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!

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1-year Bullet-Journalversary!

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

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

Why do I bullet journal?

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

It bigg

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

Hand-killing journal vs. current bullet journal

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

How my bullet journal works

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

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

Ka-chow?

Not to mention…um…whatever this is.

…yeah. Moving on.

I keep appointments in a future log like this one…

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

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

My daily logs look something like this:

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

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

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

And so will Lightning McQueen.

Is the bullet journal working?

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

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

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

Happy journaling!

 

2017 GTA Year in Review

It’s that time again! This is where I summarize everything that’s happened to our family this year for my twelve fabulous readers!

(Previous year-in-review posts can be found here and here.)

What a year, amiright? Remember that meme about how 2016 was the worst year in history? Maybe y’all shouldn’t have memed so hard, because sometimes it seems like 2017 had a “hold my beer” moment. I mean, celebrity deaths are terrible, but so are natural disasters, and nature has not been kind to humanity this year.

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

The Fam

Hobbit Halloween round 2!

Non-Harvey-related family events include our two major vacations this year: Zelphfest and Fredericksburg.

Zelphfest was our big roadtrip around the four-corners area, so named because we visited 7 national parks and saw all manner of Native American ruins. My favorite parts of the trip were Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Mesa Verde National Park.

Big log at Petrified Forest National Park

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

Chaco Culture

Big kiva!

Mesa Verde

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

Zelphfest definitely ranks as one of our best family vacations. Everyone had a great time (including Will, who was but a paunch), and I had no idea we had this kind of thing in the United States!

Who (or what) is Zelph, you ask? If you want to make Tom’s day, ask him!

Over Thanksgiving we took another road trip to Fredericksburg. Tom really wanted to get away from what he called the “post-apocalyptic dumpsterscape” that is Southeast Texas—and I have to admit, it was pretty nice.

Great art from our Airbnb

Lost Maple

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

Chicken nugget or bat in Longhorn Cavern?

Apparently a natural cave formation…

The kids were a little ridiculous on this trip. Will got hungry in the middle of our tour of Longhorn Cavern, so I had to nurse him while walking through a dark cave while Dan screamed about how he didn’t want Tom to hold his hand (he just wanted to stand in the dark in the cave while we moved on). I bet the other people on the tour loved us. But it was still a fun trip, and if nothing else, we got some great schnitzel!

Of course, the best thing that happened to our family this year was Will’s birth!

The Will

I just introduced William on the blog a few weeks ago, so I won’t give his whole life story here. But he’s cute and cuddly and sweet and we love him all to pieces. In the past few weeks he’s started getting up on hands and knees and inching himself forward. No toy or power cord is safe around here these days, and I’m having to watch him more carefully.

20171231_085049.jpg

Will has also gone from basically sleeping through the night to…not sleeping…at all. Between the 4-month sleep regression, being sick, and teething, he’s had a rough few weeks. He goes to bed around 7:30, and it’s not uncommon for him to wake up at 9, 11, 12, 4:30, and 6. We’ve started sleep training because this is not great.

Ah well. He’s cute.

Hi!

The Dan

Dan has made amazing leaps this year. At the beginning of this year he was trying to say “purple” and I was the only one who could understand him. The other day he said, “Dad, can you get off the couch so you can come in the kitchen and give me more milk?” His verbal skills have really taken off, and it’s maddening and hilarious by turns. He knows his letters and numbers (up to 20) and has started asking me what things spell. And he loves to point out that “H E B spells HEB!” He’s doing well with potty training (which we’re doing at a very leisurely pace) and can sing Jingle Bells and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on demand. Cars is still his favorite movie, and you can hardly catch him without one of his three toy Lightning McQueens.

This kid knows what’s going on.

Dan is very much a typical toddler. He reliably eats cereal and grilled cheese sandwiches, and not much else. I’ve started a “reasons my kid is crying” list in my journal, and it’s great. Here are some highlights:

  • There was “no more juice” in his almost-full juice box.
  • No one would get him any “dry milk.”
  • His leaf got wind on it.
  • “Jesus does NOT want me to be good!”

That kid. We love him.

One of Dan’s best qualities is that he’s an amazing big brother.

It’s so much fun to watch these two together.

The Tom

It’s been a crazy year for the Tom. Work’s going well, and he’s 3/8 done with “the prestigious Indiana online MBA program” (his words). He’s currently the ward clerk, which he enjoys. He’s primarily responsible for getting our house put back together after Harvey, and he continues to be an all-around great dad. The past six months he’s been working himself to the bone, and yet he somehow manages to help me maintain whatever sanity I have left. A+ for Tom.

The Me?

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

Mood

It’s been a pretty crazy year, and between William’s birth and Harvey, I pretty much couldn’t keep up with much after about June. During the first half of the year I made slow, steady progress rewriting my NaNoWriMo novel from last year, but I’ve barely touched it since then. I’m not sure it’s worth fixing, to be honest, but the goal is to finish this draft and shove it at Tom, who will tell me whether or not I should keep on trucking. Not sure when that will happen, but it’s the goal.

I’m a little bummed that this is taking so long, but it’s okay. Even without Harvey things would have been busy. Some things, like writing and Dan School, just have to give for a while, that’s all. Once everyone’s getting a bit more sleep, I’ll be able to carve out some more time.

That said, this year was still pretty productive from a personal perspective. I mean, just look at how chubby Will is! And I’m really enjoying my church callings (activity days leader and primary pianist).

I did get some high quality crafting this year. I made this weighted blanket before Zelphfest, and it helped keep the pregnancy/traveling insomnia under control.

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

And of course Dan needed a hobbit getup to match Will.

And because I tend to pick up new hobbies whenever I’m stressed, I’ve also dabbled in some watercolors.

Tom’s deep sea fangly fish and my panda

My very talented mother taught me some of her skills when I was a kid, and it’s been fun to get back into it and share my attempts with her.

It’s the chicken!

Borp borp!

I also started a bullet journal back in February, and that’s been invaluable in surviving this crazy year. I might save that for another post, though, because this one is getting too long.

Looking Forward to 2018

2018 should be a pretty good year. We should be getting cabinets soon, and with them a dishwasher and a sink with a garbage disposal! Yay! My sister will be home from her LDS mission to Malaysia in April, and we’re all excited to see her again. And supposedly the sequel to Dragonwatch will be out this year, which should be a party. We’re also planning a trip to California.

The kids will continue to grow up too fast. Dan’s going to start preschool this year, and will hopefully start learning to read. Will is going to reach a lot of milestones; he’s particularly looking forward to trying solid food. Tom will keep working through the MBA, and he’s planning to build a new kitchen table. He’s also excited to take Dan camping. I’m hoping to blog some more and maybe finish this friggin’ book.

Happy new year, y’all!

Introducing William! (Only 4 months late!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy guy!

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

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

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

Mom halp

Halloween hobbits

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

Love you, little guy!

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: 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.

Baby’s First Ultrasound (Is Not Mom’s First Rodeo): A Story of Confusion.

I told a bunch of people we would find out the gender of our baby last Monday. We did have an ultrasound, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. Don’t worry, friends—nothing is wrong; we’re just a little bit confused.

Since the beginning, something about this pregnancy has seemed a little bit off—not wrong, just off. For one thing, it took forever to confirm the pregnancy. I went through tons of pregnancy tests and got negative after negative after negative, even after I knew I was pregnant. Food was starting to sound gross. I was tearing up at diaper commercials on YouTube. I was feeling sympathy for Hillary Clinton. Clearly something was up, I thought, but it took weeks longer than it should have to finally get that faint blue line.

Then my blood test showed I had lower progesterone than I should have, so they put me on progesterone pills. Guys, if you’ve never been on progesterone, it’s weird. I’ve never been stoned before, but those pills gave me a glimpse of what it must be like. The nurse had me wake up at 4:30 to take my morning dose so I could sleep off some of the weirdness, but it didn’t entirely work.

Then there was the morning sickness. It was worse than last time, but it set in later than it should have, and lasted several weeks longer than I expected. I thought I was in for one of those 9-months-of-morning-sickness pregnancies like the ones my mom had, but a couple weeks into the second trimester, it cleared right up.

(Are you starting to detect a pattern here? Because I sure didn’t.)

The 18-week ultrasound was last Monday, and I showed up already feeling nervous. After all, this was the ultrasound that clued us in to Dan’s urinary troubles, so I worried about what they would find. As soon as our baby showed up on the screen, I immediately thought something was wrong. There was a good heartbeat, but the baby looked so little and still compared to Dan at that age. Dan was wiggling around, waving his fingers and obligingly opening his legs when it was time to check the gender. The baby just sat there, curled up, not moving at all. I’m no ultrasound expert, but I’ve gone through enough of them to be suspicious of what I saw. The technician took some measurements, declared that she couldn’t see anything in the gender department, and sent us on our way. It was the shortest ultrasound I’ve ever had.

While we waited for the doctor, I tried to stay positive. We dragged Dan away from the medical equipment, and I jokingly told Tom we should stop by the sketchy ultrasound place next to the mall next.

Finally, the doctor came in and announced that I was only fifteen weeks pregnant.

My first thought was, “How can that be?”

My second thought was, “Ooooh. That makes perfect sense.”

The first-day-of-last-cycle formula definitely told me I was eighteen weeks along. I certainly looked eighteen weeks—I was bigger than I was with Dan at that point, though that may just be due to this being my second pregnancy (and quite possibly due to the 10 extra pounds of baby weight I never quite managed to lose…). But this new information explained nearly every weird thing that had happened throughout my pregnancy: the delayed pregnancy test response, the morning sickness patterns, and the low progesterone. Really, it should have been obvious, and I feel kind of dumb for not figuring it out before.

The doctor said everything looks great for fifteen weeks, and all measurements they took were normal, which rules out a lot of possible issues. I’m going back in March for another ultrasound, and hopefully then we’ll get some useful information. It was kind of disappointing to hear that I’m not as far along as I thought (the groundhog saw his shadow, so you get three more weeks of pregnancy!), but at the same time, this is the best news I’ve ever had from a prenatal ultrasound, so I’m happy! Our new, “accurate” due date is July 29, and I’ll let you all know next month if our little friend is a boy or a girl!

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