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Are we really friends?

Columns2012  Am I the only one who is continuously annoyed with Facebook?

I don’t have lots of time to spend on Facebook.  I just want a data dump from Facebook friends about what is going on in their lives.

My biggest peeve with Facebook isn’t really with Facebook itself.  It’s trying to figure out philosophically what exactly Facebook is supposed to do.  Yes, it is called social networking, and I get that.

But everything focuses on “friends.”

In the Facebook world, exactly who or what is a friend?

How many friends can one have?

How about acquaintances?

Or friends of friends?

Or friends of friend of friends

I say this because I see people on Facebook with thousands of friends.  I am not talking about people who achieve celebrity status, which naturally attracts attention from great numbers of people.

I am talking about regular, ordinary Joes.

Who really has 5,000 friends or even 1,000 friends?

Is 500 too many or 50 too few?

Maybe it all boils down to the definition of friend or the perspective one has regarding what constitutes a friend.

I enjoy my Facebook family, and that includes “friends.”

Like other Facebookers, I acquired friends through either asking someone to “friend” me or being asked by someone else to “friend” them.

For anyone reading this, please believe me – I like being your friend.

That’s because I have what I consider to be a reasonable number of “friends” and I really enjoy keeping up with each of you.

And from time-to-time I post an update as well, just in case anyone is interested in keeping up with me.

After perusing my friend list, I find there are only a few friends I haven’t actually met, but know through some association of family member or other friends – you know…the “mutual” friend.

And there is one, maybe two instances tops (and I am not referring to anyone who would be reading this) where I was so delighted to renew long ago friendships with people I grew up with.

But after many months of commenting back and forth, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t know at least one of these friends.

Understand, this is not like “we have grown apart” type not knowing.

Literally, I do not know them.

They do not know me.

We have no mutual friends - only friends with similar names.

Yes, it is a Facebook faux pas – a faux friend.

I have friended people I do not know, but thought I did.

I have carried on conversations with them, limited at best, but communications that would constitute a conversation.

Curiosity got the best of me recently as I was scratching my head about one of my Facebook friends.

The name was familiar, but that picture was not.

Not even close.

I found my suspicion growing that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t who I thought it was.

And now I am confident that we don’t actually know each other.

I don’t know her, her spouse, her children, her children’s’ spouses, her grandchildren or her dog.  I have never been to her house, and I don’t think I have ever even been to the town where she lives.  But we continue to post comments to each other.

So my quandary is, are we really friends?

Or are we friends in name only, that being Facebook faux friends?

Does it matter?

I’m not staying awake at night pondering this, but how did it happen, and does she know it?

Should I “unfriend” her or “block” her?

This all sounds so Facebook unfriendly.

When I consider the Facebookers who have thousands of friends, the notion is trivial.

Surely they wouldn’t notice or care.

It’s not hurting anyone I suppose, but it’s like a mismatched button on a shirt, or a hangnail that provides that constant urge to rip it off.

On the other hand, she’s helping keep my numbers up.

And in comparison to some of my Facebook friends, my numbers are pathetically low.

So I guess I will keep her after all.

I just hope she feels the same.

I guess the old adage is true, especially as it applies to Facebook – you can never have too many friends.

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Go with the FLOW

Columns2Doesn’t cold weather just make everything sort of sparkle?

The sky is a deep crystal blue, the ground is crisp and the frost fairly twinkles on the grass.

Ha!

Who am I fooling?

I live in Florida – the “Sunshine State.”

People who like the cold live in places like Alaska and Wisconsin and North Dakota.

I strive to avoid the cold.

At the first hint of cold weather - that being anything below 60 degrees, out come the sweaters, coats and blankets.  Below 50 degrees and the scarves and gloves come out.  Once the thermometer dips below 40 degrees, it’s all bets off.

In other words, when the temperature is in the 20s, it’s time to declare a state of emergency.

In this bone-chilling weather, nobody should be required to leave their homes unless they are first responders.

And I only offer this caveat so readers won’t think I am crazy.

Who would take care of the sick and the real crazies that believe an arctic blast is exhilarating and then go to great lengths to prove it by performing some ill-advised activity that is somehow related to freezing weather?

When my children were going through their teen years, I used the often repeated dire warning that “nothing good happens after midnight” in an effort to keep them on the straight and narrow.  I realize now this didn’t always work, but I do believe it was an effective deterrent from time to time and probably saved a few grey hairs and worry lines.

There is a parallel between “after midnight” and “temperatures in the 20s.”

In my book, there is absolutely nothing good to come from sub-freezing weather…in Florida.

You may argue that snow skiing, ice skating, and all those other frigid sporting activities are wonderful.

I’m not buying it.

We live in Florida, the Sunshine State, and we don’t do those things.

We do water skiing, inline skating, surfing, boating, fishing, swimming and a multitude of wonderful activities that require warm, or better yet - hot weather.

There is simply no place in Florida for cold weather.

Cold weather is an unfortunate environmental health hazard.

Think about this:

Cold weather dries skin, turns noses red, makes eyes water and chaps lips.

Listen to your body, folks.  It’s trying to tell you something.

Cold weather is unhealthy. Avoid it.

Think about this:

How many times did you hear about the authorities in some northern state declaring “snow days” last winter?

It seemed like nearly every week there were at least two to three days declared “snow days,” meaning that workers stayed home, children didn’t go to school and they all stayed snuggly tucked inside.  I remember two separate occurrences of nearly a week-long snow “day.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I do not doubt the serious issues of snow drifts, slick roads, zero visibility, etc.

It’s just that these folks are on to something.

In Florida, we have become accustomed to toughing it out, at the expense of our health.

I say, “No more!”

As Floridians, our bodies have adapted to warmer weather, and when faced with loss of warmth induced by extreme cold, our bodies react by engaging in an attempt at self-preservation.

How else can you explain the skin, nose, eyes and lips?

The only plausible explanation is that our bodies are transitioning into what I call the Florida Loss Of Warmth mode, or FLOW for short.

The solution?

Simple: Avoid the cold.

Stay indoors.

Refrain from going outside when temperatures dip below 30 degrees.

Time to stay home … and take a FLOW day.

And for goodness sakes, none of those dumb cold weather stunts like diving into a freezing body of water all the while pretending that it’s “no big deal” while your body turns a ghastly shade of blue, your teeth chatter and your eyes start rolling back in your head.

Trust me.

Nothing good happens after midnight, and nothing good happens when it’s 20 degrees outside.

Think FLOW, stay warm and prosper!

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Merry Christmas to you

Columns2Each December as Christmas comes and goes, I marvel at how quickly the year passes.  How different it was when I was a child and I waited with great anticipation for the upcoming Christmas celebrations and the oh-so-wonderful visit from Santa Clause.  In those days, the span between one Christmas and the next stretched on and on until the waiting was almost unbearable.

Today, as I remember those childhood Christmases, recollections of special people and traditions are evoked from long ago memories.  I recall my parents sending my brother and me off to bed early on Christmas Eve, because to stay up late might risk Santa’s visit.  And my brother and I both were quite certain that we had only one chance, and if Santa passed our house because we were still awake, he wouldn’t be back – at least not until the following year.  Not to wake up on Christmas morning and find presents from Santa under the tree would be unthinkable!

And that tree!  Each year my family chopped down our own Christmas tree we found after trudging through acres and acres of Florida scrub pines in search of that perfect tree.  Buying a Christmas tree was virtually unheard of back then, at least where we lived.  Buying a tree was for “city folks” who didn’t have trees growing outside their front doors — or for people who were rich and Florida’s humble scrub pine wasn’t quite suitable for their homes.

But those tall slender trees, with sparsely placed branches and clumps of loose leaf needles, were plenty good enough to hang shiny stars and galloping reindeer covered with sparkling strands of silver tinsel — and to offer a welcoming spot for gifts beneath the boughs of green.

My brother always insisted on finding the tallest tree possible, even though on occasion, the selected tree was much too tall to fit inside our modest living room, and would require much chopping and whittling to clear the ceiling and for the trunk to fit snugly inside the old metal red and green tree stand.

My grandparents’ tree on the other hand was somewhat different.  Living just down the clay-topped country road from us, my grandmother and grandfather also subscribed to the “seek and ye shall find” method of Christmas tree selection.  But that is where the similarity ended.

Their tree was much smaller, never being more than two feet in height, and always graced their coffee table.  My grandmother was devoutly religious and I always wondered if that was the reason she was partial to angel hair rather than tinsel.  Each year my grandfather topped their tree with the plain tin star he had hand fashioned himself.  Having been an engineer by profession, his star was precisely correct in all its angles, and I am certain he took great pride in that fact.

My grandparents always opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, a tradition my family did not subscribe to, as we waited until Christmas morning to open ours. But how we enjoyed visiting our grandparents on Christmas Eve!  Besides seeing the joy in our grandparents’ eyes in response to the gifts we brought them, we were always allowed to open one of our gifts as well.

And before the evening was over, we were treated to my grandmother’s homemade Japanese fruitcake and mouth-watering sweet ambrosia.  Unlike a traditional fruitcake, her Japanese fruitcake only contained raisins and walnuts, and even then they were only folded in alternating layers of that sinfully delicious cake.  Between the layers (and there must have been at least six or eight thinly sliced ones) was the best tasting icing in the world.  It must have been her private recipe because I have never since tasted such a wonderful mingling of vanilla, almond and butter.

Her homemade ambrosia contained only two ingredients - navel oranges and coconut.  I once suggested to her that surely she had added sugar in order to create such a sweet concoction.  She assured me in no uncertain terms that sweet navel oranges and their juices, along with the coconut were the sole ingredients.  I believe her.

But Christmas traditions didn’t only revolve around Santa, the tree, the gifts, or even food.  Christmas was above all, a religious celebration.  And all the other activities were only precursors to the big event.  Christmas services at our little country church were always special and there was an air of anticipation, joy and solemnity all at once.

Each year the children re-enacted the nativity, with the boys solemnly making their way down the church aisle in their long robes, carrying exotic looking bottles as they approached the manger scene complete with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  Each year, my brother was always one of the three wise men since our church congregation was small, and there were only a handful of boys of the proper age.

The girls, on the other hand, viewed the event in a different light.  Who would represent Mary and wear the beautiful white robe, golden sash and shimmering blue scarf?  One year I had my turn and I felt so special for weeks before and after the service. After all, I was Mary, the mother of baby Jesus.  It just doesn’t get any better than that. Imagine my disappointment the following year, when I was replaced by another little girl.

Looking back at how we celebrated Christmas in years past, today’s celebrations not only diminish the meaning of Christmas, but the passion as well. The current emphasis on celebrating for celebration’s sake offers a full dose of instant gratification that is short-lived and essentially meaningless.  How fortunate are those who recognize Christmas as more than simply a seasonal celebration, but as a time to experience renewed faith and rededication and genuinely celebrate family, tradition and above all, the birth of Christ.

Merry Christmas to all, and God bless us every one.

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Starting over…again

Columns2Break out the hats, the noisemakers and the confetti.

Happy New Year – almost.

Isn’t it delightful that once a year every year we have the opportunity to start off with a clean slate, so to speak?

Our bad habits and annoying mannerisms that drive us, as well as others, to the brink of madness are subject to be dealt with decisively and completely.

Because…on January 1, we have a choice to make changes in our lives — or not.

Some call it a New Year’s resolution; others call it a formula for failure.

Not surprising, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight.  After six weeks of fattening the calf, it’s time for cold turkey.  And not the edible kind either.

Is it not so that over the past two months, the television viewing, magazine reading and Internet savvy have been bombarded with a boatload of glitzy commercials and ads promoting the consumption of high calorie, high fat, high carbohydrate foods and an eclectic assortment of alcoholic beverages?

And all virtually guaranteed, for a price, to make your holiday gathering an undeniable success, your guests the most enjoyable and animated and you, the host or hostess, will go down in history as the best of the best.

And if that’s not enough, your life will seem like one big party after another, complete with beautiful people adorned with luxurious hair, straight pearly white teeth and bodies straight out of Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret.

And now, after indulging in all the holidays have to offer, after eating the final dried crumb of the last lonely brownie at the bottom of the cookie jar, scraping out the last sticky morsel of pecan pie and slurping down the final drop of eggnog, the rug is pulled out from under us.

Now a new cast of characters is parading across the television screen, across the pages of popular magazines and flashing at us from web sites, all extolling the miraculous effectiveness of a particular weight-loss program or product – all aimed at helping us lose those shameful pounds we put on over the past few weeks – at a price.

As consumers, we have worked long and hard to ingrain these eating and drinking habits in our psyche and into our daily lives.  And now we are not only going to slam on the brakes, but make a 180-degree turn?

Most of us vow each year to try harder to do the things we know we should, such as avoiding all the edible riches that add to our weight and subtract from our wallet.

I propose that this year’s resolution should be that we, America’s estimated 75 million dieters, don’t keep falling for this ridiculous charade imposed upon us annually by the trillion dollar food and beverage industry and the multi-billion dollar diet industry.

When next holiday season rolls around, refuse to be co-opted in to all the eating and drinking that packs on the pounds.  Save the money and save the drama of the weight-loss programs, products, gadgets and gizmos, that in the long-term only serve to reduce our bank accounts.

Eat healthy, drink less and exercise more.

My 2012 New Year’s resolution is set and I’m good to go.

Best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy New Year.

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A Christmas wish

Columns2In South Dakota, impoverished Native American children living on the Bullhead Reservation can only long for a lifestyle those more fortunate take for granted.  And this time of year, their Christmas wish-list, if they dare to dream of one, would likely consist of warm socks and maybe a few school supplies.

Imagine in this isolated area, where generation after generation struggles to make ends meet, the despair that must surely exist, especially this time of year.

How these people came to this situation is of little importance to a child living this way of life.  That is a discussion for those who examine the socioeconomic plight of people and cultures, and not a matter of relevance for the most vulnerable among us.

For the generous, Christmas is the season of giving.  But for children, it is so much more.  It is a time of wonder and excitement, a time when they not only delight in the gifts they receive, but also in recognizing the joy that is shared by those who gave.  While the tangible gift may last only a while, more importantly, the feelings of joy and love children experience are lasting, and that is truly remarkable.

In today’s economy, the list of those in need is long, but isn’t there room for one more child on that list?  Gifts as simple as toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, warm socks, gloves or a box of crayons would delight these children.

Vance and Tracey Bishop, formerly of Williston, Fla., have a special wish this Christmas.  They are ministering at the Bullhead Reservation, and are collecting shoe box Christmas donations for boys and girls, ages 1 – 18.  They ask that each box be wrapped for Christmas and marked as to gender and age.  Packages should be mailed to their attention at 113 1st Avenue East, McIntosh, SD 57641.

With the generosity of people who open their hearts once again to those less fortunate, not only will the Bishop’s wish come true, but so too will the wishes of countless children as they open those gifts meant especially for them.

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