Today’s blog entry is guest written by Kristin Neperud Merz of where she has been designing, branding and doing all things creative since 2000. Kristin also serves Catalyst Ranch as a Creative Strategist and is our designer of all things digital. You can see some of her fabulous work in our website redesign which is now live! She is also the writer of  ”Unscribbling: The Art of Problem Solving and Fulfilling Your Ideas.” 

The Creative and Life lessons in the Gingerbread House

by Kristin Neperud Merz

Exhausted and knee deep in boxes from our move I peeked in as many boxes as I could, trying to figure out, “where-oh-where did I pack the F’in’ coffee?” Sans-car and therefore sans-coffee for the day I trudged through and tried to get as much work done as I could. That night Husband sauntered home from work (where they serve free Starbucks) and told me that his new job asked him to make the gingerbread house this year for his department… I will admit, the first words that popped in my head were NOT pleasant at all. Up to my eyeballs in work, still not unpacked and now we have to make a gingerbread house too?! Are you kidding me? If he hadn’t brought a pack of coffee with him, he would have been in BIG trouble.

But sometimes you have to suck it up and just make a F’in gingerbread house

He just started his new job, so declining and not being a “team player” was out to the question. So we built it. And, determined not to let this be a waste of time, I decided to try to learn something from it. So here are eight lessons to learn from making a gingerbread house.

Lesson #1 – Get Your Attitude On

Oh, I started this with a bad attitude. I will admit. I wanted the names of who volunteered him to build this thing, because they were sooooo going on my naughty list! Neither of us had ever done a gingerbread house before, but we both knew it would be time consuming at a time when there seemed to be none to spare. So we could go into it as Scrooges, or snap ourselves out of it and decide to make it a fun experience. So we changed our attitude, accepted our fate, left the boxes and cleaning to wait and jumped in.

Whenever you need to do something you’d rather not, adjust your attitude before you start. You may not be able to control the things you “have” to do sometimes, but you can control your attitude.

Lesson #2 – Stay Open to Change

Even pressed for time, no way were we doing a boring “classic” gingerbread house. If we are doing this, we are going to rock it and have fun! So right away my mind starts spinning with ideas, and it gets fixated on this “Gingerbread-house-o-cards” idea. I could totally see it – how fun! We would make the walls look like cards and create the house of cards and then we will make little gum-drop dudes – some trying to defend the house of cards, others mischievously trying to knock it down. It will be so cute. We’ll have one guy throwing a snowball, one coming at it on a sled, and oh-oh we will have an angry bird trying to launch itself at it. I love it! So after some convincing, Husband is now on board.


We buy a ton of candy and get the ingredients to make the walls. All is well. I experimented with the gum drop dudes and have engineered them to stand up on their own. This is going to be great.

Then it came to the “cards”… which weren’t quite square, but they’d work. Instead of clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds we were going with – snowmen and bells both outlined in chocolate icing, and candy canes and snowflakes in red icing. Perfect. I love it – it is going to be awesome! … yeah, turns out the icing outlines looked like… well, let’s just say the icing does not have the same look as a pen. So, if we decided we can’t make the cards look right, what are we to do?

Okay, since the cards aren’t working out and they aren’t even really square, how about we just turn the whole thing into an “angry birds gingerbread house” theme? Even better!

Sometimes you just have to adjust the plan. You just have to try things, fail and adjust in order for a better plan to emerge. So, remember to stay open to change and better ideas.

Lesson #3 – Pace Yourself

Luckily we had time to adjust. We had planned out our week.

Day one – make the walls.

Day two – color icing on one side of them. Make a few gum drop characters.

Day three – white icing on the other side of the walls and a few more characters.

Day four – assemble the “house-o-cards.”

Day five – decorate.

Day six – spare day for last minute touches.

Of course, all things went amuck on day four, but we had the spare and it all worked out. But more importantly, we paced ourselves. Otherwise it would all be just too much. As it was each night we were spent and ready to be done. If you try to take on a project like this all at one time you will probably hate it and in the end develop the attitude of, “I don’t even care! It is good enough! Call it done!”

But “good enough” is just not “good enough” – we had to impress, and if you are going to do something you might as well do a good job! Had we not planned and paced it would have been really bad. And the birds won’t have been the only thing that was angry.

Lesson #4 – Share and Listen to Your Team

Let’s just say Husband and I have different styles of working. Normally with your co-workers you need to be all polite… but this is my husband and all the politeness can sometimes go out the window when we are working on things. But really, our different styles usually work together to make the best outcome.

So, with an initial plan in place, I am all, “let’s just start and try things and see what happens.” And Husband is all, “wait, what? Let’s plan this out and think it through.” Argh! So freakin’ frustrating! “It’s clear in my head,” I think, “let’s just get to work!”… Deep breath. Remember, sometimes jumping in can lead to having to redo things. So we talk and think a bit, I try to explain the vision in my head, and we make a few adjustments to the vision in my head.

Both our work styles come in handy. Both compliment and help the other. Though at times it feels frustrating to work with someone with a different style, I acknowledge that everyone brings good things and thoughts to the table, so you have to remember to listen and respect them all. Even if steam bubbles are coming out of your ears the way they do in cartoons.

angrybirds1Lesson #5 – Research before you jump in 

(or, “Fondant” is the coolest stuff ever)

So with the original house-o-cards plan I went online and looked up how to make an Angry Bird out of edible stuffs… and it lead me to fondant.

It. Is. So. Cool.

It is like play-doh with icing. You can make anything! I am so thankful we took some time to look online and do some research, because this stuff rocks and we had time to go get some.

Lesson #6 – Have a sense of humor 

And a glass of wine. No, seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously. You will drive yourself insane if you do. Keep your sense of humor as you work on creative projects like this. It will actually help the creative solutions come forth.

“Umm… all of these ‘walls’ are kinda burnt…”

“Hehehe, let’s add more icing! And throw on some extra candy to cover it up.”

“Hmm, That actually looks good!”

Go with how things turn out, laugh and find the fun. Even if it doesn’t look 100% you will enjoy the process as well as the results – and isn’t that life? Enjoying the journey as well as the destination?

Lesson #7 – Kill your darlings

In writing they say you have to be prepared to “kill your darlings,” or delete the parts of your story you love and the characters you love. But if they aren’t working towards the betterment of the “whole” of the story, you have to be prepared to “kill them” and edit them out.

So the gumdrop guys got killed. They actually worked and were going in a totally cute direction, but with the change in direction to the Angry birds, they had to be killed. In the end, the whole piece was better for their deaths. (Sad but true. Sniff. Sniff.)

Lesson #8 – Buy more icing than you think… and Fondant rocks!

Okay, just a practical lesson here for gingerbread house making – buy a ton of icing. We kept having to pick up more each night. And make sure you have plenty of fondant on hand because as I mentioned, that stuff rocks! You can really make anything out of it. We had some gaps in our layout, so… “no problem, let’s make some more objects with fondant! A tree here and snowman there. Perfect!”

I swear if you have to build another one next year I might skip the walls and build it all with fondant and cover it in icing. I am not sure if that will technically be a gingerbread house anymore, but I don’t care – I totally want to do that!

Lessons can be found everywhere.

Fun can be found anywhere.

Attitudes can be adjusted at any time.

Whatever task you are facing that you don’t want to do this holiday season, buck up and find the beauty in it. Your life will be all the better for it.

P.S. All boxes have been unpacked, there are still some pictures to go up and cleaning to get done, but that will happen as it happens. Other stuff (like life) takes precedence.