Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten
Our Family Christmas Letter 200

Updated 01/02/2008 . . . .

Merry Christmas dear family and friends,  

We experienced climate change this year. We began with a blizzard in Mexico in January, rain in Big Bend Texas in March, so much heat in Alaska granddaughter Erica sunbathed in her bikini, and amazing warm, calm waters at the treacherous Cape Horn in December.

This was a year of incredible travel for us – from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn; national parks in Chile, Argentina, Texas, New Mexico, Alaska, the Shenandoah mountains; and business trips for Elizabeth to Oklahoma, Milwaukee, Chicago, Raleigh, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii.

Mexico’s Copper Canyon, deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon, but not as spectacular, was fascinating. The railroad trip along the rim was incredible, but the most interesting were the trips down into the canyon down 35-mile long, narrow, curving dirt roads with mile high drop offs (no guardrails) to small towns that got electricity a few years ago. Brian sat up front in the van taking pictures while Elizabeth sat in the back relearning how to pray. We learned about a group of people we did not know existed, the Taramahara Indians, who still live in caves, wear wonderfully colorful clothes, and run 20 to 30 miles in rubber sandals for fun. Unexpectedly, we had two snowstorms. Elizabeth gleefully showed some children how to make snowmen while our guide showed some boys how to have aggressive snowball fights. So much for Mexican-American relations.

In February, we joined friends Barbara Butler and Glenn Porter in Big Bend National Park, to which we added trips to Juarez, Carlsbad National Park, Guadalupe National Monument, and White Sands National Monument.

July was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, which we celebrated with Dan and Michelle and grandchildren Erica and Shane in Alaska. Brian and Elizabeth took a small plane ride far north of the Arctic Circle and then came back by van on the 200-mile dirt road known euphemistically as the Dalton Highway. On Brian’s birthday, we took a helicopter trip to a glacier where we went dog mushing. Brian impressed the guide with his skill at keeping us balanced (Elizabeth uncharacteristically chose to be a “passenger”). The grandkids convinced Elizabeth to go class-4 white water rafting, which she had to admit was great.

In early spring, Elizabeth visited daughter Kathi. Unfortunately, during a very simple hike in Jemez Springs, Kathi fell, breaking her leg. On a positive note, this gave Elizabeth lots of time to talk with grandson Stephen about his major, Astrophysics, while following the ambulance fifty miles to Albuquerque.

In November, Elizabeth and a friend went to the Patagonia, Chile. Why Patagonia? Because it always seemed so remote and exotic. One trip highlight was two hours trekking on Perito Marino glacier. Another was a boat trip through the Straits of Magellan and the Darwin Channel. As a social studies teacher, she had always told the classes about the incredible trips of explorers through those treacherous waters. Improbably, the waters were incredibly calm and she stayed on deck as they circled Cape Horn.

A last word about us -- when not traveling, Brian continued with his web sites and Elizabeth as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation and with her German studies. 

A few notes on the Larkin family front.

The best news is that daughter Kathi (Brian talked with her a few minutes ago) survived another round of cancer (plus a broken leg -- minor stuff by comparison), and is in very good spirits. Our future astrophysicist grandson Stephen got straight A's in physics and math at New Mexico Tech. Grandson Rory started an MBA program this fall at SUNY- Albany. Grandson Shane was an All Star football player on both offense and defense and led his league in touchdown and rushing yards, and granddaughter Erica was called one of the "key players" by the PostStar and got seven "kills" in one volleyball game (such an awful phrase to use with our sweet little Erica). Michelle just got back from a Rebuilding Together national planning meeting in San Francisco. In the second longest Mass in the history of the Catholic Church (there is always one bigger or longer for everything), son Ruane was Baptized on Easter Sunday and Confirmed at the same time. He is teaching social studies at Green Island and working on a CD. Son Dan made a big move this year from the Governor's office back to the State Police. On the home front, if there is such a thing as a "soccer dad," Dan is it. We doubt that he missed (ever) a game or match of anything in which Shane or Erica competed.

And, in other news, family and friends write:

Cousin Laurie Loken wrote about the highlight of her year, "Working on it now." (Aside: That was early December. Must have been a heck of a year, Laurie.) Laurie did take a couple of trips, one cruise to Hawai'i (which Paul liked), and a visit to daughter Stephanie and Tony in Virginia.

Aunt Doris writes, "I'm still volunteering two days a week at the hospital, singing in two choirs at church, and all the rest of the usual stuff...Bob is still delivering meals on wheels, playing bridge two days a week and one night." (Aside: Now that is impressive ... Uncle Bob at 80 delivering meals on wheels!"

Cousin Christine says that the big thing in their lives right now is that husband Robert is four hours left for his degree, and that his new job with South West Airlines gives them unlimited travel. (Aside: From the miles they've logged since August, it looks like they are going to become the leading travelers in the family...and they don't even have to collect frequent flyer miles.)

Niece Maureen Harmon says, "Well our biggest news of course is John retiring from the Navy after 20 years and our cruise to Alaska. :) Shane's NJROTC unit qualified to go to the Regional Competition in Brunswick, GA. Well we returned last night with a few HUGE trophies! Our team won 1st place in overall drill, 1st place in personal inspection (think Marine drill sergeant in your face screaming orders & asking questions) and.......2nd place overall in the region! Needless to say our kids were thrilled and the bus ride home was lots of fun! Placing 2nd means that they will go on to the national competition in April in Pensacola, FL where they will compete with the top 25 teams in the nation. Shane was on the personal inspection team and armed basic. He did awesome as did all of the other cadets."

Nephew Ron, upon hearing some of the details of Elizabeth's Patagonia trip, wrote, "I would say that I’m jealous but in the last couple years I just don’t have the bug to go anyplace. I’m turning into [a stay-at-home] who never leaves home – in bed by 6:00 – that kind of thing! I hope I get over this." (Aside: My lethargy get to me too sometimes. But I do wish you a speedy recovery .)

Sister Jean Pollack wrote that the big event for her in 2007 was, "The dollhouse I donated to the Lupus Alliance was raffled off in December and it raised over $1800.00. Bob and I had a very enjoyable vacation in Maine this past summer."

Cousin Tom VanderPutten wrote, "the biggest thing is the 3 Grand children. Kyra Lyn born to Michael and Michelle VP on July 25. Jake Brody was born to Bryan and Allie August 29 and Caitlin Elise born to Joy and John Woods Nov 15. I can't top that." (Tom -- We understand fully. Aren't grandkids great!)

Our friend Barbara Richardson says, "As you know - I have just retired and hope to take trips with Elderhostel, starting with a boat trip around the harbors of India. I have also recently made contact with an old flame I haven't heard from for 35 years.. the Turk.  I'm looking forward to spending some time teaching at the University of Istanbul Women's Studies Program, where he also teachers." (Aside: hummm - is this the Turk we remember?)

Niece Tracy Larkin Thomason writes, "The two things that stand out are Jon’s 3-week trip to Eastern Europe and my mother’s fight (and win) with uterine cancer. About 3-4 weeks ago she was given an all clear on the cancer – YEA! " (Aside: We know what beating cancer means, and we are all happy for you and your mom, Tracy.)

Nephew Adam Hills writes, "We had a lightning fast 2007, highlighted by (i) Sara continuing as "operations manager" for our entire household, and reclaiming our dining room by having our basement (which now resembles Romper Room) finished; (ii) Adam running his first 1/2 marathon; (iii) Ellie starting a new preschool; and (iv) Carter learning to walk. (Aside: Adam and Sara take nice vacations, too.)

Sister-in-law Nancy Strait  writes, "I guess the most exciting time for me this year was the time I spent in Costa Rica. I really enjoyed climbing the lava fields of Arenal Volcano and watching the steam escape from the crater and flying through the forest canopy on zip lines. I would love to return some day." (Aside: Nancy's description was so good that we are now thinking about visiting Costa Rica in 2009.)

Denise Larkin Sprague says, "I wanted to tell you how excited I was to meet up with Adam Hills and Sarah a few weeks ago at a place where we both take our kids and that we are members of. Adam actually recognized me after all these years...I didn't know who he was until he told me, and it was great to catch up with him and Sarah again. What a coincidence. I mentioned to them that you had told me that they visited a local pumpkin patch and I figured at that time we'd run into one another then. There kids are about the same age as our kids, too. We'll probably see each other quite a bit during the winter where we bring the kids to play in this indoor playland. Also, Adam may be helping me coach my mock trial team this winter as our "attorney coach" at Corinth. He gave me his business card to contact him incase we do this together. It is always great to connect with people from our past."

Brother Dick VanderPutten wrote, "This year we really had an event - For our 40th anniversary, we took the entire gang, all 14 of us, to Disney. It was all it was touted to be . We have already begun to plan the next trip, in May 2009. Merry Christmas all, Love, Dick & Peggy" (Aside: That trip was some trip all right. It dominated the Cyberputten listserv chatter for two weeks.)

Nephew Rich wrote, "Well this was the year for great vacations (and probably the last). In May, Mom, Dad and all the rest of our clan went to Disney. It was great, we all ate dinner almost every night together, and we really had a blast. I think the kids had fun also. Matthew loved posing with the Power Rangers and when the Toy Soldier ordered Kyler to drop and give him 20, he did it doing Knuckle push-ups. We also went on the Disney Cruise with our neighbors. 29 in all. Nothing better than the fresh clean sea air. Other than that all is pretty good here in Oakdale. Meg left her job to stay home and boss me around a little more, but that is OK. I am still at Whole Foods and loving it. Kyler is in 2nd grade and doing well and Matthew is in preschool, kindergarten next year. The boys are great and are growing too fast for me." Click here to see the pictures Rich sent along from the trip, including one terrific shot of Meg and him doing some kind of dance?

Niece Dawn Soriano says, "I would have to say the biggest event was Jonathan getting a solo in Selden Middle School's production of "Broadway Through the Years". He sang "Close Every Door" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He has a lead in this year's drama production as well. He is playing the Cat in the Hat in Seussical Jr. That will probably be my entry for next year's newsletter!" 

Whitewater rafting at 89 -- One of the most amazing stories comes from friends John Doolittle and Ellen Baker. John writes,  "Ellen and I went to Alaska this past June along with E's 89 year-old mother and 15 year-old niece. All four of us took to the whitewater rapids of that state and here's the proof." (Aside: We really impressed!)

Cousin Martha of the West Wing of the VanderPuttens wrote "I think moving to Pflugerville/Austin is big enough. Still haven't sold the house in Fort Worth, but that might be happening this week. I told you Barb was still in Germany, and Scott is due back from his deployment on Jan 22, 2008."

Our friend Deh-I Hsiung always has a story, often about her travels with George. (I've encouraged her to write a book when she retires called "Travels with George.") This one however doesn't involve him. It is however a nice, seasonal story. "Background: one of my misadventures was when I was flying back from Beijing on business (so George was not with me) and we have to go through customs in Chicago's O'Hare airport. Because the flight was delayed departing from Beijing, they had to re-ticket me back for the Chicago - Washington leg. It was chaos in Chicago, and I was late for the gate. When they asked for the ticket as well as the boarding pass, I did not have it. They refused to board me. ("No tickee, no laundry.") I had no idea whether I had lost the piece of paper at the international terminal or the domestic terminal. I went through everything...this pocket, that pocket...my briefcase...my hat, coat, everything. Finally, I ran back to TSA and bingo! they had it. So I ran back to the gate but the flight had taken off and they told me all the seats were sold for the last flight out.   I had visions of becoming the "terminal" lady of O'Hare. Then guess what? Santa must have been going by because the airline agent discovered  I was originally ticketed for the later flight. Phew! I went for a drink -- and they carded me. (Aside: What can anyone say to that story?  Yes, Deh-I, there is a Santa Clause.)

Long-time and very witty friend Patricia Moore writes, "I do legal work for the village of Hempstead, ranging from arguing with the County over who should finance re-doing the sewer system, to detailed instructions for developers who want to put up wondrous new buildings. It's actually a lot of fun and I deal with interesting people. In the meantime, I'm doing my elder law practice, trying to protect my aging clients from the ravages of the Bush administration. Things occasionally look very rosy... a high school choir that went to Vienna to perform after having appeared in Lincoln Center (in spite of the fact the school is somewhere near the bottom academically), and a Youth Corps that staged a "Senior Prom" in which they served food for appropriately garbed senior citizens, who then danced to music from the `50s and `60s. They also produced a stunningly good forum in which a panel of adult officials answered penetrating questions, with follow-ups when the answers seemed inadequate." 

One of the most encouraging piece of news came from old friends Margaret and Allan. Margaret mentioned visiting her brother on his 70th birthday. "but then 70 is the new 50, right?" (Right-on, Margaret, right-on!)

Barbara Olds writes, "I did get to take my first trip to India and visit Turkey and Belgium again. We're spending most of our spare time these days renovating our condo in Winter Park, CO -- can you remember when avocado green toilets and appliances were in vogue? That's the pre-renovation condo." (Aside: avocado green! Wow! That was more than 20 minutes ago.)

We conclude with a story that sound like it came from Amazing But True.  It fits the season. Friend Elizabeth Zapp sent this to Cyberputten.."I have a strange story for you ..... maybe not good enough to consider weird, BUT ... Friday afternoon I was wrapping gifts and after getting a call from Ritchie that he was bringing home dinner (halleluiah) I decided to take a nap. I was awakened by a manic cat jumping on me and scratching and just annoying. I got up to toss him into the next room ....and realized the house was full of smoke. As I went toward the back of the house I saw the smoke billowing from the basement door ....and so dialed 911, shut off the heat at the thermostat and packed my cat into his box. By the time I got out front ....the fire engines and a couple of patrol cars were here ..... long story a bit short, they rushed me to the hospital and a fireman went in to get my other little cat who was upstairs where I couldn't reach due to the smoke. It seems it was the boiler and a valve had "failed" whatever that means. We are all well now and surprisingly little damage ....other than big fireman hand prints on every wall. (Do they do that on purpose??) Of course there were a few broken windows. When I asked whether gas heat would have been safer, they said it was just as likely to happen but not as much smoke. Seems to me the smoke was what alerted the cat to wake me .... Liz, happy to be home, with hero-cat"

We began this year traveling, and we leave tomorrow to travel. We will visit Elizabeth's family on Long Island and the spend a few days in Upstate New York with Brian's family. As Roy Rogers used to sign off, "Happy trails to you."

Love to all, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Brian J. Larkin and Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten
Washington DC
December 15, 2007