Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Little Merry Sunshine

These reindeer were making a different kind of clatter.

A Visit from St. Nicholas
By Clement Clarke Moore (1799-1863)

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Merry Christmas dear readers!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Webster Bank in Connecticut: Treating People Right & Reaping the Benefits

It's not often I have good things to say about banks. Lord knows I dislike Bank of America. A lot. Oh, did I tell you they sent me a thank you note the other day thanking me for being a Platinum Privileges client? Funny thing is, I don't do any business with Bank of America. We closed all of our accounts with them in January 2011 after we finally finished settling Nana's estate. But I digress.

I was watching the ABC Nightly News tonight with cutie patootie George Stephanopolous when the last story of the night was about a bank doing good things in their community to help "bring America back." Just to put this story in perspective and create true contrast to what happens when you do the right thing, this story was about 10 minutes after a story about Countrywide defrauding millions of Americans and Bank of America agreeing to $335 million in settlements for their fraud (BoA acquired Countrywide, as you may recall).

It turns out Webster Bank in Connecticut is almost straight out of It's A Wonderful Life and is owned by a real-life George Bailey.

Read the ABC story below and watch the video. Trust me. You'll be moved. The video below is about more than just Webster Bank, but it's well worth the 7:30 it'll take you to watch it.

by Chris Cuomo, Catherine Cole, and Linh Tran
December 21, 2011

With their high fees, foreclosures and the number of families left scrambling to keep their homes, these days banks are known more for taking than for giving.

Jim Smith, president Webster Bank, is working to change that perception. He doesn't believe that all the George Baileys, the kind-hearted banker from the holiday classic "It's A Wonderful Life," have vanished.

"George Bailey was there to help his customers when they needed him, and I think that's a lot of what we're all about, and that's why it's so meaningful to us," said Smith.

Smith's father founded Webster Bank during the Great Depression to help those who were struggling to buy and build their homes. The bank expanded over the years, and now has more than 150 branches in four states. Despite the growth, Smith said the notion of profiting by helping people is still its bedrock.

Instead of moving quickly to foreclose and cover losses, Webster Bank is committed to helping families stay in their homes.

"We have a responsibility to our customers to work with them. I think of it as being in our DNA. We're there to work with our clients, to help them through a very difficult time," Smith said.

Webster Bank owns 75 percent of the loans it services, so customers don't have to deal with mystery lenders. Customers also know who to go to when in trouble, because the bank assigns all customers a loan modification officer who works with them one on one.

Bonuses at Webster Bank are also tied to the number of loans modified, not foreclosures, and to families such as the Carapasos, that makes all the difference.

"Things went south and I was unemployed. We found ourselves starting to get behind on some of the bills," said Carmine Carapaso.

When he lost his job and his wife, Paula, suffered a heart attack and then a stroke, bills mounted quickly, and their home of 20 years was in jeopardy.

"They could have very easily just foreclosed on the house," said Carapaso.

A third of homeowners who applied for a mortgage modification through the nation's eight largest loan servicers were approved last year, according to the Treasury Department, but Webster Bank said it modifies well between 60 and 70 percent of applications. The Carapasos were one of the many the bank was able to help.

"What it means to me, being able to stay in this house, is everything. Our family was brought up here. We have so many memories, and they're wonderful. It means everything," said Paula Carapaso.

Smith said the bank's strategy of helping people who need it most is also good business.

"We think the net cost to the bank of what would have been all of those foreclosures, by doing it the way we did, we've saved tens of millions of dollars. If you do the right thing it can help you grow, and you truly can do well by doing good," said Smith.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meet Your Match in 2012!

2012 is moments away and we all know what that means . . . it's time to pick your presidential candidate! Now, if you live in Iowa, you have your caucus on January 3rd, so you'd best get busy.

Fortunately, Little Merry Sunshine will once again be your go to blog for all things political.

First things first though. You must get behind a candidate. If you're a Democrat or otherwise refuse to vote Republican, then at the moment, your choice is simple: sit home or get behind President Barack Obama. But if you're a Republican or Tea Party member or otherwise don't vote for Democrats, you've got to wade through a whole bunch of candidates wishing to be the GOP Candidate for President.

I'm not going to try to tell you which GOP candidate to support because let's be honest, I can't come up with a reason to support any of them, but I will tell you how to figure it out.

ABC News has developed a new website called OTUS (Of the United States). Among the many cool things you'll find on the site is a quiz called the Match-O-Matic (not unlike the Cosmo quizzes, but far more important and accurate) to help you find the presidential candidate who best matches up with what matters to you.

I took the quiz and not surprisingly, it was completely accurate in telling me I should support President Obama. But then it took a turn I can't explain when it said that if I choose not to support President Obama, I might consider pulling the lever for Jon Huntsman or Ron Paul. Of course, I had 82% in common with President Obama and 9% in common for each Huntsman and Paul.

Go ahead and Meet Your 2012 Match and then come back here and let's have a chat. Can you convince me to support your candidate?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011: A Year of Failure With One Important Win

I'm so happy 2011 is almost over. Pretty much it's been a year of failure for me.*

I am not one of Fortune Magazine's 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. I turned 40 and am no longer eligible for Crain's Chicago Business annual 40 Under 40 List. I was not named Time's Person of the Year. Once again, I did not receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant or the Nobel Peace Prize. The good folks associated with The Pulitzer Prizes continue to pretend I don't exist (don't they read Little Merry Sunshine????). Barbara Walters thinks she's too good for me and continues to choose folks like Steve Jobs, The Kardashian KFamily (it's got a silent K), and Herman Cain as more "fascinating" than me. I didn't win a Grammy because evidently "best concert performed in a car or shower" is still not a recognized category. I continue to poll at 0.00% in Iowa and New Hampshire with no margin of error, yet again insuring I will not be first female President of the United States. I could go on, but you get the idea. 2011 has been a year of injustice and utter failure.

As the year winds down, I did have one very important win. I had my picture taken with Santa at the CASE V Conference this past weekend! Santa even framed the picture for me, for free, in a frame that says "friends." With Santa as my friend, I don't need all those other public accolades.

I take solace in all of my other losses knowing that all those winners may be richer, better looking, skinnier, more powerful, floozier (I also make up words and Merriam- Webster Dictionary ignores my suggestions), more electable, etc. than me, but they probably didn't have a 2011 picture with Santa. So in the end, I win.

*To be sure, this was written entirely tongue-in-cheek. I actually had an amazing year. I have a job I love and I became a first-time homeowner this year. What more could I want?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yippee! I Won Two 2010 Toyota Camrys!

This is absolutely the best news I've received all day. Possibly the best news I've received since I discovered I was being given $8.6 million almost 3 years ago exactly. By the way, I still haven't received my $8.6 million and I'm looking at you, Mrs. Theresa Brown.

Now let's be sure, I don't need a new car, much less two of them. I already drive a great Toyota Camry and while it's 12 years old, it's only got 45,000 miles on it, so it's practically new. But hey, if someone is going to give me one, I'll take it. The other, I'll give to some deserving soul.

How did I come into such luck that I'm being given two 2010 Toyota Camrys? Good question. I just logged into my email and discovered not one, but two emails from the Reverend Jerry Mark each informing me I was being given a free car. Two emails each giving me one car equals two cars. Lucky me!

Let's be clear here, you may receive copies of these emails, but obviously the good Reverend is meaning for me to receive these cars. And since he's a man of God, I'm completely confident he's truthful.

Here are the emails I received today. I've already sent Reverend Mark all of my ID, so I expect my cars to arrive later tonight or tomorrow. And no, I don't know what it's 5 and 6 are.


PHONE: +34-672-508-699

Attention: Congratulation!!!!!!!!! Congratulation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is to inform you that your Email ID has won you a brand new Toyota Camry 2010 and cash prize of (Ђ700,000 00 Euros) in the on going Toyota Automobile Company Poverty Alleviation 2011 Award SPAIN. This award was held for the purpose of reducing Ruler/Urban Poverty alleviation and Debt Settlement in Asia region. The car comes with a special Toyota Insurance Cover for one whole year that is till the next promotion in 2012. It also came with a one year warranty and free repairs at any TOYOTA AUTOMOBILES depot or service station worldwide, you are advise to fill and provide us with the information below:-

1.Full Name:
2.Full Address:

8. Winning Email:

10. Scan copy of your Identification (Driving License or any valid I.D Proof)

And Send to { }, immediately we receive the above details we shall be informing you on how to claim your prize in your country within 24 hours, Congratulation Once more and trust in Toyota Automobile for top quality automobiles.

(Contact Events Manager)

Name: Rev. Jerry Mark

(Event Manager)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Samuel L. Jackson Reads "Go the F*)& to Sleep"

At my company's holiday luncheon today, some of my co-workers started discussing the children's book Go the F&*$ to Sleep. Frankly, I'd never heard of it, but not having kids, I guess that's not too surprising. One of them mentioned that to fully appreciate the book, I must hear Samuel L. Jackson read it.

Without hesitation, I Googled the book and about fell out of my chair laughing hysterically while listening to Samuel L. Jackson. And immediately, I knew I had to share it with you.

Just a warning, the video below is NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK. Also, you probably don't want to get this book for your kids for Christmas.

Enjoy! Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Major Little Merry Sunshine Announcement

After much thoughtful reflection and consideration for the impact this decision has not only on myself, but on all of my friends and family, I have decided that I will not be making Nana's Fruitcake this Christmas. There will be no fruitcake at my housewarming party. No fruitcake as gifts. No fruitcake on Christmas.

Nana's Fruitcake has been made annually by Nana, my mom, or me for at least 50 years, but it will not be made this year. Last year, I made 25 cakes or so and gave most as gifts. I thought I'd written about it, but it seems I haven't written about my Fruitcake-capades since 2009, the year I first made fruitcake myself.

For me, making Nana's Fruitcakes the last two years has been a labor of love and it's kept Nana involved in Christmas, even though she's no longer physically here to celebrate with us.

This year, however, I'm simply not feeling it. Actually, I'm not feeling Christmas at all. I did a little decorating for Christmas last night, in preparation for the house-warming party I'm having this weekend, but I'm really just not feeling it. To be clear, I'm psyched to have friends over, but not about Christmas. I listen to holiday music on the radio in my car, hoping to get into the mood, but so far, the whole Christmas Spirit thing eludes me. I have Christmas cards to send, but haven't been able to get motivated to write them (it's actually a problem because I also haven't sent change of address cards and quite a few people don't know I've moved). I've got some Christmas presents, but can't begin to think about what I've got and where I still need a few gifts. And wrapping and mailing is just not in the realm of possibilities, at least not this week. Hopefully next week. Otherwise, I'm going to get in trouble for missing the day entirely.

I'm sure I'll feel differently when I get to Florida for what I'm fairly certain will be the last Christmas ever in Crystal Beach. I'll probably wish I could have gotten motivated when I realize that mom didn't leave any of Nana's Fruitcake in the freezer when she came to Chicago. And then I'll swear I will never fail to make fruitcake again.

But 2011 will go down as the year with none of Nana's Fruitcake.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Little Merry Sunshine's Holiday Gift Guide

It's that time of year again! Yes, it's that time when I provide you with my fully endorsed Holiday Gift Guide. Gifts perfect for everyone on your shopping list from stuffy Aunt Hilda to the love of your life to your boss. Well, maybe not your boss. At least not if you want to keep your job. We're sure you'll agree this blows away the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, the Vogue Holiday Gift Guide and Oprah's Favorite Things.

Please note: none of these gifts are suitable for me. Your shopping guide for me will be forthcoming.

My favorite part of the commercial below is how it encourages you to "party it up with friends" while wearing this zip-up Snuggie. Available in Hanky Pinky Fuschia, Workday Blues, and Asleep on the Job Gray. One thing is for sure, this gift is only suitable for those living a life of celibacy or desiring that life because I'm certain you're not getting laid again if another human sees you wearing it. Unless, of course, your significant other has a Smurf fetish. In that case, this would be the ideal gift in the Workday Blues color. The day I see someone wearing it at Jewel in Lake Forest, I'll keep an eye out for the Four Horsemen.

Because nothing says "sophisticated independent woman" while driving through the North Shore than having a stuffed bear nuzzled between your breasts to make your seatbelt more comfortable. If you act now, you can buy one and get one for free. Two gifts, one stone. Hurray!

Better Marriage Blanket
I have to tell you that the Better Marriage Blanket does not solve the problem I thought it did. I mean, who knew sleep-farting was the number one marriage problem?

Do you know a couple whose marriage is being ruined by farting in bed? If you do (or if you're the non-gassy half of one of these couples), I recommend the Better Marriage Blanket. If I understand this product correctly, it captures all flatulence inside the blanket, cleans the air by releasing butterflies and lilies into the air, and keeps peace and harmony in your their marriage. And as the commercial says, it makes a great wedding or anniversary gift! I just don't know if Hallmark makes a card to go with that.

With health care costs rising and mental health benefits at a minimum, the Pocket Therapist makes the perfect gift for your neurotic "friend" in denial. Similar to a Magic 8 Ball, the Pocket Therapist provides sage, medically sound advice "25 random diagnoses" for what might be wrong with your "friend".

Buzz Lightyear Funtime Tumbler
I'm not sure where to find this item, but I don't recommend it for kids.

This is the gift for your geeky friend who has everything and swears like a sailor. I've been known to toss around a few curse words, but I learned some new ones from the Periodic Table of Swearing. It's a coffee table and an educational aid and 100% completely unsuitable for kids.

WARNING: This video is NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK. Trust me.

Again, I don't know where to tell you to shop for the Periodic Table of Swearing, but it's sure to be a hit this Christmas.

Do you have friends who are obsessed with the gossip rags? Who can't get enough of E!? They look at the celeb lifestyle with envy? Let them be a Celeb for a Day. Create their experience in LA, San Francisco, or NY. Of course, being a Celeb for a Day wouldn't be complete without your own personal paparazzi, so that when you get out of a limo showing a little too much, you'll have a souvenir for your grandkids.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Repeat After Me: When I Learn of Sexual Assault I Will Call the Cops

This should be a no-brainer. One of those things you don't ever think about. An automatic response. Engraved in your soul for all time. As natural as breathing.

When you learn of or witness sexual assault (aka rape), especially against a child, call the police.

Period. Conversation over.

The excuse of "I told my boss" is not good enough. Nor is the excuse, "it's not my job."

It sure as hell is your job. In fact, it's everyone job to protect children.

Do you hear me Mike McQueary and ESPN?

Earlier this week a number of my friends posted a story from The Onion about a group of 10-year-old boys holding a press conference begging the world to call the cops if anyone sees them being raped. Is it funny? Well, I guess so, but more than that, I think it's horribly sad. As I said when my friend Ellen posted the video, "It saddens me that The Onion has to write this story because so many people seem to be unclear on the concept. What makes me sadder is that in all the media coverage of the Penn State (and now allegedly Syracuse) child rape scandal, I have yet to see anyone simply look into the camera and say 'The bottom line is this: When you see a child being sexually abused, do whatever it takes to remove the child from the situation and call the f*#)^%@ police. To do anything else makes you as bad as the rapist.'"

So with that, I bring you this video of ESPN explaining why they held onto a tape recording of a conversation between Syracuse University's former coach Bernie Fine's wife, Laurie Fine, and Bobby Davis, one of his alleged victims, for eight years. Yes, you read that right. They had the audio tape for eight years and did nothing.

To say that ESPN's actions disgust me is a gross understatement. They clearly put their business needs ahead of protecting children and that is vile. I just hope that Bernie Fine didn't abuse any other children during those 8 years while ESPN sat on its collective hands.

Protecting those who sexually assault anyone, especially children, makes you as bad as the rapists, in my opinion.

I hope this is the final time I have to say this: If you learn of or witness sexual assault, especially against children, CALL THE COPS.

If we all did that one thing, children would be protected, victims could begin to heal, pedophiles would be in prison, and the world would be better.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks Bank of America!

I so wish I'd thought of this, but I didn't. I have plenty of reasons to dislike Bank of America, so I found this absolutely hysterical. It's funny because, well, there's a good amount of truth to it. The good folks at Funny or Die nailed it again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kohl's Black Friday Commercial: Everything That's Wrong With the Holidays

Have you seen the new Kohl's Black Friday commercial? Evidently it is a parody of a song by someone named Rebecca Black. I don't know who she is, I've never heard her song, and I don't care.

What I do know is that this commercial epitomizes everything that's wrong with the holiday season. Watch the commercial below. Not only is it horrendously annoying, but at 0:07 the "star" of the commercial attempts to block a little old woman from entering the store by putting her hand in the woman's face and physically touching her and then at 0:14 she actually removes an item from another woman's shopping cart, causing the woman to give her a scornful look. Frankly, given the craziness that always comes with the Black Friday frenzy, the "star" is lucky that's all she got.

As far as I can tell, Kohl's is promoting bullying and greed in this commercial.

Now maybe you're thinking I'm taking this whole commercial WAY too seriously, especially since it's supposed to be a parody. But here's the thing: I had no idea it was a parody until I did a Google search to find the video for you. I thought this was how Kohl's was seriously promoting its Black Friday sales.

Isn't it bad enough that stores are now opening for their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving itself and forcing their minimum wage employees to work? Yes, I know that police, fire fighters, EMTs, ER doctors, nurses, and anyone who works in a nursing home or assisted living facility work on Thanksgiving, but they are literally saving lives. For the life of me, I can't fathom that selling Cabbage Patch dolls (or whatever the IT gift is this year) ranks up there with saving lives. I could be wrong though.

But now we've got Kohl's telling people that it's okay to bully senior citizens on their rush into the store and that until a customer pays for their purchases, anything in their cart may be taken by other customers.

To me, that's bullying and greed. And I don't support businesses that condone those behaviors.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Gratitude List 2011

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is stopping to count my blessings. Once again, my cup runneth over with good fortune. Of course, that's not to say I haven't faced hurdles this year; I just choose to focus on bountiful goodness in my life.
  • This year, I'm grateful my mom is home from Florida. I'm grateful for all the years she selflessly gave to caring for Nana, but I'm grateful she's getting her life back. I'm especially grateful doctors caught her breast cancer when they were still able to remove all of it this summer.
  • Sitting in my very own home is simply awesome and I'm grateful for the confluence of a horrible housing market and record low interest rates that allowed me to buy rather than rent.
  • I'm grateful for my Forever Friends. They are my touchstone and keep me from losing my mind most days. They make me laugh, force me outside my comfort zone, and best of all don't let me get caught inside my head, which I'm prone to do.
  • Betsey and Ross are still the best snuggle kitties ever. I'm grateful that in spite of this year of health challenges for the both of them, they are both doing quite well and most of the time don't know they're sick. I'm also truly grateful for their vets who remain focussed on Betsey and Ross's best interests rather than the bottom line. I appreciate that they have not easily given up on figuring out what was wrong with each of them and are now finding the right balance of treatment for them both, without bankrupting me.
  • I'm grateful for my health and good insurance and I love the way my body feels each time I hit the gym. To that end, I'm grateful to the friend who encouraged me to join the gym and kicks my ass when I lose motivation.
  • I'm grateful I got to spend the day with my dad a few weeks ago. We don't see each other very often, so it was a nice treat. Most years we only see each other at Watervale and at Thanksgiving and since I'm spending Thanksgiving with my mom this year, I'm really grateful we could get together.
  • I'm grateful for the 60,000 unique visits Little Merry Sunshine has had in the past 4 years and 4 1/2 months. That's right, 60,000. You made that happen on Sunday and I missed it. Just 7 months ago we were at 50,000 visitors. What shocks me most about this new milestone is that I've hardly been writing this year. I guess that also means I'm grateful I worked through the writers block that has kept me silent more often than not.
  • I'm grateful that when my car was broken into almost two weeks ago there was no damage and that my observant neighbor found my stuff two days later. I also appreciate the detective who called me today to let me know the status of the investigation of the multiple car break-ins last week.
I hope each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving with those you love and that your cup is overflowing with blessings this year.

It's Thanksgiving. You Have Questions. Butterball Has Answers.

It's Thanksgiving and so I am reminded of one of my favorite scenes from The West Wing. Yes, I know I quote the show all the time, but you didn't think I was suddenly going to start quoting The X-Files, did you? (For the record, I've never watched The X-Files because it scared me.)

Back in Season 3, there was an episode called "The Indians in the Lobby" and in part of the episode President Bartlet is fretting about the proper way to cook a turkey. He carries on for awhile about what a national service it would be if there was a hotline you could call with your turkey preparation questions. Charlie informs him that there is such a line - The Butterball Hotline - and President Bartlet proceeds to call the hotline. It's quite humorous, at least in my opinion.

When you're cooking your turkey this week (or anytime before the end of December) and you have questions about how to properly cook your Thanksgiving turkey, you too can call the Butterball Hotline. Just call between 8am and 8pm CT on weekdays throughout November and December and have all of your questions answered by one of the delightful Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Experts. I don't even think you have to prove you're a citizen or that you're cooking a Butterball Turkey to get your questions answered. That's customer service.

The Butterball Hotline can be reached at 800-288-8372.

Oh, and watch President Bartlet call the Butterball Hotline. Trust me.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Story of Menstruation . . . As Told By Walt Disney

My Facebook friend Sarah posted the video below on her Facebook page today. Not only did the video garner many comments to some of its outdatedness, but much discussion ensued about how women in our age group learned about what was happening to us during puberty. Hint: Many of us didn't know anything until it was too late.

Aside from the fact that I think it's hysterical that Walt Disney, a company not exactly known for its empowering portrayal of women, took a stab at educating girls about menstruation (and did it without dancing teacups or singing forest animals), I actually learned a few things.

First, I learned that when I clean house, I must be wearing pearls, an apron, and heels. I sure do wish someone had educated me on that fact. I usually clean in sweats and sometimes in my pj's. Second, I learned that although it is perfectly acceptable for me to ride a bike without a helmet and without keeping my hands on the handlebars while going down hill during THAT time of the month, I shouldn't dance with boys while Aunt Flo is visiting. Third, it seems that I can throw off my body's schedule if I get cold or over-tired. Finally, I learned that any stretching I do to relieve cramps should only be done under the guidance of a qualified person. I have no idea what makes one qualified in this area, but when I find out, I'll let you know.

Enjoy! Let me know what you learn.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good News!

As I was walking to the elevator this morning on my way to work, my neighbor, Bud, from the second floor was emerging and said I was just the person he was looking for. Now I only know a small handful of my neighbors and it was 8am, so I couldn't imagine what in the world Bud could be needing me for at that hour.

He said he thought he'd found my gym bag and wanted me to come to his condo and take a look. Sure enough, as soon as we walked in, there was my bag sitting on the floor with my fleece, one of my Croc flip flops, and my cosmetic bag of toiletries sticking out. I couldn't believe it.

Beaming with excitement, but hesitant to touch the bag, I asked where he'd found it. I have looked in the garbage dumpsters in the complex a few times on the off-chance the thief realized it contained nothing of value and dumped it or dumped parts of it. Bud said that he saw it on our street when he came home last night about 10:00 and picked it up first to remove it from the road, but then realized it was probably mine based on how I'd described it at our condo association meeting on Monday night. Because I came home at 9:30 last night and did not encounter it, I think the thief dumped it within that 30 minute window. Of course, it also further solidifies my belief that the thief lives among us.

I thanked Bud profusely, took my bag and called the police on my way to work to report it found. Not knowing if they would need it, I did not stop to see if everything was in it or not. I've now spoken to them and they did not need it for anything, but asked me to let them know if I found anything not belonging to me in the bag.

Quite fortunately, everything was in my bag except my goggles and iPod charger and FM transmitter. Once I do some laundry tonight and wash all my workout clothes, I'm going back to the gym tomorrow. I'll be there just a little more enthusiastically and grateful for my new neighbors who have my back.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

I've heard this quote a lot this past week in discussions of the Penn State Child Rape Scandal. Many friends of mine have posted it on Facebook and I've heard it in media discussions. There seems to be some question about the original source of the quote, but that's not what this post is about.

I've also heard many people talk about what "good people" the Penn State coaches as a whole, and Joe Paterno in particular, are. They've talked about what a shame it is that Joe Paterno and the President of Penn State Graham Spanier were fired because they are good men and did what the law required, as did Mike McQueary.

I suppose they did do just the bare minimum the law required. Or at least Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary did. Of course, if you believe today's latest reports, Mike McQueary may have gone to the police and sort of stopped the rape. I don't believe this claim today, but again, that's not what this post is about, so I won't go into all the reasons I don't believe him.

Here's the thing that gets me and what this post is about: Good people don't ever do nothing. Good people do all that's necessary to protect children. They don't just do the bare minimum, especially if they've personally witnessed a defenseless 10-year-old child being raped - anally or otherwise. Good people don't have to think about what to do when they walk in on such an atrocity. They immediately jump to physically pull the attacker off the child. And they tell as many people, especially law enforcement, as they need to tell until the attacker is never able to harm another child.

I don't care what kind of career Joe Paterno had at Penn State. It's not a shame his stellar career will be marred by this scandal. Paterno brought this on himself. He had a choice. He could have been the hero when McQueary told him he'd witnessed Sandusky raping a child. He could have prevented who knows how many other children from having their lives ruined. Instead, he put his football program and his own interests ahead of the children's interests. That tells me all I need to know about him. Good people don't cover up the raping of children, pretend they never heard about it, bury it in a bureaucracy, or simply tell their boss and think it's over.

Paterno's lack of actions have taught at least a decade's worth of impressionable college students that it's okay to look the other way and ignore abuse and other injustices when it's in their best interests to do so. The best interests of the victim be damned. Those are not values that should be taught to anyone. Ever. Period.

Good people do something, especially when it's inconvenient.

For more on this matter, go read what my brilliant friend Susan has to say in her post "Doing Nothing Is A Choice."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Keep the Stuff, I'd Like My Sense of Security Back

This is not the blog post I had planned for today. I had planned to write about the Penn State child rape scandal and even have that post mostly written, but then some jerk broke into my car.

Dear Guy Who Broke Into My Car Last Night,

Imagine my surprise when I approached my car this morning (located in my locked garage) only to find the center console had been rummaged through and all of its contents strewn about the front seats of my car. Since I am a little obsessive about cleanliness, I knew I hadn't left this mess.

Unfortunately for you, you only found a few tampons, some lip gloss and hand cream, four CDs, my car registration and expired insurance card, and the car charger for my iPod along with the FM transmitter for my iPod, both of which you conveniently helped yourself to. Aside: Why the heck did you leave my phone charger? You also took my gym bag because I guess you have a thing for running around in women's bathing suits, sports bras, swim caps, sweats, my favorite fleece jacket, goggles, Crocs flip flops, and assorted toiletries.

So the joke's sort of on you because you didn't get any material items from me with any value. Sucker. Of course, I heard I wasn't your only victim and that you did get some items of value from the others. So your "shopping spree" wasn't a total waste.

But here's what else you took from me. You took my sense of security and personal safety. As I stood there alone in my garage this morning wondering what the heck I was supposed to do, I broke out into a sweat and started hyperventilating when I realized that your grubby selfish paws had been rummaging through my personal effects.

I saw my car registration and realized you know my name and where I live. Ironically, up until a few months ago, I didn't keep my car registration or insurance cards in my car because I didn't want to run the risk of my car getting stolen or broken into and the thief knowing my name and address. It was a personal safety precaution. And then I let someone convince me that I was being foolish. As a single woman, knowing you know my name and where to find me will probably keep me up tonight. Thank you.

Speaking of what keeps me up at night, last night I had an overwhelming sense that someone was breaking into my house and every noise I heard had me on edge most of the night. Finally, I got out of bed, checked the locks on the front door for at least the third time, and locked my bedroom door. Knowing someone would have to make some noise to get into my room sort of allowed me to sleep. But learning this morning that my intuition was right but the location was wrong, frightens me more than you know.

I don't care about the material things you took. I can replace those. I care about how I feel violated today and how the mere thought of the presence of you took me right back to a really horrible place from 20 years ago. Feeling safe in my own skin doesn't exactly come naturally to me and it took a long time to find that feeling after it disappeared the first time.

Once I got past the initial shock and decided the cops couldn't help me because you didn't do any damage to my car or steal anything of value, I cleaned up the mess you left because that's how I deal with chaos and there was nothing else to do. Now I can get into my car, pretend you weren't there, and feel like I have a little control over my life. Well, until I want to go to the gym and have to figure out where to buy a bathing suit in November. Then I'm going to be reminded how mad I am right now.

Of course, I have to say that while I'm furious with you, I'm equally furious with me. The truth is that I can't say with 100% certainty that I locked my car last night. I had moved the last piece of furniture into my house that my dad gave me and it's possible that as I was trying to control it, because it was so big and awkward, I forgot to lock my car. That said, you still didn't have permission to go into it and take what you wanted.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Correction to "If You Were In An Accident, I Wouldn't Stop for Red Lights"

So in yesterday's blog post, I meant to place a video from the West Wing episode "17 People" from Season 2. To give you some background, it's Josh and Donna's anniversary of the day Donna came to work for Josh. Except Josh always remembers the wrong day. The video is of the discussion they have about it. I gave you the wrong video yesterday.

Here's the correct video.

By the way, this isn't really about running red lights. And I'm not encouraging anyone to break the law.

If you're reading this via email and the video doesn't come through, click here to watch the video.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

If You Were In An Accident, I Wouldn't Stop for Red Lights

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love The West Wing. Yes, I know it's been off the air since 2006, but I own all seven seasons on DVD and watch them more often than I should admit. And of course, I know most of the lines from the show. Like Josh Lyman says, "that's not being a fan. That's having a fetish." Yep.

This morning I was having a conversation with a close friend about going to the hospital. It reminded me of a pivotal scene from "17 People" in Season 2 where Josh and Donna start to admit their love for each other, although it would be another five seasons before they did anything about it.

Watch the video. You'll get it. Trust me.

Is there anyone you wouldn't stop for red lights for?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Life is Like a Cup of Coffee

For all of my coffee loving friends (and everyone else too) . . .

P.S. I know I've been completely absent from LMS and I have appreciated the kind notes from my loyal readers concerned about the absence, but I promise LMS really coming back in the next couple of weeks. I haven't had a home computer or internet for two months, but as of next weekend, I will and then I'll start blogging again regularly. Trust me, I've missed Little Merry Sunshine and you!

Have a fun and safe Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who's Your Hero?

Evidently, it's me. I'm not bragging. Just stating the facts as I see them. Watch the video below for proof.

Jessica Gardner Honored as Hero

Special thanks to Brad Meltzer for creating this super cool video.

Supposedly, you can customize it for yourself or someone you love and/or admire. So go ahead, make someone's day and let them know they're your hero.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs' 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford

You may have seen this video of Steve Jobs giving the commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. Even if you've seen it, watch it again.

In 2005, he clearly knew he was facing down his own death, yet he couldn't have been more inspirational.

RIP Steve Jobs

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Brad Meltzer Talks at TED

Brad Meltzer tweeted a couple (maybe a few) months ago that he was giving a TED Talk. Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see his talk.

Today's the day. Brad's Ted Talk is finally available on You Tube. And I love his topic.

How to Write Your Own Obituary.


Watch it. It's not really about writing your obituary. Well it is. But more than that, it's about the legacy each of us leaves. And it's powerful. Trust me.

Given the death of Steve Jobs yesterday, this couldn't be more apropos. Talk about legacy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October 5: International Dave Gardner Day!

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of Dave. I'm guessing he's in high school here, but I don't know for sure. It was taken by his friend Maura Ardam and used with permission.

Thirty-seven years ago today, my parents gave me the greatest gift in the world. They gave me a little brother named Dave.

Now, although I wanted a puppy or a Barbie doll and, at first, I wasn't exactly fond of him (there's the whole alleged Thanksgiving Incident of 1974, but we don't talk about that), I came to discover that his value far exceeds that of a puppy and Barbie doll combined.

Dave is my biggest cheerleader and I am his. He's usually my first phone call when I have good news and he's my rock when things aren't so good. He's adventurous and fun and challenges me to be better. And even though there are times he continues to push when I'm happy with the status quo, I've come to realize that he only does it because he can often see bigger and better for me than I can in the moment.

Simply put, Dave is the greatest brother in the world and for his birthday, I declare it International Dave Gardner Day! Everyone should be so blessed to have a brother like him. Not him (he's mine), but like him.

Please join me in celebrating my brother Dave. You can wish him Happy Birthday in the comments.

Happy Happy Birthday Dave! Happy International Dave Gardner Day! I love you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Random Things I Love About My Condo

1. It's mine. All mine. I can (and did) paint it the way I want it. I don't have to worry about nail holes because I own it and there's no landlord to get irritated about paint or nails.

2. It's super sunny! I've got a corner condo and face both directly east and south. In the morning, I walk into my dining room, look out towards Lake Michigan (I can't see the water exactly, but I'm only 2.5 miles from the water) and watch the sunrise. All day long, I get lots of sun through my three huge south-facing windows.

This is the view from my bedroom. Not too shabby.

This was my morning greeting from Mother Nature today. No wonder Betsey and Ross were so eager for me to crawl out of bed. Isn't it gorgeous? (Ignore the bright lights on the right. Those are reflections from the glass.)

3. My 5-mile, 10-minute tollway-free commute to work. Seriously. This morning, as I was pulling into work, the traffic report came on the radio. there were 2 accidents between my old house in Arlington Heights and my job in Lake Forest. Instead of sitting in that traffic and arriving agitated, I arrived quickly and in a lovely mood. Plus, I'm saving a ton of money in gas and tolls and wear and tear on my car.

4. My bedroom. My entire life I've had this image of exactly how I wanted my bedroom. Granted, it's changed over time and I no longer want the Strawberry Shortcake bedroom collection. My tastes have become more sophisticated and refined and I'm creating the bedroom I want. Sure, it still includes some hand-me-downs, but I'm re-purposing and re-painting them to fit my tastes.

5. Going home for lunch. I went home for lunch the other day. Going home is so radically different from going out for lunch. I went home, made lunch, sat down, and put my feet up for a few minutes. I got to breath deeply as I was surrounded by total silence. Seriously, it was the best part of my week. Of course, Betsey and Ross thought that my lunch was their lunch, but that's another blog post.

6. My master closet. It's a huge walk-in closet with two built-ins, plus tons of hanging space. Thanks to the overhead light, it's very bright. When I walk in each morning to choose my clothes, it just feels so luxurious to have a whole dressing space. The only thing it lacks is a mirror, making it difficult to determine if I like my outfit.

7. Being so much closer to the friends I see the most. This is no slight to my friends in Arlington Heights at all, but now the friends I see the absolute most are 15 minutes away, rather than 30+ minutes away. My life just became spontaneous!

8. Lower gas prices and sales tax. I paid $3.76 for gas yesterday. When I was in Arlington Heights on Sunday, gas was $3.99. What's the difference? Cook County taxes. Speaking of, sales tax is 7% rather than 9.5%.

I'm sure there are plenty of other things I love about my condo, but those are all that come to mind at this very moment.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You on 9/11?

We all have moments in our lives that we never forget. We know exactly where we were when we heard certain news. For some people that moment was when Pearl Harbor was attacked, when JFK was shot, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, or when the OJ verdict came in. For almost all of us, one of those moments surely was the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I was sitting at a networking group meeting at Ada's Restaurant (it's no longer there) in Arlington Heights. Tom Gosche was speaking, although I can't tell you what his talk was on, as a morning news show caught my eye on the tv across the room and I could focus on anything else. Tom had his back to the tv and it was on mute, so he had no idea what I or anyone else saw. The screen was showing a plane flying into the World Trade Center and then smoke billowing from the building. Sitting there in silence, I had no idea if anyone else in the group had just seen what I saw. And, of course, I didn't really know what I'd seen.

Shortly thereafter, the meeting ended and no one said anything about what I'd seen on the news, so I figured I was the only one who saw it. When I got into my car and flipped on the radio, I immediately realized that what I'd seen was no accident. Immediately, I called my friend Jason who worked in the financial district in New York, but the cell phone lines were jammed.

Arriving home a few minutes later, my brother Dave, who was in town for Mom's birthday the next day, was glued to CNN and I walked in just in time to witness the second plane fly into the World Trade Center live. Mom wasn't home because she'd gone to O'Hare to pick up her lifelong friend Kathy, who just happened to be flying in for a work conference that morning from Memphis.

At the time, Dave was living in Brooklyn, but had just happened to come to town for a week. He tried calling his friends, but ran into the same jammed phone lines I reached.

Not knowing what to do and like the rest of the nation, bouncing back and forth between confusion, horror, and dismay, Dave and I finally decided to go give blood. We didn't know how it might help, but we figured there would be lots of people needing blood and that was all we could do from the suburbs of Chicago.

One of the things that struck me about that day, and still remains in the forefront of my mind as we celebrate the ten year anniversary of September 11th, is the amount of sacrifice that police officers, fire fighters and other first responders made not just that day, but every day.

As people were fleeing New York and Washington DC, police officers and fire fighters ran into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Every single day, they put their own lives in danger, even in the safest communities in our nation. When police office pulls over a speeder, he doesn't know what he'll encounter when he approaches the driver. They run into burning buildings. They work in all kinds of weather and on all the holidays. And they do so without complaining. By all definitions, police officers and fire fighters are heroes.

I don't know about you, but I'm awfully grateful for our first responders and the sacrifices they make. They make those sacrifices so we don't have to worry and can feel safe. If you have the opportunity today stop and say thank you to all the police officers and fire fighters you see. They more than deserve our gratitude.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rev. Jesse Jackson Reads Dr. Seuss

You cannot possibly love your job as much as I love mine. How do I know? Because of what happened this morning.

I was having a meeting with one of our executive vice presidents about a serious subject matter when all of the sudden the topic of Dr. Seuss comes up. Now let's just stop right there for a second. How often are you able to weave Dr. Seuss into your serious meetings? See, that alone makes my job awesome.

I mentioned that Dr. Seuss spoke at Lake Forest College Commencement in the 1977 (thank you President Hotchkiss) and the EVP says "That's cool, but has Jesse Jackson ever done Dr. Seuss at LFC?" I had no idea what he was speaking of, so he stops and pulls up a video of Jesse Jackson reading Green Eggs and Ham on Saturday Night Live on You Tube. We spent the next five minutes laughing hysterically.

Now even if you can weave Dr. Seuss into routine work meetings, do you get to stop and watch videos? I didn't think so. And that's part of why I love my job so much.

Because I love you too, I want you to be able to enjoy how I spent part of my morning. Unfortunately, You Tube doesn't love you like I do and the embedding function on the video has been disabled. You'll have to visit You Tube to watch it. Trust me, it's worth it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

No Means No

Have you seen the adorable video of the lovesick puppy attempting to get some lovin' from the cat on Huffington Post?

No? Don't worry, I've got your back. I've brought it to you.

Such a cute puppy. Just wants some of his affection returned.

As I watched the video, two things struck me. First, the non-responsive cat looks an awful lot like Betsey. Second, that's pretty much how she'd respond to any dog violating her personal space like that. Wait, no, she'd probably hiss at him and claw his eyes out. Then she'd have him for lunch. She'd let him know that no means no.

Betsey. She's a princess, but you shouldn't mess with her. No means no.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Oh My God, We're Moving!?!

This is Betsey, of Betsey and Ross, Little Merry Sunshine's cats.

Ross and I just learned that we're moving to some place called "Lake Bluff." We don't know where this place is, but we don't like it.

Frankly, we're happy here in Arlington Heights. We've been here for 11 years and we have no need to change. We've spent a lot of time marking our territory to insure all the neighborhood animals knew who was boss. Do you know how long it takes to mark a whole house? It's hard work. And we're 15. When we moved to Arlington Heights, we were 4, and had tons of energy. Now, we're senior citizens who like to lounge around all day.

We have to find new hiding places. We've got great spots all over the house. Under the bed. In the closet behind the towels. Under the bathroom sink. Behind the sofa. In the rocking chair. Behind the piano. In the pantry. And many more that Mom doesn't know about. And now we have to find new hiding spots.

Is this "Lake Bluff" place even on a bluff with a view of a lake or it is just a bunch of false advertising like the "heights" in Arlington Heights? When we moved here, we thought we were moving to the top of the world, but we're not. We're on the middle of the flatlands. It's nothing like our home in Alexandria, Virginia. Out there, it was hilly. In Arlington Heights, it's just flat for as far as the eye can see. We hope this "Lake Bluff" place lives up to its name.

Another reason we don't want to move is because our vet is just down the road a piece about 10 minutes away. Ross sees the doctor frequently because he's got diabetes and cancer and I have to get my thyroid checked periodically. We love our doctors, Drs. Kinnavy and Guedet, at March Animal Hospital. Everyone at their office knows and loves us and we love them. We're practically celebrities over there. What if we have an emergency and we have to get to the vet quickly?

We like our neighbors. Carol and Courtney, Louise, Don, and Roxanne. They're all friendly to us. Carol comes over to play with us sometimes when Mom is gone. We even like our grandma. She remembered to feed us tonight when Mom forgot. Ross has to eat and then get his insulin shot on schedule. Who will feed us if Mom is out and forgets to come home?

That's it. We're not moving. Mom didn't ask us if we wanted to move and we have legitimate reasons for wanting to stay put. We're not going anywhere. Period.

This is Ross.

Betsey doesn't speak for me. She's being silly. No, we weren't asked for our opinion, but it sounds like our new house is beautiful and we're going wherever Mom goes. Period. As for Mom forgetting to feed us tonight, she remembered when she walked in the door just 5 minutes after her normal time, but her mom had already done it. When it was time, Mom gave me my insulin. Mom always remembers or gets us fed, so it'll all be okay. She takes excellent care of us and if I'm not worried about getting to our favorite vet when we need to, considering I'm the one with the biggest health challenges, then Betsey should chill out.

I'm excited about our new home. New hiding places. And I hear we can see a lake from our bedroom. Mom says our house is also very high up. New friends. It's gonna be great!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Favorite Closing Day Moment

You'd think that my favorite moment yesterday was when I signed the 7,971,052nd form and was told I was done or when I was officially handed the keys to my new home or when I walked into my home for the first time as the owner or even when the doorbell rang and Tim, Michael, and Wini were standing at the door with wine and champagne to toast my home. And you'd be wrong.

My favorite moment happened about an hour after closing when I ran over to Chase Bank in downtown Lake Forest to deposit the money I received back from my closing payment (I had overpaid by a little).

I pulled into the drive-thru exhausted, just wanting to run my errand, and get back to the condo. I was rushing, thinking about the huge to do list that awaited me, and not really in the present when I sent my money through the little machine and waited for the teller at the other end to send me my receipt.

About a minute or two later, I heard a voice and saw a face on the video screen...

"Ms. Gardner?"


"Did it all work out? Did you close on your condo? Are you a homeowner now?"

I was stopped cold with surprise. This was the teller who prepared my cashier's check on Wednesday with my down-payment. When she saw me on Wednesday, I was a mess of emotions. My mortgage broker, Bob Degen, had sent me over to Chase to get the money for my down-payment (but probably also so I'd get some air and focus on something else as I was in a panic), while he worked his magic to make sure all the final i's were dotted and t's were crossed, even though we had some last minute problems. While I was at Chase, I ran into a co-worker and we chatted about my condo while this delightful teller prepared the cashier's check.

"Yes! I am! It all worked out and I officially own my own home! I can't believe you remembered! Thank you so much!"

"Of course I remembered, it's not every day I get to help make someone's dream of being a homeowner come true. Congratulations! I'm really happy for you and look forward to seeing you in the bank more often."

"Thank you! You'll definitely see me soon! Have a great day!"

You know, I've banked Chase in Arlington Heights since I moved back to Chicago in 2000. My family has banked there since 1975 and I opened my first checking accounts there in 1989 when I went to college (of course, back then, it was a predecessor to Chase). At no point have I ever walked into Chase in Arlington Heights or pulled into the drive-thru and been greeted by name. I've only continued to bank there because my entire family banks there and that made it convenient.

But my first day of living in Lake Forest/Lake Bluff and the bank teller greets me by name and takes a sincere interest in me. It was my favorite moment of the day.

As I sit here and type up this story, all day long, I've wanted to call Nana and tell her all about my new home, but it just hit me that I didn't need to call her (even though I obviously can't) because she came to me. She was a banker for 40 years at what's now Bank of America. She greeted each of her customers by name and remembered their life stories - their kids, spouses, homes, births, deaths, new jobs, etc. Clearly the lovely woman at Chase was channeling Nana.

And that's why it was the best moment of my day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bucket List # 67: Buy a House

The ring of keys to my first home.

It is truly the worst kept secret, but as of late this afternoon, I'm officially a homeowner and checked Bucket List Item #67 off my list. I bought a condo in Lake Bluff.

In so many ways buying this condo is the fulfillment of a very long-held dream.

When I lived in DC in my 20s (yes, that would be the 1990s), friends of mine were buying places, but it took about 5 years of renting before I finally felt "old enough" and started thinking of buying the condo I was living in in 1999. When I rented it, the owner told me he would give me right of first refusal, but then went back on that in early 2000 and sold it without even telling me it was on the market until I received notice I had 60 days to leave because it had been sold. I moved to Chicago shortly after that and for a variety of reasons, couldn't entertain the thought of purchasing my own home.

Fast forward 11 years.

It was only 2 1/2 months ago that I actually started to seriously imagine owning a home.

I was looking at rental units online and found one in my LFC girlfriend Wini's building. Chatting with my LFC friend Derek about it, he suggested I look at buying because of how low housing prices and interest rates were. I hadn't even thought about buying because it didn't occur to me that I could. Suddenly, my heart was atwitter with the idea of owning my own home. I got pre-approved with ease and Derek referred me to the most incredible real estate agent ever.

Shelley Goddard of Coldwell Banker in Lake Forest made the entire first-time buying experience fun, easy-to-understand, and pretty painless. She was a tough negotiator who enabled me to purchase my new home for 75% of the current asking price (70% of the original asking price that had only just been reduced when I stumbled upon the condo) by backing up our offers with thorough research and comps. Once we had a contract, Shelley's advocacy work on my behalf continued as she helped navigate the difficult waters of securing the condo documents with a non-responsive seller's agent and attorney. Even sitting at the closing today, Shelley was advocating on my behalf when the seller failed to fix all of the items in the inspection report because he "didn't know they were there" (even though his attorney agreed to fix them in writing). When I got cold feet, she talked me through, it to make sure I was making the decision that was best for me. All along the way, Shelley had my best interest as her primary focus and motivation. Part of what makes Shelley great is that she only works by referral, will never represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction (which is legal in Illinois, but really only in the agent's best interest), and only works with a small number of clients at a time. Shelley's 32 year history of living and working in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff also gave me an advantage. I honestly can't imagine buying or selling a home with anyone else.

Shelley then referred me to mortgage broker Bob Degen of Fifth Third Bank in Lake Forest who also worked tirelessly to get me an unbelievable mortgage rate and make the mortgage process as simple as it could be, even with a few snafus due to a change in my down payment funding less than 24 hours before closing. True to his word, Bob enabled my deal to close in 30 days, which is unheard of. He even came to the closing today. Rates have dropped again and if you are thinking about buying a home or want to refinance your current home, call Bob and tell him I referred you. He's the only mortgage broker I will ever deal with.

My attorney, Kathleen Rodriguez, a girlfriend of mine in Arlington Heights, got me through a very difficult attorney review and inspection period, which honestly didn't end until we were sitting at the closing table. She talked me off the ledge more than once and held my hand through the closing process as I developed carpel tunnel syndrome from signing my name 792 times. I had been very confused about how all the credits worked and even through this morning, I was very nervous, but Kathleen explained it all so I could understand it easily. And she fought a good fight with the seller's attorney today when it turned out they didn't fix a safety issue in the inspection. Kathleen was worth her fees many times over. She doesn't have a website, but if you need a real estate attorney, let me know and I'll give you her information.

Another Forester girlfriend, Kara, couldn't stop raving about the movers she hired for her recent move and referred me to LFC alum Derrick Spencer of Aaron Brothers Moving. Derrick and his company are officially moving me next week.

Finally, after the closing today, I met my original Forester Friend Tim State, his boyfriend Michael Norpell, and Wini at the condo to help pick out the color Michael is going to paint my bedroom. Michael is an interior designer, so he really knows his stuff and is going to help me make my condo elegant and classy. Even though I had fallen in love with Silver Peony about 18 months ago on Forester girlfriend and interior designer, Barrie Spang's blog, The Designing Life (scroll all the way down on the home page and see the picture called "Master Bedroom"), we ended up choosing Lavender Ice, a color Tim and Michael have in their home.

This is what I'll see when I look out my bedroom window each morning.

Lest you have any doubt, buying, moving into and decorating my first home would not be possible without my Forester Family and their connections.

I can't wait to get moved in and settled. And more than that, I can't wait to host my first dinner party. Then it will truly feel like home.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are You Tired of Voice Mail Hell?

Have you become convinced that endless automated phone systems are one of Dante's Nine Circles of Hell and that actual customer service provided by a human being died sometime in the 1990s?

Yesterday, I discovered a website designed around the radical premise of connecting people with people when calling for customer service.

Now I haven't actually tried any of the phone numbers listed on the site, but I've spent some time searching the site and am pleasantly surprised at how much information is available, complete with reviews, average wait times, and other short cuts.

The next time I have to call a company to hook up cable, turn on electricity, handle a mobile phone problem, or even put a vacation stop on my newspaper, I'll be visiting

Try it and let me know what you think.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Runners Get "Runners High," But What Do Swimmers Get?

Whatever the swimming equivalent is to "Runner's High," I experienced for the very first time today in the pool.

It was kind of strange really. You'd think I might have experienced it last week when I was at Watervale and swimming across Lower Herring Lake. You remember the saga from last year. Last year, I struggled physically and in my head to swim from the dock to BooHoo. It took me an hour just to get there and then I had to kayak back. Last year, I couldn't swim a straight line to save my life. Rather than swim from Points A to B, I swam it via points Q, R, and S. That is to say, I swam completely out of my way...multiple times. Although Dave didn't have to pull me in the kayak, I did have to stop a lot and hold onto the kayak while I caught my breath and tread water.

This year, I swam to BooHoo like a champ. Rather than taking an hour to get there, I swam round trip in an hour. Round. Trip. In other words, I swam each way in 30 minutes or half the time it took last year! Swimming round trip to BooHoo in under an hour was a goal I'd set last year and I did it. And then I did it again two days later. On the first swim to BooHoo, I did have to stop and hang onto the kayak twice, but those times were only to de-fog my goggles. Thank goodness for my Watervale swimmer friend Craig who clued me in about licking the inside of my goggles to prevent fog. That man is brilliant. How no one else told me that previously is beyond me, but I digress. I didn't have to hold onto the kayak on the way home or on the second trip two days later.

Back to tonight. I hopped into the pool, licked my goggles, which, as it turned out, were full of Watervale sand and headed out. Let me just say that swimming in a lap pool no deeper than 5 feet, where I can see the bottom of the crystal clear, chlorinated water, and with stripes on the bottom and lane markers on either side felt like I was swimming with training wheels in comparison to the treacherous waters of Lower Herring Lake.

In the wild open waters of Lower Herring Lake, I bravely fought off speed boats, survived strong currents, huge waves, 50+ foot depths, an internal GPS that worked sometimes and was on the fritz the other times, the voices inside my head (and a rather unpleasant conversation with Dave once when I needed a break), the Lower Herring Lake Monster, and very uneven water temps. I even got cramps once. But I swam it. Round trip. Twice.

Tonight I powered through my swim with a new-found vigor. I swam with power and strength I didn't know I had. I even had speed that I've never had before. I cut 30% off my best time. The voices telling me I couldn't do it, that I'm weak and slow were gone. Instead, they were replaced with "How much faster/further can I go?" and "I'm done? Oh crap. I could go another 15 minutes or so. Too bad there's a bunch of people waiting." I ran into the wall a couple of times not because I wasn't paying attention, but because I thought the length of the pool was a whole lot longer than it actually is. In short, I felt exhilarated.

I can't wait to get in the pool tomorrow. And next year? I'm gonna swim round-trip to BooHoo each day in less than 45 minutes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Beloit Mindset List or What Makes Me Feel Old Today

A few days ago, my college friend Worth published the Beloit Mindset List on his Facebook wall just like he does each year. And each year, right on cue, it makes me feel just a little bit older.

In case you're not familiar with it, the Beloit Mindset List was created in 1998 to point out the "cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college" each fall.

Now while I don't normally post things produced by institutions other than Lake Forest College because, from my entirely unbiased opinion, the highest quality thought comes from LFC, I do enjoy this list and believe you will too. Of course, you'll also cry when you realize that if you graduated from college in 1993, the Class of 2015 was born just as you were accepting your diploma. Also #2 made me scream just a little. And don't get me started about #56, which should have been #23, by the way. (If a Chicagoan had made the list, #56 would have been #23, out of respect. I'm just saying.) Oh, and get the hell off my lawn!

The Mindset List for the Class of 2015

Andre the Giant, River Phoenix, Frank Zappa, Arthur Ashe and the Commodore 64 have always been dead.

Their classmates could include Taylor Momsen, Angus Jones, Howard Stern's daughter Ashley, and the Dilley Sextuplets.

  1. There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.
  2. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
  3. States and Velcro parents have always been requiring that they wear their bike helmets.
  4. The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  5. There have nearly always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
  6. They “swipe” cards, not merchandise.
  7. As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
  8. Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
  9. “Don’t touch that dial!”….what dial?
  10. American tax forms have always been available in Spanish.
  11. More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
  12. Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
  13. Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you're talking about LeBron James.
  14. All their lives, Whitney Houston has always been declaring “I Will Always Love You.”
  15. O.J. Simpson has always been looking for the killers of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
  16. Women have never been too old to have children.
  17. Japan has always been importing rice.
  18. Jim Carrey has always been bigger than a pet detective.
  19. We have never asked, and they have never had to tell.
  20. Life has always been like a box of chocolates.
  21. They’ve always gone to school with Mohammed and Jesus.
  22. John Wayne Bobbitt has always slept with one eye open.
  23. The Communist Party has never been the official political party in Russia.
  24. “Yadda, yadda, yadda” has always come in handy to make long stories short.
  25. Video games have always had ratings.
  26. Chicken soup has always been soul food.
  27. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has always been available on TV.
  28. Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief.
  29. Arnold Palmer has always been a drink.
  30. Dial-up is soooooooooo last century!
  31. Women have always been kissing women on television.
  32. Their older siblings have told them about the days when Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera were Mouseketeers.
  33. Faux Christmas trees have always outsold real ones.
  34. They’ve always been able to dismiss boring old ideas with “been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt.”
  35. The bloody conflict between the government and a religious cult has always made Waco sound a little whacko.
  36. Unlike their older siblings, they spent bedtime on their backs until they learned to roll over.
  37. Music has always been available via free downloads.
  38. Grown-ups have always been arguing about health care policy.
  39. Moderate amounts of red wine and baby aspirin have always been thought good for the heart.
  40. Sears has never sold anything out of a Big Book that could also serve as a doorstop.
  41. The United States has always been shedding fur.
  42. Electric cars have always been humming in relative silence on the road.
  43. No longer known for just gambling and quickie divorces, Nevada has always been one of the fastest growing states in the Union.
  44. They’re the first generation to grow up hearing about the dangerous overuse of antibiotics.
  45. They pressured their parents to take them to Taco Bell or Burger King to get free pogs.
  46. Russian courts have always had juries.
  47. No state has ever failed to observe Martin Luther King Day.
  48. While they’ve been playing outside, their parents have always worried about nasty new bugs borne by birds and mosquitoes.
  49. Public schools have always made space available for advertising.
  50. Some of them have been inspired to actually cook by watching the Food Channel.
  51. Fidel Castro’s daughter and granddaughter have always lived in the United States.
  52. Their parents have always been able to create a will and other legal documents online.
  53. Charter schools have always been an alternative.
  54. They’ve grown up with George Stephanopoulos as the Dick Clark of political analysts.
  55. New Kids have always been known as NKOTB.
  56. They’ve always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe: Michael Who?
  57. They’ve often broken up with their significant others via texting, Facebook, or MySpace.
  58. Their parents sort of remember Woolworths as this store that used to be downtown.
  59. Kim Jong-il has always been bluffing, but the West has always had to take him seriously.
  60. Frasier, Sam, Woody and Rebecca have never Cheerfully frequented a bar in Boston during primetime.
  61. Major League Baseball has never had fewer than three divisions and never lacked a wild card entry in the playoffs.
  62. Nurses have always been in short supply.
  63. They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a website.
  64. Altar girls have never been a big deal.
  65. When they were 3, their parents may have battled other parents in toy stores to buy them a Tickle Me Elmo while they lasted.
  66. It seems the United States has always been looking for an acceptable means of capital execution.
  67. Folks in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have always been able to energize with Pepsi Cola.
  68. Andy Warhol is a museum in Pittsburgh.
  69. They’ve grown up hearing about suspiciously vanishing frogs.
  70. They’ve always had the privilege of talking with a chatterbot.
  71. Refugees and prisoners have always been housed by the U.S. government at Guantanamo.
  72. Women have always been Venusians; men, Martians.
  73. McDonalds coffee has always been just a little too hot to handle.
  74. “PC” has come to mean Personal Computer, not Political Correctness.
  75. The New York Times and the Boston Globe have never been rival newspapers.