Back, I hope. A Re-introduction.

It has been more than a year since I have blogged.  I have started different posts many times, but never finished.  The last year has been exciting, fun, challenging and full of new adventures, as always.

Last year in August I started my job as a Computer Science teacher at a charter school in Austin.  While the work was incredibly fulfilling, it was also very demanding.  Not only did I have to master a new discipline (CS) but my work hours were 7am to 5 pm.  Add an hour or more on either end of the day for the commute and it made settling in a new city difficult.  Though we moved to Austin for its vibrant nightlife and music scene, I really couldn’t be a part of it.  Rising every day at 5, getting home after 6 and spending most of my weekends grading and lesson planning  did not leave much time for new Austin adventures.  However, we did have some!  We  bought a house last September and celebrated our “Houseiversary” recently.

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We also got adopted a puppy from the shelter in January.  Butterfinger is more or less resigned to the situation at this point.  He tries to engage her in play, but she is not really interested.  In her defense, at 15, she is not as energetic as she used to be.

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This summer marked our first year in Austin, and the start of our new life here, the life we wanted originally. I started work for an exciting non-profit. One that is part of the education realm, bringing educational access to students in underserved communities.  It is fulfilling in the same way teaching was, but with a work/life balance.   Since I have started my new job Bülent and I have been incredibly happy.  We are able to do all the things we looked forward to in Austin, while we were in Ankara.  We go to live music regularly, during the week and on the weekends! We go hiking and biking, swimming and exploring.

Now that we have our “new normal” I am looking forward to many more adventures.

 

 

Anniversary

I cannot believe it has been a year.  The move and changes have consumed my life, but in an amazing way.  I hope to start blogging again.  Our lives are full and rich, with new friends, renewed friends and old friends.  We now own a house, belong to a community and have exciting adventures on the horizon.  My heart bleeds for the state of the political situation in Turkey, and I am feeling relieved that we moved when we did.  More will be coming.  The adventures are part of life, and unless things change, I will always be “Far from the Sticks”, no matter where I am.

Reblog:  Published 4/18/2015

I talked about the reasons I had not been blogging, and part of it was that I could not fully express myself.  We have had plans in the works, but they have been tenuous and uncertain.  Bülent and I have been incredibly happy in Turkey.  We have had so many adventures, travelled to so many places, and met so many people.  When I first came, I was 24, young and excited.  Everyday was an adventure.  After six years in Turkey, everyday still brings joy and appreciation.  Just last week I was stopped by strangers on the street while walking in my neighborhood, invited in for coffee and had a tour of their garden.

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I have learned the language, and developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the nuances of the culture—my original goals.  In the six years we have been in Turkey we have made friends, embarked on our careers, gotten married, moved twice, received a Masters and (almost) a PhD, and celebrated a decade of being partners.  We have lost parents and grandparents, and we have loved.  We have gained a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.

Turkey will always have our hearts, and will always be home, we have so many friends and so much family here.  We have loved our time in Turkey, but thinking about the future and our careers, we have decided it is time to move on. It is time for a new adventure.  The next couple of months will be filled with packing, details, saying goodbye and excitement.  We are moving back to the United States.

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Wait for us Austin!  We’ll be there soon!

Changes

I talked about the reasons I had not been blogging, and part of it was that I could not fully express myself.  We have had plans in the works, but they have been tenuous and uncertain.  Bülent and I have been incredibly happy in Turkey.  We have had so many adventures, travelled to so many places, and met so many people.  When I first came, I was 24, young and excited.  Everyday was an adventure.  After six years in Turkey, everyday still brings joy and appreciation.  Just last week I was stopped by strangers on the street while walking in my neighborhood, invited in for coffee and had a tour of their garden. 

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I have learned the language, and developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the nuances of the culture—my original goals.  In the six years we have been in Turkey we have made friends, embarked on our careers, gotten married, moved twice, received a Masters and (almost) a PhD, and celebrated a decade of being partners.  We have lost parents and grandparents, and we have loved.  We have gained a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. 

 

Turkey will always have our hearts, and will always be home, we have so many friends and so much family here.  We have loved our time in Turkey, but thinking about the future and our careers, we have decided it is time to move on. It is time for a new adventure.  The next couple of months will be filled with packing, details, saying goodbye and excitement.  We are moving back to the United States.

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Wait for us Austin!  We’ll be there soon!

Uzungöl

The road to Uzungöl was a lot more pleasant than the place itself.  We had heard it was a lovely lake, pictures with places to hike and bike ride. It was a lake, and there was a walking path, and bike rentals.  That is about as close to the description as it came.

We left the lovely snow capped Kaçkar Mountains and the Ayder Plateau, for Uzungöl.  We decided to do some sightseeing along the way.

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We stopped by one of the Fırtına River bridges on the way.

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Built in the Ottoman era during the 18th or 19th century by local stonemasons, they are still architecturally sound, and very charming.

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After that we traveled deep into Fırtına Valley (Stormy Valley), we went to Zilkale, or Bell Castle.  It was only about 20 km but on the winding steep road, it took almost an hour.  We kept seeing villages up on the steep mountain sides.  They were amazingly isolated and beautiful, with their dark wood buildings, surrounded by the deep green of the tea bushes.  P1017087

Almost impossible to reach by road, some of them only seemed accessible by funiculars or teleferikler

Photo from http://www.son.tv/haber-213915

After we made our way through the mountain passes we finally reached Zilkale.  It was striking, high up on the edge of a cliff the castle had been restored and was worth the trek into the wilderness.  From its vantage point we were also able view of the deep canyon and the waterfalls from the castle walls.

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From here we went to Uzungöl.  On the road to Çamlıhemşin we had been struck by the green mountains, covered in tea plants, the clear water of the rivers and streams, and the mountain vistas.  In contrast, the road to Uzungöl was industrial, the river muddy and filled with silt from the mining and hydroelectric dams.  In comparison to the mountain villages, with their wood houses high up on the hills on the Çamlıhemşin road, on the way to Uzungöl the roadsides were filled with typically Turkish concrete multi-storied buildings and tea processing factories.

Uzungöl (Long Lake) is no longer a natural lake, dammed up and the embankments covered in stone, it actually resembles a man made lake more than anything else.  The lower end of the lake is built up, pensions, restaurants and neon lights creating a hodge podge of tourism.  The area is fairly conservative as well, catering to more devout foreign tourists.  I was surprised at the number of women wearing full covering, or burkas.  While Turkey is an Muslim majority nation, and some areas are more conservative than others, full covering with only ones’ eyes showing is not typical.

We also had a major issue with our hotel.  We stayed at the Aygün Motel, the accommodations were clean and it was a spacious bungalow, with plenty of room for all three of us for a decent price.  However, when we woke up in the morning it was very cold inside our room.  See your breath cold.    There was also no hot water.  Reception kept telling us the heat would come on soon, in two hours.  In an hour, in 45 minutes…  After huddling in our room, wearing our jackets for several hours, we went out to eat just to warm up.  After hours and hours of a freezing cold room, the heat finally came back on.  It never really warmed up though.  We tried to change our tickets to fly out that night, but the plane was full, instead we paid the penalty just to move our tickets up by a few hours.  The next morning, the room was frigid again,  it was then we learned that they actually turn off the heat each morning, and turn it on back at night.

In the morning we planned to leave at 8 am to be to the airport 9am, at for our 10 am flight.  However, when I woke up at five to use the bathroom, I saw outside there was at least 6 inches of snow, with more falling steadily.  Uzungöl had been transformed to a winter fairy land, but we still didn’t want to stay.

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Afraid we would be trapped there if it kept snowing, we left the motel by 5:20 am to make sure we would be able to make it down the mountain.  The switchbacks  were a little hairy at first, but once we were halfway down the mountain the snow turned to rain, and we were all relieved.

Bülent and I were talking last night and we honestly have not had a trip with so many challenges and unfavorable conditions.  We have traveled all over Turkey for the last five years, staying in five star hotels, motels, pensions and even hostels, and have always had a great time, with warm and hospitable hosts. It was certainly a memorable birthday trip, one that none of us will forget in the future.  We still had a great time though.  I was with my two favorite men, one who had flown thousands of mile to surprise me!  I felt lucky and beloved to have such a grand adventure planned for me, and an adventure it was!

Bakla Köftesi (Fava Bean Balls/Burgers)

Fava Bean köftesi, a type of vegetarian köfte.  Since we have gone mostly vegetarian I have been trying to find alternatives and interesting food.  This seemed to fit the bill, interesting, healthy and seasonal.   

400 grams of cooked, shelled fava beans
1 onion
1 carrot
clove of garlic
Cilantro about 1/3 cup, half a bunch or so (parsley would work too)
1 egg
salt and pepper (I used chipotle pepper)

  First shell your fava beans. Then simmer the beans for five or six minutes, until tender then submerge them in cold water to make it easier to take off their outer skin.  You will need about 400 grams of the cooked shelled fava beans in total, so the original weight should be more. Dice and sauté the onion and carrot until soft, add the garlic, minced and cook until aromatic.

In a food processer add, onion, carrot, garlic, fava beans, cilantro, egg and spices.  Pulse until combined’, but not a complete puree.  Roll into small balls or flat latke type shapes.   I made two batches using different methods.  The first I baked at 350 for twenty minutes.  I sprinkled sesame seeds on top for crunch.  These held together well, and would be great for burgers.

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The second batch I “fried” in a nonstick pan with a tiny bit of olive oil.  This batch was more tender but not as sturdy.  Both were tasty.  Even Butterfinger liked them. 

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Doğa Karadeniz

Recently I went on a trip to the Doğa Karadeniz with my brother and husband.  I will blog about the places separately from the experience…which was a doozy.  While certain parts of the trip were very lovely, it was sort of a comedy of errors.  We flew into Trabzon and from there made our way to Çamlıhemşin. Bülent booked a bungalow for us, Eko Danitap, it was supposed to be lovely and beautiful.  The directions were wrong. We followed them to a T, and in following the signs we were led up a narrow, scary series of switchbacks, and at the top of the mountain…no Eko Danitap.  Even asking for directions we were unable to find the hotel and when we called for directions, the land line had been disconnected and no one answered the cell number.  Even knowing we were coming, as we made a reservation, we never got a response or a call back. 

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We had to find new accommodations.  However, one of the the reason we had a reservation was because it was early in the tourist season and not all hotels were open.  We decided to  head up to Ayder Yaylası, we had heard it was incredibly beautiful.  It was, but also cold.  We managed to find an open hotel, and the rooms were very nice.  The owner said it would take a little while for the water to get hot for the showers.  We didn’t think much of it.  Except the water never got hot, and the toilet in our room didn’t work.  They couldn’t get it fixed.  The toilet in my brother’s room worked though, thank goodness…Welcome to Turkey, thanks for flying thousands of miles for my birthday—the least we could offer would be indoor plumbing.2014-03-15 08.29.34

Despite the issues, we decided to stay the night, as it was getting late and we were far from anything.  When we woke up there was still no hot water.  We had breakfast and then decided to take a walk. Ayder was absolutely breathtaking. 

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We were near the Kaçkar Mountain Park, so we walked up that way.  It really was gorgeous. Icy mountains, crystal clear brooks and pristine air. 

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After a brisk walk we all felt the need for a shower, and decided to leave Ayder Yaylası, for a place that was heavily recommended by a local we had met, Uzungöl.  The wonders (or lack thereof) of “Long Lake” or Uzungöl deserve a post all of its own.  

Surprise!!

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I have written about my brother before, and even created a meme.  But this really out does it.  My brother is a great guy, sweet, caring, kind to children and animals and good looking.  He cooks, will do pedicures and when necessary he will stand calf deep in shit and dig up the septic system, because that it what needs to be done.  We get along really well and have a great relationship, I had a blast when I went to visit y family in February.  We had a couple of “sib” nights and hung out, just the two of us. 

Last week I turned 30.  I was a little less than thrilled to leave my twenties behind, but I was not too concerned about turning thirty.  I had planned to go out to sushi with a friend after work, but my husband asked me to join him for a basketball game instead.  I decided we could do sushi another time.  I came home and Bülent was still in his nice work clothes, which is unusual.  We usually come home and change right into comfy clothes.   Then from around the corner appears…Elliot.  I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!  My brother was there.  IN MY APARTMENT.  IN ANKARA!   Apparently there was a bet between Bülent and Elliot that I would should “Oh my god” first, but the first word I said was “WHAT?!” My darling brother flew in for my birthday! 

My brother, on my couch, in my house in Ankara!

Bülent  had told me we would go on a surprise trip for my birthday, which I will detail in a later post.  He told me that there were two surprises, one was the location, which he would reveal before we went for packing purposes, the other he would not.  They had been planning the surprise for about three weeks.  It was such a great gift, to spend time with more of my family together. 

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The trip was to the Doğa Karadeniz (Eastern Black Sea) where I have been wanting to go for a while.  It certainly was an interesting trip, filled with adventure, and challenges-more on that later.  However, the scenery was beautiful and we all had a wonderful time being together.  

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I couldn’t have asked for a more special or memorable birthday.  This new decade was ushered in by a surprise of such magnitude and a week of such happiness and excitement, that I can only imagine what is to next to come.

My Brother Earned a Meme

I have been home visiting my family for winter break.  I love my family, but also feel very lucky that we are friends too.  Not everyone has a brother or a mother that they would chose to be their friends.  I have been having a great time with both, but hanging out with my brother is particularly fun.  And on that note, he has earned a meme.  Generally he is a great guy, but in the last week there were two really amusing incidents which illustrate his matter of fact stance on equality.

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Elliot has never been one to discriminate, but as he got older and more aware, he became a feminist and an equal rights supporter.  The best part is how nonchalant he is about it, it is not something he believes, it is just something he does.

While I was home for winter break my mother and I were considering going out and getting pedicures.  But then we had a discussion about not having enough time, and we decided to forgo the pedicures.  My brother was in the room and was aware of the subject, but not participating.  My mother then switched the subject from human pedicures to the dog’s nails.  Elliot still wasn’t paying attention fully yet when mom asked him if he would give her, Pumpkin–our Rhodesian Ridgeback, a pedicure.  Unaware of the subject change, he glanced at me, shrugged and said, “Sure. But I am not sure how good I will be at painting the edges.”  He was willing, if not able, to give me a pedicure.  Instead, together we ended up taking care of Pumpkin’s nails.  He wielded the trimmers, while I held the huge dog still.

The next day we were picking up a four wheeler.  We had to get it repaired for the new owners of our childhood home. We had to move a table with two large (occupied) rabbit cages on it to access it.  Once we had access to it, it was still a little tough to get it up on the truck.   We only had two narrow boards and a hand winch to get the massive four wheeler up on the back of the big truck.  We started out with Elliot working the hand winch, while I guided the four wheeler up the boards. Then we changed places thinking if someone had to push it over the edge of the truck bed, it should be him.  Feminism aside, this dude is way stronger than I am.Image

So there I was, slowly winching the four wheeler up the steep boards, and Elliot is somewhere off to the side.  I called out to ask him what he was doing, and he said he was standing away from the four wheeler so if the sagging boards cracked he wouldn’t be in the way.  It made sense.  Though if the boards did crack, I would be the one holding the the ATV by the hand winch with no other supports.

So I finally finish winching the four wheeler up, and the ATV is completly up on the bed.  After, Ell comes around from the side. I hadn’t seen him the whole time.  I asked him what he was doing in the garage when I was getting the four wheeler up onto the truck.  His reply, ” I was petting the bunnies. They are really soft.”

So there you go, from pedicures, abstaing from the assumption he would do the heavy lifting, to petting bunnies, for equality in all ways, my brother.  Though I have to say, I was dissapointed.  I would have liked to pet the bunnies too.  Image

Root Vegetable Roulette

Hmmm…Maybe not the best idea.  I have been seeing lots of yummy winter vegetable recipes online.  One of them was for roasted root vegetables; beets, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips and turnips.  YUM!  In Turkey, from that list we only have carrots and beets.  There are some turnip varieties, but they are usually only used raw.  So I decided to try out what was available in the market.   I used carrots, black turnips, onions, beets, and celeriac.  I brought some to school for lunch yesterday, it was tasty.  Cue a sleepless night and intestinal distress.   I thought maybe it was the fiber causing indigestion.  So I kept food light today and packed chicken soup.  It was all homemade, down to the stock.  At lunch I ate my beautiful homemade soup, and vicious intestinal distress ensued.  Just in time for my most challenging classes.  Hmm.  So since I knew exactly what went into everything, I figured out the common denominator.  BLACK TURNIP.  I checked it out online and apparently it increases acid and bile production in the intestinal track, great for people with sluggish systems. But eating too much causes over production and irritation of the digestive tract.   Bummer.  So watch yourself with the black turnip.  It might get you.    Root Vegetable Roulette…almost as dangerous as the version with guns.   Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it is definitely no fun. 

On Touching Children

In the United States you are not supposed to touch children familiarly unless they are yours, or the spawn of a close friend or family member.  As a teacher I was always very careful to keep my physical distance.  The only time I touched kids was when I was breaking up fights and tearing them apart or when they graduated and were saying goodbye.  There was one time when I flashed a girl my fun bits, but that was on a field trip to the beach and there were no doors on the stalls of the public bathrooms.

When I was a babysitter in college I always asked what the parents wanted me to do when I had to go to the bathroom.  When you haul a baby into the bathroom it is one thing, but when a toddler talks you want permission.  It was never a problem, “So…do you want me to leave your baby alone and unsupervised or do you want them to come into the bathroom with me?”  It was always the latter, but I still felt the need for specific permission.

In Turkey it is completely different.  Strangers pet children on the head and pinch their cheeks.  In a restaurant a toddler might be carried off by a waiter, played with, coddled, given treats and returned a while later.  Children running around in restaurants (1st difference…this is acceptable behavior) may be snatched into laps for kisses and then let go, a Turkish catch and release program.

In Turkey, parents and their children may feel insulted if you do not touch or snuggle their child.  They might feel rejected or unappreciated if they have not received a certain amount of physical attention.  I have gotten used to touching my students.  It was really strange at first.  In the beginning it made me really nervous to touch them, or worse when they touched me.  GAHHH.  They would come up, lean on me , put their heads on my shoulder, or touch my arms.   *Shudder*  I was so accustomed for this to be taboo it took quite a while to become comfortable with the situation.

Nowadays it is easy for me to touch students.  I have actually pinched cheeks.  I tweak their pony tails, rub their heads, pass a hand over their back, rub their arm, give their hands a squeeze.   Occationally I drag them around by their itty bitty neck ties they are required to wear.  They love it.  It makes them feel appreciated and valued.  It gives us a connection, a foundation on which to build a working relationship in the classroom.  I don’t hug my current students, but will my former students.  I kiss their cheeks when they give me presents, whether it is a bracelet or card they made for me or a silk scarf.

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Today I cuddled a child completely unknown to me, I was walking my dog in the park and the situation led me to it.  He was being chased by a street dog, one I know and never bothers me.   I feed him, and his puppies, he usually rolls over for belly rubs from me and has actually protected my small terrier from other street dogs.  About 10, the boy was terrified, the dog wasn’t biting him, but was barking and lunging at him.  He had gone too close to where the puppies were.  He kept running, and the dog was chasing him.  I told him, in my teacher voice, “Stay still, Don’t run.” I was so glad I know all the imperative forms in Turkish from my hall duty experience at school!  “Come here, son.” (In Turkey you only refer to children as “children”, “daughter” or “son”)  So while the dog was lunging at him (I knew the dog wouldn’t hurt us) I hugged him, stroked his face and talked to him.  “It’s ok, let’s go, together  ok…?” My Turkish is still a little weak.  The dog continued to follow and lunge, so I tucked the kid under my arm and held his hands so he wouldn’t get nipped.  Meanwhile I scolded the dog, who then stopped.  But the minute I separated from the boy, the dog started lunging again.  So I put my arm around him, stroked his face and then Butterfinger and I walked him home.  While I could have helped him regardless of the touching, but it made him feel safer, feel comforted.  Without it he might has still felt scared and lost and alone.

Clearly touching needs to be appropriate, but I have learned the value of it with children, the connection it can provide, a link to help a child, encourage, and console.  Maybe I find this interesting because I do not have my own children and discovering how this stuff works.

As with everything, there are pros and cons for each of my countries.  For example, in Turkey people don’t stand in lines, they push their way to the front and fight for service.  But while you are standing there bewildered and waiting your turn, I guarantee that some old lady will haul your kid onto their lap so they don’t have to stand while you figure it out.

The Vicious Dog in question…

Yes, that is him playing with children on the slide.

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