My Daniel Tiger Fanfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy parenting!

 

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

 

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New Blog Feature: Girl Books

***If you consider yourself a feminist, you should probably skip this one, because I still want to be friends.***

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I think books are really important. Stories, even fictional ones, resonate with us and teach us things we might not learn any other way. The Savior used parables to teach his most important lessons. The stories we read can, over time, shape our character—which is why it’s important to choose the right ones.

This is why I want to write stories. I remember the books that helped me figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Someday, if something I write helps another little girl, I’ll be so happy. I don’t know if that will ever happen; I don’t yet have the time or skills to create those kinds of books. But for now, I can share the “girl books” I loved the most, and that’s where this series comes in.

Before we can get started, I have to define what makes a good “girl book.” My criteria may be different from yours, and maybe some of you are bristling with rage already. Feel free to close this tab and visit again next time I post baby pictures. I won’t mind.

Why not just “books”?

There’s a lot of fantastic, uplifting literature about men and boys out there, and we don’t always have to read books about people who are just like us. I get that. The most important books in my life, The Book of Mormon and The Bible (and to a much lesser extent, the Lord of the Rings), have very few female characters, and I love them just the way they are.

But reading an excellent story with a good message can be especially powerful when you feel a strong connection with the characters. Most of the Savior’s parables are about “a certain man” (or woman) performing everyday tasks. His audience knew exactly what He was talking about, and could see themselves in the characters in those stories. That freed up their minds to really ponder the Savior’s message. Similarly, when we make a strong connection with the protagonist of a story, we experience it on an entirely different level.

What’s wrong with “girl books” today?

There are a ton of books with female protagonists, so you’d think girls would be surrounded with excellent literature. But in my experience, this is just not the case. On my last bookstore jaunt, the YA shelves were filled with obvious Twilight knockoffs, obvious Hunger Games knockoffs, dystopian love triangles, and John-Green-esque existential dreck. In the worst cases, these books promote risky behavior and specifically glorify teenage sex; many are simply unoriginal, uninspiring, and lacking in good role models.

I could write a whole post on what’s wrong with YA fiction, but the thing that bothers me most (after the inappropriate peer-2-teen choice behaviors) is the generic teenage action heroine protagonist (GTAHP). You know the one. She’s tough, she’s driven, she’s better than all the boys—and essentially acts like one. Her problems can be solved with fists, and by golly, she’s got fists. She theoretically cares about her love interest(s) and maybe one other family member, and has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to the rest of the world.

Clearly, I don’t consider the GTAHP an acceptable role model.

It’s possible that I just can’t see myself in these characters. I’ve never had a desire to dispatch bad guys with a sword or a bow—that sounds like it requires athletic ability. But I think it goes deeper than that.

So, what makes a good “girl book”?

Andrew Klavan likes to say (and I don’t have an exact quote because I can’t find it in print and I don’t want to wade through 450 podcast episodes) that human beings are most drawn to stories in which men are brave and women are loving. This isn’t to say that men can’t be loving and women should be cowardly—a simpering protagonist with an unfeeling muscle-man love interest would make any book deeply unsatisfying. A different way of phrasing Klavan’s idea is that stories are most satisfying when men display masculine bravery and love, and women display feminine bravery and love.

And so, to define what makes a satisfying girl book, we need a quick discussion on masculinity and femininity.

***Seriously, I’m about to start talking about gender roles here, so get out while you still can!***

I’ve found that the best primer on these topics is this baby right here:

My generation loves to hate on this document because (among other things) it affirms that men and women are different and have different roles in God’s plan. But I firmly believe it is inspired, revealed to a latter-day prophet as a pattern for how to live our lives. Following it as well as we can will bring us happiness in this life and the next.

The Proclamation clearly indicates that God designed men to be providers and protectors and women to be nurturers. Obviously we are all individuals with different abilities and circumstances, but I believe the greatest joy results from striving to fulfill these roles. And just as this is the ideal pattern for family life, in my experience, it’s also makes for the most satisfying fiction.

One of my (many) beefs with Peter Jackson is that he messed up big time in his portrayal of Éowyn. The point of her story isn’t that she picked up a sword and saved the day, slashing traditional gender roles in the process; the point is that she did all these things and she still wasn’t happy. Only when she falls in love with Faramir and resolves to be “a healer, and love all things that grow,” does she truly find peace.

We need more books that feature strong, loving, nurturing female protagonists and encourage their readers to develop these traits. And the books that already do this need more praise and attention, which I hope to bring them through this series.

Which books qualify?

Here are my criteria for the books in this series:

  1. It must have a prominent female viewpoint character.
  2. It has to be entertaining and well-written enough to hold my attention.
  3. It features “men who are brave, and women who are loving” as defined above.

Each post in this series will feature a book that I think fits these criteria. You might disagree with me on which books qualify—heck, the authors of these books might think I’m totally crazy. But if my high school English teachers taught me anything, it’s that authors’ opinions don’t matter!

…pfffffft. Hahaha. Yeah, I don’t believe that, either. But I do believe it’s possible to take something away from a book that the author didn’t necessarily intend to put there, and that may well be the case here.

The point is, if you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. And I’m always looking for book recommendations, so if you have a favorite girl book, please let me know!

1-year Bullet-Journalversary!

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

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

Why do I bullet journal?

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

It bigg

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

Hand-killing journal vs. current bullet journal

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

How my bullet journal works

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

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

Ka-chow?

Not to mention…um…whatever this is.

…yeah. Moving on.

I keep appointments in a future log like this one…

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

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

My daily logs look something like this:

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

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

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

And so will Lightning McQueen.

Is the bullet journal working?

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

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

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

Happy journaling!

 

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.

20171231_085049.jpg

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!

Introducing William! (Only 4 months late!)

Remember when I said I was going to introduce William on the blog…two months ago?

Hey, we’re still putting our house back together. I have priorities!

Anyway, it’s been four months already, so I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Meet William James Nysetvold!

I have to say, I expected the delivery to be more difficult than it was. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of sharing birth stories on my blog, but I’ll just say that at one point after the epidural (which was the most painful part of the whole experience), Tom asked how I was doing, and I told him I was more comfortable than I’d been in months. Apparently Will and I were too relaxed, because my contractions slowed way down and they had to wake me up halfway through to start me on pitocin. Good times.

As a newborn, William would stare at me like this all the time.

In fact, in spite of all obstacles (*cough* Harvey *cough*), Will has always been a really relaxed baby. He sleeps well, eats a lot, and doesn’t cry much. (as long as I don’t put him down for too long, or put him in the car seat). He loves to play with and smile at people. His easygoing nature sure helped us out during the hurricane madness, and he never seemed stressed out. If William had a motto, it’d be something like, “I’m just happy to be here.”

Happy guy!

William is doing really well. As you can see from that last picture, he got really fat, really fast. His height, weight, and head size percentiles from his four-month appointment are 85%, 85%, and 80%, respectively. He’s also really strong. He can roll tummy-to-back and scoot himself backwards (usually leaving a trail of spit-up).

As for Dan, he’s had a bit of a hard time. Getting a new sibling is hard, and I didn’t do the best job of preparing him for what was about to happen or helping him handle the changes. Dan is very much a creature of habit, and disruptions to his routine have always been hard on him. And boy, has he been through a lot of changes lately (Harvey didn’t help, either). Thankfully, we’re working through things and he’s doing better (and seems to have mostly forgiven me).

The good news is that Dan absolutely adores his brother. And vice versa.

Mom halp

Halloween hobbits

We’re so glad to have little William. He’s such a sweetheart, and fits so well into our family.

Love you, little guy!

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.

Disney Winnie The Pooh GIF - Disney WinnieThePooh Rain GIFs

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.

gif disney winnie the pooh pooh rain Honey

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

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.