Dear Friends:

Welcome to our holiday website for 2017! Grab a beer, wine, or the "holiday spirit" of your choice and read about our adventures this year!

A note about our photo pages... "Slideshow" works on most browsers (computer or tablet/phone) on each individual sub-album. (It doesn't work across all sub-albums at once though.) 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.

First, the executive summary:

Betsy and Mark

Betsy

Mark

Tootsie

Betsy

When it came to 2017, Betsy’s focus was on her family and being a caregiver to her mom. After all the surgeries last year and understanding that there was little else that could be done with regard to her mom’s health, she spent the first half of the year taking care of and watching her mom decline to the point of requiring hospice care. After getting hospice into her parents' home around mid-May, her mom passed to her final resting place within a week of hospice’s arrival. She was ready to go, just needed the heavier pain medications in order to be able to leave this world in peace. While the family is still grieving the loss, everyone got a chance to be with her during her final days and know that she is in a much better place than she was when she was still with us in this physical world. Afterwards, Betsy spent her time taking care of the arrangements, services, and worked with her dad to handle all of the estate requirements. Overall, it has been a rough year and Betsy is going to be glad when it’s over, although the sorrow of this year will likely stay with her for a very long time.

As for the concept of “work”, Betsy’s caregiver role took the majority of her time this year. However, she has started her own small business and will be focusing on building that in the future, although she still may consider another full-time job, if the right opportunity comes along. Senectus Enterprises is the parent LLC and it is under this company that she will be looking for HR Consulting work starting in 2018. If anyone knows of an organization who is looking for project support from an HR perspective, please consider contacting Betsy as a resource. She is completing her Personalysis certification and can also use this resource as a team-building tool, so she is open to coaching sessions too. In addition, she has become a SeneGence Independent Distributor and has started a more creative small business called Betsy’s Beauty Belles (search for and like the group on FaceBook). This business deals with skincare and smudge-proof, budge proof, long-lasting cosmetics. This product line is absolutely amazing and focuses on a highly advanced anti-aging skin care and cosmetic systems that help make every skin type more beautiful and radiant. The proprietary SenePlex Complex is a kinetic enzyme that fights the signs of aging by accelerating the skin’s rejuvenation cycle. Betsy has seen the revolutionary results that this product line provides. In addition, the long-lasting cosmetics stay put and allow all to feel more put together and beautiful without having the effort of reapplying makeup throughout the day. If you are interested in learning more, checkout www.senegence.com and call Betsy’s cell number to place an order or ask for more information. She will be happy to share the amazing results that she’s seen on her own skin over the past six months since July.

Ballooning was still an integral part of Betsy’s hobbies along with her travel plans during 2017. It started out with a trip in March that she affectionally called the “Great Hot Air Balloon Pickup Adventure”. She flew to Albuquerque to join her brother, Ralph, and his girlfriend and they drove from Albuquerque to Ann Arbor Michigan to pick up the new EOS (III) balloon from the Cameron Balloon factory. It was four days of solid driving, but a fun trip nonetheless. It was on that trip that Betsy learned that she doesn’t really mind road trips, so several other trips this year have been driving trips instead of airplane flights like usual. EOS (the 3rd) had it’s maiden flight on April 8th, so her mom got to see the photos and also got to see the comparison pictures when EOS (II) and EOS (III) were inflated side by side. From a ballooning perspective, one of Betsy’s favorite trips this year was one where no flights actually occurred. For Memorial Day she flew up to Philadelphia Pennsylvania and drove up to Letchworth State Park in upstate New York with balloon friends Mike & Cindy Kelly who own the balloon, Primary Dream. The weather was not conducive for flying, but the scenery was phenomenal and they did get a balloon glow in one evening. Needless to say, fun was had by all and it was good for Betsy to get away for a few days. The Big Red Again team was back in winning form at the Dairy-Aires Balloon Festival in Sulphur Springs, Texas in June; and in July, she was in Shreveport for a Journey concert and ended up staying for the week and helping crew for her friend Myia at the U.S. National Balloon Championships. Needless to say, the Shreveport ballooning adventure wasn’t planned, she didn’t even have any ballooning gear with her and had to make some stops at the local JC Penney and Target in order to pick up a pair of cheap tennis shoes, socks and extra clothes. Labor Day was spent with both the EOS team and the Big Red Again team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Betsy ended up caravanning up to Colorado with her friends, Joe and Sue Calabrette, and it was fun to have both balloons at this festival. She did take a bit of a tumble while packing up on Saturday afternoon and ended up in the emergency care with a split on her arm. Everyone accused her of just wanting attention because the splint was able to come off after 24 hours with no lasting effects from the fall. Afterwards, she drove up north to Denver for a few extra days to spend with long-term friends, Tom & Diane. In addition, September also brought a couple of additional rallies with Joe & Sue and the Big Red Again Balloon Team in both Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and here at home at the Plano Balloon Festival. October started with another road-trip to Albuquerque and 10 days of ballooning at the largest balloon festival in the world. EOS had a mid-air mishap on Day 1 of Fiesta which definitely impacted things and they can confidently say she is no longer a new balloon, although a couple of panels are now newer than others as they had to be replaced. Repairs were completed the same day and they ended up having a great Fiesta despite the initial mishap. A Memorial ribbon was flown honoring their mom one morning and Ralph ended up taking a 1st place and a 3rd place in the competition events for his group. He was awarded several hundred dollars in prize money which certainly was a positive way to end the week. Betsy’s ballooning season finished up with a cold day in Anna for Halloween and a Christmas charity balloon glow at AeroCountry. Betsy absolutely loves ballooning and has developed some great friendships because of the sport. She will continue to be involved for many many years to come and wants to add more rallies as time allows.

Besides ballooning travels, her adventures included Jamaica in April and Orlando in June with her brother and his girlfriend in celebration of both Ralph & Mark’s 60th birthday (their birthdays are a week apart). Betsy surprised Ralph by planning the entire weekend at University Studios without his knowledge and we all had fun “just being kids” again. Besides the trip to Denver to visit with Tom & Diane, she also took a trip to visit her “unbiological sister” Beverly in Austin for a girls weekend where they spent time just hanging out, going shopping and sitting by the fire. Betsy and Bev had intended to go to the Deep Eddy Vodka brewery for a tasting, but the tasting room was closed on the day they were there, so they just picked up a bunch of small taster bottles at the liquor store and created their own taste test. The winners were Deep Eddy Lemon and Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka and the biggest surprise was Lone Star Grapefruit vodka which actually beat Deep Eddy’s Grapefruit in their humble opinion.

Betsy’s health seems to be improving thanks to the lower levels of stress and the ability to get more rest on a regular basis. She has really enjoyed being “temporarily” retired this year, and is sure that she will have no issues being fully retired when the time comes in the future. She’s not sure what 2018 will have in store for her, but is looking forward to the new year and whatever adventures may await.

Mark

Mark is still at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a company that started out with a pool of 140,000 employees who have been sold or split off and is now down to 50,000 employees. Plus, our CEO announced just before Thanksgiving that she will be stepping down after first quarter 2018. Fun times...

Between the layoffs, sales, and splits, Mark is pretty lucky to still have a job there. Fortunately he is part of the new hardware / software offering critical to HPE's future success. He was part of a group on loan to another part of the project in Sept-Nov, helping them improve the quality of their component.

Mark got a much welcomed break from being an officer, although he is still the Webmaster for Dallas Singles Toastmasters. He did not complete his Competent Communicator Gold yet, although he did make progress toward it. Time to buckle down and get that done in 2018!

Mark's health is good -- bloodwork either better than 2 years ago, or else he's found a better bloodtest lab (hehe!). The Balanced Life Challenge (a program of diet, exercise, relaxation, and sleep though his doctor) is something he has maintained (for the most part) throughout the year. A new 6 week challenge will begin in January. The toughest part is probably the daily cardio exercise -- after other "non-cardio" workouts there often isn't enough energy left for additional cardio.

Mark's workouts have shifted this year and become a pain in the ass. Literally. The Brazil Butt Lift workouts give amazing results, but apparently 30 mins of that isn't as effective as 60 mins of regular running. After cutting back a lot on running, Mark's ass started to "fall". Unacceptable. With the help of a dynamite pre-workout powder (Mesomorph), Mark has added a strength / weight lower body routine based on some of the Brazil Butt Lift workouts, but longer duration and with more weights, and it is slowly lifting things back where they belong. Need proof? Photos available on request. Just kidding, photos are on our photo pages... (Ok, that was also just kidding.)

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, such as Angela Rene Roberts. Also Angela's facebook. Examples of his photos and bodypainting are on our photos pages.

We made a trip to Reindeer Manor again this year, and on a tip, did an exploratory trip to Thrillvania. One of the attractions at Thrillvania is on a par with those at Reindeer Manor, but the others fall at the bottom of the list. Reindeer Manor remains the favorite, hands down.

You may ask, "Why?". Thrillvania has upped their game, concentrating more on live actors than silly animatronic props. Only one of the attractions used the actors to good effect though. The first house had great actors, effective hiding places, and actors who coordinated their "attacks". The second house lacked good hiding places, which greatly reduced the "startle effect". The third "house" is mostly a walk outside through the grounds and a few shacks -- this has such promise but they are wasting the opportunity. Actors were simply standing on the path ahead, staring and growling as we walked by. That's a zero on the startle scale. I did see one actor jump out from a clump of high grass, and the group he attacked screamed quite well! When you can see -- and anticipate -- every actor you encounter though, that's a snooze in my book.

Marla's daughter Aubrey is doing well at Auburn University, has amazing grades, and loves it there. Karen's daughter Catherine is at SMU (Mark's old alma mater) and doing well there too. This year marked several college visits for Karen's daughter Julia, as she has one more year of high school before she will enter college. No decision there yet. Stay tuned!

Mark and Betsy

We flew back to Jamaica in April, and caught up with all our Jamaica friends. The weather in April was amazing -- full sun almost every day. The only sunset photos (some are on our photo pages) are from the pub crawl where we can get the sun setting over the water. Lots of great food, and even more great drinks, as we catch up with and enjoy the company of our friends there.

For Betsy's brother Ralph's birthday (and Mark's as well), we all met in Orlando for Universal Studios, and especially all the Harry Potter section (rides, exhibits, shops). It was a surprise trip for Ralph. He knew he was going somewhere but he didn't know it was Orlando until the airport, and he didn't know Betsy and I would be joining them until Betsy tapped him on the shoulder from behind at the airport. We included a few photos from the trip, and a good time was had by all (even though it may be a while before I drink another butterbeer).

The resort hotel we stayed at (Loews Portofino Bay) was really nice, and on the Universal Studios property. We were able to take a water shuttle each day (included) to Universal Studios and back. Completely removed any need for a car while we were there, and was a very cool way to get around to the attractions and restaurants.

We went to the Dallas Chocolate Festival in September. This year the event moved from Addison to the FIG in Dallas. We suspect the event had grown too large for the Addison venue -- there were close to 50 vendors sampling, displaying, and selling their chocolate confections this year. There were so many, it was difficult to sample every one. There are two local vendors especially worth trying:

Tootsie

Tootsie, our Maine Coon mix cat, did not suffer any repeats of her anal gland issues this year. We made reqular vet visits (which she really hates) to make sure these stay open and not infected. A pain (this time in her butt, although it's worth it to keep her from being "cone kitty" while an abscess heals.

She's even losing a little bit of weight -- not as much as we need her to, but any is better than none. Keeping her healthy has allowed us to keep her on her regular food and not caused us to feed her a lot of Gerber turkey baby food by hand inside her cone.

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