Monday, June 30, 2008

I am mom.

Today I once again proved why I should win the mother of the year award. I mean I am such a good mom. Especially when it comes to wholesome, nutritious meals for my kids.

Breakfast: whatever they managed to find in the empty cabinets and refrigerator at whatever time they felt like eating. I have no idea who ate what or when they ate it.

Lunch: at 2pm when they came in and asked what we were having. My answer. Ice Cream. Seriously. We all had ice cream for lunch. And it was my idea.

Dinner: I am trying to redeem myself by serving something. We are having sandwiches, but they will be on Turkish bread. With deli meat, cheeses, and veggies. What? Did you think I was going to cook something? Silly, silly bloggity friends.

Monday morning ramblings

Ahhh...finally...I'm back. Many of you may not have even noticed my absence. I still blogged, but not really. The last two posts were posted thanks to the whole set-them-to-post-later option. So you may not have missed me, but I have missed you. For the last two days I was only online long enough to read emails and throw a few comments out there in the blog world. I know. That doesn't seem like a long time, but I am used to being able to get online whenever I want for the most part. I don't spend all day on my computer, but I can sit down for an hour to check emails and write a little something most days. The past few days though have been different, because we have had guests. 3 or 5 depending on the day and the occasion. Guests all the way from Alabama. They have all been to Turkey numerous times, and one couple even lived here for 10 years. We didn't know them before they came which may seem strange to most seeing as they are now camped out in various rooms of my house. This overseas life works like that. They know people we know so we were hooked up so to speak. And they brought peanut butter so of course I was going to let them sleep on my couch and pee in my toilet. I mean that is only fair!

Brian played tour guide and took them on a trip to the Black Sea. Having recently been on that same trip I didn't feel the need to go again. Especially since Anna Grace was coming home from camp while they were gone. And can I just insert a few things about Anna Grace here? Thanks. She was a royal hiney at camp. I know she was tired. I know her bed was hard. I know they ate sandwiches and noodles and ketchup everyday for lunch. I know it was hot. I know that every spare minute was planned with some activity. But still. Anna Grace is 8 and threw tantrums like a 2 year old. I know. I was called on Wednesday night and heard her before I ever heard the person who called identify themself. Thankfully she only cried 4 out of the 7 nights. But I still feel sorry for the counselors who had to deal with her. She wasn't just missing us or home. She was beyond that. She was mad and made sure everyone knew it. Will, who has been to camp twice and who refused to go again, said, "I told you so" when we were talking about sending her to camp. Now we know. Listen to Will. He knows what he is talking about.

Ok...back to my guests. Last night we sat around and compared music tastes. Everyone had their ipods pulled out, and we were going through some of our favorites. I was quite impressed with the eclectic music tastes on display. We heard snippets from all music genres and time periods. I'm talking Justin Timberlake, The Wiggles, KD Lang, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brad Paisley, Grits, Amy Winehouse, Amy Grant, Frank Sinatra, Beastie Boys, and I could go on and on. When your kids are asking you to turn down the music you know you have arrived!

Today Brian took the group to the town of Beypazari. Today I have some free moments to myself. Well...as long as the three kids who are here let me. Today I felt the need to connect to you. Thanks for reading, commenting, and coming back. I will continue with my early Turkish life posts, but they won't be back to back. I have really enjoyed all the feedback on my blog review post. From both my site and the site where the review was published. I know there is no way to please everyone. I know that I could kill myself trying. I am not a people pleaser so I have no desire to bow to the whims or preferences of others. I write what I write for me. And if anyone out there enjoys it then I am beyond thrilled. The reviewer said something about the site possibly being a place for my family and friends to come and catch up on our lives here. That is what it was initially intended to be. I know my in-laws read the blog. I know my sister reads the blog. My sister-in-law has been known to read the blog. And I do have a few friends who know me in real life reading as well. My parents, brothers, and other family members don't care a bit about reading the blog. If they want to know what is going on they just call. So I would have to say the overwhelming majority of people who find themselves here have never met me in real life. They don't know me personally. That intrigues me. Makes me want to be a better writer. Paint a better picture. And oftentimes I have no idea how to do that.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blending in

In yesterday's post I mentioned that my kids went to a Turkish school for the first two years we were here. Last night I was looking through some pictures and came across these. (The school was established in 1984...that was not the year we attended!) Guess which kids are mine! To see the pictures better you may want to click on the pictures to enlarge them.

The only picture I found of Jacob's class was at Christmas when they were all dressed in costumes. All the other pictures are in an album and I didn't want to pull them out.

Of course there is this one which was featured in a past blog post. His class was performing a dance. He was quite concerned about having to wear this pink shirt. The red ruffly one he had to wear for the Spanish dance they performed later was fine. Since it was red and red is his favorite color!

No amount of wearing the same clothes or speaking the language was going to help us! We stood out like sore thumbs. So much for assimilation!

Friday, June 27, 2008


All day yesterday and today I have been thinking about that blog review. I wasn't offended by anything the reviewer said. Everyone who left comments gave me great feedback. Made me think. But one comment that wasn't even left on my blog really hit me. The person left a comment on the original review site. The comment said

I'm sure she's lovely, but she's that kind of expat (usually Americans like myself) who just don't assimilate. That's why you're not getting what you're after Gene.

I thought a lot about those words. About assimilating into Turkish culture. She's right that we haven't totally assimilated. And while there are many ways that we could further adapt to our host culture there are things we have done to fit into the culture. Things like buying all Turkish furniture. We didn't have any of our stuff shipped here. We don't own a car, but our company has one we borrow on occasion. I would much rather take public transportation anyway. Everyone here thinks Americans are wealthy so we try not to perpetuate that myth as much as we can, and, well...we aren't wealthy at all so that helps! We have studied Turkish since we arrived. We are by no means fluent, but can conduct quite a bit of our lives in Turkish. Our kids went to Turkish schools for the first two years so that they could get Turkish culture and language. Their education suffered some at the time, but they were able to catch up when we moved them to an international school. I have only been keeping a blog for the last 2 years or so, and 7 months of that was spent in America. I wish I had been blogging when we first arrived. I'm sure the culture shock we went through, the many language frustrations, the complete inadequacy we felt as we tried to help the kids do homework in Turkish...all of that would be really interesting for me to look back on now. I know those posts would have been vastly different than the ones you are reading now. So many people who commented when I asked for feedback on what I could do to improve the blog said that I needed to share more of myself...how I feel about things. Since this comment brought back many of those early feelings I thought I would try to capture some of them here.

We decided to move to Turkey in the summer of 2001. We had never been to Turkey and had no idea what to expect. Oh, we watched videos on Turkey and read books about the culture, and thought we knew what we were getting into. Let me tell you...we had no clue.

We sold or gave away all of our furniture, sold our house, and moved all the things we weren't ready to get rid of to a storage unit. After months of preparation we were finally ready to move overseas in March of 2002. We moved to Turkey with 19 pieces of luggage. That was all. It seemed like a lot until we were trying to pack all that we thought we would need in those action packers. I was given a list of all the things you couldn't get but would probably want by an American woman who was living in Turkey. It was mostly a list of kitchen items. I found out later that this woman loved to cook. Even though I had never used things like mint extract and sea salt I packed them anyway. Surely she knew what I would need better than I did. The good pots and pans she recommended bringing were taken out of the luggage to make room for toys. We had four small children. I decided I would just buy pots in Turkey so that they could have the space. She recommended bringing good towels. To Turkey...the home of the Turkish towel. She said all the good towels were exported so we brought a few towels. We figured we would just buy whatever they had here to supplement what we brought. And the list went on. We packed those 19 bags full and got on the plane.

My first bit of culture shock happened immediately after arriving in Turkey. We were met at the airport by the guy who was going to be Brian’s business partner. He led us out to his van. Our two youngest kids were still in car seats in America. The van we were now about to ride in didn’t even have seatbelts much less car seats. My 2 and 4 year old loved it, but I was a nervous wreck! For the next 30 minutes I just prayed we would make it to the place we were to call home without getting killed by the insanely crazy driving I was witnessing out my window!

On the way to our place we passed many run down looking houses and some tall buildings. I had no idea that the tall buildings were apartment buildings. I fully expected to be living in one of the run down things we were passing. When we pulled up to our building it was like a dream. Our apartment building was new so there were only a few other tenants in it. We were the only Americans. Our new friends had already purchased a stove, washing machine, and refrigerator for us so all we had to do was get everything else we would need to live!

Those first few weeks all we did was shop. We bought mattresses first and slept on the floor. We slowly purchased all that we would need to actually be able to live here. Including nice pots and pans and nicer towels than I had ever owned from a seconds bin at the pazar. I had never shopped so much in my life. Honestly I don’t like to shop so it got old quite quickly for me. Picking out furniture when nothing looked like what I was used to was difficult. The couches and chairs were so firm. Nothing like the nice soft furniture in America. Mattresses were the same way. I think I had bruised hips for a month because of how hard the mattress was.

I think back on those shopping days and how frustrating it was. We couldn’t do anything by ourselves since we didn’t know any Turkish. I remember being laughed at by a check-out clerk and the lady standing behind me in line when I had no idea what she was asking me. I remember being flabbergasted by the lack of a line at a customer service desk. I will never forget the frustration I felt when our heater wasn't working and it took a gas man, a plumber, and an electrician to fix one appliance. Through all of that we managed to persevere. And we had several people who were gracious enough to take us places and translate for us as we pieced together a new life.

But all of that was nothing compared to how I felt about my kids. I had uprooted them from the only life they had ever known. I had taken them away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well as friends. I had plopped them down in a place where they knew no one and not one word of the language they heard in the streets. I had to make sure they were adjusting before I could even think about myself. One of the things I remember repeating to them over and over was that we were a family, and as long as they had each other they had friends. I knew that would only work for so long though.

Next door to our apartment building was a vacant lot. It was littered with trash, broken bricks, and all kinds of treasures. It quickly became my kids’ favorite place to play. One day while they were outside playing a boy who looked to be about Will’s age came out of the building and started to play in the lot as well. For a while they played separately each observing the other. I watched from the window to see if they would play together despite the language barrier. Finally the Turkish boy joined my kids in building their playhouse. Words were exchanged, but I don’t know if they really understood each other. Later that afternoon when my kids came in they were so excited about the games they had played with their new friend. They went into a long drawn out story about the game of princess and bad guys they played. I have often wondered what the Turkish boy said to his parents about their game. Did he call it by the same name?

I think I will stop here. My mind is full with thoughts from those first few months. I think I will spread them out some.

(Oh...and Sra I totally had doner for lunch today and thought of you.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A blog review

I submitted my blog for a review awhile back on a site that normally tears people up and spits them out. Really it probably wasn't the best site to ask to review my blog based on the rather conservative nature of my blog and the rather...um...NOT conservative nature of the site, but I thought it would be interesting. The reviewer notified me on Tuesday morning that he was ready to review my blog if I was still interested. Today I received the results of that review. I have copied and pasted the actual review for you to read.

Tell me about it has given me a sore arse.

I'm not glued to my seat reading it, but I have been sitting on the fence for 2 days regarding my opinion of it.

I prayed the author would tell me it wasn't a genuine submission, but she did, and in the end, as I'm not an overly intelligent person, I'm going with both my opinions.

The Dixon family blog tells the tale of life in Turkey, Natalie, hubby Brian and their four handsome kids. If I was a friend or a family member I would love it, it would keep me up to date on every thing they eat & drink, haircuts they get, cleaning products they use and what they hang their clothes on.

This will someday be a great resource for the entire family to look back at their time in an exotic land, it really will, and you should be proud of that much, but no amount of Natalie's dazzling smiles could hold my interest.

As an outsider, the blog just isn't going to hold my attention. It looks and reads very PG, very inoffensive visually and literally, which isn't a bad thing, but when I have the urge to reword posts myself, it doesn't bode well.

The family have lived for years in Turkey, a fascinating country I have visited myself, but I get absolutely no sense of the place from the blog, which is amazing considering it's over two years and 600 posts old.

I'm also an expatriate and I know that you never stop learning about your new home, but what little insight into Turkish life there was, seemed to fade away around March of 2007. There is a difference between holiday snapping and documenting where you live.

What got me chuckling? not much. This did for sure, but not much else.

There are glimpses of unused writing skills with a touch of poignancy, but like the scarlet pimpernel, it soon vanishes without a trace.

There are a few mentions of volunteer work, that sounds interesting, tell me where, when, why, how, who?

I trawled and trawled the archives, which are actually well organised with relatively few categories, looking for the juice, for something exciting, for more funny, for something I could hold up as the saving grace...instead, I found this and a little bit of me died inside.

I like this eternally smiley woman, but her blog gives me very little.

For what I hope it's intended to be, a place family and friends can see what's going on in your lives, and for the fact I have the exact same 'hand painted bowls' as you do, I give you this:

As a blog which is open to the universe to use and abuse, its this:

So now I am asking you...my mostly regular readers to review my blog as well. What do you agree with? Disagree with? Think I should do differently? I really want to know. I love keeping the blog and want constructive criticism on what I can do to make it better.

Oh...and be nice to the reviewer. He was way nicer to me than I expected, based on the reviews I read before I submitted my blog to be reviewed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dirt road to fun

The road to all the character and ambiance and atmosphere.
Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing - Photo Books

Setting the mood

You know there is something to be said for ambiance. For character. For atmosphere.

Take the hotel we recently stayed in for example...

We stayed here. In this rock.

This is Brian standing in the doorway to our room. Small, quaint, and full of character.

The bed and "kitchenette".

The couch/extra bed...

The ceiling...

And every room had a telephone in it. I never did see anyplace to plug this telephone in, but thankfully I hadn't planned on making any calls. This, my friends, is character! OH, and the bathroom in our room held a sink, toilet, and shower all in the same small place...no curtain separating the shower from the rest of the room. If one wanted one could sit on the toilet and shower at the same time. It was small, but it had character...ambiance if you will.

And here I am standing on the side of the rock by the windows to our room. I look like an amazon woman despite only being 5'2". This doesn't show character or ambiance. It was one of three pictures of me so I thought I would throw it in.

This is Engin Hanim, the proprietor of the Tekelli House. She was a character. Actually...she was quite nice. When we arrived she invited us to have tea with her and her husband on the terrace. We did, and I managed to not make a total fool of myself despite the drug induced state I was in from the migraine medicine I had take about an hour before.

The view from the terrace.

After having tea Brian and I decided to head into town for coffee. Brian told me about this place he knew of that had great coffee drinks. We parked the car in a parking lot and started walking.

To get to that great coffee place we had to walk by this place. Of course I immediately wanted to have coffee here instead. I mean look at those beanbag chairs! And there were hookahs on every table. Not that we were going to partake, but they looked nice. Gave the place character. AND this place had several kinds of coffee drinks as well as milkshakes and smoothies on their menu. I was sold! Brian agreed that we could try this new place instead. The raspberry vanilla French Press Brian ordered looked and tasted like dirty water. He let it brew longer than necessary, but it still never got dark enough to be considered anything other than dirty coffee water. I ordered a smoothie after being assured that the smoothie was way thicker than a milkshake. I have had Turkish milkshakes and while they taste great they are basically a glass of cold chocolate milk. There is nothing thick and ice creamy about them. My smoothie came, and once again I enjoyed a tall glass of chocolate milk. I will never learn.

Ok...so the drinks were disappointing, but the beanbag chairs were comfy. At least mine was. Brian never did get comfortable in his. He tried two different beanbag chairs and then rearranged the beans in them several times before finally giving up and deciding that I had the only comfy chair in the place. Ahhh...

After that we did a little shopping. I had forgotten my jacket so I bought a wrap to use after it got dark and in the underground city we were planning to visit the next day. After shopping and walking around we decided it was time for dinner. Once again Brian knew of a place that had good food, and this time it had character as well. It was dark, and we had to take our shoes off to enter. Guests sit on cushions on the floor and eat their meal on a large copper/silver tray.

Score one for Brian. We both noticed how unflattering this picture of us sitting on the floor is, but I had to show you the atmosphere.

We ordered a combo appetizer plate that was yummy! Hummus, eggplant and potato stir fry, salsa, squash fritters, mushroom salad, and stuffed eggplant. Speaking of stuffed that is exactly how I felt after eating the appetizers.

Then my food came. I ordered Falafel. I had never had it before, and it was yummy! My waiter was a little skeptical of me liking it when I lifted the top of the tortilla to see what it looked like. Then when I could barely eat any of it because I had pigged out on the appetizer and because I was sitting on the floor which totally limited how much I could force into my stomach (this would be a great diet technique!) he commented that I must not have liked it. Brian tried to explain that I was just full, but I don't think he ever believed me. Oh well. If he only knew how much I love good food.

And finally I offer you this fine example of mood setting. There are no camels in Turkey, except for the few that are found around the touristy areas. Why? Because they create ambiance, character, atmosphere if you will. And it works. It totally works!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where are all the troglodytes?

One of my favorite things to do when we go to Cappadocia is exploring the underground cities. These are basically caverns carved out of the rocks by hand. Some are a thousand years old or more. For more on the underground cities of Cappadocia you can read here, here, and here.

Brian and I have been to the two largest underground cities and wanted to do one that was less touristy.

We followed the signs for the village of Ozluce where there was supposed to be an underground city. When we drove up there was one lady in her doorway who pointed us to the parking lot/field/children's play place. We were the only people there. Yes! Much better than trying to explore an underground city full of tourists!

After we parked a man came running out of a building to meet Brian and point us in the right direction.

Brian standing at the entrance to the "under graund city".

Once inside the door we found these two delightful children. Mustafa and Aysegul were quite taken with us. Very giggly.

Ayhan, the caretaker, flipped on a light switch, handed Brian a flashlight, and pointed down this hallway. Basically we were left alone to go exploring.

At the end of the first tunnel we came to a large room. This is the doorway back out. These large stone doors were rolled in front of the openings to keep invaders out.

Wait...we thought we were being left alone. Aysegul and Mustafa were following us! Brian started asking them questions about different things in the cave. They were our tour guides. They had no qualms about going down dark passageways at all...quite impressive for a 2 and 3 year old. There were random light bulbs around. Some of them worked and some of them didn't.

All of these pictures were taken in the dark. I had no idea what I was actually getting until after I took them. Notice the nonworking light bulb in this picture.

There were kitchens, bedrooms, stables, wine and water cisterns, and all kinds of other rooms. They pretty much all looked the same.

Then I had to take this video because of how insane the whole thing seemed. This shows you how dark it was!

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing - Photo Books

And because the video is so dark here are some pictures of the actual tunnel we walked down.

Brian pointing the flashlight down the tunnel we are about to explore.

And we kept going...

And going...

Until finally finding this well. It did have a grate over the top of it so we weren't going to accidentally fall in. Notice the steps carved into the side of the well. And of course it wouldn't be Turkey if there wasn't trash thrown it it.

In the above video this is where we decided to stop. Who knows how much further we could have gone!

As we were leaving Ayhan took our picture in front of the wheel door. (I am wearing a wrap like thing that I had to buy the night before because I was cold. I know...I usually bring a jacket everywhere I go knowing that I will probably get cold at some point. The cave was quite chilly!)

This underground city is probably my favorite one so far. I loved that there weren't any other tourists. I loved that Ayhan just let us go exploring on our own. I loved that the kids were sweet and funny. And oh yeah...the fact that Ayhan told Brian that I had a sweet face didn't influence me at all!

I love Turkey!

Tuz Golu...or what is this stuff?

Here is a map of Turkey. With bits of Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus, and Greece thrown in. But I don't want to talk about any of those places. I want to talk about Turkey.

Specifically this bit of Turkey.

We live in Ankara...noted by the star. It is the capital of Turkey. We were driving to Cappadocia to celebrate 17 years of marriage on Saturday. Cappadocia is the region where the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys is located. On our way to Cappadocia we had to drive by the Tuz Golu or the Salt Lake...noted by the nice, big blue splash of color under Ankara on the map.

We have driven by Tuz Golu many, many times. We had never stopped to see what all the fuss was about despite signs and roadside souvenir shops beckoning us with their wares. There are always quite a few cars and people out walking on the lake. Since we were alone and needing to pee we decided that this would be the perfect place to stop. We didn't have the kids with us so we could go splashing through the water like carefree adults not acting our age. Sounded like fun times.

Now I must say that the salt lake is very shallow and depending on the amount of rainfall quite a bit of the lake is dry. But it is nice and pretty and white. After walking out on powdery salt for quite a ways we decided to take off our shoes to feel the nice sandy feeling between our toes.

Hm...what exactly is this stuff? It doesn't feel like sand at all.

What it felt like...pieces of broken glass. No frolicking or skipping through the water for us.

The following video is what we looked like walking through the salt lake. It was windy so I have transcribed it for your listening/reading enjoyment.

Brian: In case you think I am the only one looking stupid out here....
Me: How does it feel...walking on broken salt?
Brian: This is well worth the time and effort....something, something...I'm feeling the cleansing.
Me: There's another lady doing...
Brian: So is everybody else.
Me: Ouch. I can't even move. It hurts. Are you glad we came?
Brian: Oh yes, it's just like walking on powdery snow from a billion years ago that turned into ice.
Natalie: Alright. Ok, bye.

Now I do see that some people are walking around perfectly normal in the background of our video. Either they had shoes on or they had big, nasty calluses on their feet! I'm telling you...it was painful. We pryed up a few pieces of the salt crystals so we could show you exactly what we were walking on.

And let me just tell you this picture does not do it justice. The sharp points are not prominent enough. The flesh-slicing edges are too blurred. Just take my word for it...okay? Okay.

The best thing about visiting Tuz Golu is now being able to say "we've been there" when we see something about it on the History Channel or National Geographic. We will seem like well-traveled vacation snobs. Ahhh...the joy of it all.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

June 22

Tomorrow morning Brian and I will be traveling to Cappadocia for a night away. It is our 17th anniversary and since we have already gotten rid of the girls for the week we decided to pawn the boys off on friends and take a night away.

We are staying at the Tekelli House.
The hotel only has 5 rooms. They are all built into the fairy chimneys that dot the landscape. We have never stayed at this hotel before so it should be an adventure.

We will probably go hiking through the Ihlara Vadisi.

Stay tuned for pictures that I didn't just find online.

Water painting

On our recent trip to Kastamonu we met an artist. His medium was quite different than anything we had ever seen before. He had a pan of what looked like water. He took metal tipped sticks and dipped them into whatever paint color he wanted. He then dropped the drips of paint onto the surface of the water. He maneuvered the paint with the sticks until it looked like he wanted it to as it floated on the surface of the water.

He says "I draw rose." He also says the water is original. We are pretty sure he meant that the paintings are all original. Brian then asks him if he is using oil paints. He says no. He also says that the colors come from the earth, and he makes the paint by hand. He then talks about the liquid coming from the roots of plants. We left there not really having any idea exactly what kind of plants or water or paints he used, but it was quite fascinating.

After he finished the painting on the water he laid a piece of plain white paper on top of it. He left it there for just a few seconds.

When he lifted the paper off this was the result. This picture was about 13x11 inches and cost 40 lira...about $35.

I decided that I should buy something from him since we stood there for so long and since it was quite unique. I chose the following two pieces which are about 5x7 size. They were 5 lira apiece.

I have no idea what I will do with them, but I'm sure I'll think of something!

Brian is headed back to this town later this week. Maybe I'll have him pick up a couple more and I can have another contest...hm...now there's an idea! What colors would you be interested in?