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Merry Martinez Christmas Card & Annual Letter

With the passing of another year, it’s my favorite time to reflect and capture some the highlights of the year.

Sharing blessings begets more blessings – so since my mailing list has limits, but my blog does not, l’d love to share our Merry Martinez Christmas Card and Annual Letter.

So, from our heart and home to yours…. 

Martinez Christmas Card

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
– Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Dear friends, family, and CDOW community,

This time we ushered in the New Year differently. Coming from a South Texas Christmas enjoyed with Mike’s family, we took a couple of days for a planning retreat in a place we had talked about for years, Fredericksburg. The Old Rectory was the name of our Texas Hill Country B&B, which served as the inspiring ambiance for partners in life and business to begin the work of 2014. Enchanted Rock was the perfect nature escape on our way back to Dallas, right before some Cooper’s BBQ. Yes, Texans love old time pit barbecue.

We whisper prayers, some for years and others only once, never knowing what form the outcome will actually take. “Expand our territory, Lord,” Lisa prayed. Within a couple of weeks, by no effort on our part, our small business was in discussions with two international organizations — one in Rome and one in Southern Arabia. With only illuvint’s logo stuck on our landing page, in February we submitted our first international bid to work with the Catholic Church in Oman, Yemen, and UAE. In April, we were officially awarded the bid for their rebranding project! This has also fulfilled Lisa’s (Tolkien geek) dream to speak to a Gandalf in real life, as that is the name of the Capuchin Priest that serves as the Bishop’s Secretary.

Another great blessing came on the feast of the Assumption, March 25th, in Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nicole, a dear Canadian friend and former roomie from Lisa’s Ave Maria College working days, married her long-awaited Helpmate, Brian. With a rescheduled business trip planned in Virginia a few days later, Lisa trekked solo to the Nuptials in the Great White North; but was warmly welcomed by gracious friends of the couple. The wedding was a beautiful celebration, born out of the community truly pulling together for the Newlyweds. Thankfully, new friends Mark, Maria, and Luke did not mind their houseguest crashing for a few extra days when Lisa’s flight got cancelled on account of getting snowed in.

It was rough…eating Lobster and making Snow Angels with little Luke, but such is life. What a joy, to celebrate marriage and make new friends!

illuvint’s team went through an expansion this year as well. We brought on new partners to collaborate with us, and are grateful for the ways that Monica Hildebrand, John Clem, Erika Higgins, Gerry Whitney, and our first intern — Maddie Stigler, enriched our lives and business. Joining with a startup is not an easy task, so we are grateful for them, and our original partners who have labored alongside us in this digital effort. We were particularly tickled to finally launch our company website in June, illuvint.com!

June brought our 3rd Wedding Anniversary and a few Graduation celebrations – including Simon, Mike’s Godson. His parents, our dear friends Trish and Joseph, had been planning his Graduation present for 3 years, and we were honored to be a part of it. A small group of us hiked up Pike’s Peak in August, inspired by the transformation – physical and otherwise – of our friends. You can read all about this amazing journey at: Joseph’s blog, www.fourteenthousandonehundredten.com, and at CatholicTourist.com where Lisa Hendey featured Lisa Martinez’s travel blogs. That incredible three-week trip included Pike’s Peak, Telluride, Las Cruces (NM), Alpine + other West Texas towns with great friends.

Back in July, Lisa traveled to be with her Dad in Florida during the first of what turned out to be a series of leg surgeries to clean out his veins. That gave a great excuse to leave a day early to spend the night with her brother, Jeff, Annette & kids — vacationing at Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando. Dad pulled through the surgery like a champ, and Lisa was grateful to visit with two of her Uncles who had been very ill. Congrats to Mike who started a new position at Experian at that time, in Information Risk Management. We also enjoyed a visit from our old friend, Sugar, and crew.

After 7-years in Texas, Lisa finally attended the State Fair of Texas with Mike in September. They enjoyed all things fried (including the renown Corny Dog), watching the Hog Races, and Mike nailed the Ford Fusion car simulator like a boss. The following week, Mike was thrilled that one of his favorite musicians, Scottish singer/songwriter Justin Currie’s tour brought him here, so we enjoyed that intimate show at the Kessler Theater.

October was busy. A highlight of that month was to reconnect with some good friends back in Dallas at the UD Ministry Conference. Some important brainstorming meetings happened there, and there are some grand future visions that we’re drilling down behind the scenes. As partners in life and work, we’ve been deeply discerning some big next steps in life and business – 2015 should be quite a ride!

November brought more road tripping. Lisa joined colleague/friend, Monica, at a Healing Retreat in Georgetown; Mike joined buddies, Tim and Bill, for a guys weekend in Austin. Afterwards we relished a few days with our cousins, Thomas and Claudia, and met with an Austin realtor to discuss possible surrounding areas to relocate next year, God-willing.

From Austin, we roadtripped to New Orleans. There, we finally met Holly & John, our clients/friends, and their fab group of San Diegans for two great celebrations: The launch of Holly’s new company wickednot.com, that we’ve supported since meeting through mutual friend/Co-Founder Tim Foley; AND John Carney’s (a 23-year NFL kicker) induction in the Saints Hall of Fame. The spectacular events, fun, and new friendships formed will always be remembered fondly. From NOLA we trekked 11 hours to San Benito, Texas, to spend Thanksgiving with family and visit Mike’s Uncle, in critical condition in the ICU. Thankfully we were able to share time with family during very precious hours.

WOW, what a year 2014 has been!

Thanks, and a special blessing to all of you who have been a part of it in one way or another! Merry Christmas!


Mike & Lisa

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His Presence.” (unknown)

©2014 Lisa Martinez, Christmas card design + letter, which appeared first here at closeddoorsopenwindows.wordpress.com

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Road Trip Tales and Tips

Traveling together is a very bonding experience, especially on a road trip. This Thanksgiving, with our nephew visiting from South Texas, we made a last minute decision to surprise him with a roughly 3,000 mile road trip over 8-days to spend the holidays with my Florida family.

Road Trip

Here’s some Road Trip highlights and travel tips from Texas to Florida:

On November 23rd, we departed Dallas towards our first stop — New Orleans, Louisiana.
It’s always a challenge to get out the door at a reasonable time, so it was a bit after noon before the wheels (which we had to fill with air) started to roll towards the Big Easy.

From road trips of long ago with my Cajun friends, we always stop at the French Market Express, on University Pkwy, in Natchitoches for Gas and a little fried treat or sweet.

Travel tip: Natchitoches is known for their Meat Pies, which you can pick up at this stop while getting a fill up and making a potty stop.

We arrived in NOLA after about 8 1/2 hours of travel. Our accommodations were at the Hilton Garden Inn on South St. Peter’s Street.

Travel tip: Staying downtown New Orleans is always more expensive, so I use Hotwire to get a better deal. I check all the travel sites, and usually Hotwire is the best – although you never know exactly where you are staying until you book it. But this Hilton ended up in a pretty good location and is nice – even has Sleep Number Beds – but the parking stinks (like always is my experience anywhere in New Orleans). There’s no self-parking, so they have Valet parking for a whopping $30/night (+ tax & tip). But, another hot tip, you can opt for the garage a block over for $10/night.

Our nephew wanted to see the Pay-Preview Boxing match that night. It was really hard to find it playing anywhere, let alone a place with good Gumbo like my Hubs wanted. So we decided to eat somewhere first, then the guys could go catch the fight somewhere and my weary bones could relax back in the room.

My husband loves Poutine, Canadian “gravy fries”, a delicacy we’ve not had in the States before. I found a restaurant there that actually serves it — Capdeville, which must be named after the street where it is located. We went there for dinner, but alas they don’t serve traditional Cajun/Creole food like the Hubs was craving.

poutine capdeville

A Burger connoisseur, I urged him to try one of their beef patty entrees. Set on Gumbo he almost didn’t, but reluctantly ordered the Capdeville Burger –with just lettuce, fried onions, and pickles. Surprised at how incredible it ended up being, it now sits at his highly ranked #2 all-time Burgers.

Capdeville Burger

They dropped me back at the Hotel after dinner and the guys headed out to Rick’s Saloon for the fight. Unfortunately, by the time they got there, the fight was just ending. So they watched the highlights and headed down to Bourbon Street for the experience of it.

Since a road trip two years ago, my Hubby loves his Corned Beef Hash, Eggs, & Grits breakfast at the Gumbo Pot restaurant. Here’s a shot of my breakfast a la Gumbo Pot.

Gumbo Pot Breakfast

After that, he goes to get his coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde. The to-go line was really long that Sunday morning, so while we waited, my Nephew and I tooled around.

Cafe du Monde Beignets

In the courtyard of St. Charles Cathedral, we met some girls from Austin that wanted their picture taken mid-air while jumping in front of the beautiful Church. Afterwards they told us we needed to do the same. When in Rome…

St Charles Cathedral New Orleans

While waiting we caught a little show of entertaining guys. One of them even flip-jumped over 6 people kneeling on the ground! See him mid-air here:

New Orleans Entertainment

We got an even later start from NOLA, (which, I’ll admit, I was expressive about my dislike of that) and we still had about 10 more hours until we reached my Dad’s. But, traveling with others does require give-and-take, right?!

Travel Tip: Using Smart phone apps is very helpful when on the road. I almost always look up “nearby” restaurants on Urbanspoon. This time I found a “Five Guys” coming up in Killearn, FL, and with the Five Guys App I was able to order and pay for our dinner before we even arrived – talk about convenient when traveling!!

Five Guys Burger App

We arrived after midnight at my Dad’s Florida home, tucked away in a gated Retirement community. We had traveled 2 days and 1,086 miles by that point.

At my Dad’s, my Hubs still had 2 days of work to put in remotely. I also did work (see my office with a view below), while my Nephew got to ride around with my Dad to see the area and later drove Dad’s Golf Cart around himself.

The Villages Florida

I loaded up on 2 days worth of groceries. We ate well: Day #1: Tacos; Day #2: My Nephew grilled Marinaded Chicken and Corn on the Cob, with baked Sweet Potatoes.

Grilling in the Villages

We departed around noon from mid Florida to go further south, past Miami, to my brother’s home to celebrate Thanksgiving. Florida has some really nice rest areas, so when we stopped for a bathroom break, we grabbed some Wendy’s.

Since we tried Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in Ft. Lauderdale a year and a half ago, my Hubs has searched high and low for something similar – to no avail. So that’s where we ended up for a delicious family-style dinner with 8 of us now in tow.

Anthony Coal Fired Pizza Ft Lauderdale

Thanksgiving was that perfect mix of all good holiday things: Savory dishes that many hands lovingly prepared, desserts, thankfulness expressed while holding hands in prayer, Tropical Sanchez’s (my bro’s signature drink), calls to out-of-state family, Basketball, movies, cigars, and memory-making with family.

Turkey Cooked With Bacon

Pumpkin Pies Pumpkin Log RollsThanksgiving Dinner Hollywood FloridaBasketballCigar smoking outdoorsIMG_9302

On Friday the 29th we set out for a change of scenery. But before leaving the Hollywood area, my Nephew needed to experience some good Cuban food. We went to Las Vegas for a big old lunch.

Las Vegas Hollywood Florida

We also couldn’t leave without him getting an eyeful of the daytime Atlantic Ocean view – even if it was windy and cool for South Florida.

Dad Omar Mike Beach Sanchez Kids Beach Hollywood Florida Beach

Then we were off across “Alligator Alley” to Ft. Myers. We showed up early evening at the Edison & Henry Ford Summer Estates for the Christmas tree lighting. Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan with the Henry Ford, it was interesting to see the summer recreation side of such geniuses.

Palm Trees with Christmas LightsFlorida Sunset BeachEdison Summer EstateHenry Ford Summer EstateMike and Lisa

Afterwards, we enjoyed a hot meal at Cracker Barrel. It’s always fun to shop in their little country store as well – we all walked out of there with a little something.

It took 3 hours and 15 minutes to get back to Dad’s home. There we grabbed a quick night’s sleep, before our morning departure.

Family in the Villages Florida

Trip home, Day #1: Lady Lake, Florida to Jackson, Mississippi.

We ate a steady artery-hardening fast-food diet that day; but, might I add that the Whataburger in Crestview, Florida was the nicest one I’ve ever been to, and very friendly too.

Travel tip: The Country Inn & Suites in Jackson, MS was a disappointment. They are undergoing a renovation – so the pool, hot tub & exercise room were all under construction simultaneously. The carpet in our room looked like a tractor had parked there, and there was a bug in the Bathroom. I wouldn’t consider that property 3 stars; but it was quiet, and we slept OK, so we made it through.

Trip home, Day #2: Jackson, Mississippi to Dallas, Texas.

Driving to Mass, we saw one of the oddest post-accident car scenes ever. One of the hit cars was stuck in reverse, looping around backwards in a perfect circle with no one driving or even in the car. Bizarro.

We started Advent with 10:30 am Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral – a beautiful Church, rich in history. For my stained-glass loving Hubby, he snapped a bunch of pictures at this Church.

St Peters Cathedral Jackson

Travel tip: I use my Mass Time App, by theCatholicDirectory.com, to find nearby Churches, check their Mass schedule, and get directions.

We asked some of the locals where to find a proper lunch. A friendly local directed us to the Piccadilly Cafe, but that seemed to be everyone’s idea as well – the line was tremendous. So, I got on my Urbanspoon and found the Broadstreet Baking Company & Cafe. They had fresh baked breads, a tempting dessert counter, and many locals enjoying a Sunday brunch there. My Hubs loves his Espresso, so I was glad to hear that their coffee was delicious, as I savored delving into my first Croque Monsieur.

Croque Monsieur

We were on the last stretch of road home around 1:00 pm. Things were smooth sailing until we hit the final 2 hours on I-20. There were 3 car accidents during that time, but my Hubby used smart navigating to save us some time.

Travel tip: My Hubs loves the “Waze” Social GPS, Maps, & Traffic App. Drivers keep other drivers informed on the roads, from accidents to speed traps, it gives you some useful info to help make your trip go smoother.

Our last stop before home was in Canton, Texas. We like to Gas up and grab some grub in the final stretch.

Travel tip: Duke’s Travel Plaza in Canton, just off I-20, is a nice stop. The Bar-B-Q is pretty good, and you can get a family dinner there with 2 lbs of meat and some sides for around $25.00.

We spent about 7 1/2 hours on the road today, and are finally enjoying the comfort of home. This Texas to Florida road trip was about 3,000 miles, filled with family, and more memories than calories if that is possible. Glad we got to surprise our Nephew, who has never really left Texas, with such a great adventure. Most of the time, he had no idea where we were going. Great fun, but as always, nothing like being home!

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90 Years: Celebrating The Life of Our Matriarch

The head of our Hungarian clan, my Grandmother, Helen, is NINETY years old today!!! WOO HOO! My Aunts have said that they couldn’t let this major accomplishment slide by quietly, and so have planned a nice celebration in her honor back near my hometown in Michigan.

90 year old Grandma

As we’ve grown and married, most of her Grandchildren have moved away from Michigan. Knowing how difficult it is for all of us to make the trip, besides Grandma never wanting to cause a fuss, my Auntie approached me with a request: Could I compile and edit a video of Birthday wishes from the out-of-state family members that would do it? I accepted, under the condition that I’d get all the videos a month out to be able to work at it as time allowed — yeah right! I did get Grandma’s DVD finalized in time – never you mind if I was burning the disc on my laptop (which had conveniently crashed) in the passenger seat as I slid into UPS, 2 minutes to close with the truck leaving. That’s what they designed 2nd-Day Air for people!

There’s a good cross-section of us out-of-staters represented in the final production. One of the things that I loved while working on the editing is that each clip so classically embodies each family. The beginning always makes me laugh, as it just so Grandma. Shortly after her 89th birthday, my Hubs and I visited and shot some home movies where we interviewed her for posterity’s sake. Good thing about Grandma – you never have to guess what she’s thinking, she’ll let you know. For real. She used to tell me:

I hope you get married before I die.

And I would respond,

I’m purposely holding out so that you will live longer.

Suffice it to say she lived to see me dance at my wedding, which not even my Mom (her daughter) had been able to do. Some may say she’s a tough ol’ Bird, but she’ll tell you that God must still have some mission for her.

Here’s a snapshot into my wonderfully talented and quirky family – wishing a happy 90th Birthday to our Matriarch! For those who hold out, there’s a bonus at the end.

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Double the Birthday Fun!

It was a beautiful South Florida day, round about 11 years ago—if my memory serves me correctly. My SIL was at her OBGYN appointment, checking up on the progress of her pregnancy. I was in-town, exhibiting at a conference in Miami, so had just left my brother & SILs home in a neighboring city.

Sitting in a restaurant, alone on a quick break to eat, a phone call from my brother came as a happy diversion. They had just gotten a Sonogram done, and his voice was full of joy and wonder.

“You’re going to be an Aunt……….TWICE!”

I’m sure he could hear my huge grin through the phone. “I know! Alyssa (the 4-yo at the time) and then now! YAY!”

“NO, no!” He replied. “It’s TWO. We are having twins! A boy and a girl!”

What. Just. Happened?

I must have been so incredibly caught up in that moment, in laughter and awe, you know…I have no recollection as to what I said next!

Fast forward to 2013, and here it is, their birthday!  And, as their proud Aunt, they still fill my life and many others with so much laughter and awe.

With Grandpa

Mr Eyebrows Sad Face

Little With Great Love

Triple trouble

My, how you’ve grown from what appears to be one the oldest pics of I can find on my computer now of you, Birthday Babies!

This one is with your Grandma, who is sending you hugs and kisses from Heaven, I just know it!

Family at Christmas

Even though we miles away, we wanted to say Happy Birthday, kiddos!  Enjoy the day that brought you not only into our family, but into our hearts!


Your Aunt + Uncle

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Hometown Visit for Grandma

My husband had been saying for the past few months, with me nodding in agreement, that we really needed to plan a visit to see my Grandmother back in Michigan.  Our only surviving Grandparent–who just celebrated her 89th birthday in October–we were convinced that the ability to visit with our family’s Matriarch is not something that should be taken for granted.  Then a couple weeks ago, my Aunt informed us that Grandma had been to the ER three times in the past three weeks with vey high blood pressure – which we later learned were spikes resulting from her Parkinsons, followed up by 1 to 2 mini strokes.

Upon receiving the news, I immediately asked my Hubby, “When are we going to go and visit Grandma?”

“In two weeks,” Mike responded on our way back from a wedding in Louisiana.  His answer likely would’ve been sooner, had he not been leaving for a week long business trip in California the following day, and I preparing to work a weekend conference in Dallas.

It had been two years since our last trip to Michigan, and that was amidst a whirlwind of a wedding and introducing Mike to as many family and friends that could be squeezed in over a few short days. Since Grandma was the reason for this trip, it had a very different pace due to that purpose. Between Grandma visits, it was a blessing that reconnections worked out with just a few family members and old friends that we weren’t able to see either during our last visit to MI or at our wedding.  In fact, I got to meet a couple of friend’s kiddos that I’d only seen pictures of, and visit with a couple of dear childhood friends that I hadn’t seen in decades.  Wow — I suddenly feel old!  Wish we could’ve seen everyone we wanted to, but it’s never possible with quick planning and short visits…boo…

We were also excited that we could put the new camera that we scored recently, especially for business purposes (thank you Ritz/Wolf Camera, and sorry it was on account of your going-out-of-business sale), the Sony a77.  The more that we use it, the more we learn, and enjoy the benefits of a phat D-SLR camera that we’ve been dreaming of for years! Yes, this is far cry from my original Canon Sure Shot that I toted around Europe in 1997, featuring the world’s slowest shutter – HA!  Besides our Sony’s slick photos (24.3 megapixels) – the highlights of which I’m posting here (along with few iPhone photos interspersed) – we also were able to do something I’ve talked about for years:  We recorded an “interview” with Grandma, collecting family history and memories that we can cherish for years to come – on Blu-Ray!  The interview needs to be edited still, which has some classic Grandma moments, but photos are ready now.

Me and Grandma

Our visit with Grandma, at her apartment in Assisted Living

Aunt Nancy and Uncle John, my Mom’s youngest sister and her husband, joined us out for a great burger at Bagger Daves – courtesy of Grandma.

3 out of 5 of the Bialowicz family joined us for dinner. Glad my cousin came out, so I could quiz her for her test on diseases — great dinner conversation LOL!

Our waitress offered to take our photo – and ended up standing on a chair behind a booth to capture this family moment. She said we were one of her favorite tables she had served – how sweet!

Last time I was around this little guy, he was in Romina’s tummy when she was in my wedding last year! Look how much he’s grown up — I love the curls and those cheeks!

Glad we got together at the Profeta’s on Saturday night, so the kids could play while the adults could try to catch up on the time that we’ve been apart.

Oh my goodness! The youngest Ruselink, I totally enjoyed meeting the little boy who shares the same name as our Godson – Jacob Richard!

Jeff and I served up beverages in the basement, courtesy of Charlie Sheen

If Charlie Sheen as Bartender wasn’t unsettling enough, Romina suddenly sprouted a pair of horns

And if the last 2 pics weren’t disconcerting enough, Beatle pulls out the big guns here with the Sheen ear kiss…

Old friends reunited! We tried to FaceTime in our 4th compadre, Sarah, but missed each other this time – boo

Boys will be (cute) boys!

What a great family! Thanks for coming out, Ruselinks!

Grandma and her Grandson, Brian, during Sunday family get together at Chris & Jen’s

This is how we all “get together” in my family, since we all so spread out: Utilizing technology to chat, and all get an opportunity to wish my Dad a very “Happy Birthday” on his actual birthday

Some of the Michigan men of the family, chatting with the Florida family

Yeah, this usually happens at some point in the conversation as well. Classic. Love my nieces!

Our cousins, Marie with little Bianca, and new friend London!

I was so glad that my cousin, Krystal, and her little Bianca also came to join us — I can’t remember when I last saw Krystal, and never had met sweet and funny Bianca!

We wished a Happy Birthday to Grandma, Jennifer, and Dad

How nice of Aunt Karen and Uncle Bob to come into town for a visit! Wish we would’ve had more time to visit, but really enjoyed the time we had nonetheless!

Our great host & hostess, Chris & Jen, with Grandma

I love this pic of two that I love!

After all these years, childhood friends back together again. So great to visit with Jenny again, and pick back up where we left off

Another dear childhood friend, Heather, that we were able to reconnect with. You know it’s been too long when you can’t recognize each other’s voices! So glad we could see you this time around!

And one BONUS PIC… My cousin, Marie, ever so thoughtful, so sweetly finds new ways to honor the memory of my Mother. Besides Au Gratin potatoes and a delish Lemon Cake for lunch, she brought this great photo for me to have. It is of my Mom and Grandma together at a wedding in what we think was 2007. Simply beautiful!

Mom and Grandma – they resembled each other so much!

Thanks, friends and family, for the wonderful time to reminisce over old memories and make fabulous new ones!

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