Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 10 Blog Posts and Pics of 2016

This wasn't originally the post I'd planned to publish today, but I had the unexpected (and happy) surprise of being able to get together with some of my old college roommates today for lunch (see pic below), so the longer post I had planned will just have to wait until the new year to publish (even though it won't seem *quite* as relevant then).

I'm so happy that I was able to get myself back into the blogging groove again this year, after having been so sporadic about posting for a long time before. And even though growth and gaining new followers and getting my posts shared isn't really why I blog, it's still been great to connect with new readers this year and to be told that my posts have made a small impact on the lives of those I share them with. I love all the connections that blogging has allowed me to make with people.

This was also the year that I finally relented and hopped on the Instagram wagon (@torriemeidell), and while there is sometimes crossover between the images I share on the blog and those I share on Instagram, I'll often post several images exclusively to IG that never make it anywhere else, so I thought this would be a good time too to share some of my most-liked photos from over there on this post today.

So, in no particular order, I'm presenting the top posts (and IG photos) of 2016:

1. What I Will (& Won't) Miss About Teaching

This post, which I wrote just days after leaving the teaching profession to be a stay-at-home mom, ended up being my most-viewed post of all time. I feel like I could edit this post and add a bunch more things to both sides of the list, but I think I'll keep the post the way it is for now, in all its fresh and raw honesty.

2. Scenes From a Busy Weekend 

This post, which included pictures from my cousin's wedding dinner, a photo shoot I did with my sister, and my nephew's baby blessing, ended up being one of the top-viewed posts probably just because I tagged so many people in it on Facebook so they could see the pics of themselves (and because wedding-related stuff always seems to get a lot of hits).

3. Our Current Fork in the Road

This post, from back in March, ended up being one of my other top-viewed posts of all time, which I guess makes sense when you look at the #1 post because this post was all about whether or not I should quit teaching to stay at home or not. I guess the tension between the decision to work and the decision to stay at home is still alive and well and compelling enough to attract a lot of readers.

4. Finally Fitting Into the "Goal Skirt"

Overall, my Body After Baby series (of sorts) was pretty popular this year and last, but none were more so than this post from May, where I talked about how good it felt to finally be fitting into the "goal skirt" I'd set for myself at the beginning (and which, many times, I'd despaired of ever being able to fit into).

5. The 10 on 10 Series (particularly this one)

Honestly, the 10 on 10 posts would take up about four of the top 10 slots if I let 'em, but we'll just group them all together here. Apparently the world likes lots of pictures of my cute kid since these posts always seem to get quite a lot of clicks.

6. This Is What Aging 15 Years Looks Like

I was happy this one did pretty well because it took me FOREEEEEVER to put it together. Basically, this is where I found a photo of myself around my birthday every year from age 15 to age 30, and I've decided it's pretty nuts to see yourself age like that.

7. When You Know It's Worth It, But It's Still Hard

It's always interesting to me which posts end up getting the most feedback and views. This post was basically a "throwaway post" (meaning I just kind of sat down and word vomited everywhere because I couldn't think of anything coherent to say). And apparently, people understand that. Thank you, people, for understanding my word vomit.

8. The Blessings and Burdens of Getting Older

This was another heavy post, written after I found out that my dear coworker had passed away in a tragic climbing accident shortly before the end of the school year. I've been through some pretty hard times in my life, and something I'm glad I learned early on is that writing REALLY helps me to work through grief. This post gave me the opportunity to not only reap the cathartic benefits that writing it out has for me, but it also allowed me an outlet for reaching out and sharing my grief with others going through the same hardship. I'm not always good in person at reaching out or talking about hard things, but blogging has helped me to open up and connect with others in a way that I probably wouldn't otherwise.

9. An Adventure That Didn't Go As Planned

Oh man, I loved the pictures we got from that (very) short-lived Moab trip with my family, but I'll be happy to NEVER have strep throat again. EVER. And especially not while on a big family vacation.

10. How Our Lives Have Changed Lately

This was one of the first posts I wrote after I quit teaching, and I am still astounded looking back at how much our lives changed over the course of about two short weeks. Pure insanity, I tell ya! I mean, I know they could have changed even more, but I'm glad that we *just* had to go through the changes we did because I'm not sure if I could have handled much more at the time.

And, finally, in case you needed more (possible) reading material, I give you some of my own personal favorite posts of the year (that were, for whatever reason, not as popular as some of the others):

- 5 Pep Talks I Frequently Need to Give Myself as a Teacher (one of my last teaching posts!)

- Today, You Are One (+Thoughts on My First Year of Motherhood)

- Choose Your Path, Choose Your Problems (I come back to this philosophy anytime the stay-at-home mom life gets a bit challenging or when I feel stuck)

- Paying the Price of Improvement (For a long time, I thought that the reason my photos were lacking was because I needed better equipment. This year showed me just how wrong that thinking was.)

- Bippety Boppety Boo, We Went to the World's Smallest Zoo (this blog piece, which details how I became friends with one of my besties Mary and how she and her husband moved away this year, is by far one of my most favorite things that I've written this year)

- How I Keep My Creative Mojo Going (I remember feeling sad that hardly anyone--relatively--clicked into this post because it was definitely written at a time that I felt the most fired up about everything, and I'd hoped to spread some of the love and excitement to others)

- This Would Have Been the Last Weekend (there are 3 blog posts that I would have to say tie for my absolute favorites this year, and this is one of them)

- I feel like the moment I quit teaching and started life as a stay-at-home mom, my blogging juices (run with it---it's a thing) just went all sorts of crazy with all the energy and time I now had to devote to writing, and I wrote some of my favorite posts soon thereafter, including This Is How I'll Measure You (one of the other top 3 posts from the year for me), the This is What Turning 30 Looks Like posts (both the Matt and Torrie editions), and Holding On and Letting Go (my third favorite post from the year).

Overall, it's been a great blogging year for me, and I'm so proud of myself for sticking with my resolution to start blogging again regularly (at least 12 times a month).

For now, I'm going to sign off and enjoy the rest of 2016, but you'll definitely be hearing from me early in the new year! Hope you enjoy the rest of your holidays, and thank you so much--yes, you--for coming and reading and commenting and liking and talking with me about this here blog.

It really does mean the world to me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas 2016 Wrap-Up

The first holiday season that Matt and I were married, I remember being a little overwhelmed by all the people everywhere when we went to his huge family functions---I remember particularly that after our first Thanksgiving together, I had to escape outside and take an hour-long walk by myself in the snow to be free of the chaos for awhile.

Being an introvert who married into a loud family, I had lots of such moments our first several family functions together. Basically, I had to consciously make myself stay longer and longer periods in the chaos to get myself used to it all, until I finally one day no longer had to consciously think about the noise---I was just okay with it.

It is a sign, I suppose, of how much I've grown in my ability to appreciate the craziness and the chaos that I can now successfully sit through (and enjoy!) around five to six hours straight of everyone talking and laughing and screaming and playing and eating.

In fact, on Christmas Day this year, it was basically one non-stop insanely loud party as we rotated from my folks' place over to Matt's folks' place, stuffing our faces with food and exchanging gifts and feeling love from all corners.

Another way I've grown over the years is that I'm now okay with not always looking for The Picture during holiday events. It used to be that I was always looking for some creative angle or absolutely perfect moment or lighting, and so I actually ended up not taking a lot of pictures of how it actually was.

I was thinking a lot about my grandma this Christmas, whom I miss dearly. She passed away almost two years ago now, and I still miss her all the time. One thing I was thinking about just before we went to all of our family Christmas parties this year was how I was so glad I just took the pictures of everyone and everything the way it was on at least a few occasions while she was still around. The pictures aren't posed or the lighting great or the photo even all that interesting to anyone who didn't know the people in it, but I treasure those few "unoriginal" pictures I took at the same events year after year---they are the ones that show the babies that were born, the people that had passed on, the girlfriends/boyfriends who entered and left the picture (and the ones that stayed around), the cousins who were on missions or deployed---

In short, they are some of the photos that, in the end, mattered the very most to me.

So forgive me, reader, because many of these pictures will not be very interesting to you.

But to me, I look at these photos and see moments frozen in time of our families---our two dynamic, loud, crazy families---captured in all of their unposed glory, forever encapsulated for me to look back on again and again.

So next time that you've made yourself the family photographer, maybe take a moment to step back and get a picture of the whole scene. Forget for a second taking one more picture of that present being opened or making that particular person smile at the camera next to their completed gingerbread house.

Instead, take a picture of your brother trying to teach his girlfriend how to play chess while nieces and nephews run screaming around them and parents are trying to figure out their kids' new toys (or at least just how to get those toys out of the packaging).

Take a picture of the children's nativity as it actually was---not making all the kids look at the camera and smile, but snapping a shot of the one lone adult shepherd trying to protect Baby Jesus from falling out of the distracted Mary's arms, and the angels looking lost as they're trying to follow everyone else in walking around the circle of gifts.

Take a picture of Grandma Goldie in all her Christmas finery as she croons one of her performing group's latest Christmas songs. Take a picture of all the others taking videos on their phones, or nuzzling their faces into the backs of baby's heads, or perhaps laughing at some quip their neighbor just said.

And for goodness sake, if your baby fits into a holiday gift bag without it breaking, take a picture of that too, by golly. 

Because although these might not always be the shots that will get the most likes on Instagram or the most comments on Facebook, they will be among your most treasured photos of all.

(A big thank you to both of our families for feeding us well and spoiling us rotten and making sure that Raven was so worn out from all the fun and games and play time that she took an almost-four-nap yesterday. Hallelujah!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Christmas of Pearls

The longer you're married to someone, the fewer surprises there tend to be, simply because you come to know the other person so well that you can often anticipate their next move, their daily routine, and even sometimes what they're about to say.

But one thing I've always loved about Matt is that he does manage to continue to surprise me in ways that show how much he pays attention to the details of our lives together, and that he will often go out of his way to shake things up a bit, all in the name of bringing me greater happiness.

Since my massive simplification/decluttering project several years ago, I have become a bit tricky to shop for, simply because I want anything that comes into our home to add value to our lives, to last a long time, and to earn itself a spot in our very crowded two-bedroom apartment.

I knew Matt had poured pretty much all of the money we'd set aside for each other into just one gift for me, and I was absolutely at a loss for what that gift could possibly be (since I'd requested nothing and the only thing I've talked about wanting forever--a full frame camera--is way out of not just our Christmas budget, but out of any budget we'll likely be making for the next several years at least).

So I had no clue what he could possibly have gotten me, which only added to the intrigue of Christmas (Eve) morning for me (since that's when we opened our gifts and celebrated the holiday with the three of us).

Imagine my surprise then, as I opened up not just one gift of pearls, but THREE---it turns out, when his grandma heard that Matt was searching around for a pearl necklace for me, she actually took out several strands of her own pearls and told him to select one from her collection, as well (and he ended up selecting the long strand of pink baroque pearls that Raven had happily worn around all afternoon the day that our car died in the middle of the freeway in Idaho when we were going up to a family function and that same grandma was one of the ones to come and rescue us). Additionally, we'd also bought actual oysters a couple weeks before Christmas from a local jeweler to have the experience of opening them up ourselves to find the pearls inside.

And the gift of pearls just seemed to be the perfect gift for all that this year has represented.

On all counts, the pearls he chose were obvious representations of how much he pays attention to my tastes and likes and dislikes. He considered the colors of clothes I normally wear, the length of the chains, and even thought about how much Raven loves to play with my necklaces and planned to get her her own strand of fake pearls so she could match Mom.

A pearl, by definition, is an object created by a mollusk as a means of self-preservation: basically, some grain of foreign matter gets inside of its sensitive padded inside as it tries to eat, and the oyster creates layers of a substance called nacre to protect itself. Eventually, those layers calcify and turn the irritant into the beautiful pearls we know and love, which are highly prized not only for their beauty and their rarity, but also the effort that goes into producing each one.

At times, the past two years have felt long and arduous and hard, with lots of unexpected challenges to face and lots of things that didn't quite go our way. In short, the past two years have definitely held some "foreign irritants" that sought to attack the sensitive underbelly of our lives.

Finally though, with the chance I've had to quit work and for Matt to work full time, and with the blessing of my health being more or less fully restored, and for us to have been so blessed with so much in between--

I can finally see the pearls that have been created through it all.

Our Christmas with the three of us was such a joyful way to end the year---Matt and I giggled with glee as we prepared Raven's gift from Santa (a kitchenette set that I used to play with as a girl, and that my mom used to play with as a child, too) and imagined the look on her face as she saw what awaited her.


Christmas Eve morning was full of excited squeals and toddler exclamations of delight and a return again and again to the beautiful kitchenette set, to open and close the drawers and mix and mix with the wooden spoons and to stack the wooden food in its little wooden crates. It was full of reminders of how much love we share, and how that love has only grown and grown in the years we've been married, especially in the time we've shared with Raven.

We were reminded of the excitement of bubbles, we learned the satisfaction that comes from watching a child "get" how much fun it is to unwrap a present, and we drank in the home comforts of a warm apartment and a hot breakfast and the sounds of classic Christmas songs wafting through it all.

Even though we had places to be a few hours after our morning fun, the morning felt like a long string of unhurried moments, where there seemed to be endless time to savor each gift opened and each bite taken and each hug given.

In short, I feel like our Christmas together was a time to finally open up that sensitive interior and peer inside to discover, with delight, the iridescent and perfectly formed pearls inside, the ones that had been in the making all along but that weren't always comfortable to create.

So today I wanted to give my words of thanks to my husband, who always knows how to make me feel special and wanted and loved and needed and appreciated. Thank you, dear, for still working hard to surprise and delight me.

And thank you to my daughter, who has infused every season and every holiday with a new sheen of magic, who helps us to turn every occasion into something worth drinking in and paying attention to.

 I hope you all had a beautiful Christmas with your loved ones, full of many "pearls" of your own.

(And stay tuned for Part 2---yes, part 2---of our Christmas, which I'll be posting tomorrow. Hopefully.)


Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas to All

As today (and the rest of this weekend, obviously) is going to be so busy with last-minute gift wrapping and meal prep and white-elephant-finding, I'm going to make this post short and sweet.

I hope you and yours have a joyous Christmas holiday this weekend, and I hope you find some quiet moments to yourself to savor and appreciate all that is most important to you.

As for us, we'll be celebrating Christmas just the three of us a bit early (as per tradition) and heading out to see family after. I seriously can't wait until tomorrow morning to see Raven's face when she sees what we're giving her!

Merry Christmas, world! I'll see you all here (theoretically) next week.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Top 10 Books for 2016

2016 was a huge reading year for me---in fact, it's the biggest reading year I've had as an adult since I started faithfully tracking all my books (back in 2011).

Ranking books is always a hard process because different books bring up different feelings and fulfill different needs, but I decided to pick the top 10 books this year that were life- or perspective-changing in some way, or that were absolutely unforgettable for one reason or another (in a good way).

To make it a *little* easier on myself, I decided to choose my top 5 non-fiction picks, and then my top 5 fiction (which was the harder of the two). ***Note: these aren't in any particular order, since it was hard enough to just narrow it down to 10 favorites!

Top 5 Nonfiction Reads

Title: French Kids Eat Everything
Author: Karen Le Billon

This book is part memoir, part self-help/advice that's about an American mother who moved to France with her husband and two daughters and discovered that her kids' very American eating habits were not going to fly in one of the world's most celebrated food cultures. 

Over the course of several months, Le Billon picks up on many differences between the way that French parents teach their children to eat and the way that American parents do, and she discovered that picky eating, like so much else, is largely a learned (and reinforced) behavior. 

I'm so glad I read this book before Raven got too old because I dreaded having a super picky eater, and this book outlines very specific tips for helping your kid(s) to be willing to try new foods, eat healthier, and to eat a variety of different foods. I definitely plan to buy this one for our own bookshelf (which is saying something, since I've basically sworn off buying books unless I plan to read and re-read them).

Title: Outliers
Author: Malcolm Gladwell 

I'd definitely heard of this book several times (and it's been a bestseller for ages), but I didn't actually know that much about it before I finally read it this year.

In Outliers, Gladwell rips apart the notion that people come from absolutely nothing and become phenomenal successes with simple hard work. Basically, he's saying that although hard work is super important, there also has to be just the right combination of factors working in your favor, including possibly being born at the right time, getting the right breaks from the right people, having a certain kind of parent, and even speaking a certain language or coming from a certain culture. 

This book was utterly fascinating, and it definitely has forever changed the way I look at the "traditional American success story."

Title: An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
Author: Tamar Adler

I would be remiss if I failed to include this one on my list, as it is one of the main reasons I am so much more comfortable following my own intuition while cooking and trying out new things in the kitchen. (Also, an honorable mention should go out to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School for similar reasons.)

Part poetic prose, part dead-useful guide to using up every last scrap of food in your kitchen, this book is a celebration of cooking and the wise use of resources and the art of experimentation.

I will be referring to this again and again.

Title: Essentialism
Author: Greg McKeown

This book has forever shifted the way that I will think about how to pursue what is the most important in life, and it's a book I plan to visit (in part or in whole) year after year after year.

I shared a graphic from this book in my last post, but essentially this is a book about how the way to being successful lies in pursuing FEWER things, not more. When you harness all your energy towards what is most important, you make much more progress than if you try to spread out your energy and do it all.

While I think the concept can only be applied so far (since we obviously need to be pursuing several different types of goals at once to be a well-rounded person), the reasoning in this book is sound, and it will help you if you're trying to accomplish something huge but don't know where to begin.

Title: My Kitchen Year
Author: Ruth Reichl

I had a really tough time picking my fifth nonfiction book for my top 10 (because I read some amazing memoirs this year, including The Glass Castle and Unbroken), but the more I thought about it, this book (which was the first one I read all year long) is the one memoir I keep coming back to (and the one I hope to own one day).

I was first introduced to Reichl's work last year, and I was an instant fan. She's a renowned food writer/restaurant critic, and she knows how to write about food and the pleasure of eating in such a way that it's about much more than the food---it's about the connections and the social ties and the memories and the emotions driving it all. 

My Kitchen Year is about how Reichl, after being told that the food magazine she'd been the editor for for ages was unexpectedly shutting down, took a year off to figure out who she wanted to be now, and what her direction forward should be. The book talks about how cooking through certain recipes helped her to cope with her grief and move on, and with the plethora of gorgeous photos and the close-up look at her home life, this book reads more like a fabulously-written blog than almost anything else. I didn't realize how much of an impact this had made on me until I realized that I've never stopped thinking about it.

Top 5 Fiction Reads

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr

Anyone who has talked to me in person about books this year can hardly be surprised that this is at the top of the list (since I've basically tried to push this one into the hands of seemingly everybody). 

I've read a lot of books about WWII this year, but this one is a standout in every way--plot, writing style, the ability to stay with you loooong after you've read the last page. 

I don't plan to reread much fiction in my lifetime (just because my motto seems to be, "So many books, so little time"), but I do plan to buy and read this one again. I heard that it took Doerr ten years to finish this, and I'm so glad he took the time to make it as perfect as it is.

Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles

2016 was the year I discovered Amor Towles, and what a happy discovery that's been for me! Although there are many GOOD writers, Towles is the kind of writer that I myself wouldn't mind seeking to emulate a bit. He has such a gift for evoking a sense of place and time and unforgettability that you just can't help but fall into the world he creates with his words.

Now, that said, Towles won't be for everyone---these aren't the kinds of books that you'll probably sit down and read in an afternoon, but rather the ones that you might savor over a few weeks. 

A Gentleman in Moscow is about a Russian gentleman who is sentenced to spend out the rest of his days living in a guarded hotel in Moscow, or risk being shot the second he tries to leave. I had a tough time deciding which Towles book I liked better (this or Rules of Civility), but A Gentleman in Moscow narrowly won out since I felt the ending was much more satisfactory overall. 

Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman 

I read a lot of intense, emotionally-gripping, gut-wrenching kinds of books this year, so A Man Called Ove was definitely a breath of fresh air (and laughter) after so much seriousness.

Although this story of a crotchety old man has a strong emotional message at the end, it is, first and foremost, a pretty lighthearted read (especially considering the subject matter) that will make you want to resolve to be just a little bit better than you were before.

Title: These is My Words
Author: Nancy Turner

It's kind of funny that I'm including this one because I never intend to read it again (since it's just so absolutely sad), but I am sure that this is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time. (I also will add that this might be one of the books that was most recommended to me by various people over the past few years.)

This book starts off pretty slow, but as it goes along, you will fall in love with the heroine (Sarah Agnes Prine) and find yourself nodding in absolute agreement as she talks about the truths of marriage and parenthood and wanting to be the best you can be.

Also, if you want a love story for the ages, this one's for you.

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman

Once again, the book for the last slot was the toughest (since it was a close call between this and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah). In the end, this one won out for being slightly more emotionally believable than Nightingale was (which fell slightly flat in a couple crucial places for me) and for being the perfect example of the writer's technique of giving your character an impossible choice.

Although I didn't *love* the ending of this, I found this to be one of the most gripping novels I read the entire year (and, as I've joked on more than one occasion, I feel like my heart is STILL recovering from having read this).

Having said all that, this novel about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who discover a (live) baby and a dead man washed up ashore their island will forever stay with you.

If you want some additional titles that I've read this year, check out these posts:
My Summer Reading List (and Books You Should Read Next)
What I've Loved Reading So Far in 2016 (and What I Haven't)

Okay, now it's your turn! What were YOUR top reads for 2016?

*Note: I have included some Amazon affiliate links throughout this post, but these books are fabulous no matter where you get them from!

01 09 10