A Dream Realized: Opening Our Own Store

Some important milestones have recently passed without any acknowledgement here on my blog—my daughter’s 12th birthday and the one-year anniversary of creating a Book for My Daughter. Both of these events deserve their own post—and they will get one—but not today. Instead, there is a different anniversary that I believe needs to be recognized—the 9th anniversary of the opening of our store Zin Home. The opening of this store has turned out to be one of the most significant events in our lives, and I think it’s about time that I told this part of our story.

Zin Home (Exterior)

In trying to decide where to begin, I realized that this story doesn’t actually begin with our decision to start our own business, nor does it begin with the first day we opened our doors. Instead, it begins a few years earlier when we were still living in Istanbul, Turkey. During that time, my husband had a career that he had worked extremely hard for—he was a certified Guide under the Ministry of Tourism. This basically meant that he would take large groups of English-speaking tourists—often from Australia, the United States, England, or South Africa—to all parts of the country for sometimes weeks at a time. I’m not certain which aspect of the job was his favorite—the incredible sights, the freedom it afforded him, or getting the chance to meet people from around the world—but I know that he loved it. That’s why the decision to start our lives over in the United States ended up being a sacrifice for him that neither one of us could have anticipated.

Zin Home (2005)

For the first two years here, my husband had a corporate job—he woke up early, wore a suit, and worked from 9 to 5—which was the complete opposite of his previously chosen career. Although he worked hard and did whatever was required of him to be successful, he was not happy. As time went by, I could see him slowly becoming a shadow of his former self-confident and energetic self. One day, after a particularly miserable night together, I called him at work to see if he’d meet me for lunch. While we sat drinking coffee at a nearby diner waiting for our lunches to arrive, I told him to quit his job. I told him that he should just go back after lunch and give them his notice—which he did. Although I knew that the financial well-being of our family depended on him having a job, I knew that our family would end up being hurt if he continued to work in one that made him so unhappy. I truly believed that once he was free from the company he worked for, he would be able to find a new path for himself, and that would ultimately be better for all of us.

A few weeks later, a close friend of ours—actually the friend who introduced us—told us he was moving to New Jersey and that he wanted to start a business. He had been a rug merchant in Istanbul, and although he had been living and working in Washington, D.C. for the last few years, he now wanted to open a Turkish imports store—and he wanted to do it with my husband. This was not exactly what I had in mind when I told him to quit his job, and I’ll admit, I was vehemently opposed to the idea. At the time, we had no savings, we lived in a rented house, we had a two-year-old daughter, and I was only just starting out in my career—I couldn’t see how we could even be thinking about opening a store. But my husband believed he could do it.

Zin Home

I’m not sure at what point I finally got on board with this new-found dream, but before I knew it, we were signing a lease, picking out paint colors, and deciding on a name. Then, six months after quitting his job, our store, Zin Home, was born.

My husband learned a lot those first few years. He learned that selling Turkish ceramics cannot sustain a business. He learned that a home store needs to have more than just rugs and glass lanterns. He learned that reinvention is what makes a business last, and that taking risks is sometimes necessary. And recently, after redesigning and re-launching our store’s website, my husband has learned what it takes to have an online business. I have also learned a lot since opening the store, the most important of which is to have trust and faith in my husband’s dreams.

Now, here we are, nine years later, and having survived the recession, we are finally starting to see our business grow again. My advice for my daughter is something that I learned that warm fall day when I told my husband to quit his job, and it is something I still try to live by. When the path you are on “hurts” you more than it rewards you, get off of it and try a new direction because sometimes the unknown turns out to be something you never knew you even wanted.


A Life-Altering Cup of Coffee

In a previous post, I wrote about some of my Frequently Asked Questions, all of which focused on my life in Istanbul. One of the questions that I almost always give the abbreviated version to is how I met my husband. Although I had previously touched on this in another post, I’ve decided to tell the full story here.

My first day in Istanbul was a cold and gray January day, there was even the occasional snow flurry in the air. It seemed that my friend and I may have been the only tourists in the area, because as we made our way to the center of the historic district, we found ourselves surrounded by a number of men—each of them simultaneously asking us to join them for tea. Having previously traveled around Italy—a country notorious for their “romantic” ways—I immediately assumed that they were all trying to pick us up. Needless to say, we were completely freaked out. We somehow extricated ourselves from this group of men, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then hurried back to our hotel to regroup and plan on how we were going to spend our next ten days in Istanbul.

The next morning, I chose not to shower or brush my hair, and without a scrap of makeup on, we headed out. It was a beautiful day—cold but sunny—and the entire atmosphere of the old city had changed. We found a small park in which to sit so that we could look at a map to get our bearings. Within a few minutes, a young man walked up to us, and asked if were from the United States. He spoke English with an American accent, he was young—our age, twenty-two or so—and was incredibly charming. After talking for a few minutes, he invited us into a nearby rug store for a cup of coffee. Having never turned down a cup of coffee before, we decided to go.

For the next hour or so, we talked about traveling, what brought us to Turkey, and where we were headed next. During that time, I noticed another young man repeatedly walking up and down the stairs. After his second trip back down the stairs, he was invited to join us. He struck me as possibly shy and very serious, and although we attempted to have a conversation with him, I wasn’t sure if he was actually interested in talking with us. As it grew later, the two of them asked us if we’d like to have dinner. We agreed to meet at a nearby restaurant an hour later, giving us just enough time to shower and change our clothes.

When we met them at the restaurant, I noticed right away that the serious one couldn’t stop staring at me. It actually made me a little uncomfortable, which led me to talking incessantly—trying to cover up my discomfort. I found out during dinner that he was a University student, studying English Literature and Linguistics. In addition to that, he was also studying to get his Guidance License under the Ministry of Tourism. When he spoke about his desire to travel around the country, showing it’s many wonders to foreign visitors, his face lit up and he became animated in a way I hadn’t seen all evening.

I was suddenly struck by how handsome has was, and my discomfort over his intense gaze turned into one of nervousness.

After finishing dinner, they asked if we wanted to go to a nearby bar to listen to music and dance. We were having such an enjoyable evening, and although this was my first full day in Istanbul—and my mother’s voice in my head was saying something about going out with men in a foreign country—we said yes.

Sitting together in "My Way" bar (a few months later)

When we arrived at a bar called My Way (after the Frank Sinatra song), I once again became very uncomfortable when he asked me to dance. I said no—multiple times. This didn’t stop him from dancing, however, and for the next hour, I watched him with some other friends dancing to traditional Turkish music, laughing, and enjoying himself immensely. I will admit that I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he danced. When a slow song started, he once again asked me to dance—this time I said “yes.” The song was “Careless Whisper” by Wham!, and when it ended, I knew that I would dance with him for the rest of the evening.

When I arrived back at the hotel, my mind was a jumbled mix of emotion, but the strongest one was a pure excitement at the thought of seeing him the next day—he had agreed to take us on a tour. I’m not sure when I actually decided to stay in Istanbul. At first when I mentioned leaving, he simply asked me to just stay a little longer. One week turned into two, and then three, and suddenly I found it impossible to imagine leaving.

Sitting together outside the rug store (in front of the park)

Four months later, walking home from an evening out with him, I had a sudden vision of our lives together—and I knew that my life was meant to be with him. I felt it with a certainty I hadn’t previously experienced. It’s been almost fifteen years since I first saw my husband walking up and down the stairs in that rug store, and I am still thankful for the events that brought me there.

In my life, I have found that many of the small decisions I have made—like sitting on a park bench or agreeing to a cup of coffee—have ultimately lead me toward life-altering changes. My advice to my daughter is to live her life looking at each decision as an opportunity that might bring her to new experiences, all of which may ultimately change her life forever.

Frequently Asked Questions: Istanbul Life

I’m a chatty person. I am known to easily strike up conversation with random strangers, and for some reason, elderly people seem to love me. Most of the time, these conversations come out of my dread of uncomfortable silences. The problem is, most of the time, these simple conversations often become longer—much more time consuming—discussions about my life.

Although they usually begin innocently enough, with simple questions that are quick and easy to answer: what do you do for a living? where do you live? how old are your children? These questions inevitably lead to others that require a back story. It doesn’t matter if I am standing in line at the bank and the person talking to me is a complete stranger—some people have a way of getting right to the personal. In moments like these, I have often wished that with all of the apps on all of the smart phones out there, why there isn’t an F.A.Q. app for precisely this scenario. It would make life so much easier if I could just send the answers to a person’s email address at the first hint of one of these questions getting ready to be asked. This app would instantly eradicate the need to answer these types of questions, and would therefore allow me to hold onto the precious few moments I may have with another adult in which I can talk about anything else.

So, in lieu of having this app, I am going to use this space to try to answer some of my Frequently Asked Questions, but because there are so many, I’ll focus on the ones that relate to my life in Istanbul—or at least the events that led up to it.

Q: What’s your full name?

A: Erin Rehill-Seker [Okay, most people don’t actually ask me this question, but I needed to start somewhere, especially since I am asked the following question at least once a week.]

Q: Can you repeat that? How exactly do you pronounce your last name?

A: It’s Seker pronounced SHEH kehr. It’s Turkish. The S is actually pronounced SH. It means “sugar” in Turkish. [I don’t know why I always say this last part, it may just be out of habit, or because it’s still an interesting fact to me.]

Q: Is your husband Turkish?

A: Yes.

Q: How did you meet your husband?

A: We met in Istanbul, in Turkey. [I usually add the country, just in case the person is left wondering where on Earth Istanbul is located—it’s happened.]

Q: What were you doing in Turkey?

[I need to pause here. I have two answers to this question depending on who is asking, where I am when I’m being asked, and generally how much time I have to talk about this.]

A (abridged version): I was teaching English to Turkish middle school and high school students. [This answer doesn’t usually lead to many further questions about my life in Turkey.]

A (real story): I went to Turkey after graduating from college. [This is my attempt at a short answer, but 9 times out of 10 it always leads to the next few questions.]

Q: How did you end up in Turkey?

A: I wanted to travel around after college. I went to Europe with a friend, and while visiting some of my friends in England, we decided to narrow our trip down to just a few countries. We both wanted to spend time in Greece and Italy, so we pulled out a map to see which countries were near by that we should visit. There was Turkey, right next to Greece! So, the next day we bought a ticket and two days later we were on plane headed to Istanbul. [Since this is a blog, I can easily link to the post where I write about this in more depth, which I am going to do right here.]

[Depending on the age of  the person asking, this question usually follows.]

Q: What did your mother say when you told her you were in Turkey?

A: At first, she told me not to “meet” anyone. I already had, so I decided to hold off on that piece of information. As the weeks, then months, went by and I was still in Istanbul, her only question was whether I was ever  coming home. After I came home, and then turned around and told her I was moving back, she completely supported me. [The real answer is even longer than this, but because I already wrote about it in a previous post, here is the link.]

Q: Did you ever make it to Greece and Italy?

A: Nope. Although, I did go to both countries when I was a student in England, so I didn’t really need to see them again.

[Up until compiling this list, I don’t think I have ever realized how many questions I am asked to answer on a regular basis. This is just a sampling. For this reason, I’ve decided to create additional F.A.Q.’s about the other areas of my life—at a later time. Check back, and maybe then I’ll have some advice for my daughter about her own F.A.Q.’s.]

Thanks to Mama Kat for the wonderful blog suggestion!



25 Things (Part 2)

Here is the second half of my list of “25 Things”:

16. I will be 43 years old when my daughter leaves for college. [Today: When we only had one child, this fact somehow made me feel better about having had her so young. This changed when we had our son five years later. Today, I know that I’ll be 48 when he leaves for college, and 52 when he graduates—not to mention that I’ll have to work the next 30 years to pay off the debt of eight consecutive years of college tuition—and yet, this statement somehow allows me the illusion that I’ll still be young when the kids are finally out of the house.]

17. I have been dying my hair since the age of 12—and, no, I don’t know my natural color. [Today: This has not changed, I’m still dying my hair—the last time was a month ago. I actually wrote a post on this, which you can read about here.]

18. I spend more time with my daughter than with anyone else. [Today: This is still true. As she has gotten older, I seem to spend even more time with her—watching television, talking, laughing, playing games, or just simply hanging out. I dread the day that this is no longer true. Again, the topic of one or my first posts.]

19. I once walked into a lamp-post when leaving work and had to get seven stitches. [Today: How do I update this one? I’m still a klutz. I haven’t walked into any more lamp posts, but I have needed stitches once since then, but this topic is not exactly blog-worthy.]

20. I once stayed in a squat in Brixton, London for a few days. [Today: When I wrote about my time in England and the influence it had on developing my self-confidence, I pictured the place I stayed in Brixton as part of the back-drop.]

My daughter is on this! (Photo courtesy of @MillenialMonstr)

21. I am deathly afraid of heights (which is why I did not do #13). [Today: This hasn’t changed. I now live—somewhat vicariously—through my daughter who is completely unafraid of heights. This summer, I couldn’t even look at her as she rode roller-coaster after roller-coaster or sped down giant water slides. I loved her enthusiasm even as I was paralyzed in fear for her life.]

22. I have been a chamber maid, sunglass saleswoman, waitress, Dunkin Donuts clerk, teacher, and Editor. [Today: In the last year, I moved into a new position in my company and now have the title “Digital Product Manager.” I would also add the sub-title “Blogger/Writer” to my list of occupations, even though I don’t get paid to do it. I’m proud of this list of jobs, and I think each one of them has given me an insight into what it means to work hard.]

23. I have been wearing glasses since I was 7. [Today: I’ve thought about getting corrective surgery so that I wouldn’t have to wear glasses—or contacts—anymore, but the idea of having any kind of operation on my eyes just freaks me out. My daughter got glasses at the same age as me, but she is so different than I was at that age. I was embarrassed by my glasses—even getting teased at times. Since getting contacts at twelve, I seldom wear them, and still don’t feel comfortable in my own skin when they are on. My daughter, however, is so filled with self-confidence that I have never heard her utter a word about having to wear them, or a desire to wear contacts. I’m not sure how this came to be, but I am so thankful for it.]

24. My favorite alcoholic beverage is Guinness. [Today: This was true until I was introduced to India Pale Ale (IPA) a few years ago. My taste-buds have since been ruined, and there is only one kind beer for me.]

25. I once missed my train from London back to Lancaster University three times—on the same day—because I was so engrossed in a book. [Today: I often take the train from New York to Boston for work, and if I’m reading a good book—because of this day—I still have this fear that I’ll look up and the train will have left without me. Thankfully, this has not happened. That being said, one of my favorite past-times is still getting completely lost in a book. Now the only thing I end up missing is the chaos in my house—and that’s a blessing!]

In going through this list, I was struck by a thought: If I were to write a future list of “25 Things,” what would I include in it? Would I include those things from my past that ultimately define who I am—like meeting my husband on my 2nd day in Istanbul, or how I told my parents I wanted to travel the World after college? This current list is a snapshot of my life at thirty-four—and now at thirty-seven—but I can’t help but wonder what my list would be like ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. By writing a future list, I believe I would share my hopes about where I will be in the years to come, and to also document where I have been.

Children have the uncanny ability to dream, and to dream BIG. As adults, we often lose this ability amongst our many obligations, like our jobs, the bills, our kids, and our homes. If I were to think back on my dreams as a child, I would remember wanting to be a chef, a farmer, a mother, a poet, and a writer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had a list from when I was eleven in order to see how far I’ve come in life? So this is my advice to my daughter: make a list of what she has accomplished in her eleven years, and to include those things she hopes to do in her future. At the very least, she will have this list to look back on when she is older.

25 Things: Nothing Changes

It’s funny how little things actually change from year to year. Often, the things we notice are those that show a physical change: children getting taller, hair getting longer, wrinkles forming around eyes. Other parts of life, however, appear the same from year to year. Just today, I came across a list I wrote three years ago—you know the kind—“25 Things” about me shared with friends on Facebook. When I read the list, I was so surprised to see that much hasn’t changed.

I’ve decided to update the list to see how my life three years ago compares to my life today.

  1. This is the second time I wrote this list tonight. [Today: I still find myself spending possibly too much time writing. The main difference is that I now do it in a blog.]
  2. I find parenting a child (age 3-4) to be one of the most challenging tests of self-control—they have no concept of consequences, and “If” clauses mean nothing to them. [Today: My son is almost seven, and I am unbelievably happy to be past that age.]
  3. I speak Turkish fluently. [Today: The word “fluently” should probably be used loosely—I don’t speak it often enough. However, recently I found myself speaking with an elderly Turkish woman at my son’s taekwondo class. It’s still there—I think I just need to go spend some time in Turkey to help it come back.]
  4. I like to relieve stress when I get home from work by blasting music and dancing with my children. [Today: I now work from home, so I “get home” from work about an hour earlier than I used to, and my stress-level is much lower. That being said, most days as soon as I am done working, I have to take my children to at least one after-school activity—so no time for dancing.]
  5. My left arm is much stronger than my right because I unwillingly carry my son around and he weighs 45 pounds. [Today: My son now weighs 65 pounds, and I no longer carry him around. Although, I must admit that when he first wakes up in the morning, and he’s climbing down the ladder from his top bunk, I can’t help but grab him and hug him—and maybe carry him to the living room.]
  6. I met my husband on my second day in Istanbul—12 years ago today. [Today: Although it’s not the exact same date, the count is now up to 15 years, and tomorrow is our 12th wedding anniversary. You can read about how we met here.]
  7. My son’s middle name is Rohat which means “sunrise” in Kurdish. [Today: His middle name hasn’t changed, however he has recently adopted a nickname that more and more people seem to be using. It’s only happened a couple of times, but it’s very strange to refer to my son as something other than the name we gave him.]
  8. I have been driving the same car for 10 years, and I will drive it until it drives no more. [Today: The car is three years older, and still going strong.]
  9. Before children, I would read a book or two a week, now I read a book once a year (if you don’t count the nightly ritual of reading “Where the Wild Things Are”). [Today: I do spend more time reading, however my new distraction is writing, and reading others’ blogs—but that counts as reading, right?]
  10. My biggest pet-peeve is not closing cabinets or drawers (it makes my skin crawl, like that scene in “The Sixth Sense”). [Today: This hasn’t changed, but my husband and children have gotten somewhat better at making sure to close them.]
  11. My house caught fire when I was four (with the 4 of us kids still inside), and my older sister—who was five years-old—called the fire department. [Today: This is the house that I wrote about in “Looking for Home.” I just learned that it’s for sale, and I’m tempted to go to an Open House just so I can see if the inside is as I remember it.]
  12. I graduated from college with a degree in English and Art, and I specialized in painting and photography. [Today: The one thing about the past is that it can’t change, it is part of what makes us who we are.]
  13. I went to Paris and didn’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. [Today: I am afraid of heights, and I don’t know whether or not I will ever be able to go to the top.]
  14. A friend and I were kicked off of a train in Italy, and taken off of a subway in Berlin. [Today: I alluded this to in my post “My Journey Continued: Moving to Istanbul.”]
  15. When I graduated from college, I told my parents that there was no way that I was getting a job. I wanted to waitress, save money, then travel the world—which is what I did. [Today: I just realized that there are many topics in this list that are identical to the topics I used in my earlier blog posts. I either have a finite number of interesting facts about my life OR these are just the things that have had the biggest impact. I prefer to think the latter.]
After going through the first half of this list, I now see that it’s much longer than I had originally anticipated. For this reason, I’ve decided to split it up over two posts—the second half to be delivered in a couple of days, along with my advice for my daughter.
Until then, I’d love to know at least one important—lesser-known—fact about you, so please leave a comment.

A Relationship With My Sister

This past weekend was an unusual one—my brother, two sisters, and I got to spend the evening together—along with our combined children, cousins, and spouses. Like many families, the four of us don’t live near one another: two of us are in New Jersey, one in Virginia, and the other lives in Istanbul. When we are together, we are reminded of our shared youth. We laugh as we recount stories from our childhood, each of us filling in the gaps in our combined memories. Even the things that once pained us about ourselves—our insecurities, the mistakes that we made in our youth—now make us laugh as we recount them with one another.

I realized this weekend that, although each one of us has a unique—and somewhat different—perspective on our childhoods, the truth is that each of us has had a direct impact on making each other the people we are today. It is this impact that I want to understand better, to see how each of my siblings has helped make me the woman I am—the wife, the mother, the friend.

I will begin with my sister—the youngest.

There is a three-year age difference between my sister and I, but growing up, it may as well have been a lifetime. When I was getting ready for school dances, she was playing Kick-the-Can with neighborhood kids. When she was graduating from high school, I was in England studying Shakespeare. When she was at college learning about being in the military, I was falling in love in Istanbul. And when she was in the Army stationed in Germany, I was back home learning to be a mother.

I didn’t really know my sister—not the music she loved, the friends she had, nor the heartbreaks she had experienced in her life. If it weren’t for a chance meeting we had when she was seventeen and I was twenty, this may have always been the case.

Our parents divorced while she was a junior in high school. She was the one who witnessed first-hand the devastation that occurred the day our father walked out. In the days and months that followed, she was the one who stood by my mother. And I believe that, in truth, my sister was the reason our mother got up each morning. I was not there for my sister during this time. I dreaded coming home, so I stayed away as much as possible, even going as far as moving to England the following year—the year she was graduating high school.

Our father should have been the one to take her to Ireland as a graduation present—a tradition in our family—but their relationship had been almost irreparably damaged. Instead, I took a week off from my studies in England to travel with her. It was during this trip that I think I truly saw her for the first time. I remember putting make-up on her and being surprised by how different her features were from mine—I had always thought she looked like me—but her lashes were so long they almost touched her eyebrows, and her lips were smaller and more delicate than my own. It was as if by seeing these differences, I suddenly wanted to learn more about who she truly was, not the person I had always thought her to be. We spent the week getting to know one another, and for the first time, we connected not as sisters, but as friends.

One of my fondest memories occurred just a few years after this trip to Ireland. My sister, after attending a military university and joining the Army, became stationed in Germany. She had only been there a couple of months when my daughter was born. Although we hadn’t lived near one another prior to her leaving, just knowing that she couldn’t come home to meet her niece took away some of the joy of her birth. My sister, being the incredibly loving and selfless person that she is, came up with a plan: she would fly home for Memorial Day weekend to see the baby and surprise my mother. It was an elaborate plan that involved my brother (who picked her up at the airport), my older sister (who provided a place to rest prior to getting on a bus to Atlantic City), along with my mother’s best-friend (who picked her up and drove her to Cape May) and her daughter (who videotaped the arrival). It worked perfectly, and because it was being filmed, I am able to watch—over and over again—my sister meeting her niece for the very first time.

In so many ways, my sister—with her selfless approach to life—has made me want to be a better person. Through her, I have learned how to be strong while still being compassionate. As I think now about the advice I have for my daughter, I can only think of one thing: to see my sister as I do, and to know how fortunate she is to have such an incredible woman in her life.