An Ode to My First Passport

DSCF3444

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)

20170216_185359[1].jpg

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.

20170222_215657[1].jpg

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

20170113_1601321

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

DSC_0081.JPG

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

DSC_0168.JPG

**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.

DSC_0204.JPG

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.

DSC_0016.JPG

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.

DSC_0015.JPG

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.

DSC_0023.JPG

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

DSC_0072.JPG

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.

DSC_0064.JPG

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?

DSC_0073.JPG

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!)

DSC_0084.JPG

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

DSC_0107.JPG

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!

DSC_0112.JPG

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

DSC_0152.JPG

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?

DSC_0164.JPG

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!

DSC_0180.JPG

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!

DSC_0182.JPG

Also, panna cotta and strawberries.

DSC_0187.JPG

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

dsc_0207

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

DSC_0214.JPG

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!

DSC_0225.JPG

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

DSC_0231.JPG

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.

DSC_0017.JPG

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

Traces of Yesterday

DSC_0014

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.

DSC_0019

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.

DSC_0021

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.

DSC_0022

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!

DSC_0009

DSC_0005

DSC_0008

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.

DSC_0031

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!

DSC_0027

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

DSC_0549

*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. 

Summer Bucket List

DSCF3382

Union Station in KC last summer

Summer is just around the corner.  It’s hard to believe, but before I know it, I will be on a plane back to America.  To be honest, I’m a little nervous.  I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of life in Turkey and going back will just make everything more confusing again. America feels like it was a million lifetimes ago and I know it won’t be the same when I go back because won’t be the same.  I’m just not sure if I’m ready for my first reverse culture shock experience, but ready or not, it’s coming.

More than anything, I’m looking forward to seeing all of my friends and family and EATING!! I am going to eat all of the Mexican food I can get my hands on.  In order to keep my summer from descending into unstructured chaos, I’ve decided to make a few small goals for myself to make the most of my time off in the good old U.S. of A.

Goal #1  Re-discover my old stomping grounds (and maybe a few new ones)

Now that I’m used to traveling all the time, I don’t think I can ever go back.  I want to travel as much as I can, even if it’s just small trips to local places on the weekends.  I have realized that there is always something new to discover in any place, whether it’s big or small.  I’m hoping to see the Motherland with a new pair of eyes.  I also want to use this space to shed a little light on life in the Midwest and the South since they are generally lesser-traveled parts of the country and where I will happen to be for most of my time there.

Goal #2  Sharpen my language skills

I’m not gonna lie…I haven’t been as productive on the language front as I was hoping to be this year.  It was really hard to squeeze it in amidst the chaos of being a first year teacher in a brand new and vastly different culture.  I’m hoping to hit the re-set button this summer and dedicate at least a few hours a week to studying French and Turkish.  Who knows…I may even try to throw in some Spanish…and even some English.  There is no such thing as learning too much.

Goal #3  Hit the books

Another thing I haven’t done nearly often enough  is read.  I did manage to read five books this school year, but I’d  like to have read at least double that.  I’ll have about two  months off, so I’m hoping I can get through at least two books per month…and ideally more.  I’m also going to try to make at least half of my reading in French.  I want to  make it into a habit so I can keep up with my Goodreads shelves more efficiently next year.  It doesn’t hurt that I’ll be spending a good chunk of summer within walking distance of the beach on the Gulf Coast.  It’ll be a perfect spot to chill out with a good book (or Kindle…which I will likely be investing in).

Goal #4  Step up my teaching game

One of the big reasons this year was so crazy was that I was part of a brand new teaching department (seriously…seven of us were brand new this year) with a new administration, so you can imagine what I was walking into.  I didn’t even know which classes I would be teaching until two days before I arrived (which was only two days before school started).  I didn’t have any time to plan any kind of decently organized curriculum and everyone else around me was equally lost, so it was basically a whole year of treading water for all of us.  Next year will be different.  I’m looking forward to doing some awesome, creative, and best of all, STRUCTURED things with my students next year.  I will be spending a lot of time on Amazon and in bookstores.

Goal #5  Get back in shape!

The craziness of being a first year teacher coupled with culture shock completely through me off track in terms of my fitness regimen.  In the States, I was eating fairly healthy and exercising almost every day.  Here, I’ve pretty much just eaten whatever the cafeteria was serving and have gone multiple weeks without hitting the gym more than once.  Not okay! I am hoping to re-center myself and start over with my old healthy habits and hopefully carry them through into next year.

Goal #6 Be creative

I have not been very good about pursuing my creative hobbies this year, so I want to change that.  I want to work on developing my creative writing skills more (I may even look for a workshop!) and I wouldn’t mind working on a little drawing or just some arts and crafts for fun.  Who knows…I may even convince my husband to finally teach me hwo to play the drums.  I haven’t had enough creative outlets this past year, so I’m looking forward to expressing that side of myself.

Goal #7 Soak up the freedom

Isn’t that what summer is all about?  I will certainly have some work to do, but I also want to detach from the part of myself that is always working and putting on my “professional” face, especially since I work in a boarding school.  I want to take some time to be a little wild and spontaneous and irresponsible.  There will definitely be impromptu plans, partying, long nights of gaming and binge-watching Netflix…  I desperately need to reconnect with that part of myself and remind myself that I’m still young and there’s a lot more to who I am than my job.

1808_10200741323516147_1965277480_n (1)

Hoping for some of this!

I know summer will probably go by faster than I could ever imagine, and I know this is quite an ambitious list, but I’m feeling optimistic, so I may as well shoot for the stars, right?

To those out there reading:  What are your summer plans?  Any tips on dealing with reverse culture shock?

Doors to Nowhere

DSC_0417

***I’m breaking things up here with a little creative writing piece I wrote on a ferry ride in Greece, inspired by some beautiful doors I’ve seen throughout my travels.  Enjoy!***

She was always finding them.  Or, rather, they were finding her.  Doors that led to absolutely nowhere…or so it appeared.

The first one came to her when she was very young, leaning against a pile of overgrown brush in her family’s garden.  It was old and well-worn and looked as if it might crumble to dust against even the lightest of breezes.  This thought never even crossed her mind.  She was too curious for that.  She pulled on the handle and stepped through.

This, she soon realized, was where the fairies lived, twinkling brightly in their lush green abode.  They fluttered around her, whispering their secrets, made her promise not to tell.  They fed her honeysuckle nectar, adorned her hair with wildflowers, and told her she would always be welcome in their world.

DSC_0561[1]

The next door came sometime later, when her family moved to a new house.  As she was hanging her many sweaters in her brand new closet, she saw it peeking at her, tucked away in the back corner.  Where did it go?  She wondered to herself.  The tiny knob popped open, revealing just enough room for her to crawl through.  A cluttered room buried in dust showed her its face.  It was there that she first met the ghost that lived in her house; the one that had been there for hundreds o years.  She told her her life story, her death story, and told her never to be frightened when she went bump in the night.

DSC_0024

She never really made a point of looking for them.  The doors, they just kept finding her.  Like when she went to her first party and saw door to an old shed swinging in the wind, beckoning her to go through it.  It was there that she first heard the wind speak as plain as day.

DSC_0465[1]

Then there was that time she went backpacking through the mountains.  She stumbled upon it while she was hiking along the trail, carved right into the ragged rock:  an old door, like one might find on a house.  By now, she knew the drill; she couldn’t resist.  She was greeted warmly by a mountain troll, who graciously made her dinner over a campfire and guided her by torch through the mountain – a considerable shortcut to her final destination.  The firelight danced among the many glittering gems that lined the tunnel walls – the troll’s treasure stores.

DSC_0480[1]

When she bought her first place, a tiny cottage in the meadow, she knew it was meant to be when she saw a single door propped up on a stairway, overgrown with daisies.  She put down her moving boxes to climb those stairs, going up and up, until she noticed that she’d already gone through the door and was now climbing right into the sky, as if on solid ground.  She kept climbing until she reached the clouds, where she waited until the sky grew dark and sparkled with starlight.  It was their that she first met her lover, and they met there every night thereafter.

Yes, the doors, they always find her.  Even as we speak, she’s standing before yet another abandoned door.  As other passersby walk on, ignoring the magic that stands before them, she reaches for the handle and wonders what lies in store for her on the other side.

Eating Vegan in Kadiköy

DSC_0338[1]

Kedi!!

We took the school service into Istanbul on Sunday so that we could pick up a few things for our Spring Break trip next week.  Much to our surprise, the bus was nearly empty.  Also surprising, in a much less pleasant way, was the hour delay and the horribly bumpy ride all the way there.  I guess the driver wanted to make up for lost time.

DSC_0342[1]

Someone did not want to wait for me to take a picture of the food before eating it

I can really feel change in the air with this new season.  I’ve always loved the sense of renewal that comes with spring.  It makes me feel inspired to try new things and keep pursuing abandoned goals.  Lately, I’ve been trying to focus more on my health, something I’ve pretty much ignored since moving to Turkey.  With all of the change in my  life, I had pretty much given up hope on trying to establish any kind of workout routine or eating habits.  Now that I’ve been here awhile, I felt like it was time to give it a go.  I’ve decided to eat vegan for 30 days; a sort of Spring Cleaning, if you will.

DSC_0340[1]

A glorious spread of hummus, lentil stew, lentil “meat”balls, and grilled bread.

I was vegan for nearly a year in the States, so the concept wasn’t new to me.  However, eating vegan here is substantially more difficult and not something I was ready to try when I first arrived.  Anyway, after a week of basically just eating salad, bananas, and nuts, I was happy to have access to some good vegan restaurants this weekend.  We stopped at a vegan cafe on the edge of Kadiköy and were not at all disappointed.  In fact, it was some of the best food we’ve eaten since we moved here.  Also, they had an adorable cat.

We couldn’t leave without dessert.

DSC_0341[1]

Kabak tatlisi (pumpkin soaked in sugar and topped with tahini, nuts, coconut, and other delicious things.)

And on the way back to the bus, we stopped at our favorite coffee place for cortados with almond milk.

DSC_0346[1]

Horrible photo, but you get the idea.

So far, this whole vegan thing has been going well and it’s felt amazing to eat healthier foods.  I don’t know if I’ll stick with it indefinitely, but I’m for sure going to see it through the 30 days.  It won’t be easy…I will have to resist a lot of temptation in Greece next week!  If nothing else, this will be a healthy cleanse and a great exercise in discipline.

It feels good to be in this place on my expat journey…to have the confidence to try new things and set goals for myself that go beyond just learning how to survive here.  I’m also happy to have a new favorite lunch spot for my Sunday trips to Istanbul!