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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

6 Steps to Advocate and Protect Your Own

Squeaky wheels get the grease. I’ve effectively used the same advocacy steps in tough medical, educational, and insurance challenges.

My challenges?

  1. Medical – because of a rare blood incompatibility (PLA1-), I destroy baby platelets. My son’s pregnancy included 4 PUBS, 5 weeks of high dose IvIgg treatments, and a month-long hospital stay.
  2. Educational – 1 of my children needed intensive early intervention.
  3. Insurance - 10 years ago, our home burned, and we had to rebuild.

I used the same steps to get my son medical treatment he needed, obtained needed speech therapy, and rebuild our home.

  1. Assess. Determine the issues, the players, and your resources.
  2. Organize. I use binders with dividers and prep like I’m an attorney getting ready for trial. During my son’s pregnancy, I kept a file of all diagnoses, lab results, and insurance correpondence. We took it to each appointment and procedure. With our IEP meetings, I kept a binder with diagnoses, insurance correspondence, school correspondence, along with applicable state and federal laws. For our fire recovery, I compiled a file bucket for claim information, orders, and contractor estimates.
  3. Plan for meetings. Before tough meetings, write your talking points. Simplify them to 3-4 points and 1 to 2 goals. Keep those in front of you to stay focused. Just before a tough meeting, I pray, asking God to help me do what’s needed.
  4. Delegate. Evaluate your talent pool and delegate. Delegate roles during meetings – who argues, who takes note, and who’s the good cop.
  5. Find experts. During my son’s pregnancy, I found the world’s leading expert in New York, spoke with him, and convinced insurance to cover his consultation. With our speech therapy issue, I found the world’s leading expert (at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN) in his problem, took my son to meet him and be diagnosed, and asked him to help us advocate for services in our local school system. When we disagreed with our fire reconstruction contractor on replacement of a bedroom ceiling, I brought in an engineer friend who backed up my concerns; after it was demolished, they found mold growing in it post fire.
  6. Use the Internet. Tweet, email, and blog to find other resources.

Sometimes, with those you love, your job is to be the squeaky wheel. Your agenda is their health and well-being – not policy, protocol, or bottom lines. Squeak loud, early, and often till you get the needed grease.

This is a chess game – with lifechanging stakes. Sometimes, the survival of a crisis depends on who’s the best advocate.

Advocate. Protect Your Own.

A Cantor's Christmas Gift from Connecticut

“Can you substitute cantor New Year’s Eve?” our church’s music director asked when she called earlier this week.  The scheduled cantor was ill.

After I mentioned my cantoring to a friend, he commented, “Once I walked into a church for the first time, and a nun walked up and asked me if I could help the choir sing.  The best way to keep get new people involved is to ask for their help.”

Yesterday, I arrived at 3:30 to review music before the 4:00 service.  It was easy, except the communion song, “Holy is His Name.” I had never heard nor sung it. I struggled with the rhythms, missed some entrances, and we ran out of rehearsal time.

“God, help me not look like a fool,” I desperately prayed.

Five minutes before we began, musician friends of mine from Connecticut walked in.  He’s music director and she’s director of religious education at churches, and they love to sing.  I grabbed them and introduced them to our music director.  “Can you help?” she immediately asked. When she learned he played guitar, she handed him one.  He quickly tuned the guitar he had never before touched.

The beginning of the Mass felt like skiing downhill on a slope for the first time, when you don’t know what will happen till you reach the bottom. We had never rehearsed and had no time to talk.

We began smoothly. I worried about the communion song.  “God, please make this ok,” I desperately prayed.

When we began singing it, I realized they had sung the song before. 

Then the miracle happened.  We had finished the verses and needed more time, so we began to repeat the refrain, “Holy, holy is His name.”  In 3-part harmony, with guitar and keyboard – using music with no harmonies written. It jelled.  My arms were covered with goosebumps from the Holy Spirit by the time we finished.

It was the most profound, moving musical experience I’ve ever had. Unrehearsed, unplanned, and totally from God.

Music gives us a chance to share our souls with the world. Sometimes, we feel the hand of God with each note. This was one of those times.

Have a feeling this is going to be a great year.  When I asked for help, it was given.

If someone asks you for help and you share your talents, great things happen.

What, Why, and How of QR Codes

At yesterday’s Indiana Social Media Summit/Smackdown, 1 Indianapolis attendee wore a t-shirt with a giant QR code printed on it, challenging friends to scan his  code. Last night, I tried explaining this to a friend who is neither a geek nor a marketer. He had never heard of QR codes. That’s when I realized most normal people don’t know what QR codes are or how they will be used next year. 

What are they?

You may have seen the graphics attached to packages, on flyers, or in other information without realizing what they are. These are 2 dimensional barcodes.  They were developed in 1994 for use by car manufacturers as a Quick Response code.

Why do people use them?

If you scan a QR code into a SmartPhone or other device, you access information faster. Instead of manually typing in a web address, I can scan in the code and immediately get to the website. It can be set to immediately provide the scanner with contact information and text. Imagine the possibilities for your business card.

Think of this as a faster way to get coupons, special offers, and more.

Marketers love these because they can measure ROI on different parts of a campaign. Put a different QR code on different media branches of a campaign. They can then measure response rates and make smarter purchasing decisions in the future.

Artists are including QR codes in their artwork so those who scan the code can access new information, Easter eggs, and more.

At yesterday’s Indiana smackdown, trophies were given to statewide winners. Evansville’s Ameristamp Sign-a-rama donated the name plates for the trophies and included the QR codes of winners beside each winner’s name. A QR code can be included on any printed material or signs. Some business owners print and post them to better reach their smartphone customers.

How can I get started?

The first step to printing something with a QR code is to generate a unique code for your information or website. If you Google “QR code generator,” several options will be listed. Mashable recommends considering  Kaywa, iCandy or Stickybits.

Right now, 1 in 4 Americans uses a cell phone with applications.  By this time next year, 1 in 2 Americans will have a SmartPhone.

Smart businesses will find ways to use QR codes to better reach their customers. The smartest ones will find new ways to use them.

5 Steps to Fix a Bad Facebook Picture

What do you do if someone posts a photo of you on Facebook  that needs to be removed?

  1. Change your Facebook Settings. If you go to privacy settings, you can customize it so only you can see the photos or videos in which you are tagged or designate who can see the tags.
  2. Untag Yourself. If you are tagged in a less than flattering picture, go to the list of who is in the picture, hover on your name, and untag yourself. Once you are untagged, others will not be able to retag you.
  3. Delete the Photo. If it is your photo, delete it. If one of your friends has posted or tagged you in a bad picture, then don your Dale Carnegie supercloak.
    1. Contact the person in real life and politely ask them to remove the photo.
    2. Contact the person by Facebook message and ask them to remove it. This is not the time to be hostile; use words like please, thank you, and have a nice day. Only the picture poster can remove it. If you are rude, you risk harming your friendship or making your friend so angry the picture stays or new ones are added.
    3. Report the photo to Facebook.
    4. Even if the photo is deleted, people could have downloaded it for posterity.
  4. Knock It Down. If you can’t get rid of the picture, get good ones taken and tagged to knock the bad one down the view list.
  5. If You Aren’t Good, Get Good. With the abundance of cameras and flipcams, what happens in Vegas stays on Facebook/Twitter/the Internet forever.

Photos and privacy issues get tougher when children are involved. Some children have family issues that require them not to have photos published. Ask permission of parents first. Check the privacy settings of your photo albums.

What are our choices with photos and privacy?

  • We could don burkas so no one will know who’s in which photo.
  • Or we can try to find ways to be part of the conversation and protect our privacy as much as possible. 

Smile. You’re on candid camera. So am I.

How I Began Living Well Instead of Hell

Old dogs can learn new tricks. Middle aged mothers can change their lives.

For a lifetime, I’ve survived sickness and health through fire, famine, and flood. Sometimes just barely. By the grace of God, love of a great husband, and help of good friends.

I’ve spent my life helping family and friends, raising my children, and helping my husband begin and grow his business.

My kids are nearly grown. What will my life be when our nest is empty? 

Four months ago, I went on a retreat, Living Hell to Living Well by Kimberly Delcoco. This was my first ever retreat just for me.

That weekend, I dug into who I am and who God wants me to be – personally and professionally. 

We set goals – short and long term, big and small.  Kim gave us tools so our goals wouldn’t just be a wish list that never happens but would effect real and long term improvement in our lives.

I’ve never had a long range life plan.  Since returning home, with the encouragement of our retreat small group, I’m reaching for my goals.  For the first time since Richard and I started our business ten years ago, we took a real family vacation.

The retreat inspired me to try a new adventure – developing my computer coaching business. I love to empower people to use computers better.  Now, I hope to do it better.

There’s a transition from helping everyone else pursue their dreams to seeking my own. 

Thanks to entrepreneur friends & fellow retreaters who encourage me – Mandy Gregory, Stacy Shanks, and Dana Nelson. And a big thanks to Jennifer Butler Hollander, who’s helping me focus, plan, and organize this new adventure. 

Living well is more fun than surviving whatever comes next. Thanks, Kim, for helping me change my outlook and my life.

My 2011 resolution is simple: keep on adventure I began on the retreat, From Living Hell to Living Well.

My American dream….

5 Steps for Perfect Pitch

Small children’s violins should come with a surgeon general’s advisory: Flat violin notes cause toe curling, hair loss, early onset arthritis from cringing and upset stomachs for parents of children who play them.

When my preschoolers were in violin, I was the Pitch Nazi who insisted they hit notes neither sharp nor flat, but on pitch because the alternative made me physically ill. Their pitch might not be perfect, but it didn’t need to be mortally wrong.

Perfect pitch – the ability to hit a note correctly without a cue. Traditional American thought is you’re born with perfect pitch, or you’re not. Japanese thought, however, is perfect pitch can be trained. The older I get, the more I agree with the Japanese.

When I play the perfect pitch game, I’m often 2 steps flat – maybe my childhood piano was flat.  After 13 years as a music mom as my kids have sung and played guitar, piano, handbells, percussion, and violin, I win the pitch game more often than I used to.

Isn’t life a lot like perfect pitch? Some assume those with wonderful lives were born to them or got lucky. Others believe with hard work, we can make our lives better.

Let’s assume perfect pitch – and a better life – are trainable. What can improve your ability to hit the notes right? As a former Suzuki mom, these are the steps I’ve seen to develop perfect pitch:

  1. Repetition - Repeat basic building blocks often, no matter how advanced you get.
  2. Focus - When practicing, don’t get distracted. If you get distracted, refocus yourself.
  3. Smaller chunks – if a building block is too difficult, make smaller chunks of it that you can handle.
  4. Expand your repertoire - After mastery of building blocks, always seek to develop your talent.
  5. Share your talent with the world – Play in public with others. When you play music with other people, you must listen not only to yourself but the world.

Perfect pitch will get new tech twists in the future.  When my daughter takes her violin to play in public, she uses the G-Strings app on my phone to ensure she’s tuned. 

Though we may never have truly perfect pitch, we can develop the talents we do have and make them better.

With great love, anyone can learn new things.

If You Give a Mom a Shirt

If you give a mom your credit card 3 days before Christmas and tell her to treat herself, she might go shopping.

If she goes shopping, she might find a shirt she likes on the clearance rack.

If she finds a shirt she likes, she might buy it.

If she buys it, she might give it back to you, with the credit card and a suggestion that it would be nice if it were wrapped.

If it’s wrapped, it might go under the Christmas tree.

If it goes under the Christmas tree, she’ll probably open it.

If she opens it and Christmas Day is a  Sunday, she might wear it to church.

If she wears her new shirt to church, she will probably feel happy that she’s wearing her new Christmas present, she likes it, and it fits.

If she feels happy she’s wearing it, she will most likely keep wearing it after church for Christmas dinner.

If she’s still wearing it while she preps Christmas dinner, her husband might notice a problem.

If he notices a problem and says so, she may ask what it is.

If she asks what it is, he could tell her there is still a sticker on the shirt.

If he tells her there is still a sticker on the shirt, she could look down to see it.

If she looks down to see it, she could gasp in dismay.

When she gasps in dismay, she most definitely will yank the sticker off the shirt. A small, round sticker. On the left side of the shirt. She just wore to church in front of God and everybody.

After she yanks off the sticker, she may think but will not say that her Christmas treat ended up being a booby prize.

If she thinks it’s a booby prize, she still will not say whether it was small, medium, large, or extra large.

Though she will not say the size, she will say laughter is always a Christmas treat.

Tis the season!

Christmas Lights

On August 11, 2001, our home and business burned. A month later, September 11 attacks changed our world.  We returned to our rebuilt home just before Thanksgiving and continued to rebuild our lives that Christmas season. 

I wanted somehow to show our kids, ages 5 and 7, that in times of great loss, we celebrate new beginnings and hope for the future  – and to inspire and encourage neighbors on our quiet, urban street. Thus began Operation Christmas Lights.

That December, a friend and I collected milk jugs and asked our friends to help.  We collected over 50 jugs, made Chinese lanterns of them with votive candles and kitty litter, and attached a Christmas card to each milk jug handle.  It  took us days to complete.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, our families worked up two city blocks, placing a lantern in front of each home.  I was nervous placing candles in front of some of our neighbors’ homes; sometimes inner city neighbors are volatile.  It was growing dark, the wind began to whip, and we hurried to light the candles before our family went to Christmas Eve services.  I couldn’t be late because the kids were singing before the service, and I was “volunteered” to direct them!

A light dusting of snow began to fall while we were in the service.  When we returned home, the white snow dusted the street and sidewalks and reflected off the dark night sky.   There was a unique calm and silence on our street.  In front of each house, reflecting against the snow, were our recycled milk jug Christmas lights.  They lit the path to our newly rebuilt home. 

The neighbor I most paused at leaving a light in front of had rearranged the milk jugs so there were three lights in front of her home.  Even they caught the Christmas spirit that evening.

My prayer now, as my kids are teens, is that they remember to share the light they have with others, especially in bad times. And they know no matter how bad things are, there will always be a path of lights leading them home for Christmas.

Telling Great Christmas Stories

History can be as boring as dirt if we leave the back stories out of the timelines.

If you like the back stories of our Christmas traditions, find a copy of the late Webb Garrison’s book, A Treasury of Christmas Stories.

Garrison’s stories are often short enough to read aloud at a single sitting with family and share the kinds of details that make history memorable and fun.

  • what George Washington purchased his stepchildren the first Christmas he was married;
  • in 1214, English barons refused to visit King John in England over Christmas, resulting in the writing and signing of the Magna Carta;
  • Joel Poinsett (for whom the poinsettia is named), the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, met a mob of anti-American demonstrators in front of the U.S. embassy, with an American flag on a pole as his only protection – they disbanded;
  • Union soldiers gave Savannah, Georgia, a free Christmas dinner in the middle of the Civil War;
  • The first Christmas tree in the White House was a present for the wife of President Franklin Pierce, helped pull her out of a devastating depression following the accidental death of their last surviving son.

Garrison, former assistant dean of Emory University and president of McKendree College, died a few years ago. 

In the conclusion of his book, he urges families to read these stories aloud and share them together because storytelling combines art with instruction and entertainment. 

“Tell your stories” is the advice of many working in social media today.  Reading and sharing great stories is a great step towards being able to share your own stories.

I highly recommend Garrison’s books to anyone who enjoys a great story, who wants to gain greater insights into our history and traditions.

The Person Behind the Keyboard

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” the Wizard orders Dorothy when she’s trying to leave Oz.  She ignores the voice, peeks behind the curtain, and discovers the wizard is human.

The best communicators - in real life and social media – slip through the curtain to give us a glimpse of the person behind the mask.

When we write by email or private message, remembering there’s a person on the other side of the keyboard is imperative. We’ve all gotten poison pen electronic messages. 

One recent morning, I sat down at my computer to joke with virtual friends – my family was still sleeping. I had just finished 2 of my most stressful days of the year – days full of difficult paperwork that’s worse than tax time.  My friends and family had cheered me through these hated days in person, on telephone, and via email.  I was ready for a break and a laugh before my first cup of coffee – time for Christmas to begin!

Instead, I read a terse private message that lacked nuances like please, thank you, Merry Christmas, etc. The complaint had merit, but the tone oozed anger from each sentence. Ouch. My family was all still asleep, and I didn’t want to wake them to cry on their shoulders.

So I tweeted that I was hurt by a private message and needed someone to make me get back in the Christmas spirit. Within a minute of my tweet, I got a first response from a friend sending me a joke. Then another. Then more.  I chatted w/a Facebook friend who texted me encouragement throughout the day.

As I sat in my still-dark living room, with tears rolling down my face, I was not alone. I had shared a glimpse of myself behind the social media curtain, and friends responded. They were my lifeline till my husband woke up, and I could cry on his shoulder.

We often talk of the business and educational value of social media. First and foremost for me, social media builds relationships.

When Twitter, Facebook et al are done well, they reveal to us the person behind the keyboard – good and bad.

Social media inspires me to be a better person behind the keyboard – and to help others do the same.

Oh – and thanks to @News25JordanV, @StevenWABX, @MarketingVeep, @Hsing3Kinder, @TalinaN, @DanaMNelson, and @PlanningForever – and my FB texting encourager – for answering my early a.m. Tweet for help.

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