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.)

Read More

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!)

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.

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.

Nothing ever got in, but they tried.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Back in Your Own Backyard

In a year and a half I will be 50. It’s really hard to wrap my mind around that. Time has become a strange thing. When I was little, summer seemed to last forever and I was so excited when the Back to School commercials would start airing. (That is something Brett can’t wrap his mind around. Those commercials devastated him.) But now, the seasons come and go so quickly. It’s almost August! Didn’t we JUST ring in the New Year?

I’ve always been someone who loves to learn about and do new things, see new places, have adventures. But after my mom died, I became kind of manic about it. Life had shown me first hand that tomorrow is not guaranteed and I felt like I had to hurry up and cram as much into my life as possible because death is coming. IT’S COMING! And time is running out! Read More

A Life Worth Living

It was the phone call I knew was coming, and I was dreading it. It makes me laugh now, to think about how I cried, and how devastated I was at the news, when now it makes my heart burst with pride. It took so much courage.

Our eldest son, Gray, is a percussionist and went to a high school that had a very high achieving music program. Their marching band won the Colorado State Championship twice while he was the drum line captain, and their wind ensemble was selected to participate in a national festival in Indianapolis where only 12 high schools were chosen from over 400 applicants. Music was a very important part of our son’s life but he decided not to pursue it as a career. He was afraid that if music was his job, he would lose his passion for it. He decided to major in business and enrolled at Montana State University.

During that first year at MSU, we would talk to him frequently and my mother’s intuition told me that something was wrong, but he insisted that everything was fine. He had made some good friends and I figured it was just the adjustment of living away from home for the first time. He didn’t talk about classes much but he did say he had been spending a lot of time in the drum practice room, and he would light up when he would tell us stories about what he was doing musically. We asked if he wanted to change his major to music and he said no.

About a week before we were going to drive up to get him for the summer after his first year, he called and said he needed to talk to us. He said that he had been miserable the whole year. He hated his business classes and he missed being a part of a quality music program. “Good! You can enroll in a school that has a great music program,” I said. Then he dropped a bombshell. Read More

Yosemite: Lessons in Unparalleled Beauty and Mental Fortitude

I was really glad we had our raincoats. The day was gorgeous and there was 0% chance of rain, but we were absolutely drenched; Water dripping from the tip of my nose, drenched.  The name Mist Trail is a bit of a misnomer. I think of mist as a light spray. The water coming off Vernal Falls was more of a barrage, but I suppose The Barrage Trail isn’t as poetic.

My thighs were burning, but I was loving every minute of it. The Mist Trail in Yosemite was built by people who would have made the Incas very proud. It is over 600 steep, stone steps to the top. And the views are spectacular. There are constant rainbows on sunny days. It is unlike any hike I have ever done.

Read More

Some Thoughts on This One Year Anniversary

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since I started the Empty Nest Adventures blog. I felt like I was on to something, but taking action and putting yourself out there is scary. However, you will never accomplish anything if you let fear control you. I have made so many friends in the last year; really incredible people from all over the world, and my heart is bursting with gratitude for so many things. One of those things happened yesterday.

My son, Holden and I are working together this summer for a friend’s landscaping company. We spent six hours yesterday planting huge flower beds and it was hard work, but we told each other stories, laughed, and I was having a lot of fun. I couldn’t believe it when we got in the car all hot and sweaty and he said, “When you work hard with someone whose company you enjoy, it makes it fun!” I said, “Wait, are you saying you enjoy my company?” “Yeah,” he laughed. I seriously almost cried.

A fellow blogger posted something today that I love. Rekha Sahay wrote about Dennis Prager’s Missing Tile Syndrome. We all have missing tiles in our lives, but if you focus on those and not the tiles you DO have, happiness will elude you. The awesome thing is that if you change your focus, you can be happier than you ever thought possible.

On this one year anniversary of ENA, I am focusing on how grateful I am for all the wonderful people I have met, for supportive family and friends and the heartfelt comment from a son who likes to spend time with his mama.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! And keep focusing on all the tiles you have! xo