How to run away to the woods.

Ahh, camping. If you take nothing away from the internet, it should be this: white people love camping. Being mostly white, I can attest to the truth of this.

There is probably nothing in the world better than being in the woods for extended periods of time with nothing but a few dehydrated meals, a sleeping bag, and a water purifier. There is something almost magical about sleeping beneath the stars, listening to the leaves rustle and the critters scurrying, and knowing that you are miles and miles and miles away from Atlanta traffic. Ahhh. The great escape.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that is so incredibly profit-driven that developers would much rather destroy green-space than just renovate the many old dilapitated buildings we pass every day, and so we have to go further and further to find “the woods.”  But thanks to good ol’ Jackson, Lincoln and FDR, we still have our National Parks! National parks are pretty sweet and a great place to start camping, since you will most likely have a cell-phone signal in case anything horrible happens, and you’ll never be too far from help, should you need it.

You may want to start by car-camping, which is when you load your car full of all kinds of things that you don’t really need, park at a campsite, and hang out for a few days before loading it all up and driving home. Car-camping can be fun, especially if you have kids or don’t like to sit on the ground. Once, Wes and I car-camped for two nights in North Carolina and not only were there showers at the campsite, we had an electrical outlet and internet access. This is the kind of camping wherein you can roast marshmallows and sit around drinking beer for a few hours before retiring to your air-mattress. Niiiice.

But car-camping is kind of pointless. I mean, you can do all that stuff in your  backyard. If you really want to camp, if you really want to get tired and dirty and eat meals out of a bag, then you, my friend, are ready for backpacking. (Eek! I’m so excited!)

Backpacking means that you will carry everything you need for the duration of your trip on your back, hike several miles, set up camp, sleep, tear down camp, rinse, and repeat. And it kicks car-camping’s booty.

Before you set out on your adventure, look-up maps of the area you’ll be visiting and plan the best route. Would it be better to leave one car at the trail-head and one at the exit? I prefer loop-trails, meaning you hit the trail, hike in a giant circle, and end up back at your car. Look at topo maps to get a better idea of the elevation changes and the location of water sources. And be sure to stop-by the visitor’s center to ask about designated camping/fire areas, scenic side-trails, and, of course, to leave your party’s information with them so they know that you’re there. If it’s hunting season, which seems to go on all year here in the south, it’s important that you wear bright clothing (the ever so flattering “hunter orange”), or else Bubba from south Alabamie might mistake you for a deer and kill you. You definitely don’t want that.

Because you will have to carry everything with you, backpacking takes a significant amount of planning. You will need to pack a sufficient amount of food (and water, if there is not a natural water source nearby) because you won’t want to hike 11 miles only to discover that you forgot to bring dinner. (There are no Krogers in the middle of the woods.) If you find that there is a water source along the trail, call the park and make sure it is flowing before deciding that you don’t have to pack water. If it is flowing, well, that’s flippin great, because that means that you can use a water-purifier (this is our baby) and you won’t  have to figure out how to strap 3 gallons of water to your pack. Oh, that reminds me–the pack.

You will need to purchase, borrow, or rent a pack. You’ll need something that distributes weight evenly and comfortably. A lot of regular back-packs have adjustable straps, and some even have waist and/or chest buckles now that allow you to adjust how the weight is distributed between your shoulders and hips. So, you may decide that you don’t want to worry about a pack and that your backpack is good enough. Before you do that, why don’t you put 30 pounds of books in your backpack and walk up and down a flight of stairs a few times. If your shoulders, back, feet or hips hurt, then you don’t want to use it.  A good back is not only fully adjustable, but it is also more spacious, easier to load/unload, and probably has a space to store a water-bladder, which makes it 100x better than your old Jansen that you’ve had since 10th grade.

Aside from a good pack, here is a good check-list of the top-ten items (gear) you’ll need–the really important stuff:
1. Good, comfortable shoes/boots
2. Something to sleep in/under (tent/hammock/tarp and sleeping bag)
3. Water purification system
4. Camp stove & Fuel 
5. Head-lamp for making your way around camp at night
6.Pocket knife or other tool
7. First-aid kit
8. Eating utensiles (a titanium mug, light-weight spork, etc)
9. Rain cover (for your body and for your pack)
10. A map & compass

We also carry camp-shoes (light-weight sandals like Chacos or Crocs) to change into because no matter how comfy your boots are, it feels nice to take them off after a ten mile hike, a bit of rope,  a small shovel (for potty-breaks), a portable coffee filter, extra batteries, and a camera.

For toiletries, be sure to bring toilet-paper, hand-sanitizer, tweezers (for getting ticks out), and whatever else you can’t live without (contact solution, for example). Don’t bring anything you won’t need, and try to bring travel-size containers if you can. Put all of your toiletries together in a ziploc bag so you can find everything quickly.

As far as food goes, pack more than you think you’ll need. It is not difficult to get turned around on the trail, and the last thing you want is to find yourself lost and out of food. But pack smart–bring dehydrated foods, nuts, high-calorie snacks, tiny bagels & peanut-butter, cheese snacks, etc, that are light-weight but nutritious and filing. Every health-freak in the world will tell you to stear clear of things like pop-tarts, snack-cakes, etc, but that little extra bit of sugar is sometimes just what you need to keep going on the trail. We bring home-made jerky, dried fruit, trail-mix, granola bars, pop-tarts, and back-packer meals. We also have a small coffee filter so we bring coffee, sugar and creamer (which we put in tiny little ziploc bags–please don’t go out into the woods with a big ol’ container of sugar and creamer!), tea bags, and those nifty little 1-serving Crystal Light powder-things. Put all of your snacks in the side/front pockets so you can get to them easily when you stop for breaks, and pack your camp-food (what you will eat for dinner or breakfast) in the main compartment.

Right now you may be thinking that this all seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s imperative that you are prepared. After you’ve gone through all the planning, you’ve double and triple checked to make sure your gear is working and everything is packed, all that’s left to do is hike.

Once you’ve hit the trail, remember to stop every once and while to enjoy the scenery. If time allows it, stop every few miles or so to take pictures, check out the landscape/views, take a bathroom break, refill your water, and rest your legs. But remember, the quicker you make it to camp, the more time you’ll have to hang-out and explore the area without your pack.

I prefer hiking in groups of 3-6; it’s a great way to get to know your friends and really enjoy one another’s company. Also, the larger the group, the more you can bring since you can split the weight of the items. (Just for reference, it’s  not a good idea to carry more than 25-30% of your body-weight unless you are in really good shape.) If it’s just you and a friend, you may not want to carry the added weight of a deck of cards or a harmonica or whatever else you dirty hippies carry into the woods. The most important thing (aside from preparedness, of course)  is to enjoy yourself on the trail. A positive attitidue makes all the difference in the world. If you start complaining about how hard it is, it’s going to suck for you and for everyone you are with. Nobody likes a whiner.

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How to make a marriage work

Before starting college at 23, I was always the youngest in my group of friends. The majority of the people my husband and I spent time with were typically three to ten years older than me. While I was learning to drive, they were finishing their undergrad or graduate degrees and accepting important jobs half-way around the country. But Wes and I were the first to get married. We could ask advice about universities, career choices, making the perfect bloody mary, and which casinos to visit in Vegas, but we didn’t have anyone to tell us how to handle the messy parts of marriage. 

In the years following our wedding in 2004, a strange shift occurred in our group of friends; a few years worth of weddings every weekend, baby showers, and then first and second birthday parties seemed to drive a wedge between the coupled and the un-coupled. Our single friends sort of drifted away to the land of constant bar-hopping and one-night stands, and our fellow marrieds adopted wholly unfamiliar lives full of play-dates, family vacations and the non-stop chatter of child-development. We were stuck somewhere between–we couldn’t really relate to our single friends anymore, who spent every weekend hitting on drunk girls or crying over horrible relationships they should’ve gotten out of months or years ago, but we weren’t quite ready to discuss whether or not I was ovulating with people who called one another “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Somewhere along the way, Wes and I found ourselves in a weird space, wherein our lives are much more similar to the lives of people much younger than ourselves. And now that the majority of our friends are in their early twenties, we have become those people who field questions about universities, career choices, making the perfect bloody mary, vacations, and, shockingly, marriage. 

I have to say that I admire the wisdom of every person who asks me or Wes questions about marriage. We didn’t ask questions. None of our friends asked questions. The only real advice we ever received from adults is “marriage is hard work.” At first I felt awkward and unprepared to answer their questions. What do I know, anyway? But the truth is that Wes and I have been through some difficult things together, and we have managed to make it work for eight years (we’ve been married for five). It feels strange just typing that–an eight year relationship, or a five year marriage, is hardly anything to boast about–but I have been with Wesley almost as long as my mother has been married to my stepdad, and I’ve been married longer than my father was to his second wife. I could not count the number of friends I’ve seen marry and divorce in the time Wes and I have been together. So, our happiness in these eight years is a small sort of victory, but I’ll take it.

This post is really just a collection of advice Wesley and I have given to friends who are nearly- or newly-wed, considering engagement, or experiencing difficulties in their marriages.

How to make a marriage work:

1. The first and most important misconception about marriage is that it based on love. Love is some good stuff, but love is not what makes a marriage work. You should not get married just because you love someone. I know that television and pop-music have taught you that love is the only thing that makes a relationship work, but they are lying. If I learned anything in our first year of marriage (which was a messy, immature, selfish nightmare of a time in my life) it is this: marriage (and love for that matter) are decisions that you make day. Not just once when you see the ring, or once when you say “I do,” but every single day of your life. It has to be based on the commitment or it will not work.

2. Your parents and other old people will tell you a million times that marriage is hard work. And you, being in love and idealistic, will ignore it everytime. Well, don’t. Marriage is hard work. I know we’ve all heard the revision to that old saying “it’s 50-50,” so most of us are aware that it’s actually a 100-100 kind of deal. But it’s much more complicated than that: You not only have to be willing to give 100%, you have to be willing to do so even when your spouse is giving 0%. No, you have to give 100% especially when your spouse is giving 0%. Read that again. Let it soak in. Are you willing to do this?

3. Give each other space to grow. One of the most common statements I’ve heard from my divorced friends is this: “We just grew apart.” That’s completely understandable, especially if you marry young. Growing-up can sometimes mean growing-apart. People change. In the past eight years, I’ve started college, lost my father, watched my brother go to war, became a Christian, moved, switched jobs three times, and countless other things. Of course I’ve changed. But so has he. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who has the same world-view at 30 that they had at 18? The trick is accepting one another when the good changes come (even if they are not what you would’ve planned–growth is growth!), and being honest with yourself & your spouse when the change is bad.

4. TALK to your spouse. Not your mother. Not your friends. Not your coworkers. Talk to your spouse. If you feel like you just can’t talk to them about some things, then tell them that. Be honest. Let him/her know how to be the listener/conversationalist you need him/her to be. If you are telling your best friend about your spouse’s annoying habits, how is your spouse supposed to know to change? That annoying little habit turns into something you have focused on, talked about, studied, etc, and it will only become more annoying to you each time you see it happen. Meanwhile, your spouse has no idea that it bothers you. Do you see the problem here? I think a lot of us realize how important communication is in a marriage, but we don’t really consider what that term encompasses. That whole “I can talk to him/her about aaaanything” stuff usually applies to childhood or family issues, likes and dislikes, or other things that don’t matter much after a few years. Communicating with your spouse can be how you respond in an argument, how you speak to one another in front of co-workers/friends/family, how you deal with problems together, or how honest you are with him/her when you aren’t happy with something.

I will say that there is such a thing as an “emotional affair.” This sort of thing happens all the time when a person is more open/honest with someone outside of the marriage than they are with their spouse. I think this is how most physical affairs begin–you start to think “s/he just understands me better than (spouse)” or “I feel like I can talk to him/her about anything.” Well, if you are explaining your feelings to the other person and not explaining them to your spouse, how in the world do you expect your spouse to understand? Important: your spouse cannot read your mind.

5. Forget about you. Okay, so getting married doesn’t mean that you cease to exist. Of course you are still your own person, with hopes and dreams and desires and all that other Hallmark stuff. What I mean is this: you have to start thinking of your spouse as much as you think of yourself. Not in an obsessive Bella-and-Edward kind of way, but in that selfless, “how can I be a better partner to my spouse” kind of way that we are wholly unaccostomed to in our culture. That means constantly striving to improve your role in & contributions to the relationship, instead of constantly striving to improve your spouse’s. This is really difficult (eh hem, see #2 above), but it’s essential to a healthy relationship.

Maybe these things seem like common sense to you. Or maybe you are really pissed off at me and think I don’t know anything about the real world. I realize that marriage is not a once-size-fits-all kind of thing. There may be problems in your marriage that I cannot even fathom. Obviously, if your spouse is a habitual cheater, abusive, controlling, etc, then these things won’t make much of a difference (get some help). But for the most part, I think a lot of us end up in divorce court because we never really understood what we were getting into. Most of us don’t know what a healthy marriage even looks like. (Note: Watch the Cosby Show!) There’s a 50% divorce rate in this country right now, and I guess I just want to warn you nearly & newly-weds that what you are getting into is some serious, difficult, messy business. But if you are willing to work on it, to commit to one another and to the relationship, then it can be successful. I pwomise!

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How to be nice.

Listen, guys. This is serious.

Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of people just float around all day in a haze of self-centered arrogance. Maybe you’ve noticed too? Maybe you are a really nice person who goes out of your way every day to be kind to everyone? Hi! I’m happy you’re here, but, well, this post isn’t for you.

For the rest of you, I have something very important to say: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY PERSON ON THIS PLANET.  It’s true. Ask anyone.

Once you’ve let that soak in, keep reading for a little post life-altering-realization support.

You may be asking yourself “How should I react to these other humans?” Well, I’m so glad you asked! Humans love it when people are nice to them. They are usually sort of thrilled at the very idea of it. Imagine! A stranger! Being nice!

I believe that everyone should be nice all the time, even when you’d much rather just kick several people in the shins. Being nice is hard work. You have to walk around making eye-contact and smiling at strangers, making small-talk with bank tellers, and even letting other people on the elevator instead of pushing that magic door-closing button.  Ugh. I know. It’s difficult. But it’s worth it.

When you were a little one, you may have learned some of the basics of being nice, but you’ve probably forgotten them as  you’ve gotten older. There are some standard things, like holding doors open for strangers or letting people merge into your lane even when there is no way they didn’t see the “right lane merge” signs every fifty feet for the last two miles and they really should’ve just gotten over when the rest of us got over instead of riding up beside me now like they own the whole damn road. These things will come back with practice. That’s right–practice. You can’t just wake up one day and all of a sudden be super-dee-duper nice. You actually have to practice doing it, every day, all the time. Sometimes you may fail miserably, but that’s okay.

There are three important things to think about as you attempt to be a nicer person:

1. Think of what you are saying and whether or not you would like it if someone said that to you. If you would not like it, then you should not say it.

2. Think of all the things that other people have done/do that you appreciate and try to do those things for other people.

3. Don’t expect anything in return. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh no I di’int! Yes. I did. Seriously, you should not be nice to other people because you want people to notice you being nice to other people. Also, most people notice you trying to be noticed and they will think to themselves, “that guy is a tool.” (Which isn’t very nice, but you can prevent all of this by not being a tool.)

If you happen to know someone who isn’t very nice, please forward these tips to them. Maybe they don’t know that they aren’t the only person on the planet (Mothers and the Media may have convinced them otherwise) and it’s your duty as a nice person to open their eyes!

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How to save the world.

This has nothing to do with the show Heroes (gaw, that reference is so three seasons ago). I just really enjoy thinking about how easy it is to positively influence other people and the whole wide world in general. Most of these things also help the environment, which means we can all wear our $30 chemically-grown and overly-processed cotton sweat-shop shirts that we had shipped to our houses via Fed-Ex Overnight Air that say “Go Green” or “Save the Humans” on them without feeling like hypocrits. Yay!

I made a few slight changes a couple years ago that not only saved me some money but have also allowed me to maintain an air of smugness, which is really the whole point of this “movement” anyway, right? If I can do these things, then anyone can, so please consider this tiny little list as a teeny challenge. If you do any of these things, or if you want to add anything, feel free to comment.

1. Bye Bye Paper Products!

So we all know about cloth bags and I’m sure you all use them now instead of plastic. That’s awesome. I’m proud of you. I’m sure many of you still have a lot of plastic bags piled up in your kitchen somewhere and don’t really know what to do with them. Aside from tiny-trashcan bags, there are a few other really awesome things you can do with plastic. Since so much has already been said about this, I’m just going to send you here to check out some funkalicious craft projects that use fused plastic.

The first and most important change I made was to stop using papertowels like they grow on trees. Most of us use papertowels as napkins or disposable kitchen towels. Cloth napkins are just as effective and they’re reusable! It’s a no-brainer.

Step 1: Go to a thrift store and buy some cloth napkins. Or, you can make your own. Just cut up some old sheets or tshirts into 12-16″ squares and sew the edges to keep them from fraying. You can hand-sew the edges using a blanket stitch, or use the zig-zag option on your sewing machine. If you have a serger, a thin rolled-hem (like you’d use on a silk scarf) works best.

Step 2. Use them. Seriously, this is the hardest part. It’s so much easier to use a paper-towel to clean up spills because you can just toss it after. But don’t do it! Keep your napkins in plain sight and your paper-towels in the cupboard. (Of course, if you have pets, you’ll probably want to keep some paper products handy just in case. I would not recommend using your cloth napkins to pick up the lovely dead mole your cat brought home to you, for example.)

You may also be in the habit of using papertowels to clean. Stop it. Newspaper works better on glass and doesn’t leave any papery residue behind. And it’s not like you can convince those local paper people to stop delivering their stupid papers to your house, anyway; you may as well put those papers to use.

If you are worried about cross-contaminating your toilet-cleaning and kitchen-cleaning supplies, well, all it takes is a tiny bit of effort on your part to keep the two separated. I have a laundry basket in the kitchen for kitchen-towels and napkins, and keep the bathroom-cleaning towels in the bathroom. See? Problem-o solved-o.

The next step is, of course, switching from paper toiletries to cloth. Ladies, check out the Diva Cup and the Keeper. Then there are cloth wipes…you can go to my friend Sarah’s blog for more information on these (toilet-paper). Sarah is quite the activist and has a lot of information and links on her website for you to check out.

A lot of people ask me about the amount of water it takes to wash my cloth items, usually in that smug “ha! I am here to rain on your parade!” kind of way. I just want to state for the record that my husband and I are billed the minimum amount for our water usage. This is partly because we are dirty, recovering-hippies who reuse our bathtowels and wear our jeans several times between washes, and partly because we take very short showers, and partly because we really enjoy saving money.  

2. Stop using chemical cleaners!

Vinegar and baking soda are all you really need to clean your entire house. After you use up all of your nasty, chemical-based cleaning supplies, buy a few giant jugs of vinegar (or make your own), and a big ol’ box of baking soda.  Here are some ratios/tips/whatever for using them:

A. All-purpose cleaner. Mix two parts water, one part vinegar. This can be used to clean baseboards, kitchen counters, sinks, walls, whatever. If you have a particularly gunky spot, add a little baking soda for texture.

B. Laundry.  Baking soda works just as well as All or Tide or whatever else. Also, you can use about 1/2 cup of vinegar as a fabric softener and you’ll never have to use dryer-sheets again. If you insist on using scented laundry detergents, you can add one or two drops of essential oils to for yummi-smelly-ness.

C. Weed-killer. In a spray-bottle, pour 2 parts vinegar, 1 part water, 1 tsp salt, and the juice of one lemon. In the late-morning (before the sun is high), spray the vinegar solution onto the leaves of the weed. As the sun gets higher the plant will absorb the liquid into its root system, and it will dry the plant out at the root, essentially starving it to death. This works way way way better than a chemical killer and it won’t hurt your pets or other plants.

D. Drain un-clogger. Boil 3 parts vinegar and 1 part water, then pour down a clogged drain. (I usually let it sit in the sink for a little while first to let the solution remove any hard-water buildup or stains from the sink before going down the drain.)

E. Wood polish. Mix vinegar with a few drops of linseed oil and use in place of Old Gold or Pledge.

There are seriously hundreds of other uses for vinegar & baking soda.  Hundreds! But these are probably the most common. You can use vinegar to wash your hair, clean carpets, polish chrome, and keep your pets from scratching the furniture. Baking soda can also be used to clean carpets, deodorize appliances, or as a de-greaser. The possibilities are endless.

3. Plant a garden!

Even if you only have a tiny little porch, you can grow some veggies. If you’re too scared to try to plant something from the seed, you can purchase small plants at a nursery that are ready to go in the ground (or at least into a bigger pot). It takes a certain amount of dedication to grow your own food, and even more to do it without miracle grow and pesticides. You’ll have to take time to water it, de-weed-ify it, and keep it (naturally) safe from critters and creepy-crawleys. (More on that here.) But I promise you that it is worth it. Cultivating your own food is pretty incredible. Not only does home-grown produce taste better, it is better for you, and (sorry for the cheese) growing your own food is good for the soul. You’ll feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that your food was not chemically treated and shipped from who-knows-where to a big-box store where it sat in a crate for a few days until you wasted money on it.

4. Buy used.

I buy nearly everything second-hand (I did buy a hoodie and two pairs of new jeans the other day, and I am dealing with the guilt, but seriously they were the first new-clothing items I’ve bought in well over a year! Doesn’t that count for anything?!). After comparing my paycheck with the cost of everything in the world, and then considering how many people on this planet live on less in a month than I make in an hour, I realized that I am spoiled, selfish and totally wasteful. And I don’t want to be any of those things.

There are three fantastic reasons to buy used: you will save money; you will save resources; you will save other people (because you are not spending $60 on a pair of shoes made by a 5 year old, or because you will now have more money to spend on people in need!). It’s a really good idea to start thinking about how all of our shiny new things were made, and by whom, and how much food you could buy for the cost of that item. (I like to think of each of my purchases in terms of CFA, as in “dang, these jeans cost approximately 4 chick-fil-a sandwiches!”)

Oh! oh! Another reason to buy used is because it is so very much fun. There is nothing like the thrill of the hunt to turn shopping into something that is actually enjoyable. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is to scan Craigslist and thriftstores and yardsales and Freecycle when I’m looking for furniture, craft supplies, clothes and gifts. And then! Oh! When you get those two new-to-you end tables for $5, or that perfectly distressed bookshelf for $10, or fifteen bags of yarn for FREE….ohhhh my goodness.

If you are really interested in making this world a better place for everyone that currently lives (or may someday live) on this planet, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. I’m sure you have already done all kinds of awesome things and I can’t thank you enough for being so freaking wonderful. There are hundreds and thousands and possibly even trillions of other steps we can all take and I would love to list them all but, seriously, this blog post is soooo freaking long and I’m tired. At any rate, if we all took some steps to learn more about who we are in relation to the world around us, maybe we’d also learn to care about each other and help one another out. And we really could save the world. That’s pretty cheesy but I like it.

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How to wear a wedding ring in college.

Ah, the college experience. Most of you will spend the four-to-six years of your college career in a drunken haze of self-discovery; you will meet new! and interesting! people, experience heartache and hangovers in a brand new way, and build the sort of friendships that will last the rest of your life, assuming you’re 18-22 and riding the parental money-train to adulthood.

And then there are those of you who, like me, jumped right into grownup-land after high school, working your way toward the American dream until one day you woke up and realized that a nice paycheck and a two-car garage just wasn’t going to cut it, so, you went back to school, mortgage payments, wedding ring and all.

Starting college when you’re a few years older than most of the graduating seniors can be a bit daunting. Starting college when you’re a few years older and you’re married can be a bit, um, well you’re going to have some issues. Your classmates will gasp in fear when you tell them what you’ve done. “You’re married? Why?” And words like “husband” or “family” will suddenly be treated like verbal forms of leprosy.

And then there are those of you who married somewhere between sophmore and junior year. Or, you are graduating soon and have already made huge strides toward “adulthood” by changing your boyfriend’s name to “fiance.” It sounds strange doesn’t it? “This is my fiance.” “My fiance and I…” But, ohhhh love, that is not the only thing that will change. Wearing a wedding (or engagement) ring in college is like wearing a parachute on an airplane–it may not be that weird, it may even make sense, but you are going to scare the hell out of the other passengers.

So, with nearly four-years of experience of sheepishly admitting that, yes, seriously, I know, um, it’s not that crazy, actually, uh-huh, oh-my-gosh shut-up already YES I AM MARRIED!, I thought I’d share some tips with those of you who are about to experience college in a whole new way.

How to wear a wedding ring in college:

1. Always be prepared to explain yourself. Whether it’s why you would do such a thing, or just a simple “Yes, I am old enough” or “No, I am/was not pregnant.”

If you are under 25 and newly engaged,  you will deal with a lot less rudeness and judgement because everybody likes to pretend they are excited about engagements. People love asking questions about the planning stage–it’s the after-the-wedding part that everybody hates. However, you may notice some not-very-secretive glances toward your belly. It’s not uncommon to feel the need to explain that you are not pregnant. If you are pregnant, I’m sorry to say,  there’s nothing I can do to help you. No amount of “but we were already planning to get married” will change anybody’s mind. With those judgemental folks, I suggest waiting until their eyes find your baby-bump and then laughingly placing your hands on your belly and saying, in your most amused tone,  “Oh! (haha) No! Not because of the baby! (Haha) It’s not even his!” (If they’re going to talk, you should at least give them something interesting to say.)

If you have already tied the knot, be prepared to ward off some common questions: How long?; What made you decide to do that at your age?; Were you high-school sweethearts?; Are you Mormon?

Because I also happen to look like a twelve year old, I am not unaccustomed to mouths-hanging-open when I admit how long Wes and I have been dating/married. For example: A few weeks ago, my music teacher (who is about 28) saw my ring and nearly shouted her disbelief.

Professor: “YOU’RE MARRIED?”
Me: Oh… yea. I am.
Professor: Wow! How long have you been married?
Me: Um, five years
Professor: (mouth hanging open, obviously unsure of what to say next)
Me: I’m, uh, I’m twenty six.
Professor: Ohhhh! You look soooooo young! I thought you were, like, eighteen.
Me: Yea, I did not get married when I was 13.
Professor: Ohhhh kay! Good. (followed by embarrassed laughter)

Do you see what happened there? She didn’t know how to react, and I instantly explained myself in order to reassure her. I’m old enough! I’m an adult! Don’t worry!

2. Always stay one-step ahead of the boys.

Most of your peers do not know yet to look at your left hand before hitting on you. This is really tricky territory. How can you explain that you are married without sounding conceited and embarrassing yourself and the hitter-on-er? It took me a long time to figure out (there was the boy in World Civ that asked me to dinner after class and I just stuttered “um, n-n-no thanks” and left him standing awkwardly in the hall), and it took a lot of help from my friends (the time the guy at Starbucks wouldn’t leave me alone and when he finally exclaimed that he and I were soulmates, Jessica replied “yea, I’m sure her husband would disagree.”) but I finally figured it out. It’s like celebrity name-dropping but more awkard. Any time a boy I do not know speaks to me and I start to get the feeling that things are two-seconds from uncomfortable-city, I casually mention Wes. Even if it’s unrelated. Even if, sometimes, I’ll admit, it makes things more awkward. Note: Don’t interrupt his funny story about playing trivia at Mellow Mushroom just to say “Wait, you like pizza? My husband loves pizza!”

(On a serious level, if you are friends with a man and have had more than casual, class-related conversations with him, and he does not know you are married, then you need to ask yourself why you haven’t told him. It’s kind of a big deal. And don’t try that “Oh, it just hasn’t came up.” It will always come up.)

3. Accept your role as a professional relationship coach.

It doesn’t matter that you are the same age as (or younger than) your single friends. You have become something they all want to be: a wife. And now you are going to have to show them the way. For some twisted reason, wedding rings are seen as a symbol of status just as much as a BMW is: they say “look! I did it! I can make a relationship work!” And many other women hear that proclamation when they see your ring, and they will come to you from miles away just to sit under your teaching.

The thing is, I don’t know how to be single in college. I don’t think I’ve ever given any good single-in-college-advice. Maybe you do, and maybe you’ll have great advice for all the ladies. Good for you.

4.  Behave like a normal person (because you are one).

Really, wearing a wedding ring in college is not a big deal. (It’s certainly not as big of a deal as I have made it out to be in this blog.) Lots and lots and lots of people do it. You may be slightly more stressed than your classmates (unlike college, you can’t just do marriage part-time for the semester or take a break over the summer), but for the most part you’re still a regular twenty-something trying to live a regular twenty-something life. 

Yes, it’s challenging and difficult and (sometimes) pretty craptastic, but eventually you’ll be out of college and then you’ll have more time to focus on doing more grown-up, married-people things like wearing matching Christmas sweaters and attending couples’ retreats.

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How to be polite when people over 65 offer computer advice.

What? That dude? The same man who spent half the morning wandering around the office with nothing to do because his computer was broken, only to discover when IT finally arrived from Corporate that the monitor was off? That guy is telling you how to send an email? What?

The same woman whose resume advertised an “advanced” understanding of all Microsoft programs, but who asked you, privately, on her first day, “Um, how do I open Word?”

The only person in this entire office who knows how to use the internet is getting advice from the man who asks customers for their “email number?”  He’s telling you how to do a Save As? You?

Wait. The woman who once had you completely confused by her complaints about the amount of time it took to move down from one line to the next in an email, who didn’t understand why you didn’t understand what she was saying, and who finally demonstrated how frustrating it was for her to hold the space bar until the cursor moved down two lines, and to whom, finally, you spent twenty minutes explaining the wonders of the “Enter” key.

You want to know how to be polite when people over 65 offer you computer advice?

You’re going to have to lie. Thank them for their oh-so-helpful expertise, assure them that you will come find them if you have aaaaaaaaany trouble, and then go back to your desk (laughing or crying, however you handle this kind of thing), and move on.

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How to climb the corporate ladder in a skirt (without showing your panties).

Or, “How to kick sexual harrassment in the balls.”

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in college, it’s that most of my peers think that office jobs are much more glamorous and civil than they actually are. The truth is, offices are horrible places in which lazy managers and florescent lighting make secret pacts to break your spirit every single day, a place where even the most genuine friendships are put on hold for battle-to-the-death attempts at promotions that don’t even come with a raise, a place where grown men scratch their naughty-bits at the water cooler and complain about how sensitive the ‘girl’ in the next cube can be.

And yet, every day another young professional woman pulls up her panty-hose and runs head-first in whichever direction the winds of change are blowing. You see, my generation grew up watching sexual harrassment PSAs on prime-time TV. We played with Doctor Barbie and dreamed of becoming a hardhitting reporter just like April O’Neil. Once, on Nick-at-Nite, we saw Lucy fumbling over the conveyor belt at her factory job, but then one day Ally McBeal was a lawyer in a sexy miniskirt and we knew that our time had come. So what if Monica La-whats-her-face tried to ruin it for the rest of us–we knew that we could be serious and sexy, fierce and feminine, professional and playful.

I began my ladder-climbing as an Accounting Clerk in a reprographics office. I made myself familiar with the history of the company, memorized client purchasing histories, and completely restructured the accounting system of my branch (which was in utter disarray when I arrived). In three years, I was the Billing Manager. I came in early and worked late. I did everything I could do for the company, and more. Clients loved me. Corporate loved me. My boss loved me. And yet, I made the shocking discovery that every man in the office (including subordinates) collected a higher salary than I did. In my annual review, before noting that I had the lowest reporting errors of anyone in corporate accounting and had received the greatest number of positive reviews in our annual customer survey, my boss told me my greatest asset to the company was “[my] pretty face.” When a twenty-something woman in on our sales team began a relationship with the CEO of her largest account and others joked openly about how she “kept her clients,” I realized that this whole “professional woman” thing was going to be a lot harder than I thought.

Later, I became the marketing assistant at a small civil engineering firm in Atlanta. I was the only woman in an office full of men. The experiences I had at that company opened my eyes to the reality of gender issues in the office. I stopped wearing skirts to work, less the Survey Manager feel the need to tell me again that I “look sexy in that outfit” and even then he pulled me into his office to tell me with a wink that my very loose slacks “bothered him.” I even stopped making coffee–originally something I did because I usually got to work before anyone else and it’s just a nice thing to do–when I was told it was something I did “because [I am] a girl and girls make the coffee.”  I stayed in that position for two years until the company went under when Atlanta’s development bubble burst. I didn’t sue the company (although I was told that another woman in the Florida office did). I endured it because the money was good, the benefits were excellent, and because I realized that every complaint I made against my coworkers only made me seem more weak to them. No, that’s not fair, but it’s true. Instead, I developed another strategy for dealing with the constant sexualization of everything I did: throw it back in their faces.

How to climb the corporate ladder in a skirt (without showing your panties):

1. Lose the skirt. Stop trying to look like a woman. Wear your hair up, or keep it cut short. Wear dull pants-suits. If you insist  on wearing dress-suits, they should be navy blue or black. Interestingly, a pair of black pumps makes you seem more fierce, as long as the heel is not too high. Yes, this is boring and ugly and you run the very real risk of looking like Hillary Clinton, but at least people take her seriously. Every morning as you dress you should think to yourself: “Could this outfit be involved in a sexy-librarian fantasy?”  I am tempted to tell you to carry around a fake mustache just in case, but some offices do not allow facial hair.

2. Adopt traditionally “masculine” characteristics. Be assertive. Be aggressive. But do not, under any circumstances, be clever. Witty banter has no place in the board room. You have to play on his level, and if he is the kind of guy that makes inappropriate comments to women in his office, then he will not be able to reciprocate your biting witicisms. He will then be left feeling stupid and will misinterpret your cleverness for bitchiness. They can understand frustration and needless cursing, but they cannot handle bitchiness. And believe me, for a woman, there is a very fine line separating “assertive” and “bitchy.”

3. Laugh too long and too hard at racy jokes. If he tells you a tasteless joke, or if he slips one too many “that’s what she said”s into conversation, then it’s time for this sneaky little number: Don’t look at him in disgust or tell him you are offended; instead, just pull out your best full-bellied, over the top laughter. Put your hands on your stomach and rock backward and forward dramatically. If you’re up for it, point at his face while laughing. This will make him uncomfortable and he’ll stop telling you jokes.

4. One of the most disturbing things that my male coworkers did was to stand too close to my desk and scratch or “adjust” themselves. I mean, they could’ve done that in their own offices or anywhere-else-that-isn’t-my-desk. This is a difficult thing to handle, but you have two options that should prevent it from happening again. One, you can simply point out what he did. Most guys don’t realize what they are doing, so you should let him know. When he scratches, you can oh-so-casually say “Woah! Hey there! You gotta an itch big boy?” Or two, you can scratch or “adjust” yourself and turn this strange habit of his into the most awkward social situation in the history of offices. Pick your wedgie, start pulling on the support-top of your panty-hose, or do whatever else it is you do in the privacy of a bathroom stall like a normal person.

In all honesty, sexual harassment is not as funny as you might think. At best, it makes work feel even more like a secret level of hell that Dante might have overlooked, and at the very worst, it completely destroys a woman’s sense of self-worth. Ladies! Listen, you are not defined by your sexuality, and you should not allow anyone to treat you like you are.  Just remember that you don’t have to succumb to it;  just because what’s-her-name-in-sales is sleeping with a client doesn’t automatically mean your coworker can just come up to your desk and touch your feet because oh my gosh are you serious? who freakin’ does that?!

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