WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you've ever seen the gingerbread creations at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, you know it is not your typical gingerbread contest.
Amateurs and professionals of all ages, from coast to coast, travel to North Carolina every November vying for thousands of dollars in cash and bragging rights in this storied contest.
This year, some of those who entered for the first time were second and third place winners.
"It's unheard of," Grier Rubeling said, beaming. "It really was."
Rubeling, of Cary, placed third out of 195 entries that range from adorable, kid creations to breathtaking works of art. Rubeling believes it was her concept that got the judge's attention. It was a ridiculously clever take on the famous dogs playing poker paintings.
Rubeling and her husband came up with the idea while having a beer at a Triangle brewery.
"I'm not sure how we got started talking about dogs playing poker, but we were talking about the series of paintings," Rubeling explained. "And I said what about reindeer playing poker!"
She started in July and worked from 8-10 p.m. every night. That was the only time she had while she ran her own company. She is also a wife and mom to her one and almost 3-year-old children. It took her hundreds of hours constructing hardwood floors, chairs, a braided and painted rug out of gingerbread.
Her precious reindeer were made of gingerbread skeletons covered in homemade modeling chocolate. She included tiny details from the poker chips, lime wedges, cigars and tiny playing cards printed with edible dye on sugar paper.
But after all that painstaking work, the unthinkable happened. One of the reindeer broke in the car while Rubeling drove to Asheville for the competition.
"One of the chairs fell over," she said. "The reindeer broke his ankles, his neck and I was about a mile from my house and I just freaked out!"
But, like a professional, she wrapped it in a towel and fixed it. She won $1,200 and a one night stay for two people at the Omni Grove Park Inn. Now, she's hooked!
"I have been thinking so hard from the moment I got that ribbon. I have been thinking."
She hopes the "Reindeer Playing Poker" idea isn't a one and done.
She has plenty of time to come up with something award winning for next year.
Wake County woman wows judges in Asheville gingerbread competition