The Nesting Instinct Explained and My Grandma’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Today is finally my due date… although my baby apparently did not get the invitation, which is why I’m typing a blog post from my living room rather than heading off to the hospital.

Throughout my pregnancy, I kept hearing about this “nesting instinct” thing, where women apparently go crazy cleaning their houses to prepare for the arrival of their babies.  I was never too sure what to make of it.  We moved to a new country at the halfway mark of my pregnancy and into a new house right before I reached the third trimester, so cleaning and organizing wasn’t really optional for me– we were starting everything from scratch, so I couldn’t call it an instinct as much as a to-do list.  The whole house needed a thorough, deep cleaning when we moved in which took several weeks to achieve, and then we needed to add furniture to each room, organize everything, etc.  Our new house is significantly bigger than our last apartment (one of the main benefits of moving from a city of 15+ million people to a town of 8,000) and it took a long time to get everything in order.  Sure, part of that was preparing for the baby, but we would have had to do most of this stuff anyway even if I wasn’t pregnant.

Now, in these last couple of weeks, I get it: the nesting instinct isn’t some innate maternal drive to provide for our young, it’s because waiting to go into labor is BORING and DISTRACTING and DEAR GOD, WHEN WILL THIS BABY SHOW UP?  It’s considered normal to go into labor anytime between weeks 37-42 (with the start of week 40 being the “official” due date), and five weeks is a long time to wait around and see when the tiny human you’ve been carrying for 9+ months will deign to make their appearance.  These weeks especially feel long when signs of early labor can come and go frequently without actually progressing into full labor.

So, I’ve been cleaning and cooking, a lot.  Things are already more or less in place for the baby to get here, but I keep finding things to do around the house because 1) it makes me feel productive, 2) it distracts me from all the waiting, and 3) it doesn’t require many brain cells, of which I have none at this point.  I made a whole freezer of meals (something I wasn’t planning on doing until I decided to one day, and then banged them out in a three-day rampage this past weekend), I’ve vacuumed floors and scrubbed tubs and rearranged furniture and done endless laundry and flipped and rotated the couch cushions.  I even mopped the damn bathroom walls, and lately I’ve been eyeing the dusty electrical sockets and radiators around the house, thinking that they need a good cleaning too, and there may or may not be a chance that I’ll re-organize the spices in my kitchen.

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Freezer: stocked

And I’ve been baking.

I’ve really grown to love baking in the past couple of years.  I like cooking too, but sometimes it can feel like a slog, especially when you’ve had a long workday and still have to come home and make dinner.  Baking, on the other hand, is strictly a “just for fun, when I want to” hobby– no one HAS to get home from work and make a tray of brownies at 8 p.m.  (Barring a bake sale or other timeline-sensitive obligation.)

That said, baking can be a kind of a hit-or-miss thing for me, in part because I end up doing a lot of substitutions.  This is usually because I’m making an American recipe and can’t find the requisite ingredients in whatever country I’m living in (such as brown sugar, which a lot of recipes call for and isn’t available in either Turkey or Germany), and sometimes because I just don’t have something in the house and don’t feel like going out to get it (like eggs– I sometimes have them in the house, but I often don’t when I need them and end up substituting 1/2 a banana in its place).  I also don’t have American measurement tools, like measuring cups or teaspoons or tablespoons, and there is no easy conversion to the tools available to me (since American recipes tend to measure by volume and European ones measure by weight) so I end up winging the measurements, which works well when cooking but is less reliable when baking.  Usually the things I make turn out fine, although sometimes the texture or density is a bit off (even if the taste is good) and then occasionally I make something that is downright inedible.

Earlier this week, I decided I wanted to make my mom’s coffee cake recipe, a childhood favorite of mine.  I had to sub out the brown sugar and wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but was pleasantly surprised that the end result was actually pretty close.  I could tell a slight difference, but everything I love about the coffee cake– that it’s light and airy, that the topping is crumbly and dense, that the flavors are balanced and not too sweet– was there.

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My mom’s coffee cake

While going through some old recipes looking for the coffee cake one, I found the recipe for my grandmother’s buttermilk biscuits.  My grandma was a great cook in general, but her biscuits were what she was known for, that everyone always asked for when we ate together, practically begged for.  (Well, the biscuits and her green beans.)

She passed away in January, less than a month after my husband and I moved to Germany.  We were close and her death was very difficult for me, in no small part because I couldn’t go home and be with my family during it.  I still miss her every day and I can’t imagine that ever changing.

When she was alive, I asked her many times when I was home to teach me how to bake these biscuits and it always went the same way: she’d tell me to come over around maybe 8 a.m., and then when I got there, she’d already have made them and would just serve me breakfast.  She had a lot of chronic pain late in her life and a lot of trouble sleeping (I’m sure the first influenced the second, although I’m not sure if the sleeping problems predated her pain issues or not) and she would often wake up for the day at 3, 4, or 5 a.m., so I can understand her not wanting to wait around until 8 to make breakfast.

Finally, I wrote down her best approximation of the recipe she used, even though she didn’t really use a recipe and generally just kind of threw it together.

Today I read over the recipe before making it– it has exactly three ingredients, and I didn’t have any of them.  I decided to try anyway.  I didn’t have self-rising flour so I made my own with white flour, baking powder, and salt; I didn’t have buttermilk so I added a bit of vinegar to regular milk and let it curdle.  My husband couldn’t find shortening in the supermarket here– according to the internet, it’s just called “das fett” (the fat) in German, but he didn’t see it with the baking stuff so I used butter instead.

I was nervous when I started the recipe, but to my relief, they turned out at the very least edible.  They’re not as good as hers– not as fluffy or as flaky, perhaps due to the substitution of butter for shortening– and not as thick as hers, and I’m not sure if that means I didn’t use enough baking powder in the flour or if I just need to double the recipe and not roll them as thin.

Either way, it was an improvement over the one and only other time I attempted to make them, when I was 21 and completely inexperienced in the kitchen and trying to guess the recipe on my own after some vague comments from her and they turned out so hard that they squeaked when I tried to cut into them.  I think I might have forgotten the baking powder completely that time. I’ll make some adjustments next time, and again after that, and hopefully I’ll get closer and closer to how hers tasted.

I wish, just once, I had gotten up extra-early and gone over to my grandparents’ house at 5 a.m. and made biscuits with her, drank coffee and eaten breakfast before the sun was up.  I’ve been waking up pretty early myself these past couple of months– common in late pregnancy, when you’re huge and uncomfortable and have to pee constantly– and often sneak downstairs for an early breakfast.  Then, I usually sit down with my coffee and read a book with only one lamp on, the way she always started her day. There is so much I picked up from her– a love of crossword puzzles and reading and storytelling and card games and (I like to think) my sassiness– and every now and then I find myself acting like her without even noticing. I’m not looking forward to waking up early again tomorrow, like every day, hauling my enormous self out of bed and waddling downstairs when the sun has barely begun to rise, but I’m glad I’ll have some biscuits to eat when I do.

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Spring Break Trips, 2009-2018

Most of my absolute favorite trips have been in late March/early April.  I always forget this but each year Facebook’s “On This Day” function reminds me, when all my memories from those couple of weeks include amazing vacation photos one after the other from some of my favorite destinations.

Some of them have been for actual spring breaks– since I’ve spent most of my life as either a student or a teacher– and a couple of times it’s just been a coincidence that it’s lined up during those weeks, usually because I was able to find cheap plane tickets somewhere or had some other sort of compelling reason to travel.  It’s always during the time of year when the weather is just starting to warm up, but you never know if you’re going to get sunshine and flowers or days of nonstop rain, or both in one trip.

Here’s a look back at my last decade of spring break trips.

2009: Venice

In spring of 2009, I had been working at a financial firm for about two years when it was bought out and my office was closed (the company had another, bigger office in a different state and everything was consolidated there).  I had recently been accepted to grad school and had already planned my exit, and was actually pretty thrilled that I got a decent severance pay from being laid off rather than just quitting.  When I found a very cheap flight to Venice (cheaper than what I normally paid to fly from Boston to Virginia to visit my family), I took it and went for a week, staying at a hostel and wandering the city by myself.  This was one of the trips where I had gorgeous, sunny spring weather for the first half and then torrential rains for the second half, resulting in the city flooding, which was an adventure in itself.  It was the first time I traveled solo internationally and one of the best decisions I ever made.  Venice remains one of my favorite cities in the world; I’ve been back once since and will go back any chance I get.

 

 

2010: Charleston, South Carolina

This was during my first year of grad school.  My budget was rather, uh, tight at the moment, but I wanted to get away for a few days and clear my head, so I drove the five hours to Charleston and stayed in a hostel there.  (Travel doesn’t have to be expensive!)  I really didn’t do much other than hang out, walk around, read in the hammock on the hostel’s balcony, and met up with an old friend from college once or twice who happened to live in the area.  It was so relaxing.  I’ve been to Charleston three times and it’s a beautiful city with some gorgeous architecture.

 

 

2011-2014: No spring break trips!

I was defending my graduate thesis and working on exams at the time in 2011, and then I started teaching and spent those weeks off in the following years visiting my family in my hometown.  Sometimes you just need to go home and lay on your parents’ couch for a while to recuperate… or maybe that’s only for those of us who work with teenagers.

2015: Santorini

By this point I was living in Turkey and a couple of my friends from college got in touch to say they were going on a ten-day tour of Greece, did I want to meet up with them while they were there?  The answer was YES.  So at the end of their trip, we met up for a long weekend in Santorini, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Istanbul.  I absolutely LOVE the Aegean coast/islands (we go to them each summer in Turkey) and Santorini did not disappoint.  It was a few days of gorgeous sunny weather, lovely views, great food, and fun hanging out with old friends.  (Again, to reiterate my point that travel does not have to be expensive, my hotel room in downtown Fira was only $30/night.  It didn’t have a sea view but it was big, clean, and up-to-date.)

 

 

2016: Istanbul

We did a lot of international travel in 2015/2016, so for spring break, we stayed close to home and hung out in Istanbul and its surrounding locales.  Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own city– you make time for all the relaxing and cool cultural stuff that you never do because you’re too busy working and doing mundane things like grocery shopping.  We went to some museums, visited the tulips at Goztepe Park, and did day trips to the Black Sea, Polonezkoy (nearby Polish village), and the Adalar (the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara).

 

 

2017: Çanakkale/Bozcaada/Assos

Last year we did a road trip from Istanbul to check out part of the Turkish coast we’d never been to before.  Our first stop was Çanakkale, a seaport city on the Dardenelles Strait which was the site of a major WWI battle at Gallipoli (Russell Crowe made a movie that takes place there a few years ago called The Water Diviner), and also home to the ancient city of Troy just outside the city limits, so most of our time there was visiting historical sites.  From there, we spent a couple of days on Bozcaada Island (Tenedos in Greek) in the Aegean Sea, where we visited castles and took advantage of the local wineries.  Afterwards we drove to the Assos ruins, where Alexander the Great and Aristotle used to hang out, and did some exploring there.  I’ve always said– and still say– that the Turkish coast is the most underrated vacation destination in the world.

 

 

2018: Italy/France

Now that we’re living in Germany, a whole new region of easy travel has opened up to us.  At eight months pregnant, aka my due date just around the corner, this year we decided to road trip down to the coast of France for a babymoon, stopping in northern Italy on the way to break up the drive.  Italy is one of my favorite countries to visit and I’ve been multiple times, but it was only my second time in France, and the weather was beautiful.  It turns out that Easter/spring break traffic in Europe is no joke so the drive took a lot longer than we anticipated, but it was nice to get away for one last trip, just the two of us, before the baby arrives.  It was especially nice to get some sunshine after a very long, dreary fall and winter in Istanbul and Germany.

 

 

Next year will obviously be different, when we’re a family of three, so who knows what we’ll end up doing– but whatever it is, it will probably be an adventure.

Pregnancy: A Reading List

There a million resources on pregnancy available, either in the bookstore or online.  A lot of them are great; a lot of them are terrible.  (Beware, especially, of getting any sort of medical information online– there are a lot of websites and blogs that are written by people with zero medical training, with a lot of blatantly false information.)  Here is a short list of things that I’ve found interesting and/or helpful either before or during my pregnancy.

How-To Books

What To Expect When You’re Expecting

Okay, let’s start with the most basic.  What To Expect has been around forever and is equal parts loved and loathed, although it seems like they listened to reader feedback and have made some pretty significant changes and updates in recent years.  I personally found this book to be super helpful, in part because it’s so comprehensive.  You can read about each month– baby developments, symptoms, physical changes, and commonly asked questions– as you experience it, plus there are separate sections for things like pregnancy complications, labor and delivery, and the first six weeks postpartum.  Chances are you can find most of your worries or curiosities addressed here.  However, some of the information seems a little outdated, which brings me to…

Expecting Better: Why The Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong by Emily Oster

This is by far the best, most helpful book I read for pregnancy.  Go out and buy this book if you’re considering getting pregnant.  Read it before you get pregnant.  Read it again after you get pregnant.  And go back and skim through it during your pregnancy.

Emily Oster is a professor of economics at Brown University and a Harvard-trained statistician, and she tackles common pregnancy advice by going to the actual published, peer-reviewed medical studies and analyzing them.  Some of the conventional advice turns out to be absolutely true– there actually are harmful (to pregnant women) bacteria in cat poop, although you’re just as likely to contract them by gardening as by cleaning out the litter box– and some not so much, like the fact that there is actually zero evidence that bed rest is beneficial to pregnant women.  She also does a great job of statistically breaking down risks so that women can decide for themselves what they want to do.  So much of the advice for pregnant women is based on fuzzy or outdated medical studies, and certain things we take for truth (like the fact that you shouldn’t eat sushi) are not actually all that clear.

As someone who likes fact- and science-based approaches to things, I really appreciated this book.

Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth

And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have this book.  I… did not like this book.  It was recommended to me by a lot of people but I couldn’t finish it.  Basically, Ina May Gaskin is a midwife who provides natural, unmedicated vaginal births at her Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, and has been since the 1970s.  This is great!  I am all for women taking this approach to childbirth, if they want to.

However, the way the book was written– all focused on the personal experiences of the women, rather than the medical side of things– didn’t work for me.  This might be exactly what some women want/need to read about childbirth, but I felt it really was lacking in actual information.  I stopped reading maybe a third of the way through the book when one of the women referred to her cervix (at least I’m guessing it was her cervix) as “the gate of life.”  It’s completely a personal preference, but this was not the childbirth book for me.

Books on Raising Kids

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

This book, about an American woman raising her kids in France, got a lot of attention when it was published in 2012.  It’s an in-depth look at how French culture treats pregnancy and child-rearing differently than American culture, and it turns out that there are a lot of very big, very stark differences (including the claim that French babies sleep through the night at three months, which sounds amazing, but I remain skeptical).

As someone who has lived in three countries and seen how parenting is handled differently in each country– and as a teacher who has seen the results of different styles of parenting– I find stuff like this fascinating.  At the very least, I think it’s good to read differing perspectives on parenting because it can make you look at common ways of doing things and ask, “Why?”  I recognized a lot of the things about American parenting that she criticizes in the book, and those are things that I think most American parents don’t even think twice about.  You don’t necessarily have to read it as a curriculum on how to parent, but I found it interesting and thought-provoking.

Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske

This is the German version of Bringing Up Bebe, published just in January of 2018.  I kept hearing about it and since I just moved to Germany and am having my first baby here, I thought it might be useful.  Again, I found it interesting and thought-provoking, and also very, very informative to learning more about my new adoptive culture.  It talks specifically about how Germans strive to instill a sense of independence in their kids from a young age.

It also talks extensively about the German daycare, kindergarten, and education system, which is drastically different from the American one, and that was useful to me as a soon-to-be-parent and super interesting to me as a teacher.  In my opinion, the strongest part of this book wasn’t the parenting advice, but more about how so much of what we’re doing with education in the US is having the opposite effect than we want, and showcasing another way of doing it.  I think anyone who has young, school-age kids should read this book to get a clearer understanding of why subjecting five and six year olds to standardized tests, or giving them lots of homework, can do more harm than good in their educational life.

Books About Motherhood

Black Milk by Elif Şafak

Elif Şafak (English: Shafak) is a well-known Turkish novelist and Black Milk is her memoir about postpartum depression.  I read this years ago, soon after moving to Turkey, and loved it.  It’s imaginative and funny and paints a vivid picture of someone who loves her child but struggles with early motherhood, and also how having kids impacts her sense of self, since shifting from “writer” to “mother” is a profound change in identity.  (Something another essay I mention below talks about as well.)

The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs

A book about infertility might not seem directly relevant to your situation if you find yourself pregnant, but this nonfiction book is a beautifully written look into many facets of parenthood, how it feels when you can’t achieve something that you badly long for, and the various emotions and logistics tied up in things like IVF and adoption.  It’s well-researched and does a great job of combining the informational with the personal.  Several of the chapters of the books are available online as essays, which you can find at the author’s website here.

Essays

Writer, Mother, Both, Neither” by Belle Boggs

Another one from Belle.  (Actually, just check out all her writing, she’s great.)  This is an essay she wrote discussing how becoming a mother has complicated her professional life, and the lengths that working mothers are forced to go to in order to juggle both a career and motherhood.

The Size of a Memory, the Size of a Heart” by Laura Giovanelli

“I am going to be a mother, and all I can think about is my father.”  A beautifully written personal essay about how becoming pregnant made the writer reflect on her relationship with her estranged father.

Websites

Pregnant Chicken

This is a fun website with lots of different articles and blog posts on pregnancy and having kids.  Again, I don’t recommend using any medical information you find online without fact-checking it against a reliable, peer-reviewed source, but this is a good website to waste some hours and is low on the bullshit scale.

Alpha Mom’s Pregnancy Calendar

Alpha Mom has a week-by-week pregnancy calendar and out of all the ones available out there, I found this one the most informative and entertaining.

National Institutes of Health

I don’t recommend googling anything medical-related while pregnant, because it inevitably will just scare the crap out of you; however, that said, everyone will give into it at least a few times, so be sure you’re using reliable, scientifically-sound resources.  The NIH website has articles and published studies that are all written by doctors and peer-reviewed.  Whatever you do, DON’T go onto the pregnancy/mommy discussion forums, because everyone and their sister will be spouting anecdotal evidence and old wives tales and claiming they are true, and making you believe that you have cancer, shingles, and rare blood diseases all at once, and that your baby will be born with two heads or something.  Just don’t do it.

 

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sunday Walk in Odenwald Forest

One thing that has taken some getting used to since moving to Germany is that everything shuts down on Sundays here.  All shops and malls, including grocery stores and little corner shops that sell essentials, close their doors for the day.  (I had a panicky moment the other week where I was terrified we would run out of toilet paper on Sunday and not be able to buy more– if nothing else, it’s a lesson in planning ahead!)  Literally everything but the occasional bakery or restaurant is closed, leaving the question: what do we do with ourselves?

Yesterday my husband and I decided to get outdoors for a bit.  One thing I really like about Germany is how easy it is to get some fresh air; there are walking and biking paths everywhere, through neighborhoods and random fields and alongside every major road.  Where we live is also surrounded by forests, so we did some Googling and headed out to Odenwald, found a random parking lot beside a twisty mountain road, and set off.

(This is where I feel like I have to mention that “wald” means forest in German, so saying Odenwald Forest is a bit redundant, like saying PIN number.  But, sometimes clarification is nice.)

The parking lot had five different trails branching off from it.  We didn’t have a map– and there were none around that we could see– and four of the trails went pretty steeply downhill over wet rocks; at six months pregnant, I decided I’d rather go for the fifth path that was wide, flat, and gently sloped uphill.

The scenery was stunning.  When we first started walking, the weather was a bit wet and misty but the path was clear, with fog hanging out in the trees on each side, and the woods were quiet.  The trees were so dense and dark that we both wondered out loud if we were in the Black Forest.  We looked it up when we got home and we weren’t, but the Black Forest is very close by, and I can see where the name most likely comes from.

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Start of the hike

While walking, we passed many other people of all ages out doing the same thing, as well as many mountain bikers and– wait for it– mountain unicyclers.  Yes, you read that right.  We saw multiple people riding unicycles through the woods.  I can’t remember the last time I was that simultaneously amused and impressed, and all of my hobbies suddenly seem incredibly boring in comparison.

Also, we discovered that Germans are bit more interactive in the woods than in regular life.  The lack of eye contact/interaction with strangers is something that both of us are adjusting to, but towards the beginning of the hike, we passed a group of twentysomething guys on mountain bikes waiting beside the path, and they smiled and said hello to us.  This kind of thing never happens normally– when I use the walking paths in my neighborhood, the people who pass each other literally pretend the other one doesn’t exist– so we thought, “Huh, maybe this is a thing when hiking.”  I know in the US that it’s customary to greet other hikers in the woods, so we decided to at least make eye contact and nod or smile for the rest of the hike, and there was about a 75% success rate of people nodding or saying hello back.  Not too bad!

As mentioned, we didn’t have a map on us and didn’t know where the path led, so we walked uphill for maybe a mile before turning back.  The higher in elevation we got, the denser the fog became until it eventually shrouded the path.

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Odenwald: a neighbor to the Black Forest.  You can see the condensation on the trees at this elevation.

At that elevation, dew was sticking to everything; even my husband’s mustache and beard suddenly had visible drops of condensation on them.  The occasional wind gusts that came through the treetops sounded like cars on a highway.  It truly felt like we were in another world.

We weren’t out for that long but it was a nice first foray into a local forest, and we will definitely go back.  In some ways, everything being closed on Sundays is nice because it forces you to take a breather and make some time for yourself, and hiking is a really nice way to do that.  It’s hard to beat the combination of fresh air and endorphins.

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All in all, a really great Sunday, and I’m looking forward to the next one, hopefully this time with a map.

 

Turkey vs. Germany: Initial Impressions

An outsider’s perspective after 3.5 years in Istanbul and 1.5 weeks in southwestern Germany.

Interacting with cashiers

Turkey: Ah yes, here is an obviously foreign person, I shall talk to her with minimum expectations of her knowing Turkish.  Oh, she speaks some Turkish!  What a pleasant and unexpected surprise.  I will laugh gleefully in her face at how cute it is that she’s trying.

Germany: Here is a normal German person, I shall speak German to her… wait, what is she saying?  Is she trying to speak German?  Are the words coming out of her mouth a known human language? *narrows eyes* Is she foreign, or perhaps just very, very stupid?

Hard liquor in grocery stores

Turkey: There is one tiny shelf behind the cash register, please request what you want and then provide your life savings, dignity, and firstborn child’s soul as tender.

Germany: Feel free to peruse our aisles of booze at your leisure, or if you are pressed for time, grab one of the many travel-sized bottles located near the cash register for your convenience, that will be €1.79, enjoy 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Weather

Turkey: 45°F (7°C) and rainy

Germany: 45°F (7°C) and rainy

Passing strangers in the aisles of stores

Turkey: You in my space, BITCH?  YOU WANT SOME OF THIS? *takes off gloves, throws them on the ground, prepares for sparring and body checks*

Germany: No eye contact, ever

Saying goodbye

Turkey: Many Turkish phrases repeated several times, multitudes of cheek kissing and waving at the door

Germany: Awkward eye contact

Green spaces

Turkey: Oh, you want to keep your forests undeveloped?  Bwahahahahahaha!  You’re HILARIOUS.

Germany: YOU get a forest! And YOU get a forest!  EVERYBODY gets a forest!!!!

Windows in apartments

Turkey: Silky, draping, sumptuous curtains; fantastic for adding ambiance and elegance to your home

Germany: Very functional, industrial-style electronic blackout shades; fantastic for pretending you live in a cave

Language

Turkey: Tuna Can and Ufuk are TOTALLY legit and normal names; also, let’s make the words for “bread” and “man” almost identical so foreigners can embarrass themselves by asking for fresh, hot men at the bakery

Germany: Let’s just go ahead and put the word “fahrt” on all our traffic and pedestrian signs

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Again– This Time, to Germany

In August of 2014, my boyfriend (now husband) and I moved to Istanbul, Turkey from North Carolina; tomorrow, movers are coming to our apartment and we’ll begin the process of relocating to Germany, arriving to our new town a couple of days before the new year.

This has been a long time in the making, between the planning and figuring out logistics, but it didn’t really seem real until recently.  Suddenly, what once felt abstract now feels very concrete and immediate.  We’re doing it.  We’re moving countries, again, and will be dealing with everything that comes along with that– a new language, new culture, making a new social group, etc.

I find myself thinking that it has to be easier this time around, since I’ve already gone through the process once and know what to expect.  I know that learning the language won’t be instantaneous and I’ll have to be patient, and not be afraid to make mistakes while I’m learning.  I know that there will be a million cultural idiosyncrasies that I could never imagine and that I will have to learn how to navigate.  I know that I can’t take anything for granted or assume that things will be the way that I’m used to, even small things.  I haven’t spent much time in Germany– only a long weekend in Berlin.  I’ve never been to the small city in southwest Germany that we’re moving to.  (Although my husband has several times for work, and assures me it’s very nice.)  Germany is almost a complete blank slate in my mind at this point and I know the only way to get used to it is through immersion, and figuring it out as I go, and I know that requires patience, patience, patience.

Adjusting to Turkey was a journey.  I had no idea what I was doing when I moved here.  And that was fine– sometimes you just have to take the plunge.  I went through a cycle that I later learned is pretty common when it comes to moving to a new country: things were awesome at first, then got difficult, then got easier, then got difficult again, and finally really evened out and became normal, easy life at after about a year and a half.

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It looks something like this.

 

For me, the “frustration/annoyance with everyday differences” was the grocery store.  I never would have guessed that would be my biggest stumbling block when adapting to life in Istanbul– I had done a fair amount of traveling and had studied abroad before this move, and had gone grocery shopping in other countries without any problems, but our local grocery store in Istanbul was an entirely different story.  We lived in an old, busy central neighborhood, and our local grocery store was VERY small and VERY crowded, and as it turns out, the social rules dictating personal space are very different in Turkey than in the US, which made squeezing around the tiny aisles with a million old Turkish aunties who had no problem throwing some elbows or bumping into me really stressful.  Plus, you bag your own groceries here, and people are not shy about almost physically pushing you out of the way if you’re going too slow, so checking out and having to converse in a new language, handle a new currency, and bag my groceries as quickly as possible all at once with a bunch of pushy people bearing down on me was… well, it was an adventure.  And not really a good one.

But I adjusted.  I learned to be quicker when counting money, and I learned to speak up when someone was crowding me.  Life here got easier again.  The “confronting deeper cultural/personal issues” came when I had my first job here, which ostensibly was in English but I needed a level of Turkish to communicate with the support staff which was beyond what I could speak at the time, providing almost daily frustrations in addition to adapting to a new work environment, with a new work culture.  But then that eventually got easier, too.

I’m hoping it goes more quickly in Germany, now that I know what to expect.  However, there is one huge thing that is different with this move: I’m five months pregnant this time around, which completely shifts the planning and focus of the move.  This time we’re less concerned with living in a cool neighborhood downtown with lots of bars and shops, and more concerned with having an apartment big enough to house a newborn and hopefully guests as well.  I’m spending a lot of time researching healthcare and birth procedures in Germany, and looking for mom groups I can join in our city.  When we were moving to Istanbul, I was so excited about the ADVENTURE of it all, the mystery of a new city and the excitement of discovering it, and while there is certainly some of that this time– I’ve already made a list of places in surrounding countries I want to visit, thanks to the fantastic train system in Europe– I’m probably spending most of my time fantasizing about all the green space and parks in Germany where I can take walks with the baby.  After living in Istanbul with its 15+ million people and nonstop traffic, I’m looking forward to living in a quieter, more peaceful place.

There are a million things that I will miss about living in Turkey.  I think there is literally nothing better than a waterfront meal at a fish restaurant in summer, either on the Bosphorus in Istanbul or on the coast, and there is no beating the amazing and unique history of Istanbul.  I’ll miss being able to pop off to either the Mediterranean or Aegean coast for a quick weekend trip, or randomly stumbling across ancient ruins and being able to explore them whenever we want.  I’ll miss the fantastic Turkish breakfasts and the ferry rides.  I’ll miss the street parades and the simit-sellers yelling outside my apartment, the strolls on the seaside, and the friendly street cats who are just waiting to be petted.  And I’m sure there are a million other things I’ll miss that I don’t even realize yet.  It’s always that way when you make a big move.  Although it’s not like we’ll never be back– my husband’s family is here, so we will always have a connection to Turkey.

Right now I’m feeling very grateful for the experience of living in Istanbul and everything it’s taught me, and very excited about this next step in our lives.

 

 

Seven Artists I’m Loving Right Now

(Quick note: generally whenever I use images in this blog, they are all pictures that I’ve taken and own the copyright to.  Obviously I don’t own the images in this post, but I do list sources for them and, when applicable, websites for the artists.  The cover painting for this post is Portrait of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran by Kehinde Wiley, which can be found here.)

I love art, I love art museums, and I love finding new artists to follow.  Below is a list of some of my current favorites, all of whom are contemporary working artists except for one.

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley has been making well-deserved headlines lately, since Barack Obama chose him to paint his presidential portrait, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  I discovered Kehinde Wiley several years ago by his re-imagining of Judith and Holofernes, which hangs in the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, my old stomping grounds.  The NCMA is a great museum in general, but I literally stopped in my tracks when we got to Wiley’s painting.  There is something I love in the combination of his hyper-realistic portraits and brightly colored patterned backgrounds that I haven’t seen from any other artist (although his works do remind me a bit of this Vincent Van Gogh painting, which I also love).  He also provides a fresh take on many existing artworks, like the aforementioned Judith and Holofernes and the famous portrait of Napoleon.

You can find his website here.

(Image 1 Source, Image 2 Source, Image 3 Source)

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Judith and Holofernes
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Randerson Romualdo Cordeiro
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Alexander I, Emperor of Russia

Monica Martino

Monica Martino is an artist living in Georgia who makes all sorts of hilarious, clever products like t-shirts, mugs, and paintings, all designed and drawn by her.  Basically, she does what Urban Outfitters does, but better, and as a small business.  I have several friends who have bought things from her Etsy shop and been thrilled with them, and they make fantastic gifts, in case you have anyone in your life that you’re still stumped on what to get them for Christmas.  Anyway, seeing her stuff always makes me laugh, and I have a bunch of things bookmarked on her Etsy page for future purchases.

You can find her Etsy shop here.

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Perfect stocking stuffer for your grandma, no?

Ester Hernandez

Ester Hernandez is another artist I discovered via the North Carolina Museum of Art (no, really, it’s wonderful! go visit if you’re in the area!), where her painting La Ofrenda was part of a special exhibition of Chicanx artists.  Her work is part of permanent collections in the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and Stanford, and she also has permanent collections in Mexico City and London.

You can find her website here.

(Image 1 Source)

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La Ofrenda

 

Clare Caufield

Clare Caufield is a British artist who does dynamic, dreamlike drawings and paintings of city scenes.  I found her while obsessively poring over Etsy, looking for art of my favorite cities.  It turns out that she has her own website as well where she posts her galleries, exhibitions, and art she has for sale.

You can find her website here.  All images were taken from her website.

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View from the Rialto Bridge, Venice
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Charles Bridge, Prague

Gustav Klimt

Okay, hear me out.  This one is obviously different from the other artists on the list because he’s both 1) dead and 2) super famous and firmly canonized.  But I think he’s worth putting on here because I didn’t really know much about his work until recently.  The only painting of his I knew was The Kiss, which honestly, is not my favorite work of art ever.  Maybe it’s been ruined for me because it’s so ubiquitous, and I associate it with, like, college dorm room posters and notebooks and stuff.  (But a lot of Van Gogh and Monet stuff fits into that description as well, and I still like them, so maybe not.)

Then I went to Vienna, Klimt’s hometown, in the summer of 2016, and it turns out that he’s actually a really amazing artist.  (Who could have guessed, right?)  His work was everywhere you turned in Vienna and so much of it was more interesting than The Kiss.  He’s worth looking into more if you don’t know much about him.

I don’t have a website where you can buy his stuff (obviously), but I do recommend that you check out the movie Woman in Gold, about one of his paintings that was stolen by the Nazis and starring Helen Mirren, based on a true story.

(Image 1 source, Image 2 source)

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Dame Mit Faecher
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Detail from ‘Medicine’

Hayv Kahraman

Hayv Kahraman is an Iraqi painter, illustrator, and sculptor who is based in Los Angeles.  I honestly don’t know much about her outside of her art, but her work seems to focus mainly on women and the Iraqi diaspora, and is both wonderful and, at times, harrowing.  She’s getting lots of attention both within the art world and from more mainstream media outlets, so she’s someone to watch for sure.

You can find her website here.

(Image 1 Source, Image 2 Source, Image 3 Source)

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Leveled Leisure
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Inside/Outside
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Honor Killings

Ingrid Vermeer

Ingrid Vermeer is a Dutch artists who I found on… wait for it… Instagram.  She did a project where she drew portraits of people on Post-It notes every day for a year, and then switched to 100 days of drawing on found objects.  It doesn’t look like her stuff is available for order online, but I really enjoy following her.  Her art is just… fun.

She can be found on Instagram with the username studioyellowdays and her blog is 365 days of post it people.

(Image 1 Source, Image 2 Source, Image 3 Source)

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Self-portrait on an old encyclopedia page
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Some of her post-it people
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Part of her 100 days of drawing on found stuff project