Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Perils of Do-It-Yourself

by Lillian Csernica on November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving has happened.  Now it’s open season on Christmas trees.  I live in the mountains, so for the next three weeks I’m going to see an increase in traffic as folks from Silicon Valley pursue their Norman Rockwell fantasies.  They will drive over Highway 17 or up Highway 9 or maybe even the really crazy ones will take Bear Creek Road.  They will find one of the tree farms up here in the mountains, they will cut down their very own Christmas tree, they will tie it to the roof of their vehicles, and then they will discover just how much fun it is to drive back the way they came when the aerodynamics of the trip have just been radically changed.  Now that the rains have come and the temperature is dropping, we may have ice on the roads as well.  The tourists don’t know the mountain roads.  They don’t know enough to go slow, and then go even slower than that, for safety’s sake.  In all fairness a lot of the people who live up here never seem to get a clue about that either.  Why is it that from one year to the next people forget how to drive in the rain?


Every year as Christmas approaches I like to come up with some craft projects for Michael and John.  Michael is still into making ornaments and decorations.  John, not so much.  So I asked John if he wanted to give Christmas presents to any of the people he knew at school.  He said yes, so I had him write down a list of their names.  The list includes his teachers, his one-to-one aides, and two girls.  Now came the tricky part.  What did he want to give each of these people?  That took some thinking, and a few suggestions on my part.  The female teachers and the two girls were easier, because I could ask John how old they were, what colors they liked to wear, and if they wore silver or gold jewelry.  After this game of verbal ping-pong, we’d come up with a gift idea for each of the ladies on the list.  Knowing John as I do, I did not expect him to help me make the gifts.  What I did do was show him the various beads, chains, satin cord, etc. that I have in my bead bins.  He chose the “ingredients” for each gift and I’ve been putting them together.  When a decision-making moment has come up, I’ve called John away from his homework or videogames or chores and let him tell me what he thought would be the best idea.  He’s not big on labor, but he’s got a good head for design.  I do plan on seeing to it he wraps and tags all the gifts himself.

DIY gifts are problematic because personal style is exactly that, personal.  Just because I think you look good in this shade of magenta doesn’t mean you want anything to do with it.  I have to stretch my imagination and think about what I know you like, not what I think you might like or what I want to give you because I think it would make such a great gift for you.  I refuse to give people anything that involves labor on their part.  All those “jar” gifts look wonderful, and maybe they are for people who really want to do whatever it is that the contents of the jar will accomplish.  Me, I’m into instant gratification when it comes to opening presents.  I’m pretty sure most people feel that way too.  No potted plants, no “assembly required,” and above all no living creatures unless there’s been some prior arrangement.  The last time I got a kitten for my birthday, I was forty-three and told my husband that was what I wanted.  The older I get, the less I enjoy surprises.  That may be a side effect of the way my particular life has gone.  The older I get, the more I enjoy giving, which means I have to put a lot more energy into the process so I create gifts that are not just appropriate to that person’s style and interests, but something that person would actually want to have.

Let’s explore that last point a bit further.  On Pinterest there are several listings for “DIY gift that you’d actually want to receive.”  Oh dear.  You know how it is when you come across a sign that tells you not to do something that it would never have occurred to you to do?  You just know somebody did it once and it did not go well.  There was a reason why that sign was created.  There are several reasons why those Pinterest listings have been created.  When the little kids make reindeer out of clothes pins and candy canes, both of them sticky and the whole project looking like it was designed by Picasso, you just smile and make happy noises, right?  When an adult goes insane with a hot glue gun in one hand and a Bedazzler in the other, all you can do is say thank you and make sure to put That Gift on display whenever its creator comes over.  Miss Manners tells a wonderful story about a high society lady who had an Egyptian butler.  When the butler came back from his holiday visiting his family in Egypt, he presented the high society lady with a blue neon replica of the Sphinx that lit up when plugged in.  The lady thanked the butler and gave the Sphinx a place of honor in her elegant, high fashion living room.  When friends asked her why she didn’t get rid of the horrible tacky thing, the lady told them not for the world would she hurt her butler’s feelings.  Friends may come and friends may go, but a good butler is a treasure.

So here I am, making Christmas ornaments that will be gifts, making jewelry that will be gifts, and trying hard to gauge the preferences of a few people I’ve never met.  John and I agreed that his P.E. teacher, who is a man, would probably enjoy a keyring decorated with beads in the school colors.  It’s the same with Michael’s teacher and his aide.  People know my boys have their limitations, so any effort on their part is greeted with extra enthusiasm.  People say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but that can and should mean more than just the impulse that prompts us to plunge into the holiday spirit and indulge in our own fantasies of craftsmanship and ecstatic gratitude.  If we’re going to make a gift, let’s make sure it’s something the person will like, can use, is not allergic to, and won’t cause trouble with other people in that person’s home.  Happy crafting!


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Filed under autism, Christmas, Family, Humor, Special needs

NaNoWriMo Finish Line!

by Lillian Csernica on November 26, 2014




50,156 total word count so far.

Not bad for my first try!


Filed under Awards, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, love, marriage, romance, Writing

NaNoWriMo Week Three: Time to Hit Turbo!

by Lillian Csernica on November 21, 2014

As of this moment, my official word count is 37,100.  That leaves 12,900 words to be written in the next 9 days.  1433 with a repeating decimal per day and I’ll bring it in by the 30th.  I’ve been writing between 1700 and 2000 per day, so the NaNoWriMo site tells me I’m looking at hitting the finish line on the 27th.  Thanksgiving Day.  Holy cats.

I have to say, I am doing what I really hadn’t thought I could do.  10,000 words per week?  That’s 40 pages, according to standard ms format.  Writing every single day, come hell or high water?  Now that the rainy season has finally arrived, high water is not an impossibility, given that one border of my property is marked by a creek.  As for the hell….  Some days are better than others, some days are worse, but the writing still has to get done, yes?

I must confess that this week I’ve had to push myself harder to get the work done.  November is one of my busier months.  Michael’s name day is Nov. 7th, the Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels.  There are four important birthdays this month, including my father’s on the 18th and John’s on the 23rd.  And then we have Thanksgiving.  This alone involves a complex list of questions and decisions that have to be made and remade every year:

  • Where are we eating?
  • Who is eating with us?
  • What are we eating?  Who can eat what?  What can’t we have due to food allergies, lactose or gluten intolerance, and any possible philosophical or religious conflicts?
  • Do we have enough room?  Where will we put the kids?
  • And then there’s the usual chaos surrounding making sure we have all the cooking utensils, pots, pans, baking necessities and enough matching pieces of everything to set a nice table.

This year, for some reason I’ve decided to get crazy and make some napkin rings.  Curse you, Pinterest!  You have so many pretty pictures, and you make it all sound so easy!  I raided a fabric store today for craft glue, ribbons, and a bizarre variety of buttons.  You know you’ve gone off the deep end when the ladies who work at the store can’t resist asking what you plan to make.  That particular pile of supplies will go toward both napkin rings and Christmas ornaments.  That explanation lowered the Weird Level of my purchases to something that made sense.

And yet I cannot allow myself to be distracted!  No messing around with craft projects until my daily word quota has been written!  One of the big reasons I enjoy making jewelry is because it works parts of my brain that I don’t necessarily use while I’m writing.  I use a different department in the Idea Factory, so to speak.  It also keeps my hands busy while the novel’s characters are having private meetings in the back of my mind.  They’re busy making decisions and mounting conspiracies, so when I go back to the keyboard to have another go at writing, I’ll discover mutiny on the page.  They wanna do what they wanna do.  The great part about NaNoWriMo is I just let my fictional people run wild.  This is like the Dress Rehearsal.  Get it out of your systems now, boys and girls!  That way when we buckle down for Opening Night, we’re ready to put on the professional performance.

Still, it is hard to maintain momentum over this long a haul when I’ve never done it before.  Gotta get there.  Gotta make it to the finish line, if only to give my agent a heart attack when I tell her I’ve already written half of the sequel to Sword Master, Flower Maiden.  It’s important to know how to motivate yourself, right?

Idea Factory

The Idea Factory



Filed under Awards, birthday, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, Fiction, Food, Goals, history, Japan, romance, Special needs, Writing

Guest Blog: Ambiguous Loss by Emerian Rich

by Lillian Csernica on November 15, 2014


Emerian Rich is a wonderful lady I met at Convolution 2014.  We both know the joys and sorrows of having a son who is autistic.  Emerian has been gracious enough to grant me permission to share with you this explanation of a condition so many special needs parents endure.  I never knew the name for it until I read Emerian’s article.  I wish you all the same relief and validation I feel now that I understand better what ambiguous loss really is.


My Ambiguous Loss
Giving Birth to a Special Needs Child
by E. Rich

When you have a baby, your whole world changes. Everyone tells you this when you’re pregnant and it’s one of life’s solid truths along with death and taxes, but no matter how you prepare for it, or think you are ready, it always seems to catch you off guard.

My son was born happy and healthy, if a bit early, nine years ago. Despite complications during and after pregnancy, we were pretty happy for about a year. We reveled in the new baby smell, we giggled at his baby bandito burrito shape, we even smiled when he pooed. Every parent on the planet can recount these cute stories, whether you want them to or not!

At about age one, we realized we needed to get our son checked out. He was a happy, energy-filled cutie, but despite speaking a few words at six months, he had completely stopped talking right after and hadn’t said a word since.

We read all the books… at one year old, he should have been gabbing up a storm. Perhaps not Nobel Prize, award winning sentences, but something. A mama or a dada or a baba – anything would’ve been a gift to us.

Immediately we started looking for a cause. He was super active, so perhaps walking was a bigger incentive than talking. My husband had some jaw structure problems in his youth, perhaps this was the issue. I don’t know my biological father, could there be something on my side of the family causing this deficiency? Was he deaf? Was he mute? Did we feed him the wrong sort of formula and harm brain development? Was it the shots administered in the hospital? Questions and blame plagued us.

We enrolled our son in a speech delay program and got him checked out by specialists in the area. This time in our lives was devastating. Although birth defects and mutations happen naturally, and to more homes than anyone realizes, somehow we felt to blame. Maybe it’s because I didn’t breastfeed, maybe it’s because we didn’t spend enough time teaching him, maybe it’s our fault in some way. And then the real guilt sets in. It’s bad enough when you can’t achieve something in your own life and feel a failure, but when you’ve imposed a failure of yours onto another living being, it’s soul crushing. You want to push the reset button and hope a do-over will come out better. Normal. Like if somehow you could turn back time, change something you did or didn’t do so your child could have a normal life.

The next few months were spent learning sign language and driving our son to therapy sessions. It seemed like he was getting better, like there was hope, but then we were given the diagnosis. Autism.

It might seem overly dramatic for someone who hasn’t gone through this, but our entire world shut down. It was as if our son was taken away from us. Every hope and dream we had about him living a normal life – growing up, going to college, having a wife, making children, and living his own life, was taken away. I’ve worked with autistic adults and I’ve seen what they often have to go through. They live in care homes with little to call their own, bused out to work centers where they work for lower than minimum wage, with little choice, and little love. I know not every autistic person lives their lives this way, but when I first found out, my mind ran with the worst case scenario. My biggest sorrow when being told my child was autistic was not that I would have to spend the rest of my life caring for him, but everything he was going to miss out on. Going to college, falling in love, getting married, having a home and life of his own.

My mother was supportive the whole time, telling me, “He’s our baby and we will still love him, despite his disability.”

The statement was true, but I couldn’t get over the grief I felt for losing him as a “normal” child. For months I was so depressed, I couldn’t even talk about my son without bursting into tears. I held my head up high in public, taking him to specialists and trying to get him the help he needed, but inside I was a complete basket case.

I became angry and distant from others who tried to help by assuring me he could live a normal life, that they knew people who had autism and went on to live happy lives. Every time I shared my thoughts with others I felt dirty or like a bad parent. I was not saying I wanted to harm him, but there were times when I said that, had I known he would come out with autism, I would’ve chosen not to have him. The worst part was, I had no one to tell me it was okay to feel this way, no one to allow me to voice my feelings without judgment. No one understood. Even very close friends whom I confided in left me feeling like a murderess mother. They asked me if I was going through postpartum depression or if I needed to give the child up to someone who could take care of him properly. Believe me when I say that in the darkest moments of this grief, I did wonder if I should take him to someone who was better equipped to deal with the situation.

I remember one distinct conversation with my mother in which she said, “Yes, I know, you feel like someone has died.”
I replied, “Yes, but the body is still in the house.” And therein lies my ambiguous loss. If only I had known I was legitimately grieving at the time.

Dr. Pauline Boss, Ph.D., defines ambiguous loss as a loss where there is no verification of death or the person you love will return to the way they used to be. This is often a diagnosis given to family members who have lost a loved one in war where no body is found, or like the families of the 9-11 bombings where no body was recovered for them to mourn. Your brain just doesn’t believe it’s real. In those cases of war and terrorism, everyone rallies around you. They say it’s okay to cry, to let it out and mourn. But for the parents of a special needs child, you’re told to buck up and deal with it. This is the hand you’ve been dealt and that’s just the way it is.

I was shocked to find out just recently, I had been experiencing ambiguous loss for years. Sure, my son is here, he is alive, but the baby I thought I had, the dreams I had for him are no longer possible.

My hope in writing this is that new parents experiencing ambiguous loss are made aware of this condition and allow themselves to go through the grieving process without guilt. If I had known others experienced this kind of trauma and I was allowed to feel the way I did while dealing with it, I believe the healing process would’ve started a lot sooner.

Now that my husband and I have come to grips with the situation, we are ready to live out our lives with our special son who is growing smarter every day. He speaks, he feeds himself, and he’s even potty trained! We know he will change with time. There will be good days and there will be bad days. He may run for president yet! But no matter what he becomes, he is our son and we love him just as much as we would any “normal” child.

For those of you out there who are going through ambiguous loss and feel like you will never make it through, please know you’re not alone. Stay strong, keep moving forward, and allow yourself to grieve. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person, it just means you’re human.

If you feel yourself unable to cope, please seek the help of a professional therapist. Sometimes having someone to listen and understand gives you the strength to handle the next hurdle. Visit Dr. Pauline Boss, Ph.D. at:


Emerian Rich is an author, artist, and mother of an energetic, autistic boy who has changed her outlook on absolutely everything. To find out more about Emerian, go to


Filed under autism, Depression, Family, Goals, love, marriage, Special needs, Writing

Six easy ways to improve NaNoWriMo

This makes a lot of sense. So do many of this gentleman’s other posts. Read more of The Red Pen of Doom!

The Red Pen of Doom

Writer peeps tell me they’re doing NaNoWriMo, which is Esperanto for “I’m trying to write a novel in a single month, and I’m 10k behind already, so I’ve quit my job and divorced my husband. I vaguely remember that we had some kids. Ready for a sprint?”

God bless all who sign up for this. I believe a novel is the toughest thing a writer can tackle, and the most rewarding.

It’s just that 30 days is a bit insane, and I say that as somebody who writes insanely fast. Related post: Why are all writers lazy bums?

If a friend of mine said they were doing NaNoWriMo, I’d want them to have a good experience and not pull their hair out because they missed two days of writing at that wedding and now they need to write 3,000 words a day and IT’S NOT HAPPENING.

It’s great that there’s a…

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Slaving Away: NaNoWriMo Week Two

by Lillian Csernica on November 11, 2014

Holy cats.  Talk about a marathon.  Every day I have to come up with another 1700 words!  Even when I’m working on a novel, I give myself the weekends off.  Not this month!  It’s “Go big or go home” seven days a week!  So this is how the Big Names do it, at least some of them.  Wow.  I wondered how people could crank out two or three books a year, every year, to keep one or more series going.  This is no job for the faint of heart!




I’m doing my research on the run this month, writing and writing until I hit a spot where I really do need to go find out about kimono colors and layers or exactly when petit fours were invented or when foreign ships first developed trade relations with the Ryukyu Islands.  I have to keep a firm grip on the rudder here, because it’s way too easy to get lost in the Land of Tangential Research.  Thank God for Pinterest.  Reading about historical information is one thing, but I really need to SEE the physical objects I’m writing about.  The board with all the oiran wigs is a treasure trove.  Those women had strong necks.  I’m guessing they also had a lot of headaches.  I have very long hair by today’s standards, down to my hips, and I can’t wear it up for more than an hour or two.  The sheer weight of it gives me a headache.  When I was seven years old, I was tall enough to take showers.  This turned out to be a bad idea.  Once my hair got wet, it weighed more than I did, and I fell over.  Not a good thing to do in the shower.  Mom had to have me lie down on the kitchen counter so she could wash my hair in the kitchen sink.

At this point Tendo and Yuriko are on Okinawa, where Tendo is working in the embassy established by the Satsuma clans, headed by Lord Shimazu.  The rules are different here.  In the world of diplomats, gaijin are the rule rather than the exception.  That doesn’t make life any easier for Yuriko.  The local diplomats’ wives have heard just enough about her and her past to be thinking all kinds of lurid thoughts.  They’re rather bored, so a new face with blue eyes who was raised to be oiran yet married this promising young samurai provides plenty of grist for the gossip mill.  Yuriko is worried about the more serious dangers that might lie beneath the women’s gossip that Tendo is inclined to disregard or ignore completely.  When he is attacked one night by three assassins who make it clear this is no mere street robbery, Tendo realizes Yuriko’s instincts for survival are once again right on the mark.

The NaNoWriMo crew strongly suggest coming up with a playlist for your novel.  I love Kiyoshi Yoshida’s work.  I think I’ll make his “Rising Sun” or “Samurai Rider” the theme song for Tendo, just as I made U2’s “With or Without You” the theme song for Alexandre in Ship of Dreams.  Still looking for Yuriko’s song.  I might go with “Cherry Blossom and Wazawai (Disaster).”   The title certainly fits the poor girl’s life!

Time to go write today’s pages.  Ganbare!

 EDIT: NaNoWriMo Day 11: 19,932 total word count. Today’s total: 2577.



Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, love, romance, Writing

Racing the Wind

by Lillian Csernica on November 4, 2014


“Don’t be afraid of opposition; remember, a kite rises against the wind.” — a fortune cookie

Life just seems to get harder, doesn’t it? Just when you think you’ve sorted out one mess, you turn around and see another one ready and waiting. Anybody who’s spent time around little kids knows how this works. No sooner do you get the bedroom tidied up than the little terrors have trashed the living room. Once John was able to walk, we called him “Hurricane John-John.” He had a thing about tabletops. Whatever might be on top of them, whether they were end tables or night stands or the dinner table itself, he would sweep it clear. Lucky for us, this developed a bit at a time, so when he got to the point of clearing the table in one go, we could stay one step ahead and keep anything breakable out of his path. With John, no sooner did we figure out and learn to cope with one behavior pattern than he’d abandon that in favor of something else, like his fascination with water. The winds kept changing, making our kite swoop and dive at times. Adjusting our approach to John’s needs meant making our kite ride those changing winds and keep on rising.

Michael has presented us with more than a few challenges. When your child is in pain and can’t speak, you have to learn how to figure out where it hurts. When Michael reached his mid-teens, his neurologist warned us that the growing self-awareness of that stage might result in bouts of depression as Michael really understood just how limited his life would be. Bad enough I have to fight my depression. To know my son would face a similar struggle just made me break down and cry. Once I dried my tears, and I’ve had to do that several times, I set out to find what might make Michael happy. This is how we discovered he likes to go bowling. This is how we found out how much he loves the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And, as a matter of fact, how much he likes to fly kites with John. If Michael can’t go out into the world, I will find ways to bring the world to him. If nothing else I will sit there and listen to him vocalize as he articulates his anger and frustrations in the only way he can. I have always insisted that all of Michael’s caregivers respect his personhood. It’s very easy for people to treat the person lying in the hospital bed as not really being there mentally. If there’s a decision to be made, we ask Michael for his opinion and interpret it as accurately as we possibly can. I know that depression leaves me feeling powerless. How much more must Michael feel it, when he has no physical control over his personal universe. The more of a sense of control I can give him, the more I can ease his anxieties and lower the intensity of his potential depression.

I had to face something of a personal challenge on Sunday, an event that stirred up a lot of opposition inside me. Michael’s godmother has now been gone for five years. Her husband has since met a woman in the choir where he attends church. Yesterday the two of them got married. When my husband told me we’d been invited to the wedding, I had mixed feelings. I still miss Michael’s godmother very much. Part of me didn’t like the idea of her husband having a new married life inside the house he and Michael’s godmother designed together. I wish him all the happiness in the world. I just have a hard time with goodbyes, and a change this big meant (at least to me) that a little more of my friend’s memory was leaving the world. I realize these thoughts are not grounded in reality. The bride is a wonderful lady who is, as the groom puts it, “the one who brought the smile back to his face.” So I told myself to put aside my selfish thoughts and be there for the groom as he has been there for me and Chris and Michael and John on so many occasions. I had to rise above my own conflicts, just as the kite rises against the wind.

As if my life wasn’t already wall to wall stress, I have taken on another challenge. Participate in NaNoWriMo and you commit to writing fifty thousand words between November 1 and November 30. It averages out to one thousand six hundred sixty-seven words per day. Right now I’m averaging a bit over eighteen hundred per day. I took this challenge on because I see it as a good way to keep me motivated as I write the first draft of the second novel in my Japanese historical trilogy. The NaNoWriMo community is wonderful, very supportive, full of advice and encouragement and camaraderie. I have five writing buddies, two of whom live in Japan and who are also writing in the same time period where my novels are set. This does a lot to soothe the loneliness that’s part of a writer’s lot in life. It’s hard, very hard, to make sure I sit down and get my daily word quota written.  Then I have the pleasure of going to the web site and adding it to my official word count. Last night I won the badge for hitting the five thousand word count.  Tonight I’m facing another six pages, but if I’m lucky and the words start flowing I’ll produce more than that. I have to push against fatigue and anxiety and not knowing what happens next. As I work, my kite takes form, size and shape and color and design. When I’m done, I’ll have a new novel and the sure knowledge that I build strong kites.

To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Filed under autism, Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, love, marriage, Self-image, Special needs, Writing