Taking Care of Yourself This Holiday Season

So often we take care of everything and everyone but ourselves during the holidays. I know, because I’m a poster child for trying to do too much. Right now, I’ve got a miserable cold, and I suspect it’s from getting too little sleep and working too many hours.

The question seems eternal: “How do we care for ourselves, especially during the holiday season?”

One way is to listen to our needs, to make time for us. For those of us who work at home–especially those of us who are writers–it can be especially tempting to work around the clock and on weekends. That seems like a great way to get ahead, but eventually we pay the price in loss of enthusiasm, or burnout.

Making time for yourself pays dividends because it keeps you healthy in mind, body, and spirit. I find that crafting for others not only results in gifts that I like to give, but it also allows me a sliver of meditation space, time for myself.

With that in mind, I’m offering a FREE gift with the purchase of my new book, Handmade, Holiday, Homicide. The gift includes instructions, patterns, and images for thirteen crafty projects. Some are appropriate to do with children; some aren’t. All are thrifty and don’t require special equipment.

Here’s the list:

* A trio of Christmas Carolers
* An Icosahedron Ornament
* Crocheted Necklace
* A Snowman Luminaria
* A Spa Basket

Scented bath crystals are relaxing and help you sleep at night.

* Fantasy Jars
* A Turtle Trinket Keeper
* Gingerbread Men
* A Quilted Glasses Case
* A Scrapbook Album in a Folder
* A Dollhouse in a 3-Ring Binder
* Mini Book Earrings
* A Book Garden

Included with the FREE gift are six yummy recipes!

But hurry…these are only available if you purchase your copy of Handmade, Holiday, Homicide on or before December 15, 2014 (the release date).

Grab your copy today:  http://www.amazon.com/Handmade-Holiday-Homicide-Lowenstein-Scrap-N-Craft-ebook/dp/B00PA26YL2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417791560&sr=8-1&keywords=Handmade+Holiday+Homicide

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?

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?

What to Do When You Get Stuck While Writing Your Book

By Joanna Campbell Slan

When folks complain of “writer’s block,” they’re often complaining that they’ve gotten stuck. Or that they just don’t know what to write next.

That can happen to any of us.

Maybe you know how your book will begin. You might also know how it ends. But what will you do to fill three hundred pages in the middle? Ah, that’s the rub. Suddenly, you are stuck.

When I get stuck, here are some ways I get “un-stuck” —

Change It Up–

  1. Change of scenery — I revisit my protagonist’s world and move her/him to another spot. I find this useful for signaling a plot point or a change of heart.
  2. Change of mind — Most of us don’t move smoothly from Point A to Point B. We zig and zag. We have conflicting emotions. Sometimes we encounter new information. Or we mull over a problem and reconsider what we know. Someone will tell us something we didn’t know. A change of mind gives your protagonist a new course to explore.
  3. Change of cast — You have to be careful not to introduce people willy-nilly, but once in a while, you need someone new to enter the fray. This newbie can tell your protagonist something he or she doesn’t know.

Doing What Comes Naturally–

I’ve found that blocks come when I try to force my characters to twist into unnatural positions. If the action springs naturally, if the sequence is logical, it’s easier to write about it.

Brainstorm Twenty Ways to Proceed–

My friend and mentor Emilie Richards told me that a friend of hers suggested brainstorming a list of twenty things that could happen. Your first five will be predictable. The next five a little less so. The next five might be outlandish. But the final five will really tax your brain. Stretching is good exercise. One of your twenty ways to proceed will probably work. Maybe even two or three of them will. Choose the option that’s right for your book.

Check on a Secondary Character–

Remember the phrase, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch”? That’s a nifty segue, a change to revisit a secondary character, and peek in on what he/she’s doing.

Whatever You Do–

Don’t give up. It’s far too easy to toss your work-in-progress into the trash and start over. The process of working through your stumbling blocks is valuable. Quitting isn’t!

How do you handle getting stuck?

The Nine of Wands: Safeguarding My Energy

Every year my sister and I host a New Year’s Day party at my house. We invite Karen, a local psychic, to come and tell people’s fortunes. Karen is completing her dissertation in biology. She’s whip-smart and very, very talented. Although she has many psychic talents, Karen prefers to use Tarot cards when working with clients.

This year, while Karen was doing my reading, the Nine of Wands showed up.

At first glance, it’s easy to misunderstand what the card means, because it looks like the man is imprisoned by the wands. But on closer inspection, you can see that he’s built a fortress of them. They safeguard him. He is not a prisoner.

Karen told me, “You need to protect your energy. Too many demands on it are sapping you. For you to continue the success you’ve got going with your career, you need to do a better job of keeping people at bay–and saying no.”

I knew that. I felt that. The run-up to the holidays was very busy for me. I’ve had a house full of people, people I love. But I’ve also felt drained and been unable to concentrate on my work. I do my best thinking when I’m alone in my house. I also need to refuse to answer the phone. Well-meaning people say, “Oh, I’ll only talk a minute,” but that minute has cost me an hour of momentum or more.

It’s difficult for others to understand, but my job is not nine-to-five. I don’t start and stop at obvious times. When I’m on a roll, I work around the clock. Even if it looks like I’m doing laundry, I’m thinking. I’m plotting. I’m planning. A phone call seems innocent enough, but it’s like being dragged through one of those black holes they had on Star Trek. I’m yanked out of my reality and into the real world.

I told Karen that I understood what she was saying. She continued the reading, but as she did, I had this urge to get up and pull out my own set of Tarot cards. I mean, I could NOT sit still. Since we were in my office, it wasn’t hard for me to locate my deck.

I handed the case over to Karen, and as I did, all my cards fell out. Face down. She helped me retrieve them.

“One of them is vibrating,” she said calmly, as she plucked it from the pile.

It was this card, the Nine of Wands.

Okay! I get the message!