Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Will & Kate Wanna Live Like Me!

So I hear that Prince William and his fiance Kate Middleton want to live like "normal" people and have decided to forgo the traditional royal staff. For comparisons sake, Prince Charles has a staff of 150 personal servants. Honestly, how does he manage with such a small staff? Oh, sorry, I digress.

I think it's terrific that Will and Kate want to be like me. How about we trade places? They can live like me and I'll try to live the life they lead.

Certainly, life can't get much more normal than mine...

  • I make my own bed.
  • I do my own laundry.
  • I scrub toilets, scoop cat litter, wash windows, vacuum, dust, mop the floor, and do dishes.
  • I run a successful business.
  • I sit on two boards and spend a good amount of time volunteering.
  • I clip coupons, do my own grocery shopping, and my own cooking.
  • I live on a (tight) budget and space out bills during the month so I always have plenty of money.
  • I use Freecycle where one person's trash really is another's treasure.
  • I take care of my mom and used to help take care of Nana.
  • I shop the clearance rack and almost never wear designer or pay full price for clothes (or much else).
  • I drive an 11 year old car (well, okay, it's practically new, but still) and before that, I drove a 15 year old car.
  • I shovel my own snow, mow my own lawn, and plant my vegetable garden to live healthier and keep my grocery bills down. I also personally weed said garden.
  • When I go to a concert or sporting event, I rarely have "great" seats and certainly never a reserved box just for me (although, I'm open to it).
  • Paparazzi never follow me around and I don't have a stylist to make sure I am never a fashion "don't" (and if you could have seen me the last 2 weeks, trust me you'd say I needed a stylist).
  • I fly like cattle on mass market airlines, always in the economy class and I take public transportation.
  • If I ever get married, I will have a very simple ceremony and honeymoon. Me, my fiance, and a minister or justice of the peace on a beach is my style.
  • I even write my own blog, write my own Tweets, and communicate personally with my friends on Facebook.

The only thing I have staff for (and it's not even regular staff) is to wake me up in the morning when I've had an especially long night or cannot miss something super early in the morning. But most days, I have to set my own alarm clock.

Will & Kate just let me know when you'd like to change lives. I'm happy to loan out mine for awhile. Otherwise, please stop pretending that you live like normal people.

I'm not complaining. I love my life. Most days. Just like most people, I think. I just think it's funny that two people who obviously know nothing about how most of the world lives (and I realize that I live far better than most of the world) think they are "normal" by forgoing an army of personal servants to do everything from change the roll of toilet paper to fly their personal plane.

All of this said, I'd venture to guess that when Will and Kate takeover my life, they'll be pleased with the assortment of china and silver I have. I seem to inherited an unreal amount of china sets and silver services. Where they all came from, I have no idea. But they'd only have to eat on the same dishes and use the same flatware once every couple of weeks.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Gifts From Nana

As I work to clean out her house and must decide what goes where and to whom and what is garbage, I obviously can't help but think about the life Nana lived. And especially today, on Christmas Eve, I can't help but think about all the wonderful gifts, both tangible and intangible, she gave me over the years.

When I was a kid, Nana made many of my clothes and they were appropriately 1970s stylish (and now you know why there aren't too many pics of me from the 1970s on LMS). Each year, however, I'd receive a very special dress for Christmas that she and my mom would have made together. That was no small feat, considering we lived in Chicago and Nana lived in Florida. The dresses were exquisitely sewn and always fit me to a T. My favorite a red velvet knee length dress with a white lace bib. I can still remember wearing it and feeling like the prettiest girl in the world (with a horrible Dorothy Hamill haircut).

A number of years later, either while I was in college or shortly after I graduated and was living in Washington DC, we were celebrating Christmas in Batesville, MS with all the extended family. All of Nana's sisters were there and all of their kids, grandkids, and maybe even a great-grandkid. There must have been 50 or more of us. Anyway, we were sitting around the tree on Christmas morning and everyone was opening their gifts. Nana handed Mom, Dave, and me each an envelope and when we opened it, we discovered that she had given each of us our own cemetery plot in Batesville, Mississippi! On top of that, she had also purchased one for my dad. Even though my parents had been divorced for 10 years or so, clearly indicating they didn't want to be together during this lifetime, she seemed to believe they wanted to spend eternity lying next to each other. I love her optimism. Unfortunately, none of us wants to be buried in Batesville (I plan to be cremated and have my ashes turned into diamonds and distributed to my loved ones. Yes, you're on the list. You're welcome.)

My favorite gift, however, arrived in 2002. Nana had just gone blind and was fighting to prove that although she couldn't see, she remained just as independent and capable as she'd ever been. Needless to say, she fought hard. 85 years of taking care of everyone wasn't going to end just because she couldn't see.

Just before church on Christmas Eve, Nana came down stairs holding 3 check boxes and asked me to wrap them. This had always been our routine and this year was no different. She would hand me gifts, tell me for whom each gift was meant, and I would wrap them without ever peeking. Frankly, the boxes felt empty, but I dared not say a word. I carefully wrapped and tagged the boxes and gave them back to her in the order she gave them to me.

The next morning, after gifts had been opened, Nana, pulled out the three boxes and beaming with pride, correctly passed them out. Mom, Dave, and I each opened our boxes and burst out laughing. You could see the look of distress as the pride rushed from her face. What could possibly be so gut-wrenching funny about money, I'm sure she wondered.

Having worked in a bank for 40 years, Nana could write a check blind and she had. The only problem was that rather than writing us checks that we could cash, she wrote out the checks on deposit slips. Had we overlaid the deposit slip onto the check and held it up to the light, all of the information would have proven to have been placed correctly on the check, but the "checks" were, of course, uncashable in that form.

As soon as we explained what she'd done and how much we appreciated her gesture, she joined in on the laugh. I think I still have my 2002 Christmas "check" somewhere. In fact, it was the last gift she gave me completely on her own without my mom's assistance.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Tag

I was tagged in a fun Christmas blog post by my college friend, Sonya, over at Under the Desert Sky. If you don't read her fabulous blog you should. I haven't led you astray before, so you can trust that I won't now.

I honestly haven't been feeling all that Christmasy, so hopefully, this will put me back in the mood. I was in the Christmas spirit, but it left on Sunday.

1. When do you usually know it's the holidays?
I can't believe I'm going to plug this, but I know it's the holidays when I see Santa in his sleigh at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I actually sit in front of the tv in my pj's watching the parade, just like I did when I was a kid, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa. It's the only thing Macy's does, in my opinion, that's worth anything. Of course, as an adult, who usually hosts Thanksgiving dinner, I'm also usually cooking while I watch.

2. What do you want for Christmas this year?
Hmmmm...this is tough. I got myself the last 3 seasons of The West Wing on Thanksgiving, while I was cooking and watching the above-mentioned parade because I was able to purchase all three for less than what one season normally sells for. Thanks Amazon! Beyond that, there's really nothing I need and I never feel comfortable saying I just want something to someone, unless I'm jokingly saying I want a $3million bra (surprisingly, I didn't get that...hint...hint...hint). A few years ago, I wrote Santa a letter. It's on Little Merry Sunshine and you can search for it. Needless to say, Santa still hasn't delivered.

3. Do you go all out with decorations?
Yes. Outside lights. A tree with a unique theme each year. Decorations in almost every room, including the bathrooms. I'm all about the Christmas decorations. That said, this year, I held back because there's just too much going on personally to tackle that as well.

4. What are you doing Christmas Eve?
Going to the grocery store, Enterprise Rent-a-car, Home Depot and then either cleaning the garage or painting the eves. Really.

I also made early dinner reservations at The Olde Schoolhouse, which was formerly the one-room school house my grandfather, Jesse, attended. Don't tell my mom about that though. It's a surprise. And then we'll go to church where we'll sit in Nana's pew. After church, we'll probably drive around Palm Harbor looking at all the Christmas lights. There are a few neighborhoods that go all out. Everyone in the neighborhood decorates their house in a completely over-the-top manner. I'll take pictures.

5. What are you doing Christmas Day?
Packing my mom to move back to Chicago and continuing to clean out Nana's house. There's a chance we may drive over to Lakeland to see my mom's alma mater, Florida Southern College, although I doubt it.

Earlier in the year, I declared that we would not be exchanging Christmas gifts this year because of this trip. Evidently, some people (aka Dave) didn't follow those instructions. Unfortunately, the company he ordered my gift from printed what it was all over the outside of the box, so I know what it is. Fortunately, I'm truly excited to have a composter. Yes, really. I've wanted one for a long time. It's a gift only my brother could give me. It's okay that he broke disobeyed my edict. I got Dave and Mom a few gifts as well.

6. It's Christmas time. What are you reading?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It's on my top 10 list of all-time favorite books, but I hadn't read it in years. I picked it up a couple of weeks ago and keep wishing I had more time to read it. The book starts on Christmas Eve, so it's sort of a Christmas book.

7. Favorite movie to watch during the holidays?
That's easy. It's A Wonderful Life. I watch it every year and cry at exactly the same spots.

8. Favorite Christmas song?
O Holy Night sung by Celine Dion. Wow. It takes my breath away each time. O Come All Ye Faithful is a close second, with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah right on its tails. I also love Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg. I just read the story behind the song and now I know why I love it so much. Anyone who's ever been in love has had this experience, whether it happened at Christmas or not.

9. Favorite holiday drink?
At my annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party, I always serve a drink I had in The Walnut Room the last year it was Marshall Field's: a Fieldtini. It's green. Go figure. It's completely over-the-top, but wonderful.

10. How is your Christmas shopping going?
It's been done for ages because I hardly did any. I made 35 of Nana's fruitcakes, which have all been distributed and loved by each recipient. Well, except one, but that's okay.

11. If you could spend Christmas Day anywhere else, where would you spend it?
I have these wonderful memories of Christmas at the Northbrook home of my Gardner grandparents when I was little. All the cousins, aunts, uncles and extended family was there every year. It was so much fun getting us all around Grandma's dining room table (there was never a kid's table). I miss those big family Christmas's.

For many of the last 30 years, except for the Christmas' we spent in Batesville, Mississippi, Christmas has been Dave, my mom, and me, but for many of the last 10 years, it's been mostly just Dave and me or just me. They've been okay, but to me, the holidays are about family and it's tough being separated from them. I'm thrilled that Dave, mom and I are together this year and we sort of have Nana with us, even if it won't be a traditional Christmas.

12. Any holiday traditions?
Church on Christmas Eve. Nana's fruitcake. I always work really hard to make Christmas special for the people I love, whether it's a gift that has special meaning, making their favorite food, or spending extra time with them. Reading the Luke 2:1-20 version of the Christmas Story. It always chokes me up. On Christmas morning, we always open stockings first. I have it on good authority that Santa is leaving stockings at my house this year, but I probably shouldn't talk about it.

13. Favorite thing about the holidays?
My favorite part of the holidays is the religious services. I know that sounds odd since I don't go to church very often and I'm not deeply religious, but I just love all of the Advent and Christmas services.

That's it. Hopefully, next year, I'll feel more Christmasy.

Who to tag...
Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein from Monkey Muck
Barrie Spang from Barrie Briggs Spang
Susan at Yeah, And Another Thing

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Letters to Nana

Today as I was working on cleaning out Nana's house (it seems like a never-ending process), I found two letters, one each from Dave and me, she'd saved for almost 30 years.

First mine. To set it up, I typed it in 1985, when I was a high shool freshman. I took typing as an elective my first semester and it looks like I typed it at school.
November 3, 1985

Dear Nana,

How are you? I'm fine. School is a lot of fun! I really like it. My classes are pretty interesting and my teachers aren't bad either. My favorite classes are French 1 and Geometry Fast. I'm getting an A in French and a B in Geometry, but it's 2% points from an A. I was pretty happy about the rest of my grades too. They got me on the
honor roll.

David's were just as good as mine, if not better. He made the honor roll too. He got straight B's, which is about what I got my first nine weeks in junior high. He was pretty proud. Soccer is over for the fall season. Now he's playing basketball. He's pretty good at it too. Winter soccer starts sometime next month. He's looking forward to it.

Mom starts work tomorrow, and is looking forward to it, I think. I know she is nervous, but she will do fine. I know I'm looking forward to it. Sometimes we get on each others nerves. I know she is going to do a great job in commercial real estate. I'm really proud of my mom, she always does a great job in whatever she tries to do. It isn't whether or not people like what she does, it's whether or not she keeps trying until someone realizes that she has good ideas. My mom is not a quitter. She keeps working hard for what she believes in. I'm very proud of her!

Marching band is now over for the fall season. It's very cold and no one likes marching in the cold. At our last competition, we received 4th place for marching and music out of 11 bands that were there. We got 1st place out of 180 marching units for festival spirit, which we didn't even work on. It was a fall festival for the town of Sycamore, IL. We won because of our wonderful use of colors. Our school colors are brown and orange, so we all had on brown and orange and had lots of festival spirit!



Obviously, then, like now, I wasn't afraid to say exactly what I was thinking.

David's letter was written 11 years later and was a postcard from Hawaii. If I remember correctly, this was when he was living in San Francisco and he and his roommates flew to Hawaii for a last-minute getaway. My favorite part is that rather than addressing it "Mrs. Frances Paulk" at her post office box, he simply addressed it "Nana" at her PO box.


I knew I got a postcard for you. I cleaned my room today and found it. I'm sorry I didn't send it from Hawaii. I went to this spot. The picture doesn't do it justice. And it's too bad you can't see the trail that takes you out to this point. That was just as amazing as the point. It was very narrow and surrounded by a thick rainforest.

I love you Nana.


She didn't save all the letters we sent, so I guess these especially touched
her. I know they touched me reading them today.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus Flash Mob

Almost nothing puts me in the Christmas Spirit like Handel's Messiah and especially the Hallelujah Chorus. I've been privileged to hear Messiah at the Washington National Cathedral twice while I lived there and can honestly tell you that no other performance compares.

Until now.

Today I heard about the Hallelujah Chorus performed by a flash mob at the Welland Seaway Mall food court.

You simply must watch the video below to the end. If it doesn't put you in the Christmas Spirit, then I don't know what will. As always, if you read Little Merry Sunshine via email, make sure you visit the blog to watch the video.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hey! The Elgin-O'Hare Doesn't Go to Either Place!

If you drive in the Chicago Area, you know that once in awhile traffic can be a little frustrating. Reporters talk about things like the Hillside Strangler, the Merge, the Spaghetti Bowl, Hubbard's Cave, and other places you'll never find on a map. To make life more difficult, they give you times between all of these mystery locations. It's all fine and good to know that it'll take you 90 minutes to get between the Circle and Hubbard's Cave, but if you don't know what or where those are, you may as well have just been told how long it takes to fly to the moon.

In her new report, Decoding Chicago Traffic Reports, Sarah Jindra of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station, has come to your rescue and unraveled the mystery that is Chicago's roads for us. She explains what and where each road is located, what the base times are, and answers all of our traffic questions. Note to WBEZ: Give Sarah a huge raise for this gift to Chicagoans.

Print it out and memorize it. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How Will You Celebrate the Winter Solstice & Lunar Eclipse?

Phases of 1993 Total Lunar Eclipse. From

For the first time in 456 years, there will be a full lunar eclipse on the day of the Winter Solstice, which happens to be Tuesday, December 21st. While you may be thinking it's no big deal, a lot of people, including me, think it is.

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year with only 9 hours, 7 minutes, and 56 seconds of daylight in Chicago. It also marks the beginning of days getting longer, which is always a good thing, in my book. And this year, the moon will play a huge role in it.

You'll have to stay up late Monday night to see it, but given that this phenomena hasn't happened since AD 1554, it's less than a once in a lifetime occurrence and you don't want to miss it.

If you're in Chicago, I encourage you to attend the Adler Planetarium's free Total Lunar Eclipse Party starting at 11pm Monday. Although lunar eclipse's happen about once a year, Chicagoans haven't seen one since 2008 and won't see another one until 2014.

Me? I'll be watching. I wouldn't miss it for anything.

There's no word on whether Bonnie Tyler will provide a soundtrack for the event.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Little Merry Sunshine 3rd Annual Holiday Gift Guide

As in previous years, Little Merry Sunshine is pleased to present our annual Gift Giving Guide (click here and here for previous gift guides).

Instant Underpants
While I can see some usefulness in this product if you're in need of a quick change or if you happened to accidentally walk out of the house commando, I never want to put on a pair of wet undies. Once you soak them in water, how long does it take them to dry? I love the website's motto: "It's better to have damp underpants than no underpants at all!" Um, okay, sure.*
*Oddly enough, I could have used these on Saturday night when I took that big spill in the puddle.

Terry the Swearing Turtle
This is probably not the talking toy you want to give your kids, but it's sure to provide hours of hilarious fun for all. With 25 shocking outbursts, Terry is probably also educational. h/t to my cousin-in-law David.
Here's a video demo of Terry's foul mouth. As always, if you read LMS via email, click here to visit the site and watch the video, which is really NSFW or anyone with sensitive ears. Trust me.

Playmobil Security Checkpoint
Do you think that today's generation of kids will grow up playing TSA Agent, rather than Doctor? If you give your kids this cool Playmobil Security Checkpoint toy, they're sure to imitate their favorite TSA agent in no time! Disposable rubber gloves for the enhanced pat downs don't seem to be included.
Mr. Bacon vs Monsieur Tofu Bendie Action Figure Set
My bacon loving friends will tell you that Bacon wins hands down every time, but my vegetarian friends insist that Tofu's got it going on. With the Mr. Bacon vs. Monsieur Tofu Bendie Action Figure Set, you get to decide and it can be different every time!
Squirrel Feet Earrings & Necklace
Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but "real recycled taxidermy" squirrel feet unquestionably tell her how you really feel. There will be no question of your feelings when she eagerly and carefully unwraps the small, beautifully wrapped box on Christmas morning containing these gems. Tears will surely be involved. Plus, with Squirrel Feel Jewelry, you don't have to worry that you mistakenly bought blood diamonds. I'd like to say that no squirrels were hurt in the making of this jewelry, but I don't see the PETA seal of approval anywhere.

The Manslator
Men, do you ever wonder what your woman really means when she tells you something? You want to believe that she can be taken at face value, but sometimes you have this gut feeling there's a hidden message, right? Thanks to the Manslator*, you no longer have to wonder. No, I don't know if there's an iPhone app for this. Sorry.

*I'm including this important gift for a two reasons (in no particular order): (1) I've heard that many men failed their "woman to English" translation class in high school (not that I've ever met any) and (2) it can also be used for women to translate what men are really saying (not that it's all that complicated). Don't hate me by saying this gift is sexist. I didn't create it. I'm just letting you know it exists.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Bruised Ego + Bloody Knees = A Great Night

Tonight was the annual holiday reception at Lake Forest College. It's always one of my favorite events hosted by President Schutt for the Trustees, Alumni Board, faculty and staff. It's held at the Glen Rowan House, which is an historic beautiful old Lake Forest estate donated to the College many years ago. It's decorated for the holidays by the Deerpath Garden Club of Lake Forest and the food is always fabulous as well. I love getting the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with so many wonderful people I volunteer with all year long and always make sure to attend.

I arrived on campus on time, parked across Sheridan Road from Glen Rowan House and waited for the shuttle so I could avoid walking in the rain. A few moments after my arrival, my former Multi-variable Calculus professor (now retired), Bob Troyer, and his wife got out of their car, offered to share their umbrella with me, and we began to walk over to the party. Fortunately, Professor Troyer didn't remember me and that he'd failed me almost 20 years ago and I didn't mention it as we got reacquainted and made small talk during our walk.

We crossed Sheridan Road and made our way toward Glen Rowan on the sidewalk. Just as we approached the driveway there was a huge puddle that I couldn't avoid without walking in the mud and snow. Feeling I'd be on shaky ground in heels in the mud and snow, I forged ahead through the puddle. Unfortunately, the sidewalk was uneven as it joined the driveway, I lost my balance and fell flat on my face in front of my former professor and the College's security force.

Face down in the puddle, security immediately helped me up and wanted to know if I was okay or if I needed medical attention. As far as I could tell at that moment, other than being soaked from head to toe, only my ego was bruised. What I couldn't figure out though was how to walk into this crowded party looking like I'd just lost at mud wrestling and asked security to take me to my car so I could go home.

For the first and only time in my life, I sat in the back of a squad car as I was taken back to my car, humiliated. I started texting friends to see if anyone could help me fix myself up so I could show my face again on campus. When no one responded, I sent a couple of texts making my apologies, explaining what happened, and that I was going home.

While I was sitting in my car catching my breath before driving home, a friend who lives in Lake Forest called me back saying he wasn't home, but could go home and help me out. I thanked him, but said I'd made up my mind to go home. We hung up and I sat in my car with a few tears of shame running down my face and pondered what to do. I really wanted to go to the party, but didn't want to go in the shape I was in. In preparation for the 30 minute drive home, I decided to take off my coat so I wasn't sitting in a pool of dirty water. Standing outside my car, I realized that while the bottom half of my dress and coat were soaked and both knees were very bloody, the top half of my outfit was fine. I realized that maybe the night could be salvaged after all and decided to go back to the party.

I sent my friend Derek a text saying I was on my way, but needed a first aid kit. When I walked in the door, Derek had it waiting for me and once I cleaned myself up, no one knew what had happened.

About an hour later, I ran into Professor Troyer and his wife. They saw me across the room and immediately made a beeline to tell me how happy they were that I'd come back. As we stood chatting, I looked at Professor Troyer and said the greatest lesson I ever learned at the College was how to pick myself up after falling down and that lesson stuck with me all these years later. I may have been mortified, but I wasn't going to let a lost earring, blood knees, and soaked dress stop me from having a good time. He said he agreed that learning how to recover from falling down (literally or figuratively) was an important life lesson.

What I didn't tell Professor Troyer was that by giving me an F in Multi-variable Calculus all those years ago, he'd been the one to teach me that lesson. I didn't know I'd failed his class (or even come close to failing) until my grades arrived on Christmas Eve. As a result of the F, I got fired from my job as a Resident Assistant, had to find new housing on campus (I had to give up the RA room I had and as an upper-classman couldn't live in the freshman dorm) and new job, and was forced to take summer school rather than spend the summer working at Watervale.

Almost 20 years ago, I had to figure out how to get back up after the first failure of my life and the public embarrassment of losing a great deal that was important to me. Tonight I got to relearn the lesson of how to gracefully get up after literally falling flat on my face. And just like 20 years ago, I had wonderful friends around to help me brush off my knees and ego, get me a glass of wine, and laugh with me at the moment I needed it most.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

i like my body when it is with your

I really enjoy reading ee cummings. I became a fan in high school in an American Literature class. ee cummings poetry was the first poetry I "got." Earlier tonight, a blog buddy of mine posted the poem below on her fabulous blog Bethany's World. It's one of my personal favorites for many reasons.

i like my body when it is with your

-ee cummings

Give The Gift of Literacy This Christmas

When I was little I was read to non-stop. Seriously. Just ask my parents. They would go hoarse at night from reading to me. I had a minimum of half a dozen stories read to me each night before I would consider falling asleep. To their credit, they happily (if wearily) obliged my love for reading (well, being read to).

My favorite story was Twas The Night Before Christmas and it didn't matter what time of year it was, I had to hear it every single night. One night when I was about 2, my dad walked into my room and found me sitting on my bed reading Twas The Night Before Christmas aloud to my dolls. He knew I was reading because I was turning the pages at the correct places. After the initial excitement of thinking they had the smartest child in the world on their hands, it turned out that I wasn't actually reading, but had memorized the book.

To this day, reading remains one of my favorite pastimes. Unfortunately, I don't do it as much as I used to, but I've been known to read between 6 and 10 books during a week of vacation.

Recently, I found my collection of Little House on the Prairie books (all hardcovers) and I'm falling in love with the Ingalls' family all over again.

I share this story because in today's Ask Amy column in the Chicago Tribune, I came across what I believe to be the best idea for a Christmas gift and I'm sharing it with you.
New Holiday Tradition Revolves Around Reading
Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2010
Dear Readers: My first book was Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham." My family's copy landed in my hands after my older siblings had practically read the covers off of it.
My mother read it aloud to me (repeatedly) until I finally unlocked the code and started to read by myself.

Everybody has a first book — or, rather, everybody should have a first book.

Unfortunately, in a season that has already seen record-setting pre-orders for a video game, statistics on reading and literacy are alarming:

According to literacy organizations, less than half of young children in this country are read to regularly.

A high percentage of American families have no children's books in the home.

This holiday season I am putting my column where my heart is, and so I'm asking "Ask Amy" readers to celebrate by giving a book to a child, through a homegrown campaign called, "A Book on Every Bed."

Here's how it works:

Take a book.

Wrap it.

Place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing she sees on Christmas morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate).

That's it.

I'm working with the Family Reading Partnership, a literacy organization in my hometown of Ithaca, N.Y., to spread the word about the importance of reading with children.

A million stories: Our goal is for a million American children to wake up to a wrapped book on their beds.

This is not a fundraising appeal. This is not about buying books (the book you give can be passed down).

"A Book on Every Bed" is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. We also want to encourage families to share books by reading aloud.

Santa brings a Pulitzer: This idea was inspired by one of America's favorite writers.

Historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough says that every Christmas morning during his childhood, he woke up to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed, left by Santa.

McCullough's children (and now grandchildren) are also recipients of this literary largesse, creating a wonderful tradition.

When he heard about this effort, Mr. McCullough e-mailed me: "There are few things that start the day off better, and especially on Christmas, than discovering a new book at the foot of your bed.

"I think my love of books began on Christmas mornings long ago and the love has never gone stale."

Start a tradition: My hope is that other families will enjoy a tradition that revolves around reading together.

I further hope that librarians, teachers, bookstore owners and literacy advocates spread this idea as far and wide as it will go, making it possible for any family that wants a child to receive a book to get one.

Reading is a vital life skill. Reading leads to a life filled with ideas, feelings and creative expressions.

Reading will make you smart. It will also make you less lonely, because a person with a book is never alone.

Books can be lifelong friends — ready to be opened when a person has an extra minute in the carpool line, or stacked in an unruly pile next to the bed, awaiting that next dark night of the soul — when a reader craves illumination and the company of beloved characters.

Literacy starts early: Thoughtful parents introduce books very early in life. They read to their own bellies while pregnant, let their infants chew on cardboard books and encourage their toddlers to leaf through picture books.

Kids who grow up surrounded by books and stories have a leg up in life. Because children who love books grow up to be good and attentive listeners. And kids who read for pleasure have ready access to heroes.

Wrap and read it together: This is a simple concept with one big goal: to raise and foster a generation of readers.

I would love to hear (and share) your ideas and stories of book giving and receiving — before, during and after the holiday season. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and through the address below.

Readers can also see a home video of me reading with my favorite toddler; posted on
So that's it. Give your favorite kid(s) a book this Christmas. Unlock a whole new world for them. I suggest giving your favorite childhood book or Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer (here and here too for my perspective on it).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Was Today The Day The Music Really Died?

Thirty years ago today, John Lennon was shot and killed. I was 9 and don't think I even knew the name John Lennon. I knew Elvis and remember where I was when he died because my parents listened to Elvis, but I don't recall them listening to the Beatles.

So I can't tell you that I grew up loving the Beatles because I didn't. In fact, it's just been the last few years I have come to appreciate their music and the full impact they had on the world.

In honor of John Lennon's death, I give you my two favorite songs by John Lennon and the Beatles (there's one of each before someone emails and says "The group isn't 'John Lennon and the Beatles! It's just The Beatles.'")

If you read LMS via email, I encourage you to visit the blog and watch the videos. One of you especially. Watch the video. You'll know why. If you don't, you can call me and I'll tell you.

First, the breaking news story about John Lennon's murder by Mark David Chapman.

Imagine by John Lennon

Let it Be by The Beatles

Because I love each of my 23 readers (yes, readership has grown from 12!), I'm giving you a bonus video. Okay, so the truth is that I didn't realize this that this song that I really like was by John Lennon until my friend Des posted it on Facebook. My bad. But still, I do love my readers. So go with that reason. Really. And on a political note, maybe one day soon, all wars will truly be over. To quote John Lennon, "make love not war."

Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dum English Spelling

Part of this may not be suitable for kids.

Hat tip to Rachel Maddow.

And as always, if you read Little Merry Sunshine via email where the videos don't show up, just visit the blog. You'll enjoy the laugh.

Friday, December 3, 2010

RIP Ron Santo 1940-2010

The first piece of news I heard this morning after waking up was about the death of Ron Santo, Cubs legendary 3rd baseman and broadcaster. Honestly, I didn't believe it. But then I flipped on WGN Morning News and learned the sad news was fact.

Knowing he probably hadn't heard, I grabbed my phone and called my dad. A lifelong Cubs and Ron Santo fan, I think my dad felt like a family member had just died. That's how I felt.

Ron Santo (photogallery) was an inspiration, not only in how he played, but in how he lived. His diabetes never slowed him down and we never heard him complain about it. Watching how he went through his later years without his legs always reminded me of my Gardner Grandfather, who although he didn't have diabetes, suffered from a blood disorder that resulted in him having both of his legs amputated later in life. Like Santo, Grandpa never complained (unlike Santo, Grandpa was only a White Sox fan). He just kept going, living his life with vigor and integrity.

It's a shame that Ron Santo was never elected into the Hall of Fame, but he held his head high and showed incredible class each time he was turned away. Hopefully now he'll get the respect and recognition he deserves. His stats say he belongs there and his sportsmanship is what all players and aspiring plays should emulate.

RIP Ron Santo. Listening to the Cubs will never be the same.

A couple of years ago, I gave my dad This Old Cub for Christmas. It's a wonderful documentary that all Cubs fans should watch over and over again.

NPR Story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Must See TV: Brad Meltzer's Decoded

Brad Meltzer's Decoded Team

It's no secret that I LOVE everything Brad Meltzer does, so it should come as no surprise that I'm telling you to watch his new TV show Brad Meltzer's Decoded which will premiere Thursday, December 2nd at 10pm ET (that's 9pm for you Midwesterners) on the History Channel.

What's Brad Meltzer's Decoded? I'm glad you asked.

Brad Meltzer's Decoded (that's the title, not just me repeating his name a gazillion times) features Brad) and his incredibly smart team investigating some of the greatest unsolved historical mysteries.

So that's it. Now set your DVR, call in sick at work (okay, maybe don't do that), call all of your friends for a last minute viewing party, and show Brad the love. And remember, if you call me between 9 and 10pm on Thursday night, I'll be too busy to chat because I'll be watching Brad Meltzer's Decoded.

Here's a sneak peek:

P.S. For all you bookish types (and that should be all of you), Brad's new book, The Inner Circle, is coming out on January 11th. You can pre-order it now on Amazon. He'll be in Chicago on January 21st and you're invited to join me at his book signing. Let me know if you want to go. Really.

Cocktail Etiquette

With the holidays in full swing (tonight is the first night of Hanukkah) and many cocktails to be consumed in the next four weeks, it's important that we're all using our best cocktail etiquette.

Fortunately, Rachel Maddow has our backs and provided her viewers with this handy-dandy reminder last night. Because I love you and want you to drink responsibly, I pass along her tips. I suggest you take notes and then practice.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy