What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2004 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: 2004

December 2003 Happenings

It took several weeks for us to settle into our new home last December. We moved every stick of furniture ourselves, including massive desks, heavy bookcases, and one unwieldy piano. The effort must’ve aged us considerably: some poor soul mistook Jennifer for Isaac’s grandmother this month!

2004 Happenings - Our House

The house is big (friends say we need walkie-talkies to carry on a conversation from opposite ends of the master bedroom); nevertheless, our little ones congregate in a dormer closet upstairs to play, Jon puts the top down on his Jeep and studies in the back seat, and the middle boys sleep in a pile on our den floor (cool weather) or in a tent in the woods behind our house (when it’s warm).

We installed a water fountain on the back porch to keep the kids from running indoors every time they get thirsty, but the strategy backfired. Now when a child is inside and wants a drink, he jumps up and runs outside to get it!

January 2004 Happenings

2004 Happenings - Big SnowDoug passed a 6mm kidney stone in January and was forced to call in sick for the first time ever, Bethany needed stitches after an antique water pitcher exploded in her hands, and Samuel had a pain in his side which required three doctors to rule out appendicitis.

Good news is we met our insurance deductibles in record time this year! Bad news is we don’t have dental: Isaac cut two teeth, Rebekah lost two, Jon got two pulled, Joe chipped one, Mom had a filling repaired, and David got braces.

Even so, our oral discomfort did little to diminish any appetites. We had to scramble to keep that new 14-ft pantry well-stocked. We’d buy ten gallons of milk and a dozen loaves of bread at a time, plus cereal, crackers, and canned goods by the case.

And if Mom’s confession that “we’re trying to heat our house with natural gas” while purchasing 75 pounds of pinto beans weren’t enough to raise a few eyebrows and humiliate a teenage son, her frantic search for a misplaced credit card — which she normally carries close to her heart — certainly did the trick!

February 2004 Happenings

2004 Happenings - Beth as Azalea BelleDavid turned 12 in February. This sinewy left-hander with the size 14 foot has proven to be quite an athlete: He hit his first grand slam in baseball this spring, took first place in gold for his breaststroke this summer, and spends a good deal of his spare time lifting weights.

The results are appreciable, particularly since he has only five percent body fat.

Weary of seeing his brother flaunt those bulging biceps, Samuel once asked us to “tell David to quit moving his arms, because he’s just doing it to show off his muscles!”

While the charge was undoubtedly valid, we denied the request, just as we’d have done had someone suggested we “tell Sam to stop smiling, because he’s just doing it to show off his dimples!”

The boys had fun on the pogo stick Mom brought home from a yard sale this spring. Sam holds the record with 1100 consecutive bounces.

March 2004 Happenings

Doug’s CME conferences took us to Addison for fondue and New Orleans for a swamp tour in March. It was great to come home to an empty “in box.” Jennifer retired from Moms-Connect last month after seven years of sending daily e-news to over 400 home-schooling subscribers.

Bethany served as an Azalea Belle again this year and had her picture in the paper several times in conjunction with that. She got her braces off just in time for the final photo shoot.

April 2004 Happenings

April took us to the Carolinas. When traffic came to a standstill on the outskirts of Savannah, we found ourselves trapped in the van with ten distended bladders and a father who delights in cracking jokes at just such inopportune times.

Doug’s running commentary, delivered in a thick Irish brogue as he discreetly emptied bottles out the driver’s side window, made our sides ache from laughter, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

The girls waited for a service station, thank you very much, but regretted it after the attendant pointed them toward a dirty little broom closet with no lock, no toilet paper, no soap, and a handwritten sign on the wall which read, “Aim for the toilet, not the floor.” Judging by how the ink had run, I’d say somebody aimed for the sign.

We could feel the brush of angels’ wings when we ran out of gas in the middle of a cloudburst, then managed to coast another half-mile down the highway, through a u-turn, across heavy traffic, and up an incline before rolling to a stop in front of the gas pump. We spent a relaxing afternoon kayaking at Hilton Head (at least it was relaxing for Mom, who held the baby, soaked up the scenery, and let the guide do all the work; the rest of the family had to paddle hard to keep up).

2004 Happenings - at Hilton Head

Jennifer packed the colonial costumes for us to wear in Old Salem, which we did, convinced we would blend right in, which we didn’t. We could count on one hand the number of costumed interpreters we met during our off-season visit, and even they regarded us with puzzled expressions and asked loaded questions about our religious background, which they presumed must be very strict, indeed.

May 2004 Happenings

Isaac in the potty Isaac turned a year old in May. He took his first steps a few days before his birthday, but was so startled by all the whoops and whistles which attended this accomplishment that he made no further attempts to walk until mid-July!

Instead, he worked overtime to hone those fine motor skills. He can now pry every last key off Jennifer’s laptop in a matter of seconds (my “c” has never fully recovered) and has learned to separate double-ply tissue into single-ply while perched comfortably inside the toilet bowl, with knees to chest and seat up under his armpits.

Jonathan celebrated his 16th birthday this month. He participated in the volunteer program at Trinity Mother Frances this summer, served as a counselor at Diabetes Camp, taught water safety with the Red Cross, and swam competitively (as did Bethany, David, and Sam) with the Fun Forest Flying Fish.

With such a hectic schedule, it’s no wonder Mom insisted on starting back to school a month early. She needed a break from summer break!

Six Flags log ride

June 2004 Happenings

Rachel gets a haircutThe fact that our new house echoes lends validity to the children’s oft-voiced complaint that it hurts their ears for Jennifer to sing and dance around the house, but Rachel added insult to injury by claiming it hurts her eyes, as well!

This little sugar-plum, who also answers to “Boo”, turned three in June. She loves to help Mommy in the kitchen, look at her scrapbook, and check the bounciness of her ponytails in our three-way mirror, although her enjoyment of this last activity has been severely curtailed since she lopped off the pigtails with a pair of Fiskars shortly after her birthday, just as both sisters had done at the same age.

Doug calls it their rite of passage. For Rachel, it’s become an addiction, and her hair’s getting steadily shorter, so if she’s sporting a crew cut in next year’s photo, you’ll know why.

July 2004 Happenings

Family Camp at Crier Creek in July was a blast. Never one to do anything half-heartedly, Doug threw himself into the week’s activities with abandon. The giant frog romper that Jennifer appliquéd for him to wear on “Flip-Flop” night drew lots of compliments from other campers, until they glimpsed the disposable diaper he was wearing underneath, its edges painted a convincing shade of mustard yellow, and lost their appetites.

Jennifer took advantage of afternoon free-time to finish reading Marriage to a Difficult Man. Doug was concerned folks might assume this was a how-to book, but it’s really a biography of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, and one we’d highly recommend.

Jon was old enough to accompany his dad on the cattle drive this year. With bandana, boots, and cowboy hat, Jonathan played the part better than Doug in his Maui Jims and Mizunos.

2004 Happenings - Family Camp at Crier Creek

August 2004 Happenings

stained glassWe started back to Cottage Garden in August, where Jennifer teaches a dozen students Logic and Charcoal Drawing (that’s two different courses, in case you’re grasping for a connection).

David and Bethany both got blue ribbons at the East Texas State Fair for charcoal portraits they did as homework in Mom’s class. Samuel took first place for a pillow he stitched for his bed and second for a table he painted for the nursery. Benjamin, Joseph, Rebekah, and Rachel entered various drawings, paintings, pottery, embroidery, and papier-mâché, for which they earned a colorful array of ribbons, including several blue ones.

Mom entered a piece of fillet crochet she framed for the dining room, but the year’s biggest projects had to stay at home: frescos of fruit and vegetables painted on stone backsplashes in the kitchen, curtains for the bedroom windows, rooms faux-finished to look like they’d been wallpapered, a mosaic mirror and hand-painted sink for the guest bath, a painted rooster cabinet for the mudroom, and two pieces of stained glass for the master bathroom, which every child but Isaac helped solder together.

September 2004 Happenings

girls in EuropeOur radiant Rebekah turned five in September. She enjoys reading, sewing, and testing the limits, which may explain her double-checking, “Am I allowed to eat choking hazards?” before answering our question of what she’d like to have for dinner.

Joseph turned seven this month. We knew we’d been spending too much time in front of the big screen when our pastor described the parting of the Red Sea during a children’s sermon, and Joseph announced to everyone present, “I saw that movie!”

He shares Dad’s love for action/adventure flicks and Mom’s love for art: passions which have produced such masterpieces as a full-length Spiderman costume he cut, colored, and stapled himself, and tenderly stores on a hanger in his closet when it’s not being worn.

2004 Happenings - Joseph i ParisPen on paper is his preferred medium, but he’ll use whatever materials are available. We’ve even seen him make gouache silhouettes using freshly-chewed gum on a Pringles lid. Bethany got her learner’s permit the day she turned 15 and immediately took the wheel of our big white van. If learning to drive this mammoth vehicle were more nerve-wracking for her than for our firstborn, it was probably because she had to contend with a newly-licensed back-seat driver scrutinizing her every move (never mind the fact that Jonathan himself nearly demolished a wall trying to back out of the garage last January!).

October 2004 Happenings

Having finally saved enough frequent flyer miles to get ten free tickets to London, we spent the better part of October back-packing Europe (click to see our itinerary).

2004 Happenings - Flanders Family Backpacks Europe

Doug insisted we travel light, which in his mind meant no socks and only two pair of underwear (one to wash, one to wear). He wanted to leave room for more important things, like mime costumes to wear in Paris (I’m not kidding).

This idea met with differing levels of enthusiasm. Samuel, who turned 11 this month, begged to dress as a mime for the entire trip, reasoning that if he only brought one outfit, he’d have no need for a backpack, and if he didn’t talk, he could skip learning German, French, and Italian with the rest of the family.

In the end, we packed a bit more than Doug thought necessary (which was fortuitous, as the extra layers kept us from freezing in the pre-dawn streets of Prague), but less than we’d have brought otherwise (which was a mercy, as Doug often carried the packs of his weary wife and/or young children in addition to his own).

Don’t feel too sorry for him: Doug’s was the only pack of 11 that came equipped with wheels, so it was seldom on his back. While the rest of us complained of burning shoulders and aching spines, he’d sympathize by telling us he had a cramp in his thumb!

The trip was a great follow-up to our history studies: We saw the tower where Anne Boleyn lost her head, crowded into the attic where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis, stood on the spot where Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, admired the works of Michelangelo and Raphael (but missed Leonardo’s), visited castles, cathedrals, concentration camps, and the Colosseum.

Considering how many planes, trains, buses and boats we boarded/disembarked, it’s a wonder we got separated only once, when the doors of a Frankfurt tram snapped shut with Mom, Dad, and two sleeping babies still inside, then sped away while our other seven children stood on a street corner and watched in dismay. Jon kept his siblings in line (literally) until we could make our way back to them, which we eventually did.

Try as we might to wear dark colors and speak the language, there was no disguising the fact we were tourists, and a conspicuous lot, at that. We crowded into the kitchen of an Austrian guesthouse for breakfast and were greeted by another backpacker who smiled in recognition and told us, “We saw your family at the Eiffel Tower last Tuesday!”

Jennifer spied a group of giggling boys hidden in the shadows of a dark alley in Salzburg and mistook them for her own sons. When they began howling like wolves, she played along by striking a Kung Fu pose and warning, “Stand back! I know karate!”

At this point, the real Flanders showed up, and the wolves scampered downhill, praying the crazy lady did not give chase.

Lucerne was a favorite stop, as much for the 10-bunk private dorm we occupied at the hostel as for the lovely vistas: quaint covered bridges spanning a lazy river, sidewalk cafés basking in the afternoon sun, and bright geraniums spilling out of window boxes at every turn.

We clambered to the top of the clock tower in time to hear it strike noon, quite unexpectedly. The first deafening chime filled us with dread that our kids had touched something they shouldn’t have.

We were in Vienna for Austria’s Independence Day: kids traveled free and shops were closed for the holiday, which was best for our budget on both counts.

The Galleria in Milan was gorgeous, with its ornately carved shop-fronts and intricate mosaic floors. Having heard that the locals step on the testicles of Taurus for luck, we watched over breakfast to see if it were so.

Sure enough, grown men would grind in their heels, little girls would dance and spin, college kids would pose for pictures, and even old women would carefully measure their steps, casting side-long glances to ensure a foot fell on that precise spot as they passed by.

The canals flooded while we were in Venice. We sought refuge from the rain by attending Sunday mass (Basilicas are handier than Bible churches in Europe), but the water had risen so high by the end of the service that we had to wade back to the train station.

November 2004 Happenings

As remarkable as the things we did see in Europe, were the things we didn’t: We never saw a squat-toilet (a fact for which we were so grateful, we didn’t mind paying 80-cents a head to sit on the more familiar variety). We never encountered a rude Frenchmen (the Parisians we met were friendly and helpful, despite the fact we butchered their language every time we opened our mouths). And we were never bothered by pick-pockets (by journey’s end, we looked like such an unwashed, unshaven band of vagabonds ourselves that thieves must’ve assumed we had no pockets worth picking, or feared we’d surround them, toss a baby in their arms, and rifle through their fanny-packs if they came too close!).

Although we ate some delicious meals abroad, Benjamin (who turned nine on vacation) would tell you his favorite was one American Airlines served us during our flight home on November 3. In fact, we all enjoyed it, but it could’ve been Captain’s Announcing the Election Results that made it taste so sweet.

As if to underscore the grace God had shown by keeping us healthy on our trip, Isaac got sick with a stomach virus the week after our return. It was short-lived — only took six days to make the rounds through our whole family — but by the time it had passed, we were over our jet lag and ready to hit the books with a fervor. This was nowhere more apparent than in Joseph, who begged to make up for lost time by doing five lessons a day.

Jonathan got his hair cut (short!) and started working part-time both at Wild Birds Unlimited and at Racquet and Jog. Bethany became zealous about practicing the piano, so inspired was she by a classical concert we’d attended in the Czech Republic (although Isaac napped through this entire performance, he roused just long enough between pieces to applaud in his sleep).

There was no gradual easing back into a routine for Doug: Having been re-elected to a second term as president of his group, he shaved off his month-old, salt-n-pepper beard and dove headfirst into anesthesia cases and contract negotiations. When he isn’t at the hospital, you might spot him about town, looking like a cobbler in his wire-rimmed reading glasses, Swiss tunic, and Austrian vest. It’s a good thing we didn’t make it to Scotland — no telling what he’d be wearing!

Thanksgiving turkey polished off, blessings counted, and extended family members departed, we find ourselves facing December, eager to celebrate the blessed birth of our dear Savior and determined to get a jump-start on our New Year’s resolutions. We pray that you will have a joyous and meaningful holiday season, as well, and that the risen Lord Jesus will reign in your hearts and homes in 2005. Let us hear from you soon!

With love from the Flanders —
Doug, Jennifer, Jonathan, Bethany, David, Samuel, Benjamin, Joseph,
Rebekah, Rachel, and Isaac

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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).

Glad Tidings - The First 25 Years of Flanders Family Christmas Letters

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