Merry Christmasdear friends and family,
This has been a good year for our extended family. We have a strong and happy sense that the next generations are taking over --(oops, we don't mean that to be interpreted as over exuberant enthusiasm for the new Administration).
Elizabeth enjoys her work at the National Science Foundation, which this year among other things took her to Malaysia and Finland for the international studies of eighth grade students (TIMSS-R) that was released on December 5th. While she was unhappy that U.S. eighth graders were outscored by almost every industrial nation, she liked seeing the report discussed in the Times, Post and most newscasts. When asked by Reuters to explain why US 8th graders do comparatively worse than US 4th graders, her co-Director Patrick Gonzales said, "It's not like learning is sucked out of their brains" but that they learn at a slower rate than their peers.
The end of the TIMSS-R project sadly means her world travels are over for now (she did visit Michigan and Lincoln, Ne. recently but is not sure how that compares to trips to meetings in Casablanca, Helsinki, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur). The Michigan trip did gave Elizabeth a chance to visit her dear friend Barbara Richardson. Barbara who keeps two Christmas trees decorated year around and is doing an interesting study of Ellen Swallow Richards, an early feminist and founder of the home economics movement.
Brian continues to maintain Web sites for the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill - Virginia and The Lauren in addition to 20 personal sites for ourselves, our families and our friends. He tends his garden, as he calls these personal web sites.
Our travels were pretty extensive this year. We spent our tenth year in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. For the first time in many years, our good friends Clay and Eve did not join us, which was sad. Elizabeth spent more time with a group of women we have known for a while. The highlight of the day was an aerobic class and salsa lesson. Elizabeth says it really is quite a sight to see a group of middle aged plus women dancing to Latin music in the heat of the tropics. Brian made sure that the coconuts ripened by our balcony. We also got to spend time with our friends in PE -- particularly Gina, Rosemary and Bill, Dick and Mary Ann and Sheila (who got blasted with a PC virus just a few days ago). We are afraid this may have been our last year in PE though since getting there is increasingly difficult.
This summer we enjoyed a family party honoring grandson's Rory's high school graduation and enrollment at SUNY-Albany. We would have been proud wherever he went, but we did wonder how we would explain to Elizabeth's feminist friends his going to Virginia Military Academy, his second choice! His mother Kelly and dad Ruane, have done a wonderful job. Ruane writes, "I'm still working for Living Resources...[but] as a Rehabilitation Counselor in the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) unit." At the same time, he is working on an MA in preparation to become a social studies teacher -- all part of his "20-year-plan!"
We were pleased to talk with granddaughter Sara, Kathi's eldest, who is doing well in her college theater program. Elizabeth led the children's conga line to music played by the renowned mobile disk jockey, Shannon Larkin. He is making quite a name for himself in this business. His children, Connor and Hillary, are delightful. Connor learned to swim and Hillary was student of the month. Dawne taught two art classes for homeschoolers at a local museum and met actor William Fitchner. This was a difficult year for them as they lost their beloved "Nana," Dawne’s grandmother. Dawne and the children moved to Virginia.
We stayed with Dan and Michelle and had a wonderful time with grandchildren Erica and Shane. Elizabeth enjoyed talking with them about their shared favorite books -- the Harry Potter series. Shane gets fantastic grades, has climbed his 12th Adirondack peak, goes camping with his Dad in the bitter cold (strange!) and has taken to loving mystery books. Erica is a voracious reader, has a great sense of humor and does crossword puzzles with her grandfather. Michelle shines as the family baker, hostess extraordinaire and as coordinator for arts program for the Saratoga schools. She and Dan celebrated their 20th and 21st anniversaries a few months ago!
Elizabeth's Dad amazes us all. Despite much pain from osteoporosis, he continues to live alone, read a lot, and participate in his Peer classes at Hofstra and become a pretty good emailer. Aunt Annette, despite an independent hip that keeps becoming un-jointed, remains as vibrant as ever. Uncle Robbie, at a not-so-tender-young-age, has taken up email
Brother Dick and Peggy had a fantastic year, beginning with the birth of their first grandchild, Kyler Richard, son of MegandRich. Dick then decided to retire (gasp -- we can't be old enough for that) and works for private industry. July saw the wedding of Dorothy to John Urbancik, their honeymoon to Tahiti and purchase of a coop. What a happy bride she was. We now eagerly await the birth of Mike and Toni's child. Mike says he generously offered to have Toni's mother, Frannie, stay with them for three years to change diapers so he could play golf.
Brother John (when he isn't telling terrible jokes) continues at the Bank of New York (he swears he is not a KGB agent). Happily, Pat recovered from knee surgery. Jill and Kevin had a scare about the health of daughter Carole-Anne and they will remember this year as the time Luke set fire to the house, but all are recovering with Carole-Anne making the honor role, singing in Chorus and working on the year book. Dawn and Basil survived many job crisis and changes. Son Jonathan enjoyed being interviewed by News12 when his school was selected as one of the best (Basil reports they declined offers for film contracts). Aurora, daughter of Dawn, is beautiful.
Sister Jean and Bob Pollack celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. When her boss retired, Jean became supervisor in the Mycology lab at NYU Medical Center. Bob is finishing his Herculean task of dissolving Uncle Max's estate and transferring properties and monies to the heirs, a job requiring both skill and incredible diplomacy.
As the result of an email list set up by Dick, we have gotten to know the warped sense of humor we share with cousins, nephews, nieces and others, especially the "West Wing Vans" as we refer to Uncle Bob's and Aunt Doris' family. Aunt Doris is in a play about a terminally ill person. She wrote, "As you might expect I play the 70 year old cantankerous b...h." Their son Robert -- the youngest grandson of Anna and Peter VanderPutten -- is getting married to Christine in April 2001. If his sister, Barbara, the star of the Aquanettes , provides entertainment, this should be a raucous event. Laurie weathered a frightening brain aneurysm (nothing funny about that but she was on-line with brother John who may have been telling her some of his truly awful jokes). Her oldest daughter Stephanie started college and is proud to be a SuperFrog, the TCU mascot. Andrea, their youngest, is in her junior year of high school and doing well. Her father Paul writes, "She has her driver’s license and has really been experiencing her new sense of freedom. As a consequence, Laurie and I seem to be alone quite often. One of Andrea’s goals for 2001 is to get her first real job" Cousin Martha's family is doing well and she continues the family musical tradition as a soloist.
Cousin Tom VanderPutten (who vies with John for the funniest emails) writes, "the TVP's are alive and well. Their Michael married Lareina in June now living in Syracuse, Chris and Greg are looking for a new domicile in Melrose, North of Boston. Chris starts a job at Lotus. Joy got through her first blizzard in Chicago. Bryan works with Uncle Gary in NYC in finance. Little Vicki is working out side of Boston. Tom and Joan will go to Key West to 'check up' on Cypress House [a B&B] in January. It's a tough job but someone has to do it."
This year's highlight for Brian's sister Maureen was getting the official title of MIL when after "years of consulting the stars, bargaining with the fairy godmother, saying hundreds of Novenas, taking thousands of trips around the rosary, begging and beseeching St Jude" niece Caitlin and Tim Binning were married by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of VA. What a grand honeymoon they had, including stays in a castle in Scotland and a remote retreat in Ireland before returning to their beautiful new home. Maureen also reported, "I celebrated my first anniversary of being tobacco-free after 45 years of hard-core cigarette smoking. In terms of difficulty, I rank this achievement right up there with extended, long-term natural childbirth." (She was obviously very young when she started smoking.)
In the fall, we had a dream vacation. It began with a visit to daughter Kathi and grandson Stephen and getting the opportunity to watch presidential debates with a 13-year-old who predicted a tie. We "all-knowing" former social studies teachers said it couldn't happen! Stephen wasn't so sure. No wonder he is an honor student (as well as first percussionist in his high school band and a star baseball player aiming for Stanford University in 5 years.)
Because of schedules, we didn't get to visit Dan McKinnon (our best man) and his wife Eleanor while in Albuquerque. We did talk with Dan however. After serving as a New Mexico Supreme Court Judge (the "Justice of Jazz," as his fellow Court members dubbed him), Dan is now back in private practice and heavily involved in setting up a DOT.COM business (not bad for a fellow who wouldn't use email a year ago!).
After that we spent ten days in the glorious Four Corners country. Highlights included Canyon de Chelly, Chaco Valley, Hovenweep, Mesa Verde (which was in surprisingly good condition considering the major fire this summer), Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods. The last is a 17 mile dirt road with spectacular scenery but one that is passable only on dry days and so rutted it challenged our urban driving skills and our car and scared the living dickens out of Elizabeth -- so much so that after 5 miles she smilingly relinquished the wheel to Brian. The country is stunning. Looking at our agenda, brother Dick asked if it's possible to OD on scenery.
We have not gotten to Nevada to visit Tracy Larkin-Thomason but love hearing about her family. She reports that she is sad and happy that Jon started school. The whole family was assigned a project to decorate a manila turkey for Thanksgiving, which she proudly reports won the grand prize. Tracy plans to graduate in the spring of 2003 which is a feat given she is a full time District Traffic Engineer for the State of Nevada. This will end her saying, as she has for the past umteen years, "I have just one more year to go."
Nephew Steve Larkin who is Tracy's neighbor in Nevada writes that his job is going well. "The kids went back to school this week. Krystal began high school this year. Josh, Katy, and Becky are all in grade school (4, 3, 1 respectively). Only Steve is still at home. He turns 5 in December."
The wild fires in the West got pretty close to Steve and Tracy last summer. He wrote, "The school grounds (about a half mile from here) became a tent city for the firefighters. As a side note, the fire affected the area where we took some of the pictures used on the web-site. (The ones with the kids climbing on the large rock).
In the fall, we spent a fine weekend in the Shenandoah Mountains with friends Alan Bow and Margaret Windus. Twenty years ago we climbed Old Rag Mountain--a truly athletic feat. When we reached the top, Shannon said, "Dad -- I thought Elizabeth might make this but I never thought you would!" This time, we saluted Old Rag safely in the distance and Margaret and Elizabeth took the Rose River trail -- four miles of beautiful but gentle mountain hiking.
We were able to visit a number of times with our friends Barbara Butler and Glen Porter. They are planning their dream home in Placitas, New Mexico and we are planning extensive visits with them once this is built.
Nancy Jane Stubbs visited from Florida this summer. As usual, that meant that Elizabeth and she walked 17 miles before breakfast. Nancy Jane published her cookbook this year. As Margaret pointed out, no one who cooked all those great meals could be as svelte as Nancy Jane. Something is unfair (of course the fact that she hikes five miles a day might make a difference.)
There are so many friends at NSF that Elizabeth could write about but space is limited. Deh-I Hsiung, however, must be mentioned for all time chutzpah. When the Division Director and one of her former boss said he might not participate in the annual Christmas present to support staff because of limited funds, she offered to lend him the money and collect $5.00 each pay period. Wouldn't we all love to do that to our bosses at least once!
Long time friends and neighbors, John Doolittle and Ellen Baker, are about to become published authors. John, a journalism professor at AU, has done a history of an old time radio program and Ellen, a professional psychologist, will have her book published by the American Psychological Association. Sadly however they moved from the Lauren and we will miss them. Another long-time friend, Melva Caswell, writes, "The big event this year was my move to the Smithsonian where I took a position as a Grant and Contract Specialist. This was a truly move up and not a lateral one. I am no longer behind someone else's shadow; now my efforts shine." Jim Aldrich and wife Anne Blackburn celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary, Anne attended her 50th H.S. class reunion, they made their 5th trip to Ireland, and their respective children all seem to be successful thespians and artists.
One of the special treats this year was hearing voices from the past. Among them was Allen Schmieder who moved to the private sector where he is the vice president for education at JDLTechnologies in Edina, MN, has been called "…the greatest speaker in the nation," chaired the Minnesota state technology committee which he says, "Has been stymied by Jessie Ventura and he refuses to arm wrestle with [him] over getting it going again." and lives with wife Sonja and 13 year old daughter. Others included several of Elizabeth's former students and friends at Manhasset High School. Jane Keller wrote to say that since they last talked she got married, had two children and moved to Massachusetts. Her parents, Bobby and Don Keller who hosted our wedding reception, have moved permanently to their Hampton home and Bobby became head of Suffolk county drug program. Two former Manhasset students found Elizabeth on her Internet home page and have shared their accomplishments. Dr. Larry Lachman has published several books on animal psychology including "Dogs on the Couch" and "Cats on the Counter." Pam Sabrin wrote that after an eclectic career that involved getting her "Equity card" and a stint as a social scientist, she is now Associate Dean at the Actors Studio Drama School, New School University.
Finally we come to Allen and Jeanne Hills. Jeanne stayed with us en routed to Florida last winter and was captivated by our view. Allen is running for sheriff! Eldest son Allen and wife Monica had their second child. Youngest son Andy graduated from college and is teaching Socials Studies. Middle son Adam, after marrying Sara and graduating from William and Mary Law School a year ago, joined one of Boston's powerhouse firms (e.g., clients include a certain Japanese tire company that is being sued by everyone), passed the NY and Mass. Bar exams on first shot, and already has his first publication, Nasdaq Stock Price Blues: Lowly Share Prices May Lead to Delisting NASD Rules 4310(c)(H) and 4450(a)(5). "Other than that," Adam writes, "Sara and I are just 2 Saratoga kids living in the big city."
We wish a Merry Christmas to each member of our families and to each friend. And we hope that the 21st century will be happy, gracious, and prosperous for you and for us all.
Brian J. Larkin and Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten