Monthly Archives: November 2012

REVIEW of Liz Curtis Higgs’ “A Wreath of Snow”, and INTERVIEW with Liz!

Liz adores a cup of steaming hot tea now and then, so let’s all go brew a quick cup and sit down together to talk about her new Christmas novella, A Wreath of Snow.  Wherever you are, let’s just pretend we’re cozied up by a warm fire, primed for some fun discussion.

FB Teacup

I suppose a disclaimer is in order since many of you know I’m blessed to call Liz a dear friend, mentor, advisor, and occasional therapist!  The Lord crossed our paths many years ago and I’m forever grateful.  Therefore…I’ll try to be objective. (Mischievous  grin.)

Seriously, A Wreath of Snow is a rich, enjoyable read.  Because it’s a novella, it’s also a quick read.  However, I was determined to savor every word knowing what a wordsmith Liz is.

If you’ve read other books by Liz, you’ll be shocked to know this one is also set in Scotland!  Ever so slightly enamored with Scotland, Liz takes us back to Christmas Eve in 1894, in the lovely town of Stirling.  (As I type, Liz is taking two different groups, a week each, through a lovely tour of her favorite country, Scotland.  We ought to be snacking on a scone or Scottish shortbread in her honor.)

Stirling Scotland King's Knot and Victorian Neighborhood for EH

Perfectly picturesque, complete with snow falling, we meet several characters.  Two of which happen to be taking a train, in the same car, to Edinburgh.

 You’ll become acquainted with Margaret Campbell and Gordon Shaw.  Liz will prove to you, there are no coincidences in life.  The sweet and most gracious Almighty orchestrates several God-incidences throughout A Wreath of Snow.  See how many you can find!  They are beautiful!

Pretty quickly, the plot derails.  (No pun intended ‘til you read it, then total pun intended!)  Not as in the plot falls apart, but you’ll be shocked early on.  And just when you think, “Oh, now we’re headed in a safe direction…”, be prepared to be stunned again!

Stirling Railway Station 1894 for EH

Some of Liz’ characters cause you to become quickly attached to them, and some, well, not so much.  Relatable  for certain.  Her excellent descriptions  make you say to yourself, “Oh, brother, does he ever sound like so-and-so…” (That’s the unlikeable sort).  Then on the flipside, you’ll be saying about some others, “Oh, now they are such a match!”

While set in the 19th century, Liz broaches topics which nearly topple us right here in the 21st century. See if any of these have every tempted you: guilt, running from God, weaving webs of lies, lack of forgiveness, lack of repentance, and dodging attempts for reconciliation?   Oh, please guide us Lord and guard us from temptation.

One of the many things I love about this novella is how Liz purposefully includes Biblical truth on these very topics.  Scripture speaks to these characters.  You find yourself telling them to sit up and pay attention!

A favorite paragraph will give you a taste of A Wreath of Snow:  “The tension inside her slowly began to unwind.  She heard the minister’s voice but deeper still, another voice, even more tender.  I have loved thee with an everlasting love.  Tears welled up, threatening to spill onto her lap.  Meg knew this voice, these words, their meaning.  …But on Christmas morning in a candlelit sanctuary she’d known since childhood, Meg could not refuse him.  And  did not wish to.  With loving kindness I have drawn thee.  Her breathing deepened, and a sense of warmth moved through her, despite the frigid temperature.”  Aren’t you right there in the next pew, right beside Meg?  See how Liz draws you in?

Park Church for EH

This novella is not just a great read for you during Christmas, it’s a great gift for you to give your friends and family.  Big brownie points for you the gift-giver too! Guess I’d better not tell you anymore without giving away the rest of the story.  Just trust me, you’ll love it.

Well, let’s chat with Liz for a minute.  I’ve thrown her some questions and let’s see how she answers:  (By the way, if you’d like  to hear Liz speak in person about this lovely novella, mark you calendar to come to our next Branches Book Club meeting, Monday, January 28th, from 6:30-8:00 p.m., at Middletown United Methodist Church. More details on the book club can be found in a separate blog post, “Brand-new Branches Book Club“.)

FB Liz in front of red door SQUARE

Let’s talk about the book first, and then you….

While writing the novella, did you find yourself liking one character more than another?

All the characters quickly became very dear to me, even the hard-to-love ones, like Alan. That’s just the nature of writing fiction. It’s not unlike being a mother! Each character has their own back story, their own reasons for doing what they do, and so they win my sympathy early on.

Flawed characters are especially interesting because they have the most capacity for change. In A Wreath of Snow, Gordon was my favorite (shhh! don’t tell the others!). There’s just something about a reformed Bad Boy that really grabs my heart.

Where in the world do you find all your epigraphs, much less fitting ones for your novels?

I spend a crazy amount of time reading through books and searching online for just the right literary quote to capture the heart of my book, as well as the heart of each chapter. Whenever possible, I use quotes from the time period in which I’m writing or from an earlier era—so, nothing from the 20th Century—and if that pithy quote was spoken by a Scot, so much the better!

Will you write a sequel to A Wreath of Snow?

I would love to do that, if I can just figure out how to squeeze another project into my writing schedule. I had no intention of continuing the story when I wrote it, but after I turned in the manuscript, the characters kept talking in my head. When that happens, I know there is more story to be told.

I’ve already chosen a title and epigraph, and have begun plotting. We shall see how God leads!

Tell us WHY  & HOW you came to adore Scotland and a little about your new Scottish blog.

Oh, Scotland. It’s a beautiful country with the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The history, the literature, the culture, the language, and the music all fascinate me, and have for two decades or more. But the reason I write about Scotland is all about God! This interview on YouTube reveals just how that happened:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_kwlS7lTFs&feature=youtu.be

My new website, MyScottishHeart.com, is a gathering place for anyone who enjoys my novels or adores Scotland as much as I do. It’s filled with photos from my 15 trips there, and fun things I’ve learned over the years.

Here are all the places online where you can find out more about my Scottish historical fiction and the misty isle that I love:

Website: http://www.MyScottishHeart.com

Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/MyScottishHeart

Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/MyScottishHeart

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/lizcurtishiggs/a-victorian-visit-to-stirling-scotland/

Tell us something most people wouldn’t ordinarily know about you.

Tee-hee. I think everything people might care to know about me is either in one of my books or online somewhere! Still, they may not know I won a Most Improved Bowler trophy in the 1970s!

What do you like to do for fun, when you’re not on a deadline (even tho’ you are always on a deadline!!!)?

I love watching movies, at home or at the cinema. I love getting lost in a nice, thick historical novel. I love having lunch with friends. I love going for walks with my sweet husband. And I love traveling to new places.

How do you juggle writing, traveling, speaking, family? 

Not very well, actually! The key for me is to immerse myself wholly in each moment. Rather than fretting about what I should be doing elsewhere, I embrace the now and look for ways to serve God where I am at any given hour.

How will you and your family celebrate Christmas this year?

Our traditions are simple, even silly, but we love them. Trimming the tree is a family affair, with a particular holiday CD to put us in the mood, chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, and our grown daughter running through the house with the tree skirt tied around her neck like a caped superhero—something she’s done since she was three.

Christmas morning begins with stockings, then breakfast, then gifts are opened one at a time, amid much laughing and hugging. Christmas dinner comes next, with a traditional Kentucky menu: honey ham, corn pudding, green beans, flaky biscuits, cooked apples, and an assortment of pies for dessert. By evening the house is quiet again and we’re curled up on the couch, grateful not for our gifts, but for one another, and for the One whose birth changed everything.

Do you have an all-time favorite book?  Author?

For nonfiction, that would be Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. For fiction, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

If you were to give a book to someone for a gift (besides one of your own), what would it be?

See above! ;>) Actually, I choose books for friends and family with great care, hoping to give them hours of reading pleasure. Books are the BEST gift, I think.

You know my favorite book of yours is Embrace Grace because I find articulating God’s grace very difficult.  You seem to have loads of grace beautifully woven into each of your books.  Can you talk about that a bit?

Bless you for your kind words about a real book of my heart. I’ll be leading a study of Embrace Grace on my Bible Study Blog in January and February 2013. So looking forward to walking through the pages with my readers! Pop on http://www.LizCurtisHiggs.com/blog/  to join us.

Grace is at the heart of everything I write. Because God has freely given us this precious gift, I’m compelled to share it with others—on the platform, in my books, online. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If I may say in closing, Elizabeth, you are an abundant grace-giver. Bless you for sharing yourself and your heart for God on this blog!

Thanks again, Liz, for taking the time to do the interview!  I pray you’re having a BLAST in Scotland!

‘Til next time…

(This December blog post is obviously going to be dedicated to sweet Lizzie.  She’s had an unbelievable, milestone year:  2012 marks her 30th year as a Christian and the printing of her 30th book!!!!!  Please join me in offering a grand standing ovation to our dear Liz Curtis Higgs!  Bravo!  Please keep writing & may God continue to bless you abundantly.)

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What’s on your Bucket List? NO REGRETS…

Could there ever be a better cast movie than The Bucket List ?  (Let’s push pause for a second, because if you haven’t seen the movie, read no further ‘til you have.  It’s a must-see.)

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman simultaneously steal the show while attempting to cross off all items on their Bucket List.  (“Bucket List” being defined as “all things you wish to do before you kick the bucket”.)

Bucket List

Two favorite lines from the movie include one from Jack Nicholson, who plays Edward Coleman, billionaire hospital magnate.  “I run hospitals, not health spas!!” This was a ploy to ensure each hospital room had two beds and no  private rooms.  He’d no sooner sputtered that phrase when suddenly, he fell ill and became one hundred percent infuriated upon landing in a hospital room with Freeman for a roommate!  Oh, the irony…

Second favorite line comes from Morgan Freeman, who plays blue-collar mechanic Carter Chambers. He shrieks, while skydiving toward Edward, something totally out of character, akin to a toddler throwing a temper tantrum: “I hate your rotten guts!”  Seems he failed to mention his fear of heights!!!  Hysterical.

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We, the audience, become completely enthralled with their mission to complete their Bucket List. Edward Coleman’s wealth allows them no limits, so quite the fun fantasy.

How ‘bout you? Do you have a Bucket List? Thought much about it?

The past couple of years have found John and me attending more and more funerals. Maybe you’ve noticed this too. Many of us say, “Cancer’s just more prevalent.” Last week at a bookstore, I found myself, yet again, buying a box of sympathy cards. Catch my drift?

Carter Chamber’s advice to Edward Coleman bodes well for us all: “May you find the joy in your life.” Nehemiah 8:10b reminds us, “…do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

After losing three dear friends within a thirteen-month period, John and I decided to mark off one thing real fast from our Bucket List: a trip to Italy. No regrets there!

Sadly, my Mother’s first words upon my Father’s death did include words of regret. It’s my personal goal, and I pray will become yours as well, to live a life with no regrets. Queen of the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas”, living with no regrets is no piece of cake. Already I could give you a mega list over raising our boys.

“I should have read to them more. I should have held them more. I should have played with them more. I should have prayed with them more. I should have planted more seeds of God’s Word in them. I didn’t teach them enough before leaving for college! I should have cooked more.” (Just seeing if you’re still awake…you know that last phrase is not true!!!) Oh, but the list rattles on…and on….and on.

Chris and Kerry Shook have co-authored a phenomenal book called One Month to Live–Thirty Days to a No Regrets Life—They point out that most tombstones include a date of birth and a date of death, separated by a little dash. Here’s their CHALLENGE: “You get to choose how to spend that little dash of time between the two dates of your earthly existence.

What are you spending yours on?  Are you living the dash, knowing fully who you are and why you’re here?  Or dashing  to live, hurriedly spending precious time chasing things that really don’t matter to you? “

Ouch.  That hurts.  Daring dasher that I am… My perpetual challenge du jour is “beat the clock”.  Sigh…Can you relate?

Beat the clock runner

The Shooks continue, “The psalmist prayed, ‘Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should’  (Psalm 90:12 TLB).  God wants us to realize that our time on earth is limited so we will spend it wisely.  But He gives us the choice about how we spend this most valuable currency.”

Don’t you love those last four words?  “This most valuable currency.”  Oh, that we’d really choose to cherish each day.   Corrie Ten Boom said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation.”

Allow me to introduce you to a dear friend and mentor of mine who recently completed an over-the-top bucket list item and quite a donation to the people in Florence, Italy.  Knowing she had a “milestone” birthday (Not tellin’, y’all have to guess…), and being the consummate planner, this smart gal researched all avenues of how she could spend a chunk of time living in Italy.

No easy feat given she’s a successful business woman, speaker, coach, and writer in  Louisville, Kentucky.  She also travels frequently for business and pleasure.  Oh, and small detail:  she’s married to an equally successful businessman, Stephen Tweed, who also travels, speaks, leads seminars, etc.

How in the world she made it all work with both of their schedules remains a mystery to me!!!  But….I’m thrilled to tell you that John and I had the pleasure of spending three nights with her in her lovely palazzo in Florence, Italy!

Sunset in Florence

Please meet Elizabeth Nardi (Yes, very Italian!) Jeffries.  Elizabeth did what she set out to do: She and Stephen lived in Florence for three months.  You may checkout her very fun and informative blog, chronicling her adventures by going to:  www.90daysinflorence.blogspot.com

EJ & me in Florence

Much more than just accomplishing a “check off” of the ole’ Bucket List, Elizabeth was determined to meet and get to know her neighbors, her landlords, the restaurateurs, the people who worked in the nearby market, the gal at the gelato store, the nail tech, shop keepers, church members, etc.  Shining the light of Christ and doing what Jesus did, building relationships one by one, were her goals.  She lived out Matthew 5:16 – “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  I’d say Elizabeth’s “dash” is full from Florence!

So don’t miss the point here.  Yes, it’s all well and good to have a Bucket List.  But, it’s more important  to do as Elizabeth did and build relationships along the way, with no regrets..  I love the quote, “What in the world are you doing for heaven’s sake?”   Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Let’s ask God this week  to show us people along our paths.  May we all shine the Light of Christ to those we meet along the way, keeping eternity in our hearts, with no regrets..

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Erma Bombeck said, “There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, ‘Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.’ Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, they’re still there.”  Don’t be packing your dreams away…Live the dash, with no regrets..

As Thanksgiving Week approaches, I pray you and your family have a most Blessed, Happy Thanksgiving and share your blessings with your loved ones.  ‘Til next time…

(This November 2012 blog entry is dedicated, bet you can guess, to my friend Elizabeth Nardi Jeffries. Elizabeth dared to dream and blessed a boatload of people in the process!  Happy 70th Birthday!!!  Oops, I told.  Well, no one will believe it. Let’s have some more  gelato!  Ciao!)

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Brand-New Branches Book Club and Three New Books!

How   ‘bout some REALLY good news?  There’s a “new kid” in town….or rather a new Book Club in Louisville, KY!  Come meet some authors!  Come and discuss some great Christian books!  Bring your friends!  Enjoy treats to eat!

Branches Book Club is a brand-new community-wide Book Club which just kicked off their season October 22nd, 2012.  They will meet the fourth Monday of the month in the Connections Center at Middletown United Methodist Church (MUMC). For their first meeting in October, they read and discussed Karen Kingsbury’s Coming Home.

Their next meeting will be on the 26th of November, from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Middletown United Methodist Church (MUMC) where they’ll discuss Almost Amish—One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth. Nancy will be coming to discuss her book, entertain questions, and sign books that evening!

MUMC’s Women’s Ministry has had the Branches Women’s Ministry for several years, and they are now excited to offer the Branches Book Club!  Two more-than-capable leaders are getting this ball rolling:  Maggie Alcorn and Amy Davenport.  Nancy Tinnell, Associate Pastor, from MUMC is also helping and mentoring these fine women.  She’ll be speaking occasionally as well, and after having sat under her teaching this summer, we are all in for a treat!

outside

Middletown United Methodist Church
11902 Old Shelbyville Road
Louisville, KY 40243
502-245-8839
www.middletownumc.org

The name ‘branches” comes straight out of Scripture from John 15:5, where Jesus tells us:  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;  apart from me you can do nothing.”

Tree Outline w words

After recently stepping down from facilitating a book club for seven years, I was thrilled to learn about the new Branches Book Club, and to be able to participate! Plus, learning of some of the upcoming selections AND authors coming is so exciting!  What a slice of heaven! (In Heaven, I can picture us sitting around discussing books parked next to a chocolate fountain!  Well, one can dream…)

Author Nancy Sleeth and her family live in Lexington, Kentucky.  She was just featured on the cover of October’s Christianity Today magazine as “50 Women to Watch”.  How  exciting will that be to have the opportunity of meeting her???!!!  Wow!

Nancy

A favorite quote from Almost Amish  is about Nancy’s epiphany:  “Few of us can become Amish, but all of us can become almost Amish.”  Nancy takes you through some of the Amish principles and you’ll love taking the eye-opening journey with her.

I was grateful to discover Nancy’s honesty and relieved she didn’t serve up any guilt.  Chew on this quote with me for a minute:  “The Amish have a saying:  ‘A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short.’ And, of course, happy marriages tend to make for happy families.  May all your gatherings with family be part of a long conversation, full of joy, harmony, and faith in an all-powerful Father who loves every one of his children.”  Love that!

Another favorite quote which really encouraged me to be more effortful than effortless towards the Amish way of life was in Nancy’s closing remarks:  “Yet each time we seek out an Almost Amish path, we move one step nearer to the kingdom of God.  Every time we choose the Almost Amish way we come one breath closer to a slower, simpler, more sustainable life.”  Ahhhhh.

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Grab your calendars and ink in Monday, November 26th, from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Middletown United Methodist Church. (Yes, I’m repeating myself in case you missed it the first time!) Please either call Kelly McDonald to let her know you’re coming at 245-8839 or you may email her at:  Kmcdonald@middletownumc.org  You may bring a treat to eat and share if time allows.  While Thanksgiving will have just happened, I believe Nancy Sleeth will better prepare our hearts and minds for a blessed Christmas season.
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Another  fun fact?  Nancy’s husband, Matthew Sleeth MD, also has a brand-new book out called 24/6—a Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. (Quite  the “dynamic duo”, this couple, huh?)

Matthew grabs you from the beginning to  the end.  I found myself totally immersed, and convicted simultaneously.  I soooooooo long to be a 24/6  instead of a 24/7-and-then-some girl.  Great stuff, Matthew.

24/6 reads like a prescription for us crazy-busy-souls. (No wonder he was a doctor first!)  Three phrases from a poem by John David Walt, from Asbury Theological Seminary, found in the beginning of the book, immediately drew me in:  “holy Leisure, guiltless Feasting, Heaven Hugging”.  Sold!

NOT that Matthew’s trying to sell us on this keeping-the-Sabbath idea.  He’s just presenting the Biblical facts.  Oh, and he’s built a great case.  (You’ll love hearing some of his episodes in the Emergency Room while doctoring.  Thankfully none are too knee-buckling for any of you faint-at-the-sight-of-blood types. Uh, that would be me.)

Please pray for the Sleeth family while they’re “birthing” these two new books and juggling other things called “life”!  Checkout their very cool faith-based environmental nonprofit organization they started:  www.Blessedearth.org

Back to Branches Book Club:  If you’ve got your 2013 calendar handy, I’ve got a date in January to give you which has a two-fold fun purpose.  One is you can read and savor over the Christmas holidays, prior to the January date, Liz Curtis Higgs’ new novella, Wreath of Snow.  Enjoy the Christmas season and Branches Book Club will resume on Monday, January 28th, same time, same place, AND…. Liz will be joining us in person!  What a treat!  (More  on her book in another blog entry!)

While I really endeavored to merely tell you about a brand-new book club, I can’t simply “list” books without chatting about them just a tad.  I pray we’ll have fun on occasion doing exactly that in this blog!

Whether the selection is fiction or non-fiction, you’ll learn Biblical pearls of wisdom which you can wear home.  This is putting your feet to your faith at its’ finest.  Embrace Hebrews 10:25 which says, “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

‘Til next time!

(This blog entry is dedicated to FOUR lovely, smart, talented and courageous gals who stepped up to start this brand-new Branches Book Club.  Having been there, quakin’, shakin’ and then some, years ago, all I can say is:  “Lean on God and He’ll hold you up!” May God Bless and guide and hold Maggie Alcorn, Amy Davenport, Nancy Tinnell,  and their behind-the-scenes computer expert, Kelly McDonald.  You go, girls!!!)

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