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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Farewell to a Friend

Yesterday, I learned that an organist who had accompanied my singing, Joe Jacobs, had died.

This blog is a thank you to accompanists and other unsung heroes everywhere.

I’ve sung with good accompanists and bad ones. When I sang with one accompanist, I felt like she was the organ grinder and I was the monkey. I followed her playing and direction. When she stopped, the monkey (me) stopped singing. Sometimes I felt like I was singing an obstacle course on a reality show, with the congregation as the viewing audience.

Then there’s the other kind. The accompanist who listens. He can spot when I’m shaky on a melody line and emphasize the melody. We would watch together to see how many verses of a hymn to sing and when to stop. We had hidden cues we both understood – when I set my hand on the side of the organ, he knew I thought we needed to finish this verse and end.  When he nodded at me, I knew to pause between verses so he could improvise an interlude.

Great accompanists are patient with singers and roll with our stumbles. Once, while I was cantoring, as we exchanged peace, I saw the priest shaking hands with my son, who was serving. I was caught up in the moment, overwhelmed with mama pride, when I heard a hissing, “Mary!” I had forgotten it was time to sing the next response. Back to the job. If I sang the wrong verse or stumbled, he added emphasis to his playing so I could get back on track.

They are also reliable. Musicians don’t have the luxury of only performing when at the top of their game. They play in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, in good times and in bad. When there was an ice storm one Christmas Eve, services were cancelled and everyone forgot to tell the organist. So he braved the slick roads and ice, arriving at a darkened church with no services, and never complained about the oversight.

When he played we had those moments when I could feel music flowing from us through a whole sanctuary.

My friend died unexpectedly yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to tell him thanks. Look around you – who do you know who’s reliable, forgiving, and empathetic?

Thank them while you can.


Social Sober

My name is Mary, I do social media, and I don’t drink.

I don’t think there’s a Sober Social Media Anonymous group somewhere.  There are AA groups and probably social media addicts groups, but I don’t know of one that addresses both. (potential niche market?)

My husband drinks. Several of my friends do. I used to but haven’t touched the stuff since I became a mom. My kids needed a mom who spent more time changing diapers and less time dancing on tables. With a family tree loaded with alcoholic branches, I decided to stop to lower the risk of my kids developing substance abuse issues.

When I stopped, I learned I could have fun without a drink in hand. Sometimes, I still have too much fun. Every other year or so, when I’m clowning at a party, someone asks what I’ve been drinking.  Examples?

  • The last time I carved a hog at a roast, I cut the meat to the beat of the D.J.’s music. Nothing like cutting a crispy hog skin while dancing and singing to Twist and Shout.
  • When I sang Bohemian Rhapsody to Rock Band, while wearing pink mongo Elton Jane sunglasses my son bought for me for $1 and never imagined I would wear in public.
  • When I get tickled with friends and start howling with laughter. I ROFLMAO in public.  My laugh can make other people laugh too. Once you’ve heard it, you’ll know when I’m in the building.

Answer? I’ve drunk nothing stronger than a Coke or cup of coffee. If I can have this much fun sober, it’s probably a good thing I don’t drink alcohol and lower my inhibitions further than I already do.

There are advantages in life to always being able to be the designated driver.

It can also make me the designated Tweeter. If something happens in real life and a message needs to be quickly spread via social media, I can do it.  I don’t TUI. Even on a Saturday night.

When I’m sober, it’s easier for me personally to have fun and get it done.

P.S. If you do something so funny I’m laughing hard while walking, I’m trying to make it to the bathroom before I wet my pants. And I may tweet what made me laugh.


Snow Adventures

“We’ll get to the doctor’s office and back before the snowstorm hits,” I assured my mother several years ago. Her appointment was 1 1/2 hours from her home, and I took my kids, ages 5 and 7, with me. We booked a hotel room the night before so we could get in for her early a.m. appointment and dash back home the next day.

As I sat in the nearly deserted waiting room the next morning, I watched the snow become ice and pelt the pavement. Locals had cancelled their appointments. I needed to manage my kids and help my mom (who spent most of her time wheelchair-bound) avoid injury.  By the time the appointment ended, we knew there was no way we could return home and booked an additional night at the hotel.

When I watched the news in the small city, further south than ours, the news reporter proudly reported, “There’s our snow plow, clearing the roads.” Yes, snow plow, not plows. Singular. That’s when I knew we were in trouble.

Extra nights in hotels are the kinds of adventures kids like. We grabbed enough food for lunch that we didn’t have to venture out for dinner. Though I often sent my son outside to run circles in the front yard to wear off his energy, we got to keep him in a hotel room most of the day.

The next morning, I took my daughter, a 2nd grader, outside to clear the snow and ice from the van so we could try to get home.  I left my kindergarten-aged son in with my mother. Half an hour after we started clearing, my son came out. I figured he had run faster than my mom with her walker, so I told him, “Go tell grandma we’re almost ready to load and go.” He went back inside.

After the van was clean, I returned to the room to find an angry mother. When she went to the bathroom, my son had slipped out the door, ventured through the hotel, and found us outside. When I sent him back in, he went back to the room by himself. “What were you thinking? You TOLD him to go back through the hotel alone?”

Yep. That’s me. Just pin the Bad Mom of the Year award on my Parenthood cloak.

Yes, we made it home.

And that’s when I learned that my children’s behavior was as easy to predict as the weather.

Strap on your parachute! Seize the adventure!


Thrill is Gone – How to Dig Outta the Boring Blog Blues

Before you read 1 word of this blog, click on the video. I wrote this listening to the King of Blues, BB play “The Thrill is Gone.”

What do you do when the thrill is gone from the words you write? 

Many talk about blogger’s block and struggling to find something to write about. Boring Blogs Syndrome, IMHO, is deadlier.   If you can’t think of anything to write, keep writing. If you’re repeating the same thing you’ve already written in new words, you run the risk of boring your readers. Just because you write it doesn’t mean you have to publish it.

Bored readers don’t die. Their eyes glaze over, they get distracted, they leave, and they don’t come back.

How to recover from Boring Blog Syndrome?

  1. Get real. Stuff is always happening, some good, some bad. What gets you excited or angry? If you pour your passion into your blog, readers realize you slit your wrists and bled all over the keyboard before publishing.
  2. Stay fresh. Listen to conversations – in real life and online. What are your friends and readers talking about on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs? If they’re passionate about it, they’ll be more likely to read it.
  3. Risk. At times, good writing feels like skydiving. You leap from the plane; sail on a wing, a prayer, and your words; pull the rip cord and land. Good writing doesn’t always make you feel safe. You may occasionally crash land or break a few bones. Unlike skydiving, however, risky writing that goes bad is seldom fatal.
  4. Listen to music. Crank up that music that seizes your soul and let it carry your words.  Good writing is like music poured into word form.
  5. Step away from the keyboard. If your writing is so blah it bores you, it bores your readers, so stop. Unless you’re a professional writer who depends on every word to pay the bills, take a break. I’ve stopped for as long as a year at a time. Now I’m back at it, a post a day. Live your life and do what you love with the people you love the most.

As you feed your heart, you feed your inner writer.

Then one morning, you’ll suddenly discover.

The thrill is BACK!


How to React to a Shooting

Bobby Kennedy’s impromptu speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the best impromptu speech I’ve seen. I show this video to every impromptu speech class I lead.

Setting for the speech: Kennedy was on a campaign stop in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968.  He was scheduled to speak to a minority audience, and local police asked him to cancel his speech after the assassination because they feared a riot.  Kennedy refused.  You will hear when he learns the audience does not know King has been shot. Kennedy’s speech prevented the feared riot.:

What makes Kennedy’s response great?

  1. Tell the bad news. He told what was known. Kennedy did not blame or suggest suspects.
  2. Acknowledge the horror. He acknowledged the grief and shock his audience felt upon hearing the news.
  3. Share personal experience. He shared his experiences and response 5 years earlier to his brother’s assassination.
  4. Draw on education and training. Classically educated, Kennedy quoted the play Agamemnon, by the Greek tragedian, Aeschylus:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Kennedy’s speech concludes with a call to wisdom – to understanding.

Instead of a call to action.  Let law enforcement find who committed the crime, why they did it, and use that knowledge to better prevent future shootings.

As one out of many in the general public, my job is the same as Kennedy’s audience.

  • Remember that our Declaration of Independence declares our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We all have those rights – not just our friends but our enemies.
  • Disagree with others on matters of substance but honor their dignity.
  • Remind our friends and others of the gift of human dignity.  Tragedies happen when we forget inalienable rights and human dignity.

Tragedies and senseless shootings continue. Two months after this speech, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. His speech on reacting to violence can still teach and inspire us today.

I doubt I’ll ever personally stop a shooter. Nevertheless, if I heed Kennedy’s call to wisdom, perhaps I can help build a stronger culture of respect for others.

When the temperature in the cooking pot lowers, there’s less chance of a boil over. Will you join me?


Rotisserie Wrestling

My Christmas was complete! I got a new rotisserie. I assigned putting the rotisserie together to my son, age 12.

The directions were in Spanish. We went through the kids’ Spanish dictionary to match the parts chart on page 3 to the parts names on page 4.

I’ve never trussed a chicken. We only had blue string. I imagined the chicken turning blue a la Bridget Jones and drove to the Dollar Store. They offered to sell me clothesline, so I bought it at the grocery store instead. 

Youtube showed me how to truss the chicken. The directions said to preheat the oven first. My son earned a 2nd degree burn when he got the bird into the oven. As the bird turned, a string dragged. The chicken legs shimmied as the spit turned.

My daughter tended to her brother’s war wounds while I saved the chicken.

I turned off the oven and quickly tied more string as the bird went around the spit. I tied it tighter together so it wouldn’t shimmy while spinning.  Then the spit rotated in the other direction. It spun backwards until all the string was undone.

I would not be conquered by a dead bird and a kitchen appliance! Off to Youtube I raced! I watched 3 more videos. We retied the bird so tight the spit wouldn’t move.

I didn’t want to get burned, so we took the top off the oven. My daughter helped me fix the spit. We won! The bird began spinning! The thighs shimmied and the belly flopped, but the bird was secure.

Five minutes later, my daughter called, “Mom! There’s a problem!”

One side of the spit fell onto the bottom of the oven. The bird rotated and shimmied. When we took off the top to fix it again, I earned my 2nd degree burn. My daughter tended to my war wounds.

This time, it worked. The bird still shimmied, but it cooked.

That evening, we enjoyed our own rotisserie chicken. Never mind that the oven got so hot it melted the chocolate chips in the cabinet above it.

My son and I nursed our burns, took some pain meds, and our family ate the conquered bird.

Never underestimate the power of a whole family against a single household appliance.

Yesterday, the rotisserie. Today, the smoker.

I wonder if my family will ever buy me a turkey fryer……


Are You a 21st Century Pioneer or Old Timer?

Not quite ready for prime time 21st century jargon? Do you wonder what terms and customs mean?

2011. Old: say two thousand eleven for the year.  Younger: twenty-eleven.

Cloud. Old: cumulus clouds in the sky. Younger: opportunities for users to share files and programs over the Internet.

Easter egg. Old: a treat-filled egg found during a hunt at Easter. Younger: hidden treat that can be found in a movie, book, video, or computer game. It includes inside jokes or special treats for those who find them.

Email. Old: trendy way to communicate. Younger: text and dm more than email. If you send them email, make it short. Less is more. More is never read.

Handle. Old: used with your old CB radio. Younger: Twitter.

Hashtag. Old: possibly an illegal substance. Younger: conversation topic used globally on Twitter.

Interruption. Old: don’t look at that phone when I’m talking to you. Younger: check phones for texts, messages and more during real life conversation. This is their normal multitasking in a connected world. They set SmartPhones on the desk or table during meetings to use as needed. 

IRL. In real life. Acronym to distinguish from virtual world.

Mobile hotspot. Old: possible title on the cover of Cosmopolitan. Younger: device that lets you create a Wifi hot spot for other Wifi capable devices.

Pandora. Old: myth. Younger: music platform where you choose what you want to hear.

Talk to someone. Old: real live conversation. Younger: in real life or by way of Skype, chat, tweet, dm, or text.

Time. Old: watches and alarm clocks. Younger: phone. 

Tweet. Old: possible continence problem for perimenopausal women. Younger: verb form of how people communicate on Twitter.

What did you watch last night? Old: TV. Younger: ustream, Netflix, or Youtube on a computer, iPod, phone or iPad.

Work Day. Old: 9 to 5. Work and personal separate. Younger: Work may not be one job; it could be 2 or 3, and one of those could be being a solopreneur. Work  and personal merge into meeting the needs of both as needed, and sometimes with interruptions on both ends.

Your wallet or your phone? If a robber mugs you and asks, your wallet or your phone, old answer, phone. Younger: wallet. 

Younger or older, if you understand what others are thinking with certain terms, it will help us all work together as teams.

What other older/younger differences in terms do YOU see? Comment below.


8 Questions for a Social Media Pro Before Hiring

If you are going to hire a social media professional, what questions should you ask?

  1. What’s your Klout? Klout measures individuals’ social media impact. Its methods may not be perfect, but social pros should have a Klout score of at least 30 (most social media pros have scores much higher than 30).  When you enter a Twitter handle (must be public), you will pull the Klout score.
  2. What are your favorite platforms? A social media pro should be familiar with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, and blogs. Pros need to understand the social media spectrum and how to best use each platform. How do they integrate Groupon offers, FourSquare, and Facebook places into campaigns?
  3. How do you build your community? Social media done well builds better communities. Do they use their Klout to bring people together? Do they share their toys? Are they involved in local, state, or national social media efforts? Do they attend or present at social media conferences or barcamps? If so, which ones, and which topics?
  4. How do you define best social media practices? How do they handle ethical issues? Do they emphasize strategy or tactic? Do they encourage open, honest dialogue?
  5. How do you have fun with social media? Good social media pros never take themselves too seriously. Fun, creative pros develop fun campaigns.
  6. How do you measure results? Your campaign strategy should have measurable goals with your specific, niche audience.
  7. What’s your time frame? Instant results from a social media campaign are as reliable as weight loss programs that promise major results in a few weeks. Do you want a quick splash or a long term gain?
  8. How do you train clients? Do they evaluate your full social media branding and train employees? If they don’t train clients, do they make referrals? Do they not only teach you how to use social media for branding but also market research?

Google your social media pro.  Evaluate their blogs, videos, and photos. Do they look like a good fit for your company and its culture? How good are they are beginning, continuing, and responding to conversations by way of Facebook, Twitter, and more?

Ask good questions. Ask the tough questions.

Better to build a strong social media presence with a solid foundation than to build one in sand that has to be fixed later.


Party Planning on a Budget

“You’re one of the 3 cheapest people on the planet, and the other 2 are your friends,” my 14 year old son told me. I wear it as a badge of honor.

Our Convention Visitor’s Bureau spent more than $3,000 on their Christmas party, with a final tab totalling $219.95 per person attending. This blog won’t deal with the politics.

As one of the top 3 cheapos on the planet, listed below are ways I have organized cheap parties for volunteers that had good food and were fun.

Meat trays and pitch in: I purchased a ham on sale, had the grocery store slice it, and purchased bread store buns. Club members and volunteers brought drinks, snacks, desserts, and condiments. My daughter and I made ham trays.  Total cost to feed 25 people: $22, or 88 cents per person.  For entertainment, volunteers set up black light volleyball.

Soup and sandwiches: Bargain shopping at grocery and bread stores, we made meat and vegetable trays with ham, beef, and turkey for 70 volunteers, plus beef/vegetable soup, Texas sheet cake and apple crisp. Total cost: $200 to feed 70 people, or $2.86 per person.

Video game party: Last year, we had a free room for a video game party for club members. Members brought in video game equipment and systems. All food was potluck.  Total cost: $0 to feed 30 people, or $0 per person.

Laser tag party: we take 25 youth and volunteers to Walther’s for Laser Tag on cheap night. Two laser tag games cost $8 per person. Club members voted to pay for  laser tag instead of food. Total cost: $200 for 25 people, or $8 per person.

Pizza potluck pitch in: we ordered in pizza for a family night potluck, estimating 2 pieces of pizza per person, 4 people per pizza.  With 24 attending, we purchased 6 of the cheap $5 pizzas.  All other foods were brought in/donated by members and volunteers.  Total cost: $30 for 24 people, or $1.25 per person.

Cookie reception: With cookie receptions for my children’s choir, we were forced to purchase punch for $15 per gallon. So we ordered 3 gallons for $45 and asked parents to bring 2-3 dozen cookies per family.  After the reception, we donated leftover cookies to an area homeless shelter. Total cost $45 for 10o people, or $.45 per person.

Others ways to cut costs: hire a local caterer for the main foods. Prep the drinks and ask those attending to bring desserts/appetizers. That can cut @$3 per person from the final tab.

It’s easier to raise money and encourage others to save it when they see that you count every penny and make every penny count. I’m a volunteer. I organize volunteers. And I raise funds for non-profits.

If you have other suggestions for volunteer parties that cost less than $219.95 per person, please comment below. I would love to find some new ideas!


9 Venues for Affordable Music for Kids

ParentSquare should have a MusicParent badge for parents who pay for and get kids to music lessons and make sure they practice. 

Over 13 years, my kids have had varied music experiences – Suzuki violin, piano, Kindermusik, choirs, percussion, handbells, traditional violin, and guitar. Some music experiences cost more than others.  We paid for most, with some scholarships or help from family. My daughter paid her own tuition for a children’s choir for two years.

How can you expose kids to music on a budget?

  1. Library programs: my kids went through a brief Kindermusik intro once. One local library offers low-cost recorder lessons.
  2. Church programs: look at after school programs and camps. My kids did vocal and sign language choirs plus group percussion and piano classes in them.
  3. Free concerts: Colleges, churches, and libraries may host free concerts. For younger kids, look for outdoor concerts where you can sit near the back. Every 3 years, one local church does an Amahl and the Night Visitors performance. I included it in a music unit to introduce my kids to opera.
  4. Library music collections: Don’t limit yourself to Mozart. Do a Peter and the Wolf adventure. Get some scarfs or streamers and encourage them to “dance” to the music.
  5. Sing: Kids love to hear their parents sing. Encourage them to sing with you.
  6. Share the music you love: My taste runs to Vivaldi, while my husband’s veers to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Let them see what music moves your soul. 
  7. Get the rhythm: Suzuki begins with rhythm awareness. Listen for rhythm patterns and help your young kids learn to repeat them. My son blew taca taca stop stop bubble rhythms in his chocolate milk before he was 2 – listening to his older sister’s music lessons.
  8. Perform with other kids: music is not a solo act. It’s meant to be shared. When your kids perform music with other kids, they learn lessons: following direction from a leader, listening to others around them, maintaining poise when circumstances change, and also developing skill in phrasing, dynamics, and expression. Those skills apply to public speaking, interpersonal communication, and life in general.
  9. Lessons. If you can afford it, private lessons are great. Get the best teacher you can afford – if not professional, what about a high school student?

You can find ways to help your kids discover their own music passions, regardless of your budget.


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