Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten
Our Family Christmas Letter 2005

Merry Christmas dear family and friends,  

[Forty-five people responded to our query about their big events this year, and we want to share as many of their responses as possible with you.]

This was a pretty “normal” year for us and our family considering the quirks of the Larkin/VanderPutten network of family and friends. We (personally and as a family) had a lot of excitement, traveled to familiar and exotic places; reaffirmed our credentials as “national park junkies;” basked in the achievements of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews; and worked and volunteered in important and challenging areas.

Still, niece Lori Andressen hit the button for many of us when she wrote, “I don't think we had anything ‘big’ happen. The fact that we are all happy and healthy is a blessing (despite the Republican administration)...guess you can't put that in the Christmas letter.” Or as Mike Silverstein said, “There is nothing more important than a year of health and happiness.”  In the main, 2005 was a good year but not a blockbuster.

The Larkin Family Reunion (kudos Dan and Michelle) in Saratoga was a huge success, attended by Larkins & VanderPuttens from DC, AZ, VA, MD, TX and RI. Besides ours, the reunion made it to the “2005 Biggie List” for Mike and Toni VP, sisters Maureen and Jean, nieces Tracy (NV) and Paige (and Everett), and nephew Mike (and Brenda).

A real “biggie” for us was finding a new member of our family this year, Maureen Harman, daughter of Brian’s brother Maurice.  We have enjoyed learning about her, her husband (USN Commander) John and sons Shane and Kyle. Maureen is starting a career as a realtor, John is considering retiring from a career (someday), and Shane (who is in Jr. ROTC) is thinking about taking up a (military) career. (For the 201st time, welcome Maureen.

Basking in our children’s accomplishments

Marriages were popular again this year. We were delighted at the marriage of our radiant granddaughter Sara to beaming David. When asked for her 2005’s biggie, she wanted to know if this was a trick question and asserted “OUR WEDDING!!!” This was particularly wonderful since Sara was recovering from a 25-foot fall when a scaffold she was on collapsed. There was a question if she would ever walk again. Sara inspired everyone during her recovery with her positive, upbeat attitude despite the pain of numerous surgeries and physical therapy. Dancing at her wedding was no small feat. 

Cousin Tom and Joan had a “double whammy” since twins Joy and Bryan both married this year. Cousin Martha’s daughter Barbara (granddaughter of Elizabeth’s Uncle Bob and Aunt Doris) married this fall just in time to join her husband Scott when he ships out to Germany. Elizabeth also shared in the delight of her NSF colleague Barbara Olds, whose son married this summer and who learned she would be the grandmother of two next year. Planning weddings is also a biggie. Niece Kelly Lavin wrote, “My big event for 2005 was that I got engaged!”  Mom Tracy Gandin adds, "She will be married to Chris Wiltshire sometime this coming summer."

Our grandchildren are (naturally!) superb. Erica and Shane are A students. She was part of NASA'S New Horizons Mission 2005-06 and Shane is on the honor role. Erica visited us this summer to help celebrate our 28th anniversary. She & Grandma Elizabeth had fun buying a dress for Erica, taking a picture of her modeling it with her cell phone, and emailing it for mom Michelle’s okay (ah, the wonders of technology). Shane is a football star (offense and defense on JV and varsity) and was the chief reasons the team made the playoffs. Unfortunately, he broke his arm just before the playoffs – bummer.     

Grandson Stephen Martinez graduated from H.S. and is acing it at NM Tech, majoring in astrophysics and taking Japanese. We are also overwhelming pleased that daughter Kathleen (nee Kathi aka Katie) once again beat cancer. Grandson Rory & dad Ruane went to Cancun, Mexico to celebrate Rory’s graduation from SUNY-Albany (yikes we must be getting old with two college graduate grandkids). Shannon and Dawn continue to home school Hillary and Connor. 

Perhaps there is nothing more wonderful than enjoying children. As niece Dorothy wrote, “There wasn't one ‘big event;’ however I got to see life through the eyes of a 3 year old and 16 month old and it's the greatest thing in the world!” Nephew Adam said, “We watched our daughter Ellie turn 1 in September, which was amazing.” Denise Sprague wrote, “Scotty turned 1 year old. I can’t think of anything bigger.” Liz Zapp wrote she was privileged to bring her youngest niece Katie, age 11, to NY where she got to see the Bronx Zoo, catch fireflies and make a quilt.  

Mick VP ( Australia ) wrote about driving down to the Snowy Mountains in July. “Neither my partner Tanya nor our children had ever seen snow before, as it is rather rare in Australia.” In some really big related news, Tracy (NV)’s son Jon will soon see a piece of Down Under. Jon “was chosen to participate in the student ambassador program.  So next June, he and 39 other 5th and 6th graders from northern Nevada will travel to Australia for 19 days. Time at a wildlife area (koalas and kangaroos), time with the aborigine culture, snorkeling in the barrier reef (How cool!)"   

Elizabeth’s brother John wrote about his grandchildren. “Jonathan has progressed very nicely in his swimming classes and has continued to move up in rank with each year. His schoolwork this year as always has been excI'm busier than ever at American University being named Associate Director of the school's Center for Teaching Excellence, in addition to my duties as a professor in the School of Communication.  The new chores include the task of encouraging and stimulating the faculty to reach their full potential in the classroom.  I've enjoyed the challenge a lot since taking on the task in September.
t and he enjoys chorus and band. Aurora received her First Holy Communion this year and she looked like an angel in her white dress.” Luke Bonner started junior high where he continues to star in band and chess and has gotten A’s on his report card.  Carole-Anne has her first job.  

We especially enjoyed a visit by Dick and Peggy, son Richard, grandson Kyler along with Mike, Tanya , Victoria and Olivia. It was fun watching 4 & 5-year-olds play in the roof garden pool and then make “butt prints” on the deck.  It was also fun to see their excitement when we took a subway ride.  Children help us see the wonder in everyday life!

Community Activism, Jobs and homes  

Our communities are better for several members of the family.  John, Pat, Carole-Anne and Luke are all active in the Lupus Foundation of Long Island/Queens.  Carole-Anne, 16, is the poster child for the Foundation and has met with members of Congress.  Brother John was elected to the Foundation's Board of Directors.

Michelle and Dan Larkin continue leading Rebuilding Saratoga Together Program, while Michelle directs the Arts in Education program for the school district. Michelle, who is President of Rebuilding Together Saratoga County, was presented with the NATIONAL COMMUNITY ACTION Award on Friday, June 10, 2005. NCA awards recognize outstanding service to low-income families and are presented annually by the National Community Action Network, New York, NY.   Friends Anne and Jim Aldrich report that the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce recognized Anne as “Senior of the Year” for her work on environmental issues at Riderwood (a senior retirement complex where they live) and the Wildlife Habitat Council selected her as “Community Partner of the Year.”

Our “family lawyer” Pat Moore continues her political activism and is now Special Counsel for Inter Governmental Affairs in the town of Hempstead. Aunt Doris wrote that she and Uncle Bob VP are still upright and busily volunteering, meals on wheels, bridge and singing in hospital and other choirs. Cousin Gary is 10 years deep into developing a 1.5-mile park along Brooklyn 's waterfront.  Cousin Laurie's daughter Andrea Andrea is a college senior and has an internship at the Presbyterian night shelter in the Women/children division.

Art and music are big in the Family. Cousin Barbara VP was named Interim Director of the “fabulous Mission Valley Chorus and took them to a successful chorus show in November.”  Jan VanderPutten will appear in  O’Neil’s Ah Wilderness while husband Gary made his debut stage appearance in a production of Glengarry Glenross.

Margaret Windus challenged her long-term condominium Board with her typically impressive analysis of the budget and management issues. Elizabeth swears this is the absolutely last time that she will be on the Lauren Condominium board, having served for 20 of the past 23 years.

As our friend from Puerto Escondido, Mexico, Gina Machorro wrote, we are all working mas duro.  Cousin Bob VP is finishing college, while his wife Chris is “flying all over the country to convince the government to license medical professionals.” There have been a few job changes. Niece Toni VP started at Smith Barney; Nephew Rich is heading up the deli section of a new Whole Foods store. Son Dan writes that having successfully completed 20 years as a New York State Troopers he is now eligible for retirement. Elizabeth (having completed 25 years with the Federal government) agrees it is nice to be one bad workday short of saying goodbye to a job and starting a new professional life. Nephew Shawn and wife Sue gave up their well paid jobs after two years in Atlanta and move back "home" to Boone, NC, and open a pizza business and  pursue their version of the 'big dream'. Cousin Laurie's daughter Stephanie graduated from TCU and "now runs the small restaurant in a little shop called Tarlton cafe in Hillsboro, TX." Denise completed a Certificate of Advanced Study-It, an advanced MA that certifies her as a public school principal or superintendent. She adds, "I still have dreams of getting a law degree, though."

Congratulations to Barbara VP and Trish on their new house in Grass Valley, CA, to Shannon and Dawne on their new place in Schenectady, and to Mike Larkin (RI), whose "personal highlight was getting my new Harley-Davidson."

Niece Tracy Gandin (VT) has started training horses professionally and giving riding lessons. She is currently training a Tennessee Walking horse which will be the first of its breed to be exported to Italy in 2006. Son Sean is in his second year at Maine College of Art. And in one of the best good-sport lines we received, Tracy says of her coach husband:

"Dan gave another team a chance to be Vermont State Champion in boy's high school basketball after two consecutive championship seasons."

Travel

Travel was big for us and many of our friends and family. The highlight of Elizabeth’s year was an NSF/State Department Fellowship at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin where she traveled widely (Dresden, Munich, Magdeberg, Leipzig, Frankfurt an der Oder aka Frankfort-on-the-Main) and did research on German Higher Education and Research Policy. It was an extraordinarily exciting intellectual and cultural experience. Berlin was a wonderful place for her as she went to concerts, museums, parks and historic places like Check Point Charlie and Potsdam. So many things in Germany reminded her of her German Grandma Easson. Elizabeth notes that while most German food was great, she was not as enthusiastic about the Berlin specialty, currywurst.  

One of her most moving experiences was visiting the reconstructed Dresden Frauenkirche cathedral three days before its official re-consecration. The centuries old church was destroyed during the firebombing of Dresden in WWII and the rubble was left in place during the communist rule as a reminder of war. Following the breakup of the USSR and the reunification of Germany, reconstruction of the Baroque masterpiece, which dominates the Dresden skyline, began in 1992. She was allowed to climb the 222 steps to the top of the dome.

On another trip, Elizabeth represented the National Science Foundation and USA at an EU meeting in Brussels on research and evaluation in science education. (As serious intellectuals, she and her colleagues made time to go to Mary’s, a world-class chocolate store -- this is actually in the book of 1,000 places to visit before you die. They also conducted rigorous evaluations of the relative merits of Belgian beer.

Another business trip took her to Las Vegas where,  while watching her mathematician friends win at Blackjack by counting cards, she got bored and put $10 in a slot machine. She got a sudden jolt when the machine sounded like it was blowing up. However, she relaxed when one of her friends told her she had won a jackpot of $270. She cashed in and went out for a drink with her friend John Cruickshank. Other than that, “What Happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.”  

Our “National Park Junkie” qualifiers this year included long familiar Shenandoah NP and an incredible trip to five national parks in California. After a two days at the Mojave NP and three in Death Valley (120 degrees), we drove 450 miles to Yosemite Valley NP only to find it closed due to flooding from rain and melting snow.  We almost turned back, but in the morning, the Park opened -- at its peak! The waterfalls were full, the mountains snow capped, and the sky deep blue forming Kodak moment backdrops. We also visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP where we took a hair-raising ride down a 12-mile, 1-1/2 lane wide, curving road with 1,000-foot drop-offs ( Elizabeth relearned the power of prayer).    

We have for a long time yearned to taking the train trip our friends Glenn Porter and Barbara Butler did through the Copper Canyon in Mexico. Elizabeth also wants to repeat the hike friends John Doolittle and Ellen Baker are taking right now scaling Peru's Machu Picchu to celebrate her 60th birthday. Margaret Windus and Alan Bow did Italy, Scotland, and Greece. Sister Jean and Bob celebrated their silver anniversary in Colorado, getting to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and Maroon Bells, two of Elizabeth’s favorite places. In March, Cousin Martha and husband Jeff Moss celebrated their anniversary in New Orleans reliving their 1993 honeymoon.  

But we hope not to repeat the experiences Deh-I Hsiung and George had – getting separated and lost on a mountain trail in Hokkaido, Japan as an icy rain set in. And now they are off on a 3-week tour of Burma/Myanmar (wow!). She writes, 

"I got lost on a mountain in Hokkaido, Japan last September. Weather had turned, cold, and George and I were unsuitable dressed. George, went barging ahead, and as I was struggling up, a hiker coming down the mountain offered hers. When I could go no further, and saw no signs of George, I found the same woman had followed me and immediately took out some hot tea, and an extra sweater from her knapsack. She turned out to be a park ranger. There was no sign of George coming down the mountain. However, near the cable car top, I saw him at a distance, wandering along another path looking for me. The park ranger not only hugged me but jumped up and down with joy. So unlike the Japanese culture, but his sighting saved having her do reams of paperwork because of a foreigner getting lost. Also, alas, no helicopter rescue ride needed after all."

Brian’s sister Maureen Wright and niece Tracy (NV) visited Ireland and Sr. Therese, spending a week in the beautiful Cave House in Northern Ireland. Nieces Paige Larkin Carpenter and Kelli Larkin Grimmitt traveled to China and hiked the Great Wall, in part to celebrate Paige’s passing her Doctoral comprehensive exams.  Paige and husband Everett (professor at VCU) report that Dria 16, Alex 4 and Katie 3 are doing fantastically (naturally, it's a family trait).

An End and a Beginning  

Many of our friends and family experienced the loss of family members. Sadly, Elizabeth’s Dad died this year after a brief illness at the age of 94.  Blessedly, he was fiercely independent, intellectually alive, and in physically quite good health until the last few months. He was a powerful presence in the lives of our family. For his 94th birthday, he received a book on physics, some wine, and a party with his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and an assortment of relatives and friends.  His death leaves a major hole in the landscapes of our lives.

Finally, as is appropriate for the end of one year and start of another, we started a new tradition in 2005 -- a “girls’ night out” at the Kennedy Center’s ABT Nutcracker with Elizabeth, 4-year-old grandniece Victoria, niece Tanya (wife of godson Michael), her aunt, and Tanya’s niece. For next year they are planning to add snickerdoodles cookie baking to the event.

Love to all and merry Christmas,

Brian J. Larkin and Elizabeth VanderPutten
Washington DC
December 22, 2005