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! 

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.