Ode to Joy . . . and Gingerbread Houses and Banger Sticks

For those of us who lived in north central Ohio in 1978, The Blizzard of ’78 is frozen in our memory. In some places it dumped up to 40 inches of snow, and generated wind gusts of 100 mph, causing drifts to reach the eaves of houses.

I thought of the blizzard as I constructed gingerbread houses for 3 of my Little Guys. The icing used to glue the pieces together was gloppier than I liked, and my makeshift pastry bag of a gallon-sized-storage-baggy-with-a-corner-snipped-off allowed more icing glue to ooze than could be artistically controlled. So I artistically spread it wider and higher, like snow drifting up to the eaves. Then one of the roof pieces collapsed and I attempted to stick it back together with a line of accumulated snow. The houses weren’t pretty, but they held together. Back in ’78 my two sisters and I had fun in the blizzard–I hoped my 3 grands would have fun with these.

Each Little Guy had their stash of housing materials: Skittles, raspberry drops, gummies, Hershey’s Kisses (or ‘really big chocolate chips, Nana Kim!’), and assorted other treats. The Nerd Ropes were a favorite and were strung on every roof ridge or gable like Christmas lights.

Decorating gingerbread houses with the grands started with the two older ones about five years ago. They live in Ohio now, so this year I baked the pieces and sent them north with some candy and construction instructions. (Apparently they had better engineers and architects, or just maybe not a blizzard.) Even our almost-thirteen-year-old still enjoys them.

The Ohio Gingerbread House Village – before

The oldest Little Guy just turned 5, the other two are 3 and a half. This was the first time I had all three of them at the house . . . by myself. It was going to be a full day of cousin-bonding over gingerbread house decorating and playing. Both their dads asked more than once, “You sure you’re going to be okay with all three of them by yourself?” and assuring me they’d be only a phone call away if the boys got out of hand. I assured them we’d be fine. And asked they not go too far away from home.

I’d remedied the storage-baggy-with-the-corner-snipped-off situation by buying an actual pastry bag. It made it easier to attach the really big chocolate chips to the roof like a smiley face on one, and raspberry jellies as Christmas lights-covered bushes for another. There was only a little bit of bargaining over how many pieces of construction materials could be eaten before lunch. We giggled as the candy-coated chocolate balls rolled off the table and bounced all across the hardwood floor.

Despite their love of Christmas lights and wanting their houses hung with them, none of these little boys would be any competition for the Griswold’s. Each one of them is a minimalist when it comes to decorating.

One added a gingerbread sidewalk – with a piece that was supposed to be a chimney. The cobblestone effect worked fine as a sidewalk. The broken roof piece broke again and was abandoned – it was decided that house had a great skylight! (That house belonged to the one who can’t go anywhere without a ‘banger stick’, so I wasn’t surprised the roof didn’t survive.) We had loads of fun . . . in the all of twenty minutes or so it took to decorate the houses.

But the real joy of the day came after. Saturday was a rare spring-like day in December in the Carolinas. A picnic lunch was eaten on the deck; then out came the baseballs and bat. Each boy claimed a ball and took turns hitting. I loved how the distances were measured off, ‘I think it went a hundred!!’ without the benefit of naming a hundred whats – feet? inches? miles? There were races to the barn and back. I usually came in last, but was able to catch the ‘bad guys’ when it was her turn to chase them down. My garden was the jail where the bad guys were kept, escaped from, and got distracted watching spiders and ants.

Back in the house the chasing continued. Some of the rooms in our home connect in a circular loop, so Little Guys can run circles chasing each other. I watched and listened for a few minutes, then noticed one of the three-year-olds was missing. So chase turned into hide-n-seek, but only the seeking part. He’d found a good spot! Chase gave way to quiet time with Paw Patrol and Mr. Rogers, with bowls of popcorn. I’m pleased Mr. Rogers can still hold their attention. As the day started to close, I mentioned picking up the few toys before parents came. “Let’s hide from Nana Kim!” and off they went. My walk-in pantry is a favorite hide-out whenever any of them are here, so I let them hide and giggle while I wrangled the stray stuffed animal, plastic dinosaur, and banger stick (this time a rhythm stick from the music box). The earlier good hiding place was big enough for two, three-year-olds when dads were heard stepping up the walkway.

Saturday was a good reminder that during this time of activity, and the desire to make things special and joyful, it’s still simply the time spent together – no matter what you’re doing – that makes the season joyful.

I looked at the copyright date on the back of the booklet, and realized the kit was probably one of the last Christmas gifts I received from my mom. She’d be tickled knowing it has been used so much–from her grands to mine.

Yesterday was the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy. I wish for all of you that joy enters your home in these final weeks to Christmas.

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