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There is an unusual house around the corner from ours.  It’s clear that no one lives there but there are no signs or other indications as to what goes on, aside from the random times when a piece of green posterboard is in the front window with the writing “Yes, We’re Open”.  Out of curiosity Chris stopped by one day and as soon as he opened the door the smell made it clear that this is The Spice House.  It is run by Ruth and her husband, the ones who started the Penzey spice empire before they gave the name to their children.  Ruth is also a neighbor of ours on Kavanaugh who loves children, so we always take Everett with us when we visit.  She has a rather unobtrusive website that advertises spices and the local group that has made them over the years: http://www.kavanaugh-hill-spices.com/.

We purchase spices from Ruth throughout the year but especially around Christmas as Melissa makes batch after batch of rosemary shortbread cookies and Chris prepares our first gingerbread houses since moving to Wisconsin.  This Christmas will be Everett’s first time making gingerbread houses, which has been a tradition of Chris’ for about 20 years, except for last year which was so hectic we ended up just making cookies instead.  We will be in Cincinnati for Christmas and so will be making them there with friends and family.  The tradition of making gingerbread houses was introduced to Chris by the Jacoby family.  The entire enterprise was led by Mr. Jacoby, a fun-loving, gregarious man who made dozens of gingerbread houses each year for each of his three children and their friends and families (Chris was good friends with the second oldest, JT).  He also bought a used fire engine to transport Christmas carolers before and after house construction.  Anyway, Chris picked up the tradition and has introduced it to many other people over the years who have expressed varying levels of enthusiasm, but the Barbers more than anyone else jumped in with both feet and took to it right away.

Chris’ recipe produces gingerbread that is both tasty and meets appropriate engineering standards for sturdy construction (one of the most important points from this report: shortening produces much stronger gingerbread than butter or margarine).  One difference this year was that we used freshly milled spices from the Spice House, which seems like an appropriate way to incorporate our new hometown into this tradition.  Also, this year marks the first time that Chris actually read the baking instructions and subsequently found that they contain some useful information.  We made a village of five houses this year: The Gabbys (Grandad and Grandma Barber), The Butsons (Melissa, Chris, Everett), The Szolwinskis & Birches (Grant, Judy, Matt Jenny, Anna, Adam),The Barbers (Matt, Shawna & Trinity), The Singers (Kirsten, Braden, Bob, Linda).
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Everett wasn’t quite old enough to participate in construction, but he was old enough to taste test a lot of the decorations, and candy consumption was certainly one measure of success.  Another was seeing what each family created from the same pool of raw materials.  Plans are already in the works for next year when house pieces will be precision crafted from CAD drawings using an Epilog laser.

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