The Christmas season crept up on us this year as we were traveling for Thanksgiving. Before I knew it, we were putting up lights and scrambling to find a day when all the older kids could make the annual Erdner family Christmas tree hunt. Now, here we are, just a few days before Christmas. The house is decorated, lights are up, and we are in full swing with our Advent traditions. As a family, we love to celebrate whenever there is even a small reason for celebrating, so at Christmastime, we really love doing all of the special things together as we focus on the miracle of Jesus Christ coming to earth as a baby who would grow up, suffer and die for our sins.
Now that we are a family of 15, it is going to be rather difficult to keep this annual update short, but I will certainly try!
Abby turned 20 in June, and is in her 3rd year of college as a nursing student. She will graduate this May, one year early, and we just found out that she has a job as an ICU nurse after graduation!! She applied for a special program in which a nursing student gets extra hours in their desired unit during their final semester, thus gaining valuable extra experience. Not only that, but a student in this program gets paid for the extra hours AND they are offered a job upon graduation. Abby has maintained an excellent grade point average throughout her time in college and in the nursing program. This fall, she tutored first year nursing students, and she has been working part-time in the PACU at St. David’s in Southwest Austin. We couldn’t be more proud of our firstborn, and the amazing, godly, compassionate, personable, fun-loving young woman she has become. We look forward to seeing all that the future holds for our sweet Abby.
Datiya turned 19 in October. What an amazing senior year she had, full of accomplishments, including placing 4th in debate with her Team Policy partner at the NCFCA National Championship in June. She graduated from high school, ready to take on the world! Datiya was accepted into a competitive vet tech program in which she is one of 12 students. When she graduates, she will be trained to help care for every animal imaginable. I compare her to a nurse, except for animals. It’s funny how similar all of the knowledge she has to master is to what Abby is learning as a nursing student, except that it applies to animals instead of humans. Datiya has proven to be able to balance school, work, and life, earning straight A’s her first semester. Datiya made the wise decision to save money and live at home in an apartment we finished out above our garage. We bought a cute little Toyota Corolla for her to commute in, and she has a pretty sweet setup. We are very proud of how well Datiya is doing. She is witty, beautiful, intelligent, hard-working, and a very loyal, faithful friend. We are pleased with the young woman God is growing her to be.
David is 17 as of May and in his senior year of high school. The one thing about having lots of kids so close in age is that when they start to grow up, it is quite a whirlwind. I can’t believe we will have another high school graduate this May. It’s a bittersweet time of life watching all of my babies grow up. David is such a great young man. He is easy-going, very smart (especially when it comes to math), confident, athletic, and mature. David did very well last speech and debate season, making it to Nationals in Duo, Apologetics and Team Policy Debate. He and his partner (same partner for both Duo and Debate) placed 17th in the nation in debate and they made it to quarterfinals in Duo. David is taking most of his classes at ACC this year, getting dual credit so he can hopefully finish college early. His college applications are in, and we are waiting to hear back and see where he gets accepted. David is working at Burgerfi, playing on the Lonestar Elite Classic National League soccer team, and also is on the Mock Trial Team at One Day Academy. He is an attorney on both sides for Mock Trial, and we are looking forward to seeing how the team performs at the upcoming competitions. In addition, David will be debating with Nina this year as well as competing in speech. His senior year is flying by, and soon he will be onto the next stage of life. We are so proud of David, and what an all-around great young man he is. It will be exciting to see where God takes him in the next few years.
Nina just turned 16 in December and got her driver’s license on her birthday. This girl is seriously growing up way too fast! Nina started taking dual credit classes at ACC in the fall, and is signed up for more for next semester. She is also taking Chemistry at One Day Academy and is an intern for the Biology class (meaning, she helps grade and do other things to help the teacher). She has really enjoyed the review of Biology this year. Nina is very interested in becoming a doctor, and she is planning her courses accordingly. She started ACC a year earlier than the older three, and she is very ambitious, conscientious, earning A’s in both college level classes as well as all her other classes. Last debate season, Nina did very well, making it to Regionals in Lincoln Douglas debate, as well as 5 speech events, making her an ironman (making it to Regionals in debate as well as at least 5 speech events). Nina won 1st place in Illustrated Oratory at Regionals, and made it to nationals in that event as well as Persuasive speaking. She is looking forward to this year debating with David. Nina has been working out with me for about a year–we go to Body Pump weight training classes together at the YMCA. Lately, we have been training for a half marathon. We finished a 10 mile run this past weekend, and will run in the 3M Half Marathon in Austin near the end of January. I love spending so much time with Nina, and we have become very close lately. One more exciting accomplishment for Nina is that she made it onto the Hays County Queen’s Court in 4-H! She is very excited for the opportunity to serve in this way this year. So far, she has been in two parades with the Queen’s Court, and is getting very good at smiling and waving. This beautiful, spunky young lady has a lot going for her, and we are so thankful she is in our family.
Enoch turned 14 in July, and he is a very strong kid who knows how to go for what he wants in life. He is outgoing and fun, with many friends. Enoch loves to meet new people, and he is very good at making people feel comfortable and at home. He easily makes friends everywhere he goes. Enoch is in 8th grade, and is taking a few classes at One Day Academy for the first time. He has a lot of work to keep up with, and he is doing a very good job so far. Enoch is doing all of this while still playing soccer, doing martial arts, and getting ready for the coming speech and debate season. Last season, Enoch and Nina made it to Regionals with their very funny Duo interpretation. Enoch will be competing in Lincoln Douglas this year for debate, and he is preparing a duo with a friend in Houston! That makes things a bit challenging for practices, but so far it has been fun, and we are hoping they will do well. Enoch hit a major growth spurt recently, and he is rapidly outgrowing all of his clothes. His voice is getting deeper, and he is looking less like a little boy and more like a young man. Enoch makes life fun and interesting, and we are blessed to have him in our family.
Haddie is 13 as we adjusted her age to give her a boost as she is severely delayed and can use a little extra time to “catch up.” Haddie remains happy and smiley, basking in the love of her large family, full of brothers and sisters. We thought about enrolling Haddie in school this year, but have decided to keep her home as she is eager to learn from me, and we feel the environment she has at home is the best for her specific issues. Haddie is struggling to learn English, and still has a very limited vocabulary. It seems like she can’t very easily retain information, and she even has trouble identifying numbers and counting in Chinese. She is somewhat of a mystery, as she can remember some things well, but overall, the process of learning English and seemingly everything else has been painfully slow for her. We have her in speech therapy, and the therapist wants us to focus on receptive vocabulary for now. She can’t recall very many things to spontaneously say them verbally, and we are hoping her ability to speak on her own will come in time. We are trying to set realistic goals for her, and I’m working on getting some more evaluations for her, so we can better understand what her limitations are and what we can do to help her reach her full potential. The good news is that she is very eager to do her school and will work hard every day. Most importantly, Haddie has a family that loves and accepts her just the way God made her, and we are so thankful to see the joy she gets from being a part of our big, crazy family.
Lillah will be 13 in April, and she is growing a lot. She is almost as tall as I am, and she will outgrow me soon. Lillah loves animals, especially horses, and she is now taking riding lessons once per week, to her delight. Lillah loves living on the farm, and she is the main caretaker of the livestock these days. She is still dancing at a wonderful little dance studio, and she can be seen dancing around the house when she is not reading a book. Lillah is very well-known by the librarians at our library, and she is pretty convinced that she has read every book they have (not quite, I think). This will be Lillah’s first year competing as a senior in speech. She is relieved that she is off the hook for debate this year. Lillah is growing into a sweet young lady, helpful and thoughtful. The vote is still unanimous among her family members that the word that best defines her is “sweet,” and we are delighted with the young lady she is becoming.
Eden is 14, but we are changing her age to 12 to give her a little boost due to her developmental delay. She is a sweet, happy girl, and she is thriving in our family. Eden loves to please, so she is quick to say, “Yes ma’am” and do whatever is asked of her. She will help with dishes, watching Tovi, and cleaning her room. Eden very eagerly does her school, and she is getting a more solid grasp on her ABC’s and pre-reading learning. She is working steadily through her Kindergarten Math book, and she is getting more proficient with writing, cutting, and other fine-motor skills which were not well-developed when she came home from China. We were able to get Eden into speech therapy, occupational therapy, and she will begin physical therapy to help make her stronger as she deals with severe scoliosis and hip dysplasia. It is so wonderful to see Eden understanding that she belongs in our family and that we are hers forever. She has a quick laugh, and is always happy for everyone who does something well or gets something good. Eden is social, and really enjoys it when we have friends over to our house. She is slowly learning to play, but she will still check in with me every few minutes. The biggest area of growth for Eden has definitely been her security in knowing and trusting that we are not going to abandon her. She used to cry and freak out if I had to leave her, and now, while she will definitely want to know when I will be back, she will just say, “Bye, Mom!” when I leave instead of breaking down in tears. It is such a blessing to be this precious little girl’s mama.
Simeon turned 10 in June, and continues to be a super-sweet, thoughtful boy. He is also a brilliant little student, who loves to learn new things. He will check out fun books at the library as well as books about subjects about which he wants to learn. I’ve called him my little scholar for a long time, and that description still fits him well. Simeon is also super athletic, and enjoys playing soccer and doing martial arts. He just earned his Dahn Bo Nym belt, which means he is now a candidate for black belt (it will be another two years or so of training before he earns his black belt). Simeon is a self-taught gymnast, and he is actually quite talented at gymnastics. During our sabbatical this past summer, he did a back flip in front of all the landmarks we visited. He had an audience for his acrobatics everywhere we went, and even got a couple of tips in New York City! He is thinking about taking gymnastics classes and maybe joining a competitive team someday. Last year, Simeon traveled to every speech and debate tournament with me and the older kids, and he timed every round possible at every tournament. At Nationals, he timed something like 20 rounds total! I got many compliments from people who judged with him as their timer, about how mature and articulate he is, and what a nice young man. He is a remarkable little boy, and a blessing to us all.
Jed turned 8 in September, and is a spunky little guy, full of tons of energy and fun. He keeps us laughing. One day, I think he will be a famous comedian on TV. Ever since he was a little boy, Jed has had a perpetual look of mischief on his face. His eyes sparkle, and he has a funny little smirk on his face at all times. I am always wondering what is going on inside his head behind the sparkle in his eyes. Jed has been practicing reading, and is getting better and better every day. He is a whiz at math, and is working through all his schoolwork very steadily this year. Jed is a great little athlete, and is playing up a year in soccer. He hustles all over the place and is fast and fearless on the field. It is fun to see him running around out there. Speaking of running, Jed demonstrated for us the other day that he can definitely keep up with the runners in our family. We went on a family run, and Jed was leading the pack the whole time. He went up and down the big hills in our neighborhood without any trouble at all. I see a future in cross-country for this boy. Jed is outgoing and funny and keeps us on our toes. He is now a red belt in Kuk Sool Won martial arts, and he has come a long way with learning to channel his energy and focus on learning things that are challenging for him. We love having our energetic, witty Jed in our family to keep us entertained.
Daniel is 10, and doing well. We have changed his age to 7 to reflect his severe delays and give him longer in the school system to be able to get services. We decided in late August, right before school started, that we should enroll him in school. I spent a lot of time last year chasing Daniel around and making sure he wasn’t getting into trouble. He is very hyperactive and has moments of being extremely oppositional, especially with me. For his own good and for my sanity as well as to help me be able to turn my attention back to all the kids I’m homeschooling, we worked with the school to get Daniel into the place he needs to be. There is a brand-new elementary school not too far from us where Daniel is enrolled as a Kindergartener. He is developmentally around 5 years old or younger, so it is a perfect place for him. After a couple of months of being mainstreamed in the Kindergarten class, they finally completed all of the evaluations, and it was determined that Daniel should spend the first hour of school with the Kindergarten class and then the rest of the day in the Special Education classroom. This seems to be working really well for Daniel, and he has improved a lot since adjusting to this new routine. Daniel has been really happy during the holidays so far. He does seem to miss school, but he has been enjoying the time at home with the family, and he has laughed and smiled so much recently. Daniel isn’t always genuinely smiling and laughing, so it’s really a blessing seeing him really seem to enjoy the other children and all of the traditions this season brings. We are thankful for Daniel and all the progress he has made, and we are looking forward to seeing how much more he will improve and what the Lord will direct us to do to help him live a full life.
Hezi turned 6 in November, and it’s incredible to see our littlest ones growing up so much. Hezi can be a serious little boy, and he often wakes up and starts on his school right after breakfast so that he can finish quickly and have more time to play. Hezi is learning how to read, and he is quickly mastering it. Hezi also excels at math, and loves his phonics workbooks. He is also playing soccer this year, and he loves being part of a team. As the 9th soccer player in the family, Hezi dominates in his age group, often scoring several goals during a game. The sport he keeps talking about trying, however, is baseball. We are considering letting him try that out, even though it wouldn’t be the most convenient thing to do. It would be adorable, and sometimes with kids, that’s the ultimate goal. 🙂 We are so blessed to have this precious little boy in our family.
Our little Tovi is not so little anymore. We all still call him the baby, but it’s sad to think that he will be turning 4 in April! Tovi is adorable, and pretty much everyone in the family spoils him, though we all know we need to stop. There are advantages to being the youngest of 13, as all the siblings want him to love them the most. Datiya invites him up to her room and gives him treats. Abby adores him and calls him her baby. Even big, cool, David loves that little boy to death. It’s actually very sweet to see a 17-yr-old boy playing with his toddler brother. Tovi is a tough little guy, though. He climbs and jumps, runs, hops, and rides scooters with great coordination. He can kick the soccer ball accurately into a goal, throw a baseball and football, and do just about anything athletic you can think of. He is seriously the most coordinated little boy I’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to see what he will be able to do as he gets older. I think someday Tovi will grow up and be a CEO because he loves to try and boss everyone around. He is sweet, happy, smiling and laughing all day long, adored by all, and just a delight to have in our family. I am so glad God, in His goodness, blessed us with our little Toviel (whose name means “goodness of God”). On hard days, he truly is my little sunshine, and I’m so grateful to have him.
Todd is doing well, working for Intel. We missed sharing an update last Christmas, so many of you may not know that Todd’s position at Intel was eliminated right before we left for China summer of 2016. He had one month to find another job within the company, or he would have had to move on. In less than two weeks, he had a couple of new opportunities within Intel, and the day before we left for China he accepted his current position. He has been enjoying this group, which is a bit of a change for him. Since Todd was blessed with another job at Intel, he was able to take his sabbatical this year. We left in mid-May and traveled up the east coast from Austin, to Destin, FL, to North Carolina, Assateague Island (wild horses!), Washington, DC, New York, Pittsburgh, PA, Chicago, and ending up at Nationals in St. Paul, MN. It was an amazing trip with so many memories and adventures! We bought a new Ford Transit van before we left for our trip, and it was packed to the gills, with every seat taken and a luggage rack on top. What a blessing to all get to be together for this time as we know that with the older kids growing up and moving out, these times will be fewer and father between. I will post pictures of some of the highlights of the trip at the end of this update.
I’m still managing the home front, homeschooling, cooking lots of food, and trying to civilize all these little boys. I’m not too organized and don’t have everything together most of the time, but we have been getting our school done (or at least the important things), doing some fun projects, going to park day almost every week, and trying to keep the house decent/not completely disgusting (not an easy task with 7 boys and two dogs in the house). I’ve started a home business with Rodan + Fields which is fun, rewarding, and bringing in a little extra income, which is nice. I have also been doing martial arts with Enoch, and I am now a Dahn Bo Nym along with him and Simeon, which means I am on the road to black belt. I love the challenge of this new goal. I do keep busy, and I don’t do everything perfectly. I am not super organized or perfectly patient, but I love this life. I know I’m very, very blessed, and I am so thankful for everything the Lord has graciously given our family — a strong marriage, our beautiful, amazing children, a great place to live, a wonderful church family, and all of the joyful craziness this life brings. We always love having visitors, so if you find yourself in Austin (or if you live here and we haven’t seen you in a while), please get in touch and stop by the ranch to visit with us.
We pray that you are enjoying the holiday season, counting your blessings and able to spend time with those you love. We know this is a hard time of year for many, and so we also pray that if you are going through a difficult time or if this season brings painful memories for you, you are able to find comfort. Most of all, we pray that you will remember the reason that we celebrate, and that you will know Him–Jesus, the One who came from heaven to bring salvation to mankind! Without Him, there would be no Christmas! Joy to the World!
The Erdner Family
Abby (20), Datiya (19), David (17), Nina (16), Enoch (14), Haddie (13), Tehillah (12), Eden (12), Simeon (10), Jedidiah (8), Daniel (7), Hezekiah (6), and Toviel (3.5)
The adventure begins…When we left Austin, about 20 minutes into our drive, our cargo shelf broke, scattering luggage all over the road…we quickly purchased a new one, which subsequently broke along the way, and we ended the trip with a third cargo shelf that made it home. The children posing in the jet engine of a rocket at the Infinity Space Center in Mississippi, one of our stops along the way to Florida.All of the kids together on a fallen log on a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, North CarolinaJed and Tovi in the Great Smoky Mountains Todd and I took Lillah and Simeon on a 7-mile hike while we were camping in the Great Smoky Mountains…here is the view from the top Simeon doing his back flip at Clingmans Dome, NC in the Great Smoky Mountains Simeon’s back flip in front of the Statue of Liberty, NYC Simeon got a tip from a bystander after performing this backflip in front of the Freedom Tower in New York City.The gang in Times Square, NYC Simeon’s back flip in Philadelphia, PA Tovi enjoying the comfy grass at the National Mall, Washington, DC Lillah was in heaven on Assateague Island, where we woke up to wild horses on the beach!
The hot dog vendors in DC and New York loved us. Here is the gang in DC all enjoying their hot dog feast.