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December 18, 2013

Building a tradition

Port woman helps spread joy with gingerbread houses

Lyndi Lanphear has constructed hundreds and hundreds of houses. Along the way, she has picked up quite a few tricks for holiday decorating.

Colorful chocolate rocks make great sidewalks, while chocolate kisses and peppermints dress up rooftops. Big candy canes look beautiful over archways, and ribbon candy is the perfect sleigh for a sweet Santa Claus. And there’s no better adhesive than sugary royal icing.

If the finished product looks good enough to eat, that’s because it is.

Lanphear, a Newburyport resident, has been building gingerbread houses for more than 20 years. She started the tradition with her grandmother Gertrude Wolfe, who lived with Lanphear and her husband, Kevin, when their children, David and Jennifer, were young.

After teaching themselves how to make the houses, Lanphear and Wolfe would cook and assemble the pieces, then set up a table with a variety of candy and small cups of royal icing.

“It was fun doing it with her,” Lanphear said. “Then, as the kids got older, they helped me, and they loved it.”

What started as an activity at small family gatherings grew into larger events, with Lanphear making the houses for her son’s Cub Scout troop, both children’s classes at Immaculate Conception School, Sunday school sessions and, eventually, a number of other organizations.

“It just kind of evolved over the years,” Lanphear said. “One year, I made over 200 houses.”

At her peak, she would start baking gingerbread right after Halloween and freezing it so it was always on hand during the holiday season.

“I like to have (the houses) made about a week before I use them, because they harden,” she said. “My family loves the smell of gingerbread cooking in the house all season long.”

Now that her children are grown, she has scaled back her efforts, especially this year after finishing up a campaign for councilor-at-large. Her job as the owner and manager of a professional office building also takes up a lot of her time.

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