fun. now.

“having fun” has always been a tricky concept for me.

my mom tells me that even as a very young child i was pretty quiet and happy to sit and listen or observe my surroundings for hours; rather than joining in the excitement.

once i learned to read that was my ultimate definition of fun; i am infamous for asking friends who had come for sleepovers if they wanted to get in bed and read- at 6:30pm!!! (my wise mother encouraged me to play a game with my friend first; at least).

as a teenager i was WAY too self-conscious to let loose and really have fun. i did thoroughly enjoy hard work though and poured myself into academics, tennis, and art projects with gusto.

college was a little better. being surrounded by like-minded serious folks helped. as did a glass or two of wine. and fun was had, silliness occurred- not always but plenty for me.

not too long after that i got married and had two beautiful babies back to back (and a third a bit later on too). marriage and motherhood are serious things but the stability and routine that came along with it probably helped to relax me and, oh boy, have i had fun with my girls!

i have played in kiddie pools; danced with gymbo at gymboree; belted out disney princess songs in the living room; discovered “secret beaches” and set up “camps” so that we could munch on oreos; jumped off cliffs in greek islands; swam with dolphins; ridden on elephants; zoomed through vietnamese streets on vespas; watched lions up close; and spent endless hours chatting and laughing. no complaints here.

but this year fun has been a little harder to come by. the stress of the pandemic is overwhelming and i often feel a creeping guilt about how lucky we have been while so many people have suffered so much.

with a senior and a junior mired deep in school work and college prep the past months would have been hard and serious in any case. but covid has compounded it.

i’m probably not the only one feeling this way. but we need to remember that it is ok, and necessary , for us all to have a little fun. and to do it now. not to wait for the post-pandemic world to enjoy ourselves when possible.

i first started thinking about this after reading a beautiful post called “now” on a blog i follow- enough– the author, shauna ahern, reminds us to go ahead and do what we have been waiting for. do it now. enjoy today- read, learn, start projects, make things whatever. stop waiting and get going now.

i tested the waters on our trip to dubai. i have to admit it wasn’t very easy. but i closed my eyes, took a breath and just acted silly! it felt so good- and while i am not the all time silliest of people- it reminded me that i need to seek out fun.

my fun may not be the same as someone else’s but i need to recognize what is fun for me and DO IT!!!

since then i have resumed my nightly kitchen dance parties while washing the dishes; worked on small art projects at least two nights a week; and joked with my girls even when i felt crabby and snappy.

now i’m off to play catan and enjoy a snowy afternoon…

what’s fun for you these days? games, music, the outdoors? share your fun and we’ll keep sharing ours too!

traveling in a covid world

today we took our first international flight in a world with covid.

last year on this day we were in south africa, blissfully basking in the beauty of babylonstoren unaware that the odd virus we were hearing about in china would soon come to dominate the news; and all our lives. (yes, in hindsight we should have worn masks on our capetown-istanbul flight- an idea i literally mocked and belittled at the time!)

a couple of thoughts-

1. this pandemic has taught me that we all must make our own risk calculations as necessary and based on individual circumstances.

2. the istanbul airport was much more crowded than i expected.

3. masks have become a pretty normal thing here in turkey and 90% of people were wearing them properly. that made me feel better.

4. thank you richard quest and cnn traveler for teaching my family to wipe down and disinfect our seating areas on aircraft years ago. we are pros.

5. covid is inescapable. as we entered the airport i had one surreal moment when it felt as though we would fly off and leave and magically land in a land with no covid. sort of like when we flew out of vietnam two years ago; exiting a communist country and finding ourselves in a safer feeling, calmer environment upon landing. instead we landed in dubai and are still wearing masks; washing our hands; and social distancing. we were required to present proof of a negative pcr test upon arrival and despite the advantage of increased outdoor space and warm weather we still feel a little wary of other people.

international travel during this period is a calculated risk we needed to take. and one we were fortunate enough to be able to take as safely as possible.

i am grateful.

a new routine- sunday muffins!

join us as we embark on a new routine- sunday muffins!

as a virgo through and through i am a very big fan of routines.  

knowing what is coming up centers me. it helps me to keep some of the more anxious thoughts and “what ifs” at bay. not only do i love living the routine, but i also adore planning the routine.  i have all sorts of notebooks- one for daily to-dos; one for our weekly meals; one for recipes; one for bigger, long term plans- and tons of lists! books to be read; articles to check out; yoga classes to take; things to buy; things to give away… all listed nicely and neatly.

as much as i love a routine life, over the years i have learned (sometimes the hard way) to let go and go with the flow (sort of).  juggling the needs, wants and schedules of three kids; living in the beautiful chaos of istanbul; being connected to other people socially and professionally- all these have been known to cause glitches from time to time! 

and of course, this year we are living through the biggest glitch of all! not in a million years would i have ever thought we would be on month 10 of staying home, at home learning, curfew and weekend lockdowns.  i really somehow thought this would be a couple months long blip in an otherwise normal year.

the first couple of months were better; alegra and i had a really great whiteboard, and we had a schedule for every day- it was great! i knew what was coming, everyone at home knew the plan.  it was as “normal” as one could have hoped for.

but these days, as covid wears on and on, i am finding it hard to even consider creating a routine.  i had hoped new years would inspire me but here i am halfway into the month and still a bit lost.

so, as i baked these muffins for sunday morning breakfast, i realized these might just be the perfect way to start a new routine! 

i’ve had food projects before; you can find a whole year of vegetable fritters (mucver, in turkish) here … and a year of gluten free kid-friendly treats here 

and so, it seems 2021 will be the year of muffins! the muffins will always be gluten-free; though not always vegan nor sugar free (sometimes we need a little treat too, guys!) i hope that you enjoy this new routine as much as i do 🙂

gluten-free vegan blueberry muffins

ingredients:

  • 2 vegan flax eggs (mix 2 tablespoons ground flax seed with 6 tablespoons water and set aside to thicken)
  • 2/3 cup vegan buttermilk (mix nut mylk with 2 teaspoons vinegar and set aside)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • ½ cup gluten free oats
  • ¾ cup gluten free flour mix **
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cup blueberries (can be fresh or frozen)

instructions:

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • line muffin pan with liner cups
  • combine flours, oats, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and mix well
  • add flax egg, buttermilk, melted coconut oil and vanilla extract and mix until just combined
  • fold in blueberries carefully – 
    • batter should be thick at this point, if not add 1-2 tablespoons almond flour
  • spoon batter into prepared muffin pan 
  • bake for about 30 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean
  • cool on rack for at least 10 minutes
  • serve warm with a cup of tea or coffee! 

** recently, i have been using organik bahce’s gluten free flour mix here in turkey**

alara and alegra’s ooey gooey joyful brownies

if you live in istanbul you are hopefully enjoying this snow day as much as we are!!! the city is quiet and beautiful and watching the snowflakes fall is actually meditative in its own way. 

the snow brought us a LOT of joy- we made a snowman, had snowball fights, made snow angels, drank hot chocolate and of course, baked brownies- yum!

our brownie baking actually happened on saturday, while we were waiting rather (im)patiently for the snow to start.  we knew we would want dessert that night so alara and alegra figured out a way to use up a batch of caramel we had made mid-week for apple dipping.  

the result some of the most indulgent joyful caramel brownies i have ever tasted!  

they humored me and made them gluten free but feel free to use regular flour if you prefer; and don’t worry if you have left over caramel sauce, it is just as delicious on its own and perfect for dipping fruit or making ice cream sundaes 🙂

easy caramel sauce:

ingredients:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons butter- cut up into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes

instructions:

  • have all ingredients at room temperature 
  • heat sugar over medium high heat in bottom of a large saucepan-whisking continuously
  • once sugar is melted add butter and stir until melted
  • remove pan from heat and slowly add cream
  • whisk until cream is completely absorbed and caramel is smooth
  • add sea salt flakes and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes
  • store in a glass jar in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks

gluten free caramel brownies:

ingredients:

  • ½ cup dark chocolate- chopped into pieces
  • ½ cup milk chocolate- chopped into pieces
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup gluten free flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup salted caramel sauce

instructions:

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius (375f)
  • line a baking dish with parchment paper and set aside
  • in a large pot melt butter and chocolate together- allow to cool slightly
  • add in eggs, sugar and vanilla extract- mix well
  • sift gluten free flour on top and mix in until just combined
  • pour brownie batter into prepared dish and spread evenly
  • place large spoonfuls of caramel sauce on top of batter and use a knife to swirl into the batter
  • bake for 20-25 minutes for fudgy brownies; 30-35 minutes for more cakelike ones
  • the caramel will bubble, and the batter will seem to be shaky but don’t worry! once the brownies cool down the mixture will harden, and you will be able to cut and serve 
  • serve warm with ice cream if desired 

don’t postpone joy

this was laurey’s signature motto.  

a cancer survivor, laurey was a pioneer of farm to table cooking; basic but delicious catering; and later, upscale deli style restaurant dining in Asheville, nc.  a catered dinner from laurey’s was the first time i ever tried oven roasted seasonal vegetables and all of her meals always, always featured dessert- more often than not brownies and cookies- true comfort food.

throughout this whole pandemic laurey’s motto, don’t postpone joy, has been popping into my head at the oddest moments- just before i go to bed, right as i get out of the shower, as i’m cleaning up the kitchen after yet another meal, while i’m hanging up the laundry or taking out the trash.  

i love the sentiment, but how do we hang onto joy these days? 

the covid crisis seems to be on the cusp of getting worse yet again. the most recent mutation is likely to cause more illness and effect members of the population that were previously less vulnerable- especially children, which terrifies me. the situation in the u.s. is heartbreaking and nearly impossible to even grasp.  turkey has done a pretty decent job of getting its daily infection rate under control this past month- but this has come via strict weekend lockdowns, evening curfews and the complete closure of schools, restaurants and bars. to say we’re all a little stir crazy might be the understatement of the year.

the recent events in the united states are just awful.  i don’t know whether to stop listening to the news all together or to listen even more carefully with the hope that things may actually change in the upcoming months. i know that many observers, especially those living abroad, believe that the ideals touted by americans are not real- the black lives matter movement; a daily covid death rate of 4,000 people; the insurrection at the capital; the fact that the president believes he is within his rights to lie about a fair election and encourage violence against fellow citizens- all of these seem to prove that america is not what it seems.  with this i wholly agree- but america represents an idea; the hope that things can be different, and i choose to continue to believe in that idea- while accepting wholeheartedly that things need to change. but will they? 

at home we are done. my older children seem to be on track to graduate from high school via zoom- alara has never actually met any of her teachers in person and whether asya will even be able to go to college in the fall is unclear. alegra seems to be in the best position of all of us; luckily ten-year olds still love running around outside, even in the rain and sleet, so she has been able to see some friends and keep up a semblance of her “normal” life. erim has the art of online card game down pat.  he connects to his friends on the phone and joins the game on his ipad and has had many happy hours trading manly insults while attempting to trounce his buddies- lockdown weekends feature two games a day so he has gotten pretty internet savvy, i must admit.  as for me, i had so many plans for this year; and of which have been postponed

and there we are. so how do we manage to not postpone our joy in all of this?

i honestly don’t know.  i do know that we are so grateful for all our privilege and comforts. our warm home; our well stocked kitchen; our personal electronic devices that keep us connected with school, work, and friends; and our health.  but joy has been a little hard to find this winter. 

we’re trying. today the girls baked gluten free caramel brownies (recipe coming up in the next post).  i have a chilled glass and a cold bottle of champagne ready to pour while i watch the crown this afternoon. our fireplace is warm and toasty and ready for some smores this evening. and we’ve got our fingers crossed that it will snow tonight and we can make a snowman tomorrow. 

what about you? what is bringing you joy today? 

they changed the rules again….

new rules… and a new food delivery app too!

last march, with the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, turkey shut down swiftly and strongly. schools, restaurants, bars, shopping malls; even outdoor spaces were closed almost overnight.  banks and other essential businesses were allowed to operate on very limited schedules and most people remained at home.  as the pandemic picked up speed in turkey more stringent rules were put into place- including limits on travel international and domestic travel; complete curfews on the weekends; and rules requiring children under the age of 20 and seniors over the age of 65 to remain at home- with the exception of a three hour “outside time” window once a week.  

it was a very quiet time for families in turkey; trying for the thousands of families who did not have an economic backup plan and extremely stressful for the millions of people who live in crowded small apartments. the overall uncertainty that was felt across the board didn’t help.

but the silver lining of the hardship was that these measures seemed to work. at no point did the turkish hospitals get completely overwhelmed. ppe was available to anyone who needed or wanted it- and with people sheltering at home, a surplus of protective material soon existed. not once did i hear of a shortage of ventilators.  demographics probably helped.  the median age in turkey is 31.5 years old.  this virus preys on the weak and the elderly. 

by the middle of may turkey was opening up again. new rules (again!) shopping malls were open. restaurants and bars too; with limited seating and outdoors spaces open only; but open, nonetheless. schools remained closed but people were able to travel and many did. turkey is a beautiful country and there is so much to see. we took advantage of canceled international trips to see parts of the coast that we had never visited before. it was almost, almost, possible to forget that a deadly virus had kept us shut up in our homes just a couple of months ago.

but, as expected, the second wave is here. en force. and in their effort to keep tourism alive, th current regime did not disclose the numbers of daily infections in a transparent and thorough manner. only the number of daily patients admitted to the hospital was reported to the public. reasons for death that could conceivable be reported as anything other than covid 19 were recorded and conveyed as such.  the result has been harsh. with a lack of information upon which to base their decisions people have continued to move about, congregate and socialize. 

for a variety of reasons, the government has finally started to disclose the actual numbers of infected citizens.  some say that the who has put pressure on the government to issue proper statements. some say that the vaccines will be distributed based on per capita infections and that is the real reason behind the recent disclosures. and some just say that the time has come; tourism season is behind us and the general population has not yet been able to grasp the reality of the situation. 

regardless, the rules have changed- frequently in fact- in the month of november.  halfway through the month schools were shut down again, as were restaurants and bars. unfortunately, the overall effect was not quite enough.  with no curfew in place people have stopped going to restaurants- but started going to friends’ houses. restaurants and bars are open for take-out and delivery, which has resulted in continued person to person contact. 

as hospitals have filled up and the number of exposures has multiplied the government instituted new rules; yet again, last night.  hopefully this will help. but it basically means that we are back at home- locked down.  it’s ok. and if it helps, then it is really ok. 

what is strange though is that every time the rules change our world changes too.  once we become accustomed to a certain system is just seems to flow. and then, when the flow is interrupted it is almost as if we start from ground zero  and let me tell you- readjustment is a real pain. inevitably there is a small blow up at home (usually on my part) and it takes us all at least a couple of days to fall into a familiar and comfortable pattern. 

and that is where we are. again, adapting to a new reality. figuring out how the new rules work and creating yet another new existence within these confines. it’s ok. we’ll get there. 

i am eternally, and possibly frustratingly, optimistic- so- in light of all of this constant change all i can say is this– thank goodness for the distraction of december and the festive season!!! here’s to the season of light… 

a salve for my soul…

an aegean sunrise in november…winter in the air

summer was a time of sweet respite and great repose for us this year.  with the pandemic in full swing, we were unable to maintain our usual crazy travel schedule that often had us bouncing from one continent to another: an invigorating yet rather exhausting tradition. 

instead, we spent a lot of time at home, quietly, and the trips that we did take were much quieter and lowkey than previous years.  although most things were open here in turkey over the summer we still thought twice about going out to restaurants or visiting friends in their homes.  rather than take risks we chose to go out for dinner at off hours; made an effort to meet up in gardens or on balconies; and often made plans to take walks with friends or play in the park rather than getting together for drinks or an at-home playdate. 

we took long walks in nature; spent hours swimming, snorkeling and paddle boarding; and took advantage of the warm weather to hold a number of scaled down celebrations outdoors rather than needing to cancel them altogether.

the end of school vacation doesn’t necessarily mean the end of warm weather in turkey, so we took full advantage of online school, continuing to travel to the aegean coast at every opportunity.  whenever possible we would pack up the schoolbooks and laptops and escape the city… setting us a “mini-school” for each of the girls wherever we happened to land that week. although we knew that the coronavirus was still a force to be reckoned with the combination of being in the open air and having less people around us was a constant source of comfort.

it’s hard to believe that today is the last day of november and that turkey has been dealing with covid-19 on a full-time basis for just about 9 months.  the much anticipated second wave is here-full force-and istanbul, in particular, has become a true hotbed of virus transmission.  with numbers rising (and the government finally acknowledging the true extent of infection); new measures are being put into place and life is inevitably going to start slowing down again.

writing this blog and sharing snippets of our daily life was a salve for my soul during the first months of 2020 and i can’t think of a better way to end this difficult year than to return to it. our summer hiatus has been restful and inspiring, and i have much to share; stay tuned for more musings, new recipes, at home activity ideas, book recommendations and more…

ps. here are a bunch of our favorite 2020 summer moments. as strange as it was, this summer is sure to be unforgettable in its own way! 

so many celebrations this summer!

alara and alegra’s birthday- and mine and tunc dede’s too….

there was A LOT of outdoor time… hiking, biking, riding horses and seaside time too…

we learned a bunch of new games and new skills too…

school started…online…which meant exploring could continue 🙂

and with the blessing of good weather we were able to celebrate halloween outdoors in full costume!!!

“something spooky this way comes…”

it was a wonderful summer despite it all and we are so grateful to have been able to celebrate at all… these memories will certainly help sustain us in the coming months-

i banged my head…

on the branch of an olive tree…

…and out flowed the tears.

tears that had been building for a week, or maybe a month, or maybe even a year.  a lot of tears.

tears of sadness; for all that the world and humanity is experiencing right now.

tears of disappointment; for all the disappointments we are all facing right now- cancelled plans, uncertain futures.

tears of anger; towards all the people who don’t seem to understand the nearly insurmountable issues facing us- as human beings- all around the world.

tears of shame; for all the comfort and ease that my privilege affords- as people lie dying in hospital beds- or worse, on gurneys- i am able to hike through centuries old olive groves with my healthy family surrounding me.

and tears of just plain old hurt; because banging your head hurts and why, as women of a certain era, have we been taught not to show our pain or our suffering?

why can’t we be strong AND vulnerable at the same time? why can’t we feel DEEPLY; and, as a result of these deep feelings, cause change in our worlds?

by contributing what we is within our reach- money, for some, because it always helps; time, for others, because it is a true gift; conscious parenting, because we raise the next generation; real friendship, always, because what could be more helpful than a shoulder to lean on?

every day we talk about a post- covid world. what will life be like when we return to “normal”- whatever that normal might be?

i don’t want to go back to the old normal- it was too much yet not nearly enough. all at the same time. too much consumption and not nearly enough production. too much taking and not nearly enough giving. too much “me” and not nearly enough “us”.

and so, as we hiked the ancient lycian way- a centuries old trade route used by the lycians to travel up and down the aegean and mediterranean coasts-and i banged my head on the olive tree branch, i decided that it might just be ok to be strong AND vulnerable both at the same time.

strong enough to climb over rocks, to hop over loose stones and to hang on to branches and roots to propel myself forward on the path. but vulnerable enough to say, “this hurts… this all hurts. sometimes so much that it feels unbearable, unsupportable, and just too much.”

and to cry. to let tears flow; because really, if we’re not going to cry now, then when should we?

the view from a peak on the trail- overlooking the bedri rahmi bay and the city of fethiye in the distance

choices must be made…

last night, as part of its plan to slowly reopen metropolitan life and the national economy, the turkish government announced a handful of changes to current co-vid 19 restrictions.

next week, young people get to leave their homes for the first time in nearly two months. so do older citizens; those over the age of 65. each group gets separate days. hairdressers, barber shops and malls can all open their doors again on monday- but must follow strict social distancing and sanitization procedures.

it makes me nervous.

but i can understand that people need to get out of their houses. not just because so many residents of istanbul have been cooped up in small, crowded apartments for the past two months and need the psychological relief of getting out; but also, because people must go back to work and make money. the turkish economy did not enter the global pandemic in a particularly strong position and there are so many people who need to reestablish actual incomes to meet their basic needs.

it is scary to be thinking about all these spaces reopening.  it worries me, the thought of people being out and about again.   i don’t like this path to reopening because it leaves a lot of grey area.  there will be choices to be made now. i liked the clear mandates; the government telling me what i can and cannot do. where and how i can go.

i admit, fully, that my privilege allows me this luxury. 

i have a large, comfortable home; plenty of good fresh food; enough money saved to weather this storm; a private outdoor space that my family can use freely; the girls’ e-learning is just fine, they are busy and engaged; my parents, and erim’s, are all safe and healthy and we can see them- from a safely masked distance- at least once a week; and we have learned how to connect virtually with loved ones who are further away.

having all three girls at home all the time has been, for me, heavenly. i thrive on being a mother and my family all together fills my heart. with no formal school or afterschool activities to rush off to we have had time to eat long meals, cook, do yoga, take walks, watch movies and pop popcorn slowly- the old-fashioned way.

i have been happy to stay at home, to enjoy my people, and to slow down.

but now, with no clear understanding of how it will work, we are being allowed – kind of—to speed up. and with that comes choices…

some decisions seem easy, and probably will be, for many of us.  having gotten the hang of online shopping; i won’t be going into a mall anytime soon.  so many of our favorite restaurants are now offering takeout or delivery options, so no need to risk that. and schools will certainly be closed through may.

but what about socializing? if we can go to a mall can we go sit on a friend’s front porch? our nephew was supposed to graduate from college this weekend; can we raise a glass of champagne to his success? should i bring my own glass? decisions and choices must be made…

and the biggest, probably most difficult of these, involves my children.  on their day of “freedom” (4 hours next friday) can they see their friends? how safe will that be?

i trust my girls.  they are intelligent, worldly, understanding children.  they fully grasp the potential danger of this disease- if not to themselves directly, then to their loved ones.  but they are also human. And i get it. it is amazing that we can connect virtually, but i really want a hug too.  leaning, literally, physically, on a friend is irreplaceable.  we are naturally social creatures. we thrive in close knit communities. we need it. And oh, have we missed it!

so here comes the hard part.

i knew it was coming. i was dreading it. the choices. each of us will have to weather the storm of the coming weeks and months in our own way. in ways that feel “ok” to us.  but i know that saying “no” when other parents say “yes”- staying in while others go out- is going to be hard.  and so, starting next week, we’ll do our best to weigh our options, cross our fingers and continue to take each day as it comes.