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.




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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.