Category Archives: family tradition

Nevertheless, I Persisted


by Lillian Csernica on December 3, 2018

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Hi there. I’ve tried at least twice to write blog posts since last we met. Got interrupted, fell asleep, had family crises. Never a dull moment.

People who aren’t all that familiar with writing think it’s a great job you can do at home whenever you feel like it. For those of us who are regular, habitual writers, it’s often like that one nightmare where no matter how hard you run, you can never quite reach the thing you’re after. We struggle to find or make the time to write. Then we struggle to produce our desired word count. We sit there second-guessing ourselves, and that’s before the actual editing process starts. Then we rinse and repeat, pretty much every single day.

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NaNoWriMo — Yes, I participated this year. What’s more, I am now the Municipal Liaison for the Santa Cruz County Region, along with a nice woman who handles the UCSC campus which is a city unto itself. This meant I hosted the Kick Off Party, I was there for the Tuesday night write-ins at the library, and I organized the final celebration. Details below. Did I win? Yes I did. 50, 141 words written mostly by hand in my notebook at my favorite Peet’s. So now there is indeed a novel in the Kyoto Steampunk universe.

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Training two new aides for Michael — We have been fortunate enough to hire a second RN and two new aides for Michael. Now that he’s out of school, he needs people to help him fill his day. There are no day programs available to accommodate someone as medically fragile as he is. Michael is a grown man now, and my joints aren’t getting any younger. I am deeply grateful for all the assistance we receive.

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Mom in the hospital, then heart surgery — My mother has been in the hospital for weeks now. She has Stage 4 kidney failure. Home dialysis never did go right. The MDs switched her to hemodialysis after the whole ER panic in August. Unfortunately, MRSA is a tenacious affliction. In the course of treating that, the cardiologist discovered Mom had a weak mitral valve in her heart. This led to a twelve hour surgery to replace the valve. Mom is about to turn 82 come January. I have no words to describe how frightened and stressed out I’ve been during all this. Mom is improving, but it’s at an incremental pace.

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The Night Of Writing Dangerously — The big NaNoWriMo fundraiser. Thanks to the generous donations of my writer friends, I raised the required amount to attend NOWD. What a blast. I drove to San Francisco, found my $12 parking space (thank you, SpotHero!), and made it to the Julia Morgan Ballroom on time. The next eight hours were full of writing and food and jokes and prizes and meeting other writers. I needed a great night out and this was definitely it.

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Thanksgiving — With Mom in the hospital, this was a bittersweet event. She wasn’t at her usual seat at the table. She didn’t make us all wait while she took photos of the food sitting there on the table getting cold. She didn’t make us pose and then sit there until our smiles wilted, resulting in the usual expressions of mild sedation. Those habits might annoy me, but they’re still part of our family tradition, dysfunctional though it may be. We did have a great dinner, cooked by my husband. And I am very thankful Mom is still with us.

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John’s cake looked better.

John’s birthday — Given that we were running back and forth to the hospital and taking care of Michael (fewer caregivers on the weekend, especially major holidays), we stretched John’s birthday out from Friday through Sunday. Chris took him to Dave & Buster’s on Friday. I took him to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on Saturday along with various other fun stops. On Sunday we had his party with his custom made birthday cake and a pile of presents. My baby is now 20 years old. Next year, Chris plans to take John to Las Vegas.

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The Thank God It’s Over party (NaNoWriMo) — Once again I dressed up and headed out with my bag of NaNoWriMo swag and the prizes for the Bingo sheets we all filled out and various other little mementoes of the month’s adventures. Woodstock Pizza in Santa Cruz is great. The heaters out on the patio kept us cozy while we ate and drank and read from our novels and made the people sitting nearby wonder who all these crazy people were. NaNoWriMo is my happy place in the midst of all the stress I live with daily.

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Mercury might be in retrograde right now, but we did it. Every single one of us who did our best during NaNoWriMo is a winner. I’m exhausted, and I’m still worried, of course, but life is good.

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Coming up next: It’s time to answer this year’s letters to Santa Claus! I already have eight waiting for me!
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#NaNoWriMo: Hitting the Big 10K!


by Lillian Csernica on November 5, 2018

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As of Day Five, my word count stands at 11,586.

Tomorrow is a big day here in the U.S. In NaNo Land, it means the first Official Write-In for my region.

For the United States as a whole, it means the mid-term elections. To all my fellow citizens of voting age, I beg you, MAKE SURE YOU VOTE!

These events will come together at the library. That’s where we’re holding the Write-In, and that is also a polling place.

The future is in our hands, people. Let’s make it a good one.

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New Release from B-Cubed Press


by Lillian Csernica on August 10, 2018

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Announcing the Release of:

 Alternative Theologies:  Parables for a Modern World

Available for Preorder on Kindle

 https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives-ebook/dp/B07G9Z3KWZ/ref=zg_bs_158593011_4?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=YPWBEDM9J04WE5EJC9YX

 Available Now Paperback

https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives/dp/0998963429/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533934794&sr=1-1&keywords=alternative+theology

 

Table of Contents

 Editors Introduction by Phyllis Irene Radford and Bob Brown

Forward by Jim Wright

Counting Sunrises by Heather Truett

The Pale Thin God © 1994 by Mike Resnick, first published in Xanadu, Tor Books, edited by Jane Yolen

Devine Justice by Philip Brian Hall

Tit for Tat by James Dorr, first published in Ghosts: Revenge, James Ward Kirk Publishing

First by Kara Race Moore

Dear Mary, are you There? It’s Me, Heartbreak by Meg Bee

Ways of Knowing by Louise Milton

Izzy Tells No Lies by P. James Norris

The Audit by Colin Patrick Ennen

A Conservative Prayer by Gwyndyn T. Alexander

A Liberal Prayer by Gwyndyn T. Alexander

Forgiveness © 2016 by Phyllis Irene Radford, first published Kindle Unlimited

An Atheist at the Movies by Adam-Troy Castro

Everlasting Due by Marilyn Holt

Extinction Level Non-Conjunction Event by Anton Cancre

Ruby Ann’s Advice Column by C. A. Chesse

Nature Does Not Always Know by Jane Yolen

The Lost Gospel Writers by Charles Walbridge

Don’t Get the Bible Wet by Debora Godfrey

Prayer by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

So You Want to Make Gods. Now Why Should That Bother Anyone? by David Brin

The Faithless Angel by E.E. King

St Patrick 1, Snakes Nil by Jane Yolen

Temple Tantrum by J. W. Cook

Were You Good Stewards by Joyce Frohn

Righteous Spirits by Lillian Csernica

Last Words by Paula Hammond

The Good Mexican by Melvin Charles

Christian Nation by David Gerrold

A Parable About the 8th Day by Jane Yolen

The Forsaken Wall by Tom Barlow

An American Christian at the Pearly Gates by Larry Hodges

Lilith’s Daughters by Liam Hogan

Believing by Jane Yolen

Angelica by Jill Zeller

Whose Good News by Joana Hoyt

Alternative Beatitudes for the New Right by Janka Hobbs

The Ultimate Messiah Smackdown by Christopher Nadeau

 

About the Book

This is Book Four in the Alternatives Series of anthologies.

The Alternatives series looks at the social and political questions of the day with a mix of story, poetry, essay and, above all, a healthy bite of humor.

Alternative Theologies takes its turn with a gentle look at religion.

A sensitive topic.

Henry Frederic Amiel said: “Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”

And while this book explores theology and beliefs, it is written to be kind, thoughtful, and at times funny.

It will make you laugh, and it will make you think, but it will also give you an understanding of how diverse people see belief.

Our world class authors are both kind and thoughtful as they remind us, that no matter your creed, we make this journey together.

It starts with a foreword by Jim Wright, an American Icon, and it just gets better.

There are poems by some wonderful modern thinkers including Gwyndyn T. Alexander and Jane Yolen, that explore the core of our world.

Essays by David Brin and David Gerrold explore the nature of why we believe what we do.

And then there are the stories: Funny stories, like First, that explains how Hell got started. Serious stories of redemption, as seen in, Izzy Tells no Lies. stories that explore familiar themes, and stories that ask if we would even recognize a returning messiah after 2000 years of interpretation?

All written with the care, craft, skill and beauty that you have come to expect from B Cubed authors.

Book Information

Kindle

https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives-ebook/dp/B07G9Z3KWZ/ref=zg_bs_158593011_4?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=YPWBEDM9J04WE5EJC9YX

Paperback

https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives/dp/0998963429/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533934794&sr=1-1&keywords=alternative+theology

Released by B Cubed Press, BCUBEDPRESS.COM

Contact: Bob Brown, Kionadad@aol.com

Cover Design Sara Codair

Edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Bob Brown

ISBN-13: 978-0-9989634-5-7

Electronic ISBN: 978-0-9989634-6-4

 

 

 

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How History Books Will Make You a Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on June 27, 2018

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Why do I write about history?

History gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion.

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A good example is Scotland, which has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, notably the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those annoying facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

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I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I would find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. Today we see all that grandeur reduced to the common everyday business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are businesses available which produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese.

It was Eleanor who paid her son's ransom when he was captured

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chivalry was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved on more than one occasion. In our present time the High Court of Chivalry deals with matters of heraldry.

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Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. It’s possible that I’ve become a tad cynical regarding romance. When you’ve been married for thirty years, the starry-eyed honeymoon phase is a rather distant memory. That’s probably why I enjoy recreating it in my stories.

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Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, which also occur in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. 

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One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because the novel was set in Navarre. It took quite some doing, but I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. Compare that with the necessity in Egypt of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes. If not for that, many of the commoners and slaves in Egypt would have starved to death.

In Medieval Europe, bread, watered wine, ale, meats such as venison, game birds, and roast pork, and large wheels of cheese made up the main meal. You can find a number of cookbooks online that provide recipes from the Middle Ages. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the pleasure of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

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Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about the delights of dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the jeweled inlays of the Egyptian pectoral collars to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. Given that their total weight was more than 35 carats, it’s a wonder she didn’t end up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s!

History is full of fascinating details. There are so many ideas out there just waiting to inspire you. Read those history books, those biographies, those memoirs! You never know when you’re going to find the one detail that opens up a world of inspiration.

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Three Reasons Why June is A Great Month for Writing


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2018

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All good stories begin with a change in the status quo, the problem situation, that plunges the main character into turmoil. Change is the writer’s best friend, and June is a month full of changes. In many cultures, the biggest changes in a person’s life are marked by rites of passage. June is a great month for two very important rites:

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Graduation

The transition from one level of education to another is always significant. Kindergarten to elementary school, from there to middle school, and then the big move to high school as the launch pad for college. Mainstream students deserve to celebrate their achievements, those who struggle and those who shine. Today’s world places so many demands on children while at the same time burdening them with so many distractions. It’s a wonder so many students can focus long enough to do so well.

Yesterday my family attended the graduation ceremony for my older son Michael. At 22 he has now aged out of the school district’s post-graduate program for seniors in the county special education class. This means leaving the learning environment and the network of teachers, aides, therapists, bus drivers, and the registered nurse who have all been part of Michael’s life since he was 3 years old.

With the help of his classroom aide and one of his adaptive communication devices, Michael made a speech that included a little bit about himself, two of his favorite jokes, and a warm thank you to all the people who have helped him come so far. When you live in the world of special needs families, you celebrate every sign of progress no matter how small. Michael and the 6 other students also graduating today demonstrated the passion, dedication, patience, and love present in the parents, teachers, and administrators gathered there. So many stories worthy of being told.

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Weddings

June is a favorite month for weddings. Clear skies, lots of sunshine, and plenty of flowers make for ideal conditions, indoor or outdoor. Summer weather also means a wider selection of honeymoon destinations. The happy couple is about to embark on a whole new phase of their lives together.  There are all those people, the family and friends, who wish the pair getting married all the best. Then there are those people who…don’t.

I’m of an age now where I’ve been to several weddings. As a writer I know that any large event that brings together intense emotion, lots of money, family dynamics, and alcohol is going to bring out the best and the worst in people. Given that most weddings also drag God and the Law into the situation, there’s so much pressure to meet so many expectations. Put all this together and what do you get? Conflict! The key element of any strong story.

Here’s a quick list of my favorite wedding movies:

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Muriel’s Wedding

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Shrek

Pride and Prejudice (Yes, the one with Colin Firth.)

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The Summer Solstice

Summer is the season of freedom. Long days, short nights, no school, family vacations. We can all call to mind a family vacation where at least one thing didn’t go as planned, leading to the kind of drama that makes a story worth telling.

The Solstice itself is celebrated all over the world. No matter how far we get in terms of advanced technology, everybody wants to make sure the sun keeps rising and setting. The summer solstice marks the waning of the sun. No wonder summer is full of so much partying! Midsummer Eve is known for being one of those occasions when the veil between the worlds grows thin, much like Halloween. Gateways, boundaries, borders, and other points of transition are all natural settings for big changes and great stories.

For more on the folklore attached to the summer solstice, click here.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #24


by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Demonstrate refinement in everything you do.

THE STANDARD OF LIVING

Deanna watched the fire, adding some sticks to keep the flames at the right height. The grill Johnny had found in some trash heap held four skewers with five small chunks of meat on each skewer. Deanna didn’t know what kind of meat. She told herself it was animal protein, and that was what mattered. It could have been worse. Even with the city burning and the streetlights smashed and the blood smeared on the sidewalks and the doorways. Somewhere Johnny had found some meat. It might have been tofu.

Deanna could make herself put up with a lot of discomforts. She’d braided her long brown hair to keep it tidy. Her jeans and blouse were still fairly clean. She’d have given up her gold chain for a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Eating junk food and drinking sodas or energy drinks or anything else they could find, that she could live with. She drew the line at tofu.

Johnny came jogging back from his latest hunt for supplies. Deanna let out a sigh of relief. It had been quieter today, but still. The sight of his greasy blue overalls, curly black hair and long legs made her feel a little calmer. This morning they’d moved to the sheltered spot on the side of the high school facing away from the road. It was better to keep out of sight, hiding in a place where they could hear the scavenger crews coming. Two nights ago Deanna had seen a boy swept up in the mob rushing down the street. She didn’t want to think about what might have happened to him.

“I found some good stuff in a basement.” Johnny plopped down beside her on the flattened cardboard box they used for ground cover. He rummaged in his backpack. Glass clinked. With a big grin, he held up two bottles of some off-brand beer. “Nothing like a barbecue under the stars!”

Deanna managed a smile. She loved Johnny for his upbeat spirit, for his endless cocky remarks reflecting a confidence she didn’t feel. Four nights ago the world had gone insane. The power grid failed. Computers all failed due to some big horrible virus sent out by some mysterious gang of international hackers. All the news outlets had been shut down. No phones, no TVs, nothing but hysteria and violence and whispered rumors about who was behind it all.

Deanna pulled a clean bandana out of her backpack and set two skewers on it, offering them to John. She pulled out another bandana for herself, then two of the paper napkins.

Johnny pulled the heavy keyring out of his hip pocket and pried the cap off one bottle of beer and handed it to her. “It’s warm, but hey, that’s how they drink it in England, right?”

Deanna nodded. She accepted the beer, watched Johnny open his own, then held up her bottle.

“To better days.”

Johnny grinned. “Better days, baby. You bet.”

They clinked bottles. Johnny drank a long swallow of his beer, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Deanna ducked her head to hide the wince she couldn’t stop. A diamond in the rough, she told herself. He worked hard at the auto shop, he’d always been polite, and he made sure Deanna felt safe and comfortable. She’d just have to do what her grandmother taught her and be the one who preserved the manners in the family.

Grandma Elaine set a perfect table, gave the best presents, and made sure Deanna knew all the proper phrases for formal occasions. “Congratulations.” “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “Happy Birthday! Wishing you your best year yet.” On and on, handwritten thank you notes, party invitations, and the list of Christmas cards. Deanna’s mother had abandoned writing by hand in junior high in favor of electronic devices. Mama had laughed at Grandma’s slow, old-fashioned ways.

Tears blurred Deanna’s sight, smearing the flames into so many orange flickers. Nobody was laughing now. Deanna had been out with Johnny when the house caught fire. Mama and Grandma were already asleep. Deanna hoped the smoke killed them before the fire did.

“Hey,” Johnny said. “Hey, honey, why are you cryin’?”

Deanna sat up straight and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. “The smoke, Johnny. That’s all. Just smoke in my eyes.”

Johnny looked up at the sky. “Yeah, the wind’s picking up. Rain would sure help, but we gotta find a place inside first.”

Deanna nodded. She bit into a chunk of the meat, ignoring the peculiar taste. Protein meant strength. Strength meant survival. Survival meant living to see those better days, living in a house again with nice furniture and fresh flowers and guest towels in the downstairs bathroom. Concentrating on all the proper details Grandma would expect to see in Deanna’s new house made it easier to force down the strange meat and the bitter warm beer.

She’d survive. Grandma would consider that a lady’s duty, to preserve civilized behavior.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #15


byLillian Csernica on May 15, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Avert misunderstanding by calm, poise, and balance.

THE POWER OF THE POSE

The Almond Walk pedestrian mall took up a third of the oldest part of town. That meant most of the CCTV cameras were busy watching traffic patterns. Anna kept to the alleys between the stucco walls. It was just her rotten luck Jessica had decided to mask her latest poison green hair color by dying it all black. Without the elaborate makeup Jessica learned from YouTube tutorials, the cousins could almost pass for sisters.

Two CDs. One tacky necklace. Some pricey makeup. It didn’t matter. What Jessica wanted, Jessica took. That had always been true, from the days when they were in kindergarten and Jessica would push Anna aside during Anna’s birthday parties so Jessica could tear open the presents first. And still the aunts and uncles kept pushing the girls together, laughing off such cruelties and ignoring Anna’s disappointed wails.

Anna ran between two of the potted palms. She should have known better than to believe Jessica when she said she’d behave herself this time. Anna’s mother warned her not to go shopping with her sticky-fingered cousin. And now the only way out was through the parking garage, where Anna’s car was parked. Plenty of CCTV in there. The guards would be watching for Jessica, who had done herself up to look like Anna.

Was it just her cousin’s warped sense of humor? Or something more vicious?

A burst of Jessica’s smug laughter echoed off the walls of the parking garage, which was just up ahead. Anna had to get off the street, out of sight. She ducked into the delivery door around the back of one dress shop. This place used the old-fashioned kind of mannequins that looked like life-size Barbie dolls, the kind from the ’70s.

The clothes weren’t much better. A retro shop, full of caftans and go go boots, mini skirts and tye-dye. Still, this was not a shop Jessica would be likely to loot. Anna kicked off her sandals, pulled her sun dress off over her head, then wriggled into a body hugging minidress of psychedelic paisley. A heavy blonde wig hid her own black hair. She found some huge silver hoop earrings, a fistful of mismatched silver chains, and some bangles. The security guards would be looking for Jessica. Anna still had the car keys. She’d made very sure Jessica hadn’t found a way to get copies made.

Anna slipped out into the main sales floor of the shop. She took her place between two mannequins dressed in similar styles. One hand on her hip, the other hand in a casual gesture. Weight on her back leg, front foot turned out. That look of superior disinterest word by all mannequins.

Two security guards burst in through the front door, making the string of cheap brass bells clatter. They combed through all the aisles, pushing through racks of clothing and checking the empty dressing rooms. Anna held her breath, held her pose, and kept her face that immobile mask of indifference. This was Anna’s secret weapon. Jessica couldn’t hold still. Couldn’t be patient. Couldn’t wait to get what she wanted. She had to have it all right now now now!

One guard’s radio crackled to life. Trouble in the parking garage. A girl matching the description of the thief trying to break into a car. She kept insisting she was the owner.  Anna fumed. Could this be all about stealing Anna’s car while getting her busted for shoplifting in Jessica’s place?

Anna kept still, holding the pose despite the ache in her back and the stiffness in one knee. Reports started coming in. The other security teams had found only one girl fitting the shopkeepers’ descriptions. Jessica. She tried to claim she was Anna. Hearing that made Anna furious. So it was all a set up!

Pain in her legs. Pain up her back. Pain in her ears from the weight of the earrings. The wig made sweat run down the sides of her fave. Still she kept her pose. Payback was coming, and she wanted to be there to see it.

The guards hauled Jessica into the back of the retro dress shop. One took her purse and shook it out, dumping the CDs, makeup, and the ugly necklace.

“I’m telling you,” Jessica snapped. “My cousin grabbed my bag and switched it for hers!”

“And you expect us to believe that wasn’t all part of the plan?”

Jessica sulked, arms crossed tight over her chest. “I don’t care what you believe. I want my mother and a lawyer.”

Anna held on, listening to the questioning, delighting in the shopkeeper identifying Jessica, and treasuring the way the arrogant edge began to wear off of Jessica’s voice. Anna held her pose despite the aches and pains and knots in her muscles.

When the real police arrived, Anna was ready to scream with relief. The security guards handed Jessica over to them, and they cuffed her. Oh, the sweet music of the bracelets jingling on her cousins’ wrists.

Once the police and security cars all drove off, Anna flopped down to pull off the boots, fling aside the wig, and peel off the minidress. With a happy sense of her own bland but appropriate style, she hurried out to her card and drove home where she would sit in happy anticipation of the family uproar once word got out that Jessica finally got caught.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie 10


by Lillian Csernica on May 10, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.

All God’s Children

Gloria had a rough time living up to her name. During some Christmas when she was just a little girl, somebody had told her about “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Gloria liked the sound of “Glory to God in the highest” in Latin and in plain English. She figured out “the highest” meant Heaven. It was the other thing she figured out that ended up causing all the trouble.

Gloria’s mother Jenny started out looking a trifle too wild for the folks at St. Michael’s. She had tattoos, a few piercings, and a braid dyed pink and blue and purple. She turned up in the soup kitchen on the same weekend we were there serving dinner. Three of our church ladies had done the cooking. I was the parish council Treasurer in those days. I played a fair amount of football in college, so a big solid linebacker came in handy loading and unloading the church van as well as making sure our church ladies didn’t have any trouble with some of the rougher folks we served.

Jenny started to turn up at St. Michael’s on Sundays. At first she just needed the box of donated food from the church pantry. Pretty soon she was coming to Mass. She wore long sleeves and left most of her jewelry at home, and covered up her hair with a nice floral scarf. In the beginning Jenny was just being polite, showing respect and coming to Mass as a way of saying thank you for the help we gave her. The one time I saw Gloria’s daddy out in the parking lot, it was obvious he wasn’t much of a church-going man. Reminded me of the more unpleasant type of tough guy who spent most of his time pickled in alcohol.

Jenny gave birth to Gloria the day after Christmas. By then Jenny had been coming to St. Michael’s for over a year, helping clean the church and the hall, working in the garden, and pitching in wherever help was needed. She was grateful for all the help the ladies gave her, making sure she saw the doctor and took her vitamins and knew what to expect. Jenny showed her gratitude the best way she knew how, with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Whoever she had been, she let that phase of her life go. She’d more than proven herself to be a good woman with proper manners and a kind heart.

Jenny asked Fr. Daniel if he’d baptize Gloria, and he was happy to oblige. He offered Jenny the same opportunity, and she accepted. That was one of the happiest days at St. Michael’s I was ever privileged to see. Jenny never talked much about herself or where she’d come from. That didn’t matter so much. She’d joined the family of our parish.

Poor Gloria. When her mama was a wild child who worked hard to do right by her baby, that meant Gloria had a lot to live up to, especially being a girl. Everything seemed to be just fine until the day Marigold moved into the apartment next door to Jenny and Gloria. Confirmation classes had started, so Gloria was twelve, that dangerous age between child and teenager, between playing with dolls and wanting to hang out with the big kids. Marigold was a sweet enough woman, fresh and pretty with her white blonde hair and ’60s style clothes. She wore enough bracelets and necklaces to sink a battleship. We always knew when Marigold was coming because she jingled louder than the bells on Santa Claus’ sleigh.

Marigold’s front yard was full of garden gnomes and copper dragonflies and wind chimes and bird feeders and those colorful flowers with big petals that spun in a stiff breeze. Gloria loved it, and she loved Marigold’s black cat Sable. Jenny told me later that she should have been more careful about letting Gloria run over to Marigold’s place so much. Jenny knew what all the candles and crystals and little fairy figurines meant.

Marigold called herself a witch.

I’ll admit that caused some of us at St. Michael’s quite a bit of worry. Fr. Daniel just smiled and reminded us to look to the health and well-being of our own souls. So we watched and we waited.

Gloria took an interest in all the pets in the neighborhood. Cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs. There was one boa constrictor, but Jenny was relieved to see Gloria had no desire to play with it. This all seemed like a healthy, innocent hobby, even when Gloria wanted to start having little birthday parties for the pets. Jenny noticed Gloria was spending a lot more time at the library. When she wasn’t there, she was over at Marigold’s place.

Gloria had a problem. The animals couldn’t talk. How could she find out what to give them for birthday presents? Marigold let her borrow a book on astrology. That’s what started it. Gloria looked up all the birth dates she’d been able to learn, and then made up a few for the animals whose owners had no idea. She ended up with a notebook full of page after page devoted to each pet and what the astrology book said about its sign.

Giving Sable a birthday party with a Leo theme seemed harmless enough. Catnip toys and kitty treats and a special salmon cake. Gloria had saved up her pocket money.

This led to reading more books about stranger subjects. Jenny put her foot down and sent Gloria to have a talk with Fr. Daniel. I’d have given a lot to listen in on that conversation. I was in the church hall when the two of them came out of Fr. Daniel’s office. He thanked Gloria for giving him so much to think about. Gloria said she’d take “those” books back to the library.

Advent had come round again. That Sunday Fr. Daniel gave a sermon we’d all remember.

“In the Bible Christ tells the Apostles, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ I have many books in my library. Many of the writings of the Holy Fathers. Recently I learned an important lesson, and it came to me not through ancient teachings but from the goodness of a child.

“Our dear Gloria explained to me that she had finally understood the true meaning of her name. It comes from ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which is ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ When she first learned to read, Gloria saw all the tags on the Christmas presents. They said To and From. Some also read From and To. Gloria thought about the Latin phrase and in her innocence believed the angel must have left out a word. Gloria wanted to do as the angel said and give the Baby Jesus a birthday present. She believed the angel meant to say, “From Gloria, To God in the highest.”

A murmur of fond amusement swept through the nave.

“Gloria knows that God created all creatures great and small. Her recent practice of giving birthday parties to the pets in her neighborhood is her way of giving God the pleasure of seeing her show love to His creatures by celebrating the days they entered Creation.”

Fr. Daniel paused and looked down at his notes. He cleared his throat, sniffed, and blinked a few times.

“I want to thank Gloria for sharing this with me. In this season of celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us all keep in mind that we are all God’s creatures, two-legged and four-legged. Let us celebrate the image and likeness of God everywhere we find it, and give thanks for finding it in so many, many places.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

With one voice, we all answered, “Amen!”

END

Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to Archpriest Basil Rhodes and all the folks at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Saratoga, CA. They were kind enough to teach me many lessons about how much God loves us.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #9


by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Kindness only comes in whole.

 

Broken Promises, Broken Lives

Mary Anne yawned. She glanced at the alarm clock beside her bed. Three a.m. No wonder she was sleepy. She plugged her cell phone into the charger and tied back her long brown hair in a ponytail. Sleeping in her blue sweats seemed like an even better idea. The wind had risen, blowing the willow branches against her bedroom window. She knew she should have taken the first floor apartment. Too many bad memories. She couldn’t step out on a balcony without thinking of Esmeralda.

Mary Anne picked up her phone again. It had been a year already. She swiped through her photos until she found the last photo taken of Esmeralda when she was still happy, standing on the rooftop of that youth hostel in Yokohama. Cherry blossom season. Esmeralda loved flowers. The hotel held a party that night on the rooftop. The breeze blew cherry blossom petals along the streets. As night fell, neon came on all over the city. So amazing.

That night Esmeralda and Mary Anne had stayed up late, talking about the future. They’d been to a temple the day before and chose fortune sticks. The numbers on the sticks matched scrolls that described the kind of luck they could expect to have in the areas of health, money, relationships, scholarship, and spiritual matters. At the party they found a fellow guest who spoke English, Japanese, Italian and French. Massimo translated the fortune scrolls. It was all just one more item on the tourist attraction list until Massimo frowned.

“Esmeralda, in every column it says you must finish what you start. Any project, any job, any course of study, you must work hard and finish it as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” Esmeralda asked.

“I don’t know quite what it means. Something along the lines of Carpe Diem, seize the day.” Massimo gave her back the scroll and rubbed his hands together in a nervous gesture. “Many cultures have such sayings.”

Mary Anne nodded. “YOLO, right?” She laughed. “That’s why we’re here!”

She wanted to laugh it off and get back to the party. It wasn’t like she and Esmeralda were Buddhists and actually went to that temple. They were college students on vacation.

After the party, Esmeralda sat up late on the rooftop, watching the endless traffic and the rainbow of neon signs. It was three a.m. Mary Anne had enough plum wine to leave her sleepy and content. Esmeralda’s voice woke her from a doze.

“You understand, don’t you, Annie? I just want to be sure Teresa is OK.”

Teresa was Esmeralda’s little sister, all of fourteen, just starting high school. So pretty, but not all that smart.

“No problem, Esme.”

“You promise? Make sure she studies hard, and stays away from the bad boys.”

“Promise.”

Now Mary Anne put her phone back on the charger. Life was so unfair. A week after they came home from Japan, Esmeralda fell down some stairs. She couldn’t use her left arm properly and had missed her grip on the handrail. Tests and more tests. Six months later Esmeralda was dead. Some horrible neurological condition that happened to only one in one million people.

The willow branches rattled against the window again. Mary Anne frowned. She couldn’t recall that much noise even during some of the winter storms.  She threw back the covers and padded across the carpet to the window. She pulled open the curtains.

Esmeralda stood there, her heavy black braid a mess, her hospital gown hanging off one shoulder, her face twisted like a stroke patient. Beneath her feet, nothing but three floors of empty air.

“You broke your promise!”

“What? No!”

“Teresa is lost. You did not protect her.”

Mary Anne shook her head. Late night. Too much Internet. That blue glow from her phone messing with her brain.

“You promised me, Mary Anne. To make her study. To keep away the bad boys.”

“Teresa is fine! Her quinceanera is next month!”

The horrible thing outside the window shook its head. “No quinceanera for Teresa. No college. No future. You promised!”

“Go away!” Mary Anne grabbed at the curtains, trying to close them. The wind blew harder, rattling the panes.

“Tonight Manuel ruined Teresa. Your fault. All your fault! You promised!”

Mary Anne ran back to bed and dove under the covers. A nightmare. Just a nightmare. She’d done everything she could to help Teresa study hard. Even found her a math tutor. So Teresa went to a few parties. She always went in a group with three or four other girls. School events. Church events. Adults keeping an eye on the kids.

The covers flew back. Esmeralda stood there, tears running down her cheeks.

“Manuel is good for nothing but making babies!” Esmeralda let out a tormented wail. “You kept only half of your promise!”

Mary Anne rolled out the other side of the bed. She hit the floor on hands and knees and scrambled toward the door. Up on her feet, she ran for the front door and flung it open, racing down the balcony to the stairway.

Esmeralda appeared, hanging in space above the stairwell, hair streaming, mouth open wide in an endless scream.

Mary Anne jerked away, missing her grip on the railing. She tumbled down the concrete stairs. The last thing she felt was Esmeralda’s tears raining down on her face.

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#atozchallenge: O is for Olivia Danforth


by Lillian Csernica on April 17, 2018

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Olivia Elspeth Danforth was born in London, England in 1840. Her father ran a tobacco shop. Thanks to a small inheritance, she had enough money to get an education. She worked hard and did not expect to marry at all, much less well. Olivia chose nursing because her mother said she had a talent for keeping her brothers and sisters healthy despite the diseases of the day.

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She graduated from The Nightingale Home and Training School for Nurses in 1870.

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Through Lady Dorothy Monroe, sister to Constance Harrington and patron of The Nightingale Home, Nurse Danforth found a position at Dr. Harrington‘s newly opened practice.

Nurse Danforth acted as part-time nanny for Madelaine after she was born in 1871.

Constance thinks the world of Olivia Danforth, who has become as much a member of the family as one can who is not related by blood. Nurse Danforth knows this is a better life than she’d hoped for and counts her blessings every day. While her demeanor may be stern, she is fiercely loyal to the family. Nurse Danforth literally follows Dr. Harrington to the ends of the earth so she can remain close to Madelaine.

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