The 2016 Flanders Family Update
We knew Mikayla was a keeper when she let us dress her up as Princess Leia (opposite Ben’s Hans Solo) for the opening of The Force Awakens, despite the fact she’d never seen any of the previous six Star Wars movies.
Our family spent a wonderful week in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, shortly before Christmas.
Doug had to stay behind for some emergency business meetings, but flew out to meet us in time for a pre-scheduled interview with Al Jazeera’s America Tonight. They were doing a documentary on large families and wanted to follow ours around with a camera crew while we were on vacation.
We had a blast and felt pretty good about our time together, but sent up lots of prayers for the folks who’d be editing the footage, as we knew going in that they could make us look much crazier than we really are, if that were their goal.
Thankfully, it wasn’t, and we were pleased (and relieved) when the special report finally aired and we saw our segment of it for the first time.
Jennifer got fever and chills snow-tubing in Tennessee, so we headed to Florida in January for warmer climes.
We attended Legoland on Homeschool Day ($12.50 admission. Woohoo!) and practically had the place to ourselves. Lines were so short for most of the amusements we could ride back to back without ever leaving our seats.
The tickets were pricier and the lines longer at Universal Studios, but the Harry Potter fans among us lobbied to visit that park, too. I’m not sure whether Ben’s jokes or Bekah’s smile charmed him most, but the attendant at Hogwarts Castle took such a liking to our family that he put us in the fast pass lane, thus shaving three hours off our wait time. We also spent a day at Disney. Doug claims it was hard to tell who enjoyed that visit more: Mom or Abby. (Note to self: next time, pack the princess costumes.)
When it came time to return home, we drove straight through: Orlando to Tyler in seventeen hours, including stops. Dad, Ben, and Joe did most of the driving. Mom rode shotgun, frequently dozing off, then startling awake with a panicked cry anytime Doug changed lanes without signaling. Evidently, she wasn’t the only one dreaming we were about to die in a wreck. One night in the hotel room, Abby woke us up shouting in her sleep, “Stop the car! Stop the car!”
College classes commenced the following week for Ben, Joseph, Rebekah, and Rachel. Despite having a heavier course load this semester, our three dual credit students got permission to take their midterm exams early so they could attend TeenPact in Austin the end of February.
Doug published another title in his Life’s Big Questions series on Valentine’s Day, this one on the gospel of John, and also joined the board of Magdalene Home, a local maternity home for minors. No sooner had he completed his term as Chief of Staff at ETMC than he was named Chief of Anesthesia at UT Health Center.
The reporter who interviewed us last December called back this month to ask if we’d be interested in doing a reality TV show. We told him we had no desire to disrupt our quiet life at home with camera crews and constant filming, but since our family does a lot of traveling, if they wanted to tag along with us again on our vacations, we’d be open to that — especially if they helped finance the trips. Another backpacking trek across Europe, perhaps? The reporter was game for that idea, but the network wouldn’t bite.
Speaking of bites, Rebekah lost two retainers in ten days last March. After paying for the second replacement herself, she managed to keep up with it for the next nine months, although it’s MIA again as of this writing.
She, Joe, Mom, and Dad all served as election clerks during the primaries this month. Their computer skills made them so quick at checking in voters that they earned permanent spots on the team and were called back to help with the run-offs and general election, as well. Since we don’t have a TV, we congregated with friends at Republic Ice House to watch all of the presidential debates. We were disappointed that our first choice didn’t make it out of the primaries, but were nonetheless grateful for November’s final outcome: Senate, House, and Presidency. Who’d have guessed?
The majority of our family congregated in San Marcos for the Texas State Triathlon in April. Doug and the older kids competed while Jennifer watched the little guys.
Samuel’s clinical rotations kept him too busy to train consistently for the race, but he drove up from Houston to lend moral support to his dad and siblings. Bethany returned the favor by introducing him to a brainy redhead named Bekah Follingstad that same weekend, and Samuel promptly fell head-over-heels in love with her. Eight months later, they’re shopping for rings and planning a spring wedding.
It hardly seems possible, but Abigail Rose turned six this month. Definitely not a baby any more, she is lean and muscular and is a super quick runner.
She’ll be grown before we know it, so Jennifer made it her New Year’s resolution to hold Abby in her lap every day this year. Conveniently, Abby resolved to sit in Mom’s lap at least once a day, too, so that keeps them both accountable.After four grueling years of training, Bethany and David graduated from dental school in May. Hooray!
The pair graduated with various accolades, including the American College of Dentistry Award for David.
We’re so proud of these two… and I love this photo, taken right after they were given their diplomas. Don’t they look thrilled (and relieved!) to have all that training behind them?
We celebrated their accomplishment by taking the entire family on a Caribbean cruise.
The only one who wasn’t able to make it was Sam (there’s no summer break for fourth year medical students), but Nana gladly took his place, and Samuel spent what little time he had away from the hospital getting better acquainted with his future bride, which — to his way of thinking — more than made up for missing a family vacation.
Onboard ship, the Flanders clan (having amassed an incredible amount of useless information between us) dominated the daily trivia competitions and brought home four trophies for our efforts.
We were also well represented at the Karaoke events. Bonnie’s and Bethany’s beautiful solos earned them both invitations to audition for the ship’s all-star show.Thanks to Joseph (aka the Baby Whisperer), we hardly heard a peep out of our youngest grandson, Noah, all week. Joe held, walked, and sang to him constantly, through five-course meals and poolside movies alike.
When the ship docked in Galveston, we took the long way home, stopping in Dallas for three days of the Republican State Convention…
…then making it back to Tyler in time for Joe’s high school graduation, with 15 minutes to spare. When we returned home to host a pizza party afterwards, it was the first time we’d seen our house in over a week.Isaac turned 13 this month. Too old now to attend soccer camp with his younger siblings, he spent a good portion of his summer reading. In addition to his growing collection of superhero comic books, he finished all of The Chronicles of Narnia and most of The Chronicles of Prydain, as well.
As one of our four youngest, Isaac often gets lumped in with “the little kids,” although at over six foot, that label doesn’t fit him very well anymore. He passed up Mom this year and is rapidly closing in on Dad. Quite the artist, Isaac has an amazingly steady hand, which he puts to use painting incredibly detailed custom Lego mini-figures and canvas copies of Star Wars movie posters.
[photo of Isaac with his Star Wars paintings]Our oldest turned 28 May 31st. Although he thoroughly enjoys his work as an ICU nurse, Jonathan is currently in the process of applying to CRNA school.
Knowing that he’ll soon be moving his little family to California for a couple of years, Jennifer’s been trying to make as many fond memories with them as possible while she still can.
Going places with just our four youngest in tow feels a little weird, anyway, so we’re grateful Matti has been willing to lend us her four oldest for group field trips.
We’ve toured the police station and a radio station, attended the ballet and a live theater production, gone to the fair, done a full week of Vacation Bible School, visited the library, and played at lots of area parks and playgrounds.
The grandkids came with us to Brickfest in Dallas this spring and to Six Flags this summer. They’ve behaved beautifully through it all — probably because Grandma let them know if they didn’t, they’d have to stay home with their mom and baby brothers the next time.
Rachel turned 15 in June and got her learner’s permit, but she has been far less interested in driving than any of her brothers and sisters. She’d rather use travel time to read or draw or sleep (she takes after her mother in that respect).
Considering a career in neonatal nursing, she spent part of her summer volunteering at Mother Frances alongside her sister Rebekah, who is leaning toward dentistry.
On days they weren’t at the hospital, we continued schooling through the summer, doubling up on math and adding in an aptly-named video course, Economics for Everybody, plus some other fun curriculum and enrichment studies Timberdoodle sent for Mom to review.
Rebekah used free time to hone her photography and cooking skills. Having spent the month of June planning menus, shopping for groceries, and preparing three meals a day (Homemaking 101), she had plenty of fodder for her monthly recipe column in Woods Living. She still photographs special events for the neighborhood magazine, but has scaled back on other journalistic endeavors in order to focus on building her portrait portfolio.
Meanwhile, Jennifer’s writing ramped up in July when the Tyler Morning Telegraph invited her to pen a weekly column for their new Family+Life section, which she’s gladly done, in addition to her blogging and book writing.
Bonnie came to stay with us for a few days while David was doing officer basic training with the Army. The lease on their San Antonio apartment had recently expired, so they were technically homeless until they found a house in Tennessee, just across the border from Fort Campbell, where David will spend the next twelve months doing a residency in advanced general dentistry.
Ben and Joseph flew to New York City and spent several days exploring Manhattan on bicycles. Talk about some great brother bonding time!
From there, Ben flew to the Holy Land for ten days with a program called Covenant Journey, and Joe returned home to work at Tyler Tennis & Swim (where he served as head lifeguard again this year) and see Emi (his fellow lifeguard and sweetheart), whom he misses dreadfully and spends a fair amount of time texting whenever we travel.
We loaded up the van for another long road trip in August — this time to New England. Bethany, still waiting for the government to send her dental license so she could start to work, was able to join us for the first leg of the trip…
Samuel took a few days off from studying for his STEP 2 exam to fly up and meet us in DC, and Benjamin met us in NYC on his way home from Israel. We were all together for only 24 hours, but it was fun while it lasted.
After dropping those three at the airport, we continued our tour up the east coast, making it all the way to Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire — a first for our family.
We had to shuffle our itinerary when Doug found out the band BOSTON would be playing in Boston while we were there — the final stop on their 40th anniversary tour fell on our 29th wedding anniversary.
Tickets were still available, but we could only get eight of them, so Dad took the older kids to the concert and Mom stayed at the hotel with Gabs and Abs and turned in early. (In other words, things worked out perfectly).
September brought another round of birthdays: Joseph turned 19, Bekah 17, and Beth 27. Sadly, none of them got birthday cakes this year. We’d started “a vegan experiment” the first of the month, and since Mom couldn’t figure out how to bake a cake without eggs, she served dark chocolate covered strawberries, instead.
Going vegan was Doug’s idea, a surprising departure from his hitherto carnivorous lifestyle that included a pound of bacon a day , triple entrées at Luby’s, and frequent Chick-fil-A runs.
His about-face came as the result of reading a book (How Not to Die) by Michael Greger, an MD who examines the fifteen leading causes of death in the US and shows how a vegan diet not only prevents them, but in many cases can even reverse damage already done. The supporting studies and statistics were compelling enough that we cut out animal products completely.
Never one to do anything half-heartedly, Doug posted our gas grill on Craig’s List the first day of his new diet and sold it within an hour (no more onion burgers, fiery salmon, or baby back ribs). He stuck to the new diet for six full weeks (42 days longer than we thought he’d last) before falling off the wagon, but is back on now and feeling great (goodbye joint pain, indigestion, and excess weight).After four months of waiting for her paperwork to be processed so she can legally practice dentistry — plus a birthday week spent in Aruba marking things off her bucket list — Bethany finally got to start her new job this month with Kent Boozer, a pediatric dentist who has been trying to get Beth to come work for him ever since she was an Azalea Belle stationed in the yard of his beautiful home during Tyler’s spring flower trail twelve years ago.
Mom, Dad, and the fantastic four flew to Colorado in October to spend a few days in Aspen with Doug’s parents. Despite finding a bag of weed in lieu of a Gideon Bible in the dresser drawer of our hotel room and being delayed 21-hours on our return flight home, we had a wonderful time and learned a lot about candy making, gold mining, beer brewing, and wastewater management.
Ben and Mikayla decided to elope while we were gone, but thanks to Texas’s mandatory 72-hour waiting period on marriage licenses, we ended up making it back in time to witness the blessed event.
They exchanged vows on Ben’s 21st birthday, which — ironically — also happened to be the centennial anniversary of Planned Parenthood (take that, Margaret Sanger!), then staged a more formal ceremony in November.
Jennifer and the younger kids started back to Cottage Garden this month when a spot unexpectedly opened up mid-semester. Gabbers and Abby were still babies last time we were part of this homeschool co-op; now they’re taking classes alongside Isaac and Daniel in art, history, science, mental math, and government, and we are all thoroughly enjoying this weekly break from our studies at home.
Some of our kids wait until the last possible minute to complete their homework assignments, but Daniel always tries to get his done early. “Wow! You are really smart!” his classmates marveled, impressed that he comes to class prepared and is able to answer so many of the teacher’s questions. “No, I just know how to sound smart,” Dan told them modestly, to which they replied, “See there? You’re doing it again!”
We spent the month of November moving. It was a slow and painful process, but Doug humored Jennifer’s desire to move a little at a time and unpack as we went, even though it meant trading cars with her for weeks on end.
She used his truck to facilitate carrying loads to the new house, and he drove her Nissan NV to work. Doug made it to the end of the year without buying any new cars, although he was sorely tempted when one of his fellow physicians had trouble finding a parking spot and lodged an irate complaint: “Why are you letting deliverymen use the doctors lot?” she demanded of the parking attendant. “I know for a fact that no doctor in Tyler would drive a big ugly van like that, and I want it investigated!”
Our friends surprised Jennifer with a wonderful housewarming party mid-month. Doug was tasked with getting her away from home long enough for them to congregate in our new living room. Of course, there are myriad ways he could have done this without rousing suspicion, but the one he chose was not among them. “Why don’t we go back over to the old house,” he suggested while his wife was in the middle of a big painting project, “and take one last bath there, for old times sake?”
Jennifer tried to talk him out of what seemed to her a harebrained idea — after all, the old house afforded no towels, no soap, and no clean clothes to change into after said bath — but Doug would not be swayed and insisted she let Bekah finish the painting, because they needed to leave right now. So she knew something was up, but was far afield in her attempts to guess what it was.
In retrospect, Doug’s idea was much smarter than it first sounded. Bonus for cooperating: she didn’t smell all sweaty when her friends crowded around, hugging her neck later that evening.We had some extra special blessings to be grateful for this Thanksgiving: David and Bonnie announced they’re expecting, via matching T-shirts that read, “I can’t keep calm; I’m going to be a Daddy/Mommy.” Their little one is due in July, just a few weeks after Ben and Mikayla’s bundle of joy.
That brings us back to December. Our youngest son, Gabriel, will turn nine this month. He often gets mistaken for his brother Daniel, as the two look a lot alike and are almost the same size (especially when Gabbers tiptoes, which is most of the time).
Gabs is a sweet boy and is currently our earliest riser. In fact, when I crawled out of bed at 3:00 yesterday morning to finish writing this Christmas letter, he got up, too, and cuddled next to me while I worked on it. You can thank him for keeping me awake long enough to finally finish! We hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Let us hear from you soon.
Doug & Jennifer, Jon & Matti & sons, Beth, David & Bonnie, Samuel, Ben & Mikayla,
Joseph, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel, and Abigail