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!

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.

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.

Sun Up, Sun Down

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I might be a little biased, but I honestly think that the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen have been right here in the Kansas prairie.

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Even the cloudy night sky is stunning.

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It’s been good to be home and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit sad to be leaving next week.

 

Perfect Podcasts for Summer Escapes

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Is anyone else out there addicted to podcasts?  I’ve mentioned this before, but ever since I taught Serial last winter, I’ve jumped straight down the rabbit hole and have done a lot of binge-listening.  I love how podcasts – unlike TV shows – allow you to multi-task since you don’t have to keep your eyes on a screen.  I started out just listening to them at home to have a little interesting background noise while I grade or do chores, but lately they’ve also become great travel companions.  Whether I’m on the long flight between Turkey and the U.S. or cruising the highway, I’m bound to be listening to something.  Since they’ve been such a game-changer for me, I thought it might be worth it to share a suggested list of podcast/rip pairings based on my summer listening…kind of like a list of wine/dinner pairings, except without the wine.  Or dinner.  Anyway…

For a trip near the water…

Passage

The Bridge

For the Deep South…

S-Town (my personal favorite of the summer!)

For a classic American road trip…

Alice Isn’t Dead

Behemoth

For a ghost town voyage…

The Tunnels

Return Home

For those who meditate…

Within the Wires

For anyone who doesn’t mind a little gore…

The Box

Darkest Night

For those who wish to transcend our physical world…

Rabbits

Archive 81

The Far Meridian

I’m always looking for new podcasts (because I’m obsessed), so I’m all ears (no pun intended) for any recommendations!!

NYC!

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New York City was a place I had always built up in my mind.  It was the backdrop to nearly all the sitcoms of my childhood, the land of Broadway, and a foodie paradise; I knew I had to make it there eventually.

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One of my best friends since middle school recently moved to a suburb near the city and invited me to visit, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity – it had been two years since we’d seen each other (which was FAR too long!) and we knew we’d have a blast exploring the city together.

 

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After a night of catching up and relaxing after my flight (which had spent 3 hours on the runway), we were up bright and early and ready to explore.  It was a little surreal to walk out of the bus station and right into The New York Times!

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We started out by walking around Times Square and I could not have chosen better weather.  It was cool and overcast, but not rainy or humid at all – a far cry from the smoldering Kansas heat I had left behind.

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We stopped for lunch in Koreatown and I will probably be dreaming of all the wonderful Korean barbecue for the next year now.

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Next up was Central Park, where we spent several hours enjoying the beautiful weather.  I couldn’t believe how HUGE the park was!  I was also surprised at how many newly married couples were walking around nonchalantly getting their pictures taken.  The park is pretty enough in summer, but I imagine it’s stunning in the fall.

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Our last stop for the day was the 9/11 memorial and Tower One, which was sad and beautiful all at once.

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One of the things I was most hoping to do while I was in New York was to see a Broadway show, so I was pretty stoked when we scored some decently priced last-minute tickets to The Book of Mormon.  The humor was not for the faint of heart, but it definitely kept me laughing and the venue, set, and costumes were spectacular.

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After the show, we decided to try to catch happy hour at a nearby rooftop bar, which offered fabulous views of the skyline.  Sipping on watermelon coolers to beat the afternoon heat was just the icing on the cake.

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On Day 3, we did a little double decker cruising (touristy, but fun) and went to see the Statue of Liberty.

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All too soon it was time to disembark and get ready to pack for my early flight back to Kansas.  I could easily have stayed for another week, but I was grateful for the time I had. It’s hard to be so far away from family and friends, and unfortunately, friends can often get pushed aside for the sake of family.  I’m so glad I made time for this adventure and hope to make a return trip next summer!

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USA Roadtripping: The North Shore Scenic Drive

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Minnesota is a seriously gorgeous state, bursting with huge pine forests, rolling hills, and rocky cliffs.  On our second day in Duluth, we decided to do the North Shore Scenic Drive, a beautiful drive along Highway 61 on the edge of Lake Superior.  The drive stretches from Duluth all the way to the Canadian border  and is full of old lighthouses, cute coastal towns, waterfalls, and secluded  beaches.

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Pretty butterfly at Stony Point

There are many great things about the North Shore route, among them the fact that there is something to pull over and look at at least every ten miles. Travelers can stop and look at their leisure…or just keep driving; there is no right way to go about it.

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We chose Stony Point Beach –  just a few minutes outside of Duluth – as our first stop.  It’s calm, mostly secluded, and a great place to hunt for agates -a popular pastime in the area.

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Once we’d gotten our fill at the beach, we drove another ten miles to the cozy town of Two Harbors to check out the lighthouses and walk along the pier.  There were also dozens of adorable shops and restaurants along the way, though we made time for only one:  Betty’s Pies.

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I wasn’t particularly hungry that early in the morning, but I’ve always been a huge fan of pie, so I wasn’t about to pass up this stop on the itinerary.  Betty’s offers a huge range of delicious flavors, though my personal favorite was the plain blueberry; the blackberry peach with the crumble topping was a close second.

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Can you spot me?

Next up was Gooseberry Falls State Park, a good place to do a little hiking and burn off the pie we had just eaten.  The park boasts several beautiful waterfalls and miles and miles of trails.

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After some hiking and splashing around, we moved on to the next stop, which was my personal favorite:  Split Rock Lighthouse.

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We loved this spot so much that we ended up staying a couple of hours, walking along the pebble beach and enjoying the views of the pine-covered Ellison Island in the distance.  After a nice picnic, we walked up the cliff to get a look at the beautiful little lighthouse for which the area is best known.

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Our final stop was the Black Beach at Silver Bay, though it was by no means the end of the route along Lake Superior.  I so wished my family had had their passports on them so we could have crossed into Canada.  Perhaps next time!

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The beach was not so much black as it was a dark reddish color, but it was still a decent beach.  I particularly enjoyed climbing the rocks and admiring the view down below.

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It was a wonderful way to spend the day, and while at the time I had wanted to go a little farther along the highway, I was later grateful to have returned when we did because we got back to our hotel just in time to avoid the crazy thunderstorms and flash floods.

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I don’t often miss having a car, but after this little road trip, I’m thinking I’m going to have to rent them more often on our trips so we can do more scenic drives – Minnesota was so lovely!