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Family Life | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Writing More for Money than Pleasure

A funny thing happened on the way to my writing for clients this spring.  As we worked together, and I developed stronger working relationships with them, they asked me to help them do more than write – to organize projects for them too.

And I said yes.

It was the start of an adventure where I’ve learned new skills and met a lot of wonderful people. Along the way, for the past couple of months, I’ve worked 10-12 hour minimum days, 6 days per week.

When you run your own business in an uncertain economy, you say yes when the work hits. Even so, I’ve cut some of my clients and narrowed my focus.

That also means I haven’t had as much time to blog for pleasure.

As my firstborn goes to college in 2 weeks, and my 16-year-old is about to get his driver’s license, I suspect my work load has increased just in time for me not to realize how quickly my nest is emptying.

For now, in the short time I have left with both of my kids at home, and with my limited time with them, I’m choosing to spend more time enjoying them and less of my free time writing for pleasure.

So I’ll blog when I’m able but will focus first on living and savoring my family.

Hot Jobs

“Don’t forget to keep drinking water. Remember your sunscreen. And if you start feeling a little sick, tell the nurse. Don’t keep yourself working and make yourself sick,” I cautioned my 16-year-old son as I dropped him off for work at dawn this morning.

“I know,” is the answer I’m given. I’m “that” mom who insists on buying 100 SPF spray-on sunscreen to make sure he has adequate sun protection before working several hours in a corn field in record-breaking heat.

You don’t get how hard it is to see your kids do hard things until they do them. You know you have to let them go, but it feels like you’re sending your heart into an oven to toast on a hot summer’s day.

As I returned home, I remembered my first hard job – as a newspaper carrier when I was 10 years old. We lived in small-town America, population 6,000, and my brother and I delivered papers on the Main Street business routes after school, on Saturdays, and during the summer. And during the winters of 1978 and 1979, including the 1978 blizzard.

I was 12 years old during the 1978 blizzard, and newspaper printing did not stop because of snow. The day before the blizzard hit, the headline said something like “100% Snow.” We rushed to get papers delivered and buckle down for the pending storm. The next morning, we were covered. The radio announced school was cancelled indefinitely.

Newspapers were soon to resume – I don’t think we missed a day but I’m not sure – and I continued on my paper route, walking a mile to the newspaper office, walking the route, and then walking home. Main Street was cleared with a narrow lane for cars in each direction, and huge snow drifts in the middle and sides. Local store owners dug curb cuts for pedestrians. On my route, I would deliver a few papers to stores and warm myself often before venturing back outside. In good weather, the route took about an hour. During the storms, it took much longer.

My favorite part of the whole adventure was that we missed a month of school, and I had left my French horn mouthpiece at school. So for a whole month, I had no homework and didn’t have to practice French horn. But it was still a tough month of survival, with a daily newspaper route gauntlet.

Now, as I dodder on the back side of middle age, I see that that paper route was a character building event that instilled a work ethic in me. Part of me suspects that sweating in those cornfields, for the second summer of record-breaking heat, will do the same for my own son.

Doesn’t make it any easier to watch him go. As I see him leave for the fields, riding away with his work crew, I watch them drive out of sight as I fervently pray for their safety, seeking communion of the saints and asking all the angels in heaven to watch over them and guard their safety for the day.

My last words to him as he left were, “You know I’ll be praying for you all day.” He doesn’t quite nod recognition.

But I realize that those are the words that will define the rest of my life as a parent, in this world and beyond.

Driving by Faith, Not by SmartPhone

“Sometimes God sends angels to pick up your car and put it where you need to be,” my husband observed after a recent adventure where I looked for a new place, the roads had different names, and I got to the right place but have no idea how it happened.

So, today, as I took a road trip with 4 teens to a place I visited one time 2 years ago and successfully managed to get us wandering residential neighborhoods instead of a college campus, I was nervous. But I had my SmartPhone, so if I got lost, the mapping would help. Even so, I scoped out maps, and my husband printed out 7 different views of maps to help me get them to the conference on time, without our losing our way.

This morning, I was still nervous and turned off my phone to conserve battery power until I need it. (Translated: when I got lost.) As we started, I warned our other teen passengers, “One thing. Sometimes when I’m on road trips and merge into busy highways, I have chats with Jesus where I ask him to help me find a spot for my car. It works, and I don’t have problems when I do that. So if you hear one of my chats, you know what I’m doing.” Then I reminded them if how Nik Wallenda had a chat with Jesus while he walked the highwire over Niagara Falls. I told them my conversations sound a little like that.

Then, half an hour into our drive, I realized I didn’t have my phone. My son searched for it and couldn’t find it. He called home, and it was lying on the kitchen table, where I had left it.

The others, perhaps hearing of my spatial challenges, thought we would turn around. I wasn’t wasting an hour’s gas and running teens late because of my bad sense of direction. So my son took the maps folder my husband organized, played shotgun, and we didn’t get lost a single time. I heard that still, quiet voice inside telling me, “You need to walk by faith, not by sight.” OK fine. Hope that lasted when I did get lost.

I was still worried about my solo drive home – it was 4 hours, which is plenty of time to make wrong turns and end up in the wrong state.  This was the first time since our vacation a little over a year ago when my husband deliberately took us far enough into the Smokies that I had no cell phone reception that I couldn’t check any electronic media for an entire day.

As the drive began, I heard the still, quiet voice again – I needed to walk by faith, not by Smartphone. Sometimes, I get so dependent on the memory in my phone that I forget to use my own brain. As I ate lunch alone, I remembered 25 years ago when I wandered Ireland, Scotland, and England alone, with no cell phone. At least once, I went a week without contacting anyone back home or at school who knew me and thought nothing of it.

How times have changed that now a 4 hour car ride untethered feels odd.

When I got home, I reconnected, just like the Borg would re-attach to the collective. But perhaps, I remembered that there is a place for faith and gut instinct.

Maybe we all need a little more faith.

A Nine Week Farewell Tour – The Love Song of a Mother

In 9 weeks, my daughter leaves for college. A friend of mine told me I’m the first-time college mom, so I worry more about every detail. Almost everything on our checklist of things to do before she leaves is complete.

But none of those checklists recognize that in two months, our home and family will forever change.  How can we make the most of these final weeks while juggling 2 businesses? Add to that teens’ job schedules and summer trips, and these weeks will zoom. I sing the song “Sunrise, Sunset,” to myself, wondering how she grew to be a beauty, he grew to be so tall, and the years flew.

How can we make these weeks a celebration with happy memories? Today, we began a farewell tour bucket list. A few hours each week, we’ll make a family outing to one of the places we’ve gone as a family.

Today was the zoo. Walking a zoo with teens is different from taking them to Zoo Toddlers 14 years ago, when they got to feed monkeys, birds, and even an elephant. Once more I told the story of trying to take babies to the zoo, ages 23 months and 1 month, by myself in a double stroller a month after a c-section and discovering the challenge of the zoo’s hills. We could laugh over an emu’s biting my daughter fingers, and our paddling a boat in the pond at the zoo.

I’m not sure where each of our next 8 weekly adventures will take us. My hope is they will remind us of good things and a happy life. Unlike T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock who lamented in his love song that he could measure his life in coffee spoons, I can measure my life in time spent with friends and family.

I hope this will help us remember this is not an end, but a transition to something new, as in “Sunrise, Sunset,” – years that have been “one season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”

Oh Yes They Will Eat Vegetables – At Festivals and Concessions

“We tried selling vegetables years ago, but they didn’t work so we won’t do that again,” I heard again today from someone who works in food sales at a festival.

Times have changed.

Our 4-H Leaders sell concessions and cater meals to help raise money to help pay for project manuals. Four years ago, I began my mission to introduce healthier options. The first couple of years, I felt like Don Quixote, dreaming an impossible dream to make diets a little more green than greasy. When we sold breakfasts, we tried introducing wraps and found they appealed to a different audience than the traditional biscuit sandwich. Last year at one event, we sold as many if not more wraps than biscuit sandwiches.

As we prepped food to sell at a fundraiser festival today, I again went on my quest. We switched to artisan tortillas that happen to be whole wheat – and cost less than the ones we used to get. We added new items to the menu: yogurt, bananas, apples, oranges, kiwi, and veggie packs. Each veggie pack included organic baby carrots, celery sticks, and cherry tomatoes, with ranch dressing available as a dip.

There were still the regular side items for my German hometown – baked beans, German potato salad, and cole slaw. (Our cole slaw is a sweet and sour variety which is out of this world and as a vinegar-based salad, is not high in calories.) The regular side items still sold very well.

But this year, things were different. Several people in line specifically asked for healthier options. There was an interest and passion for better choices I’ve never before seen.

As I worked the cashier spot at lunch, several made a point to thank us for providing foods they were able to eat. I was repeatedly told by people that they had dietary restrictions which eliminated our traditional food choices. Because we opted to offer options they could eat, they could support our fundraiser dinner.

We had a sell-out meal today with almost everything gone. The apples, oranges, bananas, and yogurt all sold completely out. Besides swapping out the vegetable options, several chose to take fruit or yogurt instead of our other offerings of apple crisp or the best Texas sheet cake on the planet.

If you’re working a fundraiser and planning menus, my message is:

Simple, healthful food options will sell. Try a few and see how it goes. The only work involved in what we tried was individually wrapping the apples and making the veggie packs.

Forward-thinking food concessions that meet this need now will build their reputation and brand to ensure more repeat business in future years.

If you’re a consumer trying to support festival fundraisers, if they don’t offer healthful options, make a point to ask them why they don’t and inform them that you would have bought more food if they had.

What Will Your Kids Think – Divorce and Social Media

“I feel so sorry for “X,” my son commented a couple of years ago. “Every time she got sick this year, her mom complained about it on Facebook and complained about what a pain it is. “X” must think her mom hates her when she’s sick.”

I immediately had a jaw-dropping moment. For years, I had taught teens to think “What would adults think” of what they post on Facebook.

Turnaround is true too. When teens start Facebook at age 13, if they friend adults, they see what we think. So we must also be mindful of “What would kids think.”

We lead by example. Facebook is no more the place to hang our family’s dirty linens than a clothesline is. Before we hang clothes on the line, we wash them.  Not every stained cloth, and not every family secret needs to be hung on the social media line to air dry before the masses.

This is doubly true when families are broken or torn apart. Growing up in a single parent home and working through a marriage breakup is hard enough on kids when it’s done in private. I’m thankful I got to work through MY parents’ breakup during the 1970’s before the Internet was invented.

Whenever kids I know have to work their way through a breakup, it saddens me. But it doubly breaks my heart when their parents take the breakup to social media and air their grievances in public.

Heartbreak is real. Talk to close friends. Talk to counselors. But please, please, please don’t post it on Facebook for your kids or their friends to see.

Teen years are tough in good circumstances. They are hard enough in bad circumstances. The baggage of a divorce, even one like my parents’ that was desperately needed, hangs with a kid – I know because I live it.

Adults – act like adults and lead by example by choosing not to vent your frustrations in a Facebook status. Your ability to vent online does not give you the right to embarrass your children or hurt them more.

Thanks for Not Packing For Me

One evening last week, while I was at a dinner, I realized my kids were packing for camp that evening. So I texted them a question – did they need to do laundry to pack for camp? They are both camp counselors now. If I try to take care of those details, they immediately tell me they can take care of themselves.

When I arrived home, laundry was running, and they were packing. Other than a good laugh at a dinner party over my hands-off mothering skills, I didn’t think anything of it.

When my kids returned, my daughter told me, “Thanks for never packing me for camp.”


She continued, “Some younger campers had no idea what was in their suitcases or where things were. Their mothers packed them for camp. How will they ever learn how to take care of themselves if Mommy does it for them?”

There are risks in not packing your kids for camp. They might forget to pack shampoo, soap, and a towel, and return from the experience with a greasepit mosh for hair, smelling like a fish or worse. The kid who forgets to pack something one year will probably remember it the next. It’s also a teachable moment – if you forget something, try asking for help.

And the kid who forgets to pack soap and shampoo for camp could one day be the counselor assigned for a “High – Jean” skit to teach younger campers what hygiene is, remind them in a fun way to stay clean, and teach how to ask for help.

Those are the lifetime moments that form character and teach problem solving skills. When I manage a project, I want to work with a team of players who made plenty of mistakes and have learned from them. The person who has survived failure to succeed another day will work harder and more effectively than the coddled soul who never got the room to stumble.

The only way kids can learn from their mistakes is if we back off enough to give them opportunities to make them. And then when they do make them, we teach them strategies so they can learn from mistakes and do better next time.


First Step of the Seton Challenge

Remember my Seton Challenge? Well, it’s almost here. I’ve picked up today’s share and will prep food later tonight. Then, tomorrow morning, I’ll post blogs with recipes of what I cook. And I’ll appear on Local 7 Lifestyles at 8 to do a show and tell so they can taste and see what I made. Some of the items in this week’s share were unexpected, and I’m thinking through what to make.

Here is what I have to cook with:

  • Red Rain
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Kale
  • Cucumbers
  • Radishes
  • Cabbage
  • Squash

Do you have suggestions you would like me to make with these ingredients? If so, comment below.

A Seton Lifestyles Cooking Adventure

A week's produce share from Seton Harvest, a CSA in Evansville, Indiana.This coming Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning will be a One Writing Mother cooking adventure, and you get to share in it.

Here are the details:

Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., I’ll go to Seton Harvest, where I am a shareholder, to pick up my weekly half-share of produce.  As a shareholder, I visit each week and pick up certified naturally grown produce, fresh from the field. When I go each week, I don’t know until I get there what that week’s produce will include.

Joining Seton last year upped my vegetable game as far as feeding my family. Their produce selections included foods I didn’t recognize. So each week, when I got home, I researched recipes and re-learned how to cook. And then I learned how to cook meals my family – including a red-meat-loving teen-aged son whose definition of a big salad is 2 lettuce leaves – would eat and maybe even enjoy.

So this Tuesday, after I pick up my shares, I’ll go home and make some recipes. Depending on what this week’s shares are, I may need to research and cook recipes for the very first time, with foods I’ve never before eaten. Tuesday evening, I’ll update this blog with a photo and list of what this week’s produce share includes. I may live tweet information that evening as I cook.

Then, Wednesday morning, on Local 7 Lifestyles at 8 a.m., I’ll bring in samples of this week’s produce shares and also bring in samples of the recipes I made to see if those on Local 7 Lifestyles will try them and find them edible. And I’ll share the recipes I used in another update on this blog.

If you want to see what happens, check back with this blog on Tuesday evening to see what produce choices I have. Then check out Local 7 Lifestyles Wednesday morning – and find the recipes back on this website.

What’s life without a little adventure?


A Spirit-Filled Dance on Pentecost

As I walked into Mass with my family to celebrate Pentecost, the Holy Spirit invited me to dance with Jesus.

“Me? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“You – I’m calling you.”

“But I’m not one of the pious. Often when I walk in the door I feel like a modern Samaritan woman walking into a room of Pharisees.”

“I didn’t call you to dance with them. I called you to dance with Jesus.”

“But I get so frustrated….”

“Don’t focus on them. Watch me.”

“Why would He want to dance with Me? I make more mistakes than I do things right.”

“Dance with Him.”

“I’m scared. If I start dancing, I don’t know what will happen next.”

“Make that first step. Walk by faith, not by sight.”

I start to inch my foot forward but feel the chains of the past holding me back.

“Doesn’t He know where I’ve been?”

“Of course He does. And He’s asking you to dance with Him.”

“This wasn’t in my plans today.”

“Your plans. Not His. Dance with Him.”

The bits of our conversation took place in between Mass readings about the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. On that first Pentecost, they spoke in many tongues.

On this Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired me to sing. With each line I sang, the chains of the past loosened, and I felt my foot again inching forward for that first step.

Near the end of the Mass, I joined the congregation as we said,

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

And with that, I again went forward and joined the dance with Jesus on the vigil of Pentecost.

My prayer is that in future days, if I grow discouraged, that I remember this night and the dance of a lifetime that changes everything.


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