Saturday, December 31, 2011

#184: New Year's Resolutions

Reason to Be Happy #184:
New Year's Resolutions

Don't forget, my reason to be happy #60 was "making lists" and #61 was "marking items off lists." New Year's Resolutions are the mother of all lists. A resolution must be possible but challenging. And it has to be measurable! One of my New Year's traditions is digging out my journal from January 1 the previous year to look over that day's goals and plans and aspirations. It's a nice reflective exercise.

Friday, December 30, 2011

#183: Champagne

Reason to Be Happy #183:

The happiest of alcohols, champagne is the drink of celebrations: babies, weddings, promotions, accomplishments, New Year's Eve. Everything about it is cheery—its bubbles, its effervescence, its cold sparkling in your throat. (One of my favorite drinks: champagne with a splash Chambord black raspberry liqueur with a long, curling lemon peel).
"Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"
~ Dom Perignon, at the moment he discovered champagne

Thursday, December 29, 2011

#182: Hearing David Sedaris Read His Own Work

Reason to Be Happy #182:
Hearing David Sedaris Read His Own Work

I love David Sedaris and count myself lucky for getting to see him read his own stuff once (sharing the stage with Sarah Vowell! Doubly lucky for me!). No matter how many times I've heard it, when his Santaland Diaries piece (about working as an elf at Macy's) gets NPR air time every Christmas, I end up idling in parking lots and driveways to hear the whole thing again. I'm usually not a fan of audio books (just not my thing), but I make the exception for his work. Here's a video of Sedaris on David Letterman, reading his essay, Stadium Pal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#181: The Snap, Crackle, & Pop of a Fire in the Fireplace

Reason to Be Happy #181:
The Snap, Crackle, & Pop of a Fire in the Fireplace

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#180: The Aroma of Gingerbread

Reason to Be Happy #180:
The Aroma of Gingerbread

Kinda spicy, kinda comforting, kinda cozy. It's kind of the smell of the holidays.

Monday, December 26, 2011

#179: Clean Water

Reason to Be Happy #179:
Clean Water

I thought that after what was most likely a day of excess for many of us, it might be nice to return to some basic reasons to be happy. Like the idea that we have clean, safe drinking water whenever we want it—all we have to do is turn on a tap. Heck, we can have hot or cold water just by turning a faucet. We can drink, wash our bodies, wash our clothes, prepare our food, flush toilets. This is not true for many, many folks on the planet, so don't take it for granted.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

#178: The House Crowded With Family & Friends At Holiday Time

Reason to Be Happy #178:
The House Crowded With Family & Friends at
Holiday Time

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

#177: Family Holiday Traditions

Reason to Be Happy #177:
Family Holiday Traditions

I don't mean the traditions pretty much everyone follows, like putting up a Christmas tree or hanging stockings. Not stuff like that. But the traditions that are more unique to your family. Like, my family traditionally has Christmas pizza (which started one year the pre-ordered ham turned out to be rotten, all the grocery stores were already closed, and my mom just happened to have all the ingredients on hand to make a homemade pizza. We liked it so much we stuck with it). My mom and I always make candy together every year, too—specifically turtles (complete with homemade caramel) and chocolate-covered cherries. Christmas day typically involves a game of Trivial Pursuit (slowly being replaced with Bananagrams), and a movie. Every Christmas morning, my mother bakes a delicious yeast cinnamon-orange coffee cake she twists into the shape of a giant candy cane. My sister and I slather it with pink and white icing. Last Christmas my niece helped with the icing. What are your family's quirky traditions?

Friday, December 23, 2011

#176: Jingle Goats!

Reason to Be Happy #176:

You all know I love goats. Goats were my reason to be happy #1, after all. I'm a sucker for cute goat videos. Goats and kittens. They get me every time. But I must say, this Jingle Goats video is about the cutest thing I've ever seen. Stressing over anything? This'll make you smile and lighten your heart. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

#175: Bing Crosby & David Bowie's "Little Drummer Boy"

Reason to Be Happy #175:
Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing
"Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"

Perhaps the oddest pairing ever, but it works. "Little Drummer Boy" might just be my favorite Christmas carol (tied with "Carol of the Bells"), and this version of the song is gorgeous. Here's the video—minus most of the painfully goofy/corny intro.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

#174: It's A Wonderful Life

Reason to Be Happy #174:

Since friends often tease me about my "dark" taste in books and movies, it should be no surprise that my favorite Christmas special of all time begins with a suicide attempt. I. Love. This. Movie. It never fails to make me cry, and I mean cry—like back shaking, real tears crying, not just mere sniffles. I don't know if the final scene will be as meaningful if you haven't seen the full film, but any given line from it can trigger my emotions. Its message is so valuable, especially in these tough economic times. This is a movie that can remind us of what truly has value in our lives.

"No man is a failure who has friends."
—Clarence Oddbody
Angel, First Class

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#173: Potato Latkes

Reason to Be Happy #173:
Potato Latkes

Happy Hanukkah! I'm not sure which of my friends makes the best latkes. It's a toss up between Ted and Sarah. I think it would be delicious to challenge them to a latke cook-off. How do you like yours? With sour cream or apple sauce? I can never decide and have to have both.

Monday, December 19, 2011

#172: The Charlie Brown Christmas Special Music

Reason to Be Happy #172:
The Charlie Brown Christmas Special Music

Fantastic stuff from jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi and his trio. It's nearly impossible not to dance to this one in particular!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#171: Mistletoe

Reason to Be Happy #171:


C'mon. Sometimes it's nice to get the free pass to kiss someone...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

#170: Sock Monkeys

Reason to Be Happy #170:

Friday, December 16, 2011

#169: My Mother's Christmas Tree

Reason To Be Happy #169:
My Mother's Christmas Tree

These photos are actually all of my tree. It's impossible to take a photo of my mother's tree that does it justice. Instead, I'm going to repeat a blog I wrote for Book Club Girl in 2009 in which I celebrate my mom's amazing tree.
My mother is the Queen of Christmas Tree Decorations. Seriously, her tree strikes people dumb. When guests see it for the first time, I can count on approximately ten minutes of awe and examination before any other conversation continues. The seven foot, artificial tree itself is no big deal—what's extraordinary is the 1,027 ornaments adorning it.

And, yes, that's an exact figure, not an estimate. That number was accurate when the ornaments were boxed up and stuck back in the closet on January 6th, 2009.

The quantity alone is enough to make your eyes widen—the ornaments literally cover every available inch of the tree, going four and five deep all the way to the trunk. Getting all 1,027 of those ornaments on the tree is a three day process that leaves my parents' living room looking like a cardboard box and tissue-paper bomb exploded (and which my dad, a bit of a Scrooge, endures with much grumbling). But it's the quality that really grabs you. There are no generic round bulbs here, no color scheme, no trendy theme. No, every ornament is individual, some unusual (how many people have spiders and garlic cloves hanging on their trees?)—many of them handmade—and all tell a story. Her tree is a veritable scrapbook of memories.

See, my mom started a great tradition when my sister and I were babies. Every Christmas, she bought us a new tree ornament. She always tried for the ornament to commemorate something important or memorable from that year in our life. From as early as I can remember, she told us that when we moved away and had our own homes, we could take our ornaments with us, so our Christmas trees would be personal and meaningful. When Monica and I were old enough to have a clue, we started buying our mother an ornament each year as well so that we wouldn't wipe out her tree when we moved away.

The memory is far more important that the appearance when selecting an ornament. It matters not one iota to my mother if the ornament doesn't look “traditionally” Christmas-y, as long as there is a good story. Among the decorations on her tree are a blue hot-air balloon (commemorating the year we sent her up in one for her 50th birthday), a pink elephant (for the year my niece and father created an elaborate story about Zamboni, an invisible elephant who lived in our basement), and a gingerbread house (for the year she and I attempted to make one ourselves...only to have it turn into a gingerbread “ghetto” whose roof kept collapsing).

My own tree displays such oddities as a hoof-pick painted red for the year I bought my first horse, a pair of eyeglasses for the year I had Lasik surgery, a small set of paddles for the year I almost drowned in a rafting accident on the Gauley River, and a little log cabin for the year I won a residency at the Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers. There are ornaments to represent every pet I've ever had, as well as ornaments representing some of the fictional animal characters in my books. These all hang along with the ugly pink plastic angel with white Barbie doll hair that I begged her to buy for me when I was five.

A longtime Girl Scout leader and preschool teacher, my mother has been given hundreds of ornaments from former students and Scouts. She keeps a notebook in which she draws a small picture of the ornament and a description of who gave it to her, what year it was given, and any special significance it has. Her tree is a testament to how many lives she has touched.

I'm so grateful for the tradition she's begun. It's funny how the actual gifts will blur together and be forgotten, but I can always remember the ornament I received the previous Christmas. I look forward to unpacking my ornaments each year and the memories that come with them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

#168: The Abominable Snowman

Reason to Be Happy #168:
The Abominable Snowman

You know the one, from the funny, old stop-motion animated movie version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? I love that snowman. I was never afraid of him (but I was terrified of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz!). I thought he was adorable. I always knew he'd turn out to be okay. Just seeing pictures of him—or of Kirby the Dentist, or any of those characters from the Island of Misfit Toys—makes me smile.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#167: The Wire

Reason to Be Happy #167:
HBO's drama series THE WIRE
Perhaps my favorite series ever. Which is saying a lot, given my fierce loyalty and my selective but addictive personality when it comes to television viewing. If you've watched The Wire, you already know what I mean. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and settle in for a perfect winter project. Entertainment Weekly called The Wire, "The smartest, deepest, and most resonant drama on TV." Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that The Wire "has tackled the drug war in this country as it simultaneously explores race, poverty and 'the death of the American working class,' the failure of political systems to help the people they serve, and the tyranny of lost hope. Few series in the history of television have explored the plight of inner-city African Americans and none—not one—has done it as well."

In spite of its critical claim, the show consistently fought low ratings. A show that asked a lot of its audience's attention span? A show "too complex" to appeal to the general television viewing public? A show that unfolded like a Greek tragedy? I was in heaven.

David Simon, the show's creator, said, "The Wire is about the America we pay for and tolerate. Perhaps it is possible to pay for and demand something more."

Every single episode made me want to be a better writer.

David Simon's final thank you letter to The Wire fans keeps me showing up at my desk every morning.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#166: Finding the Perfect Gift for Someone You Love

Reason to Be Happy #166:
Finding the Perfect Gift for Someone You Love

"Perfect" is rarely expensive. "Perfect" comes from being personal and specific—proof that you have paid attention. "Perfect" is often homemade and unique in all the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

#165: Luminaries

Reason to Be Happy #165:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#164: Dogs Wearing Sweaters

Reason to Be Happy #164:
Dogs Wearing Sweaters

Saturday, December 10, 2011

#163: Really Good Hair Days

Reason to Be Happy #163:
Really Good Hair Days

This is such a rare occurrence, I have no photographic evidence to offer.

Note: Usually these days occur when you are already scheduled to get a haircut.

Friday, December 9, 2011

#162: Playing Hide-and-Seek in Christmas Tree Lots

Reason to Be Happy #162:
Playing Hide-and-Seek in Christmas Tree Lots

Thursday, December 8, 2011

#161: The Scent of Vanilla

Reason to Be Happy #161:
The Scent of Vanilla

Such a complex aroma—a combination of cozy and sensual. This is one of the only scents I can stand in scented soaps or candles. When I'm baking I always stop and just inhale when I open the vanilla extract.

This photo taken from the BBC's Food Ingredients site

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#160: Bagels and lox

Reason to Be Happy #160:
Bagels & Lox

Perhaps my favorite breakfast food (which is saying a lot, since I love breakfast above all other meals!), especially with those tart little caper berries on it. Mmm. Although I love salmon in almost any form or incarnation, this is at the top of the list.

Favorite bagel and lox story: At home in Dayton once at the Bagel Cafe (corner of Stroop & Far Hills), I asked the young girl behind the counter, "Do you have lox?" She narrowed her eyes, looked at the door, and said, "Yes," very defiantly. Turns out they had locks…but no smoked salmon!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#159: First Snowfall

Reason to Be Happy #159:
First Snowfall of the Season

Okay, so I'm a wee late. Ours (in Dayton, Ohio) was a week ago today, but it was a good first one—no wimpy little "dusting," it actually accumulated enough to cling to branches and grass and look lovely and festive. Even if you hate winter, there's something about the first snow of the season that feels kinda magical.

Monday, December 5, 2011

#158: That Fantastic Aroma of the Christmas Trees for Sale

Reason to Be Happy #158:
That Fantastic Aroma of the Christmas Trees for Sale

Outside grocery stores, in parking lots, where ever this club or that club has set up their Christmas tree sale—that spruce and pine aroma wafts through air. It's sharp and so evocative of the season. I love it!

Thanks to Erin and Kim for both posting this reason on my Facebook fan page!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#157: Kahlua in Your Coffee

Reason to Be Happy #157:
Kahlua in Your Coffee

A lovely pleasure, reserved for weekend mornings—especially when it's raining or snowing—when you have the time to linger over the newspaper and stay in your jammies for a while.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

#156: The Way Ducks Sound Like They're Chuckling

Reason to Be Happy #156:
The Way Ducks Sound Like They're Chuckling

Friday, December 2, 2011

#155: Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's

Reason to be Happy #155:
Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's

A recent discovery for me. All I can say is, "Where have you been all my life?"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

#154: Remembering Funky Dreams

Reason to Be Happy #154:
Remembering Funky Dreams

Dreams are so amazing. It's so fun when you remember long, weird ones. I have three favorites from last year. In one, Dexter was living in my garden shed, only he was always wearing pink sparkly boots. He told me, "I'm gonna use your shed for a while, okay?" and I said, "Sure. I love the show," and he said, "What are you talking about?" In the dream I got nervous and said, "Nothing," thinking, "He doesn't know we know!" Another dream had to do with my garden. I dreamed that Chris Hemsworth as Thor and an animated Nancy Drew were stealing zucchini from my garden in the middle of the night. When I caught them, Nancy locked herself in my shed, but Chris ran around my yard and couldn't figure out how to get out of the privacy fence. (Really? Thor couldn't get over a fence? The Avengers are in trouble!). He started to cry and begged me not to call the police. He offered to write me a poem. I'm disappointed with my dream self for rejecting his offer.
My third favorite dream was of Erica, on my marketing team at HarperCollins. I showed up at her office and she was wearing a full body kitten suit, complete with whiskers drawn on her face. She said she wore it when she was sad and it always cheered her up. She offered to let me borrow it.

The show that always got dreams just right, and really captured their disjointed time-jumps and absurdity? The Sopranos.