Category Archives: travel

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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X is for Xenophile


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2022

“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples.  Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind.  If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera.  This was the number one item on my bucket list.  Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.

I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them.  This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories.  My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera.  If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

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 The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls.  Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva.  There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera.  Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there.  People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms.  When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.

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The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves.  Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.

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Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop.  Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards.  The Stage contains not a single nail.  Wooden pegs were used instead.

In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.  The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time.  Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire.  Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!

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This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction.  I stood at the corner on the center left.

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There are several shrines on the temple grounds.  This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth.  I love those fox figurines.  Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.

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Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking.  The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai.  Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money.  The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition.  The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers.  A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine.  The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.

Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree.  Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it.  We didn’t understand that at the time.  Now we do!

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The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people.  I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji.  Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world.  Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them.  Still not sure what that was all about.

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Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings.  On the far right, wisdom.  In the center, long life.  On the left, success in scholarship.  I meant to drink from the water of longevity.  Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead.  I suspect that’s probably what I really need!

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Soon it was time to head back down the mountain.  This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.

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I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning.  Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list.    If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka.  We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick.  Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa.  I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.

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V is for Verisimilitude


by Lillian Csernica on April 26, 2022

“Aside from being fun to say, verisimilitude (pronounced ‘VAIR-ih-sih-MILL-ih-tude’) simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality.’ A work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems realistic.” — literaryterms.net

And now for another story from the days when I worked the Northern Renaissance Faire. My husband and I both worked for the fencing booth which was done up like a pirate ship privateer vessel. The booth was quite popular. At any given time we’d have at least six students out “on deck” receiving their half hour fencing lessons from members of our crew. Out front there was a seating area with hay bales where guests could sit in the shade of our “sails” and watch competition-level fencers have bouts on the stage/strip. A crow’s nest rose high above the audience where one of the hawkers or even the Captain himself might stand.

The crow’s nest plays a key role in this story. Every morning our day began with Roll Call. Depending on how big a crowd had already gathered, the person up in the crow’s nest might be the First Mate or one of the other officers. Roll Call was a lot of fun. The audience got to see us all called on by our Faire names and replying in character. On this particular day the fellow calling roll was one of the hawkers, a man with a gift for jokes and word play. Somebody had the bright idea of turning the tables on him. The idea was passed around among the crew. Instead of the usual “Aye aye!” or “I be ‘ere, sir!’ or “Shut yer gob, ye sniveling mumblecrust!”, we replied with a bit more creativity and respect.

“Aye aye, Yer Vastness!”

“Right ‘ere, Your Garrulity!”

“Present, Yer Delightfulness!

“Right you are, Your Splendor!

The hawker up in the crow’s nest kept snorting and chuckling and trying to get a grip. We had a good two dozen people on crew, so Roll Call took a little time. y turn came.

“Mistress Andalyn Fortune!”

I took a deep breath, readied my best projection, and stepped forward.

“At your service, Your Verisimilitude!”

That one did it. The hawker burst out laughing, dropped his clip board, crossed hid arms on the railing of the crow’s nest, and rested his forehead on his arms.

It was fun playing a pirate. People expected you to steal the show.

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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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S is for Spark


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2022

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I worked at the Southern Renaissance Pleasure Faire, aka the Agoura Ren Faire. There’s nothing like wearing Elizabethan costuming every weekend in ninety to a hundred degree heat while trying to talk people into buying the kind of elaborate jewelry they’d wear once or twice, not counting Halloween. That was during the day. At night, after closing, Ren Faire belonged to the workers.

During one of the evening gatherings, I learned how to play Spark in the Dark. I recommend playing it outside, on a summer night, under a sky glimmering with thousands of stars.

Spark in the Dark:

1. It takes two people.

2. One roll of wintergreen Lifesavers. Only wintergreen will work.

3. You can play the game outdoors at night, or in a dark room.

4. Each player puts one Lifesaver between their back molars. Hold it lightly in place. Keep the lips open so each player can see into the other person’s mouth.

5. On the agreed upon signal, both players bite down on the Lifesavers.

Spark in the Dark!

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N is for Nitpicking


“When you nitpick, you focus on small, specific mistakes.” — Vocabulary.com

Writing about history gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion. There is one particular occupational hazard to becoming an historical writer. One can develop an obsession with historical accuracy that appears to people outside one’s own head as relentless nitpicking.

A good example is Scotland. Not the wealthiest of countries, Scotland has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, especially the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. When in the company of such people, I’ve learned to keep my knowledge of history to myself. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those nasty facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. I find it one of history’s most humorous moments to see all that grandeur reduced to the business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are business available to produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese. Context is everything, and Japan is a high-context society.

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chilvary was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved more than once.

Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. Love might be a nice side effect of marriage. Nobody expected it to be the whole point.

Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, also found in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. Not a lot of romance there for me. I’m not fond of desert climates.

One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first romance novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because that novel is set in Navarre. I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. In Egypt the custom of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes was based as much on pragmatism as piety. If not for that custom, many members of the lower classes in Egypt would have starved to death. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the delights of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the carnelian combs of early Russia to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing with splendor and detail. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. I had to wonder how she avoided ending up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s.

History is full of little questions like this, alongside the larger mysteries. And so with every novel I go exploring!

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K is for Kyoto


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2022

If you’re interested in experiencing the wonders of both ancient and modern Japan, then you must visit Kyoto. I live in California. It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get me from my home to the hotel in Kyoto. Does that sound exhausting? It was, but what I found in Kyoto made it all worthwhile.

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Kyoto Station

It’s huge and beautiful. In addition to the train station, you’ll find a theater, two malls, a museum, a bus station, a 540-room hotel, and at least two dozen restaurants. Kyoto Station has its own zip code. No wonder! It’s a city unto itself.

There’s always someone ready to help, both official and everyday folks. At Kyoto Station they’re used to helping foreigners find their way around. Many of the taxi drivers are eager to practice their English language skills.

The clerk at my hotel (across the street) assured me I could find whatever I wanted inside Kyoto Station, and she was right. Isetan Department Store, free wifi, even a yen store, which is the equivalent of our Dollar Tree.

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Imperial Palace

A train ride and a short hike brought us to the Imperial Gardens that are part of the Palace Grounds. We had made a reservation for one of the tours given in English. The Imperial Household Agency runs these tours. We were directed to arrive twenty minutes ahead of time at a specific outer gate. There we found something of a staging area in the form of a gift shop with tables outside and the usual array of vending machines offering a variety of drinks.

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Toei Kyoto Studio Tour

Toei Kyoto Studio Park is not an amusement park in the sense we Americans understand it, i.e. a lot of carnival rides that will make you want to throw up. Instead, it’s living history much like the Renaissance Faire. The actors I spoke to knew their history and were more than happy to pose for photos. I consider this adventure to be one of the high points of my visit to Kyoto.

Toei Studios is behind quite a diverse selection of entertainment, including Battle Royale, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, the origin of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In the 1950s, samurai movies were hugely popular, as proven by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, just to name a few.

The park also features a Haunted House. I avoid haunted house attractions because they’re usually more gory than scary. When Pat suggested going through the Haunted House, I had to do it. After all, Japanese ghosts and monsters are very different from the frights we find in the West. First stop: the Haunted Forest. I knew there was a person in the trees off to my left. It must have been a woman, to judge from the creepy ululating cry. That distracted me just enough so I didn’t see the tree until it started to fall on me. Well, that got the adrenalin pumping. I’m just going to come right out and admit I was so scared I could hardly make myself keep moving forward. By the time I got to the room where all the dolls had bleeding eyes, I was ready to run for it.

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In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true. I致e been a lot of places and I致e seen a lot of things, and I致e written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in the Later series of anthologies from Clockwork Alchemy, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in Donnie Darko a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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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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Doin’ the BayCon Boogie!


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2019

twitter.com

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.

justshineon.com

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.

mythicalrealm.com

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!

clinicalpsychreading.blogspot.com

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.

emilyclarkcounseling.com

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#atozchallenge Reflections


by Lillian Csernica on May 6, 2019

reflection

Greetings! After all the labors of April, we have come to the post-game analysis. I’m going with the official suggested list of questions because they’re mighty fine for providing insights.

  1. What did you love about the challenge this year? I had a good time drawing on the less familiar moments of my writing life. I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of things. Finding a subject for each day’s letter made me sift through all that for material that was both entertaining and edifying.
  2. What would you change about it? Maybe plan a brainstorming event a month ahead that would get me off the starting block with my posts. That way I could stay a week or so ahead and not fall into the last minute pressure cooker.
  3. What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge? When it was time to write something for the letter U, I got stuck. I looked up words, pondered angles, and started to overthink the post. Then I realized I could write about one of my greatest sources of inspiration: my mother. That’s when I decided to tell the story of the best Halloween costume Mom ever created, starring her Utility Belt.
  4. What is the best comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment? “Vintage also comes with a connotation of good, as in the good old days, not the parts nobody wants to remember or return to. In wines, it refers to aging in carefully controlled conditions so as to add both character and subtlety to the final product.” — Pat MacEwen, in response to V is for Vintage
  5. Will you do the challenge again? Can’t wait! Every year is an adventure. My previous themes have included Chocolate, Bad Sword & Sorcery Movies, Art Nouveau jewelry, and my Kyoto Steampunk universe!
  6. Was it well organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?) Yes indeed! A particular shout-out to J Lenni Dorner.
  7. How did you and your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? In opening up my own mind to areas of my life I don’t normally mention in my blog posts, I think I’ve given myself permission to write with a deeper level of meaning. Both the positive experiences and the negative ones provide useful perspective.  Did you find new blogs out there to enjoy? Yes I did! 
  8. Were you on the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it better this time without the daily lists?) I was on the Master List, yes. The daily lists are helpful to me. Last year I’d go to the Facebook page and browse the links. That made it easier for me to roam around. I regret not getting as much roaming time in this year.
  9. Any suggestions for our future? Keep up the good work! This is easily one of the highlights of my blog year.
  10. Any notes to the co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics? A thousand thank-yous to all the folks who make the A to Z Blog Challenge happen. I’ve made some great online friends by participating and I’ve discovered some brilliant people.

atoz2019icon

 

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Art Nouveau, bad movies, Blog challenges, chocolate, Conventions, Family, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing