Wednesday, September 24, 2008


(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, is available in October for Christmas giving. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.
For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sweet Laughter

My sister-in-law, Janet, is at home recovering from a single mastectomy due to breast cancer. These last few weeks of testing, diagnosis and surgery were packed with fear and anxiety. Through it all, however, one thing was constant—the laughter that kept breaking through the tears of her friends and family, those that love her and weathered this emotional hurricane with her.

When I talked to Janet the day she received the bad news there were tears but as impossible as it seems, Janet laughed too. One of her biggest comforts was her friend, Jonesa, who had already gone through having breast cancer and a mastectomy. Jonesa’s husband was a source of comfort too who sagely put it all into perspective by saying, “It’s just a tittie.” That funny and crude way of putting things became the rallying cry of Janet and her quirky group of friends and family.

When I arrived at the hospital on the day of the surgery I wasn’t sure where to go but I followed the laughter echoing through the halls to a waiting room. Sure enough, there were Janet’s prayer warriors making jokes and keeping it light. “It’s just a tittie.” was said over and over to everyone’s amusement if someone dropped a pen or tripped on a rug. It summed up the attitude in the waiting room perfectly. We were not there to agonize over the insignificant while we are so blessed with the things that matter—friends, family, and love. Janet soared through surgery and reconstruction no doubt due to the love and prayers that encircled her.

I know some people were confused by the hilarity that thrived during such a serious time but I am convinced the sweetest laughter is that which rises up from among tears and anxiety. It is born from the joy of the heart and brings with it the beginning of hope. To possess this kind of laughter and to be surrounded by people who can impart this kind of joy is a gift and a real blessing from the Lord. He is the One we know is with us in our tears but He is also with us in our laughter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Magic in the Morning

Because we were late getting in from the Houston Rodeo last Thursday night, I let the boys sleep in on Friday morning and was going to take them to school late. They are early birds, though, and got up just a little later than usual - too late to ride the bus but early enough for me to get them to school just before the tardy bell. It was cold morning with a steady drizzle falling on my windshield. Sam asked a funny question, “Mom, why does the rain go upward before it hits the car?” I had to look hard for a moment before I could see what he was talking about. As we drove down the road the rain would sometimes turn into snowflakes that would bounce off the cushion of air around the car before hitting the window and instantly melting.

Snowflakes in southeast Texas! What a sight! My kiddos were so excited because they have never experienced snow before. It was like the morning had been sprinkled with a little magic. We made a game out of looking hard for the elusive snowflakes. The closer we got to the schools, however, luck was on our side and there were very visible flurries right over the two campuses. The boys each got to get out and stand in the snowfall.

Their excitement at such a small amount of snow made me long to take them back in time to my childhood and let them experience actual snowfall. Ah, the memories of going to bed with high hopes after smelling snow on the night air and waking up to a difference in the light, rushing to the window to see our mundane yard transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland, pulling plastic sandwich bags over three pair of socks and stuffing it all into boots so we could go out to play. I want my kids to experience snowmen, snowball fights, snow-forts, snow-angels and the sweet comfort of hot chocolate while thawing their feet by the fire.

I guess it’s not to be since we live in Texas which is for the best, I think, since my memories of snow have only to do with sleds and snowmen and not with snow shovels and ice-scrapers. The best we can hope for here is the occasional appearance of the mysterious white stuff. It’s funny how something so small could change a cold miserable morning into something exciting for my kids but the morning was magical and we will always remember it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Phantom Pee

I awoke to little hiccups coming from the baby monitor next to my bed. I quickly turned it off before the full fledge wailing could begin. It was three o’clock as I hauled myself reluctantly out of bed and padded in my bare feet down the hall to the kitchen. Sure enough, as I made a bottle of formula my baby girl was giving it her operatic best. I grabbed a bottle of water for myself and put that and the baby bottle on a table beside the easy chair in the living room then went and got Tori. After changing her diaper I settled down in the chair holding her close and began to feed her by the glow of the light.

The whole house was asleep except for us girls. The air conditioner wasn’t running and neither was the fridge, everything was silent. Then I heard it; the distinct sound of someone peeing on the floor next to my chair. Do you know how loud that is at three in the morning? With my heart trying to climb up my tongue I looked around to see what in the world was peeing on my carpet. Was it a dog or even a pesky raccoon that had found its way in? There was nothing there and besides I would have heard it moving around long before it decided to lift a leg. Completely freaked out, I stood up, set Tori down in the chair and turned on the lamp. There it was – a wet spot right there on the carpet!

For a moment my brain was frozen. There was no rational explanation I could come up with besides a mischievous male ghost relieving his phantom bladder. Then I saw the wetness on the table and figured it out. My water bottle had a very small leak in it. When I took off the cap it released pressure allowing the water to slowly leak out and pool onto the table. When the puddle reached the edge it all spilled out on the floor sounding like Niagra falls in the early morning silence. Boy was I relieved. I mean literally, I had to make a trip to the bathroom.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


She lay back in the tub with her ears under the water. When she was a girl she used to like this sensation of not hearing anything but the sound of her own heartbeat – utterly cut off from the rest of the world. Her knees were sticking up out of the water and she stared at the slowly moving line on her jeans that separated the dark wet denim from the dry. A memory came to her from long ago of when her son was young and had hit a baseball into the windshield of the car. The glass had remained intact as one piece but was shattered into a thousand pieces.

Suddenly she became aware of her husband standing over her. With her head under the water she couldn’t understand what he was saying but she saw the question in his eyes and replied, “I’m trying to see what it feels like to have completely lost my mind.” The alarm in his eyes and the way she knew she must look struck some perverse funny bone in her and she snorted. Her husband sat down on the bathroom floor and together their laughter echoed off the tile walls.

This is how they had made it through 32 years of marriage and the raising of their kids – by laughing together, at each other, and at themselves. They would get through this diagnosis with laughter. But then the realization struck her that the future would change her husband into her caregiver and her into his burden. Her giggles then changed into hiccups as she sat up in tub and wrapped herself around the sobs erupting from her soul.

When she finally cried herself into exhaustion, she realized the comforting pressure of his big hand on her back and the water draining from the tub. He helped her stand up and get out of her wet clothes. Stepping from the tub into the towel he held for her, she left her clothes in a wet pile in the tub and followed him to their bed.

Beyond words but needing to reaffirm their connection to each other, they made love slowly and tentatively. Afterward she lay with her back to him, his arms around her, their breathing as one. She still felt anxious and alone. As complete exhaustion pulled her down into sleep she again remembered the ruined windshield, whole but shattered and thought she heard the soft plink of one of the pieces falling out.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Day In the Life of a Mom

Something funny I wrote down a few years ago - Enjoy!
Taking my kids to school this morning Drew, my second grader, asked me what sex is. I was completely unprepared for this. I thought I had another year of blissful ignorance but I guess it's true that kids are growing up faster these days.

In spite of growing up so fast, however, I got a call around lunchtime from the school nurse telling me that same kid has a story to tell. When Drew got on the phone he related to me how he had a ball bearing in his pocket he had brought from home. He was playing with it when he wasn't supposed to, got angry because he couldn't figure out his math problem and he accidentally swallowed the metal bearing. I'm not sure how being angry comes into play and I'm certainly puzzled how Drew could swallow an object he swore was not at any time near his mouth. Since the only real danger of choking on the object had apparently passed I told the nurse to send him back to class.

Between the sex question and the ball bearing story I had a flat tire I had to get fixed at a nasty tire shop. One of these days auto shops are going to figure out the brilliant marketing plan of having a clean bathroom. I mean, I would travel 20 extra miles to wait for my car to be rendered drive-able at a place with a clean bathroom. As it were I managed to hover while I relieved my screaming bladder. I guess it's good for my thigh muscles.

As I left the tire store and entered the freeway, my car started vibrating and threatened to come apart at the seams. I exited the freeway, did a u-turn and headed back toward the tire place just in time for my bladder to start complaining to me again.

Now I am home, my car back to normal and I'm writing myself a note so I won't forget to have Paul put Drew to bed tonight and answer any questions he may have. While he's doing that I have an appointment with Calgon and some chocolate. I figure difficult days are a lot like ball bearings - given time, they too will pass.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

We spent the last day of 2007 among those closest to us. There were fireworks, hot chocolate, song and laughter. I have some of the best friends and family that anyone could ever hope to have. 2007 was a bad year for us financially and after losing two babies I started the year not so happy to be pregnant again but this year brought us the sweet and sassy Tori. Her birth was so scary – I’m thankful we both survived. I couldn’t ever imagine having a little girl, now I can’t imagine our family without her. I made new friends this year that I hope will become lifelong friends (I’m talking about you, Kindra). I am blessed.
New Year’s Resolutions

My husband and I always joke and say our New Year’s resolution is to make no resolutions. That way we won’t let ourselves down. Regardless of that resolution, the New Year does inspire me to make changes. Losing weight has long been on the list and will continue to be for this year, I’m afraid. The battle of the bulge is one I constantly fight albeit half-heartedly. Staying more in the Word, being a better wife, mother, housekeeper (blah!), friend and neighbor all make the list as well.

What is it about the New Year exactly that inspires us to become better people? After all New Year’s Day is just a day like any other. The notion of an end and a new beginning are just figments of our imagination as time marches on without regard to human measurement of days, weeks, years or centuries. Human nature, though, cannot resist a new beginning real or imagined. We are all bumbling our way through life carrying our luggage full of regrets, lost opportunities, failed ventures and stale dreams. A chance to ditch that baggage and begin again with eagerness and a renewed list of priorities is just too sparkly an opportunity to pass up even though we know it will usually end up as more baggage in the long run. The need to improve oneself is divine, I think. So on that note, here is my list of my resolutions starting with the usual and ending with one I’ve never had before:
• Read the Bible more (reading it once a month would be more for me)
• Improve my prayer life
• Be sexier for my husband (yes, I put that on the internet)
• Be more patient with my children
• Seize the fun moments with my children
• Be less scornful of other people, in my heart and with my tongue
• Lose weight (sigh, at least I’m not pregnant right now like I’ve been the last three New Year’s)
• Get better organized with the housework (slay the laundry dragon a little everyday)
• Start a novel and generally work on my writing skills

Never forget the best new beginning we have; “Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22, 23)

~ H A P P Y 2 0 0 8 ~