My Photography

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The beach house

Othman's family's beach "house" (read: little apartment in a nice complex) is a common destination for us on the weekends and during the summer. In August I felt like I was there almost every day! The complex is called La Alcazaba and they've had the apartment there since Othman was 16 or so. It's 20 minutes south of Casablanca and it's a wonderful place to enjoy the beach, being much less crowded and less dirty than the Casablanca beaches. 

When we lived with Othman's family we went there very often, taking long walks on the beach (so cliche, and so wonderful) and having fun cooking for ourselves. When my family was here last month we spent a couple of nice days there, eating and exploring the beach. My mom felt right at home, having grown up on the opposite side of the Atlantic in Rio, and my sisters loved the unusual experience of being at the beach! 

This happens quite often on the way there. The
white buildings in the background are Acazaba!

A week ago we spent a quiet Sunday afternoon here with Othman's parents and uncle. It was a nice break from school and I took the opportunity to get some photos with the old iPhone my sister Isabel gave me this summer. (She got an upgrade and her iPhone 4 was hanging around doing nothing, so I took it, even if I can't unlock and use it here, it can be useful in situations like this!)

My vantage point while reading on the patio.

Heading up the the beach.

I can't go to the little "cafe" anymore without having
a major dose of nostalgia upon seeing the tables I sat
at with my parents, aunts, uncle and Alli!

I've often talked with my friends here who grew up on the beach, and it's interesting how our childhoods play such a vital role in our preferences. I like the beach, but it doesn't speak to me the way the rolling hills, small forests and plains like those I grew up in in Midwest America do. Many of those I've met here have the opposite feelings, and only feel really at peace and comfortable by the ocean. (I for one find it almost frustrating-- you can see so far but you only have access to the edge!) 

Now that school has started the place is deserted but for a few.
There were a couple horseback riders to keep us company though!

These are the buoys they use to mark off the "safe to swim" area.

The colors and architecture are really lovely, and even when it's full to the brim in summertime, I still find it a nice place to be, and very different from where we are every day.

At the cafe-- the ocean on one side, this view on the other.

I feel extremely privileged to have married into a family that has assets like a beach house, even if I sometimes feel like a snob when mentioning it. The fact of the matter is that Moroccans often tie up their money in real estate since it's a safe and good investment here, so having a second or third home is very common among those who "have". Usually I'm able to get over my guilt and enjoy my luck!

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to keep track of your books (or: This post is not about Kindergarten)

Well it is still the case that I'm in Kindergarten mode 24/7 (including very detailed dreams of lessons I've planned for the next day going wrong...), so I haven't had much time to blog lately. Nor have I had many topics, because this blog isn't the place to explain the cool lesson I taught today, or to fawn over my super-adorable students and their super-adorable personalities. Even so, here's a cute picture from class yesterday:

I could go on and on about the shapes lesson we did, which involved a
 vocabulary game playing rock paper scissors, or the learning how to use
glue sticks component, or about all the cute shapes and shape "families"
they drew on their mini whiteboards, but instead I'll just say: awwwww.

Now that that's out of my system, I'll talk about another of my favorite things (after kids and teaching)-- books!

A colleague at British Council introduced me to sometime last spring, and I've found it to be a really useful tool since. Shelfari has a "bookshelf" for each user with three categories: "I plan to read" "I'm reading" and "I've read", with a 5 star rating system for finished books. It has just about every book ever to search for and browse through, including synopses quotes, reader reviews, discussions, characters, even glossaries! It's a very cool resource, plus you just need your amazon account to log in (because you most likely already have one of those).

Living in Morocco it's hard to get my hands on English books, so I read mostly whatever comes my way. The upside is I read all sorts of interesting things I'd never have picked out myself, but the downside is my list of "to read" books just gets bigger instead of smaller, yet I keep forgetting what titles are on the list! So this site helps me keep track a bit and when I was in the US this summer I was able to move a couple books to the "I've read" list, which gave me a nice feeling of accomplishment.

The reason I even thought to write about Shelfari now is that I recently added two books to my profile. I'm currently reading one of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street novels, and loving it. My mom brought it on my family's Morocco/Euro trip and had finished it by the time she left so she gave it to me to read. I'm so happy she did because I really am enjoying it!  

Also, I recently finished a really interesting non-fiction book given to me by my friend David when I saw him this summer in Chicago. Written by a husband-and-wife investigative journalist team, it's called Provenance and is about a con-man and a forger in England operating in the late-80s and early-90s, who successfully created and sold a huge number of forged modern art paintings all across the world, and created fake "provenances", or histories (receipts of sale etc) for each. The story was incredible and the writing very fast-paced and entertaining, and full of tons of characters from all over the world. The fact that it was all real made it that much more interesting. I especially loved considering where I was and how old I was throughout the timeline, since the story spanned more than 10 years, all during my early childhood! I really enjoyed the read, and learned a lot about the art world in the process. David works at an auction house, and while I still don't really know what he does, now I've had a little glimpse into that world!

Anyway, here's a link to my profile/shelf. Take a look at the site, and if you like what you see and sign up, add me as a friend!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Week one of Kindergarten? Check!

Sometimes after I've done something for the first time I reflect on how that experience has changed me. Like never again will I NOT know what sheep liver shish-kebabs taste like. And never again will I NOT know what Dubai feels and looks like; or Paris, or Essaouaira. Never again will I not know how it feels to be a Moroccan bride. And now, never again will I not know what it's like to teach Kindergartners. 

To be honest, I've been eat-sleep-thinking Kindergarten for what seems like 24 hours a day for more than two weeks now. Even in my dreams I'm planning classes or seeing what happens when they don't go right! The week before school started was really the ONLY time we had to prepare, and with absolutely bare-minimum materials, so it was full steam-ahead... and then Monday morning arrived! But we made it to day one, and now we've made it through week one as well!

I'm teaching a lovely little class of 5-year-olds. There are only 6 of them for the moment, but on Monday I'm getting another, and more people are coming every day to check the school out. Just in this past week enrollment jumped from 30 to 40 students! Now that the construction is finishing up (note that present continuous tense there...) and classrooms are set up, its easier for people to see the place as a functioning school! We still don't have all the materials and furniture comingour desks, tables, chairs and bookshelves are all borrowed from our Arabic-language sister school right nowbut we've been able to make do quite nicely. 

Here's a glimpse at my classroom as it looked after the first day at school. It's a bit empty, but again, more materials are on their way. And this afternoon there were already quite a few more things on the walls!

This year most of the Kindergarten curriculum will be focused on EFL, with a heavy dose of literacy, but of course Kindergarten is a really important year and I need to include a lot of time for the development of other skills toofrom fine motor to math to social. I'm very happy I did so much research and reading into Kindergarten over the summer because I don't feel over my head, just excited and ready for a challenge! I don't actually have an English textbook for my class yet (it's on order), but that's where my EFL experience really comes in handy, because I've had plenty of ideas to fill up the time.

I'm in charge of the Pre-K and K department of the school, and during the week before school I not only had to set up my room and get materials for it, but also for the quiet/naptime room, the play room (which is the arrival/dismissal waiting area for all the kids at this point, while numbers are small and construction is on-going), and the art room. I also will have an office, but while we wait for furniture it's doubling as a storage closet! 

The play room

These past two weeks have been full of challenges and frustrations, but have also been a wonderful learning experience and it has been lovely getting to know my kids this week! I wish I could post some of the fantastic pictures I've taken of them so far, but won't for obvious privacy issues, so you'll just have to take my word for it that they're beyond adorable. They're all quite different developmentally though, and having such a small class is great because I already know so much about each of them! I'll be able to really tailor our studies this year to their needs, which is so important and motivating for me. 

The ball pit is, obviously, a HUGE favorite.

On top of that, the administration side of my job is interesting as wellmaking schedules, liaising between teachers and admin, doing a fair bit of recruiting as well as some basic organization/shopping has been really invigorating.

Between the other K-section teachers and I, we're taking care of Art, Music and PE for the Pre-K and K kids in the afternoons. I'm doing art every two weeks (during the other week it's the Arabic teacher who will do art for them, in Arabic) which will be fun. Seeing at my mom has been teaching art for years at homeschool co-ops, and the Pre-K teacher's mom is a music teacher, it all works out pretty well! This week we weren't going to do any of those extracurriculars, but the 2nd grade teacher shared this hand-print flower project with us, so I dove right in and we did it on Tuesday. The kiddos did the gluing, so it's not as flower-like as it could be, but it's still pretty dang cute!

Despite ongoing construction, the lack of materials and some other constraints, I'm really looking forward to a great year, and really excited not only about the kids I get to work with, but also my fellow teachers! We have a great team of high-caliber English teachers, and all of us have been able to collaborate and get along really well, which is a huge plus. Here's hoping things only get better from here!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New beginnings!

A bad picture of my new glasses! I love them. The old ones were so scratched I could barely see out of the left eye anymore. New glasses to begin a new school year!

Here's a better picture, with Othman's cousin Camelia before she left to go back to Belgium. We had a nice outing at Morocco Mall, chatting a lot, and I was able to enjoy the calm before the storm.

"What storm?" you may ask. Well the blog has been silent for the past week because I've been working from about 8:30 am to midnight solid every day getting ready for my first day teaching Kindergarten tomorrow! I'm actually in charge of the entire Pre-K and K section, and while our class sizes are extremely small there has been an enormous amount to do getting the classrooms, nap room, play room etc ready. Not to mention creating the schedule, meeting with other teachers, staff and parents, and just planning my own class! Here's hoping tomorrow goes as well as it can, and expect some pictures soon!! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sisters, art, happiness

Yesterday I was at doing some testing at British Council, talking to a student waxed extensively on the topic of her 3 younger sisters. With gleaming eyes she told me how close they all were and how they shared everything, and then said this little gem: "What's the point of having good news if you don't have sisters to tell it to?" I thought that was just lovely.

It made me think about my family, since I'm also the oldest of 4 sisters. Of course we have some boys thrown in there and the age range is much larger, but I could identify with her love for her sisters. When I'm home every summer I try to make sure I make good use of my sister-bonding time, and this past July my sisters and I worked on a fun project together. I got the idea for it while visiting friends Rene and Nathalia earlier during the 4th, seeing some really cute artwork they had in their kitchen. I asked if I could take a picture of it, and Rene told me where I could order the prints online, but I shook my head laughing why spend money on art like that when you have artistic sisters??

Bad quality pictures, but you get the idea.

All four of us sisters were involved to some degree, but Isabel ended up doing most of the work. She drew and wrote, and I directed and painted. Maria helped a lot with pre-production and Tessie with giving tips on watercolor techniques, plus supplying the paper and paints! I had never really worked with watercolors before and it was lots of fun to learn. We worked on the paintings bit by bit the whole time I was home. It was a nice project and I know these paintings will hang on my walls for a long time to come, reminding me of a special time spent with my sisterlies.

Last week I finally went to go get them framed, and a few days ago I picked them up, absolutely delighted with the results:

Super cute. Now I just need to get a kitchen big enough to hang them all in!! 

Here's a big thanks to Rene and Nathalia, Tessie and Bia, and most of all
 thanks Isa!!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Heaven in a pie

Do you like coconut? How about chocolate? Do you like chocolate and coconut in your desserts? Do you like chocolate/coconut desserts that are decadent but don't make you feel horrible for eating them? Do you chocolate/coconut desserts that are decadent, healthy AND easy to make?? Finally, does this look good??

I hope you answered yes to all of those. If you didn't, this post isn't for you.

Chocolate coconut pie

- 2 egg whites
- 2 cups +/- unsweetened shredded coconut (Can be sweetened if that's REALLY all there is, but it makes the whole thing way too sweet in my opinion. Also, the smaller the flakes are, the better.)
- Honey/sugar to taste
- Pinch of salt
- A bit of vanilla extract

- 2 egg yolks (See what I did there??)
- 1 bar unsweetened or semisweet baking chocolate
- A nice big splash of vanilla extract
honey/sugar to taste if unsweetened
- 1 cup coconut milk (This is about a half a can, NOT a whole one— if you put that much it’ll be a gloopy mess. Trust me on that one.)
For the crust, mix all ingredients together, and it should be slightly sticky. Press the mixture with your fingers to the bottom of a well-oiled pie pan, leaving a small edge all around the pan. Bake for roughly 15 minutes at 350°F, until edges and top are slightly browned.

Meanwhile, combine the filling ingredients in a small saucepan and melt on low heat, mixing constantly.

Once crust is out, let cool a couple of minutes, then add the chocolate filling on top. Let cool, once it’s about room temperature put it in the fridge until it’s time to eat.

I’m sure you could put whipped cream or raspberry sauce or something on the finished product and it would be lovely, but it’s so delicious I’ve never craved anything extra.

These pics are from when I made this for approximately the ten thousandth time, but was at home this past summer and actually thought about photographing it. The ingredients I use in Casablanca are slightly different, but whether American or Moroccan made, it's still so so good. I make this every year to take to work on my birthday and people talk about it all year long. THAT'S how good it is. (Othman just looked at this as I finished it up, and his comment was: "What, you're only posting that now?" Because it really is my favorite thing in the world.) So do yourself a favor and make it yourself you won't regret it.