We ended up having an unexpectedly white Christmas last year.
Most of our family went (in shifts) to see the opening of Les Miserables after our holiday dinner. By the time the girls got out of their 7 PM showing, the entire city was blanketed with snow.
We didn’t get enough of it for sledding or snowman building, really, but there was a sufficient amount for staging a sneaky snowball attack against the boys once we returned home.
Our international friend Yulong was here for Christmas.In fact, he spent most of December and part of January with us, too.
His English has vastly improved in the three years we’ve known him. The only statement that gave us any trouble this stay was when he asked permission to use our wah-shin-mah-shin. It took five tries before he could make Jennifer understand that he needed to do some laundry.
In January, the director of biology labs at TJC took a job in Dallas and asked Samuel to take over all her teaching and supervisory responsibilities. He also got to take over her private office — just one of the perks that came with the position.
Another fringe benefit was that Rachel and Rebekah got some great experience doing college level dissections, as Sam usually brought his sisters along to keep him company whenever he went on campus late at night to prep his labs for the following week’s experiments.
And if teaching weren’t enough to keep him busy, Samuel spent weekends moonlighting at Posada’s, eager to follow in his father’s footsteps. Doug has always maintained that waiting tables as a teen made him a better doctor as an adult, since both jobs taught him to quickly and competently address the physical need of others, be it hunger or sickness. Having received early acceptance to medical school at UT-Houston, Samuel was determined to reap this food-service advantage before beginning his training there this fall.
Bethany planned a terrific surprise party in February to celebrate her roommate-brother’s 21st birthday. She invited family, friends, and dental school classmates to meet for a strategic game of “Capture the Flag” at a park near their apartment, using a brand new Lion-of-Flanders banner as the standard. She thinks of everything!
If David suspected anything, he didn’t show it, even after his fellow-leftie turned up on the doorstep chirping, “Happy Burf-day, Day-bid! Chicken…cross…road?” (For some reason, Abby tries to tell her brother this same old joke every time she sees him, though she’s yet to learn any punch lines for it).
David’s birthday party landed us in San Antonio the exact same day William Travis’s world famous “Victory or Death” letter returned to the Alamo for the first time since he penned it 177 years ago.
Mom and the kids had memorized this selfsame dispatch during their Texas history studies last semester, so we naturally wanted to see it.
Donning Davy Crockett style buckskin shirts and coonskin caps, we queued up (with several thousand other visitors) to read the historic document with our own eyes before it was returned to an archival vault in Austin thirteen days later.
Since Joseph got his learner’s permit this spring, he was able to help with the driving when we returned to San Antonio in March for a post-season basketball tournament.
At the state finals a few weeks earlier, Benjamin was named to both the All Tournament and All State teams.
Known in a league full of crew cuts as “the guy with the headband,” Ben asked Mom to cut his hair before the All Star game, but she suggested he wait until after it was over so the people there would still recognize him. By the time we got back home, however, he had decided to keep the headband indefinitely.
Although it’s hard to tell it in our Christmas picture, Benjamin now has even longer hair than Bethany, who donated her tresses to Locks of Love this fall.
Abigail turned three in April. Daddy really got her dander up a few days after her birthday by telling her she’s a beauty.
“I’m not a bootie,” she insisted, “I’m a durl!”
It took half an hour to convince her that being pretty and being a girl are not mutually exclusive.
Abigail enjoys playing house and usually persuades her brother Gabriel to play along.
Jennifer finds herself constantly responding to cries of “Mommy! Mommy!” only to be told, “I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Abby.”
Gabbers has offered to address his mother by her first name or call her “Grandma” to cut down on the confusion, but she has politely declined, preferring instead to live with the ambiguity.
The children normally set up house in our living room. Abby owns a few baby dolls, but evidently not enough of them to satisfy her intense maternal longings, so she drags about eighteen empty hangers out of the closet, wraps each one in a baby blanket, and lines them up on the floor in dishpan cradles, thus transforming our entry hall into a makeshift nursery.
Of course, baby dolls and clothes hangers alike are poor substitutes for the real thing, which is why Abigail faithfully offers up the same prayer every day at every meal: “Please, God, us have two babies? One pink and one blue with dots.” (That last bit is in reference to the kind of swimsuits she plans to dress her baby brother and sister in, once they get here.)
To our knowledge, no twins are yet forthcoming. Jennifer turned 48 this month, and Doug surprised her with one of the most thoughtful birthday gifts she has ever received: he bought himself a bunch of extremely baggy boxers, on the off chance that it’s paternal underpants and not maternal age that’s brought an end to our childbearing.
I know that’s probably an overshare, but Jennifer thought such a sweet and selfless gesture deserved to be immortalized in our Christmas letter. Readers may rest assured that if we never have another baby, it won’t be for lack of trying.
In May, Sam packed his bags and boarded a plane (in that order, though just barely) and flew to Guatemala. His goal? To learn Spanish by total immersion.
He traveled the countryside, attended language school, boarded with local families, visited local churches, volunteered at a local clinic, joined a local Ping-Pong club, watched Spanish movies, listened to Spanish music, sang Spanish songs, saw a Spanish-speaking doctor when he got sick, and signed up for salsa dancing lessons and a paragliding excursion.
He returned home three months later, barely recognizable after so many weeks without a shave or a haircut, but now fluent in Español….
Our convivial Isaac turned ten this month and milked that double-digit birthday for all it was worth. The celebrating (and the special requests) seemed to stretch on for weeks.
Never at a loss for something to say, Isaac is
a big ham an animated storyteller.
He’s also an expressive singer with a penchant for performing onstage, as was made apparent when he joined choir this year for the first time.
He spends much of his free time building with Legos, having more than doubled his collection of building bricks this summer when brother Joseph decided to liquidate his own.
What Lego sets Joe couldn’t hawk to brothers, he sold on eBay (a huge hassle for the small return) and through a local consignment sale (easy-peasy and extremely profitable).
June took Benjamin to Hawaii for two weeks with our longtime and very dear friends, the Babers.
As soon as Ben told us that his buddy James had invited him to tag along, Jennifer called James’s mother to make sure the offer was legitimate and not just something the boys cooked up.
Janet assured her the invitation was extended with full parental knowledge and approval — her only fear was that Benjamin would return home with a bunch of funny but embarrassing stories involving their family that might potentially end up in our annual Christmas letter.
Sure enough, he did — so it’s a good thing she elicited a pre-trip promise not to publish.
Rachel turned twelve this month.
Don’t be fooled by all the frilly dresses and dangly earrings — this girlie girl will do her best to crush you if you challenge her to a slack line dual or a Bananagram marathon.
She loves to read and write and draw, and she’s also quite fond of roller coasters, now that she’s finally tall enough to ride them.
The little daredevil overcame her proneness to motion sickness this year long enough to ride Batman, Mr. Freeze, Runaway Mountain, and the Texas Giant, but missed riding the Titan (she was throwing up by the time her siblings were ready to try that one).
We traveled to Dallas in July for Jennifer’s 30-year high school reunion.
We didn’t get the “Most Children” trophy this time around — not because anybody passed us up, but because none was awarded.
The party planners correctly assumed most classmates’ family size would not change significantly after the 20-year reunion.
We were the aberration.
Nevertheless, we did win the prize for having the “Most Grandkids” thanks to Jon and Matti, who are presently expecting their fifth child, another boy.
This one’s due just after Christmas and just before his daddy starts nursing school.
After eight years of working full time and going to school part-time, Jonathan is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
His grades were so good that he was even offered a spot in UT Tyler’s accelerated program.
We are all so proud of him—and of Matti, too, who began homeschooling their older boys this year and is doing a fantastic job of it.
Doug and Jennifer celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary in August with dinner and a movie.We decided to see the newly released Jobs, since we’re big fans of Ashton Kutcher (who normally reminds us of David and Samuel, though not so much in this role) and Apple products.
Doug bought Jennifer not one, but two top-of-the-line Macbook Pros this year.
The first one survived being accidentally dropkicked across our driveway the week we got it, but was irreparably damaged when dinged by a car door nine months later….
We didn’t take much of a break from school this summer, but continued with our lessons (for both school and piano) straight through June, July, and into August.
The kids cooperated without complaint for the most part, but Daniel (who turned eight this month) was an especially eager student, begging to do three or four times as much work each day as Mom assigned.
When she commented on his newfound enthusiasm, he revealed the inspiration behind it: “Well, Ben took me out to dinner a couple of weeks ago and told me that one of the smartest things I can do at my age is to read a whole lot and work hard on my math. He said both those things’ll really pay off in the long run. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Now if Benjamin could just sell a few more siblings on that concept, homeschooling this crew would be a breeze.
Doug had a week off the end of August and decided at the last minute that we should spend it in Destin, so we hopped in the van and headed to the beach.
Recent and record rains meant the water was not as clear and blue as we’d always seen in pictures, but also meant we had the white sand all to ourselves. The fact that most beachgoers had started back to school a week earlier didn’t hurt, either.
The water was cold, so we didn’t do much swimming, but we did go parasailing. We also adopted a couple of hermit crabs while we were in town, the highlight of the trip in our younger boys’ estimation.
We stopped in New Orleans on the way home and were shocked by the number of fuzzy ears and furry tails we saw there. It looked as if the entire city had joined a wolf pack. We parked the van to search for food on foot, but the closer we got to the waterfront, the more outrageous and bizarre the costumes became.
It reminded us of our trip to Old Salem years ago, but in reverse — this time, everybody else was dressed up, and we were the only ones wearing street clothes.
As we threaded our way through the throng of manga and superheroes, Captain Jack Sparrow eyed us suspiciously, then leaned over and whispered to Batman, “What are all those normal people doing here?”
(If only Mom had known in advance that we’d be attending a Cosplay convention, she could’ve packed our Spidey suits!)
We finished the month with a weekend trip to Wichita for a friend’s wedding, but ended up coming home a day earlier than planned.
Good thing we did.
After falling to sleep in our own comfy beds about midnight, we were awakened three hours later by the sound of water pouring through the ceiling of our master bedroom, drenching our carpets and bed linens.
A pipe had burst upstairs. We shut the water off quickly enough to avoid any lasting damage, but would’ve come home to a disaster had we spent that extra night in Kansas.
Bethany turned 24 in September. She has recently taken up triathlon again, thanks to the great new road bike David bought her this summer, for no other reason but that he’s an awesome brother.
Beth is still unattached, although that status may change any minute now. Having been assured by family friends and fortune cookies alike that true love is right around the corner, she’s keeping her eyes open (but not holding her breath).
Joseph turned 16 on 9/11, and we threw him a surprise party.
Despite the fact that we’ve celebrated five older siblings’ 16th birthdays in like fashion, Joe was obviously and very genuinely surprised.
When he came in from basketball to find a crowd of people in our kitchen, all smiling and waving and shouting “surprise” at him, his first thought was that Mom must be hosting another bridal shower, so he should try to slip out without drawing attention to himself. It took several guests slapping him on the back and wishing him well before Joseph realized the party was for him….
Rebekah had a birthday this month, too, though she looks much older than her 14 years.
Her parents aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed, either. She came home from a recent shopping trip and told us, “The last few times I’ve been to Barnes & Noble, I’ve seen this older [defined as twenty-something] guy there, and he keeps checking me out. Today he asked me for my phone number, so I gave it to him. Is that okay?”
Her dad about came unglued when he heard this.
“No, that’s not okay!” he told her. “What were you thinking?”
His question was met with uproarious laughter from our daughter: “I was thinking that I wanted the discount,” she explained, “but I left our membership card at home. He needed my number to look it up.”
Turns out, when she said the guy had been checking her out, she meant it literally — he’d been standing behind the cash register ringing up her purchases. Very clever, Rebekah. You really got us on that one.
Our two-year-old top-loading washing machine must have gotten sick of all the laundry we were asking it to process, because one morning in early October, it blew up mid-cycle. The explosion was impressive — sparks, smoke, parts flying everywhere, knocking holes in our walls. It took the manufacturer two weeks to determine the machine couldn’t be fixed (and another two months to ante up for damages), so we were “roughing it” even before we pitched our tents for Family Camp.
Our friends the Rainwaters joined us in Big Sandy for the first couple of nights this year and enjoyed it so much, they ended up staying all week.
David Rainwater helped field our family’s team for the volleyball tournament, which also included Doug, Ben, Joe, Rebekah, Rachel, and a woefully inexperienced Jennifer. We wore our tie-dyed Jamaica shirts as our team uniform and encouraged one another by calling, “No worries, Mon!” whenever a teammate faulted (which was fairly frequently, since camp rules dictate a girl must hit the ball during any play requiring more than one touch to get it over the net).
Samuel turned twenty while we were at camp. We’d celebrated with him a week early when he came home after his first block of tests, but Bethany and David drove over to Houston from San Antonio to surprise their brother at a birthday dinner his roommate planned in his honor….
Our five-year-old Gabbers made his first solo-shopping trip this month. Mom sat in the van with a sleeping Abby while Gabriel marched into Braum’s with a memorized list (two gallons of milk, two loaves of bread, two packages of cheese, and two cartons of ice cream), paid with a credit card (no questions asked), and marched back out, groceries in hand, looking three inches taller.
We didn’t churn out any novels in November (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month), but we did wrap up some other writing projects.
Joseph, Rebekah, and Rachel all finished 1500-word essays for a creative writing class they took this fall, Bekah completed several paid assignments for the new Woods Living Magazine, and Jennifer published 25 Ways to Communicate Respect, a book based on her blog post that went viral last year (even now, that single post still gets five to ten thousand hits a day)….
Ben and Joe’s basketball team had a lot of away games this month.
As often as possible, our entire family goes to cheer them on, though none more enthusiastically than Abigail, who has been toting pompoms to the games ever since she first spotted an opposing team’s junior pep squad last spring.
Clearly enamored and eager for a closer look, Abby slowly inched her way down the bleachers to the opposite end of the court, where she happily accepted an invitation from the cheerleaders to join them in rooting for our rivals for the remainder of the game (fortunately, both teams were known as “the Knights”).
When we got home, Mom wasted no time in ordering Abby her own set of appropriately colored pompoms and a uniform to match.
And that brings us back to December — full circle, once again. As our family reflects on God’s mercy and provision this holiday season, we pray you will see His hand at work in your life, as well. May He grant you peace in the face of adversity, joy in the midst of trials, rest from your labors, hope for the future, and a faith that endures to all generations.