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.


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.


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.”


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!

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.

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.

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!



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.