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.

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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!

November 1, 2010

The Comfort of Tolstoy

Posted in Books, Family, Health, Women tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:49 am by Liliana

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

I am not sure when I read my first book by Tolstoy, but I know this – he was in my life long before I was born.

Tolstoy was my mother’s favorite writer.

We had old, worn out, hard cover copies of his books sitting on our bookshelf. I don’t know where they came from, maybe my mother’s schoolgirl days.

Each book was divided into a number of volumes. The books were bound in soft, stained red leather. The paper inside was fleecy white and had a distinctive dusty, book-y smell.

The feel and the smell of those books has been imprinted on my consciousness forever.

And the characters and the stories? They live with me every day.

I named my daughter Natalia (nicknamed Nena) after Natasha Rostova in War and Peace. Sam’s middle name is Leo (Tolstoy’s first name.)

Both my mother and I reread all of Tolstoy’s books many times during our lives. We talked about them again and again. We changed our minds about different characters and interpreted events and relationships in contrasting ways. Tolstoy gave us the vocabulary to discuss themes and subjects that we might not have had the courage to discuss otherwise.

As my mother grew sicker from Alzheimer’s Disease, she grew fearful and suspicious of the world around her and all its inhabitants. She slept less and less. Nothing seemed to follow the rules of behavior that her reshaping mind dictated.

Except for Tolstoy.

In the last year of her life she could not read. She hardly slept. She did not know who any of us were. She had lost most of her connections to the outside world.

But many nights, Jeff and I found her lying on the living room sofa tightly holding on to one of the volumes of the soft, worn out copy of War and Peace. She pretended to read.

Sometimes she held the book upside down.

When none of us could bring her comfort, Tolstoy did. Not with direct words anymore, but with the deeply ingrained memories and shadows of the world he created. Of the girl and woman that she once was. It was the one stable, unmoving constant in a life rapidly degenerating out of control.

My mother held on to that book until she died.

September 17, 2010

Nana

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Children, Family, Food, Good people, Health, Home, Weather, Women tagged , , , , , at 6:59 am by Liliana

Liliana, Nana, Branka and our father

Liliana, Nana, Branka and our father- June 2010

In early January of 2005, I was undergoing intense chemo therapy for breast cancer.

It was a bitterly cold and snowy winter. The days were heavy, dark, gloomy and depressing. My physical and emotional state reflected the weather perfectly.

In a few short weeks, I had lost close to twenty pounds. I had no appetite and felt nauseous all the time. I was weak and dizzy. I could not sleep. I developed a blood clot in my arm and then one in my leg. I had no energy. I could not take care of myself, much less my husband and children.

My sister, Branka, tried bravely to take care of our two households. She ran between her work, her children’s schools, her house  and my house. I worried that she too would get sick. We needed help.

Our father had remarried a few years earlier and lived in Florida. We were friendly with our stepmother (Nana), but didn’t know her well. She offered to come to cold, frozen Michigan and take care of us all. We said yes.

Nana came and took over the running of the house.

Mornings were my worst time of the day. After chemo had been working its magic all night long, I felt sick, exhausted and unable to eat. I had trouble getting out of bed. Nana would bring me a cup of tea and hot oatmeal with honey, then leave as I struggled to swallow a few teaspoons at a time.

Mike was already away at college, but Nena and Sam were at home. Jeff had a responsible and difficult job. They were all disoriented and frightened. Nana made them breakfast every morning – fancy stuff like pancakes, bacon, eggs. It made me happy to know, sitting in my bedroom and trying to swallow oatmeal, that Nana took care of them.

After everyone had left for work or school, I slowly gathered my courage and stumbled downstairs. Nana and I sat for hours – she talking and crocheting; I trying to survive another day.

Hours spread before us like decades.

Branka came every day, and the two of them tried to think of ways to cheer me up and get me to eat. It was essential that I not lose any more weight as my oncologist threatened to stop chemo treatments; but I had trouble swallowing and had no appetite. Nana and Branka would go into my kitchen and start concocting high calorie delicacies limited only by their imaginations. I never knew what combination and surprises I would find camouflaged inside my smoothies – boiled chicken with chocolate milk, roasted vegetables with honey, etc. etc. I lived in fear of the next offering.

Evenings were merciless in a different way. Nana and Branka made wonderful dinners and the entire family (mine and Branka’s) would gather around our dining room table. Everyone except for me. I sat on a sofa nearby, and tried not to smell the aroma of food or think about food. Our usually rowdy dinner conversations were no more; everyone ate quietly.

We all waited for the day to end.

Nana stayed with us for six weeks, through the worst part of my chemo treatments. She talked to me about things that no one else had the courage to talk about. She was honest and made no light of my situation. I didn’t have to pretend to be brave. But this tenacious, determined woman exuded strength like a rock – strength I could touch with my hand and hold on to tightly.

She cajoled me to eat, to find courage in simple things and not give up. She advised me to take it one minute, one hour, one day at the time. When I could not walk myself, she pushed me forward.

By the time Nana left for Florida, winter was winding down. Snow was still laying deep on the ground, but the first whiffs of spring were in the air. I was done with the first chemo regiment, and starting the second round. I responded to this one much better, and my appetite showed those first early signs of life. I started going for walks outside. My strength came back slowly.

Now, when I think of those cold, dark, despondent days, I think with pride of my family’s ability to endure and survive. And I think of Nana’s strength and love that, like a beacon, pointed the way towards better days. On day at the time.

September 15, 2010

Avery Update

Posted in Cancer, Children, Family, Good people, Health tagged , , , , , at 8:25 am by Liliana

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Avery is doing well.

Her diagnosis last year with non-
rhabdomyosarcoma, deeply touched everyone who knows her story.

This rare form of cancer has the characteristics of three different types of cancer, all in one. By the time Avery was diagnosed in October, it had already spread to her lungs and was ranked Stage 4. After four rounds of intense chemotherapy, followed by surgery, her cancer had shrunk and there are now no traces of lesions in her lungs.

Avery is going back to the hospital in October for a follow-up scan. If all goes well, her port will be removed.

Avery is feeling great, eating well, growing and learning all kinds of new things. Her hair has come back, as well as her eyebrows and eyelashes. With her sweet smile and good nature she charms everyone who meets her.

Avery had a little accident during the summer. She ended up with a small fracture in her leg. Her bones have been weakened by chemo, so she had to wear a cast on her leg for a few weeks.

Now the cast is off, and Avery can go swimming and running around.

I bet she’ll be playing soccer with her brothers very soon!

August 11, 2010

A Day of Rest

Posted in Health, Women, Work tagged , , , , at 7:34 am by Liliana

Time to rest

Time to rest

I am not always good about listening to my body and realizing when I need to slow down and take a bit of rest.

When there is a lot to do, I will push myself and push myself until there is nothing left to give. No matter how many times I say that I will pace myself and be sensible, my instinctive reaction to any situation is to take care of what needs to be done.

So, on occasion my body refuses to obey and makes me slow down whether I want to or not.

When my alarm went off at 6 am yesterday morning I jumped up the way I always do. But before I even reached the bathroom, I knew something was not right. I felt dizzy, tired and nauseated but I still tried to go about my morning routine. I tried to brush my teeth, but I didn’t have the strength to do it. I quickly rinsed out the toothpaste and crawled back into my bed. Making the slightest movement seemed beyond my powers.

My husband Jeff woke up and asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know. All I knew is that I wanted some mineral water to drink and be left alone to sleep.

And sleep I did. I woke up around 11 am, and felt a bit better. I had the strength to get up, make myself a piece of toast with jam and have a bit more mineral water. Then I slept some more.

I slept until 5 pm.

I woke up, had dinner with my family, then sat and watched a movie on TV with my sister. By 10 pm, I was in bed, and I slept soundly through the night.

I woke up this morning, and I feel better. I am still a bit under the weather, but the rest I got yesterday made all the difference in the world.

When will I learn?

August 5, 2010

Family Favorite – California Scampi

Posted in Food, Health, Recipes, Uncategorized at 7:46 am by Liliana

California Scampi

California Scampi, a family favorite

We try to eat fish of some sort or another fairly often. The health benefits are many, not least of which is that they are a great source of Vitamin D, which North Americans tend to lack. In addition, they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can:

  • help protect against heart disease
  • lower cholesterol
  • decrease blood clotting factors
  • increase relaxation in larger arteries and blood vessels
  • decrease inflammatory processes in blood vessels
  • reduce arthritis symptoms by fighting inflammation
  • strengthen the immune system
  • alleviate symptoms of depression
  • lower risks of getting cancer
  • reduce the development of Alzheimer’s disease

This recipe is fast, easy, and tastes great.Enjoy!

1 lb. California shrimp or spiny lobster
1 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup white wine
¼ tsp salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon wedges

Melt butter and oil together in sauté pan. Add garlic, sauté for one min, and add shrimp. Sauté for one min , add wine, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Sauté quickly while sauce reduces and shrimp turns pink. Do not overcook. Sprinkle with parsley before serving. Serve with sauce over noodles or rice. Garnish with lemon wedges.

July 30, 2010

Happy Summer, Avery!

Posted in Cancer, Children, Family, Health tagged , , at 6:34 am by Liliana

Avery with a broken leg

Avery with a broken leg

Avery has been enjoying the summer – playing with her two brothers, swimming, going to barbecues and graduation parties.

Now that the chemo treatments are over, she is feeling great, eating well, growing and learning all kinds of new things. Her hair is coming back as well as her eyebrows and eyelashes.

But a few days ago, she had an accident. Her older brother Ben was swinging her around and lost his balance.  They fell and Avery ended up with a small fracture in her leg. Her bones have been weakened by chemo, so now she has a purple cast on her leg.

But after everything she has been through, what’s a little broken leg? This brave little girl is smiling and bringing joy to everyone who sees her.

In September, she is going for another checkup – a full body scan to make sure all is well and the cancer has been beaten for good.

In the meantime, she is still having fun. The cast is not waterproof, so she can’t swim, but there is no stopping Avery.  She is finding a way to get around, whether by hopping or crawling.

Happy summer, sweet Avery!

July 29, 2010

Oil Spill in Michigan

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Health, News tagged , , , , , , , at 6:41 am by Liliana

Detail Map of Michigan

Detail Map of Southwestern Michigan

A state of emergency has been declared in southwest Michigan’s Kalamazoo County.

Last Monday, July 26th, 2010, more than 800,000 gallons of oil have leaked into a local creek when an oil pipeline sprung a leak. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, of Houston.

The oil is now heading downstream the Kalamazoo River.

Kalamazoo River flows into Lake Michigan only 60 miles away in the town of Saugatuck.

The pipeline has been shut down, but the damage is already done. Officials are fearing contamination of local water supplies. Residents of the area have reported strong noxious fumes, and wildlife soaked in oil.

My daughter Nena and her fiancé Peter have been staying in our cottage near Lake Michigan, not far from the spill. They had planned to move to New Orleans in the fall, but I was trying to dissuade them.

Worried about health effects from the oil spill, I believed it would be much safer for them to stay in Michigan.

Source:  Kalamazoo Gazette

Source: The New York Times

July 25, 2010

Chocolate Blueberry Cake

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Food, Health, Recipes tagged , , , at 7:05 am by Liliana

Michigan blueberries

Michigan blueberries

Sweet, plump blueberries are all the rage in Michigan at this time of year.

I eat them every day. Most mornings, I have a bowl of blueberries with plain yogurt or kefir for breakfast.

But what can be more delicious than blueberries with chocolate?

Try this light cake with your afternoon tea or coffee.

  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (white whole wheat preferred)
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground chia seeds or flax seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup date syrup, maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener
  • 1 cup blueberries (for serving)
  • additional syrup or agave nectar to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, chia (or flax) and salt. In blender, combine water, 1/2 cup blueberries, and balsamic vinegar and blend until smooth.

Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add the syrup and the blueberry mixture. Stir until completely mixed.  Pour into an oiled 9-inch round cake pan.

Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before inverting onto serving platter.

Serve with blueberries on top, drizzled with additional syrup or agave.

Source: FatFree Vegan Kitchen

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