LINDEN - After 16 years, Jane Penman is hanging up her denim gingerbread man dress.
Since her oldest child was in kindergarten, she annually put together an event for area children to come together to build gingerbread houses - out of graham crackers.
"This is it," Penman said, referring to the last time she hosted it on Sunday.
Host Jane Penman watches the sweet-treat creations come together for the 16th time.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
With her four children between 10 and 21, she decided it was time to stop the tradition, but she said she hopes someone will continue it.
Over the past 16 years of decorating the ready-made houses with icing and candy, the number of participants sometimes got as high as 70 children. On Saturday, she spent four hours making 35 houses in preparation.
Some of the older children never knew a Christmas without having the decorating day, Penman said.
That was shown in the pictures she displayed of the children crafting their tasty treats over the years.
Through the years, she noticed the houses shrinking as the graham crackers did. She also noticed that some work better than others: low-fat graham crackers are too dry and the generic brand are preferable.
To some children, Penman is known as "the ginger-
bread lady," and years later, they have told her how they used to make the houses around her counter.
There is one main rule for concocting a sugary house - sampling is necessary.
Penman had the counter and table well-stocked with gum drops, marshmallows, assorted chocolates, Skittles, peppermints, gummy bears, licorice, Mike and Ike, pretzels and Peeps in the shape of Christmas trees.
The kinds of candy have not changed much over the year, but she has noticed a pattern. Older children are more likely to use the chocolate, while the younger children want a more a colorful display.
Olivia Fessler, 10, seemed to have a theme with her house: lots of red. She said red was her favorite color, along with purple.
While Penman said some children have come with an idea, based on what their friends did a previous year or what they saw in a magazine, Fessler did not.
"I just wanted to put candy on it," Fessler said.
The children used the resources available to create a peppermint chimney or a pretzel chimney or even their names in licorice, as Katie did.
"No two look alike," Penman said.
Tiarnan Ferry, 13, who had been making the houses for four years, made roof shingles and a chimney for his house.
"It's really fun," Ferry said.
His sister, Mairead, 8, made a window for her house by using her favorite snack: marshmallows.
Katie said she had liked doing it over the years because she enjoyed it and she could do it with her friends.
While making the house, she kept sneaking treats from the bowl.
"I'm still snacking actually," she said after finishing.
The tips she had learned from repeatedly making them were to use a lot of icing to keep the candy in place and also put the heavier candy at the bottom because otherwise it would slide to the bottom anyway.