Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 20: Make Lefse with Grandma

Making lefse is a Christmastime tradition in Andi's family. Janie (Andi's mom) learned from her grandmother at age 20, and has since taught Andi's sister, aunts, cousins and now Tory, Aden and I how to make it. I think Janie made lefse four separate times this holiday season! Everyone wants to share in the tradition with her.

We chose Sunday, December 20th (advent calendar day 20) for our lefse session. Andi was suppose to be traveling for work that day, but thought he might be able to catch an earlier flight home in time to join us. (Plans changed, and he ended up skiing in Vail that weekend.) Andi's sister Lindsay and her husband Kyle planned to join us as well, but decided last-minute to take a trip to New York City. Andi's dad was working that day, so it ended up being Janie, Tory, Aden and myself for our lefse date. No worries though! We had a fun, memorable day together.

Considering our group of four-year-old and two-year-old participants, Janie made the lefse dough ahead of time and only made one small batch. She owns the special griddles, rolling pins and long wooden sticks used to turn the lefse while it's cooking. For my contribution, I brought a spinach salad and soup for lunch.

With all the prep work done for us, it didn't take long to cook the lefse. Janie showed Tory and Aden how to roll the dough ball onto the pastry board, and she and I took turns cooking the lefse on the hot griddle.

Tory caught on rather quickly and seemed to really enjoy the cooking process. Though, she really likes to help in the kitchen so I suppose it isn't too surprising. Later that evening, she told me there aren't many steps to making "lepsa"; you simply:

1) Scoop a piece of flour
2) Roll it out
3) Put the dough on
4) Roll it out carefully
5) Put it on the pan
6) Let it flip
9) Let it cool
10) You can eat it now

*The numbered steps are exactly as she described it

Tory enjoyed eating lefse (buttered and sprinkled with sugar), and had it for breakfast every morning the week before Christmas. Aden wasn't a big fan; though, it's not surprising considering he doesn't like potatoes or many starches in general. 

As always, I'm thankful for Janie presence in our lives and her dedication to family traditions. I hope my kids cherish making lefse with their grandma and remember these times together fondly. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Days 14-19: Playing Catch Up

Looks like I missed a few advent calendar days in mid-December ... like, try the whole week!

On the docket was:

Day 14 - Make a Christmas-themed Chex Mix with the kids
... but I never got around to buying the ingredients. Actually, I don't even know what the ingredients were going to be in the first place, but I'd have come up with something. Tory and Aden are really into making their own trail mix with peanuts, raisins, M&Ms, chocolate chips and pretzels so they likely ate that for a snack instead.

Oh! And that day, the kids and I made six dozen cut-out sugar cookies for a cookie exchange at Andi's work. Baking and decorating those cookies with two kids underfoot basically took the entire day to do.  

Day 15 - Open a Christmas present
... the kids actually did do this one, but I never snapped a picture. The gifts were holiday-themed games from Target's Dollar Spot section (which, by the way, was on point this holiday season -- so many cute gifts)!

Tory, Andi and I played her matching game on several evenings before Christmas, and Aden received a wooden tic-tac-toe game which I think he enjoyed scattering around the living room. Though, a note for next year -- I think I'll cut back on the "open a Christmas present" advent calendar days. The kids never seemed as excited about the presents days as they did the activity days. Hey, go figure! They prefer quality time with Andi and I over material things.
Day 16 - Visit Santa
... which, we skipped since we saw him at the Macy's Santaland display the week prior.

Day 17 - Make a Christmas craft
...I did come up with a quick Christmas craft for Tory on this day, but it wasn't anything Pinterest-worthy. I bought some foam Christmas trees from the Dollar Store and let Tory glue colored pom-poms to the trees. Tory and I typically spend a few hours making crafts together during Aden's afternoon nap time, but I had a hard time squeezing this activity into my days during December. To many other tasks to get done before the holidays!

18th - Eat popcorn and watch a Christmas movie together
...Tory and Aden think it's basically the coolest thing ever to eat popcorn in our bed and watch T.V. so I knew they'd get a kick out of this particular activity. I strategically planned our movie night for this evening because Andi was away on a ski trip in Vail, Colorado and it'd be just the three of us.

Shortly after we pushed play on Frosty the Snowman, Grandma Janie stopped over for an unexpected visit. She offered to stay with the kids if I wanted to run any errands ... and who am I to turn down free babysitting?! So, Tory and Aden finished their movie with Grandma Janie and I skipped out of the house to shop at Target by myself. Fun for all!

Day 19 - Make a Christmas Craft
... I planned ahead for our advent calendar activity on this day (knowing Andi was away for the weekend and we wouldn't be at the lake) and arranged for a few friends to meet Tory, Aden and I at Kids Create for a holiday crafts workshop. I'd never been to this particular studio before, and thought it sounded like a fun activity for the kids. Plus, anytime we can show up to an organized activity, create something fun, and leave the sticky mess behind for someone else to clean up is a WIN in my book. Love Tory's preschool for this very same reason! 

The class description touted age-appropriate crafts for the toddler / preschooler set, so I was expecting easy crafts and many sets of extra hands for assistance. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the case. There were four different craft stations around the studio, but only one employee and not a lot of instruction about what to do with the supplies. My friends Sarah, Mirjam and I jumped in to help our little ones create their projects, but it turned out to be quite challenging for me. Specifically, I had a difficult time helping Tory and wrangling Aden at the same time. He was all over the place - breaking into the back storage room, pulling merchandise off the shelves in the store area, snatching permanent markers left on craft tables, ... it was exhausting! Though, you'd never know my frustration looking back on the photos.

Oh well! The kids had fun and someday Aden won't be such a handful. (Right? Right?! Someone please tell me this is true...) I don't think we'll be back to make crafts at the art studio anytime soon, but it was something new and different to celebrate the holiday season. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 13: Night Walks & Christmas Lights

Christmas has come and gone ... bear with me as I recap the remainder of our advent calendar activities. It seems like the same thing happens every year: I have a full list of activities planned, sure to put us in the holiday spirit, and somewhere along the way I lose momentum as our calendar fills up with other stuff. We definitely enjoyed the Christmas season so I think the advent calendar's main objective was achieved, but a few days were missed along the way. Oh well ...

Advent calendar day 13 was Andi's birthday, and we celebrated his special day at the lake cabin. I'd originally planned "play in the snow" as our activity knowing Andi would want to spend his birthday doing his favorite wintertime cabin things -- ice fishing, hanging out with neighbors and tinkering around with stuff. Except, this year brought unseasonably warm weather and no snow! The lake was still open (unfrozen) so ice fishing was surely out of the question.

We may not have been able to play in the snow, but we still hung out with the neighbors and subbed playing in the snow for ... playing in the rain? Our cabin friends Oscar and Deanna invited us over to their place for a bonfire and grilled hamburgers. We bundled up in our cold weather gear, strapped lights on our heads and hung out around the fire in the misting rain. Later, our big group went for a walk down their cabin road in the pitch-black night. It was so fun!

Night walks have become one of our favorite things to do at the cabin this winter. Party because, well, there isn't much else to do with no snow on the ground and an unfrozen lake. It feels like an adventure walking down the cabin road with nothing lighting the way but the lamps on our heads and the moon in the sky. It's a great way to tire out the kids before bedtime, too.

A few errands brought us to nearby Turtle Lake that weekend, so we stopped by the Lights in the Park event while we were there. Driving around in the dark to look at Christmas lights is likely one of my favorite advent calendar activities because it's such innocent fun for the whole family. We had the entire park to ourselves that evening as we cruised along lookong at Christmas lights. "Oh! I see lights! I see lights!" Aden exclaimed over and over. Both Tory and Aden were enthralled with the displays as we looped through the park a handful of times, peering over each and every one. 


No snow, but we still managed to find plenty of ways to weave the Christmas spirit into our cabin weekend.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 12: Mail a Letter to Santa Claus

This is my fourth year planning Christmas advent calendar activities for our family, and each time is more enjoyable than the last. The beginning years were more about establishing family traditions and appeasing my inner holiday spirit than anything else. I think Andi and the kids could've cared less. 

This year, Tory is starting to understand the true meaning of Christmas (in all aspects) and it's so fun to witness the wonder and delight through her eyes. I'm excited to see what future years bring when Tory and Aden are older and even more engaged!

Though admittedly, I do struggle with how much emphasis to place on Santa Claus and related holiday activities. It feels a bit wrong to pump my kids' heads full of Santa Claus stories only to break their little hearts with the truth one day in the future. I suppose children have believed in the spirit of Santa for generations, and Tory and Aden will also live to tell about it. (Though, knowing Tory and her sensitive personality, I do fear the drama to come -- eek!)

Anyway, Tory is really excited about Santa Claus for the first time this year. She affectionately calls him "Santer" even though she knows his name is Santa Claus. "I just like to call him that," she says. She practically jumped in his lap to tell him what she wanted for Christmas when we visited the downtown Minneapolis Macy's Santaland.

For our Christmas advent calendar activity on Day 12, I thought it'd be fun for Tory and Aden to write letters to Santa with a list of items they'd like for Christmas, and then have the kids mail their letters at one of those special "Santa Mailboxes" around town. I printed this Santa Letter template and together we filled out the letters for jolly old St. Nick.

Here's what Tory's letter said:

This Christmas, I am 4 years old.

This year, I have been ... good all of the time.
What I would like most this Christmas is a telephone and a castle.

By the way, both of these wishes were news to me. She'd previously asked for a "workout mat" and a "dress for her doll." I asked Tory what kind of telephone she wanted (so I could find out more details for Santa, of course) and she responded, "One like yours, Mom!"

Sorry, kiddo, I can guarantee Santa won't be leaving you an iPhone under the Christmas tree!

She promised to leave cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Aden happily drafted a letter to Santa Claus as well, but I'm still working on deciphering his requests...

Now, if you'll excuse me, Santa Claus needs to get busy checking things off these lists!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 11: Decorate a Gingerbread House

I never decorated a gingerbread house as a kid, but if I had ... I'd like to believe my mom would've done the smart thing and purchased a pre-assembled gingerbread house from Costco. Did they even have Costco back in the 80's? I seriously hope so, because pre-assembled gingerbread houses are the way to go!

I buy one of these kits for Tory and Aden every year. The Costco gingerbread kit comes with everything needed to decorate a gingerbread house -- plenty of frosting in easy-to-squeeze pouches, assorted candies and most importantly, a sturdy house that's already put together. I can't stress the last part enough -- one year, I tried to assemble a gingerbread house myself and it was a disaster.

This likely would have been a "Tory-only" holiday activity, but Aden took an unscheduled morning nap on Day 11 of our Christmas advent calendar, so he got to partake in our gingerbread house decorating. Understandably so, Tory was apprehensive about Aden's participation in the project. Girlfriend takes her crafting seriously! And, let's be honest, Aden is a bit of a wild man these days. I assured Tory I'd keep him on a tight leash and all would be fine.

Aden wanted to sit on top of the table to decorate, of course, which is where I find him most during the days. All he wants to do is climb, climb, climb these days ... but that's for another post. Decorating was going fine - great, actually! - until Aden knocked the gingerbread house onto the floor with his body. Tory nearly lost her mind, the poor girl. Luckily, the gingerbread house didn't break and I helped Tory fix the few pieces of candy that had fallen off.

Decorating a gingerbread house turned out to be a fun activity for both kids, and kept them entertained for over an hour. Next year, I think I'll buy two houses so they can each decorate their own masterpiece. I know Aden will want to eat all of his candy anyway!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 10: Bake (More!) Christmas Cookies

Baking is one of my favorite things to do with Tory and Aden. It's low-key (okay, and yes, a bit messy). We tackle each recipe as a team as I show them how to measure and combine ingredients, and turn it into something great. Best of all, it's quality time with one another while we share conversation.

We've done a lot of baking for the holidays already this December. First, we made gingersnaps and spritz cookies for my annual cookie party. Then, we made cranberry and orange biscotti for Tory's school pot-luck. And last week, we spent the afternoon making cut-out sugar cookies for a work party at Andi's office. The kids' little Santa apron will need a washing after this holiday season!

Cut-out sugar cookies are my favorite Christmas cookie. It doesn't feel like the holidays to me without them. Andi needed 5 dozen cookies for his work party, so Tory and I baked cookies on two separate afternoons last week, and finally frosted them together on Day 10 for our Christmas advent calendar activity. I probably could've made an easier cookie for his party, but I want Tory to remember the tradition of sugar cookies around the holidays just as I do.

The greatest part of our holiday baking this year? We've given all the sweet treats away! It's the best of both worlds -- the kids and I enjoy the experience of baking together, and we've successfully brightened other people's holidays without leaving Tupperwares stacked full of treats on our kitchen counter. I still have a few cookie plates to put together for our postal and UPS drivers, for the sanitary (garbage) route drivers and a few sweets to make for our own Christmas celebration ... then we should be set!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 9: A Trip to Macy's Santaland

One activity many Minnesotans talk about during the holiday season is the Santaland display at the downtown Minneapolis Macy's store. (Say that three times fast; there's a lot of M's in the sentence!) Many people around here grew up visiting this iconic holiday display as kids, or have started the tradition with their own families. This year, I wanted to check it out for myself!

Truth be told, I'm terrified of driving downtown. I find it so confusing! We live just 10 minutes from the heart of the city, but I typically refuse to drive down there unless Andi's with me. Fear aside, I decided this was the year I'd take Tory and Aden to see Macy's Santaland. I could do it! I was determined to navigate downtown streets and parking, and have a fun morning adventure with the kids for Day 9 of our Christmas advent calendar activities.

I invited my friend Mirjam and her son Elia to meet us there, and successfully made it to Macy's 8th floor. Another friend recommended arriving at opening time to beat the long lines, so we did just that. I was surprised to learn the Macy's Santaland display was free of charge! And to be honest, I was a bit confused to find an entire auditorium filled with sets of motorized dolls and figurines. It reminded me of a life-size dollhouse. Then when I thought about it, I realized it was exactly as the name suggested -- a Santaland display featuring various scenes from the North Pole -- the mail station, the elves' sleeping quarters, Santa's toy workshop, bake shop, etc. Duh.

For as perplexed as I might've been, Tory and Aden were in absolute heaven. Tory poured over each scene, taking in every detail. Aden was a little unsure at first, but followed Tory's lead and seemed to particularly love the life-like animal displays.

Elia with Aden and Tory

We winded our way through the auditorium, ooh'ing and ahh'ing over the displays. Toward the end of our visit, we cued up in line to meet Santa Claus. I wasn't sure Tory and Aden would be up for greeting the Big Guy, as our visits in past years have ended with bucketsful of tears. I asked Tory if she'd like to see Santa and she responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!" Fortunately, the line wasn't long so it only took a few minutes to see him.

Tory ran toward Santa Claus the minute she saw him, and willingly climbed on his knee when he asked her if she'd like to sit with him. Aden, of course, was more reluctant but followed Tory's lead. Hooray for older siblings who lead the way! 

I liked how Santa was seated in his own private room at this Macy's, and appreciated the camera woman's care in capturing a great photo. After a few pictures, Santa turned to Tory and said, "So what would you like for Christmas?" to which she responded, "A workout mat!" I nearly died of laughter. Oh, Tory Bean! 

I was so pleased with the whole experience and will definitely add Macy's Santaland to our future Christmastime activities.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 8: Picnic Under the Christmas Tree

The kids and I made it our mission to have a picnic outdoors almost every day this summer, but how often do we have one indoors during the winter? The quick answer: Never! I thought Tory and Aden would get a kick out of having dinner under the Christmas tree, so that's exactly what we did for our advent calendar activity on Day 8.

Tory was utterly confused when I suggested the idea earlier in the day. "But how can we have a picnic under the Christmas tree?" she asked. "There won't be any room!" She's so literal at this age - I love it - and was trying to figure out how we'd sit in the small gap beneath the tree and the floor.

I made the kids an average dinner that wouldn't be *too* messy -- noodles, edamame and oranges for Aden; a sandwich and grapes for Tory, with popcorn for dessert. I laid down a red blanket in front of the Christmas tree, dimmed the lights and played kids holiday music on Pandora. Tory was beyond thrilled! Aden was a bit confused about the whole matter.  

I must've heard a dozen "ooh's and ahh's" from the kids during dinner. They were enamored by the twinkling lights of the tree and the out of the ordinary dinner in the dark. I exercised extra patience with Aden who's physically incapable of sitting still for more than a minute these days. He was up and down, running and dancing with fistfuls of buttery noodles around the living room. It was a special night though, so I let him be. Messes are easy to clean up; I let the wonder of childhood and Christmastime take over.

Tory still couldn't believe we were having a picnic under the Christmas tree. "But we're not under it, Mom. We're sitting beside it." Yes, Tory, you got me there. She demonstrated for me what it'd be like to actually eat under the tree.  

A successful advent calendar activity! Loved the simplicity of this one, and how magical it was for the kids.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 7: Open a Christmas Present

Sometimes, advent calendar activities need to be simple. Especially on Mondays when this mama is busy unpacking after a weekend at the cabin, grocery shopping, meal prepping for the week, etc.

Day 7's advent calendar activity was just that. I pre-washed and wrapped holiday pajamas for Tory and Aden, and placed them under the Christmas tree after dinnertime. These kids know just what to do when they see a present to unwrap (which is precisely why I don't have any other wrapped gifts under the tree!). Aden had the wrapping paper shredded and his box pried open before I could organize myself to snap a picture.

These two probably need another pair of holiday pajamas like they need a hole in the head, but how can I resist? So cute! Tory loved her set of Carter's pajamas -- there's a red tutu skirt over the candy cane-like red and white striped bottoms. "I never wore a tutu to bed before!" she exclaimed. And, good thing Christmas is coming up soon ... Aden's 24-month pajamas *just* fit -- he's growing at warped speed these days.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 6: Go for a Sleigh Ride

Last Saturday following 24 hours of girl time (my annual holiday cookie party + a friend's Christmas tea), I headed to the lake cabin to meet Andi and the kids. Andi had taken Tory and Aden to the cabin the previous afternoon so I could do my girl thing in the Twin Cities and it all worked out so perfectly, I think we'll plan more of those weekends in the future! Love how Tory and Aden are now at ages where they're not so dependent on Mama.

Determined to make the most of the remainder of the weekend, Andi and I agreed to stay at the lake until Monday morning. Since we drove separately, he'd be able to drive straight to work Monday morning and I'd be able to take the kids back with me. Leaving Monday AM essentially gave us one extra day at the lake -- instead of driving home Sunday afternoon, we were able to spend the whole day doing something fun together.

I'd previously researched fun holiday happenings around the lake cabin and came across the annual Holiday Stroll in Amery, WI. The event touted sleigh rides, an appearance from Santa Claus and refreshments ... which sounded like the perfect low-key event for our advent calendar activity that day.

I always feel so lucky to have a small-town place like the cabin to off-set the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities. We pulled into Amery and Andi said, "Are you sure there's an event today?" There were only a small handful of people milling around mainstreet. We parked our car and noticed a craft and vendor fair happening in a nearby health & wellness center. There were also baked goods for sale with proceeds going to a fundraiser of some sort. No long lines or crazy entrance fees; just several dozen people gathered together to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

Shortly thereafter, a mens chorus began to sing Christmas carols and we listened while enjoying free hot chocolate and hot dogs. Tory, in particular, was awe-struck by the carolers. She's captivated by Christmas music this season, and sings "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" all day, everyday.

A bit later, a beautiful team of Clydesdale horses approached us pulling a "sleigh" of people. We hopped on for a trip around downtown Amery. The kids were absolutely thrilled by the horses and the ride altogether. Andi reminded Tory of her first sleigh ride at a similar event two years ago. It was bitterly cold that day; much different than this unseasonably warm December day.

Afterwards, we stopped by Ellie's Ice Cream and Coffee for a sweet treat. This little shop was so cute! I loved the old-fashioned bar stools perfectly sized for the kids. The four of us sat at the counter, ate ice cream, colored pictures and listened to the men's chorus sing once again as they caroled at downtown area businesses.

What a perfect way to spend a holiday afternoon!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

50/52: A Weekly Photo Series

What an unusual December!

This weekend last year, we were ice fishing on Pipe Lake with the Ranger ... which means the ice was about 8" thick and strong enough to support snowmobiles and small vehicles. The kids had been wearing their snow suits to play outdoors for weeks by then. We didn't have a ton of snow on the ground, but enough to make it feel like Christmas was around the corner.

This year in Minnesota and Wisconsin, temperatures have been in the low 40's and there isn't a trace of snow on the ground. Any precipitation we've had has been rain, and the water level of the lake is so high most of our beach is underwater. In fact, the entire lake is still open (unfrozen) and we've been entertained by a flock of beautiful white swans in our bay by the cabin this fall. For several weekends now, we've watched them swimming and honking to their heart's content ... knowing one of these days the lake will freeze over and they'll fly South to a warmer destination.

Until then, what a sight to see ...

They're simply beautiful.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 5: Attend a Holiday Tea

For years, I've wanted to attend a holiday tea around Christmastime. It sounds like such a magical event -- wearing pretty dresses, sipping tea and eating tiny sandwiches over laughter and conversation with friends and family. There are several Christmas teas around the Twin Cities, but they typically fall over weekends when we're at the lake cabin. The logistics never seemed to work.

This year, I held my holiday cookie party on a Friday evening and coincidently, my longtime friend Val invited me to attend a holiday tea at her church the following day. The kids would already be at the cabin with Andi for the weekend, so the timing worked perfectly. I was so excited!

Saturday, I met Val at her church for a lovely women's holiday tea. Each hostess (including Val) festively decorated their table and attendees were encouraged to come see all the lovely displays, then stay for tea and a program afterwards. It was simply amazing to see all the creativity that went into this event! Each table (and their had to be at least 100 of them) was adorned with beautiful Christmas decorations. Not one looked alike; one gal hung glitzy chandelier candles above her table; another went rustic with wooden chargers and reindeer-stamped napkins. Some were tastefully simple and others were quite extravagant. I loved this one with floating flowers, greenery and cranberries in glass bowls.

Val's table was very elegant. She used her wedding china (how special!) and made each of her table guests a red holly wreath to take home. The meal was served buffet-style and everyone at our table shared in delightful conversation while we ate.

Afterwards, the large group of women gathered together for a program. We sang carols and listened to the story of Jesus. It was such an inspirational afternoon and the perfect way to enjoy the spirit of Christmas. Thanks so much to my friend Val for inviting me to take part in this special day!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 4: Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange!

Last Friday was one of my favorite days of the year -- Cookie Party Day! I've hosted a holiday cookie exchange for the past seven years and I simply cannot imagine a December without it. It's the best way to celebrate with all my girlfriends during the holiday season. Life gets so busy this time of year, so it's great to have a few hours together to talk, eat & drink, laugh and swap delicious cookies with one another.

This year, for the first time ever, I hosted my holiday cookie party on a Friday night. I thought it would be easier for my friends to sneak away for an evening, but I actually think it might've been more difficult. Lesson learned! Not to sound all puffy-chested about it, but everyone I invite typically attends the party (minus one, maybe) and this year I had three friends not able to make it. Even so, eight of my favorite ladies dropped by for a fantastic evening together.

Each year, I try to have a theme of the party or coordinate a fun activity. This year, I organized a taste testing and voting for best cookie(s). Everyone seemed a little apprehensive at first, I think because they were nervous about their dessert being tasted and rated in front of every else. But, it was truly all in good fun and I don't think anyone felt put on the spot.

I printed these free paper awards, and purchased small gifts for each winner in the following categories:

The Most Creative Cookie - Laura, White Chocolate Peppermint Oreos
The Best Tasting Cookie - Janie, Fresh Cranberry Lemon Cookies
The Most Festive Cookie - Mirjam, Spitzbuebe (a traditional Swiss cookie)
The Most Original Cookie - Jenny, Chocolate Peppermint Cookie
The Best All-Around Cookie - Tie: Sarah, Cranberry White Chocolate & Julie, Peanut Butter Blossoms

Well, technically the chocolate fudge won the "Best All-Around Cookie" prize but then Laura confessed: she'd purchased the fudge at Lund's (a local high-end grocery store) as a back-up for her white chocolate peppermint Oreos in case they were a flop. Turns out, they weren't -- she won most creative cookie as well (!!), but we all had a great chuckle over whether she should accept the award on behalf of the great bakers at Lunds anyway. They'd be so proud!

The cookie tasting turned out to be a really fun way to try everyone's cookies. I don't know if I've ever tried them all in the past since I usually gift my allotment to our neighbors in decorative Christmas tins. Plus, they all looked so lovely displayed on my dining room table.

Additionally, I served a meat and cheese platter, bruschetta, roasted shrimp, chocolate-stuffed raspberries, wine and this refreshing non-alcoholic cranberry spritzer which was a hit with everyone. My friend Val brought a brie en croute with red pepper jelly that was really delicious, too.

Such a fun night with great friends! I'm thankful for this holiday tradition which brings us all together.

More advent calendar activities to come ...