November 16, 2010


Posted in Children, Family, Pets tagged , , , , , , , at 7:59 am by Liliana



When my kids were little, we got a cat. Nena (two years old at the time) chose him from all the other cats at the Humane Society. His name was Dexter.

Jeff loved the name because it reminded him of Dexter Gordon. The rest of us liked the name because it seemed to fit him perfectly.

Dexter was a large, muscular tomcat with a serious face, sweet disposition and a sly sense of humor. He loved the kids, showed  them limitless patience, followed them to school. A fierce and fearless hunter Dexter spent his nights prowling outside and was the king of our neighborhood.

Ten years passed. Dexter got older, but his interests stayed the same. The kids grew, their interests changed, but they and their friends still spent a lot of time in our basement. Dexter, considering himself one of the guys, hung out with them.

One Saturday morning, Mike told me that he was worried about Dexter. Our cat seemed listless and tired, and didn’t care to go outside at night. I went to the basement to check. Dexter looked at me sadly, hardly able to lift his head. I called the vet. They told me to bring him in.

The vet checked Dexter out and told me that his heart was diseased, and he didn’t have much to live. They recommended putting him to sleep that very day.

Everyone was busy that Saturday morning, with soccer, ballet lessons, part time jobs. But I knew that we had to say good bye to Dexter.

Jeff had taken Nena to her ballet lesson. I called him and explained the situation. He said that he and Nena would stop at home, pick up my mom and Sam, and come with everyone to the vet’s office. Mike was working at a bagel store in the neighborhood. I called him and he said he would come in a few minutes. I called my sister Branka. She said she’d come over with Nicole right away. She called Joe who had taken Sasha to a soccer game. They all came.

I don’t think the people at the vet’s office had ever seen anything like it.

Here we were, an extended family, sitting around our cat, caressing him and crying. Everyone was crying. Dexter knew that he didn’t have long to live. He calmly lay in the middle of our family circle, licking hands with the bit of energy that he could still muster.

We stayed for a long time and then we left.

The next day, a beautiful bouquet of flowers was delivered to our house. It was from the vet.


April 29, 2010

Full House

Posted in Children, Family, Home, Pets tagged , at 7:08 am by Liliana

Busy House

Busy House

Sometime this week, my sister Branka, brother-in-law Joe, niece Nicole, nephew Sasha, and their Siberia Husky Kaya, will be moving into our house.

Joe lost his job in the book industry, and is going back to graduate school to become a high school teacher. They are renting their house out, and moving in with us for about a year. Last night we were laughing about it. I said something like – “Not too many families have done this and lived to tell the tale,” when my husband Jeff stopped me. Always logical, he pointed out that we haven’t lived through this experiment yet; in fact, we are only on the very cusp of starting it.

In any case, it will be interesting, the summer especially. Jeff and I have three children of our own, although Mike and Nena are about to embark on their own adventures. Mike will spend the summer at home, but will be starting law school on the East Coast in the fall. Nena is graduating from college this June and, freshly engaged to a young soul mate named Peter, is planning to move to New Orleans in the fall. They will come to visit, but will mostly spend this summer in our cottage on Lake Michigan. Sam, our youngest, is still in high school and will be home for the next year and a half.

My nephew Sasha is graduating from college together with Nena. He got an impressive community organizing job and will travel and work (who knows where) for the next three years. He will only spend a few weeks with us this summer, and then come for visits. Nicole is starting college this fall (although she still hasn’t made up her mind on where she’s going.) She is taking over Nena’s room for the summer.

Also, we will be having visitors. Mike’s girlfriend Karen will stay with us for a few weeks. Grandparents from Florida will join us to celebrate graduations, engagements, etc. Friends will be coming from Chicago and Alaska.

It is probably impossible for anyone not related to us to keep this family tree straight. To put it simply, summer will be chaos. I myself am not sure who is coming, who is going, and who is staying for how long. But in September, the house will seem awfully quiet. It will be one boy, one dog, and four adults.

April 14, 2010

Kaya at the Lake

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


Kaya as a puppy

My family and I spent a few days at our cottage near Lake Michigan. Kaya, my sister’s dog, came with us.

Kaya is a two year old Siberian Husky, taupe and caramel colored, with bright blue eyes. If Silver was a sensitive soul and Bella more intelligent and aware than many humans, Kaya is the kind of dog who loves everybody and everything and needs constant company. She also likes to be the continual center of attention.

On Friday, I woke up early to a sunny, blue-skied, but windy and chilly morning. I had a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal and hoped to snuggle under a warm blanket and read for hours while the rest of the house slept. But Kaya had other plans. She came over and sat down right in front of me and stared at my face with beseeching eyes. She knew I understood what she wanted.

After a few minutes, I couldn’t take the pressure any longer. I gave her the rest of my coffee and oatmeal and went upstairs to get dressed. I put on two pairs of pants, two sweaters, and a warm fleece jacket. I found my sunglasses and Kaya’s leash. She howled with joy.

We walked out into the sharp wind and the cold sunlight with Kaya leading the way. She knew the direction to the lake and kept lifting her nose and sniffing the wind like a scout. We crossed the bridge, and when she saw the lake in front of us, I had to hold on tightly as she pulled along.

The water was dark green, foaming with waves; the sky above was bright blue with white downy clouds. We had miles of beach on either side of us and no one around. Kaya stuck her nose into the sand like an ostrich, and then kicked the sand high into the air and all over me. Kaya is like that – she has an amazing sense of humor. Another thing that makes her different is her love of water. Unlike most huskies, Kaya runs into the water freely, and has no fear of getting wet.

Kaya and I played on that cold Lake Michigan beach like we had no cares in the world. We ran. We raced. We found an old tennis ball and played fetch, again and again and again. She pulled me through the water and the sand and I held on to her leash for dear life. We were both wet, sandy, cold and sore.

Back at the cottage, I washed the sand off the ball, dried it carefully and gave it to Kaya as she snuggled up for a nap. I took a long, hot bath.

March 29, 2010

Missing Silver

Posted in Children, Family, Holidays, Home, Pets tagged , , at 5:30 am by Liliana

Nena and Silver - 1996

Nena and Silver - 1996

The screensaver on my home computer has a picture of Silver and every time I look at it – I feel her silky fur under my hand. Silver died a few months ago, at fourteen years of age – a remarkably long life for a Siberian Husky. It was a happy life. We got her one Christmas when she was a tiny puppy, her ears so large that she tripped over them.

Joe and Branka wanted to get a puppy for Sasha and I went with them to help them choose the right one. At the breeders, we met a family of huskies. The mother, Star, was anxious and suspicious when she saw us. The father, Storm, was watchful but friendly. The eight puppies were – what can I say? Running, playing, wrestling, nibbling and licking everything in sight. Bella was the largest puppy in the litter and the prettiest one. She and Branka fell in love the moment they saw each other, two alpha females who appreciated each other’s strengths and personalities.

The moment we brought Bella home, pandemonium ensued. Everyone loved Bella and my kids had to have a husky of their own; and frankly, so did I (and Jeff, too, although he tried to be restrained.) The very next day, we were at the breeder’s again. By now, Star and Storm were a little more at ease with us, the puppies just as crazy with joy. Jeff liked a little blue eyed boy, but I had already noticed Silver. Silver was the runt, the smallest dog in the pack. An awkward little girl with soulful brown eyes, long ears, and shy demeanor, I knew that she needed me and I needed her. She was our dog.

Silver became an integral  part of our family. She and Sam (he was three at the time) licked lollipops together. Nena took her to school for show and tell. Mike chased her all over the neighborhood when she ran away. We all loved Silver.

We miss her now. Whenever we eat, if we are having steak for dinner, Jeff will mention how much Silver would have enjoyed the leftovers. I go for walks by myself these days. When kids come home from their various escapades around the world, Silver is not there to greet them and get excited. When our friends come over (especially the ones who broke the rules and fed her goodies under the table), well, they mention how sad they are that Silver is not around. We are grieving, but memories of her bring us joy.

March 26, 2010

Family Life

Posted in Children, Cleaning, Family, Home, Pets tagged , , at 7:05 am by Liliana

Joe, Branka, Jeff, Liliana - 1982

Joe, Branka, Jeff, Liliana - 1982

My sister and I are married to two brothers.

Jeff and I met first. I was in graduate school in St. Louis, his hometown, and one of my roommates introduced us. We were married a year later. His younger brother, Joe, was the best man at our wedding. My younger sister, Branka, was the maid of honor. The younger siblings danced at the wedding and seemed to like each other, but they were both in college and in other relationships. Three years later Branka (then a high school teacher) spent her summer vacation with us. She and Joe (a public radio DJ at the time) went to movies, jazz concerts and walks by the Mississippi River. By August, they were engaged.

Over the years, we have mostly lived in close proximity to each other. Our Siberian Huskies (Bella and Silver) were sisters. Our children are close in age and devoted to each other. Nena and Sasha attend the same college. Nicole and Sam share teenage angst and have double dates. Mike teases them all indiscriminately.

Now that Joe will be losing his job in May, the closeness of our families will be tested even more. Joe has decided to go back to school, get his MA and become a high school English and French teacher. To make this plan possible, they have chosen to rent out their house, and move in with us. Our house is fairly spacious, but we’ll have to organize the space carefully, so that everyone has the privacy they need.

For the last month we have been preparing Joe and Branka’s house for renters. Everyone has been doing their part: painting, cleaning, moving furniture, fixing things that were broken, preparing food for the workers, etc. Sasha and Nicole have expressed sadness about leaving their childhood home, but really, for the most part all of us have been upbeat. We are excited about Joe going back to school and doing what he loves. We are happy that we have each other to help now that the need has arisen. It won’t be easy, we all know that. Some of us are very private, some very extroverted, but we are all willing to find a balance and make it work.

You might remember my sister’s dining room table. Well, it is now in my dining room and will stay there until Joe and Branka are ready to move to another place. No one thought for a second that the table could be left behind. We took our set to the basement and my sister’s Amish table and chairs are again the hearth of our family get-togethers.

February 2, 2010

Good bye, Silver!

Posted in Pets tagged at 1:52 pm by Liliana

Silver and her family

Silver and her family

Silver got worse through  the last few weeks, and we all realized that the end was coming near. The night before last, I took our husky for a walk, one last time.

She got excited as soon as she saw me putting on my tennis shoes. When I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk, she howled like a wolf, pretending to be tough and fierce. It was a bitterly cold night, streets covered with snow, and Silver was happy. We walked through the schoolyard, past the little park where she ran as a puppy, and then thought the woods. She sniffed animal tracks and  joyfully looked for rabbits and squires. She buried her nose in the snowdrifts, then got excited and started running in circles, chasing her own tail. We walked by all our favorite places and didn’t rush home.

She was exhausted when we got back, and for the first time in a long while she quietly curled up on her pillow and went to sleep.  Good bye, little princess!

January 8, 2010


Posted in Friendships, Pets at 3:24 pm by Liliana

Our dog Silver

Silver - January 3, 2010

I live in Michigan, one of the least happy states in the Union. The weather is cold, overcast and gray. We had a nasty snowstorm yesterday. The weekend is supposed to bring sub zero temperatures to most of the country. The holidays are over, and there isn’t much to look forward to for the next few months.

Our dog Silver is fourteen years old, and has been a large part of our family for as many years. She is a Siberian Husky and is a beautiful dog. But she has tumors all over her body, and is in pain and very unhappy. She doesn’t have long to live.

Jeff and I emailed the children and told them about Silver’s condition. They are reluctant to believe that things are this bad. It’s hard to imagine the world without this beloved friend. Still, they can’t pretend, and they want to be fair to Silver. “Do what has to be done,” they write back. Silver loves coffee with cream and sugar, so Nena tells me to let her have as much as she likes. This gives me an idea.

I will invite my best girlfriends to my house tomorrow. Silver loves to sit with us while we talk and knit and drink tea. She has always considered herself one of the group. I will bring out the good china, some delicious spice cookies, tea and coffee. In a lovely white saucer I will crumble some cookies, and pour over them  plenty of creamy, sweet coffee. We will enjoy being together for a bit longer and maybe the day will seem a little warmer.


Silver enjoying crepes with coffee - Sunday, January 10th


Branka and Joe, as well as Ann, Cathy and Jelena came over on Sunday afternoon. It was a lovely, sunny day and it was good to sit in our dining room and talk and knit. We drank tea and coffee and ate cherry pie and “palachinke” a type of Serbian crepes.

And Silver? Well, she was restless, but happy to see her friends. We showered her with love, caresses, attention, and food. I cut up three crepes in a fancy plate and poured syrup and coffee with cream and sugar on top.  Silver enjoyed every bite and the plate was sparkly when she was done!