Hitting a Home Run With A Gift


When I was young, our family opened up our Christmas presents in two phases. My parents would humor us by allowing us to open a gift or two before they had their first cup of coffee, we’d take a break to eat, and then resume the present-opening.

I remember the year I had my first lesson in “Thou shall not covet.” I was an early teen and my brother (18 months younger) opened up a present that turned out to be something I desperately wanted: a clock radio. (Equate my yearning with pining after an IPod in today’s world.) The only problem it was HIS present and HIS clock radio. I remember blinking back sudden tears of disappointment as we moved (I trudged, he danced) into the kitchen for breakfast.

After downing the Christmas breakfast casserole, we returned to the remaining pile under the tree. Since it was my turn to open, I was handed a present. Given my funk, I did not notice it was was similar in look and size as a previous present. To this day I recall how my heart leaped when, after ripping off the wrapping, I saw that I, too, had received a clock radio, the identical model

I loved that clock radio for many first years. It was the first time I had the ability to listen to music into my room, a sure sign that I was older. My girlfriend and I used to listen to it as we traded stories about the latest teen-world drama, also keeping an ear out for the radio contest on our favorite station. We’d hear the special, call-in song, dash into a nearby room and dial the 1-800 number frantically trying to be the 20th caller to win the free concert tickets or other prizes. (Because, of course, teens didn’t have phones in our bedrooms in those days.)

Clearly, that was a “home run gift” when, 30+ years later, I can still wax eloquently on about my beloved clock radio.

When have you hit a home run with a gift you’ve given or received?

Girl vs. Boy Small Talk

women-networkingAt a business lunch this week, I happened to end up sitting next to the executive director of the professional association to which I belong. Within minutes of exchanging names and affiliations, we found ourselves comparing notes on the challenges of caregiving (she cared for her mother with Alzheimer’s; I’m in a new role helping my mother-in-law who’s now staying with us).

I’ve noticed this dynamic before in my professional interactions. When meeting a female business associate for the first time, I quickly zero in and talk about a personal fact we have in common (kids, hobby, vacation destination). If I feel connected and comfortable during this sharing/networking time, the person automatically (and unconsciously) earns the “Elaine Seal of Approval.” I am much more likely to seek out and respond to this person down the road when our professional interests overlap.

I’ve engaged in this get-to-know-you dance with a few male associates over the years, but only a handful. Probably explains why the number of women outnumber men on my contact list by 10:1.

A recent article forwarded by Wise Woman Shane validated this experience for me. In Understanding How Women Network: Why Women Make Small Talk and Men Shoot Straight, Meghan Casserly writes:

In an effort to personalize professional networking, women normally try to create connections or friendships. “Before we think, ‘What can this person do for me,’ we ask, ‘What can I do for her in order to get what I need.’” In many cases this give-and-then-take style of networking builds long-lasting relationships.

The article goes on to describe the benefits/downsides of this type of networking, as well as how to best network with men (e.g., “make boy small talk, not girl talk”).

What’s networking look like for you? And can someone please tell me what constitutes “boy” small talk?

Here’s Looking At You, Wise Papa

PapaMy father-in-law (aka “Wise Papa”) died unexpectedly this week.

He was a good man, the quiet and steady presence within a family of loud chatterboxes from New York.

Yet, Papa would reveal a different side of himself during skit night at family reunions when he took to the stage and performed his limited (very!) repertoire of “impersonations.” He’d stand up and growl “Here’s looking at you, kid” a la Humphrey Bogart. But, it was his impersonation of a light bulb – standing in all seriousness, pulling an imaginary chain and then “lighting up” – that would cause the crowd to howl with laughter. To me, Papa’s uncharacteristic willingness to seize the lime light and share his inner silliness were highlights of the reunion.

Wise Papa, you are missed. Rest in peace.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: The Finale


Years spent worrying about dangerous tree in neighboring yard:
Coffee and bagels to woo neighbors into discussion about removing tree:
Splitting the tree removal expense with neighbors*:
Peace of mind knowing gigantic tree in neighbor’s yard can no longer crush my children and/or house:

* We volunteered to share the cost, and they took us up on our offer.

P.S. Thanks, everybody, for your support during this drama dialogue.

P.P.S. The 150-foot tree doesn’t look as daunting in this picture, but, trust me – it was huge!

It’s A Love Story – Just Say Yes

wedding-silhouette-_-ring-on-fingerSinger Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story” evokes old-fashioned notions of sweet, romantic love. However, a modern love story can be just as endearing, if not quite as romantic – in the traditional sense.

My childhood friend was married over the weekend. After46 years of kissing frogs, she finally found her prince. This is their “Love Story,” as shared on their wedding web site.

Match.com said they’re compatible.

They email (OK, she emails first).

They call (OK, she calls first).

They meet at a “safe” public place for dinner – hey, she’s not stupid!

4 months later, pipes burst at her condo, and he offers her a place to stay “just while hers is fixed.”

Ratty, white towels are replaced with fluffy, colorful, towels.

Wall-mounted bikes become clothes-drying racks.

The bachelor pad eventually disappears.

To seal the deal, she gives him a trip to see Dave Matthews Band at The Gorge in Washington state for his birthday.

They marry, September 26, 2009.

Elaine’s post-nuptial note: Their wedding vows consisted of lyrics from Dave Matthews Band and the wise-cracking groom choked up with emotion as he recited the words to his beautiful bride. Sigh. It was lovely.

English Assignment = Written Hug


Nana & Papa, Happy 50th, 2007

Below is Wise Daughter Caitlin’s recent submission for English class. It’s offered up in honor of all friends and family who must deal with chronic illness/pain.

In the early morning hours, my Nana used to putter around her kitchen, filling her coffee cup and perusing the newspaper. I would slip into the room, to my chair next to her, and we’d journey through the past over a bowl of Apple Jacks. My father and his siblings would transform from respectable adults to characters in her memories she shared, causing all sorts of mayhem in their childhood. Now, she sits in her condo, pain contorting her features. But the weaver of such elaborate tales is still there. I know she is.

In Celebration of Wise Siblings

That was then (2007).


This is now (2009).


Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way.  ~Pamela Dugdale

My youngest brother turns 40 today, and we have certainly taught one another many things over the years – quite often the hard way.

After squeaking through high school, my brother worked for several years and eventually put himself through college. He studied and passed the CPA exam, a remarkable feat to his math-phobic sister. Over the years, his life has experienced several twists, turns, and even detours. Yet, he always manages to find his way back to center (sometimes more, sometimes less). While we live thousands of miles apart, it is a joy to watch the man and father he’s become.

Sibling relationships – and 80 percent of Americans have at least one – outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust. ~Erica E. Goode

What thoughts/observations can you share about your Wise Siblings?

P.S. Happy 40th Birthday, Rob!

Taking ‘In The Doghouse’ To A New Level

cheater_sign1They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. In this case, a picture can be equated to a single letter – a scarlet letter “A.”

You may have heard about this cheating husband in the news last week. In a desperate attempt to show his remorse, he agreed to his wife’s demand that he stand in a busy thoroughfare in Northern Virginia with this home-made sign hanging from his neck. The DJ’s and local media had a field day. The wife’s desire to humiliate her wayward husband ended up earning him his 15 minutes (and them some) of national fame.

(Note to self: Scratch off “public humiliation during rush hour” from list of “Revenge Fantasies for Cheating Spouse.”)

In all seriousness, if you’ve ever been in a committed partnership, you’ve wondered what you would do if your partner was cheating. Data suggest that 25% of men and 10-15% of women will have sex with someone else other than their spouse during their marriage.

While I doubt that this wife achieved vindication or real satisfaction from this stunt, part of me was glad to see her dumping her steaming pile of anger at her husband’s door … let him clean it up! So much better than turning the pain and anger inward and being haunted by questions and self-doubt.

What’s the reaction of other Wise Women to this story?

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Part III

tulip-poplar-tree2Here’s the latest (and for now final) update on the back-and-forth with my neighbor about the humongous tree on their property that is at-risk of falling on our house.

After a Saturday morning walk with a wise friend who gave me good advice and a shot in the arm of courage, I call over to my neighbor’s house and “Bob” answers.

Elaine (as friendly-sounding as possible): Bob? Hi! This is Elaine, your neighbor.

Bob (in an unenthused monotone): Hello.

Elaine: Bob, are you and “Sally” free tomorrow morning around 11? I was wondering if you could come over for coffee so we can talk about the tree.

Bob: Are we around tomorrow morning around 11 am? (I hesitate because I don’t know why he’s repeating back my question. Then I realize he’s repeating it so his wife Sally – who must be close by – can hear the question and indicate her response to him.)

Bob: Yes, we’re around tomorrow morning.

Pause. I wonder was that an acceptance of the invitation for coffee or not. Clearly, I’m going to have to work harder to nail this down.

Elaine: So, does that mean you and Sally can come over for coffee at 11 am?

Bob: Can we go over for coffee? (Now, I’m on to the fact that Bob does not have a disorder that causes him to repeat things; he just needs Sally’s sign-off.)

Pause. I remain quiet. Pause continues. Finally …

Bob: Yes, we can come over.

Elaine: Great! (said with great animation and none of the frustration/anger I feel at this point.) See you tomorrow!

I go find my husband who’s watching some movie on cable for the zillionth time. I ask him to mute the TV and then, once there is silence, start crying. I sniffle and snort about the neighbors’ lack of responsiveness and apparent unwillingness to deal with this tree issue. “Clearly, our neighbors are a**holes who don’t care that their damn tree is going to kill my kids.” I conclude it’s a lost cause even before we have the conversation.

Coffee with the Neighbors

It’s 11:01 am on Sunday morning and Sally and Bob knock on the front door. (I had already figured out that I would give them until 11:30 before calling to remind them about coffee. I also worked up Plans C, D, and E for other non-cooperative behavior they might display.)

I pour coffee and bring out a plate of bagels. We start chatting about our respective lawns. After five minutes of small talk, Sally brings up the tree.

And … we end up having the nicest, most civilized neighborly conversation. Turns out that tree is one of Sally’s favorites, and she hopes there might be options for saving it. She wants to call another arborist for a second opinion. Bob wonders whether, if the tree must be removed, others could remove it for less than the quoted price of $4,000. All good questions to explore, I think. Then, Sally says the magic words that melt my resentment away: “Of course, safety is paramount. I couldn’t live with myself if that tree fell on to your kids’ bedrooms.”

Lessons Learned

I learned that Bob always speaks in a monotone, even when talking about his favorite football team. He’s just that type of guy.

I learned (or, was reminded) that 99% of life’s drama results NOT from actual conversations, but from the imagined conversations I have in my head.

I learned that, if something’s important to me, I have to chill out when others do not share that priority and just accept that it’s up to me to take steps to make something happen.

I learned that it’s not good fences, but good communication that makes good neighbors.

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.

A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

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