Archives for May 2012

Tanzania or Bust

Bags are packed.

I kissed these faces goodbye.

The adventure begins in twenty-four hours. Well, actually it starts now. I’m headed to the airport for the longest stretch of travel I have ever been on.

Thank you for taking this journey with me!

If you’re interested in sponsoring a child in Tanzania you can click this link. See you in Africa, everyone. AFRICA! Crazy…


About the book

I’ve been hard at work on my book lately. I’m not going to finish it by June, but I’ve got momentum going now so I fully intend to finish by the end of the summer. Want to read a little more?

For some context here is Sneak Peek Part One, Part Two and Part Three. You have now met three out of the five characters. Today I will introduce you to the final two characters. Maria is becoming one of my favorite stories to write and it shouldn’t come as a surprise because her story is based on the story of a woman I knew and loved in Ukraine.

Maria’s story inspired this book.

Fourteen-year-old Maria and her brother, Sergei, are the oldest and the youngest of Ivan, who you met in Sneak Peek Two. Sergei has joined the Red Army and without him, Maria feels lost. Ivan has survived Babi Yar with his life, but emotionally and mentally he is failing. Maria longs for her brother and this passage has become a sweet moment for my characters as Maria escapes to the confines of her memory.

A particular memory keeps folding over me. The bitter, biting cold of January pushes the sun beyond the hill overlooking the Dneiper River earlier each night, and I find myself overcome with this one moment in time. I can’t escape it and so I have given myself to it. The shadows of night make fighting too difficult.

Tonight is no exception.

I’m eight years old again and we’ve gone to our dacha for the summer. The dacha – our happy place. On this particular day I wake up early and tiptoe outside to watch the sun lift up over the small lake settled at the back of our property. My long gown soaks up the morning dew and I shiver against the chill of daybreak.

As I come out of the trees into the clearing, I see him. His back is to me, long and thin, always stretching out and up. I don’t speak but the rustle of my feet in the moist leaves reveals my presence and he turns, his thin face breaking into a smile.

“What are you doing here?” he says and gestures me to come sit.

“I wanted to say good morning to the sun,” I reply and he laughs. I have always loved his laugh and even now, as I listen to it dance through my mind, I feel a smile spread slowly.

“Well, sit,” he says, and together we drop onto the banks of the lake, the rocky soil digging into the backs of our legs. I look at him, my brother, and I am completely at peace.

“Sergei?” I ask.

He turns and looks at me, his thick eyebrows raised. In this memory he is more boy than man. At twelve years old, he didn’t feel that much older, but then Sergei never did feel too old for me. Anna, on the other hand, has always seemed to be light years ahead of me in maturity despite only being two years older.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” I ask.

Sergei takes in a deep breath and looks back out over the lake. A thin layer of orange and pink is beginning to pull up over the horizon. Daybreak is coming and our solitude will quickly slip away. I find myself wishing then and there that the sun would never rise. If only I could have frozen us on the bank of the lake for all of eternity.

If only…

“Don’t know,” Sergei says with a smile.

“You don’t know?!” I ask incredulously. “How do you not know? It’s very important to know.”

Sergei laughs again. Magic. “Well, I just don’t know yet,” he says with a grin. “Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?”

I open my mouth to answer, then snap it shut. Afraid.

“I don’t want to tell you,” I finally answer and Sergei gives me a gentle push. “See, you don’t know either,” he says with a laugh.

“I do know!” I protest. “But you can’t tell anyone yet.”

Sergei nods. “Okay,” he says and he means it. My Sergei always keeps his promise. Taking a deep breath I lift a small handful of sand and pebbles and toss them into the water, watching as a hundred droplets form rings that pierce the sheer glass of its surface. The strip of orange is getting brighter. Morning dawns.

“I want to join the circus. I want to be an acrobat.” I don’t look at him while I say this and I wait for him to laugh at me. I know I can’t even turn a cartwheel, but I truly believe acrobatics are my destiny.

Sergei is silent for a moment and I fear he is just laughing too hard to answer. Slowly I peek at him, barely turning my head. He isn’t laughing. Instead he stares intently at the rising sun. Now that she has broken the surface of the horizon it seems she is racing toward her perch in the sky. Time sped up – never slowing down.

“Okay,” he says, his eyes narrow and serious.

“Okay, what?” I ask.

“I think you should do it. I think you should plan to join the circus as an acrobat.”

I narrow my own eyes and study his profile seriously. “Are you making fun of me?” I ask evenly.

Sergei turns and looks at me, his eyes a little deeper and different. The sunlight gleams in the dark parts of his eyes swirling with an intensity that I’ve never seen before.

“Masha, you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. You’re good and you’re a fighter. I believe you can do it…if you want to.”

We study one another for a quiet moment then he turns to look at the sky again. The colors reach from left to right as far as our eyes can see, vibrant, full and brilliant. The golden orb hangs above, giving forth the heat that will ultimately dry the grass and give way to a day of grace filled memories. I lean gently into my beloved brother and sigh.

“Thank you,” I say with a small smile.

Sergei is quiet briefly before responding. “When I grow up, Masha,” he says softly, “I will make sure that you can do and be whatever you want. That’s what I want to do.”

©Kelli Stuart 2012

Have a great day, friends. I leave tomorrow for Tanzania! Eeeek!

Pardon me while I freak out

I love travelling, particularly international travelling. I love the adventure of it, the excitement of boarding a plane and not knowing what might happen. I find it terribly thrilling and if someone would pay me and my family to travel professionally I would do it in a heartbeat.

I do not love preparing to leave, though.

Inevitably, every time I plan to leave town and, more specifically, the country, I swing into major panic mode about three days before I leave. My plane departs for Tanzania on Friday so right about now is the perfect time to panic. I laid in bed until well after midnight last night thinking of all the things I needed to do. I should have gotten up and written them down because I’ve forgotten half of it this morning, which is making me feel more panicked.


My children will probably eat a lot of junk food today and watch a lot of TV. That is okay. I need to get myself together and I will probably take something tonight to help me sleep so I don’t embark on this trip as a psycho zombie.

So while I go tear around my house like a rabid baboon on uppers (a psycho zombie baboon on uppers…I love good, solid imagery) why don’t you guys enjoy a few things that have brought joy to my heart and laughter to my soul.

My friend Jenni from Avodah Images took family pictures of us this weekend. She is so many shades of awesome I don’t know where to start. I love her heart and her humor and her talent. And I love these pictures. Yes, to answer your question, I did climb a tree in a dress. It was a delicate process and I am grateful to Jenni for not taking pictures while I shimmied my way up.

After we finished with the pictures, we joined the Keiter family for dinner at an amazing Greek Restaurant in Tarpon Springs. OPA! While there, they told us about the following video that has brought so much joy to my life I don’t really know how to describe it. I will never sing this song the right way again. Ever.

I hope Tuesday is kind to all of you. I’m off to clean and pack…and panic.