Oak Haven Happenings

December 2005                       5330 Belfast-Owensville Rd., Batavia, OH 45103 (513)735-2440                          Varicks@aol.com

Merry Christmas!

As I look back over the past year, I realize how much of a gift it has been.  As the kids get older, the time that we get to share together gets more and more valuable. 



Jennifer, Jim, Michelle, Julie, Brian, & Kristin

in Rocky Mountain National Park

On the road again…

Since adapting to our make-your-own schedule, self-employed lifestyle we have dreamed of making “the big trip out west.”  We realized that this might be the last year that we would all be available for the 3½ weeks it would take.

Our first official stop, after a brief visit to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, was Winter Park, Colorado, just south of Rocky Mountain National Park.  After a week in a condo in the spectacular mountain scenery, we crossed the continental divide and flowed west alongside of the Colorado River, taking it all the way from a creek that we couldn’t manage to kayak in, to The Grand Canyon (where we chose not to kayak!).  We had a brief delay in the middle of nowhere (actually, near Moab, Utah), when we

grated the tires on the camper down to the belts on what passes for paved roads out there.  (Did you know that angels are now dressing as National Park Service Rangers?)  We detoured from the flow of the Colorado to visit the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, NM.  I thought that our house was built into a hillside!  At least when we go “behind the house” to work in the garden, we don’t have to scale a shear cliff.  Rejoining the river, we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  What a ravine!

Heading north we “did” Bryce Canyon and headed up to the Tetons and Yellowstone area for a week.  Our first night in Yellowstone we started driving in the evening to look for wolves.  “Follow the crowds to the wildlife,” we were told.  Instead of wolves, we found a crowd gathering on the banks of the Yellowstone River watching three grizzly bears feasting on the remains of a bison.  It couldn’t have been set up more perfectly; tourists on one side of the river (with a parking lot, no less) and wildlife easily visible, but safely on the other side of the water.  The next morning we got up early to check out what might be at the carcass, only to find that a thick fog cloaked the whole area.  As we watched where we remembered the spot to be, the fog started breaking up and I found myself staring through our spotting scope into the eyes of a gray wolf.  What a sight!

The trip home included a too-short stop at my brother Steve and his family’s home in Illinois.  The whole trip (all 5900 miles of it!) was a great experience, without so much as a frayed nerve, thanks to the power of book tapes and all of the kids being intent on turning miles of yarn into scarves, hats, mittens, etc.

Michelle, Julie, & Kristin in Mesa Verde National Park


While we were out west we received the news that our dog Heather, an important part of our family for twelve years, had died.  It’s hard to express what this font of unconditional love meant to our family.  The enthusiasm and joy that she expressed whenever she was with us made us feel like kings and queens.  She will be missed, but her memory has added to the richness of our lives.



The “Kids”

Kristin (20) has been pursuing her “homesteading” interests along with working towards her degree in Early Childhood education.  She has installed a beehive on our property with the help of her cousin Hope.  She also volunteered to put in a period herb garden next to a local cabin managed by the Historical Society at Gauche Park.

Jennifer (19) has been taking “her” dogs to classes as she works towards her degree in Social Services.  The interaction has been a great learning experience as she takes on more responsibility training service dogs with Four Paws for Ability.  It is so rewarding to hear from the families that are helped by these animals.  We recently had a report on Sienna, a beautiful golden retriever, who was with her partner Aliya in the hospital.  A woman down the hall asked if Sienna could come visit her little boy who has a brain tumor and is blind.  When Sienna entered the room she jumped up on the bed with the boy and snuggled up to him.  He felt her fur and said “doggy”, the first words that he has spoken in two years!  You can read more about these dogs that are so much a part of our life on our website at


Brian (16) got his temps this year and spends his time trying to convince us that waiting until he is 18 to get his license is too inconvenient for the family.  It’s nice that he’s so concerned about our wellbeing.  He is playing basketball on a good team this year, which has been a great experience.  He is thrilled that winter has come and looks forward to his weekly trips to the local ski slopes to do some rails at the park with his cousin



Michelle (15) has been refining her artistic flair this year.  She and I had the opportunity to take a pottery class last winter which was great for the time together as much as it was for the learning experience. 

She has become so skilled at creating “Femo” people that Julie seriously thinks we should bring them in to show the people at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  This summer she put together a queen sized quilt for her newly-redecorated bedroom.  Michelle has also taken responsibility for puppy raising a Four Paws dog this year.  Aurora has provided a great experience, and in the end, I think we will see that they both taught each other a great deal.


Brian, Jennifer, and Harmony on our 4H campout.

Brian bringing the ball down for the Landmark Eagles.

Michelle with Aurora.

Kristin examining her bees

Jim & Julie kayaking on the Snake River in the Tetons

Jim & Julie

We have been doing a better job this year of guarding our time together.  We have made it a priority to go on a date each month on our anniversary.  It’s wonderful to be married to your best friend.  This has been a particularly good year for me photographically.  Not so much from the stand point of profitability, but because we have broken through some creative barriers that had built up from focusing too much on profitability.  The wonder of Digital is that I can try all of the experimenting that I want, and not have to worry about “getting it perfect” every time.  Julie has been very involved in facilitating the kids in their goals along with homeschooling Brian & Michelle, but has still found time to help me with the photography business and investments.  For a break from her busy schedule she enjoys sitting on the front porch playing her tin whistle (when the weather’s nice).  Now that the cold has set in, she plays her hammered dulcimer most evenings before going to bed.



As a family, we have continued to be involved in 4H as leaders of the Heritage Builders Club.  This year we started an outreach program to the local retirement community.  We go the last Wednesday of the month with other club members to share with the residents.  Kristin has shared her bees and herbs, and Michelle led an art craft with pumpkins.  Our goal has been to develop a long term relationship with these people and we look forward to the mutual sharing that goes on every time we get together.  We also took part in the River Sweep again this year, cleaning up the East Fork of the Little Miami River.   Along with being good stewards of our natural resources, we have started learning how to be better stewards of our financial resources by starting an investment club with our family along with Julie’s parents, and her sister Melanie’s family.  We’re on our way to our first million.  (Well, at least we’re in the black!)


Kristin & Jim with the
seniors at Owensville Commons

In Conclusion

As we look towards the new year we are hoping to apply some of what we have been learning during our morning devotion, which includes reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life.  We recognize that all of us have a unique SHAPE (Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience) which God intends us to use for His service.  It’s exciting to know that service does not necessarily mean “forced labor”, but is more likely to mean doing what we already know and are passionate about.  We hope that you will take this holiday season to draw close enough to God so that you can hear His “still small voice” speak into your life.


Jim, Julie, Kristin, Jennifer, Brian, & Michelle Varick