First Two Weeks in The Dominican Republic

First Two Weeks in The Dominican Republic

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First Weekend in DR on Juan Dolio Beach

It has been awhile, too long since I’ve been able to write.  Summer was a six-week cyclone spent in the US–(to be read aloud in one breath) half of the time spent getting medical appointments, fingerprints, birth certificates, and other pieces of a 39-page work visa document stamped by government and federal authorities sent to the Dominican Republic Consulate…  the other half  waiting for approval while trying to see friends and family spread across 250 miles while packing up to take off again.  Each step of the Visa process demanded we wait for paperwork to be returned before sending sealed envelopes to the next checkpoint. Our target date to leave was August 1 because my job started on August 4, so I prayed the Visa would be approved giving us the signal to book flights and get “settled.”  For those writing to ask if we are “settled” yet, the answer is we are unpacked (except for the fifth bag we were told at the airport we had to leave behind because of a summer embargo which American Airlines didn’t tell me about when I called the day before to confirm the cost of adding another bag.  It would now cost at least $500 to ship the contents so, as we say in the south, we will “make do.”)

Waiting all summer for the Visa decision left no head or heart space to process saying goodbye  to the people, the city of Marrakesh I loved NOR a proper pace to say hello, connect deeply, then say goodbye to friends and family before leaving.  There was also no debriefing for integrating back into  US culture as some businesses and churches provide after sending people overseas.   (When did gas pumps start streaming video?   When did Panera become a drive-through?  When did chip technology take over the quick swipe at some stores but not at others?  I always managed to swipe when I wasn’t supposed to or pull out my card before the chip technology accepted the payment, causing those in line behind me dismay as I had to start over.  Everything moved so fast.  When did rent-a-cars replace key fobs and cameras show you how to back out of the driveway? Keep in mind I drove a 2002 Nissan before moving abroad.  When did traffic in Nashville whip from lane-to-lane and tailgate at such high speeds and close proximity?  My kids said I scared them to death driving with my slow reflexes. When did a hotel room in Music City cost more than one in just about any city in Europe? When did politics peak in craziness?  When did news cover only the most horrific events, dissecting violent acts bone- by- bone,  day- after- day until we all pay in a pound of flesh called profound fear?   When did Animal Kingdom, a series I found while channel surfing, become filled with shocking camera-closeups of graphic, sadistic  human sex scenes rather than a Discovery Channel tutorial on  meerkats? ( I paused on the series while channel surfing in a hotel because I saw Ellen Barkin was in it and I’d always liked her.  After two years where kissing was censored from television I couldn’t believe when I happened upon a scene of two guys, seemingly enemies, punching each other and then…) And when, can someone tell me, did Jimmy Kimmel become so thin, darken his hair and grow a beard?  With no time to ponder, Taylor and I flew to the Caribbean and began the business of trying to assimilate into another culture.

Although I have always considered Latin culture in many ways “home” and share with my daughter a lifelong love for the ocean, I knew moving to a new country, apartment, job, life would be challenging for us both–Taylor who has never lived abroad and I who have done so only once.  Vacations have return flight dates.  Moving abroad happens on a one-way ticket.  I knew we needed to celebrate the small victories (learning how to turn on the hot water, light the stove, get internet and phone service, order water , negotiate a taxi…where to wash clothes, dump trash, buy groceries) because if you don’t stay positive and make room for play–wherever you live, but especially when trying to navigate new territory–so much new information can disorient, deplete, depress.  So that first week, to escape the humid heat (in apartments due to electricity costs,  AC units are in bedrooms only and used at night for sleeping)  we checked out the local scene starting with lunch at Adrian Tropical, recommended by a new friend.  The whole fish fried Boca Chica- style (named for a nearby beach) was amazing…enough for two.

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The second week we went to the same restaurant in our area.  Though it isn’t on the sea waterfalls and fish ponds make it a cool oasis.  I also made my first pot of shrimp chowder at home.  We love the food here.

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Later that week we went to the J.W. Marriott for sunset tapas and a panoramic view of the city.  Photos by Taylor because I couldn’t walk out on the glass terrace. 🙂

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George is a hospitality pro.
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The fresh fish tacos and cheese stickes were amazing.

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Taylor said a highlight of the week for her was seeing the mountains against the skyline.  She likes the big city (capital of 3 million people–largest by population in the Caribbean) and the bonus of the beach on weekends.

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For the first weekend, I booked us a night at Emotions, appropriately named given all we are feeling with this move.  Ranked #1 by Trip Advisor on what many consider the best beach near Santo Domingo, Juan Dolio, it is 38miles/50 minutes from our apartment. Saturday was spent watching waves of storms move down the beach; at the first raindrop all knew to run for cover.  By night all had cleared for the animation (dance show) and fireworks.  Sunday was sunny sky perfect.

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Love the rain catchers.

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As we checked in a crab literally led the way to the front desk.  This one was just off our terrace.

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It is hurricane season here, appropriate given our charged feelings as we try to absorb all the change.  As I write this, again lightening flashes and the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard signals another  downpour that will most likely turn the streets into lakes again.  We’ve come to love the storms that cool and calm us–such a change from remembering no more than five times it rained in the two years I was in Morocco.  We’ve had some great discussions–now adults, roommates–each finding our own paths and learning how to respect our differences in doing that.  We both trust God has lessons and blessings for us here.

When I asked Taylor her best memory so far she said the day we walked to the store in the rain.  Despite umbrellas we came home soaked, laughing all the way.  We’ve laughed and cried. Sharing this experience is something we will never forget.  We both struggle with the heat during the day and our inability to speak Spanish but are determined to learn as much as we can and allow life to unfold.    I asked her about surprises here. She said she likes all the open air places and that we have to walk to get what we need.  This morning, Sunday, was cooler and quiet–no jack hammers or honking cars (driving is crazy here–the only rule of the road seems to be to pull out and take your chances.)  “Walking forces us to be connected.  When you walk you see things you miss when driving.  It keeps us in the mix, in the moment.”

Yesterday was a good day.  Our Russian friend, Maria, took us back to Juan Dolio–this time by public bus– with Sana and Steve, a couple from New Jersey we’ve met.  On the commute, under the palm trees, in the water, and around the delicious dinner at El Mason we bonded over this new experience we share.  Truly, no man nor woman is an island.

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Photo by Taylor McCain
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Photo by Taylor McCain

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Staycation in Nashville…Fond Farewell

Staycation in Nashville…Fond Farewell

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One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.–Henry Miller

I’ve always enjoyed staycations in Nashville, my home for almost thirty years.  After two years of living in Morocco, I am in town for the summer, and, as friends said I would be, stunned by how much this It City has grown.   In a week I move to The Dominican Republic–this time with my daughter who  wants a new adventure, too. Thanks to Omni Nashville–the premier location for enjoying downtown  — we had a perfect celebration as Taylor bid her birthplace a fond farewell for now.

Nashville, voted #1 for Girlfriend Getaways by Travel and Leisure, draws women of all ages with its southern hospitality, great food, shopping, and entertainment.  Here females have fun and feel safe whether gathering for bachelorette parties or mother-daughter escapes. Opened in 2013,  Omni Nashville is within walking distance of Music City’s best–its 800 guest rooms and 54 luxury suites offering a gorgeous place to relax before or after a big night out.   It shares multiple levels with The Country Music Hall of Fame ,  is next door to the Music City Center, and a short walk to The Schermerhorn,  The Tennessee Performing Art CenterThe Ryman,  Johnny Cash Museum (Taylor and I are big Johnny and June fans),  Ascend Amphitheater and world-famous Broadway.

 

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Soon to be TWO Southern Girls Gone Global

 

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When the carriage driver assumed we were tourists and asked if we wanted a ride, Taylor said, “I wish.”  I said, “Let’s go.”

 

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Photo provided by Omni

We loved our room with its amazing view.  After checking in, we took a short walk and had a delicious and relaxing lunch at Country Music Hall of Fame’s  Bajo Sexto recommended by Nashville Lifestyles.com and others.

 

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Back on the Omni property we visited Hatch Show Prints, a Nashville institution.

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Rotated from Country Music Hall of Fame are costumes worn by icons–one that brought back memories from my childhood of the Harper Valley PTA.

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The Five and Tenn stocks local products from  Jack Daniels to Goo Goo Clusters, from Col. Littleton leather goods to Lucchese boots.

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Forgot something?  Like going to the general store, you can find what you need.

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Barlines is the Omni’s live music and sports venue.  With the hearTV app inside or on the patio patrons can stream live audio from any TV in the restaurant from their own iPhone or Android.

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Onsite is Bongo Java–Nashville’s oldest coffee company.  Taylor was impressed with the playlist here and throughout the hotel.

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The Omni brand prides itself in designing each hotel to reflect the character and culture of each host city.  Local artwork was chosen to represent the multi-genre world famous music scene that is Nashville.

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The Ryman

Though we had hoped to use the pool, the weather didn’t cooperate, so after exploring we decided to take a nap before our night on the town.

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Relaxed and rested, we headed toward the lights of Broadway for music, dinner, and a last look for awhile at an amazing city.

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The next morning I was given a tour by Tod Roadarmel, Area Director of Sales and Marketing, and his team to learn more of Omni Nashville’s story.

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We headed to Kitchen Notes, The Tennessean’s 2016 TOAST Reader’s Choice Awards as one of the contenders for the Best Sunday Brunch.  If you’re a local or tourist who has fallen in love with their biscuit bar or brunch, today is the last day to cast your vote here.

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The property has 80,000 square feet of meeting and event space.  Above is one of two ballrooms where wedding receptions are held.  Below, bridal parties and other guests can choose from many services at Mokara Spa.  Locals can also book spa days which includes use of the outdoor pool, named as one of the Top Ten Pools of 50 Omni international hotels.

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Photo provided by Omni

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Photo provided by Omni

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Within a year of its opening in 2013, Omni Nashville was ranked #4 of US Hotel Meeting Spaces.  Here  from the band stage to the boardroom creativity is ubiquitous.  When Tod asked Gibson to donate guitars to be used in the conference room, he didn’t expect to receive pieces played by B.B. King, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons.

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At Bob’s Steak and Chop House patrons include Reba and Vince.

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Photo by Omni
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On my tour I imagined a bubble bath with a view in the Johnny Cash Suite.

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I remember the night Keith Urban was hanging out on Demonbreun.  He set down his drank and took the stage.  One day I hope to run into his wife, Nicole, who shot the Queen of the Desert in Marrakesh.

Distance gives fresh perspective, bringing life into sharper focus.  With our eyes filled  with the wonder of tourists and our hearts with the love of locals, I said hello again to a town I’ve missed and will always be a part of me as Taylor said her goodbye.  Nashville was a great place to raise my children…a place that gave us all roots and wings.

Thank you, Omni Nashville, for a wonderful stay.  As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

 

 

Branson, Beldi, and a Birthday

Branson, Beldi, and a Birthday

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Before moving abroad, my friend, Dana, told me how important–how vital–my expat community would be.  She and I were part of the same school family  in the US, and she had a network of close friends at church.  Still, having already taught in Morocco and having lived in France, she said the way friends live together, work together, do life together when family and old friends are so very far away is one of the blessings of living abroad. She was right.

I met Kate, my Australian friend and riad manager, a couple of months after moving to Marrakesh.  She later moved to the apartment complex where I live with other teachers and locals.  Moroccan sorority sisters, we have done meals on rooftops and by pools; walked the souks snapping photos and shopping; relaxed in riads and even a luxury tent.  Baby Boomer moms, we have talked about leaving our empty nests to fly to Africa.  About  wanting and finding more.  We talk about our greatest gifts–our children–and recently I met Amy, her youngest who visited Marrakesh a couple of weeks ago.   They graciously invited me to join them on the Imlil trip and to celebrate Amy’s birthday at Beldi Country Club.  Seeing the two of them together made me more excited than ever about the adventure ahead on the other side of the Atlantic for my daughter, Taylor, and me.  More on that later.

On the way back from our lunch and mule tour in the Atlas Mountains, we stopped at Kasbah Tamadot, the luxury resort owned by British billionaire and philanthropist of the Virgin empire, Sir Richard Branson.  Two days ago he gave Sylvia Jeffreys of The Today Show a tour of Makepeace Island, his newest property called “the most beautiful spot in Australia.” Many would say his place here is the most stunning retreat in Morocco.

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A champagne cocktail to toast an amazing day.

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The next day we were off to Beldi Country Club–a place I’d wanted to see since my former British colleagues, Louise and Richard, recommended it before moving to Abu Dhabi.  They had celebrated a birthday there last year and said the bucolic setting was beautiful and relaxing.  Indeed it was!  IMG_2137IMG_2138

Fields of poppies I saw last year in Spain…strawberry fields forever I heard about from the Beatles (natives of Louise’s hometown, Liverpool)…but seeing at Beldi fields of roses was breathtaking.

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There was also an abundance of Bougenvilla, my favorite native flower here which grows as wild as foxglove in England or as lavender in France.

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The spring rolls were fresh and delicious.
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The grilled lamb was great, too.

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These girls reminded me of my daughter and nieces once upon a time.

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French owner Jean-Dominique Leymarie bought these fifteen acres in 2005 for a farm.  After hosting a wedding party for his daughter, Géraldine, he received so many requests to use the property for weddings and events that he made it into a haven of several pools and gorgeous gardens where expats and tourists gather.  Beldi means “traditional” in Arabic.  A southern girl who grew up on big family dinners and visiting relatives in the country on lazy afternoons, I felt at home and happy until late afternoon shadows signalled the end of the weekend and time to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Cologne but Never Alone: Reminded by Christmas to Fear Not

In Cologne but Never Alone: Reminded by Christmas to Fear Not

 

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Christmas is charged with nostalgia. I’m in bed looking out my window at the Market of the Elves in Cologne, Germany. Under tents and trees all lit up, replicas of funny bearded men beckon below. Elf statues are more numerous here than in pictures of Santa’s workshop in the book Mama Lou read to my sister and me when we were kids. I came to Cologne to find Christmas cheer because I knew I’d need it.

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I have dreaded the holidays for months. It is the first Christmas I’ll spend without my children with me.  My son graduates in May on my daughter’s birthday. Last year we had the ultimate Christmas reunion, but because flights from Marrakesh to Nashville are too expensive with the May trip, we decided I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.

Because flights are cheap to Europe, I decided to spend the holiday with a friend in Germany and take the train to the Christmas markets. My daughter said she couldn’t bear to think of me sad in my apartment alone and all the family wished me well. All my coworkers—international teachers who in their collective years abroad have traveled to every country on the planet it seems—said “No one does Christmas like Germany.” And so here I am in a city with seven Christmas markets—an amazing place (as you’ll see in my next post). Yet despite enjoying the music, live trees, winter air wafting with spices and mulled wine, I’ve also shed some tears.

Since moving to Africa I’ve had bouts of loneliness and fear. Through every trial God comforted me, strengthened me, grew me more into the woman He has always wanted me to be. I have found freedom, peace, joy that nothing from without can sustain—only his presence within. I have seen beauty and experienced adventure as gifts—love letters from Him–during this amazing season. I have been protected and contributed on this new continent,  feeling totally in His will and being blessed beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Still… despite so much growth…so much faith and thankfulness for how far God has brought me physically, emotionally, and spiritually throughout the course of my life and particularly over the last sixteen months… despite feeling closer to God than ever  and thus, like the Proverbs woman clothed in strength and dignity who smiles at the future … a woman who now lives most days without fear, regret, and doubt….that woman took a holiday. Today, thankfully, she is back.

While teaching The Life of Pi my eyes filled at the line, “All of life is letting go.” It seems I was brought to Africa to learn this truth more than any other.  I had to let go of so much to follow the life in Morocco God planned for me. Being close to family and friends; renting the home and leaving the job where I’d been secure for over twenty years; giving up comforts like water and wifi that never failed, a car to grab what I forgot at the store, a neighborhood and greenway where I’d walk my sweet dog, Ella.

Letting go is painful. Because our natural reflex is to hold on. We fear if we let go we’ll lose something rather than free ourselves to receive gifts God wants to place in our hands. Letting go means losing the illusion of control and stepping out in faith, believing, remembering this leg of the journey was God-mapped though I can’t see where it ultimately will lead. I’m realizing that distance doesn’t mean I’m asked to let go of family and friends. Though I can’t hug them during the holidays, they are with me in my heart, loving me on Skype and in spirit.

Letting go means losing fear—the greatest enemy of the soul. I believe with all my heart, “God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” I just don’t always live it. Like Linus, I’ve been able to drop my security blanket (whatever I contrive and hold onto thinking it will protect me against fallout of a fallen world) when I remember two simple words—a mantra in my Bible: “Fear Not.”

My Truth and Light

Yesterday as I walked along the Rhine River with God I thanked Him for being my wonderful Counselor, my Prince of Peace. I believe with all my heart He is Emmanuel—God with us. This morning I googled “Daily Devotion” to reset (as I must do every day) my mind to truth.  Only truth trumps fear. Up popped this post by Jason Soroski explaining the impetus for dropping what we cling to in fear.   I’m also grateful for his Part 2, which reminds me why, after letting go, I as a human, pick up my blanket again.  I’ve often felt like Charlie Brown–someone who wants to be perfect but never gets it right.  I’m thankful for this reminder that I don’t have to. I’m loved by One who will never leave me.

I came to Morocco believing the move would benefit my family, finances, future, and faith.  In the latter, I knew I’d find true freedom.  I haven’t seen where my story will end and thus fear sometimes still rears its ugly head, but the Christmas story  reminds me again that I am to fear not.

On the train ride to Cologne I saw beautiful woods and a river. I knew this trip was what I needed. Though the skies were cloudy and I was striving to trust in the dark what I’d seen in the light, God again was taking me on a journey that would make me lie down in green pastures…lead me beside still waters… restore my soul.

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And this Christmas I find comfort and cheer knowing no matter what 2016 holds, no matter where I’ll live, work, serve, that surely goodness and mercy will follow my all the days of my life and I’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

My Marrakech: One Year Here

My Marrakech: One Year Here

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All we know about the future is that it will be different… So we must celebrate the changes. Because, as someone once said, everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me, it’s not yet the end.

— Dame Judi Dench as Evelyn, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 

I’d said goodbyes. Hard ones. The kind that make you wonder why you started this journey in the first place.

Dame Cindy McCain, A Move to Morocco

One year ago I stepped into a Marrakech life.  When I left in August of 2014 I was on overdrive; I couldn’t–wouldn’t–slow down to absorb painful goodbyes.  Grief, of course, later hit full force, but I was blessed to be with my kids Christmas and again this summer, reminding me of a bond that isn’t daunted by 4,000 miles.  We spent a perfect last day together before I flew back and they prepared to return to school.  My son suggested Cummins Falls which Travel and Leisure named as one of America’s Best Swimming Holes.  Its near his school, so after we ate at El Tapatio  and stayed at his apartment.

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Cummins Falls, TN
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Photography by Cole McCain

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The trek there is by river and very slippery. Getting there was a challenge since the sign said “Downriver Trail” and wound up and away from the hole before taking us down. Park rangers ran everyone out an hour before the park closed to give us time for the climb out.

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We climbed to the falls–they went all the way up while I tried not to fall–then we jumped (ok, I slid) in and swam back.  I’d forgotten how beautiful Tennessee Parks are.  It was a day I’ll never forget.

I feel blessed to live in a town that tourists will return to in their minds when work and life gets stressful  as their “Happy Place.” When I’m stressed by the “real world,” I go to Happy Places in Marrakech, too. Literally.  And I look forward to finding more.

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Jardins de La Koutoubia
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Manzil La Tortue
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La Mamounia

I’m so thankful for a year of adventure, beauty, and relationships in this new, exotic land. I came to write, teach, and learn. To find joy in the journey without and within. To grow stronger and lean heavier on God.

I knew when I cried every time I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I was meant to try life abroad.   Likewise when I finally saw The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel this summer I wailed at the words:  “You have no idea what you’ll become. Let go because that’s when the fun starts. There’s no present like the time.” The first four months I’ll never forget.

I will never let my children go. Or my mom or sister or anyone I love. I carry them in my heart, stay connected on Skype, will see them every chance I get and plan to live near them again.  But with God’s help I am letting go of other things that hinder an abundant life…fear, worry, regret. The illusion and tyranny of control. Of having an exact idea of what my life should look like.  Of having an opinion on what others’ lives should look like. Despite all the travel,  I’m learning to be still and to be grateful for the past, the present, and the future–whatever it will be.  Over the last year I’ve feathered my nest in Marrakech and look forward to all that Year Two holds.

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My “Blanket Guy”–Mustapha Boukad of Chez Mustapha, 25, Rue dar el bacha, sidi abdelaziz, Marrakech Medina GSM: 062 29 82 41

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Arabian Nights given to my dad by my grandmother, Mama Lou, who took me on my first journeys abroad via her rocking chair.
Arabian Nights given to my dad by my grandmother, Mama Lou, who took me on my first journeys abroad via her rocking chair.

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Mad for Marrakech style
Mad for Marrakech style
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Sahara green pottery, handmade chair, vintage Berber wedding quilt

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From my amazing trip to Russia

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Sometimes my Happy Place is a Marrakech riad,  an Italian vineyard, or a Spanish beach.  But after this summer I’m more likely to go here for escape… watching Jurassic World or Better Call Saul with Cole… watching Game of Thrones with Taylor… skating on river rocks with them both…laughing at dinner with my mom and a movie we sneaked off to see, then eating caramel and chocolate pies in her living room from The Woodshed…taking walks and rides with Ella… talking with my sister over coffee in her backyard…spending July 4th weekend with our families at the lake.

Mom and me at Logan's
Mom and me at Logan’s

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Jeff and Penny’s backyard–beautiful.

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In The Alchemist Paulo Coelho says there are obstacles to fulfilling our personal calling, which he calls “the path that God chose for you here on Earth.” He says whenever we are filled with enthusiasm, we are on track, but many choose to never take that first step toward fulfilling their destiny.  He says two obstacles are 1) “We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible.”  I can honestly say my mom has never told me any goal is unreachable.  She has supported me throughout my life in every way possible.  2)  “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting  those around us.” This has been my greatest fear. But I agree with the author: “We do not realize that love is a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” My children, family and friends have supported me for which I am so grateful.  Without the support of Taylor and Cole or my mom caring for Ella and encouraging me, I wouldn’t be here.  It meant SO MUCH to me last year when they and my friend, Moni, came to visit.  Having friends here helps, too.  This week was the birthday of my friend, Kate.  Her cake was amazing!

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The author also says many never make a move (try on a dream) because they fear defeat.  Fear of defeat hasn’t been an obstacle for me because if my family is ok, I’m ok. Also  I remember God brought me here and enables me to do whatever I’m meant to do.  I’m glad when we do fail or others fail us, God makes beauty of ashes.

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Just before my first international school interview in Boston in 2014 (which was in the Caribbean, not the desert) I read this in Hosea: “I will allure her to the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and make the valley of trouble a door of hope. She’ll sing there as in her youth and as a young girl fresh from Egypt (captivity)…I’ll neither leave you or let you go. You’ll know me, God, for who I really am.” Happy Anniversary.

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Gone South…to Franklin

Gone South…to Franklin

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We drove the Tennessee backroad to The Loveless Café from Franklin where Taylor, Cole and I stayed twelve days in the home of friends, Kim and Andy.  Switching places, they went abroad while I stayed home with their cat and three dogs. As much as I love back roads, I adore back yards with big porches to grill and chill. Theirs backs up to woods.

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I loved walking the dogs early in the morning, sprinklers hissing as we passed. Off trail, cicadas’ cries crescendoed when we waded through tall, dewy weeds to the Harpeth River rocks.  After breakfast,  I’d pick tomatoes, mint, and basil to make salsa, guacamole, and BLTs for lunch. Cole would play a game of fetch with Wrangler, Ella, and Ollie.

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At night we caught up on movies.  I’d vowed when I got home I’d disappear into a theater for at least a week.  Other than Die Hard shown in the square during the Marrakesh Film Fest I hadn’t seen a single new movie on the Big Screen for an entire year AND when the sound on my airplane screen was broken on the way home, I nearly wept.  But Andy and Kim’s Dish like my sister and brother-in-law’s cable had so many choices the only movie I wanted to see in a theater was Jurassic World.

We also ate our way through America’s “Favorite Main Street,” “Friendliest Town” (Travel and Leisure), and “Best Southern Town” (Garden and Gun). Check out all Franklin offers here. We went to Puckett’s Boat House for live music, catfish and oysters like the ones I’d had there in 2013. (55South on Main also has great fresh oysters; I had them there on Kim and Andy’s wedding day.)

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Before Kim went to Europe she took me to Gray’s where we caught up over cocktails and dinner. Dating back to 1876, the former pharmacy now social and music hub has a rich history.

Family friends/retired teachers/travel buddies from Nashville, Betty and Sharon, drove down to visit.  Starting in 1992 they taught me how to lead school groups on educational trips abroad. We still laugh about the tiny room we shared in England at Hotel Lily. We had to climb over triple beds to enter or exit.  They took me to Henpeck Village Market—a meat and three with a great patio and pecan pie to die for.

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Chicken Salad
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Turnip Greens, Mashed Potato, Biscuit, Pinto Beans, Fried Okra

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Ladies’ Powder Room

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On the weekend, Heather, my Destin and Charleston travel partner and former coworker/student and I checked out the English pub, Bunganut Pig where a rocking band played to a full house.

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Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant was my son’s find. Great choice!  (Mexican food is the cuisine I miss most in Marrakesh.  Moroccan friends, if it’s out there, please let me know where.)

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I’m thankful for all the good food in Williamson County, but best of all, I loved cooking  for my family and sleeping under the same roof again.

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Guacamole, salsa, spinach and artichoke dip
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Grilled corn and steak

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I've always loved the Parisian photograph by Cyndi Williams (right) and the Arabian artwork. With Kim in Paris and me in Morocco, art imitates life at the moment.
I’ve always loved the Parisian photograph by Cyndi Williams (right) and the Arabian artwork (center). With Kim in Paris during our stay and me living in Morocco, art imitates life.

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We didn’t know we’d lose Precious, our 18-year old Persian, just a week before pet sitting for Kim and Andy.  Being with their cat, Jet, and the other babies was good for us all.

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And as we did after first moving to Nashville, before we had children, my sister drove down on her day off to Franklin, and we popped into shops along Main.  Our only regret was not getting into Merridee’s Breadbasket Bakery.  Next time.

We loved Philanthropy for its clothes, decor, and cause.

My sister, Penny, and I loved Philanthropy.
Love my sis

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The Iron Gate has been a favorite home haven for years.

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Vintage Jolie 

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On the cover, Mint Juleps, official drink of The Kentucky Derby

Yarrow Acres

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Avec Moi

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Ina’s not southern, but she’s my favorite chef on my favorite channel, Food Network.

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Reminds me of the broaches my Mama Lou and Mama Sargeant wore. (“Mama” is Southern-Speak for “Grandmother.”)

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Finnleys

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Come on Down…

There’s so much more to see and do. The first Friday of each month, catch the Franklin Art Scene, a free, monthly art crawl. Other Franklin Festivals for 2015-16 are found here and Franklin Theater’s attractions are here.  If in Franklin or passing through December 12-13, Franklin’s Dickens of a Christmas is a must-do for winter as is Arrington Vineyards for warmer weather.

Want to stay awhile?

Do you prefer staying in a home over a hotel? Don’t have friends in Franklin with whom you can stay?  Do you love taking care of pets and a home?  On rover.com and care.com those with strong profiles can find assignments as caretakers. Or if wanting to start your search for a “down home” rental south of Nashville, check AirBnB here.

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Southern Girl Gone Home for the Summer

Southern Girl Gone Home for the Summer

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At my school in Morocco there were a couple of other US southerners on staff, but apparently my accent was the most pronounced. Locals thought I was from Texas, and my students imitated the way I say Wifi with a long i. (It’s pronounced with a short i there.) The chorus of a popular song in Morocco I first heard sung by one of my seniors, Ismail, asks, “Why, Why, Why…” Since I was on a mission from Day 1 to get working Wifi on campus, even students not in my classes sang what morphed into the “Ms. McCain version”: “Why, Why, Why…why is there no Wyyyy Fyyyyy?”  (We have it now.) One of my ninth graders begged me to bring back my cowgirl boots this fall.  They’re packed.

This blog is about what we all crave– adventure, beauty, and relationship.  It’s about appreciating other cultures and embracing our own. Twenty -five flights since leaving Nashville almost a year ago, this “Southern Girl Gone Global” is happy to be home for a spell. I’m so thankful for what I’ve experienced in Morocco and nine other countries visited in 2015 (more blog posts on these destinations to come), and I am also excited to share my summer vacation in Kentucky and Tennessee with readers. Consider this an invitation to those traveling to the US to check out all Nashville and the surrounding area has to offer.   We’ll tour some of my favorite neighborhoods for those wanting not only must-see tourist attractions but also tips on where to do life like a local.

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Some say language is home. True. But the heart of the home is definitely the kitchen. Expats in Marrakesh heading to native soil for the summer began in late spring talking about what they’d eat first when they landed. Top of my list was Mexican food, grilled meat, and barbecue. One night I literally dreamed of bacon.  So for this lake lover, arriving for July 4th weekend when focus on family, friends, and food is at fireworks proportion was a very good thing.  Lunch from a cooler on the boat…potato salad, baked beans, my sister’s blackberry cobbler, and Red Stripe.  Dinner at Barkley Lodge‘s seafood buffet where I ate my weight in frog legs and catfish. Dinner the next night at the marina for burgers and live music.  And on the way back to Nashville, a family reunion at the home of my cousins, Brock and Laura, where we ate Rutland’s Bar-B-Q (my dad worked for the Rutlands when I was a child).

Independence Days are celebrated in over 170 countries, and I observed Morocco’s last year as a new resident as well as Colombia’s, Chile’s, France’s, and Mexico’s as Nashville’s Latin Dancing Examiner.  I’ve celebrated my US holiday in diverse ways,  but it was so good this year to return to where the 4th was spent when I was a child in Kentucky.  I love food and family. I love summer. Always have.  Always will.  Because for someone who has been in school since she was five, summer vacation means freedom.

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Easter in Europe

Easter in Europe

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It’s good to be back on the blog and away in Spain.  I’m writing again, finally, from my balcony in Tarifa in another Cádiz– not the one beside Kentucky lake where I grew up, but in a province of Andalusia.  From here Santiago, seeker in The Alchemist, set out on his adventure. Here I’m taking a much needed break from mine.

As the fog lifts and I listen to waves roll in, I can see Morocco just across the sea. Tarifa to Tangier is a 35-minute ferry ride but tired from travel, I’m ready to finish my spring break relaxing. In the last 13 days I’ve tasted 9 cities (all but one new to me) in 7 countries…posts of all of them to come.

Today I’m simply sharing Easter in Europe…eggs, lambs, baby chicks, churches…symbols of spring and new life.

When I was a child, Easter was boiling, then painting eggs with Mama Lou.  Each one became a fancy ladies’ face with tulip lips, rouged cheeks, bright eyes, and long lashes.  We’d top each girl with a tiny, pink hat, place her in a wicker basket on faux grass, then pose with our pretties by Forsythia bushes, buttercups, and purple hyacinths.  Easter was new dresses and patent leather shoes from J. C. Penney where Mama Sargeant worked.  It was an orchid or gardenia corsage for church from Daddy.  One year it was capes Mommy had tailored for my sister and me.  It was always sunrise service, breakfast, then back for Sunday school and church.

With my kids in Tennessee, Easter was a visit from the bunny, egg hunts, church, and a big lunch–glazed ham with all the fixins’.  We posed for pictures seated on the wicker lounger on the porch or hugged under the dogwoods and beside the snowball bush.

I miss my family this week, but I’m so thankful neither they nor I am ever alone.  Easter to me isn’t just personal.  It’s a person. The ultimate demonstration and celebration of love.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”

Whatever your beliefs, I wish you a week blossoming with peace, happiness, and love.  And I hope you find Easter eggs–precious surprises of hope–all year long.

Pretties in Prague…

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Saint Basil’s Cathedral, now a museum/UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Moscow…

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Palatial palace cathedrals in St. Petersburg and Pushkin…

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and buds bursting everywhere…

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Sunny smiles in Vilnius, Lithuania…

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And bagels with eggs and lambkin in Bratislava…

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PInks and purples in Paris…

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Now off to the beach to hunt seashells…and Easter eggs… in the sand.

To Moms from Marrakech to Music City Post-Holiday

To Moms from Marrakech to Music City Post-Holiday

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Thank you to Kate, an Australian expat mom I met through InterNations who moved to Marrakech last fall, too.  Her son visited and returned home before my children came, and she set up lunch for last Sunday before I left for London knowing I’d need a friend after the holidays who understands the joy of sharing this life with family, then sadly saying goodbye again.  To all moms who spent quality time during the holidays with your children–adult ones who live elsewhere and little ones you could stay in pjs with you till noon, is there any gift greater?

January 1 as my daughter and son disappeared through Heathrow’s security gate I felt the ground I’d gained shake.

Before meeting them in London, I’d left school for winter break thrilled that I was almost there…Christmas Eve…when I’d hug Taylor and Cole at the airport.  I also felt peace because I was there–my first big marker since moving– as students hugged bye and called across campus, “Have a nice holiday, Miss!”  A coworker reminded me that our dance class would resume in January, and I looked forward to working with Model UN students in the spring, then traveling with them to St. Petersburg, Russia.  I was excited for a colleague who had been hired by a school in Brazil next fall and wondered if I’d apply for South America or Europe one day.  I’d met her and two other new friends for lunch at our favorite restaurant, and we all celebrated soon seeing family and friends in Italy, Austria, the US, and England.

Despite fall’s challenges, fears, tears, I’d made new relationships on amazing adventures, discovering beauty without and strength within. I realized I’d survived my first continent teaching/living on a new continent, and In 2015, I thought, I will thrive.

Spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve with Taylor and Cole in London and bringing them to Marrakesh were some of the happiest days of my life.  Taylor said it was her favorite vacation we three have spent together.  Cole loved his first trip abroad, and we all said we could not have had more fun.

On the plane to meet them I’d read a travel article called “How to Escape Your Family for the Holidays.” I was so glad I’d be traveling with mine.  Seeing the two loves of my life–who are my home–and spending nine days with them was an even bigger blessing than I anticipated while planning our reunion for months.  Knowing how short this life is, I am forever grateful for that time.

Even if the low that followed when they left was hard, the high of being together again was worth it. Even more… the bond that remains.

January 1st–too soon– we again hugged at the airport.  I didn’t think I’d be able to let go.  I ached and tears flowed as I boarded a bus for Gatwick, waited there till my flight, then prayed I’d sleep on the plane so I wouldn’t feel the physical pain.

When I’d moved to Morocco I used all the packing and planning to postpone the full impact of saying goodbye to them–the hardest part of this decision.  My daughter, unable to handle an airport farewell, hugged and kissed me on a hot, August night in my sister’s driveway the night before my flight.  As she drove away crying, I walked behind the house and fell on my knees from the hurt.  My son, who tried to keep things light, hugged me and smiled the next morning at the airport.  I cried but wouldn’t allow myself to feel the full impact.  I was determined to grieve later– away.  And I did.  The sadness at times in early fall was so terrible only God, who I knew had brought me here and Skype calls from my mom; sister, Penny; and best friend, Kim,  kept me from depression.  I thought I’d paid the pain price for this life change then in full. I was wrong.

But this time my recovery came faster.  Penny reminded me that when we all live under the same roof we don’t always make or value the quality time. She said this move has been life changing.  Our time together now is more intentional, and we recognize it as precious.  She reminded me the holidays always have to end, when we all return to school and work.  My mom, like Penny and her family who I missed seeing at Christmas for the first time in our lives but who has always wanted to see me happy, reminded me that I have a “traveling soul” and this opportunity is who I am and what I’ve wanted for a long time.  January 2nd I began work on a project that kept me busy till I returned to school January 6.   Seeing students and colleagues was nice.

Again I remember that even if I still lived in Nashville, Taylor and Cole would not be living with me on Jenry Court.  As families do after Christmas together, we go back to the “real world” to begin a new year.  But what we experienced was REAL.  The sweetest thing in life is relationship. Being together body and soul 24/7–no phones and computers (other than to check in briefly with family and friends in the US) — for over a week made us even closer.

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First day in the Medina and rooftop sunset
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School Visit
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Rooftop lunch at Chez Joel

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Thankfully the Taj Palace reopened; it is now the Sahara Palace.

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Through Taylor’s Eyes

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After initial culture shock, Taylor wrote this:  “Marrakech has brought so much peace to my life. This has truly been a life changing experience! Today we heard the call to prayer for the first time. I saw the oldest mosque in the city with snow capped mountains in the distance.  Now I know why my mom fell in love with this place. This adventure has been my favorite one yet! Marrakech has captured my heart!”  Last night on Skype she said she feels so much better about my safety.  That everyone she met here was so nice to us.  That Morocco was not what she expected.

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After the cold of London, both of them loved the warm weather and snow-capped mountains in the distance.  Cole said when he first stepped out on my balcony the city looked and felt like Florida.

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Though we’ve always been together in spirit, having them physically here has meant more than I expected.  I can share stories now they better understand.  Now when I go to the souks or grocery, I remember them there. When  I eat at our Indian restaurant,  on Chez Joel’s rooftop, or hear Casanova’s piano man, I remember them there.

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When I watch a movie or see Queen Elizabeth dance in my apartment, I remember them here–and Cole hiding his Bluetooth speaker and Dancing Queen with a note for me to find when they were gone.  A surprise gift that made me laugh and cry.

We laughed a lot.  We appreciate each other more.  For the privilege of being the mother of two amazing human beings, I am forever grateful.

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Before I left Nashville and told Kim how hard it was to leave, she reminded me of a quote by Winnie the Pooh, a favorite friend who lived stuffed in my son’s room when he was little.  It’s true.  I am.

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Christmas Day in London

Christmas Day in London

Christmas Day we attended the service at Westminster Abbey, another gift.  Seats had been reserved months in advance but days before our trip someone returned three.  The sermon referenced the truce on December 25, 1914 between English and German soldiers.  More on the story here.  As we sang hymns and heard the children’s choir in a cathedral built in 1066 where William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day, I thought of my city, Marrakech,  built in 1062, and of my new friends who live there.  I thought of all the unrest in 2014 in my home country and abroad. And, as I try to do every day, I thanked God for His power which is greater than the world’s problems.  With hope I prayed for peace.

After church we boarded a cruiser on the Thames and sailed to the Tower of London and back.  Then we caught a black cab to The Castle in Notting Hill where we joined the locals in eating turkey and roast beef, popping Christmas crackers, and wearing paper crowns.

After walking back to the hotel and Skyping with family, as if on cue BBC provided a tradition usually done after Taylor and I decorated our tree on Jenry Court.  We watched White Christmas.  So many Christmas miracles.   My cup runneth over.

Here’s to light, love, and life in 2015.

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On a boat before us someone released pumpkin-sized bubbles into the air


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