Saturday, November 28, 2015

Breaking the Band Saw: An Author Looks at a Change in Plans

Do what you are called to do and do it well.

It sounds like advice a mom would give a child.  You know, be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Pep words.

Actually, it's advice I've had to tell myself as I've embarked on a new journey.  This venture is not one I had on my wish list.  Like any author-at-heart, my list consisted of meg-book deals, fame, and speaking engagements.  A purpose, fulfillment. I also wanted readers to like my stories, of course. Oh, and money for the mortgage, those bills, and Earl Grey tea.  Dear God, please hear my prayer.

So what happened when the tide changed and I found myself sailing away from that sunny island, that big dream, the one I had had a taste of, but wanted more of?  What happened when the boat turned into the wild and windy sea?

In other words, what transpired when a little business morphed into a bigger story?

First, I thought my husband Carl could make all the products and I'd just do what I'm good at---customer service. But after he complained that he needed someone to help him with the increasing orders, I knew I needed to enter the garage-transformed-into-workshop and get to know tools bigger than hammers and needle-nose pliers.

I have no skill set for this, I reminded God in case He had forgotten how I broke the band saw blade one evening last spring. And how mad Carl had been, emphasizing how I don't listen to instruction. God, I'm so much more comfortable creating characters.

As Carl became swamped with orders, I had to put my settings and characters aside and put my full attention into the business.  After all, it was making us money, much more than novel-writing.

Months later, I'm still the one emailing customers, and, when necessary, calling them. I take the photos of our products and write the listings for four of the five online sites where we sell.  But I also get dirty. I stain, sand, and paint.  I help install new lights in our workshop. I use a drill press and don't call it a drill saw and have not broken it. . .   yet. I have been to Lowes and The Home Depot more times in the last three weeks than I've been to my old hangout, the library. I've even gotten bold and tried my hand at making some of my own wood creations on our new laser-engraver.

Carved By Heart continues to evolve and gets noticed for many of its products----especially our Log Cabin Mailbox that was featured in Reader's Digest and at PeeWee Herman's blog.

Instead of a review from a reader, I get emails from customers that say things like:
Wow!!! Just got the most wonderful call from my brother!!! He absolutely loves his gift and said he has always wanted one. Thank you!!! (The brother had lost his young wife a year ago.)

And people have paid money for my mini bird house ornaments and wood Christmas blocks!

Perhaps a book deal will happen sometime in the future . . .  Perhaps not . . .

Right now I'm grateful.  I'm thankful knowing that this business is what God has called us to do.  A husband-wife team of working every day together is not an easy feat and Carl and I have had our struggles. But even in the midst of communication that goes sideways or sheer stress due to machines that need parts that aren't readily available or spending four hours packaging and mailing out orders (13 of them came in just yesterday; we mailed out 31 last week), there is a deep sense of fulfillment.

Best of all, I see that God is doing a work in my heart.  Surrounded by machines and tools, God's voice speaks to me about love, patience, humility, and forgiveness. As I work with pine and birch, I learn the need to pay attention to detail. Along with the wood, I'm being crafted into whatever this is God has for me now.

There is nothing like doing what you're supposed to be doing.

Have faith.  Trust.  In His time, He reveals what He has for us, especially as we enter seasons of new beginnings.

****    Carved By Heart is having a sale this weekend.  Stop by and see what we've got for you!  ****

Friday, November 20, 2015

Author Interview: Carol A. Brown

Hello, readers!  Today Carol A. Brown is my guest and I'll be asking her some questions about her newest children's book.  

Hi, Carol, welcome to The Patchwork Quilt.

Thank you for hosting me on your blog! I always enjoy sharing with others.

For those who aren't familiar with your work, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I began writing in 1996 about highly sensitive people and how sensitivity affects you as in individual. My purpose was to give voice and vocabulary for people’s experience of life. It was a lot of work and I was relieved when it was done! I told God that I didn’t want to do any more hard books. I guess He was good with that because then He downloaded the stories in the Sassy Pants series!

Whether I am writing for adults or children, my focus is to leave the reader not only with a nugget of knowledge, but that they are in some way wiser, stronger in character and more able to make wise decisions. I believe humor helps us learn more easily so you will find I use it liberally!

How many books have you written? 

I’ve written 3 for adults and about 10 for children.  Three of them are published.

What is the hardest thing about writing for you? 

Editing is tedious for me, but the marketing aspects of writing bewilder and nearly overwhelm me. So, I am very thankful for my friend and publisher. She keeps me on task and grounded!

Do you ever get discouraged? 

Yes, but not with the writing as much as with my energy level which impacts how much I can do on any given day.

How do you overcome it? 

I’ve learned that the fastest way to come out of a physical or mental slump is to be gracious and give myself permission to recover at whatever pace my body sets for me. I’ve also learned that growing joy in relationships kick-starts energy.

Can you tell us about your new book? 

Sassy Pants Learns About Strange Creatures finds her worrying about reactions as she tries to make amends and encounters critters that are different from herself or any other resident of Farmer White’s farm. She is not sure how to react! She seeks the advice of someone older and wiser. She learns there is a “strange” that is just different from me – these are friends you have not yet met. And then there is “strange” that is dangerous and that requires a very different reaction! She discovers an entirely different picture of her father.

Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp? 

Yes  Fear and worry exaggerate our problemsThe good news is that we can overcome fear and worry.  And secondly, if we can not be offended by differences (like looks or smell) we may find a good friend. On the other hand, some strangers are truly dangerous. We need to learn the difference and know who to call for help.

What inspired you to write this book?  

My husband urged me to write a sequel to the first book in the Sassy Pants series. He argued that she was so naughty in the first book that I should give her the opportunity to redeem herself. But I didn’t have another story in me. I even asked God’s help in convincing him there were no more stories, and that was when God downloaded the rest of the series. So . . . here we are!

Do you have any other books in the works? 

Yes, there is an adult devotional that is in process and at least three more children’s books in this series.

Do you talk to your characters? 

Yes! Of course, that’s how I find out what is going on with them. Some of the characters in the novels I’ve not yet written will step out periodically and ask if I’m ready to start. I hate to send them back, but I have to finish publishing these children’s stories. Then I will be free to begin the research.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 

When you have an urge from God, an inspiration or idea, start writing as fast as you can. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling—fix that later when the inspiration is spent. Then go to someone whom you trust “with the things precious to you” and have them read it. Ask for an honest reaction/critique. You can become so involved with what you write—you know what you mean—that you can miss important transitions and places that need further clarification. You can make connections in your mind that you have not put down on paper, which can leave readers scratching their heads. Another writer friend can point these places out for you.

Thank you again for hosting me!  Blessings!

About Carol
“I began telling stories when I had enough brothers to make an audience!” (She has four brothers and one sister!) She and her husband reside in Grand Rapids, MI. with Carol’s elderly mother. They have two daughters on the west coast and five grandchildren. Carol was raised in a farming community in Iowa. She enjoys reading, nature and music, playing the piano, knitting, crocheting, painting and telling stories! As a retired educator, “I dedicate myself to knitting sweaters and spinning yarns!

Find Carol at these links:

Twitter account: @CarolABrown4

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Christmas Comes in Mini Decor

I love little things.  I’m the type that is amazed by doll furniture, baby socks, and robin’s eggs.  So it makes sense that I have a selection of mini bird houses.  These are crafted from birch wood via a laser and assembled to form Christmas tree ornaments. I paint some, stain others with a wood stain, and add ribbons and gold bells.  Perfect for your big (or little) Christmas tree.  Also, these mini bird houses make good decorations to place around the house, on wreaths, or on the table surrounded by candles, holly, or even a dish of chocolates.

Check them out: Mini Bird House Christmas Decorations

From November 26 till the 30th, get 15% off by using coupon code BAMSALE2015.

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.

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!


Friday, April 24, 2015

See why this novel is invited to Japan!

I grew up in classrooms filled with kids and teachers from all over the world. My high school, Canadian Academy, located in Kobe on top of a hill, had a view of the harbor which looked beautiful. My school also had a grassy area where we ate lunch in the warmer months. I recall looking around at my senior friends and noting the countries they represented. Malfrid from Norway, Sophie from France, Jules from Canada (the French region of Quebec), Sangeeta from India and Japan, Nada from Lebanon, Katie from California, USA. We are like a United Nations, I thought.

I know I almost failed algebra. And hated biology. But I never recalled learning anything in history about internment camps for Japanese-Americans during War World II.

I wish I had listened. One of my classmates' mom was in a camp during her youth. But that didn't register in my mind until long after I held my high school diploma.

It would be years later when I felt the need to write about this period of history. It would be when living in another country, at another setting. In North Carolina, I heard my friend Artie Kamiya talk about his mother who had been forced to spend years in a camp in Colorado after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. Shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed, those of Japanese descent on the West Coast of the U.S. were sent to various camps. Many forced to these camps were American citizens. Most had never even been to Japan.

This shows just has strong fear and prejudice go and how they eat at people's hearts and minds. Americans, born in the United States, had to leave their homes, board trains with one suitcase each, and head to bleak camps where barracks became dwelling places.

I wrote Under the Silk Hibiscus with the help of materials I received from Artie's mom. I was also able to interview Terri Takiguchi, a woman in my church who was sent from her life in California to a camp in Arizona during the war.

And this time I listened. At my computer, I heard the voices of dozens of others as I watched videos about one camp in particular---Heart Mountain in Wyoming. This camp became the setting for my fictional family, Nathan Mori, his siblings, mother, and aunt.

When I got the news that my high school wants me to come to Japan as an alumni author in residence, I couldn't believe it! Even now, most days, I think that I'm still dreaming. It's been since 1988 when I was there last as a teacher of English.

Early next year, I'll be flying to Japan, the country of my birth and childhood. In addition to going on a field trip with ninth graders to Hiroshima, I'll share about being an author and how I researched for my novel. I hear authentic food calling my name, too: Unagi, katsudon, chirashizushi, oyakodomburi, an pan, and of course, green tea ice cream (as pictured below).

I know it will be a most wonderful reunion.

You can read more about Under the Silk Hibiscus here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Recipe for Scones!

I found a delicious recipe for scones. I made them and shared them. Today I want to share the recipe with my readers, so here you are.



2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup dried currants
2 teaspoons fat-free milk
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 425°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Stir with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Combine 1/2 cup milk, vanilla, and egg in a bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist (dough will be soft). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle surface of dough with dried currants. With floured hands, knead 4 times or just until the currants are incorporated.

Pat dough into an 8-inch circle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut dough into 12 wedges, cutting into, but not through, dough. (This is tricky to do. You can see from my photo above, that I could have cut a bit deeper.) Brush 2 teaspoons milk over surface of dough; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm, or cool on a wire rack. Cut scones into wedges. They are moist and delicious!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Guest Post: Cooking With Author Trina Matous

Welcome to my blog, Trina! First we have a bit about your books and then a recipe for stollen. Like you, Trina, I associate Christmas with stollen. My mother used to buy one at Christmas when I was a child growing up in Japan. We'd eat it Christmas morning.


The Christian Living Bible Study Series is easy-to-read,will help you understand difficult passages and shed new light on familiar verses. Each chapter includes three sections. The Background gives context for the Bible current chapter. The Overview elaborates on ancient cultural practices, religious customs, and original language words unfamiliar to today’s readers. The Insights offer application to life today as well as thought provoking questions for personal meditation and for small group discussions. As you learn more about the history and purpose of each verse, you will find yourself growing in wisdom and knowledge.

You can read more about the books here at the links on Amazon:
Paul’s Letters
The Epistles

About Trina
Trina has a Masters of Arts in Christian Ministry from Ashland theological seminary. She uses her speaking and writing talents to share the Trinity's overwhelming love, grace, mercy, and compassion with those who are lost, hurting, and in need of peace.

Trina's current series, Christian Living Bible Study, is born out of a desire for people to read the Bible regularly and better understand both what they read, as well as how these ancient texts apply to our lives today.


Recipe By Betsy Oppenner
Yield: 1 large or 2 medium loaves

I make Stollen bread at Christmas and love the fruit and almond paste combination. It is great on its own or toasted with butter!


2 cups fruit, dried, mixed, apricots, currents, raisins, craisins, dates
3 tablespoons rum, dark, or orange juice

For the Sponge
1 tablespoon yeast, active dry, or 1 (1/4-ounce) package
1/4 cup water, about 110 degrees F
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup flour, white, unbleached

For the Dough
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup butter, unsalted, softened
1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mace, ground
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
3-4 cup flour, white, unbleached

For the Filling
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted, melted
2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
3 tablespoons sugar
3 ounces almond paste

For the Topping
1/2 cup sugar, powdered
1-3 teaspoon cream, heavy, whipping


1. Prepare fruit: Combine the mixed fruit, raisins, and rum. Cover and set aside. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the rum.

2. Prepare sponge: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes.

3. In the mixer bowl, add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.

4. First rise: Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

5. Shape and fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. For 1 large loaf, roll the dough into a 9 by 13-inch oval. For 2 loaves, divided the dough in half and roll each half into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Brush the melted butter over the top of the oval(s). Between 2 pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap, roll 3 ounces almond paste into the lengthwise shape of half the oval. Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the bread(s) onto a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking.

6. Second rise: Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

7. About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

8. Bake and cool: Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool.

9. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. OR drizzle the top lightly with powdered sugar mixed with enough heavy cream to reach the consistency of honey.


This bread freezes nicely for up to 6 months. If freezing it, do not sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. To serve, first thaw the bread, then bake on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 7 to 10 minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

Recipe Notes
Long before the Romans occupied parts of Germany, special breads were prepared for the winter solstice that were rich in dried or preserved fruit. Historians have traced Christollen, Christ's stollen, back to about the year 1400 in Dresden, Germany. The first stollen consisted of only flour, oats and water, as required by church doctrine, but without butter and milk, it was quite tasteless. Ernst of Saxony and his brother Albrecht requested of the Pope that the ban on butter and milk during the Advent season be lifted. His Eminence replied in what is known as the famous "butter letter," that milk and butter could be used to bake stollen with a clear conscience and God's blessing for a small fee. Originally stollen was called Striezel or Struzel, which referred to a braided shape -- a large oval folded in half with tapered ends -- said to represent the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothing. Around 1560 it became custom that the bakers of Dresden give their king, the ruler of Saxony, two 36-pound stollens as a Christmas gift. It took eight master bakers and eight journeymen to carry the bread to the palace safely. This custom was continued for almost 200 years. In 1730 Augustus the Strong, the electoral prince of Saxony and the King of Poland, asked the Baker's Guild of Dresden to bake a giant stollen for the farewell dinner of the Zeithain "campement." The 1.8-ton stollen was a true showpiece and fed over 24,000 guests. To commemorate this event, a Stollenfest is held each December in Dresden. The bread for the present-day Stollenfest weighs 2 tons and measures approximately 4 yards long. Each year the stollen is paraded through the market square, then sliced and sold to the public, with the proceeds supporting local charities. Although there is a basic recipe for making the original Dresden Christollen, each master baker, each village and each home has its own secret recipe passed down from one generation to the next. There are probably as many recipes for stollen as there are home bakers. The commercial production of Dresden stollen is carefully licensed and regulated to ensure quality and authenticity. Authentic German stollen is usually sprinkled heavily with confectioners' sugar prior to serving. I personally have never liked this topping and choose to drizzle the tops of my loaves lightly with a simple icing (confectioners' sugar mixed with enough heavy cream to reach the consistency of honey).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Guest post: Cooking with Author Nivine Richie!

Today I welcome author Nivine Richie to my blog. Glad to have you here, Nivine!

As a Bible study teacher and leader of small groups, I often use personal stories to illustrate Biblical truths. Many of these stories come from my family background and travels. I was born in Cairo, Egypt a few months before the Six Day War, and my parents and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was two years old. I’ve had the privilege of traveling and meeting people from all over the world. While I love tasting new foods, I have to say that my mom’s cooking is the best.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Egyptian Koshari

This dish is considered by many to be the national dish of Egypt. From the richest to the poorest, all Egyptians know and love this vegetarian dish. The flavor can vary based on the sauce, with some people choosing a sauce made of vinegar and garlic. Still others like to add chick peas to the layers described below. The sauce described here is what my mom has always made, and in my opinion, is the tastiest.


1 cup uncooked brown lentils
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup ditalini pasta (or elbow macaroni if you can’t find ditalini)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 cans tomato sauce
4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons vinegar
Olive oil
Pinch of coriander powder
Cayenne pepper to taste


1. Rinse the lentils in a strainer under running water and remove any rocks or dirt. In medium saucepan, cover the lentils with water and bring water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes, and continue to add water as needed to keep the lentils covered. Taste the lentils to see that they are done when they have the consistency of a cooked bean.

2. In a separate saucepan, add the rice, ½ t of salt and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 15 minutes (without peeking).

3. In a third saucepan, cook the noodles according to package directions (about 8 minutes) until noodles are al dente.

4. To make the sauce, sauté the garlic in olive oil until soft, but not brown. Add tomato sauce, coriander, vinegar and cayenne pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. In a large frying pan, sauté the chopped onions in olive oil until the onions are crispy. (We like the onions crispy, but some families prefer that the onions be cooked only until they are soft.)

Makes about 4 servings

For each serving, add a layer of rice, a layer of lentils, and a layer of noodles. Top with the sauce and a generous sprinkling of crispy onions. Salt and pepper to taste. If you enjoy spicy food, a little hot sauce is a nice addition as well.

Enduring Faith: An 8-Week Devotional Study on the Book of Hebrews
by Nivine Richie

This eight-week Bible study delivers a balance of in-depth study and manageable homework. Written in a devotional style with real-life examples to connect you with the lessons in Hebrews, each day’s study is paired with discussion questions and space for journaling. This book can be used for small-group or for personal Bible study.

Is your faith on a firm foundation or are you standing on shaky ground? By the end of this study, you can know the kind of faith that pleases God.

Available on Amazon
And Barnes and Noble

About Nivine
Nivine Richie is a women’s Bible study teacher in Wilmington, N.C., where she lives with her husband and two teenage children. A university finance professor, she is actively involved in the Christian faculty association on campus. Nivine has participated in and taught many small group studies over the years.

She seeks to help others launch their own small group studies and is available to speak at women’s events. She can lead a seminar for teachers at your church or teach at your next women’s retreat.

Visit her at her website at to find tools to help you grow as a small group leader.
Contact her at
Follow her on Facebook
or on Twitter at @UnfoldHisWord