What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2021 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: 2021
December 2020 Happenings
Can you believe how fast this year flew by? It seems like only yesterday our family was strolling along the Riverwalk in San Antonio gawking at all the twinkling lights and blooming poinsettias, and now it’s nearly time to head that way again, as has become a favorite holiday tradition.
During last year’s trip we completed copious crafts (which kept kids happy while awaiting restaurant orders), scrutinized scads of Christmas lights (in San Antonio and surrounding cities), and spent a fun-filled evening at Fiesta Texas (via deeply discounted tickets Jennifer found online).
Samuel and Bekah Joy were unable to join us for any of our 2020 Christmas celebrations but had a great excuse for missing: Bekah delivered our thirteenth grandchild on December 16, a beautiful baby girl named Evelyn Joy.
January 2021 Happenings
January brought enough snow for our kids to build a ginormous igloo. It was sufficiently spacious to fit a dozen people inside and was furnished with an outhouse that sported some scandalously realistic mud-pie poop in the snow-white toilet. Oh, the attention to detail!
This massive edifice remained standing, smack in the middle of TJC’s soccer field, long after the rest of the snow had melted. One of our sons spotted a gaggle of groundskeepers still scratching their heads in its mammoth shadow several days later.
Isaac was hired to help with science labs at TJC this year, but had to be granted a double exemption to do so, as he was only 17 and hadn’t yet taken one of the classes he was asked to tutor.
Doug celebrated National Spaghetti Day by giving a pasta-cooking lesson to the grandkids this month.
We have an endless supply of enthusiastic kitchen helpers anytime they come to visit. They also pitch in when Jennifer makes freezer meals. Not surprisingly, they’re as gung-ho about eating the food as they are preparing it!
February 2021 Happenings
Daniel, Gabbers, and Abby joined the track team in February, so we spent the next three months chauffeuring them back and forth to out-of-town meets and practices four times a week. It was exhausting!
A recent growth spurt gave Gabriel a gangling stride, but by the end of the season he learned to compensate for the added inches. At 6-ft 3, he passed Dad and several older brothers this year.
Another winter storm, popularly dubbed Snowmageddon, gave us a brief respite from track. Unfortunately, after dumping twelve inches of cold, white powder on our city, it gave us a respite from reliable electricity and potable water, too. Even the hospital was on boil-water orders and had to melt ice to flush commodes.
The snow was too dry for building igloos but made for some super sledding, albeit short-lived. With the blackout, we had no easy way to dry wet coats, caps, and mittens, so the kids were obliged to stay in. Baby, it was cold outside!
It would have been cold inside, too, were it not for the warmth our gas-powered range and fireplace provided in the form of hot soups and open flames.
To pass the time, Dad read aloud by flashlight while Jennifer sorted family photos. The kids had been giving her grief because, apparently, she and Doug “both had the same haircut” when they were little.
Their raucous laughter motivated Mom to update the scrapbooks, so our grandkids can someday poke fun at how peculiar their parents looked and dressed growing up, too. By the time the lights came back on she’d finished 68 new pages.
A couple of recent pics she’ll be sure to include? The impressive fortresses our kids built with Lincoln Logs on Presidents’ Day…
… and the cute costumes they wore for Favorite Book Character Day at co-op this month (Abby won first place for her adorable rendition of Little Red Riding Hood).
March 2021 Happenings
March marked the end of both an era and a marriage.😢 Although Jon and Matti signed a mediated settlement back in November, between holiday hours, snowstorms, and global plandemics, the divorce wasn’t finalized until St. Patrick’s Day, nearly two years after Matti left.
We wish her well and pray she’ll find the peace and contentment that have eluded her for so long. Thankfully, Jon got primary custody of all seven children, so they won’t bear the brunt of their mother’s unhappiness should she never find what she’s looking for.
While their parents were at the courthouse, the grands ate green cuisine at Grandma’s for our annual Leprechaun lunch. This year’s menu included Brussels sprouts, Bartlet pears, green beans, spinach quiche, broccoli slaw, split pea soup, white grapes, kiwi, and Andy’s mints.
We also enjoyed several fair-weather picnics in a greenbelt near our house. After loading a little wagon with snacks, lawn chairs, books, and bath towels, we’d pull it down, down, down to the edge of a babbling brook for long, lazy afternoons spent reading and relaxing in the meadow or scampering in the spring-fed stream.
April 2021 Happenings
April took us to Branson for a week with Doug’s parents and Jennifer’s mom.
Sadly, Doug spent much of that time on his cellphone. As president of his anesthesia group, he felt obliged to ferret out solutions for February’s snow-vid fallout that would prove satisfactory to everyone involved.
But the rest of us relished our time together: We meandered through memorial museums…
…savored some sumptuous meals, saw several spectacular shows, shopped at an assortment of antique, thrift, craft, and specialty stores and celebrated three birthdays, starting with Abigail’s eleventh.
She requested we eat at Denny’s on her special day but was overruled by someone who obviously doesn’t understand how birthday dinners are supposed to work. So we ate Famous Dave’s barbecue instead. Silver lining: That restaurant provided free party hats with their paper pig-faced menus printed on adjustable bands. Instant merriment!
We waited for the following day to dine at Denny’s (despite Abby’s gracious insistence that “this is Mom’s birthday—she should pick!”). Not only is our youngest daughter thoughtful, she is hyper-observant (making it nearly impossible to surprise her) and has a phenomenal memory, too.
Mom read George Orwell’s Animal Farm aloud to the children this spring, and the next time we visited Jennifer’s mom in Mesquite, Abigail took Nana’s barnyard set, arranged the animals in a scene from the book, called them all by name, and reviewed the ever-evolving rules the pigs painted on the side of the barn: “Four legs good, two legs baaaaad.”
Rachel finished her first semester of nursing school and had a (virtual) white coat ceremony this month. Those of us who were out of town cheered her on over Zoom, but her older siblings were on hand to help her celebrate in person.
When Rachel isn’t studying, you can find her flexing her dry sense of humor, cooking (she learned to make homemade tamales and macarons this year—two time-consuming but tasty treats)…
…doing artwork (she earned a tri-color for one of her watercolors at the fair this fall), or attending Bible study (she served on the leadership team at Boathouse this summer).
May 2021 Happenings
Isaac graduated high school in May (meaning Mom is now 75% finished with homeschooling).
After spending spring break on a mission trip in Dallas, he took a job at Chick-fil-A (everybody’s favorite), walked a couple of friends through the tedious process of creating Mandalorian costumes from scratch (his helmets keep getting better and better), and transferred to UT Tyler, where he continues to chip away at his pre-dental requirements.
Samuel and Bekah drove up from Houston to attend Isaac’s commencement exercises, and David and Bonnie flew in from Hawaii.
That means everyone was here for family photos except Jon’s kids, who were spending Mother’s Day weekend with Matti.
Also joining us for lunch on Mother’s Day: Larry and Judy Pilgrim and Dale and Wendy Beckham. Professor Pilgrim taught biology to all nine of our older children (most of whom had Mrs. Beckham for lab). But he retired this spring, before our younger three ever had the privilege of sitting under his instruction, so we’re glad they got to hear him expound on the marvels of creation around the dinner table, however briefly.
We finished the month with a short trip south where we heard Dennis Prager and the Benham brothers speak at a homeschool conference in The Woodlands.
We also visited Samuel’s family in Houston, doing our best to beat his record (25 sec) on a timed obstacle course at Colonial Park.
And we still made it home in time for a piano recital on Sunday (though one of our kids was wishing we hadn’t).
June 2021 Happenings
We gained a new daughter-in-law and two new grandkids when Haley Latham and her children, Gavin and Kennedy, joined our family this summer. Jon started dating Haley in April, proposed in May, and married her in June.
If that seems sudden to you, join the club. Our thoughts on the timing of this marriage were akin to a friend’s snarky reaction when Jon told her the news: “That’s what I love about you, Jon—you’re always so careful to think things through and avoid rash decisions!”
Hasty or not, we all love Haley and appreciate her stable, nurturing spirit and the freedom her presence in Kilgore has afforded the rest of the family. No more 2 AM drives back to Tyler for Jennifer after Jon gets home from work!
While the happy newlyweds went on their honeymoon, their children accompanied Grandma and Grandpa on a quick trip to New Orleans. We hiked to Jackson Square, dined on warm beignets and cold muffulettas, rode streetcars and a steamboat…
… explored a nature preserve, spotted several alligators, toured a rice mill and an offshore oil rig…
…and built a bunch of pillow forts back at our hotel, until a grandchild discovered a 9mm Glock hidden under a sofa cushion, and we had to call security to come retrieve it.
Finding that pistol was “the scariest thing that ever happened” for some of the children—and “the most exciting” for others. For the adults, it served as a reminder to remain vigilant. Good thing we brought Benjamin and Mikayla along to help run herd on little ones!
Ben has always been a master at inventing group games and making sure everyone has fun and gets plenty of exercise, but lately Mik’s become a pro at entertaining grandkids, too.
She often keeps her nieces and nephews while both parents are working and uses her time with them to conduct cool science experiments, do crafts, and help with homework.
July 2021 Happenings
Joseph regaled us with dad jokes for ten to fifteen minutes in July before we realized he was trying to tell us something. Our ecstatic Emi is expecting! Her infectious laughter was ringing off the walls by the time we finally figured out grandbaby #16 is on the way.
Samuel and Bekah moved back to Tyler this summer, and we’re thrilled to have them so close!
Samuel is thriving in anesthesia. Hardly a day goes by that Doug doesn’t hear from multiple colleagues about how impressed they are with “the latest model,” whom they’ve affectionately dubbed Flandersson and consider an upgrade.
Doug is happy to share the love, especially since Nathan returns the favor. Samuel jokes, “I thought my son would adore me the way I adore Dad, but no, he just adores Dad, too!”
Nathan isn’t the only grandchild to feel that way, either. When David accidentally left his Apple watch at home one day this month, his four-year-old found it and used it to dial Doug at work: “Hi, Opa? This is Gwen! I miss you, so I just called to chat!”
Bonnie didn’t discover her daughter’s deed until the two had already enjoyed a nice little visit.
Jon and Haley bought our van this month. Granted, they need it more than we do at this point, but the sell prompted an identity crisis for Jennifer, who hardly feels like herself driving an economy car.
Bright side: The smaller vehicle gets better gas mileage and is easier to maneuver around tight turns in the drive-thru lane at Whataburger.
After tutoring Med/Surg all summer, Rebekah took a course in special populations this fall, which enabled her to do clinicals with Doug (a treat for both) and also prompted a lot of great conversations with professors and fellow students alike (think Socratic method: Bekah not only puts the “B” in boldness, she puts the “B” in subtle, too).
Our dear friends, the Halberstadts, invited us to co-host a Family Olympics Extravaganza with them mid-month.
We staged races, relays, water-balloon tosses, cherry pit spitting, tug-of-war, watermelon eating contests, and a knock-out tournament.
Competition was stiff, but Abby got first place in hula hooping, Ben won the uphill run, and Mikayla took top honors in girls pushups.
We all had a fabulous time. Bonus: Our immune systems got a workout, too. I’m not sure if this would rightly qualify as a super-spreader event, but several in our family did succumb to the delta variant a week later. Happily, our only symptoms were fever, sweats, and chills—and after sleeping for three days straight, we felt as good as new.
August 2021 Happenings
Once our quarantine was complete, we drove back up to Big Cedar to do all the stuff we missed (or the octogenarians weren’t interested in doing) on our last visit: ropes courses, go-karts, a lazy river, etc.
Dad tried to give Gabriel pointers on improving his grip at the bowling alley, but his demonstration fell flat. Mom was in rare form, however, and bowled enough strikes and spares to leave her competition in the dust.
The Halberstadts spent a week in Branson this summer, too, and since our vacations overlapped by a day, we met up with their family to swim, play mini-golf and billiards, and share some homecooked meals and heartfelt encouragement — the highlight of our trip.
Isaac and Rachel were supposed to join us in Missouri once their midterms were over, but both contracted the CCP virus a day before they intended to leave and had to isolate at home instead.
Doug and Jennifer celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary on August 15. As she’s done for decades, Jennifer decorated Doug’s car in honor of their anniversary.
It’s her way of making up for the fact that their original getaway car was unmarked—and of proclaiming to the world that, yes, it is possible to live happily ever after!
Their secret? Lots of prayer, patience, passion, persistence, and putting the other first, plus a huge heaping helping of God’s enabling grace.
We wish the same joyful union for all our married friends, several of whom tied the knot in 2021. Samuel and Benjamin both served as best man in Baber weddings this summer and tried to outdo one another making memorable toasts to their respective bride and groom.
Rebekah attended her first Indian wedding this month. Originally slated as a guest, she was later asked to sing (three songs: two in English and one in Malayalam), and was ultimately invited to join the wedding party when a bridesmaid (who shares Bekah’s dress-size) got stuck in Paris and had to cancel.
Nice perk: Rebekah got to keep the splendid sequined sari she wore for the occasion.
Daniel turned 16 on the sixteenth, but ever-evolving circumstances kept thwarting Mom’s plans for his surprise party. In the end, our friends the TenBrinks graciously volunteered to host when a sudden thunderstorm wrecked our park preparations at T-minus-twenty-minutes.
Upshot: Dan was genuinely surprised. He never suspected we’d drive straight to a party after a week-long vacation, without even swinging by home to drop off luggage or use the restroom!
September 2021 Happenings
Volleyball was in full swing by September. Abigail played with HEAT this year and loved it.
She’s also part of a girls’ group that meets several times a month to learn new handicrafts. The result: Abby set a personal record in the creative arts competition at the East Texas State Fair this year, winning 46 ribbons and $94 in premiums.
She and her brothers worked as volunteers on Senior Day at the fair and helped stage a floral arranging competition, as well. Even Doug and Jennifer got in on the action by volunteering at the Smith County Republicans’ booth.
Daniel finally got his driver’s license this month, although a backlog at the local DPS office forced us to travel to New Boston to take the test, which he passed with flying colors (this, after failing the first one in August for driving “too slow” and forgetting to use his turn signal when parallel parking).
Daniel also ran in the 10K Gold Run and finished first in his age division. Gabbers deserves at least partial credit for his brother’s victory, as he biked alongside him and yelled tough-love encouragement when Daniel tried to quit.
Rachel was still in a COVID fog when classes resumed, so she took a semester off from nursing school and waiting tables to rest and recuperate, work odd jobs, and travel with the family. The break did her a world of good, but she’s looking forward to starting back to her coursework in the spring.
Bethany spent her birthday week in San Antonio visiting old friends. After conquering several long-held personal goals this year, she’s had fun setting new ones. On the list: developing her domestic skills. She’s spent the past several months crocheting baby blankets, stitching potholders, playing the piano, and brushing up on her ninja baking abilities….
October 2021 Happenings
We spent the second week of October tent camping, a family tradition that shows no sign of dying.
Most of our adult kids and grandkids (28 in total) joined us in Big Sandy for at least part of the week to meet up with friends old and new for eight days of fun, food, fellowship, and FRISBEE.
Our team (the youngest in the tournament) had been training all year in a bid to beat the reigning champs. The fact kids as young as seven were even able to score against a semi-professional league team is as much a testament to Ben’s strategic coaching as to our players’ athletic prowess.
Unfortunately, we didn’t unseat the title holders this year. Maybe next. Doug gave Daniel a Stretch Armstrong to console him after his loss…
…but Dan found more constructive ways to channel pent-up frustrations: namely, by buckling down on his studies. He and Gabriel continue to vie for top grades in several co-op classes but really outdid themselves in essay writing.
Rebekah raised a baby squirrel named Fern this fall. Mom and siblings helped feed the furry little thing while Bekah was in clinicals…
but we missed her release date, as we were in Hawaii by that time visiting David and Bonnie, who deserve some sort of award for their extraordinary hosting.
David met us at the airport with a huge flag of Flanders (making him super easy to spot) and fresh flower leis for each of us.
Bonnie nourished us with healthful, hearty, home-cooked meals, thus avoiding the hassle and expense of eating out at restaurants that require patrons to show proof of vaccination to enter, eat meals standing up, or replace masks between bites and sips!
We toured Kualoa Ranch (where Jumanji and Jurassic Park—cue the theme music—were filmed)…
…attended an authentic luau (where Dad and Dan got bullseyes in traditional spear throwing), shopped for bargains at local thrift stores (where Abby bought her first pair of pumps for $1), and snorkeled on every shore.
Sightings included myriad tropical fish, a sea turtle, a spotted eel, and a smack of jelly fish (which stung five of us on our half-mile swim out to Mokolii Island). Ouch!
November 2021 Happenings
Our return flight in November was easier than the outgoing trip, thanks to Texas’s saner COVID protocols and the fact that, by then, Dan had worked through his fear of flying (sharing earbuds with Mom through seventeen chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring helped distract him while we were in the air).
The weather was cold enough when we landed that we went straight home and put up our Christmas tree.
We returned to Dallas the next week for a tree lighting ceremony at the Arboretum, taking Nana along (our ninth trip to visit this year) then helping her decorate her house for Christmas before heading home.
She joined us in Tyler for Thanksgiving’s good food, fun games, and grateful hearts.
And that brings us back to December. In these crazy, uncertain times, we take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus stays the same yesterday, today, and forever. We wish you a merry and meaningful Christmas as we celebrate Messiah’s birth. Let us hear from you soon!
Doug & Jennifer, Jon & Haley, Bethany, David & Bonnie, Samuel & Bekah Joy, Benjamin & Mikayla, Joseph & Emi, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel, Abigail, and all the grandkids
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) 😊.