Dream: Achieved

There is a significant chance I implode with glee today. Very significant. If you can recall, I am a bonafide bookworm. I love books. I love their weight in my hands. I love the smell of new books and old books and even text books, those dreadful things. I’m also a bit of a freak for words, grammar, interesting phrases and, sometimes, when you talk to me you might find me zoning out. This is me mentally (sometimes physically) filing something you’ve said that might inspire a future story or character.  I admit I’m a bit geeky. Lately I’ve gone to sleep listening to Building A  Better Vocabulary, where they’ve taught me that learning the etymology of a word will help you to recollect it and understand its meaning.   For people like me, it’s fascinating stuff.

Usually, I have several books on the go at any time. I’m currently reading the physical copies of Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, and Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.  I’m also listening to A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne with 5 others in the cue. This brings me to the importance of the narrative performance.  Tristram Shandy is well written but one of the most difficult books to listen to. The narrator is a distraction to the work but I’m trudging through it because of its satirical genius, of which I’m leaning toward with my own work.

If you can recall, I’m in the middle of my MA at Middlesex University in London, where I am taking an MA in Novel Writing.  Recently, students were invited to participate in a project called “The Writer’s Journey”.  The idea is for students to interpret the journey of a writer in 500 words or less. The piece can be realistic or fictional and must be read within about 3 minutes because it will become part of a YouTube channel launched in conjunction with a literary festival in London in March. So…I had my story (which is considered flash fiction), but I needed a narrator. The university was willing to provide this to post-graduate writing students but this didn’t appeal to me. Sure, there are probably many talented people that would have done this for me but my heart was on something, someone, much bigger.

For the better part of a decade, I’ve been listening to Grover Gardner perform some of my favorite works. He doesn’t just narrate them. He performs them. He is a master vocalist and his ability to make readers feel every ounce of emotion in a text is a wonder in itself.  He has narrated, I believe, over 800 works including for some of my favorite authors: Stephen King, David Rosenfelt, Edgar Allan Poe,  William Faulkner and more.  He has been named one of the “Best Voices of the Century” and has won numerous awards for his work. He is that good. He is the BEST.

Because the narrator is just as important as the writer, I  had a mission. I needed this man, this genius to perform my work.  I did some research and found his contact information and, truthfully, I didn’t believe it was actually real.  Even as I was writing to him and explaining my itty-bitty project, I didn’t believe I was really writing to him. I hoped it was him, but wasn’t convinced it was actually him.  So, I sent the email and didn’t expect a response.

Then I got one.

He agreed to look at my story and see if he could make it work. Still, I thought it was probably some jokester at the other end, playing with small folk like me, lying in wait to crush laypersons’ dreams.

He wrote back. “Nice writing, and I read a lot,” he replied, and agreed to perform my story. There was no way this was real. Sure, I jumped up and screamed in the middle of my kitchen and scared the shit out of the girls but they knew what I was waiting for and, collectively, we jumped up and down and celebrated…with a bucket of KFC. (We’re cool like that.)

Of course, this couldn’t be real.  To be honest, I still was not convinced it was actually THE Grover Gardner. He couldn’t have liked my writing, could he? The dude who lives and (literally) breathes books? No way. So, I went to bed, and my last thought before I went to sleep was, “if only it were real”.

When I woke up there was an email waiting for me. An audio file. I opened it up, expecting some teenage boy to screetch, “GOTCHYA!!!!” But there was no teenage boy. There was Grover Gardner performing my story.  THE Grover Gardner.

For those of you who do not listen to audio books or haven’t watched him in a play or taken one of his classes, you may have no idea who he is. Please look him up. He’s ridiculously amazing. Yes, one of my ultimate goals is to have a novel published. And I will. I know I will. The book I’ll be submitting for my dissertation will be my best. I’m sure I’ll jump and scream when I get that first “yes” from an agent or publisher but it will be on par with the feeling I got when Grover Gardner said “yes” to my short story.

No, this story won’t be world famous. It won’t get a million hits on YouTube. It won’t get me an agent or a publisher. It will be confined to YouTube and a short weekend in London. But it’s more than enough for me.

Lastly, my dear friend April is a wizard. She is a creative genius and an all around good person. I knew that I could swing this story by her and she’d come up with some phenomenal image I could use . She always does. She eats and sleeps art and oozes imagination.  She came up with the image so quick I think she might have just pulled it from her back pocket. She’s a beauty. Thanks a million April!

And thank you, thank you Mr. Gardner.

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Kitchen Swimming – It’s A Thing

Remember my Superman in Senjak? The dentist-by-trade who believes he is an expert plumber/electrician/fill-in-the-blank?  Well, I woke up to another flood in my kitchen this morning. It wasn’t the worst we’ve had in the last 2 weeks, but it took 8 bath towels to soak up the mess. I’m actually thinking of starting a new thing: kitchen swimming.  Maybe, just maybe, if turn on all the lights, blast the heat, throw on a bikini and sunglasses, and use one of my landlord’s chairs as a lounger, I’ll feel like I’m at the beach. I could even mix a pina colada or rum punch and pretend I’m sunning it in Jamaica. I can dip my toes in the water and relax to the sound of the waterfall under my sink… (#kitchenswimmingisathing)

But then I’ll open my eyes and remember I’m in Belgrade, in my kitchen.  In an hour, we’ll have the circus here again to fix the problem…again.

What else can I tell you today…we took Bekah to see a doctor yesterday because she’s been sick for over 2 months and just isn’t getting better. She’s not horrible but still has a cough and she’s super pale and lethargic. She had her blood drawn yesterday and nearly fainted at the reception desk. I was paying our bill when the receptionist rushed behind me to catch her, and I hadn’t realized she was going down.  She was a trooper, though. Even when they missed her vein on the first arm and had to poke her a second time.  There were a few tears and my heart broke for her but we came home and cuddled for the rest of the day. Homemade soup and warm blankets made the world good again.

Back at school today, a delivery of pastries to both classes from one of the best bakeries (pekaras) in Senjak was in order. I can’t be there during the school day, but I figure a baked treat is (almost) as good as a hug from Mom. Me, I’m determined to eat a bit more fruit and veggies after the debauchery during the holidays. The holiday puff is not quite gone yet but I figure I’m cleaning my floors often enough to work it off soon enough.

 

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Behold the white ceramic sands of Lupaschuk Island…

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.