Tag Archives: Christmas

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House


by Lillian Csernica on December 19, 2018

 

 

Hi there. Right now I’m spread thinner than Nutella on the last three pieces of shortbread. Mom will be out of the hospital the day after Christmas. Tomorrow I have three appointments, then my younger son takes his first test for a new belt rank in tae kwon do. And then there’s all the Christmas prep to keep doing.

I need a laugh, and by some strange bit of good fortune I happened across something I wrote years ago at this same time of year. For your Yuletide entertainment, I present it to you now.

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thismommycooks.com

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

Never ever attempt to make a gingerbread house with somebody who’s never seen one before and yet, thanks to his control freak tendencies, immediately mutates into an expert on the art.

It’s difficult to sustain an intelligent argument about the precise technique of using industrial strength icing to glue peppermint candies, gummi bears, M&Ms, and gumdrops to the various flat and angled surfaces of a gingerbread house. Believe me, we tried. Too much icing. Not enough icing. The grouping of the gumdrops on the roof lacked the right balance of colors. The little candy canes lining the walk to the front door weren’t maintaining their lines with military precision. And the windows. This is where things almost got violent. Making window panes out of pretzel sticks might seem like no big deal, but when you’re dealing with a man who thinks we should have been using a carpenter’s balance, you’ve entered into a whole new realm of the bizarre.

Then came the argument over building the chimney out of Pez candies, licorice bricks, Jolly Rancher cinnamon bites, or graham crackers iced in proper brick and mortar formations. I’m not much for drinking, even during the holidays, but by the time I was about halfway through this delightful holiday pastime, I was ready to forget the eggnog and go straight for the brandy.

At last our masterpiece was complete. It resembled nothing so much as a perfect 3D schematic of what would happen if the two of us EVER tried to share the same living quarters. The yard was a wreck, green icing spilling onto the graham cracker walkway like rank weeds erupting through broken concrete. The cast off wrappings of Hershey’s Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Lifesavers lay strewn across the porch, revealing us for the white trash we really were. The snowman in the front yard listed like the drunken uncle at the wedding reception. It was a mercy that we never had to bother with the inside of the house. I shudder to think what horrors would have been dissolving in there. Gummi coke bottles piled in the corners…silver foil gum wrappers wadded up in the little black licorice fireplace…cotton candy webs hanging from the corners of the ceilings…. It would be just too heartbreaking.

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m.imgr.com

I can’t recall now what became of that gingerbread house. I know it sat on my kitchen table for some weeks during that holiday season. And as for the man himself, my partner in committing this crime of both taste and art? No, it was not in fact my husband. This was another man, whose story must wait for another time.  This fellow is no longer among the living, so that time will probably be Halloween.

 

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thequeenofhalloween.blogspot.com

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Filed under chocolate, Christmas, classics, creativity, Family, family tradition, fantasy, Food, frustration, Halloween, Humor, Lillian Csernica, perspective, therapy

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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We Three Cats


by Lillian Csernica on December 25, 2015

It is very, very early on Christmas morning.  I sit here in the pleasant exhaustion of knowing the gifts are all wrapped and tagged, the stockings are stuffed, Chris and I ate the cookies John put out for Santa Claus, and we are as ready as we are going to get.  Chris has begun preparations for Christmas dinner.  The smells wafting up the stairway from the kitchen promise quite a feast.

Allow me to introduce you to three members of our household you’ve heard about but thus far haven’t seen.  These are my cats.

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Rayas, my torby, is around 10 years old.  She’s John’s cat, but I am her human.  That means I’m expected to provide pets, love, and a warm lap on demand.  She’s small, but she’s feisty.  Hunter has a bigger frame and outweighs her, but she routinely cleans his clock when it comes to the late night Bushwhack Wars.

The gray fellow with the impressive whiskers is Hunter.  We got him from a shelter about 5 years ago.  When he’s lonely he’ll wander around the house with his catnip mousie in his mouth, making those yowling sounds.  Whoever he presents his trophy to had better respond with much praise and petting.  Hunter is everybody’s cat, but my sister is his human.  When she comes home, he gets all excited and goes galloping outside to jump up on the hood of her truck and try to climb in the driver’s side window.

Coco is the fluffy black longhair.  She is my cat, acquired as a kitten for my 43rd birthday present, so she’s 7 years old as of the 29th.  She is my big furry baby, but my husband is her absolute slave.  She will demand “brushies” as we call them, and he cannot help but obey.  She has commandeered the penthouse sleep berth of our multi-level cat tree, where the convection currents bring her the best heat in the house.

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After dinner the cats will come sit on my bed while I’m working.  Combinations vary depending on who gets in here first and seizes the best spot on the inevitable pile of clothing that occupies the foot of my bed.  Rayas will sleep on my pillow.  Neither Coco nor Hunter are brave enough to usurp that spot.

Why do I mention my beasties on this, the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ?  Pious legend says that on this night you can hear the animals speak just as they did in the manger on that holy night so long ago.  At this point, Hunter has been snoring, Coco demanded more brushies, and Rayas is off somewhere curled into a tight little stripey ball.  My cats are not all that religious.

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In the morning there will be happiness and laughter and the usual joyful craziness that accompanies tearing into all that gift wrap and trying to keep track of who gave who what so I can keep the thank-you notes straight.  The cats will take part, chasing each other around the tree, diving into the piles of gift wrap, and trying to run off with the spiraling bundles of curling ribbon.

I love my cats.  The holidays are often a hard time of year for those of us with intense family issues.  Cats are pretty straightforward.  They are the supreme beings, and I’m just cat furniture.  Given how complicated my life can get, I find the simplicity of our relationship downright refreshing.

Wherever you are, whatever particular feast you’re celebrating, I wish you a New Year full of all good things.

 

 

 

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Filed under cats, Christmas, Depression, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, family tradition, Humor, therapy, veterinarian, Writing

Counting Down to Christmas


by Lillian Csernica on December 20th, 2015

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If I didn’t keep a running To Do list, I don’t know how I’d get anything done.  When I’m stressed out I tend to lose my long range focus and the ability to structure my time effectively.  I’ve done a lot of my shopping online this year.  The rain coming down in buckets outside my window makes me very happy for that option.

This year has been such an ordeal for our family.  I decided back in November to pay attention to all those articles on managing holiday stress and choose the activities most important and meaningful for both me and the boys.

Here’s what got checked off the To Do list this weekend:

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On Saturday night I took John to “The Nutcracker.”  He’s been asking to go tothe ballet for a month or two now.  We know he enjoys seeing and hearing a live orchestra perform.  I think the main attraction of the ballet was A) the costumes for this particular show and B) the emphasis on all those pretty girls with their long legs.

The Santa Cruz Ballet Theater put on a marvelous performance.  Hearing Tchaikovsky played live was a treat in itself.  The production values and the special effects left both me and John wide-eyed with wonder.  As for the dancing….  Wow.  The Snow Queen and her Cavalier made it seem like gravity had no power over them at all.  This was the first of John’s Christmas presents.  He kept saying it was “Amazing!”

John and I had dinner on Pacific Avenue after the show, talking about our favorite parts of the show.  Despite the 40+ degree weather, we stopped in at Cold Stone Creamery for some dark chocolate peppermint ice cream.   Oh my stars and garters.  That was heaven on a spoon!

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Today Chris and John got our Christmas tree.  It’s become a tradition for the two of them to go to a tree farm and cut down a fresh tree.  I had to admire their determination.  Soon after they left, the skies darkened and it started raining.  They did return victorious, if a little damp.

John has graduated to stringing the lights on the tree himself.  He loves the colored lights that blink on and off and change colors in varying patterns.  Out came all the boxes from the garage with our wide variety of Christmas ornaments, table linens, and John’s personal treasure, his Peanuts cuckoo clock.  On the hour, Snoopy comes out where the cuckoo would be and the Peanuts theme song plays.  We put this up only during the holiday season.

Once the lights and gold tinsel garlands were in place, Michael sat in his wheelchair to help choose ornaments and where they should go.  As each of us pulled the tissue off an ornament, we’d hold it up for Michael to see and ask him if that one should hang on the tree.  Once he gave us his yes or no, then he’d pick the right spot on the tree.  After spending two months watching Michael lying there in his ICU bed, I cannot tell you the joy I felt seeing him sitting there happy and smiling, reaching out to touch an ornament or grab John’s shirt and make him laugh.  Michael’s R.N., a wonderful lady named Joan, had a good time helping with the ornaments.  They were all new to her, so I shared some of the stories attached to them.

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Here it is, courtesy of Michael and John!

As for me, I put on a Christmas jazz CD and drank eggnog.  All of a sudden, there it was.  Our family gathered around the Christmas tree, breathing in the fresh pine scent, joking about hanging the good ornaments up where our three cats can’t get at them.  My mother is visiting my brother right now, but she’ll be back for Christmas Eve.  My sister is down in Southern California, but she’ll be back for New Year’s.  It’s good to have time with just us and the boys.

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In my family we party a lot during the holidays.  My birthday is December 29.  My sister’s is on January 1st, and my mother’s on January 3rd.  I keep careful track of who gave who this or that Christmas present, along with who gave who that birthday gift.  Lists!  More lists!  One of the traditions I consider most important is writing thank-you notes.  Michael likes to create his own stationery, and John will add little drawings to his cards.

We have so much to be grateful for, and so many people to whom we owe our thanks.

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A Special Needs Christmas Carol


by Lillian Csernica on December 15th, 2015

The holiday season has come round again.  It’s a stressful time for any family.  In a household where we already have all the demands of the special needs lifestyle, the additional claims on our time and sanity increase exponentially.

To show my support for all the caregivers who come under the heading of Family, I’ve rewritten The Twelve Days of Christmas to reflect the holiday season from our point of view.

The 12 Days of Christmas

as sung in an ASD household.

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On the first day of Christmas,

the spectrum gave to me

My child having a hissy.

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On the second day of Christmas,

the spectrum gave to me

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the third day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the fourth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the fifth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the sixth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the seventh day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

And my child having a hissy.

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On the eighth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the ninth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the tenth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Ten goldfish crackers

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the eleventh day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Eleven wants repeated

Ten goldfish crackers

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the twelfth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Twelve migraines drumming

Eleven wants repeated

Ten goldfish crackers

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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N is for Nativity Scene


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2014

 

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The Nativity Scene is a key element of Christmas, so it might seem a little strange to mention one given that we are coming up on that highest of Christian holy days, the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ, aka Easter.  Still, what is an Easter basket without chocolate?  Chocolate is definitely Heaven-sent, so in that spirit I present a chocolate Nativity Scene from Russia.

 

Another variation comes from Catholic Cuisine: December 2010:

 

If you prefer to keep things simple, there is this lovely portrayal of the Holy Family:

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Do you have any special memories of the Nativity Scenes you saw under the Christmas trees when you were little?  Did you make any by hand, perhaps in Sunday school?  There are many Nativity Scenes created to reflect the people of a particular ethnic or cultural community.  How could we design a Nativity Scene that would embody the true spirit of inclusivity in the Angels’ message of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men”?

 

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Filed under Blog challenges, chocolate, Christmas, Family, history, love, Writing

The Sisterhood of the Baking Aisle


by Lillian Csernica on December 23, 2014

Tonight was the night my husband chose to venture out in search of my mother’s Christmas gift and everything we’d need for Christmas dinner.  His madness must have been contagious, because I threw on my Santa hat and red Christmas light earrings and went with him, determined to hunt down the ingredients for the three types of “easy Christmas cookies” I’d chosen to bake.  The last four hours were full of funny moments and grand adventures.  I’ll tell one in the classic style.

Once upon a time, I went to market to buy flour and sugar and coconut and cream cheese and Heath bars and several other strange and wonderful ingredients.  I wanted to bake Christmas cookies, three different kinds because three is a magic number.

The market was so crowded I had to move fast, dancing through the gaps between carts and whirling to avoid the people who appeared suddenly behind me.  At last I turned the corner into the aisle beneath the sign that read “Spices.”  Ahead of me, each with her list in her hand, was a woman wearing the same frown of concentration or lost look of bewilderment.  I recognized them at once at let out a delighted cry.  “Ah, so here we all are!”

The other ladies laughed.  We made our ways up and down the aisle, some looking high, some looking low, all of us trying to find every last item on our lists.  We made room for each other.  We said, “Please” and “Excuse me.”  We sent other lost shoppers on their ways to the aisles they needed.  Soon we were calling out what we needed and someone would answer, pointing out the location.  The call for baking powder came.  I yelled “Here!” and pointed to the top shelf above me.  The lady who needed it was shorter than me, so she never would have found it on her own!

Item by item and cart by cart, with smiles and best wishes for happy holidays, we all went our separate ways.  For a few brief, wonderful minutes, a handful of strangers had joined forces to help each other find that special something that would make a holiday delight for our families.  We knew how tired we all were, we knew our feet hurt, some of us were hungry, some could use a cup of tea.

We were the Sisterhood of the Baking Aisle.

I don’t know their names, and we may never meet again.  I hope each and every one of them lives happily ever after.

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A Christmas Wish Comes True


by Lillian Csernica on December 20, 2013

Every now and then, in the middle of all the planning and sorting out schedule conflicts and the dread of last-minute disasters, you get lucky.  Every now and then, God reaches down and hands you a Perfect Moment.

On Tuesday, John’s aide and I scooped him up right after school and headed for the mall where he wanted to talk to Santa Claus.  I’d been careful to tuck John’s wish list into my purse so John could hand the original to Santa.  (I made a copy for the ongoing reference of all the gift-givers.)  Traffic was mild at that time of day.  I knew which parking lot would get us close to where Santa Claus’ photo booth was set up.  Sure enough, there was plenty of parking.  The three of us made our way into the mall and found the photo booth fresh and shiny with its Christmas trees and red carpeting and the bright blue couch where Santa sits, a couch big enough for family or group photos.

John led the way through the gate in the enclosure.  There was no line.  Nobody at all!  The photographer and her assistant were off to one side, chatting.  There sat Santa Claus.  Not the same man from years past, but a man who could well have been the actual Santa Claus himself.  He was everything you read about in “The Night Before Christmas.”  No pipe, but he did have that twinkle in his eye.

Santa Claus spotted John and beckoned him over.  I went to the exit where I could watch and still let John have his privacy.  Santa Claus made room for John on the couch and patted the cushion beside him.  John sat down and they went over John’s list item by item.  When John stood up to leave, Santa gave him a candy cane, then glanced over at me, flashed me a grin, and gave John another candy cane saying, “Here’s one for your Mom.”  They shook hands, Santa Claus blew John a kiss, and John walked over to me, his smile so bright it brought tears to my eyes.

But wait!  There’s more!

We turned to go join John’s aide where she stood waiting.  There, standing beside her, were my mother and my sister!  I had no idea my sister had taken my mother shopping in that very mall.  They had seen John and me walking over to Santa Claus’ photo booth and hurried over to stand with his aide.  Grandma and John’s Aunt got to be there to see John talk to Santa Claus, the one part of the season that really means the most to John.  My mother was so happy, and my sister was pleased too.  To have coordinated that moment on purpose would have been almost impossible.  There we stood, our family, all of us so happy for John.

It was a Perfect Moment.

Thank you, St. Nicholas.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you so much for making my boy happy, and for putting all of us right there at the right moment to share his happiness.

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How To Be One of Santa’s Elves


by  Lillian Csernica on December 14, 2013

I’ve been a volunteer for the local post office answering letters to Santa Claus for almost ten years now.  During that time I’ve read requests that range from outrageous (in the funny sense) to really sweet to downright heartbreaking.  When adults grow up and leave the magic of childhood behind, I think many of them forget that in the minds of children, Santa Claus can be the court of last resort.  I highly recommend the movie “Dear God,” which is all about a ragtag team of post office workers who get together to answer the letters that get sent to the Dead Letter office.  These are the letters written to God, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other similar beings.  These are the letters written by desperate people in need of whatever help and hope they can get.

The letters children write to Santa Claus are not all about toys and clothes and the latest electronic gizmos.  Children will tell Santa what’s really on their minds and in their hearts.  One year I got a letter from a little girl who asked Santa Claus for just one thing: she wanted her mamma and daddy to stop fighting.  I talked to the Postmaster about how to reply.  When you volunteer to answer the letters to Santa Claus, it’s important to understand that it’s not all sugarplums and flying reindeer.  Some of the letters come from children who are in really difficult home situations, children who are delicate and need all the support they can get.  I’m no LCSW or MFT, so I’ve gone to people who are for advice on what to say to such children and how to say it.  The last thing these kids need is to have Santa Claus ignore their pain or brush aside their cries for help.

That said, I’m happy to report that there’s a great deal of joy in this wonderful task.

One year a lovely little boy sent Santa Claus a Christmas card.  That was it.  No wish list, no requests at all.  The boy simply wanted to wish Santa a Merry Christmas.  How sweet is that?

More than once I’ve received letters from children who have included a few dollars to help buy toys for poor children.  Doesn’t that just give you hope for the future of the planet?  (FYI, I always give the money to the postal carriers, who take it back to the kids’ parents.)

A letter came in once with a tiny Oreo that had mint green filling.  The young lady wanted to send Rudolph a special treat.  She had an unusual name.  This is important because while I was out and about, I heard this young lady’s name called.  I turned to her and told her that Rudolph really appreciated the Oreo.  Up at the North Pole we get a lot of gingerbread and sugar cookies, so the Oreo was a rare treat.  The girl’s eyes opened wide.  She turned to the girl with her and said, “I told you so!”  They wanted to know how I knew about the Oreo.  Under terms of strict secrecy, I told them I was an elf.  My long hair hides the points on my ears.

Lately there are a lot of requests for Duct Tape.  I’m almost afraid to ask what so many children are doing with that much Duct Tape.

One year a young lady asked for a gift certificate to the local independent bookstore.  Supporting literacy is very important to me.  I called up the bookstore and explained my role as a post office volunteer with a letter to Santa Claus that specifically mentioned that bookstore.  Would the bookstore be interested in making a donation such as a gift certificate?  They told me to come on over and bring the letter with me.  All they wanted was a photocopy of the letter, and they were kind enough to cut a gift certificate for a generous amount.  When I turned that letter in to the post office, complete with gift certificate, the postal carriers were amazed.  How had I done this?  All I did was ask.  People are happy to get involved with the magic of Christmas, especially in support of a child who wants to do something good and useful.

When I’m out doing my errands and my Christmas shopping, now and then I’ll come across a child of the right age to still believe in Santa Claus.  If I have the opportunity, I’ll ask the child’s mother or father if the child has written his or her letter to Santa Claus.  Depending on the answer I get, I will say rumor has it that if the letter is posted through (my local post office), it will get an answer.  The parent will usually take the hint, and then give me that slightly dazzled smile.  It’s the same kind of look I get when people see a copy of my novel and realize that yes, that really is me in the back of the book photo.  I’m one of those people who is part of a magical process most people don’t quite understand.

Please, if you have the time and imagination, consider volunteering at your local post office to answer the letters to Santa Claus.  The Post Office will give you a starter kit that includes a form letter you can tinker with within reason.  I make it my policy to give the answered letters to the postmasters unsealed.  That way my answers can be read and approved and there’s no risk to anybody of something weird getting through.  Unfortunately, there have been some volunteers who have written some inappropriate replies, so the Post Office does have to be careful.  My policy has insured that I’ve never had a problem or a complaint.

Children grow up too quickly these days.  Technology is taking the place of magic and folklore and old-fashioned traditions.  Please join me and all the other people who are part of Santa’s Volunteer Elves.  We’re doing our best to preserve the magic of childhood.  There are kids out there who really need it.

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Filed under Depression, Family, fantasy, Goals, Humor, Special needs, Writing

The Special Needs of Christmas


by Lillian Csernica on December 7, 2013

Thanks to my last post, I’ve been asked to share some of the holiday traditions unique to the traveling circus that is my family.

My husband is old-fashioned about when it’s time to buy the Christmas tree.  We get ours about a week before Christmas.  It’s a big family affair to haul out all the boxes of lights and tinsel and decorations.  We put Michael in his wheelchair so he can help too.  Few things bring me greater joy than seeing Michael’s face light up when he points to the spot on the Christmas tree where he wants us to hang the next ornament.

John loves to bake, and he’s good at it.  When we bake Christmas cookies, John takes the tray of cookies over to Michael so Michael can shake colored sprinkles all over the dough before that tray goes into the oven.  Michael is very artistic, so we let him choose between red sugar, green sugar, or the jumble of fancy sprinkles.  John is careful to leave some of these cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Chris and John go to a tree farm and cut down a real live Christmas tree.  They’ve been doing this since John could only hold on to one end of the saw while Chris did all the work.  Now John can carry the whole tree all by himself.  (He could even carry Chris too, if he really needed to!)

Asking Mom what she wants for Christmas, which is a face-saving way of finding out what she needs but can’t really afford on her own. At this point in our lives, only the kids enjoy surprises.  It’s much better to give up a little mystery in order to make sure Mom is happy.

Not embarrassing my sister by making a big deal out of giving her something special. My sister is much happier giving gifts, and she does it really well.  Oh, I still give her at least one gift that relates to one of our in-jokes.  After all, I am the little sister and the brat of the family.

There are a few other holiday rituals that have evolved over the years, ones that I look forward to with a mixture of wary anticipation and gleeful dread:

Every year when we get out the boxes of Christmas ornaments, I wonder if this is the year when I should go for a Christmas tree with a theme. The magazines are full of so many great ideas. Now that I have this wonderful house with a living room big enough to have a decent-sized tree, will this be the year I achieve the style and grandeur of my dreams? My sister is good at theme trees. If we come up with a plan and I turn her loose, I’m sure she’ll create something spectacular. I also know that sooner or later John will find an ornament that just has to go on the tree, and we’ll probably end up letting the boys go wild with all of their favorite ornaments.

When it comes time to open our gifts on Christmas morning, my husband and I often exchange looks of good-natured anxiety. Who will it be this year? Who will be the one to receive my mother’s really tacky Christmas present? For a while it was always poor Chris. The crowning glory of my mother’s inappropriate Christmas gifts had to be the Garfield alarm clock that was as big as a truck tire. It’s a standing joke in the family that nothing can wake Chris up, not even a meteor strike.

Mom has this habit of finding out something a person likes, then locking on to that idea for every gift-giving occasion. My sister has gotten tigers year after year. My brother gets pelicans. Me, I’m the lucky one. Mom is always interested in my writing, so I get gifts that have to do with medieval history or Japan or living the writing life. And cats. I have so much cat-related stuff I could open a boutique. It got to the point where Chris absolutely forbade me to buy or accept any more cat Christmas ornaments. Some day I have to join a society for ailurophiles, just so I can volunteer to decorate its Christmas tree!

On the weekend before Christmas, I take John to see Santa Claus. Even though he’s been “too old” for a while now, he really believes in Santa Claus and I’m OK with that. John’s favorite Santa Claus is at a nearby mall. John is fifteen now, six feet tall and close to two hundred pounds. As we stand there in line with all the little kids who come up to John’s hip, people give us funny looks. John doesn’t notice and I don’t care. The first time we went to that mall about three years ago, I took the photographer aside and mentioned that John is autistic. The photographer was great, quite familiar with special needs kids. He and that Santa Claus have worked together for years and know how to handle just about everything. Of course John doesn’t sit on Santa’s lap, but Santa takes the time to have a nice talk with John every year when John brings Santa his wish list.

Last but certainly not least, every year I do my best to answer all the letters to Santa Claus the postal carriers deliver to me. I’m now in the happy position of being the volunteer for four post offices. (This isn’t as huge a job as it might sound, although last year I did answer almost fifty letters.)  I’ve been making my rounds, letting the postmasters know I’m at their service.

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Filed under autism, Family, fantasy, history, Humor, romance, Special needs, Writing