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!
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.
We also visited Goblin Valley for the first time.
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!)
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 Beginners, and 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.
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!
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.
“I wike to punch salmon.”
Tom: “Will, how are you doing?”
Tom: “Tell me more.”
“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.
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).
All right, boys and girls. Gather ’round, ’cause it’s DRAGONWATCH TIME!
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.***
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Moral of the story: don’t do drugs, kids. And always get bids from multiple contractors, each of whom has multiple references.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This picture showed up in the preschool newsletter. Cuteness!
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.
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.”
We’re so proud of our Dan!
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.
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.
Will is the sweetest, happiest kid, and we’re so happy he’s a part of our family.
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.
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!
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.
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.
DISCLAIMER: I love Dan, and he’s a really good kid. But let’s be honest: we’ve all been there.
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.
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.
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.
Not to mention…um…whatever this is.
…yeah. Moving on.
I keep appointments in a future log like this one…
…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.
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.
It’s that time again! This is where I summarize everything that’s happened to our family this year for my twelve fabulous readers!
(Previous year-in-review posts can be found here and here.)
What a year, amiright? Remember that meme about how 2016 was the worst year in history? Maybe y’all shouldn’t have memed so hard, because sometimes it seems like 2017 had a “hold my beer” moment. I mean, celebrity deaths are terrible, but so are natural disasters, and nature has not been kind to humanity this year.
Non-Harvey-related family events include our two major vacations this year: Zelphfest and Fredericksburg.
Zelphfest was our big roadtrip around the four-corners area, so named because we visited 7 national parks and saw all manner of Native American ruins. My favorite parts of the trip were Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Mesa Verde National Park.
Zelphfest definitely ranks as one of our best family vacations. Everyone had a great time (including Will, who was but a paunch), and I had no idea we had this kind of thing in the United States!
Who (or what) is Zelph, you ask? If you want to make Tom’s day, ask him!
Over Thanksgiving we took another road trip to Fredericksburg. Tom really wanted to get away from what he called the “post-apocalyptic dumpsterscape” that is Southeast Texas—and I have to admit, it was pretty nice.
The kids were a little ridiculous on this trip. Will got hungry in the middle of our tour of Longhorn Cavern, so I had to nurse him while walking through a dark cave while Dan screamed about how he didn’t want Tom to hold his hand (he just wanted to stand in the dark in the cave while we moved on). I bet the other people on the tour loved us. But it was still a fun trip, and if nothing else, we got some great schnitzel!
Of course, the best thing that happened to our family this year was Will’s birth!
I just introduced William on the blog a few weeks ago, so I won’t give his whole life story here. But he’s cute and cuddly and sweet and we love him all to pieces. In the past few weeks he’s started getting up on hands and knees and inching himself forward. No toy or power cord is safe around here these days, and I’m having to watch him more carefully.
Will has also gone from basically sleeping through the night to…not sleeping…at all. Between the 4-month sleep regression, being sick, and teething, he’s had a rough few weeks. He goes to bed around 7:30, and it’s not uncommon for him to wake up at 9, 11, 12, 4:30, and 6. We’ve started sleep training because this is not great.
Ah well. He’s cute.
Dan has made amazing leaps this year. At the beginning of this year he was trying to say “purple” and I was the only one who could understand him. The other day he said, “Dad, can you get off the couch so you can come in the kitchen and give me more milk?” His verbal skills have really taken off, and it’s maddening and hilarious by turns. He knows his letters and numbers (up to 20) and has started asking me what things spell. And he loves to point out that “H E B spells HEB!” He’s doing well with potty training (which we’re doing at a very leisurely pace) and can sing Jingle Bells and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on demand. Cars is still his favorite movie, and you can hardly catch him without one of his three toy Lightning McQueens.
Dan is very much a typical toddler. He reliably eats cereal and grilled cheese sandwiches, and not much else. I’ve started a “reasons my kid is crying” list in my journal, and it’s great. Here are some highlights:
There was “no more juice” in his almost-full juice box.
No one would get him any “dry milk.”
His leaf got wind on it.
“Jesus does NOT want me to be good!”
That kid. We love him.
One of Dan’s best qualities is that he’s an amazing big brother.
It’s so much fun to watch these two together.
It’s been a crazy year for the Tom. Work’s going well, and he’s 3/8 done with “the prestigious Indiana online MBA program” (his words). He’s currently the ward clerk, which he enjoys. He’s primarily responsible for getting our house put back together after Harvey, and he continues to be an all-around great dad. The past six months he’s been working himself to the bone, and yet he somehow manages to help me maintain whatever sanity I have left. A+ for Tom.
In the immortal words of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, “I used to have goals. They were evil goals, but they were goals.”
It’s been a pretty crazy year, and between William’s birth and Harvey, I pretty much couldn’t keep up with much after about June. During the first half of the year I made slow, steady progress rewriting my NaNoWriMo novel from last year, but I’ve barely touched it since then. I’m not sure it’s worth fixing, to be honest, but the goal is to finish this draft and shove it at Tom, who will tell me whether or not I should keep on trucking. Not sure when that will happen, but it’s the goal.
I’m a little bummed that this is taking so long, but it’s okay. Even without Harvey things would have been busy. Some things, like writing and Dan School, just have to give for a while, that’s all. Once everyone’s getting a bit more sleep, I’ll be able to carve out some more time.
That said, this year was still pretty productive from a personal perspective. I mean, just look at how chubby Will is! And I’m really enjoying my church callings (activity days leader and primary pianist).
I did get some high quality crafting this year. I made this weighted blanket before Zelphfest, and it helped keep the pregnancy/traveling insomnia under control.
And of course Dan needed a hobbit getup to match Will.
And because I tend to pick up new hobbies whenever I’m stressed, I’ve also dabbled in some watercolors.
My very talented mother taught me some of her skills when I was a kid, and it’s been fun to get back into it and share my attempts with her.
I also started a bullet journal back in February, and that’s been invaluable in surviving this crazy year. I might save that for another post, though, because this one is getting too long.
Looking Forward to 2018
2018 should be a pretty good year. We should be getting cabinets soon, and with them a dishwasher and a sink with a garbage disposal! Yay! My sister will be home from her LDS mission to Malaysia in April, and we’re all excited to see her again. And supposedly the sequel to Dragonwatchwill be out this year, which should be a party. We’re also planning a trip to California.
The kids will continue to grow up too fast. Dan’s going to start preschool this year, and will hopefully start learning to read. Will is going to reach a lot of milestones; he’s particularly looking forward to trying solid food. Tom will keep working through the MBA, and he’s planning to build a new kitchen table. He’s also excited to take Dan camping. I’m hoping to blog some more and maybe finish this friggin’ book.
Remember when I said I was going to introduce William on the blog…two months ago?
Hey, we’re still putting our house back together. I have priorities!
Anyway, it’s been four months already, so I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Meet William James Nysetvold!
I have to say, I expected the delivery to be more difficult than it was. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of sharing birth stories on my blog, but I’ll just say that at one point after the epidural (which was the most painful part of the whole experience), Tom asked how I was doing, and I told him I was more comfortable than I’d been in months. Apparently Will and I were too relaxed, because my contractions slowed way down and they had to wake me up halfway through to start me on pitocin. Good times.
In fact, in spite of all obstacles (*cough* Harvey *cough*), Will has always been a really relaxed baby. He sleeps well, eats a lot, and doesn’t cry much. (as long as I don’t put him down for too long, or put him in the car seat). He loves to play with and smile at people. His easygoing nature sure helped us out during the hurricane madness, and he never seemed stressed out. If William had a motto, it’d be something like, “I’m just happy to be here.”
William is doing really well. As you can see from that last picture, he got really fat, really fast. His height, weight, and head size percentiles from his four-month appointment are 85%, 85%, and 80%, respectively. He’s also really strong. He can roll tummy-to-back and scoot himself backwards (usually leaving a trail of spit-up).
As for Dan, he’s had a bit of a hard time. Getting a new sibling is hard, and I didn’t do the best job of preparing him for what was about to happen or helping him handle the changes. Dan is very much a creature of habit, and disruptions to his routine have always been hard on him. And boy, has he been through a lot of changes lately (Harvey didn’t help, either). Thankfully, we’re working through things and he’s doing better (and seems to have mostly forgiven me).
The good news is that Dan absolutely adores his brother. And vice versa.
We’re so glad to have little William. He’s such a sweetheart, and fits so well into our family.
Howdy! It’s been a while, and yes, I’m still pregnant.
I’m almost 39 weeks along now. At the 34-week ultrasound, this baby was as big as Dan was at birth. We were all sort of hoping that original July 10 due date was the real deal (my doctor even started questioning the new date), but that turned out not to be the case. Things are pretty uncomfortable, and soon I’ll need to train Dan to operate a forklift to get me off the couch, but hey—it’s better here, anyway.
But that’s not the topic of this post! Today I want to tell you guys about a cool thing Dan and I have been doing for the past few months: Dan School.
I decided to start Dan School for a few different reasons. One is that as this pregnancy progresses, I’m getting lazier about engaging with Dan. This is a way to get me off my butt and spend some focused quality time with him. Another is that he had all these goofy knowledge gaps—for example, he knew what a trapezoid was but couldn’t correctly identify a square. But the deciding factor was when I realized he had memorized all the lyrics to Rebecca Black’s Friday.
I figured if Dan was so eager to learn things that he was going to memorize random crap like Friday, I might as well expose him to some actually useful information.
My main inspiration for the Dan School “curriculum” is my awesome friend Serena’s website on homeschooling toddlers, although I also drew from my mom’s “summer school” system she used to keep us from forgetting everything we knew over the summer. Dan School has five subjects:
English:Dan had all the capital letters down, so we started with lowercase. Now we’re working on sight words, and he has a handful under his belt already.
Math: We focus on one number a day. I write it down and tell him what it is, and we practice counting up to it. I bought some marbles at the dollar store, and he loves counting them and rolling them around. The double digit numbers are tricky for Dan, so we review them often. I wasn’t sure how well this was sinking in until the other day when Dan was supervising Tom doing push-ups and counted up to 22 by himself.
“Special Topics”: This is where we introduce random knowledge just to shake things up. After reviewing shapes, we learned music vocabulary, days of the week, and how the hour hand on the clock works (I’m hoping I can use this to show Dan when it’s appropriate to wake me up in the morning). The music vocab unit was especially successful, because we can use hymnbooks to entertain Dan at church.
Story Time: Dan continues to love reading books. Now it’s even more exciting because he can practice finding the letters and words he knows.
Music Time: Dan loves listening to music, and he’s shown a remarkable aptitude for memorizing inane song lyrics. I try to find songs that line up with something we’ve talked about that day (like “Hickory Dickory Dock” during the clock unit, for example).
Dan absolutely loves Dan School, and will often ask about it on days when we have to skip it. Here are some things that I think have made it successful:
Stickers: After every school session, Dan gets a dollar store sticker. This kid is a sticker fiend—at the grocery store, he’s always hustling the cashiers for stickers before I can even say “hello”—so this is great motivation.
Start simple: We started with lowercase letters and shapes even though he knew most of them already. I wanted him to think school was easy and fun, so when we moved on to less-familiar material he wouldn’t get frustrated.
Keep it short: Each “school day” lasts 20 minutes at most. This way we never have any attention-span-related problems, and I never get to claim I’m too busy. 20 minutes of structured time doesn’t feel like too much to me, but I also want to make sure Dan has plenty of time to play and explore the world on his own.
Low pressure: I know what you’re thinking: I’m not trying to tiger-mom Dan to death here.. Dan School is, above all, just for fun. I try not to quiz Dan or put too much pressure on him—he learns better when he can soak up the information at his own pace. Sometimes I do have to suppress my inner tiger-mom (“You knew this letter yesterday! What happened?!”), especially on days when I’m super tired. But for the most part, Dan School is something we both enjoy.
Support from Dad: Tom has been fully on-board with Dan School since the beginning—probably more so than most of my other crazy schemes. Tom’s support helps me keep going even when all I want to do is turn on Cars and curl up on the couch all day, and I think Dan enjoys showing off for his dad.
I have no idea how Dan School is going to work after the baby is born. We’ll probably have to take “summer vacation” until we can get into something resembling a routine. But we’re going to keep it up as well as we can for as long as it’s fun and useful for Dan.
And if we accomplish nothing else, at least Dan knows some songs other than Friday, so I’m prepared to call Dan School a success story.
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?”
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.
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!
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).
Oh my goodness, you guys. Dragonwatch came out two weeks ago, and all I have to say is, “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”
…okay, that’s not all I have to say. I’ve actually been dying to write this blog post for a while, but I had to wait until I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel (woohoo!). Now that’s done, and I can blog about this awesome book without guilt.
Brandon Mull is one of my author inspirations. He writes clever, hilarious, squeaky-clean middle grade fantasy, which is basically everything I love. Also, Fablehaven reminds me of my sister, since I first discovered theseries back in high school when I started reading it over her shoulder on a family road trip. That might have been the trip where I decided to be “responsible,” and only brought The Grapes of Wrath for reading material (and if you’ve read my 7 Books I Wish I’d Skipped post, you’ll know how well that turned out). Luckily, my sister is a saint and let me read her books when she was done with them. To this day, the Fablehaven series is one of my favorites, and when I heard Brandon Mull was going to write a five-book sequel series, I was out-of-my-mind excited.
***WARNING!*** The rest of this post is chock full of Fablehaven and Dragonwatch spoilers.
The basic premise of the book is that 15-year-old Kendra Sorenson and her 13-year-old Seth are called out of world-saving retirement to help avert another magical catastrophe. You see, the dragons have gotten too big for their britches and decided they’re tired of living in human-governed sanctuaries like most magical creatures. Celebrant, the dragon king and co-caretaker of the dragon sanctuary Wyrmroost, is taking matters into his own hands and attacking Wyrmroost headquarters. The most brilliant magical minds decide that the best way to counter his attacks is to make Kendra and Seth the human caretakers of the sanctuary.
How could this possibly be a good plan, you ask? Because dragons radiate an aura of overwhelming terror and paralysis that can incapacitate most humans. And thanks to the quirky high jinks of the original Fablehaven series, Kendra and Seth can stand in the presence of dragons and carry on a normal conversation as long as they’re holding hands. Awww.
I really, really liked this book. It was a solid continuation of the original series, filled with the crazy antics and lulz I’ve come to expect from Fablehaven. It was nice to revisit some familiar characters, and some of the new ones show some promise. Foremost among these is—I kid you not—a horse that reads Jane Austen and becomes Kendra’s horse buddy. This horse is, without a doubt, the best character in the book, and Kendra clearly agrees with me:
Today she not only had full permission to be at Wyrmroost—she was a caretaker! And she was being guided to a friendly destination along a secure route by a careful expert who knew the sanctuary well.
While riding a horse that appreciated Jane Austen.
Sometimes life was good.
Also, Seth’s horse buddy prefers Green Eggs and Ham. Can we talk about how perfect that is? It’s little things like this that make Brandon Mull’s characters so lovable.
Next up on the awesome stuff list: Kendra’s unicorn date to the Fairy Realm. Since the original series ended with Kendra in a not-quite-relationship with Bracken the mystical unicorn prince, I’ve been excited to see how this relationship unfolds. True, Bracken is a bit too Mary Sue for my liking, but he’s clearly good for Kendra, and it was nice to see them interacting again. I was a bit disappointed when I found out Dragonwatch takes place only a few months after the events of Keys to the Demon Prison, because that means Kendra’s still 15, and there won’t be any good unicorn smooching for at least a few books. But hey, I can’t fault Brandon Mull for wanting to keep his books firmly in middle grade territory. It’s not like I’m his target audience.
Speaking of Kendra, I cracked up when she started drooling over Garreth, the prince of the Fair Folk. After five books of watching her fill the “responsible big sister” role, it was refreshing to see her acting like a normal teenage girl. What’s even more hilarious is that Bracken is totally on to her. Here’s an excerpt from a telepathic conversation between Bracken and Kendra:
We’re with the Fair Folk. As the new caretakers, we had to pay them a visit.
Not bad looking, are they? Bracken commented knowingly.
Kendra felt her cheeks grow warm. Why was she suddenly feeling guilty? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Could he sense her emotions from the other side of the world? Probably not. He was only supposed to sense what she deliberately sent to him. I guess so, she finally replied.
It would have been even better if Bracken had showed just a hint of jealousy. But I guess it’s not too late.
In general, Kendra and Seth showed some real character development. Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say two things: Seth did something incredibly stupid, as usual, but he actually put some thought into it and ended up saving the day; and Kendra grew a spine, gained some real competence, and made a useful contribution that had nothing to do with recharging a magical doohickey. Both kids took some real initiative in this book, instead of waiting around for the adults to tell them what to do.
As much as I loved Dragonwatch, it did have its flaws.
First and foremost, Warren Burgess made no appearances in this book. Now, if I’ve talked to you about Fablehaven at all (i.e. if you’re my sister or Tom), you’ll know that I think Warren is the best character in the entire series. Warren is what makes Fablehaven what it is. He’s this annoyingly-positive dork who has tons of experience and skills, and yet almost always manages to injure himself in a way that renders him completely useless: he’s been turned into a mute, catatonic albino; stabbed by a minotaur; mauled by a giant, flying demon cat; gored by a vicious flying deer; clawed by a harpy; and I’m sure I’m missing something else. But every time, he gets back up and keeps trying, because that’s the kind of bro he is. Without Warren, everyone would just be wandering around looking somber, because none of the other adults in the series have a sense of humor. He deserves better than to be stuck with a treacherous, vampire-chick girlfriend and mentioned only three times in Dragonwatch. I mean, come on—there’s so much excellent injury potential!
When Tom hinted that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about Warren being in the book, I almost put it down right then. I didn’t, obviously, and I’m glad I didn’t, but this serious, misguided omission is almost enough to knock a whole star off my Goodreads rating.
Next, there were some minor inconsistencies that made me a little grumpy. I hate it when authors are inconsistent. I know there’s a lot of information to keep straight in a series like this, but it might be useful to browse a fan-made wiki site once in a while.
At the end of Keys to the Demon Prison, the Fairy Queen promises to give the team’s creepy wooden puppet, Mendigo, a spark of free will so it can be a more useful servant. In Dragonwatch, Mendigo is still a witless automaton. Now, the Fairy Queen is a busy woman, but what about all that eternal gratitude for saving her husband, killing the demon king, preventing the end of the world, etc. etc.?
While Kendra is on her mystical unicorn date, they run into one of the astrids. Kendra’s brilliant response: “You look familiar.” Um, I should hope so, Kendra. There are only 90 of them left in the Fairy Queen’s service, and you smooched every single one of them. Plus, I’m pretty sure this one was in charge of guarding your brother. Do you really think acting dumb is going to impress your unicorn boyfriend, after all you’ve been through together?
Grandma and Grandpa Larsen faked their own deaths shortly before the Fablehaven series began, and it was very convincing. The whole family went the the funeral, and buried what was essentially a pair of Grandma and Grandpa clones. The whole story and process would only make sense to someone who understood all the magical hoo-hah they were involved with. So why are they suddenly inviting their other grandchildren to stay with them? They don’t know anything about magic. Their parents don’t know anything. How did they explain the fact that–surprise!—they’re both actually alive and have just been hiding from everyone for a year?
But the thing that really made me raise my eyebrows about this book was the whole plan to make Kendra and Seth caretakers in the first place. There are just so many flaws in this plan.
First of all, the way everyone constantly keeps Seth’s and Kendra’s parents in the dark is extremely troubling. Throughout the original series, it made a little more sense, because their ignorance of magical creatures was actually protecting them. Now that they’re in on the big magical hoo-hah secret, they ought to have a say in their children’s crazy, suicidal plans. But no—they’re conveniently off on vacation, so the kids’ supposedly responsible relatives tell the parents a bogus story, downplaying the insanely dangerous situation. And the parents supposedly just go along with it.
This brings up another point: do the kids’ parents like their kids at all? They certainly don’t seem concerned about dumping Kendra and Seth on their grandparents whenever they can. Family cruise? Go stay with your grandparents. Grandpa broke his arm and wants some help? Just be back in time for school to start. Kendra’s dead? Run along, Seth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t bat an eye when their teenagers are summoned to help with some mysterious “emergency situation.”
Also: weren’t the parents supposed to be homeschooling the kids at Fablehaven? How’s that going to work if they’ve disappeared to Wyrmroost for at least a year? Oh well! Who needs college when you’ve got fairy powers?
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the insanity of the plan itself. Kendra and Seth are young teenagers—very resourceful teenagers, but still teenagers. Kendra is a wimp, and Seth has a history of nearly destroying magical preserves through his utter lack of common sense. And let’s not forget: last time the kids were at Wyrmroost, they looted the forbidden dragon temple and killed a dragon in her lair without provocation. This ought to earn both kids an automatic death sentence, but the dragons seem to have conveniently forgotten all about it. Still, they have forfeited much of the natural protections afforded to innocent guests at the sanctuary. Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson come along to help them out, but history has proven they’re no match for Seth’s antics. Warren and their other friends are nowhere to be found, and Bracken is off fighting Unicorn McEdgebro in a different sanctuary. These poor, incompetent children have no support except the sketchy, distrustful assistants at Wyrmroost. It’s almost as if the geniuses in charge of this plan are intentionally setting the kids up for failure. Hmmm…
The wizard Agad’s reasoning for recruiting the kids is that they’re the dragon tamers he trusts the most. This is simply not true. It’s stated in Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary that Mara and Trask both show potential as dragon tamers. They might not have the innate talent of the Kendra-and-Seth team, but what they lack in dragon-conversing talent, they more than make up in overall life skills. They both trespassed at the dragon temple, but they didn’t actually kill any dragons, which gives them some advantage.
That “Not-So-Good” section was kind of rant-y, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I gave Dragonwatch four stars. There were definitely some eyebrow-raising bits, but overall, I really enjoyed this book. The ending was just suspenseful enough to keep me excited for the next installment, which supposedly comes out next year. I’ll be looking forward to finding out where the series goes.
Just…bring back Warren, okay, Brandon? He’s overdue to be impaled by something ridiculous.
Read my review of the sequel, Wrath of the Dragon King, here!