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!

Summer School 2021

It seemed like the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics would never get here, and now they’ve already come and gone. Here’s a look back at our Japan-themed summer school.

We visited Origami in the Garden at the Missouri Botanical several times over the summer. The large-scale art installation was the perfect field trip to coincide with Tokyo 2020 (and was also postponed from last summer).

We also visited the Olympic Spectacular in St. Louis at Francis Field, home of the 1904 Summer Games:

I made a few fun treats for the Olympics…Olympics torches (white chocolate covered pretzels) and Team USA CHEERios treats.

We did a lot of cooking and tried a lot of Japanese foods. I worked really hard to find things we hadn’t had before, and used a variety of cooking methods and unfamiliar ingredients. We tried:

  • Spicy Ramen/Udon
  • Pork Gyoza
  • Coffee Jelly
  • Okonomiyaki
  • Matcha Mochi Cake
  • Vegetable Tempura
  • Potato Korokke
  • Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake
  • Kani Cream Korokke
  • Chicken Katsu Sandwich
  • Matcha Green Tea Cookies
  • Oyakodon

We were supposed to go out to a Japanese restaurant this summer, but COVID-19, so we got a party platter of sushi instead:

I’ve been holding on to the Lego Architecture Tokyo skyline since last year, and we finally got to build it!

Our American Girl dolls got into the Olympic spirit:

In between watching as much of the Olympics as we could, we also did some more traditional school work. We learned about Japanese history and culture, as well as the history of the Olympics. We read a lot of books…some I read out loud, and some were book basket choices. We also watched a selection of Olympic documentaries:

  • FirstLondon 2012
  • The Everlasting FlameBeijing 2008
  • Atlanta’s Olympic GloryAtlanta 1996
  • 16 Days of GloryLos Angeles 1984
  • Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory
  • Seoul 1988

And we also did several crafts, including origami, paper lanterns, Koinobori (Japanese carp windsocks), pipe cleaner and tissue paper cherry blossom branches, and medals (of course!):

I’ve been holding on to Ticket to Ride: Japan since last year, and we finally had a chance to play! I really enjoyed the new game mechanics introduced in this edition, and it was fun to get to know the geography of the area a little bit better.

We updated our medal chart every evening…here’s a look at the final results…we were very excited that the US won the gold medal race and had the most medals overall!

And, better late than never, our Family Olympics, which was delayed due to heat. We only had four events this year (frisbee throw, broad jump, soccer kicks, and a running race), thanks to time constraints and a lack of basketball hoops on the backboards we normally use. Technically, Turkey came in first, but since we participate as a family, we all won gold!

This summer school was a long time coming. I think we all still have mixed feelings about the fact that the Olympics were held at this time, but we had to just accept that that was out of our control, and embrace the Olympics as we usually do. It’s always hard to say goodbye when they extinguish the flame, but the Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and we only have to wait three more years for Paris 2024!

Road Trip Wrap-Up in the Time of COVID-19

Our travels this summer might not yet be back to what they were in pre-COVID times, but we did actually go somewhere this year! Since we weren’t quite as busy as we have been on previous vacations, I’m just going to take a look at the whole trip instead of going day-by-day.

On Monday, we left for a short trip to Bowling Green, KY. Any visit to Bowling Green includes a meal from Zaxby’s. Fortunately, we have always done carryout, so that wasn’t even any different from our usual dinner.

On Tuesday morning, we drove into Nashville to visit Cheekwood Estate and Gardens and see the Nature Pop! Lego exhibition by Sean Kenney. Both the sculptures and the estate were breathtaking!

We also drove down to the Cumberland riverfront to get a look at the Nashville skyline.

We were going to get lunch at Hattie B’s, one of the locations in Nashville known for hot chicken, but the line was unbelievably long, so we went to Chaney’s Dairy Barn and had ice cream for lunch instead!

Our day ended with a beautiful double rainbow!

On Wednesday, Bunny and I went with her grandparents to tour Western Kentucky University, where she is planning on attending after she finishes at community college:

And on Thursday, we visited the Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green, where we saw not only an authorized replica of Marine One, but also an aircraft flown by every astronaut who walked on the moon!

We also had an early birthday celebration for Bunny that night:

We were up early on Friday morning to head home, but we did stop for donuts at the Donut Bank on the way:

It was a little challenging coming up with fun things to do outside in the summer heat, (I wanted to go to a Bowling Green Hot Rods game, but between the temperatures and the fact that I’m still a little hesitant to be in a big crowd, even outdoors, made me table that for the time being), but we found something to do every day, and it was so nice to get away for a bit!