An Epic Birthday Celebration

No one can draw out a birthday celebration the way I can, but this year’s observance of my 40th birthday was epic even by my standards!

The party began over a week ago. Ryan was going to be out of town on my birthday (he left for the London the morning of the big day), so while we were in Bowling Green visiting his parents last week, we went out for an early birthday dinner:

We stopped to get my favorite strawberry-lemonade smoothie from White Castle on the way back to his parents house…I love that it’s available around my birthday every year!

When we got back, we settled in to watch the Blues play in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup championship. Spoiler: They won! During one of the intermissions, we enjoyed the birthday cake that Ryan’s mom made for me:

I started the morning of my actual birthday by playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, where my very favorite villager wished me a Happy Birthday!

The children were very excited to give me their present, which I was very excited to receive:

Ryan may have had to leave (I wore my Mary Blair planes print Harley dress in honor of his flight), but my mom was able to come down from the Chicago area to celebrate with me. We went out for dinner at the HofbrÀuhaus, where I enjoyed a great meal, danced like nobody was watching, and had “Happy Birthday” sung to me in German!

After dinner, we watched birthday episodes of some of our favorite TV shows: Malcolm in the Middle, That 70s Show, and Friends. We also listened to an episode of the Jack Benny radio show where he celebrated his “39th” birthday. For dessert, I ordered a Blizzard cake from Dairy Queen, because with all of our travels, there was just no time for anybody to bake a cake!

The continued celebration wrapped up today, with our family birthday party now that Ryan is back home. I got to watch a few of my favorite movies (White Christmas and A League of Their Own), and read some of my new book (The Other Boleyn Girl). I also wore the new dress Ryan bought me for my birthday…isn’t it pretty?

And we went to The Edge and played Skee Ball:

Since today was both National Smoothie Day and National Selfie Day, I stopped at Smoothie King for another strawberry lemon smoothie, and made sure to get a picture of it:

I build the Lego set the children gave me…how adorable is this Porg?!?

I made my favorite dinner tonight:

And Bunny and Ladybug really wanted to make me a cake, so we had a third birthday cake, complete with 39 candles in the shape of a question mark, just like on Jack Benny!

So my 40th birthday has been celebrated in grand fashion. I don’t really know what the big deal about turning 40 is, but I appreciate any excuse to have a party!

40 Of My Favorite Things

In honor of my “Second 39th Birthday,” I thought I’d put together a list of 40 of my favorite things. I’ve been working on it for months–adding to it, taking things away, rearranging, trying to figure out what deserves to be here. It’s like an epic Top Five list! Some are serious, some are things I seriously love, and some are whimsical. If you don’t know me very well, or even if you do, it’s a great snapshot of the things I love the best!

  • Family–If this list wasn’t limited to a set number, I’d list each member of my family individually. But I have a big family, so my list would disappear pretty fast if I did! So I will just say that I love my entire family dearly, and they are definitely the best part of my life.
  • Easter Vigil–Without question, the Great Vigil of Easter is my favorite church service of the year, even more than Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. The transition from darkness to light, the joyful moment the Lord’s resurrection is celebrated…it is, to me, as close to Heaven as I can get in this earthly life.
  • Albert–My black lab pound puppy, who is over three decades old himself, originally belonged to Ryan when he was a little boy. I’m not exaggerating when I say this one stuffed animal is my most precious material possession!
  • Animal Crossing–I’ve played this series of video games since the very first one (and every version since). They’re really the only video games I like to play and the only ones I’m really good at, probably because they’re fun and happy, and not stressful or even competitive, really. I can’t wait for Animal Crossing: New Horizons to come out next year!
  • Friends–I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched through the entire run of this show, but all these years later, it’s still one of my favorites, especially in November, when I always watch all of the Thanksgiving episodes.
  • Star Trek–I have my favorites within the Star Trek franchise (Deep Space Nine will always be number one, with Next Generation a close second), but I love it all…as long as it’s prior to the reboot. And to be honest, I’m still not sure about Nemesis. But I love the rest of it, even the Original Series, which may be completely hokey, but is fun to make fun of!
  • History–I have my favorite periods of time to study (medieval/Renaissance and mid-century are at the top of my list), but I love learning about the flow of history in general, and learning how past things influence people and events, and I especially love teaching it in school!
  • Lego–A toy that I played with as a child came back in a big way into my adult life when I had children of my own. And then came back in an even bigger way when I discovered that it’s ok to be an AFOL (adult fan of Lego)…I started building and displaying sets myself, and I love that it’s something that the whole family can share!
  • Chicago–The most beautiful city I have ever seen in person, Chicago will always be one of my favorites, and I’ve come to treasure our yearly (and occasionally more frequent) trips up north.
  • St. Louis–I originally didn’t really want to live in St. Louis permanently, but life has a funny way of making other plans, and now I can’t think of any place I’d rather be! This city, home of the 2019 Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues, has such an interesting history (which we learned about in great detail during the STL250 year) and culture, plus so many favorite spots that I can’t imagine not living near!
  • London–I may never have seen London in person (although I hope to fix that someday), but I love it, and when I do see it for myself, there’s a good chance it may take over Chicago’s space in my heart as the world’s most beautiful city!
  • Christmas–The day, the season, I love it all…I even finally visited the World’s Largest Christmas Store just last week! I love the preparation during the season of Advent, the twinkling lights on the tree, and selecting and wrapping gifts for loved ones, and planning special holiday meals, and listening to Christmas music, both sacred and secular, and everything else about that festive season, especially the celebrating of Jesus’ birth!
  • Capers–Yes, I will try a new recipe just because capers are an ingredient…but there’s a good chance I’ll at least triple the amount the recipe calls for! It’s become a family joke that I’m always on the lookout for capers (especially the giant ones Schnucks occasionally sells, or the even more giant ones in the salad bar at Texas de Brazil!).
  • My Wardrobe–Originally, I was going to say fashion, which I do appreciate. But what I love more than fashion in general is the wardrobe I’ve curated (yes, like art!), over the years, with pieces from all my vintage reproduction favorites: Pinup Girl Clothing, Splendette, and Erstwilder.
  • Giraffes–Everyone has a favorite animal, right? Giraffes are mine. They’re so tall and leggy, and you’d think they’d be totally awkward, but they have a grace and gentleness, and they’re so sweet!
  • Apollo 13–This has been my favorite movie for a long time, starring my favorite actor (Tom Hanks), and I watch it at least once every year, on New Year’s Eve.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden–It took us a long time to visit the Garden for the first time, but once we did, we were hooked, and we’ve had a membership ever since. It’s one of my favorite places to walk around, at any time of year, because it’s always beautiful!
  • Beast Craft BBQ–Originally, Seamus McDaniel’s, the home of the best burger in St. Louis was going to be on this list. Heck, not only did I create a family holiday for Seamus, I was even on the news once, to talk about how great they are! But then I looked back at my website, and at how many times I’ve reviewed different Beast specials over the 4+ years they’ve been in Belleville, and I realized that out of all of the local restaurants I’ve eaten at, they’re my very favorite!
  • Cooking/Baking…especially for family feasts and tea parties!–I love preparing special meals and treats for my family, and trying new things along the way.
  • Baseball–Obviously, the St. Louis Cardinals are my favorite. But I also just love the sport, so we’ve visited other major and minor league ballparks on our travels, seen Frontier League games, and even caught a few outings of vintage baseball!
  • Olympics–I have always said there’s no Olympic sport I won’t watch, whether it’s a winter or summer event. Sure, I have my favorites (gymnastics, figure skating, skeleton), but I just love the games, from the Opening to the Closing Ceremonies, and every last thing in between…I’ve literally watched it all, even more than one marathon in its entirety!
  • Books–I love books of all kinds…fiction, non-fiction, series, children’s books…and I really love how books have become the foundation of so many happy family memories (Harry Potter, anyone?)!
  • Royal Families–Originally, I was going to say “The Royal Family”…as in the British royals. But Ryan pointed out that my interest extends to all of the European royals (and even some royal families outside of The Continent)…I’m just fascinated by the workings of a royal family in general! (Although the Brits, and especially Queen Elizabeth II, will always be number one to me…)
  • “Six Tudor Queens” Series–It has been over a decade since I liked a book series so much that I anxiously looked forward to the next installment every year. Added bonus: I have also been introduced to more of Alison Weir’s books, including non-fiction titles, which is a major win!
  • Downton Abbey–Given that I love history and royal families, it should be no surprise that I love a period drama about the British nobility, and I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the movie later this year. We’ve even traveled to Nashville to see a special fashion of Downton Abbey exhibit, and if the big exhibit ever comes within driving distance of St. Louis, we’ll travel again!
  • Old Time Radio–I used to hide my love of Old Time Radio, because I thought it was something I should be embarrassed of. But I’ve learned to embrace it, and now I have no problem with anyone knowing I love listening to Jack Benny, Fibber McGee & Molly, Burns & Allen, and any number of other programs…and now the Fab Five love them, too!
  • Photography–I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, but in the last few years, I’ve really loved learning how to take better pictures. I hope I’m always continually improving and finding new ways to capture special people, places, and moments in a photo.
  • White Christmas–Yes, it’s my favorite Christmas movie, but let’s be honest…I can be convinced to watch it any time of year! I love the setting, the clothes, the music, the dancing, and did I mention the setting? Plus, Bing Crosby!
  • Mister Rogers–Who doesn’t love Mister Rogers, right? Just turning on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood has an immediately calming effect on me, and it makes me so happy that I’ve been able to share the show with my children!
  • Pheasant Run–This resort in the Chicagoland area was a place I often heard of growing up…but I never even saw it back then. Now, however, it’s become a very special place to our family, first as the home of Combo Breaker (which we’ve attended four times), and more recently, as a great Christmas getaway!
  • Rick Steves’ Europe–I frequently dream of going to Europe, and I hope that dream comes true someday. But until then, Rick Steves helps me feel like I’ve been there through his TV show.
  • Blogging–I’ve been blogging for over a decade now, and I love having the chance to share my views and experiences with whoever happens to be reading, as well as keep a record of all of the things we’ve been up to.
  • Bob Ross–Along with Mister Rogers and Rick Steves, Bob Ross is another PBS personality who has brought much joy to my life through his show. And his encouraging words even make me feel like I could actually paint a beautiful picture!
  • I Love Lucy–This show may have been the gateway to my love of all things retro, and it’s still my favorite black and white TV show. I’ve watched every episode more times than I can count, I never get sick of it, and it always, always makes me laugh!
  • Ticket to Ride–The Ticket to Ride series of board games is my favorite family of board games. Of course I have a favorite within the series (Nordic Countries, or as I like to call it, Ticket to Ride: Christmas Edition), but I love all the maps (and I can’t wait to play the new London map that’s scheduled for release this summer!), and it’s so much fun to “travel the world” while playing!
  • Food Network–I love watching the Food Network on cable TV when we travel, or on Hulu at home…I even love the Food Network magazine! I’ve gotten so many good ideas over the years, and now the children love watching with me, too!
  • Tiramisu–This is my very favorite dessert, and I love it in all its forms…traditional, cheesecake (my favorite thing to get at the Cheesecake Factory!), trifle, and the layer cake I make (often for my birthday). It’s so delicious!
  • Cabana Bay–The location of last year’s summer vacation didn’t make the original cut of this list, but Turkey pointed out that he had never seen me so happy as when we were there, and I willingly admit that it was literally like they looked inside my head when they designed it, so I had to bump the Rat Pack (who featured heavily on the resort’s speaker system) in favor of my favorite hotel ever!
  • Skee Ball–If an arcade has skee ball, it’s a winner in my book…but you may have a hard time getting me to leave!
  • Pineapples–My favorite fruit (I think I could sit down and eat an entire pineapple by myself!), and my favorite code word for trouble (from Chuck)!

Quote of the Day

This quote from “The One Where They All Turn 30” episode of Friends keeps running through my mind ahead of my birthday tomorrow!

“Happy birthday, Grandma. It’s better to be over the hill than buried under it.” Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green (reading a birthday card from Monica and Chandler) on Friends

Twelve!

Today is Ladybug’s 12th birthday!

We got an early start to the day, so she could open her presents before breakfast. She received a lot of new Lego: Avengers sets, which she was very excited about. She had, however, figured out what our gift to her was before she opened it, which was disappointing to me.

She planned out every detail of her day, which involved watching a lot of Avengers movies (including Iron Man and The Avengers), plus the Lego Movie 2. I was a big fan of the dinner she chose, because it’s also my favorite…Reuben casserole. And she picked a very chocolaty cake for dessert, filled with both dark and white chocolate mousse, and topped with a whipped chocolate ganache. I couldn’t resist adding trick candles!

I think it was a very fun birthday…I hope she had as good a time as I did!

Chickadee Thursday

Today is Ladybug’s 12th birthday, so of course Chickadee wanted to take a picture with her!

We had a very Avengers-and-Lego-themed day, which explains pretty much everything about this picture!

Seven!

This was the very rare year where Turkey’s and Chickadee’s birthdays fall in the same calendar week. Today was Chickadee’s turn…she is now seven!

We started the day early with present opening and cinnamon rolls. Chickadee was very excited not only to receive a new stuffed elephant, but also her first American Girl doll, and some clothes and accessories to go with her:

We spent the morning at the St. Louis Zoo, where we saw quite a few animals, including Chickadee’s favorite…the elephants:

We spent the afternoon watching Sailor Moon. After a dinner of Pizza Hut, we continued the day’s theme with an elephant-shaped birthday cake:

It’s hard for me to believe that my youngest child is seven. The years since Chickadee’s birth have gone by especially quickly, and I’m constantly surprised to realize what a big girl she is now!

SIXTEEN!!!

Today is Turkey’s SIXTEENTH birthday…I can’t even believe it!

He wanted to get up early and open his presents before Moose went to school:

He got a car for his birthday…a Lego car. It’s a huge set, and he’s been working on it for a good portion of the day, and it still isn’t done. It has a lot of cool features!!!

In addition to the car and a Lego Movie 2 set from his siblings, he also received some Lego gift cards, so we went to the mall this morning, and he picked up a set he’s wanted for a long time. That one didn’t take so long to build:

He decided he wanted a trifle for his birthday, which included a homemade chocolate mocha custard…I think he enjoyed it!

I can’t believe we have a sixteen-year-old in the house. I know I say that about every new age, but 16 is getting awfully close to legal adult status, which makes me feel a tiny bit old!

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!