Life Skill #58: How to Stay Married

Let me get this out of the way: I’ve never been married. So I have no expertise at all on this matter. But, I will qualify by saying, just being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll be able to teach something. Also, this is the internet so take everything with a grain (or shaker!) of salt. I have no idea what I’m talking about – this is all conjecture. I’ll admit it up front.

My ex-fiance and I had read lots of books about marriage and taken premarital counseling. My parents and my ex’s parents never took premarital counseling. None of them were great communicators. They all argued and complained more than they perhaps should. My parents have been happily married for almost 40 years. My ex’s parents had an acrimonious divorce when he was a kid.

The same type of marriage yielded vastly different results. Granted, my parents’ marriage is never something that will be held up in relationship books as ideal but it works well enough for them. And for better, and likely worse, this is my model for a working marriage. I realized today, while refereeing a tiff between my parents, that this model is something my ex-fiance thought would lead to a very unhappy marriage. He wanted us to be better than our parents. Based on his worldview, this type of marriage would not end well.

I catch myself often when dating figuring out what are real dealbreakers and what are things that are just odd or novel to me. We can all understand that people face the world with their own preconceived notions of how things should work, particularly in relationships. We can all understand that we are ourselves colored by our childhood experiences. But coming to believe that my partner’s viewpoint is as valid as mine – that is not something I understand how to do yet.

What I’ve found to be the most meaningful marriage advice for me came from Will Smith, the actor, married 17 years.

“If there is a secret I would say it is that we never went into working on our relationship. We only ever worked on ourselves individually. And then presented ourselves to one another better than we were previously.”

So often in relationships, we think about what can be changed about the other person. We think about designing the perfect mate for ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing to realize that if there’s an argument, if there’s an obstacle, an impediment in their marriage, that the Smiths are focused on what they can actually change: themselves.

And then you just have to hope that the other person will stay. The more I think about marriage, the more I consider it to be quite a risky endeavor. This is not to say people shouldn’t take the risk. The advantages are sky high. But it’s like starting a business. You can put in a lot of work but the role of luck should not be underestimated.

But let me hear from you: what are the actual secrets to staying married?

Life skill #30: 7 Foods that make it easy to cook from home

*I’m beginning a series to teach life skills every adult should have.

Ideally, you would have gone to the grocery store and have tons of fresh veggies and defrosted meat at home. Or you would have prepped something and put it in your crockpot in the morning, ready for you when you get home. But most of us are not superhumans.

We know there are so many reasons to cook at home, from cost and time savings to health, improving your cooking skills, to being able to eat and relax in your own home with your loved ones. But there’s also quite a case for ordering takeout. After an exhausting day at work and facing the daunting tasks of grocery shopping, meal planning and washing dishes, and with options like Seamless at our fingertips, it can be hard to avoid the siren call of takeout or delivery. But after you have that meal, you’re really just setting yourself up for more days of Seamless delivery, and the food isn’t even that good. You know that you can make something just as good and twice as healthy by yourself but who has the time?

The secret to picking cooking over takeout is to make it as easy as possible to cook (and also hating all your takeout and delivery options) by having your kitchen stocked with ingredients to make quick and easy meals. They are all foods that you can keep in your pantry, fridge or freezer for weeks and you’ll be happy to have them the next time you are in a jam. Here are seven foods that will help you avoid Seamless.

  1. Proteins that doesn’t need to be defrosted

Chicken and pork are quintessential dinner foods. However, they require

advance planning. You can defrost a chicken in a water bath but that’s just extra effort that will make you give up and run to the safety of your apps. What will be less stressful is having foods that quickly defrost or don’t need to be defrosted before cooking – meats like shrimp, hamburgers, turkey and fish burgers can be stored in your freezer for awhile. Tofu and eggs can sit in your fridge for awhile. You can keep canned meats in your pantry, like sardines, anchovies, spam, salmon, tuna. You can just put these meats in the oven or fry them up fairly quickly. Serve with leftover grains or cook with fresh or frozen vegetables. It’s an easy and simple meal planning. The hardest part often is figuring out what to eat. And sometimes figuring out what the meat is solves most of the planning stress. What you’ll get at a restaurant is really just a meat on grains or salad anyway.

 

  1. Spices

It’s hard to have fresh spice on hand at all times so dried spices are a must for

impromptu meals. Salt and pepper are givens. A bit of hard parmesan will keep

in your fridge for awhile and will make your last minute pastas taste that much more special. A little vinegar can add needed acid to your dish. You can roast the frozen vegetables like brussel sprouts with dried rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil. Without proper spices, your meal will seem much more bland and unappetizing. With proper use of spices, possibly even some garnishes if you have them, will give you a restaurant-quality meal.

 

  1. Grains

Of all the things on this list, this item is most likely already to be in your pantry. Buying grains in bullk has always made good sense because they can store well. Rice, quinoa and pasta are great bases for meals and they keep well for a long

time. Add some of the other foods on this list and make a hearty pasta dish (shrimp, spices and frozen vegetables)

 

  1. Frozen or canned vegetables

Because sometimes you don’t have fresh vegetables on hand or they’ve all

gone bad. Frozen vegetables can be just as healthy as fresh because they’re picked at the peak of their ripeness. Plus they add the convenience that they can just stick around. Frozen spinach, broccoli, peas and carrots are great for stirfries. You can add the stock to make a great sauce. Frozen onions can be added to pastas. Frozen peppers can be used for a frittata or omelet.

 

  1. Frozen fruits

A smoothie can be a healthy if unexpected option for dinner. If you have some bananas going bad, peel them and put them in a freezer bag and freeze them. Add some frozen fruits. You can also use some of the other ingredients on this list to make a great smoothie. Add spices like turmeric, frozen spinach. The great thing is all you need to do except put in everything in a blender and you have a healthy easy option. I also like to add vitamins and supplements that I hate eating into my smoothies to make them healthier. I like adding new age ingredients like maca, turmeric, ashwandagah, chlorophyll, collagen peptides or opening vitamin pills into the smoothie. The best thing is that this dinner doubles as a dessert.

 

  1. Prepared meals

The cheapest way to do this is to make bulk servings of food in advance,

freeze them and defrost when needed. But there’s nothing wrong with buying the occasional frozen pizza or frozen dinner on hand. Even some ramen every now and then won’t kill you. It might even be as healthy as going out to eat.

 

  1. Bone broth

Save your bones from a night when you were better at planning, put it in a crockpot with salt and pepper and bay leaves. Even after the first batch, you can freeze what you make and add additional water for a watered down second batch. Even this watered down second batch can give you the nutrients of collagen and is so much better than the broth or stock you buy at the store.

Bone broth is very versatile. You can just drink it straight, which can be very filling if you’re not that hungry. You can also use the broth when you’re cooking grains to add additional nutrients and flavor.

 

While it may still be daunting to start a quick meal after you’ve braved your work and your commute, soon you’ll be on autopilot. This will also be helpful when you get too tired to meal plan.

What foods do you keep in your kitchen for quick and easy dinners? What meals are the easiest to make last minute?

 

101 Life Skills Every Adult Needs to Know (that save money too)

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I recently went on a vacation with millenials (save yourselves!). Now, I’m under 35 but these were the fabled millenials they talk about in the media – the ones that are entitled and have no useful skills. They were all in medical school but they had never traveled anywhere by themselves. That didn’t seem like it would make them all that different from me but they didn’t know how to do basic things that I learned when I was a kid.  They didn’t know how to navigate to our AirBnB by themselves, they couldn’t figure out public transportation and didn’t seem to have a basic grasp of staying safe in a big city.

It got me to thinking, what kinds of skills would I expect someone in their 20s or 30s – someone we would consider an adult – have? I started coming up with a list and it’s quite extensive. I can do most of these to some degree but I’m excited to become more proficient in each of them and I’m going to start a series teaching all of the skills on the list. If you have a new grad or new adult in your life, please have them tune in – or tune in yourself! I’m going to research so I’m not just talking about my own experience.

What other skills would you add to this list? Which would you take off?

Career Network
Career Find and apply for a job
Career Give a great interview
Career Write a thank you note
Career Negotiate
Career Give a presentation
Career Write and edit effectively
Career Do great at your job
Career Ask for a raise
Career Troubleshoot your job
Career How to lead and manage people
Communication Fight fair
Communication Empathize
Communication Teach something
Communication Apologize
Communication Be a great conversationalist
Communication Give a compliment
Communication Give constructive feedback
Communication Persuade someone
Communication Talk about politics
Community Be eco friendly
Community Be politically active
Community Host a party
Community When to lead a revolt
Community Be a part of your community
Creative Read or play or create music
Creative Appreciate art
Creative Dance
Creative Take a decent picture
Food Cook when you’re tired
Food Cook on a budget
Food Shop for food
Food Eat a diet that works for you
Health Talk to a doctor
Health Get your vitamins
Health Basic first aid.
Health Mental health
Health Exercise
Health Stretch
Health Have safe and great sex
Health Basic preventative care
Health Manage stress
Home/car Clean your house
Home/car Fix stuff
Home/car Take care of a plant
Home/car Buy a car
Home/car Know how to buy a house (even if you never will)
Home/car Maintain your car
Home/car What to do if you get pulled over
Home/car What to do if you’re in an accident
Home/car Take care of your clothes (fix a button, adjust your hems, avoid dryers)
Home/car Build a wardrobe
Home/car Decorate your house on a budget
Interpersonal Meet people
Interpersonal How to be a friend
Interpersonal How to judge other people
Interpersonal How to choose a partner for marriage
Interpersonal How to stay married
Interpersonal Babysit
Interpersonal How to pick, wrap and give gifts
Interpersonal How to ask someone out on a date
Interpersonal How to break up with someone/handle a breakup
Interpersonal Let go of a grudge
Knowledge How to think critically about the media
Knowledge Basic history
Knowledge Basic geography
Knowledge Learn your family’s history
Legal/safety End of life care
Legal/safety What to do if you’re talking to the police
Legal/safety What to do if you’re the victim of a crime
Legal/safety Learn self-defense.
Math/money File your taxes
Math/money Understand your health care policy
Math/money Get proper insurance
Math/money Live below your means
Math/money Understand debt/credit
Math/money Invest and save for retirement.
Math/money Give to charity.
Math/money Do basic math (calculate a tip, unit price)
Self improvement Handle failure
Self improvement Develop character
Self improvement Take notes
Self improvement Endure difficulty or pain
Self improvement Travel
Self improvement Pursue goals.
Self improvement Accept feedback
Self improvement Put someone else before yourself
Self improvement Be ok being alone
Self improvement Deal with burnout
Self improvement Deal with grief
Self improvement Manage your time
Self improvement Find meaning in your life
Self improvement Accept aging
Self improvement Set boundaries
Self improvement Forgive your parents
Self improvement Know who you are
Self improvement Create a life you love
Tech/luddite Protect your privacy
Tech/luddite Troubleshoot common electronic problems
Tech/luddite Navigate to your home without GPS
Tech/luddite Use social media

6 Month Anniversary

Today is the 6 month anniversary of my broken engagement. It was the day before my birthday because I didn’t want to go into my birthday not knowing. So the anniversary is clear in my head.

Like the type-A nutjob that I had, I had given myself a deadline to “get better.” It was 6 months. So now that I’ve reached the deadline – no more Mr. Nice Me. No more sleeping in. No more crying in bed. In an effort to help my goals, I’m plunging into meeting new people. I’ve started rock climbing. The weather has gotten nice and I’m biking to work more regularly. I’ve joined some meetups. I’m trying to attend a new bible study (because mine will likely end soon and this one will hopefully be closer). I’m networking on LinkedIn and Twitter. I joined Bumble yesterday but mostly to have someone to talk to. B has cut off contact mostly. I need to stop talking to my ex, who has his own girlfriend. I feel like a great burden on my friends. I do need to reach out to my therapist again. I saw someone on Craigslist that posted that she just wanted to hear about someone else’s problems to distract her from her own. I wrote to her about mine and never heard back.

So you shouldn’t feel sorry for me because it’s time I stop feeling sorry for myself.

Is being nice hurting your finances?

Yesterday, I was at a gala event where it was encouraged to take the centerpieces after the event. My dad reached for our centerpiece, which looked like leftover Valentine’s day bouquets full of pink and red carnations and roses, but I shooed him away because I saw that there were much better centerpieces from the front tables. Yes, these centerpieces were nearly twice as big, and had snapdragons and lilies and foliage. I guarded my bouquet while I waited for my dad to bring the car around. On their way out, a duo of women whom I thought were friends of my dad, looked at my bouquet and asked if they could swap my bouquet with theirs. One woman was a board member, she said. And honestly, I felt like I was trapped in an etiquette quagmire. Yes, that was rude of them to ask. But they were old women. And so I swapped my beautiful bouquet for her crappy bouquet. 

Later I found out that these women had caused my dad endless frustration during the ceremony, hadn’t even paid for their tickets and did nothing but put my father down. So I was pretty furious that I gave my bouquet to them.

But even more than that, there was no reason for me to switch my bouquet. I got my centerpiece fair and square, well after the people at the table had left and people had started leaving. I had given other bouquets to other people who wanted them. And even if I hadn’t, this woman had no right to my centerpiece. It was a free-for-all and I took advantage. And then she took advantage of me.  

The incidence caused me to wonder, is everyone either a taker or a giver in life, and am I too much of a giver than a taker?

Now, I would never ask for something that clearly belongs to someone else, but maybe I should. Sometimes, that person may give it up. Furthermore, if someone asks me for something that I don’t need, I am often willing to give it away. I wonder if I’m too giving in this regard.

And while this all seems quite mean, 1) I’m not advocating for stealing and 2) maybe this is the way the world works.

First, I’m advocating for asking for things, not taking without permission. And I’m advocating for taking ownership of what’s yours. There’s nothing even slightly immoral about what I’m positing. Don’t rob the poor and take from the needy – because that’s silly and mean. But ask for what you want from people who can give it to you.

Second, I think this is how people get ahead. I’ve read that people actually like you more when you ask them to do favors for you. So it gets to be a win-win for the askers and a lose-lose for the givers. I guess, third, and finally, no one should only be a giver or only a taker. We should all strive for balance. I find that I might be giving too much, and being only a giver has a lot of disadvantages. 

What do you think? Are you too much of a giver, too much of a taker or have you found the right balance?

How to Start A Gratitude Journal


Sometimes the happier you are, the less you’re going to spend. If you feel great in your body, you may be less likely to fall for claims that the latest diet pills will help you lose weight or that some cellulite creams will do anything for you.  (However, you may also feel so happy that you buy a new outfit, so your mileage may vary).  In any case, happy spending is probably better, no?

A great way to be happy is a gratitude journal. Or so I’ve heard. I never really understood it because I tried it and just found myself writing an ongoing list of friends or family or terrible things that had, as yet, not inflicted me. But I saw this list of reflections from the Chopra Center, and this would make sense. I could think of a few of these questions everyday to come up with something to be grateful for that wouldn’t be horribly generic, and that, dare I say it, would increase the gratitude I feel in my life. Try it with me!

  • What was the funniest experience you had? Who did you share it with?
    • P’s Bachelorette Party with the 4-foot inflatable dildo. I also loved how someone brought this uninflated dildo to the fancy restaurant where we ate dinner.
  • What made your mouth drop in awe and wonder?
    • The dramatic decline of my relationship with B.
    • How my friend M has never mentioned any of the wrongs that I’ve done to her and picked me up from my car accident.
    • J’s wedding vows to P.
  • What was your smallest ritual that you loved?
    • Baths with tons of epsom salts, coconut oil and essential oils.
    • Buying flowers.
  • Who made you smile the most?
    • B, always. But possibly my new nephew, Arthur, who has very sweet cheeks.
  • What was a kind thing a stranger did for you?
    • The Managing Director of a charity thanked me personally and invited me to an event over email for a contribution. I felt like some fancy benefactor even though I had donated very little.
  • What is an annoying experience you had that is now a great memory?
    • After my car accident, my parents said I could drive the car to their house so I would have a place to park it without incurring the daily tow parking lot fees.  I drove the 20 miles to my parents’ house at about 25 mph because I was warned that the hood might fly up. But all throughout my car accident, people came through the woodwork to express concern and to help me. At the time, I hadn’t talked to my parents civilly in months.
  • When did you feel closest to God or your Higher Power?
    • When my Community Group noticed I had been missing for a few weeks and reached out to me.
  • What made you jump for joy? (On the inside or literally?)
    • My car hitting 200k miles, thankfully before the accident.
    • How happy I was that B was sharing equally with wedding planning. (would have traded that in for a wedding actually going through, but we aren’t given those choices).
    • Seeing the beach on my much-needed vacation.
    • Finding a Cheesecake Factory after wandering around starved, jetlagged and scared in L.A.
  • What was the most beautiful thing you saw?
    • The water around the Jefferson Memorial on my bike ride home from work.
    • An open table, food and beer after The Great Saunter.
  • What words made your heart melt?
    • I remember my brother saying he would support me whomever I was marrying.
  • Who gave you the best hug?
    • My friend Jim when I saw him at the marathon. I hadn’t seen him in years and he was invited and then uninvited to my wedding (because it was cancelled). He’s a great hugger.

The Benefits of Saving Even Small Amounts

It’s been well publicized that the savings rate for middle-class Americans hovers around 0%. However, with an improving economy and rising wages, the reason for the paltry savings rate might not be lack of money.

It could be that even with all the legions of websites and books written about how to save, some people haven’t figured out why to save. For instance, viral poverty writer Linda Tirado recently mentioned in an interview that saving small amounts was pointless because even if she saved $5/week, the most she could amass was $260 at the end of the year, if she didn’t dip into it first. Tirado clearly hasn’t learned the value of saving but here are four reasons why her attitude is completely wrong.

There’s no alternative.

Tirado might as well say, eating is useless because you’ll get hungry again. Yes, it can be dispiriting watching small amounts of savings grow, but you have to save money for emergencies. Even small savings can help you avoid payday loans or credit cards that will end up costing you far more.

Life is unexpected and expensive. Having even a little saved up is the only way to protect us from whatever curve balls life throw at us.

Saving saves you money

Maybe you only saved $260, but hey, that’s enough to open a checking account (that new checking account may even offer a bonus of as much as $25). With a checking account, you can get your paycheck direct deposited for free, saving you the cost of check cashing.  You can automate your payments so you can avoid late fees, save time and not have to live in fear of getting your heat cut off.

Having a bank account can also help you build credit and apply for lucrative credit card offers. Credit cards grant you a 30-day interest-free grace period before you are required to pay for purchases and some can give you great rewards. Some credit cards give you 0% introductory financing, allowing you to float your expenses interest-free for months without paying more than the minimum. Granted, credit cards can come with a host of potential pitfalls, but used wisely, they can help in an emergency and can provide valuable benefits.

Savings are the road to wealth. Few people will ever make seven figures in a year, but even middle-class earners can save and build up a six- or seven-figure nest egg with diligence and patience. If left untouched, in four years, you’ll have about $1,000. It’s not Vegas money, but as the financial gurus surely would say, “a thousand dollars is better than zero dollars.” That amount in a bank, even with low interest rates, can start earning you real money. Again, it won’t be a lot at first, but your money is making you money and that is the middle class road to riches in a nutshell. 

Saving helps you develop the habit of saving

Ever think, when I make $X I will start saving? It’s about as effective a strategy as waiting until you’ve gained X pounds before you start dieting. A lot of people have this future dream that when they make a certain amount of money, saving will be automatic for them then. Instead, though their incomes rise, their savings don’t. It’s called income inflation. Without the habit of saving, we find ways to use the money we are given. It doesn’t matter how much money we make – saving is a muscle and it becomes easier the more you exercise it.

Having saved money can change your behavior. Putting money in a bank account makes it harder to spend the money than having it as cash. Also having savings gives you a place to direct your money. For instance, you might get a raise and remember to put a portion in your newly opened checking account. Rather than flittering it away on something you don’t need. And denying yourself whatever extravagance you wanted for the $5 savings will be hard at first but it gets easier with time, especially as you start seeing the savings grow.

Saving is about more than the money.

There are actually other benefits to saving rather than just having more money. Having savings can bring you peace of mind. After two years, you could have about $500 in the bank, which would be enough to cover many car repairs, a short period of unemployment or a doctor’s visit.  Rather than panicking about where that money will come from, you have a buffer before you have to worry. Studies have shown that we make worse financial decisions under stress; it would be needless then to add additional stress to our lives by not having any money in the bank.

Saving also allows you to dream. Rather than spending your time worrying whether you can afford groceries if you miss a paycheck, you can think about the future. If you saved a little bit more, maybe you could reduce your hours in the future. Maybe you could take a vacation. Maybe you could give back to your favorite charity. Maybe retirement becomes a possibility. What seemed impossible when you started saving $5/week becomes more likely after you’ve saved diligently and seen your money grow.

This is an extreme example of course. Most of us can save more than $5/week. But if the benefits of saving even small amounts on a small income are clear, you have no more excuses not to start saving. And remember that while saving a little now might seem useless, a small step in the right direction is better than several steps in the wrong direction. Never be discouraged if you’re going in the right direction.