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  However, some of the information seems a little outdated, which brings me to…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  So much of the advice for pregnant women is based on fuzzy or outdated medical studies, and certain things we take for truth (like the fact that you shouldn’t eat sushi) are not actually all that clear.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.


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.


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!









Maternal Care in the US, Turkey, and Germany: General Overview of Healthcare Systems and Parental Leave, Plus Statistics on C-Sections, Maternal and Infant Mortality, and Postpartum Depression/Anxiety

As I’ve previously mentioned, two big things have happened in my life recently: my husband and I moved to southwestern Germany at the end of 2017, and we are expecting our first child in May.  These are both pretty significant life developments and I feel like I’ve really hit the ground running this past month, between trying to settle into a new country/culture and suddenly panicking that the third trimester is right around the corner and I actually need to start, like, preparing to have and take care of this baby.

A big part of that has been figuring out the German healthcare system and learning what is available to me here, and how things are typically done.  This is an ongoing process that has involved some research on my part, talking to doctors and midwives, and asking tons of questions to women in the area (sometimes in person through meet-ups, and also through a local mom’s group I joined online).  It’s also made me more curious about maternal and infant care in general, so I’ve been asking my American and other foreign (ie, non-American and not-living-in-Germany) friends about their experiences too.

The answers I’m getting are incredibly interesting, and I’ve noticed one huge pattern specifically:

The vast majority of the women I talk to in Germany about their pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experience are incredibly positive about it.  Most talk about what a calm and wonderful experience it was, and how great their care was– before, during, and after birth.

The Americans I talk to, on the other hand, are all incredibly stressed out.  Most seem fairly neutral about the actual care they received in the hospital during delivery (there are exceptions to this– I have a few friends who had great experiences with their doctors, and a few friends who had absolutely horrible experiences) but money issues, insurance issues, lack of postpartum care, and issues with maternity leave make this period a really stressful time for almost everyone, it seems.

General Overview

Here is what I know about the various healthcare systems of the countries I’ve lived in, as they relate to maternal and infant care (disclaimer: I am not an expert by any means, and if any of this is incorrect, please feel free to let me know):

America: The US is infamously the only developed country that doesn’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave.  (As a personal example, the public high school where I taught in North Carolina before moving abroad offered zero paid maternity leave.)  New parents are entitled to twelve weeks unpaid leave via the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) if they’ve been working at the company for more than one year, and if the company has at least 50 employees; otherwise, they are entitled to six weeks unpaid leave via FMLA.  You have a hospital bill you need to pay after insurance; people I’ve talked to have mentioned bills that were fairly low, to several thousand dollars.  Midwives don’t seem to be especially common (I think I know one person who has used one?, and I know several people who said they wanted one but their insurance didn’t cover it), postpartum care seems virtually nonexistent after the 2-3 days in the hospital, and follow-up postpartum appointments can be hard to get.

Turkey: You get four months of paid maternity leave, two weeks of which are required to take before your due date; however, you get paid this money at the end of the four months, not in monthly installments like you would your normal salary.  After that, you can take another eight months of “breastfeeding leave” where you work 3/4ths of your hours for full pay (so basically, part-time).  It seems like most employers let you take up to two years maternity leave unpaid, with job protection; I don’t know if this is a law or just common practice.

One thing that was not great about the Turkish system is that private health insurance won’t cover anything maternity-related until you’ve been on one specific plan for a minimum of one year.  I didn’t know this.  I had switched jobs and was only on my private insurance plan for either ten or eleven months when I got pregnant, therefore they wouldn’t cover any of my pregnancy care.  I could have used the public insurance to see a state doctor, but since I really wanted/needed someone who spoke English well and also wanted someone who was a proponent of vaginal births (the c-section rate in Turkey is astronomical), I chose a private doctor and we paid for my prenatal check-ups out of pocket.  It wasn’t cheap, but it was manageable (and significantly cheaper than non-insured, out-of-pocket care would be in the US).  That said, I really liked my doctor and was happy with the care I got there for the first half of my pregnancy.

I know the cost of birth there can differ dramatically depending on what hospital you give birth in, your doctor, and what kind of birth and care you have.  I don’t really know many details about this, but the top of the range seemed to be around $5,000 USD, with cheaper options available.  I’m not sure about midwife or postpartum care, but midwives seem more common than in the US.

Germany: You can have either public or private health insurance; either way, you pay one fee per month for your insurance and all care is covered 100%, meaning you don’t pay anything for prenatal check-ups or for giving birth.  You can choose either a public or private hospital regardless of which insurance you have.  (I have public insurance but will be giving birth in a private hospital.)  Midwives are common– it seems like everyone has them, and they check up on you for several weeks after birth with home visits.  Hospitals offer birthing and prenatal exercise classes when you’re pregnant, and postpartum classes for you and baby (including things like pelvic-floor-strengthening-class and baby yoga).  All of this is covered by insurance.

There is maternity leave (only available for the mother) at 100% pay that covers six weeks before birth and eight after.  On top of that, there is parental leave that can be taken either by the mother or father, or a combination, of up to fourteen months after birth at around 70% pay.  (So, the mom can take all fourteen months, the father can, or they can split it between themselves with one person taking, say, eight months, and the other taking six months.)  It also seems like you can take those fourteen months in three separate chunks during the first eight years of your child’s life– so if you know you’ll need to take some time off later, you can save some of those months.  However, I might be wrong about this, since it’s something that I’ve come across in my research but haven’t confirmed with anyone who’s done it.


C-section rates (source)
America: 32.8% as of 2012
Turkey: 47.5% as of 2011
Germany: 30.3% as of 2009

Maternal mortality rates as of 2015 (source)
America: 26.4 deaths/100,000 live births
Turkey: 15.8 deaths/100,000 live births
Germany: 9 deaths/100,000 live births

(I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention that maternal mortality rates in the US are sharply divided along racial lines, with Black women 2 to 6 times more likely to die during or shortly after childbirth, even when controlled for other factors like education, lifestyle, and income.)

Infant mortality rates (source)
America: 6.1 deaths/1,000 live births
Turkey: Not found
Germany: 3.4 deaths/1,000 live births.

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

While thinking about all this, my mind turned to postpartum depression and anxiety.  I’m lucky in that I’ve had several women in my life who have been very open with their experiences with PPD/PPA, so I was aware of it long before getting pregnant, and a lot of these women have become advocates for better PPD/PPA care in the US since experiencing it themselves.  However, PPD/PPA is notoriously difficult to get properly diagnosed and treated in the US; if you need proof, read this story about Jessica Porten, who told a nurse at her first postpartum check-up (four months after giving birth, the first appointment she could get!) that she wanted to talk about treatment options for her PPD.  The nurse called the cops on Porten and she was taken to be involuntarily admitted to ER, held for ten hours, and then released without ever seeing a doctor or getting her PPD addressed.  (The link above is to an MSN article but you can read Porten’s original post there as well, and I recommend you do.)

It seems to me that the mere existence of better postpartum care, and of midwives doing frequent postpartum home visits, would really go a long way towards helping new mothers dealing with PPD/PPA.  Most of the women I know who experienced PPD/PPA did not have it properly diagnosed and treated until their babies were around five or six months old, and a lot of it came from feelings of being completely overwhelmed by taking care of a newborn or from some sort of specific issue they were having trouble with and didn’t know how to fix, like breastfeeding.

And if you have someone who is qualified stopping by to check in you regularly– a professional who can answer your questions, give advice and guidance, assure you that you’re doing a good job, and who is trained to look for signs of PPD/PPA– it has an enormous potential to alleviate a lot of the aforementioned feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious before they spiral into full-blown PPD/PPA.  Of course, preventative measures aren’t perfect, and having a good system in place for diagnosis and treatment is an important aspect, too.  (As is, OBVIOUSLY, not criminalizing or stigmatizing it; see above, re: what happened to Jessica Porten.)  I was very pleased recently when I picked up a packet of brochures in English at a birthing information session at a hospital and it mentioned PPD on the very second page of the first brochure.

Page 2 of the brochure packet from the hospital

So I got curious and looked up the PPD/PPA rates by country.  I couldn’t find a resource that listed PPD/PPA statistics by country, unfortunately (although this is is an interesting academic article from the NIH that talks about cultural factors that can engender PPD/PPA, with rates being significantly higher in Asian countries); however, digging around a bit, I did find individual statistics for countries.

According to the CDC, PPD rates in the United States are anywhere between 1 in 9 to 1 in 5 (so, between 11-20%).  This was corroborated by a few other sources I found, some of which averaged the range and landed on a rate around 15%.

According to the NIH, PPD rates in Turkey are around 21% in developed cities and 25% in developing areas, averaging out to about 23.8%.

In Germany, according to a 2008 study done at Heidelberg University, PPD rates were around 6.1% in and PPA rates were around 10.1% in the sample community.  However, the study self-reports the limitation that it was conducted in a predominantly middle class community.  This report by the NIH lists PPD rates as being around 3.6%, and their conclusion of the study was that there is a high acceptance of for the management of PPD from healthcare professionals.

Honestly I was surprised at how difficult it was to fine reliable statistics on postpartum depression.  Regardless of the country, this is obviously something that needs more attention.

As mentioned earlier in the post, I’m not a healthcare expert or a statistician; I’m just someone who finds this kind of stuff both interesting and important to understand.  I can’t claim with any sort of confidence that there is definitely a direct causation, rather than just correlation, between any of this.  But as a pregnant lady who has experienced all these systems, it’s information that I’m glad to know.








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.

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.

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.



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 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


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


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







I Love Reading About Failure

One of my favorite books is In Other Words/In Altre Parole by Jhumpa Lahiri, a dual-language book about her journey– and often, struggle– to learn Italian.  There are many reasons why I love this book.  Part of it is Lahiri’s always-beautiful writing, and part of it is that I love Italy and the Italian language, and being able to read it in Italian (with the English translation right beside it, in case I ran into words I didn’t know) was a fun throwback to my university days.

But probably the main reason I like it is because the book describes, in detail, just how difficult the process of learning a new language was for her.  It took her about twenty years to get to a place where she was happy with her Italian skills, and in those twenty years, she stumbled, was frustrated, was embarrassed, and felt pessimistic about her own abilities.  She doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult it was for her.

And I loved reading about it, because Lahiri is absolutely brilliant and incredibly talented.  She has so many advanced degrees that I’ve lost count and she won a Pulitzer for her very first book.

I love reading about successful people struggling, and sometimes failing, because it gives me hope– because I feel like I’m struggling and failing all the time.

I love reading about Hemingway living in Paris as a young man, a penniless writer who couldn’t even afford heat or food sometimes.

I love reading about Ta-Nehisi Coates being bad at learning French.  I love, especially, that he describes the “humiliations piling up like lumber.”

Recently I read this column by Roxane Gay, about when is too old to pursue your dreams, and she talks about how she struggled to become a writer throughout her twenties and thirties before selling two books to publishers at age 38– one of them the collection of essays Bad Feminist— which suddenly launched her career.

Same thing with Cheryl Strayed– she was in her mid-forties when she published Wild, the incredibly successful memoir of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail that was turned into a movie directed by and starring Reese Witherspoon.

About a year ago, I read a nonfiction book, The Art of Waiting, written by a former colleague of mine.  The book is about infertility, but the part that stuck with me the most was when she describes how her first book was published.  She was 32– the same age I am now– and working at a teaching job she didn’t like, had been ghosted by her literary agent, and was just starting her struggle with infertility.  She had a short story collection manuscript and her husband sent it into a contest at a small publishing house for her, and it won.  I didn’t meet Belle until maybe four or five years later, at which point she already had a solid, respectable reputation as a writer, and for some reason I assumed that it had been easy and effortless for her.  I was in my mid-twenties at the time, fresh out of grad school, and I remember looking at her as someone whose career I admired and hoped I could achieve something similar one day.  (I still feel that way.)  Reading that it wasn’t so easy or automatic for her, that she had bumps along the way too, made me feel like perhaps it’s still attainable.

I attempt a lot of things that are ripe for failure.  Moving to Turkey and attempting to learn Turkish was a long haul of difficulties, humiliations, stumbling blocks, and self-doubt; it did eventually get easier, but even after three years, I am so far from fluent and still speak fairly sufficient but bad Turkish– the kind that usually does the trick but is riddled with errors and awkward phrasing.  (I take comfort in Lahiri’s twenty-year journey to learn Italian; in comparison, three years doesn’t seem like all that long.)

Now I’m in Germany and starting the process over again.  I’ve only been here for a handful of days and so far it’s just me and my Duolingo app, slowly repeating phrases like “The man has a spider” and “The woman drinks water” over and over.  (I am still waiting on the app to teach me something useful, like numbers or how to ask where something is in the grocery store.)  I feel absolutely ridiculous trying to mimic a German accent, and it feels so far off that I will ever be able to speak this language, yet I know that one day, just like with Italian and Turkish, this too will get easier.

I finished two book manuscripts in 2017.  One is a collection of short stories and the other is a novel.  The novel is currently out with a couple of agents who have expressed interest, and the collection is out at a couple of small publishing houses.  They’ve both already been rejected a few times, and it’s completely possible– probable, even– that the agents and publishers that currently have the manuscripts will reject them, too, at which point I will send them out again to other agents and publishing houses.  Although the response time for the small presses is around a year so it will be quite a while before I know one way or the other on the short stories.

I need to read about smart people struggling to learn foreign languages, because it makes me feel less alone when I struggle with it.

I need to hear tales about talented, successful writers who take years, or decades, to publish their first book, who face rejection after rejection.  I mean, yes, it’s common knowledge that writing (like any creative endeavor) involves a lot of rejection, but hearing specific experiences with it helps immensely, allows me the hope and fortitude to keep writing when part of me wonders if I’m crazy for even attempting this.

I need to hear stories about people who fail the first time, the first five times, the first ten times they try something, only to succeed the fifteenth time.  I need to hear stories about best-selling authors whose first books were rejected 80 times before finding a publisher.  (Perhaps my favorite story is when JK Rowling sent her first Robert Galbraith book out, without revealing who she was, and one publisher wrote back that Rowling should take a course to learn how to write.)

I need these stories, as a reminder that successful people are only human, and even as a mere human, perhaps there is still time for me to achieve my goals, too.

[Translation of cover photo: “Why do I write? To investigate the mystery of existence. To tolerate myself. To get closer to everything that is outside of me.

If I want to understand what moves me, what confuses me, what pains me–everything that makes me react, in short– I have to put it into words. Writing is my only way of absorbing and organizing life. Otherwise it would terrify me.” -Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words/In Altre Parole]





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.

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)

Judith and Holofernes
Randerson Romualdo Cordeiro
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.

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)

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.

View from the Rialto Bridge, Venice
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)

Dame Mit Faecher
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)

Leveled Leisure
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)

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