Dear Readers,

This week marks the first birthday of this little advice column. Thanks to my faithful readers and writers, we’ve made it this far! You’ve humored me, guided me, encouraged me, and danced with me. We’ve made our way through layoffs, loss, teens, and retirement. You’ve trusted me with things you’re not proud of, and people you can’t stand. We’ve sung from Broadway to the Monkees and Amy Grant and back to the Beatles. Launching an advice column takes some kinda hubris. One year later, I can tell you this: We’re in this together, and everyone is doing the best they can with the light they have. I hope my columns have brought some light and music to your life.

I have a simple favor to ask: if you enjoy a column of mine, or find it helpful, insightful (or full of it), please share it with friends. The columns are posted on my Facebook page, and on Twitter. And, you can receive the column via email when you sign up on my website. Please help me spread the word, and by all means, send a question! It doesn’t have to be yours…”for a friend” will work!

In honor of the occasion, let’s revisit a few questions from that very first column. I’m taking this week off! If you sent in one of these questions, or one from another column, please send me a note with an update.


Dear Maria,

I am a teacher by trade, but presently live in a state where I’m not rewarded for my experience and education. I am mother of a five and six year old, and have been writing for quite a while. I have been published online and have a blog. I need to contribute an income to my family, but when I get stressed, I can’t focus on writing. Advice? How to balance reality of paying bills while pursuing my real interest?


Fit to Print

Dear Fit,

All writers share your dilemma!

The most important thing about writing is to keep writing. It’s easy to set it aside to focus on “more important” things, like taking care of a young family. We think we’ll write better if we’re not so stressed. The truth is, writing is part of the process of life. It needs to be a priority and to be attended to on a regular basis. Find a slot of time every day to write, and then fiercely protect that time. You may need to get up a little earlier or stay up later, but the personal gratification will more than compensate.

Next, keep submitting material anywhere you can get published. Being a writer in the internet era is very tough because so much content is free. We end up giving away way more stuff than we would have in the old days of publications with paid advertising. That model has been smashed by the internet…note the decline in newspapers. The good news is that you can communicate directly with your readers. You might try this site:  for paid writing opportunities.

Building your writing gig takes time, and you need some income in the near term. Perhaps part-time opportunities, like substitute teaching, a librarian, or in the field of an avocation, like at a craft store or book store or restaurant could provide some income? Many a writer has worked other jobs while pursuing their craft. I know it’s hard with little children, so your goals don’t have to be too ambitious. The key is to keep at it. My best successes have come through steady attention to my work. When I get discouraged and hide from the world, I lose what momentum I had. Hang in there, and good luck!

Dear Maria,

In a couple of months my beloved youngest daughter will be graduating from college. Her major was fine arts so it may take her some time to get established and earn an income that will allow her to support herself.  She will most likely be moving back home with her father and I, at least for a while. As that day gets closer I find that I am feeling uneasy about integrating her back into the household.  The idea of nagging my now adult daughter to do the dishes and pick up after herself is not pleasant but I am afraid that we will quickly fall back into our old roles as parent and child. I don’t want to be a nag or a martyr.  What can I do to keep this homecoming a happy one?


Mom, not a Maid

Dear Mom,

Ah, the joys of a clean, empty nest! It’s hard to see the offspring fly away, but the calm that follows is delightful. How wise you are to avoid slipping back into old family patterns when she comes home to roost. Congratulations on raising a bright and creative daughter, who has chosen a challenging and rewarding career. So treat her as such. After the homecoming festivities, have a conversation about your expectations for her stay. She is an adult, and will have to negotiate living with others throughout her life—roommates, spouses, travel companions—and will be expected to hold up her end of the deal. Be clear with her about the deal now. Your conversation will model a good way to approach these situations. Start by telling her you’re proud of her, and that you expect her to behave as the accomplished person she is. Holding the highest good for others generally brings out the best in them, and is far more effective than nagging. Let your actions and words communicate how you see her: as an accomplished, capable adult. And, resist the temptation to pick up after her. (As a mother, I tend to do too much for my kids—I think I’m loving them by relieving them of chores. But, as a wise parent once told me: We do our children no favors when we do for them what they can do for themselves.) If her mess gets in your way, call her on it. Refer back to what she agreed to during your talk. Remember: we want our chickadees out of the nest, and a too-comfortable one is hard to leave!

Dear Maria,

My challenge is that my husband of 50+ years is showing signs of confusion while driving.  He used to be the expert on directions, but now it seems we are making a lot of U-turns! On our last driving excursion he ran over a curb, changed lanes without a blinker (or left the blinker on for miles), and ran a stop sign.  How the other driver was able to stop in time was a true miracle.

How can I approach him about his driving being questionable? I am quite sure my observations will be a shock to him.  Thank you for your wisdom.


SOS from Shotgun

Dear Shotgun,

Hide the keys! Hide your eyes! I understand your reluctance to talk with your husband. He values his independence, and any threat to it will be greeted with resistance and maybe even denial. Find a time to talk frankly with your husband about your concerns, and soon. Your letter is a great place to start the conversation, as you’ve listed several examples of his erratic driving. Is there anyone else in your family, or among your trusted friends, who has witnessed his driving? Perhaps they would be willing to talk with him, too. No matter how he responds, remain calm. Assure him that this conversation needs to take place before the police get involved, or anyone gets hurt. I also recommend sharing your concerns with his doctor. If there are changes in his driving ability, he’s likely affected in other ways, so some testing may be in order. When my own mother faced this situation, part of the process of giving up her keys was consulting her doctor. The doctor wisely replied: “If you’re asking me this question, then it probably is time.”  Your husband might hear the advice of a third, professional party better than from family or friends. In the meantime, try taking the wheel, or riding with friends.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.