Saturday, January 31, 2015

Happy Birthday Niko Part 2

Before I show you Niko's party, I want to show you how I made his birthday cake! I'm usually pretty terrible at sculpting cakes (a ton of crumbs end up in the frosting and it's kind of terrible!) but this time it actually turned out pretty well!

First, I baked 3 round cakes and a pan of cupcakes. When they were cool, I stacked them and put a cupcake on the top, then used the width of the cupcake as my guide to cut the whole thing down to a cone shape.

When that was done, I frosted between the layers and covered the whole thing in a layer of frosting. 

Then I popped the whole thing in the fridge and made myself wait an hour or 2 for the frosting to get nice and chilled before putting on the next layer. (I was very worried that if I didn't wait long enough, I'd just end up with a second layer of frosting that was full of crumbs!) It turned out that was long enough, because the second layer went on almost without a hitch, and ended up pretty smooth and nice looking!

Finally, I mixed up some red and yellow frosting and used those and some chocolate chips to make the whole thing look more volcano-y. 

And that was it! 

I kept decorations pretty simple. One roll of streamers got cut up and strung from the ceiling to be dinosaur jungle vines, then Niko and I painted some pteranodons, which I cut out and strung from the ceiling as well. 

(It's really hard to see in the above picture, but there's probably 20-30 pteranodons flying around in there)

I made some loosely dino-themed snacks too. 

Above we have, from left to right:

-Swamp Jello
-Dinosaur bones (pretzel sticks)
-Tyrannosaurus Chex (muddy buddies)
-Dinosaur nest no-bake cookies 
(with peanut m&ms clustered in the middle as eggs)
-Herbivore munchies (veggies, dressing and hummus)
-Carnivore footprint cookies 
(sugar cookies with dino footprints stamped on them)

Almost all of Niko's little friends got to come, and they had an awesome time running around and generally being excitable little people :) 

After lots of playing, chatting and munching on snacks, we had some cake!

There was this really great parenting moment when we sang happy birthday and all of Niko's friends and their parents were singing happy birthday too--and in that moment I was sort of overwhelmed with how much I loved all of those friends in our livingroom, that came over to help us celebrate the birth of our little boy.  We know almost an absurd amount of really, really, really amazing people here in Ann Arbor (so many of whom weren't even there!!) and in that moment I just felt so blessed by their love for Nikolai and our family, and in general their abundance of kindness and goodness. Thanks everyone for being such wonderful friends, and for celebrating our Nikolai with us! We love you!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Niko Part 1

We didn't have Nikolai's party on his actual birthday (his birthday was on a Friday this year, and I thought a Saturday morning would work better for our guests) but we still wanted to celebrate! It's sort of silly, but I actually gathered all the scraps from making Nikolai's volcano birthday cake (that you'll see in tomorrow's post!), put them in a pan and covered them with frosting so we'd have something to put candles on for his actual birthday. 

Counting the candles

Nikolai really got into the singing this year and sang with us!

Then we opened his birthday presents! 

In the midst of party planning, I had forgotten that we don't have any wrapping paper! Instead, we made Niko close/cover his eyes, then we'd bonk him gently on the head with his present before showing it to him. It actually wasn't a bad method, for a 3 year old :)

It was nice to have a quiet evening to celebrate our Niko boy!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

No nap Niko

Lately, Nikolai has been asserting his independence by fiercely deciding to boycott his nap (despite his level of complete and total exhaustion that comes every day around 1 pm). He only naps a handful of days a week now (he's taking one of those rare naps right now, bless his heart) so I've been trying to balance 1) having less quiet get-stuff-done time in the afternoon and 2) dealing with a pretty crabby toddler in the evenings. We're still figuring out the new normal, but I think it'll be alright in the end. 

Anyways, when he has napped lately it's been more or less under duress (aka out of sheer exhaustion), so he's ended up in some unusual positions for sleep.

Exhibit A:

Where is he?! Not in his bed! Wait for iiiiiit........

in the rocking chair. Obviously! 

Exhibit B:

Crashed out on the couch while watching Wall-E! Please note, this is the child that has never, not once in his last 2 years of non-baby existence (I can't count the first year because, let's face it, the kid slept all the time!), fallen asleep during a tv show or movie. This is the level of tired we're talking about here!

Wish us luck as we try to acclimate to this new lack of sleep/productivity! :D

Friday, January 23, 2015


(how old Nikolai will say he is if we coach him--if we ask him point blank, he says he's "forty-nine-six," whatever that means!)

Doing "yoga."

Dear Nikolai,

It is somewhat shocking to think that, three years ago today, we had only just met you! Well, I had sort-of-kind-of known you for a little while, kicking around (and hiccuping a ton) in my belly for 9 months, but getting to meet you face to face was something completely different. 

That first day, we had no idea what the future had in store for us: not how little (or how poorly) we'd sleep for the next 6 months, nor how your every accomplishment, from smiling to rolling over to sitting on your own, would fill our hearts to bursting with pride. And that was just the beginning!

In the last three years, we've dealt with more poop and cracker crumbs than I think we could have ever imagined, as well as enough laughter to lift our jaded adult hearts and remind us of how much joy and goodness there is in this world. 

And this last year, Nikolai? This last year has been practically magical! Sure, you've started to learn some independence, which has come with its share of temper tantrums (both yours and mine!), but for the first time this year you also told me "I wuv you too!"--and then repeated it day in and day out, to my constant joy. 

You have a tender and perceptive heart and a desire to make others happy that has lifted me out of a sad mood on many occasions. When you see that I'm sad or dad is stressed, you always come over, put your hand on our knee, and say, "You ok mama/dada?" 

Those moments make me realize: we're all doing this together. We care about you and you care about us, and we're going on this big adventure that we call "family" together! 

Thanks for being our boy, Nikolai! We love you so much!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A morning at the Henry Ford Museum

On Monday, admission at the Henry Ford museum was free (a $40 value! ;D) and I'd heard such great things about it that we had to check it out! 

They have what ends up being a fantastic Americana collection, with lots of one-of-a-kind artifacts that were really awesome to see. Also, we just really love museums, so it was kind of obvious that we'd have a great time :D

We started out at the airplanes, which made Jesse's face light up like that of a small boy: 

That boyish gleam in his eye is my favorite!

We briefly meandered over to the historic cars section (Dad, you would have swooned at their awesome collection! :D) 

before heading over to their awesome display on Liberty and Justice. This exhibit had 4 parts: the American revolution, slavery and the civil war, women's suffrage and the civil rights movement.

In the civil rights section, they have the actual bus that Rosa Parks rode on! It was Martin Luther King day when we went, and I'll admit, seeing this piece of history definitely made me get a little choked up. Thanks for being so brave, Rosa!

Nikolai obviously didn't know what was going on, but he did like seeing a big bus!

Also, I realized while we were there that I've posted approximately 0 pictures of myself this pregnancy, so I made Jesse take one of me in all my 33 1/2 weeks pregnant glory (aka very round, but not huge just yet):

Jesse, for his part, really enjoyed standing on the bus and listening to the story of Rosa Parks. 

I really enjoyed the women's suffrage exhibit (though I didn't get to read that much--toddlers and museums make that kind of thing difficult!) and was, again, moved to tears thinking about the women who dared to suggest that women could vote. (Alright, perhaps I was feeling a bit hormonal that day, but it was cool, ok? :D)

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the Dymaxion house--a forward thinking, "environmentally friendly" (at least, it certainly seemed to them like that at the time!) aluminum house that was supposed to be the house of the future (please do me a favor and read that in a dramatic voice, ok?).

It was designed to be not only space efficient, but had cool features like ventilated floors (the windows were plexiglass) for air circulation, channels that would collect rainwater and use it for household water consumption (probably for washing and stuff like that? I don't actually know) among other cool things.

The coolest room was one we couldn't walk in, because it has the original 1946 floors and they don't want them ruined! 

An added benefit of being there on MLK day was this pair of performers, who sang some songs about "love and peace" from artists like Marvin Gaye, etc. We only got to listen to them for about 3 songs (the length of a 3 year old's attention span) but I really enjoyed them!

Another interesting artifact: the limousine John F. Kennedy was assassinated in:

(They also had the limo Reagan was shot at in, as well as the chair Lincoln was assassinated in at Ford's theater. Sort of a morbid collection, but definitely priceless and interesting to see!)

They also had a fun train section, of which my favorite part was these carriage cars: they're really carriages! 

(Aaron, my train-loving brother: was this a thing?!)

Niko's favorite part was the massive model train set, with the only problem being that we wouldn't let him hop the fence to go play with them! Poor lad ;)

All in all, it was an awesome morning, and, unsurprisingly, we found ourselves in love with another museum! If you ever find yourself in Dearborn, MI, check it out!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2014 memories

A few days ago, upon finally taking down the Christmas decorations, we decided to get out our memory jar from the last year and see what it held! (Last year's post: here)

This year I was feeling whimsical and wanted to make it a party, so we grabbed some Krispy Kreme doughnuts and put some candles in them, then sang Happy New Year To You (to the tune of Happy Birthday), which our Niko got a kick out of. Then, we blew out the candles and enjoyed the doughnuts while we read the happenings of the last year :)

I have to say, this year there were TONS more memories of funny things Niko said or did, and it was really cool to see how his language skills developed over the year (seeing what simple things he'd say in January verses complex silly thoughts in December, etc). Looking back, he definitely brought a lot of joy into our lives this year :) Also, I've realized it's a good thing we write these things down, because I had forgotten so many of them!!!

I've picked a few of our favorites (it was so hard to narrow down!) so I'll just intersperse them with some poorly-lit pictures of our celebration ;)

January 22:

Nikolai, at 6 am: Daddyyyyy!! Mommyyyyyyy! A BABY!!!!!!!!

(translation: don't you guys remember you have a kid AWAKE over here?!?)

January 29: 

Nikolai heard the word "cake" on tv and started asking for cake. We put him off and the next thing I knew, he had walked up to where I was sitting (on the ground), took my face in his little hands so I was looking at him and very carefully said "CAKE."

March 3:

"Let's make a deal--anytime someone throws up, we'll stop and take care of it."

-Jesse, on our road trip to Niagara falls (during which Niko threw up in the car)

March 13: 

Jesse: *sigh*

Catherine: Is that a sad sigh?

Jesse: Yup. It's because I'm in love with a crazy person.
You're not crazy. Russia is.

Catherine: Write that down.

May 31:

Jesse is putting Niko to bed, so I ask Niko to blow me a kiss. He walks over, puts his mouth on my mouth, and blows.

June 16:

(after Nikolai made me laugh so hard I was crying)

Niko (pointing to her tears): Mama sad?

Catherine: No, mama happy!

Niko: Mama sad?! (Still pointing, more concerned than before)

Catherine (laughing even harder): No...mama....happy!

Niko (very seriously): No. Mama sad. 

August 1:

Nikolai held a scrap of fabric as a mustache above his lip and said, "Nik-lai Jesus!"

August 22: 

Catherine: Thank you, sweetie pie!

Nikolai: Nik-lai not a pie. Nik-lai just Nik-lai.

September 23: 

(singing songs while putting Niko to bed)

Nikolai: You're a good singer.

Catherine: Oh, thank you sweetie! *kisses forehead*

As soon as I leaned back, he says:

Nikolai: You no eat my carrots.

(this was perhaps in reference to some carrots he had left uneaten downstairs, though the timing was bizarre! ;D)

October 5:

Nikolai (handing Jesse a scrap of paper): Here a ticket for a good sleep.

Jesse (laughing): Why, thank you sir!

Nikolai (very seriously): I not a sir. I just a kid. 

November 14:

(It's 10:40 pm and Niko has been "asleep" for 2 hours or so, when we suddenly hear him making some sort of truck sound upstairs. We both sigh.)

Jesse: It's like a lunatic lives upstairs!

December 25:

(Whilst putting together a dinosaur puzzle with Nikolai)

Jesse: Isn't it wonderful to think how terrifying chickens used to be? 

Here's to a new year full of many more happy and silly memories!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Wintry Road Trip, Part 3

 The drive to Toronto was much easier than the one to Montreal--it was shorter, and the roads were clear! 

We had a lot of lovely views of the Canadian countryside, many of which looked like this: 

That night, we stayed in Whitby (a suburb of Toronto) with some Canadian friends that used to live in our student family housing complex in Ann Arbor. They moved back to Canada for a job a few months ago, and it was really fun to see them again and catch up! Honestly, they're the kind of people that I always meant to spend more time talking to while they lived here, so it was really nice to spend the evening just chatting with them. Also, I think getting to play with their 4 children was the highlight of Nikolai's trip ;) ;)

The next morning we set off to see the University of Toronto! It was pretty frigid, so I didn't take as many pictures as I should have :( The campus was really cool though, and we had a great time running around campus, trying to find all the people Aaron hoped to talk to. In the end, I think we found almost everyone, and got to see a good portion of campus while doing it!

There were some lovely old buildings that were part of campus (I'm not sure exactly what they house, but they were cool!):

And just to the east of campus was the Parliament building for the whole province of Ontario, which gives free tours--so of course we had to check it out! 

It was really cool--the architecture was really lovely, and we had a great time learning more about the Canadian governmental system. It's so interesting so see how other systems of governance work, especially when they're quite different from our own!

We only had about half a day in Toronto, but we tried to enjoy it as best as we could. That afternoon, we set off for home! (It was especially important that we get home at a decent hour, because Jesse's first day of classes was the next day!)

All in all, it was a really great trip, even despite the sometimes-lousy weather :) 

I'll leave you with a picture of Nikolai and Aaron, cozy on the couch watching a movie (Uncle Aaron became Nikolai's very favorite person while he was here!):

Aaron, thanks so much for coming to visit us! We loved having you here, and we loved an excuse to adventure with you :) We love you!

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Wintry Road Trip, Part 2

We arrived in Montreal around 6:30 pm and quickly found the apartment we'd be staying in for 2 nights.  Funny story: Weeks ago, I had booked us a hotel across town, after a long process of checking prices at different hotels on different travel sites, reading reviews, and trying to find a place that was more or less downtown (where we planned on spending the majority of our time). After a long while, I found a hotel that seemed to fit all our criteria: downtown, great price, free parking, and, I thought, good reviews. (Are you feeling a sense of foreboding yet?? You should be.) Well, a few days before our trip, for some reason I decided to check out the details of our hotel and ended up reading the reviews. Now, I always read the reviews anytime we travel. Always, always, always! But, I know I must have skipped the reviews for this hotel on accident, because I would have never booked this hotel had I read them! 

So there I was, a few days before, reading about how the manager seemed drunk, would try to force his way into the room (mentioned  by not 1 but 2 or more sources!), how there were questionable characters hanging around the hotel, how there was someone howling (not an animal) in the hallway at 4 in the afternoon, and more. And I FREAKED OUT. Oh man, you guys, it was bad! 

Immediately, I looked and found out I could cancel the reservation, cancelled it, and set about trying to find somewhere else to stay in the area. The trouble was, there was a reason I had picked that hotel: everything else was either too far away, too expensive, wanted an arm and a leg for parking (at least $20 a night in most places), or didn't have good reviews. So, I had gotten us out of that terrible hotel, but had nothing decent to replace it with. ACK!

A few days earlier, we had been hanging out with some friends that traveled to Egypt this summer, and they mentioned that had used airbnb (a website where people can rent out rooms or even the whole apartment to travelers) to find places to stay. After a long search, I found a place that finally seemed to fit our criteria--and best of all, it was a listing for the whole apartment (I wasn't big on the idea of just renting a room or two and sharing an apartment with the current tenants. Safety was a concern, sure, but I also just really like having my space at the end of the day).  This time, I made sure to read ALL of the reviews (the worst of which was someone mentioning that the apartment had run out of shampoo during their stay, and they'd had to buy their own--to which the apartment owner had responded and apologized profusely!). I messaged the owner half a dozen times, clarifying things I had questions about (where we could park, etc) and got good enough vibes from his responses that I felt comfortable booking the apartment. Also, I figured that the place was cheap enough that if we got there and it was totally creepy, we could always back out and not break the bank! 

SO. We got into Montreal, felt very safe in the location and were pleased to find out that the owner was a totally normal grad student at Concordia university around the corner. 

The apartment wasn't fancy, but we weren't paying very much for it so we didn't mind! It was very clean though, and had everything we needed (with the exception of internet that wasn't molasses slow, but that ended up being ok). 

We settled in for the night (we were pretty bushed for the drive) and prepared to set out in the morning for the first day of our Montreal adventure!

And boy, was it an adventure! 

The weather that day was juuuust a little too warm, so that all the precipitation we got was technically liquid, but would turn to ice on our clothes and the sidewalks. It was, admittedly, pretty miserable walking around outside, so we tried to do that as little as possible!

We had some difficulty getting on the metro at first (our debit/credit cards don't have special chips in them like Canadian cards do, so the ticket machines and ATMs didn't want to recognize them), but after a long, fairly complex process (including walking back to the car, digging it out of the snow, driving around until we found a bank that was open, eventually parking again and then walking to the Metro again) we finally got tickets and were able to get around :)

I think this was the first time that Nikolai's ever ridden a train (with the exception of a tram in the Denver airport last year) and he was so excited! Seriously, I loved watching his face when he saw it pull up for the first time--it was fantastic :) :)

Also, just to let you know what it looked like when we were walking around--behold, Montreal in all of its wintry glory:

Our first stop was the Notre-Dame Basilica. Aaron actually got to go to mass (we dropped him off so at least someone could enjoy the morning while we tried to figure out the metro system!) which was apparently amazing (there was a choir and a massive, 7,000 pipe organ!) and we caught up to him afterwards to get a look inside.

This place was beautiful! Sadly, I had left my fancy camera in the car on accident so all I have is some semi-blurry ones taken with my little camera, and they totally don't do it justice.

Suffice it to say, it was really lovely and we were so glad we got to stop by! 

Next, we found a super empty mall (are you shocked to know that no one was shopping on such an icy morning?) where we could sit indoors and eat a picnic lunch (yay for cheap travel tricks!) someplace where there wasn't slush falling on us from the sky ;)

After that break, we walked back to the metro and headed north a ways, to the old Olympic Stadium complex (from the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal).  Below is a picture of the stadium, as well as the Olympic Tower. It's a testament to the terrible weather that day, though, because you can't even see the top for the cloud cover!! 

We visited the Biodome, located along with several other attractions in the stadium complex. It was a magical place--it has 4 ecosystems found in the Americas (Tropical forest, north american forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence Ecosystem and Arctic/Antarctic), with all sorts of flora and fauna from each of those places. It was so cool to look around and see not just a few animals represented, but living plants and smaller organisms (such as anemone under water in the bay, etc) that are also part of those habitats. 

Nikolai was kind of tired (it was his nap time, and he had been walking around all morning!) but he really enjoyed it all the same. 

He climbed on this frog all by himself, and got off immediately after I had taken a picture. What a ham!

Looking at some ducks. Also, this was a segment of the Bay of Lawrence habitat, and as such this little inlet had salt water and mock waves lapping the shore. It was lovely!

We liked it too!

Above was a representation of further out in the bay, so they had big rocks for water birds to climb on, a lovely painted backdrop of what the bay looks like, and deeper water (and around the corner, you could even see some giant fish swimming in the deeper water! It was awesome!). This part of the exhibit was definitely my favorite!

Nikolai liked the penguins, but was a little too tired at that point to fully appreciate their cuteness, I think ;)

Our little tot was so bushed that he fell asleep on the metro ride home! He was awake one minute and asleep the next. Also, I think this was the first time I've gotten to hold him while he was sleeping in at least a year!

For dinner, we found a fantastic lebanese restaurant called Boustan, which was both cheap, had hearty portions and was delicious! 

Terribly blurry picture of Niko, I know! But I wanted proof that we were there!

This picture doesn't do it justice, but this was an amazing chicken schwarma plate that was SO GOOD.  I know the odds aren't good, but if you're ever in Montreal and even remotely like this kind of food, you should really stop here!

The next day was the opposite, weather-wise: too cold (0 degrees!), so I sent Jesse and Aaron to check out McGill (the university Aaron wanted to see) and I stayed home and packed with Nikolai while they tried to see everything they could see before they froze :) 

It was a good visit, and then it was time to go! Before leaving, we drove up to Mount Royal to get a good view of the city, sans cloud cover:

It was lovely! 

And then we set off for Toronto! Stay tuned for tomorrow's post about the last leg of our trip!