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Oyler: In tradition of modern Christmas card, it's family update time

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

I am a big fan of the Christmas card tradition, especially as it relates to folks with whom we have no other contact. It is always reassuring to learn that old friends are alive and well.

I am pleased when the senders enclose even a very short note, confirming they were thinking of us when they addressed the card, and am even more pleased when they include a letter informing us of their activities since last we communicated.

I know that some people don't care for duplicated Christmas letters, but I am happy to receive them.

We usually make up a card that includes a photograph of our extended family; unfortunately we were unable to come up with one this year, so we settled on a photograph of our house decked out for Christmas and covered with a fresh snowfall. We hope to right that wrong when our whole family is together for the holidays.

We wish it were practical for us to send cards to all of our friends who read this column, and to those anonymous readers who confront us and tell us they enjoy the column. A poor second choice is for us to devote this column to them and publish an edited version of the letter we have enclosed with the cards we sent out.

The result follows:

Our biggest excitement this year was the enlargement of our extended family by the birth of our newest granddaughter, Lai An, in Zurich on May 29. Her parents, John and Victoria (Xu Tian Pan), are still thrilled at being part of the miracle of bringing a new life into the world. Nan and I visited them in July and had a great time sight-seeing in Switzerland.

John and his family are now back in Beijing where he is busy with activities at his company, Beigene. They were successful this year in marketing development rights for two cancer-related drugs with Merck Germany, and have begun client-testing one in Australia. It is hard to understand John's stamina; he recently passed the three million miles mark on United Airlines, and is making great strides toward a fourth.

Our whole family will be together in Truckee, Calif., for Christmas, in a ski house John and one of his friends own. The rest of the family is eager to be introduced to Lai An and Victoria.

The skiers in the family are hoping for lots of snow at Squaw Valley; we couch potatoes are not as enthusiastic about snow as they are. If all goes well Nan and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary there, on Dec. 28.

Beth and Rachael spent the last academic year in Japan where Beth ran a study-abroad program; Mike was able to have several extended visits with them, but is happy they are back home in Champaign, Ill. We spent Thanksgiving with them there, and also had several nice visits from them in the summer. One week, we entertained Beth and Rachael and their friends Linda and Oona Churchwell while Oona and Rachael went to music (Suzuki method) camp at Upper St. Clair High School.

Sara's family is as busy as can be with all the activities available to three pre-teens. Ian is part of a team in the state (Colorado) finals of a robotics competition.

He and the girls are all involved in a variety of sports for beginners — softball, basketball, soccer and swimming.

Sara had an unscheduled vacation when “the government shut down,” but managed to salvage all of her genetics-related experiments.

This month we presented the 15th and final lecture in the “Bridgeville Remembered' series, a joint project of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society and the Bridgeville Public Library. It was an excellent experience for us; we greatly enjoyed the contributions of the folks who attended the talks.

The historical society continues to prosper — the special exhibits focused on schools and on local sports were quite impressive. We also enjoyed the exhibit of Andrew Knez Jr. paintings at the library and the Ken Schwartz collection of historical miniatures at the history center.

In December, I completed my 21st year with the civil engineering department at Pitt. I am teaching materials of construction and coordinating our senior design projects program. We had 48 seniors this term on six project teams, including one designing and installing a water supply system for a native village in Panama.

My wife and I extend our warmest season's greetings to all the readers of this column.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or

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