Summer unplugged?

By isolating himself at Walden Pond, Thoreau hadn’t run away from life. He’d run toward it. Why couldn’t we leave our lives of quiet, digital desperation and do the same?” — Susan Maushart, from The Winter of Our Disconnect

Once in a while, we all need to unplug. Friends who’ve been visiting this site for a while know I spend less time hanging out here in the “Home Office” once summer arrives. Escaping outdoors — sans laptop — restores my spirit and makes me feel whole again. I’m ready to start this week.

As it happens, I’m reading Susan Maushart’s The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and A Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale. It’s a compelling (and often hilarious) memoir detailing how Mausart, a journalist, and her kids made the difficult decision to live without technology for (gulp) six months. Using current research to back her premise, the author shows how limiting our use of technology, including social media, can enrich the quality of our lives and deepen what she calls “real-life” relationships. As soon as I’m finished, I plan to review the book in a column.

But I’m not totally unplugging this summer. Unlike Maushart, I don’t have the willpower to go for more than a week without checking Facebook, blogs, and e-mail. Through August, I’ll continue to post links to my newly published material; or I’ll rerun favorite (previously published) essays in keeping with the season.

Meanwhile, I’m still micro-managing my mother’s life, keeping a watchful eye on her dementia and health-care issues. Trying to find my balance in the midst of it all has been the toughest challenge I’ve faced in a long time. Whenever possible, I follow Thoreau’s sage advice to “Simplify, simplify.” Right now, things with Mom are relatively calm — and I am working to keep them that way.

When you get a chance, please fill me in on what you’re up to this summer … Will you be blogging more or less? Spending more time at the beach or in your garden? Planning a graduation party? Spending less time at the office? Please send me a cyber postcard before you unplug.  –CL

— Top photo: My Japanese garden, a favorite backyard escape. Bottom photo: A clematis arching over the gate in our backyard. All photos by Cindy La Ferle. —

Last days of summer

Ah summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” — Russell Baker

I’m booked for a five-day gig as a background extra this week, so I’m rerunning a favorite end-of-summer column that ran in The Daily Tribune in 2004.  Speaking of columns and summer breaks, I’ll resume blogging regularly at the end of this month. I’ve got some new pieces started already! Thanks for your patience this summer while I’ve taken time off.  Readers of my old Sunday “Life Lines” column tell me they still miss those weekly columns in the newspaper. So I think Sunday is a fitting day to post new essays — and keep me on a deadline. Stay tuned…

The Lost Art of Loafing

The sad reality always hits us mid-August: Summer is on its way out the door. Taking inventory of what we’ve done since June, we realize how precious little time we’ve spent relaxing. Wasn’t there a song about “the lazy, hazy days” of summer?

For me, the first half of June exploded like a bottle rocket into thin air. When I wasn’t planning Nate’s graduation party, I was attending parties for other terrific kids. The whole season, in fact, ballooned with joyful events and ceremonies, including a couple of weddings, which is why it seems as if we’ve all been riding an emotional roller coaster non-stop.

Before summer packs up its beach bag and clears out for a new school term, I’d like to indulge in a few non-eventful pleasures. Many Europeans, for example, take the entire month of July or August as vacation time. While such a long holiday isn’t possible for industrious Americans, I’d like to borrow a shorter page from a Parisian friend. Joie de vivre isn’t complicated, she says, but you have to make time for it.

Here’s the plan.

*Guilt-free, I’m going to chill out for a week and remember how the words “summer” and “freedom” used to hang together when I was a kid.

*With or without a hammock, I’m going to watch more sunsets, spot fireflies, nap with my cats, and contemplate my world by moonlight.

*I’ll brush up on the names of wild birds and constellations.

*Instead of pulling weeds or pruning, I’ll sit back and admire what I’ve planted.

*With or without company coming, I’ll cut fresh flowers for the dinner table. At least once, I’ll steam corn on the grill and make lemonade from scratch.

*Heading for the beach with my family, I’ll hunt for Petoskey stones, skipping stones, beach glass, and perfect pieces of driftwood. Maybe I’ll organize a group to float downriver in tubes. Later, if I can stay awake, I’ll go for a midnight swim.

*If I can remember the right titles, I’ll rent videos of movie classics I haven’t watched in ages.

*Just for one afternoon, I’ll read a novel that has no redeeming social value while I sunbathe without fretting about skin cancer.

*I’ll ride my bike for an entire morning without checking my watch. After pedaling around a local park, I’ll rest under a thick canopy of trees and admire the view.

*Most of us schedule our lives too tightly, then rely on “nostalgic flashbacks” to appreciate blissful moments, says Veronique Vienne in The Art of the Moment: Simple Ways to Get the Most from Life (Clarkston Potter).

“As you embrace the here and now, don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel lucky – lucky to be blessed with a good mind, lucky to have friends who love you for who you are,” Vienne advises. “The ultimate gift of the moment is a deep sense of gratitude for simply being alive.”

It’s always fun to anticipate and celebrate the major milestones. But we need a break from “special” events, not to mention a reprieve from all the speeches about beginnings and endings. We need ordinary time.

Come September, I want to say good-bye to summer knowing that I’ve squeezed every last drop of its sweetness and savored it all. How about you? — CL