Oktoberfest 2021

For the second year in a row, we didn’t get to go to the inaugural Great North American Oktoberfest in St. Louis (and at this point, I’m kind of thinking that the event will never happen), but we did have a happy Markel Family Oktoberfest at home! I started last week by assembling all of our favorite German foods from Aldi’s Deutsche Küche:

For lunch, we had cheddar and beer fondue with homemade pretzels, German pickles, and Nürnberger Bratwurst, plus more pretzels with beer mustard and nacho cheese sauce for those who don’t like fondue:

Dinner was schnitzel with optional Jäger sauce, spaetzle, sauerkraut, artichoke and cheese strudel, and red cabbage with apples:

And dessert was, of course, Black Forest cherry torte:

I also had a fun Oktoberfest celebration with my neighbors in Animal Crossing: New Horizons:

It wasn’t quite the Oktoberfest I had hoped for (again), especially after I derailed our pretzel-making to go to Urgent Care to have a splinter removed (that was unpleasant!), but it was a fun day of celebrating our German heritage!

Easter in the Time of COVID-19

Time for another look at a Markel Family holiday in the time of COVID-19!

Last year, I was all about keeping as many things as normal as possible for everyone. This year, I decided to embrace the new and different as much as I could. For starters, even though I’m now back to grocery shopping once a week instead of every two weeks, and could have bought hot cross buns from the bakery, I decided to make a batch again this year:

We went to our new church for the evening Maundy Thursday service to begin the Holy Triduum, and it was short, but very nice:

On Good Friday we were back at our new church for an equally moving (and equally short) Tenebrae service:

On Holy Saturday, we watched Rick Steves’ European Easter and made our Paschal candle for the year, as is our tradition. This one didn’t turn out so well, but it still gets the job done!

We attended the Great Vigil of Easter at our new church…I’m so glad they offer that service. More of it was spent outside than we are used to, and that was really nice!

After church, instead of getting sundaes from McDonald’s like we usually do, we got Frosty’s and fries at Wendy’s, and I introduced the Fab Five to the culinary experience that is dipping the fries in the Frosty:

We didn’t have a sunrise service this year, but I was still up early enough to see the sunrise:

And even though we didn’t need to leave the house super-early, I still bought our traditional Pop-Tarts:

It was a beautiful morning!

I took pictures of the Fab Five in the garden outside of church:

Since I couldn’t really take pictures of them inside the church (and especially by the baptismal font) like I usually do, I did that the day of Chickadee’s confirmation:

Our new church is beautiful!

After church, we came home and made Easter breakfast…eggs and sausage, English muffins, pomegranate juice, and every flavor of mini donut I could find…seven varieties. Maybe we’ll be able to go to Easter breakfast at church again in the future, but for now, it’s nice to have the meal at home!

I may have completed all of the Bunny Day goals in Animal Crossing: New Horizons last year, but I still checked in with Zipper T. Bunny:

We had fun watching some of our favorite Easter movies today, including My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, Easter Parade, and It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. While we did that, I made sure the table looked pretty for dinner:

And made our Easter feast for dinner. I tried a new leg of lamb recipe in the crock-pot, which was both amazingly delicious and easy. We also had Greek potatoes, carrot fritters, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, breaded artichokes, cherry Jell-O, and popovers:

For dessert, I made carrot cake Oreo truffles:

No matter what stays the same or what is different from year to year, our reason for celebrating remains constant. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!!!

Christmas in the Time of COVID-19

Time for a look at this year’s scaled-back Christmas celebration. Some things were the same, like starting Christmas Eve with a bowl of Christmas Crunch:

Some things were different…but not necessarily because of COVID-19. I had a fun time playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and helping Jingle deliver his gifts yesterday morning:

The Fab Five finished this year’s Advent project, Lego Diagon Alley:

And I played Animal Crossing some more:

Our Christmas Eve dinner was different this year…I ordered tamales from Portillo’s, and we had them before church.

I always take pictures before church. This year, I took two sets. One with the year’s hottest accessory:

And one without:

This year, we attended an outdoor Christmas Eve service. It was cold, so we weren’t too sad it was short (although I missed all off the familiar Christmas hymns!). We did chuckle when a helicopter flew over during “Silent Night,” drowning out the singing!

We drove through the Way of Lights on the way home:

For Jesus’ birthday cake this year, I made a peppermint chocolate cake with two kinds of frosting (white chocolate peppermint buttercream inside, and an Italian buttercream outside). I think this is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made!

Of course there were new Christmas jammies:

We skipped playing Ticket to Ride on Christmas Eve, so I just had to fill the stockings and set up the nativity scene under the tree before bed:

We didn’t have to get up early, so we enjoyed our traditional Christmas morning coffee cake a little later than usual (but not much):

And since we didn’t have a Christmas Day service to go to (probably the biggest disappointment of the holiday for me), we opened presents in the morning, which was very strange!

We had our traditional Christmas Eve “pick out dinner” for Christmas Day lunch…and dinner (we’re saving our fancy Christmas feast for Sunday…stay tuned!). Here’s a look at some of the things we had:

We spent the afternoon watching Christmas movies, including my very favorite, White Christmas. We played our annual Christmas Eve game of Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries tonight. And since we were a day late, we also played the new Ticket to Ride game Ryan gave me, the 15th anniversary edition with clear trains, which I love! Everything is different this year…we might as well embrace it!

“Hail, O everlasting morn!
Hail, redemption’s happy dawn!
Sing through all Jerusalem:
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!'”

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving in the Time of COVID-19

If there’s anything that didn’t change too much for us this year due to COVID-19, it was Thanksgiving. That’s not to say things weren’t different at all, but we never travel for Thanksgiving, so at least we didn’t miss that, and we don’t always have family over, so while we missed seeing them, it wasn’t necessarily expected either. So, a lot of our three-day Thanksgiving holiday looked pretty much the same, starting with Pie Day on Wednesday, when we baked eight pies (seven for our family, and this year, one to give away).

In the middle of the baking, the children also made their yearly hand-and-footprint turkeys…Turkey and Bunny were kind enough to play along again this year at my request, since it is their last year in my homeschool.

We watched a very different version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thanksgiving morning (in the words of Al Roker, it wasn’t the parade we wanted, but it was the parade we needed), which we enjoyed very much because it was something somewhat familiar. The same went for the National Dog Show, which was extra exciting for me this year because the dog I wanted to win actually did! And then we got ready for dinner. One of the best parts of any holiday is setting the table:

And the food. There was a lot of food, even with the turkey mishap we had in the morning (I ended up having to throw out the turkey I had purchased to roast, and we decided to order a second Beast Craft BBQ smoked turkey to ensure we had enough leftovers).

It’s always a pretty-looking dinner!

After clean-up and Holiday Inn, I got out the pies:

I limited myself to trying two kinds. This was my first attempt at lemon meringue pie, and I was very pleased with the results!

I made sure to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and helped Franklin prepare his holiday feast:

The day after Thanksgiving has been pretty different. We didn’t get to see Moose march in our town’s Santa Parade this year, which was disappointing…I’d really come to enjoy that event. And there was no town tree lighting or gingerbread house walk or trolley ride to look forward to after dinner. This morning, though, the family traditions did continue with pie-for-breakfast:

And turkey sandwiches for lunch, which I almost like better than Thanksgiving dinner itself!

Lego building is also part of our day-after-Thanksgiving celebration…I built the free-with-purchase A Christmas Carol set we received:

I always make turkey soup for dinner the day after Thanksgiving:

And after dinner, the Fab Five built a Lego Harry Potter set to add to our Hogwarts setup in the school room.

It wasn’t exactly the Thanksgiving we had planned, but all things considered, we had a very nice family celebration!

A Markel Family Easter, Isolation Edition

I think we can all agree that Easter was weird this year, right? Without our normal church commitments like choir, acolyting, and serving on altar guild, Holy Week and Easter Sunday fell a bit flat. But whether we were at church or not, we still had reason to celebrate, so I tried to make this time at home as special as possible.

On Maundy Thursday, we enjoyed some beautiful weather while we were out for a walk in our neighborhood before we “went” to church, which we watched from the comfort of our living room.

We were a little busier on Good Friday, with some baking (including homemade hot cross buns for the first time!), and another walk, before we once again watched the church service from our living room.

We were especially busy on Holy Saturday. We did some more baking, including these amazing rosemary dinner rolls, one of my favorite new recipes that I’ve tried:

We also made our new Paschal Candle for the year, as we usually do on Holy Saturday…it was disappointing not being able to take it to the Easter Vigil, though!

We had a fairly last-minute change of Easter dinner plans, because Beast Craft BBQ announced that they were going to be selling hams, so Ryan went and picked that up Saturday afternoon. It smelled amazing, and there was great restraint on the part of everyone in the house, because we left it alone until Easter dinner!

I dug out some extra candles so we could really feel like we were participating in the Great Vigil of Easter:

But once again from our living room:

We always get hot fudge sundaes at McDonald’s on the way home from the service, so I tried to recreate that experience, as well:

We didn’t “need” Pop-Tarts for breakfast this year (do you ever really need Pop-Tarts?),, because we didn’t have to get up as early for the sunrise service, but tradition is tradition!

I was very happy to get to sing my favorite Easter hymn at the first service, which we attended from, you guessed it, our living room!

We always have Easter breakfast at church between services, so I tried to replicate that experience, too. Homemade biscuits and sausage gravy were the star of the meal (both of which I prepared on Saturday), because that’s what they serve at church, plus sausage patties, eggs, orange juice, and mini donuts:

I always take pictures after breakfast, and this year was no different. Yes, we all got dressed up, even though we were at home!

I really missed taking photos of the children by the baptismal font, but at least I got pictures of them on Easter, right?

I already shared the details of my Easter outfit, but here’s one more picture, with Ladybug, because this was her first occasion to wear a dress from Pinup Girl Clothing!

Back inside, and back to the living room for the second service, where we sang another favorite hymn:

The church part of the day was over much quicker than usual, which was sad. I did have plenty of time to prepare our Easter dinner, though, starting with setting the table with our china and spring table linens:

On the menu: ham, mashed potatoes, a trio of green vegetables (Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and green beans with almonds), cherry Jell-O, and rosemary dinner rolls. It was a delicious meal!

For dessert I made the same lemon cheesecake with lemon-rosemary shortbread crust that I made last year:

We’re not done, yet, though! Since Easter is a celebration that keeps on going, and since our dinner plans had changed after I had already bought what was supposed to be the main course of Easter dinner, we had another special meal tonight…rack of lamb with some new sides (roast potatoes and cauliflower), plus some repeats (Brussels sprouts, green beans, Jell-O, and rolls), plus more cheesecake for dessert!

So there you have what was the strangest Easter I have ever experienced. Of course, our reason for celebrating never changes, but just the same, nothing felt quite right, and I truly hope we never have another Easter like it!

Christmas 2019

I thought Advent went by quickly, but our three-day-long Christmas extravaganza flew by even more rapidly!

As always, our celebration began Christmas Eve morning, with a breakfast of Christmas Crunch:

New on Christmas Eve this year was putting the final touches on Lego Hogwarts Castle, a project the Fab Five worked on throughout Advent:

We had our “pick out dinner” for lunch as we have for the last few years, and it may have been the best one yet! In addition to our Christmas Eve favorites, which included a few favorites from tea parties, too, we added a Volpi Salame plus a large basil roltini.

After lunch, we headed to church, where Ladybug had the solo for the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.”

I especially enjoyed the Quempas Celebration.

It was nice to get a picture of the Fab Five in the newly renovated church sanctuary after the service:

We drove through the Way of Lights on the way home:

And then I took all of the pictures!

It’s always exciting to light all of the candles in the Advent Wreath!

Jesus’ birthday cake turned out a little better than last year’s, but not by much, because it fell apart a bit on one side. At least I could get a semi-decent picture, and the chocolate peppermint flavor certainly tasted good!

The entire family, including Ryan and me, received matching Christmas jammies this year, and these may have been the cutest ones yet!

Turkey joined Ryan and me for our annual game of Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, and he won by a lot.

Chickadee set up the nativity scene before I filled the stockings and we headed to bed:

We were up very early on Christmas Day, and I finally got pictures of all of the children while they were opening their stockings!

We enjoyed our traditional Christmas Day cherry coffee cake for breakfast:

But that paled in comparison to the beautiful Christmas sunrise…”A holy day has dawned upon us!”

Back at church, the adult choir had the opportunity to sing again, including these two beautiful descants:

Of course I had to get another picture after the service:

After lunch, we opened presents:

The rest of Christmas Day was fairly quiet…we watched Christmas movies, as well as a few episodes of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which the Fab Five received for Christmas.

Yesterday, on Boxing Day, we had our big, fancy Christmas dinner. As always, I had fun setting the table:

This year’s dinner included roast beast (a standing rib roast that I found for a steal at Aldi), mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, Jell-O, and croissants, plus a festive Comet and Cupid Cabernet Sauvignon for the adults. I think I cooked the beef extraordinarily well (or maybe good would be better, if not grammatically correct, because it was definitely not well-done!).

We had a trio of Christmas desserts, and I hit pretty much every Christmas flavor except peppermint. There was cranberry-apple bread pudding with a vanilla cream sauce, gingerbread-eggnog trifle, and a chocolate Yule log:

And that’s the end of another Christmas celebration. I’m already thinking about how we can celebrate next year!

A Markel Family Snow Day

Today we had a snow day! This was a special snow day, because not only did Moose’s school close for the day, the homeschool event we were supposed to attend at the Missouri History Museum was cancelled, so we were all truly home for the day!

Of course we had to play in the snow:

When a snow day happens the week before Christmas, you bake Christmas cookies. And while we baked, we watched not only the unbelievably fluffy flakes fall outside the kitchen window, but also the Nutcracker, something we do every year around Christmas. We watched three different productions today: The Dutch National Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and my personal favorite, the San Fransisco Ballet. Three Nutcrackers and 13 dozen cookies later, and all of our “fancy” baking is done!

We also made “stained glass” Christmas ornaments while we watched White Christmas. I love how they turned out!

We found time for a nice walk in the snow:

And had our standard Markel Family snow day dinner!

The Fab Five had time to build two bags of their Lego Hogwarts Castle set today. Here’s a look at some of the detail:

After shoveling (something that I really enjoy doing!), we watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The older I get, the more I relate to Clark Griswold, which is a little bit scary!

This was one of the nicest days I’ve had, and I really enjoyed the chance to both slow down and get a lot of work done!

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!