Sunday, February 21, 2010

Remembering Childhood: Aunt Mary Lou

She named me Crazy Alice and I called her Aunt Mary Lou.

She wasn't my real aunt, but I was allowed to call her Aunt Mary
Lou, just like the Southern Baptist missionary kids did.
We all grew up together, sharing the bond of living as American
Presbyterians and Baptists in Japan, where the missionaries
went by aunt and uncle. My own children say,
that was a zillion years ago. But I haven't forgotten.

I remember the sleepovers with Aunt Mary Lou's daughter, Grace, and
our mutual missionary kid friends, Cathy and Jo. After pizza and
chocolate cake, a few minutes gazing at Teen Beat Magazine's
celebrities (how could any twelve-year-old not swoon over
Donny Osmond or David Cassidy?), the four of us got into character.
Seated in a circle on top of our sleeping bags, we'd place a cassette
recorder in the middle. Then each one of us created our own silly
persona (there was a Mrs. Mousetrap and Mrs. Pipsqueak) and the
early hours of the morning were spent making recordings--usually
in British accents--about older women who went to tea parties and
had uncanny adventures. We wore those tapes out playing them over
and over, laughing and giggling.

Aunt Mary Lou must have heard us and thus, gave me the
nickname Crazy Alice.

I was the type of kid who didn't mind being singled out with a nickname
as long as I knew it was said affectionately. She'd greet me with a
smile that was as wide as the state of Tennessee, and in her Southern
accent say, "There's that Crazy Alice." There was always a warm gleam
in her eyes.

Acting in front of her and the other missionary aunts was easy. We
mimicked English Conversations (borrowing from real-life conversations
we'd been persuaded to hold with Japanese men on the long train rides
to and from school) and gave productions of these dramas. Aunt Mary Lou
always laughed the loudest. She made us feel we were better than any
sit-com, funnier than any future Saturday Night Live episode. No wonder
we continued, eager to be in the limelight.

The last time I saw Aunt Mary Lou I was in my twenties. My dad had just
had surgery for cancer at the Baptist Hospital in Kyoto. Aunt Mary Lou,
working as a nurse there, sat with Mom and me as we waited.
Proudly, she talked about her grown children and updated me on
what they were doing. Even then my childhood name spilled from
her lips. Crazy Alice.

Now, with the news of her death, I picture Aunt Mary Lou singing and
dancing in Heaven (I think even Baptists dance there), freed from
Earth's restraints. Her memory lives on in the hearts of her children,
husband, grandchildren, and those privileged enough to call her Aunt
Mary Lou.

And in the pages of my Southern novels, characters as fun and loving as
this aunt will continue to find their way into the hearts of my readers.
Because, you see, while she thought I was a character, she is one of
the loving, charming inspirations from childhood who continues to
make me smile each time I add one of her characteristics to my stories.

She laughed well, loved abundantly, and served God zealously. And if
angels smile, you can bet they are, as they welcome Aunt Mary Lou.

~ Alice J. (Stubbs) Wisler never strays far from her childhood in Japan
as she writes Southern fiction from her home in Durham, NC. Her novels include Rain Song and How Sweet It Is. Hatteras Girl will make her debut in October.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Radioblog Fun

Yesterday I had the privilege to be interviewed on the CFBA
(Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) radioblog with Jill Hart of and Takiela Bynum of
After they asked me about my novels, they turned the focus to my
online writing course. To hear what I had to say about how writing
through pain helps with healing and health, tune in here and start to
listen by clicking the play button under the heading:
CFBA Radio featuring Christa Allan and Alice Wisler
And after listening, don't forget to sign up for the grief-writing
course that runs from Feb. 22 to March 26. Writing is cheap
therapy! Learn more by visiting my webpage.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Toffee recipe from Down The Cereal Aisle

Down the Cereal is now available for purchase on my website. The cookbook is in memory of children who have died too soon. From the simple to the more complex, Down the Cereal Aisle holds tender food-related stories, recipes, poetry, and tips on how to cope with the loss of a child.

The recipe below is one I make a couple of times a year. With it comes a great memory in the actual cookbook. I'm only placing an abbreviated version of the entry here.

Teresa's Wonderful Toffee

15 graham crackers (2 1/2-inch squares)
1 cup of firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
6 oz. pkg. milk or dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped nuts

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Line a 13 by 9-inch pan with foil, oiled generously.
Arrange graham crackers in the pan. You might need to break the squares so that they all fit. In a saucepan melt the butter and sugar until the mixture boils. Pour this mixture on top of the graham crackers. Bake for 5 minutes and then remove from oven. Pour the chocolate over the top and spread it evenly. Add the chopped nuts by sprinkling them over the chocolate. Place in fridge for at least 30 minutes. Cut into bars or break into pieces.

Store in refrigerator. Makes 24 bars.

~ From page 70 of Down the Cereal Aisle
In memory of Teresa Wesley Hough, April 25, 1968--October 2, 1993

Friday, February 5, 2010

What February Holds: Novel Giveaway for you!

Friends, readers, and bloggers,

The month of Feburary might be the shortest one in the number of days, but those days trigger many significant feelings for me.

When I was in high school, February was a depressing month, thanks to Valentine's Day and cold weather. I had no one I liked, or else the guy I liked didn't notice me. And the days were bleak in Kobe, Japan.

So when Daniel died on February 2, 1997, I thought, well, at least I never cared much for this month anyway. Now I have even more of a reason to despise February.

Two years ago I talked on the phone for the first time with Carl on February 16th. The next year (last year) we were married in Vegas on the 7th.

This year, I look forward to our anniversary and Valentine's with Carl. My football-lovin' friends think I should be happy that we get to celebrate our one year date on Superbowl Sunday.

But, for you, friends, I want to tie this month up in a huge red bow and offer my novel, How Sweet It Is in a random drawing. Just post something here about why you like or dislike February.

In memory of my sweet Daniel, the winner of this giveaway will also get a copy of my cookbook of memories, Down the Cereal Aisle. And a pack of my one-of-a-kind remembrance cards, Songs from Heaven.

So enter the contest by posting here! Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you, should you be the winner. Enter any time this month. The winner will be announced in March.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cake recipe from How Sweet It Is

This winter, warm up your kitchen and taste buds with a delicious
cake. Jonas, the plumber, in the novel How Sweet It Is, loves
this recipe. I hope you will, too.

Jonas’ Favorite White Velvet Cake

4 large egg whites
1 cup of milk
3 teaspoons of vanilla
3 cups of shifted white flour
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of baking powder
3/4 teaspoon of salt
12 tablespoons of softened butter

Mix the egg whites, 1/4 cup of milk and vanilla in a small bowl. In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and blend on low. Add the softened butter and rest of the milk. Mix on medium speed, beating for two minutes. Scrape down the sides and continue to beat. Add the egg mixture a little at a time, and mix for thirty seconds after each addition. Pour batter into two greased 9-inch pans. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 to 35 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then loosen the sides with a metal spatula. Invert onto wire racks to cool completely before frosting with butter cream icing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reflections on a life well-lived

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose.
All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
~Helen Keller

And so, here I am again, approaching yet another anniversary of the death of Daniel Paul Wisler, my son, who left for Heaven on Ground Hog Day, 1997.

And I am grateful that after thirteen years, the anguish leading up to his death date anniversary is gone. I can look at his photo by my computer and smile into his blue eyes and not feel the panic or misery I felt on the first February 2 after his death. I see him with hair--lively and mischievous. I view the professional photo taken of him and his big sister, Rachel, where he had a wet spot on his little vest--my attempt to remove the sticky chewing gum before the photographer snapped the portrait. In another photo, I see his clear eyes, before cancer treatments touched them, and his wide smile at the birth of his baby brother, Benjamin.

Another year and I am older. Although the pain has lessened, and I've learned to cope with being the mother of a deceased son, the love has only grown. I have learned to love my three kids on earth--Rachel (19), Ben (14) and Elizabeth (12) much more. So, my love for Daniel (who would be 17) has increased as well.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of Daniel. His life, so well-lived, and death, has shaped me into what and who I am today. Losing a child is so powerful, considered the worst loss. Of course, it literally restructures your life.

I used to come to Compassionate Friends meetings and look at those tear-stained faces with new losses, like myself. Then I heard the voices of those who were more experienced, having lived through years of grief. Now, I am one of the latter--seasoned in grief, tougher, more resilient.

Yet tears still catch me. Sometimes, even unexpectedly, I will feel my eyes fill. Sometimes the tears come when I see a blond-haired toddler at the mall, or a kid wrapping his arms around his mother at church.

I have missed you for 4,745 days, dear Daniel. And I have loved you during every single one. I toast your life of four years, I sing to your memory, and I carry the love. None of it can be stolen from me. I'm grateful that you are my son and that I am your mother.