Oh my, how quickly everything can change…

Well, spring weather and the end of my first trimester (yes, in case you didn’t know, we’re expecting Morkan Baby in September) have sort of come at the same time. Result? I feel like a completely different person than I did a couple of weeks ago! Holy cow, it’s a bit mental how suddenly and drastically your whole outlook on life can shift!

So, with my renewed energy, I’m thinking up and starting to implement a few small changes, starting some new positive habits and beginning some projects. Here are a few of the main things I’m doing at the moment:

1. Eating healthy, home-cooked food: For the last few months I had all day nausea and major food aversions, so I was just kind of eating whatever sounded tolerable at the exact time I was going to eat. Also, I was wrecked and exhausted, so cooking wasn’t really something I wanted to put much effort into, AT ALL. This led to lots of take-away food and delivery, both at work and at home. It was great for a while, but then it just started feeling a bit blah; too fatty, too rich, too expensive.

So, now I’ve been back to simple, flavourful, healthy and mostly-veggie cooking and healthy snacks too, and I’m loving it! I have basically been celebrating my ability to eat good, nourishing food, for myself and baby. I don’t know why, but eating wholesome stuff actually makes me feel really happy.

2. Morning yoga routine: I am really trying to get into good habits here. Get up in the morning, and maybe have a tiny nibble of food to keep me going, and then about 15 minutes of simple yoga to stretch out and wake up my mind and body. It’s such a good way to start the day, and makes me feel more energetic and active. Otherwise I have a tendency to just waste up to HOURS in the morning just not really doing anything. Plus my lower back has been feeling a little sore, so the yoga is kind of necessary. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun!

3. Reading, writing, thinking, being: I have been trying to follow my own advice and make more time and space in my life for creativity. I’m reading a great novel, enjoying some poetry, taking time to write random things, and sometimes just sitting in the sun letting my mind wander. I am definitely a busy-mind person (which doesn’t mean I am an efficient or active person!) so it is SO necessary for me to deliberately unplug for a bit. My mind NEVER wants to be quiet, so I need to give it little time-outs, relax my brain and body and just enjoy sights, sounds and smells around me. Do nothing. Listen to birds. Enjoy that lovely sunny warmth. Lay on the floor. You get the idea.

4. Recommitting to simple living: I’m ready again to give up wastefulness, laziness, stuff for stuff’s sake and having a cluttered mind, home and life! I’ve also been thinking of some priorities I have for the next few months/year, etc., and I am willing to make some sacrifices in the frivolous stuff to have the money and time for what I really want and value, such as…

I want to research birth options in Istanbul, and maybe have a doula or birth coach. A good friend of mine has a friend who is a birth coach and I’m hoping to talk with her and get some recommendations on English-speaking doulas, or other options. First of all, I want to have a natural-as-possible birth, and I don’t know anything about the system here in Istanbul. Also, I know myself that I’m not the most assertive person, and I would really love to have someone on my side who knows what’s going on, speaks Turkish, and is there to support me in all of this. I think it’ll make things less stressful for both Richie and I, because we’re both equally clueless in all of this. Having a doula or birth coach is even more important to me because there is something like a 90% caesarean birth rate here, and I am kind of freaked out by that!

We also have a few trips to the US and Ireland coming up in the next year. Visiting family and friends is definitely a priority, but certainly not cheap. So, some saving and living frugally will be important in making this happen.

I will probably be taking at least 3 un-paid months off of work when the baby is born and after that, possibly not working as much as usual. We hope that with our relatively flexible work schedules, we can always have one of us home for baby-care, but it’ll still probably involve fewer hours worked overall. So, best to save and be thrifty now to make things easier in the future.

On a non-money note, I also want to do a major reorganising and de-cluttering of our apartment! I plan to start with the bedroom and sitting room, getting rid of furniture we don’t use/need, clothes that are never worn, random odds and ends that seem to collect in drawers and on dressers and desk tops, etc. Then we have stuff in the back room/second bedroom that we never ever use, and I just don’t want all this stuff around taking up space! So, that’ll be my big spring cleaning project and I’m really looking forward to it!

Anyway, the whole idea of less life-clutter makes me feel freer and happier! It’s definitely a liberating experiences to let go of the unnecessary and devote more time, energy and resources to the things you really love and value.

So, that’s what’s up today. I hope this wave of energy and positivity stays with me! It feels good to feel ‘normal’ again. I’m going to make the most of it while it lasts.

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A great day of not much of anything…

I ended up with a day off yesterday due to students cancelling and I still can’t believe the difference that an extra day off makes to one’s general happiness and productivity.

It might sound like a pretty lame way to spend a day off, but all afternoon and evening I pottered around the kitchen, cooking not one, but TWO dinners (nice to have some stuff ready in the fridge on busier days), washed tons of dishes, cleaned out the fridge, hoovered, did two loads of laundry, did a general tidying of the apartment. I also talked to a few people on skype and just generally relaxed. I feel so happy to have made some healthy and yummy food, because I’ve felt like I’ve been eating lots of take-out lately, mostly at work. It’s fun to order in food for a treat now and again, but when you’re eating it nearly every day, it gets old. So, it was fun to try a new recipe and have the house full of the smell of roasting veggies and spices, etc. It also feels so good to have the apartment looking normal. It’s just been so hard to keep up on that stuff lately!

I just enjoyed the day so much. It really is the simple things that make life pleasant. So, now I just have to get through tonight and tomorrow night at work, and then it’s our day off together, which will be great too. I’m still planning to book myself a massage, and Richie and I will probably go out for a meal somewhere. It’ll be nice to get out a bit, but I’ve actually been quite the homebody lately. I think it does me good to at least go to the shop or something so I get a few minutes of fresh air, but other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever been so content to just hang out at home. I have very little interest in doing anything out and about. I’m sure that’ll change when the spring weather finally arrives. Well, I’m off to the kitchen to heat up some of the goodies I cooked last night! Yum.

Why vegetarian is the way to go in Istanbul…

I saw this recipe linked on a blog linked on my cousins blog this morning, and I thought it looked really good. I particularly liked that it was described as ‘comfort food’ and very easy to make. That was exactly the kind of food I wanted to cook today! Anyway, I made my little list this morning before going to work and picked up most of the more ‘exotic’ ingredients (by Istanbul standards) on my way home at one of the larger supermarkets in our area, and then headed to the local butcher’s for the beef, and on to our smaller local supermarket for the items that are easy to find in Istanbul (to save me carrying heavy potatoes, flour and bottles of sunflower oil up a big hill).

Just for the fun and insanity of it, I’ll give you a run-down on the prices of the various ingredients in this meal that would probably be pretty freakin’ cheap in the US. I’m looking forward to this rather indulgent treat, and I’m also looking forward to surprising Richie with something hot, meaty and delicious after his longest workday of the week. He’ll never see it coming! Haha!

Anyway, here we go:

1lb can of Quaker oats- 15TL

5 oz bottle of Worcestershire sauce- 7TL

2 oz bottle of Tabasco sauce- 7TL

normal sized bottle of ketchup- 2TL (this one wasn’t bad)

1 1/2 lb of ground beef- 20 TL!!!! (although, it was pretty amazing- the butcher opened up his big fridges with dangling pieces of cow, chopped off some bits with a giant knife and then stuck it in the grinder right there and then. Pretty fresh!)

flour for dredging meat balls- 2 TL (also not bad)

TOTAL: 53 TL

Imagine spending 53 dollars or euros to make meatballs! Holy cow! Maybe the cow was holy and that’s why it’s so expensive. And that total doesn’t even include the potatoes and veggies! Luckily, those are much cheaper.

So, the good things are that this recipe says it makes 6 servings of meatballs, and the tabasco, worcestershire and oats will last for a few repeats of this recipe, but still. Just to contrast, we probably manage to make most of our dinners, full of delicious fresh veggies of all varieties, for somewhere between 5 and 10 TL, also with leftovers.

I don’t really feel that bad about the fact that I can’t really afford to eat American-style in Turkey. Turkish food is great and I love eating food from other countries. So, I don’t feel like it’s a big loss at all. But after this wildly expensive shopping experience, I am once again reminded of the financial benefits of eating lots of veggie food. Yippee for vegetables!

But it’s all bought and dragged up the hill, and I am gonna enjoy every last bite of this meat extravaganza while it lasts!

Last day in Cappadocia: churches, canyons and underground cities…

Well, here are the photos from our last, action-packed day in Cappadocia. We decided to go on a tour, because many of the sites around the area would have been pretty much impossible to reach without a car. It’s not something we usually do, but it was definitely worth it in this case. We started out at a beautiful spot with amazing panoramic view over the region and one of Cappadocia’s impressive volcanoes looming in the distance. The guide explained about the whole volcanic geography thing, which was interesting.

Then we headed for one of Cappadocia’s apparently hundreds of underground ‘cities’. The underground city idea originated with the Hittites, some of the first people to live here. Their underground constructions were usually just one or two levels below the ground. However, later people expanded these settlements and the one we visited was eight storeys deep! We visited storage rooms, a meeting hall, cuneiform church, kitchen, wine-pressing room, living rooms and even a stable while wandering around twisty defensive tunnels designed to confuse intruders and make it very difficult for them to actually attack these underground fortresses. These places were useful in times of war or when enemies were raiding the area. The people normally lived in above-ground villages, but retreated into these underground ones only in times of need. Unfortunately, it was pretty impossible to take a decent photo down there, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

After that, we headed to lunch in a cheap and cheerful sort of place near a small river in a forested canyon. This canyon was once full of cave houses and many churches. We also saw pigeon coves carved into the canyon walls at one point. People decorated these alcoves with red painted designs to attract the pigeons, who provided the people with droppings later used as fertilizer. Our guide said people only came to collect the fertilizer once a year, so as not to frighten away the pigeons. The shells of pigeon eggs were also used to make the frescos painted on all the churches stick better. I’m not sure if they were used to make a base-layer under the paintings or if the egg shell was mixed right into the paint.

We took a nice walk through the canyon and enjoyed the fantastic weather. It was warm, the sun was shining, and I loved hearing the sound of the stream as we walked along. We stopped at one of the churches and had a look inside, and then we hiked up a load of stairs to get out of the canyon so we could head off to visit a former mountain monastery, which was also pretty cool although much of it has fallen off in big chunks and been worn away by the elements over the years.

So, it was a beautiful last day, and we ended our trip with a delicious dinner and some wine. We had a local speciality, which is a vegetable and lamb stew slow-cooked in a small clay jar for five hours. The restaurant itself was great as well. It was snug and warm with an old iron stove in the middle of the room for heating, and we took off our shoes and sat on the floor, traditional style, on big, fluffy, comfortable cushions at a low table in our own little nook. I wanted to live there. It was so comfortable! And I had some of the nicest wine I’ve tasted in a long time. Sigh. It was amazing. I’d definitely love to go to Cappadocia again.

 

Cumhuriyet Bayramı…

Yesterday, the 29th of October, was Cumhuriyet Bayrami- Republic Day. This particular national holiday celebrates the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. So, being a national holiday, most people get the day off. However, Richie and I are always off on Friday, so sadly, we didn’t get any extra benefit out of this free day. The day was great though, and we got to visit some friends that we haven’t seen in ages!

We went to our friend Sohye’s apartment in the evening, where we also saw ‘our Turkish family’- Sultan and her four children. Thanks to our recent Turkish lessons, I was actually able to make some baby sentences and talk to the girls! I can only say things in the present continuous, i.e. I am reading, I am learning Turkish, Are you eating?, etc. Not the most in-depth conversation capabilities, but it was something. And the oldest of the girls, Sibel, has recently started university and is studying elementary English, so our overall communication abilities are certainly increasing!

We had a nice Turkish-Korean-fusion feast, made by Sohye and Sultan. I did contribute a chickpea and aubergine salad to the mix, which seemed to go over well. Every time I eat at either Sultan’s or Sohye’s I am in heaven. Such good food!

As we were finishing the dinner, an amazing fireworks display started outside. Sohye lives on the seventh floor of an apartment with a great view, and we could see a huge amount of fireworks all along the Bosphorus. They were so beautiful, and I couldn’t believe how many there were! It was really spectacular.

Then the two younger kids got sleepy, so Sultan and her gang headed home, and we stayed to hang out with Sohye for a bit longer before heading home. It’s always super entertaining and fun to spend time with Sohye and Sultan’s family, and now I’m so excited that we’ll be more and more able to actually communicate with them! Now I can’t wait for our next Turkish lesson!

The western districts of Istanbul: Fener and the Greek Patriarchate…

On Friday we had our usual day off, and since it was the first Friday for a few weeks that it wasn’t pouring rain, we decided to do some urban exploration.

We took a stroll along the Haliç (the Golden Horn) and visited the area where the Greek Patriarchate is, in Fener. We saw some sections of the old Byzantine walls that once surrounded the city. It was interesting to see how much the ground level has risen since the walls were build. We saw one of the old gates of the city, that was probably very near the water’s edge, but is now quite along way from the Haliç and is now very short after years of accumulation of silt and rubble and rubbish and whatever else.

We stopped at a kahvehane (coffee house) for some warm and delicious refreshment, because even though it wasn’t raining, it was pretty windy and a bit chilly. I wanted to go there because the other day I’d been talking to a friend about the old way of making Turkish coffee and this place seemed like it might serve it that way. As my friend had explained, say in her grandparents’ time, Turkish coffee was made on coals, which meant it cooked nice and slow, taking maybe 25 minutes to slowly foam and simmer. This makes a delicious cup of coffee that is smooth and foamy and almost creamy in texture. If you make Turkish coffee too quickly using too high a heat, you just get watery horrible stuff. Anyway, this comfy little cafe did in fact heat the coffee on hot coals, although it certainly didn’t take 25 minutes. But it was delicious and foamy and wonderful, just like I hoped. It was definitely a great place to stop.

Then we continued our wanderings into Fener. We walked along some very hilly cobbled streets, lined with old and slightly dingy, but colourful houses, some drapped with clothes lines and washing hanging out to dry or some bright flowers dangling from window boxes. This area used to be a predominantly Greek part of Istanbul, but now it is one of the most conservative Muslim areas, and I imagine pretty much all of the Greeks who used to live here are long gone. But this area is still home to the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, and this has been the location of the Patriarchate since 1601.

We saw a great big red brick Greek school/orphanage (no longer in use) perched up on a hill overlooking the many houses of Fener and the Haliç. We also saw the church of St Mary of the Mongols or Maria Mouchliotissa in Greek. This is still an operational Orthodox church, hidden away amidst the homes and tattered buildings of the area.

Apparently this Maria was a daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos who reigned in the 1200s. The emperor entered into an alliance with the Mongols, led by the great Khan Hulagu, who was favourably disposed towards Christians because a number of Mongols were Nestorian Christians. So, it was arranged that Maria would marry Hulagu. She arrived at the court of the Mongolian Khan only to discover that he had died. So, she married his son Abagu instead. Later, when Abagu was assassinated by his brother, Maria returned home to Byzantium and founded a church and convent dedicated to the Virgin of the Mongols. She became a nun and lived out her days in the convent.

Another interesting tidbit to go along with the church is that in Turkish it is called Kanlı Kilise, or the Church of Blood, because of the fierce and bloody fighting that took place here during the Ottoman conquest of the city.

It is also interesting because in Turkish the Greeks and their church are referred to as the Rum and Rum Ortodoks. So, basically they are called Romans, due to the fact that, after the centre of the empire shifted away from Rome itself, Constantinople was the centre of the Roman Empire until the 1600s when the Ottoman Turks took over the city. Kind of cool.

Anyway, probably due to our unscheduled coffee break, we actually got to the Patriarchate too late to actually go in and see it. We arrived about 5 minutes before closing time. It was a bit disappointing, but we’re planning to go again in a week or two to see it. I think we also have some more churches and mosques to see in the area, so their will be plenty to occupy us for a second visit!

Not much…

Quick update:

Last week it rained everyday, except Sunday, which was nice for all the marathon runners in Istanbul, although it didn’t benefit Richie or I very much because we were working most of the day. I’ve started trying to learn the art of making Turkish coffee. So far, drinkable but not great. I need to ask an expert (i.e. Turkish friend) for a coffee-making tutorial. I also tried making spicy Indian chai (tea) from scratch tonight. Moderate success. There are about a million different recipes on the internet, so using the basic spice ingredients, I’ll just have to experiment until I get the flavour/spiciness right. We went to a couple of friends’ house warming party last night. Massive fun. I danced for hours. I’m now paying for my dance madness with a cold and slightly sore throat- too much excitement and exertion I guess. But it was definitely worth it! My evening students have been cancelling lots of lessons last week and this week. Annoying. It’s okay when it’s a late cancellation because I still get paid. It is not okay when they start getting organized cancelling in a timely manner, and I just end up bored and work-less at home instead of earning a living! I am slowly getting re-inspired to cook decent food at home. I am also feeling ready to go a bit more veggie and a bit less meaty. During my lazy-not-wanting-to-cook days/weeks, I ended up ordering food at work more often than usual, and this usually involved meat. Nothing against meat, but I just feel ready to get a bit healthier again and have more fresh veggies, etc. I’m looking forward to my friend Deniz teaching me some delicious home-style Turkish soup recipes to warm us up during the winter. Plus Richie loves soup. And finally, I bought socks today. I think that about covers it.