The 2018 Gary & Denise Christmas Letter was such a success, we did not want to stop the trending, so here is the 2019 version. This is our 5th Christmas in Big Bear. 2019 was full of adventures, travel and friends. With all of the bovine defecation going on in our beloved homeland, I kept ‘bugging’ Denise to travel overseas. She wisely persuaded me to stay in country and emphasize friends and family. To make a long story even longer, here are pictures of ‘The Further Adventures of Denise & Gary’
For the past 4 years we have put a lot of miles driving all over Southern California watching granddaughter Haley play Soccer for Big Bear High School. Her Senior year was a highlight as the team made it further than they have ever gone before, and Haley set a scoring record for BBHS.
In the early spring we took grandson Brody and his bestie, Gage, to Florida for a fun trip to a place we used to live. Denise once again put together a fantastic experience for all of us. And, as she kept saying, ‘Who would have thought that two 14-year-old boys could have been absolutely perfect and would have a blast with a couple of old farts?’
Everywhere we traveled in 2019 we made it a point to include old friends we had not seen since moving to the ‘Left Coast’. In Florida it was our dear friends, Peggy and Greg Samano.
Back in SoCal Denise stayed active by being a substitute teacher in the Bear Valley School district. Both kids and teachers loved having someone so fun and caring take over while the regular teacher was away. Gary continued his volunteering in the San Bernardino National Forest, taking folks on hikes to discover wildflowers that grow only in the transverse mountain range of Big Bear.
In May Denise took a trip down to Texas to see old friends. She was able to spend time with Brenda and Bruce Tompkins on their ranch in Weatherford. She also caught up with OraBeth McMullen, who was the first Social Worker we worked with back in our working days with severely emotionally disturbed kids. OraBeth is a fascinating, brilliant person with unique childhood stories. Her Dad ran Lyndon Johnson’s senate campaigns. LBJ was a regular dinner guest at her house and he had a habit of reaching across the table and grabbing food off of anyone’s plate to try it out.
Living in Southern California we had often heard about a ‘Superbloom’. In early June, we drove down to Diamond Valley Lake to experience one ourselves. It was a spectacular burst of color everywhere we hiked.
The colossal Flanders event of June was the graduation of our first grandchild, Haley. All of the Flanders and Plakos families gathered at Big Bear High School to cheer and ‘blubber snot’ as Haley entered a new part of her life.
In July Denise outdid herself and planned a magnificent extravaganza – a foray with old and new friends and dear, dear family. The trip began by picking up our good friend John Wilfly in Denver and then going up to Buffalo Wyoming for something we had heard about for many years. We met up with our favorite Airstreamers, Greg and Simone Pearman, and gathered with a couple thousand other folks to meet the author and cast members of our beloved Walt Longmire.
This was only part one of this adventure. From Longmire we jetted off to Michigan to spend time with our beloved niece, Dawn. We grabbed her and headed to one of our best memory making places, Mackinac Island.
And, this journey was not over, oh no. We went back to Denver to see more friends and to spend time with Michael. We had a chance to attend our old church, Colorado Community, and hug our friends, the Gelinas family.
While in Colorado we visited the unusual rock formations called Hoodoos outside of Colorado Springs.
We had no time to rest up before we were on the road again. August was a great time for old friends visiting Big Bear, doing something I have wanted to do for 53 years and seeing an iconic destination in California.
It all started by surprising one of Denise’s favorite students in the Las Vegas airport. Destiney Scott was on her way to visit us and had no idea we would show up as she connected flights from New Orleans to LAX.
We took Destiney to some of our favorite places in LA before bringing her up in the mountains.
In 1966 I was in a fan club for one of the British Invasion bands. I had a pen pal in New York. She said the band was coming to NYC and if I could get there she would get me a ticket. It was the wrong time and the wrong girl. 53 years later I had the right time and the right girl. We journeyed to the Rose Bowl and saw the ‘Greatest Rock-n-Roll Band’ in the world.
Being in an adventurous mood, on a whim we decided to go see Lake Tahoe. It is about a 7 hour drive to a spectacular place. We talked our god-daughter, Sarita, into coming along before she went back to Costa Rica to teach.
We had a couple of days to rest up before we headed back into LA to see Craig Johnson and the cast of Longmire for the second time in 2019. The newest Longmire book, “Land of Wolves” had just been released and we got our autographed copy as well as a chance to talk to one of my favorite actors in the TV series, A. Martinez.
October brought more friends and a special trip back to the Mid-West. Our dear friend from Denver, Marilyn Graham came out to spend some time with us down by the ocean and up here in the mountains.
We stay in touch with some of our Chinese kids. The one kiddo we are closest with, Xinyi, who lives in Beijing, texted us in early October. She said she was planning on traveling to Iceland, but the Chinese government was slow on giving her a visa, so could she come and visit us instead? It was a wonderful ‘family reunion’.
At Manhattan Beach. Xinyi said the surf boards were taller than her.
In mid-October we traveled to Chicago to attend the funeral of Sandy Downs (Sarita’s mom). It was a time of celebration of the life of a brilliant, loving, generous human being who we were blessed to have as our friend for 43 years.
While in the Chicago area, we stayed with our best friends, Ted and Judy Pallock. While there, we took a day and drove over to Moline, Illinois where we first met when I started doing church work 41 years ago. Our dear friends, Mel and Elaine Rash, joined us for the traditional Moline dessert, a ‘Turtle Shake at Whitey’s Ice Cream.’
November started out with something that people will say, “That sounds like something Gary and Denise would do.” We marched in the Palm Springs Pride Parade. We are close with the Pastor of a new Lutheran Church there and we wanted to show our support. We talked our good friends, Greg and Simone, into marching with us. It was pretty danged cool.
We couldn’t sit still and wonderlust struck again, so on another whim we drove to St. George Utah to see Haley at her college, Dixie State University. We talked Michael into joining us and we hiked all over Zion National Park and other Utah State Parks.
That is the short and the long of 2019. Every picture tells a story. We have a nice bed and a beautiful place with lots to see where we live, in case you are interested. There is always room for you here.
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