Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten
Our Christmas Letter 20

Dear Family and Friends,

Despite the government shutdown, this has been a good year for us. 

A highlight this year was the birth of great-granddaughter, Riley Lyon-Smith, daughter of Sara and David Lyon-Smith (Kathi's daughter). We haven't seen her yet, but if she is like her sister she will be gorgeous, brilliant and charming!

Through the arch way we had installed is Elizabeth's studio.Another highlight was our purchase of the unit next door to our condo. We are now the proud owners of a three-bedroom, three-bath, and two-kitchen condo (and, of course, a mortgage which we haven't had for many years). Our home seems huge to us now - having gone from about 709 square feet in which we've lived for almost 40 years to 1200! Brian keeps calling out "where are you" and claims he loses Elizabeth in the space.

A pink Cadilac from the 1950s is now used as a taxi in Havana.Elizabeth has continued her international adventures. She visited Cuba with a photography group under the new "People to People" program, and found the people open to Americans, opening small businesses and genuinely perplexed at the U.S. government. It is a mystery why we have not opened up relations with Cuba. It was fun to see the old cars that still run (of course many have new diesel engines). The ride in a pink Cadillac, complete with plastic seat covers and fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror, was fun.

Bactrian camels on the Mongolian SteppesThen she took off to Mongolia. Why Mongolia? Brian loves the desert and said he wanted to go to the great deserts of the world - like the Gobi. Having convinced Elizabeth to go, he then decided the trip was too long. So she went with her friend Barbara Butler and enjoyed camping in the gers (yurts), riding a camel, seeing the great sand dunes, visiting the reindeer herders, and suffering long, long rides on really terrible roads. On one ride, Barbara's pedometer counted 19,153 steps or bumps!

Late afternoon on the Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley.While Elizabeth was in Mongolia in August, Brian went to three of the great desert parks of the U.S. - Mojave, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley. It is interesting that as he was visiting each new park, he thought this one was definitely his favorite. One challenge was heat. At mid-day, it was between 115 and 120 degrees in the shade at Death Valley, and even hotter in the treeless dunes and canyons. His solution was to drive up to Dante's View (elev. 5475) for a siesta in the car's shade and the constant breeze.

Brian will get to see another great desert this year. This time when he mentioned going to the Atacama in Chile, Elizabeth immediately made unchangeable arrangements. So we are off on another adventure starting December 12. We will also go to Patagonia which really seems exotic.

One nice benefit of the furlough was that we had time to take a trip to New York just as the fall colors were at their peak. For the first time, we visited Bushkill Falls, Watkins Glenn, and revisited Harriman State Park. World travel is great, but New York and this country are magnificent.

We wish you a happy and healthy new year with chances to live your dreams in 2014.

Elizabeth VanderPutten and Brian Larkin
Christmas 2013, Washington DC