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Should Marriage Have a Sell-By Date?

Sell By Date

Sell By DateIn the months leading up to our wedding some 20 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren’t exactly pre-cana classes – more like a series of “getting-to-know” you sessions – but they were thought-provoking all the same.

We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn’t the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to bed angry.

Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: “In my opinion, it’s far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced.”

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Seal Best Before Date Black Rotated via Wikimedia Commons

21st Century Skills For Older Workers

Older Worker

Older WorkerIn an era where people in the West are living longer and healthier lives, older workers  not only can – but often choose – to remain in the workforce longer or return to work post-retirement.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the UK, over 50s now make up nearly one third (31%) of the entire workforce, up from around one in five (21%) in the early 1990s. In the US, two age groups – 65 to 74 years old and 75 and older – are projected to have faster annual rates of labor force growth than that of any others.

A consensus is emerging that if we are to benefit from the value that older workers can bring to the workforce, businesses will need to adjust their hiring practices and rethink their commitment to things like flexible hours and re-training programmes.  So too will our concept of education need to evolve, to place even greater emphasis on life-long learning and multi-generational classrooms.

But to do this, we we will also need to rethink the sorts of skills these workers need if they are to remain “fit for purpose” in this changing workforce..and how to obtain them.

Read the rest of this post over at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Man sitting on chair beside table by Bruce Mars via Pexels

Tips For Adulthood: Five Oscar-Worthy 2017 Films


OscarsI’ve fessed up before on this blog to being a huge Oscars fan. But this year I’ve actually gotten out to see more movies than I’ve been able to manage in past years.

Truth in advertising: I’m a “feel-bad” film fan. Which means that I don’t typically enjoy blockbusters or, indeed, any film that is overly sunny or has a happy ending.

With that caveat in mind, here are five films that I think are Oscar-worthy from 2017:

a. Phantom Thread: I’ve always loved Daniel Day Lewis, but his performance in Phantom Thread is truly breathtaking. While the character he plays is repellent – as are the relationships he gets mired in with women (albeit utterly relevant for this #metoo moment) – the vulnerability he manages to evince even while playing a narcissistic perfectionist is totally compelling. I know that Gary Oldman is tipped to win for Darkest Hour. I like Oldman as an actor and I’m sure that he’s great in this film. (I didn’t see it as I have an allergy to anyone attempting to impersonate Winston Churchill…). But given that Day Lewis is retiring from the acting craft this year, what better send-off than to give him one last Oscar to savor?

b. Loveless:  I really liked Director André Zvyagnitzev’s 2014 feature, Leviathan. If you’re looking for a bleak depiction of a soulless, corrupt, autocratic modern Russia, it’s hard to beat. But Loveless is even better. It’s also a bleak depiction of a soulless, corrupt, autocratic modern Russia…but told through the lens of a bitter divorce. (Hey, what’s not to love?) If you’ve ever wanted to feel completely defeated by – everything – go see this film. (And yes, that is an endorsement, coming from me…)

c. The Florida Project: Loveless makes The Florida Project look like a Rom-Com. Seriously. But this low-budget film depicting the life of  barely-scraping-by Americans living in a motel outside of Disneyland and featuring a completely unknown cast (save Willem Dafoe) is a treasure: inspirational and defeating in equal measure. It reminded me of a similarly low-budget, no-star (save Michael Fassbender) British film with a similarly gritty, realistic feel called Fish Tank.

d. Call Me By Your Name: This is an absolutely beautiful film, both in terms of the cinematography – it is set entirely in a small town in Italy – and in terms of its subject matter. It is a story of young love – and all of the headiness and pain and that go with it. Love, love, love Timothée Chalomet, whom I’d suggest for Best Actor, except that he has many years ahead of him to win it.

e. Films You Can Stream or Rent: Don’t hate me as I liked both of the following films. But I simply didn’t feel that they quite lived up to their hype: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (over-written) and  The Post (too predictable).

Two movies I’ve not mentioned – but will be seeing this weekend before the Oscars ceremony Sunday night – are I, Tonya and Lady Bird. Based on the previews and what I’ve read so far, I suspect at least one of them would have made it onto this list (and that one is probably I, Tonya.) I’ll let you know what I think.

How about you? Which 2017 film did you love and why? Please feel free to disagree with my assessments! I welcome your input and suggestions…

Image: Oscars by Kalhh via Pixabay

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips For Staying Monogamous

sandy ring

sandy ringhave a friend who is thinking about having an affair. He loves his wife, and they have two lovely kids. But in an ideal world, he would like to conduct his sex life outside of the marriage. Needless to say, he’s torn about this impulse, and has yet to take any concrete steps, but he has verbalized his desires to me and a couple of other close friends.

Whatever you think about that arrangement – or more importantly, whatever his wife thinks (!) – his very honest and open attempt to grapple with his feelings reminded me, once again, why monogamy is such a difficult ideal to uphold, even in the best of circumstances.

For those of you who recognize this as a real problem – in your own marriages or among those you are close to – here are five tips for maintaining a monogamous relationship:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50:

Image: Sandy ring by Derek Gavey via Flickr

The Ups and Downs of Working At Home

working from home

working from home I had coffee with a friend the other day at a swank café by St. James Park in London. I’d known her back in Chicago where we’d both worked as journalists. She arrived a bit late, Blackberry in hand, dressed in a smart, tailored suit.

“Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, glancing at her cell phone as she took her seat. “Meeting ran late.”

As I listened to her describe her job, I felt more than one pang of nostalgia. I think it was her reference to people “scurrying back to their offices” that really got me. Until recently, I, too, worked in an office. Now I work from home as a freelance writer, where I can at best manage a saunter from the bathroom to my desk.

She also mentioned her office’s Wednesday lunches and how they made her feel part of a team. In my current set up, I’m lucky if I can catch the mailman’s eye and bond with him over my utility bill.

It’s only natural that working at home induces a certain discomfort. After all, when you say, “I work,” the logical follow-up is “Where?” And when the answer is “home,” it does sound less legitimate.

Read the rest of this post over on Kuel Life….

Image: Apartment Comfortable Contemporary Couch via Pexels

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Daily Life

thank you card

thank you cardOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

So it’s that time of year: the time when we make resolutions. A few years back, I decided that rather than set specific, time-bound goals for myself each year, I would embrace a annual concept. One year it was slow living. Another year it was authenticity.

This year my concept is gratitude.

A lot has been written about the putative health benefits of gratitude: it’s great for making friends…feeling less envious…even sleeping better.

I buy that. I know that I always feel better when I’ve thanked someone for something they’ve done or when they’ve acknowledged me for a good deed.

Where I fall down is remembering to do this on a regular basis.

Here are five quick and easy ways to build gratitude into your daily life:

a. Start a Gratitude Journal. I’ve read about gratitude journals for ages and I know some people swear by them. The concept is really simple: at the end of the day, you set aside 15 minutes to write down everything you are thankful for in that day. It could be a person, your health, a specific event. It doesn’t matter. The point is to focus on things that made you happy that day and to reflect on why they made you happy. I’ve never actually done an actual journal per se (I have too many other journals in my life!), but the Headspace mindfulness app I use every morning is a really useful tool for cultivating gratitude. Many of the series there ask you to begin your meditation by asking yourself who you are doing the meditation for – i.e. who will benefit from your personal reflection on anger/stress/fill-in-the-blank? There is also a stream specifically designed to cultivate appreciation that also asks you to write things down.

b. Ask your spouse/partner what you can do for them today. I love this idea. I’m stealing it from Richard Paul Evans who wrote a now-viral blog post about how he saved his marriage by choosing one day to put aside whatever anger and frustration he was feeling towards his wife and instead ask a simple question: “How can I make your life better?” At first, he found himself cleaning the garage and attending to other household chores she wanted help with. Over time, however, they both started asking each other this question each morning and their relationship improved immeasurably as they realized what they most wanted and needed to do was spend more time together.

c. Praise your kid for a very specific act. As a parent, it can be hard to resist the temptation to constantly coach your kids. It’s very easy to notice what they’re doing wrong or not well enough, rather than what they do right. And before you know it, you’re treating them more like a project to fix, rather than as human being. If you’ve ever gone to a parenting seminar on how to induce good behaviour from young children, they’ll tell you to heap praise on anything they do right in very specific terms. But it’s also good advice if you’ve got teenagers. Don’t just say – “Hey thanks for cleaning up” say: “Thank you so much for putting your dishes in the dishwasher after dinner; that really helps me out after a busy day.” The specificity of the praise is much more likely to resonate than criticizing them for not also doing the pots and pans!

d. Give your colleague a thank you card. When I left my job last summer, one of my colleagues gave me a thank you card to thank me for all that she’d learned from me on the job as well as for my friendship. I was truly bowled over. It’s completely natural to give someone a “good bye” card when they go but a “thank you” card is actually that much more special because it is a really easy, personal way to thank someone for the impact they had on you. Going forward, I’m going to do this whenever I say good-bye to someone.

e. Recognize people on Social Media. If you’re on it, social media can be a great place to give a shout out to people – particularly strangers -and give them public recognition. Part of this is inherent in sharing someone else’s blog post and explaining why you liked it. But there are other. more specific ways of showing gratitude Online. On Twitter, for example, you can use the hashtag #followfriday (#FF) to list people whom you follow and think others ought to follow and (ideally) *why* you followed them. There are also specific hashtags like #tuesdayblogs where you share blog posts that champion someone else’s book. It’s a lovely  as a way of expressing gratitude to strangers.

What other simple ways of expressing gratitude in your life have you found and how do they make you feel?

Image: Support List Thank You Card by Andrew Steele via Flickr

Why Losing My Voice Made Me Feel Like a 5 Year-Old

children's scisssors

children's scisssorsInside Voice.” “Listening Ears.”

These are terms I’d not thought about in a decade since my daughter – now 14 – was in reception (kindergarten) at primary school.

But in the aftermath of a recent surgery on my vocal cords, they are now flooding back. I was unable to speak at all for a full three days last week and must rest my voice for the next two weeks. So I am now, at the tender age of …well, never mind, a pre-school teacher’s dream student.

As a consummate extrovert – someone who can frequently be found talking to herself when no one else will listen – not speaking is hard for me. But it’s all the harder when I am forced to feel like I still ought to be drinking out of a sippy cup.

A case in point. The first night back from surgery, I was watching my favorite French cop show, Spiral, with my husband. Despite being an otherwise rather intelligent man, my husband has difficulty absorbing plot twists rapidly. So every few minutes he would hit “pause” and then I would have to furiously scribble down my explanation for whatever was going on in the show on a piece of paper.

Unfortunately – and this hasn’t shifted very much since I was five – my handwriting is quite poor. So my husband could not decipher my graffiti and (silent) conflict would then ensue.

It got worse from there. With my two teenagers, I was unable to interrupt/scold/micro-manage/cajole/pick your poison with my usual alacrity. This resulted in me resorting to a variety of hand gestures that were definitely NSFW. I know, I know. Bad parenting. But it’s so much more efficient to deploy the odd chin flick when they fail to do the dishes, than to actually try and express my annoyance longhand.

This week, I am thankfully allowed to talk (more) but I am now doing speech therapy. Turns out, the main thing I need to work on is my breathing. When I breathe, far too much of the activity comes from my shoulders and neck, rather than from my diaphragm. It’s actually possible that the stress built up from a lifetime of incorrect breathing caused my voice problem in the first place. To rectify that, I now spend about half of my day blowing bubbles into a glass of water while humming notes and doing scales. Here’s what it sounds like.

I know that a month ago – the last time I was told not to speak – I found the experience to be an important source of life lessons concerning things like empathy and the value of alone time. On some level, I’m sure that losing my voice has also been good for reflecting on how I want to redefine myself professionally right now. (Inside the Crysalis, no one can hear you scream…)

More on that another time.

But this week, all I can say is that I do feel like I belong back in kindergarten. All I’m missing is the art smock and a set of those colorful scissors.

I know I talk a lot about being young at heart on this blog, but this is really pushing it…

Image: Colorful Scissors by Natural Pastels via Pixabay





Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend


ZeusOn occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. As we all know, I’m a huge fan of personality tests. Imagine my delight when, courtesy of Jane Friedman, I happened upon this treasure trove of personality tests over at Personality Lab.

b. I was delighted to happen upon a magazine devoted entirely to…anxiety. Meet Anxy. I think I should apply to be an editor there. Not Kidding.

c. On the opposite end of the spectrum, check out things never heard in an office by Collective Noun.

d. Also in the humorous vein is Zeus giving an apology in The New York Review of Books. He bears a certain resemblance to…well, never mind.

e. Finally, if you are at all acquainted with behavioral economics you will find these behavioral science jokes hilarious. #FlossAversion is a keeper.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Zeus Otricoli Pio-Clementino Inv257 via Wikimedia Commons

Why I Envy Atheists

Brideshead mansion

Brideshead mansion





Note: I originally published this post several years ago on this blog. But when I recently re-watched Brideshead Revisited with my son, I realized that my feelings hadn’t changed so I am sharing it with you again:

Every so often you read a book or watch a film that you need to put down or look away from because it cuts too close to the bone.

So it was for me the other night when my husband and I finally finished watching the 1981 British television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, an 11 episode meditation on privilege, family, religion and sexuality, all set in England between the Wars.

Most people – even those who haven’t read the book or seen the series – use “Brideshead” as shorthand for the flamboyant excesses of the British aristocracy on its last legs. And make no mistake, there’s no shortage of champagne flutes, dinner jackets and preposterously polite banter. In short, it’s the kind of thing that Americans tend to lap up. (See: Upstairs, DownstairsGosford Park and most recently, Downton Abbey.)

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive


Image: Castle Howard, Yorkshire by Nick Garrod via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things You Learn From Losing Your Voice


larynxI was invited to a brunch recently with a woman who happens to be a yoga teacher. In describing her practice, she noted that when she conducts retreats for families at her home in Notting Hill, she requires that everyone do a “silent breakfast” – one where you cannot speak. (Note to self: Family yoga retreat? Count me in!)

The silent breakfast is a real struggle, she said, for English people in particular, as the culture is so verbal and witty. But there is no talking whatsoever allowed during breakfast and ultimately, she says, everyone comes to appreciate it.

I’ve had my own version of the silent breakfast lately. I have nodules on my vocal cords – which means that I’ve basically had laryngitis since early November. It’s not a dangerous condition, but it does hamper one’s speech considerably. There was a point in mid-December when my doctor advised me not to speak. At all.

I’ll be having surgery later this month to correct this problem, which may come as more of a relief to some quarters than others (cough). In the meantime, I thought I would share five things I learned from losing my voice:

a. You listen more. Cultivating the art of good listening is thought to have all sorts of benefits for business, for teaching and for parenting. When you’re forced to stop talking for a couple of days, you also realize how much you interrupt, depriving others – especially children – of the ability to formulate their own thoughts. It also forces you to intervene less in family conflicts, which can only be a good thing. 

b. You invest in other forms of self-expression. As fate had it, the final performance for my improv acting class took place during one of the days when my voice was completely shot. So I had to go through an hour and a half of group exercises without saying a word. Boy, was that instructive! When you can’t speak, you have to rely much more strongly on gestures (including rude ones!) and to devise other techniques – like miming – for getting your point across. It’s a good reminder that speaking is only one of several ways to communicate. Indeed, deprived of the ability to speak, I am also pouring a lot more energy into writing my book.

c. You develop empathy. There’s a well-known journalist who anchors the BBC’s flagship morning radio show, The Today Programme, named Nick Robinson. Robinson is a veteran reporter, but a couple of years ago his vocal cords were severely damaged during surgery to remove a tumor from his lungs. When I first heard Robinson speak on the programme after he returned to work – still husky from months of voice therapy – I was a bit taken aback. However good a reporter he might have been, I was puzzled that the BBC would be willing to put someone with a voice impairment on the radio every day in such a prime slot. Fast forward two years and now I feel like a heartless fool. Not only is that *exactly* what the BBC should have done – in the spirit of fair and equal treatment of its employees – but Robinson is an inspiration. Whenever I hear him, I find myself thinking: “Well done, Nick! I’m so glad that you have a voice and are using it to make yourself heard!”

d. You take advantage of alone time. When you have a busy life – and especially if you have children – it can be really hard to carve out any time for yourself. And even when I do find that time, I always feel compelled to invite someone else along. But when you can’t talk to anyone, you figure, “What the heck?” I might as well go do something I enjoy by myself. When I was at the height of my self-imposed alone time, I saw two films and one play. All by myself. It was fantastic. Rather than feeling like I needed to “discuss them” afterwards, I just relished the feeling of assessing them on my own. Highly recommend.

d. You are reminded not to ignore physical pain. I have a tendency to avoid pain. That’s not always a good idea. In the case of my vocal nodules, the stress in my neck was such that it quickly spread to my upper back and before long, I could barely sit up. I’m now in physical therapy and things are improving rapidly, but this entire episode has reminded me why – when something goes wrong in your body – it’s important to deal with it quickly and thoroughly.

Homework: Pretend you can’t talk at your next family meal and let me know how you get on!

Image: File:Larynx normal2a via Wikimedia Commons