2021 in Review

We started the year off cautiously optimistic that things would be better than 2020…I guess it’s up to the individual to decide how much truth there is to that! I do know that over the course of the last 12 months, our entire family has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and some of us have also been able to get booster shots, and for that I am extremely grateful. There were, of course, ups and downs to 2021…here’s a look back at some of our moments.

In January, we rang in the new year in our traditional way. Ryan celebrated his birthday on a day when it felt like the world was falling apart. We enjoyed a nice Burns Night Supper. We finally had enough snow to play in. Bunny gave me a haircut in our kitchen salon. I began a second attempt at photographing the Ottoman Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden every month.

February is never my favorite month of the year, and this year was no exception, but I was very excited about the ColourPop Animal Crossing collaboration. I finally made pączki from scratch, after threatening to do so for I don’t even know how many years. Ryan was the first member of the family to get a COVID-19 vaccine…he went to a mass vaccination site that was held not too far from our home. We had a nice celebration in honor of George Washington’s Birthday.

March is always a fun, busy month, and that was true this year more than most. We did start of the year on a serious note, as we reflected on a full year of COVID-19’s influence on our lives. We had a fun time celebrating MAR10 Day and then Pi Day. Ryan received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and we all breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge that one member of the family was fully vaccinated. We were all excited to hear from Lucky the Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day. Turkey turned 18, and I still can’t believe it! I celebrated one year of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Chickadee turned nine! She was also confirmed at our new church in a very quiet, private service, which was just another strange thing COVID-19 has brought us.

We started April strong with a fantastic Easter celebration, especially after our subdued Easter-at-home in 2020. Turkey, Bunny, and I went to a vaccine clinic at our local hospital and received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and celebrated with smoothies from Smoothie King afterward. We visited Origami in the Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden for the first time.

In May, Turkey, Bunny, and I were back at the vaccine clinic to receive the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Moose and Ladybug got their first doses at Walgreens. We celebrated “May the Fourth” and the “Revenge of the Fifth.” Ladybug turned 14 on Mother’s Day. We took a very special field trip to Grant’s Farm. Ryan and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Ladybug finished 8th grade. After 13 years of homeschooling grades K-12, Turkey and Bunny graduated from high school (and I’m not sure I’ve recovered yet!)! We bought a new double oven, which makes our endless cookie baking much easier!

We started preparing for Tokyo 2020 in June with a summer school that was, like the Olympics themselves, delayed a year. Moose and Ladybug received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. We visited Origami After Hours at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I shared a tour of my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island (I’ve made quite a few changes since then). I had a very nice birthday. Chickadee got braces! We saw the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

In July, I continued my Animal Crossing: New Horizons tours with a peek inside my home, a look at my neighbors’ homes, and a visit to the museum. I also took a look at one of my neighbor’s obsession with the native fruit. We actually took a trip and visited Bowling Green, KY! We also stopped in Nashville to see the Nature Pop! Lego exhibit. Bunny turned 17…the second Golden Birthday of the year! We visited Francis Olympic Field and the Olympic Spectacular in St. Louis. The Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremonies were finally held, and I made a Japanese dinner to celebrate.

August was a Big Month. Moose attended band camp for the first time…all day, five days a week for two weeks, and he loved it! We watched as much of the Olympics as we could…there were a lot of great moments! Turkey and I finally visited the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. We began a new school year, and I found myself with only two students in my classroom for the first time in years, with Ladybug in ninth grade, and Chickadee in fourth. Moose started his second year of high school, but his first year in-person, and he loved that, too, especially all of his band performances and competitions! Turkey and Bunny started college (spoilers: they both earned straight As in their first semester!). I abandoned my photography project of the Ottoman Garden for the second year in a row, but for very different reasons. We visited a beautiful sunflower field!

September was a quiet month. We did a lot of cooking in school, trying recipes from around the world, and from the Little Women Cookbook. We also took a field trip to Forest Park and visited the St. Louis Zoo. We had our annual family Oktoberfest celebration.

In October we went pumpkin picking, and we were even able to go on a day when everybody could come along. We finished cooking our way through the Little Women Cookbook. I had fun celebrating Erstwilder’s 10th birthday. We had a nice Reformation Day/Halloween.

We started November with a fun “Outdoors Week” in school. Bunny and I were very excited about the update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons! Moose turned 16! I wear dirndls now. We went to Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Chickadee finally got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Walgreens…and then a few weeks later, got the second, as well! We visited Creve Coeur Lake. We had fun doing all of our traditional Thanksgiving activities in school. I learned something really interesting in church. Pie Day involved making nine pies this year! Our three-day Thanksgiving celebration was very nice, especially because this year, we could have visitors. We started our new Advent Lego project.

That brings us to December, one of the best months of the year. Bunny participated in a speech contest at college and placed third in the persuasive category. We made our triumphant return to Christmas Traditions. Speaking of traditions, we may have come up with a new family tradition for St. Nicholas Day. We had fun celebrating Santa Lucia Day. Christmas School was a lot of fun! We got to hear Moose play in a band concert for the first time in two years. I’m really into gnomes right now…no, seriously! We finished building the Lego Millennium Falcon, but we’ve yet to figure out where it’s going to go…it’s an enormous set! We had a very nice three-day Christmas that included lots of church and visiting with family. I wasn’t ready for Christmas to be over, so we visited the Wild Lights at the St. Louis Zoo for the first time.

I think it’s safe to say that for us, at least, this year really was better than the last. I know that wasn’t true for everybody, so my hope for 2022, whatever is may bring, is that more people are able find joy and things to celebrate in the midst of whatever chaos we’re still living in!

Tasty Tuesday–A Look Back at Festive Feasts and Holiday Baking

I often take a look back at the holiday baking I did from Thanksgiving through Epiphany; this year, I thought it would be fun to look back at all of the holiday meals and treats we’ve enjoyed, starting with Thanksgiving dinner:

We had our pick out dinner on Christmas Day this time:

And our fancy Christmas dinner on the Sunday after Christmas:

Of course we had our traditional New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar:

And a special New Year’s Day dinner to start the new year right:

And finally, our Ryan’s Birthday/Epiphany feast:

On to the baking. There were pies for Thanksgiving:

And several cakes throughout the season, for St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia Day, Jesus’ Birthday, the fancy Christmas dinner, and New Year’s Day:

We baked so many Christmas cookies!

And an obligatory “other” section, for things like lussekattes, coffee cake, and even some special holiday beverages:

I put in a little extra effort this year, to make up for the fact that we couldn’t go anywhere or do most of our normal Christmas activities. In the end, I think we’ll have a lot of delicious memories from this holiday season!

Celebrating the New Year in the Time of COVID-19

How in the world do you say goodbye (or perhaps good riddance), to a year like 2020 and then immediately move into celebrating what we all hope will be a better, brighter future?

In our case, we did what we usually do on New Year’s Eve and Day…stay home. I made stromboli, one of our favorite dinners, for New Year’s Eve:

And we had our traditional hot chocolate bar while watching Apollo 13. It wasn’t as fancy as it has been in the past (finding all of the things I usually include was too difficult due to COVID-19), but all things considered, I think I did a pretty good job of putting it together!

Most of the rest of the evening was spent playing Animal Crossing New Horizons and waiting for the final countdown, if you will, while we watched Ocean’s 11.

Roald had some wisdom to share:

Aurora and Wade echoed my thoughts on the year, too:

After staying up far too late trying to place an order on Lego’s website (I finally had success at 1:30 a.m.!), I was up fairly early this morning, and got to see the ice on the trees before it melted:

Sprinkle must not have gotten enough sleep, either, because she was in desperate search of coffee:

I think Ursula summed up my feelings on the new year pretty well:

A new year deserves a fancy dinner. I went with cool colors for the table this time:

I kind of took the easy way out with dinner…I just made pork tenderloin for the main course, which isn’t difficult to make and doesn’t even take much time, but feels fancy. I also made roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, breaded artichokes, and rolls. We even had spiced apple rings, which are a favorite of mine!

It was a really delicious dinner!

After watching Happy New Year, Charlie Brown!, we had dessert, a hot chocolate cake. I won’t lie, I used a mix, and canned frosting. But I still tried to make it look fancy:

I’ll leave you with a gently misquoted toast to the New Year by Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H:

“Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all leave home before she’s over.”

Happy New Year!

Quote of the Day

This is entirely too relatable.

“Nineteen-fourteen has gone. Its sun, which rose fairly, has set in blood. What will nineteen-fifteen bring?” Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

2020 in Review

“It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.”

All jokes from The Golden Girls aside, I think we can all agree that this was an “annus horribilis” for the entire world. It’s difficult to look back at all of the things we didn’t do this year, and challenging to look for the positives we did experience. But there were positives, and I’m going to try to focus on those…as much as I can, anyway.

Way back in January, the world was still “normal,” so to speak. I started the year looking forward to many things, some of which actually happened! We attended the Star Wars First Friday at the St. Louis Science Center. Ryan celebrated his 40th birthday! We traveled north to Chicago for Frosty Faustings, and visited Brookfield Zoo and Medieval Times while we were there. On the way home, we stopped by the Chicago Baháʼí Temple, the lakefront, and of course Portillo’s. Turkey and I went to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back live in concert at Powell Hall with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

By February, everyone had heard of COVID-19, but we were still unsure of its impact on us. So we carried on mostly as usual, although there was already a certain wariness, such as when Bunny and I went to see Riverdance at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, and wondered about the person coughing just a few seats down from us. We celebrated Bobunk with a carryout meal from Beast Craft BBQ…if only I had known then that the few other meals we got from restaurants this year would all have to be carryout! We had what would be our last field trip of the year to see the DaVinci exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center. We visited the Orchid Show at the Missouri Botanical Garden. We were sad to say farewell to Pheasant Run Resort (from a distance), as it ceased operations at the end of the month.

Obviously, the world turned upside down in March. It started out ok, with me getting bangs, Ladybug and I getting some ear piercings together, and what ended up being the last time I would visit the mall this year. I got a new iPhone. But then the announcement came that the schools in the area were moving to distance learning, which ended up lasting through the end of that school year…and the start of the next. Turkey and Bunny were worried that the SAT that they had been diligently preparing for would also be cancelled, but they were in pretty much the last group to get in to take it…and both did exceptionally well! We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Turkey turned 17! One of the highlights of my year was the day Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released…the same day that the stay at home order for our state was announced. Chickadee turned eight! She started doing catechesis from home on Zoom, while Moose started doing school from home with the rest of us.

April was a weird month. We attended all of the Holy Week and Easter services in our living room, where we also attended regular Sunday services for three months straight. The announcement was made that the school buildings would remain closed through the end of the school year. I started grocery shopping once every two weeks (no small task when you’re shopping for a family of seven and don’t have a bonus fridge or freezer!), and started wearing a mask everywhere even before it was required…I was very thankful we already had one Ryan received at a previous Combo Breaker!

I’m not going to lie…May was a very difficult month for me. It was almost impossible not to dwell on all of the things I usually look forward to that month that we weren’t doing. Ladybug turned 13! We celebrated Mother’s Day in an unusual way. The 2019-20 school year came to an end. So did Moose’s school year, complete with a virtual 8th grade graduation. I imagined a virtual vacation to Chicago in lieu of our annual trip north for Combo Breaker, which, like everything else this year, was cancelled.

June came with its own challenges, as we realized that with school over, we really had nothing to do. I did plan a few fun activities, and we actually left the house as a family! I celebrated my 3rd 39th birthday with Roald and a reminder of Lake Michigan. I trimmed my own bangs for the first time! For the first time in almost three months, I finally put gas in the minivan. I got in line in a virtual waiting room to “secure the asset”…The Child!

In July we were finally able to attend church in person, and I Was Glad! We watched Hamilton so many times. We also watched every Pixar movie, including a few we hadn’t seen yet. Bunny turned 16! I achieved a perfect island rating in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

In August, we had a Hamilton-themed movie night at home. Did I mention we made a lot of waffles over the summer? I think we were all relieved when school started up again, (Turkey’s and Bunny’s senior year!!!), because at least it was something mostly normal…although Moose was still distance learning.

September saw us getting a lot of use out of our new omelette maker. We celebrated Oktoberfest. We were relieved that the temperature finally cooled off, and we could start enjoying our morning walks around our neighborhood again. We had a special feast for Michaelmas Eve.

Some things in October seemed almost normal. Ladybug and Chickadee started working on an election lap book in the lead-up to Election Day, and I was able to show them what an actual ballot looks like before Ryan and I voted in a new way. Bunny and I were very excited that Supermarket Sweep came back on the air, this time with the inimitable Leslie Jones as the host. Continuing a trend of breaking electronics this year, I got a new laptop. We went pumpkin picking! We had a stay-at-home Halloween, which honestly wasn’t that unusual for us.

November was another hard month, although it started out pretty well. We took our annual walk around Creve Coeur Lake. Ladybug and Chickadee finished their lap books just in time for what I’m sure will be a very memorable Election Day! We attended Garden Glow. Moose turned 15! Then things kind of fell apart. My mom spent almost two weeks in the ICU and about a month after that in a rehabilitation facility. Things were kind of a blur during that time, but we still visited Cahokia Mounds in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, baked a ton of pies, and had a very nice family dinner. I even participated in my second Dapper Day (At Home) in the midst of all of that! The beginning of Advent at the end of the month, and a special Lego project with it, was a very welcome time.

And that brings us to December. I guess I had kind of been dreading this month all year, because I knew how many special Christmas traditions and events we were going to miss. And we did. Some things weren’t too difficult to let go of, and others really hurt. But there were a lot of good moments, too. We got to preview the newest concept from Beast Craft BBQ, Beast Southern Kitchen & BBQ, before they opened to the public (from home, of course). We decorated the Christmas tree on St. Nicholas Day, like we always do. We also celebrated Santa Lucia Day. We had a very nice Advent, and this may have been our best week of “Christmas School” ever! My website celebrated a significant anniversary. We had a very nice Christmas, including a new experience of dressing for an outdoor Christmas Eve service, and a delayed yet still lovely Christmas dinner. We also participated in what I hope will become a new day-after-Christmas tradition, Lego Build Day.

This wasn’t the year anybody wanted. It’s certainly not a year I’d care to repeat. But it is part of our history, and we definitely won’t forget it!

Chickadee Thursday

Here’s a look at two of the Christmas cookies Chickadee decorated yesterday…she really likes red hots!

This evening, Chickadee and I visited Ryan’s Animal Crossing island for the New Year’s countdown…we all wore masks to commemorate the year!

Celebrating the New Year

Even though I’m not a huge New Year’s person, I do like to make the two days of the holiday special, starting with our annual hot chocolate bar on New Year’s Eve:

This year, in addition to several varieties of hot chocolate, we had four kinds of marshmallows, crushed peppermint and candy canes, chocolate covered pretzels and Pirouettes, two kinds of whipped cream, and chocolate-peppermint cookies that I baked just for the holiday:

I love seeing how different everyone’s cup looks when they’re done assembling it:

Today we had our fancy New Year’s dinner:

The star of the meal was rack of lamb, which was a first for me (I’ve only made leg of lamb in the past). We also had rosemary potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, asparagus, fennel gratin, spiced apple rings, and rolls:

It was a very nice dinner, and not quite as much work as our big Christmas dinner was:

And, I made creme brûlée for dessert, which is a real treat!

I have one big dinner left to make, and then that’s it for holiday meals for this season. I know Easter is lurking around the corner, though, so it won’t be too long until I’m back at it!

Quote of the Day

The Dowager Countess made this remark looking forward to 1920, but I think it applies just as well to the real world as we look forward to 2020!

“1920! Is it to be believed?! I feel as old as Methuselah! When I think what the last ten years has brought, God knows what we’re in for now.” Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey

2019 in Review

Here we are, not only at the end of another year, but also a decade. I feel like I should have something profound to say, some great insights into the last ten years, but all I have is a look back at another year of Markel family fun.

January was a pleasant month. We started our “Great Star Trek Project,” an effort to watch through all of Star Trek from Enterprise through Voyager, including the movies and even the animated series, chronologically (at present, we’re watching Deep Space Nine). We went up to Chicago, where we got to experience a good, old-fashioned, Chicago snowstorm. While we were there, I took the Fab Five to Brookfield Zoo for the first time, and even though it was a winter day, it was one of our best zoo visits ever! At the end of the month, Turkey won a Lego building contest!!!

In all honesty, it’s hard to find much to say about February. It’s always a pretty quiet (and dare I say, boring), month, and this February was no exception. We had a lot of poor weather, including ice, but we did start playing tennis on some of the nicer days, which was fun. Turkey, Bunny, and I went to see The Lego Movie 2, which we really enjoyed.

March is always a favorite month, with so many things to look forward to, including St. Patrick’s Day. Turkey turned sixteen in March, which I still can’t believe, and Chickadee celebrated her seventh birthday. We got new dishes, which really brighten up our table!

At the beginning of April, we had a new roof put on the house…quite an expensive project! We were excited about the start of another season of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. The Missouri Botanical Garden stayed open late for cherry blossom viewing, which was a rare treat. Our Easter celebration was a lot of fun! We all went to see Avengers: Endgame in the theater opening night, and some of us cried all the way home.

May is always one of the busiest months of the year for us. We celebrated Ladybug’s twelfth birthday. Another year of homeschooling wrapped up. Moose received a choir award we didn’t even know he was getting! At the end of the month, we went up to Chicago for Combo Breaker. While we were there, we visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, a special Lego exhibit at Brookfield Zoo, and made the journey to the top of the Sears Tower.

June‘s schedule was unusually packed. We took a trip to Michigan, which included visiting Frankenmuth, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” enjoying a wonderful meal at the Bavarian Inn, and shopping at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which was a dream come true for me. Bunny and Ladybug attended volleyball camp at WKU. The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time ever, and we went downtown for the rally! We saw Superman. I celebrated my 40th birthday in a rather epic way. Kantorei Kamp week was a lot of fun!

The busyness continued into July. Ladybug earned a very special choir award. While she, Bunny, and Turkey were at RSCM camp, Moose, Chickadee, and I took a ride on the St. Louis Metro Link. We celebrated the anniversary of the moon landing. Bunny turned 15! Chickadee got her ears pierced. We had the privilege of participating in the rededication of the sanctuary at Hope Lutheran Church. We celebrated Christmas in July with a European twist.

We wrapped up our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school in August, and then turned around and got ready to begin a new year of homeschooling (and Moose started eighth grade!). We enjoyed another Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden. After how busy the summer was, it was a relief to have a more quiet month!

September was a very exciting month! We started it off by attending the St. Louis Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. I received a Post-It note tweet from Alton Brown! We saw the Red Arrows perform at the Spirt of St. Louis Air Show!!! Moose was named Student of the Month at his school! The girls and I went to see the Downton Abbey movie. We celebrated Friends Day.” The Fab Five and I went to “Garden Party Lights” at the Missouri Botanical Garden. We had our traditional Oktoberfest celebration.

We got to see the Stanley Cup in October! Our school acquired a mascot. We attended the fourth year of Legends and Lanterns, and saw some of the STC250 dogs while we were in St. Charles. We picked not just one, but two pumpkins. Moose got to play in the band at a high school football game.

We put up our brand-new (and quite tall!) Christmas tree earlier than ever in November, to make sure it was up in time for Moose’s 14th birthday! The girls and I went to see Frozen 2 opening night…it was a very movie-heavy year for me! We attended one of our favorite events of the year: Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Our three-day Thanksgiving celebration was just as much fun as always!

And just like that, we made it to December. The Fab Five worked on a project throughout Advent…they built the 6,020-piece Lego Hogwarts Castle. We celebrated St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, and an unexpected snow day following a fairly large snowstorm. We attended Christmas Traditions, and for the first time in several years, Christmas on the Hill. I went to a movie’s opening night for the fifth time of the year when we saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (for the record, I liked it!). We had our standard, huge Christmas celebration…one of the best ones ever, I think! We finally made it the holiday flower and train show at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and I’m glad we did, because it was lovely!

2019 was a busy year, and I expect 2020 to be more of the same. There are lots of things to look forward to, not just in the next year, but also in the next decade. I’m going to do my best not to think too far ahead, though, lest I realize how old the children will be at the end of another 10 years, and I start feeling old myself!

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!