Author Archives: Kathleen Fox

Who Moved Midnight?

Nobody moved midnight, really. It’s still where it’s always been, right there in the dark between 11:59 p.m. and 12:01 a.m. Just as noon is where it’s always been, right there in the middle of the day at lunchtime. (Or right after lunchtime, for those of us who wake up ready for breakfast at 5:00 a.m. and are consequently ready for lunch by 11:15. We’re the same people who have to take midnight on faith, because we haven’t seen it in person since New Year’s Eve at the beginning of the current millennium.)

But in recent years, somebody has been messing with 12:00 o’clock. Instead of the clear and simple designations of noon and midnight, I’m noticing more and more references to 12:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m.

This usage is confusing. Does 12:00 a.m. mean noon and 12:00 p.m. mean midnight? Or is 12:00 a.m. midnight while 12:00 p.m. is noon? Depending on what you see as the starting point for the 12-hour clock, you could make a case for either one.

And in either case, you would be illogical and incorrect. For the same reason the weather app on my phone was illogical and incorrect the other morning when it informed me that the outside temperature was “minus zero” degrees.

No, it wasn’t. Zero is neither plus nor minus. It is the dividing line between plus and minus. Like an impartial referee, it doesn’t get to take sides.

When it comes to clocks, 12:00 is equivalent to zero. Noon and midnight cannot be a.m. or p.m.; they are the dividing lines between a.m. and p.m. The terms are abbreviations for ante meridiem, (before midday) and post meridiem (after midday). Midday—aka noon—cannot be before or after itself.

Who can we blame this misusage on? Computers, of course. Because digital devices, bless their little one-or-zero hearts, get confused by things that are neither one nor the other. They don’t want to have to deal with the neutral second in between a.m. and p.m. or the neutral zero in between minus and plus.

My phone and my computer claim that noon is 12:00 p.m. and midnight is 12:00 a.m. (So, by the way, does the style guide for the United States Printing Office.) My relatively ancient clock radio also believes midnight is 12:00 a.m., a fact of which I was unpleasantly reminded last night when the alarm that I believed I had set for 5:00 a.m. shrilled at midnight.

Both my microwave and my stove avoid the issue altogether. Possibly they assume users will be able to tell the difference between a.m. or p.m. based on whether they’re scrambling eggs, steaming broccoli, or making popcorn.

I don’t know what the clock in my new car thinks. According to the manual, I can set the clock to either a 12-hour or a 24-hour format and also set it to remind me of birthdays and anniversaries. As if I’m going to attempt that; I just barely know which of the numbers on the intimidating dashboard display is the time. Learning how to set the clock can wait until after I’ve managed to figure out how to adjust the heat, defrost the windshield, and unlock the passenger doors.  

Are noon and midnight lost to us forever? Are they, like sundials and clocks with hands and faces, to be inevitably ground to extinction by the relentless jaws of technology? Not necessarily. That same technology, at this point, is probably sophisticated enough to easily be programmed to show 12:00 as midnight and noon rather than a.m. and p.m. Or we could sidestep the whole issue by switching to the much more logical 24-hour clock. (Not a likely solution any time soon, given our country’s persistent resistance to the metric system used by much of the rest of the world.)

For now, we’re stuck between the midnight/noon logic of human beings and the a.m./p.m. logic of computers. When dealing with digital devices, it’s a good idea to mind their p’s and a’s and figure out which applies to the middle of the day and which to the middle of the night. When dealing with human beings, it’s an even better idea—no matter what your digital devices say—to be clear about whether you mean noon or midnight.

If, for example, you schedule a top-secret assignation in an unfrequented corner of the park for 12:00 p.m., you’d better specify that you mean noon, not midnight. Otherwise your clandestine compatriot could be left in the dark for hours, standing behind a tree clutching a fading pink carnation and a copy of War and Peace, waiting in vain for the secret code.

P.S. Remember to “fall back” this weekend, since Daylight Saving Time ends November 1. At 2:00 a.m., to be precise. (Years ago, my father joked to a group of friends that the thing he hated about DST was staying up till 2:00 a.m. to change the clocks. A woman apparently lacking a sense of humor assured him solemnly that it was perfectly okay to just change the clocks before he went to bed.) But whether you adjust your clocks on October 31 at bedtime or on November 1 either  at 2:00 a.m. or after you’ve realized why you’re at church an hour early, don’t worry too much about your digital devices. They can reset themselves.  

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Civic Chickens and Backyard Weed

As a conscientious voter, I try to do my research before I fill in a single oval on my ballot. This year, the most challenging decisions for me were the two initiated measures for legalizing marijuana in South Dakota.

Full disclosure: I came of age during the Age of Aquarius. My hair was long and straight. I wore miniskirts, bell-bottom jeans, and a peace-sign necklace as big as a rodeo queen’s belt buckle. I knew at least four guitar chords in the key of C and all the words to “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

However, I never once used pot.

I still have no interest in using pot. At the same time, I think it’s idiotic to put people in jail for using it. At the same time, I think it probably has genuine medicinal value but tend to believe medicinal substances are best obtained through pharmacies. At the same time, I question the common sense of legalizing at the state level a substance that is still illegal under federal law.

You can see why I pondered so much over the pot proposals on the ballot. Until last week, when suddenly all became clear, and I made my decisions.

What happened was this: the city council approved the first reading of an ordinance to allow residents to raise chickens in their back yards.

There is a connection here. Really. Just stay with me for a minute.

Continue reading
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Helping Heroes

In a patient room at the Cancer Care Institute is this sign: “You are stronger than you think and braver than you know.”

This is a truth we each discover for ourselves, during those hard, painful times that life eventually throws at all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly one of those times.Heroes Work Here

Last week I read an editorial written for the Los Angeles Times by Fran Chalin, a hospice chaplain. In short, strong sentences that have the power of poetry, she describes the death in ICU of a man with COVID-19, the anguish of his family unable to be with him as he takes his final breaths, and the exhaustion of his caregivers. Then  she writes this:

“Outside the hospital there is a billboard.
‘HEROES WORK HERE.’ I want to scream.
Hero is just another word for better you than me.”

Think about that for a minute: Hero is just another word for “better you than me.”

This statement, written out of exhaustion and heartache, is certainly not the whole truth. But it does hold a great deal of truth—a truth that went straight to my heart because I have felt it myself. Continue reading

Categories: Living Consciously, Loss and Healing | 1 Comment

If the Early Robin Gets the Worm . . .

We all know that the early bird gets the worm. Actually, from years of research comprised of occasionally noticing the behavior of robins in my yard, I’m not sure this is really true. But “the bird who is out there listening for food just after a rain or while the sprinkler is running gets the worm” is too long to be a pithy aphorism.

Have you ever watched a robin getting a worm? They yank the hapless critter right out of the ground, and yes, it really does stretch just like the ones in cartoons, and sometimes it breaks in half, which is unfortunate for the worm but just makes it easier for the bird to gulp it down, still wriggling. I wonder if it tickles.

But never mind all that. I’m not here today to talk about worms or robins. I’m here to talk about buzzards.

Being an early bird myself, during the summer I like to take my daily walks early in the day while it’s still cool. Not before breakfast—early is good, but so is fuel. But while the sun is still low, which in June and July can be sixish a.m.

Sometimes I walk along the bike path near my house, which passes by several baseball fields. At one of them, the tall fence along one side is lined with buzzards. Continue reading

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Crinkle-Cut Carrots and Sawheaded Spoons

The average kitchen is full of potentially lethal sharp objects, including knives, graters, peelers, skewers, and jagged-edged boxes of plastic wrap. But the scariest implement in my mother’s kitchen was the carrot cutter.

This thing had a six-inch rippled blade, with a handle above it so the user could press down and whack carrots and other crisp veggies into attractive wavy-edged slices or sticks. Much like a guillotine, actually. Madame Defarge probably had one in her kitchen.

I don’t think my mother had hers when I was a child, but when I was a young adult it struck terror into my heart. Partly because my mother used it to cut carrots into halves and quarters—the long way. Which involved holding the round carrot with one hand so it wouldn’t roll out from under the blade she was wielding with her other hand.

Seeing her do this was bad enough. But even worse, my mother would allow my children—my small, precious children, with their dainty and vulnerable fingers—to use this dangerous object. I couldn’t bear to watch. Sometimes I would have to leave the kitchen, or at least turn my back and stir the gravy.

When my parents downsized, a cautious person might have seen clearing out the kitchen as a perfect opportunity to quietly get rid of the carrot cutter. Oh, no. Continue reading

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Seeing Red and Feeling Green

One of the many consequences of COVID-19, medical precautions, and self-quarantining is a shortage of blood donations. Some regular donors, bless them, are still giving. Like the man who made our local news this week for giving 20 gallons of blood over the past 33 years. He is 89.

I’ve been donating blood for more than three decades, too—just not quite as successfully.

It isn’t that I’m squeamish about the sight of blood. Really. As a kid, I could eat fried chicken with great pleasure even after watching my mother kill that same bird by chopping off its head with a hatchet. As an adult, I’ve dealt at least adequately with kids’ cuts, scrapes, and nosebleeds.

But things do get shaky if I’m faced with a combination of blood and needles. Especially when it’s my own blood. Whenever someone, even a trained medical professional, needs to take some of it by piercing me with a sharp object, I feel—uncomfortable.

I cope with routine blood draws at the doctor’s office by averting my eyes from what the technician is doing, gazing at some object elsewhere in the room, humming to myself, and thinking beautiful thoughts. Even with this approach, the world sometimes gets a little fuzzy around the edges. Especially if it’s one of those fasting blood tests where you have to show up before breakfast.

In spite of this little weakness, I am also a public-spirited person who wants to do the right thing. Which is why, years ago, I decided I should donate blood. Continue reading

Categories: Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: | Leave a comment

Yes, We Have No (Control Over) Bananas

If you truly believe you are a well-balanced, serene, and sane adult who can take life as it comes, here’s a practical little exercise for you. Let somebody else pick out your bananas.

This is not theoretical. I’ve been practicing it myself for weeks now, and it’s a challenge.

I like to pretend that I am not a controlling, rigid person. Never mind that, watching a couple of my beloved grandkids put my good colored pencils back in the container with careless disregard for the precise way they—the pencils, not the children—were sorted by color, I had to sit on my hands and bite my tongue to keep from intervening. (Yes, that is the last time any grandchild has been allowed to use those particular pencils. Why would you ask?)

A few lovable little quirks like this aside, I really do consider myself to be flexible and accepting. Then along came COVID-19 and self-quarantining. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Food and Drink, Living Consciously | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Cheating and the Grandparent Code

Here’s a question for any of you who are parents and especially those who are grandparents. Do you let small children win at games? Or maybe a better question is, how far will you bend in order to let them win?

I do observe and obey the section in the grandparent code that says it’s okay, even obligatory, to indulge the grandkids. “Spoiling them,” people tend to call it, though it certainly doesn’t spoil children (or anybody else, for that matter) to let them know they are wonderful, special, and loved.

But I also observe and obey that other important section in the grandparent code—the one that says part of the job is to maintain high standards. To set an example of honesty and be a role model for integrity. To help grandkids learn that wonderful, special children become wonderful, special adults by learning and doing what is right and honorable.

For example, cheating. Now, it’s perfectly sound grandparenting to play a game in a way that allows a child to win. I’ve been known myself to “overlook” a devastating series of jumps in a game of Chinese checkers. I’ve even from time to time—though it was terribly hard—deliberately not played a high-scoring Scrabble word. Even when it would have given me a triple word score.

But allowing a child to cheat? No way.

I remember playing Candyland with a granddaughter when she was four or five. She had won the first game, she was behind in the second game, and I caught her cheating. She moved her purple game piece to a purple spot on the board several spaces ahead of the purple spot it was meant to land on. I made her move it back. She tried to convince me her move had been legitimate. That didn’t work. She tried pouting. That didn’t work. She gave me her best scathing look. I just told her that cheating spoiled the fun of a game and that I didn’t play games with cheaters. She sighed and flounced in her chair. No one can flounce while seated quite as well as an offended five-year-old girl. Then she put her game piece back where it belonged and finished the game with reasonably good grace. And she lost.

I hope she learned something about integrity. I hope, if she ever reads this—and even remembers that particular game—she knows I am proud of her for finishing it.

I also hope she believes me when I say truthfully that my only purpose in that interaction was to help her learn not to cheat. Honestly, I did not intend any benefit for myself. I did not in any way try to influence the decision she made, at the end of the game, to put Candyland away and get out some puzzles instead.

Sometimes virtue is its own reward. Sometimes it offers unexpected collateral benefits. Like not having to sit patiently through 27 more games of Candyland.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

A Cinnamon Roll In The Hand

A “good plain cook.” It’s a description you might see in an old-fashioned or historical novel, and at first glance it doesn’t sound flattering.

But in this case, “plain” doesn’t have anything to do with the appearance of either the cook or the food, but simply means this person is a practical, everyday cook. Not the one who makes exotic sauces or elaborate dishes or elegant pastries. The one who does the breakfast eggs, lunchtime soups, and dinner roasts and vegetables, capably and reliably, day after day after day.

That’s the kind of cook I am. Though, to be honest, “adequate plain cook” would be closer to the truth. I can—and have, for years—consistently put nutritious, edible, and occasionally even delicious family meals on the table. But just because I know how to have everything ready to eat at the same time doesn’t mean I love to cook. My goal is to keep the cooking part simple so I can more quickly get to the part I do love—the eating. Continue reading

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The Undocumented Auto and the Naked Refrigerator

Every time I move from one house to another, I remember why it’s so stressful. Moving is like childbirth—between one time and the next you forget that it’s an endeavor with long-term consequences, it takes longer than you hope it will, and it involves a lot of hard work and a certain amount of pain.

There are two approaches to moving, which are driven more by circumstances than by choice. One is the “get everything out of the old house and into the new house on the same day” method. You pack ahead of time everything you think you can do without, subsequently unpack the things you realize you can’t do without, at the last minute frantically throw everything remaining into whatever containers you can find, haul everything to the new house, and finish the day at the old house around 2:00 a.m., scrubbing floors and vanquishing dust bunnies.

The other method—which I used this time—is the “take things over a few at a time and unpack as you go” approach. You close on the new house, schedule the movers for a week or two later, paint a couple of rooms, and move smaller things a carload at a time. It sounds less stressful than the other style. It isn’t. It merely stretches out the stress. Continue reading

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