Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - Christmas Letter 2003

We are pleased that our wonderfully large, extended, blended family is doing so well. As the family grows, however, we have found we just cannot report on all their successes and so this letter focuses on our immediate family and ourselves.  

2003 reconfirmed our status as “National Park Junkies.”  For Elizabeth ’s 60th birthday we toured Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP. It was old home week for Elizabeth who while in college worked at Yellowstone as a “savage” -- jargon for waitresses who served  “dudes” aka tourists.  It is amazing that the USA had the foresight to declare this wild and beautiful area the first national park in the world.  We saw buffalo, moose, elk, bear, geysers, strange thermal features, incredible waterfalls – the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is truly magnificent.  Brian keeps saying that the Grand Tetons are “in-your-face” majestic. They rise nearly vertical from the lakes to reach almost 10,000 feet.    

In the fall we re-visited Zion , Bryce, Cedar Break, Capital Reef and Arches national parks. (We were there last year, but the camera broke so Brian said we weren’t really there.)  At Zion , Elizabeth planned to do the Angel ’s Landing hike, which involves climbing along a very narrow ridge with sheer 1,500 foot drop offs on either side.  Before we left, however, grandson Shane called. “Grandma, I don’t think you should do that.” (Last spring, he and his dad had climbed it.)  “Hrumph,” she thought! 

Elizabeth did the Angel's Landing hike up through Walter ’s Wiggles as far as Scott ’s Landing at the West Rim Trail junction where, remembering Shane ’s sage advice, did skip the last bit (click here and you'll see the half mile I skipped). We were so happy to share this trip with our good friends Glenn Porter and Barbara Butler .  

In September, Elizabeth and her sister Jean spent a girls-weekend-away in the Shenandoah National Park .  It was so incredibly foggy that Jean still doesn’t believe there is a valley. They literally could not see ten feet.  Nevertheless, they took a couple of hikes and enjoyed their annual trip together (well, not really annual – this was the first time in 25 years that they went away together).  

We’ve continued to take joy in the wonderful successes of our grandchildren and their parents.  Sara Lyon , Katie ’s daughter, graduated from college (which she completed in four years) and loves her new theater job outside of Boston .  Stephen Martinez , daughter Katie ’s son, had a hard time deciding which of the honors programs he should take – Japanese conflicted with computer animation or something like that.  Rory Larkin, Ruane’s son, is in his last year of college, plans New Years in Montreal , and is getting a little worried about what will happen when he enters the real world. Probably like the rest of us, he’ll change careers about 10 times.  His dad is happy teaching social studies (does that run in the genes?).  Sgt. Dan continues to be an avid outdoorsman; Michelle is coordinating the startup of Rebuilding Together Saratoga County ; and their children are stupendous.  Eleven-year-old Erica visited us on her own in July (1st solo flight, broken leg in cast, and all).  We think she enjoyed being pushed around in a wheel chair at the zoo by her grandparents!  Shane is in junior high (gasp!) and is doing outrageously well.  He’s in wrestling, FBLS and newspaper clubs, Boy Scout Patrol Leader, and gets straight A’s.  Lastly, Dawn and Shannon’s children, Hillary and Connor, are warm, wonderful and charming.  

One of the highlights of the year has to have been Valentine’s Day. We’d rented a house in the country for a get together with Dan, Michelle and the children.. They made it to DC, the blizzard hit, and we all got snowed in here in our 2-bedroom apartment for 3 days. Cozy it was -- and fun. We scheduled a make-up date on July 4th. Caitlin and Tim also came out. It was an unforgettable weekend.  

A few other memorable moments in 2003 included season tickets to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center; Elizabeth’s 12th season attending the Emerson String Quartet;  a few getaway weekends, and Thanksgiving with wonderful niece Paige and her husband Everett and their three children.  

Elizabeth ’s work continues to be intellectually exciting. The National Science Foundation was recently rated as the 2nd best government agency in which to work.  She doesn’t understand why it wasn’t #1.  It is an extraordinary place. And if you wonder what Brian does, check What’s New? on www.evanderputten.org.  

We did have some hard news this year. Our best man Dan McKinnon died in Albuquerque of cancer in April . He was a lawyer passionately devoted to civil right and a former New Mexico Supreme Court Judge (his colleagues called him “The Justice of Jazz” for his lifelong interest in jazz). In July, our dear niece Caitlin died of cancer after a valiant struggle.  As the Washington Post obituary said of her, she was a feisty fighter for the rights of the most vulnerable of our citizens, the mentally ill.  We also had a wicked scare when daughter Kathi found she had cancer. Fortunately (and we all are keeping our fingers crossed) after chemo, surgery and more chemo, she seems to have weathered the storm.   

We are glad to report that Elizabeth ’s Dad is doing well. She tries to get up to visit him on Long Island every few weeks. He scared us all last summer when he fell. Elizabeth gets a kick out of discussing such things as quantum physics with him (neither is an expert in the area but that never stopped a good discussion). Her Aunt Annette aka the “Bionic Woman” gave us a couple of scares when her hip popped out and she ended up in the hospital. But she’s fine now.  

2004 should be fun. In May, Elizabeth and at least one friend (others may join) are going dining and hiking the Amalfi Coast of Italy and Isle of Capri. Another major event will be two weeks in the early autumn in Colorado with tours of the Rocky Mountain National Park , Ouray, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison . And finally, after “two more years,” niece Tracy Thomason will graduate May 15 J  

Merry Christmas 2003, happy New Year 2004, and love to all.

Brian J. Larkin and Elizabeth VanderPutten
December 20, 2003, Washington DC