Monday, June 29, 2009

We Must Have Human Services in Illinois

About an hour ago, I read a story in the Chicago Tribune titled "Parents cope with child with schizophrenia - Jani's at the mercy of her mind." It was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

According to the story, 6-year old January Schofield has schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects 1% of adults and usually appears in the late-teens or early 20s. Of those, 10% commit suicide. Childhood-onset of schizophrenia affects about 1 of 30,000-50,000 kids under the age of 13, but when it happens in children, it's 20-30 times worse than in adults.

Although Jani's IQ is 146 (high IQs are not uncommon for people with mental illnesses), January is controlled by the voices in her mind - animals and people. Anti-psychotic drugs that work for most adults don't come close to helping control her illness. Her parents have tried everything they can. They've been passed from doctor to doctor without a diagnosis and even accused of bad parenting, until recently when they finally received the schizophrenia diagnosis. The schools aren't equipped to help Jani and the residential programs for kids serve abused or neglected children, but not severely mentally ill ones.

There are no respite care programs to help the Schofields and family has pulled away. Mrs. Schofield was fired from her job last year and they are struggling financially, but she can't look for another one because Jani needs constant supervision.

This family is barely hanging on. I can only assume that they went to the press with their story in an effort to help other families, but also in the desperate hope that someone might see their story and be able to assist Jani and her family.

Yes, the Schofields live in California, but their story is typical of countless families across the country, including Illinois, who have developmentally disabled or mentally disabled children and struggle to provide the best care for them and mantain their own sense of family while not bankrupting themselves.

As a society, we owe it to the Schofields and all the families they represent to help ease their burdens. It's time for Illinois politicians to get off their rear-ends and guarantee that human services funding will not be cut and that human services will never be held hostage in budget wars again. The time for excuses is over.

That which we do to the least of us, we do to ourselves.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer is often associated with AA but it was originally written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and was not written for AA. I find that it helps keep things in perspective when I'm feeling overwhelmed, stressed and can't quite figure out how I'm going to manage it all in life. It reminds me that I can't control everything and I need to let go of what I can't change.

Most of us are probably familiar with the abbreviated version used by AA:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . .
Courage to change the things I can . . .
and Wisdom to know the difference . . .

This is the actual Serenity Prayer as written by Mr. Niebhur:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

Thanks to my cousin Anna for this blog post idea tonight. She posted a note on Facebook about Man in the Mirror and that inspired me. Thank you Anna!

When Dave graduated from junior high in 1988, his entire graduating class sang Man in the Mirror and I seem to recall hand motions that accompanied it. Mrs. Norman (my neighbor) and the music teacher led them and I remember sitting in the sweltering gymnasium thinking this was the cheesiest thing I'd ever seen. And then I listened to the words and was truly moved. To this day, Man in the Mirror still inspires me to be better and keep striving for more.

In spite of his eccentricities and his troubles in recent years, Michael Jackson was an icon and his genius will continue to inspire music for years to come.

"Man In The Mirror" Lyrics

I'm Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It's Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

As I, Turn Up The Collar On My
Favourite Winter Coat
This Wind Is Blowin' My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See Their Needs
A Summer's Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man's Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya' Know
'Cause They Got Nowhere To Go
That's Why I Want You To Know

I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change)
(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na, Na Nah)

I've Been A Victim Of A Selfish Kind Of Love
It's Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They're Not Alone?

A Willow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody's Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
(Washed-Out Dream)
They Follow The Pattern Of
The Wind, Ya' See
Cause They Got No Place To Be
That's Why I'm Starting With Me
(Starting With Me!)

I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make A Change)

I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
(Change His Ways-Ooh!)
And No Message Could've Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make That . . .
(Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make That . . .)

I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror,
(Man In The Mirror-Oh Yeah!)
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
(Better Change!)
No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
(Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make The Change)
(You Gotta Get It Right, While You Got The Time)
('Cause When You Close Your Heart)
You Can't Close Your . . .Your Mind!
(Then You Close Your . . . Mind!)
That Man, That Man, That Man, That Man
With That Man In The Mirror
(Man In The Mirror, Oh Yeah!)
That Man, That Man, That Man
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
(Better Change!)
You Know . . .That Man
No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make A Change)
Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!
Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na, Na Nah
(Oh Yeah!)
Gonna Feel Real Good Now!
Yeah Yeah! Yeah Yeah! Yeah Yeah!
Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na, Na Nah
(Ooooh . . .)
Oh No, No No . . .
I'm Gonna Make A Change
It's Gonna Feel Real Good!
Come On!
(Change . . .)
Just Lift Yourself You Know
You've Got To Stop It.
(Yeah!-Make That Change!)
I've Got To Make That Change, Today!
(Man In The Mirror)
You Got To
You Got To Not Let Yourself . . .
Brother . . .
(Yeah!-Make That Change!)
You Know-I've Got To Get
That Man, That Man . . .
(Man In The Mirror)
You've Got To
You've Got To Move! Come On! Come On!
You Got To . . .
Stand Up! Stand Up! Stand Up!
(Yeah-Make That Change)
Stand Up And Lift Yourself, Now!
(Man In The Mirror)
Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!
(Yeah-Make That Change)
Gonna Make That Change . . .
Come On!
(Man In The Mirror)
You Know It!
You Know It!
You Know It!
You Know . . .
(Change . . .)
Make That Change.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What You Do To The Least of These, You Do To Me

Do you know who is credited with the phrase in the title of this post? I'll give you a hint. The exact quote is "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Jesus Christ is said to have made that statement in the parable about The Judgment of Nations. I'm not a religious person, but what this statement says to me is that the way we treat the least among us (both the good and bad ways we treat people), those who are unable to help themselves, says more about us as a human race than anything else.

If you live in Illinois, you are undoubtedly aware of the debate in Springfield about the state's budget woes. Governor Quinn, like many other governors before him, is threatening to cut the state's human services programs by 50% unless the state legislators approve the 50% increase in state income taxes. Currently, Illinois taxes residents a flat 3% income tax. Under Governor Quinn's plan, that income tax would increase to 4 1/2% for two years and then revert back to the 3% tax rate.

What are human services? Many people mistakenly think of human services simply as welfare for poor people who don't pay taxes. That would be a far too simplistic explanation of it. Yes, human services includes programs for the poor (and by poor, I mean people who live further below the poverty line than you can possibly imagine), but it also includes programs for the disabled including special education, tutors, rehabilitative services, personal assistants (not someone to come take dictation, but someone to come in and assist the client with everyday living activities like getting dressed, bathing, etc.), respite care, residential services, drug and alcohol programs, programs for the elderly, day care, foster care services, and many other programs that anyone at any time could need.

The Republican legislators, while saying they do not want to cut these services, refuse to support Governor Quinn's tax increase plan. They say that cuts are necessary in other areas of the State budget. Democrats also do not want to cut human services and are generally supporting the Governor's tax plan. And that's where the impasse lies.

Human services programs are at the core of who we are. Any of us could become disabled or have a child with severe disabilities. With any luck, we will all live to a ripe old age and the elderly programs will make our lives a bit better. In this economy, we never know when we will lose our job and need assistance from some of the state run jobs programs. How we treat the least among us speaks volumes about us as a society. Illinois needs all the human services we have. They simply are not optional. Holding them hostage in these budget wars is despicable.

I took a look at the state-by-state comparison of income taxes for 2008 by the Federation of Tax Administrators (they are not doing this comparison again until 2010). State income taxes range from no income tax in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming to up to 9.5% in Vermont. At 3%, Illinois is right in the middle. Furthermore, income taxes have not been raised in Illinois in 20 years.

As much as I don't like the idea of paying more in the way of taxes and as much as I believe there are certainly areas in the State that could be run more efficiently and with less money, I also believe that we must take care of the least among us and the best way to do that is to protect human services. For those reasons, I encourage all of the legislators to quit balancing the budget on the poor and disabled and to vote for the tax increase and then get to work on finding areas to trim.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Post-It Note Love

Do you recall the Extreme Sticky Note Experiments post from last month? Here's another abuse of post-it note office supplies video that's sure to put a smile on your face.

Happy Saturday and first day of Summer!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bradley Whitford is Gonna Be SINGLE!

Dear Bradley Whitford,

People Magazine is reporting you're getting divorced. You and Jane Kaczmarek always seemed like one of the cool Hollywood couples and like you had a solid marriage. I'm very sorry to hear of your loss.

That said, it's no secret I've lusted after you since I first laid eyes on you in 1999 when The West Wing first premiered and you played Josh Lyman. You are my perfect mix of geek and sexiest man alive. I'm still single and would be more than happy to help you through this difficult time in your life. Consider it my good deed for the year.

In case you didn't know, we actually have a lot in common. You're a solidly Midwestern boy from Madison and I grew up in the Chicago burbs, just 90 minutes from Madison. We're both political junkies and very liberal. You played Josh Lyman. I love Josh Lyman. You're about to be single and I am definitely single. You have 3 kids and I like kids. You worked in the (pretend) West Wing and I've been in the (real) West Wing.

It's a match made in Heaven.

Call me.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Pixar Grants Dying Girl's Wish to See 'Up'

I love reading stories about big companies that have a heart. It seems that more often than not all we hear about are how these Goliath-like companies step all over David.

What's sad is that the girl in the following story has passed away. But at least Pixar made her final hours great and she got her dying wish. Nice job Pixar.

I also now want to see Up.

Thanks to ChicagoNow's Jimmy Greenfield tweet from last night for bringing this to my attention.

Pixar grants dying girl's wish to see 'Up'
Company send DVD so Huntington Beach girl, 10, could watch it.

By Anne Burris
The Orange County Register, June 18, 2009

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Colby Curtin, a 10-year-old with a rare form of cancer, was staying alive for one thing – a movie.

From the minute Colby saw the previews to the Disney-Pixar movie Up, she was desperate to see it. Colby had been diagnosed with vascular cancer about three years ago, said her mother, Lisa Curtin, and at the beginning of this month it became apparent that she would die soon and was too ill to be moved to a theater to see the film.

After a family friend made frantic calls to Pixar to help grant Colby her dying wish, Pixar came to the rescue.

The company flew an employee with a DVD of Up, which is only in theaters, to the Curtins’ Huntington Beach home on June 10 for a private viewing of the movie.

The animated movie begins with scenes showing the evolution of a relationship between a husband and wife. After losing his wife in old age, the now grumpy man deals with his loss by attaching thousands of balloons to his house, flying into the sky, and going on an adventure with a little boy.

Colby died about seven hours after seeing the film.

With her daughter’s vigil planned for Friday, Lisa Curtin reflected about how grateful she is that Pixar – and "Up" – were a part of her only child’s last day.

“When I watched it, I had really no idea about the content of the theme of the movie,” said Curtin, 46. “I just know that word ‘Up’ and all of the balloons and I swear to you, for me it meant that (Colby) was going to go up. Up to heaven.”

Pixar officials declined to comment on the story or name the employees involved.


Colby was diagnosed with vascular cancer on Dec. 23, 2005 after doctors found a tumor in her liver. At the time of her death, her stomach was about 94 inches around, swollen with fluids the cancer wouldn’t let her body properly digest. The rest of her body probably weighed about 45 pounds, family friend Carole Lynch said.

Colby had gone to Newport Elementary School and was known for making others laugh, family friend Terrell Orum said. Colby loved to dance, sing, swim and seemed to have a more mature understanding of the world than other children her age, Orum said.

On April 28, Colby went to see the Dream Works 3-D movie "Monsters Vs. Aliens" but was impressed by the previews to "Up."

“It was from then on, she said, ‘I have to see that movie. It is so cool,’” Lynch said.

Colby was a movie fan, Lisa Curtin said, and she latched onto Pixar’s movies because she loved animals.

Two days later Colby’s health began to worsen. On June 4 her mother asked a hospice company to bring a wheelchair for Colby so she could visit a theater to see "Up." However, the weekend went by and the wheelchair was not delivered, Lisa Curtin said.

By June 9, Colby could no longer be transported to a theater and her family feared she would die without having seen the movie.

At that point, Orum, who desperately wanted Colby to get her last wish, began to cold-call Pixar and Disney to see if someone could help.

Pixar has an automated telephone answering system, Orum said, and unless she had a name of a specific person she wanted to speak to, she could not get through. Orum guessed a name and the computer system transferred her to someone who could help, she said.

Pixar officials listened to Colby’s story and agreed to send someone to Colby’s house the next day with a DVD of "Up," Orum recalled.

She immediately called Lisa Curtin, who told Colby.

“Do you think you can hang on?” Colby’s mother said.

“I’m ready (to die), but I’m going to wait for the movie,” the girl replied.


At about 12:30 p.m. the Pixar employee came to the Curtins’ home with the DVD.

He had a bag of stuffed animals of characters in the movie and a movie poster. He shared some quirky background details of the movie and the group settled in to watch Up.

Colby couldn't see the screen because the pain kept her eyes closed so her mother gave her a play-by-play of the film.

At the end of the film, the mother asked if her daughter enjoyed the movie and Colby nodded yes, Lisa Curtin said.

The employee left after the movie, taking the DVD with him, Lynch said.

“He couldn’t have been nicer,” said Lynch who watched the movie with the family. “His eyes were just welled up.”

After the movie, Colby’s dad, Michael Curtin, who is divorced from Lisa Curtin, came to visit.

Colby died with her mom and dad nearby at 9:20 p.m.

Among the Up memorabilia the employee gave Colby was an “adventure book” – a scrap book the main character’s wife used to chronicle her journeys.

“I’ll have to fill those adventures in for her,” Lisa Curtin said.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Last Minute Father's Day Gift

Most of you have probably already done your Father's Day shopping, as I gave you the perfect gift idea a month ago. For those of you still pondering what special gift Dad will get this year, I have one more idea for you.

Rick's Custom Squirrels can set your Dear Old Dad with his own customized stuffed squirrel!

I know. It's the perfect gift. It might just be better than a Cardboard Deer Head. You are truly welcome.

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I learned about it in the Tribune.

Just imagine the look on Dad's face when he opens this one-of-a-kind gift. He will be speechless.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fabulous Birthdays Through the Years

The most beautiful birthday flowers in the world.

You may have heard that today is my birthday. It's true. I'm 25. Wait, that part might not be true.

Over the years, I'm had some pretty extraordinary birthdays.

Because my birthday is in mid-June, it always fell right after school let out for the summer. Many years, we would hop on a plane on June 15th and I'd wake up at Nana's house on my birthday. I'd come downstairs for a special birthday breakfast with the whole family and then usually off to the beach. I grew up believing the only way to celebrate my birthday was to go on vacation.

My 18th birthday arrived just days after my high school graduation. Nana was in town for the big occasion and I got three of my girlfriends together and we all went into Chicago for lunch and a Wendella boat ride. It was freezing cold (even colder than it was today), overcast and windy and although we were dressed warmly, the wind still made it uncomfortable. Nana asked the Wendella folks if they had any big plastic garbage bags that we could use as rain/wind slickers. It was actually a great idea!

Janet, Cheryl, Me, and Cindy (l-r) on the Wendella Boats using plastic garbage bags to block the wind.
Yes, I gave Sally Jessy Rapheal her glasses back.

I celebrated my 20th birthday at Watervale and because this is supposedly a family blog, I can't describe the debauchery that ensued. Let's just say that it didn't hurt things at all that the Bulls had just won their first NBA Championship.

In 1992, I turned 21 with the help of my good friends Heather and Emilie, and Michael, Scottie, and the rest of the Chicago Bulls. Heather and I spent the day in Chicago at the Bulls Championship Rally in Grant Park and then window shopping on the Mag Mile. After taking the train back to Lake Forest, I drank at The Lantern for the first time. That was also the year Dave surprised me with the sterling silver pendant he made of the two of us. An incredible day.

1993 found me in Washington DC without my friends or family. I spent the day wandering around Georgetown and then watched the Bulls win Game 4 of the NBA Finals over the Phoenix Suns on a date. Of course, the Bulls went on to win their third NBA Championship days later.

I spent my 25th birthday reading the subliminal messages Michael was sending me through his stellar performance in the winning game of the Bulls 4th NBA Championship.

I turned 27 in 1998 and was in Chicago for the Bulls 6th and final NBA Championship. The night before my birthday, Christopher and I were in the stands at Wrigley Field watching Kerry Wood pitch a nailbiter and Sammy Sosa start his home run streak by hitting 3 that night as they beat the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5. On my birthday, I celebrated with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends in Grant Park as we celebrated the Bulls and witnessed the end of an era. When I arrived back in DC on the 17th, I was surprised by my friends at a party at the rooftop bar at the Hotel Washington.

When I turned 30, Dave surprised me by flying to Chicago for the weekend. My dad also came to town and when I got up that morning, my lawn was filled with 30 plastic pink flamingos! I'm sorry I don't have pictures.

And then there was today. Today was fabulous. Words can't express my gratitude for all the joy and love I felt today. I got to talk to Nana, which was the highlight of my day. I heard from friends all over the country and friends in my neighborhood. God, I love the birthday reminder on Facebook! Emails even poured in tonight from my mom's childhood friends! Local friends surprised me with many delights. And my dad started his new job today.

I have had some amazing birthdays throughout the years, but today was the best. My gratitude list is long and I'm putting my head on my pillow tonight secure in the knowledge of who I love and who loves me. Words can't begin to express how full my heart is tonight.

Thank you.

Guess Who's Having a Birthday TODAY!

It's been awhile since we last played my favorite game "Guess Who's Having A Birthday TODAY!"

Here are the rules . . . . you get one guess. That's the only rule.

Did you guess . . .

. . . Former Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood who joined the world in 1977?
. . . The late rap star/actor Tupac Shakur (1971-1996), born in Brooklyn, NY?
. . . Golfer Phil Mickelson, born in San Diego, CA in 1970?
. . . Actress Laurie Metcalf of Rosanna fame, hailing from Carbonville, IL in 1955?
. . . Knots Landing's Joan Van Ark in 1943?
. . . Novelist Joyce Carol Oates, born in New York in 1938?
. . . Love Story author Erich Segal from Brooklyn, NY in 1937?
. . . Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, born in New York City in 1917?
. . . Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame in 1890?

Those are good guesses and they were all born today, but they are all wrong.

The correct answer is ME! It's MY birthday today! Yeah!

Do you know what else happened today in history?

. . . In 1996, the Chicago Bulls won their 4th NBA Championship by beating the Seattle Supersonics in a 6 game series. Ah, the good old days.
. . . In 1980, "Blues Brothers" premiered in Chicago.
. . . In 1933, the FDIC was created.
. . . In 1903, Ford Motors incorporated and Pepsi Company formed.
. . . In 1893, Cracker Jack was invented.

Here are some fun birthday pictures of me . . .

This was my third birthday in our house in Ft. Myers, Florida.
It's my favorite birthday picture ever.
Check out that smile. Those hands on my hips foretell of my semi-bossy nature.

This was my first birthday picture.
Even then, sleep was important to me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Don't Have to Apologize to Sarah Palin

It's no secret that I'm not exactly a fan of Sarah Palin. You can do a search for her on LMS and read some of what I had to say last fall.

That said, I have politely kept my mouth shut during the last week while she took offense at David Letterman's jokes about her and her family because I'm working on the whole "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" philosophy. But I can't stay quiet anymore.

I'm not actually going to defend David Letterman here. You can decide for yourself whether or not he was out of line. I will say, however, that I don't think he should have given his "apology" last week and I truly can't believe he's giving a true one tonight (I just heard about it on the news). I hate that he was bullied into apologizing to her and her family.

No one ever apologized to President Clinton (the actual President, as opposed to the losing VP candidate who won't let go of her 15 minutes), Hillary Clinton or their daughter Chelsea when the Republicans were making fun of her looks. Every teenager goes through that awkward stage. Chelsea was younger than either Willow or Bristol Palin, the Clintons had taken careful steps to keep her out of the spotlight (unlike the way the Palins paraded their kids all over the country to every campaign stop), and Chelsea had not done anything that would warrant the "dog" or "Janet Reno is her father" comments by Rush Limbaugh and John McCain respectively (again, unlike Bristol who became pregnant as a teenager in spite of Sarah Palin's staunch pro-life anti-pre-marital sex stance). If kids should be off limits, then all children of politicians should be off-limits, not just select ones.

But that's not even my real beef. My real beef is that she should be consistent in her outrage. Where was Sarah Palin's rant about how jokes about sex with underage girls is what causes them to have low self-esteem last fall when the late night comedians were making fun of Bristol? To me, this "outrage" just comes off as Sarah Palin trying desperately to stay relevent and extend her 15 minutes of fame.

I could go on, but Shannyn Moore said it best in The Huffington Post today with her brilliant post "Top 10 Reasons Sarah Palin's 'Outrage' is Misplaced and A Little Late . . . "

10) Last September, a skit on Saturday Night Live suggested incest in the Palin family. "What about the husband?" asked a mock Times reporter. "You know he's doing those daughters. I mean, come on. It's Alaska!" No outrage. Sarah Palin appeared on the show one month later in late October.

9) Days after the announcement of Bristol's pregnancy, Conan O'Brien joked, "It's true, John McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, has revealed that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. Palin said, 'We should never have introduced her to John Edwards.'" Where was the outrage? Was Conan promoting infidelity with an underage girl?

8 ) From two different Tonight Shows: "Governor Palin announced over the weekend that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is five months pregnant. Oh, boy, you thought John Edwards was in trouble before, now he's really done it!" AND..."All the Republicans are heaping praise on Governor Palin. Fred Thompson said, as an actor, he could see them making a movie about Sarah Palin and her family. Didn't they already make that movie? I think it was called 'Knocked Up!'"--Jay Leno

7) Craig Ferguson's skit of "Larry King vs Levi Johnston" asks about "kinky sex" with the drapes open. Craig Ferguson's honorary Alaska citizenship, granted by Governor Palin wasn't rescinded.

6) "According to expense reports, Sarah Palin charged the state of Alaska over $21,000 for her children to travel with her on official business. In fairness to Gov. Palin, when she leaves them home alone they get pregnant." --Seth Meyers (SNL). Sarah Palin was in a sketch with Meyers a week earlier.

5) On October 8, 2008, Sarah Palin walked out on the ice with six year old Piper and 13 year old Willow, before the game, Conan O'Brien said, "Saturday night, Sarah Palin is going to drop the first puck at the Philadelphia Flyers' hockey game. Then Palin will spend the rest of the game trying to keep the hockey players out of her daughter's penalty box."
Oh, yes he did. You get the outrage...but not a peep then. According to the new "logic", O'Brien was advocating for some really sick stuff.

4) Rush Limbaugh: "Everyone knows the Clintons have a cat. Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is a White House dog?" Limbaugh put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton. At the time, Chelsea Clinton was 13 years old. Rush also said, "In last year's campaign, the most prominent, articulate voice for standard run-of-the-mill good old-fashioned American conservatism was Sarah Palin." Calling a young teenager a "dog" can't be helpful to her "self-esteem." Where is the apology from the leader of the GOP?

3) "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."--John McCain, Sarah Palin's running mate. Should McCain apologize to every young woman in America?

2) Palin's friend, political defender and informer of the David Letterman comments, John Ziegler, was fired from his radio show for using the "n-word" online and on air in 1997. In 2000, he was fired for spelling the "n-word" on the air. How much does that word affect the psychological health of America's youth, regardless of their race? Now he is pimping his film about how mean the "liberal media" was to Sarah Palin.

AND...The NUMBER 1 REASON Sarah Palin's Outrage is Misplaced and A Little Late...

1) The "candidate who must be obeyed" was talking about Palin's family when he said, "Kids are off limits." Jake Tapper of ABC News interviewed then Candidate Obama, and asked, "Governor Palin and her husband issued a statement today saying their 17-year-old daughter Bristol, who is unmarried, is five months pregnant. Do you have any reaction?"

OBAMA: "I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off-limits. And people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know, my mother had me when she was 18. And, you know, how family deals with issues and -- and, you know, teenaged children, that shouldn't be the topic of -- of our politics."

The Palin children have been fodder for comedians since they were brought to the national stage. Incest isn't funny. Ugly kid jokes aren't funny. Many of the things said about public figures are just flat wrong. Being "knocked up" isn't much fun. Racist comments hurt all of us. I exhausted the top 10 list before I ran out of outrageous instances ignored by the Palins.

The National Organization for Women named David Letterman to their Hall of Shame. Will Letterman be joining Jay Leno? Conan O'Brien? Craig Ferguson? Seth Myers? Rush Limbaugh? Or John McCain? Of course not! I guess N.O.W. didn't bother checking Sarah Palin's "feminist" credentials. All across America, right wing radio and television talk show hosts feigned outrage in perfect synchronicity. The same people who back up Palin's high drama assertions against Letterman ignored the connections between Bill O'Reilly's irresponsible incitement and the murder of Dr. George Tiller. David Letterman, a late night entertainer, apologized. Fox New's Bill O'Reilly has not.

As a parent, I understand being defensive. I just wonder what took so long. Why now?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Good News Always Finds A Way to Be Heard

The following article appeared in the Daily Herald last Friday. I love that it includes a section about my friend Debbie Nelson and the Random Acts of Kindness Club.

Bad news got you down? These folks find ways to stay happy.

By Jamie Sotonoff, Daily Herald, June 3, 2009

The recession drags on. Friends and neighbors are losing jobs and homes. And then we have to worry about plane crashes or the swine flu.

Yet, in nooks and crannies around the suburbs, there always remains something positive to consider. Acts of goodness take place every day and happy people go about their routines with smiles on their faces.

Health, wealth and mood-elevating medication has nothing to do with it. Instead, these people consciously choose to let the bad news roll off them like Teflon and maintain positive attitudes despite the chaos around them.

Experts believe that focusing on negative things perpetuates the bad, and focusing on good leads to even more good.

Could these suburbanites be reversing our bad fortune?

Bob and Jeanne Pitra's daily coffee date

After being married for almost 57 years, you might think Bob and Jeanne Pitra would be sick of each other. But the Glen Ellyn couple spends every day together, starting with an early morning swim at the College of DuPage's pool, coffee at the Bells & Whistles Snackery in Glen Ellyn, and then a stop at their local church. They bring their own coffee mugs to the restaurant - mugs they won playing bingo there together.

"They're still clearly in love," says Bells & Whistles owner Tracey Kreiling. "They are such wonderful, genuinely happy people."

Jeanne and Bob met while students at Bradley University, and even worked together at the DuPage County courthouse. He was a sheriff's deputy and she was a legal secretary.

"We do enjoy each other's company," Jeanne said. "I wouldn't have anyone else."

Bob, 79 and Jeanne, 77, have visited some of the world's poorest countries on mission trips and consider themselves blessed.

"I tell people, you should get down and kiss the Earth about all the pluses we have in this country. Why look at any down side? You can always find a silver lining," Bob said. "When people talk down about things, I try to give them the upside. Sometimes you can change an attitude."

Random Acts of Kindness Club in Arlington Heights

This fast-growing, new group is dedicated to the "pay it forward" way of thinking.

Facilitated by Deborah Nelson, 40, of Arlington Heights, it grew out of a local Character Counts program at Patton Elementary School. There, with help from a group called DreamWeavers, they found a way to get bunk beds and sheets for a local family with six kids but just one mattress. The family's name was kept secret, and everything was delivered anonymously with a note that said, "This is a random act of kindness. Please pass it on."

The effort snowballed.

"Everyone loved it so much, they wanted to keep it going," Nelson said. "Parents, kids, friends, they kept asking, 'How can I participate?'"

In January, Nelson - an Arlington Heights library trustee, a single mother of two and a full-time fundraiser who also works a side job - somehow found time to get ROAK-AH organized. She started and 100 households have already signed up.

"Every day we get new members," she said. "We don't have meetings or events. No one has time for that. There are groups like ours all over the world ... but we just help people in the Northwest suburbs."

What types of random acts of kindness they do? Well, Nelson recently paid for someone's breakfast at a McDonald's drive-through. The person had let him pull ahead of her. The group also just bought Build-A-Bear gift certificates for two young girls who lost their 40-year-old mother to a heart attack.

"Even if you're down and out, do something nice for someone else and it'll turn your day around and theirs," Nelson said. "Taking on a positive way of feeling pulls you up and gives you the resilience to move on. It's contagious. It rubs off on others."

The Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club in Naperville

It's a scene repeated across the suburbs every week: at 6:45 a.m. every Tuesday, Bob Owensby, 83, picks up his friend Chet Rybicki, 93, and together they drive to the Colonial Inn in Naperville for what's dubbed "The Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club."

There, roughly a dozen retired men - most World War II vets - happily socialize and talk about everything from the good ol' days to politics.

"We discuss a lot of things. We have a lot of opinions about what's going on," said Owensby, a retired architect and Marine who still has shell fragments in his body from Iwo Jima.

Their weekly routine consists of not just fellowship, but education. Every Wednesday, four of the breakfast club members -Rybicki (who is a former Naperville mayor), Owensby, Dr. Robert Reschke and Joe Ryan take history classes at the College of DuPage. This semester, they're studying Abraham Lincoln.

They've followed this breakfast-and-school routine for the past 20 years, after their friend Jack Oates came up with the idea.

"After you work for 40, 50 years, you want to still stay active," Owensby said.

The friends also provide support to each other through the ups and downs of the Golden Years.

"There are a lot of nice people in Naperville," Rybicki said.

Reese Tirona, 24, of Schaumburg

The marketing student is using the Web to rally people to be kind. Sound silly? In the first three days, more than 700 people joined Tirona's Her new Facebook group, "The Positivity Movement," already has more than 57,000 members worldwide.

"We're all intrinsically good. It just takes some reminding," Tirona said.

Features include a list of 100 kind things you can do (let in a merging motorist, bring cupcakes to work, etc...) and inspirational messages ("Happiness is not having want you want, it's wanting what you have.")

"It's surprising that people think kindness is such a hard thing to do," Tirona said. "A small gesture can brighten someone else's day. Your whole day will be affected by the things you experience."

Ruth Kaiser, author/eternal optimist

To say that Kaiser sees a smile everywhere she goes is an understatement. Her new book, "Spontaneous Smiley Face," is a compilation of everyday images where a smiley face can be detected.

During a recent visit to Chicago (her daughter is a student at Northwestern University), she even found a smiley face in a half-melted pile of snow.

Kaiser's goal is to convince people to slow down and enjoy life's beauty and joy. Her book's available at, and her Facebook group is

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Kids Need Music

Check out this chorus from PS22 in New York. I just saw them on Nightline singing Eye of the Tiger then I found their blog and watched them sing the best version of Landslide I've ever heard. I loved watching the expressions on their faces as the kids sang. You can feel their passion.

These kids will inspire you. We owe it to them to keep music alive for them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mrs. Paulk Goes to Washington

About 10:30 this morning, I received one of those dreaded phone calls. It was from my mom and she was calling to tell me that something happened with Nana last night and she wasn't expected to live through the week. My mom gave me the details of what happened with Nana, but all I heard was "Nana is dying," so I can't explain to you what my mom told me.

Many of you know about my Nana and know about the long ordeal we've had with her over the last 7 years. Newer readers of LMS probably don't know about my Nana. Frances Paulk is my maternal grandmother, my heroine, and my rock and it breaks my heart into 10 million pieces seeing her suffer. You can read more about her in these blog posts.

After I spoke with mom and wiped the tears from my face, I spent most of my day feeling numb. I also got to thinking about some of my favorite memories with Nana.

In the fall of 1994, my uncle graduated from medical school in upstate New York. On her return flight to Florida, Nana had an hour layover in DC, where I'd been living for almost 18 months. Because Washington National Airport (now Reagan National Airport, UGH!) was just a few Metro stops from my office, I suggested that I meet Nana during my lunch hour. And then I had one of my most brilliant ideas.

Almost 80 years old, Nana had never visited Washington DC. As a surprise, I called the airline and arranged to have her layover changed from an hour to four hours. In retrospect, I'm not sure how she didn't know about this change, but when I met her at the gate and let her know of the change of plans, she sure did act surprised. We were going to use her layover to tour DC.

We hopped on the Metro (DC's subway) and rode it across the Potomac River and back into the District. Getting off directly under my office building, our first stop was my office at Hogan & Hartson. As we walked into the lobby and into my office (not a cubicle), she beamed with pride. Because I had just gotten a promotion, I had also just received my first business card. I gave her one that day and she carried it in her wallet until she stopped carrying a wallet.

We left my office and took a cab to my apartment. Although it was only about 6 or 7 blocks away, this was further than I thought she could easily walk and didn't want to spend our precious time walking. I wanted her to see as much of DC as possible in the short amount of time we had. It was from the window of my apartment that she first saw the Capitol and that was the first of many times that day she would say to me "In all my years, I never thought I'd see DC. I read about it in history books, but I never thought I'd walk in the city where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abe Lincoln walked."

We grabbed another cab and I explained to the driver that my Nana had never visited DC before and that before he took us back to Washington National, I wanted him to show us everything. As luck would have it, he was a fountain of knowledge and eagerly drove us from my apartment to the Capitol, past the National Mall, to the Washington Monument, down Constitution Avenue to the Lincoln Memorial, up to National Cathedral, down Massachusetts Avenue past Embassy Row, down 16th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue and slowly in front of the White House, over to the Jefferson Memorial, across the 14th Street Bridge and the Potomac River, to the George Washington Parkway and to the airport.

The whole way, Nana sat with her face glued to the cab window taking in the sites not knowing if she'd ever return to the District. The only words she was able to speak were "I never thought I'd see Washington." When she finally emerged from the cab at National Airport, I saw for the first time, the tears of joy in her eyes. Her emotions were obvious and she didn't need to tell me how much she loved that afternoon, although I certainly knew.

That Christmas, I surprised her with one of those Washington DC coffee table books with beautiful pictures of all the sights we saw that afternoon. It was her favorite gift that year and it was certainly my favorite gift that I gave that year. One of the things I loved most about her was her memory. Even though she'd only seen it all once in person, she narrated the entire book to the entire family that Christmas afternoon.

I can't begin to count the number of times I heard her recount that day and how proud she was to be touring Washington with me. The thing is, I'm not sure who was prouder that day, her or me.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I do know that they're running some tests tonight and we should know more soon. I don't know if she really only has about a week left or if I'll blow out the candles on her 93rd birthday cake with her in July.

Part 2 tomorrow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Are YOU Going to Finish Strong?

A dear friend of mine sent a portion of the video below the other morning with a note that he thought it would be perfect for Little Merry Sunshine. I agree with him.

I also agree with the message of this video. We all have challenges in our lives. Some challenges we are born with, some challenges we create through our own choices in life, some challenges happen as a result of the actions of others, and some challenges are all in our heads. Ultimately, it's not the challenges that make us who we are, but how we deal with the challenges in life that say the most about us. Life's challenges build our character.

Are YOU going to finish strong?

For complete inspiration, visit Nick Vujicic's website, Life Without Limbs.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We Must Reform Health Care

Did you see or hear President Obama's Weekly Radio Address today? It's all about health care. Health care is tantamount to a healthy economy.

If you think quality, affordable health care is a luxury and not a necessity, then you should know that according to the National Coalition on Health Care, 50% of all personal bankruptcies are due in at least some part to out of control medical expenses and that 68% of people filing bankruptcy had health insurance. The American Journal of Medicine says that over 60% of bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical expenses and that 80% of those people had health insurance. Additionally, 1.5 million families per year are foreclosed on because of unaffordable medical costs. There is something fundamentally wrong with our country that we make people chose between treating medical conditions and keeping a roof over their heads. We should be ashamed.

Fortunately, President Obama is committed to health care reform. I believe that when it is all said and done we will end up with a revamped health care system that allows people to continue the coverage they have if they like it or opt into a single-payer system. At least that is my hope.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Finnerty Family Fundraiser

If you're from Arlington Heights, no doubt you've heard about this tragic story this week. Heck, if you're from the Chicago Area and you turned on the news or opened any newspaper, you probably saw it.

In an effort to help the two surviving young children of the fatal fire that killed both parents and one child on Tuesday, several downtown Arlington Heights businesses are sponsoring a fundraiser to benefit the trust fund established for them on Friday (tomorrow). If you need anything that these stores sell now or will need their products in the near future, I encourage you to do your shopping on Friday.

Participating merchants are:
Can't shop? That's okay. A trust fund for the children has also been set up.

Donations can be sent to:

Village Bank & Trust
311 S. Arlington Heights Rd.
Arlington Heights, IL 60005

Please make checks payable to "Jennifer Murphy, Guardian of the Finnerty Children."

Yesterday Was National Fist Bump Day and I Missed It!

I'm usually right on top of holidays, especially important ones (note: someone very important is having a birthday in a mere 12 days and you don't want to be the one person who forgot!). I have no idea how I missed this, but evidently yesterday was National Fist Bump Day (and here), which also means it was the anniversary of now President Barack Obama securing the Democratic nomination.

How did you celebrate National Fist Bump Day?

Summer Fun on the Cheap!

I'm sure I don't have to tell you, but times are tough. We're all trying to save money any way we can. Carpooling and biking to work are on the increase. Recession gardens are all the rage. Many people are taking staycations rather than vacations this summer.

In spite of it all (or maybe especially because of it all), we still need to have some fun now that the weather is warm (or almost warm). To help you and me have fun this summer, the National Park Service has created Fee-Free Weekends at 100 National Parks across the country!

Imagine taking the kids to Yosemite National Park for FREE if you're in California. Or how about going to the Grand Canyon if you're in Arizona? Are you land-locked in the Midwest? That's okay. Stop in at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Memorial in Missouri and check out the Gateway Arch. Of course, for all you Watervale families, you can go to Sleeping Bear Dunes for FREE! Eastcoasters have lots of options too. If you're in the DC area, you simply must go to Harpers Ferry. I had the best first date I've ever had there. In Florida, go to the Everglades.

To avoid entrance fees, just visit June 20-21 (Father's Day Weekend), July 18-19, or August 15-16 (I'll organize the field trip from Watervale to Sleeping Bear Dunes this weekend).


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Book of Lies in Paperback!

You know my all-time favorite book is The Book of Lies by my good pal Brad Meltzer. Of course, one huge reason it's my favorite book is because of the super small part I had in it and the mention of me on page 9 of the Acknowledgements. Yes, really. (Read my previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Anyway, it's out in paperback now with a new cover. If you didn't buy it when it first came out last September (and you should have), now you have absolutely no excuse not to rush out to Barnes & Noble or Amazon or wherever and buy yourself a copy plus one for your dad for Father's Day. Dad will thank you. Frankly, since it's got a new cover, even if you have the hard cover book, you should buy the paperback because then you'll have the complete set.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I'm Gonna Get a Rain Barrel!

I've been contemplating purchasing a rain barrel for awhile now. The benefit of a rain barrel is obviously that it will allow me to capture the rain water and use it to water my gardens. The rain water is free, so I might as well tap into it and save myself some money.

The reason I haven't bought a rain barrel yet is because they're a little pricey. Home Depot carries them, but their cheapest rain barrel is $89.99 and it's sold out. Now granted, it's bigger than the one I'm going to get, but I just don't see spending an extra $59.99 for 2 additional gallons.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is providing 50 gallon rain barrels to residents of Cook County for just $40.00.

To order your rain barrel, click here. But be forewarned, you can only get it at 3 locations in the county on 3 days each month.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Kids Do the Darndest Things

As I've talked about before, there was a time when I was growing up that we lived on food stamps and got help from the local food pantry. I was in 8th grade and I was a student at Thomas Junior High in Arlington Heights, now Thomas Middle School. At the time, I don't remember ever doing things like food drives, although I guess we did. If we did, however, we all just brought a few cans to school and that was the end of it. We most certainly did not take time out of school to form a human chain to the Wheeling Township Offices and Food Pantry, which like today, were located just down the street from my school.

Having gone to the food pantry as a kid because we needed food and now being a regular donor, my heart swelled with pride in today's youth when I read this story about the students at Thomas Middle School. 872 students and 101 faculty and staff collected over 5,000 cans of food - more than double what they collected last year. WOW.

Summer is one of the hardest times for food pantries. Donations are down and demand is up. Demand is up because parents who rely on the free or reduced-fee breakfast and lunch programs to help them stretch their meager food budgets (usually food stamps) are suddenly without that supplement when school ends in early June.

I'm delivering a box of food to Wheeling Township tomorrow and I'll be bringing extra veggies from my garden later this summer. If we all just add a few extra items to our carts every time we shop for groceries, it's not a strain on anyone's budget and in no time we'll have a full bag to drop off at the food pantry. Many stores run "buy one, get one free" specials and these are great times to get extra items at no cost.

Will you join me in collecting food for your food pantry this summer? If less than 900 middle school kids can donate more than 5,000 cans of food, what can we do?

Read the article below and watch the video.

Arlington Heights students make dent in need at food pantry
By Deborah Donovan, Daily Herald Staff, May 29, 2009

Is it a world's record if 872 middle school students and 101 staff members pass cans and other nonperishable food items they've donated from hand to hand for at least five blocks?

The students at Thomas Middle School, 1430 N. Belmont Ave., Arlington Heights, collected more than 5,000 containers of food, and Friday they stretched out from the school door to a truck waiting across the street from the Wheeling Township Food Pantry, 1616 N. Arlington Heights Road.

While village authorities let them block streets like E. Lynnwood Ave., closing Arlington Heights Road during the morning rush hour was not an option.

The school is hoping to create a new category for the Guinness Book of World Records, said Jason A. Dietz, assistant principal: Longest human chain passing food.

The weather was gorgeous, the students were only getting out of homeroom, but things were more complicated than you might think.

Believe it or not, the food--two or three times what they collected last year -- did not move in a smooth-flowing chain. Miscues caused cans and boxes to fall to the grass or sidewalk. Sometimes nothing seemed to be coming down the line, but then Danielle Stasik, 13, was juggling so many items that a classmate popped one into the hood of her sweatshirt.

Small groups of students -- usually eighth graders like Abbey Groves, 14, and her friends -- served as unofficial quality control experts, pulling out damaged cans and packages. Groves also pretended to confiscate a box of tea when she noticed it was her favorite brand.

All kinds of nonperishable items were donated from tins of tuna to boxes of breakfast cereal and plastic bottles of syrup and of course cans of pork and beans.

"I'm collecting good dinner ideas," said Victoria Self, a teaching assistant who lives in Inverness. "I've never seen some of these brands."

All year the students sponsored projects that demonstrated kindness and compassion to others, said Dietz.

"The students and staff at Thomas have worked hard to start a 'chain reaction' of kindness and compassion for others," he said. "Creating a human hand chain and passing the cans allows everyone to be a part of something special."