Posted by: Dee Andrews | February 24, 2009

Unexpected Morocco

sahara-desert We have just returned from a week in Morocco. I expected many things and was pleasantly surprised to experience something completely different.

My biggest discovery was that the warnings and fears I had were overly apprehensive. I suppose we all fear the unknown to some degree, and I was happy that I conquered my anxiety and experienced this country firsthand.

In actuality, the one time during our journey that I was anxious was when we were literally lost in the Sahara Desert! We had left on camels near sunset and had a wonderful ride as the sun cast shadows and a red glow over the sand dunes. After our hour ride turned into an uncomfortable two hours, and the blackness of night made it difficult to see the dunes, let alone determine which one to lead us over, it did cross my mind that our Bedouin guide was lost. Hum. Lost in the Sahara. I didn’t expect that one! To lighten the moment, I jokingly asked if he had a cell phone I could use. “Um, hello. Yes, we’re lost in the Sahara Desert. Can you send someone to find us? We’re between the sand dune and… the other sand dune!” Humor always helps, and soon enough the girls spotted a light in the distance that was our campsite. My anxiety truly was fleeting. In the end, I felt more appreciative that being lost actually made for one of my favorite memories… trekking on a camel under millions of brilliant stars, the magnitude of them… usually, lost.

andrewses-in-camel-caravan camel-shadows girls-in-desert-on-camels

For me, the other unexpected and rewarding experience of our journey was the friendship we made with our guide, Hammadi. We met Hammadi when he picked us up from our riad in Marrakesh. We spent the next four days with him as he drove us through southern Morocco. Hammadi grew up in the south, in Zagora, the youngest of seven children. After high school, he moved to Marrakesh to attend university and study English. He now earned his living and helped support his family by giving English-speaking tours. (He also spoke French, Arabic, a little Spanish, and many Bedouin and Berber dialects.) He was wonderful, a very personable, considerate young man whom our daughters had fun with, and he soon invited us to his family home to have lunch with his parents. He even said he would ask his aunt to teach me how to make traditional Moroccan cous cous!

And so she did! The next day we visited Hammadi’s home, met his parents, several aunts, nieces and cousins. It was a very extended family who all lived together. We toured his family’s extensive gardens where orange and date palm trees and vegetables and grains were all grown. There was a small adobe kitchen off the back of the house specifically for baking the daily bread, and a small adobe stable kept goats, sheep and chickens to round out the family’s grocery needs. Grace tentatively, sadly asked Hammadi what the animals were for (she has a soft spot for animals,) and bravely took in the response of milk, cheese, eggs and meat. While Hammadi’s home, as all of the homes, was made of adobe bricks, the interior of his was decorated with rich Moroccan tiles in blues and whites. Low couches lined the many sitting rooms and beautiful patterned pillows provided comfort. I laughed with Hammadi’s aunt, who spoke Arabic and a handful of French, while she showed me how to make cous cous. I had Hammadi explain that in the United States, it comes in a box, you add water and let it sit for five minutes! Voila! Homemade cous cous takes substantially more time. It steams over a broth with onions, tomatoes and spices and after about 15 minutes is tossed by hand. Then the basket is set back over the boiling broth to steam longer. This is done three or four times. To serve, the cous cous is placed in the bottom of a large tagine and cooked vegetables and chicken are placed on top. It is eaten with your fingers, everyone scooping from the same serving bowl with your right hand. The girls and I ate with Hammadi’s mother, aunts, sister and young niece. Scott ate with Hammadi and his father. It was a wonderful, new and delicious experience! We learned many things about Morocco and its people from Hammadi, and we will always remember his kindness and thoughtfulness. His final act of generosity was to give us an 80-year-old ostrich egg that his grandfather, a Bedouin nomad, carried across the Sahara. How we will reciprocate this gift we are unsure. It was truly priceless.

lunch-with-hammadi-at-ait-benhaddou hammadis-town gardens-at-hammadis-house-in-zagora1 moroccan-cous-cous-at-restaurant scott-and-hammadi-at-ait-benhaddou ostrich-egg-from-hammadi

I have many more stories to tell and images to share, but thought I would start with the most unexpected. Stay tuned for snake charmers and pigeon pie!

Posted by: Dee Andrews | February 10, 2009

Life on the Laundry Line

mediterranean-laundry1 I am obsessed with laundry. Taking pictures of it that is. This is not an opportunity I frequently get in the United States, but all kinds of life takes place on the laundry lines of Europe.

The obvious… clothes. But it’s more than wet clothes hanging out to dry. If you stop and consider, there are all kinds of stories in those clothes and the way they are hanging on the line. School uniforms, men’s work shirts, designer jeans, a housedress, tea towels, little white undershirts all in a row. Pink panties. You get an idea of who lives in that house, what kind of work they do, if they are messy or organized, proud or carefree. Laundry on the line always reminds me of my Grandma Martha. Though she died almost ten years ago, I found her again in Italy, deep in concentration hanging out her prized tea towels. She made me remember and smile.

tidy-white-shirts-hanging-on-the-line2 a-grandmother-hanging-out-tea-towels pink-panties-drying-on-the-line-in-portugal drying-fish-and-socks-on-the-laundry-line dried-fish-sabillinas-spain octopus-hanging-out-to-dry-on-laundry-line

The dried fish next to the socks and panties made me smile too! They were in Sabillinas, Spain, a small town on the Mediterranean Sea. I imagine the people who live in those houses were fishermen! There were also fishermen in Denia, Spain hanging out their octopuses. Since this clothesline was outside of a seaside restaurant, I was not sure whether the octopuses were for personal use or would perhaps be served on my plate should I order the fish of the day! So, it pays to consider what’s hanging on the line. It could be lunch!

Eventually I have to quit taking pictures of laundry and hang some of my own. But that’s another story!

Posted by: Dee Andrews | February 3, 2009

White and Night Casares

blinding-white-houses-in-casares1 My eyes hurt and refuse to open from the glare of the sun. It’s 6:07 p.m., and I thought late enough for a walk outside on the terrace to take a look at the village of Casares. Some claim it is the prettiest of Spain’s white, mountain villages. It is hard to disagree with what I remember from last night, though right now the blinding rays of sun bouncing across the white village houses don’t allow me confirmation.

my-casares-nightlight It is mid-August, and we arrived in Casares yesterday evening after spending two weeks up the mountain road in Gaucin. After unpacking, foraging for dinner, and kissing the girls off to bed, I walked into our bedroom to find the rooftop terrace doors open to the view of the church and castle ruins. I was awestruck, captivated, overwhelmed really. The village itself was lost in the crevice below me, but the mountaintop opposite mine was dazzling. The lights shining on the ruins of the old Arab castle, combined with the brilliant purple and blues of the sunset, made for a dramatic view. I went for a glass of wine and came back to wonder about this village, its history and who lived in it now.

We had been interested in Casares and making it our home from the beginning of our sabbatical planning. Near the coast but up in the mountains and off the tourist path, we thought it might be exactly what we were looking for.

I remember though finding it difficult to find a villa to rent near the village or even more ideally an apartment in the village. We wanted to be able to walk to the square, sample the restaurants, perhaps meet a local or two! I finally discovered Barbara at Just Casares and through her we rented the wonderful apartment with the stunning view I was experiencing.

I will always remember my first impressions of Casares and then our actual time staying there, the white and night images of it shining in my mind.

blinding-white-houses-of-casares1 casares-church-castle-at-sunset casares-view

Posted by: Dee Andrews | January 26, 2009

Cooking a Whole Fish

dorada-at-fish-market Opps, this post has moved. You can read it though in just one click on my new blog, Travel and Travails. If you’re as determined as I was to learn how to cook a whole fish, don’t miss this post and the yummy recipes. Muchas gracias.

Posted by: Dee Andrews | January 21, 2009

International Reaction to President Obama

obama-on-tv I was delighted to discover President Obama on the front page of five international newspapers this morning. There in Spanish, German, Dutch, French and English were the headlines proclaiming his inauguration as the 44th president of the United States of America.

We watched his speech on Sky News from the United Kingdom, but we didn’t get the play-by-play of the day as I’m sure it was covered in the US. The International Herald Tribune this morning gave me an interesting article on the diversity of the Obamas’ families and how they are black, white, Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish and speak over nine languages.

People here in Spain are excited about our new president. A woman buying vegetables with me this morning at a small stand asked me first about the artichokes but quickly moved to the inauguration when she heard my American accent. The man behind the counter at the post office became visibly excited when I showed my American driver’s license to pick up a package. Most of his rapid Spanish was lost on me, but his enthusiasm was obvious and I understood “…bueno para todo el mundo!”

I too believe President Obama will be good for all of the world.

Posted by: Dee Andrews | January 20, 2009


Moving is considered one of the top five stressful events in a person’s life. Death, divorce, loss of job, and the purchasing of a new home rank higher. Surely moving to a foreign country gets bonus stress points.

Writing about the many wonderful aspects of our sabbatical has been easy. We have traveled to some amazing places, spent huge amounts of time together as a family, and minimized the typical day-to-day stresses that come with life. Scott works from home now and has greater flexibility and control over his day. That has been priceless.

But the picture isn’t complete without also sharing some of the stresses embarking on a sabbatical brings. We sold our house of ten years a year ago now: a home we renovated and loved, where our daughters spent their first years; a neighborhood we enjoyed and neighbors that thankfully are friends and we know we will have no matter where we live. It was hard to say good-bye and think of another family having dinner in our backyard and other kids playing in our bedrooms.

We then moved to Scott’s parents’ house. It was a fantastic opportunity for us. They were gone for the winter, the girls stayed in their same school, it forced us to downsize, throw out, pack up six months before we were actually leaving the country. It gave us all time to process (cry, rant, rave, cry some more) that we were leaving our home and town. And it also gave us time to get really excited about our new adventures, dream where we wanted to explore, discuss what we wanted to see and learn.

Last June then, we got on planes and worked our way across the globe to Spain. The details of Day One are best recounted on Scott’s blog. Suffice it to say my lack of Spanish language skills caused us to put gas in our diesel car, which then stalled out in the middle of a tunnel. Yes, stressful.

We eventually made it to Nerja and into our first rental house. And that’s when new day-to-day stresses crept into our lives. Where do we buy food? Where do we buy food our six-year-old will actually eat? (No Kraft Mac & Cheese.) Where do we park to buy food? (Narrow, steep, one-way streets.) How come the grocery cart will NOT come out of the stall? (You have to put money in to use a cart.) How come the underground parking garage arm will not go up and let us out? (You have to pay for the parking when you buy your groceries.) Why are the Guardia Civil (local police) lined up and down the road pulling cars over at random? (They like to.)

I can laugh and make fun of those silly little stresses now, but when you’re going through them day after day after day, they start to add up! Thankfully the wine here is really good and inexpensive!

Seriously though.

The combination of selling our house, finding new schools (English or Spanish?), choosing a new city to live in, navigating the immigration/visa process, finding our way around new cities, speaking a new language, spending all day with the same people… we have been tested on this journey too.

They say breathe deep, meditate, exercise. I have tried those things as well as mega doses of Vitamin B and ranting and raving. I am not always proud of how I handle the stress. I have screamed at my kids. I have screamed at my husband; I think even on his birthday. Parenting is stressful, parenting while traveling and living abroad is even more stressful.

It is no surprise to me why moving ranks so high on the stress meter. I wouldn’t change being here and experiencing all that we are, the downs and the ups. I wouldn’t go back to my home on 15th street. I am excited to find a new one eventually. I see that too is a top five stress! I must go meditate.

Posted by: Dee Andrews | January 17, 2009

A Taste of Roma

dee-kissing-pig2 gelato1 gelato-mom-eyes-to-heaven1 theresa-gelato-eyes-in-prayer1 tiramisu-and-federico1 papal-audience1

and tiramisu…
be to god!

Posted by: Dee Andrews | January 1, 2009

Old Night in Spain

grapes We celebrated Nochevieja here in Spain last night with a mouthful of grapes! Tradition encourages you to pop a grape in your mouth on each chime of midnight. Of course its hard to keep up so by the time the new year is rang in, your mouth is stuffed full, and you’re laughing to see who actually managed to eat the grapes! I think my mom won last night, which is fitting since she was also celebrating her birthday!

The grape growers in Alicante are the founders of the tradition. Apparently 1909 was a good year for grapes and the growers came up with the ritual as a way to reduce the large surplus of grapes they had. The practice caught on and most Spaniards follow the custom as well as those celebrating in Portugal, Peru, Mexico and Cuba. Supposedly a sweet grape brings good luck for the month it represents. Watch out for sour ones, you may find that month of the upcoming year a little distasteful!

After a lovely dinner at the home of friends, we followed the countdown on television, filling our mouths with grapes and listening to the clock in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid. Out with the old, in with the new. Here’s to 2009!

Posted by: Dee Andrews | December 30, 2008


mom-theresa1 My mom and sister are here to visit! It is so wonderful to have them with us! Our first days together have been filled with a trip to the flea market or rastro in Jalon, shopping at Javea’s mercado for Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, and sampling tapas at several restaurants in the old town. We are off to explore Guadalest tomorrow!

Posted by: Dee Andrews | December 21, 2008

The Spirit of Christmas

javea-christmas-tree We have the most wonderful Christmas tree this year! It is decorated with strings of popcorn, ornaments of chocolate, and paper stars. Emma, in trying to capture her favorite part of Christmas, surrounded herself and the tree’s boughs with the names of her family written on paper ornaments. Uncle Joe, Grandma Middleton, Alexa…there are seventeen in all.

As we sat around our chimenea, listening to carols and stringing popcorn, Grace said, “I want to do this with my kids someday.”

That’s all I needed in my stocking this year!

I hope you are enjoying the spirit of Christmas too! Feliz Navidad.

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