Save time for a hobby

blogentry_michaelI started growing an indoor garden a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what prompted the need for me to buy seeds and try my hands at producing fresh vegetables but I’m glad I made the choice to. I’ve found that if you have a hobby and you can actively do it day in and day out, it brings a sense of fulfillment to your life. In my case, the routine of turning on the grow lights and making sure the crops have enough water is a nice start to the day and gives me something to look at if I need a break from my computer monitor.

Like any novice farmer, I have to spend some time at least describing my crops. I started out with just a few pots, some potting soil and tomato and sweet pepper seeds. We got a set at Walmart where they were just small clay pots. I didn’t really like that concept and probably with good reason because if you really want to ensure your crops grow, you should start them either in the pot you’re going to have them in after they’ve grown or start them in a greenhouse seed starter kit. So I planted cherry tomatoes and cilantro in the greenhouse kit. The tomatoes shot up like crazy and were ready to be transplanted. I took a 3ft pot and placed 6 tomatoes in there. That was probably a mistake since they really should be spaced out more. But after I placed them there I made sure I took care of them well. I got self watering pots where you put the water from below so that the roots would be the first to get soaked in water. I turned on the overhead fan so that I could simulate wind and make the stems even stronger. With all of these things going on, I felt very proud of what I’ve done.

In the next couple of weeks we ended up adding yellow onions to the mix. The yellow onions I’ve actually kind of failed at because even with the stem growth, some of the bulbs actually were rotten and so I ended up not having great luck. We added an orchid and another tropical plant which the name of has slipped my mind. This new hobby of mine has really brought a fun addition to my morning routine.

I think the reason why I’m writing about hobbies is because in our busy lives I think it’s good to have something that is not work related and not family related in your life. Life is all about giving to others but you do have to take care of yourself as well. By having a healthy hobby such as my gardening or volunteering at a church group or at a homeless shelter, you are giving yourself a chance to be proud of yourself and passionate for something in your life. It’s a great way to wind down a day or start up a day.

So if you don’t have a hobby or if you haven’t been able to keep one going because you’re busy, try blocking out part of your day or part of your week towards a hobby. It’s definitely something that will make you happy and in turn make others around you happy. It could even be something that helps others unintentionally, like this blog!

Healthy Eating Makes for Healthy Living

blogentry_michaelI was not known to really be a cook while I was growing up. My mother and father were always the ones cooking for me and I really didn’t learn how to do anything except bake muffins when I was a child. That slowly changed when I started college and especially when I met KristaRose. She’s always been a great cook and to this day I’m still kind of baffled that she can just take whatever items are out there and create great. I think it probably comes from experience and probably she picked it up from Mom and Dad.

In any case, I started to learn to cook a few items in college. Mostly around baking more items but I also learned how to cook some Filipino food. Lumpia, Pancit, Adobo, those were all staples of date nights that we would have from time to time. Then I guess I sort of regressed once I got out of college and was living on my own in Chicago. It was hard to really cook for one person and almost impossible in my first apartment. Let me tell you, that first apartment I moved into was a complete mess! I had bug problems all the time and I still remember just the sheer number of small little roaches that kept appearing even after having the landlords come in and spray. Anyway, to say the least, that deterred me from really cooking. My second apartment that was in Arlington Heights on the other hand had a nice kitchen with a nice island countertop. I did do more cooking but I think I relied too much on frozen TV dinners still.

Fast forward to the present and now the need to cook most meals is more evident than ever. KristaRose has a lot of allergies and we have been trying our best to avoid them. The biggest one and really the hardest one to avoid is corn. Think of everything that has some form of corn in it. It could be corn flour, corn syrup, corn starch or just plain pieces of corn. It’s everywhere! When you go and eat out, you will find that corn is almost in every single item that you eat. To avoid this, we tend to cook and eat at home more often. It’s easier and it leads to less reactions for her which is always a good thing.

Now even when we got to South Bend, I was still not an expert cook. I knew how to cook spaghetti pretty well. I also did a mean bowl of cereal. Slowly though I started to experiment with other items. I would buy just some plain chicken thighs from the grocery store and mix it with various herbs and spices. I learned that it’s pretty easy to just get some garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and olive oil and slap it onto the chicken and bake or fry it. It creates an easy meal that doesn’t take too long and you can pair it with rice, couscous, veggies, you name it. The same can be done with steak. You don’t really have to throw in a ton of things and simplicity tends to be the key.

After discovering that, I started experimenting with other types of dishes. I’ve made chicken marsala and different types of stir fry that I must say can taste better than what you can get at a restaurant. I’ve also really gotten into making easy dishes for breakfast. A quiche is fairly easy to do if you prep it easily. Also, if you want to have a nice snack, stick slices of apples in croissant rolls and add some cinnamon sugar. It’s a healthier version than some of the pies you can get at stores and restaurants.

It’s especially easy nowadays to go on the internet and find some recipes matching what mood you are in. I find that eating home cooked meals is a lot healthier and it just somehow makes you feel better. I guess the worst part or the hardest part would be finding the time to do this. I have a weird schedule nowadays because of various appointments and how work is going. But I try to find time during the day to put something in the oven or on the stove and keep doing my work while food is cooking.

We started tracking what we eat on an app called MyFitnessPal. When I say we, I really mean KristaRose. I’m still not 100% there since I have a million things on my mind usually. It’s a great little app that allows you to enter in what you’ve eaten for the day and it has a huge database that’s populated by its users. You just select what you’ve eaten, what portions or serving size and voila. You can set your target goal calorie wise as well.

Something seems to be working because as of right now, I’ve lost a good 10-12 pounds and KristaRose has lost about 6-7 pounds. I’m hoping that if we continue this healthy trend of eating and I discipline myself to cook instead of eating out that we’ll continue to see these results and most importantly not see the weight come back. I think if maybe we can add some more exercise to the equation especially when Krista is feeling better, we might in turn feel a lot better and have more energy.

So really my ask to all the readers is to really take a look at your diet and see where you can make some improvements and take out a fast food meal here and there. Look into making simple dishes for yourself and watch the savings weight wise and on your pocketbook. I think you’ll be glad when you do!

Sale, sale, sale

blogentry_michaelI think one of the biggest gripes that I have about the economy today is the shopper mentality. It seems that nowadays everyone is looking for a bargain whether it is on clothes, food, or services. I think that’s fine to look for the better deal but the way companies are approaching it now is becoming almost criminal in my opinion. Let’s take a look at some stores for example.

I think the biggest example of the excessive sales is Kohl’s. They have all kinds of promotions and clearances going on every single day. In fact when I go into the store there’s not a lot of things that don’t have a red “Sale” tag on it. Kohl’s is really guilty of bumping up the MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) and then claiming you save 40% or more. It’s like an addiction because at the cash register when you ring up all of your items, they tell you that you’ve saved a ridiculous amount of money. Just from listening to some other people’s orders you can save like $300+. Are you really saving that much money though? Let’s take a simple polo from Kohl’s. They usually advertise it for around $13 after a sale. That’s after saying the MSRP is around $19. You’ve saved $6. That sounds like a good deal doesn’t it? However, if you do some comparison shopping to other stores for the quality of the polo you just looked at, you’ll usually find that the price should be around $13 or maybe even lower if a store has a true sale. With Kohl’s, I find it difficult to commit to buying anything because it’s really so hard to figure out if something is a good deal or not. I have to always look at the “sale” price and ask myself, “Is this really a good deal? How much would it cost at other places?”.

Another example of excessive sales is JC Penny. I actually really liked this store when it had the fair pricing scheme from a couple of years ago. Prices for everything were held constant and you knew what everything was really worth for every day pricing. It was a fresh change at least in my perspective. That ship has since sailed though. Prices are back to being on sale for everything. There are very little items in the store that aren’t marked as a sale and just looking at the MSRP, you can tell the prices are inflated. I mean come on, $60 for a mediocre quality dress shirt? The one thing I will say about JC Penny though is when something is truly on clearance you can get great deals. When things are out of season, that’s the time when you should buy. It’s also when I found a great strategy to know if something truly is on sale.

Do you ever notice what number a price ends in? Most items end in a 9 because they are worth like $5.99 or $6.49. That usually would indicate that it’s a regular “Sale” price. However, when items end in another number like 8 or 7, that’s usually an indicator that they’ve been given an extra discount. I’ve seen it happen at JC Penny with many of their discounted items. They usually end in a 7. There’s an article about the codes they use in Costco and what was found is the following:

  • Prices that end in 97¢: These have been marked down from the regular priced items, which end in 99¢
  • Odd pricing, such as 79¢, 49¢, or 89¢: These indicate specially priced items that Costco got a deal from the manufacturer. Rapoport says these can be better deals than at other stores, but not usually better than the 97¢ markdown.
  • An asterisk* on the upper right side of the sign: The item won’t be reordered.
  • 88¢ or .00 endings: Manager markdowns. Sometimes the company uses these to move a product very fast.


It pays to really look at the items and discern whether or not they’re really good deals. In today’s society it seems that companies have to fight more and more to get your business and they try to do so with pricing. Don’t get fooled into good deals, go with your instinct and don’t buy into the shopper’s mentality.

Marriage Isn’t for Me

blogentry_michaelSociety has a problem. It’s been one that’s been developing for decades. There are more than a few movies that show the problems of marriage. They depict how it’s quite alright to have a divorce. It’s quite alright to just move on to the next person to find what you’re searching for. It’s a scary thought to me that it’s becoming the norm and is accepted. I think it’s because a person goes into a marriage thinking about the benefits of themselves. In reality, a marriage isn’t for me. It’s about the person I marry. It’s about the woman I love.

When I say society has a problem, maybe I’m generalizing it too much. There are plenty of couples that I know that have been happy and married for years. I only have to look towards many of our family members who are celebrating anniversaries of 20, 30, or even longer amounts of time. I’ve even had the great opportunity to be there for mom and dad’s 35th anniversary. What a wonderful thought that is isn’t it? To be married for so long and to see that love is not only still present but ever growing. It’s just a beautiful thing.

Even though I haven’t even been married for a year I’ve come to a conclusion that hopefully will help and guide me going forward.

Marriage isn’t for me.

I didn’t get married so that I would gain these wonderful benefits for myself. When I was up at the altar, I did not make vows to myself and that I would take care of myself and be selfish. I took a vow to take care of KristaRose. I took a vow to grow in love through the good and the bad. I took a vow to grow in love for Christ through my union with Krista. Nowhere in the celebration was it a congratulations or a pat on the back for me gaining anything. It makes me realize that I need to keep remembering that marriage isn’t for yourself, it’s for the one you love and most of all it’s for God.

Now I know that you might be thinking to yourself that hey wait a second, marriage can’t just be a one way street. You have to be able to have certain things that you like and be able to do certain activities that bring you joy and pleasure. That’s good and true but think about it this way… The person that you marry is supposed to be the one that will make you a better person. That person isn’t perfect. Every person is not perfect. But this one person that you have put a ring on is that person to help you grow. Your wife or your husband is going to be the one that wakes up everyday and learns about you and your tendencies. He or she is going to be the one that encourages you to keep doing the things you like to do and is going to make sure it makes you a better person.

I think a good example of this would be going bowling on Monday. I know that I made a blog post about it but it really is something special when Krista decides to take me bowling. She hasn’t been able to physically do bowling because of medical reasons but she knows just how much I love going and sat there and watched me as I played 5 games. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Other things I can think of are the times that I’m not too much of a happy person on the road. She’s always there to make sure I calm down and see it from the other person’s perspective. She’s really showed me how to consider everyone that is around you and that sometimes if a person is having a bad day, that person can make a bad move on the road and you shouldn’t be penalized for it. Isn’t that a good lesson we should learn in life? If someone makes a mistake, we shouldn’t yell at them. We should learn why they might have made the mistake and then work with them if they need our help. It’s a refreshing attitude that the world desperately needs.

I think most of all, Krista has been able to help me back to a more spiritual path. It’s great to have lots of conversation and discussion. It’s also great that we are able to have our own prayer time that we have in the mornings and evenings. I think it really helps us to fulfill our role in getting closer to God. I think it was Manang Grace that introduced this concept to us. In a marriage, you really have a triangle where God is at the top and the husband and wife are on the bottom parts. The closer you get to God, the closer your relationship will be. What a wonderful concept that is and it’s something that I definitely believe in.

So back to where I started this post. I think the world is really suffering with an attention disorder. It seems most people are satisfied to find instant thrill and not settle down and find the people that will actually make a difference in your life. Marriage isn’t supposed to be a fleeting thrill. It is a lifelong commitment that no matter what happens, you are sticking by that person. No matter how hard it gets, no matter what sicknesses come along, you love that one person and by giving your all to them, you become the person you are meant to be as well. Keep in mind that if you find the right person, he or she will give their all to you as well. It’s not a one way street, but a symbiotic relationship that brings you closer to each other and more importantly closer to God.

Take it slow

blogentry_michaelI got the rare chance to go bowling today as KristaRose decided to take me today. I don’t get many chances because I’m simply really busy most of the time. It’s always refreshing to go bowling though because it’s something I’m passionate about. I know that for some people, it’s hard to grasp but for me bowling has been kind of an art form. You really have to have dedication and discipline in order to do well. There are many different ways you can throw the ball but there is probably only a couple of ways that will suit your style and your strengths. Once you know how to throw the ball, then it becomes critical that you can throw it the same way over and over again. It’s the same concept in basketball or football. You have to practice that jump shot so that your arms and your legs automatically know how to shoot even with someone in your face. For football, you have to practice exactly how to throw the football so that it has the precise speed or you have to know how to run your route and how to adjust.

For today’s session, I was able to start off really strong with a 207. That’s fairly high for me especially since I haven’t really bowled in awhile. Actually, I think the last time I might have gone bowling was during my bachelor party. Anyway, during that game I started off ok but I quickly realized that I was bowling too fast. If you’ve bowled for a good portion of your life, you will instantly recognize when you’re a little too energetic. When I bowl too fast and with too much power I end up not curving the ball as much because I force it down the lane. About midway through the game, I adjusted and what was the result? I got a turkey (which for those who don’t know that means three strikes in a row).

After that, I started thinking about how this really could be applied to the real world. How many times have we gone through situations and sped through them as quickly as possible because we wanted them to just be over with? How many times have we been at work and wanted the clock to speed up so we can get back home? How many times have we waited impatiently at a red light and just want to blast right through it?

I know that I’m guilty of many of these situations. We live in a world that demands us to manage our time very carefully. We have to spend a lot of time devoted to work. We have to spend time for the family and kids. We have to spend time for friends and those around us. We think that going fast allows us to do so much more. Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.

Take me for example. I tend to forget a lot of things. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy. Maybe it’s because I’m just me. But whatever the case, I tend to forget instructions unless I write them down or there’s not too many steps involved. I really have to focus sometimes just to get things right. I’ve always thought that it’s a combination of these problems that leads me to forget. However, what if it’s because I don’t take my time and really absorb what’s going on around me? What if my memory improves if I take things slower?

I’ve started trying this with things that Krista has told me to do. We use this app called Wunderlist, which by the way is a great free app that allows you to create lots of to-do lists. In this app, Krista can outline things for me to pick up from the grocery store or chores to do around the house. Many times though, I’m so pressed for time and I think that I have so much to do like dishes and laundry that I actually forget that I have this app on my phone. Because of this, I end up not doing everything on the list and I have to spend more time accomplishing those goals.

I’ve found that if I take things slower and do everything one by one on my lists, things get finished and I don’t have to redo the task. Sure it might overall take a little longer but the time saved in not redoing tasks more than makes up for it.

I think that going forward this is the method I’m really going to follow. Whether I use lists on Wunderlist or a list on my whiteboard in the office, I can spend some time each morning just going through all the tasks that I have and making sure I prioritize what I need to get done. I find that I just get a lot more done and it keeps me motivated to keep going through my tasks.

So what can you do today to take things slower? Think about everything you need to do and approach things one by one instead of all at the same time. Once you learn to take things slower, then you’ll really be living in the moment as well!

Understanding People is Difficult

blogentry_michaelI’ve said many times in previous posts that the key to really developing good relationships and bonds with people is to make sure you understand them. It’s easier said than done because let’s face it, understanding people is difficult. Every single person has a different personality. Every single person has a different agenda. Every single person reacts differently to what you have to say and what you do.

The reason that this topic popped into my head this morning is because I received an invitation to a wedding this morning from one of my previous co-workers in India. I know that weddings in India are very big celebrations and many of them usually have thousands of guests. They actually make my wedding and the ones here in the US seem like very tame celebrations! This wasn’t the first invitation I’ve gotten from one of my Indian friends. It made me realize though that it took a lot of effort to get to this point.

When I first got out of my leadership rotational program at Nielsen, I still had just raw talent. I had the skills and techniques down that would get me to be successful but I didn’t really have the exposure to the global level yet that would help me really develop my communication skills. I will say that first 6 months or so after the program I struggled. I got more responsibilities and it really centered around getting our program delivered. It also involved talking a lot with our team in India and I just did not understand how they worked.

At many points during that time I thought to myself, man these guys just don’t know how to work. They don’t really communicate and give you what’s really going on. They tend to promise something and then not deliver. They aren’t being very responsive to me at all. It’s the most frustrating thing to experience as a project manager because the struggle is real and the pressure you feel from your boss is real. I struggled day in and day out because even the accents were really tough to decipher sometimes.

But slowly I started to realize that instead of being in the mindset of asking why they do the things they do, I started to focus on how they do the things that they do. There’s just a totally different mindset in their culture in how they approach their work. I find that a lot of the team does better if you give them more specific instructions on what to do. It’s not that they are dumb or stupid in any regard. In fact I’m sure that many of them are quite smarter than I am and their technical expertise just amazes me. They do require a more concrete plan though in order to achieve an objective. It actually helps me too in order to make sure I am covering everything.

I started to work more of their hours to be more available for problems that might arise. This one was a tough one because it meant waking up at all odd hours of the day. There was a period of time when I actually was up at 2am on Fridays and just worked into the early afternoon just so I can shift my schedule around for deployments. I think showing that dedication for working helped people to see that I genuinely cared and I was there to help them out. I wasn’t just that person that worked only US hours and called the shots from there.

I also got the chance to visit Chennai about four times in the span of two years. It was so much easier to connect with people when you saw them face to face. It was also another chance to show just how much you were invested in the project as well because I tended to pull 90+ hour weeks while over there.

I think the final way that I really started to understand the team is by getting to know them. By really caring about what they are saying and getting to know how their families are and what they dreamed of doing, I think it really helped to develop the relationship. Even sharing my experiences helps in that regard as well.

So circling back to the invitation I got today, I think it really is a sign of what you can really accomplish even if you don’t understand a person at first. Make a real effort to know who they are, what they want to do and how they think of life. This isn’t just applicable to your coworkers but to everyone else you know. Let down your prejudices and barriers and start to really feel what the other person feels. Try to listen and hear their struggles and understand how that may affect their life decisions. It’s hard enough going through this world with your own struggles. We don’t need to add communication problems with other people on that list!

Am I Making a Difference?

blogentry_michaelI think that one of the things that a lot of 20 and 30 something year olds suffer from are regrets and doubts that they are making a difference in the world. I don’t think it’s just me that thinks this but I had dreams of changing the world. They were grand dreams which included being able to build great websites and change people’s minds just by what I write. I would affect thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people and I would make my place in the world that way.

Has it turned out that way? Sort of. Let me explain.

My grand dreams of accomplishing change on a great level or even a global level hasn’t really panned out that way. On a day to day basis my priorities remain to my great and loving wife and to my crazy but really loyal pup and of course to family, friends and work. It’s a life that many people have on a day to day basis and it’s not something to take that lightly. Working brings in the money that allows you to support your family. Sure it might not be something so grand, but it is something that makes a difference. Sometimes I forget this but as soon as I’m able to reflect a bit and think about things, I remember that every single day I make a difference.

I make a difference to my wife, KristaRose. I’m her rock and I’m there to make her laugh. I’m there to make sure she has all her medications. I’m there to have adventures with and to be crazy enough to just walk around a supermarket at 1AM. I’m there to love her and to hold her when things aren’t going too well. I’m there to make her a better person just as she’s here to make me a better person.

I make a difference to my puppy, Twix. If you think about it, dogs don’t have a lot to look forward to (in our eyes at least). They require attention from us and if you are willing to work on it and give your dog lots of love, you will have the most loyal pet in the world. Even if Twix is a little mischievous at times, he is still a great dog that will always come up to you and just wag his tail. He will be that dog that is so friendly to other people and pets that he literally gets disappointed and whines when he can’t greet someone. I’m there everyday for this dog to make sure he has food, water and his daily walks.

I make a difference to family and friends. I know that everyday even though I don’t have a high profile job and I don’t make the big bucks my family loves me and supports me. I feel it everyday in a text or posts on Facebook. I feel it in phone calls or letters. I feel it because there is something that makes me feel comforted every day that we have people watching over us.

I make a difference to the people at work. I know that sometimes work isn’t the most fun thing in life but I try to make everyday a better experience for the people I work with. It starts with being thankful for everything that is being done for me. It’s extended through all of the work that I do and how it helps others and it makes our whole team look good (I’ve had several great mini-projects that have been seen by senior leadership lately with great remarks).

And I think most of all I just make a difference everyday to strangers. Whether it’s opening a door for someone or offering to pay for items for someone in need or letting someone turn first on the road. Small things that you do every single day confirm the fact that I make a difference in this life.

So what does that mean for you? I think that everyday we get bogged down in life. Whether it’s work or other issues you may have in life, they just make us lose perspective everyday. Everyone has dreams that they want to achieve and many people want to make a difference. I just want everyone to know that in your own life, you are making a difference every single day. Even if you do one small thing, you’ve just made a difference. Build on this. Keep recognizing things that you do and keep doing them. Make it automatic in your life and keep trying to work towards your dreams. Always remember though, even if you aren’t achieving your big dreams now, you are making a difference and that’s always a step in the right direction.

LCBD: Time to Spring Forward

blogentry_kristaroseYes, it’s that time of year when our clocks spring one hour ahead, giving us one hour “less” of sleep…only to gain it when they fall back later in the year; the reason for my post is not to remind you to change your clocks, but to look at your life and see where you can spring forward.

What do I mean by Springing Forward?
How many things have you constantly continued to put off? I am a big procrastinator sometimes, it could be because I lose interest and don’t care to finish and other times it’s just because I am not up to doing anything. We can get caught just staring at our screens (TV, tablet, computer, etc.) watching the latest show, playing the latest game, or watching the surprised kitty on YouTube for the millionth time. Sound familiar?

What things have you put off that you can get a move on, now? I’ve been putting off reading some books and working on design projects. I have been saying since New Years that I will focus more on myself and working on my design projects in my free time rather than getting sucked in to the world of Ross and Rachel’s off again on again relationship.

So, since I’ve procrastinated bettering myself and my free time for two months, it’s time to Spring Forward and dive deep into my work and my free time. Why become numb watching mindless TV show over and over when I can dive deeper in love with the things I like to do. So I ask, what can you do today to Spring Forward? What is something you can promise to do that will help you to fight procrastination? Spring Forward and make a difference.

In Diapers We Trust

blogentry_michaelAbout a couple of weeks ago I was in Meijer and was shopping around for some pots. I’ve started to get a green thumb and am starting to build a small little garden that we’re growing indoors with a grow light. Anyway, that’s probably a post for another time. While I was shopping in the floral department I turned around towards the self checkout line because I heard someone visibly crying. There was a lady that was in the process of checking out. It had looked like she was able to get some basic groceries but her card was declined for the last item. She had started crying and proceeded to ask the cashier to take a box of diapers off of the order. For myself personally, I hate the feeling of not having enough money at the cash register. There was a point in time when I was in the same spot and I was struggling to have enough money to even just get meals for the week. So being the person that I am, I approached the lady and quietly took the diapers and asked her if I could cover it for her. The expression of gratitude the lady had was an image that you could remember for some time. How blessed am I at this point in life to be able to help others like this? It was a gentle reminder of how we are supposed to be kind and help each other out in the world.

How many other situations like this happen on a daily basis? How many people are struggling to make ends meet? How many times have we passed up an opportunity to help someone? How many homeless individuals have we neglected to even glance at? I hope that today you take a moment to really let that sink in and look for those opportunities and embrace them. Even if you don’t have a lot, always remember that someone else has it worse and even a small gesture of kindness can go a long way.