Thursday, December 8, 2016

Matzo House Construction: Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek of this Year's Contest Entries

For those of you familiar with our Annual Gingerbread House Contest, you probably weren't surprised at all to see us veer from the typical "gingerbread" construction for this year's entries.   
But, Matzo? Why? 
Well, as you know, we carefully select our materials using a calculated system involving several predetermined factor considerations.....
Actually: We just use free stuff.
While moving my mother-in-law in to her newly completed apartment, we found 2 cases (yes, 2 cases - 36 unopened boxes) of expired Matzo. How's that for free stuff? 
So, what is Matzo anyway? 
Unleavened bread.
It is used during traditional Passover ceremonies and has great prophetic significance as celebrated in Messianic Seders. (We participated in one of these a few years ago and it was very eye opening!)
Plainly speaking it is basically a 7"x7" sheet of Saltine Cracker - lacking salt. Not really designed for enjoyment - but great for construction!
Here is a pile of Matzo (or Matzah, or Matzoh...)
There was definitely a learning curve as we explored the relatively fragile properties of Matzo as compared to gingerbread or even graham crackers.
After toying with it for a while we decided the Matzo was a little flimsy, so we created sturdier pieces by gluing (icing) two sheets together for each wall. You can see the double cracker stacker style in this photo:

  Except for a few minor construction fails (explained in the coming paragraphs), this year was great fun and a healthy challenge! We hope you enjoy viewing the results as much as we enjoyed making them.
Here is a behind the scenes look at this year's contest entries:
The "Country Cottage" was constructed in a classic "house" form. It was frosted and covered in blue cornmeal for a roughcast plaster look. Windows and doors were added to each side. As the roof details were being installed the doors and windows slid off the walls one by one.
Apparently, the loose cornmeal bits don't make a very solid contact point for the icing to adhere to.  So, the cornmeal had to be scraped off and the frosting cleared back to the bare Matzo anywhere a design element was to be added. 
This was a small step backward in the process, but nothing heartbreaking.
The "Almost Finished" Entry was constructed with double "exterior walls" and received a little more structural support with graham crackers studs (16" on center - to scale).

And, of course, before sheetrock could go up, insulation (cotton candy) was put in place:

And electrical work completed:

Construction Fail: The cotton candy (although a clever idea) was a big disappointment. It began dissolving immediately after being handled and had melted away almost completely by the time the sheetrock walls started going up. 
Oh, well.  Just like real life renovation fails: Lesson learned.
The construction of the "Ship Wrecked" entry was quite different. The initial hull of the ship was constructed with a single layer of Matzo (lots of tricky cuts and piles of Matzo debris).
The aftermath of the construction process:
A second layer of Matzo was attached to the main frame in 3" strips resembling wood planks. 
The ship was then strong and sturdy...and even the texture was right on. But the color was all wrong.
Enter: Vodka and food coloring!
The color went on smoothly and the alcohol evaporated quickly without warping the Matzo boards.

Every bit of the process went smoothly until the anchor was added as a final touch. The fondant hadn't set up completely and melted into a wobbly heap in the sand (blue cornmeal). Oops!

Good thing it's on dry land.

Well, that's it for this year's sneak peek. Do you have any Gingerbread House Fails or lessons learned you'd like to share? Please leave a comment in the box below. And don't forget to:
Click on the photo below to see the FINAL ENTRIES and cast YOUR VOTE!



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gingerbread House Contest: The 2016 Entries


Before viewing the entries, I must reveal two major TWISTS in the plot:
1. This year's "gingerbread houses" aren't made of gingerbread! 
Nope, they're not your classic graham cracker or milk carton house either! 
This year we used Matzo.
Apparently, Matzo houses are a thing...? We weren't aware of this new cultural awakening. We weren't trying to stay hip with new trends. We were doing just as we had in years past -using what we had.  And we had a case of Matzo. It was expired. And the rest is history.
2. Some of this year's "gingerbread houses" aren't even houses!
They are, however, completely edible (not that you'd want to eat any of them), and held together with a royal icing "glue".  So, they were created in a gingerbread house style - with a stale Matzo flair.
The artist behind each entry will not be revealed until the voting results are in.
After reviewing the photos below, please use ONE of these three options to cast your vote:
1. Use the poll box in the side panel (top right hand side on a PC)
2. Click the "comment" link at the end of the post and share your vote. 
3. Send an email to
A winner will be announced on December 20th!
This "gingerbread house" is the cheerful creation of a true chicken lover - quaint, colorful, and carefully designed.

 This "gingerbread house" is a nod to renovation projects and the classic case of "almost finished."

This "gingerbread house" isn't a house at all, but a bold display of creativity and resourcefulness.


I'm working on a post with a sneak peek "Behind the Scenes of our Matzo House Construction." I will post the link here when it is ready. Or you can Subscribe and receive new posts by email!
We'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments on this year's entries. Drop us a note in the comment box below. 
And don't forget to vote!

Monday, November 28, 2016

DIY - Building the In-law Apartment - Framing for the New Floor Plan

 This post contains affiliate links.
This part of the construction was the first big milestone. We pulled down every existing interior wall and did a final clean up (and another trip to the dump). Staring at a hollow shell was a little intimidating. This was the first (only, and last) point where Mr. Steady almost waivered. He looked around and said, "I guess we're building an apartment now."  It was also the first (of many) point where I almost lost it.  I burst into uncontrollable laughter - much like Tom Hanks in the movie Money Pit and threw my hands up. "Yep. Guess we're building an apartment."
 We started with a really precise floor plan. All the measurements had been adjusted on the Sweet Home 3D program after demo (More about that HERE). So, we printed the new layout and used it to mark out the new wall locations on the subfloor.
All there was left to do was put the new walls up! 
Enter: This little beauty...
This compressor has been a loyal friend to Mr. Steady through these renovation years. It is made by Porter Cable and we can testify to it's durability! It comes with a brad nailer, a finish nailer, and a staple gun. They have all been used and abused around here and are still going strong!  He uses them in the shop for product builds, in the house for trimwork....and when we started this project he purchased this other little beauty...

A framing nailer- this blessing was absent from our previous projects (all still in progress) and Mr. Steady said by comparison, it felt like these walls practically put themselves up. I'm sure it's all relative, but he had the whole apartment done in a day!

And just like that, it had rooms again!
We called our electrician in and he ran a subpanel off our main electrical panel (its wired for future independence, but we didn't have the budget to run a separate line now) . He also ran all the wiring for the outlets, switches, and recessed lighting (a necessity with 7,10" ceilings).
Then we paused from celebration to purchase insulation - A huge expense we were not planning on. Thankfully, Mr. Steady has a great relationship with the folks at the local lumberyard and we got "a deal". 
The insulation was stapled in to each cavity (Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching...) with the Porter Cable staple gun.  We were feeling productive and accomplished. We were starting to come to grips with the necessary expenses and were proud of the progress we made....

Then we took a look around.
Our shoulders drooped as we asked, "Why does it look just as bad as it did a few weeks ago?" 
And so goes the story of renovation.

This part of the process (the behind the walls part) was NEVER ENDING.  It's never fun spending money on things you will NEVER see. It's even less fun spending hours, days, and weeks putting them there yourself.  I hate to admit it, especially this early in the process, but with the thought of plumbing, gas lines, and other  "behind the scenes projects", I was already burnt out. Shameful, I know.

A possible contribution to my lack of perseverance was this little gal - still waking up several times a night to eat.  Not making's just a thought.
In the end, we did make one framing adjustment - a pass-through from the kitchen to the living room.  It let in a ton of light and we figured it would give my Mother in law a great view from the sink.


Well, it sure is weird being on this side of the project and looking back. I was so SURE it would never end.  Let this be a dose of hope for you. It DOES end. It WILL be awesome. You CAN do it.
Please leave your comments, questions, and thoughts below. Love to hear from you!

Don't miss the next installment of the In-Law Apartment series....Subscribe HERE or in the top right hand side of your screen - just below the stunning photo of your favorite author! =)

From our home to yours,

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Celebrating A Decade Of Gingerbread Houses - The Next 5 Years

 This post contains affiliate links.
In my previous post, "The First 5 Years", I started a timeline to display the baby steps that led to grand development in our gingerbread house making skills. What began as a creative bonding process for newly weds became a full blown family tradition. Years of fun (and shocking progress) finally brought us here....


First of all, please excuse my photography skills. I didn't seem to progress as drastically in that skill as I did in my gingerbread craft.
Well, as you can see, this year was a doozy! We deviated completely from the safety of using a gingerbread house kit and constructed our own.  With no engineering experience, we were both surprised to find our creations still standing after weeks of display and transport.
The building structures were made with graham crackers.  They held together so nicely we decided used them the following year.
This year we decided to share our love for gingerbread houses with our church family. I made 35 mini graham cracker houses, set up a decoration spread, and made a day of it.  The kids had a blast - everyone's turned out so differently.

Even our little Curious Cowgirl (age 2.5) made her own little masterpiece...
Poor Gingy.
The next few years were a little chaotic.  It wasn't until we moved to our new home here at Rehoboth Farm that we were able to pick up the piping bag again. And since we were still recovering from the Great Kitchen Debacle, we decided to play it safe...and small...and cheap.

Ta-da!  I know, they're pretty sad. We were exhausted, a little overwhelmed, and desperate for some sense of familiarity. We needed some gingerbread house making therapy. And these little guys were just the ticket. 
** 2016 **
This year we are ready to start fresh...we're well rested, have plenty of construction experience, and are excited about celebrating 10 years together...making messes, making trouble, making gingerbread houses...and making beautiful memories! 
The icing is on the table and the sprinkles are gonna fly!  I will post a link to this year's come-back creations HERE as soon as they are complete!
I hope you've enjoyed this photo timeline and the silly stories that accompanied it.  It has been a joy sharing these special times with you.  I'd love to hear your comments, questions, and ideas on gingerbread house making! 
From Our House to Yours,