LSH escapee caught in Utah
LARNED — Escaped sex offender John Freeman Colt, who walked out of the Sexual Predator Treatment Program of Larned State Hospital on June 30, has been captured in Utah.
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Ghosts of Christmas trees past
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“I’ll be home for Christmas,” the song says.  
This is the first Christmas in my new home, and the first one I’ve spent at home in several years.  Since I moved to Kansas almost ten years ago, I’ve gone to visit my family in the Denver area every year, and stayed through New Year’s Eve.  
We’ve travelled in all sorts of weather--including the knuckle-whitening, low-visibility blizzard type, and made it safely to and from every time.  
This year we have two Christmas trees.  There’s the white artificial tree covered in Nebraska Huskers red ornaments in the basement rec room, lending holiday cheer to the best seats in the house.  Upstairs, in the dining room, however, is the first fresh cut tree I’ve had in five years.  
For many years, I always insisted on the fresh-cut tree because I wanted to do my part to encourage tree farms and help the environment, plus I didn’t have a lot of storage space. The branches and trunk were handy in the garden after the holidays were over, protecting the beds where my spring perennials were sleeping.  But, fresh trees need to be watered every day.  One year, we tried it despite the anticipated week away.  I unplugged everything. Still, I worried friends would call to tell me the house burned down in my absence.  When we returned, it looked great from the front door, but quickly began shedding needles as soon as the vibrations from our footsteps made it to the base.   
I ultimately had to perform surgery on the vacuum cleaner because the needles jammed inside the tube, and got mixed up with other debris on the floor until there was a solid, unmoving chunk stuck so bad even a broom stick used as a battering ram couldn’t get through the clog.   
The next year, I thought I’d try a live tree.  Actually, in October I happened to be shopping at a big box home improvement store that was clearing out its nursery stock at outrageously low prices.  I was on a tight budget, and had a eureka moment.  If I bought some evergreens then, and prepared everything right, I could use them for Christmas decorations, and then have new landscaping plants for no additional cost.  Of course, it meant our Christmas tree was more a Christmas bush, and I couldn’t use all the ornaments.  Still, the plan worked great.  When I got the bushes home, I dug holes for them in the border garden.  I kept them potted but dropped them in the holes, covering them with straw.  A week before Christmas, I pulled them out and brought them into the house , set them in the shower and watered them thoroughly.  When they were done draining, I moved them into the living room and decorated them.  They were in great shape when we got home, and soon after I put them back in their holes and recovered them with straw until spring.
This year, we bought our tree from the Great Bend Optimists Club.  It’s nice to have the scent of pine in the house again, and to have all the ornaments on display.  We have a collection built over 25 years, and my favorites are the ones with photos of the kids when they were babies and toddlers.  As we receive cards, we put them on the tree, along with an ever-changing assortment of candy-canes.
For many years, my kids have dreamed of sleeping in late and spending the day in pajamas, relaxing in a warm house and enjoying their gifts, watching Christmas movies and having a day long feast.  So far, it looks like this year may be the one where the dream finally comes true.   But forgive me for holding my breath.  I’ve lived through blizzards that needed to be dug out of, power outages, and holiday emergency room trips, so I know even the best laid plans can go awry.  
Our first Christmas season in Great Bend has been uneventful but pleasant.  Our new church home is welcoming, and we’ve enjoyed taking part in some of the annual events the area has to offer.   The lights throughout the city are impressive, and the displays at individual properties have been great fun to drive by and look at.  Every day I feel more and more at home and that is a wonderful gift.  Merry Christmas, Great Bend.

Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at