Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ross Has "Self-Esteem" Issues?

My LFC friend Allison posted a link to the company Neuticles over on Facebook this morning. Her comment was "Ok, this is so funny. Who would ever spend the time or money for that matter?"

As I read about Neuticles testicular implants, I kept thinking about a conversation my cat Ross and I might have . . .

"Uh, Mom, can we talk?"

"Yes, Ross, what is it?"

"Well, um, it's kind of embarrassing."

"It's okay. You can tell me anything."

"Have you noticed how Betsey is all surly towards me and spent all night last night hissing at me?"

"How could I not notice? She kept me awake all night too."

"She doesn't want to snuggle with me anymore."

"Oh, don't pay any attention to her. She just likes to have space sometimes. She'll be back tonight."

"I think she's being mean and rejecting me because I'm not manly."

"Um, what?"

"You neutered me and I'm not a man anymore. You destroyed my self-esteem! The ladies don't like me because I don't have testicles."

Spitting Diet Coke across the room: "What?? What did you just say?"

"But if I could get Neuticles testicular implants, my self-esteem would be better and all those hot lady cats would be swarming around to get a piece of ME!"

"Uh, Ross, trust me, your self-esteem is fine."

Oh. My. God. Seriously? Neuticles wants me to believe my cat has self-esteem issues? Fortunately, the conversation above did not actually happen (like I had to say that), but what are the good folks over at Neuticles thinking? "Neuticles allows your pet to retain his natural look, self esteem and aids in the trauma associated with neutering." REALLY? Give me a break. My cat's self-esteem doesn't have anything to do with whether or not he's got testicles. If he's got self-esteem at all, it comes from the fact that he's loved and doted on. And I assure Neuticles that my cat does not sit around all day contemplating his lack of manhood.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

You Must Vote OR I Could Be Supreme Dictator

If you live in Illinois, Tuesday, February 2nd is Election Day. This is the Primary Election for the upcoming November General Election.

Now I know that 2010 is an "off" year and so it's not a sexy presidential election year. But it's my personal belief that that's exactly why this year is crucial. We are voting for both Houses of Congress - Senate and House; all of our State-wide offices; State Representatives and Senators; all of the Cook County Board positions (including President - that's Todd Stroger's current job) and many local referendum.

Again, it's not sexy, but all of these elected officials and referendum affect our lives with far greater daily impact than the President.

Are you upset about the Cook County 10% sales tax? Make sure you vote in Tuesday's election.

Do you want a say in whether or not police and fire pensions are fully funded? Vote on Tuesday.

Do you think the State of Illinois has been run into the ground? Get to the polls.

Do you want to make sure Rep. Mark Kirk is or is not the next Senator from Illinois? Go vote.

Are you ticked that the State of Illinois is allowing Cook County to collect 55% of our property tax bill instead of the usual 50% in the first installment? VOTE.

Do you or someone you love rely on the State of Illinois for any services (food stamps, disability services, etc.) or are you unhappy with all the increased fees for everything in Illinois? You've got to pull the lever on Tuesday.

Do you have strong issues on things like abortion, health care reform, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, job creation, taxes (of all kinds - income, property, sales, tolls, etc.), foreign aid, Social Security, Medicare, food safety, outsourcing, alternative energy sources, etc.? You've got nothing that's more important to do on Tuesday than vote.

State and local officials control or impact all of those things.

Voting isn't simply a right. In my opinion, it's an obligation. For the millions and millions of people (especially women) around the world without the right to vote, you owe it to them to exercise your right and vote for the candidates and issues you believe in.

But there's one more part to voting: you must be educated. Walking into a voting booth and knowing nothing about the candidates and issues is simply ignorant given how easy it is to become educated. If you live in Cook County, you can visit the Cook County Clerk's website for information on where to vote and for information on all the candidates and referenda. ABC7 also has an extensive website about candidates for all offices, area wide. Please don't just rely on commercials and all the fliers that have been piling up in your mailbox.

Ultimately, voting is up to you, but if you don't vote, please don't complain to me about the state of affairs in the country, state, county, or village.

If you don't want to vote because you're too busy, it's okay because I'm up on all the issues and know what's good for everyone. While you may not agree with me, I'd be happy to be Supreme Dictator of Illinois. Just let me know. It's one of the many services Little Merry Sunshine provides.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Professional Women's Council 2010 Schedule

Among the many things I have my hand in, I'm the chairwoman of the Professional Women's Council of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce (where I also serve on the Board of Directors). When I first joined the Chamber, I immediately got involved with the PWC because I believed that it would be great for my business. Professional women are my target market after all. What I didn't realize then was just how much I would get out of the group personally, as well as professionally, and the many opportunities I would have to give back to these amazing women. I'm really proud of my affiliation with this group of professional women (and some men too!) and was so honored about 14 months ago when I was asked to be the co-chair for 2009 and then the chair for 2010.

Each month our group meets at different restaurants in Arlington Heights for a two-hour networking and business building meeting. We often have speakers who educate us on different ways to build our businesses, ways to improve our lives, or topics of general interest. Past topics have included a panel on how to survive the economic recession, goal setting workshops, and speed networking along with more fun things like a fashion show. Life coach (and fellow Lake Forest College alum!) Shawna Myers helped us find our core values. Sports columnist Christine Brennan came to speak a couple of years ago about life as the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins and her life in the sports industry.

As I was beginning to prepare for my year as chairwoman, I knew there were some topics I would find of interest, but the PWC isn't about me. It's about the 40-60 women who take two hours of their day to attend our monthly luncheons and it was important to me to give them exactly what they wanted. Additionally, I wanted to know what motivated them to participate in the PWC and conversely what kept them from attending. In a nutshell, I wanted to know why PWC was important to them and what could be done to make it a "not-to-be-missed" event each month.

I also faced one large challenge: my budget for the year was one-quarter what it had been in previous years, so I had to create an outstanding year with almost no budget. Viewing this hurdle as an opportunity, I decided to get creative. So I prepared a 9-question multiple choice (with room for longer answers) survey that went out to all Chamber members and received a 10% response rate (which I learned is an excellent response rate). Questions included:
  1. How many PWC luncheons have you attended in 2009?
  2. Why do you attend PWC?
  3. Why don't you attend PWC?
  4. Is the $18 cost of lunch about right, too high or two low?
  5. What is a better price?
  6. Would you be interested in having PWC meet as a brown bag lunch event with a nominal $5 fee for room cost rather than having it at a restaurant?
  7. Would you be interested in having PWC meet either before work (7:30-9 or 8-9:30) or after work (4-6 or 5-7)?
  8. What kinds of topics and speakers would you be interested in for 2010? (choose as many as you want)
    - progressive networking lunch without a speaker;
    - pros and cons of Social Networking;
    - social PWC event;
    - women in government;
    - local author doing a book reading from his book about growing up in Arlington Heights;
    - nationally known business coach speaking on how to double your business;
    - protecting yourself from identity theft;
    - laughter is the best medicine/stress relief workshop;
    - dress for success fashion show;
    - creating new holiday traditions and reducing holiday stress;
    - volunteer opportunities in Arlington Heights;
    - volunteer outing with a local non-profit;
    - caring for elderly parents and services available;
    - retirement planning seminar; or
    - history of Arlington Heights
  9. Would you be interested in speaking or do you know of a potential speaker in 2010?
Based on the survey feedback, I decided that the theme for 2010 would be "It's All About You!" because I learned that members want more value from their membership including more exposure for their businesses, more networking and business building opportunities, more business education, and speakers from within the group, whenever possible. They also told me exactly what types of programming they wanted for the year. I'm really proud that the 2010 PWC schedule meets each of the members' desires.

(Click on the picture to read all the exciting PWC events for 2010)

You don't have to be a member of the PWC or of the Chamber to attend our luncheons, although being a PWC member gives you a monthly discount on the cost of the luncheon. If you're not a member, but are interested in visiting our group to learn more about us or about the Chamber, we'd love to meet you!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beth Dunn of Social Climbers Was LMS's 30,000th Visitor!

Beth Dunn, a friend from our days at Lake Forest College, who writes a fun, preppy blog titled "Social Climbers" and has written a delightful book by the same name was the 30,000th visitor to Little Merry Sunshine! Like me, Beth's mission is to make the world a better place through good deeds, spreading the love, and one preppy monogram at a time. Go visit her blog! I'm so glad we're friends!

Congratulations Beth!

Beth, email me (don't post it on the blog) your address! I've got a special little gift for YOU to say thanks for your support! XOXOXO

As for the rest of my readers, I simply adore you and truly appreciate your support and hope you'll keep reading! I've got lots more to say!

My Cab Driver Bill

I have mentioned him before, but I have never blogged about him.

I met Bill a few years ago when I called for a taxi to the airport. He arrived in a brand new black Dodge Magnum that was sparkling clean on the inside. We talked all the way to O'Hare and I learned that he primarily worked for himself, but sometimes did some extra work for the cab company when they were really busy. As we drove, Bill's cell phone kept ringing with people calling for his personal livery services, many of them days out. From the little bit I could hear, each call was from a regular customer Bill knew well.

Since that first trip to O'Hare, I've never used another cab service. Most times he takes me to O'Hare, it's a cheerful trip, but he has also seen me on some of my most difficult days. Last summer, he drove me to O'Hare when I was flying to Florida for Nana's funeral and then each of my trips in August and September to help my mom. Those were really difficult trips for me, but Bill made them just a little bit better with his cheerfulness and just listening as I shared stories of my Nana with him. Being in his car feels like riding with a good friend.

In fact, that's how Bill perceives his job. He's a retired police officer, although I can't remember where now, and he told me when we first met that he loves his career now because he hangs out with friends all day as he drives them around. How can you not love that attitude?

On the way to O'Hare in August, I shared a story of how Nana received a box of chocolates at her retirement. The chocolates were nothing extraordinary, probably just a box of Whitman's Sampler, but I'll never forget the way Nana held that box like it was the Ark of the Covenant or some other treasure as she looked the man who gave it to her square in the eye and with sincerity and excitement said to him, "Oh! A box of fine chocolates! This is JUST what I've wanted!" She had this way of making you feel like $10 million. A few minutes later, we pulled into O'Hare and Bill opened up the glove compartment and handed me an envelope. Inside was a dark chocolate candy bar with the most fancy wrapping. I just looked at him with tears rolling down my face and made Nana's words my own. I don't know if the chocolate was high quality or not and it doesn't matter. That night, when I had a moment of peace to myself after the first of many difficult days, I unwrapped that bar and bit into what was the most incredible piece of chocolate I will ever have in my life.

Bill sends a quarterly newsletter to all of his clients. I look forward to these mailings because they are always uplifting and always hand addressed (who does that still?). The winter letter just arrived and on the outside, was written "The Wonderful Jessica Gardner." In a strange twist of fate this morning, I received a bunch of personal mail (as opposed to bills). Guess which envelope got opened first?

This is Bill's winter letter.

by Bill Hammers

My fall letter this year contained a true story told through the eyes of a cab driver. My winter letter is also a true story of mine that I thought you might enjoy.

Exiting our apartment one day I noticed our neighbor, Jean from across the hall, at the same time, about to pass me by with her garbage to deposit in the garbage room. She appeared to be in her late 70's, very frail looking with a scowl on her face.

Our eyes met, I smiled and said, "I'll let you by if you smile." Her eyes squinted, her mouth became smaller and she forced a half smile dismissing me as she passed by. As she went by I said, "next time it's a hug I'll want!" I remembered all the while other neighbors in the building telling me that this particular lady was " old crab...," and they didn't want to bother with her.

Our next encounter was on our elevator. I mentioned to Jean that frequently Kathy (my wife) and I dine out, and we'd be glad to bring something back for her if she'd like. Cautiously, she said, "yes...that would be nice."

So the ritual began - dinner in a Styrofoam container, a knock on her door followed by the container being left by her door, me running back to our apartment before she opened her door.

When Kathy cooked for us, she'd always make extra and we'd leave Jean her "surprise" package covered with foil at her door followed by the "knock" and retreat.

Weeks later Jean called and invited us to her apartment for a glass of wine. We were delighted. Her place was furnished in what appeared to be very rich looking painting and furniture. We sat down and she began telling us her story. She explained that at this time in her life she no longer had any relatives or friends left. She then proceeded to tell us that she knew she didn't have a lot of time left. After about a half-hour of small talk Jean said, "I was once invited out on a date and had a dress made for it, but he stood me up and I never wore it again." As she spoke she kept looking downward shaking her head. Jean then looked up, smiled and said to my wife, "Kathy, I'd like you to have this dress." Stunned, my wife accepted as we both started tearing up.

Jean then asked me if I'd be able to take her to the hospital when her emphysema flared up, because, she stated "...the paramedics hurt me trying to life me onto the stretcher..." Over the following years, I did take hero n a number of occasions.

During those years, Jean would call Kathy over to her apartment and give her dolls she had from Macy's that were never even out of their boxes because she knew we had granddaughters.

Months later, our phone rang very late at night. My wife answered and handed the phone to me saying it was Jean and she wanted to talk to me. Jean explained, "Bill, I'm not going to make it through the night and I'm afraid to die alone!"

We talked about almost anything and everything that popped into our minds. Nothing profound mind you, just talked.

The next few days I tried to get information from the hospital about how Jean was doing, but because I wasn't a relative, none was given to me. Finally, I was lucky to speak with someone who, after I explained how I knew Jean, told me she had passed away two nights before.

Weeks later walking back from Jewel across from our apartment, another neighbor from our building also stopped by the red light, and questioned me about Jean and if I had talked to her prior to her passing. I explained we did, Jean was a very private person unlike how she was perceived by most. I went on to say that another neighbor in our building asked me about our relationship with jean and hinted as to what, if anything, Jean had left us. I explained both Kathy and I had several conversations with Jean and Kathy was given a brand new dress over 25 years old, and I, well I received her last phone call.

Jean, wherever you are, thank you for your "crabby" old smile at our first encounter; you taught both Kathy and I what priceless gifts are really all about - God Bless You!

I could tell you many more Bill stories, but we'd be here all day. Suffice it to say, I think the world of him.

If you need cab service and want to feel like you're riding with family, call Bill. You won't have a better ride to O'Hare. He's not the cheapest, but his rates are very competitive and for the service he provides, it's a steal. Oh, and he lives in downtown Arlington Heights, so when you use his service, you're keeping your money local by supporting a small business in our community.

Bill Hammers
Time Bandit Taxi/Limo

Oh, and tell him I referred you. It's the least I can do for all he's done for me. He's not just my cab driver. Bill is my friend.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Day a Naked Man Danced for Me in Public

In 1994, when I was about 6 months into my job at Hogan, I received an odd request from a partner. It seemed he was meeting with a client over the weekend and they were conducting some interviews for a high-level position the client was hiring for. The two people being interviewed were coming to our offices on a Saturday afternoon, when we were closed, and I was asked if I could meet the prospects in the lobby and keep them there until it was time for their interview.

It seemed like an easy way to score a couple of hours of overtime pay. I lived about 6 blocks away, this wasn't unduly burdensome, so I said yes.

As I was instructed, I kept the first interviewee in the lobby until the partner came down. Everything was uneventful and went smoothly.

The second man arrived about an hour later and decided that since he had to wait, he wanted to have a cigarette and wanted to know if we could go outside. I agreed and we went and sat on the benches outside of our 13th Street entrance. Now anyone who knows the building knows that there's kind of an alcove at that entrance where everyone used to gather to smoke during the week and it's almost completely hidden from public view . . . unless you happen to be sitting in a certain spot on the benches by the street.

We sat down on the bench with me facing the entrance to the building, so I could watch for the partner. From this position, I could also see straight into the alcove. In retrospect, this alcove must have not been very visible from inside the building either given what happened next.

As we're talking, I saw a tall, gangly, man walk into the alcove and assumed he was going to relieve himself. If only I'd been that lucky.

The next thing I know, the man is 100% naked, but for his cowboy boots and cowboy hat and he's dancing to music that evidently only he could hear. Now mind you, he's in the alcove, so I'm the only person who is privileged enough to see the show. He continued to dance for a few minutes and as much as I tried not to react, because I was mortified sitting there with a man I didn't know having another man I didn't know dance naked for me in the middle of the street in front of my office building, I must have reacted because the man I was speaking to finally turns around and sees the naked dancing man.

I'll never forget the look on his face. He asked me if this kind of thing happened often and we had a good laugh. Eventually, the naked dancing man got dressed and left.

Although I never told anyone of the incident (what could they do?), first thing Monday morning, the partner paid me a visit. Unaccustomed to law firm partners knowing me, much less visit my office, at that point in my career, I thought I was in trouble for not following instructions exactly with the second interviewee. Instead the partner said he'd heard about the incident, wanted to apologize for it (even though clearly it wasn't anything he could have controlled) and hoped I wasn't upset.

Nope, I wasn't upset. Embarrassed, yes. Upset, no.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Those Funny Funny TSA Employees

Because I'm not scared of flying enough as it is. What with all the rules about no liquids, 3-ounce bottles, removal of my shoes (and thus walking across the scuzzy airport floor barefoot), the underwire in my bra that sets off the security machines, the full-body scanners that do everything but give me medical test results and may or may not work, potentially drunk pilots, arriving at the airport 2 hours early, crotch bombs, strangers man-handling my toothbrush as they manually check my luggage, and more, NOW I need to be afraid of the very people who are paid to ensure 100% safety at the nations' airports stuffing bags of white powder (as in cocaine or other contraband) in my carry-on baggage as a joke.

I hope this TSA employee was fired on the spot (since the TSA won't say if he was fired or quit, just that there was disciplinary action taken). And I hope it was a criminal offense. Because it sure as heck is not funny. Lord knows passenger pranks in airports are never treated with a benefit of doubt (and they should be taken as seriously as they are).

Student Pranked by Philadelphia Airport TSA Worker
Associated Press in the Chicago Sun-Times, January 24, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- A college student returning to school after the winter break fell victim to a prank at Philadelphia's airport by a Transportation Security Administration worker who pretended to plant a plastic bag of white powder in her carryon luggage.

The worker is no longer employed by the TSA after the incident this month, a spokeswoman said.

Rebecca Solomon, 22, a University of Michigan student, wrote in a column for her campus newspaper that she was having her bags screened on Jan. 5 before her flight to Detroit when the employee stopped her, reached into her laptop computer bag and pulled out the plastic bag, demanding to know where she had gotten the powder.

In the Jan. 10 column for The Michigan Daily, she recounted how she struggled to come up with an explanation, wondering if it was bomb-detonating material slipped in by a terrorist or drugs put there by a smuggler.

"He let me stutter through an explanation for the longest minute of my life," Solomon wrote. "Tears streamed down my face as I pleaded with him to understand that I'd never seen this baggie before."

A short time later, she said, the worker smiled and said it was his.

The worker "waved the baggie at me and told me he was kidding, that I should've seen the look on my face," she said.

Solomon said she asked to speak to a supervisor and filled out a complaint, and during that process was told that the man was training TSA workers to detect contraband. Two days later, she said, she was told he had been disciplined.

"I had been terrified and disrespected by an airport employee," she said. "He'd joked about the least funny thing in air travel."

There was no answer Saturday at a telephone listing for Solomon at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. An e-mail message seeking comment from her was sent Saturday by The Associated Press, and a telephone message was left at her parents' home in suburban Philadelphia.

TSA spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino said late Saturday that the employee was no longer with the agency but did not say whether he had been fired or quit, referring only to "disciplinary action" taken by the TSA. She also declined to identify the worker or his job title, citing privacy laws. She said she did not know whether his actions would be subject to criminal charges.

"The behavior exhibited by this TSA employee was highly inappropriate and unprofessional," Trevino said in a statement.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Do You Groupon?

I LOVE Groupon! Groupon is a daily discounted offer that is available based on a large number of people purchasing it. If they don't reach the daily minimum purchasers, the deal doesn't happen (but that's really rare). The offers change daily and range from half-price haircuts to discounted fresh lobster from Maine to half-price stays at the Intercontinental Chicago Hotel. See the article below for all the details. There's no cost to receive the daily emails, so sign up to receive the emails and begin saving today!

You can sign up to receive Groupons for Chicago or 47 other cities, so if you're planning a trip, it's a great way to save money. Plus, Groupons don't typically expire for a 4-6 months, so you don't have to use them immediately.

I got hooked on Groupon last fall, when I found a great deal for a carriage ride in the city for up to for people for $20 (regular price $40). I purchased it (as did thousands of other people) and immediately made reservations for my family over Christmas. We'd never gone on a carriage ride before and after a great dinner at The Walnut Room and seeing all the decorated windows on State Street, we headed over to Michigan Avenue to pick up our carriage. For 30 minutes we strolled all around Michigan Avenue and the Gold Coast and Streeterville seeing all the beautiful holiday decorations. Kinda cheesy and touristy, absolutely. But we loved it and had a marvelous time. Trust me, seeing the Gold Coast and Streeterville all decorated for Christmas via an enclosed carriage under blankets was simply delightful and warm.

I've purchased a couple of other Groupons, but I'm pretty particular and only buy them when I have a need or know I will use them. The other day, I had planned to purchase the Chicago Hauntings Groupon because I'm planning a weekend in the city in the next couple of months and thought it would be fun. Unfortunately, I forgot and when I remembered, it was after midnight and the offer was off the table.

Bargain Hunters Find New Way to Save
by Kara McGuire McClatchy/Tribune Services
January 21, 2010

In the day of the ubiquitous coupon — they are everywhere from your newspaper and in-box, to Facebook and your cell phone — the last thing we seem to need is a coupon Web site.

But the site puts a new spin on saving that's caught the attention of venture capitalists and users alike. It boasts nearly 2 million subscribers nationwide.

Here's how it works: offers a single deal per day that becomes valid only when enough people buy in. Consumers drum up support for the deals using Facebook and Twitter to make sure the magic number is met. If the deal goes through, and the vast majority do, your credit card is charged, and you're e-mailed a print-out coupon to use. If the deal fails, as about one in 50 do, your card is not charged.

Since its launch 15 months ago, the company has sold 1.2 million Groupons, saving users more than $60 million. Daily deals are featured in 30 U.S. cities, with plans to add 20 more U.S. cities and locations in Canada and Europe by year-end.

Most of the businesses featured are small and locally owned. Offers tend to have a social component — dining with friends, working out, trying a new activity such as in-line skating or singing lessons.

And if you're planning a trip, you can head to Groupon for discounts as well as research on where to eat and hang out in your destination.

Founder Andrew Mason, who dropped out of graduate school at the University of Chicago to nurture the company, says Groupon is about more than saving money.

"The idea for Groupon came as a way to cut through all the noise, focus on one really interesting thing to do every day and then using a great deal through the power of collective buying to nudge consumers toward trying something," Mason said.

Michael Vanden Oever, 24, is not a coupon clipper. But he and his wife have been trying new restaurants on the cheap using the printed offers. He likes that most Groupons don't expire for months or longer and that they tend to have fewer catches.

Still, there are some. For example, the entire Groupon must be used on one visit. Taxes and gratuity aren't typically included and you usually can't buy an unlimited amount of one deal for yourself. Merchants work with Groupon to design unique deals, so details vary, and reading the fine print, as usual, is recommended.

Vanden Oever's only complaint: "I would like more offers."

But Mason is convinced that the limited nature of the deals cinch Groupon's success. Too many options, he says, and finding discounts almost becomes work. "Make it too hard and when the economy takes off, so will coupon users."

Groupon takes 30 percent to 50 percent of each deal sold. Merchants get the rest of the cash earned from the deal, new customers and a lot of exposure.

The company is on track to make more than $100 million in revenue this year. It's been profitable since June. Groupon caught the eye of venture capitalists; much of the $35 million the company has raised comes from Facebook angel investor Accel Partners.

Other entrepreneurs are launching similar concepts, including Eden Prairie, Minn.,-based, which is focused on the Twin Cities market.

Katie Greeman, owner of Spill the Wine, sold 860 Groupons on Dec. 30 for her restaurant two blocks from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For merchants, Groupons have the same appeal as gift cards — she gets the cash right away and some people never redeem them.

"For me it was just a really quick way to spread the word about who we are in a really short amount of time, with no upfront cost," Greeman said.

Think about it: E-mails go out to 43,000 people announcing the deal, friends share it on Facebook, followers retweet it on Twitter. Even if people didn't buy the Groupon, "there was potentially 100,000 people inside of one day that had Spill the Wine come across their inbox," Greeman said. And the restaurant received a $12,000 cut on top of that free advertising.

The downside? She's comping a lot of food. The deal was to spend $30 for $65 worth of food and wine. The restaurant has already given $4,550 worth of food away with only a fraction of the Groupons redeemed. But the average check has been higher. "People are ordering up … ordering maybe a nicer bottle of wine that they would normally or saying 'I'm going to get the tenderloin instead of the chicken,' " she said. She's been on the other side of the transaction too, having recently purchased dental exams for herself and her husband.

Jodi Garber of Minneapolis has Groupon to thank for a massage, a girls' night out and a spray tan for her work Christmas party. Such splurges had been sidelined after Garber, 32, became a mom, but Groupons have "made some of the perks in life a little more affordable," she said.

Garber takes advantage of a deal two to three times a week. "I would hate to see that total bill, but I love getting that bargain."

Chicago Freebies!

Do you love to be a tourist in your own town? Are you planning a trip to Chicago and wanting to take in some of the most popular destinations, but shocked by the ticket prices?

Not to worry, all the museums and other hot spots offer free days and Little Merry Sunshine has the list (just like we did in 2008). Mark your calendar now and make sure you take advantage of these freebies. If you live in the area, this is a great way to take advantage of what some of our high taxes pay for.

From The Local Tourist:

Adler Planetarium:
  • January 5, 11-15, 19, & 26
  • February 2, 8-12, 16 & 23
  • March 2, 9, 16 & 23
  • April 20 & 27
  • May 4, 11, 12, 18 & 25
  • June 7-11
  • September 7, 13 - 17, 21 & 28
  • October 5, 12, 19 & 26
  • November 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30
  • December 7, 14 & 21
Art Institute of Chicago:
  • Free Thursdays 5 to 8pm until Memorial Day and after Labor Day
  • Free in February

Chicago Children's Museum:

  • 1st Sunday of every month free admission for children 15 and under
  • Free Thursdays 5 to 8pm for everyone

Chicago History Museum:

  • Free every Monday

Field Museum of Natural History:

  • 2nd Monday of every month
  • January 13, 14, 19, 20, 26, 27
  • February 2, 3, 10, 11, 16, 17, 23, 24
  • March 2, 3
  • June 2, 3
  • August 24
  • September 15, 16, 21, 22
  • October 5, 6, 13, 14, 19, 20
  • November 2, 3, 10, 16, 17, 30
  • December 1, 7, 8, 15, 16

International Museum of Surgical Science:

  • Free on Tuesdays

Jane Addam's Hull House Museum:

  • Always Free

Loyola University Museum of Art:

  • Free on Tuesdays

Museum of Contemporary Art:

  • Free on Tuesdays

Museum of Contemporary Photography:

  • Always Free

Museum of Science & Industry:

  • January 4 - 8, 11 - 15, 18 - 22, 25 - 29
  • February 8, 14
  • March 18
  • April 19 - 23
  • May 3
  • June 7 - 11
  • August 30
  • September 7 - 14, 20, 21, 27, 28
  • October 4 - 6
  • November 11
  • December 6
  • Always free (donations accepted)
  • Free on Thursdays (donations suggested)

Shedd Aquarium:

  • January 4, 5, 11, 12, 16 - 21, 25, 26
  • February 1, 2, 8, 9, 15 - 19, 22, 23
  • June 14 - 18
  • September 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28
  • October 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
  • November 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

  • Always free

Swedish American Museum

  • Free on second Tuesday of every month

Ukrainian National Museum

  • Always free, suggested donation of $5
From the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:
The Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s training orchestra for young, preprofessional musicians, has announced its 2009-2010 season of free orchestral and chamber music performances at Symphony Center and in neighborhoods throughout Chicago.

Concerts at Symphony Hall

Music director of the Toronto Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Detroit Symphony, Peter Oundjian leads Civic for the first time on Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, at 8 p.m., in Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. The Civic Orchestra has performed this symphony only once previously, in 1991.

On Monday, March 8, 2010, at 8 p.m., Leo McFall conducts “Lullaby for Hans” by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Mark-Anthony Turnage—a tribute to his mentor Hans Werner Henze—and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5. McFall, who has studied with and assisted CSO Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink, made his Civic debut in April 2009.

Colnot returns to the podium on Monday, April 5, 2010, at 8 p.m., for a program of enchanting works, featuring Mendelssohn’s Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit” and Stravinsky’s “Le chant du rossignol” (Song of the Nightingale).

Civic’s 2009-2010 season closes Monday, May 24, 2010, at 8 p.m., with a virtuosic program led by Larry Rachleff and featuring CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto—heralding the CSO’s Beethoven Festival, which begins the following week. An integral part of the Civic training program is the opportunity for young musicians to collaborate with and learn from their professional mentors in the CSO. This concert concludes with Bartók’s great Concerto for Orchestra.

Preconcert Conversations are given before all Civic Orchestra concerts at Symphony Center, beginning 90 minutes before the performance, in Grainger Ballroom. Tickets for all Civic Orchestra concerts at Symphony Center are free but required. Seating is general admission, and there is a non-refundable $1 per-ticket service fee. Tickets for these concerts can be reserved by calling 312-294-3000.

Performances in the Community

The Civic Orchestra’s 2009-2010 season features dozens of free performances throughout the city. On Sunday, May 2, 2010, at 3 p.m., the orchestra and conductor Edwin Outwater present a free, all-Beethoven concert at South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, in anticipation of the CSO’s June 2009 Beethoven Festival. This concert also introduces pianist Adam Kim, winner of the 2009 CSO Youth Auditions, as soloist. Part of the Institute’s continuum of opportunities for active participation in music, the annual Youth Auditions identify one talented 14-to-17-year-old musician to perform with the CSO as well as with Civic and through other avenues.

Chamber ensembles from the Civic Orchestra present many free educational concerts in neighborhoods across Chicago, as part of the MusiCorps community-engagement program. MusiCorps’ “In the Park with Civic” series—free, interactive chamber concerts for families with children ages 5 and up—take place in Chicago Park District locations, including Gage, Harrison, Indian Boundary, Kosciuszko, North and Washington parks, and at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Chamber ensembles and repertoire will be announced at a later date. 

All Civic Orchestra chamber performances are free, and tickets are not required. For more information about MusiCorps’ “In the Park with Civic” concerts, please visit or call 312-294-3803.

MusiCorps is generously sponsored by United Airlines. “In the Park with Civic” is presented through a partnership with the Chicago Park District.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blogging for Choice: Trust Women

Today is the 37th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision allowing, for the first time, for safe and legal abortions all across the country. It allowed a woman to choose for herself whether to carry her pregnancy to term. The Court said, in essence, that it trusted women to control their own bodies.

I know there are millions of people who passionately believe that life begins at the moment of conception, that all abortion is murder and that abortion is immoral and goes against God's plan, and they are 100% anti-abortion in any circumstances. That's okay. Not to sound glib, but to them, I say, don't get an abortion. And it is my sincerest wish that none of those people are ever in a situation where they are faced with a decision to terminate a pregnancy for any reason.

But please trust me to know what's right for my life and my body. Please trust that I make judicious, thoughtful decisions. That I KNOW what an abortion is. That I've explored all the options. That I do not need to be condescended to by being forced into having an ultrasound prior to exercising control over my body or have a waiting period because I haven't agonized enough already.

What I know for sure is that there are many circumstances in life where being pregnant is an unduly burdensome physical health or mental health risk for the woman. What I know for sure is that not all babies are conceived out of love. Not all men are happy to discover they have helped create a child and they strike out against women either physically, verbally, or both. Rape happens. Incest happens. And even though we don't like to talk about these things and many women are afraid to ever admit they are survivors of either rape or incest or domestic violence, they happen all too often.

I've never had an abortion, but I know many women who have. These women are thoughtful women who did not make the decision to terminate a pregnancy in haste or without agonizing over it. They made their decision with the full awareness of what they were doing and why they were doing it. Their individual reasons are not important. What's important is that the decision they agonized over was ultimately right for them.

My personal belief is that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. That's right, rare. I am pro-choice, not because I think abortion is great, but because I trust women to make prudent and carefully considered decisions on what is right for their lives and because I don't pretend to know all that goes into any decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Because I trust women, I am pro-choice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's National Hugging Day!

It's National Hugging Day! In honor of this important holiday, because physical touch is important, and because I can't be there in person to hug you, cross your arms across your chest and pat yourself on the back a couple of times. You've just receive a hug from Little Merry Sunshine.

Don't forget to hug your co-workers, teammates, kids, spouses, friends, strangers on the street, clients, pets, in-laws (yes, even the ones you don't like), frenemies, mailman, garbage man, neighbors, store clerks (yes, even the grumpy ones and maybe especially the grumpy ones), professors, police officers (it probably won't get you out of that speeding ticket though) . . . . everyone you come in contact with today.

Hugs will make your day (and theirs) just a bit brighter.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mystery Edgar Allan Poe Visitor Mysteriously Disappears

I've never been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe (he's a little scary for me), but I've always been intrigued by the mysterious visitor who has visited his gravesite on the night of his birth for the past 60 years dressed in a hooded black cape and leaving a half-empty bottle of cognac and roses. The visitor always appeared between midnight and 5:30am. Last night, no one showed.

A few years ago, some girlfriends and I talked about going to Baltimore in mid-January and staking out the cemetery along with other Poe enthusiasts to watch the Poe Toaster make his annual pilgrimage. Unfortunately, we didn't make the trip.

No one knows the identity of the Poe Toaster, which makes last night's no-show even more mysterious.

Personally, I think the Poe Toaster is a grand tradition and I hope it resumes next year.

Mystery visitor to Poe's grave is a no-show; will he be seen nevermore?
Ben Nuckols & Joseph White, Associated Press Writers, January 19, 2010

BALTIMORE (AP) — It is what Edgar Allan Poe might have called "a mystery all insoluble": Every year for the past six decades, a shadowy visitor would leave roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac on Poe's grave on the anniversary of the writer's birth. This year, no one showed.

Did the mysterious "Poe toaster" meet his own mortal end? Did some kind of ghastly misfortune befall him? Will he be heard from nevermore?

"I'm confused, befuddled," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum. "I don't know what's going on."

The visitor's absence this year only deepened the mystery over his identity. One name mentioned as a possibility was that of a Baltimore poet and known prankster who died in his 60s last week. But there is little or no evidence to suggest he was the man.

Poe was the American literary master of the macabre, known for poems such as "The Raven" and grisly short stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart," ''The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." He is also credited with writing the first modern detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." He died in 1849 in Baltimore at age 40 after collapsing in a tavern.

In the history of the Poe toaster, little is certain.

The annual tribute began in 1949 — unless it started earlier, or later. The first printed reference to the tribute can be found that year in The Evening Sun of Baltimore. The newspaper mentioned "an anonymous citizen who creeps in annually to place an empty bottle (of excellent label)" against the gravestone.

Every year since 1978, Jerome has staked out the grave at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. Year after year, he said, he and various friends and Poe enthusiasts would watch from inside the Presbyterian church as a figure dressed in black, with a wide-brimmed hat and a white scarf, would leave three roses and cognac and steal away.

There is an alternative tale of the toaster's origins, one that Jerome vehemently disputes. Sam Porpora, the former historian at Westminster Hall, claimed in 2007 that he was the original Poe toaster, saying he came up with the idea in the late 1960s as a publicity stunt. But the details of Porpora's story seemed to change with each telling, and he acknowledged that someone had since made the tradition his own.

In 1993, the visitor began leaving notes, starting with one that read: "The torch will be passed." A note in 1998 indicated the originator of the tradition had died and passed it on to his two sons.

In 2001, as the Baltimore Ravens — named in honor of the bird in Poe's most famous poem — were preparing to face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, the toaster left a note that praised the Giants and said the Ravens would suffer "a thousand injuries." Then in 2004, amid tense relations between the United States and France over the invasion of Iraq, a note said Poe's grave was "no place for French cognac" and that the liquor was being left "with great reluctance."

Beyond Porpora, no one ever stepped forward to take credit for the tradition. But one name emerged Tuesday as a possible candidate: David Franks, a Baltimore poet and performance artist who died last week.

Franks was a Poe aficionado and an outrageous prankster who dressed with a "19th-century literary flair," said Rafael Alvarez, a friend of Franks and president of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

Franks once photocopied his private parts on a Xerox machine at a Social Security office and put the images on display. Decades ago, he posed as a disabled poet in a wheelchair, solicited donations from the crowd, then thanked everyone and got up and walked away.

Jerome said he doubts Franks was the toaster: "I looked at some images of him, and he doesn't look at all like the person we've seen over the years."

Alvarez also said Franks wasn't a sports fan, and "his politics were more French than American."

The toaster's annual appearance has become a pilgrimage for Poe fans, some of whom travel hundreds of miles. About three dozen stood huddled in blankets during the overnight cold Tuesday, hoping to catch a glimpse. At 5:30 a.m., Jerome emerged from the church to announce that the toaster had not arrived.

As the longtime guardian of Poe's legacy in Baltimore and the occupant of a prime viewing spot, Jerome has often had to respond to skeptics who believe he knows the Poe toaster's true identity — or is the toaster himself.

"If I was doing it, that is fraud, pure and simple. I could lose my job," Jerome said.

Jerome said the only thing he has kept secret is a signal — a gesture the toaster has predictably made each year at the grave — that even now he is not willing to reveal.

As for why the visitor didn't show this year, "you've got so many possibilities," Jerome said. "The guy had the flu, accident, too many people."

Jerome said that perhaps the visitor considered last year's elaborate 200th anniversary celebration of Poe's birth an appropriate stopping point.

"People will be asking me, 'Why do you think he stopped?'" Jerome said. "Or did he stop? We don't know if he stopped. He just didn't come this year."

How Will You Show Your Love?

Valentine's Day is right around the corner and the pressure is on to shower your beloved with the most romantic, over-the-top expression of your devotion EVER. If you think inside the box, you probably get suckered into the over-priced red roses and dinner at some 5-star restaurant where they've jacked up the prices 1000% just for the night. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Now, before you think I'm (a) not at all romantic or (b) just jaded because no one has ever done these things for me on Valentine's Day, let me assure you that I am in fact quite the romantic (possibly too romantic for my own good) and that although, it's true, no one has ever pulled out those kinds of stops for me on Valentine's Day, I am not jaded. I just believe that romance shouldn't be a one day a year expression and I also have an incredibly practical side.

I believe it's important to weave romance into everyday life. For me, romance is found in the little expressions, just as much, if not more so than the over-the-top ones. Plus, I value creativity, which is why even though White Castle isn't my thing, I think taking your beloved to White Castle could be kind of romantic. It shows you're not just using a standard playbook, but you can think outside of the box. And that's always sexy and romantic.

Show Her You Love Her - Take Her to White Castle
by Stefano Esposito, Chicago Sun-Times, January 19, 2010

You could blow a week's pay on fresh lobster, a bottle of bubbly and a quiet table with a waiter named Jean-Pierre to impress your sweetheart on Valentine's Day.

Or . . . you could surprise her with your, ah, thrift and willingness to stand out from the crowd by taking her out for the Valentine's special at your neighborhood White Castle, where, just for this occasion, they're offering a candlelit dinner, with tableside service and flowers.

They've done this before. Some people even dress up and rent a limo, says Jamie Richardson, a White Castle spokesman. They're taking reservations, too -- call (708) 458-4450, ext. 0.

One Year Later: Reflections on Change We Can Believe In

Today is the one year anniversary of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. In light of this historic day, I thought I'd finally publish my Twitterfeed from the days surrounding the inauguration. I tweeted the inauguration, just like I tweeted Election Night, and I really love looking back on this now and reliving exactly how I felt as I felt it.

We've come a long way in the last year, but we are no where near where any of us thought we'd be at this milestone. Given tonight's election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, progressives country-wide need to take this loss as a wake-up call. We don't need to go down in defeat in November, but we will if we don't get behind our candidates and rally the voters.

I'm certainly not 100% satisfied with the job performance of President Obama and I wish he'd quit pandering to the middle and the right-wing. But now we need to remember the words of the late Senator Ted Kennedy (who is surely rolling over in his grave tonight), "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die." (Speech to the 1980 Democratic National Convention)

January 18-21, 2009
  • I am gushing with gratitude and hopefulness today.
  • Watching Obamavision & am seeing a sunset behind the Lincoln Memorial more beautiful than anything I saw live in DC in the 90s.
  • I'm looking forward to a week of new beginnings in every area of my life.
  • DL Hughley struggled to say something nice & truthful re Bush & succeeded: "Pres. Bush, out of all our Presidents, you are our 43rd." LOL
  • Today is the LAST full day of the Bush Presidency! No wonder the world feels lighter today. I'm giddy with delight.
  • 22 hours and 25 minutes and then all will be right in the world.
  • 18 hours & 30 minutes left. I'm counting down the minutes!
  • 17 1/2 hours left. Will this day NEVER end???
  • I'm so giddy with anticipation for tomorrow, I feel like I did when I was 6 and anticipating Santa on Christmas Eve, except this is better!
  • WAHOO!!!!!!! It's January 20th! It's here! It's here!
  • Can't sleep and watching CNN.
  • The Mall is already close to full. 6 hrs before Inauguration. I've never seen DC like this. WOW.
  • Headed out to find a paper with just over 3 hours to go. My emotions are all over the place. It's hard not to wish I was on The Mall.
  • I wish I had words to adequately express my emotions today, but they all seem too small to do justice to how I feel.
  • @tonydornacher You're so right. We all elected him, but he can't do the work alone. We must all carry the weight of change equally.
  • Adrenalin is keeping my eyes open this morning. I was simply too giddy with anticipation to sleep last night.
  • Even Betsey and Ross seem to understand the enormity of this day.
  • It's a bright sunny day in both Chicago and DC. Is God smiling on us for finally getting it right?
  • 40 minutes left . . . . Will Bush Sr. make it down those stairs okay?
  • Look at the pride and joy of Sasha and Malia! They are simply too cute.
  • The waterworks have started. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
  • 15 minutes . . . My heart is racing.
  • I had doubts about Rick Warren speaking, but I thought he nailed it and his prayer sent chills up my spine. Oh, Aretha is going to add more.
  • What Bible is Joe Biden using?
  • It's after 12:00 and even though Barack hasn't taken the oath . . . he's now the President! President Barack Obama. Damn that sounds good.
  • And now the oath is done. It's OFFICIAL OFFICIAL. Yes We Did.
  • I loved every moment of the Inauguration, but can't believe the Chief Justice John Roberts F*d up the oath.
  • I'm watching the parade on CNN and burst into tears when President Obama got out of the motorcade.
  • I love that we have grown-ups in the White House again and can stop just fantasizing about it while watching West Wing re-runs.
  • From Tony Dornacher: @happygirl616 I wonder if they have done the dirty in the Oval Office yet? 4:25PM Jan 20th from txt in reply to happygirl616
  • @tonydornacher They're in the viewing stand watching the parade. They won't have time for the nasty til much later tonight after the Balls.
  • From Tony Dornacher: @happygirl616 I wonder if there is a code word for the Secret Service when he needs to pee or do the dirty hulla? 4:30PM Jan 20th from txt in reply to happygirl616
  • @tonydornacher I don't know. Maybe there's a special POTUS door-hanger for when they want to do the horizontal Paso Doble.
  • Despite it all, or maybe because of it all, I've spent the day wondering if I made a huge mistake.
  • From Tony Dornacher: @happygirl616 I told you voting Democratic was a bad idea. All they do is tax and spend. 6:05 PM Jan 20th from txt in reply to happygirl616
  • @tonydornacher Voting Democratic was NOT the mistake I made. But I love your sense of humor.
  • From Tony Dornacher: The Obama merchandise is everyplace I go. The only thing missing are Obama underpants. 7:15 PM Jan 20th from txt
  • @tonydornacher Well, you're just not looking hard enough for the Obama underwear!
  • I love that the Obamas seem to be bringing romance back into style. . . Hopefully, it'll trickle down for the next 4-8 years.
  • Yesterday's sunny skis & optimism replaced by gray skies & sobering reality of a recession & war. We still have hope & it's spelled OBAMA.
  • My heart is full after hearing Sharon E. Watkins deliver a sermon at Natl Prayer Service. It was moving & inspiring. Look for it on YouTube.
  • The best line of the inauguration came from @tonydornacher "Grace is the new black." Simple, profound, and true.
  • The future's so bright I gotta wear shades.

Monday, January 18, 2010

He Had A Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and gave his life for it. Whenever I think of him and this speech, I wonder if I'm living up to my own potential to make a difference in the lives of others. One of my fundamental beliefs, as I've mentioned many times, is that we all have an obligation to leave the world better than we found it. What are you doing?

Listening to this speech also reminds me that for as far as we've come in the last 47 years, and certainly by electing Barack Obama as President, we have proof of that progress, we still have a long way to go, as evidenced by some of the blatantly racist statements at the Tea Party Protests and the entire Birther Movement.

Watch the speech, be inspired, and go make the world better.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blogging for Choice

Next Friday, January 22nd, on the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I'll be Blogging for Choice.

You see, I believe that control over my own body and every woman's right to control over her body is fundamental. And for the record, for me, this has nothing to do with when life does or does not begin and at what point an embryo or fetus is a person. It's not a religious thing. It's not about whether I think abortion is right or wrong. It's about reproductive rights and it's a health care thing. And I'll be blogging about it and the Blogging for Choice topic of "What does Trust Women mean to me?" next Friday.

You can join in too. Visit NARAL Pro-Choice America for all the information, to sign up, and spread the word.

Little Merry Sunshine's Visitors

When I started Little Merry Sunshine 2 1/2 years ago, I didn't have any grand expectations for it. I thought maybe a friend or two would read it, along with my mom. Mostly, I expected that I would be writing for me and my words would just float around cyberspace with no one reading them. To this day, I'm still surprised to see that people read and care about what I have to say.

I was looking at my visitor count this morning and while Little Merry Sunshine doesn't get the web hits of say CNN or Facebook or Oprah, I have to say that I think it has a respectable following. And we're about to reach a milestone.

As of just this moment, 29,376 people have visited Little Merry Sunshine since I began tracking, which was pretty close to Day 1. We have readers from right here in my own backyard of Arlington Heights to the busy folks down in Springfield trying to straighten out Illinois' problems to Wasilla, Alaska to India to Germany to Brazil. LMS is the Big Tent every political party claims to have as our readership spans the from the ultra-liberal to the neo-conservative end of the spectrum and I welcome everyone.

Can we get to 30,000 by the end of next week?

If you read Little Merry Sunshine via email, Google Reader, or on Facebook, but don't regularly visit, would you just pop on over in the next few days and say hi? I'm curious to know what your favorite posts or topics are.

We'll have a little party when we hit 30,000 visitors. I'm in the mood for a celebration, so let's make this happen soon!

And thank you for reading Little Merry Sunshine!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pants on the Ground!

American Idol debuted this week for its 9th season. I don't watch American Idol. I don't have anything against it really, but it's just not my thing.

But for the last 24 hours on Facebook, everyone's been talking about something called "Pants on the Ground," so finally, out of curiosity, I had to Google it.

I'm sorry to do this to you, but since I can't get this song out of my head, you should get to experience the same delights.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Gift

Today I received my last Christmas present. Truthfully, I wasn't expecting this gift, which is part of what made it extra special. The best part of the gift was that the person who gave it to me had clearly put some effort into thinking about what I would like.

He remembered how much I was inspired last year by a certain story, wrote about it four times and said repeatedly that it gave me courage to quit listening to the negative voices inside my own head telling me I couldn't do things. He also saw my world rocked just a couple of months later and how I let the weight of the world be put on my shoulders and put my own dreams, hopes, and desires aside. He listened to me sob on more than one occasion when I completely broke down. He never judged me. He just kept being my friend, even when I'm not sure I deserved it.

What was this gift? It was the new CD by Susan Boyle, "I Dreamed A Dream." Honestly, I don't remember the last time I bought a CD and more than that, I don't remember the last time I sat down and listened to one from beginning to end, like I did tonight, and simply loved each and every song.

Okay, I'll grant you that not one of the songs was an original. They were all covers. Lots of artists do covers of famous songs, but they don't all hit each of them well. Susan Boyle hit every note in every song with as close to precision as I could tell.

You can listen to samples of each track on the album here. My favorite is "Who I Was Born to Be."

To be sure, 2010 is off to a great start and I'm back on track to be who I was born to be. And for those times I forget, I'll just toss in this CD and be reminded. Now I'm going to go upload it to my iPod, if I can figure out how.

What's Cooking at Little Merry Sunshine?

One of my favorite pastimes is cooking. I love trying new recipes and seeing what works and what doesn't. I enjoy learning new things in the kitchen.

I have to be honest, it's not clear where this love of cooking comes from. I recall that my mom was a pretty good cook when we were kids, but it was never something she truly loved, so she didn't spend time trying new things like I do. My dad's idea of cooking is opening up a can, tossing a frozen dinner in the microwave, or if he's being fancy, cracking the lid on the jar of Prego.

Wait, I do know where my love of cooking came from. Like so much else in my life, it came from Watervale. The summer after my sophomore year at Lake Forest College, I spent the summer working at Watervale. I worked in the kitchen, which didn't thrill me at the time because I had wanted to be a waitress (that's where the real money was and wait staff spent their days at the beach while I spent most of mine in the kitchen). On a daily basis, I made all the bread, all the salads, and all the salad dressings from scratch. I also made Creme Brulee every week, which may explain my snobbery about it now. While I didn't really appreciate it then, the culinary skills I learned that summer have really served me ever since.

Because I love to cook, I thought I'd start a new feature on Little Merry Sunshine called "What's Cooking at Little Merry Sunshine?" featuring some of the meals I've cooked or creations I've baked recently. If things turn out, I'll even share the recipes.

This week, I have been busy in the kitchen. I made Chicken Pot Pie, Spaghetti and Beef Stew, all from scratch.

Chicken Pot Pie
3 cups mixed frozen vegetables
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked & cut-up
2 cans Cream of Chicken soup
1 cup Bisquick mix
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

1. Pre-heat oven to 400.
2. Mix first 3 ingredients in a greased glass pie plate.
3. In a separate bowl, mix last 3 ingredients together. Pour over chicken mixture in pie plate.
4. Bake about 30 minutes.

All together this took about 35 minutes to make including cooking time. I served it with a salad. It easily would have fed a family a four. Mom and I had tons of leftovers. I think we got 3 meals for two out of it. This wasn't the best Chicken Pot Pie I've ever had because it was a bit bland, but it was quick and easy and hit the spot on a freezing cold January night.

The beef stew and spaghetti were outstanding as well. I'll share those recipes later.

Finally, I can't finish today's blog post without wishing a very happy birthday to a dear friend of mine. Words can't describe how much I treasure our friendship.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Arlington Heights Residents: The Village Needs Your Help

Do you live in the Village of Arlington Heights? If so, the Village needs your help.

From the Village of Arlington Heights website:

The Village is currently in the 5th year of the 2005-2009 Consolidated Plan and is seeking input on the development of the 2010-2014 Consolidated Plan. As part of this process, the Village is seeking public input to determine the Village’s current community needs.

The Consolidated Plan is a collaborative process whereby a community establishes a unified vision for community development actions. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that entitlement jurisdictions that receive Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds look at the community as a whole, so each community can develop a vision that addresses issues such as affordable housing, adequate infrastructure, fair housing, civic design, the environment, and economic growth. The goals of the Consolidated Plan are to provide decent housing, a suitable living environment, and expanded economic opportunities to benefit low and moderate-income residents.

The Consolidated Plan is a comprehensive 5-year planning document that identifies the overall housing and community development needs of the Village, outlines available programs and resources, and establishes a strategy for prioritizing and addressing these needs.

The deadline for having your input heard is February 15th, so pass this along to your friends and family and take 2 minutes to fill out your survey now.

Click here to take the survey.

Six Months Later

Six months ago today Nana died.

I honestly don't even recognize my life these last six months. In addition to the loss of Nana, a couple of friendships I believed were indestructible have died too. And Nana's sister, my Great Aunt Dixie died right after Christmas.

It's been a sad six months and I still cry more than I want to. The good news is that at least I can control it better now. I don't spontaneously burst into tears very often, although it happened in public just last week.

The last six months haven't been all sad though. There's been a good bit of happiness too. Because Aunt Dixie died, Mom and I went back to Batesville, Mississippi, for what will probably be the last time in both of our lives. Mom and I visited Nana's grave, shared a sliver of the last bit of fruitcake Nana ever made with her, and left a picture of Nana, Mom, Dave, and me on her grave. I got to stand there, take a deep breath and just say good-bye, like I couldn't do in July.

The highlight of that trip for me though was reuniting with my cousin Robbie. We used to be incredibly tight - she was like an older sister to me, but we had a falling out 14 years ago and hadn't spoken since. The truth is that I missed her greatly and had thought a number of times over the years that I wanted to reach out and extend an olive branch, but I never did. I was still hurt. It turns out she was still hurt too and it felt really good when we finally sat down and worked it all out while we were in Batesville.

I'm so glad Robbie and I didn't turn the page on another decade without speaking. Too much time had passed as it was and we both missed out on many things in each others lives and times when we could have used the other. I can't say our relationship is back to the way it was - 14 years don't get forgotten overnight and it hasn't even been a couple of weeks - but we're on our way.

Nana always taught me that family matters more than anything. She was right, and I know she smiled as she looked down from Heaven and saw Robbie and me making up. Come to think of it, maybe Aunt Dixie had something to do with it too. Maybe after all these years, she gave us that one final gift.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Healing Sounds of Music

When I was about 6, my mom enrolled me in piano lessons. At the time, I hated them. Mostly because I didn't like practicing. But with practice, I became okay (not great, but okay) and I stopped disliking my lessons. I think I took piano lessons until the end of 8th grade. I also sang in the church choir from 3rd grade through the end of 8th grade. I enjoyed that a lot. Finally, I took up playing the flute in 5th grade and continued until mid-way through sophomore year of high school. I enjoyed that a lot too.

Looking back, I think my enjoyment of choir and playing the flute came in part from the fact that I had a music foundation because of playing the piano. I knew how to read music - once you know all the notes, they are the same across all instruments. I understood what being "in tune" meant. I understood harmony and melody. I could keep time. The only thing I had to master was singing or actually playing the flute because I knew the theory.

Musicians have always fascinated me. I have a great deal of respect for people who have the discipline I lacked and have fully developed their musical talents. In fact, I melt for a man who plays the guitar and will sing to me. Humming works too.

Since our earliest ages, we respond to music. Most of us drifted off to sleep as babies to the soothing sounds of our parents' songs. It didn't matter if they were good or could even carry a tune. We learned our ABC's thanks to the Alphabet Song. We learned to spell thanks to music - B-I-N-G-O anyone? And where would we be without School House Rock, Sesame Street, or Mr. Rodgers? Today's kids know Barney and the Teletubbies. Yes, music was at the core of our early education and most of us not only look back fondly on these lessons, but still have the tunes stuck in our brains.

Not only is music educational, it's also therapeutic. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation.

Without question, music is fundamental.

The Music Room in Palatine is helping promote wellness and development by refurbishing and donating instruments for the developmentally disabled clients of Clearbrook in Arlington Heights. These instruments will help with improving behavior, socialization, and reducing aggression.

So if you've got some instruments in your closet gathering dust from another lifetime, give them new life by donating them to The Music Room. Your gift may just open new doors for people with few doors open to them and change their lives.