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!

We Don’t Want Any: An Appeal to Northside ISD

Several days before Dan started first grade, Northside ISD sent out an email informing us they were implementing a mask mandate. I have Feelingstm on the subject, which I emailed to the board of trustees. Normally I wouldn’t post something like this, but it’s probably the piece of writing I’ve put the most effort into in months (though my AP Language teacher would probably disapprove of both style and substance), and Tom really wanted me to. So here it is. Don’t hurt me.

To whom it may concern:

I am deeply disappointed to learn that Northside ISD is implementing a facemask mandate, in direct defiance of Governor Abbott’s ban. This is unscientific political theater, and I expect better from the adults I trust with my children. 

There is little scientific basis for requiring young children to wear masks in school. Children are at very low risk for COVID-19 complications. The CDC reported that the hospitalization rate for children aged 5-17 was .8 per 100,000 the week of August 7. Economist Emily Oster equates this level of risk to that of a vaccinated grandparent.  Studies have shown that the vast majority of children who contract the virus are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. All adults around these children can and should be vaccinated or otherwise take personal responsibility for their own health, so there is no reason to place this burden on students.

On the other hand, there are many compelling reasons why masks may be detrimental to young children’s well-being. Many young kids struggle to keep their masks on and keep them clean, and even those who have been conditioned to endure their discomfort may suffer from acne, eczema flare-ups, and breathing trouble. A 2018 study on mask use in operating rooms showed significant bacterial contamination after just two hours. 5- and 6-year-old students cannot be expected to remember to change their masks every two hours throughout the school day. Children with physical or learning disabilities will be disproportionately impacted by these measures. 

Furthermore, the psychological impact of masking on child development cannot be ignored. Young children need to see facial expressions for optimal emotional development. Masks are at best distracting and often anxiety-inducing–they certainly aren’t conducive to an optimal learning environment. Some children respond to this anxiety with increased mouth-breathing, which can lead to facial deformities

Children have suffered a disproportionate amount during the pandemic, having been cut off from friends, teachers, outdoor playgrounds, and many of the activities that make childhood worthwhile–all because of a disease which poses little to no risk to them. They suffer to make the adults around them feel a little better. My kids are very fortunate–they have parents, siblings, other family members, and friends who have the time and energy to provide for their developmental needs, and yet they have struggled since the pandemic started. Many children do not have the same advantages. As public educators, it is your duty to ensure that our children have the best education possible. This is not possible if they cannot see the faces of their teachers and classmates, are distracted by anxiety and claustrophobia from covering their faces, are breathing in mold spores and E. Coli all day, or are not breathing enough at all. 

My family has dutifully followed masking requirements since the beginning of the pandemic, and those of us eligible for vaccines have received them. Our children will be vaccinated when they are able. We are not anti-vaxxers, COVID-deniers, or conspiracy theorists. But given that vaccines are widely available and extremely effective against hospitalization and death, even from the delta variant, it is unethical and irresponsible to subject students to seven hours of unsanitary mask-wearing five days a week. I applaud Governor Abbott for the rational way in which he has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and fully support his mask mandate ban. NISD should rescind their mask mandate and allow parents to make their own decisions about their children’s health and safety, while teachers should be vaccinated. 

Thank you,
Elissa Nysetvold

Put Down the Palantir

I recently finished reading The Return of the King again. When I have a newborn, I need books that are familiar, comforting, and uplifting to keep the despair at bay, and The Lord of the Rings always delivers (along with another favorite series, The Stormlight Archive).

One thing that struck me in this readthrough was Denethor’s descent into the despair and madness that eventually led to his fiery demise. Contrary to what Peter Jackson would have you believe, Denethor isn’t just a creepy old man who sits around eating chicken and tomatoes while Middle-earth burns.

As Mordor prepares to assault Minas Tirith, Denethor is making his own preparations, gathering his allies and sending the women and children to safety. He may be overly proud, but he’s a true enemy to Sauron, sleeping in his armor to keep himself sharp enough to deal with the looming threat to the free world.

Instead of stubbornly ignoring the outside world, Denethor eerily
seems to know too much. His men describe him as “unlike other men: he
sees far. Some say that as he sits alone in his high chamber in the
Tower at night, and bends his thought this way and that, he can read
somewhat of the future; and that he will at times search even the mind of the Enemy, wrestling with him.” And when Gandalf comes to rescue Faramir, Denethor reveals the truth: he has a palantir. And it’s that nifty, shiny, oversized marble that drives him to despair.

Gandalf laments, “[Denethor] was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which the Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind…Thus the will of Sauron entered into Minas Tirith.” Pippin confirms that Denethor left Faramir’s sickbed, and when he returned, he was “changed, old and broken.” Captain Beregond reports seeing a “strange light” in the Tower the night Faramir was brought home.

Does any of this sound familiar?

We have ubiquitous objects that show us only what others want us to see, often driving us to despair and depression. Our phones and computers deliver us valuable information about the world and the ones we love, but filtered through sensationalist news stories and whitewashed social media posts. These objects can bring evil into homes and spaces that are otherwise well-protected.

Tolkien may have written these books decades before this kind of technology was invented, but he was a smart dude. He even got the “strange light” right—the blue light on our phone screens that wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms.

I imagine Denethor rushing up to the Tower, looking up his son’s symptoms on PalantirMD, scrolling through some sensationalized headlines, concluding that everything is truly hopeless, and deciding he might as well end it all before Sauron destroys everything. It’s a heartbreaking situation, not least because it could conceivably happen to us.

I’ll admit I’ve acquired a bit of a problem with my own palantir use in the past few years. How many sleepless nights have I spent with my phone, bending my thought this way and that, checking in on people I admire and friends who have lost their way, obsessively checking the NYT Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, glancing over an endless stream of articles about how terrible the world is and how much worse it’s getting every day, trying to calm myself but feeling more and more anxious? It’s unhealthy and depressing—not to mention a colossal waste of time.

Modern prophets have counseled us against excessive use of technology. And a few years ago, President Russell M. Nelson invited the youth and women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to fast from social media, “and any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind.” He promised that by doing so, we could help gather scattered Israel. Aside from being a refreshing spiritual experience for many, this invitation sent a clear message: not only will wasting less time on the internet make us feel better, but it frees us up to actually serve people and accomplish some good in the world. Elder David A. Bednar offers two questions to help guide our use of technology:

  1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
  2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capcity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?

I plan to use these questions to think about how I’m using technology, and make an effort to “put down the palantir” and do something productive. I invite you to do the same.

Why I Pulled My Kid Out of Preschool

What? Two blog posts in two weeks? What is this madness?

I’ve gotten a few questions about why we pulled Dan out of preschool. It still feels like a weird decision sometimes, particularly because it happened just as most of my friends were busy signing their kids up or getting them onto waiting lists. Anyway, I thought I’d write the story here and clear things up.

***

About a year and a half ago, we decided to put Dan in the local Montessori preschool. We’d heard great things about the school, and I’m pretty on board with the Montessori method. Also, between Harvey aftermath and taking care of two tiny children, I was a bit of a basket case and needed a break. All this to say it felt like a good idea at the time.

Even so, I felt terrible about shoving my firstborn child out into the cruel, uncaring world at such a tender age—and from the way Dan cried when I dropped him off, he clearly felt the same way. But I promised myself I’d volunteer in his classroom frequently to assuage my guilt, and the other parents assured me that in a few weeks Dan would run in happily without even saying goodbye.

Neither of these ended up happening.

Cute picture from a school newsletter

I was able to volunteer a few times, but it was never going to be a regular thing. The teachers (understandably) didn’t want an energetic William running around and messing up the well-ordered environment, which meant I had to find a babysitter every time I wanted to come. The teachers dropped hints that I wasn’t really being a team player, but from the questions I got (“When’s your next day off work?” “Can’t your mom watch the little one today?”) it sounded like our situation was somewhat unusual. I did try my best to help out in other ways whenever I could, but my inability to spend time in the classroom was a constant, low-level source of guilt.

When you bring a William to a preschool activity, he ends up pants-less in the rabbit pen.

As for Dan, he eventually stopped crying when I dropped him off, but he compensated by crying at home. Every day was a struggle to get him out the door. He seemed happy enough when I picked him up, and often had some fun stories to tell, but there were little indications that something was wrong. He seemed terrified of the other kids’ playground behavior. He had a potty training regression. He developed nervous habits like biting his fingers. As time went on, he started having tummy-aches every day, which I’ve since learned is a symptom of separation anxiety in children.

Sad face because he thought I was leaving

Dan missed a lot of school days due to sickness, and I wondered if he just had too much fun at home. To try to solve this problem I staged a very regimented, Montessori-style school day for him while he was sick. I tried to make it as close to his actual school routine as possible. It backfired spectacularly: for the next week he was begging me to let him stay home and do “Mom school” instead.

Mom School in action

At the time we figured Dan was just a little too young to be in school every day. Still, we decided to stick it out. After all, what good would it do to pull him out just as he became emotionally ready to handle it?

Well, a lot of good, actually.

A couple things tipped the scales for us. The first was the homework situation. Each week Dan would come home with a folder full of packets of worksheets. At first I thought, “Aww, that’s cute,” and would occasionally have him work on some of them. But I never cared enough to make sure he got them done and returned to school in a timely manner. After a while, I started getting increasingly direct messages from his teachers about making sure he turned everything in so it could be graded.

To be fair, this is like 3 weeks’ worth of homework. But still.

Eventually the homework situation got resolved—or so I thought. A few weeks later I came to the school and found that all the kids were having circle time except Dan, who was sitting in the corner doing a worksheet with a teacher standing over him. When I confronted her, she sheepishly tried to explain what Dan was doing and asked if he could bring the worksheet home to finish. I said no and took him home. I’m still angry when I think about it.

I think because Dan is a pretty bright kid, his teachers just assumed he had a five- or six-year-old’s attention span. Heck, I’ve fallen into that trap myself. I knew he was doing some lessons with the older kids, but I hadn’t realized they were putting that much pressure on him. The thing is, we didn’t put him in preschool because we wanted him to learn anything. We just wanted him to goof off with other kids and have the kind of fun, preschool-y, sensory-type experiences that I’m too lazy to provide him with at home. And clearly that that wasn’t happening.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came after Dan had missed almost a month of school due to sickness (also because of school). He showed up just in time for Mother’s Day, which was actually pretty nice. I found a babysitter for Will and Dan and I got to eat muffins together.

The next day, however, they had a Donuts with Dad party. The invitation said that the party was supposed to end half an hour before school started, which I took to mean it was optional—a fun party for the kids whose moms couldn’t make it to Mother’s Day, perhaps. That was how I pitched it to Tom, who had an important work meeting he didn’t want to miss. I told him that was fine and brought Dan to school a little late the next morning, hoping Donuts with Dad would be over.

Reader, it was not over. Dads milled about left and right, eating donuts while Dad-themed music played. Dan’s teacher looked at me in horror and asked where his father was. I told her he had to work. She rolled her eyes and asked me to stay. In hindsight I should have stayed—or better yet, taken Dan with me—but I was already running late to a dentist appointment, so I left, feeling awful about the whole thing. A few hours later, I signed out a very distressed Dan under the judgmental, disapproving eyes of the staff. Dan was super mad at Tom for the rest of the day, and we spent a lot of time reminding him that his dad loves him very much and had in fact taken him out for ice cream the previous weekend.

We’d had enough. Preschool was making everybody miserable. Even with everyone in our family sick and on antibiotics (two rocephin shots for me!), the previous month had been happier and less stressful than everyday preschool life. The next morning I sent the school a terse message saying that Dan would not be returning, and to please let me know how many service hours I needed so I could pay the fee for not completing them. I ignored multiple requests to come in for one final parent-teacher conference, and that was it. Dan was officially a preschool dropout.

I took this picture on Dan’s first official day of freedom.

There was definitely an adjustment period once Dan was home again. For the first few weeks he threw a tantrum every time we needed to leave the house, whether for groceries or a fun activity at the museum. He was so desperate to play with his toys and generally be a little kid. And Will had to break the habit of eating Dan’s leftover breakfast cereal (he’d become a sneaky little scavenger while Dan was at school). But eventually everyone calmed down, and we’re in a good routine now. Dan is much less stressed out, and everyone is happy (most of the time).

***

I’ve occasionally felt bad that Dan isn’t getting “socialized” properly. But after reading Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, I feel much better about the whole thing:

The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life.

This is definitely true for Dan. He gets plenty of “clash and sparkle” with his friends at church (not to mention his brother), and I love that he’s able to carry on decent conversations with adults as well as other kids. I think he’s going to be just fine.

With all this said, I’m definitely not against preschool, or even this particular school. Plenty of people love it, and they do some great stuff there. Now that he’s in a happier state, Dan looks back on some of the activities and his preschool friends with fondness (except that one jerk kid; friggin’ [name redacted]).

And I get it—it’s annoying to deal with parents who don’t go with the flow. But the flow just didn’t work for Dan, and that’s all there is to it. Pulling him out of preschool and keeping him home this year was definitely the right decision, and I’m glad we made it.

I just have to remember that every time I bring both kids to my doctor’s appointments.

2019 GTA Year in Review

Wow, it’s been almost a year since I last posted. That’s embarrassing. Last year I mentioned feeling increasingly weird about blogging, and that’s still true. I do miss it, so I might try to pick it up again this year. No promises, though.

At the very least, it’s time to give the Christmas Newsletter-esque update on our family!

Merry Christmas from these cute boys!

Family News

Perhaps our most exciting news is that we’re expecting a baby girl in April!

Everyone is really excited. Dan says he’s always wanted a sister and is constantly asking if she can feel the hugs and kisses he’s giving my stomach. Will is more subdued, but carries on nervous, sweet conversations with the bump. He keeps asking “beebee girl” if she can come out yet. They’re both going to be very loving big brothers, assuming she can survive their methods of showing love.

Now if only we could decide on her name. The kids have suggested things like Batman, Chickeneater, Pumba, Nugget, Banana, and Cookie. We’re not exactly feeling inspired by these suggestions, although Pumba has stuck as a prenatal nickname (like New Friend for Dan and Chub Dois for Will).

In other news, we’ve also been on some fun adventures together this year. In July we spent some time in Canada for a family reunion. Despite some unpleasant experiences with United, it was an awesome trip.

 

We also road tripped up to Utah for Tom’s brother’s wedding. We camped at Colorado National Monument, which was beautiful.

We also saw Bishop Castle. It’s basically this castle in the middle of Colorado that a guy named Jim Bishop decided to build because it would be awesome. And it was. Although there was so much potential for falling to one’s death that it was a little freaky with the kids.

Jim ran into some problems with the guvmint.

We also visited Goblin Valley for the first time.

 

The Tom

Tom has been killing it this year. In addition to being a wonderful husband and father, he finished his MBA program, started a new job within Valero, and put a lot of work into tying up loose ends on the Mormon Texts Project (which you should definitely check out if you’re at all interested in Church history—it’s really cool!)

2/3 handsome dudes

Masterfully piping Nutella over my failed dessert pizza

Best adventure-dad

The Elissa (my name doesn’t fit with this format and it’s always awkward)

I’m hanging in there. This pregnancy has been rough, especially while parenting two small, crazy children. But it was still a fun year.

I started learning to make bread this year. I wanted to have a little better control over our kids’ pathetic limited diets. My first efforts were…not inspiring.

After several failed attempts, a friend recommended Bonnie Ohara’s book, Bread Baking for Beginnersand it has changed my life. Not only did it teach me the principles of making decent bread, but it also sent me down the sourdough rabbit hole. Messing around trying to make successful loaves has triggered my long-dormant chemistry geek side, which has been a lot of fun. Not to mention the results are (usually) delicious.

Writing-wise, I took some steps forward this year. I joined a critique group, which has been a terrifying but positive experience.

Here’s my craft roundup for this year. Highlights included learning to make amigurumi toys, and using both a loom and double pointed knitting needles to make socks.

Hat for Will. Dan has one, too.

I made myself a mistcloak for Halloween. No one else got it, but it was fun. Also, the Hobbit cloak made a reappearance!

Premie octopus for my mom’s friend

Will’s birthday fishy

First knitting project in 14 years

Quilt for Dan’s new bed

The Dan

Dan turned four in April, and is a complete joy to be around. He’s the sweetest, most caring brother, and a good friend. He always wants to look out for everyone, and make sure they’re supplied with enough lego to have a good time.

Dan’s reading abilities have exploded this year. Tom instituted this program called the “Dan Reading Challenge.” Dan is assigned 3-4 books to read, and once he finishes them, Tom takes him out for a treat. He’s worked through a bunch of Magic Treehouse books, most of the Kingdom of Wrenly series, the Mouse and the Motorcycle series, a bunch of books by Roald Dahl, and others. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of his favorites, and his mind was blown when we let him watch the Johnny Depp movie.

We made the decision to pull Dan out of preschool back in May, which is a story that could take up a whole blog post by itself. For now I’ll just say that it wasn’t working for him, and everyone is much happier now.

(The one downside is that I’ve started reading Charlotte Mason’s Home Education series. Someone please stop me before I decide to homeschool our kids. This is a cry for help.)

We’re just so proud of this Dan!

The Will

Will turned two in July, and grew a fabulous head of flowing golden hair.

Will has been hard at work learning how to talk this year, and it’s absolutely hilarious knowing what goes through his very large, very blonde head.

“Bad dings!”

“I wike to punch salmon.”

Tom: “Will, how are you doing?”
Will: “Bad.”
Tom: “Tell me more.”
Will: “No.”

“What da heck?”
“Don’t say that, Will!”
“Not da what da heck?”

(Smelling his own foot)
(Sniff sniff) “It’s not good.”

Will has picked up Dan’s love of space, and likes to point out Phobos and Deimos in our planet books. He’s also developed a love for fish.

He’s still a sweet, happy boy, but he does have his grouchy two-year-old moments. He’s much more aggressive than Dan ever was—probably because Dan never had to defend himself against an older brother. We’re hoping we can teach this kid not to use his fists so much before the baby comes.

Most of the time, he’s a silly, happy kid, and we’re so happy to have him in our family.

Looking Forward

2020 should be a pretty big year for everyone. Obviously the new baby will be a significant life change. Dan will also be starting kindergarten this fall. We’re trying not to overschedule ourselves in light of all this craziness, and hopefully nothing disastrous will happen (heh).

We wish everyone a happy new year!

Book Review: Dragonwatch 2: Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull

All right, boys and girls. Gather ’round, ’cause it’s DRAGONWATCH TIME!

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Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King came out last October, and man. Brandon Mull pulled out all the stops with this one. Usually he seems to wait until about book 4 of a series before ramping up the intensity, but when I finished this one, I was speechless. If this is book 2, what are the next three going to be like?

I’ve been dying to talk about this book, so let’s get started!

***Major spoilers will be avoided, but if you’re sensitive about that sort of thing, you may want to skip this post. Also, any promotional materials released before the book came out (book trailer, exerpts, etc.) are fair game.***

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Wrath of the Dragon King picks up right where Dragonwatch left off. Having found the caretaker’s scepter and humiliated Celebrant, the dragon king, Kendra and Seth Sorensen are invited to the Feast of Welcome at Celebrant’s palace. The king officially declares war on the human caretakers, has their transportation killed, and forces them to take the long way home. As if hiking past a creepy castle on a festival night in a deadly sanctuary isn’t bad enough, they learn that Celebrant is trying to get the Wizenstone, a magical doohickey that either side can use to deus ex machina their way to victory in this war. Once again it’s up to plucky youngsters Kendra and Seth, along with their rotating cast of closest friends, to get the macguffin and save the day!

(Quick side note: What’s up with the name Celebrant? It’s a river in Middle-earth, a city on Roshar, and of course, ol’ kingy here. Is there some sort of rule that every fantasy author has to have something named Celebrant in their books? Because I’m so in. I hereby pledge to put a Celebrant of some kind in every fantasy novel I write from now on.)

The Good

First good thing: Tanu is back! Everyone’s favorite Samoan potion master returns from parts unknown, providing some much-needed Fablehaven nostalgia and adult supervision. I know, middle grade novels are supposed to be all about the kids. And don’t worry, Kendra and Seth are the ones who save the day, as usual. But Brandon Mull’s side characters are so much fun that you really miss them when they’re not around.

As such, sometimes I wish Brandon would work with the expansive cast he already has instead of introducing tons of new characters in every book. But at least one character introduced in Wrath of the Dragon King is worth the space: Ronodin, the dark unicorn.

Ronodin was actually mentioned in Fablehaven as a unicorn who willingly corrupted his horns, whatever that means. In Dragonwatch, Bracken went to Soaring Cliffs to stop him from wreaking havoc in another dragon sanctuary. Obviously he failed, because Ronodin starts slinking around the Feast of Welcome, causing trouble and harassing Kendra. He shows potential as an interesting villain for the series, and after finishing the book, I think he’s more twisted than the Sphinx. Here’s Ronodin in the book trailer, which gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

 

There are some spectacular dragon fights in this book. A dragon called Madrigus challenges Celebrant for the kingship at the end of Chapter 6 (which was released on Entertainment Weekly back in July, so calm down), which in dragon-land calls for a fight to the death. Which is awesome. The Somber Knight—Wyrmroost’s resident dragon slayer—makes a reappearance as well, and definitely earns his keep by throwing down some dragon carnage.

Several characters show some decent growth in this story. This might be the first book to break from the pattern of Seth doing idiotic things and endangering everyone, and Kendra bailing him out. He shows some genuine bravery in this book—not just reckless bravado, but actual courage. Especially at the end (oh my gosh the end! (sobs)). As for Kendra, she continues to be the level-headed, combat-useless older sister we know and love. She deals with some tricky situations in this book, but she pulls through every time. Without giving too much away, she has a hilarious and delightful Cinderella-style fairytale princess moment. Now she just needs her handsome prince to come back…grumble grumble…

Where was I? Oh yeah. Character growth. It seemed like Raxtus was going down a dark path in book 1, but he redeems himself here. And it’s fun to watch Knox and Tess, the Sorensens’ cousins introduced in the first book, getting involved in the magical stuff. Tess’s ability to see fairies and brownies and goblins without drinking the milk is fun and raises all sorts of questions about belief and magic, and Knox becomes less of an arrogant jerk as he’s forced to acknowledge he doesn’t know everything about everything. Good times.

Finally, Patton Burgess somehow makes an appearance in this book. It was so ridiculous that I laughed out loud. But it’s Patton, the ultimate bro, so overall I was pleased.

The Not-So-Good

My chief complaint is that once again, Warren Burgess is unacceptably absent. A Goodreads reviewer made the excellent point that it’s been eight (going on nine) years since we’ve had a book with Warren in it. Tanu is great and all, but I just want to know what my favorite injury-prone doofus is up to.

For that matter, I’ve got some bad news for Bracken-lovers: this installment is completely devoid of our favorite unicorn prince. Dragonwatch? More like Brackenwatch, amirite?

Seriously, though, I loved the Bracken/Kendra dynamic from Keys to the Demon Prison. All romance-y stuff aside, Bracken works extremely well on a team with both Kendra and Seth, and I was excited for more of that in this series. I’m hopeful that progress will be made toward rescuing Bracken from Unicorn McEdgebro in book 3, though. You can’t just leave that plot thread dangling for too long. I’m predicting that he’ll come into play fairly early on, just in time to help Seth out of his latest scrape.

As far as characters go, I continue to not be a huge fan of Calvin, the tiny hero. He’s a little too go-team, giddy-up, optimistic for me. After he swam in a bowl of custard in book one, I pretty much lost all respect for him. And come on, he says things like, “Try smiling. When I was just a boy, I remember my papa could smile his way out of anything.” What a chump. I was actually relieved when he couldn’t go into the castle with the kids. And while Lomo the Fair-folk outlaw sounded cool on paper (well, I guess this is all on paper), he doesn’t really contribute much to the story or the group dynamic. He’s basically the Legolas of the Dragonwatch crew.

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One little thing that’s bugged me since Fablehaven is the weapons used in these situations. Everyone’s using a sword or a crossbow or a staff–Kendra even spends some time learning to use a bow. And yes, many of these weapons are magical, which is great. But does anyone really think a sword is the best thing to use in a fight with a dragon? Wouldn’t, like, a magical machine gun be better? Don’t try to tell me that, in a world where Larry Correia supposedly exists, there aren’t magical firearms and adamant bullets. Dale has used a shotgun to save the kids in the past, so don’t try to tell me the Sorensens are anti-2nd-amendment hippies. If time is of the essence, and you’re trying to teach someone like Kendra—with the musculature of a typical fifteen-year-old girl—to fight magical bad guys, wouldn’t it make more sense to take her to the ol’ Fablehaven shooting range? I dunno, man. This has just been on my mind for a while.

I picked up some inconsistencies regarding Seth’s shadow charmer powers. At the beginning of the book, the Chinese dragon Camarat is testing Seth on his ability to withstand dragon paralysis. Seth is frozen, but manages to keep his mind clear. Now I could be wrong, but I understood dragon fear as having two components: extreme magical fear, and overwhelming distraction. Seth, as a shadow charmer, is immune to magical fear. Kendra’s fairykind powers make her immune to distracter spells. So the first time they faced a dragon together, Seth didn’t feel any fear but couldn’t remember anything about himself or anything else; meanwhile, Kendra was terrified and frozen solid, but was able to think clearly the whole time. So when the kids were touching, they combined their powers and negated both components. In this case, Seth doesn’t feel any fear, but the distracter component seems to be absent. Although it’s possible that Camarat was deliberately holding that part back. But later on, Kendra is in a situation where she has to pay attention to a distracter spell in order to navigate, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So maybe there’s a consistent issue with keeping these powers straight. I get it, though. There’s a lot of Fablehaven lore at this point.

In Conclusion…

Wrath of the Dragon King  was a wild ride. And all things considered, I really enjoyed it, even more than the first one. Despite the fact that certain characters are unaccounted for, I’d give it five stars (and I promise to keep the Warren whinging to a minimum from now on). It’s impressive that after seven books in this world, Brandon Mull is still picking up momentum, and I can’t wait until the next book comes out in October.

(P.S. To my little sister: Read the book already! We need to talk about stuff!)

Happy reading!

2018 GTA Year in Review

Happy new year, y’all!

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Long time, no see. I wasn’t sure whether to write one of these this year. I’m increasingly nervous about sharing my weird thoughts with people I don’t know—or worse, people I do know. But these year-in-review posts have sort of become our family’s Christmas card/newsletter, which I’m told—to use some buzzwords—adds value, somehow. So, once again, it’s time to resuscitate the ol’ blog for a good ol’ fashioned roundup.

2018 has been insane. There has been a lot of stress and trudging (physical and metaphorical), interspersed with some quality good times, but we’ll unpack all of that in this post.

Cabinet Saga

The story of our cabinet troubles deserves a whole section, if not its own post. First, let me introduce you to our contractor, Cabinet Guy. No, that’s not his real name, but it is what Dan called him, so I probably used it more than his real name.

Cabinet Guy was recommended to us by one of Tom’s work friends. This friend apparently knew Cabinet Guy in high school, and vouched for him doing amazing work. Friend was even using Cabinet Guy to put in his own post-Harvey cabinets. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, and we realize this probably isn’t the best way to find contractors, but things were so stressful at the time that we jumped at the chance to get the cabinets taken care of.

Our first red flag was when we tried to make a down payment. Cabinet Guy agreed to show up on a Saturday morning in November (2017). It happened to be the day we were leaving on our Fredericksburg road trip. The agreed-upon time passed and we heard nothing from Cabinet Guy. We waited around an extra hour or so, but heard nothing, and we really needed to leave. Cabinet Guy texted Tom several hours later saying he was using his phone as an alarm and the phone died. We were annoyed, but it could happen to anyone, right? So we rescheduled. The contracted end date was December 23, which sounded like the best Christmas present ever.

December, January, and February were a series of unsuccessful attempts to contact Cabinet Guy, punctuated by occasional replies with all manner of excuses. He was running behind. He had problems getting materials over the holidays. Cabinet Guy had the flu. Cabinet Guy’s dad was sick. Cabinet Guy went to the emergency room 3 times (once for the flu, and once because he hit his thumb with a band saw). His father passed away. All of this is terrible, but patience was wearing thin.

Finally, on March 1, Cabinet Guy showed up. He put in about an hour of work, then snuck out of the house while I was nursing Will and never came back. Apparently he told Tom I’d “disappeared on them” (I was in Will’s room for about 10 minutes, and Dan was hanging around). The next time he was supposed to show up was a week later. He never showed.

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Neither of these guys is Cabinet Guy. They swore like sailors, and also busted our bathroom sink hookup and lied about it.

After several weeks of no significant progress, Cabinet Guy’s boss showed up, and the story got a whole lot more interesting.

So it turns out Cabinet Guy is a crack addict sex offender who was using the company’s equipment and software to take on illicit side jobs to fuel his drug habit. His wife turned the paperwork from these side jobs over to his boss as she was leaving him. During this period he also ran away to Louisiana without telling anyone, and possibly burned down his house and shed to collect insurance money. We were lucky that our contract was with the company, not with Cabinet Guy personally. Tom’s work buddy had some family members who were not so fortunate. Cabinet Guy’s boss took over, and the cabinets were done in about a week. After staining and granite, our cabinets were declared operational on April 21.

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Moral of the story: don’t do drugs, kids. And always get bids from multiple contractors, each of whom has multiple references.

Adventures

We went on two major, awesome vacations this year. The first was a trip to California in July, including a couple days in San Diego, and about a week in Yosemite National Park and surrounding areas.

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We also took a nice little road trip to Cloudcroft, New Mexico in September. I spent a bunch of time there as a kid, hanging out at my Grandparents’ fishing pond. It was so much fun to bring our family back there. Dan caught his first fish, and we spent a few blissful days camping in gorgeous weather, wrapping things up with a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. We’ll definitely be back before too long.

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Always secure your food when camping.

 

The Tom

Tom is still trucking through the MBA program. He finishes on Valentine’s Day, and is very excited to be done. He’s still doing a great job at work, in his calling, and in family life. His greatest accomplishment this year has been teaching Dan to read, although he also made this awesome table and did a ton of repair work on the house.

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Table was constructed entirely in the bathroom.

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Excuse the rubbermaid farm in the background. This was pre-cabinets.

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Fred’s angels! Doo doo doo doo!

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The Elissa

My major endeavor this year has been learning how to be a mom to our two darlin’ dumplins. It’s definitely been chaotic, and the phrase “beer me strength” has been uttered many times. (Note: I don’t drink beer. Never have, never will.) My favorite accomplishment this year was probably weaning Will, although I also wrote some words, read some books (DRAGONWATCH 2!!!!), and crafted some crafts.

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This Fat William loves his crochet blanket

And this Dan loves his planet mobile (I haven’t taken any good pictures of this one)

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The Dan

Dan has had an exciting year. He made it through his “Learn to Read” book with (mainly) Tom, and is now reading quite well. He also started preschool in August, and he absolutely loves it.

img-20181214-wa0001This picture showed up in the preschool newsletter. Cuteness!

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He learned how to paint pumpkins from my mom!

Dan is a great big brother, and regularly cracks us up. In the morning or after nap time, it’s not uncommon to see Dan hanging out in Will’s room, shooting the breeze with him and making him laugh.

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And sometimes he falls asleep in the chair.

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Helping Will get off the slide

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Best buddies

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Dan’s eating habits have improved, and it’s getting easier to sneak components of all the food groups into his diet. His favorite foods include cereal, quesadillas, fish sticks, PB&J, and rice with sauce but no “things.”

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We’re so proud of our Dan!

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Best toy of 2018: $3 binoculars from Target

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The William

This year, William has changed from a cute, non-mobile baby into a cute, curious, playful toddler. He took his first steps in June, understands a lot of what we say to him, and is starting to say distinguishable words. His first word, adorably, was, “Dannnn!” He also says “light,” “trash,” “Dada,” “Mama,” “sit,” “up,” “uh oh,” and “fish.” They don’t always sound like the words they’re supposed to be, but we’re getting there. Among Will’s awesome qualities is how much he likes to clean up. He can be directed to put toys away, which makes things a little easier.

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Will isn’t as much of a bottomless food pit as he used to be, and he’s recently decided that he has preferences, but he’s still our more adventurous eater. He’s pretty good at feeding himself with a spoon, too. He’s been known to lurk around the table between meals, scavenging whatever table scraps Dan leaves behind.

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Will is the sweetest, happiest kid, and we’re so happy he’s a part of our family.

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Goals for 2019

As a family, our goal is to calm the frick down. Between Harvey, Tom’s MBA program, and everyday life, we’ve been a little too stressed out around here. Except for Will. Will is chill. We need to be more like Will.

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My personal goals for 2019 are to just keep on trucking—mother the kids, write more words, read more books, craft more crafts, cook more foods.

I do hope to blog more this year. At the very least, I need to review Dragonwatch: The Wrath of the Dragon King. So stay tuned!

We wish you all a happy new year full of good times! Ahoy!

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My Daniel Tiger Fanfiction

If you have small children, you’re probably aware of a little show called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”

This piece of PBS entertainment is a direct rip-off of the puppets from “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” in which the eponymous Daniel learns life lessons from his parents and other friendly citizens of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Like its predecessor, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is not my favorite. I watched a couple episodes with Dan when we both had stomach flu. Not only did it fail to keep Dan entertained, but its saccharine tone and stick-in-your-head-all-day musical numbers may actually have made the nausea worse.

These kids are planning something evil. I just know it.

Despite my efforts to keep Daniel Tiger out of my house, however, well-meaning friends have provided us with plenty of his books. They were lovely, thoughtful gifts, and I appreciate them. Books derived from a well-loved TV series about an entity named Daniel—they’re the perfect gift! And Dan loves the stories, which are right on his level. But you can understand how I might poke some not-so-good-natured fun at this adorable, inoffensive franchise.

And so, I present to you: “Daniel Tiger Whines.”

I created this in October, when Dan was going through an excessive (but understandable) whiny phase (I was also in the middle of a surly phase, which hasn’t yet ended). I wrote it as a cautionary tale to any small children (who may or may not be named Daniel) who may whine just a bit too much. Almost all the illustrations are straight-up plagiarized from the source text, and those that aren’t are easily identified. Plagiarism is okay as long as you label it “fanfiction,” right?

What I didn’t anticipate was how much Dan would like this book. He requested it five times a day—more frequently than the originals. After a couple days I felt guilty reading it to him, and hid it away for a few months. I still pull it out occasionally on particularly whiny days. I don’t know if it actually helped with the whining problem at all, but feel free to try it out yourself. You can easily substitute your child’s specific whiny demands for anything Daniel Tiger says in this book.

Happy parenting!

 

DISCLAIMER: I love Dan, and he’s a really good kid. But let’s be honest: we’ve all been there.

 

1-year Bullet-Journalversary!

Just as the title says, I’ve kept a bullet journal for a whole year! I thought I’d write a quick post talking about how I use it and how it improves my life.

If you’ve never heard of a bullet journal before, it’s basically a diy planner/journal/to-do list hybrid that uses a rapid logging system to keep track of goals, tasks, and ideas. The system was developed by Ryder Carroll, and I’d suggest taking a look at his website if the idea appeals to you.

Why do I bullet journal?

The system I had before wasn’t working for me. I tried to journal regularly because I wanted to remember all the cute things Dan was doing, but my journal was huge and bulky. I couldn’t bring it on vacation, and the binding was starting to break under its own weight. Writing in it was such a hassle that I would put it off for months at a time and then spend the occasional Sunday catching up on everything that happened, inevitably missing events that had slipped from my memory and giving myself a major hand cramp. I spent so much time recording events that I didn’t have the time or energy for anything like reflective journaling, and the whole business was just unpleasant.

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I also felt like I needed to start keeping a planner again. Between pregnancy and Dan’s kidney and routine doctor’s appointments, I had a lot of dates to remember, and scheduling appointments across time zones in the Google calendar has led to multiple mishaps (“What do you mean I’m an hour late? It’s in the Google!”). But I was having a hard time finding a planner that worked for me, and half the time I would forget to use it. I could feel the judgment pouring out of those empty boxes and pages until I was forced to exorcise toss the planner out so I could escape the guilt.

Hand-killing journal vs. current bullet journal

The bullet journal solves all of these problems. There’s space to keep track of appointments and events, and I can rapid-log the cute things my kids do before I forget them. And when I’m feeling reflective or I’ve got something on my mind, I can turn the page and write a journal entry like normal. It’s much easier, and there’s much less hand-cramp!

How my bullet journal works

People tend to go nuts when they start bullet journaling, but I keep mine relatively minimalistic. I started out in a 97-cent grid-lined composition notebook I already owned and picked up some gel pens from the dollar section at target. I’ve since upgraded to an Essentials dot-grid notebook and splurged on some accessories, but for the most part, I really try to keep things functional and inexpensive.

That said, playing with pens and paper this much inevitably brings out one’s artistic side (such as it is), and you’ll often find Dan’s favorite cartoon characters here and there as he asks me to draw them.

Ka-chow?

Not to mention…um…whatever this is.

…yeah. Moving on.

I keep appointments in a future log like this one…

Basically the whole month of September was canceled…thanks, Harvey! 😛

…and transfer them to a monthly page like this one:

My daily logs look something like this:

I’ve got a key in the front to remind me what all the symbols mean in case I forget. Mine are pretty standard: X for completion, > for do it tomorrow, o for events, – for notes, a heart for fun memories, and a sun for recognizing blessings or tender mercies I’ve observed during the day.

Every month I add a habit tracker, mostly to feel like less of a slacker. I also track my dreams, because they’re massively entertaining. Both are too embarrassing to post here.

Dan also has a bullet journal, and he’ll occasionally join me when I’m setting up mine for the day.

And so will Lightning McQueen.

Is the bullet journal working?

It definitely is! I feel super organized and on top of things, and I don’t feel so much pressure to remember every single cute thing Dan and Will do. Now that I’ve been working on it for a year, I feel like I have my system down, and I’m excited to use it for the foreseeable future.

Some people treat bullet journaling like some sort of sacred ritual that must be done just right, or just like [insert popular blogger] does it. I think that’s kind of weird. It’s just a tool, and it’s a flexible one. You don’t have to be artistic or crafty for it to work. It also isn’t some magical system that will solve all your problems, but at least it can help you keep track of them a little better!

I’d definitely recommend checking out the official website, if you’re interested. If you want more ideas, bullet journals are all over Instagram and Pinterest. A lot of my pages were inspired by bloggers like Boho Berry.

Happy journaling!