Author Archives: Kathleen Fox

Fearless Kids and the Woman Behind the Piano

“Kids are fearless.” So says one of my friends, who apparently remembers childhood a lot differently than I do.

I doubt very much that human infants are born to be fearless. If we were, predators with sharper teeth and claws than ours would have hunted humanity into extinction long before we evolved survival skills like using fire, writing, or inventing the internet.

There are certainly times when kids seem to be fearless. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever grabbed a climbing one-year-old off of the kitchen counter, watched a toddler launch gleefully off the side into the swimming pool, or seen a novice six-year-old skier who has no clue how to stop go zooming straight down the middle of the slope.

Or if you’ve ever attended an elementary school music program—something I missed during the pandemic and have been delighted to do again this school year. So far, I’ve seen two Christmas programs and a talent show.

Where I saw a lot of brave behavior. Like the dozen or so young piano players who, one by one, walked out in front of the audience bleachers to play their solos. Some had their pieces memorized, some had music. Some were quite skilled, some were one-finger-at-a-time beginners. Most of them perched on the edge of the bench with their feet dangling because their legs weren’t long enough to reach the floor.

There were kids who recited their own poetry. A tiny first-grader who stood up straight behind a microphone and sang an acapella solo. Rope-jumpers and dancers who skipped and spun and whirled, missed steps, faltered for only a second, and started again with big smiles. Two gymnasts, brothers in kindergarten and third grade, did an amazing routine, flipping frontward and backward and sideways all over a surface of gym mats overlaid with—I kid you not—couch cushions.

All of this might have looked like fearlessness. But from the second row, I was close enough to see it for what it was. I could see the determined little shoulders, the fidgety feet, the nervous eyes—and the huge sighs of relief when they were finished and took their bows. I didn’t see fearlessness. I saw courage.

Courage with something behind it, something that became clear as I watched the final piano soloist. She walked to the piano, had a brief whispered conversation with the music teacher, sat down on the bench, paused, played a few notes, and stopped. She sat and thought, played the same notes again, looked at the teacher, shook her head, and stood up.

At which point the music teacher told us what was going on. This little girl had forgotten her music book. She thought maybe she could play the song from memory. In front of the audience, she sat down and gave it a try. She couldn’t remember it. The applause was tremendous; we were clapping for her courage.

Courage that was supported by the music teacher, that woman behind the piano. She was there for every small performer: Sitting on her chair just where they could see her. Jumping up if she needed to move the bench or hold a music book or turn a page. Smiling with pride as each student walked to the piano. Leading the applause when they were done. En-couraging every child in the most literal and powerful sense of the word.

Which, as parents or grandparents or teachers or plain old random adults, is something for all of us to do.

If kids were really fearless, childhood would be a whole lot easier. Life for a child is mostly a matter of being shoved into one situation after another that you’ve never experienced before. You have no control. You have no idea what to expect. You don’t know the people, the surroundings, the rules, or the necessary skills.

If you think about it, that actually describes a lot of life for adults, too. But let’s not tell that to the kids; they have enough to deal with. Being a child already takes all the courage they can muster.

Courage that needs to be fostered by us, the grownups. Because every toddler who leaps fearlessly into the swimming pool does so knowing mom or dad is there to catch them. The flipping gymnast brothers almost certainly have parents with a high tolerance for jumping off the furniture and wearing out the couch cushions. Every child athlete, musician, or other performer does what they do with the support of parents, teachers, and coaches. Every bullied or abused child who speaks up can only do so if an adult will listen and believe them.

Kids are not fearless. What kids are—with a little help from us—is brave.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | Leave a comment

Over The Hill With No Brakes

This week I’ll observe—if not exactly “celebrate”—my 70th birthday. It’s one of those milestones that prompts unappreciated comparisons to certain large extinct reptiles and not-so-smart remarks about being “over the hill.”

So let me tell you a true “over the hill” story.

The distance from Raton, NM, to Trinidad, CO, is 25 miles. Driving those miles on Interstate 25 means climbing the long, steep, curving grade through Raton Pass and descending the even longer, steeper, curving grade to Trinidad. In April of 2002, my husband Wayne and I drove through Raton Pass on our way home from a three-month construction job in Arizona. He was driving a semi. I was driving a one-ton pickup, pulling a 30-foot fifth wheel camper. He had to stop with the truck at the port of entry near Raton, so I went on ahead over the pass.

This trip was only the third time I had towed the camper and the first time I had driven it in mountains. My training for this experience consisted of two pieces of advice. One, slow down with your gears, not your brakes. Two, the lowest gear you need to shift down to when you’re going up a steep grade is the same gear you should use when you go down.

Thus prepared, I drove up and up, shifting down and down until I ran out of gears. I tried to ignore all the other vehicles passing me as I climbed more and more slowly, until I finally topped the pass. Now came the truly terrifying part—going down the other side. I kept reminding myself to slow with my gears. Occasionally I had to remind myself to breathe. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad. I made it safely all the way down, all the way through Trinidad, and out onto the prairie on the other side, feeling greatly relieved and somewhat close to competent.

That feeling lasted until Wayne came up behind me a few miles later, called on the radio, and told me to pull over and stop. Which was when I learned that I had driven through Raton Pass with no brakes on the trailer. He had disconnected them to save the battery when we stopped for the night and forgot to reconnect them.

Had I known I had no trailer brakes on that long steep grade, I would have panicked. Since I didn’t know, I just kept driving innocently along, with no clue that my confidence in my equipment was misplaced. I just kept following the only instructions I had–which, fortunately, turned out to be quite applicable to the situation. I was also lucky. It’s the most vivid demonstration I’ve ever experienced of the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.”

At the time, I was also ignorant of many other things. I didn’t know that, six months later, Wayne would be killed in a plane crash. I didn’t know that I would eventually find another happy relationship that would also end in sorrow. I didn’t know about the family weddings, the births of grandchildren, and all the other joyful and painful life events and changes still to come.

In the years since, traveling all the unexpected curves and steep grades that shape a life, I’ve left behind the luxury of living in ignorant bliss. I now understand that all of us are mostly muddling our way along with insufficient information and incomplete instructions. At times, we’re all driving through difficult terrain with no brakes. Sometimes we know it and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we’re lucky and sometimes we aren’t. Either way, about all we can do is keep on going.

Even when we flinch at milestones that loom up along our roads much faster than we could possibly have expected—like birthdays that make it impossible to pretend we don’t qualify for the senior discount. Birthdays that make clear life is apt to be mostly downhill from here on, and the brakes wore out several hills back. It’s a challenge to accept that knowledge without panicking. It’s another challenge to figure out the “how” of navigating that road.

I’m still working on both. But a few weeks ago, I encountered a bit of wisdom that I intend to rely on as I go forward. I know it’s deep and profound, because I saw it on a bumper sticker.

On one side was an image of a Buddha-like figure sitting serenely in the lotus position. On the other side were six words. At the top: “Do No Harm.” Below that: “Take No Shit.”

That’s it. That’s my new life plan.

First, to “Do no harm.” Because there is already more than enough pain in the world without my adding to it. I never know what hardships and heartaches other people may be facing. I never know when someone else is driving with no brakes. It’s my responsibility to be accepting of and respectful to those around me.

Second, to realize that “Do no harm” is meaningless without its flip side: “Take no shit.” “Do no harm” is not the same as “let people run over you.” Accepting others is not the same as accepting unacceptable behavior from those who are mean or careless. One of the people entitled to be treated with respect is me.

If, at age 70 and beyond, you can’t speak up for yourself, stand up for what matters, and say what you really think—then when are you going to do it? At this point, what is there to lose? Not having a lot to lose is a powerful place to be.

Heading downhill with no brakes? One word for that is “terrifying.” A better one is “unstoppable.”

Categories: Just For Fun | 3 Comments

A Post is a Post is a Peony Bush

Social media, like a refrigerator door, can be a place to show off accomplishments. It’s also, like an old-fashioned telephone party line, a place to eavesdrop on other people’s random conversations. These are both apt analogies. I’m sure of it, because I’ve made both of them myself.

But after several months of regular morning walks with my daughter and her dog, I’ve stumbled across another apt analogy. Social media is like a tree. Or a fence post, a light pole, a bush, a lawn ornament, a rock, or a clump of grass. Anything, in short, where dogs stop to check the pee-mail.

People sit at their computers or sprawl over their phones and browse the internet, scrolling through social media until a post catches their attention. Dogs trot along the neighborhood sidewalks, strolling through the landscape until a post catches their attention. Whether browsers are using their thumbs or their noses, the goal is the same: checking for updates and messages.

Some messages are worth only a cursory human glance or a perfunctory canine sniff. Others merit a little more attention. From a human, perhaps a quick “like” or “share.” From a dog, a longer sniff and a brief liquid comment.

Other posts demand much more involvement. For people, this means watching or reading with increasing excitement and agitation, and then responding. Perhaps with strings of hearts, hugs, other sweet emojis, and lots of exclamation points. Or perhaps with rants featuring words like “idiot,” aspersions on the original posters’ education and ancestry, and lots of exclamation points. Or they might go down virtual rabbit holes, obsessively following one link after another until their internet trance is interrupted by a boss needing something like actual work or a child needing something like actual dinner.

Dogs take in their attention-grabbing posts with intent sniffing from several different angles, growing more excited and agitated with every nose twitch. Their replies take the form of a prolonged, focused stream. Then they punctuate their communication with a vigorous bout of backward grass-scratching—flying bits of debris apparently being the canine equivalent of emojis and exclamation points. Or they might try to go down literal rabbit holes, obsessively digging and sniffing until they are tugged away by the person on the other end of the leash who has the mistaken impression that walking with the dog is about exercise.

For both humans and dogs, all this posting comes down to a simple matter of messages received and messages sent. Balance is achieved; all is well. Until the next day, when it’s essential to return and check the same posts for updates. Especially when a post is your own. Even if you illogically and unreasonably publish something snarky about social media—using social media.

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Sugar Cubes, Syringes, and Sweet Relief

Mary Poppins was right: a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. Even when it’s a sugar cube, decorated with a bright pink splotch of some suspicious substance.

I remember those sugar cubes in tiny paper cups, arrayed on tables in the Winner, South Dakota, city auditorium and handed out to a crowd of chattering children that included my sisters and me. It was the late 1950s or early 1960s, and we were among the many kids who received the much-welcome polio vaccine at immunization events all across the country.

I’m a little vague on the year, and I’m making an educated guess on the location. But I have no doubt about the bright pink color—or the awful taste. Even with the help of the sugar, it was bitter. Mary Poppins would have thought so, too.

In fact, without those vaccine-soaked sugar cubes, Julie Andrews might never have sung “A Spoonful of Sugar” in the 1964 Disney movie version of Mary Poppins. Robert Sherman, who with his brother Richard wrote the songs for the movie, came up with the lyrics for “A Spoonful of Sugar” after his son Jeffrey told him about getting the polio vaccine.

Back when I was dutifully crunching down my bittersweet pink cube, I didn’t know much about polio. I had seen photos of people in iron lungs. I knew of a handful of people in our community left handicapped by polio. I knew that my mother’s oldest brother, who died as a toddler decades before I was born, may have been a victim of polio. But as a child, I wasn’t really aware of the widespread fear of this disease or the deep relief that came with the polio vaccine.

Today, I know a lot more about our current pandemic. When, last week, I went to another vaccine clinic, it was with a feeling of relief that bordered on giddiness. This time, I wasn’t one of a crowd of fidgety children being herded into lines. I was one of a quiet group of adults, mostly over a certain age, respectfully masked and seated on folding chairs too far apart for chattering. If some of us felt fidgety during the brief wait for our turns, we kept it to our socially distanced selves.

There was no bright pink stuff on sugar cubes this time. Just a quick, painless jab in the arm from a nurse with beautiful warm eyes above her mask, who was friendly and gentle and clearly delighted with her pandemic-ending assignment.

I waited (patiently, since of course I had a book with me) in another folding chair for the required post-inoculation 15 minutes. During that time I developed a headache, which lasted for the rest of the day. It’s the only side effect I had, and it’s possible that part of it resulted from hearing Julie Andrews singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” in my head for several hours.

But this time, Mary Poppins notwithstanding, no sugar was needed to help the medicine go down. After this past year of isolation, fear, and sadness, the relief and joy of receiving a COVID vaccine was sweet enough all by itself.

Categories: Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Skinny Jeans and Bernie’s Mittens

The polar vortex. Climate change. Infrequent but not unknown weather extremes, otherwise known as “it’s February, what do you expect?”.

None of that fully explains the extreme cold spell we’ve been having. Here is the real story:

The pandemic’s upending of our schedules and routines have left a lot of us calendar-challenged. “It’s Wednesday, right? No, Thursday? And the month? Um, just give me a minute.”

Obviously, the same thing has happened to Mother Nature. A couple of weeks ago she woke up and realized, “Oh, damn—it’s February already! Fall was supposed to be over three months ago. Now if I can just remember where I left all my winter stuff . . .”

Then she unloaded three months’ worth of winter weather all at once.

This is why some of us, who have been running blithely around in light jackets while our snowboots and heavy coats have been gathering dust in the hall closet, are feeling aggrieved by the cold. The daily high temperatures went from mid-fifties to below zero faster than you could say, “Where in the heck is my other mitten?” We were caught with our long johns—er, our guard down.

But we’re tough. We’re coping. We’re trying to remember that “There is no bad weather; only unsuitable clothing choices.”

Case in point—Bernie Sanders and his famous Inauguration Day coat and mittens. His choice of outerwear was neither a fashion statement nor a political statement. It was simply a practical statement from a guy old enough and wise enough to choose comfort over style on a cold day.

Anyone who lives above a certain latitude understands that if you need to be fashionable when it’s freezing, you have to make certain compromises. That’s why long underwear was invented. Wear it under your regular clothes, and you can stay warm but still look somewhat stylish.

Unless what’s currently stylish is skinny jeans. Long underwear does not fit comfortably under skinny jeans. This is true whether said underwear is lightweight silk or spandex tights. Trust me; I have verified it. Just don’t ask me exactly how.

If the Kardashians lived in Minnesota, the fashion world would do something about this problem.

Categories: Fashion | 2 Comments

That’s Outrageous!

Several weeks ago, reading “just one more” article in my news feed, I had a shocking revelation. There I sat, hunched over my computer, with my jaws clenched, my shoulders up past my ears, my heart racing, and my stomach knotted. And it dawned on me—I had become addicted to outrage.

Given the chaos we’ve been surrounded with these past months—the pandemic, the protests, the bitter partisanship around the election—there is plenty to be outraged about. Feeling outraged isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At times it is an appropriate response to behavior that violates accepted standards of behavior.

What I had done, though, was get caught up in a cycle of outrage that had me feeling anger laced with a satisfying sense of self-righteousness and topped off by a burst of adrenaline. The more I sought out outrageous tidbits to feed those emotions, the more I was perpetuating an addictive loop.

I did not appreciate realizing this about myself.

But I did appreciate, just a few days later, being given an opportunity to understand it. On December 13, the subject of NPR’s program “The Hidden Brain” was outrage. Here’s what I learned:

Researchers have found that feeling outrage stimulates pleasure receptors in our brains. No wonder I was enjoying my self-righteous anger. But why would we evolve to take pleasure in outrage? What purpose would it serve?

The value in feeling outrage would be to encourage us to punish those whose behavior violated the accepted standards and rules of our group. Those violations could threaten the well-being or even the survival of individuals or the group.

At the same time, expressing outrage in person has a built-in controller to keep us from overdoing it. Let’s say you and I are part of an Ice Age family group, and I’ve seen you take and hide more than your share of the meat from our mammoth kill. That behavior harms the rest of us by taking food out of our mouths. I am outraged; I need to confront you. But if I get right in your face, screaming and threatening to bash your head in with my stone hammer, you just might hit me first. The ensuing melee wouldn’t do our group any good, either. To protect us from your bad behavior, I need to find a more useful way to turn my outrage into action. (I suspect this is why humans developed polite manners.)

Fast forward to the 21st Century. We don’t have mammoths. We do have social media, where we can be anonymous and our outrage has no external brakes. We can do exactly what I was doing—wallow in “Oh my God!” and “Did they really?” and “What an idiot!” until we send ourselves into a spiral of escalating outrage and response and more outrage. The feeling of outrage still stimulates those pleasure centers in our brains, but it doesn’t compel any useful action. It just floods our bodies with stress.

This does not mean there is no value in outrage that is stirred up in social media. It has great value—to the media itself. The hosting platforms, news outlets, “influencers” and “opinionators” love it. Because outrage gives them views, shares, and attention. 

For me, this last piece of information was the key to backing away from my addiction to outrage. I hate being manipulated even more than I enjoy indulging in a nice stressful bout of self-righteous outrage. So I’ve started paying attention to the headlines and images before I ever click on an article. Once you look for them, it’s easy to pick out the inflammatory, sensational words: “shocking” “backlash” “erupts” “rips” “unbelievable.” These are meant to incite outrage and get attention. It’s very satisfying to refuse to take the bait.

I also remember that our pervasive, 24-hour infotainment media is an insatiable monster. It always has to take more in so it can spit more out. There is not nearly enough solid information to keep it fed. So it recycles, rehashes, and stretches out the actual news with tons of opinion, speculation, reactions, and just plain junk. It’s like making meatloaf with eight cups of stale breadcrumbs, a couple of half-spoiled onions, and only three ounces of hamburger.

I don’t have to consume the junk. I can choose just to read one or two articles from a reputable news outlet to get the basics. I don’t need to read or watch the fifth iteration of a commentator’s speculation on somebody’s reaction to somebody else’s response to a possible event hinted at by the assistant to somebody-or-other’s PR person.

When I do react with outrage, I can ask myself two questions. First: “Is this outrage artificially amped up, or is it my own?” Second: “Is there anything I can or should  do about it?”

Sometimes the answer is that my outrage is nothing more than a self-indulgent wallow in my own feelings. If so, the energy it creates just feeds toxic stress. It’s time to close my browser, back slowly away from the computer, and do something healthy like take a brisk walk.

Sometimes, though, the answer is “speak up.” Outrage is meant to energize us to take action to confront a threat, right a wrong, or solve a problem. Sometimes, if we fail to act, we are complicit in someone else’s outrageous behavior.

Originally, I intended this piece to end here. I thought I could discuss outrage in a general and explanatory way without mentioning anything that might actually be controversial. I planned to be careful, to not risk offending anyone. I meant to keep strong brakes on my own outrage.

But a few days ago, one especially outrageous act caused me to change my mind. The sitting president of the United States, in a recorded phone call, asked and urged Georgia’s secretary of state to falsify election results. I have read the transcript of this phone call. His own words show President Trump abusing the power of the presidency, violating his own oath of office, and violating the law by urging another elected official to do the same.

And today, as I’m writing this, the members of Congress who should be peacefully and ceremonially certifying the results of the presidential election are being evacuated from their chambers because of violent protests. Protests urged on by a dangerously petulant president.

Is my outrage over this my own? Absolutely. Is there anything I can or should do about it? Absolutely. I have a responsibility to confront the president’s behavior because it threatens the well-being of our shared group—the American people. I can choose to speak up, even if others might take offense. I can choose to use my sense of outrage to take my own action.

Because if I do not, I become one of those “good people” who, by doing nothing, allow evil to triumph. And that is outrageous.

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Can 2021 Come Out To Stay?

At last! It’s gone! Finally, we’re seeing 2020 in the rearview mirror.

Or at least, we would see it there if we were actually doing any driving. I got a new car—a fun red one!—early in March. By December 31, I had a whopping 1556 miles on it.

I think I put more miles than that on my hiking boots. Because among the things I’ve been grateful for this past year are the bike path just a block from my house and the many Black Hills hiking trails that are so easily accessible. In a year when it’s been so easy to slide into depression and stay there, socially distanced outdoor exercise has been a sanity saver.

A few other insights from 2020:

Thank goodness a lot of those new bakers who thought sourdough was the best discovery since sliced bread got tired of kneading. That leaves enough flour and yeast on the shelves for those of us who were making homemade bread before Covid made it cool.

Online grocery ordering is an exercise in trust and letting go. It’s no small thing to rely on someone else to pick out your bananas.

Group grocery buying supports healthier eating. I give my list to my daughter, who places our joint order online, where some brave soul fills it, so my son-in-law can pick it up, separate out my groceries, and drop them off at my house. With that many witnesses, there’s no way I’m buying any junk food. (Note: thankfully, dark chocolate is not junk food.)

A good friend will tell you which store has a new stock of toilet paper. A best friend will share her stash.

Talking to yourself is a sign of mental health. After about the eighty-seventeenth day of pandemic isolation, however, you’ve pretty much heard everything you have to say.

If you trim your own hair, describing the result as “asymmetrical” rather than “uneven” will help you pretend you meant it to come out that way.

Unless you outgrow your clothes, it is possible to stay decent, if perhaps not precisely fashionable, for an entire year with what’s in your closet. The downside is it doesn’t do much for the local economy if your clothing purchases for 12 months consist of two shirts, one pair of walking shoes, and a package of underwear.

Our 21st century technology is incredible. Texting, phone calls, social media, Zoom, and all its cousins are amazing ways to stay in touch. The e-reader is the best invention since contact lenses, and downloadable books are a gift from the gods and the local library board.

Some people have used pandemic isolation to clean out all their closets, master new languages or musical instruments, participate in online yoga classes, remodel their houses, keep daily journals, or write deep and thoughtful books. Some of us have used pandemic isolation to think about starting big projects like those. While we’ve been thinking, we read a lot of books.

Of course, turning our calendars to 2021 doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. That little New Year critter isn’t rushing in; it’s cautiously peeking out to see whether it’s safe to show up. But at least the fears and frustrations and grief that have been weighing us down are leavened with some hope and optimism.

May your 2021 include good health, vaccinations, in-person conversations, gatherings, hugs, and reconnections with those you love. Blessings and best wishes for a brighter year ahead.

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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.

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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

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