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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

5 Steps to Summer Scholarship Searches

Searching for scholarships for my daughter has consumed a huge part of the last year for me. I’ve learned many things along this journey that will help me plan things differently in 2 years, when I begin this quest with my son.

The most important lesson I learned was that summer is prime time to make the scholarship search easier, and you can get an early start. Things I recommend?

  1. Communicate. Start talking about college with middle schoolers or younger. Make sure they know their career and college opportunities. Show the admissions standards of colleges and what classes they expect from incoming freshmen. Listen to what your kids are interested in and observe their passions and talents. Encourage kids to enroll in hard classes – the harder the better. Share what college expenses are and show how student loans work – what the interest means and what payments are after college.
  2. Organize. Designate a central location to keep records of awards and activities. As a 4-H parent, my kids use their 4-H Achievement Records as their primary organization tool. (I’m giving a 4-H workshop on June 21 on College and Career Success Through 4-H.)
  3. Study. Summer can be a prime time for a little test prep every day. Enroll in library summer reading programs and encourage kids to read classic books. Enroll in library summer reading programs yourself so you can lead by example.
  4. Serve. Find ways to serve your community and get involved. Community service is a great way to find ways to not only help people but broaden your horizons and learn about yourself.
  5. Connect. Find resources to help you learn how to search better. Jodi Okun of College Financial Aid Advisors hosts a weekly Twitter chat, #collegecash at 9 p.m. CDT on Thursdays, which taught me a lot about scholarship searches and encouraged our family to keep going when the going got tough. She has a free guide of the 12 most helpful financial aid tips on her website that I highly recommend. If you follow @JodiOkun on Twitter, she will keep you current on multiple scholarship opportunities.

My daughter’s scholarship adventure took us on an unexpected path, with highs and lows, and an unexpected outcome.  We went into her journey hoping to help her find scholarships to go to the school of her dreams. But on our journey, as she explored other opportunities, she realized her dream and what was the best fit for her was a little different from what she imagined in the fifth grade. Fortunately, she won scholarships at a different school that will help her reach those dreams and be a better fit.

I hope along our scholarship quest, my daughter and I both learned that the shot not taken is never made, and it’s better to take a shot than hold back. If we work at it, we can learn from the shots we miss today and do better tomorrow.

What Priorities Do You Juggle?

Music races while the juggler starts the act. First tossing one item, then two, and then more. We all know if the juggle tackles too many items, something will fall.

Life imitates art. When we juggle too many pieces, something generally slips our grasp. If it’s fragile, it smashes into pieces when it lands. We can try to juggle all those things and just hope nothing bad happens.

The older I get, the more I realize it’s better to instead decide which one, two, or three things are most important and focus on those things to juggle at a single time. If I’m juggling 3 things, I still have to know in my head and in my heart which is most important. All cannot be top priority.  Then I have to rank what’s second most important.

There is a reason why our phone numbers and social security numbers are split into 3 and 4 digit sequences. It’s because of digit span – we can best remember chunks of information when divided into manageable parts. Doesn’t it make sense then, in our lives, that they too are most manageable if we limit the number of key things that we do?

So…..when the time comes that  there is no choice but to juggle too many things, decide what your top 1, 2, and 3 things are. Keep your focus on those items first, and don’t let them fall through the cracks. It is not possible to focus equally on two top priorities. One of them has to come first. It’s better to choose which is first and then make contingency backup plans for the one that is second.

As the seasons of our lives change, we get to swap what we juggle. Yesterday’s diapers become tomorrow’s college financial aid forms. Or they can become a whole new business to build and grow. Whether it’s yesterday’s diapers or last week’s garden, all the experiences of the past give us a foundation of opportunities from which we can build and grow a better future.

It’s amazing how I’ve learned in my third act of life – the first being childhood and growing up, the second being raising my family, and this third of growing a new business – how I see that we can’t have it all at the same time.

We can, however, over the course of a lifetime, effectively juggle a wide range of priorities and projects. So long as we are wise enough to choose only a few at the same time.

Cream and Sugar Writing

Encouraging a single person with kind words can be just as important a job as proclaiming universal truth from the highest mountaintop or commanding an entire army to defeat the forces of universal evil.

I was called to lift people up with encouraging words and occasional joke – what some may refer to as “Hallmark card writing” as a disparaging term. That’s ok.

I have seen too much tragedy and suffering in this world and experienced too much of it first hand. Because of those experiences, I am fulfilled as a Hallmark cream and sugar writer who seeks ways to make the challenge of everyday living easier with a few kind words that might sometimes be funny.

Others may be called to lead armies, run multinational businesses, or inspire political movements.

I was called to something more ordinary – to be there for my friends and family when they need me, to help them solve problems as needed. And to try with cream and sugar words to inspire people to aim higher, work harder, and find common ground with one another.

For me, the beauty of being a cream and sugar writer is that I see the extraordinary in the common – the hand of God at work in every day lives, in small ways. And I try to share that vision with other people.

If we spend all our time proclaiming truth from mountaintops, however right that truth may be, we might just not notice the walking wounded we passed on the road up that mountain – those who needed a friendly smile, a pat on the back, and an encouraging word. If the walking wounded are bleeding to death from broken hearts, then proclaiming truth and judgment at them, no matter how right that truth is, is not going to save their lives. They need personal care and attention mixed with a heaping dose of love.

And sometimes that helps comes by way of  words in a cream and sugar Hallmark message.

St. Therese of Liseux wrote of the wonder of doing small things with great love.  That’s what I hope I do with words.

In a world where manners are in great demand and low supply, wouldn’t we be better off with a few more Hallmark writers?


Avoid the His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato Business Trap

Though we play the game hot potato as children, we must beware not to participate in the adult business version: His Fault Her Fault.

What is His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato? It’s when a mistake is made in business, and we all toss the blame to other members of our team, calling out “His fault,” “Her fault,” until finally someone catches it and is forced to say “My fault.” At best, the game is detrimental to team morale. At worst, the game is played in front of clients, with each player throwing everyone else under the bus until a business is destroyed.

A smarter approach is to just say “my fault” for our own mistakes and not contributing to the blame game death spiral. Then we focus on learning what we can from the mistake, fixing the process, and improving what we deliver to our clients.

The challenge is His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato is deadly hypnotizing, and those who play it sometimes become so fixated on assigning blame that they forget to do their real jobs.

And while they are tossing the red hot blame, their competitor’s team chose not to throw each other under the bus but instead to climb aboard, develop a plan for their journey, and drive off to new opportunities.

Are you on the bus driving to the future? Or are you left behind, playing a no-win game of His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato?

Mission Accomplished – 13 Years Later

Last week, my daughter completed her high school course requirements. Yesterday, I sent in the final paperwork and documentation. And so ended an unexpected journey, with the mission accomplished. Those what to expect baby books never told me what to do when the unexpected happened.

Thirteen years ago, the summer my daughter turned 5, I hoped to prepare her for kindergarten. However, she prepared herself. Somehow that summer, she taught herself to read. I didn’t push it, and it was her own doing. As she started, I found a phonics-based reader set at the library and helped her make her own book. As she learned to read each page, she decorated it with flowers. As she began to read, I saw doors open in her world and her ready to leap through them to new adventures.

Her first day of kindergarten, she proudly took the book she had made and could read with her, into the perfect kindergarten classroom with the best of all possible kindergarten teachers. That afternoon, she came home discouraged. “No one in my class reads. Why should I?” she asked. When I asked if she showed her teacher the book she had made, she told me, “I will never read from that book again.”

Three days later, Richard and I pondered what to do. We saw her wilting and wondered - do you pay tuition for kindergarten for a child to quit reading when she was doing ok at home?

That third day, when she came home, she asked, “Can I stay home and do school here?”

We said yes.

We figured it would be an experiment for a year and if it failed, we would put her in school and pretend the year never happened. I was utterly unprepared, knew no one who homeschooled, and wondered if this were the right path for us. Over time, that changed.  Since I only do life in all-out force or not at all, I dove in with both feet.

Our journey had unexpected detours. First, I thought I could create the perfect classroom to be the best teacher.  I plan, and God laughs. Richard left his job of 20 years to start his own business, and a year after that, our home and business burned. That year, school days began at 6:30 a.m. so it could end earlier and I could focus on rebuilding our home and business.  What I didn’t anticipate was how that year would instill a strong work ethic in our kids.

Slowly, I learned that education is the lighting of a fire more than the stuffing of a bucket. Things went better when I focused on basics and encouraged interests and character development. If I stayed out of Elizabeth’s way, she worked harder – one summer reading every book on Greek mythology and another devouring every science-based agriculture book in our library system.

My goal with our choices was for our kids to enjoy a wide range of experiences, so they would feel as comfortable walking into an urban YMCA as they do a country club.  I don’t know if I always succeeded at that goal, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I hope they also learned that we get by with a lot of grace from God and a lot of help from our friends. There is no way we could have lasted on this path without 4-H, friends who taught my kids science classes, coops that provided a full range of opportunities, online schools, DVD programs, and dual credit college courses.

And I learned over time to change my role from teacher to mentor, especially in high school. She chose to continue homeschooling in high school, though we told her she would need to be more self-directed and was being enrolled in a tough program with high standards. We also told her if she wanted extras, we would encourage her but didn’t have the budget to cover all of them. So she started a baking business, baking rolls and cakes to pay for music and art lessons, as well as choir tuition.

When she was old enough, she started working as a bookshelver at the library to pay her tuition for extra courses through colleges and more. It’s amazing how much more kids value their education when they invest in it.

My prayer is my kids remember good times more than they remember the many times I stumbled and fell myself on this journey, when I lost my temper or grew discouraged.

The longer I stayed on this path, the less judgmental I became. There is no one perfect way to parent or to educate kids. What matters most is that our kids know we’re here to push, encourage, and help them when we can. In other words, they need to know that we love them always – when they succeed and when they stumble and fall.

And when they venture on their own journeys – whether it’s through the preschool classroom door or out the door to college.


Facebook Flashing Ads

This afternoon the flashing Facebook banner ads appeared on my Facebook profiles. It flickered, disappeared, and then returned.

Bottom line gut reaction:

  • They will irritate users and will fail to generate profit for the companies that buy them. People will spend less time on profile pages (personal or business) and more time on the news feed which doesn’t have it. So timely posting and Edgerank will matter for businesses.
  • Short term, it looks like a tactic Zuckerberg is using to make his ads more profitable before his IPO.
  • Long term, it’s just plain stupid to irritate your customer base. This new feature will irritate users. The number of clicks on ads will decrease, making them less appealing for businesses to purchases.

The first thing I will tell my clients for whom I develop social media market strategies is:

  • An unintended consequence of the flashing ads is people will spend less time on actual profile pages.
  • Facebook users will rely more heavily upon their news feed for Facebook posts.
  • The best response businesses can make is to post timely, targeted Facebook statuses that inspire and add value to the lives of their target markets.

This goes back to some basic, common sense horse sense:

  • Good writing, great content, and solid  values are timeless and necessary for marketing.
  • Rushing for the gimmick means you will spend a lifetime chasing the next shiny new toy.


Both Sides of the Confidence Building Coin

Effective managers know there are two sides to the confidence building coin.

  1. The first side has a head on it and it says, “Yes, you can.” This is what effective managers say as they work to inspire those who work around them. Then the manager gets the right heads on the right coins and makes sure those around them are sufficiently prepared and have necessary tools. Those are tools to not only do jobs but measure their results and evaluate their effectiveness.
  2. The other side of the coin doesn’t have tails on it. It has wings. The effective manager stays out of the way and offers room for those around them to think through their ideas, don their wings, and soar to greater success.

When an effective manager has sufficiently prepared both sides of the confidence building coin,  regardless of whether the coin lands on  the head or the wings – everyone wins.

A friend of mine (who happens to be an outstanding manager) recently put my head on one of her coins and inspired me again last night to try my wings. Her confidence in me reminded me to tackle challenges and aim higher.

This morning, I realized that’s my job now as the mother of teens about to try their own wings. The first part is preparing them and the second part is then staying out of their way.

So here’s my challenge to you: look at the coins you already have.

Are you making best use of them and inspiring them to do more, grow more, and be more?

Hot Open Faced Turkey Sandwiches on the Fly

Sometimes, I just need a super fast dinner entree that doesn’t take much time, from food we have so I don’t have to shop. Today was one of those days. We had 4 slices of bread and a little mozzarella cheese. I found sliced, smoked turkey in the freezer. Our pantry included a Tone’s container of chicken gravy mix.

So I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, brushed margarine on the bread and sprinkled it with garlic, oregano, and parsley. The oven hadn’t had time to preheat, but I threw them into the oven while I quickly made the gravy. The gravy had thickened by the time the bread was toasted.

As soon as the bread was toasted, I put 2 slices of turkey on each, spooned a little gravy on each, and sprinkled them with mozzarella cheese.

Ideally, I should have put them back into the oven to brown perfectly.

But I live in the real world with running teens, so we microwaved them.

A recipe born of necessity of ingredients and time, but it’s a quicky keeper.

How Twitter Kept Me Safer from Violence Twice in Two Days

Twice in a single week, the fast updates on Twitter have helped keep my family and me safe in unexpected situations. Both were instances where every single moment counted.

In the first, I was driving down the highway when my phone rang and yes- I answered via speakerphone. “Where are you?” a friend asked with “The” voice. I told her I was on 41 South driving back into Evansville. “Get off 41 NOW.” she told me. I was 1/2 mile from anywhere to get off and looked for a way out as she continued,

“A bank robber is fleeing, driving south in the 41 Northbound lanes. He’s going about 100 miles an hour, has a dozen police cars pursuing him, and now they are saying he’s aiming a shot gun to shoot at cars in the lane where you’re driving. He’s probably 4 miles behind you and closing in. He’s shooting at cars, and you’re next in the line of fire.”

A stop light was now in front of me, on red, and I was going to stop behind a petroleum truck, with another 10 cars in line in front of him. I went to the shoulder and passed those cars, turned onto a side road, and breathed a sigh of relief.   After I parked, I called my friend back. The alleged robber had been stopped about 1 1/2 miles from where I was parked. She had learned of the situation via Twitter.

Even so, I’m thankful to my friend and my friends on Twitter who tweeted a clear and present danger.

Then, the next night, as I sat down to enjoy a nice movie at home with my husband, the phone rang and I answered. The same voice again. “Where are you?” she asked. I told her we were at home.

“Lock your doors and don’t go outside. An armed gunman just robbed the Subway by UE, and the university s on lockdown while the police look for the guy.”

In other words it was essentially my own back yard. Luckily, we keep our doors locked.

Then I read on Twitter where they were searching. Too close to our home for comfort.

For once, I was glad my kids were at an overnight event. My daughter called, needing to stop by to pick up something extra. It was hard to tell her not to come home, but I didn’t want to risk a 17 year old female teen driving driving alone late night into a hornet’s nest. After almost an hour, the lockdown was lifted. The suspect is still at large. In reading the tweets, the university’s text alert system for students did work – alerting them moments after Twitter had spread the alarm.

Then I spread the alarm myself on Facebook…several of my friends live near me and are on Facebook, not Twitter.

So, twice in two days, with the help of my friends on Twitter, I learned of improbable, urgent situations where I was able to take action to protect myself and those I love. Twitter works faster in those instances than Facebook…if you know who to follow and which hashtags to use.

The next time someone asks me why I tweet, I’ll probably answer, “To keep up to date on news. And to keep my family safer.”

Addenda: In this case, it wasn’t just Twitter keeping me safer. It was having friends who used it well and our using Twitter as another type of communication, to augment real life conversations.


Enough Already With the War on Women

I hope for a change in tone – as in a time when we can make a deliberate decision to remember the dignity of each individual person and drop the gotcha insults. It is only when we stop the ad humanem attacks that we can build one another up or maybe, just maybe, engage in constructive conversations to make good things happen.

Earlier this year, a commentator went off on a woman he disagreed with and called her names. Now a political operative tried to re-ignite the Mommy Wars by saying a mother of five had never worked a day in her life.

What? Both were wrong and out of line. They are on other sides of the spectrum but are using the same destructive tactic.

It’s common sense 101 that name-calling and insults don’t set the stage for productive dialogue. A name-calling, insult-driven rant may make for good television ratings, but it also builds walls between people and has no productive outcome.

Why do professionals who should know better stoop to conquer by insult? They do it because we watch it. We clamor to give a Jerry Springer “fight fight fight” tone to every debate. When we watch the shows, the ratings go up, ads are sold, and our national conversation stoops to even lower levels.

So what can I do to change the tone and raise our level of national dialogue? What can you do?

We can resolve to personally remember and respect the dignity of every single person we know. If we raise the level of our personal conversation, perhaps that can inspire others to do the same.  Then we can get something done and make a difference – as in a positive difference.

Leave those who prefer to mud wrestle and insult to play their game, call their names, and fight with each other.

I choose not to.


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