Normally, this is a travel blog but since it’s the holiday season, I thought I’d offer some sage advice to you, whether you are traveling to see family and friends or they are traveling to see you. Consider it a little life lesson and my gift to you this year.
My Holiday Story
At the end of 2020, after experiencing one of the strangest years of our our lives because of the Covid pandemic, I decided to start decorating the house, the yard, and the Official World Headquarters of How Big Is Texas at the beginning of November. I usually wait until after Thanksgiving, but with the kind of year we all went through, I decided I was going to find some holiday cheer sooner rather than later.
Having worked in Austin for several years and spent many an hour during the holiday season driving down Highway 360, also known as Capital of Texas Highway, I became familiar with an Austin tradition of people going out and decorating the many cedar trees for the holidays. Thankfully, we don’t have cedars in our backyard in San Angelo for which I am grateful. Cedar fever is a real thing, in case you were wondering, and I catch it whenever I’m around these trees for any period of time. But I digress…
While our backyard may be missing cedars, it’s not missing mesquite trees. I decided I’d buy some cheap ornaments whenever I found them at yard sales or other discount places and I started decorating the backyard. Some have actually questioned why I would do this, since we’re the only ones who see it. My answer to that is, “I know. That’s the point.”
You see, we do limited to no decorations on the front of our house. Perhaps a wreath on the door and occasionally in the windows. Aside from that, the inside of the house gets the festive love, as does the backyard. I don’t need the kind of stress that requires me to keep up with the Jones’s inflatables and the Smith’s Christmas Vacation lights.
I share the above with you, as I do want you to know that I’m somewhat capable of creativity. The inside of the world headquarters in my she-shed was decorated almost solely by me, aside from my husband creating the fake fireplace and helping put the paneling and floor down. And I’ve received many compliments about it.
All that said, I admit freely that I don’t consider myself a true crafter. Sure, I can slap some paint on signs and pictures on walls, but I don’t use a template or a level, something my husband does on a regular basis. I simply eyeball it and hope for the best.
If you’ve followed my blog, you know I love to shoot photography and share sunrises, sunsets, and photos of things I find to be beautiful that I capture through my camera lens. Many of my friends have commented on how much they love my photos. That is my amateur skill set and I’m proud of that.
I can take a beautiful picture or slap odds and ends together to decorate a tiny room. I can even bake a delicious cake or pie that I’d be proud to serve anyone.
My Brief History of Failure
I’ll preface my story with a tale from December 2018. That year, I bought a bow maker that gave you step-by-step instructions on how to turn ribbons into beautiful bows. You see, I wanted to finally make bows that I could put on packages, instead of relying on those bags with the sticky backs you plop onto a wrapped gift. I read the instructions over and over. I even watched numerous videos but to no avail. Sadly, my brain could never wrap itself around the idea. In fact, I failed so dismally that my husband made a wooden bow in his shop out of sympathy for my lack of mental capacity to figure it out on my own. Whoever invented the idea of holiday gift bags, you are my hero. One would think I’d have learned from that bow-making debacle, but no.
The Rest of My Story
In December 2020 after decorating the yard, the she-shed, and the inside of the house in November of that year, I decided to work on the lovely and thoughtful gift my friend, Lori Jo, gave me for Christmas, a Wondershop Gingerbread Kit that looks like a vintage camper, the kind I want to own some day.
I was so excited to see the cuteness that was inside the box awaiting me. I’d never decorated a gingerbread house in my life. I couldn’t wait. How hard could it be? It wasn’t like Paul Hollywood from the Great British Bake-off had asked me to make an elegant croquembouche or Bakewell tart. It was pre-baked. I didn’t even have to turn on the oven.
I excitedly pulled out the contents of the box, which included the perfectly formed gingerbread cutouts that made up the camper, white and black icing, a bag of gumdrops, a bag of cute little candy light decorations, and cardboard cutouts of Santa, a tree, and a grill. Adorable!
I’ll admit I was disappointed that the red icing listed on the box wasn’t there, but thought this is not a problem. I’ll use the black icing and the bag of white concrete icing and make it work. Again, I asked myself, “How hard could it be?”
Before I got started, I reviewed the photo on the box. Being a huge fan of cooking shows, I thought rather than use the cheap bag that came with the kit to use for the icing, I would transfer it to a ziploc bag and carefully snip the edge like I knew both the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten and Martha Stewart could do in their sleep, if they didn’t have a piping bag. I would then effortlessly pipe beautiful straight lines like the picture on the box showed.
I carefully warmed up the icing by massaging the bag, like the instructions suggest. Okay, they don’t use the word massage, but since that’s what it feels like you’re doing, I’m going with that description, no matter now wrong it sounds. I then fed the now warm and softened icing into the Ziploc freezer bag. I pushed all the icing to one corner, like Duff Goldman would do, and carefully snipped off the end with my scissors. Then I excitedly began decorating.
When icing the sides together, I had no real issues except that a few bigger chunks of icing came out of the bag that apparently had missed being massaged, like a knot in your back from holiday tension, and caused a bit of a calking issue. I decided I could pull it off as a rustic look. All good and SO fun!
Once the structure was all “glued” together, I proceeded to the rooftop. Little did I realize the particular Ziploc bag I used was described as a “stand-up bag for easy fill” so I didn’t know at the time I’d cut two little corners instead of one. Halfway through my first roof line, the icing blew out like panty hose packed into too heavy thighs, not that I’d know anything about that. Rather than gorgeous icing lines, I got half-inch schmears like I was trying to put cream cheese on a bagel instead of piping icing on a rooftop. No sweat, I thought. I can clean this up. There’s no way, Ina, Martha, and Duff got it in one take every time.
After attempting to clean up the mess that was my rooftop icing, I started on the gumdrop decorations. You’ll notice on my rooftop I only included the red ones. That’s because the OCD in me kicked in when I saw I couldn’t make a consistent row of matching gum drops unless I used all red. So I ate a green and orange one I had originally affixed on the roof, as they no longer made it into my color scheme, which apparently, I decided at that instance, was red.
I then started on the front of the camper and piped black icing around the windows and door, followed by a strand of icing that looked like the wires for Christmas lights that were being hung, at least they did to me. Once again, the OCD kicked in and I had to sort the lights in color order. By the time I had them separated out of the bag, (which when I opened it the first time, little candy lights flew all over the table and floor and I had to rescue them from the dog’s jawlike grip), the black icing was almost dry so I had to pipe even more black icing in order for them to stick. Of course, I ended up placing the lights in the wrong place and my red color scheme immediately went out the RV window, so I had to yank those lights off the gingerbread and replace them. Rather than throw the used candy lights back in the bowl to be used again, I ate those, too, black icing and all. At one point, I looked like I’d been sucking on a ballpoint pen or brushing my teeth with charcoal.
Not seeing enough color in my decorations, I went to the cupboard and found mini M&M’s and Reese’s Pieces. Knowing my husband would never forgive me for gluing his favorite peanut butter candies on something neither of us would be eating later, I went with the minis.
I’ve never been a petite person. I was almost 5’9” by the time I entered junior high. I wear a size 10” shoe and buy the largest gloves they make for women’s hands. Have you seen the size of these candies? I would have better luck putting a lasso through the eye of a needle than placing these sweet treats in my hand and trying to get them to stick in a lovely pattern on a gingerbread RV.
After OCDing my way through the rest of the decorations and the tires on the front of the camper, I took out the cardboard cutouts and, miraculously, put them together with zero incidents. That, in itself, was a Christmas miracle!
I then surveyed my work with no holiday fanfare. I’ll admit I didn’t immediately get the Christmas spirit and hear the crooning sounds of Harry Connick, Jr. or the harmonies of Pentatonix ringing in my ear. I got nothin’, not to be confused with “nuttin” from the ear-bleeding song “Nuttin’ for Christmas,” still playing in shops around the world for some strange reason.
My husband came in from working in the garage and couldn’t stop laughing. I noted no sympathy in his hysterics. Being the man that he is, he immediately took in the cookie “vehicle” right down to the tires and gumdrop hubcaps, and without missing a beat asked, “What are those?” Then he continued with his unnecessary belly laughs.
Once he straightened up from bending over laughing so hard that he finally could catch his breath and wipe the tears from his face, he said through continued snickers, “Honey, you can buy stuff and put it around the house and make it look real nice, but you are not a crafter.”
I finally gave up. I figured the back of the camper is kind of like the back of the Christmas tree. Why bother? I simply framed the windows with icing and wrote “Back” in black letters. No one would ever see it.
I sat eating the last of the gum drops that should have made it on the camper. I felt it was kinder that they make their way into the gastric juices of my stomach rather than be sacrificial lambs to the disaster that was the gingerbread arrangement.
I stared at the remnants of the finished work that was my 2020 Holiday Gingerbread Camper. Notice I added 2020, since I believe I can chalk almost everything up to that year, rather than accept the simple fact that I have limited to no crafting ability. As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a pretty good amateur photographer. However, no amount of photoshop improved the look of the photo I took of the mess I’d made, no matter how hard I tried.
The day after I completed my gingerbread disaster, my husband decided to take on the Christmas Story gingerbread house I’d purchased to make, as well. I don’t know what he was trying to prove but…whatever. Obviously, the icing that came with his box was MUCH more pliable than mine. Otherwise, I saw little difference in our work. How about you?
All this to say, the holidays are stressful enough. Don’t put added pressure on yourself to do something too far out of your comfort zone. Stick with your strengths, especially during the holidays. Kick back and enjoy your time with your friends and family. Now, where did I put that book on how to do origami?
Until next time…from Texas…safe travels!