Listen Up!

Imagine cousins curled up in pajamas in front of a fire, begging their grandfather for "One more story about when you were a kid, please!" Or a daughter asking her mother "What was I like as a baby?" while rolling out pie crusts together. Or a brother teasing his sister "Remember that funny-looking guy you dated in high school?"

Happy National Day of Listening

I hope you are all enjoying delicious leftovers from yesterday's Thanksgiving feast while playing cards or laughing or taking wintery walks or doing whatever your family likes to do together. While you are gathered together, take a moment to ask some questions and sit back to enjoy listening to some family stories. A few questions can get the ball rolling and you may learn some things you never knew about your family before.

David Isay, Macarthur Genius and founder of  StoryCorps also founded National Day of Listening, because "every life matters equally, every voice matters equally, every story matters equally." StoryCorps offers a great list of questions to kick off a conversation here.

I'll be using my iPhone to record some family interviews this weekend and I may upload the clips to YouTube to share with other family members. These conversations can happen naturally while cooking or eating or chatting over photo albums. A few quick  and easy tips on interviewing:

1. Sit together somewhere comfortable and quiet where you won't be disturbed.

2. Turn off cell phones.

3. Ask open ended questions that will get the conversation going, like "Tell me about your childhood." Or "Tell me about one of your most memorable holidays."

4. Listen. Nod. Use non-verbal cues to keep them talking.

5. Let the conversation flow naturally and ask follow-up questions to get more details you may be curious to learn.

6. Thank the person you and let them know what moved you or surprised you. Tell them know how much you appreciate listening to them.

7. Have fun! This doesn't have to be serious although it may bring up some emotional things. It may even be cathartic, but don't have any expectations. The idea is to honor someone by simply listening.

8. Just like Thanksgiving Day reminds us to be grateful throughout the year, the National Day of Listening reminds us to really listen, every day of the year.


My Thanksgiving Is Perpetual

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual...O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Thanks to my dear friend Julie for sharing this quote with me last year. The words stuck with me all year and I am excited to share them today on one of my favorite holidays. Happy Thanksgiving to you all! 

And the celebrations continue tomorrow with National Day of Listening. Stay tuned...


Home, A Partial and Evolving History

Through my kitchen window I am watching a hummingbird drink from the feeder I just refilled after we've been away for several weeks. I'm thrilled to see him on this late November morning and it reminds me how happy I am to be home, especially as the holiday season is beginning. My father always said after a family trip, "It is wonderful to go away and it is wonderful to come home." I agree completely.

Home. I've made many places my home through the years, moving so many times it is difficult to keep track. I spent my first 18 years in the same house in Sioux Falls, then moved on to Istanbul, Boston, Missoula, London, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and now back to Seattle. In each place, I've moved between multiple addresses. With each move I shed piles of stuff but my dedicated friends would groan to move my library yet again. But one year ago, Christian and I moved into this house and I thought to myself, we just might be here for a while.

One afternoon this past summer, the doorbell rang. A couple named Richard and Joan introduced themselves as previous owners of this house. We invited them in and they walked through telling us about raising their two children here over eighteen years beginning in 1964, how they'd loved the garden and how the house had changed since then. They also casually mentioned a resident ghost, a fire, and a few tragedies that had occurred here. They assured me it was a friendly ghost and that they themselves had spent the happiest years of their lives here. Joan promised to send me some documents she had on the house, including photographs and a profile on the yard in Sunset Magazine in the 60's. And she did.

Our house was built in 1906 and was one of two houses on the street. For many years it was called the Crockett House after the first family who lived here. Mildred Crockett grew up in the house and later lived here with her own family. She was a teacher who apparently always had her class sing Davey Crockett before class. She was also a poet and I have tracked down her book Westward Trek published in 1942 at the Central Library's Seattle Collection, which I can hardly wait to read. The wall in the front garden was built with bricks from the old Meany Hall on campus at the University of Washington. And our little family room was converted from a single car garage. It was such fun to look at their family photographs she included to show me the interior of the house when they lived here and how different it looked then.

Now the history of the house evolves with us and the happy memories we make here. One of the best things about our home is that we have a guest room, the first time in my adult life I have a room for family and friends to sleep comfortably. In the past year, we have tried to make up for lost time and have enjoyed hosting many visitors. I leave out a guest book for people to sign and it is a pleasure to flip through the pages to remember each special visit. With each house guest, each dinner party, each holiday and every normal day the history of our home continues to unfold.


What Are We Waiting For

While strolling the neighborhoods of Paris I have been remembering all the books I've read and  all the films I've seen that take place here. So many artists, writers and visitors have been inspired by the City of Light. I vaguely remembered the following poem was about Paris but had forgotten it was talking about the nuances of Paris in November until I just tracked it down in Caroline Kennedy's She Walks In Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems, a wonderful anthology I have given as a gift to many of my girl friends. Whenever or wherever in the world you may want to travel or whatever memorable event you hope will someday come to pass, here's a little nudge from the poet David Lehman.

May 2
~ David Lehman

Someday I’d like to go
to Atlantic City with you
not to gamble (just being
there with you is enough
of a gamble) but to ride
the high white breakers
have a Manhattan and listen
to a baritone saxophone
play a tune called “Salsa
Eyes” with you beside me
on a banquette but why
stop there let’s go to 
Paris in November when
it’s raining and we read 
the Tribune at La Rotonde
our hotel room has a big
bathtub I knew you’d like
that and we can be a couple 
of unknown Americans what
are we waiting for let’s go


Paris Pour Petits Garcons

Xavier, pronounced "eg-ZAH-vee-ay" here in Paris, is making himself right at home. His favorite things in Paris so far:

1. The Gare de Lyon train station. We took a train to Fontainebleau and he was thrilled. The metro and the #96 bus are equally as exciting.

2. The brocante markets. He has a keen eye and found this wooden train, a model ship and piles of books. He was chatted up by dealers and browsers and called "Monsieur Brocanteur."

3. Parc Gambetta, our neighborhood park in the 20th Arrondissement. There is no language barrier between toddlers running around a playground and he jumps right into the civilized fray of French children.

4. The clock in the Musee d'Orsay. He also liked any paintings which had dogs, cats or other animals like Manet's "Olympia." For some reason he kept moo-ing at the life-size polar bear sculpture "Ours Blanc" by Francois Pompon to the delight of other visitors.

5. Statues with dogs, stags or lions on them.

 6. Any space with room to run like Chateau Fontainebleau, the Jardin des Tuileries, Pere Lachaise and Jardin du Luxembourg.

7. The escalators at the Centre Pompidou. While my husband took in the art, Xavier and I rode up and down and up and down and ran around the rooftop viewing areas to look across all of Paris. I pointed out the Eiffel Tower, the gargoyle on top of Notre Dame and the beautiful rays of late afternoon sunlight piercing through the clouds, but he was more interested in saying "Jumping!" as he jumped continuously.

8. But the very best thing about Paris is his Auntie Cindy who knows the best patisseries, takes him to the park, instigates dance parties and gives him snuggles.


So Here We Are

Ah, Paris.

Christian and I have a system for pre-trip planning; he is the logistics guru and I am the culture-food-museum-experiential researcher. I comb through cookbooks, guidebooks, magazine articles, best-of-lists, UNESCO sites, and sometimes, if I'm lucky, children's books. Paris is even more delightful then usual when viewed through children's literature. Xavier at 18 months is not particularly interested in all of these stories and illustrations just yet, but I love them and someday soon I know he will love them too. Below are a few of my favorites to transport you to Paris, whenever you need a fix.






Xavier's favorite at the moment, is Bon appetit! Monsieur Lapin, a gift from his cousin Raphaele).

And my current favorite by Maira Kalman, whose work I adore....

"Allo? Allo Jacques?
Jacques, it is me, Mimi.
Oui. Oui. Mimi. I just got off 
the phone with Kiki.
Oh Jaques, not Fifi, Kiki.
Listen. Zouzou called Loulou,
Loulou called Coco,
Coco called Kiki,
and Kiki called me me.
Have you heard the latest?
Tout Paris is abuzz. Max is here!
Who is Max??? Mon dieu!
Sacre bleu! He is the coolest cat,
I mean the hottest dog,
He is Max Stravinsky.
The dog poet from New York.
That bohemian beagle. He's
staying at Madame Camembert's
I don't know what he's going 
to do, but I will call Tarte.
Tarte Tartin. She finds out 
everything from that bogus 
Barcelonian baron,
Federico de Potatoes,
who is a fortune hunter or
a fortune teller or something
but he is tres intelligent and
he always gives her the scoop.
Allors, I must run.
My souffle is sinking.
Jacques, there is something
in the air. Don't you think?
I think it is very, oh so very....


K is for Keyif: A Turkish Alphabet

I collect alphabet books because I think they are a charming way to organize little parts of the world. Since arriving in Turkey, I have been on the hunt and I have found two delightful additions for my collection which are unique as the Turkish alphabet has a few letters not found in English and does not use our J, Q or X. My first score was the above 1935 edition with a rather menacing-looking Ataturk inside the front cover discovered in the stalls at the 7th Antiquarian Beyoglu Book Fair in Istanbul.

My second find from the Istanbul Modern museum shop is illustrated with the colorful art of Turkish avant-garde artist Fikret Mualla (1904-1967).

While traveling, I have a habit of making my own alphabets to organize and commemorate a trip in my brain. Below is my Turkish Alphabet for this trip:

A is for Anatolia, the vast Turkish countryside of Asia Minor and a word that conjures up pastoral pleasures. A is also for the old town and harbor of Antalya where we are spending our last days in Turkey. A is for Ayran, the refreshing salty yogurt-water drink that goes so well with kebab. A is for Ataturk, known as the Father of the Turks. And A is for Arabesque, the islamic art motif of tendrils and curling vines.

B is for Byzantium and Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium." B is for Bayram, or holiday, which we celebrated for Republic Day on the 29th of October in the coastal town of Kas. B is for the beautiful Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus that divides Europe and Asia, and the Istanbul Art Bienale. And B is for the Buyukonat Family - Tuncer, Hulya, Meltem and Gizem - my Turkish Family.

Bayram in Kas - speeches started at 9 am and the party continued all day and night

C is for Constantine who renamed Byzantium Constantinople after himself in 324. C is for Cukurcuma, the newly hip neighborhood full of bars and antique shops where we took an apartment for our week in Istanbul. C is for Canim, a term of endearment which means dear or darling. C is for Cay, the strong black tea we drink out of tulip shaped glasses and always sweeten with one sugar cube.  C is for the Chora Church full of Byzantium mosaics. And C is for Calligraphy, considered the highest of all Islamic arts because it writes the words of Allah.

Mosaics in the Chora Church

D is for Dolmabace Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus and home of the world's largest chandelier. D is for Divan, an excellent place for lounging. And D is for Durum sandwiches, our favorite Turkish street food.

Dolmabace Palace Gate

E is for the ancient library of Ephesus, which we didn't get to this trip, but I visited when I was a student here. E is for Ezan, the call to prayer which the meuzzins sing five times each day from the minarets. E is also for Efes Beer, Ebru marbled painting and black Eunuchs who held the highest administrative position in the Harem and often wielded great power.

F is for our feast at the Fetiye Fish Market, where we bought calamari, anchovies and sea bream then sat down in a restaurant where they cooked it for us for 6 TL ($3) with salad, bread, mezes, raki and wine. F is also for Ferries on which we criss-cross the Bosphorus drinking cay.

G is for Gozleme, the pancake snack found at markets and cafes filled with a variety of fillings such as meat, cheese, spinach, fruit, honey or tahini. G is also for Gulet, the wooden yachts plying the Mediterranean Sea along the Turquoise Coast on which I sailed 20 years ago and will again someday soon when Xavier can swim.

H is for Harem which means "forbidden" and evokes the romanticism, intrigue, luxury and boredom inside the inner world of Topkapi Palace. H is also for the Haiga Sophia, one of the most important Byzantine monuments. H is for Hamsi (Black Sea anchovies) which are in season now and amazingly delicious served grilled or fried. H is for Hamams, where we bathed as a family. And H is for the poet Nazim Hikmet.

I is for Istanbul Modern Museum where we got a slant of Turkish life through modern art. I is for the famous Iznik Tiles made for mosques and palaces. I is for Iskendar Kebab, another favorite food. And I is for the rural town of Islamlar where we breathed the mountain air.

Xavi and I taking a rest in front of some Iznik Tiles in Topkapi Palace

J does not exist in the Turkish alphabet (the letter "C"sounds like "J"). However J is for Justinian who ruled Byzantium from 527-565. J is also for Jannisarries, the elite guard of the Sultans.

K is Keyif, the art of pleasure and taking one's time. K is for Kalkan, our beach town on the Mediterranean Coast and Kaputas Beach, our favorite swimming beach nearby. K is for Kadikoy, the neighborhood I lived in on the Asian side of the city 20 years ago. K is for kedi, the Turkish cats Xavier loves to chase. And K is for Kahve which came to Europe by way of Turkey's coffeehouses.

L is for the ancient Lycian Federation and now the Lycian Way, a 400 km hiking trail from Fetiye to Antalya. We walked a section of the trail along the aqueducts from Kalkan to Patara with Alicia and Solihin. And L is for Lokum, also known as Turkish Delight.

M is for Merhaba, how Turks say hello. M is for Mezes, the many cold starters people enjoy with raki.  M is for the Maxx Royale Hotel where we stayed with my host sister Berna and her family. M is for the few crumbling yet beautiful Mosaics left from Christian Byzantine days. M is for the Minarets of Mosques piercing the Turkish sky. M is also for the Greek Island of Meis, where we popped over for an afternoon lunch.

The Harbor of Meis

View from the top of Meis (Christian hiked up, I didn't)

N is for Nar Suyu, the pomegranate juice we drink every day. N is for and Nazar Boncugu, or the blue eye amulet. N is also for St. Nicholas, the bishop from Demre, Turkey who is now known around the world as Father Christmas.

Baskets of Nar ready to be juiced

O is for Oludeniz (called the "dead sea" because it is so calm), the beautiful swimming cove where we spent a lazy day. Twenty years ago I swam here with my older brother Patrick and his now-wife Paula when they came traveling through Turkey to visit me. And O is for the Oszoy Family - Uran, Cansever, Zeynep, Aylin and Berna - my other Turkish Family.

P is for Patara, another ancient city and it's long and inviting beach. P is for Pestamal, the pretty Turkish cotton towels traditionally used in the hamam and now used on the beach.

Q does not exist in the Turkish Alphabet, but I will make Q for my Quest for the best baklava and Turkish Delight I could find in Turkey.

R is for Rumi, the great mystic-poet of Konya, Turkey. Rumi's full name was Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi which means "Love and ecstatic flight into the infinite" and the Islamic Brotherhood he founded takes its name, Mevlana Sufi, from him. R is also for Raki the national drink flavored with aniseed, sometimes called Lion's Milk because it turns a milky color when one adds water and ice.

S is for Serefe! the Turkish toast. S is for the great architect Sinan who built countless mosques and monuments. S is for the Seljuks, who swept across Turkey and founded a Turkish dynasty in 1037. S is also for Suleimon the Magnificent, the longest ruling Ottoman sultan from 1520-1566.

T is for the Topkapi Palace where we walked in the footsteps of sultans. T is for the ancient cities of Termessos and Tlos.  T is for Istanbul's Tunel, the shortest funicular in the world and the oldest subway after London. T is for Tugra, the sultan's signature. And T is for Tulip, originally cultivated from the Anatolian steppe and introduced to Holland by a ship from Constantinople in 1593 which set off the European craze.

Amphitheater at Termessos

U is for Uskudor Amerikan Lisesi where I attended high school in Istanbul. U is also for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List which celebrates Turkey's Blue Eye, Noah's Pudding, Shadow Dancers, Meddah Public Storytellers, Asik troubadors and the Mevlani Sema Ceremony.

V is for Villa Huzur, our home for two weeks (huge thanks again to Alicia and Solihin!) V is also for Vienna, the city that twice pushed back the Ottomans in 1529 and in 1683 and whose bakers made the crescent moon-shaped pastry we all know today as the croissant to commemorate the victory.

W is for Whirling Dervish, the meditative, spinning prayer of the Mevlana Sufis. They "whirl" to music with one hand reaching up to touch heaven and one hand reaching down to touch the earth. We watched them one evening in Istanbul and visited their Mevlana Lodge in Istanbul.

Whirling Dervish

X does not exist in the Turkish Alphabet, but X is for Xanthos, the biggest city in the Lycian Federation, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and where we saw a tortoise making his way through crumbling columns.

Tortoise at Xanthos

Y is for Yali, the waterfront mansions along the Bosphorus. Someday perhaps I will live in one.

Z is for Zeytin, the olive which grows on ancient trees across Anatolia. We eat olives every day for breakfast and there is a wonderful dish called Imam Biyaldi which means "the priest fainted" which is either from delight at the flavor of the dish or from shock at the price of the enormous amount of olive oil used in the dish.


Villa Huzur, A Portrait of Place

Early Fall

This year, early fall in the deep south,

I steep myself in the sea, sand, and sun
in trees
and apples as if in honey.
At night the air smells like harvested wheat --
the night sky meets the dusty road
and I blend with the stars.

~ Nazim Hikmet

We've spent two restful and invigorating weeks at Villa Huzur, the Turkish home of Alicia and Solihin, our new friends and extended family since my brother Matt married their daughter Rebecca this past summer. They currently work and live in Moscow and wanted a get-away within direct flight range so they built this traditional travertine stone house here last year. They graciously opened up their home to us when they heard we were coming to Turkey and joined us for a three-day weekend.

Situated in the tiny rural town of Islamlar set in the Taurus mountains above the resort town of Kalkan, Villa Huzur is a calm retreat on the Lycian Coast with a view of the sea and the mountains. Huzur means "peace" in Turkish and it definitely lives up to its name.  We have the best of both worlds: Kalkan is close by for entertainments and up here we have a cool breeze, the mountain streams provide excellent drinking water and the locals stock their ponds with fresh trout.

We wake up in the morning and throw open the balcony doors to greet the day. We go down the curved staircase to open the four sets of double doors to the terrace to bring the outdoors in. The first pleasurable task of the day is to manually squeeze fresh pomegranate juice with the industrial Az-Yildiz hand-juicer (Turks like to mix pomegranates and oranges, but we prefer straight pomegranate as it is such a rare treat). Then on the sunny terrace, we have a leisurely Turkish breakfast of toasted simit bread (sesame rings), cheeses, jams, sesame butter, honeycomb and cream, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs and coffee. The rest of the morning we work, write and read while Xavier naps.

View from the kitchen window.

A champagne lunch Alicia threw together.

Christian, Xavier and Solihin swimming at Kibutas Beach

Kas Market with Alicia

Alicia and Solihin built this house with an eye for the details. They've built a well-stocked library of Turkish cookbooks, novels, guidebooks, art books and history. Kilims cover the radiant-heated floors and beautiful calligraphy hangs on the walls. Mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture and fluffy white Turkish towels are beautiful and functional touches. The kitchen is spacious and full of everything one could possibly need for a dinner party, including plastic popsicle molds for little boys and Lomonosov Cobalt Blue coffee cups.

A corner of the living room.

A tugra, the sultan's signature

Table grapes hang in heavy clusters on the arbor over the raised divan in the back garden, the perfect partially shaded reading/napping/lounging spot. I've spent a lot of time here.

The call to prayer, the ezan, comes five times a day from the mosque minarets. At 9:30 am we hear the kids from the elementary school across the street laughing at recess and when we walk by they call out in unison, Merhaba! Bees buzz as they go about their daily route collecting nectar, birds sing, roosters "oo-oo-OO" (as Xavier says) and two grand white turkeys grumble to each other in the vineyard. 

This October, the weather has been in the 80's and everyday we swim either in the Mediterranean or the sea-water pool at the house. The crowds of summer are long gone and many of the restaurants and shops are now closing up. We like having it all to ourselves, or mostly all to ourselves. At the UNESCO World Heritage site of Letoon, we were the only visitors and after chatting in my broken Turkish with the one man working at the ticket counter, he gave us some pomegranates from the trunk of his car as a parting gift. Within an hour in any direction there are local markets, ancient ruins, hikes, beaches and islands to explore in the afternoons. We've discovered Xanthos, Tlos, Termessos, the Greek island of Meis, Fetiye's fish market, and hiked part of the Lycian Way.

Neighbors have been picking, packing and stacking their grapes in wooden crates along the mountain roads for the trucks to come collect. Pomegranates hang heavy from the orchard below the house and we've watched women use wooden spoons to whack piles of them over big plastic bowls to make nardik, the thick pomegranate syrup used on salads and fish.

In the evenings we swing by our favorite casual restaurant Hunkur Ocabasi to have Iskendar Kebab (Alexander's Kebab with yogurt, tomato sauce served over cubes of bread) or we pick up fresh sardines, sea bass or sea bream to grill at home.

As the day winds down and Xavier falls into a heavy and happy sleep from playing outside all day, we wrap ourselves in blankets and go star-gazing. In 300 B.C. Herodotus called Kalkan "the place nearest to the stars." Sitting out on the terrace in the dark, listening to the night sounds and watching the innumerable stars light up, I do feel nearer to the cosmos. We blend with the stars.

Below you can see and hear a happy moment in time at Villa Huzur.  A million thanks to you, Alicia and Solihin, for your hospitality and friendship!