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Phrase Phase

Which one is correct?

When my newly minted teenager, Thirteen, was just beginning to articulate complete sentences at the age of about Three, she learned to say, “Actually.” She did not use it to correct others, but to make a point as fact. “Actually, I was going to pet the cat.” “I am hungry, actually.” “Actually, good night.” As a developmental habit, it was actually pretty cute and didn’t last long enough to become annoying.

Ten years later she might just as well append actually to every comment because she is a stickler for accuracy, and not only her own. If I report that it’s 4 and we need to leave, she’ll tell me it’s only 3:56. If her brother mis-quotes a song lyric, she will take pains to sing the refrain emphasizing the correct words. If she herself says her left hand but means her right, she’ll burst into giggles and ask loudly why in the world would she say left when she means right.

I can only hope that this linguistic phase will also be short lived.

I put aside my wondering about where her commitment to detail came from to do a little celestial research. I thought I remembered that July 31 this year brings us a Blue Moon, the second full moon in a calendar month. A blue moon is auspicious, of course, because it doesn’t happen very often. The full moon offers a big hit of lunar energy, and a blue moon shines its big light onto the truth in our hearts, offering us a path to follow those notes toward meaningful transitions.

Verifying my memory online, I was drawn up short when I uncovered an inaccuracy in my own understanding of the world. Traditionally, it seems, the blue moon was the third full moon of four in a single season (between equinox and solstice or solstice and equinox). That was according to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac. Then, in 1946 a reporter for Sky and Telescope, in an article entitled “Once in a Blue Moon,” interpreted the older definition to mean two full moons in a single calendar month (http://earthsky.org/space/when-is-the-next-blue-moon).

Which one is the correct definition? Do we have a blue moon this month or not until May 2016? According to the reading I’ve done, people can’t agree. But the author at earthsky wisely suggests that both definitions are folklore, and thus we get to decide and enjoy either. As I see it, with two definitions for blue moons in use, the phenomenon is less incredibly rare; so the phrase, once in a blue moon, is less laden with the meaning of something seldom happening.

A little further research offers this—five hundred years ago (okay, 487), there is printed evidence that if something happened once in a blue moon it would be something utterly absurd, akin to “when pigs fly.” The flying pigs were also popular parlance about the same time, alongside the moon being made of green cheese. Together they must have rubbed out the blue moon as absurd, allowing it to come roaring back to mean a rare occurrence.

I love language. I love that it shifts and grows and accommodates our changing communications, but I also consider myself something of a usage guardian and strive for accuracy in meaning, punctuation, and grammar. In clear communications, accuracy is powerful; and boom, I am handed new understanding. Living with an English professor turned editor, a Sixteen year-old-boy who knows most everything, and a grandmother with nearly ninety-one years of living experience, of course Thirteen is driven to discover the Actually in any situation. At this moment, when she is learning to navigate the world at an age during which she can enjoy the Minions movie and Dirty Dancing in a single weekend, this moment is more rare and precious than any blue moon, because when it’s over it won’t ever return.

jelly hand 15

Valencia, earlier this month (July 2015)

jelly hand 09

Either the hand has grown or the jelly fish are smaller … or both! California, January 2009

In spite of my general preference for particulars and a feeling that the oldest way is somehow the rightest, I’m sticking with the idea that this month (7.31.15) we see a blue moon; twenty-eight days ago my peeps and I were under a glorious full moon in Barcelona. The world turns and turns and we’re lucky to be on it. Thanks for reading, Rxo

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Phone Tag

Phone Tag

Can you sub for me today?

The request arrives via text message at 6:22 a.m. I’m in my morning flurry: packing my children’s lunches for school; getting my mother her meds and tea; making hibiscus tea for the peeps’ breakfast; calling for Twelve to hurry downstairs to eat; managing the cats and their various needs for food, water, and a turn in their pen; and shaking off sleep. My initial reaction is to stop everything, pick up my cell phone and punch in a hurried reply—hang on, let me check. I’ll let you know—something of that ilk. I put my cell phone down and ponder how technology has changed the hours during which we communicate. Take a breath, I remind myself. Just because the message arrived right at that moment, I can wait to compose my day and thus a coherent answer.

When I was growing up, my mother taught me not to place phone calls before nine in the morning, and I was prohibited from being on the phone after nine at night. Family might call late, especially after the long distance rates went down at eleven, but otherwise a phone call late at night or early in the morning was an intrusion at best, more likely an emergency or very bad news.

About the time I got interested in talking to my friends during every waking minute, we had two phones in the house. One was on my mother’s desk and the other, a rotary-dial black box with a heavy handset, hung on the wall in the between the kitchen and the bathroom. There was a phone across the road in the barn, too, that for a while had a horn that blasted so my father could hear it ring in his garden. I spent a lot of afternoons and evenings during junior high coiled in the extra-long phone cord attached to the kitchen phone and secreted into our one bathroom for privacy. Later, when I was in high school, my parents added a line and I had a slimline avocado green touchtone phone in my bedroom. I still wasn’t supposed to talk to my friends past nine, but I’m sure I did sometimes. Okay, more than sometimes.

No answering machine in college meant my roommates and I took messages for one another. I’m sure I sound like a nostalgic Luddite when I remember message taking fondly—a quality message includes the caller’s name, number, message, and a good time to return the call. One of my housemates even brought us “while you were out” message pads purloined from her father’s office. Technology and personal communication devices have sent the fine art of taking a message the way of a passenger leaning across the inside of a car to unlock the driver’s door after being let in by the driver. Who had to use a key. Inserted into the lock. Of the passenger’s door.

We exchange such niceties for the convenience of handheld devices that go everywhere with us and keys so smart they can roll down the windows to air out a car as the driver approaches. My phone actually links right up to my car when it starts, so the whole thing is like a brilliant orange rolling phone booth. (Just think—when was the last time you saw an actual payphone?) The car announces incoming calls, mispronouncing most names naturally, and I push a single button on my steering wheel to answer.

I actually resisted having my own cell phone for a long time because somehow between junior high and now, I learned to dislike the phone. I feel like phone calls are at best an interruption, and I hate calling people to ask for things. I will go to great lengths to avoid calling a store or someone in a professional capacity, preferring to show up on person, search via google or send an email or even a snail mail letter. Nonetheless, none of my electronics are ever very far away from me, even though I do make an effort to turn them off.

In contrast, this very week I noticed a box I could click when printing from Preview that told my printer to automatically print two-sided documents, saving me from having to print one side, flip the paper and then print the other. On the very same day I saw for the first time the outline of an arrow on my online banking site that lets me rearrange the entries in all manner of ways, making data reconciliation much simpler. And my phone, the same one that can shatter my morning with an early text, woke me gently this morning so that I could view the full lunar eclipse from the beginning. Watching the luminous moon turn ashy and then gray and then red, looking up with awe as the stars twinkled brightly, and then checking the moon frequently as another lively morning started in my house, I had to remind myself that as so often the case, it’s all about balance. So I may struggle sometimes with connectivity, but I confess: I like the fact that I can walk outside, watch the eclipse, and then remark publicly via my phone on Facebook and my computer right here on my blog upon the wonder and magic of the night sky.

full moon rise

Oh what a moon!

Did I sub that class? You betcha. And the day that briefly unraveled as a result of an early morning contact rolled back into a manageable bundle, events rearranged under the sparkling sun and a gorgeous moon rise.

The full October moon rising and perching playfully atop a traffic light as Fifteen drove his sister to ballet and me to our Tuesday evening writing date.

The full October moon rising and perching playfully atop a traffic light as Fifteen drove his sister to ballet and me to our Tuesday evening writing date.

Happy full moon; happy lunar eclipse day. Oh, and watch those electronics—Mercury is in retrograde until the end of the month. With love & gratitude, Rxo

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