Category Archives: charity

The 12 Rules of Christmas


by Lillian Csernica on December 15, 2016

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1) Thou shalt slow down. We’re all in a hurry. It’s that time of year. If we can “proceed in a calm, orderly fashion” the way we’re directed to do during emergencies, then maybe we can avoid the kind of emergency that will ruin everybody’s day. Yes, I mean traffic. I also mean elevators, escalators, check out lines, and any other point where the crowd tends to hit a bottle neck.

2)Thou shalt hurry up. This means have your ticket ready when you exit the parking garage. This means get off your cell phone and stop blocking the aisle. This means know what you want to order by the time you get to the head of the fast food line.

3)Thou shalt have mercy on servers, salespeople, and other customer service representatives unless and until they demonstrate deliberate rudeness. Once that happens, demand to see the supervisor or manager. Take the time to make sure those rude people get busted for their bad behavior. You deserve polite service.

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4)Thou shalt give no gifts that require labor or maintenance unless by prior explicit agreement. This means any living creature in the pet category, any plant growing in a container, anything from any DIY category on Pinterest, and especially any of those “In A Jar” projects.

5) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s parking space. This goes double for the handicapped slots. Just because you can’t see why a person has a handicapped placard or special license plate, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a disability that qualifies.

6) Thou shalt contain thy children. This includes both physical movement and volume control.

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7)Thou shalt prepare, taste, and evaluate any new recipes before inflicting them on innocent and unsuspecting family and/or guests. Have you ever wondered why the women’s magazines bring out all those bizarre recipes for the holiday season? If those food items are so delightful, why aren’t people making them anymore?

8) Thou shalt keep thy receipts. Big stores like Toys R Us and Macy’s are pretty good about “gift receipts,” making returns possible without the person knowing exactly how much you spent on the gift.

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9) Thou shalt not put up so many Christmas lights, inflatable snowmen, animatronic reindeer, etc. etc. that you create a traffic hazard by either distracting drivers, blinding them, or both.

10)Thou shalt cover thy nose or mouth in the event of a sneeze or cough. Come on, people. Do the elbow thing. Do NOT use your hands, because you will then spread whatever germs didn’t already escape into the air.

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11)Thou shalt send actual written thank you notes. I know, this must sound unbearably old-fashioned in the Digital Age, but it’s the right thing to do. My sons send written thank you notes, and everybody knows Michael and John both need some help to do that. People are surprised and very pleased. Word gets all the way back to my mother, who sat me down and made me write thank you notes as soon as I had learned how to write.

12)Thou shalt give thyself permission to stop trying to make everybody happy all at once, especially when that means losing sight of making thyself happy too. Figure out what really makes you happy, be it baking cookies or driving around looking at Christmas lights or going to church or playing silly board games with your friends. Do those things. Give yourself the gift of “Peace on earth, goodwill toward Man.”

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Santa Claus Needs You!


by Lillian Csernica on December 5, 2016

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The letters to Santa Claus have begun to arrive. Right after Thanksgiving, I let the local post offices know that once again I’d be ready, willing, and able to join the network of Volunteer Elves all over the U.S.  We answer the letters children write to Santa Claus. We help keep the magic of childhood bright and sparkling.

If you believed in Santa Claus when you were little, please consider lending a hand this holiday season. There are always more letters than there are volunteers available to answer them. Would you like to know how much joy a letter from Santa Claus can bring? Let me share with you some moments from the more than ten years I’ve been answering these letters.

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One young lady asked for a gift certificate to a local bookstore. I called the bookstore, explained myself as a volunteer with my local post office, then told the clerk about this very specific request. Would the bookstore be interested in make a donation? The manager asked me to come on over and bring the letter with me. The result? The store donated a gift certificate for the full amount.

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Another young lady appealed to Santa Claus to help her convince the kids at school who kept telling her Santa didn’t really exist. Would Santa please send her some sleigh bells so she could prove to her classmates Santa Claus is real? I found two jingle bells, one large, one small, that looked a bit weathered and put them in a padded envelope along with Santa’s reply to the young lady’s letter. A few days later, my mail carrier brought me a note addressed to “The Post Office Santa Claus” from this young lady’s parents. It said, “Thank you so much for keeping our daughter’s dream and belief alive. WE LOVE YOU!”

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One year a letter came from two kindergarten age children, a brother and sister who included their school photos. It was clear to me that an adult had helped write the letter. The kids wanted Santa Claus to know that their family had just received housing assistance, so they were going to be moving. They were worried that Santa wouldn’t know where to find them on Christmas Eve. The children each asked for a single toy. Would Santa please bring their mother something nice, maybe perfume?

Thanks to the help of some enthusiastic postal workers, a very generous toy store, and my long-suffering and very supportive husband, we delivered two large, brightly wrapped gifts to the children’s home while the kids and their mother were out looking at Christmas decorations. Grandma was there baking pies. I discovered she’d been the one to help the kids write their letter. They watched a TV show about the people who volunteer to answer letters written to Santa. The little boy had asked Grandma if she thought Santa Claus really would answer their letter. Grandma suggested they give it a try.

One of the happiest moments of my life will always be the way Grandma burst into tears when we brought in the gifts for her grandchildren. I apologized for not knowing what perfume might be best for their mother, since so many people have allergies. Grandma said that didn’t matter. The best gift we could have brought Mom was how happy the kids would be when Grandma told them Santa’s elves had not just answered their letter but made a special trip to bring them their presents.

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Be a part of the magic. Stop by your local post office. I know more than a few mail carriers who have been the ones to answer the letters they pick up on their routes. The Post Office provides a starter kit, and there are lots of examples and suggestions online.

Happy Holidays!

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Filed under charity, Christmas, classics, creativity, dreams, Family, family tradition, fantasy, home town, legend, Lillian Csernica, love, mother, parenting, Writing

The Greatest Job I’ve Ever Had


by Lillian Csernica on September 17, 2016

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Yes, that’s me. Granted, I was all of eighteen.

Once upon a time, I worked as a Turkish-Moroccan belly dancer. My teacher was a delightful lady from Zaragoza, Spain. I had a genuine, 100% authentic coin belt made by a  man from Turkey. The belt had 144 diamond-shaped metal coins stamped with the image of Venus on the Half-Shell.

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I performed in my high school talent show. The audience actually threw money at the stage. That in itself was funny. Then the stagehands gathered it all up and brought it to me backstage!

My teacher often took me with her when she’d been hired for a party. During the holiday season, we appeared as part of a steady stream of entertainers at a bachelor party. Just one piece of art on the walls in that house could have put me through college. That was the night I got the biggest tip I’d ever received. Some generous soul stuffed a $10 bill down the back of my coin belt!

Ah, the places I’ve been and the things that I’ve seen….

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How You Can Achieve World Peace


by Lillian Csernica on August 7, 2016

Lately I seem to be crossing paths with more Muslim people. Maybe there are more moving into my area. Maybe I’m just starting to notice Muslim folks more often. Women wearing the hijab are not all that common in my neck of the woods.

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In the coffeehouse where my writing group meets, I saw an interesting sight. An older man and woman who appeared to be Caucasian. The man wore the white skullcap and the woman wore the hijab. The woman’s headscarf was lovely and I commented on it. That got us into a conversation about a shop in Berkeley where I can find similar scarves. (Being Russian Orthodox, I cover my head when I’m in church.) We also discussed the latest trends toward longer skirts, which made both of us happy.

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The supermarket where I do my grocery shopping has a few new cashiers at the registers. One of them happens to be another woman who appears to be Caucasian, speaks with an American accent, and wears the hijab. She is a cheerful, talkative, charming person and I like her a lot. Our most recent conversation was about rock music. As I moved on out of the line, I said to her, “Salaam alaikum.” She gave me the sweetest smile and returned the greeting. We’re both People of the Book, so it’s all good.

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In a recent post I mentioned my family’s trip to the San Francisco Zoo. In one of the zoo’s restaurants, I met a Muslim family, mother, father, and two little boys. In the course of exchanging greetings, I said, “You folks are Muslim, yes?” The mother took a step back toward her children. The father’s expression turned wary. Little wonder. These are dangerous times.

I realized I’d made them anxious, so I smiled and wished them a Happy Eid Mubarak. The mother came forward with open arms to give me a big hug. The father thanked me, using a serious tone than conveyed gratitude for more than just my effort to be polite. When he said, “It means a lot,” I had to wonder what kind of hostility this family had faced in the past.  A kind greeting from a stranger recognizing one of the Muslim holy days brought that much relief and happiness. Such a little act, but for that family, it had great meaning.

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This is how we build world peace. We talk to each other. We get to know each other. We discover what we have in common. We respect each other.

Later today I’ll be buying groceries for the week. If I see the Muslim lady cashier, I’m going to ask her if we can have tea together sometime.

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!


by Lillian Csernica on July 27, 2016

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Yesterday we went on a family outing to the San Francisco Zoo. Back in late April, during his birthday preparations, Michael had asked for a trip to the zoo. Chris told him we’d go in the summer when the weather was better and the animals were more likely to be active.

This was my first visit to this particular zoo, which happens to be Northern California’s largest zoological park. Here are some of the marvelous creatures I had the pleasure of seeing live and in person:

Eagle Owl

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This owl is enormous! While I was studying her, Athena flew toward me. I now know what it feels like to be a small, furry creature seeing that shadow coming for me. In the Harry Potter books, Draco’s familiar is an Eagle Owl. The owl’s eyes really are that intense orange color!

 

Grizzly Bear

Kachina and Kiona are orphaned cubs from Montana. They were found foraging for food in a barn. Fortunately, arrangements were made for the zoo to give them a home.

Red Panda

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There are few creatures on this planet more adorable than a red panda. Even when one is just hanging out, munching leaves, it’s a delight. To judge from the number of stuffed toys red pandas I saw people carrying around, the zoo must sell more of those than any other animal.

Fishing Cat

This is when I got really excited. I didn’t know the zoo had a Fishing Cat. There she sat, on a stony ledge right beside the waterfall in her enclosure. She took no notice of us humans until a man with a service dog came closer. Then the Fishing Cat stood up and took a good look at that dog! Fishing cats’ paws are partly webbed. They pat the water to imitate how bugs move. That draws the fish, then the cats dive in!

Tigers

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Tigers are my favorite animal, especially the white tiger. We saw a Bengal tiger and a Sumatran tiger. Tigers are supremely cool and they know it.

Gray Rhinoceros

 

You need to understand just how big a rhino really is. Six feet tall at the shoulder, weighing up to three thousand pounds. My car, a Dodge Neon, weighs a bit over twenty-five hundred pounds and comes up to my chest. I had to stand there staring at the rhino for a good few minutes just to get my mind around the sheer size!

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Speaking of size, I was also boggled by the length and girth of the hippo, who was underwater and stayed there aside from a few brief bobs to the surface for air. This photo gives you some perspective. Do not annoy a hippo. It may well be the last thing you ever do.

Snow leopard

How gorgeous can one large feline get? What impressed me is the fact that a snow leopard’s tail is usually as long as its body.

These animals are all endangered species. Please, if you haven’t been able to see them in person, do so as soon as possible. If you find yourself captivated by one or more of these wonderful creatures, consider a donation or volunteer work or whatever you can manage.

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Light That Candle


I’m sitting here crying. The family of a friend of mine has lost a little girl. There was an Amber Alert out for her, but the authorities didn’t find her in time. This loss, on top of France and Dallas and the rest of 2016, is just too much. I’m reposting this blog in the hope that these stories provide some inspiration and perhaps even comfort.

Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons

by Lillian Csernica on August 16, 2014

It has been a long and difficult week all over the world.  So many losses.  So much upheaval.  I’ve seen a lot of information out there about depression and how to cope with it.  I’ve seen a lot of really stupid remarks by people who have no idea what it’s like to live with the big Black Dog day in and day out, to go to sleep (if you can) with the Black Dog sitting on your chest and then wake up to it gnawing on your heart.

One suggestion I’ve heard several times is to go do something for other people.  Get out of your own head, away from your own life, and help somebody who needs it.  You could make all the difference.  With that in mind, I’d like to share seven events from my life, seven moments where the kindness…

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Orthodox Easter


by Lillian Csernica on May 1, 2016

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

Khristos voskres! Voistinnu voskres!

Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti!

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The Icon of the Resurrection

 

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The white pyramid is pascha, a traditional dessert that makes cheesecake look like nothing!

 

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Kulich, an egg bread, baked in coffee cans to get that cylindrical shape.

 

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Pysanky eggs, mainly for Easter but also given at Christmastime.

Glory to God!

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Y is for Yearning


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2016

 

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There you have it.  During all the trips I’ve taken, in the midst of all the traveling I’ve done, there’s been a part of me that was waiting, watching, and hoping.  I’ve been on the lookout for that signal, that flare of recognition that would tell me I had finally found the trail that would lead me to my true home.

U2 said it best.

And so I keep traveling.

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U is for Undiscovered


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2016

 

Today we will examine some of the places on my Travel Bucket List.  I hope to visit them before I die.  This is yet another way I keep trying to motivate myself to exercise and lose weight.  I present these destinations in the order they occurred to me as I was daydreaming.

New Zealand

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Parliament of New Zealand in Wellington city

 

Reykjavik, Iceland

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Venice, Italy

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The Grand Canal at night

Ireland

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Denmark

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Egeskov Castle

Glasgow, Scotland

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Glasgow city hall

Jamaica

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Martinique

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Fort de France, Martinique

Morocco

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Santiago de Compostella, Spain

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Church interior, Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, Spain

Greece

The site of the monastery where my patron saint was abbess in the 4th Century.

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St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Church

 

 

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Steampunk Scribes


by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2016

 

A delightful Q&A article between The Punkettes and some of us who have contributed stories to 30 Days Later can be found HERE.

 

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