This year, I am trying to have a more balanced life.  After the stress of the last couple years, it has been great to just enjoy life.  Things are going well.  I have been going to the gym three or four times a week, and walking on the weekends.  I have been taking time to live.  For example, going to the pazar even when it would be quicker just to go to the grocery store.  The quality of the produce is so much better, and I really enjoy getting out and looking through all the wares.  

Bülent and I are also eating and living cleaner.  We are mostly vegetarian and I have been trying to use natural cleaning products, like this  vinegar orange cleanser.  I have also been preparing food for the work week during the weekend, which makes coming home from work and getting dinner ready less stressful. It also reduces the temptation to order take-out.  I have even been packing my own healthy lunch, rather than eating the free (fairly unhealthy) meals at work.

On the quest to have more balance, I decided to give up drinking for a month. I love wine as much as the next person, and have nothing against it, but I realized that a glass of wine after work was pretty habitual.   I thought that if I abstained for a month, it would make me more mindful of appreciating what I was drinking, and make it a decision rather than a habit.  Today my alcohol-free month is up.  I will be buying myself a lovely bottle of wine for my birthday this week.  Or, the makings for dirty martinis! Either way, I am sure it will be delicious!


Hoşgeldiniz to 2013

Welcome to the New Year!  I hope everyone had safe and happy New Years celebrations.  Bülent and I have been so busy lately that we welcomed the New Year from bed, where we had been snuggling and watching movies.  It worked for me!  Start the New Year as you mean to continue right?  I am sure many people are thinking about New Year Resolutions and how to make changes.  I think I am just going to continue the journey I started several months ago, trying to appreciate the good, and live a more balanced life.

It has been a difficult year.  This day last year I was packing my bags to go back to the U.S.  I  had taken a leave of absence due to my father’s health and was supposed to head back at the end of the semester in late January.  I had spoken to my family a couple of days before and I had decided to change my plane ticket on December 30.  It was expensive to change a ticket two days before the flight, but it was the best decision I ever made.  My father’s funeral was on the original date in January on which I was supposed to arrive. 

I had taken the semester off and my school had hired someone to take my place, so I stayed in N.H., grieving and healing with my family.  It was difficult to be separated from my husband for six months, but has changed our relationship for the better.  We are stronger and more united, we know there is nothing we wouldn’t do to help the other…been there, done that.  We have now had bad and trying times and just love each other more for our individual responses to them. 

My time in the U.S. last year was very precious to me.  It allowed me to spend time with my mother while she needed me, and while I needed her.  I was able to get to know my brother as the man he is now, as opposed to the boy he was when I left.  I was also able to get to know his long time girlfriend, who is as lovely inside as she is out.  I went to my college roommate’s wedding and celebrated her happiness with her, and our college friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in five years.   I drove from Texas to New Hampshire, meeting Bülent’s dearest old friends, and visiting mine along the way.   I also went to BlogHer ‘12!

My oldest and dearest friend made me an Auntie—albeit in a terrifying way.  Due to her daughter’s insistence to make a (extremely early) entrance I was able to meet her in the NICU before I came back to Turkey.  

Health wise: Bülent and I went vegetarian (almost six months now) and I joined a gym a few months ago.  The breast lumps have been vanquished—well not vanquished but at least identified as benign.  To top it all off, our dog, Butterfinger, is not letting cataracts get her down.   

The year has been challenging and rewarding.  I am hoping that this next year will be easier, because we kind of need a break.  But we are starting the year off right.  Last year my dad wanted to take our family on a last vacation, a cruise, due to his limited mobility, but he died before we were able.  

Well, we are taking that fucking cruise.  Come January break, my mom, brother and I are going to go.  We are going to celebrate what was, what is and what is to come, because that is what life is all about.  So 2013—bring it on!

My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps—Check it out!

Fergie says it all.

December is usually a busy month for most people.   It is the holidays, between parties and other things the month seems to fly by.  In addition December is exam month for my students, so there is a lot of prep, as well as grading.  Bülent had a business trip to Prague for a week and then after that we had a trip to Vienna planned for Christmas, WHEE!

So that made the health issue that popped up inconvenient, as well as unwelcome.  Several weeks ago, I found a lump in one of my breasts.  Well, actually, Bülent found it, as he tends to be more vigilant in investigating them.  Considering the history of hormonal cancers in my family, neither one of us was pleased with the development.  I called my gynecologist and she sent me  to the lab for a sonogram.  If the sonogram did show any issues she told me she would refer me to a general surgeon, which is the typical protocol in Turkey.  She was very helpful, she offered to make the lab appointment for me if I was concerned about language barriers.  I also have her cell phone number, since her secretary doesn’t speak English.  If I have questions or concerns or need to make an appointment I am able to call my doctor directly. 

We were eager to get the situation resolved.  However, we did feel relieved when other symptoms popped up, which indicated it was not a serious health risk.  One of my breasts was sore and swollen.  It was twice the size as the other and looked like a lopsided boob job.  It was very uncomfortable.  Poor Bülent, the week before he leaves on a business trip, the playground was closed.  We hurried to arrange all of the appointments and tests to be done before Bülent headed off to Prague, in case I needed support and translation help.   

So the day after we found the lump, Bülent and I headed to the lab. He was great, made the appointment for me, then came in the exam room and translated for me.  Turns out it was not just one lump, but several in both breasts.   They told us most likely they were just cysts, but the lab recommended sending me to the general surgeon since one of the lumps was so large.   The surgeon had a great reputation, and seemed to deserve it.  He reassured me it was  fibrocystic breast syndrome and nothing to worry about, though he did send samples to the lab just to make sure.  Actually I was really impressed.  He aspirated it with a needle, I did research and in the U.S. it says that they numb the area with lidocaine, then guide the needle in with a sonogram.  However, my doctor just covered the whole area in iodine, explored a little bit with his fingers, and slid the needle right in.  I was a little surprised at his nonchalance, but then was more surprised that it didn’t hurt AT ALL!  Clearly the man knew his stuff!  It was a big needle, but no pinch or sting the whole time!

The tests all came back clear, but he wants to see in a few months just to check.  I have to say, I was very pleased with all of the care I received, from the gyno returning my call at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, and the lab, fitting me in after work, and the expertise of the doctor.   We were both relieved that the lump turned out to be nothing.  It made our upcoming vacation seem all the more special, a celebration of Christmas, love and health.  Especially love!

Forks Over Knives

So in June Bülent and I watched the documentary Forks over Knives which promotes unprocessed foods and veganism.   It advocates a plant based diet with no refined oils and lower ingestion of oily foods, such as avocados and nuts.  We were quite struck with the documentary.   While Bülent mostly focused on the health benefits, what struck me was the sustainability.  I was amazed how the amount of livestock we require in developed countries affects global warming (10 % of human based carbon dioxide emissions), deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion.  According to a 2006 University of Chicago study, if an average American meat eater reduced their intake of animal produce to 25% of their total calories it would reduce their carbon footprint by approximately one ton.   However, the largest impact on me was that if that if we ate the produce we grew, rather than using it to feed to farm animals that we will eventually eat, almost every one in abject poverty could be provided with more than they need to survive.  When I worked in San Diego it was the first time I dealt with real hunger.  Children who were so hungry they couldn’t concentrate in class.  I used to carry granola bars in my purse, and had an unlocked file cabinet filled with them.  If there is anything I could do to end hunger, I would work towards it, and so have given up meat for the most part.

While we have not adopted a true “plant based” Forks over Knives lifestyle, we have altered our diet.  I love a good raw steak , and though I haven’t mentioned it previously, we have been living a mostly vegetarian lifestyle since July.  Occasionally we slip (mostly when I am hormonally challenged and crave a steak rather than chocolate) , but for the most part we are vegetarians.  We have also cut back our lactose and egg intake by at least 75 percent.  Usually the milk in my coffee is the only milk product I eat each week.  Occasionally I bust out the non-fat yogurt, especially if I have  a funny tummy, but that is an exception.

I love meat, but really haven’t missed it.  I feel lighter, and healthier.  The grocery bill is also significantly lower.  Now that we are eating only veggies and beans, I spend a little more time and energy finding the best and juiciest of whatever I am looking for.  The most expensive organic beans are still way cheaper than meat.    If I do buy eggs or milk I buy from smaller producers, free-range and organic.  Since we are eating less of it, it hasn’t jacked up the bill either.    It has definitely been interesting adapting our normal recipes to a vegetarian style.  However, it is usually pretty easy and Bülent swears that the vegetarian version of Hünkar Beğendi  I made was better than any other he has EVER had.  (Secret: for a rich taste—instead of lamb: lentils and chipotle)  I will have some vegetarian recipes coming to Close to the Kitchen very soon!

Feeling Better

The last week weeks I have been fighting colds, coughs and fatigue.  While I am still having sleep issues (Friday night I did not fall asleep until 4:30 a.m., the fatigue is better.  I think a lot of it was coming from my immune system fighting off whatever was around.  This weekend I have been dragging a bit, but that is because I decided to do a Juice Fast.  So Saturday and today I have not been eating anything, but just drinking different homemade juices.  I had a lot of fun researching which juices had more detoxifying effects than others.  I did end the fast tonight with a clear veggie soup.  I just didn’t think it it was practical to juice fast at work, and was concerned that I would not have the energy or patience to deal with 12 year olds otherwise.  Though I probably will have juice for breakfast anyway. 

Bülent and I have actually been juicing for a few weeks, we have had a juicer for a couple of years, but only used it occasionally before now.   I have had just juice for breakfast for at least two weeks now.  I really like it and notice that when I am drinking the green juices in the morning I don’t need as much coffee.  My favorite breakfast juice is apple, carrot, spinach and cucumber.  Really refreshing but not too sweet or caloric.  I will post the recipes later, but of the juices I have made, my least favorite was beet and carrot and my most favorite was tomato and spinach.  Though I have to say the cilantro juice is pretty awesome and I love to throw a chunk of ginger in almost any sweet juice! 


I am totally excited because this week is a two day week.  On Wednesday Kurban Bayram starts and we have six days off, so we are going to Marmaris!  It will be gorgeous!  We have several trips planned in the near future, and I am really looking forward to them.  Though Marmaris is always special because we have our own place there.  It makes it so restful, we don’t need to sightsee or explore, we know the area and can just focus on relaxing!


Feeling so drained.  I have been working on the Cooking Page revision project, and if you have noticed, there are some shifts and changes in my blog.  Comments and suggestions are appreciated.  While I am not done yet, the structure is coming along, I am pleased with it.   I have a lot work on, and blog about but THAT is not going to happen today. 

I have been fighting a sore throat for a couple of weeks on and off, and it has evolved into a full on cold.  Pretty typical to get ill in the first 6 weeks of the semester.  Thankfully the worst of the sore throat is gone, but in its place it left congestion, a cough and fatigue.  Honestly, I am just waiting for my cleaning lady to finish ironing so I can pay her and then take a nap.  If that wasn’t the whiniest, #1st world problems, annoying sentence I don’t know what is.  Seriously, reading that sentence again I want to smack myself. 

But lets talk about fatigue.  I know that today it is mostly coming from a cold, but I have been having issues sleeping lately so it is becoming more of a standby state.  For the last few months I have been waking up in the middle of the night.  While that is pretty standard for me, NOT being able to fall back asleep is not.  I often wake up 2 or three times a night, starting around three and will be awake for an hour or so.   I have to say the winner was last week when I went to bed at 11p.m., woke up around 3 a.m. and then fell back asleep at 6.  Half an hour before I had to get up.  That day was awesome.  Thank goodness my students are sweet and reasonably well behaved.  It could have been an ugly day.  I have been taking melatonin and hot showers before bed, and started to work out 3 or 4 times a  week at new gym I joined, but it does not seems to be resolving itself. 

How about you all?  Any remedies or approaches to sleep through the night?  I am getting really tired of just watching my husband do that. 


Patlican Salatası

Now that it is summer I have been craving some light salads.  I have also been away from Turkey long enough I have been craving Turkish food.  I was talking about this dish with my friend the other day and started drooling.  I will be making this soon.   It is pretty versatile.  If you want a side salad make it a little chunkier, if you want to use it as a dip blend it a little more, like salsa

Patlican Salatası

1 large eggplant or 3 or 4 smaller ones (I like the small ones myself)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic (mashed or pressed)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup of yogurt
A splash of olive oil*
1 tomato diced
Salt and pepper to taste


Poke holes in the eggplant(s) before you roast them.  I use the grill but you could roast them on the grill, the stovetop (over the flames) or broil them in the oven.  Whatever the method-roast the eggplant until it is soft about a half hour or so depending on the size.  After they are done, let them cool and then peel off the skin.  Dice the eggplant small ad toss in a bowl.  Dice the tomato and throw that in the bowl too.  Mash one or two cloves of garlic, to taste, remember it will be in the salad raw.  Add that to the mix as well as the juice of the lemon the yogurt and the oil if you want it.  The oil makes it taster but without it the salad is pretty light calorically, cooked eggplant has about 35 calories per cup.  I also use light yogurt.  Add about a 1/2 tsp of salt to start with and a little pepper.  Salt to taste, you may want to add more salt (I do) but I do a little at a time or to my serving on my plate as I am always afraid to over salt the whole batch.

Mix well and chill, serve cold.  It is best served after an hour or two when the flavors have time to meld.

The Things You Do…

I am heading back to the States, a little sooner than anticipated, and am taking care of business.  As you do when you live in Turkey, and return to the U.S. for extended periods of time…you take care of the expensive shit.  Which is why I have gone to the gynecologist and the dentist in the same week—Because you know that is fun!  Also my dog ate my night mouth guard yesterday.  Awesome!

It is also why I am going to stock up on birth control and allergy medication before I leave.  Not only do I have comprehensive health insurance in Turkey, both private and State, but also many things are available over the counter that are not in the US.  For my time in the U.S.  I am also paying out of pocket for six months of private health insurance, all health insurance related expenses will be reimbursed up to the (fairly generous) limit once I return to Turkey—for $300!  Ridiculous!  So tomorrow I will get my eyebrows done, but since it is winter—I will skip the bikini wax—I think between the gynecologist and the dentist I have had enough fun.

So…I had some work done!

The LASIK has been done!  Now I can see!  All the time!  Well at least now I can.  The first night was a little bit rough.  The doctor said I would have some, “discomfort” “Discomfort” my ASS.  It felt like they had sliced my eyes open and poked around the inside—practically exactly what they did.

My last post about LASIK I was still searching for the perfect eye hospital.  I had been to two and was not satisfied.  It turns out the third hospital was just right.  I went to Turkuaz Göz Merkezi, a boutique eye center in Ankara.  They were great, small but cutting edge.  The doctors were great, the staff support and the treatment impeccable.  They only do the procedure on Friday night.   We were a little concerned at one point because they told Bülent he could not come in and translate for me.  The doctor that handles preliminary testing spoke English, but he was not the one completing the procedure.  The doctor doing my LASIK spoke German and Turkish but not English.  When we told them our concerns, the English speaking doctor promised he would be at my side the entire time translating the operation.  He also made sure there was an English speaking intern with me in the waiting room and the recovery room so that I would not misunderstand the nurses or orderlies who only spoke Turkish.  Overall we were very impressed with our experience, not only the medical procedure, but also the language accommodation they so thoroughly supplied.  Yay for Dr. Fatih Bey!  Whee I can SEEEEEE!

LASIK Shout Out!

Traditionally after the wedding the bride and groom exchange gifts.  Or so I was told.  So for my gift, my new beloved husband told me he would finance my LASIK surgery.  YAY!  My eyes are horribly myopic, around –3.75 plus astigmatism.  His gift was perfect.  We both can’t wait.  However, since it is my EYES and if we mess it up there could be serious complications, we have proceeded cautiously.

Hospital #1: Super Shiny!  Clean and New!  Expensive and commercial.  We felt that they did not care about safety as much as money.  They wanted to give me LASIK after only one week of not wearing contacts.  I have been wearing soft contacts for 10 years, seven days a week, 15-18 hours a day.

Hospital #2:  Our new doctor is SUPER conservative.  Maybe too much!  He saw me (after not wearing contacts for two weeks) and said at least one month later.  So today I go in—after not wearing contacts for six weeks.  (Side note:  I hate wearing glasses) He wants to wait six more months of no contacts before the surgery.  That seems excessive to me—what about you?  All the research I have done says that before LASIK you cannot wear soft contacts for two weeks, toric for a month and hard lenses for a month for every decade you wore them!   Am I mistaken?  I really don’t want to wear glasses for six more months if I don’t have to, but I also don’t want to ruin my eyesight.

Any suggestions?

We are going to Hospital #3 tomorrow.