She holds up one of the fondant figurines she made for her gingerbread house display - it's a girl sitting on a man's shoulders.
"This one's inspired by my dad and me," Charlotte Gurney-Banning says, before placing it in front of the elaborate holiday scene she made for to 2012 Hyatt Gingerbread Lane Competition.
Charlotte came in second place in her category. It was her first time entering the competition, but to see her entry, you wouldn't know it. The gingerbread house looks like it was crafted by a seasoned pro.
Charlotte is an 18-year-old student at New Westminster Secondary School, who also happens to have Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often marked by difficulties in social interaction and repetitive patterns of behavior.
"I have it, (but) it doesn't define my entire person," Charlotte said. "Autism is just a part of it."
Before she was diagnosed in Grade 7, Charlotte struggled to keep up in school.
"When I was younger, I had trouble with school - reading, communicating with people, making eye contact," she says.
After almost two months of testing, she was diagnosed, which was a big relief for her because it explained her struggles, she says.
Charlotte came to NWSS last year to attend the school's Ace-it program, which gives students a head start on training for the trades.
She took the cooking program and wants to be a pastry chef.
"My ultimate dream is to work with wedding cakes," she says, smiling as she looks at her stunning gingerbread creation in the cafeteria at the high school - before it was shipped off to the Hyatt for the competition.
Pastry isn't her only interest. She also ponders a career working with children.
On the weekends, Charlotte works in the daycare at her church and said she socializes better with younger kids.
Charlotte also speaks on autism panels with other people who have autism to help raise awareness about it.
"Unfortunately, I was born when not a lot of people understood it," Charlotte says.
She is also learning sign language. "It's an easier language for me because of my autism," she says, signing the words. Charlotte says there are Asperger's traits that have helped her in the gingerbread creation.
"I'm very patient and detailed," she said.
Those are her "high skills," she adds. Charlotte was inspired to build the gingerbread house after her mom gave her a cookbook on the topic for her birthday in September. She started building the piece under the guidance of Stephen Schram, culinary arts instructor at the high school.
Schram helped with the heavy lifting - rolling the pastry, and just generally "coaching" her through the process.
Charlotte made all of the "people" - whimsical figures in winter mode with sweaters and snowballs and big smiles. One girl lies flat, doing a snow angle on the "snowy" ground, while her dog obediently sits beside her.
Another set of kids are having a snowball fight. There are festively decorated Christmas trees, Santa (of course) and his sleigh.
Schram was the one who suggested Charlotte do the Hyatt contest. He was her cooking instructor at the high school.
"I knew that she liked pastry," he says. "She's really dedicated and focused. Part of that might be the Asperger's. She gets really fixated on things."
Charlotte would work on the house all day, at times.
"I had to tell her to take a break," Schram says.
Charlotte's mom Sue Banning also noted her daughter's efforts on the project, which took three weeks to complete.
"There was fondant from one end of the dining room (to the other)," she says, laughing. But it was worth the mess.
"It was really nice to see her throw herself into something she was really passionate about," Banning says.
All the hard work paid off. Charlotte won a $300 scholarship and a gift certificate for $200 at the Mosaic Bar and Grille in the Hyatt contest.
The Hyatt's Gingerbread Lane event, which features all of the gingerbread entries in the various categories, is open to the public until noon on Dec. 27.