Saturday, May 30, 2009

Susan Boyle: She Dreamed A Dream - SPOILER ALERT

WOW. That's the only word to express the emotion I am feeling at this moment. Susan Boyle WOW.

She dreamed a dream. A dream she held in her heart for years. A dream she never let out of her sight. A dream she clasped to even tighter when millions of people around the world laughed at her, said she had no right to it, and that she wasn't fit to be in competition.

Tonight was the final competition in Britain's Got Talent and Susan was the odds on favorite. It's been a crazy week for Susan. Reports have had her swearing at fans, cracking under the pressure and threatening to quit. Supposedly she was even kept in a safe house.

Without a doubt, Susan Boyle gave the greatest performance of her life tonight, singing "I Dreamed A Dream," the song that brought her to our attention just a few weeks ago and made us all examine ourselves. (I've written about Susan here, here and here). Watching her sing tonight, I cried.

Simon Cowell summed it all up better than I ever could. Singing her praises, he said "You had every right to walk away from this ... and a lot of people said you shouldn't even be in this competition, that you're not equipped to deal with it. For what? For you to sit at home with your cat and say 'I've missed an opportunity?' I completely disagree with that. Win or lose, you had the guts to come back here tonight and face your critics, and you beat them. And that's the most important thing. Whatever happens, and I've got to know the real Susan Boyle, who is not the person I've seen portrayed in the media, you can walk away from this, win or lose, with your head held high. I absolutely adore you."

How many of us have let our own inner critic or the world's critics talk us out of following our heart? I'd be lying if I said I always rose above my own fears. I don't. I battle them everyday, probably like most people. And sometimes they win. Sometimes I don't put myself out on the limb. Sometimes I resist being vulnerable. It's not always safe to put my whole heart into something and risk failure or looking silly.

If Susan Boyle had quit, I would bet money she'd spend the rest of her life asking herself "what if?" But she didn't. She kept going. How many times in our lives have we let ourselves off the hook because things got difficult? I won't tell you how many times I've done it or wanted to and I won't ask for your number either.

But what's the worst that can really happen? I get over myself, follow my passion, and don't quite get the result I was hoping for. So what? SPOILER In Susan Boyle's case, that's what happened. She came in second and she held her head high doing it. She was gracious in losing and that's a lesson we can all learn. She didn't win the competition and the money, but she won something even greater. She proved to herself and the world that she could do it. She followed her passion and lived her purpose on that stage. And I'm pretty sure she enjoyed the journey.

Personally, I am grateful to Susan Boyle for reminding me to follow my own dreams and heart and to quit listening to the voices (real or in my head) that tell me I can't.

Watch and be moved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For . . . WAIT! Did That Woman Steal My Ice Cream Money?!

On tonight's news there was a story about two 12-year old girls from the affluent suburb of Deerfield who allegedly had their ice cream money stolen at Baskin Robbins by a mom of three.

It seems that these two 12-year olds set a $20 bill on the counter at Baskin Robbins, while the woman in front of them was still in the process of her own transaction. They then walked away to look at the different flavors of ice cream. The woman finished her transaction, turned to walk away, then realized she forgot her purchase, turned back around, picked up her ice cream and the $20 sitting on the counter and proceeded to sit down with her kids in the store. A little while later, the 12-year olds realized their money had been stolen and called the police. According to Baskin Robbins, the mom is a regular customer in the store.

Why didn't the kids ask the woman, who was still in the store, if she picked up their money by mistake? Or if they were too scared to do it, why not have the manager of the Baskin Robbins do it?

The kids called the police. The police are now investigating. This happened 13 days ago. The police are STILL investigating and it made the ABC7 news today, almost 2 weeks later. The parents of one of the "victims" says they want to prosecute the mom who stole their kids' money. The police are investigating and giving interviews to the media about this.

This is the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars I think I've ever seen and now I want to move to Deerfield. They clearly do not have any problems there with vandalism, gangs, drugs, actual theft, homelessness, etc.

I've seen the video and you will too in a moment. In my opinion, this mom probably didn't realize the money wasn't hers. She was probably distracted since, ya know, she almost walked off without her purchase. According to the Sun-Times, the kids called one of their mothers crying that their money was gone. My question: Did the mom advise calling the cops? If these 12-year old girls were my kids and they called or came home upset about someone stealing their ice cream money, I'd look at them and tell them that was too bad and they've just learned an important life lesson: Do not leave money sitting on the counter and walk away. I would tell them that they should not take out their money until they are about to pay for their purchase. I would tell them I was sorry they'd lost $20, but that was too bad and they would never make that mistake again. Furthermore, I would say that if the $20 was stolen on purpose then the person who took the money must have needed it far more than my kids did. If, on the other hand, I saw the video, I would conclude that it was an honest mistake and encourage my kids to learn from it. What I would not do is call the police and I most certainly would not ever say that I wanted the person who took $20 prosecuted.

I have to believe that it is costing Deerfield taxpayers far more than $20 for their police department to investigate this and for their deputy chief to spend his time doing media interviews. Don't they have any other problems in this town?

How do you feel about this? Would you want your local police to investigate this "crime"?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lake Forest College Commencement 2009

Earlier this month, I had the wonderful privilege of volunteering at the 2009 Commencement of my alma mater, Lake Forest College. Unlike when I was a student, Commencement is now held in the Pavilion at Ravinia Festival and no matter the weather, it is held outside. In 1993, when I graduated, I remember seeing the temporary stage being built on the quad on Middle Campus and we all prayed it was warm and sunny that day in early May so we didn't have to be squeezed into the Gymnasium.

Bill Kurtis was our Commencement speaker in 1993. I don't remember what he spoke about, although I'm certain it was motivating and appropriate. He was someone I'd grown up watching on the local CBS affiliate, so I can't say I was overly excited about his speech. This year, however, Lake Forest scored Scott Turow of One L and Presumed Innocent fame. Selfishly, I must admit that my reason for volunteering was simply to hear him speak. As a fan of the legal thriller and with my own background in law, I was practically foaming at the mouth with the prospect of being in the vicinity of Scott Turow. His speech was memorable and hearing him encourage this year's graduates to make a difference in the world as he's done with his work on the death penalty was inspiring. He reminded me why I wanted to be a lawyer for most of my life and almost (the key word here is "almost") made me want to go retake the LSAT and apply to law school.

As wonderful as hearing Scott Turow was, the highlight of my day came at the beginning of the ceremony when the professors and other faculty members formed a gauntlet and the graduates walked through. I was standing immediately behind Ed Packel, Mike Dau, and Ron Miller and across from Carol Gayle, with Jill Van Newenhizen, Nancy Brekke, Sergio Guglielmi, and Jackie Slaats just a few feet away. The processional for 300 students must have taken almost 30 minutes because more often than not the students stopped to hug and thank their professors.

Watching members of the Class of 2009 share such intimate moments with their favorite professors and hearing their words of thanks and the genuine words of encouragement from the faculty reminded me part of why I chose Lake Forest in the first place and why I'm grateful everyday to be an alum. Never once in my four years at the College did I have a teaching assistant. They didn't exist and still don't. The professors and faculty knew me personally and 16 years later, they still do. Yes, I made myself known back then, but given that I never had a class with more than 30 students, it was easy and it was also impossible to hide.

I am confident that the nurturing (not smothering, to be sure) I received at Lake Forest helped shape the woman I've become. My beliefs were challenged and I was encouraged to explore where my beliefs came from and why I had them. I was given opportunities for wonderful internships and off-campus programs, which I smartly took advantage of. We were taught to think outside the box and to be solution-oriented. The faculty took an active interest in us both as students and as people. I'm proud of the relationships I still maintain with the faculty who were pivotal in my life.

Being at Commencement earlier this month sent me right back to that great day 16 years ago when I graduated and it inspired me to dig up some pictures. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor to be 3rd Woman on the Supreme Court

Today President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor (2nd Cir.) to be the next Supreme Court Justice. She will be only the third woman and the first Latina on the Court.

You may not know her name, but if you're a baseball fan, you know of her. She single-handedly saved baseball by ending the 7 1/2 month strike, just one day before the start of the 1995 season.Her story is moving and the epitome of how to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. She grew up in the Bronx housing projects, was diagnosed with Diabetes at age 8 and was told that people with Diabetes could not be private investigators like her childhood heroine, Nancy Drew, so she would have to scale back her dreams. As a child of 9, her father died. Her newly widowed mother worked two jobs to put her two children through private Catholic school. She earned scholarships to Princeton University and Yale Law School.

I am inspired by Sonia Sotomayor.

Did you see President Obama's speech nominating her or her acceptance speech? Watch below. It's worth 18 1/2 minutes. I cried when she thanked her mom, who was sitting in the audience.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Susan Boyle's Angelic Voice

As you'll recall, Susan Boyle is the 48 year old, never-been-kissed, style-less, desperately-in-need-of-an-eyebrow-wax woman everyone took one look at as she walked onto the stage last month and were embarrassed for her. When I say everyone, I mean the live audience, the television audience, the judges, and everyone who saw her on You Tube, including you and me. We assumed she was about to be humiliated as she stood there in her white shoes, dark colored hose, and tan dress and had the audacity to sass Simon Cowell. And then she opened her mouth to sing and nothing less than the voice of an angel was heard. The joke was on us. We had judged her on the most shallow of criteria: her appearance. We had judged the book by its cover, when I'm sure that we each knew better.

Earlier tonight, Susan Boyle appeared on the semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent and once again, completely wowed the judges as she sang Memory from Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats. Turn up the volume and prepare to be moved . . . again.

Will Susan make it to the finals next Saturday?

National Memorial Day Concert

I arrived in Washington, DC over Memorial Day Weekend in 1993, just in time to walk over to the west lawn of the Capitol and watch the annual National Memorial Day Concert that is shown live on PBS. I have no idea which artists performed, but I remember standing the middle of 100,000 of my closest friends on the Capitol steps and having my breath taken away as I watched the sun set behind the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and into the Potomac River.

There were (and still remain) no words to describe the emotions I felt and feel welling up inside me as I write about these memories now. I stood there thinking about the history that had taken place in this city, the slave hands that built the Capitol, the people who gave their lives all around the world so I could be standing there, and the visionaries who birthed our country. I was in love.

Over the course of that summer, I walked over to the Capitol and watched the sunset many nights. My temporary home was less than two blocks away and I would either grab my girlfriends Jessica and Jennifer for an after-dinner walk or I'd go alone. Either way, I walked around the Supreme Court Building, down to the Library of Congress, around the Capitol, and finally back to Thompson-Markward Hall. With sites like that, it's no wonder I get bored just walking around my neighborhood for exercise now!

For the next 7 years, I never missed a Memorial Day Concert from the Capitol. I usually grabbed a few friends and we picnicked on the lawn, but once or twice I went alone. Each year, Nana would watch from her living room in Crystal Beach, Florida, and then call and insist she saw me on TV. I always pretended to believe her.

Now that I live in Chicago again, if I don't have plans for Sunday evening of Memorial Day Weekend, I'm always glued to my TV and PBS, watching the National Memorial Day Concert. Tonight is the 20th anniversary of the concert and it starts at 8pm ET (7pm CT). Click here for all the details. I'll be watching.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Have You Done Your Father's Day Shopping Yet?

Yes, I know that Father's Day is still almost a month away (it's June 21st for those of you who don't know). But it's never too early to plan this year's gift. You don't want to get stuck with having to buy him a Chia Pet at the last second like you did last year. It's 2009 and high time that you stopped getting your dad an ugly tie that he's humiliated wearing, but wears anyway because he loves you. Plus, you're not 7 anymore and you should be able to be more creative.

Because I like you, I'm going to help you out and let you in on the gift that I'm getting my dad this year. BUT you MUST promise not to tell him. So put up your right hand and repeat after me: "I solemnly swear I will not tell Jessica's dad what she's getting him for Father's Day 2009." Wasn't that easy? Thank you.

Thanks to Stephanie Zimmerman (aka The Fixer) over at the Sun-Times, my dad is going to be the very happy and grateful recipient of a Cardboard Deer Head! Isn't that exciting?
Straight from the website Uncommon Goods: "On the hunt for the most interesting home decor? More modern design than hunting lodge, these clever, cruelty-free cardboard deer heads are a fun way to add a trophy to your wall without having to go after Bambi's mom. Easy to assemble, the kit includes numbered cardboard sheets and detailed instructions. Made of 100% recycled cardboard in Virginia. Available in natural and white." Plus, it's only $28.00 plus shipping and handling charges of up to $24.95, depending on how fast you'd like it delivered.

I must warn you, however, that you must not be tempted to get me a bouquet of Elephant Poo Paper Roses for my birthday on June 16th. That would be a huge mistake. Huge. Mistake.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I Went Back to High School Tonight

As you'll recall from yesterday's post, "Who Inspired You As A Kid?" one of my high school English teachers, Michael Bellito spoke at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library tonight about his first book "Ten Again."

I arrived about 5 minutes before the program began, bought a book, got it signed to me and found a seat in the second row. The room was full of Hersey alums, Mr. Bellito's family including his wife, mother, brother Tommy who is prominently featured in the book, and sister-in-law, and even Dennis McSherry, one of Mr. Bellito's closest friends and fellow English teachers at Hersey. Standing in line waiting for my book to be signed, I met a guy named Eric who graduated with and remembered my brother, Dave. Sadly, I didn't see any of my own classmates.

Listening to Mr. Bellito speak, I was immediately taken back to his speech and creative writing classes at Hersey. He read three excerpts from "Ten Again": a story about a family trip to Riverview, recollections of Saturday afternoons spent at the Arlington Theater (the orignal one at Evergreen and Miner), and an account of his first encounter with tabloid journalism via colored chalk on the sidewalk during 5th grade recess. The stories were engaging, funny and relatable, even if you didn't grow up in Arlington Heights. Clearly, he took the advice he always gave me and the rest of his students: "write what you know." Just like sitting in his classes at Hersey, my hand tired from all the notes I took.

As someone who dreams of being published, I was encouraged as he shared the birthing process of "Ten Again." Although he wrote during his teaching years, he only wrote short stories because he simply didn't have the time to dedicate to a full book. Only as he got closer to retirement, in 2002, did he finally sit down and write the outline for "Ten Again," which he then set aside until May 2006 when he'd been retired for a year. Then he hand wrote the entire book in just 7 months. Five months later, in May 2007, he surprised his mom with an editted and typed copy of the book she didn't even know he was writing. It would be another 12 months before he learned it would be published. He spoke of the many rejections he's received over the years for his short stories, even after having one of them published in North Shore Magazine. He reminded me never to give up on my own dreams.

Asked if he ever shared his writing with his Hersey colleagues, he joked that he had Mr. Venegoni review his work and Mr. McDonnell would send his stories to the Grammar Lady in the Writing Center. All the Hersey grads laughed as we remembered the way Mr. Venegoni and Mr. McDonnell would critique our work and ride us hard.

After the reading, I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. McSherry, my former debate coach and teacher. It was fun that he remembered me. Like Mr. Bellito, he's also retired from Hersey and teaching at the College of Lake County (Mr. Bellito is teaching at Harper). He's also playing golf and returned to Hersey this past year to coach the debate team.

All in all, a great night. I can't wait to curl up in a little while with "Ten Again." I'll write a book review as soon as I finish it.

First Iris of 2009!

I've been watching the perennials in my garden for a few weeks now, wondering which plant would bloom first. Each morning, I rush to the living room sliding glass door to see if any of the buds have popped. Finally today, my patience was rewarded with this beautiful light purple, white and yellow iris! There are many iris buds that I expect will bloom in the next few days, but this is the first. I love my garden! The best part? I got all of these iris plants for FREE through Freecycle two years ago!

If you look closely, you'll see two more buds that are almost ready to bloom.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who Inspired You As A Kid? - UPDATED 7:17pm 5/20/09

Imagine my surprise this morning, when I opened up the online version of the Daily Herald and there was a story about my high school creative writing teacher, Michael Bellito.

I took a number of English classes from Mr. Bellito during the course of my four years at John Hersey High School, but his creative writing class was my favorite and inspired me to write. It was through his encouragement and passion for words that I developed my own love for writing. I remember sitting in the front row and being entranced as he would read his own tales of growing up in the Chicago suburbs, attending Arlington High School, going to Cock Robin for ice cream, attending Cubs games, and wasting away summers at Riverview.

He taught us to choose our words carefully and avoid flowery language and writing. Although I'm certain I earned A's in his classes, I remember papers back with red ink challenging me to be better. He saw the good in his students, recognized the potential in everyone, and never settled for anything less than the best. He wasn't an easy teacher and there was no pulling the wool over his eyes, but the results were always worth the extra efforts.

Twenty years after leaving his classroom, Mr. Bellito is no longer at Hersey. He's now teaching at Harper Community College and he's just published his first book, Ten Again, a memoir about growing up in the Chicago suburbs during the 1950s. I especially love that his book is being compared to The Wonder Years and A Christmas Story because he loved The Wonder Years and would often talk about it in class. He's speaking at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library tonight and doing a book signing. I've rearranged my night so I can be in the front row.

Former Hersey teacher reveling in 'Ten Again' success

Daily Herald Staff Report, May 20, 2009

For more than 30 years, Michael Bellito taught his students to skip the flowery prose and instead write what they know.

Now he has taken his own advice.

The retired Hersey High School English teacher and Wheeling resident has written his first book, and he is finding a growing audience.

"Ten Again" chronicles his memories of growing up in the Northwest suburbs during the late 1950s.

From the neighborhood baseball field to the local movie theater, and from Bozo buckets to Riverview, the book has drawn a universal chord with readers of all ages, Bellito says.

"My peers have told me it really takes them back," says Bellito, who now teaches speech at Harper College. "So far, I'm thrilled with the response."

What thrills him even more were the comments from editors with Eloquent Books in New York, who likened the book and his storytelling to the hit television show, "The Wonder Years," and the classic movie, "The Christmas Story."

Both featured adult men narrating scenes from their childhood, that worked to stir memories among viewers.

"That was the ultimate compliment, I thought," Bellito says.

On Wednesday, he will read excerpts from his book at 7 p.m. in the Hendrickson Room of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library during a book signing and sale. Admission is free.

While library officials say they cannot host every local author, Bellito's book stands out because of its Northwest suburban setting.

"It's got an Arlington Heights spin to it, and a lot of nostalgia," says Linda Mumford, programming specialist.

She adds that she has not read the book yet. The library's lone copy has been checked out ever since she booked the date with him.

In April, Bellito had a book signing at Hersey, and later this summer he has appearances lined up at independent bookstores in Naperville and Woodstock, as well as the Prospect Heights Public Library, with other library signings pending.

"Everything's happening so fast," says Bellito of his newfound role of author on a promotional book tour. "It's really exciting."

Just last week, Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Arlington Heights received boxes of the book in preparations for students at Hersey and Prospect, who will have the novel on their summer reading list.

Prospect freshmen and sophomores will find the book as one of eight choices for summer reading, while Hersey freshmen honors English students will be required to read it.

Chuck Venegoni, English and fine arts division chair at Hersey, says faculty members chose the book as a contrast to the other required read, "Please Stop Laughing at Me," a memoir written by a woman, Jodee Blanco.

"It offers a nice chance for contrast and comparison writing," Venegoni says. "And, there's a trend toward choosing reading that's more accessible and more enjoyable, that kids might read on their own."

Besides Barnes & Noble, find copies of "Ten Again," at, and all major online booksellers.

UPDATE: After showing up at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library tonight very eager to see Mr. Bellito, I discovered that the Daily Herald mis-reported the date of the book signing. It is actually on THURSDAY, May 21st at 7pm.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is Gardening a Form of Scarcity Thinking?

As a bit of background, I like to think of myself as an abundant thinker. I dream big. I have big goals. I'm optimistic. I look at challenges or obstacles as opportunities for creative thinking. When I don't reach my goals, I look back over my plan to figure out where I need to be better. I usually see the big picture and then figure out how to turn that into reality. I also believe in the law of attraction - what I focus my energies on and what I think about, I bring about.

I also really enjoy gardening. Now this is fairly new for me. Two years ago, the summer Little Merry Sunshine was born, I decided to dig in the dirt for the first time. That summer I planted a bunch of flowers and 3 tomato plants. Last summer, I increased my vegetable plants to include 3 different varieties of tomatoes, garlic chives, banana peppers, and basil. Both summers, I was blessed with an abundance of vegetables and I shared my good fortune with friends.

This summer, I have 3 different types of tomatoes, garlic chives, basil, 2 different types of peppers, strawberries, peas, carrots, catnip, green beans, corn, and spinach planned all from seeds. They've all been started indoors, but I have yet to get them into the ground. I had wanted to get them in the ground over Mother's Day weekend, but the weather was miserable and I was sick. This past weekend, I worked all weekend.

Now you're caught up. . .

This morning, I had a conversation with a friend of mine and it moved into that I was a little frustrated that I didn't have my garden in the ground yet. This wouldn't be a problem, except that I want to achieve the maximum yield from my vegetables and the longer it takes me to get them in the ground, the longer it will be until I can harvest them and the smaller the harvest. I really love having fresh vegetables for a large portion of the summer and then making sauces with them in the fall. I also want to learn how to can this year. Additionally, the more I have, the more I can share with friends and give to the local food pantry during their Giving Garden summer program. Of course, growing my own vegetables saves me a good chunk of money, which is certainly a huge benefit.

At this point, my friend says to me, "Why do you grow your own vegetables? That's scarcity thinking! While you're focused on working in your garden to save money, you're not thinking abundantly. Focusing on pinching pennies is scarcity thinking."

I explained to my friend that I find working in my garden peaceful and relaxing. I love knowing how the food I eat has been fertilized and with what chemicals (or not). Tomatoes that have been flown in from South America two months ago just don't taste the same as the ones I pick from my garden two minutes before I eat them like apples. Gardening is great exercise. Nothing is a better example of faith and belief than seeing fruits, vegetables, and flowers develop from little seeds. I'm helping the environment and reducing my carbon footprint because my food doesn't need to be flown or trucked in from who-knows-where. I share my good fortune with others, which spreads abundance. And, yes, I save money. It is estimated that a $70 investment in a garden can save $600 annually. I don't save that much money because I don't spend $70 on my garden and my garden isn't very big. I do know that saving money on groceries allows me to do other things.

My friend still wasn't convinced that gardening was really about thinking abundantly and still tried to tell me that by spending my time growing my vegetables I was preventing abundance from coming into my life.

In the end, we agreed to disagree. But the conversation has stayed with me all day. What do you think? Do you think that planting and growing my own vegetables is a form of scarcity thinking?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Have Fun On The Cheap!

There was a great article in today's Daily Herald about fun stuff to do on the cheap. Of course, most of it was family oriented and didn't really apply to me since I'm single, but it got me to thinking about fun cool stuff to do this summer that won't cost much.

One of my favorite things to do is visit the various festivals, including my favorite, Frontier Days in Arlington Heights. Many of them have free entertainment that is often outstanding. Two years ago, my girlfriends and I saw Rick Springfield for FREE at Frontier Days. We got there at 6am, put out our blankets, and ended up getting sprayed with his sweat in the front row as he danced on stage shirtless. That was a good night and it was the only free concert he did all summer. Although the official entertainment schedule won't be released until Memorial Day, there's a rumor going around (here and here) that Eddie Money and Blues Traveler are two of the acts at Frontier Days this July.

I recently met two women who've started a great website called Kidwinks that is packed with all the kid-friendly activities in the Chicago area.

What will you do on the cheap this summer?

Suburban moms learn new ways to be thrifty in difficult times

by Jamie Sotonoff, May 17, 2009

When they're grocery shopping, Carla Cruit's husband isn't always concerned about price.

"He'll say, 'Oh, it's only 25 cents more.' So I'll say, 'Well, then, reach in your pocket and throw 25 cents out the window.' Would you do that? No. But that's basically what you're doing when you think that way," said Cruit, a mother of two from Vernon Hills.

Cruit is among thousands of suburban moms who are tightening the purse strings in an effort to reduce the family budget. Industry experts estimate that women make roughly 80 percent of all household spending decisions, so they're the ones learning new ways to be thrifty during these difficult times.

"Some moms - and dads - say, 'I'm not very good at this. I've never budgeted before,'" said Kelli Underwood, director of child and family programs at the Center for Contextual Change in Skokie. "People are learning that they have some choices, and some power, on how to get through (the recession)."

Cost-cutting is fun for some parents and stressful for others. Being forced to adopt a new lifestyle, mindset or habit is always tough.

"When you're in that situation, you feel so alone and ashamed and embarrassed," Cruit said. "But you know what? Take all that away. It is what it is. It's not anybody's fault. We think we should be able to do and have it all, but maybe that's not realistic. Good things happen, bad things happen. But good things will happen again."

We surveyed suburban moms (and a few dads) for some of their best money-saving tips. Here are some of the highlights:

• "Kids Eat Free" promotions. Restaurant meals are a luxury for money-strapped families. But it can be more affordable at restaurants with "kids eat free" promotions. and lists chain restaurants with kids eat free promotions, organized by day. Coupondivas has printable coupons for free kids meals at places like Uno's Chicago Pizza.

Since their list is incomplete, be sure to inquire at your favorite restaurants, where they might have kids eat free nights they don't widely publicize.

Another idea? Dinner at IKEA. A family of four can dine for less than $15 on organic pasta, Swedish meatballs or 50-cent hot dogs.

• Cook more. During the Depression, women cooked hearty family meals with just a few cheap ingredients, like pasta and potatoes. For recipes, watch 93-year-old great grandmother Clara Cannucciari, a Melrose Park native, on her wildly popular YouTube cooking show, "Great Depression Cooking," While sharing her memories of the Depression, she makes dishes like "Peas and Pasta" and "Egg Drop Soup." Her cooking lessons are now on DVD, at, and her first book, "Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories and Recipes from the Great Depression" is due out in November.

• Deals on kid activities. For many kids, a train ride is entertainment. Since kids ride Metra free on weekends, Naperville dad John Cuccinotto buys a $5 weekend pass, packs some snacks, and takes his kids on a train ride. They go to different nearby towns, explore what's around, maybe stop at a park, and then hop back on the train and return home.

"Super bonus for dads: it offers moms some quality hours of peace," he said.

Cristin Newton, a mother of two from Gurnee, saves money by visiting the downtown museums on their free admission day. She also likes the monthly deal at Rink Side in Gurnee, where for the $2 cost of the skate rental, you get free skating, food packages and crafts.

Mount Prospect mom Wendy Gatewood takes her kids bowling at Brunswick Zone for $1.29 per line, and gets a receipt for three free games after 1 p.m. on Sundays. She bought the kids bowling shoes - a little big, so they'll last longer - to save on the $4 per pair rental cost.

And, to repeat the obvious: get videos, games and books free from your local library. Most libraries also have museum discount cards you can check out.

• Buy things used. It's eco- and wallet-friendly - not to mention trendy - to reuse things, especially clothes. Can you get an Eileen Fisher sweater for $16? A business suit for $25? It requires time to sort through the racks and a careful eye for stains or tears, but Cruit says you can. She's found amazing deals on like-new, designer-name items at local thrift shops, including the Salvation Army store in Mundelein [and Arlington Heights].

Buying used books, furniture and sports equipment also will save money. Hunt or stores like Play It Again Sports, which has several suburban locations.

• Do things your mom used to do. Remember how your mom and her friends sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee, rather than meeting out at a local coffee shop? Or how you'd be forced to bring your lunch to the ballgame or museums? That's probably why your parents have money in the bank now. One mom suggested buying a bag of Starbucks coffee for $8 and then brewing enough for everyone.

• Have birthday parties at home. Another old-school option: rather than cough up nearly $500 for water park or restaurant parties, simplify. Borrow a karaoke machine and order pizza. Invite girls to show up in their fanciest clothes and have a tea party using mismatched china tea cups from thrift stores. An outdoor cookout at the local forest preserve is another cheap option, where kids have room for games like soccer, red rover or tag (heads up: a permit may be required).

• Share resources with your friends. Swap a few games or videos for a week with another family. Offer to trade services with friends who are mechanics or hair stylists.

• Base your meals on what's on sale. The grocery store is a big money drain for many families, so a little planning and coupon cutting can go a long way. For example, buy a whole chicken rather than just chicken breasts and use the leftovers for a second meal. Stay out of the prepared, pre-cut and frozen food sections, where you pay extra for convenience. A good Web site for free samples of grocery items is

• Bargain. Summer camp is expensive. But if you offer to volunteer, some camps will offer free or reduced fees. Want to keep your gym membership but can't afford to? See if there's a class you can teach or a part-time job you can work in exchange for a discounted membership.

• Conserve energy. Lower utility bills by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, lowering the thermostat a degree or two, and turning off the computer and unplugging appliance when they're not in use.

To save money during the Depression, Cannucciari said her family used only one light at night. "The light we used was over a big table in the main room The whole family would end up gathering around the light to do homework or read a book. It was nice to be all together as a family each night," she said.

• Think outside the box for a vacation. You know how so many friends say, "You should come visit sometime?" Well, this is the year to do it. To help make a summer family vacation more affordable, think about going somewhere where you can stay with friends or relatives.

Or, consider a home swap. Either swap with friends, or find one through Web sites like or

Commencement 2009

It's commencement season and yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave her first commencement address at University of California at Merced. Her speech is inspiring and the story of how she got there will make you feel confident in today's young people. Watch it and see if you're not moved to be just a little better than you are now.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

What Makes Us Happy?

I heard about the Grant Study a few days ago, although I can't remember where, and then again this evening, I was reading The Happiness Project and the article below was mentioned there.

As a psychology major in college, the Grant Study fascinates me. It's a study conducted over 72 years with 268 men from Harvard and is one of the longest running longitudinal studies of mental and physical health in history.

Although the article is long, it's well worth the read.

What Makes Us Happy?
by Joshua Wolf Shenk in Atlantic, June 2009


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Books Shaped You?

Growing up, I was a voracious reader. Thanks to my mom and dad, I always had a book in my hands. They read to me every night and usually more than 1 or 2 stories because I was notorious for managing to get many stories out of them. They read to me so much that one night when I was 2 they heard me in my room reading Twas the Night Before Christmas aloud. When they walked in, I was not only reading the book, but I was turning the pages in all the correct places. My mom, a reading teacher, was convinced I head learned to read at this precocious age, until a few minutes later when they realized I'd simply memorized the story because they had read it to me so often.

To this day, there remain some books that have stayed with me. Books that I return to time and again, even as an adult. They shaped me. I wanted to be the heroines in these books and believe they were some of the first feminists I knew.

This all came back to me today thanks to Gourmet Goddess who happened to mention on Facebook this morning that she's re-reading the Little House on the Prairie series. This turned into a discussion about the pro-girl books a bunch of us grew up loving. I suggested we have a summer book club and re-read them and discuss how they shaped us, the gender roles they were subject to, their feminist principles, their relevance to today's girls, and how we'd address some of these books with our daughters, if we had them. And a summer book club was born.

These are the books that shaped me and I hold dear to my heart. Many of them were first read over 30 years ago.

Little House on the Prairie
series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Nancy Drew (and here) series by Carolyn Keene
Eloise: a book for precocious grown-ups by Kay Thompson
Blubber, It's Not the End of the World, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Deenie, and Forever by Judy Blume

What books from your childhood have stayed with you?

Bank Account of Happiness

One of my dearest friends sent me the following note this morning. Sure, it's from one of those kind of cheesy emails that says to send to 27,000 of your closest friends for good luck (and I'm taking my chances with that by not forwarding it), but the message is perfect and fits with my beliefs about happiness. We all have a choice each day to be happy or not. Yes bad things happen and we all have stuff to deal with. I believe, however, that it's not about what happens to us that determines our happiness in live, it's how we deal with what happens to us that speaks volumes.

Enjoy and make today a happy one!

A 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud man, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o'clock, with his hair fashionably combed and shaved perfectly, even though he is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. His wife of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, he smiled sweetly when told his room was ready. As he maneuvered his walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of his tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on his window.

“I love it,” he stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.

“Mr. Jones, you haven't seen the room; just wait.”

“That doesn't have anything to do with it,” he replied. "Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is's how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It's a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I'll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I've stored away...Just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account. You withdraw from what you've put in."

“So, my advice to you,” he continued, “would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories! Thank you for your part in filling my Memory Bank. I am still depositing! Remember the five simple rules to be happy:
1. Free your heart from hatred.
2. Free your mind from worries.
3. Live simply.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less.”

Author Unknown, at least to me.

The Greatest Love Song Ever?

Unable to sleep tonight, I started chatting with a friend who randomly proclaimed Your Song by Elton John to be the "greatest love song ever." Although I am crazy about this song, I can honestly say I haven't really listened to the words in quite some time. So I headed right over to You Tube to find it.

My verdict? It's a great song. It's a great love song. The greatest love song? I don't think so, but it makes top 10.

What's your favorite love song of all time?

Your Song by Elton John
It's a little bit funny this feeling inside
I'm not one of those who can easily hide
I don't have much money but boy if I did
I'd buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show
I know it's not much but it's the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one's for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world

I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they've got me quite cross
But the sun's been quite kind while I wrote this song
It's for people like you that keep it turned on

So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Happiness Project

About once a week, I see Gretchen Rubin's posts on The Huffington Post and I'm always delighted to read her thoughts and theories on happiness. On Saturday, I decided to delve further and learn more about Ms. Rubin. That's when I discovered that she has a whole website devoted to happiness and her forthcoming book, The Happiness Project. Needless to say, I spent a good chunk of time that needed to be spent doing numerous other things reading about happiness. Some of her ideas I agree with and some I don't, but they all made me think.

As an optimist, I love learning how others find happiness in their own lives, especially in the face of so much negativity in the world, and am inspired by people who put so much energy into putting good energy into the world.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Me, my Mom, and Nana at the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, FL probably in 1975.
From my private collection.

It's Mother's Day and I am one of the luckiest daughters in the world.

I come from a long line of incredible women. They are strong and independent women. Women who are resilient, compassionate, tender, strong, loving, and fighters. They are smart and capable. Actually, they are beyond capable. They are extraordinary. They see things the way they could be and work to make their vision a reality. They are achievers. They are talented and creative. They are pioneers.

Yesterday, I visited my Grandma Gardner in Glencoe. She passed away 13 years ago, so it was really more of a one-sided visit at her grave site with me doing all the talking and even a bit of crying. We didn't have the best relationship when she was alive, but I think she'd be proud of me and see quite a bit of her in me.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking with both my mom and Nana. Mom called me from the nursing home. She'd made a meatloaf (that Nana had requested last week) and taken a little to her to mash up and feed her for dinner, but Nana couldn't eat it today. Nana isn't doing well, having good days and then really bad ones. Today was a really bad one. She's got a cold, wasn't making any sense, and thought quite a few people who are very much alive had already died (including me). But I got to hear her voice and that made me happy beyond words.

My mom is an incredible woman. She's overcome so much in her life and always lived her life in service to others. Whether it was coordinating the National Guard to deliver food to shut-ins during the Blizzard of 1979, advocating on behalf of the disabled with the Illinois legislature in 2002 to get funding restored for programs for the mentally ill, or advocating on behalf of my grandmother with Verizon and other phone companies to make them provide operator-assisted calls for the blind for free in more recent years, my mom has fought the battles most people believed she had no chance in winning.

Yes, I am proud of all the Bear, Gardner, Paulk and Scruggs women who came before me.

Click here to watch a video about my mom being the 2009 Mom of the Year! Congratulations Mom!

Click here to watch Martina McBride sing "In My Daughter's Eyes" which I believe is the perfect song for Mother's Day, if you can't see the video above.

(Mom, I know you don't normally watch the videos that come with my blog posts because you see the posts via email and they don't come through. Please click the links and watch them. It's worth it. I promise.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Official George W. Bush Librarium

Have you heard how former President George W. Bush has raised $100 million for his library since leaving office just over 100 days ago? It's true. I'm sure you're wondering why all this money is needed.

Luckily for you, Little Merry Sunshine has amazing connections (you're surprised I have connections in the GOP, aren't you?) and I have gotten my hands on the architectural drawings for the future Presidential Library for our 43rd President. Because I'm so generous, I'm going to share them with you. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me put the pictures on LMS, so you'll have to click here to see them.

Trust me, this is a library truly fitting of our 43rd President.

You're welcome.

Extreme Sticky Note Experiments

A good friend sent me this video, which is sure to put a smile on your face. I'll be honest, my initial response was, "Oh good grief! These people have WAY too much time on their hands at work!" And then I realized these people were professionals. But I still enjoyed watching it.

Here's the information from YouTube:
Winner of a 2009 Webby Award and People's Voice Webby Award!

Fritz & Stephen, the madmen behind the Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments, now cause chaos in the office with over a quarter of a million sticky notes! From waterfalls to wheels, all this craziness is made out of nothing but sticky notes -- the zigzag pads made from pop-up dispensers.

If you want to see how you can do it yourself, check out the related videos at EepyBird.

From a simple cascading pad to 40,000 sticky notes falling from the ceiling, this video uses 280,951 sticky notes in less than 3 minutes. And don't worry: they can be reused! And when they're beyond repair, we make sure to recycle them (or use them the normal way!).

These new Sticky Note Experiments are sponsored by OfficeMax, Coca-Cola, and "Samurai Girl" on ABC Family. Big thanks to all of them for making this possible! And thanks to Jamie Chung and Brendan Fehr from Samurai Girl for coming over and being in the video!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tonight's The Night! Michael J. Fox's Adventures of an Incurable Optimist!

You MUST watch this!

TONIGHT at 10pm ET/9pm CT on ABC.

Set your DVR/VCR/Tivo.

Just do it. And then come back and thank me.

We'll discuss it tomorrow.

Michael J Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.

I Didn't Get The Job

You may have heard by now, but I didn't get the job of Island Caretaker of Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Yes, I'm disappointed, but I feel most badly for American Girl and FranIAm who won't be able to visit me with their families. American Girl, as you'll recall, was ready to uproot her life to come work for me as my official cocktail server on the island.

It's all probably worked out for the best. It turns out that I'd have to clean the pool. Who has time to do that?

What's Making You Happy Today?

Last Friday, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a delightful column titled "What's Making You Happy Today?". The gist of the column was that even in the worst of times we can each find something to be happy about in any given moment. Some people talk about having a "gratitude journal" where they start or end each day by writing down everything they are grateful for. It's the same idea.

But I love Mary Schmich's question: "What's making you happy today?"
  • I'm happy that my seedlings are starting to sprout and soon I can plant them in my garden.
  • I'm happy that the perennials in my garden are growing strong and healthy and that I'm able to go pull the weeds.
  • I'm happy that I have great friends and family who encourage me to follow my passions.
  • I'm happy that I am healthy.
  • I'm happy that in a few minutes when I crawl into bed, Betsey and Ross will curl up next to me and purr until I fall asleep.
  • I'm happy for the rain yesterday because it makes the colors of nature vibrant and brings everything to life. After the long winter we had in Chicago, it's wonderful seeing such beautiful colors.
  • I'm happy for a career I love.
  • I'm happy for my home.
  • I'm happy for the people who read Little Merry Sunshine. But for you, I'd just be talking to myself.
  • Music always makes me happy.
  • The Cubs winning yesterday makes me happy today.
  • Random acts of kindness make me happy everyday.
  • I'm still happy that on Sunday I got to talk to Nana. Hearing her voice always makes me happy.
What's making YOU happy today? Feel free to leave your list in the comments.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stand By Me

At some point in life, we each need someone by our side. I don't care who you are or how tough you pretend to be (and I'm talking to myself here too!), none of us is an island. We need each other. We need each other in the good times as well as the bad times. I think it's easy to think that we need each other in the tough times (because of course we do), but the fact is the good times are better when shared with the people we love.

My favorite moments in life are when I can share something joyful with someone else. I can remember as a little kid racing home from school (all 2 blocks of it) to share something great with my mom. Maybe it was an A on a test or maybe it was being chosen to take the chickens my 2nd grade class hatched home for the weekend (true story). I still love that feeling of sharing something great with someone I love.

So I'm sharing this video with you because it touched me today and I know it will warm your heart too.

After you watch it, rush over to Playing For Change to learn the back story. You might also read about it on Gizmodo. You'll love it even more.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Did You See My Derby Hat?

It's almost sick how darn proud I am of this hat.

Today and tomorrow, I am participating in a business expo through the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce at Arlington Park. It's Arlington Heights Community Days at the track and also the weekend of the Kentucky Derby.

We were strongly encouraged to decorate our space in a horse and/or Derby theme. I sell Mary Kay. It's not exactly a business that easily lends itself to all things equine. All week I have stressed about how I was going to get into the Derby spirit short of drinking Mint Juleps since breakfast, which I decided was not the way to go.

Luckily, I remembered that Mary Kay has always had roses as one of its symbols and the horses at the Derby "run for the roses." I also remembered that Derby Hats and femininity are all the rage at the Kentucky Derby, and Mary Kay is nothing if not feminine. So I would have roses on the table and wear a festive Derby Hat.

Since I'm not a hat person, I did not want to spend any money on this hat, if possible. So I started my search for a Derby Hat on Freecycle where I came up empty handed and also hit the thrift stores. After many fruitless visits to local thrift stores, I remembered that the Salvation Army was opening a new resale shop in Arlington Heights on Friday. At 11:00 on Friday, I walked into the Salvation Army store and 15 minutes later, I walked out with what would become the perfect Derby Hat for $4. All it needed was some easy embellishments that would come in the form of a hot pink feather boa that I already had, which I'm sure is of no surprise to anyone.

The result is the hat I'm wearing below. The best part was that all day today, many people, including women in much more expensive and fancier hats than mine, stopped to tell me how much they loved my hat!

David Becker (Fast Signs of Arlington Heights), Me, and Aaron Wahl (The Wahls of Wellness)

Me and my Mary Kay teammate Joy Carman

Friday, May 1, 2009

I'll Just Have To Take Your Word On It That It's Cool

Did you hear about the new glass-bottom Skydeck at the top of the Sears Tower? Frankly, just reading about it and looking at the artist's rendering makes me very jittery.

Scheduled to open in June, the new glass ledge will jut out four feet from the west side of the Sears Tower Sky Deck 1300 feet above the ground. My only question is why not the east side? At 1300 feet above the ground, surely there is nothing to impede the view. I think that the view of the lake would be far better than the view of the river.

(pics from a Handout photo courtesy of Sears Tower / April 8, 2009, via

Hearing about the new glass ledge at the Sears Tower this morning, I was reminded of the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the Hualapai Indian Reservation at Grand Canyon West in Arizona that opened two years ago. That bridge is 4000 feet above the Colorado River. More information can be found here.

Watch these videos about the Grand Canyon Skywalk:

Frankly, this is the closest I will ever get to either the Grand Canyon Skywalk or the Sears Tower glass ledge. I'm terribly afraid of heights. Anyone who has ever had the unfortunate experience of getting on a down escalator with me is well aware of this fear. But the rest of you can enjoy it and I'll enjoy your pictures.