‘Tis the Season for Cookies: Gingerbread!

Gingerbread House

I’ve always loved making gingerbread houses. I’m not sure when I made my first gingerbread house, school perhaps? Or with my mom? But I remember making them, and loving the process. The first one I made was with graham crackers and a milk carton, if I recall. I even made gingerbread houses one Christmas for all my friends.

When Alexis was born I couldn’t wait until she was old enough to make them too, and once she was (we did our first gingerbread house when she was 3), we’ve made one every year since. We make a big production out of it…we make the cookies one day, along with hot chocolate, and then we assemble the houses the next. We make royal icing, get our candy together and construct away.

The secret to a good gingerbread house is a firm cookie, and these have a bit of a crunch to them. That also helps if you want to turn these cookies in to ornaments, because the firmness makes for a good ornament too. I’ll give you instructions on how to do that below as well.

Be sure and check out the other participants of ‘Tis the Season for Cookies to see their fabulous cookie recipes for this week as well!:

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Diana Cannone at To Di for Bakery.
Judy Chiappini at No Fear Entertaining.
Mandee Racer Pogue at The Kitchen Wife.
Marye Audet-White at Restless Chipotle.
Renee Joslyn at Flamingo Musings.
Sandy Smith at Eat Real.
And Sherri Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl Jo.

The theme this week was formed and decorated!

Gingerbread House: The Pieces

What You’ll Need:
1 cup packed natural brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl cream brown sugar, butter and molasses until smooth. Add water and mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Sprinkle some flour onto the surface you’re working on and roll dough out to between 1/4-1/8th of an inch thick:

Gingerbread House: Rolling the Dough

To make a gingerbread house cut out house shapes using a template, or gingerbread house cutters. To make ornaments, cut with the cookie cutters of your choice. If you are going to use the cookies for ornaments remember to make a hole for the string or ribbon to tie them onto your tree. You can do this by using a straw to make a hole at the top of each cookie.

Bake for 9-10 minutes and cool completely on the pan. Cooling overnight is best. You want them to get extremely firm, the firmer the better.

And if you’re like Alexis, then you’ll want a little bite of dough, or several bites of dough, or a lot of dough. It’s good dough. And it is eggless, if you’re worried about such things, which we aren’t, but there you go.

Gingerbread House: Dough!

And make sure you get plenty of flour all over yourself. On your face, on your apron, on the floor…I mean the bigger mess the better. Just ask Alexis! ๐Ÿ˜‰

After the cookies have cooled and sat overnight you want to make some royal icing if you’re making gingerbread houses (see below) or you can paint them if you’ve decided to make gingerbread ornaments.

Gingerbread House: Royal Icing

What You’ll Need:
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar
8 cups of powdered sugar

Add all the ingredients to a large glass bowl and stir until mixed.

Beat on medium speed for 5-6 minutes until icing is thick and has a pearly sheen to it.

Use immediately to make your gingerbread house, or to decorate cookies.

Now you get to assemble your gingerbread house!

Take a piece of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil. This will be your “yard” for your house. Next add a layer of royal icing for the “snow” on the yard, and this also serves as glue for the bottom of your house walls:

Gingerbread House: Snowy Yard

Now you want to put up your walls:

Gingerbread House: Putting it Together

I like to use a canned good, or a bottle to balance the walls on until the “glue” dries. Add a line of royal icing to each wall and balance them against each other. Once the icing dries you will do the same process to add the roof to the house.

While the walls are drying you can also start adding some of the decorations around the sides of the house:

Gingerbread House: Decorating

The roof can be tricky, because gravity, well she’s a bitch. You’ll need to hold the roof on while the icing dries. Be generous with the icing on the edges of roof peek, so that it has plenty to hold on to. This is when you can watch a Christmas movie, or something, while you’re sitting there holding the roof. If you’re really talented you can figure out a way to brace the ceiling with cans or bottles, but you have to have the perfectly situated can or bottle size and it’s easier said than done. Your best bet is holding it on and amusing yourself for a bit some other way.

Decorate with icing, candy, sprinkles or other embellishments if you’re going to cookie route. Whatever you like works. Just let out your inner cookie creator!

If you’re making ornaments paint them with craft or acrylic paints and let dry completely. Once the paint is dry you can “seal” the ornaments by painting or spraying on a coat of polyurethane if you want them to last for many years. If you want to make “Pissy” Gingerbread boys and girls, like the one pictured below, use a fluted cutter to cut a “bite” out of the side of their heads or even their foot if you want, because after all wouldn’t you be a little pissy too if someone took a bite out of you? ;o)

Pissy Gingerbread Man

See? Doesn’t he look pissy? I absolutely love these ornaments! To make a girl gingerbread person, paint a little bow on the other side of the head away from the “bite”.

I’ve made gingerbread houses for almost 30 years now. Wow. That’s a long time! Alexis gets a little impatient and doesn’t wait for her “glue” to dry so she ends up with a disaster house, more often than not. Being the laid back kid she is, she just goes with it. Last year she said her collapsed house was hit by a tornado. This year she explained it was caused by a tsunami. But hey, she kept decorating it anyway!

Gingerbread House: Decorating Her Disaster

I mean how disastrous does this look?

Gingerbread House: Catastrophee

Candy cane loss, Christmas tree chopped in half, Santa hanging out next to the rubble. The kid makes it fun, even if it’s not what you expect in a gingerbread house!

But what she really enjoys about the collapsed houses, other than having fun in general, is eating the parts!

Gingerbread House: If it Collapses, Eat it!

What’s not to like about a little nibble of gingerbread? Oh and royal icing. AND candy! ๐Ÿ˜‰

This was the first year my house collapsed too. I’ve made so many houses over the years, but this one just gave up. I think it had to do with the humidity in the air, as a friend of mine suggested. We had a very rainy day on Saturday, like ark worthy rain, and when I decorated the roof the weight of the icing and candy, just took out the house.

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I’d like to tell you I was as cool about my house collapsing as my 11 year old, but sadly not so much. As I’ve said I’ve never had one collapse I wasn’t impressed, so it took the wind out of my sails a bit, and it felt like a big defeat. But then again I nibbled on mine too, so that made it all better…well sort of! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Gingerbread disasters aside, a few years ago I made a Fangtasia gingerbread house:

Fangtasia Gingerbread House

I was a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse books, and even though they didn’t end up the way I would have liked, this is still one of my favorite gingerbread houses I’ve ever made. I put a bite out of Bill’s head, like the pissy gingerbread men, as if Eric had gotten tired of his nonsense and finally taken a bite out of him to put him in his place. I made Sookie look Christmasy, and I did a cross between book Eric and Skarsgรƒยฅrd Eric, by the pink spandex from the book, and the black muscle shirt from the show.

The point being, gingerbread can be anything you want it to be. Just have fun with it. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

Happy 10th Birthday Alexis!

It's Your Birthday Baby A!

Dear Alexis,

Yesterday you turned 10.

10.

How is that possible?

I normally write a little letter to you on each of your birthdays and post it on my blog. One day you’ll read them all, and I hope you’ll understand how much I love you, how much I have always loved you, how much I will always love you, and what you truly mean to me. Yesterday however, we were out having birthday fun and I didn’t get to write my little missive. Today I’m diving right in!

You got money from various people for your birthday as people tend to do and you couldn’t wait to go buy things. But first you wanted to make sure that you helped others before you spent anything on yourself. When I asked you what you wanted to donate to you replied, “Children and wildlife!” You have such a big heart. I love that about you.

It has been a long year. 2013 hasn’t been good to us as a family, and quite frankly I’m ready for 2014 to roll on in. We started out on January the 2nd with your aunt’s breast cancer diagnosis, we moved, school got all shuffled around, Pop had a heart attack, and that’s just a mere summary. But through it all you’ve kept good spirits. You look for the good, even when bad things happen around you. I hope that you can continue to do this as you grow older. It’s a very good skill to have.

Before you were born I would hear people say you didn’t understand love until you had a child. I used to think that was complete bollocks. I knew children I loved dearly. I loved your father. I loved family. But they were right…the minute I looked at you I was hit by a wave of emotion I had never expected. I loved you instantly, and I thought I had loved you before you were born, but I had no clue what love actually was. You were love.

You want to grow up so fast. I always tell you, “Slow down. Trust me, you’ll grow up all too soon and you’ll wonder where your childhood went.” I wonder where mine went. At 39 I can’t figure out where the time has gone. At 29, when you were born, I thought you’d be small for a long time. 10 years is a long time in some ways I suppose, but it has gone by so quickly! My beautiful baby girl has grown in to my beautiful young tween. Slowing down time is like trying to hold water in your fist…you can try, but it just runs out. And no matter how much I might want to keep you as my little girl, time has other ideas. Enjoy life. Make the time matter. Make the time count.
The Birthday Girl!

Keep your amazing spirit. Keep your love of all things and people around you. Keep being cool. Because you really are cool kid. Really, really cool. And I’m so glad out of all the moms in the world, you picked me.

Love,
Mom

In Which My Child Stuns Me with Her Knowledge Of Japanese

Scene: We’re driving to Thurmont to return to our library books and then on to Frederick to pay rent. I’m signing along to music and Lex is playing on my iPod in the back seat when all of a sudden I hear her speaking something that sounds decidedly Japanese, recognizing the Japanese word for hello.

Me: Alexis what did you just say? That sounded like Japanese.

Lex: That’s because it was Japanese. First I said, “Hello. Do you have a menu in English?” and then I said, “How is your day?”

Me: Where in the world did you learn that?

Lex in her best “I’m rolling my eyes at you!” voice: Mom you do have language learning aps on your iPod including Japanese. I’ve been teaching myself to speak it so I can go visit.

Me stunned: You’re learning it by yourself?

Lex, patiently as if talking to a difficult three year old: I can read you know and I can listen. It doesn’t take much more than that. I’ve been doing it for a while now.

Mind. BLOWN!!!

Originally posted on Daffodil Lane.

Happy 9th Birthday Alexis!

Lex

Dear Alexis,

Here we are again…another year, another birthday. You are growing up so fast! Too fast!! The time just melts away.

Each year you continue to learn and grow and generally amaze me at every turn! You have such an amazing outlook on life and you inspire me everyday. The way you look at the world and the people around you is truly incredible. You have the most positive outlook and look for the good in everyone, even if it’s very hard to find. You’re my little Pollyanna in more ways than one.

This past year you discovered your love of the ocean. Apparently that’s genetic, because you most definitely got that from me! You had been to the ocean several times before when you were younger, but last summer we drove over to the beach for the day a couple of times and you were in your element! You were finally old enough to appreciate the environment and have a rocking good time! I love to see you discover new things.

As you get older you have so many things going on and sometimes I wish things would just slow down, but life marches forward. You started yoga and love your classes, your teacher and your friends you’ve made from attending. You continue to be involved with girl scouts and church, throwing yourself in to everything you do 150%. You’ve taken classes, you’ve gone on adventures, you had your first sleepover at your friend’s house, you had your first sleepover at home…In short you’ve been busy living life to the fullest and enjoying it all as it goes by. I like that about you.

This coming year brings more adventures your way…a trip to Frisco, NC in September for a week on the beach, New York City in October to celebrate my birthday, just to name a few. I will continue to watch you meet the world head on, making friends and having fun along the way. It’s fun to see you breeze through these things with ease and aplomb, smiling and laughing, making memories as you go. I like this about you too.

The most important thing to remember as you embark on 9 and steam toward 10 is that you should always hold on to your fascination with the world. Life will never be dull for you if you keep that interest in the things around you, and caring for the people you meet, that comes so naturally to you. You have an amazing spirit Love and you need to hang on to that. Don’t let anyone ever make you be less you because they don’t understand where you’re coming from. Remember what they think doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is what you think, and you’re such a good person deep down inside that you always, always have that going for you.

I often tell you that you’re my favorite, and you in turn tell me, “But Mom! I’m you’re only!” in which I reply, “It doesn’t make it any less true!” and believe me it doesn’t! You are the light in my world, the wonder in my existence and I love you with all my heart! Never forget.

Mom

Lex

Originally posted on Daffodil Lane.

Why We Homeschool

For those of you that don’t know we chose to homeschool Alexis long before she was even born. I had the idea brewing in my head before Jamison and I even met and luckily he agreed with my assessment. There are many reasons, but the main reason was the deteriorating state of our school system’s actual educating processes and the increased amount of violence. I simply wanted to make sure that Alexis got a well rounded education in all subjects, most importantly science and math, which have been watered down to practically nothing in some cases, and was able to do so in a relatively stress and violence free environment on a consistent basis.

When you tell people that you homeschool there are two reactions that you normally elicit, most people think it’s really cool and ask a lot of positive questions or the other reaction you get is where people give you a terse “Oh!” and look at you as if to say “You’re one of THOSE people! Bet you have your kid locked up in the basement unsocialized!” The first group are fun to talk to, the other group I’ve found it best to ignore them and move on. Some people just will not be pleased no matter what you do.

There is a misconception for some that all homeschooled children are kept sheltered, have no friends, don’t participate in any activities outside of the home, etc. This isn’t true in most cases. For instance Alexis is in a local Girl Scout Brownie troop, does various programs with other kids her age in arts, science, physical activities, etc. She attended several day camps during the summer along these lines and she is also very involved with our church’s youth program.

We go out and do activities often. We’re out and about all the time and Alexis is a very social child. She’s never met a stranger and will talk to most anyone, unless they are mean toward her. Around our community people know Alexis and call her by name. She has that type of personality that makes it easy for her to like and be liked by anyone, and she has several very close friends she spends time with, along with acquaintances as well. Last Saturday she did an art class at the local library. This Saturday she will be working on her Science badge with some of her fellow Brownies. She’s quite the little social butterfly!

There are also a lot of collaborative homeschool groups out there if you’re interested. We don’t utilize these groups, because it isn’t our thing, but it is a good resource for those who might not feel comfortable with one subject, and excel at another. While someone in the group is helping the children with math, you might teach another group story writing. Most of these groups are called “Co-ops” and you can usually find one in your community or one nearby. These groups can meet once a week, once a month, etc. It depends on the group itself. Some are religious based, some are not. You can usually find one that fits your needs if you are interested in such things.

A lot of people assume that religion factors into the decision to homeschool and for us that is not the case. I let Alexis get her religious education at church on Sunday and we leave it at that. She knows the basic principles that are important in life and that’s all that matters to me. She knows to treat others as she wants to be treated, she knows to help those who might need help, she knows that she is a very lucky girl and not all children are. She also knows not to make fun of people and not to be mean. She is one of the most empathetic people I have ever met, if you’re sad she’s sad with you, if you’re happy, she’ll be happy as well, if you’re in pain it upsets her and she wants to help you alleviate that pain. She worries about people. She has a huge heart. I have friends that do fit religious education into their homeschool classes and that works for them and that is how it should be…Your program should fit your needs. For us though religion in class isn’t a factor.

This year we’re going further in depth in many branches of science, including chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, botany, marine biology and geology. We are continuing our study of French and Spanish which is a lot of fun. We also are reading kid’s versions of literary classics, along with some of these stories just straight up. We’re doing more indepth story writing, art and music, history, geography, money, time, nutrition, anatomy, critical thinking, note taking skills, etc. Alexis is also learning to type. To round out each day Alexis writes a daily journal entry that tells about her day, something she’d like to do, something she just did, etc.

I also am a firm believer in hands on, on site, learning. If you’re studying sharks, why not go to the aquarium and take a look at an actual shark? Studying George Washington? We’re lucky enough to live near a lot of history surrounding Washington DC, Baltimore and New York isn’t really that far away either. So for Mr. Washington we went to Mount Vernon. What better place to learn about one our founding fathers than his own home? Scientific experiments are easily done at home, or out in nature, or whenever you can observe or touch what you’re studying. Reading about something is great, and it’s part of the overall whole, but seeing it in action is in my opinion an imperative tool as well.

But homeschooling is expensive some argue. I disagree with you there. I will admit I buy a lot of books each year, because we are very much book people, but I find a lot of material for free online too. You would be amazed what is out there. Of course you have to look at these sources with a critical eye to ensure the information they are presenting is indeed true or factual, but it isn’t too hard to distinguish the ones that are what they should be, and those that are not.

This year, though I hated to see it close, Borders going out of business was a rare opportunity for me to afford some of the books I had always wanted to use in our schooling. I also like to give Alexis computer and Wii games that are fun, yet educational. Kids can learn a lot while having fun without even realizing that they are learning, which in some cases is a good thing.

Is homeschooling for everyone? No, it isn’t. In order to homeschool you have to have a lot of patience, a lot of preparation and will power to go the distance. Are there bad days homeschooling? You betcha! But most days are good, or at least that is how it is for us. Alexis is comfortable enough with me, as I am her Mom, to test her boundaries some days, so it’s important to ensure you stick to what needs to be done. Homeschooling also gives you the flexibility to move on when your child is ready to go to the next step and to take a little extra time on certain things that your child might have a bit harder time understanding. Homeschooling is a perfect way for you to allow your child to learn at their own pace.

In short? Homeschooling works for us. Will it work for you? That is up to you to decide.

Originally posted at Daffodil Lane.

Conversations with Alexis

Scene: Alexis and I are at a restaurant today for lunch after visiting the library. A very tall, very handsome man in his late 40’s/early 50’s comes in and the waitress greets him as if she knows him.

A: Mom is that man famous?

D: *glancing over at the man in question* No. Why do you ask?

A: She’s making a big deal out of him. *wrinkling her nose*

D: I think he’s a regular costumer like us and she just knows him that way, but he’s not famous.

A: Well he’s very tall. He should be!

D: *I grin at her* I’m not sure it works that way.

A: *dismissively* Well it should.

End

Oh my naive little child, how I love you so. Most men from Hollywood are short. Being tall is not the norm, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

Happy 8th Birthday Alexis!

Alexis on her 8th birthday

Dear Alexis,

How is possible that 8 years have gone by since the day you were born? It seems like it was just yesterday that I was writing the missive for your 6th and 7th birthdays! Time passes so quickly and seems to more so now that you are in my life.

Eight years ago today you blazed in to my world and it changed me forever. Before you have children people will tell you how much it will change not only your life, but you as well. I knew things would change, but I didn’t understand the extent to which that was true. Before you were born I knew love, but I don’t think I even came close to understanding what love actually was. Once you arrived I had no doubt that I completely grasped what it was to love someone. Parents always say that their kids have changed them, but you truly have changed me and I think for the better.

As trite as it might sound you are my sunshine, just like the song I sing to you so often before you go to bed. I see the entire world through your eyes and things that I have long since gotten over the wonder of look brand new through you. You bring the shine back to the simplest of things, a flower, a butterfly, a book, a song. I love looking at things through you. You completely change my ideas on a regular basis. You challenge me in the best ways, even on days where I am over your drama and just want to sell you to the circus! Even on those days you can still amaze me in big ways. I love that about you.

I loved seeing New York at Christmas through your eyes. I can’t wait to see a Broadway show through your eyes this fall. I loved that we had been on the streets of New York for less than 10 minutes and you turned to me and said, “Mom I so want to move here!” You see life as an adventure and life really should be just that. I’ve loved watching you learn and grow. Everyday you learn something new and many days you teach me a thing or two as well. I like that about you.

I’ve mentioned before how caring you are, but it still amazes me how much this grows with you. You are my little empath. You feel in ways that astound me, in a good way. If someone is happy, you are happy with them. You reflect their joy. If someone is sad, you’ll cry with them and do anything you can think of to make them feel better. You are the most caring person I’ve ever known. This is another thing I love about you.

I worry sometimes that you are too empathetic and the big bad world is going to come in an squash you like a little bug. My heart broke for you at Papaw’s funeral. You were devastated, partly because you were and partly because you were feeding off of the sad energy in the room. As I held you close and told you everything was going to be ok, you got this look on your face like you knew it was true. It wasn’t until after the funeral that you stopped crying, but you realized that life hands you things you might not like, but you have to muddle through. You always pull yourself up. I love that about you.

I’ve told you before, but I still hope that all your dreams come true. You have such big ideas about the world and how it should be. You want to make things better. I really like that about you. I hope that you never lose that wide eyed wonder of the world. I hope you go and see and do. Don’t end up regretting the things you never did. Do them! You’ll regret what you didn’t do much more than the things you did even if they don’t turn out the way you might have hoped. One thing that will never change is that you can learn something from any situation, whether it be good or bad. The important part is to learn and move on to the next adventure. Trust me, there will always be another adventure, all you have to do is hope, dream, look and find. Enjoy life! You only get one.

The most important thing to remember is that I always love you. I am your biggest fan and your most ardent supporter. I will always be there to listen, to hold you when you cry, to help you understand the things that might seem completely incomprehensible, to help when you need a hand. I’m so glad that you came in to my life. I’m so glad that you are you. Never change to suit someone else. It’s essential to be yourself. If you have to change to have a friend then they aren’t worth having and aren’t a true friend to begin with. You are amazing just as you are.

Love,

Mom