American Summer

20180628_155526Greetings from the U.S. of A.  This is my third summer back in the motherland, and for once, I was able to celebrate the 4th of July in all of its smoky, sparkling, fiery glory.  The first leg of our whirlwind journey took place at my grandma’s house in the country, complete with family, sweltering heat, a DIY frisbee golf course, and way too much food.

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My husband and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary in the nearby town of Yoder, a tiny but thriving Amish community.  My dad and stepmom surprised us by renting out a chicken-coop-turned-Airbnb for the night and I think it might be the cutest place we’ve ever stayed.

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I visited my sister in Kansas City, where I tried some amazing coffee shops, hung out at a great arcade bar, read books by the pool, and watched some old childhood favorites on Netflix.

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I discovered a board game cafe in Wichita, tried my hand at some marketing for my mom’s boutique in Manhattan, relaxed at my grandpa’s lake house, and circled back to the beginning to pack it all up and say goodbye.

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It was all really great, but something hit me this summer:  I feel more like an outsider in my own culture than I ever have.  Perhaps it’s just the stress of the last year or a symptom of the ever-rising political tension.  As great as it is to be home with friends and family, I’m realizing more and more each year that it feels less like home.  I guess reverse culture shock rears its head at every expat now and again.

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Until next time, America!

Metamorphosis

dsc_0051Things are changing.  am changing.  I can feel the beginning of the end of another chapter unfolding.  On one hand, I have become so comfortable here; I have forged a home and a tribe in an unfamiliar place and I am a better person for it.  On the other hand, I realize that I will soon run out of lessons to learn here and I did not come all this way only to become stagnant in a new location.

We have already decided that next year will be our last in Turkey and every time I think about it, I am flooded with a wave of emotion.  It will break my heart when I go.  As much as it has driven me to the brink of insanity at times, this place will always be special to me.  I have watched some friends come and go and others have children.  I have made countless memories.  I have experienced wonders beyond my wildest dreams and accomplished feats that didn’t seem possible.  I have proven myself to myself.

Just a few years ago, I was constantly daydreaming about the future, hoping with all my heart that I could make this big thing happen.  It has been good for me to learn to live in the present.  I guess that has been the first symptom; lately, I’ve been thinking about the future again for the first time in a while.

My soul is ready for its next transformation.

A Mild Addiction

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I remember in the months leading up to beginning my journey as an expat, I naively believed that I would become an instant minimalist, forever moving through life with no more than a couple of suitcases. As it turns out, I can fill up an apartment remarkably quickly. For the most part, we have tried to avoid accumulating more than what is necessary to live comfortably. That being said, we all have an Achilles heel and ours seems to involve coffee mugs.

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It all started with this mug, a cool and thoughtful Christmas gift from my husband. Before that, we had been using drab, secondhand mugs left behind from previous teachers.

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Just a few weeks later, I acquired this amazing, nerdtastic beauty as a New Year’s gift from a student. When I asked him how he knew I was a Game of Thrones fan, he simply responded “I didn’t.” To this day, I wonder what it was about FIRE and BLOOD that made him think of me. In any case, I love this mug.

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Generally speaking, I’m not much of a Starbucks fan, but it is so ubiquitous that a frequent traveler can hardly avoid the place. I actually fell in love with the Istanbul “You Are Here” mug on an outing with friends and bought it for Dakota. When I went to NYC last summer, I couldn’t help myself.

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We bought these lovely Gaudi-inspired pieces on our trip to Barcelona and I just love them. Perfect for cortados.

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These were a cheap and frivolous purchase from our summer trip to Alaçatı. I love the colors and textures.

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Our most recent addition to the collection is this set of mini mugs that we purchased in Jordan. They are slightly larger than espresso cups and have very interesting designs.

Sometimes I look at our cupboards and lament the fact that we have so many damn cups we don’t need. Other times, I stare at them all one by one as I am reminded that each one of them carries a story with it. I can’t imagine parting with any of them and yet I can’t imagine packing them all in a suitcase. That is what is so hard.

The thing about being an expat is that you never really know when you will move on until you do. We have gotten so comfortable in this stage of life, but something in the air has been telling me that it’s time to start thinking about the future. I guess this is my way of recording this time and these memories while I am still in this moment. For now, I can enjoy my collection just a little longer.

A Cold Christmas in Kars

IMG_1953.JPGTurkey is so many things.

I can’t really think of any other way to say it.  It always surprises me.

One of our goals for this school year has been to explore more of the places in Turkey that are off the beaten path, particularly in the Eastern part of the country.

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A “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree spotted on the sidewalk.

We are fortunate that our school gives us a couple of days off to celebrate Christmas, in spite of the fact that school is still in session for students.  It is a difficult time to be so far away from home and family, and I’m always grateful for the time to get away and reflect and try to celebrate in my own way.

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We toyed with the idea of going abroad to really experience the Christmas atmosphere,  but after having visited Belgium and Germany and making an unexpected trip back to the States all within a couple of weeks, I was feeling pretty tired and burnt out.   We decided it was a good time to stay here and explore something new in Turkey.  We settled on Kars because it is known for being cold and snowy, which at least gave us a little dose of the Christmas spirit.

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We were thrilled to see a skyline full of snowy mountains and a healthy layer of snow on the ground when we landed at the airport in Kars.  Better yet, it was a short 15-minute ride to our hotel from there, so we lost no time getting started on our short adventure.

Our taxi driver – a former Istanbulite – pointed out that much of the architecture in Kars was left over from a brief period in the 19th century when it was occupied by Russia.  Turkey is well-known for it’s hodgepodge fusion of cultures, but I knew right away that Kars was going to take it to a new level.

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The remnants of Russian architecture throughout the city were indeed fascinating and it was nice to see that the buildings were still in use and were not just being left to rot.  One of the most interesting examples of the Imperialist style was Fethiye Mosque, which at one time was an Orthodox church.

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You can see what it looked like as a church here.

Kars was also once the medieval capital of Armenia and a few examples of that architecture can be found there as well.  One of the hallmark symbols of the city is a 10th-century church which is also now a mosque.

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One of the highlights of Kars for me was climbing up to the top of Kars castle.  The castle itself is not particularly interesting, but the views of the city from the top are incredible and admission is free.

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After walking around all day in the snow, I was pleased to find an abundance of cool cafes and even more pleased to discover a new type of Turkish coffee called menengiç kahvesi, which is  made from a type of wild pistachio.  Unfortunately, it does not have any caffeine in it, but the taste more than made up for that.

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I was totally charmed by our first adventure in Eastern Turkey and cannot wait to experience more.

Processing Loss

When I last left this space, I had expected that my next post would be about our trip to Germany to see the Christmas markets.  I had planned to write about sparkling Christmas lights, stalls of decorations, beautiful mugs of hot wine, and enough Christmas spirit to last a lifetime.  I did indeed go to Germany, but what happened next was not a part of my plans and this post is one that I never wanted to have to write.

Just a few short hours after arriving in Germany, I got a call from my dad.  My grandpa had passed away unexpectedly.

I left Germany the next day, made arrangements to take off work, and flew home as quickly as I could, broken-hearted.

My grandpa was one of the kindest, most generous, and hardest working people I have ever known.  Even as a child, I was always in awe of the way he would help those in need – even total strangers – without a second thought.  He was always lending people tools and going over to help friends and relatives fix their cars and houses (he was a brilliant handyman).  He was also incredibly thoughtful and fun to be around. My sister and I spent a lot of time with him as kids – especially in the summers when we would stay with our dad. He retired young, so he was always willing to watch us while my dad was at work. Some of my favorite childhood memories come from that time.

I will never forget scary movie marathons, watching TNT early in the morning, making crazy milkshakes, or driving the riding lawnmower. I will also never forget learning about collecting coins, trips to the Kansas State Fair, and all of the amazing things my grandpa built – especially the giant Jenga he made for my wedding day.

My heart breaks for everyone who knew him because of the wonderful person he was – his absence will be felt by so many. These last couple of weeks have been so strange and so hard.

I thought that going back home would give me some peace and some closure, but even there, it didn’t seem real. I kept expecting to hear him burst through the back door after some work in one of his shops or to hear him laughing in the living room after a refill of iced tea. It just doesn’t seem possible that he is gone.

Perhaps this is a testament to his ability to leave an impression on everyone he met. Perhaps his presence still shines in the love that everyone had for him.

This is going to be a tough time for my family. Peace to all those who are grieving this holiday season.

Decking the Halls

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I am FINALLY feeling better after two weeks of being completely miserable with a nasty virus.  Once I started feeling human, my Christmas spirit kicked in almost immediately and I had to start celebrating.

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I made plans with friends to check out a Christmas Festival in Istanbul, even though the weather was about as un-Christmas-y (that’s a word, no?) as it gets.  It may as well have been spring.

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This was actually made out of gingerbread.

It was so cool to see people from all over the world coming together to celebrate Christmas in a place where the Christmas spirit just isn’t most of the time.  There were little stands run by people from Spain, France, Syria, Thailand…you name it.  There were Christmas cookies, handmade decorations, mulled wine, and all kinds of delicious food.

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I came home with quite a few treasures, including some homemade cranberry liquor and some great hot sauce, but by far my favorite purchase of the day was this set of hand-painted ornaments.  They are painted with a traditional Turkish tulip pattern and I am hoping to keep them forever so I can always have a little piece of Turkey with me at Christmas, no matter where I may be.

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Of course, my day would not have been complete without turning up the Bing Crosby and decorating the lojman.

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Wishing a happy holiday season to all.