Thursday, December 31, 2009

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


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

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

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

Happy New Year.

Oh, and yes, the hiatus is over.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where's Santa?


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

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



Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Heroes Matter

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

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

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

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






Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goodbye Sheraton Chicago Northwest (nee Arlington Park Hilton)

One more piece of my childhood is disappearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Washington DC Christmas

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

2009 National Christmas Tree from the National Park Foundation Flickr page

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Favorite Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa Wants To Call All The Good Girls & Boys

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Little Merry Sunshine's 2009 Christmas Mix

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

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

Oh, Come All Ye Faithful - Twisted Sister


Must Be Santa - Bob Dylan


Last Christmas - Wham!


8 Days of Christmas - Destiny's Child


Christmas Conga - Cyndi Lauper


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


Christmas Wrapping - The Spice Girls


Oi to the World - No Doubt


Let It Snow - Jessica Simpson

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Little Merry Sunshine's Rules of the Road


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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This Christmas, Give Peace & Good Will Toward Men

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Who Knew I Am A Bargain Shopper?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Important Update to Nana's White Fruit Cake

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

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

Originally posted on Remembering Frances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nana's White Fruit Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENJOY IN ABOUT COUPLE OF WEEKS OR SOONER.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The First Holiday Card of the Season Has Arrived!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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