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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Welcoming Strangers

'Indianapolis Skyline' photo (c) 2009, bnpositive - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/The most wonderful things happen when we visit parishes wherever we travel. God uses those we meet to touch our hearts and enrich our lives. It happened again this weekend.

“When you drive through that neighborhood, don’t get out of your car. You’re white, and you could get shot because of it,” a friend warned us years ago. Yesterday, my family drove through those neighborhoods, trying to figure our way back to the main road after parking at the State Fair.

Compounding that warning was a Wisconsin incident this past week where there was a mob uprising late at night at their state fair, where white passengers were targeted, dragged out of their cars, and beaten.

When I was 10, I lived in Louisiana in a hotbed of racism where our family’s pastor had a cross burned in his yard by the Klan. When I was 15, I lived in a neighborhood among hookers and dealers. My mission as a mother is to give my children a better childhood and life than I had. Racism and violence are horrible in all forms, and I worried for my kids’ safety when we drove through those neighborhoods.

We had just enough time to make it to a parish Mass, and we stumbled along our way to find the parish we had never before seen. Where’s the church? When we found it, we were pretty much out of “that” neighborhood. I still worried. “Are there any white people on this street? If not, I don’t want to go in,” I told my family.

“That’s sad, Mom. Race shouldn’t matter,” my son commented.

“You’re right. But we need to stay safe,” I answered. We saw a white family and got out. “Will our car be ok?” I continued.

“The car will be fine. We’re here. God will take care of any problems,” my husband answered.

We walked into the parish, a humble church with about 50 people worshiping. Mass began 60 seconds after we walked in the door. I relaxed in the universal responses of the Kyrie and standing during the Gospel reading. As I looked around, I realized there were other whites in the congregation, but we were absolutely the minority race present. During the homily, the priest discussed Elijah’s hearing God in the silence instead of the bustle around us.

After we prayed the Our Father together, the congregation gave its own twist to the exchange of peace. Members crossed the sanctuary to hug and greet each other. Several deliberately came to us, shook our hands, and welcomed us to their home of worship. We joined together during the Eucharist. Jesus was not only present but once again working in our lives. We just had to be still enough to listen.

At the conclusion of the service, the priest welcomed visitors, and asked each group in turn what brought them to the parish – others from the State Fair were also present. Afterwards, a greeter came to us and asked how our day at the State Fair had been. She encouraged our kids and invited us to return next time we visit the State Fair. We were the strangers made welcome.

As we left and returned to our car, the sun was shining brighter. I no longer saw the neighborhood but instead saw hope. Each time we reach above racism and violence, we do our own part to reduce their impact.

As I listened, I was reminded our universal faith isn’t just expressed in our responses in Mass. It’s how Jesus Christ works through us all to honor human dignity.

Yes, it’s worth it before every out of town trip to pour over masstimes, look at our map and schedule, and figure out how to squeeze Mass into the weekend. We learn a lot more about other communities worshiping together than we do just driving through town.






White Knuckle Business Rafting

'White Water Rafting (on The Nile)' photo (c) 2007, Pete Bellis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/White Water Rafting requires skill, strength, teamwork and timing. Those who learn to manage the dips and falls build their skills and strength.

In a rocky economy, running your own business can feel the same. Up go the unemployment numbers and down goes the Dow – we sometimes feel like all we can do is hold on and hope we land upright at the bottom of the falls.

As we run our business – 11 years old and still going strong – we’ve gotten better results when we pay less attention to the national media doom reports and more attention to our customer base. What can we do to make their lives easier, to decrease their stress and provide the best high end graphics possible on the market today? The more we focus on our customers, and on improving the quality of our product, the better business becomes.

Yes, there are hard times. Yes, sometimes the waves splash in the raft, we grab the paddle and are not sure what’s going to happen next. If we don’t dodge the next rock, bad things could happen.

The best part? People pay hundreds of dollars for the thrill of a white water rafting trip. We not only get it for free but turn a profit living the same adventure, running our family business. Our adventure isn’t for those who seek the security of a paddle boat in the middle of a pond. It’s for those who want to test their limits and grab the next big adventure.

Bottom line? Keep your focus on the water you’re in and where your raft is in it. Don’t get so distracted by bad economic news.

It could be because Indiana is in a better financial position than several states, or that Evansville’s German heritage is such that people are frugal. In any case, I know businesses who are hiring. That means they have enough business to need more help to deliver their product.

And that is a good thing, regardless of the doom of the evening news.

6 Opportunities for Young Adults in a Tough Economy

'Graduation' photo (c) 2007, Andrew Schwegler - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Our tough economy does have opportunities for young people just graduating or seeking that first real job.

How do I know? I was twenty-something during the last bad economy. My friends and I struggled to find our way, sometimes to find ANY job, let alone THE job for which we had trained or hoped to get. Our struggles when we were young prepared us for future business successes.

  1. Stretch dollars. As you learn to cut costs in real life and on the job, you develop skills for a lifetime. I have been on my own since I was 18 years old and don’t regret my early struggles – not even the months I couch-surfed with friends or the times when I completely ran out of food the day before payday.
  2. Work harder. Even in a tough economy, I see young people who don’t put their all into the jobs they have. They don’t worry about the profit of their employers. I know business owners who would love to hire people right now: prerequisite – willingness to work hard and well on the job. If you become known as a hard worker, opportunities will present themselves.
  3. Improve customer service. Providing the best customer service ever is going to mark the winners from losers in our new economy. Be the front line worker who goes above and beyond for every customer. If your employer doesn’t notice it, someone else might. Even if they don’t, you’re developing skills for a lifetime.
  4. Take unexpected paths. So the dream job isn’t there. What jobs are? What can you do to build that job into your dream job? What skills can you learn to prepare yourself when the dream job opportunities appear? Where do you need to be – physically, mentally, and emotionally – so you are in place when the dream opportunity happens?
  5. Learn from every opportunity. I learned my first customer service lessons on a paper route when I was 10 years old. No matter what the job I held – cashier, waitress, secretary, sales clerk, teacher, or analyst – I learned from them all and draw on those lessons daily.
  6. Think success. Surround yourself with highly motivated friends willing to work hard and do well. The more time you spend with people working to gain their dreams, the more likely you are to achieve your own. 

Just remember most business opportunities are born from an idea, are wrapped with sweat, and tied with elbow grease.


The 4-H Club Cookoff that Could Cookout

Cracker Jack-topped cupcakes

Stormy weather doesn’t have to destroy a great plan and a good time.

Energetics, my kids’ 4-H club, chose a sports theme for this year’s club cookoff at the Vanderburgh County Fair, held on Saturday evening at the end of Fair Week. Clubs choose a theme, grill a menu, and serve 4 judges in a cookoff contest. Our club makes it bigger. We host a cookout for club members, parents, and even grandparents, to finish the fair in family style.


We take our themes seriously. This year, old green outdoor carpet was placed on the ground with a baseball diamond taped around the edges. A tent for the judge’s table was placed in the middle and decorated with helium balloons. Peanuts, popcorn in red and white bags, and crackerjacks decorated the table set with sports-themed plates and napkins. Sports foods were on the menu – brats, hot dogs, potato nachos, watermelon fruit baskets, and soft drinks in bottles. Kids in the club wore sports jerseys.

Thanks to the Millers who helped lead Energetics for 37 years.

We had an extra surprise this year. Two club leaders, Dan and Virginia Miller, were retiring after they had volunteered as club leaders for 37 years. We planned to present them with a thank you gift for their lifetime of service.

When we made our plans, we didn’t think about Mother Nature. An hour before the cookoff, weather reports began: heavy downpours were on the way. We kept cooking and preparing. Half an hour before our judging, the rain poured. With wind. Leaders held onto the sides of our two tents, working to prevent them from being blown away in the storm. Grandparents and members grabbed the lawn chairs and rushed them under the tents.  Grillers covered the grills.  Other clubs around the playground sought shelter in their entry tents as well.

Trying to keep dry during the downpour.

As we stood huddled under tents, we began to sing. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

The cookout was cancelled because of rain. We had 80 brats and hot dogs grilling and decided to make the best of the mess and eat. When the rain stopped, the Millers joined us. We presented them with their thank you presents and enjoyed our cookout meal. The judges still visited us to thank us for entering, so we serenaded them with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

So the contest was cancelled. We’ll never know if we would have won best food, best theme, best dessert, or most spirit.

But we still won – our members learned to sing their way through a challenge like weather and not let challenges stop them from having a good time. And they probably became better friends with each other along the way.

Never let a little rain stop you from doing good things!

I Hear the Fairgrounds Singing

Abby Czoer singing the national anthem.

A tribute to the unsung heroes of county fairs, who take off work to set up, organize, manage, and clean fairs so they are successful. I was inspired by the many volunteers of the Vanderburgh County Fair.

Inspired by Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.”

I hear the fairgrounds singing.

The varied songs I hear.

Those of farmers, each singing, as it should be, blithe and strong;

The 4H member singing, measuring project and beams,

The volunteer singing, making ready for work or taking off work,

The cook singing what belongs in the kitchen, the grillers singing as they stand;

The building watchers singing as they sit on their bench, The tractor driver passing by the stands;

The carney’s song – the sheriffs on their way in the morning, or at noon intermission, or at sundown;

The delicious singing of the children – or of the animals in the barns – or of the livestock during cleaning and washing –

Each sings what belongs to him or her and no one else.

The day what belongs to the day. At night, the party of young teens, robust, friendly, singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
I hear the fairgrounds singing. The varied songs I hear.

Leadership Learned By Doing

'Hot Dog' photo (c) 2010, Evan Swigart - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Real leadership is learned by really doing something, start to finish,” is the abiding philosophy of Vanderburgh County’s 4-H Junior Leader program.  The Junior Leaders, in grades 8 through 12, learn those leadership skills most especially during the Vanderburgh County Fair. They plan, run, and manage a food concessions booth that succeeds or fails by the quality of their efforts.

It was explained to me once: in the real world, in a real job, if people don’t show up to work their shifts, Superman doesn’t fly through the back door to save the day for those in charge. They have to solve their own problems. In the solving, they develop their leadership skills. That’s how the Junior Leader booth works.

If the kids work hard and plan well, they will raise funds. If they make mistakes or don’t work hard, their profit margin diminishes.

Parents are not allowed to fly into the booth to save the day for the teens. Their club advisors advise but don’t save the day.

So how do the kids do? My opinion is biased; last year, my daughter was treasurer. In addition, the Junior Leaders lend their concession booth (which they personally built and financed) to 4-H Leaders so we can raise funds to lower expenses for our county’s members – we serve breakfast daily at the fair, borrowing their booth. So each year during fair week, I’ve seen these kids work hard.

Most of them bust their tails and have fun while they are working. Most are team players.  Sure, there’s teen drama just as there is in any workplace or environment full of teens during a hot summer week. And just like any food service business, there are plenty of practical problem-solving experiences each hour the concession booth is open.

As I see these teens progress, volunteering in the booth from one year to the next, I see their growing in self confidence, developing skills to assume bigger responsibilities. Many who graduate return to help new youth throughout the 4-H program. Lessons learned, ready to pass to the next generation.

Sometimes the best lessons in life are learned by closing your mouth, rolling up your sleeves, and working with others to reach a common goal, find common ground, and build something new.

And they learn some marketing as well. As my kids tell me every day of fair:

Eat at the Junior Leader booth!

Feet First

“This isn’t a fashion statement but these shoes are comfortable,” a volunteer told me as I worked with exhibit setups before the Vanderburgh County’s Fair this weekend.

“These may be flip flops but they have arch supports and cushioned soles that make them comfortable,” another volunteer noted later.

Volunteers preparing for a county fair may spend 12-18 hours in a single day putting up exhibits and more. They will most likely have to walk from one end of the fair to the other multiple times. Their setup may end up with their being on ladders hanging items to tops of pegboards or crawling the floor adjusting exhibit props.

Veterans who’ve worked multiple fairs put their feet first. Good shoes, with good support, are the must have fashion accessory. Bad shoes with blisters can ruin a fair week – slowing them down, distracting them, and giving them less flexibility to get whatever jobs need to be done.

The same thing is through for businesses and people. Make sure your base is secure and adequately supported. Then you’ll be ready to handle whatever challenges this day or week present.

  • The house, the business, and the person whose base is built upon sand will not long stand.
  • Those they build on rock are so sturdy the wind cannot knock.

How does your base look? Feet first!

Wedding Cakes and Niches

'wedding cake by mum' photo (c) 2007, Julie Pi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Twenty years ago, I took a cake decorating course and had visions of one day decorating my daughter’s wedding cake. I didn’t have a daughter -yet – but oh it would be wonderful to do that for her one day.

Then my younger sister asked me to make her wedding cake. Sure, I said eagerly. By this time, I had a 5-year-old daughter.  Then came the stress. I cried when icing didn’t look right. I cried when the largest cake split when I removed it from the pan. After 3 days of baking and decorating, I had the layers done.

Then I had to transport the cake across state lines, to the wedding. So I lined my car trunk with wet towels, drove 30 miles an hour for the 40 mile trip, and prayed a lot. The cake ended up looking well.

All my daughter remembers from the adventures in wedding cake making are my tears.

If/when she one day gets married – and it had better be a long time from now – I will find a cake decorator. Yes, I can cook.  Yes, I made my kids’ First Communion cakes and birthday cakes.  But I learned wedding cakes aren’t my niche, and my time is better spent elsewhere. Just because I can decorate a wedding cake doesn’t mean I should.

I don’t want my daughter’s memory of her wedding to be my tears of stressing the cake.

Which sounds like the business coach I spoke to 3 weeks ago who told me: narrow your focus. Do what you do best and others will know when to hire you. Today, I remembered that when I turned down a job outside my niche and referred it to a friend who would do a faster, better, job than I could.

I can teach you how to use your PC better and how to better leverage social media. My circle of friends and business colleagues includes a dream team of media players who can help you make the most of your marketing dollars. If you want a website that wins search and would like to integrate it with a phone app, blog, video, and social media, along with programming so you can directly target your market, I know some pros who do what they do best, do it very well, and grow your business in the process.

Be who you are. Do what you do best. Make it better. Find others who do the same. Great things will happen.

2 New Facebook Timesavers

This morning, I discovered 2 new Facebook improvements in their interface. Google+ has gotten them to raise their game.

  1. If you comment underneath a status and after you hit enter, you realize you made an error that you would like to correct, immediately click on the X. That used to just delete your comment so you would start over.  Now, it lets you re-edit your original comment. Time saved. Happy user.
  2. In the upper right corner where it lists happy birthdays, click on the link to wish someone a happy birthday. A popup will appear where you can write the happy birthday greeting but stay on your original page.

Time savers make busy mothers and busy business owners happy. Thanks, Facebook.

How to Hide the New Facebook Chat

If you don’t like the new FB chat sidebar, you can hide it. Go to the lower right hand corner of your sidebar. You will see a circle with sprockets. Click on that circle. If you uncheck available to chat, you will not be visible for chat. If you click on hide sidebar, the sidebar will disappear. When you do this, the sidebar will disappear. You can later re-open by clicking on the Chat button in the lower right hand corner.

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