Ready for the First Day of School!

The summer went by way too quickly, and it’s already time for the first day of the 2019-2020 school year! Yesterday was spent doing a few last fun things before we get back to work…playing board games, baking cookies, building a Lego set, and having an Iron Man movies marathon:

Today, on the other hand, was “cleaning day.” We got the school ready (more or less) for another year of learning. Surprisingly, not too much has changed in the last year, just some minor rearranging, which is very unusual for us!

We had a “Farewell to Summer” dinner tonight…ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, watermelon, and root beer floats for dessert. We also watched Detective Pikachu, which was a really cute movie, even for someone like me, who isn’t too familiar with Pokemon.

And the outfits are ready for tomorrow morning!

Everything else that needs to be ready for tomorrow is good to go…I put the schultüte together (but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see their contents), organized the bookshelves, and got all the new workbooks sorted out and put on desks. I’m looking forward to beginning our 12th year of homeschooling!

Tasty Tuesday–Cooking Our Way Through Europe

I promised a closer look at the foods we tried making at home for our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school. This was probably the most specialized cooking we’ve ever done for a school unit, and not only did we get to try a lot of new things (plus a few old favorites), we also learned some new cooking techniques and got to use some new kitchen tools!

Our first European meal featured French dishes. We started with a cheese course, the star of which was a famous French cheese, camembert:

We enjoyed boeuf bourguignon and French bread for dinner, and Crème Brûlée for dessert. The main course was delicious, but took a lot of time and effort to make. The dessert, which I assumed would be a challenge, was super easy, and possibly the most delicious thing I made this summer!

For our (European) Christmas in July, we tried two recipes from the Rick Steves’ European Christmas book: Gimmelwald fondue and Norwegian Julekake. Both were excellent, and not too much trouble to make.

I looked forward to making a Spanish dinner of paella all summer, and it was delicious, and quite spicy! The dessert of flan was good, but a total pain to make.

Ladybug begged me to make chicken paprikash for Hungarian night, and it was also delicious. I really liked that instead of using sour cream like I expected, the recipe called for heavy cream plus white wine vinegar. For a side dish, I made nokedli (pretty much just our standard spaetzle). For dessert, I made a chocolate cake called Rigó Jancsi, and it was amazing…the star of the recipe was the chocolate mousse filling.

Our British dinner was a simple (but tasty!) one of bangers and mash, plus a lemon-berry trifle for dessert.

For our “Taste of Italy” I made mushroom risotto for dinner, and Panna Cotta with fresh berries for dessert. The Panna Cotta was sweetened (and flavored) with honey, which was a pleasant surprise.

We almost didn’t have a German meal, but while watching our very last episode of Rick Steves’ Europe for the summer, we saw him eating Black Forest cherry torte, and the children reminded me how much they like it when I make that dessert, so I decided to go full German and make rouladen, spaetzle, and sauerkraut, too.

Our final meal took us away from Europe and into the Middle East, because there are a few episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe that also step into that region. We tried Shakshouka (made with a new-to-us ingredient, harissa paste), plus pita bread and pomegranate juice, and it was also delicious!

The vast majority of these recipes were new to us, and there was nothing that was a total flop (although the flan was temperamental, it came close!). Some things were more work than I would do on a regular basis (the boeuf bourguignon and the rouladen), but some were easier than I was expecting (the Crème Brûlée and Shakshouka). I know for sure that we’ll be making many of these recipes again in the future!

Remembering Apollo 11, 50 Years Later

Who else is partying like it’s 1969?!? The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has me in a festive, mid-century mood!

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that our big Apollo 11 anniversary party was last Saturday, because I knew that the majority of our family wouldn’t be home today. So I started on my preparations extra early:

I found a lot of cool stuff, both around the house (it’s not like we’ve never studied space before!) and at the store. These Moon Landing Oreos were a huge hit!

I planned our party in several parts. I decided to really achieve the proper 1960s atmosphere, we should have a “cocktail hour.” I tried to come up with period appropriate appetizers, which wasn’t too hard. The menu included deviled eggs, cocktail meatballs in grape jelly, “California dip” (you know, the classic Lipton’s onion soup dip), shrimp cocktail, olives, cheese, and Chex mix (a relative of the especially appropriate nuts and bolts snack mix that I have only the vaguest memories of). For our “cocktail” I made Shirley Temples, complete with swizzle sticks!

We spent the day watching both documentaries and movies related to the Apollo program. We also built Lego’s new Lunar Lander, which was a really fun project, and looks great (if not to scale) with our Lego Saturn V rocket!

I tried to go with a 1960s dinner, as well, which was a little more challenging. After considering my options, I decided on Chicken Kiev for the main course. We also had mashed potatoes, cauliflower topped with Cheez Whiz and browned Ritz crackers (a holiday staple from my childhood!), and orange Jell-O (there had to be Jell-O, and since I was feeling nice, I didn’t even make a weird flavor with vegetables!). We also had the astronauts’ drink of champions (Tang) and Schlafly’s Lunar Lagers for the adults. The meal was a hit. Well, except for the cauliflower, which I’m pretty sure only I liked!

For dessert, we had cake (pineapple upside down, another mid-century classic) and (astronaut) ice cream.

If you know me, you know I even had the perfect outfit to wear, from my moon earrings to my space skirt, and even a cool brooch!

And a few treats for today, the actual anniversary, for those of us at home…Moon Pies (of course), and Moonsicle soda made by a local bottling company, Excel, to commemorate the anniversary of the moon landing:

I’m not sure I’ve had this much fun with a special theme since The Great American Eclipse…I wonder what event we’ll celebrate next?

A Markel Family Easter, 2019 Edition

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

It may be hard to believe, because this year, it seemed like Lent lasted an eternity, but it’s time for another Markel Family Easter celebration! As always, it was a four-day affair, beginning with the Divine Service on Holy Thursday, where we got to hear Moose and Ladybug’s choir sing.

On Friday, we had the opportunity to experience a worship service that was new to (most) of us…the Good Friday Tre Ore service, which was a circuit event hosted at a church in south St. Louis, where once again, Moose and Ladybug’s choir sang…and this time, Bunny also joined in. We stayed for one of the three hours, and we really enjoyed the solemnity of the segments of the service we participated in.

We spent our Good Friday afternoon walking around the Missouri Botanical Garden and Forest Park. It was a blustery, but beautiful, day:

In the evening, Ryan, Turkey, and Bunny sang with the adult choir for the Good Friday Chief Service.

Holy Saturday is always a busy day. There was cooking, rehearsing at church for the Easter Sunrise Service, cooking, and the making of the family Paschal Candle:

Of course, the highlight of Holy Saturday is my favorite church service of the entire year, The Great Vigil of Easter!

After the vigil, we always stop at McDonald’s to get hot fudge sundaes for the Fab Five:

We never get enough sleep on Holy Saturday night, but the promise of Pop-Tarts before the Sunrise Service helps get the children out of bed.

This year, since Easter was so late, the sunrise was a little farther along than we’re used to!

Bunny, Moose, and Ladybug got to dress up and help with the outdoor reenactment before church:

Our sanctuary always looks especially beautiful for Easter!

After the first service, we enjoyed Easter breakfast in the church basement…I love the biscuits and gravy!

Of course I had to take pictures after breakfast:

I also had Ryan take a picture of me, because I love this year’s Easter outfit!

Did I mention I like to take pictures?




We had the privilege of serving on Altar Guild for the Divine Service:

And Moose and Ladybug got to acolyte, and all four of “The Bigs” participated in the processional:


Following an afternoon of watching movies, we had a nice Easter dinner. I made sure that the table looked extra pretty, since I failed in that department at Christmas.

Our rosemary-themed feast included leg of lamb (marinated in garlic and rosemary), rosemary smashed potatoes, sautéed asparagus, roast carrots and Brussels sprouts, rosemary dinner rolls with rosemary-garlic butter, and cherry Jell-O “salad.” We also had multiple options for both sparkling grape juice and wine, since I couldn’t decide what I wanted to serve.

I think this might be the best Easter dinner I’ve ever made!

For dessert, we had lemon cheesecake with a lemon-rosemary shortbread crust, and it was delicious!

After dinner, we watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my favorite fun Easter traditions!

I love the way we celebrate Easter…it’s a been a busy, exhausting four days, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

St. Patrick’s Eve

Sometimes, you just have to celebrate a holiday on an alternate day. St. Patrick’s Day is one of those days for us this year, so today, we had a St. Patrick’s Eve celebration!

We started with our traditional breakfast of Lucky Charms…but this time, they were Lucky Charms with Frosted Flakes! They were very popular. We also checked our Leprechaun trap, and discovered that, as always, it was empty. There were some delicious mints for a consolation prize, though!

We had a couple of special treats with lunch…Irish cheddar, and St. Patrick’s Day Cakes:

And our traditional St. Paddy’s dinner…well, mostly traditional. Instead of the roasted potatoes I usually make to go with the corned beef and cabbage, carrots, and soda bread, I made mashed potatoes and colcannon:


And our favorite Guinness cake for dessert!

It was a little weird celebrating a day early, but any family feast is a fun occasion, no matter when it takes place!

Valentine’s Day Dinner

Some years, I make something fancy for Valentine’s Day, and some years, I make something fun. Whatever I choose, though, I try to make something special. This year, I decided to go with a sandwich bar similar to the one we had on New Year’s Eve, because it was such a hit:

I also made a Piña Colada cheesecake for dessert:

Valentine’s Day may not be a big deal around here the way some holidays are, but I still like to do a little something for my family to show them I love them!

And, I will leave you with this…a Valentine’s Day poem, written by Bunny:

“Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Spock wore yellow,
In pilot number two.”

New Year’s Eve 2018

Here we are at another New Year’s Eve. Not my favorite holiday (especially not just a week after Christmas, which is very much my favorite!), but I’m always looking for ways to make it special for my family. This year, I decided on a build-your-own-sandwich bar for dinner, which was a huge hit with the children. We had our favorite brioche buns, three types of meat (turkey, ham, and roast beef), four cheeses (cheddar, American, Muenster, and provolone), lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, plus the usual condiments.

Tonight we went to New Year’s Eve church (which is actually the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus) for the first time. To be honest, if we hadn’t been serving on Altar Guild, we probably wouldn’t have gone this year, but it was nice to have a reason to get us out of the house and into the pew.

Back home, we enjoyed our annual New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar while we watched Apollo 13. These are our two firm New Year’s Eve traditions, and the best thing about the day!

As usual, Ryan and I had our toast to the New Year well before midnight, because who knows if I’m going to be able to stay up that late?

So that’s another Markel Family New Year’s celebration. I’m making a nicer meal for New Year’s Day tomorrow, but nothing spectacular. Mostly, I’m just thankful for the blessings 2018 brought to us, and looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store!

A Markel Family Christmas–2018 Edition

This whole Christmas season has been a bit more challenging than usual, because of my injured ankle. My CAM boot came off exactly a week before Christmas, and I was determined to have our usual, festive, three-day Christmas event, while relearning how to walk normally, starting with our favorite Christmas Eve breakfast of Christmas Crunch:

As we have for the last few years, we had our “pick out dinner” for lunch, before heading into the city for church. This year, we had our standard crackers and various cheeses, summer sausage, buffalo Chex mix, and jalapeño popper and rotel dips (with festive red and green tortilla chips!). We also enjoyed deviled eggs, shrimp, pizza bagels, mozzarella sticks, sausage squares, cranberry brie bites (a new recipe that was so good!), and cheese squares.

We then went to church, where “The Bigs” and Ryan were singing in the Christmas Eve service. I was very happy to wear only an ankle brace on my left leg with my standard Christmas Eve dress!

There’s always one piece of music that really stands out to me…this year, it was “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt”:

I took a picture of the Fab Five after church…in the church basement, where the service was held because the sanctuary is undergoing extensive renovations!

On the way home, we drove through the Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows:

At home, I took more pictures, of course:

For the first time ever, the children received completely matching Christmas jammies, and they even were in keeping with this year’s Harry Potter theme:

And then time for Jesus’ birthday cake. Doesn’t it look pretty? It’s a good thing I took this picture the day before, right after I finished decorating it, because apparently there’s too much humidity in our refrigerator for the cookie icing to set up properly, and it ran everywhere. I’m told the cake still tasted good, though…I, however, was too upset to try it.

I kind of had a meltdown at that point. I was so tired, and my ankle was bothering me, and I was just done for the day. Oh, and did I mention that at that point, we were on day four with no hot water, as we were waiting on a part and a repair on our water heater? Just done. So Ryan and I didn’t play Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries like we usually do on Christmas Eve, and we didn’t watch the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker. I did get the stockings filled and the tree prepared before I went to bed, though:

Things looked better in the morning (even though I didn’t sleep much because my ankle was still bothering me). We had fun opening stockings (although the boys continued to elude me in my early-morning photography):

And enjoyed our Christmas Day coffee cake:

I have really enjoyed wearing this Pinup Girl Clothing dress all throughout the season, and I was especially excited to wear it on Christmas Day without the CAM boot as an accessory!

We then drove back into the city for the Christmas Day Divine Service, where Ryan, Turkey, Bunny, and Ladybug were singing in the choir:

Another picture in the basement, this time of the whole family:

After lunch, we opened presents. Bunny found the pickle ornament on the tree this year, so she got to hand out the gifts.

The rest of the day was spent snacking, relaxing, and preparing for the big Christmas feast, which we had yesterday. The star of the meal was a smoked ham from Beast Craft BBQ. We also had mashed potatoes and gravy, roast carrots, butternut squash gratin, croissants, and our favorite cherry Jell-O “salad.” You may notice a lack of festive table photos…that’s because I didn’t use the china (other than serving pieces) or set the table with our linens. My ankle might be healed, but I’m still kind of slow and still tire easily after being on my feet all day, so that was something I let go of this time.

I made a trio of Christmas desserts…an apple-cranberry bread pudding, a gingerbread-eggnog trifle, and a Buche de Noel. They were all delicious…I especially liked the bread pudding, which was a new recipe.

So that was Christmas 2018. More things went wrong than I would have liked, but most things went right. What really matters, though, is that we were all together, and we had plenty of opportunities to celebrate our Savior’s birth!

A Markel Family Santa Lucia Day

Santa Lucia Day is one of my favorite holidays! I love planning and preparing, especially when it comes to making the Lussekattes and setting up the night before:

The girls all still love dressing up, and while it may not be traditional, they all dress as Santa Lucia. This was the fifth year using the crowns I made for them!

We even had a Swedish dinner! I’m so glad St. Louis has an IKEA now, because it made planning our meal so much easier. We had Swedish meatballs with gravy, egg noodles, lingonberry juice, and for dessert, Swedish sandwich cookies, plus Dala Horse and Sour Viking candies:

We also read our favorite Santa Lucia stories today. It’s such a lovely holiday in the lead-up to Christmas, and one I look forward to all year long!

A Markel Family Thanksgiving, Broken Ankle Edition

Normally, Thanksgiving in our house is a three-day affair, beginning on Wednesday (pie day) and culminating the day after. Because of my broken ankle, this year Thanksgiving had to be a four-day holiday. I started by baking four pies (S’mores, Nutella, pecan, and pumpkin), on Tuesday, (and we had a regular school day, too!), in addition to making the cranberry sauce and chopping the vegetables for the stuffing and the turkey soup. I knew there was no way I could do all of that, plus the other five pies and stuffing prep on Wednesday, and I’m glad I planned it that way, because even just that was a lot of work on my booted leg!

On Wednesday, the other five pies were prepared (banana cream, caramel apple made by Bunny, strawberry, cranberry apple, and butterscotch), plus the stuffing was finished and ready to go in the slow cooker Thursday morning. We also read all of our favorite Thanksgiving stories (it was the least I could do to make up for the lack of our regularly scheduled Thanksgiving school) and made hand and footprint turkeys. This was an exhausting day!

I do have to admit, all the pies did look really nice!

Of course, Thursday was the Big Day. There was more work, including giving the turkey a bath in the sink and prepping the rest of the menu. We also watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the National Dog Show, which are Thanksgiving highlights for me. I also love setting a nice table for a holiday!

In case you’re wondering, my motivation for doing all of this even with a broken ankle was the Fab Five. I have been aware that “the days are long, but the years are short” since the very beginning, and that’s becoming even more real now that we’re getting closer to the time when the children will all start scattering as they reach adulthood.

We had our usual Thanksgiving feast…roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, carrots, Brussel sprouts, green beans with almonds, cranberry sauce, and rolls with butter:

Red and white wine, and red and white sparkling grape juice accompanied our meal:

It was a delicious feast!

And then, after much clean-up, the annual watching of Holiday Inn, and the boiling of the carcass for turkey soup, it was pie time!

I went with my favorite, cranberry apple, plus the Thanksgiving standard of pumpkin pie with whipped cream:

The celebration continued this morning with our traditional day after Thanksgiving breakfast of pie:

And then, something new this year! Moose got to march in the town parade with his school’s band. We’ve never attended before, and despite the wind, it was a lot of fun!

This year, our annual day after Thanksgiving Lego build didn’t feature a Winter Village set. Instead, I carried the year’s Harry Potter theme through to Thanksgiving, and we built the Whomping Willow set, plus a free-with-purchase Diagon Alley set.

And then turkey soup for dinner!

And more pie for dessert…this time, I went with the chocolate-based pies…S’mores and Nutella.

And that’s the end of another Thanksgiving in the Markel house. We didn’t go to downtown Belleville following our turkey soup dinner this year, partly because we don’t enjoy the tree-lighting as much without the community sing they used to have, and partly because rain postponed some of the other activities. But almost everything else went according to our normal Thanksgiving traditions, even if the timing of some them were altered a bit…but there was no way I was going to allow a broken ankle to ruin our holiday!