A night out with Matt Forney

It is always interesting to meet online personas in real life. My Fantasy Football league is filled with these sorts of guys, and they vary from what you’d expect, from really cool dudes to barely above a crustacean on the social scale. I’ve read  magazines articles on folks, and later became friends with them. Chuckie V is the best example. I read about him winning Ironman Canada, hosted him in a homestay, and trained with him multiple times at bike camps. Reality is rarely what you imagine. For Chuckie, he was better than expected.  A child in a man’s body, but a good man with a peaceful heart and one of the funnies people I know (if you have time to kill, check out his PCT Trail Journal).

I always enjoy meeting new people that have an interesting story to tell. Sometimes they are bloggers.  Cappy was about as I expected. Generous, boisterous, outgoing, funny.  Our lives differ, but we are a brotherhood in a disjointed, crazy way like you are as a family with your crazy Uncle George.

So last Saturday night I found myself in Madison, Wisconsin. A friend had gotten free tickets for Lewis Black (who I had last seen live about 15 years ago at a taping of the Daily Show), who was doing a show, so I had a night out. And it just so happened that Mr. Matt Forney was in town too, so we agreed to try and meet up (which is really code for: if it works out).  So the night went like this: Lewis was very funny, though more political than I’d like, but funny. Afterward, we headed out to the Madison bars. If you haven’t been, it’s a great college town, and there seemed to be a lot of energy that night. We ended up at a cowboy establishment, complete with mechanical bull and 140 decibels of country songs (with a thumping beat). Matt’s other friends apparently bailed or weren’t feeling well, so he was flying solo and met us at said bar.

Matt blogs on his website, and for Return of Kings, among others.  He’s a smart dude, and likes to throw various amounts of chum in the water in his opinions on intergender relationships among other topics. Like Cappy, he’s able to make a living (admittedly frugal) from just his writing, so I certainly respect the guy for that and cutting his own path through life.

So trying to carry a conversation in that environment was difficult to say the least. For awhile we enjoyed the scenery of drunk college girls riding the mechanical bull, and eventually headed to a quieter place. I wanted to hear mostly about his hitchhiking adventures, which were really interesting. He thumbed his way some 3,000+ miles (I forget the exact number) and had some interesting reflections about life on the road. As a huge fan of Kerouac’s On the Road (and just having bought Blue Highways: A Journey into America) the travel bum biopic has always fascinated me. Matt was a little quiet at first, but once you got him on a roll the dude could talk!

It was a fun, random night with someone else from the ‘Sphere, though in a much different place in life. He has his audience, I have mine, but even though we differ on a lot of things, some common ground is found as we navigate our own respective paths.

For the love of Dog (Part 2)

In case you missed it, Part 1.

So were all left sad after putting down both of our 13 year old dogs. Having a break from running them outside, and to the vet, and all the work things associated with a dog was somewhat of a relief. For me, getting a new dog wasn’t a thought on the horizon. I needed to mourn our old friends, which takes time, and getting a new dog would sully that process a lot. Not having a dog for a year or two was definitely an option for me, but the wife and kids convinced me otherwise. So about 6 months after ole Buzz and Oscar passed to doggy heaven, we brought home Pearl.

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She was part Cocker Spaniel, part Poodle (no shedding) – called a Cockapoo (funny name – Cock a Poo!). She was supposed to get to be about 20 pounds, but I think she’s topped out at about 12. Her coloring is called “Chocolate Merle” and she has a brown eye and a blue eye. One of the crazier looking dogs I’ve seen. Anyway, as you can imagine, her personality was very different than the Chihuahuas. She actually LIKES people! And is friendly to most. When her fur gets long, she is like a giant pillow-slash-teddy bear.

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Holly and the kids took to her really quickly, and while Pearl the dog (AKA Dum Dum, I talked about her first in this post when she was still a puppy) was nice, I was certainly more standoffish with her. Sort of like breaking up with your first girlfriend, my heart wasn’t ready to handle another relationship right away. But we got along. She got into typical dog trouble, and is really pretty dumb for a dog. We taught her to ring a bell (on a string) to tell us when she should go outside. Unlike most dogs who pick this trick up quickly, it took her an entire year.

Licking the crumbs from a pretzel container

Head inside, licking the crumbs from a pretzel container

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The dog loves the kids, and the kids her. Having a pet as a child wasn’t something that I had growing up, and I hope the kids don’t take it for granted with having a dog. It really is heartwarming to watch them play and chase each other, and Pearl has a blast with them. But the real one who needs and loves the dog most (and who’s human Pearl loves the most too) is Holly. They are life buddies and have that connection. I like the dog too and we have our moments. She’s nice, but hasn’t been that splinter in my heart ole Buzz was.

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We have talked somewhat in jest, and somewhat seriously about either getting another dog, or maybe fostering one/some. Mac commented in Part 1 about fostering if anyone is interested, or interested in learning more in case that’s how you’d like to acquire your next pet. If we decide to go down that route, we’d have to do more research, and decide what our  breed or niche is (as Mac recommended). You can get a rescue dog too of nearly any breed, so don’t think you have to go spend a lot of money on a breeder to get the kind of dog you want. We do think the poodle part of the breed is nice with the no-shedding, but that means we have to spend money to have her groomed, so take that into consideration as well.

Anyways, when I get old, and reflect back on my life and my time with my family, I will remember that the dogs are part of the family, and color our lives differently. They become an adopted son or daughter, and really do love us unconditionally and lighten the heart when it is heavy. Friend and protector. Thief and scoundrel. Dogs are pack animals, and if you have one, just remember you are the pack leader and behave like one. We actually learned a lot about behavior from watching Cesar Millan’s shows.

We have something like this hanging in our crate/laundry room:

dog thinks i am

 

I think the hardest part about owning and loving a dog isn’t the cold winter walks, or barking at ghosts, or the accidents inside, it is simply the fact that we love them so much and their lives are so much shorter than ours, hence we hurt a little more frequently when we have to say goodbye. So like your kids, enjoy the time while it lasts!

THE BLIZZARD!!! Could you deal?

So as I have mentioned, we lived in NJ and have a number of friends from Brunswick to Boston. I watched the national Blizzard news tonight, and saw images like this:

blizzard 2015 imageempty shevlesAll TEH PEOPLES SHOULD BE PANICKING!

panic!

While I’m not a prepper of the apocalypse, I have started building some basic building blocks, and you should too (I will do more on this series in the future, haven’t gotten to Part 2 yet). My bachelor brother has a Get-out-home (a glorified doublewide away from civilization, with a cache of guns and ammo, but that’s a story for another day), and I s’pose we could shack up there if shit really hit the fan (WTSHTF as the preppers say).

Anyways, my question for you, my smart readers who save for retirement, are healthy, take care of their kids and are generally awesome…are you ready for an emergency? Could you :GASP: survive if you were out of power for a few days like our friends in the Northeast are? Picture this scenario:

  • No water. The water distribution system uses pumps. The pumps are electrical, pumping from your municipal well up to the water tower. The water tower uses head pressure to pressurize the water lines so you have water to take a shower and flush the toilets. When power goes out, backup generators power the pumps. But the generators need to be fed gasoline and maintained, if not, your water system doesn’t work. In a multi-day power outage (or zombie apocalypse), water may not last more than a few days to a week.
  • No access to food stores. See that grocery aisle above? How long can you survive without power or grocery shopping?
  • Wastewater. If you can’t flush the toilets, how are you handling man’s most basic need (even moreso than sex), of taking a shit or piss?
  • Light. No electricity = no light at night. Not a need, but going to bed at 5:30 pm (when it gets dark) in the winter isn’t really a great option.
  • No power. As noted above, how will you cook food (like your spaghetti or ramen) if you don’t have heat?
  • Warmth. N’uff said.

Now like the water system, cell towers are also set up with a generator for backup. But they only have enough for a couple of days (and think about how many towers there are). Without people feeding them, phone service goes out quickly. I know this because I know things (I am an broad-based engineer, and my wife has worked in telecom for years).

So here’s a few things, at a minimum, ALL people should have to last for the tornado, or hurricane, or blizzard, or flood that leaves everyone struggling for a bit (again, my Prepping for Prepping post is a good start for the most basic parts – water and wastewater, more to come at some point).

  • Get a 5-gallon jug of water. You can buy camp jug like this
    for $15. Or you can do like I did and find a free 5-gallon jug from one of those water delivery services. Or use some glass jars or jugs of milk. Whatever you do, get some extra stored water in your home. They say 1 gallon per person per day, plus some more for pets. We have only about 15 gallons now, but will be buying a something like this at some point: 
  • If you don’t have a five gallon pail you should. They are great. Put rocks or dirt in them. Pickles. Paint. Or my favorite, wine (more below). An empty food grade bucket will even serve as your water bucket. But it also serves as a commode with a simple double-bagged garbage bags and a Bucket Portable Toilet Seat Cover. What are you going to do when you can’t poop in your toilet because the water is out and you can’t flush? I’d rather go in a bucket in the garage than out in a trench on the street (or overflow my indoor plumbing), but that’s just me. Do what you want to do.
  • Food – Have a stash that isn’t being used by day-to-day lunches or food. The problem is, you have to either rotate it through your regular stock, or get long-lasting stuff. We have a mix of both. Plus, you need to be able to cook it. Let me layout our food stuffs:
    • First, we have an outdoor grill, always have an extra propane tank, and have a freezer full of meat. Power goes out the chest freezer will last a little while (depending on the season) so that will be a primary source. Depending on the season, your fish sticks and frozen pizzas will need to be the first to get eaten, even if on the outdoor grill because the power is out.
    • Standard pantry fare of kids lunch stuffs (granola bars, fruit cups, etc.)
    • Canned goods
    • Fridge items (eggs, cheese, veggies -some of which may last longer without spoiling with quick cooking if power goes out)
    • Then our “emergency fare.” Yes, we’ve started an emergency stock, right now with a limited supply. About 50 pounds of rice and beans filled in long-term storage of Mylar Bags , and about 50# worth of food of Mountain House freeze dried stuff (that lasts forever) or smaller 10# units. Not a lot but a start. Pack buckets work to start.
  • Alcohol – if you have an outage, sometimes you need the drink. Having a 1.75 of Bulleit Bourbon or some other large bottle of distilled spirits in an emergency may make it survivable. Better yet, learn to Homebrew. It’s easy, costs $2/bottle or less and is a fun way to break up the winter/spring/summer/fall. No matter what the season and how much we and our friends drink, we have 50-100 bottles of homebrewed fruit wine in our basement wine rack. Plus, enough yeast and ingredients that I could make another couple hundred bottles WTSHTF. Need to have some skill in the apocalypse.
  • Candles, Lanterns, Cooking Stove – Light and cooking ability after the power goes out. Need those. Batteries are important for flashlights or lanterns (way better than candles). And a camp stove with propane canisters goes a long way to make those freeze dried foods and 30# of noodles or rice you have in your pantry. Candles – don’t forget those things no man even thinks about until you don’t have power. If you’re married, you probably have 30 around the house and another 30 hidden for backup. Plus, matches or a lighter – importante!
  • Board games – if you have kids, you need something to pass the time without the POD or video games. Make sure you have a game of LIFE to destroy them, or something like Trouble to destroy their spirits more than the blizzard/tornado/flood.
  • Toilet Paper – having an extra big bundle of TP is something I subscribe to as well. This article on the 2015 Blizzard! said there was a run on TP in addition to the other staples like bread. Like seriously – who can’t make it through a couple of days? Do people really get down to their last roll before stocking up? Is that why there was a run?

Don’t let a natural disaster wreck your family. With a few additions over a brief period of time (and even without the gun stash), you can have a nice situation to whether the storm and have a little adventure with your family without having to shit in the snow. And don’t forget that hidden bottle of booze. You’ll need it.

For the love of Dog (Part 1)

Random Friday topic.

I was allergic to pet dander growing up, so could never have a dog. After years of allergy shots as a teen, I grew out of it (well, except for cats). After college, I moved out to New Jersey to see a different part of the country, and a few months later, Holly was to move out to be with me. Trying to ease her transition (she would know no one, have no job, no friends – it was a total leap of faith in her coming out to be with me 1,000 miles away), I thought it was time to get a dog. Now, I knew nothing about pet ownership, but knew my then-girlfriend-later-turned-wife had a pet nearly her entire life, and for her it was a stabilizing life force. I lived in a subletted apartment on the Rutgers campus, so it wasn’t like I had a big place. So I got what any (dumb) smart guy would do – get a small dog. I found a “breeder” (and I say that in a loose sense – it was a backyard place, no papers) and bought a motherfucking chihuahua! Now it wasn’t one of those pussy little ones you see in Paris Hilton’s purse, this guy grew to be about 12 pounds (small, but not teacup small).

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Buzz was a shitty dog, but he was mine. He loved me the best. It took forever to potty train that bastard on our NJ lawn that was literally 10’x10′ in size. He took to Holly ok, after barking his ass off when she rolled into town that August day. But since she was at the apartment, with no job yet, they bonded ok.

If you haven’t had a dog, you don’t understand both the joy and pain in the ass they are, but once integrated they become part of your family. They help reduce stress, they are easy to love and love you back hence helping fight off depression. They are funny and troublemakers, but most dogs I’ve seen are playful and loving and add a dimension to people’s lives they don’t get anywhere else.

After moving to a 1 BR apartment in the suburb of Somerville, NJ to have some privacy as well as more safety (apartment had been broken into, sketchy overall). Holly was working by then, and without the hustle and bustle of roomates going in and out, Buzz got to be a problem. He would howl and bark all day (crated, highly recommended), so we self-diagnosed him with separation anxiety. After a poor decision (that lasted about 1.5 days) of adopting a Border Collie from a shelter (to live in a fucking apartment. I told you we didn’t know what we were doing), we went back to the well (breeder) where Buzz came from, and bought his cousin Oscar.

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Oscar didn’t really settle ole Buzz’s anxiety, but added some new craziness instead. When we picked him out, he kissed Holly, and the owners were very surprised because he turned his nose at nearly everyone. He was born Holly’s dog and was cra cra and thick (14 lbs). He’d bark at everyone, hide behind the toilet or under the bed, but he was our crazy kid. These two dogs were our babies, until we had kids, then they were relegated back to being a second class citizen.

We moved back to the Midwest, and they had many good years in our semi-rural home with a forest in our backyard. They would chase deer or turkey. We kept them inside during the fox living under the shed spring (the fox pups were sooo cool), but they got some exercise just running around or hanging on our large deck. Buzz peed on my head at one point (I was sleeping, and he had to go outside…bummer for me). Oscar grew tumors. Buzz got crazy at times, suffering from apparent dementia. He would walk through the house mostly on his front legs peeing. Peeing and pooping inside was problematic for both dogs. The first time I heard Birdsnest swear was about 3 or 4 years old, when emulating Holly, she saw a turd on the floor and said: “those…those…fucking dogs!”

One of the hardest weeks I have had in my life was when we decided to put both Buzz and Oscar down. Buzz was pretty messed in the head, snapping at us sometimes, and we were scared for the kids. Oscar had a tumor inside that was very large, like tennis ball size, that was making life very miserable for him. It wasn’t a black and white issue, and we struggled with when and even if we should do this. We were torn up inside about this issue. But for the betterment of our dogs pain and suffering, as well as ours, we decided to put them down. To make this worse, we did it both within a week of each other. The heartpain was immense. Watching your dog getting a lethal injection is so difficult. I’m tearing up writing this. These were family members…brothers…friends and we were voluntarily giving them the death sentence. It’s coming up on three years and we still think about them, and I am happy when the kids remember them and the good times we had together.

I knew dogs were a pain and were expensive (vet bills, dog food, medications), but I never realized how much you can love an animal and I’m not alone. My grandfather loved his German Shepard Pepper like a brother too, and he cried when Pepper died at the farm, getting hit by a car by the road.  Buzz was my first dog and special friend and we had a special bond. Holly and Oscar had something similar. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there. The bond is different with each animal, and as I’ll get into a little in Part 2, a new dog doesn’t make you forget your old ones.

 

 

Saving money in big clumps: Home Refinance

Many of us are trying to find ways to save money and spread our dollars in many directions. We clip coupons, or shop at wholesale stores, or brew coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks, or even make income on side hustles like photography or doing computer stuff for those who need help. It’s all good, but don’t forget to look at ways to save big hunks of money on the two biggest expenses for most:

  • Cars
  • Home

I’m not Mr. Money Mustache (who doesn’t barely even drive a car), but we infrequently buy cars, drive them to 150,000+ miles (basically when safety or repair issues start to become annoying), and then sell them for what we can get. Our cars usually end up in the 7-10 year ownership range, and are well paid off for years and years before we give them up. It saves us thousands in costs for purchase, and even insurance later on in the life of the vehicle. But this post isn’t about cars, it’s about our biggest expense: our house.

If you choose to rent, I can certainly buy that argument as a long term wealth building measure depending on how the numbers look or how your personal situation is. There’s a lot to be said about not being tied down and obligated to “the man.”

Buying a home that you can afford is a big part of long term financial success. If you bite off more than  you can chew on a house though, it can put you behind the eight ball in so many areas, such as saving for retirement, or college, or basics of providing for the family. The term is House Poor. It’s tough to not keep up with the Joneses when you’re watching all the McMansions on House Hunters, but saving money here will help most reach their long term financial goals. Various rules of thumb are out there for how much house you should own. They include a mortgage no more than 2.5x your gross annual income, other more aggressive sites (mostly banks, so they have an interest in lending more) say 4-5x gross income, others say all house costs (taxes, mortgage, insurance, any homeowner’s association dues) should be less than 32% of your gross income.   We are more fiscally conservative and want safety factors built in, and the ability to save more (or pay off the house faster), so our existing mortgage we took on was about 1.8x last year’s gross, and all our housing costs (less maintenance, which varies each year) are under 17% of gross.

Regardless of who you are, if you can slice your long-term payments with limited short term costs, you should do so. It can potentially slice hundreds of dollars a month off your expenses just like :snapsFingers: that.  The Wall Street Journal just did an article on this, as interest rates are again at historic lows. Unfortunately, many bought at the market highs in the late 2000’s, which means they might still be underwater. Though many home prices have risen in the last few years, I don’t believe they are still back to those market highs. If that is you, I feel for you as you’re probably still trying to get back to what you bought it in 2008, and it surely will be tougher to refinance in those situations where equity isn’t there, but it is still worth exploring. I don’t know enough to say if anyone is able to do it or not.

refi chart

Most people can’t be troubled to switch banks or insurance companies even if it saves them money, so getting them to shell out some money and deal with the stress to get into a new mortgage can be intimidating. It’s a big step: paperwork, bank people, stuff to sign, so people just keep hitting the “ignore” button and don’t worry about it. Additionally, they need to have a few thousand dollars saved for the various fees and costs, and most don’t have even that much lying around to help make a refi happen. Dave Ramsey has built an empire off of these types of peoples. But I know my readers are better than that. However, I still understand that switching something this big is intimidating.

But let me illustrate the benefits from my own situation. We used our last home as a springboard to financial solvency and getting out of debt. While I won’t belabor the point, we bought a foreclosure, did a lot of improvements over 10 years, and sold for nearly twice what we bought it for, and in the process rid ourselves of most of our stupid (oh so stupid) debt we had taken on in our mid 20’s-30’s (though, we were partially smart since at the same time, we were still socking away considerable savings in tax sheltered vehicles).  So a few years back we moved to our “dream” neighborhood, in our “forever” house, but made the sin of not having 20% down. The life improvement that came with it was worth it to us, but was costing us about $200/month in Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) – needed if you were under the 20% equity/downpayment threshold. And even if your house increases in value, you can’t do anything under your original contract until you reach that original 80% value.

So the housing market in our area has slowly gone up in the the three years we’ve lived here, and we’ve been adding extra principal payments on every monthly mortgage bill to help reach our long-term goal of paying off our home early. Our mortgage is through a local bank, and we worked with a banker that lives in the neighborhood adjacent to ours and see him at school events. I really, really liked having a local bank own and service our mortgage, and want that in the future. Seeing his bank’s 30-year standard mortgage rate on the website was as low as I’ve seen it, I contacted him and in a matter of a few hours, we locked in a rate of 3.60%, something we couldn’t sniff when we bought our house a few years ago (and the thing is, I believe you can even find better rates than that depending on your credit and down payment and all that). I expect PMI to go away with a reappraisal, and our mandatory payments will end up $400/month less than it is currently. Think about how hard it is to save $400/month, or to get a $5,000 a year raise. Now we’ll still end up paying the same monthly amount that we do right now to apply more money to principal. To illustrate, an extra $400/month over a span of 20 years (the outside limit of when we want it paid off), puts nearly $100,000 towards principal (not to mention less interest in the long run), and helps to be out of the shackles of a mortgage.

refi koala

Now we were only 3 years into a 30 year obligation. Still, if we were to go to the full 30 year pay window, we’d end up saving around $30,000 over the life of the loan by changing over 0.4% interest rate. Not insignificant. Now if you are closer to 15, or 20 years left on your existing mortgage, you should try to refinance to that window so you can continue to track towards getting out from under the bank, versus saving more today by taking on another 30 year loan obligation. A 15-year loan at our bank was listed as 2.85%, which is amazingly low in my opinion.

If you Google “refinancing news” you can find a lot more info, including calculators to see if it will work out for you. It does help to have a few thousand dollars allocated to this, but for us, the payoff on the out-of-pocket costs were less than four months. Anyways, something to consider if you are still above 4% (or higher) interest on your home loan and have some equity in your house.

It’s easy to take your spouse for granted, ideas to correct that

“You don’t pay me any attention!” my wife told me last night.

“I might say the same thing.” I responded.

These weren’t things said to hurt the other person, but were said more as a general statement of fact from our perspectives rather than accusingly or mad. It was simply a cry for her to get some attention. Like you, we have a full plate with running kids around, making dinner, working late sometimes, working out both at home or at the gym, and there are some nights we simply don’t even get to see each other much. Add in the fact that she may want to watch Downton Abbey while I’d rather read a book and our interface for the day may consist of only a few minutes. We may both be generally aware that this is occurring, we have what I’d consider a good relationship, and we still let this occur, at least until someone pumps the brakes and says something.

When things are new and exciting, it’s hard to get enough of each other as you gaze longingly in each other’s eyes as you make sweet, sweet love all the live long day. But after awhile, the excitement wears off and life takes on more of a routine. The tingles get fewer and fewer from each other and you look towards other things for happiness or excitement. That’s where things get dangerous if you aren’t careful – with the new coworker (either yours or hers), with the boot camp instructor, with the other soccer parent you hang out with at the kid’s practice. Things that you’ve been around for a while tend to start to blend into the background of day to day life, not noticing them until something goes wrong. It happens all the time. As you see, it happens even to those of us who are aware and know what to look for.

So what did we do? We snuggled on the floor a little and laughed. We put the kids to bed early and then we snuggled on the couch a little. We snuggled in bed a little. We locked the bedroom door, made out, and reconnected between the sheets. It was necessary and appreciated. But now we have to continue to keep each other front and center and not lose each other in the noise of daily life.

So if you see yourself falling into similar patterns, here are a few ideas:

  1. Bring it up. You may or may not be the only one feeling this way, but saying something like “Hey, I’ve been missing you lately” can be the start of snapping each other out of a lull. Be kind if they get defensive or make excuses, say it’s both your faults but you need to reconnect. That should help to diffuse any tensions.
  2. Though it’s counter intuitive, ask your partner to do something nice to you, preferably with some physical contact. Rubbing your back, foot massage, whatever. For us men, it’s hard to ask for love sometimes as we’re socialized to take care of ourselves. About a week prior to this event, I told my wife I needed some more touching from her, so she’s been rubbing my back or shoulders much more often. Helps with the winter doldrums and dark nights.
  3. Make it a point to go to bed together at the same time at night. Even if you aren’t having sex that night, or sleeping naked, some quiet pillow talk without the kids and some spooning goes a long way towards keeping that bond.
  4. Make out. I love some passionate kissing and ear nibbling, and I admit we don’t do it enough. That’s where Athol’s 10 second kiss is so powerful.
  5. Reconnect through sex. There’s nothing that reboots the neglected feeling like a loving bedroom session. There’s different types of married sex – like the “scratch an itch” sex, and the “headboard banging swinging from the chandelier style everything is clicking Saturday night” sex, but sometimes what you need is that loving, reconnection type so everyone can get their warm fuzzies again.
  6. Break out time for just the two of you. Do a date night, or see an afternoon show, or even just have the neighbors watch the kids for awhile while you go to the local coffee shop to get away from the same-old-same-old for an hour or two.
  7. Send them a quick text or e-mail with a few thoughts. I never had much success sexting my wife, but as a Words Love Language, she does appreciate a few loving words once in awhile. And any women out there, your man would always, ALWAYS appreciate a sext of any sort if you’re down with that, and that will help keep you front and center in his head during the day.
  8. Finally, make it a point to verbalize on occasion your appreciation for them and their efforts. Thank them for taking out the trash, or for being a good mom, or how you appreciate how they look in those yoga pants. It feels good to be complimented, and it’s really a shame that many times we act more appreciative of strangers or people from work than we do our own spouse. I know I feel 10 feet tall when my wife tells me nice things or notices an effort I made in something.

Communication is key. You can’t expect your husband or wife to read your mind. You may think you’re kicking ass, and looking good (and maybe you are), but sometimes that’s not enough in today’s 2 second attention span era where we’re all pulled in a million directions. Don’t be wimpy or whiney about the asking for what you want. Instead state it plainly and factually if you feel you need to feel more connected with your spouse, not accusingly. This slowly happens to all of us sometimes. What is important is you simply identify and it deal with it. It’s not a big deal unless you let it be one (by letting this situation go for too long).

Remember, good relationships mean both Alpha and Beta behaviors, so listen closely to what your spouse needs at the time. I’ve found when Holly is happy and confident Alpha works pretty dang well and makes her smile, but can have the opposite effect if she’s grumpy or not feeling great about herself. Likewise, if she’s happy and confident, Beta behaviors feel smothering to her and pushes her away, while if she’s a little down or needs an emotional boost, those behaviors are critical. This knowledge is important, and while MMSL gets it right, the chest-thumping Bros of the ‘Sphere looking for notches don’t apply fully to our situation. We’re looking to invest in love AND sex, and it’s a more complex cocktail of behaviors, but if you get it right it pays dividends for a happier life.

invest-love

Finding Time to Make Yourself Awesomer

I’m the first to admit I don’t always use my time to the full extent I can, but I try. As a dad of two kids in various activities, and husband of a working spouse, my time is valuable and seems to disappear way to quickly. I’m chained to my desk for too long, have a roundtrip commute of about 45 minutes, and have shared family duties – so from about 6:20 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. most hours are accounted for. However, there is time in there that is available, and many don’t take advantage. For example, probably 2-3 days a week I’m able to sneak in a workout at lunch. I put an old weight bench in a utility storage room, and have showers at work, so am fortunate in that regard. I can do a 4 mile run, or do a weight or kettlebell workout, eat lunch at my desk, and basically absorb this time into my day with no impacts elsewhere.

Other people choose to wake up early, and while I’m not a morning person, is something that does work. I hang out on occasion in the Kindle Boards Writer’s Cafe (people who are self-pubbed, or are writing to one day be published), and many people there who have busy lives choose to get up an hour earlier than everyone else and spend that time crafting their book. Having an hour of quiet time with a cup of coffee, getting something written seems to work well for many people. For me, I did my writing at night after the kids were in bed, or on the weekends. But I cut out time for me. Holly often wakes up early to work out, and I have too, so no matter what happens in your day (and lack of motivation on the back end is common) you’ve got your time in to be healthy.

When the homework is done, and the battle to get the children in bed has been won, what do most people do in the evenings? I’d say web-surfing or social media sink or TV watching is number one. Nothing wrong with that, but what about carving out time for a hobby, or to simply read on a new topic, or learn about personal finance, or health, or learn (or relearn) and instrument, or think of ways to challenge your kids beyond their standard schooling, or think of a side way to make a little extra money while helping someone? I understand the need to relax and decompress after a stressful day, but so often this becomes the norm, and not many people become awesome by sitting on the couch. There’s even many free college on-line courses to broaden your horizons on any subject imaginable.

I challenge you all, in the new year here, to make small changes, set a goal to learn something new or improve yourself in some way, and start finding a little time to make that happen. I promise that in your heart of hearts, after that tough workout, or completion of a hobby milestone, or whatever, you are going to feel way more accomplished and happy versus being a typical person floating through this life.

kaizen

Here are things I’m working on (many moving parts) and finding time to make happen (slowly, it seems, but still progressing):

  • Working with my brother to start podcasting, getting equipment and knowledge to make it happen
  • Life Coaching – studying educational materials, currently working with a single client, setting up things to take it to Phase B (soon).
  • As I mentioned, working to lose some winter fat and get fitter, also rehabbing my shoulder
  • Studying technical items to improve chances of interviewing well and finding a new job
  • Spending more time teaching my kids new cool things. We spent a Saturday afternoon taking apart an old tube television just because. We’ve been learning about and building some cool circuit projects from this Elenco Snap Circuits Physics Kit (easy to do, many examples of “experiments” and teaches kids some basics on what various circuitry).
  • Writing and researching (when the muse is there, recently it’s been tough)
  • Learning a new language (in the car on the commute, using library CDs)

I’m a grinder more than having natural ability in anything, so long ago I learned I needed to take the long-view on accomplishing goals. Finding rewards in projects isn’t what I would consider work, and can be a big part of self-improvement and finding happiness in a process. Winter can be hard as many want to go into hibernation, but if you make some small steps in the right direction, you’ll come out in the spring sunshine a better person. Now go and find that extra hour to make it happen!

Ego and Fighting: Use the Judo Technique

I did a post a while back called “How to fight with your spouse.” Usually the underlying start of a fight is something stupid, or maybe it is something that has been building up and you haven’t communicated it, and then it blows up like a powder keg. The latter is entirely on you and your lack of communication skills. You can’t expect your spouse to know how you feel about whatever indiscretion or slight you’re seeing from your perspective. In fact, it may not even be on their radar screen. While women especially get the bad rap of “You should know why I’m mad at you,” men do it too.

ways-to-tell-a-womans-mad-at-you

But what I wanted to talk about today is the first one – the random sniping and verbal diarrhea that so often happens in any relationship, where your brain and mouth are running train of thought and one party takes it as a major blow to their ego starting a fight in the process. My wife and I are in a good spot, and have been for awhile, but we’re not immune to this. I’ll give you some examples where maybe it hasn’t started a fight, but one of us had ego bruised, and it could have spiraled:

  • Holly has this habit of trying to talk to me or request things of me from one or two rooms away. It’s super annoying, since I often can’t really understand or hear her. So what happens is she’ll say something (two rooms away), and I’ll say “What?” since I didn’t here her. Then she’ll say “Alex?!” again, louder this time, because she didn’t hear me say “what” and then I’ll yell “WHAT?!” in an annoyed tone – which she then takes offense and says some shit like “Why are you yelling at me?” This happens all. the. time.
  • I’m a whirling dervish in kitchen, and am not the gentlest creature with plates and bowls and glasses, breaking much more than my fair share. My wife will verbalize her train of thought about my handling of cookware or putting away dishes while she’s sitting there playing on an iPad. So ego bruised, I’ll snipe back saying something like “well at least I’m doing something,” which hurts her feelings, often resulting in the “why are you always picking on me?” Ugh.
  • Anyone with kids knows managing multiple kid activities can be challenging. As a result we use a shared Google calendar with scheduled events and locations. This week, there was a mix up on picking up Birdsnest after her basketball practice – Holly went to practice location B, instead of A that was noted in the calendar. She felt it was my fault for not telling her before she left the house, and I was miffed since it was in the calendar correctly and she never asked. Anyways, two egos riled up and while it wasn’t a big deal (the kid waited a few extra minutes with her friends/coach) it blew into hurt feelings on both sides.

That ego is a funny thing. If you read anything about it (I’m a fan of Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now but I’ve read other books on the topic),  you begin to understand that the ego is there for self preservation and really is not often a rationale thing. Left unabated, the ego will attack (put people down), to make itself feel better. It will seek out research that supports itself or its bias and to “win.” It will defend itself when attacked. It is out for itself.

Instead of going through life attacking/defending so often, especially when in reality it’s not the person who is attacking you but their ego (and often, they don’t mean much by the comments, which is why I refer to it as verbal diarrhea – they don’t love you any less, they’re just hurt(ing) themselves). We need to be conscious of this fact, and do our best to say to ourselves “I know this person isn’t really attacking me, therefore, I have no reason to defend myself by saying snide comments back” and let the comments wash over you. As Tolle says:

You can then express your thoughts and feelings to each other as soon as they occur, or as soon as a reaction comes up, so that you do not create a time gap in which an unexpressed or unacknowledged emotion or grievance can fester and grow. Learn to give expression to what you feel without blaming. Learn to listen to your partner in an open, nondefensive way. Give your partner space for expressing himself or herself. Be present. Accusing, defending, attacking — all those patterns that are designed to strengthen or protect the ego or to get its needs met will then become redundant. Giving space to others — and to yourself — is vital. Love cannot flourish without it. When you have removed the two factors that are destructive to relationships — when the pain-body has been transmuted and you are no longer identified with mind and mental positions — and if your partner has done the same, you will experience the bliss of the flowering of relationship. Instead of mirroring to each other your pain and your unconsciousness, instead of satisfying your mutual addictive ego needs, you will reflect back to each other the love that you feel deep within, the love that comes with the realization of your oneness with all that is. This is the love that has no opposite.

Now this isn’t always easy if you’re attempting to do this and your partner isn’t, but you can’t control other people only yourself. If you can start to control your own emotions, and maybe get into dialogue about why they are saying things like that to get the other person to think about it more (without being defensive), maybe you can start to change the other’s perspective.

Back in the day I did some conflict resolution classes the teacher referred to as “Verbal Judo.” Judo means “the gentle way” and redirects energy and attacks so they are non-damaging to you. In doing this practice with our spouse or in other relationships, we can deflect those hurtful egoic comments and try to find out what the real issue is. Maybe the other person had a bad day and is simply grumpy, so takes it out on you without intention. Maybe they are upset about something else you did, but aren’t ready to talk about it. Regardless, it takes two egos going head to head to start a fight, so if you let the comments wash over you without getting upset, you’ll deescalate the situation quickly. It’s hard, it takes consciousness and practice, but it can be done. And if you do find yourself in a fight, remember my tips.

However, I’m not advocating letting the other person walk all over you and treat you badly. You need to stand up for repeatedly poor behavior and call them out. But it takes tact and gentleness or else they (or rather, their ego) may feel attacked and therefore get defensive instead of getting to the root of their behavior. My wife has a strong ego, and it stems from her insecurities. While I still get riled up sometimes from her antics, I also realize where it’s coming from, and try hard not to engage my own ego. I will call her on her attacks and try to get to the “why,” but it’s not always easy. Mostly it comes from how the other perceives themselves, and it comes from a place of vulnerability. It is on them to change that. Meditation, yoga, and self-reflection are all great tools for both you and your partner to draw in positive energy, find gratitude in what you have (including marriage), and draw strength from within and not from what you have, how you look, or how others think of you. A post I did about a year ago about improving things from the inside out and allowing happiness and satisfaction come about in light of life’s distractions.

Anyway, a little more philosophical today, but with the cold winter in much of the country, dark mornings and evenings, it is the time of year of Vitamin D deficiency, seasonal affective disorder and I’d surmise tougher times being upbeat with ourselves. Stay conscious of the fact that some of these things are not your fault, or even your partner’s fault, don’t engage in bait for petty arguments, and you’ll come out of the winter in a better place. Peace.

Football Talk

I apologize for my absence, my brain is fully engrossed in football dreams. After watching all four NFL games last weekend (and some great games too, especially the Baltimore-New England and the Green Bay-Dallas ones), I’m tickled pink my team (the Packers) is still alive.

You see, I was born into a Packer family. Both my parents are from Green Bay or the Green Bay area. My grandfather used to work at Lambeau doing concessions and odd jobs, and would sneak my mom or aunts or uncles into the games. One of my aunts who still lives there has a football signed by Lombardi’s Superbowl I team. Very cool.

Despite my parents moving away, we still watched or listened to the Packers growing up whenever we could. They weren’t always on TV, but enough that I remember some of the rougher years with Forest Gregg and Lynn Dickey (the Pre-Holmgren/Favre Era). Since then, it’s been a real treat and honestly, Packers fans have been spoiled. They never have to worry about their team moving, or have had to endure long stretches of losing seasons like so many teams. Since Favre started in Green Bay (22 years ago), Green Bay has had two losing seasons. TWO!  To say fans like me are spoiled is an understatement.

So I’ve been an NFL fan my entire life, and even played fantasy football in the early 1990’s where me and my friends had to score on Mondays and Tuesdays using the newspaper box scores (in the pre-internet era). Twenty-some years later and I’m still doing that hobby. I’m not as big as overall NFL fan as I once was, but know enough to be dangerous. Today, fantasy football is more about the live auction draft with friends (we’re in a Dynasty league that has held together mostly unchanged for the last 7 years or so) and talking shit. We even working this off-season on our own version of The League’s Sacko (complete with cats) that will be unveiled next summer at our draft.

The-Sacko

So anyways, some of my standard stuff I would want to write about is on the back burner while I’m drinking in forum posts, beat writers, and prognosticators like a man in a desert. I just can’t get enough! Rodgers and company are big underdogs this week against the so-called Legion of Boom.Legion-of-Boom

 

But the fan in me wants to have faith. It was a gritty and magical performance watching No. 12 through grit and determination will the Packers to victory (and a little help by a crappy rule that was called correctly – I hope they find a way to get rid of that shit – Dallas and NFL fans are right on this, as were Lion fans when Megatron had his game winning TD robbed as well). I’m hoping they have 120 minutes of magic up their sleeve. Wilson and Lynch and the team are great, and there’s a reason why not many people believe they can beat Seattle at CenturyLink Field. I, for one, can’t wait for Sunday.  The Packers have a chance, and are a different team than Week 1, but we’ll see in a few days.

Now I suppose I should try and tie this back into some of my mission statement stuff. I think enjoying watching a sport is fine and being really into sports is sort of the American past time. But there really can be too much of a good thing. If you’re watching more than you’re doing, then it’s a problem. If you spend all day and night on Sunday’s (that was me 10 years ago) in front of the boob tube, it’s a problem. If you don’t play with your kids, or get outside because the College Football, or baseball, or basketball game is on, and it happens all the time, it’s a problem. Having passion for your team is one thing, having to watch every team is another. Pick your poison, find other hobbies that improve you as a person, and I think many would be happier and have better relationships with their wife or kids. Oh, and I doubt that very many women find Fantasy Football hawt! But that’s ok, our geekdom cannot be denied, and can be a funny thing to embrace if you don’t take it too seriously. (The League is good television too, and is available on Netflix for those who don’t have cable).

So with that, I’ll leave you with the photo of Russel Wilson (and his Dick – rein that thing in man, C’Mon! This is a family magazine) that graced the start of SI’s NFL Preview Cover. Go Pack, Go!!

Wilson

Impact of job and income on marital dynamics

For probably 2/3 of my relationship my income has clearly been more than my wife’s, both of us working in professional fields. For the last 1/3, we’ve jockeyed back and forth but have generally been fairly close in compensation. For me, I don’t really care about what I’m paid, and there have been many years where I don’t even know my salary…I simply have “enough” and feel I’m being compensated fairly. For my wife, despite her ascertation to the contrary, has strong feminist viewpoints, at least in some areas. And one of those largest areas is in pay between men and women. She carries that issue like a chip on her shoulder, is super competitive, and for her personally, uses it as a black and white scorecard on how she is valued as a person and employee. She agonizes and gets angry over that fact, and left her past job over the issue, despite making what I considered a fair salary. I’m not saying she is right or wrong, but this is how she is wired.

I didn’t really give too much thought to how salary or compensation or type of job impacts the dynamics of a marriage. I’m guessing for some families, it really doesn’t matter who makes more money, or how the chores are distributed, or who has more flexibility to deal with family obligations, as long as things get done for the betterment of the family. All income gets lumped in a pot, all chores and family stuff gets lumped in a pot, and everyone shares a part of that. But for the modern feminist professional type who defines their worth by a paycheck, it seems like things are different.

Let me illustrate with a brief story. A few years ago, my friend and his wife both agreed he would be a stay-at-home dad. He absolutely hated working, and she made some really nice coin, thus it was decided he’d stay at home with their toddler/pre-school kid. Well it became apparent she wasn’t happy with the situation.  Answering the “What does your husband do?” question to other corporate climbers is embarrassing if he doesn’t at least have a stable trade job or something manly or professional. She lost respect for him, eventually cheating on him and getting divorced. Obviously, it’s more complex than that, but that was the start of the end. This happened with my brother too, when he lost his job and was unemployed or underemployed for a long period (among other issues), his wife felt the world on her shoulders as the primary source of family income and stability. They both didn’t feel their husband were adequately contributing to the family and it eventually came to a head.

So let it be said that your job does impact how your wife may look at you if she’s cut from a similar cloth, even if she’s a great mom, family orientated, and loves you. Part of it has to be biological – wanting the best provider for her, even if she’s an excellent provider herself (hypergamy). Can’t really fault her, but it can be a challenge for many men who marry women with higher earning potential. It’s challenging enough for men to be the Alpha-leader in the family without your wife making comments on how she should be able to spend frivolously because she makes more, devaluing your opinion and influence on the family or finances.

This has come to light in my own situation recently and is leaving me conflicted. As I’m evaluating jobs, some have been for the state Government which inevitably pay less (one job I’ll be interviewing for here shortly pays about 9% less overall compensation, even when counting the present value of the defined benefit plan- AKA pension) than the private sector, but the benefits are nice (twice as many paid days off, pension, flexible and set hours with no work from home, you know the drill). Another option is with a former company and a boss/mentor that wants to groom me as his replacement for his retirement in a few years. I met with him for lunch yesterday, and in my gut I just can’t get excited going back there (about 4 years later), at least right now (maybe I’ll come around to the idea if my other options have been exhausted, but they seem more like a backup plan right now in my heart of heart).

choices

My wife, the corporate climber, has already expressed anxiety about this. When she was growing up, she had to help her divorced single mom pay the bills through jobs in high school, and felt a lot of pressure at the time, which is manifesting again today. So she’s, shall we say, less than excited that if I’m a Government dude I’d be making a large amount less than her ( we’re potentially talking $30k gross salary difference here- though about half that after factoring in the retirement stuff) so she’s feeling more pressure. Despite the fact I make less than her now, we’re within shouting distance, so it doesn’t seem to bother her.  While this doesn’t surprise me, knowing what I know about relationship dynamics, it is still interesting and somewhat disheartening that what may be “best” for my own interests of job satisfaction may be a detriment to our family life or marriage, despite the fact that as a couple we have “enough” in my opinion. At least she’s being honest so we can broach this complex subject with awareness.

Nothing has even occurred yet (like interviews or hard salary discussions), but there may come a day in the near future when I may have to make a decision between more money (and stress) with the private side versus less money (and stress, but more security and possibly boredom) on the government side. My marital dynamics and family income and goals will play a part in this decision, as will life and job satisfaction. I’m not sure how the chips will fall yet, but at least I understand the dynamics and potential ramifications of not handling this with kid gloves. It will be an interesting month or three as we work through these things.

If anyone has any input or has dealt with anything similar (going from public to private or vice versa, or choosing a job that ends up paying less for the potential for additional satisfaction or stability), I’d appreciate it. If you don’t want to comment on this post, e-mail me at theaveragemarrieddad@gmail.com. Thanks.