Category: Essays


It dawned on me earlier this year that I’ve officially been part of the workforce for more than twenty years. It all started when I was ten years old and wanted a Barbie Sweet Roses 3-Piece Wall Unit for my dollhouse. It cost $12.95 and with my allowance there was no way I could afford it. I ended up going to work with my mom, who was a master dog groomer. She paid me 25¢ for each dog I bathed. It was hard work, but worth it in the end.

I can’t begin to say how proud I was to go to Toys R’ Us with my hard-earned money and buy one awesome Barbie Sweet Roses 3-Piece Wall Unit. The funny thing is, I still have it.  Every time I even think about putting it the donation pile, I remember how hard I worked for it and I just dust it off and rearrange the “China” plates and cups inside of it. (Yes, I still have my dollhouse, too. My Grandpa built it).

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Not a single piece is missing! Intact since 1988.

Despite the money I earned, dog bathing just wasn’t for me. I got my first “real” job when I was fifteen (and a half). I spent my summers with my grandparents in small Northern Wisconsin town, so it was only natural that my first job would be in a tiny family owned business. For two summers, I worked at the Christmas House as a cashier and stocker in the midst of tourist season. I still consider it the most fun job I’ve ever had. It was literally Christmas every day! I set up Department 56 villages, decorated Christmas trees, hung up lights, and created beautiful displays of dishes and figurines. In the middle of all that fun, I learned about collectibles (what’s valuable, what’s not, and how to tell) and Christmas traditions from all around the world. Sadly, the Christmas House closed it’s doors last year.

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The Christmas House as I saw it last summer. So sad to see it closed.

My love of animals led to a job at Petsmart. I was a cashier and also did some floor work (cleaning up shelves). While I loved the animals, I hated the corporate atmosphere. I also hated having to wear a back brace every day (I sometimes had to lift enormous bags of dog food). The only take-away I got from this job was having a healthy respect for anyone who works in a big store. It’s not easy cleaning up after customers who don’t put things away or make huge messes down each aisle. To this day, if I change my mind about something I want to buy in a store, I put it back where I found it instead of on some random shelf.

After leaving Petsmart, I went back to working for a smaller company. It must’ve been my artistic side that drew me to the idea of working for a flower shop. My job was to unpack, clean, and display each day’s shipment of fresh flowers. Then, keep the floors and cooler clean, water the front showroom plants, and take orders over the phone. Being around so many beautiful flowers was wonderful, but the work was brutal. My hands paid the price with cracked skin and permanently green grooves. On the up side, I learned how to do a variety of floral arrangements ranging from corsages, funeral wreathes, and wedding bouquets, along with the standard vase and bowl arrangements. Not a bad skill set, indeed.

Desperately needing to fix my damaged hands, I started working for The Body Shop. This is the job where I learned how to sell, sell, sell. Every day I was responsible for meeting certain dollar quota. Talk about pressure!  I never thought of myself as a salesperson, but I dug deep and learned how sell every product in that store. That meant learning everything about perfume oils, lotions, body washes, and creams. I even learned how to do in-store make-overs to sell cosmetics. Make-up has never been my favorite thing, but it was a lot of fun to make people feel pretty. I would have stayed at The Body Shop longer, but the arrival of a new fragrance ignited a pretty severe allergic reaction. I couldn’t even touch the bottle, so I had to quit.

In the same mall, just around the corner was a locally owned store called the Hobby Bench. It sold everything from cross stitch patterns to radio controlled cars. Even before I applied for the job of cashier, the Hobby Bench was one of my favorite stores. I was hired instantly and stayed there for almost five years. Aside from learning a number of new crafts, this is the job where I learned how to handle crabby and attitudinal people. Within a year, management had me working returns. In a store that didn’t give cash refunds. And always on the day after Christmas. I took a verbal beating often and that caused me to develop some pretty tough skin along with some witty diplomatic strategies. I was studying to be a teacher at the time, so these skills ended up being an essential part of my education.

It may seem amazing that I stayed through all the verbal assaults, but it really wasn’t a hard choice to remain at my post. The Hobby Bench was where I met my soul mate. While I rang up customers in the front, he sold and fixed R/C cars and trucks in the back. Even the crappiest jobs feel like heaven when you’re best friend and love is working just a few feet away. It’s been fifteen years and we’re still together, even without the Hobby Bench, (about three years ago, “our” Hobby Bench closed down).

I continued to work at the Hobby Bench during my first two years of teaching. Then, one day I decided it was time to let it go. My focus had shifted from a job that just paid the bills, to a career that means so much to me. I’ve been teaching for the past thirteen years and it is every bit as rewarding and challenging as I thought it would be. Some days are difficult, but most of the time I’m thankful to have a job that brings me so much joy. There are million things I could complain about, (as the public education system is far from perfect), but this is the only job I’ve ever had where I have an immense amount of control over my day. I get to decide how to teach material and I can be creative in everything I do. However, the best thing of all is watching a kid learn. I love it when a student tells me “I hated history until now.” Yup, that’s a good day at work!

I will likely remain in the teaching profession until it’s time to retire. I honestly never thought I would last this long, but it turns out I’m tougher and more patient than most. If I’ve learned anything from this job, it’s that the key to staying in the classroom is the willingness to learn as if you’re still a student. No one knows everything, not even a teacher.

But, I do still know how to make one hell of a two dozen rose vase arrangement!

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c.b.w. 2014

The Writer’s Waiting Game

Query letters have been sent. Competition entries have been submitted. Drafts have gone off to beta readers. In the age of instant gratification, waiting for a response in the writing world is a grueling endeavor. Weeks and months are a long time to wait when you’re dying to know whether your work is good enough to get picked up by a publisher. Or at the very least, whether somebody like it well enough to say, “good job.”

In the case of waiting for a literary agent to respond to a query letter, I go in with the assumption that nothing but silence with follow my inquiry. When a kindly worded rejection shows up in my inbox, I’m thrilled. Positive thinking is a powerful thing on this journey. So is keeping busy. The wait for any sort of a response is agonizing and it never seems to end. You’ll go nuts unless you keep yourself occupied with something other than obsessing over that elusive response.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve perfected the art of waiting with distraction. Trust me, keeping yourself busy makes the process a lot easier to take and in many ways softens the blow of rejection. Here’s a few ways to keep your muse inspired and give your patience a boost…

1) Keep writing.

Start that next novel or punch out a few short stories. Maybe even dabble in poetry or non-fiction articles.  Follow your muse and write because you are a writer, regardless of your publication credits, (or lack thereof). Sometimes a “distraction” piece can turn into something great. My second novel began as a distraction and ended up as my passion project. It got me through a number of rejections and ultimately lead me to a new path.

2) Research literary agents.

Finding the right agent takes a lot of work. It takes research, research, and more research. Every agent has different tastes, query package requirements, and personalities. For those of us playing the waiting game, all the work and time required to find the right agent plays right into our hands. It takes a lot of time to compile a list of possible agents and prepare customized query packages. Luckily, time is something we have in plentiful supply!

3) Read.

Every writer I know is also a voracious reader. Between loving a good book and wanting to figure out how published authors crafted a great story, writers are inherently addicted to reading. While waiting for any sort of response to arrive, it’s nice to escape to another world and enjoy the ride. Plus, some authors thank their agents on the acknowledgments page. This ties in nicely to #2.

4) Edit.

Most writers are never happy with a “final” draft. We’re always looking to make a sentence better or find a more perfect word. My final draft for The Muse has been altered (albeit slightly) multiple times since I started pitching it. A word here, a comma there, I’m always tinkering with it to make everything about it a little bit better. It’s time consuming and tedious work, but well worth every hour. While waiting for that one e-mail to arrive, I am happily ensconced in my fantasy world.

5) Find a hobby.

My craft closet has more stuff in it than my clothes closet.  When an afternoon of writing is done, I’ll pull out a craft project to keep my hands busy and my mind occupied. It beats sitting around and thinking about why an agent hasn’t sent an excited request to read my manuscript. Of late, knitting has been my savior as it inspires my creativity and challenges me to try new things. My muse loves it, too. While I’m knitting row after row, she whispers to me and new stories are born.

This weekend, I sent off my entry to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which means a new round of waiting and waiting has commenced. I suspect my to-read stack of books will get shorter and the sweater I’m knitting will soon have sleeves.

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c.b.w. 2014

What Londoners Do When It Rains

The first thing to know about London is that it will rain. Every day. Despite knowing this, I still made a few rookie mistakes during my extended stay. I learned right away that hanging out in London for a week with the convenience of a centrally located hotel is quite different from a three week stay in the suburbs. The first major clue to this epiphany was coming home with wet shoes, socks, and pants after every outing into the city. Without a dryer or sunny, warm weather it took three days for a pair of shoes and socks to dry out and two days for jeans. I was starting to run out of dry clothes!

When I was down to my last pair of dry socks and shoes, I decided to be a little more observant. Tired of cold legs from damp jeans, I asked myself, “What do Londoners do when it rains?” Wherever I went I noticed they had dry pants and shoes, so I knew there had to be a trick. After a few days, I had some answers and learned how to stay dry!

1. Always carry an umbrella.

It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be sturdy. The wind along the Thames can kill a weak umbrella in under two minutes. Londoners always seem to have one stashed in their pockets, purses, or tote bags. Even if the newspaper said it would be sunny, I learned to carry an umbrella anyway. It was worth every bit of the room it took up in my purse.

2. Wear shorter pants.

Both Londoners and Europeans in general wear shorter pants than Americans. I never understood why until I realized the bottom hem of my jeans soaked up rainwater faster than a chamois. Even after the shortest walk on The Strand my jeans were wet up to my knees! There wasn’t much I could do other than fold the hem under a couple of inches, but it did the trick. A discreetly placed safety pin attached the hem to my sock. I never came home with wet jeans, again!

3. Hang out inside.

Even when out in the city, there is always a place to duck in and escape the rain. Stores, tube stations, and coffee shops are all excellent places to wait out the kind of rain that demolishes even the best umbrella. At the entrances/ exits of Tube stations there’s usually a group of people reading the newspaper while it pours outside. Museums are also an excellent way to  dodge the rain as most of them are free and very warm inside.

My favorite way, however, to wait out the rain is to hang out in a coffee shop. One rainy day, I was walking along the Embankment when it suddenly started to pour. I decided that moment was the perfect time to sit down for a warm cup of coffee and a brownie. I joined many other Londoners in what I assume is a tradition. Sit by a window with your cup of tea or coffee and simply watch it rain. Be thankful for a moment where everything just stops, except for the rain.

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Starbucks on Fleet Street
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

4. Stand under a tree.

This sounds stupid, but it works. Throughout London, there are huge and heavily foliated trees. In particular, trees along the Embankment near the Globe Theater are proven rain blockers. One day it started raining and I watched as seasoned Londoners began to gather beneath the trees. I followed them and realized it was perfectly dry under those trees! Barely a drop had touched the sidewalk even though it was pouring. The key to this strategy is to stand at the base of the trunk. It rained for almost an hour, but hardly any moisture hit the ground where I was standing. To pass the time, I did what other Londoners did, I read a book.

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Rain hits on the South Embankment. These are not the magic rain blocker trees, but they are still beautiful!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

5. Stand under a bridge.

Again, this sounds silly, but it works. There are tunnels, benches, and spaces beneath almost every bridge in London. In many cases, there are buskers in these areas, so while you’re waiting out the rain you can enjoy some great entertainment. However, I wouldn’t recommend standing in these areas alone, but rather with a group. Especially, if you are one of those super obvious tourists.

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Hiding out from the rain under Westminster Bridge
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

6. Wear your wellies.

Those big rubber boots aren’t just for gardeners. They are sold all over London and I watched as people carried them in tote bags or by the back loop. If I didn’t have such a small suitcase, I would have invested in a pair. Made out of plastic or rubber, these boots protect your feet and legs from puddles, splashes, and wet grass. I swear London is the only place on earth where people don’t look ridiculous wearing wellies while on a walk through the park or rushing through the financial district.

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Wellies!
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The last lesson learned? When the weatherman or newspaper forecast says it’ll be sunny, don’t believe it. The idea of sunshine all day long is more wishful thinking than it is reality. The rain is always there, ready to sneak up from behind and catch you by surprise!

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Other Articles in the New Familiars Series:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

The Language of Signs: Prague

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c.b.w. 2014

One YA Reader’s Desperate Plea

I have a bone to pick with Young Adult authors. This has been burning a hole in my brain for quite some time, so I apologize in advance if I get a little persnickety. Here it goes …

WHY DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO CHANGE THE POINT OF VIEW IN THE LAST BOOK OF A SERIES??????

Shouty capitals may seem rude and  uncalled for, but I’m down to my last nerve on this irritating literary trend. For the record, I’m not just asking this question as a reader, but also as a writer of YA Fantasy. Personally, I would never pull this trick on my readers as most of the time it isn’t necessary.

I should point out that the device of changing the point of view has always bothered me no matter the genre, but I’ve reached a new of level aggravation due to its use in several Young Adult series.  I don’t mind small instances of shifting points of view in a prologue  or epilogue, but my brain explodes when the concluding book in a series breaks a previously established point of view.  Why write an entire series from one point of view and then suddenly switch it up at the end? It makes no sense!

I’m a long time reader of multiple book series, mainly in the paranormal and fantasy divisions. Even though I’m an adult, I’m still a teenager at heart and I love YA books. The authors of these books deserve huge snaps for vivid and creative storytelling, but I’m finding myself more and more leery of picking up a new series because I fear what will happen with the last book of the series.  From some untold reason, this is when authors decide to rob me of my favorite characters!

My frustration apexed when my phobia of changing points of view kicked into gear twice over the last month. First, with Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and second with Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures series. Before I go on my rant, I do want to point out that these are very talented writers, I just happened to disagree with their tactics.

There are a number of reasons why Roth’s Divergent series is on my poop list, but my heart sank when I read the inside flap and found out Allegiant was written with a dual point of view. I decided to stick it out because I loved the first two books, but the sudden change in format really irked me for two reasons:

1. I loved the main character and didn’t like being pulled from her head.

2. A little critical thought on why Roth chose a dual point of view format gave away a major plot point. Before I was done reading the first chapter, I knew who was going to die. Cue my broken heart.

When I picked up the last book in my most recent favorite series, Beautiful Creatures, I was devastated to find it was divided into a dual perspective. What? Are you kidding me? I spend three books entrenched in the charming Ethan Wate’s head and you’re going to make me leave him? Not cool. Lena Duchannes might be one awesome chick, but she is more intriguing through Ethan’s eyes.

Even my favorite series of all time contains the dreaded change in point of view. Imagine my horror when I opened Twilight: Breaking Dawn and realized I was stuck in Jacob’s head instead of Bella’s. It was torture and I’m still mad I had to spend so much time with a character I detested. Stephenie Meyer, I love you, but why spend three books developing Bella’s point of view only to rip it away from your readers?

There are many more guilty series, but it all comes down to the same thing: Why change a good thing? When a series progresses with each book written in one point of view, it’s only logical to retain the same point of view through the last book. After two or three books with one character, readers stick around because of love for the character and a relationship of trust with that character’s perspective. When the last book shifts into someone else’s head it fractures the reader/character dynamic.

While fiction writing is all about trying new things and shaking up reality, there is something to be said for maintaining a sense of order within a series. Let me walk through the story by the side of a character I’ve come to know and love. Please don’t force me to wonder what she’s thinking as her story comes to a close. Readers deserve to complete the journey in the same way it began. Anything less feels like betrayal.

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c.b.w. 2014

Dear Santa …

Dear Santa,

I write you a letter every year, even though I’m all grown up. This year was full of challenges, but through it all I am thankful to be surrounded by the warmth of family and friends. I wish had words strong enough to say how much it meant to feel supported and loved when everything seemed to be falling apart. Things are better than they were six months ago and slowly that painful weight of worry and stress is starting to lift. For this reason, my list for Christmas is more gratitude than want.

We miss Grandma, but like she promised she is still with us. Just yesterday, I thought of her while wrapping presents. A ribbon she put on my gift a couple of years ago managed to find it’s way onto a gift I was wrapping for my mother-in-law. Then, while making cookies, I found myself using her mixing bowl and spoon. Her ornaments are on my Christmas tree and her love can be felt wherever I go.

Recently, my furkids both got pretty sick and gave me quite a scare. I remember thinking and wishing for one simple thing – another Christmas with both of them. I like to think you were listening and decided I was a good enough girl to get my wish. Both of my boys are happy, healthy and will be with us on Christmas Day. One wears a scar and the other is slow with age, but their tails are still wagging. Honestly, I consider this the best Christmas gift ever. Thank you.

With Christmas Eve upon us, we are having a family get-together. We didn’t have one last year, because it just didn’t feel right after losing Grandma just two weeks before. This year, however, she is here in spirit and we are ready to celebrate. Here are a few shout-outs to those I hold dear:

  • Husband – We made it through quite a storm, didn’t we? You’re an amazing person and I wish you’d believe that more often. I’m looking forward to your Shepherd’s Pie this year.
  • Mom – You’re probably going to feed my dogs people food when you think I’m not looking. Just remember the little one has no teeth. ;-) And, I think you are an incredible person.
  • Sister – I bought the Christmas pickle gift just for you, so you better find the pickle! On a serious note, I don’t know what I’d do without you.
  • Dan – Try not to smirk at the sections of my DVD shelf that are not alphabetized. I’ve been busy. And the bookshelf is a mess, too. I like it that way.
  • Grandpa – I hope you like our new, comfy couch. I’m so glad you’re coming to celebrate Christmas with us, even though you’d rather be alone.
  • Grandma – We know you’re here and playing Bingo even though we can’t see you.
  • Dad and Sophie – Christmas just isn’t complete without you here. One day, perhaps, we can all celebrate together.
  • Jan and Jerry – You give us more than we deserve and I am so thankful for all your help.
  • Mike – You make my sister so happy, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
  • Baxter – I’ll make sure you get your meds before the party so you can play all night.
  • Winston – I’m making you wear the ugliest sweater ever, but know it will make your mother very happy.
  • Peanut and Bunny – Can you guys get along for just one night? No fighting.

Santa, this year Christmas is all about my home and the people in it. You don’t have to bring a thing. I’m good.

c.b.

p.s. Okay, so maybe a Pink and Pretty Barbie would be pretty cool. I’m still hoping! ;-)

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c.b.w. 2013

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