Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day One

It’s that time again…time to look back at another winter weekend trip to Chicagoland!

Last Friday, we were up extra early in attempt to beat the expected winter weather out of St. Louis so we could meet Ryan up north in Wheeling for Frosty Faustings. And we did beat all of the weather on the way up (even though Moose’s school ending up canceling classes for the day!). It was a fairly uneventful drive, even though it was a bit nerve-wracking for me, as I don’t usually drive in that part of the Chicago suburbs, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It was nice and cold when we arrived at the Westin, but still pretty much clear, weather-wise, if not clouds-wise:

I’ve never stayed at a Westin before, and it was quite nice from the moment we walked in the lobby (the infused water was especially popular with the children!)…I especially loved the Lego model of the hotel they had on display!

The room was also nice, although it felt a little small compared the giant room we had last year at Frostys!

We took only the briefest of walks through the tournament area, because we realized that all of the things we had planned to do over Friday and Saturday would have to all be accomplished on Friday, thanks to an impending snowstorm.

Our first stop was the Brookfield Zoo. Just as we did last winter, we had an amazing visit, where we witnessed some new-to-us animal behavior (did you know that camels bark?!?), and enjoyed a walk around a very empty zoo. And the snow held off right until we left.

Then it really started coming down. We had tickets to Medieval Times, and it took us over two hours to drive from the zoo to the castle…traffic was horrible, and driving was very sloppy! We did finally make it, though, just as the castle doors were opening, which was a relief!

I didn’t pay for the VIP experience this time, but we had the best seats we’ve had yet…the second row, and right in the center. We also supported a different knight for the first time…instead of yellow, we were cheering for the red and yellow knight from the County of Perelada. As always, we had a great time, even though, as always, our knight didn’t win…at least our side won this time, and Bunny caught one of the carnations, which means that all three girls have now received one!

And then the harrowing drive back to the hotel. About a half foot of snow had fallen in just a few hours, and it was a mess. But there wasn’t much traffic on the way back, and everyone on the roads was content to go slow and careful, so it may have taken a while, but at least there was no pressure to keep up with traffic, which made it much easier to stay on the road!

Up next: Saturday spent at Frosty Faustings!

The Ottoman Garden–January

Time for another installment of “Mobot Through the Year!”

For the sixth year of this project, I’ve chose one of my very favorite spaces in the Missouri Botanical Garden to photograph each month…the Ottoman Garden. And because I love this small, but beautiful, garden so much, I’m not just going to share photos from one or even two angles, but from three, because I know how beautiful this place will be throughout the year, and I want to capture all of my favorite plants as they change with the seasons!

As always, I will be hoping for an opportunity to capture this garden covered in snow at some point this winter, but for all I know, I’ll have to wait until November or December to even have a hope of seeing it snow-covered!

Lego Bookshop–The First Half

I’m taking a departure from my usual Lego modular building summaries to try something new. Since the new bookshop splits down the middle into two buildings, I’m going to look at the building process for each half. First up, the eponymous bookshop. The first set of bags (there are four sets for each part), contains one minifig and builds the foundation for both the shop and the birch tree out front:

The second set of bags finishes off the first floor of the building and contains another minifig:

No additional minifigs in the third set of bags, but the second floor does contain the living area of the upstairs apartment, including a really cool grandfather clock build:

The fourth and final set of bags does introduce another minifig (the bookshop owner and resident of the aforementioned upstairs apartment), and my favorite parts of the whole build so far, the bedroom, which includes a really cool chameleon piece with a tank, a lovely autumn birch tree, and an awesome roof!

The other half of the building is residential, which my modular Main Street really needs…I’m looking forward to putting it together!

Dinner for a Monumental Birthday

Today is Ryan’s 40th birthday (and Epiphany), so of course I had to make a special dinner!

He hadn’t yet decided what he wanted for his birthday dinner when I ran across whole beef tenderloins on the cheap at Aldi, so I made an executive (chef’s) decision, and bought one, telling him he could choose what I would turn it into.

He picked Beef Wellington, which I’ve only made once before. I think I did an excellent job this time, from the trimming to the preparation, and the sides of mashed potatoes, green beans with almonds, asparagus, and sautéed mushrooms were the perfect accompaniment!

It really was a lovely dinner (if I do say so myself):

Ryan requested birthday pie for dessert, so I made the peanut butter pie that has been a new favorite this holiday season, and our family’s favorite s’mores pie. It’s hard to see, but the candles even “spell” out 40!

Thus endeth another season of festive meals. I’m both relieved and sad that I won’t have another fancy dinner to make for a while…as of now, the kitchen is closed!

First Friday–Star Wars Night

On Friday night, we went to 2020’s inaugural “First Friday” at the St. Louis Science Center, and it was a lot fun, which we realized even before we entered the building!

Yes, the theme was Star Wars, and they went all out for it. There were some artifacts, which even included props from the movies:

There were plenty of people in costume:

And where there are costumes, there are also photo opps:

We saw a lightsaber combat demonstration (from a distance…I think this was the most crowded event we’ve been to!):

And we participated in a campus-wide game, at the end of which, the children got to make medals for being Resistance heroes!

My favorite part of the evening though, was the class we took…a Star Wars cross-stitch class! I couldn’t resist choosing an adorable “Baby Yoda” pattern.

Ladybug picked BB-8, and not only did she finish it, she added a bit to it, which impressed me!

I will admit that I occasionally find these events overwhelming, because there are so many people it’s hard to move at times, and it gets very warm in the building. But there are also a lot of fun activities, and it seems like this geeky occasion was made just for our family!

The Top Five–Christmas Albums

We’re still Christmas-ing here!

As the season winds down, I thought it would be fun to take a look at my top five favorite Christmas albums. Yes, there are six albums on the list, but in my defense, the last two are fairly short, so I think together, they make up one space!

  • Classic Christmas Carols–This album (actually, a two-disc collection), featuring the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, is my absolute favorite collection of sacred Christmas music.
  • Christmas with the Rat Pack–This is not just one of my favorite Christmas CDs, but also my favorite collection of music sung by Frank, Dean, and Sammy!
  • The Christmas Song–My version of this classical Nat King Cole album is slightly different from the one currently available, which is too bad, because one of my favorite things about it, the “Toys for Tots” song, is one of the most delightful aspects of the album. But I also love all of the different versions of “The Christmas Song,” as well as all of the other Christmas songs on it.
  • A Classical Kids Christmas–This started out as a school album, but I love the way a story is woven into the Christmas music, and how different Christmas traditions are explained.
  • White Christmas–The classic Bing Crosby Christmas album will always be one of my favorites!
  • The Andy Williams Christmas Album–There’s something special about Andy Williams and Christmas, and so many of the songs on this album remind me of my childhood!

Celebrating the New Year

Even though I’m not a huge New Year’s person, I do like to make the two days of the holiday special, starting with our annual hot chocolate bar on New Year’s Eve:

This year, in addition to several varieties of hot chocolate, we had four kinds of marshmallows, crushed peppermint and candy canes, chocolate covered pretzels and Pirouettes, two kinds of whipped cream, and chocolate-peppermint cookies that I baked just for the holiday:

I love seeing how different everyone’s cup looks when they’re done assembling it:

Today we had our fancy New Year’s dinner:

The star of the meal was rack of lamb, which was a first for me (I’ve only made leg of lamb in the past). We also had rosemary potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, asparagus, fennel gratin, spiced apple rings, and rolls:

It was a very nice dinner, and not quite as much work as our big Christmas dinner was:

And, I made creme brûlée for dessert, which is a real treat!

I have one big dinner left to make, and then that’s it for holiday meals for this season. I know Easter is lurking around the corner, though, so it won’t be too long until I’m back at it!

The Top Five–Things I’m Looking Forward to in 2020

Here we are, at the beginning of a new decade! I thought it would be fun to come up with a “Top Five” of the things I’m most looking forward to this year. I kind of wish I had something really big on my list, such as a family vacation like the one we took to Florida in 2018, or a trip to London, but I really don’t need grand events to come up with things I’m excited about! So here are the things I’m thrilled are coming up in the next year (more or less in chronological order):

  • Lego Modular Bookshop–I always look forward to the release of the new modular building on January 1st, but I’m especially excited about this year’s set, because like the Pet Shop, it is a building in two halves, which will offer me lots of options for displaying it on my Main Street! Actually, I was so excited about the set, I was in line outside the Lego Store 20 minutes before they opened this morning, just to make sure I got one of the 29 sets they had in stock (I did)!
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons–I feel like I’ve been waiting for a new Animal Crossing game forever. Sure, I’ve played (and enjoyed) Pocket Camp for the last two years, but it’s not a full game, and it’s just not the same. So if you’re looking for me on March 20th, I’ll be living the island life with my animal friends!
  • Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen–One of the highlights of every year for the last several years has been the release of the latest book in Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series. We’re nearing the end, with the last book set to come out in 2021, but until then, May will be a great month for reading for me!
  • Tokyo 2020–Everyone knows I love the Olympics, and I’m especially looking forward to this year’s summer games, because our whole family has an interest in Japanese culture. It will also be a bit bittersweet for several reasons, including the fact that it will be the closing bookend on Turkey and Bunny’s homeschool summer school experience (summer school began in 2008 with the Beijing Olympics), but in spite of that, it’s still going to be a fun time!
  • Great North American Oktoberfest–I actually thought this event, which is the first in what appears to be an annual event traveling to different cities, was going to be held in 2019 (and, as it turns out, I was right…originally it was scheduled for last year), so you can imagine my disappointment when we didn’t get to attend. I’m hoping that it won’t be postponed again, and I will be able to enjoy this experience in St. Louis in the fall!

The Top Five–Photos of 2019

Time to take a look back at my five favorite photos from 2019! Notable this year is that a lot of my pictures were taken (or cropped) in “square” mode, since I’m using Instagram more than ever.

First, a picture from early in the year, when we enjoyed a snowy day in the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden:

Another winter picture, this time of two snow leopards at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago:

A spring photo featuring cherry blossoms in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Japanese Garden:

The Red Arrows in flight!

Fall at Forest Park’s Pagoda Circle:

And an honorable mention…a photo taken at the holiday flower and train show at the Missouri Botanical Garden just a few days ago!

Obviously, I have my favorite places to take pictures, but I like that I’m constantly finding new ways to highlight them!

2019 in Review

Here we are, not only at the end of another year, but also a decade. I feel like I should have something profound to say, some great insights into the last ten years, but all I have is a look back at another year of Markel family fun.

January was a pleasant month. We started our “Great Star Trek Project,” an effort to watch through all of Star Trek from Enterprise through Voyager, including the movies and even the animated series, chronologically (at present, we’re watching Deep Space Nine). We went up to Chicago, where we got to experience a good, old-fashioned, Chicago snowstorm. While we were there, I took the Fab Five to Brookfield Zoo for the first time, and even though it was a winter day, it was one of our best zoo visits ever! At the end of the month, Turkey won a Lego building contest!!!

In all honesty, it’s hard to find much to say about February. It’s always a pretty quiet (and dare I say, boring), month, and this February was no exception. We had a lot of poor weather, including ice, but we did start playing tennis on some of the nicer days, which was fun. Turkey, Bunny, and I went to see The Lego Movie 2, which we really enjoyed.

March is always a favorite month, with so many things to look forward to, including St. Patrick’s Day. Turkey turned sixteen in March, which I still can’t believe, and Chickadee celebrated her seventh birthday. We got new dishes, which really brighten up our table!

At the beginning of April, we had a new roof put on the house…quite an expensive project! We were excited about the start of another season of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. The Missouri Botanical Garden stayed open late for cherry blossom viewing, which was a rare treat. Our Easter celebration was a lot of fun! We all went to see Avengers: Endgame in the theater opening night, and some of us cried all the way home.

May is always one of the busiest months of the year for us. We celebrated Ladybug’s twelfth birthday. Another year of homeschooling wrapped up. Moose received a choir award we didn’t even know he was getting! At the end of the month, we went up to Chicago for Combo Breaker. While we were there, we visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, a special Lego exhibit at Brookfield Zoo, and made the journey to the top of the Sears Tower.

June‘s schedule was unusually packed. We took a trip to Michigan, which included visiting Frankenmuth, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” enjoying a wonderful meal at the Bavarian Inn, and shopping at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which was a dream come true for me. Bunny and Ladybug attended volleyball camp at WKU. The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time ever, and we went downtown for the rally! We saw Superman. I celebrated my 40th birthday in a rather epic way. Kantorei Kamp week was a lot of fun!

The busyness continued into July. Ladybug earned a very special choir award. While she, Bunny, and Turkey were at RSCM camp, Moose, Chickadee, and I took a ride on the St. Louis Metro Link. We celebrated the anniversary of the moon landing. Bunny turned 15! Chickadee got her ears pierced. We had the privilege of participating in the rededication of the sanctuary at Hope Lutheran Church. We celebrated Christmas in July with a European twist.

We wrapped up our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school in August, and then turned around and got ready to begin a new year of homeschooling (and Moose started eighth grade!). We enjoyed another Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden. After how busy the summer was, it was a relief to have a more quiet month!

September was a very exciting month! We started it off by attending the St. Louis Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. I received a Post-It note tweet from Alton Brown! We saw the Red Arrows perform at the Spirt of St. Louis Air Show!!! Moose was named Student of the Month at his school! The girls and I went to see the Downton Abbey movie. We celebrated Friends Day.” The Fab Five and I went to “Garden Party Lights” at the Missouri Botanical Garden. We had our traditional Oktoberfest celebration.

We got to see the Stanley Cup in October! Our school acquired a mascot. We attended the fourth year of Legends and Lanterns, and saw some of the STC250 dogs while we were in St. Charles. We picked not just one, but two pumpkins. Moose got to play in the band at a high school football game.

We put up our brand-new (and quite tall!) Christmas tree earlier than ever in November, to make sure it was up in time for Moose’s 14th birthday! The girls and I went to see Frozen 2 opening night…it was a very movie-heavy year for me! We attended one of our favorite events of the year: Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Our three-day Thanksgiving celebration was just as much fun as always!

And just like that, we made it to December. The Fab Five worked on a project throughout Advent…they built the 6,020-piece Lego Hogwarts Castle. We celebrated St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, and an unexpected snow day following a fairly large snowstorm. We attended Christmas Traditions, and for the first time in several years, Christmas on the Hill. I went to a movie’s opening night for the fifth time of the year when we saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (for the record, I liked it!). We had our standard, huge Christmas celebration…one of the best ones ever, I think! We finally made it the holiday flower and train show at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and I’m glad we did, because it was lovely!

2019 was a busy year, and I expect 2020 to be more of the same. There are lots of things to look forward to, not just in the next year, but also in the next decade. I’m going to do my best not to think too far ahead, though, lest I realize how old the children will be at the end of another 10 years, and I start feeling old myself!