Category Archives: parenting

Three Reasons Why June is A Great Month for Writing


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2018

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

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Graduation

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

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

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

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Weddings

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

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

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

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Muriel’s Wedding

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Shrek

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

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The Summer Solstice

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

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

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

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #30


by Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Keep your feet on the ground

though friends flatter you.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART II

The night breeze grew stronger, blowing Kathleen’s hair back and clearing her head. She found herself halfway to that weird heat shimmer. She slowed. Leaf moved on, taking three more strides with those long legs before he looked back.

“Kathleen?”

“Yeah, sorry. I just remembered my New Year’s Resolution. I don’t make life-changing decisions when I’ve been drinking.”

“You are nowhere near the legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream. The food you consumed and the amount of time that has passed are both providing assistance.”

“That’s another problem.” Kathleen backed up two steps and crossed her legs. Why had she walked so far from the car? Stupid stupid stupid. “I need a bathroom.”

“People who camp in this area observe the custom of digging a hole in the ground.”

“Well! Too bad I left my shovel at home.” Like she had any intention of squatting with a total stranger nearby. “Wait a minute. How do you know that?”

“Simple observation.”

“How long have you been watching this area?”

For the first time that Hollywood-handsome face looked shy, uncertain. “It was a routine sweep. Then, one night, I saw you. Sitting on your blanket, drinking something hot, eating chocolate cookies and looking at the stars.”

“When was this?”

“Two months ago. It’s so dull, watching the readouts. The lower life forms go about their eating and mating and territorial battles. And the occasional humans wander through.”

“Like me. All by myself, watching for shooting stars.”

“I–” Leaf held out his hand. “I shared that lonely vigil, that quiet time where the only thoughts you want to hear are your own.”

Kathleen heard real truth, real pain, in that lovely voice. She pulled herself together.

“It’s late. I’m exhausted. I need a bathroom, and I’m not leaving this planet without packing at least one bag.”

“May I walk you to your vehicle? A woman alone at this hour is easy prey.”

That turn of phrase very nearly made the bladder emergency a harsh truth. Kathleen took three quick steps backward and bent to snatch up one of the empty beer bottles. She also grabbed her purse, hiking it up onto her shoulder.

“That’s very thoughtful.” She closed that hand around her phone, ready to hit the emergency call option. “Why don’t you hang back a bit and keep me in sight? That way you can yell a warning if you see anybody lurking.”

It was time to get out of here. Time to go home, lock all the doors and windows, and shut down all her wifi devices. Time to have a real life lock down until she was sure these beer-fueled fantasies had passed out of her body. Maybe she’d wake up with nothing more than a headache and a funny story to tell.

“It would be best if you allow me to take you home. We can retrieve your car later.”

With that, Leaf stepped up to Kathleen, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her. The sudden rush of sensations left her off balance for a second. Leaf breathed in, sucking the air out of Kathleen’s lungs, then breathed out, blowing his breath into her. A warm fog of drowsiness enveloped her. She sank into the peaceful tide of unconsciousness.

END

PART II

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #24


by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Demonstrate refinement in everything you do.

THE STANDARD OF LIVING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To better days.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #20


by Lillian Csernica on May 20, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A loved one is of utmost importance at this time.

SPECIAL NEEDS

I sat there on the generic brown couch, staring up at the TV screen mounted high in one corner. Hospitals. Designed to give you a crick in the neck. You were lying in bed looking up at the TV, or you were sitting in some “Family Lounge” praying the news was good or at least bearable.

It was four a.m. on a Tuesday in late April. I sat in the “Family Lounge” trying not to cry. One of the CNAs, Delia, slept on the other couch. Using her lunch break to take a nap. I didn’t want to wake her. She’d rather sleep than eat. That said a lot about how little sleep she generally got.

I knew all about sleep deprivation. Tommy was back in the hospital again. Another infection. The immune system of a premature baby isn’t very strong. Tommy had made it to age ten, but even so, none of his systems were all that strong. He held on. He kept breathing. His heart kept beating. His organs continued to develop. The doctors were amazed. If Tommy’s life had been a song, that would have been the chorus. The doctors were amazed. And so I sat there, recharging my phone, watching the minute hand of the clock move or staring at the blank black mirror of the plasma screen TV.

Tommy had to live, to go on surviving. If he didn’t, that would finish me. Losing Bobby had been hard enough. Eighteen weeks. Early rupture. He was fine. It was me, my body, that couldn’t carry him to term. I lost him. That horrible moment when I really understood the emptiness where he had been. He’d just started kicking. I was happy, really happy, for the first time in years. That lasted two days, maybe three. Then my water broke too soon, and the nightmare began.

I knew a lot about hospitals. I could write a Lonely Planet guidebook comparing the beds, the food in the cafeterias, what there was to do in the surrounding neighborhoods. I always knew where to find a bookstore, or at least a drugstore with a news stand. When Tommy had to spend a whole summer in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I blew through at least a dozen books. When I finished them I’d leave some for any of the RNs who wanted them.

The clock said five a.m. Delia’s phone alarm went off. She sat up, smoothed her hair, tugged at her scrubs, then gave me that smile that was part pity and part professional compassion. She went back to work. The Infectious Disease unit. What fun. I’d want to burn my clothes and throw away my shoes every single night.

Two hours until shift change. The blood draws usually started at six a.m. so the results were ready in time for Rounds. That was a three hour window of muscle-knotting tension spent constantly on the alert for the five or ten minutes of the specialist’s time. Were the test results good? Did they show progress? Were we a day closer to discharge? The doctors were like Santa Claus. They appeared, dropped off their packets of information, then hurried on. So many more houses to visit, so many more patients to see. Instead of eight tiny reindeer, they had residents and physician’s assistants and sometimes a flock of student nurses who stood out like a flock of geese in their white scrubs. I often wondered if they made the students wear white scrubs so any mistake would leave a telltale mark. There are a lot of bodily fluids splashing around in hospitals, especially in the Infectious Disease unit.

Then came the empty hours until lunchtime. Linen changes. Emptying the catheter bag. Making sure Tommy’s pain levels were still under good control. Just awake enough to be bored, too worn out to do anything about it. I spent a lot of time reading to him, trying to find something entertaining on the hospital’s available TV channels, or just sitting there watching him sleep. It’s a terrible thing when you’re happy to see your child lying there unconscious because it’s the preferable alternative.

Stephen, my husband and Tommy’s father, spent his days at work maintaining the insurance coverage, paying the endless medical bills, keeping our life moving forward until that time when Tommy could come home again. He did his part and I did mine as I sat there alone, watching the empty black mirror of the big plasma screen.

END

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#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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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 #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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videoblocks.com

 

 

 

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Reflection–How the #AtoZChallenge Took Me Deeper Into My Fictional World


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

This year I dedicated my A to Z posts to exploring the world of my Kyoto Steampunk series. I made some valuable discoveries as I worked my way through the alphabet, some creative, some more on the practical side.

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Take a step sideways. A short story is by its nature limited in length. Every detail needs to be an essential detail. Once you get into a series of short stories, you have to keep developing those details, adding depth, bringing new information. Fujita-san is a regular character in the series, but the reader has so far never seen him outside of his function as Dr. Harrington’s translator. Devoting a post to Fujita-san’s background and qualifications made me think through aspects of his character that no story had yet required. That will greatly enrich Fujita-san’s next appearance.

Be sure to link your posts to other related posts. As the A to Z Challenge progressed, each additional blog post I wrote became an active link that expanded on references made in previous posts, and vice versa. It made for extra work, but it also gave me a wonderful sense of providing a more three dimensional experience. People who read the posts could chase the links back and forth, gathering lots of information and insights into how and why I’m writing the Kyoto Steampunk series.

Avoid the obvious, but keep in mind what’s popular. Some of the more difficult letters required brainstorming before I chose the topic I thought most useful and most entertaining. There were more Japanese words I might have used, but less is more in that regard. The Kyoto Steampunk series is about a British expatriate family living in Kyoto during Japan’s Industrial Revolution, facing difficulties both social and supernatural. I didn’t want to narrow the focus to Japan itself.

Reveal your process. This is where I really had the most fun. I’m always interested to learn how other creative people go about making their art. To be able to talk about how I made certain choices and why this or that story element is important to me gave me plenty of satisfaction. Just telling the story about how the character of Julie Rose came to be made a lot of people laugh!

Stay at least five days ahead. Absolutely essential. Some people manage to get all of their posts written before the challenge even starts. I stand in awe of such organization. Me, I need some pressure to do my best work. I also need breathing room. Staying five days ahead lets me stay relaxed while enjoying the daily challenge of each letter. It also means I have more time to go visit the people who visit me, along with roaming around chasing links to new blogs.

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thepandorasociety.com

 

And now, my favorite blogs from the 2018 A to Z Challenge!

The Old Shelter

Sarah Zama is an amazing writer, author of Give In To The Feeling. Last year she wrote about noir films, one of my favorite subjects. This year her posts about the Weimar Republic opened my eyes to a cultural revolution that was just a name in the history books.

Diary of a Dublin Housewife

Bernie Violet is a hoot. Her posts are written like bullet lists, providing bare dialogue back and forth between Bernie and one of her family or friends. You can hear the lovely Irish lilt that is authentic, not just some writer trying to fabricate a dialect. What’s more, Bernie’s sense of humor never fails to make me laugh.

Sharon E. Cathcart

Winner of much deserved awards, Sharon is a wonderful woman who devotes a lot of time to volunteering at animal shelters. Her latest novel Bayou Fire is well worth a read.

Sally’s Smorgasbord

For variety, entertainment, enlightenment, and laughter, you can’t do better. The sense of community there is strong and supportive. Go and sample some of the delights of this smorgasbord. You’ll be glad you did!

Atherton’s Magic Vapor

A time travel story with each letter of the alphabet being an entry in the mission guidebook. This is an exciting adventure with a unique style and some splendid graphics. I’ll have to read it again, now that I’ve gotten a better grip on the story!

Iain Kelly Fiction Writing

Every letter of the alphabet takes you to a new location. Every location is the setting for short piece of fiction that is rich and compelling. Some of the stories made me cry, partly from sorrow and partly from just how touching they were. Iain Kelly’s writing style is strong, admirable, and a pleasure to read.

Book Jotter

Paula Bardell-Hedley is a reviewer from Wales who keeps up with an impressive amount of reading. I’m impressed by the organization of her blog and the sheer volume of information she provides. Stop by and discover a treasure house for book lovers!

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#atozchallenge: L is for Loyalty


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2018

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Living as a member of the British expatriate community within the city of Kyoto, Dr. Harrington faces many challenges. I deliberately put him into situations that force him to make difficult choices. Again and again, he has to decide where his loyalty lies.

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Queen Victoria — Dr. Harrington must fulfill his duties and keep the Abbot in good health. Any lapse on his part will reflect badly on queen and country.

The Abbot — The image above shows Seihan Mori, the current Abbot of Kiyomizudera, using a calligraphy brush to make the kanji for the New Year. This kanji means “north.”

Dr. Harrington has been given the honor of ensuring the Abbot’s health. The Abbot is eighty-five. In A Demon in the Noonday Sun ( Twelve Hours Later), Dr. Harrington supervises the Abbot’s first use of his new steampunk wheelchair. While the Abbot is in fine health for a man of his age, he’s still fragile. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot himself sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that results in the Undersecretary forbidding the doctor to do anything of the kind.

 

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Sir George William Buchanan

His immediate superior, Alexander Thompson, Undersecretary for Technological Exchange — The image above is my model for Dr. Harrington’s boss. Thompson is utterly correct in everything he does, an ideal civil servant. That means there’s no way Dr. Harrington can explain the supernatural creatures that drag him away from the straight and narrow path Thompson expects him to walk.

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Constance and Madelaine — The safety and well-being of his wife and daughter are constantly at the forefront of Dr. Harrington’s thoughts. He accepted the posting to Kyoto in order to improve Madelaine’s prospects for a husband once the family returns to England.

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uniqueexplorer.blogspot.com

The burakumin — In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that opens his eyes to the existence of the lowest Japanese social class, one that still experiences discrimination even today. Dr. Harrington’s efforts to act on the Abbot’s instructions jeopardize everything he’s come to Japan to achieve.

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Being true to himself — William Harrington is a physician, a husband, a father, and a loyal subject of Queen Victoria. He has taken the Hippocratic Oath. He’s an honorable man of great integrity. Even so, he does have his weaknesses. Finding the right adversaries to test Dr. Harrington’s mettle among the gods and monsters of Japan is one of my greatest pleasures in writing the Kyoto Steampunk stories.

 

 

 

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