January 2010


On Tuesday, our dryer started making a very loud, very high-pitched, very unnerving noise when I turned it on.  Stephen took great delight in imitating the sound, but I was mostly just irritated that I was going to have to line dry everything in our house until we could get the repairmen here to fix whatever it was making the noise.  Thursday, despite nasty weather and several inches of snow, they braved the treacherous streets in our neighborhood to fix my dryer.  I take back most of the bad things I’ve said about the reliability of embassy repairmen.

Imagine my chagrin, then, when these hard-working, very busy men, who squeezed our repair work in among other preexisting appointments, showed me the cause of the dryer malfunction.  Apparently someone (*cough* Stephen! *cough*) had forcibly inserted one of his books and two collar stays into the lint trap on the front of the dryer, and these items made their way into the vent, where they caused the very loud and very disconcerting noise.  I had noticed Stephen taking the lint trap in and out, but hadn’t thought to make sure he wasn’t putting other items into the conveniently located slot.  Oops.

There are many, many things about living here that are inconvenient, frustrating, irritating, and/or nerve-wracking.  There are really no hard and fast traffic rules, public services are often unreliable, construction and environmental standards frequently disregarded, and urban planning seemingly nonexistent.  (Turkish language fun fact for the day — according to the U.S. ambassador to Turkey’s Turkish language instructor, there is no term for “civil engineering” in Turkish.)  It’s easy to get hung up on the things that can make life here more frustrating and less convenient than what I remember or imagine life to be like back home, and I’m often guilty of complaining about those things, while taking the benefits of living here for granted.  So as part of a general effort to be more positive, I figured I would write a post on one of the things I really do love about living in Turkey — the level of solicitude the Turks typically demonstrate to small children.

When we flew to Istanbul in December, for instance, Danny and I were negotiating the (rather large and somewhat disorganized) Istanbul airport with two rolling carry-on suitcases, a stroller, a backpack, and a toddler.  On the bus from the plane to the terminal, not only did several men offer me (the one who was carrying said toddler) their seats, but one of the men from our flight insisted on carrying my suitcase and the stroller off the bus and into the terminal.  Contrast this with one of my Stateside airport experiences…I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and travelling alone to see my parents, bringing with me a very large suitcase.  When the time came to board the bus for the airport, not only did no one offer to help me get the suitcase onto the bus (not even the driver!), I had to lift the (large and heavy!) suitcase into the luggage racks on the side of the bus by myself.  There were literally men and women standing around trying not to make eye contact with me as I struggled to get the stupid bag onto the bus, I kid you not.

During our January trip to Istanbul, Danny and Stephen and I went to see the fabulous Iran exhibit at the Topkapi Palace museum (this exhibit was, in fact, the impetus for the trip).  Trying to be prepared parents, we had packed a variety of snacks to keep Stephen happy while Danny and I enjoyed the exhibit, including saltines, nuts, Cheerios, raisins, and pine nuts.  Being a typical toddler, at least 1/3 of whatever I gave him to eat ended up in his stroller or on the floor of the museum.  We were a little concerned that the museum employees would be upset about the mess he was making, so we asked one of them if it was okay for us to be feeding him in the museum, and they immediately exclaimed, “of course, he’s a baby!” while staring at us like we were crazy to even ask.

Finally, I love how wherever we go Stephen ends up getting special attention and little treats.  He and I went for a walk this week to pick up some tomatoes from the greengrocer in our neighborhood, and while the grocer was bagging up my tomatoes, he asked me what Stephen liked to eat.  I misunderstood him, thinking he was asking whether Stephen liked tomatoes, and indicated that he did, but the man very politely repeated his question, adding, “does he like pineapple?  Grapes?”  At that point I finally understood the gist of his question and told him that Stephen loved all fruit but especially bananas.  The grocer immediately rushed over to the display of bananas and picked one out for Stephen to eat while I finished shopping.  This scene is repeated pretty much every time we’re in the market, the grocery store, a restaurant, even the butcher keeps little candies and toys that he gives to Stephen when we come in to get meat.  I think the weirdest example was when a guy at the outdoor market offered a raw fresh anchovy to Stephen when he was 9 or 10 months old…we’re still trying to figure that one out.  When we got out to eat, one or more of the waiters will usually entertain Stephen for at least part of our meal.  When he was younger, they would pick him up and walk him around the restaurant (keeping him within our line of sight the whole time), and now that he’s older they’ll play peek-a-boo with him or offer to monitor him closely as he wanders among the tables.

Most of my “quick” sewing project turn into involved, infuriating, rage-inducing debacles, so finding a sewing project that actually can be done in well under half an hour is somewhat of a coup for me.  Stephen has desperately needed mittens for at least a month now, but my first attempt at making them for him turned into a classic knitting snafu (the first mitten is finished, beautiful, warm, and won’t fit him until at least next winter, so the second has yet to be completed).  I was racking my brain trying to come up with a way to make him some warm, inexpensive mittens that wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, when I suddenly realized I could probably sew some out of the fleece that I bought last year to make soakers and longies.

I used this tutorial, although I ended up having to wing the shape of the mitten a bit because I couldn’t keep Stephen’s hand still on the fabric long enough to properly trace around it.  My first sewing attempt was a little bit too snug, but I just ripped that seam out and sewed it again with a smaller seam allowance and they were just fine.  The best part is that, since they’re fleece, I don’t have to worry about finishing any of the seams or even hemming them if I don’t want to.  Although the pattern called for elastic around the wrist, I found that because of the stretch of the fleece (make sure you cut the fabric with the stretch going horizontally across the wrist opening, not lengthwise!) and the snugness of my wrist opening, I don’t even need elastic.  The fleece stretches enough to get the opening over Stephen’s hand, but is tight enough to keep the gloves on without slipping.

I took Stephen out to play in the snow today, and his new mittens worked beautifully!  His fingers were dry and only a little chilly when I brought him inside, despite the fact that he spent most of his time outdoors with his mittens fully submerged in snowbanks.

The inspiration for these sheets was twofold — first, I realized our current inventory of 3 crib sheets were never going to suffice with two children in crib mattress-sized beds come this summer, and second I’ve had this fabric sitting around for over a year now and have had no idea what to do with it.  I often buy a raw material like fabric or yarn because I fall in love with it, but am then too scared to do anything with it because it’s too nice and I want to wait until I have the “perfect project” for it.  I finally decided that since I know I like knit cotton crib sheets and I had almost enough fabric to make two new sheets, I would just go for it.  I used this free pattern as a guide on sizing and such.

I had two pieces of fabric lying around, only one of which has been made into a sheet so far.  I plan to do the second sheet as soon as I can face threading the elastic through that much fabric again…but more on that later.  In order to stretch the fabric I had as much as possible, I decided to sew some scrap knit fabric onto the edges of the nice fabric.  For the tool sheets I used an old T-shirt that I got at a church yard sale years ago, which also served for a while as a diaper for Stephen.  Don’t worry, it was thoroughly washed after its brief tenure as a cloth diaper!  As it turns out, you can’t even see the red fabric when the sheet is on the crib, so I could have used something that didn’t match if I needed to, but I’m crazy like that and like to have things matching even if I can’t see them.

The hardest part of this project was probably the math required to figure out exactly how little fabric I could get away with sewing on the sides to make a big enough sheet.  It’s sad, really, how long that took me.  The actual sewing was quite easy, even though the knit fabric is a little on the thin side, which makes it tend to stretch our or bunch up on the feed dog.  The only frustrating part of this project was feeding the elastic through the entire hem…this process was complicated by the fact that the T-shirt fabric I used had seams that I just left on there in the interest of time, so the safety-pin I attached to the end of the elastic kept getting caught up in all the extra thread and fabric that was in my elastic casing.  Add that to the fact that the safety pins they sell here are decidedly low quality (I broke two on this project alone, that’s how flimsy the metal is!) and the elastic part took at least as long as the cutting, measuring and sewing part of the project, if not longer.

I still have one more piece of fabric that I can use to make another crib sheet, which is turquoise with white bird silhouettes on it.  As soon as I can get up the nerve to face feeding elastic through that massive a hem again, I’m definitely going to make another of these.

I finished my robe — the first project I’ve made with a sewing pattern since my grandmother helped my cousin and me sew pajamas for our Cabbage Patch dolls about twenty years ago.  I’ve been searching on and off for years for a warm, not-too-thick full-length robe that wasn’t made of terry cloth.  Especially when I’m up in the middle of the night, I want something I can tuck around my ankles to keep them from freezing, but that wasn’t so warm that I couldn’t wear it year-round.  Eventually I decided that since I couldn’t find what I wanted for under $150, I would figure out some way to make it myself

I used the Simplicity 5814 pattern, and this awesome Amy Butler flannel in lime with some in mint for the contrasting collar and cuffs.  The robe is certainly not subtle by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s exactly what I wanted — cheerful and fun and ridiculously comfortable.  As soon as the flannel gets a little more broken in, I think it’ll be absolutely perfect.

The pattern was surprisingly easy to follow; it had really detailed instructions that even a total novice like me found easy to follow.   The only thing I couldn’t really figure out was how to do the tops of the pockets the way they wanted me to, so I came up with my own way to do them and I think they turned out just fine.  I’m looking forward to sipping my cup of coffee tomorrow morning all wrapped up in my fun new robe!