Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

As we end the year 2009, our entire family has just arrived in Australia, where all of us are together for only the third time this year. That's the sort of year it's been for all of us. We look back and it seems to be a blur of events - lots of travel, lots of work, lots of things to do, but hardly ever completely together. So we are all looking forward to going around Oz, where we will be celebrating Christmas and New Year all together.

Here's a brief recap of how 2009 has been for each of us.

Kuya B
Our eldest, Bryan, has been in Singapore now for more than a year, working for Societe Generale. Dennis and Tessa had the chance to see him there once each, but Tyrone outdid both of us with two visits. He and cousin Alexi flew over during the summer, and then in December, Ty accompanied Tessa to support Bryan as he completed the Singapore 42K marathon. With a 42K marathon ticked off his list, Bryan has had a good year.

2010 figures to be even better for Bryan, as he starts the year with new responsibilities at SG and a move to a better apartment in Singapore. Dennis and Tessa are already wondering if the new flat will be the party place for all the twentysomethings in the Lion City.

Tyrone got his passport stamped a few times this year. Aside from his two trips to Singapore, his Beacon Grade 8 class went on a trip to China. The rest of his year is probably a blur of Dota and other computer games, as our fourteen-year-old seems to have focused on that and just good ol' teenage fun with his cousins.

This is a picture of Ty and all of us in Bohol, one of the few times we were all together this year. Combing through all the year's photos, we realize that Ty hardly ever has a solo shot. His sister Annika says that he's an "emo," which we looked up on Wikipedia as someone "particularly emotional, sensitive, shy, introverted, or angst-ridden." Hmmm. This is deja vu, as we seem to have gone through this ten years ago with Bryan! We're confident that 2010 will be a good one for Tyrone though, as he moves to high school, Grade 9 at the new Beacon Academy in Mamplasan.

This year was Annika's CISV year, as she accompanied other 11-year-olds to their summer camp in France. After that month away from home, she has become more and more outgoing, and recently joined a softball team. Between her ongoing CISV activities, her softball games and her sleepovers with her cousins, it's difficult to find quality time with our growing little girl, but Dennis and Tessa both like it that she never fails to leave for school without popping in to our bedroom to give us goodbye kisses.

It's been an activity-filled year for Annika, with trips to China with her lola and a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland with Athena as well. We both know that 2010 will be even more busy for her, as she enters Grade 6 at the Assumption.

It must be great when the highlight of your year is that you get a photo with Minnie Mouse. But 2009 has been more than that to Athena. Our four-year-old started kindergarten at the Assumption this year, looking great in her red plaid skirt. Like her siblings, she has a full schedule, with her own playmates and classmates. She's learning so many things every day, so it's been amazing to watch her grow up this year.

For Dennis, the highlight of the year was our 15th Wedding Anniversary, which we celebrated at the Manila Ocean Park. This year there were few moments to just kick back and do nothing, as work has been very full as PhilWeb continues to expand. As a result, golf had to go as there are no longer any four-hour breaks in his schedule. On the good side, he has been able to keep up his Pilates and underwater hockey games, which allow him to de-stress.

Dennis is looking forward to 2010, having recently moved to new offices at Southgate Towers in Magallanes. The new digs have a new energy to it, not to mention a great sunset view every day.

Tessa's year, as always, has been a whirlwind, with such diverse activities as scuba diving in Tubbataha with Tita Mary on the Oceana Maria Scuba to traipsing through Thailand with Tim Yap and a bevy of beauties to filming her QTV program, House Life, and guest judging on GMA's Celebrity Duets. Of course, also high on her list were her various charities, especially the Red Cross, for which she did a fabulous fundraiser starring designer Dennis Lustico.

Despite all the demands of her varied social calendar, Tessa did find a lot more time for the kids this year, taking them on various trips to Boracay, Camsur and even the brand new Misibis Bay Resort off Legaspi City. Her personal highlight for the year though is finishing the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in Camsur, which entailed doing a 1.9k swim, 90k bike and 21k run in under eight hours. She finished with just minutes to spare and still garnered third place in her age category. Dennis says it is scary to think what she will do to top that in 2010.

Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008! [Oops, It's January. Sorry this is late!]

OK, we know it's already 2009, but we can't let go of 2008 without giving some thanks for the truly incredible year our family has had. And it truly was a filled and blessed year for us, which is also our way of explaining why this blog update is so late.

The overriding theme of the entire 2008 for our family is one of bonding. Throughout the many months, despite the pressures of work, social events or school (as the cases may be), we seem to have found time to be with one another, whether on the Valdes side clowning around in our Santa hats or in more formal gear on the Prieto side.

On our own too, we were lucky to carve out trips for ourselves, starting with Easter in Oz, where Ty, Annika and Dennis took surfing lessons and the rest just enjoyed the brilliant sunshine. It's the first time Tessa and Dennis have gone to Australia and not hit a golf ball even once.

But as the kids grow up (too fast!), we find that hanging out with them is far more rewarding. Besides, isn't the beach just like one big sand trap? It's amazing how much more we seem to interact with one another when a half day for a round of golf isn't part of the plan.

We also had many chances to bond in smaller subsets. Annika turned ten and had a major dance party, thanks to Mommy's planning and execution. Tessa needs very little excuse to throw a party and Daddy has learned that the best thing to do when this happens is to just stay out of the planning.

Tyrone and Dennis spent a week scuba diving in Coron, Palawan, during their annual father-son trip. Coron is still fairly undeveloped, where the term resort doesn't imply air conditioning or massages on the beach, i.e., Mommy may not like it. But diving inside a Japanese warship is an adventure for a 12-year-old boy whose major complaint was that in between dives, he couldn't log on to the web.

Perhaps the one thread that kept the bonding going throughout the year though, was Tessa's quest to finish the New York Marathon in November. A 42K run demands a year of training and as part of the run-up, she convinced Dennis and his brother, Robin, to join the O3 Triathlon with her in August. As Tessa only needed to do the 30K run, Dennis would start the 4K swim and then Robin would do the 120K bike. The big joke, of course, was that if Dennis didn't complete the swim, what would happen? With a lot of hard work, our team ended up third among the relay teams in the event, so we got our Olympic medal-biting moment in.

By November, Tessa was fully prepped and finished her first marathon in 5:27. OK, it's not as fast as Oprah, but then again the Sea Princess wasn't gunning for any records. Our family celebrity did make it to the front page, not of the Inquirer, but oddly enough of the rival Manila Standard Today. Tessa is now struggling with whether to continue her running career or add it to her been-there-done-that checklist and move on.

Another fun bonding moment was when the Valdes Family battled the Aguilar Family on Family Feud in late November. Beauty queen Carlene and her family got to 299-0, a point shy of winning, but we regrouped to win the prize for the day despite some memorable lapses. (Q: Anong pagkain ang mabaho? A: Tae!) The Valdeses quickly donated our win to the budget for the our parents 50th wedding anniversary on December 27.

Jess and Cynthia's golden day included a tango performance by the three Valdes boys and their better halves. Over a hundred people showed up at the Forbes Park Pavilion, which none of the three boys had imagined possible, given the RSVP's. (Mental note: your parents are popular and people will go to their parties!) It was a great chance to reconnect with so many relatives and friends that we haven't seen over the years, from our Bacolod days even!

We capped off the year with a complete family trip to Japan, sans yaya Juvy and including Jeanine Buenaventura, Bryan's girlfriend of three years. (His very well written contribution to this blog is on the next page.) It's amazing to see how huge the twenty-year gap is between our eldest and youngest children. But as we traveled around by shinkansen and moved from hotel to hotel, Tessa and Dennis are also very proud of what each of their kids is growing up into, whether it is one taking his first steps in the business world or one making her first forays in her childhood or two at all the different stages in between.

With all of us having had such a wonderful 2008, we can only hope that you, too, had a great year and that 2009 brings more of the same for all of us. Happy New Year!