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Thursday, November 28, 2013

14 reasons to be thankful

On this Thanksgiving Day I’m sitting on the couch sick, as I have been much too often for the past month. But despite this lingering unwellness that the doctors can’t figure out, I still have much to be grateful for.

As Thanksgiving is on the 28th this year, I divided by two (because I'm not that ambitious) and decided on 14 things I’m thankful for on this day, in no particular order of significance:

1.) My hubby, of course. Othman unfailingly sees the bright side to everything and always sees solutions instead of problems… oh engineers. ;D He balances my negativity and classily puts up with my mood swings. He is a fabulous cook, a handy-man when time allows, a mover of heavy things and opener of sticking jars. He’s my translator, my bargainer, my always-willing errand boy. He does much more than he has to for me, and I love him all the more for it.

Pap and I outside
Casablanca's beautiful 

Hassan II Mosque last year.
2.) My big brother. Last year he became the only person so far to have visited us in Morocco, and it was wonderful to show someone so close to me how my life is now. Othman made the comment that it was cool I was doing his tour-guide job for him, and I agreed because showing off this country and my knowledge of it really made it feel more like my home. Additionally, at the wedding not only did Patrick give a lovely account of me knocking out his first loose tooth as a toast, but he also gave us a Canon Rebel as a wedding gift. It was extremely generous of him and it is being put to good, good use, as my Flickr and this blog can attest to. I wouldn’t have my camera if it wasn’t for him, so thanks Pap!

3.) Of course I’m thankful for all of my siblings, who have taught me so much about so many things, and who are all so different but who help make up our one-of-a-kind family. When I was little I was embarrassed to be so counter-cultural as to come from a big family. Sorry sibs! I love you all. =]

The ND contingent of said friends, with a plus-one 
taking place of a friend too pregnant to travel!
4.)       I’m thankful for my small group of friends-for-life, who I see rarely and don’t keep in contact with as much as I should, but on whom I can always rely for advice, love, laughs and great conversation. You know who you are, and know as you read this that I’m so grateful you’re in my life. Plus thanks for coming to an out-of-the-way very inconvenient Sunday wedding. You guys are the best.

5.) My turtles! I generally work evenings and Othman works days, so we each have a decent amount of time at home without the other. Sparkle and Chomper have a calming presence, and I love hanging out with them and watching them in their turtle world!

6.) My workplace. I love working at British Council for its facilities, my colleagues, and the opportunities I get there. There have been ups and downs throughout the 2.5 years I’ve been there, but even when things get rough the support of my bosses and colleagues is wonderful. I have worked with some amazing people and have learned so much from them. I'm truly happy to call many of my past and present colleagues friends. Also, I’ve had lots of health issues the past few years and have taken much more time off than I’d have liked to, and the understanding attitude of management is something I’m incredibly grateful for.

7.) The fact that almond flour here is about half the price as in the States! Meaning I can make delicious and easy GAPS recipes like this pumpkin pound bread one without breaking the bank.

Yummm-- so good!
8.) Related to that would be my thankfulness for the huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies that are available in Casa, at really affordable prices. Of course they vary by season, but that makes us appreciate the food we have all the more. Othman brought home 6 kilos of pomegranates last night because it’s the end of the season and we (especially me…) gobble them down like crazy. He also brought some of the first nice strawberries on sale too. When one fruit season ends, another begins. It would be much harder to eat as healthily as we do if we lived somewhere else.

9.) Speaking of eating healthily, I’m really thankful for GAPS. While the diet I follow now is more GAPS-inspired than strictly GAPS, cutting out grains and sugar from my diet has been a great change for me. While it didn’t help with my weight as much as I would’ve liked, my health has vastly improved thanks to it. So a big thank you to the ladies in the Sioux Falls homeschool group who introduced my mom to it, and thanks mom for having begun it with me and supporting me with it! And again of course thanks to my lovely husband who puts up with the meals I make as a result, and more importantly never complains about the ones I DON’T make! =]

10.) My parents. I've always been a daddy's girl, but I’ve become closer with my mom after reaching adulthood, and I’m firmly convinced that me getting out of the house was instrumental in growing my appreciation for them. Thank you mom and dad for being so supportive of your daughter who traipses all over the world then shows up for weeks at a time asking for things… like new bras, coconut flour and coconut milk, or even a wedding! You both are the best. =]

11.) My grandma Carolyn. Although she has always lived in Dallas while we moved around the country, she has always been a stable and loving presence in my life. Before she met Othman a bit more than a year ago I knew they'd get along well, but I didn't anticipate HOW well, and I'm so glad that Othman also has a soft spot in his heart for my grandma, because she truly is an amazing and wise woman. As I've gotten to know her better throughout the past few years I've realized that she and I are more alike than I could have ever imagined, and that I have so much to learn from her. It's hard being so far apart and I treasure every moment I get to spend with her, and hope there are many more to come. I love you grandma! 

The families merge. =]
12.) I’m thankful for Othman’s family and how they have warmly welcomed me both into their country and traditions but also into their family. Adjusting to life here has not always been easy, but they have been caring and kind throughout all of it. Othman has a very large extended family spread throughout Casablanca, and I’ve gotten to know some of his cousins, aunts and uncles quite well, and am grateful for their friendship and support.

13.) I’m American and Brazilian. Othman is French and Moroccan. Can we just take a moment to revel in how amazing that is? Our children will have 4 grandparents from 4 different continents. They will grow up multilingual. They will grow up with significant exposure to 4 different cultures. They will also bear the burden of loving people far away from them their whole lives, but Othman and I both grew up like that, and the benefits outweigh the sorrow, that’s for sure. I’m thankful that our children will be true citizens of the world.

14.) Finally I’m thankful that as I grow older I’m realizing more and more what it takes to have a happy life. It isn’t location-location-location as I once thought, nor is it just a matter of surrounding yourself with the right people. While those help, it goes deeper than that. Leading a happy life is a CHOICE, and one I have to remember to make every day. It involves being tolerant and accepting of others and myself. It means struggling to snap out of bad moods before they get rooted in. It requires me to make an effort to look on the bright side, and not weigh myself down with worry. If I choose to be happy I can be, and that revelation has made a big difference in my life the past few years. Sure I could have just listened to those self-help books/gurus and have been done with it, but for me this breakthrough took years of self-discovery and many helping hands to guide me through. So thank you to those special people, and also a frank thank you to myself, for choosing more and more often to be content with being happy.

What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy birthday Tessie!

Today is my littlest sister's birthday, and she is thirteen!! Welcome to teenagehood dearest sister!! Tessie is the most talented, caring and sunny baby sister anyone could ask for. She sings beautifully (had a school choir concert last night and was recently accepted to an All-State junior choir), has a magical touch and a huge loving heart when it comes to any kind of animal, and she is an AMAZING artist. How she can draw such realistic looking cartoon people is beyond me. Two cases in point:
I love the amount of detail she puts in. This 
one is just a doodle, probably from her math 
notebook! The way she made their hair flow in 
the water is just fantastic.
From realistic body sizes to Uggs and
 gestures, her cartoon people always
blow me away!

See here, her artwork tag on my mom's blog, for more! Seeing her art never fails to brighten any gloomy day of mine.

Given that Tessie's birthday is in November and I'm 11 years older than her I think I've missed about as many as I've been around for, which is a really sad part of being an older sibling.

This year I emailed her a little collage I made of her being the absolutely way-too-cute 3-and-4-year-old she was. She mostly knew it at that time, and it helped her get out of trouble more than once! That was probably all her older siblings' fault though, because who can't not spoil the baby?!

I'm not sure if she knows how beautiful she still is though. Here's a recent picture from the morning of my wedding, with her all dressed up as a junior bridesmaid:

Happiest of birthdays dear sister! Here's hoping that this coming year of your life is full of adventures, happiness and growth. I miss you tons and love you more!!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A French raclette in pictures

Last weekend Othman and I went to his parents' for dinner, and we had Raclette, a French meal similar in concept to fondue. The table was spread with food-- boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, slices of chicken breast for cooking, lettuce, ham, etc-- and a raclette machine in the middle. On its top is a hot plate that is perfect for cooking meat, and inside there are coils that heat up to a pretty high temperature. Each person gets a little tray on which to melt special raclette cheese, which is flavorful and melts well. You slip it in the opening under the hot coils and wait a few minutes for it to get nice and bubbly. Then you pour it over the food you've since prepared on your plate and gobble it up! It's a fun and communal way to have dinner, plus it's like having a heater in the middle of the table!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Back to art

Thanks to my friend Ingrid Pullar I recently designed and colored this little piece with colored pencils. Nothing special, but it was fun! I love geometric designs. =]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The case of Sherlock vs Elementary

As previously mentioned, Othman and I enjoy following TV shows together.A while back we got into BBC's Sherlock, much like most people with any taste and time to spare. We are eagerly awaiting season 3, said to be coming out next January. While we were quickly convinced by Sherlock, we began watching another Sherlock Holmes adaptation, Elementary, with a bit of a skeptical air. A year or so ago I happened to watch most of an episode of Elementary and was far from impressed. Being the pickier of the two, I've rejected quite a few shows after watching the pilot episode, and was hesitant to even give Elementary a chance. I'm quite glad I did.

Like Sherlock, it's an updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tales, but moves away from the originals quite drastically. Holmes, played by Johnny Lee Miller, is now a recovering drug addict living in New York City. His absent, rich and unforgiving father pays for a sober companion to live with him after he exits a rehab facility, not giving Holmes a choice about it. Enter Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu, a former doctor who moves in to keep him out of trouble. Miller's Holmes is significantly older than Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes of Sherlock, and Elementary is meant to take place after a long tenure of Holmes' with the Scotland Yard. That detail makes the entire set-up rather easier to swallow.

I do not claim in any way to be a Sherlock Holmes expert; unlike little sister Maria I have not worked through the massive collected stories of Conan Doyle, though I have been exposed to various interpretations and original stories from a young age. Already within the pilot episode we see a significant departure from the books (his dad was never mentioned, among the more obvious variations), so one might say the show is more inspired by the Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes rather than based on his stories. I will admit that these changes didn't leave me wholly convinced at first, and may lead others to dismiss the show prematurely. My recommendation: don't let them.

I love TV shows with significant character development. Othman is more intrigued by the story and what happens, while I focus much more on connecting with the characters. It doesn't matter how good a plot is-- if the characters don't have depth and the actors are mediocre, I can't get into a show. Elementary is such a hit in my book because Holmes and Waston, while not really what we might expect, are incredibly well played. In Miller's incarnation of Holmes we can see Sherlock's personality portrayed in a unique light, and he is 100% believable. His tics, battles with addiction and total self-absorption are well developed and considered in the show. There is a psychological aspect of Holmes that isn't particularly dealt with in Sherlock or in the orignals. Waston as well is much less one-dimensional than she could be, the chemistry between the two actors is strong and pleasant, and quite frankly I ended up convinced.

Without giving anything away, Elementary does play fast and loose with many of the stories/themes in Conan Doyle's original, but I for one accept them readily as a novel interpretation of a character that deserves more than one reincarnation.


I realize that I didn't talk much about Sherlock here, but in my book there's not much point in that, because everyone already loves it, right? Just defending the underdog I suppose. ;D

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Happy birthday Othman!!

Here he is a little while ago, hanging out with the turtles and his birthday present. I got him some nice headphones, since he likes to wear them while he listens to music at work. He has needed new ones for a long time, and I made sure to get him a pair that had "extra bass" written on the box, so his reggae will sound that much better. ;D

Love you so much dear, happy first birthday as a married man!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Othman's birthday dinner

Othman's birthday is tomorrow, and last Friday his family had a nice dinner for him, since his sister Sarah is now out of town. Here's a picture report.

Napkins and place mats from the
a gift this summer from my family.

Rfissa, a Moroccan specialty of chicken 
and lentils over ripped up mlawimulti-
layered Moroccan pastry impossible to explain 
and so so good. Generally mlawi is eaten 
sweet and hot with honey or jam. 
My love and his mama.
Othman's 12-year-old brother, Omar


Dessert spread. The pie is a dark chocolate 
coconut tarte that I've been making for a few 
years now, especially for birthdays. It's always 
a hit. I'll post up the recipe at some point.

Flowering Jasmine tea with
Moroccan tea cups.

Happy early birthday my love!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Back to choir once again

In great part thanks to my mother, I've sung in choirs for a large part of my life. I have, without a doubt, a "choir voice," and enjoy the opportunity to blend in and be a small part of something great. I remember singing in a children's choir somewhere in Princeton when I was 8 or 9, especially when we went Christmas Caroling at an ice rink I think. I think that was the only time in my singing career that I've had a solo, and I was hooked. My first two years of highschool I spent 45 minutes every day in choir, and participated in at least five separate concerts. At Notre Dame I was always too terrified of the audition and the time commitment to try out for one of the "real" choirs, but really enjoyed singing in the Spanish choir. We called it Coro and we sang for Spanish mass on Sundays and at some special events. It was completely student-led, and very informal; we didn't even have music, just binders full of typed-up lyrics. If someone didn't know how the song went, we didn't sing it! It was really lots of fun. My attendance dropped off sophomore year, and since then I haven't really been singing at all.

Until now. In September I auditioned (singing the lucky song that got me into the Girls' Select choir sophomore year of highschool: "Puff the Magic Dragon") for La Chorale Polyphonique de Casablanca-- an amateur choir that does a very good job of sounding professional. A close friend of Othman's mom, Marie, (who actually traveled with her husband Jamal all the way to our South Dakota wedding) has sung with the choir for years. I went with my mother in law to watch their concert last May and put simply, I was blown away. It was an hour-plus of absolute, cathartic joy. I went up to Marie immediately afterwards begging her to help me get involved as well.

True to her word, this September Marie put me in touch with the choir director Marie-Claire, who is incidentally the mother of one of Othman's best friends from his schooldays. She is incredibly talented, works extremely hard and has been organizing and directing the choir with absolutely no pay for more than ten years. She really is inspirational. Right now we're working on arrangements of "Te Deum" (Karl Jenkins), "The Battle of Jericho" (spiritual), "I've got Rhythm" (George and Ira Gershwin), and are about to start a monster of a song called "Les Djinns". She just sent us the link below to begin getting a feel for it. The choir focuses on three areas of music: classic choir music, world music and more traditionally Moroccan music. There is only one concert a year, in May, but huge amounts of work go into it.  

Sitting in my alto seat next to Marie (conveniently also an alto), creating absolutely gorgeous music with people from so many places (Morocco, France, England, Denmark etc) is such an uplifting experience. It makes me wonder how I lived without singing for so long. It's like therapy for free! Othman can attest to that-- when he picks me up at almost 10pm on Monday nights after a 2 hour rehearsal, I'm invariably in a fabulous mood. There's something so special about singing with others, even (or perhaps especially) for those of us who aren't particularly talented. A few months back Alli sent me this incredibly interesting NPR program that deals with the transformation people go through as they sing in groups, how it allows people to cope with life better, and why we react like that. Many callers relate their personal choir stories during the show and share how singing has changed their lives for the better. It may not be the most common of topics, but for anyone that has been in a choir before, every word will ring true.

Here's  a video of "O Fortuna" as sung at the concert last May, which we'll begin working on again next practice. If any of you remember Marie from the wedding, you'll see her during close-ups of the right side.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Our first picture together! 11/11/2006. Apparently
standing on rest stop picnic benches was the thing to do. 
Today is 11/11, a day I always pay attention to. I still make little wishes when I see the clock display 11:11, mostly because I know this number has brought me luck in the past. On this day in 2006 I became friends with a person who has shaped my life in many ways, and who has been the best of friends.

Reunited after I spent 4 months in
Brazil as a senior in highschool.
Moving to South Dakota my junior year of highschool was a tough transition for me. I was too shy to make friends at school and didn't have room in my schedule to take any "fun" classes like choir or art where I could have gotten to know other students better. Instead I ended up making friends in the homeschool group, but by the time November rolled around I hadn't really met anyone my age. 

Being studious on a Paris tour bus.
My mom approached me with the idea to go on a college visit in Kansas and stay there with Sarah, who was a freshman, had lived in our neighborhood in Nebraska and is still the closest thing I have to an older sister. I thought it was a great idea until my mom said I'd be going with Alli and her sister Susan, driven by their mom. Situations where I have to spend extended time with people I don't know well have always terrified me, and this was no exception. But I sucked it up and had a wonderful time. I remember us three highschoolers sitting in Sarah's walk-in dorm room closet and sharing secrets... it was a bonding moment and the beginning of something beautiful.

Our friendship took a few months to gain momentum, but that summer we went on a summer program at a college in California together, and though we were hardly glued at the hip there, we had tons of fun together.

Mojitos at the Brazilian grill,
summer 2011
We haven't lived in the same state since she went to college in Kansas (guess that visit paid off!) and me in Indiana, but we've always found time for each other when possible. We've spent time together in Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and while she studied in Florence and I in Angers, we even met in Paris for a lovely weekend. Now I'm in Casablanca and she's in Texas studying for a PhD in Philosophy, because she's incredibly bright and talented, much more so than she realizes. 

Al brought up this picture
recently. Goofing around in
our Paris hotel room I
pretended to be a "Muslim bride."
Alli is the first person I go to when I'm in a sticky situation and need some unbiased perspective. She calmly listens to my troubled rants and responds with such practicality and wisdom that I'm routinely put in my place. All those philosophy books must be having an effect! She's the kind of person that when our South Dakota visits only overlap one day out of a whole year, she drives up to our acreage when it's already late and stays up talking on my bed late into the night, and then has to get on a plane at 6am the next morning. She's the kind of friend that brings me a Starbucks with Bride written on it as I get my hair done the day of my wedding, after staying up late into the night at bonfires with my brothers and other guests, when I was fast asleep. She's a friend that I can't be thankful enough for. 
Summer 2013

I guess my only regret would be that we never took a picture together at my wedding... not sure how that happened. 

But anyway, happy anniversary Al. Thank you for your friendship. Love you girl.

Well phew it seems like we DID get a picture in at the wedding after all!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Voice-- France vs USA

As I mentioned previously, lying sick on the couch is something I've been doing a fair bit of lately. Reading is wonderful of course, but a TV break every once in a while is appreciated. Othman and I follow a few shows at a time on the internet, but for those, we watch every episode together. Since we don't have a TV, I needed to find something on the web that I'd like and Othman wouldn't. Actually, that's harder than you'd think! I settled on the American The Voice. I had only ever seen the French version, called The Voice: La Plus Belle Voix, and I love it. This spring we'd go have dinner at his parents' house every Monday, whether or not they were there, because I hated missing it. ;p His brother and mom watched it too, and we had fun comparing our favorites.

Seeing two incarnations of the same show is a very interesting opportunity for comparison between the French and American cultures.

On the American show, possibly because it's already in it's 5th season, I was astounded that the contestants are dominated by semi-professionals or prodigy highschoolers. On the French show of course there are contestants that fall into those categories, but not in such a majority. The result of that is the level of vocal performance is much less amateur, which makes it almost more fun to watch. But I do have to admit I started from the knockout rounds in the 11th episode, which might have my vision slightly skewed.

This might be due to my French not being perfect, so maybe I miss some of the technical talk, but there seems to be a lot more musicality discussed on the American show. The French coaches often focus more on interpretation.

I thought it pretty representative of American culture that all the singers in the US version are able to record their songs once they get to the live shows, and downloading the singles from iTunes counts as a vote. 

On the La Plus Belle Voix, contestants routinely come from all over the French speaking world, including many islands, North Africa,  Lebanon and even French-speaking Canada. The diversity is very cool. This season in the US version there's a Chinese-Jamaican which is awesome, but I'd love to see more of that. 

Here's a touching performance by Antony Touma, a Lebanese singer who I adored last season ("Embedding disabled by requeston Youtube, sorry): 

And this guy --> 
went pretty far in the competition, and he never stopped dressing like that! 

There is a lot more focus on the backstories of the French contestants. There is also more that surrounds the singing... people getting interviewed and caught being silly or rehearsing backstage, and lots and lot of interviews with the singers and their families. Because it's filmed in Paris, and France isn't huge, many more of the families can attend the shows in the audience, which makes for a charged, if emotionally, atmosphere. There are a lot more tears on the French version. ;D 

The French Voice contestants often sing songs in other languages, usually English, which adds a whole different level of difficulty to the contest, and I enjoy that. Sometimes the covers are pretty stunning, this one for example. Never really liked this song, but when she sings it, yes ma'am I do: 

There are lots of traditional French songs sung also, which is lovely for me as musical education. In the US we sadly tend to focus heavily on American and English-speaking artists, when there is so much more wonderful art to be found.

This incredible song by very-famous Jacques Brel, for instance.

Now listen to the version by a season 1 contestant:

Interesting similarities: they both have silly and plastic-looking hosts. They both have 3 male and one female coach, and both female coaches are pretty silly. Christina is more believable than Jenifer, which is almost unbelievable. 

Here's a video to leave you with. A magical moment I'm not sure we'd find on TV in the US. Keep in mind one singer is 16, the other is 18 years old. Incredible.


As the American Voice season progresses, here are a couple more observations:

--There were few-to-no families earlier on in the season, and suddenly they're ALL THERE. Hmmm.
--There are so many episodes! Even though the Tuesday episodes are kind of fillers, I like it. The French Voice shoves everything together into one episode, so they're really, really long.
--There are more behind the scenes things now but they're much more contrived than what we find on the French version.