Author Spotlight: Supersoftdrink

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This week I interviewed Rachel, better known here as supersoftdrink. Over the past year or so, she has posted a series of practical and heartwarming projects on Instructables. I had the chance to ask her a few questions about her projects, her children, and how she balances creativity and responsibility. Here's what she had to say.

How did you discover the site and what inspired you to start posting projects?

My husband Josh showed me. He and I always loved learning how things were made and tried making various things when we had time and resources. I think he found the site after browsing Makezine.com ages ago.

In... either July or August of 2010, I spent enough time on Instructables to find the contest page.

I wanted to enter a contest as a way to say, "Hey, look, I can make stuff too! Deep in my cave, I still exist!" Posting instructables is my way of shouting to the world that part of me is still thoughtful, random, impulsive, passionate, creative and coherent, even though we almost never go out and I'm so busy I can barely shower often enough to not stink myself out. Here, I can belong to something with anonymous friends, discover their cool ideas and projects, and contribute my own stuff for them to see.

Of all the projects that you have posted, which is your favorite?

I have two favorites. The foam nest bed I recently posted was one favorite because it's been so helpful and beneficial for Abigail. The potty training belt was my other favorite because it allowed me to share some of what I've learned about autism. I know some parents and caregivers have a hard time understanding and getting through to children on the autism spectrum, and I think there are still lots of misconceptions, especially from the so-called experts.

You wanna learn what autism is really like? Ask someone who has it, rather than someone who has studied it and formed his or her own (possibly inaccurate) judgments about it. I have more to say about the topic, but this isn't really the appropriate forum for it. :)

As a mother of children with special needs/abilities, how do you balance your time and still manage to be such a prolific author on Instructables?

When Abigail first came home from the hospital at about 7 weeks old, she was very fragile and needed a lot of complicated medical care. Her twin sister and older brother also needed a lot of attention, and I had no help. Josh was under a lot of deadline pressure at work and was barely able to come home long enough to eat a bit, sleep, and shower. I made a schedule to make sure I wasn't late giving her a feeding or one of her medications or skip pumping. Lilith was nursing, but I had to pump for Abigail in order to add stuff to her milk. If I didn't pump every 3 hours, I wouldn't produce enough milk for both girls. I looked at my schedule and realized that, just taking care of necessities with a 19 month old boy and twin newborns, I only had enough time for 3 hours of sleep per night total, in 20 minute increments. Kids grew, Abigail needed less medication, another open heart surgery went by, and she was put on a feeding pump due to a complication. Eventually, all kids grew old enough to sleep through the night. Gradually, I got more time and more sleep.

Back then, people would tell me what a great job I was doing, and it perplexed me. I was simply a robot on autopilot; there wasn't really room to be great or horrible. Once people's immediate needs were taken care of, it was time to rest for a little while before they needed me again.

Life is a lot easier now than it was back then, I think. It's hard to remember thinking or feeling much of anything back then because I was so tired (at least, I suspect I felt tired... it's hard to say for sure). I still don't have a whole lot of free time, but I take what time I can in order to do something interesting or vaguely creative. I always have way too many ideas in my head, and it feels maddening to never get any of them out into reality. Some things I try haphazardly and quickly, caring more about just trying it than making sure it's a rousing success. This keeps me sane. I played a robot during the most intensive part of my children's lives, but I can't do it long term. If I have to wait until the kids go to bed and trade some of my sleep to try a project in order to cling to some semblance of sanity and stay out of an asylum, so be it.

I hate to admit it, but my instructables are generally pretty rushed. I could probably do a more careful job if I didn't have kids, but I wouldn't trade my kids or anything about them for all the universe. Sure, I'm busy, sure, things sometimes get stressful, but I'm happy. They seem happy. Josh is usually happy when he's not stressed about work deadlines.

A fair number of my instructables are food related. That's because it's quick and easy to post a recipe and take pictures, since I'm cooking for my family already. Maybe a chocolate tree wouldn't normally be on the menu, but it's fun to have unusual treats here and there.

Sometimes my projects fill a need in my family, and I figure I might as well snap some pictures with my phone as I'm making them, so I can show others how to do what I did. I'd love to share certain things I've learned and discovered with others, especially parents of special needs children.

What inspires you to create and share your projects?

Thanks to my ADD, ideas in my head spawn at a million miles an hour and can be triggered by almost anything. Sometimes when an instructables contest is posted, I'm awake all night because my brain is so loud with ideas about the contest theme shooting in every direction.

Usually a project I make is either done to get an idea out and keep sanity, or to address some need (like the animal book I recently made for Benjamin... I haven't posted an instructable on that one, though).

I share them because I've gotten so much joy and inspiration from other people's projects. I figure if I can learn how to do something, I should let others benefit from my project the way I've benefited from other people's.

If you could give one piece of advice to all of the other authors on Instructables, what would it be?

Make more stuff. Self reliance and innovation are the antidotes to our mass slavery to large corporations.

Crops grown by conglomerate farms are becoming less diverse, and might be covered with pathogens. Fashionable clothes made in sweat shops and sold by big box stores might not be to your taste or flatter your body shape. Toys might be loud or tainted with lead or fail to encourage children's creativity. The more you make, the more choice and control you can exert over your own life.

It bears repeating: make more stuff!

As of late Supersoftdrink and her wonderful family have fallen on hard times. More information about the situation and how you can help can be found here.

Or if you would rather make something, here is information on how to send them a Valentine which is sure to raise morale.