Magical Morocco

 

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Recently, my son asked me if I thought I might enjoy a trip to Morocco. It didn’t take me 2 seconds to give him an answer. Yes! I would love a trip to Morocco! He booked our tickets and off we went. Our time flew by quickly, but a lot of experience and adventure can be packed into a short time!

Our first night in Casablanca, after a full day of walking and exploring hidden entrances and out of the way places, we spent the evening having a lovely homemade meal at the home of warm and generous local family. I ate large amounts of couscous, harira soup, and salads, only to be stuffed even more with cake, a trio of different types of cookies and multiple cups of strong, sweet mint tea. Despite the language barriers, there was much laughing, sharing of stories, smiles, and me being me, I got down to the business of asking them about their recipes and local kitchen advice.

The second night, we went to a buffet dinner. It was a beautiful evening for sitting outside while Moroccan music was being played and I enjoyed myself greatly. I did feel that there was a little too much fried food, but everything tasted very good. I spent the evening tasting a variety of appetizing dishes which were followed, of course, by the ever present mint tea. The following morning, however, when I woke up sick with diarrhea, chills, and severe headache, I realized that an open buffet had been a big mistake!

Fortunately, I was prepared. Having been sick a number of times in my travels to Malaysia, I now travel with a supply of antibiotics. I simply sent a text to my doctor, confirming whether or not I had the right medicine for the symptoms, and by the late afternoon of day four, we were on our way to Marrakesh!

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After spending the night in a ‘riad’ in the center of the maze of streets which make up Old Town Marrakesh, we took an all day tour high into the Atlas mountains. The tour guide took us further and further up into the mountains, through small villages where everyone seemed to know him. They ought to, he said, as most of them are his cousins. The roads were quite treacherous compared to what I am used to, but he knew his way well, and I had no choice but to put my faith in his abilities to get us safely to our destination. We made stops here and there, to take photos and to cross rickety bridges on foot and to hike up mountain trails.

The scenery was so breathtakingly beautiful that it was easy to let go of fear and simply enjoy the experience. On this sunny summer day, seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter of these local Amazigh boys, it was also easy to forget the absolute hardship that these families live in. These villages, 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) high in the Atlas mountains are completely snowed in and isolated for months out of each year. The Amazigh people are quite self sufficient growing apples, apricots, prunes, cherries, vegetables and nuts, as well as raising chickens, goats, and sheep, and they preserve this bounty to supply them during the winter months.

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Finally we reached a particular little village where a local family was waiting and had a meal prepared for us. What a welcome after a long tiring day! We were seated ‘al fresco’ and immediately bottles of water were provided to quench the thirst from our hours of travel into the mountains. After being given a few minutes to refresh ourselves, a delicious meal of salad, chicken tajine and vegetable couscous was served in beautiful pottery dishes that are handcrafted throughout the region. A dessert of orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon followed, and of course… a pot of hot, sweet mint tea to help digestion.

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The next day we packed up and were on our way back to Casablanca. After an extremely full and adventurous first week in Morocco, a little rest and relaxation was in order. Where better to achieve this than in a beautiful suite on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean? Days of long walks on the beach, leisurely breakfasts on the balcony, and coffee and pastries in a nearby cafe. For me, a Moroccan hammam, or bath, to scrub away every vestige of travel dust, a 90 minute massage to relax road weary muscles, and a manicure/pedicure so that I could sparkle and shine and I was set to leave for Washington DC.

It was with mixed feelings that I said goodbye to Morocco. Due to the sickness, the trip was a bit more exhausting than I had anticipated, but the warmth of the people I met made me feel so welcome… a part of the family. These people made their way into my heart. What with that and the deliciousness of the food, I will be returning to Morocco very soon!

 

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Bloom!

TEA SHOP & CAFE

Have you ever heard of Tumair? You haven’t? Don’t feel bad. It’s a small patch of desert outside of Riyadh. Not even a village, but you may find a bedouin tent or two on your way, assuming that you have a reason to be heading that way. For the record, most Saudis don’t know where it is either.

A few people know of it’s existence however, and find it worthwhile to make the trek in a 4×4 with a good GPS system to see a display that most people have never even heard of. A group of around 20-25 people will show up just before noon, searching for the long green leaves poking out of the earth. Then they will stake a spot, and sit in the sunlight, cameras aimed, and watch as the irises slowly open their petals one by one in greeting, softening for a few short days the harsh desert land which surrounds them.

The thing is, these beautiful flowers simply bloom under the most unlikely circumstances.  They don’t stop to worry that the camels may trample them down, or that in the dry desert heat they have no chance of survival of more than a day or two. They bloom because beauty is their gift to share with the few people who come to see them each year as they put on their spectacular show.

I could learn a lot from the irises of Tumair. Instead of thinking about where I would rather be, or where the weather is better, or the grass is greener, I need to enjoy life for what it is in this moment. I must bloom wherever I happen to be!

 

What you seek…

I began quilting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, while expecting my youngest daughter. She is now 22. I’ve been doing this for a while. About seven years ago, a dear friend was making a double wedding ring quilt. She encouraged me to make one as well. I hesitated only a little, but she convinced me of my ability, and she loaned me the templates and a small rotary cutter for the many tiny pieces that I would need to cut. Over 2000 pieces as it turned out!

I dug into my stash of fabrics, and gathered more scraps from my beautiful group of quilty friends. I love scrappy quilts. They hold such vast potential for stored memories, each fabric having it’s own little history, and each one is absolutely unique. However, scrappiness can lead to discordance, so I prefer my scrappy quilts to have some type of underlying theme to bring the look together. Most often, that means a soft creamy background paired with small prints. My friends know of my penchant for florals and soft colors, and donated accordingly.

I went to work cutting and sewing in complete tranquility, enjoying the process much more than I would have guessed possible. Thanks to the precision of the templates, the pieces just seemed to fall into place, and the top took only a few weeks to put together. I was thrilled to see how the rings crossed each other perfectly, soft colors blooming throughout. Now it was time to layer and quilt my lovely top. Yet, as often happens, life had other things in store for me.

Shortly after putting together that quilt top, it was decided that I would move back to the States with my two youngest daughters. This would give them a chance to go to pursue their studies there, as well as spend some time with my family. I packed up clothes, a few books, my Bernina, and many kilos of fabric. I was going prepared!

My plan was to continue quilting, and soon upon arrival I had made myself known in the local quilt store. I spent hours there each week, browsing, attending small workshops, and playing on the long arm quilting machine, just for fun. I even designed some quilt patterns of my own. I was also pulled, kicking and screaming, into a somewhat elite group of hand quilting enthusiasts, and despite my misgivings, I came to love the process of hand stitching.

Life had a few more surprises in store for me. I took an art history class at the community college, and I found the teacher so inspiring, that I decided to get a degree in Fine Art. This was actually something that I had dreamed of when I was younger, but had never had the opportunity to pursue. The next two years went by as if in a dream. Painting, drawing, ceramics, and being surrounded by so many talented people was an amazing experience for me.

The same year that I graduated, I returned to Saudi Arabia with my youngest daughter. She had been admitted into a two year animation program which was just too good to let slip by, so I set up a studio for myself and did some painting, made a lot of jewelry, and began to make a very small name for myself in the community. Later, I also went to work full time. At first I was keeping up pretty well, but the busier I got, the less time I spent on my art, until finally my supplies lay unused and dusty in the studio.

A little over a year ago I was digging through some boxes that had been stored away. I was surprised to find my quilt top which had been packed away 6 years before! I had completely forgotten about it! How fortuitous that I had found this quilt top just as I was preparing to go visit Evelyn, my long time friend and the best quilter I know.

Some people say that nothing in life happens by accident, and in this light, one might be tempted to think that my quilt top was seeking me, imploring me to finish it and give it a reason for being. I took the top with me, and Evelyn, who is always ready to help, insisted that we work together to layer and baste the quilt right then and there. She had the batting and a large piece of muslin for the backing, so we worked together and spent that afternoon basting the quilt by hand.

I spent over a year doing a bit hand quilting here and there, not really accomplishing very much. Finally I decided that if I was ever going to finish, I must give myself a deadline. I told myself that I would finish completely by February 14. I worked hard at it, and as my deadline loomed, I realized that I still needed to add my binding. Another trip to Evelyn to learn how to attach a curved binding was in order.

Happy to find a beautiful length of lavender floral fabric in my stash, I wasted no time cutting, pressing, and attaching my bias binding to the scalloped edges of my quilt. All that was left was to turn the binding and stitch it by hand to the back of the quilt. I was thrilled when I took my last stitch in the binding two days ahead of schedule. A sweet valentines gift to myself!

The life you have led…

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The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.                                                        ~Anna Quindlen

Stepping into a new phase of life can be exciting, and a little terrifying. Think of a child facing her first day of school, entering a classroom full of strangers, not knowing quite what is expected, yet feeling a sense of awe and excitement. Close your eyes and inhale the scent of crayons and fresh new tablets of paper in the air. Can you remember the emotion you felt at that age?

Imagine now, a young woman, ready to give birth to her first child, while she has spent most of life as a child herself. Fear mixed with anticipation and the joy of being a mother, of fostering the well-being and happiness of someone who will depend on her for comfort and sustenance. What an awesome responsibility, and a privilege!

Fast forward. Children grow up. They finish their studies, and there is no longer any need to wipe runny noses, tie shoes, or adjust sweaters over little shoulders. Slipping into this new stage of life becomes bittersweet if one isn’t ready. (Is one ever ready?) It takes a bit of soul searching to see that there are still things to look forward to, things to be awed by, and that everything good is not lost.

This is my chapter. My time. And I am happy to say that there are some real bonuses. Life slows down and I now have time to relax when I need to. More naps are taken, and I feel less urgency to fight every injustice in the world. I am calmer. I am less concerned about my looks, or my weight or how others view me. And I am a thousand times more tolerant than I have ever been. I am a softer, kinder, gentler me.

This is not to say that I have given up on dreams or ambitions. If anything, I feel a renewed energy to follow my heart, because I have fewer obligations outside of myself. I love travel and adventure with a new enthusiasm. I am extremely grateful for my life, and I have opportunities that many only dream of. I also have the courage, and I jump at chances that most would never dare to take, because to live an awesome life, you have to be willing to take a few risks.