12/28/2008

All Creatures Great and Small


Years ago, I was struck, I think, by the poetical nature of the titles: All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, And yet, as a child spying them on the shelf at my grandparents’ house, I assumed they were boring, stodgy old books, unworthy of my attention. Not until years later did I learn the nature of those books—the memoirs of a veterinarian. That confirmed my first impressions. Certainly there was nothing in those books of interest to me. 

Until I saw the BBC series based on the books. Then I fell in love with the characters. But I still felt little use for the words that birthed them. This summer, that changed. On a trip to Pennsylvania I picked up a copy of All Creatures Great and Small in a coffee shop/used bookstore as I waited on my latte. I read the first page and was captivated by the words and the images they evoked. This was a book I could read! I showed it to my husband, who concurred. We bought the book. 

My husband got it first, needing something to read on the plane ride home. He loved it—but he left it in the pocket of the seat in front of him as we exited the plane. He asked me to find another copy. I finally remembered. He finished it. I set it on my stack to be read, finally picking it up a couple of weeks ago. 

The rest of the book lived up to the first page that had enthralled me. James Herriot’s use of language and imagery and description and humor keep me glued to the pages of this fascinating trip through time and space to experience Yorkshire of the middish-1900s. I enjoyed every page, both for what was said and how it was said. Now to find the rest—and the time to enjoy them!

 

 

12/21/2008

Merry Christmas!



Merry Christmas!

From Our Family to Yours!


12/19/2008

An Unseen Gift

Sometimes I wonder how my almost adult child can do so many good things and then turn around and do so many stupid things. In fact, the more I contemplated that the other day, the angrier I got. One moment she seems to be maturing into a responsible adult. The next, she seems as clueless as a two-year-old. I found myself wanting to lecture, lecture, lecture. I wanted to tell her how disappointed I am in some of the choices she has made lately—nothing horrible, just irresponsible. 

Fortunately, she wasn’t home. As I stewed, imagining my righteous anger toward her, a still, small voice reminded me of something: I do the very same things. I don’t like to admit that. None of us do. But even now, even though I know I have grown up a lot in the past twenty years, I still do stupid things, say stupid things, make stupid decisions. I end up having to apologize. I end up wondering when I will ever learn. Suddenly I saw my righteous anger as what it truly was: self-righteousness. I’m not that much different from my daughter. It’s just that my stupidity shows itself less often. At least I hope it does. 

So for Christmas I’m giving her a gift: I won’t berate her for her actions, I will simply love her through the consequences. She may never even recognize that she has received this gift, but I will know it has been given. Just another step in my own maturing process.

12/13/2008

It Matters

It took me a long time to realize that I mattered to God. I mean really mattered. These days, I am very comfortable in that understanding. At least I thought I was. 

I spent Saturday morning at a wonderful brunch where our hostess fed us amazing food then asked the ladies around the table to tell something surprising that God did for them this year. I don’t always share in these types of situations. I didn’t know all the women in attendance and I get a bit shy. But after awhile, I knew I must open my mouth. 

I shared how God had surprised me this year by giving me encouragement in my writing—from contest finals to a story published in a book, even the encouragement of an award-winning author who met me in a great disappointment and showed me that, even then, God saw me and my writing. When I finished sharing, this statement came out of my mouth: “It surprised me that God would encourage me in something that doesn’t matter. If I don’t take care of my family or something like that, those things matter. But my writing? In the big picture, it doesn’t matter if that happens or not, yet God specifically encouraged me in that over the course of this year.” 

The room went silent. Another woman jumped in. “But it does matter. That’s what I’ve seen in every story shared—it all matters to God.” 

I thought about her words as I drove home. I have had the attitude that my writing is kind of a “throw away.” I’m not published, it isn’t my job, it seems to be just for me, and doing it doesn’t displease the Lord, so I keep on. But my writing isn’t important. Doing or not doing it won’t make any great impact on the important things in life. 

Or will it? Given the incredible encouragements the Lord has given me this year, I think I have believed a lie. My writing does matter to the Lord. It apparently matters very much! If it were truly a “throw away,” something with no eternal value whatsoever, something that will not specifically bring glory and honor to His name, would He so overtly encourage it? I think not! Something of great value—to myself or someone else—lies in telling my stories and telling them well. I think I’d better take that as seriously as God seems to. 

12/09/2008

Friends of the Library Christmas Luncheon


What better way to advertise our writer's group--and promote our books!--than to host a table at the annual Friends of the Library Christmas Luncheon. This was our second year to participate. This year, we themed our table A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. It had the same feel as the book's cover! Leslie even got to speak for a few minutes on the origins of some of our Christmas traditions--and she sold several books in the process. Enjoy the pictures!




12/08/2008

The Bishop's Wife


I do love Christmas movies. I watched one of my favorites last night: The Bishop’s Wife. Cary Grant is an angel that comes in answer to David Niven’s prayer for help and guidance. David Niven is the Bishop who wants to leave a lasting mark on the kingdom of God and to His glory by building a grand cathedral. To that end, he spends his time and energy in raising the funds to build the glorious edifice. He neglects his wife and daughter and forgets the place from which he has risen. 

But through the angel, God shows He cares more about the people in Bishop Brougham’s life and the Bishop’s relationships with them. He cares more about the Bishop helping people than building yet another building. In the end, when the Bishop has submitted to God’s answer to his prayer for guidance, he gives a sermon about giving of ourselves to the Christ Child, not just each other, at Christmas. 

I love this movie for so many reasons. For one, it emphasizes that in our “doing” we cannot forget the “being”—that if our relationships suffer in our work for the Lord, then maybe we aren’t pursuing the right thing. It reminds me that our relationships are truly the only things that last in God’s economy. They are our treasures stored up in heaven. And it reminds me that when we pray, sometimes the Lord answers in ways we don’t expect, redirecting our efforts that we thought so worthy and good into something we didn’t expect, but something so much better, so much more worthy to be called His doing. 

If this movie isn’t on your usual Christmas watch list, be sure to catch it on TV or DVD. It is one of the gems of the season for me.

12/04/2008

Please Excuse . . .

To Whom It May Concern:

Please excuse the lack of blogging at Five Bazillion and One. The writer has been inundated with football details throughout the playoffs, culminating in the state championship game this weekend, Thanksgiving, one doctor visit for herself, one doctor’s visit for her child (to cast the broken hand), one band program, one mission dinner, two basketball games, and, well, life in general.

She should be back to thinking—and writing—again next week. Unless Christmas trips her up, too!

12/01/2008

Dialoguing

As we traveled to and from our football playoff game this weekend, I unwittingly participated in a wonderful writing exercise. With two and half hours of highway driving each way, the kids in my car wanted a movie to pass time. Of course they could all SEE the movie from the back seats. I was relegated to LISTENING to the movie. 

Have you ever listened to a movie? It’s quite an interesting exercise, especially for a writer. Of course, I had seen both of these movies before, so it wasn’t hard to picture the pictures, but there is something about not having the images flickering in front of you that really brings out the words that are spoken and emphasizes the way the story is told. 

Now both of these movies had excellent acting, which helps tremendously. After all, the words written by the screenwriter must be spoken with the unique inflection of the character. But even the best actors have a hard time making flat dialogue come alive. 

These movies didn’t have that problem. The dialogue was witty and real and sarcastic and even silly sometimes, but it worked. It didn’t give information dumps. It didn’t tell too much. It didn’t bypass emotional moments. It felt like how I want the dialogue in my books to sound in my readers’ heads. 

Try it sometime, even if you aren’t a writer. Close your eyes and hear the movie instead of watching it. It’s amazing the things you can discover about the characters just through the words they say—or the things they don’t say!

11/25/2008

Good for a Laugh

It isn’t always a laugh a minute with teenagers in the house. Especially when there are three of them! So I often begin my day with a peek at the Zits comic strip. It helps me laugh at my predicament with oh-so-true scenarios involving two parents and their teenaged son.

Check it out here. If you have—or ever have had—teenagers, I guarantee you’ll laugh.

11/21/2008

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned this week: 

  • Good advice stands the test of time: Twenty years ago, my history professor gave me some advice about how to write historical fiction. Yesterday, a historical novelist that I greatly respect and am honored to call my friend gave me the same advice.
  • Submission and suffering often go hand-in-hand: Have you read I Peter lately? Chapters 2 and 3 talk about submission—to masters, to governmental authorities, to husbands and wives, to each other as believers—and about suffering for doing right, as Christ did. The juxtaposition of these two themes struck me for the first time. We will suffer when we submit to any other human, simply because they are human. Yet we are called to submit, without reviling, entrusting ourselves to God, as Christ did in His suffering. It’s not easy!
  • God can give the most amazing encouragements: In the midst of wondering if I’m doing right in fighting for time to write, I received an incredible encouragement to keep at it, one that truly only the Lord could have done (because evaluation of any type of art is so subjective.) At the same time, my friend, struggling with the need to go back to work, also received encouragement for her writing and a reprieve from starting the new job just as her kids were off school for Thanksgiving vacation.

Have you learned anything this week? I know the Lord is always teaching. This week, I just happened to be listening!

11/17/2008

A Good Day

I needed today. I got a fun phone call about a contest I entered. I caught up on laundry and the kitchen. And I got a bunch of research done for my (hopefully) next book project. I’ll top it off with a good workout , dinner with the kids, and maybe finishing the book I’ve been reading. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this content with my day.

I’m sure things will return to chaos tomorrow, but I’m enjoying this moment.

11/11/2008

Uncomfortable Clutter

The comfy chair and ottoman that my husband bought for my birthday many years ago sits back in a corner of our living room. Beside it, the brick hearth stretches beyond the fireplace, giving me a convenient little “table.” Very often this is strewn with books and papers that need my attention as well as my calendar and my to-do list. I stay on top of it, making sure it is regularly cleared, usually while my family watches a football game or works on homework in the room around me. For almost two and a half years, this space has been convenient and manageable. 

Until now. 

Now it is cluttered beyond recognition due to my lack of time to sit and clear it! I have a stack of research books, most uncracked, one flagged with sticky notes on information to be transferred to paper. And I MUST check the due dates on all of them! 

Blank notecards are stacked, waiting for my words of encouragement to our football team before their first playoff game. A book by a friend of mine sits beneath them, waiting to be read. Booster club receipts and checks occupy the corner near the mantle, needing to be entered into my bookkeeping system, and a rubber band surrounds 25 elementary school literature pieces I agreed to judge. 

Of course the usual stuff is there, too: school papers, calendar, pen, random pieces of paper that need to be filed or noted or even just thrown away. The need to unclutter calls to me. I will sit down this evening and go through things, piece by piece. At least that’s the plan. And you know what so often happens to the best laid plans . . .

 

11/05/2008

Mind Mush

I know. I’ve been quiet. The truth is, I have nothing to say. My brain is mush. Too many “to-dos” clogging up the flow. Not just too many in number, too many in variety. It makes me tired to wear all the hats I’m wearing at the moment. Keeping everything straight is like juggling cats—every time one falls, it dashes out of reach and scratches when you try to get it back in the mix! But some of my responsibilities are winding down now—at least they are supposed to be. 

So forgive my lack of words. I promise it won’t be like this always. (At least that’s what I keep telling myself!)

10/30/2008

Cold Snaps and Pumpkin Pies

I don’t cook much. And what I do cook, I don’t necessarily do well. But I can make a mean pumpkin pie. (It’s my grandmother’s recipe.) So every year in October, at either Halloween or the first cold snap, whichever comes first, I make the first pumpkin pie of the holiday season. I don’t know how many pumpkin pies we eat as a family between the end of October and January 1, but I’m sure the number is ridiculously high. 

The cold set in for a few days last week, so I made the pie on Monday while everyone was gone and left in the fridge for each person to discover on their own. It didn’t take long. We raced through dinner that night and polished off the pie in less than 24 hours. I could easily have made two! 

I have a feeling that with two teenaged boys in the house I’ll be making pumpkin pies even more frequently—both this year and in the next few to come. I just hope I can keep to my “slivers.” Otherwise, I’ll be asking for new clothes for Christmas!

 

 

10/27/2008

Monday Mayhem

A cold morning. No pressing engagements. A mound of laundry and dishes to be done at leisure. Peace and quiet in the house.  What a lovely prospect. 

For about three minutes.

That’s the amount of time I had to revel in my Monday morning. Then my phone rang. My ringtone—the theme song from The Amazing Race—alerted me that it was one of my children calling. Before I answered I determined I would NOT bring up to school whatever it was that whoever forgot.

“Mom, we got hit,” my son said. They’d gone to pick up some neighbors for school today and while turning into the driveway from a busy street got hit from behind. Bumped, actually, when the car behind them got hit by the car behind them. I threw on a sweatshirt, jeans, and my house shoes and left. He’d said they were all okay, but this being my daughter’s first real accident, I wanted to make sure she covered all the bases—and I didn’t want anyone taking advantage of her or trying to pin the blame on her because she is a teenager.

By the time I got to the site the woman who bumped my daughter, a mom who was concerned that my kids get to school on time, had taken her phone number and sent her on since there was no damage to either car. But then the police arrived because the third car was smashed up pretty good. I waited around, again to protect my daughter’s interests. In the cold. With bedhead and unbrushed teeth. On the main road in our town. For over ½ an hour. Finally, I drove home, changed into real shoes and brushed my teeth then met the officer and my daughter at her school so he could take her statement and assess that she had no damage.

It all turned out fine. She has no blame in the situation and no damage to her car. But there went my peaceful Monday morning. Dare I hope for Tuesday?

 

 

10/24/2008

Echoing the Ancients

I’ve been doing a Bible Study on women of the Bible and it’s scary how much I hear their voices echoed in my own, especially today. 

I got a rejection letter today. Well, an email, to be exact. I found thoughts like these running through my head: 

How long, O Lord? I’m getting old! (Can you hear Sarah’s lament in there?)

I have no idea where I’m going. Can I just lie down and quit? (Hagar the handmaiden’s actions spoke louder than her words.)

I’ll do another book. Maybe then an editor will love me. (Hello, Leah.)

Give me publication, lest I die! (Poor Rachel! The very thing she said would happen if she didn’t get children happened while bearing the second one she demanded.) 

In all the recounting of these women’s lives, I see their impatience and all the trouble it caused. But I also see God’s redemptive grace. I see women who had a sure word from the Lord about their futures, some even from the mouths of angels, and yet they wavered in their belief that what was spoken of them and to them would ever happen.

I don’t have quite that sure of a word. I don’t have any divine promise that I’ll ever see a book of mine published. But I know I have to write. It’s as much a part of me as blue eyes and brown hair. So for now, I’ll go with that.

 

10/21/2008

Grocery Store Gym Rats

I used to hate women who showed up at the grocery store in their workout clothes. I viewed each one of them as a mockery of my inability to find the time or energy to exercise. It was as if they flaunted their self-discipline in front of me. And I hated them for it. 

But lately I’ve found myself in grocery stores, sweaty and pony-tailed, my running shoes squeaking on the floor as I race through the aisles. I don’t do this to call attention to my activity, but instead as a prudent effort to keep from having to make two trips out of the house! Suddenly I understand these women I previously scorned. After all, what busy wife and/or mother, knowing she has a list of two or twenty or fifty items that must be bought that day, would pass up the grocery store on the way home? And how I look at the grocery store? I’ve long since given up caring about that! 

So now I’m one of “those” women. And if you spy me grabbing cereal and milk after I’ve come from the gym, just remember that my appearance is no reflection whatsoever on yours!

10/19/2008

Book Fair

Yesterday, in spite of homecoming dance busyness, I took a few hours to help set up the book fair at school. I love the book fair. I’m a sucker for good children’s literature and, in this case, my purchases benefit our school library. To justify my itch to buy, I usually do some niece/nephew birthday and Christmas shopping at the book fair. Of course each year I also pick up one or two titles for myself, sometimes to put away and wrap for myself for Christmas, sometimes without even that pretense! 

But it isn’t just the buying part I enjoy. I also love working the book fair, helping parents and students find a book they will love, a book that will fuel their love of reading. It reminds me of the days early in my marriage where necessity intersected dreams in my job at a bookstore. Sometimes I miss being surrounded by books and by people who want to read and want to talk about what they’ve read. It’s what has made me occasionally toy with owning a bookstore of some sort. But then again, the work would cut into my reading time!

10/16/2008

Care to Share?

I’m looking for advice. I’m treasurer in an organization where the vp and I fundamentally disagree with the president as to how to fulfill the mission of our organization and how that translates into monies spent. It is such a frustration situation, one I’ve never experienced before in all of my work in various organizations. Do I just ignore it? Do I orchestrate a coup? Do I simply dig in my heels and refuse to allow expenditures that the vp and I don’t agree with?

This type of conflict is the very reason I’ve avoided taking these types of volunteer positions. Anyone care to share something that’s worked in a similar situation in the past?

10/13/2008

Mind Clutter

I’ve wondered, lately, why it is I war against taking on leadership positions of any sort. Today, I had a new insight: mind clutter. With all the things I’m “in charge” of this fall, it isn’t that I don’t have any time to write, it’s that my mind is cluttered with the details of all those other things and can’t find the space to think about the stories I want to tell or the words I want to write! 

I don’t have this issue so much when I’m in “worker bee” mode. I just do the tasks I’ve agreed to do, such as driving kids to and fro practices and games and field trips or working at the admission gate or concession stand, and while my body works, my mind wanders. I think and plot and consider. Then, when a bit of real time opens up in my schedule, I’m ready to write.

 But these days my mind teems with to-dos and don’t-forgets. It constantly works over schedules and details, trying to ensure that nothing goes unattended. I guess if I only had charge of ONE thing, it wouldn’t be so stifling. But more than one leadership position has crowded out my “mulling” time and, thus, my creativity.

 I know it isn’t forever. In fact, when football season ends, things should get back to a more normal pace, even if it is still a frantic one. That is, of course, if I can steer clear of any other responsibilities being dumped in my lap! 

10/07/2008

Historical Done Right

There are a lot of historical novels out there that do historical in different ways. Some want to tell the story of a time period or historical event and create characters that seem to serve only as a venue to convey information. Some take a story or a character that seems almost modern in thought and action and simply place it in a historical backdrop. But the ones who do it best are those that tell a compelling story about a character that is completely imbedded in his time and place in history. In other words, the story and the history are so intertwined that one cannot be separated from the other.

I read two books like this recently. Actually, I picked up the first one, William Henry is a Fine Name, which won a Christy award in 20007, on Sunday morning. (We go to church on Saturday nights.) By the time I turned out the light and went to bed, I had not only finished the book, but I was half-way through its sequel, I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which came out last month. By Monday afternoon I’d finished that one, too. 


Cathy Gohlke does what a historical author should do. She tells a story. It is a story of another time and place, but, more importantly, it is the story of a character, of his growth and change. It is the kind of story that reminds us that people who lived in earlier times were just people like us, people who had moments of faith and doubt, lived through hardship and joy, and vacillated between worry and confidence. People trying to make sense internally of what was happening in their external world. 

Next time you itch to be transported to another time and place, consider these books. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

10/06/2008

A New Library

I’ve always loved libraries. I can remember the branch library we frequented in my growing up years. It wasn’t glamorous, but it held all sorts of wonderful books. College libraries bring back so many good memories, too. But in the time I’ve lived in this town, I’ve lamented the fact that the library was small and cramped, because I not only like libraries for the books they hold, I also love the atmosphere. I enjoy sitting at a table or in a chair among the stacks and writing or researching.

 So imagine my joy when just last month they opened a new library building in our town! It is big—2 stories—with plenty of areas to sit and work. It even has tables and chairs on an upstairs balcony that runs the length of the building. A rock wall is the centerpiece. There are spaces just for children and for teens, plenty of computers to research on, and windows everywhere. And the cushy chairs even have small swinging table things attached to the arm! 

It will take some time to build up the collection of books to fit the new space, but that will be exciting to watch. I hope to make myself a frequent fixture, my fingers racing across the keyboard, inspired by the books that surround me. What more could a writer want?

9/29/2008

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

A SCRAPBOOK OF CHRISTMAS FIRSTS

 

(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.

 

 

9/25/2008

A Real Book

Thanks to my dear, tenacious friend Leslie Wilson, today I hold my very own copy of a book with my name in it. No, not a novel. Not even a book with my name on the cover. Or even in the “acknowledgements” section, although such books have been very special to me. 

In this book, on page 107 to be exact, my reworked article “Let it Snow,” along with my name, appears in the newly released gift book A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. (Check back Monday for an interview post with the authors!)

 It’s my first time to be published in a real book. (Okay, so one flash fiction piece got added to the contest’s anthology, but who buys those? No one. At least, no one except the people who have stories in them!) And what a beautiful book to debut in! It is full of color, scrapbook-style pages relating heartwarming stories, mouth-watering recipes, and holiday tips and traditions for making the Christmas season memorable. 

I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! Is it time to put up the tree yet?

9/23/2008

ACFW 2008

For me, this year’s ACFW Conference was all about relationships: my relationship with God, my relationships with others, and my pitching relationships to agents and editors. I hardly remember going to classes, though I know I attended a few. My most memorable times were spent in conversation. Not just how-are-you, what-do-you-write conversations, but deeper communication, the relating of our lives and how God is working in them. In the prayer room, I poured my heart out to the Lord both in joy and disappointment and was answered on both occasions with the hugs and prayers of two very wonderful authors. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I pitched my book well. My words came easily and I felt comfortable sitting and talking with editors and agents with whom I had meetings. All in all, it was a great conference! 

Here are some pictures of friends old and new.


 Me and Lisa Buffaloe at the Saturday night banquet. Every time we meet face to face we connect more deeply as people and writers. 


Heather roomed with me and won the Genesis contest for Women's Fiction! Woo-hoo Heather! Gina Hernandez, a wonderful writer from Florida, completed the trio that turned Friday night dinner into a 7 hour gab session, covering every topic from marriage and kids to theology and writing!

Me with Susan Meissner at the Mall of America booksigning event. I will tell you more about Susan's book in the coming days.


Funny lady Katy McKenna. I love this woman! We met at the end of last year's conference and regretted not getting to know each other better then. This year we were able to spend a bit more time together. She is such an encourgement to me!

As I process through all that happened over the weekend, I'm sure you'll hear more about it. For now, I am content knowing I was where God wanted me to be this weekend. And I'm energized to take up the journey of writing once again.

9/15/2008

Oh, the Desire to Spend!

Most women encounter the temptation to spend when they see a dazzling pair of shoes or a trendy outfit. Not me. My closet will attest to the fact that I am overly frugal when it comes to my appearance. But let me walk into a office supply or stationary store and—look out! My wallet seems to jump into my hands and beg me to open it wide.
 
Today I salivated over the zip-up binders that hold a legal pad and oh, so much more. Do you know what these things run? I was thinking $10 or $15. Boy, was I wrong! One cute red leather one even had handles so it looked like a purse. And don’t even get me started on the computer bags!
 
But it isn’t just the higher end items that get me going. I could try a new pen every week. Or stapler. Or file folders. Highlighters. Post-it notes. Cute paper to print out all those holiday letters I never get around to writing. The list goes on and on.
 
This is not new, of course. I remember when I was a young mom and our MOPS leadership group, of which I was a part, had a retreat. We were given a “get to know you” sheet to fill out. One of the questions was “Where is your favorite place to shop?” Now this MOPS group met at a large church in a very affluent part of town, so answers mostly centered around the upscale malls. My answer? Half-price books. Ok, so that’s not “office supplies,” but books fall into the “paper” category. Paper and bags and all that go with them would, I guess, be a more accurate description of my fetish. So I’ll never be a fashion plate, but if my file folders match my computer bag, I’ll be happy.

9/12/2008

Thomas Hardy

I’ve read two Thomas Hardy novels in the past few months: The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D’Ubervilles. I have to say, I love Hardy’s use of language—his descriptions, his metaphors, his way of describing a look or a feeling. Absolutely lovely!
 
But the stories themselves can be a bit depressing. Not in an “all is woe” kind of a way, but because one of the major characters usually comes to a point where he/she has to make a decision about how to respond to a person or circumstance. In both books, I grieved the character choosing to respond in a self-serving way. The decision always resulted in disaster, whether for that character or for another character.
 
I can deal with these kinds of “darker” stories because the entire they show s a visible, tangible picture of what kinds of things can happen when you make decisions based on emotion or selfishness or a desire to conceal the truth (all of which could be argued to be the same thing!)
 
These are the kinds of stories I take my inspiration from, the kind of stories I want to write—although I’d like to show the effects of good decisions, too. I want my stories to make people think, consider, change. And I want them to stand the test of time.
 
Impossible? Probably. But a worthy goal, I think.

9/10/2008

Tastes Great vs. More Filling

As a writer, I look for conflict—or potential for conflict—in big and little situations. I draw on such things for my characters. Tonight I noticed an interesting one: foodie vs. teenage boys.
 
Elizabeth’s culinary delights don’t exactly thrill her brothers. It isn’t just that she uses ingredients that they are convinced they don’t like, or that she likes to plate the food in interesting ways. Many times it comes down to the amount of food allotted to each person.
 
She made salmon cakes tonight. She never makes them the same way twice. Tonight, they had an Asian flair. There were two for each person. The boys actually like these. They were happy. Until about 15 minutes after they’d finished their dinner. Next thing I knew, they were cooking one of the cheap-o pizzas I keep in the freezer for those occasions when everyone is on their own for dinner.
 
Ah, well. Either she’ll find a husband who appreciates her efforts to please his palette or she’ll learn that a man—or a teenaged boy—mostly wants something to fill his stomach. And if it tastes good? That’s a bonus.
 
 

9/08/2008

Ten Days and Counting

In ten days I will board a plane (at a ridiculously early hour of the morning, thanks to the cancellation of my original flight!) and head to Minneapolis, MN, where I will have the privilege of participating in the ACFW Annual conference for the third year in a row.

Four days of talking to writers, worshipping with writers, praying with writers, laughing with writers, even crying with writers. Four days of learning and pitching and volunteering and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

Can you tell I’m excited? It will be a much-needed break from all things football, although I will hate missing one of the few JV games on our schedule.

9/04/2008

Branching Out

To all my friends and family that tune in to keep up with what my children are doing: I’ve created a new blog just for you! 

Keepin’ Up With the Kids is up and running. I promise to keep it updated with fun stuff, including pictures, just for those of you too far away to enjoy the craziness of our lives! 

I will continue to blog regularly about life and relationships and writing and all that good stuff at Five Bazillion and One. But now my friends and regular readers won’t have to wade through the “proud mom” posts to get to the other parts of me!

Morning and Evening

I ran across this verse not long ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. (I’m adding verse 1 for context.)
 
Psalm 92:1, 2
 
It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night.

At the beginning of each new day, I can tend to worry: will the Lord really be faithful today? After considering this verse, I see that is the wrong approach.
 
In the morning, before the day has begun, all I can truly declare about that day is God’s lovingkindness toward me. His steadfast, loyal love is present with me in that moment. I can know and declare it. I can trust that everything that comes to me throughout the day will be filtered through that love.
 
But at night, as I reflect back on my day, I can declare His faithfulness. In little and big ways, He meets me throughout the day, giving strength or conviction or discipline or self-control or joy or just a sense of His presence. His faithfulness is evident at the end of each day. In the mornings, I have faith in His faithfulness. At night, I can declare it as a certainty.
 
So now as I wake each morning, I remember His lovingkindness. And as I lay down each night, I recount His faithfulness. I can’t think of a better way to bookend my days.
 

9/03/2008

Indulge Me!

Forgive me for bragging a bit more, but so many of my readers are far-away family! So here’s my latest in sports reporting:
 
Not to be outdone by big brother, Nathan played a crucial role in the middle school victory yesterday. He quarterbacked the team, throwing one touchdown pass. He played defense, with several tackles and one QB sack. And he did all the kicking, making 3 of 3 extra point attempts, despite Gustav’s gusting.
 
Should be a great season for them both. And I promise I won’t spend my blog words with a play-by-play of every game!
 
 
 

9/01/2008

All Organized!

This summer I’ve had a goal: clean out and organize the parts of my house that hide behind cabinet and closet doors and in scary drawers. Throughout June, July, and August, I systematically worked from room to room, in between running kids and finishing my book. I wanted to have everything in order by September 1st

And yesterday, I finished! The rest of my house may be a mess, but I can open all the doors and drawers and find exactly what I’m looking for. 

At least for now.

8/30/2008

Are You Ready for some Football?

Being a Texas girl, I live and breathe football in the fall. And for a football fan and mom, Friday night and Saturday were AWESOME!
 
Aaron got his first chance to kick at the varsity level on Friday night. It’s six-man football, so field goals are rarely attempted, but he made 5 of 7 extra point attempts. That was pretty exciting. At least I thought so until this morning.
 
JV played their first game today and, frankly, our jv players are small and slow compared to most teams. But we didn’t count on the largeness of their hearts! They were down the entire game, but hung in there. When the center was hurt, Aaron stepped in and handled it. Our jv quarterback was battling a bad headache, so the backup QB stepped in and did beautifully. With 4 minutes left in the game they had the other team backed nearly to the end zone. Aaron made a hit, caused a fumble. We recovered and scored, putting us ahead by four! Of course, there was still time left and we had to stop them. They marched past mid-field. Their QB launched the ball into the air just as the buzzer sounded to end the game. AND MY AARON INTERCEPTED IT AT THE 10 YARD LINE!!!!
 
Game over. We win.
 
Amazing!

8/27/2008

Meeting God at Every Turn

I read an incredibly wonderful book the other day—Catherine Marshall’s Meeting God at Every Turn. I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile, but I think the Lord saved it as an exclamation point to the weekend I spent finishing my book.
 
Catherine Marshall, in case the name rings a bell but you can’t quite place it, wrote the novel Christy, as well as the story of her husband, preacher Peter Marshall, A Man Called Peter. She wrote other books as well, a dozen or so, all told. Most were books on Christian living, and, I confess, I haven’t read any others of those. Just her two fiction works. Until now.
 
Meeting God at Every Turn was written just a few years before Catherine went to be with the Lord. It is the story of her life, but not just the events of that life. It is also the story of her spiritual journey. She talks about herself with such honesty, reveling her own shortcomings, her own wrong patterns of thought, and how God met her at each place, nurtured her into a deeper relationship with Him through the often painful twists and turns of life.
 
Besides challenging and convicting me, her words gave me a longing to strive every day to know God more fully, listen to Him more completely, and display Him more boldly.

8/23/2008

Cover Story


Although two or three of my stories have found their way to the cover of NeighborsGo, the local magazine insert in The Dallas Morning News, I still get excited when it happens. 

Today I awoke to find my story about the Mission HCA trip to Ghana, focused on the kids presenting school supplies to a village school. To me, having my story make the cover means I’ve found a noteworthy event to cover. That makes me feel good as a writer. And when it is an event so close to my heart, that’s even more fun. 

But this particular cover stunned me: the picture they used was this one of Elizabeth! 

To see the cover and read the piece, click here and scroll down to the "my stories" section.

8/21/2008

The Last First Day

And so it’s over: Elizabeth’s last First Day of School.
 
The pictures didn’t turn out.
 
She came home and slept.
 
Kind of anti-climactic, huh?
 
But whether it comes in with a bang or a gentle whisper, the Senior year has officially begun.
 
 

8/19/2008

Squashing the Olympic Dream

My fifteen-year-old son has the driest wit. We’ve been watching the Olympics, where, of course, there are often athletes competing that are close to his age. Here’s our conversation from the other day:
 
“Mom, you squashed my Olympic dream,” he said.
 
“I did what?”
 
“You squashed my Olympic dream.”
 
“How’s that?” I asked.

He shook his head slowly. “You wouldn’t buy me a ping-pong table or a badminton set. Now I’ll never win a gold medal.”
 
We have laughed about that for days now.

8/17/2008

Return of the Runaway

This has been a crazy-busy summer. Between “normal” teenager stuff (social life, appointments, sports, work, etc, etc.) times 3, trying to get my house organized, dealing with a boatload of responsibility at my kids’ school that got dumped in my lap, and putting the finishing spit and polish on my novel, I’ve teetered on the edge of sanity! So last Thursday I ran away—with the permission of my family, of course!
 
I spent two and a half days ALONE in a cabin, with nothing but my computer, my Bible and my ipod. It was glorious. I spent some uninterrupted time with the Lord. I worked through the last edits on my book, readying it to send to an agent. I slept. I even watched a movie. And I reveled in the silence.
 
I came home refreshed in body, mind, and spirit. My book will go in the mail on Wednesday. Now I’m ready to concentrate on school and football and college decisions and catching up with friends and getting ready for my trip to the ACFW conference. And I’m ready to keep up with my blog again!

8/05/2008

Not That!

Last year I took on a volunteer role at school that I didn’t want to do. It required two things—organization and coordinating people. I can organize, but I don’t particularly like to lead, or even organize, people. So at the end of last school year I purposefully took on a different job, one in which the duties involved organization alone. No dealing with other people.
 
Or so I thought.
 
Suddenly I find myself thrust into the same position I hated, but on a larger scale, and in addition to the job I so smugly assumed was my protection against the other. Yesterday I was ready to scream and cry and throw a bit fit. But after looking again and again at the other options (of which there weren’t any), a thought suddenly struck me: maybe the Lord allowed this. Maybe He wants me to learn how to deal with people.
 
Not a happy thought, let me tell you. I don’t like it. I don’t do it well. It frustrates me to tell people what needs to be done and have them ignore or dismiss me. And yet, in spite of finagling my life to avoid such a thing, here it is again. So I am accepting this as the hand of the Lord. Teaching me. Stretching me. Again. Continually. It never stops. Even when I feel like protesting that I’m as grown up as I want to be. It all goes back to that word the Lord spoke to my heart so many years ago: I love you so much I have to grow you up.
 
It’s one small lesson amidst a lifetime of others. Maybe I can get it one right this time. Or at least more right than I got it last year.

8/02/2008

Summer's Waning Days

I’ve been quiet lately. No, not because I’ve been sitting around a pool, book in hand, cool drink by my side. I only wish! Alas, I’ve been busy with too many other things—cleaning out my house, writing, grocery shopping, laundry, piano lessons, etc.
 
Today, I took my kids to get their sports physicals. My son, my 10th grader, came in at 5’8” tall, 108 pounds. I had to laugh. Those were my stats the day I married! I told him he could fit in my wedding dress (almost)! (He didn’t seem to appreciate that.) Anyway, it makes it official. He is as tall as I am. And my youngest son is just a couple of inches behind. Yikes!
 
So football two-a-days kick off on Monday, which means summer is officially over. Kind of. Two and a half weeks until classes actually start. In between are orthodontist appointments, dentist appointments, piano lessons, and, of course, football practices. My kids may bemoan the fact that their days of freedom are nearly at an end, but I have to say: I’m so ready for a regular routine!

7/27/2008

Images of Days Gone By

My daughter, who is co-editor of the yearbook at school, pulled out all our old yearbooks this weekend. She wanted to see “how far yearbooks had come.” You know, since the olden days.
 
Back when, I explained to her, the yearbook staff took their pictures with real film and even, in some cases, developed those pictures themselves in dark rooms on the school campus. No weeding through thousands of digital pictures for that perfect one to splash on the yearbook page. No, “archaic” yearbook staffs had to make do with the pictures they took, never knowing until well after the event how they had turned out.
 
But beyond the scrutiny of the yearbooks’ layout and content, my kids got a kick out of the “senior awards” in both my husband’s and my senior yearbook. In his, he was voted “Mostly Likely to Make a Million.” Over the course of eighteen years as a lawyer, he probably has. I, on the other hand, was given the “Nervous, Klutz, Reckless Driver” award.
 
Of course, to make counteract such an auspicious award, I held up my final high school transcript, which happened to fall from the pages of that yearbook. My ACT score was quite respectable, as was my GPA. So while I may not have garnered much respect socially, I was stellar in the classroom.
 
The trip down memory lane was fun, though. I can’t believe we are embarking on her last year of high school. It has gone so fast. But she is excited to know that the memories to be made in this milestone year will find their way into a yearbook created by her direction. That will be an accomplishment she can cherish for years to come.

7/22/2008

Kristy Dykes

I never imagined someone I’d never met could touch my heart so deeply. Since last November, I’ve been following the journey of Kristy Dykes, writer and ACFW member, and her unexpected diagnosis of a brain tumor. Her husband Milton kept up her blog at her request. I feel I’ve come to know not only this fellow writer, but this family. And what I’ve come to know has blessed me beyond words.
 
Kristy’s and Milton’s deep, strong faith came shining through the blog, but so did their understanding of life in the here and now. Humor and grief marched side-by-side through their harrowing ordeal. Their fierce love for each other, in spite of their admitted flaws, challenged me in my own relationships.
 
Kristy went to be with Jesus yesterday. I wept this morning as I read the words. But her story is not over. Kristy’s words and Milton’s words about Kristy will continue to affect the lives of others for a long time to come.

7/20/2008

Pound By Pound

Is it any wonder I’m gaining weight? It would be impossible to spend enough hours at the gym to counteract my daughter’s culinary experiments. This morning it was homemade donuts. We tried to make things healthier. She made whole wheat ones for my husband and I. And we had a fresh fruit salad on the side. But whole wheat donuts are still donuts, in all their fried and sugar-coated glory.
 

7/13/2008

New York City--Boy Style

A Yankee game from the lower deck—thanks to one of my husband’s clients.
 
Pizza. And more pizza. And more pizza. And burgers. And more pizza. And desserts.
 
Central Park.
 
Times Square.
 
Niketown.
 
We did make them go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And they finally okayed the American Museum of Natural History since it was across the street from our hotel. But overall, quite a different trip from the ones I’ve taken before. I will say this—never again will I have to do the overview tour bus. I’ve now done it with all of my children!
 
But New York is New York. The city energizes me somehow. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the same if I lived there, but when I visit, I wake up ready for the adventure of each new day and I fall asleep without effort.
 
Now I’m home to my crazy yet mundane life.

7/01/2008

The Storm Before the Calm

Vacation is great. I love getting away from my normal four walls and my normal routine. Whether it be to visit family or sightsee or sit on a beach or ski down a slope, I always enjoy it—when I’m there.
 
It’s the getting ready to go that nearly undoes me.
 
I’m in that mode at the moment. Suitcases litter the house. The washing machine runs non-stop. Lists beget lists.
 
It truly is the storm before the calm. I know once we get out the door I will breathe a sigh of relief. Then vacation begins.

6/26/2008

Cars

Since last Tuesday (June 17):

My daughter's car has been inspected, had the oil changed, and received two new tires.

My SUV has had new brakes--twice, the first parts proving defective--been inspected, had the tires rotated, and received a new battery.

My husband's car has been involved in an accident (while I was driving--not my fault) and is awaiting repairs to the front fender, bumper, and door. Of course this is after I spent time with the other guy's insurance adjuster and recounted the accident to two different insurance representatives.

The only expected things in this list were the state inspections. Everything else was a surprise. I'm so ready for all my cars to just need gas. As painful as it is to fill up, it's much better than being on a first name basis with the guys at the garage!

6/25/2008

Anniversary Surprise

I heard my husband’s footsteps yesterday afternoon. At least they sounded like his. But it was only 2 pm. Why was he home? I’d just spoken with him on the phone 15 minutes earlier and he seemed busy, not inclined to just take the afternoon off.
 
“Honey? Is that you?” I left my study and headed toward the living room. There he stood, hands behind his back.
 
“Happy Anniversary!” he said. (Our 21st anniversary is Friday.)  He pulled a thin, rectangular box with an Apple logo on it from behind his back. A Macbook!!! I couldn’t believe it! It was especially timely since this weekend, on top of all its other problems, my laptop decided it didn’t want to stay powered on more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time.
 
So I’ve been happily switching all my files and learning how to navigate this new system. The best thing is I can take it on vacation next week and actually use plane and train travel time to get some work done!!
 
So Happy Anniversary to me. Isn’t my Honey great?

6/20/2008

Minneapolis, Here I Come!

I just finished all my registration for the ACFW Conference in September in Minneapolis! Woo-hoo! It will be my 5th major conference to attend since I started seriously writing seven years ago. And it will be a very different experience from the previous four.

Why? Because I’m going it alone. That’s right, neither of my critique partners and dear friends will be there. On the one hand, I’m sad. We’ve had so much fun rooming together, talking through our encounters and classes each day while we are lying in bed. We’ve laughed and cried and encouraged each other. I will miss them terribly! But on the other hand, it’s a good thing. Suddenly I will have no one to hide behind, no one to shadow in a room full of hundreds of people. I will have to step out and make friends. Oh, there will be people there I know. Just not ones I know as well as I know Mary and Leslie!

I would still really like to find a roommate for the conference, but I’m leaving that in the hands of the Lord. I’m excited to see who He will bring along to share the room I’ve reserved. And I’m excited to see the fruit of my growing confidence over the past few years. It will be hard to go it alone. And yet I know I won’t be alone. I will have the strength and encouragement of my God, the prayers of my friends and family, and a whole new passel of friends yet to be met.

6/19/2008

You're Gonna Miss This

It’s been a crazy few days getting my daughter ready for her Ghana trip and my son back to the campground where he is working day camps for refugee children. I’ve wanted to pull my hair out, been frustrated at my to-do list that gets longer instead of shorter. But all this morning as we readied to leave for the airport, the chorus of the new Trace Atkins song kept running through my mind.

Have you heard this song? It follows a girl from her teenaged years through being a new bride and a young mother. At the end of each chorus, an older person gives her some advice (the chorus.) Now, I’m not overly sentimental about my kids growing up and leaving home. I’ve always looked forward to an empty nest. And yet I find myself singing these words and tearing up:

You’re gonna miss this.
You’re gonna want this back.
You’re gonna wish these days, hadn’t gone by so fast.
These are some good times. So take a good look around,
You may not know it now—but you’re gonna miss this.

And for anyone interested, my daughter’s mission team has a blog they will be updating throughout their trip. You can read it here.

6/17/2008

Caddying

I have never—I repeat, NEVER—watched golf on TV. Until yesterday. Yesterday I was captivated by the playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate, captured by the intense drama of a 45-year-old man ranked 158th in the world playing 18 holes with arguably the best golfer ever and hanging in there, until the final stroke of the sudden death hole.

But you know what else I noticed as I watched? The caddies. These guys are dedicated to golf. They follow around the guys who play the game (and make the big bucks) with the bag of clubs slung over their back day after day after day. They help the golfer chose the right club for the right shot. Tiger’s caddy even stopped him just before a shot and asked him to reconsider his approach. “That was a brave thing to do,” said one of the TV commentators. And yet, it just seemed right. After all, the caddy wanted his guy to play well. Thus, his last minute questioning of the shot.

As I watched the support and the camaraderie between the caddies and the golfers, it occurred to me that some of us are called to a “caddying” role in our lives. The caddy has his golfer’s success as his goal. He understands the game in minute detail and advises and encourages the one actually doing the golfing. His is not the place in the spotlight. It’s behind the golfer, mostly out of the view of the cameras. It’s a sweaty, back-breaking job. And yet, for those called to do it, it appears to be immensely rewarding.

Are you “caddying” for someone in your life right now? Perhaps someone is “caddying” for you. Either way, remember that the person doing the thankless job of carrying the clubs and giving advice and support is often more valuable than the winning purse at the end.

6/16/2008

Summer Whine

I can’t think of anything to write.

My daughter leaves for Ghana in 3 days—and works every day until then.

Two of our cars need to go to the shop for inspections and repairs.

My novel is sooooo close to being finished, but chunks of writing time elude me.

I need to call insurance companies with questions about my coverage/policies.

Most of my closets and cabinets are begging to be cleaned out and reorganized.

And I’m fighting either a cold or allergies.

The bank. The grocery store. Laundry.

Summer is supposed to be fun and relaxing. I’m supposed to have time to write, too. And that begins when?

6/10/2008

Two Quirky Stories

So I was in Wal-mart the other day and I saw the most unusual (read: creepy) tattoo. I passed behind a woman wearing a spaghetti-strap top. On her back, between her shoulder blades, were two eyes. Women’s eyes, with eyebrows and just the top of the nose. I’ve heard of wanting eyes in the back of your head, but this went a bit too far!

***********************

My husband’s father often sends us tidbits from their small-town’s newspaper. One from this week announced found property: a bag of marijuana. It said the owner, with proof of ownership, could pick it up at the police station. The thing is, someone will probably try to claim it!

6/04/2008

Short on Shorts

Ah, summertime.

Ok, so the first week of summer has been way too busy, but still. It’s here. And one of the necessities of summertime is . . . shorts.

My boys (15 and 13) informed me they had 1 pair of shorts each. I made them accompany me to the local department store to buy 2 more pair each. They groaned. Some things never change.

Now these are two lanky creatures, so we’re still shopping in the boys department in order that their shorts don’t fall down around their ankles. Still, I thought we’d have upped the sizes from the past couple of years. After all, their pants sizes have changed as their legs have stretched longer.

Not so with the shorts. Still well below moving up into young mens’ sizes. But the most frustrating thing about this rite of summer was leaving the store with four pairs of shorts ALL THE SAME SIZE! My boys are 19 months apart in age, but I might as well be buying for twins! The good news: they have plenty of shorts to choose from now. The bad news: there will be no “passing down” of outgrown sizes.

5/26/2008

A Little R&R

My crazy month of May came to a screeching halt on Saturday. When the school was swept clean from the graduation reception, my duties for the school year ended. So we skedaddled for the country, for twenty-four hours of R&R.

Our friends have a small house/barn on several acres of land southeast of Dallas. We went there and did NOTHING. And I do mean nothing. No TV. No phone calls. No computers (at least, none of ours). Yes, we got email on our cell phones, but we just checked for anything urgent—and nothing was. Nowhere nearby to drive to. No fancy meals to cook or clean up after. Just good friends and empty space. I didn’t even read a book!!!

We laughed, we talked, we slept, we just sat still, sometimes, watching and listening to our almost grown-up children, wondering where the years went. By the time we left there and returned to the real world, my body and spirit had the refreshment it needed to finish out this week of finals and head into summer—into finishing my book and organizing my house. Oh yeah, and chauffeuring my boys to football, friends’ houses, and various other activities while my driver-daughter works!

I’m so happy to have had a respite at the end of a long school year. It’s amazing what a little R&R will do.

5/21/2008

The Center of a Tootsie Pop (Or the End of a Tube of Lipstick)

Remember the old Tootsie Roll Pop commercial with the owl in the tree and the boy asking how many licks it takes to get to the center? The owl takes three licks, loses patience, and bites in.

I think tubes of lipstick are the same.

Don’t see the connection? Here’s my question: how long does it take to get to the end of a tube of lipstick? No one ever knows because it so rarely happens. We get impatient and change color or brand, abandoning half-used tubes, never reaching the very bottom. At least I have done so. Until now.

Yes, I reached the end of a tube of lipstick. How long have I had it? Seven, eight years? I can’t remember. I only know I liked the color and it was expensive, so I didn’t want to throw it away. Now I’m not one to reapply my lipstick all day. Just one swipe in the morning if I’m going out of the house. Maybe once in the evening if it’s a social event. Even so, I’ve reached the end. Yes, I have other lipstick in other colors, but this seems like such a significant small event. The end of a tube of lipstick. Like reaching the center of a Tootsie Pop, I never thought I’d get there.

5/19/2008

Cranford

I normally hate movie renditions of books that change the story, but I found myself captivated by Masterpiece Classics version of Cranford that concluded on Sunday evening. I confess, before watching the first part of Cranford, I had never heard of the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskell. But after watching part two of this Masterpiece production, I knew I had to read it.

So I did. Before part three debuted across the airwaves.

It’s a short book, written as a series of vignettes of small town life in 19th century England. It is a lovely work of characterization, where one knows the people one is reading about. They come to be friends. But there is no overarching “plot.”

The screenwriters of Cranford decided to add a plot framework around which to structure this movie about a year in the life of a small town. And they did it superbly. The new characters and story lines fit in as if they’d been there all the time. And even while adding new elements to the story, the writers maintained the charm of the original characters and included most, if not all, of the heartwarming elements of the book, even if in slightly different forms.

Of course part of the success of the film version, in my mind, was the absolutely superior ensemble of cast members, led by such names as Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Greg Wise, and so many more. While the names may not be familiar, I assure you that any fan of classic British literature will recognize faces from productions of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Miss Marple movies, and so many other BBC and Hollywood films.

In the end, Miss Matty Jenkyns has become one of my most favorite characters in literature; through she will remain eternally intertwined with Dame Judi Dench in my mind. I heartily recommend both book and movie—just don’t expect one to follow the other in exact measure. Enjoy them each for their own uniqueness.

5/14/2008

The Power of Truth in Fiction

I always forget how much I enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia books until I read one again. In anticipation of the coming movie, I picked up Prince Caspian this week. It’s a quick read. And, frankly, not a super exciting one. Not like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Silver Chair. But as I came toward the climax of the story I remembered why I love these books: they convey Truth.

About 2/3 of the way through the book, Lucy meets with Aslan again. It’s been a year in our time, thousands of years in Narnia time.

“Aslan,” said Lucy. “You’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

Knowing that Aslan is a picture of Jesus, isn’t that so true? As we grow, as we see the work the Lord does in our lives, in the lives of those around us, in the world at large, don’t we grasp just a little more with each passing day of the bigness of God? I know I do. And in the context of the story this truth just leaps off the page and imbeds itself in my heart.

How about this one, a few pages later, after Susan has said ugly, sarcastic things of Lucy?

Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan.

That’s the power of Truth in fiction.

5/08/2008

An Encouraging Word

My friend Robin has joined the blogosphere. She swears she isn’t a writer, but after reading her few posts, I beg to differ. Anyway, yesterday she wrote a wonderful post encouraging and cautioning those of us who consistently put pen to paper (or our fingers to a keyboard) to be careful of our words, of how they will affect our readers. It was a blessing to me. I thought it would be for you, too.

Check it out here.

And you might want to check back with her regularly. She has incredible insight into many matters pertaining to life and godliness.

5/04/2008

The Past Comes Back

It’s nice to know that after almost 30 years people can forget the awful things you’ve said to them. Especially if you were the student and the other person was the teacher/administrator.

I ran into such a person tonight. It was at a reception at my children’s school. She is the head of the accreditation team coming to evaluate the school. I was at the reception because my husband is president of our school’s Board of Trustee’s.

So there we were. I could have let it go, never mentioned the old connection. But I’ve spent my life desiring, for myself and others, that we not hide the hard or ugly things—past or present. Here, I realized, was a moment in which I could practice what I preached. I introduced myself. Told her my maiden name and waited for the look of horror on her face.

It didn’t happen. Instead she hugged me. She was so excited to see me. She either didn’t remember my angry junior high words or she was gracious enough not to mention them. Instead, we talked and laughed and left each other with a hug.

It’s nice to know that 30 years can change people. And it’s nice to know that others’ memories of us don’t last as long as our own.

4/30/2008

Crazy May

I contend, as usual, that the final 6 weeks of school are busier than the same period of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

So that’s my excuse for not blogging lately. I have been (and will be) insanely busy with kid/school stuff and trying to get my book finished (I’m making significant progress). But all that leaves little time for blogging. Before I know it, a week has passed with no new post. However, my son’s last baseball game should be Thursday (unless they play as well as they played last night), and that will help. But it still leaves the SAT, an art competition, three AP tests, Fine Arts Night, Spring Sports Banquet, Academic Awards, Graduations and finals (plus normal, daily life) to get through before the end of May. Whew! I’m tired already!

My writing here may be spotty until June, but I haven’t abandoned it yet!