my simple(ish) plant guide

It’s no secret that @luckyandi loves plants. Personally, I have been fascinated with growing things since I was a kid. Our 650 square foot SF apartment was filled with plants and in Nashville, I built a greenhouse to further fuel our addiction. Andi gets a ton of plant questions from friends, which inevitability becomes a “E… how do you _____”. So here is my simple(ish) plant guide.

Getting new plants: 

  • Pick a spot (yes before you buy the plant!) A common mistake is putting a high light plant in a dark room or low light plant on the windowsill. Most plants will come with a tag indicating light needs, and the south & west of your house tend to get the most light, so plan according!
  • Best (and cheapest) spots to find plant deals: Home Depot or Lowes, Kroger, Facebook marketplace and keep on the hunt – plants DO go on sale or even free online – when the season changes or someone moves. Take a close look at the plant before you buy – looking under the leaves might reveal some pests like spider mites and plants with small new leaves tend to thrive when you bring them home.
  • If you can’t help but kill plants, here are the easiest plants IMHO: snake, ZZ, pothos, spider, or aglaonemas (this last one is our oldest running plant “pre-E” that Andi bought when she moved to SF nine years ago – it has taken a lot of neglect and still thrives!)
  • Pick a pot (again, yard sales, Goodwill or Home Depot) that is 1 inch larger than the nursery pot and ideally has a drainage hole at the bottom as this will help prevent overwatering and root rot. For smaller pots, I think Amazon has some of the best deals.
  • Once you bring home your new plant baby, immediately spray off the leaves in the shower or with a hose to knock off any potential pests, massage the roots until they break apart from the root ball and re-pot with fresh potting soil. If the weather is nice (70+ degrees) leave outside and isolated from other plants for the first few days in case some pests traveled on the plant.

Plant Care

  • Consistency is key. Plants get used to certain amounts of light, water, and food and hate being moved from room to room or infrequent watering habits. Figure out your plant schedule (i.e. I’m going to water every X days) and stick too it.
  • Water – most plant parents think watering solves all their problems. Looking droopy? Water. Yellow leaves? Water. From personal experience, overwatering is the top killer of houseplants. Most plant experts recommend sticking your finger 2-3 inches deep in the soil to see if the soil is moist and needs more water. First, that is disgusting and second, there are much better options:
    • Buy a moisture meter – it will tell how dry the soil is and only water when the soil is <4-5 on the meter (seriously, this is the best tool in my arsenal)
    • Use clay plant stakes + old wine bottles – these work great if you don’t have a ton of plants and go out of town a lot! The plant will pull water through the stake as it needs so all you have to do is refill the bottle when empty
    • Buy a mister – plants thrive in high humidity (why plants love the greenhouse!)
  • Light – if you have avoided the high light / low light issue, congrats! (I wrote that congrats! sarcastically, but take it as an affirmation if you would prefer). Make sure your plants are getting enough light by dusting or hosing down the leaves on a quarterly basis – this knocks the built up layer of dust off the leaves and keeps the light in. Plants will grow toward the light – if you hate the irregular growth that will cause, rotate them in place 90-180 degrees to even out the growth.
  • Food – most potting soils are pre-loaded with nutrients to help your plants grow! Re-potting plants (in a larger pot if root bound) with fresh soil every 1-2 years helps to keep your plants growing. I also use some Miracle-Gro Plant Food every 2 weeks in spring/summer to help accelerate growth as well. Most plants go dormant in the winter, so typical recommendation is stop feeding your plants as soon as you flip on the heat in your house in the winter.
  • Pruning – this topic merits it’s own full post, but I used to be really scared to cut back any plants for fear of them dying. From personal experience, most plants love selective pruning as it simulates new growth – and what you prune can be occasionally be propagated into new mini plants! Do your research – and only prune in spring/summer – but pruning should be a tool in your plant care arsenal. Invest in a pair of pruning shears and wipe with clorox wipes in-between use to not spread diseases from plant to plant.

Help! My plant is dying:

  • Watch the signs – look closely at the “dying” plant. An inspection of the underside of the leaves could reveal a pest issue. Yellowing leaves are sometimes a sign of irregular watering or needing to re-pot the plant. Once you identify the symptoms, google “plant issue + name of plant” – there are a ton of online resources to help identify what your problem might be!
  • Irregular watering patterns – buy a moisture meter! I use this $6 one and it’s great. This will help you get to the right level of watering and avoid any issues.
    • Yellow leaves + crispy or brown edges on the leaves can indicates underwatering
    • Bright yellow leaves + some leaf loss on lower leaves can indicate overwatering (and potential root rot!)
    • Whole plant semi-yellowing can indicate root bound or lack of nutrients for the plant. Size up your pot and get new soil or fertilizer!
  • Light / Environmental Changes – One you find a forever home for your plant, try not to move it. More sensitive plants – I’m looking at you fiddle leaf fig – will drop leaves when they are moved. Extreme temperature changes also impact plants. In the winter as the days get shorter and you turn on your heat, plants may drop some leaves due to the lack of light or humidity. Although you can combat this with grow lights and regular misting, you can also just trim the dead leaves off and wait for spring.
  • Pests – if your plant just suddenly starts dying, you might have some pests! Check the underside of the leaves and the soil for any unwanted attachments. To treat, I spray down the leaves of any infested plant and apply Neem Oil to both sides of the leaves until the pests go away. This is a great blog on some of the common pests and how to treat as well!

Hope some of this helped you on your plant journey. At the very least, it will give @luckyandi something to send her friends when they want tips 🙂

 

 

On being a father (some advice)

In a few short months, I will be a father again. On or around February 14th, we have another baby girl on the way – and she is already making her presence known with her 5am kicks! One of my best friends is also on his way to fatherhood – for the first time – and we were able to met up on a “future” dads weekend this month. Over the weekend, he asked for my top 5 pieces of advice and compiling them has turned out to be a great reminder for me on my own journey into fatherhood again.

  1. Take parental leave – I know not everyone has the luxury of having leave, but if you do have any parental leave, TAKE IT. I hear many working dads talk about how little time they took off when their child came, and about how urgent that one work trip or presentation was at that time in their career. This is such a myopic view of work and your role outside of work. You can and should take time off! One of my favorite perspectives on work is from this New York times article, “Play the role you are given… Play it seriously, and diligently. But recognize that it is only a role, one among many — and not of your design or choice. When you see your duties as various roles you must play, and your life as a collection of these roles, this will alleviate the urgency and anxiety that burden any given task — including, or especially, your career.” You will never get those first few weeks/months with your new child back, so being able to be present, involved, and not boggled down by emails and work to-do lists is a really good thing.
  2. Tune out the noise – there are so many books, blogs, podcasts and people out there with TONS of parenting advice. What they should wear, what they should be doing at what age, if you should co-sleep, how or if…or when! to sleep train, how to discipline and the list goes on and on. Each piece of advice conflicts with the last, and each is given with such passion that makes it challenging to ignore. Ultimately, every kid is unique, and it is your responsibility to figure out what pieces of advice to ignore and which to take as you embark on your journey of fatherhood.
  3. Change all the diapers – especially early, new baby doesn’t need you as much as they need mom, so do the dirty work. Jump up to change diapers, to rock to sleep, and for 5am wake-up calls. Especially if you are working, you don’t get as much time with the baby, so every second you can grab – even doing something non-glamorous – is precious and helps start building the same bond that is ingrained with mom from birth.
  4. Be a good partner – your relationship with your partner changes overnight. It is so easy to let frustration fester in a lack-of-sleep induced craze. If your partner is at home with the baby, they are going crazy from lack of adult interaction, and never-ending diapers and whatever your child needs in a given moment. If you are working, you are running on fumes for important calls and meetings and feeling under-appreciated for aforementioned #3, while providing for your new family. Go out of your way to show appreciation and thankfulness for what your partner is doing – both in words and regular actions (if you can’t think of the last time you did… it has been too long). Emily Oster’s interview with Erza Klein has one of the best reflections on the data around martial happiness – and how it is impacted and evolves with kids.
  5. Be present – with so much less time, it is easy to try to multitask your life. Play with your kid, as you respond to just one more work email. Scroll instagram as you rock your baby. Being constantly connected helps to bring friends and family closer – but also disrupts boundaries between you and your baby. Ditch technology around your kid when you can (trust me, they will notice when you are fully present), and create rituals to leave work at the door as you get home.

These are the 5 pieces of advice I am giving myself as I prepare for daughter number 2 – what is the best advice you have heard? What has been noise you have learned to ignore?

Kids are Terrible for Your Career

Terrible click-bait blog post title (I apologize). Last week right before Father’s Day Business Insider posted an article about Eric Bahn’s tweet storm about how terrible kids are for your career.

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Over the course of eleven tweets, Eric proceeds to share that his kids bring him so much joy despite robbing him of time, sleep, health, and friends. Having been a father now for a little over a year, I agree with a few of his points. For one, kids empirically do strain your marriage in the early years – but leave you closer the older you get. Ezra Klein had a great conversation with Emily Oster on this subject. Kids also do make you way poorer. They are really, really expensive; kids born in 2018 (like Lucy) will cost $233-372k from birth until their high school graduation.

That being said, I want to offer a counterpoint to the assertion that kids are terrible for your career.  Since becoming a father, I have seen my performance as a leader improve in a few ways – and talking to other fathers, they agree! Here’s a few ways that becoming Lucy’s dad has helped me grow as a leader and human.

  1. Understand your value – if you are fortunate enough to have parental leave at your job, you realize that you might be out for a long period of time. As a leader, you have to trust that your team is aligned and empowered to deliver great results without you. Leave can also have an amazing side effect for leaders (if you choose to take it); as you come back, you can let your team continue to operate as they were when you were out. This allows you to step back and understand – was I delivering the most value as a leader?
  2. Prioritization the right work – I can agree with Eric that you have way less time – both for yourself and for your work. That realization can result in you attempting to do exactly what you did before you had kids…OR you can re-assess what are the most important things to get done. Say no to meetings that you don’t need to be in. Let your team do their work without checking in at each step in the process. You will find a healthier more productive you and a more empowered team along the way!
  3. Listen without jumping to conclusions – infants have incredibly simple needs and even more simple ways to communicate those needs. Leaders in the workplace can have the tendency to jump to assumptions of what their team needs without ever listening. And then, they get frustrated when their team complains about their answer. Being a father has taught me to slow down and pay attention to what people are communicating and respond and support them accordingly.
  4. Selflessness – as a parent, you learn to sacrifice pieces of yourself for your child – your time, your money, your relationships. This Chad Knight sculpture of a child being created out of a parent is both beautiful and too real. Beyond becoming less selfish as a parent, I find myself becoming less selfish as a leader – sharing and giving praise and cheering on those around me to become the best versions of themselves.Chad-Knight-Collater.al-6

For me, becoming a father has helped me stop and reflect on how I am showing up in the world, both at work and at home. It’s also taught me to strive to be a more caring, more conscious and less selfish version of myself. Kids are terrible for your career only if you don’t stop to reflect on the change that kids force you into – and how you want to show up in that change.

P.S. I want to acknowledge that my point of view reflects my experience as a father and it’s possibly very different for mothers. There are also plenty of studies that show that kids do have negative impacts on your career, especially for women in the workplace. I’m curious to hear from other fathers and especially mothers on what ways, if any, that having a child has helped you think differently or grow in your workplace.

Asking Better Questions

[Excerpt from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy]

“O Deep Thought computer,” he said, “the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us….” he paused, “The Answer.”
“The Answer?” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to what?”
“Life!” urged Fook.
“The Universe!” said Lunkwill.
“Everything!” they said in chorus.
Deep Thought paused for a moment’s reflection.
“Tricky,” he said finally.
“But can you do it?”
Again, a significant pause.
“Yes,” said Deep Thought, “I can do it.”

[7.5 million years passes]

“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Yes..!”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Yes…!”
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes…!”
“Is…”
“Yes…!!!…?”
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”

Moral of the story being – if you don’t ask the right question, you will never understand the answer!

Lately, I have been doing a series called “career chats” with individuals both within – and outside of – Lyft that have been successful in their careers.  Although it is an AMA (ask me anything) style chat, the core question almost always seems to be, how do I get to where you are? Or to use the above analogy, what is the answer to life, the universe… everything!?

From self-help books to TED talks, we are in constant pursuit for the answer but rarely stop to ask ourselves what our question is. And the reality is that an answer given to a bad question rarely is the answer we want. Deep thought (the most highly intelligent computer in the book designed to give the meaning to life) gives the answer “Forty-two” to the question almost reluctantly… “you really aren’t going to like it”.

How do we stop looking for the answer and get to better questions?

A few thoughts (note, this advice is focused on career questions):

  • Focus on self – Before coming to the conversation, ask yourself what do I really want? The quick answer to this might be – more money, a promotion, to be recognized for my work, more flexibility in my hours or to learn new things. All of those are valid answers (and I think everyone would say yes, I want all of those things!) If you reflect more deeply, you might really care about one of those, and using a technique like the 5 whys might bring you to the realization that your job is really a way to focus on and fund your other passions. Focusing on self and investing time in understanding your motivations, passions and desires helps you ask better questions and in doing so, helps others understand how to help you.
  • Focus on others – generally the people answering the question do not know enough about your specific situation to give you the answer. Even if their career journey looks identical to yours, their answer to a specific question about your journey might sound like “42”! Great questions acknowledge and understand the difference between my journey and yours and seek unique perspectives on their journey. Great questions focus on the why versus the what. Why did they take that step in their journey and not… what should I do at this point in my career?
  • Ask what you should be asking – when we focus purely on what we want to know, we miss on the general wisdom that those further along in their journeys bring. Some of my favorite questions here are “what advice would you give a younger you” or Guy Raz’s “Does your success come from skill or luck?” or even a simple “What question hasn’t been asked that you believe should?”

Let’s not stop searching for the answer, let’s just make sure we understand our question first.

Ambiguous loss

I first heard about the concept of ambiguous loss from the podcast “On Being” with Krista Tippett interviewing Pauline Boss. “With ambiguous loss, there’s really no possibility of closure. Not even, in fact, resolution, whichever word you prefer to use.” This is what the families/relatives of prisoners of war or those with dementia or Alzheimer’s experience. Someone is there, but *not quite* there. We are a culture that likes the finite. The vast majority of stories and movies involve a main character who experiences conflict and then over time, resolves that conflict. It doesn’t matter if the conflict is resolved negatively or positively; the story ends and there isn’t ambiguity about what happened to the characters. There is just an end.

The most difficult stories (and life events) to process are those without resolution. I distinctly remember the story of a woman whose mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and subsequently moved in with her and her husband. For the husband, his whole relationship with his mother-in-law was marked by Alzheimer’s. Every day, they (the husband and mom with Alzheimer’s) would have the same conversation. Share jokes, talk about the weather, eat breakfast. He liked to do improv comedy and would test his jokes with her – if one failed, she would forget! Alzheimer’s was a reality – not a loss. For the woman, having her mother there – someone with whom she had a lifetime of shared experiences – was entirely different. Her mother was physically there, but mentally was a different person from the strong, amazing woman who raised her. This conflict is played out day after day without resolution. This is ambiguous loss.

Into the dark is podcast that follows the story of Jacob Wetterling, a missing child whose case was not resolved for over 27 years. Although he was abducted in 1989, his body wasn’t recovered until 2016 when his abductor collaborated with authorities as part of a plea bargain and lead them to the site of his rape and murder. For those 27 years, Jacob’s parents searched, created advocacy groups for children’s safety, and even had Jacob’s details on milk cartons (he was one of the original milk carton kids). For 27 years, they experienced this ambiguous loss – never knowing if he would come home or was truly gone for good.

I had the opportunity to hear therapist and author  Esther Perel speak. She shared that she is seeing an escalated number of the symptoms of ambiguous loss in people across the United States today, but interestingly especially from individuals that DON’T have any of the common types of root cause events like the ones above. What is happening?

Esther started asking the audience questions. My answers are in bold.

  • How many people have their phone within 3 feet of their bed? Yes
  • How many people touch their phone before they touch their partner when they wake up in the morning? Sometimes
  • How many people check their email before 7am? Yes
  • Of the parents, how many parents will pull out their phone for a text/email/call when they are playing with their kid? Yes

It feels like we are losing each other because we *are* losing each other. Striving to be constantly connected has caused us to lose out on real connection!

Aziz Ansari’s latest Netflix special “Right Now” reflects how difficult it is to see his grandma who has Alzheimer’s (ambiguous loss), and asks the crowd to remember their last weekend at their parents house:

Think about everything you did. Hone in on your most cherished memory. And when you’ve got your memory, just raise your hand. There’s, like, five hands right now. You know why? ‘Cause we all had the same shitty weekend, okay? I know what you did, ’cause I did the same thing. You show up late on a Friday like, “All right, well, I better unpack my stuff and get to bed.” “All right, we’ll see you in the morning.” Day one done. Then, you wake up early the next day at like… 11:30. go in the kitchen, making coffee. “Oh, you guys got a new coffee machine.” “Yeah, we like it.” Conversation done. The rest of the day, everyone’s on their phones, computers, doing whatever they can to avoid eye contact or any kind of deep conversation. …Just as you’re leaving, one of your parents finally looks you in the eyes. And they’re like, uh, “Is your life okay?” And it never is. But you’re just like, “Yeah!” ‘Cause we’re completely incapable of having a real conversation with these people we’ve known our entire lives. We do this whole song and dance 59 more times… And then they’re dead.

This is modern day ambiguous loss. We are experiencing loss of in our relationships because we are trading off small dopamine hits from likes on social media for real interaction with the people we love. It’s not that smart phones or social media are bad; we have just used them as an excuse to replace our relationships entirely. Someone is there, but not quite there. We are together, without really being together. Like Aniz’s weekend with his parents, the conflict – our story – is never resolved, it plays out day after day and year after year. We know what we lost and still seem unable to make a change. How tragic that the characteristics that the families/friends of prisoners of war, abducted children, and Alzheimer’s experience also marks the way we experience relationships today.

“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” – Esther Perel

How we decide to engage (or not engage) with those around us determines the quality of life we live. Let’s put down our phones today and try to have one more real interaction than we yesterday and connect with those that we love!

Building

When we purchased our home in Nashville, we imagined our backyard not with a shed filled with rot and termites, but a beautiful greenhouse. I started dumpster diving around the neighborhood whenever I would see a construction project – fishing out cast away windows and glass doors of all sorts that I imagined cobbling together into a spectacular web of light.

I imagined lemons and tomatoes. Peppers and herbs. Greens of all sorts. A table in the center where we could have dinner surrounded by greenery hanging from the ceiling. Outside I was going to grow potatoes, squash and carrots in neat little lines. I imagined Lucy pulling a knobby carrot covered in dirt out of the ground and offering it to Jack to sniff.

I researched hobby greenhouses and the best times to plant in Tennessee while Andi looked at paint swatches and lights.

It began slowly, with the act of destruction. The sweeping away of the old piece by piece. There is something satisfying about this act. It is quick and final. It feels like you are moving forward but really it is quickly backward as you clear the way for what is next.

Once the old was cleared away, each of the windows was arranged like a puzzle. This door here, that window sash there. A frame was constructed and each piece added slowly gave the structure more strength. With each wall, the structure looked more like the greenhouse in my vision (or Andi’s Pinterest board).

Each step new, each plan written and revised. Building was harder than tearing down. A window cracked. The foundation wasn’t even. A small letter containing code violations and trips to Metro Codes to get a permit. The hammer was heavy and the measurements always just an eighth of an inch short. But slowly it is taking shape.

The act of creation – of building something new – is frustrating. You might see some results, followed by some setbacks, followed by a little more progress.  Pride accumulates with each board connected and each setback overcome.

Destroying something is easy. Building something is hard.

 

 

Home

“Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you”
Home
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

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This past week, we packed up our home at 627 Page Street in San Francisco to move into a new home in Nashville. Packing is hard – it is a systematic dismantling of the things that make a place feel like home. Every few days, one of our many plants left and found a new home with friends. Then, there was the removal of photos and memories off the walls, leaving them bare and full of holes. If you remove all of the things that made it home, is it still home?

As rugs came off the floor, I remember our first month in the apartment. We didn’t have a dining room table, so we spread a blanket on the floor and had dinner picnics. I remember one night in particular when we made Pad Thai and played the Lumineers and talked about our future.

As our bed was packed, I remember when we first adopted Jack and he was too small to jump onto the bed on his own. He would get out of his crate in the morning and come over to Andi’s side of the bed wanting to come up and snuggle. Every morning, he would also try to jump up himself – sprinting down the hallway, sliding on the wood floors in the living room before launching himself up and missing the jump by a foot. (He did make it once by leveraging a pile of pillows on the floor).

As the pots and pans got stacked into boxes, I remember the 100 times we set off the smoke alarms making dinners for friends. The baked eggs, caesar salads, couscous, salmon, soups, and cheese plates with all the wine and just a little fernet that were made in a too small kitchen. I remember the hundreds of times Andi would try dinner before it was ready – (It’s not done yet!) and all the little burns that were the battle scars of perfect nights in with friends.

As we emptied the cabinets in the bathroom, I remember walking in one night to Andi crying holding a pregnancy test and just holding her and reading a short story Jack wrote (that I made up) to welcome the new little one to the family.

As we emptied our closets, we took off wallpaper that turned a closet into a nursery and took down a bright pink and white mobile that I would spin every night as I put Lucy to sleep. We emptied the closets of a now too small raincoat for Jack and a dried wedding bouquet. And from the corner of the room, we removed a rocking chair where we both spent countless hours rocking and reading Lucy to sleep. The corner where Good Night Moon became goodnight room and we wished goodnight to each plant and puppy in our view.

And on that last day I came home from work to our home, Lucy was in the window with her puppy waiting and watching for me to come home. She was smiling and squealing and hitting her hands against the window as Andi held her and pointed to me biking up the block. Jack was right there next to her, sitting and watching and waiting. As the couch left, I couldn’t help but think of all the times I biked home from work to see Jack waiting for me in the window, then bounding down the steps to come and greet me. As our family grew and Lucy joined him there, so did my love of that moment of my day.

I was home.

Home wasn’t all our plants (although it was hard to say goodbye to all of them!) or our collection of matches from every restaurant we had been together. It also wasn’t our bed, couch, or any one thing we had accumulated in our 650 square foot apartment.

The song Home by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes played as we walked down the aisle right after we were married. In that moment, I don’t think I understood that our home would be this collection of moments — just like that one — surrounded by people we love. The physical place matters so much less when you are able to take all those moments and memories along.

Home is when we brought Lucy home from the hospital to meet Jack. Home is dancing in the living room with friends to Matt and Kim. Home is being covered in spit-up and knowing you are still loved. Home is sitting on the couch drinking wine and eating popcorn (obviously, Kirkland Signature Brand because it’s Jack’s favorite).

Home is Andi and Jack and Lucy.

And all of them are coming to our new physical home in Nashville (…and maybe a few plants). While I’ll miss our 627 Page Street apartment, I’m looking forward to creating new memories with the people (and puppy) that make home, home.

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New Home in East Nashville!