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Friday, September 19, 2014

Guns, Culture, and the American Way

Culture involves at least three components: what people think, what they do, and the material products they produce. Thus, mental processes, beliefs, knowledge, and values are parts of culture. Culture also has several properties: it is shared, learned, symbolic, transmitted cross generationally, adaptive, and integrated.
   --  John H. Bodley, Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System, 3rd ed. 1999

I would add that culture is also about what we value and what we find acceptable. Somehow, our national culture has decided that violence is an acceptable way to settle a dispute.

About ten years ago, my son Michael and I were watching a movie together. It's called The Valet, and it used subtitles because it was a French film. The story involves a car parker, a valet, who falls for a pretty young thing who is beholden to an older, wealthy man.

At the dramatic high point, the valet storms up to the older man as he sits in his expensive car. The old guy (OG) opens the car down and gets out. Now the valet and OG are face-to-face.

"Here it comes," I said. "Boom. He's going to whip out his gun and shoot that old man."

"Yeah," said Michael. "Make my day."


He didn't. The valet yelled at OG, shook a finger in his face, and finally slapped him.

It felt strangely unsatisfying. Later Michael and I talked about it. We could have both sworn that violence would ensue.


Because that's how we've been taught that problems will be "solved."

So it's not about the gun. At least, not entirely. The gun is just a means to an end. It's about our mindset, our willingness to believe that might makes right. That bad guys should die. That the good guy will triumph, even if he has to take another man's life.

And what does that say about me? About us?

Because I'm also to blame here. I have my characters use guns in my books. That means I am definitely part of the problem!

It says we need to hit the reset button. We need a national commitment to rethink who we are and how we solve problems.

Do you agree?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Son, the Endangered Species

Last month, my son Michael and I went to dinner together at a very nice restaurant in Hobe Sound, Florida. We were sitting at a high-top table, waiting for our food to arrive, when a man came over and said to Michael, “May I ask you a question?”

Michael is 25, wears a beard, and on this particular evening, he was dressed in sandals, jeans, and a gray hoody.

The man wore a black leather jacket, an earring in one ear, jeans, and tennis shoes. The portion of his skin that showed was covered in tattoos. He looked to be in his mid-sixties. At one time, he was probably a really great looking guy, judging from his bone structure. However, like a lot of Floridians, he’d baked himself in the sun too long, so his skin was wrinkled and textured like a Coach purse.

“Sure,” said Michael, with a shrug.

“What’s with the hoody?” asked the man.

Michael gave me one of those looks that translates into “huh?” I smiled at him encouragingly. He’s my baby boy, no matter how big he gets, and I love him.

“I like them,” said Michael. “I just like them.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Just so you know, if I see you at my house in that hoody, I will shoot you.”
Really? I nearly fell off my chair. I could not believe what I was hearing. Fortunately, I know the restaurant owners, and I knew they would intervene if I asked for help. But I didn't want to make a scene. Once he had said his piece, the man wandered off.

I sat there thinking of all the things I should have said.

So here’s my point—and I do have one.

If you think that the shootings of Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown were all about race, you are wrong.

And if you think because you are white (like I am and like my son is) that you are safe, you are wrong.

There’s something really pathetic about people who feel threatened by young men in hoodies. 

There’s something really sick about people who think they can just shoot people because they don’t like what they’re wearing. As long as one boy is endangered by this sort of madness, none of our children are safe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love, Crafts, and the Fine Art of Dumpster Diving

Two days ago, I noticed a big red Dumpster behind our apartment complex. It looked to be empty.

That's interesting, I thought.

Yesterday evening, my husband and I were walking Jax when I noticed the Dumpster had been filled to the brim. Looks to me like the apartment management evicted someone, sending their furniture packing as well. A red sofa extended above pieces of wood, paper, and articles you'd have to examine closely to identify.

That made me sad. Once upon a time, a bank threatened to evict my mother, my sisters, and me. I don't think that any of us will ever forget that bleak period in our lives.

Then it made me wonder. Was there any good that could come out of this ugly situation? While I was pondering this, thinking deep thoughts, David and Jax kept walking. "Honey?" called my husband. "Come on. Leave it alone."

He knows me too well.

Because by then, I'd decided to investigate. I climbed up on the ledge surrounding the big red trash container. I'm short so I couldn't look deep inside, but I did see a piece of board sticking out. A big piece of wood.

Big enough to serve as a base for my dollhouse and the potting shed.

Big enough and sturdy enough that I wouldn't have to go to Home Depot and buy a piece of plywood and pay for them to cut it to size.

Big and free.

Even freer after I tugged it out.

David, I must confess, was mortified. He started walking in the other direction with body language that clearly stated, "I don't know that woman!"

I tugged and tugged. I had to reach in and move a couple of other boards around. Luckily for me, I've kept up with my tetanus shots, because that big piece of wood had nails sticking out. But once I began to extricate it (classy word for trash-picking, eh?), I was determined that it would be MINE.

David didn't offer to help. Instead, he said, "Oh, honey..." in that tone of voice that means, "I love you, but right now, I would cheerfully pretend we aren't married."

So I dragged it home. I do mean drag, because it's heavy. I put it in the spare bedroom. I waited until today when David's at work. I hauled it out. Knocked down the nails. Pried off a half dozen small squares of excess wood that served as braces. Put it up on our kitchen island. And started making plans. BIG plans for my dollhouse.

The way I see it, I saved something from the landfill, I saved money, and I'm moving ahead with my crafts. Next time I walk past that Dumpster, I might just vault over the side and poke around a little more.

Have you ever been Dumpster Diving?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Invitation to Meet Me in St. Louis!

On Thursday, September 25, 2014, from 6 to 9 p.m., I'll be hosting a special celebration in St. Louis--and you're invited!

Who: Joanna and her friends

What: A book signing party with book swag and refreshments

When: From 6 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014

Where: The Jane Allen Recital Hall in the Steinway Piano Gallery, 12033 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights, MO 63043

How: Main Street Books of St. Charles will be on hand to sell books. 

Here's a list of my author friends who'll be attending:

Eileen Dreyer

Claudia Shelton

Lynn Cahoon

Michelle Sharp

Sharon Hopkins

Judge Bill Hopkins

Ellen Parker

Gena Ellis

Kelly Cochran

Candace Carrabus

Remember--signed books make great holiday gifts. You can mail them at the discounted media rate.

I hope to see you there!

Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher (Part 3)

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Editor’s Note: In Parts 1 and 2, Kiki Lowenstein, owner of Time in a Bottle, has been teaching a two-session class called “The Double-Dip.” This week, her customers brought in one of their favorite dessert recipes, a photo of the dessert, and the recipe to use in an 8- by 8-inch cookbook album. There's a bit of friction in the group because Iona Lippman and Lisa Ferguson both claim to make an outstanding red velvet cake—and now Iona's recipe has gone missing! To make matters worse, Kiki's customers have also challenged her come up with thrifty ways to scrapbook. Kiki has her hands full with this group. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Iona threw up her hands and kept screaming. "Where's my red velvet cake recipe? Who took it? Someone stole it from me!"

"Calm down," I said, making placating motions with my hands. "It has to be around here somewhere, Iona. You know how things get covered up by papers. Or they get swept off the table inadvertently. Let's not go accusing anyone of mischief."

With that bold pronouncement of my faith in human beings, and scrapbookers in particular, I put myself in a ticklish spot. The burden of finding her recipe card now rested squarely on my shoulders.
For the next 30 minutes, we tore the class area apart. All of the classmates participated in the treasure hunt. We went through piles of paper, one sheet at time. We looked in the copier. We opened the paper bags I had taped to each cropper's work space. I even got down on my hands and knees and crawled around on the floor. When the recipe card didn't show up, I expanded our search area. When I bought Time in a Bottle, we didn't have enough space for our classes. The display shelves took up all the available room. To make enough space for our sessions, I'd put those same display shelves on wheels so they could be rolled to one side. Now, I rolled the shelves this way and that, scouring the store for the missing 3- by 5-inch card.

"You don't understand," said Iona, with a hitch in her voice. "That recipe has been in my family for generations. We've passed it down from mother to daughter. I can't go home without it. I just can't!"
She started howling with misery, while her friend Avery Ailes patted her consolingly on the shoulder.
Clancy sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, "You can’t win. You realize that, don't you? If you search each of our customers for the card, you're admitting someone probably took it. If you don't, you're letting someone walk away with Iona's recipe. Either way, people are going to be mad at you. They'll talk about this, and they'll take it out on the store."

My friend was right. And I had no idea what to do next.

"How about if I share a few thrifty ideas for albums?" I said, in an overly perky voice. "Let's give ourselves time to think. Maybe the recipe will show up. In fact, I'll even offer a sweetener. The person who finds the recipe will get a $50 gift certificate to the store."

Yes, it was a lot of money, but I was desperate to save my store's reputation. The potential bribe worked. The women all took their seats and listened intently.

"We all know how expensive albums can be," I said. "And normally I'd be the last person discouraging you from buying a pricey album to showcase your prized family photos."
At that, my customers chuckled.

The sound relaxed me just a little, and I continued, "Sometimes you aren't scrapbooking to create an heirloom. In the immortal words of that wise woman Cyndi Lauper, 'Girls just want to have fun,' right? Having fun doesn't necessarily mean you need an expensive binder for your layouts.”

"There are a lot of other ways you can collect and display your photos.” I described and displayed many examples. “A child's board book—use sandpaper to scuff up the shiny pages. That'll make gluing new paper over them much easier. Catalogs and magazines—glue together 4 or 5 thin pages, cover these with nice paper, and decorate them. Paper bags—stack four lunch bags on top of each other, alternating the open side. Fold them in half. Open them up to reveal the fold line. Stitch them together at the fold line. Fabric—Cut pieces of pre-washed cotton fabric in a 12- by 12-inch size or larger. Stack them and sew them together down one of the edges. Cover that edge with bias binding. Glue your photos directly onto the material. Toilet paper roll cones—flatten them, stack them, and punch holes in one of the short ends. Thread them together with ribbon or a metal ring clip. Each cone can act as a page or a pocket. Ring binders—buy a package of 8- by 11-inch page protectors and treat the ring binders like you would any other album. Drink coasters—punch a hole in them and attach them to each other pearl necklace-style with twine, or ribbon or metal rings. Either cover the coasters with paper or paint them with gesso."

I paused to see how my ideas were going over. My customers were frantically taking notes. The samples I'd put together were being examined with great enthusiasm. Maybe the entire evening wasn't going to be a bust after all.

But how was I going to find that missing recipe? Right then, the front door swung open.

"Don't look now, but the cavalry has finally arrived," said Clancy, and in walked my fiancé, Detective Chad Detweiler.

Editor’s note: Be sure to check out the final installment of this short story in the winter issue of Chicagoland Scrapbooker and on this blog. Can Detective Detweiler figure out who swiped Iona’s family recipe? And can he do it without making all the scrapbookers mad at Kiki? What makes that recipe so fabulous anyway? We have a fabulous red velvet cake recipe to share with you!

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, featuring a scrapbooking mom. To see a list of all of Joanna’s books and short stories, go to Follow her on Facebook for more great crafting ideas at

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kit Bashing -- A Dollhouse Furniture Bargain

"Kit bashing" is a term miniaturists use, and one that every crafter should get to know. You "bash a kit" when you take creative liberties with a project, putting your own spin on it.

I love kit bashing.

Curiously, I've noticed a big difference between miniaturists and scrapbookers. When I took scrapbook classes, a lot of the participants wanted their finished products to look EXACTLY like the teacher's sample. But miniaturists want to do their own "thang." In fact, in the Fred Cobbs' class I recently took, not one single person copied Fred's model! We all made minor adjustments.

For me, the best part of kit bashing is that you have most of the raw materials at hand. So often when you start a project, you discover you don't have enough wood or paper or some item that's absolutely necessary. When you kit bash, you have the basics--and that's your point of departure.

You can "bash" as little or as much as you like.

Recently I bought the Greenleaf Dollhouse Furniture kit.
A lot of dollhouse furniture for the price!

It's advertised as being 47 pieces of furniture, all in one-inch to a foot scale. Although if you read the reviews, the scale is a bit...iffy. I did read the reviews, so I pretty much knew what I was getting into, although the people at Greenleaf could be more helpful by providing clearer photos and measurements for each piece.

Many of the pieces have no back, just a front. None have hinges and as far as I can tell, none of the doors open. Some of the design is pretty weird. A big much-ish. But that was fine by me. I didn't want to have to build everything from scratch. I could start with their project and make it mine!
The space between the front and back legs on the side is totally empty on their version. Notice there are no hinges for the door.
What did I bash?

1. I sawed the top off of the curio cabinet. I also added side panels to the open spaces along the bottom legs to make it more realistic. Then I added a paper clay gargoyle head. I also left off the front doors (for now at least) and some of the trim.

Here's my version (although it needs a coat of polyester shine! Right now the paint is too flat.):

2. The sink in the bathroom was far too big for my bathroom. But the hamper was about the right size--except it had no back and the doors didn't open. So I turned it around 360 degrees. The front is now the back. I added a shelf inside and a door on the front. (Again, I need hinges! My kingdom for hinges!)

And here's my version:

The door isn't really crooked, but when I left it open so you could glimpse the shelf inside, it skews the photo. To make the kick-plate I traced the back onto a second piece of wood and cut it out. The door was trial, error, and sanding. This size works perfectly in my bathroom. I'm now waiting on the sink (white air dry clay molded over a measuring spoon) to dry so I can add the wash basin on the top. I wanted it to be one of those trendy sinks that sits on TOP of the cabinet rather than being sunk into the wood.

These might actually be the only two pieces I use, although I am definitely using the mirrors and frames. Given the cost of dollhouse furniture, I think the kit is a bargain. I paid about $44 with shipping for 47 pieces. That's less than a buck a piece. If I just use the curio, two mirrors, and the sink, that's only $11 per piece. See? I'm definitely getting my money's worth!

How about you? Have you ever kit-bashed? Were you pleased with the results? Would you do it again?