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.

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January 17, 2011

My Sheltering Chair

Posted in Books, Children, Family, Home, Weather tagged , , , , , , , , , at 7:49 am by Liliana

My Reading Chair

My Sheltering Chair

All around the world, people have been assaulted with extreme weather. Snowstorms on the East Coast, ice storms in the South. Intense cold in Europe, terrible floods in Australia and Brazil. Warming temperatures in Antarctica.

We, here in Michigan, have been dealing with darkness, low temperatures, snow and ice. Driving on dark, snowy, ice-patchy  highway every morning has been taking its toll on my nerves.

In this kind of weather the large, cozy, green chair in my living room is my favorite place in the world. Sitting in the confines of this sheltering chair is like being embraced by my grandfather.

We bought the chair years ago, when the kids were little and it has withstood years of use and abuse. One arm has been noticeably bent since Mike, Sasha and Sam wrestled on it and caused a bit of damage to the frame. The silky velor fabric has thinned out in most used places. The back pillow has lost some of its feathers.

Still, the chair is as soft, warm and comfortable as a beloved old robe. It sits in front of a shelf of books that covers one wall of our living room. Books that various family members have accumulated over many years line the shelves. Jeff’s college editions of Plato and Nietzsche are there. Mike’s South American history and travel books. My childhood paperback copies of Mark Twain and a hardcover collection of Pushkin. Nena has lately been buying books for the beauty of their covers so we have some unusual editions of Emily Dickinson, John Cheever and Dostoevsky.

In front of the books are many framed pictures. There is one of Mike as a young boy carrying baby Sam on his back. Sam is dressed in a clown costume. There is one of five year old Nicky and her uncle Jeff, the niece lovingly holding her head on her uncle’s shoulder. From a light wooden frame, six year old Nena is grinning while swinging a baseball bat. She is wearing an official team t-shirt and ruffled polka-dot shorts. Sasha and his mother are smiling from a graduation photo. My mother is dreamily gazing into the distance as a sixteen year old girl in an old black and white photograph.

When I sit in that chair with a cup of coffee in my hand, I feel I can face the day. The shelf behind me, and the memories it holds, gives me energy and the courage to forge ahead into the darkness of the cold morning.

 

January 10, 2011

Winter Afternoons

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

There’s a certain Slant of light

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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 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.

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 8, 2010

Extreme Weather

Posted in Holidays, Weather tagged , , , , , , , , , at 7:17 pm by Liliana

Extreme Weather

Extreme Weather

My family and I spent last week at our cottage near Lake Michigan. It was a relaxing, quiet week.

The first few days were hot and humid. The lake water was warm and I spent hours swimming or walking on the beach.  I tried reading but the heat was oppressive and all I wanted to do was nap. I sat or lay in the sun and went in and out of sleep. It was hard to imagine that any other kind of weather had ever enveloped this lake. Summer heat was the only reality we knew.

On Thursday evening there was a large and violent storm. The rain poured out of water-logged skies. Thunder shook our cottage and lightening illuminated the windows. Curtains manically danced in the wind as did papers, books and anything caught in the breeze.

I am not afraid of storms, in fact I love them. But this storm was so powerful and out of control, it made me uneasy. I stayed awake for a long time, keeping vigil over my family.

As we slowly started moving around the cottage the following morning, we seemed to have entered an entirely new season. The house was cold. Not a little cold, not just a bit chilly, but brisk in a way we have not had a chance to get accustomed to. I pulled on a pair of pants, a sweatshirt and a sweater. Nena put on a pair of her softest, warmest socks.

Sam suggested that we turn on the heat. It seemed to me a preposterous idea to turn the heat on when only the day before we were bemoaning the fact that our cottage had no air-conditioning. But finally, I relented. We turned the thermostat to sixty eight and right away, we all felt more comfortable. We spent the day inside, on couches, under blankets, reading and watching movies.

I cannot remember that I have ever witnessed such a sudden transition of extremes. It’s hard to know how to interpret all these changes.

August 18, 2010

Summer

Posted in Weather tagged , , , at 8:33 am by Liliana

Summer fruit

Summer fruit

The writer Henry James said:

“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Who of us could disagree?

But I also love summer morning and midday, evening and night. Every part of a summer day has its own charms and delights. And every language has a beautiful word for this enchanting season.

Here is a sampling:

  • English – summer
  • Estonian – suvi
  • Filipino – tag-init
  • French – été
  • German – sommer
  • Hungarian – nyár
  • Icelandic – sumar
  • Indonesian – musim panas
  • Irish – samhradh
  • Italian- estate
  • Latvian – vasara
  • Romanian- vară
  • Serbian – leto
  • Swahili – majira
  • Turkish – yaz
  • Vietnamese – mùa hè
  • Welsh – haf

August 16, 2010

Transitions

Posted in Weather tagged , , , , , , at 9:37 am by Liliana

Lightning bug

Lightning bug

Height of summer.

Last week was unrelentingly hot and humid and even taking an evening walk has not been a pleasant activity.

And yet… Even at this moment when summer is at its peak, when crickets are flustered from their wing flapping song and dance, when the markets are overflowing with the bounty of ripeness and sweetness, I notice transition in the air.

Now, when I take Kaya for a walk, I observe subtle changes of color and dry, crunchy leaves underfoot. The sounds nature makes, especially at night, are frenzied and joyously celebratory. The languid slowness of early summer is gone.

The hot wind has an abundant, smoky and heavy essence, as though it is aggregating seeds of all things alive, and safeguarding them for next year.

When I wake up in the morning, the sky is dark, the days visibly shorter. I feel that I need to start soaking up the sunlight in preparation for the grayness of winter.

When I was a child, I would get deeply saddened by the passing of summer. I loved summer and wanted to hold it tightly in my fist and never let it go. Even though I loved fall and winter, I found transitions difficult and distressing. I didn’t want good things to pass.

Now, I find that it is those very changes and transitions that I embrace. Instead of fighting the winds and peddling against the current, I try to use the strength of change to propel me forward.

I try.

It doesn’t mean that I am not tempted, every once in a while, to want to catch a lightning bug and hold it captive in a mason jar.

August 6, 2010

Going Home

Posted in Children, Home, Travel, Weather tagged , , , at 7:53 am by Liliana

New York City

New York City

My family immigrated to the US in the summer of 1973.

We got off the “boat” (airplane in our case) on the night of June 30th.

All around us New York was boiling in luminescence, heat and humidity. We didn’t know where to look.

A family friend waited for us at the Kennedy Airport and drove us to their house in Queens.

My parents, sister and I were jet-lagged, dazed, overwhelmed, frightened.

What was this world we had landed in?

What kind of place was this enormous, sprawling, ear-splitting, airless, labyrinthine mosaic of a city?

Home.

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