Tag Archives: Holidays

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part Two

Creating and designing gingerbread houses is a fun and classic holiday activity. It can also — let’s face it — be messy and time-consuming, what with baking the pieces for and constructing the house, gathering all the needed supplies, and having an area in your home that you don’t mind getting a little frosting-spackled.

The clever solution for would-be gingerbread architects who are a little short on time and materials? Find a spot that supplies all the needed ingredients and merely requires you to show up, be creative and pay for what you use.

One such spot is Mill Valley, CA’s Gingerbread Builders, which offers standard and custom houses and everything you need to create stunning ones, including catalogs for inspiration, staff assistance, plenty of time and all manner of frosting and candy decorations. And best? It’s open every day on a drop-in basis.

Other Bay Area spots offer gingerbread house workshops at specific times. These include the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Cake Art in San Rafael, Autumn Express in San Francisco, and Spun Sugar in Berkeley.

Across the country, in Lexington, MA, Wilson Farm offers a gingerbread house workshop on a historic farm that features lots of other fun activities. In Newton, MA, Create a Cook has a two-part gingerbread house workshop, in addition to other kids’ cooking classes.

New York City’s Taste Buds offers lots of gingerbread house and holiday cookie workshops.

Chicago’s Emerald City Theater features gingerbread house making in conjunction with other theater activities.

The Creative Discovery Museum in Chatanooga, TN, has lots of gingerbread house workshops.

In Camano Island, WA, you can decorate a gingerbread house outdoors at the Cama Beach Nature Preserve with Gingerbread Lady Alice Blandin. (Register by Dec. 6.)

In Toronto, the very special-sounding Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream offers drop-in gingerbread house creating, along with owner/ baker/cake decorator Kyla Eaglesham.

Seeking a larger project? This person in my town transforms their house into a lifesize gingerbread house each year!

So, whatever your taste, time allotment, budget and desire, there’s a gingerbread house project for you, and a place to create it!

For more ideas and how-tos, see my earlier post about Constructing and Decorating a Gingerbread House. Have fun!

Photos: Top Three – Gingerbread Builders, Kyla Eaglesham, Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part One

It’s the rare person whose imagination isn’t captured by the delight in creating a gingerbread house. There’s the architecture aspect, as the house’s pieces are baked and fitted — and icing-caulked — together in a variety of ways. There’s the decorating, which can be done with all manner of bright candies and objects and patterns that can recall familiar items — or not! And there’s the very satisfying, whimsical, one-of-a-kind structure that results.

Here are some tips and ideas from around the web for creating gingerbread and other candied houses.

From Wilton, comes this extremely informative and creative guide to decorating with icing and candies that covers everything from creating icicles to fireplaces to shutters to stained-glass windows.

Celebrating Christmas offers recipes, ideas, and enough blueprints for homes and landscaping (from ponds to flower-lined paths) to satisfy your inner general contractor.

Gingerbread House Heaven is another site with lots of ideas and beautiful pictures for inspiration. Think you can’t light a gingerbread house with real lights, for instance? Think again. This site shares how, in addition to offering instructions for melted-candy windows that will make the light glow realistically through. Roofing textures and various recipes for edible clay are among the many other things covered.

If you’re still seeking good gingerbread recipes and building how-tos, Simply Recipes has plenty.

Rather skip the headaches of building and just move in? Here are lots of turn-key house ideas, like using milk cartons or other bases, as a way of getting right to the decorating fun.

With small children, especially, the easiest and most pleasing thing to do is cover a short milk carton with frosting and let them stick on candies and other foods to decorate. The milk carton (or a village of them) can sit atop a piece of foil-covered cardboard that can also be frosted. And, of course, you can buy a pre-assembled gingerbread house and get right to the decorating.

Some decorating ideas include:

Gumdrops, cut in half – edging or decorations
Jelly beans – edging or decorations
M&Ms – ornaments or decorations
Fruit loops – decorations
Nilla wafers, crushed or whole – walkways
Ritz crackers – walkways, shingles or siding
Gummi bears – decorations
Chocolate soldiers – decorations
Chocolate kisses – bells or decorations
Chocolate nonpareils – shingles or decorations
Candy canes – gates or decorations
Licorice, small pieces – edging or bricks
Necco wafers, whole or broken – shingles, walkways, decorations
Pretzel sticks – fences and logs
Shredded wheat cereal – thatched roofs
Graham crackers, halved, and candy canes – sleds
Graham crackers – shingles
Upside down ice-cream cones, frosted and dipped in green sprinkles – trees
Brown sugar – dirt
Confectioners sugar – snow

And, for the modern home, orange-half barbecues and ice-cream cone satellite dishes!

Here’s hoping you enjoy a fun and creative holiday!

Photos: Public Domain, Wilton, Susan Sachs Lipman

Stay tuned for Part Two: Gingerbread Workshops

Giving Thanks: Express Gratitude with Crafts, Foods, Fun and Contemplation

Thanksgiving is upon us in the U.S. Even those who routinely feel and express gratitude have a sanctioned reason to pause and do so more profoundly than usual. Gratitude can transform one’s entire experience or outlook. It imbues relationships, observations and activities with awe and fullness and the realization that “this moment” — and our own unique collection of moments — is the best there is.

x
The Thanksgiving holiday makes space for us to allow gratitude into our (often busy) lives in new ways and to pass that feeling on to our children. I’m very grateful for many things, including my wonderful and creative blogger friends who have taken the time to contribute their own ideas for gratitude and celebration.

While I love the smells of turkey cooking — in addition to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. — I also enjoy getting out in nature on Thanksgiving Day.  Frugal Mama shares four make-ahead traditional Thanksgiving recipes that allow you to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, as well as some time away from the kitchen.

Pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving and Fall food and, while you can make it from scratch, this recipe using canned pumpkin, is extremely easy and makes a very tasty pie.

You can bake your own crust or use one of the pre-made ones, some of which are getting better and better tasting. Epicurious taste-tested pre-made pie crusts. Among their favorites is one of  mine, Whole Foods 365 Organic Pie Shells. Good Housekeeping also weighs in with their pre-made pie crust taste test.

x
From Rhythm of the Home and Vintage Chica comes a beautiful Thankfulness Journal project.  Of course, this well-made felt-covered book would be a wonderful project to make, use and enjoy any time of year.

The same could be said of this equally inspiring and beautiful gratitude banner from Future Craft Collective. It’s fun and lovely in itself and wonderful in the way it allows family members to contemplate and formalize their gratitude.

x
Easy and fun thankfulness ornaments come from Unplug Your Kids. Do you remember making salt-dough ornaments and objects? I sure do. This old-school project never goes out of style and the gratitude aspect adds a nice touch.

Shoveling snow? Why not turn it into a fun and magical outdoor activity for you and your kids? That’s what Mel at Your Wild Child did. Her photos are delightful and inspiring, as always.

Bethe, the Grass Stain Guru, shares her own wonderful list of 10 things to be thankful for in nature.

I just had the good fortune to learn about the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA, which explores the science behind happiness and the ways that we can nurture those brain pathways that promote it. According the the folks at Greater Good, happiness can be a learned and practiced trait.

Greater Good also offers a community gratitude journal that allows you to go in and add your own comments about the things that you’re grateful for.

Want more information about cultivating an attitude of gratitude? Arvind Devalia gives us some ideas about embracing what we already have. Thank you to Alison Kerr at Loving Nature’s Garden for her own post about gratitude and for letting me know about this blog.

My own gratitude list includes:
A family that laughs a lot
Good friends
The smell of clean laundry
The air after it rains
Strawberries
Tulips
Clouds
Vintage anything
Old cities
Trains
Tomatoes
Beaches
Hats and gloves
Hopeful new immigrants
Energy
Creativity
Good health
A warm house
Meaningful work
Books and book stores
Holidays
Amusement Parks
County Fairs
Swing music
Colors
Babies
Curlicues
Road trips
A smile from a stranger
Daffodils
Snow-capped mountains
Starry nights
Wonder

..to name a few things

What’s yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

x

Photos: Farm Security Administration, Rick Audet, Bernadette Noll, Susan Sachs Lipman

National Day of Service

National Day of Service is here again. This year, January 18th marks the Martin Luther King Day national holiday, and the day designated a national day of service as a way of honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy.

National Day of Service has been recognized by Congress since 1994, but it may have been truly popularized last year when President Obama, on the eve of his inauguration, re-declared the day and provided energy and resources toward getting people involved in the service of helping others.

Last year, our family decided to contribute by serving at Muir Woods National Monument. With a group numbering a few dozen people, we raked and cleared dirt paths and cleaned moss and mud from between the planks of the boardwalk that leads into the park. Rangers told us this is something they do twice a year. It felt great to help them and this treasure of a national park, and to contribute our efforts to a stunning, natural place that so many visitors enjoy and that happens to be near our home. Muir Woods and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, in the San Francisco Bay Area, have a web page where one can find volunteer opportunities for National Day of Service and other times. The National Park Service also has a page where you can search for volunteer opportunities at national parks around the country.

Last year, we also learned of a local book drive and Anna chose some books she no longer wanted, which were donated to a children’s library in a struggling neighborhood. It was wonderful to imagine other young readers discovering books we had all enjoyed and gotten a lot out of.

This year, of course, a lot of attention is on helping the people of Haiti recover from a devastating earthquake. There are fundraising and other efforts underway. One thing children can do to feel empowered in helping Haiti is to hold a bake sale or other sale to raise money for organized relief efforts.

There is also no shortage of opportunity to help people everywhere with food, companionship, mentoring, building, and otherwise committing some time, energy and goods, for the day of service, a day in the future, or a period of time. A great place to research service opportunities is the serve.gov website, which offers information by locality, as well as information about helping Haiti.

This is a good web site to read or hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and learn more about him. Dr. King said, ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’ A simple day of service can be a very meaningful way for family and community members to come together in the act of doing something for others and remembering what this holiday is about.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Lynn Mueller

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

I came upon this whimsical house, nestled in the forested Cascade Canyon section of Mill Valley, right behind the library. It’s so sweet and imaginative, and captures the playful aspect of the season. Plus, its setting couldn’t be more perfect.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 2

Holiday light displays seem contagious among neighborhoods — I truly think this occurs more from the spread of cheer than a ruthless electrical competition. Really, who can resist a bit of joy when encountering twinkling lights, moving characters, and various expressions of cheer and calm? Marinwood, in Marin County, CA, is one such decorated neighborhood and has apparently been for more than a generation. We drove around there last week, taking in all the fun lights and decorations gracing the various homes. We visited our old favorites, which, as always, stood out.

The Lights of the Valley web site has directions and hours for these houses, plus tons of photos and directions for houses all over Northern California. Do yourself a favor and visit.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fantastic Rombeiro House in Novato, which you can actually go in!

Mize’s Mickey Mouse House, 417 Blackstone Drive, Marinwood

This super-fun house has been going for 33 years. In addition to all the lights and characters decorating the outside, a two-car garage is windowed off and filled to the brim with all manner of Disney toys and characters, in Christmas dress and settings. Particularly prominent is Mickey Mouse, down to the house’s mouse-ear-shaped shrubbery. It is all quite a delight, a fantasy toyland. Smiling visitors of all ages just try to take it all in.

The Nisja Bear House, 383 Quietwood Drive, Marinwood

This delightful house also features diorama displays, but its real crown is the elaborate model railroad that runs through the front yard. Whimsical pieces seem to be added on every year. This year, we had the pleasure of talking to Roy Nisja, who explained how he started decorating the house and building the railroad 29 years ago, when his son was small. His son and family live nearby, but they all continue to build the train each year on Quietwood.

Nisja showed us the camera he rigged so that when he does take breaks and go back inside the house he can still be certain both Eastbound and Westbound trains are running. Chuckling, he pointed out the new lighted landing strip he added on his roof for Santa. People, aged from children to seniors, in Santa hats and warm coats, came up his walk to marvel at the trains, bears, and other snow creatures and characters and wonder which had been added this year.

The Statham Christmas House, 12 Adobestone Court, Marinwood

Luckily, we did talk to Roy Nisja, because he told us about a traditional, wonderful decorated house that we didn’t know about and that had been resurrected after 12 dark years. The Statham House was a 40-year Marinwood tradition until Charles “Dooley” Statham decided to call it quits for health reasons year ago. Sadly, he died this fall, and his family decided to resurrect the house one more time in his honor. It’s an amazing sight to come upon, walking up the hill from Blackstone. (The Court, a little cul-de-sac, is blocked to cars.)

It’s completely magical, with large wooden cut-outs and wonderful lights. We got there close to 11 p.m. (!) Crowds had still been milling about the other houses, but lights were beginning to rather dramatically click off and dim. We did get to see the house in its glory, including some lighted displays of vintage toys in large windows, and hope to again before it’s gone for good in a few days.

The Marin Mommies web site has directions and hours, as well as some more nice material about Statham and the house.

Still to come: A sweet “gingerbread” house in Mill Valley.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 1

This year it feels like the holiday season is rushing away a little too quickly. Christmas may be over, but the winter season has just started. If you, like me, love seeing houses lit up against cold nights; the conviviality of friends and good food; the cheery decorations, pine smells, and warm greetings, you are in luck because our people, the ones who decorate to the hilt and then hang around their houses night after night to talk to strangers of all generations and absorb their joy, tend to leave their decorations up as long as possible and linger in the season’s cheer.

In my neck of the woods, there is a house that is stunningly decorated, and — most incredibly — welcomes people, inside and out. Novato, CA’s Rombeiro family begins decorating on Labor Day each year and doesn’t start dismantling their creation until Kings’ Day, January 6th.

Here’s hoping your neighborhood affords you fun light displays. It’s always stirring to see such unique and joyful creativity on display and to see so many people, in groups large and small, experiencing simple awe and warm community.

The Lights of the Valley web site is a fantastic resource for holiday light displays all around Northern California.

Rombeiro House, 34 Devonshire Drive, Novato

The granddaddy of Marin County’s decorated houses, The Rombeiro House has been a family tradition for us since our daughter was small, and for the Rombeiros for 18 years. I know of nothing else like it. “Labor of Love” only scratches the surface of the intense effort that Ed Rombeiro and his family put out every year.

The Rombeiros greet everyone who comes to their house, every night from early December to January 6. And they welcome them inside their home, where people walk, sometimes in slow-moving lines, from room to decorated room.

The family sacrifices living quarters and sleeping quarters. Nearly every surface is covered with charming displays of animatronic and wonderfully themed snowmen, elves, santas, angels, penguins, bears, wise men, reindeer, and toys.

There’s even a whole room that is transformed into a model train tableau.

It is said that the Rombeiros use more than 100,000 lights and that 39,000 people come through the home to experience its magic each year. (There’s a collection box outside to help the family with their electric bill.) We usually get a hello, a goodbye, or both from Ed Rombeiro, who told us that the tradition of extensive holiday decorations (perhaps not this extensive) originated in his family’s native country the Azores. The Rombeiro House web site has directions and hours. It is open through January 6th.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman