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.

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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.

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.

cover

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.