T is for Travel


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, memoirs, nature, research, travel

R is for Relaxation


by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2022

As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts, my life is rather stressful. Finding reliable methods of relaxation is essential. Here are a few of my favorites.

Watching the wildlife

Various members of the local wildlife community who turn up in my back yard. I live on an acre of land with a creek that runs along the southern property line. The wildfires in California caused such a loss of habitat I’m happy to see the critters show up here. The regulars include ravens, crows, ducks, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and two dozen species of songbirds. Squirrels both red ad gray live in the trees on both banks of the creek. There are two skunks who snuffle around late at night. Once in a while I’ll see a ‘possum.

Coloring books

Entangled Night Skies from Creative Haven uses Angela Porter’s wonderful designs. It takes some work to color in all the separate elements of each page, but it’s well worth it. There’s no particular deadline, so I can go at my own pace and linger over the colors I enjoy the most.

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Bad ghost chaser movies

I find these entertaining if only because they’re so predictable. Ignoring all the warnings. Blowing off that creepy sense of being watched. The lights flickering. Will the problem be in the attic or the basement? The popularity of paranormal investigation movies has given me the opportunity to gain some insight into other cultures. Scandinavia, India, Poland, Turkey, France…. All over the world, things go bump in the night!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, bad movies, Blog challenges, nature, therapy, Writing

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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

P is for Poltergeist


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O is for Ouija


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2022

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

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

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

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

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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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Humor, Japan, love, marriage, publication, research, romance, travel, Writing

M is for Mystery


by Lillian Csernica on April 15, 2022

I love a good mystery novel. Few things offer me the escapism and fine writing and entertaining guesswork of an excellent mystery. These are some of my favorites:

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Artists In Crime by Dame Ngaio Marsh

This was the first Inspector Alleyn novel I read. While clearly upper crust and possessed of impeccable manners, Alleyn brings a very pragmatic approach to his investigations. By that I mean he lets the suspects think he’s playing along with their nonsense while he seizes the available opportunities to gather the information he needs. Among the artists involved in this crime is Agatha Troy, a famous painter who captures Alleyn’s heart while he’s trying to figure out if she’s the one he has to arrest for murder. As the sixth case in the series, this story presents Alleyn in a new light with a depth of characterization that compelled me to read all thirty-two of his adventures.

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The Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The first of the Miss Marple novels, in this story I discovered the world of the quaint little English village and what a fierce combination of deceit, resentment, and violence seethes just below its proper public face. A cranky, abrasive churchwarden is shot in his office at the vicarage. A total of twenty-one characters dilute the main story a bit with subplots, but the red herrings do keep you guessing. The characters are so realistic and well-drawn I can read this book again and again.

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The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Nordic Noir is quite a reading experience. Scandinavian landscapes, brooding police protagonists, and crimes of dark and twisted violence. I admit I wasn’t prepared for that last one. Even so, the brilliance of the writing and the intensity of the characters make for a thrilling read. Harry Hole is the Norwegian detective in Jo Nesbo’s series.

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The Fifth Elephant by Sir Terry Pratchett

There’s trouble brewing in Uberwald, a dark, spooky country where power is split between the vampires, the werewolves, and the Low King of the Dwarves. A new Low King is about to take charge in a turn of events that will affect the reins of power all over the Disc. Lord Ventinari intends to protect the interests of Ankh-Morpork and its allies by sending Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch. Vimes also happens to be a Duke, which makes him the perfect copper for the diplomatic mission. Vimes is anything but diplomatic, guaranteeing a bumpy time will be had by all. The plot concerns a theft that leads to murder surrounded by lies, lies, and more lies. Great stuff!

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The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Philip Marlowe’s first novel-length case takes him from blackmail and a gambling den to drugs, murder, and madness. General Sternwood hires him to solve the problem plaguing his younger daughter Carmen. The cynical way way General Sternwood talks about both Carmen and his elder daughter Vivian as corrupt and “having all the usual vices” signals just how far down such high class socialites can fall. The movie version starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is excellent, directed by John Huston with William Faulkner himself working on the script. Hollywood did sanitize the story a bit. For the complete story with every sordid detail, read the book!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, artists, Blog challenges, classics, Fiction, historical fiction, memoirs, nature, publication, research, romance, therapy, Writing

L is for Love


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2022

LOOKING FOR LOVE

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Take love, for example. I don’t know much more about what love really is than I did when I was in elementary school. For me, love started out being this big exalted dream of perfect happiness, perfect harmony, and total devotion to each other. I think I got that from reading fairy tales. (Disney movies also have a lot to answer for.) Then I listened to what older girls said about their boyfriends. I got the impression that having a boyfriend was one of those Rules for Living that showed everybody else you knew what you were doing.

One night when I was nineteen years old, it was so bitterly cold my body heat wasn’t enough to warm up the sheets and blankets. I lay there alone, shivering and miserable, thinking if only I had boyfriend. If only I could find a boyfriend to keep me warm, inside and out. The intense desire to avoid another night like that one prompted me to do some pretty stupid things. As I look back at that cold night from the perspective of fifty-plus years, I can see that I could have saved myself all kinds of trouble if I’d just bought an electric blanket.

Ever since I met my first crush when I was in the grade, I thought the right guy was the solution to all my needs and problems. I don’t know how I got this idea. It must have been all those fairy tales, because I certainly didn’t learn it from my family. My grandparents got divorced twice and married three times. (It’s true. I have photos of two of the weddings.) My parents divorced when I was eleven. My older sister never has married. My brother had to divorce his first wife. Why on earth did I think attaching myself to some boy who probably had even less of a clue than I did would somehow result in that magical state called “true love”?

When I was on the debate team in college, the first rule was “Define your terms.” That way both the Affirmative and the Negative teams knew exactly what the Affirmative team meant by the resolution being debated. When it comes to the search for love, I think the same rule should apply. After all, the statement “I love you” can have several different meanings and those meanings often depend on context. Matchmakers, dating services, and our best friends all ask the same question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” This is where it starts to get really complicated. Does the resulting list of characteristics represent the idealized image of the person whom you want to fall in love with? Or does it represent the person whom you want to fall in love with you? Are you really looking for a healthy relationship based on mutual give and take, or are you looking for a human transitional object that will soothe your insecurities and pay for your evening entertainment?

At this point in my life, I can see that wanting this perfect person to fall in love with me meant more than just having a boyfriend so I could go out on dates. It meant proving to the world that I had achieved the ultimate validation, the concrete emotional evidence that I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t the last person chosen during schoolyard games. I wasn’t cold, alone, and miserable anymore. That’s what I hoped. Life hasn’t worked out that way.

Right now there’s all that Easter candy out there on the shelves. Most of it is chocolate. As adults, we know which brands are better than others. We know how to compare them and get the most value for our money. This skill comes from time, maturity, and a lot of taste-testing. Kids are different. When it comes to chocolate, kids don’t care. In the Dollar Tree you can find the phrase “chocolate-flavored” on many of the Easter items. There’s no actual cacao, just a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some people. In the quest for love, some of us who crave True Love, the Real Thing, can become so desperate they will settle for the off-brands that are cheap, flashy, and artificial. It’s so hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix that will silence those nagging cravings and insecurities. It took me a while to learn the importance of patience, of saving up for the quality chocolate and the quality people.

My mother had her opinions about my boyfriends. When I was in middle school and awash in all kinds of hormonal angst over whether or not I’d ever get a boyfriend, Mom said I was “boy crazy.” Accurate, if not all that flattering or sympathetic. Years later, after I’d graduated high school and had spent some adventurous years working the Renaissance Faires, Mom managed to sum up both the quality and the quantity of my efforts to find love: “Well, at least you won’t wonder what you might have missed out on.” Once again, neither flattering nor all that sympathetic. Thanks, Mom.

So now that I’m a woman of a certain age, do I really know any more about love than when I first started dating boys? I’ve been married for thirty-four years come July, but that’s less of a testament to romantic love than to maintaining a stable home life for my sons. In a world of uncertainties, I know three things for sure: I love my sons, I love my cats, and I love really good dark chocolate.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, cats, chocolate, Depression, dreams, fairy tales, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, love, marriage, memoirs, mother, perspective, romance, school, therapy, worry

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.

Kiyomizudera

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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