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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Day 1 - Travel to Casablanca and Tangier


(First night in Tangier, Morocco. Spain is behind us just across the water)

First off, the excitement of a dream coming true - finally going to Morocco?! I practically floated onto the plane at SFO. I had been dreaming of this trip since I was 14 and it was here! Here I am trying on my pack the day before leaving:



Osprey packs are THE BEST. I can't say enough good things about these. We decided to do this whole trip with just our backpacks and a duffle bag for souvenir overflow. We hauled them over to the other side of the world, dragged them through trains, taxis, the desert, the mountains, through medina's and souks and they were perfection. If you are looking for a hardworking travel pack look no further than Osprey. 

We flew from SFO to JFK on Jet Blue. It was easy and painless. Then we had a 3 hour layover before boarding Royal Air Maroc for our 7 hour flight to Casablanca. The plane was a brand new dreamliner and was SO nice. Each of the seats had a big screen with plenty of free movies and TV plus a USB port at each seat. NICE. As soon as we boarded the plane loud Arabian music began playing and continued until we were 10,000 feet in the air. To my untrained ears it sounded a lot like Indian music...but what do I know.

My husband and I were some of the only Americans flying to Morocco. It was a full flight and truly an immediately immersive experience into Middle Eastern and African culture. All of the women on the flight wore a headcovering of some kind. I heard almost no English. My seat mate was a young Moroccan mother traveling with her 18 month old son. She was also pregnant and we can all imagine how tiring it is to travel while battling morning sickness and caring for a toddler. I held her son a few times on the trip and loved being able to help. Sam's seat mates were from Liberia and spoke very little English. It was our first time flying back to Africa since our journey five years ago to Ethiopia and honestly, it felt like going home. Crazy right?

Once we landed in Casablanca, we each took up residence in the bathroom to change clothes and clean up a bit. Brushing your teeth and applying deoderant after a long flight is positively renewing. I'm glad that we took our time cleaning up because we stood in customs for nearly 2 hours. Just STANDING. We hardly ever moved more than a snails pace every 15 minutes. I still do not know why it took so long. It was hot and dingy in that part of the airport and I needed to do some positive thinking/deep breathing/digging deep to GET THROUGH the ridiculousness of it all. Plus...jet laaaaaggggggg...

Then it was over and we were through. We ran out to the taxi line and I quickly asked the first driver I saw if he spoke English. Ummmm...clearly he did not. I switched to French and got us on our way to the Casa Voys train station in Casablanca. For some reason, I thought that this taxi trip would be five minutes long. It was more like 25-30 minutes. My brain was fried from traveling and I quickly realized that I was going to need my French to come through for me in a big way because people were NOT speaking English.

After an initial scuffle with the taxi driver over the price (our first attempted shake down of the trip!) we ran into the train station with about 15 minutes to spare to make our train. I had studied up on all of my train station/purchasing vocabulary and it worked perfectly! I think it was about $50 for both of our tickets. Let this be a lesson to you: study the languages you will be encountering on your international journeys. It makes everything so much easier. Also as a side note, we decided early in our trip planning to simply land in Casablanca and be on our way. There isn't much to see or do there (although the name evokes a mysterious Hollywood glamour) and we wanted to spend two nights in Tangier.

Have you seen the film Darjeeling Limited? It is a favorite of my husband and mine. The train travel in that film was fairly similar to what we encountered in Morocco. We booked a first class compartment, which is just a fancy way for saying that there were six comfortable seats inside our compartment instead of eight or ten cramped seats like in the second class cars. There was a snack cart that would come through the compartments every hour or so and a rudimentary bathroom at either end of the car. The seats were comfortable and we were wiped from being awake for nearly 24 hours. We both crashed as the train made its way through the countryside from Casablanca to Tangier. The journey took about 4 1/2 hours.

(Sam on the train...)

Upon arriving in the port city of Tangier, we ran from the train to grab a taxi. Our taxi driver was a bit of a hustler but at least he was pleasant about it. He drove a circa 1970 Mercedes sedan, had on a red and white striped shirt, a cigarette behind his ear and spoke only French. It was like something out of an old movie.

We stayed at the riad  Dar Chams Tanja near the wall of the old Kasbah.

 

We later discovered Dar Chams was in a GREAT location. I would absolutely stay there again. The owners are an older French couple and were really charming. They spoke almost no English so I was up to bat again with translating duties. By the time I went to bed on that first night my brain was so tired of translating:).  Our hosts got us situated with pastries and our first proper cups of mint tea on the roof.




This was the first time that we heard the call to prayer from mosques across Tangier. I can't fully describe how incredible it was to hear in person for the first time. I loved it. I never grew tired of hearing it and looked forward to it every day of our 12 days in Morocco.

 

We had the best views of the old city as well as the port from the roof of our riad.

Eventually we settled in a bit and headed out looking for dinner (it was now nearly 5:30 PM). We were taking our cues from Anthony Bourdain and his CNN Parts Unknown special on Tangier. He had talked about Cafe Tingis, Cafe Baba and a magnificent meal at Saveur de Poisson. We set out to find all three.





(But first, old door with blue washed walls? Thank you Tangier!)


We literally stumbled onto the legendary Cafe Tingis! I was so excited. Cafe Tingis is located in the historic Petit Socco (or Little Square) of Tangier and has been around since early Venetian times.


(Fresh oranges in a cart near the Petit Socco)

 (One of the many alleyways near the Petit Socco in Tangier)



(We encountered many beautiful neighborhood mosques. I could not stop snapping pictures.)


Next it was onto the famous Saveur de Poisson. You guys. This the best meal I had the entire time I was in Morocco. Hands down. This wasn't just a meal, it was an experience. This place is only open for a few hours in the afternoon and then after 7:00 PM in the evening. The owner brings in herbs and vegetables from his farm somewhere near Tangier. No one really speaks English. The restaurant is very small and rustic and smells divine. There is no menu and dinner comes in four courses. We began with olives and some kind of insanely delicious sauce and breads and nuts.


Just looking at the above photo makes me feel crazy inside. The next course brought a seafood soup and then the best fish I have ever tasted. The olives? Out of this world. We ate shark for the first time and dove into dishes of food where we had no idea what we were eating. It didn't matter; everything was delicious. At one point I asked for a glass of water and was told, "No water. Only juice". The juice was some crazy pulpy blend of grapes and plums and maybe blueberries? I lapped it up. Dessert was honey drizzled over berries and almonds.

Sam remembered the happy character in the photo above from the Anthony Bourdain CNN special. This man is the owner and spends the evening running around the small restaurant space filling bowls, bringing heaps and heaps of fish and breads, smiling and laughing with the guests. He did not speak French or English, only Arabic, so our communications were pointing and simple phrases. We soon noticed he was bringing us more treats than the other tables (extra berries and honey, more mint tea). Finally as we were leaving, he washed off two sets of wooden spoons and forks, gave them to me and hugged both me and Sam. It was a magical evening and the perfect end to our first night in Morocco. 

If you ever find yourself in Tangier you MUST go to Saveur de Poisson. If you do nothing else, go there.

Next up: Day 2 in Morocco and more exploration in Tangier.























Saturday, June 27, 2015

The sky...

Tonight the sky was epic. I noticed there was a rosy light coming through my windows and went outside for closer inspection. I looked up and there were pink wisps of cotton candy clouds with the moon shining brightly in the center of it all. I closed my eyes for a moment and just thanked my Heavenly Father for making something so beautiful.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Playroom Redo

The two hardest working rooms in our house are the laundry/pantry and our playroom. Alright, honestly you could argue that each and every room of our 2800 square foot house is hardworking but that doesn't serve me as well for this post. THIS is about our playroom.


Remember my alphabet wall? Here is another view of it.

We have four kids. The playroom sits at the very front of our house, right by the front door. Most people with this kind of floorplan use this space for their formal dining or living room but puh-lease. We are firmly informal people in this house. We decided years ago to use this space as a playroom.



The space has undergone many revamps over the years. The baby/toddler phase was full of plastic and wood toys and baby gates and color and craziness. Honestly, I don't miss those days too much. Today the space needs to function for two little kids embarking on their first pages of homework, puzzle piecing, drawing, and the occasional doll hospital. It also needs to function as a place to house a large percentage of our family books, an art cart and a prime area to look out the window at the garden. Seriously, we spend a lot of time looking at that garden.


I purchased this white Kallax bookshelf from Ikea about a week ago. I am one of those really strange people who enjoy assembling things from Ikea. Weird, right? Anyway, it took just under an hour to get it together and it is SOLID. I love the glossy finish and generous cubby shelves. The clear baskets on the bottom row were purchased at Target. The transparency makes it easier for my kids to see what they actually have to play with. Since this is a playroom and all, I would like for them to play with their toys. The big red lantern is from Home Goods, as is the crocheted giraffe. That giraffe was a total inpulse buy years ago and I have never regretted it. My ball garland is fashioned from felted wool balls I picked up during my recent trip to Morocco. More on that here.


The big globe is a Goodwill find years ago. We have two children born in Ethiopia and globes have played a necessary part in understanding the journey our family went on to assemble all of us. There is something special about using your finger to trace a story on a globe. It never gets old.


The ball that looks like a colorful soccer ball is from our trip to Ethiopia a few years ago. We bought it at the orphanage where our children were living. See the blue cart in the background there?


There she is! This is the Ikea Raskog cart and it is worth its weight in gold. Although, it doesn't weigh much at all so that analogy won't really work...

This cart is command central for all four kids. I have a few chalk painted mason jars that were left over from another project corralling pencils and markers. The two shelves below are strictly for papers and coloring books. Having all of the art stuff in one simple cart has kept the playroom really clean. Like, shockingly clean.

I made the curtains out of some decorator weight fabric from Hancock Fabric. I always forget how much I hate sewing curtains until it is done and hung and I fall in love. These are the exact curtains that I could not find anywhere.

So that's our playroom space. I have listed a few sources below. Do you have a dedicated playroom in your house? What are your methods for keeping it both fun and functional? I would love to hear them!

Sources:

Black and white curtain fabric from Hancock Fabrics
Large silver star: Taipan Trading
Large red wood lantern: Home Goods
White bookshelf: Ikea
Bookshelf clear baskets: Target
Globes: Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Goodwill
Vintage school house chairs: local thrift and antique stores
Art table: Ikea
Art cart: Ikea
Silver stool: Overstock.com

Thursday, June 25, 2015

DIY: Playroom Alphabet Wall!




Earlier this year I decided to create an eclectic alphabet wall in our playroom. It started with a few fabric letters I had found at Anthropologie and grew from there. Slowly, I collected letters from Urban Outfitters, World Market, off of ebay, thrift stores, and garage sales. Eventually, I purchased several blank letters at Michaels and embellished them myself.



The whole process took quite awhile. I wanted each letter to be perfect, to tell a story. See the letter 'M' there in the bottom left corner? I dug into my vintage button jar and hot glued every cool button I could find. Then I added old wooden game pieces I had. Do the buttons and game pieces have anything to do with the letter 'M'? Of course not. I just liked the way it looked!



I did the same thing with the letter 'D'. This time I also included some vintage earrings and pins I received from a friend. They bejeweled my new "D' quite nicely.

With my letter 'O' I took some gorgeous yarn I had laying around (I don't knit but I love yarn. Go figure...) and simply wrapped it around the form.


I did a little letter prep each week until one day I had them all! It was like Christmas morning. Now it was time to assemble 26 letters on a narrow wall. Initially, I figured I would go in alphabet order. I am slightly OCD and couldn't imagine NOT keeping the letters in order. But once I got everything laid out I realized that I hated it. So I mixed up letters based on size and texture. I kept my Anthropologie letters evenly spaced (I had the most of those) with everything else. Now it all made sense.


I hung each letter on the wall with special 3M Velcro Command Picture Hanging Strips. This stuff is AMAZING. My husband was extremely concerned about me putting 26 nail holes in the wall; these strips made him feel better about my design project.


If you have the time, this is a great project to tackle. It isn't hard at all. What makes this particular DIY work best (in my opinion) is having many different shapes, sizes and textures in your alphabet. And that takes time to acquire organically. I spent many evenings scouring ebay for "vintage alphabet letters" and "fabric letters" and "painted letters". Also for this project, hot glue is your friend.

This is a motif that would look great as an accent wall in a nursery, childrens bedroom, playroom or even an office. In my house, our alphabet takes up the wall between my foyer and playroom and never feels childish or out of place.

Is this a project you would like to try? For more alphabet wall inspiration check out this board on Pinterest!





Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mini Moroccan Master Makeover

OK...it's not a FULL blown makeover but man it makes me happy.

My one purchasing goal for my recent trip to Morocco was to bring back a traditional Moroccan wedding blanket known as a handira. Learn more about these gorgeous works of art via Apartment Therapy and a post they did on handiras awhile back. These are Berber made blankets and I have been lusting after one for about a year.

We purchased our king size handira in Fes, down a back alley up many stairs in a very old riad. If my life depended on getting you back to that place, well, shoot me now because I could never find it again. These wedding blankets are expensive but I feel like my negotiating got us a fair deal. We paid $200 USD down from $350 USD. Earlier in the day we were quoted $1700 USD at another place and the blanket wasn't nearly as beautiful as the one we bought.

Here is the handira on our bed at home...



I added a strung garland of embroidered felted wool balls that I purchased from the fabric souk area of Marrakech. Again, these were Berber made and each one is a little work of art. Here are the balls before I strung them...



I knew that I wanted to string them up and hang them over my bed so that is exactly what I did.




There is our gorgeous handira on the bed. Additional pillow cases are from World Market and Anthropologie. Wooden carvings over the bed are from about 5 years ago and also from World Market.

And that completes my Mini Moroccan Master Makeover!



Friday, June 19, 2015

A Public Service Announcement on Honesty

This morning I was talking on my cell phone while driving. Bad move, Sara.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the store I was going to I noticed flashing lights behind me. My stomach sank. I was toast.

The officer came up to my car window. I looked at him sheepishly. I knew what was coming.

"M'am, do you know why I am here right now?"

"Oh yes. I completely screwed up. I know exactly why you are here. I am totally sorry. Here is my license."

He then asked for my insurance and registration. I fumbled through my WAY too messy glove box and pulled out various pieces of paper.

"Ummmm...Here is my registration. Oh whoops! That is from 2008. Hmmmm...Oh look! Here's another one! Oh wait...this is from 2012. What is happening? I really do own this car..."

At this point both the officer and my daughter Sophie were shaking their heads silently. I realized I was doomed.

"Ummm...OK I have no idea where my current registration is. I don't know what to tell you. But here is my insurance paper! Oh crap! That's from 2011! Hang on, hang on...here it is! Oh wait...that's 2014. I can't believe this is happening to me. Oh look here is another one! This is it! Ummmm...sorry this is NOT it. I swear I have valid insurance and registration but I am probably not going to find it in this car. Like...ever. Hmmmm. I'm sorry".

Sophie would not even make eye contact with me. She was silently dying inside and probably thinking her mother will be led off to jail.

The officer took ALL of my various pieces of paper and retreated to his motorcycle. Mentally I started to prepare for going to jail. I also continued to look for valid pieces of paper regarding insurance and registration. I never found any. I started calculating what I was sure was going to be a giant ticket. I mean, how could it not be giant?

The officer returned to my car window.

"M'am? I've just got to tell you...honesty goes a long way with me. You were immediately honest about everything. The cell phone. The insurance. The registration. Immediately. And not everyone does that. It is NOT Ok that you were on your cell phone while driving. But like I said, honesty goes a long way with me. So today I am giving you a warning."

I almost burst into tears. I did not deserve this kind of a break.

So the lesson in all of this? Be honest in all of your dealings! Even when you know you have screwed up badly! Especially when you have screwed up badly! Don't hide it - just admit it. For goodness sake, make sure you have your car insurance papers and registration in a logical place. Seriously. Where ARE those papers? And finally, don't talk on your cell phone and drive at the same time.This is pretty darn important.

This concludes my PSA for the day. All hail honesty!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Baby Burp Cloths and Bibs and Beauty, Oh MY!

I have enjoyed running my little baby accessories company Trulaaluu for about 5 years now. Recently, I worked on delivery of burp cloths and bibs using vintage quilt toppers for a favorite store in town that carries my line. Working with such beautiful and old materials makes my heart swell every time. And guys, this stuff isn't that hard. It is really the kind of DIY work that just about anyone can do.




This first step is pretty unglamorous. I pull out all of my patterns and cut away at beautiful material. The novelty wears off after about 20 minutes of cutting and piecing. That's some herbal tea there in the center. It helped :).

The lovely vintage quilt toppers get pinned to cotton chenille fabric. It finally becomes this:





I've been making these for years. My mom helped me develop the pattern almost 10 years ago and I haven't strayed from it. I love the chenille border on the burp cloths and the blankets that I make and I love the size of the bibs. Thanks mom - you did a good job with this pattern!

I find my cotton prints all over the place. If you have been a visitor on this blog for more than five minutes you know that I am drawn to vibrant colors. I do not believe that baby products need to subscribe to the typical pink and blue ONLY. Kids are so much more interesting with their little personalities and proclivities that their products should reflect that! I source my prints from thrift stores, estate sales, vintage sellers on ebay, interesting sheets or old table cloths and occasionally my local Joann's. I always buy my chenille at Joanns. I take advantage of their 40%-50% off coupons that come around every few weeks which keeps my costs a bit lower.

I started making baby accessories when my oldest daughter was a newborn and for the first four years I was going gangbusters. I sold to 50 different retailers, both online and brick and mortar shops. I had retailers in the United Kingdom, Australia, Iceland, Canada and all over the U.S. And then I got totally burnt out. I didn't love what I was doing anymore. I never had a day off; taking vacations was so stressful because I was constantly making and shipping orders. At the time I had two small children and I always felt like I was being pulled in a million different directions. When it came time to start our adoption process of our younger two from Ethiopia, I pulled the plug. I stepped away for two full years.

Gradually I came back but in a MUCH smaller capacity. I thought about retaining a factory and scaling my whole operation much larger. After a lot of soul searching I decided that didn't feel right. Instead I decided to work with 5 shops, all local here in the Bay Area. I make what I want when I want. This direction has worked for me for several years and makes me happy.



 Here are a few of my products featured at one of our local stores. I love walking in and seeing how things I made have been staged!

Have you ever started a small business that got to become too big for you? What did you do?






Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Trip of a Lifetime - Morocco - Introduction







I returned from Morocco about 5 days ago; this is my favorite photo of me from our trip. I don't even know how to begin talking about this trip. It was the adventure of a lifetime, an absolute dream come true. I have been dreaming of going to Morocco since I was 14 years old. I decided about two years ago that when I turned 40 in 2015, I wanted to go. I'm not usually one for putting exclamation marks on birthdays or anniversaries with a trip...but this was different. I have felt like I should be 40 for at least 10 years now. I have packed a lot into 40 years and I was really looking forward to feeling like my soul was properly joined with my physical age. I have wanderlust for adventure and travel. I knew that turning 40 would need a proper punctuation and what better way to make this special birthday than with a trip to a long awaited destination? Morocco or bust :).

My sweet husband left all of the details of our trip up to me. He knew how much this trip meant to me and wanted it to be perfect. I spent many, many evenings searching for the perfect riad, the most amazing hole in the wall restaurants, the most choice treasures to buy. And then one day, I put together a 6 page Word document itinerary and it was done. Done! The only left to do was to travel!

We spent 12 days journeying throughout Morocco. We flew from NYC to Casablanca, then hopped a train from Casablanca to Tangier which was roughly 4 1/2 hours away. After a few days in Tangier, we hopped another train to Fes, approximately 5 hours away. After several days in Fes, we met up with our private guide and journeyed through the Middle Atlas and High Atlas Mountains until we came to the edge of the Sahara Desert. From there, we got on camels and trekked about an hour into the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara. We spent the night under the stars; it was one of the most magical nights of my life. The next day we trekked back out and journeyed through the countryside until we hit Dades Gorge and Todres Gorge. Finally we made our way to Marrakech for an unforgettable 3 1/2 days, followed by a cab to Casablanca and back home to San Francisco via NYC.

Whew.

That is the short, short version. In order to really do this trip justice, I will be breaking down the different legs of our journey into proper posts. So settle in and get ready to learn about Morocco! First up, the journey from NYC to Tangier via Casablanca :)


Friday, May 22, 2015

DIY: Yarn Bombing

Did you know that yarn bombing is a real thing? Like, a legitimate art form?!

My good friend Kristy has been yarn bombing around her neighborhood in NYC and everywhere else that she visits (from California to Iceland) for years now. When she visited our family two years ago she yarn bombed my street sign and a rock in our front yard. BAM! I was hooked.

I am game for anything that I can make with my own two hands and is colorful. Let it be known that I do not know how to knit or crochet. However, that didn't stop me from my yarn bombing exploits! I simply went to our local Goodwill and neighborhood thrift shops and picked up various multi colored afghans and scarves. I chopped them up, attached them to a tree in my back yard (sewing them up with simple needle and thread) and voila! New life given to the faded glory of a thrift shop blanket!



Here is a tree in our backyard. There are afghans, knitted scarves and colorful skeins of wool covering this tree. I also found an adorable already yarn bombed bird feeder from Target (from their Christmas ornament collection last year). I mean...totally fun, right?!

Here is another view of this beauty...



ANYONE can do this. If you are looking to add a little color to your landscape, yarn bombing could be for you. Have at it; you can't go wrong with this art form!



Full disclosure: Over time, yarn will fade outside. The elements will do a number on your brightly colored patchworks of yarn. BUT. You should be able to get 2-3 years of life out of a yarn bomb project. If you live in an area with a lot of rain (sadly, here in the Bay Area we are in a drought so yarn bombs stay regrettably pristine) you may get your colors washed out faster.





Monday, May 11, 2015

Now THAT'S a Staircase!








make the stairway a statement!

OK, it's a little wild, right? But I do love it oh so much...

To see more of this staircase and the house it resides in visit this article in W Magazine.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Explosions of Color


When Marcel Christ combined the mediums of pastel chalks and photography, it resulted in true work of arts. The artist describes playing with the chalk as an experiment that he responded to with still photographs. These images are full of life and have an explosive like quality to them that have captured our eye and our love for all things colorful.

I discovered this series of chalk explosions by the photographer Marcel Christ recently and fell in love. Aren't they elegant? To see more of Marcels work visit his site here.