Monday, December 21, 2009

Olson Christmas letter 2009

Season’s greetings!

So tell me, how was your decade? That's right, 2009 is the last year of the “oughts”, the “noughties”, the “Oh-oh's”, the “Zeros”, the “Zips”, the “two-thousands” or my favourite, the “iDecade”. Our lives have changed in almost every conceivable way in the past ten years, and these changes have all been entirely positive and welcome. The one thing that hasn’t changed is our love of travel and, as usual, we spent a lot of time away from home this year.

It was a great year for beach holidays. We started the year with a week in the Dominican Republic with my Dad and Loretta at an all-inclusive resort in the Punta Cana area. We learned that it is possible to eat three gigantic meals per day and still pack in thousands of empty beer calories between feedings. This was actually the first time we’ve spent a week at an all-inclusive as we usually try to find local accommodation for rent. It was definitely a good value, but to be honest it started to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day” as one day slipped into the next and before long it was over and you couldn’t really remember actually “doing” anything, besides getting a great tan.

We made two trips to Florida, one in April to the Fort Myers area, where Ana's folks John and Maria joined us, then another trip in December to the Fort Lauderdale area with our neighbours Andrew and Jess, which was superb. While there we squeezed in a day at Disneyworld, which was...interesting. Stella loved having her photo taken with the Disney Princesses, while Magnus liked the jungle safari ride and all the kids play areas. Ana and I had to experience the joy via the children as it seemed to us that all we did for the entire day was queue up and wait. Let's just say that a single day in Disney was plenty! The weather for the beach part of the trip was a bit of bust - overcast but warm, but definitely better than the long weekend trip to Bahamas we took in November which was actually cool. To make it worse the kids were both sick so that little holiday was a bit of a bust. I guess they can’t all be zingers.

In what seems to have become an annual event, we rented a cottage for a week on Lake Huron with Ana's extended family, this time in the town of Port Franks. We have become very fond of this area of Ontario and have made numerous trips there, each time discovering something new. Like any good family event, the highlight was the drunken soccer match, with the only rule being that participants must be exceptionally unfit for physical activity and inebriated well beyond the point of feeling physical pain. The catalogue of injuries included sprained knee, broken toe, gashed leg and broken ego. We also managed to get in some quality fishing time. Ana’s cousin Glen caught a five pound catfish, which we kept and subjected to an autopsy on the cabin’s ping pong table. After an hour of exploring catfish bone structure (or lack thereof) we finally extracted several pounds of meaty fillets, which we battered, barbequed, and consumed. The taste and texture was universally declared as “better than expected” which is hardly a ringing endorsement, but hey, it’s always good to try new things.

Speaking of new things, I did my first Great Lake crossing on water this year. Our neighbour Andrew, who has been hinting all year to be mentioned in my annual Christmas letter, bought a beautiful 32 foot Sea Ray powerboat in Cleveland. We drove down there in April to pick up the boat and we piloted the boat across Lake Erie to Port Dover on the Canadian side. It was about an eight hour trip, including a quick stop to refuel in Erie, Pennsylvania, where we met some of the local crusty sea dogs. Andrew has become a sort of fixture in our home. We have this informal arrangement where we provide him with hot meals and rum and his dog with exercise and bathroom breaks, while he, as a hotel manager, gets us cheap hotel rooms. Oh, and he also helps us haul gravel and dig trenches for our yard projects, but you need to give him extra rum for that.

October and November were spent doing a massive back yard project. Where was once grass and concrete patio stones is now a backyard retreat complete with covered, brick patio, lights, music, wood burning fireplace and a large lighted deck with composite decking and a built in hot tub. It took a lot of early mornings, late nights, sore backs and heated arguments, but in the end, it turned out even better than imagined. If you happen to stop by our place, and we don’t answer the know where to find us. The best part of our projects is that we encourage visitors during the critical times so we don’t have to pay for labour. In fact, Dad and Loretta and my mom and Rick were there at different points during the project and they were put to work. Of course, Ana’s folks were an integral part of the operation, which is good for everybody because if John is not kept busy he goes berserk and starts smashing things.

We made a couple trips back to Saskatoon this year and actually spent a full week at our cabin at Fishing Lake in August. In what seems to be the theme for the year, the weather was atrocious and we spent most of the time in winter jackets. On the bright side, my aunt Tammy and her family joined us there for a few days, which was the first good visit we’ve had with them for years. The other trip to Saskatoon was back in June, when my brother Marty was also there. We spent a couple days at the lake for a ”family friendly” fishing trip in lieu of the yearly extermination mission up north. The fishing was okay, but the beautiful weather (which was practically the last nice weekend of the summer) made up for it. Both Magnus and Stella came out fishing and Magnus even caught a nice walleye! Stella was more interested in the boat ride.

This was finally the year that we made it to Las Vegas. Ana’s folks joined us and we spent a hectic, exciting, overwhelming few days there in September. I was last there over 15 years ago and the changes were amazing – everything was bigger, louder, faster and brighter. We visited most of the casinos on the strip and walked for miles each day. Ana’s folks joined us and were quite impressed, especially since you didn’t have to gamble to have fun there. Actually, in the airport while waiting for our flight home, John finally succumbed to the peer pressure and spent five dollars in the nickel slots so now he cannot honestly claim he’s never lost money to a casino!

As for the update on the kids, I found these two posting on an online kids forum that I came across:

My name is Magnus, I’m a five year old warrior living in south eastern Vinland. My preferred weapon is the short sword, but I also keep a dagger in my boot, an axe in my waistbelt and a pack of throwing stars hidden in my shirt. I know the alphabet and can count to thirty in both French and English. I am forever accompanied by my faithful legion of plastic animals, numbering in the hundreds. I like biking, throwing spears, computer games, cartoons, hot tubs and protecting my little sister.”

Stella is my name and if you don’t like it we can meet out back later. I dislike ponytails, following instructions, speaking quietly and going to bed early. I am stunningly beautiful and have a lovely collection of pink clothing and fancy shoes. I feel no physical pain though my feelings are easily hurt if I feel I’m not getting my way. I love giving hugs, headlocks and my favourite drink is milk. My best friend is my brother and if you try to hurt him you will pay. My hobbies include colouring, playing with Barbies, singing and picking scabs.”

They sound an awful lot like our kids, though I don’t know how they got so proficient with the computer. It’s the “Net” generation, I suppose.

Ana is doing very well, busy with work, busy with the house, busy hunting down the “ultimate deal” and especially busy keeping her three kids happy. Her only real hobby, besides retail warfare, is keeping up with celebrity gossip. She has become very close with her cousins since we’ve moved to Ontario and we spend a lot of time with them, usually eating, drinking and having fun, but also participating in the most ancient of Portuguese traditions; gossiping.

As for me, well, I can’t complain. I have two beautiful children, a gorgeous and perfect wife, a great home, good job, zany family and exceptional friends. Work, traveling and maintaining our real estate properties leave precious little spare time, but when I do find some I try to keep up with some writing. I have a book in progress.....slow progress, but there’s no rush. I continue to receive my five dollar weekly allowance, which I usually spend on comics. By the way, did you hear that Archie finally got married?? He chose Veronica. I always knew he would.

To finish off we wish you all health, happiness, love and a gigantic, double shot of karma for 2010!

Kris, Ana, Magnus, Stella

Monday, December 14, 2009

Paradise Island to Disney

With Christmas almost upon us we finally stopped for a breather this weekend. In the past month we've been on two trips; the first to Bahamas and the second to Florida, in our continual attempt to avoid Canadian winter..even though winter has hardly yet hit southern Ontario. We returned to the same resort we visited last year on Paradise Island in Bahamas. But this time, damn the luck, the kids both came down with a fever and cold the day we left. To sum it was a bust. Try as we might to keep jovial, the two sick kids had the upper hand and did their best to thwart all attempts at relaxation and calm. It didn't help that the weather was cool and windy, in fact, it wasn't even nice enough to spend much time in the pool. We can't blame the kids for getting sick, but since we had already paid for the accommodation there was no way we were going to stay home so we just made the best of it.

Fortunately, we did get an afternoon away at my favourite bar in the world - Hammerheads, which we followed up with conch salad and fried fish at Arawak Cay. The trip to Florida was a completely different story. The kids were back to normal and traveled like champs. We flew into Orlando and spent a day at Disneyworld with the kids then were met by our neighbours Jess and Andrew who flew in the next day, after which we drove to Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. Disney was about the last place in the world Ana or I wanted to go but Jess' mom had three tickets she didn't need which she gave to us. It was nice to go for a day to see it, but any longer would have driven me crazy. I cannot believe how people can go there for entire weeks, just not my thing I guess. It was probably the six dollar cold hot dog that turned me off. Or maybe it was the standing in lines all day long. The kids thought it was okay but I think they are still a little young to know what most of it was about. At least Stella got to have her picture taken with a princess! The place we stayed at in Pompano Beach was excellent - right on the ocean with miles of beach. My old buddy Stillman lives in the next town over so we met up with him a couple times...and finally got to meet his girlfriend, which was long overdue. Once again, though, we didn't exactly luck out with the weather. It was nice and warm, but overcast most of the time with a little bit of rain. Nevertheless, we had a great time and explored some parts of Florida that were new to us. We also did some hunting around for real estate...but didn't find anything too interesting. We're still wary of owning anything in the US due to the distance, administration and tax issues. As a final word, our big backyard project is COMPLETE and has already hosted a party or two. It turned out spectacular, if I do say so myself.... Stay tuned for my annual Christmas letter.