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.

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!

Oh. Well, that clears everything up.

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 bad for individuals, but 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.

Book Review: Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull.


Oh my goodness, you guys. Dragonwatch came out two weeks ago, and all I have to say is, “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

Squee!

…okay, that’s not all I have to say. I’ve actually been dying to write this blog post for a while, but I had to wait until I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel (woohoo!). Now that’s done, and I can blog about this awesome book without guilt.

Brandon Mull is one of my author inspirations. He writes clever, hilarious, squeaky-clean middle grade fantasy, which is basically everything I love. Also, Fablehaven reminds me of my sister, since I first discovered the series back in high school when I started reading it over her shoulder on a family road trip. That might have been the trip where I decided to be “responsible,” and only brought The Grapes of Wrath for reading material (and if you’ve read my 7 Books I Wish I’d Skipped post, you’ll know how well that turned out). Luckily, my sister is a saint and let me read her books when she was done with them. To this day, the Fablehaven series is one of my favorites, and when I heard Brandon Mull was going to write a five-book sequel series, I was out-of-my-mind excited.

***WARNING!*** The rest of this post is chock full of Fablehaven and Dragonwatch spoilers.

The basic premise of the book is that 15-year-old Kendra Sorenson and her 13-year-old Seth are called out of world-saving retirement to help avert another magical catastrophe. You see, the dragons have gotten too big for their britches and decided they’re tired of living in human-governed sanctuaries like most magical creatures. Celebrant, the dragon king and co-caretaker of the dragon sanctuary Wyrmroost, is taking matters into his own hands and attacking Wyrmroost headquarters. The most brilliant magical minds decide that the best way to counter his attacks is to make Kendra and Seth the human caretakers of the sanctuary.

How could this possibly be a good plan, you ask? Because dragons radiate an aura of overwhelming terror and paralysis that can incapacitate most humans. And thanks to the quirky high jinks of the original Fablehaven series, Kendra and Seth can stand in the presence of dragons and carry on a normal conversation as long as they’re holding hands. Awww.

The Good

I really, really liked this book. It was a solid continuation of the original series, filled with the crazy antics and lulz I’ve come to expect from Fablehaven. It was nice to revisit some familiar characters, and some of the new ones show some promise. Foremost among these is—I kid you not—a horse that reads Jane Austen and becomes Kendra’s horse buddy. This horse is, without a doubt, the best character in the book, and Kendra clearly agrees with me:

Today she not only had full permission to be at Wyrmroost—she was a caretaker! And she was being guided to a friendly destination along a secure route by a careful expert who knew the sanctuary well.

While riding a horse that appreciated Jane Austen.

Sometimes life was good.

Also, Seth’s horse buddy prefers Green Eggs and Ham. Can we talk about how perfect that is? It’s little things like this that make Brandon Mull’s characters so lovable.

Next up on the awesome stuff list: Kendra’s unicorn date to the Fairy Realm. Since the original series ended with Kendra in a not-quite-relationship with Bracken the mystical unicorn prince, I’ve been excited to see how this relationship unfolds. True, Bracken is a bit too Mary Sue for my liking, but he’s clearly good for Kendra, and it was nice to see them interacting again. I was a bit disappointed when I found out Dragonwatch takes place only a few months after the events of Keys to the Demon Prison, because that means Kendra’s still 15, and there won’t be any good unicorn smooching for at least a few books. But hey, I can’t fault Brandon Mull for wanting to keep his books firmly in middle grade territory. It’s not like I’m his target audience.

Speaking of Kendra, I cracked up when she started drooling over Garreth, the prince of the Fair Folk. After five books of watching her fill the “responsible big sister” role, it was refreshing to see her acting like a normal teenage girl. What’s even more hilarious is that Bracken is totally on to her. Here’s an excerpt from a telepathic conversation between Bracken and Kendra:

We’re with the Fair Folk. As the new caretakers, we had to pay them a visit.

Not bad looking, are they? Bracken commented knowingly.

Kendra felt her cheeks grow warm. Why was she suddenly feeling guilty? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Could he sense her emotions from the other side of the world? Probably not. He was only supposed to sense what she deliberately sent to him. I guess so, she finally replied.

It would have been even better if Bracken had showed just a hint of jealousy. But I guess it’s not too late.

In general, Kendra and Seth showed some real character development. Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say two things: Seth did something incredibly stupid, as usual, but he actually put some thought into it and ended up saving the day; and Kendra grew a spine, gained some real competence, and made a useful contribution that had nothing to do with recharging a magical doohickey. Both kids took some real initiative in this book, instead of waiting around for the adults to tell them what to do.

The Not-So-Good

As much as I loved Dragonwatch, it did have its flaws.

First and foremost, Warren Burgess made no appearances in this book. Now, if I’ve talked to you about Fablehaven at all (i.e. if you’re my sister or Tom), you’ll know that I think Warren is the best character in the entire series. Warren is what makes Fablehaven what it is. He’s this annoyingly-positive dork who has tons of experience and skills, and yet almost always manages to injure himself in a way that renders him completely useless: he’s been turned into a mute, catatonic albino; stabbed by a minotaur; mauled by a giant, flying demon cat; gored by a vicious flying deer; clawed by a harpy; and I’m sure I’m missing something else. But every time, he gets back up and keeps trying, because that’s the kind of bro he is. Without Warren, everyone would just be wandering around looking somber, because none of the other adults in the series have a sense of humor. He deserves better than to be stuck with a treacherous, vampire-chick girlfriend and mentioned only three times in Dragonwatch. I mean, come on—there’s so much excellent injury potential!

When Tom hinted that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about Warren being in the book, I almost put it down right then. I didn’t, obviously, and I’m glad I didn’t, but this serious, misguided omission is almost enough to knock a whole star off my Goodreads rating.

Next, there were some minor inconsistencies that made me a little grumpy. I hate it when authors are inconsistent. I know there’s a lot of information to keep straight in a series like this, but it might be useful to browse a fan-made wiki site once in a while.

  • At the end of Keys to the Demon Prison, the Fairy Queen promises to give the team’s creepy wooden puppet, Mendigo, a spark of free will so it can be a more useful servant. In Dragonwatch, Mendigo is still a witless automaton. Now, the Fairy Queen is a busy woman, but what about all that eternal gratitude for saving her husband, killing the demon king, preventing the end of the world, etc. etc.?
  • While Kendra is on her mystical unicorn date, they run into one of the astrids. Kendra’s brilliant response: “You look familiar.” Um, I should hope so, Kendra. There are only 90 of them left in the Fairy Queen’s service, and you smooched every single one of them. Plus, I’m pretty sure this one was in charge of guarding your brother. Do you really think acting dumb is going to impress your unicorn boyfriend, after all you’ve been through together?
  • Grandma and Grandpa Larsen faked their own deaths shortly before the Fablehaven series began, and it was very convincing. The whole family went the the funeral, and buried what was essentially a pair of Grandma and Grandpa clones. The whole story and process would only make sense to someone who understood all the magical hoo-hah they were involved with. So why are they suddenly inviting their other grandchildren to stay with them? They don’t know anything about magic. Their parents don’t know anything. How did they explain the fact that–surprise!—they’re both actually alive and have just been hiding from everyone for a year?

But the thing that really made me raise my eyebrows about this book was the whole plan to make Kendra and Seth caretakers in the first place. There are just so many flaws in this plan.

First of all, the way everyone constantly keeps Seth’s and Kendra’s parents in the dark is extremely troubling. Throughout the original series, it made a little more sense, because their ignorance of magical creatures was actually protecting them. Now that they’re in on the big magical hoo-hah secret, they ought to have a say in their children’s crazy, suicidal plans. But no—they’re conveniently off on vacation, so the kids’ supposedly responsible relatives tell the parents a bogus story, downplaying the insanely dangerous situation. And the parents supposedly just go along with it.

This brings up another point: do the kids’ parents like their kids at all? They certainly don’t seem concerned about dumping Kendra and Seth on their grandparents whenever they can. Family cruise? Go stay with your grandparents. Grandpa broke his arm and wants some help? Just be back in time for school to start. Kendra’s dead? Run along, Seth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t bat an eye when their teenagers are summoned to help with some mysterious “emergency situation.”

Also: weren’t the parents supposed to be homeschooling the kids at Fablehaven? How’s that going to work if they’ve disappeared to Wyrmroost for at least a year? Oh well! Who needs college when you’ve got fairy powers?

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the insanity of the plan itself. Kendra and Seth are young teenagers—very resourceful teenagers, but still teenagers. Kendra is a wimp, and Seth has a history of nearly destroying magical preserves through his utter lack of common sense. And let’s not forget: last time the kids were at Wyrmroost, they looted the forbidden dragon temple and killed a dragon in her lair without provocation. This ought to earn both kids an automatic death sentence, but the dragons seem to have conveniently forgotten all about it. Still, they have forfeited much of the natural protections afforded to innocent guests at the sanctuary. Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson come along to help them out, but history has proven they’re no match for Seth’s antics. Warren and their other friends are nowhere to be found, and Bracken is off fighting Unicorn McEdgebro in a different sanctuary. These poor, incompetent children have no support except the sketchy, distrustful assistants at Wyrmroost. It’s almost as if the geniuses in charge of this plan are intentionally setting the kids up for failure. Hmmm…

The wizard Agad’s reasoning for recruiting the kids is that they’re the dragon tamers he trusts the most. This is simply not true. It’s stated in Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary that Mara and Trask both show potential as dragon tamers. They might not have the innate talent of the Kendra-and-Seth team, but what they lack in dragon-conversing talent, they more than make up in overall life skills. They both trespassed at the dragon temple, but they didn’t actually kill any dragons, which gives them some advantage.

Conclusion

That “Not-So-Good” section was kind of rant-y, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I gave Dragonwatch four stars. There were definitely some eyebrow-raising bits, but overall, I really enjoyed this book. The ending was just suspenseful enough to keep me excited for the next installment, which supposedly comes out next year. I’ll be looking forward to finding out where the series goes.

Just…bring back Warren, okay, Brandon? He’s overdue to be impaled by something ridiculous.

Writing FAQ!

Every once in a while a well-meaning friend or relative will ask well-meaning questions about my writing. And every time, I find myself completely unprepared to answer those well-meaning questions.

“What’s your book about?” they ask, all friendly-like.

“Um,” I say, ducking my head and zipping up my jacket until it obscures the bottom half of my face, “words and stuff. Probably fantasy stuff. I think Dan’s crying. Gotta go.”

As you can imagine, I never did well in job interviews.

It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing or I’m trying to keep it a secret. I’ve just had some negative experiences talking about writing with people—no one who reads this blog, don’t worry—and it just makes me nervous. Plus, the whole talking thing isn’t really my forte—why do you think I got into writing?

With that in mind, I’ve created a little writing FAQ to answer some of the questions I normally get. They’re all reasonable questions with answers I’ve thought a lot about, but can’t bring myself to say out loud when put on the spot. Hopefully this will clear up some confusion.

buecher-coloured-1

Q: So…why are you doing this writing thing?

A: I just like it! I really can’t help it. My brain likes to tell me stories, and it gets antsy if I don’t write them down. It’s always been this way, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

Writing is therapeutic. It helps me channel my natural surliness without raging at people at the grocery store. It also gives my brain a bit of a workout, which is nice since I spend most of the day reading board books. Don’t get me wrong—I love reading to Dan, but I’ve got Dazzling DiggersHello Ninja, and Little Blue Truck memorized. Bring on the next challenge!

Also, I’ve got a tiny shred of hope that someday, something I write will help someone. My life has been changed by some of the books I read as a child, and I’d like to pay it forward if I can. The world is a weird place, and good, wholesome books are always in demand. Whether I can actually deliver said books is another story, but hey—it’s worth a shot.

Q: What makes you think you’ll have time for this?

A: That’s a good question. I’m raising a crazy toddler. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take a shower tomorrow (note: the answer is “probably yes”). The point is, I’ve got some time right now, and the Lord tells us to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will.” I think writing can fit that description. It certainly beats Netflix, at least.

Kevin J. Anderson, one of the most prolific writers in the sci-fi industry (and maybe generally), tells a story of a friend whose wife’s career took off in such a way as to facilitate him quitting his job and writing full-time. The guy created enough distractions for himself that he never wrote another book. Someday all of our kids will be in school, and I’ll have larger chunks of uninterrupted writing time. Those chunks will do me no good if I can’t learn to manage the time I do have, and that’s what I’m doing right now.

My current goal is 500 words a day, and it’s working really well right now. I know I’ll be making adjustments throughout our kids’ childhood, and that’s fine. But I have no intention of ever stopping completely—I doubt I could if I tried.

Q: So why are you always writing that fantasy stuff?

A: The short answer is because that’s mostly what I read. I’m an escapist reader, and I always have been. When I want reality, I go to Walmart.

There's a little too much reality at Walmart sometimes...

There’s a little too much reality at Walmart sometimes…

I’ve always loved fairy tales and stories about magic and unicorns and all that nonsense, but I really fell in love with fantasy in third grade when Ms. Ward read Ella Enchanted to our class. I wasn’t a big fan of most of the books we had to read in elementary school. It seemed like we were always reading books about dogs, probably because a lot of kids had dogs and teachers wanted them to relate to what we were reading. I didn’t have a dog. I didn’t even particularly like dogs. Those books were not meant for me. When we started on Ella, I sat straight up in my chair, paying rapt attention the whole time. I remember thinking, “You can write books like this?” It blew my eight-year-old mind. I think that was also the moment when I really decided I wanted to be a writer.

Later that year I picked up Harry Potter for the first time, and from then on, I was stuck. I’ve been a fantasy junkie ever since.

I have nothing against other genres, and enjoy reading them (except the dog genre—not a fan). But fantasy is my favorite, and for now, that’s the genre I’m most interested in writing.

Q: Plotter or Pantser?

Plotter! I can’t write without an outline, though I’m impressed by those who can.

For those of you who don’t know, a “plotter” is someone who has to “plot” their story out from start to finish before they start writing. A “pantser” figures it out as they go, writing by the “seat of their pants,” as it were.

Q: Traditional or Self-publishing?

I’m planning to self-publish eventually. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which publishing route to take, and I don’t really have time to get into them here, but after a lot of research, I’ve decided that the pressure inherent in traditional publishing would be too hard on our family. I love writing, but I’m a mom first. I need the flexibility to give my children as much attention as they need, particularly when crises inevitably arise. I’m not trying to be the primary breadwinner in our family (if I was, we’d be in a heap of trouble right about now), so flexibility really is the most important factor here.

Q: What’s your book about?

I don’t think any writer likes answering this question. It’s hard to answer for several possible reasons:

  • It’s too early in the writing process to have a satisfactory answer available. This is particularly true for pantsers. I am very much NOT a pantser, but I usually don’t come up with elevator pitches for my stories until they’re basically finished.
  • The writer doesn’t know what “version” of the answer you’re looking for. Do you want the genre? The five-second elevator pitch? The “theme”? An “It’s like Star Wars meets High School Musical 2“-style answer? A point-by-point summary of the plot? Sometimes there’s no way of knowing, and no writer wants their listener to walk away in the middle of a 20-minute explanation of their “Sexy Robot Monkey Pirates from Outer Space” saga. (I actually did have to walk away from the guy who was writing those books. Apparently, so did his ex-wife.)

But, since this is a FAQ and I’m committed to answering your questions, I’ll tell you that the book I’m working on now is about the struggle to be a man in a post-modern world.

Just kidding; it’s about ghosts and stuff.

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Q: So when are we finally going to see something you’ve written?

Um…someday.

In all seriousness, I’m just starting out in my “writing journey.” I went almost four years without writing anything other than college papers (and before then, my efforts weren’t much to look at, believe me). I’ve written a few “novels” over the last few years, but I’m still learning how to tell a good story.

Brandon Sanderson says you need to write about five garbage books before you can write anything decent. I’ve written about three since I started writing again, and they’re garbage-y enough that I’m not sure they even qualify as books. My writing is definitely improving, and that’s the point of this whole exercise, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

Life is super crazy right now, what with pregnancy and keeping Dan on the straight and narrow and whatnot, so I’ve decided to stop setting crazy and unrealistic goals like, “Write something publishable this year!” Instead, I’m going to keep plugging along at a pace I can keep up. Someday I’ll get there, and you guys will be the first to know when I have something to show you.

***

Well, I think that about covers it (hehe, “covers.” Because books. See what I did there?). Everything you’ve never wanted to know about this weird thing I do in my spare time, in one convenient blog post. And because you’ve been so patient, here are some adorable pictures of Dan “driving” a train.

 

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!

Book Review: The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, by Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman

Heya, reader peeps! I’m happy to report that the Nysetvold family is, in fact, alive! We may all have nearly succumbed to the plague, but things are looking up (knock on wood).

Before the great plague outbreak of 2016, Dan and I were traveling for almost a month straight. Many fun times were had, but man—I am absolutely exhausted. So instead of working on the high-effort blog posts I had planned, I’m just going to tell you about this fabulous book I read.

The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting is basically exactly what it sounds like—it takes game theory principles and applies it to the different challenges of child-rearing. I was disappointed to learn that its focus isn’t on manipulating the little devils into doing what you want 100% of the time, but on training them to possibly grow up to be decent people. As stated in the introduction:

You might think that kids who don’t care at all about the good fortunes of their family—because they are “rotten”—would not make much of a contribution to their parents and siblings. But if the parents show that they care about the welfare of their rotten kid—despite his behavior—he will soon learn that it serves his selfish interest to treat his parents better—because they will then treat him better. According to the theorem, even rotten kids, in the right circumstances, might be maneuvered into becoming little angels. Or if not angels, then at least less rotten.

I mean, I guess that’s a worthy goal, but…meh.

Anyway, the book was interesting. None of the ideas were revolutionary—the first two chapters teach how to use “I cut, you pick,” and auctions to settle disputes, respectively—but I picked up some handy tips, like using a Borda count to choose among three options (when deciding on which movie to watch or where to go for dinner) as long as none of the kids are clever enough to use strategic voting. I also liked that there was just enough child psychology to determine which strategies will work on kids of various ages, and not enough to make this into yet another hippie parenting book.

 

Reading this book is an amusing experience. You can definitely tell this book was written by two nerdy (Kevin more so than Paul) dads with a sense of humor. In the aforementioned discussion on the Borda count and strategic voting, a hypothetical scenario is presented in which one of the kids suggests that among other possible after-dinner activities, the family could visit creepy Uncle Larry. She then lists creepy Uncle Larry as her second-choice activity, skewing the count in her favor. It’s a funny story, and it illustrates the point perfectly. The only question is why the parents in this scenario would accept creepy Uncle Larry as a serious option.

That’s the only real problem I had with this book: in many of the examples, the parents appear to have relinquished their authority in the name of “fairness.” If Mom and Dad don’t like eating at McDonald’s every night, maybe they shouldn’t put dinner up for a vote every night. If they don’t want to spend a bunch of money taking the kids to Six Flags, maybe that shouldn’t be an option. But I realize that it’s hard to come up with examples for these types of problems, and that this book shouldn’t be taken as a step-by-step guide on how to raise the chill’uns. It just made me raise my eyebrows a little bit.

Basically, The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting was an interesting read. I’d give it four stars.

 

Fat Dan Reads a Book

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There you have it!

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.

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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?