An Ode to My First Passport

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A grainy photo of my old passport the day before I moved to Turkey.

Retiring my first passport was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I still remember getting my photo taken at Walgreens, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the prospect of finally seeing the world outside of small-town America.  I always found a certain comfort in turning to the first page and seeing my teenage self smiling back at me, full of dreams of faraway places.

My new passport is empty, and thanks to Turkish passport rules, the photographer refused to allow me to smile in my passport photo (in spite of the fact that said rule does not apply to American passports), so I look a bit more like a displeased psychopath than I do an eager world traveler.  Still, there is a certain thrill in all of the blank pages of possibility that will inevitably fill up with adventure (hopefully sooner rather than later – I am feeling the itch).

At the very least, I still have my old passport as a souvenir.  As I flip through its pages, I like to think that my 16-year-old self would be pleased to know that that passport would carry me to 27 countries, using every last page before it expired.  26-year-old me certainly is.

Teacher Sanity Pro Tip: Hit the Gym (or living room)

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Super amazing shoe bargain from Gebze Center!

Teaching is hard.

It’s not like that’s a secret, but until you’ve been at the front of a classroom, it’s hard to conceptualize how difficult it really is.  The workload is heavy, the hours are long, the work/life balance can often feel non-existent, and it’s very emotionally draining.  It’s no wonder so many teachers find themselves either quitting or putting themselves on autopilot.

My first year of teaching was rough, as is the case for most first year teachers.  I fell into a lot of nasty stress-induced habits, such as not sleeping enough, working way too much, never exercising, depending on caffeine for everything, and eating junk food.  I didn’t want to have unrealistic expectations for everything when I started my second year, but one thing I did want to focus on was my health.

I am happy to stay that this is something that has stuck.  One of my friends and I meet at the gym 3-4 times a week for an hour of butt-kicking and what a difference it has made in my life!  That’s not to say it’s been easy.  It can be incredibly difficult to find the motivation to go to the gym and incredibly easy to delude yourself into thinking you don’t have time (which is a LIE!  Stop lying to yourself; everybody has time, even if it’s only 30 minutes.)  Having a gym partner has helped immensely…and once we got started, it became addicting in a good way.  I’m healthier, my stress levels are way down compared to what they were last year, and after a good workout, I can think so much more clearly and I get 10 times the work done that I ever could without the endorphin high.

It’s also worth mentioning that working out can be a ton of fun!  I look forward to it every evening because I know that I have a whole hour to do something for myself that doesn’t involve work or obligations.  I believe that variety is the spice of life and always look for new and exciting ways to challenge myself…and I’ve done everything from Irish step dancing to High Intensity Interval Training.

Most of the workouts that I use are free on YouTube and can be done with little to no equipment (and usually with very little space).  Here are a few favorites:

Fitness Blender

This is my go-to channel.  The videos are so straightforward and you can see exactly how many calories you’ll burn by the end.  They also have a huge variety of both cardio and strength training routines.  Most of them are really fun and it’s obvious that a lot of work goes into making workouts that aren’t repetitive.

Blogilates

Perfect for days you really want to kill yourself (or if you love hardcore pilates).  She even posts daily playlists to target different parts of the body each day, which is super helpful.  I definitely feel much stronger and more toned after every workout.

Keiara LaShae

These are really fun and perfect if you are looking for a break from a “typical” workout. She does a lot of fun, high cardio dance routines.  My personal fave is the Reggae Dancehall.

Sarah Beth Yoga

I’m a huge fan of doing yoga…especially after a stressful day or if I’m still sore from an especially tough workout.  This channel includes every type of yoga you could imagine: power yoga, yoga for balance, yoga for flexibility…even yoga for very specific conditions, such as scoliosis or sciatica.  I love throwing in at least one of these videos a week to complement all of the cardio and strength training.

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Post-workout selfie

Whether you are a fellow teacher at your wits’ end or in some other high-stress situation that leaves you feeling exhausted, if you are reading this, I hope you take my advice…get some exercise!  Even fifteen minutes a day will make a difference.

Also, if you’ve already been enlightened to the magic of YouTube fitness, what channels do you use?  I’m always looking to switch up my routine.

New Year, new me, and all that jazz

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Most people recognize me by my long, uncontrollable blonde mane…but no more.  I just got my first “real” haircut in Turkey and it feels so good.  It may sound silly, but it takes some guts to go get your hair chopped off in another country (and to have to give directions in another language!)

Politically, 2017 feels a little bleak, but personally, things are looking bright.  This year, I feel more courageous than ever and ready to open myself to whatever adventures come my way.  I feel committed to my career, to my students, to myself, to the ones I love (and even the ones I don’t), and to the thousands of goals I will inevitably set for myself in the coming months.

NaNoWriMo

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It’s official:  I’m doing NaNoWriMo.  Honestly, I’ve been dying to try it for three years now and I’ve chickened out at the last moment every time.  Not this year!  Even if I fail, I’ll be happy to have given it a shot!

I hope I can manage to meet my writing goals and keep my blog reasonably well-updated (because I have some pretty sweet plans coming up!), but I fully intend to make NaNoWriMo my first writing priority for the next 30 days.

My current plan is to write a coming-of-age fiction piece, but my plot outline is not very rigid (I identify as a “plantser”), so we’ll see what happens.  I’m also going to try to convince some students and co-workers to participate along with me!

Best of luck to all my fellow NaNo nerds out there!

Le Cinque Terre

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**WARNING**  This post  may contain picture overload.

My husband and I just returned from spending a few days in the beautiful, colorful string of villages on the Italian Riviera known as Cinque Terre.  We decided we wanted to do something relaxing before school started and this place fit the bill:  beautiful geography, lovely architecture, fantastic food, hiking, beaches, and great wine.  My dad visited Cinque Terre a few years back and still talks about it, so we had to see what it was all about.

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We based ourselves out of the southernmost village of the five, Riomaggiore.  When we stepped off the train from Milan, we were instantly greeted with the stacks of colorful houses, blue water, boats, and the prettiest sunset.  I knew then we were in for a treat.

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The first order of business was to get our  hands on some FOOD!  I tried out this Riomaggiore pizza with shrimp, artichokes, spicy oil, and basil.  My husband ordered gnocchi Bolognese.

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Italian food is FLAWLESS.  I mean it.  I have never been somewhere that has so consistently exceeded my foodie expectations.  EVERYTHING I ate there was good.  Every.  Single.  Thing.  Also, it was surprisingly affordable.  5 Euro pizzas and pastas were abundant and no less delicious than any of the more expensive meals.

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After stuffing ourselves beyond capacity, we settled in for a good night’s rest before a long day of hiking the five villages.

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We decided to hike from North to South since the trails from Riomaggiore to Corniglia are currently closed.  We purchased all day hike and train passes for 16 Euro each and took the train up to Monterosso al Mare, about a 15 minute ride.

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Since you can’t start a hike without a good breakfast, we stopped for espresso and bruschetta after a walk on the beach.  Who says you can’t have anchovies and pesto for breakfast?

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The weather could not have been more perfect, albeit a little hot, and the views along the trail were stunning.  It was reminiscent of our hike on the Fira Trail, but more lush and colorful (and way more uphill!)

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How awesome is this?  This guy set up a little lemon/orange juice stand right on the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza.  Yes, please!

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The second village, Vernazza, ultimately ended up being my favorite!  It was so charming and colorful and the food there was fabulous, especially the gelato!  We were hot and sweaty after hiking for two hours (again, mostly uphill), so we were thrilled to see the little beach down below!

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Some food and a dip in the water was exactly what we needed before our next leg of the journey!

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The walk to Corniglia was much easier than the walk to Vernazza had been.  It was also a bit shorter.  We were surprised to see quite a few cars in this village as many of the villages have strict restrictions on vehicles.  We stopped for a fantastic dinner of grilled focacia sandwiches (prosciutto and pesto!) and I indulged in a glass of prosecco.  Seriously, why is Italy so delicious?

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Since the walking routes were closed, we took the train over to Manarola, where a whole bunch of kids were celebrating a birthday on the marina and playing soccer.  What a birthday party!

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I discovered this lovely thing called a marocchino and my life will never be the same.  Espresso and chocolate are a match made in heaven.  One place even added nutella!

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Also, panna cotta and strawberries.

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Exhausted, full, and sunburnt, we made it back to Riomaggiore in time for another spectacular sunset!

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We went back to Monterosso for a relaxing beach day the next morning.  The water was perfect!

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After swimming and lunch, we wandered the the village and picked up a few souvenirs to take back with us, mostly food-related!  Also, because my husband loves the song Postcards from Italy by Beirut, he bought a post card from every village!

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We also stopped on a different beach for a little bit of reading in the sunshine!

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It was so hard to leave!  As the sun was going down, we rode back to Riomaggiore, stopped for some take away pasta (think Chipotle, except with pasta!), a last glass of wine, and then turned in to pack our things for our early train ride out.

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It was a lovely, lovely, lovely way to kick off our travels for this year!  Bring it on, 2016-17!

Traces of Yesterday

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Some places never really leave us.  Somehow, even after countless journeys through renowned cities in over a dozen different countries, this tiny town tucked into the Flint Hills still takes my breath away.

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Emporia, KS.  This place has a permanent spot in my heart.  This town shaped so much of who I am.  The moment we set foot in our old stomping grounds, I was flooded with a rush of happy memories of old times.  Being on the old college campus was especially  nostalgic.

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We only had one night there, so we wanted to make the most of it.  One of the highlights of the trip was discovering that Emporia actually has an Airbnb place and booking a room in an old Victorian house right by the downtown so we could walk to all of our favorite places.  If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, it is a must!!  It’s usually much cheaper and more comfortable than a hotel with the added bonus of  local hosts who usually welcome you and clue you in on your surroundings.  We had a great time chatting and swapping travel stories!  Nothing feeds the soul like meeting fellow travelers.

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In addition to strolling down memory  lane, we also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at some of our old favorite restaurants.  Stop #1 was Radius, a super tasty gastropub that opened right before we moved.  It’s soooooo good!  I’m really going to miss American food in a couple weeks!

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Porter-infused creme brulee = best dessert ever!!

After stuffing our faces, we walked around downtown a bit more, sorry that we couldn’t spend more time there.  It seems crazy that it’s only been a little over a year since we left Emporia, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago.  It feels different and exactly the same all at once.

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We went to both of our favorite local coffee shops and picked up beans to take back to Turkiye!

Being back where all of my crazy dreams started to take shape really made me want to conquer those dreams all over again:  reading more, writing more, teaching better, and studying languages.  Oh, and definitely more traveling!

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Forever a Hornet!

It was so great to be back in our former home.  I’m looking forward to going back again next summer!  My heart is happy and recharged with new ambitions for the year ahead.

 

Bahar

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*It’s a short story kind of day.

She could practically smell the sun on her cotton summer dress as she ran through the lush green grass, the wind singing with her laughter.  Blossoms in rich shades of orange and buttery yellow appeared and bloomed before her eyes with every step.  She wanted to pick them – and yet, she didn’t because she didn’t want to ruin it.

 She paused for a moment to take it all in; butterflies danced above her head as she stood in awe.  She wanted nothing more than to lie down in the warm sea of vibrant colors and listen to the humming of the bees for the rest of her days.  For a moment, it almost seemed possible.  She reached out to draw a branch of honeysuckle in towards her nose to smell its sweet nectar.  It flickered, and in between the lines of time and space, reality and illusion, the familiar shade of lifeless grey spilled in, reminding her of where she really was.

She glanced back at her father, the disappointment glistening in her large, brown eyes.  He knew he was running out of time.  He couldn’t keep it going forever without anymore supplies.  Really, he couldn’t afford to be doing this now, but he also couldn’t afford to loser her – his little girl.  He couldn’t afford to lose any of them.  If they left…if they realized that they didn’t need him anymore…  

He stopped his train of thought and smiled as his little one twirled through the grass once more.