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Monday, July 20, 2015

In Memory Never Goes Out of Style

When Daniel died, I wanted everyone to know that he had lived.  I didn't want his short life on earth of less than four and a half years to be forgotten.  Not only did I write about him for grief publications, but I spent time at craft shops.  At the shops, I looked for creative ways to memorialize him.  I bought a small wood basket and painted it with gold and the words:  Our Memories Fill the Sky. I invested in Creative Memories (I have yet to complete my memory album even after 18 years since his death).  Crafting or writing, it was all part of my grief therapy.  The writing was much better than the projects I tried to paint and and glue.  Even so, both helped do their grief work for me.  I was comforted, even if only for a short while in my early sorrow. Now I promote both writing and crafting for every griever.

My husband and I have many memorial items we have perfected over the years (he is the mastermind; my crafting skills are still limited). We use wood to carve them.  Wood makes such wonderful keepsakes. The personalized butterfly magnets are one of our products in our memorial line at our Carved By Heart Etsy shop. A lot of our carvings have butterflies on them because they're the symbol of new life and hope.

We are blessed by the responses from those who have been comforted by a garden plaque, a candle, or a wind chime with a child's name. I love that Daniel has inspired tangible comfort through our remembrance creations.

In memory.  Because every life needs to be remembered. And In Memory never goes out of style.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An idea, a business, a log cabin mailbox

The recession and lack of available meaningful work hit us, just like it did so many other Americans.

It was in 2012 that my husband, Carl, told me what we could do.  He showed me photos of furniture he had crafted for a log cabin he built on his own in upstate New York.  It was in his earlier life, before me. There were photos of a rustic clock, a pie safe, a coffee table, a magazine rack.  "We can make these and sell them!" he said excitedly.

I wasn't sure what my part was going to be in all of this.  I could barely hammer a nail.  "What do I do?"

He didn't really know either.  But he made rustic clocks and plaques and we sold some out of our garage and to friends.

And then, we discovered Etsy.

Thanks to Etsy, and the other places where we sell our carved wooden items, we are making a living.  Like any new business, it has not been easy.  We struggle.  That's an understatement.  But we also work together to create customer service and products people can use in their homes or give as gifts.  We have loads of heart warming stories to share about our experiences.

Our recent accomplishment and surprise comes at Reader's Digest.  One of our log cabin mailboxes is featured at a Made in USA section of their online store with a link to our Etsy shop. This adorable log cabin looks like it's made of  Lincoln Logs, but actually, it's not. Each log is crafted. The shingles are real roof shingles.  Carl cuts the wood, sands it, and builds each cabin around a standard US-regulated mailbox. After the cabin is built, my part is staining the whole thing, and painting the windows and doors. It's a messy job, but I have lots of T-shirts that handle the mess well.

We have sold over 25 of our mailboxes since December 2013.  We even offer one with a green metal roof. Log cabin owners love our mailboxes. Recently, a customer asked if we could place his house number on the chimney and as you can see, we have. Now we offer house numbers carved and painted on our log cabins.

"More beautiful than in the photos!" one of our customers exclaimed when he received his mailbox.

And I, as the photographer, would have to agree.

See our other products at our Etsy shop, Carved By Heart.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Childhood Days: On Being a Foreigner

I wrote the following over two years ago for a blog called Boomer Bits and Bytes.  I dug it up and decided to re-post today.  Tell me your thoughts.

~* ~*

It’s never a good day when you feel those jolts of fear moving up and down your spine like someone’s wired you to an electric circuit. But as she studied my face, I felt them, and I knew without a doubt that I’d done something wrong.

It was Mother’s Day 1967, and the neighborhood kindergarten I attended invited moms to the school for a celebratory program. Each mother received a red carnation to pin to her clothing and then was ushered into classrooms to view some of the best artwork this side of Tokyo. Wearing a floral dress, her carnation, and a hint of perfume, my mother entered my classroom, ready to find the portrait I’d drawn of her.

Removing her sunglasses, she glanced around the walls. She stepped closer in, scanning the heavy oil-based pastel-colored creations. Then with an emphatic sigh, she looked at me. “Alice, where is your picture?”

My picture! We were right in front of it. Could she not see? Although worry clouded my mind, even so, I held it together. Don’t make a scene, never draw attention. Gingerly, I moved toward the wall. Standing on tiptoes, I pointed to the motherly face I had created.

Mom looked at the oval shape that held black eyes, red lips, and locks of black hair.

I had colored a little out of the lines, so there was some pink crayon—the color I’d used for her necklace—rubbed into her collar, but overall, the portrait was one I was pleased with. I smiled at Mom, expecting her to smile back.

There was no smile. “Alice,” she cried, “I don’t have black eyes or black hair.”

With feet now planted on the classroom floor, I avoided her expression. Seeing her every day, I knew what she looked like. But did she think that I was going to use a brown crayon or blue one to draw her hair and eyes when the other children were sharing the popular black crayon? So, I gave her a pair of eyes and hair to match my classmates’ artwork.

Knowing I was a foreigner was as familiar to me as the frequented candy store. Even so, I wanted to blend in. I tried to be inconspicuous, never stand out, or be different, noticed, pointed at, and ridiculed. However, with blond hair, brown eyes, and a light complexion, and even tall by American standards, I was clearly unique in a country where black hair, olive complexions, dark eyes and short statures were dominant.

I was born in Osaka, on a frosty January night in a hospital across from a Hankyu train track. I don’t know if I was born on the right or wrong side of those tracks, but I do know that I had a perfectly shaped round head and was as bald as a snow man. My head was unscathed because I didn’t use it to push through the birth canal. Later, I would realize that I was born lazy and would have to fight that tendency especially when it came time to do my chores or complete algebra homework.

Naturally, my parents gave me a name at birth but the locals called me something else. Gaijin. They called my friends with blond hair the same thing and even that pesky kid who tried to look up my skirt in third grade. (He was cute and gave me a Valentine, but he was still nasty.) My father, mother, and baby brother were also called gaijin.

The Chinese characters for the word gaijin are soto jin, meaning outsider. In Japan this takes care of anyone who is not a native of the nation of Japan, which comes to just about ninety-six percent of the world.

When a small child would see me and lift his finger to point, I wanted to disappear. My mom would sometimes point her finger back at the kids and call them gaijin which only embarrassed me more and made the kids laugh and scream all the louder. Didn’t she know we were to be seen but not heard? Never cause a ripple; be the good American. Besides, they didn’t realize that what she was doing was more than mimicking them; she was calling them foreigners. They didn’t understand that to outsiders like us, even they were soto jin.

One afternoon, young Japanese boys that often slid over the concrete wall from the nearby apartment complex, came to the hospital compound to play. Standing in a grassy field of clover, they saw my little brother by a large oak tree. Picking up stones, one yelled, “Gaijin!” Quickly, in chorus, the other boys followed suit. Stones flew past Vincie, some landed at his feet, while others bounced off the tree trunk. Vincie made his way to our front gate, entered it, and escaped into our home. To his advantage, the kids didn’t have the best aim, and physically, he was unharmed.

Occasionally, the sisters of these boys came over to find me, calling out, “Arisu-chan, asobo!” (“Alice, let’s play.”) Unlike their brothers, they were kind and sat with me in the clover field behind the hospital, weaving crowns and necklaces out of clover for me to wear. Seated beside them in the mass of green, I wanted to play dolls and house as I did with my missionary neighbor Jo Jo. I was weary of being asked the same questions, talked about as if I couldn’t understand, and being stared at.


At the time I had no clear concept of the United States, my country of passport, but one day, I would be reminded of how different it was from this crowded island. In my teen years, I would long for things about it, yet not understand most of its ways, and wonder how I fit in.

Little did I know, but I would have a lifetime of figuring out how to fit in.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cooking With Author Jo Huddleston & a Giveaway!

Happy to have author Jo Huddleston at my blog today!  She's sharing a recipe and her newest novel, Wait For Me.  She is also offering a Kindle giveaway!   Read on . . . 

5 in 1 Salad/Dessert

Mix gently
10 ounces cool whip
1 small package Jell-O dry mix, any flavor
Add: 12 ounces cottage cheese
Add: 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained (whole or in chunks if desired)
1 small can pineapple (crushed or chunks), drained
Mix all together gently, chill overnight, serve in clear bowl to enjoy the color.

BACK COVER BLURB for Wait for Me

Can Julie, an only child raised with privilege and groomed for high society, and Robby, a coal miner’s son, escape the binds of their socioeconomic backgrounds? Set in a coal mining community in West Virginia in the 1950s, can their love survive their cultural boundaries?

This is a tragically beautiful love story of a simple yet deep love between two soul mates, Robby and Julie. The American South’s rigid caste system and her mother demand that Julie chooses to marry an ambitious young man from a prominent and suitable family. Julie counters her mother’s stringent social rules with deception and secrets in order to keep Robby in her life. Can the couple break the shackles of polite society and spend their lives together? Will Julie’s mother ever accept Robby?

You can purchase eBook for Kindle and print copies of Wait for Me at this link.

Also, Jo is offering a free Kindle giveaway of her book.  To enter the giveaway contest, read here:

1) Make sure you are a follower of this blog.  You must be to play.  Then leave a comment below about what you like about West Virginia or what you know about the state.

2) Include your email with your comment so that I can email you if you have won.
3) A winner will be picked by Jo and announced by June 3, 2015.  
4) Have fun!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cooking with The Writing Sisters!

Happy Cinco de Mayo to all my readers!

Today I have two sisters as my guests. They write, and they write books together.  How cool is that?

Here there are with a recipe, as well as their novel, The Shepherd's Song, just released in paperback.


We love to have friends and family gather around the table and so we are always on the lookout for good recipes, especially recipes with a high Wow factor. Sometimes it’s simple comfort food, like a big pan of mac and cheese. Other times it’s something more unusual. Dishes with a little Wow in them make our guests feel special. This year the WOW dish was Brussels sprouts - not just the usual collection of little green balls. This was a full Brussels sprout stalk! Magnificent looking, and delicious too - And much easier to make than you would think. Lot’s of Wow for a small amount of work! And everyone loved it.

1 Brussels sprouts stalk
½ c olive oil
¼ c maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the stalk. Trim off the leaves and the tough shoots poking out from between the sprouts. Trim off a few sprouts from under the stalk so it will sit flat.

Cover with damp paper towel and microwave the damp stalk for 5 minutes including the loose pieces (I had to cut the stalk in two pieces and microwave in two sections).

Put the stalk including the loose sprouts in a roasting pan. Stir the oil and syrup together and baste generously over the sprouts. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast at 350 for about 45 minutes until golden brown. Check with a fork to make sure they are tender.

Place the stalks on a long skinny platter and drizzle with the oil and syrup from the pan. Serve with kitchen shears for removing the sprouts.

Looking for some Wow? This might be it.

The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars. They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, was released in paperback April 2015.

You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Grab your copy of The Shepherd’s Song here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Mother Looks at Life on the Corner of Fear and Hope

I remember being normal or something related to it. I recall thinking deep tragedies happened to other people who didn't know how to take care of themselves or trust God enough.  

And then it all changed . . .

A bump.  A three-year-old son with a boo-boo in his neck.  It will be okay. Deep breaths. Chemo. Surgeries. Perhaps the radiation will zap it away.

Certainly his prayers should.  Beside the stain-glass window inside the hospital chapel knelt a little bald-headed boy with his eyes closed.

After he died, I used to check my other children to make sure nothing looked wicked, like cancer. Each fever, cough, peculiar lump, oh, yes, nothing went unnoticed.

My kids have grown, but so have my fears. Driving and owning cars are now part of our lives.  So are small accidents.  Knowing that any crash can be fatal, my prayers increase.

As Mother's Day approaches, I recall being normal once upon a time.  My kids gave me cards made of painted hand prints, signed with chunky crayons. Once I heard about the tragedies other moms experienced, and felt sadness only.  I had the luxury of being tearful for a short while when I heard of the death of someone else's loved one. There was no fear that sorrow would make her home in my parameters.

But that was then. Then I had the ability to bounce back. The agony of pain subsided. I was able to carry on doing my motherly things like looking for missing socks, buying large quantities of diapers, finding mac and cheese on sale, and explaining why we needed to share.

These bad things happen to other people.  Not me.  Not my family.

When I was 36, cancer treatments cost me a child to death.  And as I looked at a woman in the mirror whom I no longer recognized, I thought: Apparently, these kinds of things do happen to my family.

Since then I must confess that I have feared that my other children will die.

And there is nothing I can do.

At a bereaved parents conference where I spoke, one man confessed that he, too, worried.  "What's to say that another child of mine won't die? How can I protect my children from the car accident or the illness?"  

I handed him a tissue and then pulled one out of the box for me.

I have become more strange, not more adept, as the years have progressed. I am no longer a stranger to living with fear.

I often hear people, usually older women, tell me to just trust my kids to God.

"Ladies, " I want to rebuttal.  "I did.  And my Daniel died."

But usually I keep my mouth sealed.  They wouldn't understand.  Some things are not discovered unless you walk in a grieving mother's worn shoes.

Stranded, that's what I've become----somewhere between fear and hope.

"Carl says that you keep all the text messages from us and save them until you see us again," my eldest who was six when Daniel died, told me the other day.  She's twenty-four now.

"Yes. Do you know why?"

"In case something happens to us and those messages are the last correspondence you have with us?"

We both knew that the answer was yes.

Children are on loan to us from God, they say.  From the moment I held my firstborn, I never thought it was a loan. She was mine.  Mine to raise, mine to love, mine to fuss over, read to, and hold.

Every time I hear of a shooting or a car accident or an illness, I know the next time it could affect one of my children.  Random happenings, why should I feel protected or spared?

God, how can I live this way?

The question is redundant. I have, and I will.

Some seasons I am not as wracked by fear.  There are days when I am not living on the edge.   But like the monster under the bed, it is there, always present. Sometimes just a shadow; other nights I can feel the sharp claws.

I also live with hope.  Hope that my children will grow up to be lovely responsible people with hearts of gold who know that they are so loved.  

And always aware that today could be all I get.  Today in all its imperfection, beauty, strength, joy, and uncertainty------like each day, it has obvious and unearthed blessings. 

And each is always worth treasuring.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Making It Real: An All-Day Writing Workshop in North Carolina

I love it when people ask when my next all-day writing workshop will be. These workshops produce so much wonderful discovery, spiritual growth, and encouraging fellowship between those who attend. We eat, share, write, cry, and drink lots of tea and coffee. The meeting room is a large conference room at the Hampton Inn in Raleigh/Cary, North Carolina.

So since there is an interest, now there will be a workshop!

This all-day workshop is open to anyone who wants to discover the benefits of writing from heartache. There are many sorrows in life; writing through them brings healing, health and hope! Join us if you are going through or have been through a rough season and want to find helpful ways to pen your anger, lessons learned, frustration, or even joy. Let's be authentic! Let's make it real.

Be sure to sign up today to get the Early Bird Special!

Making It Real:

An All-Day Workshop of

Writing From the Heart

Date: Saturday, August 8, 2015

Time: 9:00 AM to 4 PM

Location: Hampton Inn and Suites

111 Hampton Woods Lane, Raleigh, NC 27607

Phone:(919) 233-1798

Facilitated by Alice J. Wisler

Alice is a bereaved mother, author of six novels, one devotional, a cookbook compiler (in memory of children), freelance writer, social worker, and instructor of many writing through grief workshops. She travels the country presenting her workshops of healing, health and hope.

In addition to having plenty of time to freely write, we'll focus on the following:

*Emotions in writing and how to make them real in our work

*How to write realistic dialogue

*What to leave in, what to keep out of our writing

*Tips for self-critiquing our own work

* Learning from the Greats --- how to write better prose

* Discovering our unique voices in our writing

* How to help others through our tough seasons

A light breakfast and lunch, as well as snacks, will be provided and are included in your workshop fee.

What you need to bring:

*Your own notebook or journal

*A comfortable pen

Click here to: Sign up today!