Monday, July 26, 2010

Mr. Osborne, May I Be Excused?

I was on Facebook recently and the topic of Gary Larson’s The Far Side came up with a short discussion of all-time favorites. I mentioned that one of my favorites is the two bucks in hunting season, one commenting to the other about his pal's unfortunate target-shaped mark, “Bummer of a Birthmark, dude.”

It’s been like that for me since last Thursday with the Day Job. Like the bumper sticker, I try to take one day at a time but sometimes several days gang up on me all at once, like there’s that unlucky birthmark or something. Last Friday was going to be an ordinary day until Thursday when I found out I was needed to test an emergency software release once it had moved to “production.” It was much more like being startled than afraid, at least. I didn’t anticipate any big issues. I just needed to make sure I was there at the right time and had what I needed to get to the systems and make sure that everything looked normal.

I already had one change going in for the weekend but I knew I wouldn’t be able to take a peek at it until Saturday morning. The Friday evening task was a surprise but it was quick and easy, as these things go.

Releases don’t always go that well in the software world. I remember being on a train-wreck of a release back in 2004. Not only did we have problems to debug and resolve, my east coast time zone friends had long since lost the ol’ sense of humor by, oh, say 1:00 a.m. Pacific time. My own eyes were so dry and gritty that I could have sharpened knives with them, but that was nothing compared to my Boston-based co-worker who was just short of hysterics from lack of sleep and excess of frustration. To top it off, our conference call meeting number played “Hotel California” as if to haunt us while we plodded through the just slightly-wrong settings that were causing all the commotion. To this day, I can’t mention the word “Eagles” around her without a strong reaction, somewhere on the level of a Red Sox fan hearing praise about the Yankees. We got through it somehow. Sometime you just have to drag the boulder up the mountain.

The software release I had planned to do Saturday went well. I popped out of bed at 7:00 a.m., opened the conference call to some other co-workers who tensely checked their computers to see if the “Eagle” had landed, or at least version 1.1 of it. Wonder of wonders, it had. I was back in bed by 7:45 a.m. for a bit longer snooze, thinking my weekend was now my own.

That was the flaw in my thinking, of course. Hotel California: You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m., there came a terrible noise. The phone was ringing. At 4:30? In the morning? I keep the phone on my side of the bed. Anyone calling that number in the middle of the night is either a wrong number or a software emergency. When you work in software, sometimes wrong numbers are really welcome. This was not a wrong number. This was a software emergency.

“Mmmm. Mursha McCrud.”

I don’t speak very well before 7:00 a.m. I try to tell my eager eastern time zone buddies this when they schedule meetings for me at 6:00 a.m. They are likely to get my non-verbal phase, perhaps even my non-sentient phase. Certainly, they get my non-diplomatic phase. Yes, it has occurred to me that they may be scheduling early meetings precisely to engage me in the non-verbal, non-sentient form. I attend conference calls at those times, but I live in terror that I’ll snore into the phone without the mute button on. It’s so unprofessional.

My caller was from one of my long-standing inter-company relationships. They wanted to know if the test we had told them about for Saturday was over.

“Uh, well, yes. Why?” Oh, only that they had tried our website and couldn’t get into it. “Did you try closing all your browser windows and opening them up again?” Big technology tip: That actually helps with industrial strength websites. Oh, the guy said, OK, I’ll try that. And he hung up.

Suddenly I was awake, thumbs to the Blackberry, feet to the desk and, well, huh. When you’ve done software production support as long as I have there are a couple of things you do automatically. You check and double check. You think so far outside the box about how a problem could happen that you lose the box. I sent out an email to some of the gang at my company who had some special activity going on. Yup, that finished Saturday, wasn’t the issue. Looks like the website was OK, too, after a quick check. I wondered what the problem was. And then started the long, long saga of trying to get back in touch with the people who had called me in the first place.

Another one of my very favorite Larson cartoons is the Crisis Clinic. It’s on fire and going over the falls. My friend Derek thinks that is a fair representation of my desk. The vortex of my pack-rat-ism and need to have tools like pens, pencils, notebooks, CD’s, cables, a letter opener, storage devices, incense…incense? at hand has its event horizon just behind my work laptop. Sometimes I have stuffalanches, occasionally cat-induced. None of that affects my work productivity. It’s part of the ambiance. When I work, I’m focused with laser-like intensity. Things happen, like small earthquakes, and I don’t notice. And the Bat Signal had lit up the skies.

Now it’s one thing for the people you’re helping when you’re trying to fix a technology problem to be ungrateful. This is common. All that leftover frustration at the problem happening in the first place has to go somewhere. So when I’m in the Crisis Clinic, I’m used to being slugged by a patient, at least verbally. You start to look out for key phrases like, “You people….” I don’t think any good, kind words ever follow, “You people.”

It’s quite another to have your Sunday morning prime sleeping time jangled into unplanned action and then to disappear on me. But that’s what happened. It was like a bad practical joke. Let’s see, I get this call at 4:30 a.m., I successfully page someone at the affected company around 7:30 a.m to ask if they had indeed resolved their issue. It’s someone I’ve never spoken to before, but that company, like many companies’ technology departments, has had some changes. The person does not know, so I ask if they can check and call me back. No matter, they have my work number, my cell number, my email address. Then time passes. I start sending emails. “Please advise of status. My company’s experts are standing by.” Actually they’re likely to drift away without sufficient urgency from the patient, but there’s this Responsibility thing I do. Such an annoyance, responsibility.

I page the emergency after-hours pager. Several times. No answer. Time passes. I’m chained to the phone and the computer now because I can’t leave my post. I miss mass. I blow off the barbeque with the Football Pool people. Finally, it’s 2:30 pm and I’ve now been hanging around at the Crisis Clinic with my hair on fire, and perhaps no one else’s, for 10 hours. I start calling all of my friends at that company.

I’ve worked for my company and with employees of the other company for about seven years now. Over time, I’ve collected little things like cell phone numbers, home numbers, stuff like that. You never know when you’ll need to contact someone.

The third person I called answered her phone. I apologized profusely. She gave me the new Team Leader’s cell phone number and email address. I dialed and suddenly found myself talking to the then nameless, now nameful stranger I spoke to at 7:30 a.m.

I introduced myself, apologized for interrupting her day and asked if she had gotten any of my (frantic) emails. “Oh,” she said. “That’s my fault. You sent, like what, 3 or 4 of them?” More like seven or eight but, hey, who’s counting? “I got busy doing,” she hesitated, “other things.” Oh, no problem, I profess in my most liaison-like tones. We just wanted to know if you were in fact able to access the website.

You see, if they can’t access our website, they can’t sell our stuff. If they can’t sell our stuff, they’ll sell somebody else’s stuff. We want them to sell our stuff. You’d be surprised how complex a concept that is. Or, I am, at least, every time I run into a co-worker who doesn’t get the dynamic.

“Oh, right. The website,” she hesitated again. “Well, we found out that the guys who were checking at 4:30 a.m. were actually looking at the wrong website.” Oh, I smiled dryly, day ruined, disposition slipping. No problem.

It took me hours to come down off the “battle stations” adrenalin high. I want my nap. I want my break. I want my blanky and my kitty. I don’t want to have to think any more. I want, no need, my 4 of Swords.

There were two more production problems today that were mind-boggling in their resolution. Boy, howdy, I could use some sleep. My Day Job is The Far Side: “Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full.”

Best wishes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don’t Lick the Frog

In the damp and dewy early morning hours in a quiet neighborhood on the south side of Orlando ca. 1960, a grubby blonde tot in her nightgown carrying a bucket was on the hunt. Softly, so as not to wake the residents, she waded through the wet grass and lifted each concrete water meter cover to find her treasure. With luck, there were one or two toads snoozing in the cool dark hollows. She gently picked each one up, as gentle as a tot on the hunt could be at least, and placed them in her grass-lined bucket, covering them from the dangers of the rising sun and of course escape. The toads were a present for her mother.

She returned after her rounds with her jumpy bucket, proudly sharing her quarry with her mother who made a noise not quite like a scream, something quieter. It was early after all. Waking up to a small soaked and muddy child with a bucket full of toads is hard on a mother in the early hours of the day. It signals so much to come. Together they padded out to the back yard and set the toads free, discussing the pros and cons of keeping one for a pet. They watched the toads all hop to freedom to seek shelter in the azaleas and hibiscus and find another cool spot to snooze. Then they returned to wipe off the mud and change out of the soaking nightgown, the rest of the house asleep.

This ritual repeats as often as necessary.


I don’t know why I collected toads for my mother. It certainly wasn’t her idea. I liked them. They were cool and had funny feet and big blinky eyes. I knew they ate bugs and I didn’t like bugs at all. They had plenty to work with there in Florida. My frog/toad thing didn’t end with the morning collection either.

I was pretty sure that toads didn’t give you warts like the kids said. I had been wrangling them for a long time and was wartless. Mom said you got warts from kids and that seemed to make more sense. She went on to say it was from going barefoot. This was displeasing to me since I liked being barefoot. But in Florida there were many hazards that made going barefoot a problem, like the stiff-thorned sandburs that were barbed and painful to extract. So I tended to be footloose only indoors where the cool terrazzo floors were a sanctuary from the heat of the Florida sunshine.

A family lived in the house behind the little strip mall where my mother had her antique shop and across from their house was a small lake. My brother and I played with the kids there, built a ramshackle tree house from discarded boards behind the businesses in their tree and one day captured hundreds of baby frogs. They must all have hatched at the same time and they were tiny, about the size of a fingernail. They were dark, slick and they hopped, seemingly in all directions at once. Enterprise! We five or six kids set about building a pen or as children so often call their safe shelters, a fort. Then the roundup began. We were all hopping.

When we had secured as many as we could and put in dishes of water and grass blades for comfort, we planned what we would do with them. We would raise them and …. Like so many childhood plans, we didn’t really have a good answer for what happened next. Luckily for our frogs, our building skills were not particularly secure and the tiny frogs began to escape. We decided to try to move the herd to the lake.

The street between the neighbors’ house and the lake was narrow and not well traveled but like all Florida streets, it was hot. We knew we would need to get the herd across the street as quickly as possible to avoid losses. And like so many childhood enterprises, we were only partially successful. But by sundown we were pretty sure most of our frogs had made it to the lake where they were at least supposed to live even if it was likely that they were an egret or bass’ dinner. We were exhausted from squabbles and effort, our first efforts at cooperative wildlife management.

Fast forward, when I had to dissect a frog in Miss Beck’s biology class in high school, I remembered all my efforts in “froggservation” and was frankly a little sad that my little fellow had been sacrificed for my education. I named him, going against the general rule of never naming your science experiments or food, but felt better talking to my still companion whose inner being was now laid bare for me to draw and label. My frog and I got a good grade on our project but I was well aware I got the better part of the deal.

There’s a good reason to like frogs and toads and other amphibians and it’s not just because they are cute in a froggy sort of way. As tender as they seem, amphibians like frogs and toads have survived the last few mass extinctions, so you would think they are tough little hoppers. But the people who count critters are finding that there just aren’t as many as there used to be, to the point where scientists are really concerned. At least one of the reasons is a fungus that attacks only amphibians which is spreading due in part to, you guessed it, climate change. The biggest hit on amphibians, though, is that their homes, their habitats are being destroyed.

A group dedicated to tracking my little buddies, states that 32% of the world’s amphibian species are threatened. How big a deal is that, especially when people are dying from man-made and man-controlled and natural events all over? Well, think of the froggy as the canary in the mine for biodiversity. It’s a signal. It’s saying things are out of balance and when things get out of balance, something has to give. There’s a great book by Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point that shows you pretty much what you suspected when you were a little kid, that you can fiddle with something only so long before you hit your Mom’s last nerve and she blows up. It’s a natural law as well as a Mom-law. And scientists are worried that fewer frogs and toads may mean that we’ve sent nature over the edge and ourselves, being part of nature and not separate beings, with it. Not good.

It’s probably no surprise that I have frog and toad lawn ornaments and even one really cool concrete frog-bench in my yard. I have fiddle playing frogs and crowned frog princes. And wonder of wonders, a couple of weeks ago, in the cool of the night, I spotted a tiny frog, one of the little peepers I hear in my neighborhood.  I’m really hoping we haven’t reached that tipping point because this world is such a fascinating place. As different as people all are here, the amazing other creatures seem worlds different from us, sometimes so much that we think they must be alien species because they are so much not like people. And yet they are part of our World, the balance of nature and the hopping rhythm of life.

So the next time you hear “Froggy Went a’ Courtin’,” the next time you reminisce about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or that funny song and dance frog in the old Warner Bros. cartoon, the next time you laugh at those “Bud” “Weis” “Er” commercials, think about “froggservation.” Like Beth Seilonen’s Blue Dart Frog Arcana: The Life of Balthazar World card, dance with your inner amphibian. Be sensitive to the gift of the World. Go Green whenever, however you can. Support Green industries. Don’t let our frogs be licked.


Would you like to buy your own copy of Beth Seilonen’s Blue Dart Frog Arcana: The Life of Balthazar? Go to

For more from Malcolm Gladwell, check out his blog at:

Best wishes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pickers Can Be Choosers

Some of you know I grew up in my mother’s antique shop. It turned out to be one of the most interesting after-school programs ever. For one thing, the people I met who wanted to sell or buy antiques were fascinating. “Where does your mom get her antiques?” people would ask. Just about everywhere.

The auctioneers were colorful fellows, usually in possession of a large barn and a lot of parking. Dallas, the auctioneer nearest my mother’s shop, was seldom without his personal bottle of Orange Crush soda that was, we speculated, enhanced with something akin to clear rocket fuel. He had a swagger when he walked, regardless of the level of Orange Crush in the bottle, sandy hair and the promise of a heroic “dunlap” over his belt. He seemed neutral about kids, so my brother and I determined we would try to sustain that opinion so we could continue to watch the drama of bidding and the often fascinating things up for bid. It was a great place to learn body language and other colorful things. There were those who felt they hid their thoughts well who did not and those who did. Often the people with the most money looked the least like it. Another favorite auctioneer was Tommy. Nearly opposite to Dallas, Tommy was dark, wiry, lean and stayed toward the background of things until the auction itself started. His barn was in the country on a small farm. He had kids we played with, a mulberry tree we climbed and animals we viewed with respectful interest. We only got into trouble with our mother there after dyeing our shoelaces with mulberry juice. In those auctions, though, we learned a little history, learned a little bunk and learned a little human nature.

Mom didn’t just buy at auctions. There were itinerant sellers called “pickers” who stopped by on their circuit. They often lived in their cars or trucks and made a constant round of their sources and buyers, picking the best from yard and estate sales and getting to know the tastes of their buyers. One picker we got to know was named Orville. The first thing you noticed about Orville was the smell. Antiques, especially in Florida, have a sort of musty smell, one I’ve come to love as much as fresh baked bread. In the 1960’s nearly all adults I knew smoked cigarettes, cigars or a pipe. Even a few chewed tobacco or used snuff. That added to the odor collage. But Orville’s waft transcended all of that.

Orville just plain did not get enough baths. He kept his hair close cropped to his head, likely self-administered to save money. He drove a station-wagon which always seemed to be on its last mile and yet he traveled from Pennsylvania to Florida in a fairly regular transit. The trip included stops along the way to find treasures and sell them. Orville had a pretty good eye for quality and a bargain.

It was this combination of quality merchandise at an affordable price that allowed my mother to basically hold her nose for Orville’s entire visit. You would have to know how straight-laced and hygienic my mother was to understand what a sacrifice to her own values this was. However, I recall that she did often position him at the doorway to the shop so that plenty of fresh air was available to carry off Orville’s other “wares” down the highway. Orville could get an amazing amount of quality furniture, china and glassware stuffed into that car. Often it was just easier on all of us to go to his car. It of course smelled a lot like Orville and was often weighed down beyond recommended limits, adding to the last gasp atmosphere.

To top it all off, Orville was just as nice as could be. He was friendly, kind and generous. He liked kids and liked the fact that we viewed him as a sort of “Stinky Claus” with a greasy sleigh and tattered bag of wonders, although we would have swallowed our socks before ever mentioning his particular characteristic. One day, Orville arrived at the shop announcing that he had brought me a present.

I was always a little afraid of the “friends” of my mother who offered me presents during the sales process. It wasn’t just the “don’t take candy from strangers” thing, but I knew, even when I was little, that the present was just a bribe to get Mom to buy more of their stuff. After a while, I resigned myself to thinking that the joke was on them and became wary only of their tastes in presents for me.

With Orville, it was different though. I was terrified of hurting his feelings, this charity held at bay only by the aura of his personal atmosphere. I learned to be articulate in my gratitude from a distance as part of self-preservation. This time, Orville was really excited at the present he had brought for me, a surprise covered in packaging. It was a dal.

And, no, I didn’t understand what he said. I made him repeat it over and over and over again, the way only an 8 year old can with a tired, well-meaning adult who has spent too much time behind the wheel of a tightly packed car. I didn’t get it. I blinked at Mom. Orville blinked at Mom. We were stuck. “Dal,” he kept saying, rhyming with pal or gal.

I envisioned the word from my phonics classes in school, far pre-dating the Hooked on Phonics programs. There it was emblazoned on my imaginary blackboard in yellow chalk: D – A with that short-vowel loop over it – L. What on earth was he saying?

Finally Orville gave up in defeat, unable to understand why I, an otherwise normal-seeming child with at least reasonable skills, did not know such a common word. He opened the box for me and showed me the “dal.” I prepared myself for the magic to be revealed, like the 6 of Cups.

“A doll,” I said softly, my eyes popping out at the realization of the language variation much more profound than the present itself. “You mean a doll!” I took said doll with reverence into my possession, not wanting Orville to know that, for the most part, I detested dolls. I was overcome with the emotion of his generosity. The baths he had passed up to bring this to me. The presents he might have brought to his own children instead, the children somewhere in southern Pennsylvania he saw so seldom. “Thank you, Orville.”

“You say it funny,” he said. We all laughed. “You say it like you’re swallowing. It’s far back in your throat,” Orville marveled.

“You say it right behind your teeth,” I countered. It was a fascinating glimpse into the world of spoken language variations, one that led me to a love of American regional dialects, evolution of language and the structure of human thought translated into meaningful symbols and sounds. I ended up getting a BA in English, focusing on literature. But my first love was the language itself.

And, Orville, you’re right. I do say doll funny.

Best wishes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Have We Got to Lose?

I was chatting with a co-worker at the day job this afternoon and the subject of the Gulf Oil Spill came up. I’d like to say right up front that if I had the answer to how to fix that, I would have spoken up by now. And, because so much of my Day Job is fixing things that inadvertently broke, I really wish I did have a fix for that one. The Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife are some of my very favorite things in my whole existence. The fact that greed, mistakes, thoughtlessness, and even the sheer need for a job may have done much to ruin those things is heartbreaking to me. And people died there too.

What a shame if my memories of the beauty of that part of the earth became just memories. How would you explain them to someone who might never experience them? How do you explain that life is more important than beauty and the fact that this is deadly, not just nasty is the real horror? How would you explain how it happened that we were given custody of an ecosystem, a region, a segment of the life of the world and, well, oops, ya’ know?

It’s not like your teenager just totaled your Mercedes or your Toyota or your Ford. “What were you thinking??” you could erupt in astonishment. “You’re grounded.” “You’ll work off every penny.” “Good grief, are you hurt?” “Please don’t tell me there was anyone else involved.” “Did you say anything to the other driver?”

No the “wreck” is still happening. There’s goo and ooze in Lake Ponchatrain. It’s washing up on beaches and in the swamps. It’s on the shrimp, the birds, the fish. There are frantic emails about burning turtles. And there are articles that say, well, that’s nothing new, and, hey, it could happen again. Just about everyone thinks it’s not OK, except that guy who thinks his life should be getting back to normal soon. We don’t feel sorry for him. Or at least I don’t.

There’s a really good reason for figuring this is BP’s problem to solve. They agreed to take the risk and responsibility to drill for oil on government land. And the bad thing happened. I get the impression that all of a sudden there’s the thought that it was an acceptable risk if BP didn’t find oil. But the fact that the accident on BP’s watch affects the lives of the families of those who were killed, the lives of the people whose livelihoods depend on there not being globs of goo all over, the towns whose livelihoods may never be the same because of the cascading effect of inaccessibility to the Gulf beaches and waters, the critters who will be choked and affected for generations or perhaps even eliminated and even that poor bastard who bemoaned the annoyance of this emergency interrupting his personal life aloud and in front of people who get the difference between his inconvenience and an ecological disaster, well, shouldn’t the government do something about it?

Actually the government does do something about it. It’s called OPA ’90, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. It’s there because a little thing called the Exxon Valdez and the misery that caused. It’s there so businesses that experience tangible, accountable loss as a result of oil spilled in navigable waters can put in a claim for redress for business interruption and other business losses. They shouldn’t have to wait while the lawyers duke it out for years to come to come down to manufacturing standards or quality control for a gasket or whatever. But generally, people make the claims for things like that if they know about them and when they have an idea of what the claim would be. The problem is, of course, the hole isn’t plugged. How do we know what the extent of this is going to be? And all the while we scratch our heads over that one, we can watch live underwater cameras as more oil flushes into the Gulf from the hole drilled there.

And what if BP loses its corporate shirt here? It’s too bad. Of course there will be more working folks who will be out of a job and the rest of the working folks will end up paying higher prices at the pump for real, perceived or anticipated expenses, whether the oil was BP’s or not. There’s that cascading economic effect too. That’s the thing about capitalism. Everybody loves it when we’re “winning.” Everybody hates it when something goes wrong, and they want someone some higher power to get them out of the hole, literally and figuratively.

Worst of all, there are people out there saying that this is God’s will because … and filling in the blank with every far-fetched thing from believing in the “wrong” religion to being the “wrong” orientation, sexual or anything else. I have to say that God’s will or not, there’s no one out there with a telephone connection so clear to God that they know why this happened. But I have a pretty good idea it isn’t punishment for anything other than stupidity and foolishness. And now we all get to pay in so many ways.  Can you hear me now?

All the while we argue here, that hole is still pumping oil into the once-beautiful blue water that teemed with life and is part of the “engine” of currents that keep the world’s weather … well, shoot, that’s getting messed up too.

Did we just break the best toy we were ever given? Did we just burn down the house? Did we just win our own Darwin Award in the un-funniest joke ever? Are we still waiting for Bruce Willis to sail in on a cable with high-powered ammo and save us all within the span of two hours? Bruce, my movie love, my hero, can’t you fix us and save the world just this one more time? Or call Spiderman? Or maybe in this case Aquaman? Or have we finally found the Truth Out There, Scully and Mulder, that the oil monster got us before the cloned corn and killer bees?

And all the while that hole is still pumping oil. So I did something a little crazy last weekend. I handed out a seashell to the people I spoke to.

“This,” I said, “this is what we’re losing. This, and so much more.” Sometimes people don’t believe in something until they can touch it, so I want them to touch seashells. They are the beautiful dead remains of life that had a chance to live a normal lifespan for its species. Who knows how long we will have them?

If you pray, please pray. If you don’t pray, please do what you do. And please do more than that. Support cleanup, make the problem tangible, send money, understand the impacts, and support innovation and efforts that will at least plug the hole, before we all go down the drain. What have we got to lose, except everything?

Best fishes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tarot Readings at Vallejo Hometown Celebration

Just a quick note to say that I will be available for tarot readings at the Vallejo Hometown Celebration every Wednesday, July 7 - August 25, 2010, 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm on Georgia Street in downtown Vallejo, CA.  Same low price, $20 for 30 minutes.  Stop by for a reading or just to say hello!

Best wishes!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

Something about the 4th of July makes me crave cherry pie. As soon as I mentioned it, my husband dashed to the store and bought the ingredients, so he appears to be motivated too. So I’m more or less committed to it now. At least they aren’t terribly difficult, now that we have all the modern conveniences like canned syrupy cherries and pre-made pie crust.

We were just talking about the hassle of making a cherry pie from fresh cherries yesterday. The “kitchen is fun” stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur le Table probably have cherry pitters. I’ve seen the modern ones and they don’t seem that different from the antique cherry pitters we had for sale in my mom’s shop. I was always fascinated with all that antique kitchen gadgetry, the apple peelers, the cherry pitters.

As a child, I could never understand these as being modern conveniences in themselves. You had to place the piece of fruit just right and it really needed to be the right size and shape. Of course nothing about the pitters and peelers eliminated the work of picking, washing, taking the stems off, etc. What was so convenient about having a machine to do just the one task?

When I lived in Southern Illinois, one of the beauties of that area was the abundance of fruit and the availability of “U-Pick” fields. The summer I divorced my first husband was especially an adventure for me.

OK, I admit that it’s probably not the best thing to say that getting divorced was an exciting adventure. Compared to the last two years of my first marriage, however, it was like summer camp. I had left “Archie Bunker” and moved into a cute little two-bedroom house with dreadful long shag carpets. The kitchen was big, even the pantry was big enough to put all my books and a chair in it along with the usual pantry stuff. I had a living room, an enclosed front porch, a pleasant pink and green bedroom, bath and a second-bedroom office. It was just enough for me, my two cats and my parakeet.

It was the first time I had ever lived completely on my own, too. Aside from the ongoing annoyance of working out the terms of my divorce, I enjoyed it. My mother was still alive and was taken by a new show called Hill Street Blues. She couldn’t stand it that I couldn’t afford cable TV so had it installed for me so we would have more to talk about. We both loved the undercover cop who bit people and the Three Guys Garbage ruse and the romance between the prosecuting attorney and the police chief.

When the strawberries came into season, I put on my best grubbies and set out for the U-Pick fields. I had to go early to avoid the deathly summer heat and humidity, so it was coolish and humid, that peculiar in-between clammy fog of Southern Illinois mornings that can render your clothes sopping wet in minutes just from the air. I got my crate from the U-Pick office and set about crawling up and down the strawberry rows on my hands and knees in search of that bright red treasure. I picked 17 pounds of strawberries.

It didn’t occur to me that 17 pounds of strawberries was, well, an awful lot of strawberries for one person, even one person with two cats and a parakeet. I was sopping wet, heavy with humidity and manual labor, and proudly took my harvest home. I cleaned and topped them all by hand, literally using my thumbnail to take off the green caps to prepare them for freezing. In the process, I probably ate something like 7 of the 17 pounds, too.

This falls under my category of it being best to learn from the mistakes of others. Whatever you do, don’t eat 7 pounds of strawberries at once. Trust me. The human digestive system has a way of dealing with this. A friend of mine refers to The Night of the Long Knives.

Well before that Big Night, the Big Day of picking and cleaning the strawberries was hard enough. For one thing, I had some pretty dreadful laundry to do after creating my own mud from humidity soaked blue jeans crawling on rich, black earth. I was in pretty good shape then, so there wasn’t much of a sore-muscle penalty, at least. But in topping the strawberries by hand, I did pull the skin under my thumbnail away from the nail.  It stung every time I bumped it, ran water on it or maybe even breathed. But man, oh man, there were strawberries!

The thumbnail part of the penalty phase made me appreciate, finally, what the convenience of the cherry pitter and apple peeler could be. While I don’t think I ever saw a strawberry topper gadget, while nursing my sore thumb and rumbling tummy I started to think of possibilities that never materialized.

Years later, one 4th of July, I remembered the Strawberry Fields Forever and decided to make a cherry pie. Canned cherry pie filling, frozen pie crusts, the easy way, I thought. There was one little drawback to my plan. I had had surgery on my right hand which was in stitches and a stiff brace. It’s my very dominant hand and it was rendered as useful as a doorstop for three weeks or so. I was confident. After all, I had learned to brush my teeth with my left hand, so why not bake a cherry pie? I was inspired by true stories of people who have overcome inconveniences and challenges and I was up to the task.

After a couple of hours of foul language and flinging ingredients and implements around my small kitchen, I had indeed baked a cherry pie. Since one of my ill-fated moves in the process was to tear the top crust so that it could not be used without being completely reworked, I decided it would be cool to have one of those lattice tops of crisscrossed strips of crust. It wasn’t Martha Stewart-level innovation, but it did work. I proudly took it to my friend’s backyard barbecue and we enjoyed what I thereafter called Marcia’s Left-Handed Cherry Pie. It was delicious.

With the 4th of July just around the corner, I’m in the mood for cherry pie again. I don’t have to pit the cherries or pick them. Both my hands have survived surgery well enough; I just have to remember that the left one has that nerve damage that makes me think I have a grip on things when I really don’t. I have lots of room in my current kitchen and an ever-willing assistant in my husband, Mr. Right.

Like the poor dear in the 8 of Swords, I really do have the ability to rise above the constraints put upon me and even those I put upon myself. I could insist that I have Martha-like perfection and be constantly disappointed by my failures. Or I can free myself of my own perfectionist ideas and focus on my goal: Cherry pie. Hey, it’s a cherry pie, for goodness’ sake. And I don't even have to do it with one hand tied behind my back this time.  Let Freedom ring!

Best wishes!