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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Our British Christmas Dinner

Appetizer:

  • Pigs in a Blanket (British style, with bacon wrapped around cocktail sausages) with a cranberry sauce dip

Salad:

  • Salad with baby greens and dried cranberries

Main Course:

  • Standing Rib Roast, seasoned with mustard, garlic, thyme, and pepper, a traditional British favorite
  • Yorkshire Pudding, a batter baked in muffin tins with beef broth, mentioned in British cookbooks from the 1700’s
  • Twice-Baked Potatoes (this recipe is comparable to what I make. However, I add a beaten egg to the potato stuffing and pipe the potato back into the jacket for a more attractive product)
  • Oven Roasted Broccoli
  • Corn (fresh frozen from summer gardens)

Dessert:

Cranberry Spiced Wassail, a British drink, mentioned in Beowolf, that was mentioned in the Saxon’s toast before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

 


Parents of College Applicants and Facebook

This is my first venture watching my daughter apply to colleges and hunt for scholarships. Five of the 6 colleges she’s applied to have responded and accepted her, some with scholarship offers.  While we’re waiting on word from number 6, I brace myself for the daily mail bombardment.   Most of the mail is directed to her, but some of it is for us, with more information about the colleges.

One school has a terribly convenient feature – my daughter was invited to a closed Facebook group for her freshman class, and I was invited to a closed Facebook group for parents of new freshmen. Over 300 parents are in my group, which also includes members of the colleges admissions staff and others.

Parents can post where their kids are from and ask questions about the campus. We compare notes on which programs our kids applied to, and more. If we ask a question about scholarships or other campus info, one of the colleges representatives answers the questions within 24 hours.

The list is rather active, but I’m learning a lot about the college and getting a different perspective beyond what I normally would.

It must be uncomfortable at times for the university. Scholarships are beginning to be awarded, and from the postings of parents, I have a good feel for which colleges have begun awarding scholarships.

As a parent, I like the university’s willingness to take a risk and empower parents and future students to learn more about their potential college.

Social media’s not just for college students any more. Sometimes, it’s for their parents.


Santa’s Naughty & Nice List for Business Networkers

Santa Claus is making a list, checking it twice, seeing who’s naughty and who has been nice at your local business networking function.

We all know the ones on the nice list get the coolest toys, or in the case of business networking, more business referrals.

So….what puts you on the naughty list or the nice list?

Nice List:

  • Make referrals to others in the networking group.
  • Do a good job on follow up on referrals you receive.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Observe the group’s structure and rules. Some groups welcome guests; others have a procedure. Show respect for other group members by honoring their structure.
  • If you don’t fit with a group’s structure, leave. Don’t fight and cause division. There are plenty of other networking opportunities which might better fit your style.
  • Follow time guidelines and meeting agendas.
  • Tell the truth at all times.
  • Encourage other group members at all opportunities.
  • Make a point to attend regularly.

Naughty List:

  • Don’t refer to others in the group.
  • Drop the ball on referrals you receive. Don’t call back, do shoddy work, or don’t finish the job.
  • If you hire someone in the group, fail to pay them. Ask them to give you their work for free.
  • Ignore the group’s structure and rules. Those guidelines are for other people, not you.
  • Sow seeds of discord to get your way. Pit people against one another. If there is conflict, dig in your heels and do what it takes to reach your end goal. The end justifies the means.
  • Ignore time guidelines and agendas and talk as long as you please. But insist others follow time guidelines.
  • Go after the target markets of other members of the networking group. Cut down their product and announce you’ll do work better than they do.
  • Consider the truth a guideline goal to be pushed aside when things need to happen to get your way.

You will get out of business networking what you put into it. If you follow the points of the nice list, good things will come your way.

If you instead follow the naughty list, you won’t get a bundle of switches in your stocking. However, over time, you will get fewer referrals and less business.

Hang your stockings and work your business networking with equal care for the future.


Flying Forward, Leaving Baggage Behind


Don’t let yesterday’s garbage block your adventures today.
My children still teach me this lesson.

A lifetime ago, during my unhappy childhood, my dad had a pilot’s license and flew recreationally.  In my book He Uses It For Good, I describe the role flight took the day my childhood ended.

When I was 9, my dad went out one Saturday morning for a solo flight. A funny thing happened on the way to the airport; he took a wrong turn and left.

That turn was the first step in my losing most of my childhood – our home, friends, dignity, possessions, and any sense of stability.

So for a lifetime, recreational flying put a bad taste in my mouth. My dad’s small plane misadventure left me with a lifetime of emotional wreckage to clear and rebuild, as I wrote in my book.

And now I have a daredevil daughter. She loves every amusement park ride – the scarier the better. When she flies around the corners, or up and down a roller coaster, I see sheer delight in her eyes.

And she wants to fly, to get her pilot’s license.

For her birthday, we paid for a single flight lesson for her. This week, she took it. Richard and I went with her to the airport – I knew nothing would happen but needed to make sure there weren’t any wrong turns this time. They invited me to sit in the back of the 4-seater, but I kept my feet firmly on the ground, camera in hand.

I snapped photos as they climbed in the plane and began their adventure. She loved every moment of her flight. I felt better  once they were safely back on the ground.

One day, she will get that pilot’s license and fly on the wings of eagles.  She doesn’t carry my baggage and will soar to places I’ve never imagined. She has a great father and will never know what a dad gap feels like.

As I stay on the ground cheering both her and her brother on their life journeys, God teaches me how true the tag line for my book He Uses It For Good is:

2nd chances and happy endings are possible.

And more: when we face forward, we can leave yesterday’s heavy baggage behind.


Christmas Stressbuster Survival Tips

Twas the week before Christmas, all through the house,

Creatures were stressing, even the daughter’s pet mouse,

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

And stressed out parents were pulling out their hair.

Does your Christmas season seem like a reality show of challenges, each tougher and more stressful than the last?

This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Christmas, a free ebook by Susan Oglesby Hyatt, is the best new resource I’ve seen to bring the joy back to your Christmas season.  I highly recommend it. My favorite suggestion is her adaptation of Bingo.

Here are other websites of ways to add a shot of joy to your Christmas wassail:

Here’s to taking back Christmas and making it fun again!

 


Our Family Bible Read-Aloud Challenge

Gaudete! Rejoice!

On this Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent and rejoice that Christmas is near. This year, that rejoicing takes on a special meaning for my family.

Today, we reached a milestone in our family Bible read-aloud challenge.  Family Bible study has been central in our home life since our daughter started kindergarten. When she was 5, we organized our Bible study a little more, reading a children’s Bible a story a day every morning, starting with Genesis and ending with Revelation. Each year, we completed a different version of children’s Bibles. Since different versions focus on different stories, we learned a few different details each year.

When our kids reached their teen years, I wanted something more. Before my daughter started her freshman year, we changed our routine and took on a family Bible Read-aloud Challenge. Our challenge was to start with Genesis and read the Bible, two chapters a day, together as a family. As my teens grew busier, and our lives became more complex, that was sometimes harder. If anyone were out of town, we put the challenge on hold until everyone was home together.

We started at first reading a chapter daily in Genesis and a Psalm daily. This helped in case one reading were depressing or more detail than story-oriented. We didn’t skip any of the begets, begots, or don’t forgets – as in religious precepts.

I didn’t anticipate when we started how long it would take with our delays as our family’s schedules grew more complex. Nevertheless, when we were all home at mealtime together, each day, we read 2 chapters from the Bible. Finally, in my daughter’s senior year, we have completed the Old Testament. For our second readings each day, we had already worked our way through Matthew and are in the middle of Mark.

Now, we will continue the gospels, a chapter daily and also read a chapter from the letters daily. Our goal is to complete our challenge before our daughter leaves for college next fall. I think we’ll make it.

I never imagined, when we started, how struck we would be with the beauty and majesty of the Bible’s prose. Reading the actual text, in chronological order is one of the most stirring, remarkable experiences of my life. When we finish, we will find a different form of Bible study.

In this process, besides Divine inspiration, I hope our children have learned that it’s possible to achieve huge goals if you take them on a little at a time and keep going, not quitting when the going gets tough or tedious.

I will neither forget nor regret our goal of reading the entire Bible together, as a family, before our children left for college. After just over three years of delving indepth into the Old Testament, we’re ready for the good news of the New Testament.

Just as we lit the 3rd pink candle this morning and rejoice that Christmas is near, I rejoice that in our readings, we have wandered through creation, original sin, wandering in the desert, reform, captivity, and reunion, and are now ready to celebrate Christmas – the birth of Christ. Wherever we are or were on the journey, there can be a happy ending.

Gaudete! Rejoice!


Frictionless Sharing in the Bathroom

If the Family Bathroom had an app to post onto a newsfeed of frictionless sharing….

(Mom read on the newsfeed that Johnny used Ax and yelled at him because it stinks. Susie stepped in the bathroom and screamed because the smell of Ax makes her stop breathing.)

(Mom stepped in the bathroom and nearly stopped breathing because of the smell of Matterhorn mixed with Ax. She said nothing because Dad wants to be as cool as the Old Spice Guy.)

If you wondered what Frictionless Sharing is, here’s an extreme example. You sign up for an app for something you do – like listen to music, watch a movie, or read news articles. After your sign up, it will appear in your Facebook news feed. If your friends want to see more information about the specifics of that song, article, or movie, they must sign up to use the app too so their information is included in frictionless sharing.

I am transparent and do share things I read, see, watch, and do along with places visited. However, I practice intentional sharing. I say what, I say when, and I say how much is shared. Instead of sharing everything, I share that which is remarkable.

My problem with frictionless sharing is that it reduces the likelihood that I will think about what I share. So I will share too much. And I will share so much that no one cares.

Apply that to Facebook friend math. If the average Facebook user has 130 friends and 50 friends opt in for frictionless sharing, it’s going to look like Farmville gone viral in hell. When an app starts posting frictionless sharing information now, I block all posts from that app.

I don’t care what happens in your bathroom as I’m too busy taking care of the bathroom dramas in my own home.

Too much frictionless sharing will lead to a massive information dump which might work well with a Bathroom App.

(note – all links for products in this blog are Amazon affiliate links. Do you think that frictionless sharing just might look like an overdone commercial?)


From Stop Stops to Music – a Mother’s Journey in Music Education

My daughter’s last Christmas concert before college just ended. As I waited for the concert to begin, I thought of her first Christmas concert, 15 years ago.

We started her in Suzuki at age 3; her great-grandfather, grandmother, and uncle had all played violin. When she watched violinists on TV, she would pretend to play one, using a TV remote as her instrument and a block as her bow. Then she got in Suzuki violin. The first thing they did was offer her a cardboard violin. She had thought she would start with a real violin, looked at the cardboard, and said, “I won’t play THAT.” (She inherits her stubbornness from her dad.) She refused to practice and fought us the entire semester. Finally, she showed she could properly hold a violin and bow and put them down and was able to use a real one.

Except there was a hitch – she wanted to play violin HER way, which was not the Suzuki way. At her preschool, she had won a “wild colt” award because of her free spirit and desire to do things HER way. The Suzuki way started with taca taca stop-stop. She had to learn to play rhythms their way. In her first Christmas concert, her teacher played taca taca, and she played stop stop. Over time, she reluctantly realized she had to follow rules to progress and learned her rhythms. Her last rhythm was “wish I had a baby kitten.” We promised her that when she finished her Suzuki Twinkles recital, we would let her get a baby kitten. So she did.

For fifteen years, I’ve been the music mom with both her and her brother. Their musical journey has been a varied path, with ventures in piano, guitar, electric guitar, handbells, percussion, children’s choir, a show choir, and an a capella choir. After 5 years of violin, both kids were burned out and quit that instrument. But their music continued.

Each Christmas, we’ve seen them perform in concerts, with some years feeling like nothing but a never-ending concert with gigs caroling, playing solos, singing with the Philharmonic, and singing at the Nutcracker.  At the end of this journey, before she leaves home, I can say I don’t regret a single concert or musical experiment.

When my daughter started high school, she returned to violin – this time, because she wanted it. And she did it her way – playing in an ensemble but also teaching herself to play “Sweet Child of Mine,” by Guns ‘n Roses. When her bow broke during Thanksgiving weekend, she was devastated because until the store opened and she could buy a new bow, she couldn’t practice.

Every child has music at heart. If you’re a parent, do what you can to help your children discover their song and learn to sing or play it.  Try varied instruments and methods.  If money’s an issue, find budget ways to introduce your kids to music – look for free concerts, library programs, or if you can find nothing else, younger teachers who charge less but still love music. Do whatever you can to add the best music your budget can afford to your kids’ lives.

A child who learns to perform music develops stage presence and discipline. If you don’t practice, you don’t sound good, and kids are smart enough to realize that. Hard work and practice, taking apart a tough piece of music and mastering it a section at a time, and then playing it with other people where you have to watch a director and listen to one another, develops work stills to learn to handle projects for a lifetime. When kids who learn music learn to express themselves with phrasing, dynamics, and breathing, they learn skills that will help them become better public speakers. The best public speakers know a pause can be as important as a phrase, that sometimes pitch goes up and sometimes it goes down, and varying volume is a good thing.

Enough of the logic. The most rewarding part to me tonight was watching a young lady not only poised but willing to help younger violinists – and my savoring those memories of her first Christmas concert 15 years ago.

I wouldn’t trade a moment of those years or concerts. But if I could do them over again, I might notice fewer mistakes and appreciate more of the beauty music can bring to the life of a child.


St. Nicholas Feast Adventures

Now that my kids are teens, I have to remind them to put their shoes out for St. Nicholas’s feast day. Shoes are set out by the door with care, and somehow, some way, presents are there in the morning. Of course, if it involves my family and me, you know there are and were some bumps along the road….

  • I didn’t grow up Catholic and had never heard of the tradition of presents in the shoes. Several years ago, when my kids were 5 and 7, on St. Nicholas Day, we went to see some friends who were Catholic. They showed my kids the wonderful treats they received that morning. Then my kids cried. “Were we that bad?” “Why didn’t St. Nick leave us anything too?” “We’re Catholic – why did he skip us?” So, like all desperate mothers, I explained what happened. St. Nick was sooo busy that night he hadn’t had time to deliver everything. So our turn was that night. Miraculously, the next morning, presents were in their shoes at the door. For the rest of that Advent season, I saw kids’ shoes out in different places. After a couple of weeks, I realized their plan: perhaps St. Nicholas would make a return trip. They analyzed which locations and which shoes were most likely to receive presents.
  • The reappearing shoe trick was tried a few more years, to no avail.
  • A few years ago, St. Nicholas’s toolshop had had a very good year, and wrapped presents of legos were under those shoes. When my kids went to swim practice, my son ran in and told everyone what he had gotten. We were the lone Catholics in a sea of Protestants, none of whom practiced the St. Nicholas Feast Day. One mother, when she heard him, asked, “Isn’t St. Nicholas’s feast some sort of Catholic thing?”
  • I assured her, “It’s okay – we are Catholic.”
The best present St. Nicholas ever gave me was in May instead of December, when my son was born. He holds a special place in my heart – so much so that our son is named after him. I don’t have a debate about whether or not Santa Claus is real; we know he was. Stories about him tell of his generosity and his willingness to help children, most particularly those who were in desperate situations. I understand that one.
St. Nicholas only has a few years left to fill my kids’ shoes before they leave for college. Though we were late starters, I can assure you he WILL deliver!
Deck the halls with boughs of holly – but make sure to leave room for some shoes!

Amahl’s Only Gift

Amahl’s mother was not having the best of all possible winters.  She lived outside of Bethlehem, near the shepherds.  Her husband was dead.  Her only son could barely walk with the help of a crutch.  She struggled, but finally, they had nothing left.  One dark evening, she prepared their final fire.  The food was gone.  She had no money.  She braced herself to either beg with her son or starve to death.

But her son, the lonely boy with a home-made crutch noticed a star in the sky.  Visitors came to their home that evening – three wise men from a faraway land.

Thus begins the story of Amahl, a children’s opera written fifty years ago.  It’s the story of the first Christmas, told from the perspective of poor shepherds, a desperate widow, and a lame boy.  We see the wise men seeking a new king.

At the end of the story, we see great gifts of tribute offered to the new king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

But Amahl offers a greater gift to the king.  He offers his crutch.  It’s the only thing he has. Wonderful things happen because Amahl gives his only possession to the Christ Child.

Amahl’s gift to the Christ Child can be a lesson and comfort for us all.  In the years when the Christmas table is covered with a feast and the stockings are stuffed to breaking, say thanks to God.  Treasure those years.

There may be other years when the feast is simple, the stockings are nearly empty,  and life is a struggle.

Our greatest gifts to God may come in the barren years.  We give what we have – whatever we have.  When we do so, God blesses us beyond measure, in ways we could never anticipate.

They may be material blessings but are likely to be blessings of the heart.  A single smile can ease the burden of a sorrow-laden holiday season.

The real table of plenty is the one God serves to our hearts and souls.  We may discover it when we give what we have – whatever it is – to honor the newborn king.

If this Christmas stocking has more poignant sorrow than happiness this season, take heart.  You are not alone, and the Christ Child is still there for you.  He already gave you the most precious gift He had – Himself.

Want to add Amahl to your music and DVD collection? Visit my Amazon affiliate store!

(More information on Amahl and the Night Visitors:

Amahl and the Night Visitors was written by Gian Carlo Menotti.  It’s the first children’s opera written for television; the one act production first aired on NBC in 1951.  It’s been performed around the world at Christmas.

Recordings and children’s books can introduce the story to your family.   Check your local library.  Whittlesey House published a nice children’s early reader version of Amahl in 1952.  Morrow publishers printed a beautiful picture book in 1986.

If you’re a trivia buff, the special effects from this television production were later used in the opening sequence of the Dr. Who series, which aired on BBC 1963-1966.)