Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peter's Favorite Things

Peter's Favorites
Dedicated to Peter's grandmas, grandpas, aunt, and uncles who we miss so much! 
Here's an update on our little 16 month old!

1. Dogs:
He loves reading about them.  He loves petting them.  He loves trying to pull their wagging tails.  Whenever he sees a dog, he excitedly pants like a dog with his tongue out.

2. Oranges:
The Clementines are so sweet right now.  I cut them up in tiny pieces and he gobbles them up!  We also have lots of orange trees on base.  Peter loves picking up the fallen oranges and carrying them around exclaiming "ball!".

3. Books:
Peter loves to read!  His two grandmas have sent him lots of fun books, which he just devours!  He loves books about Jesus, dogs, tractors ("duh-dor!") (Thanks, Smilie's for the Tractor book!), and animals (he just said "dow" (cow) for the first time today!).

4. Santa:
Yes, it's mid-January.  But the kid loves Santa.  He still carries around a Christmas card with Santa on it.  I can't bring myself to pack up The Night Before Christmas just yet.  It's his favorite!

5.  The Outdoors:
Picking up sticks, examining rocks, poking ants with sticks (yes, he is such a boy), pointing to birds...he loves it all! 

6. Football:
Words cannot describe Peter's intense love for football.  He often comes to me with the TV remote control and pleads "buh-ball", asking to watch football on TV.  When Peter had an ear infection last weekend with a fever of 103.5 in the middle of the night, we took him into the living room to try to cool him down until the Tylenol started working.  He sat on Dan's lap and watched a late night game, forgetting all about the ear infection, and happily chanting "buh-ball! buh-ball!"
I woke up at 5:40 this morning to the sound of Peter standing in his crib chanting "Football! Football! Football!..."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Izmir and Our Journey Home

After four full days of traveling, we decided to have a relaxing morning before we headed to the airport in the afternoon.  We ate breakfast, packed up our bags, and checked out of our wonderful hotel.  I must admit, I was sad to leave this hotel.  As we said goodbye to the hotel employees and walked out the door, Dan whispered to me "I'm going to miss them!" and I whole heartedly agreed. 

Children are treasured in the Turkish culture.  I can't count the number of times a day Peter is swarmed by Turkish people with hugs and kisses and attention.  It is really beautiful.  Our hotel was no different.  Almost every single hotel employee (bellhops, valets, the front desk, the waiters) knew Peter by name and went out of their way to play with him.  And nearly every time we saw a hotel employee, they would excitedly run behind the front desk and return with a brand new Hot Wheels car for Peter.  Since our little man was treated like a king, he soon became endeared to the hotel employees and flashed his most charming smiles and enthusiastic waves whenever he saw them.  Which, of course, prompted them to shower him with even more love and gifts.  When I thanked one of the hotel employees (who looked just like a Turkish George Clooney) for all they had done, he sincerely responded "Everything for Peter!"  He may have meant "anything for Peter" but I think everything is the more appropriate word anyway. 

After leaving the hotel, we set out to explore Izmir.  Though we stayed in Izmir for 4 nights, we had not yet had the chance to explore the city.  Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and is more European than many Turkish cities.  Our hotel was in downtown Izmir with a view of the Aegean Sea.  It was beautiful.  We walked down near the water and saw Turkish families playing with their children, couples sharing tea on Seaside cafes and vendors selling Turkish breads, sandwiches, and tea.  It was another beautiful, sunny day.

We walked further down the sidewalk to the Konak Clock tower, the symbol of Izmir.  Near the clock tower was a mosque.  There were about 50-75 men on prayer rugs in the grass by the Mosque praying their prayers.  The clock tower was in the middle of a city square.  The square was filled with pigeons.  Peter laughed and squealed with joy as the pigeons flapped their wings and took flight while he ran after them.  Other Turkish children joined Peter in this game.  These pigeons may have been the highlight of Peter's entire vacation.

After exploring Izmir, it was time to catch a Havas (airport shuttle bus) to the airport.  The hotel employees told us where the Havas stopped every 30 minutes, so we carried our luggage and waited.  When the bus pulled up, we noticed that "Havas" was not printed on the side of the bus as it had been when we had ridden it earlier.  Dan tapped a young Turkish woman on the shoulder and asked her "Havas?  Havaalani (airport)?".  She did not speak any English, but was very friendly and tried to make gestures to guess what we might need.  We then tried the bus driver "Havas? Havaalani?".  He did not speak much English either, but was able to say "Yes.  Airport." 
So...we hopped on the bus and crossed our fingers.

The bus drove further and further in the opposite direction of the airport, stopping frequently to pick up more people.  My stomach began to feel sick as I realized that we were on the city bus, rather than the Havas.  We rumbled down the street with Turkish music blaring and little Peter somehow drifting off to sleep on my lap.  Dan and I nervously started to discuss our options when suddenly the bus made its last stop and turned around- and headed for the airport.  It took us a little longer to get to the airport than planned, but we arrived with plenty of time and saved a bit of money too!

After checking our bags, Dan and I took turns chasing Peter around the airport while the other one watched our carry on bags.  Peter soon made friends with a little boy about his age.  Dan and I laughed as we noticed that the two boys looked quite a bit alike.  Peter was playing with the Turkish version of himself.  It was so cute!  Our good, Catholic little man kept extending his hand to the little boy (he has started doing the Sign of Peace at Mass now and is quite excited about it), but the other boy was not interested in shaking Peter's hand.  It didn't seem to bother Peter who continued playing happily with him. 

After going through security, I realized that Peter had not had dinner yet.  I started digging through our bag in search of crackers.  A sharply dressed woman sitting next to us noticed me and started digging through her bag as well.  She pulled out a cheese filled roll and handed it to Peter (once again, the Turkish people are so good to children!).  My mother instinct internally cringed as Peter accepted the roll from the stranger.  She was so enthusiastic and kind, I just couldn't refuse.  Peter took a small bite before I took him around the corner and tossed the rest of the roll.  I'm 99 percent sure it was fine, but I decided it wasn't worth the time I would later spend worrying about it. 
Peter and I walked to the little airport snack shop in hopes of finding something resembling a good dinner for a toddler.  I ordered "tost" with cheese.  The Turkish tost is like a grilled cheese sandwich but without the butter.  It was much healthier than our American version, but very dry.  I wouldn't order it for myself, but Peter (who hasn't been tainted by our American love for butter and grease yet) gobbled it right up. 

It was soon time to board the plane.  We sat next to a nicely dressed Turkish business man.  It was about 5:30 pm and he looked weary from a week of work.  I said a prayer for him as my energetic one year old crawled all over my lap and chattered incessantly.  If he was hoping for a quiet, restful flight, he sat by the wrong people. 
This man was just another example of the Turkish culture's love of children.  He did not speak any English, but quickly began playing with Peter.  They high-fived and played peek-a-boo.  Peter loved his new friend and enthusiastically played with him.  After awhile, the flight attendants came down the aisle with a cart of snacks and drinks.  This airline did not have any complimentary snacks, they were all steeply priced.  When the flight attendant reached our row, the business man asked her several questions in Turkish and then handed her some Lira.  She handed him a variety pack filled with lots and lots of cookies and crackers.  He smiled and handed them to us.  We gratefully thanked him for the very kind gesture.  He pointed to us and held up one finger, then pointed to himself and held up three.  He had three children of his own.  

The flight was very quick and before we knew it, we were landing in Adana!  We gathered our bags and took a shuttle back to base.  We felt triumphant when we arrived at our house after the successful completion of our first big trip on our own.  Though tired from our week of traveling, there was an excitement in the air as we entered our home.  It was Christmas Eve!  We put Peter into his pajamas and read "The Night Before Christmas" with him.  After our tired little man was asleep, we had a frozen pizza while setting out the gifts and cookies for Santa under our little tree.  I knew this would be a Christmas Eve we would never forget!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Adventures Continue: Pamukkale and Hieropolis

On our fourth day, we set off for the city of Pamukkale.  We enjoyed another scenic drive through the mountains and villages of Turkey.  As we drove, we admired rows and rows of beautiful orange trees lining the highway for miles.  We found farmers selling cartfuls of bright, plump oranges along the roads in every quaint village along the way.  The oranges were unbelievably juicy and sweet.  I wanted to stop at every orange stand I saw and buy "just a few more". 

After several hours of driving, we arrived in Pamukkale.  Pamukkale means "cotton castle".  It was named for the distinctive sparkling while cliffs and mountains that have made this area famous.  These white cliffs were formed by limestone laden hot springs flowing down the slopes.  It looks like snow, but it's actually white layers of calcium carbonate. 

On a plateau near the falls lies the impressive ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis.  This city was built as an anceint spa around the curative waters of the hot springs that flow there.  It was leveled by an earthquake in 17 AD, but rebuilt to enjoy prosperity as a big, bustling city in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  The ruins of this city stretched over miles of land and we quickly discovered that no matter how quickly we hiked, we would never be able to explore it all in one afternoon.  We explored a stadium, a gymnasium, a bridge, a hill covered in tombstones, and an ancient pool filled with the thermal springs that made this city popular. 

The most impressive and unforgettable spot in this ancient city was the ruins of the Church of Saint Philip.  Saint Philip was crucified upside down on a hill outside of the city walls.  A church was built over the site of Saint Philip's martyrdom in the 5th century.  As we climbed up the steep hill, we imagined Saint Philip being lead to his death where the ruins now stood.  It was chilling and inspiring.  What an incredible experience, to stand on the soil where this saint's blood was spilled out of love of Christ and His Church.  It echoed a silent challenge for us to a greater boldness and zeal in our spiritual lives.  What a blessing it is to have the Saints as examples and inspirations for us! 

As the sun was setting, we took off our shoes and walked barefoot along the terraces of the white cliffs.  The thermal springs still flow through the rocks, and it felt like warm bathwater trickling over our toes.  As we walked on the warm, snowy looking white cliffs, I felt as if I was exploring another planet.  The whole experience was surreal.  We stood on the "cotton castle" and let the curative waters of the warm, bubbly springs wash over our feet as we watched the sun set behind the mountains in the distance.  Another incredible day on our family adventures in Turkey!