Rain Days

I got two unexpected days off work this week because Central America got hit by some severe… rain. I have next to nothing to show for my time: some carrot muffins, a pumpkin loaf, the leftovers of an involved fish dinner. I watched more Netflix than I care to admit. I did manage the outline of a plan for how to teach five days’ worth of material in three days. Somehow we’re already in week 10 of the school year–the end of the first quarter. I will have to issue report cards for my little monsters next week. It also marks 10 weeks that we’ve had Cat (and have managed to keep her). IMAG2852

Things that are making me happy this week: Halloween preparations are in full swing! My costume is going to be on the understated side, but I’m looking forward to a fun Friday at school (complete with birthday cake!) and then a nice long weekend with a trip to the lake. All of the family visiting for Christmas now has their flights booked! Colin bought our tickets for the Marine Corps Ball at the end of November. We received a Halloween care package full of lots of fun goodies! It has been decided that we’ll be the hosts for Friendsgiving, so this weekend I allowed myself to start planning that.

Every weekend should last four days: there’s so much more to be positive about when they do!


Oh, you mean this weekend?

That time when Colin bought a bag of split peas that had more weevils than peas–and we cooked them anyway. The darn peas were so old that they cooked for five hours and were still hard–and we ate them anyway.

And then the day after, we had friends over for wine so poor that we mixed it with pineapple juice and pieces of watermelon and toasted Cinco de Mayo.

Two weeks from now, I’ll be on my way home, and one of these things I will miss, and one of them I won’t. Two years from now, I’m not sure where I’ll be, but I imagine it will be both of these things that I miss.

Weekend away: Tangier

Door of the Grand Mosque

Door of the Grand Mosque

To honor our presidents, Colin and I spent last weekend in the port city of Tangier, soaking up the relaxed vibes of people who can easily get out and enjoy a beach.
Tangier coastIMG_9593_819x614
In the Grand Socco

In the Grand Socco

Our afternoons were whiled away in the enclosed patio of beautiful Dar Jameel: Wolf Hall, jazz, and big decisions about the near future. We visited the only American historical site located abroad, what had been our original embassy in Morocco. We watched Spain while keeping honeybees out of our mint tea. Popeye served up my birthday dinner.
Sunday morning market

Sunday morning market

Fresh-squeezed tangerine juice, french fries in my sandwich: I like Tangier.

Kasbah courtyard

Dar Jameel

Dar Jameel inner courtyard

Three sizes

Today I got to witness the bouncy, off-key, jingle-bell-filled holiday concert of the kindergarten class I occasionally sub for, singing along with the pre-K through second graders, and I think I now know what it must feel like for a heart to grow three sizes.

I’m not all that Grinchy to begin with, despite what Colin may tell you.

They laughed, they cried, they yawned, they picked their nose, they sat on their neighbors–it was adorable.

Moroccan Friendsgiving

The guest list included nearly all of the Americans from Colin’s school, four men, and my South Korean friend from my French class who spent a semester studying at a university in South Dakota. Not knowing exactly what we could expect this group to contribute, we took on the burden of basically doing it all ourselves: turkey and all the fixings in an oven we think we can work.

And why not? I can make green beans, potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, biscuits—even pie when expectations are really high—and Colin has roasted at least four different Thanksgiving turkeys over the years. The only ingredient I truly didn’t have at my disposal was cranberry anything, but Colin pishawed that as an unnecessary accompaniment.

And some days before, I produced a truly marvelous batch of biscuits from our oven, which was enough evidence to convince us that Thanksgiving would go off without a hitch happen.

Despite all this confidence, it was a tense weekend. Any thought of a homemade dessert was scraped in favor of allowing a guest to pick something up on the way. My produce guys’ green beans were pitiful on Saturday, leaving the fate of that major and sole true vegetable dish for gameday Sunday. I stocked up on a few extra bottles of wine, thinking that our guests might not even be up for that challenge and that we would need something to do while we waited for the pizza delivery in case our oven didn’t live up to our ambitious expectations.

And as it happened, we didn’t get off to such a great start with said oven. I pulled my theoretically mostly baked stuffing out of the oven to make way for the turkey and was able to handle it with my bare hands. Why wasn’t it 375 degrees? The sugar-melting calibrations had kind of worked. We realized only then that simultaneously using the stove and the oven significantly reduced the amount of gas–and therefore heat–going to the oven, totally throwing off my calibrations. Colin fiddled with the gas canister, the flames went higher, but we had no idea what temperature we were working with.

Colin stuck his bird in anyway. Some three hours later, we got a call from the unheard-from invitee: he would be coming after all, and he was bringing a guest, and they wouldn’t be arriving until an hour after dinner. We had to ask him to BYO plate. Twenty minutes later, while I was still in my pajamas and frantically making bruschetta to compensate for two more mouths to feed, our first guest arrived, thirty minutes early.

I got over it, though, because he brought tortilla chips and salsa. Yummmmm. America (Mexico?)!

Somehow everything turned out alright. Everything finished at the same time, and despite (because of?) Colin repeatedly opening the oven to guess whether it was hot enough to cook his bird, the turkey came out great. We got turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and biscuits all on the table at 5:05, all hot, and even with a little bowl of pomegranate seeds to make up, at least visually, for the missing cranberry sauce. Our guests were impressed. I was impressed.

Colin carves his bird.

Colin carves his bird.

Pleasant weather allowed us to eat on the terrace, five stories above the Sunday quiet of Rabat. With all the English, the most American of meals, and all the wine, it was almost possible to forget we were thousands of miles away from home.


In which I try to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade online, and fail.

In which I try to procure an oven thermometer at a variety of shops in my neighborhood, and fail.

In which I try to discern the temperature of my oven by trying to melt a spoonful of sugar, before we have company and a 17-lbs. turkey depending on it on Sunday, and thus far fail.

In which I take comfort in loving and being loved, in being healthy and whole mentally and physically, in never going hungry unless I have merely forgotten to go to the store, and in being able to see family, even though I can’t be with them.

And the Internet. Thank you, Al Gore, for the Internet.

Sheep Holiday

All day today the air has been tinged with a smell that falls somewhere on the continuum between burning hair and barbeque, causing me to hole up for the duration in our bedroom, the room best protected from our drafty street-facing windows. Colin gamely played along.

Yesterday evening marked the beginning of Eid al-Adha, a three-day holiday during which participants celebrate Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram by following suit. And then they grill it, and then they share it. I was unable to get any more details of the holiday from anyone, at least not the two vegetarian Moroccan gals I found myself able to ask, so I have been left to imagine the worst.

Earlier this week, sheep could be seen on the backs of motorbike-like carts, held in place by a man dangling off the edge of the cart, staring at the white girl trying to cross the street. Last night, my French class was interrupted by the sound of a bleating sheep, pauvre mouton, coming through the window. And today, the stench. At my request, Colin went out to the terrace to see what he could see: a cart stacked with sheep hide and a cart hauling sheep meat, if he was telling me the whole story.

My plan was that we would get the heck out of town while all of this was happening, but a mélange of miscommunications and logistical difficulties–oh yes, and rain–prevented that from happening. So instead we got a day spent entirely in pajamas, that is, until the gardien of our building knocked on the door about 30 minutes ago to deliver a container of, presumably, barbequed mutton. It was incredibly kind of him, and we have to now figure out something that we can make in our incomplete kitchen that is giftable to return the favor.

Tomorrow we plan to make today’s planned daytrip a reality: we’re heading south to explore the old Portuguese city of El Jadida.

Spring Break, Part 1: Seeing Green

The events I could compare St. Patrick’s Day in New York to would have very little meaning for most of my readers: Halloween in Isla Vista, Floatopia, any night on State Street if you were near certain bars. A high-pitched, not entirely young, mass of intoxicated individuals, stumbling worse as the day went on—all in green, of course.

Beer goggles—or a jostled camera

Our guide Andrew said he never remembered it being as bad as this when he was younger, a statement echoed by his mom, who marched in the parade. Of course, we had the very perfect day for a parade—sunny, warm, and a Saturday.

Since we didn’t get the memo that we were supposed to arrive in Manhattan already drunk, we quickly made for a pub. Guinness all around and then a bagpipe band showed up, marching through the squeeze of bodies in the narrow bar.

Properly hydrated, we set out for more people watching, lunch at a deli, a quiet moment in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then a quick coffee, where Jake joined us! The little brother, he is alive and well and loving New York. California, I think you’ve lost him forever.

We rounded out the afternoon with a visit to the Irish Potato Famine Memorial, a charming slope of green near Battery Park, and a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge. My travelmates had all just finished several hard weeks of school, remember, so we called it an early night and returned to Andrew’s house for take-out pizza and “Waking Ned Devine.”

Day two was pretty typical New York site-seeing: Washington Square Park, SoHo, the Highline Park, Chelsea, then dinner with Andrew’s folks at a nice Italian place.

Oh! One more Santa Barbara reminder: While we were watching this piano player in Washington Square Park, there was an explosion about 100 feet away. Everyone turned to see a cloud of smoke turn into a perfect smoke ring. Assuming it was another street performance, we ambled over after the pianist was finished to find a crowd of people looking nervously at a manhole and warning others to stay away. Why does this make me think of Santa Barbara? The smoke was faintly yellow and blue.