What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2020 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: 2020
December 2019 Happenings
Last December brought us a new grandbaby. Ben and Mikayla welcomed Ellen Joy December 2. A happy girl, she’s as sweet as she is pretty.
She joined the rest of our family for a trip to San Antonio the week before Christmas. By day we browsed open air markets and craft fairs, rode electric scooters, visited the Alamo, Japanese Tea Gardens, and Yanaguana Park, explored Enchanted Rock and the Historic Pearl, and toured the SAS shoe factory, where we snacked on nickel popcorn and 10-cent sodas. We found more free fun by night, admiring light displays along the Riverwalk and in neighboring towns, attending a Christmas concert at a local church, and staging our traditional Christmas card assembly line in the hotel lobby.
The Rise of Skywalker debuted that same week, but we saved seeing it until we got home so Isaac could complete the first of three Mandalorian costumes he made this year.
As we filed into the theater dressed like Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Rey, and so many Jedi warriors, we tried to convince other movie goers that we’d come to see Cats, but none believed us.
Dad gave the girls turtle necklaces for Christmas—a visual reminder that “slow and steady wins the race” (especially when coupled with fervent prayer). Little did any of us then suspect how slow-going 2020 would soon prove to be!
January 2020 Happenings
We cashed in our frequent flyer miles for another eight free tickets to Europe in January. David’s family, still stationed in Germany, drove down and met us in Garmisch to ski the Alps.
Even Bonnie, at nearly eight months pregnant, managed a short run down a low-grade foothill, just to say she did. She and the girls spent the rest of their time scouring local thrift shops where they scored fabulous finds for a fraction of what they’d have cost new.
The boys stayed on the slopes to tackle the tougher trails, including one on the far side of the mountain that Isaac went down by mistake. It took him three hours to find his way back to the others, who by then were feeling panicky over his disappearance.
Instead of buying Eurail passes this trip, we rented a van, which was great once Dad got used to driving a stick shift. Until he did, there was a lot of stalling, swearing (by perturbed pedestrians as they leapt from our lurching path), and silently praying that we would survive our vacation and not kill anyone in the process.
Despite concerted efforts to keep his speed under the posted limits, Doug did get one ticket. Thankfully, the officer who pulled him over offered him the option of paying on the spot. I’m not sure if that’s how things always work on secluded mountain passes in Switzerland or if Doug got swindled, but 35 euro to escape nagging paperwork and looming court dates? That sounded like a bargain to us! Besides, we more than made up for the unplanned expense by visiting the Viktualienmarkt at mealtime.
Nearly every booth offered dozens of tasty tidbits so shoppers could sample their wares. Doug and the kids suggested Mom create a blog post about it entitled Kids Eat Free: Munich Edition. Thanks to their expert dictation, she practically has it written already: “Stop by the first booth. Eat as many samples as you can before the owner runs you off. Wander away looking confused, as if you don’t understand his language. Repeat at the next booth. In most cases, you can eat your fill before police arrive to arrest you. Time it right, and they’ll keep you overnight, saving you the cost of a hotel room.”
Seriously, though, Munich’s oldest farmer’s market provided a perfect place for an impromptu picnic. We bought larger portions of everything that looked or tasted good to us, then divided it eight ways for a delicious and nutritious lunch, punctuated with lots of laughter.
Later, we spotted a perpetually running fountain of drinking water and stopped to slake our thirst and refill our water bottles. We’d been gulping it down for several minutes when Isaac, pretending to read the sign more closely than we had, quipped, “It says ‘Nein Trinkwasser,’ but I only see three spouts. Shouldn’t there be six more?”
We turned in the van when we got to Milan (mere weeks before that city became the Italian epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak just beginning to be mentioned in the news), then bedded down for the night in a hostel full of international students from China.
A free buffet dinner was included with our room. Wishing to economize, Jennifer lobbied for waiting to eat until the food line opened at 8PM, but (providentially) a ravenous Doug overruled her, insisting we eat at an upscale restaurant around the corner instead, then get some shut eye before catching an early morning train to the coast.
February 2020 Happenings
February found us aboard the MSC Grandiosa cruising the western Mediterranean.
We enjoyed gelato in Genoa, popped from plaza to palazzo in Palermo, marveled over museums and mallards in Malta, biked in Barcelona, and did time (and the Sloppy Swish) at Château d’If in Marseille.
Protocol changed midway through the cruise. Thereafter, hostesses were stationed outside all dining hall entrances to ensure every guest got a good squirt of hand sanitizer before being seated. We later learned a ship following our same itinerary had been quarantined just two stops behind us in Rome.
The day after our cruise ended, we parted ways with Rebekah and Rachel at the airport. Mom, Dad, and the fantastic four flew home, while the girls headed to Ansbach to spend five extra days with David and Bonnie.
What a difference that week made! Flights were being canceled left and right when it came time for their return. Mom spent days on the phone with American Airlines, who eventually rerouted the girls through North Carolina. No sooner had Doug made it home than he was called to Austin on business, bumping his vacation time to 31 days straight. No worries, though—he’d compensate by picking up extra shifts next month. Or so he thought….
March 2020 Happenings
By March, things really got wonky. All elective surgeries were banned, so except for an occasional trauma call, Doug was back home full-time. Never one to sit still, he passed the hours washing, folding, and putting away laundry and making daily “hunting-gathering” trips to the grocery store. He purchased toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and facial masks whenever he could find them and stocked our pantry with Nutty Buddies, Star Crunch, and almond M&Ms (“because we’ll need calories to survive.”)
Dental offices closed down, too, which means Beth was also out of work. Poor Emi lost both her jobs, but Joseph, whose work at Brookshire’s warehouse was deemed “essential,” made up for it by logging loads of overtime.
Our co-op cancelled classes (but not before hosting a Heroes vs. Villains Day for which Isaac created yet another Star Wars costume—Darth Vader—to rival Daniel’s Obi Wan Kenobi; Mom and Gabriel donned old army fatigues to dress as our all-time favorite hero: Dad).
Jon switched to working 8PM-8AM after his mid-shifts were cut. This necessitated Jennifer spending three nights a week in Kilgore with grandkids, as Matti hasn’t set foot on the farm since she left for Georgia last June.
In the midst of all this madness, the cuckoo clock Doug bought in Germany and shipped home finally arrived. Can you imagine a more fitting memento for this unprecedented year?
That little bird’s cheerful chirps provide hourly reminders to pray for God to preserve us through all the craziness 2020 has dumped on our world. After it chimes, tiny dancers spin as the clock plays one of two tunes. Mom wrote lyrics for both.
On even hours, we sing, “O love the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself, both now and all the time.”
On odd hours, it’s Edelweiss: “Whether then we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, Lord, help us do everything to praise and glorify You, Lord.” Such has been our continual prayer throughout this socially distanced, sabbatical year that, in many ways, has proven to be a blessing in disguise.
It was a blessing to Rachel, who battled health problems for a few months following her return from Europe and appreciated having Dad at her side through all the subsequent doctor visits, lab tests, and MRIs.
It was a blessing to Daniel, Gabriel, and Abby, who forged deep bonds with friends through weekly online Bible studies that eventually evolved into daily group chats and frequent in-person playdates, park days, airsoft wars, and Tron disk battles.
And it was a blessing to Bonnie, who delivered another beautiful baby girl (Charlotte Rose) this month and was happy to have her dentist-husband home for so much time following the birth.
While Bonnie tended the baby and got what little rest she could, David taught Gwen to pedal a bike without training wheels while she was technically still two, narrowly edging out James, who didn’t learn until the day he turned three (not that it’s a competition in anybody’s mind but their dads’).
April 2020 Happenings
Jennifer finished a daunting research project in April, producing 5000+ pages of what is arguably the most important writing she’s ever done. With that task complete, she was able to shift attention back to home and family, much to the relief of all.
Since churches weren’t allowed to meet in person this spring, we worshiped at home via weekly Zoom Bible studies David led from Germany and extended family in Houston, Mesquite, Kilgore, and Fort Worth attended remotely.
Abigail turned ten on 4/20/2020 and got her ears pierced, after securing a promise from her sisters not to razz Mom for letting Abby wear earrings a year younger than the rest of them.
Abby and Gabbers have become quite the accomplished makers of omelets this spring, while Daniel specializes in sausage and bacon.
In preparation for nursing school, Rebekah moved out of our house and into the spare bedroom in Bethany’s apartment (more accurately, Beth moved into the spare and graciously gave Bekah the master suite, as it is more secluded for study).
Meanwhile, for the first time in their lives, the two sisters still at home each got a room to herself. Abby took over the bedroom Bekah recently painted blue, while Rachel stayed put but painted her walls pink.
Other home improvements we tackled during lockdown: reupholstering 26 chairs. After Jennifer taught the kids how to re-cover seat cushions, we worked as a team and finished our own dining chairs in short order, then helped Nana and a dear friend re-cover theirs, as well. The two leather side chairs in our den took longer and required a full cowhide to complete, but now look as good as new.
May 2020 Happenings
Isaac turned 17 in May. He’s developed a fondness for composing and arranging music this year. (Another boon from being on lockdown: more practice time!)
Isaac tried to convince his younger brother he’s been living the same day over and over, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Lots of folks have likely felt that way while sheltering in place, but Daniel was unconvinced. “Okay, then, what am I about to say?” he demanded. “No, that’s wrong,” Isaac answered, totally stumping his brother, who opened his mouth to contradict him, then realized he couldn’t!
Our family took a spontaneous trip to Hot Springs the instant travel restrictions were lifted. We hiked the National Park, dined at rooftop restaurants, visited an alligator farm, brewed tea using natural spring water, and shopped Rocket Fizz.
There, Mom spotted the following notice: “A recent study has found that women who carry a little extra weight live longer than the men who mention it.” Ha! She laughed so hard that Dad bought the metal placard as a souvenir of our trip. Happily, if what it says is true, we should both live to a ripe old age!
June 2020 Happenings
According to one report we read, the average American gained five pounds during quarantine. Always the overachiever, Jennifer packed on fifteen. (See: Doug stocked our pantry with almond M&Ms.) For possibly the first time in his life, however, Doug was below average. Far below. By June, he’d lost 37 pounds without trying — despite all the “survival calories” he’d been consuming.
He looked and felt terrific at the lighter weight, but knew something was amiss, diabetes or cancer being the most likely culprit. A quick blood test with his son’s glucometer confirmed his suspicions, and his doctor immediately put him on Metformin to get his blood sugar back under control.
Now that he doesn’t feel famished all the time, he has cut his calorie consumption in half, but his weight is creeping back up anyway. His wife’s reaction: “Welcome to my world!”
Once Doug stopped doing our grocery shopping, Jennifer shook off most of what she’d gained on lockdown, but this year’s biggest loser was Beth. She’s been walking several miles a day and eating more sensibly (having a roomie who loves to cook healthful meals has helped). By the time she recovered from a brief bout of Covid this fall, she’d shed nearly 40 pounds.
July 2020 Happenings
We spent another week in San Antonio in July doing stuff it was too cold to do last December, much of which involved lounging in or around the water. We had to buy our own inner tubes, since all the rental places were shut down, and we did a fair amount of picnicking, as many restaurants were still closed, as well.
It’s a good thing we’re flexible! The mayor of Houston altered our vacation plans even further by canceling the RPT Convention just hours before it was scheduled to begin. So when Joe and Emi headed home early for work, Mom rode with them to meet with fellow Smith County Republicans and attend to party business remotely. Dad, also a delegate, stayed in Alamo City a few extra days to officiate (and award cash prizes) for family rock skipping contests, dance competitions, and bare-handed-fishing challenges.
Abby won the dance-off for the girls; the boys had a three-way tie between Chase, Isaac, and Samuel. Sam also took third in rock skipping with nine skips from a single stone toss, just behind Gabriel’s ten and Jon’s eleven. Nobody could top Doug’s record-setting score of fifteen, so it’s a good thing he recused himself from the competition!
As for the fish, they deftly eluded capture until someone discovered several small schools stranded in isolated puddles scattered among the rocks above the river. Thereafter, it was an easy matter of scooping up handfuls of minnows and carrying them to Grandpa to be tabulated.
Incidentally, the credentialing process at the RPT took so long that Doug made it home in plenty of time to join in. He and Jennifer looked about as out of place wearing face masks at the Republican convention as someone in a MAGA hat would’ve felt at the DNC, but they enjoyed visiting with friends and casting conservative ballots in a painstaking process that took until 3AM Monday morning to complete!
August 2020 Happenings
Despite being dubbed by her professor as “the most awkward blood-pressure-taker I’ve ever seen,” Rebekah finished her first semester of nursing school in August and had her white coat ceremony. For the first time in the history of the school, the ceremony was conducted via Zoom. Even so, the solemn occasion was well-attended by family members who cheered Bekah on from our back porch while Mom helped her into her new uniform.
Since our other travel plans got canceled, we spent the rest of our break re-reading the entire Hunger Games trilogy (something our kids had been begging to do since we finished the prequel in July) and re-watching the movies. Isaac started dual credit classes at TJC this month (where he’s doing the kind of stellar work professors there have come to expect from Flanders kids)…
…while the rest of us headed back to Cottage Garden. Although Gabriel has inched ahead of Daniel in height this summer, they still favor enough that their co-op teachers have difficulty telling them apart — a problem only exacerbated by the fact the boys routinely swap seats and name tags whenever instructors’ backs are turned.
September 2020 Happenings
David’s family moved from Germany to Hawaii in September. All four of them (plus dog, Penny) spent their first two weeks on the island cooped up in a tiny hotel room in mandatory isolation.
With the exception of Beth and Ben, the rest of us have never been to the Aloha State and were thrilled to have an added incentive to travel there, but the prospect of an obligatory 14-day quarantine has ruled out our visiting anytime soon.
Disappointments mounted when state fairs were cancelled this year. Our kids had readied a ton of creative arts entries after spending so much of the year honing new skills: Isaac’s costume making soared to new heights when he joined forces with a friend to forge an incredibly authentic Captain America shield.
Dan and Gabriel did some forging as well, smithing some super cool knives from a couple of railroad spikes in a blacksmithing class they took at Redneck Knifeworks.
They also did an impressive amount of wood carving (forks, knives, spoons, cups, chess sets, treasure chests, etc.), bread baking, and cake decorating.
Mikayla and Abby worked on myriad sewing and embroidery projects, and Jennifer finished nine filet crochet name doilies, half a dozen new sequined Christmas stockings, and an heirloom needlework purse.
She also published three new books and two Chinese translations, despite suffering a setback when a child who shall remain nameless accidentally doused Mom’s computer with thirty-two ounces of water and completely fried her hard drive.
October 2020 Happenings
October took us to Houston to celebrate Samuel’s birthday. We spent a fun-filled day together at Froberg’s Farm launching apples, staging nerf battles, eating barbecue, taking pictures, picking zinnias, and trying to find our way out of a surprisingly convoluted corn maze.
Nathan is such a happy little guy — especially when he hasn’t spent the past four hours confined to a car seat — we’re thrilled to think we’ll get to see more of him (and his parents and baby sister, due mid-December) once Samuel finishes his residency next June and joins his dad’s practice. He interviewed this fall and was unanimously voted in. Good thing they signed him early. The ink on his contract was barely dry before a private practice group in Houston started trying to recruit him to work with them.
Daniel finally got his driving permit. Covid closures had already delayed this milestone two months and would’ve postponed it until 2021 had an empathetic DPS worker not taken pity on us and fast-tracked Dan through during her lunch break.
Rachel received not one, but three acceptance letters to UT Tyler’s School of Nursing this month. Unfortunately, all three notifications were sent electronically and were, for reasons unknown, shunted straight to her spam folder, where Ray-Ray didn’t discover them until 11PM on October 21, the date given as the final deadline for her reply, which she hurriedly shot back with just minutes to spare.
The weather was gorgeous for family camp this year. Dad and the kids pitched the tents while Jennifer was hosting a wedding shower back at home, so all that was left to do when she arrived was relax with a good book next to the campfire, although she did leave it long enough to cheer for her family during the camp’s annual Ultimate Frisbee tournament. Despite being seeded in the first round against the top-ranked team from Arkansas, they performed well and — under Ben’s expert coaching — have already begun training for next year’s rematch.
November 2020 Happenings
We spent a long weekend in Frisco with Nana this month shopping half-price thrift store sales and wandering through Nebraska Furniture Mart — admittedly less extravagant than her trip with Bethany to Europe last December, but nonetheless memorable.
Jennifer didn’t get our turkey thawed in time for Thanksgiving dinner, but November delivered plenty of reasons for profound gratitude, including some pretty miraculous answers to prayers we’ve been sending up for months.
In a year so characterized by change and uncertainty, we’re thankful for an Anchor that holds fast in the fiercest of gales. Our hope is in Christ and Christ alone. If you don’t already know Him, we pray you’ll cast your cares at the foot of the cross today.
We pray that God will grant you a merry and meaningful Christmas. Let us hear from you soon!
Doug & Jennifer, Jon (with Aiden, Sawyer, Chase, Grayson, Easton, Noah, and Lydia),
Bethany, David & Bonnie (Gwen & Charlotte), Samuel & Bekah Joy (Nathan & baby-due-soon),
Ben & Mikayla (James & 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 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).