the best gift of 2013



New Year's Eve 2012.  I was standing outside just before midnight. It was a tradition. I closed my eyes and I asked God to help me make 2013 memorable in a good way. (I once asked God to help me me make a year memorable and 2009 turned out to be the worst year of my life. So, now I'm more specific.) 

A year later I realize that this was indeed one of the most memorable years of my life. I grew up this year. I started thinking of the world around me. For the first time in my life the thought of delighting someone else trumped my own pleasure. This year, I got it

I think every year has a theme. You may not know it when you start the year off but when you look back and start piecing things together, you might find that yes, indeed, the theme this year was Growing Up or Learning How to Budget or Becoming a More Spiritual Person. The problem with lessons or themes however is that most often these lessons are hard earned. One doesn't just say "Today I am going to grow up!" Unfortunately, circumstances usually happen that make you grow up like losing a parent or suddenly finding that you are alone and it's sink or swim time. The good news is that the lessons learned the hard way are the ones that stick with you. At the time, the experience of learning this lesson can be unbearable/painful/awful/soul-sucking but here's the thing: you get through it and then you are on the other side and you can say "I survived this. I did."

Four years ago when my world shifted in its axis, I knew I could never, ever be happy again having lost our babies, my job, my self-confidence. My world imploded on itself. I remember laying in bed thinking "My life was unimaginably incredible and now it's ashes. What the hell did I do to deserve this?"

Yes, I made the decision four years ago to move forward, to restart my life in a different direction but it honestly wasn't until this year that I realized that every single awful thing that happened in 2009 HAD to happen to get me to this exact moment. I have friends and new friends who read this blog who email me "WHY IS THIS BAD STUFF HAPPENING TO ME AND HOW CAN I MAKE IT STOP?" I tell them that I know it feels awful and it seems like life will never be the same again. You have to just get through each moment and you will come out on the other side. Life may not ever be exactly the same (especially if there was someone in your life who is no longer there through death or    by choice) but you do get happy again. One day you will be happy again. It will come as a shock and you may even feel guilty that something makes you smile, but life does get better. I promise you that

I think back on those first few days of trying to heal in 2009 after losing the babies, almost losing my life, having my position as a celebrity reporter at MSN eliminated. It was too much all at once. I was tender to the touch. Sunlight hurt my eyes. I couldn't imagine why all this was happening. Sure, I tried hard to get my life back on track. Slowly, I started getting back on my feet but it wasn't until this year that I understood why my life was unfolding this way. 



Earlier this month I was in my office, at my old high school, where I am the Director of Advancement. Two of our students were standing in front of me with a Christmas present. It was a scarf that they had handmade me in The Happygirl colors. As I read the card, it was as if the world had suddenly become technicolor. The reason that everything had happened as it did was because THIS was where I was supposed to be. If the mess that was 2009 had not happened I would not be standing in my office, looking at these two bright, sweet, kind young women whose generous gift was more than just a scarf. It was a sign that my life was on the exact path I was supposed to be on. Of course, I do have moments when I close my eyes and think of what our daughters would be like now. I will always ache for them and hold them close in my heart. What would they like as three year-olds? Where would I be at MSN now? Would we have moved to the London office? Los Angeles maybe? It's easy to get caught up in what your life could have been. It's a slippery slope though and when I start thinking about it, I can easily find myself in that sad space that's immensely hard to pull myself out of. So, when the "what if" thoughts pop into my head I have to change my thought trajectory before I fall down the rabbit hole of sadness. 

Which is why the scarf was such a gift. It wasn't just a scarf. It was a sign that the GIANT leap of faith that I took in September was the right choice. It was such a random thing, this job. I wasn't looking for a new job. In fact, I quite liked just being The Happygirl. But then one moment at our high school reunion, an insightful young priest suggested that I might consider a job as Director of Advancement. I said no, since we live in Seattle but the universe is funny that way. The more I said no, the more it became clear that this was something I needed to do. I loved my high school, I did, but it was 2800 miles away.  I tried to say no, I did say no but the more I thought about the job, the more I realized that the skills I learned at Microsoft were something I could parlay into helping my former high school. Every negotiation I took part in, every class I took at Microsoft, every skill set I learned set me up to perform in a role where I could help an exceptional small school plan for its future.

On paper, it didn't make sense. The job was 2800 miles away. How would this work? My husband and I sat on the deck at sunset. We talked through the whole thing. How. Would. This. Work? I told him it felt like a calling. I couldn't walk away from this. It was a feeling as strong as falling in love. As logical as we tried being about it ("So you're going to commute to Massachusetts then?") it didn't make sense but something inside me couldn't let it go. I had to do this and so with Larry on board and the school willing to take a chance on someone who would be commuting cross-country, I took the job.  

And then synchronicity happened. Over and over in the past few months incidents happened that had me believing that I was exactly where I should be. There was that perfect sunny, crisp Sunday spent driving to the apple orchard after Mass in the church I grew up, dinners with friends who have known me since I was six years old. There was one elderly woman I met who told me a story I never knew about my grandmother. Every connection seemed to vibrate with the feeling of "You're on the right track." However, it wasn't until that moment in my office with the students that I had that "A-ha" moment of clarity. As logical as I tried to be, it was my heart that knew best. What I learned is that when faced with a decision that looks illogical on paper, close your eyes and listen to your heart.

I hope that this year, you have had this kind of gift as well. I have always believed that life is about the "moments," those little moments that make you smile, that you can go back to and say 'That was the moment I knew. . ." Tonight, I will follow the tradition of standing outside, closing my eyes and asking God to guide me in this next year, to help me make it memorable in a good way. I wish that for you as well. 

Thank you for going on this Happy adventure with me this year. You mean the world to me. Every email, every comment makes me realize that we are all on this adventure together. There is so much to learn from each other, in this great big beautiful universe of ours. I am so lucky to be on this journey with you. I wish you so much happiness in 2014, happiness + unimaginable joy. 

All my love. 

-HG

our christmas gifts to each other this year


There was the year that he bought me pink, lots of pink. It was a theme and he carried it out well. There was a pink cashmere cardigan, pink lip gloss, a pink wallet from Kate Spade and pink pearls. I loved it all. But L. was exhausted from the whole shopping thing. He wasn't sure if I still liked pink. Did I already have a pink cashmere sweater? When he innocently asked me if I liked pink I had told him "Yes, ballet pink but not Bazooka pink." This, of course, left him baffled. He told me he had asked the woman at Nordstrom if the sweater was indeed ballet pink and he was tickled pink (if you will) that he actually hit it dead on. 

I have a much harder time buying for L. He is a geek who loves technology but also the classics. However, when looking online I'm never certain if he will like the new shaving kit made from artisanal herbs or if he would really use a new wallet that protects your credit cards from wayward rays.  I have no idea. 

So, this year, we decided to do something new. No gifts. Not to each other, at least. Instead we would take the money that we would have spent on each other and do something good, Intentional Acts of Happiness that would delight someone. 

This morning I decided on my first present for L. I stopped into Dunkin' Donuts in Massachusetts. I walked in and asked the employee at the register if I could buy breakfast for the next ten people in line. She looked at me perplexed and then at her co-worker on the next register. I told them both the same thing. I had the Dunkin' Donuts payment app already loaded on my phone so with my phone between the two registers, I walked away and took a seat. I closed my eyes for a moment and thought of L. I wished that he would feel all the joy in that moment.


The first person ordered just a coffee. The server told him that his coffee was covered. He asked by who. She looked over at me and I shook my head no. She looked back at him and said "Merry Christmas!" And so it went. People were baffled. Some seemed put off. They needed to know who was buying their breakfast. One elderly man was digging in his pockets for change when he was told it was taken care of. He teared up. A couple people figured out it was me when the server looked over at me to ask if she should stop since she reached ten. I said "No, keep going." 

And so we kept going, ten people, twenty people, thirty people. When my Dunkin' Donuts balance was close to empty we stopped. The server handed me the stack of receipts. I wish I could have stayed longer but I had to catch my flight in Boston. It had been a long time since I had spent such a joy-filled 20 minutes. 

As I watched the coffee-thirsty people come in from the rain, some annoyed, I hoped that this small gesture made their day even just a little better. Perhaps, they in turn would allow someone to cut in front of them in traffic or they might buy a coffee for someone someday. Tomorrow I'l be visiting a no-kill pet shelter with an abundance of toys and blankets. It almost feels wrong that this makes me so happy. I can't imagine receiving anything that would make me feel as good as this did. 

Do I love the idea of opening presents on Christmas morning? Of course, but knowing that you have the power to enhance someone else's life for just one moment, is infinitely better than any material item.

On Christmas morning, instead of opening gifts, we will sit in front of the fire and tell each other about these Intentional Acts of Happiness. We didn't fight the holiday crowds at the mall, there will be no returns. Instead we gave each other the gift of time and others, joy. It is the perfect gift. Maybe this is something that we'll do just this once. Maybe it will be a tradition. Who knows? Right know all I know is that seeing someone smile is a pretty tough gift to beat.

Merry Christmas. May your heart be filled with joy!

inspiration #427: happiness


{happy video} Christmas flash mob

While flash mobs have been around for a few years, they never fail to amuse. It typically starts with one voice, one instrument and rallies into a melody of voices that inspires joy.

Here's to that feeling of joy in your heart as you enjoy this latest flash mob from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

insanely funny letters to Santa




I came across this treatise on kid's letters to Santa by Drew Magary and the follow up was so funny that I had to include this as a happy thing.

Click here. Read on.


{happy food review: trader joe's fondue}


There are certain things that are nonnegotiable in our family.

Toilet paper should start OVER the roll.
The only kind of guacamole is homemade.
Walt Disney World is always the first response to "Where do you want to go on vacation?"

And Christmas Eve always means fondue.

When we received the ubiquitous fondue set for our wedding we laughed and wondered when we would ever use something that was so associated with the 1970's. It was as much a throwback as was orange shag carpeting. Until one winter day in Connecticut when I stumbled across the fondue box that had never been opened. We were hosting a formal cocktail party and I thought it would be retro classic to feature fondue as an appetizer as we mingled. It turns out that while the Chicken Dijon and herbed Yukon Gold potatoes were delicious, it was the fondue that everyone couldn't get enough of.

The following week was Christmas. In our family, Christmas Eve is the big day. On that snowy night by the fire, surrounded by family and friends, we gathered and tucked into pots of cheese and then chocolate fondue. The Christmas Eve Fondue tradition started that night and has continued ever since.



Now, years later, we have perfected the fondue party. It really is the perfect party food. Some years our home is packed with friends and family and some years, well, it's more intimate but fondue seems to scale well, regardless of the crowd.

Over the years I've tried dozens of recipes and to be honest, while homemade fondue is exquisite, it's also expensive to make from scratch with Swiss Emmental and Gruyere cheeses. You'll also need to think ahead because Swiss Emmantal and Gruyere aren't cheeses you typically keep on hand. So, when I was in Trader Joe's last week and came across a package of cheese fondue I had to try it.



While in the past, I've carefully and slowly prepared cheese fondue on the stovetop, taking care not to let the cheese burn to the bottom of the pan, this preparation was easy. I simply opened the package, removed the foil packet, opened it, poured the contents into a microwave safe glass bowl, heated it for four minutes (stirring halfway) and then added it to the pre-heated fondue pot.

As the cheese was melting in the microwave (you can also heat it on the stovetop), I sliced some Granny Smith apples. I also cubed then lightly toasted day-old French bread and prepared store-bought gorgonzola and walnut ravioli.

And so on a icy cold December night Larry and I sat down to a candlelit fondue dinner. He didn't know that the fondue wasn't homemade and he knows how long I have perfected the perfect cheese fondue. Which is why when he said "This is definitely among your best fondue recipes!" that I realized that the Trader Joe's cheese fondue was a hit. I had expected some akin to spray cheese in a can but instead, it was as good as a treasured family recipe. At $5.99 for a 14.1 ounce package, it was also economical. Typically, when I made fondue it can cost upwards of $25 for the cheeses, white wine and kirsch that make up the traditional Swiss recipe. It also stores better in the refrigerator than the cheeses themselves would.

Would I serve Trader Joe's fondue again? Yes, absolutely. It was easy and just as rich and intense as my homemade version at about 1/5 the cost. It was also easy and something that you can always have on hand for guests or when you want to have a romantic dinner by the fire on a snowy winter's night.

Tips


  • If you don't have a fondue pot, you can always heat the cheese either on the stovetop or microwave and transfer the melted cheese to a round bowl and serve. However, it cools quickly so you may have to reheat it several times (unless you enjoy it fast!)


  • Our first fondue pot was a traditional ceramic Emile Henry but we found that the cheese easily stuck to the bottom and I also didn't like the smell of the Sterno. Because there are often children around as well, we opted to go with something less flammable. Our fondue pot of choice is the Cuisinart Electric Fondue Pot. It's non-stick with variable temperatures for cheese, oil and chocolate fondues. Available at Williams-Sonoma for $59.95 (suggested price $145)


{happy music} the bird and the bee: i can't go for that

Happy Friday! There is something magically haunting about this cover of Hall & Oates classic "I Can't go For That" by The Bird & The Bee.  I imagine this as the perfect start for your cocktail party playlist. It's groovy, martini-friendly music. Happy weekend!

{insights} what does your favorite color say about you?

Ste. Rose de Lima parish in Chicopee, Massachusetts


When I was a little girl growing up in Massachusetts, I attended Mass every Sunday with my grandparents. They, being creatures of habit (as was everyone else in the parish) always chose the same  pew. I remember on sunny days how the colors of the stained glass window bounced across my grandfather's hands. There was one pane, this aquamarine pane that was so spectacular that when I saw it  during Mass on my recent trip home, I nearly wept from the memory of feeling small and safe between my grandparents as we sat in church on a Sunday morning. 

This is, perhaps, where my love of aqua and turquoise come from. To me, aqua is happy. It's hotel pools and prom dresses. Ocean foam and sailboats. It is my signature color. 

Recently, I came across an article about the psychology of color. Aqua/Turquoise is cool, dreamy, soft, protective, compassionate, faithful. . .

What is your favorite color? What does it say about you?  Click here to see the whole spectrum.


{happy video} a baby big getting a belly rub

I can't imagine what in this world is happier than a baby pig getting her belly rubbed. Turn your sound up. Oh! Happy!

{happy video} confessions in a ball pit

These ball pits should be everywhere. What is it about playing in a ball pit that makes it all OK?