Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Lightness of Being




I love my boys. I love them from the tips of my toes to the top of head, a love that makes me talk in silly voices and do things I never thought I would do, but my evening out alone this week was fantastic.

As soon as school was over, I hopped in the car, set the ipod to John Mayer, rolled down the windows and hit the road. My destination was Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu, known as Pera in earlier times, a bustling hub of coolness and light. The gods were kind as my trip in was surprisingly easy, with little traffic and a wrong turn that was easily remedied. I was set to meet a group of ladies to talk about books, and I had two hours to kill. So I did what you do on on Istiklal: I walked.

Istiklal is a long street, lined with shops, cafes, bookstores and restaurants, with music blaring, street musicians busking and people chatting. It is cool, a place Koray and I used to frequent often when we were Ali Omer siz. Koray went to high school there and with his blues band Istanblues, played gigs at the various bars and nightclubs into the wee hours of the morning, so it was he that initially introduced me to this place. His wooing strategy was to show me all of the interesting and obscure places hidden away in the maze of neighborhoods connected to Istiklal. And it worked, hook, line and sinker. With the arrival of the boys, we stopped going, because when I say bustling, I mean teeming with thousands of people, not a great environment for two people dazed and confused from new parenthood. The first time we went back after the birth of our boys was on a New Year's morning. We strapped the boys on and ventured out when we knew the Beyoglu types were fast asleep or sipping their last bowl of iskembe, a soup notorious to be a hang over cure. It was empty and lovely. And big. The street, minus the sea of people, was unbelievably wide and for once, I was able to look up and soak in the beautiful architecture that towered above the streets.

So yesterday I parked the car, and hit the pavement. At first I felt like I had left something behind, and kept checking my bag, paranoid that I had dropped or forgotten something, or worried I had been unknowingly pick-pocketed. This reaction to traveling light comes from the fact that when we travel, we travel as an entourage. So the lightness of my sparsely packed bag combined with my free hands and mind was, is, a feeling alien to me. Since I didn't have to navigate around the thousands of people with a little person at my side, I found that I was remarkably swift and stealthy in the sea of people. I made it to Tunel in no time at all. On the way down, I noted shops and art galleries that I wanted to pop into on the way back (which I did), and made my way to a favorite restaurant, tucked away in a quiet alley. It was glorious. I ordered Thai vegetable soup and Vietnamese spring roles, and dined at a leisurely pace, reading my book and not thinking about game plans or refereeing dinosaurs and trains.

Something I noticed when I was walking back towards Taksim was how even in a crowd of thousands of people coupled with all of the noise from the shops and cafes, to me it was beautifully quiet. My mind wandered where it wanted and I just was.

I spent the rest of the evening talking about books and drinking coffee. I didn't get home until 11:30, and for those who know me well, know that this is about three hours past my usual bed time. I paid for it the next day. Regardless of when I go to bed, the days start bright and early with the pitter patter of growing feet followed closely by a running commentary that ends when the doors of the kres (pre-school) swing shut. But, I had plenty of good coffee to keep me awake and the experience of being alone for an evening was well worth the lack of sleep.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Expat Explorations



The term "third culture kid"refers technically to kids who live in a culture outside of their own long enough that they incorporate elements of that culture into their lives. My beautiful and smart cousins Kirsten and Shannon are third culture kids. My aunt and uncle raised their girls in Cairo, while keeping an American culture within the home. Even as an expat myself, it is curious for me to see them post on Facebook from the states that they are "going home" for the holidays, home being Cairo, Egypt.

I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit since I started reading this blog and was asked some expat mommy questions for this blog. To be honest, I really don't think about my expatriate status, since my life is pretty normal, well, at least I consider it to be. I get up, go through a typical routine of getting the boys and myself ready for school, head off to work, come home, whip up dinner, spend time with the family, hit the hay and do it all over again. We mix it up on the weekends, but the day begins and ends in the same manner, seven days a week. Taking the term from my friend L's shoes, a pair of Keen hybrids, I have been calling my boys hybrids for some time now, but that was more of a joke about the state of their parents. Then I saw A use the word hybrid as a term to describe people living on the crossroads of culture, and I began to think about it.

Our boys aren't third culture kids, they are half American and half Turkish: hybrids. Which means that we have a hybrid household. Both English and Turkish is spoken in our home and while my Turkish still leaves a lot to be desired, we have a hybridized way of communicating. I didn't realize this until recently when my Turkish classmates were in stitches as I was trying to explain the traditions of winter solstice to our Turkish teacher. I couldn't figure out what was so darn funny, but I soldiered on only to elicit more giggles. The gigglers later explained that I would insert random English phrases into Turkish sentences like it was normal. I honestly didn't even know I was doing it. But then I started paying attention to the language spoken in our home, and realized that that is what is normal for us. I almost always say, "are you bitti?" when asking the boys if they are finished with something. Ali and Omer sometimes mix the rules for pluralizing words (s for English and lar, ler for Turkish) Can I have my eldivens please?. Or they speak in English, but use Turkish words like, "mommy, can you kes this?" or "The abis took it." When somebody compliments me on my cooking, I always say afiyet olsun. It is the same with gecmis olsun and I can't imagine not saying these phrases to a compliment on my cooking or to someone who has been sick.

We have a way that we do things in our home that goes beyond language that isn't necessarily American or Turkish. It is something new we created, a third culture really, something that is special and unique to our family that our families of origin might only vaguely recognize.

Another component that shapes our hybridity, is the expat community that we live within. Expats are a different creature that retain their home culture, yet morph with other cultures. This influence seeps into our home culture by means of ethics, politics, words, food, traditions, humor, music, travel, etc. It is pretty cool when I think about it, as we have some pretty interesting people in our lives.

On the day-to-day running of things, I still don't feel all that different than what I imagine my friends back in North America feel. I remember my first week in Guatemala, as a young, green teacher newly out in the world, I asked a colleague what it was like to live in Guatemala. She told me that it really wasn't all that different on a day-to-day basis than the life she lived in Canada. She got up, went to work, came home, hit the gym, made some dinner, maybe hung out with some friends, and was right back at it the next day. As a keen, but naive budding expat, I thought to myself, how lame, I am going to make so much more of my time here. But she was right, my life was and is pretty routine, and I do a lot of the same things people are doing back in North America. Sure, we can hop in the car and 40 minutes later be strolling around ancient Constantinople, or catch a ferry in Asia and a glorious sea breeze refreshed 20-minute trip later, we are in Europe. We can also hop a 55 minute flight and be on the Mediterranean coast, but that is normal here, and normal for the people who have always called this land home.

I think a part of why I don't feel like an expat is because I have made a life here, outside of my home country. This past fall I felt more like a foreigner when I was in Washington State, the homeland, where I hadn't been for quite a few years. I stopped living in the US when Clinton was in office and the past five summers we have spent in Nova Scotia. I was surprised how the money had changed, products were different, the way of life was different, and even the people seemed a bit different. I realized when I was at the local grocery store check out that it was me who was different. I was rifling around for my debit card, and must have been obvious, or taking too long, because the cashier looked up at me, paused and said, "you aren't from around here, are you dear?" My reply, "well, I used to be." This of course caused confusion, compounded by my revelation that I lived in Turkey. Don't get me wrong, I easily slipped right back into being just another American when I was home, and by looking at me people of course didn't know I had flown 6,000 miles to be there, leaving an entire life on the other side of the Atlantic, but I surely felt it in the small things. I was a different person in the same place, eleven years later.

I often get the question "what is it like to live in Turkey?" and because I have been here so long, I have a hard time answering that question. A truly sad part about living abroad for an extended length of time is the loss of magic. Sure, I still dig the Grand Bazaar and the ancient sites around Istanbul, a city I still find amazing. Yes, I still get excited when we plan a trip to a new place, but it isn't that same feeling of excitement, adventure and wonder that I had on my first flight across the Atlantic. I remember waking up and looking down to see the patchwork quilted farmland of France, or flying over the glorious snow capped Alps for the first time. It was such a magical, amazing feeling. Traveling for us has become second nature, and while I still thoroughly enjoy it, look forward to it and need it, it doesn't have the same enchantment that it did before, which makes me a little sad when I think about it.

So, I have thought about it. Being an expat does seem pretty interesting when I ponder it enough to write this blog post. However, I know that as soon as A and O come in from the yard, covered in mud and hungry for dinner, this curious life I am talking about will be gone from my landscape, only to be rediscovered here. And that is OK. I am pretty content with my normal life.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Yemek

I love food. I love to cook it and eat it, read about it, talk about it and buy cookbooks to make more. I am disappointed when something I make or order isn't a taste sensation. Particularly for friends just back from the homeland aka the land of var, one of the first things I ask is "what did you eat?" I relish in the opportunity to live vicariously through friends' tales of pork dinners, hamburgers, lobster rolls, tacos and guacamole, spring rolls, ham sandwiches, butter cream frosted cakes, scallops, sweet potato fries, etc. I was talking with a colleague this past week about her trip to Southeast Asia and she noted that the cuisine was one of the top reasons to visit there. This morsel of information settled it in my mind that once the boys can handle a 13-hour flight, we will make the trek over. As a matter of fact, I haven't been to a country that didn't have a tasty local cuisine. Coincidence?

My cookbook collection is quite eclectic, from Nova Scotian fare to Thai, and this weekend I bought three more cookbooks. The first was the Blog Aid for Haiti cookbook, which I bought online and sent to the states, so I may have to wait until summer to read it. So to keep me sated, I bought Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home and Sahrap Soysal's A Cookery Tale, an interesting Turkish cookbook organized by region, with all kinds of notes and anecdotes on the food and people of the different regions of Turkey. Even Koray, who loves to eat, but doesn't read cookbooks, was drawn to this book and I heard an occasional "wow" and "I didn't know that even existed" as he flipped through the pages. My favorite cookbook is The Joy of Cooking, mainly because I use it so much (thank you to Deek for lugging that across the Atlantic). It truly is a comprehensive book with everything you need to know about cooking. A close second is the Moosewood Restaurant: New Classics.

With the boys getting older, I have more time to linger over cookbooks and actually make the meals that I find within. In order to eat healthily during the week, I plan out what we will eat for the work week and buy groceries accordingly the weekend before. I do this mainly because when rushed and tired we tend to order in or just make what is easiest. This past holiday season we hit a low point when the dinner menu consisted of french fries and Christmas cookies. Koray was away that evening for a school function, so he didn't witness the despair. The boys loved it, but I felt like a starch-gorged slug for the rest of the night.

I also plan the weekly meals because it is something I like to do. I enjoy figuring out which protein to pair with which carbohydrate, then deciding upon which vegetable will round out the meal. I also like shopping for food. Buying fresh fruit and veg here can be a feast for the eyes, as the local pazar (farmer's market) is visually stunning and atmospheric. Something else that I have grown to enjoy in Turkey, with the exception of the sporadic stock of cilantro, is that Turkey still has seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. We are just ending the winter fruit and vegetable season, so we will say goodbye to broccoli, cauliflower, citrus, pumpkin, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, beets, etc., for another year. Next up is the erik (tart, tiny green plums) and strawberry season. What this means for cooking is that when something comes into season, it is a celebration, something we look forward to all year and are sad to see go. It also means we try to eat as much of it as possible when it is at its peak, which means creative meal planning. I try to preserve, OK, hoard, what I can like pumpkin since the season doesn't start as early as my yearning for pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup. When I say pumpkin, I don't mean we get cans of it at certain times of the year, I mean we buy them either whole or segmented and peeled of their pale green skin which I then roast or steam for recipes. This is something I enjoy as well, preserving the bounty of the season. Canning isn't common in Turkey as far as I have experienced, so we freeze everything. This year we roasted and froze a couple kilos of red peppers and eggplant that we bought down on the Aegean coast. We have been enjoying the fruits of our labor all winter, and each time I pull a frozen packet from the icy depths of the freezer, I remember those four days of warm-calamari-soft breeze-beach bliss.

In addition to planning ahead, I also like to cook ahead so that all we have to do is come home, heat up dinner, and we have a tasty and healthy meal in no time. On Sunday, before preparing the chicken fajitas for dinner, and after baking the vegan chocolate cake, I whipped up a curried spinach and pea soup, put the lamb chunks (for shish kebap) into a marinade of garlic, mint, red wine and allspice and made sweet congee for breakfast today. I realize that the aforementioned vegan cake is a tad hypocritical with chunks of lamb marinating in the fridge, but really, the vegan cake is basically the same recipe as the wacky cake recipe my mom used to make, a recipe she got from my aunt Charie. The frosting is the really the same as any chocolate frosting, but it calls for peanut butter and water instead of butter and milk. And it was in the Moosewood Cookbook, so I thought heck, why not. I found out tonight that it tastes blissfully divine after sitting for a day. I would snap a photo of this lovely dessert, but I am afraid I will want to eat another piece, so you will need to use your imagination. Or better yet, make it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Deep Chocolate Vegan Cake
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
. Generously oil an 8-inch square or round baking pan and dust lightly with cocoa powder or line the bottom with parchment paper.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or chilled brewed coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Sift together dry ingredients in one bowl and mix wet ingredients (minus the vinegar) in another bowl. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Quickly stir in vinegar (white, swirly ribbons of bubbles will appear) and quickly pour into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.


Vegan Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Frosting
2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate (thanks, Dee)
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used up my supply, so I used creamy hazelnut butter)
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Melt chocolate in a double boiler. While the chocolate is melting, beat together the nut butter, water and vanilla until smooth. Beat in sugar and then chocolate.

Spread the frosting on the cooled, wacky vegan cake.


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Here is the recipe for tonight's soup:

Curried Spinach Pea Soup

5 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt (though I like to use chicken bouillon)
4 cups of diced potatoes
8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon (I didn't have this so I put 2 pods in with the potatoes)
1/8 teaspoons cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups frozen peas (I use the Iglo brand here)
4 cups of packed, fresh spinach
1 3/4 cups coconut milk

Basically you boil the potatoes and garlic until the potatoes are tender.

While potatoes are boiling, saute onions and ginger in the oil until translucent, then add the spices, then the lemon juice, and a cup of the potato cooking liquid. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes then add to the undrained potatoes. Add peas and spinach and simmer until spinach is just wilted. Stir in the coconut milk and blend until smooth and creamy (you can do this in parts).

Top with fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (if a store near you carries it weekly--thank your lucky stars if it does).

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I also tried another new recipe, Sweet Spiced Congee, from the Moosewood Cookbook. Though I have never been, congee is supposedly served in many parts of China, and is usually savory. The Moosewood has a savory recipe as well, but I thought this one looked like an interesting change for breakfast.

Reaction from A and O this morning, "this is good, can we eat it tomorrow too?"

Congee
1 1/2 cups long grain rice (I used Jasmine)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
12 cups water

Sweet Sauce
5 apples, cored and diced
5 pears, cored and diced
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon allspice

Put water, rice and salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn it down and let it simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, until it resembles a smooth, thick porridge.

For the sauce, mix the remaining ingredients and cook until the fruit is tender and the sauce is thick.

Spoon about 1/4 a cup of sauce onto a cup or so of the congee, stir and eat.

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I am already thinking about the food we will encounter on our trip out east this spring and our summer trip to North America.

I will sign off leaving you with a few food blogs that I follow. Maybe the epicurean spirit will move you as it does me.

Afiyet olsun.

Food and Thoughts

Dinner with Julie

Food Bridge

Pictures and Pancakes

Orangette

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10th

Lamb is a word near and dear to my heart. Not only do I love to eat lamb in any form, be it chops, burgers, meatballs, shank, leg of, curry, soup, stock, etc., on our drive into the city, I love watching the various bands of sheep frolic along the roadside with their shepards following closely behind. My childhood was speckled with woolly stuffed sheep, sheep figurines, sheep toys, and, actual sheep. Nothing beats wool to keep a cold winter at bay.

My love affair with lamb started in utero. Like his father, my great-great grandpa George Prior, my great-grandpa Archie Prior was a sheepherder on the Horse Heaven Hills, land that is now wine country, as was my dad. When I was born, with a slight green tint, the doctor asked my dad, "well, did you want a sheep herder or a camp cook?" I love the gender stereotyping, but it was 1975, in Eastern Washington. Starting when I was only a few months old, my family and I spent several days each summer in Klickitat Meadows, high country, as the sheep grazed and cavorted on the open green meadow before heading down for the long, cold winter.

A good part of my formative years were spent around the goings on of the sheep business on Taggares Farms in eastern Oregon, where my dad was the farm manager and continued the family sheep tradition. Anybody who knows anything about livestock knows that it can be a brutal, difficult trade. I remember watching the Basque men who worked for my dad castrate yearlings using the traditional Basque technique, a technique where they use their teeth. During lambing time, I learned that in order to match an orphaned lamb with a ewe that had lost a lamb during birth, all you had to do was place the fresh pelt of the dead lamb over the orphaned lamb, and the ewe would think it was her own. These orphaned lambs rode around on the "gut wagon" until they were placed with a ewe, and if not, they were sent to the shed where they were bottle fed until they could fend for themselves in the alfalfa fields. There were always about 15-20 of these tiny lambs, and I loved to go down to visit and feed them from the glass Pepsi bottles filled to the brim with lamb's formula, topped off with a big, black rubber nipple. My dad let me "have" two orphaned lambs, who I promptly named Snake and Black Widow. For some reason, I was never bothered by the fact that the sweet little lambs often became the tasty lamb chops that frequently adorned our dinner table.

Another thing I loved to do was watch the sheep shearers when they came every year. They would come to the ranch for a couple of days, set up their portable shearing trailer and get to work. Watching them shear thousands of sheep was a sight to behold. I loved it when they would let me jump into the suspended tube-shaped burlap bag to pack down the wool, making room for more. You haven't had fun until you have frolicked on a mountain of tightly packed wool bags.



My dad's house always had two or three sheep pelts, or sheep skins as we called them, adorning the floor. I always had one just next to my bed so the first thing my feet would touch in the morning was the soft, fleecy wool of the rug. We even have two here in our home in Turkey, though they have been put away until the snowy white coats are no longer in danger of being forever stained with cherry juice or chocolate.

Today my dad would have been 65. To commemorate the day, I roasted a leg of lamb, taking care that my portion was rare as I love it, and he loved it. I also attempted to make sheepherder's bread. I only wish I had remembered to ask him for his recipe.

With the arrival of this day, I remember back in November a conversation dad and I had about how old he was. He said "65."

I looked at him questioningly and said, "I thought you were 64?"

"Well, in February I will be 65."

With an unknown prognosis of 6-8 weeks to 6-9 months, we both remained quiet for a moment before I said, "right."

My love affair with lamb is strong and deep and it is through this sweet and succulent animal that I will be forever reminded of, and connected to, my dad.

(Thanks to Alexander the Best for scanning the pictures for me)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Can I do it again?


Today is the last day of the semester break. It has been a good two weeks, even though we didn't do much. But sometimes not doing much is a good thing.

One thing we did do was head up to Lake Abant, a two hundred and thirty kilometer drive up into the snowy mountains of Bolu, for three days of sledding, sleigh rides and frolicking in the snow. On the way (and back) we opted not to take the newly constructed Bolu Tunnel, which goes right under the mountain, cutting driving time by 40 minutes or so. The tunnel bypasses the tasty kuzu pirzola (lamb chop) restaurants that dot the road up and over Bolu mountain. These restaurants are small places that serve a simple fare of lamb chops, soup, tomato and cucumber salad, wood fire toasted bread and the best yogurt you have ever had. They are not to be missed, so we didn't.

After we feasted, we drove the next 45 minutes up to Lake Abant, which was a winter wonderland ensconced in two feet of fresh powder. Our friends, the Kavalas, had a hard time getting up the snowy road and were saved by a helpful villager with a tractor who pulled them right up to the entrance of the hotel. We quickly settled into our room, dressed in a flurry of wool socks, mittens and hats, and were out the door in search of a sledding spot.

After a 20 minute walk up the snowy road bordering the lake, we came to the heycanli kayak pisti (exciting sledding slope), and boy was it ever. The North American in me said "no way are my boys doing that" and we moved on. But after seeing the other sledding area just up the road, a truly hair raising sight, we headed back to the first area, now tame in comparison. After a hop across an icy creek and a short climb up the hill with brightly colored inner tubes in tow, Ali and Omer were in sledding heaven. I think they went twenty times up and down in the span of an hour. Each time Omer's inner tube would slide to a stop, he would immediately yell bir tane daha yapabilir miyim? (Can I do it again?) There was an even bigger slope, for adults only, that took my breath away, and helped me to understand how the term "scream like a girl" was coined.

For three days we walked through the snow, chatted and laughed, sledded in conditions that would be outlawed in the states, took a sleigh ride, soaked in the hot tub and ate delicious food from the lavish buffet meals at the hotel's restaurant. The boys were dead tired each night, as were we.

We had a great time and already look forward to going back next year .

Check out the amateur video at the bottom of this post.


video

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back on the Wagon

Relatively recently, a blogger that I follow posted the books she is reading in 2010, as a response to this blog.

As you may have noticed in my first blog, I am back on reading. True, Koray brought me the complete series of The Catherine Tate Show, and true, I have watched a few, but I refuse to get sucked back in and I am determined to hold strong. The fact that the DVDs are zone 2, and my portable DVD player only plays zone1, helps tremendously.

I used to be an avid reader, back in the days when I almost always took a nap or plopped myself down on the couch for a good hour after work, the days that Koray and I now look back on and wonder "what did we do with so much time?" If you know me, you can guess the reason why my reading has dwindled in the past 3 years and 10 months. Granted, this past fall was a record low for the number of books I usually read in a month, but even before then I was not in fighting form. I was reading some books, sometimes even two a night, only they were usually accompanied by colorful illustrations. I am, of course, not complaining. Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems are interesting and engaging, as are the people who like me to read to them.

Now that I have made a commitment to read more, my strategy to keep on the book reading path is to write down, in order, which books I will read. The aforementioned blog has a challenge to read 100+ books in a year. If you just hit the mark and read 100 books, that is roughly eight books a month. I know there is no way I can do that considering I get up at 5:30 and go to bed at 8:30, and the boys get up at 5:30 and go to bed at 7:30. When I say "go to bed" I mean I snuggle down into bed and tuck into a book. Each day is filled to the brim with family, school and Turkish class (twice a week after school), which is why I usually only last about a half an hour before I am sound asleep. Maybe when the boys are teenagers and I am up late worrying about where they are and what they are doing, and who they are doing it with, will I be able to read more. Until then, eight books a month is too ambitious for my current lifestyle.

Instead, I will list here the books I plan to read, putting it out there in hopes this public declaration will help me to stick to it.

Here is the line-up. It is meager in comparison to the 100+ book challenge. Baby steps.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee (for the reading group I have decided to join)
When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris, *and signed by David Sedaris*, thanks Dee! (I actually just need to finish this)
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
The Forty Years of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong
The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra
The Spirit Catches you and you Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
The Man Who Would be King: The First American in Afghanistan by Ben Macintyre
A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
The New Turkey by Chris Morris
Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
Katherine: The Classic Love Story of Medieval England by Anya Seton

It is wintry and snowy outside and the boys have new Thomas the Train toys to keep them busy, so I think it will be a good day to disappear into a book.

If you are reading anything interesting and engaging, I would love to hear about it. Or if you have already read books on my list, let me know what you thought.

Wish me luck.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Mommy, there are two moons!"

I was roused out of a half sleep this morning by Ali announcing this into the 6:07 a.m. darkness. I was half asleep because I too was awakened by the moon shining directly into the narrow bedroom window next to the bed, and into my eyes.

The promise of two moons made me sit up. However, the second moon turned out to be a street light, but I could see how Ali was bewitched; it did kind of look like a second moon.

Ali and Omer's enchantment with the moon started early. Ay dede (grandfather moon) is something they used to say over and over, and over. They saw the moon in everything, from a piece of salam (salami) with one bite taken out of it, to a segment of mandalina (mandarin orange), to a white soccer ball. When we put a yellow moon light in their room, they were over the moon. Ay dede was also the first Turkish lullaby I learned, and not by trying. I had heard it so many times that the words were repetitiously embedded into my subconscience. I can't remember what came first, the moon obsession, or the book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown that L brought to us from the school's library, but it was A and O's absolute favorite book for a very long time.

Around the first few months after they had discovered the moon, A and O loved to moon gaze, always asking at night "where is ay dede?" As soon as they would feast their eyes on the moon they would chortle in unison "ay dede!" We were acutely aware of the moon's presence back then, and it was magical.

One of the best memories I have of AO and the moon is the night we arrived in Cirali, a special spot down on the Mediterranean coast. With our good friends R and L , we had flown in from Istanbul and driven from Antalya on a chilly December night, on a curvy coastal road, to arrive at a magical place called Arcadia. It was off season, so we had run of the place. Ahmet, the owner, let us nose around in the bungalows to choose which one we wanted. As we snuggled in that night, the four of us looked up from the bed to see a bright, full moon shining in through the sky light directly above us. Ali and Omer, Koray and I squealed in unison "ay dede" and we knew in that moment we had been led to a special place.

Ali and Omer's obsession with the moon has waned a bit, but on night walks before they continue their exploration into the inky night, flashlights in hand, they still stand transfixed when the moon appears from behind the clouds, even if it is only for a second or two.

Before lunch today, Ali said "when the moon comes we will watch the regular Ice Age." This combined with Ali's jubilant observation this morning is confirmation that the moon still has a hold on them.

I hope it always will.