The 2009 Flanders Family Update
A stomach virus knocked our whole family out of commission last December, forcing us to miss all the holiday parties, Christmas pageants, and family celebrations that we normally attend. It takes a while for any bug to work its way through a household our size, but this one cycled through two and a half times before we were finally rid of it. Our health was restored by New Year’s Eve, so we were able to join friends for fireworks, volleyball, and several rounds of “the hat game”, which quickly became a new family favorite (players put words or phrases in a hat, then take turns guessing who wrote what).
Doug surprised us on January 1st by tearing up his standard list of resolutions—to exercise more and to give up all things fried or caffeinated—in order to focus his full attention on a single goal this year: WRITE THE BOOK! He asked Jennifer to make a “Write the Book!” sign for the bulletin board in his closet, but she went the extra mile and also printed “Write the Book!” labels to stick on his phones and beeper, laminated “Write the Book!” cards to post near sinks and showers, and even painted “Write the Book!” on our bedroom ceiling using invisible, glow-in-the-dark paint. The extra encouragement seemed to work, and Doug churned out pages left and right. When he started grinding his teeth by night and grumping at the kids by day, however, Jennifer feared she’d gone too far. Happily, equilibrium was restored once she washed “Write the Book!” off all our message boards, stopped tucking “Write the Book!” reminders into the pockets of his scrubs, and left off penning “Write the Book!” on every tenth sheet of toilet paper. Less stressed, Doug progressed at a slower but steady and sustainable clip, with plenty of time left over to relax and spend with the family, including a second grandson, Sawyer Ethan, whom Matti delivered December 29 at a whopping 9 lbs 10 oz—the sweetest little thumb-sucker you could ever hope to meet.
David turned seventeen in February and bought his first pair of Five Fingers, thus taking his father’s penchant for funky footwear to a whole new level (and beginning a new family trend). Six foot six-and-a-half inches, he still enjoys competing in triathlon and spent the summer training his little sisters to do the same. After finding a widget for his Mac that allows him to scan barcodes, he used it to catalogue our entire home library—all 3922 volumes, not including duplicates. When Benjamin heard the final count, he observed, “Wow! Just eighty-eight more books, and we’d have an even four thousand.” “You mean seventy-eight, don’t you, Son?” Dad corrected, “We only need seventy-eight more books to make four thousand.” Our quick-witted Ben never missed a beat, “Well, I was trying to say that with eighty-eight more books we’d have an even four thousand ten, but you cut me off before I could finish.”
We tackled our biggest spring project yet in March. After getting an unbelievably low quote from a local nursery on buying St. Augustine sod in bulk, Doug decided to grass in almost every square inch of our land. He bought seven dump truckloads of topsoil, compost, and hardwood mulch, which the big boys worked into the ground using a rented rototiller and a front end loader. Meanwhile, Jennifer took a can of orange spray paint and marked borders for a dozen new flower beds in the shadiest areas of the yard, which our little ones then carefully outlined with three tons of river rocks. Everybody helped with the grass. We finished laying forty of the forty-four pallets we purchased before the nursery owner realized he had miscalculated. He called Doug in a panic to explain that instead of making thirty dollars per pallet as he’d intended, he was actually losing thirty! Doug assured him that it was not our intention to rob anybody, and that a good name is more important to us than a good deal. They renegotiated, and Doug wrote him a check the same day to cover his loss and give him a modest profit. The man was so grateful that he offered us—at cost—as many shrubs and ferns as we could use. Between those and the bulbs and perennials in our front beds that needed dividing, plus miscellaneous culls from friends, our back beds took shape in short order. In the end, we were glad about the mix-up. We would likely have decided against undertaking such an ambitious landscaping project had we known upfront how much it would really cost, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the finished results, which turned out even more beautiful than we’d imagined.
A cough Daniel developed in mid-February had turned into pneumonia by April. Two rounds of antibiotics cleared his lungs, but still the cough persisted. We spent the following seven months consulting specialists (ENT, allergist, pediatric pulmonologist), tweaking his diet (no more dairy), X-raying his lungs (healthy), scoping his sinuses (slightly enlarged adenoids), and screening for swine flu, strep, and TB (all negative). By the end of the summer, his prescribed daily meds had multiplied to fill an entire shelf of our bathroom cabinet. Fortunately, he was good about taking all of them. In fact, Daniel’s a cooperative little patient, in general. When one physician asked Doug whether Daniel would need to be sedated for a CAT scan he’d ordered, Doug answered, “Not this kid. This kid is great. He won’t give you a bit of trouble, will you, Daniel?” Daniel solemnly shook his head. True to his word, he lay unflinchingly still for the scan, belly down with his chin propped on a pillow, never even batting an eyelash. The techs were amazed and wanted to know Dad’s secret. “No secret,” Doug shrugged, “he’s just a really sweet boy, aren’t you, Daniel?” Daniel just smiled.
David, Samuel, and Benjamin hit the road in May, headed to Tennessee (alone!) for TeenPact National Convention. Emboldened by the fact that David had been elected Governor of Texas TeenPact a month earlier, all three ran for office at the convention, so their Tahoe was consequently crammed full with extremely creative campaign materials. David and Benjamin were running mates on the presidential ticket, while Samuel vied for a seat in the senate. Alas, none of them made it out of the primaries (but all are already planning to try again next year). They fared better playing Ultimate Frisbee, where their team made it to the quarter finals. When they got back home, David was elected president and Samuel second vice-president of the TACHE Class of 2010. Isaac turned six this month. He has grown over three inches since his last birthday, but Rachel has managed to stay just a hair ahead of him, to her relief and his chagrin. Our middle ones played soccer this spring, Joe and Rebekah enjoyed it, but Isaac and Rachel seemed more interested in digging in the dirt and making clover chains on the sidelines than in chasing a ball across the field. Their sporting tastes run more to “Zombie Tree Tag”, a game the kids made up themselves and our whole family spent countless summer evenings playing in that plush new grass that now grows under the trees beyond our fence. The game’s a blast (you’ll find rules for play posted on our family website).
June brought Bethany home for the summer. She is loving life in College Station, attending a wonderful church, making lots of sweet friends, and enjoying her classes—including Genes, Ecology, and Evolution, where such scant evidence was offered to support evolution’s claims that the course actually affirmed rather than shook her faith, and Organic Chemistry, where she did so well that A&M hired her to teach supplemental instruction classes for students taking O Chem this fall. Having lately discovered a talent for writing music, Bethany spent a large portion of her break hammering out new songs at our piano with tunes so catchy the rest of us ended up humming them for weeks on end. Several of Beth’s school friends drove up to visit us over the course of the summer, among them a 6’9″ pre-med student who had been friendly enough over the past several months to make us wonder whether he might be coming to have a little talk with Doug. We were grossly mistaken, as evidenced by the fact that he tried to cajole Bethany into setting him up with one of her friends while he was here! The silver lining? David’s status as the tallest guy in our family is momentarily secure (he was sweating the threat more than he likes to admit), and Beth subsequently wrote her best song yet, “Antithesis of Bitterness” (which you can hear—you guessed it—on our family website).
July was filled with typical summer fare—story times at the public library, trips to area museums, blueberry picking, CLEP prep, and lots of pleasure reading. Mom insisted that anyone too old for naps must read quietly for an hour each afternoon while babies slept. Most of our kids counted the minutes until they were free to go back outdoors and play, but Rachel would often stay in the library until dinnertime, soaking up chapter after chapter. Samuel, too, spent much of the summer with his nose in a book. Although he has traditionally preferred to read science and history, when he missed passing his College Composition CLEP by two points last January because he ran out of time on the reading comprehension portion, Doug prescribed a steady diet of fiction to increase his speed. He knew what Sam needed most was to get so drawn into a book that he couldn’t put it down, something not likely to happen with all the non-fiction he’d been reading. Doug assigned the first few titles himself—a little Louis L’Amour followed by some Lloyd Alexander—after which Samuel was allowed to pick his own. The strategy worked. When he retook the CLEP (after the requisite six month waiting period and with no further study), Sam passed with flying colors, scoring a full 12 points higher than on his first attempt. In the interim, he developed a deeper appreciation for the valuable lessons to be learned through narrative storytelling—even Jesus knew that well-spun tales about a good Samaritan, a house on the rock, or an ungrateful slave would resonate with His listeners and stick with them far longer than simple admonitions to show compassion, make wise choices, or forgive offenders.
Doug’s determination to “Write the Book!” had begun to lag by August, but if the residual “Write the Book!” signs still posted around our house failed to motivate him, Jennifer found something else that certainly did the trick: She finished writing her book! It took two and a half years to research and write the first half of this marriage manual, but only four months to finish the second half, due primarily to the fact she had lots of friends praying for the project by then and a thirty-one pound alarm clock named Gabriel who faithfully woke her up at 2:48 AM all summer long, which is when she did the bulk of her writing. The book was complete by our 22nd wedding anniversary, so we dropped the manuscript in the mail on our way to celebrate. We had further cause for rejoicing this month when we learned that Jennifer is pregnant again. We surprised the children by announcing the news while playing the hat game. Dad had the hat, but only pretended to read what the kids had written. Instead, he substituted phrases like “Great Expectations,” “Is everybody here?” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “I know a secret—but don’t tell anyone,” “Babies are so sweet,” “Morning sickness,” “We need a Nathan,” “Could it be twins?” “1 + 1 = 12,” and—what finally gave it away—”The rabbit died.” The revelation elicited squeals of delight, hugs all around, and inquiries as to how Mom is feeling. Answer: Absolutely terrific and abundantly blessed!!
By September, we found ourselves caught up in a virtual whirlwind of activity. School was back in full swing; Joe and Rebekah took piano and (with Ben) ballroom dance lessons; Jennifer attended weekly chorus rehearsals after successfully auditioning for the ETSO’s upcoming performance of Handel’s Messiah; Rachel joined Rebekah’s Bright Lights Bible study group; David and Samuel spent Tuesdays and Thursdays taking biology and chemistry at TJC; and Matti (now expecting our third grandbaby) came over two afternoons a week to cook with Jennifer. Preparing meals in bulk helped keep our family going during the hectic days ahead: In the course of six weeks, we celebrated six family birthdays, spent eight days at family camp, competed in one triathlon (David) and a half-marathon (David and Ben), and hosted over 400 guests between a Class of 2010 Bunco party, a bridal shower, Samuel’s surprise 16th birthday party, and an outdoor wedding. And if that weren’t enough to keep us busy, we also tackled a lengthy list of home improvement projects that (Doug thought) needed attention before the wedding: we spread another fifty bales of pine straw along the trails through our woods, pruned countless sucker limbs and low-hanging branches from all our trees, got rid of eight racing bikes and our massive, much-loved swing-set/fort (unbeknownst to Mom and the kids, who were fairly shocked to find strangers in our yard dismantling the thing), refinished all the patio furniture (which Jennifer did herself, to keep her compulsive husband from carting it to Goodwill), resurfaced the back porch, and touched up the paint on the baseboards in our kitchen (which barely had time to dry before the bridal march began).
Doug finally finished the first draft of his novel in October. Hooray! A friend of ours owns the cabin in which Earnest Hemingway wrote the closing chapters of A Farewell to Arms, and Doug considered flying to Wyoming to pen the final pages of The Prodigy Project sitting in the same chair, at the same desk. Instead, he ended up typing at least one of those chapters on a laptop, at a picnic table, during a campout, between family bike rides, volleyball games, heavy rainstorms, and marshmallow roasts. It was the perfect setting, really, for wrapping up a book about a spy with a bunch of kids who drags his unsuspecting family around the world with him while he works. Doug tried to stick with writing what he knows, so the spy is also a Christian, anesthesiologist, army reservist, and homeschooler. To our knowledge, Doug has never worked for the CIA, so that part is made up—we think. The story is brilliant, and Jennifer and the kids are already eagerly awaiting the sequel.
November marked the end of an era for David and Samuel: no more dragging out of bed at 6:00 AM to do math with Mom, since both boys passed their Calculus CLEP the end of October. Although they won’t officially graduate until May, they’ve effectively finished the last formal class they’ll have at home; they’re scheduled to take all their spring semester subjects as dual-credit courses at Tyler Junior College. They’re liable to run into their big brother on campus; Jonathan is still attending TJC a couple of mornings a week, chipping away at those pre-med requirements while working full time at the pharmacy to support his growing family. Jennifer continues to stagger wake-up times for the rest of the kids: Ben now gets the earliest slot of the day, then Joe, then Rebekah and Rachel, allowing them to knock out their hardest subjects before the babies begin to stir. At least, that’s how it worked before daylight saving time ended. Gabriel now insists on joining us for those pre-dawn sessions. Ughh! Joseph has been especially motivated to finish his lessons early—he landed his first job this month, walking a neighbor’s dog every day after school. He makes a point to walk it past our house, so his siblings get a chance to pet and play with Buckwheat, too. Mom and Dad love this arrangement—all the pleasures of dog-ownership and none of the responsibility—sort of like having grandkids!
That brings us back to December: Little Gabbers turns two this month, can you believe it? He got his first goose egg a few weeks ago after toppling out of his sister’s bedroom window and smacking his head on the bricks below. Ouch! The little monkey mimics everything he sees now. We made the mistake of letting him watch the Evian roller-baby commercial on YouTube this fall, and he’s been trying to break-dance ever since. He also loves to imitate his mama’s singing and can match pitch pretty accurately, provided she hums only two or three notes at a time. Staying in tune for those longer hymns at church is more of a challenge, but he gives it his best effort: Gabriel’s joyful noise can be heard over the entire congregation during Sunday morning worship services. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we hope a song of praise to God and gratitude for His provision will be on your lips, as well. May the risen Lord Jesus be exalted in all our hearts and homes this holiday season and throughout the coming New Year. We wish you a Merry Christmas. Let us hear from you soon!