2013 in Review

I realize I’m 10 days late with this, but it’s still important to reflect, so here it goes. Last year, I fell short on some of my goals, but I also accomplished a lot, so I’d say that depending on how you look at it, it actually evens out pretty well. But let’s go through the goals 1 by 1 from last year:

1. Read at least 25 books

I read 15. Half of my goal isn’t horrible, but definitely not good enough. It’s easy to let excuses like work and grading get in the way, but when I think back to how I managed to read so much during grad school, despite classes and a thesis, I just can’t justify reading only 15 books–especially as an English teacher. So this year it changes. It has to.

2. Write at least 10o blog posts

Well that didn’t happen, but I did write a lot more this year. I may not have final drafts of my new stories, but NaNoWriMo really helped me kick-start my writing habit again. And I may not have written a novel, but I was able to start a collection of short stories about my adventures in Turkey. Why not use my travel as inspiration? I can’t wait to write more this year.

3. Submit at least 3 things for publishing

Nope. Didn’t submit one. We’ll have to reevaluate this goal because I’ve failed majorly two years in a row.

4. Challenge myself more/actively continue my learning

Done and done. Last year I applied to two PhD programs and didn’t get into either, but that’s ok. Life presented me with other opportunities. I moved into my own apartment this year  and living in a foreign country on your own is one of the best and worst kinds of challenges. Not to mention, I’ve been learning more Turkish, refreshing my German, taking dance lessons, and reevaluating what I want out of life. This past year was a great year for spiritual growth and though it had some rough patches, it was amazing in so many ways. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about my capabilities, and about where I want to be. Also check. Living on my own has helped me realize what’s there for me. In my second year in Istanbul, I’m still learning new things everyday. I’m using this chance to travel and learn and get as many experiences out of it as I can.

So now the time comes for my goals for 2013.

Continue writing about my adventures. Hell, just continue writing.

I’d forgotten what an amazing feeling it is to lose yourself in a piece of writing and I don’t want to forget that feeling again. This year, I’m going to forget about submitting anything and just concentrate on actually writing it first.

Read at least 25 books

I will do it this year! I will!

Be healthier

As  I get older, I realize how fragile we are. True, I’m not exactly old, but in the past year I’ve had bronchitis, two intestinal infections, and a sprained wrist just from slipping on ice. Not to mention numerous colds and allergy related annoyances. So this year I am going to take more time and pay more attention to my health–physical, spiritual, and emotional. If I’m sick, no more staying up late to grade. If I’m feeling lazy, no more staying inside all day. If I’m upset, no more dwelling on negative things. This year will be happy and healthy, dammit.

Get a job back in the States

My plan is to move back this summer, so Inshallah (God willing as they say in Turkish), I’m able to do so. Applications start this weekend.


I would include continue learning and challenging myself, but I think that at this point, they should just be givens. Hopefully this is something I’ll continue doing no mater what.



Rhetoric and photo essays

As much as I travel and as much as I would love to say that I know a lot about photography, I really don’t. I know some basics, a few tricks, and how to turn the camera on, but photography is not one of my best skills. That being said, I love it and I love how people use it to tell stories. What can I say? I’m an English teacher, so of course how the story is told is one of my favorite parts.

In my AP class, we’re learning about rhetoric and how it applies to more than just the AP exam or essays we write in class. I usually try not to give homework over a holiday, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for them to use rhetoric in a way that was outside of writing or reading a story or an essay. So we learned about visual rhetoric and I made them do photo essays over their Christmas break. I put together a website for them to compile their essays; the essays are due this week, so we should be updating the pages soon. The kids can see how many people look at the site; I wanted them to be able to take ownership of what they’ve done. Anyway, there is a more solid explanation of how we set it up if you go to the site, but please check it out. Like I said, I’m not a photographer, let alone a photagraphy teacher, but I like when stories can be told in different ways. Plus, I like to see my kids have fun and be creative. 🙂

Here’s the link to the class website.

Trips before Barcelona

I’m typing this one-handed, and while I’ll proofread it, I ask that you please excuse any typos.

One of the largest difficulties in moving to Turkey has been the language barrier. This is something I’ve blogged about quite often and while I’ve graduated from “I don’t speak Turkish,” to “I speak a little Turkish,” there are some things that still require a translator–namely the doctor’s office. Talking about your body in a foreign language often requires more than “this doesn’t work” or “this is very difficult,”which brings me to today’s story.

The last month has been quite stressful, so when my friend asked if I wanted to go to Barcelona for Christmas, it was an obvious choice. It’s been a motivator at work and something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks now. So of course, while walking from the bakery to school today, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed quite ungracefully onto my left hand and tailbone. Sitting on the cold ground, confused and short-winded, I looked up to see people looking at me, but not moving to help at all. I tied to push myself up, but my left wrist didn’t want to support my weight. A sharp pain shooting through my wrist and hand brought tears to my eyes and made me sit down again. Still, no one budged to help. “Stupid Turkey,” I murmured to myself as I slowly gathered my things and leaned onto my right hand. I walked to school, cradling my left wrist in my right hand, head down and near tears in pain. I could move my fingers, but moving my wrist was a no-go. After throwing my bag onto my desk, next to my uneaten muffin from the bakery, I went off in search of ice, which is not necessarily an easy thing to find in Europe.

At this point, I was mad at Turkey and Turkish people on the sidewalk and the irony of trying to find ice for my injury and the stupid timing of my injury (I leave for Spain in two days), when I ran into my friend Julide. She could tell I was in pain and immediately took over. She searched the school for ice and walked me to the nurses office. Later, another Turkish coworker volunteered to take me to the hospital to translate for me and even kept me from slipping on another patch of ice on the way there. The wonderful women in HR made sure the hospital knew I was coming ands arranged a taxi for me, even though I didn’t have any cash. Other teachers at school volunteered to take my classes so I could go to the first hospital near school for the x-ray and then later when I decided to go to the American hospital for a second opinion. My Turkish/Canadian friend who is going to Spain withe me also joined me at th American hospital and has been taking great care of me since.

And after the doctor diagnosed my sprain, gave me a brace, a sling, and some pain meds, at least five other people have called to check on me. And the good news is it isn’t broken. So I guess, in all, things aren’t so stupid after all. In fact, they are çok güzel.  Look out Barcelona!

NaNoWriMo Updated

Well, I didn’t reach the 50,000 words, but I did way better than last year. At 18,000 words, I have a great start to something new. November was a little rocky as far as work and other things, so I’m not displeased with 18,000. Of course it’s all very rough and I’d like to review, edit, add, etc., but I hope to post some samples soon.

And as the new year approaches, it’ll soon be time for me to review my goals from last year’s post, reflect on 2013, and figure out what I want to do next year. Thanks for keeping up with me. 🙂

Teaching portfolio

Last spring I made my first ever video resume. It was a lot of work to figure out at first, but worth the effort in the end. I’ve realized that in order to keep up with the market, I need to not only integrate technology into my lesson plans, but my job applications as well.

I’ve always had a teaching portfolio. They make sure you develop one before you finish teaching school. But my teaching portfolio back home was a 3″ fancy notebook full of papers and pictures and cds of videos. True, it has that personal touch of student work, but it is a bit cumbersome to bring with to interviews. So after seeing a friend’s online portfolio, I decided to do the same.

I used weebly.com to make my online teaching portfolio and while I used the free version, I was still able to make it look professional. I could add lesson plans, photos of the class, handouts, presentations, my teaching philosophy, and my new video resume. It’s amazing! I feel like a grown up.

You can check out my new and improved teaching portfolio here. 


I’m at it again. Two years ago I attempted National Novel Writing Month and failed miserably. I got to about 4,000 words before I was distracted by something that I don’t really remember.

This year I’m trying to be more productive and dedicated to things, so I’m determined to make it work. So far, one week in, I’m at 8,000 words. Not too bad. I’m writing stories based off of my experiences here in Istanbul, so there’s lots of constant inspiration around me. What a silly person I would be if I didn’t take advantage of it. I’ll post more updates as the month continues. Maybe once it ends and I’ve done a bit of editing, I’ll even post some excerpts.

NC, You can still make me proud

North Carolina has been in the news a lot lately and it’s not because of the sports or state fair. Unfortunately, it’s been because of Governor McCory and his determination to avoid all good advice. It’s been two and half years now since I’ve lived in North Carolina, one and a half of which has been out of  the country. It can be hard to keep up with everything that’s going on back home, but it has been almost impossible to avoid the constant updates about the North Carolina government.  And I’m not just talking about Facebook feeds–no, it’s on Digg, Slate, Education blogs galore, and even a sadly truthful article in The New York Times. When I first started looking at coming back to the States, Moral Mondays had just started. The decline of the public education system due to test-driven administration is nothing new, but arresting educators who are fighting for their students is just appalling. Now I don’t mean this to be a Democrat or Republican argument. It’s just that, as an educator, it’s hard not to get caught up in the reforms that McCrory wants. And now the governor is focused on voting rights and limiting them so that certain parties or candidates have a better chance for the election.

And I’ve heard the rumors. North Carolina and the South already come with a slew of stereotypes portraying the people there as uneducated, unworldly, racist, and fake. But I can speak from personal experience that this is not the case. Of course there are some people who fit the stereotypes, but there are more people who do not. Now when people look at North Carolina, it’s masked by the Governor’s efforts to fit some disillusioned agenda. They see North Carolina as crazy and backwards, which of course would again fit the stereotypes. But I want to reassure you that people are fighting. People are trying to make a difference and trying to make things right. The people of North Carolina do not all agree with what’s going on and they are smart, they are interesting, they are lovely, they are determined. And they’re starting young.


Out of my comfort zone

Well, it’s my second year here in Turkey now. I’ve moved closer to the city, to the hutsle and bustle, and got my own apartment. Of course there is still an adjustment period. After coming back from a month in the States, I started work quickly (the day after I got back). There was nothing in my apartment–and when I saw nothing, I don’t mean just furniture. No, there was no oven or stove, no drapes or blinds, not even a light bulb anywhere. My school helped me set up my utilities (which is a longer and more stressful story for another day) and my friends helped me find deals to set up my apartment. Two months later, I have a cozy little place in a great location and am really enjoying my last year here.

However, it is now the time of year that I love most in the States. The tall buildings and polluted air don’t really allow for that crisp feeling of fall. And while I can get a hot chocolate at Starbucks, it just isn’t the same. And finding an actual pumpkin somewhere? Perhaps if I were Nancy Drew. That means no pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin patches, or pumpkin carving. They do have, strangely enough, pumpkin seeds available as snacks year round, but that just doesn’t cut it. There’s also a lone, beautful tree, outside my window and it’s starting to change colors and drop it’s leaves. But the street cleaners sweep up any leaves before I can get a pile big enough to jump in.

What can I do to fill this void? Well one of the things I love about fall is the food.  So I started baking. While I love cooking and am actually quite good at it (thank you chicken noodle soup on a cold day), I have about three recipes that I can fall back on when it comes to baking. All the measuring and accuracy is too much. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with baking. In the States, I had boxes for cakes and brownies and tubs for frosting. But the cakes here don’t taste the same and that’s assuming that I can even read and comprehend the instructions on the box to make anything. But it’s fall and I want my house filled with some kind of pleasant aroma, so I’ll just have to suck it up and literally start from scratch. Here are some pictures of my vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cake (complete with homemade icing).

IMG_0033 IMG_0036

(Find the recipe I used, here for the cake here, and the frosting here)

IMG_0016(Find the recipe I used for the cupcakes here)

Now I need to look up how to take better pictures of food…

The expansion of nerds: how HP made me realize I am one

A couple of months ago I got into a heated discussion with some friends about what qualifies someone as a “nerd” This is something I’ve debated with other friends as well, mostly ones who would either be classified nerds but would also proudly claim the title as their own. The difference about this particular conversation, however, was that I greatly disagreed with one of my friends on what she said made a “nerd.” In sum, she described a nerd as someone who is socially awkward, gets uncommon references, is good with math and computers or things like that. I admit that there are specks of truth to what she was saying, but after debating it for a few hours, we still ended agreeing to disagree.


Well last night I downloaded Travis Prinzi’s Harry Potter for Nerds: Essays for Fans, Academics, and Lit Geeks. I was particularly excited about reading it because I’d used one of his other books as a reference for my thesis on language and perspective for the Harry Potter series and found it enlightening and incredibly applicable to what I was writing about. So after finishing the most recent Dave Sedaris novel, I clicked on Prinzi’s book, starting with (as collections do) the introduction. And it was here that I stumbled upon this quote:

“But I’m noticing, with many others, a cultural shift in the perception of nerds, geeks, and dorks. J.K. Rowling followed up her comment about ‘obsessives’ with this:

And I did think if people like [Harry Potter] they would probably like it obsessively. I just never…but I thought that it would be am obsessive few—I never guessed it would be an obsessive many, as has happened.

The ‘obsessive many.’ What a great phrase. Notice the set-up: ‘It would be an obsessive few’; in other words, a small gathering of nerds. It turns out there are a lot of us. And much like Harry discovered wizard status from Hagrid, many of us have discovered our nerd status from Harry.”

27425And I know that, at least for me, this is true. I started reading Harry Potter at the age of 12 and became one of the obsessed. In addition to writing a Master’s thesis about it, I presented on it at multiple conferences—one of which was in Orlando  at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Of course it wasn’t just Harry that did this to me. Growing up, I’d watched Star Wars and Monty Python with my family; when I was grounded, my books were the first to go since I was usually grounded because I’d been reading instead of doing chores or homework; I knew the combos to Mortal Kombat and where to find a whistle for Super Mario 3; I would play Legos forever or I would set up my stuffed animals in a mock classroom and play “school” on the chalkboard easel my stepdad made me.

But it wasn’t until I started relating to other Potter fans that I realized I could classify myself as a nerd. And though I proudly identify with this title, many would still disagree with me. Many of my friends might say that I am simply not deep enough into this subculture to be able to identify with it.  Yes, okay,  there are thousands of references I will never get. Any day I don’t spend on Reddit will prove that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t fall somewhere on the spectrum between nerdy and non (notice I don’t say nerdy and cool, because I don’t believe that those are always opposites).Dr. Who snickers

I agree with Prinzi. There is a cultural shift in the perception of nerds and nerdy doesn’t necessarily mean uncool. The stereotypes that you see on Big Bang Theory do not accurately reflect all nerd culture. It has, in fact, become a spectrum, on which many can fall. And despite the efforts of those who have claimed this title for decades (I’m talking to you Firefly fans), it’s almost insulting to not only say that a nerd has to be antisocial, but that anyone can be nerd. These are the elitists, the purists of the nerds, if you will. But thanks to folks like J.J. Abrams, things like Star Trek are reaching a much wider audience. (We’re going to ignore his involvement with Disney’s takeover of Star Wars  for now.) For example, my brother, Kirk, now gets why I’ve been calling him Captain his whole life.

And what about the internet? Yes, just all of it. Memes and LOL cats and Buzzfeed and an infinite amount of horribly amazing puns. It’s almost impossible to not be a nerd. So I want you to be careful before you dismiss the idea that the definition of “nerd” is expanding. I know plenty of nerds who are social and horrible at math. We’re simply outgrowing these clichés.To me, it just means that you are passionate about something that you can gush and talk about it for hours—whether the person you’re talking to shares that enthusiasm or not. So if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go finish my leisure book with analytical essays about my favorite series of all time.


Don’t mind if I do…

Look out HGTV: My own experience with International House Hunters

Once I made the decision to stay in Istanbul another year, I had to dive into immediate changes: adjusting the dates of my ticket home, readjusting my budget, stop buying so many souveniers, and most of all, finding a new apartment. My current roommate and I have now lived together for two years–one in the States and one here. We’ve had some great times together and I will miss our late night chats and shopping outings, but I figured it was time to venture out on my own. So the hunt began.

In Turkey there are two options (at least that I now of) for renting an apartment: you can either rent directly from an owner, or rent from an emlak (a realtor). I was warned against renting from an owner as they did not always hold themselves to the same standards as an emlak did, but I’d also heard stories about horrible emlaks, so I just kept both options open. My friend showed me a site to look up what was available and even went with me to a couple emlaks to translate for me. When walking around one day, we found a lovely little street (lots of colored buildings and greenery, quiet, really, just adorable)which happened to have a “for rent” sign hanging on the windows of a basement apartment. We called the owner and he said the rent was 750TL and to come down to his store by the water so he could talk to us about it. After looking at other places in my price range (I was looking to spend no more than 1000TL a month), I was super excited by the possiblity of such a place.

We went to his store where he took down a bunch of my information and tole me more about the apartment: it was a basement with a bache (yard), an American-style kitchen (one that is open and has a lot of counter space), and a 2+1 (two bedroom, 1 family room). He even said he could furnish it for me for a bit more. And the best part was that the building was only 4 years old. Most buildings in the area are much older and so a basement apartment in an older building is not always the best deal. I showed him my work permit, but he said he wanted a copy of my contract from the shocol, showing how much I made. He told my friend that he would call us on Friday to set up a time to come see the apartment and that I could bring a copy of my contract at that time. This seemed to be much easier than I’d thought.

Except he didn’t call. My friend texted him that night, but he didn’t respond. We went in on Saturday with a copy of my contract, but he told us he didn’t want to see us.

“I didn’t call you,” he informed us.

“Yes, I know,” my friend responded, frustrated. “I texted you. Why didn’t you call?”

“There is no why. I get 100 calls a day. I don’t need a why.”

At that point my friend proceeded to tell him how rude he was and we left in a huff. He didn’t seem to care, though, as he told us to have a nice day. (Of course most of this was translated to me after we left the store, although I knew things weren’t going well.) This obviously did not leave a great taste in my mouth about renting from owners and after buying some ice cream to cool our tempers, we ran into an emlak that my friend knew. He agreed to show me some apartments (he spoke English with a Turkish-Australian accent) and was very nice an patient with me. Thought he did show me a couple nice apartments, I was a huge fan of the areas they were in. And he wasn’t sure if the owner of one apartment (with a wonderful terrace) would rent to a foreigner. He said this apologetically and I smiled because I knew that this was just the case sometimes.

My friend and I also went to look at one more apartment through an emlak that was listed online. It was in a great area, a large space and nice kitchen, but 200TL over my budget. He was also very nice, though his English was about as good as my Turkish. But after a day with the crazy man, it was refreshing to have two pleasant experiences.

I decided to take the apartment that was slightly above my budget and went in to pay the deposit and sign the contract. (In Turkey, you also have to pay a fee to the emlak for finding the place. It’s usually about 10% of the yearly rent total. Mine was 1500TL.) No one was able to come with me to translate, but I figured I’d make it work somehow. I was told that the owner wanted to meet me and I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t end up horribly, putting me back at the starting line. She and her granddaughter came in and thank heavens, they were both lovely. The granddaughter, who is in the sixth grade, translated the whole thing for us and they gave me receipts for everything. The owner even invited me to lunch with her. I took a raincheck, but told her that the offer was much appreciated.

The apartment is officially available the 5th of August, but I am glad to have everything in order now. Though I had a lot of help in the process, something for which I can’t be too grateful, it’s nice to feel like I now have done something kind of on my own. I have a good feeling about this apartment (the owner told me it was “lucky,” whatever that means) and I’m hoping that I can keep just keep it up.