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 Sunday, 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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A Little Wanderlust.

Here are some of my thoughts and pictures from a long walk I took in Winnipeg, last Saturday.  Hope you enjoy…

~ Carina Spring

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In my last post, I announced that my blog’s technical troubles were finally resolved.  Turns out that my celebrations were, um… premature. Yes, after my gleeful announcement, I joyfully pressed “publish”, and soon realized that the email was not getting delivered to subscribers’ mailboxes.  Every time one problem gets resolved, another one pops up!

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Honestly, autumn has brought a few challenges with it, and not just with my blog.  When I stumbled on these words, yesterday, the mindset struck me as helpful:

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.  Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.  Don’t wish for less challenges, wish for more wisdom.”

~ Jim Rohn

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Anyhow, on Saturday, when I went for a long-overdue haircut, I decided to walk home.  I have been going to the same hairdresser for 15 years.  Her salon is downtown, a fair few kilometres from my home, and in a different neighbourhood.  It was a gorgeous day.  Without thinking much about it, after my haircut, I strolled into the fresh air and started my walk.  It took several hours to get home, though I don’t know exactly how long, because I didn’t pay much attention to the time.

The sun was in my eyes and I carried my big purse over my shoulder, and I felt kind of free: no plans, no car.

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By the time I got home, around 5:00 pm, I’d taken a bunch of snapshots with my cell phone (those are the pictures in today’s post), and I’d accepted a friend’s spontaneous dinner invitation for 6:00 pm.

Hiking, even the urban kind, can be so relaxing. There is something therapeutic about walking by yourself, for hours, like a tourist in your own city.  Now, I feel a vague kind of wanderlust.  Like I want to wander. Everywhere.  Even if it’s only around here.

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When I was in my late teens, I figured life out by running  kilometres and kilometres at a time.  In those runs I found my strength, and I figured out that life was short, and that it all comes down to the present moment.  I think walks like this one are another way for me to better understand life.

Here are a few more snapshots that I took with my cell phone, if you’d like to see what Winnipeg looked like, from my perspective, last Saturday.  It’s a pretty diverse place.

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5 Neat Things a Dog Will Bring Into Your Life

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Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?

Me?  I can’t choose… I like them both!

Earlier in my childhood, we had a variety of pets, including dogs, but after the age of 10, we’ve really only had cats.  I enjoy cats because they are low-maintenance, elegant, and very loving animals with a complex charm.  So… I guess I would say that I have become more used to having cats around.

Until this year, that is.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember my brother’s dog, Carlita.  You can read more about her on my first (and so far, only) Scribble Share.

My brother and his family went to live in France for the year, and they left Carlita with my mom.  Recently, my mom went to visit them in France for a month, so she left the dog with us (me, my son, and my husband).  When my mom returned to Canada, she injured her foot while working in the yard (Fortunately, nothing serious), which meant that she couldn’t walk the dog for most of last week.  So, Carlita stayed with us again until my mom’s foot started to heal.

Having a dog as a pet, albeit temporarily, has been a bit of a novelty for us.  They are a big commitment, almost like another baby!  But it is easy to see why people think of dogs as Man’s Best Friend.

This sweet little Carlita has helped me see some of the neat things that a dog brings into your life, aside from the obvious unconditional love, and loads of fun!

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Some of the neat things that a dog brings into your life:

1) A chance to be exuberantly joyful on a daily basis.

Every time I would get home, I would be greeted by the unrestrained joy that Carlita felt at our reunion. Of course, I would join in her excitement, laughing and talking to her in that silly voice that we naturally reserve for babies and cute animals.  Really, though – When else does one get to be that excited about anything, let alone something so ordinary as walking through the front door?

How wonderful that every arrival became an excuse to express unabashed joy!

2) An example of how to be totally in the moment.

One day when I got home from work, I took Carlita for a walk.  I’m usually pretty mindful of the beauty around me as I walk through the park, but on this day I was preoccupied with work, and my thoughts were far away, worrying about deadlines, decisions, and interactions with colleagues.  I was starting to get a headache. That’s when I looked at Carlita and really noticed how, as we walked, she had her nose buried in the thick, green grass.  At that moment, the grass was her world, the reality in which she was completely immersed.  I bet she wasn’t worried about whether I would give her that new canned dog food which she doesn’t like for supper, or which direction we would walk on our next outing.  No, she was just smelling that grass, giving all of her attention to the lush green blades that beckoned.

Yup. Dogs really know how to be in the moment.  Looking at her that afternoon, I took a deep breath, and remembered to pay more attention to the gorgeous, bright day around me.  We have a lot to think about as humans, and learning to take a break by being “in the moment” can be simpler than we make it. Dogs have it licked.

In fact, today when I got home from work, I went for a walk (no dog this time, she is happily back with my mom). I took a page from the book of Carlita.

I looked up at the trees, and focused my attention on the physical world around me. I noticed the shapes, and textures of the trees; the colour of the sky against the miriad of greens; the sound of birds echoing above. I noticed the sensation of the breeze against me, and the drifting fragrance of the flowers.

And I felt relaxed, joyful, and better prepared to take on the rest of the week.

3)  A dog encourages you to get outside and walk.

This is especially true with Carlita, who simply will not pee in the yard.  (I don’t know why! I certainly wished that she would, late on Friday nights). She is a dog that needs to be walked, several times a day. Sometimes long walks, sometimes short, but walking became an obligatory part of my day, every day.

4)  The vitality of a new perspective.  

This relates to the previous point.  With a dog around, I had to walk at times of the day when I normally wouldn’t. Like first thing in the morning, before heading to work.  These morning walks were not long, just a couple of blocks, but instantaneously de-stressed me.  To step outside and move a bit, smell the fresh morning air, and listen to all of the birds chirping their lovely melodies was remarkably relaxing.  And it only took a few minutes.

I also had moments of bliss walking Carlita early on Saturday mornings, when I would normally be sitting on the couch, drinking a coffee. One morning, it had rained, so the bark of the trees was dark, a deep contrast to the rich, green leaves.  The wood chips on the path looked exceptionally reddish, and the air felt soft and fresh. If it hadn’t been because of Carlita, I would have missed the joy of walking in the park on that drizzly Saturday morning.

Sure, I have taken morning walks in the past, and I used to jog in the mornings.  But now days I tend to reserve my walks for the afternoon.  It was revitalizing to change up my routine, and head out for walks when I normally wouldn’t.

5) And let’s face it, dogs sure know how to relax after a good walk!

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Oh Carlita, that funny, sweet little dog! (Ps. My husband took these yawning pictures.  They made me chuckle!)

A dog can teach us a thing or two about living well, and I’m not too proud to learn!

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Enjoying Spring in Winnipeg

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“The sun has come out and the air is vivid with Spring light” 

Byron Caldwell Smith, letter to Kate Stephens

 

Mahalo. Have you heard this word before?

In my latest post, I talked about the presentation I saw by Chad Pregrake, the 2013 CNN Hero of The Year.  I found his story encouraging because it showed that each of us has the power to act on the things that matter, and that small actions can add up to make a significant difference.

I closed that post off with a song by a famous Hawaiian musician (It’s a medley of two songs: “It’s A Wonderful World” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow“).  My oldest brother, who loves to visit Hawaii, left a comment on that post that introduced me to the concept of Mahalo:

“In keeping with the Hawaiian theme of your closing, they have this concept of Mahalo, which translates to ‘thank you’ but also can mean gratefulness or thankfulness, and can be expressed as simply as picking up trash and leaving the place better than you found it.”

Mahalo.  I love it.  The soft sound of one word to remind us of our own power to make a difference.

What a wonderful wor(l)d.

And while we are speaking of gratitude…

Spring has settled in around here, and made itself right at home.  We’ve passed the May long weekend, which is when experts announce the official start of the “frost-free” season in Winnipeg.   Gardeners can start planting!

So, today at Home… hurrah!, I am in the mood for a light-hearted celebration of all things Spring, with a Winnipeg twist! (In case you are not familiar with Winnipeg, it’s an interesting little place.)

1.  Spring officially started more than 2 months ago, and this is how the various regions in Canada looked on that first day of Spring.

2. I love birds, and I am always thrilled by my first sighting of geese flying over us, returning after a long winter! Some thoughts on migration here.

3.  In the spirit of spring, I recently tried painting a bird.

It started like this….

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Then it went through a few phases.  Can you guess how which one of the two was the final painting?

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*See answer at the the end of post.

4. This morning, as I woke up, the fragrance of lilac blossoms reached my senses before I even opened my eyes.  My husband had put some fresh blossoms  in a vase, in our bedroom.  Ahhh… Fresh lilac blossoms, outdoors and indoors!  Love.

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“Every Spring is the only Spring – a perpetual astonishment.”  

Ellis Peters

5.  Barbecues!  Actually, this past Friday, my husband made the best burgers ever.  I am not always the biggest fan of burgers, but these were amazingly delicious.  I will soon tell you how he went about making them… if I can pry the secret out of him!

6. I’ve been using my favourite emojis again! 🌸🌷💐🌱

7.  Oh, the joys of being outside on a warm evening…

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An unusual and lonely cloud, illuminated by the sunset (last summer), looked spectacular.

8.  … in sandals!!!  Aaaahhhh…

People who have to layer up in parkas, scarves, hats, gloves, long underwear, two pairs of socks, and boots, can really appreciate the care free experience of slipping into sandals!  (No matter what our feet might look like!)

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It’s so easy to slip into sandals! And the air on our toes feels so good.

9.  When celebrating Spring in Winnipeg, it is not always easy to decide what to wear.  For example, according to Wikipedia, temperatures for April in Winnipeg range from −6.3 °C (21 °F) to 34.3 °C (94 °F), and can change rather quickly.

10. Green!  Everywhere green! We are embracing this glorious season as the dormant world becomes vibrantly awake in May.

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…The trees outside my window are dressed in their magnificent, leafy green garments.   (Do you notice the trees around you, too?)

Tree lined streets means lots of trees right outside my window.
Trees ask for so little, but give so much. You can see them here in action… beautifying the city and cleaning the air!  They provide a home for birds and other backyard wildlife, and shelter us from the hot sun.

 

This list could go on, as I do love Spring, and the joy only increases as it transforms into summer.  So, today, I will leave you with the bottom line:

“That is one good thing about this world… there are always sure to be more springs.”

L.M. Mondtgomery, Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables, #2)

Answer – This was the final painting:
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One Piece At A Time: The Inspirational Story of Chad Pregracke

If you think globally, you become filled with gloom.  But if you take a little piece of this whole picture: ‘my piece, our piece, this is what I can do here, I’m making a difference.  And hey… wow, they’re making a difference over there, and so are they’.  Gradually, the pieces get filled in and the world is a better place… because of you.”  

Jane Goodall (Link to the JGI) 

April has flown by and we are already in the first week of May!  The weather is finally feeling like Spring, and I couldn’t be loving it more.

Let me catch you up a little as to what I’ve been up to.  I’ll skip right to one of the highlights: On the last Friday of the month, April 29, I had the honour of hearing Chad Pregracke present at the Burton Cummings theatre.  You might have heard of him?  He was CNN’s 2013 Hero of The Year.  His story is inspiring.

Lately, with all the terrible news we hear around us, I had been feeling a bit discouraged with regards to the state of our planet. But this month has brought me uplifting lessons that have shifted my perspective and left me feeling revitalized. Listening to his presentation was one of those experiences.

Chad’s story reminded me that we might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems, but each of us can play a part in making a small, positive difference around us.  It adds up.

This is CNN’s report.  It’s quick – just over 2 minutes long:

Chad grew up by the Mississippi River.  As a young man he spent summers diving for mussel shells to pay his way through college.  He described how he could hardly see anything underwater because it was so murky, but he was surrounded by sounds – much like we hear the birds when we are in our backyards, but it was the sound of fishes instead.  He realized the river was full of life, but because most people did not hear or experience this underwater world, they could ignore it… and treat the river like a dumping ground.

“This is a problem that people created, but it’s a problem that people can fix.”

~ Chad Pregracke

As he spent countless hours both around and under the water while growing up, he started to notice more and more garbage.  In the presentation I saw, he showed us pictures that he had taken before all of the clean-ups began.  Those pictures actually made the audience gasp.  They were unbelievable.  Or, as he said, “It’s believable.  The proof is right there.  What it is, is unacceptable.”  At the age of 17, when he saw the filth that was contaminating the Mississippi River, he began to look for support to clean it up.

“Wherever you are, no matter if there’s a stream, a creek, a lake, whatever, that needs to be cleaned up, you can do it.  Just organize it and do it.”

~ Chad Pregracke

The Red River is one of two rivers that runs through Winnipeg, where I live.
The Red River is one of two rivers that runs through my (current) home town of Winnipeg.

For 4 years Chad tried without success to get some financial support.  He persevered, and in 1997 he finally obtained a grant from Alcoa.  It was just enough to get started, so he was doing the work for free (and his work continues as non-profit).  He began cleaning up the river by himself, pulling 45 000 pounds of trash out of it by the end of that first year.  As he said, “People made this mess one piece of garbage at a time, we can clean it up that way, too”.

“People made this mess one piece of garbage at a time, we can clean it up that way, too.”

~ Chad Pregracke

As people saw him out there working, they were inspired to join him.  20 years later, he has worked side by side with 95 000 volunteers to clear the Mississippi River of it’s many mountains (literally) of garbage.  The river landscape looks beautiful once again, and 90% of what is pulled out gets recycled.

Chad and the many volunteers continue their work, and have extended their efforts to include other rivers.  Because of these clean-ups, people have become more aware and more careful about keeping the garbage out of the river in the first place.

The thing that really struck me during the presentation was that Chad is just a down-to-earth, regular human being.  He saw something that was wrong, and decided to make it right.  When he started, he was just one person picking some garbage out of the river, by himself, on a boat.

Chad Pregracke is a powerful reminder that we don’t have to wait.  We can act today.  I loved his take away message:  Look around you, and decide what you care about, and start doing something, no matter how small.  

Every little action counts – every little effort, and every act of kindness.  If each of us takes a small action, it adds up to significant change.

My son had a funny take on it.  He said, “Yeah, you know how people can nickel and dime themselves to death?  Well, I guess the opposite can be true, too, right?  You can nickel and dime yourself to a better world”.  He always makes me laugh with his unexpected, 12 year old wisdom.

As Chad said, “I started when I was 17.  You are never too young to start and to make a difference”.  So true, and I would add that you are never too old either.

“People are always saying that the youth is the future.  Yes, no doubt, but more importantly, they are also the present.  You can do something now, you don’t have to wait for some point in the distant future.”

~ Chad Pregracke

Want to learn more?  Chad Pregracke wrote a book called From The Bottom Up that I would like to read at some point.  Also, you might check out his organization Living Land and Waters.

Today, I am signing off with this sweet medley.  Have you heard it before?  It’s played on the ukulele by the late “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’Ole, who is among the most beloved and celebrated Hawaiian performers.  I fell in love with this medley from the first time I heard it.  For me, it’s a hopeful song; a gentle celebration and reminder that it’s a wonderful world, indeed.  Treat yourself to a listen.

 Here are some other short videos that you might enjoy watching:

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Laughter

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This is one of my favourite pictures because it captures such a genuine moment of shared laughter and joy.  It’s my son when he was about 9 months old, and we had stopped to get gas while on a road trip.

 “Laughter is an instant vacation.”

Milton Berle

Hurrah… It’s Friday!  Do you have any plans?  We’ve had a busy week around here, and I think we’re just going to relax after supper, and watch some comedies.

This has got me thinking that it would be fun to head into the weekend with a focus on laughter.  So today, I’ll share some ideas, links, quotes, and yes… even jokes from around the web.

“I try to find a reason to laugh each day.  Somehow, if you can incorporate laughter into your day, every day, it really helps.  It’s the little things in life that make me happy. “

Faith Hill

I love to laugh… and who doesn’t, really?  Scientists have even observed that some other animal species engage in laughter, too.  Did you know that?  I didn’t, until I researched laughter for this post.  I guess it proves that everyone loves to laugh.  And why shouldn’t we?  I can’t speak for the other species, but I do know that laughing is a wonderful way to enrich our human life.  

Laughing relaxes us, and helps us regain perpective. It is like nature’s reset button.

In fact, there have been a few difficult times in my life when the laughter reset button has helped me… in my sleep!  I call them my laughing dreams.  I’ve only had a few, but they are surprisingly therapeutic.  In these dreams, some little thing will trigger my laughter.  It’s usually something that isn’t really that funny, but in the dream, it seems absolutely hilarious.  I laugh until my stomach muscles ache and tears are rolling down my cheeks.  Isn’t that a delightful dream?  Has anyone else ever had these?  I wake up with a fresher perspective, feeling relaxed, as if I’d just had one of the best belly laughs ever.

 “Laughter is important, not only because it makes us happy, it also has actual health benefits.  And that’s because laughter completely engages the body and releases the mind.  It connects us to others, and that in itself has a healing effect.”

Marlo Thomas 

Laughter is a way to connect with people we love, and a way to gel new friendships.

Laughter can also help us to defuse conflict and soften awkward situations.  Like the time someone at work ripped his pants (loudly).  As the leader of the group, my immediate reaction was to laugh kindly, smile at him and the group, and say, “These things happen… Good thing you’re among friends.”  Silence would have made the incident far more awkward, while laughter was able to soften the embarrassment.  The laughter became a source of support, recognizing that these things can happen to any of us.

“I believe in the power of laughter and tears as an antidote to hatred and terror.”

Charles Chaplin 

Here are some links about laughter.  Why not relax over a glass of wine or a hot cup of coffee, and check some of these out:  

Have you heard of this documentary?  I am curious to see it.

The Power of Laughter.  He gets a standing ovation at the end of this Ted Talk.  

Can you detect the different kinds of laughter? The very funny cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott shares many surprising facts about laughter.

This man helps people who are in rehab heal by getting them hooked on laughter.

A CNN news clip about  Laughter Yoga.

Want to try laughter yoga? Try this.   Warning: it looks silly. Very.  But I have to tell you this quick story!  The other day, my son was really grumpy about something.  I had just watched this video, so I said, “Hey, maybe we can try laughing yoga to improve your mood!”  I started to do one of the exercises.  He thought I was crazy and refused to participate, but the whole situation was so ridiculous, that soon laughter was bubbling out of him, as hard as he tried to keep a sullen expression on his face.  Within two minutes, his mood had completely changed and we were talking about our day.  So… maybe laughter yoga does work!

Four jokes and some reflection on humour.

Here are “50 terrible, quick jokes that’ll get you a laugh on demand“.  I have to admit, I haven’t read them all!  But I have included a sampler of the jokes, below, because 6 of these jokes are probably quite enough:  😉 

6 JOKES…

1) It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.

2) If you want to catch a squirrel just climb a tree and act like a nut.

3) Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like banana.

4) My friend recently got crushed by a pile of books, but he’s only got his shelf to blame.

5) What’s the best part about living in Switzerland? Not sure, but the flag is a big plus.

6) What did Jay-Z call his girlfriend before they got married? Feyoncé.

Thanks for stopping by home hurrah.com.  Have a great weekend!  

I just got one last thing, I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have.  To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get you’re emotions going.

Jim Valvano

A Beautiful Mess

“At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.”

Dame Rose Macaulay ((1881-1958)

An Oil-Pastel Drawing I made last year.
A space that allows us to grow and express ourselves is truly a thing of beauty, and that is one of the ideas behind this oil pastel drawing.

My grandma used to smile sometimes with a shrug of her shoulders and refer to the famous piece of French wisdom, “It’s a beautiful mess”.  Her home was always wonderfully kept; a welcoming place full of flowers and fresh baking.  But this attitude helped her enjoy her grandchildren and embrace life’s imperfections.

Because life comes first, and there is a real wisdom in arranging our priorities and our spaces with that in mind.

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A home doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect.  It doesn’t have to sport the most stylish and expensive decor.  It doesn’t have to be spotless.

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Displaying special items collected through our experiences can be an inexpensive and uplifting way to decorate.

The real joy comes from creating a space where we can live fully.  A place that expresses who we are, and that enables us to do the things that really matter to us.

After all, there is a profound beauty in living life well.

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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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Where Do You Go?

For me, there is something captivating, even comforting about migration.  Even though my life on the ground may have changed over the year – I’ve lost loved ones, my father is in palliative care – in the spring, the birds return.  And while it does not make the losses easier, there is a serene kind of solace found in the predictable beauty of the cycles of nature.

Depending on the conditions of their geographical location, some Golden Eagles migrate, and some do not.
Depending on the conditions of their geographical location, some Golden Eagles migrate, and some do not.

The arrival of the migrating animals after their long journey exemplifies courage, and life’s triumph over adversity.   We look up and welcome the geese, not only as a sign of the changing seasons and spring’s renewal, but simultaneously as a symbol of perseverance, and life’s constancy.

A family of geese

That’s the thing about migration – it heralds change, but also continuity.  It is a process that transcends our existence here on earth: Migration was here before us, and continues without us. Just like when children grow, they make us more aware of the passage of time, migrations orient us to the seasons of life and create a sense of connection between the passing years.

There is something so worthwhile, so healthy about pausing, and remembering the processes in nature that transcend our own lifespans

Alicia and Neil’s Photography

Migration also reminds us of unseen bonds that connect us to other parts of the planet. We share something beyond ourselves; We share a living species that calls both of our lands home.

“Where Is Your Home, Restless Wings?”

In the modern era, it is harder for us to grasp the magic of migration.  We have developed the remarkable technology to connect with almost anyone, anywhere, instantly, but in so doing may be forgetting a time in recent history when distant lands were still mysterious, and the world felt much bigger.  Less than a century ago, simply receiving a letter from a different part of the world was an exciting event.  In some ways, migrating animals are like living, timeless emblems from distant lands; messengers reminding us of an intricate connection with people we will never meet, and places we might never see.

Reader Julia shared this picture of a beautiful Monarch, know for its epic migration.
Reader Julia shared this picture of a beautiful Monarch, known for its epic migration.

And just as I finished writing these reflections, the world outside my window was transformed over night by a fluffy snowfall, and the words on this post are now a farewell to fall.

How wonderful that the timeless truths of nature are right at our doorstep, and the simple act of stepping outside and looking at the sky can help us find comfort and perspective in our modern, everyday lives.

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A beautiful Mountain Blue Bird:  Alicia and Neil’s Photography

Unless otherwise indicated, all of today’s photos are from Alicia and Neil’s Photography.

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Last winter, I heard this song for the first time.  This song may have helped inspire this post.  I have to add that I love this band, and they seem to share my poetic obsession with birds.

Would you like to learn more?  Here are some links to organizations that are working hard to preserve habitat so that life on earth can stay diverse, and migrating animals can persevere.  Every bit we do helps, and these organizations are making a real difference.

World Wildlife Fund

World Wildlife Fund International

Nature Conservancy of Canada

Sign a petition to protect Caribou habitat or  Learn more about CPAWS

Thank you for stopping by!

Saying Thank You.

The photograph was used with permission (and gratitude!) from Alicia and Neil’s Photography.  

 

"Make it a habit to tell people thank you, to express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return.  Truly appreciate those around you, and you'll soon find many others around you.  Truly appreciate life, and you'll find that you have more of it."

~ Ralph Marston
"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."       

~William Arthur Ward
"Saying "thank you" creates love."

~ Daphne Rose Kingma
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

~ G.K. Chesterton

Gratitude is a wonderful frame of mind from which to view our life.  Research shows that people who take the time to write down the things for which they are grateful actually increase their happiness.  Gratitude creates an optimistic mindset and helps us make more positive choices.

But what about thanking and giving praise to those around us?  Is that important? It sounds so easy, but sometimes it can be difficult.  Some people find praise and gratitude very hard to express.  Others find it easy to give, but feel uncomfortable accepting it.

Today, I wanted to share a Ted Talk by Laura Trice. It is only three minutes long; a quick, thought-provoking glimpse into this subject.  She believes that learning to give and ask for genuine praise creates happier lives and households, and that it might very well be where the seed for a better world is planted.

I invite you to listen to this 3 minute (and 24 second) video. I would love to hear your take on this topic, so please feel free to leave a comment.  How important is it to express gratitude?  Is gratitude still valid if we have to prompt it?

Wait… before I go, Thanks for visiting, I truly appreciate you stopping by!  🙂