Dear friends and family,

OMG, is 2018 ending?
Must be ... because here we are writing another Christmas letter. Late again.
Thirty years ago in 1988, Carolyn was so overwhelmed with work and taking care of an infant (Gillian), that Gary offered to do a Christmas letter in a form letter format on the computer (being the techie he is) and Carolyn had a cow. Until she realized that she could not possibly write (by hand) all the cards going to everyone in two countries. Hence, our Christmas letter tradition was born. Since then, the Christmas letter took off and overtook cards for many years. And now, in the past few years, both cards and letters have tapered off to a trickle and then almost none. In all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it has become too much. And we have jettisoned a lot of things ourselves. But staying in touch with family and friends is paramount because we have friends and family now in so many places as well as two different countries. We really want to stay in touch with you. However, we promise we will NOT bring up politics. It has been way too exhausting for us and no doubt for you too.

This year was bookended by a crisis with Carolyn’s Mum. She has been to Wales four times in a year's time. A year ago, she was concerned about the care at her Mum’s care home and that there had been a dramatic decline in her care. This was confirmed in rather dramatic ways when she was visiting in January, right under her nose and resulted in a visit to the hospital. Following this visit, Carolyn felt compelled to report neglect and possibly abuse to the Care Inspectorate of Wales. And this resulted in such a level of concern for her Mum’s welfare that the local council in the county had to inspect the home due to safety considerations. The home became aware, due an unfortunate leak, that it was Carolyn who had blown the whistle and she and her brother were given a month (the minimum required by law) to find Pat a new home and move her somewhere else. Not an easy task when they both live thousands of miles away.

However, good fortune (and maybe a lot of prayers) resulted in a wonderful outcome. Carolyn’s Mum was assigned a social worker who had been Carolyn's best friend when they were growing up and had even been on holiday with them in Spain. Not only have they reconnected and are enjoying that tremendously after many years of being out of touch, but Carolyn's friend was able to help out a lot with this predicament right before her retirement from social services.

Also a space opened up in a care home that specializes in dementia care and has been absolutely fantastic in every way. Carolyn and brother Bill, moved their Mum in April into a nice room with a view over the Welsh hills and cared for by a loving and attentive staff. Pat is very happy there and has settled in well. Bill and his family visited her in July and Carolyn visited her in August. It was great to reconnect with a family member she has not seen in years as well as so many friends and neighbours from Taliesin Avenue in Shotton. Pat remembered Carolyn's friend going on holiday with them. (Sadly, one of her neighbours, Joan Edwards, has passed away recently.)

Now the year is ending, we have another crisis with her Mum. She stumbled and had a bad fall causing her leg to break so badly that a bone was exposed. She is currently still in the hospital following 2 surgeries, and a couple of infections.  After a month in hospital we are hoping she will be medically stable enough to return back to Haulfryn, which has become "home" to her in a relatively short time. We are happy with her care and Carolyn is going to be visiting soon for a week in January from the 12th to the 20th.

There has been news on this side of the Atlantic as well, having nothing to do with the UK.

Both kids have been furiously looking for work.

Ryan finally found a job in computers working for a consulting company. He leaves in mid-January for Virginia; after a month of training he will be offered his choice of two or three postings.

Gillian is now working as an intern for the company where Ryan did most of his interning. The CEO told her they hope to be financially stable enough to offer her a  full-time  compensated position in a few months.

Meanwhile, she is continuing to look for gainful employment.  She also completed her black belt training this year, took (and passed) her test, and filed the necessary paperwork (which is working its way through the bureaucracy) and attended a ceremony on 15 December to receive her shodan. She managed a trip to Chicago this year, and twice to Arkansas where her boyfriend is training to be a pilot.

Carolyn continues to really enjoy working as an adjunct faculty at California State University, supervising graduate students. She took on more work this year and at times it was stressful, but she finds it very rewarding and is hoping to continue for a couple more years yet. She still works out at the same gym doing Zumba, pilates, and yoga. She, Gillian and/or Gary bike down near the ocean most weekends once a week when time allows. In May, she visted her friends in Chicago which was relaxing and enjoyed seeing everyone again. She would like to be back to visit Chicago next year too. She also visited her brother in San Jose to celebrate his swearing in as a new U.S. citizen.

Gary is still working for Symantec, still playing judo, still mushing with Gusty the Samoyed, still folkdancing (when the weather won't allow for mushing),  still bicycling to work most days, pretty much doing what he was doing last year.

We had a few visits this year. Barry, Gary's cousin came a couple of times and visited a few museums (including the weirdest museum either had ever seen, "The Museum of Jurassic Technology"). Carolyn's brother Bill and his kids came to visit with us on what turned out to be the hottest weekend in living memory (we have no air conditioning) but fortunately stayed in an air-conditioned hotel. They went out to the Universal Studio theme park in Hollywood with Carolyn.

California is still California. The traffic in Los Angeles has become noticeably worse in the  4 plus years we've been here.  This past year has seen some very bad fires in both Northern and Southern California, and some of the wildfires have burnt structures in pretty urban areas (in addition to the town of Paradise that was destroyed). At times, areas of the state had air pollution levels that were considered life threatening from the  smoke, and schools were closed briefly across a wide area. Carolyn, Ryan, and Gillian suffered from asthma as a result. A lot of  good folks have lost their homes in those fires; even homes built for fire resistance were not spared. Lives were lost, and the way forward is anything but clear. We are considering several areas for retirement ... but have not yet settled on a single area. Carolyn doesn't want to face another cold winter, Gary enjoys winter sports ... but neither enjoy the pollution, congestion, and very high cost of living in LA. But having a beach nearby is nice, and there seems to be a great deal to see ... so it will do for now. We've made a few friends in LA, but the culture of LA is not really conducive to relationships. The cost of living is so high (one of Gary's workmates is living in his car and commutes home to Arizona on weekends) that many are forced to hustle to make more money, and low density housing pushes people far apart: which both increases the distance people have to travel to meet up, and worsens traffic (3 hour commutes in dense traffic each way to and from work are not rare).

We are all in good health here, and have been spared the trials brought on by poor health and penury. Many of our friends have not been so lucky, some are facing very serious health challenges, some with very limited resources.

On a happier note, we hope you have all had a great year and wonderful holiday season. We wish you good health and fortune in 2019

We'd love to hear from you. Here is our contact information:
Gary      (630) 401 0065
Carolyn (630) 660 3717
Gillian    (630) 660 8800
Ryan     (630) 401 9466

The year in pictures:

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner with Jordy, a friend from judo, and his girlfriend Annette. Both went home to see their families the next day - Jordy to Spain, and Annette to Hawaii.

Gillian Promotion

Gary's personal favorite. Gillian has just received her promotion to Shodan. The funny characters after the "G" are in Kanji, a Japanese phonetic alphabet, and they spell out "Fenchel". Thanks to Yoshi at work for the translation!

Barry and family

Gary's cousin Barry at a pub with most of us by the beach. It is just about 105 years since Gary's grandmother Mollie met Barry's grandmother Sarah off the boat when Sarah arrived at Navy Pier, having immigrated from Britain to marry Mollie's uncle Philip.

Lyn skiing in Mammoth

This picture was taken at the Obsidian Dome in the Mammoth area in mid-December. The hill in the background is made of mostly Obsidian, which is a black glass-like substance formed in a volcano. The snow conditions were not very good, but the scenery was breathtaking.

Gary Skijoring

We found a new place to skijor in the Mammoth area the day after we went to the Obsidian Dome called Tom's Place. It was pretty warm that day! Conditions were much better than at the Obsidian Dome.

Vita in bed

Vita doesn't mush any more... but she still knows how to take a great photo! She is probably 11 years old now.

Lyn and Pat

Carolyn and Pat in Pat's new digs in Wales.