Christmas. It’s the time of year when mothers come into their own. The Virgin Mary kicked things off by righteously birthing a child IN A MANGER with heaps of farm animals standing around. That set the bar pretty high. Though she did display a reticence in using her fecundity for advantage that you just don’t see these days. Can you imagine? “Oh, no room in the inn, is there? For a woman nine months’ pregnant with an immaculate conception? No? Your LORD AND SAVIOUR? Still no? Bit of room in the manger, is there? Oh well, as long as the straw is reasonably fresh…”). What the what!?
Apart from the lack of assertion, in her defence probably common to most Galilean women of her time, we all have to agree she did alright for herself as a mother. Mothers ever since then have been struggling to live up to her example in the microcosms of their own homes, trying to replicate her graciousness in the face of far lesser adversities than, say, extra-judicial Sanhedrin proceedings.
Adversities like, for example, craft. My old nemesis, second only behind cooking in absolute maternal failures. This is the time of year when you need to be good at cooking AND craft, and verily I am absolutely rubbish at both – sometimes both at the same time, as in this first example of my yuletide failures for 2011.
I took a wander through the Western supermarket the other week, ogling usuriously priced packs of imported luxuries like WeetBix. I do this sometimes when I’m feeling homesick. In my reverie I accidentally wandered into the German section and amongst the wurst and spargel, spotted some gingerbread house kits. “Gut!” I thought, “let’s get two of them! How hard can it be! And fuck these lederhosen are itchy!”
The next weekend, with a free morning but the expectation of being able to have the two houses up and decorated within about 15 minutes, the kids and I opened the boxes and laid everything out on the table. The walls were already “pre-fabricated”, the icing was in a bag which only required a corner to be snipped off for application, and it even came with a plastic tray with moulded channels to rest the pieces in. I thought the hardest thing was going to be keeping the kids from eating all the lollies in the 10 minutes we had to wait for the structural icing to set.
What happened next was a lesson in over-confidence based on absolutely nothing. Walls and eaves collapsed in turn as I struggled to keep things upright with only two hands, both of which were indeed needed at all times to slap the kids away from the icing bags and the lollies. I filled the joins between the gingerbread sections with more and more icing, partly in a desperate plastering attempt, partly so the kids would stop trying to suck the icing out of the bag like dentist-defying fiends. I admitted defeat after half an hour and presented the kids with two lopsided and completely unstable mounds of gingerbread, and let them complete their “designs” with the few remaining lollies. Then we sat the “finished houses” up on a cupboard and for the rest of the day listened to the sad noise of gingerbread walls collapsing inwards and mints sliding from their moorings. There could be nothing less festive than the sight of a candycane teetering slowly before falling into a small puddle of melted royal icing.
For the record, this is how they were supposed to look, according to the box (no hating on the photo please, remember my photography skills are also not up to par. Even Mary could probably take a better photo than me and she was born at least 1,000 years before the first documented use of the camera obscura):
Zadie’s house soon after “completion”:
I was far too inept at operating the piping bag to even contemplate the roof tiles or the gingerbread men in the front garden. I was also unable to help her create a proper garden path with her lollies, resulting in this big dump of skittles outside the “front door”.
The whole thing was clearly an unmitigated failure and later that afternoon Rufus remarked mournfully, “Mama, I don’t think they’re going to last until Christmas.” No, Ru, I don’t think they’re going to last until tea time, mate. We ended up pulling them apart and shoving them in some plastic containers, and we’ve just been eating bits and pieces ever since. It’s so not in the spirit.
I had an idea to do a second crafty activity, this one surely easier because it didn’t involve food. It’s called “crayon hearts” and I’ve seen it on countless mummyblogs. Basically you get heaps of old crayons, take off the labels, cut them up into tiny pieces, mix them all together in a latex baking tray, and cook for some time to form new crayons in the shape of your moulds. Google-image “crayon hearts” and you’ll see plenty of good examples of the final result. I feel bad stealing photos off mummyblogs because no-one would ever be able to steal any of mine (scroll back up for a reminder. Or in any direction anywhere on this blog). So I nicked the below pictures from a Disney craft site, which I was happy to do because we stayed in the Disneyland Hotel for the past two days and spent a whole lot of cash in that joint. That means I can steal their electronic property with impunity, obviously.
A picture of the process:
The final product:
The first step was so straightforward, even I could do it with ease. Simply rummage about for crayons. If you have kids (and why else would you have crayons), you’ll find the fuckers (the crayons, not the kids) under the couch cushions, behind the fridge, in the fridge, anywhere but in the “craft corner” or the pencil case or anywhere any civilised person would store crayons. And you’ll find hundreds of them. Here is a small sample of our collection of discarded and broke-down crayons prior to peeling:
An awesome moment when we finished with the Crayolas and moved on to the cheap crayons of Chinese manufacture and discovered THEY’D BEEN REBADGED! Look at this! A different label underneath!
How is that even a business idea? Some guy says to the other guy, “Oh hey, let’s buy up stacks and stacks of those crayons and stick our own labels on them! Immense loot to be made!”? Well the jig’s up now, I’ll never buy cheap crayons again. Actually I’ll never buy any crayons again, because the next step in the project, peeling them, reduced my fingers and my very soul to a shredded and splintered mess. It took about five hours to get to this point:
But what a five hours. Have you ever tried to peel a crayon? Especially a cheap one with two labels? DON’T. It’s quite literally like medieval torture as shards of hardened wax push their way underneath your fingernails as you claw at the backing glue, caked on from months of resting on top of a heating vent. Tears of agony coursed my cheeks as I sat outside in the sun on the rocking chair, my kids playing nearby, determined after my gingerbread house failure to complete this project even if it meant having permanent chips of colour wedged underneath my nails. I did get there in the end, but I was so weakened by the ordeal I haven’t been able to progress further. I half-heartedly snapped a few crayons into smaller pieces, then packed the whole lot into a handy plastic container that had until recently been holding bits of broken gingerbread house, and it’s just sitting there waiting for another day, more courage, more grace, more Mary-like fortitude. The vexatious ordeal is still so fresh, I don’t think that day’s coming any time soon.
Mary, and all women who have completed this craft, I hang my head in shame.