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?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Beach with Baby, Take 2

Wrinkle toes
I was supremely worried about taking Moonpie to the beach back at the beginning on July when we went to Didim. We are really lucky that she is definitely a beach babe. She just loves the beach.

She loves getting in the water, sitting in the sand, letting the waves hit her. She even napped on the beach on our lounge chair.

So, I don’t have a lot of tips for making a visit to the beach with a baby easier because she already makes it pretty easy. I will say that those baby food pouches are the way to go, because sand can’t blow into them and you don’t have to mess with a lid.

Playing in her sunsuit

I also highly recommend the UV protection suits. We got one here in Turkey from Tchibo, but I had also ordered the iplay one piece sun suit. I've included an Amazon link at the end of this post. These were great for keeping the sun off of most of her, and I love that it has snaps at the bottom for easy diaper changes.

On the subject of diapers I will also say – swim diapers are only for in the water. They don’t do much out of the water. They’re not meant to be absorbent (hence their function of working in the water). They basically hold in baby poo. I found this out when I got a huge puddle on my lap on the lounge chair (not pictured).

 The villa we rented had a blow up baby pool, which was also a big hit.

                                        As were the squirt toys from Grandma. Here is Mr. Crab.

And here's the link for those interested:

Do or did you take your baby to the beach? What other tips can you offer?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Marie Gets Stitches

Well, not really stitches - skin super glue. The nurse said they don't really do stitches anymore unless it's really, really bad.

On Sunday I was carrying a huge tower of two (2) ceramic bowls into the kitchen and was distracted by the thought of taking a Tylenol (called Minoset here in Turkey) for my headache when said "tower" fell over onto our marble counter top. Marble isn't a very forgiving surface for ceramic dinnerware. One of the bowls ricocheted off of the marble and sliced my leg on the way down to its final resting place, the floor.

My thoughts at the time were:
1. Good thing Moonpie wasn't in the kitchen.
2. Oh man, I bought those bowls when I first moved to Turkey (insert brief moment of nostalgia here).
3. Hmm, my leg is sliced open.
4. Good thing I bought a new set of dishes last week!
5. Hmm, my leg is dripping blood.

 Priorities, people.

 I wasn't going to go to the ER because I'm American and I've been conditioned that unless your bone marrow is showing, it's not an emergency. But, after cleaning up the mess in the kitchen I realized that my little band-aid wasn't doing the trick, and the butterfly bandages I managed to find scrunched at the bottom of the first aid box just looked comical compared to the size of the wound I was trying to close with them.

The Wound
So, to the ER we went, baby, diaper bag and all. The hospital is a 5 minute drive from our house. We left at 4:00pm and were back home at 4:22pm. No joke. We walked in the door and I left my passport with Mr. Stitches while two nurses took me back to a triage room. I took off my band-aid and after looking at it for a few seconds they decided it was a job for skin glue. One nurse held me together while the other one glued me back together, at which point Mr. Stitches came back and found me. They put some adhesive bandages over the glue and I was good to go! We asked again to make sure, but there was no charge since I have the national social security insurance. I'm definitely not in America anymore, Toto.

And would you believe this was my first time having super glue or stitches (besides surgeries)?
When's the last time you had stitches (or super glue)?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back from vacation

I've been making merry with my parents for the past 10 days or so, thus the lack of posts on here. I've also been taking lots of pictures to share, hopefully in the next week or so. For now I will leave you with a picture of baklava because who doesn't like to look at baklava? I give each of you a virtual piece.

End of Ramadan Baklava - much was consumed