Category Archives: special education

Resting In Peace


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2019

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On Friday we held the memorial service for my mother at Pacific Gardens Chapel. More than a dozen people attended. Given the perils of weekend traffic during a Santa Cruz summer,  I was grateful to see so  many friends of our family make the effort to honor Mom’s memory.  This was in addition to the presence of my brother, whom I have not seen since my wedding 31 years ago this month.

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More family and friends sent flowers, among them white roses with blue hydrangea, a basket of roses the red of garnets, and one of those big sprays of spider mums and daisies and greenery. The flowers made the chapel even more beautiful, all of it centering on a photo of Mom taken from the days when she worked in music videos and as an extra in movies and TV. That photo, a cheerful headshot, let us mourners remember my mother as the person she was, the lively personality inside that body so weakened by illness.

My brother spoke about Mom making the most of every little thing they had when my brother was growing up. My husband talked about how many ways Mom expressed her creativity, through art and acting and singing and even stand-up comedy. I gave Mom credit for teaching me one of life’s most important lessons: Try everything! I’ve done my best to teach my boys do that so they don’t miss out on something they never knew they’d enjoy.

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These last few months of Mom’s life have been so hard. Now she’s in a better place, free of the body that kept breaking down and causing her so much pain. Mom can rest in peace, knowing how much we all loved her.

Yesterday I sat in my favorite coffeehouse and wrote for close to an hour. Then I switched notebooks and went on writing about something else entirely. I haven’t done that much writing in a single sitting in far too long.

It’s time for me to get some rest too, then go on living the life my mother encouraged me to live.

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Doin’ the BayCon Boogie!


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2019

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It’s taken me more time than usual to recover from the wonders of BayCon. This year’s amazing spectacle had so much going on I wanted to be in at least two different places in every time slot. Here are the highlights of one of the better con weekends I’ve enjoyed.

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How diverse is diversity?

Gregg Castro (Salinan T’rowt’raahl) (M), Dr. yvonne white (Hayward High School), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Jean Battiato

I added another layer to the definition of diversity by speaking for those who have disabilities, whether physical or psychological. While some physical disabilities are obvious and others are not, most psychological problems are not immediately apparent. Thanks to the expanding realm of neurodiversity, more and more people are aware of the prevalence of autism, of clinical depression, of chronic pain, and other conditions that create daily challenges on several levels.

Teen Guided-Storytelling Workshop

Host: Margaret McGaffey-Fisk

John wanted to attend this event. He’s been drawing for years and has taken at least two ceramics classes in school. Now he’s interested in learning how to tell a good story to go along with his illustrations and sculptures. Margaret did a wonderful job of explaining the techniques of oral storytelling. There was a young lady present as well. Margaret encouraged both John and this young lady to use their own original characters as part of practicing the techniques she discussed. I am delighted to say I learned quite a lot also! Margaret’s techniques came in very handy for the Spontaneous Storytelling panel on Sunday.

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Altered Beast

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature.

Kevin Andrew Murphy (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen

I have written and published three stories with Kevin and one  (so far) with Pat. We all have extensive libraries on folklore and shapeshifters, so we took the audience on a round-the-world tour of the beliefs and manifestations of the “werewolf” tradition.When we three are together, you will hear some of the weirdest facts and fancies you could imagine!

Spontaneous Storytelling

Panelists developing a story developed by multiple choice suggestions from audience members.

Jeff Warwick (M), David Brin, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Mark Gelineau (Gelineau and King)

Jeff is brilliant. Get somebody who was in the audience for this panel to tell you about the illustrations he drew while the story evolved, most notably The Harmonicat. This critter has now entered into the annals of A Shot Rang Out folklore right up there with Darth Tetra. I found a way for our protagonist to speak Japanese to the cat. David Brin picked right up on that and easily blew my tourist doors off with his accent and much better grammar. Mark Gelineau caught some of the stranger audience suggestions and turned them to his advantage. A good time was had by all!

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The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

Dorothy Parker wrote “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” Being willing to do exactly that is what will bring the deepest meaning to our writing. How do we bring ourselves to be that honest and vulnerable in our stories?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), Ms. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Book View Café)

It’s not easy to talk about one’s creative process, but the three of us gave it a solid try. Jay described how the combination of his acting training and his directing skills help him render authentic emotion on the page. Maya gave us some very personal insights into how she transforms personal pain into dynamic action in her stories. Me? I keep digging deeper and deeper into the hearts of my characters to find the pain that drives them onward, that won’t let them sleep, that gives them strength in the face of crushing opposition. Pain is supposed to be Nature’s way of telling us to stop doing something. For writers, it’s what keeps us writing.

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But Wait! There’s More!


by Lillian Csernica on May 3, 2019

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Hi there. I had to take a small break from blogging to keep up with some other writing commitments. An article for SEARCH Magazine, the latest critiques for my writers group, and a vigorous session at the coffeehouse with my personal journal. If I don’t write in the personal journal with reasonable frequency, internal pressures build up and I get way too stressed out.

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Those of you who are in my general age range will recall those commercials that came on late at night during the really bad horror movies that showed on Channel 13 (I grew up in Southern California). The fast-talking salesman doing the voice-over would tell you all about the wonders of the chef’s knives for one low, low price.

But wait! There’s more!

The voice-over would throw in some amazing device that could peel carrots, slice spuds into French fries, and turn those radishes into roses. All for another rock bottom price!

But wait! There’s more!

Now and then you’d get the third tier offer which usually had to do with jewelry, sterling silver or 18k gold. You just dipped the item into the secret polish and out it came gleaming like the prize treasure from a dragon’s hoard.

I have completed the April 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge. So here I am looking for a May Blog Challenge. Any suggestions?

I could go with an official challenge, or I could devote this month to a subject that you wonderful people would like to see me discuss. I can cover anything in the subject areas I’m known for, or you can send me off on a new adventure.

What new & improved thrills would you like to see me provide here?

You are some mighty clever people. Can’t wait to see what you throw at me!

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innovateuk.blog.gov.uk

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#atozchallenge K is for Kids


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019
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by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019

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People told me that when I had kids, my life would never be the same.

Those people had no idea how right they were.

My son Michael was born at 23 weeks, weighing 770 grams. That’s one pound, eleven ounces. He was the size of a kitten lying across my palms. This was back in 1996. At that time the age of viability was 24 weeks, because only then would the lungs function. During every single day of the following three and a half months Michael spent in the hospital, we watched and waited to see if our baby would live or die.

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Two and a half years later, John arrived. He went full term, a hefty eight pounds, ten ounces. During delivery, John refused to breathe. By then the hospital staff knew our family rather well, so the head of neonatology was on hand to jump start John and make sure he started life in good form. John had to spend the first week of his life in the NICU, which drove me crazy because I wanted my baby. Then, as John missed verbal milestones and showed other unusual behavior, we learned he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

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Now people tell me I should write about my experiences with both of my sons. I should write about battles with insurance, battles with the school district, battles with the boys themselves. I should write about all the doctors and nurses and teachers and aides I’ve worked with through two decades. I should write about what I’ve learned and what I wish I’d known.

It’s not easy to write about difficult events when you’re still in the process of living through them. Now that my boys are legal adults, they face a sharp decline in services, lack of day programs, and the ongoing insurance battles. Michael is still in just as much danger from every medical crisis. John is still learning how to handle some of his symptoms. I am their mother, their legal guardian, and their primary advocate.

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The time is coming when I will write more nonfiction. Right now, I write escapist literature because that’s what I need to write. I don’t travel as much as I’d like to because I simply can’t. In order to hang on to my dented sanity, I run away from home inside my head.

 

 

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#atozblogchallenge F is for Finish It!


by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2019

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I can sum up the secrets of writing success in two words: Finish it!

Everybody loves the beginning. Even when it’s difficult and you don’t know where it start. That first flush of creativity, the excitement over a new idea, can be addictive. So addictive, in fact, that when the shine of a new idea wears off and the doldrums of rewriting set in, people often abandon a project for something new.

That way lies disaster.

Most writers have several ideas sitting around in various stages of development. It’s what we do. Successful writers figure out which ideas have the most potential and invest time and effort in developing those projects. Agents won’t look at unfinished manuscripts. Editors don’t buy unfinished stories. Readers don’t read either of these because unfinished projects never get published.

Finish it.

When I wrote my first fantasy novel, I hit a rough patch about 3/4 of the way through. For three solid weeks I thought every word I wrote was worthless. Every single day I had to bully myself through my word quota. Eventually I got through it and completed the manuscript. When I got to that “worthless” section later during the editing process, it wasn’t really all that bad.

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When I wrote Ship of Dreams, my boys were both quite young. I wasn’t getting much sleep. There were lots of doctor appointments. When John was around 4 or 5 years old, we discovered he’s autistic. That was heartbreaking on top of all of Michael’s difficulties. Once again I hit that stage at the 3/4 mark where I couldn’t stand the story and wanted to give up. I also had a disk crash that cost me a chunk of work. Even with all this going on, and with the help of my agent, I completed the manuscript. That book sold.

Whatever you’re writing, finish it. Only when you get all the way to what you think is the ending, will you have a better idea of where the story should start. This is why they’re called roughdrafts. Just do it. Get it written. Throw everything at the page until you reach the end. Take a break. Step back. Let it cool. Then begin the edit and the rewrite.

Checkered, Chequered, FINISH

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How To Keep Writing When You’re Drowning in Chaos


by Lillian Csernica on February 18, 2019

Hi there. Today I will tell you how to keep up that word count and move forward with your creative life regardless of how crazy your everyday life has become.

What are my qualifications for this?

  • My older boy is an invalid requiring R.N. level care. We have two R.N.s. One has been on vacation. That means I fill in when she can’t be here.
  • My younger son has high-functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He attends community college, and he has a lot going for him. Even so, he needs supervision.
  • My mother has been having a series of medical crises since last summer. She’s back in the hospital again after having a heart valve replaced. The insurance is running out and time is against us in finding other caregivers for her.
  • Me, I have Major Depressive Disorder, I don’t sleep much, and I’m not getting any younger.

Having said all that, I can also say that I keep writing. I have three stories coming out in three different anthologies in the next few months. Marketing my novel proposals continues. When I sold my pirate novel, I did it with the help of an agent through traditional publishing. I liked that a lot and I’d like to do the same with my fantasy novels and my historical romance series. We’ll see what happens.

What is my secret? Simple. The ongoing chaos that I live in every day provokes powerful emotions inside me. Love and hate. Joy and grief. Depression and exultation. I’ve never been a halfway kind of person. These emotions are often so big inside me I have to let them out. I have to get them down on paper, get them out of my head, give them somewhere to go.

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And so I write. Maybe not every single day, but three out of five, I write.

Am I angry? My characters fight.

Am I frightened? My characters either hide from or face what frightens them.

Am I sad? My characters talk about it. They fight about it. They do something stupid or something brave or something that just makes it stop hurting for a while.

Whatever emotion is strongest within you, WRITE ABOUT IT.

Personal journal. Vignette. Short story. Chunk of a novel. Whatever size you need.

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No matter how good life is, no matter how bad life gets, WRITE ABOUT IT.

This is how you keep writing. This is how you keep from going under.

Writers commit alchemy every time we put our feelings into words. We take that heavy leaden weight of emotion and through our imaginations we transmute it into the pure gold of storytelling.

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P.S. Why are all the quotations from Ray Bradbury? When I was in grade school he was the first writer to set my mind on fire. Dandelion Wine showed me that I could imagine on paper and make use of everything going on inside my head. The day I finished reading Dandelion Wine was the first day I knew I wanted to be a writer.

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Nevertheless, I Persisted


by Lillian Csernica on December 3, 2018

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Hi there. I’ve tried at least twice to write blog posts since last we met. Got interrupted, fell asleep, had family crises. Never a dull moment.

People who aren’t all that familiar with writing think it’s a great job you can do at home whenever you feel like it. For those of us who are regular, habitual writers, it’s often like that one nightmare where no matter how hard you run, you can never quite reach the thing you’re after. We struggle to find or make the time to write. Then we struggle to produce our desired word count. We sit there second-guessing ourselves, and that’s before the actual editing process starts. Then we rinse and repeat, pretty much every single day.

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NaNoWriMo — Yes, I participated this year. What’s more, I am now the Municipal Liaison for the Santa Cruz County Region, along with a nice woman who handles the UCSC campus which is a city unto itself. This meant I hosted the Kick Off Party, I was there for the Tuesday night write-ins at the library, and I organized the final celebration. Details below. Did I win? Yes I did. 50, 141 words written mostly by hand in my notebook at my favorite Peet’s. So now there is indeed a novel in the Kyoto Steampunk universe.

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Training two new aides for Michael — We have been fortunate enough to hire a second RN and two new aides for Michael. Now that he’s out of school, he needs people to help him fill his day. There are no day programs available to accommodate someone as medically fragile as he is. Michael is a grown man now, and my joints aren’t getting any younger. I am deeply grateful for all the assistance we receive.

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Mom in the hospital, then heart surgery — My mother has been in the hospital for weeks now. She has Stage 4 kidney failure. Home dialysis never did go right. The MDs switched her to hemodialysis after the whole ER panic in August. Unfortunately, MRSA is a tenacious affliction. In the course of treating that, the cardiologist discovered Mom had a weak mitral valve in her heart. This led to a twelve hour surgery to replace the valve. Mom is about to turn 82 come January. I have no words to describe how frightened and stressed out I’ve been during all this. Mom is improving, but it’s at an incremental pace.

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The Night Of Writing Dangerously — The big NaNoWriMo fundraiser. Thanks to the generous donations of my writer friends, I raised the required amount to attend NOWD. What a blast. I drove to San Francisco, found my $12 parking space (thank you, SpotHero!), and made it to the Julia Morgan Ballroom on time. The next eight hours were full of writing and food and jokes and prizes and meeting other writers. I needed a great night out and this was definitely it.

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Thanksgiving — With Mom in the hospital, this was a bittersweet event. She wasn’t at her usual seat at the table. She didn’t make us all wait while she took photos of the food sitting there on the table getting cold. She didn’t make us pose and then sit there until our smiles wilted, resulting in the usual expressions of mild sedation. Those habits might annoy me, but they’re still part of our family tradition, dysfunctional though it may be. We did have a great dinner, cooked by my husband. And I am very thankful Mom is still with us.

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John’s cake looked better.

John’s birthday — Given that we were running back and forth to the hospital and taking care of Michael (fewer caregivers on the weekend, especially major holidays), we stretched John’s birthday out from Friday through Sunday. Chris took him to Dave & Buster’s on Friday. I took him to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on Saturday along with various other fun stops. On Sunday we had his party with his custom made birthday cake and a pile of presents. My baby is now 20 years old. Next year, Chris plans to take John to Las Vegas.

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The Thank God It’s Over party (NaNoWriMo) — Once again I dressed up and headed out with my bag of NaNoWriMo swag and the prizes for the Bingo sheets we all filled out and various other little mementoes of the month’s adventures. Woodstock Pizza in Santa Cruz is great. The heaters out on the patio kept us cozy while we ate and drank and read from our novels and made the people sitting nearby wonder who all these crazy people were. NaNoWriMo is my happy place in the midst of all the stress I live with daily.

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Mercury might be in retrograde right now, but we did it. Every single one of us who did our best during NaNoWriMo is a winner. I’m exhausted, and I’m still worried, of course, but life is good.

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Coming up next: It’s time to answer this year’s letters to Santa Claus! I already have eight waiting for me!
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How Writers Dress for Success


by Lillian Csernica on August 6, 2018

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On days when I’m not going to be leaving the house, I observe the time-honored tradition of working in my Bathrobe. By the end of the day I’ve usually accumulated an interesting variety of odds and ends in the pockets.

In my right pocket, where things most often end up, I have my comb, two small butterfly paper clips, an unopened alcohol wipe, and a green plastic fly.

In my left pocket, where I carry more important items, my SFWA secret decoder ring awaits being used on relevant emails.

My nightstand is littered with the bits and pieces I pull out of my pockets before I go to bed at night. I’ve learned to make a ritual of this. There’s nothing like a few harsh metallic noises coming from the washer or dryer to cause the Spousal Unit unwelcome distress.

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There are different schools of thought on how writers should suit up for their daily work count. Some dress as if they were going to the office, because that is what they are doing. Some dress in a manner that helps them connect with the material they’re working on. I find that idea entertaining. If I were to dress in a manner suitable for the heroine of my current novel, I’d be wearing a yukata and zori. For the short story in progress, Victorian attire of the 1880s. Of the two I’d choose the yukata for summer comfort and ease of movement. I’ve worn corsets, but I confess I’m not a big fan of steel boning.

Pro tip: Nothing says we have to look like the back of the book photo all the time.

Back to the Bathrobe. Built for comfort, if not for style. When I’m writing, I want no distractions. If my shoes annoy me, I take them off. If the clip in my hair isn’t comfortable, out it goes. I’ve never carried this idea to its ultimate extreme, largely because I do most of my writing either at my favorite coffeehouse out in public, or here at home on the living room couch. Neither is an appropriate context for creating while I’m in my birthday suit.

I find that I do my best work when I’m comfortable. This means more than just wearing slippers and sitting in a comfy chair, although those can be important elements. I can’t write when I’m hungry. I really can’t concentrate when my blood sugar is low. I need a certain amount of background noise to help me focus. I don’t mind being a little cold, but I can’t stand being too hot. Total silence makes me jumpy, because the selective hearing I’ve developed over 22 years of having a medically fragile son keeps me alert for the sounds I should be hearing.

All this explains why I hang out at my local Peet’s Coffee so much. It provides everything I need to do good work.

There’s one really great aspect of the Bathrobe. Remember when we were little kids and pinned towels around our necks for capes? Or we used those old sheets to make a pillow fort? We could be anybody in those capes. The pillow fort could be a crater on Mars or the penthouse in Tahiti. That’s what the Bathrobe does for me. Because there’s no pressure, there’s no appearance to maintain, I can relax and be whoever I need to be for that day’s writing. Let the record show I own three different bathrobes.

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In her article about Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman, Vanessa Friedman writes:

As Ms. Newman discovered, Virginia Woolf actually had a name for this awareness: “frock consciousness.” She used it to refer to the way she employed clothing to denote character, and changes in character, particularly as they applied to her book “Mrs. Dalloway.” But really, it’s a (not surprisingly) perfect turn of phrase that could apply to us all.

What do you wear when you write? Do you have a favorite set of writing clothes?

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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 #17


by Lillian Csernica on May 17th, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

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

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

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

    “the music faded in discord”
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BusinessInsider.com

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

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

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culvercityobserver.com

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