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.


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:

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!”


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:


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:

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.

Still looks delicious!

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

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:



Daniel Thomas Nysetvold Born April 8, 2015 6 lbs, 15 oz
Daniel Thomas Nysetvold
Born April 8, 2015
6 lbs, 15 oz

Hello friends! I know it’s been awhile, but as you can see, I’ve had more important things to worry about lately! As you can see, Baby Daniel, our New Friend, was born on April 8. It’s been a crazy ride, but Tom and I are loving this parenting business.

For those of you who don’t know, after my 20-week ultrasound Daniel was diagnosed with hydronephrosis. This means that because of a blockage in his urinary system, his kidneys couldn’t drain properly. It’s a relatively common condition in baby boys, and for most babies the problem resolves itself before birth. Unfortunately, Daniel’s didn’t. Our perinatologist decided that I needed to deliver at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston so Daniel could have prompt surgical intervention. Daniel was checked into the NICU on April 10, and spent the next week in a confined space, hooked up to a bunch of wires and a catheter.

Daniel and me on discharge day. Don't let that chair's cushy exterior fool you---it's the most uncomfortable chair in the history of chairs. That chair is Satan in chair form.
Don’t let that chair’s cushy exterior fool you—it’s the most uncomfortable chair in the history of chairs. That chair is Satan in chair form.
The fearsome beast in his cage


Daniel had surgery on April 16. The procedure was done via catheter, so it was minimally invasive. The first thing the nurse told us when we got there that morning was, “They’re getting the robot ready.” You kids and your crazy, newfangled technologies. In all seriousness, though, it’s incredible that this type of procedure exists and that we had access to it. The surgery only took about 45 minutes.

This is from the day after the surgery. Daniel was pretty loopy from the general anesthesia and morphine for about two days.
This is from the day after the surgery. Daniel was pretty loopy from the general anesthesia and morphine for about two days.
Pro tip: If you want your baby to stay calm while driving long distances, morphine is pretty effective.
Pro tip: If you want your baby to stay calm on long car rides, morphine is pretty effective.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I was very stressed-out and discouraged. I was making weekly, sometimes semiweekly trips from Beaumont to Houston, and the only answer the doctors would give us was, “We’ll just have to wait and see what needs to be done after delivery.” I didn’t know what was going to happen to Daniel, or how long I would be away from home. There were times when I lost my perspective and wondered why we had to go through this.


The General Women’s Session of General Conference was two weeks before Daniel’s induction date. The whole session brought me a lot of comfort (and I loved the reference to Marie Madeleine Cardon—I grew up hearing stories about her from my grandparents), but I was most affected when President Henry B. Eyring shared the Lord’s words to Alma in Mosiah 24:14:

And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

Our burdens were eased throughout this whole process. Our family has been incredibly blessed, sometimes way beyond what I’ve felt we deserved, and now I’m starting to understand why. Tom has a great job and great health insurance, which are helping immensely with Daniel’s and my medical bills. We live close enough to Houston to have access to some of the best doctors and facilities in the world. Our family and friends have been so supportive and helpful. I learned that so many people have been praying for us, and I felt their love. If you have prayed for Daniel at any time, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

When I heard President Eyring’s words, I stopped wondering why the Lord didn’t give Daniel a miraculous in utero recovery. It really has been reaffirmed to me that the Lord does visit His people in their afflictions. He loves us, and He answers our prayers. That knowledge helped me through that painful week in the NICU and continues to comfort me through tough times.

One of our first awkward family photos
One of our first awkward family photos

We’re still waiting for Daniel’s kidneys to decompress, but he’s doing very well. He’s happy, healthy, and incredibly chubby. And tomorrow he’ll be two months old.


“Are you going to feed me or not?”


Welcome to the family, Dapper Dan. We love you. 

Pregnancy Brain—Is It a Thing?

Well, look at that: it’s been over two months since my last post, which was honestly a bit of a cop-out. I’ve been feeling guilty about this for awhile, but Tom managed to cheer me up: “There’s no way you can be worse at your blog,” he said, “than you are at Instrumental Analysis.”

Oh, that Tom. He always knows what to say.

(Instrumental Analysis is a 500-level chemistry class, and the first class in which I managed to score a 52% on a midterm. Thank goodness for the curve.)

To be honest, I’ve been having a lot of trouble blogging lately. I have four or five drafts that I’ve started and abandoned for various reasons:

“This post is so angry. Maybe you shouldn’t blog while you’re so angry.”
“This post is booooooring. Why can’t you write anything interesting?”
“This one is better, but still pretty lame. No one wants to read about that.”
“I don’t want to blog. I want to sit on the couch, eat chocolate, and watch Duck Dynasty. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

If this silliness was localized to blogging, I wouldn’t be concerned. The problem is, it’s spilled over into my regular writing. I’ve spent the past month trying to brainstorm and plot my next project, and I’ve gotten nowhere beyond a few pages of summarized Wikipedia articles. If I can force myself to work through the fog, I feel like I’m getting somewhere, but as soon as I take a break, I immediately lose interest in the idea and wonder why I thought anyone else would be interested.

It’s been so frustrating that the other night I told Tom that maybe I should quit writing and do something else with my life. He told me that maybe now isn’t the time to be making sweeping statements about my career, given that I’m 7.something months pregnant and haven’t been feeling 100% lately.

That, along with spending some time with another pregnant woman who was obviously having trouble remembering things, got me thinking: could “pregnancy brain” be the cause of my writing problems? Instead of making me lose my keys or leave the house without pants, could New Friend be simply claiming all my creative energy? I can’t think of a worthier use for it (New Friend is certainly more important than my mediocre-at-best novels, after all), and Googling “pregnancy brain writing” indicates that lot of pregnant women have similar complaints. I even found some evidence that women’s brains physically shrink toward the end of pregnancy, which would explain a lot. I hate it when writers talk about “losing their muse” (it’s a pretentious excuse if I ever heard one), but I just had this mental image of New Friend sneaking up on an ancient Greek woman with a harp and hitting her in the head with a meat mallet.

Of course, I immediately found tons of conflicting information. This article claims that pregnancy actually improves women’s cognitive abilities, while this one extols the positive effects of pregnancy on a woman’s creativity. “You can claim brain shrinkage if you want,” these sites seem to tell me, “but science isn’t backing you up. Maybe you’re just lazy.” Thanks, internet.

The one common thread in these articles is that sleep deprivation and stress commonly contribute to the “brain fog,” which makes a little more sense. What, you mean my brain doesn’t like waking up every hour from 11 pm to 4 am so I can either go to the bathroom or break up the all-night dance party in my abdomen? You’re trying to tell me that juggling prenatal classes, two sets of doctor’s appointments, amped-up dietary requirements, medical insurance paperwork, and buying all the baby things on top of my normal responsibilities might be more than my brain is used to?

In some ways, I haven’t had this much stress in my life since I graduated from college. It doesn’t feel as stressful most of the time because instead of dealing with grouchy professors and TAs, I’m dealing with smiling doctors and nurses; instead of receiving disappointing midterm grades for my efforts, I’m being handed adorable sonogram printouts. I’d take pregnancy over P-chem any day, but still—there’s a lot going on.

Whether due to brain shrinkage or plain old sleep deprivation, something is definitely happening upstairs, and I’m not convinced it’s anything to worry about. Perhaps the most interesting article I found claims that the changes in pregnant women’s brains serve to make them better mothers, and that’s definitely something to embrace. Maybe I should take a nap and realize that while the next 6.3 weeks may not be the most productive writing weeks I’ve ever had, it’s all for a good cause. Plenty of women manage to write books after having multiple kids, and whether that’s my lot in life or not, raising New Friend and Future Friends is the most important thing I’ll ever do.

And because this post has been sort of a downer, here are some cute pictures to make up for it!

We got a crib! And I only maimed myself twice putting it together. The mobile was a gift from my family.
We got a crib! And I only maimed myself twice putting it together. The mobile was a gift from my family.
This is the New-Friend's-eye view of the mobile. I sewed all the animals except the tiger, which was made by my dad. He has mad skills.
This is the New-Friend’s-eye view of the mobile. I sewed all the animals except the tiger, which was made by my dad. He has mad skills. New Friend also gets to look at our BYU diplomas. We try to stress the importance of education in this family…or something.
The bright side of seeing a perinatologist every few weeks: lots of ultrasounds! Sometimes Dr. Reiter will pull up the 3D sonogram just for kicks, probably to cheer me up when I'm looking especially nervous.
The bright side of seeing a perinatologist every few weeks: lots of ultrasounds! Sometimes Dr. Reiter will pull up the 3D sonogram just for kicks, probably to cheer me up when I’m looking especially nervous. Tom’s just happy that we’re finally using this photo holder a good family friend gave us for a wedding present.
I found this baby bathrobe at Ross and thought, "My child needs this." Adorable/embarrassing pictures to come after New Friend is born.
I found this baby bathrobe at Ross and thought, “My child needs this.” Adorable/embarrassing pictures to come after New Friend is born.
I’m working on a baby blanket. This is actually the second blanket I’ve started, but the first, though awesome, doesn’t currently lend itself well to photography. Yet.

Anyone have crazy stories/advice about dealing with “pregnancy brain”? Drop me a line! I love comments!

NaNoWriMo and Other Good Times!

Yes, this silly blog still exists, though it has been growing cobwebs lately. What can I say? November was a crazy time.

The main thing that made it so crazy is that I officially participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. The basic idea is that, during the month of November, you write 50,000 words worth of novel. I would have done it before now, but this is the first November in five years where I haven’t had three chemistry midterms per week all month. So, that was nice.

I actually didn't end up eating all the seaweed. I wanted to, but pregnancy said otherwise.
I actually didn’t end up eating all the seaweed. I wanted to, but pregnancy said no.

The draft isn’t finished yet, but I did make it to 50,000 words. It’ll be finished within a few days, but for now I’m taking a break to catch up on housework and do some Christmas shopping/crafting. Maybe I’ll even read a book.


All in all, NaNoWriMo was an awesome experience. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • I did write by hand this time. No, I’m not a masochist. In high school, I did the majority of my “fun writing” by hand, so it’s the system I’ve always been used to (I had this awesome desk with a roll-out keyboard tray, where I kept whatever story I was working on. I’d have a textbook and a notebook on top of the desk, and when anyone came into my room while I was writing, I’d casually slide the keyboard tray back into the desk and pretend I’d been studying the whole time. It was awesome). Writing by hand also broke me of the bad habit of going back to existing scenes and making them twice as wordy to reach word count goals. It was harder and slower than typing would have been, and I don’t anticipate doing it all the time, but it was instructive.
  • This is easily some of the worst writing I’ve ever done, and that was depressing at times, but it was useful to force myself to push through the awful parts and keep writing when all I wanted to do was shove my notebook through the nearest paper shredder. The prose quality actually improved throughout the month, too.
  • I’m definitely an outliner. This is the first time I’ve forced myself to come up with a rigid, detailed, beginning-to-end outline, and it saved my bacon on more than one occasion. It’s the reason I’m actually going to finish this book, and be reasonably satisfied with the ending. Yay!
  • I can be surprisingly productive when forced. Because I was having so much fun with my family in Utah during Thanksgiving week, I didn’t write a thing for three days. When we got home that Friday, Tom sat me down on the couch and basically wouldn’t let me get up until I was caught up (I love him). I was officially caught up by Saturday night (I’d written over 6,000 words that day and had major hand cramps), and finished up early Sunday afternoon. Total word count for that weekend was 10,518. Not too shabby.
  • There are other novel writers in Beaumont! On a whim, I decided to quit being antisocial and go to a couple write-ins, and ended up meeting some really nice people. There wasn’t a lot of actual writing going on at these events, but I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in awhile.


Most of the people reading this are probably more interested in pregnancy/baby news than in weird self-inflicted writing torture challenges. So, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?

First of all, we’re having a boy!

Look at that cute little face!
Look at that cute little face!

We are so excited! If nothing else, it’s nice not to have to refer to New Friend as “it” anymore. Tom actually got to come to the ultrasound with me, making the experience extra special.

The other fun news is that I started feeling New Friend moving a few weeks ago. The movements started off really tiny, and could have been mistaken for muscle spasms. But he’s getting stronger every day, and Tom can actually feel the kicks now. On Saturday, I took a suggestion from a baby book and shined a flashlight on my stomach to see if New Friend would respond. I didn’t feel anything at first, but he must have turned around; a few minutes later, he was definitely kicking my bladder instead. It took a few hours of sitting in weird positions (“sitting” on the couch upside down with my feet in the air at one point) to get him to stop.

Other pregnancy tidbits:

  • I now own two pairs of maternity jeans. They are definitely necessary.
  • However, everyone’s been telling me there’s no way I’m 4.5 months pregnant, and that I don’t look pregnant at all. I guess I should take it as a compliment, but it mostly just freaks me out. New Friend, are you okay in there? Why aren’t you taking up more space? Are you getting enough food and stuff?
  • Speaking of food, I’m actually eating these days, just like a good pregnant lady should. Also, I’m craving eggs all the time. Eggs are the best.
  • My mom and sister and I had to decorate onesies. New Friend is going to be one spoiled kid.
This is one whale of a trail. (Rachel's)
This is one whale of a trail. (Rach is my hero. Just look at that smile!)
My mom is super talented. You can see more of her artwork at http://lovelyworldofillustrations.wordpress.com/
My mom is super talented. You can see more of her artwork at http://lovelyworldofillustrations.wordpress.com/
We're still trying to convince Tom that Olaf is a great baby name.
We’re still trying to convince Tom that Olaf is a great baby name.

Yes, friends, life is good. It’s nice to be back in the blogosphere. Feel free to comment with NaNoWriMo stories, what-I-did-over-Thanksgiving-break stories, pregnancy/baby boy advice, suggestions for baby names, demands for my mom to open an Etsy store, or anything else. I’ve missed you guys!

Exciting Announcement!

Every spring, the BYU chemistry department has this big banquet where they hand out awards and celebrate people doing cool stuff. They also spotlight the graduating seniors in the program, and ask each senior to submit a short statement of what they’re planning to do after graduation. For some reason, I took it into my head that it would be absolutely hilarious to take this opportunity to troll the chem department. My paragraph included a sentence to this effect: “Elissa will be working as a technical editor, writing fantasy novels, and synthesizing new human beings while her husband prevents a nearby oil refinery from blowing up.”

…yeah. Unsurprisingly, everything I submitted ended up heavily edited:

Elissa Nysetvold is a BS Chemistry major from Provo, UT. After graduation, she will be moving to Beaumont, Texas. There she will be working as a technical editor and her husband will work at a nearby oil refinery.”

I realize that my comments weren’t consistent with the “dignity of the occasion” and whatnot, but I wish they would have, you know, informed me before I saw the program. I would happily have revised, and done so in a much more grammatically-elegant way than this. I mean, come on, guys—after all those persnickety red marks on my Chem 391 papers, I expected better than this! And besides: gestation is organic synthesis in action!

But, I digress. I didn’t bring up this story to harp on the chem department’s poor grammar skills. I brought it up to announce that everything I said I’d be doing after graduation is now officially happening!

Livin' the dream!
Livin’ the dream!

Yes, friends, Tom and I are expecting our first baby! The due date is April 12, and we are so excited.

We aren’t going to pick out names or anything until we know the baby’s gender, so for now we’re just calling it New Friend. This is because just before Tom and I moved to Texas, there was a bit of sadness over the fact that I was moving away from Utah permanently. I kept reassuring my mom and sister by saying that before too long, we would come back to visit and bring a new friend with us (meaning our offspring), and that all would be right with the world. After I’d said this a few times, they finally asked what the heck I was talking about, I explained, and there was much rejoicing. “New Friend” just stuck. (Glen, you’ll be happy to know I’ve brutally squashed several efforts to call New Friend “Baby Thor.” Long story.)

Everything is going extremely smoothly so far. Other than some fatigue and nausea, I feel great, and as I’m starting my second trimester even those discomforts are letting up. I’m really blessed to have a work situation that allows me to take it easy when I need to, and of course Tom has been absolutely awesome. It hasn’t always been a party, and I’ll talk about my biggest challenge in my next post, but I was made for this—literally, my body was designed for this amazing creative process. And that’s incredibly comforting and empowering.

I promise not to let this blog turn into a pregnancy/baby blog, but of course I’m going to give occasional updates on New Friend’s progress. Good times ahoy!