Changing Seasons

As we approach the end of summer with the autumnal equinox, I find myself appreciating the changing of the seasons. Here in Texas we usually have a hot spring followed by a scorching summer followed by a hot fall. Even here, though, the changing of the seasons is noticeable if you pay attention.

Moving into autumn the daylight is getting shorter. The morning temperatures are a lot cooler. The trees are starting to think about changing colors. The Friday Night Lights start to glow (in this region that is actually part of nature). Until I started gardening I did not pay much attention to the seasons. I now find myself feeling more tied to light, darkness, rain, temperature, planting, and harvesting. Just about the time I am getting tired of the long hot days, they start getting shorter and cooler.

The changing seasons are a metaphor for life as well. I have never met anyone who truly loves change, at least not all change. I tend to get set in my comfortable routines and find that any change or disruption to them is annoying, even if the change is ultimately better (which it often is). Even though most of us don’t love change, we have to make peace with it because things change. It is one of the few constants.

Since change is inevitable, I try to get philosophical about it. Perhaps just as I welcome the changing of the seasons I can also welcome other types of change. There are many seasons of life that people experience. We greatly enjoyed the season of life when our children were small. When they started school that brought many changes to our lives and routines. When they left for college we again faced great change. Now that we are empty nesters and see the gray hair in the mirror, yet more change. When we face changes to the seasons of our lives we try to look for the new and exciting possibilities. It is not always easy.

My practice of writing an annual Forward Story (detailed in my book by the same name) helps with this process of change. It actually empowers me to not only think about what changes are coming, but to take some level of responsibility about how I will handle it and respond to it. It allows me to embrace change as exciting and positive. It is a choice I make.

Sometimes change is thrust on us and is most unwelcome. This is true with the death of a loved one. We did not ask for it, but it happened anyway. Many of my friends have suffered change because of a hurricane and flooding that they did not want. Change is inevitable and comes in many flavors. We are in charge of the way we respond to it.

How do you cope with the changing seasons in your life?(leave a comment)

My Dad is a Man

miller-fordMy Dad is a man. I don’t mean he is a male — that much is obvious. I mean he is a man in the sense that he is what we call a manly man.

He was a good athlete. He hunts. He fishes. He has at least one of every power tool ever made…and he has used them all. Heck, at age 76 he still uses them all. He is an accomplished mechanic who restores vintage cars like Ford Model Ts. He welds. He mows. He chainsaws. He is a master with the smoker and grill. His brisket is still the standard by which I measure all others. What I am saying is that by every standard by which masculinity is usually measured, he is manly.

It has always been easy for me to look at him and see what a man looks like, but that is not what makes him so special. There are manly men everywhere. What makes him special is the ease with which he models both his manliness and his sensitivity. From the time I was a small child he was comfortable with hugging me and telling me he loved me. We still hug. We still affirm our love for each other. I have come to realize that not all fathers know how to do that. He is a gentle and kind man. He is a man of faith.

My grandfather died when I was five years old. I still remember him, but the memories are veiled by years and by my age at the time. So, I don’t know if he modeled this physical and verbal form of fatherhood for my Dad to see. I will find out today when I speak to him on Father’s Day. Regardless of where he learned it, Dad decided that he would tell his children that he loves them and that he would embrace them to demonstrate his love. He has been consistent with it. I am grateful for that. It helped me see that there is no contradiction between masculinity and sensitivity.

I have friends who did not have that kind of model in their father. Some of them struggle with showing affection to their children. I cannot blame them because the way we are raised has a powerful impact on how we parent. If you are one of those men who struggles with kindness, affection, and expressiveness with your children, let me challenge you to break the cycle. Find a man who does it the way you want to do it and have a conversation with him. Try it sometime with your children even though it may feel strange. You have the opportunity to start a new family tradition that you can pass along to your children and grandchildren. Boys need to see this positive practice of masculinity, and girls need to see it as well.

There are really no downsides to my Dad’s approach. I highly recommend it, and I try to practice it myself.

So, thank you, Miller Lee.

I love you.

Important Book for Parents of Teens

How does that teenage brain work?

At Forward Story we are always interested in information that relates to the way our bodies work and the way families work. I have discovered a book that deals with both. The book is The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults

It’s a shame this book was not available when we were raising our teenagers. It might have made the whole experience even more enjoyable for both them and us. Having listened to an interview with Dr. Jensen, who is herself the mother of teenage sons, I believe this book can truly help you if you are a parent, or a grandparent of teens. Also, if you work with teens as a teacher, counselor, or mentor, I think you will be able to produce value from it as well.

If you read the book, please share with us what you think about it:

How Did You Sleep Last Night?

64 Max sofaMost mornings my wife and I ask each other “How did you sleep last night?” Let me ask you: How did you sleep last night? The answer we give is usually a combination of how long (number of hours) and the quality (e.g. “tossed and turned” or “slept like a rock”). The reason this matters is because the length and quality of sleep has an impact on how well we function during the day. If I were concerned that you would not agree with that assertion, I could point you to a lot of research that demonstrates the importance of sleep and how it affects alertness and performance. That information is only a web search away. However, I have not yet met anyone who thinks sleep is unimportant.

Until the last few years I did not think seriously about sleep. I was a night owl who thrived when the sun set and who despised the ringing of the alarm clock. Now I care about sleep because I care about how well I function during the day.

My recent focus on sleep is part of an overall improvement in health that I undertook over four years ago. When I lost weight through nutrition and began exercising regularly, my sleep improved. As the weight dropped, my snoring stopped. Now that I care more about the length and quality of my sleep, I monitor it more. In addition to losing weight, here are three habits I have developed that improved my sleep:

1. Monitor It Using Technology – I use a phone app called Sleep Cycle. It is available for both iPhone and Android phones. My fiend Kevin Wilson told me about it. This app does two things really well. First, it tracks the length and quality of your sleep. Using your smart phone’s accelerometer, the app tracks your movements in bed and correlates them to sleep phases. Each morning I can see what my sleep quality was (expressed in %) and the duration of time I was in bed (in hours and minutes). The second thing it does really well is wake me up. The app plays a low and soothing sound or a song from your music library to wake you up. The key is that the app waits to begin playing the music until you are in a light stage of sleep. Given that the music plays quietly while I am not in a deep sleep means that I awake much more easily and in a much better mood. I really cannot recommend this app too highly. Here is an example of a daily summary:

IMG_5725

I love this quote from The Guardian on the Sleep Cycle app’s alarm function: “The result is so gentle and lovely it feels like being woken up by a mermaid stoking your hair or a unicorn nuzzling your toes.”

2. Eliminate Blue Light Before Bed – Before electric lights people generally started getting ready for bed when the sun set and awoke at sunrise. With the invention of electric lights, TVs, smart phones, etc. we have created the ability to have our eyes exposed to light well after sunset. The reason this matters is that our bodies begin producing melatonin when the lights go down. Melatonin is the sleep-inducing hormone produced by our bodies that impacts our circadian rhythms. While all light can inhibit melatonin excretion, blue light from electronics devices is especially detrimental. I try to eliminate blue light in the two hours before bed, but I have to admit that this is a challenge during football season.

3. Deep Breathing Exercise – About 30 minutes before bed I take one 400 mg tablet of magnesium glycinate. I take KAL – Magnesium Glycinate 400, 180 tablets brand, but just make sure it is magnesium glycinate instead of other chelates (like citrate).

  • I then get in bed and inhale and exhale very slowly eight times. This is not chest breathing, but “belly breathing.” Put your hand on your stomach and feel it rise as you inhale. Inhale through the nose, not the mouth. Remember, this is not to be done quickly. It is slow.
  • When I get to the maximum inhale, I typically pause for a second or two before exhaling very slowly through the mouth.
  • Again, when the exhale is completed, I typically pause a second or two again before the next inhale through the nose.
  • After my eighth exhale is finished, I then read a book. I usually read a physical paper book, but an e-reader with no backlit screen would also work. In other words, I avoid blue light devices. It usually takes less than twenty minutes for me to get very sleepy and to click off the bedside light.  Also, I always sleep better when the room is completely dark.

A Word About Sleep Apnea & Jerrod Heard

Last week it was reported that Texas quarterback, Jerrod Heard, went to a sleep clinic and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. This was surprising to a lot of people because many believe that sleep apnea is an older person’s challenge. Jerrod is in his early twenties and is in top physical condition. His openness about this continues to be a source of encouragement to many people to consider their own sleep. Sleep apnea is only one of many sleep disorders that people struggle with. Let me be clear about this: None of what I have written above about how I sleep better is going to correct a sleep disorder. If you are not waking up refreshed and ready for the day at hand, please speak to your doctor and consider doing a sleep study. Thank you to Jerrod for waking us all up to the fact that even young people can experience sleep disorders.

How did you sleep last night? Use the Comment button to share your thoughts and questions about getting a good night’s sleep.

The Power of an Encouraging Note

When I opened the mail yesterday there was an envelope with a handwritten note from my 7 year old nephew, Kase. Each year around Christmas we have him and the other nephews (and now a niece) over to make and decorate gingerbread houses. This is mostly my wife’s event, but I love it and help out as well. When he was younger I remember Kase being afraid of dogs. So, it was a bit of a challenge for him to come to our house where we have 3 corgis.

Last December when Kase came over he really bonded with our female corgi, Fiona (or FiFi). He spent much time in the floor loving and getting love in return from our “tub of goo.” Last week our hearts were broken (still are, in fact) over having to let Fiona go. I wrote a tribute to her here.

When I opened the envelope from Kase I found the following:

Kase-Note

Kase wrote that from his concern for us and from his own sadness over FiFi. His words of encouragement are precious and tender. They lifted our spirits — he lifted our spirits.

This is a reminder to me of how much of an impact a simple note can have in the lives of others. In the era of email and text messages, a handwritten note really stands out. But whether handwritten or created any other way, uplifting words can make a difference in the life of someone you care about.

Thank you, Kase, for your sweet words. It helped us.

Who can you encourage today with a note?

A Tribute to Our Girl Fiona

Fiona-Small

Today (8/26/15) was a hard day in our household. We had to say goodbye to a furry friend who graced our home for over ten years. Her name was Fiona. We often called her FiFi. She was a tri-colored Pembroke Welsh Corgi, an enchanted little breed of herding dogs that think they are much larger than they actually are. She was our “alpha male” who presided over a pack that included two male corgis – Toby and Rhett.

Like all dogs, she had some very special qualities and a unique personality that made a difference in our family. Her unique trick was sitting on her butt like a chipmunk. She could balance like that for a long time. She was also the most gentle dog we have met. She loved children and loved us to be in the floor with her so she could snuggle up tight.

I am sure it is a testament to the blessed and easy nature of our lives so far that the decision to let her go was one of the hardest we have ever made. Were we sure there were no other alternatives? We stretched this agonizing decision over multiple days until we were certain it was time.

As Margot and I drove home and amid our tears we agreed that even though the pain of separation is sharp, we would not have traded those ten years of love to avoid this moment. It was not our decision that brought Fiona into this world — that happened without our knowledge or involvement. It was our decision to allow her to become part of our lives, and we will never regret that no matter how much this hurts. The love was worth it all. We gave her a great home, great kids, great canine brothers, and a lot of love. She gave us joy, happiness, and her own love in return. What more can you ask?

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. – Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In the end we made a decision motivated by that same real love we bathed her in all her life. Our lives and those of Kellen and Matt are richer because she shared hers with us. Dr. Todd Rabon and the staff at Premier Animal Hospital are compassionate caregivers. We thank you all for your tender care.

Note: See the follow-up post here.