Archive for the ‘Ponderings’ Category

While others were at IQF Houston …

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Random photos spliced in throughout post …


The big quilt show in Houston, IQF, is over. I learned that my piece, Why Knot? received third place in the digital category.

Immediately, of course, I began to see frank, dampening comments on blogs and mailing lists:

“Photo-realism wins the day in Houston. Frankly, I have never entered that show because, yes, I am a snob who considers it the same as a pipe and drape show, only larger. Art? Uh – no. Unoriginal work – yep. That eliminates all the artists I know.”

“… when I look at most of the other works my first reaction is ho hum… Yawn..boring.. same old, same old. I do not know what the others entries were but the winners are sadly without much interest.”

Sorry to hear that.

It’s true that IQF isn’t an art show per se. Although it does show some genuine artwork that happens to be made of fiber and is quilted, the show isn’t on the radar of the larger Art World, as far as I know. If it was, the “Husbands’ Lounge” (I assume that was still there this year?) or events like the costume contest or tiara parade would knock it clean away.

It is, however, enormously popular and many people love to go there, or dream of doing so. It provides an enjoyable escape where people can browse, admire others’ workmanship or artistry, do a spot of shopping, and bask in the font of natural beauty that is downtown Houston. Many people make a week or weekend of it, staying in hotels, eating out, and socializing.

IQF Houston is the world’s largest quilt show. I aspire to create work that is original and interesting (see comments above), and I like having my work in bonafide art shows. However, I also just plain like to have my work seen. It’s nice to have my work on display at the world’s largest quilt show, where fifty or sixty thousand people attend, and I appreciate receiving an award. As my husband frequently tells me, “Not everything is curing cancer.”


This is Serious Art. Give me money now.

Art – sculpture, painting, fiber, you name it – is not a meritocracy. There is no governing body looking to see whether, say, an entrant is re-rendering borrowed or stock photography without acknowledging the original sources. There are no absolute rules about what does or does not constitute art, and whether or not something is decent. There are no overseers looking over the entire universe of work and saying “Well, yours is the best. Here; have some publicity, some accolades, and a bag of money.”

What there does seem to be is a great deal of posturing. People joining organizations with the word “art” in the name and jockeying for position. “Hooray! These people, who coincidentally need membership fees in order to keep their organization afloat, have designated me a Professional Studio Artist and juried me into their organization!” People writing reviews of shows on their blogs, including only their cronies, and sort of not mentioning the fact that their own quilt was hung upside down and they didn’t notice for an hour. People writing pompous opinions of what does or does not constitute Real Art. People having vicious arguments on mailing lists, or hosting exhibits in which they’ve glued fabric on ancient AOL disks and have strung the disks together with fishing line. “It’s a synthesis of technology and tradition!” “Check out my latest piece! I coated teddy bears with house paint, laid them on fabric, then ran over them with the steam roller I keep handy!”


More Serious Art.

Here is what I’ve learned: with few exceptions, nobody cares. Nobody is watching. There are many, many people creating artwork, and most of them are busy doing their own thing. We have to take care of ourselves. If we’re lucky, we get to connect with a few other people and we get to appreciate others’ work.

Do whatever it is you like. In a hundred years, it won’t matter one way or another. Exhibiting in Houston or not exhibiting in Houston probably isn’t going to affect one’s art career. If one is born female and one’s medium is fiber, chances are there isn’t going to be worldwide recognition from the Real Art World anyhow.

One of the things I like is having my work seen. One of my series is comprised of portraits of my son in various situations, both real and imaginary. It isn’t on par with Wyeth’s Helga series, but the boy and I enjoy collaborating and we both get a kick out of seeing his portraits published or exhibited. That’s the majority of my work now, while he’s young and enjoys it. If my work is shown at Houston, I can figure on 50,000-60,000 people attending. Of those, I can estimate maybe 25,000 will walk down the aisle with my work and maybe half of those will take a good look, and hopefully enjoy it or get a giggle. That’s 10,000-15,000 people I got to share some joy or a joke with. That’s probably far more than saw my work when it toured with Quilt National, much as I treasured that experience.

Alas, I wasn’t able to go to Houston this year. Actually, I could have gone but didn’t. My husband would have bent over backwards to watch our kid for a few days. Unfortunately, barring one of those statistically unlikely “Drop everything; you’ve won a top prize!” situations, going just isn’t practical when one has a kid.


These will no doubt get me barred from providing class cookies in the future.

IQF Houston often occurs around Halloween, you see. I’m going to go out on a limb and state that their target market is largely comprised of people with empty nests – women, middle-aged to elderly. They’re mostly white, mostly conservative. Not entirely, mind you; I always see a few men and some younger people when I’m at a show, and I don’t mean to imply that quilt shows are trying to exclude non-whites. The demographics may also skew depending on the region of the country. But mostly, when I go to a quilt show, that’s who I see: middle-aged to elderly women who probably don’t have kids at home. People who don’t need to worry about staying home for Halloween.


These cupcakes went to a party.


These cupcakes stayed home.

The Festival is wildly popular and, I assume, wildly profitable. The people who run it have quite a bit of practice and know what works for them and most of their attendees. It doesn’t work for me, though, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

For example, going to the Winners’ Circle celebration on a Tuesday involves a day of flying, hurrying to the convention center, then having the next day wasted because exhibits don’t open until Thursday. The last time I tried it, my intestines were coiling up and threatening to spring out of my body during the award ceremony.


WiiMote costume

It would have been nice to have seen the show this year, but on balance I’m glad I didn’t go. I would have missed my son’s Halloween party, school party and costume parade, zombie dance number with his Cub Scout troop, and of course, Halloween. Kids grow up. There are a limited number of years when one can bake cookies for parties or make Wii controller costumes.


My kid is the one with the cone on his head. Of course.

The Festival will simply have to wait a few years.


Making goody bags for Halloween, part of my master plan for clearing excess junk and craft supplies out of the house.


Tools of the trade

Monday, October 12th, 2015

In my last post, I shared the joy of hacking and slashing away at bits of foam core board to make dividers for my otherwise ghastly, disorganized drawers. In this post I’d like to share some of my other work area aids.

Many tools are specific to whatever art form one pursues: easels, paint brushes, kilns. Others, though, are more general purpose, applicable to a wide range of media. Those are some of the tools I find most interesting.


Here are the drawers, by the way. Decent storage is a thing of joy.



A screwdriver. I’m not going to share the story behind this right now, except that it involves blood, my stumbling out to the garage to look for a screwdriver while holding a sewing machine, and then a nurse shrieking when I phoned for advice and described my injury.

If you use a machine upon which you can get impaled or caught, keep whatever kind of tool you need to free yourself right beside the machine. Also, a telephone. Those are good. If you can’t get free with a screwdriver, you can at least call 9-1-1 and tell the dispatcher that no, you aren’t dying so there isn’t a huge hurry, but if they could come by and give you a hand when they have a minute, that would be much appreciated. And, um, until then you’ll just hang out with your machine. You’ll be one with your machine, so to speak.

And no, I don’t use power tools such as saws unless I’m stone cold sober and feel alert. Ironically enough, I think it’s easier to injure oneself on sewing machines and the like because one tends to work with one’s fingers in closer proximity to the needle.



Why does this boring-looking piece of ABS plastic have wood yardsticks glued to either end? Of what possible use could it be?



When one cinches up the shoe laces which are threaded through the corners, the sheet of plastic makes a seamless backdrop for photographing small objects. (Pretend that the Buddha head in the example is actually lit well.) The ABS can be wiped clean before use and stows away in a very small amount of space. This is my invention, although I’m sure similar things are commercially available.

This backdrop is handy for getting product shots for magazine articles, one’s website, Etsy, and so forth.



Wireless headphones. So wonderful. Having music or a podcast playing in one’s work area is good, but I can’t hear the music if I’m running a machine or the dogs are fighting right beside me.



Ear plugs. Good for levels of noise the headphones can’t disguise. Leaf blowers or chain saws, for example, or the people who used to hold impromptu church services in their house next door and would “speak in tongues”. (That, or they were practicing howling like coyotes with the accompaniment of organ music.)



Oiling pen. Don’t know how I lived without this; it applies a microscopic dot of machine oil just exactly where I need it. And boy, I use it frequently – every four or five times I swap out the bobbin, I’m in there brushing out the bobbin area and giving it a light lube.

It makes the bottles of oil one buys at the fabric store seem as delicate as a sledge hammer. Pens like this are dirt cheap, all of $3 or so at Allstitch.



Clamps. Cheap and handy. Attach lengths of fabric or paper to work surfaces, hold things together for gluing, pinch annoying people. Harbor Freight carries a set of six for a minimal price. They can also be purchased at Sears and hardware stores.



Inspiration board for project ideas or things I find appealing. Stuff goes up, furnishes my mind for awhile, then gets swapped out.



Reference materials. Each new project gets a new batch.



I can also step into the other room for more, or if I need a hound dog. Never can tell when I’ll need a dog.



Guess what’s in here. Give up yet?

With this stuff, I can suspend and light my finished artwork, or set up a backdrop for portraiture work or staging a scene. The whole thing was dirt cheap, maybe $250 – 300 total, stows away in a small space, and has saved me a world of inconvenience.



Yards and yards of green felt. I have similar lengths of white and grey. These come in handy when I want to photograph my work or a person on a solid background, which I’ll then remove (“knock out”) on the computer. The squeeze clamps (see above) let me attach the felt to my background support stand with minimal fuss.


What kinds of aids do you like to use in your work area?


Coming along

Monday, September 21st, 2015


This is coming along. Thanks to those who labor to grow and pick coffee beans, thus enabling me to have marathon work sessions, the sky and the sides of the plastic ice cubes are roughly stitched. However, I’ve decided that I’m not leaving the house anymore except to walk the dogs or go to the gym.

Yesterday I headed to the fabric store to pick up thread to match the bear. The following exchange took place (please tune out if you’ve already read this on F-book).

Clerk: “Are you doing some embroidery?”

Me: “No. I’m working on a quilt.” (Note to self: MISTAKE!!! Never tell people in fabric stores the truth! Nothing good ever comes of it.)

Clerk: “This is embroidery thread. It isn’t quilting thread.”

Me: “Yep. That’s what I use.”

Clerk: “The embroidery thread is more expensive than quilting thread.”

Me: “Yes, but it’s what I use.”

Clerk: “I just want to be sure, because most people use quilting thread.”

Me: “Yes, well, the embroidery thread works great when I’m thread painting or stitching densely.” (May I please just pay and leave?)

Clerk, still not quite believing me: “So what are you quilting.”

Me: “Something depressing.” (Still hoping she’ll ring me up and I can leave.)

Clerk: “Yes? What is it?”

Me: “It concerns global warming. It features a drowning polar bear.” (Just kidding. It’s a bunch of Sunbonnet Sues humping drunk frat boys who have STDs. Please may I leave?)

Clerk, pretending to be perky: “Oh, more people should make quilts with drowning polar bears! Will you, you know, put it on your bed?”

Me: “No. It will go to shows. Galleries. And so forth.” (%$#@#, I’ve tried to be polite, and there’s now a line about a mile long. Here – see this magazine? My stuff is in it. I know what kind of thread I want. Can I please. Just. Pay and leave? Or would you maybe like to see my passport and credit report while I’m here? Maybe get a sample of my DNA?)

The gatekeeper of hell finally, reluctantly rang up the thread and decided that I could go.

I have a little sympathy for the clerk, a tiny amount. I’m sure the people at fabric stores end up doing quite a bit of “tech support” with novices wandering in and not knowing quite what they need. In fairness, if I was working on a utility quilt rather than a piece of artwork, I would indeed make different thread choices. However, I’ve experimented to find what works for me, and after the second round of “this is what I use”, she should have desisted. The thing about my putting a rendering of a drowning polar bear on my bed was over the top; probably I should have just left at that point.

Well, she was right about one thing: the thread was overpriced. The convenience of being able to drive a mile or two to the Chain Fabric Store Which Shall Not Be Named versus ordering thread online and waiting turned out to not be worth it, especially once she singlehandedly removed the convenience.

No, it’s time to do what I’ve been threatening to do for ages. I need to sit down and inventory my thread collection, then order every color I’m missing from Allstitch. All of them. I don’t care if it takes months of budgeting and multiple orders. I don’t care if there are drawers and drawers of thread left when I die, thread which has to be given away to the home for pregnant teenage iguanas. I never want to go back to that fabric store for thread or, really, anything at all.


Check this out. This is what I purchased yesterday, eight spools of 250 yards each, $36.92 before taxes. That comes to 2000 yards for $36.92.


Here, by contrast, are some of Allstitch’s offerings, fourteen spools of 1100 yards each, at $2.63 each. That’s 15,400 yards – 7.7 times as much thread as from the Chain Store from Hell – for $36.82, ten cents less. Buy $150 worth and they’ll throw in free shipping.

Need some needles? Sure we do. I change needles and dust out and lightly lube the machine after every 4-5 bobbins, so I go through lots of needles. The good news is, Allstitch will sell me bulk needles at around $12/100, or about 12 cents per needle. The Chain Store from Hell wants $4.29 for a four-pack of needles, making them run over a dollar per needle. At that price, one would need to come up with a needle-sharpening jig and reuse them!

You know what else is great about Allstitch? They let me buy stuff without giving me the third degree. In all the years I’ve been buying supplies from them, there’s only been one goof, which they promptly rectified. Otherwise I simply order stuff online, perhaps while sitting in my pajamas and sipping coffee, and a week later it appears, as though by magic. Unlike some vendors, they don’t constantly dun me with advertising emails or otherwise bother me. I give them money. They give me stuff. It’s wonderful.

Suck it, Chain Store from Hell. I’d suggest that you rot in hell, except you’ve already attained that state.

Box modeling “Game Over”

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

I’m working on some 3D models for a quilt whose tentative title is Game Over. This is as good a time as any to post about it, I guess, because my Carpal Tunnel and Thoracic Outlet syndromes are acting up. (A “nice” reminder of my time as an engineering physicist at a particle accelerator, contorting my body and twisting knobs for 8-12 hours straight at a time.) It doesn’t happen too often, but when it starts to flare up, I “get” to take a break for a couple of days. Usually I notice the signs and can avoid it. This time the mouse I use for modeling broke and I foolishly decided to try a different style of mouse. Whoops! Ibuprofen and rest time.

Anyhow. Models. Gotta say, I love the tools that are commonly available these days. As noted elsewhere on this site, back when I started doing 3D work, modeling with primitives (spheres, cubes, cones) plus some lathing and extruding and maybe some spline curves were the rule of the day, at least with consumer-level software. No doubt one could get more advanced/flexible tools if one worked at one of the studios which were beginning to spring up, or one bought some of the higher end software packages which were starting to appear. I didn’t have access to those, though, and I was burdened by the small issues of having to work my way through school and earning a living. It was one of those “claw your way up” situations, and I had to put my dreams aside for awhile.

Here’s what I’m working on now, “box modeling” a character. One starts out with a cube …


which one subdivides …


starts moving around the vertices …


extrudes some faces here and there …


smooths things out …


adds some ears …


starts to build a body …


adds some arms and legs in a similar fashion, etc.


Box modeling! Neat stuff, eh? Maybe in a couple of days I can make the bear some eyes, skates, and a little hat.

Here’s another model from the same project. It may seem familiar to those who’ve played a certain child’s game which involves hacking apart a plastic iceberg, thereby sending a plastic polar bear to its doom.


Here’s a water model. Haven’t decided which direction I’ll go with the sky, whether it’ll be gloomy or sunny.


You can probably guess where this is going. I hope that when I pull all the pieces together, I’ll have a nice cautionary apocalyptic scene to get printed on fabric for my next quilt. I have a couple in the works. Global climate change and environmental matters are much on my mind these days. Maybe that’s one of those things that happens after one has a child, one starts thinking about how one is leaving the joint for future generations. (Not to imply that those without kids don’t.)

Years ago, after one of my failed relationships, it seemed wise to get out in the sunshine, do some volunteer work, and focus on something other than myself. I considered volunteering with an environmental group such as the Sierra Club. There are always organizations, both local and national, which need a hand with mundane tasks like removing kudzu and poison oak from trails, counting two-tailed polywogs, etc.

My mother darned near defecated on herself when I mentioned it in a letter. “The Sierra Club is a pack of devils!” she replied diplomatically, then there was a bunch of spittle-flecked stuff about how God had put man in dominion over nature and it was there for us to use, etc. Ah, my mom. Always good for a crackpot letter. The problem is, I think her attitudes reflect those of many Americans, right down to “n—— carry razor blades in their shoes” and waiting with great glee and anticipation for the Biblical End Times to arrive. (She may even have a special End Times Potato Salad recipe. I wouldn’t be surprised.)

There are a lot of humans on this planet. We have a tremendous impact on what happens here. The stories we tell ourselves and how we respond to them matter.

Are we, like my mother, enchanted with the notion of Biblical apocalypse and think it’s coming any day now, so heck, why not help it along? Yep. We can certainly do that. Drill baby, drill. Let’s burn, drill, frack, bomb, pollute, and kill slavishly, without regard for the consequences. What does it matter? The End Times are coming. We can make sure of that.

On the flip side, would we like to respect and nurture the diversity of the flora and fauna that remain? If we’re of a Biblical bent, do we think that “in dominion over nature” has more to do with being mindful caretakers than with being spoiled children who stomp all over their toys and then whine because they’re ruined?

Well, it’s probably clear which side of the fence I’m on. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my arm and shoulder are still too messed up to quilt, so I have some two-tailed polywogs to count.

The Halfway Point

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

About halfway through summer, halfway through various projects …


This arrived last month, the July/August edition of Machine Quilting Unlimited.


There are several neat articles in the magazine (Marianne Williamson! Awesome!), and they also included my piece Why Knot? They’re a nice magazine to work with and their graphic designers/layout people do a great job. It’s a pleasure to have my work in their publication.

While I’m on the topic of Why Knot?, I’ve learned that it has been juried into IQF Houston, so it’ll be making a road trip to Texas this fall. I don’t think I’ll be going, so I hope my quilt won’t be taking on bad habits in my absence … smoking, eating barbecue, harassing coyotes. Who knows?

What else do I have? Work I can’t post. Hot diggity. It was totally worth visiting this page for that, wasn’t it? Seriously, I find it a pain. Just when I’m juiced up from working on something and could cheerfully post progress photos and the like, I can’t. A couple of things have the “work must be hermetically sealed” exhibit requirement. By the time I can post progress photos, I’ll be on to the next thing and my attention and enthusiasm will be on that, not on whatever I’m working on now.

I will note that I’m working on some 3D-rendered surface designs, though, a couple of apocalyptic environmental pieces. Once the designs are fixed up, I’ll ship them off for printing, then stitch on the resulting fabric.


Sometimes I spend days trying to get something just right and it goes to pot. Here I was trying to do a fluid simulation to depict an oil well. Yep. Things weren’t going well that day. Fortunately, I save versions as I work. I was able to go back a version or two and rescue things.


I also had the great idea of creating a mountain of rendered garbage for the scene’s background. The result did look like garbage, but more in the metaphorical sense. The texture I have on the garbage bags makes them look more like laundry detergent pods or a nasty variety of candy, and the bag arrangement looks more like a stone wall than a mountain. Okay. Part of art, writing, and many other endeavors is fearlessly trying stuff and being willing to admit when it isn’t working out.

I’ve spent hours either making or casting about for 3D models for my scenes. Here’s a model I ended up making, one of those ubiquitous red plastic cups:


Hmm. Maybe should have added a few more vertices to smooth it out. Anyhow, good enough for the job at hand. I could have bought a model – here’s a nice one for $19 – but it wasn’t that hard to make and didn’t need to be too precise for the scene I was building.

There are many, many sources of 3D models these days, some free and some for coin. One such source is the Daz3D site. They particularly specialize in models of humans and accessories. Now and then they offer freebies. A couple of months ago, when they were offering something gruesome like a haunted asylum or zombies (maybe it was zombies haunting an asylum?) I asked my ten-year-old son whether we needed such models. He took a look at the gloom and gruesomeness in the ad and bellowed “Oh HECK YEAH!” He could think of jillions of occasions when he might personally need 3D models of zombies or an asylum, and that wasn’t even taking into account my own needs. Really, is there any occasion for which zombie or spooky asylum imagery aren’t appropriate?

I duly registered with Daz, obtained the freebies, and filed them away on my hard drive. Strangely enough, our need for zombies and asylums wasn’t as great as we thought, so they haven’t yet been used.

Since then, though, Daz and I have become great friends. I say this because they send me an email every day or so, which is what good pen pals do. Usually the letter is filled with colorful and, dare I say it, fetishistic imagery. The subject lines are things like “BOGO is a Go-Go” and “It’s a Zevtastic Weekend”

Here are some samples:


Hot damn. Everybody knows how much I care about fashion. Sea vehicles, too.



Not sure I want to know what the related fantasy items are.



Huh. I’ve never seen anything like that at the hardware store. Maybe I was too focussed on stuff like caulk and bolts.



You know, I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not in the core part of their target market. Members of their target market are probably more the sort who like to gaze at breasts.



Bleh. Nope nope nope. Don’t want to know. Seriously. I’m not joking. I don’t want to know what people are doing with this model, particularly the way it’s dressed and posed. I’m a mom. I even get skeeved out by boy bands. Justin Bieber naked? Bleh. Get thee hence, Satan. Don’t want to see the buttocks of anyone younger than me unless they need a diaper change.



Wait. The rest of the ads weren’t already freaky?



No idea. More breast imagery, though. The outfit looks uncomfortable – the strap across the chest, and what if you need to use the restroom? – but I guess 3D models don’t care.



She looks annoyed. Maybe the 3D models do care about wearing freaky costumes. Or maybe the ears are uncomfortable.

I’ve considered unsubscribing from Daz’s emails, but I never know when they’ll offer something I need. Also, I’ll reluctantly admit that I’ve begun to find them entertaining. I never know what they’re going to send next, and I can only speculate that the young men who form their target audience eagerly await each email and find it very, um, stimulating.

Meanwhile, summer. Outings. Camps. Play dates.

At the beginning of the summer, I drug the boy down to Legoland. I like going to Legoland. My kid doesn’t, or at least not as much as he used to, but he endures it for my sake. I have to have a child to visit Legoland; adults aren’t allowed to visit by themselves.

I took these photos with my hand-me-down iPhone, thinking that I should pare down the amount of stuff I carried on the trip. I wish I’d taken a decent SLR along. There was lint and dust under the iPhone’s lens. Cleaning it out will require taking the phone apart. I can remove artifacts with Photoshop, but it gets to be a pain. Kind of a waste of time to remove something that shouldn’t have been there to begin with.


Legoland. Is there a more perfect amusement park on earth? I don’t think so.



I love every bit of it. The giant models of buildings in Miniland …



… the Star Wars exhibit. Okay. I’m not into Lego Friends, but I guess I can’t blame the Lego company for their pink-burqaed, cynically capitalist attempt to lure in young females.



You know that windmill you drive by when you’re going through Carlsbad? That’s the hotel we stayed at. The interior of the windmill is sad. There’s a massive vaulted space which should feel airy, but somehow it contrives to feel depressing and outdated. Just off to the side there’s a TGI Fridays which is accessed through a door in the windmill, a door which slams uncontrollably and loudly enough to rupture one’s eardrums. The experience pretty much destroyed every fantasy I had about windmills.



Here’s the view from our hotel room. Gorgeous! Pipes. A wall. Wires draped here and there. That must be the deluxe courtyard view touted on the reservation website.

Well, I guess this is what happens when you don’t cough up the $400+/night to stay at the Legoland Hotel during the height of the season.



Another trip, just for the day, up to the Musée Mecanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The place is so cool. Tons of old coin-operated mechanical arcade machines. One can have a lot of fun on $5-10.



Plaque outside the building. It has a decidedly grotty, impromptu look about it, as though a passerby stuck it up with an entire tube of adhesive. I imagine Ann and Sam aren’t with us anymore – not too many people reach their 70th anniversaries – but their plaque lives on.



Laffing Sal. I believe one of her twin sisters lives in Santa Cruz.



Good. Guess that takes care of sex ed.



Poor fellow. He has a skin condition. Hope he’s not on meth.



Another case of substance abuse, perhaps strong drink?



I didn’t look at this Nickelodeon reel. I had a strong suspicion that it would depict something unpleasant. Dishwashing or toilet scrubbing, maybe. Putting up storm windows. Other things married women wish to avoid. To heck with all that stuff.



While up at the wharf, I made my family visit the Rainforest Cafe. I was curious. I’m glad we did it. Now we never have to go again.

Seriously, if you enjoy dim lights, fairly expensive food which aspires to be more than it is, and animatronic animals which make jackhammer-level racket every so often, this is a great place. Otherwise, perhaps not so much. The waitstaff were pleasant enough, though. Can’t blame them for the fact it’s a tourist trap.


They do hand out rather nice little paper hats. I need a bio photo for some website or other. Maybe I should send this.



Also hauled the boy and one of his friends up to the Adventure Playground in Berkeley this summer. Think “Home Depot meets Lord of the Flies”. I’m kidding. It’s a great place, actually, where kids can earn the right to use tools and woodworking materials to build their own creations. The staff there go to great pains to make sure the kids have enough freedom to learn and enjoy themselves while keeping the experience safe.



One of the kid-built play structures, formed from salvaged materials.



Inside one of the structures. Spooky-cheerful.



Another day, taking the dogs out for a walk beside a lake, because I’m an idiot.



I thought it would do the dog we recently adopted, the white furball in the photo above, some good to get out. Go someplace in the car other than the vet’s, get some fresh air, see some new things.

Alas, he whined pitifully all the way to the lake and most of the way back. Ryan the weiner-basset didn’t whine, but he did slobber all over the front window and pass gas in my face during the drive. Neither dog particularly wanted the (plain) hamburgers we bought them, saving them until they were home again. Too excited, I guess.

Both of them were brats at the park, pulling on their leashes like crazy and barking at other dogs. At least they had the sense to not try that with the geese. Ryan seemed to tell Jake “Be cool, man. Be quiet and don’t look ‘em in the eye.”

Ah, well. Maybe it’s like dealing with kids. You have to take some chances and work with them a little before things get better.



A disguise for every occasion? Yes, please! I particularly appreciate the lack of gender discrimination. I might want a mustache to supplement the one I’m already growing. One never knows.

Only 4 1/2 weeks of summer left. It’s palpably trickling away. Time to get the boy out for more experiences while he isn’t old enough to be ashamed of being seen with his mom, and get another quilt design or two ready to go.

Meet Jake

Thursday, May 7th, 2015


This is Jake, the newest addition to our household. He was a neighbor’s dog.


Things Jake likes #1: hitting us up for food, particularly if meat is involved.

I’m not sure how we ended up with him, other than he and our existing dog, Ryan, may have had a conspiracy. Jakey stayed with us on an emergency basis several months ago and Ryan took a shine to him. They played like little furry madmen. When the neighbor retrieved him after a week, we figured that was that and said our goodbyes.


Things Jake likes #2: napping.

Jake and Ryan weren’t okay with this. Jake would shove his face under the neighbor’s fence gate and howl when we went outside, or escape and come scratch on our door. When that wasn’t going on, Ryan would insistently try to lead us over to Jake’s house. The dogs wore both us and the neighbor down. In the weeks and months that followed, the two of them had many play dates together and would sulk when they were apart. “Jake’s hiding under the bed,” the neighbor would report, “do you mind if he comes over?” Ryan would look at us like puppy murderers when we took Jake home after a play session.


Things Jake likes #3: play-fighting with Ryan.

It was pretty clear that, at least in his mind, Ryan had adopted Jake. One day the neighbor walked Jake over and formalized it. The neighbor needed to move and wasn’t going to be able to have a dog for awhile.


Time for more napping.

Jake and Ryan are now spending their days together doing happy dog things like passing gas, napping, hunting for rats, digging, and going for walks. They’re buddies. We weren’t planning on getting another dog, particularly one whose yaps are weapons of eardrum destruction, but sometimes one needs to accept love when it comes. Not all good things in life are planned.


Getting cuddles from a human


Aaaand … more play fighting


Time for another nap


More fighting, this time by my work table while I was foolishly attempting to work.


Tidy dirt pile? Who needs that?



 Treat time, which is always a big hit with dogs.


Fight time.


Nap time. Do you see a pattern here? Naps, fights and walks with snacks in between.


End-of-week “doggie soup”, made from the remains of a CostCo roast chicken and whatever veggies are okay for dogs


Nap time.


Beg for food time.


Fight time.


Napping with his bear.

We hope he’ll be happy here. We’ll try our best to give him a good home.



Forty Years of the Utah Teapot

Thursday, March 5th, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, after dropping my kid off at a Laser Quest birthday party, I ventured across the street to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. It’s a marvelous place, the Computer History Museum, and if you’re ever in the Bay Area and have any interest in computers, I urge you to visit. Their exhibits span the range from slide rules to robots to modern day computers, with many pit stops in diverse topics such as punch cards for weaving Jacquard, guided missile systems, and video games. While other museums may have ‘a’ something-or-other, such as ‘a’ key punch machine or ‘a’ Babbage Difference Engine sandwiched in with other science exhibits, the Computer History Museum has a broad range of ‘a’s and ‘the’s. As in “Wow. That’s the original Pong Machine that Al Alcorn stuck in a bar in Sunnyvale, complete with crooked name plate.” Or: “Wow. That’s a chunk from the ENIAC.” Plus there’s a neat gift shop with nerdy stuff.

One of the museum’s ‘the’s is the Utah teapot, the one digitized by Martin Newell back in 1975. Holy cow! Has it really been forty years? Well now, that’s something worth celebrating, so I did. I came home and whipped up the graphic above, which is based on Martin Newell’s original pencil sketch of dimensions and a rendering of the resulting model. Oh, and I may have used some artistic license as far as aging the paper and so forth; I wanted to call to mind da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. In reality, Newell’s sketch is very tidy, executed on decidedly unstained quadrille paper.

Happy birthday, Utah teapot, and a big thank you to Martin Newell for sharing his work with the world.

The Utah teapot is something of an icon to those who work with 3D graphics. As the story goes, back in 1975 when Martin Newell was “a member of the pioneering graphics program at the University of Utah”, he needed a “moderately simple mathematical model of a familiar object for his work.” He was having tea with his wife at the time, and she suggested modeling their tea service. He did and, in addition to using the teapot for his own work, shared the data set with others. The rest, as they say, is history.


Since then, the teapot has become a beloved icon to many of us and something of an inside joke. It has appeared everywhere from test renders to papers submitted to SIGGRAPH to films such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Even Homer J. Simpson has had his teapot moment! Not bad for a humble white teapot purchased from a department store.


The teapot is of course not Newell’s only accomplishment, just the one most familiar to many of us. He’s had a long and productive career. However, it’s a bittersweet fact of life that we don’t get to choose the manner in which we’re remembered, if we’re remembered at all. Per Tom Sito’s Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation, “When Newell spoke at a SIGGRAPH conference in the late 1980s, he jokingly confessed that of all the things he has done for the world of 3D graphics, the only thing he will be remembered for is ‘that damned teapot’”.

I think I could make my peace with that.

Gestures of kindness

Sunday, December 21st, 2014



There’s the card I’m sending out this year; click if you wish to see a larger version. I confess that I used the design as a prototype for a quilt I may make. Of course, it was totally horrid and torturous having to buy (and later consume) candy for “research” purposes. And yes, that’s my weiner-basset up there driving the sleigh pulled by squirrels.

Jezebel has a “best/worst Christmas gift ever” article. It’s funny in a wincing “Oh lord; that could have been me cluelessly giving someone that shell-filled Mason jar atop a candlestick” way. Yes, it’s true. I see myself on the “inflicting” side of the gift-giving process. My husband very politely refuses to believe that I’ve ever been an awful gift-giver – or at least, he pretends to believe that, bless him. But it’s true. Here’s a partial list of the bad gifts I’ve given over the years, at least the ones I can remember. Heaven only knows what else I’ve done that’s lost to the winds of time. Prepare to wince.

To my brother:

  • The same book on motorcycles (or was it guitars?), two years in a row. Never mind how I managed that – it takes a special type of genius. To his credit, he was gracious about it and just sort of didn’t mention it to me. It’s probably good that I saw the twin books on his shelf, though, or he might have received the same book a third year.
  • A hand-painted T-shirt featuring him as one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which might not have been so bad if the tail I rendered hadn’t resembled a penis. I understand that this was a source of great merriment and humiliation when he wore it to school.

To my sister:

  • A cosmetics organizer she’d asked for, only I sent it in January or February.
  • The first quilt I ever made, which was admittedly of poor quality. On a later visit, I found it out in the mud and feces-caked front yard with the dogs. That’s how good it was.

To my stepmother:

  • Everything I ever gave her, as detailed in a manifesto of gifts she wished to not receive from me. In her defense, the list included cookware. Yes, I have been guilty of giving a mother-figure cookware, because that’s what all women naturally want, to be classified in terms of domestic tasks that they don’t even enjoy.


A lace snowflake. If you get on my Christmas list and you aren’t careful, you may receive one.

To various relatives:

  • A variety of awful T-shirts and sweatshirts which I made, including a black sweatshirt festooned with sparkly fall leaves. The latter might not have been so bad for someone in her forties, but was a bad call for my teenaged niece-by-marriage. Plus it was a couple of sizes too small. Bless the girl for restraining herself to a small glare. I hope that wherever she is now, she receives major karma points for graciousness in the face of disappointment.
  • Homemade fruitcake. “It made the entire package reek of alcohol,” my stepmother complained.
  • Christmas ornaments which I had painted. “You father hates Santa Claus,” my stepmother informed me after the fact. Also: “They were so heavy that they fell off the tree.” I’m sure they broke as well, perhaps even by accident.
  • Lace snowflake ornaments made on my embroidery machine. Only one person expressed enthusiasm over these snowflakes. I assume the rest were objects of puzzlement.


Hand-painted ornaments, of the type I used to make and give out. Some folks like receiving these – and by “some folks”, I mean no one that I know.

To my husband:

  • Silk boxer shorts and a T-shirt featuring a Krispy Kreme doughnut rendered as a delivery boy. My husband isn’t a lounging sort of fellow, nor does he have a particular fondness for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I’ve since liberated the T-shirt from his drawer and wear it for workouts. Probably I should do the same with the boxer shorts.

To my son:

  • Various books on topics he could care less about, such as whittling wood and making shadow puppets.

To my mother:

  • Books which I self-righteously thought she should read, knick-knacks she had no need or room for, and a down-filled throw. The latter might not have been so bad if she wasn’t allergic to feathers.

To my step-great-great aunt, who was failing with dementia:

  • A malachite worry stone. “She dropped it and it broke,” my stepmother sniffed when I asked if the gift had been enjoyed. (These days my default gift to people who are dying or who have dementia is an album of photos. I figure if nothing else, they can look at the colorful photos and wonder who the people are.)

For these sins, I apologize. There was a decade or so there where I was batting a thousand with the homemade and otherwise “thoughtful” gifts. Hopefully I’ve upped my game a bit since then, though. My gift-giving list is mostly pared down to my husband and son, plus the one person who made the mistake of enthusing over the lace snowflakes. (Unless she says otherwise, she will receive a relentless barrage of lace snowflakes in her Christmas card for the next twenty years.) These days I stick to lists which people have given me, maybe send a treat hamper off to my in-laws and a donation to the food bank, and that’s it. If one can’t be clever and thoughtful, being non-clever and thoughtful is the next best thing. Give people joy if you can, play with the family dog, and bake cookies.


Awesome Cthulu ornament from my brother-in-law

Have I also received odd gifts or had occasions used as emotional weapons? Sure. Mostly, though, I’ve been treated with great kindness. There’s the brother-in-law who sent me the molecular gastronomy kit and the Cthulu ornament, both of which I dearly love. There’s the father-in-law who painstakingly picked out quilting fabric to ship me, and the mother-in-law who would faithfully send me the latest Maeve Binchy novel, back when Binchy was alive. One sister-in-law bakes and ships Christmas cookies each year, and the other sister-in-law sends some munchie she knows we’ll enjoy. They’re all good people, which I guess isn’t surprising considering that they’re related to my husband.

There are also my stepmother’s relatives. For all that she and I have a poisoned relationship, her relatives were some of the warmest people I’ve ever known. Her sister, a lovely young woman, would take me horseback riding. Her brother, who wasn’t financially affluent, would nevertheless give me an exquisite bottle of perfume for Christmas. Her parents did whatever they could to make a ragged nine-year-old child feel welcome, including picking out a special Star Trek Spock doll or making one of those grotesque/wonderful birthday cakes which features a Barbie doll impaled in a half-sphere of frosted cake-skirt.


Crafting books, a gift from my step-grandmother many years ago

Even though she’s now deceased, I frequently have reason to offer thanks to my step-grandmother. Because of her, I was supplied with books and supplies for knitting, jewelry-making, and denim decorating, and worlds opened. It’s because of her that I’ve had the guts to pursue my own creative vision. I can’t count the number of times she provided me with a thoughtful kit of some type or other, replete with sewing supplies or nail polish or little girl jewelry. I still jab my needles in a tomato/strawberry pincushion which appeared under the tree one year and, although it perhaps isn’t as dignified, our dog eats from the remains of a gigantic Estee Lauder makeup palette/tray. I wish I had better expressed my gratitude to both her and my step-grandfather before they passed away.


A beloved pincushion, a reminder of kindness

Maybe that’s the way it goes sometimes, though. If we’re lucky, we get the consciousness and decency to properly thank people while they’re still around. Otherwise, maybe kindness is a pay-it-forward sort of thing, and many of us end up giving thanks for past kindnesses by taking a turn at giving ourselves. In my case, though, it appears that I should confine myself more to the toy and canned food drive end of things and take a pass on the handcrafted shirts and mason jar candlesticks!

Happy holidays – and I do mean that in an all-inclusive way, including holidays which aren’t part of my tradition but which matter to others – to all.

PIQF, briefly

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

My artwork The Thief was at IQF Houston. Did you see it? Yeah, neither did I. Didn’t go to Houston. Too bad; looks like there were a ton of great exhibits. It’s just a big darned deal getting out of here and traveling, what with having a kid and all. (Not that I resent having a kid; we were happy to have him and they don’t stay kids for long.)

I did get to PIQF a couple of weeks back. It’s only 6.1 miles from my house, so I’d pretty much have to look for reasons NOT to go. The show seemed more enjoyable to me this year, perhaps because I was surveying each piece for lessons learned rather than whether I “liked” it. For example: persevere, work with the materials one has at hand, experiment with motifs, use an existing technique in a different medium.



I was particularly touched by Jackie Houston’s The Journey. Based on an illustration by Tom Feelings, it depicts a “black man with chains and the body of a ship that’s carrying his people (The Human Cargo) across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.” She’s also rendered masks in the water, which “represent the millions of lost souls that were discarded into the ocean”.

I’d love to see this work travel, so that others might learn about this hideous part of American history and reflect on its ramifications. For example, when I attended school in Armpit, TX way back when, the business of people being chained down the whole way and being tossed overboard if they were dead or ill wasn’t covered. Stuff was glossed over. It was all “They came across via ships and they were slaves, but now they’re free. Things are great now, right?” Mmmm. No. Maybe not so much.



There was Gloria Loughman’s work, Fern Pool. She and her work are a treat. I heard someone remark that some of the leaves resemble marijuana. Yes, it’s true: both marijuana leaves and the fronds in the quilt are green.



Marilyn Belford’s Perseus Saving Andromeda. Per her artist’s statement, she uses “commercial fabric, fusible web and thread sketching … No inks or paints applied”. I’ve long enjoyed this series, and it’s always a treat to see a new addition. One can see others in the series on her website; I do hope there’ll be a traveling exhibition of all of them at some point.



Marilyn Badger’s Exuberance. Traditional designs aren’t my thing, but the quality of Badger’s workmanship is remarkable. One can’t fail to be touched by the story behind the quilt, too; she did its hand stitching while taking care of her husband during his final illness. He must have found comfort in this ritual: “He critiqued every addition and fondly gave it a big thumbs up and declared it his favorite. Before he passed away, he named it.” After grieving for six months, she forced herself to resume work, and completed the quilt after an additional six months.

I could do an entire post on just the work I saw at PIQF. It would take hours of photo cropping and editing, though, so perhaps I won’t.

Work on Odalesque is progressing. I had the “yips” about getting started on the stitching, so I had to start a couple of warm up projects first. It’s similar to blank page syndrome, I guess, an anxiety which interferes with getting started. Noodling away at something less exalted seems to make it go away. I’ll have to post the warm up projects another day, or it’ll take me another week to get this blog entry out.


The screen has taken some thought. Now, I know some folks might say “just stipple over it” or “echo stitch” or some such, but that isn’t my way. Look at different people’s work and you’ll see different stitching philosophies. Maria Elkins, for example, may use a naturalistic contour approach on skin, but reference traditional decorative quilting motifs elsewhere in the same image. Others – Susan Shie comes to mind – seem to find the stitching of secondary interest, mostly a way to hold layers together and showcase a surface design, so they’ll stick to stippling or do a loose wave over the surface of the quilt. There’s a range of styles in between.

Mine is more of a naturalistic philosophy. I could care less about replicating a traditional motif such as a feather in my own work unless there’s a reason to do so in the context of the image. I’m primarily interested in using the stitching to make the image more convincing or compelling. I have yet to see a stippled texture on any real life object, unless maybe it’s the crenellations on brains, so stippling isn’t my go-to method. (Braaaainnnssss.)

In the case of this screen in Odalesque, I’m guessing that in real life, its frame would be made of laquered wood. It wouldn’t have much discernible texture at all. Therefore, I’ll see if I can stitch a subtle “noise”. First, though, I have to get through stitching the rice paper in the screen’s white background, which I’ve decided should be graced with roughly parallel but somewhat irregular lines. Yeah. That’s been fun. After one false start, ripping out a whole bunch of stitches, and starting over, I’m about four hours and thirty square inches in. Only mumblety mumble hours more to go on the rice paper. Then, you know, everything else. Do I have a plan for stitching things like the vase and the dog’s fur? Um. No. Not yet.


I finally opened up my wallet and bought a set of magnifying lenses for my machine. Oh my. I had no idea. I wish I’d bought them years ago. They’re seriously great. No more hunching over the machine. Less eye strain. They’ve helped my stitching become more accurate and confident, and I’ve become more relaxed as a result.

The down side? The price. $60 for a set of three from Bernina. Still totally worth it, but since I’m a skinflint who loathes debt, that means $60 of something else had to go. No new jeans to replace the ones which sprung crotch holes, and this morning I reached for a block of homemade soap rather than adding soap to the shopping list. (Have I written about making soap because I couldn’t bear to throw out the bacon grease I’d saved up? Ah, well. That’s an adventure for another time. Yes, as a matter of fact, my strange ways did used to make me a laughing stock with my family.)

Another caveat: when I’m trying to judge whether my stitching is parallel to something an inch or so out, side-to-side distortion makes that difficult. However, I’m trying something else to resolve that:



That’s right. Modeler’s tape. It’s designed to be used on plastic car and airplane models, to go on painted surfaces and peel right off. My husband had a roll of it in a drawer, which he kindly donated to the cause of not hearing me whine, not that he’d be rude enough to put it like that.

Oh my. This is another thing I wish I’d tried years ago. No more blasted chalk or “disappearing ink” marks which I maybe can’t get out later! I’m not going to say which of my portraits have this problem, but yeah, there are at least a couple where residual orange chalk marks can be discerned here and there, and that was AFTER being rinsed over and over again. Now, I’m sure there could be a down side if one got a bad batch of tape or left it on one’s fabric long enough for the adhesive to come off, but so far I’m ecstatic. If I can find tape which will let me lay down curved lines, I’ll be even happier.

Alas, there’s about to be another break in the action due to jury duty. Now, I don’t resent jury duty particularly; I regard it as part of the price one pays for living in a civilized society, just as one pays taxes. It’s certainly the case that if I was in a situation which required a jury, I’d want a group of people to come in with good attitudes and listen to evidence.

At the same time, I dread it. Potentially day after day of having to interact with other people, which is unbelievably draining. Being instructed to believe whatever evidence is presented, rather than puzzling away at information myself. Given my career in Physics and naturally high degree of skepticism, this is like telling a labrador to not jump in water. And oh, lord. Some of the matters are pretty darned serious. As in, a victim badly harmed or sending a person to prison. The time before last, I was briefly seated on a jury for a case in which someone had been killed.

Finally, I have this creature called a child. I guess the assumption in American society is that one doesn’t need to hang out and take care of a child, that there’s daycare or grandparents eager to leap in and babysit or something. Yeah, not so much. I actually do things like pick my kid up after school and harangue him about homework, and I don’t leave him locked up in the house by himself for hours on end. However, in the eyes of the judicial system, that isn’t an acceptable reason to miss jury duty. If anything, I guess I need to be grateful that I wasn’t summoned during the summer while he was on vacation, as happened once. That was a nightmare.

Alright. Crossing fingers. Hoping to get through this period gracefully and without neglecting my kid. Artwork? Yeah, unfortunately that’ll have to be tabled until after jury duty.

Think a kind thought for Sabrina.

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

I feel for Sabrina Allen, the young lady from Texas who was kidnapped by her mother twelve years ago. I hope life will smooth out for her. I hope that both she and her father will find inner peace.

These cases rattle me a bit. I always feel a surge of sorrow for the kid. I also empathize with the parent searching for the lost child, now that I have my own child and can relate to that fear.

My own experience lasted maybe a couple of months. Not so bad compared to what Sabrina Allen and many others go through. Even a mild case leaves scars, though. Imagine what she is going through. The confusion. The pain. The anger.

In my case there were two incidents, the first occurring when my mother left my father when I was seven or eight. An outsider might conclude that leaving was long overdue, coming on the heels of years of psychosis, brutal anger, and violence. There must have been many good, loving moments in my early childhood, but I mostly don’t remember them. What I do remember is huddling under the covers in my bedroom, listening to shouts and bangs and the thud of fist against flesh, and praying fervently for God to make it stop. He didn’t. Coming home from school and finding my mother’s self-aborted fetus in the refrigerator. Her trying to jump out of a moving car while I pressed on her door lock for all I was worth. Marital strife which would conclude with her walking down to the graveyard, lying down with the dead, and my father wearily trying to get her to come home. Police called to a hotel room. Fights and fights and fights. Coming home from school to find her gone, taken away to the state hospital for a ninety day involuntary commitment.

That last incident must have awakened a certain degree of cunning. My mother was not stupid; she was “merely” profoundly mentally ill. She had – has – the type of illness which makes people deeply suspicious of those who tell them that they’re ill, and she was determined to never be institutionalized again. I suppose she must have been careful the day we dropped my father off at the university where he was taking classes. Certainly I suspected nothing. Smiles, kiss goodbye, I’ll pick you up later. That kind of thing. He blithely went off to class. We began the long drive to the next state.

“We’re going to see grandma and grandpa,” she told me. I was just barely bright enough to see that this didn’t jibe with our picking Dad up after school. Shouldn’t he be coming with us? “Oh, he’ll be up later,” my mother lied. Or perhaps it wasn’t a lie; perhaps she knew that he would indeed be up later, just not with her cooperation. This effectively stranded my father at a university in a rural area not exactly teeming with transportation options.

We drove and drove to one of her parents’ houses, which was approximately in the middle of nowhere on a mountain in Oklahoma. Godforsaken. No plumbing, no electricity, foul outhouse by the side of a barn, that kind of thing. It was the sort of place one expects to see naked children chasing chickens in the dirt. Seeing one snake devour another out by the outhouse qualified as riveting entertainment.

I was playing in the dirt when my father pulled up in a rental car a few days later. I was over the moon, but I didn’t get to hug him or really say hello. My grandfather promptly came out with a rifle, pointed it at him, and told him to get off the property. I hated him for that. I was afraid he was going to kill my father. It was terrifying.

I didn’t see my father again until after his visitation rights had been worked out. I have no idea how long that took, whether it was weeks or months. (This is the type of thing I think of when NSA surveillance of citizens comes up. There are some holes in my personal history that I would appreciate having cleared up.)

After that, although my entire world had been ripped apart, there was at least a routine. My mother’s parents had another house, a tiny frame affair in a suburb of Dallas. I was enrolled in school there and got to see my father every other weekend. On Saturday mornings I’d have my overnight bag packed early and be wiggling impatiently by the door, waiting for his car to pull up. It was a routine. Not a smooth life, what with my mother’s work and dating travails – there was always someone out to kill her, it seemed, or she’d grow paranoid about something else and I’d have to calm her down – but it was at least predictable. School, new friends, seeing my father a couple of times a month. Then my mother decided to shake it up.

I don’t know what brought it on. Maybe nothing at all, given the peculiar machinations of her mind. Or perhaps she was weary of the constraints of the custody agreement and my obvious eagerness to be with my father, or she’d had a blowup with her parents over her dating life.

It was a Friday morning during the spring, perhaps before Easter or spring break. I was excited about the weekend coming up; my father was picking me up the next day. When my mother shook me awake, though, instead of telling me to get ready for school, she told me to hurry up and get in the car. There was no time to get dressed; I was bundled away in the old hand-me-down dress I wore as a nightgown. I don’t think I was even wearing underwear, embarrassing as that memory is.

I protested. Wasn’t I supposed to go to school? Wasn’t Dad going to pick me up the next day? “You’re never going to see your father again,” she responded harshly. It was like a punch to the gut. I was bereft. I cried and whined to the point that if she hadn’t already been insane, she would have been driven there. She didn’t give a damn.

We drove and drove and drove. We went west through El Paso, then into New Mexico and Arizona. As we drove, I reflected that at least I could send my father a postcard. After the Oklahoma incident, he’d tucked some self-addressed, stamped postcards in a pocket in my overnight bag. “If she ever takes you off again,” he’d instructed me, “just put one of these in a mailbox so that I’ll know you’re alright.”

However, in the haste to get on the road – or perhaps because of one of my mother’s machinations – my overnight bag hadn’t made it into the car. I had ample opportunity to torture myself with that fact during the drive and during the coming weeks. If only, if only, if only I hadn’t messed up. If only I’d managed to grab the bag or the postcards. But I hadn’t, and I’d messed up good, and I was never going to get to see my father again. My mother was bitterly happy about the latter.

I don’t think she had a plan beyond getting in the car and driving. I think she very rapidly ran out of money. There was a man or men. In one town we stayed with a stranger for several days. I dwelled on his couch in front of the TV. My mother would disappear into the man’s bedroom at night, telling me “Don’t tell him I’m wearing my nightgown. He thinks these are my normal clothes.” A desperate lie told by a mother whoring herself out and wanting to hide that fact from her young daughter.

Then came the inevitable dawn awakening, the dramatic rush to the car. “We’ve got to get out of here! He said I need to be in a mental hospital,” she hissed, “He’s going to have me committed!” I’ve since concluded that this might have been a very tidy way for the man to get us, a couple of moochers, to move on. It worked.

So much of that time is a blur. Was there one new school or two or three? There is no one to ask. I remember fingernail inspections, square dancing, and a handkerchief requirement at one school. I also remember vomiting, not wanting to eat, and begging for my father.

Eventually we landed at her sister’s trailer house in Arizona. There was an uncle by marriage, a kind man who had dark hair like my father. He saw me admiring his slide rule, which was like the slide rule my father had given me, a device I used for cheating during multiplication tests. I felt incredibly homesick. My uncle gave me the slide rule. It was a sympathetic gesture during an especially low point in my life, and I hope that he’s been repaid in kind.

I don’t know how it all came to an end. I dimly remember mutterings about a phone call from my mother’s parents and there being a warrant. I can still see my mother glaring at me in brittle anger, biting out “The child wants to see its father.”

I did get to see my father again, thankfully, and was living with him and his new wife by the summer after the fourth grade. It wasn’t a formal arrangement at first, just my going to visit for the summer and never quite going back to my mother. Eventually she granted him custody. There was certainly an element of convenience for her, but I also think that, despite being mentally ill, she was trying to do the right thing. She did love me. In the rational part of her brain, she knew I wanted to be with my father, knew that he could give me access to opportunities that she couldn’t. Or perhaps, as my stepmother liked to put it, she was simply “irresponsible and didn’t want to have to take care of me.” Either way, it cost her dearly.

There wasn’t a happy ending, despite everyone pretending that there was. I wonder if there ever is. My mother frequently expressed fears that they would “turn (me) against (her)”. Although paranoid and inclined to say such things anyhow, she was not incorrect. I did adore my father and it was clear that my best option for a stable life was living with him and my stepmother. The devil’s bargain, which was unvoiced but rapidly became clear, was that to gain their approval, I would have to hide any sign that I loved my mother or wanted to see her. I did this. I turned my back on my mother. It hurt and I felt traitorous, but I did it. I fully bought into the tacit and damaging “your mother is dirt and your stepmother is your new mother” game.

My father did his level best to minimize my contact with her. I think he was partly motivated by a very real knowledge of her capacity to wreak havoc, but he was also extremely angry and, I believe, vengeful. She did not know our address or phone number, and could contact me only via a mailbox in another town. When I received mail from her, they would read it or have nasty comments like “What crazy thing is she up to now?” From time to time my father would get an evil smile and say things like “I’m not saying that you never have to see her again after you turn 18, but if you choose not to, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

On one occasion, when I hadn’t seen her for months, a visitation was arranged. The drop off point was a motel. She was perhaps five minutes late. My father chose to interpret that as her not having shown up, and gleefully sped off. In the rearview mirror I could see her pulling up. It hurt. I had wanted to see her, but felt I had to pretend that I didn’t. I was torn.

When I did see her, there would be an interrogation afterwards, mostly from my stepmother. There were nasty derisive comments about what we’d done. I wasn’t smart enough to avoid or deflect them. “When you’ve been to see your mother, I can smell her on you,” my stepmother once said, her nose wrinkling, “I can smell her personal odor on you.” Suddenly something which should have been nice, going to see my mother, became dirty and shameful.

Life goes on. At some point years down the road, I suppose one gains compassion for everyone involved: the profoundly mentally ill young woman who wasn’t capable of managing her own thoughts, much less marriage or being a mother; the man who tried to live up to his responsibilities as a parent but didn’t throttle back his rage and bitterness; the woman who married into a dysfunctional situation, was thrust into far too much responsibility, and came to hate her stepdaughter.

One gains compassion, but one also loses trust. One learns that the people one should be able to depend on most in the world can’t be trusted to put aside their anger and do the right thing for a child. Or perhaps they will do the right thing, but only to a point. “Honor thy father and thy mother – at least, until it becomes inconvenient for the custodial parent.” As the years go by and one silently observes the unchanging behavior of the main players, sees their treatment trickle down to one’s own child, the distrust solidifies into a wall. Perhaps one is damaged in other ways as well. The kind of anger which leads to kidnappings and using one’s child as a pawn is corrosive for everyone involved.

Think a kind thought for Sabrina Allen. Whatever the specifics of her own story, that which she thought was true has become a lie. Her life has been turned upside down.

Her father, for his part, has had one form of agony and uncertainty removed, and is now embarking on the difficult journey of trying to build a relationship with a daughter who regards him as a stranger.

May they both find peace.