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Category Archives for "Inspirational Stories"

How The Back Forty Inspired Joy and Passion at the CWC

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About a month ago, The Back Forty took part in the California Women’s Conference (or CWC). Building up to this event we frantically worked to create the perfect presence. We finalized our first online course, published our first Back Forty journal, and created countless banners and flyers. We didn’t know what to expect walking into that exhibit hall, but we had dreams of the contacts we would gain through our raffles and giveaways, the books we would sell, and the contacts we would make.

Little did we know that another aspect of our booth would be the most rewarding.

At our booth, we had a small recording studio set up. We were thinking that we would interview a few people about the passions they discovered while traveling through midlife. We had no idea how big a role this would end up playing at the conference.

We were thinking that we would complete 15-20 interviews each day, lasting about 5 minutes each. What we weren’t expecting was to be so inspired by the stories of finding one’s passion and the joy of sharing that passion with others.

We ended up conducting about 30 interviews over the two-day conference, but the average video ended up lasting 15 minutes. Suddenly, our expected 3 hours of content became over SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS.

Walking into the event, we had no idea the type of passion and joy we would find in those we interviewed. Now, not only have we had the chance to interview amazing people, but we have been given the opportunity to share these inspiring stories with the world. We have decided to turn these inspiring interviews into an online program aimed at inspiring others to create their second half of life as their best half. Now, this course is not ready to be released yet, but I have put together a short video with some excerpts from our two days of interviewing.

Enjoy!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7mnZfk513I]

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75 Simple Ways to Be More Happy with Life

Get Happy!

Today I want to inspire you to become happier. Everyone needs a little pick up every once and a while and today I am sharing with you 100 ways to make your day full of a little more happiness.

So, without further ado, let’s get happy!

  1. Go for a walk
  2. Take a nap
  3. Clean something
  4. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while
  5. Read something inspirational (try this or this!)
  6. Sip on some tea or coffee
  7. Get a massage
  8. Say “Bubbles” in the angriest voice you can muster
  9. Plan a special dinner to look forward to
  10. Ignore your phone for a few hours
  11. Think of 3 things you’re grateful for
  12. Watch your favorite TV show
  13. Go for a drive
  14. Complete a random act of kindness for a stranger
  15. Do yoga
  16. Listen to your favorite band or singer
  17. Look through local Groupon deals for something to do this weekend
  18. Dance
  19. Bake cookies
  20. Pick 3 things you want to get done today and do them
  21. Go shopping
  22. Pretend you’re a kid again and just PLAY
  23. Pick up some flowers to brighten your home
  24. Read a new novel
  25. Quit a bad habit (if only for a day)
  26. Sing
  27. Buy your favorite sweet as a snack
  28. Find the nearest park, beach, or forest and explore
  29. Stop slouching
  30. Complete a DIY project
  31. Go to any store and pick up 5 items that make you happy
  32. Work on your personal To Do list
  33. Look through some of your old photos
  34. Schedule time to volunteer at an animal shelter
  35. Call your parents
  36. Go see a movie (or maybe even go to a drive-in theater)
  37. Make plans with a friend who you haven’t seen in a while
  38. Cook your favorite dinner
  39. Go window shopping downtown
  40. Pay it forward next time you’re in line to get food or coffee
  41. Are you mad at someone? Let it go
  42. Go to the Zoo
  43. Search for inspirational quotes, write one down, and put it somewhere you will see it regularly
  44. Meditate
  45. Stop thinking about where you are now and think about what is possible instead
  46. Draw a picture
  47. Drink a glass of water
  48. Pick a new sitcom you haven’t seen before and watch the first episode
  49. Download the app Happify
  50. Whisper “Boopity Boop” under your breath in 4 distinct voices
  51. Go to a gym class
  52. Take a bath
  53. Spend time with your significant other – without electronics
  54. Shake up your routine
  55. Play a board game with friends or family
  56. Have a firepit? Build a fire
  57. Make a list of 10 people in your life who inspire you. Then share your reasons why with them
  58. Make your favorite drink
  59. Start a home improvement project
  60. Set a new life goal and take the first step towards achieving it
  61. Snack on some fruits or veggies
  62. Switch up your commute. Leave early, take a new route, and try to enjoy the ride
  63. Find a funny article and laugh a little (I find that BuzzFeed is a good place to start)
  64. Spend some time alone to focus on you
  65. Go to bed early
  66. Jump and try to touch the ceiling
  67. Eat something healthy
  68. Do you have a pet? Go get a hug!
  69. Search for a “No Laugh Challenge” on YouTube
  70. Face something you fear
  71. Skip from one end of the room to the other
  72. Instead of thinking about everything that needs to be done, try to focus on one thing today
  73. Tell someone you love them
  74. Be spontaneous and do something RIGHT NOW
  75. Smile!

If all of these happiness-inducing ideas aren’t enough, I have decided to start giving you something a little extra each time I write a new post.

Did you know that there are almost 1,500 National Days throughout the year? Some of them inspire conversation, others promote change, and still others just make you laugh. Here are the National Days that fall on April 25, 2017:

  • DNA Day
  • East Meets West Day
  • Hug a Plumber Day
  • Telephone Day
  • Zucchini Bread Day

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5 Inspirational People Who Prove Midlife Is Just the Beginning

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I don’t know about you, but most Saturday mornings I need a little inspiration to get me going. After all, if you’re not careful, it is easy for the weekends to get away from you. So, today I am going to help inspire you to make the most out of not only your weekends but your life!

Here are 5 inspirational people who decided that they had yet to do what they were here to do in midlife and beyond (plus a bonus)!

1. Winifred Pristellwinifred

Winifred currently holds the World, National, and State records for single lift bench press for her age group and weight class. At the age of 47 she was dangerously obese and decided to make a change. By the age of 68 she had set world records for bench press (lifting 176.2 lbs) and deadlift (lifting 270 lbs). She is now a proud great-grandmother of 3 and healthier than she’s ever been.

2. Pierre Jean “Buster” Martinbuster.png

Buster claimed to be the United Kingdom’s oldest employee. He worked for Pimlico Plumbers in London and even refused to take a day off on his 100th birthday! According to Buster, he was born in 1906 and continued working until he died at the age of 104 in 2011. If that isn’t a dedicated employee, I don’t know what is!

3. Fauja Singh

Fauja is the first 100-year-old to finish a marathon. He also Faujaaccomplished eight world running records for being the oldest man to accomplish each record in ONE DAY. He is currently 105 years old and living in the UK. He ran between the ages of 89 and 101. Why so late in his life? A tragedy led him back to it. He witnessed the death of his fifth son in 1994 and decided to return to his passion for running. He began training and started running international marathons at the age of 89. At the age of 93 he completed the London Marathon 58 minutes faster than the previous world record. Eight full marathons after the age of 89? Pretty impressive if you ask me.

4. Dorthy Custedorthyr

Dorthy was a stand-up comedian starting in 1916. She thought she would never become famous until she got the chance to perform on the Tonight Show at the age of 100 in 2011! After that, she decided that she was never too old to achieve what she wanted to do. She performed on the Tonight Show again in 2012, for her 101st birthday she ziplined the Snake River Canyon, and for her 102nd birthday she base jumped off the Perrine Bridge into the Snake River Canyon and became the oldest base jumper in the world.

5. Werner Bergerwerner

Werner is the oldest person to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. He climbed his first mountain on the list in 2002 at the age of 64 and completed the last mountain on the list in 2013 at the age of 76. How many people do you know who have climbed Mount Everest? Not to mention at the age of 69!

To learn more about Werner, see his Facebook Live interview with The Back Forty Co-Founder, Darrell Gurney, by clicking here!

BONUS: Tao Porchon-Lynchtao

Meet Tao. She is the world’s oldest yoga teacher at the age of 98! She is pretty amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I wrote an entire blog post about her a few months ago. Click here to find out what makes Tao so special!

Hopefully, that is enough inspiration for you today. After all, as we say in The Back Forty, “You have yet to do what you came here to do!” So, what is it that your second half of life has in store for you?

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Sources: GuinnessWorldRecords.com, Wikipedia – Dorthy Custer, Wikipedia – Fauja SinghWikipedia – Buster Martin, HeraldNet.com, and WinifredPristell.com

FREE Facebook Live Webinar: Your Unique Inner Beauty

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Did you miss the live webinar? Don’t worry – you can still catch the replay here!

Join Alexandra Levin, Co-Founder of The Back Forty and Caren Taubman Glasser Founder of The Little White Lie for a live co-creation webinar of “IMBUE Your Beautiful You”. This beauty “town hall” will take place today (Tuesday, March 21) at 2:30 pm PST on Facebook Live (you can RSVP here).

On this webinar you will learn:

  • The power of accepting your most unacceptable unique attribute
  • The door to freedom you open when you simply can’t but then do anyhow
  • The infinite inner beauty blooming of self-appreciation once you take time to plant the seed

On this webinar you will offer:

  • Your own insights as to the issues and challenges women face around beauty
  • Your thoughts on how women can most embrace their fullest self-expressions
  • Your participation in a movement to free women up from societal norms and assumptions

We invite you to join not only to hear our ideas of how to “IMBUE Your Beautiful You” but to get yours!

Our program is in development, and we need your input!

Come join us to co-create this work, and let’s enjoy the freedom it offers together.

Either before, during or after the webinar we would love to get your feedback on our program by filling out the survey here (we also have some freebies to give away if you complete the survey).

RSVP here by clicking the reminder button and we look forward to seeing you soon!

 

It’s Never Too Late for Adventure

not-mom-blog-pic-finalWritten By Karen Malone Wright

I was introduced to The Back Forty when I met Darrell Gurney at a conference in Los Angeles in late 2016. I immediately connected with his mission, and I don’t think he was surprised when I confessed that I’m living my own Back Forty career right now.

Like most people, I tend to focus on what’s currently happening, forgetting that I was 45 when I quit my job as a high-power, good salaried health care marketing executive in 2000. Except that the truth is, I didn’t quit my job; I escaped and ran from Shawshank prison.

I had prepared my escape quietly, carefully, for almost seven months. There were many discussions with my husband, my lawyer and my accountant. My lists had lists of their own. I read books detailing what it would take to become a solopreneur, and I had informational interviews and coffees with people who had already made the switch. I Googled everything in between.

Unlike the many advertising and public relations agencies named for the primary owner, I wanted my new venture to have a name with meaning, which my own decidedly did not. I decided on “odyssey”, because of its secondary definition: “an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest”.

Some might have thought that I simply started doing the same strategic communications projects that I used to do on a “job”, but from home. They were almost correct. What they overlooked was the jubilation infused with the free air I breathed. The work I performed was under terms set only by me. The ability to choose the clients, people and issues I would to support with my efforts, and to dismiss others, was exhilarating. I re-learned my own rhythms, and set my own schedules.

Unfortunately, bliss rarely lasts.  

Over the next 10 years, I grew increasingly unhappy with unreasonable clients, boring assignments, and even the very skills I used to take pride in. Over time, my new world had morphed into feeling like the old world, beyond my control and a waste of my ebbing time. Worse, it seemed impossible to imagine that anyone would pay me to do anything else (not that I knew what “anything else” might look like).

Here’s a sentence you don’t read every day: I was revitalized by social media.

As a communications major in college and a professional in the field, I was captivated by the new technology that hopped over TV networks and radio stations and PR folk like me to post its own reality. Simply put, everything old was new again.

It took hours for me to finish a simple online article, because any reference that I didn’t understand, such as virtual worlds (SecondLife), or channels like Twitter that took weekends to master, I clicked off to explore and teach myself. My first blog, using Google’s Blogger chronicled a Baby Boomer’s leap into modern communications.  Communications Goddess represented the self-confidence I had achieved while sharing my delight at the new tools the Internet steadily delivered.

In 2009, I started annual treks to attend BlogHer conferences in New York, Chicago and San Diego. Women – more than 2,000 of them – filled me with their energy and determination to have their voices heard. It was at BlogHer that I began to see blogging as a business. Soon after, I admitted that there were hundreds of bloggers with larger audiences, deeper pockets, and stronger resumes across the Net with social media blogs just like mine.

In March 2011, I flew to Austin, Texas to attend South by Southwest Interactive, a nine-day celebration of all things digital and online. It was there, in a session about how women connect with brands online, that I said aloud for the first time, “I can’t find myself online.”

By then, I was a 56-year-old woman who was not the mother of a teenager, nor an empty nester, nor a grandmother, nor fertile and still trying to conceive. I was not anti-child, anti-procreation or anti-anything. I was pro-me and, in all of cyberspace, I couldn’t find anyone like me. It hurt.

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Me, after I found my niche!

Someone suggested I start a website, and I responded that there was no way to avoid “mean girls” who don’t like children or their mothers. That’s definitely not me.

I thought the subject was closed, until another attendee urged me to follow up on the idea that Madison Avenue and everyone else were overlooking millions of women. I listened, and soon found US Census Bureau reports that the number of American NotMoms was the highest since tracking began in 1976. Today, one of every six American women will never give birth and nations worldwide are reporting historic levels.

I officially launched the new blog on Mother’s Day 2012 and named it The NotMom because of the many, many times I have been called to explain that, “No, I do not have children. I am not a Mom.”

If a woman isn’t a Mom in our Mom-centered world, she often feels adrift without a tribe, a community of her own. It’s easy for people to accept, without full comprehension, the universal power and influence of the title that is “Mom”.

Young Moms, single Moms, special needs Moms, Moms-to-be, adoptive Moms, military Moms, celebrity Moms, adoptive Moms, empty nest Moms, Moms of multiples, mocha Moms, first-time Moms and soccer Moms are all linked at a visceral level impossible to replicate. When a woman is not and will never be any type of Mom, even those women who chose to live childfree may feel overlooked and repeatedly out of place.

American in focus but global in scope, The NotMom is distinguished online by its embrace of women who once dreamed of motherhood as well as those who never did. Now approaching its fifth anniversary, the brand engages and influences a growing community of more than 25,000 childless and childfree women age 26 and up through the blog, events and social networks.

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Last year’s Not Mom Summit.

The NotMom Summit, the only conference of its kind in the world, brings these women together offline to acknowledge and enhance the shared aspects of their lives. The inaugural event drew women from three continents, five countries (Canada, China, England, Iceland and the US) and 18 states, proving that the interest in such a gathering has value.

The 2017 NotMom Summit will be on October 6-7, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio, and once again I am working hard to partner with major sponsors open to recognizing the potential of this important niche market. With my husband’s blessing and enthusiastic support, I am embroiled in the adventure of my life at age 61.

The NotMom has won a $5,000 prize from a northeast Ohio program for entrepreneurial women and scored international media coverage including Fortune, Black Enterprise, CNN.com, The Atlantic and The New York Times (twice!). No matter how this story ends, I will never regret chasing a dream to find my own community, and to help other women find theirs.

Karen is the founding voice & chief executive of The NotMom.com and featured by The New York Times as a leading expert on issues about women without children by chance or by choice. For more information on the 2017 NotMom Summit, go to: https://notMomsummit2017.sched.org.

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You Need to See How Inspiring this 98-Year-Old Woman Is!

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Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel old? You wake up and your back is aching, or your leg, or a random arm. And then you try to get out of bed and your joints are popping and you’re groaning and you’re tired. It’s days like these where I get up and say to myself,

“You are so old!”

Now don’t get me wrong, some days I feel young and full of energy, but other days…not so much. Other days I feel old and it causes me to make excuses. I can’t go to the gym because I hurt too much. I’m just too tired to go out tonight. The excuses go on and on.

Well, the other night I found a video posted on Facebook by NowThis and was inspired by it (and a bit ashamed of myself). I searched the internet for more information on this topic and I found the original video that NowThis had cut up for their 30-second news clip. If you are ready to realize just how young we all are and how our excuses should never get in the way of achieving greatness, watch this video created by Athleta below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBfslZKi99c]This is Tao Porchon-Lynch and she is the world’s oldest yoga teacher at the age of 98!

Tao is absolutely inspiring. At the beginning of this video she says,

“When you wake up every morning say, ‘This is going to be the best day of my life,’ and it will be.”

– Tao Porchon-Lynch

Meanwhile, I was here feeling old.

So, I challenge you (and myself) to be as strong and dedicated as Tao is.

Are you interested in learning a little more about Tao? Well, get ready to be inspired even more!

  • She has been a yoga instructor for over 75 years and still teaches 4 days a week!
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    Source: The Times
  • She was a model during WWII  and even had the title “Best Legs in Europe”.
  • When she moved to America after the war, she worked as an actress for MGM and even co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last Time I Saw Paris”.
  • She has a passion for ballroom tango and has won several hundred first-place competitive dance titles.
  • She is the co-founder of the American Wine Society (as if I didn’t like her already)!
  • She’s written two books (one about yoga and one about dance).

All in all, she is an amazing woman that we should all aspire to be more like!

So I’ll leave you in awe of Tao with this last quote:

“Don’t let age dictate to you what you can and cannot do.”

– Tao Porchon-Lynch

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Sources: NowThis, Athleta, Wikipedia

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Four Lessons Learned From Our Thanksgiving Paint-cation

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Shortly after moving into our off-white-walled condo, Darrell and I decided to have a Paint-cation.  We wanted fun colors and faux finish on our walls without spending tons of money on hiring someone to do it.

As soon as we moved in, I kept talking about how we could – with no problem because I did it 15 years ago – paint and faux finish our small condo ourselves…so we decided to take the Thanksgiving holiday to do it!  (Luckily for us, my amazing mom hosted Thanksgiving dinner, so all we needed to do was to show up for a few hours).

Darrell and I spent four 16-hour days prepping and painting.  Here’s what I learned from our Thanksgiving Paint-cation.

Throwing my “hat over the wall” first…and THEN figuring out how to go get it actually does work!

John F. Kennedy made famous a story told by Irish writer Frank O’Connor, where he and his friends “would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they would take off their hats and toss them over the wall – and then they had no choice but to follow them.”img_5511

We got our supplies, painted color samples on the wall, and picked our colors. 

Then I tested my faux finish technique… and it sucked!!!  Doubt crept in… should I have kept my mouth shut?  Should we have hired professionals?  Did I get us in over our heads?  Were we now papered and taped and all dressed up with no place to faux? 

Doubt is a familiar guest in my mental household, and by now it was having a party with friends.

So, fueled by the amount of time and money we already spent on this project – as well being committed to vibrant color on our walls – I gave IMG955589.jpgmyself a pep talk and set out to watch every Faux-Finish How To Video I could find!  I then practiced diligently on large planks of cardboard harvested from a big screen TV box in the dumpster.

After multiple attempts and lots of forgiveness, I mastered a technique that ended up turning our bedroom alive!  Purple is my favorite color, and ragging purple glaze over deeper purple base on the bedroom walls was probably the most fun I ever had painting anything!

I committed blindly and without knowing all the particulars…and found a way to get to the result.

When I “play first” and take risks, I make mistakes and doubt shows up.  It’s par for the course.  The faster I forgive myself (and thank the doubts for sharing), the more fun I have. 

Taping is the most boring part of any painting project.  I thought it would take me half a day to tape out our place before starting to paint.

On the contrary, it took three times that amount…hours and hours of tedious, never-ending, detailed, and annoying work.  It delayed the start of our actual PAINT-cation by 2 days! IMG955581.jpg

The ever-present self-critic reared its ugly head again in this case as well. It said “You should have known better.  You messed up the schedule.  How in the world will we get it done on time now?”

I’ve learned to unlearn all that built this inner critic: the childhood pressures to be good, look good, be nice, do things right.  So, I set out to forgive, forgive, forgive…and kept my fingers working.

In The Back Forty we “play first”: GO FOR IT without having everything worked out or having all the answers ahead of time.  Figure it out as we go.  So that’s what I did.  And, though it didn’t fit my preconceived pictures or timeline, it all DID get done anyway!

Get out of my head and go play!

Sunday afternoon, I found myself standing in the middle of the living room, with glaze in one hand and a sea sponge in the other, about to start another faux experiment that would shape the whole experience for people walking into our home…when once again I was paralyzed by my frequent visitor – doubt!

“What if I mess it up? I did the bedroom ok, but everyone sees the living room. Should I use the rag here too since I know how to use it better, even though we wanted to sponge for a different effect? Oh my god, what did I get myself into!!!” 

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Then, just when I could use some outside-voice interruption, Darrell said: “Don’t worry about it, babe.  We’re doing this for us.  Have fun.  Go play with it.”

Something shifted on a dime.  The wall became a playground with the glaze and sponge simply toys.  I became an artist playing with color, moving along the wall with my sponge to the beat of the music playing.  I became an artiste’!

When in doubt, add glitter!

Our rooms are fairly small as we bought the place for the high-rise view of the ocean, not the size.  By choice, the colors on our walls are rather deep, which can close down a smaller room even more.

At some point in the middle of our project, a dear friend suggested that we add painter’s sparkle to the walls for added effect and to make the rooms feel lighter. IMG_5517.jpg

Sparkles!!!  I had never heard of painter’s sparkle, but you didn’t need to ask me twice.  A little research – again thanks to YouTube How Tos – and a trip to the hardware store resulted in Darrell with his roller adding a coat of sparkle on top of the paint in both rooms.

Sparkle on our walls was the best unexpected outcome of our Paint-cation…and I get a twinkle every time I see what our Thanksgiving Paint-cation taught me.

The point of it all: In our second half of life, it is so easy to not take risks, not play first, and stay in our easy, well-worn comfort zones of doubt, second-guessing and need to “look good.”  Yet, I find that I get the most juice in life when I DO step out, take risks, and play first ANYWAY.

That’s what makes my second half of life radical and passionate…and results in a radically, beautifully painted condo – with faux and sparkle to show!

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The Real 12 Days of Christmas (Plus a Strange Family Tradition)

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My family has a rather strange Christmas tradition. Honestly, my parents can’t even agree on how it became a tradition in the first place.

My mother swears that her aunt gave her the idea for this while my father is adamant that they thought of this tradition on their own to prevent us children from being too greedy. However this tradition started, I still follow it today and hope to continue the tradition as long as I can, and maybe I can even convince some of you to take part in this tradition as well.

“So what is the tradition?!” You find yourselves asking, after all, you are more than two paragraphs into this post. Well, let me start at the beginning…

You’ve heard of the 12 Days of Christmas. After all, there is that song. Plus, the media has started picking up on it too. 12 Days of Sales, 12 Days of Christmas Movies, the list seems to grow and grow each year. But there is a GIANT piece of the puzzle that almost EVERYONE is missing!

The 12 Days of Christmas actually start on December 25th.

That’s right – those sales and promotions that all seem to start on December 14th are simply incorrect. But I understand why businesses do it, after all, how many people do you know that start taking down the tree on the 26th? Or at the very least, before the new year?

But I’m here to tell you that the 12 Days of Christmas START on the 25th, and that my family found a way to celebrate each and every day.

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“Why does it matter?” You may ask. Well, let me give you a mini history lesson. Christmas is actually a season. Yes, we have heard of the Christmas season, but historically the “season” consists of Christmas Day and the 11 Days after Christmas. Why? Because of the church. According to the Christian calendar, there are 12 days between when they celebrate Jesus’ birth (Christmas) and when they celebrate the 3 Wise Men arriving to give their gifts to the baby, which marks the beginning of the church season of Epiphany. Therefore, the 12 Days of Christmas are actually December 25th through January 5th, with Epiphany beginning on the 6th.

Now, regardless of if you find yourself very religious or not, this tradition is a great way to keep the original 12 Days of Christmas alive and to hold onto the Christmas spirit just a little bit longer.

“WHAT IS THE TRADITION?!?!” I hear you yelling to me through the screen. Okay, okay! I’ll finally get to it.

My family’s tradition is to give each other one gift every day for the entire 12 Days of Christmas.

Let me explain it a little more. When my brother and I were very young, my parents saw how all of the children around them were receiving tons of gifts on Christmas Day. Between the gifts from Santa, and their parents, and their extended family – many kids easily had 12 gifts, if not more. The kids were tearing through all of their gifts in about 30 minutes and then they were so overwhelmed by the number of presents they received, they would pick their favorite one to go play with and all the other gifts would be left at the base of the tree to be collected later.

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Me at the age of 12 on one of the 12 Days of Christmas.

My parents did not like this. They thought it made children appreciate each present less and it that it caused a big letdown after the gifts were all opened and suddenly – after a month building up to the day – Christmas was over.

So, however they thought of the idea, they decided to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas. On the first day of Christmas, us children would receive one big gift from Santa and a smaller gift from our parents. Then, depending on how many gifts we received from our extended family, we would be able to open a few more until there were 11 gifts left under the tree for each of us. This way, we still had the excitement of Christmas Day above all else, but we weren’t opening so many gifts that we didn’t know how to appreciate them. Then, each day for the remaining 11 days of Christmas, we would open one more gift.

As much as I think this is a wonderful way for children to appreciate each of their gifts, enjoy the entire season, and learn about the history of the 12 Days of Christmas, I feel that this tradition can be just as gratifying as an adult.

As I grew older and got married, I carried this tradition into my new life. Each Christmas, my husband and I would buy each other 12 gifts. This worked out well because we always knew that we would have the same number of gifts under the tree. Now, many of you are probably thinking – 12 gifts is a lot! But, they don’t have to be big gifts. I still buy my husband one big “Santa” gift for the first day of Christmas and then smaller gifts for the following 11 days. Maybe one day he receives a few new shirts, another day a book he wanted. The thing I like about this tradition is that you can make it as grandiose or simple as you like.

So that’s it. That is my favorite Christmas tradition. I know it is unique – I am yet to meet a single person who also takes part in this tradition – but it is something that I truly love. I love being reminded to be grateful each and every day. I love being able to celebrate Christmas for the full season – and understanding why I am celebrating.

So maybe I’ve inspired you to try something new this year, or maybe not. But, either way, I hope that I’ve at least given you a new perspective for this holiday season.

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The Choice We Make to Be Grateful

Melinda Walsh

A fun moment between friends (Melinda and Bert).

My friend Bert’s book was titled, “The Free Bird Flies: Choosing Life After Loss”, and it was a chronicle of how she regained her balance after the accidental death of her 21-year-old son, Philip. I held it in my hand, thinking of the journey that she and I had shared as close friends for the past several years. The many small moments of laughter over something her children had said; the sounding-board conversations we had over a shared interest in business; and the deeper conversations of spirituality and the concepts that give meaning to life. She filled such a comfortable and valued place in my life, in the way that only friends who love you just as you are can do. We vibed on a profund level and I always looked forward to our daily phone calls.

“The most helpful thing that someone said to me after Phil’s death”, she said, “was that you don’t ever ‘get over’ your grief. You just learn to manage it.” I had some managing to learn, as Bert had just been diagnosed with an incurable neurological disease that had already stolen much of her ability to speak, and was very soon going to accompany her out of this lifetime.

I felt numb, overloaded with sadness. Bert was well-known in our community, and I got multiple calls on a daily basis from people who were just hearing the news and needed to talk. I did my best to listen as they poured out their shock and grief. We all wanted to connect with someone else who loved her like we did. I found my sadness growing, as if in some way, if I could just get sad enough, then all would be restored and Bert would once again be her regular funny self.

If I’m not paying attention in the morning, I sometimes overpour my cup of tea. It tops the rim and runs down the side of the cup, puddling at the base. On this particular day after the third such phone call, I felt like that cup of tea, my grief at the impending loss of my friend overflowing my heart and puddling at my feet. I knew that I felt that way because losing my friend was all I had been focusing on. It was the topic that took up all my available mental bandwidth. Understandable, but puddling nonetheless. I needed to shift my story, but wasn’t sure what to do.

“How else can I look at this?”, I asked myself as I settled in for a meditation. As I relaxed, I thought of all the friends of mine who had gone out of their way to do small acts of caring for me. A sweet text here and there. Delivery of food so I wouldn’t have to cook. A listening ear so I could unload what I was feeling. Long, comforting hugs from my sweetheart.

My eyes shot open. “Love! I am surrounded by love!” My heart grew, and made room for gratitude as I sent a mental blessing to each person who formed my network of support. I could feel my mood lift a bit – there was now a different emotion alongside my grief.

I didn’t know it at the time, but choosing to look for love and gratitude in the time of sadness forever changed my stance toward loss. In the two years that followed Bert’s death (or “transition”, as she liked to call it), I also lost two other close friends as well as my dad. While my grief was certainly there at those times, it was also accompanied by its new friend, gratitude. Making the choice to be grateful for all of the treasured experiences I had with each of these people who were so special to me acted as a salve for my aching heart. It gave a dimension and a richness to the grieving process that surprised me, and I learned that difficult things also come packaged with wonderful things. It’s our choice to look for them.

As we get older, losses big and small become woven into the fabric of our life experience and it doesn’t take a big loss like a death to make gratitude our daily companion. We have opportunities to focus on what we love every day, to learn to manage our losses instead of allowing them to define us. Choosing gratitude is a choice worth making.

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Rockin’ Free Birds

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“Oh… so you are an empty nester…” (sad face).

Well, no. Actually, I am a free bird!

That’s a choice I made when my daughters were both about to move away to college at the same time.

I’ve listened to friends lament on how empty their house feels with their kids in college: their childhood rooms vacant, the void in their life, unfulfilled expectations on children coming back to visit, returning phone calls, etc.  

I realized this very clearly: I was NOT interested in living my prime years as if the best of life was behind me, nor burdening my kids with any expectations that somehow they were responsible for my joy, happiness, or fulfillment.

Eeeeeew!  Not my cup of The Back Forty tea!

We’ve all heard “Let them fly” said as a consoling and empowering way to hold our children growing up and moving on.  So, I say this to us: “Let US fly!!!”

Therefore, as my daughters spent a year designing their college career, I spent a year creating what my life will look like after they move out!  Where do I want to live?  What environment do I want to live in?  What will I do that will be an expression of my passion and purpose in this next/best half of my life?  

Two months after they moved out of our 14-year family home, I moved out too.  Together, we had ALL set out on creating the next era of our life.  

This Thanksgiving season, I am profoundly present to my deep gratitude for my daughters, our relationship, and the deep love and appreciation we hold for each other.  I am immensely grateful for their opportunity to go to college and their freedom to build a life of their own design, unconstrained by external expectations and unencumbered by feelings that MY happiness or satisfaction depends on them.

Do I miss them?  Of course!!!  Do I delight in seeing them every chance I get?  Absolutely!!!  I cherish every moment I get to spend with them.  Yet as part of giving my daughters the space to spread their wings and fly free, I created the same kind of freedom for myself and my own second half/best half of life.  Just as they are creating their life and future, I am overjoyed that I get to create my Back Forty Future of my own design…with the zest an excitement of a twenty-year-old!

When my daughters return a phone call or text, and when they work out coming home from college to join our family for Thanksgiving dinner, it is a gift, a joy and a blessing – not an obligation or dutiful fulfillment of an expectation.  

I am blessed.  I am deeply grateful.  And I have a kick-ass playful, passionate and purposeful Back Forty ahead of me!  Rock on radically free birds!!

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