Friday, December 31, 2010

And the winners are ...

Just a quick post to let you know who the winners are for the last few giveaways:

Jane Seymour book, Among Angels : Cecil

Dawyn Meehan book, You’ll Lose the Baby Weight (And OTHER LIES About Pregnancy and Childbirth): Alana

Please send my assistant Amy ( your mailing addresses and we'll get those sent right out!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


A great Hawaiian saying is “Imua!” which means to move forward with confidence and courage.  It’s a great word for the upcoming new year as we explore new opportunities and perhaps face fears.

This week, I put into practice “imua” by facing my fear of ziplining.  Yes, I stepped off a wooden platform to soar across 1800 feet of the world’s fifth largest caldera located in Kauai.  Encouraged by my teenage daughters, I faced my fear of not being in control of my destiny and took a leap of faith.

The excellent guides, Mitch and Chris of Outfitters Kauai prepared us well for our ultimate “black diamond” zipline adventure.  We did several practice runs on what I thought were “big ziplines” but little did I know what was really awaiting.  The guides constantly reminded us that the most important lesson we all needed to learn to be safe was to “trust our gear.”

True wisdom that I needed to hear.  For too long in life, I have “held on tightly” when what I should have done was to “let go and let God.”  He provides “the gear” that we need to sustain us through the difficult moments of life as we soar across jungles.

So I guess my advice would be this:  “Face your fear and trust God’s gear.”  IMUA!!

What fear do you need to face this year?  What have you been holding on too tightly?  What does “imua” mean to you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Maestro of Music Shares His Grace Notes on Life: Wayne Messmer

Wayne Messmer greeted my friend and me with a song when we met during a business lunch.  He approached the table at Wildfire in Schaumburg and sang, “When the moon meets the sky like a big apple pie that’s…” He pretended to hold a microphone and encouraged me to sing in response and so I did: “Amore.”  I would like to publicly extend an apology for those diners who had to endure my off pitch musical response.

Interactive encouragement is a true trademark of this incredible music man.  A famous personality in Chicago, Wayne has sung the national anthem for all of the professional sports teams in the area.  He has also taken his distinguished voice to the airwaves with his own weekly radio show, Homelife on WIND AM 560 each Saturday morning from 8-9.  But most of all, Wayne is a survivor and a “thriver” from an act of violence which temporarily took away his passion:  Singing.  A teenager shot him in the throat in a senseless act of violence which as Wayne describes on this video “stole his voice.”  Silence can be deafening, especially when the voice of Wayne Messmer is quiet.  Through hard work and by God’s grace, Wayne found his voice again and is able to communicate his love for life through the songs in his heart.  
I asked Wayne for tips on how to make the holidays special this year.  He said that the holidays can be a reflective time on the past, remembering people who are no longer with us or regretting things we didn’t do or say.  Wayne encourages us instead to embrace the present moment and to make a point to find opportunities and create memorable moments with those who are still in our lives.  As Wayne knows firsthand, tomorrow is not always a guarantee.  Today is a gift, so as Wayne reminds us, “Take a breath of life.”  Celebrate and make your moments great.
And for more additional information about Wayne Messmer, consider purchasing his autobiography, The Voice of Victory and tune in on Saturday mornings on WIND AM560 for Homelife with Wayne Messmer

Per the wisdom of Wayne to make memorable moments during Christmas, I am trying to overcome my fear and embrace the opportunity to go ziplining with my family.  How do you plan to create memorable moments during the holidays with the ones you love?  I would love to hear your stories!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Diapers and Wings and win a copy of You’ll Lose the Baby Weight (And OTHER LIES About Pregnancy and Childbirth)

‘Tis the Season for giving……. a Baby Shower! Popular blogger and author, Dawn Meehan helped host a baby shower for Wings as she launched her latest book: You’ll Lose the Baby Weight (And OTHER LIES About Pregnancy and Childbirth) . Here’s a quick Flip Clip of Dawn discussing her new book.

For those of you who may not know about Wings (women in need growing stronger), it’s a great charity based in the suburbs of Chicago. As full disclosure, I am on the Leadership Advisory Board. This non-profit provides a much needed Safe House in the suburbs along with transitional homes and programs to help women who are fleeing from domestic violence to get a new start in life. There are some babies in the Safe House now so they need diapers, formula and other items. Many of the attendees for this latest event brought along some great donations for the Baby Shower. As you think about ways to give during this holiday season, please keep Wings in mind. Donations don’t even have to be monetary. If you are cleaning your closet as a New Year’s resolution, please think about donating your clothes to Wings which will either give the items directly to those in the Safe House and transitional homes or generate revenue by selling the items at the Wings retail stores. Also, please consider doing some of your Christmas shopping at the resale stores. Great gifts at much lower prices. Click here for the locations.

Beth Engelman, (aka mommy-on-a-shoestring and a supporter of Wings), wrote a great column for Pioneer Press/SunTimes Media about crafting with a purpose for the holiday season. She gives instructions on how to decorate onesies with a stamp pad. She donated some beautiful onesies to the babies in the Safe House.

Please share your stories about the most memorable baby shower you attended. Any tips on home made gifts? Are you a Dawn Meehan fan? Leave a comment and you will be entered to win an autographed copy of Dawn’s book!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not Exactly an Angel

Guest blog by Patricia Crisafulli

The line at the bank was long and the tellers were few. With a tight schedule, I felt my impatience rise along with my indignity. Everywhere I looked young bankers strolled to and fro talking to each other. Didn’t they see the line? Didn’t they understand the concept of customer service?
As I waited my turn with two customers ahead of me, I was joined by a tiny older woman, white haired and stooped shouldered. She looked around through large soft eyes magnified by her glasses, no doubt wondering how long she would have to stand there.  When another elderly woman, well dressed with a smart hat, joined the end of the line, I thought for sure someone would notice. Then came Mr. Tall and Strapping, as I labeled him, who took his place behind Mrs. Soft Eyes and Mrs. Hat. He and I exchanged a knowing glance; we were comrades in indignation. Into the bank strolled a jolly older gentleman, walking stiffly with a cane. He stood behind Mr. Tall and Strapping.
By now my normally low blood pressure was spiking. All I needed was to catch the eye of one of these bankers to deliver a withering stare from my arsenal of dirty looks. Or, if the chipper fellow who greeted customers at the door with a “Happy Holidays” would just wander my way I’d give him a piece of my mind.
As my thoughts roiled, I could not see the opportunity that I was being given, especially as we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth, to demonstrate religion as St. James described it, looking after orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:27, NIV) Although I could not attest to the marital status of Mrs. Soft Eyes, Mrs. Hat, and Mr. Cane, metaphorically speaking here was my chance to show a little Christianity in action. Instead, I was too interested in finding fault with someone else (the speck in their eyes, as opposed to the log in mine).
When my turn finally came to make my deposit, my anger had cooled a few degrees; after all, the young woman at the teller window was not at fault. Yet I couldn’t resist pointing out that there were several older people in line, including a gentleman with a cane. She smiled graciously at me and asked me if I wanted to let them go ahead of me.
“Yes,” I said sheepishly, “that’s what I will do.”
I ushered Mrs. Soft Eyes to the teller and let Mrs. Hat ahead of me, too. Mr. Tall and Strapping told Mr. Cane to go to the head of the line.
In that moment I was given a gift, a chance to demonstrate my better self not only to the other customers but to myself. Yet, if it had not been for the teller who made the suggestion to me, I would have stayed with my angry indignation. Through her thoughtfulness she instructed me, reminding me of St. Paul’s words to Timothy to “correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. “ (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV)
As she left the teller window, Mrs. Hat turned and blew me a kiss as if I were some kind of “angel” who had come to her rescue. I felt completely unworthy to receive such a gift. Then again, aren’t we all if not for grace? It moves and inspires, and brings us up to all we are capable of being.

Patricia Crisafulli is a professional writer and published author, and founder of

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Heart of Rachael Ray: Recipes and Rescues

What a delight to meet Rachael Ray at Barnes & Noble Oak Brook.  She was in Chicagoland to promote her latest book Look and Cook!

Before she signed books, Rachael hugged dogs. Rescue dogs from Chicago Canine Rescue.  Rachael loves dogs, and she got lots of smooches from the pooches.

The dog featured in this Flip clip was brought to the rescue shelter with a head injury that required 150 stitches.  Thanks to the caring staff at Chicago Canine Rescue, this dog now thrives and is looking for a home.

At this event, Rachael presented a check for $7500 to Chicago Canine Rescue as part of her recent announcement to donate over $750,000 to animal shelters across the country with proceeds from her pet food line Rachael Ray Nutrish™. Yes, you can now give your precious pups a selection of canine cuisine from Rachael Ray and even get recipes online for your pets! Throughout her latest book tour for Look & Cook, Rachael recognizes a local shelter at each venue and encourages fans to adopt a pet!  For more information about organizations that help animals in need, visit her website Rachael’s Rescue.  There is also a picture of Rachael with her beloved Pit Bull Isaboo on the website.

Rachael also has a heart for recipes. In her latest book Look & Cook, Rachael offers a multimedia experience in the kitchen.  You can look at over 600 pictures to make sure the dish looks like it is supposed to at each stage.  And you can connect to a video via Rachael’s website to “look & cook” along with her as she prepares some selected recipes from the book.  I can’t wait to prepare Sliced Chicken with Apples, Pears and Camembert featured on page 189 of Look & Cook. Yum!

So during this holiday season, put Look & Cook on your shopping list. And please consider adopting a dog from a local shelter.  A dog’s kiss reminds us that unconditional love is truly a gift from the soul.

What is your favorite Rachael Ray recipe? Have you adopted any rescue dogs? Please share your stories.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Among Angels

As many of you know, my brother, Randy passed away On December 2nd. A week before he died, Randy was fishing and took a lovely picture of clouds with his cell phone. The photograph, however, captured a remarkable image: Angels in the sky! My heart likes to think that perhaps these heavenly hosts in the clouds had gathered to safely lead my brother home.
Angels were on my mind when I attended Jane Seymour’s book signing event at Barnes & Noble Oak Brook on December 5th. Over 200 people were lined up to greet Jane and purchase an autographed copy of her latest book, Among Angels (Guideposts, 2010). This lovely gift book features Jane’s beautiful paintings with inspiring quotes and stories about ministering angels and even everyday “angels” we encounter through our friends and family. This books makes a delightful hostess and holiday gift. A few remaining signed copies are available at Barnes & Noble Oak Brook.

Jane Seymour is a genuine and gracious soul. She gave me a hug from her heart when she learned about the death of my brother. Jane is one of those women who seem to have it all. She’s an actress, an artist, an author, a mother, a philanthropist, and even a jewelry designer. She was given much, and in return she gives so much to others. At age 40, Jane was nearly bankrupt when she attended a charity event to help abused children. With limited money remaining, she bid on painting lessons in the silent auction and won. The artist came to her home to teach her to paint with watercolors and noticed a finger painting that Jane had done with her children. He remarked that she had real talent. Painting became a healing process for Jane. Three of her paintings were even shown at The Guggenheim. I first met Jane in person at Wentworth Gallery Woodfield when I purchased a copy of her painting “Peace” which depicts two sisters dancing with a white billowy sheet on the beach. The young girls remind me of my own daughters, and the painting provides daily inspiration in my writing alcove. Jane has a unique gift to transform an empty canvas with the fullness of life, reflecting the intangible in the tangible, the inexplicable in the explicable, and complexity in its utmost simplicity.

Jane has a heart for charity and listened with interest when I told her about Pearl Girls and how the proceeds benefit a Safe House for Wings and build wells for school children in Uganda. She even signed my painting: “To Margaret McSweeney and her love of sisterhood.”  Proceeds from her painting also benefit charities. At the book signing, Jane announced the plans to establish Open Hearts Foundation, a non-profit which will help other charities. Her late mother would always tell her “If your heart is open, love will always find its way in.”  Jane has designed a successful Open Hearts jewelry line with Kay Jewelers.

Jane’s heart is also full of love for her family, and she is a proud mother. At the book signing, she promoted her teenage son, Johnny Keach who is in a band called PT5 which stands for Plead the Fifth. And of course Jane provides a link to a free music download on her website. The band has a great sound!  And as a mother, I will always treasure the moment when Jane spent several minutes with my youngest daughter, Katie to encourage her and provide advice about fashion design. Jane has such an open heart!  

One of my favorite quotes in Jane’s latest book, Among Angels is on page 91 in her book:
“Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering to fly.”  
Thank you to all the “angels” in my life who have lifted me to my feet during the difficult times in my life. Who have the angels been in your life?  Leave a comment and you might win an autographed copy of Jane Seymour’s Among Angels.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Sampling of Serendipity

One of my favorite places to visit in New York is the restaurant Serendipity a block away from Bloomingdale’s.  And of course one of my favorite movies, Serendipity featured this special restaurant.  Serendipity is like Disney World for your taste buds- truly one of the happiest places in the world and hosted by one of the nicest people you will ever meet, Stephen Bruce.  He is one of the three original founders of this delightfully eccentric gathering place which is best known for its frrrozen hot chocolate.

And if you watch Serendipity during the holidays, look for Stephen’s cameo appearance.  He is the one holding the scarf when John Cusack returns to the restaurant.

Stephen personally answers the phone and writes down the reservations.  A humble and gracious gentleman, Stephen does not boast about his famous friends and accomplishments, so let me do that for him.  He was very close friends with Andy Warhol who was a frequent diner at Serendipity.  Stephen even designed Warhol’s first apartment in Manhattan, and Andy did over twenty drawings of Stephen while sitting at a table in Serendipity.  The world famous James Beard taught Stephen how to make omelets, and that dish is still a delicious feature on the Serendipity menu. Over the years famous politicians, artists, musicians, and celebrities have enjoyed the food and fellowship at Serendipity,  Enjoy listening to my podcast interview with Stephen on Kitchen Chat for more inside “scoop.”
And check out Stephen’s fabulous books with recipes and ideas for entertaining – a must for everyone’s kitchen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Cup of Cheer

As we prepare for the hectic schedule of the holiday season, please remember to take a few quiet moments and share a cup of cheer with a special friend or family member. 

Recently, I met  my dear friend, Tricia Crisafulli, an accomplished author and businesswoman at Tea Lula, our favorite gathering place in Park Ridge.

What a lovely venue to reflect upon life and memories, hopes and dreams.  Tricia has been an inspiration to me through the years as I continue to rewrite my first novel, and I encourage her as she finishes her first novel.  As businesswomen, we are both venturing into a new world of fiction.

Tricia, however, has taken giant steps.  She launched a wonderful ezine called Faith, Hope and Fiction. Reflective of her generous spirit, Tricia mentors writers who would like to be published on this website.  I encourage you to take a moment to read the uplifting stories to fill your hearts with joy during this holiday season.  Perhaps you can find a cozy spot and sip some hot tea while you are inspired.

What are your favorite gathering places with friends and family?

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Brother’s Death

My brother Randy just died. He was only 53 and had a heart attack on his back porch while feeding his cat. He loved animals. 

I head to Alabama today for his funeral. What a juxtaposition of life that in the past two weeks, I have attended a wedding (my niece’s) and a funeral (my brother, Randy).
My grief is really raw right now as the initial shock wears off and the reality of finality seeps through the crevices of my consciousness. I cannot sleep. As a Christian, I know that death is only the beginning of an eternal life with God, but as a sister - the pain of death is intense tonight. I mourn the loss of our shared childhood. I mourn the loss of his presence in my life.  I just plain mourn. 

“Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4
Tonight during this really difficult moment, I feel God’s hug from heaven in my heart. I know that He will provide the strength I need to bury my brother, Randy on Saturday. I know that God will provide a peace in my heart as I mourn this beloved sibling. I know that my brother, Randy will spend his first Christmas in Heaven rejoicing with my parents. But in the meantime, I will miss him as I mourn.

Are you mourning? Do you need some extra prayer?  Please let me know.  You are not alone.  God loves you and He is there for you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cheerleaders Help Feed the World

Before Thanksgiving, I had the pleasure of going to Aurora, Illinois to help the Barrington High School cheerleaders prepare and pack powdered vegetable mix at one of the Feed My Starving Children facilities. My daughter, Katie is on the Junior Varsity squad, and the coaches needed an extra mom to drive.  What an experience!  Feed My Starving Children really provides a hands-on opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of children around the world.  Each day over 18,000 children die from starvation! A bag of FMSC vegetable mix that costs only 19 cents will serve a child nutritious meals for six days.   As you can see from this “Flip Clip”, the girls had a great time with this project.

Coach Meehan (Varsity) and Coach Milne (JV) were thrilled that the cheerleaders put so much enthusiastic effort into such a worthwhile endeavor.  Listen to their comments about the importance of  volunteer work. They both have a heart for charity. 

Learn how you can make a difference in the world, too. Plan a party or celebration and bring along some friends to Feed My Starving Children.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You, too, Can Make It Better!

This week I enjoyed a delightful lunch with Susan Noyes, the founder of – an online community catering to women as well as a magazine for the suburbs of Chicago. With the purchase of North Shore Magazine’s assets, has further broadened its leading presence in the Chicago suburbs.  The premise of the name is derived from Susan’s philosophy that women can make things better – especially when we work together. From the school rooms to the board rooms, women have unique gifts and talents to truly make a difference. 

I especially appreciate Susan’s heart for charity.  Through, Susan has raised over a half million dollars for charities! The online magazine promotes auctions and donates $5 to a charity for each new subscription. And here’s the best part. The subscription is free, and the subscriber gets to choose from a list of charities where she would like for that money to go.  And you get free access to some great articles and ideas about a broad variety of topics.

It’s worth “clicking” into.  And here’s my quick Flip Clip with Susan and the Laura, the Editor in Chief of


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