December 9, 2010

Gingerbread! House! Adventure! FAIL

I don't think I have EVER DONE anything as frustrating as trying to build graham cracker gingerbread houses. EVER. I'd thought it would be pretty easy, because the kids have done it in school and it seems like with that kind of adult/child ratio it MUST be a pretty easy project. And maybe it IS if you do it right, but that is NOT HOW IT WENT DOWN.

Just for starters, half the graham crackers in the box were broken. (Okay, fine, it was more like a fourth, but I'm CRABBY and it FELT like half.) Several others broke while we were trying to assemble the houses. (Fine: ONE broke.) I'd spent $3 to get a box of the brand-name ones because the school sign-up sheet emphasized that it was important to use the brand-name ones.

THEN, I got a royal icing recipe online, and even went out and bought pasteurized egg whites for it ($1.89 per cup---ack), and the recipe was a TOTAL FLOP. It was the consistency of...I'm not sure what it was the consistency of, but I could pour it, and when I tried to use it as glue (oh, that's it: it was the consistency of Elmer's glue), it just ran and dripped all over the place. The parts that DID stick together kept falling apart.

I believe I've mentioned before that I've got a flash temper: I get too mad, too fast. As I've pointed out to the children in our discussions about how everyone has character flaws to work on, the upside to this particular character flaw is that I also get over it fast. (I still remember with a cringe my grandfather's temper, which was silent and simmering and wouldn't be over until he apparently reset in his sleep.) But the downside is that when things are frustrating, I don't, um, cope well. Nor is my non-coping particularly, um, silent.

So then I took a little break and, in thinking over how things had gone, realized that in addition to needing to find a workable way to do the houses since otherwise it would be too disappointing to the children, I needed to fix how things had gone with our first attempt, to avoid leaving them with the Happy Holiday Memory of "the time we were going to make gingerbread houses but then mom went into a frustrated rage and called the whole thing off like a JERK."

In years of coping with temper, I've learned it's far better when angry not to indulge in the deep satisfaction of breaking something, because the satisfaction is momentary but the clean-up is significantly more time-consuming. It's the same with the kind of damage a temper does to children: it requires clean-up, and the clean-up takes significantly longer than the event itself.

I started by going out and saying things like "Whew, that was frustrating, wasn't it?" I explained that sometimes when something is frustrating, it's better to take a little break instead of getting mad. Then I said I was sorry for getting so frustrated and mad, and I said things like, "When we're frustrated, are we supposed to say "AAAAAAA THIS ISN'T WORKING PERFECTLY THE VERY FIRST TIME, SO FORGET THE WHOLE THING!!"? and they'd say "Nooooooooooo!!" and laugh. So step one (indicating end of tantrum, apologizing for tantrum, and breaking the ice by making fun of self while simultaneously delivering lesson on correct handling of something I'd handled incorrectly) was complete.

Then I said we WOULD try again, because it would be too disappointing to just NOT DO IT, and they agreed. I said we'd have to do it another day because we were out of time for today and still needed to find a new frosting recipe, but that we WOULD do it---we would just need to find a way that would work better than the way we'd tried it the first time. They were relieved and happy and saying "Yeah! And maybe NEXT time it will work!" Step two (reassurance, plus contradiction of anything I might have said in the heat of the moment, plus delivering of "try, try again" lesson) complete.

Then I suggested we go to the kitchen and consider the results of our first efforts. We sighed and laughed over the two "successes" (extremely sloppy and dripping and tippy, but TECHNICALLY crackers glued together in a rectangle) and the one total failure, which had tipped over completely. I took a bite of one of the collapsed pieces, and it was really good, so I handed out iced graham crackers to everyone, and we stood in the kitchen eating them and commenting how yummy they were and talking more about what we might try next time. Third step (laughing at what had been frustrating, having a fun and unexpected treat, plus getting to see what the completed houses might taste like when we DID succeed) complete.


So. We are still ON for our Gingerbread! House! Adventure!, but with just a little tantrum learning experience added to the schedule. Day one (yesterday): going out and choosing the candies for decoration. Day two: supposed to be the day for making our own gingerbread houses but rescheduled as a learning experience day. Day three: trying again. Day four: visiting local gingerbread village and being even more impressed now that we've tried it ourselves. Day five: eating our gingerbread houses.

57 comments:

Erica said...

I'm so glad to read posts like these. They help me realize that I'm not the only parent with this particular character flaw and that I'm handling the Clean Up well when it happens.

Also, now I want iced graham crackers.

kate said...

I used the (super simple) royal icing recipe on this page: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_a_gingerbread_house/ and it worked like a charm. Per the directions, I microwaved it to deal with the raw-egg issue. I think the key is to add more sugar if it's not thick enough.

Sally said...

I know you didn't ask for tips on graham cracker construction techniques, but my memories of this are that in school, we used empty school lunch cartons as bases, and used frosting to kind of glue graham crackers to the milk cartons, which made it much easier. Might give that a try.

Betsy said...

We did a gingerbread house for the first time last year. I had big plans. We would design a house (me and my 4 boys), I would bake yummy, organic, wholesome gingerbread from scratch, we would have an idyllic time putting it together and decorating it with perfectly placed candies. Ha!!

That turned in to thinking maybe we should try graham cracker houses for our first year instead of going all out and possibly getting frustrated.

That turned in to Gah! I'm running out of time and oh look here is a kit at the grocery store and it's only $10 and normally I wouldn't pay that much for processed drivel, but we'll never get this done if I don't.

And honestly, that last thing turned out to be the best decision ever!!

kate said...

I bought a kit too, for the gingerbread pieces. I also bought the stuff to make it from scratch, but was OVER it by the time we were ready to start, so decided to save that for (easier) gingerbread men. But I only used the kit for the gingerbread pieces and the base because the included candy and icing was completely disgusting and rendered it inedible. The gingerbread tasted okay, though!

I think gingerbread would work well too, though.

kate said...

I meant *graham crackers* would work well.

Melissa said...

I'll second the suggestion to have a cardboard milk carton to build the house around. It's the only way I think it works without cursing.

Personally, we take a completely different - and SUPER lazy - approach in our house. I buy the kit. I toss aside the icing you're supposed to use as glue and pull out the hot glue gun. All the pieces are attached with hot glue, and then the boys use the icing kit to decorate and attach the candies and lighter pieces. We leave it out for the entire Christmas season, so we aren't going to eat it anyway, so it doesn't matter that it's not edible.

kakaty said...

We’ve done graham cracker houses with my nieces and nephews for a dozen years – we’ve got it down to a science. I know you didn’t ask here, but you were talking about it on Twitter so…assvice it is!!

First – preassemble the basic houses the night before and let them dry. If you don’t think that will fly with the kids, preassemble parts (i.e. make the roof -2 crackers at an angle – forming a triangle; and 2 “house pieces” – 2 crackers at 90-degree angles). Then they can “build” their house out of 3 parts, rather then 6 crackers. Plus, the weight of the roof won’t crush the walls, which can happen if the icing holding the walls together hasn’t set yet.

The icing needs to be THICK – like tacky glue or even caulk-thick or it will run all over. Also, use a lot when assembling – big, thick strips of icing up the edge of the cracker. Then after they are stuck together, we usually “reinforce” this joint with more icing on the inside of the angle.

We just make our icing out of powdered sugar and warm water. We use a 1 lb bag of XXX sugar for 4 kids to make houses. Dump it in your stand mixer and drizzle in warm water a tablespoon at a time until it’s the consistency you want it. Remember THICK! This can be covered with a damp paper towel then wrapped in plastic if you want it to keep overnight.

Finally, cover everything in the assembly area – the icing WILL get everywhere and practically needs to be chiseled off when dry.

Good luck with round 2!

Barb @ getupandplay said...

That is indeed very frustrating.

I have never eaten a gingerbread house, FWIW, we make them at our house solely as decorations/fun activities. We snack on the candy and graham crackers as we build instead. Because we don't eat them, we use alternative methods for getting the graham crackers to stay together and just use the royal icing for adhering the candy.

One method is the "melted sugar" method- melt sugar in a saucepan on the stove until it is a LAVA HOT syrup and dip the graham crackers in carefully and adhere them to each other (OVER AT THE STOVE). This is not for small children, obviously. (I guess this is technically still edible).

Then once the house is built, then we decorate it. The other alternative is to use a hot glue gun (again, PARENTAL execution) to make the house forms and then the kids can go nuts with the frosting and candy decoration.

Good luck! (And brava for not scrapping the whole thing.)

This link has helpful info:
http://onecharmingparty.com/2010/11/30/gingerbread-house-decorating-party-houses/

-R- said...

I didn't realize you could use graham crackers. The one time H and I made a gingerbread house, I baked the walls from scratch, and it was a huge pain in the butt.

It sounds like you did a good job working with the kids. I think making fun of yourself a little bit is always good.

Slim said...

Screw the royal icing. Make confectioner's sugar icing (2T butter for each cup of conf. sugar, some flavoring, and drizzles of milk as needed), put in plastic bag with big hole, and let the warmth of your hand soften the icing. As it cools, it will harden, creating a reasonably sturdy glue.

Lisa said...

You've seen my attempts at gingerbread trains, so clearly I am not a master builder. But I think the idea of building around a shoebox/whatever and using a hot glue gun is SO SMART. Filing that one away for next year.

Lippy said...

I also suffer the flash temper. Nice to know I am not the only one. I can't wait to hear how the second try works.

Melospiza said...

This is why I spring for the $19.99store-bought kits (which are also frustrating, but more in a I-can't-hold-this-together way, instead of a I-can't-hold-this-together-and-also-it's-breaking way).

Jess said...

THIS. My mom suffered from this character flaw too, except that it was compounded by the fact that she did NOT get over it quickly, and would NEVER have come back and tried to rectify the situation, and CERTAINLY not by laughing at herself. It makes me so happy to know that sometimes a situation with an angry parent actually can end nicely.

Jenn said...

I buy pre-made frosting from the grocery store. Anything that is white will do (the not whipped variety is thicker and works better). I then shove it in a ziplock bag and clip off the tip. Make sure to zip the bag AND put a rubber band securely around the back side of your makeshift bag, otherwise little hands have a tendency to explode the frosting out the back, making a mess.

I also use a container to make a frame. Beer 6 pack holders work great for large projects (there are tons of non-alcoholic options out there, though) and I've found from experience that it's slightly less frustrating if you take another box of some sort and tape something across the top of the container so the crackers don't fall in the peaks. Doable without, but less frustrating with that tiny bit of pre-work.

Each graham cracker is dabbed on the back with a glob of frosting and affixed directly to the container. The joints can be filled with more frosting for more stability and more places to shove candy items.

Have fun! That's the part I forget to do every year. I get way too stressed and forget to ENJOY the process. *sigh*

Carolyn said...

As a preschool teacher, I have lived this frustration year after year. And I agree with the above posters that pre-making as much as you can helps, gluing the pieces in order to make an inedible house is better, and my best bet was to buy a kit.

If buying a kit, I don't even buy the kind where you have to put the walls together and glue them. Wilton has a pre-built house that you can decorate with icing and candy. I've found that young children only want to decorate and smear anyway, so forget the breaking walls and falling over pieces.

It sounds like you handled it really well. These things are stressful.

Maggie said...

Frankly, if you had just said only "is there anything more frustrating than trying to make a gingerbread house" you would have received a resounding "hell, no" from me. We've tried this twice - once with a kit from Costco and once from scratch - both times it involved a ridiculous amount of work and struggle. I guess they were good exercises in showing the kids how not to quit or freak out or throw things when frustrated, but I'll be damned if I try those again for another few years. What a complete PITA. Bah humbug.

Stimey said...

This is fantastic! What a great lesson for your kids. You, ma'am, are an excellent mother.

The Mama Beth said...

I saw Sally mention this too...When I worked with preschoolers, we used the little milk cartons as the "foundation" for our houses. Canned frosting would glue the graham crackers to the box and the decorations to the graham crackers. Easy peasy. I really admire those of you out there who are doing all of these fun things-did you see Emily's post about her houses? If I tried something like that the whole time I'd be fighting Adeline not to eat the candy, there'd be no construction going on.

Mama Bub said...

This is why I bought the pre-assembled gingerbread house from Costco - otherwise we would have all been in tears. You handled this so much better than I would have.

Pickles and Dimes said...

You handled this situation beautifully! And no matter how the results turn out next time, your kids have a fun, happy memory of trying to make gingerbread houses with you. That's awesome.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

This made me do a little sigh in affectionate commiseration. I too have a very hot temper. Hopefully someday, if we have kids, I can handle it in such a graceful manner.

Good luck with Round 2!

Also, I had never heard of graham cracker houses... Why not gingerbread? Too hard to find/make?

LoriD said...

They'll probably recall this adventure much more fondly than if everything had gone perfectly and all Norman Rockwell-ish.

It sounds like your icing was just too thin... next time, think spackle, not glue.

Swistle said...

Lifeofadoctorswife- Yeah, I am not temperamentally equipped to do roll-out-and-cut-out cookies like gingerbread. And I thought about buying a kit from the store, but...then everyone has to share a single house. I thought I was being supah-smaht to do little graham cracker ones so then everyone could have their own. (Turns out: no.)

Anonymous said...

When i was a kid we would hot glue the house pieces together and cover them with frosting. When it was time for eating we just wouldn't eat the "seams". It keeps from the fustrations you had...my mom was very much the same way and this is what saved her sanity

Marie Green said...

Two things. Wait, three.
1. Our school uses milk cartons, slathers them with store-bought frosting, and sticks the graham crackers to the milk carton. Could someone score you 5 milk cartons? Like, one of your school-aged kids? I volunteered the day my kids did it at school, and it was easy. Lots of frosting needed, though.

2. Now you reminded me of what I can have to stop my sweet-craving. Ritz cracker and frosting. Mmmm omg so good. Thanks!

3. AND Target has a $10 gingerbread village kit, so each kid could have his/her own building to assemble. Though, there may only be 4 buildings. Hmmm. Also, I've done these kits before and it was frustrating to build like you described. Milk carton is easier!

Tess said...

Good gawd, did you CHOOSE to do this, or was it some infernal school project?

This post and the last have been so soothing and remind me of how my friends and I used to rate holidays based on their fun:work ratio. Like Halloween? Low fun:work ratio what with the costume procurement, planning, etc. FAIL. 4th of July? High fun:work ratio. Mostly just drinking and eating with possibly festive decor.

ANYWAY. All this to say that for me, crafts almost always have a low fun:work ratio. Shopping is better. Although not OUTDOOR, WINTER shopping.

Anonymous said...

Having done a kit, the graham cracker thing and the graham cracker milk carton thing, I can tellyou what your children will most remember is how you let them eat all the candy they wanted while they decorated.... I found that when I let go and remembered that the fun is in the nibbling and the process and not the result, the better time I had.

Jenni said...

I am now super excited to build gingerbread houses with my 2 and 3 year old. SUPER. EXCITED.

Shannon said...

I am ALL about the kit ones that you can buy at the grocery store. I sometimes buy a little more candy for decorating them as they are a bit stingy with the candy in those kits, but they go together perfectly every time and to me it's worth forgoing the frustration. I am like you and would be losing it with explosive rage after the first time the graham crackers fell apart!

Party of 5 said...

I'm a homemade kind of mom in most things but thankyoujesus for the gingerbread house kits at Costco! Kudos to you for attempting anythin but that. xoxo

JCF said...

Thanks for admitting to throwing a tantrum in front of your kids. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with this particular character flaw. I threw a total fit the other day when my three year old refused to try and go potty before we got in the car to drive (close to an hour) to the zoo. Granted, this wasn't the first incident that morning, but I stomped out, yelling "Fine! I'm not going to the damn zoo!" Like a three year old (who says damn). I felt like a dirt bag and apologized profusely to my husband and the kids. Blerg.

Felicia said...

No time to read through the comments, but hopefully someone suggested:

1. Tub of store bought icing works great as glue.

2. Use a shape for the house and just "glue" the crackers to it... such as an empty container of cream, or even a butter box. You can totally cover up the container so no one will be the wiser. But I probably wouldn't eat it afterwards.

Gina said...

We bought a kit last year, with the pre-made pieces and icing, etc. And you know what? It STILL sucked. nothing worked like it was supposed to and we all got frustrated. For the graham cracker kind use a small milk/juice/iced tea carton for structure and it's a ton easier - especially for the kids.

Carmen said...

I have a gingerbread house mold (http://www.leevalley.com/en/gifts/page.aspx?p=43793&cat=4,104,53214,43793) so I don't have to do the roll-and-cut-out crap either. I do, however, have to deal with the frustration with the icing. I can never get it quite right either. I think I'll use some of the idea from this post for how to make the icing; I'm sure it will work better than the nightmare stuff that I made last year.

Nolita said...

We did the kit and saved everyone involved from my flash temper. I usually like to do things from scratch but I got lucky with the Gingerbread House thing and chose wisely. I love how you rescued the day with the lesson on how to handle frustration and will be better prepared next time something SEEMS like a good idea. Thanks for sharing!

Christina said...

Ok, so glad to know I am not the only person above the age of 5 who gets frustrated really easily, resulting in a temper tantrum / throwing and breaking things. I LOVE your re-entry to the situation / turning it into a lesson and apology! I usually hate that part the most b/c I have to sheepishly re-enter and apologize for being immature and bratty.

This part:
the Happy Holiday Memory of "the time we were going to make gingerbread houses but then mom went into a frustrated rage and called the whole thing off like a JERK."

made me sit here and laugh for a solid 30 seconds.

Good luck on Day 3! I don't have any tips b/c I only made gingerbread houses in school ages ago or from the kit. But I hope other readers give you some good advice!

Oh and get ready to have your ego CRUSHED at the exhibit, if it's anything like the few I've been to. Those ppl are INSANE in their abilities. You will say "I can't believe it's food!!!" like 1300 times.

Phancy said...

I think I just learned exactly how I will have to recoup after MY temper tantrums. I love how you did it, and I NEVER know what to say after I've lost my temper. Seeing as mine is 7 months old, I've got a little while to practice!

Lawyerish said...

I am not sure I will ever attempt a gingerbread house with my child, as I can imagine myself getting flash-angry and crushing every graham cracker with my fist in frustration.

Also, I always found it maddening when a gingerbread house was in the vicinity, smelling delightful and gingerbready and frostingy, yet you couldn't eat it. Like, what is the point of that? So the graham cracker ones at least make sense.

Anonymous said...

Dude, those gingerbread house kits don't hold together EITHER. And...I even cracked a roof piece...ours looked nothing like the picture on the box - we used the broken bits to build a modern house instead.

Swistle said...

Tess- All I can say for myself is that I kept reading all these posts about mothers doing fun holiday crafts with their kids and I thought "_I_ should be doing that!!"---without realizing that temperamentally I'm more suited to saying "SHHHH, I'm READING."

Lorraine said...

Instead of egg whites, use MERINGUE POWDER in the royal icing -- you can get it at Walmart, $4 for a tin that will make probably 10 batches of icing.

Scroll down this post for the icing recipe (http://annies-eats.com/2008/12/23/sugar-cookies-with-royal-icing/), you control the thickness of the icing with water and then it dries hard like bondo!

Maybe decorated sugar cookies for your next project?? Good luck!

Nicole said...

I loved this post! I am the biggest klutz at making anything - OMG, my gingerbread houses are the saddest, most pathetic things you have ever seen. I like how you handled the situation. Good job, mama!

Sarah said...

So many things I agree with:

1. I, too, have a flammable temper. There is nothing like screaming at a 3-year-old to make everyone feel like crap. (I've found shouting "Go to sleep" especially productive...or not!)

2. I just made royal icing (and never will again what a messy sticky stuff), but if you want to make it, the best thing to do is let your mixed for way longer than you think it should. Mine was whizzing around for about 5 minutes or so until it got really thick. It dried really hard too.

3. I like how you handled your temper.

4. I also like your tree from your other post. It's wonderful, but then again, I like too big trees.

Jen said...

You're a really good mom. You know that right?

Elsha said...

I didn't read all the comments, so I don't know if anyone said this yet, but here it is: Use the wilton royal icing recipe. 1 lb powdered sugar (for the love, just buy a one pound box and avoid measuring cups) 3 tbs meringue powder (avoid the egg whites) and 6 tbs warm water. I haven't used it on gingerbread houses, but I have worked with it for cake flowers a whole bunch. Great stuff.

ToyLady said...

I don't know. I'm thinking I'd be shifting the expectations from "house" to "teepee."

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh I have all these same character challenges (I will not call them flaws, it's more soothing to say challenges): I have a flash temper, can't build a gingerbread house to save my life and I am often sucked into the "Oh I SHOULD do something crafty now when what I really want to do is read some more...". Thanks for the primer on how to deal with all of them.

Anne said...

This is why I constantly say I am not an Eiffel-Tower-Out-of-Popsicle-Sticks kind of mom.

We bought a kit. Once. DISASTER.

So- never again. Instead they decorate cookies. And eat cookies. And I concentrate on what I do well- cookies. Building things out of cookies- no. Going to visit things made out of cookies- yes.

I like your five day plan. And the eating iced graham crackers part. Growing up we used to go downtown for a big field trip and the old hotels would do those huge fancy gingerbread houses- and I'd always get excited when my mom's good housekeeping came and they had their Gingerbread House Winners. You should post pictures!!!!

Jen in MI said...

We always make a kit.

However, for several years, I helped in the kids' classes making graham cracker houses. Definitely use milk cartons (the little lunch size) as the base. Much easier. We always just used canned frosting, too.

d e v a n said...

Taking notes. I love the way you handled that.

Don said...

I think if you add some Cream of Tarter to your royal icing-3/4 tsp when you use 1 lb XXX sugar or a ratio of that if you are making multiple batches- it will work better to glue. I made many houses for many years to give as gifts and had good results.
My other advise to whip the icing until you can make very sturdy peaks in it-then you know it is thick enough.
Have fun & just relax while the gule dries before decorating the houses!

the new girl said...

I looked up the instructions on WikiHow, I think (there were pictures! because just reading text directions made me doubt my sanity! and IQ!)

I used the recipe for the icing on All Recipes. It turned out better than I'd expected...I mean, they aren't super duper BEAUTIFUL but they were cute ENOUGH.

I H A T E when I get mad and have a temper fit. I like your steps, as you've outlined them. That is what I strive for.

Misty said...

:) You're the best mom. Because you tell me how to not be the throw-a-tantrum-and-call-it-off-mom, I can follow your directions and be a better person.

Perhaps I should tell my children to send you a thank you note.

Shelly said...

Can I just tell you that some of my best memories with my mom are of us laughing like hell at some project that we just couldn't get to turn out right?

parkingathome said...

I realize that I am almost a month behind in commenting, but I don't care when I get comments on old posts, so I assume you won't either.

I really, really needed to read this post on this particular day. I've been SO FRUSTRATED and feeling like I'm going to scar my kid for life and I'll be known as that bipolar freakwad of a mom. I love you ideas and your control...once again I look up to you