Friday, September 26, 2008

Calm after Chaos-September 19

Readers, thank you to all of you who prayed for the Houston region during Hurricane Ike. Your prayers were felt. They became part of our shelter through the high winds and water.
As usual, leave a comment here or email me at to have your name entered into a drawing for my new co-authored Christmas book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. Or visit to enter to win a basket of Christmas goodies worth over $200.
The photo is of daughter Sheryle's house and the pine tree which poked holes in roof and let water rain down in nearly every room. But she and others with similar damage are the most fortunate among those who had losses.

First, let me say how sorry I am for all the misery suffered in the South East due to Hurricane Ike stomping through our region. The most sorrowful is the loss of life. Less traumatic, but still devastating, others have been stripped of all the belongings that had rested on their patch of real estate.

While the national news, for the most part, has moved on to current stories, this region will be embroiled in sorting out claims, removing fallen trees, and patching up lives for many months to come.

During any storm in life, the violent disturbance can become a schoolmaster. Here are a few things I observed during Hurricane Ike. Trees are magnificent creations. A positive observation is that a grove of them can block fierce winds, but trees can also crash on homes, ripping apart dwellings and taking lives. But they are used in repairs, too, when lumber is used to shore up roofs damaged by their many cousins.

The same wind can blow a home off its foundation and leave an empty barrel upright, unmoved. The wind blew Jan Tickner’s “Hallelujah!” sign off her back gate, but it didn’t blow the hallelujah out of her soul.

Storms cause friends to rally, to ring us up with offers of prayer. Before the storm our cronies phoned from Africa, Ohio, California, and Arkansas. Emails flooded in from friends in Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and many other places. After the event, friends offered to send money to help. We declined their offers, but the gestures will linger as silver linings.

The human faces in our area reflected so much. There were plenty of smiles, but there were also those looks of resignation, saying we’ll manage, we’ll come through this. After eight days of no electric power and coping with all sorts of clean up activities, weariness settled on some countenances, especially those who had not regained electricity.

On the lighter side, on day seven without electricity or running water, we had our first hot shower at a relative’s home who had power restored. We then trekked to Chick-fil-A
(open for limited hours) in our fresh laundered clothes. We felt way over dressed in our clean jeans.

Doing without made me appreciate the most basic, taken for granted things in life -- refrigerators, electric pumps for wells, air conditioning, tap water, hot water heaters, dish washers, and washing machines. It’s tough seeing your neighbors’ lights shine, while just across the street you still have no electricity. I said to myself several times. “Thou shall not covet. Thou shall not covet.”

Storms test us. Heavy oaks topple and delicate crape myrtle blossoms hang on. Storms and their aftermath become perfect times to lend a helping hand and shine a gracious smile toward your neighbor.

Visit Cathy at

Monday, September 15, 2008

Today, hear from the co-authors of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts


(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book called A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts will soon be available. 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


The September book drawing will be for my new co-authored book: A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday
Send me an email or leave a comment to enter your name. Drawing will be held Sept. 30, 2008.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by this book, more contests for gift basket and books begins on Sept. 15th at blog:


The 1900 Hurricane hit Galveston, Texas with ferocity causing devastation to life and property. Survivors met with a night of terror on the 8th of September, the night when over 6,000 perished. With little warning, the storm swept into the Gulf and barged into an unprepared community. Homes and families splintered, some to never heal.

As Hurricane Ike approaches, I recall stories of courage and bravery recounted from that 108 year-old disaster. The uncanny date for it was September 8, 1900.

This week I spoke with author Janice Thompson who wrote a compelling novel about the 1900 storm, “Hurricane” (Cook Communications). Although out of print, a few copies are still available online. In her fiction, a few characters’ lives also had storm surges, undercurrents that battered their foundations.

When Janice and I spoke we talked about life rip tides. Janice said, “Everyone is shaped by storms.” We either prove strong or weak. We come through with better understanding or we may be robbed of momentum.

The Great Storm is considered this nation’s worst natural disaster. The Sisters of Charity ran a hospital and an orphanage several miles from what is now known as The Strand in Galveston, Texas. At the first sign of rising water the 10 sisters took a few supplies and 90 children to the second floor of the girl’s dormitory.

During the escapes to higher floors, to comfort and distract the children, they sang an old French hymn, “Queen of the Waves.” When forceful salt water rose to the third floor, each nun used pieces of clothes line to lash 6 to 8 children to their waist cinctures.

Afterwards, only three of the boys were saved by clinging to a tree. They finally made it to the high stacks of rubble in the main part of town to tell of the sisters’ bravery. When burials began, the children, some still lashed to nuns were buried together.

As I finish this column on Thursday A. M., Hurricane Ike is churning the Gulf of Mexico, nearing us, an unwelcome intruder. It looks like we’ll all have ample opportunities to rally and take care of our own and our neighbors, those close to our homes and those fleeing the Bay Area.

Some folk already have personal storms they’re battling, so during this weather crisis, be kinder than you need to be. It’s a good time to follow the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Each year, no matter where the Sisters of Charity are serving, foreign or in the Houston area, they sing “Queen of the Waves” on September 8th in memory of the courageous.

Take care, neighbors. May the greatest caregiver of all watch over this patch of his earth and sea. Be a blessing in a storm.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Generation Hand-Me-Downs-Sept 5

August Book Winner: Jane S. from Wasola, Missouri

The September book drawing will be for my new co-authored book: A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday
Send me an email or post a comment here to enter your name. Drawing will be held Sept. 30, 2008.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by this book, more contests for gift basket and books begins on Sept. 15th at blog:

I’m fast falling behind in my knowledge of technology; I'm seemingly stuck in the electric toaster and can opener generation. While I own a few of the newer gadgets, if operational skills were rated, I’d be on the tail end.

I want to buy a few more, but I don’t want to invest two college hours to learn how to turn them on and off. An iPod would be nice, but I’d prefer a grandma-version, storing only 50 tunes.

I’ve mastered the basics on my cell phone and use the camera feature, but my regular digital camera does a better job and doesn’t need film. Wonderful. Through trial and error, I triumphed to upload photos from its tiny disc onto my computer.

It’s obvious to younger members of my family that my techno skills are on the lower end of basic. I can’t even keep up with the coined lingo to describe all the new products. Another thing that I’m falling behind in is “savvy.”

My husband and I don’t watch that much television, but when we do, one of us usually tries to explain the commercials to the other one. And some of the commercials still “zoom, zoom, zoom” right over our heads.

To record a television program or add more memory to a computer, seek help from the thirty-ish age group or even younger, like a six-year-old. Folks past 50 do have admirable skills: we can help those younger because we have accumulated life experiences that can’t be uploaded from a computer. They’re transferred through human contact.

Paul wrote Titus telling him that reverent women should, “Train the younger women to love their husbands and children.” (Titus 2:5). Husbands don’t come with an owner’s manual, and wives aren’t factory programmed to love their husbands for 50 years. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Marriage and family skills are often taught and caught from an older person.

A child needs constant attention, love, care, and disciplines to emerge a whole person, one who can pass along good parenting skills to the next generation. So far, there’s not a parenting machine that will introduce children to God, kiss them, change their diapers, and teach them social know-hows.

Younger families, you have great resources beyond devices -- mature older folk. They may save you from a few stumbles. Look to them. They are the real advances in this generation.

All our gadgets bring some help to life but genuine help is found in living breathing people. Older generations, you who have tried all the sugary cereals and are now into fiber brands, look out for the younger families. Come along side of them. Many are just beginning to open their boxes of Cheerios and they need your backing.