2012: lessons from giuliana rancic, a shelter dog and loveland pass

this is payton, former death row dog

It's a funny thing this New Year's Eve. You look back and ponder what was, what you learned. Some years you look back and you think "What an amazing year this was. I wish I could do it over." Some years are so awful you think "What a terrible year this was. I wish I could do it over." The thing is though, when the year is over, it's over and whether it was wonderful or awful, really all you can do is appreciate what you learned and look towards the new year with hope, with joy that your life can be anything you want it to be.

Maybe this year someone new came into your life. Maybe you lost someone. If you did, I'm sorry for your loss. Life can be incredibly cruel. The great thing is that whatever terrible things may have happened in your life (and I've received emails from people who lost a child, survived an illness, lost a job, suffered through betrayal. . .) you are here reading this. You survived. Now, you survivor you, move forward into this new year with wild abandon and hope. Stop replaying the terrible/mean/sad things in your mind and believe that in this new year unimaginably good things will be yours. I wish for you extraordinary and wonderful surprises that will delight you all year long. May you bring light to other people so that on New Year's Eve 2013 you will look back on a year filled with joy.  All my love!

As I sit here at my desk think of the lessons I learned this year, here are a few that stand out for me. What lessons did you learn this year?

2012 Lessons

This year I learned. . .

. . . that rescuing a shelter dog is one of the happiest things in the world.

. . .how to survive a crisis with grace from survivor, wife, mother and optimist Giuliana Rancic.

. . .that no matter how far you are away from home, you will always carry your home in your heart. I will always be a Massachusetts girl. Always.

. . .how to eat healthy, like these onion rings that taste just as good as the real thing.

. . .that laughter is a great way to alleviate an awkward situation.

. . .that when I'm sad I just need to watch Anderson Cooper burst into a fit of giggles and I feel better. (Watch it here. The giggles start at the 1:47 mark.)
. . .what to say when you don't know what to say.

. . .that no matter how long you have been with your partner, surprises (happy ones!) should still be part of your life together.

. . .how to get a flag that was flown over the Capitol building.

. . .to face my fear of heights by driving the Loveland Pass alone. (It was awful but I did it!)

. . . that a flash mob and music can make even the toughest heart go soft and lovely.

. . .how to make my own hair ties that I've subsequently given to hundreds of people around the world. This little aqua elastic hair tie that I wear on my wrist reminds me to be happy.

. . .that I just have to listen to "Call me Maybe" and drive top down to improve my mood.

. . .that a man in a bowtie is about as sexy as it gets. Especially when it's my husband who smiles at me from across the table at a wedding.

. . .that all natural, pure protein bars that taste like an Almond Joy are a cinch to make.

. . .that a proper thank you note is always in good taste. (Thank you Rachel Roy and Toni Braxton)

. . .that you can heal when it's hard to imagine you will but you will.

Thank you for spending 2012 with me. I look forward to all the adventures we will share together in 2013!

may all your days be bright!

This holiday season I am so thankful for the gift of family, for those moments spent simply sharing coffee together on a blissful morning in front of the tree. It's about the shorthand that comes along with people you've known your entire lives, people who love you even when you have crazy bedhead and a goofy demeanor first thing in the morning. (I'll forget that your favorite jammies have little cowboys lassoing on them if you forget that I dropped the entire pan of hot blueberry muffins on the floor.)

This is where I will be over the next few days, sipping coffee (and at times, tequila) with family. I've promised to stay offline and just absorb every bit of family time from little girl hugs to making pancakes together for Christmas Brunch. This week I am theirs. 

I hope that this Christmas you are surrounded with people and furry family members (of the four-legged kind) who you love and who love you. I wish for you all the happy in the world. 

See you soon!

happy things you need to do this week

1. Watch this movie  ("Love Actually") with the best last scene ever. Actually just watch every Hugh Grant movie.

2. Be ahead of the curve. Play Cards Against Humanity (board game) before it becomes the best game of the year in 2013. Buy it at Amazon.com or download the game for free.

3. Instead of giving a gift to your significant other, call your local no-kill pet shelter to ask what they need. Visit a pet supply store and with your partner or kids, pick out food, collars, leashes and toys for some lucky cats and dogs.

4. Make this peppermint bark with your kids.

5. On Christmas morning, bake an extra batch of blueberry muffins and deliver them to your local fire station.

Whatever you do this week, may you be surrounded by people you love and who love you. Wishing you love, happiness and many moments of uncontrollable laughter this holiday season. 

(video) inside the rooms of disney's art of animation resort

the view from my window at Disney's Art of Animation Resort

One of the best things about staying on the Walt Disney World property is the guest room experience. As lifelong Disney fans (and as media covering Walt Disney World) L. and I have stayed in most of the Disney properties from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa to Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Arriving as a guest at each themed hotel is an immersive experience from the Cape Cod vibe and beachy pool at Disney's Yacht Club Resort to the palm trees and Tonga Toast (Banana stuffed french toast-our favorite breakfast on property!) at Disney's Polynesian Resort.

the check in area of Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Last week I had the chance to experience the new Disney's Art of the Animation Resort, a new concept in hotels for the Disney company. Taking into account the generations of families who travel together, this new style of rooms caters to families suite style with two bathrooms (with bathtub), a dining area with microwave and refrigerator and space for six people to sleep comfortably (separate bedroom, Murphy bed and pull out sofa.)

the Big Blue pool where I swam every night before falling into my comfortable bed

Watch this tour of my room at Disney's Art of Animation Resort

New concept aside, Disney's Art of Animation Resort is a Disney Pixar fan's dream come true with rooms and public areas inspired by "The Lion King," "The Little Mermaid," "Cars" and "Finding Nemo." Enter the lobby and you're in the middle of an artist's sketch with black and white pencil drawings giving way to full color animated murals. There is the African landscape and the ocean  themed Big Blue pool. In the "Cars" area guests are transported to into the film with fun cartoony cars spread among the Radiator Springs area (nice touch: the ground around the cars is covered in a special textured surface in case little ones tumble.) In addition to the public areas theming well to each film, the guest rooms are also spectacularly themed right down to the little touches like the lyrics of "The Lion King" songs inscribed onto two footstools in the living room area. Look for the jellyfish lampshades in Ariel's domain and a tool chest that's actually a dresser in the "Cars" suites. 

While I was alone on this trip, it was easy to see that the family style suite would be a cost-saving and fun way to stay on the Disney property. With a separate bedroom, two bathrooms and a place to grab a bite at a table for four, this resort offers plenty of space for a family who wants to travel together. If you are a fan of animated features, this is definitely the resort to try.  One of my favorite moments was seeing a family including three little kids gleefully squealing when they arrived in the "Cars" area. One little kid said to the others "This is where they made the movie. Right HERE!!!!!!" Maybe not the movie, but memories sure were made here. 

For more information in Disney's Art of Animation Resort visit the Walt Disney World website or call 407- 939-7675. 

today's happy act of kindness: peppermint bark for everyone!

Since I started The Happygirl Experiment, one of the things I learned is that the absolute best way to make yourself feel better is to do something for someone else. It helps you to get out of your own head, get out of your own way. It's also kind of like a reverse magnifying glass. Doing something nice for someone else takes your focus away from your own problems and that's a big deal when your world seems to be revolving around the thing that makes you sad/angry/worried. When you perform a happy/kind act it can be a nice change when you fall into the whole "Why me? / Life is awful! / People are mean! / Why did I get this stupid parking ticket?" funk.

I wrote about this concept after Hurricane Sandy. How performing acts of kindness and sending out positivity in the world could help ward off the bad stuff. Maybe you feel helpless and you wonder what one person can do. Guess what? You matter. You can be the difference in someone restoring their faith in humanity.

I love what Ann Curry wrote regarding performing 26 Acts of Kindness in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. It's a really wonderful way to honor them but what if this feeling of goodwill towards men was something we did every day? What if each one of us did one thing intentionally to make someone's day better? It could be holding the door open for someone, dog sitting for a friend or paying the toll for the person behind you.

Starting January 1, join us every week on The Happygirl. Every single week throughout 2013. In honor of the Sandy Hook victims, the Hurricane Sandy victims, the people who are no longer in our lives, the people who we miss every day. What would you do if they were here? Why not still do it in their memory? So, in 2013 perform acts of happiness, for the Sandy Hook victims, for the people who had only love and innocence in their hearts and for you and you and you because goodness and happiness spreads faster than any evil or heartbreak can.

For today: Cheer someone up with chocolate! Chocolate makes everything better, right? Be responsible for someone's surge in endorphins!

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark

This recipe is ridiculously easy. It's also easily scalable. You can make 1 pan or 4 at a time. 

Here's the basic recipe. I doubled it to make 20 boxes. I only use Ghirardelli chocoloate. I find it makes the smoothest, purest tasting treats.

3 bags of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips
1 bag of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips
1 box of candy canes (crush enough to make 1/2 cup)

Use either a nonstick sheet pan or a pan lined with parchment. Set aside.

Crush candy canes into small bits using a hammer. (A coffee mug works in a pinch!) Set aside.

Over double boiler, melt white chocolate chips until smooth. You can also do this in the microwave. Start by heating bowl of chocolate chips for one minute, stir, heat another minute, stir until smooth. Set aside. Do not set the chocolate for 5 minutes in the microwave. It will be a disaster. Slow and steady wins the race here.

Immediately add candy cane chips to white chocolate. Stir until incorporated and pour mixture into prepared pan. Smooth out with spatula. Don't worry if it isn't pretty. It's supposed to look rustic. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour. 

An hour or more later, melt 1 bag of bittersweet chocolate in double boiler or microwave. Set aside. 

Remove tray(s) of white chocolate / candy cane bark from refrigerator. Dip a fork into the dark chocolate and drizzle chocolate over white chocolate bark. Use as much or as little as you'd like. Place back in refrigerator. 

Prepare your gift boxes. Remove bark from refrigerator and using your hands start breaking the bark into pieces. Do this as quickly as possible or the heat of your kitchen (or your hands) will start melting the bark and it will be harder to get those beautiful clean breaks. 


Some people add peppermint oil to the white chocolate in addition to the candy canes but I like the pure taste of the white chocolate studded with candy cane bits. 

what I learned in rockettes class (+ video)

I am not a coordinated person. As a little girl I was always in the emergency room. I could trip over a ladybug. In a Zumba class I have been known to just stop and stare at the instructor baffled at how she's getting her feet to move so fast. But there was one day not long ago, when just for one hour I was a girl who danced with poise with the Rockettes just like in the infamous Radio City Christmas Spectacular. How did I end up there, at Radio City Music Hall backstage where few people ever get to go?

I was on vacation on a hot and humid July day in Rhode Island when I read the incoming email on my phone: "You are invited to learn how to high kick and work out like a Rockette!" It was from BlogHer, the largest community of women bloggers and the following week I would be attending the BlogHer conference in New York City. As an attendee I had been receiving emails like this for weeks from sponsors. There were invitations to parties and events that filled up within moments of the invitations being sent out. It seemed I was never fast enough and I consistently received "Sorry this event is full!" emails. This--this opportunity to dance like a Rockette (brought to you by the makers of Centrum and Caltrate) was one that I was not going to miss out on. I had been working so hard to get fit, to become a girl who likes to work out, to feel like an athlete. So on a beach in Jamestown, Rhode Island I replied "Yes, yes, please, I would very much like to learn how to dance like a Rockette." And the answer was "We'll see you then!" I made it.

6:30am on August 3rd came early as I walked over to Radio City Music Hall with my gym bag. It was corny but I felt exhilarated, like I was a dancer version of Mary Tyler Moore or Marlo Thomas in "That Girl." I felt like a small town girl going after her dream in the big city. If I didn't think the construction workers and cab drivers would have thought I was bananas I would have thrown my ponytail holders in the air or something as equally fitting for the moment. I waited at the stage entrance for the other dancers and in small groups we were ushered into the guard station where we were given our passes and led up to the dancer's rehearsal space, a place that hardly anyone ever gets to see. This is where we would learn the infamous Parade of the Wooden Soldiers dance from the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

As we stretched in the the Large Rehearsal Hall, a hush came over us as the Rockettes entered the room. They were fit, sure, but what was more evident was their poise, how they walked--no--glided into the room. We all turned in awe and obeyed as they asked us to form lines. We were going to learn how to do the world famous high kick as well as The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. Both look pretty easy, right? In fact, these are two dances that take such precision and focus that by the end of the workout, we all looked like we had been through Rockettes boot camp.

Our instructors. Aren't they beautiful?

Here is what we learned:

  • The Rockettes are between 5'6" and 5'10 1/2". 
  • For the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers dance, the Rockettes wear tap shoes and use 8 counts (1, 2, 3, 4 . . .) Each step should be the same size. To do this dance properly, you should be just touching the girl next to you.
  • The infamous High Kicks? These are known as Eye High Kicks.  During the Eye High Kicks, dancers cross their legs in such a way that they do not expose anything. A lady is always a lady. (I love that!)
  • Did you know that when the Rockettes do the Eye High Kicks that they are NOT holding onto each other for support? Instead the move is called Feel the Fabric. This means that a dancer will have her right hand lightly resting on the upper back of the dancer to her right so she is just touching the fabric. Her left hand just touches the fabric on the lower back of the dancer on her left.  This is so if one Rockette loses her balance she doesn't take down the rest of the dancers. Try this. Right Now. Try to do a high kick with someone next to you by just lightly touching their back. It is REALLY hard!
  • There are 300 high kicks per show! 
  • The first Rockettes rehearsal for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is in September.
  • During the show, the Rockettes have 80 seconds to change from costume, hat and gloves into the next costume. Note: When the Rockettes all fall into a pile, they are unzipping the girl in front of them for the next costume change!
  • Best seats in the house? They are all good but the First Mezzanine is ideal. There are 36 Rockettes and the seats in this section give you the best perspective. 

This video below is us, non-Rockettes trying to dance The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. It's shaky because, well, I was dancing like a wooden soldier and that upside down business at the end? That was me saluting.

This is what The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers is supposed to look like.

What is like being a Rockette? Here are two of the Rockettes talking about their happiest moments being a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall.

When it was over, I was exhausted and happy. I smiled as I walked along the same corridor that hundreds of girls walked before me. Girls who achieved their goals of being a Rockette. I thought of how much work it took to get to this point. How many rejections had the girls experienced before they became a Rockette? How many early morning work-outs did they push themselves into doing because they had a single goal of being up on that stage? How many parties had they skipped because they were rehearsing? What they achieved took dedication and courage and strength. I stepped out into the humid, New York City morning and I was ridiculously happy. The little girl from a trailer park who tried desperately to be a beautiful, poised dancer (despite her complete and utter lack of coordination) became one, even for just one bright, amazing, lovely morning.


Want to know what it's like to work out with the Rockettes? Click here for information on the new Master Class series.

Click here for information on the fitness and diet plans of the Rockettes. 

Tickets for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular are available here.

holiday project: pomander balls with chef joy

The email from Chef Joy was very simple:

I make Pomander Balls every Christmas as Little Hostess Gifts.

I made one for you….  
And then it occurred to me, you’d have fun making one too.
And then it occurred to me, your readers would like to make a few.
So I’ll be over at 2 to walk you thorough, a Pomander Ball rendezvous!

And as promised, at 2pm Chef Joy showed up at the studio with a wicker basket of oranges, lemon and cloves. On a cold, rainy day she was was like a spot of bright, warm sunshine.

Chef Joy spread out the citrus and cloves in the center of the table and I added some of our limes. I offered her a drink. Coffee? Hot Chocolate? Diet Coke? Half-jokingly I offered tequila and it seemed like a semi-ironic thing to drink a shot of tequila while making Pomander Balls and that is what we did. 

As she showed me how to press cloves into soft Valencia oranges, Chef Joy taught me the meaning of Pomander. A Pomander was a ball or vase carried in the Middle Ages which contained perfume or oils that would mask the scent of bodily odor or carried to keep away infection. Typically a Pomander would be carried or tucked inside clothing. Recipes for ancient Pomanders included ingredients like Deer Musk and ambergris (from the digestive system of sperm whales). Today, Pomanders are most often made from oranges and studded with cloves to use as a centerpiece, hostess gift or to fragrance an area. This is the Pomander we were making.

Ingredients needed:

Whole Cloves
Skewer (to help poke holes in Citrus if the rind is tough)
Citrus scorer (if you want to get fancy)

How to Make a Pomander

Decide on a pattern for your orange. 

Chef Joy chose a circular pattern and I chose striped. If you'd like you can score your citrus first using a citrus scorer or you can just start by pushing the pointy end of the whole clove into the fruit.

The cloves can be sharp and in a few minutes my thumb was getting a little sore so keep a paper towel handy and use that to push in the clove. You can also use a skewer to pre-drill a little hole before you push in the clove. 

That's it, really. Just keep going by pushing cloves into the orange until you're pleased with what you have. This project was definitely a case of the journey being as fun as the destination. Just sitting with Chef Joy listening to Christmas standards and talking about our favorite holiday memories and disasters was as rewarding as the little fragrant balls of citrus and cloves.

The Pomander Balls turned out so well that I will be using them as placeholders for our upcoming holiday brunch. I think they'll be swell as monogrammed oranges. 

This is a craft project to enjoy with or without libations.

when healing seems impossible

a candle lit in memory at St. John's

I just got off the phone with my mother-in-law and as we talked about the upcoming holidays the topic turned to the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. As a nurse she has a unique insight into mental health and what if anything could be done to prevent something like this happening again. I told her that I just couldn't read anymore about this event. I can't sleep. I lay awake and think of those children and those teachers who died trying to save them. My heart aches.

Deepak Chopra offered these words about healing after tragedy that offered me solace. I hope it brings you comfort as well. 

In every call, in every conversation I've had since Friday, the topic has turned to Newtown. I've read obituaries and cried as I stared at the photos of these incredible, sparkling little personalities. As I drove home tonight I thought of those families who one week ago today had dinner together, they watched an animated Christmas special, they lit Hanukkah candles. Now, one week later their child, the love of their lives is gone. In one week the world shifted on its axis. There are Christmas stockings to be taken down, siblings to attend to. Life moves forward when it seems as if it should stop. I remember when we lost our baby I looked around at people going about their life and I wanted to shout "DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? MY DAUGHTER IS DEAD!" It's funny how life goes on around you when each breath hurts but it does go on and each day it hurts just a tiny bit less. There may be one good day in a hundred sad days but the good days start to come more often and that is when the happy slips right in, taking you completely by surprise.

In the past few days I have read articles and interviews with people who are angry, sad, political, furious, depressed, pissed off and baffled by what happened. There is so much to be angry about. This is true but when I think about what can be done, the only thing I know is to love. You battle hatred and evil with love, with light.

As my mother-in-law reminded me tonight, life is short, whether you are 65 or 6 years-old, the time you are given is never enough. What are you going to do with the time you have? My mother-in-law said she is going to savor and remember every single moment with her family (scattered around the country) next week. I love this idea. Sometimes it's just so easy to get caught up in the big events like "What are we doing on Christmas Day?" instead of enjoying the little moments like sharing a muffin and coffee together out on the dock just because you can.

That's the thing--DO IT BECAUSE YOU CAN. Because you can wrap your arms around your best friend or your daughter or your partner. This week I am hugging people, I am calling people I know to let them know how amazing they are. I am doing this because I can. And so can you.

What happened last week is awful. It is tragic and unfathomable but even the worst cut begins the process of healing immediately. Biologically white blood cells rush to the wound, flushing out the bad stuff and the healing begins. This tragic incident is the wound. Your friends and your family are the white blood cells. Surround yourself with the people you love and you will heal, you will.

The best way to honor these beautiful lives lost is to love, to heal, to remember the innocence and the love they had in their hearts. Carry this love on.

If you would like to donate in memory of the victims of this event, USA Today has compiled a comprehensive list of relief funds.

scenes from walt disney world

every time i arrive here i'm instantly happy. 
i love how the blue in the sign matches the sky so perfectly

I've now been home a week in rainy Seattle but when I close my eyes I can feel the warm sun on my face as I stood in New Fantasyland staring at up those fabulous flying elephants. Seeing Dumbo is one of the many items on my must do list each time I go to Walt Disney World. Then of course there's Spaceship Earth, sipping an espresso in France (Epcot) and now enjoying an unforgettable meal at the Be Our Guest restaurant in New Fantasyland.

If you're planning a magical trip to Walt Disney World this holiday season, these pictures will get you excited! If you're thinking about a trip somewhere the entire family can get their happy on, these photos will inspire you. Go, make some memories. This was a week I will never forget.

Here's to magical journeys!

Dumbo, I love you. I really do.

Cinderella Castle looking magical. I love the lit windows
on the very top. I wonder who's in there.

Main Street USA dressed for the holidays. 
Drink some hot chocolate as you walk arm in arm. 

Sit for a spell in a rocking chair in front of the
 cozy fire at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

Enchanted Tales with Belle. I love how this cottage
is lit. it's easy to imagine you're in France.

This chandelier and ceiling in the Be Be  Our Guest restaurant
 look exactly as they do in the animated classic "Beauty & The Beast."

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire at 

I love that very first moment when you're surprised with confetti. 
This was at the grand opening of the new Test Track at Epcot.

A tequila flight at La Cava del Tequila in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.

The marvelous big blue pool at Disney's Art of Animation Resort.
I went for a swim every night before falling into bed.

To book your own vacation at the happiest place on earth: 
or 407 939 7905