The Stories of A Cookbook

“Books are the quietest and most constant friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors and the most patient of teachers.”  ~ Charles W. Eliot

A Taste of The Mediterranean by Farrow and Clark, book cover
A picture of the cover of our special cookbook.

Eating together has always been a rich part of my relationship with my husband, even while we were dating.  He has always expressed his artistic side through his cooking, and loves to experiment with recipes, adding his own twist.  He gets recipes from everywhere: old magazines, Youtube, cooking shows.  As we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this week, I want to tell you about the one cookbook that has most influenced the meals we’ve shared with family and friends on special occasions, as well as quiet meals at the end of a long day.

When my husband and I were on our honeymoon in Gimli, we went for a walk one afternoon, and found ourselves in a charming shop near the hotel. The small store had been there for a long time, and I believe that it is still there.  It is located in the corner of an old building, and has an eclectic collection of goods: everything from clothing to unique toys to books.  And that is where my husband first spotted this book, and I encouraged him to splurge, to go ahead and buy it.

A Taste of the Mediterranean Clark and Farrow
The book is full of gorgeous photographs of the Mediterranean.
A Taste of the Mediterranean Clark and Farrow, a page from the book
It is a well researched book with lots of interesting information about the ingredients and regions.

There was something special about this book, A Taste of The Mediterranean, by Jaqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow.  As we looked through the pages, it felt like such a labour of love.  It was a well-researched feast for the eyes. The colours, the imagery of far away places, and mismatched ceramics that were so clearly part of a real, time-worn collection, and of course, the recipes.  It simply connected our imaginations to a world of possibility.  And it still does.

I will always remember the first, official “Greek Feast” that this book inspired.  (Though we are not greek, we could have been!) Early in the spring of our first year of marriage, my husband decided to make a special dinner for my small Winnipeg family (much of my family lives elsewhere).  Several days in advance, he started to prepare: shopping, cutting, dicing, marinating.  He planned to serve lamb, with all the fixings: from Greek salad, lemon potatoes and homemade tzatziki sauce to a decadent dessert.   We decorated the kitchen in sparkling lights, and prepared to illuminate the living room and dining area with candles.

Then, on the morning of the big dinner, Winnipeg was hit by what was being called ‘The blizzard of the century’.

It was unlike anything I had seen before or since.  I mean, I’ve seen blizzards, but this was something else.  The city was paralyzed.  For the first time in more than 50 years, school divisions would have to cancel classes on the upcoming Monday.  And that night, we had to cancel our dinner.  It was disappointing, but there was no choice.  Now, we wondered, what to do with all of this food?

At the time, we lived on the 10th floor of an apartment building, and my husband’s best friend happened to live on the 9th floor (he had been the best man at our wedding).  So, our friend lucked into an impromptu invitation to our Greek Feast.  Much to our delight, our friend would later declare jovially that it was this kind of evening that makes life worth living.

It was such a surreal experience. Picture this: through the glass doors of our balcony were the awe-inspiring sights and sounds of freezing blizzard winds whipping record amounts of snow into white-out conditions. Meanwhile, inside our apartment, the atmosphere was glowing with warmth.  We were celebrating life with an exuberant home-cooked feast.  Rich culinary fragrances.  Lively greek music (and all other kinds of music, too).  Red wine.  Dessert.  Laughter. This contrast deepened the exhilaration of witnessing a winter spectacle.


That dinner marked the beginning of many memorable meals to follow.  But some were memorable for different reasons.

I remember, shortly before I got pregnant, I kept telling my husband that the next recipe he should attempt was the ‘Polpettes’, which are fried little morsels of potato with feta cheese.

Well, early in my pregnancy, I developed terrible nausea and was having trouble eating.  In an effort to help, my husband surprised me one day with a big batch of these freshly fried Polpettes.

It was at that moment, as my husband was smiling at me with eyebrows raised in anticipation of my reaction, that I realized I had developed an undeniable aversion to fried food.  I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I tried picking at the morsels with my fork, admiring them, and pushing them around in an effort to stall actually putting a bite in my mouth.  Breathing through the sensations that were welling up in my stomach, I had to put my fork down and break the news to him.  Understanding the situation, he quickly took the plate from my view, and I honestly can’t remember what, if anything, I ate instead.  Probably plain toast.  We still chuckle.

This cookbook has accompanied us through so many experiences.  We have turned to its recipes for ideas when celebrating, and to raise our spirits during difficult times.  There have been moments of exuberance, and quiet evenings – sitting by the fire place, dipping fresh baked olive bread into a velvety mix of oil and vinegar.  Unlike most cookbooks that may yield 1,2, maybe 3 favourite recipes, this one has contributed more than 30 recipes to our culinary repertoire.

A Taste of the Mediterranean Olive Bread
This snapshot was taken a while back, one weekend, when my husband was inspired to bake a couple of olive bread loaves. Here they are ready to go in the oven. Too bad my picture doesn’t really capture it’s beauty!
A Taste of The Mediterranean, Olive bread picture.
Sadly, when the bread came out, I never thought to take a picture! So here is a detail from a photo in the book (A Taste of The Mediterranean), to show you what the finished product looks like. Yummy!

You could say that this book has become a kind of reminder to live life fully.  To savour each bite.  And to some small degree, like that Greek Feast, maybe things haven’t always gone exactly as expected, but we’ve always made the best of times.   I guess that’s been our recipe.

And really, that is how this book has become – more than a cookbook – a book about stories of our life together.

A Taste of The Mediterranean, the bookmarks and papers on a well worn book.
A well loved and often used book.

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From The Fence I’d Catch The Wind.

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I remember when I was little, maybe 4 or 5 years old, one particularly windy day.  The gusts were strong enough to catch my breath slightly, and offer resistance when I leaned forward.  It quickly occurred to me that this might finally be my chance to learn how to fly.

I climbed onto the ledge of our fence and leapt off with all my might, trying to catch the wind, convinced that it was strong enough to support my weight and take me on at least a short flight.  In my imagination, I could see and feel what it would be like – the sensation of air all around me, and the delightful dip in my stomach as I swooped upwards and downwards.

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A spontaneous sketch, quickly drawn one morning upon waking (Dec 8, 2013).

I don’t know for how long I tried, but I kept at it again and again before finally sensing, with some disbelief, the futility of my efforts.  Undefeated, I decided that maybe it was necessary to wait for a windier day.  Decades have passed, and I chuckle when I think back on that moment, but the truth is that I still love flight (…although I’ve accepted it is easier done as a passenger on an airplane).

The last time I flew was this past month, January.  This flight was different, though.  I was on my way home after my dad’s funeral, and my childhood felt far away.

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When I booked the ticket, I hadn’t  looked that carefully, and failed to realize that I would be flying on a turboprop (instead of a jet).  The experience of flying on a turboprop turned out to be unique from flying on a jet.

I had paid extra for a window seat, but soon discovered that the propeller was pretty much right outside my window, and the seat was rather crammed.

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I also noticed that the vibrations from the engine were definitely stronger than on a jet.  I didn’t mind, though, because it increased the sensation of take off and landing, which I always find exhilarating.

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The biggest difference between a jet and a turboprop, though, was that this plane flew lower and slower, so the trip took longer.  Interestingly, this turned out to be exactly what made the flight special.

Why?  The sky was clear and it was around sunset, so flying lower and slower, I could see the details of the world below in a way that one can’t from up at 38,000 feet in the air, like on a big 747 jet.  With my cell phone on airplane mode, I took pictures of the view.

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Months ago, in late October of 2015, I flew to Edmonton to see my father when he was placed under palliative care. He was thinner than I can describe, and he could hardly speak, but still managed a couple of wisecracks to make me laugh.  I remember the morning that I was heading back home to Winnipeg, after that visit.  It was something like 5:00 am.  I sat at the airport alone, tears streaming down my face.  I knew it was probably the last time I’d see my dad, and I was right.

He died early in December.  The funeral was held in January.

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On my flight home after the funeral, despite my sadness, I found myself also feeling reverence.  Reverence for this incredible, fleeting gift of life.  Reverence for that very moment, looking out that tiny window at the beautiful world bathed in the pink light of the dying day, as I flew above it all on an 18,000 Kg piece of metal.

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Last year, in 2015, I lost an aunt, my father in law, and my own father.  (Our two family pets also died.)

It was a hard year, but loss – like all difficult experiences, really-  has a lot to teach us.

In a recent interview with The Cancer Society, Blogger Christopher Foster (more than 80 years of age) expressed one of the key lessons he’d learned as a cancer survivor: “I think that, in trying to suppress my fear, I suppressed my joy.  Conversely, now that I’m facing the fear–the joy has been increasing. I’m a pretty happy guy now.”  That simple idea succinctly touches on a profound truth.  Numbing ourselves from sorrow or fear results in numbing ourselves from joy.  Learning to face the full range of emotions that life inspires helps to make us stronger, and lead richer lives.

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Today, I want to leave you with these words by author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross from the book, “To Live Until We Die”.  I found the book in October, on a cart of free give-aways at the library.  I didn’t read the whole book, just a few chapters, but loved her closing words:

“… To love means never to be afraid of the windstorms of life.  Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the true beauty of their carvings… [People benefit from learning to] expose themselves to these windstorms, so that at the end of their own days, they will be proud to look in the mirror and be pleased with the carvings of their own canyon.”

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My Favourite Clutter: The Patina in These Spoons

Years ago, I de-cluttered my home. I discovered that the process was more about celebrating what you choose to keep than mourning what you decide to discard.

Home…Hurrah’s series My Favourite Clutter is all about celebrating those special items – the ones that share our stories and express something unique about who we are.  The clutter that we love for whatever reason!

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I have noticed, over the last few years, that a lot of the meaningful clutter in our home winds up in my workshop.  Simple items like my son’s first running shoes; the satiny, cream coloured shoes that I wore on my wedding day almost 19 years ago; lovingly home-made cards that we’ve received.  I store these things in boxes or place them on shelves.  I have no intention of throwing them away, and this type of clutter seems to feed my creativity.

The workshop is where I also used to keep these 9 spoons and a tea sieve.  They have travelled over miles, continents, and time to find their way into my possession.  They were given to my mother by my paternal grandfather’s grandparents. (Yup. Pretty old.  My mom figures that some of the spoons are probably from the mid 1800’s.)  If these spoons could tell their story, they would probably need a whole book to say it.

These spoons have developed a natural, worn beauty over time, the kind that cannot be replicated, charming and imperfect with age.

I mean, look at the first spoon below.  How many meals does it take to wear a spoon down like this?  It was clearly someone’s favourite soup spoon!  Do most of the things made in our modern day and age even last long enough to show that kind of wear?

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How many conversations were had over the meals that wore this spoon down?
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I love the patina that these spoons have developed over the years.
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Engraved flowers and a bird infused tea time with a sense of family history.

Last year,  before storing them in a safety deposit box, I decided to have a bit of fun and draw one of them.  No plan.  I just picked up a spoon and started to draw it in the middle of a large paper.

Eventually, I added other things to the drawing: a piece of wood that I picked up while walking at a park with my mom, tassels from (the same) great-great grandparents’ table runner.  The background drawing was mostly from my imagination, and has a lot of symbolism.  The Rosemary branches are from my husband’s plant that we keep in my workshop.

My drawing skills are a bit rusty, but the only way to deal with that is to practice, so this was a useful exercise.   Maybe I would have done a few things differently if I had sat down and planned the drawing in advance, but allowing it to develop spontaneously was part of the fun.  Anyhow, hopefully this is just one of many drawings to come.

I think I am starting to understand why I am collecting “clutter” in my studio.  I may not be able to get to it for a while, but I think I have plans for it all.  Vague, incubating sort of plans.

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Some of the colour and detail are lost in the photo, but it still gives you a good idea of what the drawing looks like.

I would love to hear about your favourite clutter!  Please feel free to join in the fun and link it back here so I can check it out!

Thanks so much for popping by.  Have a wonderful week!image

Letting Go

Working in the backyard, I notice again the bike leaning in a corner, up against the large wooden play structure.  It’s starting to look rusty, sitting there all of this time.

My son has outgrown this bike, I think to myself. Somehow I keep it here, waiting to make a decision about it.

Donate it? It’s not in good enough shape at this point.  Sell it on Kijiji?  The amount of effort that would take is hardly worth the 10$ I might get for it.

I roll it over past the front gate, onto the boulevard.  It’s later in the day, the sun is getting lower in the sky.  Using my cell phone, I take a few snapshots.

The neighbours’ daughter stops on her way to get the mail, asks me about the bike.  It’s a special bike, I tell her.  I inwardly notice that she looks more like a young lady now, rather than the girl she was three years ago when we first moved into this home.  She moves on.  I take a few more pictures.

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I turn around, start walking towards the gate, and haven’t even reached it when I hear a car stop on the street behind me.  A woman is already putting the bicycle into her mini-van.  “It’s free?”, she confirms.

“Yes.  Just needs some oil.”

She nods confidently, “Oh, we’ll be able to fix it.” Adding, “My son is 8”.  We smile at each other.

“Enjoy.”  I wave and slowly start walking toward the gate again.

That bike looked so big when we first got it.  I am astounded at how quickly and permanently time has passed to change my perspective.  Today, that same bike looks small.

And now, another eight year old boy will be excited to get it, excited to ride it through the neighbourhood and park.

Much better than watching those memories rust in the backyard.

 

 

Scribble Share: A New Friend Is in Town

I have two older brothers.  I get along extremely well with them, and I love their families to pieces.  One of them will be living far away for a year; left yesterday evening.  So I came up with this new little thing I am calling a “Scribble Share”…

A few days ago, I scribbled down this anecdote with some markers, and thought I would share it today, along with a few photographs.

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… Carlita is great with people, and loves kids.  Unfortunately, she is not so keen on other animals, which means walking her is not always as relaxing as one would like!

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I have to give my son credit, he has stepped up and is taking the dog for walks, and being very helpful.

…and he is already asking for his own dog for next year. (❕)

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Below, Carlita dries off after a swim in a pet-friendly beach.  I guess she needed to relax after seeing so many other  dogs!

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Is that a squirrel?

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If you think you might want to do a scribble share, have a go at it!  It’s pretty fun to do.  Please link it back here, I would love to check it out. 😃

Life’s Landmarks

For the last 18 years, when we are coming home after a long road trip, there is a tree that welcomes us.

Amidst the prairie farm fields, in a particularly flat stretch, this tree unexpectedly breaks up the landscape, triumphantly announcing that we only have 100km left on our journey home.

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It was already a large tree when my husband and I first admired it, as newly weds, on our return home after visiting family in a different province. Since then, things have changed with each visit.

There have been the uplifting changes, like the years when there were new arrivals to the family – the births of my son, and his cousins. How wonderful it is to watch children grow, and it is hard to believe how fast it happens! This July will be the first time that one of them, my eldest nephew, will spend the whole summer working away from home.

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There have been the inevitable losses, too.  Sadly, my husband’s parents are both gone now, his childhood home sold.  That summer tradition of the family sitting together in that backyard, near that lovingly tended garden, a finished chapter.

Many rich moments connect the years between those road trips. And after all this time, our majestic old friend still welcomes us home.

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Time to Paint

Post by Carina Spring.

It’s been a lovely Mother’s Day weekend. Aside from lots of time with my family, and a delicious supper prepared by my husband and son, Saturday also included plenty of time for creative work.

This Saturday I decided to paint.  What a treat!  I would like to do that more often.

I love the beginnings of paintings, so full of potential.

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There are points in the life of a painting, especially one that is largely developed from the imagination, when you have to decide whether to stop or continue. Is it finished?

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With this painting, I decided to continue. Maybe I should have called it done at the stage illustrated in the second photo (above), because I really liked how it looked and kind of miss it now.

Somehow, though, it didn’t feel finished, so I continued. I suppose that is part of the learning.

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The third picture above is where I stopped painting.   I am not satisfied with it yet, so I know it’s not finished.  It’s time to step back and get a bit of distance from it in order to understand what it needs next.

How I would love to paint every day! Knowing that I would be painting again the next day would help me approach each painting as an experiment- an evolving part of a larger process.

But painting is a very consuming activity, so it is challenging to do when one has a career.  It takes focus and energy that I also need to devote to other aspects of my life. It is even harder when one feels pulled toward various creative outlets: I long to write, and blog, and draw and paint.  I don’t want to – or perhaps just can’t –  choose between these forms of expression.

As I reflect on the past year, I am somewhat encouraged. I have completed several larger drawings, and quite a few small, fun paintings. Little by little, I am finding ways of making visual art a satisfying part of my life.

It takes so much patience, though!!

About the painting…

Images of birds often find their way into my art, and I am sure that is due to childhood experiences that imprinted themselves into the stories that weave through the tapestry of my life.

This painting was loosely inspired by a photograph from a book, as a starting point, but was mostly developed through my imagination.

Though I prefer oils, I worked in acrylics in order to avoid the fumes.

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What a great weekend!  Today is Mother’s Day and is also my aunt’s birthday, so we invited my mom, aunt, and cousin over for lunch. My husband made quiches, and we all relaxed and enjoyed a few hours together.

Happy Mother’s Day!

My Favorite Clutter

Several years ago, I de-cluttered my home. I discovered that the process was more about celebrating what you choose to keep than mourning what you decide to discard.

It turned out to be an exciting undertaking with joyful results. Our home felt relaxing, spacious and revived by a new energy.

I was so glad that others could benefit from the many items that we no longer needed, and thrilled to have re-discovered items that I had abandoned in my own basement.

My home was transformed. One treasure at a time, one change inspiring the next.  Our house became a place that celebrated our life and nourished us in new ways.

We have moved to a different house since then, and the experience of decluttering my previous home has profoundly affected how I am setting up my current home.

It has also inspired the new series I am introducing at home…hurrah!  It’s called My Favourite Clutter!  This series is about celebrating those special items – the ones that share our stories and express something unique about who we are.  The clutter that we love for whatever reason!

 

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My Favourite Clutter 

A Mysterious Lakeside Treasure

When my son was about six years old, my husband and I took him on a drive out in the country, along a lake-side road.  Stopping here and there to explore,  we wound up finding a quiet, narrow, little beach, lined on one side with trees and bush. We stayed for a while, enjoying the air and peaceful view, while our son played in the rocky sand.  At one point, he stopped and ran excitedly toward us holding this object he’d found in the shoreline, where the water meets the rocky sand.

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It was made of a heavy metal, and had clearly been around for a long time – deeply encrusted with rocks, and so rusted that it had an organic appearance.

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On our way home, we had fun guessing what this object might be, and imagining what unusual circumstances could have brought it to its current state.

How long would it have taken for rocks to become so deeply embedded into the metal?

Any ideas?

My son was so proud to have found such a unique souvenir.   Now it happily adorns my studio, on a shelf amongst my plants, reminding me of a beautiful afternoon that is suddenly 5 years away; reminding me to pay attention to life as it happens.

 

 

 

Shelter That You Take With You.

Post by Carina Spring.

Recently, my eldest brother scanned big boxes full of old family pictures and shared the files with us.  It was a labour of love for him, taking hours and hours of work.  I was so grateful he’d done it, as those pictures are part of our family history.  It was amazing to see all of these captured moments in places that have represented home not only to us, but also to some of our ancestors. And what really struck me was how much it is the people and the love that make home; the rich, shifting tapestry of relationships that accompany us through life.

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map.  It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.  Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”

Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye?

Finding Happiness in Our Everyday Lives.

Happy: A Film by Roko Belic

On Saturday night, I watched a documentary called, “Happy”. Have you seen it?

In the documentary, they traveled all over the globe to show us some of the universal elements of happiness.  According to research, our deepest happiness comes from the simpler things in life – like time spent in loving companionship, nature, and contributing to a greater good.

Interestingly, once our basic needs have been reasonably met, more money does not seem to increase happiness.

Experts say being happy is a skill we can improve with practice!  So here is a brief  list of suggestions, based on some ideas from the film, on how to nourish our happiness.

How to Be Happier

1) An attitude of gratitude. Focus on what you have, and make it a regular habit to remember what you are grateful for in your life. Even if you are facing troubles, even if you are feeling down, take a few minutes to think of the things, even the small ones, for which you are thankful.

2) Exercise! There is a direct correlation between exercising and feeling happy. You don’t need to become the next Iron-Man champion (unless you want to, of course!). Just find something you enjoy. For me, walking is always an excellent way to boost my frame of mind.

3) Connect with loved ones. Make time to enjoy the relationships that matter to you!  If you are feeling lonely, be open to fostering new friendships: volunteer, or take classes. Keep in mind that inter-generational connections are valuable to our well-being, too. And never underestimate the joy found in the companionship of a loving pet.

4) Cultivate caring, and compassion. Research shows that helping others or working toward a good cause makes us feel happier. We become part of something bigger than ourselves, and that changes our perspective. We feel useful knowing that we have something significant to contribute. It’s a way of creating connections, and bringing more meaning to life.

5) Rest! Sleep, and relaxation are so important to happiness. In Japan, they now have a word for working yourself to death: Karoshi. In the documentary, a widow talks about this phenomenon. It’s a disturbing trend: corporate culure needs to change, and so do our attitudes.

6) Enter a state of Flow. Are you familiar with this concept? Think about a time when you were so engaged in an activity that you completely lost track of time, and you sort of forgot about yourself in the process. That is called a state of flow. People who enter this state regularly are happier than those who don’t.  Meaningful work and hobbies are just two of the things that can take us into flow.

Being happy doesn’t mean that one is never sad, angry or frustrated. It is healthy to have natural reactions to situations, but the key is not to get stuck in a negative frame of mind.  We integrate and feel our experiences honestly, finding our way back to a fundamental contentedness.

A Few Quotes:

“Let’s be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ” – Marcel Proust

“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.” – Stephen Chbosky

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” – Audrey Hepburn

You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” Jonathan Safran Foer
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” – Tom Bodett

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Charles M. Shulz