Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLVI: Cunning Plans

I haven’t written much here in the past year. If you’re wondering how the pandemic is going when you’re effectively locked down with a child with Down syndrome who has immune system issues, well my post history is a pretty good litmus test.

Alice had watched a little TV this afternoon. I called her up for a dinner that was a little on the late side and we sat down for some baked potatoes and mashed cauliflower. Alice excused herself to go take a shower and like many evenings, took her own sweet time. After finishing up, she came down close to her bed time with wet hair. Our standard is dry hair, so I sent her back up to do that properly and to finish her evening ablutions. Alice, of course, immediately angled for more TV time.

Almost 20 years ago, I heard an interview on NPR with a professional negotiator. The interviewer asked him who was the toughest type of person to negotiate with. Without hesitation, he said kids because they have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain in a negotiation. Alice was clearly working from this playbook because she immediately went straight to a hard demand. I told her that it was getting past her bed time and she hadn’t done her jobs, so no. “Daddy, I go upstairs and dry my hair and come back and watch TV.” E told her that it was getting late and reinforced that she should get ready for bed. She headed off and gave us another parting demand for TV. I turned to E and said, “I don’t think you’ve thought your cunning plan all the way through.”

7 years ago, or so, we had an issue with Alice sneaking down in the middle of the night and watching TV, so I put the entertainment system on a IOT switch that lets E and I turn it on and off from a phone or tablet. While Alice was drying her hair, I switched off the power. Alice finished drying her hair, came back down and went to the basement to watch TV. Again, I turned to E, “Cue the yelling in 5, 4, 3…” “DADDY! YOU TURN THE POWER ON NOW!” I reiterated to E, “Again, I don’t think you’ve thought your cunning plan all the way through.” Alice came storming upstairs. “Daddy! Your job is to give me your phone and I turn the power back on and watch TV.” And this is one thimg about this that is so refreshing with her. She tells you exactly what she’s planning on doing ahead of time. Bold move. I looked her straight in the eyes and said simple, “no”, locked my phone and put on it’s charger.

At that moment, the dryer signal went off because we had washed Alice’s bedding and he comforter needed another round. I got up to go get it. Alice darted in and picked up my phone and immediately started punching in numbers.

She was just mashing numbers at random and at warp speed. I just started laughing because it was absolutely comical. Honestly, there was no way that she was going to infinite monkey my unlock code, but it wasn’t stopping her from trying. I kept laughing to myself then I started saying in my best neutral computer voice, “access denied. Access denied. Access denied.” After I was done amusing myself, I walked up to her and handed her the comforter and put my phone back on the charger.


Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLV: Tools

A couple weeks ago, Alice wanted “Daddy/Daughter Time” and I had planned to do some work in the shop. I asked her if she wanted to do that and she agreed. It went well, so we did it again today.

Safety first: Alice is wearing glasses and has ear plugs. I had to trim the plugs to fit her smaller ear canals, but good enough.

So what can you do? For the first try, I had her doing some basic things: helping mark pieces that I cut, holding things that can be tricky with only two hands, helping clean up (which she really enjoys). For the second try, we did all of that and a little more. I had her put glue on some parts and then taught her to pin them together with a nail gun. Nail gun? Yes. The most important thing that led me to make that decision was her ability to listen and follow directions. For example, I made a rule that whenever I did a cut on the table saw, she had to keep her hands behind her back. So with the nail gun, there is a two-step safety. The trigger won’t work unless the nose switch is pressed down. So I showed her how to hold the gun with a finger nowhere near the trigger and to only put your finger on the trigger when you were ready. I shot in several nails so she could hear the noise and wouldn’t flinch. That took several tries. Then we did a hand-over-hand where I held onto the body of the gun and controlled the nose safety and let her pull the trigger. Perfectly safe.

What really makes this work is that she has some interest and she’s motivated. So in order to do this, it involves thought as to what you’re willing to try while gauging the risk. Then comes the clear communication and setting expectations at each step in the way.

This is a list of things that Alice has done with me:

  • Sanding
  • Marking lines
  • Turning on the shop vac for the router dust collection
  • Sweeping up sawdust
  • Applying glue
  • Tightening clamps
  • Holding pieces

Today, Alice’s patience ran a little thin after a bit today and she told me so, so I transitioned her into going inside and again set expectations so I could go back out and finish up.

In a way, I see the process as being similar to jazz. A song has a particular structure, but once you get going you don’t know if you’re going to follow that structure closely or if it’s going to be improvisation. With safety being an issue, clearly more structure and communication is needed, but if she asks to try something, most of the time the answer is going to be yes.


Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLIV: Two Hands

As I’ve mentioned before, Alice had a stroke when she was born, which has made two-handed tasks super difficult. In the past 4 moths, there has been a new skill that has come on line: Alice is now cutting her own food with a knife and fork, and honestly I couldn’t be more surprised by this.

Here’s why – we’ve tried at various points over the years to help teach her to use two hands to cut her food and failed. It was just frustration for everyone involved. Then out of the blue, Alice decided on her own that she wanted to do this. I don’t know what clicked for her, but she was adamant that was what she wanted to do.

She uses her weak hand to hold the fork straight up and down and then cuts with her good hand. It’s not without its frustrations. Alice needs cues to cut things into smaller pieces so she doesn’t choke, and yes, she’s choked a couple times, but this is still a big milestone. She was clearly motivated and that paid off.

And that has paid off in other places as well. We got a puppy this spring and we’ve been teaching Alice how to train it and how take care of it.

Ignore that her mask dropped below her nose. Yes, we work on that. Instead, look at her hands. She’s using her right hand to adjust tension and is keeping her strong hand as a backup on the leash. She’s clearly very proud of what she’s doing and again, motivation is a big part of this. Way to go!


Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLIII: Pets

When Alice was born, we had 3 pets: a dog and two cats. The pets were all up in years at that point and it was very interesting to see geriatric pets figuring out a newborn. They all did well.

After they passed on, we held off on replacing them because parenting a child with special needs, and then her brother was challenging enough. For the past 6 years we’ve had a couple of fish tanks set up and they’ve been a nice backdrop to our house, but E really wanted to get another dog. They problem is that dogs tend to be very high energy and Alice is not. That’s quite an impedance mismatch in our lives, so we sat on it for a while.

With the pandemic, we decided that this would actually be a good time to manage the responsibilities of a new pet, so E did a ton of research on dog breeds to find one that would be good for us. There is a lot to be said for rescue dogs and under different circumstances, we would have been quite happy to explore them, but we felt that the trends that are present in various breeds would work well for us. We selected the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

We did a fair amount of pre-talk to set expectations with Alice and to prepare her for the realities. I was also a little nervous because it’s been a very long time since I was involved in raising a pup.

This is Melody. She is a very tiny pup with an incredibly sweet disposition. She’s a little shy and a little clingy, but I think that works for us. Alice likes her a lot and enjoys having Melody in her lap.

Puppy sitting in the lap of a young woman with Down syndrome who is decorating a sidewalk with chalk

Alice talks to her a lot and enjoys the time that she spends with her. Generally speaking, Alice is also pretty good about listening to adults with regards to guidance for training her. When Melody gets nippy (as puppies do), Alice is clear about how that’s not OK and offers her something else to chew on instead. Perfect.

And like all things special needs, there are surprises along the way.

A young woman with Down syndrome signs 'r' for a puppy sleeping in front of an iPad

This is Alice sharing her school work with Melody. See Alice’s left hand? She’s signing ‘R’. She was spelling out “F-I-E-L-D T-R-I-P” that’s on her iPad to share that with Melody. Today, she was trying to teach Melody how to spell ‘monkey’. I tried to explain to Alice that dogs can’t sign, but Alice had none of it and kept it up for 20 minutes. It doesn’t hurt, so fine.

Myself, I’m positive about the experience – I’ve had a few nice solid belly laughs from her which more than offset the extra responsibilities of taking care of and training a new pup.

The face of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy in the grass between twos hair legs.

It doesn’t hurt that she’s adorable. I mean: Look. At. That. Face.

What does this hold for the future? I don’t know, but everyone is enjoying this so far.

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy staring out a doorway.

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLII: When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Weird

A Quick Joke

Q. What do you get when you cross a Mafioso with a Dadaist?

A. Someone who makes you an offer you can’t possibly understand.

Alice perseverates on things more than we’d like, and quite honestly it gets draining. One particular thing is that if I go somewhere with her, one of her first questions in the car after I explain what we’re doing is “and come back?” And it’s not enough to pretend like the question was never asked because she will persist until you respond in some way. “Of course we’re coming back later.” Doesn’t work. “What do you think?” Nope. Raised eyebrow with a smirk? Nope. The question just keeps coming.

A few months ago, I just decided to get weird on her. “And come back?” “Nope! We’re going to Wyoming to punch some cows.” This completely derailed her. “Why?” “They know what they did.”

Today was another day like that. I took her bowling, which was a good way to kill an hour. And like clockwork, “And come back?” “No, Alice. Never. We’re going to Norfolk to launch submarines. They need to take care of the aardvark situation in the ocean. The aardvarks swim up pull you down and eat off your arms!” “Yuck!” “They’re the terrors of the deep!” “What about sharks?” “Who said anything about sharks? Aardvarks will pull down an entire boat just to eat the arms off of the people on board. That’s why we need submarines.” “But sharks?” “No! I never said anything about sharks. They leave the aardvarks alone and the aardvarks leave the sharks alone.”

After bowling, Alice asked if we were going to Norway. “No Alice, Norfolk. Aardarks don’t live in the oceans in Norway. They’re in Norfolk.” I explained again. Now she was excited to do. “And mommy and Stuart?” “No, we need to launch the submarines.”


And now you know why I don’t like swimming in ocean. Damn aardvarks.


Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLI: Even More Cooking

Alice now has a personal care assistant (PCA) most afternoons, which is great because I need to work and E is in school, so we need to have the coverage. There are times when that doesn’t always work out, like today. Alice’s PCA called in sick, so I had to cover. It happens. The trick to this is to accept that there’s no way for me to continue with my work and that I need to focus on how to spend the time with Alice. Together we made a list of things to do in the afternoon which included a bunch of cleaning tasks and making dinner. I had a frittata on the menu which I do without a hard and fast recipe. The trick was figuring out how to break it down into tasks that she could do both safely and effectively and the tasks that I would do:

Alice Tasks

  • Grating cheese
  • Cutting up asparagus
  • Beating eggs
  • Mixing eggs and milk
  • Mixing ingredients
  • Pouring ingredients into pan
  • Sprinkling cheese

My Tasks

  • Cutting up onions and garlic
  • Trimming asparagus
  • Cooking vegetables and bacon
  • Cutting up bacon (she could have done this, but it was still hot and it was getting a little late to wait)
  • Putting pan in the oven
  • Timing/removing pan when done

This worked out very well. Grating cheese when you have a stroke-affected hand is hard and takes some time. Alice did a good job. It also gave me time to sweat the onion and garlic.

Cutting up asparagus was a challenge, but I gave her a pair of kitchen scissors and that went smoothly. It helped that she really wanted to do the task.

Beating the eggs and mixing was old hand for her. She was starting to go a little non-linear and needed some minor redirection. The rest was familiar and easy.

Notice how she hides her weaker hand when it isn’t needed? Hmm.

At any rate, with Alice the trick is to set her expectations (we made a list), break tasks into smaller pieces and to have a mix of challenging/easy, and try to make sure that it’s something that’s fun.

If you go back through the archives, you’ll see a lot of cooking exercises that we’ve done together. There’s a simple reason: this is daily living. She needs to be able to build a set of skills that hopefully she can generalize and manage on her own.


Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXL: Reminders

It’s been almost 17 years that I’ve been Alice’s dad. Parenting in general is a challenge. Parenting a child with multiple disabilities has been a real bear of a challenge. There are some days when it’s easy and those are a gift. There are other days that just grind you down. While Alice has been going through adolescence, there have been more “grind you down” days, for sure.

I decided that I needed a reminder for myself to help me be the kind of dad that I want to be, so I chose this:

Essentially, it’s a nod to doing Captain America cosplay with Alice as well that I identify with the character, but most important when I feel ground down, I can look at it and get a solid reminder that the strength is there.


Rhode Island Comic Con – We Made This Work

My one major criticism about Rhode Island Comic Con is the crowd management. A lot of that has to do with the layout of the facilities: there are 4 major pinch points just on the way in. The last time we went, the line just to get into the building was over a mile long. This is hard on Alice. The next couple of issues we had were parking: we got there early and there was nothing in the main lot. The natural overflow lots were just as bad because there were a lot of people before us who had the same problem. Finally, none of the food in the convention center is Celiac friendly.

I decided to see if I could find a way to solve all these problems.

For parking, instead of failing in the main lot, I went to a hotel lot before I got to the convention center. I couldn’t rearrange the building, but I did poke at the organizers to find out if there was any sort of accommodations for people with disabilities. There were – they had a couple of entrances to get ADA bracelets. This meant that we could just walk in through a less crowded entrance.

At lunch, Alice and I left the building and walked a couple blocks to the Trinity Brewhouse which had some gluten free options.

Alice and I decided to do Spiderverse cosplay. This was simple. I watched a couple of sales last year to get a cheap Swider Gwen hoodie and a Spiderman workout shirt. I picked up a cheap surplus field coat, a pair of sweats and some tennis shoes.

The best fun was getting a foam rubber cheeseburger. Why? Do you really need to ask?

Did I pretend to eat a cheeseburger in just about every picture? Why yes, dear reader, I did.

Around this point, Alice started to notice what I was doing. “Eww, dad! It’s gross!”

We also went to see some of the guests. We got to see both Nichelle Nichols and George Takei. Both were wonderful.

To be clear, Alice was picking a lot of the pictures herself, which is absolutely fine.


FanExpo Boston 2019 Writeup

Alice and I went to our first FanExpo Boston conference 2 years ago. This year we planned on going for two days. It went about as well as you could hope. This is going to include a lot of pictures and a lot less prose than I usually have.

To start, to get this done it helps to have support from your family. In this case, E did a super job getting Alice ready to go and into her makeup on Saturday Morning.

We drove to Boston and dropped off our bags and went to the convention center. We arrived before the show started, but the wait wasn’t too long. For the most part, we were there for cosplay events and to see what we could see. Since I was doing Colonial America, I wasn’t wearing my glasses so I couldn’t really see a lot, so eh?

One of our first stops was at the Dr. Who booth where we recreated Back For That Dance by Karen Hallion.

For the most part, I let Alice drive in terms of the pictures that she wanted to get, but I liked to get a pictures with other Captain America cosplays and characters from the MCU.

This guy let me hold his Mjolnir which was very heavy. Bravo to him for carrying it all day. We also ran into this Tony Stark and Thor pair:

I have a thing now that if I run into someone doing One Punch Man, I have to get a picture of them punching the Captain America shield. There’s something about the depiction of irresistible force and immovable object that tickles me the right way.

Here’s some more Marvel MCU pictures:

I saw several people dressed up as the Night Monkey from Spiderman Far From Home. Bravo to them for getting the costume done so quickly. Alice wanted to get a picture with all the Spiderman cosplays. When I offered my shield, they were all fighting over who would get it. The young man who did was quickly told by the others “Do the pose! Dude, do the pose!” “Yeah, yeah, I’m on it!”

This leads me to something I feel I’m seeing more of in cosplay: diversity. I think a lot of it has to do with greater representation in movies. Between Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Thor Ragnarok we’re seeing more diversity on the screen and that representation matters. People who are otherwise marginalized see themselves in the heroes on the screen and that is a powerful thing. I saw, for example, at least a dozen people who appeared to be non cishet dressed up as characters from Good Omens.

But take a look at some of my favorites (including the Becky Barnes above):

The last one is a gender bent Wonder Woman. Fantastic work that honors the Gal Gadot version. Diversity and inclusion is a tremendously good thing for any community and I was so happy to see it. This is important to me because Alice, because of her disabilities, falls into the margins and being included here is great for her and it’s great for everyone else. We made a point of talking to Lucky Grim a couple times, mostly for me to thank her for being welcoming and giving us the push to get into cosplay. “If you have a pulse, you can cosplay.”

This year we tried something new – we participated in a Cosplay Red Carpet event where they set up a photo op and an Emcee to introduce you while you walk out and strike a pose. The crowd cheered you on. As Alice and I went out, I swear the crown cheered louder.

We also ran into some just really nice people, like this Captain America:

We had a brief exchange and then he gave Alice this:

which was very touching.

Some cosplays were just plain awesome.

I loved this Loki done by Silhouette Cosplay. Her makeup is so excellent.

Alice and I split a lot of what we wanted to do. For example, Alice spotted Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and went for her like a bee to a flower. Ms. Benson was very sweet and spent a good amount of time talking to Alice. I was so happy to see so many people in the comic industry – Karen Hallion, Heather Antos, Justin La Rocca Hansen, Becky Cloonan, Chrissie Zullo, and Joyce Chin (among others).

The second day we tried to do things a little simpler. Simpler costumes, shorter day, fewer activities. So we went as Star Trek TNG characters. I did Alice’s makeup as best as I could:


E had knitted me a sweater to match the uniform jacket from one of the movies and it all stemmed from a joke that it’s a Picardigan. Alice wore the skant that I sewed her. We packed up our room, dropped off our bags and headed over to the hall. Again, we got there at the perfect time and had a reasonably short wait before we went in.

One thing different for Alice is that she had a prop: a tricorder toy that I bought in the 90’s and stowed away for just such an occasion. I had her carry it and be responsible for it. She loved it. When she got ready for a picture, she would inevitably say, “Oh, my pwop!” and open it up for the picture.

After the day was over, Alice decided that she wanted her hair down. I tried to dissuade her because we both had our hair done up with Gorilla Snot and that stuff is best cleaned out in the shower. Alice had none of it. She decided to do this on her own.

Well – my family is nothing if not determined. When she was done, she had a hair style that would make Cyndi Lauper proud.


Every Tool’s A Hammer – A Review Through A Cosplay Project

I’ve not written many book reviews, but I felt it appropriate to write a book review for Adam Savage’s recent work, Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It. Savage is a prop maker, special effects tech, co-host of Mythbusters, and general advocate for science education and making. I could go on, but his curriculum vitae is long. I felt it appropriate to write this review in the form of a project how-to.

A year ago, I took my daughter to ConnectiCon to cosplay. We went as Captain America and Peggy Carter. This was our second time going to a convention in cosplay.


Being short on time, I opted not to make the costumes, but instead was happy to make the shield. It started from a plastic sled. We had a great deal of fun and when we were there, we saw this Captain America Cosplay:


I loved how he set Captain America in another time period and this stuck with me and I thought it would be cool to set Captain America in the Colonial era. I have a number of challenges in my life, not the least is that I’m super busy and play time/making time is a precious rarity compared with other things. Adam addresses this in a chapter about how he uses a particular list technique for doing this. Super useful. Not as much for me though, as I’m fairly good at compartmentalizing projects and remembering the compartment contents on demand. It does, however, serve another goal: to show you visually that you are making progress. This is something I really love for huge projects that seem intractable. For example, in the early 90’s I made an implementation of Java interop for VRML: Virtual Reality Markup Language. It was a huge spec. I filled a huge whiteboard with the names of each Java class  with check boxes and checked them off as I completed them. My manager also used my white board instead of interrupting me for status updates.

Back to the project. My next step was to get patterns. I saw some patterns on a vacation to Colonial Williamsburg and picked up a few that were in the right sizes and used the power of the internet to find the vendors of the patterns in order to buy the appropriate size. At this point in the project, Adam would have you draw pictures of what you wanted and how it should look. I agree with that in that it is easier to communicate it to others, which is vital if you’re working on a team. It’s also good if you can’t picture it on your own and need to get a visual. It’s also important for projects that take a long time to have your plans done on their own so that you can come back up to speed after a few weeks of being away. I didn’t draw pictures. Instead, for the waist coat, I needed to modify the pattern, so I needed to see how it would really look. Since time is a premium, I photographed the pattern. Made it square and page-sized in PhotoShop, then printed it out. I now have a scaled version of the pattern. It is far quicker to cut out something small in paper than it is full size. I taped the pieces together and sketched out how I wanted the waistcoat to look in 3D on the scale model. I took apart the model and measured my markings, then scaled everything up for pieces. This was exciting and I wanted to do more and more, but time doesn’t allow that. Adam talks about his inclination to do things as fast as he can. Part of it is because he’s enjoying it so much and part of it is because he gets a kick from completing stuff. It’s a great motivator, but it also is a kick in the teeth when things go awry because of going to fast. More on that later.

I took the pattern’s estimates for fabric and worked in estimates for the unique pieces. I wrote all of this down in a notebook to keep with me for fabric shopping. This is where I love lists. I make a list of each fabric with color/pattern, weight, material and quantity for different bolt sizes. I went to my favorite fabric store, Osgoods, which has wonderful staff and really nice quality fabrics. Although it was not period, I bought a fairly heavy weight cotton duck for all the outer facing fabric. For linings, I chose linen. While I could’ve used cheaper fabrics not even close to the period, I wanted some level of detail and accuracy. For this, I’m not as detail-oriented as Adam is, but I get it. He likes to immerse himself in the project and the details matter, because even if nobody notices, you know. I draw a line as to how much I want to sweat the small stuff and a cleave to that fairly closely. I noted that each of the patterns included sections for contemporary construction as well as period construction. For example, for the shirt, the pattern described how to do period construction, you pull a thread out of the weave across the fabric to make the cutting line and included all the hand stitches. I did very little hand stitching, although linings needed to be stitched in by hand, something I could do while streaming a show on TV. In picking out cotton and linen, I had a lucky benefit. At the convention, there was a photo shoot for Marvel cosplayers, so Alice and I went. The temperature outside was in the upper 80’s and I was wearing a heavy 3 piece suit, as was my daughter. Oddly enough, I was not getting overheated. In fact, I was hardly sweating! All the fabric breathed very well. I’ve worn suits with synthetic fibers under similar condition and sweated buckets. This was a welcome surprise benefit.

After buying the fabric, I ordered up some buttons online. I did this because buttons bought from a craft store or other chain fabric stores are brutally expensive and Osgood’s doesn’t carry much in the way of notions (but boy do they have fabric). I was going to need a lot of buttons. I think it came out to a couple dozen of each. I’m super happy with the buttons that I got.

Doesn’t that just scream ‘Captain America’? They’re noticeable only if you look closely. It was a detail I wanted to offer to people who were taking the time to scrutinize the costume in order to delight the delightful.

I made the breeches first. They were the nearly the least complicated of the patterns. There were some tricky bits – these are fall-front breeches and the instructions weren’t the best. They came out pretty well and I find the cut particularly charming. Unlike modern cuts, when you’re standing up, there is a lot of room in the seat. It’s pretty baggy, but all of this goes away when you bend over. This is because the colonial people didn’t have stretchy fabric and because when you bend over with this cut, it doesn’t yank down on the waistband, so that means that your pants don’t drop from repeated bending and standing. These were breeches for a working person.


Then I made a linen shirt. This was the easiest pattern since all the pieces were either rectangular or triangular. It came out really well, but it has some problems, which I will talk about later.


For the waistcoat, I made split the pattern for a top portion in blue and a bottom portion in white. I cut red stripes and top stitched them down to the white, then stitched the blue on top. I trimmed the red to match the white bottom and then stitched in the lining. Throughout all of this, I did a lot of ironing. I really wanted the seams to be straight. Then I worked on the star. This is a point that I had been dreading because (1) this is new and hard (2) I have no quilting experience. I made the star out of 5 kites. I used Illustrator to draw them out in various sizes then picked the one that looked best to use as a pattern. I was worried about fraying, but I bought plenty of white, so I planned to fail. Failure for these projects doesn’t have to be abject failure. Setbacks should be expected. Adam understands that screwing something up is an awful bugbear for him and after the swearing subsides, he tries  to learn from his mistakes and do it better next time. This is also where inevitable setbacks meets his desire to go fast. I liked how honest he was about the emotionality of setbacks. I made 5 stars in total and used 2. I tried backing the pieces with interfacing, but that made them hard to work with and  much harder to get flat and even. I screwed up another one and threw it out. The last two worked. I sewed one on the upper half and trimmed it to the edge. I estimated out the waistcoat would button and sewed the other onto the lower side. I ended up using zig zag stitches as the points to contain/hide the fraying. That worked pretty well. I was very happy with this level of setback planned in. I then did the lining in linen and finished it up.


The jacket was next and it was extremely straight forward after doing the rest. I did most of the jacket in blue, but used white for the cuffs and collar. When I modeled it, my wife commented on what a good cut the jacket was. I say I have to agree.



Why do I sew? It started in first grade. We had an art project where the art teacher taught us to do simple embroidery using heavy burlap squares, yarn and blunt needles. We learned chain stitch and filler stitch. I taught myself to sew on patches by hand. All of it was making and I enjoyed it so much as a kid. For example, I was looking at the geometry of a softball and wondering how the shapes fit together, so I best guessed them and cut them out of some olive felt and stitched them together with red thread. When I was done, I had a ball and it worked. I think I was in 2nd grade when I did this. Three years later, in 5th grade, the math book had a section in the back about geometry. Our math class was largely self-paced and some students finished the math book. Some didn’t get to the geometry. When I got to the section on geometry, there were projects to make various platonic solids out of construction paper. I learned out to make tetrahedrons, cubes, and dodecahedrons from a single flat sheet of paper. It involved drawing out the pattern (using a protractor and ruler), cutting and gluing them together. I can’t tell you how much I loved this. It was like putting together a Revell or Monogram plastic model when I was a kid. This is where Adam’s tendency to rush and mine are very different. I usually start slowly and then speed up. For building models as a kid, when I sped up, it usually meant that I was going to botch the paint job at the end because I was going so fast. For me when the reality of the project and image I have in my head start to coincide, it’s an accelerant. It like a jigsaw puzzle with fewer and fewer pieces to put in.

Regarding model making, I would take the piece of cardboard from the bottom of a writing pad and use that to make my own models. I made a tank, space ships, etc all out of cardboard that I cut out with scissors. I learned to put tabs onto pieces for glue and learned how to see a 3D shape and turn it into 2D paper parts. When I was in my first job out of college, I was working at Adobe on PostScript printers. I wrote a PostScript program that printed out a kit to make an icosahedron. It included tabs and slots for assembling it without glue. Adam talks a lot about building things in cardboard to visualize. I agree whole-heartedly.

Back to sewing – in 6th grade, my art teacher had us make soft sculpture gnomes with hand-embroidered faces. While the faces were hand-embroidered, the rest of it was machine sewn. I remembered that and as an adult, I bought a sewing machine and made some shirts and vests. I also tried to make a hot air balloon, but that ended up not flying. I did make several kites that worked quite well. At the time that I started sewing as an adult, I had been doing woodworking for several years. I found something out in the process of doing both: the people who claim there is a difference in male and female thinking are full of shit. Both woodworking and sewing clothing use exactly the same part of my brain. They are equivalent. If your daughter wants to do woodworking, teach her woodworking. If your son wants to sew, teach him to sew. They’re both making. They both have visualization challenges. They both have their own particular vocabulary. And this touches on one of the central reasons behind Adam’s book: to encourage people to create and to find ways to remove barriers from people making things.

Back to the shirt. I had made the shirt and tried it on. It is cut like an Ebenezer Scrooge night shirt. I get that – again practical – it serves as a shirt and sleep wear if you want. I just figured it would work out. The problem happened in getting dressed for the con. The cut of the shirt really wasn’t working with everything else. It was too baggy and really wasn’t working. I think it needs to be shorter and trimmer to work. Also, while putting it on, I popped a button off a cuff. And this is another aspect of setbacks that’s worthy of considering: what do you do when things go wrong? Using 20/20 hindsight, I could have spent more time fitting the costume and making adjustments. In the moment I didn’t just have the shirt problem. I had lost a fair amount of weight and had gone from a 36 waist to a 34. The breeches no longer fit me. They have laces to tighten or loosen them in the back, but that wasn’t enough. I ended up removing all the buttons on the center line and moving them to snug up the waist. This used all my last minute time and I decided to opt for a dress shirt instead of the period shirt since it works and is not especially noticeable in the finished outfit. As it turned out, I still needed a visit from the Cosplay Fairy (this was a guy walking around with all kinds of sewing tools to help people out) for some safety pins to tighten up the waist on the breeches some more. The point here is that if/when things go wrong, use the same creativity that got you here to figure out if/how you can work with what you have. The first several times something like this happens, it’s maddening, but as you make more things, you learn how to avoid the more egregious setbacks and how to handle the others in the moment. Adam also talks about that when he discusses a set project that he didn’t plan well enough that he did early in his career.

Another example for me is a project I’ve been working on for close to 16 years now. I had an idea for a digital clock that used a single LED for each second/minute/hour and would be able to mechanically strike chimes on the hour. I kept getting stuck and put the project away. Four years ago, a number of things happened to make this project easier, including components from SparkFun and Adafruit, so I was able to pick it back up and I had a working prototype on breadboards running on an SparkFun Red Board (an Arduino, essentially). Still not done, I wanted the finished clock to be on proper circuit boards since breadboards get flaky over time. I made up a schematic and sent that off to get fabbed. I made all kinds of mistakes in the process that I didn’t see in the design. When the boards came in, I did some checks and found a few. There are sets of majors functionality on the board: power, neopixel interfacing, real time clock interfacing, and solenoid drivers. I was able to bring the board on line section by section. The errors affected everything except power. I fixed the neopixels and the RTC using an X-Acto knife and bodge wires. I put off fixing the solenoid drivers because the traces that were affected were closer together and my circuit bodge skills aren’t good enough. I realized that I was afraid of screwing it up. I have years invested in this project. When I realized that, I just sat down and did it. Sure enough, I screwed it up. This time, I had some clarity: I have been tinkering with this on and off for years. Getting new circuit boards made is a little money hit and a little time hit, but both of those are a drop in the bucket compared to the length of this project already. And this is the same with the cosplay project. Yes, there are little errors here and there which I see when I scrutinize the project, but in the greater context it’s fantastic. and I’m happy about that.

This is me and my daughter at ConnectiCon in our finished costumes (yes, I made hers too).

The goal of Adam’s book is this: think of the major barriers to doing a project:

  • I don’t know how
  • I don’t manage time
  • I don’t organize
  • I don’t visualize
  • I make mistakes

He shows how these don’t have to be barriers and that there are ways to adjust your process to get knock down these barriers. This is a big lesson.

The next big lesson is managing emotional conflicts. He doesn’t draw this together like this, but the pieces are there. Making things is an emotional process. There are a number of aspects that are in play: excitement, perfectionism, perseveration. In proper balance, all of these are good things. Out of balance they get in your way. Excitement leads to going too fast. Perfectionism leads to magnifying mistakes to the point of hatred. Perseveration leads to not letting things go. When you have all of these running together, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Again, Adam shows how to work well with these things instead of being dominated by them. And when they cause setbacks, you can look at the problems and figure out how to recover and improve. This may include redoing a project entirely and that’s OK.

If you are an aspiring maker looking for inspiration or if you are a consummate maker looking for ways to get better, this is a fine book. It is peppered with anecdotes are relateable, awe-inspiring, and/or hilarious. The writing is engaging and has some real gems in terms of word choice that sparkle rather than detract from the overall. If you’ve heard Adam speak, you will also hear it reading the book: his voice comes through.