Sometimes things get in our way and it's easy to quit. There are so many excuses for failure when we first stumble. If you're very lucky, though, God or the universe gives you a reminder that life is just what you make it.
My former high school in Massachusetts showed this video "The Butterfly Circus" to incoming students this week. It's genius.
This weekend, as we slide gently into autumn, take half an hour to watch this short. Perhaps, it's exactly what the universe wanted you to see.
Happy Labor Day.
I was in a dark basement. Alone. The air was filled with incense and I could barely make out the chair across from me. At that moment it dawned on me that no one knew where I was. On the suggestion of a Shaman I had met at Red Mountain Resort in Utah during my personal vision quest week, I had scheduled a on-on-one meeting with Grandmother Nadia, the last living Shaman of the Ulchi people in the village of Bulava in Southeastern Siberia.
During my intense physical and emotional detoxification week at Red Mountain I had forced myself to do things that were out of my comfort range like facing my fear of heights by scaling a mountain and hiking through the hot desert alone. It also meant a tea-leaf reading, Drums Alive and a session with a Shaman. My goal for the week was to begin a clean slate and let go of things that no longer served me. I was willing to try anything to get my happy back. During an emotional session with Shaman Betina Lindsey, I had hoped to release the sadness and guilt I felt about the death of our babies. She sang softly as she placed objects like seashells and feathers around my body. I cried as she told me that I was holding on to these little souls so tightly that the bond I had with them wouldn't let new energy in. I had to let them go. I couldn't do it. After the session, as she was gathering up the articles around me, she asked where I lived. When I told her Seattle she stopped and smiled. She said one of the world's oldest Shaman would be visiting the Seattle area and she thought it would be a very good thing for me to have a session with Grandmother Nadia. Perhaps she could help me release what I needed to and open my body to a new little soul. I agreed.
You have to understand, this is a big deal. I went to Catholic school for 16 years. Before I started The Happygirl Experiment I didn't consider other religions and what they could offer me in my quest to be happy. I was beginning to understand, however, that there are no coincidences in this life. People are placed in your path for a reason and so I found myself on this evening alone in a basement of the home of the woman who translated for Grandmother Nadia.
In the dark room I waited. I closed my eyes. I drew in my breath trying to calm myself. I was nervous.
I didn't even hear the door open. I was in that half-sleep, half-awake mode. I sensed I was no longer alone and I opened my eyes slowly. There she stood in front of me. She was tiny, like a child. I smiled and nodded my head at her and her companion, Jan, the translator. As Grandmother Nadia donned her cloak and a head dress that completely covered her face I was told that Grandmother Nadia did not speak English and that Jan would be translating the session for us.
Grandmother Nadia sat across from me. I was rapt. It felt like anything could happen at that moment. I held my breath. She asked in her native tongue "Why are you here?" Jan translated.
Grandmother Nadia gazed at me. Our eyes locked. I quietly said, "I am sad. My babies died. I want a baby but I wonder if God or the universe feels like I don't deserve one. Can you help me?"
I couldn't see her face behind the headdress. She sat across from me quietly. I closed my eyes and then WHAM! The sound of a stick hitting a drum just inches from my left ear. Grandmother Nadia was in front me of me, around me, singing and beating the drum. I could hear Jan translating for us.
My eyes were closed. I was vibrating from the sound of Grandmother Nadia singing and using the force of her entire body to beat the drum. In the dark room we left the earth, dancing into the sky. Grandmother Nadia called up each of the winds of the North, South, East and West. She called upon my ancestors. She reached my animal spirit guides and asked them to accompany us on the journey and keep us safe. We twirled in the sky as she flew through space and time, calling upon her people and mine to guide me, to help release the little souls that I carried in my heart. "There isn't enough room for the soul that wants to come." she said. "You need to relax. You need to let go. Let go. Let go."
I know this sounds crazy. I know it does. I am a logical girl. My husband often calls me Spock. Even as I type this I know you must be thinking that I have just lost my grip. I get how it sounds, I do, but here's the thing: with my eyes closed and the incense, the drumming and the singing I believed that this wise, ancient, gifted woman from the wilds of Siberia was indeed drawing in the power of the universe to help me. We may have been sitting in a basement in Seattle but who's to say that our minds weren't actually flying around the universe, gaining wisdom of the ages?
The drum stopped. Grandmother Nadia removed her cape and head dress and sat down across from me, exhausted.
"Now?" she asked.
"That was. . .wow. Thank you but what is the secret I need to know to become a mother?" I hoped there was a tea she could prescribe or maybe a special prayer.
Jan translated my question and Grandmother Nadia looked at me matter of factly. "You need to relax."
"But is there something I should drink? A tea maybe? Herbs?"
"You. Relax. You. Relax. OK? You will be." And with that she got up and left the room. Wait. I will be what? Relaxed? A mother? Jan told me that this would happen. When it was over, Grandmother Nadia would stand up and leave. Just like that.
I stood up as Jan turned on the light. I blinked in the reality of the evening, trying to absorb what had just happened. I said goodbye and stepped out into the dark, starry night. I trembled as I walked to my car. I put the top down. I need air, a lot of air. As I drove home, I felt light. I drove across the 520 bridge looking up at the stars. Had I really just soared through the sky with one of the world's oldest Shaman or was my mind just susceptible to suggestion?
I realized that honestly, it didn't matter. What mattered was that I was trying hard to be a better person. I was getting fit and healthy. I was praying. If the path to being happy meant that I would soar through the sky in the company of a holy woman, then I would do that. I did that. It. Was. Amazing.
The Grandmother Nadia Experiment Results: I believe that this extraordinary holy woman has a gift. She touched my heart that night. Every cell in my body reverberated. I can't explain what happened in that room. What I know for certain is that Grandmother Nadia was right. I will be.
On a Monday morning you just need something to get your week started off right. Here's where to get your smile today.
The Experiment: Book a trip with VRBO.com
On a Sunday morning there are few things as good as blueberry pancakes delivered by room service to your hotel room. You're cozy in your hotel-provided bathrobe as you sip hot coffee on your balcony. Sure, that's a happy thing. But hotel rooms are also small and if there are more than two of you, it can get a little snug. This is what we were thinking last year when we booked our trip home to Cape Cod. So if not a hotel, what then? During our search for a place we stumbled across VRBO, Vacation Rental By Owner, a website that connects homeowners and vacationers.
VRBO.com is easy to use. Just plug in a few parameters like place, bedrooms and amenities desired along with the dates of your trip and in a few moments the site will give you availability and cost. When I searched for a home on Cape Cod for this past week, the house above came up. As we browsed through the photos we fell in love with this shingled cottage. I read the ultra positive reviews and sent an email requesting the dates. Immediately the owner emailed me back. It was an easy contract and here we are.
There are so many benefits to renting a house versus a hotel room. For one, if you are traveling with friends or family members, a house gives you a space to spread out together. On the day we arrived, some of us went to the market to stock up the kitchen while others made beds and got the house in order. The first night was rainy and as our friend and exquisite chef, Louise, made dinner, the rest of us set the table and sat around the kitchen drinking wine and listening to the rain fall.
Mornings were fun and relaxed. Whoever work up first made coffee and put out the pastries. One morning we made scrambled eggs and bacon and just sat around the kitchen table trying to live in the moment so we could remember how much we love being together.
At night we sat curled up in the theatre on comfy couches with blankets watching "The Big Chill" or sitcoms. You couldn't do this with your family or friends spread out in multiple hotel rooms. There were so many moments we would have lost if we had decided to go the hotel room route instead of VRBO.com.
The Experiment Results: VRBO.com led to one of the best weeks of our lives. I highly recommend using VRBO.com to find a vacation rental. It's a happy thing.
There is something about the Nantucket blue color of Hydrangeas that is delicate and ethereal. It's a soft reminder of summer days and balmy beach breezes. This was clearly on my mind when I was choosing a color for the dyed scarf experiment. A few months ago I saw the idea for Dip-dyed scarves in Martha Stewart Living and it looked like a fun, easy Saturday afternoon project. I love this kind of DIY: easy with a rewarding payoff. All you need is a package of dye and a garment. For this project I used a white linen tank and two silk scarves, along with two packages of dye in Turquoise and Brilliant Blue by iDye.
This project is easy but messy. Try this one outside. Cover your workspace with a plastic sheet, protecting anything that you wouldn't want dyed permanently. Seriously.
Important: Put on thick rubber gloves. I used thin rubber gloves and this happened.
Wash and dry garment you are going to use. Set aside.
Fill two containers (I used plastic shoes boxes from Target) with tap water. Add dye to one container and swirl until completely incorporated. Place containers side by side. If using two different colors, use a separate water container for each color.
For a tie dye effect on the scarf, fold the scarf into accordion pleats, iron and hang using the clips on a pant hanger (this will make it easier to dip.)
For the linen tank, I submerged the entire shirt in the dye bath and swirled it around, followed by a rinse in the clean water bath. (If you are dying more than one item, use clean water for the rinse bath between each item.)
To dye the scarves, hold the hook of the hanger and dip accordion pleated scarf into dye bath about halfway. Pull up then dip it again but this time to 3/4 of the way up and pull out quickly.
Now dip the scarf in the clean water all the way to the second dip line.
Unfold accordion pleats and hang items fresh from the clean water bath to dry. It was a sunny day so I hung them on tree branches, giving our front walkway a bit of a natural bohemian look for an afternoon. (It's good to throw the unexpected out there every now and then.)
Be careful when disposing of the dye baths. This ink is permanent and impossible to remove once it's set in.
When items are dry, bring them inside and rinse in cool water in a sink until water runs clear. You can also throw items in a delicate wash (which is what I did) and then in the dryer to set.
It's an easy way (for less then $5) to add a punch of your favorite color to your current wardrobe.
The Dyed Scarf Experiment Results: Great project. Easy (but messy) with a big payoff. Definitely a happy thing.
Dye and scarves from Dharma Trading (Crepe de Chine 22 x 90 $17.05)
It was my friend, Sara, who asked me if I had ever used Glam Glow. "No," I said. "But great name." She, being the fashionista that she is told me she just bought it and the first time she applied the cool gray mask to her face she had a perfect glow. Sitting at the kitchen table talking about clear, healthy skin, it felt as though we were shooting an infomercial. I wanted Glam Glow.
This weekend I picked up a jar of Glam Glow at Sephora. I've been traveling and out in the sun quite a bit lately and my skin needed a good exfoliating. It needed a glow. First thing to notice? Cool out of the box experience. How can you not love a package that says 'Hello, Sexy'? At the sink I washed my face, then applied the mask. As soon as it glides across your skin, you feel the clean tingle thanks to the Green Tea Leaf and Comfrey. After applying Glam Glow to my whole face I let it dry for 10 minutes then wiped it off gently using a warm washcloth.
I looked at face and I indeed had a healthy glow. My skin looked pink and healthy. Impurities were exfoliated and my skin felt clean but not in that stretched, tight way that you can sometimes get with masks. My skin looked so healthy that I didn't use any makeup. I just applied a bit of sunscreen and I was off for the day.
Sara was right. I was in love. Glam Glow does have a steep price point of $69 but you do need just a small amount to get the results you want.
The Glam Glow Experiment Results: Glam Glow is a happy thing! Love.
The best videos are the ones that friends share with you. This week I'm here in Cape Cod with a house full of friends and last night Brian shared this one with us. This video was so good that it had us all crying laughing.
If you're sitting in an office space right now and all you can think of is getting outside in the sunshine, watch this video of former lab chimps who were released into a sanctuary, some after being kept in cages for 30 years. As they step out for the first time, they blink in the bright sun. They hold each other. They tentatively feel the grass. It is extraordinary. You will smile at 1:26 when two chimps hug each other from the sheer joy of it all.
Watch. (If you're sensitive to animal issues, it's OK. This video may make you cry but only happy tears.)
You don't set out to lose 100 pounds. Even thinking about this is unfathomable. Last October I set a goal: Lose 100 pounds. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this but I put it out there into the universe. I believe that in order to make something happen you have to say it out loud.
And so last October I started small because thinking about losing 100 pounds was just not something I could do. I set small goals. Today, 10 months later I am sitting here at my desk, proud of an accomplishment that I wasn't sure I could do. If you have a goal -- buying your first home, getting your degree, having a family, you can do it. You just have to set yourself up for success. Here's how:
1. Set the goal and then break it up into sections.
For me, it was 10 pound increments. I didn't think about the bigger picture. I just knew I had to lose 10 pounds and that seemed manageable. When you succeed in reacher a small goal, it makes the big goal seem possible.
2. Make your goal public. Be accountable.
I knew that by posting my weight loss on Facebook, that I was accountable. Whether I lost or gained, I posted it on Facebook. Sometimes, when I plateaued and I just wanted to dive head-first into a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, the only thing that kept me from doing it was the thought of posting a gain publicly.
Let's say you want to become a lawyer or an ultrasound technician or a chef. You need training. You could look this information up online but the smartest thing you could do is talk with an attorney, ultrasound technician or chef and find out how they did it. They have the experience. They can tell you which schools you should consider. They can give you invaluable insider advice on how to achieve your goal.
When I plateaued and wanted to give up, I spoke with Chris Powell (twitter: @realchrispowell), trainer and star of "Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition." I asked him what I was doing wrong and how I could shake things up. He's the expert. He gave me the exact insight I needed to restart my weight loss which propelled me to the 100 pound mark.
There were many times, many many many times along this 100 pound adventure when I wanted to stop. It was too hard. I like cheese too much. I hated working out blah blah blah. I remember one night when I logically mapped out what I would do now that I was going to stop this weight loss thing. Life would be incredible and I could have mac & cheese again. I would have all this free time if I stopped working out. I was giddy with the thought of no longer depriving myself. I was ready to go to the market and go crazy loading up my basket with all the stuff I stopped eating.
Then I closed my eyes. I remember sitting quite still on the floor in the sun. It was a cold March day but the sunbeams were bouncing off the hardwood. I remembered every single morning that I went out there and climbed hills in the rain and the early mornings I went to the gym and swam and lifted weights. All of that would have been for nothing if I quit. All that hard work just gone. So I decided to give myself 5 minutes. If I still wanted to quit in 5 minutes I could. I sat still with my eyes closed and thought of every moment that felt good over the past few months. Every time I put on pants that were too big, every time I was able to lift heavier weights, every time I choose wisely.
I still wanted to quit after 5 minutes so I gave myself another 5 minutes and another. At the end of 20 minutes I had remembered how strong I was. Maybe on another day I would quit, but today would not be the day I quit. I found that by telling myself that I could quit but first I had to wait 5 minutes and that took the pressure off. Every single time by the end of 30 minutes I was ready to keep going on the positive route.
If I had given in while I was in that frenzied moment of "I HATE THIS. I AM QUITTING!!!!" then that one day of going off my program would have turned into two days, a week then I would hate myself for quitting. Being proud of yourself beats that unbearable feeling of failure.
5. Think of future you.
Every single time I stepped out our front door with my headset on and my running shoes laced up, I thought of future me. I listened to the same music and I imagined myself running easily. I could see exactly what I wanted future me to look like, to feel like, to be. I held her, I held ME in the front of my mind. I wanted to be that person I imagined I could be.
What is your goal? What do you want most in life? Do you imagine perfect Sunday mornings walking to your favorite brunch spot with your life partner? Is your biggest goal to hold your baby close to you? Do you want to look out at your parents as you walk across that stage to receive your diploma?
Imagine it. Close your eyes and see it happening. What are wearing? What kind of day is it? Is it sunny? Who is there with you. When you replay a scene over and over especially with the smallest of details, you create the pathway in your brain that will make it easier for you to see this goal play out.
See, here's the thing: Life is incredible. It is. What I can tell you today, on August 13th is that when you reach a goal, it changes you. You become more confident. You smile more. You make people feel good by the energy you put out there and in turn people react to that positive energy and you are surrounded by more positive energy.
What do you want? Go get it. And if you need encouragement, I'm right here.
You've got this.
At this time last week, we were in the emergency room with a beloved family member. She was dying. We were told she needed surgery immediately but there was still a chance that she wouldn't make it. I was there with her alone and I called Larry to tell him the news. He raced there to be with us, making it just in time to hold her and say goodbye.
When my arms were empty but I could still feel her warmth against me, I made calls. I put out a plea on Facebook. "If you believe in prayer, please pray or think positive thoughts." I emailed a friend from church and told her how empty we felt, how helpless. "Please pray," I asked.
At home we sat still. Larry tried to keep busy, as men do during times of crisis but I sat very still. I closed my eyes and I asked God to help guide the surgeon's hands. I imagined her healed and happy. I felt calm. I could feel prayers being said. We waited.
Later that afternoon we were told that we got her there just in time or she would have died. A few days later I would be asked over and over "How did you know she was sick?" "I just knew," I said. "I don't know how. I just knew."
In the Critical Care Unit, she rallied. The doctors fell in love with her and they were surprised by how well she was doing. I wasn't. I knew that that power of all that good energy was being sent to her, surrounding her like a protective bubble. We took her home on Sunday night and waited for the pathology results. We were told there was a 75% chance that she would die from this. We posted updates to Facebook and friends and family continued to pray for us and hold us in their thoughts.
Yesterday, we got the good news that she would be well for many years to come. What they thought would kill her wasn't there. I sobbed from the sheer relief of holding my breath for a week. I held her close to me and breathed in her smell. I had never been so grateful for a life before.
What I learned this past week is that when you are in times of trouble, don't go it alone. Call in your army of family and friends. Ask them to surround you with good energy and prayers. I don't remember much about the past 7 days. However, the one thing I do remember well is the way Larry's arms wrapped around me, protectively when the doctors gave us bad news. I remember the texts of support that said "I'm thinking of you, I love you guys," the hand-drawn cards from our neighbor's kids and the hundreds of Facebook messages.
Sometimes it's tempting to go it alone. You don't want to seem vulnerable, but vulnerable is OK. There are people who love you, let them.
The Experiment: Trade espresso-based iced coffee for Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
While on a cold winter's day I love nothing more than wrapping my hands around a ceramic mug of hot coffee, on a summer morning iced coffee is just the perfect way to start the day. Typically, I use Larry's Nespresso machine to make an Americano but last week I discovered Trader Joe's new Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. At $7.99 it's a steep price point but then you realize that this 32 ounce bottle actually makes 96 ounces of coffee when you mix it with water. It's kind of like the adult version of Kool-Aid with a wicked caffeine kick.
Since Monday morning I've substituted my espresso shots with TJ's Coffee Concentrate and it's been a successful experiment so far. The iced coffee doesn't have that depth of taste that you can only get from espresso because it's cold brewed, low in acid and fairly mild. The good thing is that you can make this your own. I like strong iced coffee so I added less water. The suggested preparation is 1 part coffee concentrate with 2 parts water or milk. I used equal parts coffee concentrate + water over ice with 1 tablespoon of creamer. It was delicious and REALLY powerful caffeine-wise. After just a few sips, I can already feel the caffeine hitting my system. If you're sensitive to caffeine, this is not the brew for you.
This is a great option if you're in an office or dorm that doesn't have a great coffee machine and you like a strong iced coffee. (This also makes traditional hot coffee. Just mix with water and microwave.) It does need to be refrigerated after opening and used within 30 days.
Experiment results: Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate is a happy thing, an amped up, eye-opening happy thing.
There is something so satisfactory about picking your own fruit off the vine or branch. It's a connection to the earth that makes you thankful for every raindrop and sunbeam that touches that fuzzy skin of a peach.
Recently I discovered this website that highlights Pick Your Own farms. Take a look at the map, find a farm close to you and spend an afternoon picking fruits and vegetables for your table. It's a simple way to connect with Mother Nature this August.
It's hot here in Seattle today, as it is just about everywhere in the U.S. on this August day. Virtually cool off by watching this baby elephant figure out how to use a kiddie pool. Awwww!
There are some people who like pasta for pasta itself, the delicious thin ribbons of dough with that firm al dente bite. Then there are people who view pasta more as a carrier for sauce the same way coffee is a vehicle for cream and sugar. I am in this second group.
Sure, pasta is terrific but to me, it's all about the sauce that clings to every bite. What do you do though if you're trying to stay away from pasta, from the gluten, the carbs and calories? Simple. You stay away from pasta.
Or. . .
Lately I've been experimenting with gluten-free pasta from corn to corn and rice and quinoa based pastas. Yes, they are all gluten-free but the calories were still high. I wondered what else we could use that would have the same mouth feel but with significantly less calories. Could I use vegetables as a substitute for flour-based pasta? I did some research online and found a kitchen gadget called the Paderno World Cuisine Spiral Vegetable Slicer (Amazon, $35.96, 4 1/2 stars and 1000+ reviews). Using this hand-crank machine, you place a vegetable like a summer squash or zucchini on a spiked holder, turn the handle and as the vegetable pushes against one of three different blades, you get thin spaghetti-like ribbons.
with Marinara Sauce
This is my go-to marinara sauce. It's great on pasta or as a dipping sauce. With only four ingredients it's easy, healthy and super quick. You'll never buy jarred pasta sauce again. I love the Dorot frozen spices. They are available at Whole Foods and other markets in the frozen section.
This sauce can also serve as a base for Bolognese or Arabiatta sauces. Just add meat and spices.
1 can or Tetrapack of chopped tomato sauce (I used Pomi 26 oz.)
4 cubes frozen Dorot basil
4 cubes frozen Dorot garlic
Splash of olive oil (1 teaspoon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour tomato sauce in pot on medium-high. Add basil and garlic cubes and splash of olive oil. Stir. Lower to simmer while you cook the zucchini 'pasta'.
Zucchini or Summer Squash Pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium size squash slices into spaghetti-like strands
Add oil to large saute pan set to medium-high. Toss in squash, using tongs to coat all the squash in olive oil.
Saute 5 minutes, tossing often until al dente (cooked through but firm).
Divide squash onto two plates, top with marinara sauce and Parmesan.
Enjoy your healthy alternative to pasta!
When I take our dog out for a ride top down, I like to watch her look up at the sky as we drive. I wonder what she thinks as we drive under trees and sunshine. I love that this makes her happy. There is something so awesome about watching dogs who like going for an adventure. So, here's to a happy Monday and dogs who just make our lives better.
Dogs in Cars from keith on Vimeo.
Dogs in Cars from keith on Vimeo.