A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young and she was remembering
The heater made a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen one like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.
I was five years old and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside it was warm and cozy. There were six of us and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time it seemed perfect.
Christmas was coming and as it always did during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first; the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.
But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer. “Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?” “No”, she replied. Who else would they be for?
With patience, she explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.
As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.
Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left. “Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”
We three, Cindy, Shirley and I turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.
Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety; will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement; how can I wait; how can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.
It was still dark when we raced to mom and dad’s room. They arose slowly – too slowly! finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.
What? I stopped short. There they were those buttons attached to a black velvet and red taffeta dress. What a surprise and joy.
As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart; gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, mom!!
Also, a thank you to my dad who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own two hands. We had them for many, many, years and they delighted all nine of us children.
It’s a joyous holiday celebrated around the world by both Christians and non-Christians. It’s a time to celebrate family, friendships and for Christians, Christ. It’s filled with parties, gift-giving, food, and fun. BUT it can be exhausting!
If you’re like me, you’ve had Christmases that when all was said and done, felt disappointing. Oh, the gifts were good, and you got everything on your to-do list done but something was missing. After a few decades of thinking about that after-Christmas feeling, I know what it is for me. I didn’t spend enough downtime with my family, I failed to connect heart to heart and laugh to laugh. I was just too busy.
When I pinned this down for myself, I thought, “I bet I’m not the only person out there who feels this way.” So, I compiled a packet of simple, inexpensive and family-centered activities to help myself and others spend some quality time together at Christmas. I combed the Internet and gathered information and links so you wouldn’t have to. You can print the PDF HERE.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend five, six or even seven quiet evenings with just you and your family celebrating this remarkably joyous season? I’m with you, it would. We can make that happen by cleaning out our calendar and making a commitment to do it.
When I first put this together I tried it out. I had a few of my grands over and we did two of the activities. We made donut snowmen and donut reindeer. We learned that frosting and candies do not stick on powdered donuts very easily! We learned that if you don’t keep an eye on them, the noses will disappear from the snowmen’s faces. (Jack was that you?)
We learned that working on the floor is perfect, as the mess is right where you can sit in it easily! We learned that cutting pretzels for antlers is not as easy as it looks and if you don’t do it right you have ears. Reindeer look very funny with ear-shaped antlers. We learned that we love working together and that the whole project only took about 20 minutes. Then we ate!
Here’s to spending time as a family, calming the craziness, celebrating together and gearing up for a fabulous 2020. You can print the PDF HERE.
Kids LOVE making Christmas gifts. Helping them can seem overwhelming during this very busy season. However, with a bit of thought and time, you can help your children give gifts from the heart.
When I had two children left at home, ages five and eleven, we decided to make Christmas gifts. We had set some guidelines:
They had to be usable and worth giving
They couldn’t cost a lot of money
The child had to be able to make it with minimal help
This was before every home had a computer! What I had instead was a butter-colored, six drawer file cabinet which was filled with things I had collected over a lifetime of teaching children. We searched through files marked Christmas, gifts, sewing, patterns, and so forth until we found the perfect items.
My son, who was eleven, chose to make footstools for his grandparents and dad. I took him to the lumber yard, and he asked scraps and they gave them to him. I took him to the local upholstery shop, and he asked for scraps which they gave to him. In other words, I let my children choose the gifts, helped them gather the supplies for the gifts and then assisted when they needed me in making the gifts. But these gifts really did come from them.
The following ideas are simple, inexpensive and your children will need minimal help. But the satisfaction of giving a gift from the heart will be priceless.
Gifts Kids Can Make for Christmas
1. Make a book for a toddler. Get a small photo album and have your older child print pictures from the Internet or they can draw simple objects. Glue the picture to a piece of heavy paper or poster board which has been cut to fit. Label the item, write a short sentence or paragraph for a story. 2.Write a story for a parent or grandparent. Buy a small notebook with unlined paper or put some plain paper into a folder. Have your child write a story and then illustrate it. If your child is new to writing, you can write their story for them on the pages they have illustrated. Part of the fun with younger children is helping them come up with a story while you write. This can make for wonderfully funny and warm moments together. My Kate, when she was small, wrote two stories that I still have. One was called The Golden Tear and was a fantasy. The other was called “Glass Is Not Cement” a hilarious story of a real experience that she had. (She used an aquarium for a step stool!) 3. Another great gift idea that an older child can make is a Quiet Book. We have made these, and they are just plain fun. This also works well as a project for a whole family. Each member of the family makes one page for the book. Here is a wonderful site that has some darling free templates. 4.Bookmarks. Over the years we have made many, many bookmarks. If you google bookmarks for kids to make and hit images, you will find more ideas than you can shake a stick at! Here is one easy idea. 5.Decorated Wooden Spoon. Here is a gift that I saw on TJEDMUSE, suggested by Debbie. I thought it was a wonderful idea. When I was young, about 11 or 12, I got a wood-burning kit for Christmas and I loved it. Choose a wooden kitchen implement such as a spoon or rolling pin. Use the wood burner to inscribe an inspirational word or picture. If you choose something like a spoon you can turn it into a great wall decoration by adding ribbon and silk flowers to the handle and then hot gluing a hanger on the back of the handle.
6. One year we made corn/rice warmers for our friends. I still have mine. I store it under the head of my bed for cold nights. I just pop it into the microwave for a minute and voila warmth. Because I had children making these, they were very simple. We cut squares from flannel about 9X9. We sewed up three and ½ sides filled them with feed corn which I bought. Rice works just as well. Then we hand sewed the opening shut. I was able to teach my kids how to use the sewing machine and how to sew with a needle and thread. Just a note – When I was teaching my 5-year-old to use the sewing machine I stood behind her and ran the pedal with my foot. I helped her push the material through the feed dog and keep it straight. It worked well and as far as she was concerned, she had done the sewing!
7.Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies. I know, I know, everyone gets cookied to death at Christmas. However, my children loved making them. This is a whole afternoon project or two short afternoons. Kids make the cookie dough, roll it out, bake the cookies and then decorate them. The recipe that I am giving you is very old and uses far more flour than sugar, so they are perfect for frosting. When kids are frosting cookies, it is a messy business and never looks beautiful the way you would do it. But please, don’t help them too much or fix their cookies. What we like to do is let the cookies sit for a couple of hours uncovered so the frosting crusts up a bit. Then we put them in freezer bags and write “A Christmas Gift for New Year’s Eve – please freeze” on the bag. Add a bow and maybe a couple of hot chocolate packets. What a great gift!
Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies
2 c sugar 7 c flour
1 c shortening ½ tsp salt
2 eggs 1 tsp soda
1 tsp vanilla ½ c evaporated milk (plain milk works but canned makes the flavor so yummy!)
Cream the sugar and shortening. Add eggs, vanilla, salt, and soda. Mix well. Add flour and milk alternately. I always end up mixing with my hands. It works so much better! The dough must be just stiff enough to roll out and handle nicely. Flour your table before you roll it out. It also helps to dip your cutter into the flour before cutting the dough. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. The longer baked, the crisper, the shorter baked, softer.
The last three weeks have been packed. I tried to get Christmas done and mailed before my trip to Seattle to help my daughter who is pregnant and very ill. But life is life and I live in a four-generation household and… well, I didn’t get it done.
Seattle was wonderful, busy, fun, and tiring all at the same time. I came home with croup. I know, only kids get croup but every few years I join them. I don’t feel ill, but I sound terrible and feel totally worn out, so Wed. and Thurs. I didn’t get much accomplished. But I couldn’t rest on Friday because there was so much to do.
Here’s what I was trying to accomplish on Friday
Bake three apple pies
Make another tent kit
Go to the doctors
Get my mom to take a bath and trim her hair
Make 50 pancakes and a pot of green chili
Create and format a special document
Get all the rest of Christmas wrapped and shipped
I have a friend who had surgery the day before I flew home from Seattle. When I asked how I could help her she said that she was having tons of visits and treats but that her family could use some nurturing. Hence one apple pie.
My neighbor loves apple pie too and I have had her on my gift list for three weeks. I wanted to give her a pie and if you’re going to make one pie you might as well make two right! But if I bake and give away pies, I must make one for my own household or there would be a rebellion. So, three pies.
Saturday morning our church planned a Christmas breakfast. That’s right, breakfast. I would have opted to take a breakfast casserole, but my husband has a family tradition of Green Chili Pancakes and it’s so unique that he really wanted to share it. The problem is, he doesn’t know how to make it, I do. His grannie taught me. : ) So I needed to make 50 pancakes and then a huge pot of the green chili sauce. It was too much to do Saturday morning, so it had to be done on Friday. This is very delicious by the way. You can print the recipe HERE.
Now all of this wouldn’t have been too bad, but we had a double doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, we had to stop at two stores on the way home to get some items we needed to finish the above projects and that whole thing took three hours.
I was still trying to get my Christmas items packed and shipped but found that I needed one more tent kit. Long story. And I also realized that I needed a formatted document to include with a special framed family genealogy chart we are sending to our children. We are direct descendants of William Brewster of the Mayflower and I wanted to help each family understand who he was, what his family was like, and why they came to America.
I was able to create and format the document but never made a dent in the gift wrapping or the tent kit making. I did get mom bathed and her hair trimmed. Big woohoo!
It’s Saturday morning now. The church breakfast is done. The chili pancakes were a success. Everyone loved the pies which have been eaten and I am heading off to do the tent kit and get the rest of the stuff wrapped and shipped. My house is a disaster and the kitchen cabinets can’t even be seen. I haven’t vacuumed, dusted, or cleaned anything. Laundry is piling up but I did get one load in before the breakfast. Another big woohoo!
Here’s my point – life can be overwhelming even when we don’t plan for it to be. Sometimes we get stretched out, tasks bunch together and it feels heavy. In those moments, in my past and younger life, I would go to bed feeling like a failure. I would wonder why I couldn’t get more done. Why wasn’t I like so and so who not only gets more done but looks great too and on and on!
Here’s what I don’t do anymore:
I don’t compare myself to anyone! Really everyone has their hidden disasters!
I don’t beat myself upbecause I’m not perfect, slow, behind, didn’t plan better, start sooner, stay well, look put together, etc.
If I find myself having a hard time managing my thoughts about myself I pray. Find something that works for you!
I work diligently to refrain from blaming anyone, or anything for my slowness, tiredness, lateness, etc. I don’t blame! Sometimes it is what it is.
Here’s what I do to manage those times when life is just too much:
I make an effort to get enough sleep even if it means not getting as much done in a day
I take time to remain Present – at least once a day. Being Present happens in 5-minute chunks. This takes practice, even for me
I pray a lot! and I force myself to smile : )
I hope that this holiday season you’ll work on being your own best friend. Say no a bit more. Compare less. Talk nicely to yourself. Remember small moments of self-care. Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Be Present at least once a day with someone you care about. It can take 5 minutes or less!
Do you ever have conflict with your children? I did. Know what I learned?
Often it was because they didn’t know what I wanted or what my expectations were. I assumed they knew. They should have known but the sad fact was that they didn’t.
My father used to say this all the time…When you assume it makes an a _ _ out of you and me. I hated that saying but unfortunately it’s true. When we make assumptions about what another person knows and understands we often find ourselves frustrated, angry, sad and the list of feelings goes on.
Today I want to share a poignant story with you that happened over the Christmas holiday. It could have happened to me or you but it happened to one of my sisters.
An Assumption Gone Wrong!
I have five sisters and we communicate with each other on a video phone app. In early December Rozanne made a video and we could all tell she was fit to be tied!! Mad as a wet hen!! She went on and on about the marvelous Christmas memory she had set up for her grandchildren by putting a wealth of wonderful games and books under her tree and how they had carelessly and thoughtlessly behaved.
She said that she had scolded them all, taken all the toys away and that the grandkids were so confused.
Now the children she was talking about are all fairly young. The behavior she spoke of seemed age appropriate to me. I mean, if there are unwrapped toys under the tree they are to play with, right. I was confused. What had she expected they would do with those toys? If I, as an adult, was confused about how they should have behaved how in the world could they not be confused?
Here is the story in Rozanne’s own words.
“I decided to put activities under the Christmas tree for the grandkids to enjoy. I did this instead of gifts because 23 grandchildren can be expensive and frustrating to shop for. I preferred to instill in their hearts a memory of Christmas fun at Grandma’s house.
I lovingly placed several coloring books, cardboard pop up books, activity books, etc. under the tree. I added several items from years past, such as a wooden puzzle my son made when he was in school and card games like Crazy Eights, Go Fish and Rummy. There was a pouch of finger puppets, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, etc. There were several Christmas storybooks including my favorite ‘The Gift of The Magi’ which is older than any of my 23 grandchildren. I anticipated all the children would create meaningful memories with one another.
To my chagrin, I was continually frustrated with the careless handling of the treasures I had thoughtfully placed under my beautiful Christmas tree. What was wrong with these kids!!!! Books were scattered on the floor or left in another room. Finger puppets were tossed under the tree and where was the Pouch?!? My youngest granddaughter proceeded to scribble on every single page of the coloring books. I began using the irritated mommy voice with my precious little angels. I’m sure I yelled a few times too.
Finally, I realized I hadn’t given my grandchildren any instructions or explained my expectations. I came to this realization after I had frantically removed every last item from under the Christmas tree to SAVE THEM from the horrible, no good, very bad grandchildren. That was a hard pill to swallow after feeling justified in my indignation.
After thinking about it for a few hours I felt sad. I put every item back under the tree and explained to the children why all that stuff was under there in the first place and the rules for using them:
• Put them under the tree when you’re done
• Only use them in the living room
• Play gently
Things went much better after that.
Over the years, I have weeded many things out of my holiday planning. I was always hoping to envelop everyone involved in my bubble of expectations but it became overwhelming and took away from the joy of the holiday.
I thought this simpler plan would accomplish the same as all my over the top projects of the past but my kids and grandkids simply were not on the same page as I was. I hadn’t let them in on what my expectations were. All they knew was that there was a pile of cool stuff to play with under the tree. Taking the time to give a simple explanation and a few instructions made all the difference in the outcome for the rest of the month. Memories were made, joy was felt and I am still Rozanne, the fun Grandma!”
Often when I’m mentoring an angry or resentful mom or dad, as we dig into what is actually the problem, this is what comes up – they just hadn’t made sure that the child or children in question knew what was required or expected.
It’s wise to understand that your kids don’t always know what you want. Even if you think they do or that they should know it’s wise to reiterate and make sure. If you take the time to do this you’ll have less frustration, feel less resentment and you will, as a family, have more joy.
Has this kind of thing happened to you? Please share your experience and what you have learned.
Here’s to more joy,
I WILL BE SPEAKING at the Winter Homeschool Conference on January 27, 2018, in Layton, Utah. This conference is designed to support and rejuvenate home educating parents who want to thrive, not just survive the homeschooling experience. You don’t have to be currently homeschooling to attend! I will be speaking about Process vs Outcome. Knowing the Difference Can Change Your Family. If the topic resonates with you I would love to have you join me.
“Whose is this one mom?” Seth held up a porcelain joker dressed in purple and red satin. “Oh, its one of mine, but you can have it.” He seemed pleased that I would let it go so easily; I was giving it to him along with 25 or 30 other beautiful ornaments gathered over the years.
As I watched him gleefully pack them up to take to his new home, my mind drifted back many years, to another home and another Christmas memory. The ornaments were scratched and old and many made by children’s small hands. I thought they were ugly and wondered why our tree couldn’t look like my friend’s trees with beautiful balls and ribbons so artfully hung.
The lights were in a box, a huge tangled mess. I could hear the tension between my mom and dad over those lights; she thinking, “It’s not a big deal”, and him promoting more organization and care in packing them away.
I vowed that my tree would never be like this. I would have beautiful ornaments. No little children would put them up, all clumped in one spot. The things they made would go on low branches or in the back or better yet on the refrigerator. My tree would be beautiful!
The presents under our family tree were ugly too. You could tell that kids had wrapped them using masking tape and very little skill. My friends had beautifully wrapped packages from large department stores under their trees. Ours were well worn, with the gifts inside poking through the corners where little hands had rearranged them too much. Never mind that I myself had moved them about over and over again, it wasn’t going to happen when I had a family. The packages would be beautifully wrapped and artfully placed under the tree and then left alone!
I kept those vows to myself. I began to gather Christmas, beautiful ornaments purchased for half price the day after Christmas. The lights were always perfectly wrapped at the end of each season. Nothing was bent, broken or mutilated! As the years passed the decorations increased and were more beautifully arranged than ever until we had a ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ house (well, as much as that is possible with seven children). It was truly beautiful and admired by many.
Little hands were pushed away and little faces scolded for touching the packages and rattling them close to little ears. Sometimes, those same little hands were allowed to put ornaments on the tree but they were later rearranged so they looked better. All the packages had pretty ribbons and straight edges where little hands had been helped too much to do the job, and more years passed.
Little by little I found my heart softening as I began to love my children’s hands more and the things of Christmas less. But now they were bigger hands and into them, I put the job of decorating. Perhaps things weren’t done just as I would have done them but it just didn’t seem to matter. All was a little less artfully arranged and the packages weren’t as fancy. Gone was the Better Homes and Gardens house. In today’s world, it would be a Pinterest house. I just wanted to please my children and not the world.
As the last ornaments were packed up and Seth and his little family left, I was brought back to the present. It had cost me nothing to give those trappings away to him. My heart was not attached to the things of Christmas as it had once been, but only to the grown child going out the door.
I realized that I had been gathering a new kind of Christmas, the kind from many years earlier in the home of my youth, where busy little hands had been allowed to touch Christmas and shake it and squeeze out every exciting moment of it.
I understood what I had missed as a youth, that Christmas has always been about little hands; the little hands of the Christ-child reaching towards his mother’s sweet face that first Christmas night. His little hands were lovingly guided and allowed to learn until they were grown and reached out to the whole world in love as he gave his life on the cross.
As I thought about where I had been and where I had come to I saw that now I was able to offer Christ a special gift; a heart full of love for little hands and a knowledge of the need to nurture them; a heart free of the worldly trappings of Christmas; a more Present heart.
I originally wrote this piece for a magazine over 30 years ago. Then it was published online In December of 2011. This year I asked my children to read this article and comment. I did this because I have been coming face to face with the reality that no matter how we feel we did or are doing as parents, in our children’s eyes it is far better than we think.
Here are a few of my children’s responses:
“I LOVE Christmas. I love everything about it. I loved our traditions and all the wonderful things that we did. It was a beautiful time and I have only fond memories.”
“Well, I didn’t know how much it meant then, but as an adult, I realize that my deepest childhood joys are wrapped up with Christmas. I do not even care if there are things under the tree, it is just vital to my happiness that there IS a tree, full of ornaments. This year, I have my elaborate decor about and there are three lovely Christam bags with tissue paper hanging out under the tree. The bags are empty, but it doesn’t matter because the look of Abundance is there and it makes me feel so full! I think as kids that is what it did for us. It was the time of the year where our house felt abundant and luxurious. It still brings me such joy.”
“Although you felt like you were controlling the decorating aspect you filled with so many other things. You made time to include all our school classes, gingerbread houses you spent countless hours preparing so we could make one for our childhood enjoyment, the cookie plates we took to neighbors and friends, Christmas parties for the ward and our friends, and so many other things. You even saved the shuffle ball ornament for 20 years, that my friend Brooke Powell made me in 1st grade… It went on the tree every year and so many other things. Even though you rearranged them after we put the decorations [on the tree], the tree is the memory I hold, because it was a tradition for us. We knew you rearranged them but I don’t think any of us cared. We had an awesome Christmas house. I remember my friends loving it so much…”
You won’t and, frankly, can’t do everything right. You are after all, still working on becoming the best person and parent that you can be. But if you consistently do the small and simple things that really matter, if you never give up then trust me, it will be enough!
Here’s to more joy,
I WILL BE SPEAKING at the Winter Homeschool Conference on January 27, 2018 in Layton, Utah. This conference is designed to support and rejuvenate home educating parents who want to thrive, not just survive the homeschooling experience. You don’t have to be currently homeschooling to attend! I will be speaking on Process vs Outcome. Knowing the Difference Can Change Your Family. If the topic resonates with you I would love to have you join me.
P.S. You can learn more about nurturing little hands, doing the simple things that really matter and how to keep working on becoming a better parent and person in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. Knowing the difference will help you let it be enough. You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com It can be life-changing for your family. I promise!
In my time I have made some award-winning gingerbread homes. I’ve made whole villages. I’ve made Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds that actually move. I LOVE making gingerbread creations.
But even more than making fancy gingerbread creations, I LOVE helping kids make their own. In our family, we have a gingerbread tradition. Each year I help my grandkids make houses. Then I go to their school and help their friends make them. Most years I help over 100 children make a gingerbread house.
This is a project that any family can do. When you add popcorn, hot cocoa, a good Christmas story and lots of hugs at the end of the project you have a perfect family activity. This is my gift to you – An afternoon or evening of holiday family fun.
What you need are a few disposable bags and the right frosting recipe! Trust me; the recipe makes all the difference.
How to help kids make Gingerbread Houses:
Call your local school and get some empty milk cartons
Buy graham crackers and lots of small candies, raisins, and mini-marshmallows
Snip off the top of the carton (where it is sealed) and tape it shut. Now it looks like a house
Lay carton on its side on a sheet of paper or cardboard and trace; cut out pattern
Lay carton on its front on a sheet of paper or cardboard and trace; cut out pattern
Lay the pattern on a graham cracker and using a serrated knife (plain will not do!) cut 2 sides, a front, and back. Usually, the cracker is just a bit narrower than the pattern. It won’t matter. (If you need to trim a cracker use scissors)
Half a cracker should make a fine roof. If the overhang is too large just trim to the size you want.
Cut a door and three windows from the scraps
Make the frosting and put into disposable decorating bags or the corner part of a sturdy Ziploc. Cut off the tip of disposable decorating bag or corner of Ziploc bag. Don’t make the opening overly large.
If using a disposable decorating bag rubber band the back end shut so the frosting stays inside
Using frosting, glue carton to a Styrofoam plate or square of cardboard covered with foil.
Using the frosting glue the sides, front and back to the carton. Add roof pieces. Use plenty of frosting. Jiggle the cracker up and down on the carton to stick it well. Don’t press on the cracker or you may break it.
Put the door and windows in place.
Cover the seams one at a time with the frosting and add candy. Royal frosting dries quickly so do only a small section at a time so that it doesn’t crust over making candy adhere poorly.
Finish decorating the house any way you want
Tips to help parents have fun while their make their houses:
Mentally prepare for a messy table, floor, fingers and shirt fronts.
Kids will suck on the decorating bag. Get over it!
Some kids will put NO candy on their house; it will all go inside them. Just accept it. : )
Some children will put the door or windows on the roof. It’s OK.
Not all children will cover all of the seams. They don’t see the carton and a successful house to them isn’t dependent on all the seams being covered. Let it go!
Many children will put no candy anywhere but the roof. It is the part they see and the rest doesn’t matter to them.
Children under 2 need help. Squeezing the bag can be too hard. Putting the candy on the frosting is enough for them.
Children between 2 and 3 want to squeeze the bag even if it is hard. Holding their little hands in yours helps them just enough.
Children over 3-4 can usually manage this project with only a few instructions. When I work with large groups of children or even just my grandkids, we work at the same pace, one piece at a time, until the house is assembled. Then I turn them loose.
Children over 5-6 need very little help and if they are over 8-9 will resent any help. : )
I have been helping children make gingerbread houses for over 40 years and in all that time I have never seen a child who didn’t like their finished house no matter what it looked like, even the house with NO candy on it, unless an adult pointed out the flaws. Resist the temptation to ‘do it your way.” Don’t spoil it!!
If you fix their house so that all the seams are covered or so it looks “good” it’s no longer their house. It’s yours. Don’t be selfish.
I hope you have a wonderful time making a village for your home and just plain enjoying one another’s company. Happy Holidays!
Frosting for Gingerbread Houses:
Royal Frosting (Meringue Powder)
This frosting is much easier to make and handle. Grease does not break it down and it can be re-beaten for later use. It can be stored in covered container for up to 6 months. Meringue powder can be purchased at some craft stores and any store that sells cake decorating supplies. Worth the extra cost!
¼ cup meringue powder ½ cup water
4 cups or 1 pound powdered sugar
Mix the meringue powder and water…beat until it peaks. Add the sugar (1/2 cup more for stiffer frosting) ½ cup at a time on low and then beat on high to desired consistency. This will beat up a bit more quickly than the egg white version.
Royal frosting dries quickly and as hard as cement so keep it covered at all times with a damp cloth or in a tightly covered bowl until you put it into the bags. As you use it on the houses encourage and remind kids to do small sections at a time because if it “crusts up” things don’t stick as well.
There are many families that would love to make a gingerbread house but, well, it can be intimidating. The few I have known to actually do it usually have mediocre results. I have also seen families use the kits and I haven’t seen one work out yet. That is because the recipes for gingerbread and the frosting count!!
So today I want to share a wonderful story of family and tradition with you and a recipe that is over 100 years old. It ‘s my favorite cookie recipe of all time. For those who are not gingerbread fans, this cookie is for you. Mild and delicious. I have used it for both gingerbread men and gingerbread houses. It works perfectly.
Over ninety years ago Ann Gardner, my grandmother on my mother’s side, taught first grade in Star Valley, Wyoming. In fact, she taught all of the grades over a 40 year period of time. She was known as a tough, but fair teacher. My dad, Verl Cazier, was in one of her first-grade classes!
One of her holiday classroom traditions was making gingerbread men with her students. Each child would get a large ball of dough. They would break that into smaller balls, for the body, head, legs, and arms. They would also get a square of cardboard. Each child would flatten the largest ball of dough in the middle of the cardboard square. They would then add the head, arms, and legs by doing the same with the smaller balls of dough. The ‘man’ had to fit in the square of cardboard with nothing hanging over. Then red-hot eyes, mouth, nose, and buttons were pressed into the dough. Each child would then carefully carry their piece of cardboard, with their gingerbread man, to the cafeteria to be baked.
When I was a young mom, making gingerbread houses and villages to pay for our families Christmas, I asked her for her recipe. She gladly shared it with me and the story of what she had done all those years before in her first-grade classes. Since then her gingerbread has graced many Thanksgiving tables, been given as countless Christmas presents and been shaped into numberless gingerbread houses and cookie people.
I hope that you will enjoy this recipe and pass it down to your own families. It is now well over a hundred years old and you won’t find a better recipe out there. : )
Ann Gardner’s Gingerbread Man Recipe
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
6 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ – 1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
(if you like a little bite, add 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper – this is my own addition to the mix)
Cream sugar and shortening. Add molasses and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and mix. Add dry ingredients. When it gets too stiff to mix with a spoon turn it out onto the counter and knead until all the flour is mixed in. Chill one hour.
Roll out ¼ inch thick on tin foil, parchment paper or waxed paper. (If I am making a house I roll it out 1/8 inch thick because I want to cut down on the weight and bulk.) Lift foil onto the pan. Cut out shapes. Remove excess. Make sure to leave at least 1/2′ between each gingerbread piece. Bake at 350* for 8-10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a flat surface. Enjoy!
If you want to try your hand at making a gingerbread house these patterns will get you started. The frosting recipe for holding gingerbread house pieces together makes a huge difference too. Here is one that works every time. Be sure that you beat it until it is thick and stands up in peaks and then your house will hold together just right.
This frosting is easy to make and handle. Unlike royal frosting that is made with egg whites, grease does not break it down and it can be re-beaten for later use. It can be stored in a covered container for up to 6 months. Meringue powder can be purchased at some craft stores and any store that sells cake decorating supplies.
Royal Frosting (Meringue Powder)
¼ cup meringue powder ½ cup water 4 cups or 1 pound powdered sugar
Mix the meringue powder and water…beat until it peaks. Add the sugar (1/2 cup more for stiffer frosting) ½ cup at a time on low and then beat on high to desired consistency. This will beat up a bit more quickly than the egg white version. Royal frosting dries quickly and as hard as cement so keep it covered at all times with a damp cloth or in a tightly covered bowl. Keep any utensils, tip, bags etc. covered also.
I experimented with transferring the pattern to a printed page. Right-click and save the photo. Paste it into Word, Publisher or a similar program. Size it to fit on an 8×10 sheet of paper and print. Cut out pattern pieces.
For those of you that want to make a gingerbread house with your children, I will be giving you all of the details and directions in my next article. It requires no baking!
SERVICE FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON
During December I want to do some form of service each day. I want to increase my sense of joy and happiness during the holiday season as a gift to myself and to the Savior, and serving others does just that. “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25: 40
I found a link that gives you a calendar to download with one act of service to do each day leading up to Christmas day. It is family and time friendly. You too might want to check it out.
GREAT NEWS!!!!!! Just in time for the holiday season. On December 21st I will be giving away 5 copies of Becoming a Present Parent via a Goodreads Give Away. There are no strings attached. You won’t be added to any lists. So head on over and enter. You just may be a WINNER!
I WILL BE SPEAKINGat the Winter Homeschool Conference on January 27, 2018 in Layton, Utah. This conference is designed to support and rejuvenate home educating parents who want to thrive, not just survive the homeschooling experience. You don’t have to be currently homeschooling to attend! I will be speaking on Process vs Outcome. Knowing the Difference Can Change Your Family. If the topic resonates with you I would love to have you join me.