Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fun on the Cheap or Thanks Groupon, Living Social & Mulamu!

As you know, I like to do fun things and go cool places. I enjoy pampering myself and dining out. Almost as much as having fun, I like to have lots of fun for little money. In other words, I have champagne taste on a beer budget. A cheap beer budget.

The last few of weeks have perfectly epitomized my desire to have fun and do cool things with little money.

Let's look at what I did in just one week earlier this month using Groupon, Living Social and Mulamu...

Friday, June 3rd: I pampered myself on our first Friday of "Summer Hours" with a 1-hour massage, hair treatment, scalp massage, and style at Teddie Kossof Salon using a Mulamu certificate. Cost $65. $135 value.

Saturday, June 4th: I took Mom to see Bridesmaids using a 2 tickets for $9 Fandango Living Social certificate. $21 value.

Sunday, June 5th: Read the Chicago Tribune thanks to a $13 Groupon giving me a 52-week Sunday-only subscription. $51 value.

Monday, June 6th: Christopher and I enjoyed dinner at La Tasca using a $30 value Groupon. Cost $15.

Wednesday, June 8th: My Forester Friend Carolyn and I lunched at Southgate using a $30 value Groupon. Cost $15.

Friday, June 10th: Enjoyed my pre-birthday manicure and pedicure at Hair Studio 626 using a Living Social certificate. Cost $29. $58 value.

In the next few of weeks, I'll be receiving a Bitty Box of organic fruits and vegetables from Door to Door Organics ($14 Groupon, $27 value), custom framing my five Christmas cards from President Clinton and one Christmas card from Vice President Gore at Grand Frame & Gallery ($49 Groupon, $125 value), enjoying dinner with Christopher at Texas de Brazil in Chicago ($25 Groupon, $50 value) and taking mom on the Architecture River Cruise with our Chicago Architecture Foundation membership purchased through Groupon for just $25 ($75 value). Before heading off to Watervale, I'll pamper my fingers and toes at Hair Studio 626 using a second Living Social certificate. Finally, before the end of the summer, I'll take a sail on the Tall Ship Windy with a friend (2 $15 Groupons, $60 value).

In case you're not familiar with them, Groupon, Living Social, and Mulamu are all daily deal websites. The basic premise is that a minimum number of people agree to purchase a deal and then the deal is "on." When you decide to purchase a deal, you put in your credit card information, but you only get the deal (and get charged for it) if the deal reaches the minimum number of buyers. On the off-chance the deal doesn't reach the minimum number of sales, your card doesn't get charged and you don't get the deal. You must make a decision quickly, however, because deals sell out and they're typically only available for one day. So if you snooze, you lose. Mulamu is slightly different from Groupon and Living Social. While it offers the daily deals and it works the same way Groupon and Living Social work, Mulamu allows you to choose a charity and a portion of each of your purchases will go to the charity.

The verdict is still out on whether or not these daily deal sites are good for businesses (and here)and attract long-term repeat business or if they simply bring in one-time customers, but I can tell you Groupon, Living Social, and Mulamu have been good for me. Of course, I purchase only the deals I'm going to use and then I use them.

My advice: sign up for the daily deal emails from Groupon, Living Social, and/or Mulamu and then see if you could save some money on things you'd do anyway or things you've always wanted to do. And then use your certificates. You don't save anything if you don't use the certificates.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Little Merry Sunshine Changed My Life

A post caught my eye on Facebook this afternoon. It simply said "How has your blog changed your life?" and had a link to a blog post titled "My Blog Changed My Life" on Blogher.com. I often read Blogher blogs and always enjoy what I read.

I was particularly struck by this particular blog, however, because until the author got to the part about getting married and becoming a mom, the post could have been written by me. As I drove home from Lake Forest I thought about the post and pondered the question, "How has Little Merry Sunshine changed my life?"

Simply put, Little Merry Sunshine has not only changed my life, but it saved my life.

When I started writing, four years ago next Friday, I was unsure about my ability to write. I had no idea if I'd stick with it. I kept the first few posts secured, only opening up Little Merry Sunshine to those I trusted the most and who I believed would tell me honestly if it was even worth continuing or if I should just shut up and quit thinking I could write. They cheered me on, so opened LMS up to a larger audience.

I wrote about what inspired me, my adventures in gardening, lust, Betsey and Ross, politics, sports, family, and much more. I was nervous about opening myself up because I worried about people not liking what I wrote. Those who enjoy my writing and Little Merry Sunshine have stuck around, visit regularly and even subscribe to the blog. Those who don't, haven't been back. Oh well. But I was worried, and I still worry, about putting my vulnerabilities out there for all the world to see. It's a little like standing naked for inspection. I can't hide my flaws and I can't hide from the criticism, although trust me when I say the loudest critic is always me. But the best parts of me also have the opportunity to be viewed and celebrated.


Some people think bloggers are a joke, but I disagree. In spite of what some people may think, I frequently censor myself and have tossed out more blog posts than I care to think about. Some were partial posts, but others were complete and ready for publication. I tossed them out because they were either too personal and I was afraid to reveal so much or because the posts didn't live up to my standards.

Through blogging, I've had some of my beliefs challenged by people I respect and others challenged by some people just looking to pick a fight. I've engaged with the respectful ones and enjoyed the opportunities to grow. I've ignored the haters.

I've also gotten to know people I would never have known otherwise and I've reconnected with people I had long ago lost touch with. I discovered that Little Merry Sunshine has a far greater reach than I ever imagined, when I was contacted just last weekend by a former flame telling me he's a regular reader of LMS. The verdict is still out about how I feel about that. Honestly, I had sealed that can of worms and stored it neatly away and wasn't really prepared to have it abruptly opened again.

Little Merry Sunshine has been recognized by the Chicago Tribune and numerous published authors read it.

I write when I'm over-the-moon happy, but I've also written from the depths of overwhelming grief. When Nana died, writing Little Merry Sunshine (here and here) and Remembering Frances kept me going when I couldn't get out of bed and no one knew about it. And then when my heart got broken a month later, I wrote to get through that grief too. To say Little Merry Sunshine saved my life during the difficult times, is no exaggeration. Believe me, writing is

Little Merry Sunshine has made me more confident. It has helped me deal with my demons and even stop caring what others think so much. Friends and family have told me they are proud of me for some of the things I've written and the positions I've taken. I've become clearer on some of my lifelong dreams and dealt with giving others up.

If you haven't tried writing, give it a shot. It's cathartic and fun and you never know, you may just find a new passion.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pure Michigan...Sand

On my way to the vet with Betsey tonight, I heard a Pure Michigan ad on the radio and, as they almost always do, it brought tears to my eyes. I don't know if I'm just overly tired from working late 2 nights, Birthapalooza celebrated over 3 nights, and a Lake Forest College alumni Architectural Boat Cruise last night or if I'm just missing Watervale, but as soon as they said those magic words "Pure Michigan," I got all teary.

A little while later, as I was waiting on the doctor to bring Betsey back to me after performing various tests, I was checking Facebook on my phone and discovered that my friend Christie from Watervale had placed this amazing Pure Michigan "Sand" ad on her Facebook page.

Just what I needed in that moment.

The beach and the sand and the water bring me peace. Digging my toes in the sand, listening to the waves crash, and feeling the sun beat down on my skin is better than any form of therapy I could possibly find. Watching the ad, I was instantly taken to Watervale. Even if it was only for 30 seconds, those were the most peaceful 30 seconds of my day.

Enjoy.



Because I love you, here's another brilliant Pure Michigan ad, Perfect Summer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Passport Arrived!

As part of Birthapalooza 2011, the U.S. Government decided it was a good idea to allow me to travel abroad and approved my passport application on June 15th. My actual passport arrived on Saturday. Best. Birthday. Present. Ever.

I dream of kissing the man I love at the top of the Eiffel Tower and visiting the Louvre in Paris, but I also dream of Rome (where I could tour the Sistine Chapel and attend mass at the Vatican) and Florence and London and Madrid, seeing The Egyptian Pyramids, Stonehenge, and the Great Wall of China, and attending the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona for the running of the bulls, just like The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (my favorite book ever).

The question is . . .Where do you think I should go and why?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Chicago Cubs: It Gets Better

Given their dismal record this year (29-42 to date), you might think this blog post was going to be an inspirational speech to help them emerge from their current 5th place position in the NL Central, but it's not.

The Chicago Cubs have joined with ItGetsBetter.org and The Trevor Project and made an inspiring video for LGBT youth who may be struggling. Started with a video by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry giving hope to LGBT youth, the "website www.itgetsbetter.org is a place where young people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future." The Trevor Project is dedicated to preventing suicide in the LGBT youth community and is a benefactor of ItGetsBetter.org.



The Cubs join the San Francisco Giants as only the second professional sports team to get involved with the It Gets Better project. Given how kids look up to professional athletes as role models, I hope all other sports teams will hurry up and get involved.

To quote Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, "Hatred, bigotry and intolerance have no place in this world."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Birthapaolooza Finale: The Birthday Hat

About a year ago, Tony brought Michael into our group of friends and Michael has not only given Tony immense happiness and love, but he also immediately fit right into our gang of neerdowells and we often ask ourselves where he's been our entire lives. In short, we love Michael.

One of the great things Michael has brought to us is the Birthday Hat. Michael is one of the most creative people I've ever known. If his gig as a social worker and counselor don't work out, he could make a killing as a hat designer. Those hats and fascinators at Kate Middleton's wedding are boring and understated in comparison to Michael's designs.

So far, we've celebrated 3 birthdays: Tony's, Christopher's and mine. Each of us received our own one-of-a-kind Birthday Hat that we wore with pride all evening long. Chris and I joined the 40 and Fabulous club this year and, as you'll see, we celebrated in style.

Let's take a look at the evolution of the hats:

Tony received the first hat in November. This expression is priceless. Somewhere there's a picture of me wearing Tony's hat with great amounts of Hat Envy.

Chris joined the 40 and Fabulous Club in April. Think his Birthday Hat is something? You should see the hat box. That was a work of art as well!

Me wearing Chris's Hat counting down the days til I'd have my own Birthday Hat.

Finally, I joined the 40 and Fabulous Club this week and was presented with my Birthday Hat on Saturday night. Unfortunately, you can't see the the black boa necklace that keeps it securely on my head because I'm also wearing a black shirt. I'm holding the Birthday Barbie that Wini gave me. Believe it or not, it's my first Barbie. Ever. Oh, and yes, my hat really is about 2 feet tall.

Birthapalooza is now in the history books and was truly memorable. I've got the greatest friends in the world and am blessed to have them in my life. Between the pre-celebration work event at the Mayne Stage on Wednesday with Bobcat Goldthwait, Thursday night's dinner and chocolate cake at the beach (my actual birthday), Ravinia on Friday, and my "surprise" birthday party last night, I'm exhausted. This old broad needs a nap. Someone wake me on Thursday.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 1 of Birthapalooza was FABULOUS!

I should be exhausted. It's almost midnight and I'm completely wide awake after a spectacular birthday. Well, after Day 1 of Birthapalooza. There's still 2 more days to go.

To be sure, it started out a little iffy with a bad migraine and LOTS of nausea. Don't get any funny ideas, it was just my body telling me that it really is going to fall apart any second.

But then it got better in a huge hurry. Birthday text messages, tweets, Facebook messages, emails, cards, at least 5 serenades of "Happy Birthday" and gifts. Plus, cupcakes, lunch, and a fabulous dinner followed by chocolate cake at the beach!

Plus, the Stargazer Lilies in my garden bloomed today!
If I'm ever feeling down about myself, all I need to do is go back to all those generous messages and feel all the love all over again. My cup completely runneth over. My birthday was better than anything I could have imagined and only Day 1 is over. In fact, as we stood at the beach tonight, I searched for that first star of the evening (you know, to make a wish - doesn't everyone do that?), but when I found it, I realized there was nothing to wish for. I have everything I ever wanted that truly matters. So I just stood there feeling grateful because I am truly blessed.

I'm 40 Today!

I know I've posted this twice before, but don't you think it's the cutest picture ever?

I'm 40. I'm in my 40s. For-ty.

I'm getting used to saying it. I can't say "I'm in my 30s" anymore.

But WOW! I'm 40! Wahoo! It's MY birthday! This is my favorite day of the year! My birthday is better than Christmas because it's MY birthday! And I'm so excited about MY birthday!

Yes, I know I'm like a little kid about it, but seriously...it's MY birthday!!!! And what's not to love about that? It's a day dedicated to ME!

And in the tradition of years past, this is my special birthday blog post. Last year, you will recall, I shared all my birthday horoscopes along with that super cute picture of my on my 4th birthday. In 2009, I discussed all the famous people who shared my special day, along with my first picture ever. I also showed off the most beautiful flowers in the world that I was surprised with by someone special. Finally, in 2008, I shared all the cool world events that happened on my birthday and shared the story of how I came into the world.

As I turn the page on this new chapter in my life, I thought I'd give a State of My Life update by checking in with my Bucket List.

This past year I . . .
  1. Stopped biting my nails, have pretty nails I'm proud of and have started wearing rings. Item #42.
  2. Paid off 100% of my debt. I achieved this Tuesday night. Whew! Just in time. You should have seen me doing the Happy Dance in my kitchen after I clicked the button on that online payment. This is a really big deal to me. It doesn't matter how much debt I had. In my opinion, any consumer debt is too much. I will tell you that the average U.S. household has $14,473 in credit card debt. I had significantly less than that, but enough that it took a plan. I followed my plan and achieved my goal. Item #44. Now I can turn my attention to item #67. (You'll have to go check it out, I'm not telling you what it is.)
  3. Ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. While you may think that's nothing to brag about, I'm really afraid of heights (and it's 150 feet in height!) and I overcame my fear to do this. Item #60.
  4. Swam from the Watervale dock to BooHoo. Item #61.
  5. Learned to love sushi. I accomplished this in January with a friend from high school that I hadn't seen since high school. Not only was it a great meal, but we had a wonderful, laughter-filled trip down memory lane. Item #62.
  6. Applied for my passport. It hasn't arrived yet, but that's okay. I've applied for it and it should be here any day, based on their 4-week estimated arrival time. Item #63.
  7. Lost 40 pounds. Okay, it wasn't the original 100 pounds that I wanted to lose this year and I also didn't reach my revised goal of 50 pounds, but I'm 40 pounds lighter than I was a year ago. I've lost 2 dress sizes and even a shoe size! Item #22.
I've also bought a new car (well, new to me), changed careers, gone to work at a company I love in a position that challenges me daily and brings me lots of personal fulfillment, and Little Merry Sunshine hit 50,000 visitors.

If I do say so myself, that's quite the list. I've actually achieved many of my personal goals and dreams in the past 40 years (see the bottom of my Bucket List for items I accomplished previously).

So what's up for the next 40 years? I don't have a crystal ball, but I do have my Bucket List and while I can't tell you with certainty that I'll achieve all of it, I do have a few items I plan to tick off in the next one to two years.
  1. Buy a house (a condo counts too). Item #67.
  2. Run a 5K. I'll do this by Thanksgiving. Item #21.
  3. Finish losing those 50 pounds and add another 30 to the tally by Christmas. Items #22 and 22A.
  4. Learn to play tennis. Item #33.
  5. Donate blood. I swear I'll do this by Christmas. Item #36.
  6. Dress in super sexy lingerie and feel confident about it. Item #53.
  7. Bike the Drive. Item #65.
  8. Travel to Paris. Item #68.
  9. Create a scholarship at my alma mater by the time I'm 42. Item #10.
  10. Learn to shoot a gun. Item #26.
  11. Visit New York City. Item #6.
So that's it. I've got a lot to be proud of, but I've still got a lot to accomplish.

Although this isn't quite front row seats at a U2 concert (item #29), Bono and The Edge had a special birthday message for me:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Follow-up to My Credit Card Number Was Stolen...Again

You will recall that over Mother's Day Weekend someone got a hold of my credit card and was attempting to travel Europe on my dime. To their credit, my company caught the fraud immediately and a good number of the charges.

At the time, my credit card company, could not give me an explanation for how my credit card number got into the hands of this world traveler. In more recent conversations over wacky charges that appeared last week, the company told me that the number was randomly generated through some card generating algorithms that criminals use. Uh huh.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it now: I believe that these are not randomly generated numbers. I believe my credit card company has a serious security flaw.

And now I've been proven right.

My credit card company, Citigroup, has been hacked!
Citigroup credit card customer information hacked
Chicago Tribune, June 9, 2011 via CNN Money

Citigroup says it has discovered a security breach in which a hacker accessed personal information from hundreds of thousands of accounts.

Citigroup said the breach occurred last month and affected about 200,000 customers.

"During routine monitoring, we recently discovered unauthorized access to Citi's account online," said Citigroup, in a prepared statement. "A limited number -- roughly 1 percent - of Citi bankcard customers' accounting information (such as name, account number and contact information including email address) was viewed."

According to its annual report, Citigroup has about 21 million credit card accounts in North America, where the breach occurred.

The statement went on to say that the customers' Social Security numbers, dates of birth, card expiration dates and card security codes "were not compromised."

Citigroup said it was contacting the affected customers and had "implemented enhanced procedures to prevent a recurrence of this type of event."

This is the latest bit of bad news for Citigroup, as the company's stock has plunged a whopping 15 percent over the last month due to uncertainty about the impact of the Wall Street reform law.

Rival bank stocks have also plunged, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.
Here's the thing...I believe that the reason all these security breaches keep happening (e.g., Michaels, Aldi, Citigroup, etc.) is because companies simply aren't taking customer security seriously enough. They figure it's cheaper to pay out some damages in reversed credit card charges than it is actually beef up their security. I also believe this isn't going to change until these companies are held liable for damages to the customers. Companies need to be held liable for being complicit. They have the ability to stop all these security breaches and they aren't doing so. They need to receive huge governmental fines and also be liable for damages to customers in some multiple of the fraud that occurred, but with a minimum fine for customers who have no actual fraud, but simply have their personal information leaked.

Both times I was the victim of fraud (in 2008 and last month), Citigroup said I was not entitled to a free copy of my credit report (I've already gotten my free credit reports for the year, so additional copies are on my dime). They did not contact the credit bureaus about the fraud. I had to do that. I had to put a fraud alert on my credit, but it's just that and does not have an explanation with it. All a fraud alert means is that if anyone attempts to open a credit card in my name, I'll get a phone call.

I didn't cancel my Citigroup Mastercard last month, even though I wanted to and now I don't know what to do. Do I cancel the only credit card I've had since 1997 which will hurt my credit OR do I hang onto a card with a company that clearly can't keep my private information secure?

What are your thoughts?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Learn to Ride a Bike, Inspire the World

Maybe you've been feeling a little down on yourself lately. Maybe you haven't achieved all you want in life. Maybe you need a little kick in the rear and some good old fashioned "you can do it" talk.

You spoke. Little Merry Sunshine listened.

We went out and found the most inspirational speaker of his generation. We don't know his name, but it doesn't matter. He will inspire you. And if he doesn't, well, then you've got bigger problems than Little Merry Sunshine can solve today. But just trust us. You'll be inspired.

Huffington Post is right. This little guy talks like CAPS LOCK SOUNDS. Again, trust us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Little Merry Sunshine Celebrates National Running Day!


Quit laughing. We really are celebrating National Running Day here at Little Merry Sunshine.

Let me give you the backstory...

It all started a few weeks ago when, after a great swim with my favorite swimming friend, I casually mentioned that I wanted to lose weight faster. He suggested that I start running. He's run two marathons. He's a runner. I have an (almost) 40 year history of never running because (a) I walk faster than I run, (b) my dad has a history of knee problems and I assume they are genetic, and (c) well, (c) is a very personal reason having to do with um, the girls. That said, prior to my friend making this comment, I had actually been contemplating possibly starting to think about running. Yep, I was committed.

After his comment, I started to think about running for real. But then I sort of forgot about it until Friday.

You may recall that Friday was the annual Lake Forest College Alumni Cubs Rooftop Event. I took the train down with my friend Derek and sizable group of Foresters and Forester Friends. Derek commented about how much weight I'd lost (40 pounds as of that morning!) and asked if I wanted to run the Shamrock Shuffle 8K with him next year. He had done it this year for the first time and had already committed to doing it again in 2012.

Before even giving me time to say no, he suggested a "better" idea: we run a 5K together in the fall in preparation for the 8K next Spring and actually got me excited for the Blackhawks Training Camp Festival and 5K in September. It's a 5K around the neighborhood ending inside the United Center with lots of beer while watching the Blackhawks workout. I have to be honest here: my favorite kind of workout includes me drinking beer while watching someone else sweat and if I have to sweat a little myself beforehand, I could do that.

On Saturday, I did a little research into the Blackhawks 5K and learned that it's being held on the same date as my LFC Fall Alumni Board Meeting and I can't, in good conscience, miss that meeting so I can go run and drink beer, even if it involves watching Patrick Kane skate around afterwards. No, really, I can't. Really.

So I started researching other 5K races we could do in the Fall.

In honor of National Running Day, I'm pleased to announce for the first time ever...

Little Merry Sunshine, joined by Derek and anyone else who wants to run, is going to run one and maybe two 5K races before the end of the year! And I'll get to cross an item off my Bucket List!

The Bucktown 5K will be held on Sunday, October 2nd in Bucktown with an after-party at the Taste of Bucktown. The only challenge with this race is the fact that it's the day after Homecoming and Reunion Weekend at Lake Forest College. If you've been, you know why running a race the next morning could be a problem.

The Northshore Turkey Trot will be held on Thursday, November 24th. As they say on the website, before you loosen your belt, tighten your laces. While it doesn't appear that this race includes a post-party, I probably have to get home to cook anyway.

Once we make a decision on which race (or both) to run, I'll let you know. My goal with both races is simply to finish.

Starting immediately, I'm going to start training to run a 5K. Yes, I know that most people train for marathons. To me, this is a marathon.

Want to run with me? Send me a note or leave a comment below.

I run because I want to lose weight faster and I want to challenge my body!