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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Beyond the Tough Thanksgiving

As I sat in Mass this morning, I reflected on our blessings this year and remembered when times were tougher….

Eleven years ago, we sat together at Mass on Thanksgiving morning, grateful that our burned out home had been rebuilt and we had just moved back into our home. We had only had a refrigerator since that Monday, and we were celebrating our own personal homecoming. Times were still tough; not only our home, but our family business had been hit by the fire.

Then I thought back to a Sunday months before that 2001 Thanksgiving. Our home and business had burned the night before. We knelt that Sunday in the same Church we were in this morning, wearing borrowed clothes, walking in borrowed shoes, unsure of where we would spend the night or how we would provide for our young children.

What do you do when you lose everything, and where do you go?

You slowly rebuild. With hard work, the help of good friends, and the faith of a mustard seed, it is possible to rebuild and start anew. Our faith carried us when we had nothing else upon which to rely. Those young children are now nearly grown. One is in college. The other now stands taller than his father.

On the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, they too gave thanks after their surviving terrible challenges. (Granted, our challenges were nothing compared to theirs.)

Every Thanksgiving morning since our fire, we’ve gone to Mass and I think back and thank God for giving us one. more. year. So long as I am able, we will be there each Thanksgiving morning. Giving thanks is a great way to begin a day of Thanksgiving.

None of us knows what the coming year will bring. It will have its own joys, sorrows, and challenges. Whatever it brings, I know we will not be alone. As Corrie ten Boom once wrote, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

And for that, I am most thankful.

Thanksgiving Menu 2012

Our menu this year is pretty similar to last year’s, with a few changes.

Cranberry salad (my great-aunt and grandma’s recipe), which this year includes an apple from Seton Harvest and pecans from a friend’s pecan trees.

Layered salad, which this year includes baby spinach, leaf lettuce, and rosehearted radishes from Seton Harvest, topped with a dressing mixed of sour cream and ranch dressing.

Roasted turkey. with a couple of experiments this year. It’s rubbed with mayonnaise mixed with herbs and cooked in an electric roaster to make more room in the oven.

Dressing, my recipe is a mix of my childhood’s combined with a Paula Deen variety.


Mashed Potatoes – I always make 5 pounds of yukon gold potatoes, mixed with a stick of butter that’s melted in a can of evaporated milk.

Greens – a mix of collard greens and red swiss chard from Seton Harvest.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Corn Casserole – we have always had frozen corn from that year’s harvest. Until this year. So we opted to make a corn casserole instead.

Honey Wheat Rolls – with freshly ground wheat from Montana.

Pumpkin Cake

Cinnamon Roll Dutch Apple Pie – I just enjoyed this at Saint Meinrad’s and loved it so much I wanted it for Thanksgiving.

Southern Sweet Tea




Grocery Cart Giving

Grocery cartsA few years ago, when Aldi’s opened in Evansville, I was having a very bad day one day. As I drove into their parking lot, I prayed for God to send me a sign – any kind of sign – that things would be okay.

Then I went to get my shopping cart. In an effort to curb costs, Aldi’s shoppers pay a quarter for a grocery cart. After they finish shopping and load their groceries into their car, they return the cart to get back their quarters. The carts are kept in shelter, don’t crowd the parking lot, and save the store money in labor and replacement.

That day, a lady handed me a cart she had just used and refused to take my quarter. “Pay it forward,” she told me.

She made my day and filled me with hope.

Since that day, I’ve resolved to pay it forward whenever I shop at Aldi’s.

It seems other people have had the same idea. Yesterday, when I walked into Aldi’s, I saw four different people pay it forward. A lady gave me my cart. Everyone who shared a cart had a special glow – that glow of giving something to a complete stranger. What struck me the most was this was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That’s a grocery shopping nightmare day of packed aisles, long checkout lanes, and more.

Yes, I paid it forward.

An interesting take-away from this is that with something as trivial as returning a grocery cart, Aldi’s raised the bar in a simple way – if you don’t put your cart back, you lose a quarter. It uses a carrot, not a stick. Their parking lot never has extra carts in it.

They reminded people of that kindergarten lesson: put things back where you found them. An unintended consequence of their raising the bar for customer behavior, I think, is that it has reminded every-day shoppers to take care of themselves and the things they use. And that has inspired many people to reach a little higher – to help strangers.

This year, I am thankful for the continued generosity of the shoppers I saw yesterday morning.

Something as simple as sharing a grocery cart and saving a stranger a quarter can change your day and the stranger’s.

A Modern Mom’s Pilgrim Progress


When everyone started posting their daily thankful lists, I felt guilty because I was too busy to participate.

Why is it that the unexpected always happens during weeks when my schedule’s so tight the overlapped seams have no wiggle room?

Yesterday, as I dashed out the door to teach a corporate Excel class on a college campus a 30 minute drive from my home, I accidentally grabbed my husband’s phone instead of my own – and didn’t realize it until I got to the college. Fine – I was teaching for the afternoon and had no time to text.

After the class ended (and it was after dark), a battery light lit on my dashboard. When I looked in the manual, it said it could be the alternator. Great. I talked to Richard and decided to chance driving home – we’ve dealt with dying alternators before. My concern was getting home in the dark, when I had to use headlights. I had a choice of driving through town with stoplights or along country highways, and I opted for the highways with fewer stops.

Halfway down that lone stretch of highway, the check engine light came on. I was out of state, in the middle of nowhere, and even though the lights were on, the car seemed to be driving okay. It only started getting tough when I got in town, in the land of stop lights.

There were a few popping noises, but they stopped, and the car ran fine so long as I didn’t stop; at each red light, I kept one foot on the gas and one on the brake, praying my way home. At times, I put Richard on speaker phone and talked to him about updates and where I was.

Normally, had I had my own phone, I would have spent the entire trip home phoning a friend. But their numbers were all on speed dial, on my phone. In Indiana. So I prayed and drove and rejoiced when I arrived in Evansville and saw an Auto Zone on Covert. It was closer than where I planned to go.

When I pulled in, they agreed to check it. The car died, and they had to jump it to test it; the alternator was going out. They couldn’t install one and I quickly called the Pep Boys to see if they could install a replacement. Pep Boys was 5 miles away, an 11 minute drive. I hoped to avoid a tow charge and could tell the car was struggling harder. I thought it was going to die again when I put it into reverse to leave the store.

Richard pulled up, and I yelled at him where we were going and zoomed out of the parking lot.

When I drive, I seek ways to get places the quickest way possible and have been known to grab side roads to shave seconds off my destination time. Last night, that experience prepared me for finding a  fast way to the store, in the dark, avoiding as many stop signs and stop lights as possible.

As I started and the engine sputtered, I didn’t know if the car would get the entire way there. Richard was driving behind me.

What to do? It wasn’t easy to phone a friend, so I decided to pray one. I have pretty colorful chats with Jesus on a regular basis.

Then I remembered that we give thanks in all circumstances. Next week is Thanksgiving. So as I drove, I began thanking God for the many blessings – even that the car hadn’t broken down the weekend before when we were in two different cities on three different days. It waited until after my class so I could earn money.

The car’s sputtering continued. My prayers often turn into song, so I began “Amazing Grace.” Even singing the verses I knew, there were more miles to go before we got to Pep Boys. So I went to old hymns, with Alleluias galore.

I wasn’t exactly sure where the Pep Boys was and stumbled a little when I got close.  So I asked my guardian angel to show me the way – I had no idea which roads to turn onto and couldn’t afford to make a mistake.

By the grace of God, the car made it to Pep Boys.

It turns out the problem was a little more complicated than just an alternator.

But in this circumstance, I can give thanks that it kept going to the garage, kept going while I was driving in the dark on lonely out-of-state highways, and it happened at a time when we could get it fixed.

Even though I didn’t do the daily thankful posts, I can still appreciate God’s work in my life and thank him for showing me how to make lemonade when the occasional lemon gets thrown in my path.


Easy Pumpkin Cake – A Busy Thanksgiving Rescue

Update: I changed the title of this blog to Easy Pumpkin Cake because of a comment on it. It was originally Pumpkin Dump Cake. But that could have a whole different connotation, especially the day after the election….so here it is. And it is easy to make.

Thanksgiving can be the busiest day of the year in the kitchen. A good way to make it an easier day is to make your desserts the day before. When we want pie, I need to wait for my daughter because she’s the master of flaky pie crusts. If she’s busy, this is a go to pumpkin recipe to carry your Thanksgiving.

Dump cakes have always been a stand by go-to dessert for my family – using mixed fruit, cherry pie filling, and more. When I got to enjoy my first pumpkin dump cake last year, I knew instantly it would be a new family favorite classic.


  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 sticks margarine (melted)
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

Mix together your pumpkin, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, evaporated milk, and sugar. Pour into the baking pan. Sprinkle the cake  mix on top of the pumpkin batter. Sprinkle chopped nuts (optional) on top of the cake mix. Pour the melted margarine on top of the nuts. Cake 30 minutes, until a knife set into it comes out clean. Watch carefully to avoid overbaking.


Thank God for Patriots Like Tyrone Woods

Like so many Americans, I was sickened as reports came out about the terrorist attack on Benghazi, Libya.

As I watched news reports trickle out, I asked friends, “Where was the Jack Bauer hero?” We’ve all seen the movie where the hero, like Jack Bauer, or John McClane, or Jonas Blane from the Unit recognizes the bad guys need to be stopped, risks it all, and tries to rescue Americans? Except the movies and TV shows had a somewhat happy ending.

Where was the Todd Beamer of Flight 93?

Where were the many heroes like the Hoosiers who raced forward to rescue others immediately after the 2011 Indiana State Fair tragedy? Those who run towards the danger, putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

There were heroes who came forward in Benghazi, Libya. We have just neglected to honor them. Some have neglected to share the story of their heroics.

One of them was Tyrone Woods, who saw that the Libyan embassy was under attack, and help was desperately needed. He ignored two orders to “stand down” and went to try to rescue Americans under attack, as he had been trained.

For the next six hours, Woods and his companions fought alone, at times calling for help that never came, even calling out coordinates of where the terrorists were attacking them. Their calls were unanswered. They never quit fighting, and Woods died in that fight.

We hear so much about avoiding making this tragedy political that we have forgotten to honor the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for others.

How can we honor and show our appreciation for their selfless heroism? Where is the push to give Woods a Medal of Honor?

Every single day, law enforcement and military personnel lay their lives on the line to protect our lives and our freedom. Twenty-five years ago, I had the privilege of spending a day on an American carrier for a family day, where I saw thousands of dedicated soldiers and their families sacrificing their family time and their lives to help us all.

Veterans Day will soon be here. I sincerely hope that by that day, Tyrone Woods will receive the American honors he so deserves.

His story deserves to be told, and his heroics merit our appreciation.


Debate in a Box (Party Game Edition)

What will we do now that the Presidential debates have ended for the next four years?

If you are unsure what to do for entertainment, create your own Debate in a Box, Party Game Edition. Host mock debates with your family and friends. Here’s what to include:

  • Rules. Just make some rules up. It doesn’t matter what rules you decide upon because they will all be ignored once the debate begins. One choice is to write the rules on paper and toss the paper once the debate begins. Another is to just write them all on a Magnadoodle and erase them once the debate begins.
  • Broken timer. It’s better for this game to have a broken timer than it is to have one that actually works. If it did work, you would ignore it. So this is the chance to repurpose that broken timer from Aunt Sally’s estate.
  • Rock’em Sock’em Kit. If you have an old Rock’em Sock’em, you could just have the 2 candidates fight it out to see which one wins. If you can’t find an old Rock’em Sock’em, then substitute with arm wrestling. Or, if you’re bored during a debate, drag out a Rock’em Sock’em, choose who will play which candidate, and go for it with a trusted friend.

Variations. We all know debates aren’t meant to be boring. So change it. Have one seated, another standing, and a third walking around arguing while the audience members are dying to see violence break out so they can shout “Fight! Fight!” like in Bridget Jones.

Variations to Add More Fun

If you get tired of a plain old debate, take heart. You can add variations to spice the debate. For example:

  • Pin the Transcript on the Moderator. Before the debate actually begins, the debaters chase around the moderator and attempt to pin a transcript onto the moderator’s clothing. A moderator can only hold a transcript for one debater. But the one who gets the pin wins a fresh advantage. At any point during the debate, the debater who pins the transcript can proclaim, “Check the transcript,” at which point the moderator agrees with that debater’s assertion, and that debater automatically wins not just that debate but all future debates.
  • Honey Boo Boo Lookalike Contest. During the debate, challenge your debaters to act like they are Honey Boo Boo. A Honey Boo Boo debater has many choices for behavior: pretending to fall asleep, making dirty faces, giving death glares, laughing inappropriately, and making inappropriate comments whenever possible. Regardless of who wins the debate, the better of the Honey Boo Boo impersonators wins an all you can eat Red Herring Feast, complete with deep fried hot dogs topped with nacho cheese, sketti from the family’s special recipe, and deep fried cookie dough served on top of deep fried oreos. And if few enough table manners are shown in the eating of the Red Herring Feast, the debater might just win the next Honey Boo Boo spin-off.
  • Smile You’re on Debaters’ Camera Contest. During the debate, the debaters compete to see who can give the kindest, most congenial smiles, no matter what the other person says.  The debater who most maintains composure wins the debate.
Audience variations:
  • For a family friendly guide to watching debates with children, I recommend the Pass the Popcorn variation. With this, select a “tell” or quirk from one of the candidates which occurs on a regular basis. Each time that quirk happens in the debate, pass the popcorn. Yes, this is a bland version of a drinking game. It’s also child-friendly. I considered making popcorn shots but was told on Twitter that could become a choking hazard.

Obviously, with game day variations, not all can be done the same day. It’s up to you to decide how you want your debate game played.

Which will you choose?

Turnips and Onions

I never liked eating turnips. Each year, I tried to find a way to fix them that I could eat and serve to my family. Finally, this year, I succeeded. With our membership in Seton Harvest, this year I tried roasting vegetables more and discovered my family liked eating vegetables more too. Another reason I like oven roasting them is that it is faster.

So this fall….we tackled the turnip. I was pleasantly surprised that they were the best tasting turnips I had ever tried. Purists won’t like the whole recipe, but my teen-aged son and husband do.

  • 3-4 sliced turnips
  • 1 sliced onion
  • Steak seasoning (with garlic and pepper or whatever your favorite herb mix is)
  • Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon bacon grease (ok – so this isn’t purist. However, it adds great flavor.)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a metallic pan (it caramelizes better). Put the turnips and onions into a bag or bowl. Stir or pour in the oil and turn until they are completely coated. Layer the turnips and onions in the pan.

Sprinkle spices. Bake the turnips about 10 minutes and then turn them. Continue baking them until the turnips are tender and are starting to brown.

Serve while warm.

Ode to My Binders

My friends say that if they want to give me a gift I will truly love, they will gift wrap a new binder. They know that I nearly swoon in ecstasy at the smell of opening a new box of sheet covers to use with that binder. Add to that the rush of discovering a new type of section divider. Yes, I love my organizational tools.

OneNote, the Office version of a binder, also gives me thrills because I can attach my files, create subsections, and color code while having plenty of room to brainstorm. I don’t have the sensory thrill of hearing and smelling a binder in creation, but I can attach my spreadsheets, which offer an entirely different thrill; filters and sorts in Excel offer their own excitement.

The key to effectively organizing a binder isn’t to simply put it together in an easy to retrieve manner. It’s to use what’s in the binder in the most effective manner possible.

Once upon a bad time in our business and family lives, I filled our home with those binders. Our home and business burned, and it was my job to organize the claim. My file bucket, binders, and database were my best friends for the three years I worked through not only our rebuilding but our replacement of what we owned and submission of our insurance claim.

As the mother of teens in college search and scholarship mode, I filled binders full of my children’s information. Those binders include their best school work, their 4-H achievement records, and more. It’s easier to apply for scholarships with good documentation of past activities and achievements.

Those binders helped my daughter and me last year as she applied to several colleges and completed at least 73 scholarship applications. We were fortunate, and her hard work paid off – with a little help from organized binders.

So I guess you could say I worked to fit my daughter into binders. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Next year, I will again begin the scholarship and college quest with my son.

I’m perfectly fine with the fact that binders are the current scapegoat for jokes.  Keep it up. If the day comes that you get tired of joking about fitting people into binders, I have a suggestion:

Go after checklists. Surely there are jokes to make about them too.

While some laugh at my tools, I’ll keep building my binders and savoring the rustle of sheet covers when a binder is compiled, completed, and put to good use.

Use the Cards You’re Dealt

This morning, I met with an inspirational genius before I taught a high school speech class designed for local homeschoolers. Meeting him utterly changed my take for the day’s lesson. Our official lesson was an introduction of oral interpretation speeches.

We started by having students write on paper things they couldn’t do. Then I led them outside, where we faced a large cornfield. I carried a trash can with me. Then, I gave an example of a vespers exercise my daughter had adapted from Chicken Soup for the Classroom Soul.

I’d like you to think of something you can’t do. Maybe you can’t sing, or dance, or maybe you’re like me and can’t run, jump, catch, throw, or do a handstand. Now, imagine what would happen if whatever your can’t is exploded. What if we got rid of it right now?

Then I had them throw their papers into the trash can and continued….

Friends, we gather today to honor the memory of ‘I Can’t.’ While he was with us on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. His name, unfortunately, has been spoken in every public building – schools, city halls, state capitols, and, yes, even the White House.

We have provided ‘I Can’t’ with a final resting place, and he is survived by his brothers and sister, ‘I Can,’ ‘I Will,’ and ‘I’m Going to Right Away.’ They are not as well-known as their famous deceased relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps someday, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world.

May ‘I Can’t’ rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence.

I continued, handing each student a greeting card face down so they couldn’t see what it said. Some were encouraging. Others were not.

Look at your card. Did you have any control over what card you got?

They said no.

But do you have control over what you do with the card you were given?

They said yes.

So our assignment right now is to shout, in the most dramatic voice possible. Copy me. I control what I do with the cards I am given. Use your biggest, most dramatic voices.

They went down the line and each said, with growing confidence that they controlled what they did with their cards.

We then resumed a class on using dramatic techniques with oral interpretation exercises. My hope after the lesson is that they remember to focus on what they do with their cards and not on their “I can’ts” or the cards they wish they had been dealt instead.