2020

January

Ah, January 2020. When things still felt sort of normal and we were relatively unconcerned about coronavirus. We felt hopeful, even. We were finally starting to sort of get into a rhythm with our new school and city and were looking forward to an awesome trip to Japan, somewhere we had wanted to visit for years. We ate warm bowls of ramen, indulged in otaku culture in Osaka, and saw fabulous Shinto temples in Kyoto.

February

Sh*t got real in February. The virus was spreading quickly. China was going into lockdown. Our school advised those of us who were out of the country to stay out and prepare to teach online for two weeks. Like many of our colleagues, we made the move to Thailand since we couldn’t really afford two more weeks of Japan. We were pretty happy about this….at first. Two weeks of teaching from the beach while things calm down? That won’t be so bad!

Two weeks became a month. What was really going on? When could we get back? How long is this going to last? Our visa for Thailand was only good for 30 days…where were we going to go? Things were already getting bad in both Japan and Korea. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the virus would reach us.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of that time. We split our time between Krabi and Chiang Mai, both of which exceeded our expectations.

March

We spent most of March in Cambodia – Siem Reap specifically. We had friends who worked at the same school who were also there, so that made the experience feel a little less insane…at least we had others who were going through the same thing. We also LOVED everything about Siem Reap. Amazing restaurants, amazing people, and Angkor Wat was a dream. I definitely plan to go back when the world is normal again.

Towards the end of March, we suddenly got a message from our school saying “COME BACK NOW”, just two days after a message saying “DON’T COME BACK” and at the same time as the American embassy said to get back to the U.S. A lot of mixed messages with very little explanation or transparency. In the end, we couldn’t get a ticket back the U.S. as many countries were closing their borders, so we took the chance on China and got in just days before they closed the border to all foreigners.

April

April was strange. We spent 15 days in a tiny quarantine hotel, half of which was supposed to be our “spring break”. When we finally made it home, it was nice to be in our own apartment for the first time in over three months. Living out of a backpack had definitely taken its toll. Life was seemingly more or less back to some sort of normal in Chongqing, save for the ultra anti-foreigner attitude and people in masks everywhere. Still, we were ready for some kind of normality.

May

May suuuuuuuuucked. The whole school got an email on a Monday evening telling us we would be informed by email the next day whether we had jobs for the next year or not. Enrollment was down and they were planning to cut 50% of stuff. We got the email the next day that we were both being laid off. It was terrible. After everything we had gone through, it felt like a slap in the face. Neither of us had ever lost a job before…and what a time to be suddenly unemployed. All travel between China and the rest of the world was shut down. Where were we supposed to go? What were we supposed to do? Looking back, I realized I should have been way less trusting of the school and demanded more transparency. You live and you learn, eh? Anyway, it was pretty rough being laid off towards the end of the school year, just a couple days before my birthday.

June

June was a lot of negotiating our termination contract and severance, while also trying to enjoy the last bit of time with our friends in Chongqing. We did a lot of touristy things around the city. We had decided not to bother with another school in China. So many of them were laying off teachers in droves. There were opportunities in Chinese schools, but I was sick of being at the mercy of schools in China. Very few of them were being honest with their staff. Yes, the U.S. was faring worse with the pandemic, but at least we wouldn’t be deported. The only issue remaining was a complete lack of flights, but our residence permits were good through August, so we knew we had a little time at least.

July

Wine club taste test!

We made it home! We got to my sister’s house in Kansas City and I dyed my hair turquoise, because why the hell not!

August

Takeout tacos. Yoga. Art. Repeat.

September

We celebrated our 12th dating anniversary with a little outdoor date in downtown KC (since we had to spend our wedding anniversary in quarantine). Switched to purple hair. Got my yoga instructor license and mastered headstands (woohoo!)

October

Happy Halloween! Celebrated all month with crafts, treats, art, and costumes. Even with social distancing, it’s so much easier to feel the Halloween spirit in America. October is such a magical month.

November

YAY NEW PRESIDENT! Also, we moved to my mom’s, I started grad school, and the rigamarole of international job hunting began. Quite a busy month after such a relaxing summer! At least we get to hang out with this kitty.

December

Christmas at home for the first time in six years! It’s a little sad that there are a lot of people we still can’t see because of the pandemic, but it is nice to have a traditional Christmas for a change after so many years in places that don’t celebrate. I am grateful for this time to get back in touch with my roots a little and enjoy all of the hygge vibes.

2020 has certainly been a strange year of ups and downs. It certainly did not turn out how I expected it to, but it has taught me to be grateful for the little things and to get comfortable living in the present (and with uncertainty). I’m grateful for the lessons, experiences, and relationships that have gotten me through it. Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2021 and new adventures on the horizon!

Scenes from an Endless Quarantine

Life keeps moving and COVID-19 keeps raging. My days lately have been spent job hunting, interviewing, and writing research essays for the M.Ed program I started last month. I’m working towards finding a bit more balance; towards holding space for all the hobbies I managed to cultivate during the summer months. It’s a process.

I felt an urge to write today, though perhaps my pictures have more to say than my words do for now.

These are strange and quiet times, but they are also enlightening. For my part, I’ve been grateful for this time of introspection, reflection, rediscovery of old passions, personal development, family, and the remarkable amount of connection I’ve been able to maintain with people near and far. Also, cute pets!

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.

Settled

dsc_0259In the blink of an eye, here we are in a new season.

This third year seems…different. Everything that at first seemed wild and foreign to me now seems so routine and familiar. Bargaining at the pazar, my days in the classroom, fumbling through conversations in taxis while zooming through traffic – it all feels so natural.

With my change in status from new to veteran yabanci, I find myself becoming more of a homebody. When I first made the big move, I set my sights on seeing something new at every opportunity; now, I am settling into favorite places and activities. Such a change may seem uneventful from an outsider’s perspective, but for me, it is welcome. As much as I love traveling, it feels good to finally feel like I belong here. It feels good to be home.