December 2004

Lets just dive into this year's (insert catchy phrase here) Christmas Letter. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, our family expanding by two, traveling to the Land Down Under, and not starting any major home projects are a few highlights! Other than that, just the normal stuff: inhale, exhale, eat, sleep, let cats in, let cats out, work, dive, kayak, snow-shoe, ... you get the point.

We can finally say we have traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, and fulfilled our life-long dream of diving the Great Barrier Reef! On our extremely extended expedition, our friends, family, and colleagues virtually vacationed vicariously via email and online photos. We boarded the plane and (poof) 86400 seconds of our lives vanished (please let us know if you find them). We discovered not much is open in Auckland (New Zealand) at 5am on Sunday but it gave us time to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road; as an unexpected benefit, we had the cleanest windows in NZ since the turn signal lever is on the wrong side, too. Things were just wrong. We spent nine fabulous days (OK, on the ninth day it did rain cats and dogs) navigating the Northern Island and enjoying the rolling hills populated with the 40 million sheep. It's impossible to select one thing as the "best"; everything was fantastic ... the all day "lively" boat trip in the Bay of Islands (pre-gale force winds), the 75 foot geyser, Maori dinner, and Hangi in sulfurous Rotorua (not as aromatic as we feared), and the beautifully, tortuous, 13 mile hike up (and up and up) the world famous Tongariro Crossing, which was covered in 2 meters of snow (instead of the normal inch or two).

Then we flew to (can you guess?) ... Australia. Our first port of call was the Daintree Ecolodge in North Eastern Australia. This is "5-Star camping" in a private tree house with water, plumbing, power, cable, mosquito nets, hand made soap... need we say more? During our stay we enjoyed numerous rainforest river rides (exotic birds, "Salty" Crocs, a couple of snakes), a fabulous full day jeep jaunt, and several super suppers (Barramundi - Yum, yum). Did we mention the full body massage and mud bath? Ahhhhh.... We spent four fun filled days foraying the Cairns area where we traveled the Atherton Table Lands (divides Eastern Australia from the Outback), rode the Kuranda Scenic Rail Train, & shopping! Australia!

Next, we headed south to embark on Mike Ball's Spoil Sport to the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. After surviving a surreal first night of six foot swells and spoiled Caesar salad (not Mike Ball's fault), everything went swimmingly. We spent our days underwater looking for Nemo's friends, cousins and relatives thrice removed. The diving was great - diverse fish life, huge sea fans (up to 16') and monsterized sea life on the S.S. Yongala (a "small" Grouper is the size of a mini-Cooper!). in due course, we returned to terra firma and flew to Sydney where we toured and attended a symphony at the Opera House, learned to use the ferry system, and walked many times across the Harbor bridge! We have plenty of pictures of the Opera House at night, dusk, dawn, over cast, rainy, sunny, close up, far away, ... We are still sifting through the 2557 pictures from this adventure - visit our web page to check out the best photos and our trip chronicle.

This year we continue our good health; Mike recently breezed through his (nearly) sixth year check-up - Woohoo! In celebration of five cancer free years, we free-fell in February. The plummet was picturesque with the Pacific on one side and snow capped Sierra's on the other. Not quite the rush we expected, in our opinion jumping off a boat is more fun.

Our extended family continues to grow: Kendall Cunningham was born February 11th and Janelle Schumacher May 15th. Both Nieces are adorable, and their older siblings are ensuring they will be tough as nails as they get older. Lori's brother, Mike, and Kristin are still engaged - Kristin does not seem to heed the warnings of her soon to be in-laws. Their wedding date is set in May at one of the best dive sites in Monterey : Apollo still hopes that someday Magic will tolerate him.

No major home improvement projects occurred this year as we have started planning the design of our new Cabin in Tahoe (come on Intel stock, come on). Next year, we plan adventures closer to home (i.e. Cozumel) for warm, clear diving. Other than that, no Amazing Race to the far corners of the earth is planned. Feel free to email us at or peruse our previous Christmas letters, favorite photos, and travel testaments at

We hope the coming year brings peace, good health, and a safe and wonderful holiday.


Mike, Lori, Apollo, & Magic