A Markel Family Easter, Isolation Edition

I think we can all agree that Easter was weird this year, right? Without our normal church commitments like choir, acolyting, and serving on altar guild, Holy Week and Easter Sunday fell a bit flat. But whether we were at church or not, we still had reason to celebrate, so I tried to make this time at home as special as possible.

On Maundy Thursday, we enjoyed some beautiful weather while we were out for a walk in our neighborhood before we “went” to church, which we watched from the comfort of our living room.

We were a little busier on Good Friday, with some baking (including homemade hot cross buns for the first time!), and another walk, before we once again watched the church service from our living room.

We were especially busy on Holy Saturday. We did some more baking, including these amazing rosemary dinner rolls, one of my favorite new recipes that I’ve tried:

We also made our new Paschal Candle for the year, as we usually do on Holy Saturday…it was disappointing not being able to take it to the Easter Vigil, though!

We had a fairly last-minute change of Easter dinner plans, because Beast Craft BBQ announced that they were going to be selling hams, so Ryan went and picked that up Saturday afternoon. It smelled amazing, and there was great restraint on the part of everyone in the house, because we left it alone until Easter dinner!

I dug out some extra candles so we could really feel like we were participating in the Great Vigil of Easter:

But once again from our living room:

We always get hot fudge sundaes at McDonald’s on the way home from the service, so I tried to recreate that experience, as well:

We didn’t “need” Pop-Tarts for breakfast this year (do you ever really need Pop-Tarts?),, because we didn’t have to get up as early for the sunrise service, but tradition is tradition!

I was very happy to get to sing my favorite Easter hymn at the first service, which we attended from, you guessed it, our living room!

We always have Easter breakfast at church between services, so I tried to replicate that experience, too. Homemade biscuits and sausage gravy were the star of the meal (both of which I prepared on Saturday), because that’s what they serve at church, plus sausage patties, eggs, orange juice, and mini donuts:

I always take pictures after breakfast, and this year was no different. Yes, we all got dressed up, even though we were at home!

I really missed taking photos of the children by the baptismal font, but at least I got pictures of them on Easter, right?

I already shared the details of my Easter outfit, but here’s one more picture, with Ladybug, because this was her first occasion to wear a dress from Pinup Girl Clothing!

Back inside, and back to the living room for the second service, where we sang another favorite hymn:

The church part of the day was over much quicker than usual, which was sad. I did have plenty of time to prepare our Easter dinner, though, starting with setting the table with our china and spring table linens:

On the menu: ham, mashed potatoes, a trio of green vegetables (Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and green beans with almonds), cherry Jell-O, and rosemary dinner rolls. It was a delicious meal!

For dessert I made the same lemon cheesecake with lemon-rosemary shortbread crust that I made last year:

We’re not done, yet, though! Since Easter is a celebration that keeps on going, and since our dinner plans had changed after I had already bought what was supposed to be the main course of Easter dinner, we had another special meal tonight…rack of lamb with some new sides (roast potatoes and cauliflower), plus some repeats (Brussels sprouts, green beans, Jell-O, and rolls), plus more cheesecake for dessert!

So there you have what was the strangest Easter I have ever experienced. Of course, our reason for celebrating never changes, but just the same, nothing felt quite right, and I truly hope we never have another Easter like it!

Christmas 2019

I thought Advent went by quickly, but our three-day-long Christmas extravaganza flew by even more rapidly!

As always, our celebration began Christmas Eve morning, with a breakfast of Christmas Crunch:

New on Christmas Eve this year was putting the final touches on Lego Hogwarts Castle, a project the Fab Five worked on throughout Advent:

We had our “pick out dinner” for lunch as we have for the last few years, and it may have been the best one yet! In addition to our Christmas Eve favorites, which included a few favorites from tea parties, too, we added a Volpi Salame plus a large basil roltini.

After lunch, we headed to church, where Ladybug had the solo for the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.”

I especially enjoyed the Quempas Celebration.

It was nice to get a picture of the Fab Five in the newly renovated church sanctuary after the service:

We drove through the Way of Lights on the way home:

And then I took all of the pictures!

It’s always exciting to light all of the candles in the Advent Wreath!

Jesus’ birthday cake turned out a little better than last year’s, but not by much, because it fell apart a bit on one side. At least I could get a semi-decent picture, and the chocolate peppermint flavor certainly tasted good!

The entire family, including Ryan and me, received matching Christmas jammies this year, and these may have been the cutest ones yet!

Turkey joined Ryan and me for our annual game of Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, and he won by a lot.

Chickadee set up the nativity scene before I filled the stockings and we headed to bed:

We were up very early on Christmas Day, and I finally got pictures of all of the children while they were opening their stockings!

We enjoyed our traditional Christmas Day cherry coffee cake for breakfast:

But that paled in comparison to the beautiful Christmas sunrise…”A holy day has dawned upon us!”

Back at church, the adult choir had the opportunity to sing again, including these two beautiful descants:

Of course I had to get another picture after the service:

After lunch, we opened presents:

The rest of Christmas Day was fairly quiet…we watched Christmas movies, as well as a few episodes of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which the Fab Five received for Christmas.

Yesterday, on Boxing Day, we had our big, fancy Christmas dinner. As always, I had fun setting the table:

This year’s dinner included roast beast (a standing rib roast that I found for a steal at Aldi), mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, Jell-O, and croissants, plus a festive Comet and Cupid Cabernet Sauvignon for the adults. I think I cooked the beef extraordinarily well (or maybe good would be better, if not grammatically correct, because it was definitely not well-done!).

We had a trio of Christmas desserts, and I hit pretty much every Christmas flavor except peppermint. There was cranberry-apple bread pudding with a vanilla cream sauce, gingerbread-eggnog trifle, and a chocolate Yule log:

And that’s the end of another Christmas celebration. I’m already thinking about how we can celebrate next year!

A Markel Family St. Nicholas Day

Time for another installment of “A Markel Family Holiday!” St. Nicholas Day has always been one of favorite days in Advent, so I thought I’d share what we do to make it special.

The day always begins with stockings. We keep it simple…chocolate coins, oranges, and a new ornament for each child to hang on the tree. They’ve each received an ornament every year since their births, so they will have a nice collection to start their own trees when they have homes of their own someday!

We always read Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend from CPH. It’s a fantastic book!

And of course we do our Jesse Tree reading for the day. This year, the commemoration for St. Nicholas fell on the day we read about Jacob:

In the afternoon, we decorate the tree. I put it up and hung the lights almost a month ago, but we always wait for St. Nicholas Day for the addition of the ornaments.

We enjoy hot wassail while we decorate:

Some years, I make a special dinner. This year, we tried a Turkish fish stew and flat bread, to honor the area of the world from which St. Nicholas comes.

And of course we have evening prayers by the light of the Advent wreath.

I really love this holiday, and the special ways we celebrate it!

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 Christmas

Our traditional Markel Family Christmas was a three-day affair this year!

Because Christmas Day fell on a Monday, our church schedules were a little complicated this time around. There wasn’t a large enough break at home on Christmas Eve for our traditional “pick out dinner,” so I decided we’d have it a day early. But before we got to that, our day Saturday started in a most pleasant fashion…the first snow of the season, and Christmas Crunch for breakfast!

And then the best dinner of the year. I love how it’s always a little bit the same as the previous year’s feast, and a little bit different! This year, in addition to the standard summer sausage and crackers, cheeses, buffalo Chex mix, and sausage squares, we also had Greek spirals from Trader Joe’s, meatballs, Rotel dip and jalapeño popper dip (both served with festive red and green tortilla chips), deviled eggs, pizza rolls, mozzarella sticks, Ranch dip with assorted veggies, and Dino Nuggets. As always, there was way too much food, which is how we like it, because we can enjoy the leftovers for several days!

As it turned out, we were fortunate that Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, because if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to attend our regular church at all. Even though it was still technically Advent, I wore my new Pinup Girl Clothing ornament print skirt:

The children’s blue Christmas outfits fit right in with Advent 4 (and the snow falling outside!), though, and I was able to get our annual pictures at our church…including one where Bunny insisted on giving her youngest sister bunny ears!

After lunch and a little downtime at home, it was time to drive into St. Louis so Ryan and the four oldest children could sing in their respective choirs. I wore my standard Christmas Eve dress, but I added some Splendette bangles to give a more retro look:

Of course I had to get another picture of the Fab Five:

Bunny sang the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City” solo, and she did an amazing job!

I always love hearing the children sing Stille Nacht:

Back home for even more pictures:

And Jesus’ birthday cake:

And everyone opened their one Christmas Eve gift…new Christmas jammies!

After stuffing the stockings, Ryan and I played Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, as we always do…and I was once again a poor sport when I won, repeating last year’s victory lap around the kitchen table. For what it’s worth, I did apologize for my bad behavior.

A last look to make sure everything was ready before bed:

We were up extra early this morning, to make sure there was time to open the stockings before driving back into the city. For some reason, I rarely get pictures of the boys that early in the morning…it may have something to do with the fact that they’re always annoyed with me for waking them!

We also managed to find time for our traditional Christmas morning cherry coffee cake:

I had to wear my ornament print skirt again, because it’s so gorgeous, but at least I styled it a little bit differently this time!

I’m a sucker for pictures of the Fab Five!

Only the adult choir (of which Ryan, Turkey, and more recently, Bunny, are members) was scheduled to sing, but some of the children were also recruited to fill out the soprano section. “See in Yonder Manger Low” was my very favorite piece they sang!

After church, we even managed to find time to get a picture of the whole family!

After lunch, we opened presents. I am so thankful that everyone was thrilled with their gifts!

The aftermath was…something:

I spent what felt like an eternity in the kitchen preparing our very festive meal. The dinner table was a little low-key this year, but it still looked nice:

We had a very nice spread this year. The star of the meal was new for me…Beef Wellington. I think I did a pretty good job! We also had two kinds of potatoes (mashed and roast), two vegetables (carrots and Brussel sprouts), a shrimp ring, cherry Jell-O and dinner rolls…it was delicious!

And for dessert, an Oreo truffle Christmas tree!

This Christmas season has seemed especially hectic, and the last three days were no exception. But we had a lot of fun, and hopefully made some happy memories in the process, so all the work was worth it!

Christmas 2016

It’s hard to believe that another Christmas Eve and Day have come and gone already!

As always, our celebration started yesterday, with my favorite meal of the whole year…the “pick out dinner.” We had summer sausage, cheese, and crackers, jalapeno popper and buffalo chicken dips, sausage squares, deviled eggs, toasted ravioli, mozzarella sticks, cheese squares, buffalo chex mix, and pizza bagels. Oh, and the chef’s favorite sour beer:

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Then it was time to get ready for church. I wore my traditional Christmas Eve dress and brooch. I’ve featured the brooch here a lot, but I’ve been wearing this same dress every Christmas Eve for at least five years, and I’m pretty sure it’s never appeared here before!

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As they did last year, “The Bigs” sang for Hope Lutheran church in St. Louis’s Christmas Eve Divine Service.

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After we got home, I took lots of pictures:

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And we had Jesus’ birthday cake, and lit all of the candles on the Advent wreath:

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Everyone always opens one present on Christmas Eve. Ryan and I both got slippers, and the children each got a new pair of Christmas jammies:

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Ryan and I also always play Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries on Christmas Eve. The final score was 162 to 131…I’ll let you guess who won!

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After the children went to bed, I made sure everything was ready for the morning.

They always get to open their stockings before Christmas Day church:

I really love our very delicious tradition of cherry coffee cake for breakfast on Christmas morning!

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Another Christmas church service means another Christmas outfit (with a new brooch) for me!

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This year, all four of “The Bigs” served as acolytes. This was Turkey’s first opportunity to be crucifer…he was very excited (and a little nervous)! Bunny was the book bearer, which seemed fitting, and Moose and Ladybug both served as torch bearers.

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I always have to get another picture (or eight) after church:

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When we got home, we had a quick lunch, and then we listened to Ryan read the Christmas story. Chickadee still loves acting it out with our Little People nativity:

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And then there was a flurry of gift opening!

This Christmas has been a little different, but it was still a wonderful weekend to celebrate our Savior’s birth, and spend time together as a family! Merry Christmas!

A Markel Family Thanksgiving

I’ve shared bits and pieces of our Thanksgiving traditions here and there, but if you ever wondering what the whole event looks like, from start to finish, here is your chance to find out.

In our house, Thanksgiving is a three-day event. It begins on Wednesday, or what I like to call “Pie Day.” I bake a different pie for each member of our family (although we all eat all of them), and so Wednesday is a day of baking pies. Lots and lots of pies. I also prep the stuffing and make the cranberries on this day, and do a little prep work for Friday’s dinner, as well…lots of vegetable chopping! We have a few fun family activities, like making hand-and-footprint turkeys and reading our favorite Thanksgiving books, too. And we have our favorite shows to watch…the children get to watch the Gilmore Girls “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” episode as well as the  Mad About You episode “Giblets for Murray” with us, and when they’re not around, Ryan and I watch all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes, plus the Chuck Thanksgiving/Black Friday shows. In some ways, I like this day better than the holiday itself!

Thanksgiving Day always begins bright and early with Ryan buying me breakfast from Jack in the Box or McDonald’s (to fuel me through all my work), the Macy’s Parade, complete with bingo cards for the children, and a bath for the turkey in the sink, because no matter how early I start thawing it, it’s always still partially frozen on Thanksgiving Day. We usually watch some of the dog show after the parade, and we have fun playing Animal Crossing, and helping Franklin not be part of the town dinner! A lot of this day involves waiting…waiting for the turkey to thaw, waiting until it’s time to put it in the oven, waiting for it to be done (often earlier than I’m expecting), waiting to smack Ryan’s hand when he steals some of the stuffing from the crock-pot, waiting until it’s time to work on the rest of the side dishes, which include a corn and wild rice casserole, green beans with almonds, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and (store-bought) gravy, and rolls. Somehow, it all gets made, and it’s all usually even warm when it hits the table!

After dinner, it is, of course, clean up time. Cleaning up the dishes, putting away the leftover food, and boiling down the turkey carcass for soup the next day. While I’m working on this, we always watch Holiday Inn…I’m so glad the living room is open to the kitchen so I can multi-task! After the clean-up is done, and the broth is put away, we enjoy our seven pies for dessert…although I don’t think anyone has ever tried all seven on Thanksgiving Day itself! Once all my work is done for the day, the children might get to have some bonus video game time, while Ryan and I either finish watching our TV shows or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Our three-day celebration concludes on Black Friday, a day where we avoid any and all stores if at all possible. Instead, we begin our morning at a decent hour, and enjoy leftover pie for breakfast. The rest of the morning is pretty low-key, but after lunch, the fun begins again, with the building of the yearly Lego Christmas set. This is one of my favorite newer traditions, and is a great family activity. At some point, I start the turkey soup for the night’s dinner, which isn’t too much work thanks to all of the prep work I will have already done. And right after dinner, we head out to our city’s town square (which is really a circle, but I digress), for the town tree-lighting, a community sing, and a trolley ride past the stores hosting the annual Gingerbread Walk. While we’re out, Ryan always buys two bread bowls at St. Louis Bread Co. for our soup leftovers lunch the following day, and then we head home for a quiet evening…or what’s left of it!

I’ve really come to love our Thanksgiving traditions, and even though it’s a lot of work, I can’t imagine doing it any other way!

The New Year’s Eve Hot Chocolate Bar

We’re not big New Year’s Eve people here. But I wanted to come up with something special for the children, and one day in November, on the way home from the grocery store, I came up with the idea of a hot chocolate bar, with all the fixings.

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We had two varieties of hot chocolate from which to choose:

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Syrups (to stir in or drizzle on top) and sprinkles:

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French vanilla snowmen marshmallows:

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And peppermint marshmallows, too:

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Plus more peppermint options. Candy canes (of course!):

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And crushed peppermints:

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Pirouettes, to eat on the side, or to use to stir:

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And, two different flavors of whipped cream!

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I even bought the children Christmas mugs for the big event:

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Which will work out well in the future, because I think this is one tradition that’s going to stick!

Happy New Year!

Family Traditions–St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day falls in my top five favorite holidays, (which also include Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July), which is weird, since I’m not even Irish. But I’ve always loved it–the wearing o’ the green, corned beef and cabbage, adding an O’ to my last name, everything. It’s just so much fun! And so, we’ve put together a set of traditions for St. Patrick’s Day that the children have come to look forward to on a yearly basis. (Actually, I’ve made such a big deal of it in the past, Turkey was genuinely surprised to find that Moose still had to go to school–he seemed to think it was a national holiday. I had to tell him, “Only if you live in Ireland!”)

We start every St. Patrick’s Day with a bowl of Lucky Charms. I know, not really Irish, but how can you pass up the leprechaun on the box? This year, we also had green applesauce with lunch. Moose has really been interested in colored applesauce this year, since they have it at school occasionally, and I always have plenty of food coloring on hand…

We usually read a story about St. Patrick (fact or fiction) at some point. Since St. Patrick does make an appearance on our church year calendar, it seems appropriate to learn about him, even if the actual details of his life seem to be a bit sketchy. In the past, we’ve just read a short story out of a bigger anthology, but this year, I picked up a book specifically about St. Patrick, both the truth and the legend. It also goes into the ways St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated, as well as some symbols of Ireland.

I also considered getting the Tommie dePaola St. Patrick book, but it seemed a little bit too Catholic for us. Yes, I know the actual Patrick was Catholic. But there was something about the artwork, or the emphasis on his sainthood, or something, that didn’t set quite right with me at this point. Maybe when the children are a little older, though, because it does seem like a good book.

We also do fun things like leprechaun coloring sheets, or shamrock mazes, or word searches, of coloring the Irish flag, or something to that effect. I’m glad that Turkey and Bunny haven’t decided that they’re “too old” for stuff like that yet, and they really seem to enjoy doing it every year.

Of course, we always have a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner. And by traditional, I mean a traditional American St. Patrick’s Day dinner–corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, roasted potatoes, Guinness to drink (for the adults), and Guinness cake (for everyone) for dessert. One of these years, maybe I’ll try to make a traditional Irish St. Patrick’s Day meal, (although I’m not entirely sure what that would be!), but we all love the corned beef so much, and this is the only time of year I make it, so maybe not!

Sláinte!

Our Favorite Christmas Tradition

It’s that time of year again! We made the trek to St. Charles, MO, to take part in the “Christmas Traditions” festivities. This is something our whole family looks forward to all year long, and probably my second favorite day of any year (with only Easter bringing more joy and excitement). As usual, we started with lunch at Frankie Tocco’s, where we had a St. Louis style pizza. I’m still not sold on that particular creation, but I did have a very delicious piece of tiramisu for dessert.

After lunch, the hunt to track down as many Christmas characters as possible began. This was our best year yet, with our having collected 25/30 cards. We saw four of the remaining characters from a distance, with only one character (the Town Crier) flying completely beneath our radar…I don’t know, he may not have been there at all today. We also heard carolers, and the fife and drum corps, watched the chestnut roasters as work (Turkey and Bunny even tried them, but only Turkey approved), and saw an intricate train display (probably Moose’s favorite part of the whole day!).

We saw the beloved Master of Revels shortly after we arrived. He is my absolute favorite character–his entire job is giving people a hard time. He told Ladybug that she looked like a giraffe with her pointy hat (not entirely untrue), wished children a happy Arbor Day, Valentine’s Day, and Lincoln’s Birthday (but never Merry Christmas), and hassled fellow performer Jack Frost, all while standing on a park bench. He is absolutely hilarious.

The Master of Revels–do *not* refer to him as the Town Crier!

Too bad I didn’t capture the next expression on Jack Frost’s face–as soon as I put the camera down, he sighed and rolled his eyes. He’s almost as funny as the Master of Revels!

This year was the first time Ladybug was really able to participate, and did she ever enjoy it! She collected cards right alongside her older siblings, and she wasn’t at all shy about having her picture taken with the performers. She decided the “purple angel” was her favorite, and she liked Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden), so much that she walked right into her arms for a picture without even asking. That’s OK, though, because Snegurochka really liked Ladybug, too–just like she did last year! I guess they’re old friends, now!

Ladybug and Snegurochka

We even managed to get a few pretty good pictures of all four children together, which, as any parent of more than one child knows, is nothing short of a miracle!

With the Sugar Plum Fairy

God Jul, Santa Lucia!