It all started about 15 years ago, when a few women from Lake Highlands took part-time jobs at Neiman Marcus. Word spread that the job was easy – with one very popular perk – and, pretty soon, upward of 20 women from our neighborhood were working at the department store’s call center.

“At one time, there were like 26 Lake Highlands ladies working part time in that telemarketing department,” Billye McSpedden says. “In fact, they called us the Lake Highlandettes.”

“We’d work one day a week and get a 30 percent discount,” says McSpedden, revealing the perk and adding, with a laugh. “We’re really all just shopaholics. We all need a 12-step program.”

More than a decade later, most of the women have given up the job and the coveted discount, preferring to spend these years of their lives with more leisure time. But a few of them – nine, to be exact – were unwilling to give up the lasting friendships formed during that time.

With other things going on, however – children, grandchildren and other hobbies – it’s rare that they spend time together. So four years ago, Lynn Pitts, who still works at Neiman’s, came up with an idea that has since become a holiday tradition, one with an official name even: The Gingerbread House Construction and Decoration Party and Brunch for Grandmothers.

“I saw in this catalog a form for a gingerbread house,” Pitts says. “So I bought it, made it, and it was so cute, I thought: This would be the most fun thing for all of us to get together and do.”

Pitts holds the party every year in early December at her home. The ladies come mid-morning and work on the gingerbread houses before settling down to brunch. The first year, they did it the other way around, only to discover that all the houses collapsed in cars on the way home because they hadn’t had enough time to set.

“There has been quite a learning curve,” says McSpedden about learning to make gingerbread houses.

“It’s amazing how creative people can get,” she says. “I don’t have a creative bone in my body, so I always have to copy what somebody else has done. I’m probably low man on the totem pole, but I have two grandsons who think my house is just wonderful.”

Adds Pitts: “Yes, some people are better engineers than others.”

Through the years, the women have gone from making just houses to making houses with yards, complete with trees, fences and the like.

“We get frosting in our ears and in our hair,” McSpedden laughs.

“We just giggle and have the best time doing this,” Pitts says.

But the yearly event is less about improving their gingerbread architectural skills than it is about catching up and maintaining those strong neighborhood friendships.

“It’s a lot of fun for all of us, McSpedden says. “We seldom see each other, so it’s a real sort of homecoming type situation for us. We catch up on all the grandchildren.”

Grandchildren and more, according to Pitts.

“We talk about people, and we talk about grandchildren and children, where everybody is and what they’re doing. We’re just ladies gossiping. Just having fun. If there’s anybody we need to talk about, we do,” she adds with a laugh.

“I can’t imagine not doing it. It’s just too much fun. For some of us, that’s the best visit we have all year.”