Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What I Learned in October

Today I'm taking a page from the Emily P Freeman and Modern Mrs. Darcy blogs and doing a post all about what I've been learning lately in October.

1- The best $14 I've ever spent was on getting our knives professionally sharpened.

Five and a half years ago, when we got married, we used some of our wedding money to buy the nicest set of knives that Target offered.

And then we never bothered getting the knives sharpened, even when we'd been using them for, well, almost five and a half years.

Then, about three or four months ago, our knives were getting so dull that it was getting to be a bit of a dangerous game to actually use them to cut up anything. So, using some of the money I got for my birthday, I took them down to a local place in town (Kitchen Kneads) about two weeks ago and asked them to sharpen whatever knives they were able (which basically ended up being the ones that weren't serrated).

At $3.50/knife, it was honestly the best possible use of birthday money for me, considering that the knives are something I use daily. Also--bonus!-- having them sharpened has made cooking about a hundred times more enjoyable now, too (as well as WAY more easily accomplished).

2 - Selling things through sites like KSL and Facebook Yard Sales is kind of a pain sometimes.

Since we've purchased a few storage sheds up for auction lately, we've had a LOT of stuff we're trying to sell, which has meant that I'm becoming quite familiar with using online classifieds and social media to try and sell things.

While the sites themselves make it very easy to put up any items for sale, the process itself is kind of a pain, mostly because you have to deal with a LOT of flaky people and/or people who don't read the ad very carefully (and who are therefore shocked when they find that you live three hours away from them, even though it states right at the top of the ad which city you're located in).

I could (already!) tell you soooo many stories of people trying to scam me, people just stringing me on for days and then suddenly flaking out last minute, people texting me that they were interested and then not hearing from them for hours or even days afterwards (and sometimes, never again).


Overall, I have found Facebook Yard Sales to be much more reliable (as it's more obviously comprised of local people), but KSL seems to get a wider pool of people looking altogether, so we'll continue to list on both, even though the whole thing can kind of drive you nuts.

3 - Making a more concerted effort to comment on blogs and find new blogs to read lately has totally refreshed my enthusiasm for blogging in general.

For awhile there, I was kind of blogging in a bubble---I had my usual readers (and commenters), and there were a few select blogs that I would read myself (and sometimes comment on, but more often than not, I would exit out without commenting). About a month ago, I made an unofficial resolution to get more involved in the blogging community, and it has been SO MUCH more rewarding to be much more interactive and "meet" new bloggers online. Not only have I discovered a ton of new blogs that I adore, but I've also been noticing that people are more engaged with my blog as well, so it's just been fun all around.

It reminds me of blogging "back in the day" (like, in 2013), where people in general commented a lot more and were more actively searching out fun new blogs to follow. (Funny how much blogging has changed in just the few years that I've been doing it consistently!)

4 - If you're looking for a small change that makes a BIG difference, shine your shoes.

During my third year of teaching, I finally splurged on a pair of leather flats because I was so sick of totally wearing through pair after pair of cheap shoes every year. While the integrity of those shoes is still holding on strong, they had been looking distinctly shabby and scuffed lately.

Enter a superhero husband to save the day---while cleaning out his closet, he came across his old shoe shining kit back from when he was on a mission in Canada, and he proceeded to shine up my shoes so effectively that they literally looked brand new again.

Who knew that 15 minutes of elbow grease and polish could produce such stunning results? It *almost* makes me want to take up other, previously scorned activities, like ironing. Or sewing missing buttons back on.

5. Coursera lets you audit hundreds of classes for free.

One of my new year's resolutions was to take another photography class this year, but because money's tighter now that we're down to one income (and any time commitment outside of the home now is harder than it was before because of childcare concerns), I had half decided just to give up on that particular goal this year (and the other half of me thought I could maybe look around online to see if I could find anything worthwhile that would count).

Although I'd been on the Coursera site before, I had mistakenly thought that to access the classes that you ALWAYS had to pay for them.

Not true!

In order to get "credit" and get a grade for the classes, yes, you must pay for them, but if you simply want to audit a class, it's usually free. Sure, you don't get to take the quizzes or tests or participate in the forums or get feedback on (or even submit) any kind of assignment, but you DO get total access to all the reading material, videos, and many of the extra resources included as links. Nice!

(As a result, I'm currently enrolled in a Photo Composition and Post-Processing class offered through Michigan State!)

What have you learned lately?

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Few Snaps of the Weekend + A First Haircut

I think I'll be needing to nurse myself through the first of this week with some Diet Dr. Pepper and fresh strawberries (not mixed--that would be weird), but we aren't (totally) sorry for our full and busy weekend--it's definitely one that we won't be forgetting for a looooooong time, anyway.

1. We knew it would likely be a weekend involving a lot of work (mentioned later), so we decided to cram in the fun stuff as early on as possible (read = Friday afternoon at 3:45 p.m., as soon as Matt came home from work). Every year, North Logan sponsors a Halloween pumpkin walk featuring the most intricate and wildly creative displays of pumpkins you'll ever see.

While Raven did occasionally stop to look at the scenes and shout "ball!" every time she noticed a particularly interesting pumpkin, she had much more fun people-watching and trying to figure out what the deal was with all the hay bales everywhere.

2. We've been experimenting with buying storage sheds up for auction lately, and this weekend, we somehow got it into our crazy heads to buy two. (Never mind that we don't personally own a vehicle to help us transport it all or that we live in a small two-bedroom apartment...) Anyway, much of the weekend was spent working, indeed (and testing the patience of our dear parents and some of our siblings, as we had to "borrow" their garages and basements to store stuff and/or their man power to help us move and sort).

Saturday found me hanging around at the storage place for almost 8 hours, and Matt had almost 20,000 steps in for the day from all the loading and unloading (while I had around 14,000). Luckily for Raven, she just got a lot of fun time in with grandparents and cousins and avoided quite a bit of the crazy. 

I can already tell you that we will never do this big of a unit again (and especially not two) until we have a place of our own (and a truck of our own!).

#sometimeswedokindastupidthings #neverwatchstoragewarsonrepeatbeforegoingtoastorageauction #sorryfamily

3. Raven has been a poster mullet child for the past couple months now, and even I could see that her hair was in need of a trim (so you know it must have been bad). So, as the very last item on our very long to-do list this weekend, we had my mom give Raven her first-ever haircut (while I watched on so that I could replicate it in about a month or two).

I think she was a bit unsettled/undecided about the whole process, overall.

And that's a wrap, folks! Now I'm off to take some ibuprofen and see if I can stretch some of these cricks out of my back...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Quick Raven Stats: 18 Months

I took Raven to her 18-month doctor's appointment yesterday, and let's just say that her memory of her last trip there must have been crystal clear since she immediately looked terrified. Poor girl!

Luckily, she only cried for about 15 seconds while getting her shots and then was happy to nestle her face into my neck the rest of the time and suck her thumb. At least at her 2-year appointment, there won't be any immunizations!

Anyway, now that that trip is over and done with, I finally have her updated stats.

Quick Stats:
Height: 32.25" (63rd percentile)
Weight: 21 lb, 1 oz (27th percentile)
Head Circumference: 17.9 in (28th percentile)
Clothing Size: 18 mo. (where she'll probably stay for a LONG time, at the rate she's going)
Diaper Size: 4
Shoe Size: 4 (I ordered some shoes for her because we needed a couple more neutral pairs that she could wear for church and outside to play, but I guess a 5--which is the size she's "supposed" to be at--is WAY too big, so she'll have to stick with "baby" shoes for now, it looks like)

Milestones Reached:
- Started going to nursery during the 3-hour block on Sundays, and boy, has she handled it like a champ! NO crying or fussing whatsoever, and every time I've peeked in through the door's window, she looks like she's having the time of her life. She probably wondered why the heck it took us so long to put her in that magical place with the toys and the snacks and the songs, ha ha.
- Basically tries to repeat back everything you say (and doesn't do a half-bad job of it, a lot of the time!). She probably says a good 25-30 words on her own to communicate needs and wants (or just point out to you that there is, in fact, a duck quacking over there in the stream), and there have been a few times she's even strung two words together. I love that I no longer have to guess too much about what she needs.
- Can feed herself with a spoon/spork (not that she DOES it all the time, but she can)
- Can drink out of her sippy cup solo as well as a normal cup (although with the latter, she does tend to spill a bit)
- Easily climbs up and down stairs
- Goes down the slide at the park all by herself
- Mimics actions to simple songs (like the Primary song "Hinges")
- Says "hi" and "bye" unprompted (and usually appropriately, too)
- Is beyond helpful around the apartment--I may never take anything myself to the garbage can ever again!


We say it all the time, but Raven is seriously the sweetest. She often loves to cuddle, she's super good-natured and happy, and she is quick to get over hurts, disappointments, or frustrations. She's also such an obedient kid---she almost always heeds the word "no" (and not just right then, either---the next time you go back to the area where you first told it to her, she'll point at whatever she isn't supposed to touch or whatever and say, "NO!"), and she rarely needs to be put in a mini timeout for whatever reason (like, maybe once or twice a month).

She also LOVES to help. Often, if she's a little cranky because of lack of sleep or not getting something that she wants, if you ask her if she can "help" with something, she immediately starts smiling and giggling and sometimes even clapping her hands in excitement. It's basically the cutest.

Overall, she tends to be very cautious, so sometimes it takes awhile to warm up to trying new things. If she is at all nervous about something, her thumb will immediately go into her mouth, and she'll just study the situation with her huge blue eyes until she's ready to take the next step. Definitely my kid, in that way.

I also think she'll be a "friendly introvert," like both Matt and I are. Although Matt and I aren't shy, per se, we like  having a lot of alone time and big crowds tend to stress us out. Raven's the same way---she can spend about an hour in her corner just quietly flipping through all her books, and she's totally content to just observe other people a lot of the time rather than have to be in the middle of it. She definitely LIKES other kids and people (since she's always trying to give them her toys and say hi to them), but she's not really aggressive about it, if that makes sense.

 Other Notes (for my own benefit, really)

We're finally tapering down to just one nap on most days (*tear*), but she toggles between taking it in the midmorning (when she used to just take her first one) and taking it in the midafternoon (which is when the second one used to be). When I've tried to put her down in the middle of the two, she just jabbers happily to herself and plays with the blinds on her window until I come get her. (And the naps are a little on the shorter side for her just taking one---maybe an hour to an hour and a half is all, most days). Thank goodness she still goes down every night at 6:30 and then let's us sleep in until around 7:30 most mornings!

She's gotten a bit pickier than she used to be since she's started wanting to exclusively feed herself. If the food is a little more tricky to eat (like a stew or a shepherd's pie casserole or something), she tends to largely turn up her nose at it without putting in too much effort. (Of course, if we can convince her to actually EAT some of it, she usually likes it, but it's the convincing that can be tricky, and we usually don't try to push her at all because she knows by now that that's what we're having and that there will be no snacks/meals for another few hours at least.)

She totally needs a haircut (badly), but since I refuse to pay for one and I'm a bit scared to do it myself, nothing has happened yet. Maybe this weekend I'll convince my mom to show me how to do a simple trim...

Anyway, that's all! Happy 18 months to our beautiful Raven girl---

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Elevating Family Mealtime (& Bringing Back the Joy in Eating)

With October well underway, we are now firmly in the last quarter of the year, which has got me thinking long and hard about the resolutions I set all the way back in January.

One of my biggest challenges for myself was to complete my 100 Hours in the Kitchen project, which, surprising even to myself, has changed much more than my confidence in making substitutions in a recipe or even creating my own dishes.

I started the project as a way to get myself out of the box of always following a recipe to the letter and always feeling like I needed to go buy whatever ingredients I might be missing, rather than try and make substitutions or go without. I was so uncomfortable with just trying something new because I dreaded failing at it (mostly just because it would mean that I then would have to provide a second dinner, ha ha).

But the project has morphed into a lot more than just challenging myself each quarter to make a dozen new recipes---

It's actually started changing the way I look at food and eating and mealtimes in general.

Perhaps the biggest change that I've undergone is that I am much more conscious of wasting food now than I used to be, and I've gotten a TON better at using up odds and ends.

But somewhere along the way this year--or maybe it even hails back to my days of doing an elimination diet or maybe hails back even further, to when I was in the first trimester of pregnancy over two years ago and feeling sicker than sick, with no appetite to boot---I lost much of the joy I took in the experience of eating and preparing food for others and sitting down together to a meal.

Vigilantly counting calories for almost a year and a half definitely has something to do with all that too since it made me realize that those cookies I was making literally just about every week--while delicious--were not doing my waistline any favors. And then with the elimination diet, I just felt this message being screamed to me that MOST FOOD NOWADAYS IS TOXIC and that I was slowly killing myself every time I ate a slice of bread.

While I don't think eating cookies on a daily basis is a good extreme, I'm positive that thinking that most food is toxic is also not a good extreme---for months after I completed the elimination diet, I would look at a food label and see that it had soy or gluten in it, and I would inwardly feel my insides squirm with guilt.

With all of my reading and research, I DO know that YES, we should be eating as much "real" food as possible, made with whole, natural ingredients (that are as fresh as possible).

And much of the time, we do pretty well.

I also know that if I continue to let myself think every time I eat a salt cracker that I'm doomed to be sick and unhealthy the rest of my life, I'm going to be deeply, deeply unhappy when it comes to my relationship with food.

So the last quarter of the year, I'm not choosing to focus on any one "type" of dish to try in my dozen new recipes (although I still plan to try out at least that many new ones; I'm just letting them be whatever kind of food I want).

What I AM going to focus on is the whole experience of eating itself, and how to elevate it to the enjoyable experience it ought to be.

Confession: I absolutely love reading books and magazine articles and blog posts about French culture. I love the aesthetic, I love the devotion to butter and cream, and I love how much joy and pleasure they obviously take from their dining experience. In fact, one of the most influential books I've read this year was French Kids Eat Everything, which detailed one American mother's journey as she re-trained her (very picky) American children into eating food more like French children would. (That book ENTIRELY changed how I approached feeding Raven, btw.)

In that book, along with several other guidelines on how French culture encourages children to be good eaters, there is a section devoted on making the experience of eating enjoyable, and how important that one aspect is in encouraging reluctant eaters and elevating the experience as a whole. (Because, as I believe she pointed out in that section, if you're just hounding your kid to please take one more bite or extolling how much nutrition they are or are not getting, the experience isn't exactly going to be pleasant for anyone.)

SO, I have a plan going forward (of course I have a plan going forward---I'm a plan FREAK).

And my plan for elevating our mealtimes is as follows:

1. Clear off the kitchen table and keep it free from clutter. 

Confession #2: Our kitchen table hasn't been free from clutter in probably two months (and, that time when it was, it quickly got cluttered again within 48 hours). This regularly means that on any given day, for any given mealtime, we are eating next to the laptop, a few boxes of things we're currently trying to sell, a board game or two, and my notebook where I keep my to-do list (not to mention an assortment of books and magazines that somehow always end up in the mix, as well).

This doesn't exactly make for an elevated, "fine dining" experience.

So, the clutter must be conquered, and I must find a way to keep it thus. The biggest challenge (I already know) will be with the laptop, since there's no other place to put it when we're using it. So with that, I'm just going to have to force myself to get in the habit of clearing it off to the pantry shelf behind the table at least for the mealtime, if nothing else.

2. Break out the nicer plates.

While we don't have china (ha---not even close), my mom did get us a set of beautifully simple but elegant white dishware for our wedding that I love. Because it's a little on the nicer side (and the plates tend to be bigger, which means I actually have to think about coming up with side dishes so the meal doesn't look sad), it doesn't get used as often as our "everyday" dishware, which has chips and dents up the wazoo.

But I know that whenever I bust out the white stuff, I automatically feel like I slow down to savor the meal more, so that's a super easy fix to incorporate (even if I just do it during our dinner, rather than at all mealtimes).

3. Buy fresh flowers when possible.

We're currently on a pretty tight budget, so fresh flowers (even just a $5 bouquet from the grocery store) isn't always in the cards. But when it is, I want to get in the habit of taking advantage of it because flowers make all the difference in the world in improving my mood and the overall aesthetic of our home (as I talked about both here and here).

4. Cut down the meal prep stress.

Part of the reason why mealtimes don't always get the positive "ambiance" that they could is because I'm often so stressed out just from the preparation of the meal itself that by the time it's done, everyone's starving, the toddler is screaming and tugging on my legs, and there are pots and pans everywhere (not to mention one aspect of the meal that didn't exactly turn out quite as planned, mostly due to my being too crazed and harried to catch my error in time).

Lately, I've discovered the following techniques seem to help out with making the prep way less stressful:

- actually choosing what I'm going to make for dinner LONG before it's time to actually make it (oh, this is so, SO important)
- reading through the recipe I'm going to be following as my guideline multiple times before starting so I have an idea of what's needed in prep time and materials
- putting on music in the background (which seems to calm down Raven and encourage her to play elsewhere just as much as putting on a movie for her does, which I try to avoid doing very much)
- putting all the chopped vegetables and things into bowls and getting out all the ingredients and measuring cups BEFORE I start actually cooking
- starting dinner 20 or even 30 minutes before I think I need to because as much experience as I have in the kitchen, things almost always take longer than I think they will (or longer than the recipe claims they will)

5. Talking about more things than just how our day was or the election coming up (yuck) while we eat. 

It may seem kind of silly, but I'm kind of tempted to make a little list or jar of topics for dinner so that we can avoid (at least sometimes) the endless loops of what happened that day (because it usually means rehashing whatever's stressing us out) and the latest hogwash going on in the political world at large. Those topics are so easy and they do sometimes need to be talked about, sure, but they don't necessarily make for the most relaxing of dinner conversations.

So it's something I want to work on.

I'm excited to try these out, and I'm feeling pretty confident we'll notice a pretty big boost in our mealtime experience overall.

How do you elevate your mealtimes? I'd love to hear your suggestions! (Oh, and if you know of a good source for uplifting dinner topics...)

Related Posts:
4 Ways to Make Your Food Presentation More Beautiful (Guest Post)
How I Cut Our Food Waste in Half
100 Hours in the Kitchen Project
My Weirdly Effective Technique for Keeping Our Table Clear of Clutter

Monday, October 17, 2016

Let's Talk About Vests

On this chilly, rainy Monday morning, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk to you about something that's become very near and dear to my heart...


(Because heaven knows, I'm so sick of hearing about the election that I could just weep.)


I used to be very "meh" about The Vest---I mostly bought a few because I thought they were "professional" and good for helping me land a teaching job (and then, once I'd landed said job, they were good for making me not look like one of the students), but that was about all I felt about the matter. And, truth be told, I didn't even used to wear them very much, even though I owned around four or five at the time.

Fast forward to now---

I still only own about four or five (some the same as before, some different), but my philosophy about the versatility and loveability of The Vest has completely changed.

In fact, I might venture to say that The Vest could become many a woman's new best style friend, especially if she tends to store weight in her midsection (like myself), has a postpartum pooch to hide (like myself), or is trying to subtly hide the early stages of pregnancy (not like myself---don't get excited).

This is how happy vests should make you, people--
So happy that you awkwardly throw leaves around in order to make it look 
like you spontaneously ended up in a land of golden leaves,
chocolate bubbles, and bathtubs filled with pumpkin-scented foam.

I have found that no matter how little attention I give to the other pieces I am wearing, if I throw on a vest that semi-coordinates, it almost always elevates the outfit to The Next Level (or, at the very least, to the level of I-Actually-Put-Effort-Into-Dressing-In-Real-Clothes-Today).

Through my forays into vest-wearing on a regular (and casually dressed) basis, I have found that there are 3 favorite ways that I rock my vests---

Exhibit A: The Wrapped-and-Belted Look.

While the top I have on in this pic is "technically" a short-sleeved cardigan, I have found that you can do the exact same thing with vests that zip or that are open in the front.

A photo posted by Torrie Lynn Meidell (@torriemeidell) on

Exhibit B: The open/zippered vest (unbelted) over a neutral tee

(I've done this look several times but with no other picture than this one, of me when I was still a teacher and doing crazy stunts in the commons. And it's WAY too cold and wet outside for me to be thinking of taking another one just for this post! #sorrynotsorry)

Exhibit C: The sweater-vest-and-collared-shirt combo.

This is the way that I rock the vest the most, which works basically over any button-up shirt (and I'll sometimes even throw on a necklace, too, if I'm feeling extra-coordinated).

Also--BONUS!--it gets rid of the gap-button syndrome us busty gals are always trying to deal with. (Side note: no matter how large I buy my button-up shirt, I ALWAYS seem to get a gap across the chest, so I basically just always vest it. Yes, that's a verb now.)

So there you have it---

The reasons why The Vest is the staple that's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Now I just need to find me a fun faux fur one just for kicks and giggles...

 Where do you stand on vests?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Your Obligatory Fall Photo Shoot in the Leaves + 5 Things

I figured I wouldn't be a real lifestyle blogger at all if I didn't post some autumn-related pictures in the leaves, so here you go--

A peek into our day yesterday (+ 5 other random things on my mind).

1. I think my body's been trying to put itself into hibernation mode lately because it's turning everything into a struggle. Reading my usual amount every day is a struggle. Preparing dinner is a struggle. Going on runs is a Struggle (OH yes, going on runs is a Struggle with a capital S). It's been a nice little test of my self-discipline lately since I've usually been making myself do it all anyway.

2. However, in a bizarre turn of events, the thing that's been the LEAST bit of a struggle? Keeping our apartment (relatively) clean. Universe, you win again.

3. If you were to walk past (or inside) our apartment right now, you would quickly note that along our block, we are Those Neighbors---you know, the ones that don't decorate for holidays and that have random junk outside on the porch and that basically give the whole neighborhood a bad name.

Truth: I wish that I was motivated to actually implement all the home design methods I love to read about or view on Instagram, but I'm just not. Maybe that will all change when we finally buy a house someday in the distant future, and maybe it won't. For right now, I just count myself as the Homemaking Queen of the World if I have a bouquet of $4 flowers from the grocery store on the counter, a relatively cleared-off kitchen table, and dinner in the oven.

4. My whole cutting-down-on-the-Diet-Dr.-Pepper thing is not going so well. In September, I did manage to cut my consumption down by a solid 50%, but this week alone, I've given in to having it 5 out of the last 7 days. At least now I'm in the habit of just putting one in the freezer anytime I need my caffeine fix instead of keeping a huge supply in the fridge, ready-made. It at least makes me pause for a few milliseconds and ask myself if I really NEED to have one today.

5. I might be the only blogger in the world who has not really thought about Halloween costumes, either for myself or for my kid. The truth is, I very rarely dress up for the holiday, and my mom gave me a costume that *kinda* fits Raven, so that might be all that happens. I am the Halloween equivalent of Scrooge, you could say (although I at least buy candy for the trick-or-treaters, so I'm not completely heartless).

Perhaps I should have titled this "Why I Fail as a Lifestyle Blogger" instead.

And that's a wrap, folks! Hope you have a happy weekend! And now excuse me while I go and grab my Dr. Pepper from the freezer that I put there after the Raven decided to skip her morning nap...

Oh, and in case you want to see YET MORE of the million pictures we took yesterday, you can check out some different ones on my Instagram (@torriemeidell). I know, I know, your mind is blown that there could still be YET MORE pictures. What can I say? I have a bit of a problem knowing when to quit. See the Dr. Pepper note above for extra proof.

01 09 10