Facebook Fast

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As the penitential season of Lent begins, I as usual will give up my beloved sweets of all kinds: coffeecake, cookies, chocolate etc. But I have also decided to follow the lead of some of my friends and abstain from spending time on Facebook.

Facebook has been a blessing and a curse in my life. It has been great to reconnect with old friends, see photos of their families, and even get into some pretty serious conversations. I have learned so much more about many people I know than I ever would have in casual conversation at the supermarket or on the soccer sidelines.

But Facebook has had some drawbacks, and I feel the need to take a break from it. One of the most obvious drawbacks is how much time it can suck out of your day. There are many days when I spend little time on it, but others when I check it compulsively several times a day, adding up to hours spent on the social media platform.

There is apparently some evidence that spending time on Facebook can lead to depression. This does not surprise me. The reason given for this phenomenon is that it can be depressing to compare your life to all the wonderful things your friends are doing, what they are wearing, how cute their children are and the like. None of this particularly bothers me. I am not that competitive with others when it comes to social standing, looks, or just how much fun someone else seems to be having.

What I find depressing on Facebook is mostly the political divide that has become all too evident since the presidential election campaign began in earnest back in 2015. It is discouraging to see so much animosity on both sides and to realize that no matter how many meaty articles one posts or how well-considered one’s argument is, our friends on the other side of that divide are unlikely to come around to our way of thinking. Even the sheer exposure of current events that I see in my news feed every day, with or without commentary, can really get me down.

So I will be spending 40 days in the internet desert. I will still be posting on my blog, which automatically loads to Facebook. But I myself will not be scrolling along to see what’s up in cyber world. It is my hope that this Facebook fast will give me renewed energy, more time, and the chance to focus on my spiritual life, which is the purpose of Lent.

Tree Time

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Thoreau Understanding

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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.

Plethora of Pumpkin

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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.

 

Billboards (Redux)

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It’s that time of year again. After numerous summer road trips, I have collected a new batch of billboard sightings that made me laugh or shake my head.

A couple of billboards that I have seen quite frequently on trips to O’Hare Airport are a little on the suggestive side. One of them advertises “Local shingles looking to get nailed.” It’s an ad for a roofing company. The other one advertises auto insurance with the tagline, “Love at first quote” and features male and female legs sticking out of a partially open car trunk. Couldn’t they just have used the back seat?

Another amusing billboard urges us, “Just say no to crack in your basement.” (Permaseal)

And if you are currently looking for a new career path, I encourage you to consider this: “Looking for a new job? Gray hair management.” I’m sure not many people have the qualifications for such a demanding job.

I was also intrigued by a sign for Fergedaboutit Vineyard & Winery. I wondered: Do they offer you a bottle of wine you can’t refuse?

In the category of truth in advertising, I had to admire the one for local radio personalities Eric and Kathy in the Morning: “They’ll go anywhere for a topic (but mostly just Google)” Likewise, a strip joint called Club 39 assures potential customers that they have “All of the liquor – none of the clothes.”

But the billboard that has me really thinking this year? “I’m empty without you. Interstate.” Is it a reference to the billboard that needs a customer to adorn it with advertising? Or is it an existential musing on the part of the road itself, contemplating a lonely world of no cars or drivers? I’ll let you ponder that deep one as you enjoy the rest of your summer.

What a Way to Get Your Kicks!

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It’s a blisteringly hot week in Blaine, Minnesota, with temps expected to reach the high 90s. My sister, who has lived in the Minneapolis area for 43 years, told me that this week in July is known historically as being one of the hottest in the area every summer.So naturally, Schwan’s Food Company is hosting its annual USA Cup international youth soccer tournament this week.

Tuesday night, thousands of kids on teams from across the United States, as well as such far flung countries as Argentina, Sweden, and Japan, crowded the stadium to kick off the extravaganza of soccer and sweat.

Now I love my child, but I’ve got to be honest. There are dozens of places I’d rather be than sitting in the blazing hot sun and watching girls run around battling for a soccer ball. In between games, I’ve been going on Facebook and jealously noticing pictures of my friends on family vacations. But for reasons out of my control, my husband and daughter are obsessed with her soccer development. So traveling out of town to tournaments constitutes a vacation in our family.

Today the games were moved up earlier because the mercury is supposed to climb up to 97 degrees. We just beat a team from Iceland, a country with summer average temperatures in the mid-50s. I guess you could say we Midwesterners had a home field advantage, the opposite of the one that the Chicago Bears enjoy when they play Miami at Soldier Field in January.

Okay. I admit it. It was a lot of fun watching my daughter and her team, the Wizards, dominate the field today. Our daughter had some spectacular plays and looked a bit like a sleek thoroughbred filly sprinting down the field. And our defender had an amazing goal from midfield on a foul call. I enjoyed hooting and hollering along with the other Wizard families.

There are worse things than seeing 13- and 14-year-old girls be fierce, athletic, and competitive. They have a great camaraderie and are learning some important life lessons about teamwork, effort, and fair play.

I guess a family vacation revolving around soccer is not so bad. And lucky me. After the tournament is over, we will be staying on to watch our girl on the court in an AAU basketball tournament.

I predict we will have a ball.

July 4th Red, White, and Blues

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Every Fourth of July, even as I am enjoying the fireworks grand finale, part of me is depressed that summer is half over. My email inbox is filled with school registration information, and I keep getting catalogs featuring dorm necessities and back to school supplies. Slow down, I want to tell Summer. I am just getting into the groove of hot days, beach reads, cool glasses of chardonnay on the porch.

The waning of this particular summer fills me with angst. Along with a young daughter who will be starting high school, I am preparing to move my son across the country for college. The prospect of completing all the paperwork and furnishing a dorm room are daunting enough. But what I’m really dreading is the moment when I have to say goodbye (his own sort of Independence Day).

To be sure, summer is here in full force. The days are sunny, hot, and humid. In the evening when I take my walks, the air is thick with the mating calls of cicadas. The local pool is crowded with kids splashing, shrieking, and laughing. The ice cream stores have lines of customers waiting for a cold, delicious cone.

Yet autumn looms over us: a time of schedules and responsibilities, dwindling daylight and warmth. I long to put summer on slow motion for a while. I just want to enjoy these sultry, lazy, lay-about days with my children before they move one step closer to becoming the adults they are meant to be.