Category Archives: nature

Family Gardens, Family Trees


by Lillian Csernica on Februart 12, 2018

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“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.

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My maternal grandmother was a woman who 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 that were way beyond the social norm for women of her time. My grandmother was raised 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 with his own studio and darkroom. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma, showing her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.

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Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Not only did her column appear in the paper, but her photo as well, and under amazing circumstances. Once, 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 in front of God and everybody. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the wild woman Grandma really was.

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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. I was just old enough to start getting 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.

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There was a lot more to Grandma’s garden than just flowers. A tall tree with drooping branches would blossom with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. It was new and strange and made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. There was the raspberry bramble, 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, which meant 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 the berries before they were ripe. His stomachache taught me the value of patience, and of letting him go first!

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The garden remains a symbol for all those traits I saw in Grandma. What the child I was saw and remembered the woman I am can now interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. There were places in her house and in her life that little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.

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Then there’s my father’s mother. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She survived the Depression and both World Wars. She lived at the same address all the years I knew her. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (At one point he had a ponytail halfway down his back).

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Grandma lived in 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 the tip of my thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understood the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that’s my Grandma.

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As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From Grandma Lownesberry come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From Grandma Chamberlain 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 root stock 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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Road Trip! EuCon 2017!


by Lillian Csernica on November 9, 2017

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Here I am in lovely Eugene, Oregon. I’m part of the volunteer team for the Eugene Comic Con. It promises to be a spectacular show, with an impressive line up of Hollywood talent and some of the best names in the comics industry.

Two of the stars I’m most excited to see:

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Martin Klebba, known for his roles in Scrubs and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

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Deep Roy, who has had a long and impressive career in movies ranging from The Return of the Pink Panther with Peter Sellers to the recent remake of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnnie Depp.

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One of the key reasons that convinced me to make the drive from Santa Cruz, CA all the way to Eugene, OR is my son John. He began drawing when he was just two years old, watching Blue’s Clues. He liked to draw the clues along with Steve. Watching the Veggie Tales animation series introduced John to a more advanced level of sketching. The Special Features on the DVDs included lessons from the show’s creators in the techniques of sketching Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and other popular members of the cast.

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At EuCon this weekend the folks from Imagination International Incorporated, creators of the Copic markers, are sponsoring the art contest. Winners will be announced Sunday afternoon. In one of the exhibit halls, III will have the Art Bus available. Space will be provided for all the artistically inclined attendees. Copic markers will be provided, along with paper and other materials. My wonderful son John will be on hand to offer tips on creating that one of a kind superhero or capturing the beautiful autumn landscape that makes Oregon such a picturesque place to visit now.

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I will be at the convention, not in my usual official capacity as a professional writer, but even so. If you can join us and you spot me while I’m running around doing volunteer errands, by all means, say hello. EuCon is a great show, family friendly, lots of wonderful people and plenty to see and do.

Hope to see you here!

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In Honor of All Those Whom We Have Lost


by Lillian Csernica on October 10, 2017

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It’s that time of year. The O-bon Festival. El Dia de Los Muertos. All Hallows’ Eve. All Souls’ Day.

As the sunlight fades from the summer’s warm butter yellow into the pale light of autumn, we think about the people we’ve lost. All the tragedies and natural disasters that have struck this year have left many of us with fresh emptiness in our lives. For me, this became personal yesterday when the writing community lost someone I’ve known for a long time.

In honor of all the people who are gone now, and all those who must remain behind, I offer this poem.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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I’m a Featured Author!


by Lillian Csernica on September 25th, 2017

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Thanks to the generosity of Renee Scattergood, I am the featured author in today’s spotlight on her blog. Please do head on over there and take a look. The interview questions were a lot of fun to answer!

Many thanks, Renee!

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Reblog: Self Care Isn’t Selfish


This isn’t just an Instagram aesthetic. It’s actually really good advice for us. If you’re unfamiliar with self-care, it is the simple act of caring for ourselves. We deserve it, not because it makes us better for others or for our lecturers or for our flatmates, but because it makes us healthier for ourselves. […]

via Self-Care isn’t Selfish — the married millenials

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The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask


by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017

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Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.

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In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.

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In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!

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The Writer’s Spellbook


by Lillian Csernica on August 1, 2017

AVAILABLE NOW ON SMASHWORDS!

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One of the most important elements of a fantasy novel or a game world is the magic system. A logical and consistent magic system will do a lot to help improve the quality of the story… A better magic system means a better story, and a better story means more readers!

PLENTY OF FORMATS TO CHOOSE FROM!

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Whether you’re a writer or a gamer, a graphic novelist or an historical reenactor, The Writer’s Spellbook will give you step by step guidance in making the crucial decisions that will bring your fantasy world to life.

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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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Universal Studios: Screaming and Laughing


by Lillian Csernica on July 2, 2017

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Next up: Shrek 4-D. This adventure was so amazing and funny we saw it both days.

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You start out in Lord Farquad’s Dungeon, where the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio are being held prisoner. The Magic Mirror and the Ghost of Lord Farquad get the story started as a prelude to what happens during the 4D movie in Ogre-Vision!

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No spoilers here, but I will say this is more than just a visual experience. Four out of the five senses get some stimulation. One of them hit me right where I live, bringing a whole new dimension to this thrill ride!

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Minion Mayhem — Another wild ride! When the Minions all get thrown into prison, Gru starts a recruiting campaign. This is the basis of the ride’s storyline. Gru’s henchman Dr. Nefario has created another evil death ray gizmo that will turns even humans into Minions. (I got to be a purple Minion!) John and I can’t wait to see Despicable Me 3.  What we saw during the ride convinced us we had to see the whole movie. John bought a Minion key ring with his name on it. I bought a charm that shows Kevin and Bob back to back, both of them holding serious ray guns! The perfect keepsake to remind me of the time John and I joined the ranks of the Minions!

The Simpsons Experience — Ever wanted to be inside an episode of The Simpsons? This will do it for you. It’s an insane 3D ride through Itchy & Scratchy Land, facing the homicidal robot cats and mice. There’s an ominous undercurrent to the ride’s lead-in, which explodes into some genuine terror (at least for me) when you experience the very realistic sense of being trapped on a shattered roller coaster.

Yes, that’s right. If you weren’t already in enough of a panic, the ride starts going backwards!

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Back when I was ten years old, just the prospect of going behind the scenes at a real working movie studio was a huge thrill. In today’s modern digital world, visitors expect a whole lot more given the endless competition for their attention spans. Now the Studio Tour includes a 3D adventure between King Kong and some vicious dinosaurs. The grand finale is the hyper-realistic, HD adventure Fast and Furious: Supercharged.

I confess a certain nostalgia for the Jaws portion of the tour. There I was, sitting in the tour shuttle with John just as my mother had sat with me. John has a pretty good grip on what’s real and what isn’t, but that didn’t stop him from yelping when the shark reared up out of the water. Another fine family tradition, watching the next generation get freaked out by Bruce the animatronic shark.

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Getting Too Close to Nature


by Lillian Csernica on June 18th, 2017

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See this? This is a mountain lion. A cougar. A puma.

They can be 5 to 9 feet long and weigh 100 to 150 lb. They can run 40 to 50 miles per hour and jump up to 20 feet high. They’re also excellent at climbing.

This was in my back yard yesterday, in broad daylight.

As soon as I saw the big cat crossing our creek, I yelled up the stairs to my husband. We have three housecats, and I wanted all of them accounted for right then.

My husband came down. I told him what I’d seen. He asked me if I was sure. Hell yes I was sure! Back when I was 19, I spent a summer in Larkspur, Colorado working the local Renaissance Faire. Many of us lived on site during the week, including the tiger tamer and his menagerie. “Tiger tamer” isn’t really fair, because Bhaghavan treated his cats with the utmost respect and care.

That included the mountain lion. One day he took the mountain lion out for a walk and passed by where I was sitting. Bhaghavan brought the mountain lion over. The big cat promptly flopped down across my feet and started to purr.

Believe me when I tell you there was NO WAY I was going to rub that tummy!

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So yes, I do know a mountain lion when I see one.

Mountain lions are normally reclusive and avoid human habitation. To see one walking past my house in full view was both a marvel and a huge surprise. I believe the mountain lion was following a deer trail. It disappeared into the tree line on the other side of the creek.

We found our gray and white cat Hunter under the car. Rayas, the torby, was curled up on a lawn chair, apparently asleep. And Coco, the fluffy black longhair, was up a tree. Smart cat, Coco.

Yes, it’s wonderful to live in the mountains among the California coastal redwoods. Getting close to Nature is important. It’s also important to remember that Nature is perfectly capable of sneaking up on us!

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