"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts--The Interview

Today I'm hosting our Christmas Blast Out Blog Tour! Leave a comment to be entered in our drawing for a free copy and that $200 Christmas Basket.


(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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How will we remember?

Several years ago, Bob and I went to New York City to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Perhaps the most important thing I wanted to see in NYC next to the parade was Ground Zero at the site of the World Trace Center. We spent the afternoon in the financial district being awed again by the immensity of the tragedy that took place 9/11/01. The rubble is cleared but the empty space is enormous. The subway station is open again and right across from it is St. Paul's Church. This little church with a big heart was central to the rescue operation providing shelter, food, and encouragement. There are display areas set up with remnants of the memorials and the rescue effort for visitors to see.
(For more impressions of 9/11 see my earlier posts: Ground Zero, Ground Zero 2, Ground Zero 3.)

It will not be long before the gaping hole that is in the middle of the financial district of NYC will be filled in with. . .what? How will we remember the day that changed our world? The people that lost their lives? Somehow I think that no matter what the structure, it will be something remembered more in our hearts than in stone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New and Old Country Roots

While my husband came from small town roots (see my Monday post), my family came from two distinctly different areas. My mother's side of the family was southern although Mom never really defined that except to say that my grandmother sure knew how to make Southern Fried Chicken. It has been rumored that the roots for that side go back to John Hancock although I have never seen the proof.

My father's side of the family came from Prague in what was then Bohemia, Czechslovakia. My grandfather came on a ship with his parents and nine siblings and passed through Ellis Island like so many other immigrants did in those days. The story was always told that they lost one daughter in the crowd and confusion. Then they found her years later in Detroit but I never heard what became of her after that. The truly interesting thing was that all of the siblings eventually changed their names to a more Americanized version and none of them were the same.

When we are children and young adults we often don't appreciate the roots we have. I wish I had paid more attention. But the stories are still mine to retell--true or not, they are what were told to me.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Small Town America

This weekend we made a trip to where my husband's family roots are in a small town in south central Ohio. My mother-in-law narrated as we took side streets pointing out the house where she grew up, the homes where some of her siblings and aunts and uncles lived. The homes are a lot smaller than what Bob remembers but then we decided he was a lot smaller back then and his perspective would have been a little different visiting grandma and grandpa's house.

We drove through the center of town and marveled at the detailed brick and sandstone on the buildings that still stood strong. It seems that small towns aren't in a hurry to knock everything down for a modern mall or shopping strip. Those things were there but they were situated closer to the interstate.

Small town roots are good. They go deep and they grow strong and they produce some great families--like my husband's.

Friday, September 05, 2008

FAIR food fare

Who can resist a big fluffy cotton candy on a stick. Nowadays it mostly comes in bags but I still prefer the paper cone and watching the maker twirl it around as the sugar spins out. Cotton candy dates back to the late 1800s. There are four people credited with the recipe but only two, John C. Wharton and William Morrison obtained the patent for the machine in 1899. They premiered it in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair.

The cotton candy machine heats the sugar which is then spun by centrifugal force and forced into the center of the machine through tiny holes that form the fine strands of the sweet stuff that is collected on a paper stick.

My favorite fair food is a candy apple--the real ones with the crunchy red coating. I don't mind the caramel ones but in the heat of summer they can get really gooey. And of course it's a serving of fruit so it's good for you. Right?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


When we were at the fair we walked past the all the carnival games with their "barkers" goading us to come and play. I always look for the milk bottle booth. I remember as a really young child my grandfather giving me a beat up old baseball. I learned later that it was from the booth he ran as a "Carnie." I know now that it was a tough life for him and my grandmother. I can't imagine trying to live on what they made on the carnival circuit.

Someone once told me that it wasn't necessarily how hard you hit the milk bottles but where you hit them that counts. I did a little research and found a few places on the internet that support that theory. You need to aim at the base and the space between the two bottom bottles.

For the balloon dart throw booth I found a hint that says the best prizes are often hung under the balloons at the edges since most people aim for the middle. Also the balloons are a bit under-inflated so throw hard.

On the ring toss game, you need to snap your wrist as you throw so that it spins and if you're going to test your strength, accuracy is more important than how hard you swing the mallet. Aim for dead center.

Finally, it's always been my philosophy that if you really have to have that plush animal, it may be cheaper to just go buy one.

Monday, September 01, 2008

It was a FAIR day

This past Saturday, we took advantage of beautiful late summer weather and ventured out to one of the many county fairs held in Ohio, the Geauga County Fair. This fair is one of the largest and certainly oldest fairs not only in Ohio but in the nation. It dates back to 1823 and has been held yearly ever since despite the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the more modern conflicts after them.

While that first fair was called "Fair and Cattle Show" and prizes were handed out for the best bull and heifer, there were also prizes handed out for fabric arts. Since the mid-1800s the fair has been held in Burton--equally well-known for hosting the maple festival in early spring.

The fair has certainly grown and offers exhibits for every kind of farm animal imaginable including llamas and alpacas. We strolled through the produce building and admired the beautiful harvests and stood amazed at the size of the large gourds and pumpkins. The largest pumpkin was just under 1200 pounds. Buildings (some listed on the historical register) held fabric arts, crafts, antiques, flowers, paintings, photographs, homemade bakery. I'll stop there as the image makes my mouth water. We just missed the apple pie auction.

This is what makes living in the Midwest so great and Ohio especially. While the Ohio State fair is huge, the county fairs bring more focus on local areas and add to community.
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