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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Please Offer Food Choices That Won’t Kill Me

I’m all for the free market system but have a request for those in food service.

On your menus, can you please offer a single food option that won’t kill me? I’m not asking you to revamp your entire menu. All I’m asking is for a single food that’s more whole food than processed, which isn’t smothered in cheese or broiled in fat or laden with salt.

I am living proof that coronary artery disease can in some instances reverse itself with medication, diet, and exercise. If I eat those comfort foods you are most comfortable serving, that you know will generate a profit, they. will. kill. me. Your profitmakers will clog my arteries and give me another heart attack. Next time, I might not be so lucky.

New studies actually show that indulging in a single fat-laden orgy of a meal can become the “last supper” before the big one. As in the final heart attack.

I am not alone. I have seen in my own food sales experiences that every single year, the demand for plain, whole food alternatives increases.

I’m not saying to get rid of the other choices on the fat junk food end of the spectrum. All I’m asking for is give health a chance…with at least a single food option I could choose while supporting your charity or festival.


Turn Back the Hands of Time One Bite at a Time

Waiting for My Test Results

Waiting for My Test Results

Seven months ago, I had a heart attack. Besides the stent they put in one artery, they discovered another artery with an almost-70% blockage in it. They opted not to operate at that time but to monitor the other artery to intervene as necessary.

After I was released from the hospital, I met with a dietitian friend and got a crash course in re-inventing our diet. The first day post op that I exercised, I started with walking around our home for 2 minutes and worked myself up, a minute a day, to riding an exercise bike for 45 minutes at a time. Spending two months in cardiac rehab, 3 afternoons a week, helped me work up with endurance and learn to exercise safely. Yes, I had to stay after rehab one time, like a kid after school, because I tried to push harder than they told me to, and I pushed my blood pressure too high.

I took the whole medication regime to decrease my chances of a heart attack and began to research what foods to eat. Some studies said that coronary artery disease was sometimes reversible. Others said they weren’t. So six months ago, on a visit to our cardiologist, I asked him if it would be possible to reverse the artery blockage.

He told me no. All we could do was delay its worsening, and the best thing I could do was lose weight. He told me I had to lose a minimum of 51 pounds.

Well, I’m 34 pounds down, 17 to go. For the past six months, besides exercising, I’ve worked to at least double the amount of fruits and vegetables in my diet. I didn’t give up meat or dairy, but I did reduce portions of them and also reduced portions of processed foods like bread. I researched lists of super foods and foods known to help heart disease, and I worked to include them regularly in my diet – foods like kale, salmon, avocados, nuts, berries, beans, spinach, and flaxseed.

Over time, I learned if a food got in my head and bothered me, it was better to eat a small sample of it and get it out of my head than it was to keep denying myself until I binged on it. Over time, my taste buds have also changed. Processed foods taste saltier. And my system is so used to lighter foods that if I eat something that is laden with fat, it tastes bad.

For the past six months, that artery blockage has loomed like an ax above me, about to swoop in and devastate me once again.

Two weeks ago, I was admitted to the hospital for chest pains which turned out not to be a second heart attack. After I took a second stress test, while waiting for the results, I was told that if they showed more blockage in that artery, it would mean surgery for another stent the next day. I was also told that the blockage was in a bad spot that would make fixing it difficult. We steeled for the worst and prayed for the best.

When the stress test results were in, I was released with no need for surgery. Yesterday, I was given the official stress test results. The blockage has decreased from almost 70% to less than 50%. In 6 months. Because it is less than 50% now, it is no longer considered at risk.

Thanks be to God! I feel more than lucky that in my case, I got to turn back the hands of time – with a combination of prayer, medication, diet and exercise.  Part of me wanted to go dancing up to the cardiologist who gave me the grim report 6 months ago so I could sing, “If You Could See Me Now…” However, I know this battle will require a lifetime of vigilance, or I will end up back where I was.

Not everyone who tried what I’ve done would have the same results. Nevertheless, I’m firmly convinced that a good diet and exercise are integral to my health plan now and for the rest of my life. Besides the test results, I have more energy and endurance than I have had in decades.

And I will continue to encourage others to make the changes before they have to go through what I did. Start with baby steps. But start today. And keep going.

The Real Racism Question of the Day

The current question of racism is a red herring. It’s easier to focus on a single word uttered by a single celebrity than it is to address the real issue and tragedy of racism.

The “N” word is an abomination to me. Thirty-eight years ago, I lived briefly as a Yankee in the heart of Louisiana in a city ruled by a code of Separate, Unequal and Proud Of It. It was ten years after the world described in the movie The Help, where that “N” word flowed as freely as Coca-Cola does in Atlanta.

During my 5th grade year in the Deep South, I went to a public school where whites were in the minority but were given privilege at every opportunity. We had separate doors, and the playground was divided by race. We got the side with the swingset and monkey bars.

Another Yankee girl dared to play on the wrong side of the playground – the side with the grass – and she was beaten up by my white classmates who told her never to make that mistake again. Buses followed the letter of integration laws by having separate bus routes at different times, using the same bus, but divided by race.  It was the world before fair housing, so the city was divided as well as swimming pools, churches, restaurants, and more.

We lived in an American version of Apartheid in 1975.

As a girl from a small town in southern Illinois who wasn’t raised in a racist home but had never dealt with any racial issues, I was in absolute culture shock. I hated that world.

What I hated most was the failure to educate that I saw in my classroom every single day. We read aloud daily in class. Some kids on the other side of the classroom (we were assigned seats closest to the furnace and air conditioner vents) were completely illiterate. The teacher simply read their sentences aloud, and those students repeated them. No effort was ever made to teach them to read. It was simply accepted that they couldn’t and never would read.

Both my brother and I had minority teachers who weren’t allowed to discipline their white students. That role was reserved for the school’s white principal. My teacher was better than my brother’s; his teacher chose a minority student to beat each afternoon in the cloak room. One day, she beat a girl so badly she beat all the buttons off the back of her dress.

Flash to the present day. Where would those students in my class, who were passed on and passed up, without ever learning to read, be? Without the ability to read, it’s harder to develop better language skills. That in turn limits the opportunity not only for career mobility but also complex thought. Where would the students in my brother’s class be – in the same sunken boat filled with a lifetime pool of anger?

My position on racial issues is impacted by my religious faith and an acknowledgement of the innate human dignity we all possess.

While we all ponder a single word uttered by a white celebrity cook, we miss the tragic testimony of the star witness in another racially-infused trial of national attention. The witness could not read cursive writing. She was as unable to comprehend and communicate what the prosecutor asked of her as those attending were unable to comprehend her.

What would happen if we acknowledged the “N” word is an abomination, simply resolve not to use it and spend our time in a more constructive manner – of trying to figure out how we can reach kids of all races who lose their chance at a better life before they are ten years old because they aren’t given the opportunity of a good education?

Why aren’t we instead concentrating on how we can better communicate with others of different cultures in this great American melting pot?

The answer, I’m afraid, is it’s easier to think about an “N” word than it is to think of the “R” word of Reading – which opens more doors than racism will ever close.

We can’t unring a bell. If we focus too much on words of the past, we miss the opportunity to build a better future for all of us – regardless of race, color, or creed.

What to Look For in a College Visit

We’re in Round Two of the College Tour Season. After a notably bad experience visiting one prospective college, I was thankful I had had good experiences beforehand to balance out the bad one. Had that bad experience been my first experience as a parent visiting a college with my child, I would have been utterly demoralized.

Prior to that experience, all of my focus had been on preparing my kids for college visits. Now, I realize it’s a two-way process. When you visit prospective colleges with your teens, you need to prepare your teen first with homework about the school and also what accomplishments and potential your teen brings to the table.

That visit is also an opportunity to discern whether or not the school is a good fit. We have been fortunate to meet several outstanding faculty members who understand the fine art of recruiting new students. The best recruiters have moved beyond the Willie Loman-style of selling where the sales person sells at a prospect and fails to listen to the customer.

Though students may change majors, make sure you have at least one 1:1 meeting with faculty members in their interest area. This will give you a feel for how that department or institution treats individual students. In an era when families are increasingly aware of the expense of higher education, the good recruiters know how to show the value they add to a student’s education.  They know to build a relationship and learn about prospective students first.

Here are things the good recruiters do:

  1. Ask questions.  Good recruiters will try to figure out what makes you tick and what makes you unique. They will seek information on your accomplishments, interests, studies, and work ethic. As they learn about you, they will offer ways that their program is a good fit for you.
  2. Know answers. Good recruiters should be able to give specific examples of where students have done internships and where their graduates are working. They should be able to list specific companies where their graduates work. If they can’t, that means either their graduates aren’t getting good jobs or the recruiter is too distant from students to know where they get hired. If their students participate in undergraduate research, they should be able to mention the specific areas their students research. If their students go on to graduate school, they should be able to mention specific schools as well as fellowships and awards those students have won.
  3. Show interest. Good faculty members like at least some of the students they teach. They care about them. They should begin to demonstrate their interest in their students in that first recruitment meeting.

If you meet with a faculty member who shows no interest in what your student brings to the recruitment table, run – don’t walk from that school choice. The faculty member who doesn’t care about the potential of future students most likely doesn’t care about the ones currently being taught. Don’t waste your time or energy on those recruiters.

My teen had the most insightful comment after our bad experience, “Their program has lost half to 3/4 of their students. After 15 minutes there, I knew why.” When a student has a bad feeling in a recruitment meeting, it’s a good sign that’s the wrong fit for a college education.

When Michelangelo sculpted great works of art, he said he saw an angel in the marble and brought it to the forefront. The greatest teachers – the ones who inspire their students to reach the greatest heights – do the same thing. They see potential in students and work to make the most of what they see.

You will know which recruiters see the most potential in your kids. You will know which ones generate excitement and inspire your kids.

With a good fit, after finding teachers and recruiters who inspire greatness, the investment in a college education will be time and money well spent.

When Parents Volunteer

When parents volunteer within the same organizations in which their kids participate, they not only help the organizations but teach their kids countless lessons by example. Sometimes the lessons are harder than others. But the toughest ones are the most important…

How do you advocate for your kid and treat others fairly? How do you reach that balance between remembering a child’s heart and encouraging a process of continual improvement?

One way I’ve encountered this challenge is as a superintendent of 4-H projects. During project turn-in, when I took the role, I realized I could no longer help my kids through their own project check in. They were on their own – albeit with their dad and a checklist I helped them develop. While other parents helped their kids, I was helping them. Now, at the end of my 4-H parenting career, I see that that made my kids become more self-reliant and organized.

As a project superintendent, one of the first tasks – one of the unwritten ones – is to greet kids bringing in their projects and remembering that what is just a checkmark and project turn in to you is possibly their pride and joy. They have worked to learn new skills, and this is prime time for affirmation to encourage and compliment them. The kids  you inspire and encourage today will resolve to work harder, whatever ribbon they are awarded.

Then comes a trickier part which, like other good project superintendents, I hope to do well – quickly run through the project requirements and see if there are any technical errors that can be immediately fixed so a member isn’t penalized for a technicality. That happens best when we aren’t overwhelmed with entries and something gets missed.

As an example – when notebook displays are turned in with our computer projects, they are required to be submitted in hard cover binders, not flexible sheet covers. That’s because the notebooks may go on a display rack and must be able to stand on their own. To make it more confusing, I also supervise creative writing projects, which are turned in in flexible folders. That’s because we receive so many writing projects that they are placed flat on a table, and there isn’t enough room for over 100 hard cover binders. So if a creative writing entry is submitted in a hardcover binder, or a computer entry is submitted in a flexible folder, I give the same spiel:

“I can accept your project now, but I wanted to make you aware of the rules. Technically, your entry should be in ‘X’ folder. You have a choice – you can submit your entry now but should know that because it doesn’t follow the rules, you will lose points. If you can figure out a way to get the correct folder before the deadline, you could submit it and get those points. It’s your choice.”

Some parents appreciate my help. In one of the most ironic examples, a mother grew very angry with me and tried to argue with me. I just showed her and her child the rules and explained I was trying to help them. They chose to get the correct binder.

When the judging was complete, her child’s project beat mine and won the champion. Her child’s project was demonstrably better than my child’s.

Had I kept my mouth shut, my child would have won the champion.

But the point of 4-H isn’t how many champion ribbons you win. Instead, it’s about the skills that are acquired and the character that is developed.

It’s also about recognizing that when we encourage high standards in a positive way – instead of gloating on the penalty after the fact – we’re raising standards.

When we aspire to excellence, and we reach out our hand to help others along the same path, we all benefit. Rising tides raise all ships.

And my prayer is that, above all the things I taught my kids by lesson or example, they learned integrity in their thoughts and actions.

Management Lessons I’ve Learned from My Teen-aged Son

My son is more than the eternal optimist. He will look at a glass that’s 1/4 full and tell me, “It’s just enough, and we’ll  be fine.”

I think he came by it naturally. When he was three years old, speech therapists said it would take at least 5-6 years for him to work through intensive speech therapy to speak clearly. I worked with him, but he worked with me every single day, without complaint, on his assigned exercises and completed his therapy in 2 years instead.

I think that experience taught him that if we approach things with a positive attitude and chunk at our problems a single step at a time, we can master goals and make incredible things happen.

When he organizes something, he doesn’t deal in drama, gossip, or negativity. With his humor, he’s able to keep the group focused on having fun while they reach their goals.

Last summer, when he was assistant manager of a fair food booth during a week of record high heat and record low attendance with decreased sales, he gave a report on end of week sales, “We had a good week. We met our sales goals three of six days, and everyone did a great job.” Not only did he leave out what could have been a depressing report, but he left out his own efforts to make those goals, including volunteering over 60 hours in 6 days to boost those profits – or his carrying a tub full of water bottles to a hot auction so people could give donations to the water, hoping to increase their sales.

This summer, I’ve watched him begin to organize that food booth – last year’s Jr. Leaders elected him treasurer so he would manage it this year. I tried to offer suggestions to him to fill his volunteer spots. His answer?

“We’ll be just fine. I’ve got it handled.” The booth he manages is entirely run by teenagers, and they will succeed or fail on the merit of their own efforts.

I tried to offer him suggestions on how to schedule shift chairs. He stopped me, saying, “All of our shift chairs are awesome. They can handle anything.”

As I think about his comments, I see a lesson we could all learn: he believes in those shift chairs and the volunteers. They know it.

When managers believe in the skills of their team and begin with a positive attitude, they are more likely to inspire success.

Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude. If we see success in others, we’re more likely to help them see it in themselves and make it happen.

It’s amazing what a 17 year old can teach his mother.

Maintaining the Lifelong Low Fat Marathon – 6 Months After a Heart Attack


A breakfast sandwich compromise

It’s easy to embrace a lower fat lifestyle. The biggest challenge long term is keeping it.

It’s 6 months since my heart attack. I have lost 31 of the 51 pounds I need to lose, and find my biggest struggle is resisting temptation on a daily basis. Cardiac rehab is over, and I no longer have to weigh in with a nurse right there 3 times a week.

Add to that challenge I love food. I grew up loving fatty foods too. This week, I worked to meet some challenges.

One of my friends (thanks Nibby!) is very good when he sees me about to back slide to remind me, “Not on your plan, Mary.”

A reason I’ve gone public with my challenge to eat lighter is just so friends can help me stay on task – and also so I’m aware that people are watching to see if I practice what I post and write.

Yesterday was a challenging day. Just before my heart attack, I was elected President of our county’s 4-H Leaders. Yesterday was one of our fundraisers that helps purchase manuals for 700 kids in our county – we were selling concessions for breakfast and lunch at an event.

Breakfast was my gauntlet of biscuits, gravy, and bacon.  For a week, I had pondered our biscuits and gravy, which was one of my favorites.

I hadn’t touched gravy since my heart attack. I’ve eaten one biscuit. But I adored my standby feel-good breakfast. How would I resist temptation? All week, I thought about how good my former favorite breakfast was.

I decided not to volunteer until the tail end of breakfast to reduce my temptation time. The less I was around it, the less likely it would be I would fall off the wagon. Then I decided to take just a bit of our biscuits and gravy so it would get out of my system. When I arrived, I made a plate with a single biscuit, a small scoop of gravy that was half the amount I usually used, and a single sausage patty.

It didn’t taste as good as I remembered. After I ate it, I smelled the fat of the gravy and was repulsed.  I felt heavy and bloated.

The days of my adoring biscuits and gravy have ended. After 6 months, my taste buds have changed.

Then came the lunch shift. We serve fantastic grilled pork chops and chicken, with the meat purchased from a local butcher. It’s top quality product. Our side dishes included sweet and sour slaw, German potato salad, baked beans loaded with bacon, and desserts of Texas sheet cake and fruit crisp. We added healthier side choices last year of veggie packs, apples, bananas, and light yogurt. We saw a huge uptick in the interest in the lighter side items last year, and this year they got to help me.

I chose one of the pork chops, the slaw which has a vinegar-based dressing with no oil, and a yogurt. And I did indulge in a single piece of the chocolate cake. It still tasted fantastic. But I knew at one piece my quota had been met – once I ate it, it got out of my head.  When someone volunteering complimented me on staying on task with my food choices, it helped me resist temptation.

The final challenge comes with leftovers. I don’t waste food. We distributed some leftovers, but I came home with a few leftover sausage patties, egg squares, and biscuits. My family would enjoy some of those items. For my breakfast this morning, I worked to help go through the leftovers but stay on path.

I again compromised. Our local bakery thrift store sells wheat English muffins that are low sodium. I ate one of the sausage patties on that muffin, with an Egg Beater portion (measured), a whopping portion of organic spinach, and a slice of fat free cheese. Combined, it was like a McMuffin sandwich with a lot less fat. I could enjoy my new equivalent of the type of breakfasts I used to love.

Yes, it would be better if I only ate whole foods and avoided the fat free products made with chemicals. However, I know myself well enough to recognize if I try that, I will fall off the wagon completely, and it will be harder to resume the better choices.

Finding ways to make a few compromises is helping me stay on the lifetime lower fat lifestyle. They help me last the endurance test long term.


A Super Food Salad with Salt-Free, Lighter Dressing

981720_10151728174260439_374449830_o (1)This salad, made with kale, will hold up sturdier than a traditional lettuce salad. I didn’t tell my calorie-loving 17 year old son, but it’s full of super foods and not so full of fats or salt. I fell in love with super food salad at the deli, but I wanted to find a way to make a version of it that was lighter on my diet and my wallet – it sells for $6/pound. So I experimented.

The basic salad:

  • 1 bunch of curly kale, chopped into small pieces.
  • 1 (8 oz.) package of shelled edamame
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped finely
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup low-salt cashews
  • 1/2 cup roasted, shelled sunflower seeds

Combine all the salad ingredients and stir them gently to mix.

If the thought of making a dressing scares you, buy a light vinaigrette. That’s not an option for me because most of them are loaded with salt. So I made my own but made it lighter than the traditional recipes.

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of cider vinegar
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 cup of water

Mix the dressing ingredients (except the water) in a separate bowl with a whisk. Taste test. If it tastes bland, add more vinegar. If it’s too tart, add more sugar. Then pour the dressing over the salad and stir gently. If there is any sugar remaining in the measuring bowl put the water in the measuring bowl, stir it, and then pour that over the salad.

Let marinate for at least 6 hours. Serve cold. Vary the vegetables in the salad according to what you have. I’ve tried this with leftover roasted asparagus, and it was fantastic.

Nutrition information per 1 cup serving:

  • 112 calories
  • 5 g fat
  • 3 g protein
  • 49 mg sodium


Singing Light In the Darkness

In old movies, when someone wandered or was lost, people often put a candle in the window to light the way if the lost turned towards home and was trying to find it.

My light in the window is my song, especially in church. When I sing praise and worship music, I sing with my whole heart and soul. Each note and phrase is a prayer. They are my candle, praying and calling you home so that when you see the light, you know which way to turn.

The journey back can be a lot shorter and easier than the one to venture away. Just turn towards the light, move towards it, and the darkness will dissipate. With each step, the shackles of pain and despair will weaken.

Until you turn and sing the light, I will sing and pray that each note will be the one that you hear that turns you back on the right path. And when you do make that turn, my song will burst with joy as I embrace and welcome you home.

See the light and come home soon.


Job Application Questions

It’s not your parents’ job market any more. I’m amazed at some of the questions on job applications now. However, if they are being asked, they must be issues. Here are some of the recent ones I’ve seen:

  1. In the past 6 months, have you ever gotten into a fist fight with your coworkers at work?
  2. Sometimes, it’s ok for an employee to take a little money from the register. Agree or disagree?
  3. If you see a coworker is upset with a piece of equipment and he kicks it so that glass shatters, what do you do?
  4. Are lies ok to tell at work?
  5. I always let my bad moods influence my work. Agree or disagree?
  6. I believe it’s ok to use illegal drugs on the job as long as they don’t impact my performance. Agree or disagree?
  7. You hear two coworkers gossiping about an affair with a supervisor. What do you do?
  8. If you and your coworker are having an argument, what do you do? Talk to a supervisor, ignore the coworker, confront your coworker, or talk to other coworkers about the problem.
  9. It’s ok to take small items from your office if you feel underpaid. Agree or disagree?
  10. Suppose a new policy is started and you don’t like it? Do your job, do your job but tell your supervisor you don’t like it, or ignore the new policy?

Have you seen similar questions? If so, share them.

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