Book Review: Dragonwatch 2: Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull

All right, boys and girls. Gather ’round, ’cause it’s DRAGONWATCH TIME!

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Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King came out last October, and man. Brandon Mull pulled out all the stops with this one. Usually he seems to wait until about book 4 of a series before ramping up the intensity, but when I finished this one, I was speechless. If this is book 2, what are the next three going to be like?

I’ve been dying to talk about this book, so let’s get started!

***Major spoilers will be avoided, but if you’re sensitive about that sort of thing, you may want to skip this post. Also, any promotional materials released before the book came out (book trailer, exerpts, etc.) are fair game.***

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Wrath of the Dragon King picks up right where Dragonwatch left off. Having found the caretaker’s scepter and humiliated Celebrant, the dragon king, Kendra and Seth Sorensen are invited to the Feast of Welcome at Celebrant’s palace. The king officially declares war on the human caretakers, has their transportation killed, and forces them to take the long way home. As if hiking past a creepy castle on a festival night in a deadly sanctuary isn’t bad enough, they learn that Celebrant is trying to get the Wizenstone, a magical doohickey that either side can use to deus ex machina their way to victory in this war. Once again it’s up to plucky youngsters Kendra and Seth, along with their rotating cast of closest friends, to get the macguffin and save the day!

(Quick side note: What’s up with the name Celebrant? It’s a river in Middle-earth, a city on Roshar, and of course, ol’ kingy here. Is there some sort of rule that every fantasy author has to have something named Celebrant in their books? Because I’m so in. I hereby pledge to put a Celebrant of some kind in every fantasy novel I write from now on.)

The Good

First good thing: Tanu is back! Everyone’s favorite Samoan potion master returns from parts unknown, providing some much-needed Fablehaven nostalgia and adult supervision. I know, middle grade novels are supposed to be all about the kids. And don’t worry, Kendra and Seth are the ones who save the day, as usual. But Brandon Mull’s side characters are so much fun that you really miss them when they’re not around.

As such, sometimes I wish Brandon would work with the expansive cast he already has instead of introducing tons of new characters in every book. But at least one character introduced in Wrath of the Dragon King is worth the space: Ronodin, the dark unicorn.

Ronodin was actually mentioned in Fablehaven as a unicorn who willingly corrupted his horns, whatever that means. In Dragonwatch, Bracken went to Soaring Cliffs to stop him from wreaking havoc in another dragon sanctuary. Obviously he failed, because Ronodin starts slinking around the Feast of Welcome, causing trouble and harassing Kendra. He shows potential as an interesting villain for the series, and after finishing the book, I think he’s more twisted than the Sphinx. Here’s Ronodin in the book trailer, which gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

 

There are some spectacular dragon fights in this book. A dragon called Madrigus challenges Celebrant for the kingship at the end of Chapter 6 (which was released on Entertainment Weekly back in July, so calm down), which in dragon-land calls for a fight to the death. Which is awesome. The Somber Knight—Wyrmroost’s resident dragon slayer—makes a reappearance as well, and definitely earns his keep by throwing down some dragon carnage.

Several characters show some decent growth in this story. This might be the first book to break from the pattern of Seth doing idiotic things and endangering everyone, and Kendra bailing him out. He shows some genuine bravery in this book—not just reckless bravado, but actual courage. Especially at the end (oh my gosh the end! (sobs)). As for Kendra, she continues to be the level-headed, combat-useless older sister we know and love. She deals with some tricky situations in this book, but she pulls through every time. Without giving too much away, she has a hilarious and delightful Cinderella-style fairytale princess moment. Now she just needs her handsome prince to come back…grumble grumble…

Where was I? Oh yeah. Character growth. It seemed like Raxtus was going down a dark path in book 1, but he redeems himself here. And it’s fun to watch Knox and Tess, the Sorensens’ cousins introduced in the first book, getting involved in the magical stuff. Tess’s ability to see fairies and brownies and goblins without drinking the milk is fun and raises all sorts of questions about belief and magic, and Knox becomes less of an arrogant jerk as he’s forced to acknowledge he doesn’t know everything about everything. Good times.

Finally, Patton Burgess somehow makes an appearance in this book. It was so ridiculous that I laughed out loud. But it’s Patton, the ultimate bro, so overall I was pleased.

The Not-So-Good

My chief complaint is that once again, Warren Burgess is unacceptably absent. A Goodreads reviewer made the excellent point that it’s been eight (going on nine) years since we’ve had a book with Warren in it. Tanu is great and all, but I just want to know what my favorite injury-prone doofus is up to.

For that matter, I’ve got some bad news for Bracken-lovers: this installment is completely devoid of our favorite unicorn prince. Dragonwatch? More like Brackenwatch, amirite?

Seriously, though, I loved the Bracken/Kendra dynamic from Keys to the Demon Prison. All romance-y stuff aside, Bracken works extremely well on a team with both Kendra and Seth, and I was excited for more of that in this series. I’m hopeful that progress will be made toward rescuing Bracken from Unicorn McEdgebro in book 3, though. You can’t just leave that plot thread dangling for too long. I’m predicting that he’ll come into play fairly early on, just in time to help Seth out of his latest scrape.

As far as characters go, I continue to not be a huge fan of Calvin, the tiny hero. He’s a little too go-team, giddy-up, optimistic for me. After he swam in a bowl of custard in book one, I pretty much lost all respect for him. And come on, he says things like, “Try smiling. When I was just a boy, I remember my papa could smile his way out of anything.” What a chump. I was actually relieved when he couldn’t go into the castle with the kids. And while Lomo the Fair-folk outlaw sounded cool on paper (well, I guess this is all on paper), he doesn’t really contribute much to the story or the group dynamic. He’s basically the Legolas of the Dragonwatch crew.

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One little thing that’s bugged me since Fablehaven is the weapons used in these situations. Everyone’s using a sword or a crossbow or a staff–Kendra even spends some time learning to use a bow. And yes, many of these weapons are magical, which is great. But does anyone really think a sword is the best thing to use in a fight with a dragon? Wouldn’t, like, a magical machine gun be better? Don’t try to tell me that, in a world where Larry Correia supposedly exists, there aren’t magical firearms and adamant bullets. Dale has used a shotgun to save the kids in the past, so don’t try to tell me the Sorensens are anti-2nd-amendment hippies. If time is of the essence, and you’re trying to teach someone like Kendra—with the musculature of a typical fifteen-year-old girl—to fight magical bad guys, wouldn’t it make more sense to take her to the ol’ Fablehaven shooting range? I dunno, man. This has just been on my mind for a while.

I picked up some inconsistencies regarding Seth’s shadow charmer powers. At the beginning of the book, the Chinese dragon Camarat is testing Seth on his ability to withstand dragon paralysis. Seth is frozen, but manages to keep his mind clear. Now I could be wrong, but I understood dragon fear as having two components: extreme magical fear, and overwhelming distraction. Seth, as a shadow charmer, is immune to magical fear. Kendra’s fairykind powers make her immune to distracter spells. So the first time they faced a dragon together, Seth didn’t feel any fear but couldn’t remember anything about himself or anything else; meanwhile, Kendra was terrified and frozen solid, but was able to think clearly the whole time. So when the kids were touching, they combined their powers and negated both components. In this case, Seth doesn’t feel any fear, but the distracter component seems to be absent. Although it’s possible that Camarat was deliberately holding that part back. But later on, Kendra is in a situation where she has to pay attention to a distracter spell in order to navigate, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So maybe there’s a consistent issue with keeping these powers straight. I get it, though. There’s a lot of Fablehaven lore at this point.

In Conclusion…

Wrath of the Dragon King  was a wild ride. And all things considered, I really enjoyed it, even more than the first one. Despite the fact that certain characters are unaccounted for, I’d give it five stars (and I promise to keep the Warren whinging to a minimum from now on). It’s impressive that after seven books in this world, Brandon Mull is still picking up momentum, and I can’t wait until the next book comes out in October.

(P.S. To my little sister: Read the book already! We need to talk about stuff!)

Happy reading!

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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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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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!

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!