What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2014 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: 2014
December 2013 Happenings
Last December took us to Branson, Missouri, the week before Christmas. Having enjoyed fourteen inches of snow during a previous stay at Big Cedar Lodge, we were hoping for a repeat this time around. What we got instead was lots of rain and a lingering stomach virus. The trip was memorable, but not in the way we’d imagined.
Although Gabriel turned six while we were there, Mom forgot to pack his present, so all he got from her on his special day was a quarter and cookie she’d saved over from that morning’s time-share presentation, wrapped in a paper napkin. She felt bad about the situation, but Gabbers just hugged her neck and declared, “You’re the best Mommy I’ve ever had”—a little sad, but technically true.
Fortunately, the day was not a total bust: David came prepared (he remembers all our birthdays), Bethany baked a cake, and Daddy drove to town with the siblings who had not yet succumbed to the stomach virus and came back bearing more surprises for the birthday boy.
Only three of us were sick when it came time to leave, but God mercifully granted us a hiatus from vomiting for the eight-hour drive home.
January 2014 Happenings
Our grandson Grayson was hospitalized with meningitis in January, less than a week after the birth of his new baby brother, Easton.
So while Matti tended the newborn and Jon comforted the sick, we kept watch over Aiden, Sawyer, and Chase for a few more days—a recurring theme this year, as Matti was hospitalized with cellulitis the following month and Jonathan with a staph infection this summer.
Thankfully, Grandpa came up with a capital way of burning off these busy boys’ energy: He hires them to clear all the pinecones and sweetgum balls out of our yard.
Since he pays per piece, it also hones their math skills (already pretty sharp, thanks to Matti’s excellent homeschooling).
Plus, for every minute they spend outside picking up, they aren’t inside dragging out—an added bonus!
Our younger kids pitch in, too, treating the job more like a game than a chore.
Speaking of chores, you wouldn’t believe the controversy an Age-Appropriate Chore Chart Jennifer posted on our blog created when it was picked up this month, first by Maria Montessori’s Facebook page, then by the New York Times.
We got a massive amount of traffic — nearly 150K visits per day before it crashed our site — but the comments were evenly split between people who thought our chart made perfect sense and those who insisted we were robbing our children of their childhood by requiring them to make their beds.
February 2014 Happenings
Our newly licensed Joseph accidentally backed over our neighbor’s mailbox in February, just two short weeks after his brother backed into a car the same neighbor had parked on the street.
We paid for damages both times, but when a “For Sale” sign appeared in their yard a few months later, we couldn’t help but wonder if our family had factored into their decision to move….
We drove to Dallas for the TCAL State Tournament this month. Having led the state in his division for rebounds, scores, and steals, Ben was named co-MVP of the league and given a spot on the all-tournament and all-state teams, as well.
As soon as basketball season was over, Benjamin buzzed off his ponytail — nearly ten inches of wavy brown locks, which he donated to charity — and began pouring his energies into academics.
He graduated high school in May and is currently working on a Civil Engineering degree from UT Tyler.
He occasionally spots his brother Jon on campus, who’s now in nursing school there. After almost a decade of working full-time and attending school part-time, Jonathan is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel….
Although Doug normally restricts his political involvement to casting a ballot in each election cycle and donating to the campaigns of choice conservatives, he surprised Jennifer this month by volunteering to host a medical Meet & Greet for State Representative Matt Schaefer in our home before the upcoming primary, then going on TV to speak in support of Matt, who won the hotly-contested race by a landslide.
March 2014 Happenings
Rebekah served as an Azalea Belle in March. She looked beautiful wearing the same antebellum gown her sister Beth had worn as a belle ten years earlier.
Several of our homeschool friends were belles this year, too, and looked every bit as lovely, which may explain Joseph’s eagerness to be the one to drop Bekah off and pick her up after her shifts and his lingering about the gardens when he did….
While Samuel was home for spring break from medical school, he played a bunch of kickball with us, albeit a little stiffly after he wiped out while skateboarding down a steep hill during a family bike ride and burned most of the skin off his left hip and elbow.
Thankfully, his head and face escaped unscathed.
Eager to recover quickly, he even submitted to liberal applications of Miracle Salve without (much) complaint….
The church that began ten years ago in our living room merged this month with Branch Community. We’ve continued to meet in our building, but took their name.
The place is packed every Sunday, and we’ve made a lot of precious new friends as a result….
The kids helped Mom make our first-ever music videos for YouTube this spring…
We made parodies of two Frozen tunes (“Do You Wanna Have a Baby?” and “Let Them Know”) as well as the Lego Movie theme song (“Life with You Is Awesome”), in which even Doug makes a cameo appearance….
Jennifer spoke at her first women’s retreat in March, an event that had been on her calendar since last October.
Bad news is, she’d written it down on the wrong weekend.
Good news is, she was alerted to her mistake with four hours to spare, thanks to a text she received from the event organizer asking if she had any last-minute questions.
April 2014 Happenings
We returned to Dallas in April for the Texas Christian Homeschool Prom. Benjamin got special permission for his (barely under-aged) sister Rebekah to attend this year, too — surprise!
That means Mom and Dad owed volunteer hours for three students. They were conscripted to help set up for the event, but had far more fun doing so than expected.
While we were in town, we took Nana on a driving tour of our old Alma Mater, Dallas Baptist University (which grows more beautiful and impressive every time we see it), then visited Papa’s grave next door at the National Cemetery.
That place is impressive, too — so much so that Doug announced on the spot that’s where he wants to be interred when the time comes. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have that matter settled….
Abby turned four and gave her heart to Jesus this month. Our baby doesn’t look like a baby at all anymore. She was sick for three days this summer, which melted away the last bit of roundness in both sets of cheeks.
Abigail can sometimes be a little possessive — we once heard her arguing with Gabriel, “Daniel’s my brother, not yours!”—but she mostly spreads smiles and sunshine everywhere she goes.
Mom turned 49 the day after Abby’s birthday, and Dad turned 47 the day after that. We received news on Doug’s birthday that Jennifer’s book, 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband, had won CSPA’s “Book of the Year” Award.
Thanks to the tireless effort of a dear friend to bring this book to Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s attention, Revive Our Hearts also began carrying it this year and even collaborated with Jennifer to create a 30-Day Respect Challenge, which was released on our wedding anniversary.
May 2014 Happenings
Doug and Jennifer were both invited to speak in May at the FEAST Homeschool Conference in San Antonio. We gave three talks each, made some wonderful new friends, reconnected with old ones, sold a bundle of books, and still made it home in time for Ben’s commencement ceremony that same weekend.
Doug exchanged his Ford F-150 pickup for a couple of Kias this spring—the first of five such transactions he made this year. He did so much car swapping, in fact, that the rest of us could never tell from one week to the next what we’d be driving. We just knew that, whenever Dad was excessively late getting home from work or evasive about his whereabouts, we could find him at the dealership, negotiating another trade….
Isaac turned 11 this month. He is curious, creative, and constantly chatting about whatever’s on his mind, which usually has something to do with Legos. Or iPads. Or ways to earn money to buy Legos or iPads.
Our family happened to visit the New London museum on a day when CBS 19 was there taping a segment of JB’s Journal, and they asked permission to interview Isaac for the evening news.
It was comical to see how quickly our boy who seldom stops talking clammed up when they put a mic and spotlight on him!
June 2014 Happenings
Jennifer lost the diamond to her wedding ring in June. It was an heirloom stone that had been in Doug’s family for 150 years. She felt sick when she glanced down at her hand during a dinner date and noticed it missing—for how long, she didn’t know.
Convinced that the original was gone for good (and being the big-hearted, think-outside-the-box kind of guy he is), Doug took her straightaway to the jewelers, ready and willing to trade in what was left of her wedding set for something entirely new and different. He was a little surprised that this idea was not met with more enthusiasm on the part of his wife, who was reluctant to give up hope so soon.
She kept on praying that the original would re-surface — and guess what? It finally did, eleven days later when she was scrubbing our bathroom floor and inadvertently dislodged the diamond from its hiding place under the cabinet, where it had fallen into a gap in the grout between the tile and the wall. Wasn’t God good to preserve it for her there?
We attended the Republican State Convention (our first) in Fort Worth this month and had a terrific time, despite one virulent case of food poisoning at the tail end of our stay.
Cowtown has become a home-away-from-home this year for a couple of our boys who now have sweethearts there. We couldn’t be more pleased with their choices (which makes having to split holidays a lot easier).
Rachel turned 13 mid-month. She still spends most of her time reading, drawing, or playing the piano, but is also in popular demand as a neighborhood babysitter.
Children love her because she’s so much fun, and parents love her because she’s not only responsible, but is also a good housekeeper, to boot. Sadly, the housekeeping part doesn’t always manifest in her own bedroom, but that’s probably because Abigail moved in with her this year and is not quite as meticulous about keeping things tidy as Rachel was before they became roomies.
Joseph worked as a lifeguard at Tyler Tennis & Swim all summer.
It quickly became apparent that his coworkers were seeing a side of him the rest of our family didn’t even know existed.
One night when Mom stopped by the pool to drop off Joe’s car keys, the girl at the front desk gushed, “Oh, are those for J.T.?”
The initials caught her a little off guard, but Jennifer made a rapid recovery: “Why, yes…” she smiled, “I guess they are.”
July 2014 Happenings
David and Bethany both took and passed their written boards, then came home for a very brief visit (just long enough for Beth to get her wisdom teeth out) before starting their third year of dental school the first of July.
Daniel begged to play soccer this year. Since our homeschool group no longer offers the sport, we signed our little guys up to attend a four-day soccer camp this summer.
They loved it, but Gabriel would only go if Mom promised to stay until it was over.
She agreed and used the waiting time to edit Doug’s new book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife, the majority of which Doug had dictated to her during the long drive to visit his parents and sister’s family in New Mexico a week earlier.
(The book is scheduled to launch next February, just in time for Valentine’s Day.)
The trip was wonderful; we drove home the second Friday of July, also known as “Cow Appreciation Day.” The kids lobbied to visit every Chick-fil-A between El Paso and Tyler, but Dad limited us to just two stops.
Rachel and Abigail had a scare this month during a berry-picking excursion when a huge snake with a triangular head crawled out of the bushes and completely encircled Abby’s foot. She screamed, and Rachel ran. She was fifteen feet away before she realized her little sister hadn’t followed, but had remained frozen inside the snake’s coils. Rachel dashed back, snatched Abigail up in her arms, and high-tailed it out of there as fast as she could go.
Neither was bitten, but their hearts were still pounding when Rachel breathlessly told the rest of us at home what had happened. Her little brothers were full of advice of what she should have done. “If it were me, I would have stomped on him!” one boasted. “If it were me, I would have chopped off his head!” said another. “If it were me,” Abby chimed in, “I would’ve spit on him!” Surprised, Mom said, “Oh really, Abby? And is that what you did, actually?” to which she sheepishly replied, “No… but I should have.”
August 2014 Happenings
Daniel turned nine in August. Although he was thrilled with the new leather wallet David sent him from San Antonio, I think his favorite gift may have been the handstand lessons he got from brother Ben. We noticed immediate improvement both in balance and style when he put those pointers into practice! And practice he did: one-handed, two-handed, at home and away.
We spent a few days in Hot Springs this month, sans Joe, who was working double shifts at the pool that week.
Dad took us to see an unforgettable magic show by Maxwell Blade while we were there. It was especially unforgettable for Gabbers and Isaac, who were recruited to be Mr. Blade’s assistants during one segment of the show. To help them look the part, the magician shellacked their heads with hairspray until their shaggy mops stood on end, then penciled on some quizzical eyebrows, Dali mustaches, anchor goatees, and even a little chest hair.
It was all fun and games until he strapped Isaac into a guillotine and tried to cajole Gabriel into tripping the lever. Gabbers refused — as any loving brother should — so Blade released the blade himself. It passed through the stocks with a deafening thud, but (amazingly) Isaac’s neck remained intact.
September 2014 Happenings
Abigail has been praying that God would send us twins (a boy and a girl), and that’s exactly what He did in September when a nest of baby squirrels fell out of a tree not far from our house.
Abby insists that wasn’t what she had in mind. Mom told her, next time, she should be more specific.
The mama squirrel rescued the four that landed on the grass, but abandoned the two that hit the concrete, so Bex and Rachel brought them home.
We warmed them with a heating pad and fed them with a 3cc syringe — every two hours, round the clock, until they opened their eyes (about three weeks later), then every four hours until they weaned (two more months after that).
Unfortunately, the little boy developed a bad case of pneumonia and died. Worried that Miss Suzy would not develop properly without a companion, Rebekah prayed for a miracle.
Less than 24 hours later, a small cardboard box mysteriously appeared on our doorstep with a replacement inside — another little boy squirrel, whom we named Oliver.
He was our angel squirrel, sweet and gentle, with the softest, whitest fur on his chest and tail. We later learned that a neighbor’s dog had carried the tiny thing home in his mouth, and not knowing what else to do with it, the neighbor brought it to us. Of course, we understood that she was merely making a delivery; the package came from God.
Our children cleaned up in the East Texas State Fair creative arts competition this month. They earned a combined total of $171 in premiums, plus two tricolor ribbons:
One was for Rebekah’s pencil portrait of Captain America and the other for a stocking cap that Daniel knitted.
Daniel originally intended the cap to be a gift for his new nephew, but he decided to keep (and wear) it himself after it took top honors — so if you spot him about town sporting what looks like a mint green baby bonnet, now you’ll know why.
October 2014 Happenings
Samuel turned 21 in October, and we drove to Houston to surprise him for his birthday.
Samuel’s old friends, Nathan and James Baber, surprised us by showing up, as well, along with ten of his new friends from medical school, all of whom had super nice things to say about our sweet son.
Doug and Jennifer went on a couples’ retreat with our church this month. It was the first time in 27 years we’ve gone anywhere overnight without kids — too bad we had to spend it in separate, gender-segregated cabins. Ha! We enjoyed the fellowship with our friends, but remain convinced that a well-used lock on the bedroom door trumps romantic but sporadic getaways, every time.
Benjamin turned 19 this month. He does a lot of homework these days, but still finds time to spend with family, Skype his girlfriend, and play an occasional game of Ping-Pong, Frisbee, or intramural basketball.
Sketching house plans is still a favorite pastime, but lately, Ben has taken to doodling plans for 18-passenger vans. He told Mom that by adding another row of seats to an extended Sprinter, he thinks he can squeeze himself, a wife, and as many as 16 children into a single vehicle, so they won’t need to take two cars everywhere they go, like the Duggars do.
Mom wishes Dad would think that way. Determined to downsize, Doug traded our 15-passenger in for a 12 this year, and she’s really missing those extra seats.
November 2014 Happenings
Tim Tebow’s mom, Pam, came to Tyler for the Living Alternatives Banquet in November, so Doug and Jennifer went to hear her speak. She was amazing — and so is the LA family of ministries, which has now grown to include a crisis pregnancy center, a maternity home, an adoption agency, educational and foster care programs, post-abortive counseling, and many other branches we hadn’t known about before the dinner.
By mid-month, our little squirrels had learned to climb trees and would daily venture forth, further and further from our house, to forage. Once they stopped drinking milk, we moved their nesting box outside. None of us anticipated how hard it would be when it came time to release them, and we had to say goodbye. We cried for a week. Suzy still pays occasional visits to our back porch to eat grapes and nuts from our hands, but long gone are the days when she and Oliver would cuddle in our laps or nap in our pockets, and we really miss having them do that.
Well, our kids are all home for Thanksgiving, and Samuel has asked if we could stage our Christmas card assembly line before he has to drive back to Houston, so I need to wrap up this letter and print it off. We hope you and your loved ones have a merry and meaningful Christmas season. Write to us when you can!
With love from the Flanders — Doug and Jennifer,
Bethany, David, Samuel, Benjamin, Joseph, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel and Abigail
Do you prefer to do your reading offline? You’ll find more of our family’s embarrassing moments, hard learned lessons, and hilarious family 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).