January 31, 2010

A day alone

Posted in Books tagged , , , at 8:17 am by Liliana

A day alone

A day alone

I like solitude. Not for terribly long periods of time, but every once in a while, I find it necessary to regain my strength by spending a day alone. This has not been an easy month – not for the world, nor for my family. Tragedy in Haiti, economic depression, political stand-off, friends and family members who are losing their jobs, or have been unemployed for long periods of time. And then the relentless bitter cold of a Michigan winter.

I drove through the snow to our cottage on Lake Michigan. Our neighbors had turned on the heat, so I entered a warm, snug house. I unpacked and lay down on a couch to relax a bit. I fell asleep. When I awoke, I felt happy and refreshed. I made some lunch – a simple omelet with toasted rye bread. We had blueberry jam in the refrigerator, and eating it brought thoughts of summer. Then I sat down to read. I was reading two very different books: Julian Barnes’s “Nothing To Be Afraid Of,” on facing mortality and one’s fear of death, and John Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” about climbing Mount Everest. One to face life, the other to escape it.

By late afternoon, I had to go for a walk despite the fact that it was freezing cold. I put on two sweaters and a fleece under my jacket, a warm woolen hat, a scarf and gloves. My neighbor, Lisa, had lent me her boots to use, since I had forgotten mine. I was ready for an outing so I walked down to the lake. Very few people were around, and the lake was one cold and frozen mass of jagged ice.

Once I got back home, I sat down to work on Nancy’s quilt. The house, and the town beyond it, were blissfully quiet. I didn’t turn on the music or any other distraction. I sat in the glow of soft light, concentrating on one stitch after another, not thinking about anything in particular, letting my mind and emotions run free. People I hadn’t thought of for awhile came and went, like gentle callers on a winter evening.

I got hungry, but was too lazy to cook. Looking in the refrigerator, I found some yogurt and fresh berries. It seemed like the perfect dinner. Then I had a slice of peach pie and a cup of tea. My books were calling me again. Which one to read? I closed my eyes and picked one at random. I settled in my bed, and quickly escaped to Mount Everest. I read and read and sometime before the climbers reached the middle of the mountain I was already asleep.

January 30, 2010

Rosemary bush

Posted in Garden, Hobbies tagged , at 7:55 am by Liliana

My rosemary bush

My rosemary bush

Last spring, Jan emailed our group of friends to ask if anyone was interested in sharing a plot of land from our community garden. I volunteered right away. Another friend showed interest, but the rest of the group stayed sensibly quiet.

The community garden is near a little wooded area in our neighborhood, and I have taken walks there with Silver for years. Sometimes enviously, I had observed people working on their plots, growing beautiful tomatoes, corn, beans, cucumbers, and all kinds of herbs and berries. They also grew flowers, huge and colorful, almost tropical in their richness and intensity.

Our little piece of land was right next to the woods. It was a sunny, lovely spot, the soil rich, dark and soft. In May, I went over to our Farmer’s Market and bought a selection of seedlings – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, onions. I also bought herbs – several types of basil and parsley, lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme. I planted everything in neat little beds, and covered them with fresh, clean straw. My charges were ready to prosper.

Silver and I walked over every day, to water our plants and to evaluate progress. The rich soil, the sun and the water did their magic and my plants grew into lush bushes. Baby peppers, eggplants and squash appeared on their individual stems. I couldn’t have been more proud if I were a first time parent.

Then one evening Silver and I almost cried (or barked) in shock; stems were broken, peppers were bitten and discarded, roots were dug up. Our garden neighbors walked over and sympathized with our plight. Everyone had a story about a critter that had caused them a lot of grief. I listened but refused to give up. I convinced Jeff to buy some chicken wire and we built a strong fence, digging it deeply into the ground, so that the creature couldn’t crawl under. I put my garden together again and was sure that I had won the war.

I hadn’t won the battle or the war. I don’t know how the critter got into the garden every night, but it did. The fence made no difference, everything was nibbled on. And our garden was the only one it attacked. Everyone else had beautiful vegetables, lovely flowers, copious herbs. The only thing our little friend didn’t touch was a bush of rosemary. I didn’t see a single ripe vegetable or lush  herb that summer but in the fall, I proudly dug up that rosemary bush, planted it into a pot and brought it inside. It dried up, but no matter, the herb still smells wonderful. And I feel like a proud gardener every time I make roasted potatoes with rosemary!

January 29, 2010

Cup of tea

Posted in Family, Health, Serbia, Traditions tagged , at 8:25 am by Liliana

Have a cup of tea!

Have a cup of tea!

Drinking tea has always been associated with relaxation and shared hospitality. In my family,  it is also associated with healing and good health.

In the last few years, different studies around the world have proven that tea ranks higher in antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables. It is believed that tea can heal and prevent many ailments. For example, it can prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure, inhibit the formation of plaque in artery walls, and reduce the risk of heart attack.

For me, tea is precious and delicious in itself. It reminds me of my childhood summers when my grandmother and I went picking armloads of chamomile, berries and various herbs. We would hang them in bunches from the ceiling of my grandparent’s farmhouse attic, where they would dry and be ready when the cold weather arrived. My grandmother loved brewing tea, and it was her answer to every ailment – actual, possible, or imagined.

I taught my own children to love tea and they have a similar view of  its healing abilities that my grandmother had. Whatever hurts, tea will help it feel better. For me, holding a hot cup of steaming, golden tea on a Saturday afternoon is the height of luxury. It takes me back to the best days of summer, and to those fields, fragrant with chamomile.

January 28, 2010

Story of a Haitian mother

Posted in Children, Earthquakes, Food, Haiti, News, Women tagged at 8:22 am by Liliana

Earthquake in Haiti

Earthquake in Haiti

Every day, I read stories about Haiti. I am afraid that if I turn away, the world will turn away, and the people there will be left on their own. And that to me, seems the most cruel fate of all.

I read a story about a mother who didn’t give up on finding her son for close to ten days. She was a poor street vendor and her son was 21 years old and worked as a tailor. After the earthquake, the mother went looking for her son at the building where he worked. The whole structure had collapsed and no one was found alive. Every day the mother went looking around a different area of the building and calling her son’s name. Days passed and relief workers from different countries got used to seeing this woman wonder around the collapsed building, calling and calling.

On the tenth day, somewhere deep in the bowels of collapsed cement, the boy heard his mother’s voice and he called back. She heard him. Joyously shouting, digging with her hands, she called the relief workers to come and help. But they had seen her there, day after day, and thought that she was hearing voices. They left. A team from Israel happened to be coming by, and the mother stopped them, grabbed a man by his hand and made him come with her. She shouted and the boy shouted back. The Israeli called his team and they started digging furiously. After a while they got to the boy. He was so small, so light and dehydrated, he looked like a child. The Israeli lifted the boy into his arms and carried him to his mother.

No one in the world was happier than that woman, and no one felt more fortunate than she. She had lost everything she had, which was not much to begin with; she had lost her city, her house and all her possessions. But her child was alive.

January 27, 2010

A better day

Posted in Family, Food, Health, Home, Recipes, Women tagged , at 8:11 am by Liliana

Cooking to a good day

Cooking to a good day

Last Sunday, I woke up with a cold and a nasty migraine. Jeff wasn’t feeling well, either. He had to do the bills, and everyone is grumpy when they have to do bills. Sam woke up to tell us that his soccer game was early, and we needed to get moving. I didn’t want to get moving. All I wanted was to sit in a corner and idle.

In the few minutes it took to get coffee going, decide who would take Sam to soccer, help Sam find his things, and get breakfast ready, the three of us had managed to exchange some sharp words. It seemed like it was going to be one of those days.

Well, Jeff and Sam left for the game, and I took my cup of coffee and sat down for a moment of peace. My sinuses were congested and my head felt like an enormous pumpkin. I had trouble thinking clearly. But I knew one thing; I was not happy the way our day had started.

Aimlessly, I wandered into the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator (yes, the old, ugly, but very faithful refrigerator.) I had no idea what I wanted to make, I just knew that something needed to be done. We had some chicken and a bunch of root vegetables. I took whatever I could find and placed it in the sink. I cleaned two onions, and started gently sautéing them in some olive oil. I washed and then chopped carrots, celery, parsnips, celery root and potatoes. I added them to the onions. There was a lovely flavor flowing through my house now. I cut up the chicken and added it to brown with the vegetables. I started adding spices – garlic, salt, pepper, paprika. But I didn’t stop there. I added coriander and turmeric and then some curry powder and Jamaican spice. The flavors took me to a place much more exotic than Michigan in winter. I felt I could breathe better. I added water and some tomato paste. Then I added some lentils, covered up the pot and let it simmer slowly for a few hours.

Soon after, Jeff and Sam came home from the game; they were still stressed. Even though his team had won, Sam got in trouble with the ref for arguing what he felt was an unfair ruling.  But the moment my boys  got a whiff of that exotic stew, they stopped complaining and wanted to know what I was doing. I told them that I had decided to change the course of our day, but I needed some help from my friends. They each gave me a hug.

January 26, 2010

A bad, awful day

Posted in Career, RepairClinic.com, Work tagged , at 8:11 am by Liliana

Cloudy day

Cloudy day

On certain days, it is difficult to find even a sliver of grace. Petty, annoying little things wear at us, like the interminable drip of a leaky faucet, until all our resistance has broken away. Last week I had one of those days.

I did not sleep well the night before as I had a lot on my mind.  We were out of groceries  and all I could find for breakfast was some sugary cereal I didn’t like. It was a cold, damp morning, and my car was out of gas, so I had to stop and fill it up. I came to work at RepairClinic.com, tired and with a slight cold. I felt I needed to  accomplish a lot and I felt stressed and overwhelmed. I was not in a good mood.

I made a cup of hot tea, sat down at my computer, and tried to change the tide of the day. I checked my calendar, planned out my projects, then wrote and posted my daily blog entry.  Just as I started, a warning message flashed on my computer – “You are infected with a virus!”

Yes I was! My computer was completely paralyzed. I called Brett, our IT expert, and he shook his head. It was a bad virus, and there was no way to uninstall it. My entire computer would have to be cleaned and rebuilt.

So, the entire day I had to work on a very old computer that our department keeps around for emergencies. It had none of the graphic or design programs I needed. I wrote  and worked on content but had no email and could get none of my projects done. People kept coming over to see if I had finished this or that, but I had finished nothing.

I couldn’t wait for the day to be over, to have dinner with my family and relax in the warmth of my home. I called Jeff to tell him that I was on my way. Well, he said, don’t rush, things are a little cold at home. Why? The power had gone out early in the afternoon and the house was  dark and freezing! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr….

January 25, 2010

Refrigerator Parts at RepairClinic.com

Posted in Home, RepairClinic.com tagged , , , at 8:23 am by Liliana

Old Refrigerator

This old refrigerator

Our refrigerator is very old. It is also outdated and ugly, not a single sleek or modern line on it. But for over twenty years it has served us well, and is actually spacious and well designed on the inside. My husband Jeff is a practical man and sees no reason to replace a perfectly good refrigerator just for aesthetic reasons.  I, on the other hand,  have been praying for that refrigerator to break for a very long time.

Well, a few years ago I came into our kitchen early in the morning and there was a thundering noise coming from the refrigerator. It sounded like a very loud lawn mower. My heart filled with hope. The time had come. The moment Jeff entered, I joyfully pointed out that our refrigerator was nearing its demise and that we’d have to buy a new one. It’s so old, why would we even try fixing it?

But Jeff is a logical man, perhaps just a little stubborn, and not easily persuaded. Having worked for years as the IT director at  RepairClinic.com, he knew what to do. He went to the website and looked up the diagnostic information on thundering refrigerators. He quickly found out that it was a faulty fan making all that noise, and that the fan was easy to replace by a non-technician. By entering the model number of our unit on the site, Jeff found the exact match for the part we needed. He ordered it and replaced the fan the following day.

We still have that old, ugly refrigerator. It works great and I have pretty much accepted the fact that it will  be in my kitchen for a very long time. The stove on the other hand …..

January 24, 2010

Superfoods – eat some every day!

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Food, Health tagged at 9:04 am by Liliana

superfoods

Eat some every day!

Take good care of your body and mind by eating a combination of these nutritious and delicious foods every day!

  • Avocados – high in lutein, which aids eyesight, and in potassium and folate, which reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
  • Beets – good source of folate, which guards against birth defects, colon cancer, and osteoporosis; high in fiber and beta-carotene.
  • Horseradish – fights cancer and kills bacteria; good source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
  • Sweet Potatoes – contain phytonutrients that promote heart and eye health, boost immunity and lower breast cancer risk.
  • Cruciferous Vegetables – cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. – contain a powerful range of disease fighters; lower incidence of colon and lung cancers.
  • Blueberries – high levels of antioxidants, which combat damage done by inflammation; antidiabetic effects; protect heart muscle from damage.
  • Dark, Leafy Greens – spinach, kale, swiss chard, etc. – excellent source of iron (especially important for women), vitamin A, and lutein for eye health.
  • Alliums – leeks, onions, and garlic – lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels; inhibit growth of prostate, stomach, and colon cancers; have antibiotic properties.
  • Whole Grains – high in magnesium, B vitamins, fiber, and manganese; help you not overeat and gain excess weight.
  • Oregano – high levels of antioxidants mean that a half-teaspoon of dried oregano has the benefits of a spinach salad; clears congestion, and improves digestion.
  • Cinnamon – one of the highest antioxidant levels of all herbs and spices; positive effect on blood glucose levels, so adding it to foods can keep you feeling steady and satiated.
  • Yogurt – very good source of calcium, phosphorus, and protein; contains probiotics, the good bacteria your digestive system needs to process and benefit from all the other things you eat; boosts immune response.
  • Walnuts – contain alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acids, which lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and may reduce inflammation in arteries.
  • Green Tea – full of a metabolism-boosting compound called EGCG, which prevents damage to the heart muscles and improves bone density.
  • Dark Chocolate – high in flavonoids, substances that improve blood flow, suppress coughs, improve memory, and give you hydrated, smooth skin.

January 23, 2010

Swan in flight

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Children, Family, Health at 8:25 am by Liliana

Swan in flight

Swan in flight

Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The following two years I went through one treatment after another – chemo, radiation, a number of surgeries.  It was a hard time for my family, especially the children. I have always been strong and energetic, the caretaker and the nurturer. Now I was weak, bold,  sad, depressed and afraid. My husband, my sister and brother -in-law, my children and my niece and nephew were confused and frightened. No one knew how to deal with this new reality, but worst of all, we didn’t know if the treatments would work and what the future would bring.

The treatments ended and we started slowly rebuilding our lives. My body stared growing a bit stronger every day, but the fear of jumping into life and being dragged back into illness was still there. We took it one day at a time.

On Nena’s 17th birthday, the two of us decided to take a car ride down a lovely stretch of the Huron river and then have a picnic at our favorite metro park. We packed sandwiches, fruit, cookies, water and coffee. My taste buds were just coming back to life and every flavor seemed a revelation I could savor and delight in. It was a fresh, warm, dazzlingly sunny June morning. We opened the car windows and our hair was blowing in the fresh breeze. We were listening to Bob Dylan very loudly, one of his operatic 70’s albums. The river was shimmering next to us.

All of a sudden, out of the shimmering waves a swan flew into the air and turned towards us. It stayed in the air for what seemed like a long time, through an entire segment of a Dylan song. Then it gracefully landed on the water and slid through the river like an Olympic ice skater. Slowly, it came to a stop and rested its head on its wings.

Nena and I held our breath in wonder and delight. We looked at each other and smiled in understanding. It was a glorious gift for Nena’s birthday. It was reassuring to see that the beauty and joy of nature will always go on. We knew that all will be well. No matter what happens.

January 22, 2010

Nancy’s Quilt

Posted in Cancer, Friendships, Quilting at 8:10 am by Liliana

Nancy's quilt

Nancy's quilt – work in progress

The year I got married, I learned how to quilt. I have always liked handicrafts, but quilting was an American art, and I didn’t learn it in childhood. Maybe learning to quilt was one of my ways of becoming an American. Once I learned the fundamentals, I taught my mother and sister, and we approached this craft the way we approached everything else – by working on a project together. It took us a year, but we made a richly colorful, intricate bedspread of our own design with definitive Southern European overtones. It now covers my daughter’s bed.

Years passed and I worked on many smaller projects, but I never had time to make another bedspread. That is, until I made a commitment to Nancy. Nancy is my neighbor and one of my dearest friends. Nancy loves quilts and has a lovely collection. Three years ago, her husband Ken died of esophageal cancer. Ken was in his forties, a kind, gentle, man; a brilliant scientist who just wanted to work in his lab and do some good in this world. Nancy was left alone with her two boys.

Nancy loved Ken so much that she couldn’t stand to get rid of his belongings. I asked her if it would be easier if Ken’s clothes were not thrown way, but used to make something beautiful. Something that she could keep. Something that she could wrap herself in. Like a hug from Ken.

I went to Nancy’s house and took Ken’s shirts, ties and pants. I also took a few of Nancy’s colorful, flowery blouses. They will give punch and warmth to contrast with the more somber tones of Ken’s clothes. I designed a pattern, and have now been working on that quilt for two years, every stitch made by hand, by me and our group of closest friends. It will be an artifact representative of a beautiful marriage. I hope to finish it this year. It is a labor of love.

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