Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/marybiev/public_html/wp-content/themes/StandardTheme_274/admin/functions.php on line 229
Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

5 Steps to Move From Surviving to Thriving

Not all the chains that hold women back are visible. Ideally, American women are now free and independent to make their own decisions.

But in real life, if a woman thinks and acts independently, it can threaten the status quo and frighten those who prefer that women know their place, stay in that place, and only parrot the party line instead of thinking for themselves. Diversity is a buzzword which sometimes masks intolerance for independent ideas. Sometimes, those who proclaim their enlightenment the loudest are the least tolerant of new ideas.

The reason the Lifetime TV network is so popular is that it taps a chord that many women recognize. We see the Lifetime movies and see women overcoming obstacles and tragedies to the happy ending we all hope will one day be our own.

I once knew of a woman who wrote of her emergence from a conservative religious sect. She wrote of of her spiritual and personal journey, symbolized by her transition from wearing a traditional cap to wearing a smaller cap to wearing no cap at all. At each stage, as she shed the ties that had held her back, she felt more freedom and was able to be who she was instead of who others decided she should be.

I have experienced the same journey in different circumstances, without the visible cap. If you find yourself struggling to survive in a bad situation, how do you move beyond that to a healthier, better place? I have been lucky in my case to have the support of a husband who believed in me and who has encouraged me for the past 25 years. Here are the steps I have found that helped me change my life for the better.

Since my heart attack, I’ve realized it’s imperative to my health – the more I thrive instead of merely survive, the less stress I feel and less likely I am to have a second heart attack.

  1. Remove the negative. If there are people or circumstances that mock, criticize, or rebuke you, remove them from your life. You deserve to be treated with respect. If you set a boundaries others will not respect, remove them from your life. The less time you spend with these people, the less they will be in your head and your heart. When you remove yourself from toxic circumstances, toxic people may try to drag you back into the fray. They may try to fight and argue with you to bully and belittle you back into their preconceived idea of your place. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.  If we stoop to wrestle with a pig, the only thing that happens is we get dirty and the pig enjoys it. Waste as little energy as possible on the negative.
  2. Create a dream team. Find friends who will encourage and inspire you. Choose them carefully. Seek positive people with fresh ideas who value you and what you bring to the table. My husband is my number one cheerleader, and I’m more than thankful for that. I know in my heart of hearts that my husband and kids will always be there for me when I need them.  I am also lucky to have a large group of female friends who support other strong women. There are too many to mention but some include JoAnn Krantz, Elise Barrerra, Jean Godfrey, Lisa Taylor, Kimberly Delcoco, Ami Lloyd, Sherry Wright, Cheryl Mochau, Samantha Rogers, Michele Rogers, Cheryl Martin, Debbie Valiant, and Dana Nelson. They – and many others – encouraged me and saw potential in me, sometimes before I saw it in myself. I’m doubly fortunate to work for a dream team company who work well together. My husband has observed that I come home from my new job happy at the end of each day – happier than he’s seen me in 25 years. Dream team friends will transform your life.
  3. Reframe your thoughts. Seek the positive in current and future circumstances. Words matter. Capture your thoughts and resolve to keep them positive.
  4. Set goals and go for them. Determine what in your life you’ve wanted to do, both short term and long term. Then plan and work to make them happen. Keep your goals front and center so you see them and won’t get distracted by the rest of life.
  5. Have fun. If there is music you like, play it. If you like to dance, dance to it while you play it. If you like to sing, sing. The older I get, the more fun I have because I can more easily savor the moment and care less about what others around me think. Removing the negative parts of my life mentioned in Step 1 removed a lot of anger and frustration from my heart and mind. That in turn made room for me to laugh and enjoy the good parts of life more.

Sometimes, survival is in itself a tremendous feat. Moving beyond surviving to thriving takes work, but it is worth it.

When the thriving happens, it will creep upon you before you realize it. Then, in the middle of laughter, you will suddenly realize that life is better, richer, and sweeter than ever before.

I’m not yet 50, and my own journey with these steps has had stumbles, distractions, and often felt I was walking barefoot uphill on a path that alternated between pits of fire and mountains of snow. The world is a very different place when you find yourself in environments where you’re treated with respect, you’re given credit for your ideas, and you’re given opportunities to make new things happen.

Nevertheless, the journey is worth it. I won’t just survive but thrive!

The Positive Meaning of Frozen and Let It Go

I loved the movie Frozen and its song, “Let It Go.” However, I was recently sent an article discussing the philosophical flaws of the children’s movie Frozen, in particular the song “Frozen.” This article maintains the lyrics and the song have underlying, dangerous themes. I disagree.

Frozen captures the long term consequences of an incident with two sisters, Anna and Elsa, after their parents die. Had Anna and Elsa grown up in idyllic circumstances, the critic might have had a point. However, he misses the point that Anna and Elsa aren’t reacting from that perspective but instead are responding with their limited, tragic experiences.

Elsa has a special ability to create winter. As children, she and Anna experiment with this gift. In an unexpected accident, Elsa nearly kills Anna with her gift. Their parents rush to trolls to save Anna. The trolls save Anna but do so with a price that costs both Elsa and Anna the rest of their childhoods. Their mistakes are similar to what some parents make when they discover their children have been abused: they try to erase the victim’s memory, isolate their children, and respond with more fear than love.

The first response is to erase Anna’s memory so she no longer remembers the accident or her sister’s special power.  However, just because parents try to erase an incident doesn’t mean that it never happened. It just holds and festers, waiting to erupt later. Elsa didn’t forget. She was haunted by what she had done and blamed herself.

That led to the second mistake the parents made. To protect Elsa and others from her power, the family cut itself off. Elsa was cut off from everyone. Anna was isolated from the townspeople. In addition, the relationship between the sisters, who had once been close, was ended. Of course, this confused Anna who didn’t know why her relationship with her sister ended, or why she could no longer interact with other people. She responded by wanting to know other people and as soon as she was able to meet them, she lacked the experience to discern who was a friend and who was not. That resulted in her infatuation with Prince Hans. She was so desperate to be loved by anyone she leaped towards the first person who offered it, not realizing he had other motives.

The final mistake the parents made was to respond more with fear than love. For Elsa, fear became the ruler of her life. The only way she has been able to prove she is “good” is to hide who she is and what she can do. She was never taught how to channel her power and use it in constructive ways. Further, her parents never developed an exit strategy for their isolation. Of course the moment she was forced to interact with other people, including her sister, it ended in disaster. Elsa refused Anna’s request to marry the prince. The clash between the two sisters, and the emotions of her coronation, brought about an unleashing of powers she had never learned to control.

In this context, Elsa sang the song Let It Go. The critic of the song suggests the song means she is rejecting morals and standards.  I think she is rejecting the fear that has held her back most of her life. When she rejects that fear, she erupts in emotions she cannot control. Anyone who has been shackled by fear and breaks those shackles will recognize her first reaction, captured so well in the song. Like a bird that has been chained and cannot fly, when she is set free, her first response is to spread her wings to see what she can do. And that is what she sings in the song, “Let It Go.”

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the queen.The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I triedDon’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they knowLet it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the doorI don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anywayIt’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at allIt’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry

Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

This song is an anthem for anyone who has ever been held back by fear. The movie doesn’t end with this song but with the eventual reunion of the sisters.

Elsa doesn’t realize she froze the town as she left. Anna left in search of her sister and met Kristoff. With her limited experience, she didn’t recognize the difference between the real good guy and the pretend one until it was nearly too late. When Anna and Elsa met again, Elsa didn’t realize she critically injured her sister.

At the conclusion of the movie, Anna sacrifices herself to save her sister. Her “act of true love” saved the kingdom, and it turned out she didn’t die after all. Having learned that with love, she can control her power, Elsa thaws the kingdom and punishes Hans, who has been revealed to be the bad guy. Anna ended up with the good guy, Kristoff, who truly loves her.

What was really frozen in the story was Elsa’s own heart. She was frozen in time the moment the accident happened. It’s not until Anna saved her with love years later that she warmed up and was able to again respond with love.

The final message I see in the movie is that two sisters, imprisoned by fear, learn to build a relationship with each other and overcome a tragic accident from their childhood. There is nothing dangerous in that message.

Instead, there is a story of redemption.

Grocery Routines

First in a series of healthier routines.

When I went back to work full-time – instead of juggling multiple part-time jobs – I worried how I would keep up exercise and healthier eating. Four months into my new role, I’ve developed routines that help me keep my healthier lifestyle.  The key is planning and making routines to reduce the amount of work involved in eating lower fat, nutrient dense meals.

I grocery shop on Saturdays and meal prep on Sundays.

Meat – The Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe is my friend. I love walking into their shop every week, where the staff greets me by name. They don’t inject their meat with chemicals or water, so I know I’m paying for meat instead of other stuff. They don’t freeze their chicken, and it’s hands down the best poultry product I can get in Evansville. Pork and beef roasts can be done a huge range of ways in a crock pot. I watch their sales and will add something else according to what they have on sale.

Each week, I buy a fryer, an order of boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, and a pound of extra lean beef.  I don’t do lunch meat products, but my husband will happily eat a sandwich for lunch while I’m working, so I’ve started adding a few slices of something for him for lunches. On Sunday, I will stew the fryer for my own sandwiches and use the broth to cook with.

Bread - I go to a bread store outlet close to one of the offices I work in because they usually have low salt-whole grain English muffins I like for my breakfasts. While I’m there, I pick up loaves of bread from their whole grain natural line. If they have the flax added, I’ll buy that.

Groceries – 

Sam’s once a month: When I’m there, I always pick up a container of their organic baby kale mix. It can be used for salads. The perk with the kale is I can also use it to cook with. When that runs up, I pick up a smaller container of it at Schnuck’s until my next grocery run.

I do the rest of my shopping at Aldi’s and Schnuck’s. Aldi’s offers good prices on staples like milk, eggs, and produce. Schnuck’s gives me the best choice of healtheir options. An added feature is both Aldi’s locations in Evansville are relatively close to Schnuck’s. So I can go from one to the other. I watch sales and augment regular purchases with specials.

Weekly purchases:

  • Milk and eggs (if we have used up our eggs)
  • Yogurt – the lower fat options. I like the fruit flavors as well as vanilla
  • Greek Yogurt – the plain variety is a great substitute for sour cream
  • Fruit – bananas, blueberries, a melon, an avocado, and strawberries
  • Vegetables – green peppers, carrots, broccoli, and whatever is on sale
  • Kale – to make a batch of kale chips each week
  • Greens – to cook with for an easy green
  • Liquid egg whites – I use the 100% whites instead of the egg beaters
  • Hummus
  • Orange juice

Staples to keep on hand:

  • Low fat string cheese
  • Happy Farmer cheese wedges
  • Fat free cheeses slices (not for nutrition – merely to keep me from full fat slices when I really want them)
  • Low fat shredded cheese options – the white cheeses generally have less fat than yellow ones
  • Parmesan cheese
  • A margarine or butter option – I don’t want to get into the butter wars. There are some good butter blends that are more spreadable as well as Smart Balance choices.
  • Cranberry juice – I buy the 100% juice varieties and alternate with the new blends
  • Applesauce single serve – for my lunches
  • Oatmeal packs – the new high fiber varieties for my family for quick breakfasts I don’t have to fix
  • Bread crumbs
  • Tortillas
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Dried cranberries
  • Brown rice – plan ahead and bake it the night before with chicken broth from the fryer
  • Couscous – the fastest carbohydrate dish you can fix
  • Salsa – green varieties often have less salt
  • No salt added canned tomato products
  • Cans of fat free refried beans
  • Cans of low salt beans – good in a hurry
  • Cans of fruit – trying to keep fruit easy and available for my son.
  • Pasta – I love the new high fiber or vegetables added varieties. They pack more nutrition while also having better flavor
  • Dried beans – the more varieties, the better
  • Chicken soup base – this has no nutritional value and merely adds flavor. I use in limited amounts.
  • Mrs. Dash varieties – the more, the better
  • Taco seasoning, spaghetti seasoning, and chili seasoning – no MSG low salt varieties when possible
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar, cider vinegar and plain vinegar
  • Hoisin sauce and soy sauce
  • Cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, flour, sugar, yeast, and brown sugar
  • Organic coconut oil
  • Steak seasoning
  • Non-stick spray
  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Frozen edamame (shelled)
  • Frozen vegetable packs when I’m in a hurry
  • Frozen fish – in single servings
  • Frozen turkey breast – Aldi’s sells a boneless variety which can be baked for an easy meat entree for a crowd
  • Peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Dehydrated hash browns (I buy these in a huge container from GFS – no salt added and a super easy, fast addition for a bigger breakfast).
  • Coffee

Guilty Pleasures

  • Sprite
  • Pie filling
  • Fat free  coffee creamer
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Cake mixes
  • Corn muffin mixes
  • Pop Tarts (I have a teen-aged son)
  • Pie crusts
  • Canned biscuits

In future blogs, I’ll write about my cooking and scheduling strategies to stay on plan.


Role Grandfathers

“Point to the grandpa,” my son, then a toddler was told during an evaluation. The tester held up a card of an elderly man and another card of a chicken.

Nick pointed to the chicken.

I cringed as I watched through a 2-way mirror. They were testing his language comprehension. He didn’t know what a grandpa was because he didn’t have one – not because he lacked language. After the fact, I explained to the testers why he missed that word.

Then we made sure he knew what a grandpa was. The lesson stuck more than I realized. Two years later, as I was teaching a Sunday School class and the topic of absentee parents came up, I addressed it with the kids. I grew up without a dad and wanted to make sure these kindergarteners knew God loves us all. My son told the kids around him, “I don’t have a grandpa. One is in heaven. The other is in hell or in jail, and I don’t know which.”

He had gleaned more about my father than I had intended to tell him. But I hated the fact my kids missed out on having a grandpa – I had 2 good ones who were always there for me, especially when my own dad wasn’t.

God put good men into our world and our community to fill that gap. Yesterday, two of those men died.

Father DeigOne was a priest, Father Deig. The other was a grandpa and 4-H Leader, Les Lantaff.

Father Deig was sometimes known as a priest’s priest. He was a brilliant, tall man who gave great sermons. Though he could understand the most difficult theologians, he put things into simple terms. One of my favorite lines which he often used was, “People sometimes say they are too busy for church. If your life is too busy for God, then you are just TOO BUSY.” I was thankful my son first served with Father Deig, who always made a point to be kind to his servers.

Father Deig was a frugal, simple man who saved money and budgeted carefully. A former school principal, one summer he asked to see what schoolbooks I used with my children – I was homeschooling them. So I took a big stack of books in to show him. Talk about being nervous. A week later, he gave them back to me and told me I was doing a good job. That Sunday, in his sermon, he mentioned that parents are the first teachers of their children, and that is one of the most important jobs in the world.

As Father Deig grew older and more frail, he was determined to go down with his boots on. I remember the Sunday he had an episode at church and needed to go to the hospital. He refused to go and refused to let anyone call 911. Finally, he agreed, and they called an ambulance. When the gurney was wheeled in, he looked at it and said, “I will not use that.” They told him he had to. So he sat straight up on the gurney. They told him to lie down, and he told them no – he was perfectly capable of sitting up. So they wheeled him out of the church, sitting straight up in the gurney.

For the past several years, Father Deig lived and faithfully served at Little Sisters of the Poor.

We first met Les at St. John’s in Daylight, where Father Deig was the priest. Les was active in the parish and was the grandpa of other members of our 4-H Club. In addition, he was a 4-H Leader. So as my kids got more involved with 4-H and St. John’s, we got to know Les. Les was a larger than life character who would help anyone, tell you what he thought, and make you laugh.

I’m a cook, and I cook not just for my family but for fundraisers. So Les’s standing joke for me was that he only saw me when there was food. So when he saw me, he would call out, “Mary, where’s the food?” There are so many colorful Les stories. I wish I could find the video of his giving a demonstration of how to fry an egg. We were making breakfast at the fair as a fundraiser, and my daughter brought in a warm egg, fresh from one of the hens she was showing. Les told me he would give a demonstration on how to properly fry an egg. He put on a total show.

Then there’s the time we made breakfast for the Classic Iron Show, and I served up my first plate of biscuits and gravy to Les. He told me, “Mary, you have to understand how a farmer eats biscuits and gravy. The biscuits are a boat. Then you pour enough gravy on top so those biscuits are floating. Don’t serve this like a city person with a little dab of gravy on each.”

hog roastLes was a retired meat inspector. As 4-H Leaders, we sometimes carve a hog with a hog roast fundraiser for our 4-H Center. Les taught me how to carve a hog and what the different parts of meat are. The first time he taught me, he cut a large piece of the crackly skin (with fat on the other side) and handed it to my daughter to dispose of. Her eyes grew big and after she threw it away, she washed her hands and whispered to me, “I touched…FAT.” This picture was taken the second time Les showed us how to carve a hog and what the meat cuts were. This time, he got my daughter right in there with him.

Les was a great 4-H Leader who would help any kid who needed it and encourage them. He helped my son many times with shooting sports.

After my heart attack, and as Les battled heart issues, we joked about healthier eating. He would point and tell me, “Look at that. I am eating my vegetables.”

Last spring, as I recovered from my heart attack, Les was working in his garden. He raised his own plants from seed and had more plants than he needed. So I went to his home, and he loaded up my car with tomatoes and peppers and gave me a lesson on all the varieties he had raised and what he liked best about each one.

Both Father Deig and Les had battled illness with the same tenacity with which they lived their lives.

They, and other good men, were an answer to my prayer when my children were young. They didn’t have  grandpas. But God put many other good men into our world to stand in that gap, just as he put good men into my own world to stand in the Dad Gap. They were role grandfathers, not just to my own kids to but many others.

In a world where there are so many shades of grey, where some skirt the law and push boundaries so far they go over the cliff of dishonesty, there are good people. Both Father Deig and Les were the kind of good men who stand as examples. There are still honest people who do good things and live good lives.

And we can use their good examples to resolve to do the same with our own lives.

There Must Have Been Someone Good

Why would I want to look at my family tree when I know there are snakes in the branches?

I told my husband that at least 1,000 times in the 25 years I’ve known him.

I spent my teen years trying to establish my own identity despite my family and a scandalous father. A few years ago, when I stopped for gas in the town of my childhood, someone in the store asked me, “Did they ever catch your dad?” I answered yes to a 40 year old sad chapter in my life.

With that background, I had no desire to learn more about that side of the family tree. What other horrible stories were untold? On my mother’s side, there were some Irish roots, and I had visited where the family emigrated from in Ireland.

My husband persisted, “There must have been someone good in your family tree.”

After he pestered me for over a decade, I finally told him, “Fine. You want to dig into my family cemetery. Go for it. But don’t tell me what you find because I don’t want to know.”

So four years ago, he began digging. I didn’t want to know anything he found for a year. He never told me more than I was ready to hear but confirmed to me that there were some good people in that family tree. This year, I agreed to take one of those genealogy DNA tests to find out my ancestry.

I was mentally prepared to get results that I was a blood relative of Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini. Wrong.

For our whole marriage, I have joked that a British Scot Irish crazy woman married a steady, predictable German. The DNA tests showed that I was 70% British/Scot Irish. The other 30% shocked me – 20% Western European, and the final 10% was a mix of Scandinavia, Iceland and Eastern Europe.

I wanted to solve the mystery of my family heritage and started digging. With God’s sense of humor, it turns out the bulk of that Western European heritage is the German for which I have teased my husband.

Those most exciting part was discovering a family tie to the mother of Richard Herbert, Magdalene Newport. She was a lifelong friend of John Donne, who preached her funeral sermon in 1627.

One thing that surprised me is that my roots are so deeply American. The most recent immigrant ancestors I’ve found are one from Ireland in 1830 and one from Scotland in 1794.  The others I have found arrived here in the 1600 and 1700’s.

James Michener could have written of them as a microcosm of pre-revolutionary America. The only distant outlaw I found in my father’s tree was a Hans Mansson who chose in 1640 to go to “New Sweden” instead of being hung for destroying 8 fruit trees in the Crown’s gardens in Sweden. He served as a convict laborer for 5 years and then became a civic leader in what is now New Jersey.

What fascinates me the most are their varied responses to the Revolutionary War.  On one side, there was a Johann Peter Frey who sided with the British Crown and refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance to North Carolina. Then there was a Joseph Whitaker, who was a one of the British 16th Dragoons who captured General Charles Lee in 1776 but deserted in 1777.  Then there were the Germantown Pennsylvania Updegroves who were Quaker Pacifists. Finally, there were more patriots than I can count who fought in the Revolutionary War.

The most disappointing part came when I discovered a family branch that owned slaves – I had always taken pride that none of the family tree I knew about were slaveholders. However, 2 of the 4 signers of the 1688 Germantown Quaker Protest Against Slavery, the first document in the United States to oppose slavery, were Updegroves (or “Up den Graeff”).

So the only thing really left for me to say is my husband was more than right. There are good branches in my family tree.

It makes a difference. Maybe my life is the Michener version of the happy ending where a couple of bad apples don’t spoil the whole tree.

Taking the Trail

The Biever Bunch could beat Duck Dynasty for real life adventures and entertainment.

We’ve taken up more trail walking in my post cardiac life. Today, as a getaway during my daughter’s college spring break, we tried a new trail. When we planned our hike, we hadn’t anticipated a storm front would come in today, the temperatures would drop, and the wind would be fierce.

To take the trail or not to take it? We’re tough. A little wind wouldn’t stop us. The trail we took ended up being 4 1/2 miles. We didn’t know until the first mile was over that it was a more challenging trail than I have ever done. I’m afraid of heights, and going up or down steep surfaces makes me nervous. Combine with that that it rained early this morning, so the trail was just a little slick.

If you take a trail with teen-aged siblings, they just might spend part of the journey showing who can walk faster in tough terrain.

If you take a trail with your teen-aged son, he’s going to try different experiments to make the day more interesting. What did he discover?

  • If you fart while walking on a trail, how far ahead can you be of everyone else and make sure they can still smell it? (20 feet)
  • If you race down the trail and swing yourself on a small tree, what could possibly happen? (Your mom could walk under that tree 10 feet behind you and get hit in the head by a baby branch that falls off of it.)
  • If you stand on a bridge and ask your mother for a password, will she give it? (No.) Will she recognize you’re quoting lines from Monty Python? (No)
  • If you race ahead of your parents and sister and hide yourself behind a fallen tree, burying yourself in leaves, will you surprise them? (Not if they saw you first.)
  • If you race ahead and go to the edge of a mountain bluff and tell your mom the trail ahead has you take steps down the mountain, will she believe you? (No.)
  • If you race ahead and tell your mom a sign says the trail has ended, will she believe you or read the sign herself? (She reads it.)
  • If you race too close to a precipice, what will happen? (Your mother will scream and cuss at you to get away from the edge before you give her a heart attack.)

All of those antics made it easier as I stressed heading up and down the hills.  The most common thing my kids and husband said to me?

“You can do it mom.”

At times as we worked our way up and down the trail, they took turns helping me and encouraging me as we walked across rocks at a stream. We did okay. I don’t know why I bothered to blow-dry my hair because the wind blew it every direction.

The trail wasn’t always easy, and I had to stop and rest. My new watch can monitor my heart rate, and I watched it carefully. I had nitro pills in one back pocket and a bottle of water. At times as we rested, I realized how lucky I am.

Fifteen months ago, I had a heart attack and had a stent placed in an artery blockage. Seven months ago, I had hernia surgery.

But here I am, with my family, tackling the toughest trail of my life on a cold, windy day. My biggest complaint?

The lack of bathrooms. If trail makers want middle-aged women to walk them, they would make sure there is access to bathrooms. I threatened my family that if we didn’t finish soon I was going to station them on different sides of the trail so I could go behind a bush. That didn’t happen.

I choose to think it’s a coincidence that my kids then began singing Rawhide in unison.

The older I get, the more I think I have in common with Clark Griswold.

We have choices in life. If we want to take a trail, some obstacles may present themselves. But if we persevere, and if we work together, we can make it through the tough trails. And we just might have some fun along the way.

A Problem With Recycling Refrigerators

Sometimes the best ideas have unintended consequences. This one deals with the cooling of food.

Old refrigerators used coolant fluids that are more environmentally hazardous than what new refrigerators use. This leads to a problem of what to do with an old refrigerator. Energy companies across the United States are working together to help with this problem through programs where they pick  up the old refrigerators, dismantle them, and give the consumer a rebate ranging from $30 to $50.

It sounds great on paper. The hazardous fluids are disposed of more safely. The consumer gets a newer refrigerator that is more energy efficient and doesn’t have to hassle disposal of a large appliance. The rebate check just sweetens the pot.

The problem and unintended consequence?

We now have a shortage of used refrigerators and freezers. Used appliance stores used to have a large quantity of old appliances. No more.

People who could not afford a new refrigerator could buy a used one and still have a method of keeping food cold.

Now, in our quest to save the planet, we have some people who no longer have a means to keep food cold in their own homes.

The recycling of old refrigerators is a great idea. But if an old refrigerator is still working, does it make sense to dismantle it and destroy it when it could help a family who has no other means of keeping food cold? Is there some way we could let someone use the old one until it is truly broken and then dismantle it?

Another solution would be to fund charities to have more money to help those who can’t afford to buy new refrigerators. Or to find ways to lower the prices on refrigerators.

What other solutions do you suggest so we can dispose of appliances responsibly but still help people have a means for cooling food?

7 Steps to Keeping a Passion for Excellence and Creativity When Others Don’t

How do you pursue excellence and creativity when you’re in the middle of an organization more interested in avoiding conflict and maintaining the status quo?

The status quo is a safe place for some organizations to be. The passion for excellence doesn’t always translate into making improvements when there is an institutional mindset of “we’ve always done it this way – why change?” For a lifetime, I have at times encountered resistance to new ideas and an attitude of continuous improvement.

If you find yourself wanting to try new things when those around you don’t, here are ways to keep your creative edge.

  1. Keep thinking and creating. Find an outlet – or several outlets – that give you a chance to express yourself. I think one of the reasons I began to write was frustration; in my own little corner, in my own little blog, I could think – and write – whatever I wanted to say.
  2. Go for your big vision. When you have a big vision, try for it. Maybe everything won’t work the way you intended. But still try it. One of my visions years ago was to found a 4-H Tech Club. We had no blueprint. My vision was a 4-H club where kids could experience and learn about new technology and develop their own skills to use it. I didn’t want a robotics club like some areas had, though we do some robotics activities. Had a “light bulb” club been created in the time of Edison, it would have been rendered irrelevant. We are in a technological revolution, and I wanted to help kids make the most of new opportunities. The kids in the club have surprised me for years, and we’ve gone in directions I never anticipated. Last year, the Indiana 4-H Foundation selected our club as 1 of 4 to present in a statewide science showcase.
  3. Make small changes where you can. Sometimes small changes can lead to bigger ones. Over 10 years ago, I startled a nonprofit I was president of when I announced that our spring fundraiser had to make money or we wouldn’t do it. It had lost money the year before. We made small, but significant changes, and it became a money maker.
  4. Work through the resistance. People will resist your ideas. They will complain to each other about you and your ideas. Some may try to sabotage them. Keep going. As you find ways to work through their resistance, you will improve the final product. More importantly, you will develop skills in working with difficult people and tough circumstances. Those skills will help you become a better creator. Better to work with people who will tell you no than to work with yes people who never question your ideas.
  5. Don’t fall into the anger trap. It would be easy for me to wonder sometimes if there is a sexism element to some resistance of change. Yes, I have at times encountered some who like working with strong women so long as they toe the party line and don’t bring truly independent thought to the table. Don’t go there. Don’t waste your energy on anger because it isn’t productive. Work very hard not to take things personally because the only thing it will do is sap your creativity.
  6. Broaden your network. Find ways to meet new people and encounter new organizations. You will discover new ways to work with new people. And if you’re truly unappreciated, you just might meet someone who introduces you to a new organization where you and your ideas will be valued.
  7. Leave when it’s no longer fun. So long as struggles to do something creative still gives you pleasure, keep going. When it stops being fun, even if you feel duty bound to stay, develop an exit strategy and follow it. Without passion, it’s harder to wade through the swamp of problems to get to the dry promised land on the other side.  I struggled with the leaving part. But I have learned when the time comes to remove something no longer pleasant from your life plate, if you remove it, you’ll then make room for something that might be better.

I found my niche. I found a place where strong women are valued, as are their ideas – even the totally unconventional ones. But all the skills I developed struggling in places resistant to change can help me now make bigger things happen.

And having been in worlds that didn’t understand that excellence and creativity are good things, being in one now makes me appreciate it all the more.

The Power of “We Think You Can”

“I think I can,” said the little engine that could.

There should be a companion book called, “We think you can.” And it should be read by upper management of every business that wants to keep and nurture creativity in their staff.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I found a company that for over a year has said, “We think you can” during my recovery from my heart attack. Not only did they say, “We think you can,” but they offered me opportunities I never imagined.

I had worked with marketing and then part-time in the offices of Goebel Realty in the year before my heart attack. When I got sick, their regional director came to the cardiac ICU unit to see me that night and then took my then 16 year old son home during a rainstorm. She promised us she would make sure there was no flooding or water damage and then told our son on the way home if there was, she would handle it and they wouldn’t tell us while I was in ICU. There was no damage.

When I was released to return back to work, Goebel welcomed me back in a limited capacity. I went to cardiac rehab three afternoons a week for two months, and they worked my schedule completely around my rehab schedule. As I got better, they gave me opportunities to increase what I was doing, asking me at every step, “Are you comfortable with this? We don’t want to stress you on the job.”

My husband observed that in the 25 years he has known me, I’m happier in this job, with this company than he’s seen me. He was the first to tell me, “They recognize your talent and appreciate you.”

They continued to work with me during the year during a subsequent hospitalization and then a surgery, at each step encouraging and welcoming me as I was able. In November, I signed on half-time and in December, I went to full-time employment. I’ve now been part of their team full-time for 6 weeks.

It’s taken me that long to realize how lucky I am to work for a company that says “We think you can.” They have not pushed me to do more than I was able, but they have nurtured my strengths and encouraged my creativity.

For a lifetime, I’ve worked with a variety of companies and nonprofits, both on paid staff and as a volunteer. I’m a creative who doesn’t see the world from a normal perspective. My husband’s favorite joke is the scariest 4 words ever are when I say, “I have this vision.” What he means is that my visions normally mean lots of work for him.

For a lifetime, with most organizations, I’ve encountered resistance to change and different ideas. I thought that was part of the deal – either that my ideas were bad or that change was so painful they preferred the status quo to the challenge of change.  Common responses I heard were:

  • We’ve always done it this way.
  • It’s too hard to change.
  • Why can’t you leave things the way they were?
  • No response – as in being ignored.
  • Or this past year – since you got sick, we decided you should take a break and we’ll make all the decisions now.

So for a lifetime, to have a creative outlet where others could neither stop nor discourage me, I wrote and cooked. I still write and cook.

But now that has completely changed. When I come up with new ideas, they get listened to. Questions are asked, and I answer them. The question I’ll probably be asked is, “If we do this, how will we make sure it works?”

I know my creative ideas can be exhausting to those who hear them and implement them. As I joked this week about bringing too many ideas to the table, I was told,

“We love your ideas. Keep them coming.”

I’ve found my niche. I still cook. And I’ll still write. But for now, my creative energies are focused on working for the company that told me, “We think you can.”

And with that chant, just like the little engine that could, I know I’ll chug to the top of the mountain and work my hardest to build their company.

A New Year’s Carol

How do you think Scrooge celebrated the new year after his Christmas carol?

This New Year’s Eve, as I celebrate my own second chance at life, I realized while wishing strangers in a parking lot “happy new year” that in many ways my perspective resembles Ebeneezer Scrooge’s on Christmas morning. Often, I catch myself realizing I got another year to enjoy with those I love, and it makes me so happy I can dance where I stand.

God has put me on a different path this year, and I feel compelled every single day to find ways to reach out to those around me to make them realize they are valued.

A few years ago, on New Year’s Day, my resolution was to try to see the face of Jesus in those I met each day. This year, it’s different. My resolution is to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to reach out to those around me.

Mother Theresa once said she was God’s pencil. So my job this year is to serve as God’s pencil, to draw a picture of hope every single day for those the Lord puts in my path.

I already see Him doing that – He is bringing me even briefly into people’s lives. The most important thing I can give them is hope and affirmation.

There are and will be stumbling blocks along the way. One is my sharp temper. I can lose patience easily and forget that mission. Another is impatience when I make mistakes and then want to dwell on them such that I can’t serve as a light for others.

And finally, I will be challenged not to get distracted or discouraged by other people. There will always be unhappy people who don’t want to be made happy – I can’t let their bad moods infect my own. In addition, especially after my heart attack, there will be some people who encourage me to stop doing things I love because I need to “take it easy and rest.” Yes, I do need to rest. But the point of surviving an illness isn’t to stop living.  It’s to do what I can do and love every moment of it.

Another point has been to analyze my life, look at things I don’t enjoy doing and deciding whether it’s worth continuing them. Life is too short to share parts of myself where they aren’t appreciated or where I’m unhappy. I’ve learned that when someone tries to put Mary in the corner, I can just leave the room and let my light shine elsewhere.

So with a renewed heart and zest for life, I think of the conclusion of A Christmas Carol,

“it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Let’s keep the New Year well together!

Page 4 of 49« First...«23456»102030...Last »