Monday, February 29, 2016

What I Learned From Doing an Elimination Diet

You might remember (if you've been reading for awhile) that I did an elimination diet over the holidays (~like a total crazy pants~). You might remember that 10 days in, I'd lost a few pounds, felt my gut acting quite a bit happier, and had noticed a subtle improvement in my autoimmune disease symptoms. Then you might remember that I basically didn't post anything else about it, with the exception of a small mention in this post of how figuring out what I was sensitive to wasn't as easy and clear-cut as I thought it'd be.

Since I've had a surprising number of people follow up with me about the diet (thanks for being such a great support system, readers!), I decided it's high time I did a REAL follow-up post on it.

So here goes - a list (surprise, surprise! another list!) of what I learned from doing an elimination diet.

(Note: For my elimination diet, I took out all corn, gluten, soy, and dairy in any form for 21 days, then gradually added them all back in one thing at a time over a period of about another 10 days.)

What I Learned:

1 - I'm about 95% sure I have a gluten sensitivity (and, let's be honest, the other 5% is just me wishfully thinking that maybe it will "go away" eventually). Gluten was the last thing I added back into my diet after I'd gone off everything, and it was because deep down, I kind of knew that that would probably be the one.

2 - Even though I think I finally nailed down that I do, in fact, have a gluten sensitivity, the process wasn't as clear as I thought it'd be. I thought that I would be able to tell a huge difference when I started adding all the foods back in, but I didn't--many of the symptoms remained unclear, and I wasn't totally symptom-free even during the diet, so it was difficult to tell what I was actually sensitive to (and what was due to just my eating better in general). However, after adding stuff back in and taking it back out and adding it back in, I'm pretty sure I've got my sensitivities figured out now.

3 - Even though it kind of stinks to go gluten-free, I'm actually SO GLAD that it wasn't one of the other three because there is a LOT of great gluten-free options out there right now, and being able to eat dairy, corn, and soy again made it possible for me to indulge my beloved chocolate addiction (which I'd sorely missed). So in other words, even though I thought a year or two that I wouldn't be able to bear going gluten-free, I'm actually glad that it ended up being that one (if I had to have a sensitivity to something).

4 - I actually do also have a slight sensitivity to dairy (just ever so slight, in my digestion), but it's not causing enough pain and discomfort for me to go off dairy completely. For me, the pain of being OFF dairy is greater than the pain of being ON it, so I have continued to eat dairy because it seems to affect just my gut and not my AI disease symptoms.

5 - If I had to do the whole thing again, I would plan it out MUCH better and much more in advance than I did. I basically decided on a whim that I was just going to try the diet so I could hopefully see some improvement before my next doctor appointment about my condition, and because I didn't have any days to waste between the time I started and the appointment itself, I just jumped right in. I wouldn't recommend that strategy to anyone. I basically felt like I was in a state of semi-starvation for the first four or five days, and I was so cranky/tired/miserable that all I could focus on for that first week was just food and how bad I felt. Had I thought it out better, I could have stocked my kitchen with foods I could actually have, recipes I could actually make, and a better idea of what was all clear and off limits so that I wouldn't have to go through that brutal state of self-deprivation again.

6 - Taking part in such an extreme diet both made me eat better and worse once  it was over--- better because I now eat WAY more fruits and vegetables than before and WAY fewer carbs (and even dairy) in general, but worse because I felt so deprived while on it that I managed to get myself right back into drinking Diet Dr. Pepper again (which I'd been off for over two years and hadn't touched a drop). Diet DP was miraculously free of the four forbidden foods, so I allowed it in order to give myself the boost I needed to actually stick with the diet instead of just give up. However, I'm still having Diet Dr. Pepper regularly now (daily, usually), and I'm also feeding my chocolate addiction at a furious pace because my body seems to think that I'm going to force it to go into deprivation mode again. When the stress of grading all these papers for this final stretch of second trimester is over with, I plan on "doing something" about the whole Diet DP/chocolate frenzy I'm on, but I don't even have the mental space to devote to it right now, so it will be a couple weeks before I get around to it.

7 - I currently eat gluten-free about 90% of the time, and by doing so, I have seen drastic improvement in my skin, which was the last (and most resistant) symptom of my AI disease. In fact, the rash had almost all but disappeared until a few weeks ago, when a small spot of it came back with a vengeance. Since I have about a month to go before my next doctor's appointment (where I find out if I can go off my second medication - methotrexate), and I'll probably try and be even more vigilant about not eating gluten until then to see if it clears it up entirely.

8 - Even though doing an elimination diet is absolutely no fun at all (especially if you dream about what to cook for dinner next, like me), I recommend that anyone with an autoimmune disease for sure try one out. I was told repeatedly by my doctor that there was nothing I could do to help my symptoms, but I noticed some pretty drastic results in less than a month after I changed my diet. (And don't assume that just because a celiac test came back negative--like it did for me--that  you're automatically in the clear to eat gluten).

9 - Fair warning though to anyone thinking of trying one though---it will probably permanently change how you feel about some foods (or even food, in general). I used to love looking through cookbooks and planning out recipes that I wanted to try and baking all sorts of muffins and breads and cookies in my spare time, but since my diet, food has lost much of its allure for me. I'm hoping to get that pleasure back sometime, but I guess the loss of allure does have some upsides--it has definitely made it easier to keep up my weight loss.

So there you have it! Hopefully that answers most of the questions that I've gotten over the past several weeks, but if you have any more, please feel free to send them my way!

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman for her monthly "What I Learned" round-up!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Grading Papers is the Worst Way to Spend a Weekend

Our hopes are that this is my last year of teaching for a long time, and while there are many things I know I will miss about being a teacher, I know for a fact that I will never once miss the intense workload and mental strain of grading papers and tests (especially when I have to do so at home, on my own time, over a weekend no less).

Ends of trimesters (and the period of time right before midterm) are always the worst, with 60+ hour workweeks and squinting over papers written in poor penmanship and fielding calls and emails and visits from frustrated/angry/worried/anxious/pleading parents who wonder if there is anything their child can do at the 11th hour to make up for a whole trimester of not having done much of anything at all.

I will never miss all that.

But one of these days, when I'm not so bogged down with essays and when my eyeballs don't feel like they're going to pop out of my head (like one of those squeeze toys), I will write a post about all that I WILL miss--the thrill of the challenge, the constant striving towards improvement (on both my part and on the part of my students), the occasional realization that I really and truly (without question) made some lasting impact on at least a few of these young people as they go on with the rest of their lives...

One day I will write a post about all that.

For today, you get frustration and two sorry pictures.

Oh, and a few links to posts that I wrote when I wasn't so bogged down with argument essays and Spanish tests:

One Year Ago: Bucket List Item - Photographing the Slot Canyon
Two Years Ago: Sugar is My Ultimate Frenemy (as true for me today as it was then, unfortunately)
Three Years Ago: Flashback to when my purse almost weighed 10 pounds

Saturday, February 27, 2016

10 Books the English Major in Me Would Recommend

There are few things I miss about being in school---I don't miss the homework load (where I'd usually be assigned to read literally around 1,500 pages per WEEK), I don't miss the critical analysis essays dissecting every last bit of minutiae in whatever text we were studying, and I don't (usually) miss the pompous, verbose discussions about how this or that book should be read through different "lenses" (like the women/gender studies lens, the modernist movement lens, the post-modern movement lens...blah blah blah).

But I do miss having daily contact with people who love books (especially well-written classics) as much as I do (because--shocker of all shockers--being a 7th grade Language Arts teacher surprisingly doesn't fill that need for me, seeing as how an unfortunate number of my students often try to avoid reading whenever they can), and I do miss having the regular challenge of approaching difficult literature and coming out the other end feeling a bit wiser, a bit more lit-savvy, and just a wee bit full of some pompous-sounding new words.

So if you're feeling ready to try on some more "literary" fiction and classics that have every English major throwing around important-sounding words like "cross-cultural analysis" and "possible tendencies towards misogyny"  and -- horror of horrors -- "unpacking the text," then go ahead and pick up one of these titles. Pretentious discussions aside, these books really are worth a read once in your life, if only to make you appreciate just a bit more what's possible in human writing.

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1 //  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This was one of the first classics I chose to read on my own (without being assigned to it), and its combination of romance and intrigue and a long-locked-up secret made this one a surprising page-turner. Plus, it's WAAAAY more accessible than many classics, so if it's one of your first forays into 19th century British literature, it's a great place to start.

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2// The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This was the first novel I read by Atwood, and I fell head over heels for her gorgeous prose and brain-searing imagery. Honestly, her books are less about plot for me than they are about her play on words, but this particular choice did things with plot I've never experienced with any other author before. Even though you might loathe the ending (as did my husband), you should at least be able to appreciate the literary risk that she took with the ending of this dystopian novel.

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3// The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Haunting and disturbing but curiously addictive, Sylvia Plath has made many an English major swoon over her poetic journeys into the more disturbing parts of the psyche, and her one full-length novel is enough to make you appreciate the light she helped shed on all the twisted and multifaceted workings of mental illness. It was this book that made me buy almost every word written by Plath and devour them my freshman and sophomore years of college.

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4// Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Austen is an obvious choice by an English major, but I am continually astounded by her wit and her insight into the human character. There's a reason she has such an obsessive following (and hundreds upon hundreds of spin-off books, t.v. shows, and movies inspired by the stories she wrote). If you're going to read just one thing by her, make it the one she's best known for (although I immensely enjoyed Emma as a very close second).

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5// Walden by Henry David Thoreau

I always seemed to enjoy the Transcendentalist period of literary history more than my English major peers, but I think there's too much to gain from reading this book to leave it off my list. Thoreau was perhaps the first to document a more "minimalist" approach to life (rather than the "more is more" philosophy that has dominated American culture almost since its inception), and his insights into pursuing the "simple but valuable" life are just as applicable to us today as they were then (if not more so).

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6// Atonement by Ian McEwan

I'm kind of surprising myself by putting this on the list, but this modern book (by a supremely gifted current author) left a definite impression on me. The genius of this book lies in the slow build-up and the division of the book into different styles of writing and purposes so that by the end, you realized you were supposed to feel frustrated and slightly bored by the first section and totally blown away by the way it all comes together in the end. A master of somehow making it all fit together, McEwan is a modern writer to watch.

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7// The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini

Although Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns is a much happier book (by the end) and thus much more immediately enjoyable, I found it was The Kite Runner that has really stayed with me. This might very well be one of the most powerful fictional novels I've ever read on the subject of forgiveness and trying to right a wrong, and even though it's not an easy book to get through (due to disturbing subject matter), it's worth every gut-wrenching page.

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8// The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I could make so many jokes about how this might be one of the most-hated assigned reads given to high schoolers, but surprisingly, I LOVED it (even when I was a high schooler myself). In fact, this was probably the first "classic" I think I really appreciated for more than just an interesting story, and there are so many references to the symbols in this book in modern culture, so it's definitely worth digging through, even if only to understand those references when they do come up.

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9// Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski

I read this as a senior in high school for my AP Lit class, and it's one of the first (and only) times a book has truly "gotten inside my brain." I felt a bit deranged while reading this (because the main character is so deranged throughout), and while the forced ending falls a bit flat (because Dostoevski was made to change the ending by his publisher), the psychologically thrilling nature of this story coupled with timeless themes of what justice is all about make this a must-read.

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10// Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Although Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the more well-known choice for dealing with the question of how far science should be pushed, Flowers for Algernon gives a more human (albeit gut-wrenching) face to the whole concept (rather than the monster that has inspired countless Halloween movies and jokes). About a mentally-challenged man who becomes the first human subject of an intelligence-enhancing experiment, this story will both break your heart and leave your head thinking about it for years to come. (Plus--bonus! It's super short and you could finish it in a day.)


What are your favorite "literary" titles? What classics were you surprised didn't make the list? Let's talk books!

Friday, February 26, 2016

My Capsule Wardrobe: What Made the Cut

If you happened to miss my first post on my decision to finally try out a capsule wardrobe, go ahead and click here first.

Like I mentioned in my first post, my capsule wardrobe is a bit bigger than most people's. From what I've read on the subject, most people keep their capsule between 30-40 pieces, but my capsule contains 48. If I end up continuing with the capsule wardrobe idea beyond this first test run, I hope to be able to edit it down more, but I thought that this was a good start for someone like me (who easily had almost 100 items of clothing in my closet before this, many of which didn't currently fit or which I hadn't worn in ages). In fact, both sides of my closet had been so stuffed before that I often ran out of hangers or had to try and "wedge" clothing in, but now, my capsule wardrobe only takes up half my closet space, and there's even space between the hangers, too.

Imagine that.

So, in case you're curious as to what I chose to go in my wardrobe for the next 2-3 months, here goes:

(1) pair of grey work trousers
(2) pairs of blue jeans
(1) pair of black skinnies
(2) pencil skirts (grey & blue)
(4) maxi skirts (grey, blue, beige, navy)
(2) dresses (cream & navy striped, grey & white striped)

(5) cardigans (black, blue, navy, green, pink)
(1) blazer (black)
(1) moto jacket (black)

(3) sweaters (grey striped, black, blue)
(2) grey tees
(1) white tee
(2) pink tops
(1) mint top
(1) plain black top
(1) short-sleeved collared navy top
(1) patterned short-sleeve tee
(1) Aztec patterned mid-sleeve tee
(4) button-up shirts (white, dark green, blue gingham, chambray)
(1) purple dress top
(1) dark green dress top
(3) long-sleeved tees (purple, (2) navy)
(1) black vest

(1) pair of black boots
(2) pairs of flats (black, navy)
(1) pair of brown ankle boots

(1) plain white tank
(1) plain black tank
(1) cheetah-print tank

Typing all that out, I realize that it is quite a bit bigger than most capsule wardrobes, but I figured I'd cut myself a bit of slack this first go-round and try to get better at cutting it down (if that suits me) when I try a different capsule.

Also, I'd better mention that I'm not including exercise clothing (including running shoes), loungewear, or pajamas in my count for my capsule wardrobe. Just thought I'd point that out!

Now stay tuned for part 3, where I'm planning on posting a series of some of the outfits I've created from the pieces in my capsule (so that you can see how boring my wardrobe really is as a general rule, ha ha).

Would you ever try a capsule wardrobe? Or do you already basically have one?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

5 Pep Talks I Frequently Need to Give Myself as a Teacher

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I don't think it's any secret that teaching is a challenging profession (especially when you're a middle school teacher, like I am). You're expected to work overtime without extra pay, keep up with all the state-, district- and, school-mandated paperwork and agendas, ensure that "no child is left behind" (or whatever the latest political statement is on the matter), and regularly contact parents. That's not to mention all the obvious parts of your job that you're expected to accomplish, like actually TEACHING something and then evaluating your students on that teaching.

For the past two years, I've been really lucky--I've had GREAT students overall (with very few behavioral problems mixed in), and I've finally reached the point where I'm fairly confident that I can call myself a "decent teacher."

But on weeks like this week, where I'm a week and a half away from the end of a trimester (which means hundreds upon hundreds of essays and tests to grade over the next 10 days) and I'm feeling cranky from a lack of sleep and I wanted to shout at a kid in my 3rd hour to just keep his mouth shut for one whole minute already...I find myself giving myself pep talks in order to make it through another day.

Here are some things you'd hear me saying to myself on a regular basis (if you could read my mind):

1. Focus on progress, not just proficiency.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm VERY proficiency-focused: I love the challenge of taking any kid--at whatever ability level--to the point where he can truly be considered "proficient" at whatever I've just taught. (Bonus points for me if it's the first time he's ever encountered the material or if it's something he's always struggled with and now all of a sudden understands!)

This focus has often served me well, as it helps me to try and do whatever I can to help the students who aren't quite there yet and also to have high expectations of everybody, no matter their ability level when they start the year.

But sometimes, my drive to make all my students proficient at everything all the time just makes me downright depressed.

Take this unit that we're wrapping up now, for instance--I've been covering research skills with the kids, including how to cite sources, summarize and paraphrase information, and find accurate and reliable data on the Internet, much of which is brand new for the students this year (especially citation stuff). And here we are, about 8 weeks into the unit (at the very end), and all I'm feeling as I look through their tests and their book projects (where they were supposed to utilize all the info I'd covered) is absolute depression and a vague sense that the unit was basically a failure.

And if you look only at the percentage of students who were proficient, I would be justified in classifying myself as a failure. The latest scores on the last formative test (mid-unit test given before the final) were as follows:

1st hour: 48% proficient
2nd hour: 17% proficient (my 2nd hour has always especially struggled)
3rd hour: 50% proficient

Sure, you could argue that this was a mid-unit test, so it's hardly fair to judge my performance as a teacher on a formative assessment. But this test was given 6 weeks into the unit! I am beyond frustrated, to say the least, and I'm absolutely praying that the last two weeks of hard review and practice and examples and more practice will pay off on the final test.

But even with all that aside, I made myself look at something else today, too---I made myself compare the students' pre-test scores with their latest mid-unit score, and with very few exceptions, pretty much every student has made progress (some very significant progress), so that made me feel *slightly* better about life in general.

I have to give myself the "progress, not just proficiency" talk on about a monthly basis to keep myself sane, btw...

2. Even though I often try and treat my students like miniature versions of adults, they are still kids, SO DON'T GET FRUSTRATED WHEN THEY ACT LIKE KIDS!

Oh man. Can I be honest? I never wanted to teach middle school. There are still plenty of days I wish that I didn't. As much as I try and treat my kids like they're responsible, thoughtful, well-adjusted adults, the fact is that they're not. So when they try and call out obnoxious comments in class to try and get me off topic or they leave the essay that I spent forever making comments on behind on their desk (or in the trash) or they don't stack their composition notebooks  (or their books, or the paper stacks at the front of the room) like they're supposed to, it can be REAAAALLLY easy to get annoyed.

And I sometimes do.

But then I remind myself---"Hey. They're 12 and 13 years old. Of COURSE they're going to act like idiots sometimes."

And it makes me feel just the tiniest bit better about life.

3. Even though they ask me a question I literally just answered, at least they care enough to double check, right?

Ugghh...I will never get used to how many times you have to repeat everything as a teacher. But lately, I've tried to take the more positive outlook by reasoning that I'd rather have a student ask again about something that I just explained rather than just not say anything and not do the assignment at all (or not attempt to understand the concept ever).

The student might be a little late to the game, but at least he showed up, eh?

4. Patience is a virtue, and I'm fortunate enough to have hundreds of opportunities each and every day to work on it.

I often thought in my first few years as a teacher that teaching has got to be one of the best ways to prepare to be a parent, and I was right---having to deal with 150 students daily (some of whom are difficult to get along with, rebellious, disrespectful, or just downright obnoxious) has made caring for one very sweet baby seem to be a breeze in comparison. Even when my daughter is cranky and clingy and nothing seems to console her, I find that because my patience is endlessly tested as a teacher, I actually have a lot more of it in general outside of the school, too.

5. We're only "X" number of days away from the next break. I can do this!

When all else fails, I remind myself of one of the greatest perks of being a teacher--the fact that we get really regular vacation breaks scheduled in (thank goodness!).

And if nothing else works, that somehow always manages to carry me through the worst.

Fellow teachers (or parents)----what pep talks do you give yourself on a regular basis?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

5 Reasons I Decided to Try the Capsule Wardrobe Trend

Capsule Wardrobe

Fun fact: this post was originally titled "Why I'm Hesitant to Hop on the Capsule Wardrobe Bandwagon," but then, as logic would have it, the more I tried to think of reasons why I shouldn't try this particular trend, the more I came up with reasons why I SHOULD.

Funny how that happens sometimes.

That is why, last Saturday night, you would have found me pulling out every single item from my closet and taking a good, hard look at what I was willing to keep in a so-called "capsule wardrobe" that I'm planning on using exclusively for the next 2-3 months.

(For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a capsule wardrobe is basically a severely edited collection of pieces from your wardrobe that you wear for a certain time frame in the year (usually just for one "season"). So basically, instead of having all your clothing in your closet all year round, you only choose a small portion of them--often a set number of pieces--and re-wear and re-mix just those pieces for that season and put all the rest in storage.)

For now, I invite you into my brain to hear out why logic finally won me over and why I am indeed finally going to hop onto the capsule wardrobe train. I'll start by outlining my doubts, then go on and explain why the capsule wardrobe was actually often a solution for those doubts.

Doubt #1:
Capsule wardrobes seem pretty inflexible (because you basically agree to only wearing certain pieces and nothing outside of the capsule for a certain amount of time), which didn't seem to work in my life right now since my weight is currently in fluctuation. I was concerned that if/when I lose the 8 pounds that I'm still trying to work off, the pieces I'd chosen for my capsule would no longer work for my new body.

Why the Capsule Wardrobe Won Out:
Because my weight has been in flux over the past several months, my frustration with my closet was starting to reach an all-time high because I had tons of stuff in there that was now too big, some stuff in there that was still too small, and clothes I wasn't really sure about how they fit because I hadn't actually tried them on since losing 8-9 pounds over the past couple months. Choosing clothing for my capsule wardrobe would force me to weed out pieces that were now obviously too big and clothing that was still uncomfortably too tight, and find those clothes that actually fit me at the shape I am currently at.

Also, because capsule wardrobes aren't permanent and last only about a season (around 3 months), by the time the next "season" rolls around, I will probably be right on track to reconsider the clothing I've chosen since it will probably take about that long for me to lose the rest of the weight.

Doubt #2:
Because I didn't start a capsule wardrobe at the beginning of a true "season," it would be hard to pick pieces that could work for winter AND spring and fit it all into one capsule wardrobe.

Why the Capsule Wardrobe Won Out:
Many capsule wardrobes are built around the idea of layering, not only for practical reasons (like the weather) but also because having such a limited number of options to wear forces people to get a bit creative with their outfits. I realized that by carefully selecting pieces that could be layered, I would feel prepared for any kind of weather.

Doubt #3:
Capsule wardrobes seem to always include a very narrow range of colors, which seems, well, boring.

Why the Capsule Wardrobe Won Out:
I actually didn't resolve this issue until I started pulling things out of my closet and trying to decide what would go into a capsule wardrobe (if I indeed decided to go that route after all). I started by selecting pieces that would definitely make the cut by following Marie Kondo's advice to keep only what "brings joy," and it became immediately apparent that most of my favorite pieces are, in fact, neutrals that can be easily mixed and matched. By the end, a few colorful pieces made it into the capsule too, but most of the wardrobe ended up being black, grey, white, and navy/blue.

Guess my wardrobe is naturally pretty "boring" (I mean, sophisticated and neutral).

(Oh, and I'm also not including accessories like jewelry or scarves in my capsule wardrobe count, so I can feel free to spice things up there if I so desire.)

Doubt #4:
I'm used to having a lot of options at my disposable--what if I got totally bored with having such a limited range of choices?

Why the Capsule Wardrobe Won Out:
Because I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of clothing in my closet, I pretty much was wearing the same things all the time anyway, which was definitely causing me to get bored already. When I started laying out what I wanted in my capsule, I was struck by new and unique combinations that I hadn't tried before, and it also helped that I *finally* knew what actually fit me now (and what didn't), so I no longer had to rely on the same pieces that had been on constant rotation for the past several months.

Also, I suppose that now would be the time to say that my "capsule" isn't nearly as limited as most people's---many people who have pioneered the capsule wardrobe movement typically have between 30-40 pieces (including shoes), but my capsule has more than that--about 45 pieces altogether.

I think for my summer capsule (if I decide to continue with this trend), I'll probably choose fewer pieces, but I thought a larger collection would work well for me right now since the weather does seem to be a bit unpredictable and more layering options would be really nice.

Doubt #5:
I can't start a capsule wardrobe right now because I'm still a few key pieces short of my "ideal capsule wardrobe."

Why the Capsule Wardrobe Won Out:
This one was resolved by reading a few blog posts lately on capsule wardrobes, many of which pointed out that you absolutely don't need to purchase clothes to go into your capsule (and that purchasing more clothes is generally what you're trying to avoid by doing a capsule wardrobe). Some blogs also pointed out that a capsule wardrobe is often the perfect way to tell if you really could use a certain piece or not in the future---many of us often buy new clothing impulsively, without really thinking about how it will fit in with the rest of our clothing, but if you've gone through and tried out a capsule wardrobe, you would know very well if a new piece was worth the investment or not.

So even though I don't have some of the pieces I'd like in my capsule wardrobe--like a black skirt or a striped top--I've still got plenty of clothes to be getting on with, and I no longer felt comfortable using that as an excuse.


So there you have it---why I finally talked myself into trying out this particular trend. Stay tuned for part two (coming later this week), where I'll actually lay out the pieces that made the cut.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

February Adventure: Midway Ice Castles

Let the record show that I have actually wanted to go to the Midway Ice Castles for a few years now, long before they became as insanely popular as they were this winter. But I guess it took making a new year's resolution to go on a monthly day adventure in order for me to make sure we took the time to make the two-hour drive down.

Just to give fair warning, this post will be more picture-based than word-based because when you've got an adorable baby in a fluffy pink snowsuit, that's just what happens.

In case your Facebook or Instagram feed has somehow been devoid of pictures of the Midway Ice Castles and you've never heard of them, they are man-made ice structures down in Midway, Utah that you can walk through, get lost in, or even wait in line at to go down the ice slide (which we didn't bother doing because Raven, though not crying, had let us know by the end that she was about done with this whole being-out-in-the-cold business).

We were fortunate enough to be joined on our day adventure by my mom, who was actually the real reason we were there anyway--my mom just turned 60, and for her birthday, all of us kids surprised her with different "experiences" with each of us, and the experience we gifted was a trip down to Midway to see these ice castles that everyone kept talking about.

***Side note: I have firmly decided that 9 times out of 10, experience gifts are the way to go. There are precious few material gifts I remember receiving, but I pretty much remember almost every experience gift ever given to me.

We were lucky in that the day we went, it was actually sunny (although that meant we were constantly getting dripped on as we wound our way through the various tunnels and passageways). Because of the weather, we not only got to escape the terrible inversion that the Salt Lake Valley was suffering through that day, but I also got away with wearing just a light sweatshirt and boots, which made me feel like we were only days away from spring (until we got hit with another snowstorm this morning, that is).

Fun fact: when we put Raven up on this ice ledge (below), literally everyone behind us stopped and started saying stuff like, "Ooo!! Check out that baby!", or "Aaaahh...that baby is just the cutest!" See? I'm not baby really is adorable!

Stuff You Should Know About the Ice Castles:

Address: 2002 Soldier Hollow Road, Midway, UT

When to Go: The ice castles are open to the public from early January to mid- or late February, depending on the season (I believe that they've closed already this season, but check it out for next year!)

Price for Admission: Our tickets were $13.50/adult with us reserving the tickets online. Tickets are more expensive if you go to the location and try to get standby tickets, and tickets are cheaper if you go on a weekday. Sometimes people trying to get standby tickets during busy times are unable to get in at all, so it's highly recommended that you just purchase your tickets online beforehand.

Other notes: 
**Even on a sunny, warm day like we had, it can still be quite cold inside the ice castles, and you definitely will want to wear boots that can withstand a lot of snow and general wetness. On a colder day, pretty hefty coats, gloves, scarves, and hats would be best.

**Because of the drastic increase in the popularity of the castles, try to go on a weekday (not a holiday) to try and avoid some of the crowds. We went on the last Saturday of the season (I believe), and it was SO packed with people as a result.

**At night, the ice castles are lit up with all these different lights, and judging from the pictures I've seen, that's probably the prime time to go. However, even in the middle of the day (which is when we went), there was still plenty to enjoy and plenty of awesome photo opportunities.

Only two monthly adventures in, and already I'm patting myself on the back for making such an excellent new year's resolution. Can't wait to see where our monthly adventures take us over the course of this year!

Now, for more picture overload...

Thanks for letting us take you out on such a fun day adventure, Mom! 
Hope you enjoy the rest of your birthday excursions!
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