Friendly Traditions

Does anyone else have holiday traditions with your friends? I do! A few actually.

This years winning ornament! So excited to take this one home!

White Elephant Ornament Exchange: Every year a group of girlfriends gets together for a Cookie & White Elephant Ornament Exchange. Everyone brings a wrapped ornament that they would like to have on their tree (I did full on white elephant ornament one year. The tin angel is still talked about and hence, the rule about bringing a nice ornament…one you would like to have). All participants blindly choose a number and the games begin. The person who drew number one starts by choosing and unwrapping an ornament. The ornament is then displayed throughout the exchange. The next person can either steal the ornament or choose and unwrap one. Ornaments can only be stolen twice. If someone steals your ornament you have the option to steal another or unwrap a new one. The game ends with number one. They may either steal an ornament that is still in play or choose to keep the one they have.

All ornaments are still wrapped at the beginning of the game.
The little German guy holding the beer stein is my contribution this year. Here he is with his new friend in his new home.

Cookie Exchange: Love baking cookies but prefer an assortment to being stuck with only one kind? If yes, then the cookie exchange is for you! All participants bring 2 doz + cookies to the exchange. Holding empty Tupperware we walk around the table and grab 1-2 cookies from each batch until our containers are full.

My iced sugar cookie for this years exchange.
The cookie table 2019

It’s A Wonderful Life: Last but definitely not least, our friend group gets tickets to Its A Wonderful Life. A local theater plays the Christmas classic. Each year, we dress in our ugly Christmas sweaters and enjoy the showing. We hiss whenever Potter is on screen, sing Buffalo Girls, recite all the lines and of course ring a bell every time Clarence is on the screen.

Crew in 2017

Christmas Eve

Holiday Traditions, Part 2

Not sure about your family but in mine, we always take pictures in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Well, not everyone…more like me and my two cousins. The combination of family members in front of the tree changes from year to year but our cousin picture is always a constant.

Same cousins, same living room, different tree

We also have a fancy Christmas Eve dinner with everyone sitting around one table (remember, small family). In the past few years the tradition includes family members helping with various dishes like Glühwein (clearly our addition), salad, veggie, potato, etc. After dinner, we snack on an assortment of cookies, pop the holiday crackers/poppers, and play a family game. Before everyone heads their separate ways for the evening, we read “The Night Before Christmas”. Everyone reads one page as we pass the book around the table. Some years we even use silly voices.

In the top picture, notice the tree (also pictured previously) and the set table in the background.

Cookies for Santa

Holiday Traditions, Part 1

My family, the Dieter side, is small. Three sisters, three cousins, three second cousins…soon to be four, plus spouses/significant others. Our small family has been gathering for Christmas in Washington DC for as long as I can remember. And in the 30+ years we’ve been going to DC, we’ve created quite a few traditions.

One of those traditions is baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve day. Every year for the past 10 years, my cousin hosts our family for brunch and cookie making on December 24th. Each year my niece & nephew (officially second cousins) use the various stampers to cut out the cookie shapes and we all gather around to ice the cookies.

Cookies for Santa

I’ve always loved this tradition and hope in continues when Carson is old enough to participate.


It’s Christmas time in Europe which means the Christmas Markets are open for business and plentiful! And let me tell you, the Europeans LOVE their Christmas markets! Please enjoy this post of pictures (mostly Essen & Vienna).

Vienna, Austria (Wiener Weihnachtsmarkt)
Vienna has numerous Weihnachtsmarkts. This one at the Rathaus (city hall) was large and packed!)
Essen’s Weihnactsmarkt is canopied in lights. Gorgeous!
Lights, booths full of handcrafted goods, gingerbread hearts, and yummy food (of course this American was craving nachos…don’t worry, I had already enjoyed a Currywurst).
Don’t forget the Glühwein and Feuerzangenbowle (& Kinderpunsch)!
A few more from Vienna. Weihnachtsmarkt during the day & Carson’s first experience with cake.
Vienna is known for their cafes. This one did not disappoint.

Holiday Travel Plans

We have a busy holiday schedule, as does everyone else. In between traveling the 8-10 hours to get “home” to the states then squeezing time in with family and friends, we will almost need a vacation from our vacation. Even though we will be extremely busy, I am SO EXCITED!!!

Decorated Jeff on Christmas morning (2018)

Carson and I are flying home to Illinois early tomorrow morning! Jeff will stay in Germany and work for two weeks then fly home the week of Christmas. Carson and I on the other hand will get to spend some quality time with my mom. We are looking forward to playing with Sophie (our dog), baking and decorating cookies, spending a weekend in Chicago, making numerous Target runs, and finishing up some Christmas shopping. To be honest, most of my shopping is done as our family prides itself on stocking stuffers (previous post), but its always fun to look!


The week of Christmas we are driving to Washington DC. Some of my fondest Christmas memories take place in DC surrounded by family. The drive to DC from my hometown is about 13 hours (14 with stops). It is a drive my mom and I have done numerous times and even look forward to doing. We switch drivers every couple of hours, usually after a restroom, fuel and/or food stops. Jeff will rotate in as one of the drivers on the drive back to Chicago. Carson is currently and has always been a great passenger. She loves looking out the window, playing with her toys, and snacking on the delicious treats she doesn’t normally get. We are extremely lucky that she is such a great little traveler.

The drive to DC

Upon returning to the Midwest, my mom will continue home (home town) and Jeff, Carson and I will stay in Chicago. I’m so looking forward to being back in the town that I love so dearly and called home for 14 years. Jeff and I have already started planning our “must do” list for when we are back, mostly including restaurants we’ve been craving. Looking forward to sharing that in another post.

Carson’s holiday photo (2018)

Close Call, Lisbon

I’d like to blame it on pregnancy/mommy brain, but unfortunately this one is all on me. Jeff and I had scheduled one last “quick family trip” to Lisbon, Portugal before Carson and I headed back to the states for the holidays.

Our things were packed, we parked at the airport and were checking in when I suddenly realized I had forgotten our passports at the house. Since the flight was international, we wouldn’t be able to travel on just our Aufenthaltstitel (German residency card). As soon as we realized this, Jeff hopped out of the check-in process and headed straight for the car. The only thing that was on our side was that the plane was delayed by 40 minutes and there are many stretches of the Autobahn that don’t have speed limits.

No passports, a 45 minute anxious wait, and safely on the plane.

We made it! 45 minutes later, my knight in shining armor came racing through the terminal with passports in hand. Since we travel with a stroller, we were guided to the family security line and made it through security in under 5 minutes (for the record, that never happens). We were also flying out of the gate that is closest to the security lanes (again, never happens). We got to the gate just as they were calling preferred passengers and families! 🙌

Flying into Lisbon

Flying into Portugal was fantastic. The flight pattern takes you out over the ocean and back to land so you can watch the waves crash along the beautiful coastline then fly over the hilly coastal city with the red-roofed, white buildings…gorgeous. We landed around rush hour on a Thursday afternoon, so taking the train into the city was our best bet of getting to the hotel quickly. It’s also Jeff’s favorite way to travel.

Trolley, shopping street with Tuk-tuk, mosaic pathways, Bertrand book store

We stayed near the Marques de Pombal & Avenide de Liberdade so getting around the city by either walking or taking the train was quite easy. The only thing not easy were the hills and this pregnant mama! Oh, the hills.

Since it was a quick trip, we let our friends Kelsey and Adam lead the way. They had already been in Lisbon for a bit and it wasn’t their first time. They took us down the Avenide de Liberdade, past the colossal Starbucks, through the hilly streets to Bertrand book store. Established in 1732, it is the oldest operating book shop in the world. We then headed to my new favorite place, the TimeOut Market for lunch. It was glorious. So many different types of food to choose, fresh seafood, meat & cheese galore, and delicious pastels! (We went there multiple times on this very short trip).

TimeOut Market, Lisbon
Carmo Convent

Jeff and I also stumbled upon the Convento da Ordemdo Carmo (Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) a medieval church and convent that was completed in 1407 and destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 when the nave collapsed. There is also a museum in the back. Well worth the 5 Euros per person.

Arco da Rua Augusta, Ponte 25 de Abril, Jeff & sleepy Carson

Lisbon is one of the larger cities we’ve been to lately and since we didn’t schedule a lot of time there, we took a hop on/hop off city sightseeing bus tour. Well worth it! The tour picked up at the Marques de Pombal (near our hotel), took us all the way out to the Padrao dos Descobrimetos & the Torre de Belem, past the Praca do Comercio, up the Avenide de Liberdade, back to the Marques de Pombal.

Padrao dos Descobrimetos, Torre de Belem, beautiful church, Roman aqueduct, Parque Eduardo VII, Campo Pequeno, steel pedestrian bridge, tile

We also explored the city at night. Everything was beautifully lit and festive! I’ve heard great things about Lisbon during the warmer months but must say that we definitely enjoyed our time there in December.

Top left to bottom right: Carson sleeps through Europe with some Fado musicians, Jeff & Carson on bus tour, Jeff & Carson outside of colossal Starbucks, Carson chugging my coffee (empty cup), Anne at 21 weeks pregnant with Baby Grimm 2 at the Convento da Ordemdo Carmo, Anne on tour

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Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

Completed Chicken Pot Pie Casserole (aka: Pure Deliciousness)!

When Carson was little and experiencing food for the first time, she loved it all. She would try just about anything and it was wonderful. Now, in her toddler years, she has become a super picky eater. She has already determined what she likes or doesn’t like before she tries it, I guess not unsimilar to some adults. In searching for a potluck friendly dish, I came across this Chicken Pot Pie Casserole recipe from the No Biggie food blog. Carson absolutely loves it and usually asks for “more”. Needless to say, this dish has become a staple in our household.

Below is the recipe, including my modifications because, well, Germany.


  • 1 can Pilsburry Grands Biscuits 8 biscuits (can’t find 8 so I use the can of 6)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small package frozen veggie mix: carrots, peas, corn, & green beans (I use a large package and add mushrooms)
  • 2 chicken breasts cooked and shredded (I cube the chicken before cooking and break it apart in the cooking process)
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth: adapt to your preference (this is non-existent in Germany, I create my own broth/cream mixture using chicken bullion)
  • 1 can Cream of Chicken Soup (again, non-existent in Germany…see above)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook chicken & make cream sauce (chicken broth, Cream of Chicken Soup combo)
Cook frozen veggies (+ mushrooms)


  1. Preheat oven to 200 F (about 200 C)
  2. In a large sauce pan, cook the cubed chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove cooked chicken and set aside.
  3. Step added/adjusted to make chicken broth/cream sauce: In a small sauce pan on medium heat, add 8 oz cream, 4 oz of milk, chicken bullion (adjust to your liking), and a little bit of flour (about 1/4 cup). Whisk until all ingredients have combined. When concoction is bubbly, adjust heat to simmer and allow to thicken. Whisk in the chicken broth and the Cream of Chicken Soup. Let the sauce simmer for 1 minute to thicken. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. If following the extra “German” step, don’t add any salt as the chicken bullion is salty enough.
  4. In the same large sauce pan heat the butter on medium heat (use the fond for extra flavor). Add the frozen veggie mix (and mushrooms) to the pan. Saute until the veggies are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste (we add Tony Chachare’s Creole Seasoning and pepper for a little spice).
  5. Turn off heat and add the cooked chicken and cream sauce to the veggie mixture, stirring until the mixture is well combined.
  6. On a parchment lined baking sheet, bake the biscuits for half of the time listed on the can (about 7 minutes) for a “pre-bake”. Take them out of the oven.
  7. Pour the filling into a 9×9-inch baking dish. Top the filling with the biscuits (partially baked), flip them over top to bottom to ensure even baking on the other side. (I break the partially baked biscuits in half, place the baked side down into the mixture and leave the middle exposed on top.) Bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Coot for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Combine chicken & cream sauce to veggie mixture. Put in baking dish.
Partially baked biscuits broken in half and placed baked side down. Bake for 10 minutes then enjoy!

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Mom’s Wish List

The trouble with being an adult is you can buy what you need and want when you need and want it. This year, when I was asked what I wanted for Christmas, I was stumped. What do I want? What do I need? I’m currently 21 weeks pregnant with baby #2 which makes shopping for me harder. Don’t get me wrong, getting stuff for the baby is super fun but my usual wish list items might not make the list this year…as they don’t/won’t fit me in my current state.

Top left to bottom right: Leopard cardigan, Scuffette II Slippers, Lululemon leggings, Bailey Button II Boot, H&M maternity leggings
  • Lululemon Leggings: This is a standard ask from me each year. I love the fit and feel of the leggings and wear them almost daily. Yeah, yeah, I know they are a little pricey but they don’t wear out and they are super flattering. I’m still asking for leggings this year but won’t be able to wear them until after the baby is born.
  • H&M MAMA Sports Tights: Maternity leggings are what I need this year! And from what I remember, I should be able to wear them for a month or two after baby is born. Part of my daily routine is to go to the gym, so maternity leggings are essential.
  • Uggs Bailey Button II Boot: It has been a long, long while since I have upgraded my Uggs. I love the easy of putting them on and the warmth they bring to my feet. Fingers crossed these make it under the tree. They are the perfect boot for this pregnant mama to travel in.
  • Uggs Scuffette II Slipper: I really must be jonesing for Uggs, warm feet or both. I’m on the search for a warm pair of slippers with a rubber sole so I can safely travel up and down the 47 steps to the cellar to do laundry…and to comfortably wear around the house.
  • Leopard Cardigan: I know, I know, leopard is all the rage right now. You bet and I want in! I’ve been eyeing various leopard print cardigans.
Top left to bottom right: Louis Vuitton Neverfull, Goodr sunglasses, Sleepy Panda Kaitlyn Diaper Backpack, 2020 Planner, Barefoot Dreams CozyChic Lite Circle Cardigan
  • Louis Vuitton Neverfull MM: Yep, this one is a pipe dream…for a Christmas wishlist item, but one I would love to have nonetheless. I’ve had my eye on this bag for quite awhile and feel like I’m finally old & wise enough to take care of it. I’m sharing this in case Santa, or someone with a little extra cash to spare, is in the giving mood.
  • Sleepy Panda Kaitlyn Diaper Bag Backpack: What does this soon-to-be mother of 2 want, an upgraded diaper bag. Wow, never thought I would say that. I love my current backpack style diaper bag but am wanting more space with the arrival of baby 2. This style is currently sold out and in the pre-order stage, scheduled to be delivered at the end of December.
  • Goodr Sunglasses: I love my Wayfarers but have stopped wearing them because of slippage (I have a small face/head). A friend recommended Goodr sunglasses and absolutely loves hers. They are no slip, no bounce, and all polarized. A special coating around the light-weight frames prevents them from slipping and bouncing when you are working out or doing daily activities. They also protect you from UVA & UVB rays.
  • 2020 Planner: Surprisingly enough, as a stay-at-home mom I am using organizational planners more often then I ever did while in the workforce. Anthropologie has a ton of adorable 2020 planners that fit my needs (travel schedules, doctors appointments, meal planning, errands, etc).
  • Barefoot Dreams CozyChic Lite Circle Cardigan: I have heard nothing but marvelous reviews of the Barefoot Dreams cardigans. Known for their lightweight and comfortable threads, this machine washable sweater is perfect for lounging around the house or running errands.
  • Spice House Spices: Yes, Germany has spices but they just aren’t quite the same as what I’m used to in the US. It could just be my imagination but I really miss the flavor combinations like BBQ, and anything spicy that the US has to offer. I also miss Chicago. The Spice House originated in Chicago and has some Chicago specific flavors which make it perfect for this homesick mama.
Spice House Spices!

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Stocking Stuffers

Family traditions, opening stocking in the library

Not sure about everyone else but stocking stuffers are big deal in our family. We are a small family but purchasing gifts for everyone is quite taxing on the wallet. Instead, we get each other stocking stuffers (aka stuff for the stockings). When this tradition started we were supposed to spend no more than $5/person. I tend to spend a little bit more…but no more than $15. Here are some of my stocking stuffer recommendations. (If you are in my family, you may be getting some of these in your stocking ;).

For the Ladies:

Top left to bottom right: Hidden Valley Ranch packets, handmade lavender soap, smartwatch band, jewelry cleaner, lip scrub/balm, earrings
  • Hidden Valley Ranch packets: There are many times in Germany that I miss the comforts of home. When back in the states I like to stock up on these packets so I can make some of my favorite recipes or a good old American ranch for veggies or my salads. (No joke, this is on my stocking stuffer wishlist).
  • Handmade lavender soap: This year, some of my family members will receive lovely handmade lavender soap that was picked up in the Provence region of France.
  • Smartwatch wristband: If you have a smartwatch wearer in your family like I do, you could surprise them with a decorative/new wristband. While I love my FitBit, I don’t always like it to look like a FitBit.
  • Jewelry cleaner: A friend recommended this jewelry cleaner to me and I took the bait and bought it. It is the most simple, easiest to use, best results type of jewelry cleaner. I highly recommend this product for any jewelry wearer in your family.
  • LUSH products: Since moving to Germany, I have fallen in love with anything LUSH! While I will always recommend their bath bombs (should you be a bath taker), my stocking stuffer picks are the lip scrub, lip balm, and calming lotion. The lip scrub and lip balm are essentials in my house as I use them daily. I use the sleep lotion in the evening when I’m ready for bed. These are perfect for anyone who likes to pamper themselves.
  • Earrings: I found these gems on the Iron Fox Clothing Instagram account today! How does Kristi always seem to know exactly what I am looking for? These are perfect for the fashionista in your life and set at reasonable prices.

For the Gentlemen:

Top left to bottom right: AirPod protective case, fun socks, beard oil, gourmet mustard
  • AirPod case: Is your loved one getting AirPods this Christmas? If they are, or already have them, this is a great protective sleeve for the AirPod charging case. It also helps the owner of the AirPods identify their case if you happen to be a multiple AirPod household. Let’s just say there will be one in my stocking, my mother in law’s stocking, and Jeff’s stocking (Shhh).
  • Fun socks: Not sure when but in more recent years, Jeff has traded in his boring black and white socks for more colorful & fun ones. He has and routinely wears his avocado socks and will be getting some colorful hamburger socks in his stocking this year.
  • Beard oil: Does the man in your life have a beard? If yes, he NEEDS this beard oil! As regulations at Jeff’s job are different in Germany then in the states, he is able to grow a full beard. He is extremely proud of this beard and regularly gets beard trims whenever he gets a haircut. He uses beard oil everyday!
  • Gourmet mustard: These are perfect for the foodie or gourmet cook in your life. Enjoy the different flavor combinations these mustards provide. Again, we picked these up in the Provence region in France at a vineyard but you can find them in any specialty food store…or Amazon.

For the Toddlers:

Top left to bottom right: Indestructible holiday book, dimple, Little People Princess Parade, silly glasses, Color Wonder coloring book
  • Indestructible holiday book: If you have an infant or toddler and haven’t ordered these yet, what are you waiting for? These chew proof, rip proof, nontoxic, 100% washable books are lightweight and brightly colored to keep little one’s attention.
  • Dimple by Fat Brain Toys: We keep this staple in our diaper bag. Carson plays with it weekly, if not daily, whenever we are out of the house. Even at 20 months, she is still engaged while using it.
  • Little People Princess Parade: Carson loves Disney princesses and things that move. The Little People collection by Fisher Price combines BOTH! She also has a small collection of Little People by Fisher Price and loves playing with them. These will be an excellent addition to her collection.
  • Silly glasses: Who doesn’t love playing dress up? Your little one will love getting in the holiday spirit with these goofy holiday glasses.
  • Color Wonder coloring book: Carson is an avid colorer and would prefer to color with anything I don’t want her to (ie. markers, pens, Sharpies, etc). The Color Wonder markers by Crayola won’t mark on anything other than the Color Wonder coloring books. Carson will be receiving quite a few of these in her stocking this year!

This is not an ad. Many of these are stocking stuffers that I will be giving this year as well as items that are already in use in our household. Some of the items have been purchased outside of the USA. In those cases, I have done my best to find a similar product on Amazon. Good luck on your hunt for the perfect stocking stuffers for your loved ones!

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Homemade Animal Crackers

Animal crackers, Chex Mix, M&Ms…also known as mommy’s craving jars.

One of my dear friends in Germany is the ultimate stay-at-home mom role model. She is always coming up with amazing Montessori activities, making play-doh and baking healthy snacks for her kiddo. After hearing about her amazing momming moments, I am forced to try them at home for Carson. Forced is a strong word. It’s more like, she had and executed a great idea and I should probably do the same because it’s a perfect enrichment activity for Carson as she isn’t in a kindergarten (preschool) yet.

One day, her little one was carrying around homemade animal crackers…let me say this once more for the people in the back, HOMEMADE ANIMAL CRACKERS! I thought to myself, I can do that. And I did! I used Pinterest and found an animal cracker recipe from A Modern Homestead. They turned out wonderfully. I have since made this recipe 3 more times because not only does Carson eat the crackers but so do her parents 😊. Below is the recipe.

Animal Cracker Ingredients


  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup milk
Cutting out cookies!


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (or 170 C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper. My German oven only holds 1-9×13″ baking sheet so I prepare 3 parchment sheets.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. The original recipe calls for an electric mixer but I do it all by hand as my American electronics don’t work in Germany and I don’t see the need to purchase something I’m only going to use sporadically for another year.
  3. Next add in butter, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, honey and milk. If you are using an electric mixer as suggested, hold off on the milk until your dough looks like small peas. Then add the milk and process until your mixture forms a ball. Again, I stir it all by hand so it’s easiest for me to add the milk with the other ingredients.
  4. Divide the dough into two balls. Dump one of the balls onto a well floured surface.
  5. Roll the dough as thin as you can 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick.
  6. Use your mini animal cookie cutters to cut shapes. Place shapes on lined baking sheets until a tray is filled. For the first batch, I used a variety of mini cookie cutters. For the last few batches, I have stuck with a heart. I can quickly stamp the heart shape and can get quite a few of them on each tray (extremely helpful as I only have the 1-9×13″ baking sheet that fits into my oven at a time).
  7. Bake for 9 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to completely cool and store in an airtight container. I have found that if left in for 9 minutes, the cookies have a soft texture. If left in for 13 minutes, they are quite crunchy. My family likes the crunchy version so 13 minutes is our wait time.
  8. Repeat with the remaining dough until all the dough has been used. This can take quite awhile if you are not utilizing the surface of your dough to its maximum advantage (see: heart shape).
Top: cookies cooling. Bottom left: cookies ready to bake. Bottom right: lining up raw cookie dough.


As mentioned earlier, I lay out 3 pieces of parchment paper to line the 1-9×13″ baking sheet that fits in my oven. When my production is in full swing 1 sheet has cookies cooling, 1 sheet is in the oven with cookies baking, and 1 sheet is getting lined with raw cookie dough. Its a system that works for me and keeps things moving along in my small European kitchen.

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