We’re Alive, I Promise!

I’ve thought about blogging often. I’ve even come up with a few posts. I just haven’t written them down.

Updates and thoughts:

-Screen Free week was great. So great, in fact, that I forgot to get back to blogging to talk about it. Whoops.

-We’re not exactly TV-free anymore. I went back to putting on a Blue’s Clues or Super Why! to get my shower. Little Girl also relaxes with a David Attenborough nature show while Little Guy naps.

-I’m thinking of moving the blog to an actual site and picking things up again. Any ideas? I feel like the “No TV” gimmick was kind of fun, and I would be willing to try a new venture if you give me a good one ūüôā

Be well, friends! I’m off to read some more Richard Scarry.

Screen Free Week 2013 – April 29th to May 5th. (HELP!)

ImageI am a little frantic about Screen Free Week this year. You see, when my “TV-Free” year ended, I started letting the kids watch an episode of Blue’s Clues on Netflix after they do chores (IF there is no fighting about doing their chores – one complaint and it’s gone). It gives me 24 minutes of guaranteed non-fighting to be able to shower, dress myself, and prepare for the day. And chores get done without whining. Win/win).¬†

Also, I have a smartphone now, and I have become addicted to browsing Pinterest/loafing around Facebook/playing a few rounds of my preferred casual game of the week while rocking Little Guy before his nap. Smartphones are a little insidious Рeverything is all right there. And I am SO good at loafing. 

Of course, the realization that I have become dependent on screens just makes me want to take the challenge even more. 

So, I’m going to take the plunge. I’m going to send the computer away with my husband, take Facebook and games off my phone and see how it goes. Hopefully my children won’t eat me alive or leave me tied to a chair. I can’t say I would mind good weather, either.

I’ll let you know how it went next week…if I survive to tell the tale.¬†

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe

The last time I went grocery shopping was about two weeks ago. Oops. We are getting to the absolute dregs of our pantry. And refrigerator. And freezer. I keep seeing tumbleweeds weave between the ketchup and the hot sauce when I open the fridge to look at the nothingness. Still nothing.

Then, the car broke down. Hurrah! So, I walked the kids to a playground that is close by (we were going to go to a different one, since it was almost freezing and the one within walking distance is in the middle of open farm fields…also known as 20 degrees colder than the rest of the world, no lie). As we were walking home, Little Girl said, “Can we have hot cocoa when we get home, please?”

If you have ever actually heard Little Girl speak, her voice is incredibly sweet. At least, I think it is. She really got me with the “please.” You know that scene in Shrek where Puss in Boots gives him The Eyes? That’s what Little Girl’s polite asking voice is like.

“Little Girl, remember how we have almost no food at home?” There was most certainly nothing resembling milk in the house. “You can have tea instead.” From the one remaining packet of mint tea.¬†

At this point, Little Guy starts yelling “HOT COCOA! HOT COCOA PLEASE!”

(as if he doesn’t talk loud enough as it is.) And Little Girl starts the lawyer business. “But mommy, you know we both love hot cocoa when it’s cold outside. Can’t you figure out a way to make it?”

See what I’m up against? She already knows how to flatter me into action. Well, MacGuyver is my middle name. Or something. Go, go, Google gadget!

Thanks to¬†Frugal Mama¬†–¬†It turns out I did indeed have enough stuff in my pantry to make hot cocoa! (Sort of.)

I only had 1/4 cup of cocoa powder, so I started from there and changed the proportions to suit my purposes. This batch makes about 11 servings if you are an evil mom like me and only put 2 Tbsp of mix in to the kid’s cup. One good thing – there are no weird ingredients in this!

Instant Hot Cocoa Mix

1/4 c Cocoa Powder – mine was partial dutch process, Frugal Mama suggests dutch process. Partial worked fine.

1/2 c Powdered Sugar

1/2 c + 2 Tbsp Nonfat Dried Milk (Frugal Mama says whole dried milk will coagulate)

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp corn starch

Whisk ingredients together and store in an airtight container. If you are down to the last 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and want to be totally lazy like me, you can mix the whole lot in the empty cocoa powder container and store it that way. Pour approximately 4 oz hot water over 2 Tbsp dry mix, stir and enjoy!

You know what, Pinterest? I'm a real mom, and this is what real moms do for packaging.

You know what, Pinterest? I’m a real mom, and this is what real moms do for packaging.

Absolutely Fabulous, eShakti!

I was once again contacted by the lovely people over at eShakti.com to test run a dress from their new spring line. I am so glad I did! The only hard part was picking one…IMG_5522

I. Love. This. Dress.

I ordered custom sizing, which worked beautifully. Finally: a dress that fits me around the chest, nips in at my actual waist ¬†and¬†manages to avoid that awkward Armpit Gap that I hate so much. The fabric is heavy and feels delightful. I particularly love the little details – bra strap holders in the straps (why doesn’t every dress have these?) and a snap in the crux of the V-neck (right where I always end up having to stitch or place a safety pin to protect the populace from getting an eyeful). I love the length – as a mom, it’s hard to chase after little ones in a skirt that is above the knees. It is also delightfully twirly, which (of course) is what one does in a full skirt.

Want to get one of your own? Go on over to eShakti.com and enjoy!

Making the Decision to Resign After Having a Baby

Yes, you saw that correctly. I officially resigned from my position as a public school teacher. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I had (still have) lots of questions – will I ever find another public school job? Will we be able to swing it on only one income until both the kids are in school? Will I ever be able to pay back my college loans? If I find a new job, will I make new friends who are just as awesome?

I know that we made the right decision, though I still have minor anxieties about it. Here are a few of the discussion points that made us sure that someone needed to stay home with the kids. Maybe they will help you decide if resigning is the right move in your situation.

1.) Amount of time at work. I was a commuting teacher, so I was in the car for 2 hours a day, had normal responsibilities and (being a music teacher) often had after school or evening commitments. My husband works from 8:30-5…or 5:30…or 6… so that is a lot of time away from home for our kids. With one child, we would both get home at around 5:30. Then we would make dinner, eat dinner, play for a few minutes and then have to start the bedtime routine…then get ready to go to work the next day, pass out (get woken up 50 times a night because my daughter was ridiculous) and do it all over again the next day. Exhausting! With two it would have just been divide-and-conquer, and that is a hard way to build a family dynamic.

2.) Daycare situation. My mom watched my daughter from the time she was 6 weeks old until she was almost 2 1/2, when I started persistently going into preterm labor with my son and had to stop working. Her health took a turn for the worse when I was on maternity leave and she was no longer able to watch the kids. So, not only did we have to look at inferior childcare (because we were spoiled and no caregiver was going to love our children as much as my mom), we were going to have to pay through the nose for it.

3.)¬†Budget.¬†This was the hardest part of the decision. Honestly, we never thought we would be able to do it, and I was insanely jealous of anyone who could. When I went out on maternity leave, I had been making the same amount as my husband. We owe an arm, a leg, and three fingers to the government for our student loans. We also own a house. But, we buckled down and made the Most Meticulously Stringent Budget Ever and pinched every penny until it bled…and it worked. We eat a lot of reconstituted dried beans and rice. We know where all the deals are. We rarely go out. We buy absolutely nothing that hasn’t been budgeted for in advance. If it isn’t on the shopping list, it doesn’t get purchased. We questioned every single expense – hence, the absence of a television from our lives. We sold stuff. We unashamedly and gratefully accept all sorts of hand-me-downs from friends. We fix things that break, or figure out how to do without. My son has pink boots. We decided that if everything went to pot and JP lost his job and we had to sell everything and the house and move in with our parents, we were OK with that. We figured that if we could make it work, we would, and committed to it.

4.)¬†Stress Level.¬†Some women are probably much better at juggling everything than I was. If you think that perfectionism sounds like a lame problem to have, I understand, but it really can be debilitating when you’re a mom. I don’t just feel bummed when I can’t do something to the absolute best of my ability. I feel like the world is about to end. As a working mom, I felt like I wasn’t doing my best as a wife, mom, OR at my job. Everyone was getting a fraction of me. I was doing the best that I could with the resources I had at all three, of course, but it didn’t feel that way. Unfortunately, this translated to me being majorly stressed out. I managed to kind of hide it to my daughter and (I think) at my job, but my husband got the I-have-absolutely-nothing-left-to-give dregs that were left after everything else. He still loves me (because he’s awesome), but I was pretty hard to love with that much on my plate. When I could focus on just being a wife and mom (and, for a few hours a week, teaching and writing for extra income), I became a different person. Relaxed. Flexible. Patient. Joyful. Intentional. And I can keep a (sort of, almost, if you don’t look very close) clean house. Who knew?

5.)¬†What is best for the kids?¬†We decided that, if our kids could make a cogent decision, they would choose to live in the basement of their grandparents’ house and have more time with us rather than stay in our house and see us for only two or three hours every weekday. If their dad loses his job, that’s what will happen. Knowing that this was the absolute worst case scenario – and that we didn’t think it seemed so bad – helped tremendously with our decision. My son has, since birth, been particularly attached to me. My daughter has that special connection with my husband. Both of them enjoy seeing other people, but they really shine when they are at home in their own environment. Paired with the fact that I really shine when I’m at home in my environment, (teaching my favorite students how to be excellent little humans), the decision became much clearer.

6.) Breastfeeding.¬†This was the reason that I get to be the one home instead of my husband. My mammary capabilities far exceed his. The thought of pumping every day, twice a day at work (again – I did it with my daughter) made me just cry. And where would we get the money for formula? If you added daycare, formula and gas costs together, you pretty much had my whole paycheck. Personally, I didn’t really want to use my whole paycheck to pay for things that I wouldn’t need to pay for if I wasn’t working.¬†

How will we pay back our college loans? I don’t know. It will happen (the government will make sure of that!). ¬†I do know that our kids are going to have a stable childhood, and I am going to be able to say that I enjoyed every second that they were little when they aren’t little anymore…which will be very, very soon.

12 Things I Loved about Our TV-Free Year

oneyeartvfreeI think my biggest question one year ago was, “can I really do this for an entire year?” The answer: YES. In fact, I have no plans to reinstate television in our household. I loved being TV-Free, even as a stay-at-home Mom. Here’s why:

1) The kids are used to, and good at, finding their own entertainment. I can tell them it is playtime and they will come up with something fun to do. They are neither dependent on me nor screens for amusement. I can take them places, and they do not need to be entertained.

2) There is no sensory overload. My daughter is very sensitive (which is part of why we started this whole TV-Free thing, anyway) and gets overloaded easily with screen time. She has been far less clingy, fussy and whiny than she was when she watched television.

3) My kids don’t ask for stuff. I can remember watching commercials as a kid and telling my parents how much I wanted/needed/had to have the latest thing (which was never quite as cool as it looked in the commercial if I ever got it). They waited until my birthday or Christmas to get me anything, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t ask. My kids? They see things at the stores or at other kids’ houses, but they usually don’t think to ask for them. It is very peaceful having children that do not know what they are “missing out” on. My thoughts? They aren’t actually missing out.

4) I don’t have to explain the news. Some of the horrible things happening in the world right now just don’t need to be on my four-year-old’s radar. She would have nightmares for weeks if she heard about some of the things that have happened in the last few months. I will not shelter them forever, but we can add lessons about the world at a pace of our choosing.

5) My little girl is still a little girl. When she plays, her stories are about families doing fun things together, kids overcoming fears, kids learning to play together, saving animals, and helping each other. There are no boyfriends or dating. There is no prince coming to sweep the princess away. The word “sexy” is not in her vocabulary or her mannerisms. She couldn’t care less about how she looks. She’s four, and exploring the world at her level – not trying to make sense of a world that wants her to grow up too fast.

6) There are less bad habits to overcome. We are trying to set respect and kindness as the ¬†reactions of habit in our kids. I have seen some Disney shows where the children speak to each other – even their friends – with snark and derision. And how they treat their parents and teachers? I am sure she will come up with plenty of snotty remarks on her own, and doesn’t need any help.

7) There is very little worth watching.¬†I don’t think that all television has to be educational, but I think that kids’ programming should have some kind of point. Friendship. Working together. Reasoning skills. School readiness. There are a few shows that do those things, and a few that try to tackle all of them (Sesame Street, you’ll always have a place in my heart). Really, I don’t feel like they’re missing out by not watching.

8) My kids have a noticeably longer attention span than you would expect. My almost 18-month-old (boy) will sit through entire books, repeatedly. He will play with his trucks for an hour or more at a time. He will look at books for an hour or so by himself. My four-year-old can work for hours on projects, playing with toys, or reading to herself. I don’t think this is all personality. My boy, at least, is quite boisterous. I think that the slower pace of a day without television has something to do with it.

9) One less thing to budget. When you’re down to one income (with two master’s degrees in the household), every dollar counts. College loan payment or cable bill? No contest.

10) They are developing excellent fine and gross motor control. Several unrelated people, including teachers and doctors, have commented on my kids’ motor control since we stopped watching television. I think that the increase in time outside, and doing things inside like drawing, playing with play dough, playing instruments and weaving has had a lot to do with this. They both have good body awareness, balance, muscle tone, and fine motor skills.

11) I feel less tired. It seems counterintuitive, but I was actually spending more energy dealing with stressed children over TV issues than I do coming up with things for them to do during the day. I don’t have to deal with tantrums over decreasing TV time, pouty responses to “no, we can’t watch the movie again,” or wheedling about “just one more show.” They come to me wanting something to do; I dole out craft supplies, pop open a puzzle or read some books. Easy. Whine-free.

12) I get more quality time with my kids. We have real conversations. They aren’t zoned-out and unresponsive. They are in the moment and so am I, and that’s the way I like it.

I don’t know if going TV-free is going to have lasting effects on my kids, but so far I am enjoying it. I don’t think any less of any parent who uses the television, either. I turned out just fine on a significant portion of television watching. If you are thinking about turning off the television, however, I would offer this piece of advice: stick with it! The first two weeks were the hardest. Plan ahead and have some special things to distract them with and you’ll be fine. You might even be glad you did.

Have you ever tried going TV-free? Did you love it or hate it?

Seven Ways to Avoid the “Seven Year Itch”

Today is our seventh wedding anniversary! I am not in the habit of giving marriage advice (I prefer to get such tidbits from people like my grandparents, who have been married for more than 60 years, and my parents who have been married for over 30 years). However, with my 7th anniversary being about 7 times longer than many celebrity marriages, I figured that even JP and I might have a couple of valuable things to share.

If you want to avoid the Marilyn Monroe movie “The Seven Year Itch”, that’s easy enough- don’t watch it. Avoiding the feeling of discontent that can sometimes creep up on a marriage isn’t necessarily as easy. Here’s how we have managed to be happy together for the last few years:

1. Be best friends. Best friends are loyal and stick together through everything. They pick out the best in each other and focus on the good. Even when you’re angry, act lovingly toward your spouse. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

2. Be a team. It is you and your spouse vs. jobs/kids/life. Figure out the best way to support each other, and do it. Allow your spouse to support you if you’re a control freak. (Yes, this may mean having the dishes done “wrong” or having children dressed in mismatched clothing. Better than no help at all).

3. Laugh together – often. Find things that are funny in the mundane, or even stressful. Be able to laugh at yourself, your situation, the craziness around you. (I typically have trouble holding in the desire to laugh when both my kids are screaming at the same time. I mean, it’s like they PLAN to make life difficult. And that’s funny). Don’t laugh AT each other, though. That’s just mean.

4. Make time for each other. JP and I try to catch up for at least a half hour after the kids are in bed. Even if it is just chatting while cleaning or working out, it helps us to reconnect. Also, dates are important. We don’t get many right now, but we cherish the ones we do.

5. Share things in common with your spouse – but also celebrate the differences. JP and I share some big things, like our faith and world views. We are also geeky and into food and books. JP has no interest whatsoever in fiber arts, and I would rather gnaw off my arm than strategize long-term budget goals. However, we support each other in the activities that we enjoy individually.

6. Be intimate. I won’t elaborate much for the sake of family-friendliness, but seriously, it’s important. Things aren’t the way you want them? Tell your spouse exactly what you want. Ask your spouse what he/she wants. Plan to have a lifetime to get everything perfect. Put alone time on the calendar if you have to.

7. Be positive. It’s contagious. If you are building your spouse up constantly and not criticizing, your spouse will likely start to do the same for you.

So that’s why we are happy together. It takes a lot of work, and sometimes we have to be loving to each other when we don’t feel like it. We’re both human, and that means that we are sometimes selfish/annoying/clueless/whatever-bugs-the-other-most. We’re also committed to working it out, together. Here’s to another seven years!

Last Minute, Low-Budget Christmas Gifts

wpid-2012-12-19_13-18-59_842.jpgAnyone else out there feeling the financial crunch? Going down to one income after Little Guy was born left us with a lot of bills, so our budget for Christmas gifts is pretty much non-existent. Being a hardcore crafter, I usually subject my family to handmade items. However, I know that not everyone has the time or skill set to knit, sew, or crochet his/her way to a gift on a budget. Here are some ideas for last-minute (easy) Christmas gifts that you can give on a shoestring budget, arranged by recipient:


1) Everyone who has children or grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) loves photos of them. Want to make it extra-especially-awesome? Try transferring a photo to canvas for an artsy look. Cheap canvas can be found at any major craft store this time of year!

2) Write a letter. A real, paper letter, preferably handwritten. Pick out the good things you remember or love about them and give them the gift of love and affirmation. It doesn’t have to be perfectly spelled or written beautifully or even express yourself particularly well. Just say nice things that you mean and it will be treasured. Pop it up a notch by making it pretty on nice paper and putting it in a frame.

Spouse/Significant Other

1) Again, write a letter! Maybe you say how much you love your other half all the time, but it is something else to have it in writing to read again and again. What do you love about him/her? What are your favorite memories? Write it all down!

2) Plan a date. Have it all planned out – no effort or thinking required on the part of the recipient. Give a little card on Christmas stating that you have planned a special date. (If he doesn’t like surprises, you can tell him in the card what the date will be). Inexpensive dates: walk in the local park followed by hot chocolate; oldschool board games and popcorn; hot wings and karaoke…you get the idea. Choose things the other person will enjoy.

Older Kids

1) At the risk of sounding like a broken record…write something. You may feel like you are fighting all the time with your tween or teen, but of course you still love her. Tell her about how great you think she is, how proud you are of her, what you love about her…you get the idea. Maybe your teen will roll her eyes, but I would bet she will keep it somewhere (and look at it when you aren’t around).

2) A taste of freedom (within reason). Give a card saying that you will cart your child and posse around for a day of something he or she likes Рbrowsing the mall, hiking, etc. Promise to stay in the background and be as non-existent as possible. Older teens can get the keys to the car if you are ready for it.

Younger Kids

1) Re-gifted used toys or thrift store toys are great for young kids. They usually don’t know or care whether an item is new or not. Find something he or she is interested in. We were fortunate that some of my friends gave us their old children’s toys – Little Girl is getting some fabulous farm toys and Legos this year, and Little Guy is going to be very happy with his tractor! Just be sure to clean them and check for lead content if you have babies around or your kids are still putting toys in their mouths.

2)¬†Craft supplies and the time to make the craft together is a great way to spend time with your kids. Give a box with a prepared, unmade craft inside. Sit with your child and enjoy the show as he makes it. Remember to allow as much autonomy when crafting as possible, even if he isn’t doing it “right.” Every effort has something beautiful about it!

I hope this gives you a few ideas! Going into debt over Christmas will just create angst that you don’t need – and you don’t need to have money to show someone you love them. Can ¬†you add to this gift list?

11 Months TV-Free and We Have a Winner!

I suppose the big question next month will be whether we continue TV-Free or not. I do know the kids have completely forgotten about it at home…but are quick to watch if anyone else has it on. And then they turn into little zombies. (I am not saying every kid does…just mine). The winner of the RC helicopter received an email this morning! Thank you everyone for passing on the word about it. Please check out the great people at Xenon Project as you think about shopping – they have great prices on RC toys and hobby items. That little heli we gave away is a lot of fun – I played with one at a friend’s house and it is super easy to control and really quick. And they last – the one I saw was 2 years old and still going strong. What do you think we should do to celebrate our one-year TV-Free Extravaganza?

Weekend Project: Make a Gingerbread House

Recipes! Templates! Tips! Oh my!

The whole family entered the town Gingerbread House contest this year, and our creation took 3rd place in the family category. Everything visible had to be edible and the house could not use interior lighting. Little Girl loved this project! Little Guy also discovered a taste for candy and gingerbread. We made our house based on the story of the Three Little Pigs. A decimated straw house (made of pulled sugar left over from the sugar-glass, see step 5.5) and stick (pretzel) house led up to a “brick” gingerbread house, with a gingerbread wolf lurking outside. The three little pigs of legend peeked through the sugar glass windows.

Caveat: this project took a long time (5-6 hours). If working with small children, you may want to do some preparations ahead of time. They will lose patience with some parts (waiting for pieces to bake, for example). I would suggest gearing up patience, a sense of humor, and a willingness to accept (way) less than perfection as part of your preparation.

1. Begin with the end in mind. What do you want it to look like? Buy your decorations (suggestions: gumdrops, spearmint leaves, gummies, chocolate candies, pretzels, frosted shredded wheat cereal, candy canes, peppermints…if you can eat it, it is fair game). Have a base – sturdy cardboard or plywood, a baking sheet or plate. Make your own template, or print out this Gingerbread House Template I made. I would suggest cutting it out and then making cardboard templates so they hold up better.

2. Make the gingerbread dough. Here is my recipe. Beware – this stuff is majorly tasty. I may have eaten an entire batch in dough form. Oops.
3/4 c butter
1 c sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
4 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
3/4 c molasses
1/4 c water
3-4 c flour

Melt butter and sugars over low heat and stir until smooth. Add molasses. Pour into stand mixer bowl. Add salt, baking soda, spices and water and mix with dough hook. Add flour one cup at a time until the dough forms a somewhat stiff ball.

3. Roll out your dough to 1/4 inch on parchment paper. If it is sticky, lightly flour it and try again. Cut as many template pieces as you can fit, leaving an inch between. Lift scraps off (roll them out again for the next batch) and transfer the whole sheet of parchment to your baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. (Feel free to burn it a little; you probably won’t want to eat it after it has been sitting around for a month, anyway). Have your templates and a sharp knife ready when you take the pieces out of the oven. Position the template over the puffy monstrosity and cut the warm dough back into shape before it cools and hardens into ginger-rock. Feed the trimmings to your ravenous little helpers. Set pieces aside to cool completely and become solid. When they are assembly ready, you should be able to hold up a piece from one edge and feel as though you are picking up a piece of cardboard or wood- no give at all. If they are not like this after an hour, put them back in the oven and give them a few more minutes.

4. Make Royal Icing. This stuff is the cement of the food world. I think it tastes gross, but Little Girl loves it.
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
2 tsp powdered egg white (Wilton)
2 Tbsp water
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Beat all ingredients in a metal or glass mixing bowl for about 5 minutes, or until it is glossy and forms stiff peaks. Spoon into a sandwich bag and cut off one corner to apply.

5. Squirt Royal Icing onto bottom and sides of all wall pieces and assemble. You may need a helper or some canned food to hold up the pieces while they set enough to let go. Let the icing dry completely before doing anything else. Unless you are planning step 5.5.

(Optional) 5.5: Make sugar-glass for windows. On stovetop over low heat, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup water for a really long time, stirring constantly. At the very point you are about to give up and figure you did it wrong, it will suddenly thicken and turn a golden color. Pour the mixture onto a Silpat or parchment paper and allow to harden. Put on cutting board and score with a sharp knife, then crack to get the right size pieces. Squirt royal icing around inside of window and hold the piece of “glass” up until it sets. Or rig something to hold it for you until it sets. Or subject your spouse to this task. (Tip: if you used a Silpat, one side will be a little bit rougher than the other. Glue the rougher side to the gingerbread).

6. Put anything you want into the house, because you are about to close it up. (For example, I glued gingerbread pigs inside the windows looking out). Keep in mind that the “glass” is not super-transparent without lighting. If you have a light to put inside, go for it. Just be careful, and don’t come to me if you somehow light something on fire. When ready, squirt royal icing along the tops of the walls and gently position your roof pieces on top. If using my template, the roof will hang over the edges of the house by about 1/2 inch. Hold this forever until it is dry enough to stay in place, then allow it to dry another hour before decorating.

7. Decorate. If you are my daughter, this means plastering a ton of royal icing and helter-skelter pieces of candy on every visible surface. She was as proud as could be, and I thought it was a masterpiece of 3-year-old design.

8. Take pictures, then decide how long you want to keep it before eating it! Enjoy!

Do you have any other gingerbread wisdom to share? Funny stories? Let me know how it works out for you!