the countryside of morocco

in the countryside of morocco

From the big cities and medinas…to the countryside of northwestern Morocco.  Experiencing daily life with friends and their family in the town of Khouribga was a treat and most definitely off the tourist trails.  Visits to the grocery store, the butcher, the local Sunday flea market, restaurants, a plant store…not to mention trips to the cities of Boujad and Oued Zem.

Khouribga is a very well kept city known for their phosphate deposits nearby and by the way…proud of the recent opening of their first McDonald’s!  The holy town of Boujad was absolutely adorable and amazed me that tourists haven’t found out about it yet.  It sits on the caravan route that once ran between Marrakech and Fez and brings crowds of pilgrims from all over for annual gatherings.  Then in Oued Zem, a visit to The Flying Camel Women’s Training Center.  The sisters who own Mushmina (think special, carefully crafted fashion, accessory and home items) recently opened a center providing 30 women in rural regions of Morocco with training in employable skills such as embroidery, sewing, and pattern making.  A wonderful opportunity to see firsthand how the women work together to attain financial stability.

Still recovering from my illness, one experience that just didn’t happen was spending time with a sheep herder.  Oh well, when the opportunity is right, it’ll happen!

So that wraps up my trip to Morocco for now…I’m off to discover more of Mexico!  See you in a couple of weeks, but hopefully I’ll be able to share a postcard or two during the interim!

happy birthday central park!

central park bethesda mall polaroid

Summer, Spring, Fall or Winter…Central Park…I ♥ you!

Amazing to think Central Park is 161 years old today!  Wow!  Happy Birthday!

When I think back over the five years of living in the city and having so many experiences in Central Park, there’s one event that will always stand out.  The first annual spring celebration in 2013, complete with music, refreshments and fireworks.

All sprawled out on the lawn overlooking the Bethesda Fountain area in the park, we enjoyed a picnic while hanging out waiting for “the show.”  Along for the ride was my 30 year old Polaroid One-Step that produced the featured photo above.

And then, as if within seconds, a dark foreboding sky appeared…

Central park spring celebration downpour

Not realizing how quickly something was about to happen, we all continued to enjoy our picnics and the incredible spring-like weather. And then BAM!  Lightning and thunder all around.  Park attendants appeared out of nowhere with their loudspeakers advising us to take cover.  The sky let loose with the fattest raindrops that within seconds grew into a major downpour.  Imagine this crowd of people all trying to squeeze into the lower passage of the Bethesda Terrace all with soaked picnic supplies and blankets.

  central park spring celebration downpour

Soaked…totally soaked…and that was the death of my Polaroid camera.  (Thank goodness I was able to protect my “big girl camera!”)

I’ve never experienced such beauty, such craziness within minutes of each other.  It was one soggy evening…and yes, the show did go on as well as me taking photographs, ha!

central park downpour

Most definitely a Central Park evening to remember!

Happy Birthday and here’s to many, many more years of enjoyment!

works of art at the chicago botanic garden

Oh my…the incredible manicured gardens…orchards and veggie beds…lakes, waterfalls…birds…amazing vistas…and a restaurant that will just absolutely knock your socks off!  This is the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  Oh, and let’s not forget…a breathtaking wedding venue.

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

The bonsai collection is recognized as one of the finest public collections in North America.  Simply stunning!

bonsai tree at Chicago Botanic Garden

The following bonsai specimen is about three feet tall.  Imagine how adorable it’ll look in autumn!

bonsai collection at chicago botanic garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Gardens

It’s been awhile since visiting Chicago, so receiving an invitation to attend a wedding from an adorable couple was a no-brainer.  Thank you Scott and David for extending the invitation!  THE BEST wedding ever and a great get-a-way weekend!  These photos were taken at various times…early morning – the best…during the day – not so good…but salvageable!  Just imagine this place during autumn!

Enjoy your weekend!

And more important…my thoughts are with the victims of flight MH17 and the people they left behind…


people of morocco

Photographing people isn’t always easy.  Toss in Morocco and it’s almost impossible.  Three years ago on my initial visit to this country, one of my first captures was a guy giving me the finger as we entered the medina of Marrakech.  That was pretty telling.

marrakech, moroccoWhen we see people who look and do things different from us, of course we want to take their photo.  Especially in Morocco where it’s common to see people dressed in their djellabas and kaftans.  But clearly Moroccans don’t like to be photographed, especially by tourists.  Is it a Moroccan thing or a Muslim thing that makes them shy away from the camera?

My sources tell me that many Moroccans have photos of themselves, so clearly it isn’t what you read about the camera stealing their soul.  I had the opportunity to visit in the homes of several families.  One Moroccan family shared their photo albums and another freely took photos of us!  The consensus is that it’s all about privacy.

Just like this gal in Chefchaouen…as soon as I raised my camera she immediately used her baking pan to cover her face…(damn…what a great shot that would’ve been!)  Here’s an example of having no time to ask for permission.  Rounding the corner and in a spit nanosecond a quintessential cultural moment happened and as a photographer…well it’s automatic…your camera meets your eye and you try to capture the moment!  <sorry!>

moroccan woman

Photographing people really has to do with the approach.  While traveling, I see so many photographers that only want the photo and no intentions of interacting with the people.  For me, it’s very much both.  Like this gentleman in Fez.  What immediately drew me to him was a combination of things…the texture of the medina wall, the artistic metal bench, his oversized coat, bright red hat, and that sweet face…

Our eyes connected and I pointed to my camera and he nodded his head yes…a beautiful interaction where he didn’t feel awkward and I skipped merrily away with my capture!

(And yes, I know that smiles and eye contact with men in Morocco can suggest more than what’s meant, but a smile and eye contact just happens with me without any thought.  So I just can’t help it.)

moroccan man

This capture was made by “shooting from the hip”…the person had no idea…you have your camera by your waist/hip area, you take aim and hope for the best.  This takes lots and lots of practice with your camera.

moroccan man

This gal knew how to work the camera and of course wanted to be paid…which btw…did not happen.

moroccan girl

And then of course when you catch people napping…easy peasy!

moroccan man

sleeping man in morocco

Or when their mind is totally preoccupied…

man in morocco

 moroccan man in chefchaeon

Of course shopping always provides opportunities to photography people. They want your money, right?  This man was different though…he so enjoyed helping us purchase plants at a greenhouse out in the countryside.  I’m sure we made his day as much as he made ours.  And yes…more smiles and eye contact.  So sweet…he was still waving at us as we drove away…

moroccan man

Obtaining permission from the parent before photographing small children is an absolute must for me.  In a country where communication is a struggle, it really is as simple as pointing at your camera and then waiting to see if it’s a go or no go. This language is universal.  Oh how I could’ve spent hours photographing these two!  And yes, the key chain was a gift.

i love nyc

A totally different experience with this father and daughter.  We came across them during our fabric shopping experience in Casablanca. The father saw my camera, but also saw my enjoyment of watching their affection towards each other…I pointed at my camera and took several photos.  It was the last frame that really captured the essence of this father-daughter relationship.  Who needs words when you have a capture like this?

moroccan father and daughter

With the news that Marrakech, Morocco will soon be home to the world’s largest museum devoted to photography…well let’s just say…how interesting! (If you have a moment to check out this link, be sure to listen to the interview.)

Curious…if you’ve traveled to Morocco…would love to hear about your experience photographing the locals?

We’re closing in on this visit to Morocco…one more post coming up with some captures from the countryside and sharing a little more about the Moroccan culture…thanks so much for all of your visits and comments!

singing the blues in chefchaouen

Chefchoun, Morocco

It’s taken a fellow blogger friend to remind me that this Moroccan trip was during Mercury Retrograde.  Well…between the jinns and the Mercury Retrograde…it all makes sense now!  You know about the jinns, so let me sum up my findings about mercury retrograde.  According to astrologer Larry Schwimmer…we should try to avoid traveling a lot from June 7th to July 1st during 2014.  “Allow extra time…make sure your bags are secure…take precautions as during this time they may be more likely to be stolen…delays and cancellations can be expected.”  Alrighty then!  That explains a lot.

We traveled to the adorable little town of Chefchaouen, nestled in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, on June 9th.  Unfortunately our suitcases didn’t, nor did they ever arrive during the three days of our stay.  Numerous conversations were had between our fabulous manager of our hotel (Casa Perleta) and the bus station…police reports were filed…all taking away precious time from seeing the sights and of course photographing!

On top of lost luggage, yours truly gets sick.  Well, I’ll go no further with the details, but just know it took me five plus days to get over it.  And guess what was in my suitcase?  Yep, all kinds of drugs that would’ve helped me immediately, including some strong antibiotics that I really, really needed.

But enough of that…let me show you the town that’s rinsed with every shade of blue imaginable. As our bus drove through the countryside and got closer to Chefchaouen, the color blue began to appear out of nowhere…

Chefchoun, Morocco

…and around the corner…

Chefchoun, Morocco

Why blue?  Back in the 1400′s, Chefchaouen was founded by Moorish and Jewish refugees.  I’ve read that in Judaism, blue represents the sky as well as the heavens, and even though the Jews diminished over time in Chefchaouen…the tradition continued.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

chefchaouen, morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

chefchaouen, morocco

chefchaouen, morocco

Changing plans, we left Chefchaouen and headed back to Casablanca in hopes of finding our luggage.  After a seven hour bus ride we arrived at the station, walked in and guess what’s sitting in the corner.  Perhaps it was a good omen that my hamsa purchased in Fez was in my suitcase!  Take that you jinns and mercury retrograde!


Being sick is something I don’t do well and the good news is…it’s very very rare for me to be sick.  (knocking on wood as I type this!)  And if there is one BIG lesson learned here is to have my antibiotics in my backpack instead of my suitcase.  That will NEVER EVER happen again.  On a side note, I did make a visit to the pharmacy in Chefchaouen.  He didn’t understand English and I don’t speak Arabic, French or Spanish – all spoken in this town.  So just picture me trying to communicate with my hands what my issues were.  Unfortunately, whatever he prescribed didn’t help…hmmmm…

seeing beyond the literal…a kayak experience

full moon kayaking adventure in arizona

How about if we venture a little beyond the literal.  Yes, there could’ve been lots of photos of people on kayaks and paddleboards…or even photos of the barren hills filled with that magical evening golden light…but why not share a little something different.

Seeing beyond the literal.  A contemplative, impressionistic, abstract approach to share an evening that produced an altered state of consciousness without being on drugs!  Seriously, one of the best ways to experience euphoria without it being drug induced?   Watch the sun set and the moon rise, take a dip in warm waters of Lake Pleasant in Arizona, enjoy a beverage or two around a campfire (complete with roasted marshmallows!) and then return under the light of the full moon.  The lapping of the lake water alone will put you in a meditative state.  An experience you’ll unlikely forget…

kayaking adventure full moon in arizona

full moon kayaking in arizona

kayaking in arizona

 full moon kayaking adventure in arizona

kayaking in arizona

full moon kayaking adventure in arizona

full moon kayaking adventure in arizona

full moon kayaking adventure in arizona

A big thank you to the folks at Go Paddle AZ for an incredible, memorable evening!

Ok…back to Morocco and oh, Chicago too!

…unless something else amazing happens in the interim!

Hope you enjoyed a wonderful full moon weekend!

i went to a garden party…in chicago

Chicago Botanic Garden

Friends I’ve known for many many years tied the knot on Saturday, providing the opportunity to visit the neighborhoody city of Chicago!

Oh, and it just sooooo happened that James Taylor was playing in the suburb of North Shore at Ravinia Festival Park the night before…

Ravinia in Chicago

what. a. partee.

Ravinia, Chicago

Are you old enough to remember Ricky Nelson’s song…

“I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends…?”

Ravinia, Chicago

Well that’s exactly what Ravinia felt like.  A garden party…a sense of community…a unique experience where one can bring their own spread…quite elaborate I might add…while relaxing on the lawn…sipping a byob beverage…(ok a bottle or two)…and taking in the tunes to the sensitive singer/songwriter of the seventies…James Taylor.

Stumbling on this venue at the last minute didn’t score us any garden seats, but we did happen upon a couple of tickets for terrace seating at the Park View, a seasonal restaurant on the grounds of Ravinia.  I had high hopes, but…  It’s advertised that seating would start five minutes prior to concert time, but that clearly didn’t happen.  Several of us arrived even earlier and still found only a couple of tables in the back of the terrace available.  If seating was just minutes prior to showtime…where did all those people come from?  Not worthy of the price of the ticket.  But, I refuse to let that situation ruin my overall excitement that I have for this venue.  I mean really…with James Taylor, cool temperatures, no mosquitoes…nice people…a bottle of yummy chardonnay…how could one not enjoy?

But the best is yet to come…besides being included in a very special event for an adorable couple…the Chicago Botanic Garden just wowed me!

fez, morocco

there’s always conversation in Fez

in the medina of fez, morocco

and beautiful views of course…

The Medina of Fez, Morocco

interesting meals…

In the Medina of Fez, Morocco

ok…scary meals…

Eating in the medina of Fez, Morocco

gorgeous afternoon light…a photographer’s dream…

The Medina of Fez, Morocco

the Medina in Fez, Morocco

 sweet young gals…

children of the medina in fez, morocco

a child in the medina of fez, morocco

incredible interior design…

fez, morocco

medina of fez, morocco

riads in Fez, Morocco

riad lighting in fez, morocco

 photogenic donkeys…

The Medina of Fez, Morocco

and cute little sheep too…

ramadan in morocco

and with the end of Ramadan…

he doesn’t know it yet…

but his days are so numbered…



I really enjoyed Fez…and would’ve loved more time to explore the medina…the smells, the sounds…the artisans…just the daily life….a totally different experience from my visit three years ago in the medina of Marrakech.  In Fez, the shopkeepers were much friendlier…not at all aggressive and never once did I hear a hiss or someone yelling “Hollywood” as we passed by a stall.  You didn’t fear for your life as you walked the narrow alleyways.  In Marrakech motorcycles ruled, so you had to always be alert whereas in Fez you only had to deal with donkeys passing through. Trust me, a huge difference in the experience.  But, we were still ripped off by the dried fruit and nut merchant!  “Because you love it so, the price has gone up,” he sniffed.*

There’s an expression in Morocco, “This country will kick your ass, and then show you the universe!”  So true!  Traveling in this country is not easy.  It isn’t at all glamorous.  It will often chew you up and spit you out just like the expression mentions.  That’s why I have so much admiration for my friend who is now living the Moroccan life full time.  Heath, you so have my respect.  How fluent you’ve become in Arabic, how you’ve settled into the daily routine and built your circle of friends, how you’ve made such a difference in women’s lives who would’ve never had such an opportunity without you.  But what I admire the most?   How you’ll buck the system in a heartbeat when you don’t agree!  You go girl!

More to come…with a little Chicago tossed in!

*Tahir Shah, author of The Caliph’s House

artisanship in the ancient medina of fez

Medina - Fez, Morocco

It’s was like boarding the magic carpet and being transported back a thousand years.  The Medina of Fez, Morocco where little has changed.  The world’s largest car-free urban zone where the transporting of goods is still by donkeys, mules and handcarts.  Lots and lots of them.  It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around being in a place that’s over 1,200 years old, especially coming from cities like Casablanca and Rabat where there’s so much western influence.

Surrounded by five miles of fortified walls, it’s one of the most complex labyrinth cities in the world.  A guide is a must, as it’s nearly impossible to find your own way around.  What I adore about traveling is finding the real artisans…the ones who come from families deeply rooted in their craft dating back generations.  The ability to interact, “talk” and get up close and personal with the artisans and their work?  Priceless!

Just to share a few…

You may be familiar with brocade, a rich fabric (usually used for upholstery) woven with a raised pattern, typically with gold or silver thread.  It takes a full day of work and lots of skill to make a little over three feet of brocade.  Today, the future of this refined craft is threatened.  Thankfully in a small workshop owned by the undisputed master Abdelkhader El Ouazzani pictured below, the craft is still practiced.

Moroccan Master of Brocade

Master of Brocade in Fez, Morocco

The Medina is also home to three ancient leather tanneries where washing, treating, smoothing, and coloring animal skins into soft, leather goods has happened for over a thousand years.  Today, much of the leather production is carried out in factories to keep up with the demand which makes viewing these ancient tanneries that much more rewarding.

tannery in the medina

Looking down…a capture of the hides (sheep, goats, cows and camels) just pulled from the vats makes for an amazing abstract!

Tannery in Fez, Morocco

Tannery in Fez, Morocco

Skins are soaked for two to three days in large vats containing a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water, and salt.  This will loosen the excess fat, flesh, and hair that remain on the skins.  Once the skins have been cleaned, they are laid out to dry on the surrounding rooftop terraces.  Once dried they spend time in another set of vats where they’re washed and soaked in a mixture of water and pigeon shit in order to make the skins soft. The tanner then uses his bare feet to knead the skins for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.  An amazing process and not for the fainthearted!

Tannery in Fez, Morocco

Tannery in Fez, Morocco

Watching the tanners finish up their day, it’s amazing to think how hard of a life they must have…having one of the dirtiest professions within Fez…and so labor intensive.  Once again their skills are passed down from generation to generation…but for how long?

Tannery in Fez, Morocco

Not far from the section of the Medina known for its coppersmiths (trust me…you’ll know it…just listen for the constant banging!) lies Rue Mechatine.  Combs are made of cattle horns, which are bought from the city’s slaughterhouses and tanneries.  A complex production chain turning out combs, utensils and jewelry.  The artisan uses a stove to heat the horn, tongs to hold it, scissors to cut off extra parts or bumps, a fire or gas stove to heat it, and a file and ash to polish it. Today, the name Mechatine only designates the place, because the street only has one master craftsman left.  Over 80 years old, he still works in a small workshop without an apprentice, continuing the trade that requires great skills and meticulous workmanship.  Here the master, Mohammed Saili, holds my of his hamsa key chains.

Horn Comb maker in Fez, Morocco

The hamsa is one of the most popular amulets in the world of Islam and the symbol of patience, loyalty, faith and resistance against difficulties.

So our troubles started once I mistakenly put my hamsa key chain in my suitcase instead of my backpack and things went downhill from there.  But before we get into difficult times, just want to share a few more of my favorite captures from Fez in the next post.  Just photos, not much writing, so it’ll be a quick one!  Thanks for making it through this long post!

hamsa in the medina of fez, morocco

 For those of you in the USA…Happy Fourth of July!!