Friday, February 21, 2014

Gratitude

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
~ Melody Beattie


Today I am grateful for being able to enjoy a sit down breakfast with my family ~
on a weekday!
manakeesh bi zaatar, olives, tomatoes and tea. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Birthday Boy

A year ago today the stars aligned, the universe conspired and God gave his word: I was to have a son! Not another girl as the maternal fetal medicine doctor had written on that piece of paper she gave Jeff. Not another girl as Jeff later told his late grandfather. Not another girl as I later would come to know. Not a sister for JR. Not Josephine Ramez as Jeff and I decided to name her. Not Josie as JR got used to calling her. Not a third female to outnumber Jeff. But a boy. The son I had always wanted. The son I thought I was going to have during my first pregnancy. The son I most probably lost during the second and third pregnancies. The boy who would carry the name onward. A brother to JR. Another man in the house to hold it together, to balance it out, to make it whole. A year ago today we received the news and were left speechless. To this day, still, I often find myself much of the same ~ I wake up and amaze at the boy laying next to me; the son I always wanted never thought I would have.

Happy birthday Yousef. You have been a miracle, a blessing, a gift.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Eat well; Spend little ~ Ifrane

What would you expect to pay for a three-course home-cooked meal out? 8$? 10$? 15$? 20$ How about the equivalent of 3$!

On Monday, the kids and I met Jeff downtown to take care of an issue at the bank. I had thought that the matter would take a few minutes and so I left the apartment unequipped with snacks for the kids. Unfortunately, minutes turned into an hour and before you know it the kids were hungry and I was left wondering what to feed them. There were few options to pick from in the vicinity where we were, unless we wanted to leave the establishment smelling like cigarette smoke, or overpaying for a less-than-average tasting pizza. We decided to see if we could find a cab that would drive all four of us together; apparently there is a rule that a taxi can only take three passengers at one time, although many drivers decide to break that rule as they see fit. Luckily we found one that agreed to cab us all back to the compound where an apartment turned restaurant was located.

We had heard about the Faculty Club as soon as we arrived in Ifrane. However, we had always preferred to dine at the snack bars and faculty restaurant on campus rather than eat at the one down the street. For one, we were never sure about its hours of operation, it was a hassle to juggle the bus schedule with office hours and work requirements and finally I had always wanted to get away from the monotony of my immediate surroundings. Lately, however, and considering the weather, proximity and a desire to try new things have been prompting us to seek pleasures close by. We thus marked our first visit to the Faculty Club which left us hungry for more (no pun intended!)!

We were greeted by the owner of the place, who also serves as the waiter, the cashier and the bus boy. All the tables were beautifully set with red tablecloth, cloth and disposable napkins, water glasses, forks, spoons, and knives; missing were the disposable place mats and kids coloring mats, this was a fancy affair. A water bottle refilled from the tap sat in the center of the table and around it stood upholstered chairs on one side and comfortable cushiony couches complete with throw pillows on the other; there were no high chairs or boosters for the little ones. A television broadcasting the news in Arabic filled the air along with the voices of other diners speaking in Korean, English, Darija and French.

Once seated the food was immediately served; missing were the six-page colored coded, finely described, attractively photographed menus. The ladies in the back cook whatever is fresh that day over an open gas flame in a huge pot and serve it hot and aromatic. There is no prep work, no reheating, no waiting for orders to be issued for food to be cooked. Everything is ready and served on a first-come first-served basis; just like at grandma's house. A hearty soup, or salad, followed by the main course, then fruits and yogurt. Finally a steaming hot glass of Moroccan mint tea with so much sugar it puts sodas to shame to wash it all down. Moroccan bread is laid out alongside the food with which to clean off the plates. The menu is fixed and so is the price: meat one price, chicken another. That is all the choice you get in the matter, and that is all the choice you need!

we had split pea soup, and
beef, bone-in tagine with preserved lemons, green olives, and potatoes.

Oh! I forgot to mention: no tip was necessary, or expected!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ten Dollars of Produce in Ifrane

While we do not typically buy our fruits and vegetable at the marchĂ©, lately, and because of the cold weather, we have found ourselves choosing convenience and speed over price and variety. We found a grocer we connect with who usually stocks up on fresh produce over the weekend, who cuts us a good price and who bags the best of what he has for us rather than giving us the day-olds. He is gentle and kind with the kids and usually offers them a pear, a banana or an apple at the end of the transaction; one for each! At one time he even offered us what lemons he had left at no cost. 

Last Saturday we went on our usual fruit and veggie restocking trip and returned home loaded with purples, yellows, reds, oranges and greens ~ both in edibles and cash; all we had spent was 80 MAD. 

Here is what the equivalent of 10$ bought us:

~ 1 kilo* of babanas
~ 1/2 kilo of strawberries
~ 1 kilo of grapefruit
~ 1 kilo of mandarins
~ 1 kilo of navel oranges
~ 1 kilo of pears
~ 1 kilo of potatoes
~ 1.5 kilos of onions
~ 1 kilo of tomatoes
~ 1/2 kilo of fresh green peas, hulled
~ 1 kilo of lemons
                     
and we even rounded up the cost to the advantage of the grocer!



        * 1 kilo equals 2.2 pounds

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Journey

“The journey was never meant to lead to some new and improved version of me; that it has always been about coming home to who I already am.”

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Abundance

"Abundance isn't success. Abundance isn't perfection. Abundance isn't some fancy word for money. Abundance is simply being content with what you have, and who you are right now." 

~ adapted from the Abundant Mama Project


and right now I am a wife, a mother and a daughter.
for now that is enough. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gratitude List ~ Ifrane

It is after midnight and I have been thinking about all the things "good" about life in Ifrane. A gratitude list reflects what my family and I have been blessed with and what I am thankful to have experienced. 

~ sit down breakfasts and family dinners
~ beautiful sunrises and colorful sunsets
~ clear blue skies and white clouds
~ fresh air, both cold and refreshing
~ winter snow, summer breeze
~ long days and short nights
~ radiant heat, both comforting and sweltering
~ tank tops in the middle of winter inside, all bundled up outside
~ all the hot water I can use, supplied at a low cost
~ full moons on clear nights and rays of sunshine through the fog
~ the downstairs neighbor and their trusty nanny
~ time alone with Yousef and shared playtime with JR
~ homemade meals that are entirely made from scratch
~ cooking with no recipes, baking with no exact measurements
~ breads and cakes and yogurts
~ pancakes and french toast
~ improvising with what is available; doing the best with what is on hand
~ no ready snacks, no processed foods
~ flexible schedules; late departures and early returns
~ lunch dates and afternoon walks
~ dinner parties and tea sippings
~ seasonal vegetables all fresh and cheap
~ mint and parsley at 25 cents a bunch
~ pomegranate, persimmons, figs and quince that are not luxury
~ artichokes, fresh peas, and fava beans; all the eggplant and beets I can eat
~ lemons that juice, bananas and grapes from down the road
~ fresh eggs bought by the one, placed in plastic bags
~ a butcher, a chicken guy and a produce seller who cut me a special price
~ a gated community; a safe place to play
~ sleeping with doors unlocked; trusting the apartment to a stranger
~ the sounds of the athan floating through the air
~ helpful hands around each bend
~ time to write, read, cook and play
~ daily showers, baths, sink cleanups
~ a stronger marriage, a happier family
~ a little boy and a not-so-little anymore girl
~ a wonderful husband, and a supportive family
~ healthy kids, fit and energized
~ rosy cheeks colored by the outdoors
~ friends in the distance
~ few distractions, no obligations
~ little to do and no where to go
~ a lot of peace and a lot of quiet; no horns, no bells, no sirens; no rings or tone; no planes and no trains
~ the green, the blue, the white
~ life that is basic, simple, and unobstructed
~ living focused on the here and now, on the immediate and important
~ life as it is meant to be lived
~ a sleepy town in the Atlas mountains; a little town lost in time, sitting at the edge of the map.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Morning

Every morning I wake up to a beautiful sunrise. I take a moment to notice, then I take another to capture. I have set an intention to photograph as many of these as I can before I leave Ifrane. Here is one from Tuesday. 



Monday, February 10, 2014

Winter outside, Summer inside

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." 

Albert Camus




Saturday, February 8, 2014

Painted Toes

Some time ago I signed up to receive Emerging Women's newsletter in my inbox. Every week I get an email and most of the times I immediately delete it without going through its content first. Every once in a while I stop and read in the hope of finding a message that resonates with me, words of wisdom I can take and make my own, actions I can foster and form into a habit. Last week I heard my calling.

The email, received on February 2nd, was titled "The Power of Choosing Your Words Wisely." I had an "Ah-ha" moment. For some time now Jeff and I had been discussing the power of words and how words affect our perceptions, and our actions. But discussing and seeing are different things, at least to me. Some people learn by hearing, some people learn by seeing. I am of the latter. Seeing the words on paper struck the cord that Jeff had been trying to strike for years. I copied the quote, published it on my blog, and proceeded to read the post.

There were a few items on the agenda but only one that stopped me in my tracks: "From Stupid to Silly with Self-Love." The item summary went as follows: "It’s not only the words we say that have power, but also the words we think." Another "Ah-ha" moment. Another lesson I have been trying to learn. I clicked on the article and read on. It made sense. I wanted to delve deeper. I clicked on another link. It lead me to the Self Love Movement. I was skeptic but kept on reading. Both kids happened to be napping together, the dishes were done, the house was clean, dinner was ready and laundry was growing behind the bathroom door, so I had time to explore.

And explore I did. And downloaded the free e-book offered on the site. It was free so I had nothing to lose and so much to gain. And gain I did. I have only had the book for a few days and read through the first few chapters and yet I can say with confidence that it has had changing effects on me. I had posted about my change in perspective and how I was finally good and ready to perceive what has always been in front of me. Well now I am starting to put this change in perspective into action.

Throughout the book Daylle poses exercises to aid in breaking the pattern of negative self-talk and foster self-love. And while I am yet to fulfill many of these one that I have been consciously and duly applying is showing myself love randomly throughout the day. From lighting a scented candle, to taking a shower, to eating chocolate I have been mindful and deliberate in my effort at being kind and loving to me. So rather than doing the dishes today, I painted my toes. The bottle of manicure had been sitting on the shelf since we arrived in Ifrane, and before that it had sat unopened in the bathroom cabinet for at least three seasons. It was a gift from my mom and I had been too lazy and too cheap to try it out; I did not want to spend the money on nail polish remover and I could not be bothered to take it off even if I had had the nail polish remover on hand. Today, though, I said "enough!" It was time I made time to enjoy the little things, like red toes. And so, I painted them and marveled at how little time it took to do something "nice" to myself. And by doing that, I made myself feel good, which in turn translated into having a better day. Why had I waited so long for this? Because, I was just not good and ready yet!


Friday, February 7, 2014

Where we "hang out"

When it was nice outside, the kids and I spent a lot of time outdoors. As small as this town is, there still happens to be a "down town" area where people gather, sit at coffee shops, sip Moroccan mint tea, dine and even dance. Yes! there is a pub/club in town and if you happen to live at the university downtown residence then you are up all hours of the night from the sounds coming from the adjacent facility. There is even a liquor store near the club (gasp!) and a few drunk Moroccans can be spotted outside on a Saturday evening.

A few banks have branches there, as does Maroc telecom. You can find the town's only un-wified cafe, a couple of barber shops and hairdressers, and small souvenirs shops. There is a pharmacy or two, and a couple convenience stores called "supĂ©rette". A couple of "Moroccan-style" hotels, and an expensive Western-style resort/spa, are located within a few meters from the center of town. There is a small open space consecrated for trade shows and presentations, and a handful of water fountains that run during the warm season, but which are fenced all around to prevent accidents.


To the people who live in Fes and Meknes, the two closest cities to us, Ifrane is the weekend destination. It is a mountain town with plenty of green spaces, water fountains, and a pedestrian enclosure where the kids can roam free, feed the pigeons and pick flowers. In the winter, they come here in droves to look and play with the snow and spend the day as local tourists.


To the international tourists, Ifrane is a stop on their way to Marrakesh on their scenic mountain-road drive. They stop for the day, having passed the royal palace on their way in, dine at one of the cafes, take photos in front of a famous lion stone sculpture, whose story and history are a cause for interest -  the popular story of its origins involves an Italian inmate who reportedly sculpted it out of limestone - and then continue on their way.

To us, it is another place to hang out when we are tired of our gated community, the campus and the road in between. We do not see ourselves as "tourists" and so we have not yet captured the moment in front of the statue. Some weekend days we walk there and enjoy breakfast outside, others we head over in the afternoon on the bus or by foot and let JR run around the water fountain and play with other kids. One time we even "dined out" on pizza at one of the restaurants, and while the outing itself was fun, sitting indoors surrounded with smokers was not much fun. We decided to stick with "eating-in" since then.


Only once did I attempt to head there with the kids during this winter season and that was the first and last time; the kids and I had to sit at the coffee shop all dressed in our winter gear. When I mentioned this to a friend, I understood that it is common practice for the cafes and restaurants to be unheated even in the coldest of weathers; it costs too much to heat these places up. The workers just bundle up and the clients are expected to do the same. If the sun is shining and the wind not blowing, which so far has proved to be a rarity, the customers sit outside, still all bundled up. The luxury of a warm indoors is reserved for the houses and you have a choice: the comfort of your home or the change in scenery coupled with the cold at the cafe. For me the choice was easy!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Perspective

We have been gone from our homeland almost five months and I am not going to say "boy where did the time go"; I know exactly where the time went ~ in Beirut! The two months I spent in Beirut were not only life-saving but also life-changing. I needed to get away from the quiet of Ifrane, I needed to head back to the city, I needed to be part of a hustling urban life again, I needed to be with a support system beyond my husband, I needed to be out and about, I needed good food and much love. And, I got more than I bargained for staying with at my uncle's house, sharing a three-bedroom apartment with him and his wife and live-in maid and my cousin, her husband and their baby.

I got love, I got food, I got family. I also got perspective. I got perspective on paying attention to what matters most. On sitting still and watching the world go by. On surviving rainstorms, cold waves and uncertainty. On spending hours in the kitchen, days at home and nights awake. I got perspective on doing things I enjoy, slowly, deliberately, with intention.

I witnessed my uncle's wife cooking away so that we can enjoy her labor, serving us only the best of what she made, setting aside what did not meet her expectations. I saw her start making a dish from scratch because the end result was too runny, too tart, too doughy. I saw her mixing love with joy with sweat to bring forth elaborate meals and wondrous dishes. I saw her heart and soul and pride at the table and in every dish. I saw that and marveled.

I saw my aunt making her way to her beauty salon religiously every morning. At 8:30 she would stop by on her way to work, talk in a loud voice, open bedroom doors, wake up those who are still sleeping, "force" feed those who have not eaten, dress those who are still in their PJs, catch up on the previous day's events and heads out promptly a few minutes before 9 to open shop. She rarely had appointments that early but she still made sure the salon was open at the expected time. She also rarely had late appointments but she also made sure she closed shop at the expected time. Even during the day when work was slow and there was a lull in customers she would stay put loyal to whoever may show up unexpected.

I spent time with a friend whose husband works in a different country and who is raising three kids on her own. She spends her mornings and evenings and at times everything in-between with her dad making sure he sees his grand kids as much as possible. She and I met on the street as we were walking our kids to preschool. We immediately connected and became almost inseparable for six weeks. We talked, walked, baked and hung out as much as we could, rain or shine.

I spent time with another friend, one I did not think I would reconnect with after years of separation who is raising four kids, one of whom has a learning disability. She and I grew up together, moved apart, reconnected a few years back, slacked off in connecting and then came together again. Every Wednesday and Saturday we would come together and watch our kids play. We chatted about life, the present, the past, the future. We shared mothering tips and tricks. We fed the kids. We looked at old photos and thought back to when we were kids; those were the days!

I spoke to my mom on the phone; she was sad and lonely. I checked in on my dad; he is old and sick. I missed them both, the kids missed them both, they missed us. Yet, they were both going about their days as best they could: my mom waking up in the morning, getting dressed, walking to the bus stop, having her morning coffee, heading to work. Working her shift, bundling back up and heading home to dinner and sleep.

I spent time with family; a lot of time with a lot of family. I saw my Teta and Jeddo; they are old, and live by themselves in the same house they married in. They met the kids; that made the move to Ifrane worth it. I connected with my cousins and their kids, with my uncle's wife who had a double mastectomy, with my uncle's wife's family who are welcoming and very loving.

I spent time with my kids, walking the streets, visiting the stores, being outside. I saw rich relocated Syrians and poor displaced ones. I chatted with the rich and thought often of the poor. I helped where I can and watched, amazed, grateful, speechless and breathless as JR did the same; sharing her change, her snacks, her thoughts with the children on the street. Her questions, ponderings, and reflections on their situation made my heart swell with love, joy, and pride. I remarked at the little boys who stopped at nothing to get a few pennies; standing in the way of cars, chasing after them, hanging from the open windows as they started up at a green light. If only they would take this determination with them when they grew up.

I also spent a lot of time inside, surrounded and alone. And I learned, or rather I re-learned, lessons that have always been in front of me. I learned about perseverance, patience, love, generosity, hope, faith, letting go, relaxing, dedication, loyalty, sacrifice, loneliness, old age, sickness, health, finding a way, getting past setbacks, giving and getting second chances, and starting over - always starting over. It is amazing how one can go through life side by side with valuable lessons and yet never really see them until one is good and ready. I think I am finally good and ready.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The power of words...

This is a note to self:


“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ~ Lao-Tze