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 20, 2011

To Color or Not to Color

Posted in Breast Cancer, Family, Women tagged , , at 8:01 am by Liliana

My sister Branka

My sister Branka

I am fifty one years old. I have streaks of gray hair.

My hair is naturally dark brown, almost black. It has reddish overtones. Streaks of gray appeared when I was in my late thirties and without really thinking much about it, I started to color my hair. No matter what color I used, it always turned washed out red. I didn’t like the look, but coloring one’s hair seemed to be the thing to do.

Every woman my age colors her hair, right?

After my breast cancer diagnosis, I decided to let the gray grow out. And I have. For the last five years, I have not colored my hair.

My hair is very fine, very straight, and does not have much body. If I could choose any type of hair that this world has to offer, this would not be the type I would choose. But it is what it is

The fact is, even thought I have lots of gray, it really isn’t that obvious. The black, brown and reddish overtones seem to camouflage it naturally. So, people hardly ever bring up the topic, and I have been able to stay under the radar.

My sister, two years younger than I, always had thick, wavy, gloriously rich honey brown hair. When we were young girls, Branka had long, thick braids that I pulled mercilessly because I was jealous of the admiration they incited.

Now, Branka’s hair is still thick and rich, but it is also gray. Last year she decided to stop coloring. She got a short, snappy, modern haircut.

Wherever she went women complimented her and thought that she looked fabulous. Women admired her courage.

The men thought she looked old. They didn’t like it. They told her she looked better with her hair colored.

Our family from Europe was relentless it its assault. “You look old and sick,” was the consistent message buzzing over the ocean.

She resisted for months.

My sister works as a part time interpreter and patient advocate at a large university hospital. She is hoping to get a full time job and she goes to a lot of job interviews.

She felt that people talked to her differently and that her chances of getting a full time job diminished with her hair gray. Tired of all the fuss and all the commentary the topic fermented, she finally capitulated.

She colored her hair.

She claims that her hair will be gray again the moment she can do what she really wants to do.

I think she looks fabulous either way.  I just wish the choice of whether to color her own hair, or not, was left entirely up to her.

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.


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.


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.


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.


September 17, 2010


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 10, 2010

The Best Years

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Family, Women tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:33 am by Liliana

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

My grandmother lived to be ninety five years old. Throughout the years, whenever she talked about people who happened to be her age at that particular moment, she would make a comment – “they are enjoying the best year of their lives!”

For my grandmother, every year of one’s life was the very best year.

It took me a long time to understand what she meant, but I think that I am getting there.

Many years of my life were painful and difficult and did not seem enjoyable at the time. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. My sister almost died from pulmonary embolism. My family in Yugoslavia  lived through tragedy, violence and hardships. I was sick with cancer.

But when I look back on all this, all these misfortunes, together with all the joys, construct a picture of my life. I would not be who I am without them. I hope that I have learned from them to be a better person.

One thing I do know – I am much more compassionate, accepting and kind. To my family, friends, strangers, the world around me. And to myself.

Today I am fifty one years old. Happy birthday to me!


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?


July 24, 2010

Natural Face Masks

Posted in Health, Women tagged , , , at 5:45 am by Liliana

Natural beauty secrets

Natural beauty secrets

If you have a free, leisurely afternoon this summer, do something nice for yourself.

Make yourself a tall glass of iced tea. Then mix one of these natural facial masks to make your face clear and beautiful. Sit on a comfortable chair, read a magazine or a good book, and relax.

Here is a list of well known natural combinations for nurturing beautiful skin.

Just mash the ingredients together and let the mixture sit on your face for 10-15 minutes.

  • Apple & Honey & Oatmeal
  • Avocado & Honey
  • Banana &  Plain Yogurt & Honey
  • Brown Sugar & Milk
  • Strawberries & Cream & Honey
  • Egg Yolk & Honey & Olive Oil
  • Oatmeal & Olive Oil
  • Cucumber & Yogurt & Strawberries & Honey
  • Blended Almonds & Honey & Egg White
  • Baking Soda & Water
  • Apricots & Milk
  • Lemon & Egg & Honey

Do you have any natural beauty secrets you might like to share?


Next page