Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are You Missing Some Money?

No, that's not a rhetorical question. Actually, you may not know it, but you may actually be missing money. Really. And how cool would that be? Especially in this economy!

The State of Illinois has a whole bunch of other people's money and some of it may be yours. In fact, they're sitting on $1.4 BILLION that belongs to 60,000 Illinoisans! I don't know how long they have to hold it for you, but what I do know is that as long as the money is sitting in their coffers, it's not earning interest for you, it's not paying down your debt, it's not helping to pay for junior's college education or pay for the new furnace and it's not funding your dream vacation.

Believe it or not, the State wants to give us our money. All we have to do is claim it.

To find out whether or not the State of Illinois has any of your forgotten about money (or that of your less tech-savvy parents - seriously, I'm going to search for my parents), just visit the State's Cash Dash website. You can search the website without creating a login.

When you find that you're owed money or other property, you can file your claims online. And then, once you receive your check, don't forget to thank Little Merry Sunshine for helping to reunite you with your money.

Want more information? ABC7 had a great story about the Dash for Cash.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Next Year's Watervale Goal: Climb Baldy at Night

The view from the top of Baldy would be 1000 times better than this.

Over the last few years, as I am planning my Watervale trip, I have developed the habit of challenging myself physically. In 2004, I climbed Baldy for the first time in almost 15 years. In 2008, I learned to kayak and kayaked from Lower Herring Lake through the Outlet and over the dam to Lake Michigan and back. This year, I climbed Baldy and swam to BooHoo. Accomplishing each of these goals makes me truly proud and confident in myself.

And now, thanks to my friend Benny Jay*, who I have known for close to 20 years because he and his family have the great sense to vacation at Watervale, I know what I'm going to do next summer . . . I'm going to climb Baldy at night.

Benny Jay's daughters climbed Baldy one night while we were there. (Go read about their adventure here). Now, I will grant you, these amazing women are half my age and they run Baldy everyday, but I can do this too.

I've always wanted to climb Baldy at night, but never really let myself entertain the thought for more than a few fleeting moments because I didn't think I could. But that's the benefit of making the decision to do it now: I've got 11 months to get into shape for it and all the exercise will help me in my plan to lose weight before I turn 40 (see Bucket List Item #22).

I can only imagine the sight of a sky with a full 360 degree view of stars without the glare of lights or trees blocking the way. Maybe I'll see some shooting stars or even the Northern Lights.

Plus, I think that climbing Baldy at night may be a terrific way to celebrate my 40th birthday.

*Benny Jay is the best writer in Chicago. Seriously. He keeps all the politicians on their toes with his work for The Reader and his exposure of Mayor Daley's favorite slush fund: TIFs. In his spare time writes for the second best blog in the city, The Third City. If you're not already doing so, you should read Benny Jay's work every day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Watervale Withdrawl Disorder

I was running an errand early Friday evening when right in front of me appeared a beautiful sunset. The setting sun, unencumbered by clouds, was filling the clear blue sky with red and orange afterglow. It was stunning. Not Watervale stunning, but nice for Chicago.
My favorite Watervale 2010 Sunset picture. Nothing in Chicago compares.

As I continued to marvel at the beauty of nature, my body broke out in a cold sweat and I started to shake. My heart began to race. I started to hyperventilate.

You may be thinking that I was having a heart attack or having a seizure, but I assure you this was nothing new. This happens each time I return home from Watervale and it has a clinical name: Watervale Withdrawl Disorder™ (WWD). Anyone who's been to Watervale at least once knows what I'm talking about.

Watervale is an addiction and a heck of a habit to break.

What is Watervale Withdrawl Disorder™?

It's the whiff of fresh bread baking in the Inn as you walk through your kitchen, even though you've been home a week and haven't used the oven. It's the sight of Crème Brûlée on a restaurant menu and knowing it won't live up to Watervale Crème Brûlée (and that you don't have an awesome waiter named Pat who held one aside just for you for dessert, even though they ran out in the 6:00 dinner seating).
Not actual Watervale Crème Brûlée, although it looks very similar.

It's the feeling of sand between your toes, even though you live in a concrete jungle and never walk barefoot.
Toes in the Watervale sand. Easter Weekend 2010. Believe me, this doesn't happen in Chicago. The "sand" we have here doesn't feel as good under your toes. I don't know what it is, but it's not fine like the sand I'm used to.

It's the realization that not only do doors have locks, but you best use them. It's the phantom sound of waves lapping on the dock even though the only body of water you see is in your morning shower.

It's the throbbing and burning you get in the back of your calves when you're on the Stairmaster from Hell without the reward of the view from the top of Baldy to make the pain go away better than any pain management drug known to man.
Lake Michigan (left) and Lower Herring Lake (right) from the top of Baldy taken in April 2010. When you see this sight, suddenly you forget the burn in your calves and you can't wait to make the hike again. It's kind of like how I hear your body forgets the pain of childbirth so you'll do it again.

It's the tears that run down your face when you realize you can't go back for 11 1/2 months AND you have to make it through another Chicago winter first.

It's finding a rock that has the telltale signs of a Petosky Stone, licking it and realizing it's just a regular dirty rock.
The Petosky Stone Dave found on the face of Baldy and gave me. It's between the size of a golf ball and a baseball.

It's walking outside around midnight to stargaze and realizing that not only is Cassiopeia (aka the Watervale W™) not visible in the northeast sky, you can barely see the moon.
Cassiopeia, also known as the Watervale W™, for obvious reasons.

It's being confused when a friend invites you to go to the Outlet and you grab your bathing suit because you think you're going to the Outlet (and are pissed when you realize you're only going shopping for last season's discount clothes).
Nebraska Crossing Outlets in Nebraska (pic from Wikipedia) are definitely not . . .

. . . The Outlet.
Taken by Shari Noble, Aug. 28, 2010.
Click here for another of my favorite Outlet pictures. It truly illustrates how the Outlet links Lower Herring Lake and Lake Michigan. If you look closely, you can see Lower Herring Lake peaking out between the trees in the right half of the picture.

Unfortunately, Watervale Withdrawl Disorder™ is not curable. Of course, it's not terminal either, so there is some good news. I have found a few ways to deal with WWD including staying in close contact with Watervale friends via Facebook and in person, writing about Watervale on Little Merry Sunshine, drinking Michigan wines whenever possible, telling Watervale stories to anyone who will listen, curling up in my Watervale sweatshirts, displaying the collection of rocks I've found on the Big Beach, filling hurricane vases with Watervale sand (that I often run my fingers through) and a candle, wearing my charm bracelet filled with charms I've bought in Northern Michigan, and flipping through old scrapbooks.

Of course, the best cure for Watervale Withdrawl Disorder™ is to return to Watervale as soon as possible, which I've been trying to do a couple times a year since Dave now lives there permanently.

How do you cope with Watervale Withdrawl Disorder™?

The March on Washington Can't Be Hijacked

Today is the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and of Martin Luther King, Jr. standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial delivering his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, probably one of the greatest speeches ever given in the history of our country.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that a certain right wing propagandist is holding a rally today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial claiming he's taking back Martin Luther King's dream. I won't link to this person because I don't want to draw traffic to him through my site. You can Google him yourself or turn on any 24/7 news channel.

While he holds his rally today, take a look back at Reverend King's words, and remember that his Dream still lives and that even though we've elected an African-American president, hate and bigotry based on skin color still exists. Yes, we've come a good distance in achieving Reverend King's Dream, but we haven't come far enough, as is evidenced by the non-stop claims that President Obama is a secret Muslim and is constitutionally ineligible to hold office because he wasn't born in the United States.

It's my wish that we, as a society, could rise above the race-baiting and hate and judge people only on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (or who they sleep with for that matter).

Here's a great New York Times OpEd by Charles M. Blow called "I Had A Nightmare" that gives a great perspective on today's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington."

Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias writes on the Daily Kos today about the rally. I LOVE this post and it's why I'm voting for Giannoulias for Senate. It's well worth a read. My favorite section is below:

I dream of an America that does not depend on foreign oil and ask, why not?

I dream of an America where the prairies of Illinois are filled with wind farms and solar panels and ask, why not?

I dream of a nation where no American ever dies because of a lack of health insurance, where two people who love each other can get married no matter their gender, and where policy is shaped by principle, not campaign contributions, and I ask, why not?

That's my dream, my vision for moving our country forward, and I think a lot of you share that dream. And the only thing standing between that vision of a brilliant, 21st century America isn't a few thousand conservatives rallying in D.C.

It's us, and our willingness to get engaged, stay engaged, to elect progressive leaders and hold them accountable.

I am fired up about this election, about moving this country forward, and about taking our message directly to voters today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Coolest Week Ever and It's Only Wednesday

As you know, I do a lot of volunteering for and writing about my alma mater, Lake Forest College. I don't do it for the recognition or the fact that the president now knows me personally or even the super-cool friends I've made, although those things are nice. I do it because I love the College, I'm forever grateful for the education and life-changing experiences I received, and I want to help enable current and future Foresters to have their own ah-ha moments that stay with them forever.

Once in awhile, I get invited to participate in programs or events that I would never be able to participate in if I didn't volunteer so much. This week has given me two of those opportunities.

When I returned from Watervale last week, I received an email from Grace Groner's attorney. You remember Grace Groner. She left Lake Forest College $7million and her cottage earlier this year. Back in March, when I wrote about Grace's generosity and how much I was touched by it, Grace's attorney, Bill Marlatt commented on my post. In his email last week, he invited me to tour Grace's Cottage, as it is now known. Mr. Marlatt has updated Grace's Cottage and it will be lived in by two Groner Fellows each year.

Upon entering Grace's Cottage, I was completely humbled. As Bill and I walked through the modest (by any standards, not just Lake Forest standards) home, I could feel Grace's love and spirit in every nook and cranny. I was struck by just how modestly she lived, yet what a truly rich life she had. Although Grace never married or had children, her generosity will not only affect generations of Foresters, but her legacy will pass to the thousands (millions?) of people they will help along the way. Grace Groner is literally changing the world.

Bill shared many stories about Grace with me in the short time we were together and I was struck by how much she and I share similar values of giving back to those who helped us along the way, a love for Lake Forest College and leaving the world better than we found it. Bill told me she even had a strong interest in politics! I wish I had known Grace because I'm certain I would have loved her and she could have taught me a lot. Simply knowing about her and seeing the lives she has changed, makes me want to be a better person.

Tonight I had the opportunity to represent the Alumni Board and speak at Matriculation. It was quite a moving ceremony with numerous awards presented for student leadership, academic achievement, and faculty excellence, in addition to officially inducting the first year and transfer students into the College. It was especially honoring for me to have been asked to be the Alumni Board speaker because my cousin was sitting in the audience, as the third Gardner to attend the College. Lake Forest is truly a family affair.

Here's the text of my remarks written for me by my good friend Tim.
Greetings to the Class of 2014 from the Lake Forest College Alumni Association. My name is Jessica Gardner, and I'm a member of the Class of 1993. On behalf of the some 13,500 alumni of the College, I welcome you to our family. We take great pride in Lake Forest and the personal and academic experiences gained here. I made life-long friends during my four years here and sitting amongst you are likely to be yours, as well.

Alumni support the College with their time, talents, and gifts. You will meet many of us as you participate in Homecoming, Reunion, & Family Weekend, the Mentor Program, and the many other events in which Alumni play a crucial role. It is my hope that you will view this evening as the beginning of your life-long relationship with Lake Forest College. The Alumni will be watching your progress and cheering you on every step of the way.

Thank you.
I am so honored and humbled to have the opportunity to have these experiences this week because in my wildest imagination when I was a student, I never imagined this amazing path with the College I'd still be on almost 20 years later.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bucket List Item #61: Swim to BooHoo!

First, let me say that we need t-shirts for those of us who swim to BooHoo*. You know, like the t-shirts people have that say "I Survived the Bush Administration 2001-2009." Well, okay, not exactly like that. Swimming to BooHoo is a good thing, but you get the idea. Swimming to BooHoo is also hard work; don't listen to the folks who say it isn't. They lie.

You may recall that in my Watervale To Do List, item number 2 on my list was "swim from the dock at the Inn to BooHoo." It's also item number 61 on my Bucket List. From my very safe seat in my kitchen, this seemed like an easy and fun idea. When I arrived at Watervale and looked across the lake, however, I began to question my sanity (please keep your comments on this matter to yourself, thank you). It was much further than I remembered it and certainly appeared to be much further than the 328 yards (0.18 miles) I had heard it was. In fact, it looked to be about 10 miles. Depending on where you plan to arrive, it's actually about 1/4 mile to The Point and more than that (but less than 1/2 mile) to BooHoo. I asked Jennie and she'd know, so those numbers are as close to official as you can get.

The Point. About 1/4 mile from the dock.
(Taken from the dock with the zoom lens).

See that little sand peeking out from the trees? That's the bottom of BooHoo. Between 1/4 and 1/2 mile from the dock.
(Taken from the dock with the zoom lens).

I'm standing on the beach looking at The Point and at BooHoo. See, it's really really far - probably about 10 miles.

By Wednesday, I had worked up some of the nerve to attempt my swim and Dave agreed to spot me in the kayak, but I still wasn't sure. I had been a pretty strong swimmer as a kid, but somewhere along the way, I developed a slight fear of water that was not chlorinated or see-through and more than 12 feet deep. Lower Herring Lake definitely does not fit into that category and is 50 feet deep where I planned to swim. But I'd been talking up my swim all day, had tweeted about it and had told all of you I'd be swimming to BooHoo, so I felt some obligation to at least give it a shot. If I died or quit midway there, at least I would have tried.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. I was. I wasn't convinced I could make it without Dave pulling me a good part of the way and, of course, I had a small worry that I'd drown. About an hour before my scheduled departure time, my dad suddenly announced he didn't think I could swim across the lake. My already fragile confidence took a nose dive, especially since he said it in front of friends who'd been trying to build me up. Continuing his monologue about why I shouldn't even attempt to swim across the lake because I wasn't my brother (the super athlete), I finally turned to my dad and said "How would you know? You never let me play sports when I was a kid. I have to do this. I'm tired of living life on the sidelines and in Dave's shadow." It felt good to stand up to my father, something I rarely do.

This swim was about so much more than just swimming. It was about me overcoming fears, stepping outside of my comfort zone, proving I could achieve my goal, discovering that maybe I do have untapped athletic ability and living life fully.

I got in the water and after about 10 minutes of hemming and hawing, I was off. Most of my friends make this swim in far less than 30 minutes. It took me an hour. I'd swim awhile and then need to stop and rest. I'm not really sure how much resting I did though since I tread water the entire time. I did hold onto Dave's kayak a few times, but he never towed me. I'd just tread water and we'd talk about whatever popped into my mind. Then after a few minutes, I'd start swimming again.

The funniest part of the swim came when a woman on a paddle board almost took my head off. I was treading water, chatting with Dave, when all the sudden this paddle board ran into me. We all laughed as I darted out of the way, but Dave said he had seen it coming for a few minutes. . . the two slowest things in the lake were drawn together like magnets.

Finally, I arrived at BooHoo on my own power (as opposed to being towed in by Dave). About 50 feet from shore I had a slight panic when I developed a cramp in my chest. I stopped swimming and breathed through it until I could swim again and then I finished. The important thing is that I made it without drowning or being decapitated. I heard the song Gonna Fly Now in my head as I emerged victorious from the lake. I think I even may have imitated Rocky on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I can't be sure because it's still a little fuzzy. All I know for certain is that the grin on my face and pride in my accomplishment hasn't yet been wiped off my face.

Below is a self-drawn picture of my swim. As you can see, my internal GPS was a bit faulty and I swam way out of my way. But I did it. I wish I could say I swam back, but I didn't. I took Dave's kayak and suggested he walk or swim. He chose to walk. Next year my goal is to swim both ways in under an hour.
Click on the picture to be taken to a clearer and larger version.
Yes, I'm a natural artist. Thank you for noticing.

*BooHoo is a sand dune just across the Lower Herring Lake from the Inn at Watervale and on the way to the Outlet (the Outlet being the place where Lower Herring Lake feeds into Lake Michigan). I believe that it's officially part of Watervale property, but I'm not 100% certain. It's my understanding that BooHoo got its name from Vera Noble who, as a child would climb the face of the dune and would cry as she climbed from the sand burning her feet. Although from the dock, BooHoo is difficult to see because of the trees that have grown around it, here's a picture of what it looks like from White Owl Road.

Special thanks for believing in my ability to swim to BooHoo goes out to one of my Forever Friends who sent me a text telling me that he believed in me and knew I could swim to BooHoo. His words stayed in my head for the entire swim and kept me going when I wanted to quit or thought I was about to drown.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

M-22 . . . It's A Way of Life

A few years ago, I started seeing all sorts of paraphernalia including stickers, t-shirts, and sweatshirts sporting the M-22 road sign shield. Mostly, I was seeing it all in Northern Michigan, but every once in awhile, I would see it in Chicago and I'd just smile to myself and wonder where people were getting it because I'd never seen it in stores.

For those of you not in the know, M-22 is a state highway in Northern Michigan. It starts in Manistee when you turn left off of M-31 at the Little River Casino and continues north through many of the towns I love finally ending in Traverse City. If you've ever been to Sleeping Bear Dunes, you've driven on M-22. If you're part of the Watervale family, you know M-22 intimately and could drive it in your sleep (but I would strongly recommend against doing that).

Turning north onto M-22 means I've got about 30 minutes until I pull into Watervale. I can always instantly feel my blood pressure drop significantly as I make that turn. My stress level becomes non-existent. The air is lighter, clearer, and just smells better. Being on M-22 means I have spotty cell phone reception and have left the big city far far behind. It means dark nights lit only by God's natural nightlights, the stars that seem so close I can pull them out of the sky. It's a refreshing lack of McDonald's, Starbucks, Walmart, and chain movie theaters in favor of mom & pop restaurants and coffee shops, roadside farm stands, and the Garden Theater. No matter where you are on M-22, you're never more than a few feet from Lake Michigan, even if you can't see it.

What I've also learned about M-22, since first spotting the road sign on t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., is that the M-22 shield was adopted as the company logo for Broneah Kiteboarding based in Traverse City. In 2006, the owners wore one of their M-22 t-shirts on the cover of Traverse Magazine and their phone started ringing off the hook by readers wanting their own M-22 gear. The rest is history.

While kiteboarding isn't my thing, M-22 is. As Broneah Kiteboarding says, "M-22 is not just a road; it is a way of life."

Friday, August 20, 2010

I'm Back

Watervale was spectacular. I relaxed and enjoyed just being for a few days. I tried to stay out of touch, but I couldn't. I even managed to do 9 of the 10 things on my Watervale To Do List and the one thing I didn't do was entirely out of my control. Frankly, I'm surprised I couldn't get the Universe to cooperate and give me some Northern Lights, but I couldn't. I also didn't see the Perseid Meteor Showers, but I did sit up and watch the stars a couple of night, so that counts.

I'll write about my trip in the next couple of days. Believe me, I've got quite the tale of personal triumph to tell.

So stay tuned and tighten your seatbelt. I'm going to have quite the adventure on Sunday and I can't wait to share it with you!

In the meantime, go read the posts I wrote while I was gone . . . Breaking Boy News: A Review, Watervale 2010 Soundtrack, and The House That Built My Mom.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The House That Built My Mom

Right after Christmas, my Aunt Dixie died. She was Nana's last living sister. It wasn't entirely unexpected; she'd been doing poorly last July at Nana's funeral and pretty much went straight downhill from there.

I'll be honest, Aunt Dixie's death was bittersweet to me. On the one hand, she was the last of Nana's sisters and the last of the Greatest Generation in our family. It would not be an understatement to say she was the matriarch (or maybe more accurate to say she thought she was). Her home in Batesville, Mississippi was the gathering spot for family celebrations, tragedies, and everything in between. On the other hand, she had publicly blamed me for my parents divorce when I was 12 and I'd spent the past 25 years or so staying out of her way. As sad as her passing was, there was part of me that felt relieved and even glad.

Mom and I debated whether or not to make the 10 hour drive to Batesville, Mississippi for Aunt Dixie's funeral, but ultimately decided that we wanted to be there and as a bonus, we'd get to "celebrate" with Christmas with Nana by visiting her grave. I packed a little bite of Nana's fruitcake and one of the Christmas ornaments I'd made for my Nana-themed Christmas tree to leave at Nana's grave and off we went.


Mom was born in Oxford, Mississippi and lived in Batesville until she was 8. Nana, of course, was born and raised in Batesville, as was my grandfather Jesse, who died 10 years before I was born. Nana's sisters Johnnie and Dixie also lived most of their lives in Batesville and their children raised their kids either in Batesville or in a neighboring town. With the exception of my mom's brother Michael and his family, Dave and I were the only ones not raised at least part-time in Batesville.

Until Nana's funeral, it had been 15 years since either Mom or I had been to Batesville and we both knew this would probably be our last trip. For me, this trip was about saying goodbye to Nana in a way I hadn't had time or the emotional ability to do in July. For mom, this trip was about to be about her ability to reconcile her childhood with her present and future.


The day of Aunt Dixie's funeral, Mom and I were up and dressed early with about an hour and a half to spare before we were expected anywhere. Mom wanted to drive around and see some old "landmarks."

First, we drove to the house Nana was raised in. At least four generations of my family have lived in this house. From Big Mama (Nana's mom) to Nana and her sisters Johnnie, Dixie, and Mazie, to all four sisters and their families separately and together, to Johnnie's grandson Robert, many members of our family can count this house as "home" at one point or another. It was part of the family farm, which at some point after Aunt Johnnie's death was sold.

I remember sitting in Aunt Johnnie's kitchen when I was about 6 or 7 and feeling the house shake and hearing the dishes rattle. I turned to my mom and said, "they sure do have low flying airplanes around here," even though we were no where near an airport. As a kid growing up 15 minutes from O'Hare, it was simply the only thing I could imagine would make such a racket. Aunt Johnnie turned to me and in no uncertain terms informed me that it was a freight train and the railroad tracks were 100 yards outside her front door. She then asked my mom what kind of a child she was raising that didn't know the difference between an airplane and a freight train. The thing about Aunt Johnnie was that if you didn't know where you stood with her you were either deaf or you weren't listening.
The house that built Nana. They added on the bathroom located in the left of the picture behind the bush. Before that, they had an outhouse. The railroad tracks are 100 yards to the right of the house as you're looking at it.

Mom wanted me to see her elementary school, Batesville Elementary School, which had also been Nana's elementary school. It's been Batesville's elementary school since 1897 and occupies one entire city block.

Next, we drove by Aunt Dixie's house on Highway 6. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but on the inside, the rooms are elaborately decorated in the Federalist style, or as I affectionately refer to it, Early American Whorehouse. Honestly, I affectionately refer to it that way. In fact, there are some pieces of Nana's furniture that have been in Aunt Dixie's house for years that I'm hoping I can get because I love them. Aunt Dixie also has a huge basement that her late husband, Uncle Happy, built. We used to have the most fun family parties down there. In fact, it was in Aunt Dixie's basement, that Aunt Mazie flashed the entire family one Christmas. But I digress.

When Mom lived in Batesville, her house was located just left of Aunt Dixie's house. After Mom's family moved to Crystal Beach, Florida, they sold the house and it was moved to make way for a strip mall.

As I said, Mom's house was moved about a mile or so from its original location after it was sold. Over the year, Mom has mentioned many times that she has always wanted to go back into the house and see how it looks now. When they moved to Florida in 1956, it was a very sudden move and I don't even think Mom knew they were moving. I've always understood that they went for vacation to visit Mom's godmother and decided to stay. In fact, they left most of their furniture in Batesville because they believed they'd be back, but they never returned.

Because there were cars in the driveway, I pulled into the drive and told Mom to go knock on the door. I can't remember the last time I saw Mom move so fast as she did racing up to that door. A middle-aged woman answered and it only took a second for her to invite Mom inside, while I waited in the car. There was a part of me that wanted to see the house my grandfather built and see where my mom came from, but I knew this was really Mom's journey and worried a stranger wouldn't let two women she didn't know just roam around her house.

Mom returned about 20 minutes later with tales of how nice the woman was and how much of the house was still the same. The bookshelves my grandfather built in Mom's room were still there. The kitchen and the pantry were still the same. The owner, who it turned out was the daughter of the family that purchased the house from Nana and my grandfather, bragged to my mom about how well my grandfather built everything so only minimal work had had to be done over the years.

Getting back in the car, I could see a glow on Mom's face I hadn't seen for years. She was so happy to have been given this gift of visiting her childhood home and the only house she felt like they were a happy family in.

Having been at Mom's house in Batesville, I now have a better appreciation for the old 8mm family movies I found last summer and had converted into DVD. I can better picture these movies being filmed inside Mom's house in Batesville. This is the only video I have of my grandfather. (Get Little Merry Sunshine via email? Click here and go watch the video on Little Merry Sunshine.)

Jessica Gardner from Orange Guest on Vimeo.

Being back in Batesville was not easy. It was an emotional trip, but it was well worth the 20 hours we spent in the car. I don't know if we'll ever go back, so I'm a happy I gave Mom the time with her cousins and the opportunity to step back in time in her old home.


A few months later, I first heard the Miranda Lambert song, The House That Built Me, and it brought tears to my eyes as it took me back to that day in Batesville with Mom.

Watervale 2010 Soundtrack

This week needed a soundtrack and these are some of the songs I sang loudly as I drove to Watervale on Saturday morning. I wake up hearing singing them and fall asleep humming them. If you read Little Merry Sunshine via email, click here to visit the blog and watch the videos.

Toes by The Zac Brown Band

All Summer Long by Kid Rock

Summertime by Kenny Chesney

Water by Brad Paisley

Southern Cross by Jimmy Buffett

American Honey by Lady Antebellum

'Til Summer Comes Around by Keith Urban

Smile by Uncle Kracker

Hey Soul Sister by Train

California Gurls by Katy Perry

Katy perry - california girls music video
Uploaded by tevochannel. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Breaking Boy News: A Review

Over the last few weeks, I've fallen head over heals in love with a new blog, Breaking Boy News. I've fallen so hard, in fact, that it's often the first blog I check in the morning, and usually the last blog I check at night. I even receive tweets from BBN on my cell phone, just in case there should be Breaking Boy News midday.

Written by Cute Boy Chicago, Breaking Boy News shares the adventures of a newly single man learning how to date again in a world of text messages, Facebook, Grindr, and Gay.com. He's discovered that while many of the old rules have been tossed out, good old fashioned romance and sometimes a good old romp in the hay are always in style.

You might think a blog about dating tales written by someone having to relearn all the dating rules might have an air of bitterness to it, but in the case of Breaking Boy News, you'd be completely wrong. Cute Boy Chicago writes with great candor, sharing the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. But above all else, he writes from a place of gratitude. Gratitude for the time he had with each man, the love they shared with him, the lessons he learned, and the knowledge that with each man, he's one step closer to Mr. Right. He not only shares the wonderful highs of falling in love, but all the stumbles along the way and even the lows of a broken heart or unrequited love, as well. His vulnerability is apparent, as is his frustration and confusion sometimes, but never any animosity. He feels sincerely blessed by each man he encounters and the joy they bring into his life, if only for a brief moment. Some of the tales have made me laugh, while others made me cry, but each one has left me feeling hopeful for Cute Boy Chicago.

Cute Boy Chicago tells the tales I wish I had the courage to tell, but don't because I don't write Little Merry Sunshine anonymously and want to protect the guilty innocent. But if I did, I'd give the men in my life names just like Cute Boy Chicago does. Mine would include The Tennis Pro, Gordon Gecko, The Greek God, The Alter Boy, The Naval Officer, The Player, The Rock Star, The Singer-Songwriter, The Chef, The Farm Boy, The Politician, and The Swimmer.

Reading Breaking Boy News has opened my eyes into some of my own relationships and given me a paradigm shift in my thinking about some of them, and I'm certain you'll find some of your own past in Breaking Boy News too. I wish everyone viewed their past dates and relationships with such humor, thoughtfulness, and appreciation. The world would be a better place and the dating world would be easier and more fun. In the meantime, I'll keep reading Breaking Boy News and rooting for him to find the love of his life and I encourage you to do the same.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Watervale To Do List

Someone asked me today what I do while I'm at Watervale, so I rattled off my Watervale To Do List and thought I'd give you a peek too:
  1. Read. I'm taking 5 books: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, True Compass: A Memoir by Ted Kennedy, Best Friends by Martha Moody, Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean, and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
  2. Swim. I'm going to swim from the dock at the Inn to BooHoo (a very large sand dune, although not as high as Baldy). It's only 325 yards (0.18 miles), but it's in water where I can neither see the bottom nor touch the bottom. I'll probably swim back. I may also climb BooHoo while I'm there.
  3. Kayak. I'm going to kayak from the dock at the Inn to the Outlet like I did in 2008.
  4. Hike Baldy. Click here for the most recent Baldy hike story and pictures.
  5. Sleep on the beach.
  6. Watch sunsets.
  7. Watch the Perseid Meteor Showers.
  8. Hopefully see the Northern Lights.
  9. Hang out with friends and family.
  10. Drink some wine.
As you can see, it will be a very busy week. Before I can begin to really think about my Watervale To Do List, I have to get through this week's to do list, which is far longer.

I've got some blog posts in the works, but it may be a couple of days. Don't go anywhere.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wahoo! It's a Sales Tax Holiday!

Starting today and running through August 15th, the State of Illinois is running a Sales Tax Holiday on specific back-to-school items. Granted, it's not a full holiday on sales tax because it only applies to 5% that the State of Illinois collects (and not the other county and municipal portions of the sales tax), but 5% is 5% and every little bit helps make a difference in these economic times.

ABC7 ran a great story about it and provided the list of what's included in the Sales Tax Holiday.

Back-to-school tax holiday in effect
by Evelyn Holmes, August 6, 2010

Starting Friday morning, back-to-school shoppers can save money as the state rolls back its portion of the sales tax to help parents.

The 5-percent tax break takes effect at stores, such as Sears, that sell back-to-school supplies. It is one more back-to-school event that parents are more excited about than their kids.

Eligible items include binders, glue, pencils, notebook paper, supply boxes, writing tablets and much more. Shoppers will not get the discounts on sports equipment, art supplies, computers, computer supplies or electronics.

The 5% rollback of the state's portion of the sales tax also applies to clothing as long as each item costs less than $100.

More details on what qualifies and what doesn't:

Qualifying: Most clothing items under $100, including jeans and pants, shirts, dresses, jackets and coats, belts, etc. Bathing suits. Rain coats. School backpacks, book bags and lunch boxes. Most shoes, sandals and boots under $100, including sneakers. Many school supplies, including binders, notebook paper, pens, crayons, rulers, etc.

Not Qualifying: Umbrellas. Hair bows and barrettes; jewelry and watches; non-prescription sunglasses. Handbags, wallets and briefcases. Spiked athletic shoes. Computers and computer accessories and cell phones.

(Copyright ©2010 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

For more information on the Sales Tax Holiday, read the Illinois Department of Revenue Informational Bulletin regarding the Sales Tax Holiday. It's a little technical, but gives all the specifics.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What This Woman Really Wants Is Not A Vacuum Cleaner

Dear Oreck,

Thank you so much for including me in your current direct mail marketing campaign for your "What A Woman Really Wants Sale." (emphasis yours) You know, most campaigns are boring, use big words and don't really speak to me in a language that my female brain can understand. But you spoke my language: purses, flowers, candles, stilettos, BFFs, beauty sleep, and diamond rings. Best of all, you tell me how I can be "Queen of [My] Castle" as I spend my days cheerfully vacuuming. And you did it using the Universal Female Colors pink and green. I can't begin to thank you enough for your thoughtfulness and ability to speak to the woman of the late-1950s and early-1960s.

Oh, wait. This is 2010. Ya, so that means, I'm pretty offended.

Seriously, what are you thinking? Are you using Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to create your ad campaigns? I guess on the upside, you didn't suggest I go ask my husband if I can get a new vacuum or ask him to buy me one because I haven't burned dinner this week. Do you really think that I can only be inspired to make a purchase when your ad dangles graphics of purses, stilettos, flowers, and diamond rings in it? Do you think I'm that simple and shallow?

Let me tell you that I'm not so simple, shallow, and easily persuaded. In fact, your marketing campaign, while it succeeded in getting me to talk about it (congratulations on that), has completely turned me off to your company. It turned me off because now when I think "Oreck," I'll think "The Company That Talks to Women Like We're Idiots." And that's kinda bad.

Shall we take a look at your flier and point out all the ways in which it's sexist?

Notice how the cover doesn't even have a vacuum on it. It's got a purse with a flower and offers me some free votive candles if I try the Oreck Edge. Evidently, it doesn't matter what the Oreck Edge is because what's important to me, as a woman, obviously, is free votive candles. Do you see the little white graphics of rings, purses, birds, gloves, buttons, hats, safety pins, perfume bottles, and tiaras?

On the inside of the front cover, I learn what the Oreck Edge is and how it will make me Queen of My Castle, complete with a tiara graphic! Note to Oreck: I HAVE a tiara. Two, in fact, but I don't wear them while I clean and vacuuming doesn't make me feel like a queen. What would make me feel like a queen, actually, would be having someone else clean my house. Like maybe my husband. (Ya, that statement just made a whole lotta single men line up to marry me!).

Notice the cute play on words with the graphic of the stiletto . . . Get it? HIGH hopes and the HIGH heel stiletto? Clever.

I am so grateful to Oreck for reminding me (and all women) that when we accepted (or accept in the future) that diamond ring and said our "I Do's," what we are really agreeing to is a life of vacuuming and servitude to our husbands. I also LOVE the reference to the "magic wand" in the ad. If I had a magic wand, I would wave it and I'd never have to clean again.

Finally, I love how using Oreck products is going to allow me to get more "beauty sleep" and my vacuum will be my BFF.

While the name of my blog is Little Merry Sunshine, I'm anything but stupid, simple, or shallow. In the future, I'd appreciate being spoken to and advertised to in a way that respects my intelligence. Until then, I'll stick with Hoover.

Little Merry Sunshine

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The World's Greatest Pizza

When I walked out into the garden today, I discovered that the one red Beef Master Tomato was ripe and calling to be eaten.

Looking around at what was in my pantry, I quickly realized I had all the ingredients for the perfect Tomato Basil Pizza. I grabbed the tomato, picked some fresh basil, and in about 15 minutes, I had what can only be described as the best pizza I've ever eaten.

Here's the basil . . .
I may have to learn to make pesto this year with all the Basil I've got.

Here's the beautiful Beef Master Tomato . . .

Sliced in half . . .
The Beef Master Tomato was so juicy, I could have eaten it like an apple, but I decided to only use half tonight and save the other half for a Tomato Sandwich tomorrow.

I used a Boboli individual pizza crust and sauce, along with a little mozzarella cheese. Here's the finished product before cooking . . .

9 minutes later here's the finished product . . .

Doesn't that look spectacular? The best part is that I grew the Tomato and Basil myself without the use of pesticides. I don't mean to brag, but my pizza beat the pants off any of the so-called 25 Best Pizzas in Chicago. I'm just sayin'.