Doug, who she worked with at several of the past U.S. National Championships is the Executive Director of the Boston Skating Club and was also the Executive Director of the World's event. Doug helped Betsy get great third row seats and so she had a wonderful time getting to watch all the skating in this international competition. She attended the event with her friend, Jennifer, and the two of them became very adept at traveling throughout the city via the Boston underground. They spent a few days at the start of the trip sightseeing throughout Boston and then hung out at the TC Gardens once the competition events were underway. Betsy still has a great love of figure skating and getting to attend events live is really special. As are the impromptu interactions with skating friends that happen at the arena, in the hotels, or even, in the case of this trip, walking along on the streets of Boston...

Ballooning was also still an integral part of Betsy's hobbies during 2016. She went to Albuquerque in February for the Friends & Lovers Rally. During this event, there was a raffle where the funds go to help with Balloon Camp, for young pilots, and Betsy ended up winning the grand prize - a pin board of all of the special shape pins from Balloon Fiesta in 2013. Lots of her ABQ friends kidded with her about leaving the pin board in ABQ. Her brother even was willing to let her leave it at his house along with all of his other pin boards. But, alas, she drove to Albuquerque for Fiesta in October, so that she could bring her pin board home... it now has a special place of honor in her home office which is decorated in a ballooning theme. While she has been to Balloon Fiesta in years past, this was the first time that she was able to go for the entire event. Normally, its hard to get away for 10 days of ballooning, but this was the first event that she went to upon retiring, so she got to be in Albuquerque for the entire week. On one of the non-flying days, she and her brother went to the Cameron tent to get a quote on a new balloon system, and EOS the third will be delivered in February. Guess that means more ballooning to come in the future. Other ballooning events this year included Colorado Springs Labor Day Liftoff, Plano Balloon Festival and Anna GlowFest. Betsy missed Sulphur Springs this year. Her pilot friend, Sue, had to have surgery, so in solidarity, the Big Red Again Balloon Team skipped the Dairy-Aires Festival; however, next year, she intends for it to be back on her agenda. Even though we didn't get together in Sulphur Springs, we did join together to celebrate Betsy's birthday. Sue decided that Betsy needed to be a princess, so she bought her a birthday girl sash and tiara and Betsy wore it the entire evening. Two little kids who were eating at the restaurant with their parents stopped to wish her a very happy birthday. They must have figured that if she was willing to wear a princess sash and tiara, she must deserve lots of birthday cheer!

Betsy went to Albuquerque in June to celebrate her brother's birthday with him and then he also drove home with her in October after Fiesta for the first of Betsy's mom's three surgeries that took place in October and November. As stated last year, Betsy's mom was having heart episodes and the doctors decided that she needed to be converted to a pacemaker, so two of the surgeries took care of putting the pacer in and converting her over to be solely dependent on the pacemaker. The other surgery was a muscle biopsy that ended up helping to explain the pain that her mom was having in her right hip and thigh. She was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune syndrome that attacks the body's own muscles and they start to degenerate. This is what is causing the weakness and pain that her mom is experiencing. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for this disease, so they just have to try and slow down the progress of the disease as much as possible. The biggest life-threatening effect of this disease is choking as the muscles in the throat that aid in swallowing start to become impacted. Betsy has been her mom's caregiver during this time, but they now have hired a licensed vocational nurse to come in and help with Betsy's mom at least several days a week. Betsy is grateful for having been retired and having the time to “give back” and handle things with her folks. There would have been no way that she could have been working and done what all she did for her mom and dad. While things are far from being good with regard to her mom's health, Betsy has done all that she can, and so she now feels that she can start to focus her time and energy in other areas. Betsy says that 2017 is her “me” year and she intends to focus on her own health and wellness and life's balance. She is starting 2017 off with the Balanced Life Challenge being put on by her doctor's office, so the first six weeks will definitely include focusing on eating right, exercising, meditation and sleep.

Mark

Mark is still at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. HP is breaking apart like a fortune cookie. First the split of HP into Hewlett Packard Inc. (PCs and printers) and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (servers and data centers). Then the split off of HP Services (mostly the old EDS Services people).

Mark also has survived several layoffs, which means no time searching for a new job, and no concerns about "salary continuation". It's a huge project, and is part of new hardware / software offerings critical to the success of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and a great challenge to be part of.

Mark is the VP of Public Relations and the Webmaster for Dallas Singles Toastmasters. He plans to complete his Competent Toastmaster Gold level this year.

Mark's health is good, with exceptions. Mark suffered a ruptured cervical disk in January. No specific cause -- no accident, fall, or event like that. Likely just disk degeneration. This caused a lot of pain initially, muscle and feeling issues, but no surgery, lots of rehab, hours in the gym, muscle relaxants, and massage. Everything is good now except for some neuropathy in his fingers.

Mark's workouts have been impacted by his neck issue. He's definitely done more weights, but less running and other cardio. Starting up a new Balanced Life Challenge in 2017 will return that back to normal.

Mark has a continuing interest in photography and in face and body painting. participating in several workshops in 2017. Some of the workshops have been led by painters who have been on Skinwars on the GSN network.

Cutting Edge haunted house in Fort Worth was a disappointment last year, so this year we went back to Reindeer Manor. Cutting Edge is a good show, it just doesn't deliver the scare.

Reindeer Manor did not disappoint. They still get it -- it's all about having good and experienced actors. They have greatly expanded the outdoor walk (of death) in the backyard of the Manor property, and told me that more improvements are planned. Even though it's usually a little brighter outdoors than in the buildings, and you can see all 360 degrees, the fear of walking in the dark, monsters popping out at you, is very real. Maybe it's the random sounds and movements that happen outdoors, attracting your attention away from the approaching actors. But it's very unsettling. I wish the experienced actors would do more touching -- that can be really startling. Reindeer Manor (which also includes 13th Street Morgue and Dungeon of Doom) is still the best haunted attraction within driving distance.

This year Aubrey (Marla's daughter) graduated and is now at Auburn University. She is doing very well in college and loves Auburn -- so proud of her. Catherine (Karen's daughter) is at SMU (Mark's old alma mater) and doing great, too! Julia (Karen's other daughter) will be next!

Mark and Betsy

We flew back to Jamaica in both April and November, and caught up with all our Jamaica friends. The weather in November was amazing -- full sun every day but the Saturday before we returned, which was the only day with rain. We got the best sunset photos in November that we've gotten in several years. April had more clouds and some rain. spend time over dinner or drinks (or sitting in the pool) as we caught up with them!

Jimmy Buffett's concert did not conflict with our April Jamaica trip this year, and we were able to attend the concert with Betsy's brother and girlfriend Sue. The starting act was scheduled to be ZZ Top, but health issues caused them to cancel. Jerry Jeff Walker replaced them as the act before Jimmy. It was a great concert -- photos are on the photo page!

We went to the Dallas Chocolate Festival in September. There is one photo from that in our photo gallery this year, showing all the booty we gathered at the event.

Tootsie

Tootsie, our Maine Coon mix cat, had two major health issues this year. In April, she had an anal gland rupture. (The purpose of anal glands is to provide a unique scent to mark territory.) They have to wash out the wound, then it's antibiotics, cream, and a "cone-kitty" so she can't lick it until it heals from the inside out. The photos are not pretty. Look at your own risk - these are not on our holiday photo page, but here is her documented progress. Tootsie abscess photos - Explicit

I felt like I was shooting a centerfold for "Pethouse Magazine" with the way I was shooting explicit shots of her butt with her tail up and all. Any male cats on the web are probably spraying all over their monitors about now. But these photos are better than the naked eye, and kept her vet up to date without having to bring Tootsie back in for observation. (She hates traveling in the car!) She had a repeat occurrence in November. We are hoping not to have another repeat.

Tootsie's weight is still too high -- we continue to work on that. It's been difficult because she keeps getting sick, and the meds make her hungrier, plus we have to give her enough protein to help her recover.

Bookmark Us!

We hope you like the electronic format of our Holiday Letter! Please note that the correct URL for our website is:

    http://www.fireandice.org "Fire and Ice dot Org"
We own the fireandice.org domain, and it should continue to be our home page for years to come.

We hope your holidays are warm, safe, and happy. Drop us a line, by phone, snail or email, or fill out the convenient form on our Contact Page and we'll respond as soon as possible.

Have a great holiday!

Mark & Betsy