One Year

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A year ago today, I was

cramming as much as I could into hand-me-down suitcases

dreading the goodbyes

tasting the last few bites of America

trying to imagine my new life before

stepping on the plane for the 40 hour journey and

hoping everything would be alright

Full Circle on the Turkish Riviera

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Everything felt familiar and unfamiliar all at once as I stepped off the plane into the hot summer sun.  I confidently asked the woman where I could find the bus to Konyaaliti – in Turkish.  When I had come here nine months ago, just one week after I had first landed in the country, I could barely stumble my way through a conversation with a dictionary in hand.

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We chose a hotel close to the beach for easier access.  On the way, we passed our favorite ice cream shop and the seafood place that had tried to rip us off the last time.  We dropped our backpacks off upstairs – considerably lighter than the carry-ons we had had with us before – and walked across the street to join the hoards of people at the pebble beach.  We walked farther until we could find a little space of our own.  We stretched out on the tiny rocks to soak in the sun for a few moments before testing the water.  When I felt ready, I inched forward and let the cold waves crash into my toes, and then up to my ankles.  It was exactly as I remembered, and yet, totally different.

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Antalya was my first real taste of Turkey.  Having only had been here a week before our first holiday, I didn’t have time to process anything before that.  All of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes wove into a web of sensory overload that would come to form the first imprints of my new country in my head.  Going back to that place only made me realize how much I didn’t understand then and how far I’ve come in this journey.

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Tavla, cay, and nargile

Turkey is a place that takes some time to fall in love with and even longer to understand. Even after nearly a year, I still don’t fully understand it.  It’s the kind of place that can push you to the edge of madness one second and then pull you in by the heartstrings the next.  It hasn’t always been perfect and it’s never been easy, but being here has made me stronger in ways I never could have imagined.  Turkey has made a better person out of me.

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My Life in a Suitcase

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Things I am taking with me to Turkey:

  • A few outfits for each season
  • More shoes than I really need
  • 3 jars of peanut butter
  • A meticulously condensed collection of board games
  • As many books as I could justify
  • Squishy
  • My passport
  • My husband
  • Memories of home
  • Hope
  • Excitement
  • Courage

Things I cannot take with me:

  • More shoes
  • My beloved Harry Potter books
  • Our car
  • Cards for every occasion imaginable, accumulated over the years
  • My crepe maker
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Fear

Packing is hard.

Endings and Beginnings

Wednesday will be my last day in the U.S.A….at least for the next 10 months.

My current emotional state is a confusing mix of happy, sad, nervous, excited, scared, guilty, and hopeful.

We got the approval for our work visas today, so we will be flying to pick them up in Chicago and then flying on to Istanbul from there.  We were cutting it close, but we will be there in time for the first day of classes on September 7th.

It’s been a one-of-a-kind summer.  I have made some amazing memories with my mom, stepdad, siblings, , and fur niece and nephew that I won’t soon forget.  I am so, so grateful to all of them for putting up with us, helping us out and making us laugh.  This was the first time I’d spent an extended amount of time with them since I moved out at 18 and I felt like I was transported back into a classic childhood summer in the best way.  I am also so glad I got to spend a little time with all of my grandparents and my sweet nieces, although I wish I could have had more.  I’m sad that I never made it to Alabama to see my dad and his wife or my in-laws, or to Colorado to see one of my best friends, but I guess that’s how life works out sometimes.

I know this move will probably be even harder for our family than it is for us.  We will have plenty of things going on to distract us from homesickness while they will have to go about their daily lives knowing we are now on the other side of the world.  This is a time of transition and adjustment for all of us and I hope it will smooth over quickly.

Booking that one-way ticket gave me the jitters like  nothing else.  We’re really doing this thing!

As you can probably tell, I’m a little rambly and emotional.  I almost decided not to write this, but I feel like it would be an injustice to the experience not to, so I’m writing it anyway.

This will probably be one of the hardest things we ever do…and one of the most rewarding.  I can’t wait, and  yet part of me wants to wait just a little bit longer…even though I know it is time and that putting it off would only delay the inevitable emotional roller-coaster.

Alas, all good things must come to in an end so that more good things can begin.

To all of my family and friends reading this:  Thank you for all of your love and support!

Adventure awaits.

10 Things I Will Miss About Kansas

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School starts in less than a month, which means that we will be in Turkey in a matter of a couple of weeks.  It’s really starting to hit me that I’m leaving Kansas for good. I’ve dreamt of the day I would say goodbye to this place for many years, long before I knew where I was going or what I would be doing.  I’ve played out the vision of myself on a plane with suitcase in tow, smiling as I take off into the air because I’ve finally made it out countless times.

But as that day looms ever closer, I am taking every moment in more intensely…because the truth is there’s a lot I’m going to miss about this life.  As I prepare to cut the tether to the only home I’ve ever known, I want to reflect on the things that I hold most dear about this place; the things I will be longing for when I’m on the other side of the world.

1. Family and Friends

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My mom, sister, brother, and I the day before my wedding.

This one is probably the most obvious and really goes without saying, but I know without a doubt this will be the hardest part about moving away.  I’ve lived my whole life within driving distance of my family and friends.  There is comfort in knowing that they are never too far away from you if you want to see them or if you need someone.  That’s a luxury we simply won’t have in Turkey.  There will be an eight hour time difference between us and most of the people we know, so even finding time to Skype will be challenging.  We will inevitably start to lose touch with some of our friends and there will be important moments and events that we’d like to attend, but will have to decline.  I’m so grateful for all the support we have had from our family and friends with this big move, but I know it won’t always be easy for any of us.

2. Midwestern Friendliness

I will never forget the first time I went to a big city and tried to order a sandwich and they practically screamed at me and then chucked it in my direction, as if I was taking up way too much of their time.  That’s just not how they do things here. There is never much of a rush and people always take the time to greet you, talk to you, wave at you – even total strangers. (That whole stereotype about longer-than-necessary answers to a simple “How are you?”…yeah, that’s pretty much accurate.) There is  a general sense of community, kindness, and comfort here that is hard to come by in other places.

3. The Landscape

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The Flint Hills

Kansas doesn’t exactly have a strong reputation for being a beautiful place; I doubt it’s ever been a contender for the cover of National Geographic.  All the same, there is something to be said for the vast, open spaces and fields of wheat and sunflowers.  Also, nothing beats a beautiful hike through the Flint Hills.  While a part of me is counting down the days until I’m living by water for the first time in my life, these familiar scenes are sure to be missed when they aren’t right outside my window anymore.

4. Big Skies

I never knew how much I took this for granted until a few summers ago, when I was working for an ESL and American Culture camp for Japanese students.  The moment we arrived in Emporia, all of the students marveled at the big, beautiful sunset.  Apparently you can’t see too many nice sunsets in urban Japan due to all of the buildings and i soon learned that the same applies to many other parts of the world.  Because the landscape is so flat and there is so little pollution here, the sky looks HUGE, like it could swallow up everything.  It makes for some pretty spectacular sunsets and some epic night skies. Nothing beats watching the sun set with a cup of hot tea or hunting for constellations at night with Google Sky Map.

5. The Open Road

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Emporia, KS

Unless you’re in one of the bigger towns like Kansas City or Wichita, there is virtually no traffic here.  You can get across town in less than 15 minutes, which is pretty convenient; I honestly couldn’t imagine being in traffic for hours every day. While I think cars are a pretty big pain in the ass, I occasionally like the freedom of driving to some good music with nobody else around.  We won’t necessarily have to deal with traffic on a regular basis since we’ll live where we’ll work, but we won’t have our own cars.  I won’t miss the maintenance, but I will definitely miss being able to just take off on a drive when the urge strikes.

6. Food

This is universal.  Nothing hits the spot like the food of your upbringing.  I like a wide variety of foods, but some favorite Midwestern foods that come to mind include barbecue (KC style), corn on the cob, chili, chicken and noodles, cookout food in general…not to mention all of my favorite local restaurants.  Turkey is rumored to have some amazing food that I am sure I will love, but I know the day will come when I’m absolutely dying for some barbecue or good Mexican food and won’t be able to satisfy the craving.  I’m loading up while I can!

7. Thunderstorms

If you’ve never been to Kansas, but know of its existence, you probably only know one thing about it:  tornadoes.  Now I definitely won’t miss those; I’ve never been fond of the whole storm-chasing thing.  However, I LOVE a good thunderstorm…the kind that sends floods of rain and lightning and thunder, especially at night!  There’s nothing cozier than sitting by the window, with a book in one hand and coffee in the other, watching the downpour.  I’m sure there will be rain and storms in Turkey, but I doubt they will match the epic-ness of the storms here in Tornado Alley.

8. Peace and Quiet

I will be the first to admit that I complain a lot about not being closer to a city and having nothing to do…but sometimes that’s not a bad thing.  I don’t always appreciate the slow, quiet life as much as I should.  For example, nothing boosts creativity like the absolute boredom you can find in small towns.  I know that doesn’t make it sound appealing (and sometimes it isn’t), but some of my best memories are of doing completely random things with friends and family because there was honestly so little to do that we had to make our own fun!  Also, some nights I just want to find some solitude and disconnect or disappear into my own world with my PJs and some Netflix, without noise or distractions.  That’s totally possible here.

9. The Carefree-ness of Youth

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High school graduation

College life is now officially over for both of us.  Most of our friends we graduated with have scattered across the globe to start their careers and we are getting ready to do the same.  We will be thousands of miles away from our usual support systems, we will no longer be on our parents’ insurance or cell phone plans, and we won’t be bringing huge bags full of dirty laundry with us on holidays anymore.  Once we step on that plane, adulthood is here for good.  While it is a very welcome change, there’s no doubt in my mind that I will occasionally mourn for the days of a tiny apartment, minimum wage job, cereal for dinner, and endless hours of video games with little to no responsibility.

10. The Comfort of Belonging

While there are many parts of Kansas culture that I have never quite jived with, I have an inherent understanding of life here. This is my home and my culture and it’s pretty easy for me to fit in.  There is comfort in knowing your surroundings and being able to speak the language and follow the unwritten rules.  Everything in Turkey will be new and unfamiliar, and while I find that incredibly exciting, I know that it will also occasionally be very frustrating and the comfort and familiarity of home will probably be deeply missed in moments of culture shock.

Speaking as someone who has wanted to be an expat for a very long time, I think it is easy to want to break free from a culture that you don’t feel totally happy in.  At the same time, I know it will hit me hard when I realize that the place I am from will always be a part of me and will come to the surface in moments that I least expect it. Leaving is bittersweet.  In order to have adventures and chase my dreams, there are many things I will be giving up and I don’t want to forget that.  So here’s to the end of my time in the Sunflower State…and to the crazy road ahead!

Windy City Wandering

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View from the roof deck

Deja vu swept over me as we settled into our seats and waited for the final boarding call.  I did my best to get comfortable, in hopes that I might be able to nap for at least part of the thirteen hour train ride.

Last week we finally got approval from the Turkish Ministry of Education to apply for our work visas, something we had been waiting on for several weeks.  With no more than a couple days’ notice, we had our tickets and accommodation booked and headed for Chicago to make our application.

Although it was more for business than pleasure, I couldn’t help but be excited for the trip.  Firstly, because getting our work visas means we’re one step closer to Turkey.  Secondly, because we have been living with family all summer – and as much as we love them – I was really ready for some alone time with Dakota.  Thirdly, and most importantly, Chicago will always be special to us because it was the first trip Dakota and I ever took together and I was curious to see it again.

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From our first trip, circa 2010.

Once we got through our paperwork at the Consulate, we had about a day and half left to enjoy the city.  Though the time was short, we managed to fit in a good amount of fun before we had to head home.

There was a stark contrast between this Chicago and the one we had seen five years ago.  On our first trip, it had been a cold, wintry metropolis with intermittent snow flurries and relatively few crowds.  From the grey skies to the jungle of high rises, everything appeared to be covered in a layer of chrome, and the fact that it had been our first time alone in a large city made everything around us seem enormous.  Despite the terrible weather, we were on cloud nine and nothing could slow us down; we traipsed through that city like it was nobody’s business and returned with an even bigger thirst for travel than we’d had when we arrived.

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Riverwalk

Five years later, it felt like a totally different place.  Summer colors replaced the silvery hues of my memory and the stings on my skin came from the sun rather than the biting winds.  Although the streets were far more crowded than they had been before, the city somehow felt smaller and less bustling.  I wasn’t in such a huge rush to see all the sights and didn’t mind as much stopping to rest or relax.  I found myself wondering how that could be and how a place could feel so strange and so familiar all at once.

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Crowded Cloud Gate

That’s when it hit me.  It wasn’t the city that had changed; it was me.  Five years doesn’t seem like a very big chunk of time, yet I have had many travel experiences and general life experiences since then.  I was hit with a wave of nostalgia at the realization of all of the change that had so quickly taken place and a wave of indefinable emotion at the thought of how much everything is about change all over again in the coming months.  As we made our way from one point of interest to the next, it dawned on me just how close we are to closing this chapter of our lives.

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Lighthouse on the Navy Pier

This short, but sweet trip showed me a new, more laid back side of Chicago that was surprisingly refreshing.  The gardens of Grant Park were in full bloom and its many fountains served as fun and playful oases in the face of the summer swelter.  We took our time to soak our feet in wishing wells and run through streams of water to beat the heat in between the exhibits.  The Navy Pier, no longer icy and abandoned, was the perfect place to spend an afternoon taking in the breeze and turquoise waters before stopping at the beach for some sun and sand.  This time, we opted for a hostel in the west side of the city in lieu of a traditional hotel by River North and it was fun to explore a different part of town, full of nightlife, trendy hangouts, and tasty restaurants.  The highlight of the trip was spending our evenings on the hostel’s roof deck watching the sun set, sipping some beers, and chatting away as the skyline lit up.

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Beach selfie!

Also, we got to eat stuff like this:

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Delicious deep dish at Lou Malnati’s

And this:

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Chocolate chip pancakes and Starbuck’s coffee, courtesy of our hostel

And this:

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Chicago dogs

It was an exhausting, whirlwind of a trip, but it was wonderful.  We will have to go back in a week or two to pick up our visas and then we will be ready for Turkey.

I really need to start packing.

A Year Ago Today…

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Today, I celebrate the anniversary of the first year of my marriage, and what a year it has been.  This time last year, I was waking up to start the most perfect day I’ve ever had in my life.  It’s so true what they say about your wedding day going by in a flash…all I could think at the end was that I wished I could have made it last just a little bit longer.

I am truly privileged to call this man my husband.  Though I loved him long before he held that title, marriage has brought with it a sense of peace, comfort, and happiness that I never expected.  I just feel so lucky to have someone so special to share my life and adventures with.

Tonight, we will celebrate with some good food and wine and tomorrow we are heading up to Kansas City for a couple’s massage and more food.

As a side note, I’m so thrilled that just two days before our anniversary, the United States FINALLY granted all couples the right to marry across all 50 states.  It’s been a good week for love!

Here’s to many more wonderful years together!