Archive for the ‘My pathetic life’ Category

A Bad Thing Happened.

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

January 11.

I watched my husband, inert like a mummy, slide through a CT scanner.

“I don’t know how much of your husband’s brain has died,” the doctor said after the scan was done.

A hospital social worker, who’d come to provide moral support, gasped and looked shocked. I decided not to dwell on the doctor’s statement. Some things are so awful that they either require time to absorb or shouldn’t be taken seriously. There would be plenty of time to panic later.

“We need to perform surgery,” said the doctor.

“Ah. How is that done? By drilling a hole through his skull?”

“No. We’ll go in through his thigh and run a catheter up through his blood vessels.”

Good. I was glad to be wrong, and glad that medicine had progressed past the medieval notions I’d formed while watching Frankenstein movies.

“Do it. Where do I need to sign?”

Later that night, when he woke up after surgery, he could only say “yeah” or “naw”. I wondered what else was gone.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked.


I gently quizzed him about our son, our life, and where he thought he was, receiving yes or no answers in response. He looked shocked when I explained what had happened to him. When he chuckled at one of my dumb anecdotes, I knew his personality was still intact.

Alright. He was alive, not a vegetable, and still himself. The rest could be figured out later.

Two days later, he was taken out of ICU and transported to rehab. It isn’t every day you get to follow your husband’s ambulance down the highway, and thank goodness for that.


My goal with hospitals has always been to not spend too much time in them. They’re places you visit if, heaven forbid, someone you know has a serious medical issue. You stop by, listen if the person cares to talk, leave magazines or flowers, and leave before you tire the person out too much. Maybe you take a casserole to the family, walk their dogs, or invite their kids over so the person can have peace while they recover.

Maybe you have to be hospitalized yourself. Again, speaking for myself, the goal is to get in, get your issue taken care of, and get out. “That nasty appendix is gone? Swell – thanks for taking it out before it killed me! Well, I’m in the middle of a project at work, so I’ll just be on my way. Toss me some pain pills, wheel me out the front door, and dump me at the curb.”

However, if you aren’t well enough to go home and you need help becoming independent again, you may get sent to rehab. That’s what happened to my husband. He spent three weeks in this room. When he arrived, he couldn’t stand, walk, speak, or otherwise take care of himself. When he left, he mostly could.

I was initially told he’d be sent to a place about seventy miles from our house. I’d need to be there, particularly during the last week of his stay, and it was too far to commute.

I started making phone calls, shaking people down to see who could watch my son. He isn’t really a child anymore, but he also shouldn’t be staying by himself overnight. That’s when I found out how fundamentally decent the people around us are. Some of the parents of my son’s friends were willing to have him overnight, and one family said they’d even take him for a week, even though it was a huge favor to ask of them. (They already had four sons, and really didn’t need my bottomless pit of a teenager emptying their refrigerator!) Fortunately, my in-laws dropped what they were doing, left their nice beach vacation, and jetted out here to keep my household from descending into savagery.

Happily, my husband was transferred to a nice facility about ten minutes from our house instead. That meant I’d be able to sleep at home and see my son a few minutes at night after spending the day with my husband. I was grateful.


I don’t remember asking what his prognosis was or what they were going to work on in rehab, although they may have told me. I’m not even sure I wanted to hear predictions. How is a doctor or a therapist supposed to give a prognosis on something organic and hard to measure like a brain injury? What are you supposed to say? “Most folks get at least a little better. He’ll probably get better until he stops getting better. Recovery usually goes quicker at the beginning then slower as the months go by, but everybody’s different.”

Regardless, the paper tacked to the wall in his room made the goals pretty clear: he was going to work on the skills he’d honed during the first 2-3 years of his life. They were going to try to get him up out of bed, out of a wheelchair, and eating and drinking things that weren’t purees.


On his second or third day at the facility, therapists strapped him into a harness that would support his weight, so he could learn to balance and walk again. One therapist steadied him from behind while another manually moved his right leg, which no longer worked. They managed to parody the rhythm of walking in this manner, and encouraged him to try to move his leg himself.

It looked like hard work. These two therapists were lovely people, kind and sympathetic while also efficient and businesslike. One of the bright spots in this mess was getting to meet them. I was also quite fond of the occupational therapist, his first speech therapist, and several other people who worked with us. I’d name them all here and thank them, but I suspect that they’d like to have their privacy respected.


The facility also had an exoskeleton. I believe it’s used in more challenging situations.


Thankfully, my husband was still able to read and understand spoken language. He was quite aware of the manner in which his brain was malfunctioning.

I watched him test himself, reading words out loud then making more attempts when the sounds coming out of his mouth didn’t match the ones in his head. That struck me as a good sign, another indication that his intelligence and problem-solving abilities were still intact. He also had a good attitude, simply shaking his head, chuckling, and trying again when things didn’t go well.

Sometimes his brain would append strings to each thing he said: “kitchen room, garage room, hall room”. Other times, his brain would get in a loop that could only be stopped by ending the attempt to say that particular word. One day, for example, while attempting to read a list of foods, his brain decided to label them all “sushi”.

If I’d thought about it too much, the situation would have broken my heart. Imagine being a grown, brilliant, articulate man; an award-winning writer, former night editor at a newspaper, and a software architect. Suddenly the only words you can say reliably are yes and no. At times he must have wondered whether it would ever get better. But I never heard him complain or indicate that he was depressed during the entire process. He just kept chugging ahead, albeit with frequent naps.

After he’d been in rehab a few days he managed to convey, through grunts and gestures, that he wanted me to create a hot spot with my phone so he could have internet access for his iPad. Yet more evidence that his intelligence was alive and well.

We had a brief discussion (albeit with grunts and single words on his side) about cognitive psychology.

“You’re going to have some interesting stories to tell once you can talk again,” I told him. “What does it feel like, forming thoughts but not being able to say or write them?”

He pondered my question then, with great effort, drew this picture: thoughts forming in his head and only snow coming out.

Bizarrely enough, it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t make a full or excellent recovery. I didn’t know whether it would take weeks, months, or years, but I never doubted that it would occur.

In between speech and occupational therapies, the PT people worked on getting him to walk again. This therapist does have a head and a face, but I cropped the photo so as to respect her privacy.

This lyric struck me as amusing in an ironic way.

Dirge-slow versions of pop songs were often played in the dining room, with lyrics thrown up on a screen.  I guess the rehab people were constantly looking for ways to get words to stick in people’s brains.

We spent many hours in the dining room, since it made a nice alternative to sitting in his room all day. I’d bring my lunch, once I was able to force myself to eat again, and he’d eat whatever his hospital-issued offerings were.

One day a fellow patient was groaning and making animalistic noises, sounds that shouldn’t come out of a human mouth. It’s sort of de rigueur on that floor. Maybe it’s even a good sign, being able to make noises on command or even at all.

“Remember that time we were in Maui and we heard humpback whales beneath our boat?” I asked my husband dreamily, for that is what the fellow’s cries sounded like. Later it struck me that I was a bit ghoulish.

Imagine hearing such sounds for hours at a time. That seemed to be the lot of the nurses and other staff. I’d see non-verbal, apparently inert people parked by the nurses’ station, so staff could keep an eye on them. Sometimes there’d be a brief discussion about wheeling a person to a new spot so they could stare at something different for awhile. At mealtimes, staff would hand feed whoever couldn’t feed themselves, gently cajoling them to open their mouths and chew.

The staff did what they could to help people, even when the situations were tragic and probably wouldn’t have a good outcome. It can’t have been easy.

His Pickle Rick t-shirt. I kept him supplied with obnoxious t-shirts in dark colors, knowing that food would probably get spilled on them.

Most of the therapists at rehab were young, in their twenties and early thirties. (The work is physically and emotionally draining, so it probably burns people out fairly quickly.) They see new patients wheeled in on gurneys week after week after week, and are tasked with getting them as independent as possible. On my husband’s floor, many or all of the patients had brain injuries, and a goodly number had communication issues.

I can’t imagine how rough it must be getting a read on a patient who’s in that state, much less connecting with them as a person. Heaven knows they tried, though. I figured that if my husband wore shirts depicting some of his interests – bands, motorcycles, cartoons – it might make it a little easier for them. “Oh, that’s the guy who likes Triumph motorcycles and 80s New Wave bands. Hey, he smirked at me today!”

Maybe it paid off. Near the end of his stay, he wheeled into one of the gyms and a guy yelled “Hey, Pickle Rick is in the house!”


Longing to get out. About a week before discharge, he decided he wanted to go outside. To be fair, he did try to communicate this by gesturing at the window, saying the word “open”, and making swooping motions with his hands. I didn’t understand, though. The next thing I knew, he was rolling his wheelchair through obscure areas of the acute rehab floor, looking for heaven knows what. When he saw the elevator bank, he sped up. I stopped him.

“Patients can’t just leave the premises without clearing it with the staff ahead of time,” I told him. “If you hop on that elevator, it’s going to cause a royal stink.”

His facial expression was decidedly unrepentant. For a man who was struggling to form words and sentences, he did an amazingly good job of conveying ideas like “they didn’t tell me that” and “nobody told me I couldn’t”.

The situation reminded of a story his mother likes to tell about his being two or three, heading out for parts unknown on his tricycle, and her having to call the cops to find him. Evidently his personality hasn’t fundamentally changed.

His coworkers were lovely, turning out in droves to phone, email, or send gifts. People he hadn’t heard from in years got in touch, full of encouragement and amusing stories. A couple checked in with me every few days, and offered advice on jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

It was a lonely time, and their kindness made a huge difference in my life.

“Do you want your right hand to work again? Then you’re going to have to use it.”

It’s hard to remember now, thankfully, but the entire righthand side of his body was malfunctioning. I had to constantly prop his right arm up, remind him to not let it flop around, and so forth. Once his speech began to return, he described the way his arm got “turned on” again, with control gradually moving from his shoulder down to his hand. It must have been an odd experience.


Getting ready for discharge. Bless the OT people. I gave them pictures and measurements; they gave me a list of changes to make to the house and drilled us on procedures. Should I ever need to do so, I know how to get a person in and out of a shower from a wheelchair, in and out of a bed from a wheelchair, and so forth.

“Have you thought about getting him a motorized wheelchair?” asked a well-meaning relative, before reeling off a long list of other changes that an infirm, permanently handicapped person would, in his opinion, need.

“I think his goal is to not be in a wheelchair at all. I’m following OT’s recommendations otherwise,” I said as gently as I could.

By that time I was on edge from weeks of running back and forth to the hospital, coping with paperwork and bureaucracies while my husband napped, cancelling my participation in projects, running home to check homework and pretend I was a decent mother, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to walk dogs/cook my son’s breakfast/take my son to school, and waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. I’d been sleeping on the couch, when it wasn’t otherwise in use, and I couldn’t remember what sleeping in a bed felt like.

I’d also heard a few too many stories about how Uncle D– never was the same after his brain liquified and leaked out of his ears, no he wasn’t, and that was pretty much it for Uncle D– up until the time he died. While I’m sorry this happened to Uncle D–, who by all accounts was a lovely person, such stories were not in the least comforting.

My husband was using a walker rather than a wheelchair by that time. He was thoroughly sick of wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, blood pressure cuffs, and anything else associated with hospitals. I suspected that I’d have to stash his walker in the back of the car when he was discharged. Otherwise, he might roll down the window and hurl it out on the highway as we drove home. If I even hinted at the idea of getting a motorized wheelchair, he’d probably demand that I stop to pick up a can of gasoline and a book of matches.

“How about one of those elevated toilet seats?” asked the well-meaning relative. “Maybe you should install a grab bar, too.”

I gently repeated my line about following OT’s recommendations. Inside, though, I was imagining how my husband might destroy such a toilet seat if I left it in his bathroom. Was he strong enough to wield a sledgehammer yet?


One day I arrived at the rehab facility and found him wandering around his room, sans walker. This was after weeks of being strapped into a wheelchair with a rear-fastening belt so he couldn’t escape it without help and having the words “impulsive behavior” scrawled on his mobility status sheet. He’d been trained in proper use of wheelchairs and walkers, crossed his heart and promised to obey rules, and therapists had scrawled their names on pieces of paper.

“Where’s your walker?” I hissed. “You’re signed off to stroll around your room with the walker, not run laps in the Olympics. If the nurses catch you wandering around without it, they won’t be pleased.”

He gave me stink eye. It’s amazing how good he is at that.

“Dude, they’re trying to keep you safe while you’re in here. At least pretend to respect their rules.”

He stepped over to the walker, very deliberately lifted it off the floor, and began sauntering around his room while holding it in the air.

Argh. Just … argh.

On the positive side, the rehab staff had gotten him walking again.

Taking a walk the day after discharge. If I was a superstitious person, I would have regarded this double rainbow as a good omen. However, I tend to be crabby rather than superstitious, so I quizzed my husband as we strolled around our humble suburban neighborhood.

“What’s that?” I’d ask, pointing at the objects around us. Sometimes he knew the words, but usually he didn’t. Flower, bush, palm tree, gravel – most of those words were gone, it seemed. I tried to teach him the word flower, but it wouldn’t stick. I became frustrated, far more frustrated than I should have been.

Then I saw a flash of grey out of the corner of my eye. “What type of car was that?” I asked.

He barely glanced at it. “Toyota Corolla.”

“What year?”

He reeled off a year.

“Hybrid or purely internal combustion?”


“How many cylinders?”


“Where was it manufactured?”

“Japan, Ontario, or Tennessee.”

Ah. He might not remember the words for plants, but he could still talk about cars.

“Tell me the difference between a solid state drive and what you’d call a spinning rust drive,” I demanded. After that, I interrogated him about the components in PCs, the purpose of load balancers and routers in networks, and how to diagnose various problems. Sometimes his language was fragmented, but he clearly knew what he was talking about.

Got it. He could access the words for the things he cared about more easily than he could things like plants. Alright. Wasn’t that good, in a sense? It was at least a place to start.

Working on an antonym/synonym worksheet. Rehab was just the start of recovery, in many ways.

3 1/2 weeks after the medical disaster began, I was trying to get him to write and speak in sentences. On this particular day, I gave him a verb, asked him to come up with different forms of it, and write some sentences:

“A lover’s walk can never be talked over.
What can this talk be done?
It is with talking that’s lover’s comes deny.”

It was progress. What he wrote was a little odd, but he clearly understood how to structure sentences. He even accessed some new words and used his right hand to write.

7 weeks after the medical disaster began:

“A pulsar is a rotating neutron star formed by a super-massive event. The stellar cores that remained after the supernovae were about one-and-a-half to three times the diameter of Earth. But the mass was about a billion times greater.”

It took him ten painful minutes to pen a couple of paragraphs about neutron stars, including the one above. Still, it was progress.

We’re now sitting at 13 1/2 weeks out. His speech has become more fluid each week, particularly when he isn’t tired. Exhaustion is now his worst issue, but even that is slowly improving.

Life has changed. It isn’t easy yet, and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be able to sleep through the night without checking to make sure that he’s still alive. I actually appreciate it when he snores now, because I can tell that he’s alive without waking up and hovering over him.

But things are better, far better than they were January 11. He’s home, he’s alive, and he was even here to see our son shave the first time. Somehow we’ll adapt and work the rest of it out.

The Advent calendar

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018


My kid is growing up. We aren’t going to break his plate and turn his chair away from the table when he hits 18 (one of my father-in-law’s sayings), but things are gradually becoming different. It’s just a fact of life. Every year, every month, little pieces of your kid’s childhood fall away. One day you realize that you’ve read your last bedtime story. Another day you realize that you can’t remember the last time you griped at him about doing homework. Then, all at once, your kid is hulking over you and you see beard hairs. That’s the stage I’m at now.

Given that and the ephemeral nature of life, it feels important to cherish family traditions. One of ours is the advent calendar, which gives the boy (and the rest of us) a little something to look forward to each day.

My son has long since outgrown things like Lego’s advent calendars, cutesy calendars filled with the likes of bubbles and Silly Putty, and even Trader Joe’s 99¢ chocolate calendars. This year I decided to try something a little different, filling a calendar with sweets ourselves, but I didn’t want to get too elaborate with buying or making one. Instead, I decided to concoct something out of magnetic spice tins.

This is hardly an original idea. The web is full of tutorials for jamming decorative paper cutouts into the likes of Ikea’s magnetic spice tins or Wilton’s 2” favor tins. Heaven knows we couldn’t figure out how to cut out a paper circle otherwise.

I opted to buy a set of 24 tins off Amazon. For decorative inserts, I Googled terms such as “horrifying vintage Christmas cards” and picked out the strangest images I could find. That led to an hour’s worth of shrieking and cackling, with my calling the boy to the computer with screams of “You will NOT believe what I just found!!!” There’s some seriously weird stuff out there such as the ones in these articles, “Have a Creepy Little Christmas …” and “10 sinister Santa Christmas cards”.

One doesn’t have to go for creepy and weird, of course. One could decorate tins with religious iconography, traditional Christmas themes, or the remains of last year’s cards. Creepy and weird just fits our household, right down to the cigarette-smoking Santa from the 1936 Lucky Strike ad.

The boy has declared that he’s pleased with the result and can’t wait to start prying the tins open. So far the tins are clinging to the refrigerator door just fine and haven’t exploded all over the kitchen floor. We’ll see how long our luck holds out. We don’t have toddlers or a Labrador retriever, so that improves our odds.

Give me a sphere with hair

Monday, November 26th, 2018

My quest began with a case of hives. Thanksgiving night, I awoke with raised, itchy red areas splashed across my body and ferocious itchiness on the soles of my feet. Okay, whatever. Something I ate nailed me – yes, I know the likely culprit. I got up, popped an antihistamine, and got out an ice pack. No biggie, except for the fact that I knew I’d be wasted the next morning and I’d probably have to beg off walking the dogs, which isn’t fair to my husband.

Sure enough, the next day I was doing a good imitation of a character from Walking Dead. I lurched over to my computer, gagged down some coffee, and poked at links on YouTube. Maybe a music video would bring me back to life.

One link was labeled “Anthony Kiedis farts and everyone runs away (funny!)” I clicked on it. It had a promising beginning, with John Frusciante clutching a carton of milk while indulging in a vigorous round of pocket pool. Soon Anthony Kiedis grinned, said “look out, look out,” and began windmilling his arms, presumably so his intestinal joy could be shared with everyone. Frusciante and another guy evacuated. Flea, focused on generating horrible noises with a keyboard, ignored the whole thing.

Meh. It wasn’t really side-splitting but it was alright, I guess. I’ve witnessed similar savagery when boys get together at my house, with guys pointing their posteriors at each other and making sounds reminiscent of a howitzer or a duck being stepped on. On one notable occasion, the action resulted in a door being ripped off its hinges. I ended up showing a couple of boys how to reinforce screw holes with wood glue and toothpicks.

I was vaguely ashamed of myself for watching the video, though. The fact is, if you follow most people around long enough, they’re bound to do something odd or embarrassing. Most of us are just lucky that onlookers don’t have a camera so such moments aren’t recorded. Shouldn’t I be using my time a little better? For example, maybe I could tackle the problem of making fur in a 3D program, which hasn’t gone so well the last few times I’ve tried it?

That’s the thing with some of the tools I use. Many are developed by people who have a neat idea they’re pursuing, out of the goodness of their hearts or in the hope of piecing together an income. Maybe they have a background in software development and testing; maybe they don’t. Even if the application isn’t crawling with bugs like the underside of a rock, documentation can be uneven, the likes of a fellow mumbling through a video on YouTube or popping up to address users’ anguished pleas on some obscure forum. Did he just poke a button or not? What does the button with three tiny squares on it do compared to the button with four tiny squares?

Even tools sold by companies that have a reputable facade can be uneven: Say, that upgrade looks great! What the — what happened to all my custom presets? They just disappeared! What? To fix it, I have to move around some invisible files in an obscure directory? Am I going to need to dip into Unix? Fine. Fine. I’ll just have a cup of coffee and browse through commercially available 3D models while I think this through. Say, that’s an awesome model of a tarantula. And it’s on sale for forty cents and it comes with presets to grow hair! Where do I sign up? Take my forty cents, suckers! Oh yeah. Just let me download this baby and I’ll do some wicked things with it. What the … how do I make the hair grow? Did I just pay forty cents for a model of a bald spider? Argh!

What most of us want is smooth workflow, so when we set out to do something we can. When I’m in the midst of a project, I don’t want a big troubleshooting orgy. I want to know how to grow fur on my 3D tarantula and I want to know how to simulate fluids so it can ooze drool or spider juice or whatever the heck it is spiders do. 

That means that every once in awhile, I have to sit down, fiddle around, and take some notes.

The last time I messed with growing fur or fibers was in Blender. The results were comically awful.

I’d like to think it went a little better this time. I started out by growing hair from a sphere. (Hey, you never can tell when you’ll need a hairy sphere.) I only crashed the program six or ten times before reaching this point, which is about par.

Another experiment, this time growing fur from a model of a squirrel. It turned out that when I changed the squirrel’s pose after creating the fur, the fur didn’t follow the pose. That’s one of those things whose cause isn’t necessarily obvious the first time you run across it, then becomes clear.

I thought the image was amusing, though. It looks like the squirrel is having an out-of-body experience, or maybe doing something vulgar with its fur. Sometimes mistakes are fun.

This one shows fur grown on commercially available model of a wolf. I had to try this because I saw a bunch of pitiful forum posts on the topic. It worked out okay. (Except for the fact that if I look at the upper lefthand corner of the picture, the cloud texture is mirrored, which makes it clear that the whole picture is synthetic.)

No, I don’t know why the wolf has a rubber squeak bone. I just make the pictures; I don’t always understand them. Maybe the wolf got bored. Maybe it wanted to take something home to its pups. 

Regardless, many thanks to Anthony Kiedis’ intestinal rumblings for inspiring me to learn something new.

Another experiment, albeit unrelated to growing fur: making tattoos.

What’s that? The picture is too small to tell what the card looks like? I’ll complain to the management for you. Oh – that’s me.

It’s Christmas card time again. I make my own cards every year, even though it would be more sensible to go to the dollar store, fork over a couple of bucks, and send out a set of bland images of puppies wearing Santa hats.

This year’s card has a Santa on it. It’s one of those design-by-committee, bang-it-together in a weekend things. I grab everyone in the house, plop them down at the dining table, and glare at them until ideas come out. This year, all of my own concepts were influenced by current events and were pretty dark. My husband finally rolled his eyes and said “Santa is on a beach. His sleigh is up on blocks and he’s put a for sale sign on it.”

Fine. I could work with that. I decided that Santa was kind of a Viking surfer/biker dude under that suit, and one of the things he really needed was a full sleeve tattoo. That meant I had to do research by looking at numerous photos of shirtless, tattooed men, which was a great hardship.

I fell in love with a norse dragon tattoo from Sacred Knot. Wouldn’t something like that – exactly like that! – look great on Santa? Yeah. Unfortunately, that design belongs to them, not me, which meant I had to go draw my own.

I’d never drawn a tattoo before. Most of my drawings were awful. I comforted myself with the knowledge that on the printed card, the tattoo would only be an inch across. Also, many real-life tattoos are awful, a hodgepodge of miscellanea acquired over time rather than a cohesive design created by a tattoo artist. If the tattoo I made was ugly, I’d simply tell people that Santa got it as a bet when he was drunk. Long nights at the north pole, boredom, some elf tossing, an excess of mead … it could happen.

After some unsuccessful fiddling around with pencils and a light box, I sat down with my iPad, an Apple Pencil, and a copy of Procreate. My husband put something on the television, maybe Forever, and began waxing philosophical about the program being a metaphor for marriage. I filled a glass with spiked eggnog, grunted at his comments at the appropriate times, and opened a picture of my Santa’s chest and arm on a layer in Procreate. I began to draw, a process complicated by the fact that several glasses of eggnog had made my eyes cross and my body grow floppy. I drew a reindeer, a Vegvisir in case Santa got lost, and for good measure I threw in some random knotwork and Nordic patterns. Soon I had a design, although I couldn’t tell whether it was any good – nor did I care.

“Whaddaya think?” I grunted at my husband, holding out my iPad for inspection.

“It’s fine,” he said, not bothering to look at it.

I exported the tattoo layer as a PNG, sent it to my desktop machine, and once I was sober enough to lurch to my computer, I layered it on my Santa scene in Photoshop. “Procreate and an Apple pencil,” I crowed, “easiest drawing process ever!” Or maybe I belched and moaned about how I’d drunk too damned much eggnog. I can’t remember.

The texture on Santa’s trunks was inspired by men’s garish floral board shorts, particularly the ones plastered with hibiscus. I reasoned that Santa would wear something similar, only in a pointsettia pattern. After running a fabric simulation on the trunks to make them fall just so, I plunked a mystery drink in Santa’s hand. I also ran a fabric simulation on the clothes chucked in the sand behind his chair, so they’d sink down messily.

Details like that are important. I like to think people are subconsciously impressed by the care I put into my work in the split second before they mutter “Eh, there’s no Jesus on this card” and chuck it in the trash.

Ho ho ho.

The Trouble in Paradise

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

IQF Houston took place a couple of weeks ago. That’s normally cause for celebration, but my attention has been on the fires in Malibu and here in northern California. Still, my understanding is that it was a great show; I’m sorry I missed it.

The OURstory exhibit, spearheaded by Susanne Miller Jones, debuted there. I have a couple of pieces in that exhibit but alas, we aren’t allowed to release photos just yet. One can get a little sense of the exhibit from this story in the Houston Chronicle, which features interviews with a few of my fellow artists.

I confess that I got my back up a bit when I read a comment that exhibits such as this one are “political” and that IQF Houston should leave them out of its shows. Why are celebrating human rights, religious freedom, or fair labor practices regarded as political? Why are those things controversial? What’s the counter position – that the medium of fiber should only be used to depict warm, fluffy topics such as kitty-cats hiding in pumpkins or children playing on the beach? Should we be celebrating the views of Strom Thurmond circa 1948?

The exhibit will be traveling. I do wish people would go have a look at it before judging it. The work in it is heartfelt. I was told that one of my pieces “moved people to tears,” and I imagine that was the case with much of the other work as well. I worked hard on my pieces and I know that my fellow artists did as well.

Another of my works, Cranky Claus, was out in the main section of the show. It’s one of my personal favorites since the Santa in it is such a thuggish type, not at all the sort of person you’d want to have come down your chimney or roam around your house while you were asleep. I hope visitors enjoyed it or at least were mildly horrified.


Leaving Home: Launch of the Apollo 8 and several other works from the Fly Me to the Moon exhibit are on display at the Johnson Space Center as part of the Apollo 7 & 8 50th Anniversary Exhibit. They’ll be there through December 13.


From the San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 15

Meanwhile, Malibu and a chunk of Northern California have been on fire. I live down at the south end of San Francisco Bay, about 200 miles away from the fire that took out forest land and the town of Paradise. The morning after the fire started, I went outside to walk the dogs and the air was thick with smoke. “Wow. Is that from the fire north of Sacramento?” I asked my husband. Yes. It was. 

Air in Sacramento November 15

We’ve been battling bad air ever since, air that leaves me coughing and with a sore throat if I stay out in it for long. We’ve essentially been housebound for the past two weeks, and that’s with the fire 200 miles away. However, our inconvenience is nothing compared to what the people closer to the fire have faced, or the tragedy of losing homes, loved ones, pets, and wildlife. “Remember, that smoke you’re complaining about breathing is someone’s house – or worse,” pointed out a newspaper commenter.

The stories of horror are abundant, and the survivors’ paths to recovery are just beginning. This story in the L.A. Times tells about people sheltering in vehicles or tents in parking lots in Chico, huddled together for warmth. Winter is coming. Soon the weather will turn harsher, cold and wet, and many of the people don’t have the financial resources to move, much less rebuild.

One would think this would be an occasion for an outpouring of sympathy and relief efforts, with FEMA swooping in and the POTUS making statements of compassion. Instead, we have people camping out in parking lots, with no idea where they’re going to go or how they’re going to put their lives back together. Instead, the current POTUS initially threatened to withold federal aid. He conveniently “forgot” or ignored the facts that California supplies more federal funds than it uses, much of forest that burned was under federal management, with funding for maintenance cut by him and the Republicans, and the town that burned leaned Republican. When he visited the burned remains of the town, he couldn’t remember its name, even when reminded. Instead he mumbled deranged nonsense about maintaining the forest by raking it, like the people of Finland do theirs. The citizens of Finland weren’t aware they’d been doing this, and were understandably surprised.

This behavior is not a surprise to me – like all good con men, the POTUS has contempt for his marks – but it is still a disappointment. I’m sad to see people defecated on by the man they voted for. One would hope he’d care about them, if not the rest of us. But he doesn’t. He cares only for himself and perhaps his oldest daughter.

Remember the people of Pleasure – I mean, Paradise – in your thoughts and donations, and shore up your resources and your neighborhoods. Get to know your neighbors, keep a reasonable amount of emergency supplies on hand, and have a plan for sheltering in place or evacuating yourself, your pets, and your family if necessary. Support the people and organizations who provide emergency services.

There will more disasters, particularly as global climate change accelerates. The reality TV personality currently occupying the Oval Office and his administration will be no more capable of responding to them with compassion or practical assistance than he was this one. The only things he can reliably deliver are self-interest and harsh, threatening remarks when people are grappling with grief and fear.

We have each other, at least. Right now, that’s about all we can count on.

Dani California

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Lately I’ve been taking some trips down memory lane. My kid turned fourteen this summer. Fourteen. That’s only 2 1/2 years younger than I was when I dated his dad the first time and 4 1/2 years younger than I was when I left home for good. The cake is all but baked. He’s on the verge of driving, dating, voting, and making decisions about schools and professions. All he really wants from us at this point is the occasional hug, a steady supply of pizza and Red Bull, fresh laundry, and no embarrassing questions about which websites he’s visiting.

It’s thought-provoking and mildly terrifying. Have his father and I done a decent enough job of preparing him? Is he going to have a good foundation for an ethical, productive, satisfying life? I hope so. He’s living in a much different world than the one his grandparents or his father and I came up in. It’s a better world in some ways and a much harsher, more challenging place in others.

When I was not too much older than my son, I moved from east Texas to the Bay Area. It was a move regarded with much suspicion and, in some cases, thinly veiled hostility on the part of family and friends. My father in particular had nothing good to say about California or the Bay Area. “I’ve been to Oakland,” he told me. “I’ve seen all I need to of the Bay Area.” I saw him one last time before I left Texas, a chance encounter in a Walmart. I smiled and said hello. He looked through me as though I didn’t exist. I wish I had realized then what that meant. Sometimes life presents lessons before we’re ready to absorb them, though.


The exquisite environs of east Texas, near the ancestral homestead.

Happily, the Bay Area was nothing but good to me. Unlike east Texas, the weather was congenial, without wintertime icicles worthy of murder weapon status or summers so hot that cracks formed in the ground. Yes, housing was on the dense side – “wall to wall people,” as my father groused. Bizarre as it seems now, at first I was confused by the lack of visible boundaries between cities. I was used to seeing open land with grazing cattle.

However, the roads were paved, not mud masquerading as limestone gravel. Power and water outages were almost nonexistent. The places I lived, while not luxurious, all had toilets that worked consistently, painted walls, and floors of tile or wood or linoleum rather than plywood floors, unpainted sheetrock walls, and rain blowing in around the edges of homemade windows.

There was public transportation. The locals complained about it in endless screeds to the newspaper, but I was grateful. If you had the price of a day pass for the bus and were healthy enough to make up the difference between the bus route and your destination with your legs, you could get around a good many places. You could get by without a car, for at least awhile.

People seemed happier out here. Education was valued and people were congenial, busily pursuing matters they found interesting or important. If you hadn’t formed dreams of your own or didn’t yet have the means to pursue them, you could help out with someone else’s for awhile. For years I did just that.

There were libraries. Not just one library, with a building erected by Andrew Carnegie and a paltry two books allowed out for a period of a couple of weeks. No, there were libraries everywhere, at universities and in the cities. People used them, piling bags high with books. There were also museums, art, music, gorgeous places to hike, and people out smiling and waving as they walked their dogs. It was a paradise.

Alas, my personal life was a wreck. On weekends I’d try to escape it by walking from Escondido Village at Stanford, where I lived, down to California Avenue in Palo Alto. I’d walk and walk and walk and stay gone as long as I could. California Avenue had a thrift store, a bookstore, a photography store, and tons of windows to peer in. There was also a club; I think it was called the Keystone. I dimly remember seeing concert posters, low budget things run off on colored paper on a copier. Those were fun to look at. One of them mentioned a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

Huh. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was an interesting name. I wondered who and what they were.

Happily, the Stanford Daily ran some lovely stories about them, such as this article about a concert in 1985:

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared last, and it was soon apparent they Were out to prove that punk’s not dead but has merely absorbed other musical styles and undergone a slight transformation in the process. The band was visually pleasing — lead singer Anthony Kiedis tied an American flag around his waist, and drummer Cliff Martinez wore some sort of bizarre headdress. Unfortunately their performance was not so pleasing. Flea’s funky bass and Jack Sherman’s hardcore/heavy metal guitar riffs completely overwhelmed Kiedis’ voice, so I couldn’t hear what he was singing. Kiedis spat a lot, and he and Flea wasted time with their stupid shouting between songs. His posturing and posing during songs lacked Fishbone’s humor; he looked like an attention-hungry brat. Most of their songs sounded essentially alike. An exception was “Mommy, Where’s Daddy,” primarily because it wasn’t as fast as their other songs and allowed a clearer sound to come through. They are all proficient musicians, but they are entirely predictable; combined with Kiedis’ obnoxious behavior, The Peppers’ show was less than what I had hoped to see. However, they did possess a raw energy that is truly what rock is all about and seeing Fishbone’s crazed stage spectacle made the evening memorable. The Chili Peppers were not “red hot” at the Keystone last Saturday.”

Bizarre headdress! Spitting! Stupid shouting! Now that’s journalism. It also sounds like quite a spectacle. I’m sorry I missed it.

Later I read about their wearing the infamous socks. They will never be allowed to forget about that; it’s a cruel reality of being a celebrity. They’ll be 105 years old, kept alive only by a drip of opiodes and pulverized kale, and somebody will ask them if they’re going to do another performance while wearing only socks. That or they’ll be asked, once again, why they began performing that way.

“Why did you perform with only socks over your privates?”

“Uhhh … take your pick:”

  1. “It was an existential protest against the brevity of human life.” 
  2. “It was a clever bit of stagecraft.”
  3. “We hadn’t done laundry lately.” 
  4. “We didn’t want to be arrested for performing naked.” 
  5. “We were young, we were doing a lot of drugs, and we wanted to play loud music and attract a bunch of girls.”

For me, it was wonderful. Rock musicians wearing socks! Only socks! That confirmed every stereotype my stepmother had tried to pound into me about rock musicians – debauchery, womanizing, poor dental hygiene, rampant sock-wearing. I was mildly scandalized (just socks!) and secretly delighted (just socks! in public!). What can I say? I was clinically depressed but I wasn’t dead.

I never did get to a Chili Peppers concert, although I did go to other concerts at Stanford – Joan Baez, Shadowfax, Ravi Shankar. They were all chosen by my ex, who supervised my music consumption and many other aspects of my life. I was braced for debauchery each time but there was none, unless one includes wearing socks with Birkenstocks.

I spent the following years doing the things one does: going to endless counseling sessions, getting out of one messed up relationship and sprawling into another, shoving electrons and positrons around and around a giant ring, shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, doing that and going to school, griping at people while shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, studying graphic design, running a business, working at a startup, divorcing, marrying, having a baby, adopting a couple of dogs, and whining about putting on weight while simultaneously baking batches of cookies.

I didn’t get back to the Chili Peppers until a few weeks ago. Sorry, guys. Not that you missed me.

I may be late to the party, but I’ve found that their videos – and there are quite a few – are a delight. I missed the golden age when MTV was in vogue, so it’s lovely catching up now. I’m guessing that we’re in a second golden age and that making videos is once again necessary if you want your songs to be commercially viable. People my son’s age aren’t watching broadcast TV or browsing record stores for LPs or CDs. They’re watching YouTube or listening to stuff on Pandora or Apple Music.

Here’s one of my current favorites, Dani California, which was released back in 2006.

The video does a lovely, entertaining job of chronicling the eras of rock history via a series of set pieces, complete with changes in costume, dance style, and persona.


Screencap from Dani California

We get to see Flea’s hilarious, adorable mugging (5 seconds, 26 seconds, and elsewhere) and the antics of the other people in the band.


Screencap from Dani California

Oh yes. We’ve all been there.


Screencap from Otherside

As usual, Anthony Kiedis is charismatic and has beautiful abs and bone structure. I suspect that he has painting that resembles a morph between himself and Keith Richards tucked away in an attic, or perhaps he just has new bodies cloned every couple of years.


I kind of want to make a 3D mesh of his face, much like the one I’m making here. Yeah. Having total strangers make digital 3D models of your face isn’t creepy at all.

There’s a nice writeup about the song on Wikipedia. I’m not going to repeat all of it, except for this part: “Kiedis has commented that the character of Dani is a composite of all the women with whom he has had relationships.”

Anthony, sweetie, that statement worries me. Do all of your relationships end with the girl getting shot to death in North Dakota? That just doesn’t sound healthy. You have enough going for you that you could date women who are a little smarter and less prone to getting shot. Next time, maybe look for somebody with a Ph.D. in anthropology or a nice school teacher type. Somebody you could actually talk to, who won’t go fleeing to another state.

I kid. Who knows why anybody gives the answers they do during interviews? If it was me on the spot and I’d been asked the same thing for the 5,000th time, I’d probably make stuff up for my own entertainment.

The video is great but it becomes even better after viewing the three-part documentary. (The entire thing takes about half an hour to watch.)

It shows some of the moving parts necessary to make the video: costumes, makeup, sets, cameras, camera angles, instrument techs. It soon becomes clear that what looks like a film of a bunch of guys messing around, singing, and having fun is actually intense, repetitive work.

I have no idea how many days of prep were involved or how much work was required in post. The fact that they did the filming in only two days, with ten costume and set changes, amazes me. It’s a testament to the preparation and maturity of everyone involved. They went in, they got to work, and they made it look fun.

Part 1:

Some personal favorites:

3:23 Flea goes on a screed about the British Invasion. My kid found this delightful. I’ll refrain from getting concerned until he decides to buy a pair of pointy-toed shoes.

5:14 Anthony kicks it fifties style. That footwork! I’m not sure how he wiggles back and forth so efficiently. My son and I have tried to reproduce his movements, with much clumsiness and laughter. So far we haven’t injured ourselves, but it’s been a close thing. What can I say? We live in Silicon Valley. We do nerd stuff. Even our dancing is kind of nerdy.


Part 2:

1:54 Flea is downed by an errant microphone. Here we get a little sense of the affection between him and Anthony. I suspect that’s what has kept the band glued together over the years: friendships, forgiveness, and fundamental respect for the different members’ abilities. People grow, change, and conflicts happen. It’s inevitable. It’s how people cope with such changes that makes the difference between enduring and parting ways.

2:24 Anthony hospital war story. Amusing.

4:58 Flea’s pompoudor wig. It’s big enough to cause an eclipse!

6:12 Chad Smith doing some hair metal mugging. Once you have lipstick and a tiger print body suit on, how can you resist?

8:26 Photo-sonics tech John Wagner describing a Cold War military-grade camera used capture Flea’s jumps. Military grade!

9:15 Flea’s kicks. The man has ups! He’s darned near making it out of Earth orbit. I’m sure the camera is positioned so as to make his jumps look more dramatic, but they’re still very impressive.


Part 3:

3:22 Flea’s screed about his less-than-functional bass. There’s just something about seeing a man who’s wearing a net shirt, black lipstick, and a spiked collar grin and say “Maybe I should come over there and beat the **** out of you” that makes me sick with laughter. Another household favorite.

4:14 Chad being deliciously sour. That isn’t meant as criticism. He does it very nicely. Anyone would feel sour and weary by then, really.

7:20 Anthony’s facial gyrations during the punk segment, with a camera darned near shoved up his nostrils. Great stuff. Those are the kinds of faces I secretly make in the bathroom mirror. Yes, I stick out my tongue, too.

Good for these guys. 

These days I view all sorts of things as celebrations of life – badly made art quilts that make somebody’s grandkid look like he has leprosy, the tree behind the ice cream parlor that’s covered with thousands of blobs of used chewing gum, and going to the dog park to throw balls. A music video falls in that category, albeit a more sophisticated one. It’s a carefully crafted celebration of life. The guys in that band have gotten up to heaven knows what over the years, but they’ve also put a lot of joy in people’s lives including mine. Their music has kept me from going nuts at times, when I’m shambling along on a treadmill or folding yet another brain-numbing, idiotic stack of towels. I’m glad to get to celebrate that creativity.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was near the beginning of my arc as an adult. I was a scrawny young woman with bad hair, a couple of thousand miles away from friends and family, taking long walks and trying to figure out how to straighten out my life. The Chili Peppers were similarly starting out, doing whatever was necessary to launch their careers – couch surfing, grabbing concert dates, and indulging in antics that scandalized and delighted onlookers.

We’re all now further along in parallel, non-intersecting arcs. They’re creative and productive. I like to think I am too. Much of the turbulence of early adulthood has settled out for everyone. Hopefully we’re all putting more good into the world than bad.

It’s none too soon. In my household, the next generation is on its way to getting launched. I hope my son’s launch will go quite a bit better than mine did. We’re going to try to help that happen.

My newest preciousssss.

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

During the past few months, this blog has read like a chronicle of broken machinery. Fortunately, most of it was easy to repair, a matter of getting in the appropriate devil-may-care mood and shoving in new parts or cackling madly while waving around a soldering iron.

Then came the most recent issue, the death of my beloved 17” Macbook Pro. After seven years, a chronically busted 4 key, a logic board replacement, and several RAM and hard drive upgrades, it embarked on an ugly series of hardware problems. One night the end came in a technicolor crescendo of crashes and screens of death.

“Oooh! Can I look at it?” my husband squealed happily. “Sure,” I said, having backed up all of the data on the machine a couple of other places. (Not that the drive was likely to be impacted.) He caressed the sickly machine, cooed to it, and began pressing keys. It faded into eternal blackness while in his arms.

“Hey, you finally killed it!” he crowed, ignoring the fact that technically it had died while he was touching it, not me. “Well, you’ll just have to march down to the Apple Store and get a new one. You can even have some coffee while you wait.” (Our closest Apple Store is at the spaceship campus’s visitor’s center. They have coffee there as well as high dollar nutrition bars with frightening names. I still haven’t had the guts to find out what a Manuka is.)


Happy happy consumers fingering I-devices.

The barrista drew a panda head on my coffee. Despite that, I was bitter. It isn’t often a machine bests me. I’d known that the computer was near the end of its life but I’d hoped that could be delayed a bit and handled on a non-emergency basis.

As I thought about the price of the new machine, I could hear my father’s voice ringing in my ears. He eternally had contempt for my using Macs, which he always seemed to regard as a personal failing. “Just think of all the Amiga 500s you could have bought instead!” I could hear him rant.



However, once I hooked the new computer up, I liked it a lot. The 5k display was large and gorgeous, and it was able to tackle 3D and graphics tasks a jillion times faster than before.

Alas, in short order I’d made the workspace a mess again.  I hate to draw comparisons that would make a pig feel bad but yes, when I’m working I tend to toss things around and wallow in them.

I briefly considered hauling everything non-electronic out to driveway and throwing a can of gasoline and a lit match on it. However, that seemed like a waste of good fossil fuel. Perhaps what I needed was a computer stand.

I stumbled across a review for Understands, a series of wood computer stands. They were elegantly designed and showed a great affection for wood. Some were one-of-a-kind designs, highlighting the unique characteristics of a particular piece of wood. Others featured dovetail joints, drawers, and access slots for cables. They were beautiful and quite a bit nicer than anything I could make myself. I also liked the company’s story, using urban reclaimed wood to create things of beauty and practicality.

I ordered one, the Planet 6 Walnut. Yes, I could have stacked my computer up on some of the thousands of books I have in the house or even employed the concrete brick I removed from the bottom of my washing machine last month. However, I believe there’s value in investing in the things I use and touch each day.


The new stand arrived a week later and promptly was inspected by the house wolf/Siberian Tube Dog. He tried to tell me what the UPS driver had eaten for breakfast and report on conditions in the shop in Rockford, Illinois, where the stand was created. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to understand.



Nice packaging.


Oh, beautiful. Look at that grain. Look at those dovetails.


Cork-lined drawers. Sweet.


The back of the stand has a slot for the base of one’s iMac or iMac Pro, so that the base will disappear into the top of the stand. It also has slots for cables, so that peripherals can be tucked away yet remain plugged in.


What’s this? A little surprise in one of the drawers? That’s a thoughtful touch.


The “surprise” proved to be a sliding dovetail box embellished with a laser cut heart. The tolerances of the dovetail are so tight, so snug, that one almost can’t find the slide unless one inspects the box with a magnifying glass.


The story behind the box. I like that and I’m glad they included it. Everything around us has a story, whether it’s about the people who designed and created it or where its source materials grew and were harvested.

In the case of the box and the computer stand, part of the story is about gorgeous wood, which otherwise might have gone to waste, being reclaimed and used to create items of practicality and beauty.


The new computer mounted on the computer stand.

Today’s celebrity monitor appearance is Anthony Kiedis. Hi, Mr. Kiedis. Thank you for visiting my studio, not that you had any choice in the matter.


And yep, I’m glad I ordered the stand with six drawers. In the top drawers there’s room for my external drive, backup drive, a track pad, and a remote control I’m hiding from my family. Thanks to the cable slots in the back of drawers and the fact that I’m running drives which don’t generate much heat, I can leave them plugged in while they’re tucked away in the drawers. (I wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that with a “spinning rust” drive.)


The bottom drawers are large enough to hold a numeric keypad, Wacom tablet, and a three button mouse. These are items I like close at hand but don’t use every day. The numeric keypad and the mouse are primarily used with Blender, where I flail away with both hands while working.


The top right and left drawers have secret compartments for things one would like to keep hidden away. Not that I have any anything like that, heh heh heh. At least, not anything I’ll admit to.


A peek behind the computer. There’s room for cable and headphone storage. The wood artist’s manikin is holding earplugs. Yeah. About those. I have earplugs in my purse, in my nightstand, and all over the rest of the house. You see, a few years ago we adopted a terrier from one of the neighbors. The neighbor was going through some changes in her life and our other dog – the package inspector at the top of this blog entry – adored the terrier.

The terrier is a sweet dog and is usually fairly calm. Unfortunately, he can spin up wilder than an F-5 tornado, with yapping so sharp I want to jam an ice pick through my ears. He makes sounds that no living creature should be able to generate, noises which make me think that whoever engineered terriers was deranged. If they weren’t crazy before breeding the dogs, they would have been in short order after hearing the yapping. It drives me nuts. I also don’t think the dog can help it. Efforts to train him out of it have been unsuccessful. So yeah, when he starts to get excited before a walk or whatever, out come the earplugs.


Cables and flotsam behind the other side of the computer. There’s a little story behind those earrings. I keep remembrances of people around my work space, things that probably look like pieces of junk to other people but have meaning to me.

Years ago, I had a T-shirt that matched those earrings, with a large version of those creatures screen printed on the front. Burt Richter – yes, the same Burt Richter who won the Nobel Prize for  co-discovery of the J/ψ meson – referred to the creature as my “radioactive kitty cat”. I never thought to ask him whether that description was inspired by the feral cats at SLAC who had, alas, found their ways into places that weren’t healthy for them.

Richter passed away recently but his vision and his work persist. The earrings are a reminder of that, even though they’re a tad silly.


Much better. The computer stand has done wonders as far as cleaning up that part of the room. I really admire the design and workmanship of the Understands computer stands. Mine is worth every penny I paid for it.

Did you know there’s a chunk of concrete in your washing machine?

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Back in May, I wrote a blog entry in which I stated that having my dishwasher or my sewing machine break was a “good” problem, ever so much better than having my clothes washer break.

HA HA HA HA HA! (Wiping tears out of my eyes.) What an idiot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing those words was tantamount to daring the machine to break. I might as well have yanked my clothes washer out of the laundry room, drawn a pentagram around it, lit some candles, and begged old man Beelzebub to come down and do his worst.

So, yeah. August came. One morning I was hanging out, working on some art stuff and downing coffee so maybe my face would look less like a character drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. “Huh. I wonder if everybody has clean underwear,” I thought. “Maybe I should throw a load in the washer. After all, who doesn’t like clean underwear?”


The art stuff I was working on.

Half an hour or so later: BAM BAM BAM BAM! 

What the …? 

A hideous racket was coming from the laundry room. I went to investigate. The source of the racket was the washing machine attempting to rattle itself to death during high speed spin. Ugh. I went through the usual troubleshooting stuff, such as rebalancing the load and simply running the machine empty. Same issue. It was clear that something had broken.

Fortunately, there are helpful diagnostic sites on the web such as I headed over there, entered in the model number of my washer, and was soon puzzling over parts diagrams.

Based on my extensive knowledge of washing machines, which is to say none, I decided that the problem was probably a broken tub dampening strap. It made sense; if a strap had broken, maybe the tub was ricocheting around the enclosure during the spin cycle. I smiled to myself. That would be an easy fix, just a matter of popping off some covers and installing a new strap.

I went over to YouTube, found a video where a nice helpful person was dissassembling a GE Top Loader, and got to work.


And … no. All of the straps were intact. What could the problem be?


This. This was the problem. When I looked in the bottom of the machine, opposite the drive motor, I found a loose concrete brick, a couple of metal straps, and two long, unsecured screws. At first I didn’t understand what I was looking at; why was there a concrete brick in the bottom of the machine? Was one of my family members playing a prank on me?

It was, admittedly, a silly thought. Tempting as it may be, nobody in my household has enough energy to take apart a washing machine and shove a brick in the bottom just so they can hear me yell. No, the brick was the counterweight, positioned so as to balance out the weight of the drive motor. It turns out that all or most top loading washing machines have them, although some of them have a more refined appearance. (Do a Google image search on “washing machine counter weight” if you’re skeptical.)

It turned out that the metal straps and long screws I’d found were part of the (poorly engineered) mounting mechanism for the brick. Over the years, vibration from the machine had caused them to hog out the threads in the plate they screwed into, meaning that some lucky soul – me – would have the life scared out of her one morning while she was innocently downing her coffee.

After some soul-searching – could I just go down to the hardware store and kludge a new mount together? – I purchased a replacement brick with improved mount for $80.


“Well there’s your problem right there. You got a big ole rock stickin’ out the bottom of your washing machine. See, normal people, they don’t let their rocks rattle around like that.”

Fortunately, once the part came in, the repair itself was trivial. The worst parts were getting the tub out of the washing machine enclosure and putting the drive belt back on afterward.


A test run after installing the new brick and putting the tub back in the machine enclosure. I like to leave devices somewhat open until I verify that they’re working properly. This shot is fun; we can see the level of the water through the tub, as well as mildew I failed to remove while the machine was disassembled. I’m just that good.


Taking a peek to see if the drain is leaking (nope: good) and whether the drive belt is tracking properly on the pulley. The latter was a bit of a worry while the machine was disassembled, as the pulley has some wobble. Unlike with, say, a band saw, there isn’t a nice way to adjust the tracking of the pulley. Fortunately, it has proven to be a non-issue thus far.

Lessons learned:

  • Most or all top-loader washing machines have bricks or concrete slabs in them.
  • Washing machines are fairly simple devices.
  • Provided one is just swapping out parts and knows what the problem is, repairing a washer is fairly straightforward.
  • I like my washer better now that I’ve worked on it. I feel like we’re friends now.

Now we have clean underwear again. Now I’m back to making art. Unfortunately, I still resemble a character drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth before I’ve had coffee in the morning.