The Power of a Handcrafted Pen to Feed the Hungry

Pens on stand with case

These handcrafted pens generated 2,080 meals for the hungry. Not bad for dead piece of wood.Pens on stand with case

This story began a bit over a year ago when my son, Isaac, gave me a woodworking lathe. I owned one 30 years ago, but after it flipped a tool through my workshop window, I sold it.

Fast-forward 30 years and Isaac whittling on me for six months to resume turning wood. I politely declined, insisting that I needed one more hobby like I needed a root canal.

He’s as stubborn as I am.

“It’ll be easy, Dad,” he said. “Here, let me show you how to turn a pen.”

It’s a year later and I’ve invested my children’s inheritance on woodturning equipment. I have watched so many instructional Youtube videos that my computer homepage default goes straight to the latest woodturning video.pen

I post my journey in woodturning on social media and one of my Facebook friends offered to give me a fantastic Siberian Elm he had cut down on his farm in Kansas. It was chocked full of burls; wart-like growths on trees that are exquisite for woodturning.

As I peered at the log in my trailer, I remembered that I challenge groups to whom I’m speaking about the topic of hunger with this: “No matter what you do in  your life, whether it is your vocation, avocation or recreation, create ways in which you can help end hunger.”img_6074

So I answered my own challenge with this question: How many people can this Burly Log feed?”

The first set of pens were auctioned off on eBay and ALL of the proceeds went to The Outreach Program to help fund meals for the hungry. The pens sold for $520.00 and, since Outreach meals are only .25 cents each, that pen set funded 2,080 nutritious meals.

How can you use your skills to help feed the hungry? Follow along with me on Facebook to see what The Burly Log will produce next to feed the hungry. If you’re an artisan and would like part of the wood to create something to be auctioned off on eBay will all of the proceeds going to Outreach, let me know; I can make that happen.

Also stay tuned; there’s a children’s book coming out about The Burly Log!




Mixing a Love for Writing With a Passion to Feed the Hungry

Pens on stand with case

I love to write and recently resumed the practice of handwritten letters. My favorite instrument of choice, hands down, is a fountain pen. Using a fountain pen on fine paper requires an entirely different way of writing than which I am accustomed. _DSC2233

I am also a woodworker and was recently given a Siberian Elm with all sorts of burls, a wood turner’s dream. As I was leaning on the rail of my trailer wondering what I would do with the log, I challenged myself with a challenge I often give to others: find creative ways to turn your vocation, avocation and recreation into ways you can feed the hungry.img_6074

So I want to see how many people The Burly Log will feed.

The first items I crafted from this are, naturally, writing instruments. This set of pens is a matching fountain and rollerball set. The box is made from The Burly Log as well.pens on stand


Pens on stand with case
If you want to bid on the pens or just watch out of curiosity, you can go here on Ebay:  Matching Pen Set From The Burly Log,
Also, here’s a 2 minute video of The Burly Log Goes to the Sawmill and me making this set of pens in my woodworking shop.
Please share! The auction lasts for a week and ALL of the proceeds go to The OutreachProgram for meals for the hungry!
Please share this with others!

Why Handwriting Letters Again has Helped me as a Writer


My story of recently taking up the tradition of handwriting letters starts with a chunk of wood and a persistent son.

My son, Isaac, is a fine woodworking craftsman, remodeler and artist. We both share a love of working with wood and he kept encouraging me to take up the art of wood turning on a lathe. I didn’t need another hobby and told him so. The last time I tried my hand with a lathe some 30 years ago, I managed to accidentally chuck a tool through the window of my woodshop. I sold the lathe soon after.

Not to be dissuaded, Isaac brought a lathe and tools to my shop and showed me how to turn pens out of wood. I fell head-over-heels-in-love with woodturning and purchased my own lathe and tools. Over the course of time, I’ve discovered great delight in making a variety of pen styles, bowls, wine stoppers and kindling for firewood. Yes, I’ve had more than a few disasters on the lathe.

While trying out various pen designs, I decided to make a fountain pen. After making my first one, I decided to resume handwriting letters. I have been surprised at how much I enjoy it and how it’s improving my writing.

  1. I slow down – I can type rather fast so I often throw a lot of words on a page first, then go back to edit
  2. I gather my thoughts first – there is no delete, copy or paste button so I want to make sure I know what I want to say before I write it down
  3. Good memories are stirred about the person to whom I’m writing- if it takes me 45 minutes to write a letter, that is 45 minutes I’ve spent reminiscing about a good friend
  4. I know the receiver will cherish it – handwritten letters require more labor than hammering out a quick email and so are more rare. The person who receives the letter intuitively knows that great affection has gone into writing the letter
  5. I have fun choosing to whom I’ll write the next letter- this makes me value the number of friends and  heroes I have

I have my own writing desk in the library, a special pen I use only for handwriting letters and an image above the desk to inspire me. (captured by HR Kuhns, MD – see more of his works at:  _DSC2219

Try handwriting a letter sometime and see if it does for you what it does for me.

On a side note, I’ve been given a fantastic burly log that I am going to create artistic items from in order to feed as many hungry people as possible. Stay tuned for the first set of matching  fountain/roller ball pens from the burly log. They will be offered through The Outreach Program via an online auction (similar to Ebay). Sign up for my blog or follow me on Facebook to stay posted!

For your enjoyment, here are a few pens I’ve made and the wood from w which they’re made. The white one is spalted hackberry – from a piece of firewood I was cutting. Spalting refers to the dark lines which are actually the tree rotting.

Spalted Hackberry Fountain Pen



The Burly Log Pen (Chinese Elm)


A Trip to the Mailbox: A Christmas Story


Harry balanced one hand on the cane while he slipped another log into the fireplace. Usually, he burned spruce or lodgepole pine that grew in abundance in the forest around his cabin, but he kept the Pinon pine for Christmas mornings. No other logs burning on a fire smelled as good as Pinon pine.

Harry sat back down in old wooden rocker and covered his legs with the quilt his mother made for him and Gladys on their honeymoon. That was 70 years ago he carried his bride across the threshold of this same cabin, but it was like yesterday. She had been gone for ten years now.

“Merry Christmas, Gladys,” Harry whispered to the fire.

Harry reached for the coal oil lamp on the table beside his chair and turned the flame up just a bit higher so he could read. On the table were two envelopes with letters from his ten-year-old great-grandson, Ethan. Ethan had visited Harry just a month earlier on Thanksgiving and, after Harry showed him all the letters he had written to Gladys when he was in WWII and how important the trip to the mailbox was for him every day, Ethan had written him not one but two letters. He opened the latest:

“Dear Great Grandpa Harry,

    I really enjoyed visiting you and reading the letters that you wrote while you were in the war. Thank you for showing them to me. I did a report for my class on World War II and showed them the picture I took with my phone of the box of letters that you wrote. I got an A+ on my report and my teacher cried.

  Mom and Dad say we’re coming to see you again on Christmas as long as it doesn’t snow too much since we have to hike up the side of the mountain to get to your cabin.

  I’m glad we moved back to this area. I heard a lot about you from Mom and Dad and Grandpa, but we lived too far away to come and visit you.

  I am a Boy Scout and like to camp and fish, but since we live in a big city, it’s hard to do.

I asked my Mom and Dad if it was okay for me to ask you if I could come and stay with you for a few days. I could help split firewood and haul water. I’d like to know what it’s like to live without electricity and go hiking in the mountains.Plus, I like to listen to your stories.

  I am excited to see you at Christmas. I made a present for you that I’m learning how to do in Scouts. I think you’ll like it.”

    Harry leaned back in his rocker and the loneliness he had denied since Gladys passed swept over him like an avalanche. He wondered what would make a ten-year-old boy that he barely knew want to leave the fancy house in the city and all the electronics to come stay with him in his creaky old cabin. Wouldn’t he be bored? Regardless of the reason, Harry felt more joy than he had in years.

Chauncey, the golden lab at his feet, raised his head and slowly stood up. He heard Ethan and his parents coming up the trail to the cabin. Harry trusted this old dog that warned him of bears, shooed the deer out of his garden and kept him company on these long winter days.

Harry rose from the chair and tapped his cane across the wooden floor to the front door. He was so glad to have company on Christmas.

Ethan bounded up the steps and rushed to hug Harry almost toppling him over. Ethan hurriedly through his backpack on the floor and dug out a present, crudely wrapped as only a ten-year-old can.

“I made this just for you, Great Grandpa,” Ethan almost shouted. “And Dad says if its okay with you I can stay here during Christmas vacation!”

“Well, come on in out of the cold, first,” Harry invited them all in.

“Open, it please,” Ethan said again. “I made it in Scouts.”

Harry folded himself back into the old rocker and sat the present on his lap. Slowly, he undid the twine string and bow that Ethan had tied. Grabbing his brass letter opener, he slipped thru the tape holding the paper.

Ethan’s eyes were wide with excitement as Harry opened the box. Inside was a bird house that looked like a log cabin made of little sticks. There was a sign on one end of the cabin and Harry pushed his readers up on his nose to read it better. In hand-painted letter, the sign read:


      Harry and Gladys Withers

            and Ethan Withers


Harry began to weep. The room was silent except for the sobs of the old man. Slowly, Ethan walked over to the rocker and leaned into Harry. Ethan began to cry, too. Ethan’s Mom motioned to him to come sit back down beside her.

“You’re upsetting Grandpa Harry,” she whispered across the room.

“But I don’t mean to,” Ethan replied. “I just wanted to help him cry.”


(to be continued)


A Trip to the Mailbox: A Thanksgiving Story

Realize Step-By-Step Success… The Consummate Way™

Harry swept the burnt umber oak leaves away from the door with his foot. The swirling wind of autumn piled them against the door as quickly as he moved them away.

Shutting the door behind him, his cane tapped the wooden floor as he made his way across the room. He smiled as he slowly sat in the oak rocker handcrafted by his Dad nearly a century earlier. I’m not sure who creaks more, my old bones or this old rocker; he spoke to no one listening. The coal oil lamp on the table beside him cast a soft glow over the room, adding to the yellow cast of the fireplace crackling a few feet away.

This was a good day; he had mail.

He reached for his spectacles that lay across the opened Bible. Adjusting them on his nose, he reached again for the brass letter opener with the handle made from an antler of his first deer. He was ten when his Dad sent him on his first hunt with directions to bring back vittles for the family. He had no charge for either a buck or doe, just for meat. Oh, he was proud of that first deer!

He held the gleaming brass, gazing over a tool he had opened thousands of envelopes with, but one he had to explain the use of to his grandson, Ethan. It was a confusing conversation as Harry explained the importance of a written letter and Ethan describing how his mail came on a screen. Harry had lived so many years without electricity in his cabin in the woods that he did not understand electronics.

Likewise, his ten-year-old grandson, Ethan, had difficulty understanding how important the trip was for Harry each day as he tottered down the graveled lane to the mailbox. Harry explained that opening the mailbox each day was like opening a box of hope. On Thursdays, the local weekly Gazette would be waiting for him with the news of Yellowpine. Oh, sure, it was full of ads for things he didn’t want and promises of winning things he didn’t need, but the best part was finding an envelope with handwriting on it.

He took Ethan to an old wooden trunk in his bedroom. Gladys had passed on nearly ten years earlier, but Harry never changed a thing – her dresses still hung in the closet, her quilting basket still stacked on the table in the corner.

Ethan looked confused as Harry opened the trunk. Inside, there were several old shoeboxes stacked neatly. Dates were written on each box and Harry’s shaky hands reached for the one that read, January – September, 1944.

Harry opened the shoebox that was packed tightly with envelopes. His leathered fingers lifted one out the stack and he handed it to Ethan.


In the left-hand corner it read:

Sergeant Harry Withers

99th Infantry

United States Army



In the center it read:                       Mrs. Harry Withers

P.O. Box 325

Yellowpine, Idaho

Harry began to read to Ethan:

My dearest Gladys,

I am doing okay but I sure miss being home with you. They tell us that we will ship out soon, but we never know when that might be. I sure wish this war would get over.

                        It has been too long. I am …

His voice cracked as emotions overwhelmed him. It was if he had written those words yesterday. Ethan leaned in to him.

Drawing a deep breath, Harry explained how important letter writing was to soldiers and how sad it was for soldiers who didn’t have anyone at home to either write too or receive a letter from.

For some reason, Ethan understood the gravity of the moment so he and his Grandpa Harry spent the afternoon going though old photos, letters and story-after-story.

Harry reached again to turn the lamp up for better light.

Slowly, he slid the brass opener in the crease of the envelope and opened the letter. Unfolding the paper inside, Harry began to read:


Dear Granpa Harry,

This is the first time I have even written a letter than needed a stamp put on it. I wrote my name in the corner like you used to and then put your name in the center. Mom took me to the Post Office and they had a new stamp out about veterans so we chose that one. I hope you like it.

Thank you for showing me that old trunk and reading those letters you sent Grandma. I really had a good time.

Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                            With love,


Harry reached this time for a Kleenex to dab away the tear trickling down his leathered cheek. He lifted his spectacles from his nose and wiped his eyes.

Leaning back, he slowly rocked as he gazed into the fire, mesmerized by the dancing light and brimming with pride and pleasure. He had worried that he was boring Ethan that day – an old man reliving his youth to a kid that maybe just pretended to care.

He read the note again. After ninety years of life and countless trips to the end of the lane to open the box of hope, this trip was the best ever. The mailbox had no money, no promise of winning the lottery, no bargain-price shopping gimmick. Instead, it was filled with hope.

Harry remembered his Dad often saying that the best gift we could ever give God was the gift of gratitude.

It turns out, Harry thought, that the gift of gratitude is also the best gift we can give each other.