What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2019 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: 2019
December 2018 Happenings
Doug came up with a novel way to ring in the holidays last December. He scheduled side-by-side screening colonoscopies for himself and his wife. As unromantic a date as that proved to be, it did promote a sort of battlefield camaraderie and underscored the truth of the old adage about marriage doubling joys and halving sorrows. Only, in this instance, it halved the dread leading up to the procedure and doubled the relief when it was over!
With that health-check behind us, we headed south to The Woodlands. There we attended Bekah Joy’s graduation from the Occupational Therapy program at Texas Women’s University.
A week later, we traveled east for some family fun in the Goober State. We hiked Amicalola Falls, visited the fish hatchery…
sampled sodas at Coca-Cola World…
then drove up to North Carolina to tour the Biltmore Estate (even more glorious at Christmas time).
David and Bonnie flew in from Germany the same day we got home from Georgia. They tasked Mom with keeping their arrival hush-hush from the rest of the family.
She succeeded, but found it nearly impossible to wipe the silly grin off her face once she spied our world travelers tiptoeing up behind their unsuspecting father, who was presently recounting something he’d read about Hitler and seemed miffed by his wife’s lack of gravitas regarding the subject matter.
Abigail found exactly what she was hoping for under the tree last year: new roller blades. Those, coupled with the broken arm she got less than 24 hours after unwrapping them, made for a Christmas she won’t soon forget!
She didn’t get to skate a second time until after Valentine’s Day. And then only when clad in proper knee, wrist, and elbow protection, per Dr. Dad’s orders.
January 2019 Happenings
We started back to our homeschool co-op in January. Jennifer led a women’s group and taught Algebra 2 and Essay Writing. And the kids took everything from Spanish, Biology, and Worldviews to Art, Keyboarding, and Graphic Design. It’s been a joy to have Jon and his boys at Cottage Garden again this year. Jennifer gets lots of sweet hugs as she passes them in the hall on Mondays.
Rebekah registered for a film class at TJC this semester. The experience convinced her to stick with nursing rather than pursue a career in media arts. Developing those interests as a hobby is one thing. Being forced to meet deadlines and work on projects that don’t personally resonate is another.
February 2019 Happenings
February found Doug sick and unable to work. Good news is, his short-lived illness hit during a week of scheduled vacation time. Bad news is, it forced us to cancel a family trip to San Antonio. Sadly, canceling, postponing, and rerouting travel plans has been a recurrent theme for us in 2019.
Jennifer went to see her OB/GYN this month for the first time since Abby was born. The doctor gave her a clean bill of health. But the visit did shed some light on why she’s gone nearly a decade without getting pregnant. Secondary infertility means a couple has trouble conceiving baby #2. To our knowledge, there’s no medical term for the inability to conceive baby #13 (probably because the condition is so rare).
March 2019 Happenings
Our family got its first lesson in swing dancing in March before cutting the rug to a live band in a local church gym. Mom and Dad would benefit from a few follow-up lessons — an idea Jennifer promptly put on her empty nest list. But the kids were quick studies (and not nearly so prone to becoming winded). Before the evening was out, even Jon’s 5-year-old Easton was twirling his little redheaded dance partner like a pro!
The month held many more firsts, as well: Bethany made her first trip to Israel, spending ten soul-nourishing days touring the Holy Land with friends. David completed his first 100-mile march in the Netherlands (and sent us daily selfies taken with military regiments from every country that participated). A glutton for punishment, he also spent nine hours on a day off scaling the Zugspitze (the tallest mountain in Germany), just for fun.
When David’s not busy fixing his fellow soldiers’ teeth or adding patches to his army uniform, he, Bonnie, and little Gwennie-the-Pooh travel all across Europe and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, in our own corner of the world, our family ventured 777 miles west to Taos, New Mexico, to meet up with Doug’s parents the last week of March. We spent several days touring art and history museums together and frequenting local diners. We were astounded that, as fit and trim as Doug’s dad is, he could out-eat the rest of us at every meal (which isn’t easy). It’s a mystery to us where he puts it all.
We stopped in Sipapu on our way home to ski — another first for all of us, save Doug. The kids took to the slopes like penguins and polar bears. Doug and Jennifer lasted until lunch, then watched the kids complete their runs from the warmth of a coffee shop at the foot of the mountain. We were especially grateful for the safety and comfort of our perch when the power cut out that afternoon and stranded several guests on the ski lift!
April 2019 Happenings
As is our biannual tradition, we shopped the CCC sale in April. When Jennifer vetoed a dress Abigail selected as being too expensive (an impractical teal formal with jeweled bodice for $24), Abby began fervently praying the dress would still be there on half-price day. It was, and she’s definitely gotten our money’s worth out of it. She wore it to every wedding, banquet, dance, and tea party she attended all year long.
Isaac shopped the CCC sale, too, but spent most of his time in the housewares section stocking up on placemats and bedsheets, which he later converted into the most amazing Dr. Strange costume we’ve ever seen. Daniel recycled old Lego and cereal boxes into an equally impressive Thor costume, complete with an incredibly authentic looking Jarnbjorn battle-axe he fashioned from cardboard, duct tape, hot glue, and a wooden dowel. Each of the boys won first place in the costume contest for their respective age groups during “DC vs. Marvel Day” at Cottage Garden. Mom, dressed as Bat Girl in cape, leggings, and black suede over-the-knee boots, won in her age category, too, but the competition wasn’t nearly as stiff among parents and teachers.
Doug, Jennifer, and Abby celebrated their birthdays by cruising to Jamaica this month.
We’d planned the voyage months ago to coincide with a week of vacation Sam had scheduled from his anesthesia residency (which he is thoroughly enjoying, incidentally, and is perfectly suited for), intending to make up for the family cruise he missed back in 2016. Sadly, Royal Caribbean denies passage to guests who are more than 20 weeks pregnant, so Bekah Joy was forced to sit this trip out, and Samuel (being the devoted husband he is) opted to stay home with her. What a guy!
Ben’s wife, Mikayla, was also expecting come cruise time, but since she’d not yet passed the halfway mark, they were still good to go. Their family of three had a room to themselves.
Doug bunked with Isaac, Daniel, and Gabriel. And Jennifer and Abby shared a room with Nana and Bethany. Unfortunately, the ear plugs Beth packed to help her rest proved woefully inadequate at blocking out Jennifer’s snoring. According to our oldest daughter, bedding down next to Mom is like “sleeping in the same room as a leaf blower someone intermittently turns on and off all night.”
Interesting aside (and proof there are no private conversations in this technology-driven age): No sooner had Beth voiced this analogy than her phone started serving her ads for lawn care equipment! Of course, as an apartment dweller, she has little need for such sundry supplies. Google would have done better marketing to our two-year-old grandson James, as he has a penchant for power tools and is particularly enamored with gas-powered blowers. Ben bought him a battery-operated model this fall, which James uses to clear leaves off the path during family hikes through the park.
May 2019 Happenings
Matti spent ten days in Georgia with her ailing father in May while Jon kept all seven children and held down the fort at home. He switched jobs this spring, transferring from the ICU in Tyler to the ER in Kilgore, just four minutes from home. He works three shifts a week, 1 PM-1 AM, which means he’s home every morning for breakfast, lessons, and lunch. Jon took over homeschooling the boys this year. Grandma still helps with homework for their Cottage Garden classes, but their dad does all the basics.
Isaac had a birthday this month. It has become increasingly difficult to pull off our traditional sweet-16 surprise parties. The younger kids are smart enough to see a pattern in how we’ve handled their older siblings and know full well what’s in store. What Isaac wasn’t expecting, though, was all the Avenger-themed party games Mom had up her sleeve. Parents played, too, which always multiplies the fun factor.
Isaac’s favorite shirt looks like the top half of a Spidey suit, and he dons it almost daily. He bears enough of a passing resemblance to actor Tom Holland that people routinely point and whisper whenever he wears it in public. A couple of brave grade-schoolers even asked to take selfies with him.
Normally, our schedules wind down as we head into summer, but this year, they ramped up. The last week of May was particularly crazy: We went to a neighbor’s wedding on Sunday, took a trip to Six Flags and attended a niece’s graduation party on Monday, marked grandson Chase’s ninth birthday and dealt with a broken femur for his brother Easton on Tuesday, which necessitated an emergency trip to Dallas for surgery at Children’s Health on Wednesday (plus three days of grandkid duty back home for Jennifer), welcomed our tenth grandbaby on Thursday after a spike in gestational blood pressure prompted a two-week-early delivery for Samuel’s Bekah Joy…
…hosted a rehearsal dinner on Friday (which also happened to be Jonathan’s golden birthday—he turned 31 on the 31st), then celebrated Joe and Emi’s wedding on Saturday.
June 2019 Happenings
Technically, their wedding fell in June, and a beautiful wedding it was, too. Emi’s mom and aunts did the cooking and decorating, Rebekah and David served as wedding photographers, Ben and Isaac were groomsmen, Rachel was a bridesmaid, and Doug officiated at the ceremony.
He spoke of the importance of showing up, working hard, and being kind—three principles for success, both in life and in marriage. Thankfully, Joseph and Emi are already strong in all three areas. Both have worked as many as three jobs at once while going to school, yet still manage to carve out time for faith, friends, and family.
Samuel’s mother-in-law stayed with his wife and newborn in Houston long enough for him to drive up for the wedding. He was away from home a mere 20 hours, but as Samuel was quick to remind us at the time, “that’s a third of the baby’s life!” Considering how fast babies change, it was a valid concern. Their Nathan looked so much like a little gnome at birth that his parents toyed with the idea of spelling his name with a silent “g” in front. Within weeks, though, his body caught up with his Flanders-sized nose, so he now looks less like a kitschy garden statue and more like a beautiful blend of both parents (albeit a blend that channels Winston Churchill when he’s grumpy).
David, Bonnie, and Gwen flew back from Germany to attend the wedding. Those sneaks are full of surprises—and amazingly adept at keeping secrets! Jennifer finished writing a new book the week after Joe and Emi wed. This one, entitled Pack Up & Leave, is chock-full of travel tips for fun, economical, and memorable family vacations.
Taking a cue from the title, Matti headed back to Georgia this month, opting at the last minute to take all seven kids with her. Opinions differ as to whether doing so was an act of extreme bravery or temporary insanity. Ha! Either way, the trip was not the relaxing holiday she’d envisioned, for anybody involved. Matti’s mom suffered from what all initial exams indicated was a mild heart attack shortly after their arrival, the van had to spend some time in the shop before it was safe to drive home, and the boys passed a stomach bug back and forth for several days straight. Grayson was last to succumb; that poor child threw up across four different state lines before finally making it back to Texas.
July 2019 Happenings
Said stomach virus kept Jon’s family from attending our Independence Day block party this year, but most of our other kids showed up for it, along with sixty some-odd neighbors, many of whom we had never met before. The youngsters staged a rousing game of four-square in our driveway while the adults congregated in the air-conditioned house and got better acquainted as they feasted on copious amounts of corny dogs, chips, fresh pico de gallo, and ice cold watermelon. Several of the accomplished cooks who live near us baked desserts for the potluck. They outdid one another with red, white, and blue cookies, cakes, and pies that looked luscious and tasted even better.
Jennifer and our four youngest kids attended a bulk-cooking class at our county extension office this summer. Three hours of slicing, dicing, and spicing was all it took to fill our freezer with forty meals which (thanks to ample portions and the creative use of leftovers) kept our family well-fed for the better part of two months.
Jennifer took kids and grandkids to Six Flags — a reward for completing the amusement park’s “Read to Succeed” program.
The grands also accompanied us on an extended field trip to Atlanta, where we toured the Governor’s Mansion and the Federal Reserve Museum.
August 2019 Happenings
Our multi-generational travel continued in August when Jon and Matti attended a marriage retreat in Branson, Missouri, and Doug, Jennifer, and the six still at home tagged along to help entertain grandkids while their folks were in session. We spent the week attending shows, playing mini-golf, riding go-carts, and frequenting the waterpark at Grand Country Inn, then topped it off with a day at Silver Dollar City followed by an incredible live-stage production of Sampson at the Sight & Sound Theater.
We all started back to school the following week. Isaac passed his driving test just in time, as he and Daniel are both in student council this year and must arrive at Cottage Garden early on Mondays to help set up the rooms. Sawyer started piano lessons this year and Chase is taking voice. Aiden and Gabriel are in the same logic class and study hall at co-op; they’ve been spending spare time co-writing a book.
Rachel and Rebekah are on two different campuses this semester, finishing out the last of their pre-requisites for the UT Tyler nursing program. Although Rebekah only has classes three days a week and Rachel four, they took heavy enough course loads that they had to quit their jobs to stay on top of all the homework. The girls remain in high demand as babysitters, however, and Rachel serves as a driver/helper for an elderly neighbor. Environmentally conscious, Rachel also makes weekly trips to the local Recycling Collection Center to offload the family cardboard, glass, aluminum, and numbers 1 and 2 plastic—at least, the part of it her clever siblings haven’t raided for free crafting materials.
September 2019 Happenings
Speaking of crafts, our kids cleaned up at the East Texas State Fair’s Creative Arts Competition in September: They won $224 in premiums and scores of ribbons (including a tri-color for Gabriel), plus top competitor awards for Isaac, Gabriel, and Abby in their age divisions.
We tried to go see Samuel and Bekah Joy this month (and stock up on Nathan cuddles), but were thwarted. That’s the last time we leave home without first checking the weather report! As it happened, Houston was flooding that weekend thanks to Tropical Storm Imelda, and every possible path to their apartment was blocked or submerged. When we spotted a van the size of the one we were driving upended in a ditch as its owner stood scratching his head, waist-deep in water beside it, we finally gave up and turned back toward Tyler. We later learned that Houston EMS received 1700 emergency calls for water rescues the weekend we were there. It was only by the grace of God we weren’t among them.
On the bright side, the ten hours we spent strapped into the van that day weren’t a total loss; we used travel time to listen to an audiobook: Spiritual Warfare by Karl Payne. We found it so timely that we ordered a dozen hard copies to share with friends. If, as author Kurt Vonnegut claims, “unexpected travel plans are dancing lessons from God,” I think cancelled plans must be His invitation to sit a particular number out — probably because He has more important work for us to do. Not on our feet, but on our knees.
October 2019 Happenings
October restored a modicum of normalcy. We hosted two wedding showers and a political fund raiser in our home and attended a week-long family camp in between. The weather this year was perfect. Not too hot; not too cold. We pitched two twelve-man tents, got extra camp chairs (the new ones rock—literally), and brought our older grandkids camping with us. Ben bought us a fold-up fish cleaning table, complete with sink. We didn’t use it to scale or filet anything, but it sure came in handy for washing hands and rinsing dishes.
Doug shopped for Halloween candy alone this year, which explains how he made it home with 1000 full-sized candy bars from Sam’s Club. Rachel and Rebekah dressed as favorite literary characters (Harry Potter and the Hungry Caterpillar) and Isaac encored as Dr. Strange to help distribute candy and tracts to trick-or-treaters. Now that we’ve moved from the main drag to the back of the neighborhood, we don’t have nearly as many visitors as we used to — although once word gets out about those full-sized bars, that may change — so Doug made another trip to Sam’s the following week to return 700 candy bar’s worth of unopened boxes. (Good thing he kept the receipt. Nobody in this house needs that much sugar!)
November 2019 Happenings
The boys converted our dinette set into a ping-pong table in November by balancing a broomstick between two chairs and draping a 3-ft length of paper towels over it. They’ve been practicing daily and are getting pretty good. Dad reigned as champion for several weeks before being bested by Benjamin.
Fortunately, Samuel was able to avenge him while home for Thanksgiving. If you count Ben and Mik’s baby-in-utero (who kept us waiting nearly a week past her due date), we had 40 people here for turkey and all the trimmings.
Emi headed up a sisters’ day of pie baking at Bethany’s place in preparation for our family dinner, rounding up recipes for everyone’s favorites and sending Joseph to the grocery store to scout for seldom used ingredients. The results were scrumptious. Rachel and Abby helped put the pies together, then apportioned properly-sized pieces to impatient grandchildren who inhaled their meals and began clamoring for dessert before the adults even made it through the buffet line.
December 2019 Happenings
Three days after Jennifer ordered our Christmas photo cards (at 75% off on Black Friday), Mikayla delivered our 11th grandbaby. Ellen Joy may’ve missed the print deadline, but if you follow Grandma on Instagram, you can glimpse her there.
Even at 9 lbs. 11 oz, baby was out in two pushes. (Would that Doug had as easy a time delivering the four kidney stones he’s passed since Thanksgiving!) Yuletide babies are such a sweet reminder of the reason we celebrate this season: Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King! May Jesus reign in your heart and home in 2020. Let us hear from you soon.
Jon & Matti (and kids), Bethany, David & Bonnie (and Gwen), Samuel & Bekah Joy (and Nathan),
Ben & Mikayla (James and Ellen), Joseph & Emi, 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 our first 25 years of 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).
PLEASE NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through any of those links, we may receive a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you. Such fees help defray the cost of running this website. This, in turn, allows us to continue offering our readers a wealth of FREE printable resources. So thank you for your support!