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!

It’s Camp NaNoWriMo Time! (And a (Late) Easter Greeting)

That’s right, I’m doing this crazy thing again!

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Camp NaNoWriMo happens in April and July. It’s basically like the main November event, but with less rigid rules. You can write nonfiction, you can edit existing novels—you can even set your own word count goal. Because April is going to be an exciting month for our family (Dan’s birthday(!!!), moving(!!!), work training/flea market extravaganza in San Antonio(!!!)), I’m going to set myself a nice, cushy goal of 25,000 words.

It probably looks like I only write during NaNoWriMo events, but that’s purely accidental. The original start date for this novel was January 1, but in November Dan got a UTI, Tom left town for a few days, and Tom and I both got some nasty throat infection. Prewriting got totally derailed as I was dealing with more important things, so I pushed the start date back to March. Thanks to Plague Kid, February was less productive than expected, so I gave myself an extra month and figured I might as well participate in Camp with my writing group.

What am I writing, you ask? I’m terrible at answering that question, especially at this point. Everyone is looking for a different type of answer. The simplest answer is that it’s a YA fantasy loosely based on the fairy tale “Brother and Sister.” I’ve been joking that it’s a story about knitting and thermodynamics, but it’s probably got more knitting and less thermodynamics than anyone really wants. That’s all the description you get because I don’t want to jinx it, but that’s better than my usual answer of, “Um, stuff.”

Anyway, wish me luck, and I’ll try to keep you updated throughout the month.

***

In other news, I hope everyone had a fantastic Easter!

I’ve been unnaturally exhausted lately, so I  dropped the ball on our Easter celebration this year. Dan didn’t get an Easter basket or hunt for eggs. Dinner was leftover enchiladas, and there wasn’t a single Cadbury Mini Egg in the house all weekend. Dan broke out in hives as soon as we got to church and had to be taken home, and I definitely didn’t buy him a cute Easter outfit.

Everyone's posting pictures of their children in adorable Easter outfits, and I'm over here like...

The “do-rag” is to keep him from scratching his head.

Of course, none of that is the point of Easter. None of these frivolous traditions (or lack thereof) can add to (or detract from) Jesus Christ’s atonement for the sins of mankind, or His miraculous resurrection. His “great atoning sacrifice” has blessed my life and my family more than I can comprehend.

I’ll leave you with the words of modern-day apostles of the Lord:

We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.

 

How I (Almost) Met Shannon Hale

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Hello, friends! I hope you had a good Valentine’s weekend.

We just got back from a lovely trip to Utah, where my family lives. As you can imagine, the Dan was thoroughly spoiled by his aunt and grandparents.

This little boy loves his grandpa!

This little boy adores his grandpa!

He also learned how to eat Cheerios, and now he won’t stop shoveling them into his mouth. I’m not complaining, though, because they made our 2.5-hour flight home a breeze.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

In addition to fun family times, I was also in Provo for Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE), an academic symposium on science fiction and fantasy. If you’re into writing in those genres and have the resources to get to Provo in February, I highly recommend it. This was my second year attending, and I learned so much about writing and publishing.

I forgot to take pictures, but here are some notes I took. Also, if my name tag looks like its been chewed by a teething baby...it has.

I forgot to take pictures, but here are some notes. Also, if my name tag looks like its been chewed by a teething baby…it has.

I could tell you guys all about the magnificent learning experiences I had at LTUE, but we all know that’s not why you read my blog. Instead I’m going to tell you about my painfully awkward experience with Shannon Hale. This type of thing is why I love writing so much—when I’m busy writing, I don’t have to interact with people.

***

On Saturday, I thought it might be fun to take a break from furious note-taking by sitting in on a live recording session of my second favorite podcast, Writing Excuses (again, if you write genre fiction, you really need to be listening to this. I’m just plugging all kinds of things today). It was interesting, but I soon found myself zoning out and scribbling in my notebook. As I was doodling, a woman asked if the empty seat next to me was taken.

I thought for a moment, and then remembered the chair’s previous occupant muttering about having to leave early, so I told the woman to go ahead and take it. Then I turned back to my notebook.

During a break, people kept coming up to chat with my neighbor, asking her if she was going to be at Comic Con and if they could take selfies with her. I realized she must be a panelist, but I couldn’t remember having seen her before. I peeked at her name tag—and sure enough, I was sitting next to Shannon Hale.

Shannon Hale is kind of a big deal. She was actually one of the Guests of Honor. I’m not a passionate fan of her books (and in fact, I skipped her keynote address to run back to my parents’ house and feed the Dan), but they’re enjoyable, and similar to the kinds of books I’d like to write someday (light, YA fairy-tale-type stories). I probably should have recognized her, but in my defense, her hair was lighter and shorter than it was in her picture in the program:

Shannon Hale

Suddenly I felt very awkward. Shannon Hale was sitting next to me, and I had all but snubbed her. Now that I knew who she was, I couldn’t just ignore her and doodle. Here’s a bit of my thought process.

“Maybe I should say something to her.”

“Why on earth would I do that? I don’t talk to people!”

“I’m at a con. People come to cons to talk to people.”

“This isn’t that type of con. I didn’t come here to kiss up to famous people.”

“I came here to network. This is kind of like networking.”

“But not really.”

“Come on, this is a neat opportunity.”

“What do I say? ‘I’ve only read two of your books and they were a’ight, and I’ve just ignored you for the past twenty minutes because I ditched your keynote and didn’t know who you were. But you seem pretty cool, so let’s take a selfie’?”

“For the love of all that is Mike, do not say that to Shannon Hale. And who says ‘a’ight’ anymore?”

As I dithered, Tom pointed out that a panel I’d been interested in was about to start. I took my opportunity to escape.

“Sounds good. Let’s go.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, let’s go! Now!

Tom seemed a little surprised at my urgency, but he rolled with it. We packed up our stuff, squeezed past Shannon Hale, and booked it out of there.

***

And that’s the story of how I almost met ran away from Shannon Hale at a writing conference. Ms. Hale, if by some bizarre chance you happen to read this, I’m sorry. From one Jane Austen fan to another, “Tallyho!”

The (Slightly Late) GTA Year In Review

Hi, friends! It’s been awhile. I hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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Most of these “year in review” posts came out days ago, but I’ve been busy partying with the Tom and Dapper Dan. Even so, I want to talk about all the crazy things that have happened this year.

The Dan

The most important event of 2015 in our family was, of course, Daniel’s birth!

I love these guys.

I love these guys.

Dan started off his life as a skinny, sleepy little bundle of cuteness. Now, at almost 9 months old, he’s a fat, happy, hyper little bundle of cuteness.

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Dan sleeps well, crawls like a champ, stands with help, and has been spotted walking with a shopping cart. He makes just about every consonant sound, gives slobbery kisses, and is momentarily deterred by the word “no.” He loves fruit, books, peekaboo, being tossed in the air by Dad, and trying to get to the toilet whenever someone leaves the bathroom door open.020

Daniel’s kidneys are slowly-but-surely improving: by September, we found out the kidney swelling had decreased by half. He did have a UTI a few months ago, which could indicate an unresolved issue, so we’re monitoring him carefully. It’s very important that he doesn’t get any more infections, and we’re taking all the precautions we can. Still, if anyone has any extra prayers, we’d appreciate them.

Overall, Daniel is a happy, healthy little boy who brings so much joy to our family. We’re so happy to be his parents!

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Just look at that happy little dude. We must be doing something right!

The Tom

In the Tom’s own words:

I had a good year, for lots of reasons but especially because Dan was born and has done so well since. Our time together as a family was awesome, especially our trips to Glacier National Park and New Orleans. My work at Valero was interesting, educational, and generally went well, especially [proprietary information removed] and despite [proprietary information removed]. Off the clock, I read something like 15 or 20,000 pages, including Churchill’s four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Lord of the Rings (in Italian), and lots of other fun stuff. I produced a bunch of free e-books for the Mormon Texts Project and survived running the MTP internship program for another summer, too.

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Nothing more attractive than a babywearing man!

Nothing more attractive than a babywearing man!

 

Writing

Hey, do you guys want to see my NaNoWriMo progress chart?

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Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Haha. The best part is that I wasn’t even participating properly—I was transcribing my handwritten novel from last year. November was absolutely insane (I’ll tell you about it sometime), and I just couldn’t handle NaNo in any form.

Honestly, this has been a pretty sorry year for writing generally. Apparently I only wrote five blog posts (although they were totally awesome!), and aside from a few short stories, I haven’t really written any fiction. I’m not going to beat myself up over this; after all, I made an awesome Dan, and somehow managed to keep him alive for almost 9 months. And I’ve got big plans for next year, which I’ll be sharing as they materialize. One of my goals this year is to blog more frequently, so you’ll be hearing from me more often!

Crafting

This may have been a bad year for writing, but it’s been an excellent year for crafts! Thanks to my parents, I’ve recently acquired a sewing machine, which has opened up a whole new world of crafting. Here’s the list of projects I completed in 2015.

First of all, I finally finished Dan’s crochet baby blanket!

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It turned out much larger than I expected. This is good, because it ended up being his Christmas present. It’s big enough that Dan can pretty much use it for the rest of his life.

Next, you may remember Dan’s Halloween costume:

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The hat, cloak, and brooch were all homemade. I’m still tickled by how well this turned out.

I also made some baby blankets for various purposes:

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Last, but not least, I made myself this nursing cover by Pretty Prudent:

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Dan refuses to nurse under a blanket, and I can’t say I blame him—it’s got to be pretty hot under there! This allows him to breathe and look at me while he’s eating. It also keeps it dark enough for him to fall asleep during church (assuming this doesn’t happen: “OOOOOPS! I DIDN’T KNOW ANYONE WAS IN HERE! DO YOU WANT THE LIGHT OFF AGAIN?!”)

Conclusion

There’s a lot more I could write here, but I know how long it takes to scroll through all these baby pictures. Overall, 2015 was a pretty good year. It was definitely the hardest year I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding. Tom, Dan and I are really hitting our stride as a family. It’s looking like 2016 will be even better, and I can’t wait to see what it brings.

I’ve got exciting posts lined up for the next two weeks, so check back soon! And tell me how your year went in the comments!

Halloween Shenanigans

As a kid, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. It was an excuse to dress up as whatever I wanted and embark on a spooky, jack-o-lantern-lit adventure while replenishing my Milky Way stash for the year. As it turns out, Halloween is even more fun with a baby!

Meet Dan, Guard of the Citadel.

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Making Dan’s costume was so much fun. Ever since our friend Roz gave us a White Tree onesie, we knew we had to use it for Halloween, and the “helmet” and cloak turned out surprisingly well. The hobbit getup is based on this picture of Pippin from The Return of the King:

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I left off the nose guard to increase the chances of Dan actually wearing the helmet. He was a pretty good sport.

 

Tom had been throwing around the idea of dressing up as an orc and “taking the hobbit to Isengard”…

…and on Wednesday, the day of our ward Halloween party (note: in this context, ward = congregation unit in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; we do not (currently) live in a mental institution), he decided he needed an orc shirt. I ran down to Michael’s and bought a couple of black T-shirts and some iron-on letters, and we became a couple of orcs. It took people a couple minutes to figure our costumes out, but once they did, they generally thought the whole thing was pretty cool.

This is my favorite picture. "I will vanquish you with my spoon, orc-Mom!"

“I will vanquish you with my spoon!”

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Now I have to tell you guys a somewhat-shameful story. You see, just as we were about to leave the party and put our hobbit to bed, this happened:

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First of all, I had no idea they were even judging chili. When they sent around the sign-up sheet for the party, I just thought, “Hm. They need chili. I can do chili.” I then proceeded to forget about it until the night before. The day of the party, I grabbed an assortment of chili cans from Kroger, dumped them in the crockpot (because I was way too lazy to wash chili out of a crockpot and a regular pot), and threw in a can of jalapenos and a can of green chilies. We got there late, so I dropped the crockpot on one end of the table and proceeded to do normal ward party things. Tom and I didn’t even taste our chili until we got home that night.

I feel kind of bad. If I’d known there was some manner of contest afoot, I would have approached this differently. Then again, if I’d approached this differently, we wouldn’t have this sweet foam haunted house thing:
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I also feel disincentivized to learn how to make real chili. Oh, well.

Anyway, that’s the story of how I accidentally won a chili cook-off using canned chili.

***

Halloween itself was really rainy—like, flash-flood-warning rainy. It’s a good thing we weren’t planning to take Dan trick-or-treating (two adults showing up with a cute, costumed baby who obviously can’t eat candy is pretty suspect). We did bring Dan to a shindig hosted by Tom’s boss’s boss Nikole, and the hood on his cloak actually kept him dry on the way to and from the car.

I didnt notice Toms antlers until later...

I didn’t notice Tom’s antlers until later…

It was pretty late on Dan Standard Time and the music was kind of loud, so we didn’t stay long, but I finally got to meet some of the people Tom works with, which was nice. We even got to drop by the NaNoWriMo kick-off at Sertino’s. That was more Dan’s-scene-esque: a quiet room with a handful of people telling Dan how cute he is. He was all smiles. What a punk.

Unrelated picture: "No, Mom, I didnt make this mess. You did."

Unrelated picture: “No, Mom, I didn’t make this mess. You did.”

***

Yep, this was definitely the best Halloween ever, even without any Milky Ways. How was your Halloween, reader friends? Any fun or spooky stories to share?