May 31, 2010

Learning by Heart

Posted in Books, Children, Family, Serbia, Traditions tagged , , , , , , , at 7:30 am by Liliana

Battle of Kosovo

The Battle of Kosovo

I grew up in a family of storytellers, but the best storyteller by far was my grandfather, Nikola. A shy and tender man, always a perfect gentleman, he entertained his grandchildren with stories and wondrous recitals of Serbian epic poetry. Every story and poem he told us was from memory. I never saw him read a book but I know that my love of books and literature descend directly from the creative mind of this gentle man.

My earliest memories are of us (a number of very young grandchildren) begging our grandfather to tell us a fable or recite a poem about the heroic battles of the glorious Serbs fighting the Ottoman Turks. My grandfather loved children and even when he was extremely busy with the work of running a farm and taking care of his land, I never remember him refusing our requests.

Grandfather made a magical game out of every experience. On the spacious veranda of his old house, he would set little stools in a circle for us to sit on, settle in the middle of our group and start a poem. Transported in a second, we left the village on the wings of my grandfather’s rhymes and floated to the heroic adventures of Serbian medieval warriors.

Knights, ladies, silk gowns, gold, honor, swords, betrayal, vengeance, family, friendship, pride, love, death, Serbian valor, Turkish valor, history, Kosovo – those are the topics that fired our young imaginations. Told from memory, in predictable and well ordered rhyme, we knew all those poems by heart ourselves without even noticing that we have learned them.

They are still with me. They never left.

The Banquet on the Eve of the Battle
(a fragment)

Prince Lazar his patron saint doth honour

On the fair and pleasant field Kossovo,

With his lords is seated round the table

With his lords and with his youthful nobles

On his left the Jug Bogdan is seated,

And with him nine Jugovitch, nine brothers;

On his right Vuk Brankovitch is seated,

And the other lords in their due order;

Facing him is Milosh, that great warrior,

And with him two other Serbian leaders

Kossanchitch, and young Toplitza Milan.

Tsar Lazar lifts high the golden goblet,

Thus he speaks unto his Serbian nobles:

“Unto whom shall this my cup be emptied?

If it be old age that I should honour

Then, oh Jug Bogdan, I must now pledge you;

If it be high rank that I should honour

Then Vuk Brankovitch, I must now pledge you;

If the voice of feeling I should follow

To the Tsaritsa’s nine well-lov’d brothers

To the Jugovitch, my toast is owing;

If it beauty be that I should honour

Ivan Kossanchitch, I must now pledge you;

If heroic looks I now should honour

Then Toplitza Milan, I must pledge you;

If heroic deeds are to be toasted

I must drink to that great warrior Milosh,

I can surely pledge no other hero.

Milosh Obilitch, I drink to thee now,

To thy health, oh Milosh, friend and traitor!

Friend at first, but at the last a traitor.

When the battle rages fierce to-morrow

Thou wilt then betray me on Kossovo,

And wilt join the Turkish Sultan, Murad!

Drink with me, and pledge me deep, oh Milosh,

Drain the cup; I give it thee in token!”

To his feet leaps Milosh, that great warrior,

To the black earth bows himself, and answers:

“Tsar Lazar, for this thy toast I thank thee,

Thank thee for the toast and for the goblet,

But for those thy words I do not thank thee.

For—else may the truth be my undoing—

Never, Tsar Lazar, was I unfaithful,

Never have I been, and never will be.

And to-morrow I go to Kossovo

For the Christian faith to fight and perish.

At thy very knees there sits the traitor,

Covered by thy robes he drains the wine-cup,

’Tis Vuk Brankovitch, th’ accurséd traitor!

And when dawns the pleasant day to-morrow

We shall see upon the field, Kossovo,

Who to thee is faithful, and who faithless.

And I call Almighty God to witness

I will go to-morrow to Kossovo,

I will slay the Turkish Sultan, Murad,

And I’ll plant my foot upon his false throat;

And if God and fortune so befriend me,

I will take Vuk Brankovitch then captive,

Bind him to my battle-lance! Yea, tie him

As a woman ties hemp to her distaff,

And I’ll drag him with me to Kossovo.”

This is a fragment of a famous epic poem about the “Last Supper” set on eve of the battle of Kosovo. The translation does not do it justice, but it is the best I could find.

Source: Serbian Epic Poetry


May 19, 2010

Blind Men and the Elephant

Posted in Children tagged , , , , , , , at 6:51 am by Liliana

Everyone holds a piece of the puzzle

Everyone holds a piece of the puzzle

I remember when my children were little they went through a period when they wanted me to read them only one book. Again and again and again.

It was a colorful, richly illustrated allegory based on an ancient Indian fable.

This is how the story went.

In a remote village in India, a number of blind men lived in a house together. They mostly got along, but sometimes they argued about the world around them. Each man felt he understood the nature of things better than the others.

One day, a mysterious traveler passed through their little village. The blind men offered him hospitality, and in return the traveler told them about a glorious and magical animal – an elephant. He hadn’t seen an elephant himself,  but he had heard that this animal was the wonder of the world. The blind men were intrigued. It was their greatest wish to touch an elephant and to understand what this glorious being was like.

Years passed. The men didn’t forget the elephant. In fact, as time went on their desire to touch this wonderful being grew greater and greater. And then, one day, their wish was fulfilled. A  caravan of merchants was passing near the village and the news spread quickly that an elephant was heading their convoy. The blind men sent word inquiring if they could visit the caravan and touch the elephant. The gracious merchants were pleased to grant their wish and invited them over for tea.

The blind men spent the entire day dressing in their finest clothes, preparing for the  meeting. In the afternoon, their guides took them to the field where the caravan was resting. They were well received. They had tea with the merchants and were then allowed to inspect the glorious elephant. It was a day full of excitement.

By evening they were back at their house. Tired from the drama of the day, they sat down for supper. Sitting around a large table, they started discussing and comparing their experiences. One man said, “Elephants are so interesting but I had no idea they were a huge long trunk!” “What”, said another man,” an elephant is not a trunk. An elephant is a giant ear.” “No, said another, an elephant is a huge leg.” “A huge head.” “A huge eye.” “A tail!”

Every man had touched one part of the elephant and thought that was the entire animal. Their servant’s little son, sitting near them heard them arguing. He had never seen the elephant himself, but while listening to them he had an idea.  “Maybe the elephant is the huge trunk, a giant ear a huge leg, an eye, and a tail, too.” The blind men stopped talking and listened to the boy. And they realized that he was right.

The glory of the elephant was in their willingness to share and combine their visions, and experience the elephant through each other’s eyes. Everyone held a piece of the puzzle.

March 20, 2010

My Little Reader

Posted in Books, Children, Family tagged , , , , , at 7:12 am by Liliana

Nena - my little reader

Nena - my little reader

When my children were young, we had a little, green, two-shelf bookcase in our family room. It was low enough for the kids to to reach anything they wanted to take, and it was full of colorful picture books. All three of my children love books. But while Mike and Sam love to read in order to acquire new information, for Nena books and stories are an end in themselves. Long before she could read, the pictures, letters and sounds of words themselves captured her imagination.

As a toddler, Nena would come down from her room early in the mornings, and the first thing she did was pad over to the little green bookcase. She would take out as many books as she could, make a little mound and sit on top of it. Then, comfortable and happy, she would pull books out from under her bottom, one at the time. She would look at pictures, and tell or sing to herself what she believed to be the story. If she wanted more information, she would bring it to her dad or to me, settle herself in our laps and patiently listen while we read. Nena could sit like this for hours.

Nena hasn’t changed her attitude towards books over the years. Books are her portal to a world that few of us can see or imagine. She is twenty one years old now, and about to graduate from college. Frequently, when she comes home to visit, I will find her in her room. All around her, there will be piles of books and she will sit in the middle of them, that dreamy, faraway look still in her eyes.

March 10, 2010

More News of Avery

Posted in Cancer, Children, Health, tagged , at 7:57 am by Liliana

Avery, the birthday girl

Avery, the birthday girl

Avery is recovering from her surgery and chemo treatments. She has always been a happy and easy-going baby,  and now that she is feeling better, she just plays all day long.

A few days ago, her aunt Alana took Avery’s big brother, Austin, to his soccer game while Avery and her parents went out for date night. Once they were finished with dinner, they came to watch the rest of Austin’s game. Avery was friendly to everyone, talking and smiling, going to people and sitting on their laps. All the soccer parents were captivated with her beauty, cheerfulness, friendliness and intelligence. Wherever she goes, Avery makes people happy.

Avery’s doctors are hopeful and positive about her future health and progress. To be safe, they will do a regimen of four more chemo treatments. Starting on March 15th, Avery will go to the hospital every fourth Monday for two days each time. Once this is over, she will hopefully never have to worry about cancer again.

Please join me in wishing this little girl all the health, happiness and goodness this world has to offer. She is only one year old, and has suffered so much, but we can all learn from her how to approach whatever befalls us with grace, courage and good will.

Avery’s mom Sheila has organized a Relay for Life team in Avery’s honor. Relay for Life is an event that celebrates cancer survivors, and raises funds for the American Cancer Society.

You can log onto Avery’s team site at: to make a donation or to join Avery’s team.

Also, you can follow Avery’s journey by logging onto facebook – just type in Avery Klemola in the search box – she has more than 4,000 friends already!

March 3, 2010

Mothers are Strong

Posted in Children, Family, Travel, Women tagged , , , , , , , at 8:10 am by Liliana

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

I have always looked at my role as a mother as one of mentor and guide. From the moment my  first child was born, I was in awe of the honor and responsibility bestowed upon me. I wanted to be worthy of the mission that I was entrusted with.

I have not been a perfect mother, far from it.  There are many, many moments that I look back upon and wish I had acted differently, more maturely, with greater patience and deliberation. But one thing I know – my love for each one of my children is limitless, and my loyalty to them equally beyond measure.

The most difficult part of motherhood, for me, is letting go and allowing my children the freedom to make their own mistakes, to experience their own pain. My instinct is to hide them from the harshness of the world, to cherish and protect them.

Mothering for me means forever balancing on that beam of protectiveness and championing. I do the best I can. I encourage my children to travel. I gently push them out of the nest. I trust them to do what is right and good.

Still, I worry. Mike is in Argentina now, far away from my reach. He is about to travel to Chile, which is still reeling from the recent huge earthquake. Just before they left on their trip to South America, Mike’s girlfriend, Karen, and I talked about traveling children and worrying mothers. I told her then what I have always believed. It is the nature of youth to be fearless and to want to explore. And it is the nature of mothers to worry. And I also said – mothers are strong. We can handle it.