Our first Christmas parcel arrived some weeks ago reminding us that it was time to put something together with which to annoy those of you who hate circular Christmas newsletters. This parcel arrived even before the extraordinarily early Christmas cards from Pen's Australian relatives and was from Pen's sister Judi in Toronto. Thanks, J, for the timely reminder that Christmas was but a mere eight weeks away.
No fantastic expeditions to the People's Republic this year but enough outings to keep us amused and the dogs annoyed. In August we had a fantastic week cycling through the Dordogne in France with Joe Jefferies, middle son of our very dear friend Jan, and a most pleasantly enjoyable (and similarly mad) group of fellow cyclists. While some of the hills were “challenging” we're pleased to say that we managed them all and did not have to resort to either walking or riding in the van at any stage. By the way, if anyone is interested, we can heartily recommend French Cycling Holidays (http://www.frenchcyclingholidays.com) – the organisation was flawless, the scenery was stunning and the food and wine were abundant. We reckon the week was just about calorie neutral although to judge by the size of Greg's waistline, none of our friends would agree.

Then, at the end of August we made our way not in the least reluctantly to the family compound on Lake George in upstate New York to assist in the celebrations surrounding Greg's mother's 80th birthday. As usual, just about every living relative who wasn't currently incarcerated somewhere in the world made their way to Huletts Landing and everyone had a great deal of fun. Even the birthday girl seemed to enjoy herself. Our Nick, with the somewhat dubious assistance of Greg and his brother Steph, prepared a birthday feast of epic proportions which, we gather, has been submitted to the Guinness Book of Records for consideration in the “most food and wine consumed at an 80th birthday party” category with an additional submission in the “heaviest dessert known to mankind” section. As always, it was wonderful to be able to spend time with Greg's folks, all his brothers and sisters, their respective partners and off-spring, not to mention having another opportunity to appreciate the splendour and beauty of Lake George.
Rather than make things up about the boys this year, we asked each of them to submit 150 words of their own – we take no responsibility for the following other than to concede that they are our sons (results of DNA tests, however, are still pending).

Ben & Donna

It's been a busy year. So busy in fact, that I nearly didn't have time to write about it. After briefly considering padding this 'essay' in typical high-school form - "In order to discuss the events of this year, it is first necessary to discuss what we mean by 'discuss'", I decided against it. 100 words to go...

Donna is fine, and continues to shine at Investor's Business Daily where she discusses the ramifications of various happenings in the technological world. I continue to work for Naughty Dog, finished a game this year, and am now starting up another one. In the interim, we took a much-deserved break and spent some time in Amsterdam - Finally, I was able to compare the experience of staying in a cheap youth-hostel vs. a fancy hotel. Hotel wins.

Love to you all, and I hope you have a terrific Christmas and a terrifying..ly wonderful New Year.

In conclusion, we are an industrious nation with a rich tapestry of cultures. One of our main exports is corn, which the Indians call maize.

(Interestingly, no mention of the week he spent with us following his visit to Amsterdam. Hmmm. What can that mean?)

Nick & Lucy

2005 has been a busy one. Lucy has continued to show the oil industry how fantastic she is, although her company has gone through a massive restructuring process – naturally they realised she was indispensable and she has retained her position as supply analyst in the new company.

3ofme [Nick's company] has now been a limited company for just over a year and I haven't gone bankrupt yet. A steady stream of work has gradually built up over the year – at times overlapping and creating some very long days, but generally just about manageable. In September I hired a full time assistant designer which now gives me some free time to hunt down the new clients and I don't worry about being on the road so much.

It's been a busy year for travelling too. My annual snow trip to Norway was wonderful, as always, back in March. This was followed by a week's filming with a rock band in Sicily and then a weekend shark fishing in Ireland (no sharks, plenty of Guinness). In September I managed to get out to Lake George for five days to see as many of the Stragnell clan as could make it – pure joy. Finally Lucy and I managed a week together on Zakynthos a very small Greek island, where loggerhead turtle spotting is the main attraction.

Our cat Keiko continues her Ninja training. She has graduated classes in scratching, mauling, curtain climbing and small defenceless animal butchering. Next semester she is enrolled for newspaper shredding and advanced neighbour cat stalking.

Adam & Sugar

Well, in comparison to my jet setting parents, our year has been fairly dull. We are still living in Changsha and taking every opportunity we can to get away. Other than the usual work and occasional meal out, we have enjoyed a few excellent holidays. During the May national holiday we took a trip to Beijing concentrating on the major historical sites and thoroughly enjoyed it (along with the other 15 billion Chinese tourists who had no option but to travel in the same week). We spent most of the summer working although we did get a chance to enjoy a week in our old home, Yangshuo. During the October break we repeated the trip but this time meeting up with my old friend George Jefferies. It was a real treat to see him again, especially in such pleasant surroundings. Here's wishing you all a merry Christmas and a fantastic 2006.

Penny and Sally are still on speaking terms and still knocking out playchutes to the usual suspects and anyone sufficiently gullible on e-Bay. Their fabric supplier is currently in the hands of the receiver and so, having spent all their available cash purchasing the entire stock of rip-stop nylon in the UK, they are investigating alternative suppliers. So far they have made contact with firms in France and South Africa so perhaps we shall have to take a business expedition to investigate the alternatives.
Greg is, surprisingly, still employed by Oxfordshire and occasionally does some work. The new director for education has introduced “Traded Services” throughout the advisory service so everyone now has to charge each other for saying “Hello!” in the corridor. Since Greg is not particularly communicative with anyone at work he is naturally in a deficit earnings situation and sometimes it seems as if he spends as much time pushing beans around as supporting schools. Still, fortunately, retirement can't be too far away, can it?

Penny's nephew Michael is still with us and doing very well, in spite of our influence, in his apprenticeship with Hartwell Ford in Banbury. The electric guitar and loud, thumping music are a constant reminder that we were young once too. Pen's folks, Beryl and Oz, also continue to do well. As most of you will know, they spend six months in Byfield annoying us and then six months in Australia irritating Pen's brother and sister. Still, perpetual summer can't be too bad.

The dogs continue to forgive and forget the numerous occasions when they are left at home and, while Molly is in fine form and charges around like a perpetually mad thing, Pippa has aged significantly this past year. She began having fits in the summer so is now permanently on barbiturates which, perhaps not surprisingly, has slowed her down even more. Every time she seems to be on her last legs, Greg picks up the phone and announces that he is going to telephone the vet at which point Pippa immediately perks up and positively sprints (well, trots) along on her walks – “I'm not ready to be put down yet!”

And so, as you can see, 2005 has been unreasonably kind to us. Pen continues to make improvements to Penelope's Playchute Palace and there is always plenty of room so let us know when you're coming to visit and we'll ensure that we're out of town.

All our love to you all,


23 Banbury Road,
Byfield, Northants. NN11 6XJ
[+44] (0)1327-263743


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