Dear Friends:

Welcome to our holiday website for 2018! Grab a beer, wine, or the "holiday spirit" of your choice and read about our adventures this year!

If you're even minimally observant, you know this is coming out after Christmas. Yeah, I didn't make it by Christmas. It should have come out Dec 22nd, but the files on my laptop were all lost when a disk crashed. Plus, my cat ate all my notes and the only copy I had of this letter. And she threw up on my keyboard. And then I ...

Ok, that's all bullshit. It's true that it's late, but it's really late for 3 reasons. The first was that I procrasterbated getting started on it this year. The second was our trip to Houston Dec 17 to 20 to see my sisters and nieces. (I needed those 4 days, and I worked on it a little then, but didn't make a lot of progress.) The final reason is that since I missed Christmas and now it's almost New Years, I had to retheme the entire site with new colors, new banners, and new graphics with an NYE theme, which took another day or two.

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

2018 was an unusual year for Betsy. It started out with her in bed with a fever and bronchitis and so she knew that it definitely had to improve from there. As it turned out, it was a year of transition for her. She spent much of this year really enjoying being retired from the corporate rat race but also trying to figure out what she wants to do in the future. She's struggled with what's next because she's still a bit too young to be fully retired and needs a few more years of income before being able to be completely retired all the time. However, this year has clearly shown her that she will have no problem being retired full time, because she's had plenty to keep her engaged and she hasn't been bored yet at all. In fact, this sabbatical year has been quite rewarding to her in many ways, especially since it gave her time to take care of herself, read some good books and travel with friends.

As a part of her contemplation about what she wants to be when she grows up, Betsy did give consideration to going back to the corporate world and determined that option is definitely not very appealing, especially if other options are possible. She did interview at a couple of locations, including with the City of Plano, but did not locate a position that felt like the right fit for her at this time in her life.

She has worked with a coach regarding developing her LLC, and the endless possibilities that business may focus on given her extensive background and areas of expertise. In addition, she has continued to support some clients with her SeneGence cosmetics business. 2019 will be the year for all of this to come together as the new year allows for a fresh start and her resolutions for 2019 are all focused on launching her business and actively marketing it and making it come to life! Stay tuned for more information as 2019 unfolds.

In addition to taking care of herself in 2018, she has also continued to make sure that her dad is doing okay. She checks in on him on a regular basis and he seems to be doing well, although she's seeing him slow down a bit. His doctors have indicated that he's doing well, and we expect to have him around for years to come. Since he's turning 87 in 2019, slowing down just seems to be a part of the aging process.

Ballooning in 2018 had its highs and its lows, which is somewhat fitting, I suppose, for balloons. In February, she went to Albuquerque to attend the Friends and Lovers Rally put on by the Quad A (Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association). Unfortunately, this weekend event was impacted by winds, so no flying happened. Turns out that weather would play a significant factor in ballooning activities this year, so it really was just foreshadowing. From a flight perspective, Big Red Again got a fun flight done during April and attended the Hopkins County Balloon Rally in June and the Paris Balloon Rally in July. Because of her brother's travel plans, he did not attend the Labor Day LiftOff, so instead Betsy traveled to Colorado Springs with Big Red Again, helping Joe and Sue with the drive from Texas to Colorado Springs. Needless to say that was a trip that had highs and lows within the same weekend. They managed to get flights off but on the first launch, they still had the crown line dangling rather than secured thanks to their volunteer crew. They ended up having a flat tire on the trailer on the trip home, and after getting that repaired, Betsy managed to just avoid hitting a deer crossing the road at twilight. But the real low for the year was Plano Balloon Festival getting completely rained out with 10 inches of rain and lots of flooding to the point that the entire festival was cancelled on Saturday morning.

The high point for Betsy from a ballooning perspective was going to Letchworth over Memorial Day weekend again with her friends Mike and Cindy Kelly. This year, she actually got to fly down into the gorge, do a splash into the river and ride the rapids of the Genesee before dashing off again to find a nearby field to land in. It was definitely a bucket list flight of a lifetime and one she will always remember. Check out the photos and the videos sections for photos and an in-basket ride video of this flight. She also went to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta with her brother again for 10 days in October. While she gave up her Fiesta ride to her friends Dan and Patti Shaw who were in town visiting during that time, she still had fun at the event. It was a strange year because for the first time, both EOS (II, now called Spectrum) as well as EOS (III) were flying and so she not only had to keep track of her brother Ralph, but also her adopted brother, Johnny. Luckily, she was able to tell the two balloons apart, so she never had an issue regarding which balloon to actually chase. Johnny will be getting a new envelope in the near future, so there will only be a year or two that the two identical balloons will be flying at the same time, in the same events.

Besides ballooning travels, her adventures included a trip to Chicago in March to visit her friend Jen, and to see the musical, Hamilton. She attended the SeneGence Conference in Tulsa with her friend and up-line Tara Robertson Then there was Jamaica in April and also two woman's retreats, one in Austin with her friend Beverly and her Joy Tribe and the other in Tucson with her friend Lori (www.walkwithlori.com) to the Braveheart Women's Rise conference. She and her dad also drove to Albuquerque in August to visit with her brother, and we travelled to Houston in December to spend time with Mark's sisters and nieces. When combining all of her travel, she was gone out of town about once a month. Many of her networking friends would give her a hard time about all the travel, saying that she didn't need a home cause she was always gone. Given that this was the first year that she's been able to travel without conflict, it was certainly a joy to get away on such wonderful travels. Some of these trips will be repeated in 2019, but in order to get her business launched, she will be spending more time at home base as well. Betsy hopes that you and yours have had as enjoyable of a year as she has had and wishes you the greatest blessings for a happy and healthy 2019.

Mark

So many stories to tell. So many stories that can't be told. I can say it's seemed like a year of micro successes and macro failures. Well, let's get to it.

Mark is still at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, looking forward to the possibility of retirement someday. The daily work changes, but overall the work and the process stays the same. We will be moving out of the EDS building into a newer and (to my eyes) more spartan building. HP/HPE never liked the EDS facility as it was too expensive per square foot. The new building is cheap, and well, it shows. I expect the new environment to make it almost impossible to focus on tasks, as it will be way overstimulating to the "labrador" personality where every motion, every sound, screams "squirrel" to me.

In Dallas Singles Toastmasters, Mark is again an officer, in fact both VP of Public Relations and VP of Membership right now. He has started the new Toastmasters "Pathways" program, which is the new educational program Toastmasters has rolled out this year.

Mark's health is good -- exercise and bloodwork are both improving instead of staying the same (or getting worse). He participated in the Balanced Life Challenge, a program of diet, exercise, relaxation, and sleep though his doctor in January 2018 and will do so again in 2019.

Mark's workouts this year have been all over the place, which may be good because it means a lot of variety. Here are the main highlights:

Mark sucks at weight lifting, at least without "help". He found that help in the form of pre-workout powders. Without pre-workout powders, he can barely do a 20 min weight workout. Lack of focus, no stamina, and muscle fatigue causes him to find excuses to lessen weights, skip sets, and quit early. With the pre-workouts he can do 1-1/2 to 2 hour workouts, and even after 2 hours he looks around at the equipment thinking "I can do another set of those, but's it's already been 2 hours. I should probably stop." Major difference!!!

I owe my workouts, my results, and my persistence to a few people. Thank you Corina, Kayte Rae, Jessica, Joel, and Leandro! Without you all, I would not have been as consistent, could not have been as focused, and would have given up within the first couple weeks of the LIIFT 4 program.

Mark has a continuing interest in photography and in face and body painting, and he participated in several workshops in 2018. One of the best workshops was led by an amazing painters who has been on Skinwars on the GSN network, such as Avi Ram. Also Avi's facebook. Examples of Mark's photos and bodypainting are on our photos pages.

Attending a workshop lead by Avi Ram is a bucket-list item. He is an airbrush master. He's probably better with an airbrush than with a paintbrush or pencil. I had watched him work before -- doing his entire outline in light brown with an airbrush, never touching any other "drawing" instrument. Then, his phone in hand with the image of what he's painting, he coninues to flesh out (no pun intended) the design. I've watched him change a green vest into a luminous blue. I've watched him add marvelous details at an incredibly fast pace when he gets into the zone. For him, his airbrush is just an extension of his arm, hand, and fingers. I cannot imagine being as good. But he does inspire me to be better.

Mark drove to San Antonio to support his friends Breanna Cooke and Anja Yamaji in their bid for best bodypainters at the Texas Bodypaint Competition sponsored by Beyond the Canvas. They had 6 hours with their model, Angela Reign, to create a unique work of art detaiing the artists' life and challenges. Breanna, being originally from Canada, created a canvas about her challenge reaching American citizenship, border patrols, and voting. Photos of their work with Angela are in our bodypainting photo section. Not only did they do well, they took 1st Place out of the 29 painting teams that competed. The amount of detail is astounding, and they took every seconod of those 6 hours. I watched as Breanna grabbed the setting spray during the "10-9-8-7-..." countdown, spraying the front and back all the way down to "Brushes down!".

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. Catherine will be taking the GRE very soon for grad school. We just found out that Karen's daughter Julia has selected Emory for college, which is where both of Betsy's parents went (so she is a legacy).

Mark and Betsy

We travelled to Jamaica in April, and saw our Jamerican (Jamaican/American) friends there. It was a wonderful trip as always, with lots of great food, drinks, conversations, and shenanigans with our friends. That was the only major trip that we took together. We did take a short trip to Houston just before Christmas to see Mark's family. A few pictures from that are on our photo pages, but it was a short stay, some of Mark's nieces were still having finals, coming back home, having GREs, so we didn't get a photo of everyone.

We went to the Dallas Chocolate Festival in September. The event was at the FIG in Dallas again this year. This event is getting so large that it is getting hard to see (ok, taste) it all. Trust me, we do our best! We have photos with 2 of our continuing favorites:

Mid December, we drove to Houston to spend time with Mark's sisters and nieces. We got to see everyone except Catherine, who was studying for her GRE, and Kevin who was finishing up his last work days before the holidays. Lots of good food, drinks, and conversations -- more time with all of us together than in quite a while. Photos are in our "family and friends" album.

Tootsie

Tootsie is doing ok but the leg which suffered issues because of the anal gland rupture seems to be getting worse. Perhaps it's arthritis or something unrelated -- we aren't really sure, but she seems to favor it more, and have more trouble jumping to the same height.

She has lost weight -- the first time we've had her to around 14 lbs in a while. I would love to have her lower, since it might help with her ability to jump up if she were lighter. We have to be very consistent with limiting her food to have her lose weight, and it has been paying off.

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