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    Turkish Hospitality

    To follow up on Leah’s last post, I also have had times of selfishness since we arrived. I tend to be pretty laid back, but sometimes I’m so laid back that I can view her concerns as petty, worry-some, or not that big of a deal, which is wrong. It should be “a big of a deal” because she is my wife and it is my responsibility to show her love. To shrug off her concerns like they’re unimportant is telling her she’s unimportant. This week it is my goal to make sure I am putting the concerns of my wife before my own.

    On Thursday of last week we got our first taste of Turkish hospitality. Our neighbor across the hall brought us a plate with food a couple of days previous. Fortunately, we were informed it is customary to return the plate with food on it. So we bought some baklava and situated it decoratively on the plate with some grapes.


    Turkish Sweets

    Şeker Bayram is a holiday including lots of sweets!


    It was about 8 pm when we made our way across the hall to knock on the door. We figured with it being so late, we would be arriving after dinner. We were welcomed into their home, and the family scattered everywhere. I noticed plates in the living room which they quickly relocated to the dining room table and added two more places.

    As we sat in the living room while dinner was prepared, we began our attempt to communicate with the father and three kids. We found he and the two oldest children learned a little English in school. During the very broken conversations that followed before, during, and after dinner, we were able to communicate that:

    1. We are from Michigan and Michigan looks like a hand on a map.
    2. We are both teachers.
    3. I grew up on a farm.
    4. How much we liked the food.
    5. We were done drinking çay (tea).

    Our neighbors were able to communicate that:

    1. Leah was very cute.
    2. We should drink more tea.
    3. They were happy we came.
    4. We should eat more.
    5. We should drink more tea.
    6. The father has lived  in Turkey his whole life.
    7. The mother makes the best baklava.
    8. We should drink more tea.
    9. We were invited back on Sunday for Şeker Bayramı.

    The two hours we spent with our new neighbors was definitely a learning experience. I’m not going to lie, it was also awkward at times. Turkish people are a lot more comfortable with silence than we are. When there’s such a big language barrier, you don’t have a whole lot to talk about. But we tried… and tried… and tried. And we won’t give up. Turkish is not easy, but we are hoping to learn the basics with a little practice and interaction.

    Yesterday we spent another few hours at our neighbors house for Şeker Bayramı. From what we gather, this holiday is celebrated at the end of the Ramadan. In Turkey, it is as major a holiday as Christmas in the United States. This holiday lasts three days and is filled with visits to family and friends. Since many have been fasting throughout the hours of daylight, Şeker Bayram is a time filled with eating sweets (Şeker = sugar!). That being said, yesterday we found out that Turkey has delicious chocolates, and our host does indeed make the best baklava.

    We have found the Turkish people to be very friendly and hospitable. They will drop anything or miss a scheduled event to spend time investing in relationships. Often I get so rushed and busy that I forget to invest in relationships. Our neighbors have unknowingly reaffirmed the value of quality time and fellowship with others.


    Our First 30 Hours in Ankara

    After about 18 hours of travel, we arrived in Ankara yesterday at 3:30 pm (Turkey time). The three flights went very well; there were no long delays and all of our luggage made it to our destination. It was quite the experience for me as I had never before flown overseas. I think Leah got a kick out of me looking at our GPS location and how excited I was about flying over various places. This trip was our first time riding in a plane together!


    In-flight GPS


    Upon arrival, our director picked us up from the airport to take us to our new home. Immediately we noticed how the people of Ankara are packed in tight. The city is filled with high-rise buildings, and most people live in apartments. The “packed-in” feeling is also evident in their driving. There were several times when drivers filled the road five cars wide in a three lane area. Our director said the philosophy of driving in Turkey is “find a place that’s empty and fill it.” The Turks have a much smaller driving “bubble” than Americans, and it is not uncommon to be within centimeters of the car beside you.


    Ankara from the plane


    Our apartment is much bigger than we expected — even larger than the house we rented in Virginia. We have two balconies, a full kitchen, and were provided with plenty of modern furniture. Last night we sat out on the balcony and took in the noise of the city and the cool breeze. Some new sounds are the Islamic call to prayer and the packs of wild dogs that roam the forest next to our building.


    Ankara at night


    Last night, I thought I’d give Turkish grocery shopping a whirl. It turned out to be a bigger whirl than I had predicted. Leah stayed in the apartment because we were having issues with our keys and lock (which is now fixed). My first challenge was trying to order baklava; I realized I didn’t know how to say the quantity or number of pieces I wanted. I had two teenagers behind the counter laughing as we tried to overcome the language barrier. After getting about five times the baklava I wanted, I decided to try something where I could choose my own quantities. As I was selecting produce, I noticed a gentleman trying to tell me something. After many hand motions, I found that unlike Walmart or Meijer, this guy had to weigh the produce before I checked out. My last communication challenge came at the register. I didn’t realize it was bag your own food until my stuff started piling together with someone else’s. This bagging strategy makes sense — it’s my food, so if I want it in bags, why should someone else put it there? Eventually, I made it home and made our first meal in Turkey.


    Our first meal in Turkey


    Today, we went on a tour of our school and neighborhood and did some small scale shopping. On the tour, we ate at our first Turkish restaurant. Each meal comes with complimentary salad, a salsa type dip, pita bread, fried vegetables, and hot tea. For my entree, I chose Döner Kebap. This delicious dish consisted of fried strips of beef served over a pita with a spiced grain (similar to couscous).


    Eating out for the first time in Turkey


    We are enjoying our new home Ankara. The people are friendly, the food is good, and jet lag has not hit us much yet. We have a lot of language yet to learn in order to function well on our own. Until then, the few phrases we know in Turkish will be most important: “My Turkish is not very good” and “I don’t understand.”


    The Last Few Days Before Moving Overseas

    We are getting so close to our departure date and only have three sleeps left in the United States. Over the next two days we will be concentrating on packing and saying goodbye to family.

    There are many emotions running high right now. We are excited about moving to a new place and the experiences and opportunities ahead. At the same time, we are experiencing the sadness of saying goodbye to family. We consider ourselves fortunate to have such wonderful, supportive families. Their encouragement has been essential to us these past few months. We are truly blessed!

    Our current state of packing is a bit of a challenge…


    Packing to live overseas


    As you can probably see, we are in need of prayer!


    1. See-you-laters: Please pray that our goodbyes will be meaningful and thorough.
    2. Emotional/Spiritual state: Pray for our emotional and spiritual state as we prepare to move. We need to rely on God and each other for comfort.
    3. Packing: We have a lot of stuff and a limited amount of suitcase room! Pray we will be able to prioritize what to take to Turkey.


    Thank you!



    Vacationing with the Benedicts: Wisconsin and Pure Michigan

    My side of the family planned a summer vacation starting in the Wisconsin Dells. However, we had a day to burn before meeting up with them and decided to pay a visit to Leah’s cousin in Chicago. We had a lot of fun staying with Kendra and meeting her boyfriend, David. While in Chicago, we enjoyed Lincoln Park Zoo (which is free – we highly recommend it) and a delicious Mexican restaurant.


    Visiting Leah's cousin in Chicago


    Leah and I were a little ahead of the rest of the family. We were commissioned to locate a restaurant and found a Denny’s down the road. However, after realizing Wisconsin is home of Culver’s, Mom and Dad asked us to find one. One of the most common phrases on the vacation was, “There’s a Culver’s – how much you want to bet Mom and Dad stop?”

    Once we had our first Culver’s fix, we continued to the Wisconsin Dells. The Dells are sandstone rock formations that surround the Wisconsin River. We got a close-up view on a Wild Thing jet boat ride. We enjoyed getting whipped around as the boat captain thrashed us into 360 degree turns and plunged the nose of the boat into the water.


    Benedicts before the jet boat ride


    There are over 20 different water parks in the Dells area. We went to Noah’s Ark, who claims to be America’s largest waterpark. My favorite attraction was the Scorpion’s Tail. At the top of the tower, I stepped into a capsule. As the glass closed around me, a voice counted down toward zero (I felt like I was about to join the Hunger Games). When the countdown got to zero, the floor dropped out from beneath me and I plummeted ten stories before doing a loop and reaching the end of the slide 400 feet later. It was the most intense water slide I’ve ever experienced, and it couldn’t have taken more than 7 seconds.

    One night, we attended the Tommy Bartlett Show. The show consisted of aqua athletes performing breath-taking stunts on boats, skis, and wake-boards. There was also a stage show that featured acrobats, jugglers, and comedians. Other than a comedian crossing the line of acceptable family humor, I recommend taking a family to this show; it was suspenseful and filled with humor.

    After a few days, we packed up two tents and a thirty-foot trailer to travel onward. Joe and Brittany had to head home early, but we were glad to have had time with all of the immediate Benedict’s.

    Several Culver’s stops and hours of driving later, we settled down in Door County. Door County is a peninsula on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. We did a lot of shopping and were amused by Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where goats live on it’s grass roof. We swam at a few beaches and enjoyed riding the car ferry to explore Washington Island.


    Goats on a roof in Door County


    One of the highlights and musts of Door County was the Pelletier’s Fish Boil. Fish boils originated in Door County and are unique to that area. A fish boil takes place outside over a fire. A cook fills a giant pot with water and adds potatoes and onions, and fish are added later. As everything is cooked, the fish oil rises above the water. The cook then pours fuel on the flames below the pot, causing a giant flame to ignite the fish oil. I was standing so close that I almost singed my eyebrows! The result is a delicious meal. We enjoyed the fresh-caught (same day) white fish and potatoes. The food was delicious, but the service was so-so.


    Door County Fish Boil


    Next, we made our way into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We passed through Escanaba (in the sunlight) and floated across the springs of Kitch Iti Kipi. I was excited to show Leah the springs since it was a place I visited as a child.

    We settled near Lake Superior in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. We enjoyed viewing the falls and wading in the river. We also spent some time at the Michigan Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. We walked the beach and learned about the many shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. It’s crazy how a freshwater lake can stir up such wild sea-like storms.


    Whitefish Point


    While in the Tahquamenon area, we also visited Oswald’s Bear Ranch . This ranch has 29 live roaming bears. We were able to get up close and personal, and Benny fed the bears apples. We were hoping to pet the bears, but due to a new federal law, we missed the opportunity by just a few weeks.


    Oswald Bear Ranch


    We were so blessed to be able to join my family on this trip. Mom and Dad were so generous and found the most interesting places to visit. I spent lots of time bonding with my brothers, and we had many interesting game nights. The campfire food and morning breakfasts were fun to make together, and we faced the challenge of sorting individual marshmallows out of a big bag of them melted together. Leah and I left a few days early to prepare for more Northern Michigan with Leah’s family. I had the privilege of driving Leah on her first trek across the Mackinac Bridge!


    DiSC Personality Profile: What I Learned About Myself

    Leah and I have been attending pre-field orientation during the past two weeks to prepare us for employment with Oasis International Schools. One of the things we have completed is the DiSC personality profile. According to, “DiSC is a personal assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork, and communication. DiSC is non-judgmental and helps people discuss their behavioral differences.”


    DiSC personality assessment


    Completing this assessment has helped me learn some very revealing things about myself and how I approach others. I was scored as a high category “I” with influences of “S”. Through these scores, I was able to outline some key strengths and weaknesses.



    • High aspirations (dream big)
    • Strong social interactions
    • Optimism
    • Motivator and leader



    • Lacks follow through
    • Fails to pay attention to details
    • Socially overpower others
    • Impulsive
    • Tendency to over-commit due to people pleasing tendency
    • Lacks organization

    I have put together five steps to overcoming my weaknesses.

    1. Listen — Sometimes I tend to be so concerned with my upcoming social interaction, that I fail to pay attention to others or details they are explaining to me. By making a conscious effort to listen, I hope to also eliminate my tendency to overpower others.

    2. Don’t Stop Until it’s Finished — I often get real passionate about something I commit to at the beginning. However, I sometimes get sidetracked by other commitments and fail to follow through. By implementing this step, I hope to complete tasks with quality effort.

    3. Just say no! — I am a people pleaser. I like to make everyone happy, all of the time. However, I have realized that this is not always possible. I will commit myself to only take on what I think I can handle. I often over-commit and am found trying to juggle too many things at once.

    4. THINK! — As stated in my weaknesses, I often act impulsively, hence social overpowering, over-commitment, missing details, etc… I am making the commitment to think before I act, speak, or commit. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” I hope that by taking more time to think, I will be able to have better discernment.

    5. PLAN! — This mostly applies to my teaching. I often become organized because I don’t take time to plan. For someone who already struggles with being impulsive, I really need to make sure I take the time to plan out my days so that I can teach and use my time efficiently.

    With all that being said, I would also like to add that Leah and I had fun taking this analysis. We were polar opposites and have learned much about our personalities and  how we can work together to strengthen our marriage. This is most important. I’m excited to see how we grow in the coming months!



    First Anniversary Celebrations

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Leah and I decide to follow a tradition started by my parents to take turns planning a surprise trip for our anniversary. After a long drive on Wednesday, Leah and I arrived in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

    I made plans for us to visit Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park. I had absolutely no idea how many entertainment options Pigeon Forge had to offer. As we drove through town on the way to our hotel, we both commented how much the area looked like a beach town. There were wax museums, putt-putt golf courses, outlet malls, hotels, dinner theatres, and a dancing plethora of pancake houses. There was even a museum inside of a Titanic replica. Keep in mind, this is all in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The amount of tourist traps were overwhelming.


    Dollywood highway sign


    Our first day in Pigeon Forge, we visited Dollywood’s Splash Country. It was a beautiful day to be at the waterpark, as it was in the 90s and sunny most of the day. We enjoyed many waterslides and the wave pool. I even jumped over a fence to get a four-leaf clover that Leah had found.


    Leah found another four leaf clover


    I made dinner reservations for that night at Lumberjack Feud. Lumberjack Feud is a dinner theater that stars champion ESPN lumberjacks. The show was very interesting and aside from some corny jokes, very entertaining. The most impressive part was when two lumberjacks shimmied up 90 foot poles, and came back down by practically free falling before digging their feet into the pole right before hitting the ground, all in a matter of seconds.


    Lumberjack Feud


    Our last full day in Pigeon Forge, we visited Dollywood. This park had the perfect balance of roller coasters and shows. When I purchased the tickets, I planned on spending most of our time at the shows because of Leah’s coaster-phobia. However, I was impressed by how many roller coasters she actually wanted to ride. She said that I caught her on a brave day.


    Gazillion bubble show


    While in the park, we saw a few small shows. One of the most impressive was the Gazillion Bubble Show with “bubble artist” Ana Yang. As funny as it might sound, Ms. Yang used her bubbling techniques to entertain and amuse a full theater. Leah and I found ourselves laughing and jumping out of our seats to pop fog-filled bubbles. We also enjoyed a stunt dog show and a bluegrass band. Leah won a free Moonpie and Coke from an acapella 60s group.


    Free moon pie and coke at Dollywood


    Those few days were fun and relaxing for Leah and me. From there, we traveled to Oxford, Mississippi to visit our great friends Devon and Noelani Newburn. We will post more on our time in Mississippi soon!