Our “Tornado Smashed” Gingerbread House!


My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!

Back on May 22, when a tornado smashed our house, I had no idea how long the road ahead of us would be. I had no idea that, coming up on Christmas, I would be without a kitchen, would still be fighting the city, and that I’d only be beginning to process the trauma of the whole thing.

In fact, up until a few days ago, I was pretty sure I’d dealt with the trauma. I was convinced I’d managed to just put it aside entirely, and get to work. I thought that we were so “over” the tornado, that we could have a bit of fun with it.

I have no idea why we thought it would be a good idea / funny to make a gingerbread house representation of our house on May 23. No clue. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and hey – I’d never made a gingerbread house before. If it turned out looking horrible, I had the ultimate excuse: It being “tornado smashed”, it’s SUPPOSED to look awful/be falling apart.

So, I did a bit of research. I obsessed over fellow Food Bloggers of Canada member Barry Parsons’ Rock Recipes Blog – where he has detailed instructions for making gingerbread houses. He does just phenomenal work, you should check it out!

tornado gingerbread house

Anyway, armed with Barry’s gingerbread house recipe and TONS of source material photos from back in May, I set to work.

It all started out well. We measured the house, and used those measurements together with photos to design a to-scale template in photoshop. I cut everything out, baked the gingerbread, and made a complete mess of pouring sugar “windows”. On the upside, I broke my track record for burning myself with sugar work, coming out of this project completely unscathed!

As I started to pipe the stucco and bricks – leaving “holes” untouched, for where the trees shot through the wall – I did start creeping myself out a little. It was really weird to see this house taking shape in front of me, the house we haven’t seen in some time.

The ugly purple-red trimwork that was replaced with nice, new blue trim.

The red bricks. Well, overall they looked red, but were really a bizarre, random mash up of red, orange, and brown.. With pink mortar. I couldn’t bring myself to use pink frosting for the “mortar lines”. It was so, so ugly. The house now looks nothing like it did, even before the tornado. Freshly painted stucco – light blue, rather than the ages white. The bricks painted a medium blue – mortar and all – with dark blue sponged over the actual brick parts.

We were so, SO happy when all the painting was done, and we could sit back and admire our newly-adorable house. I don’t know. It was weird to assemble a representation of the old version.

The stucco. By popular vote, I didn’t add the “skid marks” that trees left on the side of our house. Skid marks. Can you imagine?

I had to shudder as I attached 2 pretzel sticks to the side of the house. There is something insanely surreal about going up the stairs to the bedroom, and seeing a tree sticking in the wall. Like the wall was just… nothing. I can’t even imagine the force that took… I can’t believe only one person died in the tornado. There had to have been – from the appearance when it was all over – thousands of trees flying around, with similar force.

Kinda takes the breath away to think about it.

I’d poured extra melted sugar in a pan, to be shattered and used for “broken glass”. It was sort of fun at first, very carefully placing the shards in the “doorway” for the upstairs mini deck. It looked really good! Well, as good as a candy version of a smashed door can look…

It didn’t really shake me up until I walked upstairs a little while later, past that door. I just vividly remembered ALL. THAT. BROKEN. GLASS. I never thought we’d get it out, it was everywhere… along with plant matter, and broken chunks of vinyl tiles from someone elses’ house. I can’t even imagine what the cats went through, that day.

Extremely vivid memory… and now, we walk around on that same carpet in our bare feet. Surreal.

Placing the Chex “shingles” and Fruit Roll-up “tarp” was a lot of fun. You know, though… creating “destruction” is actually really difficult. When you’re doing straight lines of shingles, it’s easy.. but skipping some, leaving room for the “hole in the roof”, etc? It’s a lot to think about! Once the Chex was placed, the roof was airbrushed with a combination of black and silver food coloring, thinned with vodka.

The deck and porch were also a little difficult to set up. I was trying to get a fairly accurate representation at first, but the logistics got in the way. Some debris was holding up parts of the remaining deck, blah blah. So much stuff EVERYWHERE. I eventually just set up my gingerbread “planks” in the general shape that our deck was left in, and called it “good enough”.

It wasn’t until I started to sculpt the 100+ year old black walnut tree (modelling chocolate), that I started to lose it.

I remember how excited I was last spring. It was a month or so after we’d moved in, the snow was melting… and I found these weird, wrinkly objects on the ground. I quickly realized that they were black walnuts, and – OMG THEY CAME FROM OUR TREE. I was so excited. I’d never had a walnut tree, never had access to one. We excitedly researched what to do with the walnuts, and we made plans for all sorts of stuff we’d make with those walnuts.

As I was shopping for my Christmas baking this weekend, I felt a little bitter as I reached to pick up a pack of walnut pieces. I shouldn’t be buying walnuts, I should be using OUR walnuts. We never had a chance.

That tree was huge, and gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to see it with summer – and fall – foliage. Not only will I not get that chance, the tree is completely irreplaceable. Ripped out of the ground like it was nothing, leaving a huge diameter of toxic soil behind as a twisted “memorial” ground.

Did you know that black walnut trees render the soil below them toxic? I didn’t either, till we lost ours.

I started tearing up as I carefully wrapped floral wire with chocolate clay, watching this representation of our beloved tree take shape in front of me. I gently placed in over the house and deck, and then just lost it for a few minutes.

When I started this project, I had NO idea that just the act of placing a chocolate tree on my gingerbread house would cause me to just break down. It was just so… I don’t know. It just really hit me, right then, just how screwed up this whole thing was. Beyond the gingerbread house, even… losing what will end up being an entire year of our lives to this, that such an old, healthy, HUGE tree could just be ripped up like that.. like it was NOTHING… all of it. Just surreal.

In the end, I quit working on it earlier than I had planned. I wanted to make the 3 arborvitae trees that used to stand just a couple feet in front of our house. We lost all 3 in the tornado, with one almost blocking the door, leaning up against the house. I wanted to more accurately represent the waist-deep-and-deeper debris in our side yards. I just… couldn’t. When I placed that tree on the house, I knew I’d done all I had the strength to.

Man, I’ve always had a twisted sense of humor, but I never in a million years expected that it would hit me as hard as this gingerbread house project has. I may not have ever made one before, but I’m *pretty* sure it’s not supposed to make you sad!

You know, the day after the tornado, I was interviewed a few times by the CBC, back home in Canada. I was still in shock, and was cracking HORRIBLE jokes. “Several new skylights!”, etc. Was told I was “Handling it like a Canadian”. I wonder what that reporter would think of THIS? LOL!

Next year, we’ll be making our second gingerbread house ever. It will be the “after” picture, and it will be a celebration of FINALLY being all the way done with the tornado damage – I HOPE!

Updated to add: We never did get around to making the “after” version, mostly because we are still repairing things in late 2013. I AM happy to report, however, that – as emotional as MAKING the gingerbread house got me at the time – I now find the whole thing hilarious. Loking at these photos really cracks me up, now!

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

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5 thoughts on “Our “Tornado Smashed” Gingerbread House!

  1. Dear Marie,

    What an amazing story, what a moving blog post and what a weird project indeed (what were you thinking 😉 !

    It sounds it has been a good thing in the end. Good to read that at least you are running around bare feet on the carpet again, and I really hope the kitchen will be in full working order soon.

    Life is fragile! No need to be scared of that, it’s just a good thing to realize at times I suppose.

    Somehow I feel a walnut will never be the same for you any more.

    Your house looks gorgeous, even with a tree on top of it!


  2. A beautifully written piece that I have shared with my readers. So glad to have contributed in a small way to this cathartic experience. We exercise our demons in many ways, however odd they may seem at the time.

    I wish for you a happy home in the years ahead. With resilience like yours, that is a foregone conclusion.

    All the best, Barry.

  3. We are sisters at heart now. Though my tragedy is a bit different it is something that will ride with you for a long time. We had a field fire that took all we owned. We were homless for 6 days, while the Red Cross and hubbys work and friends came together and got us a rental house. The healing that has taken place has been a long process. We are 4 and each of us have dealt with it a bit differently. I still cannot watch fires on tv for any length of time. Am in a new house that the old property paid for so that in itself is a blessing. Moving on is a key thing that can be difficult at times like you have experienced. It does get better, we do get stronger. I stand with you in that we do not need to ever experience anything like this again. However, we will know more of what to do IF it does.

  4. My niece and I read this post. She saw the first picture and said you did amazing work. Reading on she shivered looking at the real photos and felt especially bad about the walnut tree, me too.

    An artist uses thier art to celebrate the good things and to get closure from the bad. We boith can’t wait to see next year’s Celebration house!

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