Pregnancy Update

I realized just the other day that I’m officially in the third trimester! It’s been a few months since I last wrote about this pregnancy on the blog, so I figured I’d post a little update.

Let’s start this off with a paunch pic!

This was taken at 26 weeks, just after Dan walked into the room and said, “Mommy is huge!” And he’s not wrong. I think it’s safe to say that our little boy (nicknamed “Dois” around here) is growing well in there! He’s sure moving around a lot, which is always comforting.

Speaking of Dan, he still has no idea what’s going on. I think we’ve finally convinced him that he doesn’t also have a baby in his tummy, but last time we were in Houston for his kidney ultrasound, he looked at the screen and said, “Baby sister?”

He may not know much about anatomy, but he sure loves his yogurt!

As far as cravings go, I’ve been on a serious prosciutto kick. And I can’t get enough of those Tyson breaded chicken patties. Those things are so good.

The bag says they’re all-natural. That means they’re good for you—right?

Physically, things are not too bad. The first trimester was much rougher this time around, and I’ve actually thrown up a couple times—though oddly enough, the throwing-up mostly happened in the second trimester once the nausea was almost gone. I just have an overactive gag reflex this time around, so I have to make sure I don’t eat anything too fibrous (like ginger, or a slightly-too-old orange) or slimy.

I’ve been having some problems with hip pain, just like last time, although it’s worse this time and it set in much earlier. Thanks to my friend Heather, I’m the proud owner of a pregnancy support belt and an exercise ball, both of which are helping immensely.

I’m in much better shape this time around. I’ve been very consistent about exercising, largely because I’ve got a cute little toddler who decided around October that his favorite thing in the world is to be pushed around the neighborhood in a stroller. We get out on stroller walks as often as we can, and it’s awesome: he’s happy, I’m happy, and Dois and I are benefiting from all the exercise, so everybody wins!

Featuring Dan’s new haircut, courtesy of Tom

I haven’t done much nesting yet, other than ordering some stuff on Amazon and declaring an end to dumping random junk in the baby’s room. What I have done is start stocking up on freezer meals. Our amazing families got us a big ol’ freezer for Christmas, and I’ve been putting it to good use.

We’ve got some Bolognese sauce, Thai curry, Italian lentil and sausage soup, and stuffed shells in there so far. I’ve been trying to freeze one meal a week, so we should be eating pretty well after Dois is born. If any of you have recipes that freeze well, let me know!

To tell you the truth, until I started getting big, I hadn’t been paying much attention to this pregnancy at all. I’ve hardly cracked What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I have no idea what “fruit” Dois is this week. Heck, I have to Google a pregnancy calculator every time someone asks me how far along I am, or I end up saying something like, “Uhhhhmm…6 months…ish?”

Part of it is that I’m busy chasing Dan around and dealing with his needs and observing his milestones. But I think the biggest contributor to my inattention is that I haven’t had to worry about Dois the way I did about Dan. When I was pregnant with Dan, there was so much stress and uncertainty that I would compulsively read pregnancy books and articles, trying to make sure Dan was growing and developing properly. When Dan would wiggle around a lot, I wondered if it was because he was happy or really uncomfortable.

This pregnancy, in comparison, is completely stress-free. It’s kind of weird not seeing the Dois on ultrasound every couple weeks, but it’s nice feeling so relaxed about the whole thing. I can just take my vitamins, go to my appointments, and trust my body to do its thing. And whatever Dois throws at us after he’s born, there will be no Houston, catheters, and no Satan-chair (and hopefully no post-partum depression).

It’s going to be good.

We can’t wait to meet our second little guy.

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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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.

 

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Pho!!!

Confession: I actually made this dish a long time ago (like, the beginning of December), but I had to wait to blog because there was no way I could tell the story without revealing just how pregnant I was/am. We weren’t ready to tell people yet, so…here you go!

As we were driving home from our epic camping trip at Big Bend National Park, I was simply obsessed with the idea that the best thing in the world would be a big bowl of pho (see? Super pregnant).

Dan, on the other hand, probably just wanted more s'mores.

Dan, on the other hand, probably just wanted more s’mores.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of pho establishments easily accessible from the I-10 (at least, not where we were driving during dinner hours), and even if there were, 13 hours is a long enough drive without having to stop for a sit-down pho experience that no one else would appreciate. Besides, that stuff has so much MSG. And MSG, as we know, stands for Mucho Suckage, Guys.

So I resisted.

But the next day, the pho craving came back, stronger than ever. I couldn’t take it anymore–I had to take things into my own hands and acquire some of that sweet, Vietnamese goodness. And so, I looked up a recipe (this recipe, from the best blog ever, The Woks of Life), strapped Dan back into the car, and went on an adventure to gather pho ingredients.

I mostly followed the recipe as written, with one exception: I googled the internets all up and couldn’t figure out where to find beef knuckle bones within an hour of where I live, so I just bought a bunch of beef shank and hoped for the best. But my friends, the best is what I got. This stuff was amazing.

Charring the onions

Charring the onions

Here it is, just simmering away.

Here it is, just simmering away.

Like a responsible pregnant woman, I omitted the bean sprouts. Sigh.

Like a responsible pregnant woman, I omitted the bean sprouts. Sigh.

And now, the results:

Taste: Heavenly. Tom was making fun of me because I was sitting there talking about how I wanted to eat nothing but pho for the rest of my life. It may not have been the best pho I’ve ever had, but it was definitely respectable. Plus, I didn’t have that icky MSG-overload feeling after I ate it.

Ease of Preparation: Not going to lie, this was an involved process. Including shopping time, it probably took six or seven hours to prepare. However, it did generate something like 8 servings of pho, so that’s pretty reasonable. Still not something I’d probably do super often, but I’ve got a bunch in the freezer for a rainy day, so it’s all good.

Will Tom/Dan eat it?: HAH! Like I’m going to share.

Overall evaluation: SUCCESS! YAY PHO!

Unfortunately, after several days of pho-filled goodness, my stomach decided that pho aromatics were the most disgusting, nausea-inducing things in the entire universe—such is pregnancy life. But I still have a big tub of pho broth in my freezer. It’s waiting for me to come home, like the father waits for his prodigal son—with open, delicious-food-filled arms.

The 2016 GTA Year In Review

Last year it was brought to my attention that the “GTA” in my title made them think of “Grand Theft Auto.” That’s hilarious, so I’m not going to change it. Muahaha.

Anywho, here I am, late as usual, to bring my twelve fabulous readers the famous year in review post! And man, it has been a crazy-good year to review.

The Fam

This was a big year for us as a family. We bought our first house, accompanied Tom’s grandparents on an amazing, life-dream-fulfilling genealogical trip to Italy, road tripped to Corpus Christi and Big Bend National Park, and basically spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a family of three.

We also put up Christmas lights for the first time!

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There were definitely some hard times. We all barely survived the plague, and the other plague, and there was the time Dan got that rash and everyone was stressed and I stormed out of the house to go buy Cadbury Mini Eggs. But we made it through the hard times, and I can safely say 2016 had more good times than bad times for the fam.

The best news from this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby in July!

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

We’re all very excited, although Dan doesn’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ve told him there’s a baby in Mom’s tummy, and sometimes he’ll say hi to the baby. But then he’ll point to his own tummy and say “baby,” so…we’re still working on it.

The Dan

This has been a big year for Dan. He learned to walk, talk, eat foods, and basically do all the amazing thing he does.

He also met Santa.

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He wasn’t thrilled.

Dan also started Nursery this year. He had a rough time at first, as most kids do, but now he loves it—especially when they bring out the bubble machine at the end!

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One time I went to Nursery with him, and he built a barricade of trucks around me so I wouldn’t leave.

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I covered most of what there is to know about Dan in my “18 Months of Dan” post, and he’s continued to develop along the same lines. He is much better at communicating now, and learns dozens of words every day. Right now we’re working on saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” He’s a real sweetheart!

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The Tom

This has been an awesome year for Tom. He put his Italian skills to good use, got promoted twice, experienced his first turnaround, and was accepted into his first-choice online MBA program. Wow!

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Tom continues to be an amazing dad.

Oh yeah—Tom was the scruffiest I’ve ever seen him on our camping trip in November.

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Wut.

The Me

I didn’t really know what to put in this section. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in 2016—it’s just that I don’t have really good physical evidence of my accomplishments. Unlike in 2015, I didn’t get much crafting done, largely because once we moved I couldn’t find my crafting supplies/equipment.

I did, however, learn to cook a bunch of cool stuff: Dancakes, beef with broccoli, japchae, singapore rice noodles, moqueca, pot roast (now I’m a real white housewife!!!), pho (new “Elissa Cooks Stuff” coming soon!), and many other delicious foodums.

(I thought I took more pictures of my creations, but apparently they were all snapchat videos…)

As far as writing goes, I wrote about 71,841 original-fiction words this year. That’s not a lot by most writers’ standards, but considering everything else that happened this year, I’m pretty happy about it. I did participate in NaNoWriMo and win, and I’m still working on that project right now. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth writing post in the near future, so if you have any questions about my writing stuff, leave a comment!

To be honest, 2016 was pretty hard for me. We had a lot of fun adventures, but not a lot of downtime. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, and/or sick. I expected the whole family would get sick more once Dan started nursery, but for whatever reason, most of the plagues originate with me. 2017 hasn’t been much better so far, which is part of the reason this post is so late.

I’m starting to realize that I’m a real wimp when it comes to traveling. My body just doesn’t handle it very well, and it can take over a week to physically recover from a short weekend trip. And every time something unpleasant happens while traveling (like, say, Dan and I getting stomach flu in San Antonio, or a night of travel insomnia turning an ordinary case of delayed-onset muscle soreness into an out of control, fever-ridden, excruciatingly-painful nightmare), it just makes staying home and reading books sound that much more appealing.

This year I’m hoping for more relaxing family time at home, more crafting, more writing, and more delicious foods. As far as new year’s resolutions go, these seem pretty attainable.

Looking Forward to 2017

There’s a lot to be excited about in 2017! Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Dan’s 2nd birthday!
  • Dragonwatch in March!
  • Our 2nd baby in July!
  • Oathbringer in November!
  • More blogging!
  • The return of THESE GUYS!

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It’s going to be a great year!

Happy mid-January to all, and may all your times be good!

18 Months of Dan!

Do you guys want to hear a funny story?

So I was going to post a cute thing about Dan when he turned one, but then we were packing and moving and traveling and I was lazy. By the time things settled down, he was, like, fifteen months old. And that’s not a cute milestone. I mean, with Dan every day is cute, but that’s beside the point.

Okay, that wasn’t funny at all.

Anyway, Dan is 18 months old as of Saturday, and we celebrated by weaning him off his pacifier and sending him off to nursery. Poor little guy. He handled both really well.

What I really wanted to say in this post (and this hasn’t changed from his birthday) is that Dan is absolutely amazing. He is so full of love for his family, his toys, his books, and so many other things. He’s learning and developing at an incredible rate, and we’re just so lucky we get to be part of it all.

So, in honor of his 18-month-ness, I thought I would share…

18 Fun Facts About Dan!

1. Dan loves books!

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As you may remember, Dan has always enjoyed reading. Now that he can understand some of what we’re reading him (and we’ve acquired some very nice lift-the-flap books), reading has become a really exciting experience. Dan will bring me book after book after book until I have tho get up and do something else. And then he’ll whine, because what could be more important than reading Where’s Spot? or Hoppity Frog for the 85th time?

I’m not complaining, though. In fact, I’m really proud that Dan loves books so much. That means we must be doing something right!

2. Dan LOVES wheels!

Big wheels, small wheels, plastic toy wheels, rubber tires…basically, if it rotates, Dan loves it. He will point out every wheel on every car in every book we read him. He’ll sit on our front porch and point to every car or truck or lawnmower on our street. He nearly destroyed his vocal cords a month ago when he learned to say “Vroom!” If we take Dan to a museum or the zoo, he’s much more interested in pushing his own stroller around (and running after other kids’ strollers) than in looking at the attractions. We actually took the wheels off our office chair, because leaving them on would be disastrous. Dan would be playing with them all the time and one of us would inevitably crush his fingers.

 

Tractorin it up with Aunt Natalie!

Tractorin’ it up with Aunt Natalie!

3. Dan LOVES buttons!

Similarly, Dan is fascinated by buttons.

This was the best experience of Dans life.

This was the best experience of Dan’s life.

4. Dan is weirdly into rap…?

Imagine you’re on a long car ride. Dan is crying in the back seat because he’s tired and needs a nap and wants to be out of the car. You want to put on some music to calm him down. You put on some relaxing classical music, like a nice Beethoven sonata. Dan ignores it completely. You turn on some Enya—everyone likes Enya, right? Not Dan. He screams so loud you can’t hear the music.

So what do you do?

Well, you use this nonsense:

He’ll calm down instantly, and be asleep within minutes. Just don’t turn it off, or he’ll start whimpering again.

We don’t know why he likes rap so much. Tom thinks it’s the steady beat. I really don’t know where I went wrong, because this is clearly evidence of severe parenting failure, but I’ll admit it was pretty funny watching him dance to the Kreb’s cycle rap the other day (warning: mild language):

Luckily, I’ve discovered that the Undertale soundtrack is just as effective at keeping Dan calm in the car, and I’m using it and Little Einsteins as gateway drugs into instrumental/jazz/classical music appreciation. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making some breakthroughs. And in case you’re wondering, this is his favorite Undertale song:

5. Dan is very helpful!

Dan loves to help me out around the house. Once after I changed his diaper, I saw him pick the wet diaper up and put it in the trash can, so that is now his official job. He’s good at it, too. Last week he went to throw the diaper away, realized the trash can didn’t have a liner, and went looking for a different trash can. Wow!

Dan is also good at helping me put clothes into laundry baskets and put toys and books away. He also likes to help me “load the dishwasher,” which really means playing with the brightly-colored knives—so he’s not actually allowed to do this. Yet.

Here are some pictures of Dan “helping.”

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Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

6. Dan loves to go outside!

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In fact, “outside” is one of the handful of words he can say. Which brings us to number 6…

7. Dan can say words!

His vocabulary includes the words “outside,” “hi” (“Hieeeeeeeee!”), “dada,” “mama,” “shhhs” (shoes), “bah” (ball), “yeah,” “up,” “pat,” and “button.” He can also quack, moo, meow, and vroom with the best of them.

8. Dan is terrified of the garbage truck!

His room faces the street, and if we’re in there while the garbage truck is doing its thing, Dan will cling to me and stare at the window until it’s gone.

The only other thing that consistently freaks him out is when he’s holding my phone and it vibrates. He doesn’t get a lot of sympathy for this one, because he’s not supposed to touch my phone in the first place.

9. Dan is a major flirt!

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Yeah, Dan. Flirt with the little girl AND her mom. That’ll get you places…

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“Help me put this shoe on and my heart is yours, babe.”

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He likes girls.

10. Dan knows some of his body parts!

Dan can correctly identify his nose, ears, head, tummy, arm, hand, leg, knee, and feet!

11. Dan is my green smoothie buddy!

12. Dan has a mild egg allergy!

We’ve had to learn to make substitutions in recipes, but that just means that raw cookie dough is 100% safe for consumption at our house!

Dan chowin down on his egg-free birthday cake

Dan chowin’ down on his egg-free birthday cake

13. Dan loves carbs!

Specifically, he loves bread. If he sees bread on the counter or on someone’s plate, he’ll beg until he gets some. I don’t want him to be internally obese like the ducks down at BYU (or externally obese, for that matter), so Dancakes continue to be useful.

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14. Dan is a budding photographer!

Here are some pictures he took with my phone when I wasn’t looking (I spy a cute foot, a favorite book, moving boxes, and a tired mom):

 

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15. Dan’s three fictional characters from that one meme are…

Yikes, that picture quality is bad. If you’re wondering, that’s Twitchy from Hoodwinked, one of the minions (Bob?) from Despicable Me, and Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb.

16. Dan has an excellent sense of style!

We don’t call him “Dapper Dan” for nothing. Here are some of his fabulous outfits:

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17. Dan wants to be just like his dad!

And who can blame him? He’s got an awesome dad!

 

18. Dan’s kidneys are doing great!

Looking good!

Looking good!

I posted about Dan’s hydronephrosis after he was born, and I’m happy to report that his kidneys are doing just fine. The swelling on both sides has slowly but surely improved, and both kidneys are functioning properly. Woohoo!

We sure love this Dan, and are so grateful to have him in our family. Thanks for being our little guy, Dapper Dan!