A Markel Family St. Nicholas Day

Time for another installment of “A Markel Family Holiday!” St. Nicholas Day has always been one of favorite days in Advent, so I thought I’d share what we do to make it special.

The day always begins with stockings. We keep it simple…chocolate coins, oranges, and a new ornament for each child to hang on the tree. They’ve each received an ornament every year since their births, so they will have a nice collection to start their own trees when they have homes of their own someday!

We always read Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend from CPH. It’s a fantastic book!

And of course we do our Jesse Tree reading for the day. This year, the commemoration for St. Nicholas fell on the day we read about Jacob:

In the afternoon, we decorate the tree. I put it up and hung the lights almost a month ago, but we always wait for St. Nicholas Day for the addition of the ornaments.

We enjoy hot wassail while we decorate:

Some years, I make a special dinner. This year, we tried a Turkish fish stew and flat bread, to honor the area of the world from which St. Nicholas comes.

And of course we have evening prayers by the light of the Advent wreath.

I really love this holiday, and the special ways we celebrate it!

Thanksgiving 2019

A ton of hard work went into it, but just like that, our traditional three-day Thanksgiving celebration has already come and gone!

I started baking pies bright and early Wednesday morning, while we watched some of our favorite Thanksgiving shows. As always, everyone chose a pie for our dessert table. Bunny made the caramel apple pie, and I made the other six (with some help from various children). Our lineup this year was fairly standard…pumpkin, caramel apple, cranberry apple, butterscotch, pecan, s’mores, and one new addition, peanut butter brownie, which may be the finest pie I’ve ever made!

Before I closed down the kitchen for the day on Wednesday, I also made the cranberry sauce and the stuffing, plus prepped for the turkey soup we had tonight. I was back to work Thursday morning while we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the National Dog Show (we were so excited that chonky Thor won!), but I did take a break to enjoy a cranberry beer from a local brewery:

Our dinner was actually ready a little early, which was nice, because everyone was hungry! The menu was fairly standard…turkey and gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans with almonds, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower (a new addition to our Thanksgiving dinner), cranberry sauce, and rolls:

I love making the table look pretty!

It was a delicious dinner!

After cleaning up and watching Holiday Inn, we had pie. Lots and lots of pie:

I always have cranberry apple on Thanksgiving evening:

We always have pie for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving, so I got to try the peanut butter brownie pie this morning:

And we got to see Moose play with his school band in the town Santa Parade:

As always, the Fab Five built a Lego set following our lunch of turkey sandwiches. This year, it was the Winter Village Fire Station, and it’s a really nice set!

I got to build a Lego set, too…a nice free-with-purchase Christmas tree that is the perfect addition to my modular Main Street:

Tonight’s dinner was another Thanksgiving favorite…turkey soup. I really think the day after Thanksgiving has better food than the actual holiday!

And I finally tried the pumpkin pie tonight:

Yes, I did work hard, but I have to admit, after doing Thanksgiving on a broken ankle last year, it seemed a lot easier this time around!

A Markel Family…Halloween?

As a family, we’ve never been into Halloween. Not once have the children dressed up and gone trick-or-treating, nor have they gone to any Halloween parties. Sure, we visit the pumpkin patch every year, and we listen to the Baby Snooks 1946 Halloween special and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown multiple times every October. But come October 31st each year, we celebrate Reformation Day instead of Halloween.

Kind of. As the years have gone by, we’ve edged a little closer to a traditional Halloween celebration. I think it all started with Legends and Lanterns, which we’ve visited faithfully every year since its inception. While we still don’t go trick-or-treating (and honestly, we only have one, maybe two children who are still of the age for doing so, anyway!), we have carved a pumpkin (an activity that the children thought was fun to try once, but have no desire to do again!). We’ve also started having a special dinner featuring recipes from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. So I thought this year, I’d take a look at how we’ve come to celebrate Halloween.

Halloween breakfast has always featured either Cap’n Crunch’s Halloween Crunch or one of the General Mills Monster Cereals. This year, it was Franken Berry (while we listened to Baby Snooks):

I also found a special treat to go with lunch…pumpkin pie Rice Krispies Treats:

Of course I had the perfect outfit for the occasion:

And a “Little Luther” thrown in, because it is still Reformation Day, after all!

On to our feast for the day. I made one favorite recipe from the cookbook (pumpkin fizz), and tried three new options…”ghoul”-ash (I came up with that version of the name, and I’m rather proud of it!), and glazed carrots for dinner, and chocolate eclairs for dessert. They were all delicious!

We spent the day watching our favorite movies and TV shows that fit the theme…Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Bewitched, The Simpsons, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (we watched Meet Me in St. Louis recently, which is a family favorite, and has a great Halloween scene, so we didn’t watch it again today, although we often do on Halloween).

So that’s our not-really-Halloween, Halloween celebration. It’s still not my favorite holiday, but I really do love the fun ways we’ve found to put our own spin on it, and it’s definitely something I’ve come to look forward to each October!

A Markel Family Oktoberfest

Yesterday we celebrated Oktoberfest! This is something we do most years, but not always on the same date, and it definitely doesn’t always look the same (some years, we go pumpkin picking on the day of our Oktoberfest celebration, but it’s still a little too early in the fall for that). Here’s a look at this year’s festivities.

We started the day with a special (but not specifically German), fall-themed breakfast:

We made pretzels from scratch, which is always fun, and they went perfectly with the German fondue I prepared for lunch. We also had pickles and mini bratwurst for dipping (or just for eating, because the boys aren’t big fans of fondue), plus a delicious cheese and artichoke strudel I found at Aldi:

For dinner, I made schnitzel (also from Aldi…they’re the best frozen schnitzel I’ve ever had, probably because they have saltines in the breading), Jäger sauce, spaetzle, red cabbage, and sauerkraut:

And for dessert, our favorite German cake…Black Forest cherry torte:

We spent the day watching The Sound of Music (I know, it’s set in Austria, but Oktoberfest is a chance to celebrate part of our family’s heritage, and my grandfather was from Austria, so I think it works), and every episode of Rick Steves’ Europe set in Germany that we have. We also played Chrono-Trek, which really has nothing to do with Oktoberfest, but is our current favorite game, and so much fun to play. It was a great day!

Prost!

A Markel Family Easter, 2019 Edition

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

It may be hard to believe, because this year, it seemed like Lent lasted an eternity, but it’s time for another Markel Family Easter celebration! As always, it was a four-day affair, beginning with the Divine Service on Holy Thursday, where we got to hear Moose and Ladybug’s choir sing.

On Friday, we had the opportunity to experience a worship service that was new to (most) of us…the Good Friday Tre Ore service, which was a circuit event hosted at a church in south St. Louis, where once again, Moose and Ladybug’s choir sang…and this time, Bunny also joined in. We stayed for one of the three hours, and we really enjoyed the solemnity of the segments of the service we participated in.

We spent our Good Friday afternoon walking around the Missouri Botanical Garden and Forest Park. It was a blustery, but beautiful, day:

In the evening, Ryan, Turkey, and Bunny sang with the adult choir for the Good Friday Chief Service.

Holy Saturday is always a busy day. There was cooking, rehearsing at church for the Easter Sunrise Service, cooking, and the making of the family Paschal Candle:

Of course, the highlight of Holy Saturday is my favorite church service of the entire year, The Great Vigil of Easter!

After the vigil, we always stop at McDonald’s to get hot fudge sundaes for the Fab Five:

We never get enough sleep on Holy Saturday night, but the promise of Pop-Tarts before the Sunrise Service helps get the children out of bed.

This year, since Easter was so late, the sunrise was a little farther along than we’re used to!

Bunny, Moose, and Ladybug got to dress up and help with the outdoor reenactment before church:

Our sanctuary always looks especially beautiful for Easter!

After the first service, we enjoyed Easter breakfast in the church basement…I love the biscuits and gravy!

Of course I had to take pictures after breakfast:

I also had Ryan take a picture of me, because I love this year’s Easter outfit!

Did I mention I like to take pictures?




We had the privilege of serving on Altar Guild for the Divine Service:

And Moose and Ladybug got to acolyte, and all four of “The Bigs” participated in the processional:


Following an afternoon of watching movies, we had a nice Easter dinner. I made sure that the table looked extra pretty, since I failed in that department at Christmas.

Our rosemary-themed feast included leg of lamb (marinated in garlic and rosemary), rosemary smashed potatoes, sautéed asparagus, roast carrots and Brussels sprouts, rosemary dinner rolls with rosemary-garlic butter, and cherry Jell-O “salad.” We also had multiple options for both sparkling grape juice and wine, since I couldn’t decide what I wanted to serve.

I think this might be the best Easter dinner I’ve ever made!

For dessert, we had lemon cheesecake with a lemon-rosemary shortbread crust, and it was delicious!

After dinner, we watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my favorite fun Easter traditions!

I love the way we celebrate Easter…it’s a been a busy, exhausting four days, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

A Markel Family Epiphany

Epiphany has always been a festive day in our house, because it’s Ryan’s birthday. But for the last few years, it’s been an extra big deal, because Epiphany is the biggest day of the year for the children’s choir. This year was a little different because the holiday fell on a Sunday, so instead of the usual evening Divine Service, Epiphany was observed as part of the regular Sunday morning Divine Service, and the adult choir sang with the children on Mendelssohn’s “There Shall a Star.” Ryan even got to be part of the trio in the first part!

There is always a reception after the Epiphany service, but it was different this year, because it was a brunch reception instead of an evening one. The ladies did a wonderful job of decorating the church basement and putting everything together! As for me, my annual contribution is baklava (my signature dish, apparently), and I added in a more brunch-appropriate coffee cake, as well.

We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at home following the service. Ryan picked chili for his birthday dinner, and it made the house smell amazing for several hours!

He also picked a Guinness cake for dessert, which is definitely our family’s favorite!

So this Epiphany was a little different from normal, but all the basic elements were there…a church celebration and a birthday celebration. It’s a fun way to say goodbye to Christmas!

New Year’s Eve 2018

Here we are at another New Year’s Eve. Not my favorite holiday (especially not just a week after Christmas, which is very much my favorite!), but I’m always looking for ways to make it special for my family. This year, I decided on a build-your-own-sandwich bar for dinner, which was a huge hit with the children. We had our favorite brioche buns, three types of meat (turkey, ham, and roast beef), four cheeses (cheddar, American, Muenster, and provolone), lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, plus the usual condiments.

Tonight we went to New Year’s Eve church (which is actually the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus) for the first time. To be honest, if we hadn’t been serving on Altar Guild, we probably wouldn’t have gone this year, but it was nice to have a reason to get us out of the house and into the pew.

Back home, we enjoyed our annual New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar while we watched Apollo 13. These are our two firm New Year’s Eve traditions, and the best thing about the day!

As usual, Ryan and I had our toast to the New Year well before midnight, because who knows if I’m going to be able to stay up that late?

So that’s another Markel Family New Year’s celebration. I’m making a nicer meal for New Year’s Day tomorrow, but nothing spectacular. Mostly, I’m just thankful for the blessings 2018 brought to us, and looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store!

A Markel Family Christmas–2018 Edition

This whole Christmas season has been a bit more challenging than usual, because of my injured ankle. My CAM boot came off exactly a week before Christmas, and I was determined to have our usual, festive, three-day Christmas event, while relearning how to walk normally, starting with our favorite Christmas Eve breakfast of Christmas Crunch:

As we have for the last few years, we had our “pick out dinner” for lunch, before heading into the city for church. This year, we had our standard crackers and various cheeses, summer sausage, buffalo Chex mix, and jalapeño popper and rotel dips (with festive red and green tortilla chips!). We also enjoyed deviled eggs, shrimp, pizza bagels, mozzarella sticks, sausage squares, cranberry brie bites (a new recipe that was so good!), and cheese squares.

We then went to church, where “The Bigs” and Ryan were singing in the Christmas Eve service. I was very happy to wear only an ankle brace on my left leg with my standard Christmas Eve dress!

There’s always one piece of music that really stands out to me…this year, it was “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt”:

I took a picture of the Fab Five after church…in the church basement, where the service was held because the sanctuary is undergoing extensive renovations!

On the way home, we drove through the Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows:

At home, I took more pictures, of course:

For the first time ever, the children received completely matching Christmas jammies, and they even were in keeping with this year’s Harry Potter theme:

And then time for Jesus’ birthday cake. Doesn’t it look pretty? It’s a good thing I took this picture the day before, right after I finished decorating it, because apparently there’s too much humidity in our refrigerator for the cookie icing to set up properly, and it ran everywhere. I’m told the cake still tasted good, though…I, however, was too upset to try it.

I kind of had a meltdown at that point. I was so tired, and my ankle was bothering me, and I was just done for the day. Oh, and did I mention that at that point, we were on day four with no hot water, as we were waiting on a part and a repair on our water heater? Just done. So Ryan and I didn’t play Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries like we usually do on Christmas Eve, and we didn’t watch the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker. I did get the stockings filled and the tree prepared before I went to bed, though:

Things looked better in the morning (even though I didn’t sleep much because my ankle was still bothering me). We had fun opening stockings (although the boys continued to elude me in my early-morning photography):

And enjoyed our Christmas Day coffee cake:

I have really enjoyed wearing this Pinup Girl Clothing dress all throughout the season, and I was especially excited to wear it on Christmas Day without the CAM boot as an accessory!

We then drove back into the city for the Christmas Day Divine Service, where Ryan, Turkey, Bunny, and Ladybug were singing in the choir:

Another picture in the basement, this time of the whole family:

After lunch, we opened presents. Bunny found the pickle ornament on the tree this year, so she got to hand out the gifts.

The rest of the day was spent snacking, relaxing, and preparing for the big Christmas feast, which we had yesterday. The star of the meal was a smoked ham from Beast Craft BBQ. We also had mashed potatoes and gravy, roast carrots, butternut squash gratin, croissants, and our favorite cherry Jell-O “salad.” You may notice a lack of festive table photos…that’s because I didn’t use the china (other than serving pieces) or set the table with our linens. My ankle might be healed, but I’m still kind of slow and still tire easily after being on my feet all day, so that was something I let go of this time.

I made a trio of Christmas desserts…an apple-cranberry bread pudding, a gingerbread-eggnog trifle, and a Buche de Noel. They were all delicious…I especially liked the bread pudding, which was a new recipe.

So that was Christmas 2018. More things went wrong than I would have liked, but most things went right. What really matters, though, is that we were all together, and we had plenty of opportunities to celebrate our Savior’s birth!

A Markel Family Santa Lucia Day

Santa Lucia Day is one of my favorite holidays! I love planning and preparing, especially when it comes to making the Lussekattes and setting up the night before:

The girls all still love dressing up, and while it may not be traditional, they all dress as Santa Lucia. This was the fifth year using the crowns I made for them!

We even had a Swedish dinner! I’m so glad St. Louis has an IKEA now, because it made planning our meal so much easier. We had Swedish meatballs with gravy, egg noodles, lingonberry juice, and for dessert, Swedish sandwich cookies, plus Dala Horse and Sour Viking candies:

We also read our favorite Santa Lucia stories today. It’s such a lovely holiday in the lead-up to Christmas, and one I look forward to all year long!

A Markel Family Thanksgiving, Broken Ankle Edition

Normally, Thanksgiving in our house is a three-day affair, beginning on Wednesday (pie day) and culminating the day after. Because of my broken ankle, this year Thanksgiving had to be a four-day holiday. I started by baking four pies (S’mores, Nutella, pecan, and pumpkin), on Tuesday, (and we had a regular school day, too!), in addition to making the cranberry sauce and chopping the vegetables for the stuffing and the turkey soup. I knew there was no way I could do all of that, plus the other five pies and stuffing prep on Wednesday, and I’m glad I planned it that way, because even just that was a lot of work on my booted leg!

On Wednesday, the other five pies were prepared (banana cream, caramel apple made by Bunny, strawberry, cranberry apple, and butterscotch), plus the stuffing was finished and ready to go in the slow cooker Thursday morning. We also read all of our favorite Thanksgiving stories (it was the least I could do to make up for the lack of our regularly scheduled Thanksgiving school) and made hand and footprint turkeys. This was an exhausting day!

I do have to admit, all the pies did look really nice!

Of course, Thursday was the Big Day. There was more work, including giving the turkey a bath in the sink and prepping the rest of the menu. We also watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the National Dog Show, which are Thanksgiving highlights for me. I also love setting a nice table for a holiday!

In case you’re wondering, my motivation for doing all of this even with a broken ankle was the Fab Five. I have been aware that “the days are long, but the years are short” since the very beginning, and that’s becoming even more real now that we’re getting closer to the time when the children will all start scattering as they reach adulthood.

We had our usual Thanksgiving feast…roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, carrots, Brussel sprouts, green beans with almonds, cranberry sauce, and rolls with butter:

Red and white wine, and red and white sparkling grape juice accompanied our meal:

It was a delicious feast!

And then, after much clean-up, the annual watching of Holiday Inn, and the boiling of the carcass for turkey soup, it was pie time!

I went with my favorite, cranberry apple, plus the Thanksgiving standard of pumpkin pie with whipped cream:

The celebration continued this morning with our traditional day after Thanksgiving breakfast of pie:

And then, something new this year! Moose got to march in the town parade with his school’s band. We’ve never attended before, and despite the wind, it was a lot of fun!

This year, our annual day after Thanksgiving Lego build didn’t feature a Winter Village set. Instead, I carried the year’s Harry Potter theme through to Thanksgiving, and we built the Whomping Willow set, plus a free-with-purchase Diagon Alley set.

And then turkey soup for dinner!

And more pie for dessert…this time, I went with the chocolate-based pies…S’mores and Nutella.

And that’s the end of another Thanksgiving in the Markel house. We didn’t go to downtown Belleville following our turkey soup dinner this year, partly because we don’t enjoy the tree-lighting as much without the community sing they used to have, and partly because rain postponed some of the other activities. But almost everything else went according to our normal Thanksgiving traditions, even if the timing of some them were altered a bit…but there was no way I was going to allow a broken ankle to ruin our holiday!