birthday blog bonanza

life this year has been busy beyond belief. at least once a week erim and i seemed to sit down and wonder if this “way” is the “right way” or not. we seemed to be running in all directions without any real end in sight. as a family that used to eat dinner together at least five nights a week we suddenly found ourselves eating one at a time depending on the craziness of that night’s activities. needless to say the self-isolation requirements of the novel coronavirus took us all by surprise and threw us all for a serious loop. we each went from having four to five obligations a day to really, well actually, pretty much none.

within this time period life came full circle and it is asya’s birthday month again! (in the meantime i completely managed to miss writing anything for alara and alegra’s birthdays) so here comes a recap post par excellence 🙂

alara turned 15 on June 23, 2019….

15 is big! i totally remember being 15. no longer a freshmen in high school you will soon be a full high schooler. things become more serious, you have more responsibilities (but not quite as many as you will soon as the end of high school approaches), but along with all of these you now have the skills, knowledge, and ability to start to make your own path. very cool.

between your birthday and today you have really made the most of your time. beyond working as hard as ever at school you also spent an amazing summer term at georgetown (proud mama’s alma mater) and started a fantastic community service program teaching art to a group of underpriviledged children in istanbul. you are amazing kiddo and i am so proud of all the amazing things you have already accomplished this year… the end of 15 is looking to be a bit tricky thanks to the coronavirus but here’s to keeping your chin up and your spirits high. we love you beautiful girl.

alegra turned 9 on June 23, 2019…

last year of the single digits little one. there has been so much change this year for you! fourth grade means the first year of proper exams at school; piano lessons, math lessons, russian lesson- you are full to the brim; a new pony, benjamin button, means even more riding and even more training; and now we have shifted to complete online learning due to Co-Vid 19. And you, my sweet girl, have taken all this in stride- still smiling and still bringing joy to us all every time life throws us a curve ball. thank you for that my lovie! i can’t wait to watch you continue to bring your amazing energy to this world as you get closer and closer to double digits- we love you my littlest love.

asiko, where to start… the day you turned 17 was really as stressful a day as they come. it can’t have been easy handling the changing reality of our world as you navigate these last few months of eleventh grade. i am sorry that this all seemed to happen at once for you, and i hope that things will calm down sooner rather than later.

16 to 17 has been pretty cool. over the past year you have seen a lot and lived a lot too. pretty much a whole summer in europe riding horses and seeing the dressage life upclose; an amazing trip to south africa where we experienced our first taste of game drives and lodge life; learning photography on the fly; and IB classes for the first time and the first chance to really pursue your own interests…there has been a great deal of newness. Co-Vid 19 is as new as it comes and it has sent us all reeling. i cannot in any way forsee what is yet to come this spring and summer, but this i know, your big heart and gentle ways will help you through whatever gets you down. we love you so much asiko.

limey fresh cauliflower rice

week one of home isolation is behind us, and week one of at home learning has just begun…

oddly today was the hardest day we, as a family, have experienced so far… online learning was really self-led learning to a great extent; erim’s decision to work from home meant a lot of long and tedious conversations with the IT people from his company as everything that could go wrong with our modem went wrong; and any expectation of meaningful work on my part proved impossible.

BUT we did happen to have some beautiful fresh cauliflower on hand, and i hadn’t actually tried making cauliflower rice before so it seemed like to perfect opportunity to create a light and delicious side dish for tonight’s dinner.

the cauliflower was a lovely compliment to the girls’ main dish of pan grilled steak. erim and i had a plant-based dinner of broad beans cooked with tomatoes and olive oil (zeytinyagli barbunya), cold celeriac root with quince, and green salad. an easy and satisfying way to spice up dinner; i will certainly be trying some more variations before cauliflower goes out of season 🙂

lime & cilantro cauliflower rice

1 medium head cauliflower- wash, finely chop and allow to drain thoroughly

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic- finely chopped

1 handful green onions- finely chopped

2 large handfuls fresh cilantro- finely chopped

1 medium lime- juiced

salt, pepper and red pepper to taste

–heat olive oil in a large pan and add garlic and onions

–saute until soft, add cauliflower and allow to soften, stirring occasionally unitl lightly browned

–remove from heat and stir in cilantro and lime juice

–serve immediately

and of course, a glass of nice red wine certainly doesn’t hurt…

sweet sixteen asiko

this week asya, my first born, my first baby, is turning 16.

such a milestone age, sixteen is! sweet sixteen parties…debutante balls…being able to drink legally (in parts of the world)…driving licenses (in parts of the us)…the ability to marry without special parental consent (again, in parts of the world)…there are so many new things that become available to a child of 16.  as i sit and think about all these milestone moments it makes me more and more aware of how my mature, intelligent, beautiful child is truly on the cusp of fully leaving childhood behind and moving onto young adulthood.

this past year, almost from the day she turned 15, in fact, seems to me to have been a series of steps on this journey toward adulthood.  the beginning of ninth grade, when asya was still 14, was a truly trying time.  asya and i butted heads over so many things.  some were mundane and really unnecessary, on my part as much as on hers.  and some were really important.  i needed to put my foot down in order to reinforce the values and ideas that we have worked to teach the girls from the get go.  some of the situations and environments that asya wanted to see for herself and experience firsthand were really not appropriate and to allow her access to these places too early would, had i said yes, gone against the very grain of my ideas of parenting.  making and enforcing rules, taking deep breaths during arguments and tears, and trying to keep reminding asya of just how special and precious she, as a daughter, is to me, was remarkably hard and tiring.

this year, as we celebrate asya’s birthday, and enter into the home stretch of tenth grade, so much has shifted.  asya and i have reached a point where communication is so much easier, first of all, we are able to actually listen to one another and move forward from a point of understanding (most of the time). second, despite her frustrations with me and my rules last year, she managed to continue to excel in her schoolwork and her riding.  the maturity she was able to demonstrate on these fronts served her well and proved to me that she is growing more and more capable of handling difficult and stressful situations.  this in turns, leads me to be more open to her plans and programs.  socially, i have watched proudly as asya worked hard to cultivate and maintain good, healthy relationships with lovely young girls.  some of this has required making sacrifices, and also has required setting healthy and firm boundaries.  i am impressed that at only 16 she is able to do both so skillfully.

dear asya, as you enter the last quarter of school, there are so many exciting things to look forward to! your school trip to nepal is going to be amazing. i feel certain that you will never forget the experiences you have there and the people that you meet. you are already such an open-minded worldly young lady; spending time in the mountains of nepal is sure to only reinforce your love of travel and different cultures.  this summer is going to be busy, busy, busy.  bunches of riding competitions, tons of travel to get there, and probably a whole lot of hard work with donovan… it’s going to be a lot but i know that you are going to do a wonderful job, as you always do, of balancing the work and the fun and keeping up with all your friends along the way! as you and your sisters grow, i am slowly starting to accept the fact that really no amount of planning or predicting on my part seems to work 🙂 so… here’s to just living things as they come, loving the special moments along the way, and enjoying all the time we get to spend together.  i love you my sweet girl, happy birthday.

how asya has changed over the years… but always with the same big heart and beautiful eyes….

a month of light…and welcome 2019

anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, knows that i really, really love the holiday season! the sparkly lights, the food, the champagne, the gatherings… they all feed my soul in the most marvelous way; making me feel so alive, connected and so inspired by the inherent possibilities and excitement of the coming year.

celebrating christmas in istanbul is always a tiny bit strange (even after having lived here for twenty years!).  the turks don’t generally celebrate christmas and there is much more excitement surrounding new year’s eve, which means that the real excitement doesn’t get going until after actual christmas has passed.

thanksgiving, being an american tradition, is, of course, not celebrated either so the act of getting into the holiday season really ends up being self-driven most years.  normally we have the arrival of my family to look forward to and to get us cheery, but this year they are staying in the states so that teddy can celebrate his first christmas at home.  thanks to face time we have gotten to watch him “decorate” the tree (i.e. pull off all the ornaments), pay his first visit to santa, go to the annual christmas light show at the asheville arboretum, and open his first gifts!!

for many years we took a family trip at christmas time.  what started out as an effort to move away from spending money on unnecessary gifts quickly became a wonderful way to spend time together exploring new places and seeing the lights and beauty of european christmas celebrations, something which we had never experienced before.  vienna and berlin, in particular were fantastic places to visit during the holidays.  having the chance to have our christmas in two cities famous for their markets, traditional treats, and seasonal music was truly amazing; i am grateful we had the time to visit both before asya and alara entered high school.  their high school schedules exams for the week just after the new year so travelling right before exams really doesn’t make sense, nor is it really fair to the girls, they really need to be home to study as much as possible during christmas week.

so, this year, with all these small adjustments to make, with no christmas trip to plan, and no specific family gathering to attend, we were left to our own devices when it came to christmas and thanksgiving!!! from the start, as soon as i knew my parents and sister wouldn’t be in istanbul, i decided that we might as well take advantage of the situation to plan a different type of celebration. my plan was that there would be significantly less entertaining- no big parties, in fact, quite possibly no parties at all (this didn’t go quite as expected :))! a big christmas was definitely also not going to happen (on this front i have to admit i was quite pleased with myself; alara tells me that she was so happy with her gifts because she only got things that she really wanted or that she would really use).  and my own personal focus was going to be on experiencing new places or things and, if possible, exploring the city altogether as a family (on this front i was also rather successful and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves).

on the party front, i was not quite as successful, but i am happy to admit that for this i am glad.  coming together with friends and family that we love is just such an integral aspect of the holiday season.  although there have been days, and even weeks, where it felt as though things were just moving too fast, and the days were flying by, it was nice to know that on those evenings we would soon find ourselves sitting comfortably around a table sharing a meal and a bit of the holiday spirit with people we love.

and so, our holiday season celebrations started off on the right foot with a thanksgiving dinner party at home with close family friends…  the next couple of weeks were just a whirlwind of entertaining and celebrating! we had a cocktail party at home for erim and ekin’s birthday; we were invited to a beautiful dinner at a new friend’s house; alegra and i attended a plethora of her friends’ kind of crazy, but always fun, birthday parties; we went to one friend’s now traditional fondue birthday celebration; erim and i attended a blowout of a 70th birthday party replete with live music and song and dance; a close girlfriend, with whom i have celebrated every christmas season for fifteen years, hosted yet another of her glamourous christmas bashes; erim and i travelled out of town for a weekend to celebrate one of his childhood friend’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary; and erim and i each had office parties to enjoy throughout the month!  to say it was busy is a bit of an understatement; there were times when i honestly felt like we were running from one thing to the next!

without the stress of trip planning and overdone christmas shopping hanging over me i was able to be so much more present at and truly, deeply enjoy each of these events.  rather than spending half of each evening making lists in my head while activity swirled around me, i was able to fully hear the music, taste the food, listen to friends while they spoke, and feel the energy surrounding me.  it was a real gift and made the whole holiday season more magical than i ever could have anticipated.  travelling out of town the weekend before christmas was the ultimate test in being present and enjoying the moment.  but, since there is only so much letting go, i can actually manage i have to confess that i had finished all the wrapping, planning and list making i would need for christmas before we boarded our plane to bodrum.

christmas eve and christmas day were the perfect ending to a perfect month (there is still new year’s eve to celebrate, i know, but to be honest, once christmas is successfully behind me enjoying nye is always just an easy end to the season).

christmas eve we left the house early and went exploring in the beyoglu area of istanbul.  it was perfect.  the streets were crowded, there was a feeling of celebration in the air…we visited the st. anthony of padua church, which always has a large christmas mass and had a full manger, decorations, and a huge tree in its courtyard; we went to the soho house istanbul that was decorated to the nines and had christmas music playing for drinks; and then we ended up at our favorite pizza joint, miss pizza which, i was thrilled to see, was also fully decorated! on our way home asya convinced us to stop at this tiny bakery that only sells cheesecake and brownies- it was so cool! by 10pm santa’s cookies were by the fireplace, the christmas lights were lit, and we were all ready for bed! christmas day itself was just as lovely and each of us was ready to take our time relishing the giving and receiving that is so integral to the holiday.  as the girls grow, i am so impressed with how they have managed to grasp the true concepts of sharing, compassion, and togetherness that for me, make the holiday season as special as it is.

as this special season draws to an end it is exiting to start looking forward to 2019.  this year i have decided that rather than making a long list of new year’s goals i am going to take some sage advice and set just a few intentions, and work to carry them through the coming months.  first, i hope to keep in mind this feeling of being present that i had throughout the holiday season and try to come back to it throughout the year.  and second, i want to try to remember that so often the the unexpected turns out so much better than anticipated.  finally, this upcoming year i am going to try to be open hearted; to let light in and to trust as i let my own light shine out, worrying less about the outcome and focusing more on the moment at hand.  if this season of light has shown me nothing else, then it is that the more light we can let shine the better.

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on our way to a christmas party

a fabulous fall break in paris…

one of the best things about living in istanbul is that europe is basically just a skip and a hop away! and while it may be too far for just a short weekend trip, going to paris is relatively easy for us making it an ideal place to visit for fall break 🙂

although the girls have been to paris before, our previous trips basically revolved around going to eurodisney and then spending a day or two quickly touring around the city, mainly so that i would feel that we had done more than just a trip to visit mickey mouse and the princesses! but this year both asya and alara were extremely interested in visiting paris, “for real”.  they wanted to sit at cafes and drink café au laits; shop in le marais neighborhood; visit museums and even art galleries; and just get a feel for the city itself.  as you can imagine, i was thrilled to hear this and set about to plan a parisian adventure that would be grown up enough to satisfy the big girls while child-friendly enough to keep alegra occupied too!

on our previous trips we had stayed close to the champs elysees and since we really felt as though we had a clear idea of that area of town, we decided to stay in a completely different arrondissement this time around booked our rooms in a sweet little hotel in le marais area.  it turned out to be the perfect choice!  le pavillon de la reine has the feel of a small family-run hotel but is luxurious and efficient enough to satisfy even the pickiest customers.  i loved it, i got up early every morning and went down to the lobby/breakfast room that was filled with comfy couches and chairs and had a fire burning in the fireplace every morning.  it was the most relaxing and lovely way to start each day; planning our route for the day, having a cup of tea and just enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.

the le marais area itself is also lovely.  filled with cool little cafes, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants we made sure to spend at least a couple hours each day just exploring the area around the hotel.  our favorite spots there were fragments café, which had the most delicious organic coffee, gluten free treats, and alegra’s favorite cookies of the trip; café charlot, a mix between a hip café and a real french bistro with delicious smoked salmon, french onion soup, and entrecote- but also with some pretty amazing burgers; and finally le breizh creperie where all the savory crepes are made with naturally gluten-free organic buckwheat flour and they brew their own hard cider in house- delicious!

le marais was also, somewhat unexpectedly, the place where we found some of our favorite children’s shops.  the very first evening there we stumbled into an amazing bookstore called librarie comme un roman.  although most of the books were in french, the colorful children’s section had a perfect selection of books for alegra to look at and enjoy- and we were able to find some english options too in the end.  we also found bibi idea shop and loved looking at all the shelves filled with little gifts and toys and seemingly endless options of water bottles, snack boxes, and lunch bags.  finally, we popped into one of the largest bonton shops i have ever seen and were able to find alegra some wonderful holiday clothes that she desperately needed.

the next day we ventured out a bit from a neighborhood and went to the iconic shakespeare and company bookstore.  we arrived so early that it hadn’t opened yet (it was a sunday though, to be fair) so we had time to sit and chat in the café next door; which, alegra was thrilled to discover, serves “real” cinnamon buns! as ever our venture into the bookstore itself was fantastic! all three girls had forgotten the little seats and cots hidden throughout the space and the new-to-us children’s alcove was the perfect spot for erim and i to hang out with alegra while asya and alara searched for all the books on their lists.  we all emerged with big smiles and big bags of books ready for our next stop at to visit the picasso exhibit at the musee d’orsay.

 although it wasn’t actually on our list, we decided we just couldn’t miss the delicious skinny minny french fries from l’avenue restaurant, so we stopped there on our way up to visit the champs elysees and arc du triophme.  our visit coincided with armistice day, so we weren’t able to get quite as close to the famous arch as we might have liked, but just being at the champs elysees and getting to see the giant boulevard without its usual traffic and hustle and bustle was pretty amazing.  the la duree pastry shop and tea house was open despite the armistice day celebrations so we made a short stop there…teas, coffees, and a tasting of macaroons later we were on our way back to le marais to meet up with aylin and get ready for dinner.

while completely different from one another, our dinners in paris were both equally noteworthy!  on the night of our arrival we tried out an amazing italian restaurant called daroco (funny eating italian in paris, i know, but it came so highly recommended we just didn’t want to pass it up!). the restaurant itself was amazing, with super high ceilings and a huge pizza oven in the center of the space, as soon as we walked in, i knew we were in for a treat.  we had walked all the way there from our hotel too, so everyone was a bit cold and definitely hungry.  we tried some of the aged parmesan cheese and warm olives to start and then ordered a bunch of different pizzas.  vegan for aylin, margherita for the girls, and a parma ham and mozzarella delight named “parma show” for erim… sadly no gluten-free pizza at daroco but they had some of the most amazing octopus i’d ever tasted.

since we had never visited it before we planned to spend one of our evenings in the montmartre neighborhood.  for dinner we tried a restaurant recommended rerecommended by the hotel, le coq de rico, and it surpassed all our expectations!  located in a small cozy building just a couple of blocks from the sacre coeur basilica the interior reminded me of modern farm house with a giant table to share.  the menu revolves around poultry dishes and the whole roasted chicken the girls shared with erim really did look delicious; served with a generous serving of french fries and a huge green salad it was just about the most perfect spot for us.

on our last full day in paris the weather was absolutely beautiful, and we passed a good part of our day walking from one neighborhood to the next.  we began the day at the louvre museum, cleverly beating the lines with our pre-purchased tickets. (i cannot emphasize enough the ease that comes with buying tickets in advance for museums in europe.  even at off peak times these museums have become popular enough and travel has become easy enough that it seems to me there is almost always a long line for tickets.  especially if you are travelling with children being able to skip ahead in the ticket line makes all the difference). because the louvre itself is so huge we decided to focus our time on the ancient egypt section and the mona lisa.  alegra’s class had studied the mona lisa last spring so she was particularly excited to see da vinci’s famous painting up close and in person.

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even with our focused viewing plan our visit to the louvre lasted about two hours and by the time we arrived at girafe restaurant in the trocadero area we were ready to eat!  girafe restaurant overlooks the jardins du trocadero and has an almost clear line of sight to the eiffel tower, making it an ideal spot for panoramic pictures (good luck getting three hungry kids to pose though!).  crisp white tablecloths, fancy champagne glasses and stunning seafood platters meant this was one of the fancier and more grown-up meals that enjoyed on our trip and it was a great end to our three full parisian days.

after lunch, and after we decided we just had to try all of their dessert specials we were really ready to move a bit and although it was a long walk, we walked all the way to saint-germain.  being outside, enjoying the fall weather, watching the sky go from blue to pink to purple as we walked, the afternoon was calm and quiet, a needed break from the mild chaos of our previous museum and shopping days.  our saint-germain destination was none other than the quintessential parisian café; café de flore.  founded in 1880 café de flore has been a hub for artists and writers ever since it opened its doors.  just sitting at the little outdoor tables and watching people walk by is enough to inspire me, and to make me feel like i am really in paris.  the girls tried the famous chocolat chaud, erim and i enjoyed one last glass of champagne, and then we were off, back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave the beautiful city of lights.

i can’t say that the whole trip was without it’s hiccups… the weather was wet and cold on more than one occasion, even with our pre-purchased tickets we ended up having to wait in a couple of crowded lines, some of our shopping went awry (alara ended up with two of the same sweater and the store wouldn’t take one back), asya got terrible blisters all over her feet from walking, and alegra had a couple of serious bouts with boredom.  but overall, i am a firm believer in the idea that this, travelling, experiencing, and getting through some of these less than perfect moments, is how children grow and become real global citizens.  helping my child to learn about new places, appreciate new cultures and traditions, and come to grasp that no matter what each human is a human deserving the same respect lies at the crux of my idea of child-rearing.  so, regardless of the hiccups, i have to say, paris is always a good idea and i am so grateful that living in istanbul means we were lucky enough to get to spend four magical days there this fall.

halloween 2018…another year, another fantastic Halloween party!

i am not sure why it is exactly that hosting halloween parties, and in particular hosting them at our house, has become such a tradition for our family.  it may very well be my own doing; when i first moved to turkey halloween was barely known and certainly not very celebrated.  turks, in general, can have trouble letting lose and often worry about appearances, so the concept of dressing up and acting silly, funny, or spooky is not necessarily an easy one to feel fully comfortable with.  but as the popularity of halloween has grown, and as children have come to love it more and more, adults have gotten on the halloween train too! (after alegra’s friends had all gone home erim and i actually went to a grown-up party where costumes were required! i have to say, it was the perfect ending to day…)

the party at our house in the afternoon was a ton of fun!  most of the girls came home with alegra so they were all able to get into costume together and even that was a lot of fun.  we had a wonderful lady come to do makeup so we ended up with seriously spooky vampires, zombies, witches and ghosts… scary and spooky is very in with the third grade crowd although i am happy to say we also had a very cute cat, a bright orange pumpkin, and our very own youtuber (who by the way stayed in costume throughout the entire party- speaking and reacting the way the youtuber she was portraying might- i was very impressed).

no eksioglu party would be complete without some art activities, of course.  treat bags decorated with sharpies for our trick-or-treating treasure hunt; pipe cleaner and plastic spider rings decorated with beads as a spooky accessory; and finally, tinker tray mini pumpkins.  the girls loved the pumpkin decorating; especially when i told them they could use as much glitter glue as they wanted! luckily the weather was beautiful, so we were able to the arts and crafts outdoors, making me even more relaxed about the copious use of sticky glitter products!

after a quick meal of hot dog “fingers”, “pumpkin” tangerines, “ghost” bananas, and delicious cupcakes we were finally ready for the most exciting part of the party- the trick-or-treating treasure hunt!! erim, asya and alara came home just in time to help with this part which was lovely as the girls split up into four groups, witches, pumpkins, ghosts and zombies, and took off running to all corners of our compound.  along with a good amount of candy, of course, the clues led them to some different themed treats like googly eye glasses, witches’ fingers and light-up skull yoyos! the final clue led the whole gang back to the house for some more trampoline time and a little bit of halloweeny tv.

as always, the moms who were able to join were a big part of the fun too.  some came in costume, lots helped with the spooking, and those that could helped with the activities too.  one mother’s costume was so complete that we hardly recognized her when she walked in the door!

although the girls and i are often sad to not have the chance to go trick-or-treating “american style”; i have to say that we have been lucky to find, at each stage, a community of friends who have been willing to go along with our shenanigans, get dressed up, act silly and spooky, and get into the carefree spirit of the day.  even though every year i think this might be the last halloween party, each year the beginning of october finds me sitting down with a pen and paper and starting my halloween party planning.  i think that if alegra ever feels as though she is too old for a party, i am likely to just go right ahead with an adult party…maybe even complete with adult appropriate arts and crafts activities! but for now, i am thrilled to have all the little ghosts and ghouls and cats and bats to entertain 🙂

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what a summer!!

i saw a backdated post about a child’s birthday on a blog that i follow and absolutely adore called somewhere slower and i thought it was one of the most tasteful, and genius, ways of dealing with the inevitable lapses in time and organization that comes with the territory of raising young children.

last summer was one of the busiest we have ever had! alara had a huge exam to mark the end of middle school, asya’s whole summer program suddenly shifted from attending riding competitions in europe to attending a summer program at georgetown university in dc, we had planned a number of family trips to the boat and to the states, alegra went to sleepaway camp for the first time, my sister had a baby…and in the midst of all this, we had birthdays and  important graduations to celebrate! and so, despite my best intentions consistent bloggin was just simply not in the cards!

so rather than trying to go back and remember exactly what was going on, i’ve decided to share a whole range of photos from our very busy and very exciting summer…each has a caption and a date in case you are wondering exactly where in the world we were at that moment or which celebration is featured in each shot. while i can’t say that i hope things aren’t this exciting next summer, i do hope that i can make a bit more time to document all our adventures a bit better next time around.

so there is a recap of all the celebrating…. and now for a quick round up of our travels…

happy halloween!!!!

we pretty much adore all things holiday related at our house! halloween, thanksgiving, christmas, new years, valentines, st. patrick’s day, easter…we really do love them all! but halloween is definitely one of our all time favorites. every year we have a kid-focused, art-based costume party that ends with a scavenger hunt all around our compound.

the first party we hosted was HUGE! thirty kids and at least that many parents. at the time we had two wonderful helpers from the states and together we came up with a whole slew of themed foods, drinks, games and activities. after that first big party our halloween parties have become a tradition. some years have been calmer, some have had a whole range of ages (one year we had two year olds and ten year olds all sitting at the same table- it was fantastic!), some years have had more candy, one year we even had a dance teacher who taught the girls the moves to “thriller”! we have had kids come dressed as princesses, zombies, indians, pirates, tigers, butterflies, and geishas…and we’ve had moms dressed up too. this year i really got into the spirit and dressed up as the evil queen!

part of me wants to say that this year’s party was one of the best yet, but to be fair pretty much every year i have felt the same! we have certainly got better and better and more organized each year though.  and it is such a great treat for me too to be able to have a fun halloween tradition even here in istanbul. i always looked forward to going trick-or-treating and i think that from the start i have felt sad that the girls have not had the same opportunity. but i think, especially based on this year’s enthusiastic response from both the parents and the kids we invited, that we have managed to create an equally enjoyable tradition in our own turkish-american way!

a short trip to amsterdam

the summer of 2017 was a learning experience for all of us. previous summers had been completely planned out affairs, down to the last weekend, with perhaps the only exception being changes in our route on the boat due to bad weather.  to be fair 2017 started out exactly the same way; the girls were all signed up for summer camps in asheville and brevard, we had mapped out what we would do the week before camp started- three days in new york and five days in asheville, our return dates were set and so was erim’s annual boys’ boat trip in august. then asya decided, on a whim, to try out for the dressage team at her riding club.

prior to her try-out asya had only briefly learned a couple of basics about dressage; it was required for her to obtain a pony licensing; and we had purchased a great jumping horse- undercover mojito.  but something clicked with asya and undercover and tanya, the dressage instructor and before we knew it asya had shifted from show jumping to dressage and was on her way to qualifying for the junior balkan and european championships! as thrilled as we were with this news, it basically meant that our whole summer planning got thrown out the window…

to say that erim and i were a little stressed about how we were going to make this whole thing work would be a serious understatement- i can’t even begin to count the hours that we spent trying to come up with the best way to juggle asya’s new schedule; a full week in zagreb at the beginning of july, a month of training in welde belgium throughout july and august, and finally, another full week in roosendaal for the european junior dressage championships; with the rest of our summer plans.  and of course, we wanted to be there for as many of these events as we possibly could! i mean, how often does one’s child get to compete in the european championships??

in the end, there was a lot of coming and going, children flying on their own with grandparents and team members, and to be honest, a lot of growth- both for the girls in terms of gaining some independence, and learning about accommodating loved ones, and for erim and me as we came to understand a bit better that the girls were, in fact, growing up and that over the next couple of years the chances of our plans going awry were greater than things continuing as expected!

one unexpected outcome of changing all our plans was that we were able to spend four days in the netherlands on our way to drop asya off at her training stables.  i hadn’t been to amsterdam since i was a child and erim had only been for work over the past couple of years, so it was a pretty exciting change from our usual nyc- avl plans.

and, even more unexpectedly, we loved amsterdam! i do realize that i shouldn’t be that surprised that it was a lovely city to visit, but for some reason none of us thought we would enjoy our time there as much as we did… here is our trip in a nutshell…

stay:

we stayed at the waldorf astoria hotel it was beautiful and comfortable, and the service was amazing.  the hotel building is located in a series of 17th century canal palaces and overlooks the “gentleman’s canal”.  it was within easy walking distance to tons of sights and museums and we were lucky enough with the weather that we could just walk out to front door and be on our way every morning.

other options that we looked at and would have also enjoyed were:

the amstel amsterdam hotel– a larger historical building located on the main amstel river, it has an amazing winter garden style restaurant that overlooks the river itself.

the conservatorium hotel– this ultra-chic, modern hotel is located in what used to be the sweelink music conservatory.  it’s location in the center of the museumplein is ideal for art lovers, and it is close to the main shopping area of p.c. hoofstraat too.  but having seen it up close i would say it is better for a bit older children, asya and alara now as high schoolers would have been thrilled to stay there- two years ago they might have found it a bit too modern.

to do:

oh, there is just so much to do in amsterdam! as soon as we arrived i realized we were only going to get to scratch the surface, and i can’t wait to go back, but even in a short amount of time we did get to hit the highlights…

museums:

the van gogh museuman entire museum devoted to van gogh. it was beautiful, and very child-friendly. they even had scavenger hunts for the girls to do, a genius addition that i really think every museum should have.

the rijksmuseum a museum of dutch art through the ages, i especially enjoyed getting to see the works by rembrandt and the vermeer.  the girls were pretty much “museumed out” by that time though!

the stedelijkmuseum this was the coolest building, it had huge doors and windows and we loved just getting to go in! the museum itself focuses on modern art and design; when we were there we were able to visit the jean dubuffet exhibition which the girls recognized and enjoyed.

the national maritime museum we all loved this completely family friendly museum! the displays introduce maritime life in general, but also more specifically teaches visitors about how the netherlands was able to become the maritime world power that it was.  two super fun features were a “life on board” game room where children learn about life on board a ship and get a certificate, and exact copy of the famous 18th century dutch trading vessel the east indiaman.  we got to go down into the hold, pretend to steer the ship with its giant wheel, and see where captains and sailors slept (you can even climb into one of the sailor’s hammocks!) visiting this museum was definitely a highlight of the trip.

the anne frank museum for me, probably the most important museum in amsterdam, we were lucky to get tickets as our trip was so last minute.  i was worried that alegra (age 7) would be scared by the museum, but there are plenty of warnings about sensitive materials and the wording and language was such as we could share as much, or as little detail as we wanted with her.  erim, asya and alara got a lot out of visiting; erim did not know the details of the story prior to our visit, and asya and alara had both read the diary of anne frank for school that year.  visiting the anne frank museum has been something i have longed to do, and i was so glad to get to share the experience with the girls.

around town:

 a river cruiseas we left the anne frank house a renovated dutch saloon boat pulled up to edge of the canal and asked if we were the eksioglu family.  we had spent the morning trying to arrange a river cruise and when this beautiful historical boat pulled up i simply couldn’t believe my eyes! as in venice, i would say that the way to really see amsterdam is from the water, and after the sobering experience of the anne frank house a river cruise with refreshments and snacks was just about perfect.  our captain was also the owner of the boat, the farahilde, and had a wealth of knowledge about dutch history.  we all got to sit back, relax, see the beautiful canal side houses, and in the end, we arrived back at the hotel rested and ready to enjoy the rest of our day!

the flower market-an amsterdam classic.  we all loved the colors and took tons of pictures, and it was hard to not be able to buy armloads of flowers to take home with us! the whole area around the flower market was also lovely, little boutiques, coffee shops, ice cream stores and a delicious pancake house.  we spent a whole afternoon exploring the area, it was the perfect way to spend our first day!

renting bicycles and taking a tour of the city would have also been a lot of fun; we didn’t end up having the time to do that unfortunately- and alegra had not yet fully learned how to ride a two-wheeler bike so i was reluctant to risk someone getting hurt… next time we will do this for sure though!

eat:

 our first day in amsterdam was basically a half day and we spent it exploring the flower market area and tasting a whole range of new foods and drinks.  we had a quick lunch of sandwiches and salads at van rijn café; located just a couple minutes from both the hotel and the flower market in the center of the rembrantplein it was the perfect easy way to start our trip.  we decided to wait for dessert until we had found our bearings a bit more and it was a good thing! we visited the happy pig pancake shop for delicious dutch pancakes, and then discovered ijscuypie ice cream and just couldn’t resist stopping for one more treat.  along the way we not one but three coffee shops to see which one we liked the best! dam good coffee is right next to the royal palace (which had unfortunately closed by the time we arrived) and has lovely outdoor seating perfect for people watching.  screaming beans, which is possibly one of the best names i have heard for a coffee shop, is on a lovely little street and has great coffees and little snacks.  our favorite was the coffee company, it has a perfect little bench right outside the front door and all the coffees come with little hearts made out of foam.  the girls’ hot chocolates had little hearts too and they loved it.

another wonderful culinary activity to do in amsterdam is cheese tasting.  we didn’t think the girls would enjoy it very much so decided not to do a full cheese tasting course, but we did wander in and out of a number of cheese shops and taste what they had on offer that day.  amsterdam cheese company was conveniently located two blocks away from our hotel, so i was able to pop in pretty much every day on our way back to the hotel in the afternoons!

for dinner we tried a whole range of restaurants.  because we had flown in on an early flight, the first day we were all a bit tired and wanted something easy.  casa di david was the perfect choice.  a typical italian restaurant with great pizzas, pasta and risotto, it is located on the same canal as the waldorf astoria.  the food was lovely, the service was great, and it was the perfect super easy choice for our first night.

the next day we decided to be a bit more adventurous and went to place the harbour club amsterdam.  located right on the water it was a huge building that clearly became a night club later on in the evening.  the girls loved the graffiti like decoration inside the restaurant and alegra had a great time checking out the sushi station and circular bars.  (we obviously didn’t stay long enough to see the nightclub side of things).

two other restaurants that had been recommended to us were momo and enoteca.  but on our third night we were so full from our snacks on the boat ride that we decided to just have a drink and a light bite at the hotel’s bar, the vault.  the vault, located inside an actual old bank safe, was so cool that we didn’t mind missing the chance to go out.  the menu is made up a deck of fake bills with each cocktail’s origin corresponding to a style of drink.  for example, the rupee bill orders a cocktail with ginger and pineapple while the baht bill has coconut and lemongrass flavors.  we all loved trying to guess the origin of the currencies and the ingredients that might go with each one.

 whether it was because the trip itself was totally unexpected, or because we knew we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while after the trip, overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in amsterdam.   the city itself is truly lovely… it is easy to walk nearly everywhere, the museums are engaging and educational, the food we ate was delicious and appealed to both erim and i as adults while being perfect for children as well and visiting in the summer with a bit milder weather was definitely a plus too.  as i have said there are still so many more things to see and do in amsterdam and i know we will all be happy to go back again the first chance we get.

happy birthday my beautiful babies!!

Today is both Alara and Alegra’s birthdays! Amazingly, and in a completely unplanned manner, they were born exactly six years apart and on the same day! When I was pregnant with Alegra and the doctor told her due date was the beginning of July it really never crossed my mind that she might arrive on the same day as her big sister. Toward the middle of June though I have to say we all got a bit worried that in fact Alegra might arrive before Alara.  For some reason we were all so focused on Alegra’s birthday not being before Alara’s that we weren’t really concerned with the possibility of them being born on the SAME day! I guess we just thought that was impossible!

I have such a vivid picture in my mind of the day that Alara was born.  I woke up, had some breakfast, and I just knew that she would be born that day.  I told Erim to go to work and get things organized and called my parents.  Asya was still a baby herself so the rest of the morning went by in a flash…around 1pm we checked into the hotel and about five hours later Alara had made her appearance.  Thinking back on it now, everything about her birth seems very calm.  Asya was still so small that she sort of stopped in, took a look around, and then was happy to go home and go to bed.  Istanbul was hosting a large NATO conference and most people we knew had actually left for the week to avoid the expected chaos.  Alara was my second baby in 18 months so I felt calm and confident; diapering, nursing, bathing…. I’d been doing these things non-stop anyway for the past year and a half.  I had that part all under control 🙂 So after a calm couple of days in the hospital (so calm that I got bored in fact by our last night there and was begging Erim to take me out for dinner!!) we went home and just got on with it all.  We were ready for two kids both mentally and physically.

Alegra’s arrival was completely the opposite! On the night of the 22nd Erim and the girls arrived home from a long weekend in the south of Turkey.  I had spent the weekend at home trying desperately to recover from a massive sinus infection while putting the finishing touches on both Alegra’s nursery and the room Alara and Asya were going to share. There was a terrible thunderstorm that continued to rage outside our window after we arrived at the hospital around 11:30pm.  Erim was exhausted from his trip, and I was so nervous about how Alara was going to feel about this new baby’s arrival on her birthday!  Luckily, physically, everything went perfectly and Alegra was born without us even having to think about it too much!  The next morning Alara, Asya and Erim came with their cousins to the hospital and we blew out some candles for Alara… as a preliminary celebration.

While I was pregnant I had promised Alara that no matter what we would have our traditional family dinner celebration on her actual birthday day! So we did!! Thanks to the joint efforts of my mom, my sister Derin, and a close family friend (whose husband runs the hospital) we were fortunate enough to have a FULL birthday party in the lobby of the hospital.  Per Alara’s instructions we had balloons, themed plates and cups, enough pizza to feed 20 people, and a birthday cake! Alara got presents from everyone and even though it wasn’t the party she was expecting; I was so happy we were able to celebrate for her.  Since then we have always had a family birthday on the girls’ birthday but I have made a real effort to have separate parties with friends, and always focused on having Alara’s birthday party before Alegra’s.  As special as it is to share a birthday the way that they do, it is so important for me that they realize they are each different and special in their own way.

This year, due to time constraints, we actually ended up having the girls’ “friend parties” on the same day! Alara’s was a Mexican themed party at home with a bunch of her girlfriends, hanging out in the garden and making tie-dye t-shirts.  Alegra’s was a watermelon themed pool party at my parent’s house… we had a water gun fight, pool games, and a piñata! Erim and I successfully made it to the cutting of both cakes and although the girls might disagree I loved getting to celebrate them back to back.  Here are some pictures from both parties that day….

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Today, we are flying to Greece for a family (and friends) vacation.  Alara was a bit worried about being in transit on her birthday but I think that she is actually having a pretty good time so far.  Ever since the day that Alegra was born and it rained cats and dogs it seems that June 23 is always a beautiful sunny day.  Maybe the joy that I feel on this day is somehow reflected for me in nature 🙂

Every year I am consistently surprised by how much the girls grow and change over the course of 12 months.  This year has been especially interesting…

Alara:

This year has been a true “middle” year for you!  Asya was dealing with her TEOG exams all year and Alegra started first grade; but you were in 7th grade.  The middle of middle school. A year where not much seems to change but in fact, a lot does happen.  I have watched you find and cultivate an amazing group of girl friends.  Each of them are so strong in their own ways and you have managed to find your niche with them.  I have watched you prepare yourself mentally, and academically, for the tough eighth grade year that you have coming up. As the year progressed you have found, and developed, your own rhythm.  Despite the chaos that our house can be at times you have created space for yourself.  I love that we have our time after Alegra is asleep and Asya is in her “cave” for our Madam Secretary viewing and our late night chats with Baba.  My dear sweet princess, you have become a wonderful, intelligent, insightful and principled young lady.  I am so excited to see what the “teenage” years hold for you! We are so lucky to have a soul like you in our midst.

Alegra:

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What a year you have had! Starting first grade, learning to read and write, making new friends- I feel like you have done it all this year! Your energy and enthusiasm have been catching; I’m not sure how we would have made it through the homework if you had not been so cute while you did it! You have a huge heart and make sure that everyone knows how much you care about them all the time.  Next year you will need to work a little bit on listening, waiting patiently, and chatting a little bit less during school.  I am excited to see how you do it! You are my all time bedtime buddy- what would Baba and I do without your “sneaky” nighttime visits? Even though your teenager sisters might get frustrated with you at times, know that they love you too! Keep on keeping us all on our toes, your loving energy helps sustain us all.

And the end of a wonderful day…we have arrived on the boat for a wonderful and very happy birthday celebration. 😊 as they say in Turkey- “may our worst days be like this”….