Christmas City of the North Parade

Holidays are steeped in tradition. For 56 years on the Friday before Thanksgiving, Duluth, Minnesota has kicked off the Christmas season with a parade through downtown, filled with festive floats, marching bands, and dance troupes.   Rain or snow, balmy or brisk, the Christmas City of the North Parade brings people out, bundled for whatever the weather brings, filling the curbs along the parade route as they look for family, friends and holiday favorites.

Christmas City Parade 2014
Buses filled with marching bands keeping instruments warm before lining up for the parade.

The parade staging area is filled with the energy of sled dogs and horses …. last-minute adjustments are made to lights and float décor … a group of brightly clad girls skip along the sidewalk with their dance leaders, excitedly waiting for the parade to begin.

Christmas City Parade 2014
Rudolph, is that you?!
Christmas City Parade 2014
A happy fish on the Great Lakes Aquarium float.

I tucked my hand warmers in my mittens and we bundled up with the rest of the parade goers, as the parade signaled the holiday season had officially begun.

Christmas City of the North Parade 2014
We don’t need a super-size parade selfie of Kat and her husband trying to keep warm as the parade started!

Christmas City Parade 2014

Santa Claus makes his first appearance, and children can be heard squealing his name, and calling out to Mrs. Claus as she asks whether they have been good this year.

Christmas City Parade 2014

Christmas City Parade 2014
City of Duluth Police Mounted Patrol

And the rhubarb stalk was decked out in colored lights, to remind us that CHUM’s summer Rhubarb Festival will be returning in June.

Christmas City Parade 2014

Royalty from towns and competitions in the region waved with mittened hands.

Christmas City Parade 2014

While some may be counting down to Christmas, others can count down to the Lions’ Pancake Days, an annual event as longstanding as the holiday parade.

Christmas City Parade 2014

The Disney musical movie hit “Frozen” was popular during the community procession, with dancers dressed as “Frozen” characters dancing to the popular tunes, and everyone’s favorite snowman Olaf guiding a float from one of the local auto dealerships.

Christmas City Parade 2014

Christmas City Parade 2014
In a northland holiday parade, “sleds” of all kinds can be seen.

High school marching bands from northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin looked sharp in classic uniforms, layered over stocking caps and ski gloves.

Christmas Parade 2014 Christmas Parade 2014

As the band moved past, the beat of the drums kept marchers in line and spectators’ toes tapping.

Christmas Parade 2014

We age and often become jaded about holiday — traditions like the Christmas City of the North parade.  But, when we leave ourselves open to possibility, that childhood magic can be recaptured — in the young parade goers’ hopeful anticipation of the first sighting of Santa, in the classic carols played in harmony by sons and daughters, or in the mesmerizing glow of brilliant strings of holiday.  We are reminded why the tradition has endured for over a half-century, and is certain to last another half-century more.

Christmas City Parade 2014

Ciao! ~ Kat

Confessions of a Seasonal Baker: Beware the “Fun, Fast and Easy” Cookie Recipe

I never said I was Martha Stewart.  And these cookies prove that I never need to say it — actions speak louder than words.  During the holidays, you will find people driving who shouldn’t be, traveling to their annual holiday destination and events.  No need to fear me behind the wheel this time of year.  But, you should be very afraid when I make my seasonal excursion into the kitchen for holiday baking.

Let me start by showing you what the goal was, Bakergirls’ Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies:

Bakergirl Reindeer Cookies
Photo credit: Bakergirl: Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies ~ cute, aren’t they?

Pressed for time, I was lulled into a false sense of security with Bakergirl’s description of the perfect cookie: “if you need something fun, fast, and easy to make.”  Yes!  This was going to be a piece of cake for our evening baking session.  But, since time was extremely tight three days before Christmas, I confess: I cut corners further by purchasing refrigerated cookie dough, pre-scored and ready to place on baking sheets.  Seriously, I thought that I had removed all possibility for error by simplifying a simple recipe even further. I figured that those little reindeer cookies would be so cute, no one would notice the lack of a made-from-scratch base!  I had visions of a new blog post concerning the perfect cookie when in a holiday time bind. Little did I know what my camera would capture instead.

Short-cut cookie ingredients

My 15-year-old son was my partner-in-crime for what turned out to be “Operation Christmas Cookie Fail.”  We had our assembly line of chocolate-covered mini-pretzels (and, if you must know, no, I did not make those from scratch, either) and M&M’s ready to go.  Ding!  The oven timer went off, and we paid heed to Bakergirl’s words of instruction regarding decorating the cookies as they emerged from the hot oven:

Remove from oven and immediately (and gently) press two mini pretzels into the tops of the cookies for the reindeer’s antlers. Press two mini brown M&Ms in for the eyes and one red M&M for the nose (or any other color… some of mine ended up with green noses. They might be South Pole reindeer.).

Let me tell you, that some ended up with different color noses was the least of our worries as we proceeded.  We learned that we should have made larger cookies with more square footage to accommodate the full face and antlers.  We also learned that cookies cool very, very quickly.

Reindeer Cookie Assembly

Let’s face it — we learned that we botched this cookie project.

Reindeer Cookie Assembly

I almost had tears streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard as my son said with a straight face, “Mom, we shouldn’t have tried something so complicated.”  All we had to do was stick candy on cookies which we hadn’t even made from scratch, for heaven’s sake!  And, as antlers kept falling off the quickly cooling cookies, he said, “We can just tell people they are all antlerless reindeer.  We made does.”

Antlerless Reindeer Cookies

OK, so they’re sort of creepy, zombie-eyed does, but it works.

If you have the right perspective, you can observe the ingenuity that went into the reindeer cookie design:

Cyclops Reindeer Cookie
Cyclops Reindeer Cookie
Conjoined Reindeer Cookie Twins
Conjoined Reindeer Cookie Twins (these are fraternal twins — notice the different colored noses)
Missing Ear Reindeer Cookie
This poor cookie didn’t even make it off the baking tray before shedding its antlers.

As we surveyed the damage, the next trays came out of the oven, and I dug out some sugar cookie shaker decor which we unceremoniously shook and scattered.

Reindeer Cookie Cop-out
Reindeer Cookie Cop-out

Then, we took it up a notch and I found some glitter gels in the cupboard (I do hope they have long shelf life!), and we informally competed for the most artistic peanut butter cookie design.

Peanut Butter Cookies

It prompted another round of laughter.  Neither of us won awards in the creative cookie design department.

I transferred the still warm cookies to the cooling racks, so we could put the next batch in the oven.  Not only were antlers shed, but unfortunately, eyes and noses fell off too.  One reindeer couldn’t take the shame of it all, and leapt off the rack to a premature demise.

Reindeer Cookies lose parts

As I boxed the cookies the next morning, for later delivery to neighbors, the little cookie misfit peering out reminded me of the humane society commercials which tug at your heartstrings as a homeless dog or cat looks sadly out from behind a wire cage — take me home, love me!  Seriously, how can you resist this single antler reindeer pleading to be part of your Christmas cookie platter?!

Boxed Reindeer Cookies

Boxes packed for delivery, our neighbors will know that we thought of them at Christmastime — and that is all that matters.


CIao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: One (Holiday Edition)

With Christmas just a few days away, this week’s photo challenge deserved a second post — a holiday version!

One cat under the Christmas tree

This one lurking under the tree is deciding which ornament to remove next.  He is such a naughty fellow — did he forget that Santa is still watching?  If he is not busy trying to remove ornaments, he instead is leading our 100-pound black lab to chase him under the tree, which results in a flurry of pine needles, and tree skirt and presents askew.  Amazingly, the tree is still standing, while we continue moving the ornaments further upward out of reach.  Ah, life would be so dull without the antics of our furry friends.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”One” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Julebyen on the North Shore

When the temperatures dipped below zero, Minnesotans still got out to enjoy a weekend of outdoor markets and festive activities at Knife River’s “Julebyen” (Christmas village).  After winter storm Cleon blasted northern Minnesota with two to three feet of snow, Knife River — a small town along the North Shore of Lake Superior — forged ahead with their Julebyen event.

Santa departing Julebyen on December 7

We arrived just as Santa was departing, but he had a wave and ho-ho-ho for the children watching with delight.  The gnome was still there to greet, along with other festive Nordic folk!

Julebyen's Gnome   Julebyen Greeter

The sun already was hanging low in the sky by mid-afternoon, and most of the crowds had dissipated with activities were in a lull between afternoon and evening schedules.  The outdoor market vendors were hardy folk, tenaciously displaying and selling their wares in the bitter cold!

Julebyen Outdoor Market

The market housed a variety of items — from wild-caught Alaskan salmon to pottery to jewelry …

Julebyen Outdoor Market

… to soaps and honey and beeswax candles …

Julebyen Outdoor Market

The fires were freshly stoked, providing a welcome spot to warm your hands …

Julebyen Outdoor Market

… or provided a spot of warmth where you could enjoy a hot beverage and Julepolse!

  Julebyen Hot Drinks

After a tasty mug of Swedish-style glögg (non-alcoholic for this family-friendly event), we headed down the road a few blocks to the Lighthouse at Emily’s restaurant.  My oldest son, who perhaps has a small portion of Nordic ancestry from the paternal side of the family, insisted on trying their lutefisk special they were featuring as part of the Julebyen festivities.  They also had the “real” glögg on the menu, which I kicked myself for not ordering (just another excuse for a return visit soon).

Lighthouse at Emily's, Knife River

But, back to the main event — What is lutefisk, you ask? It depends on who you ask.  Some say it is a holiday treat, while others make a repulsive face and let you know the fish soaked in lye can go back to where it came from.  The history and culture of lutefisk in the United States is closely tied to the traditions of Upper Midwestern immigrants.  Smithsonian magazine published an interesting article on this “Strange Holiday Tradition” if you are interested in learning more.

My son ordered the festival’s “Combination Platter” — lutefisk and Swedish meatballs!  Quite the feast.

The Lighthouse at Emily's Lutefisk Combo Platter

His pronouncement regarding his inaugural lutefisk dinner?  He decided it was not something he needed to have again.  The Swedish meatballs (featured at the Lighthouse on Thursdays!) are a more likely repeat order.

After our early dinner, we crossed the highway to the Candy Kitchen — once you are in Knife River, you cannot leave without a visit to this delightful shop.

Great Lakes Candy Kitchen

The Great Lakes Candy Kitchen is a postage stamp-sized interior filled to the brim with classic candies, homemade chocolates, and the most inviting fragrances always wafting from the kitchens at the back of the house.  After selecting some Christmas chocolate treats to give as gifts, we exercised great control on this visit and merely selected the cutest little marzipan mice to eat on our way out.

Great Lakes Candy Kitchen

The steam clouds forming over Lake Superior created a low-hanging backdrop for the late afternoon sun, as we again walked back to the Lighthouse to retrieve our car.

Lighthouse at Emily's from the Candy Kitchen

One more stop before we returned home again — our favorite blacksmith, Burton Forge.

Burton Forge & Gallery

The festival activity at this quaint shop was to include an outdoor fire with marshmallow roasting.  Given the sub-zero temps, the option was given instead to roast marshmallows over the fire in the wood stove inside!  While we passed on the offer, we enjoyed browsing Dale’s latest creations, always managing to find a little something which is both functional and artistic to add to the cabin.

julebyen forge 2 12_7_13

With the sun setting, and the sky glowing pink, we turned for home.

Northern Minnesota's Highway 61 Expressway

We have found over the years that the best way to endure the bitterly cold temperatures and often extended winters is to simply embrace them — by enjoying outdoor activities and winter festivals like Julebyen.

Ciao! ~ Kat 

Indulge Me, Please — I Promise this will be the LAST Holiday-Themed Post of the Year!

With the images so fresh in my mind, and laundry still to be done from our trip to New York City over Christmas, I wanted to share with you some of the classic holiday lights of “The Big Apple” that contribute to such a festive, magical atmosphere in an already-interesting city (or as my husband would say instead, some of the holiday images that simply bring in thousands of additional people to an already-crowded metropolis)!

And as we march on toward 2013, let us remember to carry that generous holiday spirit throughout the year:

Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself…
~Norman Wesley Brooks, “Let Every Day Be Christmas”


(For each of the galleries, click on any of the individual photos to bring up a full-screen slide show of the gallery.)

Macy’s in Herald Square:


The iconic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center with Prometheus keeping watch over the skaters on the rink, along with views of the Empire State Building’s glittering lobby:


Lord & Taylor department store on Fifth Avenue:


Holiday lights from Midtown Manhattan, Bryant Park and Fifth Avenue:


Saks Fifth Avenue department store window displays:


Enjoy these last days of 2012 and Happy 2013!

Ciao! ~ Kat