Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If You Are What You Eat...

...Then I'm full of guts!

Hi all,
Sorry, couldn't help myself. If you inspect the reddish picture very carefully (and I wouldn't...) you may get to see little squigglies of the sheep intestine I ingested today. In fact, I probably have intestines in my intestines. Oh. I'm sorry, I should warn you, this post probably isn't for the weak of stomach. Better late than never, right?

My Second Eating Victory
Actually, it only involves me because now it doesn't. Clear, right? Well, let me back up. When I came here, I was surprised (shocked?) to find out that HM still feeds K, one spoonful at a time. I mean, 5 years of cold meals? Is that normal by American standards? However, she admits that it's a bad habit, and he obviously eats by himself at school, but she couldn't seem to break him of it. However, 2 weeks in, and I'm a little tired of it already. So, yesterday during his snack I did a little experiment. (My future child(ren?..urg) will thank God that I'm not actually a psychologist...) I loaded the spoon up (he was watching TV) and simply left it on the plate. After some goldfish impressions, he caught on that the spoon wasn't appearing. He looked down, picked up the spoon and fed himself! I did several more spoonfuls, and then let him take over the scooping part. Sure, he's a bit slower and a bit messier but he ate it all himself. I, in return got to gloat tonight when E. pantomined that she would feed K first tonight. After some awkward gesturing, I got her to just watch. Pretty soon we were waggling eyebrows like crazy.

I Finally Got a Bag:

HM took me to find the language school today. (After which I went and got the sheepwich - 2, as they cut one in half to see if I'd eat it. It was really spicy and so I concentrated on that and managed both halves. I think it bothers me more that it didn't really bother me...). It's rather simple: I'll take a minibus (HM will have U show me once or twice, since it finally sunk in today that I've lived in piddling towns in comparison to Istanbul my entire life), then the Metro to Taksim (15 minutes?) and then it's a 5-10 minute walk from the station. Go straight, hang a left from the mosque, another left across from the police station and then the first right. I also picked up my books:

And so yeah, that was pretty much my day (Just Hitit! : ).
Hope all is well,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crabby McCrabster

Hi all,
As you may have already guessed, today was a rough one. Despite HM's best efforts to get the kids to go to bed earlier, it's turning into a nightly battle. Today both K and G were extremely crabby.

Special K
Couldn't help myself...Anyhow, K managed to "hurt" himself not once, not twice, but a grand total of three times. The first time we were having his afternoon snack and he told me "Wait...wait!" and walked off, around the corner towards the kitchen. 5 seconds later, wails. Both E and I came running, and though he obviously wasn't hurt he made a lot of noise. I later had him reenact what he'd done, and he'd walked into the door frame. Next he was rolling around on his bed and very gently bopped himself on the head...again with the waterworks. The 3rd incident is so minor that I don't even remember it. Plus there were a few random screaming fits. He was a real joy today.

Drama G.
Of course, this would've been a lot more manageable if G would've helped out in any way. However, he is also sleep deprived and so likes to aggravate any type of situation by being oh so helpful and pummeling his brother. K likes to goad him, and then immediately bursts into tears. Of course, G doesn't hold himself back much. You'd think with about 7 years between them he would. Oh well.

So, that was pretty much my day. To make it absolutely perfect, HM wasn't able to come home when she usually does (around 8:30) so the challenge of getting at least K to bed fell to us. Our communication of eyebrow action and facial expressions were pretty great.
Anyhow, hope your day went better than mine!

Monday, September 28, 2009


(Image not mine)
Hi all,
There's a pretty interesting stray animal/human dynamic here. I noticed right away that there were a large amount of dogs that stay on the sides on the roads (or sometimes in the middle of them, which scares the crap out of me). They all are usually a dirty of-white color, large dog of an indeterminate breed - although something related to a German shepherd would be my guess - and a large percentage have what seems to be a plastic tag stuck through their ears.

I also noticed several running around in the gated community, and so I asked HM about it. She said that there has been a huge controversy over their presence, because several attacks have taken place (them attacking people's pets as they walk them, as no one uses a leash here). However, people are very attached to the dogs (several like to feed them and most are rather affectionate) so an alternative was found - one that is used many other places here. There is a center which collects the stray animals and gets them updated on their shots, and then puts the plastic chips on their ears so people know that they aren't rabid. (Although I've noticed several different colors, so I'm not sure if this indicates a year or not?)

So it's a rather interesting dynamic. The dogs that live along side the road I often see getting fed or watered by people who stop at vegetable stands or by the parks. There's also some little structures, doghouses or stands that are covered (for water or food?) alongside the road as well. So, though it's sad to see the dogs, it's also reassuring that they are being treated relatively kindly and that people genuinely like them. I suppose they prefer their lives (I haven't seen any that look like they're starving or terribly diseased) than to the USA's kill centers. Food for thought.

Hope all is well,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Well, Hot Dog

Hi all,
Just a silly short post today as I spent a lot of the day trying not to be underfoot with older relatives around visiting.

Why a "Hot Dog"?
Is exactly the question HD put to me as he handed me what they like to call "sausages" after G's basketball training session today. Granted, this hotdog was topped not only with ketchup, but also with french fries and mayo (urg?), but was most definitely a hot dog. I proffered several explanations, my top two being perhaps that they were rumored to be made out of dog meat, or that they looked like Wiener dogs (with Wiener coming from Vienna just like frankfurters coming from Frankfurt!). But I honestly told him that I didn't know. So, I did what every post graduate knows will unduly aggravate their English teachers do: I looked it up on Wikipedia. (I have one Prof who is a Chaucer Goddess and likes to go on and mess around with facts about him, she despises the open domain format and the reliability that people assume comes from it!) It pretty much corresponded with my thought Wikipedia states that meat grinders were suspected of/ rumored to be putting dog meat into their sausages as early as 1845. Apparently there were also links to show the use of the phrase "hot dog" as early as the 1890's. So, there you have it! Maybe.

Hope all is well,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Poor Ovaries

Hi all,
I've learned some nice Turkish traditions/customs that I've enjoyed finding out about, so I thought I'd share!

Not Only Good for Running With...
Yes, it's scissors. While watching a Turkish soap opera (or mini-drama, whichever you prefer) that seem to abound here, I noticed a funny scene. Seemingly reminiscent of the Princess and the Pea, two old ladies asked the young girl to have a seat - gesturing her over to an empty couch. She sat down, yelped, and immediately jumped up again. The ladies ran over and crowed, ho. Throwing their heads back and sticking their thumb in between their teeth. (Shakespeare style...). Confused, I asked G what had just happened. Apparently there is an old belief that if a pregnant women takes the test, whichever she sits on indicates the gender of the baby. I believe that scissors stood for a girl, and the knife for a boy. As for the thumb....

The Only Appropriate Place for a Thumb
The biting thumb gesture indicates fear (much like we would hold a hand over our mouths, I suppose). Now, if you hold your thumb poking out between your first two fingers, it's the equivalent of our middle finger. So, not recommended! And finally...

Yes, I Said Ovaries
In Germany it was customary to have "houseshoes" - essentially slippers that you wore at all times. So I was not surprised to find that they are also common here. Each house usually has a few extra pairs for guests, but not usually for women with my sized feet. It seemed to agitate my HM a lot, and her mother even more. Hm said that she used to walk around everywhere barefoot, which drove her mother up the wall. Apparently there's an old belief that walking around barefoot will cause you to somehow freeze your ovaries and become infertile. I get a kick out of this, as I always have cold feet, socks/slippers or not. However, as soon as she gets around to it, I'm sure another pair of crocs (I know, I know....sigh) will probably be parked by the door for me!

Anyhow, that's about all I have. There were many visitors and neighbors running in and out today, but nothing really too exciting happened. However, tomorrow is sure to be another long day (with perhaps more compliments from neighbor boys about my amazing goalkeeping skills?)...
Hope all is well,

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vengeance is Sweet

Hi all,
Today wasn't a very interesting day. I got up a little later than yesterday, and came up to find that E. the new housekeeper, had covered breakfast stuff for me. Well, this won't do at all - I don't want her feeling resentful, especially if I decide to just have bread with butter and honey like this morning. I spent a good part of the day in my room reading up on various things, and whenever I attempted to come upstairs something prevented me: strangers ringing the doorbell (which it makes no sense for me to answer!) or a freshly wet landing. About an hour before the boys came home though, I managed to get upstairs!

Let the Games Begin
HM wants me to spend at least a half an hour speaking with G in English. However, he's 11 (almost 12) and doesn't consider me to be the coolest person. So this forced attempt is hard to do. To make matters worse, K needs an eye on him if he's not parked in front of the TV. So after about 20 minutes I went to take K outside for some much needed exercise. Basketball, a made up game and a game of tag later (well over an hour) and we were both tuckered out. I took him inside for a bit to recover (it was starting to get dark, around 7) and he switched the TV on. I thought, ok, let him watch a cartoon or two and I'll draw him into UNO. However, E. ran into the room and started talking to K, and I could make out "No" and "Television" in her diatribe. Now, I know that kids shouldn't have a lot of TV time, but 30 minutes isn't going to kill the kid.

So, I went up to talk to G, (to doublecheck that their mother hadn't said anything to E that she forgot to tell me...) and assured me that I was correct. He went and talked to E. and came back and said that K could watch one show and then had to color. Now, I agree that this is a better plan (especially now that I know they have art supplies at home and know where they are now!) but I slightly resented this intrusion. We have very clearly delineated jobs, as HM has made sure to tell me, and I hope she will respect me enough not to do that again. Sigh. I need to learn Turkish.

The kids have a game that they like to play called Tambala. It's kind of like Bingo, but there's 3 winners (the first to get one row across the long card, then two rows then a blackout) and always a "prize". Last time we played with smallish chocolate bars, and so K and I did for the game today. However, there weren't any smaller ones left for the second game that K wanted to play, so I brought up some of the smaller Wonka candy that I'd brought with me. K got bored pretty quickly and proceeded to start flicking his markers under the couch. When I said "No." he promptly took the first prize, a banana laffy taffy. I smiled. Those small ones are pretty tough to open. So I cracked open the mini box of nerds and watched him struggle with it while I cleaned up. 5 minutes later, I poured out some Nerds and said "Mmmmm". We made eye contact and both immediately cracked up. I let him struggle for another minute and then offered to help. Relieved, K carried it over to me, and his eyes grew wide as it took me less than 5 seconds to open it. I think he got the picture.

Anyhow, like I said, a not very exciting day. Tomorrow is the weekend, and hopefully I can introduce and play Apples to Apples Jr with G, HM and HD. We will see...
Hope all is well,

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Hi All,
Today I kept relatively busy rearranging my room (G got a new bedroom set as he's outgrown his, and so I get to use his "small" desk : ). They also brought up another it's shoved underneath for now. The new housekeeper arrived, and she seems very nice but of course a bit nervous. I'm put in the awkward position of letting her know that she doesn't have to do anything for me and so I'm looking forward to some Turkish conversation as she doesn't speak any English.
Anyhow, back to Brains!

Play Time
K and I went outside to play soccer (Football! Football!) but I soon noticed that one of my "goalposts" (really an olive tree) was teeming with hornets. So I shooed K inside and though I'd pantomimed the problem, made sure that G told him why we couldn't play soccer anymore today. So we switched to basketball for a bit. But eventually he starts to get silly and start throwing ridiculous shots. Sensing a need to find a new distraction, I turned into a Zombie. (Although I managed a good transformation, I think you'd have to be there to appreciate my talent.) Slowly staggering around I moaned "I'm going to eat your Braaaains". Delighted, K ran around, until I eventually caught him in a corner of the garden. I promptly made a slurping noise and announced he was a Zombie too. We staggered our way into the house (arms stiffly held in front of us) while we attacked an unwary G and U. We went to find HM, but she was unavailable. It was a good time and when I told her about it she said "Oh, Zombies? Good!"

Hope all is well,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Palace Feet

Hi All,
How do you all like my rockin' bright pink protective booties? In an effort to preserve the Dolmabahce Palace complex they require EVERYONE to wear them. Despite the fact you walk on carpets the entire time. They were especially annoying at the doors, where they'd put wedges up. A nice gesture, but it made for absolutely no grip and I almost fell 2-3 times. Also slightly ridiculous was the strict no-photography policy. Now, No Flash, sure. However, it's not exactly the Sistine Chapel (and that's only because some stupid Japanese company has exclusive rights... but I digress...) and with all the security around I think they could manage to keep a no flash policy and still preserve the building.

The Dolmabahce Palace...
...was easy to find, though a bit misleading (since they label the mosque nearby the I made a small detour!). It was relatively easy to get to - only one switch between the Metro and the Funicular and a 10 minute walk by foot, parallel to the Bosphorous. It also seemed to serve as a military post (we had to go through a security stand before we even got to buy tickets, same as Hagia Sophia) and had soldiers here and there. As I came to reflect on it, the palace reminded me of a sort of combination between the Danish palace in Copenhagen and Neuschwanstein in Germany.

Denmark had the frozen guards as well (think Buckingham palace style...lots of photo ops, apparently!) but had more a feel of the 19th century than Neuschwanstein. However, the opulence of the palace was also huge - and the man who built it greatly resembles Ludwig the II. Though I'm not sure if they murdered (drowned?) Sultan Abduelmecid. The 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, A. (for simplicity) built the palace between 1843 to 1856 - as a sort of last ditch effort to proclaim the strength of the empire. It caused significant economic stress on the Empire and was inhabited for less than 100 years. Ataturk used it as a presidential summer residence (the view of the Bosporus is breathtaking) and I even saw the bed he died in.

The furnishings in the palace were quite ornate, and more genuine than Neuschwanstein. The floors were wood - and had beautifully intricate patterns made from Beech, Rosewood and Mahogany. One of my highlights was the Murano glass chandelier - ironically in the prayer room not sure the Pope would've approved... - which was huge, green and slightly gaudy. But it gave me a scale of the worth. There were beautiful rugs everywhere, of course, but a lot of the crystal (including the famed crystal staircase) was from England. Also on display were gift sets (because one was never good enough?). Russia sent matching bearskin rugs, while large urns seemed to be a favorite of others. I laughed when everyone was fascinated by the rugs - they weren't very big by Minnesota standards!

The harem was very similar, although that tour was in Turkish. However, the first tour guide was so soft-spoken that I mostly read the information pamphlet anyway. Then came the Crystal Pavilion, which only had a few sculptures of note (including a crystal piano) but overlooked the aviary. Which now mostly consists of chickens and few peacocks.

The Call to Prayer

Now, the full prayer takes at least 5 minutes, but I managed to catch a clip or two (the other one I'll put up in my online album). It's coming from the closest Mosque. I asked my HM how they did it and got the basic explanation. The voice is not a recording, and the holy men have a rotation for who does it when. So, some have wonderful voices and others...not. Also, there's one per minaret (oh my goodness...there must be literally hundreds...there's even one by HM and HD's office!) and the sound quality differs a lot. It's a nice sound to hear (as I haven't heard any bad ones yet...) and I suspect it will soon become like the trains in Grand Forks, although blessedly unable to wake me at one in the morning until I become accustomed!

Why I Don't Shop
Well, the US malls don't usally require one to step through security measures (including a bag scan and metal detector) so that threw me a bit after my morning out. I was at the mall close to HM/D's office and was going to find "Electroworld" so I could buy a microphone headset. I was flushed with my transportation prowess, and was feeling good. I even found a map right away, and confidently pushed the -2 button on the elevator...only to go up. Huh. Someone boarded, and pushed the ground floor, so I tried again. I held the button, and pushed again when it didn't work. The young woman said something to me, saw my incomprehension and tried again: "English? This elevator only goes floor one and 3."
Well duh, Steph, how could you not know that? What kind of elevators don't only go to highly selective floors? Honestly.

Somewhat subdued, I rode the escalators and managed to find (and then avoid the personnel) in Electroworld. Purchase managed, I got upstairs no be daunted at the exit. Fortunately I watched others walk through the gap in security, so I did the same. When no yelling ensued, I felt safe. I walked back to the business office building and sat down to read some Istanbul history while waiting for U. After a particularily confusing conversation I was able to discern that he was parked across from me and managed to get home. A safe end to a good day!

Hope all is well,
PS See the sesame sticks in the photos above...they were homemade!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Family Family Family

Hi all,
That was the theme for Bayram. HM's brother, sister and nephew stayed the night at HM's Mother's house just 2 blocks away. We'd had a large feast of lasagna (ala Turk), which sported mushrooms, a white sauce, meat, peppers and lasagna noodles. Interesting, but very good. Before I went to bed I was "warned" that we'd be grilling today: "The best grilling you've ever eaten!" my HD boasted...

Ah, the Food
Breakfast was traditional and later today, with a cooked semi-basted egg, cheeses, bread and sliced sausage that looks like thick pepperoni. Yesterday, after I'd eaten a similar breakfast, HD leaned over and said - with a twinkle in his eye - "Do you want to know what you just ate?". Rewinding to the conversation about intestines, I thought it over and said "Well, I'm pretty sure it's not intestine...oh god, tell me it's not horse?"
"Horse?! is cow...but a male not beef. What would you call it?"
"Um, I'm pretty sure we'd still call it beef..."
This inexactness chafed a little, it seems. Later, when we sat down to eat the grilled feast HD jokingly said that it could be horse - or dog! (Apparently horse isn't eaten in Turkey, but really, it was a fair question on my part, because it IS eaten as a sausage in some places in Germany. So I meant no disrespect when I suggested it somewhat comforted me for him to compare it to dog!)

But..the grilling was fantastic. It was all mutton, little bone pieces, little steaks, and shishkabobs. Not to mention Kofte the Turkish equivalent of meatballs, but those were made of hamburger. There was also a "salad" made of chunked tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, green onion, and spice green peppers. However, the highlight of the meal for me was when D, HM's best friend and neighbor asked if I wanted a certain dish. It was fried spice peppers covered in yogurt. When D smiles her whole face lights up, and so I decided to try it. She spooned some onto my plate and I made a sound in the back of my throat. She froze, while I haltingly said "Teşekkür ederim" - Thank You. She was so excited and please that she planted an impromptu kiss on my cheek! (I'd made HM help me practice in the kitchen before dinner...)
Turtles and Bubbles
For the kids, the highlight was probably finding the adorably miniature land turtle (tortoise?) living near the back yard. The scooped him up and gave him grass to eat. If he's around tomorrow I'll snap a picture. He's about 2 inches max, and his shell is a good 1.5 inches tall. I was glad to see that the moms made sure the kids went to clean up after handling him though. As I went inside to check something, I noticed that K was happily splashing in the sink. Or what you could still see of was almost overflowing with bubbles! I rushed in and turned off the water (which was a good 6 inches below the lip of the sink, even the bubbles towered a good 6 inches upward from the top edge...) - just as I heard a cell go off. I told K "No more water...ok?" and ran to get the phone. HM had also come in and we walked back to the bathroom at the same time...and what should we see?

Surprisingly, K had left the water off...but had taken bubble removal into his own hands. Since the water had drained leaving a sink full of bubbles...he decided on the natural solution for bubble disposal - the toilet! HM got him rinsed off and I worked on splashing the bubbles down the sink (though they kept re-surfacing through the emergency drain hole on the side for a while...) and we both chuckled as she flushed the offending bubbles away. "He loves his bubbles!"

Tomorrow...Grand Exploration
HM decided I should go out again tomorrow (as she'll be staying home Thursday) and I readily agreed. Since U seemed so unhappy last time we went (I think it was due to excessive time in public transportation...) I decided to pick somewhere closer. I found a palace (Dolmabahce) and the Galeri Nev (free! with important collections and there are 2 special exhibits "Strange Fruit" and "Harem"). When I'd finally decided on my plan, HM asked me if I'd go by myself (ride into town with her, take the subway and funicular) as both are within 10 minutes of a stop and each other. I have my cell after all. So, I'm a little excited and a little scared, though since it's a tourist area I should be just fine. I have a pretty good internal map (for which I thank Speech in High School...learning to navigate all the other HSs) so I should be just fine. I'll be sure to bring my camera.

At any rate, I should go to bed at decent time tonight to be fresh for tomorrow.
Hope all is well,
PS The picture is off my bedroom in the morning light!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lazy Day

Hi all,
The boys managed to pretty much amuse themselves today, along with the help by one of their cousins (who's pretty much right between them in age) - with a minimum tussling. So I spent a good amount of time being able to relax with the adults or just read. But I have a little funny observation that I've made.

In Which I Abuse My Power
HM noted to me the other day that K has started to pick up on my mannerisms, speech wise. I didn't realize the extent until we were in the middle of playing UNO and I slapped down a draw 4 wild. "Oh dear..." he sighed. Which, I suppose it's a good thing that I don't have a problem with swearing, because I'm sure HM and HD would find that far less endearing. However, I decided to have a little fun. Midway through an intense game, I softly sang "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" and three seconds later K (with absolutely no indication that he'd been paying attention...rapt on his current play) parroted " like meeee". Power is a dangerous thing, my friends...
Anyhow, hope your Monday was nice as well...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Steph Goes to Asia

Hi all,
So, today I went to Asia, but it was only a minor (ha ha) part of my day. Today marked the beginning of the 3 day celebration of the end of Ramadan, called Bayram (pronounced Bye-rum) - which is what you'd think people would do after a month of fasting. Alas, since there's a tenet against drinking alcohol, that would not be the case. Ok. Enough Puns.

HD's Family Visits
So, when I went to bed last night, HM hadn't told me anything about what to expect today. I was upstairs and showered by 9:45, catching HM in the kitchen. "Oh!" she said, "I forgot to tell you that today we will go to HD's great aunt's house for a Turkish breakfast because of Bayram...I'm glad you're ready - we leave in 10 minutes!". Ok. I can go with that. We swing by HM's Mother's house (she doesn't drive) and drive into the city - without my camera. After about 45 minutes we enter the great aunt (and uncle's) apartment. It's very much what I now imagine the classic view of a Turkish apparent to be like. It had the beautiful carpets (guess who will be lugging one home..?), family pictures galore, heavy and ornate wood furniture, and crystal chandeliers (albeit now electrified). I was, for the first time so far, given the full-blown Turkish welcome: the double kiss. I discovered I have a lot less problems kissing old people (and trust me, I got plenty of practice today!) than I did in Germany whenever I met young guys from Spain!

Breakfast was a very nice treat, the full-blown traditional breakfast, plus delicious baklava and Boerek (a new favorite...). Nevermind the plentiful cups of tea. As custom, I was offered food continuously, but managed to balance the line between politeness and being stuffed. K was rather impatient, as his mother had thought to bring along UNO. A great idea, as kids have no love of 3 hour long visitation sessions. However, the people behind Bayram were geniuses and even thought of a way to bribe -erm-reward the kids for visiting: it's traditional to slip money to them near the end of the visit. It was very interesting to find out that the great aunt was like a second mother and that the great uncle was a colonel in the Turkish army (a lifer) who had his decorations in a large cabinet and he also apparently spent a year stationed in the US in CA. He was very sweet, and gave me a grand tour. But all good times must come to an end. So, several hours and kisses later (with many hands of UNO), we continued with what was decided on as an impromptu trip to visit HD's mother. She, however, is dead. So I got to see my first Turkish cemetery. It was gorgeous. The graves are actually more like marble boxes that double as flowerbeds, with the name plaques behind them. There were degrees to the opulence, but all were white marble and cultivated in some way. It was also a very popular destination today, and parking was scarce.

HM's Family Visit
So, unbeknownst to me, at some point a discussion happened that decided that all the family visiting should take place today. So we set off to see HM's great aunt. She apparently is a fascinating woman - never married and independent - although it was a much shorter visit. I discovered that it's definitely a tradition to have a well-stocked chocolate candy dish (much to K's delight), and of course there's always a beverage offered. Afterwards we went to the family's old neighborhood (a lot of families buy whole apartment buildings -smaller ones- and my family still rents theirs out) restaurant for a traditional Turkish meal. It was very good, with exceptional service (I wore the poor waiter out refilling my water glass, I'm afraid).

After lunch we struck off to HM's Grandmother's house. She lives on the Asian side of the Bosphorous, so I got to visit a whole new continent! It wasn't very exciting. However, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge - think near copy of Golden Gate Bridge - which spans the Bosphorous, charged no fee today because of Bayram. So naturally it was a mess. The news ran a special showing all the drivers that tried to insist on trying to pay anyways, which was amusing.

However, we finally arrived at the Great Grandmother's apartment. She is a tiny thing (HD calls her a dwarf in an affectionate (?) manner) who also brought out the tea and baklava. (Quick point to ponder...if I manage to eat my body weight in both yogurt and baklava will they balance out? I'm thinking no...unfortunately!). The visit took about 2 hours, and I spent a good chunk of time playing UNO. Luckily we headed back after that (at around 7:30pm) and the traffic caused the normally non-rush hour 40 minute-long trip to take 1.5 hours. So, a very long day ending with K crashing in the car.

Tomorrow we will stay home (or that's the plan, anyway) and I'm looking forward to that!
Hope all is well,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Survived Saturday

Hi all,
My title sounds a little dramatic, but in all fairness I did spend most of my day running around with K. We played what felt like a million rounds of UNO (although I managed to briefly teach him Slap Jack...) and whenever it wasn't raining outside, HM and I shooed K outside. G had basketball training/a game today and apparently he was named player of the game. Other than running around outside a lot and playing cards (with a new real of no TV - K gets too distracted and games last FOREVER...), my day was pretty normal:

I know, I know...but as my father will gleefully recount to anyone who'd like to hear, he once asked me what my favorite class was in school - and I responded "LUNCH!". Not that school lunches necessarily rocked my world (although I would still eat off of partitioned trays if I could...), but I was able to never have to hear "Inside Voice Steph!" or otherwise be shushed. Anyhow, I digress.
Today I had my first "typical" Mediterranean/Turkish breakfast: bread with olives (green and black), cheese, cut up tomatoes and "jam" (which was more like apricots in a thick syrup). Plus the ever-present black tea of course, which is mixed half with water. Apparently on the Asian side of Istanbul they're more likely to drink green tea instead, which really doesn't surprise me!
For dinner I had a soup made out of lentils (plus pureed vegetables) that was a rather bright yellow/orange color...with fresh lemon juice. This somehow worked for me. HM is very proud and bragged to the neighbors that I eat everything. Works for me.

Corrections/Knowledge Update
As much as this will thrill my father...remember the fireworks yesterday? Definitely weren't fireworks. Apparently it was gunfire from a slightly distant village (though not the nearest one). HM said they were shotguns, and I'm pretty sure people don't normally hunt in the dark here...

Anyhow, remember when I said I walked by the front of a very busy courthouse? I found out the back story today. Apparently about 198 days ago the son of a very prominent business family murdered his girlfriend. It's a very morbid case, including a decapitation when he tried to fit her into a cello case. He then managed to be on the lam for about 197 days. He then turned up at the police station 2-3 days ago with his lawyers. Apparently he's 17 and wants to be tried as a juvenile, and he's getting much closer to 18. Although there's been rumors that his parents messed with his documents, falsifying his age. This raises few questions for me. 1. If you've been missing for that long, why bother to show up? 2. Why would he bother to show up if his documents had been falsified - surely if he's actually 18 he'd rather leave the country for good, and 3. Even if he's 18 now, if he was younger at the time...wouldn't he still be tried as a juvenile? Unless he was actually 18+ at the time, in which case my question goes back to 2.

Anyhow, that's really all I have for right now. My host parents are visiting outside with several neighbors and the kids are playing video games or watching TV. Which is great, as I'm quite exhausted!
Hope all is well,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Set for the Long Weekend

Hi all,
Today was very restful (though I had trouble sleeping in, with the cleaning lady around I feel bad). I spent most of the day in my room doing some reading, writing some postcards and being lazy. I wanted to stay out of the way for the cleaning lady. Quite unlike the Putzfrau in Regensburg, this one seems very friendly and nice, but has absolutely no English. Yet she still likes to talk at me, with an inquiring look in her eyes - like she just thinks that if she uses small enough words and speaks slowly I will understand. I wish!
Let the Games Begin
When the boys came back from school the older, G went up to his room. K plunked himself in front of the tv. I asked if he wanted to play a game, but he said no - eyes still glued to the cartoons. I decided to try anyways, and got out UNO. K's eyes flickered my way, and despite his earlier hesitance he was soon playing with me. I had to only slightly modify the rules (he always goes first, reversals act like a skip with only 2 people) because he already knows all his English colors and numbers up to 22 (which we can thank his brother G for being such a big fan of Deal or No Deal for). I was thrilled with my success - and his mom was happy too when she came home. 2 hours and approximately 23 games later (we were playing to 10, he won 10-9 but lost count once or twice and wouldn't believe my I was a little UNOed out. However, we then got his brother to play as well. I think he would've played for a few more hours...but my stamina just wasn't up to it, so I was happy when it was dinner and then bedtime (we ate around 7:30 pm).

Fighting Like Cats and Dogs?
Minosh and Tekila are quite the pair. Tekila likes to come over with her ball, and did so when I was lying on the couch. She's very obedient, but only when you speak Turkish to her. Sensing that there was some attention to be had, Minosh decided to join the party. So, soon I was scratching both animal's ears. However, Tekila got jealous and came over and started mouthing Minosh. Tekila had a bad antibiotic mix-up when she was a pup, and so her teeth are very badly eroded already at the age of 3. When she turned around, Minosh retaliated by jumping off of the couch...onto Tekila's back! They then took turns tusseling, with Tekila staying lying down, and rolling onto her stomach to entice Minosh to attack. I was a bit concerned that things would elevate, but G came by and reassured me that they play all the time (along with sleeping together often) and I noticed that Tekila was smart enough to keep her eyes closed and only mouth at Minosh. Quite the pair, those two.

Weathering the Weekend?
HM was pretty upset to find out the weather forecast for this weekend includes rain on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. She said she felt like she was living in England! G has basketball training on Saturday and Sunday and we will visit HD's great aunt as part of the Ramadan ending celebration. Fireworks just went off a few minutes ago, so I believe it is officially finished. This will probably mean lots of other unannounced (but welcome) visitors, and so quite a lot of tea will be drunk. I enjoy the tea (with a good helping of sugar) but have rediscovered my poor tolerance of caffeine. Any past 5 o'clock and I'll be up at least until 1. However, I would rather be awake than rude, and everyone takes hospitality so seriously, so I'll probably end up just sucking it up.
One Last Thing - Searching for a Good Read?
HM was amazing and found a book that she thought I might be interested in: "Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey" Edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Goeken. I'm just under half way through with it and I have to say it's utterly fascinating. It was published in 2005, and some of the events take place as early as the 1960's, but it's mostly pretty contemporary. Just something to think about.

Hope all is well,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern

Hi all,

Well, it's been a long day today, so I'm going to try to keep things brief (though this tends to somehow morph out of hand, so we'll see). I got up this morning at 7 to find out that HM had ended up in the hospital last night (food poisoning?) and only discovered this as I was walking out the door with the boys and U. The drive was a challenge to stay awake and U did not seem happy to have to take me into the historic downtown. This involved two subway routes, a funicular (which only sounds dirty), and a street tram ride. About 30 minutes from a 45 minute drive from home/20 from the boys' school. Unlike yesterday, U wasn't too interested in trying to communicate. I'd told HM he didn't have to hover and go to things just because I did, he could dump me off and do his own thing. So we tried to synchronize my "new" cell phone (set from when G visited the US - right hour, wrong minutes though...) and so he just pointed out a time 4 hours in the future and dropped me at Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia -Ayasofya - Church of Holy Wisdom
I actually read about HS before I visited it (pretty much a first...). It stood for almost 1000 years as a Christian church, built by Emperor Justinian, who was pretty darn pleased with himself. The dome is high enough to allow the Statue of Liberty to fit under (with some feet to spare!), and this was obviously an even bigger deal back in the day, when it would've dominated the landscape. However, Justinian turned out to be a cocky little dude, when the dome was damaged in an earthquake less that 2 years later. So, up went a new, smaller dome that had extra support and glass windows inserted to act as an early warning system. Ie: "Oh, my goodness...broken glass...probably should leave now...thump". Now, I'm going to use the guidebook to cheat a bit for dates. In 1204 it was sacked and leveled by the Crusaders (nice going, assholes) which had the effect of permanently dividing the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

In 1453, Mehmet II (look him up, I'm busy) plundered/robbed/conquered etc, slapped his head to the floor and declared the temple subject to Allah. So, all the beautiful paintings were covered (that whole graven image thing wasn't flying) and some nice tiles were smacked up. I took pictures, and you can hopefully see them...maybe. They did some renovation, added a Mihrab (indicating Mecca's direction) . Finally, Ataturk (mucho importanto for modern day Turks, basically accredited with leading them into the modern world) declared the church/mosque to be a museum. They've undertaken to rennovate it, so parts are partially obscured. Oh, and they let cats wander around in it.

I can recommend you take a good hour to poke around and study the restored/uncovered frescoes and mosaics (although most are just pictures of them in the upper gallery, which is beyond weird). I have some video of this, but blogger won't load them even though they're the right type and size. Sigh. Maybe try to web album.

For the rest of the 2.5 hours I had a snack (which turned out to be lunch), and people watched/poked around the outside. Then I met up with U and we went to the Basilica Cisterns.
It's probably not worth the 10TL to go to, but it was neat to see.

Basilica Cisterns
The Cisterns is a waterwork project that the Romans made. It is an underground cavern that collected water. There were 336 columns (mostly Ionic, but some Doric as well), and as you can see from the pictures, it was only dimly lit. There were fishes (and money) that live in the water though, and some of them were HUGE. The main highlight, however, was seeing the Medusa heads (pictures shown). Scientists aren't 100% sure WHY they were put there (although the general consensus is that it was to ward off bad omens - as apparently her gaze is deadly to them as well) but do agree that they were put upsidedown and at an angle on purpose.

One the way back to the car we passed a courthouse teeming with newscasters and with a strong show of police/military. I have no idea what the they were waiting for (a trial outcome or beginning) but it looked pretty serious. We got the boys on time, and I spent a lot of time outside with K. I've decided to stay home tomorrow to relax before the 4 day weekend holiday. Since Ramadan is ending, everyone gets Monday and Tuesday off as well. Going to be intense, but hopefully a lot of fun!
Hope all is well,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Hi All,
Ooh, so raise your hand if you're a math expert (remember, the price is per liter)...then pass out visualizing the price of gas here. Yay. I'm 100% ok with not driving here, as several near-death experiences (though no one else in the car flinched) plus gas prices = dear God. Anyhow, I finally got out of the house today!

White on Rice
That's how close HM has stuck U. (The driver, I know I used F. but that's completely wrong, ignore it...) on me. It's nice to have my own little Turkish buffer (since my pronunciation skills are pathetically useless, despite the fact they have a lot of the same vowels as German), but I felt sorry for the poor guy today. HM took me into her office (after successfully shipping off the kids to school -K declared that it wasn't fair and if G didn't go to school today he wouldn't where I got the goldfish treatment. Everyone got a turn to peek in and show off their English. It was funny, as one ended up asking me why I was going to take Turkish classes. I found this amusing as I would like to have SOME kind of idea of what's happening to me, and at this point any percentage over 0 would be grand. Back to the rice...we took the Metro (subway) to Taksim street. I then bored the guy to death as I meandered the whole length with him.

At some point, U turned to me and gesticulated that we could go in any of the shops (this was essentially a shopping street with some big name designers and some littler ones as well). I explained that I was more interesting in just looking around. He figured that out when we stopped at the Basilica on the street (Random...) St. Anthony. Unfortunately, most of the church was roped off and they didn't allow pictures. But, I'll give you a hint: it looked like a church. Although the picture of the pope above the door was a new twist for me inside. I got a picture of the outside though. Across from it was a beautifully arched wall/window/door structure. (Clear enough..?)

I did end up stopping to get postcards. I feel like it's cheating to get ones of places I haven't seen yet, so I got some depicting some old Turkish art. I also got a good city map in English and eventually some stamps. When we turned around a few minutes later, U. decided to pick up an English/Turkish dictionary. As we'd maybe spoken about 10 words in the hour we'd spent so far together. We sat down for a cold drink (and yes Mom, I was wearing sunscreen : p ) and we managed to discuss family a little (very important). I will be lucky to see a Turkish wedding when I'm here, U. is getting married sometime next summer. He and his fiance make a very cute couple. Then again, his identical twin brother would probably look pretty good with her too, but my Turkish wasn't up to that quip. He has a good sense of humor and was trying very hard to communicate. (Which is fortunate, for the first hour I was dreading sitting down because I thought it would be the only thing possibly more awkward then walking around!) However, just as I was thinking that I wasn't sure I'd have anything interesting for this blog post, a university student protest set up camp just down the street. I asked U. about it, but he just said they were University students, implying that this was just what they do. Maybe it is?

Afterschool Adventure
We survived the rest of the afternoon until we went to pick up the kids. THAT was interesting. We picked up K on time, but G was 10...15..20...30 minutes later, and there was no G. I tried to keep K busy, and U. decided to go search for G. Now, they go to a private school, so the security is awesome and he couldn't have left the premise. I was still very glad that it would (well, couldn't since I didn't have a cell yet - got it tonight) NOT be my job to call HM if we couldn't find him. So U went to go look for G. Of course, as soon as U left, G found us. I implored him to stay put with us, but he insisted of running to look for U. Now, I assume everyone knows how brothers work? If the older does it, by golly, it'll take a cold day to get the younger to not! Luckily, he just wanted to go to the playground, and so U and G were able to find us shortly. As we were about home, I think U got a slightly panicked phonecall from HM, who'd come home early to make dinner since the new live-in housekeeper/cook doesn't start until Monday.

HM was great though, wanting to know how the day went. The only thing I could complain about was that U wouldn't let me buy my own food/drink. It's a nice gesture (and typical I think), but one I can do without. Lunch was an interesting Doener: it had the typical shaved meat and bread, but came topped with tomatoes and the sandwich. Tasty though. HM now knows that I like to try new things, but even I vetoed her lunch suggestion of a traditional dish. I'm afraid my culinary openess doesn't currently extend to grilled sheep intestine. Oh, and I found out that the aqueduct was built in the 16th century (this one, anyways) and is called the Uzun aqueduct. Fun fact of the day. Anyhow, it's off to Hagia Sophia tomorrow and some more historic places.

Hoping all is well,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One for the Foodies

Hi all,
I hope you appreciate the lovely picture of my shower, as I can now use it (although not with hot water...?). I accidentally deleted my slideshow, and I'm not exactly sure how I put it in on in the first place...hopefully it'll be back one day. Anyhow, I didn't actually make it into Istanbul proper today, as the older host son was coughing up a storm today. In fact (as HM told me I could add to the, he is going in to the hospital in a few minutes tonight as a precaution as he has had bronchial issues in the past...sound familiar Eric? (Except it took ME 6 weeks to drag him to the hospital last year...boys.) Anyhow, I thought I'd share about my food experiences so far and then talk about my short trip into town to pick up K from school with HM.

Fun, Fabulous, and Sometimes Strange
So, the food has all been very good so far and sometimes simply amazing. My first night was a feast (which now makes more sense, as HM's Mom observes Ramadan...) and Sunday's lunch was certainly filling as well. The Authentic restaurant served yogurt (what else??) with bread, a raw vegetable dish (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, spicy pepper), these sort of baked french fries and what looked like miniature hamburgers - which they call meatballs. I also had my first experience with Aiyran (sp?) which is a salted yogurt beverage. Luckily, I had read about it in my guidebook, so the first sip was not a total shock. It definitely takes some getting used to, but is rather refreshing and is a nice way to get calcium. Their milk (Su(e)d) also tastes good. From what I've seen, Turkey is much more dairy-oriented than Germany for drinks...super!

The second day, for breakfast, I got to try a variety of fruits. It's crazy, because I had a peach from their peach tree, grapes, green and purple plums washed down with sour cherry juice (delicious!). Lunch was a little special since G had stayed home sick...we ordered in Dominos Pizza. I was expecting the meat to look different - but I have to say that the corn threw me. (Although, after what I experienced with the Germans putting it in weird places, I suppose I shouldn't be so easily surprised!) Thankfully dinner was a lighter affair, a yummy tomato-based soup and bread.

I slept in this morning a bit, so when faced to rummage through the fridge for breakfast I got a little overwhelmed. So I pulled a Benny...especially since they didn't have a toaster, and had bread with Nutella for breakfast, with a few plums. Lunch was a pasta dish that starts with an M (like that's SO helpful, right?) but involved meat-stuffed triangle pastas (very cute little ones) covered in a sauce made from yogurt, with some red sauce on top of that. G had his topped with ground dried mint, but HM asked me and I decided to try it plain first. Honest to God it was AMAZING. I can't wait to try it WITH the mint! Since it seems so simple, my family will have it to look forward to when I get back! Dinner was a baked fish (I think I may have only swallowed one bone, so I'm calling it a success) with a special bread they only make during Ramadan, a sort of flat bread similiar to what I've had Doeners served on before. It was quite delicious.

Family Time
Today I was home with HM and G again. G managed to amuse himself for most of the day (and as HM pointed out, during the day is not supposed to be my time, but I like getting to know the kids) and so I spent a lot of the time with HM. She's very easy to talk with and has a very fun personality. She apparently already thinks I am a perfect fit for the family, has marveled how the kids have already incorporated me and assured me that family visitors are welcome. When I mentioned my brother B might go visit Benny in Germany, she said "Well, of course you will bring him to here then as well, right? It is a wonderful opportunity!" Talk about getting a fuzzy glowing feeling. It's also nice that she has a similar view on parenting that I grew up around, and knows that boys will simply be boys most of the time - she knows how roughhousing can quickly turn to tears. We've already had moments of talking - freezing (listening to screams to tell if they're pain or not) - and resuming activity together. How funny is that?

We had to pick up K today from school (since the driver was picking up a new housekeeper candidate - the other one simply wasn't working out well so she left today) and I actually got to drive/ride under an aqueduct! Crazy!!! We didn't go into the city center proper, but passed through a little of the outskirts. The school is private, and seems very nice and friendly. K was delighted to see his mother and made us laugh when he insisted on saying "Goodbye!" to his Turkish teacher... Traffic was crazy, and I've already learned that Turkish crosswalks hold none of the sacredness that they do in Germany. Moving targets merely add to the excitment of the Istanbul experience, I guess. However, I will be going in tomorrow with HM (barring all natural disasters and worsening of G's health) and will hopefully not only take pictures, but get the slideshow up and running...but don't hold me to it!

Hope all is well,

PS Ok, who else knew that Green olives are just unripe black olives? I feel like there was this conspiracy against telling me this, and I'm not sure if I'm ok with it...Mom??? : p

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Hi All,
Though it's a rather strange title, it's kind of what I felt like when I met my new family. However, I'm getting ahead of
myself...And please pardon any spelling/grammar/whatever mistakes - I definitely have a touch of jet lag.

I Saw the Sign

Well, I actually didn't. I was very excited when my flight made it to Istanbul 20 minutes early - 5:20pm local time. However, when I saw the Visa line (I entered on a Tourist visa...20 US dollars for 90 days, multiple entries), my hopes sank. After a 40 minute wait, my 5 second turn at the window was done...and then it was on to Customs. The man gave my German student alien visa a rather dirty look (why?) but stamped me through. I was worried that the family may have given up waiting for me at this time, since it had been over an hour. Sure enough, as I walked into the meeting place (my baggage had arrived goodness knows how long before), I was assaulted by a huge crowed cordoned off - all waving signs with names. I slowly walked back and forth. Not seeing my name - or even sure there would be one for me - I decided to check the "meeting points" and if necessary call from a payphone. As I walked behind the crowd I suddenly saw him- my new host dad! (HD) He's a great big guy (played some serious basketball in his time) carrying a great big sign with my name across it. He immediately said "I knew it! I saw you and I knew it! But you didn't see me! How could you miss my great big sign? It is a souvenir for you now!" Yep, he's a teaser.

First Taste of Turkey...
Was from a Burger King. Lol. Host Mom (HM) wasn't very happy with HD that my first meal was there - but he wasn't sure if she had cooked or not. She, in fact, HAD cooked - and a very large meal, too. I was very fortunate that their home is a bit of a drive from the airport (about 45 minutes), as I'm sure I would have offended her by being full. My first Proper meal consisted of something that is pronounced Doe-ma, which was assorted vegetables stuffed with a meat/rice/tomatoes mixture served with yogurt. I was relieved to make it through the three she heaped on my plate. So, I was a bit dismayed (but faced it stoically), when she then proceeded to start heaping pasta on my plate. My weak protest that I wasn't very hungry mercifully cut down my portion size to a mere half-plate full. Urg. Then, I was told (in the truly excellent English that HM and HD both speak) that I simply must try the beans. I had three and then firmly declined anything else. HM's Mom was there, and she and a family friend assured me that they'd have me speaking Turkish in 3 months. Here's to hoping for that!

The Family - MY Family : )
My new family consists of HM, HD and my two new brothers - G and K . G is 11 and going into the 6th grade. School started last week, and he seemed pretty determined tonight that he wasn't feeling all that well and shouldn't go to school tomorrow...we'll see what his mother thinks though! K is almost 6 (I believe) and is quite the monkey. Unlike G, K has very little English (which is why their mother preferred a Nanny from the US). However, we still managed to have lots of fun playing today, and not so much fun when he turned the hose on me...It will definitely be easier with G around, who understands quite a bit more of English. However, K learned at least two words/phrases today: "Thank you" and "Tickle". : )
In addition to the family, there is another nanny/housekeeper: J. I've been warned she is mostly very easy to be around, but can be temperamental. I shall endeavor to stay on her good side. The house is quite large, and my room is just a bit smaller than my freshman dorm room. It has lots of drawers set up, a TV (enormous) and windows that are on ground level. I will try to take pictures, especially once I get enough hangers to unpack my suitcases. Oh, and there are also the family pets.

One Tequila, Two Tequila...
Nope, not Three Tequila - Floor. And technically, the dog's name is actually spelt "Tekila" (I think - it's pronounced closer to Tiki-la) and she's a roly-poly golden retriever who loves any sort of attention. In addition, their cat Minosh (sp? - Me-nosh pronunciation) and HM's Mother's cat - Barbie - were also present. Barbie is a deaf long-haired white cat, which makes me a bit nervous to have around, but it's only temporary as HM's Mom's basement flooded and they needed to clean it out. However, that's the extent to which the flooding effected my family.

On The Go
This has been my theme since arriving here. Within the last 24 hours I have: arrived at the airport, eaten at Burger King, eaten my body weight in yogurt (ok, not yet, but it seems as though it won't take me long to), played basketball, Deal or No Deal, gone out to a traditional restaurant, Visited two neighbors' houses (once for tea after "lunch" and another to celebrate a retirement with champagne), toured the gated community they live in, heard more Turkish then I've heard ever in my life, and learned "yavru kedi" - my first word. It means kitten. I also "learned" - read, not any that I can actually remember-
some other words. Fortunately, "Thank You" is both long and complicated. I also had the most interesting shower of my life. Interesting being a long euphemism relating to the fact that I'm not the brightest bulb. I couldn't get the spigot to switch to the shower head (I was unscrewing it...and I was too afraid to pull. Luckily it's just extremely hard to pull up), and HM had a good laugh visualizing what my shower must've been like (I'll try to take photos tomorrow, and I'm sure you'll be amused as well).

HM is a strong believer in the fact that I should not be allowed to get bored. She and HD are thrilled that I've decided to learn some Turkish and first thing this morning she was scouting out language institutions for me. The one she found that will be most convenient started on September 7th, so she's going to call to see how feasible it would be for me to start late. However, she doesn't want to risk my boredom tomorrow and has me coming in to work with her (at quarter to 9) where the family driver, F. (I know, I'm sorry...way too many abbreviations) will pick me up and show me around some historical sites until he picks the kids up at 3:30. F. apparently knows some English and is very trustworthy and dependable. So. I will charge my camera tonight then! Anyhow. It's getting on towards midnight, here, so I should probably get going. I plan on updating as often as necessary when things get interesting.

Thanks for reading, your comments are welcome!
Hoping all is well,

PS. I almost forgot to mention that the Black Sea is less than 1 km away. Crazy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Off to Turkey!

Hi All,
Glad you could drop by. I'm all packed (I hope...) and I'm frantically trying to clean up my room at home and get everything else in order. Like that whole eating thing. Anyhow, I'll try to post when I get to Istanbul. Thanks for all the well-wishes and keep in touch! I fly out at about 7 pm tonight...
Take Care,