Tree Time


Majestic Maples

Summer has mostly faded away, but here in the Midwest, October usually brings a few unseasonably warm days. On a recent such day, I decided to head out to a grand oasis in the midst of suburbia: the Morton Arboretum. I have fond memories of taking trips out to the arboretum as a child. My father’s “field trips” almost always took us into the Great Outdoors, and the arboretum was one of his favorite spots. It’s a huge showcase for one of God’s most awesome creations: trees.

The east side of Morton Arboretum was teeming with people: school groups, elderly couples, mothers with young children. This is the part of the park, after all, that features a children’s garden, a maze, the gift shop, and the cafe. I decided to head to the west side and savor some solitude.

The ground was still soft and damp from recent rains, but most of my trail was covered with mulch, which made it easier to walk. I hiked in silence under the canopy of trees. The only sounds were an occasional bird call or a squirrel rustling in the leaves. I felt very small.

Mighty Oaks

After about a mile, I found a bench in a shady spot and sat down to read. It was such luxury to sit, cold drink in hand, and enjoy my mystery novel. I felt as if I were playing hooky from real life. Eventually, though, I knew I had to make my way back. Not the greatest reader of maps, I relied on the signs and trail markers and stayed on the path.

I love trees. I love how massive they can be. I love the different designs of the leaves on different types of trees. I love how the light peeks through them. I love how I can shut myself off from the rest of the world in the midst of them.

img_0694Desire under the Elms

Being away from all my mundane tasks, my worries, and my fears was good for my spirit. I remember my son saying that being in nature made him feel closer to God. I understood what he meant. These trees that surrounded me had been there for many years and would likely endure for many more.

The Evergreen – symbol of eternal life

As I neared the entrance to the arboretum once again, I came upon a river – more of a creek really. The water sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. It looked inviting to me, as the warmth and the hiking had made me perspire. I felt renewed.

Peace like a River

My idyll under the trees came to an end, but it gave me faith: faith in nature to sustain us and bring us joy, faith in others with the vision to create and maintain such a natural treasure, and faith in God that the world He has created is enough.

Sexism and Halloween Costumes



“Sexy Middle Eastern Arab Girl Burka Halloween Costume”

There were protests when the above costume appeared for sale in Halloween costume retail stores. It is the perfect storm of sexism and cultural appropriation.

In the past, I’ve written about the harm of cultural appropriation and the need for whites to be sensitive to non-white cultures when it comes to dressing up for Halloween. While many scoff at the thin skin of those who might be offended by their giant sombrero or war-painted Indian costume, I think it’s important to be respectful of other cultures and religions. (For the record, I don’t think it’s cool to dress up as a nun for Halloween either.)

But this year, one mom’s protest against Party City’s sexualized costumes for girls caught my eye and reminded me that sexism is another problem with a lot of Halloween attire. Both young girls and women have a hard time finding a costume that isn’t either very “girly” or prefaced with the adjective “sexy.” You can be a sexy pirate, inmate, cop, nurse, etc.

I have no problem if a woman wants to dress up in a sexy costume or outfit of any kind. That is her prerogative. But the fact that it’s almost impossible to find women’s costumes of any other type speaks to a problem we have in our culture, and that is the objectification of women. That problem has even infiltrated our presidential election, in which we have heard Donald Trump talking about women’s bodies, faces, and weights, as well as his predilection for grabbing their genitals whenever he pleases.

I do have a problem with costumes targeted for young children and preteens that are sexualized. It’s one thing if your daughter has her heart set on being a princess for Halloween. It’s quite another to market a feminized or sexy version of, say, a police uniform, to a young girl.

Party City apparently took note and listened to that mom’s protest. This year’s website features the following police costumes:


Sure, you can still be a sexy cop or wear a girlish police dress, but at least there are options for girls and their parents when they go shopping for that all-important Halloween getup.

As for me, I’m going for the female empowerment motif and dressing up as – you guessed it – Hillary Clinton.


A Thoreau Understanding



Live each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself
to the influences of each.

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I found this quote on a little card in my hotel room where I was staying while visiting my college age son. Like many quotes from the Twentieth Century American philosopher Thoreau, it has so many layers of meaning for me.

My first thought was of the “eat local” concept, which encourages us to partake of food grown nearby when it is in season instead of insisting upon year round access to everything, such as watermelon or berries in winter, for example. I also thought of how seamlessly my tastes move from the cool, crisp salads of summer to the hearty soups of fall, from sipping a cold glass of lemonade to a warm cup of tea.

I love the current season of fall and usually find myself wishing it would last longer. The riot of color on the trees fills me joy, and the dwindling daylight makes me more serious. Summer beach reads give way to literary fiction with more depth. School is in session, and my days have more order.

Yet seeing my son, who will be graduating from college this winter and who is no longer a boy, made me realize that the seasons of which Thoreau speaks are not merely nature’s persistent cycle but the changes in our lives that lead from childhood to youth to old age.

Many people look back with particular fondness at a certain stage of life: high school, their college years, the early days of their marriage, the time when their children were little. I enjoy indulging in nostalgia about the past as much as most people. But I always think that the best time in my life is now. Here in the present is exactly where I belong.

Thoreau encourages us to allow each season to change us, to affect how we see the world. I was a pretty cynical and sarcastic young woman in my twenties. I thought I had it all figured out. Marriage and children humbled me, teaching me how much I needed to learn and how much I needed to let go. Nowadays, as I get older and a little slower, I am more mellow and forgiving, not only of others, but of myself.

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Now I try to allow the world to change me for the better, to make me more tolerant and loving, more peaceful (notwithstanding the angst caused by the current presidential election). I hope I have many more seasons to “breathe the air” and enjoy each one as it comes.

False Equivalency



Lately Clinton supporters have been accused of overusing the idea of “false equivalency” to describe what they say are the ludicrous comparisons between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Obviously, tossing back criticism of oneself by saying the other guy is worse is a time-honored tradition in political campaigns and on playgrounds.

However, there is one case of false equivalency that Donald Trump has been using that makes my blood boil. When an audio tape was leaked last week of Donald Trump lewdly describing his casual sexual assault of women to Billy Bush, even the many Republican apologists for Trump were appalled. So what did Trump do? Apologize and show remorse for such a callous disregard for half the U.S. population?

No. The Donald went on the offensive by bringing up Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadillos and the rape accusation that was leveled at him back in the 1970s. Even assuming the accusation (for which Clinton has not been prosecuted) were true, how is it relevant to Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

The conservative argument has long been that Hillary went out of her way to discredit and vilify these women. I would like to know just how Donald Trump would handle it if his wife’s infidelities were broadcast 24/7 and became part of a federal investigation. I doubt he would offer sympathy or succor to the men who had slept with his wife.

To trot out Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a cudgel against Hillary is the height of hypocrisy. Donald Trump himself cheated on his wife Ivanka before dumping her and marrying Marla Maples. And doing so highlights what Trump does best: deflect from his own massive deficiencies by distracting the public with decades-old stories about the Clintons.

The facts are not in dispute. Donald Trump has said numerous demeaning, sexist, and insulting things against women, not just in the past, but during this campaign. Now we catch him on tape admitting to sexually touching women against their will. Trump will never say “I’m sorry.” But we may be sorry if we elect this poor excuse for a man president.

Need for Speed



The speed limit is 55 mph on Interstate 294, known locally as the Tri-State Tollway. Drivers obviously thinks that’s just a suggestion. On a recent drive up the Tri-State, I was cruising at 20 miles above the speed limit, yet cars were passing me right and left, giving me a sense of vertigo.

An article in today’s Chicago Tribune reports that traffic fatalities so far this year in the U.S. increased more than 10 percent over the same period of time in 2015. While some of the increase may be due to increased numbers of drivers on the road for longer periods of time, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that “in 2013 alone, higher speed limits resulted in 1,900 additional deaths.”

A similar decrease in fatalities accompanied the reduction of speed limits in the 1970s, so it seems clear that our need for speed is increasing our risk of dying on the road. I am as guilty as anyone of exploiting the higher speed limits in order to get to my destination faster. But such facts give me pause. How would I feel if I caused injury or death to a loved one in a high speed crash? How would I feel if I harmed a stranger in a crash? Is it really worth it just to shave a few minutes off my drive?

Of course, driving the speed limit on the Tri-State would itself be dangerous, given that cars driving too slow also can cause traffic accidents. You and I can’t do it alone. So it may be time to lower speed limits and ramp up enforcement by police. The life we save may be our own.



Plethora of Pumpkin



One of my daughter’s favorite childhood books was Too Many Pumpkins. It’s the story of an old woman who absolutely detests pumpkin. Upon finding some old pumpkin seeds in her kitchen, she ruthlessly pitches them out the window. Lo and behold, that fall her garden is overrun with pumpkins. The story then chronicles her attempts to get rid of the pumpkins by making every pumpkin recipe known to man, giving the goodies away to strangers, and making new friends in the process.

My daughter and I were reminiscing about that book yesterday after I described to her my trip to Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s latest “Fearless Flyer” promotes pumpkin in the biggest way. I had to see it to believe it. There was everything pumpkin you could imagine: pumpkin bread mix, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin soup, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cereal, pumpkin sandwich cookies – and canned pumpkin, of course.

Unlike the old woman in Too Many Pumpkins, I love pumpkin everything. (Ironically, I am lukewarm about the most ubiquitous American pumpkin dish, pumpkin pie!) From early September, when Starbuck’s famous (or infamous) pumpkin spice latte hits the coffee chain, I start to crave all things pumpkin. Needless to say, my Trader Joe’s grocery cart was filled with pumpkin stuff, somewhat to my embarrassment.

Why has pumpkin become such a harbinger of fall? It’s true that many of the things made with pumpkin are sweet and contain warm, cozy spices such as ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. And that muted orange color is reminiscent of changing autumn leaves.

Pumpkin is actually a very healthy fruit. Many of the so-called pumpkin products we consume, however, don’t really have much, if any, real pumpkin in them. In fact, I recently learned that a lot of canned pumpkin actually contains not pumpkin, but squash. It doesn’t seem to make much difference in recipes, but it does smack of a product pretending to be something it’s not. Say! Maybe canned pumpkin should run for president.

In any event, I welcome pumpkin days the way I welcome fall. Here in the Midwest, the changes of season are marked with something approaching reverence. Autumn is certainly one of our most delightful ones, conjuring images of colorful trees, the smell of wood smoke, and gleeful trick-or-treaters traipsing through the fallen leaves.

So I’ll sit here and enjoy my pumpkin scone accompanied by a pumpkin spice latte and wish you all a happy fall.


Race Relations Could Use “Help”



The other day I turned on my television and saw that the movie The Help was on. Abandoning my chores and plans for the morning, I sat down and sank into this compelling drama about race in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s.

The movie is based upon Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel of the same name, and it chronicles a young white female journalist’s attempt to tell the story of race relations from the perspective of the town’s black maids. Some reviewers criticized the conceit of yet another white character being the “savior” of blacks. Those critics missed the point of The Help.

During the course of interviewing the black character Aibileen, the journalist, nicknamed Skeeter, comes to see the plight of the people who serve her and the other whites in town through one black woman’s eyes. Herself a misfit in a world of strictly proscribed roles for women of any color, Skeeter is first horrified, then determined, not only to tell the story of  the black maids around her, but also to find out the truth about her beloved Constantine, the black nanny who had raised her.

As I watched the story unfold, the many indignities suffered by blacks in the film – separate bathroom facilities, seats on the back of the bus, condescension and threats from their white employers – I had the sense that in many ways we’ve come so far, but in other ways we have a long way to go. In particular, I was struck by how frightened the black characters are about reprisals from whites for standing up for themselves. The entire book Skeeter writes is done under cover of darkness and published anonymously against a backdrop of civil unrest and the murder of black activists. Today this fear plays out in African-American neighborhoods, where young black males are afraid to get on the bad side of a white police officer.

The message of The Help is that the only way to improve race relations is for blacks and whites to know each other, to see each other as fully human and filled with inalienable dignity. The friendship that develops between Skeeter and Aibileen, as well as Aibileen’s sassy friend Minny, is one born of hours sharing food, tea, and stories in Abilene’s kitchen.

Ignorance breeds fear; knowledge brings understanding. Let’s try harder to see things from the other side of the racial divide to bring hope and healing to race relations in America.