Two extra-special blessings this holiday season

In December, we’re going to be featuring “Favorite Holiday Memories” collected from a wide variety of people. I have so enjoyed editing the submissions that I’ve decided to give you a sneak peek this week of stories provided by IB blogger (and president of Total Awards & Promotions) Donna Gray and Edgewood professor and corporate trainer Elaine Beaubien. But first, I’d like to share a very personal introduction of these two fascinating ladies.

I met both women more than 16 years ago at a Best in Business Award committee, during my first week at IB. Donna, always kind and solicitous, seemed anxious to help orient me to a new city and new job. Elaine, however, was immediately in my face, asking all sorts of pointed questions about my publishing experience and personal philosophies. Donna wanted to know if I’d found a good school for my son; Elaine wanted to know how I’d met my new employer, Bill Haight, and why I thought that was a good match at that intersection of my life. Wow.

A few years later, Donna’s son David unexpectedly died. The burden is lightened when another bereaved parent steps forward to help you navigate a suddenly cruel and ironic world, and so I did. Likewise, Elaine supported Donna in real and strong ways. I think that terrible tragedy cemented our bonds, and the one with Nancy Haight, the fourth special lady in that closest, core circle of friends.

Now we four women (with husbands) always get together for a pre-holiday party, and we occasionally travel together. Four wild and crazy matrons also put their heads together at least quarterly for a Red Hat Club meeting (we have our own secret society with secret nicknames) – though it’s so secret that we disguise the outing as dinner and cocktails with husbands.

Over these years, I’ve come to appreciate that Elaine is not only one of the most intense, effervescent, and amusingly charming women I’ve ever had the grace to meet, but she also is singularly the most generous. She and husband Ken live life large, sharing their resources and talents in huge, meaningful ways. Elaine showers the people she loves with affection, attention, and positive dialogue. Our first encounter was a head-on, bare-it-all discussion with meaningful questions because Elaine wants to explore (and expose) souls and core values. She has no time for chit chat at the expense of an opportunity for really getting to know someone.


Many of you might also know that Elaine Beaubien, serious corporate trainer and studious professor, has also publicly come clean about living with split personalities via the publication of her romance novel series written under the pen name of E.K. Barber. It’s a very, very successful second career, with a loyal fan following. E.K. does numerous book tours, and I’ll tell you that if you’ve ever met her or read one of her books, you won’t forget her! Bodices are definitely busted! She’s a great role model and motivator for us all.

Here is Elaine Beaubien’s favorite holiday memory, in her words:

I think my favorite memory revolves around my favorite gift. FYI, I’ve always known what’s under the tree. This is a deliberate act of espionage because I’d rather have knowledge than mystery. I shake gifts, eyeball size and shape, check for possible scents, anything that affords valuable clues and narrows down the possibilities.
When I was younger, I’d wrangle clues out of my reliably susceptible dad until I guessed. His easily read twinkle would always signal when I’d nailed it. Later in life, I’d scour our Visa bills to identify stores where purchases were made, find vulnerable people who knew what I was getting (Dad was still a reliable source), and seek out hiding places. Get the picture? No surprises.
But here’s the really fun “end of the story.” My favorite gift ever turned out to be my biggest and probably only surprise gift. In The Year of the Surprise, I knew there was a food processor under the tree (Dad told me outright although I think that was a diversion) and a beautiful ring purchased in Vegas where Ken had used our Visa to “surprise” and impress me with his ingenuity and cunning. (He called the store to purchase the ring a month after I’d oohed and ahhed over it.)
To start the Estervig gift-giving frenzy that year, Ken handed me a brown paper bag with great ceremony. Huh? The family watched with great anticipation. I’m confused. This wasn’t a food processor or ring. I opened the brown paper bag and peeked in. On the bottom was a tiny pile of white fluff. A stuffed animal? Maybe a wind-up toy? (Dad had told me it had moving parts … he just couldn’t help himself.) The fur looked real, but Ken wouldn’t give me anything with real fur. What the heck? Then it moved and opened its huge expressive gorgeous black eyes. It was love at first sight. Both ways. My little puppy Crystal was the best gift ever and kept on giving for 13 wonderful, marvelous, loving years. The food processor and ring remained unopened for days after. Who cares about stuff when you have a gift with a heartbeat?

And now, about Donna Gray …

Donna and I, with husbands David and Kevin, have shared most holidays together over the years. We’ve toasted births of grandchildren, cried together over lost brothers, and traveled to Florida a few times. We went to New York City to see Ground Zero after 9/11 and then went back to see Wicked on Broadway. We later returned to Long Island to see three very famous psychics. ( also sent us to Chicago and St. Louis to interview psychic mediums James Van Praagh, Suzanne Northrup, Jon Anderson, Kevin Masters, and others. Together, we ARE Madison’s psychic hotline J.) More than that, we’ve become sisters by choice.


Donna is very involved in her church, her family, and most definitely the family business. She’s authored several successful books on family business, and I’m quite proud of my adopted sister’s accomplishments. But let’s let her speak for herself about what is most important to her:

My most treasured Christmas memory is of my husband, Dave, myself, and our four children, leaving our (then) home at Lake Wisconsin to travel through an almost blizzard to my mother’s house in Chicago’s northern suburbs. Christmas was a huge celebration in my big Italian family, and no one wanted to miss this, the most important of all celebrations.

So, despite the weather, we left the children’s school after the annual Christmas concert, in the dark, with blowing snow all around, planning for a quiet trip with kids napping in the car.

Our station wagon was packed to the brim with people, luggage, a huge black Labrador retriever, three cats, and gifts for everyone. A Christmas tree was tied on the top of the car. Everything we needed to make a perfect holiday was traveling with us.

After about 10 minutes on the highway, one of our daughters began humming a Christmas song from the school concert. Soon, all four children were singing with such joy that Dave and I couldn’t help but add our voices. My most treasured Christmas memory was not of gifts, food, or other things that really didn’t matter. My best ever Christmas memory began on that trip when we all shared in our own joyful celebration of what our holiday was all about … family.

The holidays definitely are all about family

I’ll have to convince the fourth member of this little choir – Nancy Haight – to write her favorite holiday memory for our December stories, when maybe I’ll tell you a little about her and our escapades, too (though since she’s my boss’s wife, that would have to be a little more artfully and cleverly edited).

Suffice it to say that this holiday season, I am particularly grateful, as we head toward Thanksgiving and counting blessings, for my extended family of friends and the great life they have contributed to me and my family. We treasure their time and talents, their love and wisdom, their comfort, confidences, and crazy antics.

It has been my joy and privilege to share their favorite holiday memories with you today. Watch in December as we post more holiday accounts every Tuesday to the Web, and feel free to send yours to me (300 words or less!) if you’d like to share, too. Some things (and people) are just too precious to set aside, so let’s celebrate the blessings in our lives together!

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