Fake it ’til You Make it

Have you ever had someone tell you that they were surprised about some part of you? For me, it is that I am an introvert. As an introvert, I do not like big crowds. I also am not a fan of speaking to people I don’t know, but I am an educator and frequently not only teach, but also speak at conferences. I am a big believer in faking it ’til you make it. Public speaking is terrifying to me, but I do it all the time. Here is a story about my last experience:

My last conference speaking session was to a packed room of library staff at our state conference. They even had to bring in more chairs! Before the session started, I was shaking. I didn’t recognize a single person in the room. I wasn’t positive that I could remember my notes. What if something I said offended someone? What if I went under time? What if I went over time? What if something went wrong? Well, what if everything went right?

My topic was on workplace creativity. I had attended a session at that very conference the year before on a similar topic, but I left the session feeling like it was all fluff. So I decided to take a risk (one of the facets of creativity) and apply to be a speaker at the conference the next year. So I did…and it got accepted. I didn’t know if I was excited or scared out of my wits.

I got lucky though that I got to present my topic at an annual meeting with our trustees. I was the keynote speaker. Here was a group that I was familiar with, but I was still nervous. I had scripted out my talk, but it was a little short. My director told me that would be fine since it would leave time for questions and one of our other speakers might actually run over. Well, you know you are doing something right when you have a group of trustees taking notes on what you are saying. Plus, they had a lot of questions. That trial run gave me a little more confidence that my topic and content would be good, but I felt like it was a little too static. So I borrowed from another facet of creativity and improved upon the original. With a few tweaks, I interspersed a little humor and audience interaction into my talk.

That session with the trustees was small compared to the session at the conference. Honestly, I was surprised by the number of people who had started trickling in for my session. I watched as the seats all began to fill. The size of the room meant I was going to have to use the microphone (something I hate doing), which meant I was going to have to sit at a table at the front of the room since that is how the AV had been set up. I admit I have a loud Jersey voice, but it is not always loud enough.

The first five minutes, I was shaking, but my voice was strong. I had done this before, I could do it again. At one point, my iPad decided to restart which meant I did not have my notes. So I winged it. I told an anecdotal story to illustrate the point I had been making. Everything was fine. People were laughing. No one was leaving the room. I had made it to the half-way point and everything was still smooth. I kept my eyes on the clock. I was getting confident and I think that is where I messed up because my passion for my topic started showing. In the end, I skipped three slides and still went over by three minutes. Reading the surveys after the session, half thought it was perfect and half thought it was too academic, but overall, everyone liked it. I also received two offers to speak again. So it was a win.

But why am I telling you all this? In her book, Presence, Amy Cuddy talks about striking a Superman pose for just a couple of minutes. Hands on hips, back straight, chin slightly tilted, and feet set apart. By taking this confident stance, we are sending our brain a signal that we are confident. I wish I had remembered this before my presentation, but I didn’t. It was okay though because after I got started, everything worked out. The hard part is taking that first step. No one else knows that you are shaking up there. If you show you are confident on the outside, that confidence will kick in on the inside too. By the time I was into the flow of my presentation, I was confident. Heck, I even suggested bringing this session to another conference in the Fall. But, well, we will see.

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Thrifting Haul: a ThredUP Review

I have been experimenting with ThredUP and admit that I have a slight addiction. I had checked out the site a year ago and was not impressed. But recently, I thought I would try it again…especially because I found myself needing to buy new pants. So here is my thrifting haul from the past two months.

That Tahari dress and Chico’s black & white jacket are my two favorite finds. Also that skort is simply amazing! So comfortable and I can style it up to wear to work because it looks like a skirt. Who knew? I am expanding my style repertoire here.

One of the nice things about the site is that you can return items if you decide you don’t really like it or the fit is not quite right. I had a lot of back and forth with packages. Some of the things I ordered said like new, but then had stains or holes when I received them. I think I exchange the same $60 like three times before I finally kept an order. See what is so nice about the returns is that as soon as the preprinted label gets scanned at the post office, your money is credited back to your account. So you can place another order before it even gets back to ThredUP. I had to return boots at Dick’s yesterday for my husband and I am still waiting for those funds to be recredited. You have to be careful though because final sale items like the shirts I ordered are items that you can’t return, so you need to make sure you really love it and that the size will be okay. I got lucky that everything fit, but I did change my mind of somethings in my cart that I was just not sure about.

It looks like I have a lot of clothes and money here, doesn’t it? Well, one of the ways I saved in addition to buying secondhand was to sign up for the site Honey which saved me extra money by automatically checking for discount codes before placing my order. I admit it feels really good to see emails like these:

…and know that you only actually spent like a total of $200 out of pocket. So checkout those discount sites. If you are new to ThredUP, you can also get $10 off by using my code to signup (full disclosure, I also get $10), then share your code with a friend and you both save money too.

I also sent in a clean out bag

…now this is where it gets a little controversial. If you search the Internet, you will find that people have plenty to say about ThredUP when it comes to selling. Honestly, they do not pay much. I sent in 24 items and four still had tags. Eleven were accepted. They bought ten items outright and gave me the credit. One item was listed as consignment which means that they weren’t sure how it would sell, I would also have control over the pricing of that item if it didn’t sell. I didn’t have to worry though because it sold within a week. So how much did I make from my bag? About $15. There was probably about $200 worth of items that still had tags. So lesson here is that you are not going to make money off of selling to ThredUP. If that is you plan, just take your items to a consignment shop. However, if you are just going to donate to one of those clothes bins (which actually just sell your clothes wholesale anyway), then why not try ThredUP and see what you get? I already have another bag ready to go. The tip is to check out their blog and see what they are in need of. I sent in 8 pairs of shorts that were in good condition that just didn’t fit me anymore. They accepted all 8 because that was listed as one of their current needs. If it is summer and you send sweaters, you are unlikely to get such a high acceptance rate.

Buying secondhand can be a great experience. I have had so many compliments on the items I have worn so far. I also feel like I have upgraded my wardrobe a bit better than my Target and Old Navy budget can afford. If you decide to give ThredUP a try, here are some tips to make your experience successful:

  1. Items only stay in your cart for 24 hours. So if you love an item, buy it as soon as possible. Items sell quickly. I had a pair of shoes that I was debating about and missed out when my cart expired. I only missed it by five minutes, but they sold that quickly.
  2. Make sure to check for discount codes before you checkout. If you are new to the site, there is also first time buyer codes as well as first time app user codes. They also had a special sale for Earth Day, so watch for special events like that too.
  3. If you are not buying right away, make sure to favorite the items you are adding to your cart. I missed a cart expiring, but was able to quickly find my items because they were listed on my favorited items page. I currently have another group of items I like, but won’t be devastated if they sell to someone else. This way, when my second clean out bag is processed, I have a list of items waiting for that account credit.
  4. Use the filters for searching. You can search for items by brand like Ann Taylor Loft or by item like dresses. You can also set a filter for your size. Remember though that brands differ in their sizes. I might be a large with one brand, but a extra large with another. I wish you could search by prints, but the closest the keywords work is for colors. So if you are looking for a blue blouse with dragonflies, no luck. However, if you are looking for any blue blouse, you can filter for it. The filter still needs a little work though. Now that I have discovered the magic of skorts, I have tried searching for them. No luck, but scrolling through the all items category there are several listed in my size…and they go quick!
  5. Check out the descriptions. All items, except for purses and final sale items can be returned. So if you unsure, just remember that you can return items, but even the description might be inaccurate. I was buying like new items only at first and one sweater had a big hole and a blouse a paint stain on the sleeve. I sent them back for the credit to my account. Buying only like new was going to be my deciding factor, but then I had that experience. Once my clean out bag was processed, I also saw that one of the new with tags dresses was listed as showing wear and no mention of the tags. So now I am a little more open about my selections…as long as it is returnable.
  6. Wash items carefully. Once you receive the item and are sure you are going to keep it, make sure to wash it. These are secondhand items after all. I urge you to be careful though. I turned a load of laundry splotchy pink because of a scarf I bought. Thankfully, I caught it before it went in the dryer. A second wash with a scoop of Oxyclean saved the day.
  7. Do some sleuthing before buying. A lot of the retail prices are guesstimates based on the market. So if you are not familiar with the brand, check out the prices on their site first. For example, a lot of the Old Navy stuff can typically be purchased for similar prices brand new on clearance on the Old Navy site. Though I have purchased items if I really liked them and knew it was no longer being sold. ThredUP tries to carry only items in style within the past five years.
  8. If you are planning on selling, make sure your items are clean and something you would buy yourself. i.e. don’t sent items with stains or holes. Check out the blog for what is selling. Pants right now are a no. My first item to sell actually was a pair of khakis, but there are so many dress pants on the site, that they are unlikely to take them. Also suits will be listed as separates.

Happy Thrifting!

What’s for Dinner? — Instant Pot Lobster

As promised, here is the update on what we had for Easter Dinner– Lobster!

Did you know that Aldi sells frozen lobster tails? It is usually a special, but my Aldi seems to always have them in stock. They sell two to a package for $12.99. So I can basically serve a lobster dinner to the three of us for less than going to Red Lobster or Outback. We used to get away cheap, but my son has been expanding his food repertoire and that now includes things like sushi and lobster.

The best part about having an Instant Pot is that it means you can cook things from frozen with no thawing. So here is what I did:

Materials:

Ingredients:

  • 6 Lobster Tails (frozen)
  • 1 cup water
  • Old Bay (optional)
  • Lemon (optional)
  • Butter (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Place 1 cup water in the Instant Pot. If adding Old Bay, do so now.
  2. Place rack in the bottom of the Instant Pot.
  3. Place three lobster tails on the rack, shell side down.
  4. Place steamer basket on top of lobsters.
  5. Add three more lobster tails to the steamer basket.
  6. Close lid and vent. Set Instant Pot on Manual on High Heat for 3 minutes.
  7. When time is up, Quick Release so as not to over cook.
  8. Serve with butter and lemon. Enjoy!

Instant Pot Hard Boiled Eggs

Another holiday is upon us and of course I found a way to use my instant pot to its best advantage…Easter Eggs! Of course before we could do any coloring, I needed to cook the dozen eggs. What would I do without this wonderful kitchen tool?

Now, some may say that you could easily make the eggs on the stovetop instead of using the IP, but honestly, they haven’t seen me cook. I have tried the stove and they don’t always come out right. My husband tried the hack of using the over and a muffin tin, but then your eggs get this brown burnish tinge to them that doesn’t play well with coloring your eggs. I have never had any problems using the IP. So here is what I did…

Materials:

Ingredients:

  • One dozen eggs
  • Water
  • Ice

Procedure:

  1. Pour one cup water into your Instant Pot .
  2. Insert steamer rack and basket.
  3. Place eggs in basket. –if you are using less than a dozen eggs, you can use the insert dividers or tinfoil to keep the eggs from moving around too much.
  4. Put the lid on the Instant Pot and close the vent. Set on Manual on high heat for five minutes.
  5. Let natural pressure release for five minutes, then quick release the rest. You may want to use a towel to turn the vent, it will be hot!
  6. Prepare a bowl with water and ice. You need enough that it will completely cover your eggs.
  7. Using tongs, move eggs carefully into the bowl containing the ice water. —Be careful not to drop the eggs into the ice bath. I did that and an egg broke.
  8. When eggs are cool, use your favorite coloring kit or eat them as is.

Of course, coloring eggs is a great small “c” activity that can be done with the whole family. My son had a friend over today and I have to say that even teenagers can still have fun coloring eggs (Dad helped too!).

I plan to use the Instant Pot a lot this weekend as I prep food for the holiday. I picked up both a roast and lobster tails from Aldi, so I haven’t decided which will grace our table on Sunday. I am leaning towards tails on Saturday and roast on Sunday. What are you planning on making?

Instant Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Growing up, it was a tradition that St. Patrick’s Day meant corned beef and cabbage. I have been trying for over twenty years to duplicate the texture and flavor of my mom’s traditional dish. I have tried slow cookers, the oven, and the stovetop; but none of it has come out with that falling apart texture or buttery flavorful cabbage. So I did a test run with the Instant Pot.

I have to admit, I did my research beforehand and was shocked to see that people were saying it takes 90 minutes in the IP. However, I saw it in multiple places so there had to be something to it. Worse-case scenario, I was down a couple bucks for the price of the meat. This is a two-part IP recipe since if you put everything in the pot at once, your cabbage will basically be non-existent. When the 90min countdown was done, I was nervous that we would be eating McD’s instead for dinner. However, when step two was complete, I have to admit things were looking good.

Good is an understatement! This was the best corned beef and cabbage that I have ever had (sorry, Mom!). So if you want to duplicate it, here is what I did:

Materials:

6qt Instant Pot

• Cutting board

• Knife

• Measuring cup

Ingredients:

  • 2lb Corned beef with seasonings
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • Five small white potatoes, halved
  • Small cabbage, quartered
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup baby carrots

Procedure:

  1. Place corned beef in Instant Pot with chicken broth and seasoning.
  2. Set IP to Manual, high-heat, for 90 minutes. NPR
  3. Add cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Top with butter.
  4. Set IP to Manual, high-heat, for 5 minutes. NPR
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Creativity means not just doing things the way they have always been done. I love updating family favorites using modern techniques or tools. Do you have any family traditions that you have put a new spin on?