Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The holidays are here!

Turks do trees for New Year, so ornaments abound. Loads of glitter and gold. Of course, you can't exactly find Nativity scenes or Christmas wrapping paper easily, and there's no caroling in the square. We had Matt's office Christmas party last week, and one of his colleagues, Didier, made an appearance as Santa. Leading up to the event, the kids were excited because they figured Santa=presents. We were unprepared for Lucas' beeline for the far side of the room, as far away from Santa as possible when Santa walked in the door. He was clearly nervous, and despite our encouragement to go over and get his gift, he was talking a mile a minute: "NoI'mOK. Idon'twanttogooverthere. NoI'mnotscared." Riiiiight.

It dawned on us that Lucas' Santa exposure has been limited. No annual visits to the Mall to sit on Santa's lap and share a secret list. The last time Lucas saw Santa he was nearly 2, we were living in Thailand, and the Santa was our friend Charlie, with whom we had partied hard the night before our playgroup's annual Christmas party. I think that Santa Charlie was still a little hungover that morning. Lucas screamed as 2-year-olds are supposed to do when encouraged to sit on a stranger's red lap, but he never got to do the 3- and 4-year-old visits when they slowly, slowly get to the point where they will allow you to take a photo where everyone's smiling and happy. After the swarm of small children had dissolved in front of Santa, Lucas finally got close enough to stretch his arm as far as possible to collect his present.

A few days later, we had the annual Winter Bazaar at school. A new feature this year was Santa in his grotto (it's a British thing, don't ask - I always imagine Santa in a damp cave with nymphs flitting about) and the chance to have your photo taken. While I wasn't exactly expecting the professional Santa who frequents our neighborhood mall in the US with his real beard, snowy white to match his hair and his hearty Ho, Ho, Ho! our school Santa was, um, uncomfortable to say the least. He was the husband of one of the preschool teachers, a lovely man who's quite shy, and thirty seconds before the kids were meant to arrive, we were frantically scrambling to find a beard. I prepped Lucas, telling him who Santa's helper was. He wasn't exactly excited but agreed to pose. I managed to get the kids next to him for 10 seconds to get a photo, and Lucas looks as if he's been arrested. Darcy has the lip-closed smile that is seemingly the only way all the girls in her class are smiling this year, apparently the only appropriate way to smile if you are an 8- or 9-year-old girl.

Deck the halls!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Anybody else remember the Sears Wish Book? You would come home from school one day...and there it was. Smaller than the regular Fall catalog, which had just arrived a few weeks earlier and was full of boring stuff like Tuffskins and sensible Carter's underwear, the Wish Book was just for kids. All of the latest toys, games, and your every Christmas desire. My brother and sister and I would page through it, time and time again, pouring over every entry, skipping the "baby" toys, turning down the pages on the things we wanted most of all, marking it up with a pen, making, revising, and revising again the precious list for Santa.

Well, we don't have a Sears here, or a Wish Book, and no matter how you look at it, scrolling through the Toys 'R Us website just doesn't hold the same thrill. So when my mom sent the Legos and E-Toys catalogs I requested, my childhood came rushing back. Lucas has SLEPT with the Legos catalog for the past 2 nights. He has memorized each and every item, well aware of which he can request because they are for Ages 6-12. He's reserved the 16+ items for Christmas in 10 years when he assures me he will be waiting anxiously for the Star Wars Death Star model he currently doesn't qualify for.

It's so sweet to see the smallest things make the kids so excited. The odd package of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, a Nick Jr. magazine from 5 months ago that Lucas "rediscovered" in his room, the bottle of Heinz BBQ sauce a friend sent home via her son and delivered to Darcy to bring to me. "Mom! It's from America!" she exclaimed as she brought it out of her bookbag.

Absence does make the heart grown fonder.

Friday, November 09, 2007

These retinas of mine - so demanding! Such divas! Pay attention to meeeee! Like 2 squabbling siblings, each must have their own fair share of the attention. Surgery on one...the other demands equal treatment.

Let me now compare and contrast vitrectomy surgery in the U.S. and Turkey. No, just kidding. I will leave the debate over technological advances in modern retina-ectomies (my own made up medical term, can you tell?) to the scholarly journals. I will say, though, that after the US procedure, I was hustled out of the hospital's outpatient surgi-center faster than an obnoxious dinner guest - here's your hat, what's your hurry. OK, so nobody in the small Turkish eye speciality hospital spoke much English except the doctor and one nurse I clung to like a life preserver, but hey, when you are high on Valium and the post-operative anesthetic hasn't quite worn off, language is kind of secondary anyway. Plus, they let me stay overnight and considering the surgery wasn't until 6:30 in the evening and I didn't get back to the room until close to 10, I was OK with that.

I've now memorized every fiber of the one-foot square patch of carpet I can see as I've been lying on the floor for nearly 2 weeks. I do wander from spot to spot in an effort to relieve my back and neck pain. Later today a recommended massage therapist is coming over, hopefully to nudge away some of the knots that have built up in my shoulders.

On the days when it's sunny, I lay like a cat in the sun, soaking up the vitamin D, at least on the back of my head. Same benefits, right? We've also had some cold, miserably windy days that are typical in November, when the rain pours down in sheets and I am glad to be inside, though fighting with myself not to let my mood turn as grey.

We have been showered with help in the form of rides for the kids, wonderful meals, visits and phone calls. If I need to fill every dish that's come into my house before returning it, I'll be making chocolate chip cookies for the next year. Send more Nestle toll house morsels! Quick!

But wait, this is supposed to be a blog about my wacky adventures raising the kids overseas, right? Sorry, that is based on the assumption that I could actually leave the house with them. There will be more, soon I hope. Promise.

P.S. Go on, comment. Really, you can do it. I've got nothing but time to read at the moment. Just click on the colored text where it probably says 0 Comments. You can remain anonymous if you want.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My other retina detached! I cannot believe it. Seriously, what the heck is going on??? Surgery Saturday night, back home on Sunday, Turkish holiday on Monday so Matt was home and the kids were off school. Yesterday was my first day alone and I spent most of it trying to come up with a dish for the American table at the International Food Court that was 1)easy, 2)not sweet (we already have brownies and chocolate chip cookies), 3)kid-friendly, and 4)could be served hot or cold.

This is what I thought about. All day. I am not kidding. How pathetic is that!!

I finally came up with BBQ chicken. Gosh, talk about a tough day at the office. I am trying to remain calm and open to healing. Light some candles, burn some incense, channel my inner peace. Ommmmmmm...

P.S. Feel free to comment on any of these posts if you'd like. At the bottom of the post, where it says "0 Comments" just click there and you can reply. You can use your own name or just post as anonymous if you don't feel like logging in. Hope to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Long Arm of the Mouse

I've written before about the heralded arrival of the Disney Channel here in Istanbul. This fall saw the frenzy rise even further for the European premiere of "High School Musical 2". Those wacky kids from West High (or is it East High - I can never remember) are at it again, this time there are lots of hi-jinks at the local country club. Same old story - the privileged kids spending their summer swimming and golfing and the middle-class kids working to save money for college. They've even translated one of the songs into Turkish and play this painfully sappy video of a guy and a girl singing while strolling through the famous sites of Istanbul. Of course they play it over and over and over again. Did my friends and I act this ridiculously when Grease or Footloose came out? I can't remember but I'm sure we didn't, right...

But the Mouse has reached into our house in other ways. Friends have recently returned from their half-term break trip to Disneyland Paris (or EuroDisney as I think it was once called). Apparently, we are one of the few families who haven't ever been to Disney.

Darcy seems to think that it's her birthright as an American to go to Disney. "But Mom, EVERYONE has been there but me!" I've heard on more than one occasion. And I'm not adverse to going, and enjoy a theme park as much as anyone else, but there were just always other places we wanted to go more (at least Matt and I wanted to go more) and I always figured we would go to the one in Florida some day when we were back in the States. Now she's worried she'll be too old to enjoy by the time we move back. Lucas has now joined in on the chorus of the unfair.

I never thought of EuroDisney until recently. It seems weird to me to consider going to a place that looks to recreate various parts of the US - there's the Santa Fe southwest hotel, the New York high-rise hotel, the Santa Barbara beach hotel. And I'm not sure if they'll get "It's a Small World After All" sung in French, but will it really matter? Buzz Lightyear in Europe looks the same as Buzz Lightyear in the US, after all. And, I guess, in the end, this is one of those trips that is purely for the small people in the family.

P.S. Feel free to comment on any of these posts if you'd like. At the bottom of the post, where it says "0 Comments" just click there and you can reply. You can use your own name or just post as anonymous if you don't feel like logging in. Hope to hear from you!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A note for all my New York compadres or visitors to the Big Apple -- if you find yourself in Union Square and want to check out some cool art, visit Frances Goodwin's acupuncture office. There you'll find some really fun and funky prints by my friend Pip Moran, a talented, funny, sassy Aussie we know from our Thailand days. Pip has returned to Oz and continues to create fresh, colorful, whimsical art. Matt and I have a Pip Moran original which we cherish. I think of all my Bangkok posse every time I look at it. Pip's art will be on display at

Frances Goodwin Space
One Union Square West
Suite 914 (9th floor)
New York, NY

You will have to call to check on hours for viewing as the art space doubles as an acupuncturist's office. You can also see Pip's work on her website: http://www.pipmoran.com

The art will be on display starting in November. Enjoy!
It's 8:14 a.m. and I am still the only one up! Amazing. I will treasure this morning as a once in a lifetime event. Usually some small person interrupts my early morning silent solitude about 6 minutes after it starts. The kids were up a bit late last night and it's been raining, raining, raining, all night so it's still kind of grey and their rooms are still a bit dark. Bliss!

Hopefully the rain will fill the reservoirs and relieve the drought that seems to be everywhere. It's that cold, grey rain that signals the beginning of the real autumn, despite what the calendar says. It's also a holiday weekend, Seker Bayram, Sugar Holiday, so things are pretty quiet. Lots of people go away, and the rest are busy visiting family, etc. There are loads of candies available for sale, as it is the custom to give chocolate to people who work for you, small kids, etc. The kids had fun writing notes to the guards who sit at the entrance of our compound and for the gardeners who don't work for us exactly, but who work for the compound and so nicely mow our grass, etc.

The holiday means we won't have soccer today either. I'm not too upset about that since it is pouring and my kids always want to go, despite the weather. There's always a small crowd of dedicated parents through the worst of the winter, freezing their butts off as we consume large thermal carafes of coffee.

Last week's soccer brought an intense episode of a local challenge we have with our little soccer group. The kids play on a fenced "football pitch" which is owned by the town and somewhat managed by the town cooperative. There was always a lock on the gate which we figured was put on by the town, though no one seemed to have a key for it. We have permission to use the facility so weren't too bothered by it. Next to the locked gate some innovative soul had ripped open a hole in the wire so children and coaches could get through to play.

Occasionally we would find cow pies on the field. Not too surprising as out here roaming livestock is an everyday sight. Last week, we hit the cow pie jackpot. Literally, the field was covered. So while the older high boys who help out ran the warm-ups and drills for the 4-6 year olds the coaches cleared off cow shit. And I mean a LOT of cow shit.

Having helped to set up this little soccer group, and having enough of the smell early in the morning, I decided to call someone I know who is on the board of the cooperative to see what was going on. This is the story and I am not making any of it up or exaggerating for your reading delight:

The lock on the field was put there by the local police. They use the soccer field to hold the juvy cows running rampant through town. This, apparently, is illegal. The cow's delinquent parents, who let them run amok in the first place, are then called to pay a fine and release their charges. The biggest offender is the town mayor. His cows are consistently getting into trouble (isn't that always the way?) His theory is, Hey, these cows were here before any of you moved into your new fancy homes.

An age old story repeating itself in new and interesting ways. And making a normal event like 6-year-old soccer just a little more adventurous.

And, of course, just as I finish typing Lucas has shattered my morning silence with a full-on body slam/hug. The day begins...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I still smell them... my kids, that is...mostly while they are sleeping or when I am giving them a squeeze and can sneak in a sniff of their freshly-washed hair or slightly sweaty necks. They catch me from time to time..."MOM! Stop SMELLING me!" That's what I missed most of all while I was away.

But the thrill is gone. I've had at least one "you're the meanest mom" muttered under the breath of the sullen 5-year-old and one "you don't UNDERSTAND" at top volume as I refuse to drop everything and help the frustrated 8-year-old finish the homework I asked her to do ages ago and offered to help with when I wasn't up to my elbows in raw chicken that I am cooking for dinner.

I'd like to think I'm a little more patient, and have been, kind of. Except for the last minute dash upstairs to get the thing they just HAVE to have for school and can't find seconds before walking out the door.

We've already been through one more business trip, one potluck lunch. I've met all the new people who aren't really new anymore, caught up with old friends, and told the story of the worst summer vacation ever more than a few times.

I've settled into a (mostly) happy routine of school stuff, freelance writing (some incredibly heart-pounding legal textbook promotional copy revisions, among other stuff), and the ebb and flow of mom-hood.

My new frustration is that every time I want to log into this blogger.com site and add a post, it wants to direct me to the Turkish site, I guess because it recognizes that I'm coming from a Turkish web connection. Of course, that Turkish site does me absolutely no good because while I can now order a whole Turkey for Thanksgiving and confidently ask where the envelopes are (zarf - the Turkish word for envlope. I just love it! It sounds like some sort of alien character created in a seventh grade study hall, doesn't it) I can't translate 'edit post', 'create html' and other such technical lingo. Where's the 'English' button? Arrrggghhh!!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Just sit right back
and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip...

FINALLY! BACK HOME! 12 weeks later. Like a salmon swimming upstream, this trip was long and arduous but it is over at last.

On Monday, I was restless all day. My flight didn't leave until 8 p.m. Luckily, repacking my bags so they weren't over the 25 kg. limit took a good amount of time. I wasn't so successful as one of them was 27 kg. but both the Lufthansa rep and I conveniently ignored that fact.

After initially telling me that she couldn't find my reservation, I nearly leapt over the desk and grabbed her by her sassy little yellow Lufthansa kerchief but cooler heads prevailed and I simply asked her to check with her supervisor. I'm sure others around me noticed the half laughing, half crying excited demeanor of a crazy person who's about to lose it.

One hour prior to flying I took the altitude sickness medicine that doubles as a eyeball pressure reducer. Using the breathing techniques I downloaded from an iTunes meditation Podcast and committed to memory during my face down horizontal prison, I managed to remain calm during takeoff and ascension to 35,000 feet. I tried not to think about what could go wrong.

I endured the 7 1/2 hour flight in economy next to Chatty Cathy and her husband heading to Munich for Oktoberfest and behind the ubiquitous slam-the-seat-all-the-way-back-and-crush-your-knees-for-the-entire-ride passenger. I had over an hour to make my connection when we landed in Munich, but we suddenly stopped in the middle of the runway. "Um, won't there be another plane come in behind us?" I thought. After a few minutes, the pilot came on and informed us that:

"One of our hydrolic systems has just failed so we will have to wait until someone comes to tow us to the terminal."

Let's ignore the fact that the layover clock was running and just go back to the first part of that - our hydraulic system has failed????? I'm not so familiar with airplane mechanical technology, but that sounds a bit serious. Right, just be glad it didn't happen while we were in the air and count this as another bullet dodged.

The rest of the trip went like this:

Flavorless airport food - 10 Euros
Airport Parking Fee - 6 YTL from the friend who picked me up
Heavy traffic impeding our trip all the way home (of course) - 10 grey hairs

Arriving back and seeing the kids again - priceless

Monday, September 17, 2007

Grrrr. The frustration of living out of suitcases for so long is getting out of control! Can't find the red folder I had a bunch of papers stored in. Where is it? Did I leave it at one of the many homes we've stayed in this summer? Did I bury it in the suitcase that has stuff I am carting back to Turkey? The one I'm not opening before I get back as I may never get it closed again? Or did I send it with the other pile of books and papers I shipped through Matt's interoffice pouch in anticipation of returning last week? Now that I've been delayed AGAIN, the pouch will surely arrive before I do.

Since my eye is healed and I'm just waiting for this stinkin' gas bubble to get smaller, I am trying to get some freelance writing work done, work on some new story pitches, follow up on e-mails etc. BUT, in my infinite wisdom, I have Outlook Express set up on my home computer to download the e-mails from my Yahoo! server for my business e-mail address. A few weeks ago, when I asked Matt to retrieve an e-mail address for me, it downloaded a summer's worth of correspondence. So now, as I try to follow up on my laptop, they're gone. *&%$^#%. And I can't change the settings without being at home. And Matt had to go to Paris for an important meeting. The kids are staying with friends and they have a key, but I'm not sure that I trust the 5 or the 8-year-old to hack into my Outlook Express account to retrieve the information I need. Stalled. Again. I see a pattern. And I don't like it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I listened to an interview with Haleh Esfandiari today on NPR. She's the Iranian American academic who was held in solitary confinement for 4 months on suspicions of aiding attempts to overthrow the government. She sounds like an unbelievably strong, amazing woman. Esfandiari said in the interview that she couldn't think about her husband and daughter as it was too painful. Instead, she wrote a book in her head about her grandmother, who has passed away. She said it was easier to think about people who had already died.

Every time I miss my family and start to feel down, I try to remember that it could always be worse.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Do you read your horoscope? With no newspaper delivered directly to my door every day in Istanbul, I rarely do. I look at the NY Times and the Post online, but I have to admit I don’t read my horoscope. I don’t really know that I believe in horoscopes, but I appreciate their entertainment value.

While staying at a friends over the summer, I once again enjoyed the luxury that is a daily paper showing up at your door with no more effort on your part than writing a check or providing a valid credit card account. I spent Labor Day there, and with no agenda or schedule other than the 10 a.m. Labor Day parade up the street, I enjoyed a cup of coffee with the paper. “What’s a horoscope?” my godson Sam asked, reading over my shoulder. I explained the concept and then we found his. Turns out he and I are the same. This is what it had to say for the day:

"Today features the kind of electric and fleeting moment in which you suddenly know everything there is to be known. Then, it’s back to your usual state of lavish innocence."

“Whoa, we better carry around a notebook for any sudden inspirations!” I said, after quickly glancing at a few others to make sure it wasn't some sort of delayed April Fools’ prank.

Suddenly knowing everything there is to be known? What pressure! Since I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern lately, recovering from eye surgery, I’ve had a lot of time to think about a lot of things. I’ve wondered if the gods of karma and fate had sent me this experience to teach me a lesson or two. Maybe it was payment for something I did in a previous life. Or maybe I was just a recipient of an unusually long run of bad luck. Either way, I usually try to make the best of any situation so I was looking for some new perspective or flashes of inspiration..

So far, I have no great revelations to share other than yet another reminder that you should:
...appreciate good health whenever you have it
...not take your eyesight for granted
...rely on others when necessary
...thank them sincerely and often
...be generous with hugs
...have a tissue handy when your kids tell you they miss you a billion jillion gazillion times over the phone
...remember that family and friends are the most important things in life
...and that sometimes it’s good to just slow down a bit.

Bombshells? No.

Suddenly knowing everything there is to be known? Hmmm, maybe the horoscope wasn’t so crazy after all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

You know those daydreams you have when you’re a mom....you imagine yourself checking into a hotel somewhere, just you, maybe your husband if your lucky or so desire. Kids happily spending the week with grandparents, auntie, or family friends. You and a small bag filled with only your clothes, your necessities -- no crayons, coloring books, Hot Wheels cars, stuffed animals, granola bars, Cheerios, sippy cups or other kid paraphernalia. You imagine a few days of life as it was before kids -- sleeping in without a bed wetter, a nightmare, or a vomiting child to awaken you. A leisurely breakfast while reading the paper, COVER TO COVER, if you want. Endless days to spend as you wish, heading to the museum to see the exhibit you want to see, staying in your pajamas until 4 p.m. if you want, afternoon matinees, eating when you are hungry and drinking as much as you want and engaging in other adult behavior with your partner of choice.

The next time your having that daydream in your head, do me a favor and make sure to specify to the daydream fairies that you would like to spend that time vertically, instead of horizontal with your facing looking toward the floor for a solid two weeks.

Don’t make the same mistake I made!

My recent surgery to repair the torn/detached and general insufficient retina gave me a whole new view of the world.

Heads up! Finally, I am back looking at the world face forward, instead of face down. A few times I ventured out, once I was feeling a bit back to the normal and the walls of the hotel suite were beginning to close in on me. I walked to the Starbucks around the corner, desperate for something better than the bottomless mug of crap hotel coffee on offer at breakfast. My head was still down, and I felt like some sort of freaky character in a student film project who stumbles along the street, mumbling and not making eye contact.

I’m sure that my forced horizontal inverted prison sentence was a way of life teaching me a few lessons, but it’s still a little too soon to digest them all and see the big picture. They’ll come to me at some point. The wound is still a little too raw.

I did get to watch some stellar examples of the crappiest American television ever produced. The TV on offer while most of the American public is working is some of the scariest stuff I have ever witnessed. Here are my top three observations/favorite TV moments:

1. There is an entire channel dedicated to showing game shows. Not surprisingly, it’s called the Game Show Network. Since there aren’t exactly that many game shows on TV any longer, they show reruns. Of game shows. From the past 30 years. Why an episode of Joker’s Wild (Higher! I’m gonna go higher!) from 1985 is of interest to anyone is beyond me. Maybe they are catering to the subsection of the population that is housebound and bored to tears (OK I spent a few moments in that group). At some point, if you’re bored enough, I guess a replay of Match Game from 1978 will entertain you. A chance to see D-list starts of the 70s lowering themselves to embarrassing levels and making "funny" jokes with loads of sexual innuendo. Of course, today they would have their own cable show, but that’s another channel.

2. Stage moms are still really scary. My favorite line I’ve heard on TV for a long time came from a stage mom who accompanied her lovely 13-year old to the Dr. Phil show for a segment called “Make My Kid a Hollywood Star.” 5 kids, competing for a prize package that included 4 months in a serviced apartment in Hollywood, auditions with agents and producers, and exposure to all the stuff you need in order to get your kid on TV, I guess. The 13-year-old was cute, but looked unbelievably uncomfortable on stage and during the minute she was allowed to perform, managed to change keys at least three times in the song she was singing (though she wasn't supposed to). Hmmmm, maybe a few lessons are in order. But really, as Dr. Phil, pointed out, “they are all winners.” All the non-winners (formerly known as losers before it became a self-esteem issue) were given iPod nanos, X-box 360s, and a vacation. Not too shabby. So they interview all the moms and kids after the winner is announced, and Stage Mom says “I’m not here to judge. They girl that won was ok and I guess she has ‘the look.’ BUT I DID NOT TRAVEL ACROSS THE COUNTRY FOR AN XBOX 360!"

Meow! Watch your back!

3. As my good friend Danika says, “Americans do crap food really well.” But a cooking show hosted by a down home southern girl named Paula Deen took the cake (pardon the pun). She shared a dish with her viewers that started with a chunk of leftover baked macaroni and cheese. She wrapped that in bacon, dipped in in flour, then dipped it in a beaten egg, then rolled it in bread crumbs, then dropped it into a vat of boiling hot peanut oil and deep fried it. OH MY! I felt my arteries clogging just looking at it. Seriously, I cannot think of anything more disgusting. Really, it’s the worst. I don’t know where to start. My stomach is churning just thinking about it. Fried funnel cake at a county fair - OK. Fried onion rings - sure. But fried macaroni and cheesee...PLEASE.


...It’s just plain embarrassing now.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ways Not to Spend Your Vacation

Here, in no particular order, are my suggestions for things to avoid on your holiday.

1. Do Not Get Stuck in an Elevator. More specifically, do not get stuck in an elevator with your 5-year-old who suddenly annouces that he has to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW. Or, if you do choose to get stuck in an elevator, choose one where a) the security cameras are really working, see you jumping up and down in front of them, and are not just props; b) the CALL button is actually hooked up to someone who you can call and who can help; or c) where the fire department who eventually answers the EMERGENCY button can come in less than 20 minutes even though they are only about 5 minutes away. NOTE: The games on most mobile phones can entertain the average 5-year-old for approximately 7.5 minutes.

2. Do Not Get Involved in an Accident With an Old Person. Avoid getting struck by an old man who is exiting a parking space along the side of a road where there is only one other lane of traffic which you happen to be driving in and a concrete median on the other side. If you do encounter such a vehicular incident, take photos which your mobile phone so he cannot claim responsibility at the scene and subsequently tell his insurance company that there were two lanes of traffic and he was clearly in the right lane. Stay calm as you explain to the insurance investigator that if that was the case you would have rear-ended the old man rather than having him plow into you wiith your two kids in the car. Smile politely as the old man looks at the damage to your car, estimating the damage to be a few thousand dollars and then relaying the story he heard of a man who spent $11,000 on his cat, can you imagine, on his cat!?

3. Do Not Undergo Major Emergency Medical Procedures. Avoid tearing your retina in an unexplained fashion and remain calm as the doctor questions you about secret long-term steroid use. If you do have to go such a procedure, when the doctor instructs you to stay bent over, keeping your head at waist level until you can lie down in the back hallway of his office, remember to move far enough into the hallway so that your feet do not stick out into the other hallway, prompting other patients to whisper loudly about your “condition.” Avoid procedures that require you to change position every 2 hours for one week, alternating between sitting up straight and lying on your right side, propped up by at least three pillows. Take pain pills with reckless abandon. Rely on your previous experience as the mother of a newborn to get you through the nights where you get little to no sleep. Send your husband and son out on daily expeditions so that they do not drive you insane.

Follow these tips for a stress-free vacation!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Coming Home

It's always a mix of emotions when we head back to the U.S. We are so happy to see our family and friends, of course. And every year I vow that we will not be running around all summer; that we will take a break and actually relax. ....And every year I fail! So now I am trying to embrace the chaos and make it my own.

The kids love seeing grandparents, aunts and uncles and playing with cousins. There are always cries of outrage when we have to leave. Darcy still has some friends from our days in the States - she was 4 1/2 when we left and had been in daycare and later preschool so we get together with some of her buddies every year. It's funny to see how they all change over the course of a year. It usually takes a few minutes for everyone to break through the shyness and get back into the swing but the magical power of "play" kicks in before too long.

Lucas, unfortunately, was only 18 months old when we left so his social network was not so fully developed. Plus, I had stopped working so he didn't benefit from daycare friends. We enrolled him in a camp for a week so he could get some fun of his own. Unfortunately, when I took him on the first day the camp location had moved. But there were other camps at the YMCA camp center so I asked what my options were. Kinddergarten enrichment or Mini Gym. Hmmmm, which would be better for a 5-year-old with a bundle of energy and two speeds, off and on???? Mini Gym it is! Of course, I ddn't process that this stood for Mini-Gym-nastics! So he hung out with 2 other boys and a room full of girls for the week. His new best friend is Abby and as she says "Hi Lucas!" each morning he greets her with a shoulder nudge and a smile.

I think Lucas also experienced his first crush this summer on our family friend Madison who is going into 7th grade. Her sister Danielle and Darcy are the same age and their mom Bonnie and I have been great friends for years. Matt and their husband/dad Bruce has similar senses of humor and we love getting together with them. Danielle and Darcy immediately picked up where they left off last summer and began playing at the pool. Madison spent loads of time throwing ball with Lucas in the pool and later playing Wii at their house and Lucas couldn't stop talking about "that girl with the long blond hair" for days after we left.

The kids also suffer a sort of culture shock as they don't always have the same frame of reference as other kids regarding all the things kids talk about. When they are asked if they watch this TV show or like that kind of cereal or have read a particular book, they sometimes look kind of confused. I fight back the urge to step in and explain that we don't have the access to some of the things there friends do and wait to see how they will work it out.

While vacationing in South Carolina with Matt's aunt and uncle, the kids spent some time at a local park with Aunt Maggie while Matt and I enjoyed our books, a quiet house, and their dogs. When they returned, Darcy was telling me about the kids they met who said "ain't" a lot. A southern word that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to explain the derivation of. Why do they say "ain't"? Ummm, I don't know, they just do. Apparently, the kids asked where they were from, and when Darcy and Lucas told them Turkey, they said, "Turkey?! Is that near China?" Darcy spent the next few minutes trying to explain where Turkey was but the kids were uninterested in a geography lesson. Welcome to the world of the returning expat! We've all been there!
I'm Baaaack

Sorry for the month-long hiatus. Jetlag, remote locations with no discernable wireless access, and a few unexpected medical emergencies are to blame. More to say in a few days...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Day's Long Journey Into Night

I'm coming out of the jetlag fog that always clouds my brain for the first few days after traveling. Finally able to form a coherent thought. Our trip was chronologically short, only 3 hours to Germany, and then 8 1/2 to the U.S. Daytime flying the whole way. For us, compared to the days of 28 hours to Thailand, it wasn't bad. However, it was made worse by the fact that Lufthansa decided to serve the worst airline food every prepared on the trip (except for the kids' meal, which Matt and I looked at longingly while the kids ate), and the fact that the onboard entertainment video service was kaput. WHAT!!!??? As an airline traveler, don't I have the right to at least have my kids watch ONE cartoon movie over and over and over again?? We enjoyed the business show portion of the service, and then were treated to the instructions for foreigners entering the U.S. and directions on how to fill out customs forms OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. They actually tell you not to write the number "1" with a little flicky tail that some people use at the start. Never cross your "7" in the middle. And don't allow the top of the "4" to touch in a point. Seriously. I am not joking. There were instructions on how to write your numbers. Who makes these rules? The kids were pretty good, all things considered. It was, quite possibly, the most boring flight ever. We were all happy to leave.

We arrived around 6:30 p.m. -- our body clocks told us it was 1:30 a.m. We enjoyed the luxury that is the baggage claim area at Dulles airport as we waited over an hour for our luggage to come off the belt. They kept making announcements "We apologize for the delay in the arrival of luggage from flight LH414. The guys needed to take their dinner break so you poor suckers will just have to wait your turn." Finally, the last few pieces slowly appeared, one at a time, painstakingly spaced apart, and we were off to the Fairfield Inn. Just next door, we stopped at the local Bob Evans restaurant (for those of you not familiar with the chain, their specialties are pork sausage and all kinds of pie), and 2 kids meals and lemonades later, we were tucking into bed. The kids were in that "I'm so tired I'm bouncing off the wall like a monkey hyped up on heroin" mode but we persevered and as soon as the lights went off, they went to sleep. Well, at least I did so if they stayed awake I didn't hear them.

We did wake up a few hours later to the sound of our door opening, or closing. I noticed Darcy wasn't there. Panic. Matt checked the bathroom, thinking she was trapped. Not there. Increased Panic. He opened the front door to find Darcy walking down the hall toward our room. Not away, but toward. Keep in mind she's only wearing her pajama top and underwear. She was sleepwalking and managed to open all the locks on the door and leave. We resisted the urge to completely freak out, interrogated her to see if she had seen or talked to anyone, tucked her back into bed and put our heaviest suitcase in front of the door. We were on the ground floor and figured we could escape out the window if necessary in case of fire. Deep breathing to control the rising panic. Don't think about what could've happened. Turn off your brain. Don't even go there.

All this happened in about 2 1/2 minutes in the middle of the night. While our brains were drugged with the heavy sleep that you fall into when you are so tired you can't walk. Must be the adrenaline. And parenthood.

We've recovered, though the kids are still waking up around 6 a.m. But everyone is staying in their beds. Happy Fourth of July!

Sunday, June 24, 2007


This week will be sad. For expats, the end of every school year typically brings a turnover. Some years lots of people leave, other years it doesn't seem like many. This year will be tough as I am losing 4 good friends. Ones I saw every day at school, commisserated with over kids issues, discovered Istanbul with, and shared lots of glasses of wine and lots of laughs.

There's Julia, my fellow American and supplier of vanilla extract, boxed cake mix and other American "necessities". We've shared a number of taco dinners with kids while our husbands were traveling. Our kids get along well and they always have fun together. Julia is a mom who "gets it" and we've always been able to rely on our shared experiences to help each other out.

Then there's Liz, one of my British posse who knows the best places to find any odd item you might need, from felt to party supplies to styrofoam food containers. She knows the streets off the Spice Bazaar like the back of her hand and is so much fun to shop with. She throws spectacular parties and we've had some really great girl's nights at her place.

Kris, my good friend from Belgium, cracks me up. We've laughed A LOT. She would also give you the shirt of her back if you asked. She is a master kids party planner and makes the most fantastic invitations and cakes you've ever seen. She's also an amazing cook and we've had some great dinners at her house that usually end late and see a lot of wine consumed.

Sian is another Brit and Matt and I have spent lots of time with her and her husband John. Who knew there were others with such eclectic musical tastes? They've made our time in Istanbul really special and we will miss hanging out with them, whether it was taking the kids to the forest, sitting in their garden with a cup of coffee, or sitting by the water in Ortakoy taking in the view.

Now I'm looking forward to our trip home to the states, but I know when I come back this will be a different place. Don't get me wrong, i still have a lot of friends here, but it will be strange to come to school on that first day back and not see the faces I'm so used to seeing.

It's the one aspect of expat life that never gets any easier. We don't have our families here, so our friends become so close. But we won't say goodbye, we'll say see you soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It's the little things...

You know those small details that can make or break your mood. Here's my current annoyance. I have been trying to find file folders here. Manila, third cut, basic folders that you fill with papers and stick in a hanging file in a filing drawer. Not exactly high technology. But do you think I can find them? Office store, high-end stationary store...they all look at me as if I'm nuts. They have the hanging file but not the folders that go in it. When I asked what they use to put inside (using horrifying obscence hand gestures and Tarzan Turkish) they pointed me to the plastic report covers. No No No. The plastic just doesn't work people. It bends, it falls. You can't write on the little thingy that sticks off the top to indicate what's inside!

I finally resorted to having Matt bring pack an Office Depot pack of 18 during his last trip to the US. So now I have my 8 1/2 x 11 file folders stuffed with A4 (European) sized paper - which is just about 1/3 of an inch longer than the folder. My only other option was to have Matt bring a few reams of the paper back to match. Just couldn't do it. My sense of order is not perfect, but it will have to do for now!

If I were Queen of the World for the day, I think one of my first orders would be to have all the nations of the world agree to some standards - weight, height, size of office paper, that kind of thing. Did you know that a North American tablespoon holds 20 ml, but an Australian one holds 15? And Turkish recipes give instructions such as "add one water glass of water." What?! Which water glass? Big one? small one? I'm all for cultural diversity, but c'mon...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Local Flavor

Thursday night, Matt and I were invited to celebrate the birthday of the Queen of England with several hundred of her loyal subjects and other friends. I don't actually think her birthday is in June, but the weather is more predictable in June in England so that's when they celebrate. Good party planning if you ask me. We went to the gardens of the British Consulate in Istanbul, which is a beautiful spot. It's always a little bittersweet to go there as it was the scene of a horrific series of bombings a few years ago that killed the Consul General and a number of staff. Nevertheless, everyone was in a great mood and the champagne was flowing. We went as guests of some friends who work at the consulate. British husband, American wife -- though the husband grew up in MD, is a huge Redskins fan, and doesn't exactly sound British. Such is the life of diplomats.

We had a great time and enjoyed talking to friends we ran into and meeting some new ones as well. There were appetizers being passed around, and at one point there seemed to be a mass movement toward one man who reportedly was carrying pork sausages on little toothpicks. Poor guy, he had no idea what was happening.

Fast forward two hours and we were heading out the door to get to our car. Champagne + wine + not much food=me a little bit buzzed. Matt was driving and still jetlagged so he didn't drink much. But we were both HUNGRY. The kids were at a friends house and, apparently, still up at 9:15. School the next day and I didn't want them up so late. What to do?

We could've stopped by Burger King, or McDonalds, but there were three flights up in the shopping mall and we were feeling lazy. Oh, and did I mention we were hungry? And then, there, next to the escalator down to the parking garage, we saw it....CORN!

Styrofoam cups of yellow corn, slathered with butter, salt, parmesean, red pepper - choose your flavor. We had seen the corn stands before and it had become a bit of a joke since Matt's office is just next door.

"Hey honey, how was work?"

"Great day, sweetheart, I had my CORN!"

But now, slightly tipsy and ravenous, that corn was looking mighty good. We sidled up to the faux country market stand and ordered two large cups. Butter and salt flavored, please. We decided to go for the basics on our first corn venture. Let me tell you, that was some good corn! Maybe it was the subtle buttery texture mixing with the champagne, or maybe it was just that we probably would've eaten just about anything. I still wonder about the corn. Why corn? Why in a mall? I think it's probably the upscale version of the corn on the cob that you can buy out in the market streets in Istanbul, a portable, tasty, not that unhealthy snack that fills you up. We have Cinnabon in the US, Turkey has corn.

So, for any visitors coming this way, you know what will be one of our stops as we tour the city.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sometimes life just takes you in a direction you don't anticipate. And sometimes you just have to give in and enjoy the ride.

I had a flat tire today. My second in 2 weeks. It was pointed out to me by two well-meaning gentlemen in the car next to me. On my way to play tennis. My one "expat wife" thing that I do every Monday. Matt is still away (still...) so I arranged for a friend to take the kids to school. You should know that I'm not good at tennis. I'm a beginner. At our annual tournament, when people asked how i did, I could honestly say, "Someone has to come in last place." And, truly, I don't care. I have fun, like my teammates, and believe it or not, I've improved since the beginning of the year.

I'm 10 minutes away and it is pointed out to me that I have a flat tire. I find an appropriate spot to pull over at the entrance to a park. Not the front entrance, but the back, where all the heavy equipment is and all the park employees roll into work every morning. First of all, I can't believe I have ANOTHER flat tire. What's the deal?

The guvenlik, or security guards, all come to inspect. At first I think, right, I'm not an invalid, I can change a tire. And I COULD, if I could READ the jack instructions in a language I UNDERSTAND. So I begin to think about hailing a cab to pay him to change the tire.

Suddenly a new guard comes up and I recognize him as a guard who used to work at the school. He recognizes me and we say our hellos. Tea is offered, so of course I must accept. Again I try to explain that I have to be somewhere soon and I can take the tire to get repaired in our little village of Zekeriyakoy if I can just get the tire changed. My new best friend, Mert, assures me that he will take care of everything and quickly takes off on a motorbike.

His friend, Tuncay, engages me in conversation and asks where I am from. When I tell him I cam from America, he begins to tell me of his love affair with Manhattan. He LOVES Manhattan, it's beautiful, and he wants to move there. He then proceeds to tell me how much is salary is and asks if he can make that much or more in Manhattan. He has seen movies and knows he would like to live there.

I try to explain that I haven't actually lived in Manhattan since 1993 and I'm not sure what the salaries are like these days. I don't bother trying to explain that everyday life is just a little different than it is on the TV and in the movies. He asks me how hard it is to get a visa into the U.S. I try hard not to laugh.

Back returns Mert, who tells me his "friend" will be there in 10 minutes to repair the tire. Again i try to explain that I just want to change the tire but I realize the situation has moved out of the realm of my control. More tea is served. More discussions about salaries in Manhattan.

Of course this is all being conducted in my poor attempts to speak Turkish. When Tuncay asks me if I have kids, I know I should say "I have two kids", and I actually know how to say this, but it comes out "I my two kids."

Finally "friend" appears and fills my tire up with air and diagnoses the problem as a leaky air valve. Once again I try to explain that if we can just change the tire I can get it repaired. But no, there will be none of that. More tea is served and our little group has grown to four persons; we discuss the beautiful weather.

My tire is pumped up with air and I am told to drive quickly behind "friend" to his shop so he can repair the tire for 20 YTL (about $16). As if I have a choice.

As I drive I can hear the hissing of the air leaving my tire with great speed. We make it to the shop, I am again offered tea, and "friend" repairs the tire in about 10 minutes. It's all about the 10 minutes and the tea.

By the time all is said and done, I have consumer 3 or 4 glasses of tea, my tire is completely repaired and I have missed my hour of tennis. But I have lots of new friends.

And if any of you in Manhattan are looking for an eager, hard-working, very nice Turkish-speaking security guard who makes a mean cup of Turkish tea...

New Turkish Vocabulary
lastik - tire

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I had one of those moments today. One of those moments where I was so proud of one of my kids that I nearly burst. Darcy was in a horse show today. She's been riding for about a year and a half. We've had some good times, and some bad times. She's fallen twice and luckily wasn't hurt, except that her confidence took a bad hit. Several lessons were tear-filled and nerve wracking. The smallest bit of wind scared her. On more than one occasion I told her that she didn't have to keep riding if she wasn't enjoying it, but she insisted on continuing. Slowly but surely, things improved. Recently, she's started riding a new horse and everything has just clicked. She's become so confident and has worked so hard. After the dressage course, there was jumping. She's done a jump or two, but this was a jumping course outside with not one, not two, but 5 jumps. An entire course to ride through. I was flipping out inside.

I purposely didn't go over to her before her jump because I didn't want her to waiver. I decided that she would do it if she wanted to and wouldn't if she wasn't comfortable. I gave her a quick thumbs up and held my breath. Honestly, I don't think I took a breath for the 2 minutes she was going through the course.

At the end, she was, as our British friends say, chuffed. Bouncing. Out of her mind excited. And so was I. Not only did she not hurt herslef, she excelled. Pushed through the fear. It was one of those moments when your heart fills your entire chest and threatens to come right up out of your throat. And she did it all on her own.

Oh my goodness, she's growing up.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I was feeling a bit down. Until I read this:

From The Washington Post, Sunday, May 20th edition:

I am reading about diabolical Christian cults and Kabbalah in "Foucault's Pendulum," while waiting for my daughter as she learns Indian classical music and Hindu hymns from a Muslim originally from Afghanistan. The other students include an African American lady, a mother and daughter from Bangladesh and a massage therapist who rents a car just to come to class. There are also Boy Scouts in full regalia meeting in a room around the corner. And a ballet troupe in pretty pink tutus, practicing for an upcoming event in the big hall. All in an Episcopal Church in the suburbs. I love America.

Sanjiev Chattopadhya

Sanjiev, you rock! Thanks for bringing me up out of my funk.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I Need A Job!

Good golly, I miss working. I can close my eyes and remember the days of working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Deadlines, no time for lunch, industry reading at home. OK... no, that part I don't miss.

But the past 2 years have been HARD. I'm a much better wife and momma when I have something else that needs my attention every now and then. I worked part-time while in Bangkok and that schedule was perfect. OK, the pay wasn't great but it was enough to pad our vacation fund.

But here. Oy! No work permit, no job. And just try getting one of those. Precious commodity.

Right now I'm trying to start a freelance writing career. I've been reading, getting motivated, even wrote a few articles and am working on ghostwriting a book. I just need to get it all coordinated and keep the momentum rolling.

Meanwhile, we're making it work on one income like so many other families.

And I'm chairing the school's annual Fun Day. A full day of kiddo fun at school - games, activity stalls, cotton candy, bouncy castle, whoo-wee. And a big push to help the school's charity. A great one that hits close to home. One of the school's staff members has a daughter who needed a kidney transplant earlier this year. Yikes! A 10-year old.

Their insurance covered some but as usual, there are extra costs. The family had to essentially move near the facility that had the best chance of getting a kidney soon. So, they borrowed 50,000 YTL (about $35,000) to save her life. It's what you do for your kids, isn't it. We'd all do the same thing.

Of course, Turkish salaries for lower management aren't exactly generous. The charity this year has given the kids a chance to see exactly how they can affect one person's life for the better. A good lesson for all of us.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

My New Blog! OK, I've spent a good chunk of Saturday early morning setting this up while Disney Channel plays in the background. Not exactly quality mommy-time, but whatever. Why is it that all these things never get done while they are at school? Why do I come up with my brainstorms at the most inapparopriate times? And why didn't I realize before I had kids exactly how much you can get done between the hours of 6-11 p.m. My goodness, knowing what I get accomplished now during that time, I should've had a PhD before I even popped out kiddo #1 8 years ago.

Our live at the moment sounds so very ordinary. Darcy at a sleepover, Matt still snoozing, Lucas sitting in his T-shirt and Spiderman underwear watching TV. His legs are covered with little boy mystery bruises. The war injuries of every 5-year-old.

Matt just came back from Croatia a day ago and brought back bacon! Pork products (yes, we live in a Muslim country)! Off to make eggs and bacon for breakfast. Yum! A real treat.