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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2017 GTA Year in Review

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.

But that’s not the topic of this post. Despite getting rocked by Hurricane Harvey, our family has experienced many good times in 2017, and I’d like to focus on those.

The Fam

Hobbit Halloween round 2!

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.

Big log at Petrified Forest National Park

Dan experiences a log cabin (that’s all petrified wood!)

Chaco Culture

Big kiva!

Mesa Verde

Dan could take or leave the Great Sand Dunes, especially after he lost his hot wheels car…

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.

Great art from our Airbnb

Lost Maple

Enchanted Rock. It’s real windy and sunny up there.

Chicken nugget or bat in Longhorn Cavern?

Apparently a natural cave formation…

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!

The Will

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.

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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.

Hi!

The Dan

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.

This kid knows what’s going on.

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.

The Tom

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.

The Me?

In the immortal words of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, “I used to have goals. They were evil goals, but they were goals.”

Mood

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.

Tom says the colors are loud, but I like them!

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.

Tom’s deep sea fangly fish and my panda

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.

It’s the chicken!

Borp borp!

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 Dragonwatch will 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.

Happy new year, y’all!

Our Hurricane Harvey Adventure

Normally I’d return from “blogging maternity leave” with a post about the new adorable baby, but I feel like I should write about our Harvey experience while it’s still painfully fresh in our minds. Plus, I loved my friend Emily’s post about her Oregon-Trail-esque experience, and I wanted to write my own. I’ll introduce the William on the blog next week.

In the meantime, enjoy the story—and some overly-dramatic Winnie the Pooh gifs!

The kids and I could have gone to stay with Tom’s family before the hurricane hit, but we decided not to do so. The information available to us made it sound like the storm wouldn’t be too bad in our area, and virtually no one I knew was leaving. When I took my concerns to Tom, he said we had about a 10% chance of losing power for more than 24 hours, and I’m enough of a homebody that I’d put up with more than that just to avoid driving the kids to Dallas alone.

In hindsight, that was a pretty selfish parenting move.

Anyway, we went into the weekend feeling pretty confident that we would be okay. I went to a doctor’s appointment that couldn’t be canceled (at an office that was flooded just a few days later). I made the traditional last-minute HEB shopping trip—along with the rest of Southeast Texas—and stocked up on water and emergency-friendly foods. Tom mocked me for buying ridiculous amounts of peanut butter and jam.

“Maybe I just never want to go to the store again,” I grumbled, remembering my struggle to fit multiple water flats around Will’s car seat while trying not to let Dan get run over by frantic shoppers.

“Fair enough,” said Tom.

We moved Dan’s bed upstairs on Sunday night, but went to bed without making any other preparations.

On Monday morning I woke up to Tom frantically moving things upstairs. The street outside flooded, and the water covered most of our driveway. We were getting pretty nervous watching the drainage ditch out back fill to capacity, but by early afternoon, the water had receded enough for Tom to go to work. He was feeling pretty smug about accurately predicting we wouldn’t get flooded, but I grumpily chalked it up to dumb luck.

I took a bunch of pictures so I could show my family how bad it had gotten later. Ha. Ha.

Dan surveys the front yard

Driveway view

Drainage ditch

On Tuesday Tom’s boss sent him home at about 9 in the morning, which ended up being a tremendous blessing. It seemed like Monday was going to repeat itself: water crept steadily up our driveway, and the drainage ditch filled back up. But this time, the water didn’t recede, and it never stopped raining.

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And the rain, rain, rain, came down, down, down…

As the day wore on, we made peace with the fact that we were probably going to get flooded, and made a major effort to get everything we wanted to save upstairs, along with several days’ worth of food and our entire water supply. As we prepared to live upstairs until the crisis was over, I think I went a little crazy. I remember shoving my raincoat into my backpack (in case we had to get on the roof? Or something?), and formulating plans for Dan’s outgrown diapers that make very little sense in hindsight.

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The hymn “Master, the Tempest is Raging!” played in my head all night long. We ate fish sticks for dinner and attempted to calm down by watching The Two Towers. We got the couches and piano up on Rubbermaid containers in an attempt to keep them out of the water. We charged all the electronics and made a lot of little last-minute preparations. Finally, around 10, we went upstairs to settle in for the night. Just before we went to bed, water started seeping in through the walls. When I saw the water on the floor, my overtired brain thought, “Oh! There’s water on the floor! I should mop it up!” I just couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. But then the tiny corner of my brain that was still capable of rational thought spoke up: “No! Don’t be a moron! Go to bed!” So I did.

By 1 A.M., we had about a foot of water in the house. The Rubbermaids holding up our furniture were buoyant enough to be unstable, and I got to watch my piano crash keys-first into the water. I told Tom what was going on and we spent the next hour moving more stuff upstairs, Tom wading through the water in my flip flops with garbage bags tied around his legs (we made a note to buy rubber boots in case this happened again) while I grabbed things from him and played junk tetris in our office nook. The whole thing felt like a weird dream.

We woke up in the middle of a lake.

The next few days kind of ran together. We were pretty much confined to the upstairs bedroom until the water level dropped, and then Tom sprang into action by calling insurance companies and contractors, pumping water out of the house, taking out furniture and carpet, etc.

Meanwhile, I tried to keep the kids happy, made sandwiches, kept water inventory (especially after we heard it was shut off in Beaumont), and tried to keep Dan from going downstairs.

Lucky Will had no idea anything was amiss.

It really wasn’t that bad. We had power. We had plenty of food (although we were all getting pretty tired of PB&J by the third day, and the awful reality of our situation set in when the applesauce muffins ran out). We had plenty of water. We had bunches of toys and books. We had a Blu-ray player, and quickly learned how many random flood-related movies we own (we watched Ponyo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? without even realizing what we were doing). We even had hot water and air conditioning part of the time. And if all else failed, we could watch the boats speeding past our house and the helicopters flying overhead.

Dan: “I love it!”

Still, we were very grateful when our wonderful friends from church rescued us Friday night and let us stay at their house until Tom’s family could come down from Dallas and further save us from our bizarre predicament.

All in all, we were very fortunate. We have amazing family and friends who gave us unbelievable amounts of help. Our insurance company was generous, and we were able to find replacement cars and appliances quickly. We’re hoping to be able to move back into our house in a few weeks. We definitely feel like we’ve been blessed and protected throughout this experience.

That said, I know I’m not alone in thinking it’d be great this didn’t happen again.

(Hey Emily, this gif thing is pretty fun!)

 

EDIT: I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to a dear friend we lost to the flood. When we emerged from our house, we discovered our beloved garden gnome was gone. Where he floated off to, we’ll never know.

RIP, Mr. Gnome. You were the best and brightest of us. Thank you for cheering our garden bed for two wonderful years. You will be missed.

Dan School

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.

    Dan’s shirts rarely sport fewer than two stickers at any given time.

  • 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.

Book Review: The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer

When I found out Stephenie Meyer had written a new book, I turned to Tom and told him I had to read it.

“Why would you do that to yourself?” he asked.

“Because the worst case scenario is I have something to rant about on my blog.”

He then agreed that I needed to read the book.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this because the worst case scenario has indeed transpired.

I feel the need to add a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a complete Stephenie hater. Her writing is pleasant and unobjectionable, and she does know how to tell an interesting story. I enjoyed several of the Twilight books for what they were, and I quite liked The Host. Obviously the Twilight series has some serious problems, but my main beef with Stephenie has always been the contemptuous way she treats her fans (don’t get me started on Life and Death, alrighty?). So when I heard she had written an actual book again, especially one with a title like The Chemist (in case you didn’t know, I used to be one of them chemistry types), I couldn’t resist giving her another chance.

Now, having read the thing, I’m just glad I found it at the library and didn’t actually spend any money on it.

(Fair warning: there are major spoilers in this post. In addition, this is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve written since my Hobbit posts. Also, I’mma go all pearl-clutching, Molly Mormon Utah girl on you, so if that’s not your thing, you probably oughtta skip this one. Please feel free to check out some of my other posts, like my last book review!)

***

The basic idea is that “Alex” (not her real name, but the one she goes by most consistently in the book) used to work for a shady government agency using shady chemical compounds to interrogate shady individuals. It’s all very shady. At some point her shady boss decided she knew too much but she survived the murder attempt and has been on the run ever since. After several more attempts to kill Alex, the shady organization asks her to complete one last assignment for for them, and the chance to live a normal life again is too tempting to pass up. But (shady voice) all is not as it seems™.

The really frustrating thing is that The Chemist wasn’t a completely terrible book. The plot was interesting, the writing style was fine (although you can tell Meyer is out of her element writing in third person), and Alex showed promise as an interesting narrator. There was potential for Meyer to fall back into bad habits and include yet another really awkward love triangle (identical twins, guys!), but she spared us. There wasn’t even any actual science in this book for me to cringe at (which kind of defeated the purpose of my reading it in the first place). I wanted to like this book, and I did—for the first third or so. But things went downhill fast when the romantic stuff took off.

Still a better love story than The Chemist, too.

The whole relationship is riddled with problems, starting with this gem from the main male character (Daniel…I hate that she used that name):

I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather–as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high–I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”

Let’s pass over the “while I was high” comment for now, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Girls, take note: men do not talk like this outside of really terrible romance novels. And the kind of men who do talk like this are probably not the ones you want to be dating. Edward Cullen, for example, also uses this kind of nauseatingly romantic language. I’m starting to worry that Meyer’s love language is “words of affirmation” and her husband has no idea, so she’s constantly fantasizing about attractive men telling her how luminous and intoxicating and real she is. This is not a healthy way to live your life, and it’s not a healthy way to write fiction.

What’s worse is that this conversation takes place shortly after Alex kidnaps and drugs Daniel with “a chemical compound with manifestations similar to ecstasy,” tortures him for information he doesn’t have, and essentially takes him so far out of his comfort zone that the poor guy is desperate for any sort of reassurance. Not only does Meyer create the sort of unhealthy, unequal relationship power dynamic we’re all familiar with, but it’s obvious that Daniel’s attraction to Alex is 100% adrenaline and drugs.  This is just the extreme version of my high school psychology teacher’s awful advice to the boys in our class: take the girl you like to a roller coaster park or horror movie so she’ll mistake the adrenaline rush for attraction to you.

Boys, don’t do this. Just don’t.

This is even addressed several times in the book, but Daniel blows it off quickly. No, it’s okay! I asked for your number before you drugged me, remember? We had that awkward two minutes of small talk on the train! Our love is reeeeaaaaallll!

More accurately, Daniel’s physical attraction to Alex is real. I guess that’s a better foundation for a relationship than, “Your blood smells so good I want to kill you.

The final nail in the coffin for me is that just after a particularly gory near-death experience, Alex and Daniel engage in some poorly-concealed “adult” activities. (Actually, “poorly-concealed” isn’t accurate–she didn’t even try.) There’s nothing explicit, of course, although the scenes leading up to the act are pretty racy. This is disturbing for several reasons, not least of which is the adrenaline/attraction thing we just discussed.

(Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this blog post is not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.)

Stephenie Meyer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So am I. As Mormons, we believe that certain practices are not only contrary to the commandments of God, but are also bad for individuals and detrimental to society, and extramarital sex is one of these practices. It’s well known that Stephenie is a Mormon, and so whether she likes it or not, when she publishes her work, she is acting as an unofficial representative of the Church. It’s one thing for a Mormon author to acknowledge the fact that people in “the world” engage in these types of behaviors for the sake of realism (I personally don’t feel like you have to include sexual content to tell a good story, but what do I know?). It’s quite another to present this event as the single best decision a character has ever made in her entire life, and dwell on the life-changing “joy” she feels to the exclusion of all other consequences.

When it comes down to it, when you hear that a book was written by a Mormon author, you generally expect that book to be reasonably clean and PG-rated, which made the whole experience really unpleasant. I think Breaking Dawn straddles the line between appropriate and inappropriate (especially in a YA novel)but at least Bella and Edward are married. In The Chemist, it feels like Stephenie is prancing over the line, declaring to the world that she doesn’t have to follow the rules anymore.

Well, Stephenie can do what she wants, and her fans have proven that they’re going to financially support her no matter how she treats them. She’s certainly not going to read or care about my opinion. But on the off chance that she does, here’s my message for her: Stephenie, you’re a Mormon. And with all the sisters-in-Zion love in my heart, I’m asking you to please act like it.

I speed-read the rest of the book, skimming more often than was probably necessary, but it was pretty hard to enjoy it after that. The ending was rushed and underwhelming, and if I’d been at all invested in the story, I would have felt disappointed. Overall, The Chemist gets one star from me.

And now I’m going to go scrub my brain by reading something decent.

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!

 

Fat Dan Reads a Book

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There you have it!

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Wasn’t that a great experience?

Just kidding.

After getting fewer views on my last post than pretty much any other, I grumpily joked to Tom that if I’d titled it “Fat Dan Reads a Book,” it would have been super popular. I almost reposted it the next day with the joke title, just to see what would happen, but decided that wasn’t the best idea.

“Fat Dan Reads a Book” is just too good of a title to waste, however, which brings us to today’s post.

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He loves the shiny cover on The Alloy of Law.

Dan actually likes books a lot. I try to read to him at least a couple times a day, and he sees Tom and me reading all the time, so he seems to have figured out that books are cool. Every day he pulls all the books he can reach off the bookshelf and examines them one by one, flipping pages and talking to himself like he’s reading. When he can get a-hold of one of our books, he’ll try to carry or drag it out of my line of sight, then play with it silently until I take it away (he usually can’t resist crinkling pages after a few minutes).

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Dan definitely has strong opinions about his books, and on Tom’s and my end, some are just more enjoyable than others. Today we’re going to talk about our favorite Dan books!

Most of these are board books, because they’re indestructible and about right for Dan’s attention span, but a few have paper pages. Tom usually reads those to Dan because his arms are longer and can keep them out of Dan’s sticky, destructive hands more easily.

1. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

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This is a fun little book about a friendly blue truck who makes friends with all the animals and helps a grumpy, self-important truck out of a tight spot. It’s one of Dan’s absolute favorites. The illustrations are pretty and detailed, and he loves the colors. He also loves hearing me make animal noises, which are color-coded for reader convenience.

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Little Blue Truck isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but there are enough amusing details to keep the parents entertained.

This guy is the real hero.

This guy is the real hero.

All in all, it’s just a nice story that teaches kids that being friendly gets you farther than being a jerk to everybody. What’s not to love?

2. Bugs Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake

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I picked this book up at 2nd and Charles, and I’m glad I did. It’s chock full of good times. Dan generally can’t sit still long enough for me to read it straight through, but that’s partly because he’ll keep going back to previous pages to stare at all the bugs. You can’t really blame him—there’s a lot going on in this book! It helps that there’s not really a plot, so you can just open up any random page and have a good time.

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You have to admire the fun details in this book, even if they’re not very entomologically correct.  I mean, the “fruit bug” is a pineapple with wings. That’s pretty great.

I just hope Dan doesn’t ever decide real bugs are this much fun and bring them inside to show me. Ew.

3. Pretty much everything by Sandra Boynton

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I’d never heard of Sandra Boynton before I was pregnant with Dan, but once we received Happy Hippo, Angry Duck at the baby shower, there was no going back. I love these books even more than Dan does, and I grab them at 2nd and Charles (or Amazon) whenever I can. They’re so quirky and random, and I love the illustrations.

The first time I read this page, I lost it. Tom was looking at me like I was crazy.

The first time I read this page, I lost it. Tom was looking at me like I was crazy.

I feel you, cow. I FEEL YOU!

I feel you, cow. I FEEL YOU!

If I can be as cool as Sandra Boynton when I grow up, my life will have been a success.

4. All the Dr. Seuss Classics!

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Plus…Sam and the Firefly? Where did that come from?

Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Tom is usually the one who reads these to Dan because of the aforementioned arm-length issue, but they’re always a good time. We received a bunch of them from Tom’s grandparents, and we’re so grateful!

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Foo-Foo the Snoo. I always wondered what that guy’s deal was.

5. Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever

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The title doesn’t lie—this was one of my favorite books as a child, and I made sure we had a copy once Dan was born. To this day, my family still talks about Couscous, Schtoompah, and I Am a Bunny.

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Where else do you put a tuba?

Im pretty sure I learned everything I know about colors from Richard Scarry. And maybe some of my chemistry classes. But mostly Richard Scarry.

I’m pretty sure I learned everything I know about colors from Richard Scarry. And maybe some of my chemistry classes. But mostly Richard Scarry.

And what Richard Scarry-loving child doesn’t want to visit a castle in Denmark?

Watch out for that dungeon, Dan.

Watch out for that dungeon, Dan.

This book is full of short, colorful stories that are perfect for an easily-distracted Dan, and he’ll appreciate the experience more and more as he gets older.

6. Parables/Stories Jesus Told by Nick Butterworth and Mick InkpenIMG_1158

This book gave me my first exposure to the parables, and it’s absolutely fantastic. The authors turned the parables into cute, funny stories that are easy for little kids to remember. I’d highly recommend it.

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7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

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This one’s a classic, and the different sized pages and caterpillar holes keep Dan engaged while we’re reading.

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See, Tom? Green smoothies are good for you!

See, Tom? Green smoothies are good for you!

8. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert

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This one found its way onto one of our wish lists at some point. I’d completely forgotten about it, but once I started reading, I remembered disliking it as a child. We kept reading it in school, and even then I knew that books read in school weren’t as cool as books read with my parents at home. “a” was a smug little jerk. I was suspicious of anthropomorphized letters, and I couldn’t figure out why they kept saying “chicka chicka boom boom.” And then there was this scene, which disturbed Little Elissa greatly:

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The book clearly states that these letters were comforted by “Mamas and papas and uncles and aunts.” But there’s only one capital letter for each lowercase letter (a fact confirmed by the inside back cover), so do all of these baby letters come from single-parent families? What about those that only had an uncle or aunt? Were they orphaned? Why aren’t we talking about the sad story of these letters coming from broken homes? How does gender work with anthropomorphized letters, anyway? None of this made any sense to me, and it made me distrust the book even more.

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In hindsight, I was probably overthinking things a little.

I’ve had to take another look at this book, because Dan really likes it. The bright, bold colors catch his attention, and he loves pointing at the sun, moon, and coconuts. Maybe the book isn’t so bad.

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Let’s just hope Dan doesn’t ask me where baby letters come from.

Do you guys have any suggestions? Which books remind you of your childhood? What do your kids love to read?