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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Twenty Years of Keeping On



When Daniel died in 1997, my pain was bigger than God.  People would tell me that with time it would ease, or that they knew how I felt because they had a cat die and how awful that was.

One woman called me every other day to tell me that God needed Daniel.

"Just think," she said as I clutched the receiver, "God needed another flower in his garden and he picked Daniel."

After a few days, when the phone rang and her voice came on the answering machine, I didn’t pick up.

I washed dishes, fed Benjamin apples and bananas, read him stories, and when he was watching Sesame Street, I'd sneak upstairs into Daniel’s room.  I’d breathe in the familiar smells it had accumulated: hospital soap, bandages, iodine.  But the strongest scent of all was my hollow loneliness. It grabbed me in the gut and pulled me to the floor.  Often I would let myself cry.

And that woman would keep calling to offer her words.

But I didn’t return her calls.  I felt that since my pain was so large and consuming and I was six months pregnant that she would understand that I didn’t have the energy to call her back.

Eventually she stopped calling me.

And I became grateful for answering machines because they were like secretaries, weeding out the calls I was unable to take.  Sometimes friends would call and I would stand by the phone and not answer.  I let their voices be recorded and that made me feel that I had some control of my vacant life.  I had a choice—to answer or not to answer. I grew more fond of the not to answer.

There were times I thought I was ready for Butner, the psychiatric facility off of I-85.  I could walk outside and almost smell the sheets.

I went to support group meetings with other people who would just break into tears, unable to finish sentences, people with ragged photos of their children that they shared so that the rest of us could say, "She is beautiful," even though the child had ears that protruded and was cross-eyed and her dress was too short or too long or too pink. It didn’t matter because eventually I knew I belonged with these people.

I belonged to these parents, who introduced me to words I had never been allowed to say.  Angry adults who taught me you can say damn, shit and hell in the same sentence and not be struck down or turned into a pillar of salt.  We sat around tables that were much too small to hold our grief and took turns saying our dead child’s name.


I seemed to go on and on with all the medical procedures about how Daniel had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his neck and how he’d been through chemo and surgeries and radiation and how a staph infection entered his body.  I had had little medical jargon in my vocabulary prior to his diagnosis and death and at these meetings I was using all I had learned.  I had no idea how long or short my turn was supposed to be I just knew that I had to tell my story.  I had to get it out.

Part of me hoped that as I talked, one of the bereaved parents would stop me and see that I had talked my way out of this horrible story and say, "Oh, no, he couldn’t have died from that, that isn’t medically possible.  Go home, your son is surely still alive.  Go home now."

And I’d leave the claustrophobic church basement and drive the 40 minutes down Glenwood Avenue to my home and sure enough, there Daniel would be sitting in front of TV watching The Three Stooges with David. And I’d be so excited and happy that I wouldn’t complain that it was 10 o’clock and that David should have already put Daniel to bed.

But even though I attended those meetings twice a month for two years, Daniel never came back.  No loop hole in his death was discovered. And pretty soon my heart knew what my head did, my son was gone from this earth and I was going to have to live the rest of my life without ever holding his hand again.  

And I would never know why.


I would write poems at the graveside and lift balloons into the air. I'd cry with other parents, speak at conferences, and raise my three other children and never know why Daniel didn’t get to be a hero and pull through the whole ordeal.

And I was going to have to adapt and adjust just like countless parents before me and just like thousands of parents would have to learn to do after me.

I was in this club that no one wanted to be part of, a club with rituals that no one understood except for the people in it, and a club that had no membership expiration date.  Until you die.   I would be thirty-seven, thirty-eight, forty, fifty, fifty-nine, gray, old, still showing dampened photos of a little boy who never grew up.

Sometimes when I’d be driving to the meetings, I’d think, what if I just rammed into the Mayflower truck in the lane ahead of me or just gunned the engine and took a leap off a cliff and died.  What if . . . ?  But then I knew I couldn’t do that to my kids, especially not to the baby because she was brand new and Daniel had told me when she was still in the womb the size of a raisin, and then even larger than that, giving me heartburn and kicking, that I was to take care of her.

So I’d follow the speed limit and take my eyes away from the Mayflower truck and keep going on.

For twenty years I've been keeping on.  Truth be told, it is either to keep going on or to roll up and die.

I choose life.  And I'm glad I did, and glad I do.

"Will I ever want to laugh again?" a young newly-bereaved mom asked me at a conference where I gave a writing workshop.

"Yes," I replied.  "You will be able to laugh again.  Trust me. And keep on.  You can do it. Where there is breath, this is hope."

"My friends don't understand," she said as she blew her nose into a tissue. "One calls me every week to tell me to get on with life."

"Do you have an answering machine?" I asked and then realized that we are in the twenty-first century. Quickly, I said," You don't have to answer your cell phone every time it rings, you know."

She nodded.  "I think I can do that."

But she's doubtful, I can tell by the hollowness in her eyes. I tell her I was there once, just as she is. Wondering, aching, unsure if I wanted to live or ram into the Mayflower truck.

She hugs me and we wipe our eyes.

I think she'll make it.

Many of us have.



 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Breaking Bad, Walter White, and Why our Cutting Boards are so Popular



So although I wasn't born yesterday, I do come slow to life sometimes.  My children had talked about the series Breaking Bad and watched it when it was on TV years ago.  Carl and I had not seen the show nor had any real desire to.  Until . . .

After almost a year of offering Breaking Bad Let's Cook bamboo cutting boards at our Carved By Heart shop, we were surprised.  People were buying them.  Not just a few sales here and there, but lots of sales. So last month we decided perhaps we should get to know the TV show behind the engraved face and words on the cutting boards we sell. After all, we got a review at one of our online stores that reads: I love Walter White!

And we had little idea who he was.


And now we are so engrossed in the show that we're binging.  We look forward to the day's end ---after we've crafted and mailed out products to customers----when we can watch the next episode. Or two.  The acting is so good, the story line, the tension, wow, Vince Gilligan has created an epidemic!




Our Let's Cook Cutting Boards come in two sizes---small (9 by 12") and large (11 by 15").  You can read more about them at our shop on Etsy.  And if you've taken the time to read this blog post, you deserve a discount, so save 10% by using the SHOPSMALL coupon code when you order any size cutting board.







Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An Author's Return to Japan After 28 Years



After being invited to my alma mater in Kobe, Japan, I was asked to write a piece for the Canadian Academy Review.  Here it is in the Fall Issue.





An Author’s Return

Observing the Sunday morning activity at Hankyu Umeda station brought back those memories that come with so much nostalgia—the kind that almost forces you to abandon your plans, sit on the platform, and write.  That’s what writers do, making non-writers convinced that we’re a peculiar bunch; we carry notebooks and pens with the spontaneity of capturing life onto the page. I wanted to write about what was new since the last time I was in Japan.  My list consisted of cell phones, the Internet, Starbucks, Family Marts, 100 Yen stores, Yodobashi Camera stores, fashion, high-tech toilets, and my alma mater—Canadian Academy.   



When the train sailed into the station right on schedule, I waited my turn and then gravitated toward a seat by the window just as I had done as child. The other passengers were absorbed with their cell phones. Unlike the old days, no one opened a magazine or paperback. 

I reached in my purse for my journal and pen as a young girl with a Hello Kitty bag sat across from me.  Some things haven’t changed, I thought, and made a list of what had not:  Hello Kitty’s hair bow, vending machines that sell everything from cigarettes to energy drinks, student uniforms, the speed of the Shinkansen, the taste of hot takoyaki on a winter evening, and the politeness of train station personnel.

Twenty-eight years was a long time to be away from the country of my birth.  I felt like Urashima Taro, the man in the folk story who goes back home to his fishing village after being gone for three hundred years. I was both disoriented and delighted. I also felt a bit like a dork when I had to pull out my reading glasses. The last time I was in Kansai, I’d come back to visit my missionary parents and ended up taking a job as an ESL teacher.  Back then I was able to study train schedules without reading glasses.  Now I clung to them and just to be safe, asked conductors if I was getting on the correct train, especially when I had to take the JR Line, which I was unfamiliar with.  

There was no time to spend being lost; I had only eight days in Japan as Canadian Academy’s Alumna in Residence.



When I was a C.A. high school student, back in the 70s—about the time that dinosaurs roamed—we had a rickety school building where the floors and stairs creaked and the classrooms had radiators that hissed. Now the new school on Ryokko Island is state-of-the-art with a theater, two gymnasiums, an auditorium, and an atrium where flags hang from all the represented countries.  I was back at my alma mater and yet, I was in a space so new to me that I was at the mercy of ninth graders to get me to my assigned classes.

However, the curiosity of students had not changed.   After I gave a tip on writing for a specific amount of time each day and the value of setting an egg timer, I was asked, “What’s an egg timer?”  The students’ faces showed confusion until their English teacher explained the history of the wind-up device for keeping time, especially in the kitchen.  

“How do you not get lazy?” 

An excellent question!  Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to share all the tricks of the trade, so I made my reply succinct. “There’s only way to stay disciplined,” I said. “You have to plant your bottom on the chair in front of the computer. That’s the way writing gets done.” 

A boy in the back raised his hand. “Can you speak Japanese?” 

“After twenty-eight years of not using it on a daily basis, it’s rusty, but I can.”

I couldn’t help but reminisce about some of the missionaries from my youth who came from states like Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama and spoke Japanese in Southern accents.  A request was made.  “Can you speak Japanese with a Southern accent for us?” 

The thrill of the task was so great, and yes, I could have continued to talk in that syrupy twang for twenty minutes. But that was not what I’d been invited to C.A. for.  Quickly, I put on my glasses, looked over my notes, and finished the lesson with instruction on editing your writing. “You could be the world’s best story teller, but if your grammar, spelling, and sentence structure are flawed, then who is going to read your work?”





Except for Bob Hengal, who is still known after all these years for his terrific baking, all of the teachers were new.  I wondered if a few were actually high school students; they looked much too young to be teaching. One said that I had his permission to include him as a character in my next novel. 
 
“You can kill me off,” he whispered while his class engaged in a writing exercise that started with the line, I knew why the coastal town was haunted.  “Really.” He smiled. “I won’t mind if you do.”

On the weekend, I was grateful for two fellow class of 1979 graduates who met me in Kyoto for a mini-reunion.  After all, I needed to touch base with those who remembered the way things used to be.  Of course, Hanae Hosoda and Ioanna Sillavan recalled the long and tiresome walks up to C.A. when it was on the hill with the picturesque view of Kobe Harbor. They agreed that the school had felt old and creaky, but that it had been the familiar kind of old, like a worn pair of favorite tennis shoes.  Over a lunch of sukiyaki, and later, at a kissaten, we talked and laughed, weaving in the past with our current lives, our kids, work, and spouses.  No one would have guessed that it had been thirty-seven years since the three of us had last seen each other. 

My days back in Japan were a gift.  In the legend, Urashima Taro was given a lacquer box by the beautiful princess from the enchanted paradise under the sea.   Although she told him not to open it upon returning home, it was too late. The desire to peek inside turned Taro from his preserved youth into an old man with a gray beard.  

While I might have felt like an old graduate, there was a vitality that sprung while I was at C.A. In spite of jet-lag and culture shock, I felt renewed and rejuvenated.  I was so inspired that my current work-in-progress is about the return to my home land, the place where my love of writing began so many years ago.
And no, I do not plan to kill anyone off.

~ Alice J. (Stubbs) Wisler, Class of 1979
Author, Blogger, Bread Maker, Business Owner
Durham, North Carolina

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Some Thoughts on Home


Home, for me, is always going to be divided.  I was born and raised in Japan, with periodic visits to the USA (where my citizenship lies). As a young adult, I spent time in other parts of Asia and at age 24, returned to Japan to teach English in a church-run language school.  Osaka is where I met my first husband. My four children were all born in Durham, North Carolina where I've been able to put down roots over the last 28 years.

Recently, I was invited by my high school to go back to Japan and be their alumna author in residence.  Wow, for the first time I experienced culture shock in Japan!  After 28 years of being away, things sure had changed and I'd changed, too.  And yet, on the other hand, so much was familiar.  The coziness of having hot tea and a green tea Swiss roll at a kissaten (coffee shop), the crowds and pace of Umeda, the "calm feel" of the majestic city of Kyoto, the mountains of Kobe in the distance, and the kindness of strangers when I had trouble purchasing my ticket from a very modern ticket dispenser.

For the first time I didn't experience any culture shock when I landed back in the USA after the trip was over.  Being back in Japan made me miss it all over again and I wondered (before I left) how I would resume my life in the USA . . .   But my children, husband, and friends helped me to ease back to life here.

Home is such a strange word for me.  I will always feel that I have two homes.  When I landed in Osaka this past January, the alumni director of my high school said, "Welcome home."

When I landed in Newark, New Jersey, ten days later, my new husband texted me:  Welcome back to the USA. Welcome home.






Monday, September 19, 2016

Grit for the Oyster, wisdom for the aspiring writer




Writers, here's a new book for you to take a look at:


A powerful motivator for aspiring writers, Grit for the Oyster offers wit, wisdom, and inspiration to take that first step and persevere through the writing journey. More than a how-to, this confidence-building book is designed to draw readers to a closer relationship with God, to affirm their calling to write, and to offer pithy practical guidance from successful writers like Terri Blackstock, Martha Bolton, James Scott Bell, Liz Curtis Higgs, Dr. Gary Chapman, and David Kopp.

 "A treasure trove of encouraging words for writers..." New York Times Bestselling Author, Terri Blackstock

 Read about the Authors 

Suzanne Woods Fisher


Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction. Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She travels back east a couple of times each year for research. For fun, too.
Suzanne has a great admiration for the Plain people and believes they provide wonderful examples to the world. She has an underlying belief in her books–you don’t have to “go Amish” to incorporate many of their principles into your life: simplicity, living with less, appreciating nature, forgiving others more readily, trusting in God.

When Suzanne isn’t writing, playing tennis, or bragging to her friends about her grandbabies (so cute!), she is raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Readers can learn more about Suzanne by visiting her website at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.


Debora M. Coty


Debora M. Coty is a popular speaker, columnist, lifelong Bible student, internationally published freelance writer, and award-winning author of numerous books, including Too Blessed to Be Stressed, and More Beauty, Less Beast. She’s also an orthopedic occupational therapist, writing instructor, and tennis addict. Mother of two grown children, Debora lives and loves in central Florida with her husband, Chuck, and desperately wicked pooch, Fenway. To learn more about Deb, visit her website at deboracoty.com



Faith Tibbetts McDonald


Faith Tibbetts McDonald is a contributing writer to Discipleship Journal, Christianity Today, and has written Bible studies for www.christianbiblestudies.com. Additionally, she has participated in writing guides for parents at Christian Parenting Today and is a university writing instructor.



Joanna Bloss

Joanna Bloss is a writer for Christianity Today and Enrichment Journal—A Journal for Pentecostal Ministries. She is also a contributing author to Barbour Publishing’s 365 Daily Devotions for Young Women.



Grit for the Oyster is available at Amazon and other online retailers. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Our own log cabin mailbox!



Once more, I see that I have neglected my blog.  I suppose it means that I'm so fully immersed in our business, Carved By Heart, that I haven't made the time to write here.  Actually, being busy with orders is a good thing.  It's always rewarding when products we sell are ordered and appreciated.  Like our one-of-a-kind mailboxes.

We often talked of wanting our own log cabin mailbox, but the orders kept coming in so that we weren't able to snag one for our own.  And then, determination set in, we made an extra one and before it could be ordered, we claimed it.  As ours!




 We even added a dog log cabin, food bowl, little mailbox and a fence.  On the back left side is a pile of logs.  You can see that we had fun with our mailbox!

To see more photos and more descriptions about our customized mailboxes, please visit our Etsy Log Cabin Mailbox page.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Wishing Well

This past Saturday was a great day to be outside. The humidity was low and the sky was a beautiful blue. I was thinking a long walk or a picnic would be a good idea, but Carl had other plans. Earlier I said I'd help out, so how could I back out?  Saturday was the day we stained and painted our wishing well that sits at the front of our yard by the mailbox.  Carl built the well two years ago and it was in need of some TLC. The wood was begging for paint and stain.





The project took about 5 hours, and at the end, Carl said I should add a sign I'd painted weeks ago --- WELCOME. At first, I wasn't sure the sign would add to it, but then I began to see he was right. I think the sign gives it that extra "accessory" that makes it sparkle.

As we cleaned brushes and put lids back on paint cans, Carl said, "See? We can work well together."

If you are in the neighborhood, you are welcome to stop by and have a look.  Feel free to toss in a coin or two, make a wish.  And if you'd like to purchase the wishing well and transport it to your yard, we're open to that.