What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2016 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: 2016

December 2015 Happenings

Hans and Leia
Ben and Mikayla as Hans and Leia
Benjamin started dating his lab partner from Plant Morphology last December.

He’d been telling us about her all semester, but purposefully waited until the class was over before asking her out, to avoid any potential awkwardness should she turn him down.

She didn’t.

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.

2016 Happenings - The Force Awakens
Our family turned out to see THE FORCE AWAKENS in style. 🙂

Our family spent a wonderful week in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, shortly before Christmas.

Our family loves Gatlinburg
The Aquarium of the Smokies was amazing!

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.

With Producer Melissa May
Doug talks with producer Melissa May before shooting starts.
With Camera Crew in Gatlinburg
Cameraman Andy Dean adjusts the sound and lighting for our scheduled interview.
Ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg
Reporter Adam May (back row) got in on a lot of Flanders family fun!

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.

2016 Happenings - Free food for blue patrons in College Station
Bex (far right) looks a little blue in this photo. I think her friends rubbed off on her. Ha!

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.

January 2016 Happenings

Jennifer got fever and chills snow-tubing in Tennessee, so we headed to Florida in January for warmer climes.

2016 Happenings - Florida vacation
We had a super time in sunny Florida!

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.

2016 Happenings - How to Save Money at Legoland
We saved a bundle off tickets to Legoland!

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.)

2016 Happenings - With Tinkerbell at Disney World
Benjamin and Joseph made Tinkerbell look even tinier.

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!”

2016 Happenings - Abigail and Benjamin
Abby horses around with her brother Ben.

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.

2016 Happenings -  TeenPact in Austin
Joseph, Rebekah, and Rachel attended at government practicum called TeenPact at the state capitol.

February 2016 Happenings

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.

2016 Happenings - Mom and Dad in San Antonio
One of the rare times Doug and Jennifer were in front of the camera instead of behind it.

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.

2016 Happenings - With reporter Adam May
Vacationing with a camera crew in tow was a lot of fun.

March 2016 Happenings

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.

2016 Happenings - Rebekah jumping for joy
Hooray! Bekah found the lost retainer again after this letter went to print!

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?

2016 Happenings - GAWTP Banquet
On our way to a political banquet to hear Senator Ted Cruz talk…

April 2016 Happenings

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.

2016 Happenings - At the Texas State Triathlon
At the Texas State Triathlon with family and friends: The athletes are holding up fingers for the number of triathlons each person has completed, including this one.

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.

2016 Happenings - Samuel and Bekah Joy at Einsteins
Samuel and Bekah Joy enjoy Sunday breakfast with the family at Einsteins.

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.

2016 Happenings - Abigail Rose
Abigail takes a water break while hiking in Cozumel with her nephew Sawyer.

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.

2016 Happenings -  Mom and Abby
She’ll be grown before we know it!

David and Bethany graduate dental school!
Dr. & Dr. Flanders
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?

Bethany and David graduate dental school
David and Bethany were the first sibling pair to graduate in the same class in the history of UTHSCSA!

We celebrated their accomplishment by taking the entire family on a Caribbean cruise.

2016 Happenings - Cruising with Grandkids
Having kids and grandkids on the cruise doubled the fun!

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.

Jennifer and Her Mother
This was the first cruise Jennifer and her mom have taken in 14 years.

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.

2016 Happenings - Our First Trivia Tournament
The first of four trophies we won during trivia and other shipboard competitions.

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.

2016 Happenings - Bethany with her siblings and nephews
These kids love their big sister and sweet Aunt Bethany.

The Baby Whisperer
Joseph kept Noah quiet and entertained.
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.

May 2016 Happenings

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.

2016 Happenings - In Galveston
Back on our native soil in the Galveston port.
2016 Happenings - Republican Party of Texas State Convention
With dear friends at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention in Dallas.
Hunger Games moment at the Republican Party of Texas state convention
A Hunger Games moment at the Texas state convention: fighting against the capital for our survival.
Joseph's High School Graduation
We graduated our sixth child this year. That means we’re now halfway finished with the homeschooling!

Isaac Flanders
Isaac is our newest teenager.
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.

Jonathan and Matti Flanders
Jon and Matti celebrated 10 years of marriage this year!
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 the grandchildren 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.

2016 Happenings - Kids and grandkids at ET State Fair
The grandkids came with us to the East Texas State Fair…
2016 Happenings - Kids and grand kids at police station
… and to the police station, too.

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.

2016 Happenings - Abby and Grayson on Cow Appreciation Day
Abby and Grayson celebrate Cow Appreciation Day.
2016 Happenings - Kids and grandkids at VBS
Vacation Bible School is even more fun with friends!
2016 Happenings - Kids and grandkids at Six Flags
The younger set earned free tickets to Six Flags through their annual reading program.
Kids and grandkids at Moore Farms
The grandkids also visited a pumpkin patch with us this fall.

June 2016 Happenings

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).

Rachel got her license
Watch out! We have a new student driver.
2016 Happenings - Rachel volunteers at the hospital
Rachel volunteered at Mother Frances this summer (as did her big sister, Rebekah).

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.

Bekah aspires to be a dentist
Rebekah practices her dentistry skills on brother Isaac.

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.

The kids show off their new painting kits
The kids show off their new painting kits…

2016 Happenings - Isaac, Daniel, and Rachel with their finished masterpieces.
Isaac, Daniel, and Rachel with their finished masterpieces.

The kids try their hands at Pajaggle
And here they try their hand at Pajaggle.

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.

Rebekah's self-portrait with Gabbers in the hammock
Rebekah snaps a selfie with Gabbers in the hammock.

July 2016 Happenings

Doug and Jennifer enjoy a formal dinner date.
Doug and Jennifer enjoy a formal dinner date.

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 in July 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.

Bonnie and David are ready for the next big adventure!
Bonnie and David are ready for the next big adventure!
Doesn't David look handsome in uniform?
Doesn’t David look handsome in uniform?

Ben and Joseph flew to New York City and spent several days exploring Manhattan on bicycles. Talk about some great brother bonding time!

2016 Happenings - Bejamin and Joseph in New York

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.

Einstein Bagels
Joseph and Emi enjoy a breakfast date at Einstein Bagels…
Our hungry horde
… along with the rest of our hungry horde.

August 2016 Happenings

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…

Enjoying ice cream for breakfast in Gatlinburg.
Enjoying ice cream for breakfast in Gatlinburg.

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.

Kayaking on the Hudson River
Kayaking on the Hudson River was one of the highlights of our trip…
… and thanks to an amazing community organization, it was 100% free.

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.

2016 Happenings - Flanders in Maine
Our first time in Maine.

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.

Our 29th Anniversary
Twenty-nine years, and the honeymoon’s NOT over!

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).

We saw BOSTON in Boston.
Doug took the older kids to see BOSTON in Boston (Note the spaceship on the marquee in the background).

September 2016 Happenings

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.

Vegan Birthdays
No birthday cake for this healthy girl!

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.

Eat mor chikn
Eat more… veggies! (Fortunately Chick-fil-A now serves kale salad) 🙂

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.

Our little herbivores
The kids sometimes cheat a little, like with the feta on these greek salads.

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).

Doug and Jennifer at the Gravity Park
Doug and Jennifer had a blast at the Outdoor Gravity Park.

Our brilliant and beautiful Beth
Our brilliant and beautiful Beth
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.

She is practicing 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.

October 2016 Happenings

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.

2016 - With Doug's parents in Aspen, CO
Grandma and Grandpa Flanders met us in Aspen.
Learning about candy making
We toured a candy factory (yum!)…
Aspen's Wastewater Treatment Facility
… a waste water treatment plant (fascinating, but pew!)…
Phoenix Gold Mine
… and a gold mine (strike it rich!).

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.

Exchanging Vows
Exchanging vows at Ben & Mikayla’s elopement.

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.

David and Bonnie baked the cakes
David and Bonnie baked the cakes.

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.

 Home Depot Kids Clinic
Here they are at Home Depot Kids Clinic — another family favorite!

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!”

 I love these goofy guys.
I love these goofy guys. Not only do they know how to sound smart; they know how to look smart, too.

November 2016 Happenings

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.

Our house is getting close to being finished.
Here’s our new house, just a few weeks before completion. Then comes the hard part!

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?”

One last bath
One last bath… but the room was completely bare by the time we took it.

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.

Me and my man
This guy is always looking out for me!

Bonnie and David
Even before she got pregnant, Bonnie proved she’s capable of carrying a pretty big baby.
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.

December 2016 Happenings

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).

Gabbers and Daniel
Don’t tell Daniel, but Gabriel’s gaining on him. Pretty soon, he won’t have to tiptoe.
Gabriel with a bunny
Gabriel gets up at the crack of dawn, if not before!

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.

With love from the Flanders family:
Doug & Jennifer, Jon & Matti & sons, Beth, David & Bonnie, Samuel, Ben & Mikayla,
Joseph, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel, and Abigail
Love and Joy
Sending love and joy at Christmas time, from our family to yours!
<< last year                                            next year >>

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).

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

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