A tale of two hammams*

Les Bains de l'Alhambra à la Kasbah Marrakech

I give you a very good hammam, you will like very much.

Strip off and put on this tired robe. Now enter the dark room. I will take your robe and give you a tiny wet dishcloth to cover your privates. 

You will lie down on a concrete bench on vinyl tablecloths. I will pour hot water over you, scrub you vigorously with a plastic bristle brush until you almost bleed. Then I will vigorously rub salt into your open wounds. 

You lie down now. Listen to the sound of dripping water and smell the dank concrete while you wonder what torture awaits you next. 

Finally, I will return, continue the rough handling, dragging your naked body to an upright position, vigorously massaging shampoo into your scalp. You will bow your head in submission while I pour more jugs of tepid water from a plastic jug over you. All your pride is gone. 

And then it is done. 

Get up. Put on a robe. You pay now. You tell me it was very good. If you don’t tell your friends it was very good, you will get another. You want this? No? Ok. You go now. We are done. Leave. 

A few days later, our guide enthuses “It’s very good. Really. The best in Marrakech. The top. I make a booking for you.  You will love it.”   Still suffering PTSD from the last hammam, I fret about throwing good money after bad. At the last minute, we agree to go. Les Grandes Bains d’Alhambre has high expectations to meet.  

“Go up that lane.  The guy in the red hat is always there.  He will show you the way.”  Four different people leap to show us the right door.  There is no signage. 

After the initial, compulsory haggling we settle on a service and are ushered to our changing room.  A locker, fluffy robes, and even disposable boxers.  Then onto the hammam room.  

Hot but not too hot.  Beautiful green granite slabs, soft lighting. A pleasing scent.  Two African ladies (who we later find out have been doing this forever) warmly greet us, chat with us and guide us through the many steps.  Beautiful products. The right amount of pressure. No stinging. The right pacing.  No dripping water.  An ornamental vase for pouring water.  

Then out into a room of comfy couches for a sweetened Moroccan tea, a foot massage, and cucumber on the eyes. We leave happy.  I could get used to that. 

A terrible experience often helps us appreciate a good one more.

*A hammam or Turkish bath is a type of steam bath or a place of public bathing associated with the Islamic world. It is a prominent feature in the culture of the Muslim world and was inherited from the model of the Roman thermae. – Wikipedia


Stressed? Try this


Got too manyhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/5691277643 thoughts going on in your head?  A friend told me “it’s like I have too many tabs open in a browser.”

It’s a modern American affliction.  Everyone is always “busy”. No one has any time.

Maybe people are saying that to avoid talking to others.

Maybe it’s a status symbol when people want to feel important and/or are worried about unemployment.

I actually think being able to afford to not be busy is the real status symbol.

If you can’t afford that, being able to create space and peace in your head is arguably just as good.

Meditation and mindfulness is an effective way to do that.  All the cool kids are doing it. Business leaders like Richard Branson, financial gurus like Ray Dalio, comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, artists and writers…  If you listen to Tim Ferriss’ excellent podcast, it seems like 8 out of 10 of the amazing guests do it.

(Side note: Somewhat ironically, in the most recent Ferriss podcast I listened to, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote playfully predicts that Zen is over and Stoicism is next.  I better get my modern translation of Marcus Aurelius’ meditations finished!)

The New Yorker, seemingly always up with the Zeitgeist, even in Silicon Valley, covered this mindfulness movement in depth in July 2015.   A year before they reviewed Dan Harris‘ attempts at mindfulness in his bestseller “10% Happier”.

A stressed colleague recently said with respect to meditation: “I wouldn’t even know where to start”.

That’s when I remembered Headspace.  It’s a beautiful app. Guided meditation.  No woo woo spiritual stuff.  Andy whispers in a delightful British accent in your ear.  First 10 days are free.  About $70 for a year’s access to over 350 hours of guided meditation across a surprisingly wide range of themes: relationships, health, balance, focus, change, creativity, performance, …

I’m on my second year.  As I’ve heard a number of people say,  the days with it are typically better than those without.  My attention, patience and sense of good will are improved.

The trick is to stop fighting and learn to impassively observe.  You step out of the torrent of to do lists, endless re-runs of things you should have said or not said, done or not done.

You just sit and breathe.  You notice thoughts or feelings when you mind invariably gets distracted and come back to the sitting and breathing.

That’s it. No levitation.  No transportation to a higher mental plane.  It creates mental peace to cope with what life throws at you.  And it creates the distance (you step back and see the forest, rather than spinning your wheels down in the trees) to enable insights into what’s bugging you, and what you need to do.

Here’s the other thing.  If you think you’re too busy and you haven’t got time, or too stressed, that’s when you most need it.  Andy even has a 1 minute SOS meditation.  Trust me. Give your mind a little space and everything will come into perspective.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Chipping away at the pre-diabetic white diet

ppw-cover-frontMy daughter has been on the “pre-diabetic white diet”: processed flour, sugar, dairy.  Pizza, pasta, candy, cake, milk, cheese, vanilla yogurt.

Scary as hell.  I’ve felt tortured watching it every day.  Nothing worse than feeling like you’re choosing between killing your kids slowly, or fighting with them at every meal over food.  Presumably we didn’t fight hard enough for long enough, early enough.

She’s always loved mac n cheese.  We bought Annie’s instead of Kraft, but it’s still some sort of magic cheese powder + pasta even if it’s organic.   And eating it twice a day, 5 days a week can’t be good.

I took her to Europe in summer of 2013 and since then she’s been saying she’s Italian based on the trip and having an Italian great-grandmother J  Based on my current belief that home cooked is always better for you than something processed from the store, I starting making a béchamel cheese sauce (melt 1 Tbsp butter in small saucepan, stir in 1Tbsp flour, gradually add 1 cup milk stirring consistently till thick + then add ½ cup mozzarella and ½ cup reggiano).   Fancy. Very popular.  Also time consuming and not healthy (assuming you’re not yet convinced that saturated fats (even if grass-fed) are good for you)

She’s 9 now.  Finally some good news!  It’s a little step forward here and there, but every morsel of vegetable, fruit and healthy fat that gets consumed is a little victory in my books.  First we had success with apples.  They have to be Honeycrisp or Pink Lady and she kind of gnaws a trench around the middle, but hey, that’s some fiber and micronutrients.

Then I saw fellow Aussie, Joe Cross’ inspirational “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and bought a juicer.  I’d prefer to give smoothies (so they’re drinking the whole plant), but if fresh juicing is more acceptable that’s ok with me.  Started with carrots and apples.  Now I sneak in a little lime juice or cucumber or a leaf of spinach or kale.  Kids are amazing, they can taste the slightest change.  So sometimes I go too far and end up having to drinking the juice myself, and I always have to skim off the foam.  But it’s progress.

In the last two weeks we took some giant leaps forward.  After hearing Rich Roll on a podcast, I bought The Plantpower Way because they focused so much on how to help the kids eat better.  I’m so excited the success we’ve had.

First a Kids’ Mac & Cashew Cheese recipe (page 204) that replaces the béchamel with ½ cup frozen butternut squash, ½ cup cashews, 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, ¾ cup water, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ½ tsp salt, throw in the Vitamix, blend, adjust seasoning to taste.  As we’re not trying to go vegan or gluten free, we used regular pasta (you could always go with rice or quinoa or whole wheat) and garnished with 1 Tbsp reggiano.

This got rave reviews: “better than béchamel”.  I beamed. I told her how excited I was.  I danced around the room. Wow.  Replacing a cup of cheese with squash and cashews and all the vitamins and minerals in the nutritional yeast is huge.

Tonight, we doubled down and tried “Fettucine Alfredo”(page 227).  Having her look at the recipe, agree in advance to try it and to help me cook it is surely part of the acceptance.  This one is very similar (2 cups butternut squash, ½ cup cashews (soaked in water 4 hours plus), 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, 1 cup hot water, 2 Tbsp butter (you could use vegan butter), and ¼ tsp salt all blended up in our trusty Vitamix.  Then the big surprise: ½ tsp freshly minced sage, ¼ tsp nutmeg and ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper.  Blend again and season to taste.

In the early years, whenever we ordered pasta with butter and cheese at a restaurant we used to have to say please, no garnish.  If they did feel compelled to add a little herb garnish, we’d send it back.  Or we’d pick off all the “ne-nots” until she stopped complaining.  That sucked.  Although ne-nots was a funny made up word for garnish.  Her ne-not detector was crazy strong.

Naturally I was nervous about the sage and nutmeg and pepper additions.  But no dramas at all.  Not quite as popular as the mac and cashew cheese, and needed more like 1 ½ Tbsp parmesan.  But way more veg (in terms of squash quantity) packed into this recipe.  For these two wins, the book has more than paid for itself.  I can’t wait to see what else we can try.  Maybe Vegan Lasagna (page 236)?

Who else is struggling with getting fruit and veg into their kids diets and what’s been working? (I’ll try anything!)