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Monday, October 5, 2015

Love Lives Here: A Message in Wood

What happens when a woman used to pens and paper and a reliable computer takes on a new venture?  A journey of wood, paint, power sanders and other tools she has to learn how to decipher?  Well, there are a lot of stories she could tell.  Some have the word broken involved.  That would be the band saw.  Others have a frustrated husband in them. (Actually, that would also be the band saw story.) 

I happen to have the kind of husband who loved shop class and has been building things since the beginning of time, including a real log cabin.  He's a natural.  Me?  Learning how to craft wood products for customers isn't easy on the best of my days.  And then there's that thing about working with your spouse.  
I've had to learn humility.  Patience.  How to listen and not just hear. How to keep my mouth shut.  

With the laser engraver, I created a set of blocks from end cuts. I'm a missionary kid and frugal to the core, so being able to craft something from wood that would otherwise be tossed away is a great concept for me. I sanded the blocks, painted, set them out to dry overnight, and then sanded for a rustic look.  I used glitter paint for the roof and the block with the heart. I sealed them with a clear top coat.

While working, I felt creative.  Different than when I conjure up characters and plots.  An artsy creative.

Even in the wood, I can put what I like to pen on paper: Love Lives here.

Loving those around us.  Loving God. Loving self.  Reaching out to those who need us. Loving through listening, forgiving, and growing, and being patient.  

We remind ourselves in the chaos of this world, that we make a stand.  We won't be swayed by nasty-doers. We won't let the temptation to be nasty, or sarcastic, or mean-spirited, or rude, take over.  We will remember that we are crafted to love and be loved. 

Love lives here.

I touch the way the words feel in the pine. They match those etched on my heart.

Make a statement.  This is how we choose to live.

To visit our Carved By Heart shop to see more products, click here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fellow Grievers, be that advocate!

When an appendage is removed from a person, a lot of adjusting has to take place.  After the surgery and sutures heal, sometimes physical therapy is needed.  The patient has to learn to adapt without a finger or arm or leg.  Eventually, a new lifestyle is mastered.

As parents with children removed from us through death, we have to learn a new lifestyle, too. We adapt.  We adjust. We cope.  But some days we cry and wonder why the world seems to want to shut us out.

There is no way that a parent who has not lost a child to death will ever understand the pain, the agony of absence, and the multitude of emotions that are attached to living without a son or daughter. It's just impossible.  I've never lost a limb (in the real physical sense) and I would never pretend to understand my friend Stella, who lost both legs when she was hit by a car.

Yet other parents feel the need to act like they get our pain.  They sit with their healthy children surrounding them and tell us not to be so sad.  "It'll get better."  "You'll be okay."   "He's in a better place."

You want to fight back and tell these parents that they don't get it.  But instead of trying to get them to understand your grief, there are more dynamic ways you can choose to spend your time.  Educate.  Be an adcocate.  Teach others in a way that they might be able to comprehend.  Share with them how they can help you to make the world a better place.

Did your child die from an overdose?  What leads to a life where one might die in this manner? What misconceptions do people have about teens and drug usage? Become an advocate for better awareness in this arena.

My son Daniel died from cancer treatments at age four.  September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a month when I reach out via social media to let others know that kids can get malignant tumors.  Kids can be born with cancer from no fault of their own or from their parents'. And yes, little children do die from cancer.  Parents are empathetic in helping me get the word out because they realize that cancer shows no mercy to age, color of skin, or socio-economic ranks.  If they are realistic, they know that any child can get cancer, just as any child is capable of dying from any disease or sudden accident.

I''ve written articles for magazines and newspapers about what striving for a cure means to me as a mom whose three-year-old was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, and what it means to thousands of parents across the country. I wear the gold ribbon as a visual to show my desire to fight for better clinical trials and for a cure for childhood cancer. And I think of  my sweet bald-headed Daniel who called himself a Brave Cookie.

Find your place of passion and let others know about it.   Use your energy, be fueled by it, even if it stems initially from angst at others' ignorance.  Be that advocate in your child's memory! Let your lifestyle be one that encompasses the need for change.

Monday, August 24, 2015

One Tough Mama

"You are Wonder Woman. You know that, don't you?"  The nurse in the recovery room kept her eyes on a drowsy Daniel but I knew that she was addressing me.

Me, the mom with an eleven-month-old son in a stroller, a child of unknown gender in my belly, and four-year-old Daniel in the hospital bed, about to wake up from his third radiation treatment.

I only smiled.

"One tough mama," she said.  "You are amazing."

My daughter would have smiled at me had she been in the room, but she was in first grade learning to write about her brother Daniel.  He and I like to red funny books. He has a boo-boo in his neck.

Daniel opened his eyes and looked around the room.  "I had a nice nap," he said.

The nurse and I laughed.

This scene is only a memory now, a memory I have recalled over the eighteen years.

Eighteen years ago I did not think that I was a wonder woman.  I was merely doing what any mom with a kid with cancer would do----one foot in front of the other, moving forward.  It was a season of getting my three kids to where they needed to be when they needed to be there.  For Daniel that meant getting him to radiation treatments every day at 6 AM for three weeks, and to the hospital once a month for week-long cancer treatments.

Tears?  No.  Sentiment?  Who had time for that?  I was one tough mama.

Eighteen years ago I was thirty-six, and believed that if you prayed hard enough and dreamed big enough, you would never have to live a life of heartache.

When Daniel died at age four, people told me that they didn't know how I did it.  They used words like brave and strong and inspiring.

But now I wonder if they would understand that eighteen years since my little boy's body could no longer fight the battle, I'm a crumbling mess.  I cry because at The Home Depot a tool set has been reduced to 1992, the year Daniel was born. There's a car in the parking lot with Dan on the license plate.

Days before my Daniel's birthday (he would be 23 August 25th), I am reduced to an ache so large that I wonder if the years have stitched up my wound at all. I recall his death and his birth and the four tiny years between the two events as I prepare dinner for the living.

I stir the spaghetti sauce with blurry eyes. Tears splatter onto the counter.  My other children are 25, 19, and 18.  They have grown used to me, they know me.  I'm the mom who collects watermelon and tells the story of how Daniel stored left-over watermelon in his hospital bathtub after the Fourth of July. I'm the one who searches for rainbows after every thunder storm, keeps Curious George books in a dusty book shelf and uses Daniel's phrases----like, "A spider for a pet! I have a spider for my pet!" and Daniel wisdom----"I know why they call it a parking lot, because there are LOTS of places to park."

My kids don't mind tears in the sauce.  But they also know that I won't become sad when they head off to college or leave home for a dingy house with a group of boys before completing high school. They know I value the "normal" things kids get to do as they grow older and find their paths.  I cherish them and that they get to grow up, fall down, get up, and try again. (And am grateful that the middle child did graduate eventually.)

This is who I am, this is the life of one tough mama.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Laser Project 2015

The laser machine in the room after the walls and floor were painted

When you get a laser cutter machine to expand your business, sometimes you have to build a room to keep it protected from the dust that is created by other machines in the garage.  And so the plans were laid and the work began for a new room inside our old garage  . . .

My brother and his dogs came up to help us with our Laser Project.  He has a truck which is very nice for hauling dry wall and lumber from The Home Depot.  Also, a door we got on sale for the room.

The Truck

 Dixie and Zoey with our Levi Boxer Dog

After removing many items from the garage outside, the construction begins . . . 

The frame is up!

The dry wall completed!

Visit us at Carved By Heart.

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.