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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Unlikely Valentines

Photo courtesy of Michael Gray Photography

Twenty years ago, I married my total opposite. I suspect there were bets on how long our marriage would last.       

How were we incompatible? Let me count the ways:      

  • I was a mouthy Scot-Irish harridan; he was a quiet German worker.
  • I was raised a wandering Protestant but was so angry at God I wouldn’t argue with Him; he was a cradle Catholic.
  • I was the product of divorce; he had parents who loved each other.
  • I loved classical music; he was a rocking blues guitar player.

Our priest insisted we have 10 1-hour 1:1 pre-marital counseling sessions to build a strong foundation. At the end of the 10 weeks, the priest said, “You’ll help each other grow. Mary, you’ll say whatever you think and will venture where angels fear to tread. Richard, you see God in silence and contemplation.”       

Photo courtesy of Michael Gray Photography

We had no idea what we would face together:      

  • The loss of a baby.
  • Fertility issues and a high risk pregnancy that sent me to St. Louis for treatments and the birth of our son.
  • A home and business fire, a year after we started our business.

With every challenge, we grabbed our shovels and dug our way out together. We celebrated great times too:      

  • The birth of our children.
  • My children and I survived their child births against tremendous odds, thanks to modern medicine and the hand of God.
  • My husband’s steadiness gradually wore down my anger so I could first argue with and then listen to God.
  • The Sunday morning after our fire, we were on our knees together in church, wearing borrowed clothes and praying, begging God to help us.  Our family and business are still here 10 years later.

What helped 2 opposites who attracted stick together long-term? A Marriage Encounter weekend 15 years ago helped. Also, we’re still at church every Sunday.  Each time we kneel together, I remember that terrible Sunday 10 years ago after the fire and thank God He’s providing for us.      

No matter what happens, we’ll work our way out of it together.      

For a girl from an unstable childhood, choosing a good guy husband was the road less travelled. And that made all the difference. I got the happy ending.      

Thanks, Richard.  

(Thanks to Michael Gray Photography for letting me use this photo here and being there way back when.)


Risk Your Song!

Imitation may be a great form of flattery. It’s safe and easy to repeat what others say.

Problem is- if you do that too long, no one is going to listen to you. They have heard it before.  Their attention shifts when a shiny new toy appears on the horizon.

In Walk the Line, we see Johnny Cash singing a popular song when he gets his chance to audition. And he nearly blows his shot. He sings a popular song everyone sings. He’s told to sing the one song he would sing if he knew he only had a short time to live – his one song.

Johnny tentatively begins and with each note, he grows in confidence. It’s like when you watch a baby learning to walk and you see a steadier gate with each step. He sings “Folsom Prison Blues.”

“Folsom Prison Blues” is an ironic choice; as he sings Prison Blues, he frees himself to use his own voice and sing his own song. And when he is real, it’s easier for those around him to join in and be real too.

We each have our own song. You are the only person on the planet who has ever had or ever will have YOUR song! The notes of our song draw upon our laughter, sorrows, and everything in between. What made Johnny’s music special is he drew upon the depths of his heart, the good and the bad, and threw them into his music. Every note he sings resounds with authenticity. We know he sings who he is.

We all have our hidden tragedies – the times when our hearts break and we struggle to recover. Don’t let the bad stuff get you down. Use it to add a layer of compassion and understanding to all you do when times are good. Or not so good.

Is it scary? Yep.

When you risk your own song, you discover the one thing you were made to do with your life.

Each verse of your song will make the now, the past, and the future all a great present.

If it’s too big a leap to risk your song before crowds, start in the shower. Then with a few trusted encouragers – either friends or family. If you don’t know encouragers, find some.

No matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to begin.

Risk your song!


Gardening Lessons

A single pack of lettuce seeds can provide lots of salad for a family.

What fresh food can you grow this year?

Growing conditions aren’t perfect. Some families garden in containers or rooftops because of sun and soil issues. 

Each year, I plant our garden, with the grudging help of my kids. Living in the middle of town, we have challenges. We’re shifting our garden plot around the shady areas from neighbors’ trees.

The kids do different experiments in the garden each year as part of their 4-H garden projects. When they complain, I tell them the day may come when they need to know how to raise and preserve their own food to survive and if so, I want them to know as much as possible.

What have we learned from gardening?

  • Thomas Edison was right when he said opportunities are dressed in overalls and look like work. They smell like sweat too. Sometimes manure. Good things can come to those willing to work with manure.
  • If we wait for the perfect conditions to start, we’ll never grow a thing. Start with the soil we have and improve it.
  • Hedge your bets – diversify. One year, it was so cold my kids exhibited broccoli at the fair in late July. None of our standby tomatoes, beans, or peppers did a thing. I’ve raised decent broccoli once since.
  • Daily attention & incremental progress yield better results than a flash in the pan, astroturf push.
  • Sometimes, you do everything right, and the weather just isn’t.
  • The unplanted seed doesn’t sprout.
  • The seed eaten by the pesky bird today might just get passed back to the garden tomorrow and sprout. So don’t stress the spilled seeds of today. Instead, focus on cultivating the ones that get planted.
  • There’s always next year.

The best part of a garden is picking food fresh off the vine, eating it, and discovering how much better it tastes than produce at the store. As a mom, I think of the better vitamin content. As a cook, I think how fun it is to experiment at harvest time. And where on earth I’m going to put up this year’s harvest.

Then by this time each winter, I rejoice at how great the freshly frozen corn tastes and savor that home-canned tomato sauce.

Sometimes all it takes to begin is to plant a seed and tend it.


Ode to My Sharpie

Wherefore art thou, Sharpie? How do I love my Sharpies? Let me count the ways.

  1. Public Speaking. Writing cue words on a note card or paper makes it easier for me to glance and speak without reading.
  2. Grocery Lists. It’s easy to write with a Sharpie on my magnetic refrigerator list. Pencil is too faint to read. Ballpoint pens fade by the time I get to the end of the word. Sharpie works best.
  3. Organizing. When I’m doing something like planning my life or my business, I write notes with Sharpies. Sharpies keep me focused on the big picture, the forest, instead of being bogged down in the trees. I also think more creatively – I can write all over the page instead of logically like I’m more likely to do with an ink pen.
  4. Food preservation. When I can foods, I write the product and the date on the lid on top.
  5. Connect the Dots. Or Dogs. Once when a friend was napping, her son used their black Sharpie to connect the dots on their dalmation.
  6. Community Organizing. My son saw me make so many lists with Sharpies that when he was 5, he wrote a list of his friends he wanted to invite to his He Man Womanhaters Club… on the back seat of my car.
  7. Substitute Socks. Once, my daughter went to a choral camp and forgot to pack her mandatory black socks for the performance. The director informed the choristers anyone not wearing black socks would have black duck tape as a substitute. So she bought a value pack of black Sharpies and colored her ankles black. Then she decided to design her legs. She got no duck tape. She wore shorts showing off her artwork on her bus ride home from the final performance. When I called her on the trip home to tell her we were getting our family portrait taken as soon as she got off the bus, she burst into peals of laughter and hung up on me before telling me what she had done. When I finally saw her “art,” I was so relieved nothing was pierced, and her hair wasn’t flourescent, that I was relieved it was only permanent marker.

Hint: permanent marker can come off skin and carseats with soap and hot water. (I don’t know about the dog.)

Sharpies help me think outside the box and try new things. That can be a good thing. In an adult.


Can You Hear Me Now, Walgreens?

Wow! I had an incredible experience at Walgreen’s yesterday. It had suddenly started snowing in Evansville, Indiana. I ran into the Walgreen’s on north Green River Road. As I checked out, I was blown away.

Mary, a beauty advisor helping as a cashier, listened to the concerns of the older lady checking out in front of me. The lady was scared about the snow and ice. Mary listened to her, comforted the lady, and wished her well. She took the simple job of checking someone out and made a real connection with the lady. At the same time, she did her job quickly and well.

When it was my turn, she was equally friendly to me. I was so impressed that I checked into Walgreen’s and FourSquare to tell them what a great job their employee had done.

A friend responded, asking if they answered me.

I wish I had been able to say yes. So I looked up Walgreen, saw they were on Twitter, and again told them I had complimented them.

No answer.

Their Twitter feed shows that they do post some promotional info. They have 13,000 followers.

However, at least yesterday, they were not monitoring their at mentions to see what customers were saying.

What an opportunity. Twitter is not a broadcast medium. It is a method by which to build stronger relationships with customers. 

Lesson for businesses:

  1. If you’re on Twitter, monitor your feed. Answer customer comments in real time, and you’ll build customer relationships for life.
  2. If you think you’re not on Twitter, your customers already are, and you don’t know what they are saying.
  3. If you have great employees like Mary, who already get how to listen and engage customers, train them in social media and make them part of your social networking team.
  4. If Walgreen’s ever sees this blog, or my Tweets, I truly hope someone will tell Mary that on a snowy day in Evansville, she did a great job, and customers noticed.

Thanks, Mary, for making a snowy bad day a little better. And thanks, Walgreens, for hiring great people.


Where’s Your Call to Action?

Great movies, like great sales campaigns, include a call to action. This video shows how universal that call is. Whatever we do, wherever we go, there will come a time when we don’t just chat or think but do.

There is a time to relax and dream, but there is also a time to get out there and go for it. In battle, it’s victory.  In business, it’s the call to the action. 

At some point, we go for the sale.

Our call to action doesn’t have to be loud and brash like movies when they inspire thousands. But it has to happen.

Imagine a war movie where the hero tells everyone, “I’m glad you’re here. Let’s give a big cheer, hold hands, and sing kum-ba-yah.” Instead, the hero tells all to go out and do their jobs.

What can we learn from their calls to battle to apply to our calls to action?

  • Know your audience and build strong relationships with them.
  • Make sure your call answers audience questions. Make sure you help them solve their problems.
  • Give your audience credit for having brains and ability. 21st century sales mean the crud detectors are on. Customers know when they are pandered or patronized.
  • Don’t bang customers on the head with a call to action but do make it easy for them to decide to do business with you, to talk with you, and to hire you.

What’s the most important point?

Have you had something you’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the nerve to try? Watch this video and go for it!

Woulda and might don’t get things done. Doing and does do.  Make your shot. Maybe it will hit, and maybe it will miss. But the shot never made is a guaranteed miss.

Clap! Fight! Rock the world! Be who you were made to be and do the one thing you are made to do with your life!


8 Steps to Stop or Fix Facebook Hacks

Oops, somebody did it again! A friend’s page has been hacked, with links posted across dozens of their friends’ walls. What to do and how do they fix?

Stop the Hack So It Never Happens

  1. Think before you click. Even if it’s your best friend’s wall, DON’T click on a link if it promises you a Disney Vacation, rapid weight loss, a story of a girl who cried or worse when her dad found her Facebook, a look at your Facebook stalkers, an optical illusion with a racy picture, or others. Click on your friend’s wall or look at your Newsfeed. If you see the same story on multiple walls, it’s probably a hack, most likely a Koobface.
  2. Lock your doors. It’s hard for a creep to break into your house if the door’s locked. Ditto for hacks. Run anti-virus and anti-spyware regularly – follow your computer pro’s suggestions for both. No computer pro? Get one! I have 1 friend who only uses Facebook on his phone so he protects his computer.
  3. Keep the secret password secret. After you finish using Facebook, if others use your computer, log out. Don’t just close the window, especially if you’re on a public computer. Don’t share your password with others. Use strong passwords.
  4. Beware that app. Applications (games) may be a place where you have given permission to a 3rd party company for access to your personal information. Think before you add.
  5. Know your friends. If Aunt Betty’s never before posted a link, that’s a good clue she didn’t post one this time but got hacked. If you suddenly see a chat from Cousin Bob that he went to London, got mugged, and needs you to cable him cash, it’s probably not him. Verify, don’t trust that it’s really him.
  6. Bookmark this page. Bookmark this blog so if you need it, you’ve got it.
  7. Think about https.  If you don’t mind slowing down your Facebook page loads, they are rolling out a new feature that will make it harder for 3rd party apps to grab your data. Go to Account, account settings, and activate https. (You may not yet have this feature.)
  8. When a friend’s hacked & writes on your wall: if a hack link gets on your wall, go to the right side of the posting and click on the X to remove it.  Phone your friend (yet another reason to have your phone number visible to Facebook friends). Post a link to this blog on their wall.

Fix the Hack

  1. Work the problem. Think before you react. If you’re on Facebook when it happens, DO NOT LOG OFF FACEBOOK. If you’re truly hacked and you log off, you surrender control of your profile. Don’t panic and delete your account either,
  2. Change your password. Go to Account, account settings, password.
  3. Check your security. Go to Account, account settings, security. Look at account activity and see if any unknown locations are accessing your account. End them. You can turn on https or ask to get an email/text when an unknown computer accesses your account if you want.
  4. Sound the alarm. Post a status warning your friends you’ve been hacked and not to click on anything you’ve posted, messaged, or chatted.
  5. Hide your posts.  Go to Account, privacy settings, customize settings. On the first choice, posts by me, click on the arrow to the right and select only me.
  6. Clean up the mess. Figure out which friends’ walls your hack posted. Go to each individually and remove it. Ask friends with whom you have several mutual friends to look at their news feeds and tell you which walls they see. Do this step well and don’t go forward till it’s completely finished.
  7. Show your posts. Go to Account, privacy settings, customize settings. On the first choice, posts by me, click on the arrow to the right and select friends only.
  8. Get thee to your computer pro! Contact your computer pro and ask how they recommend you check for anti-virus and anti-spyware.  Your computer needs deep scans to ensure viruses weren’t loaded elsewhere.

Spawn Day?

As soon as I read what my teen had written as a birthday greeting on a friend’s Facebook wall, I nearly collapsed to the floor in a combo grand mal seizure/stroke.

“Happy spawn day.”

Where did he come up with this? What was he thinking? Then the dreaded:

What will other parents think when THEY read what MY kid wrote on Facebook?

I dashed to the intercom and paged Richard, “Get here right NOW!! Emergency!”

He raced up the stairs to find out what catastrophe had struck. “Look at that post! Talk to your son right now and get him to delete it. I can’t talk to him about spawning!”

He read it and told me, “Spawn means something different to a gamer. In video games, when you get a new life, it’s a spawn day. The status if fine. I’m not talking to him.”

So it ended. I resigned myself that all the other parents who know nothing about gaming would congratulate themselves that they were doing a better parenting job than the Bievers.

But then I got to thinking.

Don’t we want spawn days in life? If a spawn day is like a second chance day, then I’m glad to get them when I can. Maybe I can’t undo every mistake of the past.  Consequences last a lifetime.

However, I can forgive the problems of the past and make peace with them and spawn a new outlook in the present. Even if the same problems hit that have hit hundreds of times before, I can resolve to look at and repond to them differently.

When I change me and make who I am right now more giving and forgiving, I can change my whole world.

Which reminds me of a lesson I taught teens over and over again when I used to teach religious education classes on Sunday mornings:

God gives us room for second chances. No matter how badly we mess up, He’ll be there to listen and love us when we’re ready to ask.

I know I’ve made more than my share of mistakes. Even so, I got the chance to begin now, reinvent myself, and build a better life.

Thank God.

Today is my Spawn Day. It can be yours too – if you decide to make it happen.

Here’s to second chances! Cheers!


Redneck Mama Excel Formulas

I asked yesterday if you wanted more impromptu blogs. The answer was yes. Then I was asked to write a blog with imaginary Excel formulas. Here goes.

The first time my boss told me 20 years ago he wanted an “If” formula in a spreadsheet, I told him they didn’t exist. 

So he got the book and showed me where they were and told me to figure them out. Then I realized they were like what my logic class had taught.

The 3 parts of If/Then statements are If, Then, and Not.

Little did I know that years later, I would be teaching Excel and would GET to introduce If functions to classes. If someone has no background with them, they can be intimidating.  When you look in the whites of your students’ eyes and see an “Oh crap” creep into their gaze, you know it’s time to meet them where they are. Make the tough stuff manageable. Summarize the important stuff so the key points are understandable.

So I invented the Redneck Mama If Then Example:

=If (I come home from work at night and my children are already asleep, Mama’s happy and the world is full of rainbows and unicorns, Mama’s not happy and if Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy)

Explanation:

IF: When my children were babies, I worked evenings after my husband finished his job. When I got home from classes, near 10 p.m., I wanted both kids in bed asleep.

THEN: When that criteria was met, all was right with the world.

NOT: If that criteria was not met, then I was not happy. When I’m not happy, my kids aren’t happy, and I could guarantee you my husband would not be happy either.

Summary: An If function is something we all live all the time.  Math just puts it into a formula. In addition, sometimes we have multiple ifs. Excel takes that into account to and will let us nest If/Then statements as needed.

Once I understood the 3 parts of an If function (If, Then, Not), I sometimes wished the real world were as manageable as arguments in Excel.

Time taken to meet today’s challenge: 30 minutes plus a little help from my favorite graphics helper.

My question for you: What would you like my next impromptu blog topic to be?


Mid Life Gone Social

Date nights are rare for parents, even when the kids are teens.  While we ate dinner at Gracies, I promised not to use my phone to text, Facebook, or Twitter while we ate. And I was so good I didn’t even sneak into the bathroom just to check messages!

I loved my fortune when it came, snapped a photo and used Hootsuite to post it on Twitter. And then had to reply to the comment a friend made.

After dinner, we went grocery shopping so I could buy enough food to fix spaghetti the next night for 20 hungry adults and teens. When I tried to decide how much meat and pasta to buy, I grabbed the phone, called my favorite cooking partner, and told her, “Phone a friend time. You’re my friend.  How much do I buy?” Saved once again, by my phone!

Richard said not a word of complaint as I replied to a few messages through the evening

Then I told him I was going to go urban and wear white flannel snowflake shorts on top of my red and black plaid flannel pajamas.

“I’ll snap a photo of you wearing them and tweet it,” he offered.

I said not a word.

“Think Ashton Kucher with Demi on Twitter, with the bikini shot. This would be your flannel shot.”

I nodded.

“Then I could post it on Facebook and tag you.”

I nodded again.

“Then I’ll alter the photo and use it in a blog for Copper Lion,” he continued. (our digital retouching business)

I nodded again.

“And when you’re finished, my turn. I’ll do my first video,” I finally replied.

“Good!” he answered.

“Topic? How I Bobbitized my husband,” I concluded in the most loving tone possible.

Pause.

“I think we need to rethink our strategy,” Richard concluded.

Conclusion? I did not wear white snowflake short pajama bottoms on top of my flannel plaid pj’s. No photos were taken.

Our wedding vows included sickness and health, richer and poorer, but didn’t mention Facebook and Twitter.  Nevertheless, we’ve hung in there, through AOL, Myspace, today’s online flavor of the year, and will adapt to whatever comes next down the web.

NOTE: This blog began at 7:47 a.m. I asked on Twitter and Facebook which of a series of topics to blog today. Humor – or my attempt at it – won. This is my response.

Should I do more impromptu blogs, with YOU choosing the topics? You Tweet or Facebook me a topic, and I reply? If you think so, comment or contact me. This could be fun.

8:16 a.m. Finished 29 minutes after I began.


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