Why I Pulled My Kids Out of Elementary School

A few years ago, I wrote about my decision to pull my son out of preschool, and it’s become one of my most-viewed blog posts. People are still reading it on a regular basis. Clearly this topic is resonating with people—which is great, because it’s time to write a follow-up. Well, a follow-up to a follow-up.

That’s right, folks—we’re homeschooling! Again!

I wrote about our experience homeschooling during the pandemic, and our eventual decision to enroll Curdie in public school for first grade once most Covid-related policies were lifted. If you feel like this blog has become nothing more than a record of all our weird experiments with our kids’ education, you’re not alone. But I really think this particular experiment is going to stick—at least for a while.

When people ask why we chose to homeschool, our answers are too long for the average casual conversation. So buckle up, because this blog post is a long one.

Touch Grass (or at least, touch books)

One thing we hated about public school is the amount of time the kids have spent indoors on screens. When we moved from San Antonio to Houston, I was given a consent form for Curdie to have a tablet in the classroom and at home. I absolutely didn’t want to have an iPad in my house and was encouraged that I could choose to opt out in the classroom, so I checked “No” on the form. His teacher then called me and bullied me into letting him have it in the classroom, at least. I’m still salty about this, especially because the school tried to fine me for a charge cord Curdie had supposedly brought home and lost.

Meanwhile, Faramir was in a windowless classroom all day, and if it rained for five minutes at any point in the school day, the kindergarteners weren’t allowed to go outside for recess, even if the weather cleared up. Wouldn’t want to track mud into the school. It rains a fair amount in Houston, so sometimes Faramir had inside recess all week. And what do they do during inside recess? Play on tablets and watch Wild Kratts. And what do six-year-old boys do when they’re stuck inside 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? Well, some of them start chewing their shirts, papers, and backpack straps to shreds—not unlike a dog who hasn’t been walked.

Since we’ve started homeschooling, screen time has (for the most part) been drastically reduced, and the boys spend a lot more time outside. They can always go in the backyard, and they play soccer twice a week with friends. They’ve even been on several hiking/camping/backpacking trips, since we’re not tied down by attendance rules. It does my heart good when I look around for Faramir and see him sprinting across the back yard in his iconic cowboy boots. He still chews on things, but not nearly as much as before.

Curdie engaged in a baffling activity known as “acorn farming”

Tick Tick Goes My Life (Sorry, Dr. Fullmer)

This is news to absolutely no one, but public school hours are looooong. And I feel like they’re longer than when I was a kid. There’s no half-day kindergarten, no early-out Friday. You can’t possibly spend that much time effectively lecturing a bunch of five-year-olds, and they know it—hence the overreliance on screens. It’s really starting to feel like public elementary school is less about educating kids and more about providing government daycare. I get that in most families, both parents work full time. But I don’t like the idea of my kids being held hostage when they could be home doodling off.

And then there was the dreaded drop-off/pick-up line sucking up an hour of our lives every day. We live too close to the school for bus service, and it was too logistically difficult for me to walk them home every day, so we were stuck. Everyone knows how bad these suck, but it really seemed like the school went out of their way to make it as horrible as possible. I remember one afternoon last year when they arbitrarily decided to end pick-up ten minutes earlier than usual. I had to park my car, get shoe-less Jane out of her car seat, and carry her into the school to sign the boys out—limping all the way because I was 7-months pregnant and had a herniated disc. Meanwhile, Curdie and Faramir had to sit there and wait for me every day, not talking to anyone, not allowed to read anything.

Our homeschool days are almost always done by lunchtime. The kids work hard in the morning, and have the rest of the day to play, read, do science experiments, develop their talents, and even help out around the house (learning valuable life skills in the process)—they have time to just be kids. This week we had a kazoo party just for lulz, and Faramir learned how to make egg salad—one of his new favorite foods, apparently. The boys are actually making progress in piano, and spending time playing around on Scratch or learning JavaScript on Khan Academy. Faramir is almost finished with the Harry Potter series, and Curdie finished Lord of the Rings. It’s amazing.

Out of the Best Books

It became a running joke in our family that you don’t go to school to learn things—you go to make friends.

A series of notes Curdie and I passed back and forth during church last year.

We always knew it was going to be a while before school really challenged our kids intellectually. Tom’s hill to die on is that they learn to read as soon after their third birthday as possible (Jane is the newest graduate of “Learn to Read”—congratulations, Jane!), and as a former kindergarten teacher once told me, “If your child comes into kindergarten reading Magic Tree House, good for you, but public school kindergarten has nothing for your child.” So Faramir was doomed at the outset, and Curdie, who had finished the Harry Potter series just after second grade started, got to sit through phonics instruction all year. One time I asked Curdie if they read books during school. He shrugged and said “Not many.”

To compensate, Tom has been giving the boys reading challenges, where he assigns them four or five books that are at the edge of their reading abilities, with a reward for completion. And after school, we’d have a snack, practice the piano (in Curdie’s case), and then I made the boys do half an hour of Khan Academy. They were breezing through all of it, learning more than they were at school, and we really started to wonder—how amazing could it be if we did this all the time, letting them learn at their own pace, on their own level?

Even babies are in on the fun! Feast upon the words…

I went back to Ambleside Online, the curriculum I used for Curdie’s kindergarten year (in defiance of Charlotte Mason’s admonition against starting formal learning before age 6, I admit). I read over the book lists and just felt this aching in my soul—I wanted my kids to have this. I wanted them steeped in the best books ever written. I wanted them familiar with Rudyard Kipling, George MacDonald, Shakespeare, and Plutarch. I wanted them studying scriptures as part of the school day. I wanted them to memorize poetry and master the skill of narration.

And it’s not all about literature. We love math in our family, and our kids want to be engineers like their dad. I wanted them to have the best math foundation possible. I wanted them to have a deep conceptual understanding of what they were learning, and if they struggled, I wanted the time to help them work through the problem. I didn’t want my daughters (in particular) to fall into the trap a lot of girls fall into, of thinking they’re bad at math because they haven’t been drilled enough and the class has moved on without them.

Singapore Math is awesome

We were always grateful that the gross immorality that has made its way into the public school system hasn’t (yet) taken root in our local elementary school. In conversation, I always found myself saying things like, “If we lived somewhere like California, we would be homeschooling.” But I started thinking: why am I giving my kids a lower quality education just because their elementary system doesn’t (yet) have drag queen story time? Because I’ve drunk the Kool Aid. I’ve read the Charlotte Mason books (well, three of them). I really believe that if we follow correct principles, our kids can have a better education at home. So we decided it was time to do the hard thing.

But What About Socialization?

Ahh, socialization—the redeeming quality of a public school education. The main reason we enrolled Curdie in first grade was so he could develop better social skills. But was the fabled socialization value all it was cracked up to be?

No. No, it wasn’t.

Shortly after moving here, Curdie started butting heads with the popular kid in his class, which got him locked out of the “Boys Club”—an exclusive group comprising every other boy in the class. It was like the plot of some tween-girl movie on Disney Channel. Luckily, there was one other kid who didn’t want to be in the Boys Club, so Curdie usually had someone to play with. We encouraged him to keep his chin up, telling ourselves that being ostracized would build character—although I was already daydreaming about what homeschooling would look like JUST IN CASE things didn’t work out.

Things were better in second grade. The Boys Club had less sway, and Curdie was starting to make a few more friends and enjoy the social environment—for the most part. There was one thing keeping him from fully assimilating: Minecraft.

Apparently, all of Curdie’s classmates play Minecraft—at least, all the boys do. And as we’ve since learned the hard way, if a boy plays Minecraft, Minecraft is all he wants to talk about. Ever. So at lunch, all the boys would sit on one end of the table and talk about Minecraft. All the girls would sit at the other end of the table and talk about the boys they had crushes on (yes, in 2nd grade. Ughh). And Curdie would sit in the middle, eating his sandwich and talking to no one.

We’re not screen-time purists, but we have held the line on video games pretty hard. But when your child comes to you in tears saying he doesn’t have anyone to talk to because he doesn’t play Minecraft, it’s heartbreaking. So we gave in. Now, we already thought Minecraft was among the better games a kid could play, and it’s turned out to be a fun family activity and a way for the boys to bond with their grandparents and aunt and uncle. But Minecraft is at constant risk of consuming their little boy brains, and we’ve had to put strict limits on how much they play just to get them to care about anything else. And there’s a bigger problem: this time it was Minecraft, a relatively harmless game. Next time the key to admission into the social group could be something more pernicious. Our kids shouldn’t have to compromise their values—and our family’s values—to have friends.

Meanwhile, in the dark, windowless cavern that was Faramir’s classroom, our little boy was changing. Before he started kindergarten, he was a happy, social guy who would strike up random conversations with strangers and become everyone’s best friend. By the end of the year, he’d become taciturn and antisocial. He’d been playing with one kid every day for a week or so, and started referring to the kid as “my friend [redacted],” only for [redacted] to turn to him one day and say “I’m not your friend.” Apparently many (most?) of the kids in Faramir’s class already knew each other from years spent in the daycare across the street. Despite starting Kindergarten at the same time as everyone else, Faramir was already an outsider.

(I’m sorry to get political/personal/whatever, guys, but daycare culture is out of control. But that’s a rant for another time.)

I would beg and bribe Faramir to try to be friendly with the other kids. His response: “I can’t play with the other kids, because ninja masters have to go it alone.” When you put it that way…

All this to say that the fabled socialization aspect of public school was…unimpressive. At least for our kids.

It was a bumpy road trying to help Curdie and Faramir find good social environments in the homeschool world at first (we really miss our San Antonio homeschool friends!). We tried a few different things the first half of the year, and none of them were very promising. But we’ve just joined a local performing arts co-op, and it really seems like they’re starting to make friends and have a great time. Their homeschool soccer class has also been a great social outlet in addition to giving them fresh air and exercise.

Whatever it is we’re doing, it’s working, because Friendly Faramir is starting to come back.

Faramir cringing away from the squid he’s supposed to be dissecting

Their relationships with each other have improved, as well. Curdie went from ignoring Faramir when he passed him in the hallway at school (or giving him a thumbs down) to calling him his best friend. They have so much fun with each other and their little sisters every day, and they’re really enjoying playing with the baby and watching her grow up. When Tom and the kids got home from their backpacking trip this past weekend, everyone’s first words were, “Where’s the bub?” They wanted to know if she’d missed them and if she’d gained any new skills. It was adorable. We’ve also gotten to spend more time with extended family than we would have if they were in public school.

Bring Out Your Dead!

Can we talk about what a cesspool of disease and filth public schools are? Last year our kids were sick literally 80% of the school year. Faramir missed almost the whole month of October, and was home sick for both the Halloween and Christmas parties. When my mother-in-law came to babysit when I got induced, I had to make her a spreadsheet detailing all three kids’ antibiotics schedules. Both boys hit their 10 allotted parent-excused absences on illnesses that weren’t bad enough for a trip to the doctor, but bad enough that a sane parent wouldn’t send them to school.

(And then when they missed a Friday to go to their uncle’s wedding, they got marks on their attendance records saying they missed school for an “unacceptable reason”—because staying home to sit on the couch watching Phineas and Ferb is acceptable, but supporting a close family member making eternal covenants and visiting the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry isn’t. Riiiight.)

Okay, you guys know how I feel about masking kids. Jane put this on of her own volition because I was using bleach in the bathroom.

The whole system is messed up. Kids get sick at daycare and have to go to school because their parents can’t stay home with them. Then they get other kids sick, and those kids’ parents have to choose between sending them to school too impaired to possibly learn anything, or jump through hoops to avoid getting labeled truant if they stay home, where they’re missing out on activities and lessons. And did I mention they keep all the sick kids in windowless classrooms all day, not even letting them go out for recess? It’s frustrating, and I was over it.

I know what you’re going to say: “But Elissa, it’s good for kids’ immune systems to wade through cesspools of disease and filth.” And while I’m with you that the occasional cold is good for you, spending most of the school year on Amoxicillin just can’t be. And even if it’s good for the kids’ immune systems, it wasn’t good for mine. The last three weeks of my pregnancy I had a cold, a stomach bug, and cholestasis (okay, that last one wasn’t the school’s fault…at least, not directly. Maybe my liver gave it up because I broke down and took Tylenol one too many times. Or maybe it was the steady diet of Zicam. Who knows?).

Now we still get sick, but it’s not a constant thing, and antibiotics are only occasionally necessary. And when kids are sick, it doesn’t necessarily derail their entire learning process. We do as much school work as the kid can handle, and take it easy the rest of the time. Nobody gets left behind, and nobody gets held back.

In Conclusion…

None of these things by themselves would be enough to make us pull our kids out. And even all together, we might shrug and say, “Oh well, that’s just the way things are.” Except that I’d homeschooled before, and I knew that things didn’t have to be that way.

It’s not all sunshine and roses over here. Homeschooling is hard, especially with four kids—one of whom can’t walk or eat by herself and is literally sucking the energy out of my body. I am more tired than I’ve ever been in my life, and yet the house looks like I’m lazier than I’ve ever been in my life. And I’m still grieving the plan I’ve had for my life since childhood: be extremely present for my kids, and write tons of fantasy novels in the quiet hours while they’re at school. Well, the “extremely present” part is more true than I expected, but the writing part…not so much (still making progress, but extremely slowly). I’ve had many, many moments when I wanted to load everyone up in the minivan and drop them all off at the elementary school, which beckons to me with its red bricks and out-of-date marquee every time I drive anywhere.

But there have also been moments when it feels like everything is falling into place. When the kids are devouring ideas and stories and laughing hysterically at France’s attempts to colonize Florida. When we have amazing gospel discussions and enjoy classical music together. When I look back on what I’ve done that day and think, “This is what God made me for. And it’s pretty awesome.”

We’re still figuring everything out, but the plan is to stick with it at least through middle school (6th grade here in Texas) and then reevaluate. But for now, prayers for my sanity are always appreciated—and if anyone wants to borrow any number of kids for any amount of time, let me know! The oldest one makes pancakes, if that sweetens the deal!

I’m Not a Poet (and now I know it)

My six-year-old is a poet.

Over the past year, Faramir has been working on his poetry skills. After counseling him that poetry is not a suitable career for the father of our grandchildren (come on, the boy wants ten kids! He’s going to need a STEM salary), we’ve been aggressively encouraging him to pursue it as a hobby. I for one am a big fan of his work.

Also, his handwriting is fantastic.

So for Valentine’s Day this year, I had this great idea to write Faramir a poem. It just seemed like a great way to connect with him and show interest in his hobbies. So I set about trying to put my appreciation for our amazing and hilarious boy into verse.

Until recently, my poetry consumption began and ended with Ogden Nash. However, the kids’ homeschool curriculum has us working through William Blake, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Sara Teasdale, and A. A. Milne, and I guess you could say I was feeling inspired. After all, I am a writer-type, and although I generally lean more toward the prose side of the spectrum, I dabbled in poetry a bit in high school as an outlet for teen angst. These poems were hilariously awful, but they were in iambic heptameter, dangit! And having spent the last ten-ish years trying to improve my writing skills, I assumed my efforts would yield better results. Plus I’ve…read…books since then! Yep, read much book with big wrinkle brain. Much book make rhyme words sound good for son.

The first problem appeared quickly: I couldn’t just write a poem for Faramir. Curdie, his older brother, has reached the calculating age of almost-nine, and has a finely-honed ability to detect discrepancies in time and effort when it comes to gifts. So I’d need to write him one, too. And three-year-old Jane is just learning to read! Wouldn’t it be cool for her to read a poem about herself, written by her very own mom? Lucy would probably just eat anything I gave her, so she didn’t need a poem. But Valentine’s day is supposed to be about romantic love—I realized I should probably write one for Tom, too. So, with a few weeks before the big day, I committed myself to writing four poems.

Well, with apologies to Uncle Ben, with Much Book come Much Standards. Poetry is hard, y’all. My first efforts to sit down and compose verses worthy of the English poetic tradition (or at least good enough for my kids) yielded little more than staring open-mouthed at a blank word document and typing and deleting the same few words for hours. Then Baby Lucy got really sick and I didn’t have the mental energy to write for a few days. And then Jane got whatever Lucy had, plus a double ear infection. Parents of multiple small children know how this goes.

This brings us to the evening of February 12, when I was still dejectedly plunking out iambs and pushing Rhymezone.com to its limits. I brute-forced my way through Faramir’s and Curdie’s poems, but they were clunky and pretentious, and I was starting to regret the whole thing. But with Jane still running a 105-degree fever, it looked like we weren’t going to make it to either of the Valentine’s Day parties we’d planned on, so I at least wanted to make sure the kids got something special from their mom. Rather than stare at the empty page where Jane’s poem was going to go, I put my head down on my desk—and a tantalizing little line ran through my head…

“I have a little Chungus that goes in and out with me.”

No, my shoulder angel chided. That’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s “My Shadow.” That’s plagiarism, and plagiarism is bad.

But it’s in the public domaaaaiiiiin, my shoulder-devil crooned. Everybody uses that poem.

Meanwhile, the poem had started to write itself, and it was much better than anything I’d written so far. So, with a deadline looming, I surrendered to the devil. Really, only the first stanza was stolen from “My Shadow.” Once I’d pulled my brain out of the sick-kid-parenting swamp where creativity goes to die, I’d apparently gotten into a good enough mindset for the words to flow.

Still, I didn’t end up finishing that night, and the next night after taking Curdie to Activity Days, picking up Jane’s antibiotics, and spending eight minutes inside Hobby Lobby browsing the sad Valentine’s clearance leavings, I had about half an hour to put the finishing touches on the poems and package the kids’ Valentine’s offerings before bedtime. (I never did end up writing anything for Tom. Sorry, dear—consider this an IOU.)

In the end, Valentine’s Day was a bummer, but the kids love their poems (even the clunky, pretentious ones), and Faramir and Jane are still carrying them around the house, which is adorable. The antibiotics are kicking in, and it’s back to business as usual around here.

I guess if I’ve learned anything, it’s not to schedule time-sensitive creative projects during cold and flu season when I’m already overwhelmed with homeschooling, a baby, and the day-to-day demands of four kids who are home all the time. And also, I should probably stick to prose and leave the poetry to the professionals—and Faramir. And also, plagiarism is bad—but it can also be fun!

(No, that is not a good lesson to learn. -Shoulder Angel)

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Some Changes to the Blog

Over the past few years, as I’ve published a book and started trying to expand my reach beyond my twelve loyal blog readers, I’ve struggled to figure out how to share about my life without violating my family’s privacy. Social media was easy (or so I thought)—I’d just have a public account and a private account. But blogging was trickier. When we expanded Good Times Ahoy from a personal blog to an author website, it suddenly felt wrong to write about my kids the way I used to, even though readership hasn’t changed much. Sharing my motherhood adventures (and misadventures) was fun, and when I couldn’t do it anymore, I lost enthusiasm for keeping up with the blog.

Maintaining separation on social media has also been harder than expected. Turns out, when you’re a stay-at-home mom to four kids (oh yeah, did I mention we had another one? Surprise!) your life is inextricably linked to those of your children. I spend all day with them. They star in all the hilarious anecdotes of my day. Many of the books I read are about raising, feeding, and educating them (oh yeah, did I mention we’re homeschooling again? Surprise!). As gross as I feel about using my children in the content rat race, it’s pretty hard to say anything about my life without referencing them in some way.

Something’s got to change, because I miss this. I miss long-form blogging. I miss sharing our ridiculous fun-house life along with surly movie reviews and infrequent, less-than-impressive writing updates. So I’m going to be making some changes to the blog (all of which will apply to Instagram, as well). I probably should have been doing most of these from the beginning.

  • I will no longer be showing front-profile pictures of my kids. Instead, you’ll be treated to images of the backs of adorable, oversized, uniformly-buzzed heads.
  • I will no longer be using our kids’ real names. But it’s okay, because they all get adorkable literary codenames! Welcome to the adventures of Curdie, Faramir, Jane, and Lucy.
  • Sadly, the GTA Year in Review is discontinued. We’ll still be writing a family Christmas letter every year for those who know us personally, but it will live on my husband’s blog.

What I’m NOT going to do is go to great lengths to expunge my children’s existence from the Interwebz. I don’t think it’s practical or necessary, and it may not be possible at this point. People who are really dedicated will probably be able to find out their names and see some of their pictures (although if you’re that interested in our kids, you hopefully already know us personally). But I’m hoping putting these guidelines in place for myself will unparalyze me enough to start participating in the internet again.

Happy trails, friends! I’ll talk to you soon!

Happy 2nd Anniversary, Nightwalker!

Today is the 2-year anniversary of the release of Nightwalker!

I never intended to write a book like this—or at least, I never intended for this to be the first book I published. Nightwalker has no princesses or unicorns, and it barely has any magic. I had no idea (and still have no idea) how to market the thing. How did someone who wanted to write fairy tales end up writing—essentially—spooky, supernatural Book of Mormon fanfiction?

It began as a 2016 NaNoWriMo project. At the time it seemed like all my friends were going through a faith crisis, and while I never reached crisis level, I did spend some time really thinking about what I believe and why I believe it. What does it mean to have faith? What sustains us when Church members—or even Church leaders—act in confusing or hurtful ways? Why does God let bad things happen to good people? If I had “felt to sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26), why couldn’t I always feel it?

The scriptures had answers to these questions, and as I studied them, the writer wheels in my head started turning. It felt like God was synthesizing the ideas I was pondering with some undeveloped characters and plot bunnies in my brain, producing the most complete story I’d ever conceived. Given this incredible gift, I knew what I had to do: put all the fairy tales and princess stories on the back burner and write Nightwalker to the best of my ability at the time.

(To complicate things, that “time” spanned almost exactly five years, and by the time I finished there were HUGE quality gaps between the beginning of the book and the end of the book. But I digress.)

So, I guess you could say that Nightwalker is a testimony of sorts. Because I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the histories of Milabel, Ependom, and Asura have strong ties to Church history and the events of the Book of Mormon. Each of the characters has a different relationship with religion and God, but regardless of their belief or lack thereof, it becomes clear (I hope) how He is working in their lives.

My greatest fear in releasing this book into the world was that, because there’s a pernicious influence in the Milabel church, readers would think I was criticizing my own religion. This was not my intent at all! While the Church is made up of imperfect mortals, Christ is at the helm. The prophets, seers, and revelators who lead this church do so under His direction and authority, and I love and support them. I hope that readers will note that the “restoration” event in Nightwalker leads directly to the downfall of the Guardians. 😉

Probably the biggest criticism Nightwalker has received is that the romance between Alec and Maren wasn’t romance-y enough. Readers wanted more conflict, more tension—in short, they wanted the plot to be more like every other YA book in existence. And that’s totally fair. This was something of a deliberate choice on my part. I wanted the romance to take a backseat and be relatively easy so that Alec and Maren could focus on supporting each other through the crises they faced. I also wanted to show that when two people are compatible, have the same goals, are both trying to do what’s right, and care deeply about each other, you can skip a lot of the turbulence in the relationship. That said, I know I have a lot to learn about writing romance.

Then again, my 8-year-old son informed me that **SPOILER ALERT** he didn’t like that Alec and Maren got married at the end, and asked why I would do that. So you can’t please everyone, I guess.

Overall, I’m still quite happy with how Nightwalker turned out. I felt like I learned a lot while writing and self-publishing it, and despite how weird it is, I’m proud of my firstborn book baby. And if you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll like it, too. You can get your copy here!

(And if you have read it, PLEASE leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads! It really helps!)

Yes, Christians Can (And Should) Enjoy Harry Potter

Recently it’s come to my attention that some Christian fantasy writers are calling for more so-called “non-magical fantasy.” If this seems like a contradiction in terms, you’re not alone. As far as I can gather, non-magical fantasy involves made-up or semi-made up worlds, medieval aesthetic, and self-proclaimed deep, stirring themes. These concerned citizens allow for books like the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings that are written from a strict biblical worldview by known believers, but decry any magic systems involving demon worship or witchcraft that is not defeated in the end—specifically calling out Harry Potter.

I’m sorry. What?

I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and grew up as part of the so-called Harry Potter generation. As a whole, members of the Church seem to be less worried about Harry Potter than Evangelical Christians, so I largely missed out on the debate on whether the books promoted satanism. Although I discovered Harry Potter later than my (almost universally church-going) classmates, I loved the books as much as (or more than) the next nine year old geek. I made myself a wand, sorted myself into Gryffindor, copied spells into homemade spell books, and ran around on a costume broomstick trying to curse the neighbor kids—and dodge their curses in my turn. Although it could be argued that I could have used some of this energy reading scriptures or memorizing the Articles of Faith, I never felt like this period of fanaticism negatively impacted my testimony. And while my ardor for the Wizarding World has waned over the years, I make no objection to my children experiencing the wonder for themselves.

That said, the Bible warns us to avoid witchcraft. Leviticus 19:31 says, “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 18:10-12 warns, “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” And there’s always the classic Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Seems pretty definitive. So am I just justifying a sinful guilty pleasure in my defense of Harry Potter? I would argue, no. Why? Because the witchcraft in Harry Potter isn’t real witchcraft as laid out in the Bible.

The story of the Old Testament is one of a people whose God—a loving, powerful, real Father in Heaven—brought them out of darkness and bondage and showed them how to live and in whom to put their trust. And time and time again, the people turned from God and tried to worship literally everything else. Trees. Statues. Demonic spirits. Money. Themselves. These forms of worship ranged from woefully ineffective (see 1 Kings 18) to absolutely horrifying (the phrase about making your son or daughter “pass through the fire” above refers to child sacrifice—spend a few minutes googling Molech if you have a strong stomach). Moses spent enough time with his traveling companions to know this would become a serious problem (I leave you guys alone for five minutes and you’re already forgotten everything God did for you and are worshiping a stupid golden calf?), and prophets through the ages have had their hands full trying rein this tendency in before it destroys civilizations.

This is the context in which we read about witchcraft and wizardry—a warning against horrific acts such as human sacrifice, consulting with demonic spirits, and seeking forbidden knowledge. We can infer that words like “witch,” “wizard,” “charmer,” and “enchanter” are words for a practitioner of these evil forms of worship. According to this fascinating article from Haaretz, we really have no idea what the original word from the aforementioned bible verses, mekashapha, actually means—although scholars have guessed that it could mean an herbalist, poisoner, or evildoer. (As an aside, could I interpret this to mean that essential oils peddlers deserve the death penalty? Discuss.) The Old English word for witch, wicce, is even more inscrutable, but seems to have connotations relating to evil spirits and poison, and the devil.

This is decidedly not the definition J. K. Rowling uses. Witchcraft in the Harry Potter books is a magical ability an individual is born with, which can be used for good or evil according to a person’s moral agency. Harry did not make any deals with the devil or demonic entities to gain his powers. He inherited them from his parents along with his iconic messy hair and green eyes. The Bible does not condemn this kind of witchcraft—it can’t, because it does not exist and never has. As every eleven-year -old Harry Potter fan knows painfully well.

There are, of course, characters who choose to use their magic in ways reminiscent of the verses above—satanic rituals, murdering to gain power and immortality, and engaging in necromancy. They are called Death Eaters, and it’s safe to say they are roundly defeated in the end—which was one of the conditions for an acceptable fantasy book, according to the non-magical curmudgeons (NMCs). As Dumbledore says, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Maybe it’s unfortunate that Rowling picked such a religiously-fraught word as “witch” to describe someone like Hermione Granger, but she could have easily picked any number of words: mage, magician, fairy, mistborn, surgebinder, or she-wizard (note: wizards are condemned in Deuteronomy just like witches, but you don’t see anyone warning that Gandalf is going to lead their children into forbidden paths). Rowling picked the words she did because of the modern-day aesthetic she was going for—one that evokes images of broomsticks, bubbling cauldrons, spooky castles, and pumpkin as a staple food. As followers of Christ, we should be capable of exercising enough spiritual discernment to avoid condemnation of something good based on questionable word choice.

And yes, the Harry Potter series is good—morally good, not just fun and interesting. The books are full of Christian symbolism and themes: love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, repentance, agency, the Resurrection, and life after death. Magic is a vital vehicle for delivering these ideas–the beauty of Lily Potter’s sacrifice for her son comes alive in its protective power against Voldemort, and a horcrux is a chilling symbol of the way murder rips the soul apart (and remorse–repentance–puts it back together). J. K. Rowling places Bible verses on the tombstones of Harry’s parents (1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”) and Dumbledore’s mother and sister (Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”), explicitly stating that these verses “epitomize the whole series.” It’s worth noting that Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, an Apostle of the Lord, has quoted or made reference to Harry Potter multiple times in official talks. If your reading standards are more stodgy than an actual Apostle’s, you may want to consider loosening up a little.

NMC claims that J. K. Rowling isn’t a believer are unfounded. She may not be especially open about her beliefs, but she is quoted as saying, “I believe in God, not magic,” and once told reporters that if she talked about her Christian faith too much, readers would guess what was coming too easily. Admittedly, this is a silly reason not to share your beliefs with others. But the way her testimony bleeds over into so many aspects of her books speaks volumes about her faith. J. K. Rowling is not be a perfect Christian—or even a Lewis or a Tolkien—and I disagree with her on many, many subjects. But you simply cannot say Harry Potter isn’t written from a biblical worldview.

I agree with the NMCs in that each person must use agency and discernment in deciding what media to consume, and above all seek and take direction from the Lord. Goodness knows there are so many awful fantasy books out there, many of which really do glorify satanic practices or are little more than pornography. I’m all for encouraging writers to glorify God with their writing and improve their craft so we can crowd this garbage out of the market—it’s what I’m actively trying to do. But Harry Potter isn’t the problem here, and there are times when a witch is not a witch. Part of exercising discernment means having all the facts before condemning a wholesome, uplifting, beloved book series that has given generations of children a love for reading.

As puppet Dumbledore once said, “Let them have their flapdoodles.”

I Watched Amazon’s Cinderella So You Don’t Have To

Sometimes I like to watch dumb movies on Amazon Prime while I’m sewing, knitting, or folding laundry. For a while, every time I started browsing for mindless entertainment, I’d be greeted with ads for their original movie, Cinderella, described as “a modern movie musical with a bold take on the classic fairytale.” Hoo boy.

I held off on watching it for a while, because I knew it was going to be a train wreck. But I’m kind of a sucker for Cinderella retellings, and when I finally decided to see what the fuss was about, I was shocked to learn I’d misjudged it. For you see, Amazon’s Cinderella is not a train wreck.

It is a dumpster fire.

The utter crapitude of this movie is truly mind-boggling. It’s morally, logically, and artistically abominable. The fact that it currently has a 3-star rating on amazon is an insult to all the wholesome, honest 3-star products on these here interwebs. I’m not even going to put a spoiler warning on this review, because that’s kind of the point. I want to excoriate this piece of dreck so thoroughly that no one will ever watch it again. And I’ll do it without even touching on the drag queen fairy godmother. Y’all probably know how I feel about it, anyway, so we’ll leave that can of worms (caterpillars?) closed.

We’re essentially hammered over the head with the movie’s message during its sarcastic rendition of the standard “Once upon a time” opening. The aforementioned magical individual informs us that the story takes place in a land of tradition, where people have been doing things the same way for generations. Okay. We get it. Traditions bad! Progress good! What follows is two hours of being punched in the face with these themes over and over and over.

The traditions in question, of course, are gender roles—albeit gender roles taken to an absurd extreme never seen in the history of humanity. Evil stepmother Idina Menzel is at odds with Ella, of course, but because she’s jealous of her ambition—she wants to be a clothing designer instead of getting married, which is the whole purpose of women in such regressive cultures as these. Stepmother Elsa refers to Ella’s desire to engage in the business world as “blasphemy.”

Do these people think anyone really feels this way about women? Even in scary traditional cultures, women have always contributed to their families economically—helping manage family businesses, pulling their weight on the farm, and yes, taking on the essential task of keeping house and raising children (it counts, yo). Even the scary, regressive Bible encourages this in Proverbs 31:24.

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

That sounds like exactly what Ella’s trying to do, and it’s somehow illegal in this kingdom, where female servants in the palace literally wear Handmaid’s Tale uniforms. Because this kind of dystopian culture has only ever existed in these people’s twisted fantasies.

The stepmother’s coming from a place of love, though. Oh yes. Her emotionally scarring backstory is that her husband left her for wanting to pursue the piano. Learning to play an an instrument is universally accepted to be a beautiful, perfectly feminine pursuit. Furthermore, you’d think music would be a valuable skill for even a woman to have in a kingdom known only as the “rhythm nation,” in which most of the backup band members to the town crier/rapper are women. Not to mention prominent orchestra members at the ball.

Not content to punch the viewer in the face repeatedly with one message, the movie adds a bratty teenage princess whose sole purpose is to lurk wherever the other royals are discussing grownup stuff, pop out, and say “Is now a good time to discuss [insert environmentalist/anti-capitalist/ talking point here]?” It wasn’t funny the first time, and it got less funny with each subsequent incident.

All hail the nanny-state queen

Ella herself is insufferable. Portrayed by Camila Cabello, she is the least sympathetic and charismatic individual in this movie—including the mice-turned-footmen, who have an entire scene where one of them figures out how to relieve himself in human form. Every word that comes out of Ella’s mouth is sarcastic and occasionally crass. She’s slovenly by choice, and her stepfamily is—not unreasonably—always getting after her about her ratty hair, dirty face, and general lack of interest in basic hygiene. She makes her stepsisters look sweet and charming by comparison. We’re supposed to boo and hiss when Stepmother Elsa tells her, “Smile. Girls are worth more when they smile,” but I found myself wishing she would crack something other than a superior smirk once in a while.

Ella’s stepsisters are described as “obnoxious” and “self-absorbed,” but these are better descriptors for Ella herself. Instead of losing her glass slipper in her flight from the castle, she takes it off and viciously lobs it at the butler’s head. This is not the Cinderella we know and love. The beloved fairy tale is about a kind young woman, beautiful inside and out, who endures degradation and disappointment without losing faith that it will all work out somehow. This bratty girl is nothing like her, and I just can’t bring myself to root for her.

Three of these people look at least somewhat fun to hang out with.

In my opinion, the worst moment of the movie occurred close to the end. Once Prince Nobody rejects the throne and promises to trail after her as she pursues her passion around the world, she’s asked to describe their relationship, and answers, “We don’t have to put a label on it. Maybe just…in love?” Because even after the prince dedicates himself to helping her achieve her dreams, the tradition of committing to a romantic relationship is too regressive for this #girlboss. The explicit theme of this story is, “I choose me,” and she’s not going to let love, commitment, or any of the things that make life really worthwhile slow her down.

This movie bills itself as a musical, but the several moments of original composition hardly qualify as music at all. Mostly they just clumsily shoehorned bad pop songs wherever they kinda sorta fit. You can tell they’re going for “Woke Ella Enchanted” here, even cramming in Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” although from the preceding scene, Prince So-and-so doesn’t seem particularly interested in a relationship—just avoiding the ones his father is trying to arrange. The strongest connection I felt to a character in this movie was when the stepsisters exchanged awkward, embarrassed looks when their mother started singing, “Material Girl.”


The writing was also irredeemably terrible. We’re talking two hours of absolute gems like these, spoken with straight faces:

“I know you’re angry with me for yelling at you. I hate to break it to you, but kings yell.”

-King Patriarchy

“Excuse me, your highness.”
“‘Your highness’ was the man whose blood I spilt to take this crown.”

-Queen Anti-Patriarchy

“So this is the…fountain.”
“Do you have a…fountain where you live?”
“I don’t. I just have…streaming water, sometimes.”

-Jane Austen, probably

“You guys are boys? I always assumed you were girls…because veryone knows mice are girls and rats are boys.”

-Ella, an intellectual

And then there was this sea monster schtick. Early in the movie, Prince Whatsisname is listening to an unfortunate young woman detail her plans for an arranged marriage in a scene badly ripped off from Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law—lacking all of the writing skill, of course. The woman—it’s insulting to compare her to Steris; I apologize—holds up a map, showing that if they marry, their lands will be united, extending their influence all the way to a sea monster in the corner. I thought it was kind of a funny line at first: ha, ha, medieval fantasy map with a sea monster. But they just keep using the same joke over and over and over. They refer repeatedly to “the domain of the sea monster,” suggest that the prince marry the sea monster instead of the non-Steris Steris character, etc. The debacle culminates in the king declaring, “I want the sea monster!” and later singing to his wife (whom he has offended), “You are more important than any sea monster to me!” For the love—find another (intentional) joke. You can do it.

I count the two hours I spent watching this movie as net wasted—which is surprising, because I spent those hours making my daughter this dress:

This pretty well illustrates what’s wrong with Cinderella, actually. If you allow yourself to get distracted by the ideologies the movie is trying to promote, you’ll miss out on the most beautiful, magical parts of your life. Ella might go on to be a famous, successful fashion designer, but I’m betting she’ll never know the joy of sewing imperfect dresses for her own little girl, while she climbs up on her lap and grabs the thread off the sewing machine. And for the first time since watching that movie, I’m starting to feel sorry for her.

I’d give this movie one star—zero, if I could. Amazon, next time you decide to make an adaptation, you might want to consider preserving some of what makes the original good (please remember this as you work on the Lord of the Rings series you’re currently butchering).

2021 GTA Year in Review

(Yeah, I know, I no longer write on the Good Times Ahoy! blog. But the grand tradition of everyone thinking I’m writing about Grand Theft Auto every November/December/January lives on FOREVER, dangnabbit.)

Well, we survived another year, and while 2021 didn’t involve a lockdown, a new baby, or a movacuation, it was a pretty busy one. I really appreciated Tom taking on the 2020 Year in Review/Christmas letter, but I’m glad to be back in the saddle this year.

Without further ado, let’s get to the updates!

The Tom

Tom continues to be the best husband and father we could possibly ask for. He’s still working for Valero, now on his fourth refinery economics job. The current assignment involves coordinating plans for four Valero refineries along the Gulf Coast. Sometimes the plans don’t even get destroyed by Winter Storm Uri, Hurricane Ida, pandemic aftershocks, or refinery misadventures! But despite all that, Valero is doing well, San Antonio still seems to have gasoline (from the refineries Tom plans for!), and we are very grateful to be taken care of by such a great company.

Outside work, Tom is serving in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by planning activities for the 9-11 year old boys, among other things. He’s written a handful of blog posts and articles for Public Square Magazine (all linked on his blog here). For the second year, he masterminded our family chocolate-making process, in which about 15 pounds of Belgian chocolate became around 900 hand-dipped chocolates per the Nysetvold family recipe.

Tom’s big parenting achievements of the year include introducing Dan to programming with Scratch, helping Will learn to read (more on that later), and getting Marie hooked on finger-puppet books, the first of a series of gateway drugs leading ultimately to Lord of the Rings.

Favorite series read this year: The Second World War by Winston Churchill.

The Elissa

This was a pretty good year for me. I spent most of it trying to get better at dealing with these adorable people.

I suppose the most notable thing I’ve accomplished this year was publishing a book (which you can buy here! And review! Plz?). It’s been terrifying releasing something so personal and so full of my ideas and personality out into the world, but I’ve been bolstered and humbled by the constant support of family and friends throughout the whole process. I love you guys. So much.

I’ve continued filling our house with crafts. So many crafts. In addition to my normal knitting and crocheting, I also picked up sewing in a more serious way, largely because I want to make my adorable daughter pretty dresses. I didn’t do a craft roundup for last year’s post, so I figured I’d do a giant one for 2020 and 2021.

I might have a problem.

I’m still baking lots of bread, both yeasted and sourdough, pursuant to my eventual goal of never buying bread again. I’m getting more comfortable with the sourdough process, and my loaves are turning out tastier, and sometimes even prettier.

Best sourdough sandwich loaves yet

My favorite books I’ve read this year were Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, The Wraith and the Rose by CJ Brightley, and The Executioner of God by C. David Belt. The first is an outstanding sci-fi novel by the author of The Martian, the second is a lovely fairy retelling of The Scarlett Pimpernel, and the third is about a time traveling templar knight and runaway nun hunting the Morrigan through the centuries. I’d highly recommend all of them.

The Dan

Dan has had a great year. He graduated from Nysetvold Homeschool and matriculated into first grade at the local public school. By all accounts he’s having a blast with his many friends, and his teacher claims he’s very helpful and polite and the other kids learn a lot from him. Dan has also started piano lessons with Mom, and played on a soccer team for the first time this fall.

Dan at the elementary school bike rodeo

A new institution in our family is the Dan and Will Baking Challenge, in which Dan and Will follow recipes start to finish with minimal help from adults. Dan tends to do most of the work in these endeavors, which suits both of them pretty well. We’ve had some mishaps (like the time Dan thought you just put whole eggs in the mixer and ended up making crunchy, calcium-fortified cookies), but the results have generally been fantastic. We’re glad Dan is developing his talents in such a productive way.

Little bakers at work
Crunch crunch
Much more successful coconut bars

As always, Dan is an excellent big brother and helps keep his siblings in line when they misbehave, even after a long day at school.

Dan’s favorite books he’s read this year are Nightwalker by Elissa C. Nysetvold (kid sure knows how to butter people up) and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan.

The Will

Will’s personality has really come out this year. I think he enjoys being the oldest kid at home for a good portion of the day, although he sure misses palling around with Dan. He has an amazing imagination, and is always creating alter-egos for himself. His latest is Goblin Will, since we read The Hobbit as a family and watched the animated movie over and over again. Goblin Will is a nice goblin, though. Not like the other goblins in our back yard who need to be slain.

Will defending the helpless Marie with his sword
Viking Will ready to pillage for candy

He also enjoys building amazing robots and other creations from Duplo and Lego.

Will named this car/truck/duck thing Mr. Pickles
“Mom, look at all these burninated pirates!”

Will’s big accomplishment this year is making it through Learn to Read (or, in other words, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons). He’s been cruising through the Mercy Watson books, Magic Treehouse, and the Kingdom of Wrenly series. He also loves to read Book of Mormon Stories to himself.

Mom’s “big red book” ended up being a letdown
Number Snack

One fun thing is how much Will has developed socially this year. He went from walking around saying “I don’t wike anybody” to trying to buddy up with every stranger we come across and tell them his life story. The other day he stopped someone from leaving the doctor’s office to tell her all about his plans to drink hot cocoa at snack time.

He’s also a very sweet older brother to Marie. These two have such a sweet relationship.

Will’s favorite books he’s read this year are Magic Treehouse 5: Night of the Ninjas by Mary Pope Osborne and Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke.

The Marie

Marie is growing up way too fast. She’s walking, starting to talk, and destroying things left and right. Seriously, she’s our most mischievous kid yet. She wants to be independent so badly, and tries to do everything herself. And I mean everything.

Coloring in an actual coloring book for once? It’s a beautiful one from Aunt Cathy!
Giving mom finger guns after being caught stealing chocolate
Baby loves black beans
Going for the pie on Thanksgiving
Using some serious qigong to brush her teeth with mom’s toothbrush

She cleans up well, though, and she loves shoes.

Marie can identify her feet, hands, tummy, hands, and arms. She loves to play peekaboo and gives the best hugs. Her favorite words are daddy, mama, feet (“Deet!”), pretty (“Ditty!”), shoes (“Doos!”), hi, and bye (hilariously, “Dieeeee!”) Yeah, her main consonant is “d” right now. We’re working on it. We get so many comments on her eyes, and how pretty she is in general, so it’s no wonder “pretty” is one of her first words.

Marie’s favorite book is a finger puppet book called Daddy and Me.

Family Activities

This summer we took a family trip down to South Padre Island. I never pictured us becoming a beach family, but that’s where we are, and it’s pretty great. Tom made an awesome Aztec-temple-inspired sand castle with Will’s help, Dan and I played in the waves for hours, I got severely sunburned and stung by jellyfish, and Marie ate lots of sand. It was super fun. We also took a drive to Boca Chica to scope out Starbase. Despite this, Will has somehow decided that Elon Musk is our imaginary friend, and refuses to believe he’s a real person. This is not helped by the fact that our favorite road trip game is pointing out every tiny shed or decrepit building along the road and saying, “Hey, look! It’s Elon Musk’s house!”

We took another road trip up to Yellowstone to hang out with my family. It was a very long drive, but everyone had a fantastic time, and the weather was gorgeous.

Another notable family memory from 2021 was getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Tom and I were both Team Moderna, and it kind of kicked our butts—Tom in particular got hit hard with the side effects. I still credit the copious amounts of chrysanthemum tea I drank for keeping me more or less functional post-jabs, but it’s possible I was just lucky. Dan had no averse effects on Team Pfizer Jr, for which we are very thankful. It’s been really nice to get back to more-or-less normal life this year, and we’re thankful for these life-saving gifts from God for helping make that possible.

So excite. So vax. So 5G

We wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Know the Novel 2021 Part 1 — Introduction

I’m super excited to participate in the lovely Christine Smith‘s blog linkup this year. Christine created the Know the Novel linkup for writers to get excited about each other’s NaNoWriMo projects and cheer each other on. Even though I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I would love to share a little bit of what I’m currently working on.


Yes, I know “Metamorphosis” is a lame title, but it’s all I got for now. Until recently I’ve just been calling it “the butterfly thing,” so be grateful we’ve got this much.

I actually attempted to use this story for NaNoWriMo last year, but life was so busy that even when I spent every free moment writing, I could barely scrape a thousand words or so–not nearly enough to make 50,000 words by the end of the month. Add in a road trip during the second week of November, and I just threw in the towel. So this year, I’m taking things easy. The story naturally follows the three-act structure, so I’m going to try to get through Act 1 during November. That will probably be something like 30,000 words, which I feel like is a more reasonable goal for this stage of life.

So let’s get to the questions!

What first sparked the idea for this novel?

This story has been running through my head in various forms for over a decade. I honestly can’t remember where all the ideas came from, but the moment that sparked it all occurred on a hike with my family. We were up Provo Canyon, hiking out of South Fork Park, and there were multiple swarms of yellow and black butterflies. There were so many that I started to feel a little creeped out (butterfly wings are beautiful, but insects and other creeping things give me the jibblies). In what was probably my first real “writer moment,” I asked myself, “In what circumstances would big groups of butterflies be a problem in a fantasy novel?”

Enter Marcus (the villain—more on him below) and his kaleidoscope of magically-modified butterflies.

Share a blurb (or just an overall summary!)

A quick glance at Nightwalker’s blurb (preorder here!) will tell you I’m not very good at writing blurbs. I definitely do not have a blurb, an elevator pitch, a tagline, or anything like unto it for this novel. So here’s my best attempt at a summary.

Imagine a world where humans and fairies coexisted for centuries, mutually benefitting from each other until something goes catastrophically wrong. Wars are fought, gifts are withdrawn, and humanity is technologically crippled and magically cursed. A magically gifted human child is prophesied to restore the world to its rightful state—and her older sister accidentally hands her over to the bad guy. Oops.

Luckily, Big Sister is the proactive sort, and she really wants to fix the problems she’s caused. She might just have to commit treason and turn her back on humanity to do so.

Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?

Metamorphosis takes place in a pretty standard fairy tale kingdom. Go on, take a moment to groan. I’ll wait. I know the whole medieval European sword-and-sorcery setting has been overdone, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. Castles are friggin’ awesome.

The kingdom is called Kilona, and while I’m still hammering out worldbuilding details, it’s sort of a mixture of southern Italy and the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico, two places I really love. But my favorite aspect of the setting is actually the magic system. I’m really pulling in a lot of my (admittedly laughable) sCiEnCe background here, and we’ll see if I can actually pull it off.

Tell us about your protagonist(s)

Lots of legit authors are using Artbreeder to generate sweet images of their characters, or at least have found celebrity look-alikes. I’m still trying to figure out Artbreeder and I don’t really hold with celebrities, but I did use a website called Doll Divine to make laughably bad images of a few of my characters a few years back (thanks to Natalie for getting me hooked ages ago). So…there’s that. I tried to go back and make some that are less cringey, but alas, most of Doll Divine ran on Adobe Flash. RIP.


So innocent. So orange.

Sora is the main viewpoint character. She’s a hopeless romantic who doesn’t always think things all the way through. Sora is deeply interested in anything related to fairies and magic, and is curious to a fault. She loves her family and tries to think the best of everyone, and will do anything to fix her mistakes—even if it kills her.


Pieric is Sora’s older brother. Unlike Sora, he has no interest in or sympathy for fairies, and blames them for humanity’s current plight and for disfiguring their younger sister, Meri. Pieric occasionally has strange dreams that end up coming true, though he hides this from everyone but Sora because he doesn’t want to be associated with magic. He’s devastated when both his sisters disappear, and it’s anyone’s guess whether his visions or his fairy grudge will get him into more trouble.


A mysterious fairy who shows up to Sora’s house to give newborn Meri a baby blessing. She left a painful burn on Meri’s face and ran away, but Sora thinks there’s more to Liana’s actions than vindictive spite. When Meri is kidnapped, Sora hopes she can find Liana again.


The angry boi

Prince Kiro is the heir to the fairy throne. His father was captured and presumed dead in the fairy war, but Kiro believes he is alive, and refuses to take the throne until he knows for sure. He harbors a fierce antipathy toward humans, but will do anything for his people, including consorting with his enemies—like Sora.


The royal fairy doctor, and resident loveable dweeb of the crew. Bored with his cushy job, he passes the time trying to replicate magical effects using technology humans can use. He’s a pacifist by nature, but he volunteers to help Sora, seeing an unprecedented opportunity to study humans and see how they tick.

Who (or what) is the antagonist?

As mentioned above, the antagonist’s name is Marcus. Vengeful, ambitious, greedy, cunning, and a bit too suave with the ladies. Like most villains, he believes his actions to be just—he’s trying in his own way to restore humanity to its former glory, without the dependency on fairy magic. It’s just that his way is, well, horrifyingly evil.

What excites you the most about this novel?

The most exciting part is probably that I’ve been waiting to write it for so long. The plot has developed and changed dramatically over the years, but at its core it’s the same story that captivated me as a teenager. It feels so personal that it’s thrilling and terrifying to share with the world.

I also just love my characters to death ( literally??? Maybe??? Shhhh…don’t scare them). They’re going to be very fun to write, and I hope I can make them fun to read, as well.

Is this going to be a series? Standalone? Something else?

Standalone for now, but I have the vaguest inklings of a distant future sequel, and maybe some quick stories in between. Ask me again in a few years.

Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?

Oh man, I am SUCH a plotter. I’ve outlined and re-outlined this thing so many times. I’m hard at work preparing the final, official outline right now, and it’ll probably have about 20,000 words when I’m done.

Name a few unique elements about the story.

Ugh, I don’t know. Is anything truly unique these days? Some of the magical elements are probably a little different from the norm, although there’s a lot of fantasy out there. I’m sure I’m unknowingly ripping off someone’s ideas—probably a lot of someones. I’d like to think the interplay of musical, scientific, and spiritual aspects of the world are pretty distinct.

Really, the main thing that’s unique is probably my worldview seeping into the story. A lot of the ideas came about as I’ve been grappling with real-world ideas and issues that are important to me. Trying to weave them into the story without being preachy has been challenging, but stimulating. I’ll be interested to see how readers react.

Share some fun “extras” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).

I do have a spotify playlist for this book. There aren’t any special meanings to the songs—they just sort of help me get in the mood when I’m writing.


Whelp, I’ve probably blathered enough vague nonsense for a while. Best of luck to all those attempting NaNoWriMo this month. Check back here next month for a progress update. And please check out everyone else’s projects in the Know the Novel linkup, because there’s some fabulous creativity going on.

There and Back Again: A Homeschool Holiday

(In case you can’t tell, we’ve got The Hobbit on the brain. I read it to the family on a recent road trip, and now Will begs me to let him watch the animated movie every day. He’s even started calling himself “Goblin Will.” Parenting win!)

Sometimes it feels like half the posts on this blog are just accounts of different ways I’ve tried and failed to educate Dan. But I suppose that makes sense, as that’s basically the essence of parenthood.

We decided to homeschool Dan last year for kindergarten. It was a wonderful experience, but we decided to put him back in public school this year. I thought I’d give a little account of our decision-making process and what our school days looked like, in case anyone else ever faces similar decisions (although I hope we’ll never have another global pandemic—this has been the lamest apocalypse ever).

Call to Adventure

Our story begins back in late 2019, when I started following Bethany Mandel on Instagram. Bethany homeschools her children using the Charlotte Mason method, and when I watched her Instagram Stories about their homeschool setup, I immediately wanted in on that action for my kids.

If you’re not familiar with Charlotte Mason already, she was an early 20th century British educator who believed that “children are born persons” and should be respected and educated as such. Her philosophy focuses on educating the whole child, spreading a feast of ideas instead of drilling facts, and reading “living books” instead of textbooks. I read the first two books in her education series and was blown away by her ideas on what a child’s education can look like. This planted a dangerous seed in my mind: what if we homeschooled our children?

Bear in mind, we never intended to homeschool. I went to public school, and for the most part, loved it. I liked my teachers, I loved seeing my friends everyday, and I did well enough for school to be a pleasant experience. Tom has cooler feelings toward the public school experience, but had no objection to our children attending. But as I read Charlotte Mason’s words on Christmas Eve, visions of poetry readings and nature study danced in my head.

I did some digging and found out that not only does Texas have full-day kindergarten (barf), but said kindergarten is not even mandatory. The idea of keeping Dan home for a year became more and more enticing, and even though we eventually decided to enroll him in the local public school, I now recognize these feelings as divine inspiration. I needed to be prepared for the events of 2020, and have a plan in place for Dan.

Crossing the Threshold

As we watched school websites and Facebook pages to figure out what school would look like in Fall 2020, I became more and more concerned. Distance learning sounded like a dumpster fire waiting to happen. Our school district was committed to in-person schooling, but it was unclear whether they would be taking any Covid precautions at all—or whether they would do any good. I felt leery about the fact that the district was supposedly committed to the health and safety of students and staff, but the administrators all went on a very non-socially-distanced retreat weeks before school started. It bothered me that they weren’t offering accommodations for high-risk students or their families, and that their response to parental concerns was, “You’re welcome to go to another school district or homeschool if you don’t like our system.” We had so little information about Covid back then, and I just didn’t feel I could trust these people with my son. With a newborn at home and uncertainty about Dan’s unique health situation (googling “coronavirus hydronephrosis” pulled up a concerning study from China in which only three children were hospitalized due to Covid: two with cancer, and one with hydronephrosis), the decision was easy: we would be homeschooling.

I decided on the Ambleside Online Year 1 curriculum based on four factors:

  1. It’s Charlotte Mason based.
  2. It’s free. Who doesn’t love free? I was surprised to learn how expensive homeschool curricula can be, so this was a big plus. We’re a big e-reader family, and most of the books were available on Project Gutenberg. It seemed like a perfect fit.
  3. I fell in love with the book list. My dad used to read Aesop’s Fables and Just So Stories to me before bed, and I was so excited to pass these stories on to Dan.
  4. It’s not designed by Jenny Philips (I know so many of you guys love The Good And The Beautiful, but after having to sing her songs every year in Young Women…I just don’t want her in charge of my children’s education. Let’s leave it at that.)

We didn’t do everything in Ambleside—we sort of unschooled for science and geography, and we never ended up doing artist study or folk songs. I started out following the classical music curriculum, but soon decided I’d rather familiarize the kids with my favorite pieces and composers than feign enthusiasm for Offenbach (who even cares about Offenbach?). So we did more Wagner, Johann Strauss, Camille Saint-Saenz at Halloween, Tchaikovsky at Christmas, and Beethoven. For math, I used Kate Snow’s Kindergarten Math with Confidence, since I’d been using her preschool math book and loved it. When we finished that, we started on Singapore Math and are still using it for extra math practice.

Every day we would start off with a prayer and a poetry reading. Then we would work on Recitation, wherein Dan (and sometimes Will!) would work on memorizing and beautifully reciting a poem. Over the course of the year they mastered “It Can Be Done” and “You Mustn’t Quit” by William J. Bennett, as well as Psalm 23. Toward the end of the year we started working on the Articles of Faith, but we didn’t get very far.

Next, I would turn on whatever classical piece we were studying and Dan would do about five minutes of copywork. I would write out a line from a poem or hymn on a whiteboard, and Dan would try to replicate it as neatly as he could (and usually embellish it somehow). Sometimes I would do a math activity with Will, or have him practice tracing letters in his Cars handwriting book.

After that was reading time. Dan and I would read a chapter of one of his books together, alternating paragraphs, and then he would narrate it back to me. This was probably the most challenging part of the school day. If Dan wasn’t paying enough attention, or if he was distracted by a wiggly Will or a crying Marie, he wouldn’t remember anything we read, which was frustrating for both of us. He improved dramatically over the course of the year, though, and we still use narration as a tool. The other night he narrated one of the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, and I was super thrilled.

At this point, everyone needed a break, so I would get out some cookies and put Marie down for a nap. Then it was math time. I loved that Kindergarten Math with Confidence was open-and-go, so I would just have to gather some supplies and read the script. It was probably a little too easy for Dan, and we ended up skipping ahead quite a bit, but he would tell anyone who asked that math was his favorite subject.

Dan was very proud of these birds he drew for a math activity
Will often got to participate, too

Charlotte Mason was also big on handicrafts. While we didn’t do as much of this as I’d have liked (Lego counts, right?), we did learn a couple new skills.

Bread buddies
Making butter by hand is hard!
Practicing sewing skills on a gingerbread house ornament

All told, the school day would take about an hour and a half from start to finish, including breaks for snacks and feeding the baby. We would typically be done before lunch, and the kids would have the rest of the day to play together and read.

The Ordeal

Seems pretty idyllic, right? So why did we stop?

The first concern we had was that Dan clearly wasn’t getting enough social interaction. We joined an awesome nature playgroup, but seeing friends only once a week wasn’t enough. I have a lot of irons in the fire at home at any given time, so committing to more than one lengthy social activity per week was difficult.

2020 was a rough year for us, as for many others. We had a baby in April, and we moved from Southeast Texas to San Antonio in August. It was a series of huge adjustments for the whole family, and on top of that, I always have some postpartum mood issues during the first year of the baby’s life. At first, the homeschool routine helped everyone by providing structure and stimulation. But toward the end of the school year, we hit a breaking point. That hour and a half period overwhelmed me to the point that I dreaded getting up in the morning. I pared our homeschool routine down to the bare minimum: literally reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. It didn’t help.

Maybe I picked the wrong curriculum. Maybe we didn’t take enough breaks. Maybe I should have spaced the school day out more, instead of trying to get it all done before lunch. Maybe I should have just given Dan his reading assignments and chilled out instead of reading with him. Maybe we should have had school outside more often. There are a lot of maybes, but the bottom line was this: something had to give, and school was the easiest thing to outsource.

We’d made sure to move to neighborhood with a good elementary school, which had transitioned back from distance learning to in-person instruction. And as Covid data continued to accumulate, we never saw anything too concerning about school infections or hydronephrosis complications (and later found out that his hydronephrosis has improved so much that it’s almost undetectable on ultrasound), so we felt much safer sending Dan back to public school. With no small amount of disappointment, I enrolled him.

The Return

Dan took the decision like a champ. He’d seen enough of public school on TV that he had positive associations for it. Even before we’d decided to send him back, he and Will created classrooms out of Duplo and taught their toys history, math, and science.

It was definitely an adjustment to cut the apron strings at last. The first few weeks, Dan would come home happy but exhausted, then see what we’d been doing at home all day and declare that school was the worst and he wanted to be homeschooled again. But he’s settled into the routine, and things are going much better. He has a bunch of friends, and he seems to like his teachers. He’s really enjoying checking out whatever books he wants at the library. It’s unclear if he’s actually learning anything, but we’re doing our best to supplement at home.

First day of school picture

As for me, I have mixed feelings. For one thing, it’s a lot quieter at home for much of the day, which has been a huge relief. I’d forgotten how easy it was to just drag TWO tiny humans around everywhere. I’m starting to realize I’m a better mom if I outsource some things, which has to be better for everybody, even if it feels selfish to make decisions based on that fact.

That said, there are things I’m not super thrilled with about public school. Every day Dan comes home excited to tell me what he’s been doing on his school-issued iPad all day (barf). It kind of feels like I drove myself crazy to keep him from spending the entire school year glued to a screen, only for him to spend the next year glued to an even derpier screen. The Covid precautions they’re still taking are a joke, although they’ve backed down on mandatory masking (huzzah!). Kids only get playground time once a week, they don’t get to sit together at lunch, and if they leave their water bottles at home they just don’t get to drink anything for seven hours. We’ve already being subjected to a dumb school fundraiser—and they didn’t even sell chocolate or magazine subscriptions or anything. It was a pledge-based “fun run.” Listen—my tax dollars are already funding lame-o iPad time. If I want my kid to run laps, I make him do it at home for free.

We definitely miss the hours and hours of free time, the quality literature, and the element of beauty that homeschooling brought to our life. Also—and this is another selfish thing—Charlotte Mason moms are my PEOPLE. We’ve made so many awesome friends through homeschooling, and although Will, Marie, and I are still showing up to the playgroup meetings, I don’t know how I’m going to find people as weird as I am next time we move. In addition, lately it seems like whenever I find a new piece of media I really like—a podcast or a YouTube channel that really resonates with me—the hosts will invariably mention, “We homeschool our children using the Charlotte Mason method. And I’m like, “OF COURSE YOU DO!”

As with every other aspect of motherhood, there’s a lot of guilt associated with educating your children. Much of it is self-inflicted, but I’ve seen a lot of if perpetuated in the homeschooling community: “If you put your kids in public school, you don’t really love them, and they’re not going to love God.” That sort of thing. In a local homeschoolers’ Facebook group, I saw lots of comments to the effect of, “If you’re going to put your kid back in public school next year, don’t homeschool—just stick to distance learning. Don’t give them a taste of freedom and then take it away.” Dude. Not cool.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: If anyone else tried out homeschooling last year and didn’t love it, it’s okay. You’re not a bad mom. Everyone wants to do what’s best for their families, and that’s not always going to look exactly the same. It’s been helpful to remember that my parents are excellent, and my sister and I went to public school. Tom’s parents are excellent, and he and his siblings went to public school. Putting kids in public school is something that reasonable parents do all the time, and most kids turn out just fine.

If homeschooling ever becomes the right decision for our family again, I would love to give it another try. My heart tells me last year wasn’t the only experience we’ll ever have with homeschooling. But for now, I know Dan is a wonderful kid, and he can thrive anywhere. So we’ll see how this year goes.

I love these little people. So much.

Book Release: Nightwalker

Remember that time when I was like, “I’m gonna write a book someday!” And all you guys were like, “Who are you again?”

Well, I’m excited to announce that I wrote a book! And—even more surprising—it’s actually pretty good!

Nightwalker is a YA-ish spooky fantasy novel about faith, friendship, and running from ghosts through the desert. If you’re familiar with the noblebright genre (and you should be), it’s probably on the darker end of that. There are strong Christian themes, which also happens to be my love language. Here’s the blurb, for those of you who like blurbs.

Generations ago, brave colonists settled Milabel, unaware of the malicious Spirits lurking in the shadows, waiting to possess the bodies and minds of any who venture out after dark. Desperate to eradicate the evil in their midst, the church founded the Guardians of Virtue, a religious police force who burn innocents along with the possessed.

When Alec plays an ancient flute from a haunted canyon, his easy life as the governor’s son is upended. Unpredictable seizures paralyze his body and fill his mind with the screams of tormented Spirits. Betrayed by his father and pursued across Milabel by the ruthless Chief Guardian Vade, Alec searches for a way to liberate Milabel from the evil Spirits. But his curse is getting worse, and the voices in his head are calling for Nightwalker.

Maren thought the most dangerous thing she would ever do was help Alec escape from the Guardians. But when she hears ghostly voices after nightfall, it’s her turn to run. A Spirit named Anaru begs her to read his record, claiming his plan can save Milabel. But if Maren agrees, will she save Alec–or doom him?

Or, as my six-year-old son and alpha reader puts it, “It’s about a bunch of teenagers trying to stop ghosts.”

This book has been in the works, on and off, for the past five years (some of you may remember when I posted the teaser cover back in 2017). It was my NaNoWriMo novel back in 2016, and even though my life has been through the tumble-dry cycle of babies and floods and pandemics and moves, I keep coming back to this story and these characters. I’m so excited to share them with you.

Nightwalker is available for preorder and will be released on November 11, 2021. If you’re interested in an ARC, let me know. Thank you for your support!