Welcome to the wilds! New Jersey for me was like crossing the border into Tijuana. Sure, the new lifestyle was crazy, but no one would ever admit to living there. When my husband’s job was relocated here in August 2010, we both were frightened. Now we’re learning about life, love, and marriage in this strange new culture. Feel free to tag along for the adventure.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Defending Our Christmas Tree

Since posting the picture of my Christmas tree, I have received numerous complaints regarding its size. I have heard from my stepsister that it is lame, my sister-in-law that it’s pathetic, my uncle-in-law asking if I want him to buy me a real tree this year, and numerous other criticisms from friends. Aren’t we all being just a tiny bit judgmental in the season when we’re all supposed to be loving and kind?

Has no one ever heard the story of Fred Kleinz and the Christmas Tree Competition? Just in case I have attached it below. It’s a bit new age, but the morals within the story have been told throughout the ages; and I hope after reading it you’ll all reevaluate your judgments on my Christmas Tree…

Fred Kleinz and the Christmas Tree Competition

There once lived a business mogul named Fred Kleinz. He was a wealthy man with car manufacturing plants spread throughout the continental US. Yet, he had no heirs to his corporate thrown. In his twenties, he thought nothing of it. In his thirties, he considered the reality in passing. In his forties, this knowledge creased his forehead with worry. But at fifty, it had become a disaster. He knew his death would mark the end of the legacy that he had constructed.

In his financial life, however, all was paved in gold. In fact, he was asked to host the president and his associates for a Christmas Party. This truly was an honor for him, and he devised a plan to ensure that the entire shindig would be a success. Since the president’s visit would be the pinnacle of his career, he would stop there and pass the keys to the business empire on to one lucky employee.

The word of Mr. Kleinz’s decision spread through his plants like electricity. Cover letters and resumes were sent to him more often than reports or Christmas cards. Enjoying the attention, Fred sifted through each plea for power discarding all those he deemed unworthy. Greedy workers were the first to be “canned,” but success also took wit, intuitiveness, intelligence, charisma, and dedication. Most applicants lacked one of these attributes or all five.

By December, the maids were in a frenzy over their December 25th preparations. The guest list reached six hundred, and the house was trimmed in various decorations for the season. Fred looked over the ballrooms, the kitchen and the dining rooms with approval.

“Shall we go and buy a few trees, Sir?” the housekeeper and butler asked.

“No…No,” said Mr. Klein stroking his bearded chin. “I know just the thing. We’re going to hold a Christmas Tree Competition.” He returned to his study where the applicants’ folders were kept: three men had reached the top of his pile. He quickly set about dialing each one and told them the same thing: in a week, he would need a Christmas tree. This tree was to be displayed for the president and it should reflect each man’s character and his intentions with the company.

Lars McCormick was the first of the potentials to arrive with his tree. As his name implied he was a gigantic, well-built man who had worked his way through Kleinz Motors, beginning on the assembly line when he was just nineteen. His tree was at least twelve feet high; the stand had to be secured to the ground and tiny tinsel ropes had to be attached to the wall to keep it from toppling over. He set about decorating it with expensive glass balls that reflected the thousands of white lights wrapped around the boughs. Lars even gloated that he had to take out a loan just to pay for the ornaments. When he was finished decorating it, the pine was magnificent: reminiscent of the Rockefeller Tree in New York City.

Lars leaned back approvingly, thumbs in his britches and with a big grin said, “Now that’s a presidential tree.” Everyone agreed.

Finian Toughton was the next potential to arrive. He was not as big and strong as Lars, but he was a mental giant, having worked in automation and technological enhancements the past twenty years. He wore his thick, round lens with pride.

The maids quickly herded him to the second ballroom where his tree was to be displayed. He nodded approvingly to the space saying, “This will do just nicely.” Then, he made fourteen trips from his pick-up truck to the room, carrying boxes of various shapes and sizes.

When he finished piecing together his ten foot tree, it was magnificent. Fiber optic branches flashed different colored lights. The ornaments were all special pieces that sang, moved, or flashed.

“Now that’s a presidential tree,” said Finian pushing his glasses up his nose in triumph. Everyone agreed.

Finally, there was Zeke Onagan. Zeke was neither large like Lars or an electronics genius like Finian, he was slow and calculated. He worked at Kleinz as an engineer, drawing sketches for the inside and out of all the vehicles. Unlike the other two, he was not distinguished by his ascension through the ranks at the plant or his capability to work with flat-screens and GPS devices. He was a quiet, honest employee whose suggestions were always valid and his designs always liked.

In the third ballroom, he hunched over as he evaluated the location for his tree.

“It cannot be too close to the fireplace,” he told the onlookers. “And it must be watered every day. The air in this room is very dry.”

“Of course, Sir,” replied the housekeeper. “We will water it just like Mr. McCormick’s tree in the first ballroom.”

“It will need a little more than ‘at,” Zeke answered. “’Cause mine’s livin.” As if in acknowledgment of his words, two well-built gentleman rolled a six foot tree into the room in an enormous, festive pot. The hand cart they used tilted it a little and a thin trail of dirt marked their steps. The housekeeper was appalled, but said nothing hurrying to clean up the mess.

Children’s voices followed the tree, impeding the housekeeper from cleaning. There were five of them pulling and carrying boxes of various sizes like elves. Their chatter was about their Christmas tree and how the president would see it. They were herded toward the tree by their mother, who warned them about breaking anything in the house.

The ballroom filled with the scent of popcorn and the sounds of caroling and Christmas cheer. Even the butler and housekeeper took part in the merriment. Soon, the popcorn garland had been wrapped around the tree just below strings of multi-colored lights. Interspersed throughout the boughs were ornaments, homemade and store bought. The only elegant or electronic pieces were shiny keepsakes with words like, “Our First Christmas” and “Baby’s First Christmas.”

Carefully Zeke climbed a ladder and set a star atop the Christmas tree. Delicately he plugged it in, and much to everyone's delight it shimmered.

“Now, that’s a presidential Christmas tree,” he said. The children clapped and cheered. The housekeeper and butler agreed, but only to their faces. They had seen the rest of the competition.

December 25th approached, but at the last possible moment, the president had to cancel. There was a global crisis of sorts. Fred, facing a crisis of his own, quickly penned new invitations:

Because the wise men had camels; not jet packs… 

We must postpone the party until January 14th
when our wise guest can arrive.

Fred Kleinz

P.S. Don’t forget that one lucky employee 
will be given my business that night. 

At first, Fred reconsidered the postscript, but ultimately decided that it was necessary to ensure that everyone would still attend. He feared the president’s reception would be too small otherwise. He was wrong; he was already the party gossip. However, his note when "leaked" to a reporter did create a press blizzard. By the time the party arrived, the guests practically walked a red carpet to enter the Kleinz Estate.

Inside, Lars, the first participant, stared disheartened at his tree. What once looked brilliant; now had wilted slightly and the glass bulbs drooped along the boughs. Finian, the second participant, grinned as his tree came to life in a cacophony of music, movement, and light. Zeke, too had a proud smile as the multi-colored lights brightened on his pine, and his children’s eyes lit up with wonder.

The house was alive with polite conversation and electric with possibility. The president arrived and applause resounded. Dinner was served, followed by dessert. Most scooped the pies and cakes into their mouths quickly as predictions over who Mr. Kleinz would choose resonated.

Then, "there arose such a clatter that everyone sprang from their seats to see what was a matter." In the first ballroom, dressed to the hilt, was a Santa Clause of sorts. Fred Kleinz grinned from behind the white beard and red suit as “Here Comes Santa Clause” played on the sound system. On the last note of the song, the guests cheered.

“Ho, ho, ho,” laughed Fred. “It’s time to see where my business will go, go, go.” Some of the more forgiving members of the crowd chuckled at his poor rhyme. Lars shuffled to the front, hoping Mr. Kleinz would overlook the wilting tree.

“What a magnificent tree?!” exclaimed Fred. “It is so big and decorated so beautifully. Surely, this tree could have won awards. His dreams for my company seem to be big and award-wining.”

“Thank you,” Lars mumbled through a smile that exposed every tooth in his mouth. He thought for sure his tree had just won.

“But,” Fred disciplined. “This tree looks like every other. It only looks to tradition; it does not look forward to what’s next. To be an entrepreneur, one must look to the future and have plans that weather through the changes.”

Lars slouched. His posture hunched like a tired lumberjack. His tree had lost.

In the second ballroom, all the onlookers crowded around the tree with Fred in his Santa suit. Finian inched toward the front with a triumphant readjustment of his glasses.

“What a brilliant tree?!” exclaimed Fred. “It is beautifully decorated with things that moves and lights that blink. Surely, Finian has progressive plans for my company?!”

Finian smiled leaning back to enjoy the lime light.

“But,” Fred disciplined. “This tree looks only to the future without a foundation in the past, and though it lasts through time…it will never change. You cannot run a business on gimmicks alone.”

Finian wilted and his glasses slid down to the tip of his nose. His tree had lost.

In the third ballroom, Zeke and his family crowded around their tree with hope.

“What a unique tree?!” exclaimed Fred as the guests hurried with their cameras. “And what strange decorations. It makes me hungry just looking at it.” The little kids laughed as Fred eyed the popcorn. For dramatic effect, he continued inspecting the tree and each ornament.

“This tree will grow and change with each season,” Fred admired. “It looks to tradition, but I see the lights and technology of the future. In any business, it’s important for all those involved to share and receive benefits. Just as this tree has been watered, it has given us back oxygen. Every decoration is unique, created by every member of this family. In business, success must be shared by all employees. But most of all…what every business needs-” Fred winked. “is love. And this tree has been created with both love and dedication.”

Fred turned to Zeke and handed him a small, wrapped box. Delicately, Zeke unwrapped it with his family’s eyes all staring at the tiny package. When at last the box was unveiled, a golden key lay wrapped in sparkling tissue paper.

“To a man who can grow such a tree,” Fred complimented. “I entrust the future of my business.”

The crowd applauded. Flashes twinkled throughout the room like the star atop the tree, and all was merry and bright.

As Fred reminds us all on Christmas, it is not the size of the tree, the ornaments, or the cost of our gifts that is important; but rather the love that we share in spending time together.


And so I say to you dear bloggers, Remember Fred Kleinz and know that January 14th when your chopped tree is on its way to the dump or fake tree is stuffed in a box, mine will still be brightly displayed in the window, growing another inch until next year…

Wishing you all a wonderful, safe holiday filled with love!

Friday, December 10, 2010


As I navigate adulthood, I have learned a valuable lesson: growing up does not necessarily entail discarding the dreams of my childhood. Granted, I no longer envision becoming a world traveling veterinarian / novelist, who also dabbles in professional singing, but I can focus on the one goal that has always taunted me: becoming a published writer. In all of my various endeavors: corporate offices, nonprofit affairs, and teaching; no job has enlivened my spirits quite like creating characters and telling their stories.

In July 2009, I finally gave into my desire to write; determining that no business could ever live up to the thrill and hope of publishing a novel. I endeavored to make my career (working with students) into my hobby and vice versa. I started with a writing regiment wherein I promised myself that I would write every day until I finished one manuscript. Within a year, I finished two. Then, came the prospect of editing, learning about literary agents and publishing, and eventually starting my very own blog.

Now here I am in December 2010, typing my thoughts to my awesome, albeit limited readership. Where have I been? Well, with the holidays comes a break from writing letters to publishing houses and literary agents, because no one is in the office. They all say there are two vacation months when querying is like throwing your letters in the garbage: August or 11/25 – 1/01. I appreciate the reprieve, it gives me time to focus on “getting my name out there” in short story competitions, conducting research (reading), and perfecting the first book of my series.

I love my first book. If a publishing house never picks it up…I mean…If it takes a while to get picked up, I don’t care; I enjoy reading the adventure. However, it has one tiny flaw that I hope to remedy this break. In order to understand it, I have a man-alogy for you.

When a guy first assesses a pretty girl at the bar, he starts with her head and works down; or at least that’s how I picture it. If I have a view that’s a bit too optimistic, and men start with the legs up or breasts only just bear with me.

So my novel is at the bar and the handsome guy across the room spies her. The start or her hair is brushed and styled, she’s got striking facial features that have been accented by just the right touch of make-up and she’s smiling. The first assessment is good, so the man’s eyes continue to wander.

His sight reaches her shoulders, because she’s wearing just a little off-the-shoulder dress that has a plunging neckline. Her shoulders are not too bony and not too full and the view of the cleavage isn’t bad either. The guy is thinking he’s found a perfect ten, and is about to walk over when he spies her middle. There’s this layer of flab or perhaps it’s just that time of the month and she’s bloated, but something is definitely off. Immediately, she’s degraded to maybe a six. In handsome guy standards, he might not even finish the appraisal.

For the sake of the analogy, he does finish his assessment, and is glad he does. Her butt is round, but not ostentatious. He can barely stop from staring down her legs, because she’s wearing tight stockings and when he reaches the end, she’s wearing stiletto boots that make him drool. Now, she’s an eight…

But do you see my problem? There’s a little fat, and any model knows that one tiny extra pound is reason for dismissal from the Agency; same deal with publishing. Thus, my novel has headed to plastic surgery for a little liposuction over the vacation. Fingers crossed she returns stage ready.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Since reaching adulthood, I have come to appreciate new holidays. Of course, the days off work around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are nothing to sneeze at, but just because you’re not at work doesn’t mean you’re not working. In fact, many people consider those vacations to be a bigger hassle than their actual, paying jobs. But that’s neither here nor there. Like the rest of the American populous, I too participate in the craziness. However, I survive it by partaking in a secret holiday all my own. And since the traveling, shopping, decorating, caroling, and baking are about to commence all over again, I thought I’d share this secret.

Every year whether or not I’m a good little girl, Corporate Multimedia Santa Clauses bring me a spectacular Blockbuster Movie Madness Event! “What’s that?” you say. Well, it’s only the best compilation of in-theater movie releases between the months of November and mid-January. It’s comparable only to Summer Movie Madness, but has a longer run and generally a larger selection.

In preparation for this extended celebration, I sit down at the end of October and create my movie wish list. This involves a computer with faster than dial-up internet, so that I can review every trailer in the November, December, and beginning of January line-up. It’s crucial. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a movie trailer junkie. I can watch them for hours with the same excitement and awe that I had after the initial watch.

Once the list is made, I evaluate my movie criteria and budget. If my wallet was thicker and time was no object, I would watch them all, but at $11 a show it’s unrealistic. So a general rule is actions and thrillers usually top romantic comedies, animated cartoons, and independents; because surround sound and movie magic can only be duplicated in the theater. Granted, if a girls’ night happens to appear, the romantic comedy re-makes the list.

For example, for this turkey season, there are two movies that are a must see and four I can’t wait to rent:

Definite See: Harry Potter – because it will be visually, aurally, and all around entertaining.

Possible See: Burlesque – Broadway-esque potential.

Already added to the Netflix, because I can’t wait to rent them: The King’s Speech, Love and Other Drugs, Morning Glory, and Tangled.

With these November additions, obligations transform into family fun, because there’s still a little me time scheduled in. It’s like an advent calendar where every few weeks there is a special surprise just to get me in the spirit.

If you’re interested in partaking in this unique, cinematic spectacle to keep you singing, “It’s the hap-happiest season of all” head to imdb.com. Then, click Now Playing under the Movies tab, and review each month to make your list. I warn you, it’s a bit addicting, so don’t forget to have your guidelines ready; or all that extra Christmas cash will disappear before you can say, Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Since this blog’s inception, I have tried to write on it at least once a week. It was not a regiment, but a goal. Well, that objective slipped away with Veteran’s Day. No, I did not get eaten by bears in the Wilds. I’ve been working. Three weeks ago, I began a part-time job. Before you go sneezing and sticking your nose in the air, it’s a good one! It pays pretty well, gives me potential for growth, is close to home, and I would do the job for free (but don’t tell my boss that)!

My steps toward it began in September. If you’ve been following the blog, it’s the Interviewee Turned Outlaw post. I didn’t get that secretary position, because I was “over-qualified.” However, my interviewer did give me the name of the dean of another department. I emailed my resume with fingers crossed and high hopes. Four weeks ago that email paid off. I got a call and the next day I had the interview, which was more like my boss trying to sell me on the job. I had no other offers, they honestly didn’t have to try and convince me of my place there, but nonetheless it was a nice ego-boost.

The funny thing about interviewing is the inevitable questions that conclude them. They always make me smirk, because to laugh-out-loud would give away how ridiculous I find them.

“What is your dream job?”

The first answer that always crosses my mind is “Ninja” or when I’m feeling particularly verbose, “a novelist who moonlights as a ninja protecting the world one mission at a time, but is still able to make dinner and doesn’t have to kill anyone.”

Please human resources, you said “dream;” but what you really meant was “quickly fabricate an answer that sounds good for this job.”

My other favorite is:

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Hello? If you would have asked me that eight months ago, I would have said, “Not living in New Jersey.” Guess where I am! Life evolves my friends, and trying to guess or predict its outcome wastes precious seconds. If you need proof, sit down and scribble what you expect in the next year. Then, file it away until November 15, 2011. My husband and I do this. We write our 1 Year and 5 Year goals every October. Let me tell you, in 365 days what seemed like a good idea before is often replaced and what seemed out-of-the-question suddenly becomes a possibility. Nothing in life is static! If it were, it would be far too boring.

So what is your "dream" job? I would love to hear it!

Until next time,
Joyz Jess

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Ghouls and Goblins are not nearly as entertaining as scantily clad cops and robbers. For Halloween this year, my husband and I dressed with the best of them for an evening out in a college town. My brother-in-law, who is in graduate school, was throwing a costume party just off campus. For a month, I tottered between wearing an adult or college costume. There is a crucial difference between the two. An adult costume dresses in character without substantial cleavage or ass hanging out. In fact, many times there is neither. On the other hand, the college costume is low cut, short, and usually paired with heel. Thus my dilemma: I am an adult, but I was going to a college party.

Originally, I decided to be a bad a** biker. I would dress in my mountain biking attire and wear a number of Henna tattoos. This seemed reasonable and cheap, but no one was enthusiastic about it.

My friends said things like, “You’re going to wear a helmet to a party?”

To which I replied, “No…hence the bad a** part of my title.”

By the Friday afternoon before the spooky event, I was still teetering with my mountain biking outfit washed and ready. I drove to the Halloween store for the fake tattoos…and they had none! I was in the middle of a costume Mecca, knowing if I didn’t find something I would be forced to wear a helmet to a party. You can’t have bad a** biker without tattoos. It’s just not right. So armed with a credit card, I wandered through the racks.

Then, I spied it: a black wig with the bold face lettering, “CLEOPATRA WIG ON SALE.” It called to me. For a good phase of my childhood, I collected books on Ancient Egypt, and loved Cleopatra. I figured I could convince my husband to be my Marc Antony, and it would be perfect.

$7 wig + $24 dress with gold streamers = awesome costume

I brought it home, donned the outfit, and much to my elated relief, the ties matched my golden heels perfectly. For a brief moment, I thought I had found a dream costume. I washed and styled the wig, and was ready to surprise my unsuspecting husband.

His reaction was not what I expected. His face suggested that I had jumped from behind a dark corner, dressed in a Scream mask and shouted, “Boo!”

“I don’t like it,” he told me after regaining his wits. My hubs can never be mistaken for a sugar coater. It’s not in his nature.

“The whole outfit?” I pouted. I really loved the dress with the heels.

“It’s the hair,” he admitted, and he was right. If I ever need to change my identity, it’s heavy bangs and black dye for me; I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror.

Unfortunately though, I couldn’t be Cleopatra without black hair. I was left with a white dress that suddenly seemed sluttier without the wig. In desperation, I called my sister-in-law and detailed my problem.

“Well,” she answered, “I’m wearing my costume from sophomore year…”

I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Knowing my in-laws since high school, I knew exactly what she meant: fish net stockings, black stilettos, hand cuff bracelets, and a cop costume both low cut and short. She had chosen the college costume route, and so would I.

I arrived ready to party with my cop sister-in-law, my Donnie Darko brother-in-law, and other crazy paired couples like peanut butter and jelly, bees and honey,Waldo and Wenda, and waffle and eggs. I only incorporated one addition to my costume: shorts. I wasn’t about to pull a Marilyn Monroe. That and I figured I needed a few more points in the direction of an adult costume.

I stepped into the room and all eyes fell upon me before the bee exclaimed, “I love the costume! But who are you?”

Oh no, I thought. I had been worried about this possibility. I wore a hieroglyphic necklace and a dress more in line with the Greeks. My forehead glistened.

“It’s very Grecian,” Donnie Darko added with a nod, quoting our family joke.

“R-roman,” I stuttered still formulating, “Or maybe Greek...Goddess?” My nervous debate added the question. I was about to break into the explanation about Cleopatra gone brunette when my cop of a sister-in-law burst into the discussion, jungle juice in hand.

“You’re Epona’s Chosen?!” she delighted. We both broke into laughter.

“Who?” someone asked.

“A book,” we answered giggling. If you’re interested, it’s Divine by Mistake by P.C. Cast.

And I realized my husband and I had unintentionally gone as a dynamic pair. He was ClanFintan. In Epona’s realm that meant he was a centaur, but in ours, he was just one handsome tequila cowboy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It’s Official

Friday, my husband and I became residents of the garden state, complete with licenses, registration, and car titles. It’s comforting to know that no matter where you go in the United States, Motor Vehicle Administration Offices never change. You write, sign, and send an array of pointless documents, wait in endless lines, and are greeted by state representatives who care more about their breaks than service. Granted I will say in the wilds, I met one or two representatives who smiled and tried to aid in the daunting process. 

Today, however,  is a negative NJ moment, because I am dealing with its bureaucracy. I am not saying the employees are incompetent. I am merely stating that budget cuts have caused a state of ineptitude. My two major goals today were to schedule car inspections and contact NJ Department of Education.  Both of which sound simple, but through my very frustrating experiences are quite disheartening. 

There is only one state inspection station in the county wilds where I live. It’s about a thirty minute drive and you are required to make an appointment before driving there. However, the location’s phone number is neither listed on the website nor is it in the yellow pages. SO, I decided I would go the private inspection route. I called the first number on the list, and a gentleman answered admitting that inspections do not cost any money if you go directly to the state location. I appreciated his honesty and while he could give me the address, he also knew nothing of the elusive phone number. 

I have thus scribbled down the directions, plan to dress in heels, and drive down to the office with my most innocent, wide-eyed plea, “Could you please just inspect my vehicle now and I’ll schedule the second one with you for a later date?”

Some people master the art of seduction. That’s not me! In fact, my husband calls it the art of pathetic. It’s not the most revered talent in the world, but generally it gets me what I want. I have had employees and patrons offer to carry boxes, picture frames, etc. to my car. Deliveries usually bring, set-up, and check products before leaving. And most of the time, I can get the last dentist or doctor’s appointment without too much trouble. I never thought much of it; until my family pointed out that most people don’t get those things.

Unfortunately, my pathetic arts don’t work with bureaucracy. I am as frustrated and annoyed as the overworked, underpaid worker on the other end of the line. After waiting on hold for 40-45 minutes with the Department of Education, I have learned how to mask irritation, but not always get what I want. The reason for this is because the customer service representatives have no control over my license or certification. In fact, the cycle of calling, complaining, and waiting has continued since June. Today I jogged while on hold and the representative answered and suggested I fax another letter to my examiner who has to issue it.

I wish him no misfortune. I merely hope that the day there is something important that he needs, he is treated with the same respect that he has given me.  

Okay…enough complaining. I am attaching a few pictures below. Hopefully, you enjoy them. They are of the beautiful New Jersey Wilds in fall. It nearly makes the blood and bruises from mountain biking worth it.