Tag Archives: writing

In Need of Nurses


by Lillian Csernica on June 18, 2016

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I’ve been meaning to write more frequent blog posts.  Life has gotten in the way in the form of being seriously short staffed where Michael is concerned.  Right now I have two R.N.s and my sister, who does have experience with hospital and in-home care.  With Michael out of school, we’re running two eight hour shifts per day.  This means I have to pitch in as well.  I’ve had to take four of the eight hour shifts, three 6:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. and one 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Michael takes seven different medications.  He needs at least two breathing treatments per day which include nebulizer treatment followed by three timed sessions with a percussive therapy vest.  Diaper changes can be quite laborious depending on the nature and quantity of his output.  Michael is twenty years old, close to six feet tall, and weighs 145 lb.  He’s on the gangly side, so rolling him from one side to the other requires considerable effort.

In the morning I fully expect to need Naproxen, if not my carefully hoarded stash of Vicodin.  I’m hoping the Vicodin won’t be necessary because I have an hour’s drive ahead of me in order to attend a writer’s group meeting.

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Adding to my joy this week is a breakdown in communications with the supplier of my antidepressant medications.  I did get an interim prescription for one of them from my doctor, but there’s been more difficulties with the other prescription.  Tomorrow will be Day 3 without Pristiq.  I will either be what some people might consider manic, or I will have no patience with obstacles and no filters in place to moderate my reactions to such obstacles.

Not really the best frame of mind for giving critiques in a writer’s group setting.

On Sunday we interview yet another R.N.  I’m really hoping she turns out to be a keeper.  We’re stretched mighty thin.  Summer school starts next week, but we still need a third R.N. to take some of the load off of my sister.

All of this leads me to think about what we’ll be facing once Michael is no longer in school.  He has two years left in the County program.  Then we’ll have to find other ways to get him out of the house and keep him occupied so he doesn’t languish in bed for the majority of his day.  That’s not good for his mental or physical health.

Doesn’t do a whole lot for mine, either.

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Filed under Baclofen pump, Depression, doctors, Family, frustration, Goals, hospital, Lillian Csernica, mother, parenting, perspective, Special needs, specialists, therapy, Writing

Norwescon Day Two


Lillian Csernica on March 25, 2016

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Slept late.  What a luxury!  There was a time when I’d stay up far too late, either roaming the room parties or hanging out somewhere talking with a group of friends.  Now that I’m older and (somewhat) wiser, I know the value of a good night’s sleep.

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There’s a programming track for kids that includes arts & crafts.  I’d been hoping the Decorate-a-T shirt make-n-take would allow me to create a customized souvenir for Michael or John.  There were no shirts big enough for the boys, but that was OK.  I came up with an idea for a pillow.  A medium shirt with 3 sets of sparkly blue dolphins leaping out of the waves should turn into a fun reminder of this con.

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During the T shirt workshop I got to talking with three young ladies who enjoy horror.  I brought a copy of  Typhon with me.  When I showed it to them, one of the girls pounced on it with the kind of enthusiasm that brings serious joy to a writer’s heart.  They bought it, complete with autograph and gold foil Autographed Copy sticker.

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I’ve been drinking Coke today.  Shame on me, but I need the caffeine.

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Make a Superhero Mask!  Yes, I went and hung out with the kids again.  No, I do not have a photo of my mask to show you.  I left that particular USB cable at home with my Kindle.  I am now the Bride of Cthulu!  The mask base is white plastic with the usual elastic string around the back.  I took a piece of lace meant to jazz up a wedding gown and glued it to the temples and the bridge of the nose. That way the point of the triangle, so to speak, hung down over the mouth, dangling pearl teardrops like really classy tentacles.  More pearls and some golden sunburst sequins across the forehead added the right amount of sparkle.

What’s my superhero name?  What’s my superpower?  You tell me!  I’m looking for inspiration!

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While I was making my way back through the hallways to the main lobby area, I happened across a jeweler selling marvelous steampunk items at bargain basement prices.  Bought John a glow in the dark star necklace with the word ZAP! on it in a red explosion, just like one of the sound effects on the old “Batman” TV series from the 1960s.  Better still, it glows in the dark!

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The dinner menu in the Hospitality Suite included hot dogs, chili, and chips with guacamole.  Pat and I shared a table with T-Bone, the Saturday night DJ.  He told us a very weird story he called “A Tale of Bamboozlement.”  I told him one of my stranger Ren Faire adventures.  Pat told us a of peculiar incident that happened while she was working for the Stockton Police Department.  Now this is what I call live entertainment!

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Around 9 p.m. I went back up to our room to drop off my tote bags, shopping bags, and some art Pat bought from the Tarot of Brass & Steam booth.  In the hallway outside our hotel room were people with Magic: The Gathering decks.  There were also people wearing Viking-type clothing.  Two doors down a pumpkin beer party was underway, put on by a group of historical re-enactment folks who enjoy Viking lore.  Somebody lent me a helmet that looked like the upper half of a pumpkin with the mandatory two horns sticking out of it.  Now that I met the dress code, I hung out at the party for a good hour, sampling three or four remarkable brews from Seattle micro-breweries.  I do mean samples, given out in the little plastic cups often used by Mexican restaurants for servings of pico de gallo.  I rarely drink, but when I do, I do it for a good cause.  This was a good cause!

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Parties are raging here in Wing 5.  I can hear the multitudes out in the hallway whooping it up.  I should get on out there and see what other adventures await me!

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Filed under Conventions, creativity, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Lillian Csernica, science fiction, steampunk, travel, Writing

How To Break Through to the Real Story


by Lillian Csernica on February 16, 2016

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Never throw anything away.

That’s one of the most important Rules for Living my mother ever taught me.

The minute you throw it away, you’re going to need it again.  Sometimes it can be relatively minor, like a phone number.  Sometimes it’s pretty major, like giving away all the baby toys and layette stuff then BOING!  There’s a new baby on the way.

When it comes to writing, we never know when that idea or that turn of phrase or that scene might come in handy after all.  As I’ve been editing Garden of Lies, the second novel in my Flower Maiden Saga, I save the chunks I cut out and put them in a separate file.  They may turn into the seeds of new ideas for the third novel.

Right now I’m experiencing a rather drastic epiphany in my writing process.  I have a story that fits the theme of an anthology taking submissions right now.  The story meets the essential requirements of the theme.  Unfortunately, it’s a story I wrote quite a while ago.  As my beta reader put it, it’s “from an earlier stage in my evolution as a writer.”  That means I’m a better writer now than I was back then.

I thought the plotline was pretty good.  I thought the characters had good motivations.  I thought the magic and the monster and the twist all worked.

I was wrong.  And I couldn’t see that.

I don’t know if it was just laziness on my part or what.  The more questions my beta reader asked, the more I tried to slap little patches on some of the problems, the more the story began to fall apart.  I’m in a hurry, because the submission deadline is closing in fast.  Thank Heaven my beta reader is very patient with my foibles as a writer.  She kept challenging me to think about what the story could be, and not just make do with what I’d already slapped together.

It’s not easy to admit all this.  I pride myself on writing good, solid stories.  Granted, I pulled this one out of the mending pile.  I knew it needed work.  Not until the second round of comments from my beta reader did I finally realize what the problem really was.  Yes, the main conflict of the story was worth keeping.  The rest of it had to be torn down to the foundations and rebuilt from there.

Imagine the difference between a nursery rhyme puppet show and real actors in a live performance of Shakespeare.

I’m not comparing my work to Shakespeare.  I am saying I now see how shallow the original version of the story had turned out.  If I wanted this story to really shine, I had to commit to tearing everything apart, rethinking all of it, and rebuilding it from scratch.

Stronger plot.  Fully fleshed characters.  Magic that made sense in both the big and the little details.  Anger and jealousy and hatred.  Love and loyalty and sacrifice.

Good enough isn’t good enough.  Sometimes it’s hard to see what more we could do to a story to improve it.  That’s what beta readers are for.  That’s where writing groups can be helpful.  (Please see all my caveats about writing groups.)  Once we have some thoughts from other people on what’s missing, what’s too much, and how well what we’ve got is working, then we can push harder and deeper for the real story that’s waiting to be told.

Writing is hard work.  As Westley says to Buttercup in The Princess Bride, “Anybody who says differently is selling something.”

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Filed under creativity, Depression, editing, family tradition, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Lillian Csernica, publication, sword and sorcery, Writing

A New Anthology Release!


by Lillian Csernica on February 4, 2016

I am delighted to announce that my story, “The Screaming Key,” is now available in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine.

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This story came about as a result of me spending my teenage years staying up late on the weekends watching horror movies on Channel 13. (I lived in Southern California then.)  More influences include all of the 19th Century ghost stories I love to read, especially the works of M.R. James.  I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Neil Gaiman for creating the Sandman graphic novels. They set my imagination on fire and went a long way toward planting the seeds of inspiration for “The Screaming Key.”

 

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, legend, publication, Writing

How Retail Sales Work Made Me A Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2016

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I spent ten years working in retail sales.

I am soooooo happy I don’t do that for a living anymore.

Why, you ask?  Because I spent most of those ten years working Renaissance Faires around the western United States.  That might sound like a fun job, getting to dress up in costume and be part of environmental theater and spend all weekend in one big historical shopping mall with stage shows and great food and beer.

The thing is, when you’re working twelve hour days in 90 to 100 degree heat and the wood chips aren’t keeping the dust down and some of your sales crew drink too much on their breaks and forget when to come back to work, it’s not all jousting and turkey legs.

When you’re in retail, you hear “The Customer is always right” at least once a day.  When you work at the Ren Faires, this philosophy gets put to the test all day long, especially later in the day when the Customers have been drinking.  Let me tell you, it is not easy to close a sale on a $1200 Lord of the Rings chess set when the Customer is drunk and living out some Richard the Lion-Hearted fantasy regardless of the fact that Ren Faires are set in Elizabethan England.

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Southern Faire in Agoura, CA, where I hired in at 18.

People who think they’re experts about some period of history just because they’ve watched The Lion in Winter or Henry V or even Mulan really get on my nerves.  If that was true when I was 28 and “a mere shopgirl,” as I was once called, then you can just imagine how I must feel now that I’m 50 and a published historical novelist.

Working in retail has made me a better writer.  On the days when I’m lazy or frustrated or can’t get out of my own way, I remind myself that I could be back behind the counter at the dollar store where I once worked, trying to deal with the shoplifters and the English Second Language folks and the delivery trucks coming in around back.  Talk about an immediate attitude adjustment!  Writing is hard work, but it’s also a dream come true.

Working in retail has made me a better writer.  There were those Customers who were polite and entertaining and absolutely in love with history.  The two different companies I worked for during my Ren Faire days sold items that were often incorporated into weddings.  Meeting a bride who really wanted to know how and why a Queen did this or that made for some memorable conversations.  I got more than a few hugs from people who now had just the right items to make their historical dream weddings come true.

Money is nice, but sometimes I’ve been paid in coin of much greater value.

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I love writing historical fiction.  I love getting the details right.  I love picturing one of those really wonderful Customers sitting down to read one of my books and smiling because I don’t make the common mistakes, and I do my best not to make the uncommon ones either!

Ten years in retail sales gave me experience and perspective on many different kinds of people.  I know how to pitch, I know how to read my target customer, I know how to create the need and demonstrate value for money.  All of those skills are essential in the increasingly competitive fiction marketplace.

Think about the jobs you’ve had.  The people you’ve met.  The ones you really liked and the ones you couldn’t stand.  Characters.  Conflict.  Goals and obstacles.  You have all the raw material you need, right there.  Do your research, by all means, but write about what you know and what matters to you.  Find the heart of the story.

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Filed under cosplay, creativity, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Humor, research, romance, Small business, Writing

How I Saved My Own Future


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2015

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In 1987 I was in a car accident that left me for dead on Interstate 5 in the middle of the night.  I spent a week in the hospital, then months recovering.

Two months after the accident, my boyfriend asked me to marry him.  I agreed, and worked three different jobs to help pay for our wedding.  This meant driving, something I had no desire to do ever again.  I stayed off the freeways, but I did it.

A few years after we got married, we donated my old used car to charity.  That meant our only vehicle was the one my husband drove to work every day.  If I wanted to go anywhere while he was at work, I walked or took public transportation (the bus).

For years now I have resisted the idea of getting another car.  At times it’s been a financial issue.  We did have to invest in a van equipped with a lift so we could transport Michael to his various medical appointments.  At other times, it’s just been a matter of my bone deep reluctance to get behind the wheel again.  There are a lot of crazy people on the roads these days.

This forced me to rely on my husband, my mother, my sister, or a friend when I needed a ride somewhere.  I felt like I was in high school again.  People kept telling me I needed to get over this fear of driving and just do it.  It’s so easy for people to say something like that when they’re not living inside the anxiety, especially anticipatory anxiety.  That kind of fear puts a real dent in rational thinking.

My husband and I have had more than one loud, hurtful argument about what a “burden” I’ve been to everyone around me because of my “selfishness” about driving myself around.  This resulted in me not going out at all except when I absolutely had to, or when a friend and I spent time together.   My depression got worse.

It’s horrible to be caught between relentless fear and the ongoing hostility and judgment from the people I look to for support.  With family or total strangers, the bottom line remains the same: I can’t change them.  The only person I can change is myself.

Today is a day of celebration.  Today I got angry enough to shove my fears aside, go to a used car dealer, and find a car we could afford, one that suits my needs and makes me feel both comfortable and happy.

Today I crossed a big bridge in my life, a bridge that leads to freedom, to independence, and to better mental health.

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This is my car, the Dodge Neon.

 

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Filed under Depression, dreams, Family, frustration, Halloween, marriage, mother, perspective, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing

The Voice of Inspiration — Special Bonus!


by Lillian Csernica on January 11, 2016

One of the most common pieces of editing advice is to read your manuscript out loud.  Hearing the narrative and the dialogue outside of your own mind will show you wear it’s rough or awkward.

The reverse of this technique is to improvise a scene by acting out the dialogue (and the narrative as well, if you like) in one or more character voices.  If sitting there staring at the blank page is inhibiting your flow of inspiration, get up and start moving around while you tell the story aloud.  It helps to have a recording device or a program such as Dragonspeak to capture all those off the cuff gems.

Writers often talk to themselves.  I do it when I’m grocery shopping, debating the selection of various items on my list.  I also do it when I’m watching TV by myself.  A few days ago this led to the beginning of my latest short story.

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So there I was, watching another one of those movies where the team of paranormal investigators seriously regrets hanging out in the haunted insane asylum overnight.  Me, I’d call this a bad idea on paper, never mind actually going inside the building.

It got to the point where I started yelling advice and criticism at the actors.  Having watched far too many of these movies, I can tell from the music and the timing when the next Scary Thing is about to happen.

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I was sitting there, being sarcastic at the characters onscreen, when it suddenly hit me:  This is great dialogue.  A few minutes’ thought gave me the basics I needed to set up a team of wannabe ghost hunters talking to an older relative of one of them who had some actual experience with the paranormal.  The older relative tries to make the kids see how little they really know about the risks involved in stirring up paranormal entities.

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Does it stop them?  It does not.

I’m having a lot of fun shaping the main character by using all of my own objections, all of my knowledge of folklore and superstitions, and what little experience I do have with the paranormal.  A few of my most successful stories have come from using my own voice for a character that I design to suit the needs of the story.  I’m thinking of “Fallen Idol,” “Music Lover,” and “The Family Spirit” in particular.

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Humor in paranormal writing is a happy thing.  Humor in most writing is a happy thing.

Do you find reading your work aloud helps the editing process?  Does acting out a scene just make you feel silly?  Let me know what works for you.

BONUS:  Since my new short story will fit the horror genre, the first three people to respond in the Comments section will receive a copy of my ebook The Fright Factory: Building Better Horror.

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Filed under bad movies, classics, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, hospital, Humor, research, Writing

How Do You Make A Dream Come True?


by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to accomplish the Number One item on my Bucket List.

Tomorrow morning I depart for a solid week in Kyoto, Japan.

My husband is a kind and generous man.  I complain about him, I tease him by referring to him as The Spousal Unit, but I have to say he gives me the best gifts.  Chris says that because I was willing to spend two months living in the hospital with Michael, because I cancelled my plans to attend Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention, and because I made life easier on everybody here at home who kept up our normal routine, I deserved something special.

So he decided to make my dream come true.  What’s more, I get to take my best friend Pat with me.

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Kyoto is the location for the third book in my Flower Maiden Saga.  I’ve already done a lot of research, but nothing could be better than being right there in one of the greatest cities on earth, a city that has stood for over a thousand years.  And it’s time for the maple leaves to turn color!  The temple gardens will be absolutely gorgeous!

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Kyoto is also the city where in the Heian Period a lady known as Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji.  That makes this trip something of an artistic pilgrimage to the place where the world’s first novel was written by a woman, a lady of the court whose name continues to be known and respected more than ten centuries later.

My steampunk stories featuring Dr. Harrington and his family center around Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple.  The climax of my historical espionage story “Tea & Trickery” (in AlternaTEAs, forthcoming from Sky Warrior Books) takes place aboard a steam train that departs from Kyoto.  I can’t wait to walk the streets my characters walk, and to stand in the places where their stories unfold.

I probably won’t be online much.  There’s a whole lot to see in Kyoto!  Pat and I will be out there walking through the city, riding the trains, and sharing what may well be our greatest adventure yet!

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Clone Me, Please!


by Lillian Csernica on October 7, 2015

Stress.  It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Today Chris took Michael in to have blood drawn so the doctors can see if his kidneys are still improving and the new diet is providing correct nutrition.

Tomorrow I take Michael to the specialist who will check his muscle tone, adjust his Baclofen pump if necessary, and decide whether or not Michael can return to school on Monday.

Tomorrow is also the day I see my therapist.  Thank God she’s willing to do a phone session.

I just got email from John’s teacher/caseworker offering me four dates and times in the next two weeks for John’s annual IEP.  Today is Wednesday, right?  The first of the four choices is this coming Monday.  I need notice, dammit!  We run on some very tight schedules around here.

The second date doesn’t work because in order to attend the IEP Chris has to take a day off of work.  The second choice is a week from today, also a Wednesday.  Taking a day off in the middle of the week causes problems.

The third choice is the 19th, which doesn’t work because I’ll be packing for a week away from home.

The fourth choice doesn’t work because I will be on a plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

On the 16th I have a doctor appointment.

On the 26th Michael has a checkup with his gastroenterologist, whom we kept up to date on all of Michael’s travails during his two months in Oakland.  I should be at that appointment, since I’m the one who was at Ground Zero for all the hospital events, but I will still be away from home.

And the 31st is Halloween, of course, which is one of John’s favorite days of the year.  One of mine as well, because I really do enjoy seeing the costumes and giving out candy and/or little toys.  It will be nice to end this month on a festive note.

The 31st is also my deadline for two 2500 word short stories that must be set 30 days apart and relate to each other in some way.  I have a roughdraft on the first story.  I’m 1/3 into the second story.  There will be no doing five drafts per project on these.  I’m going to have to slam them out and hope for the best.

Think happy thoughts for me, my comrades-in-stress.  How do you folks handle this kind of high intensity scheduling?

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Filed under Baclofen pump, Depression, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration

Another Hospital Stay, Part 4: We’re Home!


by Lillian Csernica on September 4, 2015

Yes, it’s true.  We were discharged on Monday.  Michael is looking good.  He needs to gain back the weight he lost in the hospital, and he tires easily, but he’s in good spirits and that big grin is back.  We’ve had to replace his ketogenic diet with a formula that’s easier on his kidneys.  The nephrologist would like us to wait six months for full recovery before putting Michael back on the ketogenic diet.  He’s now on one additional anti-seizure medication which seems to be working.  He’s had a few very brief seizures, but nothing beyond the frequency and intensity he was experiencing before he went to the hospital.

I’m not good for much this week.  I’ve been reading and sleeping and binge-watching the first season of “Grimm.”  I’ve seen the occasional random episode of the show, but I’d never gotten the whole story.

Chris hired a new nurse.  We need her, because we won’t be sending Michael back to school for at least two weeks.  It’s always a little strange having somebody new in the house.  On her first day, which was also our first day at home,  the upstairs shower decided to just keep running no matter how I turned the faucets, even with pliers.  I thought I was going to have to start bailing out the bath tub through the window, but Chris managed to get a plumber to the house within ten minutes of me calling about the potential disaster.

Never a dull moment.  I think I might have that engraved on my headstone.

School is in, the neighbors are behaving themselves, and the cats are very happy to see me.  Every night there’s a competition to see who gets to sit on my lap as I lounge on the couch watching Netflix or Amazon or Hulu.  Now that I’m back, all is right in the feline universe.

I have two ten-page stories due by the end of October, then NaNoWriMo starts.  I worked on two or three new short stories while I was in the hospital.  I took a few big blank notebooks with me.  If I wasn’t writing in my personal journal, I was making notes or writing some piece of fiction.  I’ll have to devote a post to what happened as the hospital staff got to know me and word spread about me being a “real writer.”  Even in this digital age, some people still have what borders on superstitious awe toward those of us who can make the words keep coming.

It’s good to be home.

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Filed under Baclofen pump, charity, Depression, doctors, Family, frustration, hospital, mother, perspective, Special needs, worry, Writing