Thoughts from marriage: Learning together

Learning can be so much more fun when you learn with someone. Learning something with your spouse can be even better.

W- and I enjoy learning things together. Last summer, we taught ourselves woodworking. We checked books out from the library, spent hours at Home Depot looking at tools and picking out lumber, figured out how to get 16′ planks home without renting a truck or becoming a traffic hazard, and built deck chairs that actually fit us. Having a second pair of hands to hold something in place, having a second pair of eyes to check before you work – that saves a lot of time. W- also helped motivate me past the necessary-but-slightly-annoying parts, such as remeasuring the chair slats so that they fit properly. I probably would never have tried it without him, and now the chairs sit on our deck and provide an ongoing trigger for happy memories.

We’ve been teaching ourselves Dutch in preparation for our trip to the Netherlands for my sister’s wedding. W- made flashcards and has been helping me learn. Even with our limited vocabulary, we’ve quickly developed in-jokes, like the delight with which we encounter the flashcard for “spek” (bacon) or “gebakken ei” (fried egg), and how I mock-shudder at “krentenbrood” (I’m not fond of currants or anything raisin-like).

We’ve also been working our way through a Latin textbook as part of an Internet-based study group. We’re learning Latin together because we’re curious about a proper classical education. If kids of bygone eras could be well-versed in Latin, Greek, and French, why couldn’t we get the hang of it too? I’m inspired by books like The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. While the rest of the world wrings their hands over the state of education, W- and I want to do something. This is not a bad place to start.

Cooking provides many opportunities for learning. We’ve been moving further down the supermarket food chain:

How do we make time for this? Avoiding financial pressure helps. A frugal lifestyle means that neither of us needs to work a second job, or gets stressed out about work. We spend most of our discretionary time at home because we enjoy doing so. A nearby library provides almost all the books we want, and Internet booksellers fulfill the rest of our learning needs. Internet videos, audio recordings, and websites also give us plenty of resources.

Learning pays off in many ways. If we model this kind of curiosity and life-long learning for J-, she might be inspired to explore her own interests. It’s like the way I learned a lot from watching my mom teach herself about business and education and watching my dad learn about planes and photography. Who knows what J- and other kids will be able to do if they learn that learning is fun?

2011-04-24 Sun 09:07

Tweaking married life for everyday happiness

One of the things that works really well for W- and me in marriage is that we invest time and effort into making everyday life enjoyable. It’s not about big vacations or escaping from life; it’s about making regular life awesome. Let’s take a closer look at that.

Sleep takes up a third of our life. We make sure we get enough sleep, as sleep deprivation leads to general tetchiness and negative productivity. There’s no sense in doing more if you end up being unhappy, so we keep our schedule light and flexible.

Work takes up another third of our life, so we also make sure work is good. I love learning, working on open source, and helping clients and coworkers make things happen, so I work with my manager to make sure I’ve got plenty of opportunities to do so. W- also puts the time into improving his processes and getting better at what he does.

We invest in making chores enjoyable. A lot of this is mindset. For example, memories of the great washing machine adventure turn laundry into something that makes me smile. It helps that our washer and dryer sound so cheerful. (Really! Listen to someone else’s recording.)

“Right, Sacha, but that took a lot of work.” you might be thinking. But it’s surprising how a story can add more enjoyment to a routine task. For example: doing the dishes. I feel warm and fuzzy about the yummy food we just made, and I enjoy remembering W-‘s story about this Fisher&Paykel dishwasher. You see, when I moved in, W- had a regular dishwasher. He explained that he’d replaced his preferred dishwasher with a standard one because he had been thinking about selling the house. He kept telling me about how awesome this dishwasher was, and we joked that it was the kind of dishwasher that was accompanied by choirs. When we decided we were going to stay, we took a trip up to his parents to retrieve the dishwasher. After I saw how it was cleverly divided into two independent drawers and it had time-delay features, I became a convert. (It seems it really does go “Aaaah!”)

I’ve shown W- some clever ways to use the dishwasher, too, like using the top rack as a temporary holding space when the handwashed items need more space than the dish drying rack. Tiny improvements make life more awesome.

Sharing a task makes it fun, too. W- and I both enjoy cooking, and the L-shaped kitchen layout means that we don’t get in each other’s way. Cleaning up together makes that more enjoyable, too. Turn chores into social events to make the time fly.

What about other routines, like eating or getting ready for work? Again, this is something that can benefit from continuous improvement. For example, we switched to batch-cooking lunches and freezing individual portions. This not only simplifies mornings and saves us money, it also makes me smile whenever I have lunch. We tweaked our entrance workflow, and now it’s easier to take off our coats and put down our bags. Little things.

So that takes care of sleep, work, chores, and routines. What’s left? Mostly discretionary time – time that we can spend developing interests, enjoying hobbies, learning, relaxing, and so on. We spend a fair bit of this time together: hosting study groups, learning Latin, playing games. Sometimes we spend it on individual pursuits, like my tea parties or his calculator. We use this time not just to rest and recharge, but also to grow, and we deliberately invest in capabilities that can make future everyday life even better.

Is this kind of happiness a finite honeymoon-ish sort of period? Maybe. Who knows? But it makes perfect sense to invest that energy into strengthening the foundation and building good routines, and to enjoy the compounding benefits. It isn’t about big changes, just small and simple everyday happinesses

2011-04-23 Sat 11:32