It might seem like I disappeared since I haven’t posted a NTM since just before the end of October. The truth is, I was sort of on a break but I also just got distracted. If you’ve ever met me or read any prior NTMs, you aren’t surprised at all by that. In fact, you’d likely be more surprised to know that sometimes I actually do stay on task and get things done. At work I have to stay on task and pay attention to schedules and details all the time, so when I am not at work, I don’t. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed writing my last NTM and I’ve had some other ideas for fiction and have been working on those. I’ve kept doing NTMs, but when I’ve sat down to write about them, I’ve been sidetracked to work more on the fiction stuff. Once the 52 NTMs are done, I think I may focus on the fiction stuff a little more for awhile. Not sure what format that’ll take yet, but I’ll post more information or a link here when I have some more stuff up (it’ll probably go on another site).
Now, back to NTMs – I like building stuff and always have. When I was a kid, I had thousands of Legos – literally thousands. At one point the storage container of choice was a rubbermaid trash can (yeah, one of those big ones). I had the space set, the tropical island set, the castle set, the zoo set, and a bunch of others but my favorite was just the big boxes of hundreds of blocks that were not “supposed to be” anything. That way I could just make whatever I wanted.
I am pretty sure that what I chose for this week is a new thing. If I have ever done it before I don’t recall it, so it counts (my blog, my rules right). After doing it, it is clear to me that it takes far too much attention to detail and sitting still even now, so even if my parents did try to give me a chance to do this when I was a kid, it probably didn’t go well and they likely gave up after about the 4,000th time I said I was bored and let me go on my way. Also, I think you probably need an engineering degree and a team of construction workers (or maybe some helpful 5 year olds) to be successful at it.
After I got the idea for this NTM, I did a little looking on the internet and determined that it would be simplest to order a kit for my project. People build houses from kits, cars from kits, even airplanes from kits. I found just what I was looking for and placed my order (rushed – because I just couldn’t wait). Two business days later, it arrived.
When I ordered it, I didn’t notice that the gingerbread pieces were “pre-baked”. I figured it would come with a recipe for gingerbread and I would have to cook that first, then build the house. Oh well – I can go straight to the construction phase – this project is going to be a cinch – 10-15 minutes tops. I gathered the necessary supplies.
In case you are wondering, the level did not come with the kit. I just thought it might be good to have handy to make sure everything was squared up when I put it together. I have in the past been accused of overdoing building projects. In a similar vein, I’ve also been accused of overusing packing tape on items being shipped or scotch tape on gift wrapping. Allow me to say in my defense – I have never had someone complain that a package I shipped to them had fallen open in transit. I have also never been responsible for ruining a child’s Christmas surprise because a package I wrapped came open early (I have been accused of upsetting children because I’ve made their gifts too hard to unwrap – but I like to think those kids probably learned a good lesson about persistence). When I built shelves around two walls of the garage at my last house, people said I was overdoing it. People said that a support bracket every 6-8 inches was too much. I said “no shelf of mine is gonna sag.” Just take a little drive around your town and peer into open garages – you’ll most likely see a bunch of feeble, sagging, pathetic looking shelves. Then swing by my old place on West 10th and take a gander. You’ll see shelves that could hold virtually the weight of the entire world and remain just as sturdy as a female Soviet shotputter circa 1988.
The mention of “Soviet” made me think of the launch today of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Russian, European and American crew to the international space station. I know it’s maybe a little corny, but I hope I never outgrow being in awe of the idea of people blasting off into space – and how much cooler is it that it is an international project? Maybe it’s even more corny – but I have to believe that there’s a chance that 25 years from now there might be a joint mission to space that includes an Iranian, or a North Korean, or a Burmese. That’s probably not any more far fetched than if someone had tried to convince my folks during the Cuban missile crisis that we one day would be launching Catherine from Charleston, Dmitry from Irkutsk, and Paolo from Milan in a joint mission. Cue olympics theme.
On to this week’s NTM project. First things first, I’ve got to mix the icing/mortar. The instructions seem simple enough – stir 4 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon of warm water into the icing powder while mixing on low speed for 1 minute. Got it. Then mix on medium for 2-3 minutes. The icing should be the consistency of toothpaste. There are several bags of icing mix and the instructions say to mix just one at a time, use that up and then make another batch. Bonus – three different batches of icing means getting to lick the beaters three times!
My first batch turned out just the right consistency and I pretty quickly had the 4 walls up. I was thinking this was hardly going to be any challenge at all. Pride comes before the fall.
I had enough icing left from the first batch to cover one of the roof panels. I did so. Child’s play.
I needed to go ahead and use all the icing from the first batch, so I covered what I could of roof panel two.
Batch # 2 of the icing is where things started to take a turn for the worse. I added too much water. What to do? The instructions say you can add confectioner’s sugar to thicken it. Dilemma – the instructions also say the icing sets quickly. I am fresh out of confectioner’s sugar at the old casa – do people just keep that stuff around? People other than confectioners I mean? Anyway – I don’t know if I have time to go the store and get some to solve the consistency problem with this icing batch or if the icing will harden while I am away. I decide to open the third bag of icing mix and add just a little. I added too much and then had to add some water. I swear I only added a few drops, but then the icing was back to being too thin. I added more mix – too thick – more water – too thin. I’m pretty sure Stephen Hawking addressed this in one of his books – this is some kind of infinite loop caused by a fold in the fabric of space. I realized if I didn’t stop the madness I would eventually fill up the entire world (or at least my kitchen) with icing that was either just a little too thin or too thick. I stopped with the icing a little too thin. I figured it would harden a bit and then be just right. I figured wrong.
While the icing on roof panel two was hardening (and running off the sides like syrup), I decide to check the level of my structure. So far, things are looking good – the bubble looks right on. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the size of the structure. The box says “GIANT”. I had imagined a gingerbread house roughly the size of the Taj Majal, or at least something big enough to make it easier to install the indoor plumbing/running water system made from twizzlers that I had planned out in my head. Let me save you some time – twizzlers make fine “pipes” but duct tape doesn’t hold them together worth a darn so the system is not exactly water tight. Using a match to try and melt the ends together also does not work. Burning twizzlers smell about as bad as you might expect.
The box shows some ideas for decorating styles – the “Sugarplum Retreat”, the “Holiday Chalet” and the “Snowfall Manor.” I like to call mine, Christmas at the Minneapolis Metrodome.
The icing was not thickening up any so I decided to try putting it in the refrigerator. That worked perfectly – if what I was trying to accomplish was to produce really cold runny icing. Hhmmmm, what to do? First, I tried to stick the roof panels on with the thin icing. They just slid off. Then I tried more thin icing and held the panels on for a long time to see if they would stick. Thankfully, I had season 1 of Modern Family on DVD going so I just stood there holding roof panel number 1 on for nearly a whole episode. Thanks to my dear friend Lenna for turning me on to Modern Family! Manny cracks me up.
An entire episode of Modern Family was not enough to allow the icing to harden enough to hold the first roof panel on for longer than about 30 seconds. The problem with that is that it seemed like my idea had worked and the panel was going to stay so I walked over to get the other panel to get ready to put it on. While I was away, roof panel number 1 slid off and cracked. arggghhhhh. Why do people think this is a fun holiday tradition?
Undaunted, I decide that there has to be someway to thicken up the icing. How about just regular sugar borrowed from the neighbor, you ask? Well, adding regular sugar does thicken it up but it’s no longer sticky at all. While I am working on the roof issue, I placed the icing decorator tube full of icing on the other side of the sink. You might be interested to know that really thin icing does not stay in such a tube if said tube is placed on its side.
I may not have gathered enough supplies. By that I mean I may not have enough beer to finish this job. Good grief. Ok – damage control – rubberband the end of the decorator tube so icing won’t run out – no rubberbands – but one of those little black metal clips seems to work. Now – how do I get this stinking roof on? What I am needing are some rafters to lay across my two side walls so I can just lean the two roof panels on (actually now there are three roof panels – roof panel 1 is now panel 1A and 1B). What to use, what to use? I’ve got it. And the roof panels are on!
Again, I’ll save you some time – incense sticks are exactly the right size to serve as roof rafters for a GIANT gingerbread house. Despite the structural problems with my project, I decide to press on – I have lots more candy and have no idea what I’ll do with it if I don’t stick it to this stupid collapsing structure. I suppose it would be sort of entertaining to take the candy to my next door neighbor and tell her I made it all with the half cup of sugar I borrower from her. Press on Springer, press on!
I need to increase the stickiness of this icing. What to do, what to do? That’s right – I’ll add some honey. The honey does improve the stickiness but it runs so when I try to put some icing on to use for sticking candy around the windows and doors and on top of the roof, it just runs and won’t hold the candy. I was able to get some red candies on top of the roof since gravity held them in place. And using tons of icing I was able to get green candies to stick in place for the door (for about 5 minutes). Below is the best my GIANT gingerbread house ever looked.
And here’s what my construction area looked like at that time.
I am glad I tried this project. I learned a lot – mostly what not to try in an attempt to change the consistency of icing. I also learned that somehow icing (and a few gumdrops) can end up in a room in the house you did not even go in during the construction process????? – It was a Christmas miracle! I learned that you can complete a construction project without jumping around holding your mashed finger and using words that my dear grandmother would have described as “not parlor talk.” I learned that even if you don’t smash your finger you still may end up using words that my dear grandmother would have described as “not parlor talk” during a construction project – even one that involves a kit that says “Ages 6 and up.”
Postscript – I had grand plans to leave a note for my maid who was coming the next day that she should take this home to her two kids. The thing looked terrible – and I could not even remember everything that had been dumped in the icing so I decided that I would also try demolishing a building for NTM. That went much smoother than the construction!