Under the Moroccan Sun: Restoring a Holiday Home

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The house is a metaphor for the self, of course, but it also is totally real. And a foreign house exaggerates all the associations houses carry…. And, ah, the foreign self. The new life might shape itself to the contours of the house, which already is at home in the landscape, and to the rhythms around it.–Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I love a love story, a happy ending, a dream come true.

In 2016, three weeks before I left Marrakesh, I received a message from a blog reader, a woman from Kerry County, Ireland. She’d lived in London twenty years, eleven as a  flight attendant, and was then working in the Middle East.  She reached out as a kindred spirit:

I have visited Marrakech every year for the past five years and am totally in love with it. I stay in the same riad, eat in the same restaurants, Pepe Nero, Le Foundouk, and relax in the same spa. Why change somewhere you love going? I am convinced in a previous life I lived in Morocco. Anyway, I am thinking of buying a renovated riad in Marrakech…

She wondered if I had European friends who had bought riads there as well. She wasn’t buying as a business venture but as a holiday home for herself, friends, and family. We bonded over our favorite films, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, stories of women who restored houses and made new lives in faraway lands. She finished:

…actually felt the need to email you as you remind me so much of one of my friends, Jo, who is just so like you with her outlook and is always taking herself off to Italy.

PS I adore Italy. Tuscany & Venice are too of my favorite places.

And with that, we were friends. I connected her with homeowners in Marrakesh who had fulfilled the same dream. Over the next two years, we stayed in contact. 

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Photo provided by Maison 71

I looked forward to her photos and updates:

It was so much fun house hunting in Marrakech online in my living room. After much research, I contacted Chic Marrakech, an estate agency, and viewed options on my visit in October 2016. The moment I crossed the door at Maison No. 71, I knew it was the house for me.  The house was in good condition, but I could imagine vividly how beautiful it could be…

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When I set foot on the rooftop terrace I could see the snow- covered Atlas Mountains in the distance. It was idyllic. It just felt right. I could see the potential, and immediately I made an offer on that day.

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Realistically if you are going to buy in Marrakesh, you need to evaluate the state of the dwelling. Many of us fall in love with the property and we don’t want to suppose that the water tanks could burst or that there could be a damaged chimney. In my case I had no roof or canopy over the courtyard and of course when I returned in February 2017 to sign the paperwork for the house and collect my keys, it rained and rained and rained. It was cold and wet and I was not prepared for the wave of emotion which came over me. It only then dawned on me, “What have I done buying a house with no roof?”

Luckily I had a friend with me who calmed me down. The next morning the sun shone and everything fell into place. The seller was a very talented Italian man named Adriano who actually restores Moroccan properties and was so generous. He shared his workers with me and also gave me his valuable time and now it has lead to a wonderful friendship. I had to rely on photos of the work which was going on, especially when I decided to replace the doors and entrance tiles. 

She forwarded me photos documenting the restoration, a labor of love.

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Photo provided by Maison 71
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Door Delivery Photo Provided by Maison 71
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Photo provided by Maison 71

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Photo provided by Maison 71

From February 2017 to present I lovingly restored the house, from furniture to tiles, everything I sourced locally.  I wanted to keep it traditional with pops of color as Marrakech is bright and colorful.  I replaced my doors with glass doors to let in more light which is really lovely in the warm days to open the doors and hear the Medina sounds around.

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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There were some mad impulsive buys like the brass princess bed which I bought without thinking it through. However it is now a much admired bed by many of my guests.

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In the souks many purchases were made from Zouak artisans who made colorful Moroccan wooden tables and other crafts. 

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Everything was done slowly and I decorated room by room. Hours were spent in Bab El Khemis, a huge antique flea market, sourcing everything– Indian paintings, French chandeliers , Moroccan lanterns and furniture which I restored. Rugs, cushions, and blankets I purchased from a local shop on my street, of course bartering which is key in Marrakech and which I enjoyed. 

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Latest update Photo provided by Maison 71

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Since Spring 2018 my friends have visited Maison 71 and I celebrated my birthday there. They all love it as much as I do.  

I focused on finding a home, a project to work for, a focus and that became Maison 71. Passion and persistence is what really matters. Dreams are achievable with hard work and focus.  I made my dream my reality in my early 40’s. I found and bought my haven in a foreign land. My dream holiday home.–Caroline

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Last June, Caroline invited me to stay in her riad as a writing retreat. It was truly an honor and blessing.  More on that in the next post… 

I’m thankful for modern-day Pen Pals. Women who share their journeys, transform houses into homes, create beautiful spaces for the soul to breathe.

Maison 71 is in the heart of the Marrakech Medina and occasionally allows guests to rent the full house for retreats or long weekends. If interested, reference this post and make inquires here: admin@maison71marrakech.com

 

 

 

Past, Present, Future Dickens of a Christmas

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He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness. 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. —A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

A highlight of celebrating this Yuletide Season was Franklin’s “Dickens of a Christmas.”  Until last week, my sister, brother-in-law, and I had not done the annual event since first moving to Nashville.  Walking Main Street took me back to many-an-afternoon on Hoptown sidewalks spent window-shopping with Mama Lou–a time before Internet Wish Lists and a place when it was ok to spend a day “just looking.”  We’d stop in to see Mama Sargeant, Bookkeeper at J. C. Penney, have a banana split at the soda counter, and then head home to launch other adventures by way of Christmas classics.

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Both grandmothers loved books, so I met Mr. Dickens early in life. I loved Mama Lou’s Christmas Ideals (the book and her lifelong wonder found in simple things).  Brimming like a stuffed stocking, its pictures fed my imagination with conversations between Santa and Mrs. Claus; carolers in velvet, hooded capes; and children and dogs dallying in the snow.

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On December 15, as cold as the Decembers of our childhoods, Penny, Jeff, and I met Kim and Andy, Franklin residents and newlyweds, in the Franklin Square. On our Sunday stroll I felt fully alive, proven by our breath misting in the streets. Inside stores twinkled with lights and all-things-pretty–cozy bedding and tulle gowns worthy of wearing by the Sugar Plum Fairy and waiting for Santa himself. Though we bought only kettle corn and sugared pecans, we savored sweet Christmas past and present.  I don’t know what Christmas Future holds, but I am confident in the One who holds it.  All is calm, all is bright because as Dickens said:

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” —A Christmas Carol

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Puckett’s Boat House

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Merry Christmas and
Merry Christmas and “God Bless Us, Everyone!”

Kids, Chaos, and Puppy Love

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Mine would say Cindy.

No joke.  I truly thought when my children left the nest I’d fly away, too.  If I didn’t make it as far as Italy or Ecuador, I’d migrate south to Seagrove or west to Big Sur.  I’d park my vintage camper (circa 1959) and chase seagulls, collect shells, and make a mermaid my muse.  I’d bake pies like Sylvia Plath and burn rubber if I met a Ted Hughes.  I’d brunch with friends every Sunday, do book tours, and sell shirts at book fests from Austin to Boston.

My baby moved to college last August.   I’m still on Jenry Court.  It seems that while the gypsy- in- me has fantasized for years about holding up a sign on the Church Street bridge that reads, “WILL WORK FOR TRAVEL,” the mommy- in- me isn’t going anywhere.  Not for now anyway.  Maybe when my kids are out of college and in careers they love.  Maybe when I’m over teaching.  Maybe not.

We moved to this old house when Cole was three months old, and he’ll be twenty March 8th.  Outside my bedroom window, the magnolia tree, leathery leaves rustling, recollects when my boy fell from a high limb, chipping the growth plate in his ankle.  The dogwood creaks in the winter wind, bare arms spread protectively over the resting place of Annie, our golden girl three years gone.   The swing that held Taylor and Precious, her Persian, sways silently, patiently waiting for the little girl to return.

And she does.  Running ahead of her to my front door are Lindsey and Laila, the four and seven year-olds she loves like her own, my precious “grandgirls.”   They can’t wait to climb all over Cole, a 6’4” Gentle Giant come home from college, and love on Ella, my late-in-life child.

I had been on dog rescue lists for about a year, and my friends, Emily and Kim, had Facebooked me pictures of dogs in need of homes, but I wasn’t sure I could handle loving and losing again. Likewise, since my niece, Abby, started volunteering at the Bowling Green Humane Society, she’d texted photos of puppies.  I wasn’t sure if this time I’d go for a petite poofy pooch—a cuddly couch cohort–or another Golden Retriever—a hiking companion with a watchdog bark.  As a Romantic, I just knew I’d know it’s time when I saw The One.

When Abby sent a picture of a beautiful 4- month- old yellow lab with the softest fur, velvet ears, soulful eyes, and sweet face, I knew she was my baby.   The nesting I did last year– the unexplainable energy to grow a garden, paint walls, and make cupcakes pretty- as- Pinterest–all makes sense now.  I knew I was cooking like Paula Deen to lure my kids home, but I didn’t realize I was feathering my nest for new chicks.  The angst I felt a year ago, the need to make a move since Taylor and Cole were moving on, settled down and not because I settled.  Though I planned to heed the lead of my globe-trotting friend, Rawsam, and downsize to a single box of possessions, freeing me to fly, I found myself filling a sole box…for Goodwill.  Becoming a mom again didn’t ground me.  It was grounding.

Like a decade ago when I stockpiled frozen casseroles and decorated nurseries with Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh,  I’m now filling Hello Kitty totes with crayons and coloring books and a dress-up trunk with feathered boas, head pieces, and old evening gowns.  I’d worn those formals out-on-the-town, then Taylor wore them trick or treating, and last New Year’s Eve, Lindsey and Laila wore them too.

Bringing in 2013 was wild.  Cole, Taylor, Chris, the girls, the pets and I gathered at my house for a sleepover.   We popped popcorn, ate candy, and watched television till midnight—just like I’d done with my grandparents, sister, and cousins.  The girls had never stayed up so late.  Laila lined up Taylor’s dolls as we watched Marley and Me (sans the sad part).   We laughed at how much Baby Marley looked like Baby Ella.  Then I didn’t laugh at how much they are alike.

As the ball dropped on Times Square, Lindsey twirled around the room in my satin formal, saying she was at a “beautiful ball.”  Then she squealed—not because she had lost her glass slipper, but because    Ella had pooped on her dance floor.  Since some parts of 2012 had been poopy, we said all the more reason to look forward to an even better 2013.  I insist the poop fell before the ball, and I’m sticking to it.

As for Ella, the adventure continues.   She licks me awake every morning and still tries to  jump like a jackrabbit to my chest, on the couch and sometimes on the cat despite doctor’s orders and my commands not to.  While I was at work, Houdini bent the kennel with her nose, escaped, and chewed my favorite shoes.  Pulling fast ones, she switched toys and rawhides to chew her leash and the foot of my antique sofa.  Though I puppy-proofed the bathroom,  she apparently climbed on the toilet seat, yanked the Venetian blinds from the top of the window to the window seal, and chewed them like bubble gum.  When I came home, she limped to see me as Cole did when he fell from the tree.  Ella fractured her tibia crest near her growth plate, scaring me to death and sending the vet on a vacation.  I wasn’t invited.  But as a friend with four golden retrievers said, I’ve invested in a companion and Europe will be there.  My mom, sis and daughter rallied around the patient, offering to sit with her if needed.  She’s family, and I couldn’t love her more.

Guess I’ve come full circle.  With a twist.  Keeping with tradition, I might take Ella to Florida this spring since Cole went there after his foot fracture—his cast covered in plastic.  Maybe the whole gang will go. Or one day we may pull that camper to Cali, Ella riding shotgun, my kids and their families following behind.    Home is where the heart is.  I hope mine always beats with kids, chaos, and puppy love.

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Abby’s pic of The One
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Cole and Magnolia
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Baby
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Cole’s move
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Laila and Lindsey at the New Year’s Eve Ball
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Taylor, Laila and me Christmas Eve
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Someday

 

 

 

 

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True Blue

I’ll have a blue Christmas. But not the kind Elvis sang about.

I had those blues all spring as I fretted over fall when my nest would empty. I’d always said that when my chicks left, I’d fly away, too, preferably to anywhere under the Tuscan sun. Or, if I stayed in town, to a bungalow in East Nashville. But when the whole Metamorphosis- thing finally came, it left me feeling more like Kafka’s Beetle-Boy than Skynyrd’s Freebird. Rather than soaring on wings I felt upside down, feet flailing. After living with parents, a college roommate, then a family of my own, I’d never flown solo. Existential choices over where to go and what to do made my Hamlet head spin. Wings felt…well, weird. Trying another metaphor, I repeated the mantra: “Leap, and the net will appear.” I asked Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, her thoughts on the matter. After all, she created my gypsy girl, Vianne, and lived the true artist’s life. Harris’ advice: “Try it over water.”

As with every summer, I found peace. I spent days on the deck–writing, reading, praying, swinging. I decided I would stay on Jenry Court. Like Amanda Wingfield, I made “plans and provisions” but not for a gentleman caller. In this old house I’d hosted daily, though often unaware, what Williams called that “long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” As Cole reminded me, I’d raised him (and his sister) to adulthood and as he put it, “It has been a fun ride.” So happily I painted outdoor furniture for a family sendoff for him and my niece, Abby. The night after I took him to college, I cooked an Italian dinner for friends. We gathered in a celebration of change.

Inside I colored my world with what makes me happy–Tiffany blue–alongside my ubiquitous rich reds and punchy pinks. What a difference a can of paint can make.

I vowed to stay true to what I love–entertaining and writing–and claimed a room with a view. My dining area doubles as my writing space and from behind my computer I see pictures of good times with friends and family. My easel waits patiently in one corner while the grandfather clock I bought with money my dad left me ticks off time in another. Engraved inside the glass door is Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days, so we may present to thee a heart of wisdom.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Nick, our neighbor, came home from his college on Thanksgiving break and played Xbox with Cole. Last night Taylor, Mom and I saw the final movie in the Twilight series. Tay and I thought it was the best of the bunch. We finished leftovers today, and Cole and Mom are watching Home Alone–the original–downstairs. Thankfully, some things don’t change.