sublime recipe: what made the boys moan

I was sitting across from the boys as they made little moaning sounds. Other than the "num num num" coming from across the table, it was quiet. I wanted to say something, ask perhaps if it was good, are they loving it but I thought anything I might say would disturb this apparent moment of ecstasy.

We were at Jiko, L and I along with Chas, a publicist in Media Relations for Walt Disney World. L and I have both known Chas for over ten years when we were all media covering events at WDW. Now Chas is on the other side with the Mouse and L and I see him once a year or so when we're down at Disney World. We've had meals together around the World and we'd had dinner at Jiko (a restaurant located in The Animal Kingdom Lodge located on the Walt Disney World Resort property) before and apparently the bliss they  experienced several years ago was one they wanted to repeat. Badly.

L. and I had arranged to meet Chas later that day for dinner and while we were on our way to the Magic Kingdom this was the discussion:

HG browsing the Disney Dining Guide: "Honey, where do you want to have dinner tonight? Italy has a new restaurant."

L: "The place in The Animal Kingdom Lodge."

HG: "How about The Polynesian? It will be like when we were in Hawaii. You love Hawaii."

L (focused): "I don't remember what the place was called but it's the one downstairs in The Animal Kingdom Lodge."

HG: "Is that where I saw John Denver when we covered the opening of the resort?"

L turns to me: "We always have this discussion. Why would John Denver be at the opening of The Animal Kingdom Lodge in 2001? He was at the opening of the ROCKY MOUNTAIN THEMED Wilderness Lodge in 1994. Which we covered, remember? Besides, he died in 1997."

I knew further discussion was futile. The pull of Jiko and their magic mac & cheese had apparently been imprinted on the boys.

Later that evening, at Jiko, I ordered salmon which was lovely but I felt left out and mildly amused as I watched the boys dig into their Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon served with macaroni & cheese. This feeling of bliss I understood but my palate had always leaned more towards addictive orange food (i.e. Doritos, crunchy Cheez Doodles, Cheez Its, Cheeze Whiz.) (note: Before you email me and ask why I didn't just order what  they did it's because A.) I haven't eaten red meat since I was 7. B.) I was doing my no wheat, dairy, sugar, coffee, alcohol program and I knew if I went off the rails for dinner that night that I would go OFF. THE. RAILS.")

I ate my salmon, the boys wolfed down their steak and mac & cheese and after dinner L said "I wish you would make this."

I said "If I can make you this happy making mac & cheese, done." I asked the server if he wouldn't mind asking the chef for the recipe and within moments he returned with a copy of the recipe.

Before you go and embark on New Year's resolutions, try this mac & cheese or here's an idea: For New Year's Eve,  invite your favorite people over. Bring out a few bottles of Perrier Jouet and have your guests bring their favorite mac & cheese dish. Imagine an evening with just champagne and macaroni and cheese? It's the perfect homey, hip kinda dinner party.

Jiko (The Cooking Place) Macaroni & Cheese
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons      Unsalted butter
3 tablespoons      All-purpose flour
2   1/2 cups         Whole Milk (HG note: for a richer sauce try cream)
8 ounces              Shredded Italian four-cheese blend (such as mozzerella, asiago, fontina and provolone)
1/4 teaspoon        Coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon        Ground black pepper
1 pound               Elbow macaroni, cooked and kept warm

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring until combined. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until golden. DO NOT LET BROWN. (note: You're making a basic roux here.)
2. Add milk to butter mixture, whisking until completely smooth and no lumps remain.

3. Simmer mixture, storring frequently, until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 8 minutes.

4. Add cheese to saucepan in batches, stirring until completely melted. Add salt and pepper, stirring to combine.

5. Place cooked macaroni in a large bowl. Add cheese sauce, stirring to combine. Serve immediately.

For more Walt Disney World recipes, pick up Pam Brandon's new book "Chef Micky: Treasures From the Vault and Delicious New Favorites." (note: L and I have known Pam since the early 90's and there is no one who knows Disney and food like she does. You will adore her just as much as we do.)

For a taste, click here to visit Pam's blog and a recipe for Steak Diane from the Lake Buena Vista Social Club. (And check out the groovy picture of Uncle Walt preparing salad!)

insights: what you learn getting punched in the stomach

Click the picture of Dustin Hoffman to watch one of my favorite interviews I ever hosted. 
Yes, he cried during the interview. See why.
(it may take awhile to load but it's worth the wait)

So. Yes, it has been awhile. Let me explain where I've been and why I was there.

When I started The Happy Girl Experiment I assumed that it would be a slow and steady escalation to the land of Happy. Sort of like a Candyland game, I play my cards right (Double yellow. Yes!) and I land in the sweet spot. I was wrong.  I thought "OK, I am The Happy Girl and if I set my mind to it, life will be AMAZING and things will turn around and I will have my old life back." Somehow, it just never ocurred to me how I would handle the down slope if it happened and it happened. Which is why I have been offline and away from The Happy Girl Experiment, even when I have been getting email like this one:

"Hellooooo, Happy Girl? Where are you?! Are you there? Hellooo?"

I heard you but I was stuck and I didn't want to admit that The Happy Girl was going through a downturn and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to post and feel like a fraud. I didn't know how to address the fact that bad stuff still happens.  There were little things of course like bills and bad memories and car problems, the stuff of life that when it all adds up can make you think that life sucks but then this is where is where things started going off the rails.

Earlier this summer I realized I had let my body relax itself into a land of Doritos, mac & cheese and peanut butter cups. I liked the comalike feeling I would get from a cheesy carb binge. One day this past June I had decided that if I let myself continue on this path that I would virtually become one with the couch so I got up, started walking 3 miles a day, cut out wheat, dairy, sugar, coffee and alcohol and in the process lost 80 pounds (so far.)

One morning this summer I was walking along happily (a mile from home) to Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA" when I heard something in my knee snap like a tree branch and it brought me down to my knees, taking my breath away. As I was laying there on the ground I wondered what do I do now?  Do I call the police? A cab? My husband was away on business. I did what seemed like the right choice at the time. I pulled myself up and hopped 3/4 of a mile home on one leg. It hurt like a sonofabitch. All my hard work of eating right, running every day and losing weight was in jeopardy. I couldn't walk. In the next few weeks the scale started to go up. I thought "What the hell, God, I try to make a change and THIS is what happens?" This is usually when  I say "I'm done" and give up, indulging in Chunky Monkey ice cream without those hard little bits of chocolate.

But this time was different. I thought "I'm the Happy Girl. What would The Happy Girl do?" I found a physical therapist and I got my knee back in shape. I was worried to walk outside again so I joined a gym where I thought if I fell again I wouldn't be left alone to hop home. I like the gym. I always use the same treadmill on the end. I turn up the incline to 10, throw on my headset and happily spend 60-90 minutes on the treadmill.

One morning a few days ago ago I arrived in the gym and my usual treadmill was taken so I crossed the gym to find another suitable machine. I was humming along fine until I saw someone I used to work with in my former wonderful life. P. saw me too and came running over. I took my headset off.

"Hi! Wow. You look GREAT! So good to see you!" he said.

I was sweaty, of course, breathless and I knew my hair was sticking to my face. Lovely. "Hi," I said.

I hadn't seen him since the week before my dream job was eliminated. I assumed he knew what had happened on that fateful Cinqo de Mayo day.

"Man," he said smiling and shaking his head from side to side "You had the best job in the company. I always envied you. You got to talk with the stars and travel the world. You went to Cannes. You are so lucky. God, I always thought you just had this amazing job. What building are you working in now?" He looked at me expectantly with this big grin on his face and  I thought "You either have no idea or you really are quite the dick."

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

I said I left the company last year and told him what happened but it was OK.

"Oh man, that sucks! Wow."

That is what I hear when I see people I haven't seen in awhile who want to know what country I've been to and which celebrity I have been with that weekend. This is what I have heard in the past year:

"You must be so upset! How could they do that to YOU?"

"OH MY GOD. Are you OK? I would so not be OK if that happened to me. You must be so sad."

"I thought you and L. wanted to have kids. How's that going?"

"Be happy you don't have kids. You guys are so lucky to be able to do whatever you want."

When I run into someone and have to tell them what happened, I end up feeling worse than I did before even though rationally I know they don't mean to say something hurtful. I get that but I end up getting mad all over again and thinking "Yeah, you're right! How did that happen?! I LOVED that company and my job and I was good at it. This totally does suck. My life sucks."

And that is what I was thinking when I slid my headphones back on after seeing P. I was angry as I walked and I felt myself swirling back into that dark place and I don't how this happened but something changed in me after this conversation. Typically after running into someone who didn't know about the job being eliminated or the babies who died, I relive the sadness I felt right after these things happened.

But this time, I thought "You're right, P. I did have the greatest job in the world for the greatest company in the world and I got to do it for 13 years. I've seen the world, made amazing friends and experienced things that I could never even have dreamed up as a little girl living in a trailer park."

Instead of being angry about what I perceived what TAKEN from me, I realize now that I had received a gift for years and while I no longer have the job or the babies, I will ALWAYS be the person who had the job and who loved going to her job every day and I will always be their mother, even if just in my heart.

It was honestly like a light filled my heart. When you have something you love and then it is gone you can either revel in the sorrow that you are no longer have the life you once had or you can be thankful for what you did experience.

This is a revelation.

P., thank you for walking by me on that treadmill and making me realize that life is amazing. I was so lucky to do the things that I did. I ate profiteroles at a party with Prince Charles. I sat across from George Clooney on the patio of the Hotel du Cap gazing at the Mediterranean Sea. I held a baby koala named Milton in Ballarat, Australia. I met the most extraordinary people around the world. I was a girl who found her way in foreign places, a girl who previously got lost on her own street.

I have this whole other view now of what went down in the past 18 months and that because of what has happened I am in this place right now, sitting at the kitchen table writing to you. What it comes down to is this: All the stuff that has happened in your life you need to be grateful for, the good and the really awful stuff too. You can't change facts. My job is gone and the babies are gone but what they gave me was unimaginably amazing. THAT is what I hold onto, not the fact that they are now not my life right NOW. I was so focused on looking back at what slipped through my fingers instead of being grateful for what I had and looking forward to this amazing opportunity that opens up in our lives every day. What magic can happen every day if you are open to it? I believe joy attracts joy. I feel happy, giddy almost that I let the weight of sadness go. There are so many possibilities.

So you see, The Happy Girl Experiment is working. I thought because I was sad and angry and things weren't going well that I should bail on this experiment, but I think like any good scientist, I have to follow this through and chart the findings. So there was a little blow up, a little smoke, things went haywire but you can't abandon an experiment.  I learned something new. Which really is the test of a good experiment, isn't it?

sublime recipe: risotto so good you'll cry

I lifted the fork to my mouth and closed my eyes. It was creamy and hot and I wondered how I've lived a lifetime without this taste--this perfect golden, happy, sunshine of a bite.

I opened my eyes, looked around the classroom at Sur la Table and wondered if my classmates would notice if I moved the steaming bowl of Risotto Milanese to my own table and just ate it all myself--slowly with a fork as my the taste neurons in my brain did their own little fireworks performance in my brain. There were other things we prepared in this Classic Italian Cooking class like Pizza Margherita, Lasagne Verdi al Forno, and Tiramisu but The Risotto, good God, the risotto!

One of my closest (funniest/ kindest/ smartest)  friends, Melethia suggested  we take this class last Wednesday and once again, good choice, M.! Chef Joel Gamoran taught us the miracle that is this risotto as well as this entire Italian menu.

sublime recipe: pumpkin hummus

It's 60 degrees outside and a cloudless perfect fall day. The sky is so azure blue it almost hurts to look at it against the orange and red maple leaves. Oh, autumn. S'magical!

This is the time of year when I start browsing for apple and pumpkin recipes so I was overjoyed on Saturday morning when my friend and neighbor Chef Joy (Whole Foods Salud Chef) swung by to have me taste test her new pumpkin hummus recipe that she was whipping up  for a healthy eating class for moms. She arrived with a blender of hummus, lemons and a can of pumpkin. Chef Joy wondered "Does this need more lemon?" I dipped a spoon in the smooth hummus and lifted it to my lips. I smelled pumpkin and warmth. I tasted it and oh, it was divine. It was autumn in a spoon. Pumpkin and cinnamon, seriously divine.

I started thinking about food that can make you happy and while Cool Ranch Doritos and tuna casserole previously lifted me into nirvana, now that I've lost 58 pounds I'm making better choices like this one. It made me happy and there was no "Dear God, what have I done?" hangover.  Try this one evening when it's cool outside. Toast some pita chips (cut pitas in 4 triangles, brush with sunflower oil and bake for 5-7 minutes in a 350 degree oven) and mix up this quick hummus recipe. Add  a pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad and it's a wonderful light, healthy autumn dinner. Pumpkin is a great source of Vitamin A, fiber and is low on the glycemic index!

Chef Joy's Pumpkin Hummus Recipe

1       15 oz. can of garbanzo beans
1/2    15 oz. can of pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling which is sweetened)
1/2    cup of water
1/2    cup of tahini
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt, pepper to taste

Add ingredients to blender/Cuisinart and blend until smooth. To serve, top  with a couple tablespoons of roasted pumpkin seeds (Whole Foods carries these in their bulk foods section.) Enjoy!

p.s. Before this autumnal dinner, go for a walk around the block and see what fall is like around your neighborhood!

insights: did you hear the one about the rabbi, the priest and the shaman?

It was a technicolor blue, sunny, crisp, perfect winter Sunday morning when I got the call that they had died. I was away from home in my hotel room when she called to say that she was very sorry but our babies did not survive.

I don’t know why I did what I did next but I left my room with my phone and room key and walked down the hall to the elevator. I remember looking out from the top floor of the hotel and noticing how the sun bounced off the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. I took the elevator down to the casino level and walked across the lobby.  It’s so odd to me now but at the time it seemed to be exactly what I should do. I found a chair in front of a Kitty Glitter slot machine and I sat down. I had to tell my L., my husband that they were gone.

I dialed his number. I was staring at Kitty Glitter’s green eyes when L. picked up.


“Hey,”  I said barely, softly. “I’m sorry.”

“What happened?” I could picture him sitting forward in his chair, his brow furrowed, staring out the window.

“They’re gone” I said.

“Who’s gone?”

“The babies are gone. They’re gone. They died. Our babies are gone.”

“Where are you?” L. asked. He must have heard the ding, ding, ding from the casino.

“I’m in the casino sitting at a Kitty Glitter slot machine. This seemed like the only place to go.”

What do you say after this? What is there for either person to say but I’m sorry and I love you which is what L. said.

After hanging up with L., I wondered about those little babies, so tiny.

Attending Catholic school for my entire education I remember one day in religion class hearing a passage from the Bible that said God is even aware of the tiniest sparrow that falls to the ground. These babies were smaller than a sparrow’s head when they died. Did that mean that God was unaware of them? Did they have souls? Are they in purgatory now for eternity?

When you lose a baby so early there is no ceremony when she dies. One day you are a mother and in one moment you are not. There was no mourning for these babies, no sending them off to be with God. There were no casseroles or sympathy cards or hugs. Most of our friends didn’t even know these babies existed. But they did exist, even for a fleeting time.

I talked with my therapist. I talked with my priest. I pleaded as to how this could happen. Did I do something so terrible that God took them away? Did He think we would we be horrible parents? I had an entire convent of cloistered nuns in Massachusetts praying for these babies. Why couldn’t prayers protect them? How could they have died before they even had a chance to take a breath?

The priest couldn’t tell me why this happened. Just that he would pray for us to feel better and that yes, God is aware of what happened.

This did not help.

I went to the library and found books on grief and loss. I researched quantum physics and most of the popular religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Shinto and Christianity. I tried to find passages on babies who die. Did they go to heaven? Were they reincarnated immediately? Did they just evaporate into the ether?

I decided to go further. I found an intuitive psychic and took a class series with her. One evening a classmate sitting next to me said she felt the presence of a little girl with brown curly hair sitting next to me. It freaked me out. I cried.

This did not help.

I saw an astrologist who predicted changes. Right.

This did not help.

I met with a really groovy Shaman who during meditation tried to get pieces of my soul back from the top of a mountain. She also said she liked the image of the Virgin Mary in my bag.  I hadn’t opened my bag in front of her but in the inside pocket I did have a booklet of Novenas that my grandmother had given me. On the cover was the Virgin Mary.

This was pretty cool but this did not help.

I came to the conclusion that there  seemed to be nothing that would help me understand the loss. I shelved the grief. I felt better.

And then it was another pristine, perfect, bright blue, sunny day.  September 10th. It was their birth day---the day L. and I should be welcoming our babies into the world.  I had been dreading this day. I didn’t know how I would get through what would have been the happiest day of our lives. I thought of getting away, going somewhere tropical. It struck me that the next day 9/11, there would be thousands of people wondering what they were going to do too as they mourned their families and friends they lost on that tragic day in 2001. How do you handle grief? What is the best way? My heart hurt so much that I was amazed that a human body can keep going through such grief. I thought surely there must be a point of grief when your mind/soul thinks "That's it. I'm done. Let's just stop all processes."  I thought of staying home in bed and crying. That was my very first thought. Then I thought “Well, mac & cheese pretty much helps everything.” But I’ve lost 51 pounds since June and going backwards is not an option. Wine? Drugs? No and no.

September 10th, I went to the gym. I got on the treadmill and I walked until I couldn’t walk anymore. I showered in the locker room and I cried a little in the shower with my forehead against the wall. And then I stopped. I had a salad in the restaurant. I drove home. I listened to Sirius Radio comedy channel Laugh USA.  I laughed driving home. I walked inside the house, went upstairs and found the puppy asleep on the carpet in the nursery. She was curled up in a little ball next to the crib. I sat next to her. Sitting there petting E., I had a thought that I needed to let these babies go. I had been holding on so tightly to them for so many months.

I remember one of the interviews I did with Sylvia Browne, the psychic. She once said to me that your loved ones come to you in a dream so they don’t scare the holy hell out of you by  appearing at your kitchen table when you’re enjoying a nice roast chicken. Every night since the babies died I would think of them before I went to sleep hoping I could meet them in my dreams. I thought of bringing them home from the hospital, their first day of first grade in their Catholic school uniforms, a trip to Walt Disney World taking turns sitting on L.’s shoulders. I tried to live a life with them in my dreams but sitting on the floor of the nursery on September 10th I realized that I needed to let these little souls go and begin to live my life.

I've been doing a lot of thinking since I started The Happy Girl Experiment and what I have learned is that grief can't serve its purpose when it's bottled and put up high on a shelf. Weirdly enough in order to let it go, you have to feel it. Say what needs to be said, grieve and then breathe. It will get better.

I read that one thing that can help grief is to write a letter to the one you miss. If there are things to be said, say them. This helps you move on.  So, if you'll indulge me, there is something I would like to say.

To our extraordinary little ones, I have carried you in my heart for months wishing I was carrying you in my body. I have dreamed of you since I was a little girl and I would literally give up my life if there was a chance for you to live.

We tried so hard to give you life. After you left I even tried to give you a little glimpse of a life in my dreams but I realize that tethering you to this earth, to your father and I doesn't feel right. They say  as a parent you give your children roots and wings. I could only give you wings.

I love you more than I could ever imagine loving anyone.   I am grateful to have had the time that we had with each of you, just a flutter of a moment in time. I like to think that my grandparents are with you until we come to you someday but if you come right back around and are meant to be the child of another mother, I wish you all the love and laughs and birthday parties and puppies a little one could ask for. I do know, though, that there is no man on this earth who would have loved you and protected you as much as L. would have. He has very strong shoulders for you to ride on and he would have been so proud to show you the fireworks at Walt Disney World. Your father is brave and handsome and so smart and he makes your mother laugh. You would have adored him.

Thank you for choosing me to be your mother. Until the day I die, you will live right here in my heart. It’s funny sometimes. I can almost feel you around me and then I look at the puppy and she is looking up in the air. I think she can see you.

I am going to live the rest of my life living every day as though I had sweet, fuzzy, soft, little heads looking up at me, expecting the best of me. Because after all, I am your mother and I owe you that.

All my love,


And this? This helped.

insights: how to lose your undies and keep your dignity

Living in a trailer park on the border of Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts had some good points.There were some weird points too like my grandfather duct taping most things down in our trailer because the gigantic C-5’s would take off right over our little home and the vibrations would scatter things off tables and even my crib would scurry across the floor like loose marbles.

Then there were the lessons I learned living in that little park like how to behave when you lose your undies. In front of hundreds of men.

The good: As a little girl living with my grandparents and my young mom in our trailer I hoped my mom would meet a soldier and get married and we’d live in a house that wasn’t on wheels with a yard and a dog, Travis. We were, in fact, in such close proximity to the base that you couldn’t step outside the trailer park without bumping into a pod of men in uniform in Cumberland Farms or in their caravans driving down Memorial Drive to the base. I idolized these men in their dress and even in their day-to-day uniforms. This may have very well influenced my unnatural passion for “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

My grandfather being a veteran of WWII taught me to wave to these men that deserved our respect. My mom waved too but I think the boys waved back at us for different reasons. With her bright green eyes and wavy chestnut hair that reached below her waist, my mom was a vision in her Bohemian t-shirts and jean shorts. I think back now of what my grandparents were thinking in the late 70‘s moving with their teenage daughter and her baby into a trailer park so close to thousands of men.

Our little trailer was cozy but in the summer it was HOT. We baked in that aluminum box. My grandfather built a glider one summer and after dinner my mom and grandparents would glide in the slow coolness of the early evening while I hunted for bugs which I usually put in my mouth, not to hurt them of course but rather to see what their feet tasted like. (I can’t explain it, maybe being an only child made me a weird little kid.)

Sometimes if it was too hot to sit still my grandmother (Meme - French Canadian slang for grandmother pronounced Meh-Mey), mom and I would walk down Westover Road to the icy cool of Cumberland Farms for ice cream (ice cream sandwich for Meme, Italian ice for mom and Creamsicle for me.) It was a good  walk, a half mile down the main road  to the convenience store near the gates of the base.

On this particular sticky summer evening, the boys must have been returning from successful maneuvers because there was a long caravan of military trucks and soldiers  in wildly good moods whooping it up as they drove back to base. Meme was walking closest to the road with me in the middle and mom holding my other hand. Mom got a lot of honking and whistling that night before the event even happened.

Meme as usual, was wearing a housecoat that she had made. She was one incredible seamstress and fond of pastel floral fabric. I remember she was holding my hand with her left hand and with her right hand she was holding her rosary beads in her pocket as she always did. As we walked and the trucks slowly drove by us I felt my grandmother’s hand slip out of mine and as I turned to look up at her I saw her granny undies slowly sliding down until they were around her ankles. The rubber band waist had chosen an inappropriate time to give way.

Meme then did the most amazing thing. With the soldiers beeping and hollering and my mom mortified as her mother’s undies landed around her ankles, Meme stepped out of her undies and without looking down or skipping a beat we kept walking, leaving her white granny undies on the sidewalk on Westover Road. I remember looking up at my mother who kept looking back at the undies on the asphalt. Meme never did look at my mother or at me. She held tightly onto my hand and said to my mother “Jacqueline, we’re walking. Walk.” And we did. We walked all the way to Cumberland Farms for our ice cream and walked all the way back home without saying a word. In fact, we never spoke of this again.

I’ve thought about the “Undies Incident” often in the past year since The Perfect Life I had imploded, especially in the last few months since I started The Happy Girl Experiment. I’ve been hitting myself over the head (metaphorically speaking) and wringing my hands (not metaphorically speaking) and rehashing what I did or didn’t do or said or should have said and I wonder if I could have changed the outcome of any of it if I had acted as Meme did. Could I have handled any of the life-changing devastating things that happened in the past year somehow differently?

I am amazed with Meme for the grace she showed when she must have been humiliated in front of hundreds of men who clearly saw her losing her undergarments and what should have been her dignity. I realize that all these years later Meme has taught me an invaluable lesson for when I do something embarrassing or stupid and I just want to collapse into myself like a dying star.

What I learned is that you may do something humiliating or something may happen in front of others that horrifies you and you have two choices.

1.) You can acknowledge it and be mortified and apologize and rehash it over and over and hit yourself over the head for being a dumbass.


2.) You can acknowledge it for a millisecond and move on. You may slip on something, fall and drop your full tray in the cafe at dinner on your very first day of college (Yes, I did that) or you may say something you shouldn’t have and you didn’t mean to get around to EVERYONE or in a conversation at work you say how you think people who own boats are pricks and yes, your boss who owns a Chris Craft yacht is standing there sipping his coffee as you say it. Get over it.

Whatever you did or said is done. The best thing for everyone is to move forward, say you’re sorry and mean it if the situation calls for it but close the door and be done.

You may lose your undies or your humility for a second maybe even in a very public way but you do have a choice to make in how the aftermath plays out. Next time you so something that makes you feel stupid or embarrassed or humiliated remember Meme.

Step out of the situation.

Hold your head high.

Keep going and treat yourself to an ice cream sandwich

insights: from a donut to a tiffany girl

I’m standing in our bathroom in a Tiffany blue cashmere sweater, undies and a new Tiffany charm bracelet. That I won. In a Tiffany & Co. fashion show. It’s 11:32pm. My hair is in a ponytail, my face is scrubbed and my toothbrush in is my hand. I look in the mirror and I’m surprised. I didn’t know you could smile so wide when you’re brushing your teeth.

Tonight I was The Tiffany Girl. Unimaginable.

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the beginning when My Perfect Life became What The Hell Is This? last summer and I gave up. My dream job being eliminated on the day we were buying our dream home, losing the babies, almost dying in the process. It was too much for me. I’m not a strong person. I gave up. I ate to make myself feel better. Then I ate. Then I ate again. . .Keep that up and um, there’s a problem. When you find yourself wondering if it wouldn’t be so bad if a Mack truck swerved and hit you on the 405 you don’t exactly think about the fact that the weight is piling on and you resemble a donut rather than a cute girl.

I was a donut. A sad little donut.

insights: the power of sweat and dirt

our little tomatoes from the garden

I am looking down at myself and I am dirty. Filthy, actually. I have dirt under my nails, in my ears, between my toes. I look like I haven't showered in days. And I break out in a giddy smile. I'm happy.

When I started this Happy Girl Experiment I wondered "Would I would ever get my happy back?" And if so, how exactly was I going to do it? Over the past few months I have tried a few different things: positive change books, talk talk talking about my feelings, happy music but I never thought about getting dirty until I ate a bit of salsa, the perfect cool cilantro hitting my palate dead on with the summery bright tomato mixed with a hint of garlic and a jolt of lime. I wanted more. I wanted to make my own and then it hit me, I would grow salsa.

I told L. my plan at dinner one night not long ago.

Scooping some Whole Foods salsa onto an enchilada for L., I told him I was going to grow salsa.

My husband looked at my with his head tilted. "You know it doesn't grow that way right?"

Indignant I said "I'm aware that it doesn't GROW like that but I want to grow our own so maybe tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic. We're going to have a garden!"

I was excited. I can't remember the last time I did something physical. My job was not physical. I sat at my computer, went to meetings, got on a plane, did my job somewhere in the world and flew home. I wasn't physical. I realized I didn't spend much time exerting myself. I needed to do something that proved I still had strength, that this past year hadn't killed me.

I hit the home improvement store, bought plants and seeds, soil, a shovel and a big bag of manure. I was ready to plant salsa. What I didn't count on was how HARD it was. I had some help from our lawn guy who saw what I was trying to do and made me a little raised garden bed. OK, now it's easy right? No, not easy. It was sweaty work, digging and hauling and planting. But I got all the plants in one lovely afternoon-tomatos, onion, cilantro and as a bonus, lettuce and basil. It was hot, hard, muscle wrenching work. I was sweaty and dirty and I loved it. When you work your body hard it does something to your head. You feel accomplished. It proves that you are still very much alive. After losing the babies in December I hated my body and the way that it had betrayed me. I felt disconnected with my body, I was destroying it with my devil may care behavior.

Something changed in me though when I was hot, sweaty and covered in dirt that first afternoon in the garden. It felt like every muscle was working with me to accomplish something. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and looked behind me at our puppy who was stepping up on the raised bed and eating the basil leaves from the little starter plant. I laughed at her and she looked up, covered in as much dirt as me. I picked her up and she licked my cheek, her breath smelling very much like pesto.

In this quest for happiness, one thing I learned is that you need to tune back into your body. Do something hard, plant a garden, remodel your backyard yourself, clean the garage, challenge your body to work with your mind. It's as though something fires between your neurons making the bond between your head and your body stronger. Suddenly you feel strong. Every time I go out into the backyard and watch our little salsa garden grow and pull weeds and tie up the strong tomato plants reaching for the sky, I feel a sense of accomplishment. And when I pluck one of the still warm from the sun cherry tomatoes from the vine and pop it in my mouth I taste summer and hard work.

So, yes, I am dirty but I don't think there is any better solution for curing what ails you then getting out there and working yourself hard. Really hard. Get dirty. Don't stand on the sidelines. Dig in. Then take a cool shower and watch all the dirt swirl away down the drain. I took a cool shower and I could swear that it wasn't just dirt that I was shedding, but all that bad stuff that I was holding onto.

And that night I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow dreaming of a garden of salsa

insights: what i learned from the first man i ever loved

Growing up in the 70‘s just on the border of Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts, I lived with my young mother and her parents, (affectionately known as Meme and Pepe) while my mom was in school. My grandmother cleaned houses and I’d spend the day with my patient, gruff, big Pepe while he fixed things with his red toolbox. Having a trailer meant things broke a lot but luckily Pepe could fix just about anything and I helped.

One day his project was to replace the foam ceiling tiles in the entire trailer. Pepe had stacks of these tiles piled in the living room. They were white with little holes of various sizes. As Pepe took down the old tiles, I watched and I helped. I went to the kitchen and grabbed a pencil. I then stood next to the pile of foam tiles and added more holes in each tile, stabbing little holes in each tile. Pepe was NOT amused but damn if he didn’t use those tiles anyway. (At the time I was so happy he liked what I did but I realize now it was just about cost. When you are poor you waste nothing.)

I tried helping Pepe solve the wasp problem under the trailer by grabbing a box of Kleenex and stuffing balled up tissues into the hole in the metal under the front steps. It worked until the wasps flew out en mass and attacked my little face. My grandfather took me to the emergency room, the first of many times when we lived in that trailer.

insights: can a great rear view make you happy?

I needed to get off my bottom.

In fact, I needed to get out and breathe. And work on my rear view. And front view. Every view.

In the year that almost killed me physically if not emotionally I stayed still, perfectly still almost as if I dared to move that I would tilt the balance of the universe even more askew that it already was.

I wanted to be happy. And I wanted a great rear view.

I looked in my closet and found dusty sneakers. They were grey. They made me unhappy just looking at them. I hit Nordstrom and told the sales associate "I need to get myself outside. I need to lose weight. I need a great rear view. Can you help me?"

And ta-da! She presented me with Skecher's Shape-ups and assured me that if I walked every day in these shoes that I would feel better. She was excited about the technology that would give me a better posture and a firmer backside.  Done. Pack 'em up!

I laced 'em up and BONUS! the box included an extra pair of aquamarine laces - my favorite color! These were happy shoes. I loved them. I was falling in love with my new little shoes. Then I put them on and wowie! It was like walking on beach sand. Every step I took around the kitchen island hardwood floors I felt like I was wading through wet sand. They weren't bouncy like my Nike Airs were.

I went out to the front step. To the driveway. Down the street. I turned around and came home. It felt wobbly. I decided what the hell and I turned around and walked 2 miles, my first two miles in probably 2 years. Every step of the hills I took (that's what I get for living in a house on top of a hill!) got harder and harder. I had to stop and catch my breath. I was sweating. The Bee-Gees were annoying the hell out of me. I took off my headphones and looked down at the sidewalk going up the BIG hill and wondered if I could take my new evil sneakers off and walk barefoot. I wondered of my husband would think I was a wuss if I called him and said "Honey, can you come get me? This hill is too steep and my calves hurt."

I decided that I didn't want him to think I was that weak. I didn't want to think I was that weak. So I walked. Slowly. I paused. I frowned at my shoes and thought that if I wanted to feel like I was walking at the beach then I would go to the damn beach.

And with the help of the "Grease" soundtrack I made it to my street and walked as fast and hard and proud as I could until I made it to my doorstep. This was the proudest 2 miles I have ever walked.

The funny thing about exercise is that it doesn't just work your body. I slept for a full night for the firsttime since my life went to hell. I slept soundly with no nightmares.

That was until I woke up and thought someone was squeezing my glutes and thighs and calves. My eyes shot open. I sat up and said "Ow ow ow ow ow." My husband was already at work and the dog who was sleeping beside me shot up sleepily like "What? What? Who's here?"

My legs and glutes HURT and then I smiled because I realized that I was back out there. I took that first step towards getting myself back. In the scary, painful past two years I had forgotten that I even had a body, really. I know that doesn't make sense but  I was struggling with so much emotion that I didn't give a thought to the fact that I was powering my body with Doritos and soda.

The pain felt good. It meant my body was changing.

That was June 11. It has now been over a month and every day I lace up my sneakers, my very groovy, slightly odd looking sneakers.

I've lost 32 pounds and I feel different. Yesterday I ran into someone I hadn't seen in a few weeks. She tilted her head and looked at me and said "You look different. You look happy and relaxed."

I am happy and relaxed. I think once you start moving your body you send all the bad stuff out and away from you.

And do I think a great rear view can make you happy? I've got a ways to go until I'll know for sure but yes, I think being proud of your body and what your body can do can make you happy.

Stay with me, will you?  I'll let you know.

entertainme music: "under the sun"

Oh, dreamy summer days, you are so delicious with your hot days under the sun and balmy night under the stars. And there is a special song that can make these summer days perfect.

"Under the Sun" by Michael Franks is from his album "Rendezvous in Rio." This is the album you would have on when you're about to serve cocktails on your terrace in the city, back porch on your condo or deck on Martha's Vineyard.

It's got a Brazilian beat so sensual that you can feel the heat.

This song popped up on my iPod this morning and made me smile. I hope you feel it too.

insights: this is not the therapist you want

I consider myself to be a logical person so when I realized that I was sad about the progression of things and when I started thinking "Why me? Why me?" I realized that the logical step would be to find someone who would help me make sense of it all. When I broke my arm, I had a doctor. When I wanted to change my eating habits, I hired a nutritionist. I decided to find a therapist and I wanted to meet with someone immediately.

entertainme music: you are the sunshine of my life

There's something about a Stevie Wonder song that just makes you want to start singing out loud, especially when you're in the car. So here's to summer drives with a little lyrical accompaniment by. . .you.

And don't worry about how good you sound. Just sing!

"You are the Sunshine of my Life" is happy, summery, light and you'll be smiling as you sing this to someone you love.

entertainme music: seven days in sunny june

The sun is hot, school is out and the smell of Coppertone is permeating the air.

Jamiroquai's  "Seven Days in Sunny June" reminds me of hot days, balmy nights and the giddy joy of love in the summer.

The pebbles you've arranged
In the sand they're strange
they speak to me like to constellations as we lie here
There's a magic I can't hold
your smile of honey gold
and that you never seem to be in short supply

It's finally sun out here in Seattle. I hope wherever you are, that the day is giving you a lift!

inisghts: sweating, sex and singing as a mood changer

Yesterday I went to see my stylist for some much needed color help.

She asked me how I was doing and I told her "Good. Better" and I told her about this blog.

I asked Christina* and her assistant Marissa* what puts them in a good mood when they are feeling down or something bad has happened.

Christina: "Well, I'm usually a really happy person. I don't get upset too often. (Editor's note: in fact
her dad had died
the day before.) Pot, of course. That really relaxes me. When I do get upset I work out. I do step aerobics three times a week. I listen to happy music. I like that song 'I Gotta Feeling.' That has to put you in a good mood."

Marissa: "I love my cats. They make me happy. I listen to music. I like the song 'It's a Beautiful Morning.'"

Another stylist Mike* was nearby and joined the conversation. Mike looked ridiculously happy.

HG: "OK, Mike. You look like you could levitate. You seem so happy. It's amazing."

Mike: "I just broke up with my boyfriend." He was literally beaming.

HG: "So, you must have been upset when you guys broke up. How did you make yourself feel better?"

Mike: (laughs) "Um, breaking up with my boyfriend made me happy."

Mike: (paused) "And new sex." He laughed.

Mike: "And cooking. Cooking is therapy to me. Sex and cooking."

It was interesting hearing what brings people out a funk. Sex, food, pets, working out. What did all of these things have in common with changing your mood for the better?

I got it. It was about doing SOMETHING, anything. It was about getting off the couch or out of bed, whether it was to take a step class or meet someone new. By laying on the couch or isolating yourself in bed with your wounds, this doesn't change your mood. I think, in fact, it only makes it worse and can make you feel more alone.

Life lesson #38: when you're feeling like things can't get worse or your heart is broken or you wonder what karma you're paying for, get out of bed, get off the couch. Go for a walk, go sweat, go cook something, go meet someone new. Get yourself back in game.

I think I'm onto something here.

*Names have been changed.

entertainme movies: that dumbass in the theatre was me

Last week I went to see "Get Him to the Greek" with my friend Lisa.

Loved the movie. Loved Russell. Loved Jonah. Loved it. There were so many funny lines that I tried desperately to remember but failed because apparently when I am laughing that hard I can't store things in my memory at the same time.

"Get Him to the Greek" is a great barometer movie. Try it. Go see this movie on a first date. It will be interesting to see if your date has the same sense of humor as you do. I've found that if your sense of humor is different from your date, the relationship is doomed. You say " I LOVED 'The Hangover'" and she says "Ugh, I don't get it." Game over.

So I saw "GHTTG" with my friend, Lisa, (not a date.)  However, she does share my wicked, dry sense of humor.

We settled in and waited for the trailers, my favorite part of the movie experience. The theatre was pretty packed and I reminded Lisa how much I loved movies. I am ALL about movies.

Lisa said "So, why didn't you come with me when I saw the 'Wizard of Oz' on the big screen."

I turned to look at her "Are you kidding? You know that movie terrifies me!"

Lisa: "Oh, right, because of the monkeys?"

HG: "Yes! Those monkeys are scary godawful things." I paused. "Are they real, do you think?"

Lisa paused too. "I don't think so. I mean, I think there are people in the costumes because they made faces." She squished her face up to show me that the monkeys made faces.

HG: "I think they were really monkeys."

Lisa: "I don't think they were real. They had wings. Monkeys don't have wings."

HG: "I know they're not REAAAAALLLL. I  mean, I know that they weren't real monkeys with real wings. Right? I mean they were probably monkeys with winged costumes that someone made for their little bodies."

And this is when I noticed the two guys sitting in front of us were listening to us and laughing.

Yes, I was the dumbass who thought that the monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz" were real primates and apparently the Star-Wars-loving-popcorn-eating-video-game-playing guys sitting in front of us thought that this was the funniest conversation either had ever heard.

And then we started to laugh, Lisa and I, and it felt good. Even though I sounded like I wasn't the sharpest tool in the box, I laughed because sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. I wish you could bottle that light, lovely sensation of a shared laugh over something silly. It was like a little high.

And then the trailers started.

Lisa: "Oh, yeah, we should go see that one. And that one. Oh look at Leo, he is hot. Have you done him?"

HG: "Yes and he is hot. The last time I did him was for "Blood Diamond" and he was really tan. It made his eyes look really blue and he's tall. This trailer is wild. It's like a fever dream."

Lisa: "Mmmm. Want some Red Vines?"

HG: "Nope. I'm an east coast girl. All about the Twizzlers."

And then the movie that made me laugh until my stomach hurt started. Go see "Get Him to the Greek." It's dirty and funny and if you feel like you need a laugh, this is it.

sublime food: gwyneth's taco dinner

This is dinner tonight. It's healthy and doesn't it look like a perfect dinner for the first week of June? Love it, Gwyneth.

insights: seriously, a silver lining?

It is raining out again.

Raining so hard that is is pouring sideways and even the dog is looking up at the skylight wondering what that thunderous pounding is.

It's day 57 of rain or at least that is what it feels like-rain, mist, drizzle, grey, wet, damp weather here in Seattle. I thought of that old saying about there being a silver lining behind every cloud. What the hell does that mean? And why is a silver lining good? Unless there are shiny silver coins raining down upon me for me to gather, a silver lining just connotes more gloom and grey. I think that saying should be abolished.

Instead I prefer "Behind every cloud is a bright blue sky." Because this is actually true.

I used to fly out every Friday morning at 7am for LA or London or wherever and while it would be raining/pouring on takeoff, we would rise through the wind and the rain and the fog and the clouds and break through to a brilliant blue sky with the sun bouncing off the silver tipped wings of the plane.

I'm trying to think of that now as I look outside at the wind and the nonstop evil weather here in the Northwest lately and I'm imagining the bright blue sky and the sun. They are still there, as they always have been. What has changed is my perception of them. It's like a toddler who believes if they can't see their parent then the parent is not there.

Another A-ha moment for me.

Just because I can't see or feel the sun doesn't mean it isn't there.

Just because I can't see or feel my happiness doesn't mean it isn't there.

The happy that I had in my soul is still there. It is just clouded over with all the bad stuff that has happened in the past 16 months. If I let go of the bad stuff and it dissolves away, it's like the clouds moving on and sun shining again.

I'm looking out the window at this miserable, depressing day outside and if I can imagine that the sun is just beyond the clouds and still shining then I can imagine that inside me is the happy that I had. It's still there just waiting for the clouds to part. It's. Still. There.

I'm ready for some bright blue sky. Aren't you?

insights: what the dog taught me

Living in Seattle, it is wet. I get what we signed up for when we moved here from Connecticut.

However, it has been wet, rainy, damp, gloomy and just plain sleepy weather for weeks on end. This weekend was Memorial Day Weekend and it was so cold and rainy that I cooked most the weekend making a Thanksgiving style turkey dinner, applesauce and ratatouille. Last night around 4pm the weather started to break and it was as if the warden opened all the cells, people started flooding out of the homes and lifting their faces up to the sun. Baby strollers and leashes were dusted off and the world was suddenly on parade.

insights: the church laugh

Last night in class our professor started reading aloud from an article. As he started reading about a true, bizarre, tragic story that just got worse and worse (like a sad country song from the 50's--and then his wife left and the dog ran away. . .), I started to feel the heat rise in my face and the laugh that was starting in my toes. It wasn't an obviously funny story by any means and this was a serious class.

(Don't you just love a laugh with your best friend? 
Me (right) and my best friend Mimi  
at my surprise sweet 16th birthday party)

I looked down at my laptop and bit my lip. But it didn't help. I started to shake with laughter. I looked across the table and I saw my classmates Benn and Cassie start to laugh as well and they were clearly trying as hard as I was to fight it.

It was that kind of laughter that you experienced when you were a little kid in church or school and the more you knew you couldn't laugh, the more it's uncontrollable. It was wrong to laugh. I knew that but as he read aloud, it was too much. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. I snorted. I couldn't stop. Benn leaned back and almost kicked over the table. He actually had to leave the room to get a glass of water.

That laugh. It was the laughter that it so primal, it reaches down into every fiber of your body. It felt so good to have that laugh after so much sadness.

There is something about laughing, about that release when the tension of a moment is too much. When my grandfather died, my mother and grandmother and I were driving back from making arrangements. It was late on a January evening and my mother was driving. My elderly grandmother was in the front seat and I was sitting behind my mother. The car was quiet and the sadness of losing my grandfather sucked all the life from the car.

As we were driving in silence, exhausted from the trauma of the past 24 hours my very religious grandmother said "Well, now Paul is in heaven. The lucky stiff." She had no idea what she just said was funny.

I saw my mother's eyes in the rear view mirror. Once it registered with her what my grandmother had said (Yes, at that point in time, my grandfather was indeed a lucky stiff), she caught my eye and her eyes got very wide. I knew she was about to crack up. I shook my head  and mouthed "No, do NOT laugh. DO NOT LAUGH." But you know when someone tells you not to laugh, it makes it harder to keep it in? Well, mom did great until she saw me head down, body shaking with laughter and she started laughing. My grandmother looked at both us and thought we were clearly disturbed. My mom actually had to pull over to the side of the Mass Pike because she was laughing so hard she couldn't drive. My grandmother looked at my mom and I and said "What is WRONG with the two of you?"

My mother: "Mom, you just said something funny. I'm sorry, I know Dad's gone but it was funny."

My grandmother with a straight face, not getting it: "It's not funny. What? What did I say?"

My mother: "You called Dad a lucky stiff. You know, he is kinda by now."

My grandmother: "Oh, well he's a lucky stiff in heaven." Gotta love that woman.

Sometimes a laugh like this, one that is so inappropriate is better than any drug. (Let me clarify: a laugh that takes your breath away is NOT funny if you are making fun of someone or hurting someone's feelings.) This kind of laugh shared with someone releases endorphins which flood through your body down to your fingertips. I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard. I had no idea how much I needed a laugh like this.

And our professor? Well, I think he got a kick out of us, in his deadpan serious way. In fact, he waved the sheets of paper at Benn as he left the room to get that drink of water and said "Have the secretary make copies. You  all clearly enjoy this."

There is something healing in true laughter shared with someone, a laugh that comes from your core and one that you can't control. It's a shame that you can't will that feeling to happen but sometimes you just have to let go and enjoy the ride.

entertainme video: "i gotta feeling"

Every time I see this video it makes me happy.

charming things: kinda smells like marijuana, i know

This morning I had a moxa session at my acupuncturist's. Moxa is a combination of acupuncture needles and burning Mugwort (Yes, I realize how Harry Potter-ish this sounds.)

There are several ways to perform Moxa. One is to burn a stick of Mugwort close to the top of an inserted acupuncture needle. Another is to burn Mugwort that is formed into what looks like a thick dark crayon. You burn the pointed end like a cigar and then hold it over certain acupressure points on the body.  The second version is the one my acupuncturist, Casey, did today. It felt good. I closed my eyes and could feel the heat close to my skin, almost touching but not burning. It was like when you swing your finger quickly through a flame.

The room started to smell a little like church incense which is what I said to Casey. She said that some clients tell her it smells like marijuana. "Yeah, kinda," I thought. "It does."

I felt particularly groovy when I left the office and headed to get some orange blossom iced tea. The guy who made it for me handed me the cup, smiled and said "You're having a goooood day." I thought, "Yeah, I am. I guess the acupuncture has put a skip in my step."

When I got in my car I realized what he was talking about. It was a cold, damp morning and I was wearing a heavy Irish wool sweater and in the confines of my car I smelled like I had been smoking some major marijuana. I rolled down the windows on the rainy drive home. I don't think the airing out worked very well though. When I walked in the house, the air purifier immediately kicked on or as we like to refer to the air purifier when the red light comes on "It is angry."

So Moxa = good, very good. I would definitely do it again. If you try it, be prepared to say "I swear to God, it was acupuncture. Really."

charming things: chocolate shakes and lollipops

Not that long ago I called my friend Todd in L.A. to say hi. I hadn't seen most of my L.A. friends in over a year since things went sideways. So, on the way to class one afternoon I called him and apologized for being such a sucky friend. I explained that I had been consumed by one awful year and I told him about this experiment--that I was searching for ways to get my happy back and I wondered if it was going to be through therapy or drugs or eastern medicine or what?

And Todd said "You know sometimes I think it's just about a chocolate shake."

I laughed. "You're absolutely right," I said.  Sometimes it is just about a chocolate shake. It isn't just the big, grand events or gestures or therapies that make a difference. Sometimes it's just enjoying the little happy moments.

I thought of this yesterday when I went to the bank. I was in the drive-through lane on the way to school and I dropped my transaction in the little bullet tube. The cashier was stoic, very matter of fact. I said "How is YOUR day?" She responded "Fine." Allrighty. I sat and watched the spider build a web on the pillar. When she sent my transaction back she said "Goodbye." I thought. OK, she's one very matter of fact banker.

As I was pulling away I looked inside the envelope and there it was. A red lollipop. It made my day.

insights: when the universe has bigger plans

Sometimes coincidences in life baffle me.

Last May 5 when my Dream Job was eliminated, we also lost Our Dream Home that we were buying the same day. Being from the east coast we always said we wanted to someday live in a home that looked like a small version of a cottage Jackie Kennedy might summer in, with a little pool where we would teach our children to swim and eat corn on the cob and toast marshmallows at night.

We worked hard, put our money away and saved up for The House. So when we found it, we called our realtor and said  "It's the one."  It was perfect. The front door was even the color of a pool. When we got to the house I stood in the backyard and started to cry. L. looked at me and said "DO NOT cry. They will know how much we like this house." With quivering lip I said "But we DO like this house!" The house was The One.

So we put the plans in motion, talked with our financial people and got our home ready to go on the market.  And every night after we finished working on getting our home ready to sell, we took the dog with us as we drove by our new home. We couldn't believe we had finally found our dream home where we decided we would live the rest of our lives. We felt like we had won the jackpot.

Then May 5 10 a.m. I found out my job was gone, and it barely sunk in when I thought "Oh my God, the house? What do we do about the house?" It was the hardest decision to make to not follow our dream of getting this house. Oh, to have been devil may care. What if we said "The hell with it?! We'll eat ramen noodles every night!" But we did the right thing and didn't buy the house.

The aftermath was sad. A couple times a week I drove by the house. I shopped at the local market and thought "This is where I would have shopped." I drove by the horses in the fields on the way to the house and thought "These are the horses who would get to know the sound of my car."

The grey shingled cottage is where our happy life was supposed to be.

I don't know why I drove by. It didn't help. Maybe I was hoping that one time I would drive by and think "It's not that great." That never happened though. The house became bigger and bigger in my life.

I knew it wasn't helping me, doing this drive-by of the life I was supposed to have. What was I hoping I would find? It seems to be our human nature to want what we can't have.

In college I had a friend who didn't get into Boston College. Our school was a very nice Catholic liberal arts school in the hills of New Hampshire but IT WAS NOT BC. On certain weekends she would let us know that this was a BC football game weekend and how different her life would be at BC. She could hardly enjoy her life at our school because she was so busy thinking of what her life SHOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE.

In high school I had a friend who was crazy in love with her boyfriend and they broke up, as it happens in high school. Every night she drove by his house. Every day she walked up an extra floor at school just to walk by his locker. I remember we asked her at the time "Doesn't that make you feel worse seeing him in his baby blue cords?" And she said "I just need to feel like I am breathing the same air he is."

When I was growing up, there lived a couple across the street, the Umbrianas. They had two giant grey and white biting cats and no children. What they did have in their dining room was a high chair at the table. Mrs. U. had had a miscarriage 20+ years prior and they never went on to have another child. At the time I thought it was creepy that they had a high chair for a ghost baby but I wonder now would Mrs. U look at this high chair when she was enjoying Chicken Piccata and think "This was supposed to be my life, with a baby in a high chair"?

When you stalk the life you had or the life you could have had, it makes it impossible to move on. If you absorb yourself in your past, it's impossible to move forward.  One of my girlfriends has a friend who is divorced and she still has her ex's clothes in her closet and she goes to the gym at the same time he does just to see him. It's been 3 years. She is wearing these blinders all for HIM. Yet, she can't see that there is a great guy who always gets on the treadmill next to hers in the hopes of asking her out but she is so consumed with watching her ex-husband that she isn't even aware that there is someone on the treadmill beside her.

You can't open a new door if you are busy
staring down the old door of the room you didn't want to leave

If you think that you can't let go of what you had, you have to. And you have to do it cold turkey. This is what I did. One day I decided that driving by the street I could have lived on and the Starbucks I would have stopped into left me feeling sad. This was not helping to propel me forward.

If you have a parent that has died (I'm sorry for your loss) it's time to release them, to let their things go. Your spouse left and left her stuff and isn't coming back? Hello, Goodwill. Going to a grave every day or to the site of an accident or driving by an ex's house or where you should have gone to school or gotten a job, none of that helps. It holds you back. What matters is the now. Imagine feeling your palm on the cool handle of a new door and turn. Face a new wonderful. Think about this--it HAS to be better than the purgatory you are keeping yourself in now.

As for me, it's been a few months since I drove by Where My Life Was Supposed To Be and on that last drive by I noticed they painted the front door a different color. And it was just as it should be.

insights: the trailer park girl

courtesy of istock photo

When you look at someone what do you see? A man in a shiny red Mercedes convertible is an arrogant executive. A young tattooed guy in a hoodie buying cigarettes at 7-11 is trouble. A girl standing by the pool at a posh hotel with a diamond studded left hand grew up as daddy's little rich girl.

Here's a lesson in things aren't always what you think.

One early morning I was standing by the pool with one of my friends at the Four Seasons L.A. drinking a double shot iced espresso. It was one of those perfect bright blue only-in-Hollywood-movies kind of mornings as the palm trees swayed in the breeze, cooling us after our early morning workout in the rooftop gym. It was idyllic. My friend turned to me and said "Seriously, we are the luckiest girls."

Absolutely. It would be easy to assume that this was my life. That I grew up being pushed in a pram by a nanny, and played lacrosse and went abroad for summers. If you looked at me that day by the pool, a successful celebrity interviewer working for a Fortune 500 company, you would never guess that this was not the way things started out.

I grew up in a trailer park with my teenage mom and her parents.

When L. and I are driving and we pass by a trailer park I will point to it and say "I lived in a trailer park." L. always shakes his head at me and says "Could you please stop doing that?" But I did. I grew up in a trailer park in Western Massachusetts just outside Westover Air Force Base.

In fact, the trailer park was so close to Westover that when the behemoth C5 jets took off over our trailer, the vibrations would cause objects to fall off shelves and tables. My smart grandfather knew just how to fix this and had you visited us during the trailer park years you would have found just about everything duct-taped down. Even my crib. Apparently the vibrations would even cause my crib to inch across the floor which completely flummoxed my grandparents when they would come check on me after my mid-day nap and my crib would be in the middle of the room. I learned much later that my very religious grandmother thought it was the angels who were protecting me that moved my crib away from the drafty windows. It wasn't until my grandmother was diapering me one afternoon and felt us gravitating away from the wall that they realized that this was not something supernatural.

Growing up in a small town trailer park, on welfare, wearing a borrowed Catholic school uniform for my scholarship-provided Catholic school education, my life path looked something like this:
  • Hopefully, God-willing I would graduate from high school
  • Get a job at Tastee-Freez or better yet the fancy ice cream restaurant, Friendly's
  • Have a baby then another and God-willing I would have married the father before I started showing
  • Spend Saturdays going tag-saling to outfit my hand-me-down trailer
That was the plan. Didn't happen.

My mom got her nursing degree, met a great guy and got married. I got a shiny new dad who adopted me and we moved out of the trailer park. I graduated from high school (not pregnant!), graduated from college (not pregnant!), more education (not pregnant!), met an amazing guy, L., got married (not pregnant!), worked crazy hours as an intern (11 p.m.-7 a.m.) in a hospital so I could work 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. at a television station as an intern (I have no idea how I did that for so long), got a job working for the most famous software company in the world working alongside the smartest people on the planet. Then one day I found myself sitting across from Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes, in the South of France.

I was definitely not in a trailer park anymore. I know living in a trailer park is something people don't aspire to, but it wasn't so bad. It was a small friendly community and as an only child I was free to spend my summer days roaming the trailer park and invariably someone would be available to play with me or feed me lunch. I remember sitting on a neighbor's front step and eating a Fluffer-nutter sandwich and thinking what a lucky little girl I was. Two of my earliest best friends were the gay couple who lived two trailers down from us. My grandfather used to call them 'Those Happy Boys' which was definitely a form of endearment from such a gruff man as my grandfather was. It was home. My grandparents and mom felt safe. The most important thing is that I was loved and I knew that.

I think back now and I was embarrassed for so many years about my trailer park past. But suddenly one day I revealed my past on-camera. During my interview with Hilary Swank for "The Reaper", we actually talked about our shared trailer park past. We even high-fived with Hilary declaring "Trailer Park girl unite!" It was a little scary to reveal on-camera but also freeing.

Watch our interview here: Hilary Swank and The Happy Girl - Trailer Park Girls

It's easy to label others because as humans it makes us feel comfortable to put people in boxes, to know what to expect. But the thing is--people don't fit well in boxes. Things are fluid. You can't tell by looking at someone what their story is. They may have grown up summering at the Hamptons or in a refugee camp or even a trailer park. What matters though is who they are now. What they survived is their story and you may never knew exactly what makes someone behave as they do.

Bonus lesson #3a: You are not your past. Whatever your childhood was like, that is not you. You have the moment you are in right now. You can rise above anything. Whatever defined you as a kid does not define you now. Move on.

So if you see me duct-taping a plant holder to the trellis outside, you'll understand why. And wave as you go by. We're a friendly lot around here, even if it isn't a trailer park.

entertainme music: "put your records on"

I look outside today and it is 48 degrees and "white out" (completely overcast)  here in Seattle and a great time for a nap. But here's a song that I just turned on and will make you feel like the summer's rays are just touching the tips of your pretty little eyelashes.

"Put Your Records On" by Corinne Bailey Rae.

charming things: three good things

In my quest to get my happy back, I am discovering that sometimes little things can bring you joy.

Here are three:

1.)  Buy the lemonade.

In our little neighborhood the kids host lemonade stands. Some get creative. Last summer three little girls from the next street over created a shaved ice stand which featured a myriad of flavors (as long as it wasn't grape, which the girls loved. I watched dozens of cars speed past these little girls sitting in the shade

at their table looking hopefully at each person walking their dog or driving by. I had to stop. Their handmade 25 cent sign was too wonderful. When I pulled up  and asked for a cherry ice, you would have thought I offered them a brand new American Girl doll. The girls were very careful as they made my ice and took my 50 cents (they learned the meaning of a tip in this transaction ).

Be the adult who stops and makes a little girl's day.

2.) Buy the Girl Scout Cookies.

Same kind of thing here. When that time of year arrives and the little uniformed girls stake their post outside the local Safeway and ask if you would like to buy some cookies, buy the cookies. Help them make their goal. Don't be the adult who walks by and says no, or worse, doesn't look at them at all, as if the little cherubs peddling Samoas didn't exist.

Be the adult who is kind and helps a little girl out. If you don't like cookies (What?!) you can give them away to a food pantry (and THAT is a two for one wonderful whammy!) or freeze them for the next time you have little ones over.)

3.)  Support the cheerleaders / soccer / baseball / football players and get your car washed

Yesterday was the first sunny, bright blue, perfect day in Seattle in 2+ months and the local high school baseball team was having a car wash fundraiser. At the gas station by the traffic light, some of the guys held up signs and called out to drivers stopped at the red light. I had the top down and one of the guys said "Hi. I can make your car look real good!" How can you beat that?

Remember being in high school and giving up a Saturday to wash cars to try and raise money for your Senior trip? Remember the exuberance when someone would pull their car in and hand over the keys to you. You would wash that car with enthusiasm and think that this isn't such a bad way to spend a Saturday getting soaking wet and soapy with you friends.

Be the adult that kids look up to. Help them reach their goals.

Be selfish. Buy yourself a lemonade, cookies and a car wash and make a kid's day.

Happy Mother's Day

insights: god reads my blog?

I have a friend who is upset with me.

She thinks my blog post about Breaking Up With God is wrong.

"What if God reads it?" she asked.

I felt a laugh bubble up and couldn't stifle it. What if God reads my blog and is upset with me for posting that I broke up with Him?

Well, if God has to read my blog in order to find out that I was angry at him for sending me a year's worth of 'plagues' then I think we all have to rethink this whole religion thing and God's reach.

Somehow I have a feeling that God heard me when I was standing outside that one night looking up at the heavens and said "God, I've really had enough. You're not listening. You're mean to me. I can't take this anymore. I can't even talk to you anymore. Why should I believe in you? A relationship with you is pointless!"

As I stomped back inside I like to think that God got the point and He realized that this time I meant business. I was through with my relationship with Him.

I've taught Sunday school. I wore a Catholic school uniform long enough to learn how to make it look cool (Roll up the skirt. Black boots.). I've been in a long-term relationship with God and His whole family. I know all about God and I know that God heard me when I was outside under the stars ranting at Him.

However, I believe in a forgiving God. I know that He knows me well enough to just let me get angry about the hell (so to speak) that He kept sending me (or so I thought He was behind the whole thing.)

As my previous post said, I did some soul searching and a lot of thinking about our relationship. I missed Him when I stubbornly decided I would no longer talk to Him and I came to the conclusion that it wasn't Him, it was me. And He was a big enough guy to welcome me back.

But if He's reading my blog then I think I hit the mother lode of visitors. So, God, if you're reading this, thanks for making yesterday OK and if I could ask for one favor? Maybe a little sunshine please? And a baby would be really nice too.

(ps. to my friend who was looking out for God's feelings, I think we're good now and God says "Hi. You're welcome for that great guy you're dating. He's a keeper.")

insights: cinqo de mayo is not my favorite holiday

It's 11:38pm on Cinqo de Mayo "The Day That Changed my World." I made it, I survived it.

From yesterday's post you can see that I had a plan for myself. Yeah, it didn't exactly happen the way I planned it out.

To Recap "The Plan"
1.) 8:30am Swing by church and say hi to God. I'm going to sit in a pew and close my eyes and thank Him for letting me survive this traumatic year. And oh yes, thank Him for not striking me down with a lightning bolt when I broke up with Him earlier this year.
2.) 10am. Therapist. Originally I had planned to to talk to her about "Why did this happen? Why me? Why?" (imagine the ugly cry and twisting hands) but instead I want to talk about what my future looks like. I only want joy. I can't take any more crying and feeling pity for myself.
3.) 12pm Tomato soup in the Nordstrom Cafe. Best. Soup. Ever.
5.) 3pm Take Emma the dog to the beach and watch her joy as she rolls in rotting fish.
6.) 5pm a Toast. I will take Corona's advice and toast:
  • The company that I worked for for 15 years. It was an amazing run and I am honored that I had the opportunity to work at such an extraordinary company with the most talented group of people on this planet.
  • The people who made the decision to lay me off. I know it was a hard decision and I know that what you did set me off on a new path that wouldn't have happened without that push.
  • The people who ended up buying our dream home. There is a reason you are in that home. Clearly this is where your joy needs to be. Take a swim for me?
  • To my husband who listened and mopped up tears and bought me flowers and promised me that someday we will live in that dream house.
  • To my friends and family who stayed by me when others didn't. I have never known such great kindness.
  • And to my nine little babies in heaven. Oh, I hope you know how very much I love you and wanted you. You, my children, live in my soul, in my every laugh, in my every joy.
7.) 6-9:30pm Class

8.) 10pm Lay in bed with my husband and our dog and feel their warmth and their breath and their love.

What Really Happened

1.) I never made it to church. I ran downstairs to see L. already doing email in his office and said "Happy Cinqo de Mayo!!!!" He knew how much I was dreading today but I thought "Oh, what the hell, it's 47 degrees, raining and it's May 5. Be happy!"  We fed Emma the dog and I was making myself oatmeal when she walked from the hardwood floor to the carpet and threw up everything she had for breakfast. I'm not good with vomit so I tried to soothe her as she tried to eat the vomit pile, scoop up wet kibble/drool/chicken while holding my shirt over my mouth so I didn't vomit too. Happy Cinqo de Mayo!!!!

2.) I pulled out of the garage and my gas light came on. I knew I had enough to make it to the Shell station across from my therapist's office. I got on the highway and then DONE. On the floating bridge, a car ahead of me caught fire. IT CAUGHT FIRE. Traffic was brought to a standstill. I watched my gauge go past the red line and the warning go from yellow to red. I shut my car off. Everyone did. On the bridge. On the floating bridge. The problem here is my sheer terror of bridges and causeways and this floating bridge literally sits on the water. Ever since we first moved here and my husband told me that the bridge once sunk, I will only drive over the bridge with my top down in case it sinks I can swim right out. (I do realize how ridiculous that sounds.) But there I was, stuck on the bridge with a car on fire and a firetruck in my rearview mirror trying to fit between two cars on a  two lane highway ON A BRIDGE. I thought if I moved to let him through I will hit the Jersey barrier and go into the water. Do you have a fear of getting caught stopped on the top of a Ferris wheel with a person who thinks it hilarious to rock the car? Now imagine that person rocking the Ferris wheel so hard it does a 360. That was my terror on the bridge this morning. Was the universe trying to cure me of my fear of bridges? Perhaps we can schedule that next time, Universe, OK?

One hour we were on that bridge in the rain with the burning car. I was thinking what kind of f**king knucklehead has a car that catches on fire on a floating bridge. I was SO ANGRY. I was an hour late for my therapist's appointment and instead of sitting in my therapist's cozy office at 10am sharp I was panicking that I was running out of gas on a bridge with a burning vehicle. I was so mad I couldn't even get my curses out properly and I ended up cursing the F**KLEHEAD. Which sounded funny and made me laugh and broke the anger I was feeling and was surrounded by with all the other frustrated drivers. F**klehead. Funny. And that's when the tow trucks came to the rescue and I made it to the Shell station on fumes and my therapist who luckily had a patient cancel at noon. Funny how things work out, isn't it? BTW, if you're curious about the driver of the car, he was fine. I saw his charred minivan off the highway as the driver was pulling stuff out of the back of his car with the police and fire teams.

Therapy was great. I was surprised that I actually didn't want to talk about what happened exactly one year ago. Was I getting over The Day That Sucked the Life Out of Me? Wow. We talked about this blog and the positive responses I was getting from people I didn't even know. A little light started to enter my soul.

3.) No time. No lunch and no breakfast.

4.) Acupuncture. Lovely.

5.) No time for the park in the misty rain.  I had homework and Emma was curled up in her bed dreaming puppy dreams.

6.) Yes, I toasted. I thought this was actually the most important part of the day. Not just forgiving but wishing well for the people who I felt were responsible for the bad stuff that happened. I toasted them exactly as I said I would and what was amazing to me is that I actually meant it.

7.) Class was great. I love Professor Sampson and my fellow classmates at the School of Visual Concepts. Cassie, Ben, Collette and Georgia--thanks for a great evening. I wasn't sure I would be in the mood for class tonight but you guys are amazing.

8.) Got home at 10:45pm. Kissed L. and Emma the puppy and sent them off to bed so I could blog about today. They are warming the bed as I type this and I can imagine Emma curled up next to L. falling asleep.

Aside from not having a moment for breakfast, lunch or dinner, today was OK. What is really amazing to me is that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was dreading that Big Anniversary of The Bad Day That Kick Started the Year From Hell. But I had an A-Ha moment. I realized that if I wasn't laid off from my dream job and if we didn't lose our dream home and our sweet little babies, then I wouldn't be writing this blog here tonight. There is a reason for this. My heart is nowhere near as heavy as I expected it to be.

As I type this I am listening to Comcast's night time Toddler Tunes channel  (The BEST goodnight and sleep tight music) and Disney's "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" is playing. Symbols are everywhere if you look. I am listening to the words and I know that right here, right now is exactly where I am meant to be.

It's OK that things didn't happen exactly as I hoped they would today. It turned out even better than I could have imagined. I feel peace which I think is a precursor to joy

Good night, sleep tight, and to you Mr. Car Fire, I hope your night is going better than your morning did.