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.


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 5, 2010

In Enemy Territory

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Knitting, Traditions, Travel tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 6:49 am by Liliana

Ohio Michigan Rivalry

Ohio-Michigan Rivalry

My nephew Sasha works as a community organizer in Columbus, Ohio.

He graduated from college last summer and this is his first serious, full-time job. He knows few people in this city, so my sister, brother-in-law and I decided to visit last weekend. We planned to feed him some good food, catch up on news and cheer him up.

We also wanted to keep him company during a college football game between Michigan and Indiana. It is not easy cheering for your team in a sports bar all alone. Especially not when you are in Ohio State country and everyone is cheering against you.

Early Saturday morning, we had a huge breakfast at an old diner on Main Street. We shared an omelet, biscuits, blueberry pancakes, bacon and hash browns. We sipped coffee without hurry, laughed and talked. It was a warm, golden morning.

After breakfast, Sasha drove us around the city. I had never been to Columbus before and I expected a quietly dying urban landscape with monotonously endless strip malls. It was anything but. The downtown has a beautiful, modern, innovative skyline. The ethnic neighborhoods like German Village, Italian Village and the market area have a distinctive charm all their own. The city feels vital, young and stylish.

I wanted to walk through the Ohio State University campus. But when we drove up, we realized that Sasha was wearing a University of Michigan t-shirt. Everyone else, as far as the eye could see, was wearing red buckeye shirts. We decided to stay in the car.

We had lunch at the market area. The market is a renovated old warehouse that now houses fine artisan and ethnic food stores. Sasha and Joe had sushi, Branka had tender barbecued ribs and I decided to try a sampling of Indian vegetarian dishes. We took our food upstairs, made a colorful spread on a table, and shared.

By this time, the sky was getting cloudy and it was threatening rain so we walked to Sasha’s favorite sports bar. The music was deafening and a million TV’s were blaring different football games at the same time. Not one was of the Michigan/Indiana game. Sasha found a waitress willing to turn one of the TV’s to the right channel and we huddled around a cozy table to watch.

I am not much of a football fan, in fact, I hardly understand the game. So I got my knitting out, and worked on a delicately gauzy scarf for my niece. On occasion I glanced at the TV to see what Sasha and Joe were getting excited about. Most of the other patrons ignored us, although a couple of people noticed Sasha’s Michigan t-shirt and stopped to say hello. Fellow Michiganders.

The expectations were that Michigan would easily beat Indiana, but the game was not as close as expected. It was getting tense. Branka, Joe and I had to leave at halftime, but Sasha promised to keep us posted. It was really hard to leave him there to watch the rest of the game by himself, but we had to go.

While the three of us drove home in the gathering darkness and pouring rain, Sasha kept texting Joe reports on how the game was progressing. It was tied. Then Michigan pulled ahead. Michigan won. Go Blue!

We might have ventured into enemy territory, but the natives were friendly. It was a perfect trip.


March 30, 2010

Pain of Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted in Family, Health, Knitting, Women tagged , , , , , , , at 7:14 am by Liliana

Pain of Alzheimer’s disease

Pain of Alzheimer’s disease

I had lunch with a friend last week. We had Thai food, drank strong, hot tea and talked.

She was telling me about her mother, who is experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. My friend is worried. Sometimes, her mom is perfectly fine and her worries seem unfounded. Her mom can make wonderful meals, keep the house clean, do laundry, go shopping. But then she forgets little things – the security code on the garage opener, dates and events, things that were obvious and familiar a few days ago.

My own mother started experiencing these kinds of symptoms in her late fifties. Assuming  that she was depressed, we took her from one doctor to another, but no one seemed to  know what the problem was. My mom was the most accomplished baker I knew, but now she would substitute salt for sugar in her tortes. And then, she would say that she didn’t do it – someone else had sneaked in and played a trick on her. My mom could knit such intricate sweater patterns that Jeff believed that she would have made a fine computer programmer if she had been born at a different time. But now, she could not remember how to knit. As time passed she stopped seeing her friends. She became worried and confused. She became suspicious and paranoid. Like the rest of us, she knew that something was terribly wrong, but she didn’t know what.

My sister and I tried hard to do the best we could, but when I think back on that early time, I would do some things differently. My friend was telling me how she is always trying to find the right balance between challenging her mom to do more, and accepting her state by showing patience, kindness and understanding. It is a fine line, and one doesn’t know what the right thing to do is. Everyone has to find an answer for themselves, but I think I would now err on the side of kindness. So far, there is little one can do to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. I would take my mom’s hand in mine more frequently than ever, and show her that I am there for her, no matter what happens. Right now, reassurance and love are the only cure for dementia.


March 21, 2010

Women Celebrating Life

Posted in Food, Friendships, Knitting, Women tagged , , , at 6:18 am by Liliana

Best friends

Best friends

Every year, in early March, my girlfriends and I get together for a special, fancy celebration dinner. March eighth, the International Women’s Day, is our excuse, but really, we just love to get together, and don’t even need a reason.

We are a very diverse group. Between us and our spouses, we represent a number of nationalities (American, Canadian, Serbian, Japanese, Indian), continents (North America, Europe, Asia), and religions (Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Shinto, Hindu).

There is no topic that we won’t tackle, and sparks often fly. We challenge each other and make each other think. We confide in and comfort each other. Some of us are scientific, and view the world though the prism of logic (I am not naming any names, but you know who you are!) Others are artistic and literary, and for them, throwing a pot or knitting a sweater takes on a mystical experience. We have a charismatic storyteller and an amazing cook. We introduce each other to breakthroughs in science, new recipes, new (and sometimes old) works of literature.

For this year’s celebration, we met at Ann’s house. Ann made a glorious pasta dinner with tomatoes and vegetable sauce; Margaret brought bread; I made a salad; Jan brought a whole pineapple; Martha brought biscotti; Branka an orange cake, and Jelena wine. My niece Nicole and Martha’s daughter Anna (who also brought a friend) came of their own free will and seemed to enjoy our company. We ate, talked, told stories, laughed and laughed. Everyone was sorry when the evening ended.


January 14, 2010

Girlfriend Get-togethers

Posted in Friendships, Knitting, Weather, Women at 8:50 am by Liliana


Girlfriend evening, January 13, 2010

Winter is here in earnest and by 5 pm it is already dark. The long evenings can be lonely and prohibitive. In places like Michigan it seems that those warm, sunny days belong to another world. Everyone has a list of things that they like to do to make their winter evenings pleasant and comfortable. My daughter, Nena, reads for hours and listens to music (frequently at the same time.) My son, Sam, plays computer games, talks to friends, and spends hours on facebook. My husband, Jeff, watches Pistons basketball games, reads or plays his guitar.

About once a week I feel that I must have warm, sunny, girl-friendly kind of company. I send an email to my group of closest friends: “Please come if you can!” And those who can show up around 7 pm for an evening of tea, quilting, knitting, and conversation.

Jelena might bring fresh flowers or a box of raspberries. Nancy might bring her own tea (she doesn’t like mine).  Ann will bake some warm cookies and Cathy will bring one of her intricate knitting projects. Margaret might bring chocolates and Jan a box of sweets. Martha, and my sister, Branka, will bring jokes, stories and lots of laughter.

We huddle on soft chairs around my old coffee table, cradling white china cups in our hands. The tea is fragrant, the light soft, the atmosphere kind. We are good friends and have known each other for a long time. No one has to pretend to be someone that they are not. We can all take our protective armor off, and tell each other our worries and our joys. We feel timeless – a group of women on a cold winter night, sitting around a table, sharing life. I wouldn’t trade those evenings for the sunniest day!