Monday, December 21, 2009

Perfect Pomegranate Syrup

Ok, I notice I'm writing a lot about food lately. Wonder if this blog is taking a turn?

One of the loveliest bits of my Turkish life is nar ekşisi, or pomegranate syrup (literally 'pomegranate sour'), which I buy not from the supermarket, but rather from a man who makes it himself and then sells it in recycled pop bottles out of a 3-metre-square storefront in the old part of town, just a few minutes' walking distance from our house. He also sells his own olives and olive oil, and nothing else.

Nar ekşisi is a staple in every Turkish household, I'd say, and is found on most restaurant tables where a Canadian might expect to find ketchup or vinegar, salt and pepper. It's most commonly used as the acid on salad; so add your olive oil and then, instead of lemon, other citrus, balsamico or any other vinegar, add your nar.

Supermarkets carry several brands, but most have all kinds of additives and don't even contain pure pomegranate, but rather pomegranate 'essence,' which we all know is food industry code for manufactured in a lab somewhere. Look for a natural brand, or even better, a family's homemade version. You'll really taste the difference.

Due Date

Tomorrow is my baby's due date, according to my calculations; my doctor says the 24th, two days later; and yet another doctor set the 31st as the big day. But all that is beside the point; I never expected Lily (the obviously female belly name of our gender-still-unknown baby -- don't ask!) to arrive on time.

But what continues to surprise me is one obvious cultural difference: North Americans expect Baby's due date to be a surprise, whereas Turkish people seem unusually deadline-oriented on this one matter.

You see, I've been ''about to go into labour any minute now'' for a few weeks, so when I explain that we expected Baby several days ago, they are confused; the idea of a late baby is completely foreign to Turkish people, it seems.

And my theory is this: according to a seemingly reliable website I stumbled across months ago, 90% of middle and upper class births in Turkey are Cesarean. Therefore, 'waiting' for baby's arrival, which we all know could happen anywhere between weeks 38 and 42 without really being considered early or late, is unheard of. If anything, Baby may come early; but that's all the uncertainty the Turkish people I encounter seem willing to accept.

Considering how in almost every other situation, Turks seem so laid back in comparison to my North American big city anal retentiveness, this has come as a total surprise to me!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food Rant

I am surprised at how much I dislike Turkish food; at least the food in the Çukurova region of Turkey. I am not sure whether it is the lack of variety that I don't like, or truly a flaw in the recipes or ingredients. An argument for the former would be the distant memory I have of absolutely loving everything I ate when I first arrived here; for the first month or so, I ate ravenously. However, by the time I returned to Canada for Christmas four months later, I'd been suffering from constant upset stomach, heartburn, and other ''mystery'' digestive ailments, and was generally ''off'' Turkish food. I was magically cured the instant I passed through customs at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk Airport and sat down to enjoy a Starbucks soy latte.

Although Turkish people boast that their cuisine is wide-ranging, I don't think one can argue against the fact that each dish seems to contain the same basic ingredients: tomatoes, onions, green peppers and eggplant; each dish is seasoned with the same spices (tomato or pepper salça, salt, pepper, thyme, mint, parsley); and is served with rice and fluffy white bread.

Furthermore, I don't think one can argue that most restaurants are owned and run by people who went into the business on a whim; the people who work in the kitchen are not trained chefs. Each restaurant's menu looks and tastes the same: chicken on a skewer; beef or mutton on a spit; fish, grilled or deep-fried. Each item is prepared in the same way. A liver restaurant, or ciğerci, is a welcome change from the norm. To drink, one can choose from only Coke, ayran or şalgam; alcoholic beverages are either beer, wine or rakı.

Except in urban centres like Istanbul, which admittedly has some wonderful restaurants, both Turkish and ethnic, attempts at venturing beyond the standard Turkish fare often results in disaster: a pizza place I know of serves thin-crust pizza on maza bread, and toppings include canned corn and canned mushrooms.
But even the ''best'' kebapçı or pideci is limited by the ingredients available. Anything including chicken, beef, or mutton, is instantly sabotaged by the fact that the meat itself is not delicious. Of course mutton isn't lamb, but mutton does have its fans; the mutton that is served here is not the mutton that one finds in the UK, for example. Beef is often tough and flavourless, except for the generous salt, oil and pepper used to season it. And don't even get me started on chicken; I have never had such consistently tasteless chicken in all my life. Store-bought chicken is factory-farmed, and locals' homegrown ''free range'' chickens are skinny and feed off whatever they can scrounge up. Bread products are likewise lacking the flavour of either fresh butter or flour. Bakeries smell promising, but are always disappointing.

Dairy products are interestingly mass-produced by large national companies, unlike in Canada, where milk goes against the grain and is still very much a local product. One cannot find Beatrice milk outside of Quebec easily, nor can one find Neilson's milk in the U.S. The result is UHT milk, each brand tasting as artificial as the next; and cheese which likewise doesn't taste of milk or butter.

However, there is hope: once I got beyond my North American brainwashing against anything unpasteurized, I discovered a rich world of homemade dairy products, often for significantly less money than what was available at the supermarkets. My neighbourhood sütçü became my new best friend, delivering as much fresh milk as I wanted daily. I just had to make sure I boiled it slowly enough and long enough to kill any scary bacteria. Likewise, a trip into the nearby mountains yielded lots of homemade cheeses; a little inquiry led to sellers in the city.

I'd like to add that Saray Çiftliği makes the only kaşar cheese (the closest thing to mozarella in this country) that really tastes like cheese, and is available at their own stores and at Metro, but certainly not at all supermarkets. Homemade ''stinky'' cheeses, such as deri peyniri (cheese cured in sheepskin), are truly wonderful too, and as a result, I never miss blue cheese.
Now if I could just find some organic, free-range meat or poultry, and a few restaurants that serve it, I'd be happy!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

An IKEA Update

The crib and wardrobe are up and in place, and a few days ago IKEA called to say the chest-of-drawers and changing table unit we wanted were back in stock -- three weeks early! It's on its way and may even be in my hot little (and puffy and sore and so stiff, I feel arthritic! Just another lovely side-effect of being nine months pregnant!) hands by this afternoon.

Of course there's still so much to do to make Baby's nursery look warm and cozy, but getting the furniture was key. Now I can focus on finishing touches like lighting, making the bed, and getting that darned rug mounted on a rod and hung on the wall! I can't believe I've managed to leave that this late!


I am completely annoyed by how often shops in Turkey, particularly grocery stores, run out of a certain product. You'd think that they could anticipate the event and reorder when stock runs low. I feel a little forgiving when it's a small independent shop, who may not have the money to be stocking a lot in advance, and whose owner certainly doesn't have any real retail training. But when major chains, Turkish and foreign, are regularly out of something I've made a special trip to buy, it drives me crazy.

My local supermarket, Carrefour, only seems to carry Sütaş brand light yogurt half the week. But since it is the only brand of yogurt whose non-fat version tastes any good, I refuse to settle for another brand, and often go home empty-handed. My local Carrefour doesn't even sell the müsli or bread I like, and has only a very limited selection of real fruit juice, but that's a topic for another blog post. For those items, I often go to Metro Grossmarkt in a neighbouring city thirty kilometres away.

I am smarter than to make a speacial trip just to Metro, and usually combine it with other errands, stopping in at Metro on my way past. But that doesn't make me any less annoyed when I can't find what I'm looking for. After all, it's a German company, and its employees have presumably been trained well. Last week there were several items on my list that I couldn't find, including Hahne müsli, the only musli available here that is reasonably priced and doesn't have an exorbitant sugar content. A stock clerk informed me that there had been a sale on the item the previous week, and so they'd sold out. Is that an excuse? I thought to myself, outraged.

And to add salt to my wounds, when I complained to a manager, who then investigated my müsli crisis, I was informed that according to the computer, there was indeed more müsli somewhere in the store, but that it had been misplaced and was sitting on a skid somewhere high up on a shelf, and needed to be found.

The no-sugar-added fruit juices I like were likewise out of stock that day, and rather than settle for a sugary variety, I bought none.

If I seem unusually picky, might I defend myself by explaining the incredible joy I felt when I finally found these favourite grocery items of mine in the first place. In the case of the yogurt, I taste-tested a different brand's fat-free variety every week, deeming them all absolutely awful, before discovering Sütaş' delicious, creamy, you'd-never-guess-it-was-low-fat yogurt. And with the müsli, I went from one extreme -- no müsli -- to buying extremely expensive 150-gram boxes of sweetened Turkish varieties, which would be empty after three breakfasts, it seemed. And I'd gone over two years without drinking any juice at all, stubbornly refusing to drink the admittedly delicious sour cherry and other flavoured 'nectars' which contained no more than 20% real juice and lots of added sugar, and fondly reminiscing about my freezer back in Toronto, which had always been full of tins of Minute Maid frozen pure orange juice -- with pulp and added calcium. So the discovery of new products I truly loved was so sweet, that the disappointment of not being able to find them is all the greater.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fake or Forsake?

Which is worse: a fake tree or no tree?

I've lost my objectivity, my perspective, and don't know whether I've cleverly adapted to my surroundings, making do with what's available to me, or sunk to a new low.

My first year in Turkey, I went back to Canada for Christmas, where I enjoyed my family's real tree -- which my father had sawed down himself -- and all the wonder that comes with it, good and bad: the wonderful scent of the pine, the needles on the carpet, the dripped candle wax.

My second year, I got lucky: even though I'd started the job I have now, that gives us foreigners only one day off at Christmas, it fell on a Friday and I went to my brother's in England for a few days, where I enjoyed sevent-two hours of snow and Christmas cheer, and even a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt courtesy of Birmingham's twin city, Frankfurt.

But by my third year, I was stuck: Christmas fell mid-week and I was going to be stuck in this Mediterranean city, snowless, family-less, Christmas spirit-less. So I decided enough was enough; if I wanted to truly call this place home, I had to recreate Christmas for myself and my new Turkish family.

So I hunted down a small potted fir tree of some sort, a few baubles and twinkle lights, and set them up in my tiny living room, extremely satisfied. It wasn't the traditional Christmas I'd grown up with, but it was better than the guilt I'd have felt, had I relied on my expat friends' efforts to create some holiday atmosphere. I was able to host a few lovely get-togethers around the tree, replete with Christmas music and mulled wine; I even put presents under the tree!

But the little potted tree was unhappy, and eventually died. I also felt silly for having paid as much as I did, and for the number of people I'd had to involve in my quest to find it in the first place. I'd felt like I was the only person in all of Turkey looking for a Christmas tree, and was puzzled to see all the Turkish households with ''New Year's trees'' of their own, bigger and better than mine.

Of course they were all fake; but the effect was lovely nonetheless, and so this year, I rethought my own strategy. I considered using my baby's December 24th due date as an excuse to let Christmas pass by unobserved; but I thought that was no way for a responsible parent to behave! My multi-cultural family was depending on me for the western, Christian part of our blended traditions!

And so I've just bought and erected my first ever fake (gasp!) tree. And I have to say, the effect is not all that bad. I think I'm wise not to stubbornly insist on hunting down a real tree in a semi-tropical area of the world; I think my fake tree is an intelligent compromise, allowing me to be efficient with my energy. Now I have time to make eggnog and mulled wine and bake gingerbread cookies, things I can't just run out and buy!

Or am I just deluding myself?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pilgrimage to IKEA

There is no IKEA in this city, although there have been rumours of one opening for years. There is likewise no online shopping in Turkey, at least not in the true sense of the meaning. (You can send an email to a specific IKEA location elsewhere in Turkey, tell them what you want, and wire money from your bank account to theirs; then, for a hefty delivery fee, they'll send you the items you want.)

So a few weeks ago, I extended a business trip to Istanbul by a day and spent my Sunday at one of their two (they have two!) IKEA stores. I went armed with a list of items I'd pre-selected from the online catalogue, and did my best to stay focused. That was however extremely difficult to do, since almost everything I saw appealed to me in some way, and I was overcome with that panicked I-must-prepare-for-being-being-cut-off-from-society-and-hoard impulse -- not knowing when I may next find myself among such reasonably priced good-looking glass vases and light fixtures and sofas. I wanted to buy them all.

But the thought of something breaking in transport back east, and the impossibility of travelling with so much luggage, stopped me. Instead, I got the items I'd come for (crib, dresser with changing table top, cupboard), plus a few little extra goodies, and high-tailed it out of there. The hardest part of my IKEA adventure was over. Or so I thought.

Now, my extremely heavy, flat brown boxes had to make their way via courier to my city. I employed a company my husband often uses for business, and got the whole load here for just thirty-five Lira! (It would have cost me around 250 Lira, had I allowed IKEA to send it.) Easy enough.

We got the crib set up in an evening, despite horror stories I'd read by disgruntled customers on the Consumer Reports website. Although my Turkish husband had never assembled IKEA furniture before, something I think every North American probably has -- a right of passage into manhood, isn't it? -- he was genius, as long as I interpreted the pictures in the instruction booklet and forced him to do the steps in order. I guess it really does help to have an engineering degree!

The cupboard is taking a little longer, partly because we've been coming home from work late and exhausted, and if we get to the assembly at all, fizzle out after about ten minutes of work. And it didn't help that it turns out we needed two different kinds of screwdrivers to put together the cupboard, which delayed us a day -- I thought IKEA was famous for including all the necessary tools? What happened to the trusty IKEA key?

Although our cupboard is slowly taking shape, there is still no changing table in sight. At this rate, baby's nursery is going to be finished around the due date. Here are some 'before' shots, which I hope to soon replace with 'after' pictures.

What's left of the cupboard's many pieces:
The cupboard in its current state:The crib, ready for mattress and sheets!

Spa Lady

I think I could easily be a spa lady -- one of those 'society' women who has weekly salon appointments for nails and hair and other unmentionable grooming rituals. I never would have thought this of myself. For one thing, one needs time and money, and as soon as I spend either on something frivolous, I tend to be overcome with guilt, which interferes with the pleasure of the whole thing. Which is kind of the whole idea, isn't it? To enjoy the process?

Midway through my twenties, I admit I started to enjoy indulging in the occasional pedicure or massage. And since it was 'occasional' at best, I was able to maintain the perfect balance between guilt and pleasure.

But since such services are so incredibly inexpensive here in Turkey, I have taken to having my hair styled just a little more often; paying a little less attention to my eyebrows, knowing I can always get them reshaped for a few Lira; and have stopped shaving altogether, opting instead to have my legs waxed once a month -- it's fast and inexpensive, and you never have to think about stubble.

However, where Turkey excels in hair removal, it sadly lacks in nail care. The manicures I've seen involve nothing more than removing and reapplying polish, quickly and only slightly better than I could do myself. So I've been getting one pedicure a year, namely when I go home to Toronto each summer, and then try to maintain it as best I can until I'm next in Toronto. (Qualifier: I knew there are good places out there, there had to be, since I've seen Turkish women with great nails. But it had been more than three years in this city, and I had yet to crack the mystery of where they go to get their nails done.)

It had been a few months since I could reach my toes, though, and I was feeling grizzly. And grizzly leads to desperation. The not-having-an-emergency-go-to pedicurist had really been bothering me. It's like the Starbucks syndrome -- just knowing there's a Starbucks out there if I want one is enough, without having to be a regular customer. But there wasn't a place to 'grab a coffee' in this city for years, so now that there's a Starbucks, I go every chance I get!

In Canada, I took certain things for granted. Now, stumbling across the smallest difficult-to-find thing moves me to tears. I've just discovered that my local Metro Grossmarkt carries celery, and even though it's smaller and thinner than more expensive than the hardy, ubiquitous, rather boring, it's-really-just-water staple it is at home, I can't get enough of it now! I can't stop making celery soup, and flavouring everything else I cook with its leaves, and I'm almost tempted to make a Bloody Mary, just so I can stick a piece of celery in it!
But then, just when I'd given up, I finally asked the right person, and found a kuaför that does good manicures. And inexpensively at that. I put this new salon to the test yesterday, not daring to get my hopes up, and left feeling like a princess. Next week I'm going back for a pedicure, and who knows, I may just have to get my manicure touched up!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Of Irons and Other Small Appliances or Brand Power

What does it say about me as a powerless consumer, caught in the firm grasp of companies and their marketing machinery, when I find myself faced with three choices of brands I've never heard of, unable to choose one? Each one has a pretty picture on the box; each has the product's specifications detailed on the package, some in more languages than others; and each tells you where it was made. That should be enough information on which to base a decision, right?

But when the subliminal signs as to which is the best are absent, I find myself at a loss. This has happened to me again and again since moving to Turkey, and it's gone from unsettling and disorienting to just plain annoying.

A few years ago, I needed an iron. I quickly established that Tefal and Vestel were popular, but they seemed overpriced for what they were, no doubt to their ubiquitous ad campains; Philips, Braun, Bosch and Siemens were incredibly expensive and I probably didn't need to go that far. So what was left? What were the in-between brands? Where were the Black & Deckers of Turkey? I wanted quality without the cachet, I wanted a reasonable price. I was totally lost.

I eventually stumbled upon a simple Kenwood iron in a supermarket for 35 Lira or so, and bought it immediately. I'd owned a Kenwood microwave -- or was it a toaster oven?? -- back in Canada and had been happy with it, and the price was roughly what I would have spent in Canada.

It was not the best iron I'd ever used, but it was simple and functional, and I'd avoided spending close to 200 Lira, which seemed to be the average price of an iron in Turkey, so I was happy.

Until, a year and a half later, it suddenly stopped working. It just went cold. I dug up the receipt and warranty card (see the note at the end of this post about activating product warranties in Turkey), and enlisted my husband to call the company to find out what I had to do. But wouldn't you know it, for three days, there was either no answer, or the line was busy. Ready to throw in the towel, I resolved to buy a Philips or Braun or other expensive western European brand and pay several hundred Lira, if it meant that the iron would last ten years.

And here's where the plot takes an interesting turn: a friend of mine had two irons (why she had two irons I don't know) die in the same week as mine did. Strange, isn't it? But she, a little more patient than I, showed them to our grounds maintenance manager, who had his electrician fix them free of charge! So now I'm waiting for him to have mine looked at, and can hopefully postpone my entry into the world of expensive European appliances for a few more years.

Activating a product's warranty in Turkey:
1) pay the cashier
2) take your receipt and the manufacturer's warranty card that is inside the box to the customer service area of the store, where they sign and stamp it
3) keep the original packaging -- long, painful story here, don't want to recount it now. Just trust me.
4) within 7-10 days, call the service company on the warranty card to register; they may have a home pick-up and delivery service for people who register
**5) if you don't speak Turkish, bring a translator with you for steps 1-4. You don't want to do this alone.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Autumn seems to have arrived, albeit tentatively; there are still peaks of high-twenties temperatures in the afternoons that leave you sweating for a few hours, but mornings and afternoons are cool enough to wear long sleeves.

I gave in and did some fall shopping on the weekend. I really had to reign myself in, and settled on three sweaters, only one of which was admittedly grossly indulgent at seventy Lira! But I just couldn't resist its warm rusty red scratchy wool and its oversized cowl-neck. (Considering my closet is full of sweaters, though, the whole expedition was indulgent. But everything's relevant, right?)

I realized earlier today that it's been six months of summer! It's almost like eating a whole box of chocolates and then wishing you'd stopped after one. Or two.


I love the way umbrellas are suddenly for sale everywhere when it rains. And I don't mean in shops. On street corners, outside buildings ... anywhere you could want one.

Just the other day, it had started to rain while I was on the bus, and I had neither an umbrella nor a raincoat with me; when I got off the bus, there was someone to sell me an umbrella -- almost as if they'd been waiting just for me!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Natural Birth in Turkey

It turns out that 99% of hospital births in Turkey are Cesarean. Don't quote me on that figure, but I've seen it elsewhere and that's certainly what it seems like to me when I ask around. But regardless of its accuracy, it's high. Of course the flip side is that 99% of rural at-home births are natural. But I don't live in a rural village ... And I would like to take advantage of what modern medical technology has to offer, drawing the line at having a C-section pushed on me!

I've been stressing about this for a few months now; have felt better since going over my birth plan with my doctor earlier this week and being convinced that she will do everything she can to avoid my needing a C-section.

All I want to say on this subject for now is to anyone planning to deliver a baby in this country, do you research; don't take anything for granted. What is 'standard procedure' back home is not the case here. Learn about each stage of labour and what decisions may need to be made; then discuss with your doctor which route you want to go at each crossroads. Because chances are, your doctor will want to do a Cesarean at the first sign of any difficulty.

You will meet doctors who refuse to do anything but C-sections, who truly believe it's the safest way to go. I was greatly relieved to learn that my doctor has delivered babies without a C-section, and that she was able to give me several different reasons for the high rate of Cesareans here, reasons which didn't apply to me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall Fashion

I've recently started using the expression, ''It's in my bones.'' It's never made sense to me before, and for all I know I'm misusing it now, but it's the only way I can describe the feeling I get whenever I come across a little piece of my own roots here in my adopted home, Turkey. Since I live here, I don't realize how foreign everything around me is until I visit an American friend who serves BLTs and a glass of milk for lunch, or on a visit back to Canada, when everyone shows up at 7:15 for a 7pm dinner invitation. How did we all just know that would be the correct thing to do? It's in our bones.

I was at a mall yesterday for the first time in ages, and was excited by all the fall fashion I saw. And then I remembered it's mid-October, and my friends back home have been wearing their fall clothes since the beginning of September. I am a sweater person, and will come home with three new sweaters when what I desperately needed was a pair of pants. And then I'll realize that two of them are remarkably similar, and the third resembles one I already had. So it goes without saying I felt the effects of a sudden rush of endorphins.

But I don't get to wear sweaters as much as I'd like to in this Mediterranean climate I've adopted. And until I went to the mall yesterday, the annual appearance of ''fall fashion'' was something I'd completely forgotten existed! How could I think of sweaters and wool pants in warm browns, charcoal greys and winterized versions of turquoise, purple and mustard yellow, when the days are still swelteringly hot, with temperatures in the mid-thirties?

But the shops are full of lovely fall clothes, and I couldn't help but wander into Zara and Mango and try on a few sweaters yesterday. Never mind that I was already hot in the air-conditioned mall in just my t-shirt (I'm pregnant, remember?); I hadn't even gotten one arm into the sleeve of the asymetrical cardigan that flattered my current curvaceous state and would be just as nice next year, sans bump, when I started sweating. Which leads me to ask: how can these stores expect to sell anything in our city? I'm sure Istanbulites and people in Ankara and Izmir are enjoying their fall wardrobes, but it'll be a while yet out here. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy as anything these stores are here! I may not be able to buy celery or blueberries, but I can buy a GAP sweatshirt! I just can't wear it in September, October or November, when my 'bones' tell me I should buy it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thanksgiving and the Olive Harvest

Although Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays, I have once again failed to celebrate it in any sort of satisfactory way. Perhaps once baby is born I'll be more organized, knowing that my failure to observe Canadian holidays will mean he or she grows up a stranger to them! But in the meantime, I am repeatedly surprised at the way these holidays creep up on me and I am too busy to cook an appropriate meal or arrange a dinner with friends.

Today, instead of feeling sad that I can't be with my Canadian family eating turkey, cranberries and mashed sweet potatoes, followed by pecan pie, I want to be thankful for the way I did spend the day yesterday.

C and I drove the short forty-five minutes it takes to get into the mountains just north of our city, where friends of ours have a chalet, or yayla. The drive alone is breathtaking; but even more amazing is the entirely different climate. You step out of the car and feel like you've flown twelve hours across an ocean, so dry and fresh is the air, so much cooler the temperature. There were yellow leaves on the ground (the way there should be in autumn!), and the smell of wood-burning fireplaces in the air.

The highlight of my day was picking olives from our friends' six-year-old trees -- mere babies, but the perfect size for a pregnant woman in her eighth month, since I didn't have to climb up any ladders! Come to think of it, it's the first time I've spent Thanksgiving doing what the holiday is originally about: harvesting the season's fruit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Macho Turkish Man

It is no surprise that Turkish women coo and cluck over my pregnant belly, ask the same questions (when is it due? will it be a boy or a girl? what??? what do you mean you don't know???), and then close the conversation with a string of blessings and prayers uttered too quickly for me to make out more than the word Allah repeated several times.

What has completely floored me, though, is the response from men. When I first moved to Turkey three years ago, I immediately noticed the uninhibited displays of affection men showed children. What a shame, what a loss to our society, that no one touches anyone anymore for fear of making someone 'uncomfortable.' But in Turkey, people unabashedly show their (platonic) affection for one another, especially children.

The security guards and custodians at my place of work melt into smiley girly-men when they see me coming, stop for a quick chat (when is it due? will it be a boy or a girl? oh, how nice, a surprise.), and walk away, eyes moist.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oh Canada!

Don't feel too sorry for me when I whine about missing food from home; thanks to a few thoughtful friends, I do have a few favourite foods that are otherwise unavailable in this part of Turkey stocked in my freezer and pantry. And this Sunday I pulled out two of them from the dark corners of my pantry and freezer respectively and cooked 'em up.

For breakfast I made whole wheat pancakes with real maple syrup I had a Turkish friend bring back from Canada. (He brought President's Choice brand; I think I love PC products even more than I love maple syrup! I miss Loblaws!) My husband enjoyed the pancakes too, although did question the simplicity of the meal: ''You mean, Canadians just have pancakes and syrup for breakfast?'' I was stumped; I had served ours with a side serving of fresh banana and peaches and lovely hot coffee (PC again!), but I don't really know what else one would serve with pancakes. Unless you're eating at a real diner and are indulging in bacon, sausages, eggs and pancakes, all at once!

Around 2pm I realized I was starving, and quickly pulled some bacon out of the freezer. I gently heated it up in a skillet, drained the fat off and put the strips on a paper towel to absorb the remaining fat. Meanwhile, I prepared a wonderful whole grain toast, spread it with whole grain mustard (I had no mayo in the house), layered that with a thin slice of eski kaşar, which almost tastes like old cheddar, and a few slices of heirloom tomatoes, and topped it off with some fresh spinach leaves (I had no lettuce). And there was my version of a BLT! Another perfect Canadian meal.

Dinner couldn't have been more Turkish, though: grilled sea bass accompanied by arugula salad, grilled eggplant salad, rakı and pide.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Risotto. Who would have thought that one little word could make me this happy, that one small (well, not that small) bowl of mushy rice could warm my soul for several days.

Possibly the single most difficult thing for me living as an expat in a provincial Turkish city (i.e. not Istanbul, Izmir or Ankara), is the food. Or rather lack thereof, depending how you look at it. Don't get me wrong, there's no shortage of food; Turks love to eat! And the beautiful seasonal produce spilling off the counters and available for pennies at every manav and pazar is any westerner's dream.

But as much as I miss my friends and family; as much as it hurts to see my young nieces and nephews only once a year and to miss all the weekly and monthly milestones; as much as I miss bookstores and foreign films, it seems to be food I miss the most. There's something about a perfect meal that satisfies me in a way that touches my soul, inspires me, makes me excited about life.

What I'm hungering for is that perfect medley of tastes that only professional cuisine can put together: a beautiful piece of meat cooked in white wine; a cream sauce with truffle oil; anything with exotic mushrooms infusing their flavour throughout the dish. I admit I'm spoiled in this regard; coming from a large cosmopolitan city, I had the world's cuisine at my doorstep and could eat anything I wanted any time. Now, the closest I come is watching Top Chef and reading food books, like Kathleen Flinn's memoir, The Sharper the Knife, the Less you Cry.

It's not like I've left behind a life where I ate in hot and hip restaurants several times a week; nor am I a great cook. But I can follow a recipe, and I did so well enough, often enough and adventurously enough to consider cooking a hobby. But most recipes I'm interested in have at least two or three ingredients far too exotic for my local Migros supermarket, whose clientele is indifferent about new foods to say the least. I've brought back enough miso, black beans and fish sauce to last a few months, but how much food can I stuff in my suitcase before I feel ridiculous? And how could I have predicted I'd need xanthan gum, coconut oil, agave nectar and arrowroot, just a few of the latest exotic ingredients needed to make the recipes featured in Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP newsletter?

It's the lack of variety that really gets me. Tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers appear at breakfast, lunch and supper -- raw in the morning, cooked at lunch, and in a salad (again raw) at dinner. Turkish cuisine boasts thousands of dishes, but all are really just variations of the same ingredients: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Interestingly, those are all members of the nightshade family, forbidden by detox programs and to macrobiotics.

Restaurants abound, but no one is a professional chef. This means that every restaurant either serves Turkish food with the above ingredients, or from-a-box versions of world favourites like an Italian pasta dish. Which inevitably end up tasting Turkish.

Which brings me back to the risotto. The other night we had dinner at the Hilton Hotel, which had just put out its fall menu. I could hardly believe it when I saw risotto with assorted wild mushrooms, truffle oil, white wine and parmesan. As I waited for my plate to arrive, I didn't dare get my hopes up; I've learned from countless disappointments, albeit at other restaurants. But the dish was indeed perfect, and I would not be exaggerating to say it affected my entire state of well-being.

Remember Under the Tuscan Sun? Or any film that shows people in the South of France or Tuscany sitting at a wooden table under an olive tree enjoying hearty meals made entirely of local fresh ingredients? I often try to look at my Mediterranean expat life from the outside, hoping that if I see what others see, I may appreciate it more. Or perhaps I'd feel the same way in Tuscany or France; perhaps their appeal to foreigners, and indeed Turkey's, is that they're just one of hundreds of choices big city diners have.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Decorating the Nursery with ''Adult Art''

Over a year ago, when my current pregnant state was still just a distant prospect, I fell in love with and bought an Iranian folk art rug that I knew would make a perfect wall hanging in a baby's bedroom. The oddly-shaped and disproportionate animals, people, trees and buildings, the mountains, stream and green fields would provide hours of stimulating imaginative play for my child.

Earlier this week I made my second non-baby purchase for baby, and realized I much prefer ''adult art'' to purpose-specific nursery decor. In Istanbul for a few days over the Ramadan holiday earlier this week, we stumbled across an arts and crafts fair sponsored by the Beyoğlu municipal government. A stand of brightly painted two-dimensional marionette-type figures caught my eye. Painted in intricate detail on animal hide, these were true works of art.

The artist had hung several of them from the ceiling by a thread, and their transluscent nature allowed light to shine through, bringing the colours to life. I immediately thought two or three of them hung at different heights would make an excellent alternative to the traditional mobile. Other figures had been framed between two panes of glass, which I thought I'd have done once this and babies to follow outgrow their mobile.

Overwhelmed by the selection, I thought the two main characters, Karagöz and Hacivat, would be a good start. I did a little research and learned that these shadow play characters had been popular during Ottoman times. Karagöz was an illiterate but intelligent man, while Hacivat represented the educated class. Much to the delight of audiences, the latter was usually outwitted by the former.

I think that's probably enough ''adult art'' for the nursery, but will certainly balance the cute teddy bear bedding I've bought.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


We've been house-hunting unsuccessfully for a few years now, and every time I visit Istanbul, I'm painfully reminded of what the problem is: the city where we currently live is lacking both the architectural history and a sufficient element of urban culture I want to balance the provincial charms of our Mediterranean home. I'm fully aware of Istanbul's faults, most notably the traffic and the high cost of living. I'm likewise aware of the advantages our 1.5-million-population city, most notably the lack of traffic and the inexpensive cost of living. Jokes aside, our little city is safe, life is simpler, and the sun shines 360 days a year.

Nevertheless, every visit to Istanbul pulls on my heartstrings in a way I can almost physically feel. I am at once overwhelmed by all it has to offer, and left hungering for more. More of the beautiful architecture, so much of it badly wanting restoration, its potential teasing me; more of the modern art, seemingly proliferating by the minute; more of the Ottoman culture, which I hope to tastefully integrate into our modern dream home, when we do finally find it.

My reason dissipates as I find myself thinking of how fit I'll be, carrying baby, stroller, and groceries up several flights of stairs a few times each day. I will have boundless energy, just like all those New Yorkers who live in Brownstone walkups and don't own cars. I imagine our romantic evenings at Leb-i Derya or 5. Kat, sipping 20-Lira Whisky Sours and watching the sunset over the Bosphorus, the Hagia Sophia in the distance. Of course we'll be able to afford the babysitter in a city where we have no family; of course my husband will have more energy after work than he does now, pre-traffic, pre-baby.

Each time I board the one-hour flight back east, I feel the visit to Istanbul was too short, I accomplished so little. Yet I am restored, as if the photography exhibit at the Istanbul Modern, the Thai food I had for dinner one night in Beyoğlu, and the new ceramic serving dish I'm bringing home to add to my kitchen have given me a good dose of art and culture to tie me over for a little while.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Residence Permit/A Near Misadventure/Turkish Punctuality

Every year my residence permit expires, and every year it is renewed for me by my employer, no small advantage to working for an organization used to dealing with foreigners. Or rather, used to dealing with the Turkish bureaucracy involved in hiring foreigners. Before I started this job, my then-boyfriend (now my husband) and I had to fend for ourselves in this regard. But that’s another story. Suffice to say that it is so worth it to find a job that takes care of work visas, residence permits, etc.

The one hassle that my employer has not been able to take out of the equation is my having to go in person to pick up the new permit. So yesterday a small group of us hopped into one of the service vehicles and were chauffeured to the closest Emniyet Müdürlüğü, or police station, with a department for foreigners. The 35-kilometre drive should take about half an hour, and leaving at 4pm should have gotten us there comfortably before closing time at 5. But I was a little late getting to the van, realizing suddenly my unborn child was famished and I would miss my third lunch of the day unless I stopped at the canteen to pick up a sandwich; but there was a little extra traffic, being so close to the end of the working day; but it turned out that one is supposed to arrive at least fifteen minutes before closing.

I should add here that Turks, especially along the Mediterranean, are extremely relaxed about opening and closing times. This, coupled with their culture of hospitality and their discomfort in refusing the requests of others , means that latecomers are never turned away. (I'll have to write about the creative passive-agressive measures invented to evade saying no another time; perhaps I'll title that piece, ''How to Know When You've Been Told No.'')
I was therefore shocked when the last remaining officer in the foreigner's department grumpily said, at 4:55pm, ''It's 5pm, you'll have to come back tomorrow.''

Remember the sandwich I'd hastily bought before getting into the service bus? It'd been a kaşarlı tost, a grilled cheese on awful white bread, a desperate last resort to staving off hunger. For the second time that day. I'd also been quite thirsty, so had downed a can of Iced Tea, a sugary treat bought on impulse -- I never drink soft drinks or even fruit juices unless they're no-sugar-added. Well, I guess my stomach (or my baby?) decided to rebel, because for the first time in four months, I found myself overcome by nausea of the car sickness variety, as our driver ungracefully accelerated and braked his way all the way to Mersin. I'd gotten out of the van weak-kneed and just barely dragged myself up the three flights of stairs to the foreigners' affairs department, and now the police officer was telling me I'd have to come back tomorrow!

I protested in the undiplomatic manner that's unfortunately become quite normal for me since the start of this pregnancy, and he reluctantly began to exchange our signatures for our residence permits. One of my colleagues' permits had expired a day earlier, and he told her she'd have to pay an 8-Lira fine. Feeling feisty, I told him we were just there to pick up the permits; our employer takes care of all those kinds of things; after all, it was our employer's fault that my colleague's permit renewal application had been submitted late.

Me and my big mouth! The officer, whose daily dealings with foreigners had perhaps rubbed off on him, clapped his folder shut and said that in that case, we'd deal with our permits tomorrow after all. No, no, no! That's not the way the game works! I'd seen my husband do it thousands of times: you argue a little, you banter, you blow off a little steam, and in the end everyone gets what they want and parts as friends!

It turns out the officer was worried about missing his own service bus, and once he saw that it was still waiting outside, he relaxed and finished handing us our little booklets. In my case, it was a brand new shiny one, since I'd filled up the old one with previous renewals.

But there were no friendly goodbyes, no joking warnings to arrive earlier next time. I endured another forty minutes of nausea but returned home knowing my 'ordeal' could have been much worse, and that I wouldn't have to deal with my resident permit for another year. Now I just have to modify my overstated claims of Turkish disregard for punctuality. And learn a few subtleties of Turkish diplomacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You Can Take the Girl out of her Climate, but You Can't Take the Climate out of the Girl

I woke up this morning to a less-than-perfectly-sunny day, and my heart skipped a beat -- might it actually rain? The sky was gray and there was a heaviness in the air. But I didn't dare hope in case I jinxed it, and told myself the sky would be blue in no time. That's after all what happened yesterday, and what usually happens in this part of Turkey.

But by 9am I heard thunder, and soon afterwards rain. I turned off the air conditioning and opened all the windows and balcony doors, and basked in the day's weather. The silence (everyone was staying indoors); the sound of an occasional car on the wet road -- different from the sound cars usually make; the fresh smell of the wet air.
This is the first time I've seen rain in Turkey since I've been pregnant, so at least six months. I realize how much I miss the climate of Northern Europe and Canada.

A Few of my Favourite Things (or Making Peace with an Impossible Situation)

I recently complained about all the maternity clothes I couldn't get here in Turkey, and unfortunately, that's just one small part of the bigger crisis I call ''my frustrated inner consumer.''

I love cool design and innovation, and often suspect I'm in the wrong line of work. When Oprah and her various gurus talk about finding and then doing what you were meant to do, I feel this passion of mine is a clue towards figuring out the magic answer. (I especially love life coach Martha Beck. If you haven't already, you must read Finding Your Own North Star.) But I know I'm not a designer; and I doubt buying-all-the-cool-stuff-I-love is a viable key to happiness. So perhaps the consumer wasteland in which I currently find myself is a blessing in disguise? An obstacle that will only serve to push me towards finding a more creative way to incorporate my passion into my life?

I do know that I'm bored of my own grumbling about my lack of access to the stuff I want, and so will complain no further. Instead, I thought I'd simply sing the praises of two of the new, amazing cool companies out there. At least I'll get some joy out of writing about them! (Warning to fellow expats: the first is available only in Istanbul -- at Nest by Mozaik -- the second doesn't ship outside of the USA -- I contacted Oeuf and was snootily told to contact the stores that carry their products; I did, but regretfully none ship to Turkey ''at this time.'')

Everything Stokke designs is unlike anything I've ever seen before, but extremely appealing to my taste, as well as functional and of seemingly excellent quality. I first stumbled across their Tripp Trapp highchair on the Gap website. The unique design, huge selection of colours and the versatility of the product alone got me all excited! I read on and learned that it was made of wood, just like the highchairs my mother used with us,
and my nostalgia kicked in -- I was in love!

Browsing the Stokke website, I was further struck by the changing table, which not only allows you to change your baby's diaper while facing your little one, but can later be used as a child's desk or a shelf in another part of your home! The crib likewise converts from a bassinet to a crib to a bed to an interesting sofa-esque piece of play furniture for older children. All of which look slightly pod-like and outer-spacey. In a good way, of course.

I actually bought the Oeuf baby lounger while back in Toronto this summer. Intrigued, I later learned more about the company from their website and found many more cool things. Although I found the products generally overpriced, and not all of them pleasing to my aesthetic (the furniture!), I was taken by their mission, dedication to the environment, and the fact that it's a family business. In other words, they had me by their company profile. Brilliant marketing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fashion Sense

I seem to be dressing my burgeoning body better than I was pre-baby bump. I find myself putting more thought than I used to into what I wear, planning outfits the night before -- down to the jewellery! -- and looking forward to getting dressed in the morning. I suspect all this has something to do with feeling the need to compensate for my lack of what society considers fit.

Lucky for me, pregnant is in! Last week's Project Runway (season 6, episode 2) had the designers making maternity outfits for Rebecca Romijn; the current wave of celebrity pregnancies is getting lots of tabloid time; and new maternity fashion lines seem to be appearing daily!

Except in Turkey. Or at least not outside the hippest parts of Istanbul. At least not where I live. Mainstream shops like Gap and Benetton don't sell their maternity lines in Adana or Mersin; local stores dedicated to maternity wear are selling things my mother wore when she was pregnant with me. 35 years ago. Down to the polyester fabric.
I spent hours window shopping online, ogling the clever designs of Boob and sleek outfits at Isabella Oliver, with whose Wrap Around Top ''As Seen on Gwen Stefani'' I fell so in love with, I was willing to spend 85 Euro on it! But in the end, my fear of buying something without being able to try it on got the better of me. Note that it wasn't logic or practicality that got the better of me, just fear.

I did find an outlet store in town, Kuzens, that carries some maternity clothes. Selection and size availability is completely random, but I managed to buy two pairs of great jeans for about 20 Lira each, and a sundress by Old Navy! And while thrilled with my purchases, the sting of the irony soured my joy somewhat: while Turkey manufactures all the items I bought, they're all destined for export and not available to locals! There must have been some kind of a flaw in each of the pieces I bought. The rest of my current pregnancy wardrobe consists of great empire waist tops and oversize women's shirt/tunics, which all my favourite Turkish shops seem to be carrying this season.

Even though I haven't been comfortable in heels for months, and I've never been one to sacrifice comfort for the sake of fashion, today's outfit just wouldn't have been complete without these old favourites:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

I've always dreaded endings -- the end of a holiday, the end of my supply of a certain type of food, the end of a car or train ride. Much to the detriment of my enjoyment. What can I say; I've always had trouble 'living in the moment.'

On the flip side, looking forward to the future is something I therefore do extremely well. I'm an excellent planner, and will plan or dream about a future event exhaustively. And while this is hardly a problem in that it's enjoyable, it too prevents me from truly enjoying what I've got when I've got it.

Finding the balance between these two, I suspect, will add something to the quality of my life. I've often found, for example, that looking forward to what comes next helps ease the pain of an impending ending. Take my current pregnancy, for example. It has made me more aware of my need to live more in the moment, and I am using it as a valuable exercise in learning to do just that in all aspects of my life.

I am enjoying this pregnancy, and as excited as I am for baby to arrive, I realized the other day that I will miss this time of leisurely anticipation. During the past six months I've been able to indulge in lots of me-time, something I know will soon become scarce. So, while I'm happy to say I have no regrets about how I've spent the past six months, I've made a point of being even more mindful of each amazing change throughout the next three months, to savour my third trimester.

This means I'll have to temper my obsessive baby product research and make purchasing decisions more quickly; it means getting out more with girlfriends and with C while feeding times and nap times are still an abstract concept, instead of nesting at home. But it also means continuing to write in my pregnancy journal, take pictures of my growing belly, and doing my pre-natal yoga. I'll even savour the few minutes I spend rubbing Palmer's stretch mark cream all over myself, instead of seeing it as a tedious added step in my morning routine.

And you know what? I feel relieved, knowing I don't need to read up on newborn care quite to the extent I was feeling I should; there will be plenty of time for that in the weeks before the birth. And of course once baby's arrived, with less time on my hands for indulging in thorough research, I'm sure I'll become three times as efficient with my time, learning everything I need to very quickly. I've also heard that once baby is born, all my priorities will shift, superfluous things will melt away into the distant periphery of my attention, and I'll find it easy to focus on what's important in the moment.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Little Things That Make Me Happy

I need to always remind myself to notice the good things about life here in Turkey, since it's so easy to focus on my frustrations. So I wanted to take a few minutes and appreciate the public health system. Ok, let me rephrase that, since as any foreigner who's ever visited a Turkish public hospital, clinic or doctor knows, it's crowded, hot, involves waiting for hours, and seems to be governed by an organizational system that is so complex, I have yet to see the logic. I am afraid I cannot say I appreciate this part of the public health system.

But I appreciate the drug plan. I just got back from my local eczane with a two-month supply of prenatal multivitamins, iron supplements and heartburn medicine, and spent a mere 5 Lira, the equivalent of about $3.50cdn. I LOVE the Turkish public drug plan!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eating Out or Menu Assumptions

Turkish, like no doubt so many other languages, has appropriated foreign words, most notably French. However, the meaning of the Turkish word is often somewhat different than the original, leading to confusion. Take for example food, where what I think I've ordered is so often is not what I get.

Being pregnant and hungry all the time, I've lately found myself needing to grab something quick while out and about town. Three years ago when I was new in Turkey, I quickly discovered how difficult it was to find something healthy, let alone vegetarian. Favourite go-to snacks of the locals include simit (a smaller, tougher, denser bagel) and doner (extremely oily meat sliced from a spit and eaten between one of a few types of bread). There is no Subway Sandwiches; no falafels or salads; no Starbucks Vivanno or other healthy smoothie one can just grab and eat on the go. No one eats whole wheat bread and no one is a vegetarian.

My solution at the time was ayran, a buttermilk-like salted yogurt drink. While not low-fat, it gave me a serving of protein and calcium, while also filling my tummy and tying me over until the next meal. Now, however, with a hungry baby growing in my belly, ayran isn't enough. The other day, I ordered tost (toast), only to remember after receiving my two pieces of toasted white bread with a generous layer of melted cheese between them, that in Turkish, toast means toast-with-cheese.

Sugar is likewise apparently not considered an added ingredient. Recently out for a walk one evening with my husband, we stopped at a juice vendor for some strawberry juice, which I'd somehow never tasted in three years of living here. I immediately suspected it contained sugar, and asked the man behind the counter what was in the juice. Just strawberries, he assured me. It's natural, my husband added, just strawberries and maybe some water. I reluctantly let my husband order me my own glass; I would have been content just to taste his, but I was thirsty and a whole glass of crushed strawberries was of course a healthy snack!

Delicious and cold, I unelegantly chugged back half of the huge glass' contents immediately. My husband, who actually stopped to taste his, commented between sips that it seemed a little too sweet to him. The vendor defensively replied that he had to sweeted it, or else it wouldn't taste good.

Wait -- what? There's sugar in here?

Of course, replied the man matter-of-factly. If there's a Turkish version of duh, I'm sure he was thinking it then.

But why didn't you say so?!

Because clearly sugar isn't an added ingredient, but rather a spice, the way salt and pepper are added to soups and stews but not mentioned on menus.

Monday, August 31, 2009

When Things Come in Pretty Packages

A few months ago I had the chance to go on a 800-Lira shopping spree at one of my favourite shops, Chakra. Chakra sells organic cotton and bamboo bed and bath linens, rounding out their collection with pretty candles and lotions. It's fabulously expensive, but not only did I have a gift certificate, everything in the store was 30% off!

I was under pressure (self-imposed) because I was leaving for a month-long trip back to Canada the next day, but didn't want to miss this great sale; furthermore, I had to use the entire 800 Lira at once! Most Turkish shops haven't yet embraced the idea of gift certificates, and the poor salesgirls were pushed by my zealous girlfriends into accepting their money. (I later found out that the salesgirls had rung up a fake slew of items, which they then 'returned' when I cashed in the 'gift certificate' my girlfriends had received in exchange for their money. After all that confusion, they weren't going to split the cheque and let me spend half of it on another occasion! They'd been unable to say no to my friends, but they did to me.)

All this to say that it's only now, almost two months after that shopping spree, that I'm opening one of the packages of bedsheets. And my goodness, it was hard to do! I didn't want to spoil the pretty packaging! And should I keep the pretty plastic case the sheets came in for future storage? You can see how my mind works ... as if I were part of the generation who survived the depression or the war! I might need this later.

Alas, I regretfully attribute my compulsion to hoard to plain old obsessiveness. Perhaps I am frustrated with my own lack of creative output, so that I want to cling to other examples of prettiness. Regardless, I've always been inclined to save, to keep things in their original form, at the expense of my enjoyment of them. When I was about five, I received a plastercine set: a red butterfly, and two or three other colourful creatures, each set into their own niche recessed in a plastic tray. I eagerly removed the red butterfly and started to play with it, leaving the other colours for another day. But when I tried to return the red clump of plastercine to its butterfly form, I realized to my horror that I'd never be able to return it to its original state of perfection! I think it took me weeks before I dared use the other colours!

My father has five matronly sisters who are now in their 70s and 80s; but for some reason I remember them from twenty years ago, looking and acting just as they do now -- loving, jolly, and so formal it was always like they were from another world. (They're European, I used to explain to my friends.) For some reason, they always gave me pretty boxes of assorted scented soaps -- Crab Tree & Evelyn, a set of colourful balloon-shaped soaps, soaps that looked like fruit. Too precious to actually use, I tucked them away into what quickly became the very fragrant drawer of my bedside table. Years later, I was doing a major cleanup and was horrified to discover all these unused soaps, whose enjoyment I had been missing out on. And they didn't even smell anymore!

I like to think that while my old inclinations remain, I no longer succumb to them; all those soaps were the last missed opportunity. The new bedsheets are now on my bed, the plastic case in the garbage, the cardboard insert in the recycling bin.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Biting the Bullet

I've been meticulously scouring the internet, making lists, polling friends ... and the only thing to come out of it is my being overwhelmed and subsequently discouraged! Albeit briefly. Never one to stay defeated for long, I decided last week to bite the bullet: when so little of what is out there is actually available to me here in Adana, I need to narrow my field and actually go to a store and make some decisions that don't take every single factor in the whole wide world into account.

And so I did. I went into Özge Bebe, whose less-than-remarkable window displays had in the past always caused me to keep walking by. However, it actually surpassed my expectations! Talk about looks can be deceiving: there's a whole basement full of stuff! It had all the essentials, a wide selection of strollers and prams, and really knowledgable saleswomen. I pretty much made up my mind on a Chicco travel system (infant car seat + stroller); decided that a play pen would be a more practical investment than a bassinet Lily will grow out of after three months; did a quick scour of what else was to be had, and left, renewed optimism radiating through my bulging blue veins (another surprise of pregnancy!).

I then went home to research Chicco and the brands over which I'd chosen it (Kraft, Quinny). What I found:

Kraft vs. Chicco: essentially the same, so it came down to brand preference. Since I couldn't even find a website for Kraft, I chose Chicco.

Chicco vs. Quinny: this was trickier, as I was severely tempted by Quinny's amazingly attractive design. (Can you spot my attempts to convince myself in the reasoning below?)

*half the price
*plenty of underneath storage
*not super light; folding it up and hoisting it into the back of the wagon would be a workout
*typical-looking, boring, like every other mommy's stoller in town

*double the price
*zero underneath storage, unless you buy a Quinny basket sold separately ... which on principle annoyed me
*So light, I could lift it with a finger! And compact!
*Oh-so sleek and sexy-looking! Would definitely set me apart from every other mommy in town

Ok, so I still sound like an obsessive compulsive planner, but this is an improvement! I was comparing two items, actually available to me!! And in the end, I did make a decision -- today I'm going back to buy the Chicco stroller and playpen.

Next project: crib. Am sorry to say I still have a looooong way to go on that subject.