My Top Ten Family Moments of 2023

Top Ten Family Moments of 2023

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2023, Top Ten Books of 2023, Top Ten Hikes of 2023, and Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2023, it’s time to conclude these rankings with looking back on the Top Ten Family Moments of 2023. Like the ministry moments I recalled yesterday, family life doesn’t fit neatly into a summary like this. Even so, there’s really something to be said for the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of life as it goes by. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect.

Furthermore, recognizing that “the universal is in the specific,” I’m going to try to really zero in on the best moments. Not just the best seasons, or days, or even hours (though occasionally a moment can last an hour). I want to distill the experience as much as possible. I’m especially mindful of the fact that our family dynamics are changing these days. Our kids are transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood. And as such, they’re more independent. Consequently, we get less time with all five of us together. But when we do get time together — either all together or in smaller contingents — it’s special.

But enough explanation and set-up. Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Family Moments of 2023, in ranked order:

  1. Return to Amsterdam Oost (May)
  2. Coteau-du-Lac Affogatos (July)
  3. Thanksgiving Football at the Farm (November)
  4. Beach Three with Kate, Roxie, and Moss (May)
  5. Carding Wool and Watching Ted Lasso at Tyn y Fron Cottage (May)
  6. Santerklucia Morning Gifts (December)
  7. Celebrating my Parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary at the Bistro of Green (June)
  8. Cor’s Birthday Cross Country Meet in Alliance (September)
  9. Finding Garster Flag Stickers in Downtown Kent (July)
  10. Wednesday Lunch at Hue Banh Mi Pho Cafe with Elliot (December)

And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

Lunch with Elliot at Hue Banh Mi and Pho Cafe

#10 – Wednesday Lunch at Hue Banh Mi Pho Cafe with Elliot (December)

My oldest son Elliot is down to his last few months of study at Kent State University — and also, likely, his last few months of living in the same city as the rest of our family. He’s ready to spread his proverbial wings and fly from our proverbial nest, looking for a job in Columbus or Nashville or wherever the winds may blow him. And I think this will be good for his life. At the same time, this means that the time we have together in Kent is precious. So, I’m glad we’ve made a habit of getting lunch once a week (it was Wednesdays throughout the Fall Semester). And in a new twist, Elliot started a new tradition of taking pictures (using his Lapse app) outside of the places where we eat. He does this even when we’re eating in a place that’s not so photogenic, like Panera. But I have especially fond memories of our lunch at Hue Banh Mi Pho Cafe, noses running profusely from the spicy Vietnamese food, talking about the end of the semester and what might come next. I’m glad we still have one more semester of weekly lunches.

Kent Heritage Festival

#9 – Finding the New Kent City Flag Stickers in Downtown Kent (July)

I know that it is very nerdy to get excited about municipal flag design. But I love the way that my kids — and especially my daughter Olivia — matched my energy level, surrounding the introduction of the new Kent City Flag this summer. We followed and participated in the voting process. We rejoiced when our favorite flag (designed by Zach Garster) emerged as the winner. And Olivia, Cor, and I made a special point to walk downtown on the morning of Kent’s annual Heritage Festival to celebrate our vexillological dream come true with our fellow citizens. To our great surprise, the tent for the new Kent City Flag was not mobbed by others. Still, our enthusiasm for the project was rewarded by being given a double-portion of stickers, buttons, and keychains featuring the new flag design. Later, I would even design a new ball cap that was inspired by the new Kent City Flag, which has become my favorite hat. I’ve loved sharing this quirky passion project with my family, especially my daughter.

Ashley White Cross Country Invitational

#8 – Cor’s Birthday Cross Country Meet in Alliance (September)

Cor had an amazing Cross Country season this Fall, setting Personal Record after Personal Record. But one of those Personal Records (PRs) was at the Marlington Invitational in Alliance. And that accomplishment was extra-special because it happened to fall on the day of Cor’s 16th birthday. Both of Cor’s siblings came out to cheer him on, as well as Marci’s mother and sister, so he had a big cheering section when he crossed that finish line in 17 minutes and 43 seconds. Later that night, Cor invited the rest of the Cross Country team over to our house for a big pizza dinner. And it just felt fun to make much of Cor on this Saturday that he turned sixteen.

Celebrating Dave and Jan's 50th Wedding Anniversary at the Bistro in Green

#7 – Celebrating my Parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary at the Bistro of Green (June)

My parents have been through a lot over the fifty years of their marriage: moving between six different states, bringing four children into the world, providing for the family through the years, leaving a legacy of faith and love… But the last couple of decades have been especially challenging, with my Mom being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2008 and my Dad being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2015. They’ve since retired to Kent, which allows my sister and I to be more actively involved in their care. So, even though my Dad’s Dementia (a surprisingly-common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease) makes him increasingly unpredictable, I’m really glad that we were able to pull together an anniversary celebration at a fancy bistro in Summit County. My sister Anna joined us for the celebration, too. We ordered a nice bottle of champagne, and we had a lovely meal with the four of us. We’re grateful for the example they’ve set for us in lifelong commitment.

Santerklucia Saturday

#6 – Santerklucia Morning Gifts (December)

This might sound sacrilegious to some, but I think our family’s Santerklucia celebrations might be better than Christmas! It’s a holiday that we have all to ourselves, since we invented it: mashing up some Dutch Sinterklaas traditions with some Swedish Santa Lucia traditions, as well as some American Christmastime traditions. The menu is simpler but perhaps even more delicious than the foods we make for other holidays. And the presents that we exchange with each other (smaller, stocking-stuffer sorts of presents) are somehow more fun, more surprising, and more plentiful. Christmas is great, too. But I really appreciate the simplicity of this celebration with the five of us.

Wales: Carding the Wool

#5 – Carding Wool and Watching Ted Lasso at Tyn y Fron Cottage (May)

I already spent some time reflecting about my favorite hour in Wales, as my #1 Hike from 2023. So, to share another special family moment from that week in Wales, I thought I’d include a little glimpse of this quieter, darker, homelier moment. Our cottage that we rented through AirBnB was a true home away from home. It was cozy and quaint. A little bit drafty, perhaps, but it had an amazing wood-burning stove that could heat up the living room surprisingly quickly. Furthermore, our family had been “saving up” the new episodes of the third and final season of Ted Lasso, so we could all watch it together on our vacation. And when we added a crazy plan to process the wool that we collected on our hike along the Caredigion Coast, to turn it into a pair of socks or a hat, it made for a very memorable moment of sitting in that space with the five of us, relaxing and unwinding — both figuratively and literally, with carding the fibers of the wool to all align with one another.

Laide: Beach 3

#4 – Beach Three with Kate, Roxie, and Moss (May)

I called this My Favorite Hour in Scotland, back in May. But looking back now, it seems even more magical. We were 3,000 miles away from our home in Ohio, yet we were there with a close friend who also happened to have become a local. The whole MacRae family made it seem like we were doing them a favor by visiting their town along the West coast of the Scottish Highlands. But when Kate took us to the place they call “Beach Three,” just a short drive from their house, it felt like the essence of our family’s vacation to Europe. She brought along her dogs, Roxie and Moss. And from the place where we parked the car, we had to scramble perhaps a quarter of a mile through a mysterious, mossy forest to a beautiful, wide, sandy beach as the tide was rising, where the peninsulas framing the view were quickly turning into islands. It was amazing. And we all got to do it together.

Thanksgiving at the Farm

#3 – Thanksgiving Football at the Farm (November)

As my boys are launching from adolescence into young adulthood, it seems all the more special to engage in the holiday ritual of “playing football” on the front lawn of Marci’s family’s farm. We don’t keep score. We don’t run organized routes (at least not very often). It’s really just a glorified game of catch that could happen pretty much anytime, anywhere. Still, it feels meaningful to do this at the farm that’s been in Marci’s family since the 1860s, with the gravel driveway serving as our makeshift end zone. We’ve done this in deep snow and in scorching summer heat, but both Thanksgiving and Christmas of this year afforded us with pretty mild, dry conditions. I remember the Thanksgiving version of the activity especially fondly because of that glorious sunset we got to experience over the corn fields that had not yet been harvested. And because I just so happened to get out my smartphone and snap a picture at the moment (crazy how much our photographs shape our memories!).

25th Anniversary Trip to Quebec: Historical Fort at Coteau-du-Lac

#2 – Coteau-du-Lac Affogatos (July)

The actual day of Marci’s and my 25th Wedding Anniversary happened to fall while we were in Amsterdam, with our kids — which was kind of amazing in its own way. Still, we were also excited to get away together to Quebec for a couple of nights with just the two of us. We stayed in a small town called Coteau-du-Lac, on the northern shore of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. And while there were many wonderful moments throughout that trip, I think the best moment might have been that lazy Wednesday afternoon when we took naps and read books, took a little walk by the historic fort, got poutine for dinner from a place called La Frite à Brigitte, and then picked out some ice cream from a nearby grocery store. We took the ice cream back to our AirBnB, and then Marci pulled a few shots of espresso from the machine she’d been learning to use during our stay. We combined the espresso with the ice cream to make our own affogatos. It was a lovely dessert to enjoy with my lovely wife, in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

Amsterdam Oost: Hogeweg

#1 – Return to Amsterdam Oost (May)

Our family got to return to our old stomping grounds in Amsterdam Oost on the day that Marci and I happened to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We visited our old street… grocery store… book shop… coffee spot… school yard… parks… And it all felt pretty special. But during our time at the Coffee Company on the Middenweg, we started a conversation about the strange swirl of emotions that comes with a return to a significant place. And I feel like I did a better job than I usually do when it comes to being succinct and specific in sharing my experiences in young adulthood with my children, who are now entering that same phase of life themselves. There are warm feelings and a fluttering sense of nostalgia in our return to the old neighborhood. But there are also echoes of the queasiness, the confusion, the culture shock, and the overwhelming insecurity that characterized early-parenthood, my first years of being a pastor, and the awkwardness of adjusting to a new culture. It felt really helpful to talk about these things together. I posted about some of these experiences as my favorite hour in the Netherlands, at the time, but my appreciation for those experiences has grown since then. So, it feels like a pretty easy selection for my #1 Family Moment of 2023.

This entry was posted in Adolescence, Aging Parents, Children, Family, Home, Introspection, Kent, Marriage, Middle Age, Ohio, Recreation, Travel, Young Adulthood. Bookmark the permalink.

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