Motorbikes, bubble tea, and monsoon rains have all become a part of our new normal here in Saigon, Vietnam. I can’t believe it has been two months since I first arrived here! It has been an odd mix of both slow and fast, from waiting through quarantine then jumping into my new job and everything that came after. We’ve had a wonderful time these past few weeks setting up house and settling into our new life here. Here are some of the highlights
At the beginning of September we had a day off of school for a local holiday. We joined some new friends at a fancy spa in our area for a day at the pool, and then went for dinner and some drinks in town.
While we were out that day I saw a family releasing fish into a lake. This is Buddist tradition that represents compassion and invites good karma.
I’ve had a fabulous time going to some different workshops over the past month. My friend Brianna and I attended a macrame workshop at a little tea house in our area where I finally learned the art of large-scale macrame by making a plant hanger. I’ve taken to this craft immediately and completed two more since then.
We also attended a candle making workshop. We learned about scents and waxes and mixed our own signature fragrance into our own candles.
Brianna and I also peeled ourselves out of bed early one Saturday to attend a traditional Vietnamese Opera. It was quite the experience trying to guess the storylines and adapting to the music.
We have wheels! One of Kim’s dreams has been to have a motorbike of her own to zip around town on so about two weeks ago we made it happen! Our new bike we are just renting for now. Some people rent the entire time they live here to make it easier for maintenance and repairs. We don’t have a plan at this point but are happy to just have a little red bike to take around town. So everyone, please meet Rizzo! On our first weekend of having her, we took her out around our area and ended up finding Kim's favorite Vietnamese breakfast dish:
A big part of this month has been in setting up our house. Our apartment came furnished so we haven’t had to buy many big items thankfully. But it was a big day when we got night side tables and lamps for the bedroom. There are so many little things that go into moving into a new space and I’ve been trying to be conscientious about what we are buying. I want to love every item in our home. I was surprised to discover that it is a big online ordering culture here. But somethings you just need to see in person. I was delighted to stumble upon this basket store while we were out adventuring the other day. It had the *perfect* laundry baskets that I was looking for.
I also might be a little obsessed with buying plants. All the plants. And gorgeous pots to put them in. The plant nurseries here are just endless jungles of greens. It feels like when I was adventuring through the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Speaking of adventuring, we’ve had a lovely time of it. Here are some spots we found while wandering around District 1 (the heart of the city)
And this past weekend we went to District 5 (chinatown), where we had hand-pulled noodles and found Bead Land. It is a small alleyway overflowing with beads, jewelry making supplies, every kind of thread/yarn/string/rope imaginable, and so much more! I am certain I will be needing to return to this area
One evening we were lucky enough to go on a mini-street-food tour with one of my colleagues. We tried a few different local dishes. I’ve been so impressed with the vegetarian options here! There are so many local vegetarian and vegan restaurants! It’s nice to be able to have vegetarian versions of the local dishes as well as some tasty fusion ones.
We’ve had more lovely gatherings with lovely people. Newbies brunches, double date nights, and even High Tea.
We went to the movie theater the other weekend and ended up in a "love cinema" where all of the seats were actually full sized beds! 🙈😂 We were the only ones in the theater at the time, not sure how I'd feel about what others would be getting up to 😬😉Don't worry, the mattress was plastic and looked very clean.
In other news, Kim got a badly needed haircut.
A few last snaps from the last few weeks.
It’s funny how quickly we adapt to changes. I feel so settled into this new life already. Sure, there are many areas to still sort out (like my home art studio) but in so many ways it all feels normal now. I’m deeply missing my friends from Istanbul and my family and friends back home but I'm glad to have found some fabulous people here in Saigon who are amazing additions to my expat family.
Kim is out of quarantine. Penny is with us. We are in our new apartment. I feel that I can finally say that the moving to Vietnam mid-pandemic is over. I’m so happy! The last few days I have felt an overwhelming sense of joy and contentment. We have had so many months of uncertainty and worry, with plans A through Z and then some, it is surreal to finally be on the other side of it all. And now, now we can go on with all the fabulous things that come with arriving in a new country. Setting up house, exploring all the areas, trying all the new foods, finding adventures in the every day, and enjoying the sense of newness. That is exactly what I am trying to do now, not rush through this special stage of aw and new. Like our first Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) or exploring our neighborhood or getting to know new fabulous people.
School has been going wonderfully. It’s a rush to get the year started and an adjustment to these new grade levels. I am teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade which is a shift from Middle and High School that I’ve taught for the last few years. But I’m not a newbie when it comes to this age range either. I’m slowly rearranging my room and starting to get it set up for proper student agency. I’m so use to just focusing on having the right resources but now I feel that I can actually take the time to make my room a beautiful and inspiring place. No hurry though, I feel I’ll be here for awhile. Especially with the open-access COLOR photocopiers/printers ; ) This was the first week collaborative artwork that I organized with my fellow art teacher (grades 1-2), Nick. Each student drew themselves or something that represents them.
We had two more COVID tests, one and two weeks after our release. The last one was the absolute worst. The tester made me gag 3-4 times as he stuck the swab continuously down my throat. He was so rough with the nose swab that, for the first time in 8 tests, it continued to hurt for awhile afterward. I’m SO glad to be done with all of that.
On Monday I signed the lease to our new beautiful apartment. I absolutely love it! My top three priorities were a place close to school, that allows Penny, and is within our budget. This fits all of those while being nearly across the street from school. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to walk to school for the past five years and I didn’t want to have to deal with a commute. Additionally we were looking for at least two bedrooms and we got three! One master, one guest bedroom, and one art studio room. We wanted a huge kitchen for Kim with a nice stove and oven. This kitchen is so big and lovely, it has 3 gas burners and 2 electric ones, plus the owner bought us the biggest toaster oven I have ever seen! It also needed to have LOTS of natural light which is abundant in this apartment. It has the master bedroom on the backside of the building so it is nice and quiet and faces the sunrise where the rest of the rooms have glorious huge windows overflowing with light. Plus one whole wall in the living room is just a big glass sliding door. We were also hoping for wood flooring, check, and nice lighting, check check. There is also a perfect entry area with built in storage which I realized was important to me after looking at many apartments that opened directly into the living area. The place is fully furnished with a modern look (most had hideous furniture that we would have had to keep). In addition, we have a bathtub, two balconies, stunning molding throughout the whole place, a pool, AND the owner bought us a dryer! I seriously could not ask for anything more, we are so in love with this place!
Kim is so beyond happy to be out of quarantine. I took the day off from school to get her properly settled. It was such a joyous reunion!! To finally be here, all together, I just don’t have words. We spent the day walking around the neighborhood, buying pillows, trying some different foods, and wandering for hours around various grocery stores.
Penny has been enjoying our new place and neighborhood. She is pretty hot so we take her for a walk early early in the morning and later in the evening when the sun goes down. I’m happy to be in a quiet area where she can wonder off-leash without any problems. We've spent a chunk of change at the vet already for a gunky eye and getting her regular meds (heartworm, flea, tick, etc). We decided to become "members" at the vet which means for a fee we get unlimited consults for the year - I'm certain we will get our moneys worth. We did get caught in our first monsoon the other day. Penny was very unimpressed.
Over the weekend we ventured out of our area, District 7, for the first time. Friday night we went to a kitchen store about 15 minutes away and then walked around. We found a bustling street lined with food and drink stalls, produce sellers spilling out into the road, fish and meat sellers cutting up their goods (including plump still-hopping frogs), and so much more. It was rush hour which means there were motorbikes coming from every direction like a swarm of bees. It was insane and a bit much right off the bat. I was happy to return to our quiet, clean, open area of Phu My Hung.
Saturday we went off to another area, District 2, which had a fun hipster vibe to it. We searched a few boutique house-goods stores for the perfect dishes. I’m hoping to take advantage of this opportunity we have to set up a home completely from scratch by being very conscientious of what we buy for it. I intend to curate our home carefully and make it a beautiful, inspiring, and lovely place. Which means we are on the hunt for beautiful, inspiring, and lovely things. It was fun meandering around and looking through the shops. We bought some dishes that I’m happy with but I might just have a hand at making my own as well. Later on, we stumbled on the American style diner and had our full of milkshakes and burgers. Kim was super excited to get a stack of pancakes (something she’s been craving for weeks).
One of the fabulous things about Saigon is that you can get anything delivered. And I mean ANYTHING. It has become part of the culture here and is so convenient. We just got a beautiful new bed set delivered yesterday. Kim also picked up a big selection of plants for me and a new watercolor. I’m excited to start nesting and making this our ideal home.
As I mentioned in the last update, it was a struggle to do everything without Kim. But she managed to find a way to order me flowers and get them delivered to school even before she was out of quarantine.
Saw a rainbow while walking Penny and video chatting with Kim (while she was still in quarantine)
Went plant shopping and found this cutie straight out of a Dr. Seuss book
Breakfast time has been yogurt with mangos served in our drink glasses because we have not yet gotten any bowls. Plus a new notebook and pen for my morning pages.
Bubble tea and pedicures is my new weekly ritual.
I can finally say that the saga of moving is finally complete! Kim and I have begun the new chapter of our lives in Vietnam. I can’t wait to continue sharing all our adventures with you all. I want to thank each and every one of you who have reassured me over the last few months, who have listened to each and every part of this saga, and who are rejoicing with us from afar. I love you xoxo
Freedom never felt so good! The day we were released from quarantine was such a celebration! We all staggered out of our rooms, squinting from the sunlight that we haven’t been exposed to in two weeks. And it couldn’t have come sooner because we were all starting to feel it, slowly becoming one with our beds and loosing all semblance of motivation to do anything. It hasn’t even been a week since then but it’s been a whirlwind of getting acclimated to the neighborhood, starting school, and enjoying social time that doesn’t involve a screen.
When I first left quarantine and arrived at my airbnb I nearly had a breakdown. The security guards checked my temperature on the way into the building but it came up as 99.5* F (37.5*C) and they wouldn’t let me in the building. I tried to explain to them that I just came from quarantine and I just had a COVID test the day before, but they weren’t having any of it. No way were they going to let this strange foreigner chance infecting their entire building, even if it was only because it was my first exposure to SE Asian heat after 15 straight days in an air conditioned room. This was my first experience after the long long wait to get here and it was going horribly and I was about to break down when right then the new-teachers liaison called to check in. She arrived by my side within minutes of the call with a triage of help including the school’s head nurse. It took a few calls, the production of my quarantine certification, and a few more temperature checks, but finally they let me through.
After I dropped my bags and opened my welcome grocery bag from school, I joined the other new teachers in the area for my first real food out of quarantine, a veggie panini. Then I met right up with my real estate agent to see an apartment that was about to be snatched up by someone else. Afterward I headed straight over to the pet boarding house where Penny was waiting. Our reunion was as expected, without much excitement but with a lot of joy. The people who looked after her were so so sweet, one of them cried when we started to leave. But we made it back to the Airbnb fine and I took Penny on her first walk around the neighborhood. She was all about exploring her new turf. Although she is still just as stubborn about being on leash and has proceeded to lay down in the middle of the road while passing car drivers laugh at the two of us.
By the time I got back from the walk I was beat! I had only walked a mile or two but it was more than the last 15 days combined. I met up with my new friend Brianna for dinner at a craft brewery in my building before we did a quick shopping trip. I hate grocery shopping on a normal day, put me in a new foreign grocery store when I’m exhausted and the results equal two pints of ice cream, cereal, a dragonfruit, yogurt, bananas, water, and goldfish.
The next day I got to go into school for the first time. I met my new team of elementary specialists, along with a couple dozen other wonderful people. This is the largest school I’ve worked at with about 1200 students. I am one of three elementary school art teachers! It is fabulous to be a part of a team of teachers rather than the lone wolf tucked in a distant corner of the school that no one even knows where it is. And folks, brace yourselves, because I. HAVE. MY. OWN. CLASSROOM. Eeeeekkkk! For the first time in six years I will be able to take full ownership of my classroom space, get ready for a rainbow fiasco!!
It was a day chock full of meetings, greetings, and HR presentations. So many forms to sign. It was no wonder that all of us newbies ended up at a Kim-recommended Mexican place with pitchers of margaritas, telling stories and laughing away. But seriously, my new school is all sorts of amazing. Not only does it value innovation, but it expects it. I can finally teach the way that I know is best and have full support to push the boundaries of the current practice of Art Education. Plus I’ve fantastic colleagues that are doing the same and keeping the expectations high. I feel that this is a place where I will finally be able to reach my true potential as an educator while being fostered and encouraged.
Kim arrived early early on Wednesday morning. She is quarantining at the Holiday Inn and my school is doing an equally fabulous job at taking care of her, showering her with welcome baskets and fulfilling any requests she makes. We video chat every time I take Penny out for a walk so she is starting to get familiar with our neighborhood as well. I even took Kim on a long neighborhood walk the other day where we checked out the local restaurants and shops.
On Thursday we had student orientation during the day, and at night, a fabulous social for the newbie teachers with the admin at a local pub owned by a former student from school. Friday was go day, the official first day of school. I haven’t been in front of students for FIVE months, but as soon as they came in the room I snapped right back into my teacher mode. It was invigorating having them there and so so nice starting to get to know them. By the end of the day I was so energized that I rearranged my whole room. I can’t wait to see what it will look like in a month or two from now!
I started the weekend off by getting a very thorough two-hour long health check that included everything from a stomach ultrasound to teeth and eye checks. Then I went shopping for a care package for Kim. I tried to find the most strange and unusual foods I could which resulted in me getting seaweed Pringles, chicken nugget shaped chips, a Japanese poofy cheesecake, chicken flavored cheese spread, and ramen noodle snack bites. Plus a large range of ramen noodles including cheese flavored and a spaghetti version. Also a variety of local beers so she could have a little tasting party.
We had another social Sat night at the craft brewery again. I brought Penny down to meet the crew since everyone had heard all about her long journey getting here. She convinced many people to give her pets and belly scratches.
Sunday was all about apartment hunting and I’m so excited to share that I found a place that I LOVE! It fulfills all the requirements that we were looking for and more. It is only about 3 minutes from school and it is gorGEOUS!! We are working with the Realtor now to finalize the negotiations and will hopefully be able to move in next week! It also resulted in me taking my first motorbike ride with the landlord in between apartment buildings. It went well and was not scary at all! I think there is hope for me yet. I can’t wait until Kim can get a bike that we can take on all sorts of adventures.
It’s been a lot this week. But all good things. I’m just not used to landing in a place by myself. Usually Kim takes care of the home stuff so I can focus solely on work but I’m currently doing it all (well, doing as much as I can) as Kim waits eagerly to join. But I’m managing just fine and I’m simply glad that we are all finally in the same country. It has been such a long time coming, so many months of uncertainty and worry. And we are on the other side, nearly completely to the end of this insane journey. And you know what? I couldn’t be more glad. I am SO excited for this new adventure. (PS Here are a few extra snaps from the week)
I’d like to tell you what day of quarantine this is but honestly I’ve lost count, maybe day 10, or 11, or 32, or 87?? What I do know is that we are nearing the end and I am so grateful for that. I wouldn’t want to admit to you how many hours of these days I’ve spent in front of a device and I’m honestly a little worried about my transition back into the real world. But I’m excited, that is certain.
Week two of quarantine has been filled with meetings for school, binge watching Shark Tank (I have no idea why, I’ve never been into the show but apparently it is my quarantine companion), and trying to figure out where I will live when I am released. The days are blurring into each other and this strange life I’m living is starting to feel normal - which is concerning because it is anything but.
My school continues to care for us in so many ways, like delivering these potted flowers to brighten up our rooms and celebrate the second week of quarantine. I’ve started ordering a few meals in to change it up from the fried rice and noodles. I’ve had delicious pizza, some vegan food, and tasty Indian food. I’m excited at what the city has to offer not only for Vietnamese options but International cuisine as well. I’ve also been able to order in a few ciders which have all been sooo good! International food and ciders were pretty rare in Istanbul (surprisingly) but seem to be readily available here.
Virtual orientation started on Tuesday, which was a welcome event. I got to meet my new Elementary Specialists Team and talk with some of the colleagues I’ll be working with. We had a great PD session about Assessment that challenged some of my past practices and gave me some food for thought on what I want to change in the future. These have been so helpful to get me into the school mind-set. It’s a strange mix of trying to prepare for only a few days from now, while it still feels so distant. Thankfully, each administrator at my school has made it abundantly clear that our wellbeing is their top priority. Because as we all know, we cannot care for others if we have not first cared for ourselves. They often use the analogy of putting on our own oxygen masks first. They have really gone out of their way to live the values they believe in as a school community.
Fabulous news: Penny arrived safely to Saigon on Friday! We had to hire an international pet transport company to move her from Istanbul to Saigon. It cost us an arm and a leg but I’m so glad that it is done and it all went smoothly. She is now enjoying her time at a highly recommended boarding house where she will be rolling in the mud until I can go get her. She also has been barking a lot at the dogs who are playing, she prefers them to settle down and behave, so she has been moved to the small dog play time where she runs around with little old dogs. A huge stress has been lifted for us and I’m so glad that 2 out of the 3 of us are in the same country.
Kim is set to fly in within the next couple days. We are hoping that none of the flights get cancelled like last time, and that she will be in Vietnam before the week’s end. She is saying her goodbyes again and taking a few last trips around Istanbul. For me, I’ll have my final COVID test on day 14 then will (hopefully) be released when the results come in after a day or two. When I do get out I’ve rented an airbnb for a few weeks to give me time to look for a permanent apartment. The start date for school is on Thursday the 13th so I’ll be hitting the ground running for sure. Wish me luck!
Looking back on 2018 makes me wonder how I am going to be able to keep topping these amazing experiences that make up my life. Seriously. They say to live the life you love and love the life you live and I am unabashedly doing just that. The year started off with the best treat of welcoming our new golden retriever, Penny, into our family, followed by a spring filled with visits from my family members, including lots of Turkish road trips and unbelievably beautiful adventures. The summer was kicked off with our Myanmar family in North Carolina for a wedding celebration and stretched long allowing us to fully soak in all the goodness that is family time back home in Maine. The fall brought our second year in Istanbul, a blooming of my personal art making, plus more travel in the winter. Each year that I have put together these blog posts (2014, 2016, 2017) I feel a deep sense of gratitude for where our journey has led us and the soul-warming experiences we have had along the way. Thank you for being along for the ride. So, without any further ado, here are 18 memories from 2018.
18. Adopt Penny
One of the very best decisions we made this year was to invite a new 4-legged member into our family. The story of her adoption starts back in Myanmar. After we accepted the move to Istanbul in the spring of 2017, we both began researching the new city that we would call home - me in the form of the art scene, the history, the neighborhoods, and the things to see and do. Kim devoted her research to two topics, the food (street food, restaurants, grocery store prices - she knew walking off the plane how much to pay for an apple) and animals. As I’m sure you know, Kim’s family has always had golden retrievers and they take up a big part of her heart (bigger than my section I’m sure). This is when Kim connected with Yasemin, a woman who has devoted her life to rescuing (mainly) golden retrievers off the streets of Turkey.
The story goes that years ago golden retrievers became the “must have” for the Turkish high class, and so everyone began importing and breeding them. Quickly they became over bred and less desired and turned onto the street. Since goldens are so docile, they have little chance of surviving on the streets against the other, more aggressive, types. So Yasmin steps in when she can, rescuing every golden she can find. She then works with golden adoption agencies in North America to send them to people who are anxiously awaiting a golden friend. Unfortunately, this whole operation has to stay underwraps because she has gotten threats from locals who think that she is stealing dogs and selling them. But, she goes on to do her good work, quietly.
Kim quickly offered to become a foster home for dogs who are awaiting their ticket to a new home. We had also talked about the possibility of getting a dog this year. While we were in Egypt for our winter break Kim got the message from Yasemin, she had a dog for us. Kim must have watched the video Yasemin sent of (what would be) Penny every minute of our trip, while anxiously and excitedly wishing it to end because she now had a four-legged friend to get back to. The day we came back, January 1st, Penny walked into our apartment and Kim knew she wouldn’t be leaving.
Penny has been a joy to have with us all year long and makes us smile and feel loved every single day. She was a very shy, anxious, tiny creature, who has grown into a friendly, sweet, not-so-tiny member of our family. From spending her days on the streets and then in a cage in a pound, she quickly took to Kim and now follows Kim wherever she leads. Penny flew to Maine and back with us this summer and just blossomed, running around in the yard and going on hikes with me. She got very itchy and come to find out she is allergic to Maine grass - seriously. Penny loves her giant bed, walks to Krispy Kream where she convinces strangers to feed her their donuts, and having her head rubbed. We are so, so glad she is ours.
2. Black Sea Birthday Road Trip
For Kim’s birthday this year I surprised her with a long-weekend road trip. As you know, Kim loves driving and I love riding. So we hopped in our rental car (having to pick Penny up and place her in the back because she had no idea what was going on), and set on our way. I had randomly picked out a place for us to spend the night, having no idea that it was a spectacular little gem of a city called Safranbolu. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, straight out of a fairy tale. We wound our way through the mountains that bordered the Black Sea, and winded our way back down. We found a castle, jaw dropping mountains, and bee keepers selling honey street side. Read about the whole trip over here.
3. Dad & Pam Visit Istanbul
In March we had a fantastic week when my Dad and Step-mom, Pam, visited us in Istanbul. Neither had ever traveled abroad before and it was an absolute joy to be able to share in their first international experience. I’m not sure how to put into words the depth of fulfilment it gave me to be able to provide/share this life-changing experience of traveling to/with the man who made it possible for me to be able to live this amazing life of traveling that I do. I think out of all my seven siblings that I am the most like my dad, from him I got my understanding and compassion, my quiet, observant quality, my work ethic and my overall personality. We share similar processes of how we form opinions, translate thoughts about the world, save memories, and react to situations. He has quietly encouraged each of us to dream, always supportive of whatever way we choose to spend our lives. Finally, he got a little peek into what my life was made of.
It was a whirlwind of a time, trying to show Dad and Pam all Istanbul had to offer while stopping to enjoy the little intricacies that only appear to a fresh-off-the-plane set of eyes. We visited all the sites, wrode the tram down Iskale street, took a ferry ride on the Bosphorus, showed them our neighborhood, and treated them to all our favorite Turkish foods. Oh, and then there was the hilarious costume photo shoot we found ourselves in that I still cannot stop laughing about!
4.Ephesus/Pamukkale Road Trip
We didn’t just stop in Istanbul though. They were set on seeing as much as they could so we hopped back down to southern Turkey to walk the ruins of Ephesus and visit the Virgin Mary’s house. Seeing my dad sitting in the grand amphitheater, taking it all in, is a sight I will keep close to my heart. These places meant a lot to Dad who connected with the stories from the Bible in a way that was not possible before.
We popped over to see the calcite pools of Pamakkale and almost got lost on a long dirt middle-of-nowhere road that Google sent us on. They then went to spend a few days seeing my oldest sister Renee in Egypt before having one last Turkish breakfast with us and then flying home. I think that we may have ignited the travel bug in them and I hope that we will be able to have another adventure abroad again so very soon.
5. Family Trip to Athens, Greece
Kim and I weren’t alone for long because only a few weeks after Dad and Pam left, my sister Amanda and her husband Josh joined us. These are two of our favorite people in the whole world and to be able to share another adventure abroad with them is what dreams are made of! You might remember them from our road trip around Israel. This time we were headed to Greece! First stop, Athens. We spent a few days in this ancient city traipsing around the Parthenon, taking in all the history at the museum, enjoying every stop on Kim’s personally made food tour around town, and of course taking ALL the pictures. I’m still thinking about the Greek yogurt top cream with honey and nuts we had *drool*
6. Santorini aka Heaven on Earth
It was easy to decide to make Santorini our other stop in Greece. After seeing just one of the jaw dropping photos of the white houses clustered on the cliffs over the ocean, I was sold. And boy was it perfection. We had decadent meals served by waiters who became friends and invited Kim into the kitchen. We had adventures out on quad bikes, zipping around the island and eating sandwiches we whipped together on the back of the bumpers. I had a quiet morning wandering session squeezing through all the nooks and allies of Oia and being blown away by the beauty at every turn. We even took the time to hire a professional local photographer who got some unbelievable photographs of all of us exploring the island. The whole experience was perfectly incredible.
7. The Fairy Tale that is Cappadocia
We weren’t done yet though. Amanda and Josh had one more stop they were dying to make and that was back in Turkey. So we flew back there, grabbed a car and made the not-so-quick drive down to Cappadocia. A town in central Turkey known for its land formations in the shape of cones. It has underground cities that you can still go and (try to) squeeze through and an astounding show every sunrise where the sky fills up with hot air balloons that bobble around through the clouds. This was such a special place and I already have plans to return back in 2019.
8. Bike Ride to Bulgaria
Back in Istanbul it was a normal week when I saw an online posting for an opening on a weekend bike ride from Turkey, through Greece and Bulgaria, and back to Turkey. I thought about how insanely awesome that sounded by the insane outweighed the awesome in my mind. The next day my colleague/partner in crime/work wife mentioned that she would be going on a bike ride that weekend. Could it be? Yes, the exact same one. And quickly the decision was made, the plans were booked, and I was on a bus to the most north western town in Turkey. Two days, three countries, 28.4+ miles, one night in Bulgaria, and one very sore bum later I had a fantastic experience with some even more fantastic people.
9. Wilmington Wedding
Immediately following our last day of school in Istanbul I flew to Wilmington, North Carolina to meet up with Kim and our Myanmar tribe. I am so grateful that we have been able to get together two years in a row despite being in all different parts of the globe. Sharon, Steven, and their two kids are in Malaysia currently and Shelly & Luis are in Florida. We all got together to celebrate Shelly & Luis’ wedding in Wilmington. It was such a festive time that was jam packed with quality moments of the everyday sort - dinners together, drinks around the pool, walks around the adorable little town, and all the conversations that we could squeeze in between wedding prep. The ceremony was lovely, funny, and heartwarming; and boy did everyone dance the night away. As always, it was too short to spend with some of my favorite people in the whole world but I’ll take the little slivers of sunshine and hold on to them tight.
10. Boston TAB Institute
Mid summer I took the train down to Boston where I joined other Art Educators from all over the world at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for the TAB Summer Institute. TAB stands for Teaching For Artistic Behaviors, an art teaching pedagogies that I have been following since I very first started teaching. TAB teachers follow a three sentence curriculum: What do artists do? The child is the artist. The classroom is their studio. When I want to explain my method of teaching simply, I tell people that I don’t teach children how to make art, I teach them how to be artists.
It is challenging as an art teacher to not have many people in the same field as you in the same space to bounce ideas off of. Then on top of that to be committed to this amazing choice-based methodology, greatly limits the amount of like-minded art educators I’ve come in contact with. This can often be a challenge to continue to grow professionally. This is why I was so excited that my school, MEFIS, approved my request to attend this conference.
For a week I was surrounded by art educators who are passionate about giving the student artist as many opportunities for agency, independence, and choice as possible. We had round-table discussions about what is working and not working in our classrooms, presentations from some well practiced TAB educators, and talked with the founders of TAB. We also had a large studio open all week with a variety of different centers set up for us to go in, be inspired, and make art. It was a week of being re-centered in my teaching philosophy, networking with other talented educators, getting inspired, and making art.
Plus, I spent a glorious half a day wandering around the spectacular collection at the MFA Boston - sketching, gawking, and trying to take it all in. It was everything you want from a Professional Development and more!
11. Summer in Maine
What a luxuriously long summer we had in Maine. It was the longest I’ve spent in Maine since we moved abroad and it was just chalk full of all the summertime goodness - campfires, unintentional family get togethers, strawberry picking, swimming, hiking with the pup, sunsets behind the mountains, ice cream trips, so many sleepovers, shopping, camping, and on and on. Kim was happy to accept a job as a prep cook and baker at the Gingerbread House in Rangeley which kept her joyfully busy for most of the summer. Meanwhile, I hoped around from couch to couch soaking in as much family time as sanely possible.
Just a few of the summer highlights included Meg’s adorable book themed baby shower, frisbee golf afternoons and spontaneous sunset hikes with Drew, planning and watching Sam & Cody get engaged, going to the Great Falls Balloon Festival (a tradition I haven’t made it to in 4 years), family amusement park day at FunTown SplashTown, spending hours in the craft store with Autumn (and then nights watching movies and trying out all our purchases), attempting stand-up-paddleboarding and then kayaking while pouring out our deepest worries and biggest dreams with Amanda, hanging with Zane - the coolest nephew ever, wandering my home-town fair with all the fam, wedding dress shopping for Sam with all the girls, avoiding the freezing mountain water at Smalls Falls with Nikki, Mac, and Danny, endless hours of driving just to share conversations with Andrea, hiking with Lanie, and all the amazing meals from the grill enjoyed on our picnic table with Kim.
Just before I was to head back to Istanbul in early August, I got word that the school building was still under construction and they moved our orientation to online which meant that I got an EXTRA two weeks at home!! In this time I was able to photograph a last minute wedding down in Boston - which allowed me to fund my camera replacement (from the one that got stolen last year).
12. Second Year in Istanbul
After the extra time in Maine, as much as I hated to leave, I felt myself getting antsy to get back to our normal routine and at the end of August I headed back to Istanbul for our second year in this big, beautiful city. The first task at hand was unpacking our new apartment. We were happy to move into a different school-provided apartment still directly next to the school. We were looking forward to more light, a small balcony, and (mainly) a much bigger kitchen. Kim arrived a few weeks behind me so I spent that time arranging and rearranging, unpacking, and organizing. I bought a stunning kitchen island, a water cooler, a bigger mattress, and even more plants. I feel really good with what I was able to arrange for the unique space we were given and both of us feel much happier than last year. Kim is able to satisfy all her kitchen needs while I have my own little art corner, these are both in the same open space so we can each do our own thing while still staying connected.
I’m enjoying my second year teaching art to grades 5-8. I feel that this is my ideal age-range. I know that middle school can make most people cringe (I said for years that I would never teach middle school), but there is something that clicks in place with these students around this age, they are old enough to do more advanced things, have depth in their ideas, and have longer spurs of concentration; yet they are young enough that they still really want to do what they are supposed to, they don’t (usually) have that teenager attitude (yet), and they are funny. I enjoy my schedule and my extra responsibility of being Head of Department for “Group 6” aka the specialists. Kim is just beginning a new work venture that has a lot of potential and we are both excited to see where it goes. I’m glad to say that Kim and I will be staying for at least a 3rd year, if not more after that.
I’ve had days of playing tourist and wandering the grand bazar, riding the ferry over to Asia, and exploring the nooks and crannies of new neighborhoods. But most of our days are simple, walking Penny through the park, having a tea down on breakfast street, or spending the evening cooking/art making at home. We are very comfortable and happy with our little but grand life over here.
13. The Art of Papercutting
This school year has seemed much calmer than ever before. It took me a few months to realize that this is the first time in my seven years of teaching that I am not in my first year at a new school, nor am I job searching (which is practically a full-time job of it’s own). This has allowed me to have a lot more time and headspace to work on my artwork. Starting back in May, I was inspired to create a papercut map of istanbul to place over my Ebru artwork. Ebru is the traditional Turkish art of water marbling that Kim and I took a six week workshop in (Kim continued with private lessons afterwards). After that, my love for papercutting was reignited and I began making all sorts of papercut artworks. Our friends Katherine and John who are still teaching in Myanmar commissioned a Yangon themed papercut from me and it will forever be one of my favorite artworks I have ever created. I made a letter “O” for little baby Oakley’s baby shower, and a few other little pieces. When I returned to Istanbul I continued working on the papercuts. I began designing little scenes encapsulated in circles that could be shown against a real life background, I created geometric designs, and then I returned back to maps.
“The Places the Make Us,” is an ongoing series of layered map papercuts. The original one I created included four maps, one for each of the places that Kim and I have called home since we were married. I just adore cutting maps and am so happy that others have liked them too. I have created three commissioned pieces from this series, personalized for the special locations of each client, and have three more on the docket. One of my goals this year was to find a way to get my art out there more and I love that I can create these one-of-a-kind, individualized artworks that are beautiful and layered with meaning. Please get in touch if you are interested in commissioning an artwork from me.
14. World Record Setting in Kas
My oldest sister, Renee, is a professional freediver currently living in Dahab, Egypt. She has unrelenting ambition to make her dreams a reality which led her to the World Freediving Championships in October. Coincidentally, these were held in Kas, Turkey - just a short flight and a few hours drive away from Istanbul. It was priceless to be able to watch Renee surfacing as the new USA National Record Holder, after her record-breaking free immersion dive of 63 meters (203 feet). For those who are unfamiliar with free diving, it is diving without using any breathing aparatas aka holding your breath. It is always uplifting spending time with Renee who is an inspiration for all of us Blundon siblings.
Kas is the cutest little ocean-side town on Turkey’s southern coast. The sunsets were unbelievable and the vibe was quaint and breezy. We even took a quick trip over to Demre, the home of St. Nicolas - the man who eventually became known as Santa Claus. There we were also able to visit the rock tombs of Myra, an ancient city.
15. Moroccan Road Trip
Winter break this year brought us to Morocco, a country that has always been in the back of my mind. When planning our two week trip, I came across story after story of scams, harassment, overwhelming touts, and other forms of things that traveler’s dread. Now, we are no nieve travelers but the vast amount of these stories that I read gave me pause. I arrived in Morocco very guarded, ready to fend off the numerous hassles that I was told I would face. You know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Not once did I feel any more harassed or harassed or tricked than any other country we have gone to. I felt perfectly comfortable as a woman, traveling with other women, despite all of the people telling me the contrary. To our advantage, it was winter so my legs and arms/torso was nearly always covered, and we had a car so we avoided many tourist heavy areas (like bus stops).
Our friend Katie joined me and Kim for the two-weeks as we drove around from fantastic city to the next. We flew in to Casablanca but did not spend any time there as I had researched that it was nothing but a big industrial city. Driving up the coast we spent on night on the ocean-side town of Assilah before heading to the mountain village of Chefchaouen. From there we went down to the ancient city of Fez, spending days wandering the incredible median (main city area where no cars are allowed). After enjoying the culture of Marrakesh we finished off our trip at an all-inclusive resort before heading home.
Morocco was everything I had hoped - beautiful chaos, endlessly winding medinas, stunning mosaics, cute towns, tasty couscous, cactus gardens, and an overall fabulous adventure.
16. The Blue Perl - Chefchaouen
Hands down, my favorite place in Morocco was the mountain village of Chefchaouen. This is known as the “blue perl,” due to the blue paint that covers the majority of its buildings. Some say it is to bring the sky down to the earth so the people are closer to God, others say the blue keeps away the mosquitos, whichever the reason everyone can agree that it is absolutely stunning. I spent hour just wandering the narrow walkways taking pictures at every turn. It was a photographer’s dream for sure!
17. 30th Birthday Surprise Trip to Paris
Kimberly made my dreams come true when she surprised me with a weekend in Paris for my 30th birthday. The whole trip was absolutely magical. It was beyond anything I could have hoped for. It will truly be a memory to last a lifetime. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a wife that would give me such an experience. Read about the whole wonderful trip here.
18. 4th Year Married
In May of 2018, Kim and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. I am in awe every year of how much we manage to still learn about each other, what elements we are still discovering, and how our relationship changes as the different aspects of our individual selves continue to develop. Although we have faced challenges, just as all others do, we continue to come out stronger and closer as a result. And still, there is no one I would rather adventure, through the world and through life, with.
Well there it is, another big, long, way-to-many-photos, yearly blog post. If you’ve made it all the way to the end, cheers to you! Thanks for following along on our adventures. See you in the next one!
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world