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.

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May 20, 2010

A Golden Morning

Posted in Weather, Work tagged , , , , , , , at 7:16 am by Liliana

A Golden Morning

A Golden Morning

It has been raining a lot in our part of Michigan this spring. Everyone is commenting on it. Every weekend, and most of the week, it rains and rains. Not just a little, not just for a few hours, but all day long. And all night long.

But not today. This morning as I drove to work, the sun was spilling its rays in that golden, mottled pattern that makes one want to lie on a hammock and gaze at the tree canopies all day long.

I am not sure what’s more difficult. Being inside on a cold, dark, rainy day. Or, spending the day inside on a cloudless, luminous day when balmy breezes beckon and bait with temptations.

May 13, 2010

Morning Blues

Posted in Weather, Women, Work tagged , , , , , , , at 7:05 am by Liliana

Field of wild flowers

Field of wild flowers

My morning started off badly.

I woke up tired. I didn’t sleep well and had spent the very early hours of the morning thinking of all the things I needed to do that day. When the alarm went off, it was an unpleasant surprise.

The smallest task felt like an affront. I started coffee, made breakfast and woke Sam up. I had forgotten that he didn’t have school and was looking forward to sleeping late. The two of us exchanged some sharp words. Finally, I got out into the drizzly morning, placed all my items into the car and started driving. I had a flat tire.

No, no, no!

I returned home. Jeff was cross with me, but stayed calm and considered a solution. He needed to be at a meeting in half an hour. Nicky needed to be taken to school. I needed to get to work.

OK. Jeff will change the tire, and then go to his meeting. I will wait for Nicky to get ready, take her to school and then head to work. I will be late. Nothing could be done about that.

I waited for Nicky impatiently while she ate breakfast and got ready. Then we headed across town. The traffic was slow. At one point I almost crashed when a car in front of me stopped suddenly and unexpectedly: a family of geese was crossing the road. The goslings were so finely ordered and well behaved, Nicky and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. In that second, the tone of my morning was completely changed.

Nicky and I started talking, and I forgot that I was in a hurry. She told me about her plans for the day, her friends, her upcoming prom. We told funny stories. We grew silent to hear a few lines of a song we both love. When she jumped out of the car, I was sorry to say good bye.

I decided to take the back country roads to work instead of my usual highway route. Even though there was construction, the traffic was light. The lights were green and I kept zipping through. I turned off the news and turned the dial to my favorite classical music station. The sounds of a rich, lush Bach violin concerto filled my van.

The landscape outside mirrored the music perfectly; overcast, heavy, lush, almost Gothic in its intensity. The fields of rich, black earth stretched out into the distance.  The trees were heavy with recent rain, their leaves green, green, green. Large bushes of lilacs lined the road, purple and white. And then, one entire field, left untilled and idle, like a gift to me, filled with a rainbow of wild flowers.

A beautiful beginning to a beautiful day.

May 7, 2010

Spring Cleaning – Bedroom

Posted in Cleaning, Home tagged , , , , , at 6:53 am by Liliana

Open Your Windows

Open Your Windows

Spring is the customary time to clean and refresh your house from the closeness of winter. Dust your walls, wash your fabrics and open your windows wide to let in the fresh breezes.  I am planning to start with my bedroom this coming weekend.

Supplies I’ll need:

  • Bucket with warm, soapy water (I usually use all-purpose green soap); replace water and soap frequently
  • Furniture polish
  • Window polish
  • Lots of soft, clean cloths and several soft brushes
  • Leave the windows open the entire time that you are cleaning and for the rest of the day

Tasks I hope to complete:

  • Take down window curtains and wash in washing machine. I have lace curtains, so I don’t dry them in the dryer but hang them back on the windows to dry.
  • While curtains are in the washer, I wash down the window shades, and areas and corners around the windows.
  • Take window screens down and wash well with soft brushes.
  • Wash and polish windows.
  • Wash ceiling and walls.
  • Wash ceiling fan, blades, and light fixtures.
  • Strip and wash bed linens, comforter, mattress covers, and pillows. I try to do this on a nice, sunny day (I hope Saturday will be one) and place everything outside to air and dry.
  • Vacuum mattress and flip over; air mattress by open window for the rest of the day.
  • Vacuum and wash area under the bed.
  • Dust with damp cloth all lamps, books, picture frames, art, vases, etc.
  • Dust and polish chests of drawers, dressers, and nightstands.
  • Clean and polish mirrors.
  • Vacuum and wash wood floors.

I usually leave cleaning and organizing closets for another time. At the end of the day, I bring in the linens from the outside and make my bed. The room will smell like the wind and sunlight. In order to keep it fresh, I will open the windows and air it out every day.

April 16, 2010

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Posted in Garden, Weather tagged , , , , , , at 6:54 am by Liliana

 

Daffodils

Daffodils

 

At this time of year, I just couldn’t help myself.

Daffodils are everywhere.

I keep thinking of this poem:

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

April 10, 2010

Spring Vegetables

Posted in Cancer, Food, Health, Recipes tagged , , , at 6:43 am by Liliana

Enjoy the bounty of early spring!

Early spring is the perfect time to enjoy these delicious and nutritious vegetables. This is what’s in season now:

  • Asparagus – Fresh, crispy local asparagus is one of my favorite spring vegetables. The stalks should be firm and tender at the same time; the color bright green, and the tips tightly closed. Steam or boil for around 5-8 minutes until just tender, or brush with olive oil and roast in the oven. Serve just as it is or with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. Use in salads, quiches, soups or pasta sauces.
  • Chicory – Look for firm heads, tightly furled leaves and no brown streaks. Chicory is great steamed or gently sautéed in olive oil. It compliments fish and is also good raw in salads, mixed with other leaves and slices of orange.
  • New Potatoes – Cook them in their tender skins for a wonderfully delicate flavor. Boil, roast or steam them, and serve simply with olive oil and salt. They are also excellent in salads.
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli –  Look for firm, slender stems and leaves with intense purple color. Cut the stems into pieces and steam until tender. Delicious tossed in a olive oil, sesame seeds and a dash of chili. Also good in soups, sautés, and pasta sauces.
  • Radishes – I love their bright red or pink skins and peppery flavor. Wash, discard the root and leaves, and slice. Good in salads, sandwiches, soups or just on their own.
  • Spinach – A super-food filled with vitamins. Wash well, and cook with no additional water. Spinach shrinks as it cooks, so buy plenty of it. Steam or boil it, covered in a pot, for just a few minutes. I add it to soups, sautés or eat it raw in salads.
  • Spring Onions  or Scallions – This is another of my favorites among spring vegetables. Wash well, cut off the roots and peel outer leaves. Use in salads and stir fries. Spring onions cook quickly, and can replace ordinary onions in any recipe.
  • Watercress – Belongs to family of cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, which contain anti-cancer chemicals and are full of vitamins. Look for crisp dark-green leaves, crisp and fresh with no sign of wilting. Wash well before use. Chop into salads or sandwiches, or use in soups or stir fries.

And don’t forget carrots, all kinds of greens and salads, beets, etc. etc. If you have a farmer’s market in your area, it is the best place to find fresh, local produce. Enjoy the bounty of early spring!

April 7, 2010

April Flowers

Posted in Garden, Weather tagged , , , at 6:55 am by Liliana

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

The weather in our part of Michigan has been unusually warm. It rains at night, but days are sunny, breezy and humid. Perfect weather for flowers, plants and trees. Everything is in bloom. The fragrances in the air are those of a tropical garden.

Every chance I get, I walk, but it never seems enough. I am like Kaya, my sister’s dog, who wants to be outside all the time. The colors, the smells, the sounds that surround me are dizzying. I am so happy  I want to open my arms and fly.

Various seasonal flowers are converging in their glory. Crocuses and snowdrops are in full bloom, while daffodils, intense yellow, pale cream, orange-striped, cover large patches of the gardens in my neighborhood. I find a small batch of primroses in the corner of my yard – dainty petals of intense purple. Columbines, azaleas, irises, shamrocks. Pink, indigo and purple hyacinths hang like melting sherbet drops on fragile stems. Violets and cornflowers cover entire front lawns. Delicate peach-colored magnolias open in quiet splendor. Forsythia bushes are making the whole world sunny. And the tulips – well, they are just starting their journey.

All this beauty, and it’s only the beginning of April. Thank you, dear world.

April 1, 2010

Spring Decorating

Posted in Cleaning, Home, Women tagged , , , at 6:54 am by Liliana

Decorate with nature

Decorate with nature

Spring is here in earnest and I am looking around my tired, dusty house and wondering how to improve the look of different rooms. Cleaning, dusting and washing of fabrics will be coming soon, but after that I would like to give my living space a fresher look. I have always been in the habit of reusing  items that I already have, moving them from room to room, and giving them unexpected purposes. It’s amazing how much difference this can make. The green rug that got tiring in the breakfast room makes my bedroom look very springy.

Here are a few ideas you might want to try:

  • Books are my best friends – when it comes to reading as well as decorating. They make any room look warm and interesting.  A stack of nature books on a table near your plants makes for a beautiful still life.
  • Reuse an old wire wine rack by making it a place for rolled towels in the bathroom. If you choose towels with lovely patterns and colors, you have an interesting decoration.
  • Tie window curtains with scarves or ribbons – this will add color and unexpected charm to your windows.
  • By placing the window treatments as high above the window level as you can, your room will seem taller than it actually is.
  • If you like jewelry, decorate your walls with it. Use old  frames or shadow boxes to group interesting items and your jewelry will look like pieces of modern sculpture.
  • Hang a cork-board on your kitchen wall and fill it with pages from favorite magazines, postcards, children’s artwork, or with pressed flowers.
  • Keep old, mismatched glassware  and use as beautiful vases. Group unusual pieces together for an original look.
  • Add elegance to your meals by covering your table with a table runner, pretty fabric scraps, old window curtains, or a beautiful scarf.
  • I love to decorate with natural accents I collect during my walks or from my yard.  Consider filling those mismatched glasses with bunches of wild flowers or fill bowls with rocks and shells. Twigs look great in tall vases or colorful bottles.
  • Arrange your furniture away from the wall and into conversational groupings. This will make the room look warmer and more pleasant – both you and your guests will be happy to linger.

Please email me with your own suggestions. I would love to hear from you. Have a wonderful spring!

March 13, 2010

Snowdrops

Posted in Garden, Weather tagged , , at 7:10 am by Liliana

Snowdrops In Snow

Snowdrops In Snow

Yesterday seemed like a very long day. Even though I had a  lot to do at work and was very busy, time seemed to pass in slow motion. Maybe this was so because it was an overcast, stormy spring day; maybe because I had a migraine; maybe because it was warm outside and I could smell spring in the air. I don’t know. But every time I checked the clock, only a few minutes had gone by.

I made a cup of tea to wake myself up and stopped to talk to my two colleagues, Raina and Alana. Alana had checked the forecast and mentioned that we will have mild but rainy weather. I was hoping that all the snow would melt soon, and that spring flowers would start making their appearance. I asked  my friends if they had seen any snowdrops yet. They had not. My garden was still under snow, but I was eager for it to melt so that I could check the southern corner, near the pear tree. That’s where, every year, snowdrops first appear, and that’s what signifies to me  the official coming of spring.

Well, finally it was time to go home. My head was throbbing and I felt tired and sleepy as I drove home in the drizzly spring rain. When I drove up to my house, I noticed that the rain and the mild temperature had melted parts of the southern corner of my garden. I decided to go and check it out. My shoes were sinking in the mud and slipping in leftover mounds of snow as I made my way. And there, peaking out from the snow, were two little nodding snowdrops. I touched their soft white petals for a second and then skipped in delight all the way inside.

March 6, 2010

First Signs of Spring in Michigan

Posted in Garden, Weather tagged , , , , at 7:53 am by Liliana

First Signs of Spring in Michigan

First Signs of Spring in Michigan

The last few days have been bathed in sunlight. The sky is light blue, the clouds high and white; the temperatures in mid thirties. There is still snow on the ground, mostly muddy and dirty now. Nights are cold; last night it was nineteen degrees. But the signs of spring are unmistakable and present everywhere.

The birds are delirious. Their calls, songs and chatter fill the air and wake me up in the morning. I saw a festive red cardinal and his less flamboyant mate happily sitting on the pear tree branch in the back of my house. When I took a walk yesterday afternoon, a fat little robin was pulling worms out of a thawed patch of muddy ground.  The sparrows fill entire neighborhoods, and my friends complain that they are pesky invaders from overseas. But I love those crazy, restless sparrows for they remind me of my childhood in Europe.

The trees are also showing signs of life. It seems that the branches were completely smooth and bare only a week ago. But yesterday, the young maples were exploding with buds. The air is full of promise. The wind smells of warmer, more temperate places. And now, when I walk, I look all around me for new beginnings. It is almost worth going through the harsh, cold winter to be transported by this euphoria of early spring.

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