January 25, 2011

Burnt Orange Moon

Posted in Family, Food, Friendships, Hobbies, Knitting, Weather, Women tagged , , at 7:57 am by Liliana

Burnt Orange Yarn

Burnt Orange Yarn

For me, this is the most grueling time of year.

It is cold, it is dark, and there are no holidays to look forward to.

This morning, thought, even though the sky was ashen and overcast, and icy snow was making the roads sleek and unpredictable, I felt fresh and energetic, ready to face the week.

I had a wonderful weekend.

I am frequently accused of being an introvert, with great need for solitude, but this weekend it was the company of family and friends that fed me the energy this cold winter had depleted from my body and soul.

Friday evening we had an old friend and his wife over for dinner. We ate beef brisket, roasted potatoes, salad; fruit pies, tea and coffee for dessert. And we talked. About children growing up and leaving, about parents getting old and dying, about life.

Saturday morning I spent at a cafe with my daughter and a young friend talking about young people’s plans, schemes, hopes. About starting one’s adventures in life.

Saturday evening, my friend Jelena had a ladies’ evening at her house. She made elegant cocktails and appetizers, carrot and asparagus soup, lasagna and light, creamy dessert. We watched a movie. We told stories and laughed.

Sunday morning my family gathered around our dining room table for brunch. We ate eggs, fresh bagels and cream cheese, smoked salmon, fruit. And drank lots of coffee.

We sat around for hours and Sasha and Nena talked. The rest of us mostly listened, but sometimes we all wanted to talk. Sometimes we needed a referee.

Then Jeff and I walked over to our neighborhood coffee shop, had hot chocolate and talked some more. It’s not always easy for the two of us to find a quiet, uninterrupted corner in our house. We gave each other turns. We listened.

In the afternoon, I went to my friend Ann’s house. We sat in her living room, full of her own pottery, art and yarn, and knitted while her husband Ray made a wonderful pasta dinner. Ann taught me a new cable pattern. It was not hard. I started knitting a scarf for my sister, beside myself with joy and accomplishment. The color of the yarn is deep burnt orange.

The weekend was icy cold. But throughout, the sky was iridescent Adriatic blue, and the sun was shining and making the snow sparkle.

And at night, the sky was clear and full of stars. The full, giant moon was the color of deep burnt orange.


January 6, 2011

My New Year’s Resolution

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Friendships, Good people, Health, Hobbies, Quilting, Women tagged , , , , , at 8:02 am by Liliana

The healing quilt

The healing quilt

I was never one for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like to make a promise (to myself or to others) that I pretty much know that I won’t keep.

But this year, I have made a resolution. I want to finish a large, king size quilt that I started for my friend Nancy three years ago.

When Nancy’s husband Ken died, Nancy didn’t want to part with his clothes. I volunteered to make a quilt out of Ken’s shirts, ties and pants. To make the quilt representative of their life together, I took a few of Nancy’s colorful blouses and added them to the mix.

I made a simple design, something that would work for a disparate collection of colors, tones and materials. Then I bought creamy and burgundy floral fabrics to tie everything together. And when I started quilting, I chose different colors of thread – neutral beige, deep burgundy, emerald green and burnt orange.

This quilt has been an evolutionary enterprise. I started with a vague concept in mind, but the project has evolved into something with a life of its own.

I have done all the sewing and quilting by hand. From the beginning I felt, but didn’t understand clearly, that the idea was not to finish the quilt quickly, but to go through the process of  slow, meditative healing. I couldn’t rush this project.

Ken and I were suffering from cancer at the same time. He had incurable esophageal cancer, I was sick with breast cancer. The last time we saw each other was at our children’s piano recital. He was at the end of his treatments, I was in the middle of mine. We made a sad sight – both of us gray and weary, with no hair and our eyes hollow from nausea and fear.

We said nothing but looked at each other with compassion and understanding. We embraced and cried.

So, when I work on this quilt for Ken and Nancy, every stitch is a gift of tenderness and love. And gratitude that they have given me the opportunity to spend hours slowly pulling silky thread through fabrics that they have marked with their presence. They have given me a chance to mend and heal.

This winter I feel that the time has come to complete the quilt. It feels right. Every evening I work on it for hours.

When the longer days of spring arrive, I will be ready to hand it over to Nancy for safekeeping.

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?


November 4, 2010

A Quiet Weekend

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Friendships, Home, Women tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:58 am by Liliana

Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning

After months of busy workdays and traveling weekends, I was ready for a quiet, relaxed, at home kind of weekend.

And that is what I got.

I met my friend Ann at the farmer’s market early last Saturday morning. We had coffee and talked for more than an hour, then walked through the cold market and bought fresh apples, lettuce, spinach, onions, potatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant.

I also stopped at the butcher’s and bough meat for our evening barbecue – sirloin steak; ground beef, pork and lamb for a Serbian delicacy called “chavapchichi”; and chicken drumsticks.

My nephew Sasha came home from Columbus and together with Joe, we spent the afternoon watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at their rally (to restore sanity, and, or fear!)

Joe’s birthday is on Halloween, but we decided to celebrate it on Saturday evening. Jeff barbecued, while I prepared the side dishes and the salads. I roasted the peppers and the eggplant, pealed the skin, sliced everything up, and mixed the vegetables with garlic, oil and vinegar. It is one of my favorite dishes. I washed and quartered the potatoes, then roasted them with olive oil, salt and pepper in the oven. They were crisp on the outside, and luscious on the inside. I made a salad with fresh greens, and a selection of fruit – apples, oranges, pears and plums. Cilantro added just the right sense of danger.

Sam set the table.

It was just eight of us for dinner (our household, plus Jeff’s and Joe’s brother, Randy, and his wife Peggy) and it was relaxing and pleasant. We talked, and lingered, no one in any hurry. The blueberry pie that our guests brought was delicious, and, together with coffee and tea, the whole thing quickly disappeared.

Sunday morning I woke up at 9 am. I can’t remember when I slept that late. The morning was sunny, but cold. I made coffee, fetched the paper from my front lawn, found a sunny spot on my couch, and settled to read. My cup overfloweth.


October 28, 2010

Girlfriends at the Lake

Posted in Food, Friendships, Knitting, Women tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:56 am by Liliana

Walking Barefoot

Walking Barefoot

I spent last weekend with my sister Branka and four friends at our cottage near Lake Michigan.

If you are wondering what women of our age like to do on these kinds of getaways, I will tell you.

We slept late in the morning, and then sat around in our pajamas, drinking coffee and talking.

Some of us cooked and made wonderful meals: scrambled eggs, toast, cheese and fresh fruit for breakfast; roasted stuffed chicken with roasted potatoes and salad for lunch; leak and potato soup, chili, and salad for dinner.

Some of us baked: Branka made walnut strudel (ahead of time) that lasted throughout the weekend, even though we had some at every meal; Margaret made delicious brownies and brought candles so we could celebrate Ann’s birthday; Ann made an amazingly rich chocolate cake for her own birthday.

We sang “Happy Birthday” to Ann.

We explored an antique store and each found treasures. Branka and Jelena bought earrings; Ann noticed delicate china perfect for her daughter Erin; Martha bough a little porcelain cow creamer for my daughter Nena; Margaret discovered an elegant silk scarf; I came across a milky white pitcher for my dried flower bouquets.

We stopped at the knitting store and I bought some soft orange wool to make a scarf for Branka. Ann started teaching me a new (complicated!) pattern.

In the evening, we went to see “The Social Network” at the old movie theater. After the movie we stayed up late (well past our bedtimes) talking about it, researching the facts, pointing to each other articles on the topic that we liked or disliked.

The next morning, we walked on the beach. The air was hazy, soft and mild, so we took our shoes and socks off and walked barefoot on the sand. For late October, the lake water was remarkably warm. We walked in the sunshine, Ann took photographs, and we talked and laughed. We sat on an old bench to rest. We saw a rainbow.

We had coffee and chocolate cake before getting ready to go home.

On our drive back, we stopped at the roadside market and bought pumpkins and fresh, crispy apples. Jelena bought chestnuts to roast.

Like a squirrel storing nuts, I stockpiled memories of our weekend. When the days get shorter, darker and colder, I will dig them up again.


October 21, 2010

Old Friends

Posted in Children, Friendships tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:02 am by Liliana

Old Friends

Old Friends

I had dinner with an old friend while visiting New York last week. We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years.

Donna and I met as high school students in 1973. Our families had just immigrated to New York, hers from Poland, mine from Yugoslavia. Neither of us spoke English.

Together with my sister Branka, we became fast friends.

Our American experiences and identities unfolded in similar ways.

We took ESL classes together, and learned to love and appreciate the English language. As our communication skills improved, our confidence grew. We started venturing outside Queens and expanded our explorations to Manhattan – the three of us on our own!

We roamed the streets, walked around Central Park, visited every famous place we had heard of.

By the time we were juniors, we bought our first tickets to a Broadway show. We almost fainted from excitement as we sat in the very first row, watching Yul Brynner in “The King and I.” Branka and Donna threatened to stand up in the middle of a song and shout to Yul Brynner how much they loved him. I was relieved when they didn’t have the courage to actually do it.

We walked all around the Museum of Modern Art for an amazing Picasso exhibit. I had bought brand new, high healed red sandals, and they started hurting my feet. I complained but the girls had no patience or sympathy. They were transfixed by the wonders in front of them. I took the sandals off, and barefoot but comfortable, delighted in the beauty of the art before me. New Yorkers didn’t even notice.

When John Lennon was shot, we went to his Central Park memorial service. It was an overcast, freezing winter day, and the crowds so overwhelming, the police feared that someone would be trampled to death. We were told to all sit on the ground. So, we sat on the frozen snow for hours, listening to speeches, to music, to remembrances. Afterward, the three of us were sick for weeks.

One winter, for New Year’s Eve, the tree of us decided to welcome the new year at the Times Square celebration. Again, we froze. Again, the crowds were so great, they were not for people who were claustrophobic or faint of heart.

But the tree of us, best friends, intertwined our hands and held on tightly to each other.

And here we are, still reaching out.


August 25, 2010


Posted in Children, Friendships, Good people, Home, Organization, Travel tagged , , , at 6:51 am by Liliana

William enjoying hamburgers

William enjoying hamburgers

My friend Ann invited us over for dinner the other night. Her family is hosting an exchange student from Kenya and she wanted us to meet him. William is seventeen years old and a high school senior. This is his first trip ever outside his country.

I went with my youngest son, Sam, niece Nicole, and Joe, my brother-in-law. Sam and Nicky are William’s age so we were eager to introduce them.

Ann made a delicious dinner – salmon, chicken, salad, good bread. Most of us ate fish, but not William. He has lived his whole life far away from water and fish is not something he is used to. But he seems open to trying things that he is unaccustomed to, and much of what he sees in his new environment – he has never seen before.

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. An excellent student who speaks English beautifully, he has worked hard for everything he has achieved.

This is a trip of many firsts for William. This is the first time William has flown in an airplane. William is not used to western food, or living in a large house. His family lives in small communal huts. William is not used to technology, but has already started a facebook page, made a PowerPoint presentation about his homeland, and will be getting a cell phone soon.

What struck me most about this young man is his poise and sense of calm faith in himself. William showed us pictures of his family and schoolmates and spoke about his culture with great pride, but also unclouded honesty. Things are what they are, and he has the fortitude to see them as such. He told us that many Masai boys have to make a decision whether to become Masai warriors or receive a western style education. Becoming a warrior is a complicated ten year long indoctrination process, so many boys are opting for the less rigorous western schooling.

William hit it off with Sam and Nicky right away. The kids wanted to introduce him to their friends, take him to the movies, and have him join their teams.

Later in the evening, Sam and William went outside to play soccer. They talked and kicked the ball around for a long time. When they came back in tired and laughing, all we grownups could see was two boys – having fun. Same the world over.


August 10, 2010

Trip to Serbia

Posted in Family, Friendships, Home, Serbia, Travel tagged , , , , at 5:14 pm by Liliana

My father in Serbia - August 2010

My father in Serbia - August 2010

My father has not visited Serbia in over twenty years.

Last week, he and my step-mother (Nana) took the long trip from Florida to Belgrade. It took a lot of courage on my father’s part to fly in an airplane. He hates to fly.

Also, as much as one yearns to see the people one loves, the longer one stays away, the harder it is to go back.

My father is seventy seven years old. He is not in best health, and his heart is not very strong. We all worried about his ability to handle the intensity of emotion that would flood him as soon as he stepped off the airplane.

So far, he and Nana are doing great. They went to a huge, old fashioned wedding that my father’s entire village attended (close to four hindered people!) They danced, sang songs, and partied with young and old.

They saw family, and old friends. They met children who were born since they left. They went to the cemetery to visit those who had departed.

And when I saw this picture of my father’s face, I knew that he was where he needed to be.

I hope that it will be a wonderful trip.


July 31, 2010

The Cracked Pot

Posted in Friendships tagged , , at 11:32 am by Liliana

The Cracked Pot

The Cracked Pot

My friend Dianna Crossley sent me this Chinese proverb. Sometimes the story appears as an Indian version.

I hope my readers like it:

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole that she carried across her neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.  This happened daily for full two years, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.  The cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.  “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

The old woman smiled, ”Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.  Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

SO, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!


July 20, 2010


Posted in Family, Friendships, Home, Women tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:42 am by Liliana

Sisters - dressed for Halloween

Sisters - dressed for Halloween

My sister and her family are living in our house this year while my brother-in-law attends graduate school.

We have been together for a couple of months now, and all has gone well.

Still, Branka and I are very different people. She is outgoing, gregarious, in constant need of company. I need a lot more quiet time. Spending a few hours at night reading in my room, is for me, both a mental and a physical necessity.

I think my sister was counting on having me around more. Last night, when we were taking our evening walk with Kaya, she mentioned that she had forgotten about my need for solitude. After all, we have not lived together for a very long time.

I felt a bit sad and guilty, anxious that I was neglecting my little sister. I tried to explain. I get my energy from burrowing deeply within myself while meditating on the thoughts and writings of others. Branka sustains her energy from personally interacting with others, understanding their needs and finding solutions to their problems.

Surely there is a place for each of us in this world.


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