Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Universal Adventures in Motherhood

Well, you don't need to be an expat to have a "frustrating adventure of motherhood" like I did this evening, right smack in the middle of what my dear friend Lisa refers to as the witching hour.

First, a full bottle of syrupy Ariel stain remover fell from its shelf and emptied all over my bathroom floor; about half of it seeped under the washing machine, where it will stay. The other half took a roll of paper towels to absorb. In a hurry, though, I began the clean up process without rubber gloves; after all, my primary concern was to take care of things before my toddler got into the mess. As the skin on my finger tips began to corrode though (it felt like tiny shards of glass pricking me!), I thought better.

And then, not twenty minutes later, my toddler pooped in the tub. Diarrhea. And not a lot, either. But as any hygiene-conscious germ-phobic mother knows, there are no degrees of poop; even the littlest bit requires the total disinfection of the tub, the toys, the mat, and anything else it may have come into contact with.

And while I'm cleaning that, said toddler pees on the floor.

Meanwhile Baby starts crying, because he's hungry and tired and I've missed the sweet spot where he's sleepy and easily falls asleep. Now he's just cranky.

Now they're both asleep and I'm sitting here worrying whether my toddler has salmonella or amoeba. I'm glad I bought a bottle of wine at the supermarket on the weekend; this seems like an appropriate occasion to open it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mother's Guilt

After almost missing Halloween entirely, I bought my son's costume. Yes, I bought my son's first ever Halloween costume. I couldn't even find the time or energy to make this Martha Stewart no-sew easiest ever (and super cute) chicken costume. It would have been so perfect for the baby, but who am I kidding? Desperate times call for brutal triage-like decisions, and the toddler took precedence on this one.

Even though it was a very last-minute thing, I know that had I known weeks earlier I'd have the opportunity to take my boys trick-or-treating here in Istanbul, my best intentions would have somehow still landed me where I was the day of the big event: without a costume or candy.

But it gets worse. I didn't even do the shopping! A friend, who I bumped into by chance (coincidence #1), mentioned casually (coincidence #2) that he was on his way to buy his son a Halloween costume. I asked him to pick up something for my son, which he did.

And it gets worse still. When my friend asked me what kind of costume I'd like, I didn't indicate a preference for animal, super hero, vampire or witch; I didn't even say, "Oh, whatever you can find." My exact words, and I remember this with embarrassing clarity, were, "I don't care." Of course I didn't mean that I didn't care; that's just how desperate I was to get my son a costume and get Halloween 'taken care of.'

In the end, my friend and perhaps a little bit of kismet (those coincidences!) saved the day, and my son went as the cutest little Superman ever. The costume was perfect, the weather was perfect ... everything was perfect.

But what is it about motherhood that, even after the fact, you're still wracked with guilt?

Monday, November 21, 2011


This blog has never been a journal, a record of all the daily "adventures and frustrations of life and motherhood for an expat in Turkey." But when I returned to the internet after my three-week 'cleanse' and saw that several of the bloggers I follow had posted about Halloween, I was overcome with a sense of 'Oops.'

How could I not have written anything about my children's first official Halloween, since the challenge of maintaining Canadian traditions for my kids here in Turkey is something I grapple with every few months? I felt it six months ago at Easter, then last month at Thanksgiving; both times I was 'saved' when friends invited us to celebrate with them, thus eliminating the stress of sourcing turkey and ham, chocolate bunnies and Easter egg dye.

I almost missed Halloween this year, swamped by the craziness that comes with two children under the age of two, a husband who works in another city and is therefore away Monday through Friday, and still being nanniless. But in the last minute a friend picked up a Superman costume for my two-year-old at a nearby party store and more than enough chocolates for the twenty-five trick-or-treaters we were expecting, and we took our kids around to the dozen or so homes here on campus that were participating.

It was better than I could have hoped: the crisp fall weather, the darkness (daylight savings time had just ended), people's decorations and costumes ... Somehow the atmosphere of the evening was exactly as it had been on my own Halloweens as a kid.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Internet Cleanse

I finally have another valid excuse for not having posted anything here for so long.

We just returned from three weeks in my husband's hometown, during which time I was internet-free. (Well, almost. The whole exercise almost turned around to bite me when I got a call from work since I hadn't responded to an important email about an appointment to renew my residence permit; I used a friend's internet the next day for five minutes to see if there were any other important messages I'd missed. I hadn't.)

What I noticed:
  • I accomplished way more housework (mostly laundry, laundry and more laundry and all that goes with it -- hanging to dry, taking it down again, sorting, folding, the occasional ironing) during my 4-month-old's 40-minute morning nap than I do when the laptop is open and I check emails or look up something on the internet
  • My to-do list became far shorter, as most of my 'to do' items are created from ideas sparked by blogs I read or emails I receive
  • I read a lot more
  • I wrote a lot more
  • Although I felt somewhat 'out of touch' from my family and friends, a long phone call was far more gratifying and meaningful than three weeks' worth of short emails
And the wildest thing? When I returned to Istanbul and the internet, I found it just as I had left it. Except for the fact that Kim Kardashian was getting divorced. That happened while I was gone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Moth Infestation!

Why is it that whenever we go away for a few weeks, we return to find our home filled with moths and my rice and bulgur teeming with white larvae?

I'm definitely guilty of keeping my grains and beans too long; on more than one occasion I've bought red lentils, only to find I've already got a whole bunch in the cupboard.

But that doesn't explain why things that lie dormant for months come to life while we're away! Is it the lack of air circulation, as doors and windows stay closed? Does the house get hot, providing the right incubation conditions? Does anyone have any ideas?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Me or My Kids?

Most mornings, I manage only to dress either my kids or myself, not both.

Which would you choose?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beer and Baklava

Is baklava to Turks what beer is to Canadians?

There's been a lot of fuss in the papers lately about a particular Turkish television star (Kivanç Tatlıtuğ in case you're interested) and his "baklava." Turns out, everyone's talking about his abs, aka his "six pack."

Too bad both six packs and baklava are detrimental to my abdominal area.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Fortieth Day

A baby's fortieth day is traditionally celebrated in Turkey for reasons mostly forgotten now. As I've watched my newborn develop over the past few weeks, and have myself felt better and better postpartum, I've come to believe there is ancient truth and wisdom to the forty day "rules."

Sitting on the beach chatting to some ladies, my sister-in-law suddenly realized it was Baby's fortieth day. To celebrate, that evening we made irmik helvasi, a dessert out of semolina. We melted about a pound of butter and stirred a pound of semolina and a pound of sugar into it; then took turns stirring for a half hour, until the semolina was gold
en brown. Everyone -- my husband, my brother-in-law, my husband's nieces and nephews, a neighbour -- took turns stirring, and each time, that person said a prayer, well wishes for Baby's life.

We didn't wait for the helva to cool, pouring it out like liquid pudding onto plates. We topped each puddle of sugary delight with some pecans and cinnamon and dug in.

Deliciousness aside, I found the whole process moving and quite lovely.

p.s. sorry, no pictures ... The few I took made the helva look decidedly unappetizing. Here's one I swiped from the internet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I Still Don't Know

Turkey is not 'user friendly,' as I discovered as soon as I tried to become independent in any way upon my arrival here five years ago. I couldn't find a map of the bus routes in Adana, let alone a posting of the fares, and at any given bus stop, it's anyone's guess which buses actually pass by; places can't be found using just an address and a map; I never saw a phone book. My "aha" moment then was realizing that Turkish people, at least in Adana, operate mostly orally, passing on to each other the kind of information I, as a foreigner, wanted to find on my own. If you didn't know anyone and if you didn't know the language, you were lost.

Fast forward to the present: I've spent the last few weeks at the beach, in the same site I've been coming to with my husband for five years on summer weekends. This is the first time, though, I've stayed for any prolonged period of time; and with children at that! And so I needed to become independent, fast.

Living in Turkey for five years has taught me that water and groceries are always only a phone call away; you just need to learn the phone number of the local market that will deliver. There is often a pool of women who work for residents of a building or site as housekeepers or babysitters; again, you just need to ask around for a recommendation. And the best places to eat, swim and buy fish, while unknown to foreign tourists, are common knowledge to everyone else -- you just have to ask!

And so I arrived here almost three weeks ago, knowing what I didn't know, and immediately set out finding out the answers.

Still at it ...

Last night's endeavour:

30 kg of tomatoes
33 750mL jars
5.5 pairs of hands
4 knives
1 peeler
3 hours of labour

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Preserving Tomatoes

There's nothing "cottagey" about our Turkish summer house, as much as I like to reference Torontonians' "going to the cottage" on summer weekends whenever I explain to non-Turks what a yazlık is. Our doors and windows don't creak; our neighbour is 10 metres away; our mosquitoes are drugged every evening by gardeners so that we aren't bothered by them; our beach has been replaced by a perfect lawn so that no one has to deal with sand getting everywhere; our water is turquoise and warm; our gardens are manicured.

Still, I've been engaging in "cottagey" behaviour. Like my mother, who spent our summers at the cottage picking wild fruit and making jam, my husband and I have been spending considerable time preserving tomatoes.

It has felt so good getting my hands and clothes dirty, sweating in the name of "old fashioned hard work" and producing something! When else would I have the time/energy/motivation to peel even one tomato, except on holiday surrounded by like-minded people who insist on helping?

Resolution: to do a little more of this kind of thing in my "real" life.

Some stats from the most recent batch:

20 kg of tomatoes for 15 Lira (about $10cdn)
19 1-kg jars
5 pairs of helping hands
5 hours of labour

Step by step in photos:

From City Boy to Country Urchin

You know your kid's dirty when:
  • his tears leave clean streaks down his cheeks
  • people don't want to pick him up
  • you don't want to pick him up
  • bath time fun is replaced by serious scrubbing
  • his clothes no longer come out clean in the wash
  • you stop worrying about whether he'll catch something from his filthy favourite stuffed animal, who he takes everywhere

Friday, September 2, 2011

Learning to Let Go

This would never have happened, had he been in my care!

Sitting on the table, honey dripping down his chin and onto his bare knees, his arms almost shaking from the sugar coursing through his veins -- his first "sugar coma," as they say in Turkish -- a horrifying sight!

But when he dipped an olive into the honey and proudly offered it to me, I realized he doesn't get enough opportunities to be crazy and I bit my tongue; no comments about sugar before nap time or sugar in general, for that matter; no comments about instilling table manners.

I braced myself and swallowed that sticky oily olive and smiled.

What followed, on the other hand, was all my doing:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meeting People Part 2

My recent post about an expat's difficulty meeting people led me to think of another difference between expat and native social norms, namely the 'hows' of meeting people. On more than one occasion, I've noticed that the way I meet people here in Turkey reminds me a little of dating.

Random Public Place Meeting:
At a mall, gym, park, etc., one or the other overcomes initial shyness, no doubt the result of a subconscious fear of rejection, and "makes the first move," starting a conversation.

I have noticed that Torontonians and New Englanders are particularly loathe to use this method of establishing contact, perhaps afraid that we might be bothering the other person. On more than one occasion I've explained to my Turkish husband, much to his bafflement, why I didn't say something to that tourist we just saw. He's led me to question my assumptions about others -- that they have an itinerary and are too busy to make conversation; that they want to meet Turkish people, not fellow Canadians; that they would be insulted at my presumption they need help, having in fact well-researched their trip.

Book clubs and rugby teams, professional women's organizations, mom and tot groups are all great ways to bring together people with similar interests. A fun distraction, while you surreptitiously see if there is one person in the group with whom you might form a closer friendship. Kind of like taking a cooking class in an effort to find a boy/girlfriend?

An introduction by a mutual friend, aka The Setup;

followed by The Getting-to-Know-You-Better Coffee Date.

In the end, you're left exhausted and defeated; perhaps you should just settle for the people you already know. Sound familiar?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cultural Assumptions

Whether it's endemic to a whole country, city or just a single family, 'culture' leads to assumptions. And if you're a foreigner in that culture, get ready for misunderstandings.

Thankfully I was not involved in this illustrative example, a classic case of my understanding of "plans" vs. a Turkish understanding:

We're at the summer house with my husband's extended family. (NOT all staying in one house, I should add.) Every morning for weeks now, my 70-something mother-in-law goes for a morning swim with her daughter, who has a house two doors down, at 8. But this morning I saw D in the garden chatting with a neighbour returning from a swim at 7.30! Apparently her husband had woken her up early for a 6 o'clock swim. She made no mention of the fact that her mother might be expecting her shortly for their usual workout.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was still sleeping at 8; she came downstairs at 8.30 in her bathing suit and went down to the beach, not at all concerned about the fact that she missed her usual 8am date!

To strengthen my case: my other sister-in-law arrived last night and told my mother-in-law she'd be by at 8 to go for a swim. I saw her in the water at 9.30am; apparently she'd slept in.

So now we have two more jilted people: daughter number 2 stood up her mother; mother potentially stood up both daughters! Never mind the fact that she'd double-booked both women!

No one was considerate enough to call anyone else in this triad to inform them of a change of plans; and no one was in the least put out by having been stood up or concerned about flaking out of plans (note my cultural bias, as revealed by my word choice).

So which came first; did repeated disappointment lead people to stop having expectations of others? (In my opinion actually a healthy frame of mind.) Or does everyone just know that no one has expectations, and that a missed date won't be a big deal, and so feels no need to communicate changes? Either way, I envy my in-laws' and other Turkish people's easy-going nature in this regard.

At least as long as I'm not the one being stood up. I have yet to get used to or to appreciate the mental/emotional health benefits of that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Vacation

I've been slow to realize that my being on maternity leave means I am free to go anywhere, i.e. I don't need to spend it at home. My husband suggested we go to the yazlık, the Turkish equivalent to a beach house or cottage; not only will my toddler get to spend time with his Nene and cousins, uncles, aunts, etc., but I'll be surrounded by helping hands and might actually get some sleep. (Remember my plan to nap at least a few times a week? It's not happening.)

My knee-jerk reaction was a panicked, "No!" I can't leave my house! What will happen to my toddler's routine, which is already precarious these days? There are no cribs there! There's no high chair! If we fly, what about the kids' car seats?

But I've talked myself through each excuse and am pushing myself to get out of the house and my comfort zone. I'm sure I won't regret it.

Anyway, all this is to say that I'll be gone for a few weeks and you may or may not hear from me. Happy Labour Day and Happy Bayram, everyone!

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Lost in Translation

Appropriately named ... but a wise marketing strategy? Would you want to live here and be an "ant?"

Saturday, August 20, 2011


A few thoughts on sleep:
  • When I'm tired, the littlest thing like spilled milk or a leaky diaper - five minutes after changing the last one! - can make me cry.
  • But a short nap can turn my day around.
  • Although logic would have it that a child who wakes up too early should simply be put to bed later, the experts say this is wrong -- put a child to sleep later and he'll still wake up at whatever early hour his inner clock has decided to wake up at every day. In our case, we struggled for months to get our firstborn to sleep until 6am; if he went to bed a little later than his usual bedtime, he'd be up at 5 or 5:30am! However, Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, a book I swear by, does concede that occasionally, a too early wake up time can be corrected with a later bedtime. (Several other factors have to exist, such as your child being well-rested and having a regular routine.) We tried it, and it worked!!! So for the past week, Firstborn has been sleeping until 6:30am!!
  • This morning, for who knows what reason, he didn't wake up until almost 7am!! I cannot adequately express how much good those extra twenty minutes did me! (Of course Newborn decided to wake up at the exact same time, which is another story. At this age, I think I prefer staggered wake up times!)
  • A carefully-timed cup of coffee (immediately after a feed so as not to affect Newborn at his next feed; far enough ahead of my own opportunity for a nap so I don't miss out on that) can immediately bring me out of a sleepy stupor and fool me into believing I've had the most restful night of sleep ever.
  • Last night Newborn only woke up once (at 2:30am). Shocking, but I'm not questioning it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Meeting People

Meeting people as an expat hasn't been difficult; but meeting people who can make up for the fact that my best friends are thousands of miles away, has been. We've been in Istanbul exactly a year now, and believe it or not, I'm only now starting to feel settled. Of course that's mostly because I threw myself into my new job immediately upon arriving (and I feel very 'settled' there!); during my non-working hours I was busy being a mother. And so I devoted little time to my social life.

Yes, I socialized at work with colleagues; yes, I arranged play dates for my toddler and enjoyed coffee with the other mothers; yes, I joined an expat womens' association; and yes, I joined a book club. But in my thirties, I've noticed one doesn't usually become instant best friends the way one did as a teenager or even in one's twenties; in fact, I've found that as an expat, such friendships never end well. Drawn to each other out of loneliness and relief of recognizing a familiar accent, it usually takes a few weeks or months to realize you would never have been friends with this person back home -- and for good reason.

One needs time to let friendships develop. But who has that time? When you're working, mothering, navigating a city whose infrastructure is such that small errands take hours ... Come evening, you only just have the energy to take a hot shower, have a glass of wine and go to sleep, rather than head out to meet people for dinner.

But perhaps none of this is unique to expat life; I'm sure my friends in Toronto report similar exhaustion. The difference, presumably, is that they've got old friends nearby with whom they can pick up where they left off when they see them once every few months.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Giving Birth in Istanbul -- What It Can Be

I'm happy to say that for the second time I gave birth in a Turkish hospital and left a day later on foot. In other words, without having had a Cesarean section, as anyone who's lived in Turkey likely knows is the prevalent method of delivery in hospitals.

For women in Turkey and especially in Istanbul interested in a "normal" birth, as they refer to non-Cesareans here, I thought I'd give a little bit of information on the subject.
  • My hospital was Acibadem Maslak, and I found both the obstetric and pediatric nurses to be excellent -- knowledgeable and possessing excellent bedside manner.
  • The hospital, but more importantly my doctor (send me your email address if you want his details), supported my birth plan, even though much of it went against what is 'standard' here; my doctor was open to trying things he'd never done before, most notably delivering my baby in any position I chose, i.e. not lying down on a delivery table.
  • What is 'standard' here in Turkey? An epidural and Pitocin; an enema; episiotomy; hooking you up to a fetal heart rate monitor and IV, thereby pretty much forcing you to spend your labour lying down; no food or water for the labouring woman; and in the end, a Cesarean, the reasons for which are usually one of a handful, including the baby being too big. (Note: I have done no scientific research; these are my observations based on talking to women, foreign and Turkish, here in Turkey and hearing their stories.)
Me, 5 minutes after having given birth in my room -- Acibadem pediatric nurse in the background, obstetric nurse in the foreground, Baby in my arms.

I could devote a whole separate post to DO-UM, but don't have time these days; instead, I'll simply recommend you look it up and use it if you're so inclined. In brief, though, it's a natural childbirth preparation center, and I only had good experiences there.

I had to become extremely knowledgeable and be proactive, advocating for myself constantly; but it is possible to have the birth you want here in Turkey -- just make sure you surround yourself with the right people to support you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inspired - Barefoot Books

This post is the first of a series I'm dedicating to people I find inspiring. Perhaps not coincidentally, the people tend to be women who have started their own businesses, often related to children. I'll let you read whatever you like into that.

I just discovered Barefoot Books, a children's book publishing company, whose beautifully illustrated books both inspire the imagination and allow kids to explore the world. I love Nancy Traversy's story how she created the company as a new mother; I also love the diversity of Barefoot -- the website includes podcasts and activities for kids, a blog, and ways for you to get involved. I learned about Barefoot here, on Momfilter, where you can read an interview with Traversy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spoiled ... and Cured

Another confession: I'm afraid I've become spoiled here in Turkey. The nannies we've had cooked and cleaned in addition to looking after my son while I was at work; it was lovely to come home and not have to worry about any domestic chores -- I could just play with Baby until bedtime, and then enjoy my evenings.

But then the summer holidays started, and I was home full-time ... with a nanny! And that's when I started to feel lazy. If she did the dishes while I played with Baby, I'd feel guilty. But if I did the dishes while she played with Baby, I'd feel resentful ... After all, I wasn't paying someone to replace me!

The thought of doing it all on my own, though, without anyone to help, was inconceivable. How would I cook and clean and take care of the kids? As much as I reminded myself that my mother and most of my friends back in Toronto did it, it remained much of an abstract concept. The day our last nanny called to say she was sick and wouldn't be returning, I was struck with fear and anxiety -- how would I survive?

But now I've been on maternity leave without a nanny for a few weeks, and although I'm busier than I've ever been, I'm amazed at what a powerful grip the I can't do it mindset had on me. Of course I can take care of my kids and house by myself! Life is of course messier now, but everyone's clean and fed and happy and safe.

I will go back to work in a few months, though, and the kids will have a new nanny. So soon enough, I will have to meet the challenge of finding the middle ground between being a spoiled Mommy who pays people to have everything done for her and the pushover whose employee walks all over her. Any advice?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Preparing to Exorcise

No, that's not a typo; I didn't mean to write about preparing to exercise, although I'm doing that too. One of these days I hope to once again have enough of a routine going so that I can carve out a tiny slice of time for myself between feedings to work out. But first I need to find child care, and that's a whole other adventure ... But back to exorcism.

I can be very lazy and a master procrastinator; but I also have a slightly manic, obsessive-compulsive, ADD side that, when "on," has me tackling every item on my to-do list before I can rest. I will not tire until every last item is done, no matter how small or pointless in the long run (hence the 'compulsive' descriptor) ... I don't know where it comes from, but I become filled with energy and can't stop (hence the 'manic').

But I've decided it's time to exorcise that part of my personality, if not for my own health and sanity (How long can a person go without sufficient sleep? So far so good, but I figure I should quit while I'm ahead!), for the psychological well-being of my children. I'm not sure the crazy me is a good role model; I hope my boys grow up to be calm, balanced men!

And so I've set a few basic rules for myself:

1. Set only one major task for myself each day; and if I don't get that task done, that's ok. ('Major' is something that takes more than 15 minutes, or is something I've been meaning to do for a while.)
2. Limit household 'maintenance' (a quick tidy, dishes, sorting laundry) tasks to two 10-minute sessions each day. This means I will have to prioritize; if the bed doesn't get made that day, there were more important things needing to be done.
2. Take a nap at least 4-5 times a week. At least until Baby is sleeping through the night.
3. Set aside 15 minutes each day for totally selfish, indulgent 'me' time -- I will do something that isn't on any of my to-do lists (yes, I have more than one list!) and would probably be considered a waste of time by the part of me that I'm trying to exorcise. Activities may include reading a tabloid newspaper or Googling stylish orthopedic sandal options. (Don't ask.)

Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Season, or Writing for the Sake of Writing

I'm not even going to look at the date of my last post, but I know it`s been far too long since I`ve written. I know, though, that I should `just write,`and so am doing just that -- am going to write about nothing.

In addition to being willing to write about nothing and post it, I also needed to be willing to let some other much-needed tasks slide. And so I`ll confess a little secret: right now, while both babies are sleeping, I am choosing to write this instead of tackling the to-do list below:
  • take a nap myself
  • do the dishes
  • clean the bathroom
  • put away scattered toys
  • get dressed and brush my hair
  • brush my teeth (yikes!)
  • exercise
So here is my post about nothing:

At the moment, I am enjoying the wide variety of delicious, fresh fruit in season here in Turkey. At this very moment, I have in my home bananas, watermelon, some other kind of melon (the oval yellow one with little flecks on its outside), raspberries, strawberries, purple plums, peaches, the cutest mini pears, and some kiwi.

And because I believe in either doing something fully or not at all, I`m even going to take a photo for this post.

p.s. I`d like to write about the Sisli Organic Farmer`s Market we went to yesterday ... Am putting this out there in the hopes that I`ll be more likely to actually write that post in an effort to avoid the embarrassment of not following through.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hiatus and Rethinking this Blog

The ban on Blogger in Turkey ended ages ago, and I haven't written anything since ... So it's confession time: the ban conveniently started at a time when I was feeling decidedly uninspired to write. But then the ban was lifted and I didn't do anything about my little crisis.

But now, in a spurt of energy as I try to cross off every last item on my to-do list before Baby #2 arrives, I'll put the crux of my dilemma out there: I am uncertain about the direction of my blog. I'd like to continue it, but am dissatisfied with where it could go. Too many others are doing travel blogs or personal/mommy blogs; I am no longer enough of a 'foreigner' here that every little thing seems unique and exotic; yet I am hardly expert enough on life in Istanbul as an expat as to pretend to be The Voice of expats in Istanbul.

So until I decide what I want to write about, I'm taking a hiatus.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blogger's Back!

I don't know yet what happened, and hope this isn't a premature post ... But it seems the Blogger ban in Turkey has been lifted!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Official Flexibility

I've often joked about how rules in Turkey are flexible and I've shared with you how I once got out of a parking ticket; but this takes the cake:

"Due to the university exam that will be held on Sunday, March 27, daylight saving time throughout Turkey will begin one day later than the other European countries, i.e. the clocks will be set ahead at 3.00 a.m. the night of Sunday, March 27 to Monday, March 28."

I share this with you somewhat reluctantly, as it is becoming more and more embarrassing these days to tell people I live in Turkey -- between the Blogspot/Blogger ban and this ... I shall say no more.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


After three months of grey skies and cold rain, the sun has been shining for five straight days in Istanbul and I once again love the city. I’d forgotten that it could be green and blue and beautiful, instead seeing only the traffic, the grime and the crowds. But now I’m reminded of why I was excited to move here in the first place.

I can't promise I won't ever hate the city again; but I hope I never become blasé about living in Istanbul, the fifth largest city in the world!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogger Ban

I have been too annoyed about Turkey's all-encompassing Blogsot ban to write about it over the past two weeks. But someone else has said everything I'd want to, just so much better. Click here to read his post on the matter.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"I Can Survive Without Tomatoes"

Don't get me wrong -- I love tomatoes. But nothing compares to the way Turkish people love tomatoes. I think it's fair to say many have them at every meal in one form or another. Case in point:

Husband: Should I use up all these tomatoes in the salad? They're going bad.
Me: Sure!
Husband: But then there won't be any left for tomorrow.
Me: That's ok. Besides, I'm going to the supermarket after work tomorrow. I'll get more.
Husband: But what about until then?
Long silence, while I think about how to answer this. I won't need them at breakfast or lunch; I will have bought more before dinner.
Me: I can survive without tomatoes.
Long silence, while he thinks about how to answer this. After all, there won't be any tomatoes for breakfast or lunch.
Husband: Oh, that's right. You're not Turkish.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Schools in Turkey

I don't think I'm the type of mother who needs her child to attend the best school or to be the top of his class. However, recently I've had a taste of how nerve-wracking it is to be that kind of parent.

In Canada, I think it's pretty safe to say that whatever school you send your child to, public or private, he will get a good education. He will have the chance to go to university. Unfortunately things aren't so simple here. Yes, Istanbul is an improvement in many ways over other parts of the country. But still, some public schools have class sizes of sixty kids! Teachers' methods are usually archaic. Facilities are lacking. Private schools, on the other hand, while boasting impressive facilities, do not always deliver the quality of education promised. Classroom discipline is often nonexistent. Which leaves us with one final option, an international school. While the chances of my child's classmates' parents being like-minded are much greater, an appealing factor on its own, I worry about the transience of the student body.

And so, overwhelmed with choices, I find myself poring over school websites, making lists, taking notes, planning school visits ... And stressing over the fact that in the case of some Turkish private schools, I'm already too late getting my fourteen-month old son on the waiting list for kindergarten! In short, I find myself overcome by the fear of sending him to the wrong school that I'm entertaining outrageous notions -- quitting my job and homeschooling?! Opening Turkey's first Waldorf? Moving back to Canada?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Bleak Istanbul Maternity Wear Market

Considering how many stores sell lovely baby clothes and hip accessories here in Istanbul, I was sure finding maternity wear would be easier here than it had been in Adana.

Alas, pregnant with baby number two in winter, as opposed to number one in summer, I need clothes but have found just one store even worth mentioning, and it still leaves much to be desired. Bellamom in Istanbul's Istinye Park shopping center is worth a visit if you need maternity jeans or slacks, but the selection is small and the fabrics in most cases synthetic. And if you're petite like me, chances are you won't find anything in your size.

During my inquiries I learned of many stores that used to carry maternity clothes or have closed down completely, again surprising me; Istanbul women love fashion, and surely that doesn't stop when they become pregnant?!

Are all the fashionable Istanbullus shopping abroad for their maternity wear? Or are they going the non-maternity maternity clothing route? Any suggestions are welcome!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Glamorous Side of Stay-at-home Mommyhood

We're back from our Swedish vacation and a much-welcome breath of non-Turkish air; as much as I love Turkey, I need to get away every so often. And I'm back with renewed energy to tackle my many roles: wife, mother, teacher, friend ...

The women of Stockholm made stay-at-home motherhood look glamorous, never mind easy. Slender mothers dressed in Swedish-casual were everywhere, and rarely alone -- meeting in cafes, whose generous entrances and wide aisles easily accommodated their prams; at outdoor skating rinks; or at child-friendly places such as Junibacken, the amazing indoor play area dedicated to everything Astrid Lindgren. (I wish I'd taken a photo of the fifty-or-so buggies locked up outside in the 'parking lot.') Small groups of moms would stop and chat on street corners, there still being ample room for other pedestrians to walk past them on the wide Stockholm sidewalks, which seemed to have been made for prams!

And on the subject of prams -- interestingly, the ever-sleeker, sportier, lighter buggies so in fashion elsewhere were nowhere to be seen; Swedish women seemed to prefer wide, low buggies squatly suspended above four wheels, reminiscent of my mother's own Silver Cross. The most popular brand seemed to be native Brio.
Indeed, Sweden in many ways seemed dedicated to promoting family life. I visited the most beautiful children's bookstores, and a peek at the Swedish-language books for 0-24 month-olds revealed the most imaginative, creative and interactive books the likes of which I have yet to come across in Toronto. The clothing and toy stores I saw were full of beautiful classic Swedish children's items that made me want to be a kid again -- that, or have ten more babies. And public buses are free if you board with a baby carriage!

A little research quickly taught me that most Stockholm mothers I saw have careers, but that they are enjoying their one-and-a-half years of maternity leave. And once they do return to work, their husbands often take their own three months' leave before sending their kids to daycare. And even then, nobody seemed to work more than 35-hour weeks!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The flag of SwedenImage via WikipediaWe're off to Stockholm for a week, enjoying one of the perks of expat life in Istanbul -- the proximity to Europe's major cities!

Alas my list of places to go is long, and life is busy ... I do not have the energy (with Baby in tow!) to pop over to Rome for a weekend or Cairo for spring break. But Sweden promises to be baby-friendly. I hope to buy some nice children's toys and just generally feast my eyes on Order and bask in Efficiency.
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Monday, January 31, 2011


Günlük süt, or 'daily' milk as the non-UHT milk so widely available here in Turkey is called, is something I couldn't get at the store in Tarsus or Adana. If I wanted fresh milk, I had to find someone with a cow. Seriously. Once, only once, I managed to be in the right place at the right time and was able to flag down a man on a moped with a 10-gallon container of fresh milk between his feet, had him wait outside while I ran back upstairs to fetch a saucepan, and had him fill it up. I then brought it to an almost boil and simmered it for ten minutes, an art I learned from my mother-in-law. Let it boil and it not only spills over, making an incredible mess, but it scalds.

But since moving to Istanbul, I've only been buying fresh milk, since my local Migros supermarket carries it, as does the neighbourhood bakal, or corner store. And assuming I can be nostalgic for something older than me, I love the fact that the milk I buy (SEK brand) comes in glass bottles!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Going Native

Palm Treo 750 in handImage by via FlickrIt's one thing to bring in a child car seat from Canada that isn't available here in Turkey (I didn't do this, but a friend did), or to stock up on pantry items (liquid vanilla, peanut butter, grains!) and Lululemon when you're home visiting. Some specialty items really are cheaper and better in North America; and who can argue that a little taste of home now and again in the midst of your expat life isn't good for the soul?

But I regret having bought a phone that isn't widely available in Turkey. Now, I have to interrupt my story here to say, I was not trying to be different, as my husband teasingly keeps insisting. But I absolutely wanted a phone with Windows Mobile, and my options here weren't great. I could either choose to spend a lot more than I knew I would for the same product back in Canada (Blackberry or a high-end Nokia), or buy an HTC, a brand I didn't know much about. Besides, I had loved my Palm Pilot years earlier, and felt a loyalty towards the brand. And then I found an inexpensive unlocked one in Canada.

Now that my Palm phone isn't working, however, there is only one place (in the whole country!) that I can bring it. Luckily it's relatively near to where we live. Still, two lessons learned: no matter how I justify it to myself or anyone else, it is high-maintenance of me to insist on buying certain things abroad. Two: going without a phone for a while will be a useful exercise in being unplugged.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Maybe you can take the city out of the girl ...

I've been struggling for months now with the sheer size of Istanbul. Perhaps it's not the size, though, but the insufficient, inefficient infrastructure, particularly when it comes to transportation.

I know that in order to exist comfortably in a big city, one needs to live close to work and in a neighbourhood that meets one's needs. And we do. But in a city with as much to offer as Istanbul, there are things beyond my neighbourhood that beckon me. And that's when I start to question whether four years in Tarsus/Adana have rubbed off on me.

Last week, I went to a book club meeting with some fellow North American women for the first time. We were meeting in Taksim, a fairly central location, and I suspect closer to where I live than many of the other women there. Still, I had to consider whether to take a bus, taxi plus Metro, or just taxi. Obviously price is a consideration, but so are time and comfort.

Let's look at option one, the most practical and economical: one bus, from my doorstep to the doorstep of the cafe in Taksim. Easy, right? And cheap. But it would take about an hour, and the bus would be crowded; chances are, I'd have to stand the whole way. Also, the direct bus to Taksim doesn't come by all that frequently, and I might have to wait for it.

And so there's option 1b: take any of the buses passing by my doorstep, and then transfer to the funiculaire.

Now let's look at option two, which is considerably more pricey, but a lot more comfortable. For about ten Lira, a taxi will take you to the nearest Metro, from where you ride underground and emerge in Taksim 5-10 minutes later. Door-to-door, you're there in half-an-hour. If only we lived closer to the Metro!

Option three: taxi all the way. A little pricey at close to 20 Lira, and not always advisable, even in the greatest hurry, since if there's a match or it's rush hour, even the best cabbie can't avoid the traffic and you'll be en route for an hour.

I wasn't even going to mention option four, since I never consider it: drive myself. Between the traffic and the scarcity of parking spots, never mind the fact that I haven't yet even learned the best route to take, I'm far too intimidated to drive to Taksim. My husband recently drove to Taksim at 7:30 in the morning on a weekday, though, and got there in under fifteen minutes.

I wish Istanbul were a city with a bicycle culture.

Anyway, all this takes me back to my original question: did the relative quiet of Adana, a city of 1.5 million, suit me better? While I lived there, I cursed its provincial aspect and lamented the absence of museums, galleries and gourmet restaurants almost daily. But now that I'm here in Istanbul, with the latter at my doorstep, how often do I venture out into the big city and actually take advantage of them? Far too seldom, I'm afraid. I find myself too tired, or too lazy, and prefer to take walks in the neighbourhood and take Baby to the local park.

Which begs the question: if that's the kind of life I'm living in the big city, wouldn't I perhaps be better off back in Adana?

Unless I resolve to start really living in Istanbul.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reading Again

I haven't been writing much; blame it on the nanny adventure, being sick, being busy ... But I have managed to finish reading a book, which is quite amazing -- it's been months since I actually read one to the end!

I read Ann Patchett's memoir Truth & Beauty: A Friendship as an example of my new favourite genre, creative non-fiction. Back in October I wrote that I had bought several books that had been recommended as part of a writing course I'd taken; this is one of those books. And while I wouldn't exactly recommend it, it was an interesting read, if not least as a writing lesson.

I've abandoned Elif Shafak's The Forty Rules of Love, but may pick it up again as a book club I've just joined has it listed as their book for February.

I've abandoned The Elegance of the Hedgehog although it still sits on my night table. I don't know why I stopped reading that one; it's brilliant. I will go back to it.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton likewise lies unfinished on my nightstand; I'll go back to it as well ... I'm a huge fan, even if his work needs a break.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New and Old Comfort Foods

Food. A recurring subject of mine. Let me sum up in one sentence everything I've ever written about food: good food makes me very, very happy; while the absence of it, especially over a prolonged period of time, almost always sinks me into depression.

Yesterday I received a package from Mom, and more than the enclosed gift for Baby, more than the chocolate marzipan she made herself from scratch, more than anything else, I was delighted to receive the box of PC Macaroni and White Cheddar Cheese.

I cooked it immediately, and savoured every delicious, creamy, melting-in-my-mouth bite. I paired it with another perfect taste, çig köfte, one of the few Turkish foods I truly love, each spoonful of the mac and cheese extinguishing the flames of the spicy köfte I'd popped into my mouth a moment earlier.

I was very, very happy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Nanny Agency

What comes to mind when you hear the words 'nanny' and 'agency?' Let me tell you what I understand by the phrase: a company that, for a price, will introduce prospective clients to several nanny candidates whose references and credentials have been checked; and who have presumably been successfully placed by the agency in the past.

Well, it turns out that most Istanbul nanny agencies simply scour the want-ads for nannies' names and telephone numbers, file them, and then call them when needed. And based on my own experience, it seems the nannies advertising in the papers are the ones who couldn't get work by word-of-mouth.

Apparently until recently, agents would take a month's salary from the nanny and the equivalent from the client; in return, they would help both parties if the nanny-family match broke up within six months. It has been made illegal to take money from the nannies, so now agents want a fee equivalent of two months' nanny salary from the family, and have reduced their 'guarantee' to three months. Which would seem reasonable, if they were actually doing more than facilitating introductions!

I'd been entertaining the idea of starting my own agency, purely out of frustration, when I stumbled across one that seemed to operate the way I thought agencies should. And I was not disappointed -- until I learned that they were way out of my league. This agency finds professional, educated nannies (i.e. educated in early childhood education, child development, speech, etc.) whose salaries exceed my own!

Perhaps I'm in the wrong field?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Return of the Nanny Diaries

I had been hoping after the last nanny debacle never again to have to write about childcare. But alas, two weeks ago, we had to fire our nanny.

The worst part is that I held on to her for months longer than I wanted to; within a few weeks of her starting with us four months ago, I knew things weren't perfect. Almost everything she did drove me crazy.

But she was taking good care of Baby; in fact within a few days of her starting with us, he'd made advances in language and general comprehension that I'd never thought possible. So I wrote off my complaints as petty and brushed them aside; I figured I was just projecting my own guilt about choosing to work and not stay home with my son.

Eventually it became clear that it wasn't just me, though; even my husband, who hardly ever saw the nanny, agreed she was crossing the line of professionalism and taking too much ownership of Baby and our household.

But nannies -- or rather good nannies -- are hard to find in Istanbul. Uneducated Turkish mothers whose families suddenly find themselves in need of additional income will often look for work as a nanny because their only other option is house keeping; illegal workers from Russia, Uzbekistan and Moldovia often work as nannies; as do Filipina women. As a mother, I've had to consider safety (do I accept someone who's in the country illegally?), language (what effect will broken English or broken Turkish have on my son?), and of course personality (what psychological effect will someone with obvious emotional baggage have on Baby?). And then there's principle: what percentage of my salary am I willing to pay for peace of mind? All of it? 75% of it? 50%? Considering the high unemployment rate and low wages for even educated people in this country, nannies ask a lot. They also want you to pay their transportation to and from work each day in addition to whatever monthly salary you agree on.

The general consensus is that the Filipinas are the best; but they are also the most expensive. The general consensus is that the Turkish women are the worst (even though not the cheapest); but wasn't our beloved nanny S back in Tarsus Turkish? And don't I feel at least a little patriotic to these adopted country-women of mine, to want to support them? The general consensus is that finding a good nanny is like playing the lottery; you have to try and try and try until you luck out. I have colleagues who have fired almost thirty nannies!

All this to justify why I, the perfectionist, put up with less than perfection for months -- I didn't want to deal with finding someone else!

But the day I came home and found my son's bangs chopped up to his hairline and looking like a monk, I knew Istanbul Nanny #2 had to go. She'd asked me that morning whether she could straighten the trim I'd given him, but I'd clearly said no; my own bad job would tie him over until the weekend when he and Daddy would go to the barber for the first time together. I'd just wanted to get his hair out of his eyes. And besides, his crooked fringe had a cute punky pixie look which I was kind of enjoying.

"But didn't I tell you not to touch his hair?" I asked in horror that evening?

"But it needed to be done!" was her only reply, as if it were up to her to decide.


"Because I straightened out his hair?"


"If I'd known you were going to make such a big deal of this, I wouldn't have cut his hair."