Happiness is...

Americans like to smile; we like to be happy! It’s a good thing we are a culture with the best dental hygiene because smiling is something we do well. I think of the French who are not big into smiles (or teeth). Luc Tessier in the movie French Kiss says, When people tell me they are happy, my ass begins to twitch. This makes me laugh and want to smile even more! When Americans are not happy we are very good at fixing it and if you don’t want to fix it, well people will just assume you are French!
I think there’s a recipe for happiness just like your grandmother’s cookies, they’re not that hard to bake and when you make them, everyone’s glad!
All recipes begin with the ingredients; the same is true for happiness. A recipe for happiness might go something like this...add a heaping cup of family and friends, a cup full of meaningful work, a dash of optimism, a sprinkle of gratefulness, plenty of forgiveness, a generous amount of giving, and two hands full of spirituality. You can’t find these ingredients in your pantry or buy them at the store, but you do have them at your fingertips should you choose to use them.
It seems that the happiest people surround themselves with family and friends; this is a sure-fire way to find happiness and to feel fully alive. Happy people don’t spend very much time alone; they like to be around the ones they love. Someone who is cheerful probably tends to have strong relationships with those who share their joy, sorrow, and stress…It’s a wonderful thing to invest in relationships with your friends, it’s a bonus if your friends are naturally happy people.  
There are some people who manage to always look on the bright side. We may not all be as sunny and optimistic as the famous Pollyanna character but we can find her same enthusiasm for life if we can play the ‘glad game’ every now and then. Think about something you’re grateful for and voila, you’re smiling!
Grateful people are happy people. To me, gratitude is best expressed in writing letters, journaling, or even an email or a text to tell someone you love them, this can make you and that person feel better in an instant.
I find when I get really into a project or activity, I lose all track of time, stop worrying and just enjoy the moment. This is when I think busy schedules are a good thing; life’s many activities bring great satisfaction. I find this happens to me when doing enjoyable daily tasks too…dancing, playing with my children, writing, reading are all things I can lose myself in. Taking time away from other important things like work is good for our soul.
People feel happiest when they’re doing what they do best…work or play. I think you will agree with me that we should all have more fun and less stress. If you love your work and it’s meaningful, that plays a huge factor, but equal parts play and work are what equals happiness. I’m sure Freud would agree when he said, Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is.
There’s a bigger chance that you will be happier if you don’t spend too much time alone. It’s a good thing to accept social invitations, initiate social get-togethers, have face-to-face time rather than online time, and hug your family and friends. Nurture your relationships; having tons of friends could never compare to those few very close friendships that consistently make you happy. When I’m having a bad day, I like to relive a good memory spent with friends and family. 
Another way to get happy is to forgive. It may be extremely hard to do and take some time but once we forgive those who have hurt us, our hearts are happier.
Spirituality contributes to our happiness, believing in something higher gives us direction and purpose and it just feels right.
A few weeks ago, most of the world watched the Royal Wedding with great joy. This one wedding made people all over the world so happy and gave us optimism and a reason to celebrate with the world. I think most people look forward to the next big celebration that brings us all together like the Olympics.

Quotes to inspire and make you feel happy:

The best way to cheer yourself up, is to try and cheer somebody else up. Mark Twain

Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot about puppies. Gene Hill
The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.  Anonymous
Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. Nathaniel Hawthorne
Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust
Questions to ponder… When have you been the happiest? To get you thinking here’s some food for thought with three top five happy lists from my husband, my daughter, and me. Can you guess which list belongs to whom?
1.       a to do list that’s already been done
2.       the feeling after an intense work out
3.       bedtime rituals with our children
4.       a night without doing dishes
5.       seeing the lights turn on in our children

1.       birthday cake
2.       balloons
3.       kites
4.       Hello Kitty
5.       parties

1.       the beach
2.       hugs
3.       pink peonies
4.       the sound of music and laughter
5.       being skin to skin with my babies
What’s on your happy list?

Champagne Wishes and Summer Dreams

Marlene Dietrich said, “Champagne makes you feel like its Sunday and better days are just around the corner. I love Sundays and summertime (and summer is just around the corner), add champagne to that and I’m as happy as a clam.

Summer drinks call for something cool, fruity, effervescent, zippy, and pink! My favorite beverage is champagne! I absolutely adore bubbles…give me ice cold Prosecco, sparkling wine, and Champagne for a hot Texas summer and I can transport myself to France, Italy, or California in a single sip.

It seems all the world associates champagne with good times and friendship. Think about celebrating weddings, baptisms, a new home, launching ships, ringing in the New Year…I like to drink the bubbly to ring in the summer. The joyous mist of champagne bubbles don’t have to be savored only on special occasions, you can drink those pretty stars to celebrate the little things in life too.

I’m attracted to all things feminine, unique, and pink, so when I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia (made for his famous daughter) I just had to try it. The packaging is glamorous in a hexagon box filled with a four pack of cans with pink little bendy straws. Sofia tastes refreshingly delicious like apples and pears with a hint of citrus and honey. Sofia mini Blanc de Blancs is the perfect wine to take with you to the beach, pool, or outside party. It’s a crisp and refreshing sparkling wine meant for summer. My friend Jen and I enjoyed some Sofia minis as a prelude to watching the movie Bridesmaids this past weekend and it definitely made for an extra fun and special girls night. Add a bubbly drink to two bubbly girls and you have enhanced the likelihood of laughter.

Another refreshing bubbly drink to cool you down in the summer is the Italian Prosecco, a sparkling wine that’s light, lemony, and fun. Like Sofia, Prosecco has overtones of citrus and honey. It’s a perfect summer wine. Try combining it with peach juice for the famous Italian cocktail, the Bellini.

Both Sofia and Prosecco are more affordable sparkling wines compared to Champagne but for those special occasions, I turn to the Widow (Veuve Clicquot). Being the ultra girly girl that I am, it’s just got to be pink. Veuve Cliquot Rose is my ultimate drink. It has a fruity charm and style and is lively and fresh for summer.

Cheers to all who make an effort to celebrate those better days that are just around the corner for you!

Easy as Pie

The expression, “Easy as pie” is so true because pie IS easy! I’m a pie person. I’d choose pie over cake any day. It’s because there’s more love put into a pie. You also have to use your hands more when making it that’s why it’s one of those foods that allow you to really taste the love that goes into it. Homemade pies are not only delicious but also comforting and nurturing. Pies do for the belly what a child’s blankie does for their feelings; pie makes you feel warm, safe, cozy, and loved. 

I vividly remember going to my grandma’s house and seeing an apple pie cooling on the counter when we arrived at her house in Midland.  I have a similar recollection at my Louisiana grandmother’s home.  It’s a comforting and happy food that makes memories with your smell and taste senses forever.
I think of pie as a southern dessert. I even like to say “pi” and accent the long “i” sound like a real southerner. A pie is not as elegant as a tart; you see the real handy work, flaws, and finger markings in a pie as opposed to a tart which is more elegant and not near as rustic. I also love the free form shape of a gallette, the most rustic of all pies. It’s fun to think outside the circle and make a free-formed pie.
Every season is pie season but my favorite time for pie is right now; fresh fruits are in abundance and they are ripe and just begging to be picked and baked.  Most people have pie making staples already in their pantry: flour, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, coconut, lemon, chocolate…
There are many good reasons to bake a pie. I was inspired just this week by a rumbling Texas storm. I was reading one of my favorite books by Patricia Polacco, Thunder Cake, to my second grade class when I knew I had to go home and bake a pie. Thunder Cake is one of those stories that prove just how therapeutic baking is. It teaches us that once you truly emerce yourself in a project all those negative thoughts (in this case it was a little girl afraid of thunder) just vanish.

I have noticed many really good pie makers often have old fashioned names like Daisy, Honey, and Evelyn. This makes me think they were named after their mother’s mother and probably follow the same recipe that they used way back when...I very much want to be that grandmother whose house smells warm and inviting with a pie on the counter. Who knows, maybe my grandmother name will be Honey!   
I have three favorite pie recipes that I use all the time: almond crumb crust, my grandmother’s recipe for basic pie crust, and the French pie crust, pate brisee.

Almond Crumb Crust
1 ½ C flour
A heaping C of toasted finely ground almonds
½ C sugar
¼ t salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature and cut into small pieces)
Mix dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Pate Brisee
2 C flour
½ C cornmeal
1 t salt
1 T sugar
2 sticks of cold unsalted butter
½ C ice water
Place ingredients in a food processor and pulse, then add butter and process about ten seconds.  Divide in half, wrap, and refrigerate at least an hour.
My Grandmother Dodo’s Pie Crust
3 C flour
1 egg
1 1/3 C shortening (butter flavored)
4 T water
1 T apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt
Mix in a food processor. Cut in half and roll. Makes two crusts.
My Mom’s Three Berry Pie
1 C sugar
1/3 C flour
2 eggs
1 ½ C sour cream
1 C blueberries
1 C blackberries
1 C raspberries
1/3 C flour
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C nuts of your choice
3 T butter
Whipped cream
Combine sugar, flour, eggs, sour cream and vanilla in a bowl. Gradually fold in fruit. Spoon into unbaked pastry shell and bake 350 for 40-45 minutes.
*Try one of the pie crusts above. My favorite for this pie is my grandmother’s crust.
Ashley’s Fruit Galette
1 pint strawberries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint blackberries
1 stalk of rhubarb
½ C sugar
Juice of one lemon
2 T cornstarch
Pinch of salt
Lavender flowers
1 egg
Roll out cornmeal pate brisee to about 14-inch round and transfer to a baking sheet with a sill pad. Preheat oven to 375. Toss together fruit, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and salt. Arrange fruit mixture on top of the dough in the center. Fold border over the fruit overlapping and pressing down gently. Brush edges with egg and sprinkle with sugar and lavender flowers. Bake about 1 hour.

A book for your wish list is, Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies. I read Mrs. Rowe goes through about 35,000 pies a year and customers order their pie before dinner because her pies are so quick to run out. That’s got to be a REALLY good pie!
When the moon hits your eye like a big “southern pie” that’s amore!!

Sweet Home Alabama

A part of my heart will always remain in Dixie, in my second home, "Sweet Home Alabama." When the tornados hit Alabama on April 27th, it was devastating; but disasters have a way of bringing out the absolute best in people. Citizens from many states are coming together to help Alabama. The camaraderie and resilience of the people is stronger in Dixie than anywhere I’ve been.

The tornado that went through Alabama was more powerful than hurricane Katrina! It made its scary path through the center of Tuscaloosa where I went to college at the University of Alabama. Watching the news reports with my husband in disbelief, we kept checking in with our friends to make sure everyone was safe. Some of our friends lost their homes and possessions; some even lost their loved ones. More than 340 people were killed. The wind speeds reached about 200 miles per hour, more than 85 mph faster than an average racer in a NASCAR race. Houses vanished, thousands were injured and left homeless, the Tuscaloosa I remember is gone, and I don’t even recognize what remains. It looks like somebody bombed 15th Street where I lived at the University Downs apartments.
Like many others both with and without specific ties to Alabama, when we recovered from the shock and awe, our first thought was “How can we help?”
Living in the South, you learn about having a “safe-place” with your family, what funnel and wall clouds are, and you learn how to do tornado drills in school curling up into a little ball away from windows tucking your head and covering it with a thick textbook. We might get used to hearing the sirens and not experiencing a tornado. Then when the real thing happens, you know what to do but are never really prepared.  
Photo: The tornado charging 15th Street at University Downs Apartments.
Good things are happening as a result of this tragedy. Country music star Brad Paisley is donating all royalties from sales of his single Old Alabama to the Red Cross tornado relief. The University of Alabama athletics department is contributing one million to the UA acts of kindness fund established by the University to aid students, faculty and staff who were impacted by the tornado. Prom dresses were sent to high school senior girls so they might have a normal ending to the year. The best part is that citizens across the United States are coming together to raise money and help the all the storm victims, especially those in Alabama in those areas where the state was hit the hardest.
Alabama and Auburn are also coming together and setting aside the football holy war that is more primal than anything else in college sports. This time, the war in Dixie wasn’t about football; tragedy brought the teams together in the most heartwarming way. It’s become “Roll Eagle” and “War Tide” for the GREAT state of Alabama.  Recently when an Alabama man poisoned trees in Auburn, the Crimson Tide fans expressed their disgust and created a fund to save or replant the oaks. These acts of kindness are remembered forever. When something like this happens, people forget all their petty differences.
There are many helpful sites providing a chain of support and relief for tornado victims. Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa, T-Town, Never Down, RollTideRelief, Calfornia for Alabama, and With Love from Texas-Alabama tornado relief.
A Dallas group, With Love from Texas, spent the weekend organizing a truck with items for the tornado victims. As I carried in my first load of items that children from my school, friends, and family members who wanted to help donated, I was hit by waves of emotion. Everybody there was wearing an Alabama shirt, had huge welcoming smiles, saying “Roll Tide y’all,” and seemed so happy to be there helping. It was definitely one of the best things I’ve done all year. Some of the nicest people in the world are from Alabama! That’s why Texas loves Alabama! It was a little overwhelming but tears I cried were happy!
Diaper drives, food drives, fundraisers are going on all over the country. What looked like a traffic tie-up from a football weekend was actually volunteers coming from all over to help. Organizations like Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are organizing aid. The last time the Red Cross had set up such an elaborate system of shelters was after Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Walt Maddox, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, President Obama, even actor Charlie Sheen are all doing a great job bringing attention to Alabama.
Do you want to know how you can help? Get involved by checking in on one of the sites above and see what’s needed that you can provide. Volunteers from all over are helping organize clothes, food, baby items…What they need most are our prayers and our donations; money may be more helpful than supplies. Think about the children. I asked my friend who teaches in Tuscaloosa how we could help, she mentioned how they will need to buy all new computers for their schools. An easy thing that all schools could do is a coin drop; have children bring in loose change to raise money for Alabama schools. There are endless opportunities, just dive in and do it! Just like Big Al the Alabama elephant mascot, an elephant never forgets! Alabama’s gets a little stronger every day and will be even stronger tomorrow with the help of good citizens. I think it may be true that helping helps the giver as much as the person receiving assistance. Give it a try and see if you agree!
Photos: My friend Carrie Turner, a social worker and native Alabamian, volunteering with Charlie Sheen. Pictures below show the devastation of Tuscaloosa.  

Martha Graham: The Body Says What Words Cannot

Do you notice that when you get back from a great vacation your memories make that vacation seem even better because you constantly replay the good times in your head? The same is true with a great dance performance; you think about it and replay favorite parts that are forever etched in your memory. It becomes bigger and better long after it’s over. Dance is an art form that lives in your memories unlike a painting that you can see again.
Martha Graham was one of the greatest American artists; she broke the traditional mold of dance like Picasso did for art. Her work is classic, captivating, and powerful. She was a pioneer and a revolutionary in dance and her form of art is still relevant to new generations today. Her dance company is one of the oldest and most celebrated modern dance companies in the world.
The great thing about dance is that it continues to evolve and if it really speaks to you, it won’t be dated. Watching The Martha Graham Company at the Winspear last Saturday night, even knowing that many of the pieces were choreographed in the 30’s; I found that they still translate today.
The Martha Graham Company has been around for 85 years, founded in 1926. Graham worked with many famous icons: Gregory Peck, Bette Davis, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Liza Minnelli, Kathleen Turner, Betty Ford…She opened doors and broke down a wall between classical ballet versus modern dance but also all the arts…The skill and tradition that is in classical ballet makes modern dance seem indulgent because it’s so much more self-expressive and complex; but this is what makes you think AND FEEL! Ballet can be equally as radical but it’s not as organic and liberating as modern dance.
Martha danced up into her 70’s (like Margot Fonteyn).  I like the fact that Graham’s dancers are mature; this way they have a greater understanding and feeling of life because they have been seasoned enough to share the beautiful and ugly experiences that life peppered them with. Martha said, “It takes ten years to make a dancer; that’s ten years of training. It takes another ten years to find the being you are.”   

Raised in California, she was strongly influenced by Native American cultures and loved New Mexico. When Graham died at 96 in 1991 her ashes were scattered in New Mexico, a place where she found her greatest inspiration. Like The Doors musician Jim Morrison and modernist painter Georgia O’Keefe, Martha Graham was inspired by the beauty and spirituality of the Southwest that naturally envelops you. She was also, like Isadora Duncan, inspired by Greek mythology. You can see both Native American movements and Greek statuesque arms in her dances; the style is powerful and feminine accentuated by the loose hair and flowing dresses that bring out her liberating style even more.
Graham’s technique is centered in the Earth, unlike classical ballet, she embraced gravity. Movements are driven from the core of the body and breath is where the power comes from. This seems more natural to us today because many people are familiar with the practice of Pilates and yoga and the focus of the core and how breath is the instigator.
The Martha Graham Dance Company has some of the most memorable costumes of any dance company. In her most famous solo piece, Lamentation, a one person performance of a woman struggling in a tube dress shows an expression of grief. The audience feels the emotion of the dancer and then possibly their own. She used her costumes to enhance her dances.
I think the fashion industry should play more into the dance world. It would be such a pleasure to see the two art forms come together more often and collaborate to inspire each other. I’m thinking of a Project Runway challenge. How cool would it be to see the choreographer inspired by a costume and vice versa?   

What I enjoyed about the TITAS Martha Graham concert at the Winspear Opera House was that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by Graham’s powerful style. Sometimes you can have too much “in your face” modern that you need a refresher. I think back to when I was at the Vatican and remember that there was just so much elaborate detail in every corner that I felt like I needed to rest my eyes. But once you started walking out of the Sistine Chapel you could view some modern art in the halls to refresh your eyes.
The same is true for Martha Graham’s dance repertoire; she had some very powerful and aggressive pieces like Panorama which were very military-like. The red costumes highlighted the fierceness of the piece. Panorama was a special performance for Dallas because SMU Meadows dancers were lucky enough to perform with The Martha Graham Company. SMU made Dallas proud and I’m sure Martha too! There were also pieces like Lamentations Variations that made you think in another direction…struggle, grief, and the New York skyline. Every Graham piece has great feeling but each feeling fights a different battle.
To set the mood for the performances, dances opened with a video that explained the times (hardships of the 30’s) with narration and images to take you there. I enjoyed hearing Martha Graham’s voice as a prelude to a dance.
Having my degree in dance I have a strong background in Martha Graham’s history. Looking at the audience at the Winspear Opera House last Saturday night I couldn’t help but wonder how many people were seeing Martha Graham’s work for the first time. My friend was one of those people and she observed that the dances were heavy, powerful, and that they made you think. I’m sure Martha Graham would be happy to know her dances still have (and will always have) the power to speak, be timeless, and be relevant even to a first time viewer.
Dance is a universal language; through movement we feel, speak, and understand with no translations needed. The message doesn't need to be the same for every viewer, but the inspiration and motivation of the dance movement is relevant and successful if it results in causing us to think, and appreciate. Martha said, “The body says what words cannot” and “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.” I couldn't agree more.  
Photos: The Martha Graham Dance Company Lamentation Variations, Winspear Opera House