Family Christmas Letter 2020

Hello world, this is Tom. Normally Elissa does our Christmas letter, but I’ve hijacked it this year.

Executive summary: we’ve actually had a pretty good 2020, pandemic notwithstanding.

Marie was born on April 18, with a thick head of black hair. She is now babbling and crawling around like crazy. She brings out the best in her brothers and is a joy to have around. The sleep deprivation phase was rough, but at this point our sleep training methods have succeeded. She really loves gnawing on pizza. She’s definitely the highlight of the year.


In other news, we moved to San Antonio in August, as I accepted a new assignment within Valero. We’re pretty well settled in at this point, and we love the new house and area. Relative catastrophe insurance rates confirm that this is, in at least one regard, a better place to live. We’ve also enjoyed all the nice hiking nearby.

With the pandemic, we enjoyed having church at home for a good stretch of the year, although we’re back in person now. The kids make spiritual life interesting; it probably says a lot about our family that we have literally had Dan and Will practice coming in and sitting down for our nightly family scripture study. (“Ok, good, now go pretend to play until I call you in again…now let’s practice: come in for scriptures!”) They enjoyed the practice. Dan and Will also love our “family home evening” devotionals, particularly when we do this one activity where we ask them gospel questions, with chocolate chips for good answers. We’ve had to explain that we can’t just play that game every week, because sometimes, we need to teach them the answers.

We enjoyed some family outdoor adventures this year despite the pandemic – we managed to get to the Destin, Florida area as a family in July, and spent some time in Oklahoma with my parents in November, in addition to some good day hikes around San Antonio. Dan and Will are both pretty good hikers; Will is good for about 2 miles without too much trouble, and Dan can do twice that. Elissa and I also left the kids for a quick trip to Las Vegas and Death Valley in January, which was a blast.

Dan (5) was due to start Kindergarten this Fall, but with all the uncertainty around public schools this year, Elissa decided to just do home school. She’s been following a Charlotte Mason curriculum (Charlotte Mason being a Victorian-era British super-nanny, who made men from boys using Plutarch and the Bible), supplemented with a math curriculum, and Dan is thriving as a scholar. He can now recite Psalm 23 and a couple of poems. He continues to read up a storm; Beverly Cleary is a favorite author lately. He also enjoys drawing and writing; ask him about his book “Invisible Dan.”

Dan is a great older brother…really, Marie, he is

Will (3) is fun to have around. He loves building with Duplo, especially robots and homes for his Duplo animals. Favorite authors include Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Dusen. He prays for his grandma’s health every night (she is fighting cancer), often to the exclusion of everything else (we’re working on it).

Will in Florida

Elissa has been a rockstar parent, managing a newborn and two energetic sons, through a move, in the middle of a pandemic, while beginning to homeschool. Hurricane Laura actually hit near Groves on the week we had planned to move, so Elissa and the kids just evacuated to San Antonio and never came back. Dan, Will, and Marie all just want to be around her all of the time. She was making sourdough before it was cool, but has kept it up lately, and generally puts outstanding food on the table.

Elissa has also been making progress as a writer; she made it to the LTUE writing conference in February, has participated in a couple of writing groups, and is almost done a second draft of her YA fantasy ghost story novel “Nightwalker.” She will self-deprecate all day long, but I’ve read it and I liked it a lot. She has a plan to make revisions next year and release it next September. She’s also working on another novel.

I (Tom) am on my third Valero assignment for the year, all within our planning and economics function. I started the year managing the Port Arthur Refinery’s distillate production, then switched to running the Port Arthur linear program refinery optimization model. Then I accepted the San Antonio job, where I’m optimizing our Meraux refinery’s crude supply and the Gulf Coast system’s intermediates strategy. I’m having a lot of fun – I work with a lot of really sharp and really nice people, and it’s been satisfying to find some ways to improve the operation.

Outside of work, I’ve been reading a lot. One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 was to finish a Harvard Classics volume after every few other books I read, and I’ve held to that, so I’m improving myself by deepening my familiarity with the great books of the Western canon (or at least I’m looking ever more pretentious on Goodreads). Top books include fantasy doorstop “Rhythm of War” by Brandon Sanderson; Christian philosophy in “The Girard Reader” by Rene Girard and “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” by Josef Pieper; and part of the Maxwell Institute “brief theological introduction” series on the Book of Mormon. I’m also doing some scripture-related memorization using Anki, a spaced repetition flashcard app. I’m calling the Mormon Texts Project basically done, and I’ve put up occasional posts on this blog.

Dan and Will did a lot of the assembly on this Lego set, which was a great pandemic purchase

We carried on Nysetvold family tradition by making chocolates over Thanksgiving, and we’re excited to see both sides of our family over Christmas. As we celebrate the birth of the Savior, we’re grateful for each other, our families, and His love.

Merry Christmas!

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  1. Glad to see your awesome family. I will always appreciate the way your family supported me during the hardest time of my life. I am well and still doing psychotherapy at the behavioral hospital.
    Give the boys my best and your wife also. The baby takes her beauty from Elyssa. Merry Christmas and May your family stay healthy and prosper.

  2. What a great letter. I’m so impressed that Elissa is homeschooling. That has to be challenging. You two are fantastic parents. I’m enjoying reading Nightwalker. I’ll have some of it to send back soon. Keep up the good work with your herd.