Thursday, December 6, 2007


By Cricket McRae

This time of year always feels frantic to me, and this December is no exception. My deadline for the third book in the Sophie Reynolds Homecrafting Series is looming, I’m editing another manuscript, and the marketing for the first book in the series, Lye in Wait, fills hours every day. Still, keeping my head above water would be manageable if it weren’t for all this holiday business.

The problem is that Christmas can get so out of hand. This year, out of desperation, I put my foot down. One day for shopping (it was a very long day, but still). Only three kinds of cookies (okay, two kinds, plus peanut butter fudge). We aren’t throwing a party this year, and only attending three. And the decorating: I gave myself four hours. No outside lights…and no tree.

So it’s festive, but pretty simple around our house. It feels good. It’ll take less time to undo come January. And that’s less time away from my desk, all over again.

However, believe it or not, I’m not just griping about how Christmas is interfering with my precious writing schedule. I am doing that, of course. But not just that. Because when I was power pawing through the bins of ribbon and lights and various geegaws that only see the light of day once a year, if that, I found this:

I don’t even know what it’s called. Ever since I received it as a Christmas present when I was eight years old, I’ve called it the candle-twirly thingie. My parents knew what I meant. The heat from the candles (I could only find one) rises and turns the windmill, and the little scenario turns round and round. Two of the windmill spokes have broken over the years. But I’ve hauled it around with me for thirty-five (gulp) years.

See, when I was a little kid, my Dad would tell me stories. Mom and I always said he should write them down, but he never did. These stories featured a little boy and a little girl and their adventures with a witch who lived in the woods. The witch was named Dame Dustinschniffin, and she had a cat named Hapsel. Every time Dame Dustinschniffen sneezed, which she did with great frequency due to terrible allergies combined with an almost OCD tendency to clean, her cat Hapsel changed colors.

That was the very simple structure in which dozens of tales were developed, first by my father alone, and then I joined in and helped to make up the stories. “What if…” he’d say, and off we’d go. “And then…and then…” It encouraged my imagination, but I had to keep to the rules of the world we’d created. The characters stayed the same, but they had understandable arcs as they learned new things in the course of their adventures.

It was my first series, and I loved it.

As for the candle-twirly thing in the picture. Christmas morning, eight-year-old me hurried out to the tree in my jammies, only to find this contraption. I had no idea how it functioned, but I immediately recognized the characters from our stories. My reaction was to demand where my parents had found such a thing.

Santa, I was told, with a grin and wink. It was very irritating. I was sure no one but my parents and I knew about Dame Dustinschniffen et al, and Santa was a myth. I bugged them for days. Did you have someone make it? Was it something you found that just happened to fit the characters? Did you make it yourself? Have you had it for a long time and made up the characters to fit the thingie?

To this day, they won’t tell me. I still wonder, and I still don’t have a clue. It’s a mystery.

Turns out I love mysteries, too.


Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, here's what I've done about finishing my next book -- made it a 2008 New Year's Resolution. Getting a lot of work done in November and December is hopeless.

Nina Wright said...

I agree with Keith.

It's best to give in to the holidays, vow to enjoy them, and swear that you'll knock yourself out writing in the New Year.

Otherwise, Guilt wrecks everything. And life is way too precious to squander feeling bad.

Happy Holidays!

Mark Combes said...


It's the handmade things that mean the most isn't it? I have this ceramic Christmas tree that has these Lite-Brite kinda things subsituting as lights (I think everyone in the USA has one) that my grandmother made for me. It's a mission every year to find all the lights to stick in the holes, and the tree is chipped a bit from my poor boxing skills, but it makes me smile everytime I look at as it reminds me of my beloved grandmother.

G.M. Malliet said...

I have a January 2 deadline /sigh/. No reprieves, here.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Me, too, GM. And I'll be posting about it tomorrow on the blog.

Because of my Jan. 1st deadline, like Cricket, I've streamlined my decorations, which is easy since I live alone. Choose only 1 holiday event a weekend to attend, and completed my shopping weeks ago. This is also the time of year when my job at the law firm kicks into high gear as almost every client seems to want their deals closed before the end of the year. Overtime and book deadlines do not mix very well.

But it's still a magical time of year and gifts like the candle twirling windmill thingy make it special no matter what the pressure.

Keith Raffel said...


Went to a holiday party Saturday night and the centerpiece was a big twirly thing in perfect shape. The hosts had picked it up in Germany where, they said, the things are quite common.

jbstanley said...


I am stalling on my current book, so decided to search for this thingy. It's called a Pyramid (or whirligig or carousel) in Germany. Here's a link with other such, well, pyramids: