Friday, August 5, 2016

Exiled on Elba

Sherman is my little Napoleon. He's short. He's determined. And he's really pissed off that the restaurant doesn't have the seafood he'd planned on eating.
By a twist of fate my family and I have ended up on the island of Elba for the last four days. Those of you who find the name familiar probably were listening during your history classes in high school. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about just google it. Basically Napoleon got himself exiled to this island a long time ago for being too ambitious and successful. People like Napoleon scare other power hungry people, so the great leaders in Europe had to find a nice place to put him so he'd just stay away. Elba. Elba is really nice. It's a large-ish island in Tuscany off the western coast of mainland Italy. We swam, hiked, swam, picked blackberries, explored grocery stores, played ping pong and pool games, filmed a video at Napoleons summer house for Jonathan's job, ate food and gelato, slept, etc. 

We meandered through Napoleon's summer house and his regular residence today. Really, he couldn't have had it much better material-wise. His house was gorgeous. He had all the furniture and stuff he could want. He had a great view and plenty of space. Upon arrival he took control of the entire island, people and all. In fact, as we were on our way to his house, we asked a local gentleman for directions and his response was "The house of the Emperor is . . ." and he indicated with his hand. So apparently Napoleon still has his followers. However, after 10 months of life there he took off. And I ask myself, am I any different from him? Well, yes. I'm certainly not as ambitious as he was. My goals aren't as big. But if I look at my life and take account of what I have, am I still desiring something else? Would I dump what I have if there was a chance I could attain something more? Well, yes, but I don't think its necessary to dump what you have to move forward. Maybe sometimes.  
Back to my main topic. Napoleon gave up this paradise on earth, Elba, and returned to his goals. I guess what I'm trying to say is that when I realized that Napoleon had a real good set up here on Elba (because at first I thought he was all alone and shackled in some dark dungeon with only one feeble robed gatekeeper to bring him his daily gruel and empty the contents of his chamber pot off the rocky cliff out of the barred windows . . . . eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-splassssshhhhhh!!!!!!) I wondered why he'd ever leave. Just like I wonder why women who have beautiful hair bother to dye it or change it so often. Or why Volkswagen stopped making the Vanegon when they had something so good going on. Or why people stopped growing their own vegetables because store bought ones taste inferior and always will. Why? Well, the answer is "They wanted something different" and even though I think that "something different" is not that great, they think its pretty awesome. Napoleon had a sweet house, view, garden, library, etc. according to me, a female in the 21st century. To him, his sphere of influence had shrunk considerably and he could probably never forget the greatness of his position or the vastness of his power. He was probably pretty bored talking with the same old people too. So, I can't really judge him for taking off. The moral of the story: We shouldn't judge others if they want to do things we think are weird, lame, stupid, or even dangerous. Chances are we appear stupid to at least one other person on this earth, but they have had the decency to withhold their verbal judgments from us for this long. And if they haven't, and you've already been told you're stupid, join the club and move forward. 
-Napoleon did, and look where he is!
-No, stupid! In the history books! 


Monday, July 18, 2016


We had the fortune to be able to rent a car and drive our family to Napoli for the weekend. Rome has many things to see and do, but so do other parts of Italy. In 2002 I took my first Italian class at BYU. I don't even remember my instructor's name. When I decided to add the class late, I remember my stupefied feeling when the teacher said, "Salve" to me when I approached him with my add slip and I just stood there looking at him repeating the word in my head over and over again. I knew nothing about Italian. I was just taking the class to get an A and get admitted to the same university my husband attended. Since then I've been to Italy many times but for very short durations. I've been to Venice, Milan and Rome. Up to this moment, I'm smitten with Napoli, really. It's rough around the edges but the Lungomare, the seaside walkway, took my heart. Literally the image of the words of my Italian instructor's favorite song "Santa Lucia". At 8 o'clock in the evening, the sun sets. It casts its orange light on the floating boats on the water. The Isle of Capri sits in the distance. The surface of the water takes on a silvery shimmer as if something white is rising up from below. And the people are jolly, the families are real, the voices are loud, the food offers its smells as your step nears. And gelato everywhere! Oh gosh! I loved being there in that moment so much that I returned the next night at the same time. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Artichokes and lemonade in Rome

Our time in Italy is passing slowly by. Today we took a walk to the Jewish quarter, once the Jewish ghetto. We tried a dish I'm already dreaming of making when I someday have a house and a yard to cook in. Fried artichokes. They just fried the entire artichoke until it was golden and crispy. They threw some really tasty salt on it and served it with a lemon wedge. Yummmmmmmm! I'm not a foodie or a food writer or a restaurant critic or anything like that. I just like to eat tasty things and this was tasty to me. So first, I need a place to cook that's not going to get all hot because I'm cooking indoors. Then I need some good artichokes. I guess I'll have to grow some but I don't even know what climate they grow in and I don't know where I'll be living. So, I'll deal with that later.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to cook as little as possible in this heat. I never really was taught how to cook at home. My father cooked in our family and he learned to cook the food he ate in the army. Lots of sloppy, heavy, creamy food full of beans and meat. Guess that's why my brothers and I turned out so hearty. "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart, the more you eat 'em, the more you fart, the more you fart, the better you feel, so let's eat beans for every meal!" I can still hear Jeremy Simmons, our neighborhood pal, and my brothers singing that song at the table. Anyway, putting together something that can pass as a meal, from an American standpoint, and not using a heating device is pretty hard unless you're only making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I can just say that the Italians and the Turks have got things right. They're not dying off from heart disease, diabetes, etc. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think I've discovered the answer to all America's obesity problems. Just turn off the air conditioner and don't use your microwave, stove or oven to make food. There's no way you can fry yourself anything. There's no way you can eat too much because raw stuff gets boring after a while. Just a tip from a fellow American who regularly eats for pleasure.

 Sherman is trying to make money so he can buy a quadcopter. I told him he could have 5% of the grocery bill if he does the shopping for me during our stay in Italy. He's all for it, but tonight I needed a lemon for a salad so I called him over and told him I needed him to go to the store for a lemon. He said he also wanted some lemons to make lemonade. I said okay, buy more than one. Buy a whole bag, that's fine. So he goes. He comes back with a bag of oranges. When I see them I realize that my kid is blind. Look at his glasses. First, we need to take him to the eye doctor every year and he's six months behind schedule, and second, his glasses are always dirty. Poor kid! I said, Sherman, these are oranges, not lemons. To make a long story short, Sherman made lemonade in the end. He found the bamboo stick and convinced his dad to hit some of the lemons off the tree that he was too short to reach. He was pretty proud of his lemonade. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

What have I ever done to be "proud" to be American?

Really, what have I done? Nothing really. I was born there. That's it. OK, maybe I do something. Pay taxes. Memorize the pledge of allegiance. Have a preference for certain sports. But I don't really do anything to contribute to this nation that is the USA. People that serve in the military, they have a right to be proud. People that represent the USA in their jobs have a right to be proud. People that actually contribute to the the safety, education and well-being of other Americans can say "I'm proud to be American" if they so feel. The words "I'm proud to be an American" have never seriously come out of my mouth. Oh, and I just remembered, the people that emigrate from their native countries to the USA, and go through a long and tedious process to "become" American citizens have contributed to this country. They actually do something to become American, even if it only means making their way through the yucky bureaucratic steps and getting the proper paperwork to complete the process. They sacrificed something by choice to "become" American.
What I really feel right now in my life is grateful to be American. I'm deeply grateful. I actually feel like a leech sometimes because of the benefits my US Passport gives me. I'm treated differently throughout the world. Sometimes its good, sometimes its bad. But mostly its good. I can travel to a lot of countries because of the passport I possess. It's not the best one in the world for travel, but its pretty good. On the other hand, I get unwanted attention sometimes because I'm American. I went on a jog this morning around Taksim, the absolute center of everything Istanbul, just because that's where our airbnb is. I was hesitant because I know Turkish men in the Taksim area are used to seeing "yabanci" women and they only think two things = sex and money. So I went on my jog knowing that I'd have to deal with possible advances from men. I put on my best bitch face and went early. Fortunately, I only had to deal with three guys running alongside me for a while until they saw that my pissed off face wasn't going away. They fell back. Note: Turkish men usually only act like this in touristy areas. They have been very respectful to me and most maintain their distance everywhere else in Turkey. 
I'm grateful for the ease of life I've enjoyed in America, the access to great education, the options of self-realization that are there for me and the inability to go hungry there. I'm grateful that there is freedom of religion there and I hope it stays that way. I'm grateful the LGBTQ population can have a parade and not be imprisoned because of their sexual orientation. I'm grateful for the beauty of nature throughout the country, the opportunity to access it by roads, and I'm glad that the government protects and preserves it. I'm grateful that there are public beaches there and that I can just walk out to the water and jump in without having to pay entrance fees. I'm grateful for so many things about America. But most of all, I'm grateful that my American status permits me to meet other people on this Earth easier. That is what life is all about. Making our lives livable and
helping others make their lives livable. Can I say it any better than Thomas Jefferson? Nope.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I'm not proud to be American, I'm grateful. Maybe someday I'll be proud, but not yet.    

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cheerios, the staple of American breakfast

I took a short trip to California to drop Atticus off for the summer and I picked up the items on my kids' lists. Cereal is always on the list because frankly, no other country truly appreciates cereal like Americans. Our choices are narrow here in Turkey and for our fast breakfast we eat cornflakes. Hector and Helen wanted a box of Cheerios and Cinci wanted Life. So here Helen is, the morning after my arrival ready to eat her Cheerios. Not in the bathroom though. I just made her come to the bathroom so I could put her hair up before she started eating, otherwise I'd have to brush out all the crazy tangles because she decided to dump food all over her hair.
  Here are my last pictures of Atticus before my departure.
This one is of him running away from his mom, which is exactly what a boy wants to do at his age. 

Here he is, not wanting a photo, with Eric who is basically his uncle through friendship. Eric is a carpenter with his own business. Atticus gets to learn some skills this summer and see what "real" work is all about. Enjoy your Cheerios Atticus!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dostoevsky on parenting

the brothers karamazov ile ilgili görsel sonucu
OK so maybe Dostoevsky wasn't specifically giving parenting advice but this piece really hit home for me at this particular moment. In a time where the main worries of first world parents revolve around things such as educational success, good social skills (having friends) or high achievement in extracurricular activities, this little tidbit at the end of The Karamazov Brothers glimmers like a rare jewel. Unlike the usual concerns parents have, this one made me think, "Well, here's something I have some control over!"
Alyosha, the protagonist of The Karamazov Brothers, is giving some advice to some young boys at a pivotal moment in their lives (after the death of their schoolmate). He says:

     You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.

     This had a profound effect on me and as I think of it, memories of my childhood flicker through my mind like blinking Christmas lights. Of my grandmother brushing her teeth with the Water-Pik toothbrush, my aunt Kathy always giving me a nut to eat whenever she was preparing food, of me swimming in a huge bucket with my brother in our backyard, of my mom watering her garden every day in the late afternoon, of my dad making breakfast in the kitchen on Sunday morning with the oldies channel blasting on the radio, of how my grandpa would sew and resew up his old leather boots because he could never throw anything that was still usable away, etc., etc., etc... it could go on and on. Of course there were bad memories too but I won't share those.
     I was just given a little hope with this because lately I've felt like my kids' childhood isn't great and its my fault. It's all really in my head because my kids aren't complaining at all. It's all me. Me and my stupid overthinking brain. ANYWAY . . . I just got happy over Alyosha's pep talk and I thank Dostoevsky personally and would give him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek if we were ever to meet. My kids have some pretty good memories already and I hope I can help to fill their lives with more before they go out to meet this cold, dark world on their own.    

Friday, March 18, 2016

EU & Turkey make deal- a life for a life

I'm so tired of hearing about Salah Abdeslam being found. Yeah, he killed people. OK, he's a terrorist but there's more going on in the world that I'd like to hear about than the police finding guilty criminals. The EU just made a deal with Turkey to trade a life for a life. I watch the images on TV of these people, fellow humans who are stuck. Unable to go anywhere. There was a little girl peeping out of her tent carrying her pink backpack, which was perhaps her only valued possession. Turkey, the country I reside in right now, has just agreed to take 3.3 billion euros to "help the Syrians". I've seen how they help them. This doesn't look good. I can't even imagine what the Turks are going to do to try to stop Syrians from leaving their Aegean shores. How do they intend to put these measures into practice? 
What I find most troubling is that the EU and Turkey are dictating the lives of other humans for money. The EU doesn't want them within their borders. Turkey doesn't want them either, but there is something they do want. They want to be able to travel freely in Europe which is something that most Turkish citizens aren't permitted to do. The EU has granted this permission and Turkey has taken the bait. I'm sad because I see the Syrians in this city. I see how their children travel on the buses selling kleenexes for money. I read comments on facebook groups of expat women in Istanbul (who are not refugees themselves) chiding the parents of these children on how they should take better care of their children and teach them how to be more careful while riding buses. I also know firsthand how difficult it is to get legal permission to do anything in this country. Turkey says they are granting work permits to refugees and are permitting Syrians to attend schools here but I have yet to see that anywhere. Every refugee I know attends an "unofficial" school. Because I'm foreign and have no Turkish familial connections, I haven't been able to get my own children permission to attend school since I quit my first job. (I'm not complaining about my situation. I love my new life.) What I don't like is that Turkey says that refugees have freedoms here, namely permission to work and study, and I myself cannot get these things without having a job to get them for me. I'm stuck homeschooling my kids. What about the refugees who are living in squalor in this freezing city! Of course they can't watch their own kids! They're trying to find food and warmth.
I just don't know what Turkey can do for these refugees even with 3.3 billion euros. A meal here and there. A lira here and there. Not enough. I don't think the EU is showing enough foresight in this issue. Taking refugees back will not contain them here for long when there continues to be little opportunity for them to live decently. 
Perhaps many people in the western world think it should be easy for Syrians and other refugees to integrate here. Just to inform those who think this: Syrians generally speak Arabic and Turks speak Turkish. This makes finding work and attending school very difficult. I've tried to find "good" materials to teach my children Turkish. Non-existent. I haven't looked to see what there is for Arabic speakers wanting to learn Turkish. You may think that if they are immersed in the language they will pick it up like the Mexicans in the USA do. Well, Spanish and English have a lot more in common than Turkish and Arabic. Different alphabets, different writing systems, left to right or right to left orthography, and possibly more. I don't speak Arabic so I'm not aware of all of the differences. But again I say, how will the children integrate and learn Turkish if they are not permitted to attend school with the Turks? 
I hope Erdogan, the president of Turkey, will honor his promises and devote all that money to the Syrians. On a more positive note, Turks are inherently kind-hearted people. I'm white, female, a mother, not obese, clean, and American. All these things may affect how Turks treat me. On a personal level they've been kind and helpful to me and my family. I've also seen them being kind and loving to all types of people on the street on a regular basis. Not something I've seen in my home country. There is potential here. I hope for the best.
I'm kind of pissed that Americans are scared of helping. As I contemplate my return to the states next year I dream of bringing a Syrian family with me. I haven't met them yet and I don't know if I will be able to do anything, but I just saw on the news that 3.7 million Syrian children are now called the "lost generation". There is so little a human needs to survive and thrive. I think of my life in the USA and marvel at the abundance me, my friends and family all had. Food, warmth, shelter, clean water. I had more than enough of all this. Now that Turkey is trying to absorb all these refugees, I immediately think "Why?". Why must it only be Turkey? Why not everyone and especially those with plenty? 
  No easy answers, never easy answers, right?