Monthly Archives: March 2011

*Insert Chirping Crickets*

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I’ve been quiet lately, I know.

If you’ve been following me with any regularity these past 3 and a half years or so, you may guess that it means I’m having some internal turmoily stuff that I really can’t/don’t want to discuss.

It’s almost entirely internal and a lot of the time I’m able to sort of cover it up, but I’ve been much less successful with that lately and it took me totally botching Piet’s birthday yesterday to finally see how bad things have sunk in my head.

Day to day things are moving on, with April being a month full if appointments and information sessions and other things. All seems well with the baby. He moves quite a bit, some days more than others, but definitely plenty of moving. I’m only really comfortable sleeping on my left side, and I’m pretty wiped out, although I’m not sure anymore if that’s from all the growing going on in my midsection or simply from my state of mind. I imagine it’s probably both.

Piet and I have talked a lot the past couple days, about several things. There are some things I’ve asked him to try to seriously consider, there are some things about how I feel that I finally said (about myself, not about our relationship…that’s still good as long as he feels like putting up with me). I’m in that shitty limbo state where I know that getting up, getting involved in something, being active would probably do me a world of good but the thought of even trying to take initiative is heavier then a ton of bricks.

I’m not working right now, which is both a blessing and a curse. Work keeps me busy. It gives me some sort of feeling of contributing (granted, I’m just contributing hot drinks to train travelers and some money to our bank account, but that’s still something), even though the type of work I do is not something I particularly enjoy. My coworkers gave me a sense of community, which did me a lot of good when I spent so long feeling isolated here. I wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when I was working, but in retrospect, when I was put on sick leave my state of mind significantly took a nose dive.

I had planned on hopefully taking some sort of class while I wasn’t working, but I missed the deadlines to enroll by a few days and hesitated to look for anything else to commit myself to because the doctors insisted on writing me off a few weeks at a time, so I never knew if I was going back to work until the next appointment.

If I could just have a chair to sit while I worked the register at work, I could probably go back, but chairs don’t fit in the kiosk. With the belly I have now it might not be long before I don’t fit in the kiosk. I found out the hard way in Istanbul that I really can’t stay on my feet longer than 2 hours before my back and feet hurt to the point where I can’t stand upright without support, and a five minute breather doesn’t ease the pain at all. A half hour sitting and I can stand another 2 hours again, but obviously that’s not really realistic in a job where you have to stand for 7 and a half hours straight (not counting toilet breaks).

So I’m torn between wanting to try to go back to work, even for just a month because it’d give me a distraction, something to focus on, a (pretty much false) sense of worth and knowing that I physically can’t do the work my job requires. Unless my physician had a total change of heart from 2 weeks ago, chances are I’ll be put on sick leave until the end of the pregnancy starting tomorrow, but that’s an assumption everyone has been making the past 2 months and it still hasn’t happened yet, so I won’t count on it until I have my appointment tomorrow.

And as for the rest…I don’t know. I have parts of the house to organize and clean. I have things to do if I can just push myself to care enough to do them. Mostly I’m looking forward to seeing my parents for the first time in a year when they come to visit in June, although right now that feels excruciatingly far away. In the meantime, I know I should probably make an effort to post more. Although, if I don’t, well, it’s because I have some other things to sort out right now.

Hopefully you’ll bear with me.

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Baby on Board

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There was a bit of a baby boom surrounding my pregnancy, with me at the tail end of it. One of my colleagues found out she was pregnant in April and she had a little boy this January. Then another colleague’s wife got pregnant and they found out towards the end of the summer, maybe in August (the baby came prematurely in February and he’s doing well now). I found out I was pregnant in October and less than two weeks later yet another colleague found out she was already 3 months pregnant. This third colleague is due in the beginning of May (she’s also having a boy) and I’m slated for the end of June (you know what we’re having).

In a way, all of these women being pregnant around me at the same time has been good. I don’t have my mom around for advice or my girl friends from home to compare stories with. Plus, even if I did, there are differences in some of the standards and procedures here in Belgium, so it’s been good to know a few women who have gone through it (2 of them aren’t Belgian, also useful to compare experiences). My sister-in-law and Daisy, a friend of Piet’s each have two young girls and they’ve also been very available to talk or to ask for advice.

In the course of things I’ve also seen some things I wasn’t too keen on. Like certain buikbands (belly supporters):

Now, when I originally saw some people wearing something like this, with the creepy little hands and feet on them, or the due date of the baby on it, I really didn’t like it. It seemed…I don’t want to say self-centered, but I can’t think of a better word right now, so okay, self-centered to basically have a big belly shaped billboard advertising your pregnancy to the general public. I mean, isn’t it enough that you have this giant distended mid-section staring everyone in the face? Do you really have to scream it out to everyone via multicolored, hand printed belly bands? And I decided that when I got some belly supporters, I would be humble and get black or white or grey…something that blended in to my everyday clothing.

Until (cause any time I firmly make up my mind about something there is inevitably an “until”) I noticed that despite the fact that I’m pretty noticeably pregnant, I’ve only had one, yes one, person who was kind enough to say, get up and offer me his seat on a crowded tram.
And that was this past week in Istanbul.

Other than that I find myself getting shoved, jammed, jostled constantly on buses or trams. People expect me to be able to squeeze by them and give me dirty looks if I end up shoving them when I try to pass. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to realize that this big round belly is filled with a child and I can’t simply “suck it in” when I need to pass through a crowded area.

I’m not sure if it’s because, yes, I’m still in plus sizes, so they assume I’m just fat, not pregnant or if they simply don’t care. I do know that while I have put on weight, the majority of it is in my boobs and abdomen. I don’t have a butt or hips or extra chins to go with the parts of me that have grown, so while I could understand people not getting out of my way when I was four or five months pregnant, and just thinking I was overweight, I really honestly think I definitely look pregnant now, not fat.

But since the public in general doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend that, or simply chooses to ignore it, I’m thinking one of these babies is actually starting to look like a pretty good option:

Don’t you think?

Istanbul, Picks & Pans

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The particularly problematic part of the pick and pan process is that I often can’t recollect my pans unless they’re so completely hideous that they’ve scarred me into recollecting them. Picks are much easier, as my brain tends to easily recall the names of restaurants and venues that I enjoy.

Piet and I have collaborated so that if any of you readers happen to find yourselves in Istanbul, you’ll have some destinations to put on your “must see/do list” as well as some things to avoid.

First, since I want to end on a positive note, we’ll start with pans.

  1. public toiletsoccasionally requiring squatting, rarely very sanitary looking, and your shoes will most likely get wet
  2. taxis. They’re good if you’re into that adrenaline rush you get when watching Final Destination, where you’re on the edge of your seat, teeth clenched, anticipating death, but not quite knowing when it’ll actually happen. Otherwise, avoid at all cost. Public transport is very easy and gets you to many of the places that are interesting to see throughout the city.
  3. guided tour of Dohlmabace Palace. The palace itself is all “opulence, I has it” and normally I’d’ve been more than happy to see it, but you have to go on the guided tour of it and that made it, in my opinion, not worth doing. The tour guides aren’t easy to hear and the groups they take through are so large that staying in your own group can become confusing. Also, as with any guided tour, you’re sort of herded along at the guide’s pace (or the pace of the shrill British chick behind you who seems more interested in being at the front of the group than actually looking at the palace) so you can’t stop to really look at things you might actually be interested in. Also, they only have a squatting toilet. I much preferred being able to wander at our own leisure through Topkapi Palace.
  4. Kahve Dühnyasi. Or as I affectionately began calling it “Turkish Starbucks,” was a pit stop we took on our first evening in Istanbul when it first began to dawn on me how uncomfortable it is to be 25 weeks pregnant and reliant on foreign public transport. It’s a very pretty chain of coffee/ice cream shops but tastewise it falls flat on its face. I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks (in comparison to say, Seattle’s Best), but Starbucks is far superior to Kahve Dühnyasi and despite being a foreign chain, the prices are comparable, with Starbucks being of a higher quality.

There were some other things I wasn’t keen on and a lot of the local lokansi (cafeteria style eateries) food inevitably gave me raging heartburn, but that’s more a personal thing as Piet had no complaints about the food. Neither one of us loves the sales guys in the bizaars and pushy restaurant guys that try to coerce you into their restaurants, but when it comes to Istanbul, that’s just the nature of the beast, so I can hardly pan it.

Our picks (see, here I can give restaurant names… living in a burgundian region of Europe has turned me into a half assed foodie):

  1. Istanbul by water. Piet really liked seeing the city from the water when we took a ferry from the European to the Asian side of Turkey. He mentioned that we should’ve done the all day tour of the Bosphorous. I occasionally get seasick on slow moving boats, but I can agree, doing a day on the sea would’ve been nice.
  2. bizaars. These can be fun, and I guess everyone goes to the Grand Bizaar and the Spice Bizaar, but I’d actually recommend checking out the smaller bizaar area streets surrounding the Blue Mosque. I didn’t even realize there were shops on the other side of the mosque until we went in search of a restaurant in the area. The shops are less chincy and I, at least, felt much less hassled than I did in the other two bizaars.
  3. Asitane Restaurant. Not the easiest place to get to (see aforementioned cab ride of certain doom), but fabulous, fantastic food. For a shared appetizer, two main dishes, two desserts and tea, the bill came to less than 130 lira, which is about 60€ total and you can’t find a restaurant in Belgium with the quality of food we ate for that price. The dishes are all taken from Ottoman recipes from the different sources throughout Turkey and are recreated using ingredients from the areas of the original recipes. Culturally and culinarily, this restaurant was hands down the best, most authentic meal of our trip.

And there you have it. Again, there were some other restaurants we liked a lot, but I picked one that I really think anyone who has the means and is in Istanbul should go out of their way to try. There are also some sights that I think everyone sees while in Istanbul (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Taksim Square) so while yes, they’re good to see, I wouldn’t place any of them above the other things available to do here.

The only other advice I can give is that if you decide to come to Istanbul when you’re in the last third of your pregnancy, try to make sure your living accomodations are not on a steep hillside. Great for your glutes, but it’s not a pleasant hike to get to the tram line every morning. Also, try to book a place that offers some things to do in the place itself. Cause sometimes you really just need a day of staying in with your feet up and that’s hard to do when all you’ve got to watch is several hundred channels all in a foreign language (aside from English), most of which are teaching some form of Islam or Christianity, with the exception of news channels and porn.

And with that said, I’m going to go pry Piet away from watching Libya’s official national channel (not joking, he managed to find it) so that we can get a good night sleep before out flight home tomorrow.

So if You’ve a Date in Constantinople…

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Istanbul.

I’m really not sure what I expected from Turkey’s ex-capital city.

I’ve seen photos of Turkey, but they were either from Piet’s trips to the interior and less urbanized areas from a long time before we met, or from some friends of mine who used to do the entertainment at a resort hotel in Antalya. I can’t even say that the Ottoman Empire or the the geographical area Turkey is or has ever been high on my list of interests, so from the cobbling of Piet’s trips and my other friends’ stories from Antalya, I sort of pictured Turkey as a weird combination of backwoods Muslim culture set back a century mixed with fun-seeking, looser-moralled, well-tanned semi-acrobats.

Neither of which is really that true when it comes to Istanbul.
I mean, there’s definitely a plentitude of mosques and headscarves and veils, but it’s all very evenly tempered with a metropolitan attitude and focus on tourism. Our apartment, for example, has wi-fi and a tourist friendly flushing toilet (as opposed to the squatting toilets where you throw your toilet paper in a trash can), while at the same time it offers satellite television that has about 500 channels, 395 of which are entirely in Arabic, one of which is BBC World, one of which rotates German and US news programming, and the rest of which are religion, other assorted foreign languages or porn.

Istanbul is, in a nutshell, a helter skelter juxtapostion of modern city living and inept old world disorganisation.

There are some beautiful views from the park that overlooks the Blue Mosque and a very rich, heady stew of culture around every corner, at least in the area we’re staying, Sultanhamet. We’ve been here not quite three days and I’ve been half drowned in miniature glass cups of tea offered by gregarious waitstaff. I’ve heard the wailing calls to prayer from the hundreds of minnarets around the city, sat along a concrete wall on the Sea of Marmara and watched a strolling man bring a bag of fish from the nearby market to feed all the (very happy and excited) stray cats that were sunning along the rocks.

There is definitely a strong pull of culture here, some of which I enjoy, some, honestly, I don’t, but every day is another new experience. Yesterday we went to the Blue Mosque and Taksim Square and today we visited the Grand Bizaar, the Spice Bizaar and took a walk down the sea side. There are still plenty of things on our to-do list and I’m holding out fairly well, though I do huff and puff plenty when it comes to hills or stairs, and don’t even ask about how my pathetic bladder is holding up with all the tea and fresh fruit juice I end up drinking.

But otherwise, I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.

Here, There, Everywhere

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Today we went to France for a shopping trip.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but Piet’s dad bought a new car, and sold us his old one, so we finally have a car now. Granted I still can’t drive a stick shift, so it’s more like Piet has a car for the first time in his life, and I just have a much more convenient method of bulk grocery shopping on the days he has off.
But either way, it has certainly made some things much, much more convenient for us. Like shopping outside of Gent, or buying enough cat food/litter to last longer than a week or two. Obviously we still use public transportation to get to the city center or the train station, but if we want to go to Ikea to pick up storage bins (we’ve begun and put a big dent into the daunting task of cleaning up and clearing out the top two rooms, where we’ve been doing 95% of our living the past 3 years), or to France to see if we can get some better prices on baby items or certain groceries, we don’t have to worry about whether or not our car sharing system will have a car available, or to be back by a certain time, or having too much to carry, etc.

Anyway, my mom always chuckles when I say “we’re going to France to shop” or “why would I pay a fortune for Gaviscon in Belgium when we can just go buy some in Holland” because, duh, when you’re from the U.S, it’s pretty much unheard of to cross national boundaries for the explicit purpose of grocery shopping. But when you live in Belgium you’re about an hour drive from 3 or 4 other countries (France, Holland, Germany, Luxemburg) and when a bottle of Gaviscon goes for 11€ here, it can definitely be worth the drive to France, where you can buy 2 bottles for less than 5€.
Or where you can find twice as much variation in foods and drinks.
Or bottles of good champagne for 5€.

And when you get absolutely sick and tired of everything being speculoos flavored, there’s nothing like a trip to France, where everything is cassis flavored. I loooove me some cassis.

I find it strange to see people casually drinking carafes of wine with their meals (in France), but then, I still find it odd to see people drinking pints of beer with their lunch in Ikea (in Belgium). I imagine that’s because the US has retained a relatively prohibitionist attitude over the years. Either way though, wine and beer still definitely beat the buttermilk that seems so common and popular in the Netherlands. Blech.

If we ever do decide to move to America, I’ll miss the ability to culture hop that is inherent in living in a tiny country in Western Europe. France is so different from Belgium is so different from the Netherlands is so different from Germany and we can experience a totally different culture in a weekend; a day trip even.

You can’t really get that living in Pittsburgh, unless you count people in Ohio not knowing what chipped ham is or people in Philadelphia saying “hoagie” instead of “sub.”

Oh, and totally off the topic of this shopping trip, but on the topic of the title of this post, I also wanted to mention, before I forgot, that Piet and I will be leaving Saturday for a weeklong trip to Istanbul. Piet used to spend a lot of his summers vacationing in Turkey and was determined to take me there at least once before we had a third little traveler to worry about, so a few months ago we decided to make our last vacation destination sans baby to Turkey’s largest city.

I’ll try to spare you the details of how my already abnormal anxiety over flying has gone off the charts and how I obviously won’t be able to drug myself into oblivion in order to not rip an armrest off the plane if there’s any turbulence.

But I’ll be sure to try and post once or twice and eventually get you some pictures.

 

“This game makes my tongue quite lame, sir.”

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Dr. Seuss: an integral part of a child’s book collection.

An English speaking child’s book collection.

And there’s the rub (Shakespeare… also one of those authors whose works are difficult to translate, I imagine).

As you may or may not know, I am a bit of a literature nerd.
As in, I had no clue that the 3 Mile Island incident took place in my home state until Piet insisted and showed me on the Wikipedia (I’d insisted it  happened in New York), but I accurately guessed what century the story Tristan and Isolde was written while we were watching the movie, simply from the knowledge I had from a course I’d taken in Arthurian literature in my sophomore year of college.

Children’s literature is a subject I hold near and dear to my heart. When I was studying for my masters in early education, the course on children’s literature quickly became my favorite and I found myself buying more and more books for my classrooms in the daycare, the more I learned about different authors and illustrators. One of my favorite assignments in my literature class was systematically analyzing the components of picture/story books and determining the strengths of each book and how it could be used to teach different lessons in a classroom.

If I could design entire curricula around works of children’s literature, I would.

So while Piet and my mothers are shopping for cute little outfits and Piet is stockpiling bathroom accessories (as well as a surprising little collection of clothing), I’ve been compiling a list of books that I consider essential for my child’s personal library.

Chances are it’ll remain mostly a list until we definitely decide if/when we’ll move to the U.S., for mobility sake, but still, I’m a children’s literature snob and I’m going to be picky with books.

At least in English.

In Dutch I’m sort of at a loss. I’ve only been in 2 daycares in Belgium and both of them had very few books. In fact, one of them didn’t have any books until I pleaded my case with my employers and got 100€ to spend on buying kids’ books in America during one of my trips home.

So suffice it to say, I know very little about children’s books here. I’ve seen a few books that I know from America, but there are plenty that I think are really great books for children that I haven’t seen, like Dr. Seuss.

Which makes plenty of sense considering so many of Dr. Seuss’s books are wordplay/rhyming books that simply don’t translate in other languages. so I’m sort of struggling on whether or not it would be a good idea to be reading English wordplay books to a child whose main language (aside from with me) will be, for the foreseeable future, Dutch.
I’ve always thought that reading, especially books that use rhyme, are crucial to a child’s language development, but if your reading in a secondary language, does that hurt the development of the primary language?
Are there any Dutch books out there that are similar to Dr. Seuss (that play with words and sounds and rhymes)?

I distinctly remember one of my favorite bed time books as a child being Fox in Socks, and how much the 3 year old class in my daycare liked me to read Green Eggs and Ham (especially when I got to the point where I could read it very fast). Both of these books are Dr. Seuss classics that I’d really like to have in a book collection for the baby, but now I’m not so sure if it’s a good idea.