Sister Email

I am the youngest of Sam and Dolly’s six daughters. “The sisters” are the women I turn to for support, guidance, affirmation, information, and love. Susan, Mary Jane, Donna, Sandy and Caroline (and I suppose I need to include me too) all bring unique insights to every situation, even though we come from the same background. Each of us have different strengths and skills.

For example, if you want all of the sisters to know something, tell Sandy. She is a pro at disseminating information in a timely and efficient manner. If you want something organized – a party, your pantry, your dining room table – call Susan. If you want a laugh, just wait until you get the perfect birthday card from Donna. I truly don’t know how she does it year after year. Caroline, or “Crinnie” as we call her, is a pro at crafts and makes the best jams and pickles. And Mary Jane was always honest but never in a spiteful or mean way. As for me – well, I’m good at public speaking and explaining medical information in a crisis. You’d have to ask the others how they would describe me.

Over the years, we have adopted different technologies to stay in touch. For several years, all of us except Crinnie communicated by sister emails. Someone would start a note to the rest, and everyone would respond as time allowed over the course of a day or two. There were several emails which ended, “Now if only Crinnie had email we would be all set! I’ll call her to let her know what’s going on.” One of us would pick up the phone to pass along the latest and then respond to the rest of the group with any new input.

Around 2009, Crinnie joined the new century when she got the internet at her house. She quickly learned how to connect to email and ‘reply to all.’ Within a few weeks, she had learned about emoticons. “I can put a smiley face in, too. Aren’t you all impressed? :-)” Of course we were.

Sometimes the sister emails are used to coordinate sister gatherings. The flurry of notes planning our annual DiNoto Cookie Bake, held at Crinnie’s house on the last Saturday in November, occasionally starts in mid-October. The emails include a list of needed ingredients and our assignments, along with locations of good sales. We should be getting an update from Crinnie any day now.

These days, most of our messaging is done via text. A sister, usually Donna because she is an early morning person, will start a conversation early in the day about a topic. The rest of us will chime in as we are able. Even if we are replying to just one sister, we reply to all and it is up to the recipients to know when a sister is talking directly to you. Often, the topic will change without warning. I often say these strings of texts would make for an interesting study in sister dynamics to an outsider who is not familiar to us.

To illustrate, I offer you this actual series of texts from July which started with a question about chocolate crinkles. Hey – we’re cookie bakers. What did you expect?

Susan: I read the recipe for chocolate crinkles on Sandy’s blog. Then I checked my recipe. Maybe I copied wrong all those years ago, but I only use 1/4 c of oil, not 1/2 c.

Donna: My cookie book recipe calls for 1/2 cup

Me: I’ve never made crinkles.

Donna: (Photo of crinkle recipe in cook book) Some batches are better than others, don’t know why.

Donna: WHAT!!??

Susan: Try using 1/4 cup of oil!

Me: Never. Mare always made them so I never did. Sara makes them now, so I don’t!

Donna: I will because sometimes the dough feels soft, even after having been in fridge overnight.

Donna: Good for you Denise.

Susan: I made some tonight and rolled them in granulated sugar because I felt they would be too delicate to transport if I used confectioners sugar. They reminded me of those chocolate Archway cookies.

(Archway is a brand of cookies which were sold in the store my father managed)

Donna: And they are yummy! The Archway cookies. Remember the guy that rented the garage from dad?

Susan; Yes. And he was reported to the police by a busybody neighbor who thought it was illegal or some sort of Mafia activity.

Donna: Seriously? I don’t remember that, funny.

Susan: True. Because the delivery truck came at night. I remember the police coming to the house to talk to Dad. I’ll ask him on Friday. I’m going to take him up to the VA hospital.

Me: I remember “helping” George, the Archway man.

Donna: That’s his name, was trying to remember. Going to bed, will be in touch.

Sandy: Betty Crocker recipe online uses 1/2 cup. Tried to send link.

Sandy: Yes. Chief Payne asked Dad what was being delivered there. Dad asked him, ‘What do you think?’

Sandy: Dad told him if it was anything more he’d be driving a nicer car!

Donna: Too funny. Dad really does have a good sense of humor.

Crinnie: You’re baking @ 9:00 PM?

Susan: Yes!

Sandy: I was baking at 9 PM too last night. Tried a new lemon butter cookie. Tried to use a cookie press but it was a disaster so I rolled cookies out.

The discussion continued for the next week, although in between we talked about Mom’s skin tear, Dad’s appointment, the aprons my sister Donna made us, and the truck my brother-in-law drives for work. Then, two weeks later we got this message from Susan:

You know the old rule – always be sure you have all the ingredients before you start. Well, I ran out of vanilla so I added mint extract to the chocolate crinkles. Very yummy!

This just goes to prove that all the people who ever said the DiNoto girls never finish a conversation are wrong! It may take us weeks to circle back to our original topic, but we DO come to a conclusion. Eventually.

Is Anybody Out There?

Photo of a woman in a wheelchair speaking into a microphone. She is seated behind a podium with a red banner which reads "Light Up Rotary."
I am no stranger to speaking to Rotary Clubs or Conferences about my year as an exchange student.

I would like to thank everyone who sent me a message of encouragement prior to my presentation at the Rotary International North American Youth Exchange Network (NAYEN) conference last weekend. Some of you have sent email asking how it went so I thought I would write a follow-up about the experience.

First, I must express appreciation to Dennis White for putting my name forward as a possible speaker for NAYEN. Dennis is a psychologist and Rotarian who has been conducting research on the long-term positive effects of youth exchange. I met Dennis at the Rotary District 7170 District Conference in 2014, a conference which celebrated the District’s commitment and participation in youth exchange for more than fifty years. Dennis shared his research findings and I shared my unique story as one of the first disabled students to successfully complete an exchange year with Rotary International. At the end of the conference, Dennis told me about NAYEN and suggested I think about attending. Little did I know this would take the shape of an invitation to speak at NAYEN. Thank you Dennis for thinking of me and for allowing me to share my story with a wider audience.

With my broken leg making air travel impossible, I knew I would need to utilize technology like Skype or a webinar platform to be “present” at the conference. I have used Skype before, but mainly for one-on-one conversations or meetings with small groups. When presenting to conferences or large groups, I have always been on site, directly in front of my audience.

Last Saturday, I dressed in “work clothes” above the waist (nobody would see my fleece penguin pajama pants and slippers!), styled my hair, and put on lipstick for the first time in almost two months. I was reminded of the times my mom came to pick me up late at night after a high school marching band or orchestra trip, arriving at the school in her bathrobe and lipstick. At least I know where it comes from.

The Skype connection was clear and at 8:50 PM, Kevin (the NAYEN technology wizard) called me to tell me I was on. I had a quick glance at the audience of 475 people, seated at round tables in a hotel ballroom, as the emcee gave a brief introduction. After establishing they could in fact hear as well as see me, I shared my screen and began to talk.

Like most speakers, I rely on audience feedback to let me know how I am doing. Are they yawning? Are they laughing at things I meant to be funny? Are they checking their phones because they are bored? Are they making eyes at the person sitting across from them? When you are on stage in front of an audience, those visual cues are helpful. Last Saturday, I did not have visual cues from my audience.

Even more important, I did not have audio cues either. Feedback from my voice being projected into the ballroom was distracting to the audience and me, and Kevin muted the microphone on his end. I knew this might be a possibility as we had discussed it during our test run the day before. While I knew it might happen, I had not really considered what it would mean to be completely cut off from my audience. I have experienced similar situations, when all lines have been muted while I have been recording phone training sessions or webinars for work. But formal work recordings are different, because in those instances I am usually conveying required information instead of telling a personal story.

In the silence of my apartment, I began feeling a bit like I was speaking to an empty void. I did all the things I often encourage other speakers to do. I smiled and repeatedly told myself to slow down (my natural rate of speech is fast). I paused frequently at appropriate times, and kept an eye on the clock. Yet without the audible and visual cues from my audience, I had to assume my message was making it through and just keep going. I must have done a decent job though, because the audience responded enthusiastically at the end of my speech. It was a relief to see and hear them, to reconnect with them briefly before signing off and going to bed.

Ah, the exciting life I lead. The audience was going dancing while I was collapsing on my pillow. This was an unexpected perk of not being at the conference. I’m not kidding either. I shut off my computer at 9:29 PM and was in bed by 10:00. That doesn’t happen when you are on site!

Looking back on the experience made me think this week about how often we communicate without taking time to wait for feedback from our communication partners. How many times do we turn away from someone, missing an important facial expression which would provide a valuable clue about how that person is feeling? Do we listen, really listen, when we interact with others? Or do we just project our message hoping it will be received by those able to hear it? How do we know our meaning has been understood and received by those we want to reach?

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the conference, even though I missed out on being present in person. I learned many valuable lessons from the process which will help me become a stronger public speaker. Each time I speak, my audience helps me grow and (hopefully) improve.

Current status: Enjoying one more day of rest before returning to work part-time from home on Monday! I plan to spend the day learning to knit and purl while watching re-runs of Downton Abbey episodes, in preparation for tonight’s series finale. Will Edith find love at last? What will become of Mr. Barrow? Did you ever imagine I might feel bad for poor Mr. Barrow? And who will I quote once the Dowager Countess is gone?