Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blog Tour: The Unfinished Gift (Review & Interview)

A young boy, an angry grandfather and a past hurt, so wide, the chasm that separates family members might not be breached – even in the midst of a family crisis.

That's the setting Dan Walsh's novel, The Unfinished Gift, set a week before Christmas in 1943, during World War II.

“Christmas is a time we mostly associate with joy and presents and family traditions,” Walsh said. “Yet for many it's a time that merely highlights the brokenness in their family lives. All around us are reminders of how happy it should be, but these things only remind us how far off track our own story has become.

“I wanted to write a story that identifies with this but offers a message of hope, a reminder of why Christ really came: to reconcile us first to God, then to each other. I wanted to write, in an entertaining and enjoyable way, a story about the power of God's forgiveness, told mostly through the eyes of a child at Christmas.”

The real focus of the story, Walsh explained, is the backstory – the fractured relationship between the grandfather, Ian Collins, and Patrick’s father, Shawn.

“[This] existed before little Patrick was even born,” Walsh said. “The battle between fathers and sons is ageless. I've known so many men who've had difficult relationships with their fathers, only to become men who have difficult relationships with their sons.”

In The Unfinished Gift, Walsh tried to present a way out of this vicious cycle.

“It has to start somewhere,” he said. “As Jesus said (speaking of children), ‘The Kingdom belongs to such as these.’ And He told us, ‘Unless we become like little children, we'll never see the Kingdom.’

“Patrick enters this horrendous crisis, equipped only with childlike faith and the wonderful lessons his mother taught him. Yet, by God's grace, it becomes enough to see a miracle unfold.”

Writing the Novel
Walsh created The Unfinished Gift after watching several classic movies, including It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, during Christmas 1998.

“I wanted to write a story like that, one that at least had the potential to affect others the way these stories affect me,” Walsh said. “The whole thing came to me over two or three days. I actually saw the ending of the book first, like a scene from a movie playing in my thoughts.

“Over the next two days, different parts of the story kept dropping into my head. I kept stopping and writing them down. In a few days, the whole story was there, from beginning to end. Like a detailed synopsis. From there I sat down and started writing the book. Though many more details emerged as I wrote it, as far as the story itself, what you see in the book is exactly what came during that burst of inspiration back in 1998.”

World War II and Beyond
Walsh set the book during World War II, because it is one of his favorite historical periods.

“My shelves are filled with books from this era,” he said. “When the story came to me it came in that setting. If I were ever sent back in time, it's probably the one period where I feel I could blend right in.”

As the manuscript began to unfold, other benefits of a World War II setting began to emerge.

“[During World War II] the country was so different,” Walsh said. “We were unified, life itself was much simpler and faith was a normal part of life.

“It allowed me to move in and out of important issues, including faith issues, without seeming the least bit forced or preachy.”

The setting has allowed the novel to reach readers in both the churched and unchurched audiences.

“I've gotten many emails from readers saying they felt they could easily buy the book as a gift to someone they're trying to reach,” Walsh explained.

Walsh said he hopes readers will find a book that they love to read. He also hopes they are reminded that with God, anything is possible.

“No heart is too hard for Him to reach, no distance too far for Him to close. Add to that, a fresh perspective of the power of forgiveness," Walsh said.

The Homecoming
In June 2010, Walsh’s sequel to The Unfinished Gift, The Homecoming, will be released.

“When I completed The Unfinished Gift, I hadn't planned on a sequel,” Walsh admitted. “But virtually everyone who read it--my wife, my test readers, my agent and my editor--all said something like this at the end: ‘Now in the future, this is going to happen, right?’”

“They all suggested the same thing. It was something I had already begun thinking about. I can give you this clue, the sequel includes a powerful love story (one I hope Jane Austen fans will appreciate).”

What’s Next
Walsh has completed his third novel, tentatively titled The Deepest Waters. Inspired by a true story, the novel is set in 1857, and involves a newlywed couple and a shipwreck.

“We get to travel back to the beginning days of San Francisco, spend time in old New York and experience life out on the open sea,” Walsh said.

He said the novel has been received well by his agent and editor, and it may be expanded into a mulit-book deal.

What I Thought - The Review
I really liked this book. It carries a simple, yet timeless message regarding the importance of family relationships.I also liked having the chance to step back into time, to when life seemed "simpler."

Through the book, Walsh has developed a cast of characters that you'll feel like you know - a woman who has a passion for helping young children, a little boy facing a devastating loss, a grandfather who has to face his past to move into the future, and a neighbor determined to help carry out her friend's dying wish.

I could easily see this novel being turned into a "made for TV movie," because it has a message of love and redemption that crosses the generations.

If you are looking for a book to curl up with (along with a cup of hot chocolate), then check out "The Unfinished Gift." I think you'll find it is a good read.

About The Book
The Unfinished Gift is set in 1943, a week before Christmas. Patrick’s mother has recently died in a car accident and he is being sent across town to stay with a grandfather he’s never met while the Army tries to locate his father, a bomber pilot in England. Patrick’s father and grandfather haven’t spoken since before Patrick was born. The book explores the surprising things God uses to affect powerful changes in our hearts; like a little boy’s prayers, a shoebox full of love letters, and an old wooden soldier collecting dust in a grandfather’s attic.

More About Dan Walsh
Dan Walsh is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, a church he helped found 23 years ago. He is the author of The Unfinished Gift and lives with his family in the Daytona Beach area. 

"I am an author who loves solitude but needs and likes people," explained Walsh. "I love quiet but also a roomful of friends. I love to laugh, make others laugh and even be laughed at (to a point). But I'm also a sap; I cry way too easily watching movies and inspirational shows.

"But I also like to watch action movies with my son. I eat just a little too much but don't exercise near enough. Finally, I'm nothing without my wife and my Savior's love."

His Favorite Character in The Unfinished Gift: Mrs. Fortini, the Italian grandmother who lives next door.
If you read the can you not like her?

Read an Excerpt On-Line
The Unfinished Gift

Download a PDF Excerpt: Click here!

Purchase the Book at Amazon

Spoiler Alert. Going Deeper Into the Sequel

The Story Continues - The Homecoming: Coming in June 2010

No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he is called upon to serve his country in another way--as a speaker on the war bond tour. While other men might jump at the chance to travel around the country with attractive Hollywood starlets, Shawn just wants to stay home with his son Patrick and the aging father with whom he has finally reconciled. When Shawn taps Katherine Townsend to be Patrick's nanny while he's on the road, he has no idea that she will be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Faith & Values Feature: Don't Let Negativity Define You

Editor's Note: I wrote this article during the summer of 2007, while employed with GateHouse Plus, then a division of GateHouse Media. The article was designed as a Faith & Values feature which could be used by any of the newspapers within the GateHouse Media newspaper chain. 

I dug it out of the "archives" at the request of a friend, who used the idea of a complaint free world in a Thanksgiving sermon.

A ripple that will change the world is how the Rev. Will Bowen describes what is happening  at his  church.

What began as a life-lesson for members of his Kansas City congregation about living a complaint-free  life has now spread into all 50 states and more than 60 countries.

Bowen’s church, Christ Church Unity, is now known far and wide as the “Complaint Free Church.”

The initiative began small. Bowen ordered 500 purple “complaint-free” rubber wristbands — modeled after the yellow “livestrong” bands  Lance Armstrong pioneered as a symbol of the fight against cancer.

On July 23, 2006, during a sermon series based on Edwene Gaines’ book “The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity: A Simple Guide to Unlimited Abundance,” Bowen encouraged his congregation to consider living a complaint-free life.

During the message, he presented them with a challenge — wear the band as a reminder not to  complain. As a tangible symbol, participants would begin wearing it on one wrist. Each time they caught themselves complaining, the band would be switched to the opposite arm.

The goal, Bowen explained, would be to go 21 consecutive days without having to switch the band to the other arm.

Initially, Bowen ordered 500 bands, which were immediately distributed to church members and their friends.

Church officials then purchased an additional 1,000 bands, with fears they would meet the needs and have several left over.

Then the church began to receive regional and national exposure concerning the initiative.

After a story appeared in the Kansas City Star, other national stories followed, including published accounts in the Los Angeles Times and People Magazine.
Television audiences with the Today Show and Oprah also learned about the program.

Because of those stories and others, the church had processed requests for more than 5.6 million bands by early summer.

“I knew on July 23 [2006] it would be a ripple that traveled around the world,” Bowen said. “We talked about being the epicenter of a huge movement. We knew this would touch lives around the world.”

The church does not charge for the bands.

“This is our gift to the consciousness of the world,” Bowen said. “We’re not saying people have to do this… But we want to [be available for] people who have a desire to change.”

Three shifts of volunteers spend several hours each week filling requests for bands.

“We have lots of people who have stepped up, who want to touch and bless each bracelet which goes out,” Bowen said. “This is a quality idea and God is supporting it.”

Approximately 90 percent of Bowen’s church has attempted to complete the 21-day challenge. Of those individuals, at least two-thirds have gone on to be complaint-free.

Bowen said it took him three months to go complaint-free for 21 days. The average person, he has found, takes seven months to break the habit.

“I still complain, but it’s rare,” he said. “I’m a far happier, sanguine person since completing [the challenge].”

He said people often experience improvements to their mental, physical and spiritual health.

One man reported that his migraines diminished while living complaint-free.

“It’s transformed his work relationships and his family relationships,” Bowen said.

Another person reported that the effort helped her reduce the pain she suffered related to a chronic condition.

Bowen and his congregation are now working towards sponsoring a “Complaint-Free” day similar to the “Great American Smoke Out.”

They are proposing people spend the day before Thanksgiving complaint-free. This would place a greater emphasis the next day on gratitude, Bowen explained.

He hopes members of the U.S. Congress will pass a declaration to officially commemorate the day.

Bowen believes great things will happen in the world if people replace complaints with positive thoughts.

He plans to detail more about living complaint-free this fall with the release of his book “Complaint-Free World,” published by Doubleday.

For more information, or to order complaint free bands, visit To learn  more about Bowden's ministry visit

DST Feature: Getting Creative with Type with Brian Tippetts

Editor's Note: The following article was previously published in the August 2009 issue of DST Insider, a publication of

A passion for type, and how it communicates and coveys emotion, led Brian Tippetts to create the book Get Creative with Type.

His book not only focuses on his passion, but also helps scrapbookers learn how to effectively use type within their layouts.

“[Type] quickly communicates the theme or concept of the layout and also creates a mood,” Tippetts explained. “Additionally, the stories are told and type helps convey the feelings in journaling.”

Tippetts believes Get Creative with Type is different from other scrapbooking books or on-line tutorials, in part, because of his experience using type as
a graphic artist.

“I have spent my entire career focusing on what type is out there and how it can help communicate to the reader,” he said. “The concepts and chapters in
Get Creative with Type are instruction on what typefaces to use and why, and cool things you can do with type.

“I also knew I wasn’t an expert of scrapbooking so I picked a number of talented scrapbookers that have an ability to use type well and together we have an amazing book on type.”

Thirteen scrapbooking artists, featuring a mix of hybrid, digital and paper, are featured within the book’s layouts.

“I wanted to have a wide range of talent, but most importantly, I wanted the most talented group of scrapbook designers that were already known for their use of type on layouts. Ali Edwards, Amanda Probst and Heidi Swapp are authors already and they are very talented with it comes to type use,” Tippetts said.

Other scrapbook artists, using hybrid and digital techniques, featured in the book include Jessica Sprague, Nicole LaRue and Deena Wuest.

“As the layouts were coming in for the book, I remember thinking that they surpassed my highest expectations and many times WOWed me,” Tippetts said.

Regardless of the method they use to build pages, Tippetts believes all scrapbookers can find ways to use the lessons in this book to enhance their layouts, because “type transcends the format or the way we pull together memories.”

To help readers explore the minds of the various designers featured within the book, Tippetts included a “Type Profile” section at the beginning, which asks each contributor two questions: What is your favorite font, and what font are you.

The style section is also fun, Tippetts said, because it provides a plethora of information for scrapbookers concerning the type options for a variety of ages.

“I want scrapbookers to come away feeling empowered to have fun with type,” Tippetts said. “Also, to have more appreciation for selecting appropriate type and using it well.”

A look at Type
Tippetts has a bit of advice for scrapbookers as they use type on their pages.

“The use of type on a layout can get out of hand very quickly,” Tippetts said. “I would encourage not to excessively use all caps or [a]ransom note style (mixed fonts).”

He suggests, scrapbookers limit their type to one to three typefaces per layout, and instead utilize the “family” of type styles, i.e. bold, italic, thin, condensed, etc.

“There are a ton of fonts out there and they don’t all have to be used,” Tippetts said. “Find those typefaces which reflect your personality and stick with them. I like to see consistent albums with similar typefaces to unify the whole package.”

Tippetts said his favorite journaling or clean title font is Gotham. For fun or “funky” layouts, he usually picks Feel Script or Cocktail Shaker – but his choices depend upon the feeling he wants to convey and the potential audience.

“I love seeing well executed type on a path,” Tippetts said. “Type that follows a specific shape, whether it be a circle, square, letter or numeral, can add dimension to a layout and a fun solution to a page.”

His favorite type artists include Neville Brody and David Carson, because of their innovative and experimental type treatments. He has found inspiration by font foundries like Adobe, Émigré, House Industries and Font Bureau.

“When I worked at the computer software company, WordPerfect, I was known as the ‘type guru’ and could identify any font that coworkers need to know,” Tippetts said. “It is fun for me to research and find typefaces that are used in advertising or elsewhere.

“I was also in charge of licensing fonts for use with WordPerfect software, so I was able to meet with many type designers and discuss the hard work and talent required to complete a typeface.”

More about Brian
Tippetts is, first and foremost, a selfdescribed family man.

“My family comes first, and I enjoy traveling and being with my wife and four kids. We love to play tennis, golf ride bikes, hike in the mountains, snowboard and many other outdoor activities,” he explained.

For the past 10 years, Tippetts has worked with Creating Keepsakes. Due to a recent acquisition by New Track Media Company, he is no longer the dditor-in-chief at Creating Keepsakes Magazine.

Tippits finds type inspiration in a variety of places.

“Just recently, Ford Motor Company ran some TV spots where type was animated and moving around the screen simultaneously with the cars and trucks,” Tippetts said. “It was very inspiring.”

Review: Get Creative with Type
I’ll admit it. I’ve been wondering if I should add Get Creative with Type to the growing piles of scrabooking books that line my bookshelves.

Ever since my college newspaper made the switch to digital publishing in 1992, I began to develop a life-long love affair with type styles.

While I’m not a self-described “type guru” like Brian Tippetts, I can spot a great serif or sans serif font in layouts or within an advertisement. I love figuring out what fonts are used where (thanks Brian for pointing out that Cocktail Shaker is one of the fonts used in the “new” Creating Keepsakes logo). I also love finding “font” combos that work well together.

So when my copy of Get Creative with Type arrived, I set it aside for a day when I could pursue the pages without interruption.

The 160-page book is filled with a variety of tips and tricks scrabookers can use to effectively use type within their layouts and projects.

In three sections: Design, Style and Cool Techniques, Tippetts and his guest designers, show scrapbookers the basics related to using type on any project, as well as the right techniques to bring out a variety of emotions.

I love the section at the beginning of the book which asks each designer about the fonts they love. I also love the nuggets of font information found within the pages, ranging from why a designer chose to use a specific font, to the lists of their top fonts for a specific theme.

I love looking at the projects within the book and seeing how different people use type as a design element. I might not try all of the tips or techniques, but like a painting in a museum, I can appreciate the artistic effort used to create the layout or project.

The bonus cd features a variety of fonts, printables, screensavers and type paths that digital and hybrid scrabookers alike will love.

Overall, I think Get Creative with Type has the possibility of becoming a “must-have” for a scrapbook library. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to step out of your “type rut” and try something new. 

As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of "Get Creative with Type" by CK Media. This column/feature was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about ths detail.   

Blog Re-Design: Be Merry

I was inspired by "Be Merry" - a new digi scrapbooking kit by Ashalee Wall and Amanda Taylor (TaylorMade Designs) at - to do a quick re-design of my blog.

Here's a closer look of the entire kit.....which goes on sale today, Black Friday, at

Thursday, November 26, 2009

DST Feature: Modern Memory Keeping with Ali Edwards

Editor's Note: The following articles were previously published in the Nov. 2009 issue of DST Insider, a publication of

Mother, photographer, wife, blogger, teacher. Ali Edwards juggles a lot of titles as she moves about life each day. Since 2002, Edwards has worn the title “scrapbooker.”

For her, scrapbooking is more than a crafty hobby, it is a way to focus on two things she loves: documenting and celebrating life’s various ups and downs.

“I want to capture the little and big details of our lives,” Edwards said. “I want to tell the stories that really matter. I want to enjoy the process.”

She does this by recording an overall picture of her family, which includes the silliness, blessings, challenges, celebrations and especially their “everyday lives.”

“I hope that I am telling the stories that will really be meaningful down the road,” Edwards explained.

Edwards’ current passion involves getting “back to the basics” of scrapbooking, focusing on photos and words, as well as encouraging people to tell their stories.

“There is magic that happens when a photo is accompanied with your own personal perspective on the photo, event and memory,” Edwards said.

In 2008, Edwards added to her traditional scrapbooking stash when she began to design her own line of digital elements and papers.

“I use a lot of word art and journaling frames for my paper layouts which are printed on cardstock,” Edwards
explained. “I also like to add text and frames to my photos before printing.”

She also likes to incorporate full-page overlay outlines into her designs, because she likes the structure the grids provide in terms of creating homes for elements.

Rather than pick one method or another to create her layouts, Edwards has merged paper and digital into a
hybrid style all her own.

“I like them both equally because they help me tell my story,” she explained. “I like traditional because I like the feel of the paper and the products in my hands. I like digital because I like the precise control over the elements.

“It’s interesting because I am one of those people that loves a vintage modern look. In many ways working with paper is more “vintage” simply because it is created by hand (what I love about vintage is the worn/used/recycled nature) and working with a computer is more modern.What I love best is combining the two; both in how I decorate my home and in how I tell our stories.”

Edwards said there are many benefits to mixing the two scrapbooking mediums.

“The benefit for me is that I have options when I am telling stories,” she said. “Sometimes paper fits better
and other times digital is just right for the project. Combining them both together is what I enjoy most.”

Regardless of method, Edwards said the most important thing a scrapbooker can do is to record family memories.

“I think memory keeping in 2009 offers so many opportunities to take advantage of all the digital tools at our fingertips,” she said. “At the same time all those digital tools can easily overwhelm and make things way more
complicated than they need to be.

“My focus is to simplify the process and to use those tools (computer, camera, etc.) to my advantage to actually get the meaningful stories of our family told.”

Edwards said scrapbooking continues to evolve to reflect the age in which the hobbyist lives.

“The recounting of stories is a huge part of how our history is passed down,” she said. “What I love to see is people including more of their stories in with their ephemera vs. traditional scrapbooks where it was more ephemera, ticket stubs, photos, etc., but very few words to complete the stories.”\

Want to learn more about Edwards and her scrapbooking style? You can see samples of her layouts, descriptions of upcoming classes at Big Picture Scrapbooking, and find links to her digital products on her blog:

Sidebar: Recording the December Holidays, Day by Day
While many scrapbookers focus on “large” projects, Ali Edwards often creates mini scrapbooks, which focus on specific events or holidays.

For the past few years, Edwards has captured the Christmas holidays with a “Daily December” project.

“I am a big fan of the holiday season,” she said. “I decided to document the season by chronicling the month of December in a minibook (I do December 1 through the 25) and it has become one of my favorite projects.”

Edwards said the key to the project is to create the “bones” of the album in advance.

“Before December I take some time to choose an album and create the base-framework for the album,” she explained. “The goal is to have that all done so I can then simply take photos, print, and journal a little bit each day.”

Keep it simple
“I have learned that it does not need to be complicated.” Edwards said. “I write just a little each day and sometimes only include a photo. I continue to keep the emphasis on the photos and the words rather than trying to stuff it full of techniques and embellishments.”

Edwards said creating a mini book focused on December helps capture traditions which are exclusive to the month.

“It is awesome to look back at the albums from the last few years during the holidays; it becomes a tradition in and of itself,” she said. “I also think that it helps me focus on the joy of the season, to slow down and savor what is good.”

Edwards has captured the essence of creating mini books in her book “Sharing your story: Recording life’s details in mini books.”

Published in 2008 by CK Media, the book includes a variety of ways to capture life in small stories. The book remains available in book stores and on-line at

As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Ali Edwards. This column/feature was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 

DST Feature: Preserving Memories: One story at a time

Editor's Note: The following article was previously published in the October 2009 issue of DST Insider, a publication of

It started out as a simple lunchtime conversation. I was with friends, celebrating a parent’s birthday. To help spur on the conversation I started asking questions about memories surrounding the guest of honor.

After a few jokes, the stories began to swirl around the table and I was allowed the privilege of learning more of their family history—stories that are told and re-told during a variety of gatherings.

I’ve always said that everyone has a story, you just have to find a way to record it.

It’s probably why I love history, and why I found myself bypassing the novels and other works of fiction, and instead picking up nonfiction books, ranging from a memoir of growing up under Hitler’s rule to stories from the “dirty” thirties, the dust bowl.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been absorbing the stories found within these books. It’s reminded me how important it is to preserve our family stories.

Think of it this way. As scrapbookers we talk about archiving our photographs and layouts, but first and foremost, we must remember to preserve our stories. Our stories make a powerful impact.

In “The Worst Hard Times” by Timothy Egan, Egan uses interviews and family stories to bring to life the dust bowl that covered the American High Plains during the 1930s.

The book jacket sums up the story in a few words: “This is the story of those who stayed and survived – those who, now in their eighties and nineties, will soon carry their memories to the grave - and it is an extraordinary story of endurance and heroism.”

To the grave. Wow. Think about all of the first-hand accounts of this period in history which will be lost, forever, in just a few short years.

Since starting this book, I’ve wondered what life was like for my dad’s parents. They were farmers living around Dodge City, Kansas at the time of the dust bowl. I can’t even begin to imagine what this time period
was like for them. In fact, I know very little of my grandparents’ life during much of their lives.

Egan’s book gives me a glimpse of what they might have faced during the depression and dust bowl. But, unfortunately, like many families, I can’t find out.

My grandparents carried their stories to the grave. It’s a piece of family history I’ll never have a chance to capture.

As scrapbookers we create a variety of layouts. I think the layouts that will have lasting impact are the ones
that truly capture the stories that define who we are, as individuals and families.

Unless we take time, even in the midst of life’s hustle and bustle, to find a way document our stories, they will
disappear, like dust in the wind.

Make it a goal this month to capture a few stories on paper. Take time to talk with a family member or two, and write down those conversations.

Maybe you won’t create a scrapbook page immediately. That’s OK. “Archive” your raw journaling. Get your thoughts down on paper or in typed form. You can always create a heritage layout or two later.

The important thing is to get your stories down, into a way you can save them for future generations.

In my short life (yes, to many, it’s short), I’ve lived through the bicentennial of America (no, I don’t remember much), the assassination attempt on President Reagan, two space shuttle explosions, and of course, Sept. 11; and those are just the “big” events.

Reading Egan’s book has made me want to jot down a few memories these and other incidents in my life. Words are powerful. What words define who you are? What is your story?

DST Feature: Turning Good Layouts Great: Design Tips from Cathy Z

Editor's Note: The following article was previously published in the September 2009 issue of DST Insider, a publication of  
We all have them—scrapbook layouts we created a few year ago and loved, but now, as our style and skills have evolved, may cry out for a “do-over.”

Cathy Zielske, former art director at Simple Scrapbooks, may have an answer for those layouts. She has created a new feature on her blog, called “CZ’s Design Do-Overs.”

Since April, Zielske has taken layouts, submitted by her readers, and shown readers some basic design principles they can apply to the pages for a new, sometimes graphic, look.

“[Most] scrapbook magazines out there don’t show page makeovers,” explained Zielske. “At Simple Scrapbooks, we never wanted to send the message that what you’ve created isn’t good enough. But here’s the deal: do you want to know how to make pages look better? If so, I’m going to show you how to do it.

“I figured that my blog readers would appreciate an honest look at true page makeovers in order to learn how to use design to make their own layouts look better overall.”

While Zielske is not suggesting readers go back and recreate completed layouts, she is simply using previously created pages as illustrations or tools for the feature.

“To tell the truth? I would tell people don’t bother designing old pages over. Truly,” Zielske said. “Just learn from my blog column how to make better choices in the here and now. This is really just a way to teach design and show how by making a few simple choices, you will create a much stronger impact with your overall design.”

For many of the “do-overs,” Zielske said the pages simply need a rearrangement of elements into a “visually pleasing arrangement.”

“I know that sounds pretty basic, but that’s really what goes into it,” she explained. “I get the digital photo files from the do-over candidate, and start there.”

With each “do-over,” Zielske follows some basic steps. She creates a design framework, finds her color scheme, identifies her papers and elements and then begins sketching in Adobe InDesign. She continues to work with the design until she achieves the desired look.

Zielske uses the photos and layout theme to set the mood for the design. With all layouts, she “strips the design down” as she cleans up the design.

“I look for layouts that are close but miss the mark, design wise,” Zielske said. “I’m not looking for stellar photos and great products. Just pages that could use a little TLD (tender loving design.)”

Looking for additional design help?
In addition to tips found on her blog, Zielske has two books that show scrapbookers how they can take a “simple, noncluttered and more relaxed approach to scrapbooking.”

The first book, Clean & Simple Scrapbooking, is more design related. The second, Clean & Simple Scrapbooking: The Sequel is more philosophy related.

Zielske created the books because it gave her an opportunity to feature a style she loved.

“I figured, ‘hey there might be others like me…people who don’t consider themselves the ‘crafty’ type, but love the idea of combining stories and pictures,”  Zielske said.“My design style is very linear and straightforward. I don’t want viewers of my pages to have to search for content, or hidden meanings. I want to tell a story directly and with strong design.

“For me, keeping it simple allows this to happen.”

Zielske said her second book stands out from other tutorials and books because it’s “a bit cheeky in spots.”

“My tone is very conversational, and with good reason: I think people need to chill out with their scrapbooking and have more fun when they’re doing it,” she said. “If they’re stressed out or feeling behind or any number of things that get in the way of having fun. I’m hoping by reading my book, they’ll have a few ‘a-ha’ moments on the way to more fun with this hobby.”

Regardless of layout style, digital or hybrid, Zielske hopes people will find someone they can relate to: someone who uses her computer to tell stories.

“I’ve been hybrid since the very first page I made, which used computer journaling, combined with photos. My technology helps me to be a better scrapbooker overall,” Zielske said.

Outside of design, Zielske wants scrapbookers to remember one basic thing—stories should be the foundation of every layout.

“Tell your stories, and [don’t] skimp on the details,” she said. “[Also] have fun with it. Life’s too short to get hung on the perfect scrapbook page.”

More about Cathy Z:
Zielske is a graphic artist and the former art director at Simple Scrapbooks magazine. She is currently a freelance graphic artist as well as an instructor for Big Picture Scrapbooking.

She jokes that she’s also spending time trying to “figure out how come I feel busier than when I had a full-time 40 hour a week job.”

“I love what I do for a living, even though I’m not doing as full time as I once was (being a designer),” Zielske said.

She describes herself as a “total tech geek” who loves HBO and Showtime (even though she doesn’t have either). She also loves dogs (even though she doesn’t
own one). Ultimately, she loves to tell stories, which is why she loves scrapbooking.

Zielske also authors a blog:, which she says contains “Bits and Pieces” of her life. In addition to the Design Do-Over feature, her blog often includes a variety of scrapbooking tips and techniques, as well as snippets from her life.

Zielske said she finds her scrapbooking inspiration from a variety of everyday sources, including music, technology, cool fronts during the summertime and good coffee.

“I’m more inspired by possible stories to tell than anything,” she said. “Products and trends don’t really do the trick. It’s usually something someone in my life says or does and I think: ‘I need to remember this.’”

Ultimately, she said, she creates scrapbook layouts simply to “remember and celebrate” her life.

As anyone who follows Cathy’s blog knows, music plays a very big part in her life. When asked to list the Top 10 most played songs on her iPod, she replied, “Down to the River to Pray” by Allison Krause and nine songs by Crowded House. “I have obsession issues with Neil Fiinn.”

Design Do-Overs
Want to find out more about the “do-over” feature: check it out on Cathy’s blog HERE.

Some design tips from Cathy Z
Favorite method/use:
Zielske recommends using one font for the title, and a second font for the journaling, which creates some contrast. She said she favors using a big title and a nice, readable point size for the journaling. She also encourages using ample leading (the space between the lines of text).

Least favorite use of fonts: Zielske said scrapbookers often suffer from “font sneeze.” “You know [its when you use] a bunch of different fonts so that it looks like someone spilled type all over your page.”

One thing to remember about fonts: “Type is an art form. Type designers have created these amazing letter forms for us to use, so don’t abuse them. Keep it simple and classic.”

Her favorite fonts: Zielske said her favorite journaling and title fonts include Adobe Garamond, Archer and Avenire. “I really do stick to classic type, regardless of the type of page I’m doing.”

Use of White Space:
Can white space be your friend? Yes! “The reason why white space is a friend to scrapbookers is that it allows room for your design to breathe. It creates a sense of calm and peace. It invites viewers into the experience of looking at your page, rather than demanding they look at it because it’s all full of mucky muck.”


Something to remember: “Everything in design has a purpose,” Zielske said. “Your layouts should have a purpose and look like stuff goes together. “The relationship between elements on a layout is the single most important design aspect, and the place where things usually go the most wrong. Elements need to
make sense in the scheme of the overall design.”

“To capture the essence of a story, the thing that’s cool is that you don’t have to have a gazillion pictures on a page or tons of words to do it,” she said. "You just have to be specific and get it down onto the page.”

What Zielske typically uses on all pages:
“You will usually see layouts designed with a single font. That’s something I do most of the time. As far as design techniques, you’ll see lots of photo groupings in squares, and equal amounts of space between my elements.

Happy Thanksgiving

I have a lot to be thankful this year. A note from my cousin, reminded me of this fact.

One of the things I'm thankful for is posted above. I'm thankful for all of the kiddos I come in contact with in my children's ministry. The photo above is from last week's "Girl's Thing" sleep over. Yes, I was either a "brave" or "crazy"
children's pastor - depending upon who you ask - and had a sleep over for 18 elementary aged girls.
- It was even one of the girl's first "non-family" sleep over -

My attitude isn't always the best, and I'll admit, I struggle with remembering to look at life as a glass half full, rather than empty.

So, I'm working to adjust my attitude, to live with a life of gratitude. I'm sure it will make life more enjoyable.

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone - I'm off to the church to take pics at the community Thanksgiving dinner, then I'll head over to the Palmers for a yummy late lunch.

Life is definitely full.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blog Tour: Love Finds You In Lonesome Prairie (Interview & Review)

What happens when you mix a woman who has a passion for helping children, with a circuit riding pastor in rural Montana - especially when they "collide" in a small town?

You end up the love story found within the pages of "Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana," the first novel created by the writing team of Tricia Goyer and Ocienna Fleiss.

Set in Lonesome Prairie, a town that existed during the 1800s, in western Montana, the book focuses on the relationship which develops when Pastor Isaac Shepherd meets up with Julia Cavanaugh, a street smart woman from New York City, who accompanies a group of orphans “out west” to their new homes.

Fleiss and Goyer decided to create a circuit-riding pastor as a key character for a variety of reasons. 

“I've always thought circuit pastors were interesting,” explained Fleiss. “They sacrificed a lot to take God's Word to the frontier, and I wondered what it would be like to never be in one place for long.

“It seemed to me that it would take a strong person with a sense of adventure to be circuit preacher--great qualities for a hero.”

The pair based Isaac’s character on a real person.

“Brother Van covered hundreds of miles of territory in Montana,” Goyer said. “He'd go from house, to barn, to saloon speaking of God's love to anyone who would listen.”

Lonesome Prairie
The pair decided to center the book in Lonesome Prairie, at the suggestion of their publisher, Summerside Press.

After “Googling” the location, the pair discovered the town’s former site was located approximately four hours from Goyer’s home, and now primarily consists of farm land and a small lake.

“There’s not much out there about it, since [the town] doesn’t exist anymore, but that made it more fun,” Fleiss said.

“The coolest thing is that we interviewed Keith, a 91-year-old man whose parents were some of the first settlers at Lonesome Prairie,” Goyer added. “He was great! He gave us many wonderful stories--something which we tied into the book.”

Creating a Partnership
Goyer and Fleiss decided to team up, after Fleiss volunteered to read and edit/critique Goyer’s six World War II novels.

“We met at a writer’s conference and hit it off,” Goyer said. “She’d read and edit before I sent in my manuscripts, and it was a huge help to me. I knew we could work well together, and I think we do.”

Initially, the pair approached Summerside Press to write a novel, set during World War II, for the “Love Finds You” line. It was put aside, temporarily, and replaced with their first joint effort, set in Lonesome Prairie, Mont.

“I think people consider the old west as more simple time,” Goyer said. “There were no cars, planes, and automobiles. There was no TV and Internet. Yet simple doesn't mean easy. Those people had hard lives!”

The pair is currently working on their initial idea, a novel featuring a woman named living during World War II. “Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Wash.” will be a future release by Summerside Press.

Fleiss said the process of writing a book together, was different, because as an editor, she would only see Goyer’s manuscripts after the first draft was completed.

“She did all of the character creating, plot planning, research, etc. on her own,” Fleiss said. “This time we did all those things together.”

Working together, explained Goyer, allowed them collaborate beginning with the research and planning stages.

“We started writing every other chapter, but we found that a challenge, since it was hard to read the other person's mind,” Goyer said. “We changed so that Ocieanna wrote the first draft and then I worked on the second draft. I also write extra scenes that we tucked in.”

A Historical Setting
One of the key historical story lines is that Julia traveled to Montana on an orphan train.

“I found registers and photos of orphan trains that went to Montana,” Goyer said. “I'm sure those little ones got quite a culture shock--especially when they were used to New York City!”

Fleiss said people used the trains to get children out of dangerous cities.

“The children were often abandoned to the streets in the midst of all kinds of crime and poverty,” she explained. “The alternative was for the children to get jobs in the factories. They often worked for long hours, doing tedious, dangerous and damaging work, for very little pay.

“The folks who started the orphan train wanted these children to go West and live with families on farms where they could learn good values and skills.”

Beyond the Pages
Through it all, the pair hope that readers will walk away from their novel remembering one key fact – that regardless of location or circumstances, “If you belong to Christ, He is your home.”

“I hope they find a happy escape from the hard realities of life,” Fleiss added. “I hope they rejoice in a romance. I hope a desire is kindled to learn more about our dear Lord in the pages of Scripture.”

Goyer agreed.

“I also hope that they will learn a little more about history and the amazing things men and women faced,” she said. “I know it has made me become more thankful about my own life!”

What I Thought

I picked up this novel, after a particularly hectic day at work. I was immediately drawn into the story, set in the late 1800s in New York City, and the open prairie of Montana.

I loved that the main guy character in the book is a pastor - and that Goyer and Fleiss created a character who was "not perfect" just because he was in the ministry. (Trust me, after four year's of seminary, I know first hand that "pastors" - myself included - are never going to be perfect, no matter how hard they try.)

I loved the passion (I could almost see it in her eyes) that Julia - the main girl character had for the young children in her care.

The characters created by Goyer and Fleiss seemed to jump off the page. This book is a fun, easy read - perfect for when you are tired of living in this century - and want to "step" back into a world without cell phones, iPods, laptops or texting. It might even make you realize what is most important - relationships with family and friends, along with a faith in God.

More About The Book
In 1890, Julia Cavanaugh travels west from New York City to unite orphans in her care with new families.

Imagine her horror when she discovers that she's to be "delivered," too--as bride to an uncouth miner! But with no return fare, Julia's options are bleak.

What does God have planned for her on the lonesome prairies of Montana?

Read An Excerpt On-Line: Click here.

Find It At Amazon: Click here.

Want To Read More "Love Finds You" Books: Click here.

 It's A Contest!
Fall in Love with Lonesome Prairie!
The authors, Tricia and Ocieanna, have put together one humdinger of a contest for this blog tour! Enter the Fall in Love With Lonesome Prairie Contest and WIN a perty Montana Gift Basket! 

To enter, simply fill out the entry form at, (then tell 5 or more friends about the contest)! The winner will be announced December 14th, just in time for an old-fashioned Montana Christmas. Giddy-up!

The Winner of our ‘Fall in Love with Lonesome Prairie’ giveaway will receive a fantastic Montana Gift Basket, including:
*Winter fleece throw
*Huckleberry chocolate bar
*Paula Dean candle
*Burt’s Bees gift set
*Wild Huckleberry taffy
*Montana stationary notebook
*Montana greeting card set
*Montana ball cap
*Montana apron
*Montana refrigerator magnet
*Charlie Russell 2010 Montana Calendar

Meet the Authors
About Tricia Goyer
Tricia Goyer is the author of twenty books including From Dust and Ashes, My Life UnScripted, and the children's book, 10 Minutes to Showtime. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003.

Two of her books, Night Song and Dawn of a Thousand Nights, are both past winners of the ACFW's Book of the Year Award for Long Historical Romance.

Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions.  She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana. For More Info:
More about Ocieanna Fleiss
Ocieanna Fleiss is a published writer and has edited six of Tricia Goyer's historical novels. She lives with her husband and their four children in the Seattle area. Connect with Ocieanna on Facebook! Click here for details.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Feature Article: Wrapped With Love

Editor's Note: This feature ran in the  Wednesday, Nov. 18, issue of the Siloam Springs Herald-Leader.

By Kaylea Hutson
SILOAM SPRINGS — The smile never left Billie Doublehead’s face as she wrapped boxes during the Operation Christmas Child Community Shoebox party,held Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Siloam Springs.

“I just love doing this,” she said. “You just get excited to help kids have a good Christmas.”

Doublehead was just one of numerous volunteers who helped wrapand fill 353 shoeboxes during the two-hour event.

This is the sixth year for the community party. Organizer Lane McLoud said this was the most boxes filled during a single event.

“This year, we had the most donationsfrom the community, including items to pack into the boxes and money to help pay for the shipment charges,” McLoud said. “It’s exciting to see how this effort has grown in the past few years. Hopefully, next year’s party will be even bigger.”

Many volunteers, including members of the men’s basketball team at John Brown University, helped staff carnival games, which let children win prizes, like crayons, pencils and candy. Those items were thenused to fill many of the shoeboxes.

“I thought this was a neat opportunity, with the holidays coming up, to get together with the players and get out to do some community work,” explained Clark Sheehy, headbasketball coach at JBU. “We’ve talked about what Operation Christmas Child does and how they are literally spreading the gospel around the world.”

Sheehy said team members were excited to help with the project. He hoped his players walked away from the event knowing how much fun they can have while serving others.

Making it personal
This was Andrea Hair’s third community shoebox party. The junior at JBU became involved with OCC in high school, when members of her home church traveled to a regional processing center in Minneapolis, Minn.

“This is a really cool program because you get to help kids in completely different countries,” Hair said. “[Samaritan’s Purse is] so committed with sharing the gospel. You are making a difference in kids’ lives for eternity.”

Hair has enjoyed volunteering with OCC so much, she eventually hopes to work for the ministry after graduating from JBU.

Another volunteer, Fran O’Neal, took time to create a note for one of her completed boxes. O’Neal became involved with the organization approximately 12 years ago.

“It’s fun to bless people who don’t have anything,” O’Neal said.

National Collection Week
In addition to participating in the event at First UMC, Doublehead has spent the last year purchasing items at rummage and clearance sales to fill boxes at her home.

Last week she invited neighborhood children to help bag candy and make cards for approximately 100 boxes in anticipation of this week’s OCC National Collection drive.

Doublehead’s boxes, along with those made at First UMC, will be taken to the local Operation Christmas Child collection site at Sager Creek Community Church for further processing.

The church, located at 1600 Cheri Whitlock Drive, will collect boxes from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. today through Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 524-3577.

Cutlines (From the top)
1) Samuel Johnson, a freshman member of the John Brown University men’s basketball team, signs Karson Clement’s shirt during the annual community shoebox party. As he played the various carnival games, Clement asked the basketball players present if they would autograph his JBU t-shirt.

2) Billie Doublehead jokes with Jonathan Sparks, a junior at John Brown University, at the wrapping station. The pair helped wrap shoeboxes, so they could be filled during the carnival.

3) Megan Glen decorates Nate Payne’s face during the annual shoebox carnival. Glen, along with two of her friends, staffed the face painting booth.

4) Fran O’Neal, a long-time supporter of Operation Christmas Child in Siloam Springs, creates a note for the child that will receive her shoebox during the annual community shoebox carnival.

5) Brenton Hilderbrand shows his mother, Johnna, one of the stuffed animals he found in a prize box during the annual shoebox carnival.

6) Cody Thomas organizes a variety of items into his shoebox during the annual shoebox party at First United Methodist Church.

7) Adrian Miller watches as 5-year-old Brenton Hilderbrand tosses a bean bag into a Christmas tree during the annual shoebox party.

8) Sam Young, a freshman at John Brown University, adds a filled shoebox to the completed pile. Volunteers filled approximately 350 shoeboxes during the annual community party at First United Methodist Church in Siloam Springs.

9) Amber Carter helps her daughter, Avery, complete a personal note to go in an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blog Tour: Fit For My King

In her newest book, Sheri Rose Shepherd as created a plan that steps beyond a typical diet, and instead is a 30-day fast from several things including white sugar, white flower and artificial sweetners.

The book also contains 30 days worth of devotions focusing on a variety of topics including anger, hopelessness, loneliness and being real with God.

What I Think
I'll be honest, I cringed a bit when the book arrived in the mail. It had been a bad week, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with life and other things.

The idea of sitting down to read a book about dieting, well, made me want to run to the kitchen to make a bowl of mac and cheese.

When I finally cracked open the book, I found a book that was easy to read, thanks to Shepherd's conversational writing style.

While I'm not ready to jump into her fast - I'm still trying to break the "fast food" grab and go -  I can easily see myself using the devotional plan for the next 30 days.

Each devotion comes with a plan, an action plan and a truth treasure, to help reinforce the truth that we are princesses for the ultimate King - God.

I think the themes found in the devotions are things all women - regardless of age - need to hear. The other information - from the fast to the recipe - provides things for women to think about.

More About Fit For My King
In this 30 day journey, the author shares how God healed her from an eating disorder, helped her conquer
chronic fatigue, and gave her the strength and wisdom to lose over sixty pounds and keep it off. Today, at
nearly 50 years old, Sheri Rose is healthy and free.

More than a half a million women have been set free through this life changing teaching.  Sheri Rose
Shepherd walks through each day with you, supporting you with 30 days of life changing devotions,
heartwarming stories, creative cooking, and a daily dose of Scripture to keep you on track. The treasures
of truth found in these pages will transform the way you see yourself forever.

The book is available this month (November 2009) at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Find Out More About the Book - Click Here!

Read an Except - Click Here!

Find It On Amazon - Click Here!

More About Sheri Rose Shepherd

Sheri Rose Shepherd was named the # 1 Show of the year (2006) on Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson. Her book, Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal is endorsed by Women of Faith speakers Patsy Clairmont, Barbara Johnson, and Thelma Wells. Her inspiring life story and books have been featured on Lifetime Television for Women and NBC’s Inside Edition.

Sheri Rose has a very refreshing way of bringing the Word of God to life. She knows how to renew the Eternal Hope in our hearts. Her speaking style is humorous, heartwarming and inspires every one to make their life count for eternity.

Sheri Rose is a woman who can relate to almost any woman’s battle. This former Mrs. United States grew up in a dysfunctional home and was severely overweight as a teen. As a young woman, she battled depression and an eating disorder. She understands the pain that comes from a broken home and she knows what it means to fight for freedom from your past. In spite of an English teacher telling her she was “born to lose” and a learning disorder—Dyslexia—Sheri Rose has (in God’s strength) written best-selling books, founded His Princess Ministries and speaks to thousands each year at churches and women’s conferences.

Her Joy for the Lord, humorous heart-warming stories mixed with truth and transparency renews our Faith by reminding us how much we are truly loved and adored by our Father in heaven. Once you heard Sheri Rose speak you will never again doubt that you are…“God’s Chosen Princess”… here for a divine purpose!

Sheri Rose has written seven books, three of which are best sellers.  She travels extensively speaking to approximately 30,000 people each year. Sheri Rose and her husband, Steve have been married 20 years and have two children, Jake, age 19, and Emily, age 8.

Visit Sheri's Website -  Click Here

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's an Oscraps Blog Hop!

Welcome to the Oscraps DSD Blog Hop!

This week we are celebrating digital scrapbooking!!

Your word here at my BLOG is "Ask"

Collect all of the words to form a quote, e-mail the complete quote to bloghop @ oscraps. com (make sure to remove the spaces) to be entered into a drawing for the grand prize!!

As a thank you gift for stopping by my BLOG, I have this FREEBIE for you!!

The blog tour is over. Thanks!

Your next stop in the journey is at Merkeley Design's Team Blog. Click here!

If you stumbled on to my blog, and need to start at the beginning of the hop,
visit Joanne's blog by clicking here.

"Don't forget, at the end of the hop, to email the ENTIRE quote to bloghop AT oscraps DOT com!! Only the whole quote will qualify you in the random drawing for a Gift Certificate to the OScraps store!! yay!!!"
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