Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Interview with Justina Page, Author of The Circle of Fire

As a burn survivor myself, I was inspired by your story. First of all, I’m so sorry for the loss of your son.

You went through so much in the hospital. What was the hardest part?

There were many HARD parts as you well know from first –hand experience. If I had to pick the HARDEST part it would be waking up from coma intubated and not knowing the extent of the injuries to me and my family members. I had no idea who survived or who died. And when I did find out, it was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The complete loss of control and the emotional turmoil of not being able to communicate my desires and feelings were as painful as the physical wounds.

And afterward? People assume once you’re out of the hospital, everything is fine, but of course, it’s not that simple. What was the hardest part afterward?

I am a very independent person and am accustomed to serving others. When the tables were turned I was momentarily stumped. Not only could I not do for others, I could not take care of my own basic needs. The lack of independence was definitely the hardest. So, when I had to have someone bathe me, feed me, and wipe my backside after going to the restroom it was very humbling. However, I was extremely appreciative to have willing caretakers who helped with such compassion and wisdom that did not strip me of my dignity.

You’re an athlete. Do you think your physical strength helped you in your recovery?

Yes it definitely played a role. Your general health prior to any injury plays a great role in your ability to heal and the time it will take. However, my stubbornness, strong will, and determination, coupled with my faith in Christ played the greater role.

Were there volunteers working on the burn unit who were helpful during your hospitalization?

Absolutely. One in particular was a gentleman by the name of Gary Alley. When I finally came out of the coma, he would visit me every week. I was so impressed by this stranger that would sacrifice his time to make sure I didn’t have any questions or needs. He was my inspiration for coming back to the burn unit and volunteering. We are now very good friends and volunteer on the unit together running the support groups and other programs.

Tell about the SOAR program and how it works with burned patients.

SOAR stands for Survivors Offering Assistance and Recovery to burn patients. This program was created by The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and is offered at participating SOAR hospitals. There are three components to this program including SOAR peer supporters, SOAR coordinators, and SOAR trainers. Peer supporters are trained to provide support to patients and their family members on the unit. They are former survivors that the patient can easily identify with and provide an ear or shoulder to get through the process while validating the patient’s feelings. SOAR coordinators make referrals by the request of the patient to the peer supporter and match supporters to patients. SOAR trainers train burn survivors to be effective peer supporters.

You have taken a tragedy and made something beautiful out of it. Tell us about the establishment of Amos House of Faith, what it does, and what your future goals are for it

The Amos House of Faith is a nonprofit organization established in memory of my deceased son Amos with a mission to provide post burn support for children and families affected by burn trauma. There are three programs we are aspiring to provide which creates a support system for families and eases the financial burden created by this tragedy. The After Burns Club began in 2007 is held at Shriner’s Hospitals for Children in Galveston and Houston. This program is designed to empower children who have been burned and their siblings to cope with the adverse effects of burn trauma. We offer support groups that deal with pertinent topics such as teasing, survivor guilt, body image, etc… There are meals provided, monthly field trips scheduled, and club t-shirts as well. Our next goal is to establish The Amos House Family Room. This facility will be a temporary home away from home for the caretakers of seriously burned patients. The final program will be the HERO program which will provide housing for the caretakers of firefighters and EMS teams.

How are your sons doing now?

My precious six sons. Jonathon my eldest had the most adverse emotional reaction to the tragedy. He felt that God had forsaken us as a family and that he had failed his responsibility by not saving Amos which was his twin. The series of rebellion that followed was tragic. However he has now come to a greater understanding and is going on with his life. Joseph felt like a coward because he saved himself from the fire and did not have the heroic testimony his older brother had in having to be held down by several adults in attempt to save his little brothers. He has since dealt with the survivor guilt and is currently a senior at The University of Houston majoring in mechanical engineering. Caleb dealt with vicious episodes of teasing and had self-esteem issues. He is now solid in his identity and is pursuing a degree in hotel management. With Daniel my autistic son, life goes on as normal. He is still stealing the silverware and we are still buying replacements on a weekly basis. My twin Benjamin who suffered 3rd degree burns on his face and upper extremities is well. He is now mentally retarded and speech impaired as a result of the lack of oxygen at the scene. He is the happiest person I know – no kidding. He is now 6’2” in a special need class in High School with football coaches drooling over him. My precious Amos now rest safely on heaven’s shore.

Tell us about how The Circle of Fire came to be. Have you always wanted to write?

In May of 2000 I told my boys that I would write a book when they get older to help them understand what the family endured and how we got through it. Honestly, I forgot that promise. Eventually I began to volunteer on the burn unit and one thing led into another. I found myself completely emerged in the burn community both locally and nationally. Many of the patients and families I helped begin to suggest that I write a book. They felt that the wisdom and experience I had would be a blessing to many if I laid out some principles in a book format that could reach multitudes at the same time. I felt that a successful book would be instrumental in building The Amos House of Faith and made a conscience decision to let all the proceeds go the nonprofit. I have been writing as long as I can remember, poems, songs, books, stories – you name it. I am currently working on my next book which will be a refreshing surpise!

Tell us about the publication process.

The publication process was an extremely exciting journey that fit my personality type to a tee. I love task oriented work that is methodically. Getting the story from my heart to the written page was no small feat. It all began to take off when I completed a rough draft of my first chapter. When that model was established the writing flowed smoothly. Once I completed the manuscript I was faced with an unexpected emotion – I did not want to let it go. I had poured out some very transparent feelings and experiences and I was temporarily wondering if the world was worthy of it. Then I remembered my purpose and moved on with the process. Working with the interior layout designer was educational. I did not realize the many steps and decisions that had to be made to format the book properly. I gained a greater appreciation for every book I love and purchase. Clothing the manuscript with a cover was like putting icing on the cake. The ISBN number was assigned and “my baby” was released into the world. A very exhilarating experience!

How are you promoting your book?

I am currently doing radio interviews across the nation, book signing events, and speaking engagements. I also have an online presence including the book website, Shelferia, GoodReads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online retailers. You can follow me on Twitter: TheAmosHouse or LinkedIn:

The Amos House of Faith
Justina Page - Executive Director

Author of the The Circle of Fire

"Extend a helping hand - your heart will thank you!"





Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August Books of the Month

This was a great month. I loved every book I read, even those picked out by someone else, aka book club members. So here they are, and I highly recommend all of them.

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak. A beautiful, haunting book about a young German girl growing up in a foster home in Nazi Germany. Along with Death, the narrator, we watch her learn to read and experience the power of words. Far more sophistocated than the average young adult book, it will appeal to readers of any age. Both my granddaughter and I loved it. A keeper.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the winner of this year's Booker Prize, England's highest literary award, it follows the life of Thomas Cromwell, who was one of Henry VIII's closest advisors. I've always thought of Cromwell as "evil" but this book makes you like him, despite his Machiavellian ways. And Thomas More, the "man for all sesaons," is an extremely unlikeable guy. There's bound to be a sequel; we don't see the death of Anne Boleyn. Long but highly enjoyable.

The Circle of Fire by Justina Page. This is the memoir of a woman who lost everything--her 22-month old son, her home and everything in it--in a tragic fire. After six weeks in a coma, she must deal with pain, the loss of her son, another son's severe burns, the amputation of parts of the fingers of one hand--yet she survives to turn a tragedy into triumph. As a burn survivor myself, I was eager to read this book. I wasn't disappointed. It's an inspiring story of a woman we can all admire. Read my interview with Justina in tomorrow's post.

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins. A former U.S. poet laureate, Collins' latest poetry collection is witty and engaging. Here's my favorite poem, one you writers out there will relate to:
The woman who wrote from Phoenix
after my reading there

to tell me they were all still talking about it

just wrote again
to tell me that they had stopped.

Do you have any books to recommend?

Quote for the Week: Friends

"A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though you are slightly cracked."
Bernard Meltzer

Monday, August 22, 2011

Quotes for the Week: Education

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. ~Sydney J. Harris

You send your child to the schoolmaster, but 'tis the schoolboys who educate him. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. ~Author Unknown

You can get all A's and still flunk life. ~Walker Percy

Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework formerly eaten by the dog. ~Doug Larson

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job. ~Donald D. Quinn

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. ~Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back to School

School starts today; yet it still feels like mid-summer. The temperature has been 100 degrees or more for days, with no sign of a break. Of course, schools today are comfortably air-conditioned. Back in my school days, that would have been an unheard-of luxury. But of course, our homes weren't air conditioned either. Nothing was, except movie theaters and a few large downtown buildings, so we didn't know any better.
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We started school around the second week of September and in a few weeks there were hints of fall in the air. On the playground, between hopscoth and jump rope, we collected acorns, took them home to shellack them and make them into necklaces. Football season brought cool nights and the sight of the University of Texas Tower bathed in orange light.

I remember most of my teachers (Long-term memory is the last to go.) Miss Lamar, my gentle first grade teacher; Miss Cook, the music teacher who always made me come up to the piano and try again to sing "I'm here" because I was, and am, tone deaf; Miss Hunter, the art teacher, who read Mary Poppins between art projects; Mr. Davis, the junior high science teacher who liked to read stupid answers from tests, which made me cringe with trepidation; Miss Brown, our high school English teacher who was married to the play-by-play sportscaster for the high school football games and who, we thought, was quite old. I glanced at her picture many years later in our high school year book and realized she must have been just past twenty.


My favorite of all my teachers throughout school was Miss Hill, my high school Latin teacher. She was a small, thin woman with iron-grey hair, whose life revolved around Latin. She taught with love and filled us with love for Latin as well. From her came my delight in vocabulary words and their origins, my love of classical mythology and my fascination with Roman and Greek history. Not a bad inheritance.

Miss Hill was prim and proper and when we read the Aeneid and reached the story of the birth of the Minotaur, half man, half bull, she thought it too pruient for our adolescent sensibilities (How times have changed.) so we skipped it in class. But
at home, the telephone wires buzzed as we all worked to translate the "dirty" passage.

Miss Hill's greatest dream was to visit Rome and during my senior year her students raised the money to buy her a ticket, which was presented to her at a party. She was overwhelmed.

She is remembered as the remarkable teacher she was in Austin High School's Hall of Fame.

Did you have a memorable teacher--good or bad?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Memory of the Month

A fellow widowhood blogger, Boo, whose blog is called Boo's Journey Through Widowhood, read my recent post about memories of Ralph and suggested I do a memory each month. So here's the first:

Ralph loved to tease me and his sisters, especially Karen, the closest sister in age. One year, just before her birthday, he was attending a computer expo when he came upon a booth at which you could have your picture taken and turned into a jigsaw puzzle. He promptly did this, took the puzzle apart and mailed it to Karen for her birthday. She opened the package, left it on the table and went to run some errands. While she was gone, her children put the puzzle together, got the joke and took the puzzle apart again for their mom to assemble. It was one of Ralph's favorite jokes and Karen's most memorable birthday gifts from her brother.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quote for the Week: Song of the River by William Randolph Hearst

Each year on the anniversary of William Randolph Hearst's death, the Houston Chronicle publishes this poem:


The snow melts on the mountain
And the water runs down to the spring,
And the spring in a turbulent fountain,
With a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river,
And the river flows on to the sea,
And the water again
Goes back in rain
To the hills where it used to be.

And I wonder if Life's deep mystery
Isn't much like the rain and the snow
Returning through all eternity
To the places it used to know.
For life was born on the lofty heights
And flows in a laughing stream
To the river below
Whose onward flow
Ends in a peaceful dream.

And so at last,
When our life has passed
And the river has run its course,
It again goes back,
O'er the selfsame track,
To the mountain which was its source.

So why prize life
Or why fear death,
Or dread what is to be?
The river ran its allotted span
Till it reached the silent sea.
Then the water harked back to the mountaintop
To begin its course once more.

So we shall run the course begun
Till we reach the silent shore,
Then revisit earth in a pure rebirth
From the heart of the virgin snow.
So don't ask why we live or die,
Or wither, or when we go,
Or wonder about the mysteries
That only God may know.

When the Time Comes

My husband was a pack rat. He had file cabinets overflowing with manila folders, folders in which he kept receipts for everything from computer equipment to styrofoam cups and paper clips, business contracts, cards and letters, scribbled notes, old lottery tickets (yes!), medical records and tax receipts. Somewhere among them were his will, long-term care policy and life insurance policy. Only because I tearfully insisted, did he take out those necessary papers before he went into the hospital for his stem cell transplant. If not, it would have taken me months to search for them after he died.

My year-long search of his files during my first year of widowhood turned up his sister's fifth grade three-ring binder, a poem he'd written about me and never showed me, and an investment he'd never gotten around to mentioning along with his car title, business contacts and a list of phone numbers I needed.

I vowed this would not happen to my children after my death. I gathered all my important information and put it in a small kit which I call When the Time Comes. The kit includes everything I could think of that the kids will someday need: end of life wishes, will, life insurance, IRA records, burial plot information, lists of friends to call, memorial service wishes, bank account numbers, safe deposit box key and bequests of personal property. I keep this kit in my study, and I've told my son and daughter exactly where to find it.

Death brings with it innumerable painful chores. Why add to them? This, to me, seems a solution. My children prefer to avoid the topic of what to do after I'm gone, but someday I'm sure they'll be glad I took on this task instead of leaving it to them. They'll have enough to cope with...when the time comes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Quote for the Week

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
- C. S. Lewis


I'm thrilled with this award. What an honor!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Interview with Margaret Anderson

Today I'm interviewing author and friend, Margaret Anderson. She's well-known in Houston for teaching consensus-building, both at Rice University's Glasscock School of Continuing Education and as a consultant to congregations and corporations. Her book, Bridges to Consensus, gives readers the benefit of her experience in this field and, most importantly, presents them with skills they can use as they deal with co-workers, committees, family relationships, editor/agent relationsl...just about anywhere there's interaction with others.

Tell us about your background. How did you get interested in helping others get to consensus?

I've long wanted to teach--not to teach a captive audience of kids taking a required course, but rather adults who really want the material. I held that in the back of my mind as something to do if I found a topic that really grabbed me. Meanwhile, I began voraciously learning better consensus skills to help me at work. As I gained proficiency, I found these skills so life enhancing that I wanted to share them. Consensus skills grabbed me as my perfect teaching topic, and now training and consulting on those skills are my much-loved full-time profession.

What prompted you to write the book?

Several people had advised me that the best thing I could do for my training and consulting business was to write a book. I knew I could only take pride in the book if I gave it a unique slant. So, again, I held the thought until I developed a way to do that. In time, I hit upon two unique aspects that would make my book as effective as I envisioned. First, I included a number of detailed sample dialogues and arranged them in tables with the characters' statements running down one column and the skill-user's thought process side-by-side in another column. This helps readers see realistic examples of how they can actually use the skills. All my critiquing partners loved this approach. Second, I decided to focus on applications of the skills to faith communities. My title is Bridges to Consensus--in Congregations.

Your book is directed to congregations. Why did you choose that focus?

I chose it because of the need. In training and consulting to congregational groups and clergy, saw people who are trying to do good in the world, and knew they could do it better, easier and faster with these skills. Even in commercial environments, consensus skills usually work better than the command-and-control paradigm, but in congregations and other non-profits, these skills are even more important because non-profits rely heavily on volunteers. If volunteers don't like the way their concerns are dealt with (or not), they can vote with their feet much more easily than paid employees.

Do the techniques you suggest work as well in other situations?

Absolutely. I teach essentially the same skills in corporate groups, professional organizations, and my Rice Continuing Studies class, and I've used them myself with everyone from co-workers to family and friends.

I loved your “What would Spiderman do?” technique. Talk a little about that.

Great question. Sometimes a group leader tells the others to "think out of the box." Even when working alone, we tell ourselves we need to get more creative. But those directives are too general. When we hear them from ourselves or others, we tend to draw a blank. One technique I advise for creativity is to ask a very specific, but fanciful, question. You can take the template, "What would _______ do?" and fill the blank with anyone who is very different from yourself, such as Spiderman. The fanciful question draws fanciful, often silly, answers, which puts them out of the box.

For example, suppose I'm confronted by an angry individual accusing me of not doing my share of committee work? I want to stand up for myself, but I also want to calm the other person and remain on good terms. But this angry outburst came out of the blue, and I don't know how to respond. I can ask myself what Spiderman (or Dora the Explorer, or my grandmother) would do in my situation? One answer: Spidey could shoot a web high into the rafters, swing himself up there, and wait, watch and listen.

Now, this answer is silly in that I can't really shoot webs to the rafter and swing myself up. This idea won't work as is. But now I ask myself what is the workable part of Spidey's approach that I can use? I call this the Kernel of Goodness. My answer to this follow-up question might be the idea of getting myself above the fray rather than reacting knee-jerk to the other person. Like Spiderman, I can wait, watch and listen to the other person until either he calms down on his own, or his words inspire me to a response that feels right to me.

Tell us about the publishing process.

Oh, wow, there's so much to say about this. Because I already had a business platform from which to promote the book, I decided to self publish through a POD company. This allowed me to see print in months, rather than years, and to maintain complete editorial control.

As publisher, I chose createspace, which is affiliated with Amazon. They have many services, and an author can decide how much or how little to use. For example, I did not use their editing services because I had such good critiquing partners. However, I did use their designers for both the book interior and the cover. I love the little bridge motif at the beginning of each chapter. It ties in with my title Bridges to Consensus--in Congregations. I sent them a photo I liked for the cover, and they took it from there to create a beautiful complete design. They provided many proofs and opportunities for me to give feedback along the way, and once I accepted the final proof, they listed the book on its own page in their estore, and on Amazon, with the "look inside" feature. We're now working on the Kindle conversion.

One of the best things about createspace is that, though you pay up front, you get reasonable royalties down the road. My original package cost about $750; then I paid about $700 more for the special formatting required by my tables. I now earn about $6 some odd per book sold, a little more for books purchased from the estore.

I really liked the one-stop convenience. They took care of the ISBN and LCCN numbers and getting me up on Amazon. And there are more optional services I can buy if and when I wish, such as bookmarks, postcards, and sell sheets.

How are you publicizing the book? Emphasis on social media is really hot among writers now. Are you relying on social media to get the word out about your book?

Taking the advice I offer in the book, I keep my ultimate objective--using the book to promote my training courses and consulting services--in mind. I want to be sure that my promotion strategy is well-thought-out and efficient. That said, I'm doing several things hand-in-hand. First, I am using the fact that I'm the author of Bridges to Consensus--in Congregations when I seek training and speaking engagements for congregations and other religious organizations. Where permitted, I sell back-of-the-room after these events, so the book sales and appearances help to promote one another.

I am also using the internet to research congregations that are most likely to be receptive and sending direct, personalized email announcements about the publication to clergy and key lay leaders in these organizations. So far, I'm seeing a decent number of book sales as cold contacts go. Another objective here is to get a better read on whether I should target mostly clergy, mostly lay leaders, or both in my social media marketing.

I'm reading The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani to help me develop an efficient long-range social media strategy as I gain info on the best target audience for my topic. That could make a big difference in how much time I put into which media.

Anything else you’d like to tell us.

If your readers would like to see the createspace design work I've described above, I'd encourage them to "look inside" my book on Amazon. Just search for Bridges to Consensus--in Congregations, or paste the following into your browser:

If they would like to see what a createspace estore page looks like, go to:

And I'd be proud and pleased if they would visit my own website:

Most of all, thanks for this opportunity to talk about the most exciting thing happening in my life right now.

Thanks, TZ

Monday, August 1, 2011

Quote for the Week

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.
Sam Keen

I agree, especially when it's 100 degrees every day and even the tropical storm didn't bring us much rain.

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