Sunday, December 28, 2014

WELCOMING THE NEW YEAR with Notes to Myself

To Thine Own Self 
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

I came into the possession of a literary journal recently.  I took it home, excited to turn its pages and enjoy the work of fellow scribes.  That I would consider myself a peer with people recognized as “Literary Fellows” as these were, is a major step in confidence in itself.  I may be a humble self-published writer of fiction and essays, but I felt I deserved to belong simply because I do consider myself a writer.  By the same token, after years of qualifying my stage design work with the word “craftsman,” I now do regard myself as an artist.

I began to read the first essay.  I stopped.  I couldn’t read it.  The form was so self-conscious that I was distracted from the words.  “Maybe it is just this author” I thought and turned the page to another story.  Same thing, another composition so wrapped in its form and its own erudition.  “I’m not stupid,” I thought.  But these works made me feel so, because there was an “it” to be got, and I just didn’t.  I realized that I was waiting for someone to tell me a story, to transport me into a world of their imagination and thoughts.  Note to self: I love stories.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"FIVE VIEWS OF A CHRISTMAS TREE: ~ View Five (The Conclusion)

Five Views of a Christmas Tree
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

View Five

It was the year of facing facts.  Facts can save you, and facts can challenge you profoundly.  This instance was the latter.  I was a rigid devotee in the “fresh Christmas tree” camp, ignoring the arguments about sustainable practices and thinking “green.”  I clung to the memories of my childhood and the delights of the smell and feel of a real tree, at least until it got dry and prickly. 

I lived on the top floor of a three story apartment building, all the way at the end of the hall.  You couldn’t live much father away from the entrance and still be in the building.  Not only that, the area where the dumpster was and the place we discarded trees was far away at the other end of the lot.  I used to have a friend who also lived there, who would haul my tree down to the other end of the lot every year.  Then he moved away.  What followed was a series of years in which the tree went out on the deck sometime in January and could stay there as late as March before I would saw off the crackling limbs and haul them away, saving the trunk to cut up for firewood.  By this particular year, I had gained a nice collection of denuded tree trunks.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Five Views of a Christmas Tree
By Judith Cullen

(c) 2014

View Four

It would eventually be about cats.  My love of furry companionship and the opportunities for feline fun that
the holidays bring would eventually find their confluence. This was inevitable. I was lucky enough to have fairly easy experiences with cats and Christmas trees.  I was lucky. That is, I was lucky until December 1991.

We had finally returned to the Pacific Northwest.  Three year’s earlier, when I had loaded all my worldly goods into a rental truck and moved to Omaha, “we” had been myself and a cat named Sparkle.  On our return, taking up residence near Portland’s industrial district, “we” were now myself plus two: Sparkle and Salem. A short haired black, Salem had been one of a litter of kittens that had taken up residence in a decaying loading dock along the alley behind the studio where I worked.  Through out the summer we had the front and back doors of the studio open to take advantage of what little breezes there were, and the kittens came in to play.  One day, in the weeks just before Labor Day, this little black kitten came hobbling in crying.  She had been hit by a bicycle or an opening car door and had a fractured leg.  I took her home; saw that she had proper veterinary care.  In less than two months we were moving from Nebraska to Oregon: Sparkle, me, and kitten makes three. I had named her “Salem” since she was black and I had gone to college in the City of that same name in Oregon.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Five Views of a Christmas Tree
By Judith Cullen

(c) 2014

View Three

“There’s no way I am paying good money for a tree that looks like that!”  When you grow up in the Evergreen State and you move to the heartland of America, trying to buy a Christmas tree can be disappointing.  They are shipped in from whence you came, and I know what I felt like after three days in a truck and I was still fully alive.  No offense is intended to the good people who purvey holiday tree joy to the residents of the Midwest or to the aesthetic tastes of those same good folk.  To me, the color just wasn’t right, the limbs seemed weak.  I didn’t even have to take a close look.  I could see that they were “lacking” from the parking area. 

There were also a lot of “shirred” trees.  That’s were they trim a trees branches with a hedge trimmer so that they fit some sort of pre-determined notion of symmetry and perfection.  I hate those trees.  When you come from a land brimming with “the real deal” these all seem fake.  I felt the same way about the puny apples I saw in the grocery, waxed to within an inch of their lives to increase their visual appeal.  “I know how long you’ve been in the packing case,” I would think as I passed them by.  To me, a good apple should rival a softball in diameter, not a wiffle ball.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Image courtesy of  Ts88Rm at
Five Views of a Christmas Tree
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

View Two

I had not yet reached the first legal portal of “majority” yet.  That would come in May of the next year.  This was, however, my first “adult” Christmas.  Perhaps it was actually the final Christmas of an era.  The tree had come out with the regiment of long tradition, and stood proudly in its place before the front windows, alight and sparkling.

As was also traditional, we brought the presents down and placed them under the tree on Christmas Eve.  This ritual had very defined steps which we never deviated from.  As youngest, I always went first.  There was the Santa hat to be worn, and the string of jingle bells on its crocheted red string.  Everyone but the “present-er” closed their eyes, munched on a Christmas cookie while the stereo played holiday music, and the gift delivering member of the family Ho-ho-ho’d their way into the living room and placed their presents under the tree.  If you had a lot of packages to deliver, it could be a challenge to “ho-ho” that long.  Mom always went last, and Dad had to sometimes stage her stuff in the adjacent front hall.  Since she wrapped for both herself and Dad, she always had the most packages to place.  Dad’s presents to her were wrapped by kid-assist.  We’d open our eyes after each family member had done their placing, and were appropriately impressed, with much “Oooo-ing” and “Aaahh-ing.”

Saturday, December 13, 2014

HAPPY HOLIDAYS ~ "Five Views of a Christmas Tree" ~ View One

free image from
"Now, the tree is decorated with bright merriment, and song, and dance, and cheerfulness. And they are welcome. Innocent and welcome be they ever held, beneath the branches of the Christmas Tree, which cast no gloomy shadow! . . . I hear a whisper going through the leaves. 'This, in commemoration of the law of love and kindness, mercy and compassion. This, in remembrance of Me!'"  

~ Charles Dickens

The publishing may be done for the year, but not the writing.  The writing never ends, thankfully.

Inspired by Charles Dickens 1850 short story A Christmas Tree, in which a man recounts the journey of life guided through the boughs and decorations of a festive fir, I have taken five views of the role that these iconic expressions of joy and celebration have played in my own life.  I've written a five part tribute of my own. I'll be publishing it, by section or "View" between now and the 23rd.

Here's the first - Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Convenient for stocking stuffing, or with the new Kindle Matchbook program, you can get a lovely discount when you buy both the Kindle and Print version of any title. So buy them both, keep the Kindle for yourself, and gift the print version to a friend or for your part in that great holiday tradition: the gift exchange.

Now Available - A TRIO OF TRAVELING TALES - the last collection for 2014 featuring three great new original stories. This Trio includes: "The Unexpected Path", "The Empire Builder", and the popular "Lawrence Street."

Available on Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback

All my titles are available in time for whatever gift-giving necessity you have.  I doesn't have to be dawned with holly and mistletoe.  It might involve a kinara or a dreidel. It could include the burning of a Yule Log.  Does not matter.

Who on your list might enjoy one of these? Click and see!

Monday, December 1, 2014


It's official! Coffee Shop Talk is live today!  

There's a bit of something for a lot of different people in this collection: humor, insight, poetry, reflection.  And then there's the name.  If you like Coffee, Shopping, Talking, or any combination therein - YOU SCORE!  The collection seemed to write itself, actually.  I just woke up one day and said "Whoa!  Lookee there!"

Coffee Shop Talk includes twelve essay/stories, and a smattering of the best of this year's poetry, including "December Sojourn" which will be featured in the Tacoma's Laureate Listening Project launching in January, and "Blue Lotus Dream" from this year's Art-Inspired Writing Project with Proctor Arts Fest.

One story for each month of the year - though it takes a lot less time to read them than that :
  • Coffee Shop Talk
  • What Wiles?
  • Seeing Red
  • The Pink T-Shirt
  • Finding Mck
  • Invisible Me
  • Go Slow
  • Walter's Sundat
  • You Are Not alone
  • My Mother's Hands
  • Thankful Forward
Amazon takes a few days to get things totally synced, but at present you can purchase the book for KINDLE or in PAPERBACK. My collections are compact, and meant for reading "On-the-Go" or for gift giving - they fit great in your average sized Christmas stocking!

You can also find my other titles from 2013 and 2104 by clicking in the tabs at the top of the page. THEY ALL fit in stockings!

Friday, November 28, 2014

GIVING THANKS: "Thankful Forward"

Thankful Forward

By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

I suppose this essay should come out for New Years.  That’s the precedent, really.  Except, if you think about it, do you really wait until the 26th of December to think about next year, what it means to you and what you want for it?  I doubt it.  If you were a business, you might have been thinking about it while you were spitting out watermelon seeds in July’s blazing sun.  More likely, you were thinking about it after last year’s holiday debris had been relegated to the recycling bin.  So, November is quite late to be doing this.

I am looking ahead to 2015 as I have looked forward to no other year in recent memory.  I can’t quite explain it.  Something in my gut tells me it will be different.  Of course, that’s what we all want from a new year.  However, I think I have already put my finger on what is going to make 2015 distinct, and I am beginning right now to be thankful for it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Thanksgiving 1968, with "Grandma Lillie"
My Mother’s Hands
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

When I was a little girl, family members of various generations swore that I was the very image of my maternal Grandma.  “That’s Lillie!” they would exclaim, and reference her 8th grade graduation picture as proof of the likeness.

My Grandma was someone who appeared to be very much in command of things.  She was a strong personality who always seemed to be the key decision maker.  My Grandpa, suffering significantly from the onset of lung cancer when I knew him, was much softer spoken.  I remembered him best in his recliner, and from the polished rocks he tumbled in his workshop.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


It was just a year ago that I was packing up my life of 21 years, from an apartment I had loved (and still sometimes miss). Some of that life survived, some of it was sold, and some of it was given away - LOTS was given away.

I am still going through things, by the grace of friends, and evaluating what I really need to keep and what is precious.  As my friend Christina, who has been so great in helping me work through this asks me regularly when we are sorting, "Do you Love this?"

It was, and continues to be, an amazing process.  One in which, now that I am no longer surrounded by the bulk of my own possessions, really allows me to focus on what is important to me.  It is not as much as I thought!

What I always will remember about that emotional, gut-wrenching, physically painful move was the amazing possession of wonderful friends.  Some of whom went incredibly out of their way to help me.  That's something you can't pack in a box and categorize with a Sharpie label.

In memory of that moment of grace-filled friendship, I share this poem written a month or so after the move was complete.

Truly Humbled
By Judith Cullen  
(c) 2014

Everyone should experience,
Being truly humbled.
Stripping away the layers:
Stuff, status, trappings
Which surround and contain
All that is within.

An onion is easier to peel away
Tears flow just as genuine,
Doubts arise just as often
“Am I losing too much?
What happens to ‘me’
When all this is gone?”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A POEM - Kintsugi & Life

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.  As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise - an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object.

Filling the Cracks
Image from Wikimedia
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

Hands reach out
Seeking a surface kiss.
Sunlit fingertips
Touching, kneading hope.

They are surprising
What only others possess
Observable deficiencies
Breaking your pattern.

No one warns you
They are parcels of life
The price of victory,
Joy, passion, pride.

Now knowing it
Learning to honor them
Cracks of living
Filling them with gold.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NEW ESSAY: "You Are Not Alone"

You Are Not Alone
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

I went to a gathering of folks from my High School recently.  It was not a formal reunion, but simply an informal gathering at a local brewery-eatery.  There were people from several classes there, spanning the years around 1980.  I had expected some of the “old scripts” of behavior to kick in, as so often they do in such situations.  That was not the case.  Perhaps the reality of all of us being over 50 has given us a wholly different perspective.  We have lived a lot in over thirty years – each and every one of us.

Early on, a lovely woman from the year after mine obliquely referred to her struggles with depression.  It was probably the only moment in the evening that I faltered, and felt that same old awkwardness that I felt so often in High School.  I remember this woman as a bright, self-assured young lady. Depression was the last thing I would have expected to creep into her life.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "The Blackberry" Concludes

The Blackberry
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

Continuing . . .

“The whole genus has power issues, I think,” Cara muttered.

“Come with me,” Dave reached out a hand to Cara and both she and Marcy followed him upstairs. He paused in the hallway to grab a pair of binoculars and the three of them mounted two flights of  stairs to the top of the Hall’s home. 

The top floor was one open room under the eaves, with storage and some work areas for both Marcy and Dave.  At one end there were French doors that opened onto a small balcony which overlooked Cara’s yard.  They were just high enough that they could see over Cara’s small house to the lot beyond.  Dave handed the binoculars to Cara.

“Take a look,” he said.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "The Blackberry" ~ Part 2

The Blackberry
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

Continuing . . . 

Weeks went by and Kuja never did come home. Kiley and Cara slowly acclimated to the new environment and started to get to know their neighbors in the little cul de sac. 

There was Sheila and Tom across the way, with their sons Roger and Dan. 

There was Mrs. Wiley who lived alone in a little cottage-like house with arbors full of flowering plants and azalea bushes the size of industrial packing crates.  She had painted her front door bright purple, and had three cats.  Sprinkles had already made a loud and somewhat unfriendly foray into the territory of the Wiley cats. 

Then there was Dave and Marcy Hall, her next door neighbors.

Marcy was the adult leader of Kiley’s troop.  Cara had been envious beyond belief at Marcy’s garden.  It was an artistic arrangement of raised flower beds and winding hedges, all filled with beautiful plants with useful purposes.  Marcy was happy to enumerate the uses of each plant, it’s healing and dietary properties, and how to prepare it – whether tincture, salve, or solution.  Cara was overwhelmed, and could not help but be in awe of Marcy.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "The Blackberry" ~ Part 1

This story was inspired by a particularly impassioned gardening incident in my back yard.  While not a traditional ghost story, I don't think there is anyone in the Pacific Northwest who would not agree with me that Rubus armeniacus seems possessed, to have power issues, and a will totally unbecoming a plant.

The Blackberry
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

The knock at the front door was insistent.  “Fix the door bell.” Cara grumbled as she hustled around piles of
boxes, heading for the front door. “I’m coming!”  It had been a week but their new house was still a complete chaotic disaster.  That’s what came, she told herself, from moving on a Sunday.  It had been all she could manage to get everything out of the truck and roughly sorted, even with the help of hired movers.  Then she had to hunt down a few essentials, get Kiley and Sprinkles fed, settled, and still get herself ready to start a new job the next day.

She swung the door open, reminding herself to smile, and met the worried face of Sheila from across the circle.  “Oh God,” Cara thought, “we’ve only been here a week, what’s gone wrong already? Had Kiley been too friendly and chattering?  Has Sprinkles been picking fights with other pets?” Kiley had thought the cat looked like chocolate ice cream with Halloween sprinkles all over it. Despite the feline’s fanciful name, it had a notoriously scrappy disposition outside the immediate family.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "Walter's Sunday" Conclusion

Walter’s Sunday
By Judith Cullen

© 2014

By the time he’d finished the crossword the morning was well on its way to becoming afternoon.  He’d better get on with things.  He had chores to do, errands to run, and was expected for a family gathering that afternoon – the traditional Sunday after church lunch.  Walter only went to church when he felt like it anymore.  There were few things about the service that were engaging for him, and he got tired of people being solicitous of his maturity.  He’d never imagined himself as a “sweet old man” and he didn’t appreciate being treated like he was infirm.  It didn’t matter to him that he had the challenges of the old - he’d earned them!  And he didn’t mind being treated with respect.  He just hated being treated with solicitous consideration.  He knew the people meant well, but it just seemed fake to him.  It felt like they treated him that way because they felt they should, not because they really wanted to.

The dishes were washed and the kitchen scrubbed up in due order.  Walter was grateful for the Army.  It had taught him survival skills that had turned out to be far more valuable than marksmanship.  He watered the plants, marveling as he did most mornings that they seemed to thrive in spite of his neglect.  Jean had been the one with the green thumb.  He’d kept the plants because they reminded him of her.  It would have been easier to have chucked them out.  But he liked the way the morning light made the leaves shine.  He always heard Jean in his head, “Now don’t over water them, Walter!”  He smiled, always replying out loud “Of course not, my dear.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "Walter's Sunday" ~ Part 1

And now . . . *drum roll* . . . for this year's stories!  Here begins the first of two.  Enjoy!


Walter’s Sunday

By Judith Cullen
© 2014

The alarm began its relentless beeping.  It continued for several minutes and Walter found himself wishing, not for the first time, that someone had developed a gadget so that he could turn the damn thing off from bed.  Then again, that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?  His wife, Jean, had moved the alarm clock to its home on the dresser years ago, after an unfortunate incident in which he had hit “snooze” repeatedly for over 90 minutes.

She’d been gone for 8 years now, his Jean.  He missed her terribly.  She had always brought structure and order to their lives.  Walter was convinced that he would have made a mess of things if left to himself.  When she’s passed, he’d maintained her household regimen: running the vacuum and dusting the house on Saturday morning, laundry on Wednesdays, changing the sheets every Monday.  He did his best, but he sometimes forgot things.  Walter was 87, and his life was a dichotomy of a rigid schedule versus a firm belief that he’d earned the right to do as he pleased, when he pleased.  He missed his Jean, and he forgot things.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "Her Own Words" Concludes

Her Own Words
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2013


When she finally went to bed, sometime after three in the morning, she just stared blankly at the ceiling until the sun came up.  At eight she called her office to let them know she was staying at home.  She didn’t have any crucial appointments or deadlines, and she had plenty of time off coming.

Ten a.m. found her in the stiff cold air, opening her umbrella as the rain started to fall.  She had gotten the
name of the cemetery from the listing she had found, and the desk clerk had given her directions how to find the grave. The actual physical cemetery was a little more intimidating than the graphics on the desk clerk’s computer.  Elaine finally found her though.

Rebecca Jonas
Born August 14, 1962
Died October 5, 2006

There was no other inscription.  Elaine recognized the headstone.  There was a group of ladies at one of the big local churches who had started a charity to help people who died without means to have a proper burial.  They held bazaars, bake sales, and auctions all to provide monuments and obituary listings for people who passed and had no relatives, or whose relatives could not afford it.  What had happened to Rebecca’s family?  She had been an only child, but she’d had parents. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "Her Own Words" - Part 2

Her Own Words
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2013

Part Two

If Elaine had been correct, and it had been a practical joke, that should have been the end of it.  Middle aged woman annoyed – mission accomplished.  End of story.  But that was not the end of it. 

Two days later she walked into her workroom, put her bag down next to her desk, and dropped the mail on top of it.  She had avoided the room since the night of the storm, but there was work she needed to do from home tonight.  She had totally forgotten about the note.  She glanced across the desk as she began sorting the mail, separating the important things from those that would go straight to the recycling bin at her feet. 

Except it wasn’t there, the note from the other night.  There was a note there, but it was not the same note.  Or was it?  It was the same envelope, same old-fashioned looking paper, and the same familiar curvy handwriting “Elaine Harrison.”  This envelope, however, was sealed.  As it sat there on the desk, it was almost shouting at her already.  Elaine didn’t want to know what it said.  She pushed it to one side and went back to her mail.
Wait a minute!  If it was sealed and a new note, how the hell did it get there?  Could it have simply been the same note as before, and she just didn’t remember putting the note back in the envelope? It looked awfully neat and untouched teetering there on the edge of the desk.  There was only one way to find out if it was the same note.  She reached for it, tore open the flap, and ripped the note from inside.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

GHOST STORIES: "Her Own Words" - Part One

This is the third year in which I have written a ghost story for October.  In fact this year I write two.  The certain irony is that people who publish ghost stories actually are reviewing them in February.  So I suspect I am "banking it forward" with this work.

There is something undeniable about the effect late September has on my writing muse.  In 2012 I wrote my first ghosty story, "In the Mist", which was published in A TRIO OF IRISH TALES which is available on Amazon, and remains my most popular publication to date.

"Her Own Words" was last year's (2013) story took second place in a Ghost Story Contest sponsored y author Lissa Bryan. Since  this story is only available in paperback as part of TRIO TALES 2013, I have decided to share it here, in series, as it lends itself to that.  I'll follow with this year's stories, similarly eeked out in hopefully enticing bits.

Just a side note about me and scary stories:  if you are looking for the "blood-curdling-eviscerating-entrailing" kind of story from me, you are in for disappointment.  My stories have suspenseful, possibly thrilling moments, but my inner "Pooh-Bear" always asserts itself.  So you might best categorize my scary fiction as "Spooky-Sweet."  You have been warned - Enjoy!
Storm Clouds over Brent Hill by Adrian Platt

Her Own Words
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2013

Part One

The wind and rain made the trees outside her window groan and rumble.  There was nowhere Elaine would rather be than right where she was: curled up under her warm, thick comforter.  She’d grown up with weather like this, and she loved listening to it buffet and batter as long as she could do so from safely under the covers.  The cat had a similar idea, hopping up once Elaine had pulled the comforter up.  It had stomped around before becoming a cushion of purring fur and lapsing into feline snores. 

Familiar as the sounds of the storm were, Elaine was not lulled into sleep.  Her mind would not shut down.  The wind and rain reflected her own unrest as she tried to close down the thoughts of the day to get some sleep. Instead, she tossed with the branches and leaves accompanied by the sounds of the cat, which let out a low howl of annoyance each time Elaine moved.

The sound, when it came, seemed so out of place.  It challenged Elaine’s coziness.  It entreated her not-so-quiet mind to get out of the bed.  It was the squishing thump of footsteps outside.  How remarkable that she could hear them from this end of the house, with all the racket of the storm.  But hear them she did, loud and clear, and seemingly approaching her front door.  Who would be out at this time of night in this kind of weather?  Elaine’s still-careening mind ascribed whomever it was an idiot, and rolled over again.

There were two sharp raps on her front door.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


It's here!  For some reason this is a pretty prolific "story" time of year for me.  Witness that this year my annual traditional ghost story writing, which has been happening for several years, manifested itself into two different stories. I am planning to share those stories here, but first a little warm up.

Last year I got involved with Stephanie Mesler's Word Association Haiku Challenge, and for over three months I wrote haiku on a regular basis: single, double, cycles.  It was huge fun and I am still amazed that I stayed in as long as I did.  This ten verse cycle is from that challenge.  The task was to write ten verses with one repeating line in each to the prompt "Halloween" or "Samhain."

Blossom of summer

ripened to rich harvest gold
as the wheel comes ‘round

Damp, cold, and fall mists
creep in with bounty’s decay
as the wheel comes ‘round

Mortality knocks
beckoning our acceptance
as the wheel comes ‘round

Thursday, September 11, 2014


It has taken years to write this simple poem.  I actually think I had to learn how to write it.  I offer it today as a humble tribute in honor and in memory of . . . all of us.

Learned on 911
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

Early morning phone call
the unbelievable
forcing myself not to
lock into the TV for hours
like the death of Diana
that it wasn’t true.

Pressing on determined
beneath skies
now menacingly empty
forcing myself not to feel
others depending on me
to be calm, and present.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

PREVIEW! Wednesday, September 10th at 7pm

I'll be presenting selections from this new collection live in Second Life (c) and streaming online Wednesday evening.

Check back for more details on the streamed session, or check out the Judy's Stories Live tab to make sure your media player is set up for streaming audio.

"Some journeys are measured in city blocks, and some can only be measured by how they change your life."

In The Unexpected Path, little seven year old Ann thinks she knows best and takes an alternate route to travel the block and a half to school in the middle of a harsh mid-western winter. It all goes well, until she gets stuck in the snow.

In The Empire Builder, a young woman leaves her home and family to journey to a University thousands of miles away.  Taking the train from Seattle to Chicago, and then on to central Indiana, she has three days on her own to contemplate this decision to cross half a continent.

In Lawrence Street, a street that was once traveled every single day is revisited 40 years later - "Things are the same on Lawrence Street, but they are different too.  The bones of familiarity are there, clear and comforting, but sometimes dressed in garments that do not seem as familiar.

Coming soon to Amazon for Kindle, and in Paperback.

Friday, September 5, 2014

MORE FROM THE INTERSTATE - Could this be the start of a series?

Several times a week, I work as a contract employee for the State of Washington.  This involves a 30+ mile commute to the State Capitol in Olympia.  I find the interstate is a great source of literary inspiration: both on things I am working on, and on the commuting experience itself.

In August of 2013 I wrote Beauty on the Interstate OR Cool Is as Cool Does. I thought it was a singular essay, but this week I had another inspirational experience on the highway that made me think that maybe this might become and on-going series.  Here's the next installment:

Beauty on the Interstate OR The Red Car
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

The Highway is a great rolling stage for drama.  Some are grand and expansive, complete with flashing lights, bells, and confrontations of life and death. Others of these rolling epochs are simple moments of delight and justice, for where would tragedy be without comedy? – The opening of the first Beauty on the Interstate tale

Photo by Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons
It really started with a dump truck – one of those double carriers.  I was behind it in lane 2, the second from the left.  I always seem to be in lane 2 when these things happen.  Already nursing a crack in my windshield, I did not really want to wait and speculate as to whether the truck was hauling bark, or gravel, or tiny bits of whatever the hardest substance in the universe is these days.  I decided to get around it.  Traffic was moderate, so I moved into lane 1 and accelerated. 

As my speedometer skimmed 70, a car came up behind me.  It was the same model as my own, but a decade younger. As I passed the dump truck and was looking for clearance to move in front of it, the car behind me shot into lane two, walking away from me like I was standing still.  That meant it was doing about 80 in a 60 mph zone. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


This year's "Back to School" season is filled with mixed emotions for me.  My eighteen year old nephew is off to college.  He's the only child of his generation in our branch of the family, so we are all feeling this moment of transition keenly.

Also, in the last year I have returned to the neighborhood of my childhood, and experienced freshly life in a community infused with college students.  So today I include reflections from both.

A Drabble (100 Word Story) - Written for Laurence Simon's Weekly Challenge to the prompt "Load"

By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

Tomorrow he starts college.  No more using all his Mom’s blankets, cushions and chairs to build forts.  No more “Mr Baloony” stories, with three prompts from the young master himself. 

He bequeathed me his Disneyland Play Set – figures, slides, trains, things that spin.  A tiny drawer contains the surviving figures.  Not all of them made it through the many years of joy. Princesses lost their heads, as they often do.  The flying elephant ride is missing one car. As my wee boy departs for halls of higher learning I am emotionally and functionally one Dumbo shy of a full load.

An Essay

LIFE 101 – Living Off Campus
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

I wasn’t always this age.  I was young once. I even used to be a college student.  I remember the first home I had that was not under my parent’s, or anyone else’s, supervision.  I have fond recollections of mismatched glassware, decorating with batik cotton and Christmas tree lights.  I remember the freedom of playing whatever music I wanted, eating exotic meals of my own creation, and having friends over at all hours.  Up until recently I still enjoyed the delights of 2 am bubble baths and watching movies when I couldn’t sleep. I still have a cut glass jelly jar that is my guilty pleasures wine glass, which I have had for years. So I understand the heady independence of being out on your own for the first time and crafting your very own first nest.  It is TOTALLY great!

Friday, August 22, 2014

NEW ESSAY: Time to Begin the Beginning

Albert Bierstadt - "Indian Summer on the Hudson River"
Leaning to Amber
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

It started two nights ago. The vibrant, pulsing world of summer is beginning to tilt slightly.  Its dominant hue is shifting from bright green of the triumphal sun shining through the leaves that spring worked so diligently to bring to life. Now, everything is beginning to take a slight amber tinge, and in about four to six weeks the world will be glowing in the bronzes and coppers of autumn.

The first signs come with the sunset. After celebrant weeks of being so pleased with itself in high summer that it joyously cannot help but heat the night as well as the day, the sun decides to finally give it a rest. The waning light brings breezes and cool air. I change my cotton blanket for my favorite fleece again.  Daytime temperatures will still be climbing to sweat-worthy highs, but the nights sink into the 50s and, for many, sleep deepens with the promise of satisfying hibernations to come.  Soon enough, it will be outright cold all the time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NEW ESSAY: More Is Not Necessarily Better Anymore

Go Slow
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

My body is often wiser than my intellect. My synapses get into a groove, clicking away like little fiends.  Time and tide become invisible. “Oh, I can get this one more thing done.  This won’t take but a couple of minutes.” One little thing piles on another little thing, on and on. The next "thing" you know, hours have passed. They have been incredibly productive hours, no doubt. Working at the computer for a great portion of what I now do, I have experienced this dangerous lapse into the twilight zone of productivity all too frequently. There has been more than one occasion when I sat down with a cup of tea at 9 am and did not come up for air until after 6 pm. The ability to focus is a virtue. This sort of thing, however, is the dark side of focus, leading to untold frigid cups of coffee and tea. Where is Rod Serling when you need him?

Luckily, the body is as patient as it is wise. A couple of times a year, after piles of use-abuse have reached heights unachieved even by my laundry, the body says “enough.” It doesn’t care how it stops me, it just does. It is totally unconcerned about all those things I could be getting done. It decides it is time to slow down for about 48 hours – Starting Now! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014


"Some journeys are measured in city blocks, and some can only be measured by how they change your life."

In this new collection in the Trio Tales Series, the stories are focused on journeys, large and small, which take unexpected turns or which lead to unanticipated places.

In The Unexpected Path, little seven year old Ann thinks she knows best and takes an alternate route to travel the block and a half to school in the middle of a harsh mid-western winter. It all goes well, until she gets stuck in the snow.

In The Empire Builder, a young woman leaves her home and family to journey to a University thousands of miles away.  Taking the train from Seattle to Chicago, and then on to central Indiana, she has three days on her own to contemplate this decision to cross half a continent.

In Lawrence Street, a street that was once traveled every single day is revisited 40 years later - "Things are the same on Lawrence Street, but they are different too.  The bones of familiarity are there, clear and comforting, but sometimes dressed in garments that do not seem as familiar.

. . . and more!  Coming soon to Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback.

Monday, August 11, 2014

NEW ESSAY: "Finding Mick"

I've been on a writing roll lately, with so many ideas and thoughts rolling around, usually when I am on the highway!  Enjoy this new one - another interstate inspiration.


Finding Mick
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

Good men can be very hard to find.  When they do enter your life, sometimes it happens in the strangest places. 

I met Michael (who went by “Mick”) for the very first time one summer at a day camp.  It was the summer of 1977, and we were both Junior Counselors.  I have to admit, Mick’s slightly notorious reputation had preceded him.  My older sister, who was a Senior Counselor, had known him for several years.  I had already heard more than one anecdotal adventure, shared with a mixture of amusement and affection. She said he was great with kids, and always singled out the ones who were struggling, never coddling them but simply being encouraging and gently supporting.  This probably set the tone of our meeting for the first time. 

Mick was an unlikely friend for me.  We were both fifteen, and he was the kind of guy that I would have normally found intimidating: a big personality, and way more cool that I could or would ever be.  Yet Mick’s “cool” was not an assumed air of superiority, or a feigned fashion.  He was an expansive personality and his appeal was the unassuming ease with which he wore that largeness.  I found him to be good company, funny, and very human.  He was not hard to like.  We were heading to the same high school that fall. Somehow I felt a little better knowing I had met and gotten to know him away from the crushing social pressure that comes with high school.

I have to be honest: Mick and I did not really hang with the same crowds.  However, we did know a lot of the same people.  He and I shared a remarkable similarity: we were both known by a whole lot of people, across many different strata of high school society, and were acquainted with a broad cross-section of people.  We were well-known and well-liked just for being who we were. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NEW ESSAY: Pink T-Shirt: A Theoretical Treatise

Pink T-Shirt: A Theoretical Treatise
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

I saw a man the other day in a parking lot.  He was wearing a pink t-shirt.  I found myself wondering if the shirt was commercially pink, or accidentally pink.  You know what I mean? The shirt was once as white as the far reaches of the arctic, but got tossed in the laundry with something red (red dye always having dubious colorfastness) and now it has a certain pink tinge to it.

Now, I don’t have any pre-conceptions about men in the color pink. Some men look great in the color, and should wear it.  It is no different than women wearing blue.  These hang ups over sexual color distinctions can get ludicrous at times.  Yet people have a funny way of making the color of their clothing a statement: black for Goth, the red and purple of the red hat ladies, etc.  Some guys I know wouldn’t ever consider wearing pink, just because it IS pink.  Some other guys I know would consider wearing pink as a challenge – a fashion gauntlet thrown down.  “I dare you to question my masculinity!”  

There are certainly other statements that could be made with pink as well.  Contemplating the scope of this potential statement-making made my brain hurt.  Yet one question remained clear in my mind above the din, “What is the real difference between wearing a commercially pink t-shirt, or accidentally pink one?”  My answer: the man inside it.

I will never contemplate what’s behind the man wearing the commercially pink shirt – the possibilities are too convoluted to enumerate and I don’t actually care.  I am content to note that he looks nice in it and leave it at that without ascribing any additional motives to him.  However, the accidentally pink t-shirt says a great deal, simply and clearly, about the wearer.  He is a man confident enough to not be hung up by societal chromatic stupidities.  He is man comfortable with his casualness.  He’s a man who is unwilling to toss out a perfectly good t-shirt just because it got “re-dyed’ in the wash.

Going back to the inspiration of this essay, he is a man content enough to be spending time running errands with his wife and child on sunny Friday morning, and to not give a damn about what anyone else thinks of what he wears.  I say, God bless him!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

PROCTOR ARTS FEST 2014 ~ Art-Inspired Stories

What a rush!  This was great fun, and engaged my creative brain in ways I did not expect.  I'd do this again in a heartbeat!

The minute I walked into the Art Show Friday morning, the vague "I'll see what speaks to me" criteria became sharp and clear.  I chose 18 pieces out of the entire show, and narrowed them down to 10, which I wrote for. Five of those were presented live this afternoon at the Festival, and the artists received a copy of the story (signed) that was inspired by their work.

I did not choose:

  • Works whose message was clear - why muck with or restate something so strong?
  • Works whose stories could not be contained to 100 words
  • Works who possessed stories too discrete - in the future I might delve into these more
The narrowing down and selecting involved balancing the general themes of the stories (funny, sweet, contemplative, etc) and the various mediums and styles.

Here's how it turned out!

Note: All Stories are (c) 2014 by Judith Cullen
Use of any of the photo images on this page without the express permission 
of the individual artists is strictly prohibited

Pieces Selected for Presentation at the Proctor Arts Fest Juried Art Show

Egyptian Two Step by George Hoivik – Bronze & Walnut   

“Do you come here often?  I don’t remember seeing 
you before.”

Her lustrous feathers were ivory and ebony. Her eyes 
twinkled - endless pools of lapus lazuli.  She shimmered 
in the golden light, while her legs shimmied to 
the music. 

“ I just flew in today from Aswan.  I’ve never been to the 
Delta before.”

She smiled shyly. She was just about to give him a 
coy wink, as she looked up through her lashes at him.

“Ouch!” she suddenly cried. Her majestic head flew up, eyes now filled with 
pain and surprise.

“Oh.  I bet that was your foot.”  

Blowing Kisses by Katy Tuma – Photograph    

Day and Night.  Winter and Summer I sit here.  
Pinwheels tickle my ears, dandelions caress my 
feet, leaves dance around, and the snow gives me 
a white sweater that does not keep out the cold.  
It does not matter.  I am here for a singular purpose.

Years pass.  Moss, lichen, and dirt snuggle into 
my creases.  Someone comes along every once 
in a while and scrubs them out.  
It is just the same to me.
I am here regardless of it all.

My lips remain pursed, forever blowing kisses. I remind living people 
what they are all on Earth for.

African Women Sunset 
by Michaelina Tenney – Acrylic       

Sisterhood!  Clasped hands, jangling bracelets
 and hearts alight with greeting as the horizon 
bursts into flame, touched by the retreating sun.  
You are my sister. In your company I am strong.  
I am your sister. In my care you shall be cherished.  
Together, we are nurturers of life, planters of trees, 
grinders of grain, weavers of cloth, and solvers
of problems.

At my side, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.  At your side, our burdens will be shared and our toil lessened.  Hold my hand. Weep with me, and share laughter. We will endure, my sister. Together, we shall thrive.         


Rudolph by Miss Liza Morado  
(I just couldn't resist this one!)    

I like Rudolph.  His nose lights up.  
It makes me happy, his nose.

I didn’t used to be all songs and television specials, 
you know.  Rudolph had no friends.  Everyone made 
fun of him because he didn’t fit in, though he really 
wanted to.  Sometimes people are mean to you when 
you are a red-nosed reindeer.
Have you ever felt that way? 

That nose that everyone made fun of turned out
to be a good thing.  Then Rudolph had lots of friends.
See, people don’t always know as much as they think they do.

It makes me happy, his nose.

Express Yourself by Kim Shuckhart Gunns 
– Mixed Media    

One drawer has trims.  A box under the desk contains 
ribbons of all sizes, some creeping out from the lid.  
There are no pastel shades in my paint box.  There is 
no separation of mediums – just pigment, vehicle, 
and a hundred possibilities.

I turn up my music, loud. Brush in my hand, glue waiting, 
I pour today’s essence onto the surface: bold strokes in 
bright hues.  There are no small thoughts this day. The 
work emerges from the inside to the outer edges.

Limits are for sissies.  Break away from the constraints of someone else’s rules.  
Be yourself. Express yourself.    


Other Works from Proctor Arts Fest Juried Art Show

Splashes of Silver by Jeanne Strohrmann – Pastel    

The dawn dances light across waves of jade. A new cycle 
begins that has happened across millennia.  The tide wraps 
its embrace around shore and cliff: umber, onyx, and chalk.  
From a vantage in the waves of the air, a lone guardian 
keeps watch over the coral filled with a king’s ransom of 
jewels.  The golden, ruby and silver flit and flutter in their 
watery treasure box as the spray sings a hallelujah sweet 
enough to charm the raptures of the deep. 

Why do men dig for wealth beneath the crust?
All the riches in the world are right here. 

Creation by Judith Hunter – Watercolor on UPO    

It begins with two and a simple tango, steeped in the 
unknowable.  Couples joining in the dance of the
Universe. The music of the spheres changes: a
thrilling rumba, as opportunity winds, and dips.
Couples advance, retreat, reform.  The rhythm
becomes critical as eternity jars the floor with a
relentless imperative, “It is waiting there for us.  
It must be found.”

Suddenly a single spark.  It happened when the Gods 
weren’t looking.  “Did you see it happen?”  The tune
slows to a waltz, as couples move to a larger pattern.  Each is part of the emerging
whole: intricate and interwoven. 

Big League Dreams by Sue Stewart – Watercolor         

His glove is next to his cheek.  I know what he smells, 
though he is not conscious of it just now: the creak and 
smell of the leather, the fresh mown grass, the August air.  
I remember it like it was yesterday – like it is right now. 

He is wondering why the short stop is hugging third base.  
He is scrutinizing the batter, choking up on the bat ever 
so slightly.  He dreams of the small leathern sphere coming 
right to him: sailing majestically through the air and into his mitt. Hero of the day!   That is just the beginning. 

Flight to Warmer Climes by Pat Graham 
– Watercolor  
(It seems almost criminal to write something 
comic from the stunningly beautiful watercolor 
work of Pat Graham.  But this avian conversation 
would not leave my head.)

“Budge up there, buddy. It’s cold out here!”

“Haven’t you ever heard of personal space?  Hey!  What are you playing at, tugging
at my feathers?”

A flapping slap is heard.

“Ow! It’s just that I have an idea.”

“Oh really?  Time on your hands, have you?” 

“Gone in for a bit of contemplation, have we?”

“No, really.  I think this could work.”


“Well, what if instead of clumping together, crowding each other, we actually
looked for someplace warmer to stay till all this blows over?”


“Egad!  I think you just might be on to something.”

So, it begins.

Blue Lotus Dream by Karen Petrillose – Watercolor    
(This one resolutely did NOT want to be a 100 word 
story.  So, a compound haiku came out instead.  
It is just over 100 words, so there was no cheating 
on the "critical mass")

The raindrops falling
They are tiny caresses
Washing in cascades

No bustling of birds
The hustle of humanity
Fuss to cloud my quiet

I am cleansed and contented
A still serenity

Go and seek your own
That which cleans and fulfills you
Inhale, exhale, peace.

Tranquility is
Therefore you are if you choose
To embrace accord

Be one with nature
Your breath cradled in its hands
Mind serene, joyful.

My world of blue, green
And water-born restfulness
Free from the uproar

All of this repose
Gaps, pausing between each breath
Is where it begins

The space wherein life
Transmutes, transforms, and restarts
Is waiting for you    

My profound gratitude to the artists who participated in this, to the wonderful Gene Kester for seeing the potential in the idea, and to Proctor Arts Fest for letting us take this out for a spin at their party.