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Gingerbread ambitions

Making a gingerbread house is harder than it sounds

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
My nephews, Draelon, 6, and Shaphan, 13, work together to assemble the first gingerbread house.

When I was given the task of building a gingerbread house with my 6-year-old nephew and writing about it, my first thoughts were, “That’ll be too easy.”

Boy, was I wrong.

Let me start off by saying that I have not built a gingerbread house in nearly 20 years. The last time, I was sitting in Mrs. Tibbits’ third-grade classroom at Butler Elementary School, where I got yelled at for doing what any reasonable person would expect an 8-year-old to do — I took one of the gumdrops meant for decorating our masterpieces and popped it in my mouth. What can I say? I was a kid and lunchtime seemed like a lifetime away.

So here I am, 19 years later, tasked with the burden of making another one. At least this time, I had help.

I had plans of building a gingerbread mansion — the word grandeur came to mind. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any kits for gingerbread mansions, so I had to settle for three “mini house” kits — one Disney and Mickey Mouse themed, one designed to look like a doghouse and one “Frozen II” gingerbread house.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
My youngest nephew, Draelon, 6, is intensely focused as he decorates the outside walls of his gingerbread house.

I had planned to make these creations with my youngest nephew, Draelon, who is 6. When we went to get started last weekend, his older brother, 13-year-old Shaphan, said he wanted to help, and of course Aunt Kelby can’t say no. Both boys, to the best of their memories, had never built a gingerbread house before.

Being the journalist I am, I decided to start by asking a few questions. I directed them to Draelon since I knew Shaphan would probably have less creative answers.

My first question was to ask how big Draelon thought the structures were going to be.

“Hmmmm,” he said, thinking while tapping his chin. “Twenty.”

“Twenty what?” I asked, for clarification.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Draelon, my 6-year-old nephew, created this Disney-themed gingerbread house.

“Feet,” was his answer.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t think a 20-foot-tall gingerbread house would fit in my dad’s modestly-sized kitchen.

I also asked him how long he thought it would take us to make the first gingerbread house. He guessed 20 minutes. Not to spoil anything, but he was very wrong.

We got to work on the first gingerbread house — the Mickey Mouse house. This is where everything started to go wrong.

We took the pre-baked gingerbread pieces — there was no way I was going through the trouble of making them from scratch — and laid them out how we thought they would go together. Let’s just say there’s a reason I didn’t go into construction or anything that involves putting things together.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Shaphan, 13, carefully places dog bone candies on the roof of his gingerbread doghouse.

That’s when Shaphan came to the rescue — righting the wrongs I made when trying to cement the pieces together using suspiciously-adhesive icing.

Once we finally got the walls and roof in place, we let Draelon decorate it exactly how he wanted, glueing on multi-colored Mickey Mouse candy pieces using the leftover icing.

In all, it took us more than 40 minutes to make the first gingerbread house. It was a learning process.

For the second gingerbread house — the doghouse — Shaphan took point. He constructed and decorated it expertly and quickly and it ended up looking very much like the example on the box it came out of. I was impressed.

Finally it was my turn.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Can you guess which of these gingerbread houses was made by Messenger staff writer Kelby Wingert?

I had finally mastered the construction part. I didn’t even have to re-do any of the sides this time.

I had much less luck when it came to the decorating. I couldn’t get the icing/glue to behave like I wanted and it made it difficult for making designs on the outside of the walls to stick the “Frozen II” themed sprinkles to.

Quite frankly, the “castle” I created was an atrocity. It was so ugly and I wasn’t even tempted to nibble on it. In all honesty, if my gingerbread house was a real house, the city of Fort Dodge would probably fine me for it being a public eyesore.

Overall, spending a Saturday afternoon with my nephews will always be a success, even one spent building the world’s worst gingerbread house.

After we finished the houses and let them dry, Draelon was ready to tear into his.

“It tastes like the gingerbread is spicy a little bit, but not that spicy,” he said after his first taste. Even the “glue” tasted good, he said.

Shaphan, the teenager, even had fun.

“The thing I liked the most was the color of mine, the bright red,” he said.

If you’d ask me if I’d volunteer to make gingerbread houses next year, I’d probably decline. But if any of my nephews asked me to build another one with them, I’d probably do it because Aunt Kelby can’t say no to those boys.

And don’t worry, we cleaned up the kitchen right away.