December 30, 2010

Christmas this Year

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Health, Holidays, Home, Traditions tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:14 am by Liliana

Christmas Spread

Christmas Spread

My family hosted Christmas this year.

Every part of the house was put to good use.

The children came home from far and wide. Nena, Nicole and Sam were comfortably ensconced in their rooms. Mike flew in from Boston, Sasha drove in from Ohio. The two of them had to sleep on a sofa bed in the basement.

Branka started baking a week before Christmas. Every evening and all weekend long she was spreading phyllo dough for baklava, grinding walnuts, juicing oranges and making her secret citrus honey syrup. The house smelled of fresh baking, cloves and cinnamon.

Two days before Christmas I started making side dishes to go with roasted turkey and honey glazed ham. I made green bean casserole with fresh mushrooms, sweet potatoes with pecans and cinnamon, mushroom gravy. As I tasted my concoctions, I noticed that my sense of taste, and my sense of smell, was numb and muted.

Sam had been sick the week before Christmas. He had gotten a nasty bug from his girlfriend Emily – high fever, sore throat, achiness, no appetite. Now it was my turn to fight the virus.

We were expecting thirty people for Christmas dinner.

Somehow, by sheer will power I got up early on Christmas morning and readied the turkey for roasting. I cut up lemons, apples, celery and onions, stuffed the turkey and placed it in the oven. Everyone commented on the delicious fragrance but I could smell nothing.

We set out our best china, got out the crystal. The guests started arriving at three in the afternoon.

Jelena brought two kinds of appetizers and a selection of confections that could rival any French bakery. Martha baked a perfect apple pie. Natasha made a frothy, creamy torte. Hannah baked a delicate spice cake and a key lime pie.

The table was overflowing with delicacies.

I could neither smell nor taste anything.

My head ached so badly I had to prop it up with my arm so it would stay upright. My throat was sore, eyes watery, nose red.

Still, the evening seemed to go well. People filled their plates with turkey and glazed ham slices, side dishes, salads. They talked and laughed. The kids watched basketball and played pool.

We made tea and coffee and spread out the deserts. Guests sampled everything.

I filled my plate with desserts – one of each, hoping that by some miracle I could taste the beauty of the food in front of me. I could not.

By eight in the evening, with a house full of guests, I waved good night, and slowly walked up the stairs to my room.

Good night, all!

December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Holidays tagged , at 7:59 am by Liliana

First snowfall of the season

First snowfall of the season

Best wishes to everyone for a year full of love, health, strength and compassion.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Liliana

December 17, 2010

Train Dreamscapes

Posted in Travel tagged , , , , at 7:52 am by Liliana

Train Dreamscapes

Train Dreamscapes

I love trains.

When I feel the need to escape the limitations and constrains of everyday life, I imagine going on one of the great train routes.

On a frozen morning in Michigan, while driving to work, I might board the Orient Express in Paris, and single out Istanbul as my destination.

I will sit in a luxurious mahogany train car with plush, comfortable seats, and look out the window for hours on end. I will wear a large, elegant hat. I might visit the dining car for a cup of cappuccino and an almond croissant. When we pass through the old Belgrade train station, so familiar to me, the train master will shout loudly, “Beograd!” I will resist the temptation to get off.

If I feel more adventurous, I will board the Trans-Siberian in Moscow and enjoy the great Russian expense for six days and six nights, until I arrive in Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.

I will contemplate the never ending, snowy forests, and silent, treeless steppes. My traveling companions will tell stories. We will sing sad, Russian ballads and someone will play the balalaika. At night I will be lulled to sleep in my sleeper by the gentle chugging of the locomotive.

If my need for sun and warmth overtakes other considerations, I might decide on a whim to take the Indian Pacific and explore the Australian wilderness. For three days, on my ride between Sydney and Perth, I will sit in a sunny spot by the window and observe the arid, red sandstone desert landscape, the lush gorges of the Blue Mountains, the abandoned, petrified ghost towns.

And just before we reach Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, I would be arriving at work.

A new day has started. Train travel will have to wait until tomorrow.

December 13, 2010

A Teaspoon of Honey

Posted in Weather tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:13 am by Liliana

“Sweeten this harsh life!”

“Sweeten this harsh life!”

All last week we had drab, gray, overcast, leaden, cold, windy weather here in Michigan.

A coworker stopped me in our lunchroom at RepairClinic and told me that he was feeling lethargic and blue.

I got together with my book club friends one evening and people complained how depressed they felt. Cathy commented that the entire world seemed sprinkled with cement ashes.

I feel it, too.

My optimistic nature is being eclipsed by the oppressive dullness and lack of sunlight. Coldness and darkness seem to be seeping into my bones.

It takes all my will power to jump out of bed when the alarm goes off in the mornings. My bed is a warm, snug nest and all I want to do is burrow under my soft comforter and hibernate until the season changes.

But I make myself get up. I face the day.

And this is the time when those lessons absorbed long ago from my parents, grandparents and culture, help to get me through the day.

How many times have I heard it – life is unsparing and there is no way to escape its harshness. Objecting and lamenting does not make things better.

When I was a little girl, my father would offer me a teaspoon of honey with my tea. “Have a bit of honey to sweeten this harsh life,” he liked to say.

So, yesterday afternoon, when I was having my cup of tea, I added a teaspoon of honey. It helped bring a bit of sunlight into my day. It really did.

December 9, 2010

William and the Lions

Posted in Family, Food, Friendships, Traditions, Travel tagged , , , , , , at 7:57 am by Liliana

William (in red) and his Family in Kenya

William (in red) and his Family in Kenya

Last summer, I wrote about William, an exchange student from Kenya  who is spending this year with my friends Ann and Ray and their children here in Michigan.

William belongs to the Masai tribe and lives near the Masai Mara National Park in south-western Kenya. His parents are farmers and he is the tenth of eleven children. William is seventeen years old and a high school senior. This is his first trip ever outside his country.

We recently had Ann, Ray and William join our family and a number of friends for dinner and conversation.

There were fifteen of us around the table. We had vegetable soup, roasted lamb, roasted potatoes, salads, bread. For dessert, we had coffee, tea and a selection of fruit pies.

William had mentioned that goat is his favorite meat but I had never cooked goat so I settled for lamb. William loved lamb. He said it reminded him of Africa.

William and his Mother

William and his Mother

After dinner, while the adults sat around the table and talked, William and Sam (my youngest son) went to the basement, played pool and listened to music.

Sam has the impression that William is having a wonderful time in the US. He is keeping up with his studies, enjoys playing soccer on his high school team, and has made new friends. And, according to Sam, he is a very good pool player.

Later in the evening, we all gathered in our family room, and William treated us to a power point presentation about his family, the Masai culture and about Kenya.

William showed us pictures of his mother, his brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and the extended family. He told us everyone’s names. He showed us pictures of the huts his family lives in and told us about their daily lives.

And then, William told us what it takes to become a Masai warrior.

It takes years of training, discipline, learning from one’s elders, listening, facing one’s fears and learning to overcome those fears.

And it takes going on a lion hunt with the rest of the warriors. Every warrior has a role to play and a rank in the community of hunters. The hunters surround the lion in a circle. Those who are young and weak and afraid, attract the lion’s attention. Those who are strong and brave and experienced, attack the lion with their spears. Those who kill the lion protect the community. They are praised, admired and revered.

William has chosen different, less traditional kinds of challenges than his brothers. But to us, sitting in a circle and listening to him, he seemed just as brave and composed as the bravest of the lion hunters.

For who can say what courage it takes to leave one’s mother, one’s family and tribe, and go face the strange and unfamiliar world?

December 6, 2010

Change of Season

Posted in Home, Weather tagged , , , , , at 7:52 am by Liliana

First Snowflakes

First Snowflakes

This has been an unsettlingly mild autumn for our part of the country.

There were days of incessant rain and overcast skies, but also mild temperatures and an abundance of sunny, golden afternoons.

The leaves change color to deep yellows and burgundies and fall to the ground. Sometimes while taking Kaya on a walk, I squint my eyes, and my street shimmers like an impressionist painting.

Early in November, I bring in my potted plants and find them comfortable winter residence on window sills and shelves in various parts of the house. But, it isn’t until the middle of the month that we have our first night frost.

Then on December first, winter comes. Overnight. One day it is fall, the next day we all know that the seasons have changed.

As I walk out of the house, sporadic snowflakes fall out of the dark gray early morning sky. The air feels rarefied, jagged and sparkling. I take a deep breath and exhale. Steam comes out of my mouth. Just for fun, I huff again.

Now, when I return home on a cold winter afternoon, I feel my house embracing me in its comforting, protective fold.

Meteorologists predict a very cold, snowy winter this year in Michigan.