December 17, 2010

Train Dreamscapes

Posted in Travel tagged , , , , at 7:52 am by Liliana

Train Dreamscapes

Train Dreamscapes

I love trains.

When I feel the need to escape the limitations and constrains of everyday life, I imagine going on one of the great train routes.

On a frozen morning in Michigan, while driving to work, I might board the Orient Express in Paris, and single out Istanbul as my destination.

I will sit in a luxurious mahogany train car with plush, comfortable seats, and look out the window for hours on end. I will wear a large, elegant hat. I might visit the dining car for a cup of cappuccino and an almond croissant. When we pass through the old Belgrade train station, so familiar to me, the train master will shout loudly, “Beograd!” I will resist the temptation to get off.

If I feel more adventurous, I will board the Trans-Siberian in Moscow and enjoy the great Russian expense for six days and six nights, until I arrive in Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.

I will contemplate the never ending, snowy forests, and silent, treeless steppes. My traveling companions will tell stories. We will sing sad, Russian ballads and someone will play the balalaika. At night I will be lulled to sleep in my sleeper by the gentle chugging of the locomotive.

If my need for sun and warmth overtakes other considerations, I might decide on a whim to take the Indian Pacific and explore the Australian wilderness. For three days, on my ride between Sydney and Perth, I will sit in a sunny spot by the window and observe the arid, red sandstone desert landscape, the lush gorges of the Blue Mountains, the abandoned, petrified ghost towns.

And just before we reach Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, I would be arriving at work.

A new day has started. Train travel will have to wait until tomorrow.

Advertisements

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 9, 2010

William and the Lions

Posted in Family, Food, Friendships, Traditions, Travel tagged , , , , , , at 7:57 am by Liliana

William (in red) and his Family in Kenya

William (in red) and his Family in Kenya

Last summer, I wrote about William, an exchange student from Kenya  who is spending this year with my friends Ann and Ray and their children here in Michigan.

William belongs to the Masai tribe and lives near the Masai Mara National Park in south-western Kenya. His parents are farmers and he is the tenth of eleven children. William is seventeen years old and a high school senior. This is his first trip ever outside his country.

We recently had Ann, Ray and William join our family and a number of friends for dinner and conversation.

There were fifteen of us around the table. We had vegetable soup, roasted lamb, roasted potatoes, salads, bread. For dessert, we had coffee, tea and a selection of fruit pies.

William had mentioned that goat is his favorite meat but I had never cooked goat so I settled for lamb. William loved lamb. He said it reminded him of Africa.

William and his Mother

William and his Mother

After dinner, while the adults sat around the table and talked, William and Sam (my youngest son) went to the basement, played pool and listened to music.

Sam has the impression that William is having a wonderful time in the US. He is keeping up with his studies, enjoys playing soccer on his high school team, and has made new friends. And, according to Sam, he is a very good pool player.

Later in the evening, we all gathered in our family room, and William treated us to a power point presentation about his family, the Masai culture and about Kenya.

William showed us pictures of his mother, his brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and the extended family. He told us everyone’s names. He showed us pictures of the huts his family lives in and told us about their daily lives.

And then, William told us what it takes to become a Masai warrior.

It takes years of training, discipline, learning from one’s elders, listening, facing one’s fears and learning to overcome those fears.

And it takes going on a lion hunt with the rest of the warriors. Every warrior has a role to play and a rank in the community of hunters. The hunters surround the lion in a circle. Those who are young and weak and afraid, attract the lion’s attention. Those who are strong and brave and experienced, attack the lion with their spears. Those who kill the lion protect the community. They are praised, admired and revered.

William has chosen different, less traditional kinds of challenges than his brothers. But to us, sitting in a circle and listening to him, he seemed just as brave and composed as the bravest of the lion hunters.

For who can say what courage it takes to leave one’s mother, one’s family and tribe, and go face the strange and unfamiliar world?

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.

November 30, 2010

This Time of Year

Posted in Children, Family, Holidays, Home tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:52 am by Liliana

Winter Evenings

Winter Evenings

I love this time of year – the interval between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

I know, I know.

The weather is cold, the traffic gridlocked and people complain about stress and consumerism.

Everyone is frenzied and over-hyped and busy shopping.

Sentimental holiday movies and Christmas elevator music surround us like a plastic bubble.

I don’t care.

I love the energy, the festivity of it all.

I love that the children are coming home – from college and law school and various jobs around the country. I love preparing the house for them, baking, starting a big pot of chicken soup. We sit in our warm, fragrant house, watching movies while wrapped in soft blankets.

On a Saturday morning, someone will run out and buy a Christmas tree. If Nena and I go, we will spend most of the morning looking, our hands and cheeks raw and cold, and our tree will be crooked and dry. We always seem to buy the one that no one else wants. If Jeff and Sam go, they will buy the first tree they see, and it will be fresh and balanced and perfect.

On Main Street, trees are covered in tiny yellow lights, flickering like lightning bugs.

I fall for those lights every time. During these fifty years of my life, I have been unable to build up any resistance at all.

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Iroquois Prayer

Posted in Holidays, Traditions tagged , , , at 8:01 am by Liliana

Iroquois Indian

Iroquois Indian

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.

We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.

We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.

We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.

We return thanks to the sun, that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.

Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of Her children.

November 20, 2010

Earliest Memories

Posted in Children, Family, Serbia, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:46 am by Liliana

Me - two years old

Me - two years old. Nena thinks I resemble a little alien.

My memories are frequently unreliable, mercurial.

They are not rock-like and immovable like granite, but fluid and restless like silk.

They are not to be trusted. Especially those early, childhood memories.

Still, I hold on to them like a child holds on to a beloved mother. Some I cherish, tend to and caress. I find solace and support in them. When I revisit them, every once in a while, I hope that they will be familiar, recognizable. Not too altered.

Someone recently asked me what my earliest memory was. I thought and thought and came to a moment that I hadn’t visited in a very long time.

I journeyed in my mind to a time when I was little, not even two years old. I know this was my approximate age, because my sister was not born yet, and I was twenty two months old when she was born.

My mother, father and I had gone to visit my father’s family in the little Serbian village where they had lived for generations. It was wintertime. My father was wearing a large, soft suede jacket. He had placed me on his chest, buttoned up the jacket and there I was lying, quiet as a mouse, hiding.

My grandfather, my grandmother, my uncles, everyone there, came out to greet us and were asking where I was. Everyone pretended that they didn’t know and went along with game.

“Where is Lilia?” they asked. “We left her back in Belgrade,” my mother and father said.

I lay quietly on my father’s chest, listening to the ticking of his heart, pleased that no one knew that I was there. I was elated to have tricked them all.

But then I became sad. Inconsolably sad. I started to believe that my parents had really left me in Belgrade. I thought of myself all alone in our house while my parents visited the family in the village.

I felt very sorry for myself. How could my parents leave me behind?

I started to wail.

My father unbuttoned the jacket and took me out. Everyone gathered around me, shouting “Here is Lilia, she has not been left behind after all!”

And while my family embraced me, kissed me, passed me from hand to hand, delighted in my presence, I gave a great sigh of relief.

How glorious to be among them, not to be left behind!

November 16, 2010

Dexter

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

Dexter

Dexter

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.

November 12, 2010

Update on Communal Living

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Home tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:57 am by Liliana

Dinner Together

Dinner Together

Friends have been asking how my family is handling the pressures of communal living.

The five of – my sister Branka, her husband Joe, my husband Jeff, my youngest son Sam and I – have been living together since last May.

Branka and Joe have rented their house out, and moved in with us until Joe completes a graduate degree and becomes a teacher.

I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself, but I think things have been wonderful.

Not that there hasn’t been conflict.

In fact, frequently there are flare-ups.

Branka and Jeff are the most similar and the most contrasting personalities in the household. They frequently disagree about things and they are not shy about expressing their opinions. But most of the time, they get along just fine. They do most of the grocery shopping and they alternate cooking duties. Often, they try to outdo each other with innovative and creative gourmet dishes. Jeff makes amazing chili, delicious glazed salmon, and perfect fried rice. Branka bakes bread, apricot and puppy seed strudel and makes the best baklava in the world. I can’t remember when we ever ate this well.

For Sam, a senior in high school, it isn’t easy having four adults around. He has his own room, he has the basement to invite his friends to, but still, there isn’t much privacy. Sometimes, it’s hard for Sam when we all start asking questions about his grades, his friends, his activities.

But most of the time, he has an advantage. There is delicious food around the house, someone usually does his laundry, and he is never lonesome.

Joe studies all the time. He doesn’t have a favorite studying spot but likes to move around. He has a desk in the office and he has a desk in his room. But he likes to be with the rest of us so he spreads his books on the dining room table, across from Sam, and often the two of them can be found working together there. Most evenings when we say good night, Joe is studying. Most mornings when the household is just starting to wake up, Joe is studying. I don’t know how he does it. But I have never seen him happier.

I love going home after work to a full house. By then, dinner is already done. The fragrance of spaghetti sauce or chicken noodle soup fills the air. The table is set. We sit and eat. We share food and time and each other’s company. We catch up on the events of the day.

Most evenings, before it gets dark, Branka and I take Kaya for a walk. The leaves have fallen, the air is cold and crisp, and Kaya doesn’t know what to do from joy and excitement. This is her season.

We walk, we talk. How many sisters have the opportunity to share their time like this?

November 8, 2010

The Pink House

Posted in Home tagged , , , , , , , at 7:17 pm by Liliana

The Pink House

The Pink House

My family and I have been living in the same house for eighteen years. It is a good house and suits us well. The square footage of the house is not extravagant, but it has many rooms so each family member has a quiet, private niche. The house is full of colors that we love, colors that make us comfortable and happy.

Our dinning room is terra cota red, the living room is sea foam gray, the kitchen light green. My bedroom is dusty blue, the guest room sunrise yellow. We have adapted the space to suit our needs and made this house thoroughly our own.

I remember the first time Jeff and I saw the house.

When the real estate agent stopped in front of the building, Jeff didn’t want to come out of the car. Not because it was dilapidated or haunted looking. No, the house was in excellent shape, well cared for. But it was completely pink. Pepto-Bismol pink. In cold, dark, overcast Midwestern atmosphere, as close to Canada as one can get, the house stood out. And not in an agreeable way.

It did not fit the climate, the town or the neighborhood. And to put it simply, the house was ugly.

Its outside appearance was only the beginning.

Of course I made Jeff go inside. I was curious.

The inside was also a sea of pink. Every room was either painted deep pink or had heavy, pink vinyl wallpaper. The ceilings were pink. The kitchen counter was pink. The appliances and the ceramic tiles were avocado green. As were the heavy carpets that covered every inch of floor space.

The house had many rooms, big windows, and elegantly proportioned living spaces. Under the carpets, we were told that hardwood floors were hiding. I knew there was potential. And I also knew that we could get it for a good price. Who else was foolish enough to buy a house this bizarre?

Jeff was nervous. It was hard for him to see beyond the ostentatious colors. And he was worried that with three young kids (one of whom was a baby) we just didn’t have the time to take on so much work. He asked me if I could live with these colors. I said I could.

I thought I could.

But once we actually moved in, I couldn’t take it. I didn’t feel comfortable in these rooms. And I was terribly embarrassed every time we had visitors.

So one day that November, eighteen years ago, two weeks after we moved in, my mother, sister and I, set to work. We attacked the living room first, then one room after another. We pealed wallpaper, pulled down faux-marbled mirror panels, painted walls and cabinets, stripped the carpets. We painted everything white, not because it is my favorite color, but because I needed a clean slate. It took months to get rid of the pink walls, and years to get rid of all evidence of what the house once was.

That first summer, we had the exterior painted a light gray. Our neighbors came over and thanked us gratefully.

Previous page · Next page