entertainme: we bought a zoo

So you need a change of pace, to get away from everything. You could pack up the kids and head on vacation for a week at a national park OR you could buy a zoo like Benjamin Mee did in the film “We Bought a Zoo.” Based on a true story of a dad who led his family into a new adventure, “We Bought a Zoo” is a delightful Christmas movie for the whole family. Directed by Cameron Crowe (“Say Anything,” “Almost Famous”) “We Bought a Zoo” doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings as a fun film, it actually makes you think about your life and what you are doing to live your life with purpose.

While your kids will fall in love with  the porcupine and tigers (be prepared to get your child a stuffed tiger toy this holiday), you will be wondering if you’re leading the life you want. What would happen if you took chances? There is a great quote from the film “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will happen.” What if you actually took chances and did things that scared you that could actually improve your life?

Of course, “We Bought a Zoo” is also purely entertaining. Starring Matt Damon as the dad, Scarlett Johansson as the young veterinarian at the zoo and Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin’s brother, “We Bought a Zoo” is amusing and smart. If you are an animal lover, this is a film that you will see more than once and Matt Damon fans will enjoy seeing a new tender side of this actor. While Damon is a solid action style actor, the moments onscreen between Benjamin and his kids Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (the effervescent Maggie Elizabeth Jones) highlight a new facet of this actor’s talent.

Colin and Maggie nail it as Dylan and Rosie (complete with tween angst and innocence), kids who were uprooted from their home after their mother’s death and moved by their dad to a new environment, a dilapidated zoo with 200 exotic animals. Thomas Haden Church is, as always, sublime as the smarmy brother against the idea of Benjamin moving his family (and his money) to a dilapidated zoo and Scarlett Johansson is perfectly cast as Kelly, the veterinarian  trying to save the animals.

Cameron Crowe’s signature is stamped all over this film from the perfect soundtrack to the lines you’ll remember (In this case, “Their happy is too loud”). If you’ve grown up with Cameron Crowe (John Cusack holding up the boom box in “Say Anything”) you’ll enjoy this new adventure with him. And as Benjamin’s brother says to Benjamin is this film “What people need is joy, sunlight and human interaction.” What a great message for this holiday season. For more on Cameron Crowe's music and his films, read this insightful article from the cool folks over at Movieline.com. I'll bet you buy at least one soundtrack.

the happygirl guide to cool, homemade coasters

I was standing in the tile store buying tiles. 4. 4 tiles. I smiled because I thought "A-ha!"

This year there would be no shopping in the mall wondering if our brother-in-law Matt liked brown gloves or black. Would my husband's sister like relaxing lavender bath gel or refreshing peppermint?

No, this Christmas we were going old fashioned. We were going homemade.

I love my husband's family. In the in-law department I lucked out. Big. They're smart, funny, witty and most of all they love us and we love them. A week living in a house together on Martha's Vineyard is too short. So at Christmas, we all really want to show each other we love you which is why we end up at the mall wondering what gift could show them "You are the absolute best sister/mom/father we could imagine. We love you." In the past, we picked names and while the little girls in the family always got presents the adults draw one name to buy for. Still, though, what do you buy someone who really doesn't need anything?

Which as a family, thanks to my mother-in-law's brilliant idea, we were going homemade and we would be making a Christmas present for one couple. Names were picked and we got L.'s sister Carolyn and her husband Matt. I was excited. At dinner one night L. and I talked about what we can make together as a craft. L. and I were going to be Martha Stewart.

"Oh! How about a paper mache of their house!" I thought about their beautiful home on the lake. "You could make the house and I can do the dogs and cats!"

L. stared at me blankly, fork of Chicken Piccata raised in midair. He started laughing.

entertainme: marcel the shell

Here's your happy for today:

The ending scene just might make you cry from happiness.

And I think you'll really love the 2:20 and 3:15 marks.

insights: giving happy thanks

There are things, big things, to be thankful for, of course, like good health, a husband who makes my heart soar, a family that has my back, friends who have stayed through thick and thin and a dog who thinks I am  the entire world. These are the things to give thanks for.

But there are the other things, the little things, the quirky things that can make your heart leap as you say a silent thank you to God or the universe.

Here are some of the small things, the lovely things, the wondrous things that have made me thankful. These moments are the things I try to remember when I forget just how amazing life is.

(Yes, this is our puppy Emma who thinks she is hidden)

The Happy Things

1. Getting into a bed freshly made with sheets straight from the dryer

2. Hot apple pie topped with a slice of Beecher's white cheddar (Is this just a New England thing?)

3. Finding the PERFECT thing on Etsy.com. Seriously, how can you not love this?

4. The way my husband smiles at me and hums when he likes the dinner I've prepared

5. Settling in to enjoy the movie trailers and hearing the dialogue of the people behind me ("Oh! I want to see that. Do you want to see that?")

entertainme: "the twilight saga: breaking dawn"

When I got the invitation to the “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I” screening I knew the exact person I was going to invite as my guest-my friend Sara who is the biggest “Twilight” fan I know and just came back from the premiere in Los Angeles. In fact when I was interviewing the cast at Comic-Con before their first film opened, Sara was the one I called to preview my questions. So, it was only fitting that when I knew I was reviewing the film that Sara should get a say as well.

So stay tuned. Here is my review followed by guest reviewer, Sara’s take on “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I.”

I have to be honest and say that up until last weekend I hadn’t seen the last two “Twilight” films. I had stopped reviewing films for awhile and missed these movies. This weekend though I watched “New Moon” and “Eclipse” so I wouldn’t be completely confused when I saw “Breaking Dawn.” I grew up on John Hughes movies but I liked the story of Bella, the girl torn between Jake (a wolf) and Edward (a vampire.) It was teen angst on steroids and blood.

“Breaking Dawn” however was different. When we last saw Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) Edward had proposed, Bella accepted and they had set a wedding date. Meeting them again in this film, Bella and Edward seem more mature (however gaping the roughly 100 year age difference between the two.) This film is funnier, more romantic and a movie that can truly stand on its own. The three previous films could be seen as movies based on blockbuster teen books, but “Breaking Dawn” is truly a film for the masses, not just the Twihards. There is a wedding, passion (i.e. the honeymoon first sex scenes), anger, joy, excitement, war, wolves, and of course vampires.

Perhaps it’s director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) who gave this film a more wide-ranging appeal or maybe it’s the fact that the material is a little lighter (a wedding and a baby after all). Whatever the combination, it is a winning one that will not only delight the already existing “Twilight” saga fan but it will also attract moviegoers who may not have thought of themselves as fans. They will now.

Bonus: The soundtrack featuring Bruno Mars' "It Will Rain" is phenomenal. Download it today here.
Introducing Sara Kosokoff, The Happygirl Experiment’s guest reviewer

The Happygirl: So Sara we saw "Breaking Dawn" tonight. What did you think?

Sara Kosokoff: I loved this movie! I think this might be my favorite of all of them so far.

HG: How did this film compare to the others?

SK: You can tell the quality is much better, the makeup, special effects , the hair. Also, it is nice to see Bella and Edward so happy and carefree. Well, at least for the first part of the movie!

HG: You are the biggest "Twilight" fan I know starting from way back when. I remember when I was covering the "Twilight" red carpet at Comic-Con and I called you to help me out. You pretty much saved me there.

SK: You showed me a list of questions you were going to ask the cast. I nixed all of them, they had been asked a million times already and the fans want to hear something different. I gave you some questions you could ask them that I thought you would get some interesting answers from. Then, during Comic Con, you called me saying you were in a room with the cast, and you asked me  “So, who is the tall British guy, who is the girl with the red hair?. . .” That was funny.... Then you told me to watch the Live Feed. I was at my desk at work (trying to hide that I was watching this!) when all of a sudden I saw you with your microphone, and you were talking to Robert Pattinson. I turned up my volume on my computer and then....YOU ASKED HIM MY QUESTION!!! I almost fell out my chair. The question was something about what was the link to romance and vampires and he said something about that it was sexy to bite someone's neck. I seriously ran down the hallway yelling, I must of looked like a crazy person at work!

HG: You just went to the premiere in L.A. and you met Rob Pattinson. Did it fulfill every dream?

SK: Pretty much! It was my goal to see Rob up close, and to get a pic. It was a stressful 5 days to get to the red carpet but totally worth it when he was standing in front of me, asking "Hey, how are you?" I kind of forgot to remember how to speak! His eyes are really green, by the way. He is so good with his fans, he tries to get to every person and not leave anyone out. I am still bummed I didn't get a pic with Kristen though but who knows? I didn't think I would ever get to see Rob and that happened, so my fingers are crossed!

HG: What do you love about the "Twilight" films?

SK: I just love that they are so relatable. I mean, most girl's don't fall in love with a vampire and have a werewolf as a best friend, but at some point, you have that rush of first love and Stephenie Meyer can tell that story so well. It also helps to have Robert Pattinson cast as the lead. You can thank Kristen Stewart for that one. He tried out for the role cause he wanted to be in a movie with her and she insisted that he was the only person that can play Edward. And she was right.

HG: You obviously read "Breaking Dawn." How similar or different was the film to the book? I know the big love scene was something fans were excited about. Was it was awesome as you expected?

SK: Well, this is only the first part of the book, and it is pretty similar so far. I think the honeymoon was better in the movie than the book, since the book was fade to black and let's just say they show a bit more than that in the movie! I was satisfied with everything. The wedding was beautiful and the birth was terrifying! Now we have to wait a whole year for “Breaking Dawn Part II.”

HG: So rating this movie, 1 to 5 this movie would be a . . .?

SK: I would give this a solid 4.5. Honestly, this was not my favorite book in the series but it is my favorite movie so far!

charming places: review--red mountain resort

It all came down to this: Hawaii, Italy or a spa.

I needed to feel recharged and I wanted to visit a Happy Place where I could get my happy back. I wanted to go someplace where I would feel strong and empowered. Hawaii and Italy are indeed happy but what I needed at this moment was both physical AND emotional inspiration.  Hawaii and Italy were places I wanted to go back to with L. so I narrowed the search down to spas in the U.S. and Mexico. I used Spafinder.com to start the search and selected finalists including Red Mountain Resort, Canyon Ranch, The Pritkin Spa,  The Golden Door, Miraval and Fitness Ridge (associated with TV's "Biggest Loser") I called each of the resorts and spoke at length about their offerings and their "vibe."
I felt a little like Goldilocks.
One was too rigid (I didn't want to be intimidated into working out. Push me, yes, but don't make me cry.) Several were too expensive ($6000 and up for one week.) And several just didn't seem like it was a right fit. I spoke with Brad Crump, the Health & Wellness Director at Red Mountain Resort. He told me about the resort like the others had but he listened. He wanted to know what I needed from the resort. Was I there for pampering? To lose weight? To gain a new perspective? To challenge myself? Yes. Yes. And yes.

I drew up a chart listing each resort and their pros and cons. I read the reviews on Spafinder.com and their respective websites. Several were in the running but then I read the events calendar on the Red Mountain Resort site and it was this one item that clinched the deal.

This is Bacon, my new friend I did the Pound Puppy hike with. Isn't she wonderful?!"

I knew that any resort that would sponsor something like this was one that I wanted to be part of. I was right. It was perfect. Perfect. It was better than I could ever have hoped.

entertainme: review "like crazy"

Love. Oh, that crazy head over heels first love where just watching your love sip their coffee makes you lightheaded with giddiness. If you've ever felt that first love and you wish you could experience it again, then go see "Like Crazy" the film that won both the Grand Jury and Special Jury prizes at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Starring the lovely Felicity Jones (Anna) and Anton Yelchin (Jacob), the film feels more like a voyeuristic peek inside college students love lives rather than a fictional movie. It could have been a simple boy meets girl, girl leaves, boy pines for her kind of movie but instead it's a warm, sweet, painful look inside a couple who meet, fall in love, throw caution to the wind and then pay for that mistake with a separation so wistful you will grab the hand of your love in the theatre and whisper "I love you. I need you. I love you."

Director Drake Doremus took a unique approach with his actors by combining a short shooting schedule along with allowing them to improvise the dialogue. I spoke with Felicity recently and we spoke about the trust that developed between she, Anton and Drake. Watching this film you can see the freedom the actors felt in the intimate scenes. There is one scene especially that is poignant. Have you ever just spent a lost weekend with the love of your life? Now imagine a lost Summer spent in bed holding onto every single special moment knowing that when Fall comes their bubble will pop and they will be separated. It's a great montage scene of Anna and Jake over the summer in bed, in love. It's one of the loveliest scenes, reminiscent of "The Notebook."

"Like Crazy" is a quiet movie. It's a whisper in the ear, a subtle, beautiful, hazy, sweet film that will send you right back to your first love when life was just about the two of you, before life got complicated.

entertainme: review "tower heist"

There is something wonderfully fun about watching Eddie Murphy on the big screen, exactly where he is supposed to be. It's been awhile since we've seen him ("Meet Dave" 2008) or heard that signature laugh of his or seen that signature sideways glance of "You clearly did not just say that thing to me, dear sir." Face it. We love Eddie Murphy and it feels good to see him in a film where he gets to play to his strong points of comedy combined with "I'm just a misunderstood soul."

As a thief in "Tower Heist" Murphy (Slide) is perfectly cast against Ben Stiller (Josh Kovacs)  as the tower manager as they partner together to recoup money stolen by the penthouse resident who Bernie Madoff-like absconded with millions in a pyramid scam. (Alan Alda is wonderful in the role of this devious miscreant tycoon Arthur Shaw.) Unfortunately for the employees at the tower, Kovacs had previously encouraged Shaw to take on the Tower employees pensions and then lost it all. Feeling responsible he assembles a rag tag team including his brother-in-law Charlie (Played by Casey Affleck), housekeeper Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and the brilliant Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick as a former tower resident recently laid off and evicted) to get their  money back. Watching them scheme is the fun here. Think of this as "Ocean's Eleven" meets "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." It works especially the humor Broderick brings into the role as the forlorn Fitzhugh.

Losing one's life savings to a maniacal thief a la Bernie Madoff is a sensitive taken directly from today's headlines and I wondered if it was too soon for a film tackling this topic humorous but I was wrong. Listening to the audience howl in the screening it was clear that it's never too soon to see a wretched tycoon get exactly what he deserves. "Tower Heist" with its humor, suspense and great casting is a fun movie for a cold autumn night. Take your friends, order a big tub of popcorn and enjoy the "Tower Heist" ride.

the happygirl guide to perfect mashed potatoes

It started several years ago on a Thursday morning in November. We were having ten people over for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a very traditional meal with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. My best friend, Shereen, lived next door and the day before Thanksgiving we went shopping at Safeway. In the produce section as I grabbed cranberries Shereen looked at the list and got a 5 pound bag of  Yukon Gold potatoes. I looked at Shereen and the potatoes. "I think we need more. Do you think we need more potatoes?"

She looked from me to the potatoes. "No," she said "This is fine for ten of us, right? Do you think we need more potatoes?"

"I do. Let's get another bag." And so we left the store with ten pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes. The next morning dawned sunny and cold.  Shereen came over bright and early. We ate warm pumpkin bread and drank coffee as we started dinner. As a vegetarian the thought of sticking my hand in a cold turkey and pulling out a package of wet, pink turkey parts was too much for me. Shereen, ever the best friend did the deed as I poured the cranberries in a colander.

Next was the potatoes. We started peeling. We peeled and we peeled and we peeled. In the middle of peeling we actually had to take a break because there were so many potatoes. I looked at Shereen over the mound. "I think we need more."

"What?" she said. "Seriously. There are ten of us. "

"I know but what if people want seconds?" I smiled at her as in "Really we need to do this." Shereen laughed. "OK, let's send the boys." L. and Shereen's husband Matt made the first of several trips to Safeway that day for more potatoes and eventually heavy cream for homemade whipped cream.

We now had 15 pounds of potatoes but what we didn't realize is that we needed pots big enough to cook them. Luckily, we had several huge crab pots that we have received as wedding gifts that were in the garage unopened. Fifteen minutes later we had three enormous pots of potatoes boiling. We opened the windows once they began steaming up.

As the potatoes cooked we now had to transfer them to bowls, one enormous bowl after another until I remembered that as a wedding gift we had received this GIGANTIC stainless steel bowl that we at first thought was one of those stand alone cool sinks that you place atop a marble slab in the bathroom. L. foraged in the garage and he came into the kitchen literally with his arms around the thing. It was so big it actually fit 15 pounds of mashed potatoes. I wish we had videotaped us trying to mash 15 pounds of potatoes with 2 pounds of butter and almost half a gallon of half-and-half. Shereen and I actually had to take turns stirring this huge cauldron of mashed potatoes. We started laughing until we were crying, sending the boys (L. and Matt) into the kitchen thinking disaster had struck and we had either cut off a finger or burned the turkey.

Just so you have this in perspective, we had a regular 12 pound turkey, and the usual amount of sides you would think would work for ten people as well as a cauldron of mashed potatoes that took center stage on the kitchen island. There was a logical reason for this, you see. I grew up poor living with my young mom and my grandparents. There never was such a thing as leftovers. Sometimes if there wasn't anything to eat that night, dinner was a slice of white bread in a bowl with some milk and a little sugar. I was determined that on our first Thanksgiving in our new home we made 2800 miles from our hometown in New England that if any of our friends wanted seconds, they could have enjoy seconds or thirds. Everyone likes mashed potatoes and I was determined everyone was going to enjoy as much as they wanted.

Dinner was sensational. We're blessed to live in a cul-de-sac with wonderful neighbors. Did we eat all the mashed potatoes? Hardly. We didn't make a dent in that stainless steel sink bowl. We did, however, get a good laugh at dinner when the boys asked us to tell the story of why we were pushing mashed potatoes like they were drugs. And as everyone  left that evening, they went home with at least a one gallon Tupperware bowl of creamy deliciousness. My grandmother would have been so proud.

The potatoes were good that day but what I learned in the past few years is that I did what is a common mistake with mashed potatoes. I over whipped them with a hand mixer. That makes the potatoes gummy and hard.  Last night as my husband L. was helping raise money for breast cancer research I was making him the perfect autumn dinner of baked chicken and the most sublime mashed potatoes I'ver ever prepared. Here is the secret to the perfect mashed potatoes:

1.) The item you never knew you needed: a potato ricer. I recommend the Oxo Adjustable Potato Ricer from Williams-Sonoma. Instead of mashing down the potatoes you add the potatoes to a handheld gadget that puts enough pressure on the potatoes to squeeze the vegetable through small holes producing a mound of fluffy potatoes. You have to do it in small scoops but it is worth it.

2.) After peeling the potatoes cut the potato into even two inch squares.

3.) Use salted butter and whole milk. I tried half-and-half as well as heavy cream and skim milk but if you use Yukon Gold potatoes, whole milk and butter will give you the perfect mouth feel, not too light, gummy, heavy or gritty.

4.) When adding the butter and milk be sure to add the butter first. Cook's Illustrated says that when you add the butter first it coats the starch molecules of the potatoes. Adding milk first will make the mashed potatoes heavy and give it a gummy mouth feel.

Here is the recipe I used last night after dozens of trial and errors:

The Perfect Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes (it's important to use Yukon Gold potatoes. Last night measured about 8 potatoes)
1 stick of salted butter
1 cup of whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
Start a pot of boiling water.
Peel potatoes and cut into two inch cubes.
Add potatoes to water and boil for approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. (At 20 minutes test a cube to see if it's cooked. It should flake using for a fork to penetrate. Taste it. It should feel smooth and not grainy.)
Add potatoes to colander to drain then add to potato ricer. Rice all the potatoes in small batches then add back to pot on low to medium heat. Divide stick of butter in 4 sections and add to potatoes. Slowly incorporate whole milk depending on how thick or thin you like your potatoes. Keep in mind that the potatoes will thicken up on the stove. Just gently fold in the butter and milk.DO NOT OVERMIX THE POTATOES or use a hand mixer. This will affect the starch in the potatoes and make them hard.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
And by the way, we heard from one of our neighbors after that Thanksgiving that their family of four had mashed potatoes and potato pancakes for an entire week after that Thanks For Mashed Potatoes Day.
Here's to making many happy dinners!

insights: the bunny who was not a coyote

Once upon a time there lived an extraordinary bunny. She was exactly what a bunny should be. Her fur was soft, white and fluffy as virgin snow, her ears were the radiant pink of a conch seashell and her jump, well, her jump had the perfect amount of ebullient bounce.

With each morning Bunny bounced out of her nest determined to be the best bunny she could be. She was careful in selecting the ripest kale and organic vegetables she could find. And when she did find a bounty of delicious vegetables she brought her family and friends in to share in her good fortune. Bunny was happy and loved.

charming things: meet me. ok.

L. and I were at the Portage Bay Cafe in downtown Seattle not long ago and when he parked the car I got out and saw this metal cover in the street. L. and I looked at it and we have no idea what it's for other than a cheeky hello.

Meet Me. OK.

charming things: the girl and the dogs

Yesterday I went for a run at Greenlake Park in Seattle. It's a beautiful space centered around a lake. There is a beach, a performing arts theatre, a kayak area,  a community center and a fairly level path that is typically filled with runners, rollerbladers, moms and dads with strollers, senior citizens and bicyclists.

I discovered this special place last year. Yes, we've now lived in Seattle for a few years now (from New England) but I never got a chance to get to know Seattle since I was always on the road for my job at MSN. When things went south in 2009/2010 I decided there was only so much grieving I could do and I needed to get out of the house. Well, to be honest, actually I needed to get out of bed. I believe that exercise helps heal you. So I found Greenlake one day, put one foot in front of the other and walked 1/2 mile then a mile and now depending on the day I'll go at least 2.8 miles around the lake. I know where the ducks like to hang out and when the new moms do yoga together out by the water. I see the same faces and we nod to each other. It feels like a community.

You never know what you'll see at Greenlake Park. I love this guy too. This senior citizen was offering Spanish lessons. When I took this photo, a young guy had just stepped up to take advantage of this cool opportunity. There are the walkers and the runners and the bikes but Greenlake also seems to draw the unique personal transportation inventions like the standing bike or the sort of homemade part skateboard part skates that I saw a guy happily using last week. Yesterday though I saw something that made every single person who walked by smile.

entertainme: reviews "footloose" and "the big year"


Remakes can be a tricky thing. Some movies more than others seem sacred like “Back to the Future,” “The Way We Were” and “Grease.” Before seeing the new remake of “Footloose” I would have said this film belongs in that category as well. And I was wrong. Happily wrong.  “Footloose” was a touchstone to a generation in the 80’s. Kevin Bacon’s ‘angry dance’ is one we all remember. You just can’t remake a film like this but thankfully director Craig Brewer (“Black Snake Moan” and “Hustle & Flow”) decided to take this on.

I’ll get to the point quickly here. Yes, see this film. Yes, you will like as much as the original. If you were a fan of the music, you’ll be pleased to know that Brewer found a clever way to keep the original “Footloose” theme song. It’s still there. It’s still good but the rest of the music has been updated in a fresh way. Featuring Kenny Wormald ("Ren MacCormack") and Julianne Hough ("Ariel Moore")  in the lead roles, “Footloose” (2011) is the story of a city kid, Ren McCormack making his mark in the small town where he moves to live with his aunt and uncle after his mom’s death. Hough is Ariel, the preacher’s daughter who struggles against living in the shadow of her dead brother. In a town where Rock n’ Roll is banned and there is a curfew, what is left to do but dance, of course.  And dance, they do. Both Wormald and Hough have dancing backgrounds which make this film thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

Stealing this film, however, is Miles Teller (“Rabbit Hole”) as Willard, Ren’s best friend. (You’ll remember Chris Penn in the role in the original 1984 version.) With his unique humor and country boy attitude Willard is the guy you want as your wingman. I caught up with Miles recently and we talked about his role in this iconic remake.

charming places: adventuregirl log day 4: the vision quest

The Vision Quest
I know this is going to sound unbelievable. I know. My friends kiddingly call me Spock since I treasure logic but this, I can't explain so I'll just lay out the facts.
It was 6:18am when I glanced at the clock. I woke up happy and opened the sliders to the patio. The sky was still dark blue over Red Mountain Resort and the air smelled like fresh laundry drying in the sun. I noticed a bunny sleeping beneath the sage bush. I was quiet and slowly moved into a few good morning yoga poses on the red rock patio that was still warm beneath my feet and breathed in the cool desert air. I got dressed: white t-shirt / black yoga pants and my Merrell hiking shoes. Hair in a ponytail and Baby Coppertone waterproof sunscreen. I was good to go for the big day, my vision quest day.
With my backpack and my schedule I walked over to the cafe for my morning shake. I was doing the Weight Loss & Well Being Week as well as the Detox Week and I was feeling amazing. I filled up my Camelbak (a hydration backpack that has a water container that you can sip from as you hike) with ice water, got my Detox shake that the kitchen had waiting for me and stepped out into the sunshine. I needed to be ready for what was to come. Today my schedule went from 7am straight through until 10pm. I would continue to do things that challenged/scared me: Today’s two challenges among the busy schedule: hike alone into Snow Canyon and meet with a Shaman for a Life Path Reading and Sound Healing
I looked at the map the outdoor concierge had given me and I set out alone. Alone. There was no safety net here. It was a magnificent bright blue, sunny, hot 90+ degree morning. I had water and my phone which I was told would work to at least halfway through the canyon. Setting out I listened to my Western themed play list I had prepared: John Denver, Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra. Taking a left out of the resort I started hiking along the street until I hit Snow Canyon. As I walked along, I stopped to smell the sage brush. I plucked a few leaves and crushed them between my fingers. It smelled like Thanksgiving dinner. It was potent. It smelled hot. I took off my headphones to listen to the quiet. A hawk flew overhead and I heard his wings move through the air. Whisp, whisp, whisp. I decided to keep my headset off and be present to all my senses. The air was hot but dry. It felt like the sauna at my gym. I imagined the toxins leaving my body with every step I took. The effect of the red rocks against the blue sky was technicolor.

And I wasn’t alone. On this hike I saw bunnies, lizards, a rattlesnake (I was becoming good at spotting them) and several different species of birds. I found coyote tracks and scat (animal poop that identified the animal as coyote).

As I hiked I looked up at the enormous rocks/mountains and I wondered exactly how many hundreds of generations have been awed by the same question. Further on into the canyon, the rocks started to resemble things. This one looked like an alien face to me. What do you think?
My legs began to ache. I remember hearing that this was a sign of dehydration. I drank more water. I began to think about my life. I was so grateful for my husband and our dog. Sometimes when I think about that stroke of luck in that one moment that L. and I met, I am amazed at the serendipity of it. How lucky I was to be in that exact place at that exact time and here we are now. Life is such a series of moments that can be life-altering. There is such humility when I think about this. I started to think about the losses we’ve experienced as well but I wanted this week to be positive, to propel me forward. I pushed these sad, negative thoughts out of my head and hiked. Hard.

At 4 miles I knelt down on the soft sand and I stopped to thank God for my life, for all of it, for all of the amazing things that had happened and even the not so good things that had happened in my life to lead me to this very moment and what was about to come, including what was to happen later that day.
Meeting the Shaman
I am a logical girl. I worked at Microsoft and I love structure. I can’t abide clutter and I love logic puzzles. Which makes sense that I would choose a resort where medical science could help me learn how to best treat my body so it runs optimally. However, one of the reasons I chose Red Mountain was because in addition to logic and science they also offered something for my spiritual side, the otherworldly part of me.

After a morning of hiking and swimming I met Betina Lindsey, a Shaman Spirit Guide in a place called the Butterfly Building, an adobe dome structure on the far edge of the resort. When I entered Betina’s space it smelled like a cross between a campfire and incense burning in church. We said hello and she immediately turned me towards east, facing the window. I fixed my gaze on the mountains in the distance as the Shaman stood behind me and placed her hands on my shoulders and called upon the winds of the east. I closed my eyes as we turned north, west then south as she called upon the winds and the spirits. I felt tears roll down my cheeks and I know this sounds crazy but I swear to God I felt so much energy and I was afraid if I opened my eyes there were be a legion of Native American Shamans staring back at me. I kept me eyes closed tight. I realized I didn’t want to know either way.

After the opening prayers Betina led me to a chair where we spoke for a few moments. She took several stacks of cards like tarot cards out and asked me to select cards from the stacks. I complied and when dozens of cards were arrayed before us she started to turn them over. It was all good. There was one card left to be turned later. One of the cards was two people in a bowl much like that children’s nursery rhyme I vaguely remember. She smiled at me and said “You and your husband have a very good relationship.”

“Yes, that’s true. You can tell that from a bowl?”

“Yes,” she said “You’re in a BOWL!”

I nodded. “Right. We’re in a bowl. That’s good. Bowls are cozy. OK.”

After the reading the Shaman led me to an area on the floor where she asked me to choose an item from the nature collection she had assembled. I chose a seashell. She motioned for me to lay down on the sheepskin rug. As I did she placed the seashell on my sternum and I closed my eyes. She placed other items on me, a stone on my throat, one on my forehead. I pressed the logical part of my mind to be quiet, to see where this goes. Being brought up Catholic in parochial schools for 16+ years I was taught not to believe in any of this but after interviewing psychic Sylvia Browne so many times when I hosted MSN Live, there were things I couldn’t explain and I realized I had to open my mind up to religions, other beliefs like right now.

I know, again, it sounds crazy but I felt myself float. The Shaman was kneeling in front of my head with her hands holding my head softly as she prayed. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but I didn’t care. I felt myself float. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to move. It was lovely. She asked me what I wanted out of this session. I started to cry. I told her I wanted to be a mother so much and that my heart breaks for every baby that we have lost. I hurt. I felt guilty for not being able to bring them into this life. She asked how many. I told her 9. "There were 9," I said. The Shaman was quiet for a moment and then she said we are going to love each one of these babies, kiss them and send them off to be with God. It was time for me to let them go, to not keep them bound to me forever. My tears filled my ears. It sounded like she was speaking to me underwater. I heard her say “Baby #1, we embrace you. . .your mother loves you. . .she’s letting you go be with God. . .” I don’t remember the exact words. I do remember I didn’t want to let my daughter go. We did this 8 more times, ever so softly that only the Shaman and I and the baby would hear.

Tears flowed as the Shaman created this incredible music via a drum. It sounded like the noise when you wet your finger and run it along the top of a wine glass but as she did this over my body I felt my entire body reverberate. It felt like the music, the sound was reaching into every cell of my body. (I know how this sounds, I know, but I swear to you this is the truth.)

And then it was time to open my eyes. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay in this floaty moment of bliss, of pureness, of finally letting go of the guilt and the sad and the feelings of failure for losing my job and our children. I failed. I was a failure at the most basic thing in life, having a child, having a job.

I opened my eyes and saw Betina smiling at me. “How did that go?” she asked.

I sat up and shook the tears from my ears. I looked up at the Shaman. “That was amazing. I sent the babies off to be with God and they all went but the first one. Grayson stayed. She didn’t want to leave.” Betina smiled at me again. “OK.”

Betina took my hand and led me back to the chairs. There was one card left. She met my eyes then looked down at the card. I turned it over. It said “Forgiveness.” I have chills running through my body as I type this. I can’t explain this session. I can’t explain the feeling I had when I left. I felt renewed.

Later that night after dinner and yoga and several sessions I was outside by the pool. It was a little after midnight and the only light was from the pool. I was on the phone with L. I was missing him and telling him about my day, about the session with Betina and my vision quest. Throughout the call though I was distracted by a bird that kept hovering near me. Down to my head, just millimeters away from me she would swoop then back up. L. asked what it was. I was about to tell him a swallow when the hummingbird stopped maybe a foot from my face and hovered there. In the pale aqua light from the pool we stared at each other. I whispered to L. “It’s a hummingbird. This is incredible.” and then she flew away. I told L. I loved him and we said good night. I needed to go process this. As a logical girl this day was blowing my mind.

Later that night, I had the most vivid dreams of Native American faces coming towards me, not threatening, just sort of like I was at a cocktail party and they were swinging by to say hello and aren’t these canapes fantastic? I would wake up and think OK, enough. I need to sleep. I would fall back asleep and there they would be. Faces, hello, how are you? This went on all night. While at first I was scared, when I gave in and went with it I slept like a baby. I felt like I was watched over and for the first time in a very long time I didn’t feel like I had to worry.

I had been forgiven.

charming places: adventuregirl log day 3: becoming darth vader

Becoming Darth Vader
The sun was still laying low behind the mountains as he strapped the mask on me.  Being claustrophobic, having a neoprene mask tightened around my face caused instant panic. Brad was cool though, as he always is, and said it would be over in a few minutes. I sat in the chair as he dimmed the lights. Brad left the room and I was alone. I closed my eyes thinking just breathe in and breathe out. Breathe in and breathe out.

I was in here in this mask, in this room  with Brad Crump, Health & Wellness Manager at Red Mountain Resort having my metabolism tested as part of the Weight Loss & Well Being week. I’m terrible. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight in the past year by not eating wheat, dairy, sugar, coffee or alcohol. However some days I would eat maybe 300 calories. Three weeks ago I ate nothing for a week, then the next week when I ate normally the scale went bananas and I gained weight. My body didn’t know if I was starving or feasting.  Thus the mask which measures my breath and both my aerobic and anaerobic functions. Basically, the test tells Brad how many calories I need to sustain my body. You hear that to lose weight you should eat between 1200 and 1800 calories but every body is different. What do you really need to eat and do to lose weight?

Brad came back in for a few minutes and relieved me of the mask. He reviewed the readout and then turned to me and put the mask back on me. I stepped onto the treadmill and I tried to remember to breathe in and out slowly as Brad increased the speed and incline. What he wanted to see is the rate at which I start burning fat. Imagine running on a treadmill with a SCUBA breathing apparatus on as you tried sucking in air while running. There you go. I closed me eyes and imagined that this was a good thing. It's a good thing. It's a good thing.  It helped and it was over in minutes.

charming places: adventuregirl log day two: her name is bacon

Today was the day that I had been dreaming of. It would be the day I met a girl named Bacon who pulled me by the hand through the desert canyon. My girl, Bacon, is a big girl, all muscle and part Pit Bull and possibly part Bulldog. She’s a happy girl and she lives at the Ivins Animal Shelter.

When I looked online at spas I knew I wanted to achieve change, I wanted to hit the reset button. I wanted to attack my fears. Could I do that? Yes, I could. With help. When I read the daily schedule of events at Red Mountain Resort I knew that this would be a place where I could leave behind the old Taylor and become a strong, self-confident happy girl by doing things I thought I couldn’t do.

One of my fears I would attack today on The Pound Puppy Hike. At sunrise this morning I met our guide and two other guests. We drove over to the Ivins Animal Shelter an extraordinary no-kill animal shelter where twice a week guests at Red Mountain Resort can take the dogs for a hike into the desert. The dogs saw us coming and started barking. They knew why we there. We waited in the lobby as our guide went back towards the dogs. She appeared a few minutes later holding this puppy.

I fell in love with this little girl with the underbite. Apparently many guests at Red Mountain have bonded with their Pound Puppy Hike dog and have adopted them. I understood why. I held this little dog and I fell in love. I was looking forward to walking and bonding with her. I passed the puppy to the other two guests who wanted to hold this floppy, sweet dog. After we got our instructions on how to properly walk a dog through the desert, our guide disappeared with the little puppy into the dog area. We three were excited to see our dogs. Out came our guide with two little puppies, Charlie and Radar who was named for his gigantic Dingo-like ears.

charming places: adventuregirl log day 1: please don't pet the rattlesnake

(This is the canyon we hiked this morning. Breathtaking, isn't it?)

It’s 10:30 pm. I’m exhausted and struggling to keep my eyes open. Today I hiked a canyon, came face-to-face with a predator in the desert and I smell like a combination of eucalyptus, menthol and peppermint. I have Calamine lotion on my arms, Ben-Gay on my calves and revitalizing peppermint cream on my sore feet. It was, of course, a very, very good day.

In June after we lost the babies I told L. I needed to get the hell out of dodge and regroup. He asked “Hawaii? Italy? Whatever you want to help you feel better.” I thought about it and I said “I want to feel strong. I want to climb a mountain, eat clean and fall into a really great bed.” I started researching places to go like the new Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii. I thought I would work out all day, eat Mahi Mahi by the ocean and sleep well with the salty breezes but I knew in fact I would just lay by the pool and order drinks with little pink umbrellas. L. and I decided we would go there together, later,  when we can dream on the chaise lounges by the pool.

I wanted a challenge. I wanted to try something that scared me. Something I could face head on and overcome.

An adventure spa maybe? I researched the spa sites and narrowed it down to three. I called these three spas and there was a clear choice- Red Mountain Resort in Utah. I’m taking part in a double whammy week – Weight Loss & Well Being and Body in Balance in Detox. I decided if I was going to do it, then I was going to do it all the way. It’s a mind/body/spirit retreat and I was going to heal all three.

So, here we are Day 1. My goal for this week? To climb a mountain, to choose to take part in things that scare me--like heights and the desert. This morning, in the dark I dressed in my hiking gear, grabbed my new backpack and made my way to the gazebo where the guides, Rhonda and Priscilla met us. We took a van to the  Snow Canyon area and started out. It was supposed to be a fairly easy hike but it was a challenge. Lately I've been doing a 3 to 6 mile walk/run but this hike was HARD. It felt like a natural obstacle course as we climbed up, over and through the red rocks. There were points that you had to pull yourself up over boulders. I had expected, I don’t know, maybe hand grips on the rough spots but this hike was au natural. There were cacti along the way and scat that we inspected to decipher what animal had left it. (Raccoon it was decided because of the seeds. Bobcat or coyote would have had fur in the scat.) We had gone maybe ¼ of the way and the thought occurred to me that if I fell off the boulder how would I get back? How would they fetch me in the canyon? I became anxious as we got deeper into the canyon and the terrain became more unstable. Here is what I learned: The more anxious you become when you try something scary, the worse the experience. If you are afraid to fall, you will fall. If you think the parachute won’t open, there’s a chance you’ll do something stupid and it won’t open. When we took a moment to catch our collective breath, I tried to self soothe, to calm myself down. I needed to chill out, look up and enjoy the unbelievable grandeur that was the red rocks. I was so busy staring at the ground, worried about what was next and looking at my shoes that I was missing the ride.

I realized when I looked up at the rock formations that this sort of goes for our lives too. We may be so focused on what’s coming up that we miss the NOW, we miss the little moments of joy. As I stepped along the canyon and mountain, I tried to be present, to look up and not worry that I may not be able to scramble up over a giant boulder on the trail.

We hiked through the canyon and into the desert and I saw something move in the sand to my right. It was a rattlesnake slithering through the sand towards us. He was rattling. I felt an adrenaline rush. This poisonous snake was three feet away from us.  This adventure just got a little scarier, a little more challenging, a little more memorable. I started to reach into my backpack for my camera and I saw the guide blanch. “Let’s move. Let’s move. He’s rattling. Let’s give him some room.” It was amazing. We did not stop. I did not get a picture, but his spectacular face is imprinted in my mind.

When we got back to the van, the guides, the lovely lovely guides gave us peppermint scented ice cold washcloths which were soft heavenly clouds of coolness after the 95 degree hike in the Utah sun. As we rode back I realized that I did it. I climbed a mountain, I faced my fears of heights and the desert. I felt strong and able. At one point I had gotten myself into such a panic when the rest of the group were ahead of me and I felt burdened down by the panic of what if I can’t do this? What if I can’t make this hike? What if I need to turn back? But I did it. It’s amazing the feeling when you conquer your fears.

Some people come to a spa to be pampered and certainly this spa will do that for you but I came to challenge my soul and my body. Today I was about 80% sure that I couldn’t do the hike but I climbed a mountain AND came face to face with a rattlesnake. It feels unimaginably out of this world.

Survival tip: If you find yourself lost in the desert and you get hungry (frankly I think the panic would override hunger) do not forage for plants. Some of the plants you will find are either poisonous of hallucinogenics.   Native Americans knew how to use some of these plants for Vision Quests but you might just kill yourself. Instead scrape the lichen (a greenish hued moss) off the side of a boulder. It has not taste but is full of protein.

Tomorrow: I borrow a puppy and we head back to the canyon.

(Here is what your hotel vanity will look like on an adventure vacation.)

charming places: the new disney store

On a hazy, hot and humid morning recently I found myself humming along to "The Lion King" theme song amidst hundreds of elated people with giant ears. We were at the grand opening of the newly designed Disney Store at the Westfield Southcenter Mall in Seattle, WA .

As a Disney fan there is no place exactly like being at a Disney resort theme park but the new Disney Store experience makes our list of happy places. If you have kids you’ve been to the Disney Store picking up a glittery Cinderella Halloween costume or the newest Disney video or maybe even picking up Disney theme park passes but now, oh you lucky adult you, you’re about to become a hero to that kid in your life (and I’m speaking to you too, aunts and uncles.)

On this morning in this mall in Washington a lucky family was selected to use a giant key and open the doors to imagination. With translucent trees that come to life with projected videos, a magic Disney Princess mirror and areas dedicated to boys, girls, Disney collectors and even Disney moments, the new Disney Store was different than the former store. It’s now an experience, kind of like a mini-vacation.

insights: what I learned from susan lucci

Susan Lucci stars as Erica Kane on the ABC daytime drama "All My Children"
Ernest Borgnine. Please.”

I was looking up at the handler who was staring at me holding her clipboard amidst the organized whirling chaos backstage in the QVC Studios.

“You want Ernest Borgnine? Tova’s husband?” She asked.

“Yes, Ernest Borgnine. Please.” I nodded my head at her emphatically.

She scrolled her finger down the list of celebrities who were on hand for this big night.  “Okaaaaaay. Um, we have a long lost of celebrities joining us tonight. Should I bring you Marie Osmond? Richard Simmons? Tommy Tune?”

I nodded my head “Yes, later” I whispered but right now to keep on schedule we needed Ernest Borgnine.

The handler spoke into her headset. “Ernest Borgnine backstage to MSN Live please. Someone please find Mr. Borgnine.”

We were in Pennsylvania backstage at QVC hosting a live event with the celebrities who had products featured on the shopping channel. On this cold winter’s night a plethora of celebrities were on hand to celebrate the grand opening of the new QVC complex.

charming things: etsy and myan photography

When I was on the road there were times that we were lucky enough to stay at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. I would get up early in the misty morning and go for a run on the boardwalk, listening to the Eagles live on my iPod with my hair tangling in salt air as I flew along the beach.
Not long ago I was on ETSY, the addictive site for handmade crafts. I stumbled upon this photographer, Myan,  who made me feel happy when I looked at her ethereal art. I browsed her dreamy collection of romantic, moody, soft, happy inducing images of Los Angeles and beaches and moments and I knew we had to have this particular piece of art.
Take a moment and really look at this piece. Yes, those bubbles are metallic and in our 16 x 20 piece of art hanging across from our bed it looks just like we rolled over and caught a slice of a soft, sweet morning on the beach in California.
Explore ETSY for your piece of happy and support artists who live every day getting their happy on.

entertainme: review: "I don't know how she does it"

I can imagine that when hardworking moms everywhere get the opportunity for a girls night out this week “I Don’t Know How She Does It” will be taking the top spot on “What Can We Do In The Three Hours That I Have While My Husband Is Watching The Kids?”

It isn’t just the age old topic of how a mom juggles work / family / home that is the draw but also the affable Sarah Jessica Parker in “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” We loved SJP when we were single devil-may-care girls but now we’ve grown together into new lives where baby bottles have replaced Cosmopolitans and our chosen footware is something-anything- that will protect our tender feet from stepping on a Lego in the middle of the night. And Sarah Jessica Parker continues to be our guide on this new adventure towards grown-uphood.

Based on Allison Pearson’s best-selling British novel of the same name “I Don’t Know How She Does It” is the story of Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) married with kids and a high powered job that often takes her away from home. There are lists to be made (which cleverly are written on her ceiling as she lies awake at night), flights to be caught and pies to be made. Sort of.

We see Kate frustrated as she tries to juggle motherhood, work and marriage. Yes, these topics have been explored to the n’th degree by Hollywood but there is a freshness here mainly because of a well assembled cast with Greg Kinnear (less smarmy than usual) as her husband, Kelsey Grammer as Kate’s boss, Olivia Munn (who absolutely deliciously steals every scene) as her assistant and Busy Phillips as the quintessential NYC mom. The film also stars Pierce Brosnan as Kate's business partner, Seth Meyers (“Saturday Night Live”) as her work rival and Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) as her single mom pal.

One of the reasons I loved seeing this film with an audience (versus a press screening) was the side commentary from three moms sitting in front of me. I heard a lot of “Yeah!” as in “Yes, I have done the same thing. Yes, I have worn pancake batter to work on my shirt before. Yes, I have promised my husband we’d have sex but I fell asleep the second I hit the bed.” These moms in front of me sang along to a rousing version of Sam Withers’ “Lovely Day” and seemingly loved this film so much they stayed through the credits while reviewing the film which in a nutshell was:

“I love Sarah Jessica Parker. She’d be a fun friend, don’t you think? She feels like an old friend. I liked this better than the book. Do you know if there is a soundtrack? My sister would love this movie. Busy Phillips looked AMAZING, right? Do you want to go grab a drink? I still have 40 minutes before I have to go home. I can’t. I promised hubby tonight was his lucky night so I gotta go. Next week maybe?” See, choices.

Yes, you have seen this story before but if you are a busy mom you will enjoy this night out with an old friend. There may not be Big or witty banter but there will be laughter.

charming things: akinator, the app

Last night when I got home from screening "I Don't Know How She Does It" L. and I collapsed together on the couch.

"How was your night?" L. asked. I cuddled up next to him with the puppy on top of us.

"Fun!" I said. "Tomato soup at Nordstrom followed by a good movie."

"I bought you an app, " he said reaching for my iPad.

"Is it a boy app?" I asked. L. likes to buy me apps that help me do practical things like not get lost, make me smarter or coordinate my music. I prefer apps that make me laugh or keep me busy when I am impatiently waiting.

"No, it's not a boy app. Cayr (L's older sister in Massachusetts) found it. We played it tonight and it's wild. You'll love it."

L. handed me the iPad and slid my reading glasses on me.  On the screen a genie appeared beckoning me to play. The app: Think of a character and after asking a few yes or no questions Akinator would tell you who you are thinking of.

I started to play. I whispered to L. "Cary Grant." Akinator asked me questions like "Is your character real?" (yes) " Is your character female?" (no) "Has your character been dead more than 20 years?" (I don't know) etc. In 12 guesses Akinator guessed Cary Grant. I was flabbergasted.  Next we tried the Pope, Fred Flintstone, my grandfather and Helen Keller. As the Akinator was computing his answer after asking us questions I said to L. "If this thing guesses Helen Keller, it's magic." Helen Keller's face appeared on the screen! I tossed the iPad to L. "How is it doing THIS?" I asked.  It was freaking me out. L. tried to tell me it was all about statistics.

"No," I said. "This is freaky magic." I whispered "He is listening to us, right? That's how he's doing it, right?" I held my hand up to cover my mouth so Akinator couldn't see what I was saying.

"You know Akinator can't see you, right?" L. asked. He shook his head. "He. Can't. See. You. He. Can't. Hear. You." He kissed my forehead. "You know what? I love you," he said.

We played again and again and again and it got every one of the characters correct, even Lassie. It was blowing our minds. Statistics or magic, whatever it is it's fun and it's happy.

If you have an Apple iPad or iPhone, download the app now here. It's a happy thing.

smitten: interview and review for "the whale"

In the summer of 1975 “Jaws” scared the bejesus out of me when it was released in theatres. I don’t know what the heck our parents were thinking when they took us little kids to see a movie about a great white shark while on vacation AT THE BEACH but it scarred me as well as every other little kid who screamed and kicked the next day when our parents tried to get us to play in the water at Hampton Beach. Luckily, there is now a happy tale about a whale that makes what lies in the deep blue ocean a whole lot more friendly. This is the story  of a happy little orca named Luna that just may become the world’s most beloved little whale.

Luna’s story as depicted in “The Whale” begins on a summer day in a fjord called Nootka Sound off the rugged coast of Vancouver Island. One day, like a child in a giant watery department store, this baby whale is inexplicably separated from his family. He does as he was taught. He calls out for his family every day-hopeful- and yet every day he roamed alone in the Sound waiting for his family to come back for him, the echos of his call unanswered. He was alone. It’s here that the true story of this little whale begins.

In a move that surprised biologists Luna decided that if his family wasn’t coming back for him then he was going to make his own family. Experienced filmmakers, Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit captured Luna’s story, exploring the relationships between man and animal, offering up the questions- Do animals experience happiness? How do humans and animals coexist in this great big blue world when we can’t communicate with each other? Or can we?

Over the course of this little whale’s adventure people came to love this little orca. From a cook on an old freighter to a tough fisheries officer and an elder of a First Nations tribe, Luna affects everyone who encounters him as he is determined to create his own social circle, a family of his very own. Luna “goes to work” with loggers, accompanying them on their day. He goes nose to nose with a barking dog on a boat (each tilting his head at the other as if to say “What exactly are you?”), even playing peek-a-boo with fisheries officers and  swimming along with a pod (boats) of his own.

Due to his eagerness to “play” with humans, Luna’s story begins to reach beyond those who live in Nootka Sound. Unfortunately for all those who flocked to meet Luna, there were some who wanted to see Luna moved or worse. As Luna starts to interfere with the sea planes landing, the government steps in in the name of helping Luna move on without a human family. Yet, he isn’t about to let anyone get between him and his proxy family. Luna, the happy little whale, finds himself caught between the government, a First Nations tribe and literally everyone else who thinks they know what’s good for Luna. The funny thing is that it was Luna who was in charge. He was determined to build himself a happy family, regardless of the obstacles put in his way. What is there for us to learn from this little whale?

With its charismatic and charming lead male, colorful supporting characters, inspiring story and extraordinary cinematography "The Whale" is an uplifting tale and one of my favorite films of the year. It's amazing what can be learned from one little whale.

Last week I had a chance to sit down with filmmakers and producers Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit to talk about this determined little whale.

The Happygirl: Michael, Suzanne, the golden rule of journalism is not to get involved in the story. How hard was it to try to maintain this distance between journalist and subject?

Suzanne Chisholm: You try not to be part of the story we did eventually get involved. We have done stories in Bosnia and Africa. As journalists you are not supposed to get involved and it can feel cruel in a lot of ways. How can you not get involved? We were in a unique position. People trusted us. We felt that the most important part was getting the information out.

Michael Parfit: It was difficult. I believe there is a value in staying apart from a story because what you can provide for the public is such value. One of the critical things for us in telling this story was to describe what we were doing without making the film take that position. We told it as if we were other characters we wanted to be upfront that we were taking this position. All of a sudden we found ourselves in this unique spot. We loved Luna. We cared a huge amount about him. It was a difficult choice. We have been criticized for it but if you make it and you are upfront about it is that is all you can do.

HG: People seemed so attached to Luna. Why do you think that is?

SC: Most people’s experience with whales is from a distance. You go on a whale watch cruise and you see a little blow in the distance but when you are close the whale looks you in the eye and you recognize that there is a living, breathing, conscious mammal there who has these intricate social needs, behaviors and desires that are very much as complex as those of humans. Different, of course, but you recognize a creature that is not really all that different from ourselves.

Many people feel in love with Luna. It is just seeing them up close and also a part of you just sympathizes with his circumstances. I remember sitting on the dock a few days before his capture attempt and seeing him and I am not embarrassed to say this. I just cried for him because here he is separated from his family and we know how social they are and he was living all by himself. How can you not sympathize with a character who has nobody? It tugs at your heartstrings.

MP: There was something about him that your empathy was just there. . .If you look at what he looks like, he has no facial expression. He has a little tiny eye and supposedly humans are attracted to big eyed things, right?

SC: Big eyed furry things and he is neither of these things.

MP: He did things so intentionally. He made up his mind and he did stuff. All these different things he did like stealth whale, you know? Where you would be looking out and wondering “Where did he go? He was way over there.” Then all of a sudden POW! He was right behind you.

SC: A lot of people said he had a sense of humor. He would do these things, and elicit these responses where people would laugh so he would continue to do them and he would do them like a kid in a lot of ways.

We think about the term anthropomorphism. Are we putting ideas of how we experience things onto an animal? We have done a lot of research in how to describe an animal’s emotions in our film without saying he is just like another human being because he isn’t. There was a connection. We try to address that in the film. Always he was trying to make contact with us. He would come up and make little whistling songs above the water and look at you and it was clear he would try and communicate with us.

Old school biologists say that the only the only reason animals do anything is to procreate and feed themselves. Well you see all of these funny behaviors that Luna does which aren’t for these purposes. There was entertainment value for him.

HG: What did you learn about happiness from Luna?

SC: Our bottom line is that we were happy he was a free orca. We never wanted him to be in a situation where he wasn’t happy. There is something so joyous about when an orca breeches. We don’t know if that means they are happy though. They could just try to be getting away from something in the water. There were also a lot of hopes and desires that we had for Luna to connect with his family.

MP: For me one of the things that I think of that makes me relate to happiness in the film was when he was hanging out with Jamie (one of the First Nations tribe.) Luna seemed to be relaxed. He would just lie there calm. You felt as if he was relaxed and happy when he was with Jamie. I think in that sense we could pick out when he was happy.

It is a bit like the whole notion of friendship. It is pretty amazing that the concept of happiness is something that a whale might have. That's pretty amazing. How do you ecven cope with that in your own mind? For us going out there and watching him go through what seemed to be a whole range of emotions to realize that these things were somewhat similar to feelings we have but also different in ways.

SC: He behaved quite differently toward Jamie. He recognized Jamie.

MP: He behaved differently with Jamie than he did with me. He trusted Jamie more than he trusted me. When he came up he would play with me but he would lie there and look at Jamie. To see that is pretty amazing. Jamie had a good connection with him. It’s a mystery.

HG: Ryan Reynolds narrated “The Whale.” How did Ryan get involved?

SC: Our agent showed it to him and he loved it. Ryan is from Vancouver and he has gone out whale watching as a kid and in all likelihood he had seen Luna’s family.

MP: Ryan was wonderful to work with.

HG: So Luna did make he own family.

SC: We admired that he did the best he could. He didn’t have his own biological family but he carved out the best living that he could for himself. It was an unusual living. One day I saw him and he had blue or rust paint on his chin. He would be rubbing up against the bottom of boats. He did his best to get that stimulation that he would have gotten get from his family otherwise. A lot of things he did with boats he would have done in the wild with his pod. When you see footage of whales swimming close, they are rubbing. They are very tactile animals. He didn’t have any other whales so he did this with boats or people. If we can say this by all appearances he did his best to do what would make him happy or fulfill his own needs. That is not to say that I think we humans were a good substitute. We must have been so one dimensional compared to them. The language is such a big part of their culture. It was as though we were speaking a foreign language but he kept trying.

MP: People had a sense of relationship with him. He was part of the community. A great many people felt this way. Though some people didn't. It was a cross section of people (who liked Luna) and not just pet owners or animal lovers. These were people who were salt of earth/ocean, salty dogs who just loved the little whale and you really didn't expect that. Look at Ed the fish cop and his relationship to Luna. Ed was from Newfoundland and the first time we met him his screensaver was Newfoundland and Luna. I didn’t expect this guy would have a sentimental bone in his body but he said “This will be with me until the day I die.”

“The Whale” opens in select cities September 9, 2011.

Visit http://www.thewhalemovie.com for more information about this very special little whale named Luna.

entertainme: review: our idiot brother

When I mentioned to some friends that I was reviewing "Our Idiot Brother," Paul Rudd's new movie this is the reaction I got:

"Oh my God, I love Paul Rudd."

"Can I come?"

"Didn't you love him in 'Knocked Up' and 'Anchor Man'?"

Yes, Paul Rudd has an enormous fan base. Huge. Women wish their husbands were like him, men want to grab a beer with him, kids want him to jump on a trampoline with him. I'm with you. I get the whole Paul Rudd thing. You can relate to him, especially in "Our Idiot Brother."

We all have one, the brother/sister/grandmother/cousin who we love dearly but sometimes they make us want to run into a bathroom at family gatherings, stick our fingers in our ears and hum as they bang on the door asking us if we know where we keep our extra change/underwear/brandy.

"Our Idiot Brother" Ned is like that. He's actually sort of a well meaning overgrown puppy who doesn't realize the destruction be brings to a house as he slowly moves to each of his sister's houses following a jail stint for drugs. Ned's happiness is hanging out with his dog and girlfriend at their organic farm and yeah, maybe smoking and sharing a little weed. When he loses the girl and his farm it's then up to his family to help him get his happy back, but on their terms. Played by Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks and Emily Mortimer, Ned's sisters do their best to try and get their brother on the straight and narrow. The question is how do you change someone to fit the mold YOU want them to fit into.

What if your happy doesn't coincide with what someone wants YOUR happy to be?

"Our Idiot Brother" is a great take on what it means to be a family. Do you love each other and accept each other because you have to or do you REALLY like your family? How far would you go for them?

This is a slow paced and at times funny film with groovy music. If you're looking for an interesting character study movie, this is it. If you have a family member who you're baffled by, take him to see this movie. You never know, it may turn out that you're the one who baffles him.

insights: what I learned from steve jobs

There is something called the Out of Box Experience that makes my husband giggle like a 4 year-old girl getting a new bike with handle streamers. Last week he handed me a white box with my brand new Apple iPad in it.

“Open it!” he said gleefully. “Go ahead, open it.”

I was in the middle of making the puppy’s dinner. I looked up at him and smiled “Go ahead, honey. You open it for me.”

He shook his head “No. You NEED to open this. You NEED to have the out of box experience.” L. looked at me expectantly and nodded to the box that he was pushing towards me.

“Babe, I don’t care about the out of box experience. I just want the iPad once you do whatever you need to do to it to make it actually work so when I am on the road I can Tweet, write, listen to music and occasionally look up pretty new running shoes. K?”

“You. Need. To. Open. This. Box. You. Need. To. Have. The. Out. Of. Box. Experience. Please.” I looked over at L. He was almost levitating off the floor as I nodded “OK, let’s share the out of box experience.” I put the puppy’s dinner bowl on her mat and reached for the box.

“Hands,” L. said as he led me to the sink and pulled the box away from me. Clearly, the out of the box experience was something that had to be done with clean hands only. As I washed my hands he changed the Sirius station to Frank Sinatra. We now had “Out of box experience music.” I love my husband. When he does stuff like this, something in me jumps for joy.

Once we both had freshly scrubbed hands we sat down at the kitchen table and I swear to God the clouds parted and a sunbeam shone on the clean white box.

“Open it. Open it. Open the box. Go ahead. Now. Open the box.” L. could barely sit still as he sat next to me. I realized that this was pure joy for him so I very slowly turned over the shrink wrapped box to admire it from all aspects.

“It’s very rectangle,” I said admiringly “And heavy.” I raised my eyebrows approvingly.

“Oh my God, will you please open it.” L. said exasperated. I wondered if he had slipped some jewelry in there. It was as if he was proposing again.

I slowly peeled off the shrink wrap and slid the top of the box off. And there it was. We both stared at my brand new iPad sitting perfectly couched in its box with the paperwork and the cords tucked away somewhere underneath the clean expanse of white.

“Go ahead, take it out!” Poor dude was so excited for me.  I tried to match his enthusiasm.

“Wow! It’s an iPad! It’s white! It’s shiny! I LOVE IT!”

L. looked at me skeptically “You’re making fun of me.”

“No, honey, I’m not.” I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. “I love the fact that you love the out of box experience so much. I love my new iPad. Thank you. I’ll think of you every time I’m sitting somewhere listening to “Summer Wind” on WiFi.” This was true. And then L., happy that I had the out of box experience, whisked my iPad away to his lair (office) and emerged with it soon after loaded with all my favorite apps, as well as apps I didn’t even know I wanted. (StarWalk! You can hold your iPad up to the sky and the iPad superimposes the constellations that are there along with observatory kind of music!  Tunein Radio so I can listen to Magic 106.7 from Boston!)

We sat together on the couch as I went through every app that L. had thoughtfully added to the new iPad. To be honest, I just liked watching his face as he proudly showed me what he had done to make sure I had everything I could possibly need or want on my new device. L. was right. The out of box experience was something to savor, especially this part.

When Steve Jobs announced yesterday that that he was stepping down from Apple. I realized what an important man he has been in our life and I thought about what I have learned from this innovator. I’d like to share that with you now, here.

entertainme: colbie caillat

It's lovely outside, isn't it? August evenings are perfect for a little dinner al fresco and the music that accompanies it should be just as light and airy. Colbie Caillat's latest release "All of You" is like a cool beachy breeze. Listen now then when you're bundled up inside this winter you'll remember what it was like to feel the sunshine on your shoulders.

Click here for Colbie Caillat on iTunes