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!

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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Pregnancy Update

I realized just the other day that I’m officially in the third trimester! It’s been a few months since I last wrote about this pregnancy on the blog, so I figured I’d post a little update.

Let’s start this off with a paunch pic!

This was taken at 26 weeks, just after Dan walked into the room and said, “Mommy is huge!” And he’s not wrong. I think it’s safe to say that our little boy (nicknamed “Dois” around here) is growing well in there! He’s sure moving around a lot, which is always comforting.

Speaking of Dan, he still has no idea what’s going on. I think we’ve finally convinced him that he doesn’t also have a baby in his tummy, but last time we were in Houston for his kidney ultrasound, he looked at the screen and said, “Baby sister?”

He may not know much about anatomy, but he sure loves his yogurt!

As far as cravings go, I’ve been on a serious prosciutto kick. And I can’t get enough of those Tyson breaded chicken patties. Those things are so good.

The bag says they’re all-natural. That means they’re good for you—right?

Physically, things are not too bad. The first trimester was much rougher this time around, and I’ve actually thrown up a couple times—though oddly enough, the throwing-up mostly happened in the second trimester once the nausea was almost gone. I just have an overactive gag reflex this time around, so I have to make sure I don’t eat anything too fibrous (like ginger, or a slightly-too-old orange) or slimy.

I’ve been having some problems with hip pain, just like last time, although it’s worse this time and it set in much earlier. Thanks to my friend Heather, I’m the proud owner of a pregnancy support belt and an exercise ball, both of which are helping immensely.

I’m in much better shape this time around. I’ve been very consistent about exercising, largely because I’ve got a cute little toddler who decided around October that his favorite thing in the world is to be pushed around the neighborhood in a stroller. We get out on stroller walks as often as we can, and it’s awesome: he’s happy, I’m happy, and Dois and I are benefiting from all the exercise, so everybody wins!

Featuring Dan’s new haircut, courtesy of Tom

I haven’t done much nesting yet, other than ordering some stuff on Amazon and declaring an end to dumping random junk in the baby’s room. What I have done is start stocking up on freezer meals. Our amazing families got us a big ol’ freezer for Christmas, and I’ve been putting it to good use.

We’ve got some Bolognese sauce, Thai curry, Italian lentil and sausage soup, and stuffed shells in there so far. I’ve been trying to freeze one meal a week, so we should be eating pretty well after Dois is born. If any of you have recipes that freeze well, let me know!

To tell you the truth, until I started getting big, I hadn’t been paying much attention to this pregnancy at all. I’ve hardly cracked What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I have no idea what “fruit” Dois is this week. Heck, I have to Google a pregnancy calculator every time someone asks me how far along I am, or I end up saying something like, “Uhhhhmm…6 months…ish?”

Part of it is that I’m busy chasing Dan around and dealing with his needs and observing his milestones. But I think the biggest contributor to my inattention is that I haven’t had to worry about Dois the way I did about Dan. When I was pregnant with Dan, there was so much stress and uncertainty that I would compulsively read pregnancy books and articles, trying to make sure Dan was growing and developing properly. When Dan would wiggle around a lot, I wondered if it was because he was happy or really uncomfortable.

This pregnancy, in comparison, is completely stress-free. It’s kind of weird not seeing the Dois on ultrasound every couple weeks, but it’s nice feeling so relaxed about the whole thing. I can just take my vitamins, go to my appointments, and trust my body to do its thing. And whatever Dois throws at us after he’s born, there will be no Houston, catheters, and no Satan-chair (and hopefully no post-partum depression).

It’s going to be good.

We can’t wait to meet our second little guy.

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Pho!!!

Confession: I actually made this dish a long time ago (like, the beginning of December), but I had to wait to blog because there was no way I could tell the story without revealing just how pregnant I was/am. We weren’t ready to tell people yet, so…here you go!

As we were driving home from our epic camping trip at Big Bend National Park, I was simply obsessed with the idea that the best thing in the world would be a big bowl of pho (see? Super pregnant).

Dan, on the other hand, probably just wanted more s'mores.

Dan, on the other hand, probably just wanted more s’mores.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of pho establishments easily accessible from the I-10 (at least, not where we were driving during dinner hours), and even if there were, 13 hours is a long enough drive without having to stop for a sit-down pho experience that no one else would appreciate. Besides, that stuff has so much MSG. And MSG, as we know, stands for Mucho Suckage, Guys.

So I resisted.

But the next day, the pho craving came back, stronger than ever. I couldn’t take it anymore–I had to take things into my own hands and acquire some of that sweet, Vietnamese goodness. And so, I looked up a recipe (this recipe, from the best blog ever, The Woks of Life), strapped Dan back into the car, and went on an adventure to gather pho ingredients.

I mostly followed the recipe as written, with one exception: I googled the internets all up and couldn’t figure out where to find beef knuckle bones within an hour of where I live, so I just bought a bunch of beef shank and hoped for the best. But my friends, the best is what I got. This stuff was amazing.

Charring the onions

Charring the onions

Here it is, just simmering away.

Here it is, just simmering away.

Like a responsible pregnant woman, I omitted the bean sprouts. Sigh.

Like a responsible pregnant woman, I omitted the bean sprouts. Sigh.

And now, the results:

Taste: Heavenly. Tom was making fun of me because I was sitting there talking about how I wanted to eat nothing but pho for the rest of my life. It may not have been the best pho I’ve ever had, but it was definitely respectable. Plus, I didn’t have that icky MSG-overload feeling after I ate it.

Ease of Preparation: Not going to lie, this was an involved process. Including shopping time, it probably took six or seven hours to prepare. However, it did generate something like 8 servings of pho, so that’s pretty reasonable. Still not something I’d probably do super often, but I’ve got a bunch in the freezer for a rainy day, so it’s all good.

Will Tom/Dan eat it?: HAH! Like I’m going to share.

Overall evaluation: SUCCESS! YAY PHO!

Unfortunately, after several days of pho-filled goodness, my stomach decided that pho aromatics were the most disgusting, nausea-inducing things in the entire universe—such is pregnancy life. But I still have a big tub of pho broth in my freezer. It’s waiting for me to come home, like the father waits for his prodigal son—with open, delicious-food-filled arms.

The 2016 GTA Year In Review

Last year it was brought to my attention that the “GTA” in my title made them think of “Grand Theft Auto.” That’s hilarious, so I’m not going to change it. Muahaha.

Anywho, here I am, late as usual, to bring my twelve fabulous readers the famous year in review post! And man, it has been a crazy-good year to review.

The Fam

This was a big year for us as a family. We bought our first house, accompanied Tom’s grandparents on an amazing, life-dream-fulfilling genealogical trip to Italy, road tripped to Corpus Christi and Big Bend National Park, and basically spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a family of three.

We also put up Christmas lights for the first time!

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There were definitely some hard times. We all barely survived the plague, and the other plague, and there was the time Dan got that rash and everyone was stressed and I stormed out of the house to go buy Cadbury Mini Eggs. But we made it through the hard times, and I can safely say 2016 had more good times than bad times for the fam.

The best news from this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby in July!

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

We’re all very excited, although Dan doesn’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ve told him there’s a baby in Mom’s tummy, and sometimes he’ll say hi to the baby. But then he’ll point to his own tummy and say “baby,” so…we’re still working on it.

The Dan

This has been a big year for Dan. He learned to walk, talk, eat foods, and basically do all the amazing thing he does.

He also met Santa.

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He wasn’t thrilled.

Dan also started Nursery this year. He had a rough time at first, as most kids do, but now he loves it—especially when they bring out the bubble machine at the end!

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One time I went to Nursery with him, and he built a barricade of trucks around me so I wouldn’t leave.

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I covered most of what there is to know about Dan in my “18 Months of Dan” post, and he’s continued to develop along the same lines. He is much better at communicating now, and learns dozens of words every day. Right now we’re working on saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” He’s a real sweetheart!

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The Tom

This has been an awesome year for Tom. He put his Italian skills to good use, got promoted twice, experienced his first turnaround, and was accepted into his first-choice online MBA program. Wow!

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Tom continues to be an amazing dad.

Oh yeah—Tom was the scruffiest I’ve ever seen him on our camping trip in November.

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Wut.

The Me

I didn’t really know what to put in this section. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in 2016—it’s just that I don’t have really good physical evidence of my accomplishments. Unlike in 2015, I didn’t get much crafting done, largely because once we moved I couldn’t find my crafting supplies/equipment.

I did, however, learn to cook a bunch of cool stuff: Dancakes, beef with broccoli, japchae, singapore rice noodles, moqueca, pot roast (now I’m a real white housewife!!!), pho (new “Elissa Cooks Stuff” coming soon!), and many other delicious foodums.

(I thought I took more pictures of my creations, but apparently they were all snapchat videos…)

As far as writing goes, I wrote about 71,841 original-fiction words this year. That’s not a lot by most writers’ standards, but considering everything else that happened this year, I’m pretty happy about it. I did participate in NaNoWriMo and win, and I’m still working on that project right now. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth writing post in the near future, so if you have any questions about my writing stuff, leave a comment!

To be honest, 2016 was pretty hard for me. We had a lot of fun adventures, but not a lot of downtime. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, and/or sick. I expected the whole family would get sick more once Dan started nursery, but for whatever reason, most of the plagues originate with me. 2017 hasn’t been much better so far, which is part of the reason this post is so late.

I’m starting to realize that I’m a real wimp when it comes to traveling. My body just doesn’t handle it very well, and it can take over a week to physically recover from a short weekend trip. And every time something unpleasant happens while traveling (like, say, Dan and I getting stomach flu in San Antonio, or a night of travel insomnia turning an ordinary case of delayed-onset muscle soreness into an out of control, fever-ridden, excruciatingly-painful nightmare), it just makes staying home and reading books sound that much more appealing.

This year I’m hoping for more relaxing family time at home, more crafting, more writing, and more delicious foods. As far as new year’s resolutions go, these seem pretty attainable.

Looking Forward to 2017

There’s a lot to be excited about in 2017! Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Dan’s 2nd birthday!
  • Dragonwatch in March!
  • Our 2nd baby in July!
  • Oathbringer in November!
  • More blogging!
  • The return of THESE GUYS!

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It’s going to be a great year!

Happy mid-January to all, and may all your times be good!

18 Months of Dan!

Do you guys want to hear a funny story?

So I was going to post a cute thing about Dan when he turned one, but then we were packing and moving and traveling and I was lazy. By the time things settled down, he was, like, fifteen months old. And that’s not a cute milestone. I mean, with Dan every day is cute, but that’s beside the point.

Okay, that wasn’t funny at all.

Anyway, Dan is 18 months old as of Saturday, and we celebrated by weaning him off his pacifier and sending him off to nursery. Poor little guy. He handled both really well.

What I really wanted to say in this post (and this hasn’t changed from his birthday) is that Dan is absolutely amazing. He is so full of love for his family, his toys, his books, and so many other things. He’s learning and developing at an incredible rate, and we’re just so lucky we get to be part of it all.

So, in honor of his 18-month-ness, I thought I would share…

18 Fun Facts About Dan!

1. Dan loves books!

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As you may remember, Dan has always enjoyed reading. Now that he can understand some of what we’re reading him (and we’ve acquired some very nice lift-the-flap books), reading has become a really exciting experience. Dan will bring me book after book after book until I have tho get up and do something else. And then he’ll whine, because what could be more important than reading Where’s Spot? or Hoppity Frog for the 85th time?

I’m not complaining, though. In fact, I’m really proud that Dan loves books so much. That means we must be doing something right!

2. Dan LOVES wheels!

Big wheels, small wheels, plastic toy wheels, rubber tires…basically, if it rotates, Dan loves it. He will point out every wheel on every car in every book we read him. He’ll sit on our front porch and point to every car or truck or lawnmower on our street. He nearly destroyed his vocal cords a month ago when he learned to say “Vroom!” If we take Dan to a museum or the zoo, he’s much more interested in pushing his own stroller around (and running after other kids’ strollers) than in looking at the attractions. We actually took the wheels off our office chair, because leaving them on would be disastrous. Dan would be playing with them all the time and one of us would inevitably crush his fingers.

 

Tractorin it up with Aunt Natalie!

Tractorin’ it up with Aunt Natalie!

3. Dan LOVES buttons!

Similarly, Dan is fascinated by buttons.

This was the best experience of Dans life.

This was the best experience of Dan’s life.

4. Dan is weirdly into rap…?

Imagine you’re on a long car ride. Dan is crying in the back seat because he’s tired and needs a nap and wants to be out of the car. You want to put on some music to calm him down. You put on some relaxing classical music, like a nice Beethoven sonata. Dan ignores it completely. You turn on some Enya—everyone likes Enya, right? Not Dan. He screams so loud you can’t hear the music.

So what do you do?

Well, you use this nonsense:

He’ll calm down instantly, and be asleep within minutes. Just don’t turn it off, or he’ll start whimpering again.

We don’t know why he likes rap so much. Tom thinks it’s the steady beat. I really don’t know where I went wrong, because this is clearly evidence of severe parenting failure, but I’ll admit it was pretty funny watching him dance to the Kreb’s cycle rap the other day (warning: mild language):

Luckily, I’ve discovered that the Undertale soundtrack is just as effective at keeping Dan calm in the car, and I’m using it and Little Einsteins as gateway drugs into instrumental/jazz/classical music appreciation. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making some breakthroughs. And in case you’re wondering, this is his favorite Undertale song:

5. Dan is very helpful!

Dan loves to help me out around the house. Once after I changed his diaper, I saw him pick the wet diaper up and put it in the trash can, so that is now his official job. He’s good at it, too. Last week he went to throw the diaper away, realized the trash can didn’t have a liner, and went looking for a different trash can. Wow!

Dan is also good at helping me put clothes into laundry baskets and put toys and books away. He also likes to help me “load the dishwasher,” which really means playing with the brightly-colored knives—so he’s not actually allowed to do this. Yet.

Here are some pictures of Dan “helping.”

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Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

6. Dan loves to go outside!

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In fact, “outside” is one of the handful of words he can say. Which brings us to number 6…

7. Dan can say words!

His vocabulary includes the words “outside,” “hi” (“Hieeeeeeeee!”), “dada,” “mama,” “shhhs” (shoes), “bah” (ball), “yeah,” “up,” “pat,” and “button.” He can also quack, moo, meow, and vroom with the best of them.

8. Dan is terrified of the garbage truck!

His room faces the street, and if we’re in there while the garbage truck is doing its thing, Dan will cling to me and stare at the window until it’s gone.

The only other thing that consistently freaks him out is when he’s holding my phone and it vibrates. He doesn’t get a lot of sympathy for this one, because he’s not supposed to touch my phone in the first place.

9. Dan is a major flirt!

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Yeah, Dan. Flirt with the little girl AND her mom. That’ll get you places…

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“Help me put this shoe on and my heart is yours, babe.”

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He likes girls.

10. Dan knows some of his body parts!

Dan can correctly identify his nose, ears, head, tummy, arm, hand, leg, knee, and feet!

11. Dan is my green smoothie buddy!

12. Dan has a mild egg allergy!

We’ve had to learn to make substitutions in recipes, but that just means that raw cookie dough is 100% safe for consumption at our house!

Dan chowin down on his egg-free birthday cake

Dan chowin’ down on his egg-free birthday cake

13. Dan loves carbs!

Specifically, he loves bread. If he sees bread on the counter or on someone’s plate, he’ll beg until he gets some. I don’t want him to be internally obese like the ducks down at BYU (or externally obese, for that matter), so Dancakes continue to be useful.

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14. Dan is a budding photographer!

Here are some pictures he took with my phone when I wasn’t looking (I spy a cute foot, a favorite book, moving boxes, and a tired mom):

 

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15. Dan’s three fictional characters from that one meme are…

Yikes, that picture quality is bad. If you’re wondering, that’s Twitchy from Hoodwinked, one of the minions (Bob?) from Despicable Me, and Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb.

16. Dan has an excellent sense of style!

We don’t call him “Dapper Dan” for nothing. Here are some of his fabulous outfits:

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17. Dan wants to be just like his dad!

And who can blame him? He’s got an awesome dad!

 

18. Dan’s kidneys are doing great!

Looking good!

Looking good!

I posted about Dan’s hydronephrosis after he was born, and I’m happy to report that his kidneys are doing just fine. The swelling on both sides has slowly but surely improved, and both kidneys are functioning properly. Woohoo!

We sure love this Dan, and are so grateful to have him in our family. Thanks for being our little guy, Dapper Dan!

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Dancakes

Dang Gina, when did June get here?

So much has happened in the past two months. Dan turned one, we did buy a house, I plunked out a respectable (and palindromic) 21012 words during Camp NaNoWriMo, and we went on this amazing genealogy trip to Italy with Tom’s grandparents.

All of this is to say I have a lot of blogging to do. I still need to write about Dan’s birthday and first year, an awesome book I read, and various adventures, but everyone is grumpy around here because Dan is working on tooth #6, and to be honest I’m still feeling kind of lazy from jet lag.

(EDIT: Tom would like to add, “I’M NOT GRUMPY!”)

Instead, I’m going to tell you about a food that has revolutionized our lives: Dancakes.IMG_1457.JPG

Right around the end of April, Dan went from wanting nothing to do with finger foods to never wanting me to spoon-feed him again—overnight. Suddenly I was stuck with a huge pot of rice porridge, an open can of salmon, a bunch of pureed fruit, and a baby on hunger strike.

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I’m Dan, and I don’t like food anymore.

When he’s not on active hunger strike, Dan loves carbohydrates—just like his father, he would probably eat cereal all day if I let him. But I don’t want to let him. I may be wrong, but a diet exclusively made up of Frosted Mini Wheats doesn’t sound like a good idea. Something had to change.

In a stroke of what I can only describe as inspiration, I remembered hearing about my sister’s delicious banana pancakes from my mom. I knew Dan would love them, and they would help break up the Mini Wheats diet. I started googling up the internet, trying to put together a recipe. I had to be a bit creative since Dan seems to be allergic to eggs, but I now have a procedure that works. Thus, “Dancakes” were born.

You’ll notice this isn’t a very quantitative “recipe,” and I actually have no idea if the ingredient amounts are optimized (or if they’re necessary at all). All I know is that Dancakes are easy to make and can’t get enough of them.

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One batch makes about eight Dancakes, or about two meals for Dan (and one tribute Dancake for me!). They’re better fresh, and better warm. The recipe can be doubled if you want to save some for later (or have some for yourself—they’re delicious), and will last in the fridge for a few days. They can also be frozen and reheated.

Dancakes

Ingredients
1 ripe banana
~3/4 cup oat flour
Pinch of brown sugar OR drizzle of maple syrup
Dash of cinnamon
Smaller dash of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of baking powder
Milk, apple juice, or water

Procedure
To make oat flour, dump some oats in the blender or food processor and blend/process until floury.

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Mash the banana with a fork with the brown sugar or maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little bit of your liquid of choice. Make sure you mash the bananas well; any large chunks will oxidize in a few hours, leaving nasty black chunks in your Dancakes.

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Measure out the oat flour (just eyeball it), and add salt and baking powder. Add to the banana mush, and add liquid until your mixture resembles pancake batter. If you don’t know what pancake batter looks like…well, that’s a problem that’s beyond the scope of this tutorial. Don’t worry, these are super forgiving.

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Cook the Dancakes for about a minute on each side. Prevent your eager baby from grabbing them out of the pan.

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I ran out of cooking spray, so I had to use coconut oil.

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Confession: I’m terrible at flipping pancakes. Tom, on the other hand, is a pancake whisperer. He is the official pancake man in this house. But Dancakes are my job.

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Yeah, that’s right—I’m the cool mom who makes Mickey Mouse pancakes for her child.

Break the Dancakes into halves or thirds and serve. Make sure your baby has one piece in each hand at all times. Don’t let your baby see you snitching them. Enjoy!

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***

One more quick thing:

You may have noticed the poll in my sidebar. This blog has been up for a few years now, and my twelve loyal readers have a pretty good feel for what it’s about. I’d like to know what you like about this blog, and what content you’d like to see more of in the future. If you could take a second and respond to the poll, that’d be great! Thanks!

 

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Beef with Broccoli (Or, Elissa Kills People: Medical Lackeys)

First things first: Dan’s been under the weather this week.

He picked something up (most likely) from the kid sitting behind us at Stake Conference (affectionately known ’round these parts as “Plague Kid”), and on Tuesday he woke up with a 101.4° fever. The doctor said it was bronchiolitis, which led to a 2-hour wild goose chase around Beaumont as I tried to find him a nebulizer.

CVS: We don’t have those. You need to go to a medical supply store.
Elissa: Okay…where’s the closest one?
CVS: There’s PRN, but I don’t know where that is.
Dan: *cries*
(After a phone call to my dad and a trip across town)
PRN: We don’t take your insurance. These two places do.
Elissa: Great…do you have an address for either of those?
PRN: Nope.
Dan: *cries louder*
(After texting Tom and driving out into the sticks to Taylor Home Health)
THH: We have a nebulizer, but not the exact kind of nebulizer your doctor prescribed, so you need to get a new script. [20 minutes after I’ve phoned Dan’s doctor] They haven’t sent the script over, and we have to have it. Also, you haven’t met your deductible, so it’s going to cost you [amount]. Honestly, you can just go to King’s Pharmacy and buy one for [amount/2].
Dan: *cries even louder*
(After a 15-minute drive to King’s Pharmacy, which is just down the street from our place)
Dan’s doctor’s nurse (on the phone): Okay, so you want me to do whaaaaaat?
Elissa: *bombs every pharmacy, doctor’s office, and medical supply store in Southeast Texas*
Dan: *SCREAMS*

I did salvage a nebulizer from the smoldering wreckage of King’s Pharmacy, which was great.

On Thursday, Dan seemed to be getting worse, and we found out he also has an ear infection. Now he’s taking five different drugs, and thankfully, he seems to be improving.

Oh yeah, and I’m sick too. But I’m a mom, so I’m just dealing with it. And by dealing with it, I mean binge-watching Jane Austen movies and Duck Dynasty with Dan to keep him entertained while I die sit on the couch.

No "Mom of the Year" award for me this year.

No “Mom of the Year” award for me this year.

The same day we found out about the ear infection, Dan’s pediatrician called to say that, according to his blood test results, he’s mildly anemic. It never rains but it pours.

But, that brings us to the real subject of today’s post. It seems like we probably need more red meat around the place! And coincidentally, Tom’s been bugging me to make beef with broccoli forever! So let’s do this!

***

I’ve never been a big beef fan, but this stuff is delicious. The trick to making good beef with broccoli is using Chinese barbecue sauce. You can find it at any decent Asian grocery store.

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And in case you’re wondering: no, it’s not very much like American barbecue sauce.

Mmmm, brill fish.

Mmmm, brill fish.

I’d never made this dish before, but it’s pretty straightforward. I used, roughly, the procedure in this recipe, but dude—skip the stir fry sauce. Use the barbecue sauce instead.

As before, I was supervised by the illustrious Chef Dan.

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“Don’t try to distract me with this cracker! Get back to work!”

 

I used this stuff to marinate the beef.

I used this stuff to marinate the beef.

 

Cookin some broccoli!

Cookin’ some broccoli!

Beef in the pan

Beef in the pan

I’m typically not really good at thickening sauces, but we pulled through.

Is it supposed to look like that?

Is it supposed to look like that?

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That’s better!

The finished product turned out quite beautifully.

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And now for the scoring:

Taste: Excellent!

Ease of preparation: Very easy. This one is definitely going into the regular rotation.

Ease of cleanup: No complaints here.

Will Tom eat it?: The first words out of his mouth were, “This is good junk!” I think we can give this a yes!

Will Dan eat it?: Nope. Chef Daniel was not impressed. He tried a little bit of pureed beef mixed with rice porridge, and it didn’t go over well.

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Oh well. We’ll cut him some slack—he’s had a rough week.

Overall evaluation: Woohoo! I’m very pleased with how this turned out, and excited that I can decently replicate it. It might even turn me into a beef lover. Who knows?

Happy eating!

Halloween Shenanigans

As a kid, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. It was an excuse to dress up as whatever I wanted and embark on a spooky, jack-o-lantern-lit adventure while replenishing my Milky Way stash for the year. As it turns out, Halloween is even more fun with a baby!

Meet Dan, Guard of the Citadel.

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Making Dan’s costume was so much fun. Ever since our friend Roz gave us a White Tree onesie, we knew we had to use it for Halloween, and the “helmet” and cloak turned out surprisingly well. The hobbit getup is based on this picture of Pippin from The Return of the King:

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I left off the nose guard to increase the chances of Dan actually wearing the helmet. He was a pretty good sport.

 

Tom had been throwing around the idea of dressing up as an orc and “taking the hobbit to Isengard”…

…and on Wednesday, the day of our ward Halloween party (note: in this context, ward = congregation unit in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; we do not (currently) live in a mental institution), he decided he needed an orc shirt. I ran down to Michael’s and bought a couple of black T-shirts and some iron-on letters, and we became a couple of orcs. It took people a couple minutes to figure our costumes out, but once they did, they generally thought the whole thing was pretty cool.

This is my favorite picture. "I will vanquish you with my spoon, orc-Mom!"

“I will vanquish you with my spoon!”

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Now I have to tell you guys a somewhat-shameful story. You see, just as we were about to leave the party and put our hobbit to bed, this happened:

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First of all, I had no idea they were even judging chili. When they sent around the sign-up sheet for the party, I just thought, “Hm. They need chili. I can do chili.” I then proceeded to forget about it until the night before. The day of the party, I grabbed an assortment of chili cans from Kroger, dumped them in the crockpot (because I was way too lazy to wash chili out of a crockpot and a regular pot), and threw in a can of jalapenos and a can of green chilies. We got there late, so I dropped the crockpot on one end of the table and proceeded to do normal ward party things. Tom and I didn’t even taste our chili until we got home that night.

I feel kind of bad. If I’d known there was some manner of contest afoot, I would have approached this differently. Then again, if I’d approached this differently, we wouldn’t have this sweet foam haunted house thing:
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I also feel disincentivized to learn how to make real chili. Oh, well.

Anyway, that’s the story of how I accidentally won a chili cook-off using canned chili.

***

Halloween itself was really rainy—like, flash-flood-warning rainy. It’s a good thing we weren’t planning to take Dan trick-or-treating (two adults showing up with a cute, costumed baby who obviously can’t eat candy is pretty suspect). We did bring Dan to a shindig hosted by Tom’s boss’s boss Nikole, and the hood on his cloak actually kept him dry on the way to and from the car.

I didnt notice Toms antlers until later...

I didn’t notice Tom’s antlers until later…

It was pretty late on Dan Standard Time and the music was kind of loud, so we didn’t stay long, but I finally got to meet some of the people Tom works with, which was nice. We even got to drop by the NaNoWriMo kick-off at Sertino’s. That was more Dan’s-scene-esque: a quiet room with a handful of people telling Dan how cute he is. He was all smiles. What a punk.

Unrelated picture: "No, Mom, I didnt make this mess. You did."

Unrelated picture: “No, Mom, I didn’t make this mess. You did.”

***

Yep, this was definitely the best Halloween ever, even without any Milky Ways. How was your Halloween, reader friends? Any fun or spooky stories to share?

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Cantonese Poached Chicken

Inspired by my friend Emily’s awesome Chinese New Year blog post, I’ve decided to introduce a new feature on this blog. In each “Elissa Cooks Stuff” post, I’ll attempt some recipe and review the results. Hopefully there will be some lulz along the way.

When my mom was here after Dan was born, I had a doctor’s appointment in Houston. I couldn’t bring my mom to Houston without going to Chinatown, and we brought home some pre-made chicken for dinner. Guys, that chicken was so good it messed with my mind. Since then, I’ve had all these dreams about going to Chinatown and buying that chicken, and each time I wake up unreasonably depressed because I don’t really have any. This week, after moping yet again about my lack of chicken and wondering if I dared brave a trip to Chinatown alone with Dan, I realized there was an easier option: I could make the chicken myself! To the Google!

I used this recipe, with a couple alterations. For one thing, I couldn’t find smaller organic chickens. I had to go to two stores to find a whole chicken at all—that’s what happens when you shop at 8:30 PM.

I also noticed the recipe doesn’t call for garlic. I felt like it should have garlic (every recipe should have garlic), so I looked up a couple more recipes and decided to add some to the pot.

I have two rules of cooking, and the first is that you can never have too much garlic.

I have two rules of cooking, and the first is that you can never have too much garlic.

Chef Daniel woke up just as I was about to start cleaning the chicken, and promptly took on a supervisory role.

Dan was pretty happy watching me struggle with the chicken from a safe distance.

Dan was pretty happy watching me struggle with the chicken from a safe distance.

I don’t have any pictures of the cleaning process because I didn’t want to touch my camera with raw chicken all over my hands—we’re all about food safety around here—so you’ll have to just imagine me cluelessly fumbling around with the chicken carcass while my phone is ringing and Dan is mocking me from his bouncer.

Chicken giblets. I have big plans for these.

Chicken giblets. I have big plans for these.

I finally managed to get everything into the pot without any major casualties.

There's a chicken in there.

Can you spot the chicken?

However, the chicken fell apart when I took it out.

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Still looks delicious!

It was then that I discovered I have no idea how to cut up a chicken.

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Good enough.

The finished product.

The finished product. Also pictured: steamed broccoli and geung yung (fried chopped ginger and green onions)

Now for the reviews:

Taste: Awesome. I’ve found a cure for my chicken-longing. It was obviously overcooked, but that was my fault. Because I had a larger bird than the recipe called for and I had a hard time keeping it underwater, I decided to cook it longer than the recipe suggested, and I overdid it by about 15 minutes.

Ease of preparation: Reasonable. The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, but this was only my second time working with a whole chicken (the first time was heavily supervised, and I still managed to get blood everywhere (so much blood!)), so it’ll be better next time.

Ease of cleanup: Cleanup was a bit of a hassle. There were a lot of dishes, and I had to aggressively 409 everything in the kitchen several times.

Will Tom eat it?: Yes! (Or at least, he hasn’t told me otherwise yet.)

Will Dan eat it?: N/A.

Overall evaluation: I’ll definitely make this again—maybe not every week, because it is a bit time- and labor-intensive, but it’s definitely going into the rotation. Yay chicken!

***

 Sorry, not a lot of baby pictures here. I’ll make it up to you next time, I promise!

…okay, here’s one more:

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