Letter to Santa

Santa-Claus-Pics-0316 (300x225)Dear Santa, Thank you for your continued generosity. However, you needn't bring any presents for me this year.

Three days before Christmas, and this writer's present has already arrived.

Ever since a little book called The Pirate's Booty made its debut to the world via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and any indie bookstore willing to take a chance on it, the writer known to you as D.M. Darroch has suffered bouts of stomach pain, nervous insomnia, and hair-whitening anxiety. Truth be told, much of that was due to my battle with this Word Press blogging technology, but a very substantial portion was typical of newly published writers everywhere.

These are the words that go through my head on any given day:

1) Who do I think I am, forcing this drivel on the world? 2) He/She only said he/she liked it because he/she is my friend. 3) Darn it! Found another typo! 4) No one cares, because my story is simply not that interesting.

My husband often tells me he can't imagine what it must be like, living inside my neurotic head. It's a busy place, I tell him. A Grand Central Station of ever-changing emotions and self-doubt run rampant.

But tonight the happy train has arrived, dropping off a wonderful present in the form of a glowing review from Irene F. Starkehaus at the Illinois Review. Seriously, read this:

"The Pirate's Booty – Inventor in Training is kind of a refreshing change of pace...demands a slightly higher reading comprehension level and introduces scientifically challenging vocabulary so that the average seventh grader will need to keep a dictionary handy for quick reference – this is what good Young Adult books should demand of our children...

Angus's parents are my favorite part of this book because they are the complete reverse of that contemporary stereotype of parenting readers too often encounter in American pop culture. The Clarks utterly lack the dysfunctional skill set that we see is a requirement in modern YA literature. The first thing the reader will notice is that Angus's parents aren't bumbling, fumbling idiots and that will hit like a breath of fresh air for any adult who has grown weary of the literary eye roll that lives in the heart of most über cool YA."

So you see, Santa, I don't need anything else. But feel free to drop by for some cookies. The gingerbread is especially delicious this year.

Growing Up Snowy

When you grow up snowy in a place where it’s cold and blowy outside for months, you learn a few things.

You learn the signs of frostbite. When you grow up snowy, you learn how to remove the white stuff from a driveway in the quickest way possible. You learn how to make hot cocoa and maybe, if you have a patient, knowledgeable adult by your side, you learn how to knit sweaters, wool socks, and mittens.

One of the most important skills my siblings and I learned growing up snowy in western New York was how to coexist peacefully in a home that grew smaller with each passing snow day.

People who grow up snowy instinctively begin squirrelling away essentials as the leaves turn. Every autumn, my mother stocked her pantry with nonperishable dried and canned goods. She knew winter would bring blizzards, and, sooner or later, our family would be housebound. My father stacked a large woodpile every fall and kept a store of batteries, candles, and oil for lanterns. My parents were nothing if not prepared for the inevitable bad weather.

Wise woman that she is, my mother also gathered a supply of crayons, paper, clay, puzzles, and board games. And books. A lot of books. Library books, hand-me-down books, thrift shop books, Weekly Reader books, store-bought books.

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Mom knew that an engaged, reading child is a quiet, happy child. She had three children. Better to be stuck inside four shrinking walls with three quiet, happy children than with three bickering hellions. When we got tired of making crafts and assembling puzzles, and when the mere sight of one another’s faces raised our hackles, we clamored for books.

My brother pored over the Guinness Book of World Records and books about automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles. He read books that diagrammed the inner workings of toilets, engines, and light bulbs. He flipped through cookbooks and attempted several recipes in my mother’s spotless kitchen.

My sister enjoyed historical fiction and nonfiction as well as Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. As she grew older, she reached for Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. The longer the book, the better she liked it.

My literary tastes were varied. I would read anything that found its way into my hands, but in the winter I was partial to fantasy, adventure, and science fiction. Fantastical worlds made easier my escape from the family togetherness forced upon us by the cold.

The winter that the boxed sets of both J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were deposited beneath our Christmas tree is the sparkliest in my memory. The anticipation of a book not yet read, the smell of the freshly printed page, the excitement of being the first reader to crease the binding—multiplied by eleven (the Tolkien set included The Hobbit)—returns to me whenever I look at the sets, now on my son’s bookshelf decades later.

Children who grow up snowy, who must shovel sidewalks and driveways every winter day, who survive long stretches of time cooped up with their siblings, and who have parents who surround them with stories and words and books, are among the luckiest kids in the world. I know. I was one of them.

Happy Valentine's Day

HEARTI just love Valentine's Day. Sure, it's a bit of a manufactured holiday. All that card, candy, and flower buying comes just long enough after we've recovered from holiday gift-giving credit card shock. And for those who don't have a "sweetheart", all the ad campaigns can leave one feeling lonely or jaded. I spent Valentine's Day at my son's school yesterday. A cadre of teachers and parents worked together to create a simple, fun celebration. Many talented moms led craft stations. A rousing game of "Who Do You Love" (like musical chairs) entertained boys and girls alike. Healthy snacks fortified the kids in between activities.

The highlight of the party was the Valentine exchange. Some kids exchanged little mass-market greetings. Others dropped candy in each others' bags. There were pencils, little rubber toys, and homemade greetings. The kids were scrambling to put their little tokens of friendship into each others' bags. The Valentine celebration was about the community, the comradery of classmates, and the appreciation of one friend for another.

That's why I love Valentine's Day. I love my friends and family, but I don't always think to tell them. Valentine's Day acts like a big appreciation alarm clock. It wakes us up to say to those near and dear to us, "Hey! You're great! I'm really glad you're in my life!" And I just love that heart-shaped box of chocolates. With the gooey centers please.