Christmas Traditions

Last year, we made a somewhat tentative return to St. Charles, MO, for Christmas Traditions; this year, we returned in full force!

We made sure that we were there for the Santa Parade. Actually, we were there way earlier than we needed to be, but at least we got a good parking spot!

I truly believe Main Street in St. Charles in one of the prettiest streets in the entire St. Louis metro, and never more so than at Christmas!

We did a pretty good job of finding characters…I think we ended up with 26 of 33 cards. The important thing, though, is that we found both Jack Frost and the Master of Revels, our two favorites! We were impressed by how many characters they have added representing different world cultures…it gave us an opportunity to learn something new!

Jack Frost even gave Bunny a “Blue Crew” pin, which made her day!

I had to stop and take a picture with the Mistletoe Misses, because I looked like I could join their lovely, mid-century group in the outfit I was wearing!

And, as always, I took a photo of the Fab Five by the gazebo. Not in quite the same location as usual, because one of the singing groups was performing in it, but close enough:

Sometimes, I can’t believe just how long this has been a part of our Christmas traditions…it’s definitely one of the things I look forward to the most in December!

2022-23 School Year–Week Thirteen

This was a busy and fun (not to mention short!) school week! We had one day that was a field trip day (Tuesday) and one day off (today, for Veteran’s Day). But first…cooking! Ladybug helped me make another three recipes from Recipes from the World of Tolkien…Lembas Bread (spicy cornbread), Sam’s Coney Stew (but actually chicken thighs according to the suggested substitution in the cookbook), and apple and blackberry cake:

Chickadee also did some baking with me this week…we made “Canterlot Cornbread” from the My Little Pony Baking Book. It was some of the best cornbread I’ve ever had!

Our previously mentioned field trip was to Creve Coeur Park for our annual walk on the four-mile loop around the lake. We timed it so Turkey, Bunny, and Moose could come with us, and he had a great time!

We did get some school work done, too. In algebra 2, Ladybug learned how to identify discriminants. In chemistry, she learned about decomposition, formation, and combustion reactions, and did an experiment to break down water into its constituent parts using an electrolysis machine. She read about dynasties in Japan and China in history. She has almost finished the second part of The Scarlett Letter. She tried her hand at crime and horror writing in creative writing.

Chickadee had mostly a review week in math, covering many of the topics she’s worked with so far this year. In science, she learned about chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. She learned about early Greece and the Mycenaeans in history. We continued to read through Centerburg Tales. And we got to tag along with Bunny on a visit to the St. Louis Art Museum today!

Next week we have a full week of school, with some Thanksgiving fun thrown in, and then it will be Thanksgiving Week already!

A Spirited Journey Through Halloween History

Yesterday we went back to Legends and Lanterns in St. Charles, MO, for the first time since 2019!

It is always a good day when we visit St. Charles, and yesterday the weather was especially perfect! Some things were different from our last visit (we really kind of missed collecting a sticker or stamp of some sort from the characters to prove we had seen them), but most things were the same.

We were there just in time to see the Angry Villagers take to the streets to warn the gathering crowd of the monsters lurking on Main:

The cast of characters was excellent. We didn’t see them all (we never do), but we visited with most of our old favorites:

We don’t tend to take as many pictures with the characters at Legends and Lanterns as we do at Christmas Traditions, but we did get a few:

There were some very clever entries at Scarecrow Glen:

The storefront signs in St. Charles never disappoint:

I will never pass up an opportunity to take a picture of the Fab Five!

We missed out on Legends and Lanterns in 2020 because of the pandemic…last year, we simply couldn’t find time. I’m really glad we made time to visit this year, because it’s so much fun!

A Perfect Fall Afternoon at the Pumpkin Patch

On Friday afternoon, we went to pick out a pumpkin or two (or four!) at Braeutigum’s. It was the perfect day for it…cool, with big puffy clouds. We rode in the tractor pulled wagon to the pumpkin patch for the first time in several years:

There were many different varieties from which to choose:

We also saw the local wildlife:

Moose had the day off of school, and Turkey and Bunny are done with their college classes fairly early on Fridays, so they joined us:

When we got home, we enjoyed a snack of hot apple cider and fresh apple cider donuts:

Now it really feels like fall is here!

A Fall Sunday at Grant’s Farm

Yesterday we went to Grant’s Farm for our first normal visit since 2019. Yes, we did go on a Private Expedition last year, but we didn’t get to walk through the Tiergarten or see the Clydesdales then, so that was a very different outing. We found that things were somewhat different this time…I don’t know how much of that is due to changes implemented during the pandemic, and how much of it is because the ownership group has changed somewhat, but it wasn’t quite the same experience we had remembered. It was still a beautiful day to be outside, and it’s the closest I feel like I can get to Germany while staying close to home.

It’s always fun to see all of the animals!

And we were still able to take a picture at our favorite photo spot…I wonder how many pictures I’ve taken in this exact same location over the years?

I was also very excited to wear a dirndl to Grant’s Farm…after Oktoberfest, this is the one place I was most looking forward to showing off my German national dress!

Even thought things were a little different, it was still nice to go back and walk around after such a long time!

Summer School 2022

What can I say about this year’s summer school? One thing is for certain…I know I’ll never top it!

Yes, we had a reading list, and there were some amazing choices on there (Ladybug in particular really enjoyed many of the titles), but this summer was all about travel and experiences, including visits to Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. It was like four days of field trips on steroids, where we went on rides, built things, and even learned things! (And let’s not forgot the three days of field trip equivalents in Washington D.C., where we visited monuments and memorials and museums, toured the US Capitol, and walked the grounds of George Washington’s Mount Vernon! Plus the day at Kennedy Space Center after our Disney fun concluded!)

Back at home, we kept the Disney magic going with art projects:

And games:

And lots and lots of cooking! We had 12 “Disney Dinners” at home over the summer (plus the one we indulged in at The Hollywood Brown Derby), which let us sample copycat recipes from the theme parks and the Disney World resorts:

Ladybug and Bunny especially enjoyed baking and decorating some Mickey Mouse cookies:

It wouldn’t be summer school without a Lego build, and we found the perfect set to reflect our summer fun!

And we squeezed in a few craft projects, including an amazing pumpkin coach, a cupcake liner lei modeled by Stitch, and a string art Mickey Mouse head that left glitter everywhere!

We also watched a ton of Disney documentaries (thank you Disney+) and classic Disney movies, some we had seen before, and some that were new to us. I especially loved the mid-century documentaries from when the theme parks were just getting their start, but the more modern ones, that focused on attractions we saw at Disney World (and their California counterparts) were fascinating, especially after we had the experience of seeing them first-hand.

Like I said, there won’t ever be a summer school like this again, where we were able to blend fun and learning and so many experiences together, but I’m really glad we got to do it once in our lifetime!

Lavender

Last week we did something new…we went and picked lavender at Tenderloin Farms in Edwardsville, IL! (I know…you wouldn’t guess they grow lavender there based on their name, but it used to be a hog farm before The Stahlhut “Girls” started growing lavender.)

Like asparagus picking, I really had no idea how it works. It’s super easy, though…they give you a pair of (safety) scissors, and you cut the stems from the blooming plants, making sure to stay “in the green.” The field (and the store) smelled amazing!

We also learned a lot about how lavender likes to grow (warm temperatures and not too much water), and the various kinds (there are over 450 varieties, but of course, Tenderloin Farms doesn’t grow them all…they do have about 20, though, including a pink variety!).

We even learned how to make lavender lemonade…and got to sample some, too!

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer June day to be out…it wasn’t too hot, it was only partly sunny, and there were three kinds of lavender blooming…we picked some of each.

This was a really fun thing to try, and I love that we brought home an amazing-smelling souvenir…we’ve already made a few recipes with it (lemon-lavender shortbread and the previously mentioned lavender lemonade), and we’re looking forward to using the rest to make lavender wands!

Easter 2022

Time for a look back at another Markel Family Easter, which started, as it does every year, on Maundy Thursday:

On Friday, I made hot cross buns (again), but this year, I tried a new recipe:

The Good Friday service was, as always, lovely and moving:

On Saturday morning, while we watched Rick Steves’ European Easter, we made our Paschal Candle for the year…I think this may be the nicest job we’ve ever done!

While I did have work to do on Saturday to prepare for our Easter dinner, most of the day was really spent waiting until it was finally time for my favorite service of the church year, the Great Vigil of Easter:

After church, we stopped at Wendy’s for Frostys and fries:

We’re still getting used to the fact that we don’t have to get up for a sunrise Easter service, so we felt a little more leisurely about getting ready. We were still at church early enough to take pictures outside:

And some indoors, including our traditional by-the-baptismal-font Easter pictures:

The church looked especially beautiful!

Ladybug even got to acolyte:

And we got a nice family picture after the service:

When we got home, I made Easter breakfast, which included Kaiserschmarrn (the Kaiser’s torn pancakes) with Rhabarberkompott (rhubarb compote), hard-boiled eggs (this is really the first time we’ve ever dyed eggs…you’ll see why in a minute), and pomegranate juice:

While we watched Easter Parade and My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, I found time to play a little Animal Crossing: New Horizons so I could visit with Zipper T. Bunny. I also caught up with Roald, who was wearing an egg suit…I wonder if that’s what he looked like when he hatched?

I spent most of the rest of the day working on dinner and setting the table:

I chose an Italian theme for this year’s dinner. I served the same lamb in the slow cooker we had last year (technically Greek, but more generically Mediterranean, so close enough), lemon parmesan risotto, insalata caprese, roasted cauliflower, panzanella, breaded artichokes, capers, olives, Italian Easter bread, and lemon Italian soda.

I stuck with the Italian theme for dessert…we had cannoli and Italian sprinkle cookies:

This was an especially nice Easter. Maybe it’s because things felt more “normal” (I actually shook hands for the first time in over two years!), maybe it was because the church services were so meaningful, maybe it was because this may be the nicest Easter dinner I’ve ever made. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful we had such a wonderful celebration of Christ’s resurrection!

Wild Lights at the St. Louis Zoo

Would you believe that I, the Christmas Queen, had never been to Wild Lights at the St. Louis Zoo?

Well, almost never.

The first year Ryan and I lived down here (I think) we did visit, so that was almost 20 years ago. But we weren’t impressed, so we never felt like spending the money on tickets again. Maybe it was because we had a pretty recent memory of the lights at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and that is a display that’s hard to top. Or maybe it really was just that underwhelming. But after that first time, we never went back.

Until last night. I needed a little more Christmas, and from what I’d seen of pictures of the lights, it seemed to be pretty different, so we decided to buy tickets for the family before the event ends for the season on the 30th.

I have to say, it was nothing like the hazy memories of being disappointed two decades ago I had stored away in my mind. There were lots of cool displays throughout the zoo, fun Christmas music, and the smell of funnel cake in the air (even with masks on!)

One of my favorite things about the displays was that the ornaments and presents displayed with the various animals had those animals’ prints on them, and I thought that was really cool!

Of course there were plenty of opportunities to take family photos, too!

I’m really glad we decided to take a chance on this…I would definitely pay for tickets again in the future!

A More Normal Christmas

After what was a very strange and low-key Christmas last year, this year’s three-day Christmas celebration was closer to the normal we remember. We started the day on Christmas Eve by forgetting to eat the Christmas Crunch I had been saving specifically for that day. The Fab Five (specifically Turkey) finished building the Lego Millennium Falcon in the morning:

I found some time to play Animal Crossing and deliver gifts to all my neighbors:

We enjoyed Portillo’s for an early dinner before church:

And we got to go to church inside this Christmas Eve!

On the way home, we stopped to see the city of St. Louis Christmas tree and drove through the Way of Lights:

Of course I took pictures when we got home!

We lit the Advent wreath and had birthday cake:

And the Fab Five received their yearly gift of Christmas jammies…this year’s theme was gnomes!

I filled the stockings and made sure the tree and nativity scene were just right before I went to bed:

On Christmas Day morning we had our traditional Christmas coffee cake, plus the previously-forgotten Christmas Crunch:

We got to go to church on Christmas Day this year!

And I even had a chance to take a picture of the Fab Five without their masks before the service because we arrived so early and there was hardly anybody else there yet:

We opened presents after we got home:

And had the best meal of the year, the “pick out dinner.”

There were old favorites and a few new items:

I think the star of the meal, though, was the charcuterie board I put together, featuring salame roses:

Seriously, it’s the most delicious dinner ever!

And this morning, we were back at church, and again we had an opportunity to take a mask-free picture, this time of the whole family!

Tonight we had our fancy Christmas dinner, featuring beef Wellington:

It was also a delicious dinner (but not as good as the pick out dinner!).

For dessert I made both a gingerbread Yule log with sugared cranberries and a more traditional chocolate variety:

So this Christmas was still a little different, but more familiar than last year. I’m so grateful we had more opportunities for worship this year, and the ability to have family visit. Maybe next Christmas will be more normal still!