Category Archives: Food

W is for Wedding


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2022

When I was fourteen years old, my father got married for the third time. My mother had been wife number two. My parents divorced when I was eleven, so I guess you could say Daddy had observed an appropriate period of mourning for that failed marriage before he decided to take the plunge once again.

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One of the many strange things about my father’s third marriage was the fact that I and my soon-to-be stepsister already knew each other. We were on the same volleyball team in high school. My stepsister had the unlikely name of America. People mostly called her Amy. She had long dark hair, big blue eyes, full lips, and a perfect figure. Amy reminded me of how Snow White might have turned out if she’d ended up on the beach in Santa Monica. She was gorgeous and she knew it. The third member of the package deal was my stepbrother Joseph, twenty-one and the black sheep of his family. Daddy put up with Joseph until the day he discovered Joseph had been growing marijuana in a garden shed out back. In 1979 people were a lot less tolerant of marijuana than they are now. Daddy kicked Joseph out. I was fine with that.

Preparations for the wedding included fittings for bridesmaid dresses made of yellow polyester. Sleeveless yellow polyester. In the heat of summer. Over the upper half of these sunny creations draped chiffon circles with a pattern of daisies and greenery. We also had to wear yellow garden hats with bands of similar chiffon. Somebody tall and willowy might have made that outfit look good. All I know is, I wasn’t tall enough and nowhere near willowy. These were the colors my stepmother-elect had chosen, so I did my best. Amy made the outfit look great.

Being a teenager who’d grown up in one dysfunctional family and knew she was about to join another, I had mixed feelings about this whole process. For one thing, my stepmother’s name was Amber. I had a thing for geology at the time. All I could think of was tree sap with bugs caught in it. Ancient bugs at that. Not the most maternal image. Also, Amber was short. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but next to my father, she looked more like his daughter than his wife. Amber and I got along well enough, but then, I only saw her when I stayed at my father’s house on visitation weekends. I recall one day close to the wedding when I was sulking at my father’s house, having a serious internal hissy about refusing to call Amber “Mom.” I don’t know what I was so upset about. It’s not like anybody ever expected me to do that. I suppose we can chalk that one up to adolescence.

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The wedding day itself was memorable for moments that have stayed with me like snapshots on my mental coffee table. All of us bridesmaids suiting up and trying to get those chiffon drape things to hang right. All the other women offering to do my makeup. They were all nice people, but in honor of the occasion they went a bit overboard. Makeup and I have never had a close relationship. I’ve worn it for the Prom, for my own wedding, and for a few other important occasions. Watching Amy go at it with enough palettes and brushes to fill a museum made me decline all offers. At that point in my life my father had never seen me wear makeup. Having overheard a few of Daddy’s comments about how trashy Amy looked when she went out on dates, I figured it would be a good idea to cause him one less shock on his wedding day.

The wedding took place in the Methodist chapel on a nearby military base. The guests were mostly people from my father’s workplace, where he’d met Amber. No family was present other than us kids due to Daddy’s people all being in Ohio. (As for Amber’s people, God only knows. I never have heard the definitive truth about her origins.) My father looked quite distinguished in his gray three-piece suit, yellow shirt, and yellow-striped tie. Amber wore a white wedding gown. I was still young enough to find that funny, but I was smart enough to keep my amusement to myself. I don’t know how they managed to find a wedding gown short enough for her. She had almost no waist. High heels and a long skirt that included a train can be a precarious combination. She did make it to the altar without tripping or falling. Amber’s bouquet was impressive, all red roses with babies’-breath and ferns. It made a rather dramatic contrast against her white gown. I had to wonder what possessed her to make us bridesmaids wear yellow and green. We looked like we’d wandered in from somebody else’s wedding.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the service itself, but I do recall wondering if my father was going to keel over. I’d never seen him look so nervous or emotional. At one point I thought Daddy might be in tears. This was really weird. My father had a temper, but he also had a sense of humor. To see this side of him came close to freaking me out. If this was the effect Amber had on him, was this marriage such a good idea after all? We all got through the service more or less intact. There were one or two people among the attendees who couldn’t help crying at weddings.

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The reception gave me a perfect opportunity to observe all these people I’d never met before and would probably never see again. My father had been in AA for a good three years by then, but there was a no-host bar for the guests. The punch was that frequent concoction of ice cubes, tonic water and rainbow sherbet. Who came up with that? Why do people think it’s a good idea? It makes you burp and you end up with a frothy mustache. Not exactly the most chic way to party at an event as formal as a wedding.

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After the speeches and cutting the cake, people settled down to socializing. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I kept busy getting people more coffee or cake and tidying up here and there. I noticed my newly official stepsister Amy didn’t care for the rainbow punch either. She was only eighteen, so she got my new stepbrother Joseph to buy her drinks. It soon became obvious Amy couldn’t hold her liquor. That she was holding any came as an unpleasant surprise to my father. Joseph had enough sense to stop buying her drinks, but by then she’d already been laughing too loudly and sitting slumped against him like some tart from a Victorian gin joint.

What really put the icing on this particular cake was the fact that other people in the wedding party started to notice Amy’s behavior. One of the older bridesmaids, a co-worker of Amber’s, called me over to where she sat at the head table. This lady announced in ringing tones that I was a real lady, behaving myself and helping out like a good hostess should. I suppose I ought to have been embarrassed, but I understood perfectly that she meant to point out Amy’s behavior by complimenting mine. Amy must have caught hell later for getting smashed at the wedding. One would think she’d have had a little more class given that her new stepfather was a recovering alcoholic.

At the end of the day, Daddy seemed to be happy, so that was what really mattered to me. That, and knowing that never again would I be forced to wear yellow polyester.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, Food, Humor, love, marriage, memoirs, mother, parenting, romance

N is for Nitpicking


“When you nitpick, you focus on small, specific mistakes.” — Vocabulary.com

Writing about 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. There is one particular occupational hazard to becoming an historical writer. One can develop an obsession with historical accuracy that appears to people outside one’s own head as relentless nitpicking.

A good example is Scotland. Not the wealthiest of countries, Scotland 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, especially the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. When in the company of such people, I’ve learned to keep my knowledge of history to myself. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those nasty facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

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 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. I find it one of history’s most humorous moments to see all that grandeur reduced to the 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 business available to produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese. Context is everything, and Japan is a high-context society.

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 Chilvary 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 more than once.

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. Love might be a nice side effect of marriage. Nobody expected it to be the whole point.

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, also found 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. Not a lot of romance there for me. I’m not fond of desert climates.

One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first romance novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because that novel is set in Navarre. I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. In Egypt the custom of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes was based as much on pragmatism as piety. If not for that custom, many members of the lower classes in Egypt would have starved to death. 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 delights of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about 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 carnelian combs of early Russia 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 with splendor and detail. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. I had to wonder how she avoided ending up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s.

History is full of little questions like this, alongside the larger mysteries. And so with every novel I go exploring!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Humor, Japan, love, marriage, publication, research, romance, travel, Writing

G is for Grandma


FAMILY GARDENS, FAMILY TREES

“To be one woman, truly, wholly, is to be all women. Tend one garden and you will birth worlds.”

–Kate Braverman

Springtime with its new growth of plants and flowers always makes me think of my maternal grandmother’s flower garden. They say inherited traits skip a generation. That means we’re more like our grandparents than our parents. This is certainly true of me and both of my grandmothers.

My maternal grandmother lived large in a time when that just wasn’t done. Her role model was her own mother, my great-grandmother. Back in the ’30s Nana had gotten a divorce then opened her own modeling agency, two actions way beyond the social norm for women of her time. Nana raised my grandmother in that environment of independence and determination. Grandma became a fashion model. The natural companion for a model is a photographer, right? My grandfather was a professional photographer who later earned a Masters in Cinematography from USC and worked for Universal Studios. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma which show her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.

Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and social events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Grandma’s column appeared regularly in the paper, but one day she got her photo in a Mexican newspaper as well. On a trip to Enseñada Grandma donned the traditional traje de luces of the bullfighter, complete with hat and cloak, and fought a bull right there in the bullring. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the Grandma who went through the world with high spirits and a fearless heart.

When I think of Grandma’s house, I think of the garden out in the backyard. It might have been the Hall of Flowers at the county fair or the sales floor of an upscale nursery. When I was three years old, we lived with Grandma for a short time. At that age I got into everything, and that included the garden. The roses looked good enough to eat, in sugary pinks, deep golden yellows, and reds even darker than Grandma’s lipstick. Their scents mingled with the delicate fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine and the down-home sweetness of the honeysuckle vines. On hot summer days I liked to sit out there and just breathe.

A lot more grew in Grandma’s garden than just flowers. The towering tree with drooping branches blossomed with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. New and strange, it made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. The raspberry bramble was a dangerous place for little hands and little tummies. The best berries were always deep in the bramble where the birds couldn’t eat them. I had to stick my hand way in there past all the thorns and spiderwebs and bugs. One day my cousin Kevin ate a bunch of berries before they were ripe. His stomach ache taught me the importance of patience, and of letting him go first!

The garden remains a symbol for all of Grandma’s quirks and strengths. What my childhood self remembers the woman I am now can interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. Some places in her house and in her life little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.

My father’s mother had a much different style. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She lived through the Depression and both World Wars. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (a ponytail halfway down his back). At eighty-four this Grandma was still going strong and objected strongly to the law taking away her driver’s license.

Grandma lived at the same address throughout my entire life, a trailer park in Ohio. When I think of her garden, I think of the little field beside her trailer, a shaggy patch of weeds and blackberry vines, dandelions and wildflowers, lizards and birds and bumblebees as big as my little kid thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understands the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that was my Grandma.

As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From my mother’s mother come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From my father’s mother come my cooking skills, my love of board games, and my contentment with less than perfect housekeeping.

From both my grandmothers I’ve inherited the need to locate and preserve photos of every generation of the family back as far as I can find. I want my two sons to at least see the relatives they won’t have the opportunity to meet. These photos have become a garden of memories, one that will show my boys and their children the rootstock that we come from, the sturdy vines and delicate blossoms, the everyday ferns and the hothouse roses. I hope that all the babies yet to come will one day know they are the latest buds to blossom in a garden tended with love.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, creativity, Family, family tradition, Food, history, love, marriage, memoirs, mother, nature, parenting, publication, Small business, travel, Writing

#atozchallenge Z is for Zarf


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2019

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Names are powerful. To know the name of a thing is to possess some degree of control over it. Long before I learned about that belief, I had already fallen in love with knowing the names of rocks, seashells, plants, and animals.

Few activities are better for learning new words than reading a lot. You never know what you might come across. That’s one reason I love to read historical fiction and nonfiction. There’s no pleasure like finding the exact word.

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What does all this have to do with the word ZARF?

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A standard cardboard coffee cup sleeve. That phrase is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Clarity and precision are my watchwords. First draft might be all over the place, but a good solid edit will include the right words in the right places. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but you won’t get the same mental image!

giphyThis brings us to the end of the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge. Many thanks to all of you who have been kind enough to stop by, like a post, and leave a comment. I’m always happy to hear from you.

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#atozchallenge V is for Vintage


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2019

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When I think about the word vintage, I most often associate it with clothing. I love Jazz Age fashions. The wardrobe is one big reason why I love to watch the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. Phryne looks good in anything.

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Vintage is a word that pertains mainly to wine. I am not all that fond of wine. Merlot is nice. Port can be good during the holiday season. One glass of champagne always has its merits. Otherwise wine just gives me a headache.

Imagine my surprise when I looked up the definition of vintage for today’s post and discovered the term applies to me.

From The Urban Dictionary:

1. Too old to be considered modern, but not old enough to be considered antique. Often used to describe items for sale online such as ebay auctions or craigslist posts though may also be found in printed listings such as classified ads. Can also be a euphemism for “heavily used” items.

2. Retro, recently out of style with potential to make a comeback

In these days of high definition video, VHS is often characterized as vintage and will one day be antique.

“Too old to be considered modern, but not old enough to be considered antique.” I’m now in my fifties, so I suppose this is true. I am now in my “Get off my lawn!” years.

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Maybe this is why I’m so fond of history. Knowing that there are people, places, and things so much older than I am makes me feel better. Knowing that I live in a time period with flush privies and antibiotics definitely makes me feel better!

If one believes in astrology, this time of life is supposed to be the best for Capricorns. I was born in the dark of winter, four days after Christmas. People say I don’t look my age. I say it depends on the day. I’ve heard 50 is the new 30. Does that mean I’m still middle-aged? It would be nice to think so.

There will come a day when my hair is all silver and I slow down. Until then, I’m vintage, baby!

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wilsoninfo.com

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge R is for Roger Zelazny


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2019

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Once upon a time, I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Zelazny, author of The Chronicles of Amber and creator of Dilvish the Damned. I love his writing style. It’s dense and rich and such a pleasure, much like flourless chocolate cake.

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goodmangames.com

Mr. Zelazny had a book signing scheduled at one of my favorite local indie bookstores. Quite a few people turned up. I was in line for an hour or so. I spent the time thinking over the one question I most wanted to ask this Grand Master.

At last my turn came. This is the question I asked:

“When you do your daily writing, what method to you use to reach your target?”

Mr. Zelazny put down his pen and mulled that over. His reply:

“I sit down at my desk four times, and each time I write at least three sentences.” He smiled. “Something usually catches fire.”

I have kept this in mind, especially on the days when the words just will not flow. Keep at it. This is not an all or nothing situation. If you have to take a break, walk away, drink more coffee, whatever, then do it. Then come back and try again.

Keep it up until the daily quota is met. You never know when something will catch fire.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, chocolate, classics, fantasy, Fiction, Food, science fiction, sword and sorcery, Writing

#atozchallenge J is for Jousting


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2019

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked at the first Medieval Times dinner theater in the United States. It was in Buena Park, which is famous as the home of some Hollywood-based companies. The big draw of Medieval Times is having your dinner while watching two knights on horseback engage in a jousting match with real lances.

I managed a crafts booth at the Agoura Renaissance Faire for a jeweler. My boss managed to get a spot in the Gift Shop, which was out in the small courtyard ringed by the stables. Yes, my shop was in a converted horse stall.

Oh, the stories I could tell about what went on while I worked there. The Head of Security was a fascinating fellow with a military background. Each of the knights had tales to tell. The owner was a gentleman from Spain. I loved this place for the same reason I love international airports. You just never knew who might show up from one night to the next. We had a lot of celebrities come to see the show, actors and sports stars and other Big Names.

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Working at Medieval Times did cause me cognitive dissonance as a writer. The production designer must have done some reading on what an actual joust looked like in terms of arena design, how the horses were caparisoned, and what the armor looked like, along with the lances. Other than that, historical accuracy went out the window. It was all down to whatever looked good and sold souvenirs.

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This is an occupational hazard when you write historical novels. I strive for historical accuracy, I really do. There have been times when somebody in an editorial position has pointed out to me that I occasionally get carried away with realism at the expense of story. The first time I wrote a medieval novel, that involved six different languages. Why? I had everybody speaking the language he or she would have spoken at that time:

My agent told me I’d better stick to French, Spanish, and English.

If you’d like to get a look at the jousting match, there’s one episode of Cake Boss where Buddy takes his family to Medieval Times. He made a cake for a special occasion being celebrated during the tournament, and the cake alone is impressive.

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aprilmunday.wordpress.com

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Lillian Csernica, research, romance, travel, Writing

How To Deal With Peculiar People


by Lillian Csernica on March 27, 2019

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The Younger Boy (TYB) and I were out running errands the other evening and we stopped in at our favorite pizza parlor. There are six, count ’em, six big flat screen TVs. We’re regulars, so the staff lets us have a remote and watch whatever we like while we’re eating our food. Most often we watch cooking shows or paranormal investigations or whatever YA show TYB prefers at the time.

On this particular evening, I witnessed the ritualistic behavior observed by another regular patron. I’d seen this woman two, maybe three times, but I hadn’t noticed the details that would have cemented her in my memory. That was about to change.

For the sake of both anonymity and clarity, let me call this woman Barbara.

We were sitting in our favorite booth eating pizza and watching a show TYB chose. Most of the flat screens in the pizza parlor are set on sports games, so I’m in the habit of making sure the close captioned subtitles are on. That way I can keep the volume down and still know what the people onscreen are saying. This is important. Bear it in mind.

Barbara comes in, sees us sitting there, and stops dead in her tracks. She looks up at the screen we’re watching, looks back at us, then goes to the register to place her order. She keeps glancing over at us, then chooses one of those bistro tables where the chair and table legs are extra long. From the bag she’s carrying, Barbara takes out a seat cushion, plumps it, sets it on the chair, adjusts the angle, plumps it again. She moves on to the napkin dispenser and pulls out several paper napkins, unfolds them completely, then takes a long time making sure there’s a solid layer covering the tabletop.

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This particular pizza parlor is kept in a good state of tidiness. I’ve seen it messy only during the lunch hour all-you-can-eat buffet when turnover is rapid and the staff are busy making more food. The floor is always clean. If I ask, somebody comes out right away to wipe down the table where we like to sit.

Even so, Barbara takes extreme pains to prep her chair and her table.  Then she looks up at the flat screen across from her. It’s the one designated #3. TBY and I are watching #4. Barbara comes around the railing that divides the bistro tables from the booths. She ignores me completely and greets TBY by name. She’s vaguely familiar, so I figure she must be somebody we knew from the years my boys went through the local school system. TBY doesn’t recognize her, and has no interest in doing so. This makes no difference to Barbara, who begins explaining how she’s going to watch a certain show now, she really likes that show, so would that be OK with him? He gives her a polite yes. This is making him uncomfortable. Barbara goes through it again, still not making any eye contact with me.

At that point I realize what’s really going on. When I want to change the channel on #4, I ask anybody who’s sitting in that area if that’s OK with them. Most people aren’t even paying attention, but they do thank me for taking the time to check first. Barbara wasn’t trying to be polite. Barbara was telling TYB what she was going to do. There was a script running inside her head and we weren’t giving her the replies she was after. I suspect we were watching the flat screen Barbara usually watches. The disruption of her ritual might have caused her the predictable rise of anxiety in someone who has OCD or OCPD, which are two separate and distinct diagnoses. I could be wrong. This might have been nothing more than one more garden variety control freak with territorial imperative, which is a lot more common than clinical OCD or OCPD.

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Barbara had crossed the line into Bothering My Child, so I gave her a smile that didn’t reach my eyes and told her we understood. Translation: Thank you, now go away.

I thought that settled the matter. Nope. The staff brought out Barbara’s order. That prompted her to scurry back to her table and begin the process of arranging her plate, drink, plastic cutlery, etc. OK fine. None of my business. Barbara was in my line of sight, so watching her was something I couldn’t really avoid doing. That’s what helped me spot the problem when it happened.

Barbara’s show came on set #3. She cranked up the volume so high it intruded on all the other sets and on general conversation. Other people started giving Barbara annoyed looks. To say she was oblivious is an understatement. The way she sat in her chair, leaning forward and hanging on every word spoken by the main characters, told me this show was really important to her. Again, OK fine. We had the close captioning on our set, so TYB kept watching his show and didn’t seem to mind. He did turn the volume up a little bit.

Barbara aimed the remote she was using at “our set” and dragged the volume down to nothing.

Not OK. Trying to be a grown-up about this, I let myself assume Barbara did not know that each remote can affect the other sets. TYB set the volume at the polite level.

Barbara promptly turned it down again.

When this happened a third time, I was more than ready to tell this woman off.

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Fortunately, I’ve learned to take a breath and weigh my options. TYB was done eating. It was time to move on. This particular TV show seemed to be very important to Barbara. Maybe I was witnessing what amounted to a Big Night Out for her. It’s also possible she did not connect turning down the volume on #3 with having any impact on us. Keeping these thoughts in mind, all I did was return the #4 remote to the guy at the register. He glanced over my shoulder at Barbara, sighed, and rolled his eyes. Clearly this was a regular event.

People do have issues. Sometimes those people are also rude. Is it worth it to call them on it? I could see Barbara had a genuine problem of some sort. In all fairness, I must say she did make an effort to be polite and reasonable. Now I know what might happen if and when we cross paths at the pizza parlor again.

Times are hard. In the big picture, this incident was odd and irritating, but really no big deal. It costs me nothing to be charitable to people who are probably just doing the best they can.

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Filed under autism, charity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Food, frustration, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, Special needs, therapy

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House


by Lillian Csernica on December 19, 2018

 

 

Hi there. Right now I’m spread thinner than Nutella on the last three pieces of shortbread. Mom will be out of the hospital the day after Christmas. Tomorrow I have three appointments, then my younger son takes his first test for a new belt rank in tae kwon do. And then there’s all the Christmas prep to keep doing.

I need a laugh, and by some strange bit of good fortune I happened across something I wrote years ago at this same time of year. For your Yuletide entertainment, I present it to you now.

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thismommycooks.com

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

Never ever attempt to make a gingerbread house with somebody who’s never seen one before and yet, thanks to his control freak tendencies, immediately mutates into an expert on the art.

It’s difficult to sustain an intelligent argument about the precise technique of using industrial strength icing to glue peppermint candies, gummi bears, M&Ms, and gumdrops to the various flat and angled surfaces of a gingerbread house. Believe me, we tried. Too much icing. Not enough icing. The grouping of the gumdrops on the roof lacked the right balance of colors. The little candy canes lining the walk to the front door weren’t maintaining their lines with military precision. And the windows. This is where things almost got violent. Making window panes out of pretzel sticks might seem like no big deal, but when you’re dealing with a man who thinks we should have been using a carpenter’s balance, you’ve entered into a whole new realm of the bizarre.

Then came the argument over building the chimney out of Pez candies, licorice bricks, Jolly Rancher cinnamon bites, or graham crackers iced in proper brick and mortar formations. I’m not much for drinking, even during the holidays, but by the time I was about halfway through this delightful holiday pastime, I was ready to forget the eggnog and go straight for the brandy.

At last our masterpiece was complete. It resembled nothing so much as a perfect 3D schematic of what would happen if the two of us EVER tried to share the same living quarters. The yard was a wreck, green icing spilling onto the graham cracker walkway like rank weeds erupting through broken concrete. The cast off wrappings of Hershey’s Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Lifesavers lay strewn across the porch, revealing us for the white trash we really were. The snowman in the front yard listed like the drunken uncle at the wedding reception. It was a mercy that we never had to bother with the inside of the house. I shudder to think what horrors would have been dissolving in there. Gummi coke bottles piled in the corners…silver foil gum wrappers wadded up in the little black licorice fireplace…cotton candy webs hanging from the corners of the ceilings…. It would be just too heartbreaking.

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I can’t recall now what became of that gingerbread house. I know it sat on my kitchen table for some weeks during that holiday season. And as for the man himself, my partner in committing this crime of both taste and art? No, it was not in fact my husband. This was another man, whose story must wait for another time.  This fellow is no longer among the living, so that time will probably be Halloween.

 

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thequeenofhalloween.blogspot.com

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Filed under chocolate, Christmas, classics, creativity, Family, family tradition, fantasy, Food, frustration, Halloween, Humor, Lillian Csernica, perspective, therapy

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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Filed under autism, Awards, birthday, charity, Christmas, creativity, doctors, Family, family tradition, Fiction, Food, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, mother, parenting, special education, Special needs, steampunk, surgery, worry, Writing