Maker Saturday: Arduinos & Beginner Robot Fun

Our Makerspace Saturday class this week was an intro to robots – and a great time!  I will definitely not due justice to all of the parts and step by step procedures followed, but with the excellent guidance of Linda Nichols and Brandon Flade of Norfolk Java Script we made SumoBots that ACTUALLY moved!

Using a Sumo Bot Kit, an Arduino One, servos, something called a ‘breadboard’ (for those of us that bake and are new to electronics … its NOTHING like a breadbox) :-), and a battery pack … we created these guys.





We started out building the chassis,


then mounted the breadboard



and Arduino




installed the battery pack


and ran the (dreaded) wires


(then fixed them … then fixed them again.)

The robots were running on Node software with the Johnny-Five library.  Brandon shows us the code that contained the commands to control the robot.


We fired them up  and – voila – moving, honking, working robots!    Brandon did a fantastic job guiding us newbies through the build process – showing us how then guiding us on how to troubleshoot and fix our own mistakes.  It was a great class and we will definitely be making more robots in the future!

I know I have not done justice to the step by step … but if you want to learn more check out the next Pop-Up Robot Night at 757 Makerspace in April, or the Norfolk JavaScript meet ups around town in Hampton Roads.

Revelation of the Day: I have a mental block about electrical wiring!    My finished bot had wires flying arounds like a mad scientists hair …


My wild wiring job!
My wild wiring job!

while Josh’s were neat, bundled and orderly

Josh showing up his Mom with an orderly wiring job


Great Makerspace Saturday!

And, as always, I can’t say enough about 757 Makerspace here in Norfolk.  Visit, join, make!!  Members have access to the space and the Saturday classes are included in your membership. We got the value of our membership from the great classes alone – and have started our first project (stay tuned for a future post.)

Here’s their page and a link to some prior blog posts on their space.

757 Makerspace Website

757 Makerspace – Prior Blogs

Maker Saturday: Felting Soaps

This week at 757 Makerspace, Hilarie from Little Stitch Studios did a lesson on felting soaps.  Having never even heard of felted soaps, I didn’t know what to expect … but I loved it!  It was a sudsy and unexpectedly soothing little exercise – and the resulting felted soap bars were kind of adorable.  They will make great gifts for friends, and lots of room to tinker around creatively with colors and patterns, too.




So here’s what we learned:

  • Apparently wool once removed from sheep and brushed out is called wool roving and comes in long, soft ropes that you can buy in certain craft stores or online.
  • Wool can be turned into felt in two ways – through ‘wet felting’ with water and some manipulations with your hands, or with felting needles (we tried both).  Either way, you can turn shapeless wool fibers into fabric and shapes.
  • Who knew – its pretty darn relaxing to massage the wool into the soap … a little zen, really :-)
  • You can get pretty creative with the felt when decorating the felted soap.   I have to admit I was drawing blanks yesterday on design, so I stuck to the basics yesterday.  But browsing the internet today, there were so many fun and creative ideas, like these


Here’s the step by step:

Materials: some bars of soap you want to try to felt, just some wool roving in a few colors, some tulle or a nylon stocking, warm water, and some patience :-)

  • piece apart some of the wool roving into thin wispy pieces that you can almost seen through.  (Too thick and it will not felt well, too thin and the soap will show through.)  IMG_3505
  • wrap the think wool sections around the bar of soap in both directions – one piece horizontal and one vertical, so that the entire bar is covered.  (play with color here – you can use a single color and add designs later, or use several colors to form any pattern you like.)  IMG_3508


  • wrap the soap with wool covering in tulle or a nylon stocking (we used tulle, some online tutorials use a nylon stocking – main point is a thin covering it seems.)


  • Have a small basin of warm water in front of you, and dip the bar of soap in the warm water, then begin to massage the wool into the soap.  It will be a clean, sudsy and relaxing little mess as the soap lathers and the wool begins to contract and felt around the bar of soap.  Then … lather, rinse, repeat.  Literally.  For about 10 minutes or so …


  • You can test to see if the wool has felted by peeling back the nylon or tulle to see if the wool is adhering to the soap yet.  If it is still loose, keep massaging.  Once felted, set it aside to dry for a few minutes.
  • Then we got to use felting needles to add decorations to our soap (this is optional.)  basically we used the needles to work pieces of wool roving into a shape (I did simple stripes) and then use the needles to work the little embellishment into my felted soap bar.

For the monsters, all of the decorations were added with needle felting.  Your imagination is the limit …



Oh, and in case you were wondering why in the world you would felt soap (aside from it just being sort of fun and crafty) … well apparently the felt serves as an gentle exfoliator, and also absorbs the moisture from the soap so that it lasts a lot longer.  Who knew?

I see some handmade gifts in our future.  Great thing to do when I want to get out of my head, and fun sensory project with kids (think wool texture, suds, water, friction.)

If you are in the Hampton Roads area and looking for sewing lessons for yourself or your kids,  check out Hilarie’s Little Stitch Studios at the link below.

Little Stitch Studio Facebook Page

And, as always, I can’t say enough about 757 Makerspace here in Norfolk.  Visit, join, make!!  Here’s their page and a link to some prior blog posts on their space.

757 Makerspace Website

757 Makerspace – Prior Blogs

Music & Memories of the Civil Rights Movement

Last night I took my in-laws out for to dinner and a concert.  It was a nice evening – full of great food and music, but also steeped in memories and reflections on the Civil Rights movement and the old Norfolk.


Our evening started out in Ghent at a great little restaurant in Norfolk’s Ghent called Supper Southern Morsels.

I knew my in-laws would love the southern fare – and they didn’t let us down.  From the southern fried chicken with an amazing crust to the melt in your mouth cornbread and savory carrot casserole – it was all delicious!

Supper Southern Morsels website

Highly recommend you check out the place if you are local.  I was the designated driver, so I didn’t try out the great list of craft cocktails – but see a date night in my future with Bryce to check them out.



But beyond the food, it was great to hear about the history of this re-energized section of Norfolk.  About what the area was like while still segregated, about the old stores that dominated this section of the city before its decline, about their favorite memories of this section of the city.  And it was terrific for them to see it renewed and vibrant.

From there we headed to the Crispus Attucks theater – a  renovated gem of a theater from an earlier era.  I have always loved how intimate every concert feels in that venue.


But I had never really thought about the history of the place, so it was great to hear about that bygone era, the heyday of the Attucks.  It added a whole other dimension to the evening.   And it has a great history!  They intrigued me enough during our evening out that I had to do a little more research this morning – which led to more great stories!

The Attucks was built back in 1919 by African-American entrepreneurs, including African-American architect Harvey Johnson.   During the height of his popularity, it was known as the ‘Apollo Theater of the South’ with African-American acts touring the south.  You could see a movie followed by a show, with acts like Nipsy Russell, Cab Calloway and Redd Foxx.   It’s the oldest remaining theater in the country financed, owned and operated by African-Americans.  Since it was my in-laws first time back at the Attucks in many years, they were so pleased to see the the diversity of the audience, since their memories of the place were from a  segregated time.

Then, to build onto the great history and memories, we had Mavis Staples (of Staples Singers fame) from the 60s and 70s.




She has this powerful voice full of passion and soul!  At the age of 75nd on a day when she was feeling under the weather, her voice and presence and sound commanded the room.  With a perfect blend of soul and gospel, she sang songs of determination and perseverance, of hope and passion and faith.  She had the audience on their feet and rooting for her as she took breaks during the performance (performing after two knee surgeries that didn’t prevent her from shuffling across the floor when the spirit moved her!)

In keeping perfectly with the rest of the evening, she sang songs created during the Civil Rights movement (Freedom Highway, Wade in the Water) and told stories of the songs they sang on the march from Selma.  She sang about identity and coming to accept and love those parts of herself that she once wrestled with (from I Like The Things About Me.)  She had the crowd on our feet and singing along for an energetic version of I’ll Take You There to close the show!  We were all cheering for Mavis by the end of the evening, and thankful that she was sharing her gift with us all.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening of music and memories.  I got much more than I bargained for and so grateful for the experience!




Sulley Joins Our Family!

The kids have wanted a dog for a long (no really loooong) time – and this week their wish came true!  The campaign to get a dog was long and thorough.  Josh and Justin prepared chore charts, had everyone do personality quizzes where we were matched to different kinds of dogs, studied rescue sites for possible matches, and more.  And after this little labor of love, we met an amazing dog with a sweet and gentle spirit – Sulley.  He seems to be a mix between an Australian Shepherd and a Spitz … but hard to know for sure I guess.  In any case, he’s pretty darn handsome.

Adoption Day pic – finding a comfy space

A great friend of ours adopted her dog through a great local organization, K9 Justice League, and recommended them to us.    This dog rescue group was terrific and so easy to work with for the adoption – highly recommend them!  Check out their Facebook page – here’s the link:

K9 Justice League Facebook Page

Josh monitored their page for several weeks, and came  upon Sulley and knew that we should meet him.  We visited an adoption fair and met Sulley, and we all loved him immediately.  He was sweet and gentle, with the softest fur you can imagine.  He’s a little tentative, quick to startle.  But in just a couple days he is already settling in and coming out of his shell.  He is practically Joshua’s shadow and Justin loves talking him out for walks (even in the cold!)

Our little guy Justin, with Sulley and his terrific foster mom Sarah

It’s interesting to observe him, learn his queues, and try to ‘meet him where he’s at’ in terms of what he’s ready and willing to do and what he’s not.  Hope to get him signed up for obedience lessons soon, since left to our own devices not sure how well we would do with training.  So that should be good.  I think if you adopt a dog and survive a week of teen temps, permafrost across the lawn … and you all survive and still like each other … they every other season will feel easy by comparison :-)

At least until he’s fully house trained, he’s sleeping in a crate at night in the bedrooms upstairs.  So we are getting over the ‘guilt’ of having him in a crate … feels a little like putting him in a cage.  But we have been coached to press through and so long as the crate is never punishment and just his little ‘cave’ that there’s no need to feel guilty.  (still working on that!)    And so long as his crate is in the bedroom with someone, he is pretty OK with it.

He is definitely warm with both boys – sort of clingy with Josh lately, but friendly with them both.  And other than a couple nose-to-nose stare downs, he and our cat Butterscotch are co-existing nicely without any dust ups :-)


If only we could skip over the house-training part (feels like potty training the kids all over again and can’t wait til that is done!)  Will be happy to be past the ‘accident’ stage.  He’s coming along …

Maker Saturday: Molds, Mold Making and Casting Objects

On the heels of a great blacksmithing series at 757 Makerspace, this week we transitioned to classes on Making Molds and Casting Objects.  There’s a lot to learn so today was an introduction, with some basic hands on practice.   We primarily worked with one technique today – thermoforming, or vacuum forming.

My take on the basics from today’s intro:

  • a plastic sheet is heated to a temp that makes it pliable
  • that plastic sheet is then stretched over the object to be molded
  • its them cooled into the finished shape; thickness of the plastic sheet needed depends on the size and height of the object you are trying to mold
  • the original model is them removed from the mold and it can be filled with a range of materials to create copies.  bit of art and science in removing your objects from the model
  • we used a table top machine to help us do this
  • Can fill the molds with a range of substances – we used liquid plastic today, but many other possibilities like foam, resin, etc.





Our instructor, Scot Clark, did a terrific job getting us introduced to mold making with the basics while sharing some of his great work and giving us some ideas of more sophisticated techniques.   His creativity definitely came through and he did a great job teaching us newbies while enticing us with the possibilities once you master the basics and move onto more advanced molding techniques.  He shared some of his special effects and ghoulish Halloween creations (think zombies, skulls etc).  Josh and Santiago were definitely drawn to the zombie he brought in!





I love the way he described the work he does in special effects as ‘problem solving’ where someone wants to achieve something and he has to determine how to achieve that look or effect with materials!  Love that angle on the work – as a fellow professional ‘problem solver.’

Scot mentioned being part of the team that worked on the Year of the Dragon display for the Bellagio Hotel and described how they used molds to create the parts of the dragons.  Josh quickly googled the display and this is what we found – amazing!




For next week’s class we can bring a small item to mold – so need to decide what I might bring.  The younger kids will be working with Lego mini-figures to create molds … right up Justin’s alley :-)


Looking forward to next week’s session!  And trying to decide on some family projects to work on at Makerspace in addition to the classes.  Some metalwork and pallet art ideas mulling around.   Thanks again to Beau for arranging a great series.


To check out 757 MakerSpace, visit their website or check them out on Facebook.

Justin’s Tae Kwon Do Journey

In fourth grade,  our youngest son, Justin, transitioned from Montessori to a mainstream, neighborhood elementary school.

Well, at Back to School Night that first month, World Champion TKD visited the school and invited kids to come try out the program.  Master Park was enthusiastic, full of energy and encouraging kids to come out and give it a try.



Justin was really interested – maybe a little to my surprise – so the next week we visited.  That was about 2 1/2 years ago … and next month he will test for his Black Belt.  What an accomplishment, and we are thrilled for him!   It will be a big month ahead getting ready to test, and as the milestone approaches I couldn’t help but reflect on all that this program has done for him.

At first I wasn’t sure if Justin would thrive in the TKD program, was hesitant about whether being on the autism spectrum would get in the way of it being fun and his making progress.  But, boy, was I mistaken.


  • Physically – the TKD form, board-breaking techniques and kicking combinations developed his gross motor skills and his overall coordination.  And Justin brought a level of precision and crispness to his work in form that I would not have expected.  The normally loose and floppy little guy can turn on the intensity when practicing in front of his instructors, competing or testing.  It’s like there is an ‘ON’ switch that flips when he is trying to earn a stripe, and great to know that he can dig deep to find that extra focus and commitment when he needs it.
  • Emotionally – Justin really does not like to make mistakes, especially ones that are noticed publicly.  But with TKD, you are constantly in learning mode as you earn stripes within a belt, and progress from one belt to another.  That made it more ‘normal’ to realize that in the beginning, before we master something, we all make mistakes.  That its nothing to be ashamed of and just part of life and learning and growing.  He also learned about processing disappointment and bouncing back – especially when he thought he was ready to earn a stripe but he did not, and had to keep honing his practice to try another day.  Hard to see him disappointed, but so important that he learn to handle that disappointment and not give up.


  • Socially – One of my favorite memories of Justin’s TKD studies is the first time an instructor entrusted him with a small group of students in his belt, and asked Justin to guide the other kids through their form practice.  He was BEAMING!  And rigorous.  While some might run the group through, then goof off or take a break, these kids did constant drills for about 15 minutes solid … he was focused and a little taskmaster!  Who knew?!   Master Park is very clear with all the students that he expects them to be students of great character – being respectful, diligent and kind.  Through parent report cards, he publicly shares the kids results with the class – praising those who are dong well, and challenging but also encouraging those who are not meeting those standards at home with their families.

22193_4030952666590_1841810661_nThen there’s the impact of setting a long term goal and working diligently until you attain it.  That’s something that I know will stay with him and help him feel that he can set other big goals and through commitment and hard work achieve them.  The confidence that comes with that is terrific and I am so glad that we visited the dojang way back in September 2011.


And like everything else in life, Justin would be ready for this big milestone without the support, encouragement and coaching of Master Park and all of his instructors.  We thank you SO much!!  Now for the final stretch to get ready for testing day next month.


I know that each child on the autism spectrum is unique in their abilities and their areas of challenge, and tae kwon do may not be right for many.  But in our case it has been a blessing and really helped with Justin’s development.  Our other son who is neuro-typical is also in the program and it has been great for him, too.  Just focused this post on his it has helped with the development of our youngest.

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