Friday, November 30, 2012

When NOT TO visit Istanbul

Many people think that Turkey is an exotic country probably warm all year round with deserts and camels and everything. Not so! 


First, thank God we have no deserts (they are not exactly fun) and the only camels you will see are for tourists only. Second, the country is between latitudes 35° and 43° N and longitudes 25° and 45° E. This means we enjoy all 4 seasons here in this country.

For detailed info you may check out  Wikipedia. Another fun fact: There are a few skiing areas within 4 hours of driving distance from Istanbul. 


I think the worst times to visit Istanbul are between late October- late March. It is usually pretty cold with lots of rain and some snow. July and August are also terrible choices unless you want to melt your brains.

My favorite time frame is between early April-mid June. In the spring you can see beautiful lavender colored flowers and tulips all over the city and taking a boat trip along the Bosphorus will present you with stunning views. Since it is not so hot and humid yet, it is possible to take long walks and spend lots of time outside. You can make the most of this city if you walk around especially in the historic peninsula.

Mid September- late October is another good option to see Istanbul. The weather is mild and quiet nice during early Fall.

Istanbul gets some snow during the winter but it does not last long as it does in mid Anatolia and eastern Turkey. Since Istanbul is a coastal city, the climate is somewhat milder. However, even a mild precipitation cripples the city traffic beyond comprehension. 

So, if you ever want to visit this very historic and cool city, let me know. I can give you some tips as to what not to do. As for what to do, I know you guys do a lot of research before visiting places, so may be you can give me tips about that!



Thursday, November 29, 2012

This is for you procrastinators!

I needed to get some work done today. I prepared everything last night so that, after my breakfast it would be so easy to start concentrating.

So, today I sat down and checked my e-mail, checked some blogs, read online editions of various newspapers, made lunch, made coffee, made dinner, looked for a cabinet I need online, did a load of laundry but, WORK!

As I was looking for more reading material, I came across this blog post. I am going to try the timer trick and reward myself for every interval I am productive. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Don't Go Window Shopping

When I was living in Ankara, I would take my mom to a mall almost every weekend since there is not much else to do in a place as boring as the capital city of our nation. Besides, mom gets tired very easily therefore, a mall where there are many options to sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee seemed like a good choice to spend time.

Even if we had nothing to buy, we would always get something we thought we "needed" or spent money on coffee and a dessert or ice cream or a bite to eat. Do it every weekend and it adds up real quickly.

Now that I am back in Istanbul, I am not spending time at malls at all. In the last two months, I think, I have been to a mall just once to buy myself a couple of tops I needed. I ended up buying nothing because I could not find anything appropriate. I was in and out in a matter of 20 minutes. Had I chosen to window shop the rest of the mall, I am sure I would get something I actually do not need or at least sit down a for a cup of coffee and a desert.

Mindless wandering at a mall without a real purpose will make you spend money however trivial it may be. After all money does not grow on trees.

So what do I do when mom is visiting Istanbul? Istanbul is on the Bosphorus so it's very scenic. I sometimes pack a thermos full of tea, something to eat and we go sight seeing. Yes, taking the car means spending money on gas but it is not all that much. Besides, I plan my grocery shopping around these little excursions and save money on gas. We almost never go to malls here. My mom does not stay longer than three weeks so the expenses I incur while she is here are minimal and she likes to treat me as well. These visits are mini vacations for her.

I will go to Ankara for the New Year's and I am hoping to take her back with me. I am sure she will like that. I do enjoy spending time with her.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Boiling Pasta

They say that the water you boil your pasta in has most of the vitamins and nutrients in the pasta and by throwing it out, you are wasting it. I do not know if this is true but wasting water does not make sense to me anyway.

I usually cook my pasta in very little water and by mixing the pasta frequently, I let the it absorb all the water and if it is not cooked yet, I just add some more water. This way there is no water to dump when you are done. However, sometimes it is not easy like when you are using large pasta such as penne. I then use more water but take the pasta out and use the remaining water to make a soup. This is an especially good strategy when I am making meat filled dumplings (manti).

I have a water saving strategy for the shower as well. The hot water is centrally heated at my apartment. They have these meters that they track our usage and the Apartment Management bills us depending on the usage. I have realized that I let at least half a bucket of water run before I can comfortably step under the shower. So, I keep a bucket by the bathtub and save that half a bucket of water to later dump in the toilet. It is so easy. I am probably saving very little money but knowing that a large portion of the human population has very limited access to water, these tactics make me feel like I have done something that has value.

Paint Smell

Our apartment complex is still under the big insulation project. Finally, they started painting the exterior and the interior of my building and the paint smell is giving me a gigantic headache.

I have put plates with vinegar around the apartment. It is supposed to help with the smell, supposed being the operative word here.

Whenever I open the windows more paint smell come in and they haven't even painted the back side of the building yet.

Any suggestions to deal with the smell of paint?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Budget for Gifts

We are not Christian and we do not celebrate Christmas here but decorating, gift giving and having a nice turkey dinner for the New Year's is tradition in my family. I know it sounds weird, like Christmas and Thanksgiving bundled for 31st of December. Not everyone celebrate the New Year like we do in Turkey. It is even frowned upon by some, since it looks like a Christian tradition. I do not care what anybody else thinks. It makes me happy to decorate my home and give gifts to my family. I like welcoming and celebrating the New Year.

However, we are not into excessive number of gifts. We usually buy one gift per person or may be two. I like giving practical gifts such as clothing items. This year I am buying gifts for the following people:

Mom
Sis
BIL
Uncle
BIL's mom and dad
Cleaning Lady (that will actually be a baby gift for her third grandkid)

I am going to establish a budget for each person and will try to stick to the overall budget I will set.

Even though, I will be visiting them, I will end up cooking and that also means grocery shopping. I like roasting a whole turkey and neither mom nor sis does that. They make side dishes but since I like the Thanksgiving menu so much, I prepare traditional American side dishes as well. At the end of the day, we end up with plenty of leftovers, full stomachs and happy people:)

When I was living in the US, I used to spend Christmas with my American friends at their home and it was a lot of fun. I still remember how the kids attacked piles of gifts and ripped the packages in a matter of minutes. The first time I saw how many gifts they were getting, I was amazed. Then I got used to it too:)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Oh! What a mess!

If you could see my apartment right now, you could be in tears. I almost am. I never anticipated this window business to be so messy. Although the three guys putting up my new windows are very careful, the apartment  is a mess. It is also taking way more time than I thought. My living room is almost done, my bedroom is half done and the spare room still requires lots of work. It is 2:30 p.m.

I just cannot wait to see these people out of my apartment. It is freezing today and it also looks like, it will rain some time during the day.

When they leave, I must vacuum and dust my bedroom thoroughly and change my sheets. Even though the bed was covered, there was so much dust that, I have to change the sheets. After cleaning up my room, I think I will shut myself in there until the cleaning lady gets here on Monday or Tuesday. I am in no condition to deal with the rest of the apartment.

Aaaaaargh!


Friday, November 23, 2012

New Windows

No, I am not talking about the Windows 8 but, rather my actual windows.

I forgot that the new windows will be here tomorrow. My vertigo is still bad but I think, I can sit still while the guys install the new windows. I am hoping they will do a clean job. If not, I will just clean up as much as my vertigo allows me and call the cleaning lady next week.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Vertigo Attack and lost days of work...

So much for being happy about a four day work week. This morning due to a bad vertigo attack, I had to cancel my trip to the Customer site so, this week ended up being a two day work week. Bad for the budget but not so bad after all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all American Friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Expense Tracking and Paying Debt

It is the 21st of November and I am proud to say, I have tracked every penny I have spent. I think this may finally become a habit. So far, I had 8 no spend days which is very good.

I have realized that, now that I am tracking my expenses, I tend to be more careful with what I spend. If I reach for a "want" item rather than a "need" item, it makes me think twice.

Mom gave me some cash today. Apparently, I have done some shopping for her few weeks ago which I have completely forgotten. She is funny that way. Whenever I shop for her, she insists on paying. I think I can make the cash in my pocket last until the end of the month.

My sister and my BIL had unexpected expenses lately due to her MIL's situation so, I offered to make a double payment to them. The debt I have for the rental apartment was three parts. Since both of them are in banking they could get a better rate than I could for one part of that debt. So, they took out a loan and I pay them every month. My sister accepted that offer. I have also decided to close the smallest part of the three part loan so, hopefully by 11th of December, I will have shaved a very good portion of my debt.

I will post the numbers later on. Can't wait!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Stupid, stupid me!

I admit I am not a very organized person. The other day it almost cost me a bundle. Well, it has probably cost some electricity anyway. I have realized that, the freezer door was not shut properly. When I looked inside, I saw quite a bit of snow-like ice which never happens since it is a no-frost fridge and realized that since I was not placing things in there carefully but rather cramming everything, the door somehow did not shut well. If I hadn't seen it that day and left for my week-long trip, I am sure all food in there would be spoilt.

This is downright stupid of me. After all it is a matter of minutes to organize everything in that little space.

When it comes to organizing anything around the apartment, I suddenly become to Guru of Procrastination. Even small chores seem like big burdens. Why am I like this? I gotta get my act together. I remember how proud I had felt when I had organized my shoes few weeks ago. Besides such chores actually have theraphy effect since they do not require a lot of thinking.

On the other hand my mom is the Guru of Organization. Everything in her apartment has a place and at any given time during the day, if you look at her apartment, you will see that nothing is ever out of place. Most of her rooms look like there is nobody living there. After every meal, she meticuluosuly cleans up and leaves her kitchen as if it has not seen any action for days. So, how could her own daughter be so messy?

I am not happy with myself lately...


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Never Ending Laundry...

You would think since I live on my own I wouldn't have so much laundry. Not so. All day today, I washed 6 loads and my bathroom towels are spinning right now as the 7th load. I am so glad I now have two drying racks.

I do not have a designated laundry day. I have two hampers: One for towels and sheets, one for everything else. When my hampers start looking full, I sort the laundry out and start washing them. I almost always have a full load except for fragile items. I use about a third of the recommended detergent and almost always use cold water. I had been using a real old wash machine which used tı belong to my mom. It was old but it was a great machine. Now, I have one of those energy efficient machines which use very little water. It just bothers me that with so little water, does it really clean the clothes? Then I remember that my clothes do not get really soiled or dirty. Well, I am still getting used to it. Also, the new machine is a bit smaller than the old one so, a full load is somewhat smaller too.

It feels like after I empty the hampers they start filling up by themselves as soon as I turn my back. Weird huh?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Busy week coming up

Next week, I shall be working for four days, two in Ankara, two in Iskenderun. There is a good chance that I will spend Wednesday with mom and sis so, this is another good opportunity.

I was not expecting November to be this busy. When I decided to leave my regular job and take part-time work, I calculated that a minimum of 4 days per month on the average would keep me in an OK income zone (of course with the help of my rental and SS income). Anything above 4 days is good. Last month I worked a total of 7 days and this month, I think I will exceed 8 days by the end of the month. Of course this is not indicative of anything in such a short time. I need to spend a whole year to see the average number of days I can work. Surely summer will be much slower.

I am trying to figure out what to pack since Iskenderun is probably much warmer being a coastal city in the south.




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Business Trip and Counting My Blessings

I am on a business trip for two days in Ankara which gave me the opportunity to see my mom. I was not expecting this trip so I was surprised when I got the call the day before.

I truly love my mom and my sister. They are the most important people in  my life. Although I could not see my sister this time, I was sure glad to see mom and spend some time together. I woke up this morning prepared tea, took out the breakfast tray and hit the shower. After drying my hair and dressing myself, I woke my mom up and we had breakfast together. I am blessed to have a great family and I am hoping to be with them for many years to come in good health. I only wish my dad was still with us. He was a terrific parent too.

The Customer turned out to be a very interesting one. They have a ton of work they must be performing soon but I have observed a lack of motivation and capability among the people. It looks like top management support is not in place which explains a great deal. It is a bit of a toxic work environment for most.

I am thankful for the choices I have made so far. My last work place was similar and I remember how unhappy I was.




Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Blogging in a foreign language... English!

English is not my native language but, I am very comfortable reading, writing and speaking it. I try reading originals instead of translations, watching original movies instead of dubbed versions to keep my English alive.

Language is a strange thing. If you do not use it, you are bound to lose it. So, since it is not a part of my daily life, I decided to have this blog in English in order to meet blogging buddies and keep it a part of my daily routine. Is it much harder than writing in Turkish? I do not think so. Of course my vocabulary is not as rich as my vocabulary in my own language but still, it is not that hard to write a blog in English.

I remember the first day I had arrived in the US. In fact it was the very first time I was abroad, the very first time I was on an aircraft and the very first time I was away from my family, alone. (and I ended up in NY!)
I have checked in to my room at the hotel and turned on the TV. There was commercial of Shop-Rite and I could not understand a word of it! It was so strange to my ears... After all, I had learnt English at Turkish Schools taught by Turkish teachers. I was not exposed to the American accent much. The guy who interviewed me for that job which landed me in NY, spoke a very "clean" English so, the interview had gone very well but the stupid commercial made me depressed!

The next day at work, they placed me in the cubicle of a dear friend who had a very strong Boston accent! He was a wonderful person and he loved to listen to my adventures every weekend, but that is another story for another post.

I think in about two months, I have acquired a nearly NY accent and my vocabulary expanded. It was a very good experience. My strength comes from the fact that I imitate others well and I am not bashful. I do not care if I make mistakes and if people correct me. I learn the correct way and move on. Some people are embarrased to make mistakes and their lives are harder in a foreign country. I was with a bunch of Turkish colleagues and most of them had that problem.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's in my cookie jar?

I shouldn't be eating cookies. Let alone eating, I shouldn't be even looking at them. I am obese and I will tackle my weight issues in the very near future. This year I have gone through a detailed check-up and the last doctor's visit I must make is on Monday. I have to see an orthopedist for my tendons and ask for exercise advice. After that, I will start seeing a dietician.

So, what is in my cookie jar? Extra light bulbs:)

After I moved back from Ankara, since I have taken down the light fixtures, I ended up with quiet a few light bulbs. Their boxes were long gone and I was looking for some place safe and out of the way to put them. I suddenly remembered my sunflower cookie jar was empty  and I could put my light bulbs in it. Now, that is what I call re-purposing:)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Changing the windows...

It looks like I need to be spending some money changing my windows. My apartment is about 15 years old. It is a sturdy building but not without problems. Looking carefully into the water leakage problem, I have realized that, some of the problem is due to outside wall issues and some is due to the current windows with roller shutters that I have. Outside problems will be fixed by the contractor as promised by the management (I hope) and I have decided to renew the windows to take care of the other problems.

To be honest I was using the shutters only when I left home for prolonged periods of time and at night when I wanted to keep my window open. I am on the entrance floor so, the shutters provided some security. The shutter boxes into which the shutters roll up are a mess. They get very dirty over time and it is not easy to clean them. I have decided to get rid of it all and get brand new windows without shutters. For protection, my new windows will be inward awning with a lock mechanism. 

There are three windows that need to be replaced so, I will be spending something in the neighborhood of 2,300 TL. (approximately USD 1,285). Furthermore, I will have brand new screens fitting each window. I think it is a good deal. The money is going to come out of the house repairs fund I had been setting aside. I knew my apartment would require some repairs sooner or later and was prepared for that.

I will buy a storage closet for my balcony in the next few months and I will have the entire apartment painted in the summer. I was preparing to do that in the spring but the contractor told me that it would be best to have the apartment painted in August because when the walls get the humidity once, it is not easy to get rid of it completely. Hopefully I will not need to spend any more money on the apartment until 2014 except for a few minor things here and there.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Grocery Shopping

I went grocery shopping and spent 166.46 TL today. My normal weekly spending is much less than that but I have purchased some detergent to last me for quiet a while. I also bought some helva, a jar of peanut butter, honey, milk, tomato puree and rice which are staples for my fridge and pantry. They are supposed to last for a while too.

I have given up eating chicken because they say chicken are pumped with antibiotics and hormones and they are bad for health. So, I bought some turkey meat instead although the selection was somewhat limited. Turkey is not popular in Turkey:) Therefore, I am planning to purchase a big bird for the New Year's which is the only time turkey meat is abundant and freeze most of it for later.

Also, I like to eat a lot of fish during the hunting season that is between September 1st-Mid April. Lately blue fish is abundant and I am hoping to get a good deal next week to stock up on some. I did not get any fish from the store I went to. I have a fish place at the Kartal Fish Market. I am planning to go there after my doctors appointment on Monday. My tendons are acting up again.

I am very proud of myself because lately I have started eating fruit. I bought a pineapple, two different kinds of apples, mandarines (my favorite) and japanese persimmon or trabzon hurmasi as we call it.

The vegetables did not look good so, I bought just a couple of things to cook tomorrow for the weekend. I may consider going to an open market on Saturday for fresh veggies even though I hate shopping on the weekends.

I am meeting a friend for coffee late in the afternoon tomorrow and then I shall be seeing another friend over the weekend. Hope, the weather will be nice.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Always consult others before major purchases

Since I have been living on my own for quite a while, I am used to making my own decisions. I consider myself generally very good in decision making. I never rush. I always look for alternatives and evaluate them long enough before major purchases.

However, I am not so good about putting the word out and consulting others. Strange for someone who makes a living  as a consultant:)

I am 45 and I have been wearing glasses since I was 8. So, prescription glasses have always been an important purchase in my life. Normally, I do not wear brand name clothing unless things are purchased at deep discounts or from outlet stores. Glasses are a different story. I almost always go out for purchasing glasses telling myself:" I am not buying an expensive brand name this time!" and end up with expensive glasses.

The last 4 frames I have purchased were: Silhouette, Versace, Gucci and Armani. I do not know how I ended up buying glasses that cost more than 1,000 TL each time (lenses included).

Things have changed this year. I mentioned to a few friends that I was sick and tired of overpaying for expensive glasses and one of those friends told me about an excellent place to get my new glasses. I got a brand new pair of Lacoste glasses(yeah, I know another brand name) and new lenses for my existing Silhouette frame for....... drum roll please.....525 TL!

I will include friends and family in my search process from now on. Got my lesson...



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Travel Plans for 2013

I am scared to make plans for the future because by now, I have learnt that unexpected may happen and jeopardize all plans. So, I am going to be cautious here.

I have lived in the US for over three and a half years in the past and I miss it. So, I would like to spend a 4 week vacation in the US in 2013. My favorite season is the Fall so, I am hoping to do this in October-November.

During my last visits to the US, I went to Las Vegas and Chicago but, I miss NYC very much. I would like to spend some time around NY or may be; spend the entire time there.

However, I would like to see Seattle very much also. I am thinking of a road trip from San Fransisco to Sacramento and then to Seattle. I like San Fransisco a whole lot so, it wuld be nice to see it again. I have been to Sacramento just once and since it was a brief business trip, I could not see much.

So, I may fly to NY and fly over to SF and spend 7-8 days doing the SF-Sacramento-Seattle thing, go back to NY and spend the rest of the time around the tri-state area. This is a more expensive option than, just staying around NY. If I spend the entire time in NY area, I will probably stay at an extended stay type of accomodation with a small kitchen and spend way less money.

This vacation can only happen if I can average at least 6 days a month doing consulting work between now and next September. So, I will just keep my fingers crossed, hope for the best and look for inexpensive car rental and accomodation options starting early spring. I can buy the airline ticket with my CC points so, that is not a concern.

It is amazing that there are 5 daily direct flights to NYC from Istanbul nowadays. Turkish Airlines has three direct flights a day, Delta has one, and so does United. It takes 10-10,5 hours on the way to NY and 9,5 hours on the way back.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Track Expenses

This month I have decided o track my daily expenses on a daily basis. I have tried it before but was unsuccessful. Hopefully this time I will do it.

Weekend did some damage to my pocket but it was not too bad besides, it was planned. I get together with a group of friends every month and those nights are usually expensive. We almost always have an excellent time and these meetings happened even when I was living in Ankara. I would set a date and everyone in the group (6 people) would keep that date. We were colleagues until 2006 but then everybody started working for different companies but our ties were so strong that we kept seeing each other.

Today, I steamed some cauliflower, made rice and green lentils. So, for tomorrow, I do not have to worry about what to cook. I think I will freeze some of the lentils for later.

I am thinking about making pizza on Wednesday. I bought some whole wheat flour and I would like to try baking a bread and since the oven will be used anyway, I can have pizza for dinner.

Now, I must go get some work done.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Half of the Debt Is Paid! YAY!

Today is the day that marks the completion of the half of the payments of my investment apartment debt. It was a 36 month debt and as of today 18 months are gone!

It really is a good feeling. Actually I do have enough money to close the rest of it but, then I would become very vulnerable for emergencies so, I keep the money in savings and keep on making monthly payments.

It's a good day!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Irregular Income and Automated Payments

Up until now, I had a monthly salary paid the last day of each month and it was pretty easy to automate almost all payments.

Now:

Social Security Payment: End of every month
Consultancy Income: Don't know when yet. I must claim expenses and then, bill the company.
Rent Income: Between the 1st and 3rd of each month if the tenant pays on time

Also a friend of mine is paying me back for a trip I had to arrange for her with my credit card. She called me to ask if it would be OK for her to pay on Monday and I agreed since it is not a significant amount. The credit card company divided the whole cost of the trip into five installments so, I had told her to pay in installments too.

I actually do not like it when the credit card company has these promotions where they divide the payments without asking me first.

So, I thought, I would have enough money for the early bills this month, but I think I miscalculated a little bit therefore, I must deposit some cash to my account tomorrow.

I think I must keep extra cash in my account. I really do not like to do that though. I rather like to see my money in my savings account earning interest.

I must get used to paying more attention to my account balances and automated payments from now on.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

When I was young...

Thank God I have not started saying "When I was young..." yet. May be in 10 years or so...

My grandparents used to complain that nothing ever tasted like when they were young. To them, apples were no more the apples they knew, bread was not as tasty as the bread they used have, nothing was ever anything like they knew when they were young. Mom sometimes does the same thing.

Is it really so? Or, is it people's taste buds changing over time? Today, I made some sort of a very simple pastry my grandma used to make. It smelled the same, yet did not taste the same. Or so I thought...

Is it us? Or is it really the ingredients? Does everything taste better for kids? Do we develop a more refined palate over time? Do we get spoilt?

But, the most important question is: Am I getting old?

:) :) :)