Friday, October 31, 2008

'Splain This One...

Went to our local video store today. A wonderful man runs it and he loves the kids and is so kind. We went to find something for Darcy and her three friends to watch tomorrow night during a sleepover and stock up for the weekend. Here in Turkey, movies get their own rating which is sometimes marked on the DVD, sometimes not. Once, I noticed that Team America was in the kids section. Yes, it was a puppet film but most assuredly NOT at all for children.

Today I went and as Lucas was cruising through the kids' section and begging me to get the first Fantastic Four movie, I noticed The Complete Persepolis. Animated but again, NOT for children. A fantastic book, and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. But unless you want your kids to discover the graphic details about Iranian politics and culture during the Islamic revolution, I wouldn't recommend it.

On the flip side, Nancy Drew (the remake starring Emma Roberts) was in the grownup section and rating 18+. Huh?? I tried to read any of the Turkish on the back but no luck. I kept inspecting it to see why it was rated 18+, if maybe I missed something the first time around and half afraid I would inadvertently show 4 9- and 10-year-old girls graphic violence or sex. Or what if it was one of those cleverly renamed porn flicks?? Oh my goodness - can you imagine the phones calls from the other moms afterward!

Brought it home anyway. I think I will do a quick fast forward after the kids go to bed just to double check.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Life in a foreign country - over the weekend Turkey blocked access to and other blog sites. Why? Not because someone is dissing Ataturk, not because someone is threatening someone else's Turkishness. No, it plain ol' corporate greediness. Digiturk, a large Turkish cable network, got pissed off because it was possible to see video on some blog sites that they charge for as part of their premium service. So they petitioned the courts to have the websites blocked. Because NOTHING is more effective at stopping people from doing something than saying they can't do it. More later as I get more details. Thanks to my kids, I've discovered the way to use proxy sites to access blocked websites, like YouTube and now blogger sites. I KNEW there was a reason we decided to have kids!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Weird Turkish language moment: Me, translating into Turkish from English for native French-speaking expat friend to my cleaner, Nurcan. Nurcan, subsequently translating from my "Tarzan turkish" into actual Turkish for her friend who may or may not clean for my new expat friend. Oy, my head hurts!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Signs that our overseas lifestyle is paying off...

In the car on the way to Saturday morning soccer:

Lucas: Who's running for president again?
Me: Obama and McCkain
Lucas: McCain?? That's an odd name. What's his first name?
Me: John. John McCain. And Barak Obama.
Lucas: John McCain. That sounds so weird.
Me: What about Barak Obama? Does that sound strange to you?
Lucas: No. Why would it?

And one more small rant, directed to the people at Dell -

Do you think that everyone works in a dark cave? The ulta-beautiful, super-color monitor looks great at night. But with any small amount of light, it performs better as a mirror than as a computer screen. Is it just my aging eyes? You should add a warning when you are ordering your computer online.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Between two worlds

Some of our trips get named. There was the Hot Chocolate Tour of the Hapsburg Empire during an extremely cold December. The Spaghetti Bolognese Tour of Vietnam when Darcy and Lucas seemed to eat nothing but. And the infamous Storms and Stomach Flu Driving Tour to southern Turkey when we sensibly decided to call it quits early and just come home. As Kenny Rogers said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”

We haven’t named our most recent sojourn. We aren’t even officially back yet (at least we weren't when I wrote this. Now we are back) so am I tempting fate by writing this now? For 3 ½ weeks the kids and I have been traipsing up and down the east coast. This trip was ordinary in a good way, the predictable events happening as one would expect and the surprises mostly positive. There was the flat tire on the rental but all in all, considering I was traveling alone with two children under 10, not bad. We ate too much (mmm bacon), I sometimes drank too much, tried to see everyone and do everything, and seemingly gave a year’s support to the struggling US economy in less than a month.

If there’s been any definable trait to this trip, it seems to me that we are all on the brink at the moment, one foot set in one side and another crossing over. Each of us on our own journey, each stuck in the middle.

For Lucas, the biggest trial was traveling without his dad along and having to use public restrooms. At 6 ½ he is repulsed and embarrassed at the thought of going into a women’s bathroom. I cannot express in words the strength of his conviction. This isn’t such a big deal in some spots – a restaurant, a minor league ball game. But the Newark train station? Or the airport in Rome? If you happen to read on another blog about a not-small American woman standing strangely close to the door of a men’s room, arms on her hips, a worried frown on her face and staring seriously at the door as if she could see through it, that would be me.

There were a few times where I had to insist, such as the Newark train station and the airport in Rome, and no amount of whining, angry, defiant protestations could sway me. I did my best to hustle him in without any other females seeing him. I’m not entirely sure if he was more embarrassed about them seeing him or him seeing them, but nonetheless it was hard. He’s a self-proclaimed “little big boy”. Not ready for a scary movie but ready for the sometimes scarier men’s room.

Darcy is teetering on her own edge as well. With her 11 and 13 year old cousins she was all about shopping at Claire’s for earrings and buying a cute purse, what to wear and ponytailing and reponytailing her hair every 7 ½ minutes. With her younger friend Tess she was playing house with stuffed animals. At a visit to the pediatrician, she confirmed that she is literally on the edge (discrection Jenn!), sitting in the rollercoaster as it is about ¾ of the way up the hill, starting to slow in anticipation of the huge stomach-churning drop that’s about to happen. Are we all sufficiently strapped in yet?

And me, I spent two weeks at my mom’s house watching my kids growing up on one side and my mom slowing down on the other. We cleaned out the basement, saying goodbye to stuff that needed to go. Luckily, she’s in good health, with some of the hiccups that accompany the 70s, but considering what could be, not bad. Watching other older relatives age and decline. Balancing the knowledge that time is passing while still trying not to dwell.

And the best part? I joined the legions of over-40s who benefit from progressive vision glasses. For the uninitiated, those would be bifocals. Free from the tell-tale lines that used to announce one’s declining vision from afar, bifocals have been rebranded. A marketing triumph. Progressive vision – the hip new trend. Hide them inside flashy frames and no one will be the wiser. Only you will know that you are no longer the hip chick gazing back at yourself from the photos of that kick-ass party 10 (ok, make that 20) years ago.

The crevice underneath our feet is getting wider and wider and soon we all have to make the jump.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An open letter to the powerful Turks in charge of the Istanbul electricity grid -

I am about to singlehandedly fly for 12 hours to the US with 2 children, including a stopover and a 4 a.m. departure from home. Tonight I have plugged in 3 iPods, one laptop capable of playing DVDs, 2 Nintendo DS hand-held games, and one digital camera.

Please, oh please, tonight, no power cuts. I will be indebted to you forever.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'm really sorry, it's been over a month since I've blogged! That's just horrible.

Kids and I are heading off to the US early Tuesday a.m. so I'll try and write from the road.

In the meantime, I wanted to share another blog from a great friend who's doing something really good. Her name is Troye and she's decided that one person CAN make a difference.

Troye is a quilter and has spent the last few weeks (maybe months?) sewing. Up late, up early, she's been a busy bee.

Troye knows of a little Turkish girl named Melisa who has a horrible tumor growing behind her eye. Not only is it affecting her sight, it's created an unsightly lump on her face as well. Something none of us would wish on anyone. Coming from a family that doesn't have the money to just pay for private medical care, she is relying on the Turkish national health care. Not exactly top notch, as I'm sure you can imagine. The gap between rich and poor here seems to grow daily, as in many other countries.

Anyway, Troye is auctioning off her quilts to the highest bidders. Any money she raises will go toward Melisa's medical bills. Not a dime for expenses, supplies, anything. She's made the quilts, and along with the assistance of some friends, set up a web site and is running an auction this weekend. She saw a problem and decided to do something about it. Period.

In addition to taking on this project and just taking the bull by the horns, Troye is the mother to 6 great kids between the ages of 5 and 29. She is a constant source of inspiration and my go-to girl on many a parenting issue.

So if you are so inspired, you can read about her project here:

and you can visit the quilt auction here:

And if nothing else, maybe you too will be inspired as I have been by Troye's efforts.

More from the road in the US.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Some of you may remember growing up in the 70s, when the gas crisis was in full swing and the US was in the middle of a recession. As one of three kids being raised by a single mom, we were not in the practice of going out to dinner a lot. We would beg to go to McDonald's or Burger King, but mom would say "Good news! We ARE having hamburgers. I made them." They, of course, were never the same. Who wants a nice, fresh, juicy, thick burger when we could've had the thin, formerly frozen fried patty slathered with freeze-dried onions that all our friends were eating?! The worst was when the store was out of hamburger rolls (or maybe my mom just didn't buy them). A burger between two slices of bread. Mmmm, mmmm.

I digress. I had this little flashback tonight while trying to recreate taco seasoning. Matt's away, and I was trying to decide what to make for dinner for me and the kids. I had leftover chicken in the fridge, and avacados were a)available and b)ripe. I decided to make tacos. Amazingly, the El Paso taco kit can be found in a small nearby little market that specializes in overpriced exported foodstuffs. Course, the El Paso kit costs 15 YTL (about $11), and probably expired in 2005.

So I figure, How hard can taco seasoning be? It's got to be chili powder, onion, cumin, paprika, etc. So I google "homemade taco seasoning" and on or some similar web site, find a recipe. I doctor it up, substituting here and there as you do. Mix with some water, the leftover chicken, substitute lavas (a tortilla-like flatbread) for taco shells, cube the faux cheddar cheese slices, cut up the other required condiments and serve with a smile.

One of the benefits of living overseas, despite the encroachment of western franchises such as McDonald's and KFC, is that some of this "American" food is still new to the kids. Having never been exposed to Taco Bell or even the El Paso of my childhood, Mom's Homemade Turkish Tacos were a huge success.

And, mom, I do prefer the homemade burger these days. Just make sure you have the seeded buns.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

First, to add to the last post. Here's a photo of the cheese toast I was raving about.

June 1 - my own little official summer start date. June, July, August - to me, all summer, all the time. I have moved squarely into "if you didn't swim in the pool, you need a bath" and it's antithesis "If you've been in the pool for more than 1/2 an hour, all that chlorine will kill whatever germs are on you. No bath tonight."

In the spirit of the old Family Circus cartoons that appeared in every American newspaper (sorry friends from other lands), I am turning this post over to the younger Eliot generation. What follows is a story by Darcy, written after a sudden burst of inspiration while enjoying a long soak in the tub... (please excuse any unintentional stereotyping)

Hostage for Carpets

Chapter 1

It was a dark, gloomy night. The power had gone out but Darcy was used to it because were she lived there were always thunderstorms. She heard weird noises; she thought “Oh it’s just the wind, nothing to worry about.”

But then she heard someone whisper “I’ve got her, go get the other three” in a French accent. Darcy was scared so she shouted, “MOM!! WERE ARE YOU?” but there was no answer, then the French accent said, “There’s no point in calling to her or the rest of your family.” Darcy thought “Why does that voice sound so familiar?” Then she realized it was Mehmet the carpet seller.

“Why are you holding me and my family hostage?” Darcy asked, “Because your mother and father wouldn’t buy one of my carpets.” He answered back. “But there’s no point holding us hostage because somebody will find out.” She explained.

Chapter 2

Darcy knew Mehmet was greedy because she went to his store when she and her family were on holiday in Cappadocia and hated his carpets. She thought quickly and came up with a plan to trick him. Darcy said, “Me and my family will buy a carpet in Cappadocia if you let us go.” “Oh, deal.” He thought he they were going to come and buy a carpet at his store. He and Darcy shook hands and he let them go.

Over the weekend Darcy’s family flew to Cappadocia and bought a carpet from Ruth and Faruks store, they thought it would look good in their house. Later that afternoon they went to Mehmets store and told him, “There, we bought a carpet in Cappadocia.” “But you didn’t buy one from my store.” He wailed, he was taken aback. “Yeah , but our deal was we’d buy one in Cappadocia...not at your store.” Darcy said with a smile. “You think you’re all that but you’re not Darcy Eliot!” Mehmet yelled as the happy family walked out the door.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Two quick items of note, and more later (yeah, yeah, yeah)...

1. After trolling through more internet sites I realized my insightful comments about Dubya were made by about, oh, 3 bajillion other people. So I take no ownership, but I do say...great minds think alike!

2. I read this on another blog I liked today:

Here's a quote from Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert:

"Parents tell me all the time that: 'My child is my greatest source of joy'," he said.
"My reply is that: 'Yes, when you have one source of joy, it's bound to be your greatest'.

You can read her blog here:

Add to checklist: find another source of joy before current joy source abandons me for college/boyfriend/good cheese toast.

Speaking of cheese toast, we are about to go to Saturday Soccer, one of my favorite times of the week because I get to hang out with my friends who live "downtown". This little soccer club opens their doors to the crazy yabangi (foreigners) who want to play the game the rest of the world calls football.

Anyhoo, they have THE BEST CHEESE TOAST sandwiches in the world. Here, in Turkey, they are made with a panini-type press (flat, with no lines - like a trouser press) on a roll-type bread product. Whatever it is, the cheese, the bread, or the remains of other cheese toasties that have crusted their way onto the press, they are so damn good.

And my poor husband, who went to Dushanbe, Tajikistan for 4 days and ended up staying for 10, only wanted to come home last night. However, his flight was announced as 2 hours late because ????, then come to find out it was only 1 hour late because they didn't have enough fuel in Dushanbe and had to stop at some unnamed Russian city, but he missed his connection in Moscow and now has to spend 7 hours in the Moscow airport where the concept of e-ticket is newish, and then spend Saturday night in Zurich so his entire weekend is shot. And he's still wearing those original 4 days worth of clothing, cleaned at the hotel of course, but still...And all of this happens in the wee hours of the morning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One quick comment on today's news (or non-news as the case may be)...

Just read on CNN that George Bush told a reporter he gave up golf in solidarity with the families of American soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Let's not even get into the contrast of his sacrifice vs. those of just about everyone else involved in the conflict. The list would be far too long.


Why doesn't he give up Iraq for golf?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Oh! I have been delinquent in posting. And I do apologize. There are no excuses except for the end-of-the-school-year train that is increasingly picking up speed. Sports Day, Fun Day, Mother's Day - every day is a party! I might as well just keep my camera in my purse and stick around every day to see what photo album-worthy event is up next. So I have no excuse and every excuse that a mother understands.

This week has been Science Week at school.

Darcy's class has been studying the nose. Today's science tip: "Mom, don't clean that mucus off Lucas' nose! Don't you know that mucus warms the air and protects his sinus cavity??" (Ummm, isn't that only when it's safely stored on the INSIDE and not crusting up the OUTSIDE?)

Lucas' kindgergarten class has been learning about the skin, which, as you can imagine in a class of 5 and 6-year-olds, has led them to discuss where babies come from and poop. Obviously. Though, to their credit, their teacher reports that these have not been the typical giggle-inducing discussions you would imagine among that crowd. On the contrary, quite the opposite. They were a serious group of little scientists.

Lucas has sidestepped the intricacies of the whole baby thing and the only thing that concerns him is that he can't remember when he was a baby. I tried explaining that no one can; I can't remember what it was like when I was a baby. His response is "Yea, but your life is mostly finished. No one can remember back that far."

So, as I gingerly tap the keys with my ancient shriveled talons, I will do my best to blog again soon.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Answer: stomach flu and rain
Question: what are the two worst things to bring along on your vacation

Our week-long meandering car trip down to the idyllic and as yet uncrowded southern coast of Turkey was, let's just say, not our best ever. Darcy managed to get sick in the car and in the middle of the night so both the car and the hotel room were quite fragrant. Poor thing. The only sunny day we had she spent with fever and in various stages of sleep. Knock wood, no one else managed to pick up the bug. She has recovered nicely as well.

To Lucas, it was the best holiday ever because the small B&B we stayed came complete with a 6-year-old boy to play with, free of charge! The only drag was that Bora had to go to school each day and wasn't available to play 24/7. I took the two boys to the nearby beach one afternoon. The sun was shining, we were in a small cove, steep hills on either side and across the water. I was sitting on a rock, enjoying the warm sun on my face as I could hear the gentle tinkling of bells on the sheep nearby. And then this...

Do you know Watch!! And I'm Optimus Prime...ime...ime!

My quiet reflection was ground to a halt by the echoing shouts of two little sets of ribs and shoulder blades, one topped by stick-straight blond hair, the other by a mound of brown curls. Two little bodies racing through the still-chilly water, oblivious to the cold. The milky white one and the toasty brown Meditteranean one. Gorgeous. They couldn't have had a better time. Together they fought the dark forces of evil in the courtyard of the B&B, each getting stuck in the tree and after crying and examining their war wounds, climbing right back up again.

Unfortunately, their powers were not quite strong enough as the dark forces of weather conspired against us and the rain appeared. Being the off-season, there wasn't much to do if you weren't out and playing in the water, on a boat, or hiking around. After much debate, we decided to cut our losses and head back to the big city. We still had a few days left at home to chill out and just relax.

Back to school and work on Monday. The itch to do some serious spring cleaning has struck and I am driving everyone nuts by furiously emptying closets and creating piles of stuff everywhere to go through. I am making progress and will soon have closet closure!

If you ever find yourself in southern Turkey, about 40 minutes south of Marmaris, we can highly recommend Jenny's House in Selimye ( Jenny and her husband Mehmit, their son Bora, along with their family, run a beautiful little B&B with spotless, comfortable rooms, amazing breakfast and a great little village to explore. She also offers dinner if interested, and the food is delicious and a real bargain. We hope to go back again soon!

Friday, March 07, 2008


I have these moments, very infrequently, where I will be in the middle of what is most likely a very normal situation and suddenly have a momentary glimpse of what I’m doing and where I am and think, How did THIS happen? Not exactly an out-of-body experience, though that would be interesting. It’s more of a combination of wonder and usually appreciation, though occasionally mixed with annoyance, depending on the circumstances.

I have one about a week or so ago, when i went out early in the morning to grab a loaf of bread from our local newsstand because I had forgotten my list at the grocery store the day before. It’s was early, about 7 a.m. and quiet. Quiet except for the swishing sound of young men washing cars. Out where we live, in our compound and the neighborhood nearby, some of our neighbors employ men whose job it is to take care of “stuff.” And one job they have is to wash the cars on a daily basis. Not a simple bucket and sponge scenario, but a hose attached to a broom and loads of soap and water. Every day. Can you imagine how much water they are using? Not only is it environmentally criminal, but with the cost of house and garden water rising constantly, it must be obscenely expensive. Let’s just say I don’t see them using “grey” water or a tank of rainwater they’ve collected. Different strokes for different folks.

And I thought, for just a moment, How did a little girl who grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, where we used to wash our big ‘ol station wagon in the driveway once in a while when we wanted extra allowance go from there to a place where our neighbors have staff who wash their multiple cars every day??

I remembered a time last year when the kids noticed the daily car washing of our neighbor and I used it as a math lesson. They both thought this would be a great job and we tried to figure out how much money they would earn if they washed cars all day and charged what they charge at our local tire garage/oto yikama (car wash). The predicted salary we calculated, to them, sounded like a fantastic wage. I decided not to ruin their dream with the harsh reality of adult perspective.

This feeling of surreality (I do realize that this is not a real word but sums up nicely what I’m feeling at the moment) has continued with a quick trip to Dubai, where I am at the moment. I trailed along with Matt on a business trip at the last moment. IFC has this nice benefit where Matt earns “spouse points” for every night he’s away from home on business. Once he’s collected enough spouse points, he can trade up for a better spouse. No, just kidding. Once he’s collected enough points, I’m allowed to go along for the ride. Or, as I sometimes think of it, once the spouse has had enough of the draining, frustrating, mind-numbing job of being a single parent while the other spouse is away and is just on the edge of losing it, along comes a free business class trip ticket to salve your open oozing wounds. I think you have to earn 200 points, which translates to 40 weeks away from home. Oy!

So here I am in Dubai which, to me, looks like a cross between a enormous construction site, a movie set and Disney World. In the middle of the desert there’s a ski slope, large swaths of green, and intricately shaped man-made islands full of luxury villas, the scope of which I could have never imagined. The place literally oozes money. Luckily, one of my pals from Istanbul moved here last year so I am balancing the bizarre with a great big healthy dose of catching up with a good friend.

And, I have to admit, with the sun shining, no one to worry about but myself, and wait staff scurrying nearby to bring me a drink by the pool at the slightest glimpse in their direction, I appreciate this brief dip into surreality.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


It's been snowing here in the 'bul. A furious flurry shower last Wednesday prompted administrators to cancel school for the day (of course, by 11:15 the sun was shining). We got the call that school was going to close at 7:55 a.m. School starts at 9:00. Anyone who comes by bus usually leaves around, oh, 8:00. As I quickly scanned my first of two Emergency Phone Chains, I realized the person I had to call lives nearby and drives her kids as I do. We leave around 8:35. Another friend, however, lives further away and her kids go by bus. I made the executive decision to call her so her kids wouldn't get on the bus, only to be brought home 40 minutes later.

My friend, a new parent to the school and also an American, gasped in mock horror upon answering, "Are you calling me out of order? Are you breaking THE EMERGENCY PHONE CHAIN?!" Yes, I admit it, I broke the Emergency Phone Chain. Deviant, troublemaker, rabble-rouser. No wonder kids today have no respect for authority! Just look at the examples that are being set at home! Do you think they have support groups for people like me?

On the very same day, I realized that we were out of just about any food that would a)allow me to make a decent breakfast or lunch at home, and b)make for a more bearable day at home with 2 children. Since Matt usually goes to work a bit later to avoid the legendary Istanbul traffic, I quickly threw on a pair of jeans and ran to the local market to avoid making the trip with 2 bored children which is about as fun for me as pulling my toenails out one at a time.

I see a sweet parking spot near the front door, and begin maneuvering in. Plenty of room, the only obstacle is a small sign for the compound across the street warning patrons not to block the driveway. No problem, I have left plenty of room. Plenty of room if the sign wasn't tipped over on its side, sharp pointy metal corner ready to graze any unsuspecting cars. I tap against said sharp pointy metal corner and inspect the miniscule damage before shopping. Eh, it's hardly noticable. I continue on my merry way.

When I get home, I mention this insignificant little event to Matt, who takes a look. We'll have to get that fixed, he warns, and because of where it is they will probably have to replace the entire back half of the car (ok maybe he said rear bumper, when it comes to cars I am truly clueless). I go out to see what he is talking about and see that the tiny insignificant scratch seems to have grown since I left the store. "You'll need a police report"--the phrase that strikes fear in the heart of many. It's true, our lease (and most insurance here) stipulates that no matter who is at fault, you can't move your cars and you definately need a police report. And since we lease our cars, if we don't get said report we have to pay, no matter who is at fault.

I call my British friend who is married to a Turk and studying to be a lawyer while at the same time working at her husband's law firm (Geez, what a slacker). Well, the thing is, she says, you can't get a police report once you've left the scene. "What can I do?," I implore. And then, she certainly doesn't tell me to go back to the scene of the accident and park the car again and call the police. Noooooo. Still in my PJ top, no bra and jeans, I bundle the kids in the car, throw some crayons, notebooks, and reading material at them, and pray that the parking spot is still empty. Of course, just as I am driving up, someone parks there. I mutter a stream of obscenities under my breath and drive around for a bit. I ignore the children's rapid-fire questioning: where are we going? what are we doing? why do you keep driving around? and promise chocolate bars once we get to the store.

Finally, my spot is free! I park again (it is the same spot after all. it's not REALLY that immoral. It's not as if I faked the accident somewhere where it didn't even happen. Please!) and "bump" the same sign. I call the Jandarma and after 6 or 7 more calls in increasingly frustrated Turkish, finally get someone to agree to come. The penance for my crime? Have to endure a Laurel and Hardy-type conversation between the Jandarma, the local military police, and the Polis, Istanbul's finest. It's kind of complicated, but while in Istanbul you call the Jandarma for certain problems and the Polis for others, out by us in the hinterlands it's all Jandarma all the time. After what seeemed like endless conversations like this:

Jandarma office: "Call the Polis"
Polis office 1: "Call the Jandarma"
Jandarma office: "Call the Polis"
Me: "I did call the Polis"
Polis office 2: "Call the Jandarma"
Me: "I did call the Jandarma"

someone finally showed up. I think the bitter cold, half-rain, half-snow showers may have had something to do with their reluctance. 40 minutes, 2 chocolate bars, 2 drinks, 3 episodes of me hissing "just stay quiet until we get home!" and as much Turkish as I can muster, I am on my way with the golden ticket, aka a Polis report.

No worries about me suddenly switching to a life of crime. I'm clearly not cut out for it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I love the sound of my children's voices...usually. But when they practice their song, or more specifically, their three lines of the song, for the school assembly OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER, at the top of their lungs, (Mom! I'm projecting!) I want to take a spike and drive it into my skull. Calgon, take me away! (anybody else remember that commercial from the 70s?)

OK, I'm back from the ledge.

It's February in Turkey, grey and cold. The only thing this winter weather is good for is skiing if there's snow. Luckily, for Darcy, she leaves on Sunday to go skiing with the school. Skiing. With her school. But not her parents. For four days. Without her parents. And she's not yet turned 9. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I am fighting the urge to lock her in her room until she's 16 and have not openly expressed any of the internal angst I am feeling.

The kids are, as you can imagine, about to burst out of their skin with excitement. Of course, we don't HAVE to let her go, but we can't think of a compelling reason not to. I always feel sad for the dozen or so kids left behind, feigning excitement about the "special projects" they are working on and the movies they get to watch in school.

Did I mention that we have to drop the kids off at 5:45 A.M.??? Guess it's good that they get on the bus early. And so I have the full, entire day to obsess about them getting to the destination safely.

I know it's good for them to develop independence, to grow up, and am thrilled that they get the opportunity to go. This chance to live overseas, to meet friends from all over the world, to go places they might not get to otherwise, it's all good. And they are growing up. Sometimes it goes by quickly, sometimes so achingly slow.

Darcy did show great maturity over the weekend when she was seated on both flights to and from London next to what must have been the smelliest people on the plane. You know the type, every slight body movement releases a fresh burst of not-so-freshness. Let's hope she can show the same maturity when it comes to brushing her teeth, changing underwear, and going to bed at a decent hour.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Over the years, I've worked in a number of offices, and I've managed various staff members. Some were good, some were great, and some were, well, they gave me lots of practice in writing performance reviews. These days, my "staff" is limited to a cleaning lady who helps me out two days a week. Luxurious according to US standards, I know.

And, honestly, I think sometimes she manages me more than I manage her, teaching me how to make various Turkish recipes, tsk-tsking me when I go out the door without my hair being perfectly dry, zipping up the kids coats and they bolt out the door to school, and instructing me on what we should do about the ants in the kitchen.

I like to think that I was a fair boss, sympathetic to work/life balance issues and reasonable in my expectations. I understood the need to leave early for a doctor's appointment, catch a child's school performance, or even take the occasional mental health day, as long as there was no abuse of the system. So when Nurcan, my cleaner, explained yesterday that she might need to leave early, it was OK with me. In my Tarzan Turkish, I asked if everything was OK, if her daughter was fine, and she gave me a reason that I can honestly say I've never heard before:

Our cow is going to give birth.

A rapid exchange of Q&A: Inek var mi??!! You have a cow? Evet, inek var. Yes, I have a cow. She uses the international sign for pregnant - hands together outlining a large balloon shape from one's belly. You have a COW? Yes, a cow. And the COW is pregnant. I surmise that it is indeed the cow that's pregnant, and I haven't misunderstood her need for a obstetrician visit of some sort. Don't ask me where the bull is in the scenario. My Turkish doesn't extend to reproductive processes or IVF vocabulary.

She doesn't live on a farm. She lives in a nearby village on a street with other houses next door. Not exactly center city but not exactly country, either. I ask Darcy, who has been to her house for a birthday party that Lucas and I had to miss because of the flu. Yeah, she confirms the existence of a cow. Nurcan's father-in-law offered for the kids to come over sometime and visit the cow.

So now I'm planning on a visit to the non-farm that's in the middle of the suburbs to see the baby calf next week. I can't even begin to imagine what we will find.

On a side note, Nurcan covers her head (except when she's cleaning), though her sisters-in-law who live with and nearby her, do not. We had a interesting conversation the other day about the whole head scarves in university debate that's currently the hot topic in Turkey. When I asked why she did and her sisters-in-law didn't, she simply said, "I'm Muslim." She explained that her family wore headscarves and she started when she was nineteen. She had some problems with her hair being dry and a doctor told her it was better to keep it covered to prevent it from falling out. Interesting. That and the fact that her father told her to cover it. It's times like that when I wish my Turkish was far better than it is.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tight Races, Turbans, Tiny Pieces and Tariffs

Don't you just love alliterations. I am into the news alot these days. Watching CNN, checking out the headlines on the Turkish press, reading online. The US presidential primaries are heating up and it looks to be a good match in the Democratic primary. Hillary? Barack? A woman and a black man. FINALLY!!!

And in Turkey the big news is the debate over whether women should be allowed to wear headscarves, or turbans as they are called in the politically correct media world, in universities. Currently, they are not allowed. It was a decision made in the 80s that goes back to the foundation of the Turkish Republic and their determination to maintain a politically secular nation while remaining overwhelmingly Muslim. Some see it as an attempt by the conservative government to slowly impose stricter Muslim laws on the population; others see it as nothing more than a personal choice. It is dominating conversation at the water cooler and providing stirring up lots of controversy.

What else? Ah, yes, January in Turkey means it's time for the annual hike in utility prices. Natural gas (for heat), water, electric - everything has gone up 15-25%. Gulp! Makes me long for my American utility bills in the double digits. Istanbul continues to be a very expensive place to live. Filling up our Ford Sedan now costs $130. Kids, grab a sweater and light the candles!

Other news is that Lucas turned 6 this week and has adopted an all-Lego-all-the-time attitude. Specifically Star Wars Legos. "Life savers" aka light sabers, and Anakin, Luke, Darth Maul (Maul? Mole? I never saw the last 3 movies), Yoda, and much, much more. He spent a good two hours putting together the kit he dubbed "star fighter." "Can I get just one more help, Mom?" was the most often-heard phrase of the week. Most of the help involved looking for the latest miniscule Lego piece to drop to the floor and become camouflaged in one of our intricately designed Turkish carpets.

Any reason those darn pieces have to be so small? Why can't they be magnetized? Would make finding wayward pieces easier. And keeping the finished product together easier too. Hmmm, will have to start drafting the letter to Lego, Inc. "Dear Lego People, please make your pieces magnetized. My 41-year-old eyes are having trouble finding them. Best regards, etc. etc."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I keep moving from place to place in the house, hoping to find a few moments of peace and quiet on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but my kids keep finding me. I can run, but I can't hide. Meanwhile, Matt is happily ignoring the activity while sitting in the middle of it and is alone with a Sports Illustrated magazine in his "man cave." There could be a nuclear explosion and he wouldn't notice at this point.

The kids are both chewing some rock-hard Turkish gum in a way that makes them sound like a cow chewing its cud and suddenly I know what my mom was talking about all those years ago when she used to chastise us for chewing gym with our mouths open. They are actively debating the rules of "jinx" and "personal jinx" that you call out when two people say the same thing at the same time.

And they both have the same ladybug toy from the goody bag at a recent party, but their interaction with them are totally different. Lucas brings his bag over to me and when I say, "Babe, I'm trying to find some quiet time," he replies "OK we'll be quiet." Hmmmm, let's just say I don't believe him. While Darcy has been painstakingly applying the spots to the back of the plastic ladybug in an intricate geometric pattern, Lucas slaps his on and then engages the ladybug in a winner-take-all deathmatch with a plastic soldier. He begins with the "truck sound" that all boys learn to make at about 8 months old. The soldier is fighting valiantly against the giant light blue ladybug but I'm afraid he doesn't stand a chance. And, can you believe it, it's not actually as quiet as he promised. Darcy rolls her eyes in a "i'm nearly 9, now, you know, and this is SO childish" and suddenly the ladybug is losing to the soldier who is now a Ninja. "Mom, can you believe it! He was a Ninja all along! He was hiding his powers!" Who knew...

I joined a new gym that opened just before Christmas and got in on their pre-opening discount. I told my friend I would join on the condition that my gym buddies were not rock solid 20-year-olds with matching yoga pants and bra tops who looked liked they didn't really need to be at the gym. Luckily, the other gym rats who were there when we went to check it out were average looking, 40-ish like the rest of us. We had to schedule an assessment the first day we went in so the trainers could provide us with a customized workout program. What's there to assess, I thought - you need to get your butt on that treadmill.

My two completely perfect Turkish-speaking friends and I went together and got ourselves assessed. I tried to pay attention when Fatih, my new hardbody trainer, was working his way through the regime but my mind kept wandering. What am I going to make for dinner? Do the kids have clubs after school? Where did I put that new blue shirt I bought? etc. etc. I would slip in on the conversation from time to time, pick up a phrase or two, then get lost and wander again. Until he turned to me and held up the little slip of paper that was spit out by the magic machine that not only weighed us but measured our body mass and fat ratio, all by way of two innocent handles that you held out to your sides. In halting English he says to me, "You're quite fat, but strong, almost like a man." I started cracking up. One of my friends elaborated, saying "he said you have dense muscles. you obviously worked out before." I just kept laughing. Yeah, that's my problem - I've just let my training regime slip a bit. Nothing a few thousand sit ups can't change. I guess it could've been worse - he could have said strong - like an ox, or strong - like a mule.

I will take my man-like strength, invoke my own secret Ninja powers and once again go roam the house in search of a quiet corner of peace.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Hitting the Road

We just returned from a few days in Vienna and Budapest, or, as we dubbed it "The Hot Chocolate Tour of the Habsburg Dynasty." Why so many warm beverages, you ask? Well, the most defining aspect of the trip was that we were cold. Not in a sissy, it's so warm in Turkey way, but in a, holy moly the temperature is -7C cold. Celsius or Fahrenheit, choose your favorite scale, that's cold. Lucas spent the first few hours with his mittens and hat stuffed in his pocket, complaining about how cold he was and Matt and I assuring him he wouldn't be so uncomfortable if he would just DRESS APPROPRIATELY and after finally acquiescing and bundling up, remarked "Gosh, it's not too cold if you wear a hat, is it Mama? Ugh!

I had a moment in the airport in Vienna where I was pulling up the rear of our little family tour group and I saw my kids each wearing their own carry-on backpack and pulling their small rolling suitcase behind them. Matt and I only had to carry our own luggage! I could scarcely believe it. For just a second I was so proud of my little ducklings and was so happy that the days of strollers and bottles, diapers and portable cribs were long gone. "This will be a great trip" I thought. They are so much more self-sufficient, now we can REALLY enjoy ourselves.

...why oh why do I allow myself these thoughts? Haven't I learned my lesson? Within minutes, Lucas began winding up some really textbook examples of cranky 5-year-old behavior. It's as if he knew Matt and I had let our guard down just momentarily and decided to go for the jugular. After a strained check-in at the hotel, a painful late lunch in a nearby restaurant and some amazing boundary-pushing and limit-testing, we remembered the first rule of traveling with children: flexibility. I sent Matt, who had completely run out of patience and Darcy, the human sponge and willing observer, out to explore and found some secret untapped reserves of patience. I took Lucas back to the hotel room, sat him through an excruciating time out, and never raised my voice. It was as if some super-human Wonder Mommy took over my body. It was a true test of wills, and I won. This battle, at least. I'm sure there's a rematch scheduled soon.

A trip to the indoor swimming pool and the hot tub to burn off some energy and everyone resumed their happy countenances and we continued on our merry, yet freezing, way.

The last morning of the trip we treated ourselves to the buffet breakfast at the hotel in Vienna. We were in Austria, so there was sausage and bacon to be consumed. I love breakfast and love to watch how different people approach buffets. All the usuals were in attendance: the couple in their late 50s/early 60s who will only eat a bowl of Corn Flakes and a banana (for God sakes people! One meal. C'mon!) The family that divides and conquers, each attacking a portion of the buffet and loading up plates to be carried back to their table, creating their own little mini-buffet, as if they haven't eaten for days (we were staying at a nice hotel in the middle of the tourist district so I felt fairly certain they had had a little something in the last 24 hours). As an aside, they left at least 6 pieces of bread and a huge platter of fruit untouched on their table when they left. I thought of my mom: "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!" Then there was the family of three, with two parents bringing plate after plate of food to their daughter, who wrinkled up her nose at everything they offered and finally deigned to pick at one pallid- looking bagel. I'm hoping she wasn't feeling well and wasn't being the amazingly spoiled child she appeared to be. None of them spoke English, yet they all looked so familiar to me. Haven't I seen you at a buffet table someplace before?

Despite the temperature, we had great fun, with a train trip to Budapest to see friends, some fantastic sledding on New Year's Day, and loads of snow to play in.

All in all, the kids did so well, maybe it's time to start planning for a summer 2008 Eurorail adventure. Family hostels anyone?