Category Archives: parenting

BayCon 2022 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on June 15, 2022

I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing in person at BayCon 2022! It’s been a long three years. I can’t wait to participate in these panels. BayCon has some really exciting programming this year!

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Discover Your Process

1 Jul 2022, Friday 14:30 – 16:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

You have ideas. You want to get them out of your mind and into the physical world. How do you do that? Join the panel as they discuss how they came to understand their creative processes.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Steven Barnes, M. Todd Gallowglas (Gallowglas Army) (M), Scott Bradley

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Autism/Gender States

1 Jul 2022, Friday 16:00 – 17:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

New work suggests there’s a correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transgender/Nonbinary flavors of gender. But correlation is not causation. So is a link? And it now looks like female autistics are massively underdiagnosed, so what does that mean for nonbinary folks who may need help with ‘subclinical’ ASD issues? What about ADHD? Is there another link there that’s been overlooked?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen (M), John Blaker

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Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader

2 Jul 2022, Saturday 10:00 – 11:30, Connect 5 (San Mateo Marriott)

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

Rebecca Inch-Partridge (M), Emerian Rich (Self and HorrorAddicts), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

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Experiencing pestilence, war, and other significant trauma affects our lives in multiple ways.

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 10:00 – 11:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

How does it affect what we write? Can harnessing personal sorrow and stress help us write closer to our main characters?

Matt Maxwell (Highway 62 Press), Laurel Anne Hill (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Scott Bradley

Handicapped Parking

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 11:30 – 13:00, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

From the invalid chair to the mobile exoskeleton, people have needed mobility devices to replace abilities lost to birth defects, disease, accidents and war.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Gideon Marcus (Galactic Journey), Colin Fisk

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

4 Jul 2022, Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

Exotic locales challenge writers to get readers up to speed while keeping the story going. What weird settings have our panelists used and how did they solve the problem—well enough for the editor to buy, anyway.

Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), C. Sanford Lowe (C Sanford Lowe) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

Come find me at BayCon and get a sticker for your badge!

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Filed under autism, Conventions, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, publication, research, science fiction, Special needs, steampunk, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

Y is for Youngest


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2022

I don’t understand the fascination some men have for sport fishing. I get the whole Man vs. Nature thing, but what I don’t understand is why some men are willing to sit out there in a lawn chair, in a rowboat, in one of those special chairs on a special boat meant just for fishing, or on a splintered bench covered in sea gull poop out on the wharf. What is so enthralling about sitting there for hours watching the water, waiting for your bobber to go under or your line to jerk? It can’t be the suspense, because I’ve done this myself and aside from fishing aboard a boat, I was bored out of my mind. Of course, I was thirteen at the time. If my father hadn’t allowed me to bring books along, I probably would have refused to go altogether.

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By that time my parents were divorced, so on one visitation weekend my father announced that we were going on a fishing trip. Given that we were city people, I assumed that meant standing on the end of the local pier again. Daddy and some people from where he worked had gotten together and rented a boat that would take all of us to the Four Mile Banks off Laguna Beach down in Southern California. I was always up for going somewhere I hadn’t been before, so this fishing trip started to look like more of an adventure. Daddy said we had to pack our gear the night before and get the car ready, because we’d be up before daylight to catch the boat called the Dos Equis and motor out to our fishing spot.

My father worked for a defense contractor, so the people in the group on the boat were also of military or scientific backgrounds. One man I talked to was a chemical engineer. I didn’t really know what that meant, and the problem was I couldn’t ask him because what he did was classified. Little did I know that ten years later I’d be married to a software engineer who would tell me the same thing. Due to his security classification, I never have known exactly what my husband does for a living!

When Daddy enjoyed doing something, he tended to do it over and over again. That’s I got to see Evita twice. I think we went out on the Dos Equis a total of three times. I remember the captain as being a very nice man, silver-haired and tanned really dark from being out in the sun all the time. He liked having me on board. He thought I was good luck. Every time we went out, I caught the first fish, and it was usually a good one. On our first trip, I caught a shark about as long as my forearm. The shark had green eyes! Beautiful peridot green. The captain asked me if I wanted to keep it as part of our catch. I didn’t want such a beautiful creature to die, so I asked him to throw it back. Soon after found a school of mackerel. Every time I cast my line I got a hit. That made me wonder about magic creatures, granting wishes, and good luck.

The one drawback to my good fortune was the fact that my father’s co-workers weren’t entirely happy to have me aboard. I suppose having a kid around put a bit of a damper on their fun. I can’t recall how I found out about the real problem. Other people in the fishing group were making side bets on who would catch the most fish, what kind, in what time period, etc. Having me on board skewed the odds. The people doing the betting thought my good luck somehow extended itself to my father. On our second trip aboard the Dos Equis he caught a sheep’s head. That is one ugly fish, as big as I am from shoulder to hip. It had four teeth as broad and thick as human molars!

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Somebody must have said something to Daddy about me. Whatever it was, he didn’t let it interfere with the good time we were having. For once I was enjoying going fishing. That must have seemed like a minor miracle to him. Our adventures hadn’t made a total convert out of me. I still thought fish were slimy and gross. Cleaning them was something I just could not do. I didn’t really like eating them, either. These days I enjoy swordfish, salmon, halibut, and most seafood. I do have one firm rule: if it has tentacles, keep it away from me! Another sign of my good luck: Daddy wasn’t big on squid or octopus either.

On our third fishing trip things got a little too adventurous for me. We were out off the Banks, fishing for rock cod. We had to use long lines with three or four hooks, big chunks of bait, and heavy sinkers. As we’d reel up the lines to check our catch, sharks would come around and try to eat the cod right off our lines. The first time I saw a shark break the surface of the water I just about had a panic attack. This was back in the days when Jaws was still very much in the minds of people who had seen the movie and/or read the book. I went up on the flying bridge to get away from the rail. That turned out to be a mistake. Up that high, I could see both of the thrasher sharks circling our boat.

I wish I had been observant enough to see the pattern in my father’s liking for being out on the water. He spent twenty years in the Navy. He really liked the tide pools down at Dana Point. He loved to go fishing, and he could stand there on the pier staring out at the water for what seemed like forever. I wish I had asked Daddy why he chose the Navy, but that was an easy one. Grandpa and my Uncle Dean had both gone into the Navy Even so, Daddy had a lifelong attachment to the sea. I wonder if such a thing can be passed on from one generation to the next. Whenever I’d get upset as a teenager, or even now when I have my bad days, one of the best cures is to go to the beach and just watch the waves rolling in. There’s something about the sea breeze that blows right through me, carrying away all the negative stuff that’s built up inside. I wonder if that’s how Daddy felt. I wonder if his reasons were the kind of reasons that you just can’t explain. You just sit there, stay quiet, and listen to what comes and goes inside your head.

I wish my father had lived long enough to take my son John fishing, to teach him all about lures and bait and why sand dabs have both eyes on one side. Maybe this summer I’ll take John down to the wharf, rent some fishing gear, and see if I can remember all the things Daddy taught me about baiting hooks and knowing when to pull hard on the rod and when to play out more line. I still have photos of those fishing trips with Daddy. Maybe it’s time I got them out and gave them a place of honor.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, family tradition, memoirs, nature, parenting, travel

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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T is for Travel


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2022

When I was eighteen, my father sent me to spend the summer in Holland with the family of the exchange student who had been my Physics lab partner during my senior year of high school. Thanks to my Eurail Pass, I traveled all over Holland, including the amazing city of Amsterdam. With the help of my Dutch parents, I also made arrangements to take a weekend bus trip all the way to Paris. When they took me to the bus station, my Dutch parents were careful to explain to the driver that I didn’t speak the language. Fortunately, the driver spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, just after my Dutch parents left, the English-speaking driver told me his shift was over. His replacement was a cheerful little man named Ott. Ott’s English wasn’t just broken, it was smashed.

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The bus soon filled up with the other passengers, mostly older folks with a few couples, and two girls about my age. Ott had me sit in the tour guide’s seat, the one right across the aisle from him. I felt like a bug plastered up against the big front windows. I did have an excellent view as we drove across Holland, passed through part of Belgium, and entered France. While I was in Paris I saw many of the highlights, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and the Monmarte. I ran into a bit of trouble on my way into one of the museums. I had already paid the fee to enter the museum, but the tour guide made a fuss about how I still needed to pay it. At that point we had a French woman tour guide who made it plain she did not care for me, purely because I was American. The Dutch ladies on the bus weren’t having any of that. They told me to give my age as seventeen because only people eighteen and over had to pay the fee. Then they rallied round me quite literally as they escorted me into the museum. The tour guide didn’t cause me any more trouble.

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On Sunday we were allowed two hours to go shopping. My shopping list was very simple. In addition to a few items for my friends and family, I wanted to buy my mother a gold Eiffel Tower charm. It took me some time to locate the jewelry department, with many “Parlez-vous Anglais?” along the way. Most of the staff were polite enough about saying they did not speak English. Then I found the jewelry department and the arrogant Catherine Deneuve-wannabe in charge. It was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. I gave the situation some thought, then returned to the attack with new strategy. Just as the saleswoman prepared to dismiss me again, I held up my traveler’s checks, fanned them out, and said, “Parlez-vous American Express?” The saleswoman vanished, replaced by Raoul, who spoke perfect British English. He was quite happy to bring out the case that held the Eiffel Tower charms in a staggering range of sizes. I chose the one I wanted, changed my traveler’s checks for francs, and left that department. Mission accomplished.

By a strange coincidence there was another American girl on the tour bus. She was visiting her Dutch grandmother, who had brought both the American girl and her teenage Dutch cousin along for a wonderful weekend in Paris. When I crossed paths with them in the department store, it was clear to me the girls were dying to run off by themselves. The grandmother looked rather tired. Since my shopping was complete, I invited the grandmother to join me in the restaurant on the top floor of the store. The girls could go do as they liked, then we’d all meet back at the bus at the appointed time. Everybody was happy. The grandmother looked relieved to sit down for a while. While she drank her coffee and I had a bite to eat, she told me all about her family and showed me photos. Later, she was kind enough to take a photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower and mailed it to me where I lived with my Dutch family. That photo was the gift I wanted to give to my father.

I keep that photo in my office. Every time I look at it, I remember the kindness of those wonderful Dutch people and my many adventures in the City of Lights, all thanks to my father.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, history, memoirs, parenting, school, travel, Writing

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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Filed under #atozchallenge, autism, Blog challenges, creativity, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, memoirs, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, publication, research, science fiction, special education, Special needs, specialists, therapy, worry, Writing

P is for Poltergeist


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2022

I grew up on ghost stories, monster movies, Halloween celebrations, and books about folkloric beliefs all over the world. A cynical person might say all that would leave me predisposed to believe in the phenomenon I’m about to describe. I’d like to think all that research left me with the ability to separate what’s real from what’s only make-believe. My aunts and uncles talked about family ghosts with a mixture of pride and apprehension. However many ancestral ghosts might be haunting Daddy’s branches of the family tree, I defy them all to match the power of pure aggravation caused by my mother’s personal poltergeist.

Ever since I was a little girl, I can remember scenes of panic as my mother rushed around looking for whatever she’d lost that time. Just as we were about to leave for some big event such as a wedding or graduation, Mom couldn’t find her car keys. Didn’t know where she’d put her glasses. The paper with the directions on it had been right there a minute ago. She’d run all over the house looking in some of the unlikeliest places, coming up empty every time. Just when she was about to lose it completely, she’d check her purse or coat pocket or glove compartment or wherever she’d looked first, and there the item would be. Mom had simply overlooked it in her hurry the first time, right? That’s what my brother, my sister and I thought, but things began to happen that made that explanation less and less believable.

The smart thing to do when Mom was in one of her “Where did I put that?” panics was to stay out of the way. After my brother and sister moved out of the house, I’d be the only witness to Mom swearing up and down she felt like somebody was hiding whatever she was looking for and doing it on purpose. Wasn’t me, that’s for sure, because I was in as much of a hurry as she was to get to whatever special event was happening that time. Since I’m an observant person, I’d keep an eye on the items Mom lost most frequently: keys, glasses, purse, wallet, directions, and any special gifts we’d be taking along. Because I kept a close eye on these items, they often did not go missing at all. And then I hit that awkward stage between ten and thirteen.

Some paranormal investigators believe the physical and psychological upheaval of adolescence has a corresponding psychic turbulence that might manifest as psychokinetic activity. Poltergeist activity has been shown to occur most often in locations where a prepubescent or pubescent child of either gender is present. If the child is removed from the location where the poltergeist activity is taking place, does the activity stop? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. As technology continues to develop, investigators get closer and closer to their goal of solid empirical evidence.

So who was causing the problem of the disappearing objects? Was it the poltergeist, some mischievous spirit who just happened to decide my mother made a good target? Was it Mom, running around like a chicken with its head cut off so much that she’d put something down and forget where she left it, so it seemed to vanish? Or was I the cause, directly or indirectly? I never hid anything of my mother’s, and especially not on a day when we needed to get somewhere on time. Did the stress Mom worked up over getting ready for a special event attract the poltergeist? Did all that uproar trigger the response in me that brought on the seemingly poltergeist-based phenomena? Or did the poltergeist come first and get us all wound up and nervous so we created a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Here comes the part that really freaked me out. There were a number of times when I watched my mother put an item into her purse or pocket, her closet or a drawer. Later on when she’d need that item, she’d call me over to look in the exact place she’d put it, and it simply wasn’t there! It’s not like Mom had reason to suddenly move the object, changing the pocket or drawer. Even the possibility of something falling out of her coat pockets was rather remote because my mother favored coats with deep pockets to prevent this exact problem. The point here is as long as my mother had been the one to put the object in its “safe place,” there was a definite risk of the poltergeist making it disappear. If Mom gave the object to me to put on the dinner table or out to the trunk of the car, then we stood a good chance of finding it where I’d put it. My teenage years with my mother were full of all kinds of stress, money and hormones and attitude and the fallout from the divorce. One of the few areas where she did have faith in me was her belief that I had some kind of ability to make the poltergeist back off.

Unless, of course, Mom was behind it all, making those items appear and disappear. Was Mom having a good time, getting her laughs making me believe there was a poltergeist in the house?

I don’t think so. I really can’t believe Mom would have put that kind of effort into a prank that went on for years, a prank that resulted in her stressing out a lot more than I ever did.

So the question remains. What kept making all those items appear and disappear?

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Filed under #atozchallenge, bad movies, Blog challenges, Family, family tradition, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, memoirs, mother, parenting, research, worry

O is for Ouija


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2022

In 1967 a toy manufacturer came out with the Ouija board most people are familiar with. A few years ago, a whole new world of bad taste and spiritual danger was unleashed when the latest model of the Ouija board was unveiled. Made in bright, pretty colors, it was aimed at girls eight to twelve, marketed as the perfect sleepover entertainment. So much criticism about this candy-coated abomination has arisen from so many different sources that the manufacturer pulled it from the shelves. That company will no longer be making any of them. Unfortunately, human nature being the way it is, that turn of events made that particular Ouija board a collector’s item.

Many religions forbid talking to the dead. Many cultures forbid even speaking of the dead because it’s disrespectful and might disturb their rest. And yet there are some parents out there who see no problem with exposing their grade school daughters to what could be used as a tool for necromancy. If people are going to trivialize the occult and dress it up in such seemingly harmless colors, what do they think is going to happen once those children turn into teenagers with no sense of danger and rebellious streaks a mile wide? I know what could happen. I was a stupid teenager once.

I pray for the safety of any child who comes into contact with this horrible “toy.” It’s one more example of evil hiding in plain sight.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, history, memoirs, parenting, school, worry, Writing

I is for Insomia


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2022

When I was a teenager I loved to sleep. Stay up late, sleep late, linger in bed, the very definition of a layabout. Science now tells us teenagers need a lot of sleep because they’re growing both physically and mentally. Adolescence takes a heavy toll on the body and the mind. I’ll vouch for that. Living through middle school meant two of the worst years of my life. Sleep as a method of escaping reality became a coping mechanism. I had what the psychologists refer to as “peer problems.” I grew up alone due to my brother and sister both leaving home when I was only seven years old. Now I was in middle school, twelve years old, and my parents had just gone through a really messy, bitter divorce. The divorce meant Dad was gone and Mom had to go back to work, so I was a latchkey kid before the term had been invented. I was miserable. I could escape that only when I was sleeping.

For somebody who liked to sleep so much, how did I develop all three forms of insomnia associated with clinical depression? It’s been a long and stressful road from twelve to fifty-six, and life wasn’t exactly all rainbows and unicorns when I was a little kid. Just to be clear, let me explain the three separate forms of insomnia:

1. I have difficulty getting to sleep.

2. I have difficulty staying asleep.

3. If something wakes me up, I can’t get back to sleep.

Do I take medication for insomnia? Oh yes. Does the medication I take work? Yes and no. If I avoid caffeine, don’t eat the wrong foods and don’t eat too late in the evening, take my pills on an empty stomach and then go straight to bed, I might have an even chance of actually dozing off in a reasonable amount of time. All of that is referred to as good “sleep hygiene.” In general, my sleep hygiene is poor. I stay up too late. That’s when the house is quite enough for me to write. I watch exciting mysteries or detective shows or supernatural movies on TV. Many of these self-defeating behaviors are tied into my depression. Some nights I’m just too agitated to sleep and the medication makes no difference at all. Then there’s the problem of my body’s tendency to acclimate to medication within about four months. Am I still depressed? Oh yes. Will I ever be cured? There is no cure for Major Depressive Disorder. There is only support through medication and therapy, along with healthy living habits and a determination to keep on climbing up out of the darkness.

I know these things for sure:

Sleep deprivation makes depression worse and causes weight gain.

Depression will make weight gain worse.

Weight gain will make depression worse.

See how easy it is to get stuck in the labyrinth with no way out? The answer is sleep. When I’m asleep, my body is restoring itself and my mind processes what’s going on at various levels of my consciousness. That processing is essential. Picture your mind as one big file drawer. When you get enough sleep, all the files are in the right order and new material gets filed and cross-referenced appropriately. When you don’t get enough sleep, information gets filed incorrectly, memory doesn’t work right, and if the sleep deprivation goes on long enough, what you end up with is that file drawer yanked out, turned upside down, and everything dumped on the floor in an impossible mess. Sometimes the mess is so bad you have what the psychiatrists refer to as a “psychotic break.”

Bear in mind I’m talking about myself here. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Newborns do very little but eat and sleep. Teenagers need a lot of sleep not because they’re lazy but because of their mental and physical growth rates. Older people might not need as much sleep as people in their thirties or forties. Your mileage may vary. All I know is I need more sleep than I get, and that’s partly due to my own bad habits. It’s important to be aware of that. The more control I have over the causes of my depression, the more I can fight it. The more I keep up the fight, the more often I win. It’s when I forget that I can stand up against the depression that it takes over. Fatigue, chronic pain, the endless stress of two special needs children, and the pandemic make it very difficult to keep moving forward. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is my friend.

Right now I’m sitting here at 1:30 a.m. It’s been another long day in a long week. Before I go to sleep, I will write down at least three good things that happened today. I will light that candle and keep it lit against the darkness of depression.

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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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E is for Enlightenment


by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2022

EMBRACING MY INNER FOOL

Once a person reaches Self-realization, they are freed from their own desires and worldly attachments. They’re also liberated from external pressures, such as cultural and social expectations, or political and economic influences. They are beyond self-delusion and material attachments. Yogapedia

If my life has taught me anything, it has taught me that I’m a fool. The older I get, the more convinced of this I become. (After all, the evidence just keeps piling up.) It’s amazing how bone-deep that foolishness can run. Of the many different ways my foolishness has manifested itself, a few examples stand out:

I have insomnia, so I exist in a state of perpetual sleep deprivation. That goes a long way toward explaining the bizarre things that can happen to me first thing in the morning. One day I put the box of cereal in the refrigerator, then tried to put the carton of orange juice in the full kitchen cupboard. Took me a minute to figure out why it wouldn’t fit. I’m so glad I didn’t try to lay the open orange juice carton on its side.

Another fine example of getting my wires crossed occurred the day my son John was about to go out for the afternoon with his aide, a young man named Dario. I was running around doing too much at once, my feet and my mouth moving too fast for my brain to keep up. That resulted in me handing John the money for gas and incidentals and then leaning over to kiss Dario goodbye. Perspective kicked in just before I crossed the line concerning Dario’s personal space. We both shied back with a yelp. I apologized profusely. By then Dario had been working for us long enough to know what a goofball I can be, so he laughed it off.

Early in my marriage my software engineer husband decided to take advantage of my trusting nature. We were out shopping for groceries. In the produce section, I was picking out items I needed for a particular recipe, concentrating on the list of ingredients. Suddenly my husband called out, “Put down those mushrooms! They’re covered with fungus!” I jumped and dropped the one I was holding. Only then did the truth hit me. A mushroom is a fungus. My husband has pulled that kind of thing on me more than a few times over the years. I’ve learned to watch out his “Mr. Wizard” voice.

Once in a while one of the worst symptoms of my Inner Foolishness will manifest itself in the form of me concocting some elaborate plan. This symptom usually comes out in one of two forms. One, I plot some elaborate payback scheme against somebody who has given me grief so intense it brings out my misguided Machiavellian urges. Two, I get caught up in somebody else’s drama and allow myself to be carried along in the wake of their personal upheaval.

My most memorable Machiavellian moment came back in the days when I was working at the Northern Renaissance Faire. I’d discovered a woman whom I believed to be my friend had in fact been conducting a campaign of deceit and character assassination behind my back. What she did not take into account was all the conversations we’d had that involved the exchange of personal hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes. In trying so hard to pretend she was my friend, she had given me all the ammunition I needed to expose her vital emotional organs to the mockery of our entire Faire community. I got quite carried away with plotting her total destruction.

Did I go through with it?

I did not.

I could say my better nature won out, compassion triumphed over vengeance, etc. etc. The truth is, I just knew something would go wrong and it would all backfire on me. Also, I did realize it was a colossal waste of time and energy, a backhanded compliment to a who’d proven she was no longer worth that kind of effort. Karma would catch up with her. (The funny thing is, it did, about a year later. Stay tuned for K Day!)

The finest example of me letting myself get caught up in somebody else’s drama was also related to people from Ren Faire. I knew a woman who had some serious issues rooted in how her mother had raised her. All this baggage prompted her to redesign her own identity with an eye to becoming the person she really wanted to be. Self-actualization is a good thing, right? Not when it’s an excuse for shaking down everybody who cared about her in some strange effort to be compensated for what she felt her mother failed to provide. This person decided to change from being a Water sign to a Fire sign and switch everything in her life over to this new state of being. I’ve done a lot of reading about matters metaphysical. While I’m certainly no expert, I’m not sure this sort of thing is even possible. Just deciding to adopt a new birthdate and rising sign doesn’t make the planets line up differently on your natal chart. As far as what the Recording Angel might have to say about it, who knows?

I’m old enough now to know better about this kind of situation, but at the time I found it fascinating. When this person invited me to attend the wake for her Old Self and the Re-Birthing Ritual for her New Self, I accepted both invitations. I was hoping to witness genuine personal transformation. I ended up being a participant in two carefully orchestrated exercises in narcissism. The true dimensions of her commitment to a higher state of being were revealed after the Re-Birth Ritual. This woman got all bent out of shape because no one brought her a cake and presents. Where did my Inner Fool come into play? By allowing myself to be part of the audience this woman so desperately craved. In doing so I encouraged her ridiculous and self-destructive behavior.

It’s a great relief to realize your own foolishness. It frees you from the burden of maintaining a facade of sophistication and worldly know-how. If you embrace your Inner Fool, expectations fall away, agendas crumble, and you’re free to just roll on through life without the constant fear of looking stupid. You know that sooner or later you will. That confidence brings with it a certain relaxation envied by those people still ruled by their need to look cool.

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