Monday, June 30, 2014

The Big 3-0!

I just celebrated my 30th birthday. As luck would have it, this is also the 30th post on Marie in Stitches!
I really hadn’t thought much about it until, like, the day before (Oh my gosh! It's the last day of my 20s!!!). My life is so full right now with taking care of Moonpie, spending time with my husband, going back to work and balancing out the everyday things like housework and cooking, and I'm really, really thankful for all of this.

Birthday Carrot Cake at the office.

My boss turned 30 a few years back and told us all there at the office party for him that he feels like 30 is when life really starts. He said his 20s were all about trying to get somewhere, but as he approached 30 he began to feel like he could stop trying to get somewhere and just enjoy where he was. At the time I remember thinking, "That's what people turning 30 say to make themselves feel better." But now that I'm turning 30, I think I agree! Not that I’m going to stop doing anything new now that I’m at the old age of 30, but my 20s really were full of angst, and I think they are for a lot of people – trying to finish a college degree, trying to finish a master’s degree (thanks, Dad, for pushing me), finding a job (or 2), moving to a new country, getting married, having a baby. All good things, and I think pretty typical things for people to do in their 20s.

Birthday roses from my wonderful husband!
Looking at my 30s, I don’t know what God has for me, but I’m excited to find out!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Baby Moonpie's Father's Day Gift

Look at this foot. Isn't it just the cutest? 

I asked Moonpie what she wanted to get her daddy for Father's Day, but since she didn't have enough money saved up for a sports car, we decided to go with a homemade craft. For Mr. Stitches's Father's Day gift I decided to capture Moonpie's foot and hand prints. 

(I tried to take pictures of each step, but taking pictures while trying to prevent paint from covering our entire house proved easier in theory than practice. At least it's washable!)

Here is Moonpie showing (trying to eat) the paints. 

Step one: smear finger paint all over baby's hand and ask yourself "Why did I think this was a good idea?"

This was the best picture of her feet I could get. 

Finished product!

I added "Happy Father's Day" and her name and the date and put it in a frame.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cross-Cultural Marriage Series Part 4: Starting from Scratch

For the final part of this cross-cultural marriage series, I am going to get all philosophical on you. When I was brainstorming this series, I naturally asked my other half what HE liked about our cross-cultural marriage. And do you know what he said?

“I like that we had to take everything we thought we knew, throw it out, and start from scratch together.”

I couldn’t have said it better. When we grow up, we learn things from our family, friends, neighbors, and people in general around us about how the world works or should work, and this forms our culture. It shapes how we understand the world, how we believe we should act, what we value, eat, drink, pretty much almost everything we do. It also informs our expectations in our marriage. When I married my Turkish husband, I began sharing my life, and possibly more difficult – my living space – with someone who thought differently than me on a lot of issues. I gave some examples in the first post – from when one should eat ice cream to when one should go to the doctor, that first year we were discovering differences almost every day. But beyond these there were bigger issues, like what is really important in our lives and how we spend our time and money.

Instead of getting in a cultural tug of war, we look to our mutual “most important” – God, His Word, His grace. Since we committed to follow and serve Christ together on our wedding day, we realize that we have to evaluate every other thing, including our cultural values, in light of Him.

So, that first year, I had to let go of things I thought were my “rights”, but really turned out to be materialism and selfishness because the Bible says things like “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” and “Wives, submit yourselves to your own to your husbands as you do to the Lord.” He had to let go of the macho male attitude that most other Turkish men have because the Bible says things like “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” He is really, really good at doing this, by the way, whereas I have a ways to go in loving my neighbors and submitting.

I love that our cross-cultural marriage doesn’t let us go with what feels right or what everybody else is doing. When we encounter a big difference, it’s a chance to look to God and see what really is the right way to go.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marie's 10 Tips for Living Abroad

There is lots of advice out there for the nuts and bolts of living abroad as a foreigner – visas, insurance, airlines, baggage, taxes, costs, jobs, and the like. I wanted to write a list dealing with tips for emotional and mental success for people living abroad more long-term.

So, here is my two cents’ worth of advice after living in Turkey for 6 years and messing up a lot along the way:

1. Expect things to go wrong, at least at first. When I first moved here a lot of things went wrong. Turkish bureaucratic processes aren’t exactly streamlined, although they are getting better every year. I frequently hear newbies say, in all seriousness, things like, “I guess I can live without hot water.” Or “I don’t think I really need heat in the winter. I’m from Nebraska.” But, really, you do need hot water, and heat, believe it or not. You will get it done eventually. It will be ok. Until something else breaks. I wrote a post about waiting for repairmen here

2. Make friends. Now, these might not have been friends you would have chosen back home. They might look weird, or even (gasp!) BE weird, at least weirder than you. They might smoke pot or not smoke pot (depending on which is weird for you), or grow pot in pots (true story) or have 13 cats (true story) or hate Americans (true story).  It doesn’t matter at this point. You need friends. 

3. Let yourself be angry. You are totally right that everything is inefficient and have a right to ask why the heck is everything just so bleeping difficult? I would also suggest familiarizing yourself again with the concept of culture shock and its stages.

Go on an adventure!
4. Make yourself not be angry for a little while. Take time to enjoy your new home. You probably moved here to have an adventure, or do something exotic or different. Take time to do those things.

5. Get more friends! You really, really need support. Living in a personal bubble may have worked back at home, but things are going to go wrong (see #1), and you are going to need to give and take support. I can write this because I was, and at heart still am, the queen of the personal bubble. I just want to do everything alone, by myself. But when your bank account is frozen for no apparent reason on the day you need to pay your electricity bill, and you get bad news from home and need someone to talk to, you really are going to need friends.

6. Keep in touch with friends and family back home (and not just in the “I’m on a wild adventure and your life is boring” way.) I love Skype and FaceTime. I want to give a big hug to the people who invented video calling. Apparently, one of them is Swedish. Another big point for Sweden. 

7. Go home when you need to. You’ll feel deprived and sad otherwise. “When you need to” is different for everyone. It might be every two years, or from summer to summer, or for a funeral or birth or your friend’s amazing Super Bowl party. A coworker of mine really did go back and surprise his friends by attending their Super Bowl party. I thought that was awesome. If you can, have an emergency ticket fund stocked and ready to go. Then whenever you really need to go, just do it. 

8. Get some bacon (or Reese’s Pieces or Dr. Pepper) for crying out loud!

9. Learn the language of the place where you live, even if 93.6% of the people there speak English. Without knowing the language you’ll be floating on the surface of life instead of being in it. Life will happen around you, but without you. Granted, some people love being expats who float on the surface with their other expat friends and English speakers. I know lots of people here who have made life work without speaking more than 10 words of Turkish. That’s just my advice. You miss a lot without the local language.

10. Make a huge effort not to complain about your new home too much, especially to local people. By all means, have a few friends (did I mention friends?) with whom you can vent. It keeps me sane in the rest of my life just to have someone saying, “Yes! That’s insane!” But I try really, really hard not to complain too much otherwise. It’s really annoying for local people to hear from batch after batch of foreigners coming through for a year at a time complaining about anything and everything. You are a foreigner in some stage of cultural shock/adjustment. They’re just living their lives. 

Hope this helps someone, somewhere adjust to their new, exciting life abroad. For those of you living away from home like me, please add more tips in the comments!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cross-cultural Marriage Series Part 3: Variety! And more variety!

This is kind of predictable, but with a cross-cultural marriage you get a lot more variety. It’s most obvious with what we eat. I’ve definitely jumped on the eggplant wagon since getting married. Those things are tasty! Our newest eggplant discovery is eggplant soup. Delicious! Maybe I should start posting recipes on here? Let me know if that’s a good idea by posting a comment.

Moonpie munching on artichokes. In a laundry basket. On our balcony.

Turks, especially where we live, love to eat outside in the summer. This usually takes the form of eating on the balcony. Someone commented that there is a “balcony culture” where we live, and it is so true. In the summer you can see many families eating together on their balconies. Incidentally, people also love to eat outside in Arizona, although usually more in the spring than the middle of summer. There’s no balcony culture in Arizona, but there is The Backyard Barbecue! We have sort of combined the two into a balcony barbecue thing we do every now and again. We use an electric grill, so not quite the same as my dad’s awesome propane “grill the heck out of everything simultaneously” grill, but it’s still not bad. We also usually have avocado on our burgers, which my husband has discovered because of me and now loves, as does Moonpie. I already included a picture of grilling burgers in my 4th of July post, so I won’t delight you with another image of raw meat.

Turkish Breakfast...on our balcony
Another big food culture thing here is Turkish breakfast. Now, I have to say, when Americans first move here we usually aren’t too enticed by the Turkish breakfast. The thought is usually that one has given up a breakfast food called “bacon”, which is not readily available here, and has been offered instead a breakfast food called “cucumber”. No thank you. However, I have found that once you take Turkish breakfast as a whole, it is really quite good. The flavors meld together into a perfect mix of yumminess. The traditional Turkish breakfast includes eggs in some form and meat in some form. If you’re lucky, this will be beef sausage. If you’re not, this will be bologna. Then you have the cheese, tomato, cucumber and olive plate, which is rounded out with a big basket of bread and something to spread onto said bread. If you’re lucky, this will be jam. If you’re more lucky, this will be honey and cream. There are variations on the way the eggs are cooked, types of cheeses, types of meat and sometimes there are different veggies or bread products, but basically that’s it. Oh, and of course, the tea. You usually have tea with breakfast and maybe coffee after. It is way more delicious than it sounds. It really grows on you!

And when we get tired of all this, we just make ourselves some blueberry pancakes!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Back to Work

After writing that post title I feel like singing the dwarves' song from Snow White. "Hi hooooooo! Hi hooooooo!" My grandparents had a Disney Sing Along VHS when I was little and I LOVED it. 


Turkey may have some bizzarro policies, but I have to say I really appreciate their maternity leave. Between paid leave, unpaid leave and my vacation time last year, I ended up with 10 months off, half of them paid. If I have to come back to work at all, returning 9 months after giving birth feels just about right.

My school was moved to the main campus the week after I left for maternity leave, so when I came back I didn’t have a desk and all of my stuff was in a box. I had to ask where the restrooms were and had to be shown how to use the phones. My computer didn’t work and I learned that everyone was issued a new laptop while I was gone and I had to exchange my old one out for a new one that was “on the network”. In some ways it felt like starting a new job, except I already know almost all of the people.

Coming back to work after an almost 10 month “break” has been way easier than I had imagined. June 2nd was a date looming over me since I wrote my petition for unpaid maternity leave in November. How would I leave my little Moonpie? How would I spend all day with other adults? Some days I thought it would be great to go back to work, mostly the days she cried all day. But as June approached, I began to savor every little thing she did. I realized that at work no one would cry if I left the room. They probably wouldn’t even notice. And at work I would sit down and eat lunch with coworkers who are not nearly as cute as Moonpie and don’t smear banana all over their faces. I realized our afternoon walks had come to an end, and waking up whenever she did and getting dressed and showering whenever I had time were a thing of the past. So, on Sunday night I set my alarm, which wasn’t necessary because she woke me way before that anyway. I put her back to sleep, took a shower and ate breakfast, double and triple checked her three (yes, three) bags, then got her up and ready, and headed out the door. I put on some worship music in the car to maintain an atmosphere of peace for myself on the drive to my in-laws. I took her inside, sat down and chatted a while, kissed Moonpie and left her for longer than I’ve ever left her before. And she didn’t cry! And I didn’t cry! I did get a little choked up, but reminded myself that she was in great hands and I wasn’t leaving her for that long, and millions of mothers do this every day, etc. etc. And…SHE WAS FINE, of course. Didn’t cry or fuss at all, took a two hour nap and gave me a big smile when I got back. That’s my girl. I am now a working mother!

So, here I sit, in my quiet office, all alone, typing on my brand new laptop (yay!), which is sitting on a nearly empty desk. I decided I didn’t need most of my old stuff in the box anyway, so I’m going for a fresh start, because I know my desk will be full of books and papers to grade and random scribbled notes in no time!