Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - Christmas Letter 2004

Merry Christmas Family and Friends

This was the year of a 1,000 new things. [Aside: We heard of someone's New Year's resolution to try 100 new things. "That' funny," Elizabeth giggled, because she'd never get Brian to try 10 new things. So every time he tried something new he'd say, "That makes number 99 doesn't it?" Then we added a few for family firsts and got 1,000.]

To start, we have three new babies in our extended family. Brother Dick and sister-in law Peggy VanderPutten had two grand daughters born two weeks apart Olivia VanderPutten (parents Mike and Toni, and sister of Victoria) and Erica Urbancik (parents John and Dorothy, and brother of Anthony); and Adam and Sara Hills had their first child, Elizabeth "Ellie" Lawton. [Aside: we hope that at least two will be new Democrats.]

In May, Elizabeth loaded up on "new things." She and NSF friend Harriet Taylor went on a first ever, luxury-walking tour in Italy. Highlights included a fantastic (and difficult) walk on a ridge near Ravello overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (the via degli gods or something like that.) There was enough hiking they could eat the fabulous, incredibly varied (read new) meals. Elizabeth commented that a two-hour lunch with wine seems to make walking a whole lot easier. In Rome, she loved the Borghese museum, walking all over the city and the meals. [Aside: there is a pattern here walking, talking, dining!]

Another first was going to Shenandoah NP with Elizabeth's sister Jean and her husband Bob. Would you believe that in 25 years we have visited the Park maybe 100 times and only twice have we been fogged out? The first was last year when Jean and Elizabeth did a "sister's weekend" to Big Meadow. Guess what the weather was this time! [Aside: Perhaps someday, Jean will see there really are fantastic views from the skyline drive.]

Dozens of "new things" came in September with our eye-popping trip to Colorado when the aspens were at their peak. At one of the newest national parks, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (thanks President Clinton), we had the incredible luck of having snow. It made a lovely background for the golden aspens and deep green pinion pine. [Aside: with the current administration our hope is they won't build too many roads through the Parks and not drill too many oil wells]. We saw Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time, and in four days it became Elizabeth's favorite park. [Aside: she is dreaming of moving to Colorado and spending all her time at RMNP.]

We found some of the roads in Colorado truly "breathtaking" - 17 degree slopes, curves without guardrails and drop offs of 1,000s of feet! Elizabeth refused to drive. One of the non-highlights of the trip was being hit by a deer -- a first and hopefully last such encounter. [Aside: it was a little difficult explaining to Avis the tan hairs embedded in the rear door.] We met our friends Barbara Butler and Glenn Porter in Durango and together took our first narrow gauge railroad trip, Durango- Silverton - pretty spectacular!

Elizabeth had a wonderful visit with her friend Barbara Richardson in Maine. They walked a lot, talked a lot, and ate a lot of lobsters (that pattern again) We also visited our newly married friends, Nancy Jane and John Feuerstein for the first time at their lovely old home on one of the Virginia rivers. Despite valiant efforts, NJ and Elizabeth were unsuccessful in their attempts at crabbing [a truly athletic sport where one holds a line with a chicken neck on it until some stupid crab bites.]

A fun first was going to the National Mall for the July 4th fireworks with Erica, Shane, Dan and Michelle who drove down just to go with Grandma Elizabeth. In August, Shane visited and we had a fine time learning where all the best skateboard places are in DC! In general, we think Shane is a pretty bright (he was accepted in the John's Hopkins Talent Search Program based on seventh grade SAT scores). However, he is an avid Bush fan (much to our chagrin), but as Elizabeth says, it is neat that a 14-year-old cares enough about politics to buy a political T-Shirt. Among the firsts this year for Dan and Shane were a dozen high peaks in the Adirondack Mountains and eight touchdowns for Shane. Topping them all though, Erica got to "kiss the moose" at Camp Fowler (a long story).

Our daughter-in-law, Michelle, had a memorable first. The Saratogian chose to honor her (and others) in a special section. They wrote, "The Saratogian is pleased to recognize 20 residents age 40 and older nominated by their colleagues, friends and families for excellence and for making a difference in the community." She more than deserved this honor for her role as President of "Rebuilding Together Saratoga County."

Son Shannon and daughter-in-law Dawne moved to the country where they home-school their children Hillary and Connor. Grandson Rory graduated  December 12, 2004 from the State University of New York at Albany. After that, the most interesting thing in his life right now he says is, "just trying to keep the man from keeping me down."

Brian's sister Maureen writes, "I am on a temporary Leave of absence from my volunteer position with our public school system assisting high school drop-outs earn a GED. The other, and even more enjoyable part of that program, involves helping non-English speaking women learn our language."

Niece Lori wrote about one of the biggest new experience of her life. "Just about a year ago I said to Rick, 'I'm so sick of this cold weather, let's move.' Six months later we are living 3,000 miles away in one of the most sunny and warm places in the US. I'm grateful that we had the gumption and the kids accepted the crazy idea. There are a lot of people I miss in RI, but this was the right move for us." She is also building a home in the desert.

Our Arizona nephew Ron said the biggest newbie this year for him was "...introducing Lori, Rick, Zack, Nick and Riley-Beth to Arizona. It's very nice for us to have family close by after 25 years of being 3000 miles away. As you know, the Southwest is an incredible area to show off and they have a lot to see. I never lose my enthusiasm for this country but it is a lot of fun to be showing it to new eyes. Favorite weekend trip was a stay at the historic Fred Harvey hotel, La Pasada, in Winslow, AZ. Built in 1928 as a magnificent hacienda, it now is only partially restored after being closed to the public for 40 years. It feels like you're entering another era when you walk thru the front door. And we still love our little town of Prescott - bluegrass and folk music festivals, rodeos and Indian markets, blue skies and clear mountain air."

Sadly, not all firsts are happy. Two special people in our lives died this year. In February, Aunt Annette, our "bionic woman," died in her sleep at 89. And Jeanne McBride Hills, who baked a wedding cake for us on the hottest day of the year, died in April. 

Then just before Christmas, on December 10, 2004, niece Kelli Grimmit's husband Jeff was killed in an accident while on a business trip in the Cayman Islands. 

The New Year promises lots of new experiences. We are planning our first visit to Yosemite and Death Valley in the spring. Elizabeth, having been awarded a State Department Fellowship, will spend two months in Berlin in the summer developing recommendations on higher education policy.

Two expected highlights of the new year: First granddaughter, Sara, (Kathi's daughter) will be married; and our First New Mexican grandson, Stephen (Kathi's son) will graduate from high school.

Finally, in what will surely be one of the highlights of 2005, we are looking forward to the second Larkin Family Reunion in June. We hope to see you there.

Love to all,

Brian J. Larkin and Elizabeth VanderPutten
Washington DC
December 19, 2004
(updated 12-22-04)