Saturday, December 27, 2008

Home is Amazing, by Christopher

We have been breathing sweet, honey ham-scented American air for the past 60 hours for the first time in four months.

We are relived to find ourselves home, against all the odds of international travel, threatening weather and incomplete mental states.

Now an eight-day-long war of attrition begins, as America and our loved ones do their very best to lure, cajole, convince, threaten and guilt us into remaining here forever.

Just for the record, it's already working on Sarah. Last night before sleep claimed us she looked me in the face and whimpered, "We stay here and have a baby?" I have to admit that in that moment a thought crossed my mind, like the warm embrace of our families and the glorious certainty of drinkable tap water might be reason enough to abandon all of our carefully planned ambitions.

But I woke up at 5:30 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep, in part because I had terrible dreams and in part because I couldn't stop thinking about my students back in Ankara. I wondered about what toys they got, what funny stories they will tell me when I get back, and I pictured my favorite kids playing in the snow during break time.

Feeling an attachment to children is a new thing for me. I have no siblings and I didn't grow up with any little kids around. Kids have only existed in my consciousness as annoyances or cautionary tales for the past two decades. But thanks to the great kids I get to hang out with five days a week my attitude has changed a lot. As tough as things get sometimes, the pros still outweigh the cons for me.

But I still can't stand flying with small children. On airplanes, I mean. Blimp travel and magic carpets are fine.

So expect us to depart as planned next Saturday night. Unless Sarah attempts a coup. In which case, you probably won't be hearing from me again anyway.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Brussels to Chicago

After knocking over some people, cutting in some lines and sweating through a dead sprint, we made it our connecting flight in Chicago.

The flight is delayed, but only because of mechanics on the plane.  We should be touching down in Dallas in no time.

The flight across the Atlantic was uneventful.  Or totally eventually, I don't know...I'm on Xanax #5 and Chris is on sleeping pill #2 and Xanax #1.

Hope we recognize you guys!

See you soon.


Ankara to Brussels

Chris and I left our Ankara apartment at 1:30 am Wednesday morning in order to catch our taxi to catch our 4am flight.

When we walked outside, we were met with this.

Quite fun.

We boarded the van and headed to the airport.

On the way we got to see some beautiful new areas of Ankara (okay, a few bridges) that we've yet to explore.

Made it to the airport.  Grabbed some breakfast, boarded our flight and are now in Brussels, Belgium.

The ticket agent gave us seats in the front of the plane so that when we get to Chicago we can haul butt off the plane and run to catch our last connection, to DFW.

This blog is boring, but I'm 3mg of Xanax into the trip and creative wit has eluded me.

And Chris is wandering around looking for somewhere to plug his laptop in.

We'll be there soon!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday Mailbag

Dear Santa,

Instead of a wish list, we have a question for you.

What are young adults with no children supposed to do for Christmas?

It's easy if you have kids because you just go out and buy whatever the new Chinese crap is that year.

But as childless adults we're unsure how to commemorate the occasion.

Please advise.

Chris and Sarah

Dear Chris and Sarah,

Ho, ho, ho.

Now that that's out of the way, I need to skip straight to your question since I'm swamped right now. 

I have observed over the centuries a multitudinous panolpy of childless adult Christmas pastimes.  

Animal sacrifice was big during the Roman's day.

Crusades were popular during the dark ages, invading your neighbor and what not.

Christmas in the New World was more about survival than celebration.

And in the modern era I've found that celebration can be neatly divided into two categories:

1.  Martha Stewart

2.  Everyone else

Judging by the tone of your question I'm going to guess you're not Martha Stewart.

And in that case I can make a fairly obvious recommendation.  Go be with the people you love.  Knock back a few cocktails.  And keep the conversation light.  Maybe invent a wacky tradition of buying and passing inedible foodstuffs.  That's about the best you can hope for.

Warm Regards,

Santa Claus

Monday, December 22, 2008


Sunday night we went caroling.

It took 30 years, but I finally did it.

Maybe I did it when I was itty bitty, but I don't remember any of it.

Our unique living situation (think back to living in dorms on campus in college as a reference point) actually allows us to have some really fun parties.

You can move from one location to the next without need of a car, which allows for less dangerous icy, imbed driving.
Walking and drinking has problems of its own, but at least with walking and drinking you're only likely to hurt yourself and not someone else.

About 30 of our colleagues met in front of Mehmet's Buffet with mugs full of mulled wine, Baileys, hot cocoa, and some even had gin and tonics!

This is the best picture we could get as we let a 7 year old take it for us.

After gathering and chatting for a bit, we made our way to the first building and the first apartment.
Once inside we toasted the tree, sang a carol that the family had chosen (in this case an Australian reindeer song), ate some snacks, then took off for the next house.

We did get better as the night went on.
Or maybe we just thought we were getting better as we made our way through umpteen houses of mulled wine.

All in all I think we made it to 13 apartments in about an hour and a half.

We have some great footage from the time in our apartment, but to get it uploaded will take awhile, and we're kind of busy trying to pack this week.

The chips and salsa we put out were a huge success. We couldn't get people out of the house and on to the next stop.
And our song choice "Feliz Navidad" was ever so felizy.

Living on campus in such close quarters (with such strange water) does have its drawbacks, but easy, fun social gatherings is not one of them.

We felt part of a family all night long. Made us even more eager to be with our Texas families in 2 days!

Hope you've made some time to sing some songs this holiday. If even just by yourself in the shower.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reindeer Towels and Vacuum Cleaners

Tonight is our caroling party and we have the house set and ready to go.

Hosting parties is always a good motivator for getting things done around the house that you would otherwise procrastinate.

(Videos and pictures of the caroling to follow.)

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

5 Days till Christmas

When it's 5 days and counting till Christmas, it's time to start wrapping up (no pun intended) the loose ends.

This morning I headed down the hill to print the final copies of our Christmas card.
It is of course impossible to find Christmas cards here in 99% Muslim Turkey. So Chris and I (ever eager to create something new) decided to make our own Christmas cards.

We took Photoshop to a whole new level. We crafted the greatest Christmas card Turkey has ever seen. This Christmas card could walk on water.

I took the mock-up down to our local version of Kinko's and proceeded to try to explain what I wanted done.

The employees spoke no English, and I very, very little Turkish. As I was sitting watching this man do everything but what I wanted him to do, I started wondering "how can I ever paint a picture of what this feels like so that the people at home can empathize."

Try this:

Put some duck-tape over your mouth so that you can't speak.
Put ear plugs in your ears so you can't hear.

Now, take an 8x11 picture of the most obscure thing you can get ahold of, take that to Kinko's, and without speaking, or hearing a thing, try to get 50 copies double-sided on 5x7 cardstock paper.

Alternatively, walk into a chinese restaurant and insist that they give you a bologna sandwich.
Do not leave without one.

It better not be a silent night when you get our holiday card. We want to hear "holla!" and "hallelujah's" from households all across the world.

After an hour of pantomime and nervous laughter, I left the store with cards in hand.

I skipped home and then Chris and I took off for more last-minute errands.

The first thing we encountered once we stepped off the bus was this full-size, animatronic Santa Clause. Which is amusing enough. Then, a totally random Turkish man unexpectedly took our video directly to the next level.

And of course, all the loose ends are still not tied up neat in a bow.  
But they will be by Tuesday.

Or they won't be, but who cares?  We'll be airborne and headed for the best part of the holiday...seeing family and friends.

Let me know how your deaf and mute trip to Kinko's goes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The End of Istanbul, by Christopher

Our last day in Istanbul was a week ago yesterday. I have let this post slip too far away from me and now I have to struggle to remember what happened. Hard to admit, but the events of a week ago quickly become hazy, mythical creatures to me.

Here's a quick synopsis: Sarah and I began the day by going our separate ways. Sarah was interested in visiting a palace, and I was interested in visiting the museum of archeology.

And we were getting on each other's nerves.

I went to the park and wandered around for about an hour trying to find the museum. Every time I asked someone for directions, they pointed in the opposite direction I was walking. I was getting frustrated, and right then a really funny thing appeared.

I managed to locate the museum. It was a really incredible place and I showed up right on time.

If you're from America, you probably acquired a certain common understanding about acceptable conduct in a museum, as I did. This museum defied several of my basic expectations.

Once I realized the unrestricted access I had, I took advantage of it over the next three hours by photographing everything.

For those of you who don't have time at the moment for a load of pics, here are some highlights:

This is a pebble mosaic of Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, circa 750 B.C.

Here's a bust of a guardian lion, lit dramatically and hung on a wall. It's placard said it was from 700 B.C., which means that it will soon be 2,709 years old.

And here is a scale model of the original Trojan horse, as "extrapolated from historical records." Which means to me that some Turkish dudes built a horse over a long holiday.

Sarah joined me about halfway through and we went to eat lunch. Afterward, we filled time by doing things I don't recall. Mythical beasts, lost in the mist of my mind.

I do remember taking a taxi to a boat to the train station around 9pm. We skyped with our parents in the train station and then we climbed back on my new favorite method of transport and drifted off to sleep.

I feel lucky to have made it to Istanbul in my lifetime. The third most populated city in the world is a fantastic, vibrant destination.

But I probably won't be heading back too soon. As with all big cities I have visited, the sheer number of people and the constant barrage of salesman and street hawkers definitely annoyed me and wore me down after five days.

And the shops reminded me a great deal of Mexico, where every shop has basically the same junk and everything is marked up 50% or more. So there were downsides I wouldn't be too excited about visiting soon.

But then again, you're reading a post written by someone who gets annoyed and worn out in New York City as soon as I step out of LaGuardia. Big, rude crowds and subways that perpetually smell of farts are not my idea of a good time.

We've also been falling off the posting wagon a bit lately. I promise we'll continue to deliver new content every day until our hands fall off. We're just a bit too close to coming home for the holidays, and being so close to this happy event has made us less interested in communicating by blog.

All we're dreaming about is getting you folks right up in our grill in only four short days. Then we can explain to you older people what "grill" means.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Mailbag - by Christopher

For Wed. mailbag:

How are Turkey sandwiches in Turkey? Are they the freshest around?


Dear Burke,

Not only are they the freshest, they are the most natural turkey sandwiches on the planet.

That's because Turkey the country is actually made of turkey the delicious meat. Every square inch of the place. 

The elevators don't work, the plumbing doesn't work, the electric fixtures don't work, because they're all made of naturally occurring smoked turkey. 

I tried to mail a letter in a turkey mailbox yesterday, and it just sagged and crumpled to the ground when I touched it. But the sandwich I made out of it was outstanding

Shopping is difficult at best, because who wants to buy a mop made out of turkey? After you've slathered meat all over your kitchen floor you can pause for a delicious sandwich, but the floor becomes a rancid mess in only minutes. 

Fortunately insects aren't a problem, since they are composed entirely of turkey.

I made an odd discovery last week; pancakes here are not made of turkey, but are made of succulent, butter-drenched crab meat. 

Potatoes for some reason just taste like potatoes. I guess because you've got to have some kind of side dish for all this amazing turkey. And cars use brown gravy instead of motor oil. I've tried both kinds, but I prefer natural over synthetic. Better consistency.

I did run into an issue about a month ago where a cop questioned me after he saw me on the street with a half-eaten stop sign in my hand.

Other than that, it's all upside.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Annual Girls Christmas Party

About 6 or 7 years ago (we're getting old and losing track), my girlfriends and I decided to have an all-girls Christmas party.

We were just out of college and wanted to spend a night together laughing, exchanging gifts, eating, drinking, talking about the year, and making an impromptu dance floor if it came to that.

And it did.

At the time, we had no idea that we were starting a holiday tradition that would carry on for years and years.

We've watched the girls Christmas party morph from slumber party, to "naughty and nice" gift exchange, to progressive dinners, to late Sunday lunch. But no matter what the format, it's always one of everyone's favorite parties of the year.

I was worried this year (no, that's a lie, I was wondered back in February when we accepted the job in Turkey) about how I was going to be able to make it to the party.

But through the magic of two MACS, a lightening fast internet connection, Skype, and the willingness of my friends to carry me around, I was able to attend this year's Annual Girl's Christmas Party.

I was there for most all of the night and just mingled around (with the help of course of many willing arms). When everyone went to the buffet to eat, I was carted over to the buffet to see all the food.

When people got drinks, I poured myself some Bailey's and toasted.

When it was present time, everyone took turns passing me around so I could see what was being opened (gifts are allowed to be stolen, so I had to keep a sharp eye.)

I think my favorite part of the day was when I stole a gift from Jenny and Christie said "your gift just got stolen by a computer!"

The girls each came and "sat" with me on the couch and we got to chat, just as if I was there.

I don't care what anyone says, this is the best group of girlfriends any woman could ever ask for.

I could try all night and into the morning to describe the love I feel for these girls, but words do not do them justice. You just have to know them.

Thanks girls for a lovely evening.

I will see you all soon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I had a very clear, very real moment of clarity that I thought would never come, and it felt/feels good.

While on our vacation last week I decided I have to uncomplicate my life.

I shouldn't have let it get this complicated, but I did, and now I must do something about it.

I feel overwhelmed.

I feel like I am missing out on my relationships.

I feel like things are crowding me out of my own life.

I feel like my gifts and talents aren't being shared with the world the way I would like them to be.

I feel like my health is being neglected.

I feel like I'm not having as much fun as I could be.

I feel like I haven't stopped and made a decision to change anything because 1. I haven't allowed myself the time to stop and 2. I have been fearing the unknown.

Well no more.

I am no longer going to fear the repercussions of making a choice. I've made plenty of choices in my life and I've been just fine.

"The world doesn't need another unhappy, overstresed martyr. The world needs vibrant, passionate, caring people."

That quote found me and it made sense to me.

By simplifying my life, I can make some more time to pursue my passions.

I would like to publish a children's book, work on photography, interior design, invite people over, explore more of Ankara, learn Turkish, spend more time with my new husband, run, etc…And I think even if I had a little more time to devote to those things I would feel a lot more joy.

I don't want to simplify so I can sit around and do nothing (though that does have it's place sometimes). I want to simplify so I can bring more fun and more purpose to my life.

Plan a Mexican party at our place, sew the curtains over our bed, learn how to sew!, create a 2008 iMovie, write our Christmas card, send to print my children's book, re-re-re-learn Photoshop, make a webpage with my photos, learn Turkish, know more about this country I'm calling home, have time to plan new adventures, etc… things that I get a kick out of and feel passionate about.

I feel passionate about education, but not enough to fill my entire days and months devoting as much time to it as I do now.

I don't feel passionate about it in a theoretical, thesis, case study way.

I feel passionate about it in a "I like to be in the classroom" "I'd like to write a children's book or teacher's materials" kind of way.

I have given this months of thought and I know now that I have to take leave from grad school.

I know all the reasons to stay, but my heart knows the reasons to go, and those reasons have been weighing a lot heavier on me.

I make this decision without haste, and I make it with as much certainty as one can have in any big life decision.

As my friends and family (and strangers...hello!), I know you will be supportive in my decision.

Chris will continue on and get his masters degree. We can all look forward to celebrating that in 3 years.

And hopefully in three years we can also celebrate my first children's book publication!

Here's to clarity.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Tuesday in Istanbul

Now that we're back "home" in our cozy lojman, we're ready to recap the rest of the Istanbul adventures.

I'm in charge of Tuesday and Chris is taking charge of Wednesday.

Tuesday morning Chris woke with a case of the grogginess, so I headed to the Blue Mosque by myself.

The mosque was built in 1609 and is one of the most famous in the world.

Since I didn't have Chris with me, I sat and shot different angles of the gorgeous building for at least an hour. (Not that Chris minds when I shoot, but sometimes I feel like I'm holding him up)

When you enter the mosque you must take off your shoes and women must cover their heads.

It's not until you get inside that you understand why it's called the Blue Mosque. There are a number of blue painted tiles, blue in the stained glass windows and on the handmade floor rug.

The stained glass windows (260 in total) make the mosque much less gloomier (and easier to photograph) than the Hagia Sophia.

Islam forbids the portrayal of living beings in places of worship, which could distract people from worshipping Allah as the one God, so instead you see lots of flowers and calligraphy.

There is a barrier beyond which only worshippers are allowed, and they are there at all times of day.

The mosque is also segregated into sections for men and sections for women.
Not because any one is better or worse, but because the Islamic faith believes it's hard to be kneeling and praying in certain positions and not be distracted if you are in that position and near a member of the opposite sex (can't say I disagree with that logic!)

The chandeliers were made to hold oil lamps but now hold electric bulbs.

I could go on and on about the mosque because I found it to be truly wonderful.

Even as I sat against its columns and watched worshippers pray to a different God than me, in a different style to me, it didn't seem all that different to me.
In both cases we are asking for things, thanking someone for things, and coming together with others to celebrate life's ups and downs.

After leaving the mosque, it of course...

started raining!

Chris and I met up and for lack of inside things to do, we made our way back to Istiklal Street to do some more shopping.

We didn't find what we were looking for and we got lost so we took a cab back home and basically called it a day.

Look for the Istanbul finale to come from Chris very soon.

What a great trip.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday In Istanbul

Sunday we did not wake up at such a respectable hour, but we did dig our heels in and make it to two magnificent sights.

After Chris ate a Doner Kebab for breakfast we started our "historic core of the old district" tour.

And of course, right when we started touring, it started raining.

We adjusted the tour to our interests (and the weather) and headed straight to the Bascilica Cistern.

A little history of the cistern for anyone interested.

I found the cistern to be one of the most unique and intriguing sights I've ever seen.

Simply said.

It's black and eerie and you can just feel the history it holds inside it's dark stone walls.

After spending a good hour in the cistern we headed to the Aya Sofia (or Hagia Sofia).

The Aya Sofia was originally completed in 537 and served as a church for nearly a millennium. The day the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sofia was converted into a mosque.

This makes for some very interesting architecture inside.

Image the church you go to now, and add 24 ft. wide leather wrapped medallions inscribed with Arabic calligraphy.

It's a very odd combination and the whole history of the church is just captivating.

After the fall of the Ottoman reign, the mosque was converted back into a church, and now serves as a museum.

I won't blast you with the history because you can google the church if you really want to know more.

Chris and I wanted to know more and our guidebook didn't disappoint.

We spent about 2 hours walking around the church.

Back outside we captured a few last details of the church and then made our way to a nap and then dinner.

Our new favorite thing is the pillow bread that they make fresh and bring to your table for free. Akin to the chips and salsa idea in Texas.

After eating dinner we wandered around the backstreets of our hotel area and then crashed after a great day.

Monday in Istanbul

We have finally stumbled our way into some reliable internet access and are ready to share pictures and videos.

Like that guy.

Chris and I are writing side by side; he's responsible for Friday and Saturday news, I for Sunday and Monday. So we'll see how this unfolds.

Today we woke at a more respectable time than yesterday, about 9 am.

This is vacation for us and we have earned it so we made the decision to be in no great hurry.

After breakfast we started Rick's "New District" walking tour.

This walking tour required us to try two of Istanbul's finest transportation options:

the tram (moving picture)

and the funicular (which Chris swears he has ridden before)

When we left the funicular we were both oohed and awed at the cables and gigantic wheel that make it go.

Chris really enjoyed both.

The walking tour began with a 30 degree downhill trek along the art nouveau street Istiklal (independence).

This street showcases stores that are normally open when it's not a national holiday, and a charming red tram that chugs by every 10 minutes or so with kids hanging off the back.

Rick suggested many side alleys complete with churches and museums but as this was not our first dance in Istanbul, we opted out of seeing any more churches and museums, and instead stayed the course straight down Istiklal.

At the end of the walk sits Galata Tower with "the most spectacular view of Istanbul". We waited in the line for about 2 minutes to take the elevator to the top, and then we decided we didn't care about seeing the best view, and continued down the street, telling everyone we saw to make sure and stand in line for the view as it's "totally worth it."

Chris found some photographs at a tiny little antique stand and bought 3 for 1ytl a piece.

He then found these and renamed the city.

Just as we were stumbling through the most remote, random, windy streets of Istanbul, Chris found this shop:

At the end of our walk we found ourselves at the Galata Bridge. After Chris bought some nuts we crossed the bridge.

It smelled like fish and I was the only female crossing the bridge. I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to but I'm not sure why.

Amazingly we weren't that travel weary and managed to walk all the way back to the Old District and our hotel's area.

While hunting for a place to eat one man tried to lure us into his restaurant with the tempting proposal that "the food is made of my mom". Yum.

We decided to eat in the only restaurant that didn't have an annoying man outside trying to sell us his mom food.

After a very tasty lunch and some witty newlywed banter we once again exposed ourselves to the aggressive salesmen in the arts market next to the Blue Mosque.


We bought nothing but laughed a lot.

We then happened by this great cafe with wifi if you buy a drink, so we're on our 4th cup of tea and we're going to keep on chugging till we can get you guys all filled in on the goings-ongs of Istanbul.

Plus, this kitten is now asleep on my lap and I want to take it home.

Saturday in Istanbul, by Christopher

Sarah and I are sitting in a cafe two blocks away from our "Wifi Equipped" hotel. Our hotel, we've discovered too late, has a bandwidth cap on uploads (or the router has a draconian firewall).

Either way, we decided the best thing we could do was to stroll down the street with our macs and find an alternative uploadery.

Now we are going to deluge our audience with no less than four consecutive posts of our trip so far.

Saturday we blearily stumbled off of the train after a night of xanax and earplugs. We both slept a very deep, medicated slumber and we were both disoriented by the time our feet hit the dirt in Istanbul.

But as soon as our feet hit dirt, they were climbing onto a ferry bound for the old town district, Sultanahmet. This would be our home base for the duration of our trip at a little hotel run by a very friendly family.

The room is exactly what Sarah and I wanted; warm and comfortable but not remarkable in any way, so as to force us into spending as little time in it as possible.

And we soon discovered the hot chai and nescafe were free and bottomless, so our happiness quickly multiplied in proportion.

We hit the ground running and quickly discovered this grand scene about two blocks from our room:

This is the Blue Mosque, known to locals as Sultanahmet. We were immediately drawn to it, but we discussed and decided that our best course of action was to make our first stop the Grand Bazaar.

The bazaar is not a place that is easily described with words. I read several descriptions of it before I spent a day in it's pungent bowels, and nothing I read really conveyed the experience appropriately. I'm not even going to try to wrap the experience in prose. So here are some of our choice photos:

We were accosted by eager merchants every step of the way, and eventually we made a game of it. Sarah began speaking to them in rapid-fire Spanish in an effort to bewilder them. When they spoke perfect Spanish back, we were the ones bewildered.

My game was less complicated. How many times can I say 'hello' in Turkish to a merchant during one sales transaction? The audio is muffled, but you'll get the idea. By the way, 'hello' in Turkish is 'merhaba.'

After the Grand Bazaar we made our way to the no-less-grand Spice Bazaar. The main feature of this place is the smell of it, and we don't have a way to convey the exotic clouds of sweet and powerful odors to you. But we did snap some pics.

There's just so much of the experience that cannot be conveyed with images and words. I guess that's why people make the trip in person. But hopefully you've got a sense of the place. By the end of Saturday, we certainly thought we did. At least, we thought we had a good grasp of the commerce that has defined Istanbul since ancient times.

We were completely exhausted after our trip through the bazaars. We ate kebabs on the street and dumbly watched the trams rumble past. Unmedicated sleep swiftly claimed us upon our return to the hotel.

As always, for the completists in our audience, our full album of photos can be found on Picasa at this link.

And click here for more videos from our Saturday adventures.