What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 1998 Flanders Family Christmas Update. To see a full listing, see Our Christmas Letters. For tips on writing your own family history in this fashion, follow this link. In the meantime, enjoy!
The Flanders Family Update: 1998
January 1998 Happenings
Jonathan and Bethany volunteered to help Jennifer ring in 1998, as Doug spent New Year’s Eve at the hospital. We drank hot cocoa and watched the neighbors’ fireworks while waiting for him to get home, which he did shortly after midnight.
January found baby Joseph sleeping through the night, but he was careful not to let it become a habit!
Doug took time to do a little writing this month. He penned a great column about priorities, which was published in our church newsletter, and an even better one on perseverance, which wasn’t. The irony is that after his perseverance piece was turned down, Doug quit writing altogether for about six months!
Okay, okay, so he was studying for his oral boards. He passed those in April, thanks be to God, and it is a tremendous relief to have all that testing behind us. But now I am getting ahead of myself.
February 1998 Happenings
Jennifer broke her toe in February, which caused excruciating pain for the first day or two. You can imagine how dainty her size 11 foot looked in that orthopedic surgical shoe!
David turned six this month and won his first speed skating race. He is still such a string bean, we thought a made-from-scratch birthday cake might help put some meat on his bones. Jennifer exiled the rest of the children to the back yard while David helped bake a chocolate cake topped with a green coconut farm scene. It turned out good enough to eat!
David began first grade at home this year and immediately began shortening his name to DAVE on much of his written work. I guess it saves time. A budding scientist, he loves to concoct his own experiments. One day recently, Jennifer noticed David’s shirt was soaking wet and asked what he had been doing. “I’ve been practicing sneezing,” he explained. “I take little drinks of water, then blow them out my nose. One sip makes two ah-choos!”
March 1998 Happenings
Doug began leading a small discussion group for Sunday school in March. This assignment was right up his alley, as he definitely has a gift for gab! Jennifer was invited to speak to a group of home-school mothers this month, sharing the podium with two other ladies. She felt like her little talk was well received, until weeks later when she heard another mother comment on what an excellent program it had been. Before Jennifer could thank her for the compliment, the woman went on to ask, “Did you come to the meeting that night, Jennifer?” So much for making a big impression….
We finished a few projects this month — enlarging our flowerbeds, papering and reflooring the utility room, and finishing the curtains and bedclothes for Jonathan’s room — all in anticipation for our first annual “Azalea Open House”. We had about two dozen friends and family drive in from Dallas during the two weeks of the trail, but we hope even more of you will come visit next year. Just pack a picnic lunch on April 3 and join us in Tyler for the day!
April 1998 Happenings
Our home school support group sponsored a Civil War Ball in April. We had almost as much fun preparing for the event as we did attending — learning period dances like the Virginia Reel and the Yankee Doodle, and fashioning old prom dresses and second-hand suits into frilly ball gowns and Confederate uniforms.
Doug’s anesthesia orals were this month, as I already mentioned. The examination fell smack dab on his thirty-first birthday and took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Jennifer stayed home with the children and laid six pallets of grass while he was gone. The kids helped a little, but spent most of their time breaking in the new fort/swing-set we had built in our yard just before Doug left town. They even slept in it! Or at least, they tried to, until the mosquitoes drove all but the most determined back to their own beds.
May 1998 Happenings
May was one stress-filled month! The pressures we were under while Doug was preparing for the boards were nothing compared to the tension we felt while waiting for the results of his exam. This was due in part to the barrage of maladies that afflicted our family about this time: Joseph’s temperature repeatedly spiked to 104 degrees, Benjamin’s lymph nodes swelled to the size of golf balls, David was covered head-to-toe with enigmatic red spots, and the rest of us shared what seemed would be a terminal stomach virus.
Even our Suburban broke down and had to have its alternator replaced.
The fact Doug took 16 days of call this month compounded the strain, but what made it nearly unbearable was the fact that all of his classmates got the news that they’d passed the boards a full week before we received any word at all. That was enough to make us want to do something DRASTIC! Doug considered getting a vasectomy, but we compromised and got rid of our video player, instead!
It has been years since we’ve had television reception, but we more than compensated for that fact with the number of movies we rented this month alone. Now we will (theoretically) be forced to find more creative ways to cope with life’s trials. Unless, of course, we lose our resolve and replace the VCR — we’ve kept our video library, just in case!
Things had settled down somewhat by the end of the month when Jonathan celebrated his tenth birthday. He took over the chore of mowing the lawn this year, and has done a splendid job of it. We’ve paid him for his efforts, and with the earnings he bought the latest additions to our menagerie — a small, gray bunny named Hazel and a spotted white one named Fiver. He even paid for the materials Mom used to build the rabbit hutch!
Jonathan has such a way with animals — wild and tame ones alike seem drawn to him like a magnet. He is beginning to have the same effect on little girls. This phenomenon has not escaped the notice of his siblings. Even our pre-schooled Samuel could not resist the urge to tease his brother a little, chanting that familiar old rhyme with a slightly new twist: “Two little love birds, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-LMNO-P!”
June 1998 Happenings
It may come as a shock to the many folks who have counted all our children and questioned whether we fully understand what causes them, but we actually do know! In fact, Doug and Jennifer were asked to address that very topic before a local church youth group in June. In a culture that has so completely divorced this aspect of life from what God in all His wisdom intended it to be, it was a real privilege to get to share with these young people God’s beautiful and perfect design for oneness in marriage.
We made our annual trek to Hot Springs mid-month and finally got to try para-sailing while we were there — even Jonathan, Bethany, David and Samuel went up on a line. It was like floating on a cloud, except that the safety harnesses made our legs fall asleep. Nana and Papa watched our littlest ones while we were in the air, but admitted it looked like lots of fun. Perhaps we can convince the two of them to try it next year.
July 1998 Happenings
Doug’s sister got married in July. She gave us only three days notice, but Doug managed to get enough time off work for us to drive to Austin and meet her intended before they eloped. His name is Chris Mullennix, and we couldn’t have picked a more suitable match for Priscilla if we’d tried to ourselves.
Still, the trip to Austin was much too rushed for our liking. The children kept remarkably quiet and slept for most of our time on the road, which makes us wonder how we could have traveled so many miles before hearing those sirens. It was not until Doug tried to change lanes in the small town of Thrall that we realized we had three squad cars in hot pursuit! Come to find out, they’d tailed us through two towns and had radioed a third to set up a roadblock on our behalf! The officers fully intended to haul us to jail, but were so relieved to find we were not smuggling drugs or fire arms that they just slapped Doug with a stiff fine for speeding, which was admittedly well-deserved, and bade us SLOW DOWN.
August 1998 Happenings
Thirty-one seems way too early to be starting a mid-life crisis, but perhaps that would partly explain why Doug felt compelled in August to trade in his dependable Chevy truck for an extremely impractical, two-seater convertible! It may also bear significance that he did this the same day Jennifer discovered the first three gray hairs in his temple. Or it could be that men really are from Mars! Whatever the case, Doug spent all of eight weeks crammed conspicuously behind the wheel of a tiny, emerald green, Mazda Miata before coming to his senses and swapping back for an extended-cab pick-up.
August also marked our eleventh wedding anniversary, and we must confess that we have no regrets in that department, despite differing tastes in automobiles and divergent spending habits!
To his credit, Doug has learned to shop more sensibly when he’s buying for Jennifer, which would explain her delight over the dandy, little pocket-knife key-chain she received from him this month. It actually has eleven different tools which fold up inside — that’s one for each year of marriage!
We spent three days at Hyatt Hill Country in San Antonio the end of the month. We had no choice but to put our feet up and relax this vacation, as Jennifer broke yet another toe in her rush to get packed the morning we left town!
We had scarcely gotten out of Tyler before the children began asking, “Are we almost there yet?” Jennifer promised each of them twenty-five cents if they could refrain from asking that question for the rest of the trip. We enjoyed at least a thirty-minute respite before Bethany rephrased the inquiry, “Have we almost earned our quarters yet?”
September 1998 Happenings
Bethany turned nine in September and is still the most helpful, patient, thoughtful daughter any parent could hope to have. She asked us not to spend a bunch of money on her birthday this year, as all she really wants is a sister! But, alas! She had to settle for a set of books, instead. Bethany continues to out-read us all. When her nose isn’t in a book, she’s writing stories of her own. Her best one to date is “Run, Lightning, Run!”, told in six short but detailed chapters
Our blue-eyed Joseph celebrated his first birthday and learned to CLIMB this month. This newly acquired skill has certainly kept his guardian angels on their toes. They seem to be constantly tapping the rest of us on the shoulder, as every time we turn around, it is just in the nick of time to rescue Joseph from utter ruin! He is such an affable child, though. He tagged along to his mother’s water aerobics class all summer, where he was affectionately known as “the Michelin tire baby”, in reference to the inflatable inner-tube in which he floated during class.
Try as she might, Jennifer hasn’t been able to shake off that last twenty pounds she gained during her pregnancy with Joseph. Still, she is tall and hides it well, or so she thought before seeing a former neighbor on a recent visit to Mesquite. “Wow! You’ve lost a lot of weight!” the neighbor enthused. Jennifer answered yes, but admitted she still had a few pounds to go, to which the neighbor sympathetically replied, “Well, it does seem like your legs are retaining water… but the rest of you looks great!” (Which, of course, translates: “You look like a hippopotamus from the waist down!”)
October 1998 Happenings
Samuel turned five in October. Still an early riser, he doesn’t even wait on the sun anymore, but gets up by five o’clock most every morning, just as Jennifer is putting Joseph back to bed after his first feeding. He sits quietly drawing pictures or doing arithmetic while Mom works at her desk.
Samuel inherited a “cool” pair of hand-me-down jeans this summer, which has virtually become a second skin to him. He drags them out of the dirty clothes hamper first thing every morning and wears them until they are stiff enough to stand on their own. The only time they ever get laundered is when Mom forcibly peels them off his body and throws them directly into the washer. Even then, he retrieves them from the drier while they are still damp.
Sam got an extra special treat for his birthday this year — an overnight camping trip alone with Dad. They left the flashlight at home, had to bum some bug repellant from more experienced campers, and lost their food supply to the raccoons, but had a great time nonetheless (for a couple of greenhorns).
Benjamin celebrated his third birthday this month. Our little cuddle-bug, he gives the sweetest hugs. He loves to sneak up and kiss us when we least expect it, then dart away before we can kiss him back — a game he calls “stealing sugar” and takes great delight in playing. Ben has grown much more talkative this year, although about 90% of what he says is indecipherable to anyone outside his immediate family (the remaining 10%, we don’t understand, either). Even so, he remains extremely patient and seems more than willing to repeat himself until his meaning is made clear!
The city of Tyler built a new outdoor skate park this month, full of towering, wooden ramps on an unyielding, concrete foundation. Doug and the kids could hardly wait to check it out. After observing the ease with which the teens there did a variety of amazing stunts, Doug bought himself a skateboard and tried to follow suit.
Needless to say, the tricks were more difficult (and dangerous) than they looked. On his first visit to the park after getting the new board, Doug fell and broke his left arm! This was cause for some concern, as he was in such pain the night it happened that he could hardly move his arm at all and required help to do the simplest of tasks. Even so, God was abundantly merciful and granted Doug a remarkably quick recovery. Would you believe he was able to put in epidurals for laboring women within 24 hours of taking the spill?
By the end of the week, the only task at work that still gave him trouble was trying to reach behind his head to tie the strings of his surgical mask. Another physician spotted Doug in the hall the day after his accident and quipped, “I think you’re gonna make out all right, Dr. Flanders, but in the meantime, you ought to have someone help you comb that hair!” Doug struggled with it alone for a few more days, then gave up and got a crew cut, which he’s worn ever since.
November 1998 Happenings
As the glorious fall weather carried us into November, our family life began to take on the reassuring rhythm of an actual routine (a concept totally foreign to us during Doug’s grueling years in medical school and residency). After having been put on the trauma team this summer, Doug was able to cut back substantially on moonlighting and is now at home more evenings and weekends than not. That has been such a blessing! He’s even had time to participate in the Tyler chapter of Bible Study Fellowship, which has been a great source of encouragement to him.
Having Doug with us for dinner so many nights a week has challenged Jennifer to expand her limited repertoire of recipes. Just when it was becoming apparent that our household could not stomach many more meals of baked fish or frozen lasagna, Jennifer’s friend Teresa McCarty took pity and came to our rescue. Pots, apron, and cookbook in tow, she spent over four hours in our kitchen one night teaching Jennifer how to cook…from scratch, even!
This fall, Jennifer took on the responsibility of coordinating “Mom’s Night Out” for our home school group, which means she is in charge of planning topics and securing speakers for our monthly meetings. We have a wonderful support group here, and we’ve enjoyed the rich variety of opportunities it provides. The children take gymnastics, study piano, play soccer and attend choir once a week, in addition to participating in academic competitions, going on field trips and roller skating once a month. Our whole family got first hand experience in grass-roots politics this year while helping with the Jim Lohmeyer campaign for Congress — rolling newspapers, walking neighborhoods, attending rallies, and manning phone lines. The children even got to shake hands with Gov. George Bush and his wife during their brief stop in Tyler.
Although we are more involved in outside activities than ever before, we don’t feel particularly “busy”. Here in Tyler, we are literally five minutes away from any place we need to go, and our older children have become a huge help to us in everything we do! We still find time to read great books together. Doug finished C S Lewis’s Screwtape Letters this fall, which fueled some fascinating discussions, and Jennifer is about half-way through the fourth of eight Little Britches books, which have proven to be rare jewels, indeed! Sterling North says that this autobiographical set by Ralph Moody “should be read aloud in every family circle in America”, and we agree whole-heartedly with that assessment. Even our younger boys hang on every word of them! Most of the family — Flanders, Cowans, and Hancocks — came to Tyler for Thanksgiving this year. We crowded around the table and listened as each person in attendance recounted God’s blessings, feeling overwhelmed by His goodness!
December 1998 Happenings
That brings us to December again! We continue to pass milestones even as this letter goes to print. At almost 15 months, Joseph finally took his first steps last Sunday. You’d think that having to crawl on hard brick floors would’ve been all the incentive he’d need to walk early, but not so! And Benjamin cast off his diapers this week (his idea) and started using the potty, despite his profound disinterest in doing so during Mommy’s previous attempts to train him.
As always, we look forward to hearing what is new with you, so please drop us a line. In the meantime, we want to wish each of you a joyous and meaningful Advent season. For our Christian friends, we pray God’s continued blessings in 1999. For those who have not yet come to faith, we pray you will open your heart today to accept the greatest gift ever given, which is forgiveness of sin and eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord. His grace be upon you all!
Doug, Jennifer, Jonathan, Bethany, David, Samuel, Benjamin, and Joseph
Do you prefer to do your reading offline? You’ll find more of our family’s embarrassing moments, hard learned lessons, and hilarious antics all in Glad Tidings, a compilation of the first 25 years of Flanders Family Christmas letters. It also includes a few favorite recipes, seasonal quotes, time-saving tips, and fun family traditions. Volume 1 is on sale now. We’re hoping to release Volume 2 in the year 2037.