This year we have once again built our traditional gingerbread house.  This is a tradition since 1989 (at least we think that it was 1989 because the recipe for the gingerbread and frosting glue came from a newspaper article, now all weathered and yellowed, dated 1989).  For those of you who have never seen what we do, basically here it is.  WE ARE INSANE!  We start with a design for the house which Adam creates and changes every few years.  Larry bakes the major house pieces on Christmas eve's eve (the 23rd) so that they are all ready to assemble on Christmas eve day.  Then we put together the main house structure and anyone who wants to participate creates the internal and external environment.  The process starts around 10 AM and ends VERY LATE.  This year we stopped at 3 AM and picked up and finished the house after present opening on Christmas day. 

If you have never seen our creations, we have pictures from the last three years online:

This year the participants included Larry and his four wonderful kids, Adam (32) Arielle (30), Chris (20) and Kaylee (17), plus various other people who dropped by during the day including Vicki (my partner and significant other), Matt (Kaylee's boyfriend), Taraneh and Camille (Kaylee's friends), Chris and Marjolijn (Adam's friend from elementary school and his wife), and my parents Oscar and Sarah (who were cheering from the sidelines). As with past years we specialize in minute, obviously obsessive detail.  In fact, for Christmas this year Santa brought a variety of medications for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and highly recommended that we start taking them immediately.  All kidding aside, this year, it all went quite well, with near perfection except for a minor roof slip.  The house was finally finished on Christmas Day with the final touches.  We used a very large base this year (4' x 4') since our base from last year warped in the humid San Diego weather.  We took this as a major challenge to add on new touches to take over the large space.  You can see our pictures and commentary below.  We hope you enjoy them.  With love and best wishes for a wonderful 2008 from all of us!

One note:  each year our house was a "winter wonderland" complete with snow.  This year, we decided to make it a Southern California Christmas with no snow at all.  I think that it was a nice change and it allowed us to do things that we couldn't do with a snowy environment.  You be the judge!


Here we are, late Christmas afternoon, having opened all of our presents, moved the house from the kitchen counter to the dining room table where it will stay until Larry decides he has seen enough of it somewhere in mid- to late January.  Don't we all look happy?  Amazing what a few hours of sleep (very few) and a whole bunch of presents will do for our moods!  Just as an overview, you can see the house in the middle with a semi-circular driveway (made from dried lentils and edged with red licorice strands) and a walkway to the house made from pretzels.  On the left side, in the foreground, are two flamingoes.  Behind that is a working merry-go-round and an outhouse.  To the right of the house you can see Santa's sleigh with a sack of presents, but no Santa (more on that later).  At the far right is the dog house.  Way in the left rear is the winter vegetable garden.  From left to right are Arie, Adam, Kaylee, Chris, Vicki and Larry.  The rest of this page includes detailed pictures of the process and the final results.  Enjoy!

This is an aerial view of the final product.  Details follow .....

It all starts two days before with Larry mixing the gingerbread dough -- a mixture that is not really edible since it has to be very stiff to bake into hard pieced -- and letting it chill overnight.  The dough has to be very cold or it won't work.  So, the dough is stored in the refrigerator until it is needed.  Larry uses the backs of baking pans, oiled and floured and then rolls out the dough to about 1/4th inch.  Then he takes the pre-drawn pieces, traces them with a knife, cuts away the excess, unused dough (back into the frig it goes), and bakes it at a very low temperature for 20-30 minutes until the pieces are rock hard.  After cooling they easily come off the pan and are ready for assembly.  Here he is making the parts for the merry-go-round. More on that one later.

The process of taking away the excess dough.  Gotta be careful or the pieces get messed up and the whole process has to begin again.

The first step is to put foil on the board.  Then the house is located and the pieces are "glued" to the board.  The glue Adam is squeezing is a combination of powdered sugar, cream of tartar and egg whites which is mixed until it is incredibly gooey and stiff.  It  hardens in just a few minutes.

Putting the walls together is a four to five person process of gluing, holding and praying.

Here they are all holding the pieces for the 5-10 minutes for it to all harden.

Now you have the house shell, which sits for most of the day until all the little parts are created and put inside.  Then the roof goes on and the process is almost done.  Ah, if it were only so simple.

Kaylee and Chris are making something for the inside of the house. Scattered around the dining room table are lots of candies ranging from soft tootsie rolls of various colors to hard candies.  Kaylee is playing with something that comes in a flat rope of multi-colored, disgustingly sugary candy.  Chris has rolled some tootsie rolls flat and is cutting them.  By the way, thanks to the other Chris who "liberated" a set of s and a suture kit from the emergency room where he is is a physician.  We offered to give them back and he just laughed and said they would just thrown them away which may explain why our healthcare costs are so high ... OK, no more politics for the rest of this webpage ... if I can help it.

Matt and Kaylee are busy creating something terribly clever.  Notice the intense concentration and you can see why they are among the top students in their high school class.  The Stanford sweatshirt is a nice touch next to Kaylee's wild peace shirt.

Adam and Chris (the doctor) are making something at the table.  Again, they are clearly concentrating and I think that Chris is using his liberated scalpel to carve something crazy.

Camille, Taraneh and Marjolijn are newbies but they caught on rather quickly to the insanity.  Poor Camille. She is an exchange student from France. Imagine what she will tell people the crazy Americans do on Christmas eve!

More intense creativity at work.

Marjolijn really got into it, creating quite a few things including some flamingoes which you will see later.  No house is complete without flamingoes on the lawn. 

Here are Kaylee and Arie with Santa's sack of toys.  Inside are marshmellows, surrounded by a smooshed down mass of tootsie rolls and tied with a string made from a soft candy that has been rolled thin and meticulously tied in a bow.  What attention to detail!  What a crazy bunch!

Here are our ace students, concentrating as usual ... well, everyone has to have time to get crazy.  We all go through it.  Some take naps (Arie and Kaylee), others play on the computer (Chris), while some don't know how to stop (Adam and Larry in particular don't know how to give it a rest).

I do believe that Kaylee is shoving something up her Taraneh's nose.  Now isn't that interesting!

Chris is taking a break and talking to Ceili, his girlfriend, who is in Colorado at her family's Christmas celebration.

Adam has been trying for years to create stained glass.  This year he figured out how to take hard candies and bake them until they melted.  Then he cooled them and peeled them off and had what looked like stained glass.  He and Doctor Chris decided to take one piece of stained glass and create an amazing chandelier.  Chris then carefully poked a whole in the top and inserted a tiny light which was then routed outside the house to a battery pack which lit it up.  The same battery pack also lit up the light in the corner.  The chandelier sits atop the kitchen table, shedding light on a wonderfully laid out dinner spread.

Here is another photo of the chandelier.  It's pretty amazing!  A friend told me that it looked like a Tiffany lamp!!!

Of course no Christmas house would be complete without a decorated tree and presents.  The tree is a wax paper cone covered with green icing and embedded with candy to look like ornaments.  The presents are works of art with candy wrapped to look like a real gift package.

This is a new addition to our gingerbread estate.  Chris the doctor decided, in his macabre sense of humor, that he needed to make a ladder leaning against the house for Santa to climb to the chimney.  Sadly, Santa's girth caused the top step to break and he fell to his death.  At the right is the chalk outline that was left after the body was removed to the morgue.  The sled and bag of toys remain next to the house.  How will the children get their toys?  Chris certainly added his touch to this year's project!

Here is a close-up of Dr. Chris creating a Scrabble board with dual scalpels. Here are the scalpels hard at work!  Note the precision with which Doctor Chris is sculpting his scrabble board.  Why a scrabble board? Who knows!  There are no rules.  Everyone gets to do whatever grabs them.  This makes it much more fun since every year we have different "estates."  Last year we had a train.  This year a complete vegetable garden and a working merry-go-round.  Maybe you will be with us next year and add your ideas to the process.

Here is our uni-sex bathroom complete with toilet, stained glass in the crescent moon on the door and pretzel steps leading from the house to the outhouse.  We used to have the toilet in the house but for some inexplicable reason it was crammed next to the bed so several years ago we moved it outside.  Arie provided the uni-sex symbol to remind us that the toilet was available for anyone to use!

Here is Chris' completed Scrabble board complete with two tile holders.  We tried to get him to put tiny letters in the squares but he told us that we were crazy.  This from the man who killed Santa Claus!!!!  Now who is the crazy one?

This is the view of part of the living room from the skylights.  You can see part of the tree, the presents, and through the front door.

Last year Kaylee made a small garden which everyone loved.  This year Larry decided to make an enormous one.  You can see that it has five rows, each with their own vegetables plus a trellis with climbing beans.  From front to back we have carrots, cabbage, pumpkins, radishes (which started out as strawberries but were left alone for a few minutes and turned into radishes), and yellow squash.  For a bit of realism there is a scarecrow and two gardening tools in the upper left corner.  There are also a few weeds in the garden which need to be plucked.  Maybe they will be gone by next year!  By the way, the trellis may seem large but Larry's first effort was laughed at since the trellis was taller than the house.  In shame, Larry cut it down to a smaller size although secretly he wanted it to be the tallest part of the estate!


Yellow squash with a rake and shovel made by Taraneh and Camille next to them.



This is an outdoor pool which turned out amazing.  Pretty much everyone took part in this one.  Around the pool are flagstones with grass growing between them.  On the bottom right is a spa with a waterfall spilling into the pool.  In the pool you can see an inner tube and a ball.  At the left are three lounge chairs, with side tables.  One of the side tables has a lemonade with a straw.  At the top right corner there is a towel and a bikini.  No person, just a bikini.  Perhaps she is skinny dipping and we can't see her.

Here is a close-up of the lounge chairs, side tables and lemonade.  Arie did an amazing job on these.

Note the detail on Marjolijn's bikini top and bottoms.  Reminds me of the song "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini/"  The inner tube is hers also.  I think that she is now an official member of the craziness that happens here annually.  We all hope that she and Chris will join us next year!  Bring more scalpels.

Chris (not the doctor) made most of this room.  At the right is the end of the bed with a guitar on a rug, a drum set and microphone (at least that is what he told us that brown thing is in the middle).  These are all part of the game Rock Band.  A Mac laptop sits to the left (Chris is never too far from his laptop).  At the far left is the dining room table.  By the way, do note that Chris' drums all have different color rims which is part of the game.

This is a rose bush that Adam did at the last minute.  It is nothing short of amazing given that it is about an inch wide!  It is sitting on the front porch (made from pretzels), just to the right of the front door.  If you look at a photo of the full house you will see how tiny it is.  The detail is unbelievable with the leaves even having their veins clearly emanating from the central stalk.

Here are the flamingoes.  This was a frustrating exercise since in spite of reinforcing them with toothpicks they kept wanting to collapse.  It was kind of interesting to set them up and watch the necks slowly sink to the grass followed by the bodies.  Some things are just too darned tough to make with candy. Maybe next year?

Now this is something to behold.  Last year some of us watched an actual national gingerbread contest on the Food Network.  One thing that struck Adam was an amazing carousel that someone made.  The carousel actually turned around, propelled by two pieces of gingerbread with round gobstoppers in between to allow them to glide.  Sounds simple, right?  No way!  Adam has to make a groove on the underside of the two pieces of gingerbread large enough to hold the gobstoppers.  At the right is our version of a merry-go-round with the bars to hold onto while it twirls around.  Remember being a kid and feeling like you were going to puke as the merry-go-round was slung faster and faster?  I do.

This is nothing short of a masterpiece!  If you watch the video at the end you will see that it actually does turn quite easily.

Here is an aerial view of the living room.  At the left is the fireplace with a mantel which later will house a menorah (we are a nondenominational gingerbread house maker).  Actually at the bottom of the fireplace there is fire which I think you can see in another photo later on.  To the left of the fireplace are potted plants.  In front is a polar bear skin rug (no comments on our political correctness -- this was doctor Chris' idea -- he, too, is certifiable like the rest of us).  on the rug are two long-stemmed roses.  You can see the stained glass window, the tree and packages, a hat rack with two caps, the living room table that is in front of the couch with two side chairs.  On the table is the Scrabble set mid-game.

Another aerial view shows that battery pack at the bottom right that is attached to the chandelier and the dining room lamp. 

Here is the menorah on the mantel.  It must be the last day of Hanukah since all the candles are lit!  Notice that the polar bear rug actually has eyes.  Now that is downright creepy.

Here's the living room couch, side chairs, table and Scrabble game.  The couch has two pillows, of course.  By the way, this year we made Adam make the "rug" a tan color.  Last year it was purple and he wanted to make it orange but we ganged up on him and changed the orange to a more suitable carpet color.  Can you imagine having an orange carpet?  I guess if you had avocado appliances it might remind you of the 1950s.

Here is the dining room table complete with two plates full of food. A vase on its side with three roses, plus two lit candles to complete the romantic dinner of salad, spaghetti and soy meatballs (made by Kaylee).

Our doghouse has a unique look this year with blue shingles and a large doggie paw above the door. Note the food bowl on the right and the water bowl on the left.

This is a better view of the bedroom/playroom.

Here is the back of the house with a pathway (pretzels) to the doghouse.  Next to the house is a skateboard (yellow) and a surfboard (orange with crazy designs).  Only in California can you skateboard or surf at Christmas.

On the wall you can see a piece of abstract art. Actually, there are several artistic endeavors on the walls in other rooms.  At the left is the plasma television screen for the video game system.

A long distance view of the bedroom/playroom.  Note the abstract art on the wall to the right!

Here is a close-up of the artwork.  You be the judge!

This is the way the house looks for much of the day as we create the innards. 

Here is Arie placing pieces in the house prior to roofing.  The pieces have been gently stored in the freezer so that they harden enough to stay in shape.

I wanted to call this the "Year of the Dremel."  My friend Bob had given me a dremel, which is an amazing tool which can be a sander, cutter, and serves many other functions.  Adam was so jazzed that he no long had to use a knife to carefully shave edges and parts to make them fit.

Here is Adam shaving the front wall with the Dremel.  You can see the shavings flying all over the place.

Here is Adam shaving part of the roof with the Dremel.

Here is Adam getting ready to kiss the Dremel.  I told you he was in love!

Now the tough part -- the roof.  The roof is in multiple parts and each has to be edged with the "glue" and fit exactly in place and then be held there until it dries.  Because the roof pieces are on an angle they need longer to stick so this takes quite a few people to keep them held tight.  Here Chris is holding the front roof piece while Arie is holding a front side roof piece.

Now Larry has a side piece in place and is holding on tight.

Now the roof pieces are all on and being held tight.  This year they all held quite well except for a small slippage on the back part that was quickly repaired.

Here is how Arie has to stand to hold her roof piece!

Vicki is completely entranced by the garden and swimming pool. 

Grandma and Grandpa even came down from Portland for the house building!  Well, they really came down for a bar mitzvah and visit but got to watch much of the process and be with their grandchildren.

This shows the front driveway (dried lentils) and grass made of coconut dyed green and held down with the "glue" which was also dyed green..  Note also the start of the roof tiles.  This year we used some sort of candy that comes in rolls, cut it into pieces, and layered them to look like roof tiles.  Quite innovative.

Arie decided that the easiest way to spread the green glue was to use her hands.  We just told her that she was likely to have green hands for quite some time and she looks none too happy.  Just kidding, Arie.

This shows more of the massive lawn being laid around the house.

Here is Adam spreading green coconut all over the estate.

Nearly the end!  Here we are putting on the roof tiles.

Almost done!  Just a little more sod to lay.

More grass laying.

Adam is using a red cake decorating tube to make the chimney appear to have bricks.  Too bad Santa never made it up there!

Although this is fuzzy, it shows the front door with steps made from square pretzels, the porch from pretzel sticks, a woven door mat, some bamboo to the left of the door and a wreath on the door.  The Christmas lights are made from candy necklaces.

Final final touches!


OK, it was a long process and our last photo reflects how we felt at the end!

Click here for a short video tour of the estate.  Please ignore the random sounds in the background. Larry had no idea that the video was also capturing audio at the same time.  Pretty dumb, huh?