Superman in Senjak

I’m alive. Let’s start with that. As some of you know, I finally started driving in Belgrade on Monday.  I went to Europcar, picked up my ridiculously overpriced rental and left the gates with a mixture of excitement and terror. 5 minutes later, I realized that I had worked myself into an irrational fear and should have started driving months ago. No one hit me and there were really no close calls but I think this is because I adopted this mantra:

  • Everyone on the road wants to kill me
  • Every person or animal living in the country will likely jump out in front of the car when I least expect it
  • Blaring horns are people’s way of letting me know how incredibly awesome I am
  • There are no rules. Anything goes. Including the total abandonment of your car in the middle of a major thoroughfare. And parking behind another car so they cannot possibly leave unless they a) run over people or animals b) drive into the nearest building or c) cuddle all the vehicles around it, including yours, to sneak out (most likely)

To be fair, I haven’t left our cozy little alcove of Senjak yet. This, for my foreign friends, is our little international neighborhood close to embassies and international schools.  I almost embarked a little further yesterday, itching to go to the mall, but I wasn’t quite brave enough yet.

Beside driving, it’s been nice to get back into the routine of things after a very busy Christmas season. I can’t lie, I much prefer Serbia’s weather to Canada’s.  What I don’t enjoy, however, is waking up to a flooded kitchen. This morning marks the third time this week. Yes, I’m sitting here at my computer writing while a pile of towels soak up the worst flood of the week. Yes, we’ve had a plumber come. No, the fix didn’t work. Our landlord is a dentist by trade but believes he is also a) an electrician b) a plumber c) superman.  He prefers to do all the fixing himself and last night he “fixed” the plumbing. Enter super flood this morning.  As you can tell by now, Belgrade definitely has its perks and its….er… less than favorable moments.

 

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Health Food Store Blessing

I think I was blessed by an old lady in a health food store the other day. No joke. I walked in and when she saw me, she said something in Serbian and pressed my forehead with 2 fingers. I’m assuming whatever she was doing was intended to be good because she was smiling and I haven’t burned up or anything since then, so I don’t think it was witchcraft. Maybe she saw my jet lag and thought, I’m going to bless this girl with the gift of sleep. If that was the case, it worked. It took a while, but we’re pretty much back to normal after our trip to Canada. Jet lag is not the worst thing there is, but it’s definitely not fun waking up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m ready to start the day. We had an 8 hour time difference to recoup and it has taken us a week to feel normal. Going to Canada was much easier then returning to Serbia.

On that note, I can say that although I always respected Serbia as a country, I definitely have a new level of respect after our trip to Canada. Sure, it was lovely to see all our friends and family but -37c is not fun no matter who you are surrounded by. It was ugly. I actually think I’m one of those people who are allergic to cold. Besides the fact that I have super low blood pressure, I’m usually only comfortable if it’s about 15c or above. I’m painfully cold if it’s below freezing and I swear my limbs almost froze off in the Great White North. Sarnia was  much warmer than Edmonton and it’s the one place we’ve lived where we actually feel like it’s home. An underrated city plumped beside the massive Lake Huron and the US border, it’s warm, affordable, and counts some of the nicest, kindest people in the world as its inhabitants.  None of our family lives there but it has become home to us and we are looking forward to eventually moving back.  While Edmonton has been our stomping grounds for decades, it’s just not home any more. If we could relocate all our favorite people from Edmonton to Sarnia, life would be perfect.

The three weeks we spent in North America was such a whirlwind it actually felt quite nice to return home to Serbia. (Can’t believe I just said that…”home”.)  We were in Ontario for a week, during which we had a quick trip to Michigan, flew to Alberta for 2 weeks, and jetted off to Vegas to catch a UFC fight the day before New Year’s Eve. (We had a ton of fun but it would have been cheaper if I just left my purse outside somewhere.)

I don’t relax well and because our time in Canada was limited, we were doubly busy trying to get everything in before we had to fly overseas again. We returned with onion soup mix, brown sugar, Gold Fish crackers, gravy, taco seasoning, dried cilantro, Doritos, and KD. Like gold, really. I actually found that we ate much more processed foods in NA than we do here, but we still had to get the crap..er..stuff while we could. I’m hoping to get more of this crap…er…stuff sometime this summer. I FINALLY had a root canal and need a cap on my tooth. Yes, after all my dental experiences, I’m willing to fly back to Sarnia to get it.

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I’m almost 40, but this is what it felt like when the old lady touched my head!

Sista Moms & Butter Tarts

Oh Canada. How I love thee. We’ve been here for almost a week and it’s gone way too fast. Yes, I’ve had my Tim Horton’s fix and have officially eaten enough Stove Top Stuffing that Kraft’s share price has gone up. On that note, I’ve forgotten what vegetables taste like and definitely look like I’m about to birth a small village. When we return to Belgrade, I’ve got a plan to fix this. I’ll tie some meat to myself and wait until the strays give chase. I’ll have no choice but to run my ass off…literally.

We’ve been staying at our friend’s house for a week and though we’re living like teenage squatters in their basement, they haven’t kicked us out yet. We’ve been forbidden to do dishes or pretty much any work at all, so we’ve been lazy bums while our friends cook and clean for us. You know how you have friends you can hang out with and friends you could actually live with because you can just be yourself around them? That’s our Dawn and Ryan and Lisa and Harold.  There are no expectations — save one. They expect me to be a klutz. I haven’t let them down.  I think when we come back, we’re going to buy a bunch of land and build our own Sista Moms (NOT wives) compound on the water. Dawn and Ryan, Lisa and Harold, Maggie and Jason.  These are people you can wake up to. The very best kind.

When we’re not hanging with the peeps, we’ve been busy ensuring we get to see all of our friends. We leave for Edmonton in a few hours and we still haven’t seen everyone we need to. (Sniff…)

Bigger news… I had a root canal on Monday! This is major. Sure, after all my horrible dental experiences over the last 8 months, I was quite terrified to have anyone work on my mouth but I was thrilled our dentist in Sarnia squeezed me in.  For all my European friends… it’s definitely worth the flight to Sarnia, Canada, to visit Rob Sottosanti at Lakeshore Family Dental. He. Friggin. Rocks.  The chairs actually reclined. (You laugh, but this is not a thing in Belgrade. My dentists there make you extend your neck upward like a baby chick waiting for the regurgitated worm to be dropped in. For hours.) My dentist in Belgrade also tried to convince me to go back to mercury fillings, saying the hype about mercury is overrated. Root canals, he said, “are so twisty and turny” that he’d rather just pull the tooth. In Canada, my tooth was saved.  I’m hoping to fly back for a crown in the summer. Fingers crossed.

We land in Edmonton at 1am Edmonton time (3am Sarnia and 7am in Belgrade), and I’m at my mother and sister in law’s mercy to make the girls’ Christmas morning special because we couldn’t bring wrapped presents in our luggage without the girls seeing them. Amazon was a big help and my mother in law (Jeannette) and sister in law (Kim)  were all over this like “seniors on butter tarts at a funeral” as my friend Dawn would say.  Stockings and everything. They’ve got this. They rock.

I’m told the roads on the way to the airport are bad so I’ve got to go but if I don’t manage to get back on in the next day, you’re all amazing. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!

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Butter Tart Frenzy….you could lose a limb if you’re not careful. 

Cats, Cats & More Cats

We leave our furballs on Saturday and it got me thinking about strays.  Our good friend is staying at our house while we’re gone and we’ve only requested one thing: to take care of all of the cats, indoor and outdoor.  Though Chris thinks they could care less if humans are near, our fat little beasts (Jazz and Shadow) actually get lonely if no one is around.  Our friend has a beautiful little boy that will keep our punks on their toes while we’re gone and maybe, just maybe, chase them enough to give them some much needed exercise.  When they’re not running from kids, Jazz and Shadow like to look out into the backyard at all the other cats, taunting them with their shiny coats and distended stomachs.  Every single morning, when I open the shutters, a row of cats greet me waiting to be fed. (They know where the good stuff is.) Our 2 Canadian cats get the prime pate while the 7 or 8 strays we feed get whatever is on sale, though sometimes I mix it up if Jazz and Shadow are non-appreciative (often).  Occasionally, we let one stray stay in the garage if it’s cold and she has begun to think she owns the place. By the time we leave to wherever it is we’re going, we might have our own cat sanctuary.

Though strays are super adorable, they struggle and have difficult lives. This time of year, people like to give pets as gifts and I think that while the gesture is nice, not every person is a responsible pet-owner. Pets need to be neutered or spayed to control the population. They need vaccinations and food and medical care not just occasionally but routinely. This can be expensive and sometimes the gift of an animal is actually the passing of a burden. Consider, instead, donating to a local, responsible animal shelter that helps control the population. If you want a furry fix, however, you are always welcome to my house. There is no shortage of furry friends looking for love and attention. (Okay, food, they mostly want food…)

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Shadow, turning her back on her feline friends. B!tch. 

Grover Gardner – Ultimate Goal

We leave for Canada in 6 days and we cannot wait! The land of REAL bacon, Tim Horton’s (Timmy’s for all us Canucks), toques (winter hats), loonies ($1) and toonies ($2), an unlimited selection of English books, DAVIDs Tea, and great Canadian cheer!  Sure, we risk freezing to death, but that’s the beauty of our country. We’re so warm from the Tim’s we chug that we don’t notice when our extremities go rigid and break away from our bodies. (Pretty crazy, eh?) We land in the Great White North on Saturday and we’ve booked a surprise party for the girls and all of their former classmates at the YMCA the following day. They have no idea 20 or so of their best friends are going to be there. Can’t wait for this moment.

School is still keeping me super busy. Some minor changes and one of my major term assignments is done, with one more to go during the Christmas break. I fast tracked this program because, for the first time in many years, I have the time to dedicate to my passion. By the end of this, I will have the best novel I’ve ever written and I’ll be one step closer to two of my ultimate goals: to have a novel published and to have something I’ve written read by my hero, Grover Gardner . If you don’t know who this icon is, please Google him. He is fascinating. Many writers I know want their books on the big screen. That would be amazing. But you know how people have wish boards and dream journals and all sorts of motivational, inspirational trackers? Mine involves Grover Gardner reading something I’ve written. Ultimate goal.

I’ll leave you with something I keep forgetting to post: I can’t find women’s shaving cream in Serbia. I’m walking around all these beautiful Balkan women and I’m beginning to believe they are either hairless or Amazon.  There is no in between on this one. Sure, they could use men’s shaving cream, but I don’t think that’s it. Serbian friends, any thoughts on this one?

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One seriously talented dude.

Car Failure

Maybe I’m not meant to drive.

My car just arrived and I excitedly signed the paperwork. I go to pay for it and, surprise, surprise, the guy’s credit card machine stops working. I intentionally had it delivered to the house because I did not want to drive through the city to get it.  Mobile credit/debit machines are common in Canada but I haven’t seen them much here.  I was quite surprised that I could pay at the door.

Turns out, I can’t.  The guy, let’s call him Mr. Hertz, asks, “are you sure you have money?” This, after I call the credit card company to see if my card has been flagged again. (Our cards get flagged all the time in Serbia.) The credit card company says there is no record of a transaction attempt and that the machine is not communicating with them, that Hertz’s machine is broken. The guy doesn’t believe me. Even when my card sits in the end of his machine for nearly ten minutes waiting for any sort of approval response. He swipes my card multiple times. I cringe a little, but MC’s security system is brilliant and they have assured me nothing is occurring on their end.

So, I sent the car back. Not sure if I’ll attempt again before Christmas. Too frustrated. I am now calling a taxi yet again so I can get groceries… (Insert expletive….here…and here….and here….and here…..and here…)

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Bubble Suits and Tarantulas

At this very moment, I’m preparing myself. I’m accumulating helmets, shin pads, neck guards, shoulder pads, back braces, wrist guards, bubble suits, steel toed boots and I might even throw in a cup for Chris.

Tomorrow, I am officially going to start DRIVING in Belgrade. For real.

I’ve decided I need to woman-up and get my rear on the road again. This, of course, is something I’ve debated since I’ve got here.  Canadians – appreciate your roads. Appreciate how big they are, how most streets can fit a car the size of a house. Appreciate the pot holes, appreciate how civil our driving experiences are, how road rage is something we remark on because it’s not typical of our daily commute. It’s the norm here.  So is excessive speed. So are broken turn signals. Well, let’s assume they are all broken or non-existent because no one uses them. Traffic signs appear to be suggestions. Sidewalk or old woman in your way? Non issue. Just floor it until either of them gives.

I’ll have to give myself some time to get used to people screaming and honking at me because I haven’t moved fast enough. I have also debated decorating my car with tarantulas so people give me plenty of room to drive. I’m thinking they would just smash into me to kill them so maybe I’ll skip this, but the fear is real.

I’m not entirely sure I’m up for this yet, so I’m renting a car before Christmas. If, by some miracle, I come out unscathed and toughened up, we might buy one in January. But a teeny, tiny one. (I think).  I rented the smallest car I could find, but it’s enough to get me and the girls where we need to go, with a little room to spare. Today, Chris suggested I rent an SUV so I’d have more room. (Insert terror…here…).

My new itty bitty baby rental arrives tomorrow. I’ll let you know if I make it past my gate by the end of the day…