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 for more information about this very special little whale named Luna.