The little Gypsy girl

My heart broke this morning. While taking my dog for a walk I came across a Gypsy woman and her two children, who looked to be about 5 and 8. They were scavenging for food and bottles as they usually do, but instead of just looking in the dumpsters, the woman had her two little girls inside the dumpsters themselves, picking through the mixture of food and waste. It’s a scene I see almost everyday outside of my Window. A man and a horse, pulling a makeshift wagon with a woman and/or children, stopping at each dumpster looking for something of value. The thought of these little girls, who should be in school, but instead were inside a garbage dumpster, was hard to take.
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The Gypsy problem is something I’ve noticed in every country I’ve been in while in Europe. The problem is not that they exist, it’s that no one seems to care. They are looked at as beggars and thieves. It’s akin to the homeless problem at home, but in that case there are social services, organizations, and at the very least, shelters to offer some support. I spent two years working at a homeless shelter in Boston, and the amount of programs, referrals for counseling, addiction, and basic needs is something that would surely benefit the Gypsy population out here. People care. I’m sure that there is more to the story, but as an outsider looking in, I just don’t see that here.
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While living in Germany and Greece, I would often see Gypsy women and their children sitting outside of stores begging for money. They would be holding a sleeping baby and I would feel so sad for them and pull out any Euros I had. Anything to help I thought. Soon after, I read that many of those babies were actually drugged in order to make the begging easier for the women and enable them to beg longer without having to worry about feeding or changing the child. I read that the worst thing you can do is give money to these begging women and children because it encourages them to beg and keeps them out of school. There is also the uncertainty of whether the money actually benefits those families, or the men running the show behind the scenes.
With that in mind I refused to give money to this little Gypsy girl who is almost always outside of the supermarket I frequent. Her mother sits in the corner of the parking lot holding a baby (who is in fact sleeping whenever I see them), while her and her sister roam the parking lot begging for money. One usually goes from car to car while the other stands near the exit. They don’t wear shoes, their clothes are torn and dirty, and their eyes look so sad. The one who targets the cars looks to be about 8 and as a mother I want to pick her up, hug her real tight, and tell her everything will be okay. I know it won’t and it makes me want to cry.
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I think she can sense this about me because once she sees me she will follow me around, not saying a word, only holding out her hand while staring me straight in the eye. It feels like she’s staring right through me and burning a hole in my heart. I would shake my head and say no and think of what else I could do for her. Would she want me to buy her some food from the supermarket? Maybe I can wait until my daughter has outgrown some of her clothes and offer them to her? Would she be offended if I did that? I’m not sure but it breaks my heart. After a few weeks of this I just couldn’t ignore her anymore and have started giving her money anyway, not knowing if the things I’ve read are true, but hoping they are not.

It’s getting cold now and I haven’t seen her for a week or so and I think about what she’s doing and whether she’s warm. I wonder if they take a break from begging during the winter months or if they’ve moved to a slightly warmer location. I’m at a loss for what to do, but that little girl stays on my mind.

Dance party

When I say there is literally nothing to do here, I’m not exaggerating. I have so much pent up energy inside and nothing to do with it. Although the kids are able to get out some of their energy in school, they feel the same way and we all seem to be in a constant state of cabin fever.  Just when it seems we can’t take it anymore we break out into our “famous dance parties” as my daughter calls them.

If you’re is old enough to remember Dance Party USA or Soul Train then you can understand my joy at breaking out in dance at any given moment. When the music is blasting and the kids are really feeling the beat I almost feel like I’m at a club dancing the night away. It’s a strange little club with not many people and no age restrictions, but it’s a party nonetheless.

 

 

We all take part, except “grumpy old daddy” as my daughter calls him. He says he’s too cool for dance parties but I say that we’re too cool for him. I mean how can you watch these kids really feeling the rhythm and not possibly join in, it’s contagious.

 

 

I wouldn’t have danced so hard if I knew I was being videotaped but I’m not ashamed of my moves!

They even break out into dance when I’m trying to get dinner ready. It’s like they hear music and can’t help themselves, even if it’s mommy’s oldies that they’ve never heard before.

 

 

It does make some of those hum drum moments seem that much better.  Not only do I get some company in the kitchen, but it really does brighten my day and reminds me how blessed I am to have such happy kids who find joy in even the smallest things.

Game day

I love game day! After spending most of the week dressed in workout gear and sweats, it’s the one day I get to throw on some heels and appear somewhat presentable to the world. Before the “thing with my hair” I would even attempt to style it to complete the look.

Hubby spends the day eating and sleeping to prepare for the game, while my daughter and I play dress up. We get to raid our closets and try on clothes that haven’t seen the light of day since the summer. I even dress the boys in something dapper.

I don’t have a full length mirror so I have to lay out my outfits and visualize how they would look

I don't have a full length mirror so I have to lay them out and visualize how they would look

I don’t have a full length mirror so I have to lay them out and visualize how they would look

I’m giddy as I try on shoe after shoe and long for the day when I can wear them to actual events.

My absolute favorite shoes so I try to wear them with everything

My absolute favorite shoes so I try to wear them with everything

Theses are super comfy

Theses are super comfy

I actually do wear these with everything, but I wanted more pop

I actually do wear these with everything, but I wanted more pop

I do understand how ridiculous it may seem to wear 4 inch heels to a basketball game filled with sweaty men in hoodies, but for now it’s all I have.

In the end these won out

In the end these won out

Depending on the team that year, I may even have a few other wives to play dress up with, which does make it more fun. This year I’m the only one so I don’t get to have a partner in crime, but I’m excited nonetheless. I get to scream and shout for a few hours and really get my blood boiling, the kids get to run around and go somewhere other than school, and there are always fans wanting to interact so I’m guaranteed to have someone to talk to.

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A fan came over to show me a t-shirt with my husband's picture

A fan came over to show me a t-shirt with my husband’s picture

After the game we go out for a nice dinner and despite having three kids in tow, I pretend it’s date night. If I’m extra lucky we’ll high tail it to Istanbul for the weekend and I get to really raid my closet and pull out all the goodies. This weekend we got the win and a trip to Istanbul so I’m a happy camper and content to wait for the next week or two when we can do it all again.

That damn green grass

When I was a working mom I worked long hours and rarely got to spend time with my kids during the week. I longed for the day I would get to parent full time. Most days I spent at least 10 hours a day at work because billable hours are no joke. It’s a terrible system and I hate the evil person who created it. For every 7 hours I billed, I would have had to work at least 8½-9 hours. Many times however, I would end up working 12 hours or more and get home when my babies were so far gone that my kisses didn’t even register.

At a certain point I became fed up with my part-time parenting so I decided to quit my job and join my husband overseas. I wanted to mother my children all the time, and my children needed me (in my mind at least). Now they never miss my kisses because I’m with them practically 24 hours a day. Awesome right? Well yes, unless it’s one of those days where my husband is traveling, my daughter has homework I don’t understand, both of my boys are extra cranky and destructive, and I barely have time to think, let alone take a much needed shower.

I had such a day last week, while my husband was away on a three day road trip. It had been a harrowing three days to say the least. I was exhausted and longed for the days where I could escape to office life and the land of adult conversation. It started like this.

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Then soon progressed to this.

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It was as if all hell had broken loose. My three year old was crying for everything and nothing. My 15 month old was throwing legos, books, and tissue all over the living room, while laughing, then crying, then laughing again. No one wanted to take a bath so I ran after them, switching between threats and bribes to make it happen. My 7 year old watched in amusement as I failed miserably that night. I eventually said F it and just gave in to the crazy. They finally wore themselves out, and with two out of three down, I was able to put things in perspective. It was 11pm and I was enjoying a glass of wine with a 1 year old who refused to go to sleep. Not the most exciting Saturday night I’ve had, but a few years ago I would have been at the office toiling away while longing for what I have now.

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So be careful what you wish for, but appreciate it when it comes. That’s how I keep my sanity.

Halloween and other bootleg holidays

Bootleg is a word I tend to utilize a lot. As in, our 3 ft tall fake Christmas tree sure is bootleg. Or, that tiny chicken is my bootleg version of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.  I’m reminded of my bootleggedness (yes, aware it’s not a word) when Halloween arrives and the official holiday season kicks off.

My Facebook feed becomes flooded with adorable pictures at the pumpkin patch and every kid I know, and some I don’t, are dressed up in a delightful costume of some sort.  I, on the other hand sit on the sidelines, unable to partake in any of the festivities. The  weeks leading up to Halloween are spent scouring every supermarket there is in search of anything pumpkin, bat, or witch related. Every toy store is picked over in search of a costume or something that would enable my kiddies to enjoy what their friends at home were enjoying.

Last year I had the foresight to buy costumes during a visit home

Every year I do this, so one would think that I’d finally understand that Halloween is just not celebrated out here. But nope, I am always hopeful that someone, somewhere will decide to carry pumpkins and costumes and scary looking candy. Not this year. I settled on a flower pot that I decorated with nail polish. They each received a mask as their costume, of course having no relation to anything that they actually wanted to be. My daughter was a random old lady and my son was a monkey. Now if that’s not the epitome of bootleg then I don’t know what is.

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He grabbed some bananas to complete the look

He grabbed some bananas to complete the look

While Halloween is the start of this bootleg holiday season, Thanksgiving is always the hardest because it revolves around food that we can’t get. There are no turkeys in Turkey, unless you’re lucky enough to have access to an American army base which is a dreamland of goodies. We were lucky enough to have a friend at the base in our city last year so we had the main components of a thanksgiving dinner. A turkey, cheddar cheese, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. What we have this year are sad little chickens and none of the fixings. I’m busy looking for recipes using non traditional ingredients as we speak so if anyone has been in my predicament and has some good recipes please send them my way!

I’m hoping to make up for it when Christmas finally arrives. There is enough of a Christian population to get us a boxed tree and a few decorations, and we’re never more than 3 hours away from an Ikea so we can always count on them for something generic for all our holiday needs. It’s nothing like the spectacular displays I see on TV, but I like to think that we’ve set the bar so low for the holidays that the kids are grateful for anything they get. Once we’ve settled back into life in the states they’ll be blown away by the smell of a real Christmas tree and lose their minds when they discover a gingerbread house. For now we’ll sit back and enjoy this bootleg holiday season.

The latest casualty of overseas living

So I wouldn’t exactly call myself vain, but when I’m at home on US soil I get my hair cut regularly and enjoy a good mani/pedi as much as the next woman. Once abroad I’m pretty much left to my own devices so the appearance definitely takes a hit. The ponytail becomes my hairstyle of choice, with the bun and the occasional blowout thrown in for good measure. From my observations of Edirne thus far, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s on the cutting edge of fashion and style, so why put forth so much effort when most people are wearing jeans and sweatshirts. I rationalize that there isn’t anywhere to go anyway.

Well last night Edirne is where my hair came to die. For the past few months I was trying something new and had been wearing extensions in my hair. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have my sister-in-law here to take them out the correct way, and I couldn’t walk into a Turkish salon because they wouldn’t know what to do with me or my hair, let alone speak English. So my husband and I went to work, and then everything went horribly wrong. I apparently washed too vigorously and my hair was a tangled mess. My husband has a head full of beautiful locs that he’s been growing for years, yet I somehow managed to loc mine in one 20 minute shower.

My hair and I in better days

My hair and I in better days

So I cried a little (ok a lot) as I had no choice but to take a pair of scissors and unceremoniously chop it all off. There had never been anything particularly special about my hair, but it worked for me and did the job. Now I have what appears to be a small rodent on my head. Some parts are curly, some parts are straight and there’s nothing I can do and no where I can go. Perhaps if I were small and petite like Halle Berry I might feel better about it all, but my head is just too big to pull this off. Such is life I suppose. My husband said I looked adorable (what else could he really say at that point), but then he made everything okay by reminding me that we are in Edirne after all. So for now I’ll just think of myself as that tree in the forest and hope no one notices.

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Please don’t touch my baby

Let me preface by saying that Turkish people are great. Warm, loving, almost always friendly. But oh my goodness, they have no boundaries! None. On multiple occasions I have been approached with a “Merhaba” (hello) and then in rapid fire succession, “What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you? What is your job?” The incessant inquiry can be a bit exhausting at times, but that’s nothing compared to their reaction to the children. If you have ever been to Turkey you will know that they are crazy about young children and babies. They run after mine in malls and on the street, trying to take pictures and kiss and touch their faces. My daughter has even asked if her and her brothers were famous kids in Turkey.

Here's my son wondering why we let this random woman pick him up when all he wanted to do was wander around the restaurant a little

Here’s my son wondering why we let this random woman pick him up when all he wanted to do was wander around the restaurant a little

I desperately want to tell them to get their cigarette laden fingers out of my child’s hair, but they look so excited that I can never seem to do it. One time a woman asked (in Turkish) if she could pick up my baby. I smiled, shook my said, and said “yok” (no). In return she smiled and picked up my son anyway. Really? Is this how it works I thought. I considered angrily snatching him back, but she was so happy doting on him that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I cringed, and I pulled out the wipes, ready to wipe his face, his arms, and everywhere else I saw a kiss, rub, pinch, or squeeze. They LOVE the face squeeze, and I couldn’t hate it more.

Here's my son being abducted by a random fan during halftime, and then subsequently passed off to another one

Here’s my son being abducted by a random fan during halftime, and then subsequently passed off to another one

See, my problem is that I have this weird and uncontrollable urge to represent all Americans regardless of where I am. In my head I’m an ambassador of the United States and I must present the best version of an American that I can. I have a tendency to be loud, but I try to pipe it down so that I‘m not seen as the “obnoxious American.” I used to work in the restaurant business so I tend to over tip anyway, but overseas I go out of my way to avoid being pegged as cheap. I have also mastered the art of filtering my responses. At home, when confronted with what I feel is a rude or personal question, I have no problem telling someone to mind their business. Here I smile and give as curt a response as I can. If they continue, I feign ignorance and blame it on the language barrier.

It’s a real conundrum because my children are my world and it’s my job to protect them. But when I’m faced with a different culture of people who are fascinated by me and my children, and they approach us with nothing but love and curiosity, it’s hard to put up walls. When they see my babies coming their way, they approach with massive smiles and a chorus of “Mashallah mashallah” a term meant to bless and protect the child. It melts my heart, if only for a second, before I see their puckered lips heading straight for my babies. Then I smile, pull out the wipes, and remember that I am an ambassador, if only in my mind.

Having a baby the German way

Right around Christmas time in Berlin I found out we were expecting our third bundle of joy.  While I was excited about the new addition, I was not looking forward to giving birth in a different country.  But as I started doing more research I became excited at the prospect of delivering a baby in a country where they take a natural and holistic approach to most things, including pregnancy and child birth.

I had my other two children in the states and I did not enjoy the American style of labor and delivery which seems focused on drugging you up, and then getting you out as quickly as possible. My first was born in Boston and I did not appreciate all the medical interventions they tried to push on me. They tried to convince me to induce when I was one day late, they tried to give me an epidural which I did not want, and they succeeded in giving me an episiotomy, explaining that I wouldn’t tear this way. Well I tore anyway so it made for a very painful recovery.  Because of this experience I vowed that I would take more control of my second birthing experience when I had my son in New York a few years later. I hired a doula and we laid out a plan for using natural remedies to help prevent tearing, and to labor at home for as long as possible to prevent unwanted medical interventions at the hospital. The plan didn’t work out so well when labor moved so fast that I ended up giving birth in a car while racing to the hospital. My son had some initial breathing problems but was ultimately fine. I just wish I hadn’t been so scared of what the hospital would do and thus avoided the whole highway birth thing.

So this brings me to Berlin. Upon finding a doctor recommended to me by another basketball wife, I learned that in Germany your pregnancy is cared for by both a doctor and a midwife, and the midwife is who will ultimately deliver your baby. You see each of them once a month so you are being checked on every two weeks. The midwife even comes to you for each visit, unless you prefer to go to them. You can choose to have a midwife to care for you throughout your pregnancy and deliver your baby, which is what I chose to do. If your midwife doesn’t have privileges at your hospital of choice, you will be delivered by one of the on call midwives which is really a crapshoot, especially if you don’t speak German. The midwife will also do all of the post baby visits, coming to check on you and the baby every week for 6 weeks after delivery. Since this was my third pregnancy I didn’t need much from my midwife, but anytime I had a pain or problem she would come over and with an herb or oil or some other holistic concoction. I also didn’t have to convince her to give me the kind of birth experience I wanted because they don’t believe in unnecessary interventions. For some it can be off putting, but for me it seemed perfect. They don’t rely on epidurals and you will be hard pressed to find a hospital that will even offer one. They encourage breastfeeding to the point where it is simply expected that you will nurse your baby. They don’t even have nurseries, it is just a given that your baby will room with you for the 4 or 5 days you will be in the hospital, unless you choose to leave earlier.

All of this was exactly what I wanted. I was going to have a water birth and I was going to love it! The problem is that my husband is a 6ft 11in giant and we tend to have big babies. My first was almost 10 pounds and my second (who came a week early in the car) was almost 9 pounds. This baby seemed to take the cake as he was growing so fast and my stomach was out of this world. Had I been in the states they would have surely pushed for an early induction but in Germany they believe that your body will know when it is ready and if that takes an extra 2 or 3 weeks then so be it. However, I didn’t have that much time. As is the basketball life, my husband signed with a new team and he had to report to training camp in Turkey just three weeks from my due date. So when my due date came and went we had to put a stop to the madness.

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I was induced one week past my due date, when I just couldn’t take it anymore. The induction itself was not bad. There were no tubes or needles and I was not made to lay in bed waiting for contractions to kick in. I checked into my spacious family room and was given half of a cervidil pill and told I could walk around, relax, or do what ever I liked as long as I came back to the labor wing once an hour to have the baby’s heart rate monitored. After another half a pill and 8 hours of feeling nothing I finally went into labor and jumped into the birthing tub. It was just my husband, the midwife, and myself. The contractions were unbearable but I had been through this twice before with no drugs and I knew my labors were intense, I just figured it wouldn’t last long. The water did take some of the edge off, but after laboring for a few hours and trying different positions, I felt like something was wrong and then my son’s heart rate started to rapidly drop. I was rushed to the OR for an emergency C-section and because they couldn’t stop the contractions they had to put me to sleep to deliver him. He was born healthy at a whopping 11 pounds exactly. The biggest baby born at the hospital they said. However, because of his size and the amount of amniotic fluid I had, my uterus was stretched so much that it wouldn’t contract (called uterine atony). I had three amazing doctors working on me and they explained that they were on the verge of giving me a hysterectomy because I was hemorrhaging blood and would die if it continued. They felt I was too young for something so drastic so they tried one last procedure (too gross to explain) and thankfully it worked. Hell of an experience though.

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I spent 11 days in the hospital, and could have stayed longer but I was dying to get out of that room. My husband and toddler were able to stay with me so I wasn’t completely alone, but it was pretty traumatic and I was an emotional mess. I was thankful that my son was healthy but I couldn’t help but wonder why they let me go so far past my due date knowing that my son was so big, and why they were willing to let me go weeks more. Every doctor I’ve seen since has questioned why I wasn’t induced when it became clear the baby had grown larger than 10 pounds. My midwife said that she thought my body could handle it since I had delivered other big babies naturally, but clearly this one broke the mold. I don’t blame anyone (well maybe my husband!) because I received great care throughout my pregnancy and after, but it sucks that in the land of holistic medicine and minimal intervention I ended up with every intervention possible. He sure is cute though!

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Those crazy fans

Depending on where you are and the quality of social life in your city, the games are often the only chance you get to put on a cute outfit and socialize, while taking in the excitement and passion of it all. To call these fans passionate would be an understatement. They are crazy. They love their teams and they love their players. It is nothing to see fans throwing bottles and garbage on to the court if they don’t like a call. The game stops just long enough for the mess to be cleaned and then it’s back to business. Most arenas don’t serve alcohol for this very reason, so fans often come to the games already drunk and ready to fight. It’s almost comical when I think of the number of fights that have started before tip off. This is why the riot police are present with batons and shields at most games and no one bats an eye.

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My craziest experience was at a game in Athens. I was there with my daughter and was pregnant with my oldest son. The game hadn’t been going on for long when multiple fights broke out and soon everyone around us was either fighting or running. Luckily I was close enough to the front and someone from the team was able to get me and my daughter out of there. One would think that after that the game would be over, but nope, not in Europe. They cleared out the entire arena, only letting in family and a few others and the game was played like nothing had happened. Ever since then I’m always mapping out an escape route should another riot ever break out.

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The fan appreciation doesn’t just end on the court. I’m a member of a basketball wife support group of sorts, and we just had a discussion about how to handle some of the overly zealous fans. Most of us just let our men deal with the fans and any inappropriate behavior, but it can be a frustrating aspect of the game. Fan behavior really depends on the country you’re in, and can range from normal to ridiculous. In my opinion, German fans are the most composed I’ve seen, which makes sense since they are a pretty orderly bunch in general. The most ridiculous fans were in Venezuela. They are crazy about basketball and we couldn’t walk anywhere without being mobbed. A quick trip to the mall would take hours because one person wants to take a picture, and then another, and another and pretty soon a mob has formed. Women would literally push me aside trying to get to him. It took everything I had to contain myself, but I often had my children with me so I couldn’t let them see me flip out. I have since mastered the mean face and the intense glare which seems to work.

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Eating Turkish style

This is probably the most frustrating aspect of overseas life for me. The lack of familiar foods and spices has thrown me for a loop in multiple countries. I’ve spent countless hours wandering around supermarkets with foreign language dictionaries and/or my phone translator, just trying to figure out if they had an ingredient I needed, which in most cases they did not. Here in Turkey, I’ve bought collard greens thinking it was spinach, parsley that I had mistaken for cilantro, and don’t even get me started on the cheeses. Even when I don’t mistake ingredients, they just generally don’t have what I need. I’m often forced to make some interesting substitutions that Martha Stewart would surely not approve of.

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I also run into problems because I don’t eat red meat or pork so dinner options are limited. There are only so many ways to make chicken or salmon without boring the kids to death. I find myself scouring the internet for new and interesting recipes or just throwing together dishes with whatever I can find that looks fresh that day. The kids will ask what’s for dinner and I’ll tell them it’s parmesan crusted chicken, chicken piccata, and chicken marsala all rolled into one and I see some very confused faces staring back at me! I’m just happy that I have a very hungry and easily pleased family because I was sure I’ve butchered recipes before, but they eat it up regardless. My daughter even says I should go on Master Chef. Oh how I love her!

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Eating out presents its own challenges, as Turkish fare is heavy on the meat. I do eat chicken, though I don’t love it, so when we’re out I’m pretty much stuck eating chicken shish which is just grilled chicken on a stick. Boring! At home I prefer to eat vegetable or fish dishes, but If I do eat chicken it’ll most likely be buffalo wings from my favorite Manhattan wing spot, Blondies, and then I’m in heaven. Out here the options are limited to chicken shish or pide, which is a type of Turkish pizza. Most traditional Turkish restaurants do not offer fish dishes. When we lived in Izmir there were more options for fish because we were on the water, but where we live now we’re out of luck. I did hear that we’ll have more fish options in the winter so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that. Still pretty disappointing considering I absolutely love eating out. Even my daughter, who after making the choice a year and a half ago to eat only chicken and fish, actually came home from school yesterday and declared that she was going back to meat. She stated that she went hungry too often at school because they serve so much meat, and she was tired of eating chicken shish at restaurants. Yikes.

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A few years ago in Izmir the team took the Americans out for Thanksgiving and tried to present a traditional meal. It wasn’t quite right, but they did serve a turkey and we were touched by the effort.

A few years ago in Izmir the team took the Americans out for Thanksgiving and tried to present a traditional meal. It wasn’t quite right, but they did serve a turkey and we were touched by the effort.