Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 In A Nutshell (or 2010: Bring It On!)

2009 was a year of the highest highs and the lowest lows; of great love and great loss. On the one hand, I'm relieved it's almost over, but on the other, I wouldn't trade one single moment.

I'm ringing in 2010 not in the way I had expected to, but in the way I guess the universe intended me to.

Thank you for taking the journey with me this year on Little Merry Sunshine. I hope you'll stick around to see what 2010 brings.

Happy New Year.

Oh, and yes, the hiatus is over.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where's Santa?

If your kids are anything like I was between the ages of say birth and now, they're all excited for Santa's arrival tonight. Now, yes, I know that Christmas isn't really about Santa and I truly do love all the religious traditions, but as a kid, nothing beats discovering what sorts of goodies Santa has left under the tree.

When Dave and I were kids, Santa, with help from our parents, would bring us completely one-of-a-kind gifts. One year, Santa brought handmade Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that were about 3 feet tall. Sewn into the back of each of their scalps was a message just for Dave and me (you had to move the hair around to find it). They even had red hearts hand stitched on their chests where their hearts would normally be with the words "I love you" stitched inside. In addition to the traditional Raggedy Ann and Andy clothes, each doll came with hand-made pajamas that matched a pair made for each of us that year too.

I remember that gifts from Santa were never wrapped, but they were never in boxes either unless they were puzzles or things like that. A racetrack for Dave would be completely set up and plugged in. A Fisher Price house, garage, farmhouse, or air plane would be complete with people living their lives. They always appeared to look like we just happened upon folks jetting off on vacation, tending to their farm animals, driving to work, or eating dinner in their kitchen. A dollhouse for me would be put together with furniture in the rooms. My dolls always arrived with a full trunk of hand-sewn one-of-a-kind clothes and a custom bed that Santa would have made or at least customized just for me. An artist easel for Dave would have drawing paper, paints, and crayons and be waiting for him to create his next masterpiece. Santa was meticulous in his set up and display, and to this day, I'm not sure how he managed to stop at every house around the world and create such magic for every child. Truthfully, I'm not sure we noticed other gifts because we were so busy playing with our new treasures from Santa.

I would get so excited for Christmas morning that I couldn't sleep on Christmas Eve. One Christmas, I guess I finally got to sleep, but distinctly remember being woken up by a noise and believing I saw Santa outside of my window, which scared me so much I was in tears and unable to get back to sleep. My parents weren't happy as they tried to comfort me and tell me that Santa was trying to land on the roof, but now couldn't because I was awake. If only I would go back to sleep, Santa might come back.

I think that my parents would have had an easier time getting me to go to bed on Christmas Eve with the NORAD Santa Tracker. They could have shown me exactly how close Santa was and how he was prepared to fly over our house if I didn't hurry and get to bed. Fortunately, you can use this helpful tool to cajole your kids into bed tonight.

According to the Huffington Post, NORAD uses some pretty high-tech tools to track Santa: "four high-tech systems to track Santa - radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets."

You can even track Santa's whereabouts online at or on your iPhone (unless you're busy using your iPhone to send Festivus greetings) or other smart phone at And yes, you can track Santa on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

This version of O Holy Night is my all time favorite. I simply can't hear it too many times.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Heroes Matter

Yesterday my friend and New York Times Best-Selling Author Brad Meltzer appeared on Glenn Beck's show and they spent an hour talking about heroes.

As much as I can't stomach Glenn Beck's politics, I gotta hand it to him on a job well done (except for the part where he bashes President Obama - if he'd left politics out of this, I'd have liked it even more). This was one amazing hour. Heroes matter. Who we admire and want to emulate matters. Heroes teach us values. They help us be better. Heroes change the world and they also change just one life. They aren't necessarily famous, rich, or obvious. We can each be a hero.

I love the stories Brad tells about Superman, Tiger Woods (not a hero), Frank Shankwitz, and the wives at Fort Hood. You will too.

By the way, trust me when I tell you that Brad Meltzer is a true hero.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goodbye Sheraton Chicago Northwest (nee Arlington Park Hilton)

One more piece of my childhood is disappearing.

The Sheraton Chicago Northwest (formerly the Arlington Park Hilton) is closing on in a week. At least according to the Daily Herald.

To most people, this may not mean much, except for the loss of jobs and tax revenue in Arlington Heights, which to be sure are not insignificant and by no means am I minimizing.

But I've got a personal connection to the hotel. I used to live there.

When our house burned down in April 1982, we lived at the Hilton for much of the six months we were out of our home.

I remember having sleepovers in our suite with my girlfriends, taking a taxi to school in the morning, and having orange sherbet delivered from room service. I remember riding the elevator up and down each floor trying to sneak onto the penthouse level and spending hours upon hours in what I grew to refer to as "our pool." I remember sitting on the steps of the Cinderella Rockafella (the nightclub attached to the Hilton, more recently the training center for Allstate employees) with my friend Amy watching the high school kids arrive for their proms in their 1982 finest. I remember the night I was at the hotel alone while my parents were at a church meeting (I don't remember where Dave was) and I became sick, calling down to the front desk and a very nice woman helping me until my parents got back.

My favorite memory though is of the day I called the Apple Farm to order lunches, as I did ever day to place my order for "one turkey and cheese with mayo, lettuce and tomato and a peanut butter and jelly on wheat" and got it all between just two pieces of bread. One sandwich with turkey, cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, peanut butter and jelly. We still laugh about that.

Even after we moved out and moved back into our home, we often went back for Sunday brunch after church or for significant milestones. We even enjoyed Christmas dinner there in 1996.

Most people probably drive past the Sheraton and just see a large brick building. I drive by and see my former home; the place that kept my family together during one of the most challenging times of our lives and also gave us many happy memories. And I'm sad to see it go.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Washington DC Christmas

Some of my favorite Christmases as an adult have been spent in Washington DC. I have so many wonderful memories of Christmas parties, baking for friends, touring Mt. Vernon at night all decorated for Christmas as they did in the 1700s, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse (click here to watch the 2009 ceremony), attending a performance of Handel's Messiah at the National Cathedral, Christmas Eve services at the National Cathedral and so much more.

2009 National Christmas Tree from the National Park Foundation Flickr page

One of my favorite DC Christmas memories is from 1995, when my friend Sarah scored an invitation for me to tour the White House all decorated for Christmas. This was not the typical public tour that occurred in the mornings. Instead, it took place at 1:45pm, was only for invited guests and your name had to be on the list. The theme of the decorations that year was "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and all the decorations were spectacular. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed, as was the rule throughout the building.

The Official White House Christmas Ornament that year paid homage to President Zachary Taylor. Click here for the official White House Historical Association Brochure and history of this ornament.
1995 Official White House Christmas Ornament from

You probably don't recall that the 1995 Official White House Christmas Tree (pictured below) was filled with a bit of controversy. That year, the ornaments were made by architecture students from across the country to go along with the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" theme. Rene Spineto created an ornament with two stockings featuring the names "Bill" and "Newt." Newt referred to then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. President Clinton's stocking was filled with candy and other treats, but Speaker Gingrich's stocking was filled with coal. Despite this, the ornament was hung uncensored.
1995 Blue Room Christmas Tree from Wikipedia.

The Obama's have added their special touches to the White House Christmas decorations this year by recycling ornaments from years past and having community groups from all over the country update them to reflect their state. You can watch a brief tour of the 2009 White House Christmas decorations below.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Favorite Time

Do you have a favorite time? A time when all the stars align and even if just for a single moment in time, your world is perfect in whatever that means for you? That moment when you just sit down, inhale deeply and take your time exhaling because you want to savor every part of the breath?

For me, that time is right this very moment. It doesn't happen all that often for me, and when it does, it only lasts about 7 seconds. But in those 7 seconds, I feel no stress, all the weights I carry on my shoulders everyday are lifted and I know that for this brief time, my stars are aligned, my world is perfect, and nothing can shake me.

What has happened that I'm in this state of sheer bliss?

My house is 100% clean. So clean, in fact, that it's ready for a spread in Architectural Digest.

Everything that collects dust has been dusted, the dust bunnies have been eliminated, and the entire house is White Glove Certified. All of the floors have been swept, vacuumed, and/or mopped. All the light bulbs work. My desk is legitimately cleaned off; I didn't hide a pile of stuff in a drawer. All the laundry is done, folded, and put away. The dishwasher is clean and empty with no dishes waiting to be washed. Both bathrooms have been scrubbed from floor to ceiling with bleached toilets, tubs, and fresh towels. All the beds are made with crisp, clean sheets. Betsey & Ross's litter boxes are clean with fresh litter. All the Christmas decorations are up and look better this year than last year (this year's themed Christmas tree is another post entirely). The garbage and recycling are collected and down at the curb awaiting pickup in the morning. My car has a full tank of gas, new windshield wipers, and plenty of windshield wiper fluid. Betsey and Ross are behaving and not shedding. Bills have been paid. The grocery list is done and coupons collected. Thursday's To Do list is ready and items gathered to make tomorrow run smoothly. Packages are at the front door awaiting delivery or drop-off at the post office. The bank deposit is ready.

Yes, my life was perfect and it was really great to be me (as opposed to normal when it's just really good to be me). For almost an entire 7 seconds. In the time it took me to compose that paragraph, the stars shifted again and Betsey hissed at Ross and they just knocked something over as she tried to explain that "no means no" and she's not in the mood to play. Hopefully, it's not the tree.

Oh, damn, I also just realized I haven't started my Christmas cards.

At least I can savor the memory of my favorite time and eagerly await the next time I get 7 seconds of perfection.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa Wants To Call All The Good Girls & Boys

The other day I happened to discover this delightful FREE service from Kroger providing pre-recorded and personalized Santa* calls! And because I love each of you so much, I tested it out. Mind you receiving this call from Santa was strictly for research purposes and had nothing to do with my inner 8-year-old who still believes in Santa and needed to have that belief validated this year by speaking with the Jolly Old Elf himself.

In order to receive your own call from Santa (or to schedule calls for your kids), visit the Kroger website where you'll have to register using a zip code in which Kroger has stores. Because we don't have Kroger in Chicago, you can use 46240 for Indianapolis.

Once you've set up your Kroger account, you can schedule the date and time of your call along with the number Santa should call and the name of the call recipient. Then sit back and wait for Santa to call. You can schedule as many Santa calls as you'd like and they're all FREE!

*You can also choose to receive holiday calls from Sammy the Snowman or Tony Stewart.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Little Merry Sunshine's 2009 Christmas Mix

Let me begin by saying that those of you who read Little Merry Sunshine via email and don't get the videos in your email, you need to click into LMS today to fully appreciate this post. It's all videos. You'll want to enjoy them fully at LMS. Just trust me.

As I've mentioned before, music is an important part of my life and I believe every important occasion should have its own special soundtrack. After much research, I have developed what I believe is the best holiday soundtrack anywhere. I'm sure you'll want these songs in your iTunes playlist for your holiday party. Think of this as Little Merry Sunshine's Christmas present to you. If I could make you a mix tape, this would be it.

Oh, Come All Ye Faithful - Twisted Sister

Must Be Santa - Bob Dylan

Last Christmas - Wham!

8 Days of Christmas - Destiny's Child

Christmas Conga - Cyndi Lauper

Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Donkey) - Lou Monte

Christmas Wrapping - The Spice Girls

Oi to the World - No Doubt

Let It Snow - Jessica Simpson

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Little Merry Sunshine's Rules of the Road

Winter has arrived in Chicago and with that it has come to my attention that some people need a refresher on their winter driving skills.

To that end, Little Merry Sunshine provides you with her Rules of the Road, which are not meant to be a replacement to the Illinois Secretary of State's Rules of the Road, just an addendum and mostly based on common courtesy:
  1. Spend the extra 5 minutes and scrape off all your windows, the roof of your car, your headlights and tail lights. You can do this while your car warms up and then your reward will be a warm car. Simply turning on the windshield wipers is not enough. It is important to spend this time because you will be able to see other cars on the road better and they will be able to see you easier, especially if you drive a white car. Clearing your roof is important because if you're driving in front of me and 2 feet of snow from the roof of your Hummer flies onto my windshield, I will cause you great pain physically, emotionally, and financially, when I survive the accident I'm sure to get into thanks to your laziness.
  2. Make sure your windshield wiper fluid is full and then make use of it and your windshield wipers. This will improve your visibility and I recommend re-cleaning your windshield at stoplights as necessary.
  3. Invest in new wiper blades. I personally love the winter wiper blades. As discussed above, your ability to see what's in front of you is paramount to everyone's safety on the road.
  4. Turn on your headlights. The rule of thumb (and the law) is that if your wipers are on, your headlights should be on. Headlights not only illuminate the road for you, but more importantly, make it easier for oncoming cars to see you. I always keep mine on during the day.
  5. Drive the speed limit that is safe for your driving conditions, not necessarily the posted limit. Last night, I was coming home during the first rain/snow storm of the season. Most of the cars were driving a very busy 4-lane unplowed and unsalted road at about 25 mph. This is a road that has anywhere between 35-45 mph posted depending on the part of town. A couple of cars blew past everyone else which made for very unsafe conditions. They were probably only going the posted limit of 45, but the roads were covered in rain/snow/ice/slush and the lane markings were entirely not visible. In their rush to arrive 6 seconds earlier, these drivers put everyone else at risk.
  6. Take extra precaution in braking and allow more time for it. Do you remember the rules about pumping your brakes (or not if you've got ABS)? Use them.
  7. Add more distance between you and the car in front of you and never tailgate. This seems so obvious, but evidently isn't. On the same trip home last night, I was being tailgated by a very impatient and rude driver. Tailgating is not only rude, but it is dangerous. If I had needed to stop quickly, this driver would have ended up in my front seat. By adding an extra car length or two (in addition to the normal distance this driver should have kept), we would have been much safer if I had somehow started to slide or if something happened in front of me.
  8. Keep extra distance at stop lights too. If you are too close at a stop light and you get rear-ended, you will plow into the car in front of you. I was in a chain-reaction read end collision on I-395 one time in Washington DC. Sitting at a complete standstill in bumper-to-bumper traffic, a car 4 cars behind me plowed into someone. That person was pushed into someone, who was pushed into someone and ultimately they all plowed into me. Fortunately, I always leave extra distance between myself and the car in front of me and the accident ended with me because even though my car was pushed forward, I did not hit anything. I had minimal damage and was unhurt. The same can't be said for everyone behind me.
  9. Keep your cell phone charged, but stay off of it, especially in the worst weather. And invest in a Bluetooth or other hands-free device.
  10. Use your turn signals. Of course, you know where you are headed, but assume that no one else is reading your mind. The turn signal clues people into what actions you may be taking.
  11. Change lanes before you need to. This may sound silly, but if you need to get off the Kennedy at Ohio and you're in the far left lane, waiting until you are 10 feet from the exit is not the right time to cross 5 lanes of traffic at 55 mph. Also, if you ever get to drive 55 mph on the Kennedy near Ohio, let me know.
  12. Check your tires for tread depth and inflation levels. Do they need to be replaced because they have no tread? You can measure the depth of the tread with a coin. If they're below 2/32", you need new tires. Keeping your tired properly inflated can also make you safer and improve your gas mileage.
  13. Keep your gas tank full. This way you won't risk running out of gas in the middle of the road.
  14. Pack an emergency kit in your car. I have a flash light, 2 blankets, an extra scarf & hat, 2 granola bars, a bottle of water, hand warmers, an extra pair of wool socks, and some reflective signs for my window that say "call 911." You never know when or where you will need this.
  15. Do you have AAA? I swear by it because it's saved me multiple times. It's cheap and better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
  16. Ladies, wear weather appropriate shoes. Our stilettos are sexy, but they're useless and dangerous in this weather. Keep them dry and protected by wearing boots. Your feet will be warmer and should you need to get out of your car for any reason, you'll be much safer.
  17. Be patient. Road rage won't get you from Point A to Point B any faster and in fact can be deadly.
  18. All extra time to reach your destination. This will keep your road rage in check, allow you to drive safely, and give you plenty of time to remove all the snow from your car.
Follow Little Merry Sunshine's Rules of the Road, along with the Rules of the Road from your state and you're sure to have a safe winter navigating the roads.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This Christmas, Give Peace & Good Will Toward Men

There was an interesting article in today's Sun-Times about how many non-profit organizations find themselves in a strange predicament: they have too many volunteers.

Around the holidays, many people's most generous side comes out and it seems they all want to work in soup kitchens or at homeless shelters. This overabundance of volunteers is also buttressed by the fact that we have a 10% national unemployment rate. Many people who are unemployed seek to fill their time by volunteering.

Unfortunately, this glut of volunteers is not a year-round problem. During other times of the year, there is a severe shortage of volunteers.

Because Little Merry Sunshine believes strongly in giving back and volunteering, I thought it would be helpful to suggest some alternative volunteer opportunities that are readily available and could use your help right now:
  • Donate blood. LifeSource and other blood donation centers always need extra blood.
  • Food pantries. Call your local food pantry and see what their greatest need is. Many food pantries also take personal care items (deodorant, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, diapers, etc.). These donations are vital because food stamps cannot be used to purchase these items, which can be quite costly. Don't forget that pets are family too and there are food pantries set up for pets.
  • Donate gently used clothing to a local resale shop.
  • Before Santa brings your kids a new bounty of toys, why not get them into the spirit of sharing the wealth by donating some of their gently used toys to resale shops.
  • Toys for Tots accepts new, unwrapped toys and books.
  • Call your local school and see what items they need. I'm sure they all have a wish list.
  • Check out the website for the Random Acts of Kindness Club. They always have fun and easy ways to make a difference in the community.
  • Call your city or township hall and see if they offer Adopt-a-Family programs where you can sponsor Christmas gifts for the entire family.
  • Check with the post office for letters to Santa from kids who are especially needy this year. Fulfill their Christmas wishes.
  • Ask your church secretary about members who need rides to church or are alone during the holidays. Drive them to church or invite them over for Christmas dinner. It's what Jesus would do. Have a goal at your church that no member is alone on Christmas.
  • Take a tray of cookies over to your local police department and/or fire department to thank them for their never-ending hard work all year long. You may not see them doing their jobs, but that's kind of the point. Trust me, they are there when you need them and they work all the holidays.
  • Drop some change in a Salvation Army kettle.
If these ideas don't resonate with you, look around your neighborhood. There are plenty of opportunities to make the world better right your own backyard.
  • Shovel an elderly neighbor's driveway - for free, of course.
  • Are the sidewalks at the corners clear and free of snow piles at the curb for the kids walking to school? Those snow piles from the snow plows become a danger when they turn to ice and the kids have to climb them to climb the street.
  • Shovel your own driveway and sidewalks. This helps kids, the postman, people walking dogs, the elderly walking for fresh air, runners, mom's walking little kids and more.
  • Is there a neighbor who still isn't quite ready for winter and you could offer to help them with their fall clean-up?
  • Do you have a neighbor you know is struggling? Maybe someone has lost a job. What if you anonymously sent them a gift card to the local grocery store or purchased tickets to the local movie theater for the family?
  • Do you know someone struggling after losing a loved one this year? Reach out to them. Don't be freaked out if they cry. The holidays are difficult.
  • Do you know a single mom (or dad) without family in the area? Invite her and her kids to spend Christmas day with you. Offer to take her kids for an afternoon to give her a break and so she can have some personal time.
  • Nursing home residents need love too. Call a local nursing home and find out if there are residents without regular visitors. Go read to them. If they're able, let them tell you their stories. They love the trips down Memory Lane and visitors keep their spirits up. Just remember to be 100% healthy when you visit. Their immune systems are probably not as strong as yours.
Don't forget your own family. Charity begins at home, after all. Who in your extended family could use some extra kindness this year?
  • Did someone lose a job? Collect your siblings together and each donate towards Visa Gift Card or call and offer to pay a bill this month.
  • Is someone getting a divorce or newly divorced? Make sure you let them know they're not alone and you're still there for them. Often people going through divorce feel isolated especially this time of the year. This is especially true for the non-custodial parent. He or she may be spending Christmas Day alone. Invite them over for dinner.
  • Do you have an elderly relative at home, in an assisted-living facility or nursing home? Offer to drive them to the doctor's office, invite them to lunch, or set up a regular visitation schedule. Take old family pictures with you because they will enjoy looking at them. Take them artwork from your kids.
  • Have your kids write Grandma and Grandpa a letter or color some pictures for them.
To me, the holidays are a time to spread peace and good will. No matter how we may each have been affected by the economy this past year, we are each still better off than the majority of the world and many people in our own communities. By reaching out and lifting them up, even in what may seem like insignificant ways, we will not only improve the lives of others, we will feel better about ourselves.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Who Knew I Am A Bargain Shopper?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine wanted to know what I wanted for Christmas and I (jokingly) told him I wanted the 2009 Victoria's Secret Harlequin Fantasy Bra. It's just a mere $3 million. Believe it or not, he laughed at me.

If you don't know, this bra contains over 2300 diamonds weighing a total of 150 carats, including the 16-carat dangling heart-shaped diamond. Victoria's Secret is pretty famous for their annual Fantasy Bra.

If you think this is outrageous, according to the Wall Street Journal, the 2009 Victoria Secret Harlequin Fantasy Bra, is only 1/10th of the total carat weight of the 2008 Black Diamond Fantasy Miracle Bra.
For the record, the 2008 Fantasy Bra sold for $5,000,000 and had a total carat weight of 1500 carats.

So it turns out, I'm not delusional when it comes to Christmas gifts . . . I'm a bargain shopper. Now can I please have the Harlequin Fantasy Bra for Christmas?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Important Update to Nana's White Fruit Cake

Last weekend I sat down to make Nana's White Fruit Cake. Immediately, I noticed there were a few important tips missing and learned my own lessons, so I have updated Nana's recipe below to make it better reflect her actual fruit cake and because I want you to have a successful fruit cake! I'm sure that Nana forgot to include these tips because baking her fruit cake was like breathing to her. She never had to think about it.

Follow the revised recipe and your fruit cake will be perfect!

Originally posted on Remembering Frances.

Nana was famous for her fruit cake. I know fruit cake gets a bad rap, but you haven't tried Nana's. It is light and airy and quite simply heaven in a bread pan. I knew I was grown up the first time Nana sent me my very own fruit cake, in December 1993, the first Christmas I was in Washington, D.C. But 6 years later, in December 1999, Nana trusted me with her fruit cake recipe was the year I knew I was an adult.

Nana baked her last fruit cake in January 2006. David and I spent a week in Florida and after church on Sunday, Mom, Nana and I made Nana's fruit cake. I savored the fruit cakes we made that January, each year having just a little, so that the first Christmas Nana wasn't with us anymore, she'd still be with us. I still have part of one fruitcake that I guess we'll finish this Christmas.

I'll be making Nana's White Fruit Cake this Christmas on my own, for the first time, and sharing it with my friends and loved ones. I'll stick to her recipe exactly, except that my cakes will probably also include a few tears. They'll be tears of both joy and sadness. Joy because of all the wonderful memories I have around Nana's Fruit Cake and Christmas and sadness because it's the first Christmas without Nana.

I don't know the origin of Nana's fruit cake recipe. I've always just thought of it as Nana's White Fruit Cake, so that's how I titled it.

Today, I'm happy to share Nana's recipe with you. I thought about keeping it a secret, but that isn't Nana's way. She'd want to know you enjoyed it too.

NOTE: This is Nana's typed out recipe. All of the notes and verbiage are hers. I didn't change a thing. I think using the recipe the way she thought of it and in her sweet words makes it better.

Nana's White Fruit Cake

1 lb pecans
1 lb candied cherries (red and green mix)
1 lb candied pineapple
6 egg whites
3/4 lb butter (3 sticks)
2 cups sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup whiskey (I use Jim Beam Bourbon)
4 cups plain flour (sifted) - does not need sifting these days as flour is very fine and soft.
2 tsp baking powder

Day before you bake I cut my pineapple and cherries in halves. I think this makes slicing easier and prettier. Then chop pecans. Can use scissors to cut in half. DO NOT USE THE PRE-MIXED CUT FRUIT THAT YOU CAN BUY BECAUSE IT'S NOT CHERRIES, IT'S A BUNCH OF ORANGE RINDS AND OTHER STUFF. (JLG Note: I learned this lesson the hard way.)

You will need a mixing bowl, one glass bowl to beat egg whites and a big bowl to put pecans and fruit in. You will save about a cup of flour to pour over fruit and pecans so they will not go to bottom of pan when cooking, this is called dredging with flour.

1. In the largest bowl, pour 1 cup of flour over the fruit and pecans and stir. It's easiest to do this with your hands. Set aside.
2. In a glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside.
3. In a third bowl, mix remaining 6 ingredients in order (butter, sugar, egg yolks, bourbon, flour, & baking powder) one at a time and cream each time.
4. Pour batter over the fruit and pecans and use hands to mix then pour egg whites in and fold into this using hands.

Grease pans and flour sides and bottom, but shake to get all flour out. Then I cut from a brown bag the size of bottom of pan and place in bottom to keep from sticking. This will make 2 regular-size loaf pans and 1 small loaf pan. (JLG NOTE: Parchment paper works too.)

All done, ready to pour into loaf pans and bake. Fill each pan only about 3/4 full.

Place a round cake pan with about 1/2 inch of water on the bottom shelf of the oven. This helps keep the fruitcakes moist while baking for such a long time. You may need to add more water during baking.

START IN A COLD OVEN. Bake about 2 hours or 2 1/4 hours at 240. I just look and feel to see if brown and if cake feels solid. You should use a toothpick to check doneness. (JLG Note: I cooked for 2 hours and wish I'd only baked these for 1 3/4 hours. They're a little more done than I'd like, but still look very good. That may be due to oven variations.)

Remove cakes from loaf pans immediately (no need to let cool) and pat each cake with bourbon (about 1/4 cup for all cakes, not per cake) then wrap air tight in wax paper and then aluminum foil after cakes have cooled. Can open in a couple of weeks and can pour little more liquor if needed. (JLG Note: My mom recommends patting down the fruitcakes with bourbon using your fingers, but I used a pastry brush.)

All ready for Christmas. I just leave in pantry in a plastic sack.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

The First Holiday Card of the Season Has Arrived!

Imagine the delight I felt just moments ago when I went to my mailbox and discovered that rather than the normal variety of junk mail and bills, today I received my first Christmas card!

It's a beautiful card. A stunning 3-D picture of Santa in his sleigh (not wearing his seatbelt though), sliding over a glittery snow covered hill with snow falling from the blue sky in a matching envelope. You really should see it, but you can't because I don't have a scanner. Sorry.

Did you send this cheery note to me? No. No, you did not. I'm sure your card will arrive tomorrow though.

Award-winning celebrity blogger Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein sent it. That right, Dr. Monkey of Monkey Muck fame.

You haven't heard of his brilliant, witty, liberal blog? Well, where have you been?

Dr. Monkey is one of the smartest, say-it-like-it-is, most original and funniest people I know. I'm not sure what goes on in his brain that makes him think of the stuff he does, but he is one hysterical monkey. And I love him.

Take some time now and go read his blog. Trust me, you'll love it. And then add it to your favorites. Really, he's a blog God.

Why did Dr. Monkey send me such a joyful Christmas card? Because in spite of his fame and celebrity status, we're friends and that's just how he rolls.

Thank you Dr. Monkey! Friends like you make the holidays special!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Without a Doubt, Betsey and Ross ARE Trying to Kill Me

Betsey and Ross, looking sweet and innocent.

A friend of mine emailed the cartoon below to me earlier today with the subject line warning "Be Very Careful" and I though "huh?" until I clicked on the link and saw the picture below.

After reviewing it, I can say with absolute certainty that Betsey and Ross ARE trying to kill me. I know, those of you who have met them are thinking, "But they're so sweet! Ross just wants to be loved and Betsey just wants to be left alone." And to you, I can only say, "SUCKERS!" Sure, they look innocent and sweet. But let me tell you that they do all the behaviors outlined below and even some that aren't. Betsey, for example, starts out purring and sleeping with her little head on my shoulder. After about 30 minutes, her entire body is laying on my shoulder and leaning against my neck. It's clear she's waiting to cut off my air supply by squeezing her tail around my neck. While Betsey is waiting to choke me, Ross is snoring away and has handcuffed my wrist and hand to the bed with his fat body rendering me unable to free myself from Betsey's tightening grip.

Before going any further, I must give credit where credit is due. This cartoon was originally drawn by Matthew Inman and appeared here. I'm using the picture below rather than the original because I could get this one in one image.

Cyber Monday Shopping Recommendation

It's Cyber Monday! As everyone knows, Cyber Monday refers to the Monday after Black Friday and is supposedly the busiest day of the year for online retailers. There's even a whole website devoted to Cyber Monday shopping deals.

You have many choices today (and everyday) about where to spend your shopping dollars, but on this day, I'm tossing out a completely shameless plug for my own Mary Kay business. As you know, I don't ever use Little Merry Sunshine to plug my business, but today I'm making an exception.

Why should you spend your holiday gift giving dollars with me?
Because I am a local business, which means that your tax dollars will stay local. I also support many local charities and community events. By supporting me, you're supporting Arlington Heights. I also deliver to anyone in Arlington Heights or ship to anywhere else in the United States for a nominal fee. I offer free gift wrapping and every gift comes with Mary Kay's 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.

But I thought Mary Kay was just skin care and make-up . . .
Mary Kay is skin care and make-up, but we also have fabulous body care, fragrances, and men's skin care. All of these items make great personal gifts for everyone on your shopping list: teachers, friends, family, men, women, teens, babysitters, hostesses, hair stylists, massage therapists, employees, and, of course, YOU!

I have a Mary Kay Consultant, but I love Little Merry Sunshine. Can I shop with you?
I completely appreciate that you love Little Merry Sunshine and while I would love your business, you should continue to give your Mary Kay Consultant your business. That's the Mary Kay Way. We're not in competition with each other and we don't poach each other's clients.

Happy Shopping!

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled non-shameless plug blog posts tomorrow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Little Merry Sunshine is Now a Front-Hug Free Zone

I had no idea what a sinner I am with my front hugs, which I'll admit I like. Effective immediately, Little Merry Sunshine is repenting and there will be no "front-hugging" allowed at Little Merry Sunshine.

The Side-Hug: Youth Group Puts Down Sinful "Front-Hugs" With Rap

Dan Abramson, Huffington Post, November 24, 2009

Christian youth groups finally have an alternative to normal, aka "front," hugs. As we all know, face to face embraces run the horrific risk of a clothed crotch graze. The Christian Side-Hug (or the CSH, as the kids call it) rids us of sin, as the only below the belt contact will be some good old-fashioned hip on hip action.

To help the side-hug fad sweep the nation, let us present this hardcore rap song. Yup, side-hugging has hit the streets. The group has as many emcees as the Wu-Tang Clan and as much power as a barbershop quartet.

Look out for the ominous sirens blasting on the track. Clearly, these are gangsters on the run from the law - probably from side-hugging up a storm! One emcee (wearing his bandanna 2pac-style no less) admits to taking part in the forbidden front-hug. But don't worry, God. He's married.

At the end, they all simulate getting shot and dying. We can only hope there are side-hugs in heaven.


For more on the Christian Side-Hug, see what the Washington City Paper and Mother Jones have to say.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Little Merry Sunshine Style

I love Thanksgiving. I love to cook Thanksgiving dinner. I love to have people over. I love using the fancy dishes. I love the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I simply love all of it.

This year's Thanksgiving is being celebrated with my dad and brother. They are both busy tackling my "Honey Do" list while I cook away. Yesterday, Dad and I re-tackled the outside Christmas lights because he thought I should move into the 21st century and away from the colored lights that were 30 years old. I have to say, the new lights are beautiful, although nothing rivals my next door neighbors wooden reindeer, polar bears, and rock formation with fake flowers. Hopefully, no one will rearrange the reindeer this year. But I digress.

Dad and Dave are currently building the storm door for my sliding glass living room door and next will tackle a project in the crawl space, I think. Dave may go up on the roof just to check things out like he does a couple of times a year. Football will appear on TV soon and they will take their rightful places on the couch and in the La-Z-Boy. Beer and yelling at the TV may be involved. All while I continue to cook.

Yes, Thanksgiving tasks are divided along traditional gender role lines, but on this day, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner to me is about the tradition. The family. The love that I feel when I pull out recipes that have been passed down from 3-4 generations. I may not have known the women who cooked Thanksgiving before me, but on this day, they're each a part of me as I use their recipes and tweek them with my own stamp. As I write this, my good friend Bergsie of Kittens Farting Rainbows and I are having an email conversation about Nana's fruitcake, which she is going to make this year. Bergsie sees cooking "as a creative process and a way to connect with other people and history." I couldn't agree more.

This year's Thanksgiving includes not only traditional family recipes, but also two new ones shared with me by friends.

Night-Before French Toast (see below)
Orange Juice and Coffee

Sweet & Sour Meatballs
(I'm only preparing appetizers because I have them in the house and don't want Dad and Dave to starve)

Pumpkin Bisque
Green Beans with Sliced Almonds
Nana's Corn Bread Stuffing (stuffed in the bird) (see below)
Fresh Cranberry Sauce (use the recipe on the back of the package of fresh cranberries)
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Soufflé (see below)
Giblet Gravy (see below)
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
Pumpkin Spice Bars (see below)

As I tweeted last night, I don't know how to cook for 3. I know how to cook for 23.


Night-Before French Toast
1 (10 oz) long, thin loaf French or Italian bread (almost anything will work)
8 large eggs
3 cups milk
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (or to taste)
1 tsp. vanilla (or to taste)
2 T butter, cut into pieces

Grease 9x13-inch cake pan. Cut bread into 1-inch slices; arrange in layers. Beat eggs with all ingredients, except butter; pour over bread. Cover with foil; refrigeratore 4-36 hours. Bake, uncovered at 350 for 45-50 minutes; dot with butter. Serve with syrup, honey, yogurt, sour cream, fresh fruit or powdered sugar. Perfect for brunches.

JLG Note: My dear friend Debbie Nelson shared this recipe with me at her fantastic Halloween brunch. I don't measure cinnamon or vanilla. I don't think you can ever have too much of these ingredients. Use what you like. I also only cooked for about 40 minutes because the top layer was getting too well-done. Very light and airy. Dad and Dave went back for seconds.

Nana's Corn Bread Stuffing
Bake corn bread (according to the recipe on the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal box) in a wrought iron skillet.
Brown about 10 slices of bread (JLG Note: I like the grainy wheat bread).
Crumble corn bread and bread slices together in a big bowl.
Add 2-3 raw eggs, poultry seasoning (2 tsp or so) and boiling water to mix dressing.
Add 2 onions and celery, chopped and browned in butter.

You can stuff the dressing into the turkey or you can put it all in a pyrex dish and cook separate in the oven, but you cannot stuff the turkey the night before. Stuff it just before you put it in the oven.

JLG Note: You need enough boiling water to hold stuffing together, so there's no real specific amount. I actually prefer to use vegetable or chicken stock. I also add dried cherries to my stuffing. I usually have dressing in the turkey and in a separate dish and I put the separate pyrex dish in the oven for the last hour the turkey is cooking.

Sweet Potato Soufflé
6 Sweet Potatoes
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans

1. In a large stockpot, cover sweet potatoes with 1 inch of water; boil for 20 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain, allow to cool and remove skins.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or butter a 2-quart casserole dish.
3. Place potatoes in a mixing bowl and with an electric mixer, beat on low speed until potatoes begin to break up. Increase speed to medium high and blend until smooth.
4. Reduce speed to low and add sugar, milk, butter, vanilla, eggs, and salt. Mix well.
5. Allow any potato "fibers" to remain on the beater and remove. Pour sweet potato mixture into the casserole dish.
6. Prepare the topping in a small bowl by whisking together the brown sugar, flour, butter, and pecans. Sprinkle topping over the potato mixture and bake for 40 minutes.

JLG Note: I got this recipe from my blog buddy Living Oprah, who ran a contest for Thanksgiving recipes on her Facebook Fan Page. A woman submitted this recipe saying that her grandmother always made it and now that her grandmother is gone, she and her sisters make it every year.

Nana's Giblet Gravy
Turkey giblets (liver, heart, gizzards, and neck), boiled and sliced into small pieces
6-8 cups stock from the turkey drippings and the leftover water from boiling the gizzards
2 tsp poultry seasoning
2 large T of uncooked Corn Bread Stuffing, held in reserve
3 T cornstarch
some cold water (btwn 1/4 and 1/2 cup)
Dash of salt
some freshly ground pepper
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

1. Take the giblets (liver, heart, gizzards and neck) out of the turkey and boil them in water. It takes about 5 hours to boil them down so that they are tender enough and you'll have to keep adding water throughout the process. Make sure they are just covered with water. I add water about every 45 minutes. Because it takes so long to boil the giblets down, you'll want to start this early in the morning.
Once they are done, remove the meat from the neck of the turkey and throw out the bone. Slice up the remaining giblets into small pieces.
2. Bring the stock to back to boiling and add the giblets, raw stuffing and poultry seasoning.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch and water. Add to the stock and stir constantly.
4. Reduce the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes.
5. Salt and pepper to taste.
6. Line your gravy boat with the sliced egg and pour giblet gravy over it. Do not add eggs directly to gravy because it will not last and the gravy will go bad.

Pumpkin Spice Bars
1 pouch Betty Crocker Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix
1 cup Butter, melted
3 eggs
1 cup Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup chopped Walnuts

1. Mix together cookie mix, melted butter and eggs until well blended. Spread into greased 9-inch square baking pan.
2. Bake at 350 for 33-38 minutes. Cool completely.
3. Spread frosting over bars. Sprinkle with nuts.

JLG Note: I discovered this recipe when I bought the cookie mix to make cookies and decided it would make a great dessert. It says it's bars, but it feels more like cake and is thick like cake.

About the turkey . . . everyone cooks their turkey a little differently. I do mine at 325 and base my time on the temperature. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 170 per the thermometer in the thigh, I remove it from the oven because it will continue to cook as it stands and will reach 180, the recommended temperature for serving. Do not forget to turn on the oven before putting the turkey in it. In fact, your oven should be preheated. Failing to turn on the oven will result in serving your guests raw turkey and I assure you that your mother-in-law will not be happy.

When you're cooking your turkey, if you have any questions at all, you can call the Butterball Hotline at 1-800-BUTTERBALL and speak to a turkey expert. 8am-8pm CST Weekdays through November and December. Don't feel bad if you have to call. Even President Bartlet called the Butterball Hotline.

Even Betsey and Ross got into the Thanksgiving spirit. For those wondering, they feasted on a delightful meal of Purina One for Sensitive Systems and room-temperature water. Catnip was served for dessert.

Today I'm Grateful For . . . Thanksgiving 2009 Edition

Today is Thanksgiving, a day we all pause to be grateful for the abundance in our lives. No matter who we are or what our circumstances, I know that we each have an incredible list of blessings.

This year, my blessings include:
  • My brother. Dave and I have become an unbreakable team since Nana's death. He is my sounding board when I get frustrated with all I have to do to get her estate closed and he has the courage to tell me the things I don't always want to hear in ways that make me listen. He also never complains about the "honey do" list of projects around my house that I always have when he visits.
  • Little Merry Sunshine and Remembering Frances. Both blogs have helped keep me sane this year as I've had to navigate the unfamiliar territory of mourning. The readers and commenters of both blogs have given me strength, made me laugh, and made me think. Without you reading my blogs, I'd really just be talking to myself.
  • Nana having 92 years and 359 days of a beautiful life and the vast majority of it in good health. I'm grateful for the life she lived, the experiences she had, and her Horatio Alger-attitude. I think of the many life lessons she taught me on a daily basis and smile. I look around at the legacy she left and am proud to be part of it.
  • Mom being able to spend time with Nana these past few years. Mom may not have always been able to do all she wanted, but the relationship they forged and the bonds they shared are priceless. No one was a better advocate for Nana than Mom was. Without her fighting for Nana and standing up to doctors, Nana would have died a very painful and drawn-out death.
  • My own resilience. I've heard it said that God doesn't give you more than you can handle and the last few months have shown me that I grossly underestimated my own strength.
  • The World's Greatest Friends. Some of them have been life long friends and some of them have come into my life more recently. Some of them I only know through Facebook or blogging. But they all make me better.
  • My business. I am grateful beyond words for the flexibility I have, knowing that my efforts are rewarded over and over again, and that I have a positive impact on the lives of others.
  • Betsey and Ross and their continued good health. The vet said they look 8 rather than their 13 1/2 years. They are spunky and loyal and loving.
Even though I sometimes have a difficult time staying positive when the world feels overwhelming, I know that in truth, my cup runneth over with blessings and it's my job to find those blessings everyday.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Little Merry Sunshine's 2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide

It's once again that time of the year when the elves here at Little Merry Sunshine have been busily scurrying to find just the perfect gifts for you to give your loved ones this holiday season.

Once again this year, our goal is to bring you one-of-a-kind top-quality gifts that will send just the right message and that will always be remembered. We've spared no expense because we know you only expect the best.

A word to the wise, with Oprah retiring, she's canceled her infamous Favorite Things episode* and her influence waning, the LMS stamp of approval is highly sought after and means more and more each minute. These items are sure to fly off the shelves this Black Friday, so you'll want to arrive early. We'd get in line now.

Without further ado, we bring you Little Merry Sunshine's 2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide. And for a bit of nostalgia, here's the 1st Annual Holiday Gift Guide.

Handerpants - The Underpants for Your Hands
You haven't heard of these delightful accessories? I know you're about to wonder how you ever lived without them. $11.95 plus shipping.

Of course, you'll have to have the Undercap to keep your ears warm while wearing your Handerpants. At only $11.95, these tighty whities will surely keep you warm all winter long.

Krazy Rat
This will entertain (or scare) your friends and freak out the kids and pets. Plus, it recharges quickly for endless fun! $34.95 with free shipping.

For the animal lover in your life, give them Buck the Singing Deerhead! $29.95.

Has the woman in your life been hinting around for a diamond ring? Show her how much you love her with the Diamond Ring Keychain! I promise she'll think of you everyday.
The Diamond Ring Keychain is only $3.49, so you'll have plenty of money to spring for the Elephant Poo Roses ($15-$48).
Every girl wants a doll for Christmas, so this year, you should surprise your special girl with the Pole Dancer Doll!

For those of you unaffected by the recession, Little Merry Sunshine recommends these gifts . . .

Do you know someone who can never find their car in the mall parking lot because every car looks the same? Get them a Cupcake Car and they'll never lose their car again! At just $25,000, this car is very competitively priced. I'm not sure if the sprinkles or peppermint safety helmets are extra.
Does your little princess fight going to bed? With the Princess Palace Playhouse Bed she'll be eager for an earlier bedtime. Isn't $47,000 a small price to pay for peaceful bedtimes?
Every little boy fantasizes about being a pirate, so Santa should make that fantasy come true with Red Beard's Revenge Pirate Ship Playhouse! Unfortunately, $52,000 doesn't make this playhouse sea-worthy, but your child will surely be the most popular kid in the neighborhood and popularity is priceless.

*We can't help but wonder if Oprah is conceding that Little Merry Sunshine is now more popular and influential than the Queen of All Media? It's possible that's why Oprah has given up the Favorite Things episode and is retiring. It's highly improbable, but it's possible. If only in my head, it's possible.

National Day of Listening

Celebrate the National Day of Listening
This coming Friday, November 27th is the annual National Day of Listening. From the website,
On the day after Thanksgiving, set aside one hour to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood.

You can preserve the interview using recording equipment readily available in most homes, such as cell phones, tape recorders, computers, or even pen and paper. Our free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide is easy to use and will prepare you and your interview partner to record a memorable conversation, no matter which recording method you choose.

Make a yearly tradition of listening to and preserving a loved one’s story. The stories you collect will become treasured keepsakes that grow more valuable with each passing generation.

At the National Day of Listening website, you can listen to other people's stories and even share your own.

I have to admit that I've never done this, although my mom has. Mom used to tape record a lot of the conversations she and Nana had and she'd ask Nana questions about her childhood in Mississippi, her life with my grandfather Jesse Paulk, and many other things. Nana would tell her stories of going fishing for catfish, making her own clothes, baking pies, and many other things.

For my birthday this year, I asked Mom to tape record a conversation with Nana and send it to me. It proved to be one of the last conversations Nana would have and five months later, I still can't bring myself to listen to the tape. I will always treasure this tape and will eventually listen to it.

I guarantee that you won't find anything in all the Black Friday sales nearly as meaningful as the bonds you'll form by participating in the National Day of Listening. An oral history is the gift that will keep giving for generations to come.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm A Little Anal Retentive

I've spent most of my weekend cleaning and purging and I can't begin to explain how good this feels. I've put a bunch of unneeded stuff up on Freecycle and most of it is already on its way to new good homes.

In the process of all this cleaning, I am reorganizing my dresser, which I do about once a season when I change my clothes over front spring/summer to fall/winter. As I finished reorganizing my underwear and socks drawer, I was reminded of a now funny college story (it wasn't funny then) and I see that as much as some things change over two decades, the more they truly stay the same.

During my sophomore year, I was a Resident Assistant in the freshman dorm with five other Resident Assistants. We were all very good friends and regularly hung out even when we weren't on duty. One of the perks of being a Resident Assistant was having a master key that would get us into any room in the entire dorm. Ideally, this key was for only emergency use or to let a student back into their room when they found themselves locked out. Sometimes, however, mischief ensued.

It was well-known that I was a little anal retentive about my room. It was always clean and I even normally made my bed, even though it was 6 feet off the ground and no one could see it. I simply did not like clutter or messiness.

My dresser was even hyper-organized. The first drawer contained nothing but underwear and socks. Both were organized by type and by color and everything was folded neatly. The socks were broken down into two piles - one for colors and the other for whites.

One afternoon, I returned to my room after a long day of classes to discover my closet door open and dresser drawers were hanging open (I kept my dresser in my closet). I certainly never left them in this state. When I pulled the top drawer completely open, I discovered that all my socks and underwear were no longer in their neat and organized piles, but were now all mismatched and strewn everywhere within the drawer (at least they were still in the correct drawer).

Immediately I knew the funny people behind this little prank - my good friends and fellow RAs. My friends thought this was pretty hilarious, although I didn't find it the least bit amusing.

As I organized my sock and underwear drawer into neat little color-coded, folded piles this afternoon, I had a good laugh remembering how upset I was over this prank and now find it pretty funny.

But I swear if anyone dares to rearrange my dresser today, I will not be responsible for the wrath you will endure.

A Season of Gratitude

I just love this idea I read about in the Chicago Tribune this morning.

Can you imagine what would happen if we all spent the next 37 days celebrating gratitude and being thankful for the richness in our lives? No matter what our individual circumstances, we all have more to be grateful for than we realize. I know that for a lot of of people, the holidays are a time of vast loneliness and sadness, but by focusing on the positive and reaching out to say thank you, I think that seasonal depression could be cured.

What I've learned about gratitude over the years is that thanking people and showing appreciation makes others happy, but it also enriches my own life beyond measure.

A commenter on the Tribune's story says there is a website called I just visited it. Go and be uplifted. Post your own story or just read others. You'll leave happier for all the kindness in the world.

Calendar of Gratitude: 37 Days of Thanks

How about celebrating the holidays by giving thanks, one day at a time?

By Barbara Mahany, Chicago Tribune, November 22, 2009

It's the season of too, too much. Too much to do. Too many places to be. Too much for just one run-ragged soul.

Well, here's Plan B.

How about transforming this into a Season of Gratitude, one in which you put into practice the daily habit of being thankful, and doing so in ways unmistakable?

We've created a get-you-started game plan -- actions you can take or thoughts to consider -- that stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Give 'em a whirl. Or invent your own.

Nov. 26 Sure, it's a crazy day in the kitchen, but try to carve out some time to take a walk anywhere you can hear birds sing or the crunch of leaves beneath your shoes. Whisper thank you to the Earth for all its bounty. And while you're at it, compose a list of all that's been good since last Thanksgiving.

Nov. 27 (Eid al-Adha) Make this One More Day of Giving Day. Take some leftovers to someone who could use a lift. And a turkey on rye.

Nov. 28 What if you had only one day left to live? Whom would you call to thank? Start dialing.

Nov. 29 Track down and thank a beloved teacher. Write a letter telling her/him a lesson you learned that you've never forgotten.

Nov. 30 Talk to someone whose life is bumpier than yours and ask what she or he feels grateful for. Remember how blessed you are.

Dec. 1 "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'Thank you,' that would be enough." -- German philosopher Meister Eckhart

Dec. 2 Tonight is the first full moon of the month, called "Long Night Moon," "Moon Before Yule" or "Full Cold Moon" by American Indians. Take a moon walk, and consider the gift of that night light that waxes and wanes but always guides our way.

Dec. 3 When gathered with family or friends, tell each person one thing you've learned from him/her. Give everyone a turn to do the same.

Dec. 4 Is there someone at work who makes you smile every day? Write an anonymous note of praise to that person's boss. Leaving no trace of who wrote it, drop a copy of the note on that someone's desk.

Dec. 5 Teach the children in your life to say thank you. When you tuck them in bed, ask what they're most thankful for that happened that day.

Dec. 6 (Feast of St. Nick) Be thankful for the good dose of childlike wonder that can still be sparked in your heart.

Dec. 7 Before you leave the house this morning, remember to be thankful for the place that keeps you safe from life's storms.

Dec. 8 Write a letter of thanks to your parents, or someone who was your "other mother," even if they're no longer alive. Share the letter with your own family.

Dec. 9 Declare today Hold Open Doors and Yield for Traffic Day. (If you don't drive, give up your seat on the bus or the train.) Think of how warm it makes you feel when someone does the same for you, and offer up thanks to all the unsung souls who've paved your way with kindness.

Dec. 10 Consider a life without complaints. Begin today. Cut yourself off if you hear yourself starting to whine, or complain about just about anything. Recruit anti-complaint compatriots. Maybe even launch an army of non-complainers. Try to make it all day without one lousy complaint. Check out, a Web site that aims to end complaining.

Dec. 11 (Hanukkah begins at sundown) It's the season for candlelighting. Kindle lights according to your tradition, or begin a new one. As you watch the last of the candle burn, and the smoke furl upward, whisper thanks for a wish you hope comes true.

Dec. 12 Delay dinner just long enough so everyone feels hungry. When you sit down to eat, be thankful for all the times you don't go hungry.

Dec. 13 Start a collective "Season of Gratitude" book. Leave out construction paper and supplies for page making. Have everyone in the house (visitors too) create a page of what they're thankful for. It might be in the form of a poem, drawing or words cut from a magazine. Tuck into a binder. Leave it out for everyone to enjoy.

Dec. 14 Word has it that the No. 1 most sought-after item at plenty of homeless shelters, besides coats and mittens, is deodorant. Toothpaste and soap are always welcome too. Why not donate deodorant (as well as other useful supplies) at the nearest shelter?

Dec. 15 If you spot someone in the armed forces in line for a sandwich or drink, consider picking up the tab.

Dec. 16 When you open your eyes this morning, think of three things for which you are deeply thankful. Live a grateful day.

Dec. 17 Ever think how hard it is to deliver all that holiday mail? Greet your mail carrier with a jazzy pair of thick socks. And a note: "Thanks for all your schlepping."

Dec. 18 Place paper and pencil on everyone's pillow, with instructions to write one thing that made them purr like a cat today. At breakfast, read the notes aloud.

Dec. 19 Be Kind to Your Feathered Friends Day. Grab pine cones, smear them with peanut butter, roll in birdseed and stud with dried cranberries. Tie with a loop of red yarn or plain string. Hang outside on trees or bushes.

Dec. 20 Take a walk and get a full dose of sunshine. Consider the bounty that begins with the rising of each day's burning orb of solar heat.

Dec. 21 (winter solstice) Celebrate the darkness. Gather a few good souls after sundown, or go it alone. Make a bonfire or simply light candles. Tradition has it that fires are sparked on the longest night to help the sun get its job done. Give thought to the life that's birthed out of darkness. Remember: Through darkness come shards of light. Be thankful for dark spells.

Dec. 22 Begin a perpetual gratitude list. Whenever you think of it, jot down something for which you are eternally grateful. On bad days, when you can't think of a thing to be thankful for, read your list.

Dec. 23 Is there a checker at your market who almost always makes you laugh? Write a thank-you note, and hand it over just as you're leaving.

Dec. 24 Think of someone in your neighborhood who could use a little extra cheer (or who has been superkind to you). Drop off the fixings for a grand breakfast.

Dec. 25 (Christmas Day) Sometimes on the days billed as Big Ones, it's hard to live up to expectations. Try this: Get up before anyone else. Light a candle. Look out the window and quietly count your blessings.

Dec. 26 (Kwanzaa begins/Boxing Day) Once upon a time, this was a day for gifting all those who had to toil on Christmas Day. Why not revive the tradition by thinking of someone who keeps your world afloat throughout the year? Maybe it's a bus or taxi driver. Or your doctor's answering service. Write a love note to your personal lifesaver.

Dec. 27 Send a different kind of thank you. Instead of just writing a thank-you note for some treasure you received for the holidays, take a picture and make it into a postcard. Scribble a few words about how much the something meant to you, and drop your postcard in the mail.

Dec. 28 Find a copy of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" (Alfred A Knopf, 2009, $27.95), by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. You'll find lists of organizations to aid needy women around the world. LMS NOTE: There's also a Half the Sky website where you'll find valuable information.

Dec. 29 Share a cup of cocoa with a beloved child and explain just why you consider him or her a never-ending treasure. Seal the deal with a boa-constricting hug.

Dec. 30 Think of something extraordinarily kind someone once did for you. Be on the lookout for someone you can gift with random kindness.

Dec. 31 (New Year's Eve) Here's your once-in-a-blue-moon chance to wind up the year bursting with gratitude. Yup, it's the second full moon of the month, so consider enlisting a Once-in-a-Blue-Moon Brigade. Gather friends, cook up a big pot of soup or chili, with all the fixings. Deliver to your nearest soup kitchen, or a shut-in in your neighborhood.

Jan. 1 (New Year's Day) A fabulous day to begin living a full year of gratitude. How about considering the blessings you bring to this world? Yes, you. If you fill yourself to the brim with a sense of how grateful you are for yourself and your own goodness, think how much easier it will be to discover gratitude all around you in the year that's just unfolding.