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!

A Return to Christmas Traditions

After a hiatus last year due to COVID-19, yesterday we made a return to Christmas Traditions in historic St. Charles, MO!

The parade was a little different this year, including the fact that it ran the opposite direction down Main Street from what we were used to. This actually made it easier to photograph because I wasn’t pointing my camera into the sun, so that was really nice. And Santa liked my Christmas skirt!

Seeing the characters is always the best part, and we saw all of our favorites…in the end, we collected 21 of 35 cards, which is only ok, but the point is, we were there.

The very best moment for me was seeing Bunny see Jack Frost again. If we had accomplished nothing else yesterday, that would have made the trip worth it. And I think he was equally glad to see her!

My annual gazebo picture was a little different this year, but again, the point is, I took it:

Of all the things COVID took away from us last year, missing our favorite family Christmas event was one of the ones that hurt the most. Even if things weren’t exactly the same as they used to be, I was so glad to be back!

2021-22 School Year–Week Twelve

We started so many new things this week, it almost felt like a whole new school year!

Ladybug began a study of comparative denominations in religion…we started by reviewing what makes Lutherans different. She started a new chapter in biology…now she’s learning about cellular energy. We also began reading Beowulf.

Chickadee also started a new chapter in science…she’s learning about primeval reptiles. We began one of my favorite literature studies…D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. We also finished the time of the judges in her overview of the Bible.

We took our annual fall walk around Creve Coeur Lake this week, too. It’s a little later than we usually go, but we waited until a day everyone had off school, so all of the children could come with us!

Up next…Thanksgiving School!

Reformation Day/Halloween 2021

Today was the rare occasion where Reformation Day/Halloween actually falls on a Sunday. We started the day at church, where we enjoyed some especially amazing music featuring hymns written by Martin Luther:

We went for a short walk in Forest Park after the service, where we enjoyed the beautiful fall colors (in spite of the wind):

I was so excited to pick up a box of Monster Mash cereal for the Fab Five for breakfast!

This afternoon, we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time, as well as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. For dinner, I made potato-parsnip soup, cheese and jam turnovers, and butterbeer…it was the perfect meal for today!

Dessert was the Jell-O Halloween Special, as advertised by Harlow Wilcox in the 1940s…”Looks like a dish of sunshine all dressed up, doesn’t it?”

I chose my costume in Animal Crossing: New Horizons with great care…I’m a hot dog!

I tracked down the Czar of Halloween right away.

I think my neighbors enjoyed the festivities, too!

This was a busier Halloween than most for us, and it was a very fun day!

First Day of School 2021

Just like that, our 14th year of homeschooling has begun!

Ironically, while the roster of my homeschool has changed dramatically, with Turkey and Bunny starting college next week, and Moose returning to in-person learning later this week after almost 18 months of distance learning here at home, the school room looks pretty much the same as it did last year…this may be the least it has ever changed between school years!

It is pretty strange having only two students, though!

The number of students may have changed, but our traditions didn’t:

And we did have a few guests, which made things feel a little more normal:

I wanted to make our first day of school extra special, so we made lemon-poppyseed waffles and lemon-blueberry sauce for lunch:

And of course we built a Lego set…this time, the Taj Mahal:

Our “Farewell to Summer” dinner had a local theme, so I decided to also go with a theme for our “First Day of School” dinner…Chicago-style hot dogs and Portillo’s chocolate cake for a Windy City theme!

It was a very different first day of school in some ways, but there were also familiar moments, and it was nice to get started while everyone was still at home before they go their separate ways!