Monthly Archives: December 2013

Birthday Celebrations, Part Two

by Lillian Csernica on December 29, 2013

Today’s actual partying has included a bento box lunch at my second favorite sushi emporium.  My #1 favorite is closed until New Year‘s.  Chris speculated that the staff was at home pounding mochi, which is entirely possible.  He told me this fascinating fact: pounding mochi for the New Year’s rice cakes is a really big deal in sumo stables.  I can see those large gentlemen being good at it, as strong as they are.   We had a good time at lunch, watching this little tiny Asian girl in her party dress give our server a workout trying to maneuver around the little girl while serving our bento boxes.  The music playing over the PA system was some strange langorous pop music.  Granted, listening to taiko while you’re trying to eat isn’t always that relaxing, but some shamisen and shakuhachi would have been nice.

After lunch we happened to spot a new chocolate shop across the parking lot, Ashby Confections.  This place was amazing.  One of the chocolates on display is made with Ghost chili.  If you’re not familiar with the world of chilis, let’s just say this is the absolute top of the mountain, King/Emperor/God of chilis.  Makes habaneros look like bell peppers.  For you endorphin junkies out there, this might make for quite a culinary adventure.  Me, I chose a Caramel Apple Truffle make with apple brandy the confectioner brought back from Paris.  If all this sounds worth investigating, and believe me, it is, you can see more of the delights available at

There is a rock shop along Highway 9 that I’ve pointed out to Chris more than once.  He suggested we visit it, because now that we’d had some chocolate, nothing would make me happier than buying a new rock.  This sounds silly, but more than once in the days when the depression was still crushing my spirit Chris would take me out and we’d hunt up a shop that sold semiprecious stones.  That’s how I got my labradorite heart, big enough to fit in the palm of my hand.

Mountain Spirit is one of those places where you just know the Buddhist, yoga, Hindu, and New Age folks like to shop.  Plenty of statues of Kwan Yin and Ganesh, prayer flags. and whatever incense was burning.  It’s a nice place with something for every age range.  I had been in there once before, but not on a serious mission of acquisition.  I explored the place, mentally checking off every rock I already had, i.e. amethyst and malachite and lapis lazuli and tiger iron and even Pakistani agate.  Much to my delight, I found a splendid specimen of kyanite.  It was available in obelisk form, which did a lot to show off the color variations and crystalline structure.  Even better was the “raw” specimen that bared the blue/gray crystals in their native matrix.  Had to have it.  The really sweet young lady who runs the shop showed me the listing for kyanite in her book on the meanings of stones.  That information harmonized well with the goals on my immediate horizon for the New Year, so all the better.  Now I just have to find a good display stand.

Kyanite from


Now here I sit, having just completed my Amazon Author Page.  Got a rejection slip today, but hey, that’s still progress, right?  Ad astra, baby!

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Birthday Celebrations, Part One

by Lillian Csernica on December 29, 2013

Friends, bloggers, followers, lend me your ears!

I am delighted to announce the release of my pirate novel, Ship of Dreams, on Kindle from Amazon.

Other projects are in the works, including a nonfiction book on magic systems.  I look forward to a very productive and high-tech year!



Filed under fantasy, Fiction, history, romance, Self-image, Writing

The Sisterhood of the Baking Aisle

by Lillian Csernica on December 23, 2014

Tonight was the night my husband chose to venture out in search of my mother’s Christmas gift and everything we’d need for Christmas dinner.  His madness must have been contagious, because I threw on my Santa hat and red Christmas light earrings and went with him, determined to hunt down the ingredients for the three types of “easy Christmas cookies” I’d chosen to bake.  The last four hours were full of funny moments and grand adventures.  I’ll tell one in the classic style.

Once upon a time, I went to market to buy flour and sugar and coconut and cream cheese and Heath bars and several other strange and wonderful ingredients.  I wanted to bake Christmas cookies, three different kinds because three is a magic number.

The market was so crowded I had to move fast, dancing through the gaps between carts and whirling to avoid the people who appeared suddenly behind me.  At last I turned the corner into the aisle beneath the sign that read “Spices.”  Ahead of me, each with her list in her hand, was a woman wearing the same frown of concentration or lost look of bewilderment.  I recognized them at once at let out a delighted cry.  “Ah, so here we all are!”

The other ladies laughed.  We made our ways up and down the aisle, some looking high, some looking low, all of us trying to find every last item on our lists.  We made room for each other.  We said, “Please” and “Excuse me.”  We sent other lost shoppers on their ways to the aisles they needed.  Soon we were calling out what we needed and someone would answer, pointing out the location.  The call for baking powder came.  I yelled “Here!” and pointed to the top shelf above me.  The lady who needed it was shorter than me, so she never would have found it on her own!

Item by item and cart by cart, with smiles and best wishes for happy holidays, we all went our separate ways.  For a few brief, wonderful minutes, a handful of strangers had joined forces to help each other find that special something that would make a holiday delight for our families.  We knew how tired we all were, we knew our feet hurt, some of us were hungry, some could use a cup of tea.

We were the Sisterhood of the Baking Aisle.

I don’t know their names, and we may never meet again.  I hope each and every one of them lives happily ever after.


Filed under Christmas, Family, fantasy, Goals, Humor, Writing

A Christmas Wish Comes True

by Lillian Csernica on December 20, 2013

Every now and then, in the middle of all the planning and sorting out schedule conflicts and the dread of last-minute disasters, you get lucky.  Every now and then, God reaches down and hands you a Perfect Moment.

On Tuesday, John’s aide and I scooped him up right after school and headed for the mall where he wanted to talk to Santa Claus.  I’d been careful to tuck John’s wish list into my purse so John could hand the original to Santa.  (I made a copy for the ongoing reference of all the gift-givers.)  Traffic was mild at that time of day.  I knew which parking lot would get us close to where Santa Claus’ photo booth was set up.  Sure enough, there was plenty of parking.  The three of us made our way into the mall and found the photo booth fresh and shiny with its Christmas trees and red carpeting and the bright blue couch where Santa sits, a couch big enough for family or group photos.

John led the way through the gate in the enclosure.  There was no line.  Nobody at all!  The photographer and her assistant were off to one side, chatting.  There sat Santa Claus.  Not the same man from years past, but a man who could well have been the actual Santa Claus himself.  He was everything you read about in “The Night Before Christmas.”  No pipe, but he did have that twinkle in his eye.

Santa Claus spotted John and beckoned him over.  I went to the exit where I could watch and still let John have his privacy.  Santa Claus made room for John on the couch and patted the cushion beside him.  John sat down and they went over John’s list item by item.  When John stood up to leave, Santa gave him a candy cane, then glanced over at me, flashed me a grin, and gave John another candy cane saying, “Here’s one for your Mom.”  They shook hands, Santa Claus blew John a kiss, and John walked over to me, his smile so bright it brought tears to my eyes.

But wait!  There’s more!

We turned to go join John’s aide where she stood waiting.  There, standing beside her, were my mother and my sister!  I had no idea my sister had taken my mother shopping in that very mall.  They had seen John and me walking over to Santa Claus’ photo booth and hurried over to stand with his aide.  Grandma and John’s Aunt got to be there to see John talk to Santa Claus, the one part of the season that really means the most to John.  My mother was so happy, and my sister was pleased too.  To have coordinated that moment on purpose would have been almost impossible.  There we stood, our family, all of us so happy for John.

It was a Perfect Moment.

Thank you, St. Nicholas.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you so much for making my boy happy, and for putting all of us right there at the right moment to share his happiness.


Filed under autism, Family, fantasy, Goals, Humor, Special needs, Writing

How To Be One of Santa’s Elves

by  Lillian Csernica on December 14, 2013

I’ve been a volunteer for the local post office answering letters to Santa Claus for almost ten years now.  During that time I’ve read requests that range from outrageous (in the funny sense) to really sweet to downright heartbreaking.  When adults grow up and leave the magic of childhood behind, I think many of them forget that in the minds of children, Santa Claus can be the court of last resort.  I highly recommend the movie “Dear God,” which is all about a ragtag team of post office workers who get together to answer the letters that get sent to the Dead Letter office.  These are the letters written to God, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other similar beings.  These are the letters written by desperate people in need of whatever help and hope they can get.

The letters children write to Santa Claus are not all about toys and clothes and the latest electronic gizmos.  Children will tell Santa what’s really on their minds and in their hearts.  One year I got a letter from a little girl who asked Santa Claus for just one thing: she wanted her mamma and daddy to stop fighting.  I talked to the Postmaster about how to reply.  When you volunteer to answer the letters to Santa Claus, it’s important to understand that it’s not all sugarplums and flying reindeer.  Some of the letters come from children who are in really difficult home situations, children who are delicate and need all the support they can get.  I’m no LCSW or MFT, so I’ve gone to people who are for advice on what to say to such children and how to say it.  The last thing these kids need is to have Santa Claus ignore their pain or brush aside their cries for help.

That said, I’m happy to report that there’s a great deal of joy in this wonderful task.

One year a lovely little boy sent Santa Claus a Christmas card.  That was it.  No wish list, no requests at all.  The boy simply wanted to wish Santa a Merry Christmas.  How sweet is that?

More than once I’ve received letters from children who have included a few dollars to help buy toys for poor children.  Doesn’t that just give you hope for the future of the planet?  (FYI, I always give the money to the postal carriers, who take it back to the kids’ parents.)

A letter came in once with a tiny Oreo that had mint green filling.  The young lady wanted to send Rudolph a special treat.  She had an unusual name.  This is important because while I was out and about, I heard this young lady’s name called.  I turned to her and told her that Rudolph really appreciated the Oreo.  Up at the North Pole we get a lot of gingerbread and sugar cookies, so the Oreo was a rare treat.  The girl’s eyes opened wide.  She turned to the girl with her and said, “I told you so!”  They wanted to know how I knew about the Oreo.  Under terms of strict secrecy, I told them I was an elf.  My long hair hides the points on my ears.

Lately there are a lot of requests for Duct Tape.  I’m almost afraid to ask what so many children are doing with that much Duct Tape.

One year a young lady asked for a gift certificate to the local independent bookstore.  Supporting literacy is very important to me.  I called up the bookstore and explained my role as a post office volunteer with a letter to Santa Claus that specifically mentioned that bookstore.  Would the bookstore be interested in making a donation such as a gift certificate?  They told me to come on over and bring the letter with me.  All they wanted was a photocopy of the letter, and they were kind enough to cut a gift certificate for a generous amount.  When I turned that letter in to the post office, complete with gift certificate, the postal carriers were amazed.  How had I done this?  All I did was ask.  People are happy to get involved with the magic of Christmas, especially in support of a child who wants to do something good and useful.

When I’m out doing my errands and my Christmas shopping, now and then I’ll come across a child of the right age to still believe in Santa Claus.  If I have the opportunity, I’ll ask the child’s mother or father if the child has written his or her letter to Santa Claus.  Depending on the answer I get, I will say rumor has it that if the letter is posted through (my local post office), it will get an answer.  The parent will usually take the hint, and then give me that slightly dazzled smile.  It’s the same kind of look I get when people see a copy of my novel and realize that yes, that really is me in the back of the book photo.  I’m one of those people who is part of a magical process most people don’t quite understand.

Please, if you have the time and imagination, consider volunteering at your local post office to answer the letters to Santa Claus.  The Post Office will give you a starter kit that includes a form letter you can tinker with within reason.  I make it my policy to give the answered letters to the postmasters unsealed.  That way my answers can be read and approved and there’s no risk to anybody of something weird getting through.  Unfortunately, there have been some volunteers who have written some inappropriate replies, so the Post Office does have to be careful.  My policy has insured that I’ve never had a problem or a complaint.

Children grow up too quickly these days.  Technology is taking the place of magic and folklore and old-fashioned traditions.  Please join me and all the other people who are part of Santa’s Volunteer Elves.  We’re doing our best to preserve the magic of childhood.  There are kids out there who really need it.


Filed under Depression, Family, fantasy, Goals, Humor, Special needs, Writing

A special needs Christmas carol

And now, an absolutely brilliant variation on my favorite Christmas Carol by the tireless and admirable faithmummy!


God bless ye precious families
Let nothing you dismay
Remember that our special kids
Might scream on Christmas day
To save you from those children’s tears
Keep receipts for all those toys
O I’m longing for comfort and joy, comfort and joy
I’m longing for comfort and joy.

In lots of towns and lots of rooms
They’ll be strange dinners made
Cos lots of children can not eat
The turkey that’s been laid
So just make chips and nuggets now
To keep your happy boy
Or you’ll never see that comfort and joy, comfort and joy
You’ll never see that comfort and joy.

From God our heavenly Father
Our blessed children came
But he now needs to give us patience
So we can all stay sane
The lights he broke, the baubles smashed
The tree he did destroy
And now I’ve lost my comfort and joy, comfort and joy

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O Christmas Tree

Here are some truly fantastic Christmas trees. Remember how I was thinking this might be the year I create a theme tree? These photos are full of inspiration!


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The Special Needs of Christmas

by Lillian Csernica on December 7, 2013

Thanks to my last post, I’ve been asked to share some of the holiday traditions unique to the traveling circus that is my family.

My husband is old-fashioned about when it’s time to buy the Christmas tree.  We get ours about a week before Christmas.  It’s a big family affair to haul out all the boxes of lights and tinsel and decorations.  We put Michael in his wheelchair so he can help too.  Few things bring me greater joy than seeing Michael’s face light up when he points to the spot on the Christmas tree where he wants us to hang the next ornament.

John loves to bake, and he’s good at it.  When we bake Christmas cookies, John takes the tray of cookies over to Michael so Michael can shake colored sprinkles all over the dough before that tray goes into the oven.  Michael is very artistic, so we let him choose between red sugar, green sugar, or the jumble of fancy sprinkles.  John is careful to leave some of these cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Chris and John go to a tree farm and cut down a real live Christmas tree.  They’ve been doing this since John could only hold on to one end of the saw while Chris did all the work.  Now John can carry the whole tree all by himself.  (He could even carry Chris too, if he really needed to!)

Asking Mom what she wants for Christmas, which is a face-saving way of finding out what she needs but can’t really afford on her own. At this point in our lives, only the kids enjoy surprises.  It’s much better to give up a little mystery in order to make sure Mom is happy.

Not embarrassing my sister by making a big deal out of giving her something special. My sister is much happier giving gifts, and she does it really well.  Oh, I still give her at least one gift that relates to one of our in-jokes.  After all, I am the little sister and the brat of the family.

There are a few other holiday rituals that have evolved over the years, ones that I look forward to with a mixture of wary anticipation and gleeful dread:

Every year when we get out the boxes of Christmas ornaments, I wonder if this is the year when I should go for a Christmas tree with a theme. The magazines are full of so many great ideas. Now that I have this wonderful house with a living room big enough to have a decent-sized tree, will this be the year I achieve the style and grandeur of my dreams? My sister is good at theme trees. If we come up with a plan and I turn her loose, I’m sure she’ll create something spectacular. I also know that sooner or later John will find an ornament that just has to go on the tree, and we’ll probably end up letting the boys go wild with all of their favorite ornaments.

When it comes time to open our gifts on Christmas morning, my husband and I often exchange looks of good-natured anxiety. Who will it be this year? Who will be the one to receive my mother’s really tacky Christmas present? For a while it was always poor Chris. The crowning glory of my mother’s inappropriate Christmas gifts had to be the Garfield alarm clock that was as big as a truck tire. It’s a standing joke in the family that nothing can wake Chris up, not even a meteor strike.

Mom has this habit of finding out something a person likes, then locking on to that idea for every gift-giving occasion. My sister has gotten tigers year after year. My brother gets pelicans. Me, I’m the lucky one. Mom is always interested in my writing, so I get gifts that have to do with medieval history or Japan or living the writing life. And cats. I have so much cat-related stuff I could open a boutique. It got to the point where Chris absolutely forbade me to buy or accept any more cat Christmas ornaments. Some day I have to join a society for ailurophiles, just so I can volunteer to decorate its Christmas tree!

On the weekend before Christmas, I take John to see Santa Claus. Even though he’s been “too old” for a while now, he really believes in Santa Claus and I’m OK with that. John’s favorite Santa Claus is at a nearby mall. John is fifteen now, six feet tall and close to two hundred pounds. As we stand there in line with all the little kids who come up to John’s hip, people give us funny looks. John doesn’t notice and I don’t care. The first time we went to that mall about three years ago, I took the photographer aside and mentioned that John is autistic. The photographer was great, quite familiar with special needs kids. He and that Santa Claus have worked together for years and know how to handle just about everything. Of course John doesn’t sit on Santa’s lap, but Santa takes the time to have a nice talk with John every year when John brings Santa his wish list.

Last but certainly not least, every year I do my best to answer all the letters to Santa Claus the postal carriers deliver to me. I’m now in the happy position of being the volunteer for four post offices. (This isn’t as huge a job as it might sound, although last year I did answer almost fifty letters.)  I’ve been making my rounds, letting the postmasters know I’m at their service.


Filed under autism, Family, fantasy, history, Humor, romance, Special needs, Writing

‘Kittendales’: Shirtless men do their part to get kitties adopted | MNN – Mother Nature Network

by Lillian Csernica on December 4, 2013

Do you know anyone who likes both good-looking half-naked men AND cute fuzzy little kittens?  The fundraising genius at this animal shelter has brought these adorable subjects together in what may well be the perfect Christmas gift for several people on your list:

‘Kittendales’: Shirtless men do their part to get kitties adopted | MNN – Mother Nature Network.

All the proceeds go to support the no-kill animal shelter.  Please, consider buying at least one calendar.  I just ordered mine.  This is some serious eye candy, and it’s a great way to support the dedication of the shelter staff and the volunteers/models.

Happy Holidays!

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What I No Longer Want For Christmas

by Lillian Csernica on December 3, 2013

I believe that I’ve finally outgrown my longing for a happy family Christmas. I’m talking about the kind of Normal Rockwell sentimental scene that I’ve never experienced in real life. Every year of my childhood, that’s what I really wanted for Christmas. No arguments. No worries about money. No getting just one present that had to cover both Christmas and my birthday. (I was born on Dec. 29th.) No asthma attacks that brought everything to a screeching halt and forced my mother to take me to the doctor. Nothing killed the holiday spirit between me and my brother and sister like Mom freaking out over me not being able to breathe.

By the time I was a teenager I’d finally developed enough of a protective shell of pragmatism and cynicism. My parents were divorced, my brother was off living his life in Arizona, and my sister had two small boys who were nothing but trouble. Christmas meant stress, and lots of it. I remember one Christmas Eve when my mother picked me up after my shift at the fast food place where I worked. I was wearing my “Bah Humbug” sweatshirt over my brown polyester uniform. We drove to my sister’s apartment to spend some time with her and the boys. That was unusual. I can’t remember why Mom thought that was a good idea. It remains a pleasant memory, so whatever happened on that occasion couldn’t have been too horrible.

As an adult, I’d been hoping that with the start of my own family, I might have a second chance at creating that Normal Rockwell scene. I got close to it one year when my husband Chris and I flew back to New Jersey to spend Christmas with his mother. She’d wrapped all the gifts for all of the various members of the extended family in the same wrapping paper, then piled them all up on what we started calling “the Christmas couch.” We’re talking dozens of packages of all different sizes. That was an impressive sight!

Then Michael came along and we had to start doing a lot of things differently than other families. That included how we handled the holidays. Chris said he and I could no longer stuff stockings for each other because that was for kids. (We’d been doing it for each other for seven years. I’m not sure what prompted this policy decision.) John arrived, and once he was able to run around we had to make sure he didn’t go after the Christmas tree like a kitten with opposable thumbs!

I think I’ve finally made peace with the reality that we just don’t do normal at my house. We can’t seem to manage that perfect holiday picture. It’s time to let go of what is really the product of an imagination fed on Christmas TV specials and seeing “The Nutcracker” ballet and watching ever version of “A Christmas Carol” ever made. Just like my problems with what makes a good, stable relationship, I have looked to books and movies for guidance about what’s important, what I should really want out of a situation. You’d think I’d know better, now that I’m a professional who makes a living working with the materials of make-believe.

The holiday season is not about pulling off an interior decorating plan that would impress Martha Stewart or cooking a feast that would win the admiration of Gordon Ramsey and his colleagues. I do what I can to make sure my sons understand that the heart of the season is the birth of the baby Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. I don’t know how much theology the boys can comprehend, but they do understand the importance of being a family and sharing in all the strange and goofy and wonderful customs that make our holiday celebration so special.

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Filed under autism, Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Humor, romance, Self-image, Special needs, Writing