Tuesday, March 6, 2018

He's like Donkey and Prince Charming

 This little stone mosaic is supposed to say Ellada, which is how you say Greece in Greek. There are lots of smooth stones at this particular beach. As I searched for white and pink stones and arranged them, I thought about how much time was put into the mosaics that you find in old churches and temples. My life is pretty basic right now. I don't have much that I have to do except feed my kids and teach them. I have no extracurricular activities to drive them to or school for me to attend. I don't go to a gym and I don't work outside the home. I can definitely see how people a long time ago could pour everything from inside them into a work of art. Something that would reflect their peaceful surroundings and express something meaningful in their lives. I really love art. I love making art, but I don't do it enough. I also don't produce the art I visualize in my head, which means I should be honing some sort of technique or skill. During this down time I've had here in Greece I should be doing that honing of skills. Shame on me. America, with its competition, its continual desire for growth and expansion, its speediness, will never let me sit quietly for long. Not like here. Here, when I wake up in the morning and look out the window, I have time to notice that the colors of the sea and the sky make a dark and light line and the water is still. By midday they blend together in a greyish, tan mushy color. By evening the waves are crashing and the sunlight gleams off each wave as it speeds toward shore and the colors of the sky turn warm. I don't know if I've ever watched the horizon of the Pacific all day long. Nope. I haven't. Atticus has honed his rock skipping skills. I didn't know you could skip rocks on the sea. I thought it had to be still water. "I skipped it 30 times" he said. "Well, it was actually just skimming across the top of the water for a long time," he rephrased it. I think his uncle Cameron might have a challenger about now. 

I made dinner with the leftover chicken broth and meat from the other night. Rice, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, and a few eggs. My version of fried rice minus the soy sauce. 12 days left until we get to America. Should I buy a bottle of soy sauce for just 12 days? No. We don't use it that often. Then I decided to go to the store because there was not a snack in the house but I didn't want to go alone at night. When Jonathan is out of the country I always get scared and never do anything that would separate me unnecessarily from my kids. I am my mother's daughter. Skilled worrier. Sherman was willing to accompany me to the store, a 20 minute walk from the house. He's a willing companion and enjoys being with people a lot. Jonathan and I wonder where he got that trait because neither of us really love being with people ALL the time. Sherman must be with someone. In fact, we watched Shrek 2 tonight and Atticus and I realized that Sherman acts exactly like Donkey: very loyal, slightly annoying at times and extremely comical to people watching from the outside. But, he looks like Prince Charming. 

As we scurried down the beach pathway in the dark, huddled over from the wind, we discussed the menu for the next day. We have to because we don't have any excess food in the house since we are moving again soon. We will be eating red lentil soup for lunch and baked potatoes with assorted toppings for dinner. Sherman is also very good at shopping. He also likes hugs and isn't afraid to hold my hand or smile or talk to me. He's very sweet even if he tries multiple times to interrupt my alone time at night. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lucky seven

 I get exhausted just looking at this picture. It was taken almost ten years ago on a trip to London our family took while we were living in Turkey the first time. I remember the trip with fondness, although I can't for the life of me think of why. Look at those wiggly kids. It must be because I was still young and energetic with dreams of making my kids geniuses by showing them the cultures of the world. Well, those days are gone. That they just be good people is enough for me. 
This photo was taken a few days ago. Jonathan couldn't come with, I was taking the picture, and we had two additional kids. They enjoyed the Natural History Museum about the same as they did when we went ten years ago. It was another lovely experience. Its still free and still beautiful. 

London exhausts me though. Like most big cities, it is tedious. London was a bit strange though. It was easy to get around and find things but it was expensive, food portions were small, and no one talks. Seriously, we got on the underground and every seat was taken. Maybe there were a few people standing, but the entire space was silent. No one was talking or making any noise. I felt like I was in church praying that my kids would be well behaved. My kids were the only ones making noise and they weren't being naughty. They were just being themselves. It startled me that they could be so quiet. The metros in Istanbul were loud. Athens, they're a bit quieter but there is always some human noise. But in London, silence.
 This time around we rented a car and drove outside of London. We saw Stonehenge. It was really expensive. 19 pounds for an adult ticket. I told Jonathan that I didn't really care about going in myself and that he could take the kids. I had read a disappointing review of Stonehenge by a fellow Worldschooler on Facebook recently. She wasn't impressed, nor was her family. I kept thinking to myself, its just a place on Earth. Just like my house or a patch of grass. It doesn't mean anything. I don't need to spend that 19 pounds. I'd rather read my book. Jonathan insisted that I join them. Atticus even wanted to go in. I asked him why and he said that there is a scene in Transformers that takes place near Stonehenge. Of course. I'm glad we forked over the money. The museum portion was excellent and I wish I'd had more time to enjoy it and go through more of the exhibits. Stonehenge itself is striking and strange. It wasn't just another place on Earth. It was discovered and we get to know about it now.  
Then we drove southwestward. It was peaceful and the people were kind, open and friendly. Simply because of that, I want to make another trip to England in the future. I thought I'd had enough. I've probably been to London six times in my life and not once have I ever thought, "Gosh, I have to come back. This place has got something that I'd like to experience more of." Well, maybe the seventh time is the charm. I'm coming back and staying out of London. Anyone wanna come? 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Can feelings really be "fixed"?

 I'm tired of keeping my feelings inside. This is my place to vent. I'm mostly done with putting real feelings out on Facebook simply because it's not a great place to write extensively. I always need to write a lot and Facebook is too brief. 
I read this article on CNN today. Kohn's conclusions are clear but her suggestions are broad, flimsy and overly punitive. If I ran a newspaper, I'd ask for more concrete ideas in my Opinion pieces. I'd want to give the public more interesting ideas to discuss.  
To stop mass shootings, fix culture of hate
By Sally Kohn, CNN Political Commentator
Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT) February 20, 2018

“When it comes to hate and violence, we need to hold perpetrators accountable while simultaneously examining the climate and context that creates them -- and look at whatever it is that we, as a society, can do to prevent future atrocities.

Yes, I believe in holding perpetrators of violence accountable according to law. However, perpetrators of hate should not be held accountable by our government's laws. How can you hold someone accountable for their feelings? Should people be controlled by the law for feeling hate toward someone else? For feeling lust for someone they shouldn’t be feeling lust for? For feeling jealous? For feeling angry? For feeling anything? Really? Feelings? Can they and should they be controlled? One thing I love about the USA is that we can freely express our feelings without being put in jail. I do believe that feelings of hate can lead to violence, but I don’t think it’s one human’s right to exercise force upon another for having these feelings. Sometimes people act on their feelings but sometimes they don’t.


Kohn says we need to hold people accountable for hate and violence. Not sure if she meant ‘hate and violence’ as one thing, or ‘hate’ on its own, or ‘violence’ on its own.  

Kohn also calls for an examination of the climate and context that creates this hate and violence. Well, I think we already know what’s out there. I think most people know what’s out there. We see it all over the news, we hear people talking, we see hate and anger all over social media. If we happen to be a member of the targeted groups of hate and violence, then we know what’s out there because we are on the receiving end. Yes, there are people who have sheltered themselves from what some people are experiencing. That’s why there needs to be more dialogue between different groups of people. Jews and handicapped, Blacks and Asians, Mormons and battered women, LGBTQ and homeless, Democrats and Republicans, Muslims and Mexicans, Turks and Kurds, and Whites with everyone, etc.

Her idea to look at what we need to do as a society to prevent future atrocities is an obvious one. Everyone wants a solution because people don’t want to see kids shot up. Kids. Innocent kids. So, if the shooters are fueled by a climate and context of hate, then we need to make a conscious effort to fill people’s lives with the opposite. Love and kindness. Why can’t we just see that the government can’t solve these problems for us? Getting a law passed or regulations changed can effect small changes, but if the climate of hate and anger still abounds, then atrocities on the innocent will continue to occur with or without specific weapons. Efforts to show love and kindness are probably the most potent solutions we can offer as a society because they take time, they require self-control, sometimes they require self-restraint, they have to come from the heart and we have to mean them. Our world is full of quick-fixes, time savers, bland expressions of love (do ALL women love roses?), and cliché phrases that are meant to make people feel better but fail miserably. Many of us may not know how to show true love and kindness. That ability may have been bred out of us over the last few generations.  Love and kindness should be customized for every person on this earth and that, my friends, takes a concentrated and localized 
(not done from a screen) effort each day.

I believe that if we chose one person in our neighborhood, or in our own home, to love and show kindness to over the course of a year or two, our world would change for the better. The emotional climate in our communities would warm up and webs of affection would start appearing on our streets and in our apartment buildings that would bind us together forever, even after people move away. Memories last a long time. That is what our societies can do, and it doesn’t cost anyone a penny.      

Monday, February 19, 2018

Buying local, study abroad and HOME!

 The street market, laiki, comes every Saturday to our neighborhood in Athens. In the past my kids have expressed distaste at accompanying me to these street markets, no matter where we've lived. But those expressions over time have dissipated due to the fun that can be had a such places. The Turkish "pazar", street market or bazaar, tops all street markets I've been to. Lively, loud, musical, tasty, economical, and you leave feeling pretty good about your purchases. In Greece, the vendors are loud and lively too. The produce isn't quite as varied as you'd find in Turkey, which is not surprising since what you get depends entirely on where you live. That's a beautiful thing, to support and consume something that was planted and harvested not too far away from you while you are contributing to the livelihood of your neighbor who works out there on their farm, not 100 miles away from your doorstep. In Athens, my kids like the candy seller the best. I like her a lot too. There are three types of candy you can see in the bottom left corner of the picture above. The red one is a rose-flavored soft jelly candy, the green one is mastic flavor, and the purple one is grape. These are flavors typical of the Aegean region and I plan on buying a few kilos of these candies because after one bite of the mastic flavored one, my mind is immediately sent flying over the wine dark sea to the island Chios.
 When I was a young teenager I dreamed of travel. I dreamed of seeing the wonders of the world. I dreamed of speaking other languages. I thought it would turn me into some cosmopolitan, cultured person who had found happiness in discovering and connecting to the world around her. Now that I'm living in Athens, with my kiddos, and I see their reaction to the "wonders of the world" and ancient historical places, I realize that this whole idea of "seeing the world" is only what you make of it. It also matters WHO you choose to do this with. Be selective who you decide to see the world with. It matters. That's why I do not recommend university study abroad programs. If you want to see the world, go on a study abroad program. If you want to experience the world, don't. Maybe I'll write about my experiences with study abroad programs some other day. Some of my kids hate the Parthenon. One of my kids refers to the Greek Gods as "Rapist Gods", no offense intended for any people out there who worship these Gods. Sometimes I try to get my kids to appreciate the beauty of Greek architecture by taking them up Muses Hill, a few minutes walk from our apartment, and spend some time drawing the Parthenon. I hope they will remember what it was like walking around on that hill and what the views were like. An extremely beautiful place to be. Better than being in the Acropolis, in my opinion. The reason I want them to remember what it was like is because when people are exposed to beauty somewhere, it's likely they will recognize it in other places too. There is definitely not one beautiful place on earth. There are too many and wherever we are, we can find it.     
 I took this picture in front of the Olympic Stadium. Maybe my kids will think it's cool one day. I think it's cool because it symbolizes the coming together of different rich people to celebrate their love of sport. Of pushing physical limits. And being with others who love the same thing. During the Panhellenic Games that took place in different parts of Greece, they all competed nude, except for the charioteers. I can't deny that I enjoy watching certain events in today's Olympics. Some athletic expressions are beautiful to watch and I'm glad that some people spend their lives perfecting their art for all to see.
 My middle kid on Mars Hill.
I'll miss the days of stuffing seven people onto four chairs in the subways or buses on the way to church. Our family has been so united these past two and a half years. We do EVERYTHING together. I know where my kids are all the time. They come to me for everything. They play with each other. They don't seem to want anything else outside what we offer them. But, I know that once we touch down on American soil, that will all change. America is the home of independence and individuality and I know those values will penetrate my kids' hearts the moment they begin attending school in America, watching American TV and just being around other Americans. What is wrong with individuality and independence you ask? Individuality fosters selfishness as does independence. Independence is a myth. No one on Earth is independent. Everything we do is dependent on something else or someone else. Even our country is not independent. America is dependent on maintaining friendships with other nations that possess resources we want. Just because we have capital to pay for said resources doesn't mean we are independent. Blah blah blah . . . On a more positive note, I love America. It is my birthplace and always will be my true home. I want to live there and put down roots. I may not be the most patriotic person on the 4th of July but I will be an active person in my community wherever I end up living. I will talk with my neighbor, try to know him/her and love them. I will speak to people in the grocery store line and smile at people on the street. BECAUSE I CAN!!!!! If you live abroad long enough you begin to hear things about Americans. Not just the imperialist stuff but you hear things like how wearing white socks is so ugly and how Americans smile too much. Well, that's something I've stopped doing while abroad because it doesn't fit the cultures out here. But when I get home, I can smile again and not be afraid. 27 more days. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hector's 7th birthday

Today was Hector's 7th birthday. I have no little boys any more. None. All gone. Now they are on their way to being men. First little ones then big ones. I didn't make Hector go to school today. I decided to take him to SnowPark in the Torium AVM on the other side of Istanbul. We traveled 38 km on public transport to get to this curious place that I had been wondering about. When I wonder about something, it nags at me. Then I have a premonition every once in a while of me a few years into the future wondering why I never went to "that" place while I had the chance. My life isn't that busy and its not like I'm going to live in Turkey for my whole life. Taking advantage of these opportunities seems to always be on the back burner. Well, today was the perfect opportunity to go. Just Hector and me and five free hours.
We arrived before it opened and were ready when it finally did. It turned out to be a very small space with very controlled activities. It was fun for Hector but I was used to much more excitement and injuries when it comes to sledding. We paid for a maximum of 40 minutes, 20 of actual tubing and 20 of free time to explore the snowy space. It was kind of annoying that half of the time there was a photographer there telling us to do certain things for a good pic. Hector never puts his hands in the air and smiles. Why would I want this staged photo? At first I encouraged Hector to play along but finally I just stood there waiting. The guy was floored at the idea that Hector didn't want to hug the fake penguin or sit on the tree stump and smile. "No! He doesn't! We paid for a snow park, not a photo shoot buddy!" Hector and I played together and went down every slide there was (there were 3 types). It was enjoyable and affordable. The photo situation was annoying but it makes sense considering we are in Istanbul where many people find pleasure in taking selfies. I wouldn't take any kid aged 8 or older there. It was too tame. Glad I found out before I dragged everyone there for a family outing.
We boarded the metrobus, a guy snuggled up against my backside for part of the ride (super uncomfortable!), got off and boarded a different bus, got back to Sogutlucesme just in time to pick up Cinci from school. When we got home Sherman and Atticus had decorated the house and blown up balloons for Hector's birthday and they were hiding, waiting to surprise Hector. Sherman even set up a treasure hunt with clues for Hector. It was so sweet and really demonstrated how the older brothers care about Hector even though a lot of the time he annoys them.
I made a German chocolate cake for Hector, at his request, but he didn't like it so much. Now he knows that he doesn't like that kind. I loved it. All the ingredients were expensive. I stayed up until 2 AM preparing his cake. With Jonathan in Lebanon right now, its important that I do all I can to make birthdays and holidays special. Hector wanted to play video games for the rest of his birthday. So, I did it and I felt like Hector was happy on his special day.
Hector has had a hard time in school this past year. He struggles with the violent atmosphere at school. Turks are very verbal and very aggressive. Hector is verbal but not assertive. He has learned a lot of Turkish but still has a lot to learn, like problem solving words and sentences. He loves his mommy and I'm so happy he's my kid. He's so tender and sweet with me. He always says sorry if he thinks he's hurt me. If I ask him if he likes the food I made and he doesn't, he says, "Well, I don't like it that much, but I still love you Mom."
I'll always remember the time when he used to say, "Mom, I love you and you love me," like it was some revelation he'd received and wanted to share it with me. He was probably two years old. The best hugger of all my kids. I love Hector for always!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Gelato class: Deliberate attempt at experiencing life through my senses

          Yesterday, my family and I were strolling slowly along the banks of the Tiber River, just down from Castel Sant’Angelo, while we finished off the cones from our latest gelato purchase. There was a crispness in the heat. Is that even possible? I struggle to describe the change in the weather, in the time of year. All I know is that I’m cold at night, rather than sweating in bed, it’s chilly in the morning, and the leaves have begun to fall more plentifully. This is the change that signals a new year of learning. For most countries, school begins again in September. My country, has changed its dates, shifting the beginning of the school year ever earlier. This year its mid-August. For my kids when we settle back in Turkey, it will be September 19th. I find myself mentally listing all the tasks I must complete before that day. The happiest one is of me having to buy Helen and Hector a few new items of clothing and imagining their cuteness as I prepare them for their first days of school. Will Helen want braids or buns in her hair? Will Hector take some baby wipes and clean off the soles of his tennis shoes before he sets off for school? It is new for them, this school thing. Well, not really. But they do get excited about being with other kids their age. I love their obvious eagerness.

          As I look at the city of Rome all around me, I tell myself to live in the moment and stop fast forwarding my life away. That time will surely come. It always does. Spending the summer in Italy has been an excellent experience. Each person in our family has been able to do some pretty incredible things that we will always remember. Little memories, images, names, places, tastes, etc. will forever remain in my children’s brains and mine and Jonathan’s. What we didn’t get to experience much of is people. There just weren’t that many people that crossed our paths this summer that we were able to really feel like we knew. Only Hector and Helen got that opportunity since they attended a summer camp for almost a month of our stay here. This disappoints me and I will always regret it because I really feel like the best way to experience a country is, first and foremost, through the people that call it home. I could care less about the tourist attractions. They rarely reflect anything about the current population and only ask us to reach into the past, to ponder on a people long dead.

          Yesterday, Sherman and I went to a gelato making class. During our summer, we have eaten gelato every day with the exception of Sundays and the days where we decided to indulge in it twice. That’s 55 days of gelato!! My favorite gelateria has become Punto Gelato. It’s a small gelateria between our apartment and the kids’ library. We discovered it on our first visit to the library. They have the most delicious cinnamon flavors. I always get their Indonesian cinnamon. But when I noticed one day that they had two cinnamons, one Indonesian and one from Madagascar, I tried the one from Madagascar. So much better! But they rarely make it. Such a divine creation!
                   Our class was very much worth the 60 euros. Just to know how they make this delicious stuff is worth it to me. After living in Turkey so many years and not really having any great ice cream, I am financially and emotionally invested in finding the secret to the texture and flavors of gelato. Summers are sweltering and humid in Turkey and if I have to spend next summer there, I, gosh darn it, am going to figure out how to make me some gelato!!!!!! There are many components to a great gelato. I’ll narrow them down to two. One, fresh quality ingredients.
Two, the machine. The machine is where the problem is. They have an industrial strength machine about the size of a small refrigerator that makes 4 kilos at a time, and spins at a high velocity. This produces a creaminess in the gelato, even when there is no cream. You cannot sense any ice crystals. In our class, we made a small quantity of strawberry gelato. We used a small ice cream maker, used in home kitchens and available for purchase on amazon. This gelato had a great flavor, but the ice crystals were evident visibly and on my tongue as I ate it. I informed the lab master, the lady who makes the gelato, that Punto Gelato is very much needed in Istanbul and to consider opening an additional location there. We’ll see what happens. Sherman took the class with me and really enjoyed eating multiple helpings of gelato.

          This is just one of the many experiences we took advantage of while in Rome. Life is experienced through our senses, right? Sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. There were a handful of moments where a combination of senses were stimulated in just a way that I will remember those moments forever. Some places are so magical for me I can’t even begin to be grateful enough for my senses that let me experience life in such a way.   

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

438 Days

438 Days by Jonathan Franklin
Yes, it sounds like a copycat story of 72 Hours that was made into a movie starring James Franco. Who read 72 Hours? Not as many as those who watched the movie, right? Well, I watched 72 Hours. I didn’t read the book. However, because of my love of reading from actual books (and not digital methods) and the fact that my choices at the bookstores in Rome are limited, I actually chose a book I normally wouldn’t have spent the money or time to read. This book is a survival story about a fisherman, Salvador Alvarenga, who manages to survive in the Pacific Ocean for 438 days. He gets stuck in a storm off the southern coast of Mexico and is swept out to sea. At first he’s got company, his crewmate, but he dies. Alvarenga washes up 438 days later on Ebon Atoll, a part of the Marshall Islands, miraculously alive. Optimism, humor, knowledge of life on the sea, and dreams of seeing his daughter again all were instrumental in his survival.
I was deeply struck by the role optimism played in his survival and I realize as a parent that this is one quality I want to foster in my children before they leave my nest. I have two particularly negative children and thinking of what their future may be like scares me. Salvador Alvarenga may not be as optimistic and humorous as he is portrayed in the book but if he possesses a quarter of that humor or optimism, he’s fascinating. He’s the kind of person people naturally want to be around. I wish him the best in his life and I recommend this book to young people and to people who think they have it hard in life.
Thanks to Alvarenga’s example, I was able to make it through a potentially disastrous situation on a ferryboat from Palermo to Rome with four of my kids. Of course I wasn’t stranded, starving or in danger, but I did have passage on a large boat full of Italians but no seats for my kids or myself. We were just supposed to find a spot somewhere on the boat to plop ourselves for the 14 hour trip. Very strange procedure. Why anyone would travel this way is beyond me. Anyway, I just thought of Alvarenga and realized that we didn’t have it half bad. It was warm, dry and my kids actually listen to me 75% of the time. The lights were bright all night, the floor was hard, but my kids slept well. I even whipped out our Peppa Pig inflatable raft and Helen’s inner tube to use as sleeping cushions. 

 Those who evidently knew what they were doing brought their king size inflatable mattresses and blankets and pillows. The whole shebang! Everyone else got the nooks and crannies of the boat first so we were stuck out in the open at first. Sherman went and scavenged stray chairs to bring back to our spot to create a semicircle of safety for the night. We survived all thanks to my optimism, my kids’ help and willingness to cooperate and Sherman’s innovation.  
Everyone was happy in the morning!