DIY Home Improvement Adventures Part One

I’ve been MIA in the blogosphere lately, and that’s because all my time and energy have been spent on a couple of home improvement projects that I’m excited to share because they are finally done!

Have you ever had a place in your house that was downright ugly, but it had been that way so long that you just went into denial and didn’t notice anymore? That’s the situation I was in with our downstairs bathroom, aka the bathroom that all guests use. I am mortified thinking of all the parties we’ve thrown over the years, and all of the people that saw the hideousness. I can only hope that our friends were using the bathroom because they had had a lot to drink, thereby in a state of mind to not notice or at least not remember the epitome of tacky bathrooms they found themselves in. I can sum it up in one word…gold. I had always hated all that gold (faucet, light fixture, shower enclosure, TP holder…) but when our boys were little, my priorities were elsewhere and I just ignored it. A couple of months ago my blinders were removed and I attacked that bathroom with a vengeance, taking great pleasure in removing all that atrocious gold.

I was so anxious to get the gold faucet out that I didn’t even take a before photo, but I’m sure you can imagine it. Getting the new matte black faucet in was quite exciting, especially when it worked and didn’t leak.

Originally I wanted to remove the big mirror and get a framed mirror, but when I tried to pry it off the wall, it was stuck tight and I kept picturing it breaking into a million pieces, so I decided to just build a frame for the existing mirror. It was a perfect solution.

I began the crown molding and laying the ceiling tiles. “Measure twice, cut once” became my mantra. Next was painting. What a difference a coat of paint makes! It’s definitely the most economical way to get a whole new look.

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Brett works for 3M and set me up with industrial grade caulking but forgot to tell me it wasn’t water soluble. :/

After changing out the light fixture, towel racks, TP holder, and toilet lever, the last thing was the shower door. I was dreading it. The instructions were 16 pages long and I had to add a hack saw to my tool repertoire. Two hundred pounds of glass and metal sat in my garage for 3 weeks before I gathered up the courage to attempt the install. Everything was going well at first and then things took a turn. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that after a very painful injury that resulted in a lot of blood, I cried out of frustration for almost an hour. It wasn’t pretty. I can’t imagine Bob Vila has ever sobbed on the couch when experiencing a home improvement setback, but what can I say? I was so frustrated! And bleeding! And in pain! Read More

High Atlas Trek

After the chaos and heat of Marrakesh, we were looking forward to getting back into our element. Being mountain people, trekking in the High Atlas Mountains and staying in a Berber village was something we were really looking forward to and we became more and more at home as we left the desert behind and the scenery changed from sand to lush greenery. Our driver chattered away, telling us all kinds of things, of which we only understood about 50%, but we did understand when we drove by this gigantic estate and he explained that it was Richard Branson’s Kasbah and rooms start at $700 a night in the slow season.

Getting higher and higher into the mountains, we were suddenly on the very steep “main street” of the village. Our driver dropped us off at a small cafe where we met Mohamed, the man whom I had booked this adventure with.  He gave us a piping hot pot of mint tea, a staple in Morocco, and we had some time to sit on the porch watching the unique sights around us. Cars can only get to the outskirts of the Berber villages, so mules abound. It felt like we had been transported back in time, and after the craziness of the Marrakesh medina, it was nice to be back in a slow paced, peaceful environment.img_0338.jpg

After having had some time to unwind, Mohamed introduced us to Omar, who would be our guide for the next couple of days. I liked him immediately. He told us that our luggage would be taken to the Berber guest house where we would be staying the night and that our trek was starting. I was raring to go! As we made our way through the village, I had tons of questions and Omar had tons of answers. There are eight Berber villages and they haven’t changed much in thousands of years. It was only in 1991 that electricity was brought into the area, but many homes still don’t have it. Read More

2018: Books Read and Another Genius That Got Himself Into Trouble

When I was little, I looked up who shared a birthday with me and it was quite a disappointing list. It was a bunch of people I had never heard of, and Alexander Hamilton. While some of my friends had really cool birthday twins (Abraham Lincoln!), I had a second rate founding father who was never even president. My how perspective can change with age and a little knowledge!

When the musical Hamilton came to Denver, Holden and I were interested in seeing it. I spent 6 hours in the virtual waiting room until my lottery number came up. Have you ever been in a ticket lottery? It is one of the most stressful things ever. Let’s just say that after sitting captive at my computer the entire day, my blood pressure skyrocketing, and unleashing a steady stream of profanity, I didn’t get tickets.

Knowing the musical was based on the Ron Chernow biography, I decided to do the next best thing, and read the book. Perhaps saying it was a life changing experience is a stretch, however I am no longer disappointed in having Hamilton for a birthday twin. In fact, I feel like he rates right up there with Lincoln and Washington. The man was a genius, but like Charles Dickens (read about my devastating discovery here), he sure got himself into trouble. Not only was Hamilton a founding father of a nation, he was the founding father of the American sex scandal. Read More

Sahara Desert Camel Trek – Sand Mountains, Music, The Milky Way and a Sore Bottom

Riding a camel is no joke. We were about 15 minutes into our hour long trek out to the Berber camp and it was becoming clear that this was going to be an uncomfortable experience. Perhaps it’s like the monkey bars; they rip your hands raw, but if you can build up calluses you’re golden. I would never get the opportunity to build up those camel riding calluses, but knowing that this was probably the only time I would be on a camel in the Sahara, I focused my attention on the surroundings and tried to ignore the discomfort in my nether regions.

It was late in the afternoon, and it was easy to envision Clark Griswold stumbling along with his pants strapped to his head. We were a caravan of three; Salim, our guide, leading us on foot. My camel was an obedient plodder, following on Salim’s heels, never looking left or right. Brett’s camel however, was a very curious guy. He had a hard time staying in line, and was always looking around. It’s a good thing he was tethered to us as I’m convinced he would have bolted.

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Essaouira Part Two – The Surreal Day Continues

We were in the medina of Essaouira, having just learned that Rachid, our guide, was an Alice in Chains fan (read Part One here), when he pointed out two doors next to each other and said, “I was born in one of those homes.”

“Well, I’d better get a picture of you in front of each one, then,” I told him. Personally, it would drive me nuts not knowing which one it was, but it wasn’t an issue for him.

As I mentioned in Part One, we were there during the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the last remaining synagogue in Essaouira, the Chaim Pinto, named for the leading rabbi of the city who lived from 1748-1845. This pilgrimage brings thousands of Jews to the coastal town, and is a four day celebration coinciding with the anniversary of Pinto’s death, which happens to be the week before Rosh Shoshana.

One of my best friends is Jewish, and I asked Rachid if we would be able to see the synagogue. I wanted to take pictures for her and I was very interested in seeing it myself. He led us through the alleys, and when we reached a particular door, he said we had arrived. (A quick side note; if you have never been in a medina, imagine a maze with walls that are several stories high. In these walls are doors that may be ornate or plain, but either way, it’s like magic when the doors are opened. It reminded me of the tents in Harry Potter that look like normal, tiny little tents from the outside, but inside they are deluxe accommodations, with multiple rooms and every luxury imaginable.)

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Essaouira Part One – Cool History, Surreal Events and Wrong Attire

The coastal town of Essaouira (pronounced esso-wear-a) is a not-to-be-missed stop when visiting Morocco. It has a very rich history dating back to prehistoric times. The Romans had a large presence here, and interestingly, around the end of the first century BC, a factory was established to make purple dye from murex and purpura shells found in the tide pools, which was used for the purple stripe on the togas of Roman Senators. This factory was started by the Berber king Juba II, who was married to the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. (I think that is so awesome!)

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Island of Mogador with the ruins of a Portuguese fortress built in 1506.

A few hundred years later the Portuguese seized and then lost control to a local Berber tribe. Then Spain, England, the Netherlands and France all tried in vain to conquer this tribe, although eventually France did sign a treaty with the sultan. That’s several hundreds years worth of history in two sentences. You’re welcome.

The present city was built by the Moroccan king, Mohamed III in the mid-eighteenth century. He hired a French engineer to design the city, which was originally called Souira meaning “small fortress” but the name changed to Es-Saouira meaning “beautifully designed”. This was our first experience in a medina, so I didn’t fully appreciate how organized, methodical, and yes, beautifully designed, it was. With its straight byways and alleys, large square and calm atmosphere, you feel completely at ease, unlike in the medinas of Marrakesh and Fez, which we had yet to experience.

Another interesting fact is that 200 years ago, the majority of Essaouira was Jewish, and there were as many as 40 synagogues. Due to economic reasons, they have all moved away, however there is one synagogue left, the Chaim Pinto that Jews still pilgrimage to each year the week before Rosh Shoshana. Guess when we happened to be there? We were fortunate enough to visit it, and it figured prominently in the surrealism of the day. Read More

Getting Naked in Morocco, My First Hammam

Laying naked on the hot marble slab, the bikini bottom I had worn as a modicum of modesty shoved unceremoniously in my derriere, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Every bit of my body was being exfoliated and when it was my buttock’s turn, the phrase “lay back and think of England” ran through my mind. To say I was outside of my comfort zone is an understatement.

It had been a solid 40 years since someone had given me a bath, and even then it was nothing like this. I had never even heard the word “hammam” before doing research for our trip to Morocco. What was this thing I kept reading about? Delving deeper, I learned that it is part of many Moroccans’ daily life.

A hammam is a Turkish bath, where water and steam are used. There are public hammams where attendance is a social event separated by gender. People wash themselves and exfoliate in large rooms. The exfoliating process is the gommage. Everything I had read about the gommage was terrifying. In many hotels and riads (think Moroccan bed and breakfast) you can pay to have someone give you the hammam and every one of the first-hand accounts I had read said the gommage hurt. A lot. Typically a massage is given afterwards, and I decided that we would skip the hammam and go straight to the massage. I didn’t want to start our vacation with no epidermis, and I wasn’t particularly keen on a stranger giving me a bath either. But the more I thought about it, I realized that you can’t go to Morocco and NOT experience a hammam. Read More

Adventures in Gardening and the W.A.D.s

Stressful isn’t a word I would have ever associated with gardening. When we got rid of our sons’ play set, I had a big space in the yard perfect for a garden and I was very excited about the prospect of growing our own food. I had so much fun setting it up, and planning what I would plant. The first year’s “harvest” was a complete joke, although in my defense, I did get a really late July start. The thought occurred to me that with the amount I had spent on this garden, I could have bought fruits and veggies from a farmer’s market for the next ten years.

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There was some good eatin’ that year!

The second year I began to get the hang of it. I got advice from seasoned gardeners and I was starting to think this was really going to work. A friend told me that I would need to cover my strawberries as they are a favorite of birds and squirrels.  Heeding her advice, I bought a net to cover them, and the thought occurred to me that I could have bought 24 lbs of strawberries for the cost of the net.

The net did work, and I didn’t lose one strawberry, however I did have some visitors that tried in vain to get in. My netting had new holes weekly. And although the netting was an effective deterrent, it kind of deterred me as well. It was a pain to take on and off, and lowered the fun factor of picking my own strawberries.

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Nothing ever got in, but they tried.

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When Seeing the World and Doing Good Collide

A few years ago we hosted a German exchange student, Max, for a semester. This summer he and his girlfriend, Teresa, went to Tanzania with the goal of helping local women start and grow businesses of their own. They quickly ran into a problem. Despite coming up with creative ideas, the women in charge of the program didn’t want help, and their efforts were refused. It was quite a disappointment, but out of adversity came opportunity.

Max and Teresa noticed that there was trash all over the community; huge piles with dogs, cows and goats rummaging through them. They learned that periodically trash would be gathered and burned, including plastic, which of course produces toxic emissions. They decided to put their time and efforts into not only cleaning up the mess, but involving the residents so that waste collection and recycling would continue after they returned home.

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Miles and Walls Are Not All Created Equal

For the last seven years we’ve hiked at least one Colorado 14er. When I began planning for our 2018 hike, I was looking for an “easy” one. We have a big trip coming up and I didn’t want to risk any injuries. I decided on Mt. Evans. Only 5.5 miles RT, it is a short Class 2, and fit the bill. We did Handies Peak last year and at the end of the 7.5 miles we felt like we could turn around and do it all over again, so surely we’d be able to zip up and down a 5.5 miler in no time flat. Word to the wise…when you become over-confident in an endeavor like this, chances are you will get knocked down a few notches. Short doesn’t always equal easy.

I had found an adorable Bed and Breakfast in Idaho Springs, and made a reservation for the night before our hike. The house was built in 1895, but has been restored, and it was so much better than staying in a hotel. We like to support family run businesses.

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