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.

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.

February 17, 2010

Dinner with Friends

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Friendships, Good people, Health, Recipes, Serbia tagged , , , at 8:08 am by Liliana

Dinner with friends

Dinner with friends

A few nights ago, we had dinner with old friends. Between the nine of us, three generations were represented. It was one of those magical evenings when no one was  in a hurry or longing to be somewhere else. The fire was burning in the fireplace, Ella was singing on the CD player, appetizers and wine glasses set out. We sampled home-made hummus and pita bread, had a glass of wine or mineral water, and caught up on the news of the past few weeks.

When we sat down to eat, everything about the table made us want to sit and linger for a long time. The dishes made me think of Tuscany. The menu took me to Serbia and the memory of my mother. I haven’t had home-made, stuffed grape leaves since my mother died six years ago, and the pungent flavor brought joy and memories of childhood. There was also chicken with mushroom sauce, grilled vegetables and wild rice. And for dessert, a wonderful orange cake; people kept having seconds, and not a crumb was left over.

After dinner, we sat in a circle in the living room, had coffee and talked. Conversation meandered between the economy, job losses, the state of the world. My niece will be starting college next year and we wondered about the future of education and various options for young people. Our conversation was earnest and serious, but no one was anxious. When we left to go home later that night, the winter seemed to have lost some of its bite.

Dairy-free orange cake

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ c. brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. oil (corn, canola, or similar)
  • 2 large oranges (for zest and juice)
  • ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • 1 ½ cup flour

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a springform pan.

Beat eggs and sugars until light. Add oil. Add zest of the two oranges and then squeeze them (you need 2/3 cup orange juice, so you might need to add a bit) and combine well. Add the dry ingredients and combine well.

Pour into springform pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until cake tests dry in the middle.

When cooled, unmold and top with the glaze:

  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 T orange juice

Stir together until smooth and dribble over cake with a spoon.