Category Archives: mother

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #17


by Lillian Csernica on May 17th, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.

dis·cord
ˈdiskôrd/
noun
noun: discord
  1. 1.
    disagreement between people.
    “a prosperous family who showed no signs of discord

    • lack of agreement or harmony between things.
      “the discord between indigenous and Western cultures”
  2. 2.
    Music
    lack of harmony between notes sounding together.
    “the music faded in discord”
    synonyms: dissonance, discordance, disharmony, cacophony

    “the music faded in discord”
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BusinessInsider.com

Here we have a bunch of people singing the same note in terms of the political ideology they espouse.  Is this harmonious? No. It is not.

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We need all the notes, all the chords, all the melodies to come together in the great orchestral voice of life. May a joyful noise until the Lord! Sing out with all your heart! Go tell it on the mountain! Punk rock, bagpipes, ocarinas and kazoos. Let’s do it!

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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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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #8


by Lillian Csernica on May 8, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Tanya sat on a bench outside the courthouse. The spring sunshine shone down through the new green leaves. Tanya huddled in her blue wool dress and gray cardigan. It might have been winter, her body stiff with cold and fatigue. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. Her mother sat beside her and smoothed one thin hand over Tanya’s tightly braided blonde hair.

“I know this is hard, honey. It’s for the best. Really, it is.”

“So many years….” Tanya blew her nose. “I wish I’d had the sense to do this sooner.”

“You were ready. That made this the right time.”

“How could I not see David wasn’t the person he kept pretending to be?”

“His kind can pass for normal. All the charm, all the money, all the right signals.” Her mother’s kind expression hardened. “That’s the bait. Once you’re good and hooked, then they drag you into the boat and make sure you never touch water again.”

Tanya nodded. “Being married to him was a lot like being marooned for ten years.”

“You’re free now, honey. And you got the settlement you deserved.”

Fresh tears gushed down Tanya’s cheeks. “I don’t want the money. I want the time back, all the time he stole from my life.”

“You’re making sure he can’t take anything else from you. Not time, and especially not a child.”

Tanya flinched. “It will be harder now, won’t it?”

“You’re only in your thirties, honey.” Her mother opened a fresh packet of tissues and handed it to Tanya. “Now he has to start over again. Imagine how much he’ll hate being forced to act all sweet and charming.”

“He’ll love it. You heard him. I’m stupid, useless, frigid–”

“Stop that. You won. You waited until the remodeling was finished. Now the house is worth twice what you paid for it.”

“Are you saying living well is the best revenge?”

“I’m saying he’s always in a hurry to get whatever he wants, but you were smart enough to wait for the right moment.”

Tanya looked up at the sun shining through the new spring leaves. She took a deep breath, willing herself to breathe in the warmth and the light. Spring. The time of new beginnings.

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A Brief Family Crisis


by Lillian Csernica on May 5, 2018

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My apologies for the sudden interruption of the Great Fortune Cookie Challenge.

On Wednesday my older son had a medical crisis that put him in the hospital. That’s where I’ve been, from Wednesday night until late last night. Michael has a very complicated medical history. It’s essential for me or my husband to be with him all the time so the inevitable questions that arise can be answered.

Michael can’t hold a normal conversation in terms of verbal give and take, so we must speak for him. I provide the nurses with a guide to interpreting Michael’s gestures and vocalizations, but it really does take someone who knows him well to understand and interpret his replies.

Michael had surgery. He’s on the mend. We hope to bring him home in a day or two.

Thank you for your patience. I will get the Challenge up and running again and the fun will proceed!

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#atozchallenge: M is for Madelaine


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2018

Madelaine Victoria Harrington is Dr. Harrington‘s nine year old daughter. She is his only child and his first priority in life. The fever that renders her critically ill is the crisis that sets in motion the first story, In the Midnight Hour (Twelve Hours Later).

Madelaine is a genius. She gets on well with everyone, making friends quickly among the Japanese staff at Dr. Harrington’s Kyoto residence. Madelaine is keen to understand the mechanics of everything, including the social etiquette so important to Victorian England. Her open mind and intense curiosity serve her well in learning about Japan.

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She picks up languages quickly, which is essential when she begins studying the mythology and folklore of Japan. Her studies go a long way toward helping Dr. Harrington deal with the challenges he faces in each story.

Madelaine does a number of things that just happen while I’m writing. I had no idea she and the Abbot would develop such a close friendship. The Abbot loves children and Madelaine loves intelligent conversation, so they suit each other. There’s more to it, though. They both have a unique understanding of the supernatural. The respect goes both ways.

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Then there’s the clockwork dragon in Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later). I knew Madelaine was up to something, but I didn’t find out until her mother Constance discovered the secret project. I did have to work out the interior mechanics of the dragon. Fortunately, my husband is an engineer.

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#atozchallenge: J is for Julie Rose


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2018

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One day, during the time I was writing The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), I saw an ad for this coffee mug. Just on a whim, I posted the image and said the first person who bought me this mug would win a cameo appearance in my latest Kyoto Steampunk story.

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Within ten minutes, I got a reply from a very nice lady. She’d ordered the mug, emailed me the confirmation, and we had a deal! I ran around Pinterest looking for the right dress for her. After she chose the one she liked best, I set to work building her into the story. She became Julie Rose, daughter of another British expatriate family who lives in Kyoto. She makes an excellent companion for Madelaine, someone with whom she can practice Constance‘s lessons on etiquette and deportment.

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I’m sure Julie Rose will be making more appearances as the series continues. My sincere thanks to the dear lady kind enough to provide me with this delightful coffee mug!

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#atozchallenge G is for Garden Party


by Lillian Csernica on April 7, 2018

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One of the key elements of the Kyoto Steampunk series is writing each story from a different character’s point of view. Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later) features a garden party presided over by Constance. This was an excellent opportunity to let the reader into her mind and see just how Constance is coping with the challenge of navigating through Kyoto’s expatriate society along with all the Japanese diplomats Dr. Harrington encounters.

A Victorian garden party is a lavish affair, held outdoors in a fine English garden full of stately oaks, manicured hedges, and an abundance of flowers. In 1880, did Kyoto provide the necessary landscape? Traditional trees in a Japanese garden included pine, bamboo, and plum. Because they do so well in winter, they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience.

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Springtime flowers in Kyoto include irises, azalea, hydrangea, plum blossoms, and waterlilies. Best of all are the roses. If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, be sure to see the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

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Blown Sky High is an important story in the series. It’s more lighthearted, and it takes a look at the expectations placed upon “the fairer sex.” When events at the party take a sudden unexpected turn, Constance must look to Madelaine and her bluestocking habits to save the day. To learn more about Victorian women who redefined their roles in society, please read this excellent article.

 

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#AtoZChallenge: D is for Danger


by Lillian Csernica on April 4, 2018

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Many dangers lie in wait for Dr. Harrington, his wife Constance, and their daughter Madelaine when they move their entire household to Kyoto, Japan. While it is a great honor for Dr. Harrington to be chosen by Queen Victoria and the Emperor Meiji, it is a challenge that will demand all the strength, skills and social graces possessed by each family member.

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Nurse Danforth rises to the challenge of saving Madelaine’s life by confronting Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.

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Madelaine, just nine years old and already a mechanical genius, must survive a life-threatening fever. Then comes the challenge of convincing Dr. Harrington the gods and monsters of Japanese mythology and folklore are real and must be taken seriously. When Madelaine is targeted by one especially clever monster, she must draw on her skills both mechanical and folkloric to protect her family.

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Constance exists in a state of endless bewilderment as she fights a daily battle to bring all the graces of Victorian England to the strange and incomprehensible world of Japan during the Meiji Restoration. This might not sound as dangerous as the threats faced by Dr. Harrington and Madelaine, but success as a hostess in support of her husband’s social position was a Victorian woman’s reason for living.

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Dr. Harrington takes on the lion’s share of danger. Amatsu Mikaboshi‘s determination to restore the balance of honor lost in his confrontation with Nurse Danforth puts Dr. Harrington in the perilous position of protecting the Abbot. Dr. Harrington also faces political and ethical pressures when he follows the Abbot of Kiyomizudera’s advice and does what must be done to escape the wrath of the wanyudo.

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