Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Resolutions

I'm all about New Year's Resolutions and goal setting, so I always get kind of excited about New Year's Resolutions.  Last year, I wanted to read 15 books, which I did with a month to spare.  It was a good resolution because I knew I had to read at least one book a month with a few extras in there.  It kept me reading when it would have been easy to just peruse Facebook or read another Buzzfeed article (why are they so addicting???).

I saw this list and was inspired to make a list of 100 little things to do in 2016.  That didn't happen, mainly because I couldn't think of 100 things to do, but I did come up with 25. We'll see if they actually all get done, but it will hopefully serve as good motivation to do all of those things that I've wanted to do or get done for a while, as well as some new things I want to try.  I want to try and be more productive with the time I spend just lounging around, which I think is ultimately my goal for 2016.  I know some people do a word for the year and I guess if I were doing that, my word would be productivity.  I've tried to break them up into categories to keep me more organized, but when I originally did this, it was just a random list.

  1. read 20 books! eek! upping the game this year. It's definitely manageable, but I'll have to stay on top..  I want one of these books to be in Turkish (Harry Potter?), which will add an extra level of intensity to this, but I'm hoping that by the end of the year, my Turkish will be at a level where this is achievable. 
  2. Watch 30 Ted Talks.
  3. Speak Turkish outside of class more often.
  1. Make 2-3 Whole 30 meals a month (Definitely not ready to do it all the way, mainly because Mike would starve, but I want to make more Whole 30 meals)
  2. Learn how to make some Turkish foods.
  3. Try a new recipe each week we're home cooking.
  4. Make tortillas from scratch
  5. Learn to make eggs benedict
  6. Make my own hummus
  7. Stop drinking Diet Coke at home
  8. Only eat sweets on the weekends or when we're travelling
  1. Run a 8k (even if it's just at the gym)
  2. Get 10,000 steps every day for a month
  3. Get 35,000 steps one day
  4. Complete five 30 day fitness challenges
  1. Print out my blog into a book.
  2. Grow some sort of plant.
  3. Learn how to use our camera better.
  4. Write an email/letter to someone every day for 30 days
  5. Do 365 gratitude jar
  6. Pray more.
  7. Shop less at the commissary and more on the economy
  8. wear my hair down at least 3 days a week
  9. Take at least one picture with me and Mike in it every day we're travelling
  10. Find something to go on our wall by our bookshelf

This seems like a lot, but I think it's manageable since a lot of the things are things I enjoy or are a small enough resolution that I could do them in a day or a week.  In the past, I've made a few HUGE resolutions, but never stick to them.  I like doing resolutions that are smaller and can be done in a month or so.  We'll see how this works.  

What are your resolutions?  Do you do them?  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Day 2015

Oh, Christmas...  Never in my life have I been seriously not excited (and yet, still kind of excited for Christmas).  I'm pretty sure I cried every day leading up to Christmas.  The thought of not waking up at my house on Christmas Day, not having the Christmas brunch or going to my grandfather's for Christmas dinner would bring me to tears every day.  There were honestly points where I thought we should pull a Christmas with the Kranks and just skip Christmas completely.

In the end, it turned out to be okay.  It was VERY different than normal, but different can be okay.  The day started out with a Turkish test, which I was less than pleased with.  I had tried to get it changed, but they rejected that for no reason, so Friday morning, I woke up and instead of opening stockings and presents, I took an exam.  Luckily, I passed, which was truly a Christmas miracle.  

When I got home, it was Christmas Day! We opened presents and stockings.  I had stuffed our stockings that we got in Strasbourg, but my mom (being the extremely thoughtful person that she is) sent us stockings, as well.  My mom definitely wins the prize for the better stocking stuffer.  Mine just has an orange, some koozies, some underwear and candy.  My mom definitely had more fun stuff, such as ear rings for me and gift cards for both us.   Santa came in the form of wrapped presents of stuff we ordered on Black Friday, which was funny.  

We spent the rest of the day watching Christmas movies and I took a nap.  We cooked a big Christmas dinner for the two of us including a turkey, delicious salad all for me, and rosemary sweet potatoes.  We finished off the meal with cheesecake and lots of lots of wine. We even tried mulling wine, which didn't turn out that bad. I'm sure we'll be making it again sometime.

I'm only posting this because I know Uncle Morgan has no idea what a blog is. 

  Christmas Day was actually nice.  I enjoyed spending the day with Mike and making a big Christmas dinner. We got to FaceTime with a bunch of friends and family. It was really hard being away from home, moreso during the weeks leading up to the big day, but it turned out to be a nice, small Christmas Day.  Throughout the day, I tried to remind myself that there will (most likely) be Christmases where Mike is gone and that we should savor this day, which we definitely did.   It wasn't my favorite Christmas, but it was a happy day and I think that's a wonderful gift.

Merry Christmas from Izmir!

Questions for you....

  • What Christmas traditions do you have with your family/significant other?  Mike and I are trying to come up with some traditions that we can do every year, despite where we are.  
  • How do you do gifts with your spouse?  We did gifts this year and were both stressed out trying to find each other gifts.  We are thinking of putting a $20 price limit on it or doing each other's stockings instead or something a little different than just gifts.

Scout's favorite Christmas present was the ribbon and the wrapping paper, although he probably deserved a little bit of coal, as well. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

Christmas Eve is probably my favorite holiday of the entire year.  I love the whole Christmas season because of the anticipation, but I feel like Christmas Eve is the culmination of all of the anticipation from the entire season.  Growing up, we would go to Christmas Eve mass starting at 5:00.  We'd get home, eat dinner and then get to bed early, all while filled with anticipation.  Even as we got older and started going to my aunt's house for dinner after mass, the anticipation of the following day was still there.  I love watching the little children at mass who are giddy with excitement because Santa is so close.  The Christmas carols we sang before and during mass added a special ambiance to the church and the congregation had a special twinkle in their eyes as they sang each verse.  It's my favorite.

This year, I wasn't sure what Christmas Eve would look like.  It's not a holiday since the majority of people (90%) are Muslim and I knew I would be working that evening. Even if I wasn't working, my search for a church had come up with nothing.  I never expected it to be the same as back home, but I did want to try and do as much as we could.  A few weeks before Christmas, people posted in this expat group that we're in on Facebook about a Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic church near our house! It was so exciting!  Not only that, but it was late enough that if I let my class out a few minutes early, we could make it in time.  Things were looking up!

So, on Christmas Eve, I headed out to work at 7:00 and at 9:15, met Mike to walk to church.  We were walking down the street and reached the address listed.  There was a huge wall and gate, but behind that was a big, beautiful Catholic church.  When we walked in, we were in awe of how beautiful and big it was.  There were pews that could fit probably 300 people and they were completely full!

We made it just in time and the service began.  The mass started with Silent Night in Turkish.  I don't think Turkish is a particularly pretty language, but Silent Night in Turkish was beautiful.  I actual started crying.  After the first verse, we switched to English  and then finished in Turkish.  This was the way the whole mass was.  The first reading was in Turkish and the second was in English.  The homily was said in both English and Turkish.  The only part that wasn't in Turkish or English were the communion prayers, which were in Latin.  Mike and I got really lost in this part because we obviously don't speak Latin. When it came time for communion, it was interesting because only about 20% of the congregation got up to take communion.  Since non-Catholics can't take communion, I got the impression that most of the people in the congregation just wanted to go to church on Christmas Eve and this was their only option.

Overall, the mass was exactly how  I remember Christmas Eve mass being.  I love that it's dark outside because it makes the service feel more intimate.  I could still feel the anticipation and the Christmas carols were just as soothing and beautiful as they are in English.  We came home and read a Night Before Christmas which my mom had sent us and I stuffed our stockings before heading to bed.

There is a nativity scene that is set up on our walk home.  It's so weird.  They don't celebrate Christmas and everyone I've asked doesn't understand the actual meaning behind Christmas, so the fact that there is a nativity is very very strange.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

We wish you a very merry Christmas from Izmir, Turkey! We hope that you enjoy a day of peace and joy!

Size, hepimize büyük sevinç getiren, bir müjde veriyorum.  
Bu gün bizim için bir Kurtarıci doğdu.  O da, Rabbimiz Mesih’tir.

I proclaim to you good news of great joy!
Today a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thinking Out Loud

A lot of little things have happened in the past few days/weeks that I definitely wanted to document, so here's a run down of a lot of little things!  I'm linking up with Running With Spoons today, too, so that's just an extra bonus!

1.  We were talking about guilty pleasures.  People seemed to understand what the meaning of a guilty pleasure was and were naming all sorts of things from Candy Crush to different TV shows.  All of a sudden, one of the students was like "Hanukkah!"  I was SO confused, but figured it could be some weird obsession with Hanukkah.  As he kept talking, I realized that he didn't mean Hanukkah, he meant hookah, which is extremely popular in Turkey.  Maybe he's planning on celebrating eight nights of hookah?

2. We were talking about Turkish culture, which I think is interesting to hear from them.  They were coming up with great stuff and I was soaking it all up.  Finally, they ran out of ideas, but one girl decided to search "Turkish culture" on Google.  She starts sounding out the word with a confused look on her face...


Nope. Not talking about that here! Sorry!

3.  Izmir has decorated for Christmas.  At first, we just noticed a few lights shaped like snowflakes, which gave it a winter-y feel.  Then, we started noticing lights shaped like angels and things just got weird. A few days after the angels appeared, I was walking to work and I noticed two guys setting up a light display at the end of a no drive street.  When I was walking back home at the end of the night when it was dark out, I realized that it was a straight up nativity scene.  Turkey is 90% Muslim.  Why is there a nativity?  They didn't get it quite right because, even though there was a baby, there were four angels looking at him.   So so weird.  Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas decorations, but I think it's kind of strange how obsessed they are with Christmas decorations, despite the fact that they don't celebrate Christmas.  Maybe that's just me...

4.  I finally got my haircut.  I got my haircut before we moved here.  Yup, in June.  I've needed a haircut for months, but between traveling and the language barrier, I just haven't done it.  There is a small barber on base, but Mike and I had been talking about going to get my haircut out in the real world, so I hadn't done it.  Finally, it got to the point where I couldn't stand it anymore and I broke down and went to the guy on base.  I am definitely not ready to try to speak Turkish to get my haircut, but maybe by the time I'm due again, I'll be ready.

5.  Mike's friend (and groomsman) Ben came to visit this weekend on his way to Israel for work.  While I was getting my haircut/manicure and pedicure, they were out exploring Ephesus and Izmir and seeing Star Wars.  I told them if they took a picture, they'd make the blog, so this is what I got.  Love it!

6. Our Goddaughter, Emma, was baptized on Sunday and, while we weren't able to be there physically, we were able to participate through FaceTime.  Thanks to Emma's parents for arranging it for us and to our lovely videographer Karen! Emma was a gem and was wide awake and quiet throughout the entire baptism and then promptly fell asleep for the entire church service.  She woke up just in time for the last hymn and then pictures with anyone and everyone. What a smart little lady!

I promise I'm not crying in this screen shot, but I mean, she's just so cute, I could understand if I was!
Emma's baptism gown was made from Anna's wedding dress which makes it extra beautiful!

The camera really makes us look great, don't you think? I also love how excited Emma is in this picture! Can't you just see all of the joy and excitement? Ha!
We are so honored to be Emma's Godparents and we were so happy to watch from afar.

As Mike and I were discussing the baptism that morning beforehand, he decided he should practice his lines and just goes "I pledge allegiance, to the Emma..."   He had me laughing at that one.

7.  I made Christmas cookies the other day, thanks to the package from my mom, and brought them to my Turkish class and then to my students.  Y'all, they went nuts and thought they were the greatest thing! It was so fun! The students in my Turkish class were taking pictures of all of the different shapes (Santa, snowflake, Christmas Tree, etc) and then in my other class later that night, they just kept talking about how delicious they were.  I didn't have the heart to tell them they were just a mix with store bought icing.  I loved it!

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Little Bit of Reflection

After days like those described in yesterday's post, I always feel a little ridiculous, but I think that's part of the experience of living abroad.  At least it is for me.

We never want our stories, pictures or this blog to come off as bragging, which is why I try to include some of the not-so-great days we experience, as well as all of our adventures.  If I ever sound like I'm bragging, please tell me. We simply want to share this experience with you.  One of my goals of this blog was to document everything we experience and see, but I also wanted to share our experience with our friends and family back at home.  I think it's important to describe what our life is like in Turkey because if you just knew what is described in the news, you'd think we lived in a war zone.  Instead, we live in a city that's bigger than Los Angeles and wouldn't know about any sort of fighting if it weren't for the news.  Our travels are incredible and instead of bombarding your facebook with pictures that you can't avoid, I try to post them on the blog so you can look at them if you choose.

I'm approaching the six month mark (Christmas Day!) in Turkey and Mike and I have been doing a lot of reflecting and talking about this experience.  There is a running joke that the Olmsted experience is the best deal in the military and I have to agree.  This has been the experience of a life time.  The not-so-great days are vastly outnumbered by the amazing experiences that we get to have.  I've traveled to more countries in the past six months than I have in my entire life.  How crazy is that?  I've been places that I probably would have never traveled to otherwise (Saklikent, Patara and Demre) and seen things I didn't even know existed (Pamukkale).

Traveling abroad is one experience everyone should have, but living abroad is whole other experience that is just as worthwhile.  It's definitely not always as easy and fun as traveling abroad, but it's truly life changing.  I have been pushed out of my comfort zone so many times and been exposed to so many different ways of thinking that I've become so much more open minded and confident in myself. Mike has had to deal with countless more hardships and struggles than I have, from applying and getting into his Master's Program to dealing with Turkish bureaucracy.  We're both missing bachelor(ette) parties, weddings, birthdays and holidays at home, which is more emotionally taxing than anything I've ever experienced.  Despite the hardships, we're learning and growing so much, it's an experience that I'm glad we're having.

While it may be the best deal in the military, I can't think of anyone more deserving of this experience than these military men and women.  Before we began our Olmsted experience, Mike was attached to a submarine.  He was working 10+ hour days five days a week, as well as two to three nights on duty.  He's spent countless weeks underway on the submarine.  His six month deployment turned to eight and was full of unexpected hardships. Our only communication when he is underway is through emails.  I'm sure that the scholars from other branches (and their families) experience similar hardships.  So, while this may be the experience of a lifetime, we know that it's going to end in just a year and a half and we will go back to the life of nights on duty, deployments and emails.  These scholars are some of the hardest working people out there and they definitely deserve a little bit of a break every once and a while.

I guess what I'm trying to say is,  thank you Olmsted Foundation and the Navy for giving a little bit of reprieve and letting us experience the best deal in the military.  It's been an incredible six months and I'm anxious to see what the next 18 have in store.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Keeping it real

In attempts to keep it real over here. here's a little insight into a not-so-great day that I had the other day. 

I've been trying to do little Christmas activities every day to get us in the spirit.  It's been great and despite the fact that I think I'll be extremely homesick on the actual holiday, I'm looking forward to a big Christmas dinner on base and day full of Christmas movies with Mike.  Despite the fact that I have been enjoying all of the Christmas activities we've been doing, I got a little overwhelmed/homesick and had a self-proclaimed "I hate Turkey" day.  Sometimes you just need those, I guess. 

First of all, I always have a little bit of a slump when we come back from traveling somewhere like France, where there is order and structure and things are so similar to our life at home.  Turkey has it's own strengths, but it's very different from home and sometimes it's hard to come back to all of it's uniqueness.  

My "I hate Turkey day" started when I got home from Turkish class.  I had a lot to do that day and I had to work that night.  The first thing on my to-do list was to make a Christmas tree out of wine corks.  We had super glue and it seemed like an easy enough project for a non-crafty person like myself. You literally just stack the corks in the shape of a Christmas tree and glue them together.  Unfortunately, the super glue wasn't drying fast enough for my liking and things were falling apart.  Add in the fact that my fingers were getting stuck together every five minutes and I was a hot mess. I just kept muttering "stupid Turkish glue" even though I'm pretty sure the super glue was from the American commissary.

After I temporarily gave up on the cork Christmas tree, I tried to make an ornament from flour, salt and water that you bake in the oven, but when I would roll it out, it would get stuck to the cutting board and then get messed up when I would try and move it to the cookie sheet.  I didn't have anything Turkish to blame this one on, but you better believe I tried.

Needless to say, I was a hot mess.  After a few tears and a lot of hugs, we figured out how to get the ornament to hold it's shape and the glue to hold the corks together.  I still wasn't in the best mood, but then I remembered that my mom had sent us a package full of Christmas goodies.  There was cookie and brownie mix, frosting, sprinkles and some Christmas oven mitts and dish towels.  She's the best!  It was the perfect time to open it and then make some Christmas cookies.

So, that's a little peak into the not-so-perfect life over here.  We are enjoying this kind of weird/non-traditional Christmas season here, but it's definitely not all jingle bells and Christmas cookies.  I know that, even if I was in the United States, I probably would have had the same struggles and I really can't blame anything on Turkey, but I don't think it was about the super glue. It was a culmination of a lot of little things that are different this holiday season.  Luckily, the mood was short lived and I've gotten back into my routine and am feeling better about this whole Turkish Christmas thing.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wine Tasting in Alsace

First, let me just say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my brother Ben! He's 18 today and probably more mature than my 27 year old self.  He's one of the coolest guys I know and he makes me extremely proud to be his sister every day.  He's definitely not one who likes to be the center of attention, but he deserves to be in the limelight for a day because he's pretty incredible.  Happy birthday, Benj! I love you and miss you!  Have a great day!

Thanks to We Are the Mitchells for a great photo of Ben and I

Mike likes to say that three of the most important women have birthdays three days in a row.  His sister, Kelly's is December 12th, Taylor Swift's is December 13th, and mine is December 14th. Saturday was the beginning of the birthday stretch and we celebrated Kelly's birthday (and mine a little early) with a full day of wine tasting!  

The Alsace region of France is known for their white wines, more specifically their Rieslings, which was completely fine with me.  I love a good, refreshing glass of white wine. Kelly did a great job of planning our day of wine tasting ahead of time and had three wineries for us to stop at throughout the day, as well as a map of how to get from place to place.  Love it! The wineries are about an hour outside of the city and we had our first tasting at 10:00, so we were up and out the door bright and early. 

Not a bad driving view, right?

Our first stop was the Domaine Bott-Geyl Winery, which was tucked away in the middle of a cute little neighborhood.  

We were greeted by a young woman who spoke great English.  We started out with Rieslings.  We tried four different Rieslings, which was really interesting.  Most of the wineries we've been to elsewhere have one bottle of each type, so you try a riesling, a cabernet sauvignon, etc.  Here, we were able to try four different rieslings, which allowed us to compare them, which was really cool and interesting. Sean was driving, but he still tasted most of the glasses before dumping them in the provided bucket.

We all really enjoyed their wines and both couples walked away with a bottle.  We set out for the second winery and passed by good old Lady Liberty. 

The second winery Kelly had planned for us was Dopff et Irioin and only about 5 minutes away.   Unfortunately, when we got close, we hit a TON of traffic, which was weird because it was in a tiny little French town.  What we didn't realize ahead of time was that there was a Christmas market in this town and people took buses and tours of the market.  This made finding parking impossible and we finally gave up our hopes of making it to the second winery.  Instead, we decided to head straight to Colmar, a town nearby, where we had planned to have lunch. 

Just like Strasbourg, there was a huge Christmas market there and tons of tourists.  We walked around the Christmas markets and grabbed pretzels and sausages for lunch, as well as some mulled wine and beer.  Colmar was super cute and a great little town in the middle of France.  I didn't think the Christmas market was quite as good as the ones in Strasbourg, but definitely worth the visit if you can make it work.

 After a few hours in Colmar, we headed to the last winery of the day, which was Domaine Paul Blanck.  We were greeted by a man in his 50s who was a self-proclaimed teddy bear.  He was so friendly and French and we spent the next couple of hours talking with him about wine, Turkey and everything in between.  He was a little sick with a cold, so when he would smell a bottle of wine to make sure it was still good, he would always scoff and say "My nose just isn't quite right" and then take the bottle to his father who also worked at the winery to see if it was still good.  It was wonderful!  The wine was also delicious and Mike and I walked away with a few bottles!

Overall, it was a great day of wine tasting and exploring.  I fell in love with the Alsace region of France.  It's geography is beautiful and the wine is delicious.  Plus, they really know how to do Christmas.  It was a great weekend in France! We had so much time exploring with Kelly and Sean and doing some wine tasting.  We ended our trip with a night at a wine bar with some cheese and charcutterie, which was the perfect way to end our time in France. 

For my birthday, Kelly gave me this book of 52 different wine trips to do.  Looks like we have a few new trips to plan!  Thanks Kelly!


Friday, December 18, 2015

Day Two in Strasbourg

Friday morning, Mike and I woke up first and figured we'd go to grab croissants and beignets while Kelly and Sean got ready.  That might have been the best decision we made all day because those pastries were melt-in-your-mouth incredible.  I just want to eat all of the beignets.

The Christmas markets didn't open until eleven, but we were out of the door around ten because we wanted to go into the big cathedral in the center of the town and we figured the earlier the better. I think both Mike and I have fallen in love (even more than before) with gothic cathedrals since we've begun our traveling adventure, just because every gothic cathedral we see is so breathtakingly beautiful and this one was no exception!

This is the astronomical clock of Strasbourg.  Just like in Prague, the characters around the clock move at a certain time.  You have to have tickets to it and when we went to go get tickets, the line was SUPER long, so we decided to forgo the show.  Maybe we made the wrong decision with that one, but the thought of waiting in line for an hour to watch some toys dance just didn't seem that appealing.
They had a great display of the Christmas story in French of which I casually snapped pictures of every Bible verse.  NBD.  Just letting my French language obsession show a little bit. 

"To the world the angel Gabriel sent a young girl.  Her name was Mary." 

"Mary set out quickly to the mountain town of Judee....and greeted Elizabeth"

"Jesus was born in Bethlehem when Herod the Great was king."

"The wisemen opened their bags and offered him gifts"

After the cathedral, we made our way to La Petite France in hopes of having lunch there.  We never make reservations when we're traveling, mainly because we're just not that organized, but also because we've never needed to. Well, apparently you need to make reservations in Strasbourg during the Christmas market season because finding a restaurant to eat lunch at was almost impossible.  We finally found a small French restaurant that had room and we settled in with a glass of wine. 

Kelly and I ended up getting Coq au Reisling, which I thought was delicious.  We also all split an appetizer of escargot, which I fell in love with when I studied in Paris.  If you don't think about what you're eating, it really just tastes like garlic and pesto and who doesn't love that?

Two hours later....let's dwell on that for a minute... we finally got the check and were anxious to get back out to the Christmas markets.

After walking around for a little bit longer, Kelly suggested that we go and see this wine that was located at this hospital since it is supposed to be one of, if not the, oldest bottle of wine.  It's only been opened twice before and is pretty famous and a huge tourist attraction.  The bottle is located in a cellar with other wines that is located at a hospital.  Apparently, back in the day, people would pay for their hospital bills by donating land that became vineyards.  The winery still produces wine, but all of the profits are donated back to the hospital.  Pretty cool!

The oldest wine in the world!

Before heading back to the apartment, Mike and I grabbed a crepe.  We had been in France for over 24 hours and hadn't had one, which almost seems criminal.  

After a little rest and relaxation, we decided to head out for Italian food and we weren't disappointed.  Mike and Kelly got pasta dishes, which looked delicious, while Sean and I got pizza.  I probably could have split a pizza with someone because it was so big, but it was so good!!

We stopped at a bar on the way home for a few drinks before heading back to the apartment to watch the Army/Navy game.  It was a close one, but Navy got the win! Go Navy!

Overall, it was a great day catching up with our favorite (or should I say favourite?) Londoners and exploring more of what I call Heaven!