Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Let me say this to begin: Even genius must put its pants on one leg at a time.

A recent disagreement between members of a group studying a particular area of interest that we all share got me thinking. Like many disagreements, at least one source of this conflict was communication.

People communicate differently.

Profound, huh? I have college degrees and years of training and work experience behind that little gem. I happen to think that you probably don’t need all that schooling and experience to come to that conclusion. I think you just need a little time with other people.

It’s pretty clear that not everyone agrees with me.

I learned a very strange lesson when I was still young. I was seeking feedback from co-workers on self-improvement after having received a mysteriously-worded performance review.

I had been called a snob. In writing. In an annual performance review. I was stunned, bowled over, dismayed at the long-lasting effects those words would have on my career at that company. And I was completely in the dark. I did not get it.

I had worked so hard to be professional. I wore suits. I called people “sir” and “ma’am”. I tried to do the very best job that I could. I had lost weight, cut my Alice-in-Wonderland hair off to a more businesslike shoulder-length and wore sensible heels. I never took my jacket off. I was Barbie Doll Secretary on roller-skates.

My reward was to be called a snob by my boss. What is it that made him think that I was that way? I was to ask my co-workers. I did. Most of them laughed and shook their heads. They didn’t know.

Finally Marty, in between laughs, quiet laughs because she was a quiet person, suggested that maybe I used too many big words.

I was a scared kid in a city all alone. I had taken a chance and moved there for work to improve my life. I had been ashamed of my nearly-useless college degree in English at the headquarters of a telephone company only to find out that I was one of the few people in the building who had been to college at all. My attempt to live up to my own professional standards had backfired miserably.

As an Irish co-worker so comically put it years later, I was seen to have “ideas about myself.” My respect for others and myself translated to academic and intellectual snobbery. I was crushed.

Intellectual snobbery was the opposite of my intent. I wanted to be the more modern version of Jeeves. I wanted to quietly keep everything going in the background so my boss could succeed. I wanted to be a Secret Weapon for doing good things. And apparently I had succeeded just about half-way, the wrong half.

Years earlier, Mom had told me the results of my I.Q. test. It was a cool number and I was pleased with it but it was, after all, just a stupid test. My mother had wanted me to understand why things were easy for me and perhaps not so easy for my friends. Instinctively, I knew that it was just one measure of human performance. It didn’t tell how nice you were.

Over time, though, it became clear I was that child. I read the dictionary for fun. I exhibited other behaviors that would probably make the list of How to Tell If Your Kid Is a Nerd. I learned other people felt bad when I was happy about making a good grade on my test. I hated the thought that I might make them feel bad. I tried to help my friends with schoolwork. I realized I liked school a lot more than other kids did.

I loved dictionaries that told what the origin of a word was, Greek, Latin, French, Old English. I wanted to know where words and ideas came from, how they had changed over time, how regional differences changed language, how it evolved. In junior high, my favorite class was geometry. In high school, my favorite class was a segment on the history of the English language. I wanted to understand language in its context, in its usefulness to its speakers. I wanted to solve the puzzle of communication. So I majored in English in college. I had wanted to major in linguistics but English linguistics; my university had no such degree offering. I majored in literature with the certain knowledge that my degree qualified me to teach or go back for more college.

I wanted to be in the “real” world.

The real world landed me at the telephone company headquarters during the time when the telephone industry was de-centralizing. Somehow I survived that, reviled by my co-workers because I had one college degree, cringing when they mentioned it. I never talked about it but they couldn’t stop talking about it. I wasn’t like them. I used “big words.” In my effort to be more precise, I was completely misunderstood. I had mistakenly thought I was out of grade school and junior high school; work was just another hallway of lockers and cliques.
I reminded myself that this is the world I wanted. I could have stayed in the world of academia and wallowed in big words, reveled in them, tossed them about like confetti, shot them out of the bazookas of the publish-or-perish rules of that world. But I knew that world wasn’t for me. I needed a more difficult job, one in the “real world” where even the simplest statement can be misunderstood because of assumptions, context and emotion.

The Tower in Tarot can represent the world of assumptions crumbling under the effect of sudden change, breaking the structure and its occupants into simpler components. Analysis can be said to be a kind of Tower activity, the process of breaking things apart. It sounds so destructive, especially if you don’t have a plan for what happens next. It represents an inevitability of the instability of false assumptions. Things break down.

Ideas and problems can be broken down, too. I knew my work was Tower energy. Instead of staying in the Tower of academia and piling big word upon big word to build distance between myself and the ground of reality, I chose to work to make things more easily understood. Pick up a brick and then another. And make sense of the puzzles. It’s kept me busy all this time.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dust Bowls

I watched the first installment of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl on television. My eyes started to itch with grit, remembering my years in eastern New Mexico. It wasn’t in the Dust Bowl time, of course, but I remember the sand and the wind, the unrelenting wind.

One of my closest friends in high school told me recently that my descriptions of The Land of Enchantment are a bit less than enchanting. One might think I was negative about the place.

To my eyes, it was a flat and featureless place, plagued by dust storms and tumbleweed. It was dry. Of course, the contrast in my experience was lush and flowery Florida where little thunderstorms could happen daily and hurricanes were not uncommon, where the water table was about one foot below the surface in our back yard and alligators were in the lake around the corner. It was like going from the washer to the dryer, so I couldn’t help noticing.

I tried to love it, but the Llano Estacado is that impossible relationship. No matter how hard I searched for the thing to love there, it was hard. It did not love back.
“The greenest it ever gets here is brown,” I would say, perfecting my disappointment. The state park nearby was a group of sand dunes. One of the kids’ hangouts was a dry lake, a place that must have had water in it sometime. It was either that, or the real dust bowl winds had taken every bit of topsoil away decades earlier to expose caliche, the chalky natural hard layer of limestone that was the barrier to deep layers below which tantalizingly sometimes held water.

The Dust Bowl series on PBS shows the effect of the combination of climate change and poor agricultural practices. It’s hard to blame anyone for what I grew used to there. I marveled how farmers tried to grow cotton, sorghum and peanuts there. The sand was coarse and reddish-brown. Dried cotton bowls are hard and sharp, a thistle relative. I remembered how people picked cotton by hand in the South and thought of all the cuts, scrapes and scratches. Cotton bowl cuts not only hurt, they itch, too. I did not wander too far into the cotton field behind my subdivision. Under the shifting scratching sand in the field lay hidden cotton stems and bowls waiting for unsuspecting and tender toes. Only “horned toads,” actually lizards like little dragons without wings, scuttled among the sharp stems. They were endangered by the time I arrived there but just considered “hard to find” and “not as many as there used to be.”

My parents bought my Mom a new car while we lived there. It was an Oldsmobile station wagon, one of the first with electric locks and other electric gadgetry, which, as far as I recall, never quite worked right. The windshield wipers turned on when you hit the bright lights. Its most memorable feature at the time, in my mother’s eyes, was the color.

“It’s the color of dirt,” she despaired, “just like everything here.”

Dealing with my mother’s depression was an added feature of getting used to our high plains experience. To be fair, my mother had been depressed while we lived in Florida. It’s just that Florida had so many natural escapes, like flowers and lizards and birds. We watched moon rockets launch from our front yard.
There was no escape. The constant reminder of the color of the sand, indoors and out, the ceaseless wind swept the finest grains into the house, no matter how tightly closed. It felt like the very sunbeams were turned to weapons focused by a magnifying glass.

The 5 of Cups in Tarot speaks of loss and sorrow, of focusing on what was gone, what was wrong, even though there may be some things going right. The loss has overwhelmed the remaining good. What were cups of plenty had tipped over, spilled and quickly dried perhaps without even leaving a stain.

Of course, I was getting older, too. I couldn’t escape my mother’s unhappiness partly because I now started focusing on analyzing relationships of all kinds. I no longer played with toys. The walls of my room were always in danger of closing in. I couldn’t stay there. It was the place where my stuff was, but only that. I started putting banana stickers on the inside of my bedroom door, like some kind of advent calendar counting down in banana math the days until my release. I was in sixth grade, then seventh.

It snowed, oh, marvel! It was snow that would not stick together to make a snowman, not deep enough to make a snow fort.

“It’s dry snow,” those who had come there before me explained. I had heard of dry ice; that was the stuff my father would buy on occasion that never actually melted, just turned into fog. Instead of snowflakes, the dry snow was made of tiny frosty balls with a grain of dust at the center of each. It melted into mud which quickly dried and blew away. Was dry snow just more dust disguised with an unlovely coating of frost? There were no snowflakes in mandalas, only snow balls, dry snow.

I could tell the change of seasons there. One day, without warning, the wind, which blew cold in the winter and went through my brown corduroy and plastic patch coat, blew momentarily warm, then hot. Where were the blooms? Where were the birds? Where was spring? Not even the cactus bloomed. The brown grass became almost green, and then dried with the heat of summer.

I prayed for a bicycle to take me away from home. Then I prayed for a car to take me away from town. My friends were kids who had lived somewhere else, anywhere else, who knew that there was more out there. I prayed for a house that didn’t have little sand dunes on every window sill. I prayed a lot. And I added more banana stickers.

We moved to a nicer house, one built with a deeper understanding of its setting. There were no windows on the west side, so no sand-blasted window panes. Some green grass actually grew in the back yard, grass and two cherry trees. There were still sand storms and dust devils. There were giant beetles that hopped in the lights of the parking lot in front of the hospital across the street, strange antlered creatures delighting my cat.

On a Thanksgiving Day, it was unseasonably comfortable, strangely pleasant. We had been there for years by then, grown used to the despair and anger and disappointment. I had established a pattern of coming home late after my curfew when out of my friends. The year before, we had grabbed friends who were eating TV dinners out of aluminum trays, who were in the doghouse with their parents or who were just wandering around and made a “family” Thanksgiving.

This year, we could not muster much in the way of dinner, family or thanks. But it had been a quiet day, a day when the setting sun warmed the concrete drive and the brick veneer. I had the world to myself for a little while.

I sat on the driveway facing west. By then in high school, I was oddly unconcerned with what someone might think should they see me there. No sand blew into my teeth or my eyes. The wind did not freeze-dry me. The ever-present dust instead made a glorious show in the sunset in gold, bronze, rooster-red and purples.

I was suddenly happy to be there, to be anywhere that day. After the tears and anger, the defiance and sullen silences, the resentments and the constant urge to chew my own foot off to get out of the trap that was this place I had not chosen, I gave Thanks. I was filled for the first time in years with a sense of peace. I had stayed long enough to find the beauty. All I had to do was look up.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Release Teamwork

Something was missing.

I looked up from my umpteenth yo-yo of the morning and away from the two-hour season opener of Burn Notice. My work Blackberry wasn’t blinking. Cats were in sunshine. Cats were snoozing in chairs. The dog was having a bit of a scratch.

I looked at my husband who is also working on a project of his own.

“Wasn’t there supposed to be more tea?”

Saturday morning was a study in calculated laziness. We had slept as long as Tony would let us, with his Tigger-like bouncing, all 17 pounds concentrated in impossibly small feet for such a lot of cat.

“Eight-fifteen,” I mumbled.

“Are you late?” John’s voice was muffled by several layers of quilts, blankets, sheets, pillows and one very comfortable cocker spaniel.

“No, it’s not supposed to start again until 11 or so.”

He had already started to zuzz a little, back in the arms of Morpheus for a precious few more minutes. Tony would be happy that I was up and would leave John and the dog alone.

I padded into my office. I had been up past 11 PM the night before working on a software release. My work computer was still turned on, saved at the spots I left it the night before.

When we do a software release, we do it in steps. Some of it happens in the evening, and some of it happens a little later after some other steps have run. It’s pretty typical in my experience which is long.

Some people who work on the business side of software development refuse the late-night hours and weekend work. I never could understand that but then again I spent 20-some years on the technology side of software development. I was used to the “convenience” of being able to work all four days of Thanksgiving weekend uninterrupted by anything longer than a bathroom break to make sure that business users could come to work uninterrupted Monday morning. I missed a lot of Thanksgivings.

I had signed up for that kind of life when I changed careers long ago. Staying up all night to fix little disasters became something normal. Over time, the “leash” to my software systems graduated from pagers buzzing at my waistline to small blinking “smart things” of some kind or another. Many phone calls in the middle of the night were sultry male voices informing me of a scrambled database or a batch job failure, of cryptic error codes and other jargon that sounds like a recipe made from license plate numbers. Nothing personal, except that I was expected to make it all better before someone besides the stagehands in the little drama that is technology notices there’s a problem.

At least software installs are often positive in their intent. The idea is that someone has thought of some improvement and we’re making it happen. To keep things from utter chaos, we put the changes for all the good ideas in together in bunches. Releases become something of a pizza party without the pizza with all of us on the computers, the phones, instant messages and all the magical techhie tools we have at our disposal. The months of document writing, pictures, coding, coordination, meeting, testing, corrections, happy results, horrifying discoveries, scrambling, assembly and making lists and checking them twice, well, all that turns into something like Christmas a few times a year. Sometimes you’re Santa. Sometimes you’re an elf. Sometimes you’re a reindeer. Sometimes you’re the Grinch. Sometimes you’re all of those roles at once.

Then the big night comes and we get together and even with several dry runs, sometimes Tab A doesn’t quite fit into Slot B. Depending on how complicated we all see the issue as, we may try to jiggle a few things that night. We did that last night and got a few things to work a little better than the first try. A few things had to wait until Saturday.

We try to do things in shifts, a lot more casual a schedule than it sounds. By about 11:30 PM Friday night, I knew I had done and seen what I could until the next steps. By the time Tony woke us up Saturday, the few who stuck with it into the night had fixed a few more things. Progress! I could test and verify their fixes worked. I hope the all-nighters were getting some sleep.

The 3 of Pentacles can indicate teamwork, the meeting of different talents and forces to create concrete results, united with a common vision and diverse abilities. We use that energy to create software. Some people are very methodical, thinking firmly inside the box. Some people, like me, have trouble finding the box but have an intuitive sense of where problems may occur, the motives of business users and a sense of the impact of small things on the bigger picture. We are like a 3-legged stool sometimes. Without all of us, the release could not happen. We are all necessary.

The next step was set for 11 AM, so I settled into my big comfy chair to one of my needlework projects. Yo-yos are small circles of gathered material that can be sewn together to create bedspreads, etc. You can find them in flea markets sometimes with their authentic 1930’s and 1940’s flour-sack materials. My project intent is to make a jacket from a big sweatshirt covered in yo-yo’s, mostly blue with a pattern on the back made from other color yo-yo’s. I’ll post a picture when I get it done. The yo-yos are about an inch across, so it will take a while. However, working on a project that is made of a lot of little parts is actually ideal when you’re waiting for your Blackberry to blink at you.

Eleven o’clock came and went and we got a notice that it would be more like 2 PM before we could test the next steps. It’s one of the characteristics of a release weekend. My bosses are nice about it and said they don’t expect us to hang out at the computer every second, but we all know there’s some element of staying close by because the timing isn’t always easy to predict.

So, I like to distract myself with catching up on recorded TV shows. There was a great new mystery from PBS. If John is with me catching up, we watch mysteries instead of the ghost hunting shows. Perfect needlework entertainment!

“Wait!” John said, looking at the space where his mug should be if he had tea. “I got up to go to the bathroom, took the mugs in and … yup,” he called from the kitchen as he retraced his steps, “left them in here.”

The microwave buzzed merrily and dinged. We settled back into our second cups. So many yo-yos to cover a whole jacket, I thought. It will take some time, much longer than the weekend. But the vision of the jacket is there. All the pieces are necessary.

That’s something like our lives, our country and our world, too. It just may not be obvious at the time where everything fits. It’s a good mystery for a Saturday.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I’m starting to see Christmas shopping TV commercials, at least those aimed at the shop-early-and-often crowd. I haven’t even gotten over the World Series yet, let alone the elections. I thought Thanksgiving was the next thing on the schedule. But at least one retailer has resurrected an old staple from my early retail therapy days: Layaway.

Layaway is a form of extreme wishing where the retailer takes care of the storage of your intended purchases while you give them money on a payment plan over time that in theory results in your purchases arriving under the tree at just the right time. As I recall, the penalty for missing a payment is that they keep the stuff you wanted and all the money you paid to date.
The ad for this says “free layaway” as if that’s a new feature. Actually, the deal with layaway was that it was always interest free. Only later did stores start adding handling charges and then credit cards became more and more common. But for the new generation of people for whom layaway is a new concept, this probably seems like a good deal.

I can’t blame retailers for wanting to be innovative about increasing their sales during the holiday season. They are in business. There are plenty of people who want to buy gifts for themselves and others. It’s the basic agreement of commerce.

Layaway represents a kind of cautious optimism. It’s based on the belief that you will be employed in some fashion at least through the holiday season, long enough to get your treasures out of the back storeroom. It’s also based on the caution that you would just as soon not pay interest on borrowed money the way you would if you used your credit card. It’s something of the perfect risk for the young shopper who does not already come equipped with a credit card. (I suppress an eye roll here but I know people whose children have their own credit cards.)

I remember my early teenage years in New Mexico with my first independent shopping forays. When I wasn’t babysitting the adorable little girls next door at 50 cents an hour, I would go to my mother’s antique shop downtown. Our town was small, population 8,000 or so if you didn’t count the university. One friend’s mom worked at J. C. Penney; another, at the office supply and stationery shop near the town square.

These early experiences fostered the young shopaholic urges that really start to bloom in the teen years. It used to be that I was an easy mark for penny candy and twelve-and-a-half cent comic books. My 50 cents a week pre-teen allowance could yield 2 comic books and a hoard of penny candy each week. If my brother and I agreed on the comics we bought, it was like getting four comic books a week. He learned to tolerate my Weird Tales and I gained a certain taste for Fighting Forces. It helped that my favorite penny candy was a treat called Kits, chocolate-flavored taffy squares individually wrapped which sold for a set of four for a penny. Do the math, and I could get one hundred pieces of candy and a week’s worth of thrills and chills every week.

This bit of heaven gave way to more grown up tastes. At age 5 or 6, I had fallen deeply—well, deeply for a 5 or 6-year-old—in love with my father’s friend who was an assistant manager at an office supply store in Florida. Tall, dark, handsome and with a seemingly endless supply of colored pencils, crayons, Cray-Pas, watercolors and an assortment of paper, Phil was ideal husband material in my mind. The small inconvenience of his being some 25 years older was a flaw I was willing to overlook. Tragically, Phil married someone else, an adult with presumably more interests in common. At first I was jealous. Then, I shrugged it off as Phil’s loss. He could have gone hunting with my father every weekend and I could draw beautiful pictures for him.

But I never lost my love of office and art supplies.

I was a frequent customer at the office supply store in our tiny town in New Mexico and craved the fine stationery available there, along with the art supplies. I had lots of people to write letters to in Florida, although not Phil. I mean done is done after all.

Almost immediately after indulging my office supply cravings, I discovered the wonderful world of fashion.

I had grown used to being mistaken for a college student by sixth grade. My figure bloomed early, much to my embarrassment. My generous chest dimension, plus my ease at talking with adults just enough but not too much, something I had perfected in my mother’s antique shop over the years, led shopkeepers to ask me constantly what my major was in college.

“Secondary education,” I lied, clear-eyed. It was close after all. I was in junior high. Just because I was a junior high student was a detail of immaterial consequence in casual conversation.

The drugstore held the wonder of makeup and I was hooked. The self as canvas became a new world, although with my uneven completion I speculated the cloth was less like canvas and more like burlap or dotted-Swiss. But makeup seemed to even that out a bit too and gave me a little confidence that I sorely lacked when I looked more like pizza than I wished.

And clothing! Here is where layaway became essential. I was tired of Peter Pan collars, red windbreakers and matching red Keds. I wanted grown-up clothes. A shop called Mode-o’-Day had a great little number that was a warm floral print on black and I was going to make it mine. I would go into the store and try it on again and again, pleased with the effect, short but not too short, a little daring but completely modest. This was more like a college student!

By the time I got it out of hock it did still fit and I was ready to wear it to a dance. I didn’t worry that it wouldn’t hold up under intense activity; I couldn’t dance anyway. While not exactly Goth, since Goth didn’t exist as a look then, I was satisfyingly dark but perhaps even more satisfyingly dressed in something I had picked out, not Mom.

Mom’s reaction to the dress was to be horrified. I had grown used to this being her reaction to just about everything I did then. A few years later I pieced together that it was just any evidence that I was growing up that horrified her. She sought to devalue the dress by calling it cheap and cited her own standard for purchasing clothing.

“Best to have one good sweater than ten cheap ones,” she instructed.

I fought back with my natural hard-headedness. My money, I reasoned, my purchase.

Strangely, she could not argue well enough with that. I had, after all, not used her money to purchase the awful thing. I was thrilled when I wore it the first time. I was crushed when it proved Mom right and fell apart in the wash.

But I had learned to juggle my funds on my own and went on to buy the best Christmas presents for my family ever, whatever they were. They were the best because I had a job, I used my own money and I bought what I wanted to give them. I was becoming financially independent in balancing income and expenses, like the 2 of Pentacles in Tarot.

Next to new kittens and puppies or a guy with access to endless art and office supplies, financial independence became the greatest high of my formative junior high days. I realized that not being dependent on my parents was the most important goal of my future, even if some things fell apart in the wash.

Best wishes!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Home Is Where

The 4 of Wands says the party is at your house. The event is in your yard. You are the hostess. You welcome someone. The number 4 signifies stability; wands are associated with the alchemical element of fire. The stability of fire is the hearth, perhaps the perfect blend of things that seem opposite. When fire is allowed to burn within its useful boundaries, like a fireplace, furnace or oven, it warms and welcomes. The key is managing all of the circumstances to keep the fire stable but still burning.

That applies to a lot of things for me lately.
Just in case you aren’t in touch with the baseball world, there’s been this little annual event called the World Series going on. Now, as an aside, our World Series is just barely international. I’ve always felt just a teensy bit embarrassed at the American tendency to think that we’re the whole world. However, when my team, my San Francisco Giants win the whole thing, including a sweep of four consecutive games once they actually got to the World Series, I overcome my embarrassment quickly.
My guys are funny. They are amazing athletes. They are an ensemble, a constellation. Not to diminish MVP awards, but the thing that characterizes my team is that they worked with each other for a collective stellar performance. It’s a team sport, after all. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite. Posey has Galahad looks. Pence pumps them up with inspirational speeches. Pagan kept catching and hitting and stole a base that granted a lot of people a free taco between 4 and 6 pm last Tuesday. “Panda” Sandoval hit three home runs in one World Series Game. And there was pitching. And catching. And throwing. And hitting. It’s not like the teams they played were pushovers. My guys worked hard. I delighted in Sergio Romo’s jumping-jack happiness and enthusiasm. Did I leave anyone out? I didn’t mean to. They were all terrific.

My only disappointment is that I never saw the monogrammed handkerchief I mailed to “Mad Bum” Madison Bumgarner. May he use it in good health! GO GIANTS!!

We have been glued to Giants baseball television for some time but I did drag myself away last weekend to gather with my friends for our 20th fall gathering. Our first night all those years ago was spent on our hostess’ living room floor the night Polly Klaas was taken from her bedroom. She is always on our minds when we gather, symbolizing the fragility of life.

This time we went back to the fantastic house in Ft. Bragg, California where we stayed last year. We’ve all had a lot going on, so instead of staying up talking all night, we gave it up around 10:30 pm Friday. I left my door open so I could hear the ocean waves. We went to our own little almost-Night Circus, Zoppe Circus, an old-fashioned Italian family circus. The acrobats! The trick ponies! The clowns. Well at least, they were not scary clowns. The trick chickens! It was magic or just close enough.

We laughed because there was a tsunami warning from earthquakes off British Columbia, trying to figure out if the seaweed line was a foot or so higher than the day before. We heard there was a big storm, Hurricane Sandy, about to make landfall. We checked the latest path. It didn’t look good.

I had talked to one of my co-workers the Friday before. He was concerned about his house in New Jersey near the beach. He had lost his house, his whole town he said, with the previous big hurricane.

Monday was eerily quiet at work. Half the people I needed to talk to were hunkered down, bracing against the storm. I reached out to a few of them. A house was creaking. Trees had fallen. People were told to work from home. Then silence.

The next day it was still quiet, but those of us who could work kept things going as well as we could. We stole glimpses of the photo evidence of damage coming in. Atlantic City’s boardwalk. The fire in Queens. The sand, the boats and cars in all the wrong places, houses gone. The Bounty sank. Water poured into the deep hole that is still part of the construction site at the Twin Towers site. Dogs and cats and people scooped out of danger. Manhattan was dark.

Halloween came and I bought my candy to give away. We had executed the perfect pumpkin on the garage door, my husband’s idea. One black plastic garbage bag, a pair of scissors and some blue painter’s tape, and our house had a jack-o’-lantern. We set up the tent, the chairs, the table and the lights. We handed out handfuls of candy and I read cards for the moms and big sisters. We cooed over the ladybugs and shivered at the zombies. The sprinkles became a downpour and suddenly the four posts of our tent became shelter from our little storm, all that and candy too.

Somewhere in the night, the neighborhood stray cat slipped into the garage. We call her “Walternette”, the feminine feline form of TV’s Fringe’s main character’s doppelganger in an alternate universe, “Walternate.” Our furry doppelganger looks a lot my Tony at first glance, a big brown tabby with a pleasant disposition. She stayed there all night, then called up the stairs to us. I padded downstairs to greet her.

“Yeow,” Walternette said with a swish and a purr.

“You’re welcome,” I answered as I let her out, my temporary hospitality having sheltered one more soul from the damp.

More east coast people checked in today. Some had been without power for as little as 36 hours. They think New Jersey will run out of gasoline next week between people needing their cars and running generators. I still haven’t heard from my co-worker. His part of New Jersey looks like some of the hardest hit.

I hope somewhere out there, those whose homes are washed away or burned or buried in sand or out of power or just out of reach can find a welcoming hearth to rest their unsettled lives for a moment.

Our homes seem like the most secure of places and we laugh about what could go wrong when trouble seems so far away. It only takes a wave, a wind, a melting hunk of ice to snatch away that fragile stability of fire. Cherish the hearth as it is too soon gone.

Best wishes.