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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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Starting Over: Back Forty Witness Protection

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“Witness protection just makes for exciting stories and it’s a really rich sort of place to grab stories from… people starting over completely, saying goodbye to their lives before… it never ends in terms of story opportunities.”

-Mary McCormack

When we look at our first half of life – what I call “the Front Forty” – there are certain ways of being and thinking we adopt as far as who we are, our “lot” in life, and what is or isn’t possible for us.

One considers themselves lucky if one can simply get a good education, get married for life, buy a home, raise happy healthy kids, keep a good job, save money, and then retire happily with some vacations, taking care of the grandkids, and maybe tooling around with a hobby or two.

Granted, that’s a good life, as we’re raised to believe.  And yet, as many have found while maturing in the world of today, the early “pictures” we had aren’t necessarily realistic.

The American Psychological Association states the divorce rate as between 40 to 50% and the rate for subsequent marriages even higher. Savings can’t survive certain economic impacts such as Great Recessions or crooked investments. The old-world ideal of keeping a job for life is not only totally unrealistic in a “freelance” economy but perhaps not even a good idea if one is looking to expand and move up. And we’ve all had the mythical, solid and steady “home” get shattered in one way or another.

My parents are a good example of that, when Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008 and my entire hometown – including their home filled with years of memories – went under 8-10 feet of water. Or my aunt and cousin in Baton Rouge, recently having their own home of 50 years going under in a record flood.

So, what is one to do when the pictures of the way life was supposed to be turn out to be fraudulent? Perhaps enter into The Back Forty Witness Protection Program.the-back-forty-protection-program

Yes, bringing a little lightness to the whole end-of-the-world experience of divorce, financial or physical destruction, and all forms of devastation can help.

Witness Protection programs were created so that folks who would spill the beans on perpetrators of organized crime during trials could be protected with a new identity with which to live out their lives.

Just what if our “pictures” were part of an “organized crime” to keep us all safely inside of a smaller, limited view of ourselves and what’s possible for us?

Think about it:

  • Ever heard of people who shook off the perceived shackles of a bad marriage and found the more perfect fit for them?
  • Ever noticed how some folks respond to financial ruin with a new sense of Self that has them grow bigger than they ever were?
  • Ever watched as individuals move up and out of early, confined, career cubicles into roles of leadership, both within other organizations or their own business…often because they were fired?

The Back Forty philosophy, movement, and community is all about taking the supposed “worst things that could happen to us” and using them as opportunities for opening up to what’s bigger within us and what’s greater coming next.

If we can look back at our past – even these supposed serious and significant events – and analyze them from the point of view of “laboratory experiments” we ran to discover what we’re here to do and express, we get to then focus on inspiring and forward-moving directives rather than harping on our victim-based losses.

What’s the new identity that this supposed “bad thing happening to me” gives me the opportunity to assume?  What’s the greater and more expansive life that this event is opening the door into?

Those may seem like impossible questions to ask in the face of our personal stories of devastation…and yet we believe they are the questions we must build our muscles to ask, even when in the midst of horror.  In doing so, we begin to turn our small, pictures-based victim into a future-causing being. We thus rise toward becoming more and more of who we here came to be and what we came here to do.

The Back Forty Witness Protection Program: offering new identities after every trial.

“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.”

-Guy Finley

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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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How are These Unique New Houses Uniting Families?

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The other day I stumbled across a unique ad and immediately decided that I needed to write an article about it. It was a relatively new way to solve an age-old problem.

For thousands of years, families have lived under one roof. Children, parents, grandparents, and sometimes even aunts, uncles, and cousins used to live in one home. This tradition evolved into the “in-law suites” that were so popular in the early 1900s. However, in-law suites lost their appeal in the late 1940s, after WWII, which has added to the increase in retirement homes.

More and more often families are thrown on opposite sides of the country, and when the older generation gets too old to take care of themselves they are put in a retirement home. It seems that the days of many generations living under one roof is gone.

plan_imgEnter Next Gen Homes. These homes took the idea of the in-law suite and brought it into the 21st century. These homes are literally two homes under one roof. There is the main residence which is connected to the smaller home with a wraparound porch. The smaller home includes a kitchen, living area, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, and even it’s own garage.

The company selling these homes (Lennar) are trying to show the flexibility that comes with this style of home. One family turned the smaller residence into a music studio, others invited parents or children to live with them. Click here to find out more.

So this leads me to my final question, and I hope that you comment below! Would you live in a Next Gen home? Would you invite your parents? Your children? Turn it into a workshop/business?  What do you think of this re-invention of the in-law suite? Let me know!

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Remember the History of Veterans Day when Celebrating Today

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Veterans Day. Everyone knows it and everyone knows that the day is used to thank veterans for their service. But how many people actually know the history behind why we celebrate it?

November 11, 1919

President Woodrow Wilson declared the first Armistice Day in remembrance of the end of WWI (which took place a year earlier).

June 4, 1926

Congress requested annual proclamations calling for the observance of November 11th.

May 13, 1938

Armistice Day was officially declared a legal holiday as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace”.

May 26, 1954

President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the idea that Armistice Day should celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in WWI. President Eisenhower had been given this idea by a WWII veteran in 1945 before he became president.

June 1, 1954

Congress amended the law to replace “Armistice” with “Veterans” which leads us to the Veterans Day we know today.

So how are you celebrating Veterans Day today? Are you taking a moment to remember all veterans who have served our country? Maybe you can think about just how much our country has gone through. Or maybe you just thank the veterans in your life.

However you choose to celebrate this special day, remember the history behind it!

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Divorce and Friendships

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Playing guitar on the beach

I’ve gotten divorced twice…and twice found myself facing the same curious situation.

All of a sudden, many of the people I’ve been friends with for years just drop off. We didn’t get into a fight or disagree.  We just stopped spending time together.  I have wondered ‘why’ for years, and I think I may have finally figured it out for myself.  Can you relate to my own answer?

Part of the reason for my second and more recent divorce, in particular, was that my then husband and I had grown and changed in ways incompatible or inconsistent with continuing the marriage.  Sometimes society calls it “growing apart.”  Even the path itself, leading to the difficult and final decision of divorce, was for me a path of massive growth and change.   I looked the same, but I was not the person I used to be – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. My evolvement in becoming more and more of who “I” am — as an individual — was afoot, and probably became pronounced in my ways of being in the world.

I realize now that it must have been very challenging for my longtime friends to have found, all of a sudden, that the person they used to be friends with (the married Alexandra) didn’t live here anymore.  I look the same, but something was significantly different, and they can’t quite put a finger on it.  This must be tough…to see somewhat of a stranger inhabiting your once-known-friend’s body.

So, it gives me peace-of-mind to now understand that it isn’t like my friends no longer want to spend time with me: it’s simply that the Alexandra they used to hang with left town and there is a new and evolved “me” they have the opportunity (choice) to now meet and know.  Like a very real budding friendship with someone new, they probably simply feel a bit apprehensive and in heightened-alert.

Thank God for those willing — after many years of what, in the first half of life, can become same o’ same o’ relationships — to explore a Back Forty of getting to know and grow with the new beings we all have the opportunity to become.  Some have come around, and some (God bless them) may not.  Using words from an unknown author, whether old friends or new, “let the friends be the friends of your deliberate choice.”

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Re-Evolution

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Often when we step off the non-thinking train that’s been running since…

…we started in a particular career that we never left

…we had kids and then spent 18yrs giving them wings

…we began a relationship or marriage that got caught up in the swirl of the items above

…we developed financial security that disappeared in some recession, depression, transgression or repossession…

…there’s a questioning period of what we coulda/shoulda/woulda done had we been more aware and alert.  Along with that questioning can come a seeming lack of confidence to step out, take a risk and/or play big again.

The adage “youth is wasted on the young” doesn’t necessarily apply to daring because young folks have no real experience of “failure” yet…and therefore they swing boldly (and sometimes blindly) at balls coming over their plate, making each new swing a learning experience (whether they would call it that or not).  They are “daring” if simply by the lack of knowledge of what can and can’t be done.

In The Back Forty, however, there can be so much protective gear weighing us down that our ability to swing is hampered…if we’re brave enough to even get up to the plate again at all.  After a few fast balls clocking us in the head or heart, we can become skittish to stretch out and unprotect ourselves for a good, honest swing.  Relationships, careers, building businesses – taking risks in all of these can get over-thought to the point of inaction.

For example, having built a home and family in my late 20’s, two-car garage with Mercedes, backyard with hot-tub, and extra room with crib, I experienced the non-thought of simply doing what people do as they get married and settle down.

Yet, within 10 years of such natural, life progressions, a divorced-and-co-parenting relationship had been in place for years, the house was owned by another, and a two-year custody suit was just starting.

I doubt I’m the only one who has seen the “little pink houses for you and me” picture burn to ashes.

In the wake-up call that gets termed “midlife crisis”, however, we have an opportunity to actually begin thinking vs. being scared to move or make a mistake (again).

One new way of thinking is to reframe all of it as having been for our highest and greatest good and to look for and see our evolution possibilities that arose from it.  What have I been through that I can help others with?  What gifts, talents, abilities, new superpowers did I develop as I went through the crucible and/or chrysalis of all that stuff?  How can I consciously use daring to grow and no longer be weighed down by victim stories of what he/she/they did to me?

Perhaps it’s this second wind of evolution – our Re-Evolution – that is the real game to be played in this span of time called a life…and what if, at midlife, it’s only beginning?

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The Difference between Men and Women in Midlife

group-headshot-1I admit that sometimes my blog topics don’t come to me right away, and this morning I was calling on help from the almighty internet. I searched and searched for different topics and then different bloggers, anything to give me a spark of inspiration. Suddenly I saw it.

I saw the difference between men in midlife and women in midlife, and I was shocked that I had never noticed it before.

What did I notice? As I was scrolling through all of these blogs, articles, and websites devoted to midlife I noticed one shocking truth. There were no men blogging about their midlife journey! I saw countless examples of women talking about their midlife struggles, sharing their beauty hacks, talking about how they are finding themselves, but there was absolutely nothing from the other half of the population. Occasionally I find a man in midlife who has a blog, sometimes even a blog about midlife. But what are his topics? Finances, business, retirement planning – not once have I found a male blogger who is talking about his midlife experience.

Although this may be relatively isolated, I feel it supports an overarching theory. Women in midlife are often searching to better themselves, and what better way to succeed at bettering yourself than to reach out to others who are also going through midlife? This is why there are so many women with blogs, websites, and articles devoted to their journey through midlife. Men on the other hand, although they often want to better themselves as well, are far less likely to share their personal journey. The idea of someone judging your failures can be crippling.

This is why I feel that The Back Forty is so revolutionary. First of all, the original idea of The Back Forty came from a man. Darrell Gurney was wading his way through midlife and had an epiphany. He realized that your second half of life is where you have the chance to truly achieve what you are on this earth to achieve. As his idea evolved from a book to a program, to a movement – his mission began to become clear.

Not to say that he did all of this alone, there was a woman in the background, Alexandra Levin (who is now the Co-Founder of The Back Forty INFUSE Program). In many ways, Alexandra helped Darrell push the idea of The Back Forty toward the program and movement that it is becoming today.

So, if you are currently working your way through midlife alone, don’t! Check out The Back Forty. It might just be the community you are searching for. After all, as Darrell always says:

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No More Little Miss “Good Girl”

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I’ve been called a good sport, agreeable, and easy-going.  All good things, right?

Wrong.  For me, they are not.

I have been accommodating my entire life, starting when I was 2 or 3. I was a good girl – in fact the best behaved child around (my mom’s friends always told her so).  Being a “good girl” became my instrument for being liked by others, and getting my family’s approval and love.  

I’ve been a people pleaser. With a smile. Happy to oblige.  I’ve thought others know better, are smarter, and that I should just do what is wanted of me.  To keep this thinking in place, I’ve subconsciously surrounded myself with plenty of people to accommodate.

One example is my ex-husband of 15 years, who was scary-smart, headstrong, and had a temper.  It was much easier to say “yes” and do things his way than to say “no” and stand my ground.  So I went the easy route.  Except it only looked easy.

The very hard costs were my respect for myself, my self-expression, and the absence of a stand for who I am and what I believe.  I was lost to my Self.  In the end, the marriage ended and I decided that the only way to break that accommodation pattern and allow for my self-expression was to stay away from relationships. That changed when another way of thinking and being came along, called The Back Forty.

In my Back Forty, I have no interest in being an accommodating, people-pleasing, agreeable good girl.  

Change is not easy after being a people-pleaser and accommodator for 48 years.  It is still much easier for me to agree (with you, them or whomever) than to stand my ground for my perspective, values and desires. Patterns of behaving and thinking are deep and well-established.

My brain has been trained for a lifetime to perceive failure to accommodate as a threat to my survival. The temptation to agree and accommodate is high. Yet I am learning to stand for my Self and my full Self-expression.

It can be messy, like a child first learning to feed herself.  And while it can be easier to err on the side of continuing to accommodate and agree, I choose to err on the side of my stand, even if disagreeable.  I’m ready, willing and fully able to make mistakes, clean up the mess, and move on.  Change can and will only come this way.

I do this because being accommodating is deadly. It kills who I am, it kills my joy, and it kills my relationships and, interestingly, it kills other people… because it doesn’t require them to learn and deal with what they need to figure out or improve about themselves.

I choose to be a stand for my Self, as a way to honor those I love, those I care about, those relationships I treasure, and what is possible for me when I am fully Self-expressed.  I choose to be disagreeable and unaccommodating when my Self is at stake and to risk argument and disapproval.

After many years of first-half-of-life research, I’ve learned that being a good girl is overrated. For my Back Forty, I choose ME – and the difference I can make – when I am true to my Self.

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