Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fabulous Family Fun!

Ridiculous.  That's what we kept saying all week.  Everything was ridiculously fantastic.

Our 8 days on the Big Island of Hawaii with Brad's company trip (Valve Software) had it all.  First and foremost, the five of us were together.  Throw in opulent accommodations at the Fairmount Orchid, loads of extras care of one of the most incredible companies I've ever heard of....and well, it was ridiculous!
Everyday we received an agenda of events we could participate in.
Valve thought of EVERYTHING.  There were two games rooms --- one for teens and one for younger kids.  Both had video games (of course!!), air hockey, games, and refreshments.
Magnus and Roger (aka RaRa) playing air hockey

The 3 boys playing video games
There was also a Hospitality Suite -- complete with a candy buffet, granola bars, fresh fruit, iced Kona coffee and a photo booth!

Playing in the sand in 2017.....

....and in 1987.


Every afternoon, games were set up for the kids on the lawn near the pool.  There was a "snack of the day" that was always a hit with everyone.


On April 2nd I reached a big milestone birthday and turned 60.  It was fantastic being with those I love the most and I will never forget it.  I jokingly said that Gabe (Valve's co-founder and President) threw me a Luau for my 60th -- it was another spectacular event with more than 700 people attending!
We started the celebration with cocktails that were a treat from my
brother Russ and his wife Margaret who coordinated with Brad to arrange it all.
Leis....Mai Tais....Yes and Mahalo to everything!
The dinner was amazing and then the kids were taken away for a crash course in hula dancing before coming on stage to entertain.  There's little Magnus in the back row intently following the leader.

























Gorgeous sunsets were a nightly occurrence
I remember my first helicopter ride was when I was 9 and my dad, brother and I went over the badlands of South Dakota and it was thrilling.  Since then, I've been a few more times and lucky enough to fly over Victoria Falls in Zambia with Brad, Anette and Roger, then over Uluru at sunrise in Australia with Roger.  We just couldn't pass up this opportunity to fly over the Big Island and to see the volcano with our family.  And seeing it through Magnus' eyes just made a great experience even better.

The last time I was near a helicopter it was the LifeFlight taking Roger to hospital.  That was a matter of life and death.  This trip was all about life.
Anette and Magnus were beside the pilot --- love this picture!

My usual poker face.

Kilauea Volcano has been erupting since 1983 - a year after Brad and Anette were born!

A lava tube flowing into the ocean

Love that man.  He's given me so many opportunities to test myself and embrace the unknown...and to seek out adventures.
We had a "ridiculous" suite with Brad, Anette and Magnus:  2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, living room, dining room, 3 lanais....It gave us lots of opportunity to be together and we spent a lot of time laughing.

The beautiful beach area.  The quiet bay had lots of fish swimming in gorgeous coral, and there were huge turtles just past the breakwater that we had the privilege of swimming near
We had another fun "Magnus Day" while Brad and Anette were in a Valve golf tournament.  We went to a Seahorse Farm near Kona and it was a real highlight of the trip.  There, the 3 of us learned about seahorses and saw how they are being raised from wee little specs to some that are well over 6 inches long.  The best part was at the end of the tour when we all had a chance to hold one.  Magnus listened very carefully on how to do it, and he did a great job.
By touching fingertips together, the seahorses could curl their tails around our fingers.  A very special experience.

Magnus watching RaRa holding a seahorse

Crystal clear water.  Magnus is a true water baby and loved every minute in the water.
Anette took out a paddle boat and Magnus happily hopped on and off and even did a couple of yoga poses!

The black lava was a stunning contrast to the blue ocean

We played a LOT of Old Maid! 

My boys.

It's all fun.

Hanging loose with Anette.  So much fun.
Magnus being a cowboy and having a ball as he bucked on a floating bull!

Our last night dinner together
So what kind of company would fly 400 employees and their families, and enable extended family and friends to take part in many of the perks and activities?  Here are some fun Valve facts:

  • Number years Valve has existed:  20 
  • Number of full time employees:  342
  • Number of games Valve has shipped:  27
  • Duration of player hours of all Dota 2 (one their most popular games) matches played last year: 3.57 billion
  • Approximate number of hours that have passed since humans first appeared on Earth:  1.75 billion
  • Number of CS:GO players per month:  11.1 million
  • Number of employees and spouses participating in Valve's in-house personal training program:  245
The Valve Hawaii handbook included a note to spouses:  "This is not a normal business trip.  It is a vacation.  If your Valve employee is spending too much time (say...thirty seconds!) talking "shop" in front of you when you'd rather be building a sand castle shaped like Barack Obama's head, or drink 7 Mai Tais, or do literally anything else --- report them to the nearest Valve Vacation Compliance Officer."

There are many reasons Valve is so successful and attracts talented and passionate people to work there. They just really get it, and Roger and I are so happy and proud that Brad's hard work has led him there.




It was a truly ridiculous week, but oh, so very happy being with my amazing family.  We can't thank Brad and Anette for letting us join them on this trip.

My 50's were full of adventure, and I expect my 60's will be absolutely sensational.  Bring it on.

"If you never did you should.  These things are fun and fun is good."
                     
                                                                            Dr. Seuss







Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Goodbye Winter....Hellooooo Sunshine!

Everyone is talking about it.  The weather.  More specifically - the unending snowstorms and cold weather that has hit Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest.

When we moved to the Island, I signed up and prepared for rain.  For the first two winters I smugly wore my raincoat while friends and family wore parkas in Alberta.  The joke was on me when the first huge snowfall hit in early December, and it took me five days to find a store that even had a shovel!

Whether it was a premonition of things to come or simply the desire to return to Belize and reconnect with old friends while soaking up the sun, we booked a winter holiday months before the first snowflake fell.

It has been 6 years since we were in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, and we saw how some things were just as we left it, but in other ways we saw that time did not stand still.

Flying into San Pedro with the reef in the distance

Roger walking along "The Cut" and looking at the toll bridge that connects the south part of the island with the newly developed north part of the island.

In 2003, there was a hand pulled ferry to take people across The Cut.
The north side of the island has seen the most development with large condos (but still no big chains and the highest building is 4 stories).  One of the newest places to grab a beer and bite to eat is the "Truck Stop".  With our rental golf cart, we stopped there a couple of times for delicious lunches.



We had 6 weeks of beautiful blue skies
Belize was hit by Hurricane Earl on August 4, 2016.  Every dock on the east side of the island where all the resorts are located were destroyed.  The majority of docks were rebuilt by the Christmas high season as a testament to the importance of tourism on the island.
Damaged dock

Another damaged dock
The best thing about Belize is the people we've met over the years.  Many we met in 2003 continue to be dear friends, and we reconnected this year like we had just seen each other.  They come from a wide range of backgrounds, interests and experiences.  They are like a mosaic, or a patchwork quilt and knowing them enriches our lives.

In 2003 we stayed at the Corona del Mar for about 5 months.  There, we met Frank, the hotel's handyman and all around great guy.  To say his life has not been easy would be an understatement, but he is one of the most positive people we've ever met.  He may not be able to read or write, but he can do anything that needs to be done. If you check out the hotel on Trip Advisor - you will read how much the guests appreciate him.  
Frank and Roger have always had a great bond and enjoy sharing a beer and playing horseshoes

Roger and Frank in 2006
On our first trip to Belize, we met Sara and Bob Morris from Chrisman, Illinois. They had come 30 years before with their 3 kids when they took a mystery trip with a travel club.  On the island they are known as Sarita and Dr. Bob (he is a retired vet)  and both have made a huge impact.  

The first time we saw them, they were 70 years old and walked by us in their wet suits as they jumped on a boat to go scuba diving.  Sara and Bob became role models to us.  They were the first people we met who had an adventurous spirit and it gave us the confidence to find our own path as we looked for adventure.  They are revered...they are respected....and they are loved.

We spent many hours chatting while we were in Belize this year

Sara and Bob love to dance - especially  to the music of the island's popular duo, Will and Dale who play at Ramon's.
Roger gave in and agreed to do his "one dance a year" quota.  Guess that's it for 2017.


Bob and Sara dancing in 2006
Bob and Sara used to own a charming cottage on the beach.  They sold it in 2007 but before that, their porch was "the" place to be.
Christmas Day 2003
Some of Sara and Bob's family were visiting, and Anette and Brad were there too
Sadly, their cottage has been bought and sold a couple of times, but has not been cared for.  
We were invited to Ken and Jenny Osterman's house one Sunday where we were joined with David and MaryAnn Wine.  There, we learned how to make shrimp fried rice from the daughter of the woman who used to own and cook at the Jade Garden restaurant.  I doubt if I can replicate it, but it was absolutely delicious and a lot of fun.

Left to right:  Ken, Jenny, Roger, David and MaryAnn

Sara and Bob hosted a wonderful cocktail party so their friends could meet their son, Bobby, his two kids Matt and Jennifer, and Matt's girlfriend, Ally who were visiting for a few days.
Sara and MaryAnn sharing a laugh with Lucky the one eyed cat
Sadly, Lucky was hit by a vehicle just a couple of weeks after the party, and had to be euthanized.
Roger kept active working out at a gym several times a week, and I participated in aquasize classes at the same club.  When the pool turned a nasty green, a few of us decided to run our own class in the Yacht Club's pool.
Left to right:  Heather, MaryAnn, Sara and Vonni
Roger loves to fish, and went out a couple of times -- catching everything from an abundance of snapper to a shark!

Jenny and Burrell Wolsey from DeWinton, Alberta are long time friends

Burrell and Roger caught a huge number of snapper that the captain filleted for us.  Delicioso!
On another fishing expedition, Roger caught a 3-4 foot shark, and the first mate caught a 5 foot one.  The larger one was donated to the high school for their lunch program, and the captain and first mate shared the one Roger caught.  Catching a shark was definitely a first for Roger!

The first mate throwing out a net to catch bait
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the two main activities on Ambergris Caye.  This year we bought new full face snorkeling masks and loved how comfortable they are despite making us look like we are aliens.


In addition to snorkeling at the end of the Yacht Club's dock, we went to the popular Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Park.  There was a great variety of fish and we saw: moray eels, stingrays, parrot fish, lion fish, groupers, sharks, hard sided jacks, angel fish....and so much more.

It's always an adrenaline rush being close to sharks - even if they are relatively harmless nurse sharks.  The guide chummed the water, and while I was in the water they went into a feeding frenzy.  They were much larger than the last time I snorkeled there --- some were 10 ft long.  It was exciting and it felt good not to be scared.  

Sharks in a feeding frenzy.
I had to try not to bump into them as the guide warned getting close to their mouths might get us bitten.


Hanging out on the dock.  Life is good.

We tried to eat healthy meals so BBQ'd often.  This feast of lobster tails and grilled vegetables was a favorite.

My favorite time of the day was having a cup of coffee on our patio watching the sun rise.  
It was a glorious six weeks of not wondering if it was going to snow and if the roads were treacherous.  We reconnected with old friends and made a few new ones.  We experienced good and not so good changes in a place that served as our launch pad to adventure and it was like re-reading a favorite book to go back as we plan where to explore next.

As it turns out, we don't have long to wait for our next trip and our mantra,"Seize the Day" is repeated.  Brad and Anette asked if we'd like to join them and Magnus on Valve's annual employee trip to Hawaii in late March.  Hell yes, we'd love to go!  We are staying at the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island and plan on taking a helicopter ride to see an active volcano, snorkel with turtles and have fun as a family.

Just try to wipe the smile off my face.

"A good life is a series of happy moments."
                                                                      Denis Waitley