Monday, November 30, 2015

This week I'm...

I did this a month ago and really liked it.  I want to remember the little things as well as all of the big things we do, so this will hopefully document what a calm week in Izmir looks like.

decorating for Christmas.  We bought a (fake) Christmas tree yesterday at IKEA and if we were in the States, my Christmas loving heart would have just shriveled up because I swore I would never have a fake Christmas tree, much less one from IKEA, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  I'm trying to string out the Christmas decorating throughout the next couple weeks so I have something Christmas-y to do every day of Advent, but I might get excited and put everything up.  We shall see.

It may not have lights due to a different type of of outlets and circuits, it's crooked because the floors may be uneven and it's super fake, but it will do.  Now we just need to wrap some presents to go under the tree!

reading A Christmas Carol.  Well, I haven't started, but it's next on my list.  I'm really trying to get into the Christmas spirit here since I'm dreading the actual day of being away from family. I haven't read a Christmas Carol since I was eleven, so this is definitely overdue. I finally finished Station 11 and, while I think it was really well written, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

recovering from loads and loads of Black Friday shopping. Well, I guess this is really my bank account, but you get the idea.  I'm pretty much done with Christmas shopping, so I guess that's good.  And anytime I feel bad about how much I spent on things like clothes and Christmas presents, I just remember that Mike tried to convince me we needed an inflatable hot tub because it was half off. I convinced him otherwise.

smelling all of the scented candles my mom sent us in a Thanksgiving package! We've got all sorts of fall and Christmas candle scents! Makes me feel all warm and cozy.

enjoying cold weather! By cold, I mean in the 50s, but that's seriously cold for here.  It's so nice!  We're going to be in for quite a shock when we head to Groton in a couple of years after this "very cold" winter in Izmir.  Fifty degrees is tshirt weather for some, jacket weather for us!  It definitely makes us get in the mood for winter-y things.  We had (very spicy) chili for dinner and are currently cozying up with blankets on the sofa.

doing...I finished my last 30 day fitness challenges and really enjoyed it. I'm considering starting a few more, but our travel and visitor schedule for the month of December may get in the way.  Any suggestions would be welcome!

planning our big road trip for next summer. Well, really this is Mike, but I'm adding in my input here and there.  We're in the very early stages of planning a road trip through Eastern Europe.  Any recommendations and suggestions are welcome!

teaching a new student.  He speaks great English, but wants to take private conversation lessons a few times a week to practice speaking and learn different phrases and idioms.  Today was the first day and he's great.  Hopefully this will continue!

learning lots of Turkish...still! Wahoo! We finished the first month of class last week, so now we're on the second month of the first level.  I have an exam at the end of this month, so we'll see how much I have actually learned, but I feel like I'm learning a lot more and I feel a lot more comfortable using my Turkish in class.  The next step is to use it out in the real world....

listening has really been put on hold until I get my phone back since all of my podcasts and music is on there.  Although, yesterday, when Mike was supposed to be working on a paper, I heard Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" being played and sung from his office.  What a guy.

We'll be adding more Christmas decorations throughout the week, but Mike insisted that this guy get out of storage, stretch his legs, and have a glass of scotch!
We haven't put up any decorations besides the tree...and this guy.  Mike made sure he was comfortable in his new to the scotch.  Quite fitting. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Five Favorites: Thanksgiving Traditions

I feel like we really got to soak up the Thanksgiving season this year, which is funny because we weren't even in the United States.  Since we celebrated Thanksgiving so early, we really got two weeks of Thanksgiving.  We had our big feast on Saturday, ate leftovers for a full week following and then we entered the week of actual Thanksgiving where all of our conversations and online postings from our friends were all about Turkey day.  It was good.  I loved it.  I loved hearing what people are thankful for, I loved FaceTiming with my family and with Karen as they prepped and ate Thanksgiving.  I really felt like we celebrated.

I always feel kind of bad for Thanksgiving because I feel like it is sometimes seen as the lesser of the two big holidays.  Christmas always seems to overshadow Thanksgiving, with people starting their Christmas decorating earlier and earlier each year.  Black Friday has turned into Black Thursday night and Christmas carols come on the radio starting November 1st.  What happened to Thanksgiving??? 

I'm linking up with The Big White Farmhouse today and, in order to prolong the Thanksgiving celebration for one day longer before Advent begins (TOMORROW!!), here are five Thanksgiving memories I have.   They're not all favorites of mine, but they're traditions nonetheless!

1. We used to go to the Outer Banks every year for Thanksgiving since my grandparents had a house there.  The rest of my family would drive down the night before, but my immediate family would always go down Thursday morning.  I loved going to the beach this time of year because it was such a different feeling.  There weren't many people there and it was always so cozy and removed from every day life.  Just like Thanksgiving should be. 

2.  After my grandparents sold their beach house, we somehow ended up doing Thanksgiving at my family's house.  I don't usually do well with change in tradition, but I've grown to love this, too.  My mom has this whole holiday down to a science, with a schedule and a routine to make sure everything is done on time.  I love having it at my house because we can feel the craziness of the day long prep.  From the minute we wake up until guests arrive, it seems like there is something being prepared in the oven.  It feels like Thanksgiving. 

3.  Somewhere along the lines, it became a tradition for the kids to rake leaves on Thanksgiving.  I'm all about traditions, but this is one I still don't like. Ha! I would much rather be in the kitchen helping prepare the meal, but somehow it became a tradition for Andrew, Ben and I to rake leaves.  Not a tradition I'll be continuing with my kids (they'll rake leaves another day!), but one that will be forever in my memory.

4. I've already mentioned this tradition, but it's my favorite, so I'll mention it again.  We always go around the table and say what we're thankful for.  It's not unique to our family and I know so many other people who do this, but it's so perfect on Thanksgiving and really helps remind me of everything, big and small, I have to be grateful for.  In my family, you can't repeat what someone else has said, so you have to be creative.  I remember the year my family met Mike, my dad said "I'm thankful for my new friend Mike," which made me smile.  The year my mom was able to start horseback riding again, she said she was thankful for horses and being able to ride, which was so cool to see my mom have a hobby of her own after years of driving her kids around town to their different hobbies.  The year I began City Year, my eyes were opened to how lucky  I was to have grown up with quality public education and I remember almost crying that year expressing how grateful I was for that. It's a tradition that I hope to continue in years to come. 

5.  The Macy's Day Parade! I love the parade! We were always cooking or raking (boo!), so we never sat down as a family to watch the parade (does anyone actually have time for this?), but it was always playing in the background.  My college's marching band (go Marching Royal Dukes!! MRDs!) got to march in the parade twice, once while my cousin was in the band, so we were definitely tuned in for that, as well as countless other performances throughout the year. It's such a unique and kind of strange thing when you think about it.  I mean, people walk down the street carrying massive cartoon shaped balloons...what? weird.  I love it though.  This year, we were able to watch the parade since it came on around 4:00 here.  I had to go to work about halfway through, but I got my fix. 

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions?  

Friday, November 27, 2015

Exploring Catania

On our last day in Sicily, we decided to explore Catania.  We had been staying there throughout our whole trip, but hadn't had a chance to explore actual Catania since we had been in Siracusa and Mt. Etna the days before.   We didn't really have much of a plan since there aren't a ton of actual sights to see, but wandering around the city kept us entertained pretty much all morning until we had to leave for our flight. 

The town square is the main tourist sight and it's definitely worth the venture.  I could have sat there all day people watching and just taking in the city.

The cathedral in the town square is incredible and breath taking.  The outside is full of statues and detailed architecture, while the inside is just as magnificent with artwork covering the floors and ceilings.

It was almost funny walking through the city because things that were just so normal and average in Catania were breath taking to us Americans living in Turkey where there isn't a lot of ambiance or attention to detail. We'd turn down a street and there would be a stunning statue in the middle of the street. No big freaking deal.  Just a gorgeous statue. 

This church had me almost laughing out loud because of the contrast from the outside to the inside. On the outside, it looked like the deteriorating remains of what used to be a church.  We decided to go inside and, let. me. tell. you., this church was gorgeous. Half of it looked like it was made out of marble and there were icons and paintings everywhere.  Absolutely stunning and you'd never know it from the outside. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed.

 After exploring the church, we headed back to the town square for some souvenir shopping and an early lunch.

Mike had pasta, while I had the focaccia bread.  Nomz.

Throughout the entire trip, we kept seeing "Russo" all around, which just made my heart so happy.

I definitely didn't expect to  see Hogan anywhere, but lo and behold...

It was an incredible trip and, even a week later, we're still loving the experience and trying to figure out when we can go back. Sicily was everything I imagined and more and the Italian lifestyle is definitely something I could get used to.  Italy, we'll see you soon!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

giving thanks

I'm taking a break from posting about our last day in Sicily to appreciate and celebrate Thanksgiving and all we have to be thankful for.  I'll be back tomorrow posting about our last day, so don't stray too far!

In my family, before we eat our big Thanksgiving dinner, we all go around the table and say what we're thankful for.  We didn't do this with our guests last week, but it's one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions. The only rule is that you can't repeat what someone has already said.  This is great for the person who starts, but 15 people later and the last person has to get a little creative.  I always enjoy hearing the last person's thing because it usually is something quirky and creative.  Throughout this month, I've been posting little things that I'm thankful for, such as the commissary or my bed, all of which I'm extremely grateful for.

Coming to Turkey has deepened my appreciation for so many things and I have become even more grateful for the little comforts of life.  Every day, I'm thankful that I can have my Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast thanks to the commissary or watch the Today Show because we have the Armed Forces Network.  It makes moving across the world a million times easier. That being said, I would still survive without these little comforts.  I would find something to eat for breakfast and another way to fill my time.

While I am thankful for so many materialistic things, the "things" I'm most thankful for are not "things."  They are the experiences we've had thanks to the Olmsted Foundation, the people we've met in Turkey and most importantly, the people we miss so much back home.

Today, we're not eating turkey or mashed potatoes, but we're still extremely thankful.  We're thankful for our health and our safety, our parents who raised us, our siblings who kept us in check throughout the years and have become great friends, our friends who have become like siblings, and definitely for each other.

I got to FaceTime with my family as they literally passed me around the Thanksgiving table and I couldn't help to smile.  Here's a few shots of the people I miss and I'm so thankful for!

Some of us are better at technology than others....

Also, sorry Aunt Mary and Father Parke! I swear I took screenshots of you all, but they're missing!

"Sarah, now you know I'm not very computer literate."

Don't let this picture fool you, my grandfather is pretty tech savvy.  I just caught him at the wrong time.  I actually saw more of him than I did some of  my younger relatives.  Sorry Grandfather!

Happy Thanksgiving from two very grateful turkeys in Turkey!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wine Tasting on Mount Etna

Let me just preface this post and the following one by saying that I don't expect every anniversary to be celebrated this extravagantly.  I'm sure there will be years where our anniversary comes and goes with not much more than a card and a kiss.  That being said, we are trying to take advantage of our two years here and a weekend in Sicily sounded like the best way to celebrate our one year anniversary!

Saturday morning, we were up around eight and enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the hotel.  Breakfast in Italy is filled with salami, cheese and delicious bread, all of which I could get on board with pretty quickly.   I knew I wanted a hearty breakfast before our day of wine tasting and this definitely did the trick.

At nine thirty, our driver, Angelo (I loved these Italian names!) arrived and we hopped in his car and made our way up the mountain.  I can't say enough nice things about Angelo.  He spoke almost perfect English and was an amazing tour guide as we drove up the mountain.  He would tell us little facts about the different towns we passed through and was elated to hear that my maiden name was Russo and my grandmother's maiden name was Caligari.   

When we arrived at the first winery, Scilio, we were a little early.  It wasn't even 10:30, so they weren't quite ready.  I think Angelo felt bad about this, but Mike and I took the opportunity to soak up the scenery.  We haven't had a proper fall here, as it's still in the 70s during the day and there aren't many trees (aka no leaves), so this was extra exciting for us.  The wineries in Virginia and Napa are beautiful, but this winery was on a whole other level.  Mike and I just kept muttering things like "Thank you Olmsted Foundation! Thank you Navy!" and quoting our favorite youtube video "Is this real life?"  It was breathtaking.

After our little photoshoot, our hostess Barbara greeted us.  She was not much older than us and a bubbly and super friendly, Italian woman.  Also, she was shorter than me, so we were probably kindred spirits or something like that.  She took us on a tour of their winery, which is always kind of interesting.  If you know anything about wine making, most of the barrels are made from oak, but this winery uses some chestnut barrels for a little bit of a different flavor.   

While we were wine tasting, our friend Angelo seemed to be on his phone the entire time. I commented to Mike and said that people like Angelo always seem to be on their phone.  He agreed and we both wondered...who do these guys talk to all the time????

After the tour, we were taken to their small dining area to a table by the window.   Barbara put on some Eric Clapton music, which was perfect since our wedding song was by Eric Clapton.  Pure coincidence!

Barbara also made sure we had some hot bread, which I was excited about.  Little did I know that wouldn't be the only food we got!!!

She also brought a full food tray full of delicious snacks.  She told us what to pair each food with, which was helpful since Mike and I are kind of clueless when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Starting in the back left: Older pecorino cheese (SO GOOD!), olives, focaccia bread with onions and cheese (melt in your mouth good)
Middle: salami
Front: younger pecorino cheese, jam for the cheese, sundried tomatoes
We tried two whites and two reds, all of which were delicious.  We took her up on the offer to have another glass of one of the reds and one of the whites since they were so good.  It was probably a mistake since we were only on the first of three wineries, but we were so eager to enjoy all of the Italian wine, we couldn't help ourselves!  We ended up buying one white bottle and one red.  Mike isn't normally a white wine person, but their whites were so good, even he liked it.

We walked out with our wine and got back in the car with our buddy Angelo who drove us to the next winery, Gambino Winery, only fifteen minutes away.  It's at an extremely high altitude and the temperature changes drastically between night and day, which has a unique (and wonderful!) effect on the grapes they use for their wine.

We were once again greeted by a wonderful Italian lady who showed us around their winery.  This was a much bigger facility and was definitely designed for tours and visitors like us.

After the tour, we were once again taken to a table by the window.  Their dining area was much bigger and I think that you can go there to eat without taking a full tour.  

Once again, we were greeted with a cheese and appetizer tray, which we once again indulged in gratefully.    

We tried two whites and two reds and by the end, things were getting a little fuzzy :)

Luckily, they provided us with some actual lunch, which was a warm and hearty garbanzo bean soup and some good Italian meats.

love this guy 

And how could I forget the Italian sausages and grilled vegetables?  So delicious!

By the end of lunch, our table was pretty crowded with all of the wine glasses and food trays!

We were running a little behind schedule by the time we reached the third winery, but who could blame us?  Everything was so delicious and we were savoring every sweet Italian moment.  We were greeted at the third winery, Tenuta Chiuse Del Signore, by the owner who walked us around the grounds and the old house that they have on their property.  Once again....just breathtaking.

We were seated in the dining room for our tasting and enjoyed the ambiance of the old, rustic, Italian house.

We were both feeling pretty good by this point!

This winery is also well-known for their olive oil, so we used that as an excuse to enjoy more bread and olive oil.

By the end of our time at the third winery, we were pretty done.  In hindsight, we probably could have skipped the third winery (they have a tour that only includes two wineries) and been very content, but we really have no regrets.  Everything at all of the wineries was absolutely delicious and worth every bite and sip.

When we arrived back at our hotel, both Mike and I took a very long nap. After we woke up, we realized that I had left my phone at the third winery.  I'd just like to say that usually I'm super responsible with things like that.  I always check to make sure that I'm not leaving things at a restaurant table or that I haven't left anything valuable when I am leaving. After a few frantic emails and phone calls, we are (hopefully) having it mailed to us back in Turkey.  I guess my phone just wanted to do a little more wine tasting.  Who can really blame it?

Once I accepted that I wasn't getting my phone back that night, we headed out for dinner.  We found a cute little side street full of restaurants and we sat down for some pasta and good people watching.  Mike had gnocci and I had carbanara, both of which were delicious. We called it an early night and headed back to the hotel.

It was truly an amazing experience.  It was one of the most incredible things that I've done...up there with hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.   It was definitely expensive, but it was worth the price and a once in a life time experience.  Thank you to The Essence of Sicily for an incredible experience!

I'm a little behind on things I'm thankful for, but here's the last few days.  Lots of materialistic, not so deep, things, but I'm honestly so grateful for these things and they make living in a very different part of the world so much better.

Monday: I'm thankful for our bed.   Our bed this past weekend was less than wonderful and pretty similar to sleeping on a rock, so we were definitely thankful for our nice, soft yet firm mattress.

Tuesday: I'm thankful for my phone.  It doesn't even have phone capabilities right now (see here), but I use it for so many other things.  It's my go to for a quick picture, my entertainment at the gym, and I use it to text my friends and family back home who have iMessage.  Add in all of the apps that I use and it's my lifeline.  I'm not even afraid to admit it.  Luckily, I also have an iPad that allows me to send iMessages, so I'm not completely disconnected, but I miss it.  It's such a materialistic thing to be thankful for, but it's so true.

Today: Today I'm thankful for the ability to watch American television, both on AFN and on our computers.  I just finished the winter finale of Scandal and HTGAWM and...oh. my. gosh.  If you watch these shows, let's chat because man oh man am I shocked!