Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sewing Project for Toddler: Fabric Alphabet

I saw this project on All About Learning Press, although I modified it a bit. I used their letter templates, but since I didn't know where to find quilt batting, I just backed the fabric with felt, and I'm pretty happy with the result.

So, first I printed the letters and cut them out. Honestly, this took a few days.

Then, I tried to find fabric scraps that matched the letter sounds. Honestly, this took a few weeks, and I only matched about half the letters to appropriate fabric, but that wasn't a big deal to me.

Next, I traced the letters onto the fabric and pinned them to a 5 inch square of felt. This whole process took a couple of weeks.

Finally, I sewed along the lines of the traced letters, then cut around the shape with my pinking shears, which I'm still extremely excited about.

To be honest, I'm not finished with this final step yet. When I'm all done I'll clean up the pencil marks, either with an eraser or gentle hand wash.

Why is this project taking forever? Because I'm doing it in 15-30 minute increments after work or on weekends, preferably while Moonpie is otherwise engaged, which is, well, never. I'm not in a rush, though, because she IS still only 14 months old.

I think I might try to finish today, though, because yesterday she brought me her animal alphabet book, which I read about 15 times a day and have memorized, turned to the back page where they list the whole alphabet, pointed at "A", and said "A B D E!" She's a genius, I tell you. A genius.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

English books in Turkey

I love books, but getting books in English here in Turkey is a bit of a challenge. In the US I bought a lot of used books. We do have a Kindle, but I still find it difficult to pay 10-15 bucks for an e-book. I know I can sign up to borrow books on the Kindle, but I'm such a slow reader that I would never finish the books in time. I takes me a good 6 months to read a book. Before you judge, let me say that I'm usually reading 3 books at a time. I don't know why I do this. I just do. Psychoanalyze me if you must.

As far as new books go, there's always Amazon UK or even Ebay UK, although they usually end up costing an arm and a leg because of shipping. A few bookstores here also sell new English books, but, still, the price is pretty steep. Still, it's a nice option to have. For those in Turkey, Remzi Kitabevi seems to have the best selection, and they have stores in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

On to used bookstores, called "sahaf" in Turkish. There are actually used bookstores with a decent selection of English books here in Izmir, and if I'm just looking for some casual reading, that is the place I go. The books there are usually 3-5 bucks. If you live in Izmir or Ankara, here is a website that lists the used bookstores for those cities: Used bookstores

Now with Moonpie in the picture I'm thinking more about building a children's book library since she won't have access to a real library in English like I did when I was a kid. There is a library of leftover books from the old NATO library in Izmir. It's called Kent Kütüphanesi, and it's located across from the Alsancak train station. However, most of the books there are older (from the 70s and 80s). Still, it's a nice resource to have. Here's a website where you can search their catalog (it's in Turkish).

Enter resource #1 - Better World Books. This is a website that sells new and used books, usually for a slightly higher price than Amazon, but they offer free shipping to anywhere in the world. This is amazing for me. The books take a good month to arrive, but Moonpie usually isn't in a rush, so we've placed a few orders now. To me the slightly higher prices are worth not having to lug suitcases full of books around the world. And as a bonus, they are a "social enterprise", which means your purchase with them also supports literacy initiatives around the world.

And my new favorite resource #2 - This is a Turkish website, so if you don't live in Turkey you'll probably not be very interested. Basically, used bookstores all over Turkey have put their inventory online, and you can order through this website. There are also quite a few English books, and you can use the advanced search option to find them. Not an amazing selection, although I did find five books that I had on my wishlist. Most of the children's books were 3-5 lira, which is about 1-2 dollars, and you'll pay another 5 lira or so on shipping, so it's a pretty good deal all things considered. And again, these are books I now won't have to lug (or ask someone else to lug) from the other side of the world.

If you know of another resource for English books outside of the US or UK, please leave it in the comments! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The Muslim Sacrifice Holiday was at the beginning of this month, so we got a 5 day weekend and tons of family togetherness. I'm pretty impressed by how much we maximized our time. The big highlight for me was our picnic on Monday. There is a picnic grounds out by the zoo, and we had never been there, so we decided to check it out, keeping in mind that it could be a great place or fairly creepy place, but there was no way of finding out without going ourselves.

It turned out to be full of families and pretty fun, although I'm thankful we didn't have to use the "facilities" there. That may have been not so fun.

Moonpie had a great time discovering her independence with her new walking skills and exploring nature, which were mostly eucalyptus leaves and sticks on the ground.

She even made a little friend names "Asia" who came over to steal some of her toys, but ended up staying to play. They were talking back and forth in some really expressive baby language and seemed to understand each other perfectly. So, so cute. I even did a really Turkish thing and gave someone else's child a cookie. The parents didn't seem to mind since they were happily swinging in their hammock and paying us no mind at all.

After lunch we took a walk and found a grove of these trees. They are "oleaster" or silverberry, or wild olive trees, but are being cultivated as agricultural research next to this picnic grounds. They look like olives and taste kind of similar to dates, but not as good. They are common in the Mediterranean region, and through my research I learned that they are probably the trees mentioned in the Bible when Paul talks about wild olive trees in Romans 11. I still have lots to learn about Turkey!


And that was our picnic!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Raising a baby in Turkey - Part 2: Baby love

My last post about an American raising a baby in Turkey was about a diametrically opposed culture clash between Turkish and American ideas of what's best for a baby, so I thought I'd look at a more positive difference this time.

Turks love babies. I mean, pretty much almost every Turk goes gaga over every baby. It's amazing. They don't seem to lose their enthusiasm. When I go out with Moonpie I get stopped probably at least 10 times by people who just want to oodle over her. I can't just run into the grocery store "real quick" because the cashier will literally stand up, walk around the register and kneel down by Moonpie's stroller to play with her and try to get her to smile for a few minutes before checking me out. I am not even kidding, people.

Kids barely older than Moonpie come over to look at the "baby". Yeah, I don't like it when two-year-olds are touching her face, but hey. At the park last week a pair of 10-year-old twin girls wanted to slide with her down the slide and push her around the park by themselves (I said no, for the record). It's just hard to explain the universality of the baby love in Turkey. 20 year old men go crazy for babies. Moonpie's sock once fell off in an Adidas store and once one staff member realized what we were looking for we had 5 guys looking through the whole store. We couldn't find it, so we left, but then one of the guys came running out after us waving the pink sock and put it back on Moonpie's foot, all the while raving about how cute she was. True story.

We went to a restaurant with my parents and I wish I had taken a picture of the three waiters hovering around Moonpie's highchair, occasionally reaching in to give her a spoonful of food if I was otherwise occupied for a second. I think my parents were both mystified and horrified. People (friends and strangers) have given her chicken, cookies, pudding and ice cream without my permission, and a woman on the metro tried to give her a chocolate bar when she was like 5 months old. In America people would hesitate due to the possibly presence of allergies, or, I don't know, respect for the parents, maybe, or common sense? I digress.

I'm not even going to mention the over 50 female crowd. There is a word in Turkish - "Mashallah" - that basically is meant to protect the person spoken to from evil powers and such, and it's said to babies and kids (and me, not sure why, usually seems to be because I'm tall). Anyway, Turkish women say that word often and go absolutely nuts for my baby, even when they have their own grandkids. They just can't get enough. I think it's so sweet. I love it when people oodle over my baby.

The hard part about this for me is that strangers try to hold her, as in try to rip her out of my arms. Random woman at the bank, random woman in the checkout line, cleaning lady at the hospital, just people everywhere. This is the hardest part about this cultural difference. I know they aren't trying to be creepy, but it still creeps the heck out of me. I just say, "No, baby doesn't want you to hold her. She'll cry." They usually back off.

I'm not saying Americans don't love babies, but it's a different kind of love. Americans definitely don't go as crazy over strangers' kids. There's not really a concept of "stranger danger" for kids in Turkey, for better or worse. Americans admire kids from afar, with words like "cute baby" or "oh, look at the baby". There isn't a lot of reaching into the stroller, touching the face, giving of chocolate bars or grabbing out of the mother's arms going on in America. 

Sure, I feel protective about people touching her face (germs!) and giving her food, and we decided as a general rule not to let strangers hold her, but it feels great to have people making such a fuss. She looooooves the attention, too. She's such a flirt. Even at three months she was flashing her toothless grin around seeing what kind of reaction she could get. I just chalk it up as part of our multi-cultural life!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

DIY Toddler Sleep Sack

This is going to seem a bit contradictory after my previous post about the struggle to keep my baby from becoming a hot, sweaty mess here in Turkey, but believe it or not, this American does try to keep her baby warm in the winter. Moonpie is now 13 months old, wearing size 24 months/2T clothing. She had a size 18 months sleep sack from last winter that I thought I could squeeze her into, but no, it wasn't working out.

So, I went back to the baby stores to find a size 2T sleep sack. The problem is that they don't seem to sell many of them. My hypothesis is that most children wearing size 2T use those handy little things called "blankets" when they sleep. Interestingly, my little Moonpie hates the things. I have tried covering her with a blanket after she falls into a deep sleep, but this child will throw off the blanket even in deep sleep, and usually wake up as well. 

As I was wondering around IKEA (my last stop, and where I get many of my good ideas), I stumbled upon a huge pile of cheapo fleece blankets, and I got an idea. Instead of buying 2 yards of fleece, which would probably also be cheapo quality, why not buy a 6 dollar IKEA blanket and sew my own sleep sack? Yes, why not indeed? So, that's what I did.

Here is the blanket. 

I laid out her old sleep sack and drew new pattern pieces on baking paper. I didn't measure, but made them a generous two inches wider and 8 inches longer than the old sleep sack.

It also didn't occur to me to take pictures until after I was done, so I don't have many process pictures. I basically cut out the pieces leaving a roughly half inch seam allowance, sewed in my zipper, then sewed it all up. 

I added the flower and reinforced the arm holes and neck hole with a baste stitch, then used my new pinking shears (which I am disproportionately excited about) to give the edges a nice finish. No need to hem fleece. I also added a flap over the top of the zipper to keep it out of Moonpie's sight since she's just discovered that she can open zippers. She can also open velcro, but she doesn't know that it's there, so don't tell her, ok?

She likes this sleep sack, and it's nice and big so she can roll all around in bed without getting stuck or cold and waking up, so I figure this 8 dollar project has bought me hours of sleep. Hooray!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Raising a baby in Turkey - Part 1: It's getting hot in here. Take off those clothes. No, really.

Turks and Americans have some different ideas about raising babies. I thought I would share some. I'm going to be using sweeping generalizations, so please note that not ALL Americans and ALL Turks may be represented in my observations.

Turks believe that being cold, slightly chilly, or even barely warm will make you ill. Touching a cold wall will make you ill. Moving air will make you ill. If you eat ice cream in any month besides July or August you will probably die. You should not walk on exposed tiles in any weather at any time. They could be harboring a temperature below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and make you ill. I've also heard that stepping on an exposed tile floor will injure a woman's reproductive health, but I don't know how widely that is accepted.

Americans, on the other hand, believe in moving air. Oh, we love it. Especially people from Phoenix. We move our air around as much as possible. We set up fans upon fans upon fans strategically placed near air conditioning vents to accelerate already moving, cold air to make it faster and colder. We hate stagnant air, closed windows, and heat in general. Just move that air, baby. We also love, love, love cold tile. It keeps us cool, after all. We don't cover it up. We don't place a barrier between it and our feet. We lie down on it and roll around on it and generally try to transfer our body heat to it and other cool things.  All of these things are considered insanity for Turks, ways to insure a quick and sudden death.

In Turkey, sweat is bad because if air moves across it, YOU MIGHT COOL DOWN! Americans (at least in Phoenix) soak ourselves in water and then sit in front of moving air, preferably cold moving air. You get the idea.

So, Turks believe that babies should be wrapped in blankets. Lots of blankets. Fleece blankets. With hats. And socks. And multiple layers of clothing. In the summer. Or winter. Doesn't matter, really. Americans believe that babies should be kept as cool as possible without being freezing cold. Americans believe that being too warm can cause health problems, contribute to SIDS and just in general be very, very bad for babies.

This clash can cause problems for the American (and British person, I've heard) raising their baby in Turkey. Both groups are trying to do what's right, but the understanding of what's right are very, very different. Thankfully, doctors in Turkey are increasingly trying to educate people on the dangers of keeping babies too warm, so I've just been able to say, "The doctor said to keep the baby cool." Thank you, doctor, for saying that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Re-thinking my daily routine - what really matters

I have felt inspired by a common theme lately – one of simplifying and prioritizing my life. I suppose becoming a mother has made me look harder at what is really important to me, and what I had just been doing out of habit. And yet, I’m now finishing up an 8 hour work day and getting ready to make the hour-long trek home on public transport (which I actually prefer to driving here in Turkey) where I will have about 30 minutes to do as much of the roughly 2 or 3 hours of housework waiting for me as I can before my husband and Moonpie come home, shortly after which I should have a hot dinner on the table, which first will need to be cleared off from all the stuff we dumped there yesterday, and, well, you get the idea. I feel overwhelmed a lot, and we don't have any huge issues. It's just LIFE. And I suspect that a lot of people are in the same boat. 

And yet, I found two sewing projects that I’d really like to do, but I don’t seem to have time. I have a few blog posts in my mind I’d like to write, but can’t find the time or mental clarity to bring them together. Other writing projects have been on hold for at least a month. Reading the Bible happens sporadically (I’m glad I have my verse-a-day calendar on my desk!), and more often than not I’m too tired and zoned out by the time Moonpie goes to bed to have any quality interactions with anyone.

Yay for verse-a-day calendars!

This post on The Art of Simple got me thinking, and this together with my continued goal of decluttering have inspired me to re-think my daily routine.

I’m going to commit to not looking at the computer at home, unless there is a really, really good reason. I already stare at the computer all day, and it’s just a bad habit. In my heart I’d rather look at the faces of my husband and daughter.

I’m also going to commit to keeping my morning quiet and simple. No checking of emails or news. I had the intention of doing Bible and devotional reading in the morning, but found myself watching a video about ISIS this morning. Not a great tone-setter for my day.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to give myself a 30 walk after lunch a few days a week. My mind is so cluttered most of the time, and the best way for me to clear it is usually walking, which is also great for my physical health.

The thing is, I have already purposed to do these things, but it’s so hard to change my routine. This morning I automatically reached for the ipad so I could read the news during breakfast, and I had to stop myself and say, “No, not gonna do that.” Today after lunch I’ll have to get my derriere off the chair and rip myself away from my coworkers’ conversations to go take a walk. I’m not really a list person, but I thought of making a list just to give me something to motivate my change. We’ll see. Maybe a list is a good idea.

Have you made a change to get out of a bad habit or simplify? What worked for you?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Baby update - We have a toddler!

Nearly there!
Moonpie is a walker, people, and I don’t mean that in “The Walking Dead” sense. Although she does try to bite me, we’re working on it, and she shows many signs of not being a zombie.

She was taking a step or two for a while (a month), but I refused to call it walking since it was just a more organized way of falling into my arms. But a week before her birthday she summoned enough coordination and balance to take 4 steps across our living room rug from me to her daddy. I started screaming, but then she was trying to understand if mommy screaming was a good or bad thing, so I had to tone it down a bit. She repeated that process many times, and has increased her steps to about 7 or 8. She can also walk without an adult there to catch her at the end, so I would say she’s officially walking now! Granted, she did a face plant last night, but I figure those are inevitable in her quest for independent movement. Thankfully, I was able to convince Mr. Stitches that we didn’t need to cover all of our hard surfaces in padding after said face plant as well. I love how he wants to protect her, though. So sweet.

She’s continuing to speak fluent baby – she uses very convincing intonation, though, so people have already started asking me what she’s saying, and I’m like, “Your guess is as good as mine, but I think in this instance she is referring to Newton’s First Law of Motion, as in ‘Let’s get this stroller moving, people!’” Or something like that.

Fun at the park
Anyway, that’s what we’re up to these days. Her sleep is still royally dysfunctional, so we are quite tired, but I hesitate to mention that for fear of sounding like a broken record. She’s also hard core teething some molars, so that is probably the reason for the sleep problems. Or any other of the 1,407 reasons babies don't sleep through the night. Sigh.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Decluttering, Take 2

I just wanted to update people since my decluttering post was by far my most popular post ever. Apparently lots of people are in the same boat as me, standing in their living rooms, thinking, "Who sneaked into my house and dropped a bunch of stuff off? Reverse burglary!" I saw this article in the New York Times that also caught my eye. There apparently is a trend of people having to pay people to help them get rid of their stuff before they downsize.

I'm actually really happy with our decluttering. Even after the four suitcases of stuff for Moonpie arrived, we are in good shape in terms of space. We had to rearrange a bit, and I am continuing to declutter little by little, so we are surprisingly a-ok. My latest declutters have been our bedside drawers, which we never open or use but were stuffed full of who knows what. Got rid of most of that. Turns out we had 3 cell phones that didn't work. Why we threw them in there is beyond me.

I also made a difficult decision to get rid of some hand-me-downs given to Moonpie. They were all so cute, but for older children, minimum 5 years old, so I realized that I would be storing them for at least 4 more years, but we need space now. We're also tentatively planning on moving in the next 2 years, so the thought of storing and moving things that she may or many not use in 4 years was sounding more and more ridiculous. I sorted through everything, kept some things that she could use now, tossed some random things, and passed on most of it to a little 5 year old girl who REALLLLY appreciates it. Toys should be played with, clothes should be worn, and I felt a little selfish keeping these items for my daughter who already has more toys and clothes than she really needs. However, I also felt bad knowing that they were given to us for Moonpie to enjoy, but we passed them on. Oh well.

So, after the dust settled I decided to make the bathroom my next goal for decluttering. I had a sneaking suspicion that I don't use 90% of my makeup. I use 4 items every day, but had to scratch and claw through a huge pile of other things to find them...everyday. It was time. Here was the result:

What I had:

What I usually use daily:

What I kept:

I still have too much eye shadow, considering I don't really use it. At least I've pared down, and I can revisit that later.

So, there's my decluttering update. A few of you let me know that you were inspired to declutter after reading my post and The Simple White Rabbit.

How is your decluttering going? Updates, please!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My in-laws are driving me crazy! A must read for ALL in-laws

Hehe, I got you with this title. This is not a rant about my in-laws.

I have stumbled across a book that I would like to recommend to the entire world. Ok, just people who are or have ever been married, or related to someone who is or has been married, have kids who are or have been married or parents who are or have been married. That is probably 92.8% of the world's population, taking into account that that statistic is totally made up.

It's called Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family by Ruth Nemzoff. As people who know me or read this blog know, I'm in a cross-cultural marriage, so my in-laws have a different culture than I do. Before we got married, perhaps the number one question I heard was "How do you get along with his family?" accompanied by a cringe from the questioner. Turkish (and Greek, and Italian, and maybe all) mother-in-laws have a really bad reputation. Even Turkish daughter-in-laws rarely get along with their mother-in-laws, so throw in the cultural difference and people figured I was toast. And I have to say honestly, it has been a bumpy road so far for all of us. I'm not going to go into details because that won't be helpful. Reading Moonpie's birth story might give you an idea. But what is helpful is this book I'm reading. And she points out what I pointed out in my previous blog post - ALL marriages are cross-cultural. ALL marriages are the coming together of people from different backgrounds, and the coming together of two different, sometimes VERY different, families. It was really nice to read that and confirm what I had suspected.

This book is just so, so helpful. She addresses each chapter to different relationships, first parents in relating to their children's spouses, then adult children relating to their spouse's parents, then siblings relating to their sibling's spouses, then both sets of parents relating to each other, etc. She gives lots of examples, which won't ring true for everyone, but demonstrate principles to live by. Her main point, if I may summarize it, is that we are all different, and that is not a bad thing. Especially in in-law relationships we need to leave room for difference while giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and we need to turn the other cheek. A lot.

This book is by no means written from a Christian perspective, but it honestly gives better practical advice that I've read in any "Christian" book or website, which usually mention Ruth and Naomi. I wonder how many situations that story actually applies to in terms of losing all male relatives, converting to your mother-in-law's beliefs and moving with her back to her hometown where you marry one of her relatives and become an ancestor to the Savior of the world. I also wonder if the story of Ruth and Naomi was meant to be a model for in-law relationships, or rather a demonstration of God's generous redeeming grace. Anyway, I digress...

Another of her main assumptions is that you can't change other people, but you can change your attitudes and responses. If you really want to change your in-laws, you probably won't like this book, and if you just want to rant and rave about how crazy they are (I have been guilty of this), it also won't be your favorite book. It is a really challenging, but really rewarding book.

I think even people who think they have a great relationship with their in-laws should read this book. As she pointed out, big life events in a family like marriage, birth, illness, death, and divorce all ripple through a family and can change dynamics, possibly souring what was a great relationship if unspoken expectations aren't met. I wish someone had given me this book before we got married.

All this to say, I won't force you or twist your arm, but seriously, read this book.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kazakh Cultural Center and a taste of Kimiz (Fermented Mare's Milk)

Some friends of ours, a German-Turkish couple, had asked us a while ago if we wanted to get together, as we do from time to time, but the past few weekends were too busy for either or both of us. Finally, last weekend we were both free, and they said they had heard of a place to check out - a Kimiz Farm. I had heard of kimiz before. It's apparently a very traditional Turkish drink that is still a big part of Kazakh culture. (All pictures taken with our new Samsung NX1000. I just want to point out that Moonpie is not blurry. You may continue.)

Some flags of places where Turks live
For people who aren't aware (as I wasn't until I got interested in all things Turkish), there is a large group of Turkic peoples in the world who live in areas stretching from China to Turkey, and most places in between, including Russia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and some others that don't come to mind at the moment. Oh, Azerbaijan. They all speak fairly similar languages, share similar cultures, and quite of bit of ancestry. They were historically tribal nomadic people who migrated probably from somewhere around Mongolia out into a huge part of the world I just mentioned. Anyway, this is by no means a completely accurate or complete overview, I just wanted people to know why Turks would be interested in Kazakh culture.

Hello there!

Anyway, the "farm" (it's more like a cultural center) is about 1 hour from our house just outside of Kemalpasa. As soon as we got there we had to stop and show the kids the horses. They have horseback riding, but both of the little tykes were too little, and none of the adults wanted to risk crushing a pony, so we skipped that. Then we learned that they had a cultural talk in the replica traditional "otagi" basically like the traditional Mongolian ger.

Moonpie and friend

We went inside and were greeted by a Kazakh woman who immediately asked what part of Germany I was from. Um, actually, I'm not, oh nevermind. She kept stopping the talk to ask if I had understood her, which was pointless because I wasn't listening to most of it as I was trying to keep Moonpie and our friends' two-year-old from poking each other's eyes out or slamming each other's fingers in the conveniently low to the ground right at baby level windows in the "tent" (it was made out of concrete in the shape of a tent). Anyway, I did glean some information, like traditionally Turks didn't eat vegetables because they were nomads, so they got all of their nutrients from horse meat, sheep meat, yogurt and kimiz. Wow, I thought, kimiz must be awesome. My interest was building by the minute. I also learned that they burned dried dung for their fires (I did not know the Turkish word for dung until this day) and it was very important for each nuclear family to have their own tent. No sharing. I think that was a great idea on their part. Anyway, it was all pretty neat, and although I didn't understand the whole talk, I enjoyed looking at the items and decoration in the room.

Really nice motifs

On to lunch and the famous kimiz. They brought out the kimiz before the meal, and only my German friend had tasted it before. She didn't seem very enthusiastic, but I thought, wow, this must be great. If you drink this you don't have to eat vegetables.

You drink it out of little bowls instead of cups, so I poured some into my bowl. Mr. Stitches advised me to go easy. I took a sip. YOW! WOW! That stuff has pop. I could not keep a straight face for any of my sips of kimiz. That flavor really pops around your mouth, and not in a good way. My German friend's husband thought that maybe they were ripping us off and just selling us sour yogurt souped up with vinegar.

Awesome Kazakh (and Uzbek) food!
Kimiz was not a hit, but I did finish my bottle because we had paid the equivalent of 3 dollars for it. My theory was that it would go down easier with food, and I was right. The food, by contrast, was amazing. I enjoyed every single thing, and I would go back just for the food.

Moonpie found a pine cone

Here's their website which includes an informative video. Although it's in Turkish, you can see the gist of the place.

For those in Turkey and wanting to visit, it's called Kimiz Ciftligi and it's on the road between Kemalpasa and Torbali, closer to Kemalpasa. Their phone number is 0232 878 14 43.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Great camera for new parents - Samsung NX1000

We decided to get a new camera about the time Moonpie started crawling. I loved (and still do, in my heart) our Canon Powershoot, but she just got too darn squirmy for it. Almost all of my pictures of her after 7 months were blurry unless I turned on the flash, and then she had her eyes closed and was all washed out.

It captured water droplets. I thought this was pretty cool. 
We thought we wanted a starter DSLR, or what we call a "professional" camera. Lots of our friends and family have them, so we started asking around to see what people liked about them. But we mostly heard the same two things from everyone - they're hard to carry around (heavy and big) and it takes a time investment to learn how to take a nice picture with them.

Close up of Mr. Stitches's ice cream
Realistically I knew that if I added another large bag to the collection we already take when we leave the house, I would have to invest in a pack animal. I also knew that I probably wouldn't have the time or motivation to invest in a photography class. Yet we still strolled through electronics stores and checked out the DSLR cameras at every opportunity. Then one time Mr. Stitches asked the sales lady if she'd run us through the different types of cameras, and she pulled out the Samsung NX1000. I was mentally rolling my eyes thinking it was a waste of time. It didn't look much fancier than our little point and shoot. But as she started showing us what it could do, I was pretty much sold then and there.

Who doesn't love a crisp picture of a flower?

It has the option to do manual settings like the professional cameras, but it also has a "smart" auto setting, meaning the user is a dummy and needs the camera to be smarter than the user. I love this setting. Basically, it takes clear pictures of Moonpie while she's moving, so I totally love it. I also use the sports setting. It takes rapid fire pictures of moving targets, great for capturing Moonpie.

I'm sure it's not enough camera for professionals or photography enthusiasts, but if you just want clear, high quality images without a lot of fuss, I can recommend this camera 126%. It also has a wifi connection, which I haven't tried out yet, so you can transfer the pictures directly to your computer or website without the whole take-the-card-out routine. Oh, and it's pretty small and lightweight, too. When I pick up the camera case I always have to check if the camera is inside because it feels empty! We have a large-ish zoom lens on it right now, but I'm thinking of buying a thin "pancake" lens so it will fit in my purse. There are lots and lots of cameras out there, and lots and lots of blogs and websites describing them, but I just wanted to let y'all know that this one works great for us!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Moonpie’s First Birthday - Ladybugs!

We celebrated Moonpie’s first birthday one month early so my parents could be included. I wrote about her birth story here if you missed it.

I actually used my cupcake stand!
I didn’t know if I wanted a theme, but I found an actual party store in the old town shopping district of Izmir called Kemeraltı. I am convinced that you can find absolutely anything there if you just wander around long enough. They had a selection of 10 or so party themes for kids, so I chose the lady bugs. Then I bought almost every red or ladybug party decoration in the store – plates, cups, napkins, balloons, paper flowers, banners, and even a “1” cookie cutter and red fondant, which I have never used before in my life. That saleswoman was gooooooood, I’m telling you. Good. And it all cost about 20 bucks, so I felt it was worth it compared to the time I would spend trying to make my own decorations.

So my idea was to make carrot cake cupcakes, because carrots are a vegetable and I wouldn’t feel as bad giving that to Moonpie, and cupcakes are easier to make cute than a whole cake. I used the recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook, my mom brought a cute Ladybug Cupcake Decorating Kit from America, and we were set.

Flour-dusted fondant
The fondant turned out way better than I expected. I used this recipe from Miss Marzipan for the sugar cookies. They were really, really, really good. The only flaw was that I got flour on the top of the fondant. I wasn’t sure how to roll it out otherwise, and the flour got all in the fondant, so I brushed them with water, then they were all moist. But, nobody cared about that. I had seen a ladybug stamp in a Playdough set that would have been a cute addition, but I couldn’t justify spending 9 dollars on the whole set just for the one stamp, so I passed that up in honor of my goal of decluttering.

My mom also brought a cute ladybug dress, but Moonpie doesn’t like dresses at the moment as they cramp her crawling style, so after some pictures I changed her into a red shirt and white shorts.

Happy Birthday Moonpie!
My in-laws, including SIL’s fiancé came over, so we were a party of 8 adults and the birthday girl. Just the perfect size. She got tons of cute gifts that people sent from America (thank you!), just the perfect mix of clothes and books and toys.

Moonpie liked her cupcake, but was extremely cool about it, as she is about most things. She was like, “Yeah, it’s alright. I guess I like sugar.” She ate about half.

Still playing with her new loot in her pjs.
For dinner we ordered in "pide", which is like pizza, I guess. I know I could have hand made the decorations and cooked a fabulous meal for everyone, but I was just plain tired, and I didn’t want to waste hours that could be spent with my parents stressing out in the kitchen. (If you can't tell I feel bad about not totally homemakering it up for Moonpie's birthday, because usually I would be all over that. Just the timing, I guess. And I have to keep telling myself that Moonpie really doesn't care at all, so why do I?)

The best part was that Moonpie enjoyed the party. I had read that first birthday parties can go downhill fast when the kids start melting down, but Moonpie actually didn’t have any meltdowns! That’s my girl! She seemed to really enjoy all of the attention and new toys, and was playing happily even though she stayed up past her bedtime (you may gasp here)!

How do you (or did you) celebrate your kids’ birthdays? Do you go for homemade or store bought? Large or small (or none)?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Big Fat Turkish Birth

In honor of Moonpie's approaching 1st birthday (has it been a YEAR????), here is the story of her birth, sans (most) gory details.

Her due date was August 23rd, or 26th, depending on who you asked and when. I was going with the 26th, since that was the first date we were given. I thought, “Surely she will come early. I came two weeks before my due date.” So I was all ramped up to give birth the first week of August. And the second. Third. Fourth. 

Her due date came and went. Nothing. Not even a smidgen of a contraction. I left work on August 12th, and promptly planted myself under the A/C in our living room 24 hours a day, going between the couch and my yoga ball. My mother-in-law came to cook a meal for us the following week. She probably thought she would come once, then Moonpie would be born. Nope. She came back like 4 times. That was awesome of her. I got really into rodeo, which they were showing on daytime TV for some reason, and this cleaning contest show. My husband thought I was losing my mind. 

That bottom line shows contractions. Totally flat.
My husband’s cousin got married on August 30th. We thought, “Oh, we’ll have a newborn then, we won’t be able to go.” We didn’t.

My husband’s aunt and uncle who came into town for the wedding came to visit us September 1st. They joked about how they thought they would be able to visit the baby, but there I was, still pregnant. Haha.

I had started saying things like, “I’m going to be pregnant forever.” I was having a check-up every week, then twice a week. My whole pregnancy we had never caught Moonpie's face on an ultrasound. My doctor finally was able to show me her face in 3D on August 31st. You know what I said? "I don't want to see her face. I want to see her." Such a magical moment, I know. My doctor scheduled a c-section for September 4th.

My water broke at 2AM on September 2nd. We went to the hospital at 3AM. In retrospect, I wish I had just laid down and gotten some more rest. They didn’t do anything at the hospital except confirm that my water had broken and wait for contractions to start (they didn’t). My in-laws showed up around 4AM, and just crashed on the empty hospital bed next to me. So basically it would have been better to stay at home until a decent hour. Lesson learned.

The next day was a lot of waiting for contractions to start, getting medicine to do that, contractions not starting. By the afternoon my doctor just called it – if your body still isn’t doing anything in an hour, we’re doing a c-section. I had heard you can go 24 hours after your water breaks, but my body wasn't doing ANYTHING. Nothing. 

At the time I was really upset about this. I really wanted to give birth, but it wasn’t happening, and I was getting pretty tired, so I might not have been able to anyway. I was crying. Actually, everyone was crying. Oh, did I mention that there were 9 of husband’s family members with us? Yes, yes there were.

They took me to the OR around 2:30 in the afternoon, and Moonpie was born at 3:05PM. They didn’t let my husband come (we knew that beforehand), so I was alone, and I felt really alone. I was just crying and holding on to God, and I knew He was with me. The nurse asked why I was crying, but the doctor answered for me - "She didn't want a c-section, and she wanted her husband with her. But it's going to be ok because you're going to see your baby really soon." Then they gave me something in my IV that made me throw up into my oxygen mask. I told the anesthesiologist, “I’m going to throw up.” And she said, “Don’t worry, everyone feels like that.” Then I threw up, and she was like, “Oh, she’s throwing up.” Someone helped me and cleaned my face off because my arms were velcroed down for some reason, so that was nice of them. For some reason I felt a lot better after that.

When the doctor first saw her she said, “Oh, she’s dark! You got your wish!” (I had said I wanted her to look like her daddy. She is now basically blond. My husband likes to rub this in my face.) Her first little cries were amazing. Truly amazing. I’ve never been so happy to hear any sound ever. I just said, "Thank you, Jesus." 

They brought her up to my face and I kissed her little face all over. Her eyes were open and she had a really surprised expression on her face, like she wanted to say “What the...?” I don’t have a picture, but I’ll remember it forever. Then they whisked her away, and I fell asleep while they were stitching me up.

I went back to the hospital room with 9 of my in-laws, plus my husband and daughter waiting for me. She was screaming her head off. I was euphoric. I wish I could always be that euphoric to hear her screaming. Anyway, they gave her to me and I nursed her right away. She did great – she knew what to do. And I had like 5 people telling me what to do, so that was taken care of.

My husband’s family being there was really touching. It was amazing to see all of the love that Moonpie entered into in the minutes after she was born. She was literally surrounded by people who love her. But... my husband and I both agreed that if we do this again, we will try really hard to make it a little (lot) lower key and less crowded. I'll let you know how that goes.

So, my little Moonpie is nearly 1, nearly walking, talking in her own Moonpie language, and absolutely beautiful. Happy Birthday, babe!

Monday, August 11, 2014


I had never been to Alaçatı (roughly pronounced AL-a-chat-uh) before, but heard it was a nice little town, so we went in to check it out and have dinner one night. Most of the downtown has been restored, a rare sight in Turkey. There are quite a few chain stores, but also smaller boutiques, although we didn’t do much shopping. 

Cute shops
I loved this little corner. And I'm pretty sure those pillows are from IKEA.

We ate at Rasim Usta at the end of the first main street. The food was good and not too pricey, which I was worried about since Alaçatı has a reputation for being a bit hoity toity, and we were there on one of the biggest travel days of the year with it being the last day of Ramadan. 

Rasim Usta in Alaçatı

Good food, good prices, great service

Alaçatı is famous for its windmills, now restored and proudly overlooking a booming little town.

Alaçatı at dusk

Friday, August 8, 2014

Vacation with the fam on the Aegean Coast

The last two times my parents came to visit were for our wedding and right after Moonpie’s birth. In the first case they spent most of their time assembling wedding programs, bouquets and corsages, and in the second case I think we left our apartment once. Their big outing was waiting outside the American consulate, eating a hamburger and drinking a Starbucks. What an exotic Turkish experience they had.

So, this time, we really wanted to get them out to the beach. We rented a villa near Alaçatı (more on that later), and we were off!

Besides the initial little mishap of forgetting the suitcase with the sheets and towels in it, it was a great time, as time spent in a villa by the beach should be.

Turquoise water, sandy beaches, happy baby (very important) and time spent together – what more could I ask for?