Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree!

"I've been collecting ornaments for twenty years," I told my husband, "for exactly this moment!"

We'd just brought home the tree.  On our first Christmas together, my husband and I compromised on the Christmas tree.  He was concerned about the environmental impact of chopping down Christmas trees.  He wanted one in a pot, that we could replant.  I liked the idea until I actually saw one.  It was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, a couple of feet high, lightly sprinkled with glitter.  It couldn't hold my string of lights without sagging.

So we compromised.  Then next year we'd get a chopped tree.  And we'd alternate.  Luckily, it turned out that the re-plantable tree was a joke.  It turned out that that tree could only be planted if you lived in a climate like Florida.  (The tree would never have survived our winter, even if we'd mangaged to keep it alive until the ground thawed.)

That was five years ago.  Since then we've gotten all our trees at a local tree farm where you tag your tree in the fall and come back to get it in the winter. 

This year our tree was beautiful.  We live in an old home, with ten foot high ceilings.  Our tree nearly touched the ceiling!

I unpacked the ornaments I'd been collecting for twenty years and passed them to my 3 and 4 year old kids to hang.  Christmas music played in the background as we trimmed our tree.  The only thing missing was a snowstorm (and I wasn't about to complain about that!)

I had a pomegranate ornament that I'd bought, probably fifteen years ago, hand-blown in Bavaria.  It was so precious that I'd never hung it before.  I was planning to bring it out when the kids were older.  When I was a child, we had four ornaments that had glitter flowers on them.  As I recall, two were pink and two were purple. Us four children loved these ornaments.  They were extra-special.  I wanted my kids to have ornaments like that.  So, this Christmas, I took out my special pomegranate ornament, then I changed my mind and put it away.  But then I looked at the tree.  It was perfect.  Tall and fragrant.  This tree deserved the pomegranate ornament.  I did hang it up high, for safety.
I have other great ornaments.  I have dozens of milagros sent to my from my former landlady in New Mexico.  I have armadillos, glitter stars, ceramic Santas with feet that dance, plus, several ornaments that my step-mother, who died earlier this year, has sent over the years.  I even have a ceramic dog that raises its leg to pee when you pull on a chain with a fire hydrant.  The kids have ornaments that they made at my daughter's preschool, and we have some new teddy bears that we made of felt earlier this month. 

My husband needed a chair to put the star on top, and we were done!  That's when I turned to my husband and said, ""I've been collecting ornaments for twenty years for exactly this moment!"  I was full of joy.  My husband, my children, my dog, and my 99-year old home at Christmastime.  This was the life I'd been dreaming of for twenty years. 

My husband left on some errands.  The kids went upstairs to nap.  While the house was quiet, I wrapped my husband's presents so we had something to put under the tree.  In a nod to his committent to the environment, I wrapped them in newspaper, but to make them look pretty, I made bows to match.

The only thing left was the candy canes.  I waited until the kids were back downstairs.  They were happily hanging the candy canes when I remembered we had another box we'd bought a few weeks ago.  Where was that box?  My little boy walked into the kitchen for a glass of water, and I followed, thinking that the candy canes were in our pantry.  I thought I saw them on the top shelf.  I had just gotten to the top step of my stool when I heard the sound of glass breaking.  A lot of glass breaking.  I was in the kitchen with my son.  My daughter was alone with the tree.  She hadn't made a peep.  I jumped off the stool and raced into the livingroom.
My four-year old daughter was standing next to the tree.  "What happened?" I cried. 
"It just fell," she said.  "I wasn't touching it."  Right.  Then she started crying.  "The ornaments broke!" she cried.  I could see that.  There were shattered ornaments all over the rug.  Water for the tree had spilled all over.  My daughter's cries increased to where she was hysterical.  Understandably, as our Christmas tree was now stretched across the floor in a pool of shatterered ornaments.  "It's okay," I told her, pulling her onto my lap.  After she'd calmed down, I put her and her brother in the other room, away from the broken glass, and started cleaning up.

First, I had to get our bear of a tree upright.  When my husband had carried it in, he'd said it was a "pig of a tree."  He was right.  Once I'd finally gotten it vertical, I began assessing the damage.  Among the broken ornaments was my pomegranate ornament, in a box for twenty years, on a tree for two hours, and then shattered, scooped up, and dumped into the garbage can. 

Other casualties were the first Christmas present we ever gave my daughter when she was just six months old, the first ornament my step-mother sent her, an ornament my sister had given me about eighteen years ago, and the star that went on the top of our tree. 

When my husband came home, my daughter, who'd forgotten the trauma, started crying all over again.  My husband tied the tree to the wall, and I put shoes on my kids and finished cleaning up all the broken glass.  The kids re-hung the ornaments that survived.  My husband turned to me and said, "Sorry, Baby."  Christmas with kids.  Life with kids.  I counted my blessings and went back to the kitchen to find the last box of candy canes and a container of glue.
Pre-fall picture of my daughter handing the first Christmas present we ever gave her. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Filling your creative reservoir

In January, I'm leaving my job to stay at home full time.  My husband will go back to work full time.  We're doing a complete switcheroo, but since my husband will work 3 12-hr shifts, we'll have four days a week when we are all home together as a family.  I cannot wait for January to come.  But in the meantime, I've been thinking it would be a good idea to plan out some things I want to accomplish once I'm home full-time.  Normally, I'm great at lists like these.  I've spent much of my adult life making lists of my dream schedule, goals I want to reach, and what I would do if I won the lottery.  But all of a sudden, I've got a case of list-block.  All I can come up with is doing Bikram Yoga again and organizing the baby books and photo albums.  I mentioned this to my friend Kim, and even though she's on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, she gamely whipped out a list FOR me.

1. Yoga
2. Create a children's gardening book to go along with husband's gardening. You could have different sections for different ages.
3. Create a children's cookbook to go along with the children's gardening. Maybe model it after that 3-ingredient Buddhist cookbook you found awhile back.
4. Teach a kids' art class or volunteer at pre-school.
5. Learn how to make wine
6. Redecorate a room in your house (or create a new "Julie space" for yourself in the basement)
7. Plan for the next 5 years - what kinds of lunches and snacks are you going to send to school with the kids (don't lie, you know you're going to think about that)? How much are you going to have to spend on school supplies and clothes? (or wait, is that just something nutty that I would do?)
8. Study massage
9. Knit and/or sew blankets and clothes for homeless shelters
10. Learn how to give yourself a pedicure
11. Take language samples from son and transcribe them-just kidding. (this is an inside joke for anyone who's taken a phonetics class)
12. Put a dent in that list of movies you've been wanting to see and books you've been wanting to read
13. Join a book/wine club
14. Sell Amway
15. Bet on the ponies
16. Teach daughter how to ride a tricycle/bicycle; teach son how to cut the grass
17. Learn how to make candles, lotion, lip balm, etc. (that's actually fun)
18. Take ballroom dancing lessons with husband
19. Plan half-day or full day trips to places around Omaha (cultural events, festivals, etc.)
20. Volunteer to play with the animals at the Humane Society

Kim's ability to whip out a list has me wondering about what is happening in my life to stop me from creating my own.  Of course, it would be easy to blame it on motherhood, or "mommy brain" as I'm fond of saying when I screw things up.  But I think it's my writing that has stopped me from making lists.  Because my life is so busy, I don't have a lot of free time.  So when I'm working on a book, as I am now (Murder With Art - 32k words and counting), I have to spend all my free time on that book.  When I have down time I'm writing.  If I can't write (because I'm lying in bed trying to fall asleep, for example) I'm planning the next scene or rejiggering the plot.  In other words, my book writing is stifling my creativity.  I literally can't make time for other big ideas because my book writing is sapping all my resources. 

When I was single, with tons of free time on my hand, I had plenty of ways to fill my creative resorvoir.  Julia Cameron wrote, in The Artist's Way, about renewing creativity with artist dates.  The idea was to do something special, all on your own.  Go button shopping.  Take a long walk.  Visit a junk store.  But these things are not so easy to do in my current existance.  It's kind of sad to say that my best chance at reviving my creative resources will be when my book is done.  But when this book is done, I'm starting on the sequel to The Truth About Dating.  I've already got the outline.  The book is just waiting to be written. 

So what I've decided, for January, is to start putting up some boundaries on my writing.  I'm going to continue to write, obivously, but writing my books will be limited to a set amount of time.  The rest of the time I'm going to try to blog and write letters to friends. And read.  For now, one of my major goals will be to read. 

1.  Enjoy my children, who are very young and won't be that way much longer.
2.  Yoga.
3.  Catch up on photo albums and baby books.
4.  Learn to do all the cat's cradle tricks.  Jacob's ladder, etc.
5.  Learn to crochet via You Tube.
6.  Start doing more blogs, esp a series I might call Lame Parenting.  After all, the pressure's going to be ON once I'm home full time!
7.  Write - novel, letters, blog.
8.  Figure out why my computer says it's got updates every time it's shutting down.

1.  All of the above.
2.  Flower gardening
3.  Finish sequel to The Truth About Dating
1.  All of the above except...
2.  Take a break from books until Fall or even longer. 

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Murder Beyond Words

If this heat has put you in the mood for a chilling murder mystery, check out my latest release, Murder Beyond Words.  It's only 99 cents, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. 

During a heat wave in New York City, a literary agent is murdered in her Brooklyn apartment. Across the hall in 3B, aspiring writer Ruby Neptune finds herself sucked into the murder investigation of a neighbor she barely knew and didn’t really like. The agent seems to have known her killer, as there was no forced entry. Ruby slowly discovers that many of her neighbor’s friends had strong reasons to want her dead. Determined to find the killer, Ruby puts her own life on hold, which upsets her closest friends, one of whom suspect that her new boyfriend is capable of the murder. As the list of suspects narrows, it hits uncomfortably close to home and Ruby finds herself lying to friends and even putting aside her writing career to solve the case. But will Ruby be able to identify the killer before she becomes the next victim?

Amazon link:

Barnes and Noble:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Coffee Break: Julie Christensen

Coffee Break: Julie Christensen Check out this interview I did on a great blog - Hylander Diner. A nice place to go for 99 cent books, as well as conversations about reading and writing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Living The Dream

Today I spent the entire day with my kids, instead of working. Normally, my husband is home and I work full-time, but today he had to attend an all day work thing, so I got to step into his shoes. The first of April, it was our first sunny, warm day since I don’t know when. My husband left before the kids got up. We had breakfast, and then my daughter was dropped off at pre-school and my son and I were on our own. I’m not used to this routine, so I forgot my daughter’s knapsack. When I knelt down to kiss her goodbye at preschool, I realized that I’d also forgotten to wipe her face after breakfast.
My son and I went on to some thrift stores, in search of yellow or red rain boots for him. No luck, but we had fun, looking at toddler-sized luggage (zipper broken) and an empty toddler wading pool. He got to play with the toys while I checked out children’s books.

Next stop was the zoo. It was great to go to the zoo all alone with my son. He is two now. He runs ahead of me and knows exactly where he wants to go: moving water ball, fishes, waterfalls, outside fishes.

You have to know the Omaha zoo to understand the giant globe that moves and has water streaming over it. He stood up on the ledge and ran his hands over the freezing water. Next a potty break, then the aquarium, where he ran ahead of me, looking at his favorite exhibits – jelly fish, tunnel of fish, penguins, Nemo fish. Halfway through he said, “Mommy, I want to go outside.” So off we went. On to howling monkeys, bears (and their waterfalls), and koi (outdoor fish.)

We left the zoo to pick up his three year old sister from preschool. I said to my son, “Tell Aggie what you did today.” My son said, “I went to the zoo and washed my hands.”

Oh, the perspective of the two year old. Novelty is more important than content, thus, hand washing after a potty break trumps monkeys who hang from their arms, eye-level with you, howling so loudly that you can hear them throughout the entire zoo.

What in my life would be different if I had my two year old’s perspective? Definitely, the feeling of his hand clenching my two fingers as we walked through the zoo trumped the jellyfish, the tunnel of fish, the monkeys. Well, it trumped it all. Isn’t it interesting that hand washing and hand holding mean more than anything a zoo with a bazillion dollar endowment has to offer?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Excerpt From Searching For Meredith Love

I'm going to post excerpts from my novels, for Pixel of Ink's Sample Sundays.  Check it out!

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five of Searching For Meredith Love

The next morning, Meredith woke up early. Pushing up, she looked out the window. The sky was a steely gray. Mendra’s warm, compact body was curled into a ball against her right thigh. It would be terrible to disturb her. Everything was contriving to keep her in bed. She fell back into the pillow, closing her eyes. Then Ben Abel’s face appeared behind her eyes and she sprung up like a jackrabbit, shocking Mendra out of her dreams. Was it real? Yes! Ben Abel had asked her out, just as she’d hoped he would. She picked Mendra up and held her up to her face. “Dreams can come true!” she told Mendra.

On the way to work, she remembered Kira's invitation to dinner on Friday. Taking the stairs two at a time, she dashed into Kira's office. Kira was already there. She often came in at 7:30 so she could leave early for her second job. Kira was munching from a bowl of dry Cheerios as she stared at her computer. Without really looking away from the screen, she said, “You’d better have a damn good explanation for being so chipper this early in the morning.”

Meredith shifted her weight. Her right knee was hurting a little from her reckless sprint up the stairs. “I have to cancel our plans for Friday. I got a better offer.”

“Oh boy. It better be a hot date.” She turned to look at Meredith.

Meredith came inside and shut the door. She sat down, still bundled in her coat. “It’s Ben Abel!” she squealed. She felt like a fourteen-year-old. “He asked me out yesterday when I was leaving. He biked here yesterday just to ask me.” Every sentence was an affirmation.

“He’s a babe. I wondered if he liked you when we were at happy hour. You played it cool, though. I would never have guessed.”

“Kira, I knocked down a chair going after him!”

“Did you? I hadn’t noticed. You must have done it very gracefully.”

It took fifteen minutes for Meredith to tell her every detail of their two minute conversation outside Family Practice. Back at her desk, Meredith was contentedly reading through her email when Sarah called.

“Eli is having a party on Friday. He wants you to come.”

“Eli barely knows me,” Meredith protested.

“He specifically asked me to invite you. You have to come. He said he never gets to see you anymore.”

Meredith doubted that any of what Sarah said was true. “I can’t go.” Just get it over with. “I have a date.”

“You what? With whom?”

“A resident here. Ben Abel. You don’t know him.”

“He asked you out?”

“Yeah,” Meredith said.


“Just.” ...last night, she added silently.

“Is he still there?”


“Oh my God!” Sarah screamed the last word into Meredith's ear. “You have a date!” Meredith started to feel guilty about not telling her sooner. “The virgin queen has a date.” The guilt vanished.

“I’m not a virgin,” Meredith whispered, peering into the hall to see if anyone was within earshot. She hoped that sticking to the facts now balanced out the lie earlier.

On Friday, the night of her big date, Meredith left the office at two. She showered and shaved and sanded her feet with pumice. She’d already picked out her dress, a tight-fitting black velvet number that she’d worn only once before, when she lived in New York. She had a garnet choker she’d bought here in Albuquerque. By 4:30 she was ready, so she added a little make-up just to kill the time. She started with her standard, lipstick, but then began brushing on mascara and blush, then a little eye shadow. When she looked in the mirror, she felt like a prostitute, but as she reached for a tissue, her doorbell rang. “Shit!” Meredith exclaimed. She’d totally lost track of time and now she’d have to answer the door with gunk on her face. Definitely not part of the fantasy.

Ben stood on the porch holding a small bouquet of irises and rose buds. “Hi,” Meredith said. Her giant grin was spreading again. “These are beautiful,” she said. “No one’s brought me flowers since high school. Thank you.”

As Ben stepped into the room she saw he was also dressed up. He wore a navy suit with a tomato red tie and a slate blue shirt. He’s got style, Meredith thought to herself, surprised. She was filling a jelly jar with water for the flowers, still wondering how she was going to get back to the bathroom to cream off the rest of her makeup.

“You look incredible,” Ben told her.

“I do?”

“Yes. The dress, the hair, your look pretty in jeans and no makeup, you’re beautiful in jeans and no makeup, but right now you’re stunning.”

Meredith decided the makeup could stay. She went for her coat and when she turned back around, Ben was on his knees, offering his fingers to Mendra to sniff. Meredith couldn’t remember when she’d last vacuumed. She could picture Ben's navy pant legs covered in cat hair. “This is Mendra.”

“She’s got a lot of presence,” Ben told her.

Meredith had been worried about the drive up to Santa Fe, but her fears were unwarranted. As it turned out, she and Ben had other things in common besides physical attraction. They both liked to cook, hike, camp, and watch Antique Road Show on PBS. They had graduated the same year from high school. Ben had first gone to art school for two years before switching to a pre-med program at another university.

“You’re kidding.”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“Why?” Meredith asked. “What made you turn from art to science?”

“It’s not turning away,” Ben argued as he moved deftly between cars on the two lane road to Santa Fe. “Science is a very creative process. Medicine really feels like an extension of my training in art. What about you? What did you do after high school?” Meredith had noticed he never let the topic rest on him for more than a few minutes.

“I went to art school, too. In New York. I got my BFA.” She felt foolish revealing this.

“God. I had no idea we had so much in common. And you also continue your creative process. Computer programming is just another form of design, wouldn’t you say?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never thought of it as anything more than an abandonment of my childhood dreams to be a painter.”

“You’re too rough on yourself. What’s your medium?”

“Oils were.”

“I was a sculptor. I like the three-dimensional aspect, being able to turn pieces around and work from all sides.” He laughed. “Still do.”

Meredith laughed too. “I’m sure your patients appreciate being compared to fine art.”

“Huh? Oh, I get it.” He chuckled. “That’s funny, Meredith. Actually, I didn’t mean my patients. I was referring to the sculptures I do at home.”

“You still make art?”

“Of course. I mean, yes. Not nearly as much as I used to.” He paused. “I take it from your ‘oils were’ response that you’ve gotten away from painting?”

Meredith could see her reflection in the glass window to her right. “I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since I graduated.”

They drove in silence for awhile.

“Does your job do it for you?” Ben asked suddenly.

“Do what?”

“You know. Give you an outlet for expressing yourself?”

“No. Honestly, it’s not a very creative job.”

“How can you stand it, then?”

“It’s easier than you think. To push all of that aside. I never even think about it anymore.”

“So you kissed?” Kira was at Meredith’s, sitting in an overstuffed armchair Meredith had rescued from a trash heap. A cup of coffee was balanced on her knee and she was methodically adding multiple packs of sugar. Meredith was across from her on the floor, drinking herbal tea because she was wired enough.

Meredith smiled. “We did.”

“When, how long, how was it? I want every detail.”

“We were sitting in his truck, talking.”

“Parked where?”

“In my driveway. We were just talking and then he started playing with a strand of my hair. All at once I couldn’t speak. There was this horrible, gaping silence...”

“Which probably only you noticed.”

“Maybe,” Meredith conceded. “And while I was in that state he leaned in and kissed me.”


“A minute. No, thirty seconds. Maybe less. Then he leaned back and started staring at me again so I turned to look out the window and said, ‘I wonder if it’s going to snow tonight?’”

“Good one.”

“Thanks. So he laughed and turned my head back around to face him. And then he kissed me again.”


“Ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes!” Kira moved so suddenly her coffee spilled. Meredith thought of all that sugar and wondered if she’d get ants.

“Well, we were making out. Really it was closer to thirty minutes.”

“So you invited him in...”

“No! God! After making out with him for thirty minutes, he’d think I was inviting him in to have sex.”

“Did you want to have sex?”

“Gosh, yes! But I barely know him. What if he’s an IV drug user or a male slut...”

“I don’t think that Ben is either of those things.”

“It’s been a long time, Kira.”

“It’s like riding a bicycle.”