Tag Archives: gardens

G is for Grandma


“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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#atozchallenge G is for Garden Party

by Lillian Csernica on April 7, 2018


One of the key elements of the Kyoto Steampunk series is writing each story from a different character’s point of view. Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later) features a garden party presided over by Constance. This was an excellent opportunity to let the reader into her mind and see just how Constance is coping with the challenge of navigating through Kyoto’s expatriate society along with all the Japanese diplomats Dr. Harrington encounters.

A Victorian garden party is a lavish affair, held outdoors in a fine English garden full of stately oaks, manicured hedges, and an abundance of flowers. In 1880, did Kyoto provide the necessary landscape? Traditional trees in a Japanese garden included pine, bamboo, and plum. Because they do so well in winter, they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience.



Springtime flowers in Kyoto include irises, azalea, hydrangea, plum blossoms, and waterlilies. Best of all are the roses. If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, be sure to see the Kyoto Botanical Garden.



Blown Sky High is an important story in the series. It’s more lighthearted, and it takes a look at the expectations placed upon “the fairer sex.” When events at the party take a sudden unexpected turn, Constance must look to Madelaine and her bluestocking habits to save the day. To learn more about Victorian women who redefined their roles in society, please read this excellent article.








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The Shosei-en Gardens (Kyoto Day Two)

by Lillian Csernica on November 24, 2015

From Top Sight Seeing .Com

The elegant Shosei-en Garden (aka. Kikoku-tei) is located about a short distance east of the Higashi Honjanji temple to which it belongs.

The Garden is originally said to be built on the Heian era site of the Rokujo Kawara-in mansion of Prince Minamoto no Toru, the son of Emperor Saga, in the late 9th century. Later, in 1641, the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu presented a large parcel of land, which included the garden site, to the Higashi Honganji. In 1643, Sennyo Shonin, the 13th hereditary heir to the Honganji tradition on the Higashi side, commissioned Ishikawa Jozan to create a garden. This marked the beginning of the Shosei-en Garden.

In 1858 and 1864, fires swept the grounds, reducing its structures to ashes. But in 1865 and continuing on into the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the buildings as well as the pond and the magnificent stone wall, were restored to their original condition, as we see them today.

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A lovely family having photos taken in the Gardens.

Pat and I crossed the street to visit the Gardens.  There’s a 500 yen admission fee that includes a guide full of wonderful photos and information.  Unfortunately for us, it’s only in Japanese.  Still, it had a map so we did figure out what we were looking at in terms of bridges, tea houses, and the main natural features such as the pond.

In the pond we discovered black koi.  A few of them were cruising past the cement curb that borders the pond.  So of course I pulled out my bag of “temple cookies” as I took to calling them.  I still don’t know what those cookies are made of, but oh man, did those koi go nuts!  I asked Pat later and she told me there must have been at least fifty black koi churning up the water pushing each other out of the way to get bits of cookie.

Once again I managed to draw a crowd.  There I stood, talking to the koi in a mixture of English and Japanese, tossing pieces of cookie to different areas of the mob.  One teenage girl and her mother came close enough that I thought it appropriate to offer her a cookie.  With much laughter she broke it up into pieces and tossed it to the happy koi.

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Below you see the smaller of the two bridges in the park.  I’m proud to say I took this photo myself.  It does not come from a professional stock photo site.  (The ducks showed no interest in the cookies, which was probably all for the best.)

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The afternoon was moving on toward twilight, so the sunlight came in at my favorite glorious end-of-the-movie angle.  The small bridge looked so different as the quality of the light changed.

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Shinsetsu-kyo, other side.

Now for the big bridge.  This one took some effort to get to.  I had to cross a small stone bridge, then ascend an uneven stairway made of big blocks of stone.  The wooden steps leading up to the bridge were each a bit of a stretch as well.  I had to wonder how the Palace and temple officials could possibly move around in the Gardens, given how much yardage Heian Era kimono included.  Just keeping their sleeves off the ground would have been a bit of a chore!

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There I am on Kaito-ro, a larger bridge with stone steps and beautiful woodwork.  It looks like part of a temple.

It was here in Shosei-en Gardens that I met an anomaly.  Pat and I came in just behind a group of Japanese men and women who were dressed in business attire.  I got the feeling some of the local folks were showing the sights to people not from Kyoto.  At one point the path narrowed.  The senior gentleman of the group turned and motioned Pat and me to go ahead.  I don’t know if it was due to Pat’s cane, or something simpler such as the group taking their time to admire aspects of the Gardens we non-Japanese probably didn’t notice.  The point is, in Japan the men go first.  I’m sure in these times of international travel and cultural exchange, the gentleman who in effect “held the door” for us was just being polite.  Even so, I appreciated his consideration and thanked him with extra-polite Japanese.  He had a really wonderful smile.


An empty home altar ready to be equipped.

On the walk back to our hotel we passed all the stores selling all the items a righteous Buddhist might need.  I’ve mentioned the stunning variety of prayer beads available.  What really blew my mind were the butsudan, or home altars.  Large or small, plain or ornate, they were really impressive.


A butsudan complete with a figure of Amida and offerings.

And now, for an entirely different type of educational experience.  When we got back to the street with our hotel on it, we stopped in at one of the small restaurants nearby.  Things went along in the usual sequence with getting the menus, figuring out what combinations to try, and placing our orders with the server.  Pat and I never seem to maintain a reasonable level of “normal” for more than about fifteen minutes.  Sure enough, that night it was Pat’s turn to find an all-new way to stir things up.

On our table among the salt, pepper, hot oil, and other unidentifiable condiments, there sat an oval object flat on one side and with a pearly dome on top.  It had four little legs on it, and a hatch where the battery fit inside.  The battery told me this thing did something, but we could not figure out its actual purpose.


This I now know is a “call button.”

And then, as I handed it back to Pat, I must have gripped it harder than I meant to.  This sudden “ting!” came out of nowhere.  Honestly, I had no idea where the sound originated.  In Japan you are surrounded by electronica, so the sound could have come from somebody’s phone or tablet or the overhead music system.

No sooner had the “ting!” sounded than our server appeared at our table.  I swear I never saw her coming, and I sat facing the kitchen.  Now we understood.  One used the device instead of shouting “Sumimasen!” when one wanted the server’s attention.  I tried to apologize.  When that didn’t work, because the server expected us to ask for something, I grabbed the first thought that occurred to me: “Mizu, onegaishimasu.”  In English, that’s “Water, please.”  This caused me some further embarrassment, because not five feet away from me sat a table with a water pitcher and cups so guests could serve themselves.  Whoops.

Next time: Toei Kyoto Studio Park, where I met the Shinsengumi!


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