We spent most of last December backpacking Europe. The fact that David, Bonnie, and Gwen are now living in Germany (and loving it!) was all the excuse we needed to cash in our frequent flyer miles and head oversees.
It was a cold but festive time of the year to travel: Nearly every city we visited boasted a bustling Christmas market, aglow with millions of twinkling lights and flanked by bedazzled evergreens, elaborate nativity scenes, live choirs singing a constant stream of carols, and some rendition of St. Nicholas passing out free gingerbread, croissants, Swiss chocolates, and even giftwrapped toys to passersby….
To maximize daylight hours available for sightseeing, we slept on night trains whenever possible. This strategy worked well until Dad, Isaac, and Daniel ended up sharing a compartment with a stranger leaving Budapest who shook Doug awake every five minutes all night long and ordered him to quit snoring.
Meanwhile, Mom, Gabriel, and the four girls packed themselves like sardines into a closet-sized sleeper with three bunks on either side. We snoozed soundly, but awakened with full bladders to find the deadbolt had malfunctioned and trapped us in. It took half an hour and an SOS call to the conductor to extricate us, with mere seconds to spare, before the train sped down the tracks toward its next stop.
The kids were troopers for our whirlwind tour of the continent — hiking long distances without complaint, braving snowy weather, and watching out for one another at every turn.
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Note to self for next time we visit Prien a Chiemsee: (1) this boat passage is not covered by Eurail pass, (2) if you spend all your cash on boat tickets, visit an ATM before boarding, (3) restaurants on the islands don’t accept credit cards, (4) always check if a restaurant accepts credit cards before ordering, and preferably before being seated, (5) be sure you get off on the right island, (6) the Christmas Market is not on the same island as the castle, (7) the ice on the hillside is slick, so keep a firm grasp on the handrail while traversing, (8) although nobody tells you this, the castle tickets include a guided tour, so don’t keep your guide waiting, and (9) the castle is amazing — essentially a replica of Versailles, but on an island — so even if you forget everything else and you’re feeling cold, tired, and hungry, don’t turn back until you’ve seen it. #noregrets #learningfrommymistakes #flandersfamilybackpackseurope #flandersfamilytravels
We sat through a 3-D showing of Coco in German (the theater was the warmest place we could find to await a 23:45 night train); afterwards, our boys popped the requisite lenses out of their hipster-looking, black frames and wore them for the duration of our trip.
Gabriel went beyond the call of duty in Venice, lugging Mom’s heavy and densely-packed bag in addition to his own across no less than twenty bridges. “If you made me do this, I’d hate it,” our nearly-11-year-old explained, “but when I’m volunteering, it’s so much fun!”
His dad and big brothers tried to give him a break, but he insisted on toting it all himself. We aren’t ready for this youngest son to be a man so soon, but he sure is starting to act like one….
Doug normally forgoes shaving when we travel, so he was looking a bit bushy by the end of our trip. His own wife mistook him for a homeless man at a busy metro station and felt a wave of panic when she glimpsed him ushering Abby toward a far exit.
Our first Sunday back, the cashier at Einstein Bagels took one appraising look at his predominately white beard and keyed in a “senior discount,” no questions asked. That innocent assumption was all it took to persuade Doug to shave it off posthaste, a decision his family applauded, but one that temporarily locked him out of his new iPhone, which didn’t recognize the whiskerless version of his face.
January brought snow to Tyler, but we were in Missouri at the time, enjoying even more snow and sipping copious cups of cocoa to keep warm.
One perk of traveling offseason: we had most of the museums entirely to ourselves, and our hotel upgraded us to an unbelievably luxurious presidential suite at no extra charge.…
The documentary we taped with the BBC last summer — Miriam’s Big American Adventure — still hasn’t aired in the US, but it was broadcast in the UK this month to rave reviews. Even though our portion of the show comprised only twelve minutes of the three-hour program, we got letters from atheist and Christian viewers alike who tracked us down after watching to tell us how much they enjoyed it.
The show’s star and our dear friend, Miriam Margolyes, has maintained a faithful correspondence with Jennifer ever since our first meeting. She even invited us to visit her while we were in London, where she proudly introduced us to everyone we met as “my family.”
We hosted a Mother/Daughter Valentine Brunch in February. We had a delightful time getting better acquainted with our neighbors and are already planning to do it again next year.
Our children made over a hundred handcrafted, gospel-centric valentines, which the girls passed out to classmates at TJC.
Rebekah staffed again for TeenPact in Austin this month. Upon learning that no one had stepped forward to lead worship for the event, she enthusiastically volunteered for the job, despite having zero experience doing anything of the sort. This brand of unbridled courage has oft resurfaced this year, as when she lately signed up for a competitive women’s soccer camp at UT Tyler having never played the sport in her life.
Mom brought home a couple of hula hoops in March, and the kids immediately began trying to outdo one another with them. Abby’s undeniably the most versatile: she can hula hoop even while walking, running, spinning in circles, jumping up and down, embroidering, knitting, reading, and completing pages out of her math workbook.
Dan Dan the Muscle Man holds the record for time: 41 minutes and 27 seconds. He might’ve kept it going longer than that had Dad not accidentally bumped into him and sent the hoop rattling to the ground. Although understandably disappointed, Daniel showed amazing self-control when it happened and didn’t cry, scream, or act out in any way (we know of some professional athletes who could use lessons in exercising that sort of restraint)….
Bethany took Rebekah and Rachel to Sweden over spring break — an early and extravagant graduation gift — where they met up with David’s family to see the Northern Lights, tour the Icehotel, and go dog-sledding….
Jon and Matti finally had their first girl this month and named her Lydia Hope. A blue-eyed, blonde beauty, she’s the spitting image of her mom who, after that string of six sons, has unleashed all her pent-up girl-mother instincts on this tiny new human. We have never seen the baby without a bow in her hair and suspect Matti must change Lydia’s clothes ten times a day, given all the pretty portraits she posts on Instagram.
Jonathan moved his growing family into a lovely little house on six acres in Kilgore this spring — truly a provision from the Lord. Despite receiving substantially higher bids from five other buyers, the owners told Jon they decided to accept his offer as a way of honoring their mother’s dying wish that the homestead be sold to a family with a bunch of boys. “Boys we have,” Jon assured him. “Money, not so much!”
We’d planned to spend a week of April in Wisconsin. Our bags were packed and ready to go, but Abby fell sick mere hours before our scheduled departure time and spent her eighth birthday throwing up non-stop until well past midnight.
One by one, the rest of the family succumbed. We passed the week lounging on sofas, dishpans in hand, and binge-watching The Office, grateful to have been home (and not on the road) when it hit….
Doug and the kids planted fruit trees this spring — pears, peaches, persimmons, pecans, plus several thornless blackberry bushes—then watched with bated breath as each specimen began to bear. Unfortunately, the birds and squirrels were watching, too, and devoured everything except the persimmons long before any of it was ripe enough to pick….
Jennifer had the privilege of singing in the symphony chorus when the ETSO performed one of her all-time favorites this spring, Beethoven’s No. 9. She didn’t “break a leg” in the traditional sense, but she did fracture a toe the day of the performance after a ruptured grocery bag deposited a 24-oz jar of picante sauce on her bare foot (hence, she had to hobble onstage hours later hiding a pair of house slippers beneath her black concert attire).
After graduating with our homeschool group in May, Bekah and Rachel drove Isaac to Tennessee for TeenPact National Convention then flew to Colorado for two weeks of worldview classes at Summit. The girls plan to apply to UT Tyler’s nursing program after finishing the last of their core classes at TJC next spring….
Jennifer was invited to speak at a couple of Texas Home School Coalition conventions this month. The first was in Arlington, where two of her talks attracted crowds of close to a hundred attendees each, but the third, which suffered the misfortune of being scheduled opposite Pam Tebow’s keynote address, drew an audience of six: Doug (there to lend moral support), a conference worker (charged with introducing session speakers), and four young mothers who — presumably — either couldn’t find a seat in the standing-room-only hall next door or didn’t have any daughters of marriageable age.
As this was way before Tim’s recent engagement to Miss Universe, were Jennifer not committed to speak during the same time slot, she would have been tempted to attend Pam’s lecture herself to let her know that Bethany is still available — contrary to speculation by FreeJinger readers that she has a secret boyfriend her parents know nothing about.
“Oh, my word,” Beth protested when we told her their theory, “if an eligible man so much as said hello to me at the grocery store, Ma, you’d be the first to hear about it!”
Her advice for this year’s update?
“Describe me as a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man to complete her. That’ll counterbalance last year’s always a bridesmaid uproar, plus — with the double negative — Internet stalkers won’t know whether you’re promoting my independence or lamenting my need for a husband. Mwahaha!”
In the absence of a clandestine love life, Bethany spends what time she isn’t doing dentistry taking online seminary classes, learning Hindi/Devanagari (in preparation for a return trip to South Asia), and doting over her nieces and nephews.…
Jennifer fared better at The Woodlands (despite being scheduled head-to-head with Pam again). Not only did conference-goers attend her talks; they also bought her books. By the time we closed up shop, she’d completely sold out of 11 different titles and taken orders for dozens more….
Joe proposed to Emi this month, who happily accepted. This hardworking couple spent the rest of the year planning their wedding (set for June 1, 2019) while attending a full slate of college classes, juggling five jobs between them (Emi drives for Domino’s; Joseph for Lyft when he’s not working at Jersey Mike’s Subs; and both served as TJC lifeguards all summer), and building a sizable nest egg with their earnings. Emi is a jewel, and we’re all thrilled she’s joining our family.
Isaac got his learner’s permit in June, three full weeks after turning 15 (it took Mom that long to prove our Texas residency). This self-proclaimed science geek also shed his braces this summer and added a few inches in height. At this point, he’s matched or passed everyone in the family save Ben and David, but is rapidly gaining on them, too.
When he isn’t reading up on black-hole physics or practicing piano, Isaac paints. His artwork has won lots of blue ribbons at the East Texas State Fair over the years, but the top competitor award they pinned on his reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” this fall was nearly as big as the canvas itself….
Rachel is sporting an older, more mature look, too, thanks to a new pair of metal-rimmed glasses (they suit her bookish personality perfectly) and a short, stylish pixie reminiscent of the tangle-free haircuts she used to give herself as a toddler.
While she loves the functionality and easy care of the new do — no wasted time taming tresses that could be better spent cramming for college exams, plus fewer handholds for babies when working in childcare at church — she didn’t relish being called sir by that boy in the serving line at Spring Creek (cue the hoop earrings and girly scarves).
We were traveling the day Rachel turned 17 and celebrated by touring Chaney’s Dairy Barn, Kentucky Horse Park, Mammoth Cave, and a life-size, pictures-don’t-do-it-justice replica of Noah’s Ark.
When we stopped at the Pottery House Café in Pigeon Forge to grab a bite of lunch after a morning of indoor skydiving, Rebekah served up a big batch of bread puns. She was on a roll and kept dough-ling them out until we were all doubled over with laughter. “No knead to thank me,” she quipped. “It’s the yeast I could do.”
We celebrated the Fourth of July by hosting a neighborhood block party — a fun excuse for fellowshipping with old friends and making new ones.
We also attended a local fireworks display whose grand finale was precisely but unintentionally timed with self-activated septic sprinklers spontaneously spraying unsuspecting spectators (try saying that seven times fast and you’ll better appreciate how quickly we got our van out of the freshly soaked field once its slipping, spinning, sputtering wheels had sadly sunk in the mud).
August found Rebekah being baptized in the River Jordan. Our gregarious girl took a 10-day tour of Israel with Covenant Journey, but she’s yet to tell us anything about the places she visited; we’ve only heard about the people she met, many of whom she photographed to help cement the details of their stories in her mind….
Doug and Jennifer celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary this month. By a strange turn of events that only God could orchestrate, a couple of producers from ABC’s 20/20 were here, cameras in hand, to document the occasion on film.
After contacting us a month earlier while doing research on fertility, they flew in for a face-to-face interview with our family and some like-minded friends of ours, Shaun and Abbie and their seven children (#8 is due in January).
The subject matter of this special report seems to have broadened somewhat since that initial meeting. They sent a second camera crew to film us packing for a camping trip, doing chores, driving about town, and answering scads of questions about what exactly we believe and how our beliefs affect the way we live.
Bottom-line answer: We believe hope can only be found in Jesus Christ, who took the punishment for our sin upon Himself so that we can have eternal life through Him (John 3:16), a conviction that undergirds everything else we do. We don’t know when/if any of that footage will actually air, but promise to keep you posted in the event it ever does….
Doug finished re-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud this month. He and Jennifer both sobbed uncontrollably through the final chapters: Doug, because it’s such a moving tale, and Jennifer, because he’s read it to the family four times now — once a decade — and she knows by the time he’s ready to read it again, we will likely have no more children at home to listen….
The day after Daniel turned 13, we hit the trail again, this time heading west. Not only does homeschooling give us the flexibility to travel whenever we want, but it turns the world into our classroom (and for a fraction of the cost of private school tuition)!
We stopped at Palo Duro Canyon to see the Texas musical, in Amarillo to graffiti Cadillac Ranch, in Arizona to hike around the Grand Canyon, in Las Vegas to visit the Mob Museum, tour Hoover Dam, hone our sleuthing skills at CSI Experience, explore the National Atomic Testing Museum, gawk at the Real Bodies exhibit, raft the Black Canyon river, and do some target practice at Range 702 before driving on to California, where we met up with Doug’s parents for several days of rest and relaxation at Big Bear Lake.
We took Grandma and Grandpa bowling (the first time either had picked up a bowling ball in 45 years, despite having been on a league together as newlyweds) and enjoyed a morning cruise aboard a former pirate ship.
Then, continuing on to the coast, we stopped in Los Angeles for a free but fascinating tour of the LA Times printing plant and in San Diego to visit their world-renowned zoo and see Sea World, which offers free admission (plus generous discounts on all-day dining passes) to veterans and up to three of their family members. Woohoo!
We were back at the books by September. Jennifer began homeschooling our five oldest grandkids a couple of days a week this year. This gives Matti a break and keeps our Fantastic Four from feeling so lonely now that most of their siblings have moved on.
The kids love all the hands-on resources and even won several ribbons at the fair this month for art projects included with the kit (our little “Keep the Change” Abby was the family’s top earner in the Creative Arts Competition this year, amassing dozens of ribbons plus $50 in premiums for all her handiwork)….
Doug and Jennifer attended a blogging conference in Orlando mid-month. Except for one overnight marriage retreat (which we spent, ironically, in separate, gender-segregated dorms), this was the first solo trip we’ve taken in 31 years — since our honeymoon, in fact, which we also spent in Orlando. Historically, at least one child (and usually more) tags along.
While we were gone, Ben (who’ll finish his Bachelor’s in biology this December) and Mikayla (who takes an occasional break from blogging at shygirlroars.com to fill in for Jennifer teaching algebra and essay writing classes at co-op) agreed to watch the younger sibs, who were thrilled to have a full weekend of unfettered access to Baby James, the biggest Flanders 15-month-old to date! They also came to our rescue when we hit a deer driving home from DFW. Mom and Dad escaped unscathed; the same can’t be said of the buck or the truck.
Knowing Doug had officiated at Ben and Mik’s wedding two years ago and is slated to do the same for Joseph and Emi next summer, a friend of ours asked him to preside over his nuptials in October. Doug joked about making a part time job of his new clerical role, but considering how he obsessed over the preparations for this ceremony, there’s little chance he’ll turn it into a side hustle….
Samuel celebrated his 25th birthday this month. Just like his dad, Sam absolutely loves doing anesthesia; his unremitting attention to detail makes him excellent in the OR. His sweet wife is his biggest cheerleader, despite being kept very busy herself with clinicals for her Occupational Therapy degree (which she’ll finish in December with a huge sigh of relief).
We don’t get to see Sam and Bekah Joy often, but did squeeze in a short visit — surprise! — on our way to Galveston, whence we cruised to the Bahamas aboard the Carnival Freedom.
Abby won the grand prize (nearly $200 worth of family games) in the ship’s Hasbro Game Show; Daniel, Isaac, and Gabbers finished second, third, and fourth, respectively, in the paper airplane folding contest; and Bethany (aka: trivia queen) was last woman standing in the movie trivia competition, landing her a starring role onstage in a hilarious Pirates of the Caribbean re-enactment.
We returned home with a nice collection of trophies, medals, and gift cards. Even Nana, who turned 81 at sea, made out well, as the crew lavished her with cake, cards, presents, and spa treatment coupons upon learning it was her birthday.
We invited the founder of Global Heart Ministries to our home in November to tell family/friends about the incredible doors God has opened to get the gospel into some of the darkest corners of our world, then spent time in Dallas learning about another wonderful ministry: The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute.
Rebekah and Rachel hosted (and did most of the cooking for) a “Friendsgiving” for their international classmates from TJC.
Samuel and Bekah Joy got unexpected time off and made it home for Thanksgiving. Jon and Matti hosted our family feast this year, to the delight of everybody in attendance.
Of course, we missed David, Bonnie, and Gwen, who aren’t due home again until January (counting the days!).
In the meantime, our entire family wishes you a merry and meaningful Christmas season. Write or visit us soon!
Jon & Matti (and kids), Bethany, David & Bonnie (and Gwen), Samuel & Bekah Joy,
Ben & Mikayla (and James), Joseph, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel, and Abigail
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