Every Trail Has an End

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I began composing a draft of this post in the Fall of 2013. Back then I had made up my mind that after we returned from Turkey I would stop blogging.

For blogs to be essential reading they need a mission. A blog without a mission is like a car without an engine. It might look shiny and nice. It might even be comfortable to sit in. But it won’t go anywhere. Good blogs need to take readers somewhere, whether it’s traveling to or living in a foreign country, showing what it’s like to be an artist’s model, exploring the art and purpose of architecture, or showcasing your own photographs.

Honest Errors started as my literary/political place on the web. Then I moved to Michigan Liberal and had a great (and sometimes frustrating) time trying to keep pace with progressive politics. Then I returned to my own blog which, by then, had transformed into a personal blog; a place for my musings on life, books, travel, and sometimes running. This blog continued that way through publishing my first novel, a trip to China, my adventures as a stay-at-home parent, and through our 10 months in Istanbul.

Now that my family and I have returned from Istanbul, the purpose of the blog is gone.

I have no plans to start a new blog. I want to do something different.

I will continue to write. I can’t ever see giving up something that challenges me and gives me so much joy and pleasure.

I’ve met many wonderful, smart, and creative people through this blog. I plan to continue reading those bloggers who I admire as writers and people.

So long, and thank you for reading and for all the likes, comments, and shares. I’m grateful. Take care.

 

Honest Errors, 2006 – 2014

Readjusting

Last summer, the Summer of Leaving, was a blur of fixing up the house, packing, and trying to finish the seemingly endless tasks big and small needed to move to Istanbul.

This summer, the summer of returning, is proceeding in a haze. It’s been nearly three weeks since we returned to the US from Turkey.

We returned to a home that had been nicely cleaned from top to bottom by our tenants. Yet, there were many little things that needed to be done. We needed to buy a new vacuum. So many light bulbs had to be replaced of all kinds and sizes. There was the DVD player that one tenant told us had broken but actually works. There was the spotty internet service that turned out to be caused by faulty wiring. That’s a bad thing about a 30+ year-old house: the wiring is old. The good thing about an old house is that there are many wires and cables going in and out of it, not all of which are used. This made it easy for me to run a new telecom line from the box outside to our internet modem inside. Our download speed more than tripled and we haven’t experienced any drops.

The internet was a big thing. Not just because we need it for email and social media and reading the news, but we finally joined the 21st century and bought a large LED TV, a Blu-Ray player, and an Apple TV. We can stream Netflix (whenever we get around to getting it) and can watch and listen to anything that’s on our Macs. Very American indeed.

Speaking of being American, on the Fourth of July, I mowed the lawn, grilled hot dogs on our charcoal grill, ate corn on the cob, and then we all watched the fireworks display put on by our township. It doesn’t get much more American than that.

There are many other things to which I am readjusting. I felt overwhelmed the first few times I went into a grocery store. Some of the grocery stores here like Jewel and Meijer are so enormous, they are 30 times the size of the average Turkish grocery store.

It was strange riding in a car in familiar surroundings but not being able to drive. My Michigan driver’s license had expired while I was in Turkey. It was strange renewing it at the DMV because there was no hassle or difficulty. I signed a form, they took my picture, and then they told me my new license would arrive in the mail in a few weeks. Yesterday it did. (No, you cannot see my mugshot picture.)

It’s quiet here. Far fewer people. It’s more green and lush. Less dusty than our Istanbul apartment near several construction sites.

At night, I can see the stars.

I already miss badem ezmesi, acibadem, borek, and so many other things. But it’s great to be able to bake again. The oven in our apartment was useless thanks to all the number indicators being worn off. So I had missed being able to bake. A week ago Meredith helped me make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. All of those cookies are now gone.

Right now, there’s a blueberry pie cooling on our kitchen counter. There’s a can of whipped cream in the refrigerator.

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Wistful Panic

Wistful : adjective, full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy. – Merriam-Webster’s dictionary

That’s what Stephanie and I are feeling these days as we prepare to move back to the US. Her fellowship is up. Which means the money is running out. Which means we can no longer afford to stay here. The end of our adventure is very close. One week from today we board a plane for the USA.

Besides, the kids want to go back to their home and their friends in Michigan. We can’t believe they’re about to finish their school year, a year in Istanbul making friends from here and all over the world at their international school.

We’re also feeling a bit stressed. There’s the cleaning. There’s the sorting through the kids clothes and toys. There’s the packing. There’s the rushing around to see friends and do things we haven’t yet done. There’s having a birthday party for our daughter. There’s bringing Krispy Kreme doughnuts to our son’s class for saying “goodbye” to all his new friends. There’s an all-day end-of-year school field trip for the kids. There’s a trip to Bodrum. And there’s still work for my wife to do…So I tell myself,

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And then I go back to being wistful.

“Just one more year,” I’ve been telling people, and I’m not kidding. For all of its faults and all the madness it can inspire, Istanbul is an amazing city that is wholly unique thanks to its history and mix of cultures and people.

We say goodbye to our friends over lunch or dinner or coffee, or over the phone or even over the Internet. (And we continue to store up on movies and TV shows a la Turka.)

As we turn our attention towards home, we think about family, friends, and pork and Italian beef sandwiches and Mexican food. Yet, we wonder how and when we might come back to this dynamic city.

BTW, this is what the Merriam-Webster page looked like when I opened it.

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Bana şaplak at means spank me. It’s a dating site of some kind as far as I can tell. I don’t know whether it’s specifically for spanking aficionados.

In addition to all the things I’m going to miss about Turkey, I’m going to miss these silly kinds of things.

Some Housecleaning

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Picture of the Bean and the sky taken two years ago in Chicago in Millenium Park.

It was time to change to look of the blog. Overdue, really. The monochrome design had outlived its Sell-By date. This new theme is called Newsworthy.

There has also been some literal housecleaning around our home. My wife and I (with a big assist from my father) have painted several rooms in the house. This is in preparation for renting it out while we are in Istanbul.

This home improvement work has kept me busy. Plus, the kids are out of school for the summer. They need attention and stimulation and structure.

But now that the big home improvement stuff is done, I’ll have a little more time to finish a few posts about our trip to Cancun and some minor mishaps since returning.

So I promise to post a bit more often. Though as many of you know, I only post when I’ve got something to say. I dislike posting for the sake of posting. It feels like a chore. Blogging is something I do for fun. I have enough work offline to do. 😉

Have a great weekend!

I’m a Fathermucker

When I first heard about the novel Fathermucker by Greg Olear I immediately added it to my Amazon.com Wishlist. I use that wishlist as a list of Things I Really Ought To Read. If a particular book is available at my local library, I’ll get it there. Unfortunately, Fathermucker is not available at my local library. Luckily, for my birthday my sister bought the book for me.

Fathermucker was published last year. There’s a blog, too, a damn good one.

Fathermucker the book is about a day in the life of Stay-at-Home-Dad (SAHD) Josh Lansky. Josh is having a very bad Friday. He’s the father of a five year-old boy with Asperger’s and a three-year-old daughter. It’s Day Five of his wife Stacy’s out-of-town business trip. He is tired. His nerves are frayed. His small kids act as charming, infuriating, and messy as small kids act. Then Sharon, a mother in their kids’ playgroup, tells Josh that she’s pretty sure Stacy is cheating on him, and chaos ensues with much hilarity throughout the rest of the day.

The title of the book is author Greg Olear’s word for fathers who stay at home and take care of the kids. He says, “It implies the mucking up of gender roles, which is what makes it so appropriate. It conveys the messiness, the blurriness, the sloppiness of SAHD-dom.”

Sloppiness, indeed.

The world Olear describes in Fathermucker is one similar in many ways to the one in which I live, but also remarkably different. First off, the setting of New Paltz, NY sounds like a Very Liberal small town, the kind you can only find on the East Coast. In the Midwest, small towns are conservative. As far as I know, there is not a small town in Michigan that hosts a Gay Pride Parade.

Second, here are some things that Josh does that I do not do.

Eat at McDonald’s several times a week. Though I do buy my kids French fries from McDonald’s. I tried their slushy drinks recently as I was craving something approximating the slushy drinks from CoCo in Shanghai. I was disappointed.

Subscribe to and read US Weekly. I only read the headlines in the checkout lane at the grocery store….Though I have been tempted to buy a copy.

Go on regular playdates with a regular group of moms. There isn’t a large collection of urban-minded moms like you’ll find in major cities, or those suburbs or small towns where urban-minded moms and their partners move when they realize how expensive it is to raise kids in a major U.S. city. Generally speaking, these are the kinds of moms who are not freaked out by a fathermucker. Also, parents here aren’t into hover-parenting the way Professional Type A Parents on the coasts are, supervising every single moment of their childrens’ upbringing.

Wear the same pair of jeans for two weeks straight. I have managed to maintain much better hygiene, thank you very much.

Third, here are some things that happen to Josh that have never happened to me.

Sold a screenplay. Though I did publish a novel.

Get hit on by a mom. Nope, never happened, thankfully.

The rest of the book, which is to say the vast majority of it, is a pretty accurate, funny, evocation of the challenges, fun, and insecurities of being a fathermucker. Not to mention how under siege you can feel as a parent to small children. Here’s Josh about putting off the kids immediate demands,

Kids have no concept of time. Ever again, forever, yesterday, tomorrow, last year, next month—none of these terms have any real meaning to a child, especially a three-year-old. Sometimes you can use this to your advantage. Sure, you can say, we’ll go there tomorrow. Or, We’ll buy the new Lego set next week. So few arrows in the parental quiver—important to use the full comportment of weaponry at your disposal, however meager their power (and however deceptive their advertising).

And here’s Josh talking about one of the mothers in the playgroup.

The other issue with Gloria is that she’s a stay-at-home mom—a SAHM, as they call themselves on the comment boards at the Hudson Valley Parents website—to a single child. With the first kid, you want everything to be perfect, and you tend to rail against the many forces at work to corrupt the pure, blameless creature in your care. Little lamb, who made thee? Once a sibling enters the world, you stop drilling the first kid on his ABCs and his multiplication tables, and charting when they feed and sleep and poop, and you chill the fuck out at playdates.
Gloria is a SAHM. That makes Haven a Son of SAHM.
And it make me SAHD.

Read Fathermucker for several laughs about being a parent in this day and age with playdates, Legos, “Mommy Wars,” Yo Gabba Gabba, child-wrecked minivans, playlists, more Legos, and Dora the Explorer.

Oh, and I guarantee you that you will not be able to think about Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat in the same way again.

So I Ran That 5K

This past Sunday I ran that 5K I said I was going to run a few weeks ago; The Dinosaur Dash.

It’s the first 5K and the very first race I have run in. The skies were overcast and the temperature was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I warmed up by jogging around wearing track pants and a pullover. I took those off shortly before the race, feeling warm and loose.

The race also happened to fall on my birthday. So I was lucky to have a cheering section.

My two kids held up a banner saying “RUN DADDY!” They made it with a big assist from my wife. (Yes, my wife is that awesome.) I can’t think of a better site (or birthday present) than that when crossing the Finish Line on my first race.

It was a fun race through a beautiful campus. I felt good throughout and even had enough energy at the end to sprint to the finish.

Michigan State University’s campus is very pretty, especially in the Fall with all the leaves turning colors and the Red Cedar River meandering through. The course did a figure-eight, crossing over the river four times (if I counted correctly). I enjoyed the views during my run.

For the curious, my official time was 22:47.

I’m going to take the week off. Not because I feel tired, but because there’s a pain in my left ankle when I come down on it when going down stairs sometimes. It’s been bothering me on and off for the past week and a half. It’s not swollen. I think the tendons are fatigued or strained. It didn’t bother me during the race. It didn’t even bother me most of the day yesterday. I simply take it as a sign that this old body of mine doesn’t “snap back” the way it used to and needs a bit more rest than it used to need.

My Summer Training Program (aka Running and Walking in Shanghai)

As I said the other day about running my first 5k, I managed to run steadily during our time in Shanghai this summer. Shanghai has a subtropical climate. Running in this kind of very hot and humid weather is probably no big deal for people who live south of the Mason-Dixon line in the U.S. For Midwesterners like me who are used to short summers of hot humid weather, it was an adjustment.

The sun rose around 5am so by the time I hit the track or entered a park before 6am, there were already lots of people out and about. Mostly older people who were running, walking, or doing a variety of exercises like Tai-Chi, badminton, or even ballroom dancing.

At first I ran in parks, once around Century Park in Pudong and once around People’s Park in Huangpu. It took a long while to get to Century Park by the Metro from where we were living in the Hongkou district. People’s Park is also a decent place to run around, but again, it was a busy Metro ride down and back.

Since we were staying at a guesthouse at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), most mornings I ran around the campus track. Other times I ran in Lu Xun park. Regardless of where I ran, I was usually the only non-Chinese person.

As always, the heat was strong, even at 6am. One morning, after a particularly sticky run, I went online to check the weather and according to Weather.com it was 82 degrees with 89% humidity.

It was two weeks before I adjusted to running in that kind of heat. I learned to go at a slower pace. I also learned to drink most of a half-liter bottle of water before my morning runs. That way I wouldn’t feel so thirsty, or worse, get a parched mouth. The parched mouth happened once. I’d never had that during a run before, but then I’d never sweated so much during a run before.

One morning it started raining during my run at the track. Then the rain got heavy and everyone left the track except for me. I don’t know why. As I said, after a run I was always soaked in sweat. Being soaked in rain seemed far more appealing. I kept looking up for thunder clouds and lightning, but there were none. So I just kept running. It felt great, like when I was a kid and I would ride my bike in the warm summer rain.

A few words about Chinese track etiquette: there is none. It’s just like waiting in line in China, in that there is no line. Slower runners run in whatever lane they feel like running in, including the inner lanes. Faster runners simply have to go around the slow runners. Then there are the packs of 3, 4, or sometimes 10 runners who set up a wide slow-moving mass that you have to run around. Then there are the walkers who might or might not be in the middle or outer lanes. One morning, two very old women, clearly older than the rest of the morning crowd, were walking together on the track. That’s not what was unusual. What was unusual was that they were walking side-by-side in the two inner lanes clockwise; in the opposite direction of all the other runners and walkers. We all simply went around them.

I never tried running on sidewalks through the neighborhood because then I’d have to cross at lights and that would disrupt my run. A few times I tried to use Google Maps to chart a run on the streets of Shanghai, but the site would crash on me every time. Besides, I didn’t know the streets very well. Streets in our neighborhood weren’t always straight, and they often turned and changed names frequently, making it difficult to calculate distances and commit to memory when and where to turn.

The other bit of exercise I got was from walking. It was our main form of transportation for getting around Shanghai. I walked more than I have in years. I hadn’t walked that much since my wife and I lived in Chicago.

While walking, I also carried Meredith around a fair bit. In Nanjing, I carried her up to Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum and back down again. After awhile, I told myself that carrying my four-year-old daughter was all part of my unofficial conditioning program.

At any rate, I’m hoping this will all have helped me to be in proper shape to run that 5k in a few weeks.