happy videos: stars wars blooper reel

Whenever I'm feeling a little blue, one thing that immediately cheers me up is a good blooper reel like this one from "Star Wars."

Scene 2:08 is especially funny with Chewbacca and Han Solo.

Note: some scenes lack audio

Enjoy and laugh.


happy things: cat hats, yes, cat hats

I came across these hats for cats and these are just too wonderful not to share. A handmade sheepish hat for your cat. This has to make you smile. Really look at this picture. It's a cat. Sitting in a planter, on top of flowers, wearing a handmade hat that looks like a sheep. Imagine the minutes just before this picture was snapped. "Peter, come on. It's just a hat. You like wearing hats. No, don't eat the Tarragon leaves. No don't. OK, smile, Peter. Who's a good kitty?"

Available on ETSY.


today's song: "reasons" by earth wind and fire

Today's song: It's a crisp, autumn, sunny day. You're walking through the orange and red leaves just feeling happy and this song comes on.


Inspiration # 253


because happiness is like an ice cream cone


"What if you never get it back?" she asked. "What if you never, ever get your happy back?"

On Thursday night I met someone who asked me: When things went to hell all at once, had I considered the fact that I might never be happy again?

This thought stopped me in my tracks. I wanted to be honest with her. I owed her that. I owe you that.

The answer is yes. Yes, I did think about the fact that I would never be happy again after all the losses that happened all at once:  losing the baby (and almost losing my life in the process), losing my job as a celebrity reporter for MSN, along with the loss of my identity, stability and paycheck. It was the worst of times. There were dizzying weeks when I stayed in bed and couldn't bear to see the light of day. I could not imagine ever being happy again. How could I when I didn't even recognize what my life had become?

One day, however, several months later in late summer I was eating a strawberry out on the deck in the sunshine and that single strawberry was the tastiest, strawberriest berry in the history of strawberries and I smiled because it was just so good. I hadn't smiled in so long that the simple act just felt so foreign. It was the first happy moment I had following the six months of hellfire.

And I felt guilty because I was happy.

Just a little tingle of happy.

I thought "I can't allow myself to be happy. Look what I lost. My daughter should be here enjoying this strawberry with me. What kind of person can be happy after what I've been through?"

It was only after talking this through with a therapist and my priest that I understood that by letting myself enjoy moments of happiness that I wasn't forgetting about Grace. Instead I was honoring her by living my life, by trying to be the best person I knew how to be.

As we talked about losing your happy I said "I think happiness is like an ice cream cone. Let's say you love Chocolate Cake Batter ice cream. It's your favorite. It makes you happy. Nothing makes you happier than a Chocolate Cake Batter ice cream cone. Then one day you step up to the counter at your favorite little ice cream store and they have discontinued Chocolate Cake Batter ice cream. What do you do?"

She looked at me "I don't know. What do I do?"

I smiled at her and said "You order another flavor. Strawberry Butterscotch Swirl. And you're not sure at first but then the new taste settles in and you're happy. You like it.  In fact, it might even be better than Chocolate Cake Batter."

I may never be with George Clooney again at the Hotel Du Cap in the South of France. I will never know the bliss of holding Grayson in her pajamas after a bath. That happiness is gone BUT there are other flavors of happiness. There was an unforgettable, perfect evening this summer with my best friends enjoying dinner by candlelight at the Cape Cod beach house. I've spent time with my nieces just relaxing by the lake, laughing and splashing. My husband and I survived an impossible loss but we have each other and sometimes we laugh so hard that we can't breathe. I'd like to think Grace sees us happy and that it tickles her soul. It takes time but you do find a new flavor of ice cream, a new happiness. It won't be exactly the same but it's ice cream, right? You just have to be open to liking something new.

As I was talking I saw it register across her face. She smiled at me. We talked a little more about her life and that moving forward takes guts. It takes energy to plow through the sadness. As we parted she said "Do you think I could like Strawberry Butterscotch Swirl?"

"I do," I replied. "I think you could like it very much." We hugged.

I turned to leave. As I walked towards the door I looked back at her still sitting in the shoe section. She was smiling wide.

review: trader joe's honey roasted pumpkin ravioli


For our first Valentine's Day together, I decided to make Larry ravioli from scratch. I spent all afternoon carefully assembling little cheese pillows. They looked perfect but the moment I added the pasta to the water, they simply fell apart into a soupy mess of ricotta, mozzarella and pasta squares. I was so disappointed that my first effort at a homemade meal was such a failure. That night, however, Larry took me out to dinner and we fell more in love over nachos at Fitzwilly's in Northampton. It turns out that it isn't always the meal that matters, but the company.

Since that fateful day in the kitchen in Massachusetts, I have tried my hand at making ravioli from scratch with disastrous results. I just don't seem to have the magic touch with homemade pasta. Luckily, store-bought pasta can be a good substitute when homemade isn't an option.



Usually we enjoy simple cheese ravioli but I've been on a pumpkin kick lately. So, over the weekend I bought every pumpkin flavored item I find at Trader Joe's including the Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli which was for the longest time sold-out. This week has been foggy and wet here in Seattle, perfect weather for a cozy evening at home sharing a plate of pasta. Found in the refrigerated prepared foods section at Trader Joe's, the ravioli took less than 10 minutes to heat in boiling water. My typical homemade pasta sauces (Arrabiata and Pesto) would be inappropriate for such a strong autumn dish and because the filling is so sweet,  the taste should be balanced with a savory sauce. I made a very simple cheese sauce of Gruyere and cream and topped it with a dusting of freshly shredded Reggiano.

As the rain and fog swirled outside, by candlelight we tucked into the soft, warm, pumpkin-filled pillows. While I immediately loved them, Larry somewhat liked them. They were, in his words "like eating pumpkin pie in a pasta" which is precisely how I would describe it. The ravioli were indeed sweet and spicy, but if you're a fan of pumpkin pie, you will like these and unlike traditional ravioli filled with cheese which can be somewhat tasteless, these pumpkin ravioli have such a strong taste and are so filling that you really do need a small serving to be satisfied.

Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli have a distinct autumn taste that is delicious if you really like spiced pumpkin. I think a better way to serve them (instead of an entree)  however, would be as an appetizer, when you could enjoy one or two ravioli and then move on to something like a Pear & Gorgonzola Salad and a Rustic Chicken Pot Pie.

Nutritional information: Trader Joe's Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli has 240 calories, 40 grams carbohydrates and 4.5 grams of fat in 1 serving (1/2 package).

Here's to a happy autumn weekend!




a song for today: "the first time ever I saw your face" by johnny cash

Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and listen to a song. This song -- "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Johnny Cash is such an emotion-riddled song that it's impossible not to feel what Johnny Cash was feeling at this exact moment. You know that there was love and angst in every note.

Close your eyes and take a listen.


the top 100 slices in the U.S.

There is nothing cozier on an autumn evening really, than staying in and making homemade pizza but when you want to go out for a slice, where do you go?

Take a look at The Daily Meal's list of the 101 Top Slices in the U.S. Did you favorite spot make the list?

Click the image below to read the list.






happy things: what to eat on a plane


I've been traveling back and forth between coasts quite a bit lately and having flown close to a million miles I know the benefits of packing my own snacks. There are only so many packs of salty pretzel mix and diet sodas you can enjoy on a flight cross-country. Whenever possible I try to bring my own snacks on board -- a protein bar, a pack of almonds, a Macoun or Granny Smith apple usually fills me up along with several bottles of water to keep hydrated 36,000 feet above the earth.

Last week though, when I was on my usual flight from Boston to Seattle, and tempted to buy one of the  snack packs offered for purchase, I saw that the airline also offered a kid's snack box. My seat mate decided to go with the cheese snack box. We each paid $6 for our snacks and waited for them to be delivered.



Sure, my seat mate enjoyed a very adult snack a la Grace Kelly with a glass of White Zinfandel along with cheese, grapes and crackers but I had a kid's meal that came with A TOY! Starting with  glass of cranberry juice mixed with sparkling water, I tried the Pirate's Booty, followed by applesauce (an odd sensation to sip applesauce but tasty.) Throughout the rest of the flight, I enjoyed a honey graham cookie (above) which tasted like a berry Fig Newton, along with some organic chewy fruits. The snack box also came with a turkey jerky stick that I gave to my seat mate (I'm a vegetarian).

The best part? While my seat mate was left with an empty box (no fun), I had a toy--Wikki Stix, colorful, pliable, waxy strings that I shared with my seat mate. We each braided the strands and made each other a bracelet. The airplane kid's meal was definitely a good call and much more fun than a salty snack mix or even the hot meal. A kid's meal may be the ultimate happy food!

happy food: easy cheeseburger soup recipe


It wasn't long after we had moved across the country from Connecticut into our new home in Seattle that we hosted an autumn party out on the lawn on a crisp  fall day. We lived on a cul-de-sac and a party seemed like a good way to get to know our neighbors. I knew exactly what I would make: Cheeseburger Soup.

When Larry and I were first married I made something that started out as a fluke really-- Cheeseburger Soup. I came up with it one day as a newlywed when I just couldn't think of another way to cook chicken breast.  I had cans of Campbell's Cheddar Cheese Soup on hand along with a package of ground beef and some half and half. I mixed the ingredients together, added some condiments and it was easy comfort food that made us feel warm, cozy and happy.  (There's something weirdly rewarding about pouring ketchup, mustard and relish in a soup.) Cheeseburger Soup also became the go-to meal for football games (portable in thermoses), New Year's Eve potlucks and impromptu visits from friends. And that first autumn party on the cul-de-sac? Well,  it was just the first of many block parties that bonded neighbors as a family.

Yesterday, was a long, intense day at work and I didn't have a lot of time to prepare dinner. It was also a cloudy, damp, cool day just made for soup. I stopped by the market on the way home and in less than 30 minutes Larry and I were tucking into bowls of warm Cheeseburger Soup before curling up in front of the fire and an Xbox game.

I wish you many cozy evenings this autumn season!

happy food: cheeseburger soup recipe

The brilliant thing about Cheeseburger Soup is how versatile it is. You can make it the traditional way or low-fat, with ground turkey instead of ground beef and fat-free half-and-half.  It's a basic recipe that is easily adapted. Here is the general recipe: 

Ingredients

1 pound of ground beef
2 cans of Campbell's Cheddar Cheese Soup
2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of half-and-half
to taste: hot dog relish, mustard and ketchup
topping: crushed potato chips or cooked bacon

Recipe

In a large pot set on medium heat, cook ground beef until browned and drain. 

Return ground beef to pot. Add 2 cans of Cheddar Cheese soup, milk and half-and-half.  Once combined begin adding hot dog relish, mustard and ketchup 2 tablespoons at a time to taste. I usually add about 1/4 cup each but feel free to experiment. 

When combined and hot, pour into bowls and serve with crushed potato chips or crumbled bacon with a warm pretzel roll on the side.


The Lighter Version Ingredients

1 pound of ground turkey breast
2 cans of low-fat Campbell's Cheddar Cheese Soup
4 cups of fat-free half-and half
to taste: hot dog relish, mustard and ketchup
topping: crushed low-fat potato chips or cooked turkey bacon

Refrigerate leftover soup and use it to top baked potatoes or as a dip for tortilla chips. It also freezes well.






happy things: the thank you note from Cary grant

Recently I ran across this thank you note from Cary Grant to Audrey Hepburn. As someone who believes strongly in the power of the handwritten note but who struggles with the perfect thing to say, I admire Cary's flair for words. I can only imagine Audrey's delight upon receiving this note.

When was the last time someone called you star-bright you?






happy food: caramel apple monster munch


One of my favorite memories of my grandfather was eating Crunch n' Munch while we sat outside on a Sunday afternoon gliding on his homemade rocker just big enough for the two of us. Even today, with my grandfather gone so many years now, if I close my eyes I can remember how he would pour the caramel clusters in my sticky little hand. I sure adored that man. He taught me everything I know today about generosity and patience.

I thought of him when I came across this recipe for Monster Munch on FoodNetwork. com. It involves all my favorite autumn treats -- popcorn, caramel and apples. It's an easy enough recipe to make at home, especially since we're having friends over this weekend. It's the perfect snack as we settle in after a late lunch and a walk through the leaves on a crisp autumn afternoon.

For the recipe, click here and create some new memories of your own.

If you like this recipe, you'll also like these other Halloween themed foods:

Candy Pie
White Pizzas
Hot Dog Mummies

All available on FoodNetwork.com

happy video: bear playing tetherball

There is a sanctuary in Reno, Nevada called Animal Ark that takes in animals who have outgrown their pet-hood, if you will, but growing too big or by just being the best possible bear he knows how to be.

One of the residents of this sanctuary is this bear who at times is both pleased and frustrated by this large ball on a string. (:21 seconds in is a pretty fun moment when L.G. misses the ball.)

If your Tuesday just needed a little laugh, here you go. And if you feel inclined, check out the great work that Animal Ark is doing and donate to their extraordinary efforts.


lesson #263: the football player and the firepit


Last month I accepted a job 2700 miles away, back in my little hometown, a place that I hold close in my heart. For the past two weeks I have lived in a hotel as I sort out this commute from Seattle to Massachusetts every month. It's been an interesting experiment so far but what happened one night out by the firepit changed the way I think about first impressions.

Being back in a city I know so well to do a job that I love, I wake up happy every morning. My head is buzzing with possibilities and I'm at my desk by 6:15am. After work, I get back to the hotel around 8pm, later if I have a partner dinner. I usually head up to my room, take a shower, throw on some yoga pants and a white tee and head down to the firepit. Being a brand new hotel (open only 2 weeks), the occupancy is still low so I am by myself most nights. Curled up by the warmth of the fire I relax and contemplate the synchronicity of events that brought me back home to Western Massachusetts. Last week as I padded downstairs to the firepit, there were other people there, two older women and two young guys in their twenties. They were laughing, drinking and sharing birthday cake. I didn't want to disturb them so I started to turn around to leave. One of the guys called me over and in a deep southern accent said "Girl, don't walk away. Come join us! It's Granny's birthday!"

They looked so happy, it was impossible not to join them.  Josh introduced me to what I thought was his family.  He is a big guy, a former football player with an easy, hearty laugh and an exuberant personality. He is the life of the party, the most popular fraternity boy, the guy who can charm your mom and take you out for the night of your life. He is THAT guy. At least that is what I thought.

As the five of us talked, I learned that they were all guests here at the hotel and Josh had just met the women--a daughter and her mother who was celebrating her 92nd birthday that day. What the daughter told me next was incredible.

Josh asked 'Granny' if she had had a birthday cake. When she said no, he excused himself. He got in his truck, drove to Friendly's, a family restaurant nearby and bought her a birthday cake. As he was in the restaurant he asked if people felt the friendliness. After all, the place was called FRIENDLY'S. Then Josh went ahead and paid the tab for every patron in that restaurant. Just because it was the friendly thing to do.

Here's the thing about this story. Josh didn't tell me. He didn't brag about it. It was the mother/daughter duo who told me. I looked at Josh as they were telling me what he had done. He was just smiling and looking over at Granny, a woman he hadn't known two hours earlier. Later, after his friend had left and the women had gone upstairs I asked Josh why he did this. He said "Because it was the right thing to do. The restaurant is called Friendly's, right?" I asked him if I could record our conversation and he declined. He didn't even want to be identified by his last name or have his photo taken. Was this a random act of kindness? "No," he said. "There was nothing random about it." He saw an opportunity to make someone happy and he did it. This is just how he was taught to live his life.

As I said good night to him, I realized how wrong first impressions can be. I thought he was Mr. Good Time. It turns out he was actually Mr. Good Guy.

(postscript) Josh, I know you're reading this and I know you don't want the notoriety. Don't be too upset, OK? You inspired me. Moments like this are what makes this world a happy place.


happy monday video: baby pandas on a slide

I can't imagine anything better to start off our week than baby pandas climbing a ladder and playing on a slide, all landing in a pile of happy baby pandas.

Smile! It's going to be a great week!


to tell or not to tell?


Just recently I was sitting across from a new friend, J., in a coffee shop.  He looked at me, shook his head and angrily said "If that happened to me. I would die. Kill me. I would die." He looked down at his coffee cup, peeling the lid back carefully to let the liquid cool.

I smiled at him and looked down at my own coffee. I knew that what I was about to tell him would change the way he looked at me. Forever. It always does.  Even as the words I was going to say were still hanging softly in the air between us, he would think of me differently.

It always came down to this moment, this defining moment. I could let it pass and not say anything. This was, of course, the easy way.

I had to say something. It didn't seem right otherwise. As if it had never happened. I wanted to let him know that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger (Nietzche). I wanted him to understand that the human spirit is so much stronger than you think. Also, by saying it, it took the power away from the sadness of it. Keeping it hidden, being ashamed of it gave it more power than it should have.

I sat quietly for a moment. I would sit quietly for as long as it took until he looked up and met my gaze. I almost felt apologetic for what I was about to say. I had lived with this fact but for him, this information would be new and sad and then I would have to comfort him. Sometimes that is the worst part.

He looked up, shaking his head quickly from side to side, like a wet dog, as if this motion would shake out the bad, scary thoughts that were in his head.  He met my gaze, half-expecting me to start a new conversation like "Where do you stand on 'smores?"

Instead I gave him a small smile as if I were a doctor breaking bad news.

"You wouldn't die," I said. "You will beg God to take you instead. You will bargain with Him. You will assure Him that if this happens YOU. WILL. DIE" but you won't.

I know this.

Because it happened to me and I didn't die.


What happens next is always odd to me because when you tell someone something like "My child died" about 99% of the time the person you are telling this to will immediately smile at you as if to say "That is so not even funny to joke about, you silly monkey, you!" This can take take about 2 seconds before he realizes you are not kidding. Then he will look away, look up at the ceiling, suddenly taking a great interest in the skylights overhead.

Then this part: "Get out! What are you talking about?" He looked at me incredulously, as if to say "That is so ridiculous!"

I was still smiling at him, trying to lessen the blow, trying to make him feel better and to show him I was OK. He said "That's impossible. You're so happy. How are you even talking to me right now?"

Taylor: "Bad things happen. To everyone. This was my bad thing. My terrible, sad, awful bad thing. It happened. She happened and then she left." I glanced at him briefly as I said this and I saw that his eyes were starting to well up. I couldn't handle that. I took a deliberate, slow sip of coffee to give us both a moment to be whatever it was we needed to be in that moment.

J: "You must be so pissed at God, seriously pissed off with Him." My friend was now in the anger stage.

I looked him in the eyes. "I was," I said. "I was very, very angry. I didn't understand why God would take her. I had very strong faith in God. I pleaded with Him, my grandparents in heaven to find a way to bring her back to me after she was gone. In that moment, I logically thought it was possible, if I prayed enough or promised enough to God.

He looked over at the TV that was still playing the news story of a young girl killed by a hit and run driver. The girl's father was an acquaintance of his.  He shook his head again.  "I would die if I had a little girl and she died.""

"That's the thing. I pleaded with God to take me instead but you know, it doesn't work that way."

J. said "I wish I had known you. Maybe I could have done something." He was such a guy, trying to fix the bad thing. We were rounding the bend  to the acceptance phase.

Taylor: "Thank you," I replied. "You couldn't have done anything but be my friend. I know it's uncomfortable." J., was staring at me intently, his eyes narrowing. I said, "I know you have questions. Go ahead."

J. asked: "What do I do when this guy comes back to work?"

Taylor: "Well," I said, "When he comes back,  don't avoid him. For some reason people do that after they hear someone's bad/sad news. They avoid the person affected the most, the person who needs comfort the most. Be gentle with him. It's OK to mention her name. The worst thing is to never hear her name again. You're going to be tempted to offer platitudes like 'God will give you another child/husband/job!' This doesn't help. If your friend's mom or husband, child or dog  had died, ask what his name was."

J. replied "But won't this just remind him of his daughter?"

Taylor: "That's a good thing. Just because you don't ask about her does not mean things are OK. The person who is feeling grief, is going to feel grief even if you don't 'allow' it. If he or she cries, let them. The best thing you can do as a friend is to say 'I'm so sorry you are going through this. That's it. "

J: "Taylor, you could have just not said anything to me. Why did you?'

Taylor: "I considered not telling you, of course, but this is a part of me, just as much as the fact that I like cozy, sleepy people and I'm a vegetarian who likes bacon. Plus,  I have a feeling we are going to be good friends and you needed to know this about me. I actually practiced saying it. How was it?

J: "You practiced?"

Taylor: "I did. In the spring I went to a conference with mostly moms. I was concerned about my reaction every time someone asked me 'Oh, are your kids out with your husband?' So, my husband and I rehearsed the possible scene and it went like this:

Husband L: (pretending to be a conference attendee mom): So, where are your kids? ('I'm sorry, honey! I love you,' he whispered.)

Taylor: "She died. Well, she's gone."

L. looked at me mortified: "You CAN'T say that!" "Let's try this again: So, having fun?"

Taylor: "So much fun! Are you?"

L: (as conference attendee mom): "I am! Are your kids around or in the park?"

Taylor: "She's not here."

L: (as conferennce attendee mom): "Where is she?"

Taylor: "Heaven." I said.

L. looked at me shocked. I looked back at him waiting for the next question. "I don't think you're ready for this," he said.

The thing was this: Saying it out loud helps with healing. For many people saying the bad thing "My child died / I lost my job / My wife left me" helps them to process the news and assimilate it.  It makes it real. It's not this dirty secret.

I smiled at him. He had come back around through the anger and shock and acceptance.

J: "Taylor, can I ask you one more question?"

Taylor: "Of course, J. Ask me anything." (If you are the person that the bad thing happened to, be prepared for questions. It may be hard to respond but it's better to just get it out there and to take the power away from the bad thing or the secret.)

J: "What was her name?"

"Ah, he asked,"  I thought.

I smiled. "Her name was Grace," I said. "Her name was Grace."

the happygirl guide to october


It happened this weekend. The new Macoun and Liberty apples grown locally in Amherst were stocked high at the farmstand, the tops of the Maple trees were just beginning to take on a hint of red and the pumpkins and gourds were settling into their new homes on doorsteps and front porches around New England. 

There are pumpkin lattes (of course) in Los Angeles and sweaters to be layered in Minneapolis but there are also walks hand in hand through falling leaves in Central Park. Sure, summer has beach days, vacations and ice cream and winter has ice skating, holidays and hot chocolate but oh, the technicolor blue, crisp, sunny days of autumn have family dinners, football games and hot apple cider. There are so many things to love about fall, but here are some that will make you wish October last just a little while longer. 



1. This Sunday, take a road trip to your local farmstand and pick your own apples. There is something primal and fun about picking your own produce, especially when capped off with some hot apple cider and cinnamon donuts enjoyed in the autumn sunshine. Click here to find a pick-you-own-farmstand near you. 

2. Celebrate Columbus Day (October, 14) by taking in a parade like this one in New York City.  You never really need an excuse to enjoy a cannoli and some classic Frank Sinatra but throw in a couple floats and some high school bands and it's a spectacular way to spend a Monday.


3. October 4th is National Vodka Day. Learn how to make this easy Pretty in Pink vodka cocktail.

4. October 10th is World Porridge Day.  Pick up some Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter to mix into your oatmeal for a cozy breakfast that tastes like warm melty cookies.

5.  October  16th is National Feral Cat Day. Celebrate by leaving a bowl of Kitty Chow out for that little grey stealth cat who leaves you nice mice presents on your doorstep.

6. October 18th is National Mammography Day. Schedule your mammogram (or remind your wife, mom or best friend) and celebrate the smart thing you just did by buying a pretty new satin underthing.

7. October 31st is Halloween. Be the best house on the block. Go to Costco or Amazon and buy the regular size candy bars. Be prepared to be adored by the kids in your neighborhood and don't be surprised if your lawn just happens to get mowed one day next summer.

8.  Don't have time to read The New York Times every day? No worries. Try the New York Times Skimmer and get a snapshot of the biggest stories of the moment. It'll give you just that edge you need when you run into your manager getting coffee first thing in the morning.



9.  "Carrie" appears in theatres on October 18th. Chloe Moritz nails this one so well that you may want to avoid drinking a red slushie during this movie. 



10. Prepare for cozy nights under the covers. Invest in some soft flannel bedding like this set from Lands End

What do you plan on doing this October?