Fall Break Survival 101: Christmas Crafting / by Alison M. Newcomb

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I am not a crafty kind of person. No one who knows me would ever tell you that I am artistic or good with my hands. I was the kid in school whose end-of-year art project (likely some formless lump-sculpture) was always strategically placed behind all the rest, well-hidden from full view. If complimented at all on my artwork, it was for how very "abstract" it was, hinting at a latent talent or potential for creativity lurking somewhere inside of me. And this deficit of dexterity extended well beyond my grade school art class. To this day, my own handwriting is completely illegible, even to me.

I think this must be the reason I have always had such admiration for anyone who can make things. Whether you can paint, or knit, or you make your own clothes, or you build furniture in your garage/woodworking shop on the weekends, I will want to be your groupie. It's as if I think that, by being around creative people, maybe some of their fairy dust might just rub off on me.

It is worth noting that, by this point in life, my wishful-thinking hypothesis has been proven resoundingly, beyond the shadow of a doubt, to be 100% false. 

When I married my husband, I suddenly had this insta-family, with two kids in schools that seemed to have an awful lot more holidays than I ever remember having. I was working from home at the time, which back then I naively thought was just the perfect fit, since we could avoid additional childcare costs because I could be home with them. 

Clearly I had a lot to learn about children. It didn't take long for me to realize that my chances of having any sustained amount of space to focus on work were next to nothing, unless I parked them in front of a screen for long chunks of time. Which I did initially, in certain moments of pure panic, only to realize that more than 45 minutes of screen time will turn them both into bug-eyed, surly little zombies (a fact that remains true to this day). 

Both boys, in their own way, are extremely tactile and love to make things—from the LEGO Star Wars Death Star to so-many-now-I've-lost-count handwritten and illustrated, staple-bound books. They thankfully have none of my biology or the lack of artistic ability that comes along with it. So for the next no-school (yet still work) day, we pre-planned a craft project that they boys came up with, to give them a hands-on and fun activity to do while I was on the clock in my home office. And it worked out beautifully. They were proud to show off their creations when Dad got home and I actually had a productive day. 

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It felt like a good, solid win-win and so this became our M.O. from that point forward. It also happened to coincide with the moment in life when I discovered Pinterest and wondered how I had ever managed to live so long without it. Because of this site, I suddenly had a seemingly endless stream of fun and clever craft projects for the boys to try. Plus these were all “new” projects, not something they had done before at school. And so, by way of making the demo or test version of every new project myself, I ended up backing my way into the crafting junkie I am today. 

In the years since this identity turning point, crafting has become somewhat of a family tradition, not just an attention span solution for school holidays. And although I can't say my husband is always entirely enthused when he comes home from running errands on a Saturday to the three of us in a diorama-making frenzy—with shoe boxes, and glitter glue, and construction paper everywhere in site—it is something that has brought so much joy to this house. And also, blindsidingly, to me—the least artistic girl in the room. 

I’ve thought a lot about this personality paradox and how it could be that suddenly, in my 30’s, I am able to create things with my hands that really aren’t half bad. The boys typically outdo me with their mini-masterpieces, but I can say with confidence that my end product usually does look like the pictures from Pinterest (most of the time). I am sure that my role as the new project tester over the years has played some role in my late-in-life skill development. I probably tried harder and went more slowly because I wanted the boys' example version of our newest craft project to be a marginally-recognizable rendition of the original. 

But I believe something else made more of an impact, and that happened when I began to join in on these craft-making projects. Sitting with these two kids, side-by-side on the long benches at our kitchen table, allowed me to see things from an entirely new point of view—one firmly rooted in the present moment. That opportunity to step so completely out of my own whirring, agenda-driven, impatient adult brain, reminded me what it was like to just have pure fun again, with no precise result or end-goal in mind. 

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I can make pretty things... with my own two hands.

But even beyond that, it has literally changed my artistic aptitude (or perhaps perceived aptitude would be more accurate). Being so in-the-moment and fully present, with no ticking clock or competing priorities to distract me, helped me discover that the "latent talent"—the repetitive tag line of every grown-up’s half-hearted, atta-girl attempt at praise I heard as an unartistic kid—was really a thing. I am able to make pretty things. With my own two hands. It feels like I have discovered this superpower, one that's been there all along just waiting for me to notice. 

Without the insta-family that came in the package deal of my second marriage—the kids I was trying to keep occupied while I did more important things—I would probably have never known about my “superpower.” Or how much laughter and happiness a handful of art supplies and an open afternoon can create. 

These days, we seem to always be making something or planning our next craft project. But where crafting has really come to define family tradition for us is during Fall Break every year. Going back to its original roots, you might say. 

 One of this year's Fall Break holiday crafts.

One of this year's Fall Break holiday crafts.

This full week off school coincides with Thanksgiving, an annual milestone inextricably tied to the urge to start decorating for the holidays.

As this family tradition (and each of us) has matured, the projects we choose for Fall Break tend to be handmade holiday gifts for neighbors, family, teachers, and friends. And, while I do still have put in a couple of full workdays during that holiday week, it is now with great impatience, because I cannot wait to join the boys at our messy kitchen table for some Christmas crafting. 


Looking for Ideas?

We made two of our all-time favorite projects over this year’s Fall Break. I found them both on Pinterest (of course), but you can get all the details for both below:

Warm Winter Simmering Pot in a Mason Jar

DIY Christmas Advent Calendar Treat Bags

 

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