Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha, Wednesday friends! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! My outfits aren't anything spectacular this week -- we spent Friday and Saturday on the island of Molokai and I pretty much stayed in my loungewear the rest of the long weekend. We had a great time visiting rural, laid-back Molokai and I'll post many more pictures soon! As always, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy to keep me accountable for what I wear and to get fashion inspiration from other bloggers.

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I absolutely adore my new Gryffindor Quidditch t-shirt! I ordered this shirt for a friend for Christmas and just couldn't resist getting one for me!

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Day 1 on Molokai. We drove all around the small island and saw the sights. We got some famous Molokai "Hot Bread" for dessert in the evening -- it's basically an entire loaf of just-baked bread slathered with your choice of toppings. I got cream cheese and blueberry. And then I gorged myself and ate almost half the loaf... and sucked down the majority of a peppermint milkshake!

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Day 2 on Molokai. We took the mule tour down 1,600 feet of sea cliffs to visit Kalaupapa, where Hawaiian leprosy patients were exiled up to the mid-1900s. If you've read the awesome novel "Molokai" by Alan Brennert, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. If not, you should read it!

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We went to see "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" on Monday. I really enjoyed the movie but I just didn't think it was as good as the Swedish version, which was truer to the book. One thing I love about going to the movies in Hawaii is that it's one of the rare occasions I get to don a sweater! This sweater is perfect for the icy-cold movie theater because it's got almost as much fabric as a small blanket!

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Review: "The Christmas Shoes"

"The Christmas Shoes" by Donna VanLiere
Originally published in 2001
My rating: 4 out of 5


Warning: if you decided to read Donna VanLiere's "The Christmas Shoes," be sure you've got a box of tissues handy. This book is the very definition of a tearjerker. Normally I don't care for novels with super-emotional passages but the sentimentality of the book made it a good Christmas read.

"The Christmas Shoes" features the typical holiday themes of forgiveness, second chances, kindness, hope, love and faith. VanLiere introduces us to two strangers -- a workaholic lawyer whose homelife is falling apart and a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer. A chance meeting at a department store on Christmas Eve causes a life change for both characters.

I came away from this read with a reminder about how fleeting life can be and how important it is not to squander our precious time on earth. Though Christmas has passed, the meaningful messages in "The Christmas Shoes" ring true all year round.

(image source)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mele Kalikimaka

For some reason, being away from my family this Christmas has hit me harder than the past two Christmases we've spent in Hawaii. So I set out to make it a memorable holiday season for us by dragging Jarrod along to do some Hawaii Christmas activities!

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We went to Oahu's Christmas tree farm and picked ourselves out a (slightly oversized) Norfolk pine to adorn our living room.

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We went to the Pearl Harbor Festival of Lights again this year. The boats used to transport vistors to the USS Arizona Memorial cruise around the harbor giving passengers a great look at all the Navy ships and submarines decked out in Christmas lights.

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We also visited Hanapa'a Place in Kapolei to check out the storied Christmas tree made of Heineken beer bottles. The tree itself was amazing -- the lights in the bottles were timed to flash with Christmas music and it even had a train running around the bottom.

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It was just a bonus that the rest of the cul-de-sac was decorated roof to yard in Christmas lights. It was like the Griswolds' house times five!

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Last night we checked out the Honolulu City Lights display. The main attraction is the giant Shaka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

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"Hau'oli Makahiki Hou" means "Happy New Year" in Hawaiian.

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I came across a fun Christmas survey when I was checking out the blog Why Girls Are Weird and thought I'd participate too.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
I love cocoa, especially the Ghiradelli kind. Jarrod and Conan both love egg nog. Conan goes crazy when Jarrod lets him lick the last drops of egg nog out of his cup.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Santa wraps them, of course. That's why they always have special Santa-themed wapping paper and calligraphy-penned tags!

3. Multi-colored or white lights on tree/house?
We have multi-colored lights on both the tree and the house, although sometimes I think I'd prefer the more classic look of white lights.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No, but that's not a bad idea!

5. When do you put up decorations?
This year we hung the lights up a little earlier -- the weekend after Thanksgiving -- and picked out our tree the first weekend in December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Wow, this is tough. My mouth has started watering in the short time I've been pondering this question! We'll just say I love ALL holiday dishes, but right now I'm especially in love with homemade cranberry sauce.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child.
Asking Santa for a sign that he does exist and receiving an elf bell in my stocking.

8. When did you learn the truth about Santa?
Third grade. I accidentally found all the letters I'd written and supposedly mailed to Santa in my parents' filing cabinet.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
We usually open one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest Christmas morning.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Lights, ornaments (my mom made sure I left the house with plenty of Hallmark ornaments) and colored balls. We have a lot of ornaments already, but I've instituted a tradtion where Jarrod and I buy at least one meaningful ornament each year. This year we bought a gorgeous glass ornament from Kauai.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?
Being from Colorado, I adore snow especially if it means a white Christmas. Unfortunately, there's no snow to be had on Oahu so I just have content myself with looking at all the snowy pictures my family sends from home.

12. Can you ice skate?
Yes! I even took an ice skating class in college.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Hmm... that's tough. Maybe the pogo stick I got from Santa in elementary school.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
Making happy memories and eating good food.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
I love all kinds of cookies and treats, but my favorite evening snack at Christmastime is a cheese ball with crackers. I only get a cheese ball once a year -- it started as a tradition with my mom and me -- and I savor each and every bite.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Watching "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." My family even has some inside jokes derived from the movie -- i.e. "the Cousin Eddie," a wound-up swift kick to the behind.

17. What tops your tree?

Nothing this year. Our normal tree-topper wouldn't fit on our Norfolk pine. I was going to tie a bow on top but never got around to it.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving?
Giving! I pick up Christmas gifts for people all year long and save them up until December.

19. Candy canes. Yucky or yummy?
I love anything peppermint!

20. Favorite Christmas show?
We watch them all -- Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown. The new "Prep and Landing" Christmas specials are cute too.

21. Saddest Christmas song?
"I'll Be Home for Christmas." It was written during WWII and is sung from the perspective of a soldier overseas who's dreaming about spending Christmas at home. The Josh Groban version has clips of deployed military members sending Christmas well-wishes to friends and family back home and it almost makes me tear up. But maybe that's just because I know my husband is going to deploy soon.

22. Favorite Christmas song?
I like pretty much all Christmas music but my current favorite is "Carol of the Bells." When I was little my favorite song was "The Little Drummer Boy" on a vinyl record my parents had.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha, Wednesday friends! It's hard to believe Christmas is just a few short days away. This has been a really great holiday season for me -- check back soon to see some of the fun Hawaiian-style Christmas activities we've done this year. My outfits this week are so-so... I really loved my Wednesday outfit, but by the time I got to Monday and Tuesday I apparently wasn't feeling the whole fashion thing! As always, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy for What I Wore Wednesday.

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I wore this out to dinner with friends. I'm super matchy-matchy and I don't think I've ever in my life mixed brown and gray. But I loved this outfit and it was even pretty comfortable -- until I gorged myself on Thai food and the belt started cutting off my circulation... Anyway, this is a WIWW victory for me! I've been inspired by all the boots and belts I see on other WIWWer's posts and I think I managed to pull this look off!

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I really like this outfit -- I think I'm going to look for more neutral tops like this with which I can wear a variety of accessories. I have mixed feelings on the jeans I'm wearing -- I got these on clearance for a really amazing price but... they're petites. As you can probably tell, at 5'9" with "child-bearing hips," I'm anything but petite. But since 7s usually come long and are meant to be hemmed, these fit me pretty well length-wise. The problem is that I constantly have to pull them up and it's really aggravating when I'm, say, grocery shopping and I have to yank my pants up in the back every 60 seconds. I love the dark wash and the style, but I honestly wish I hadn't bought them. Even though they were on clearance, they were still over $50 so I feel like I have to wear them now and again.

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On Saturday we went to gorgeous White Plains Beach so Jarrod could try out his brand-spankin'-new surfboard. It was rainy over Honolulu and sunny on the west side of Oahu where we were, and the result was rainbow after gorgeous rainbow.

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I'm not crazy about this outfit. I love yellow as a deocrating color but I've never felt yellow looked good on me fashion-wise. I bought this shirt over a year ago and have only worn it once, so I figured I'd give it another shot. Despite the addition of my favorite necklace, I still don't think this outfit does anything for me.

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I wore this outfit under my apron as I baked four different types of Christmas goodies to give to my neighbors. Then I went to deliver said cookies without looking in the mirror. I didn't realize until I got back and took my first couple WIWW pictures that my hair was a bird's nest, the bow on my shirt was completely untied and I pretty much looked like a wreck. Sorry, neighbors. If I were honest, I'd show you that picture instead!

pleated poppy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spreading Christmas Cheer With Cookies

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I have an annual tradition of taking plates of homemade goodies to my neighbors each December. Today was treat-making day and I had a blast baking and listening to Christmas music while it drizzled outside -- about the closest thing we get to wintry weather on Oahu.

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This year I made my quick and easy chocolate fudge and experiemented with three new cookie recipes: cinnamon-sugar elephant ears, pecan-caramel surprises and ginger cookies.

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I was really pleased with the results of all three recipes. The elephant ears -- incidentally, one of the easiest cookies I've ever made -- were my favorite.

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The ginger cookies were amazing as well, although the dough was really sticky and difficult to work with. I eventually found success with the technique of dropping a small clump of dough onto a plate of sugar, covering all sides with sugar and then rolling it into a ball. The recipe was supposed to yield two dozen cookies and instructed bakers to make dough balls about the size of walnuts. Apparently I have absolutely no idea how big a walnut is, because I ended up with six dozen! But really... how could extra cookies be a bad thing?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: "The Christmas List"

"The Christmas List" by Richard Paul Evans
Originally published in 2009
My rating: 4.5 out 5

I've been reading as many Christmas novels as possible this holiday season and, not surprisingly, Richard Paul Evans' "The Christmas List" was my favorite so far. Evans makes a living predominantly by writing Christmas-themed books, so it's no shocker that I loved this fast-paced, feel-good story.

When we meet the main character, wealthy real estate developer James Kier, he's a total jerk with apparently no morals and no qualms about manipulating and destroying others to make a buck. He served his wife divorce papers on the same day as her first chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer and he hasn't spoken to his son in months.

But James is forced to reevaluate his life when another man of the same name dies in an automobile accident and the city's newspaper mistakenly publishes an obituary for James Kier, ruthless real estate mogul. After Kier reads the hateful, vindictive and celebratory remarks people posted beneath his online obituary, he realizes that his current legacy is not the one he wants to leave behind. He is no longer the kind, generous and happy man he used to be. So he decides to make a change and sets out to rectify things, starting with the five people he's hurt the most -- his "Christmas list."

I've only read one other Richard Paul Evans book -- "The Gift" -- and though I enjoyed it I didn't go into "The Christmas List" expecting to love it. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of sentimental tear-jerker books. But, while this book was indeed sentimenal and a bit of a tear-jerker, it wasn't sappy. Despite the predictability of the plot, Evans' writing kept me turning the pages so quickly that I finished this book in just over two days. I closed the book thinking of second chances, family and love -- all perfect themes for this time of year. Happy reading!

(image source)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: "Blue Christmas"

"Blue Christmas" by Mary Kay Andrews
Originally published in 2006
My rating: 4 out of 5

I breezed right through Mary Kay Andrews' "Blue Christmas," which details the mishap-filled holiday season of antiques-dealer Weezie Foley. The book was short and sweet -- great for getting into the Christmas spirit fast. And since it's part of a series, you can always get more Weezie if you find the characters to be interesting and want to read a longer novel.

This book is one part sentiment, one part "Meet the Parents." It actually got me laughing out loud a couple times. Andrews' writing is fast-paced and sassy, and I think pretty much everyone would like this fun Christmas novella. Happy reading!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Furry Friday

Happy Furry Friday! Today I thought I'd share some pictures from the photo shoot we did in November with our friend, Li. She's a professional photographer and Army wife, and she's currently in the process of moving from Hawaii to the Washington, D.C., area. If you live there and want to do a photography session, Li is amazing! Plus, she's running a promotion that the first four people to book with Total-Li Photography in February or March will get 50% off! Visit her website or Facebook page for more info.

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After much deliberation, this is the shot that we chose to send with our Christmas cards. Mele Kalikimaka!

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But this picture is my favorite.

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We did some pictures of just Jarrod and me too, but since this is Furry Friday I wanted to show you all the adorable pictures we took with Conan. I just had to sneak this one in, though. The sunset that evening just happened to be stunning!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: "The Christmas Quilt"

"The Christmas Quilt" by Jennifer Chiaverini
Originally published in 2005
My rating: 4 out of 5

"The Christmas Quilt" is part of the long and ongoing Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini. I've never read any of the other books (although now my interest in the series is definitely piqued), but even so I completely enjoyed this novel. It was an easy, heartwarming read and had all the themes a Christmas novel should: love, family, friendship, forgiveness, generosity, overcoming hardships, a happy ending.

We meet the main character, Sylvia Bergstrom, in present day and follow her as she reminisces about Christmases past, taking us on a journey back to the Great Depression and WWII. The nexus of the story is a Christmas quilt worked on by four generations of women, Sylvia herself, her Great-Aunt Lucinda, her estranged sister Claudia, and now her young friend and business partner at Elm Creek Quilts, Sarah. It's not hard to get lost in the tales and traditions of an old-fashioned Christmas, but Chiaverini keeps us hooked by slowly unraveling the story of what came between Sylvia and her sister, Claudia.

This was a good, quick, festive read and I enjoyed it. But I will give you a short disclaimer: this novel may make you want to take up quilting ASAP. But first you'll probably want to scour the internet searching for a  recipe to replicate the much-written-about Bergstrom apple strudel. Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha, What I Wore Wednesday friends! It was a rather mediocre week for me clothes-wise, with the exception of my Saturday outfit. I'm so proud of myself for deciding to put a belt around that loose purple sweater! I'm super excited because today I'm getting my hair cut and highlighted. I absolutely love my hair stylist, a fellow military wife. My crazy curly hair might not look like much to you, but trust me -- under Mallory's hand it looks a heck of a lot better than it has in the past! Some girls are all weepy and panicky about getting their hair cut (literally -- I once went with a friend to get her hair cut and she cried!) but not me. I adore the light, fresh, new feeling of a haircut. And I love to change things up with highlights. When I see you next Wednesday, I'll be a (slightly) new woman! Without further ado, here are my outfits for the week. As always, I'm linking up with the original WIWW-er at The Pleated Poppy.

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Thursday
Top: Calvin Klein (great clearance deal!)
Jeans: Paige
Sandals: Kohl's
Black earrings: Target

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Saturday
(gingerbread house decorating with Jarrod's squadron)
Sweater: The Limited, thrifted
Frosting-smeared skinny jeans: 7 For All Mankind
Petal drop necklace: The Pleated Poppy (I saw she just added more of these to the shop and I'm seriously considering another one...)
Flip-flops: Target (I didn't really like how these went with the outfit but my brown flats went to shoe heaven last spring and I never replaced them. After all, now that I'm not working I wear flip-flops every. single. day. That's one thing I LOVE about Hawaii!)
Belt: came with a dress from Target

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Sunday
(rainy, dreary day, but perfect for our family picture in front of the Christmas tree)
Rosette top: Colour Works, Pearl Harbor NEX
Jeans: Rock & Republic
Earrings: Kohl's

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Monday
Top: Old Navy
Jeans: 7 For All Mankind
Flip-flops: Target
Coin pearl earrings: craft fair

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Tuesday
Lace-embellished top: Old Navy, gift
Jeans: 7 For All Mankind
Necklace: Jules Ceramics on Etsy
Purse: Target (sigh... the brown purse I want at Target STILL hasn't gone on sale. It's been out for months! I'm thinking I may just have to shell out the $35 for it...)
Flip-flops: Target

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Tuesday Ten: What I Love About Christmas

We're in the midst of the Christmas season -- arguably the best time of the year -- and I'm definitely feeling festive. So for today's Tuesday Ten link-up with Miss Mommy, I decided to share 10 things I love about Christmas.

1. Watching "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is something of a holiday tradition in my family. Even though I've seen it dozens of times and can practically recite the movie by memory, it still gets me laughing every single year. And I am in love with those moose mugs! Someday I'll track down some of my own.
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2. Christmas novels are usually short, happy and perfect for getting into the Christmas mindset. Some of my favorites are "The Gift" by Richard Paul Evans, "Visions of Sugar Plums" by Janet Evanovich, any of the Christmas mysteries by Mary Higgins Clark, and Debbie Macomber's Christmas novels. Last year I checked out "The Mischief of the Mistletoe" by Lauren Willig from the library and loved its Victoria Christmas charm. It's the seventh book in Willig's "Pink Carnation" series; I hadn't (and still haven't, though I had vowed to) read any of the other books in the series, but I thought "Mistletoe" was a super-cute and cozy Christmas read.

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3. Gingerbread house decorating! This is our very colorful 2011 creation, which we made at a gingerbread house decorating gala with Jarrod's squadron last weekend.

4. Christmas music! Part of its appeal (like most other things associated with Christmas) is that it only comes around once a year. Though I'm not picky, I do have a few favorites: "Carol of the Bells" by Celtic Woman, "The First Noel" by Josh Groban and "Mad Russian's Christmas" by Trans Siberian Orchestra. Jarrod's prefers Jeff Foxworthy's "Redneck 12 Days of Christmas."

5. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. These are pretty much without fail heartwarming, festive and sweet. Some of my favorites are "A Dog Named Christmas," "Debbie Macomber's Mrs. Miracle" and "Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas" (which you'll love if you enjoyed "The Holiday).

6. Christmas baking! Just as fall is all about pumpkin, Christmas is all about peppermint! I especially love peppermint frosting on chocolate cookies. You can see some of the cookies I baked in the last week here.

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7. There are some special Christmas things that come with living in Hawaii. We enjoy going downtown to see the Honolulu City Lights, the main attraction of which is a giant Shaka Santa. (If you have no idea what I mean by shaka -- which I had never heard of until we moved to Hawaii -- it's the sort of "hang loose" gesture Santa is making with his hand.) And there's a special free Christmas attraction the weekend before Christmas at Pearl Harbor; visitors board the boats used to ferry passengers to the USS Arizona Memorial and, while singing Christmas carols, cruise around Pearl Harbor to see all the ships and subs decked out in Christmas lights.

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9. I've always looked forward to decorating the tree at Christmas. My family usually puts up an artificial tree, but Jarrod is a tree traditionalist and absolutely refuses to let a fake tree come through the door of our house. Regular Christmas trees don't really grow in Hawaii, but they arrive on-island in huge shipping containers from the Mainland the day after Thanksgiving. This year we decided to forgo the shipped-in trees and visit Oahu's Christmas tree farm, which sells Norfolk pines. They're definitely different (more pictures of our tree to come) but I love our Hawaiian Christmas.

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10. Christmas brings President Obama and family to the island, and Air Force One is parked right by my husband's office (a restored aircraft hangar) each year. I was giddy with excitement the first year we were here (also the first year the Obamas came for Christmas) and I got to stand mere feet away (behind a wall, of course) from Air Force One.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Joy of Christmas Baking

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One of the many things I love about the Christmas season is the excuse to bake all kinds of delicious treats. There are holiday events that are just begging for baked goods, Jarrod's office to surprise with cookies, and my annual gift of treat plates to the neighbors. And the base hosts a Cookie Caper homemade cookie drive each December for the single airmen living in the dorms. I bake more in December than the entire rest of the year put together and I love it!

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I made these triple chocolate cookies with cream cheese/white chocolate/peppermint frosting (and a crushed candy cane garnish) for the gingerbread house decorating gala we attended this weekend. The cookies are so rich and chocolate-y and the frosting is aboslutely sinful. I had to force myself to stop swiping little (i.e. huge) fingerfuls from the leftover frosting in the bowl as I was cleaning up. I made these pretty much as the recipe called for, but I used a little more cream cheese and added some mint extract to the frosting. I used Ghirardelli semisweet and 60% cacao baking chips, which are my favorite chocolate chips. They always appear at the commissary around Christmastime and I stock up so I'll have them on hand all year!

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These almond-raspberry thumbprint cookies, which I made for the Cookie Caper cookie drive, were also a winner. The recipe calls for ground hazelnuts but I had three half-full pouches of slivered almonds in my pantry and thought I'd use those up instead. These were really yummy and fun to make, and they'll probably be awarded a spot on the the neighbor cookie plates this year. I think I'll increase the spice level a bit on the second go-round, though.

Happy baking!
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