Merry Christmas dear family and friends***
This has been a good year for us. We are both healthy and busy. Elizabeth is still working at the National Science Foundation (albeit with increasing murmurings about retiring). Brian continues as webmaster for our condominium and the 23 sites for family and friends. Grandkids are of course doing stellar things in academics and sports.
We continue on our quest to visit all the national parks. Last summer, we toured the Northern Cascades, Olympic, and Mt. Rainier national parks. Due to an unprecedented draught, we had an unprecedented 14 days of clear skies.
Mt. Rainier was truly the highlight. When it is "out", as they say in Washington, it dominates the landscape for hundreds of miles. Elizabeth kept saying she wanted to call in sick and stay another month (but then her work ethic got the better of her).
We took an 80 mile boat trip up lake to Stehekin Lodge (the only way to get there) deep in the Cascades. Stehekin was lovely, but wildfires came within two miles of the lodge. The Forest Service ordered an evacuation the day after we left. While there, Elizabeth decided to go bike riding for the first time in thirty years, and landed, rather ignominiously, on her bottom on her first try. At least she says it still shows her adventurous streak.
We made three trips to one of our favorite hangouts, the Shenandoah NP. In May, nature put on a spectacularly beautiful show of Mountain Laurel. It is really quite amazing to walk on a trail literally surrounded above, to the right and to the left by pink flowers with a characteristically spicy smell.
We ran away from home (construction going on in our unit) in late June and drove the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains NP. The park was lovely with numerous waterfalls, restorations of old mountain homes and villages and ridge after ridge of blue tinged mountains (they really are blue). One secret: NEVER EVER go through Pigeon Forge unless you really want to visit Dollywood. It took us 3 hours to go 3 miles - no exaggeration.
Elizabeth spent a few days in July with her sister Jean in the Adirondacks. In October, while on an extended business trip to Chicago and Madison, she took a detour to Albuquerque and dropped in on Kathi, our daughter and grandson Stephen. It was good to see them, even if the visit ended with a hospital trip for Kathi with a broken leg. Do not believe Kathi if she tells you her step mom pushed her down. No truth in that at all!
We began the year in Rincon, Puerto Rico. While not as special as Puerto Escondido, Mexico, where we used to escape each winter, we had a nice condominium with a lovely view of the oceanůso relaxing. We spent Thanksgiving with Elizabeth's godson Michael and his family, and two weeks later had a second Thanksgiving with Dan, Michelle, Shane, and Erica where we started planning a trip to Alaska next summer.
We will end this year on a two-week adventure through Copper Canyon in Northern Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains. We will stay in several small, Tarahumara Indian villages. It should be an experience to celebrate Christmas in one of those towns.
Love to you, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.
Brian J. Larkin and Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten
***Because we were in Mexico over the holidays, we were not able to include updates from our family and friends in this year's annual newsletter.