Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Part II

tulip-poplar-tree1There’s a mammoth, rotting tree in our neighbor’s yard that could easily crush our house with the next strong wind. An arborist has warned us, not once, but twice, about the danger and urged its immediate removal. As I described in yesterday’s post, I shared this news with our neighbor via email in late July.

Neither the neighbor nor I made mention of the tree (nor the whopping $4,000 price tag to remove it) for the next 21 days. Over that period, I spent a good chunk of my awake time angsting about how/when to broach the subject of the tree again. (As my husband pointed out, I was investing WAY too much emotional energy in this dilemma.)

On Day 22, a 5 am thunderstorm jolted me awake and terrifying thoughts of tumbling trees kept me awake. I decided to take the bull by the horn (or tree by the limb) and attempt to restart the conversation.

Elaine’s Re-engaging Email

Hi, “Sally” and “Bob”!

Are you two around this weekend so we can chat about the tree? Can we set up a time to meet (by the tree, for coffee, whatever)? What’s your schedule like? Just email me back or call at home.

Thanks! Elaine

Neighbor’s Email Response


Elaine’s Reaction and Self-Talk After This Response

Yes?!?! What does that mean? Yes to what question? This feels like some passive-aggressive game and I’m on the losing side.

I forward the email to my husband (of course with no extra editorial comment given my recent email faux pas) and later ask for his interpretation. “Yes means they’re around this weekend,” he tells me in a reasonable (and, to me, most annoying) voice. “Clearly, this is not a priority for them,” he adds.

Well, it’s a priority for me.

I consult my toughest, take-no-crap friend about what to do. She advises me to “force” the conversation by inviting them over for a specific day/time to discuss the matter. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? A neighborly conversation over coffee to chat about the tree. I can picture it now …

Elaine Regroups

Look for the latest installment of the tree saga installment tomorrow. Read about my awkward telephone invitation and their unenthusiastic response.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Part I

tulip-poplar-treeIf good fences make good neighbors, what does a 150-foot, at-risk tree do to neighbor relations? Let’s follow the email trail and find out …

Initial Salvo Sent From Elaine to “Sally” in late July

Hi, “Sally” -

We had a tree company come over the weekend to give us an estimate on tree work that needs to be done in our yard. We used them 6 years ago, too. At that time, the tree guy expressed concern about the poplar tree with the split trunk that’s in your back yard. He indicated it was just a matter of time before it toppled and, given its size, did a lot of damage to whatever it hit. We told “Joe” (who was in the house at the time), but he kind of blew it off.

The tree guy has increased his concern about the tree’s stability, saying that the split between the two trunks has increased and the root system is weak. He recommends removing it ASAP. There’s another, less expensive option of cabling it, but my understanding is that would just postpone the inevitable.

Given that, if/when the tree goes down, it would likely fall in the direction of the bedrooms of our two kids, we are motivated to help remove the tree. We would be willing to help out with the cost to remove the tree, if needed.

I’m going to put a copy of the tree guy’s estimate in your mailbox for you and your husband to review. I know he would be happy to discuss this with you, too, and his number is (222) 123-1234.

I’ll call over to your house and see if we can chat about this more in person over the weekend. Thanks, “Sally.” I guess this is one of the “joys” of living in a neighborhood with mature trees. Sigh.

Best, Elaine

Neighbor’s Response

I have forwarded your message to my husband. I do have some concerns but I feel there is a way we can come to a reasonable solution. Husband’s email addendum:  I am on a business trip right now. Can we discuss over the weekend when I get back?

Elaine’s Response to the Neighbor’s Response

No rush … definitely it’s a conversation for the weekend when we’re all around.

Thanks, Elaine

Two Important Contextual Notes for Wise Women to Know

  1. The cost of removing the tree is $4,000. (Sadly, you read that amount correctly; there is no extra “0″ included inadvertently.)
  2. About 90% of communication between neighbors in our neck of the woods occurs via email. Over the last year since they moved in, I have had one in-person chat with this neighbor plus about a dozen email exchanges ranging from information-sharing to school fundraising solicitations to expressions of concern when our dog ran away.

Next Chapter

Tune in tomorrow to discover how I handled the deafening silence that followed over the next three weekends.

Teen Cribs Fab 15 Countdown

mtvWhile channel surfing last week, I stumbled across MTV’s show Teen Cribs, a showcase for overly indulged teens, their toys, and their palatial digs. I’ll confess to having a sick fascination with the show. I even devoted 90 minutes over the weekend to the episode detailing the top 15 cribs. (My only defense was that I was sick in bed and it was either that or witness Tiger Woods blow his lead in the PGA tourney.)

If you don’t have an hour and half to waste invest in the full episode, just watch the promo for the Fab 15 Countdown; it’s the first minute of video, after the initial mini-commercial. And be ready to catch your jaw as it drops. As the promo teases, “We’re not talking run-of-the-mill McMansions here.”

More on Camping…

tent_campersWhen we camped last week in Harrison, Maine, we set up our little tent.  While I don’t typically camp more than once a year or so, I have camped most of my life – almost on an annual basis – always in tents, with not too many accoutrements. 

We were one of a very few tents at this campground.  Everyone looked quite settled.  Family name signs hung on the trees.  The O’Briens were to our right.  The Smiths just across the dirt path.  This was camper land.  Flowers were planted, hammocks were hung, porch swings were swinging, docks extended into the lake and decks had been constructed.  Full-gas grills were set up (almost all cooking burgers and dogs).  Lounge chairs and camping chairs surrounded the campfire area.  We even spotted some satellite dishes.  What we learned as the weekend transpired was that many of the “campers” called this their summer home.  Most locals – living minutes to an hour away, summered on Crystal Lake.  They paid roughly $3,500 for the season, and essentially plunked down their camper, permanently.  These folks have certainly figured out a way to bring most of the comforts of home to the great outdoors.

I found this all quite fascinating.  Another comical element was the fact that the campground we stayed at was celebrating Christmas in July last weekend.  Many campers were decorated with colorful Christmas lights.  Christmas trees were set up outside.  Inflatable snowmen and Grinchs could be seen in places.  Some campers were really decked out – all I could think of was the campground electrical bill after this theme weekend was over.  Kids could build ginger bread houses at 11AM; Santa was visiting and passing out gifts at 2:00 (much to the dismay of the boys, we missed these events since we were visiting their big sister at camp). 

My first thought about all of this was this whole scene was maybe just a little hokey – but I quickly changed course thinking that these “permanent” campers have got it all figured out.  Other than having to deal with new neighbors (like us) on a regular basis – in fairly close proximity – these folks have discovered how to create their own little paradise. 

As I was sitting outside of my tent last Sunday morning on the edge of the lake, sipping a cup of coffee, listening to the loons, it was so peaceful – and far from shabby.

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again … Not!

housewifeI had a most unusual experience this week. Yet, a few decades ago, it would not been unusual at all.

I was calling roofing companies to arrange for estimates to replace the wood trim under our roof. (In doing so, I learned a new word: soffit. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Woof!)

After making an appointment with Company #1, I called the next business on the list. I knew the drill and was ready to answer the universal questions. Name. Address. Type of house. Year house was built. Yadayadayada.

Then the woman on the other end threw me a curveball with her well-rehearsed line about it was Company #2′s policy to schedule visits when all the “decision-makers” in the household could be available to consult about color, style, blah, blah and was I the only decision-maker? Taken aback, yet confident that no one else in my household gives a flying fig about replacing the soffit, I replied yes. Here’s what followed:

“Are you the sole home owner?”
“No, I co-own the house with my husband.”
“What’s your husband’s name?”
“When would Mike be available to join you for the appointment?”

Woah, stop everything! Is she saying what I think she’s saying? That Company #2 will only do business with me if MY HUSBAND is involved? Are you freaking kidding me?!?!?

I ended the phone call quickly after objecting (albeit politely – it wasn’t this poor woman’s fault) to Company #2′s “approach” to business. To top it off, the next day Company #2′s manager contacted me at work to innocently “inquire about my unfinished file.” After I briefly recapped the reason, he attempted to explain the rationale behind the practice of having all decision-makers present. Again, I quickly ended the call. (OK, this time a little less politely.)

Do you really think that, if my husband called for an appointment, they would have insisted that I, his wife, be there to help with “decision-making.” Uh, I don’t think so.

This was my first experience with such blatant sexism. I experienced a real sense of powerlessness and anger, even with this low-stakes scenario of stumbling in my efforts to replace the soffit. Imagine if I was thwarted or denied when trying to secure credit, rent or buy my own home, or land a new job. I immediately thought of and had empathy for the Wise Women who routinely faced this dehumanizing attitude not so long ago.

Anyone else run up against something like this?

Making Connections – Easter Style

lynns-easter-egg-tree-003Coming off of Wednesday’s blog – A Brand New Day – I’ll have to share how my sister spent her 41st birthday last Saturday. This year she has vowed to take things more slowly, breathe in, and enjoy every moment – or at least a good number of them. This is one example of how she is executing her mission.

So together with her daughters and her two neighbors and their kids (because it’s always Better When We’re Together), they embarked on an afternoon project of creating an Easter Egg tree.  They blew out the eggs – first using an exacto knife to crack a small hole in each end, then stuck a thin piece of wire (or paperclip) in to break up the yolk.

Following Martha Stewart’s lead on how to decoupage the eggs (click here for directions) – they all created beautiful eggs to hang on their Easter Egg Tree of forsythia branches – just starting to bloom.  So a delightful afternoon was had by all – a beautiful decoration created for Easter, and fun family and friend time spent together. 

Are you in the Mood for some Decorating Fun?

grandfatherclock_1381It’s only February, but I hear the birds chirping when I leave my house in the morning, there’s light outside when I leave the office at the end of the day, I’m getting a hankering to get a dumpster and clean-out my basement, I’m plotting which area of my yard to dig up to have a  more prosperous garden (for those heirloom tomatoes and giant pumpkins I’ve already ordered), and, finally, I’ve fallen in love with a few wall art websites that are making me want to redecorate a child’s room, a family room or make my office a bit more fun and funky. These sites and their products are very cool!  And just perfect for the person who lacks the time and creativity to create this art on their own.


When you have a few moments, browse the following wall art decal sites:


1.  What is Blik

2.  Wall-Pops

3.  Wallies





Wall-Pops is my favorite.  They have a line called Zoo-Wallogy, which has the most adorable animal decals. brwpzlogoindexlink1 If you go to, they carry the Wall-Pops decals, and they are all on sale.


I also love a grandfather clock decal from  This would be very fun in an office or a finished basement.  You place a simple clock in the face of the grandfather clock decal, and voila, you have something to take notice of.  Take a few moments to browse.  I’m sure you’ll have fun and be inspired to cheer up a room in your house!


Entertaining Flops and Near-Misses

deep-dish-pizzaFor the last 25 years, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law have hosted a Super Bowl party. Traditions abound at this annual gathering, including the menu (multiple pans of lasagna and a 6-foot hero sandwich), the betting pool ($5 to enter and open to all ages), and the seating arrangement (guests must remain in the same spot once the favorite team takes the lead to keep the good mojo going.) The party runs like a well-oiled machine.

This year, however, the party machine ground to a halt when their 52″ high-definition TV died the night before the Big Game. After a desperate scramble, my quick-thinking in-laws ended up borrowing another family member’s big-screen TV, which was still in the box from Christmas. Disaster averted!

Their near-flop reminded me of my only real entertaining debacle. It was my first dinner party as a married woman. I unpacked my new deep-dish pizza pan (a wedding present given by one of the dinner guests), ready to try my hand at homemade pizza. As the guests watched Olympic figure skating on TV, I watched the oven and waited for the goopy ingredients to solidify and transform into a delicious pizza. I waited. And waited. I waited at least 45 minutes past the time the pizza was supposed to be done. Finally, frantic to give my guests something to eat, I took out the pizza and served it. My polite friends took a few bites and put their forks down. It was horrible! The dough was still not cooked through and the “slices” oozed all over the plate.

It would be great if I could end this story by sharing that I, cool hostess with the mostest, picked up the phone and ordered pizza to be delivered. But, I was too flustered. We ended up eating salad – lots of salad. After the guests left, I threw out the deep-dish pan and never tried to make pizza again.

What have been your entertaining flops? Were you able to save the day like my in-laws? Or, did you crash and burn like my pizza misadventure?

Ho! Ho! Huh?!?!

empty-mailbox‘Twas two weeks before Christmas

When I rushed to the box

“Still! No Christmas cards,”

I thought with a shock.

Without a doubt, this is the furthest into December we’ve gone without receiving a seasons greeting in our mailbox. I guess I’m not the only one not sending out holiday cards this year.

Usually, I look forward to thinking up a creative way to say, “Happy Holidays:” a photo (natch!), a catchy saying, and occasionally, an annual letter. The only two years I did NOT send out cards were the year my father died (I was in such a fog I likely didn’t realize it was Christmas) and the protest year (I was tired of bearing sole responsibility for the task, so I just sent out my own personal greeting to my circle of friends and colleagues).

This year, I have no “good” excuse. I simply realize that sending cards would be an energy drain versus an energy boost. And I want to preserve my limited energy to do those things that matter most this season.

So, why might other people not be sending cards this year? Certainly, we can blame the economy … perhaps it’s the $100 we can ill-afford to shell out for cards … or, the gloom-and-doom economic forecasts which kill the holiday spirit.

Or, maybe people are tired of the ridiculously hyped expectations we put on ourselves around greeting cards. I was reminded of this when I read a “quiz” that appeared in the December Real Simple (usually a magazine which is a source of good ideas for our blog, but not this time). The tongue-in-cheek piece highlights the dark, competitive side associated with the holiday card ritual. In this self-scoring quiz, you:

Gain points when you receive cards from dentist, insurance agent, hairdresser, dry cleaner, mailman.

Lose points when card and envelope are same piece of paper, return-address label was provided by charity to which sender may not have actually contributed.

Earn bonus points for gilded envelope, handwritten return address, extremely clever handmade card.

Have you received any holiday cards, handmade or otherwise? What are your plans for sending out seasons greetings (or not)?

P.S. The number of charities nominated for the Wise Women Big Bucks Giveaway has jumped into the double digits! Yay! You have about another week to add your favoritie charity because, on December 18th, we’ll randomly select one charity to be the recipient of this year’s donation drive. Don’t miss out!

Thanksgiving Traditions from the other side of the Pond

images-21Today we have a guest blogger, who shares her Thanksgiving traditions since moving to the U.K. many years ago. Elaine and I are signing off for this week. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

From our friend Barb, in England:


Thanksgiving has always been one of my favourite holidays, but as my life has changed so have my Thanksgiving traditions.


When I was young, Thanksgiving was spent locally with my mother’s family – doors on saw-horses, loads of food, football, and card games. As a teenager, I spent most Thanksgivings travelling to relatives on my dad’s side. In college, Thanksgiving was a huge first-semester milestone.


Now, at 40-something, I am creating my own Thanksgiving “traditions”. However, since I haven’t lived in the US since 1990, I’m not sure my traditions are traditional. To make things more interesting, I’m married to an Englishman, so our Thanksgivings are American with a British twist.


The hardest part about living overseas at Thanksgiving is that the day is not a holiday. School and work commitments continue, so we tend to celebrate with a big dinner either the Saturday before or after Thanksgiving.  In 2000, we started hosting Thanksgiving dinner to share this American holiday with non-American friends. Our boys were too little then to appreciate all the food, so we made it an adult event. Over the years and through various postings, our dinner has become a tradition in its own right. Last Saturday we had 22 good friends around the table, with me as the token American. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the feasting and the fellowship – which is what Thanksgiving is all about.


Although it’s an American holiday, I do make some concessions to my Wise Hubby’s British side. We always have roast potatoes and never mashed, and I’ve found a great pumpkin cheesecake recipe which makes the whole “savoury ingredient in a dessert” thing palatable for the Brits! As a group we also consume a lot more champagne than beer – which I don’t think would happen at home.


Over the last few years, now that our boys are older, we have also celebrated on Thanksgiving Day with other blended British-American families. These have been lively, pot luck affairs with lots of kids running around – very typical of my early Thanksgiving memories with my mom’s family.


Regardless of where or how I spend Thanksgiving, there are some sacred traditions, like sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows, pumpkin pie and apple pie. Some things I’m willing to experiment with – veggie side dishes and how I cook the turkey for example. However, the most important things never change — I am always grateful for my family, my friends, and the abundance of food and laughter that we share.


This year Wise Hubby is travelling on Thanksgiving, the boys are in school, and our blended-family gathering isn’t happening until Sunday – Thanksgiving Day will be just another day. I’m meeting an American friend for coffee in the morning and taking her a valuable spare can of Libby’s pumpkin which isn’t available here. I’ve promised the boys a special feast that night. They (Wise Hubbies in training) suggested McDonald’s – but as they might say to me, “ain’t gonna happen”! After all some traditions are sacred!


What Thanksgiving traditions are sacred for you?

Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.
Katherine Whitehorn

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