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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Chicken and Chicken Broth – Healthier Living

It’s just over three weeks since my heart attack, and my daughter and I have spent the past 3 weeks working up how to modify our diet into healthier options that are low fat and low cholesterol. They also need to fit in our family budget, and I need to figure out how to do it in the best time frame possible. And how to organize it so I’ll make it a lifetime habit instead of a temporary new year trend.

The first step: buy a fryer each week, stew it for broth and save the meat. The cost of a fryer is maybe a little more than a plastic container of low fat sliced turkey breast meat. The downside to the turkey breast meat that’s sliced is that it’s processed and loaded with sodium. (For a lower fat option, purchase chicken breasts with the bone. and use that instead of a full fryer.)

Then there is the broth. Besides the expense of buying prepared broth, it is also loaded with sodium. Since we’re cutting oils, fats, and soup base mixes from my flavoring arsenal, broth is the healthiest substitute I’ve found.

How to make your own broth?

Buy a fryer. I skin it first and try to remove as much visible fat as I can. Then put the bird into a large stock pot. Mine holds 6 quarts. Add in an onion chopped in half, 2-3 carrots, and 2-3 celery stalks. Add a bay leaf, about 1 T pepper, 1 clove garlic, and 1 T parsley. Then fill the pot with water to within 2 inches of the top of the pan. Let it simmer until the chicken is done. I like to let mine simmer for at least 2 hours just for the flavor.

Remove the chicken from the pot and let it cool. When it is cool, remove any fat you find and remove the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and fat. Set the meat to the side. There should be enough to fill two of those deli-sized plastic containers. Each has enough meat for a dish for a meal for my family or can be used for sandwiches when we’re busy. If needed, you can label (and date) the container and freeze it until it’s needed.

Then drain the broth. Make sure it cools quickly (shallow containers cool it faster.) Discard the bay leaf. Take the vegetables that stewed and blend/grind/puree them. Then put those into a gallon sized container (I use an ice cream bucket.) I puree the vegetables so they can serve as a natural thickener – they will sink to the bottom of the broth and can be served in a single container when you need flavor plus a thickener. Then pour the broth into the container and refrigerate it. After it is refrigerated, skin any congealed fat from the top and discard. This gives you a low/no sodium broth (it depends on whether or not you purchase a fryer which has liquid injected into it – that usually has salt in it.)

The broth then can be put into meal-sized containers and frozen. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and then store those in a plastic bag to use as needed. How can you use your broth?

  • As a flavor for food you saute in a pan – either vegetables or meat.
  • Add a container to rice or couscous you’re cooking to add flavor.
  • Stir some into pasta for flavor and make sure the pasta absorbs the flavor.
  • Use as a base for soup.

Bottom line?

That fryer you purchased, with an onion plus some carrots and celery will yield 2 containers of chicken meat and a gallon of chicken broth for about $6.

The cost of 2 packs of turkey deli meat is about $7. The cost of a gallon of chicken broth, purchased in individual containers could hit $12.

So for a $6 purchase, and about 30 minutes of time, it’s possible to save $13, while having a product with real ingredients and significantly less sodium.

Happy Birthday to a Dear Friend

“The only way you’ll know whether or not you are having a heart attack is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” Jean told me. I called her three weeks ago, convinced I was having an allergic reaction to medications for a kidney stone I was passing. We then began to argue because she told me my symptoms were more like a heart attack than an allergic reaction.

Maybe that’s why she’s the doctor and I’m not. I’m glad I listened.

We are fortunate in our lives to have a few good friends who will tell us what they think and tell us when they think we are wrong. If we’re smart, we’ll listen to them and heed their advice at least some of the time. Jean is one of those friends.

We first met 13 years ago when our kids were in a Christmas pageant together. Somehow, I got the task of leading the kids’ singing. Her oldest 4 sons and my kids were in the same production. My most vivid memories from it are of my son (age 3) and one of hers playing angels. Their version of angels was a little different from the normal Christmas story.  My son, on the front row, spent most of the performance lying on the floor, with his halo off, as he used the halo like a giant spyglass to peer into the audience. Then he decided to play target practice with his finger and pretend to shoot people in the audience.

At the same time, her three oldest sons (the oldest was probably a first grader) were the three wisemen. As they rushed in to see the Holy Family, they bumped into each other and accidentally crashed some chairs. I don’t remember who, but one of them whispered to the others, “That was fun. Can we do it again?”

Little did I know how our friendship would help my family. Twelve years ago, the night our home and business burned, the first person I called as we raced home, was Jean. Soon after we got home, she was there with her van, as were other family friends. Jean had put out a prayer alert and raced to help us. It turned out the firemen knew her and told her what we needed to do once the fire was out and we were cleared to quickly go in to retrieve a few things.

Jean helped us organize in our front yard for our fifteen minute dash to gather belongings. Once we were in the house, I remember telling her I wanted to save my vacuum cleaner. “To hell with the vacuum,” she said.

“It’s a Kirby,” I told her.

“Why didn’t you say so?” She answered and grabbed the Kirby as she raced back out of the house, “Make way! Kirby coming through.”

The next morning, Jean and her kids visited our church so we would have moral support at Mass. We went afterwards to a city park so kids could play and we could develop a battle plan for our survival. That afternoon, Richard set a temporary office up in a spare bedroom in her home so he could meet deadlines for clients. We stayed with her family that first week, until a temporary apartment was ready for us to move into.

I can’t begin to describe the ways she helped our family in the months after the fire. We were a homeschooling family, and she schooled my kids along with her own the first weeks after the fire, as I worked with the fire recovery crew and demolition. Later, after we returned home, my kids spent afternoons at her home as I took an additional afternoon job at a local school to help supplement our income. During her time with my kids, she not only helped school them but made sure they learned to ride bikes, swim, and ski. Her children became like extended family for my own and helped them continue a childhood despite tremendous loss.

It’s hard for me to remember all the Jean stories of our time together. There was the afternoon when Richard had worked nonstop on a client’s job for 24 hours without any sleep, I needed to go to work, and half a large maple fell on our house in a rainstorm. Jean came over after the storm, while I was at work and told Richard that sleep deprived people shouldn’t cut trees off their house. Then she recruited another friend and joined him on the roof, chainsaw in hand, removing the tree branches. I wasn’t home but heard that afterwards our neighbors stood in amazement at the mother of five who so easily handled a chainsaw and tree limbs.

She not only taught me how to bake bread but how to grind wheat for the freshest flour possible. And she organized several families to make bulk purchases of Montana wheat so we could get it at wholesale prices.

Then there’s the time one of my neighbor’s kids had an emergency during a summer theatre production for school. I got an urgent call from the school administrator that she had dislocated her kneecap during rehearsal, and no one could find her parents. They were taking the girl by ambulance to the emergency room. They found my phone number in her cell phone, so they called. We could not reach her parents and left large notes on their doors to call us as soon as possible. I raced to the emergency room to meet the girl when she arrived. When I got there, Jean was on shift, about to leave for the evening. After I explained what was happening, she stayed a little late to help my neighbor’s daughter. My neighbors arrived at the emergency room – they had been at a ballgame and couldn’t hear their phones. Jean quickly and quietly helped their daughter.

And as always, when she helped someone she stayed in the shadows, preferring to be the unknown Samaritan.

A few years ago, Jean’s family moved to another city. We’ve stayed in touch and I know that we’re as close as a phone call or a text message when needed. Thank God she was able to answer that phone call 3 weeks ago, just as she answered the call 12 years ago. I don’t know what would have happened without her.

Today is her birthday. Since my heart attack, I’ve resolved to do a better job of sharing with my friends why they matter and what they mean to me. And in this case, I’m blogging it.

Happy birthday, Jean. You’re very loved, and you’ve made a huge difference in our lives. Thank you.


Confessions of a Snow Shoveling Nazi

This blog is a little nostalgic because my days of snow shoveling have come to an end. (Which may become a cause of celebration for my family.)

Confession: I am a snow shoveling Nazi who insists on a spotlessly shoveled driveway and walks. What made me that way?

During the terrible winters of 1977 and 1978, I was in middle school and had a paper route. My route was one on foot, and I appreciated those who shoveled their walks so much that I resolved to have well shoveled walks the rest of my life. For those who have to make deliveries in the snow, those shoveled walks give them respite. We live in an urban neighborhood that still has sidewalks – though more people seem to saunter down the middle of the street than use a real sidewalk.

So I embraced the perfectly shoveled walk with the zeal of Martha Stewart and grace of Clark Griswold. My children have grown up with the obsessively snow-shoveling mama who was adept at the fine art and science of a well-cleaned walk. The only winters I didn’t shovel were when I was pregnant and one year post op after surgery.

When I shoveled snow, I felt like Momzilla Versus the Snow Mound. And I always won at the end of the movie.

Until now. What makes a driveway well shoveled?

  1. Shovel early and often. If you shovel snow throughout a storm, there is less to shovel at one time. It can be easier to manage when it’s not in huge drifts. There have been times in my life I’ve been known to shovel at midnight, at 3 a.m., and again at 5 a.m. Part of it was to not only make the shoveling easier but also to make sure we always had the cleanest walks shoveled first in the neighborhood.
  2. A good shovel is worth its weight. I pushed snow more than I threw it. This reduced the effort but worked effectively.
  3. Shovel to the ground. Don’t leave a little at the base. Get it to the sidewwalk or concrete. If you do this, your walks will also melt faster as soon as the temperature gets close to 32 degrees.
  4. Shovel the walk, the whole walk, and nothing but the walk. When you shovel your walk, if you make the effort to do the whole walk instead of a shovel wide path, you decrease the likelihood of drifting.
  5. Clear cars completely. Make sure not only cars are cleared but the paths to get to them are as well. What’s the point in shoveling a driveway if people have to climb over snow to get into the car?
  6. Dress warmly and stay dry. Nuff said – let common sense prevail. Layers are a very good thing.
  7. Two can shovel faster than one. As soon as my kids could walk, they had toddler sized shovels to “help.” Granted, their early help was more play than work – but it built a habit I hope continues.
  8. Finish with hot chocolate. Make sure you have marshmallows too.
When the walks were done well, birds would flock into puddles as they desperately sought water. The funniest part for me is watching our cat; he likes to venture in the snow but prefers to walk only on the shoveled walks and driveway so he doesn’t get his paws snowy.

So now I’m recovering from a heart attack and have been told there is no longer a snow shovel in my future. Under 50, and I’m already a has been shoveler.

With this storm, my kids shoveled for me. I gritted my teeth and said nothing as they chose to sleep in. No shoveling before dawn. But they did go out and do it. They shoveled the whole walk and did a good job. Perhaps something that I taught them will steak.

Part of me suspects a snow blower may one day be in my future. When I told a friend of mine this, he commented if I bought one it might now snow for 10 years. To which I observed that it would then be an excellent preventative investment.

What I will miss most of my snow shoveling was savoring the silence of a snowstorm, as the flakes muffled sound and for a few moments, I felt like the world was at my footsteps, waiting for me to rush at it with my shovel.



A Lighter Side of Dressing

Dressing is one of my all time favorite foods. For the past two weeks, I had thought about how to lower the fat and salt but maintain the flavor. My daughter helped me do a version 1 lighter side recipe. We were pleased with the results – so pleased I wanted to blog it so I don’t lose it.


  • 16 slices wheat bread
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked in chicken broth
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I make my own, with no salt and low fat)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup green and orange peppers chopped
  • 3/4 cup onions chopped
  • 3/4 celery chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear bread into small pieces and let it air dry.

Saute peppers, onions, and celery in olive oil and let it slow simmer until the vegetables caramelize. You want to get as much flavor from the vegetables as possible.

In a large bowl, mix together the cubed bread, rice, and broth. Let it set until it has become a paste. Stir in the sauteed vegetables and herbs. Stir in the eggs. Pour in enough broth to make a soupy texture.

Spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole with non-stick spray and pour in dressing. Bake about 45 minutes until done.

On a side note, the one thing I would try to change next time is to find a low salt bread alternative.

Singing Turn to Me

Church music done well cuts through the distracting stuff and brings our souls closer to God.

Tonight, as we sang “Turn to Me,” I had one of those moments when we are called by name, after which nothing is the same.

Turn to me, oh, turn and be saved,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am God.’
‘There is no other, none beside Me. I call your name.’

As we sang, I flashed to my heart attack two weeks ago, when I lay on the operating table about to have an emergency cath, which begins in an artery in the leg. When I flinched, I was told,

“If you move your leg like that again you could die. Stay still.”

For the next hour, as the cardiologist worked, I stayed still. From my experiences with PUBS 16 years earlier, I knew how not to flinch during a surgical procedure.

Tonight’s hymn continued, and my attention returned to the song:

‘I am He that comforts you. Who are you to be afraid?’
‘Flesh that fades is made like the grass of the field, soon to wither.’

Then I flashed back to the operating room. Something wasn’t going well. Someone told me to cough. After I did, the tension decreased. “Why did you want me to cough?” I asked them. They told me my heart rate had slowed, but after the coughing it was doing ok. During my later recovery, I learned that my heart rate had slowed to 20.

I continued thinking while singing – on that operating room table, I didn’t know if I would ever sing in church again. What if this were my last Sunday on earth and the last time I would ever have a chance to sing to the Lord in worship?

So I began to sing with gusto…savoring today’s song and giving every note I could sing my heart and soul. I was called by name to sing tonight – not as a cantor, not as a leader, but as the quiet lady sitting in the pew who was neither standing nor kneeling but sitting, to preserve energy during my recovery.

And the song concluded,

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,  and look at the earth down below.
The heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment.

If we open our eyes, every single day, we are each called to sing a song, where we are, with everything we have at that moment. Make the most of that moment and the others that follow.

One More Day

One thing my heart attack taught me is that I am not invincible. “I am not having chest pains because I don’t have time for them” doesn’t wish them away. No matter how important the things I want to get accomplished are, I cannot ignore my human frailties.

Now, each morning when I wake, my first thought is a prayer – “Thank you God for one more day.”

That changes my perspective completely. If today is our last day – and I don’t believe in any silly Mayan prediction – what will we do with this day to make it count and make the most of it? How will we harness our thoughts and our words, what we do, and what we fail to do?

What are really the most important things we need to do today? Focus on those and think of everything else as gravy.

Seek out and seize joy wherever you find it. And share it with whomever your life touches today.

If we’re lucky, then tomorrow, we can again say, “One more day.”

Entrusting Them to God

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world to do is to let our children go to make their own way in the world. It can be every day they go to school, when they venture for their first overnight, when they go to college, or when they move to build their own lives.

We’re older, and we know how tough the world is….and that bad things happen to good kids.  We hope they remember to be smart, follow the rules, and stay safe. But we also know that sometimes you can do all that and bad things still happen.

At those moments, I quietly say a prayer and entrust my children to God’s care. Then I ask their guardian angel – and all the saints and angels – to watch over and protect them.

Years ago, I had a night full of dreams of angels. First, I was at St. Benedict Cathedral’s choir loft during a Mass, and I saw angels stacked from the floor to the ceiling in worship. Then I saw angels throughout our community, in places where I went with my then-young children. They were even on the swingsets. One of them turned and told me, “We’re always here ready to help – all you have to do is ask.”

I can no more protect my children from all the evil in the world than I can protect myself. But what I can do is send them off with a hug, an expression of love, and a sense of relief that they have a praying mother.

When Hannah left Samuel at the temple as a young boy, she entrusted him to God. That’s the hardest thing any parent ever does. Letting them go – literally on an angel’s wing and a prayer – makes it easier.

Love’s the Perspective that Matters

Talking to my kids on a cell phone for moments before they took me for a cath, immediately following my heart attack, has changed my perspective. Things that mattered to me don’t.

Even if someone close to you does something that is stupid and out of line, is it worth getting angry about? Can it be fixed? Is there permanent damage? If you had a deathbed conversation with this person, the last you would ever have, would you talk about it?

If no one was hurt, it can be fixed easily, and you wouldn’t bring it up in a deathbed conversation, maybe it’s just time to let it go. If injustice was done, ask God to fix it.

The sooner you let it go, the sooner it no longer has power over you. And then you can enjoy the here, the now, and the gift of today’s joys.

If something terrible happens, where we see evil that happens in our world, it can also be a reminder to us to show our love for those with whom we are close.

Faith, hope, and love — the greatest of these is love.

Good Samaritans in Our Midst

Sometimes, when we need it the most, help comes from the most unexpected places. There are Good Samaritans in our midst.

  • This week, I was overwhelmed with the kindness of many healthcare professionals. They not only saved my life but honored my dignity.
  • Our family and friends reached out and lent support not only to me, but to my family in many quiet, unknown ways – and who are still doing so.
  • Several of those who have dedicated their lives to service in ministry reached out in our hour of need. Many were total strangers – the chaplain they called to be with Richard as soon as they realized I was having a heart attack, a Christian church minister who came to the hospital to pray with me less than an hour after my cath, and other members of their pastoral staff. I met some remarkable people. And I appreciate our friends in ministry who also helped, especially a dear friend who works in pastoral ministry at the hospital who made a point to visit every day and arranged for a priest to administer the sacrament of anointing and a wonderful lady from our parish’s health ministry.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, we see who makes the effort to stop and help the person who needs it – the one who makes the time to visit the sick and care for them.

This week, I experienced how wonderful their care is and how they work as the hands and feet of Jesus.

And for that, I am grateful.

My Heart Attack – Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms Really Are Different

Part of my resting after a major life event involves writing – the story rolls in my head until I write it, and then I can rest.

Twenty years ago, Richard told a coworker, “Mary’s too stubborn to let things stop her. If she were on safari and got hit with an elephant tranquilizer, she would keep going.”

Well, this week, that ended. I had one of those weeks:

  • On Monday, my car’s radiator went out while I was driving on the Lloyd Expressway, and it overheated. It was towed and the radiator was replaced.
  • On Wednesday, I doubled over with back pain and had my son drive me to the emergency room. They diagnosed me with a 4mm kidney stone, put me on meds, and sent me home to let the stone pass. Earlier that day, I read an email from Go Red for Women – on preventing heart disease for women – I had resolved to get healthier over Christmas and start an exercise plan in 2 days On Thursdays, I was cooking a turkey and trimmings lunch for 70 people with a kitchen crew of 4-H leaders as a fundraiser.
  • On Thursday, my son went in to help cook the lunch with 4-H leaders who made a wonderful dinner without my help.
  • On Friday, those meds were making me sick.
  • Saturday, I think part of the stone passed.
  • Sunday morning, for the first time in days, I woke up first thing in the morning pain free. I wondered if the stone had dissolved and I was home free. I was still exhausted and opted not to go to church with my family.

Then, when they got home from church, I had a heart attack.

I had just taken the kidney stone meds when it hit. My first thought was I was having an allergic reaction to the medication. Suddenly, I felt pressure on my chest that radiated outwards. My arms tingled all the way down to my fingers in a way they never had before, and my jaw felt tight. I popped benadryl, as it seemed to me what I felt looked like allergic reactions to medications I had seen.

I called Richard for help and told him to phone a friend. He called the same friend I frantically called the night our home burned 11 years ago. (She also happens to be an emergency room physician.)  “Your symptoms sound like a heart attack,” she told me.

“No,” was my response. I thought – I’m too young, my blood pressure is under control, I eat my vegetables, and I’m too busy for health problems.

In case she was right, I had Richard give me a couple of aspirins to take. I rested for a moment and called her back, telling her, “This is anxiety. It will pass.”

“The only way you will know if it’s a heart attack or not is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” she told me.

Richard and I left to go to the emergency room. We didn’t call 911 – we both thought I would get an EKG, and they would pat me on the head and tell me it was nothing but anxiety. Richard called down to our son who was playing video games, “I’m taking your mom to go see a doctor. We’ll be back soon.”

When we got to the emergency room, he dropped me off so he could park the car, and I walked up to the desk where I had staggered in 4 days previously with kidney stone pain. I felt like a chronic emergency room over-user. “I have chest pains,” felt like a silly thing to say to the lady – just like they say in those commercials.

They quickly got me in for an EKG. As soon as the results printed from the EKG, things changed. “We’re moving you now,” the e.r. guy said as he ripped the paper reading off of the machine. A chaplain met Richard as they moved me into a different room. I didn’t know he was a chaplain – he was in a white coat, and he looked like just another medical dude to me. I happened to know the e.r. doc on duty – our kids used to swim together. They told me I was being prepped for a cath.  Richard was told to notify family.

Our daughter was due to begin her first college finals the next morning. Because the doc knew our kids, I told him that and told him I didn’t want her upset or distracted. He told us it was our decision, but if something went wrong she would be angry. I realized that word would quickly spread, and I didn’t want her to hear about it from someone else. Richard called. As they continued prepping me, I spoke with both our kids to tell them I loved them. And I told our daughter, “I will be fine. Don’t worry. Don’t let this distract you from studying tonight – stay focused. I love you, and I’m proud of you.”

This was not a slow process…everyone was working quickly. Then they ran with me on the gurney to the operating room. Richard and the chaplain followed. They told Richard, “Don’t try to keep up with us = we’re going as fast as we can – he’ll get you there.”

I heard Richard say, “watch me.” I knew he was running behind us to keep up. I think but don’t know that he walked into the operating room and they told him to step out.

During the cath, they found an artery was completely blocked, and they put in a stent. I didn’t realize people were conscious during cath procedures. During the procedure, I couldn’t think of words for a prayer, so I just prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Normally, I don’t post health issues on social media. This time, I did; we needed prayer, and I knew from past experiences the power of prayer on medical outcomes.  I’m thankful for the prayers, good wishes, and help of trusted friends who not only helped me but helped my family.

The good news is an echocardiogram the next day showed minimal if any heart damage. We still have other issues to address after first of the year. My daughter did stay focused on her finals. She spent her first night home after finals with me in the hospital. During my hospital stay, first in cardiac ICU and then on a step down unit. In addition to recruiting, my family and I were taught about the lifestyle changes that begin starting now.

Last night, I was released and am glad to be home with my family.

Starting now, my Christmas season this year will be one of Advent – spending the next few weeks in reflection, with my family. The tables will be turned – they will be taking care of me more than I take care of them. My number one priority now is getting healthier and staying that way – following doctor’s orders – so I can savor my kids’ future milestones and grow old with Richard.

That will most likely mean fewer blog updates as well. Often, a blog hits my head and I have to type it so it can leave my head and I can rest. So if God gives me something to write, I’ll do it. Other than that, this is my time to recuperate and savor my family.

This Sunday, whether I’m up to attending Mass or not, we’ll light the third, the pink candle on our Advent wreath. Traditionally, it’s Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice that we’ve reached the halfway point with Advent and are that much closer to Christmas Day. This year, Gaudete’s meaning will be more poignant for me as I rejoice that we can enjoy another Sunday together.

If we sing the traditional Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the refrain – “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” will have a special meaning.



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