A MN Food Taste Test

by Sarah Novak on November 22, 2014

In this HILARIOUS video California Residents tried 5 Minnesota-y foods which included JELLO Salad, Lutefisk, Tator Tot Hotdish, the Juicy Lucy and a Nut Goodie.  I almost died laughing watching them eat the Lutefisk. :)  This is a must watch folks.

PS – I am not surprised at all that the Tator Tot Hotdish went over so well.  That’s been my favorite food since I was old enough to eat solids.

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Mayan Dream

by Sarah Novak on November 11, 2014

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Hard to believe, but we are already halfway through our child-free getaway to the Mexican Riviera.  We’re staying at a beach house in Akumal, which is located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen.  I have to admit, we’ve been pretty lazy.  There has been lots of napping, eating, drinking and book reading.  It’s been divine.  I can’t remember the last time I slept this much.  :)

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The food has been a definite high point of the trip.  Lots of amazing variations on tacos, burritos and salsa.  One of our favorite spots was La Buena Vida, a bar and restaurant in Akumal.  I’m pictured above sitting on their popular swinging bar perches.  We also took advantage of an oceanside table (with sand underfoot) but were disappointed that the treehouse was under repair that day.  Too bad, as I really wanted to have a beer hoisted up to us in a bucket!

We also had the good fortune of getting into the Hartwood Restaurant in Tulum, where wait times for a table are often close to 2 hours.  Not only is this restaurant hip, but it’s the posterchild for sustainability.  To start with, all food is cooked in a wood burning oven and grill.  The few things that do require electricity are powered with solar panels.  All food is locally sourced and all waste is used as compost, making the restaurant carbon neutral.  This place is truly something special – next time you’re in the area, be sure and check it out.

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On Tuesday we decided to hit the ruins.  First up was Tulum, which is a beautiful oceanfront ruin complex.  I can’t imagine how cool it would have been to visit this place in its heyday.  The Mayans sure know how to pick a killer location….

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This was the first ruin I’ve been to where everyone enters carrying swimming stuff.  We missed the memo, but it’s apparently common practice to swim at the ruin after taking your tour.

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Next up was the ancient Mayan city of Coba, which once held 40,000 people.  It is estimated that there are nearly 6,000 ruins in this complex, only 3% of which have been discovered and restored thus far.

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The definite highlight of the day was getting to climb my first Mayan temple!!!  This was no baby temple either, it was the second largest (bigger than Chichen Itza) and reached a height of 140 feet.

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What I loved about this experience was the fact that it would NEVER happen in the US.  There’d be accidents and lawsuits up the wazoo.  But in Mexico, no big deal.  No waiver, no refined path, climb at your own risk.  They generously provided a rope in case you freak out at the top and then need to slide down on your but (which I saw multiple people do).

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I was uber-determined to make this climb, since I’m sure someone is going to wisen up soon and shut ‘er down for good.  I made the tiny mistake of looking down when I was about halfway up and that sent a few shots of panic through me.  Dang was it high (and very uneven from all the wear and tear over the years).  So what did I do?  I stopped looking down and just kept taking the next step in front of me.  Before I knew it I found myself at the top jumping for joy over my kick-ass accomplishment!  PS – My bum still hurts 2 days later… that was one heck of a stair climb!

Today Nick opted to go on a dive in an underground cavern called a cenote.  I was not sad to miss out on this one.  He, on the other hand, absolutely loved it.  Here’s a clip from his dive if you’d like to watch it.

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Sadly, there’s only 3 more days left in paradise before we head back home.  In case you were wondering, Nia is having a blast in Minnesota.  She is so busy playing, in fact, that she has to be bribed to come and talk with us on skype.  I’m not sure if I should be hurt or pleased by this.  What I do know is that I’ll be excited to see her after 12 days apart!

From Novakistan, post Mayan Dream

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Happy Birth-o-ween!

by Sarah Novak on November 4, 2014

I sit here in bed writing this, not quite sure what to do with myself after coming off a jam-packed weekend with my parents in town.  The “not sure what to do with myself” part comes from the fact that our daughter left with my parents on the airplane and it’s eerily quiet in our house.  We are childless until the 15th and will be spending a week in the Riviera Maya starting on Saturday. I thought I’d be elated with all the free time but instead I just feel paralyzed, like someone hijacked our schedule without telling me.  Fear not, I’m sure I’ll get used to this temporary kidless existence by the time we get to Mexico!

**Before we move on to the weekend recap, I want to give a big shout out to my parents for graciously offering to take Nia for a week and a half while we get some adult bonding time in on the beach!**


We pulled a double-header this weekend, knocking out both Halloween and Nia’s 3rd Birthday Party while my parents were in town.

I must say, Nia was a trick or treating champ for her first non-Embassy Halloween.  We had to coach her a bit on candy selection because she was choosing too many suckers, but she eventually got with the program and switched to chocolate.  She was also good with her thank yous, although sometimes she got confused and said “you’re welcome” instead.  We stopped after an hour but I’m pretty sure she could have made it at least an hour more.


Saturday was spent recuperating from Halloween and gearing up for the Birthday festivities on Sunday.  We were still worn out from the Elmo party from last year, so we took it down and notch and went to a local community center with a soft play gym.  We had the soft play gym to ourselves for an hour and then proceeded back to our party room for the second half of the party.  It wasn’t anything fancy, but it did the trick and the kids had a blast.


Ms. Janet was back for another year of Birthday party fun.  This year we focused heavily on crafts (necklace-making and superstar pictures).


We also played some rousing rounds of “Duck Duck Goose” and “Big Bird, Big Bird Where’s Your Bone”.  Both were huge hits with the youngsters.


Nia had a ridiculously good time (despite the fact that she said she wasn’t going that morning because she was sure that balloons would be there and she’s deathly afraid of balloons right now).


Nick and I are thankful that we survived the 2’s and are enjoying watching our little girl grow up (and talk our ear off).  We can’t wait to see what the next year holds!  Happy Birthday sweetie!

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A Kid-tastic Weekend in Philly

by Sarah Novak on October 21, 2014


Last weekend we took a family road trip to Philly.  This was a very kid-centric trip and we had 2 specific destinations on our agenda.  The first was Sesame Street Place, a Sesame Street theme park with rides, shows, and character meet-and-greets.  Think Disneyworld, but with Sesame Street characters.


It was the perfect time of year to go – not too hot and the park was decked out in Halloween decor (not scary though).  Unfortunately, everyone and their brother had the same idea as us and by 12 noon the park was jam-packed.  It was an endless sea of strollers and tantrumming toddlers.  We managed a grand total of 4 rides, 1 show, 1 parade and 0 character meet-and-greets.  It doesn’t sound like much but it actually felt like a pretty full day.


It’s definitely a great weekend trip from DC (only a 3 hour drive) and there is inexpensive lodging right next to the park.  If we went again, I’d make sure to go on a weekday in the summer in order to take advantage of fewer people and the waterpark.  It’s not worth the full price of $63 a person, but with a Groupon (what we used), it was worth a $38 value.


Sunday was devoted to another gem, the Please Touch Museum.  This was the children’s museum to beat all children’s museums.  Seriously, I can’t begin to explain how fabulous it was.  If we lived in Philly, we’d get a membership there in a heartbeat.


First thing to know is that it’s housed in a beautiful building that was built for the 100 year centennial fair in 1876.  It has been beautifully kept up and the architecture was as delightful as the exhibits.  The far end also housed a carousel that was built around that time and recently restored.


One of our favorite areas was the Alice in Wonderland exhibit.  The design work was exquisite and Nia had the chance to do everything from painting the flowers to dining with the mad hatter.


Here’s a fun picture of us in the shrinking hall that was also part of the exhibit.


The other area that was just mind-blowingly cool was the market.  This market had all the usual areas – dry goods, frozen, refrigerated – and they even used actual packaging for many of the items so it looked quite real.


Kids were encouraged to fill their cart and ring up their purchases (and then pass their cart off to the parents to put everything away).  The pic I took above looks quite serene but this next one shows the reality of it, which was roughly 30 carts careening all over the place.  It was heaps of fun, definitely one of Nia’s highlights.  I’m so glad we took the time for a family road trip before the holidays started.  Twas good bonding time indeed!


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Sarah’s Photo Shoot

by Sarah Novak on September 27, 2014

It was finally time to get my business headshots updated after 7 years of using the old ones.  Thanks to Razavi Photography for doing such a fab job.  I love them and can’t decide which ones to use.  I guess that’s a good problem, right???




Headshot Web






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Nia’s Flower Girl Debut!

by Sarah Novak on September 16, 2014

Nia and I just got back from a 1 week trip to Minnesota to attend Beth & Jim’s wedding (the 3rd of the 4 Miller gals).  The festivities began on Friday night with the rehearsal and 50 person boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka for the Groom’s Dinner (Beth may have stolen that idea from me).


As the flower girl, Nia got to participate in all the weekend festivities.  Boy oh boy did she love being the only kiddo in a sea of adults.  She was on a high all weekend from the non-stop attention.  Unfortunately Nick got a viral infection early in the week and was forced to cancel his ticket.  We missed him but made the best of it.  Bad timing!


Nia has a ridiculously large crush on Jim and if I ever lost sight of her I could pretty much bet that I’d find her near Jim staring up at him with googly eyes.  Thankfully, Jim’s a good sport about it.


Beth and Jim spared no expense on their festivities (open bar all night with top-shelf liquor, stunning new venue for the reception, boat cruises for 50, party bus for the wedding party, grandiose suite for getting ready, etc).  The pics above and below were taken in the suite where we got ready.  It was a beautiful backdrop for a variety of pre-wedding shots (complete with matching robes!)



The wedding took place at St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis.  Nia nailed her flower girl duties, artfully blowing kisses and waving as she went down the aisle.  And despite Mommy’s worries, we didn’t have any loud outbursts to distract from the ceremony.

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The wedding reception was held at MUSE Event Center in downtown Minneapolis.  It’s in the space formerly known as Trocadero’s but received a major renovation before opening as Muse.  Beth & Jim’s wedding was one of the first in the new space.  Wow was it gorgeous!

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In between the ceremony and the reception we took a 26 person party bus around the town for drinks & photos.  We got some great shots on both the Stone Arch Bridge and Nicollet Island.  I can’t wait to see what the professional photographer was able to capture!



I was really proud of how Nia held up over the weekend considering that she didn’t get a nap for 3 days and had 10 PM bedtimes each night.  All the partying finally caught up with her on the wedding night.  Just as we’re getting ready to board the bus back to the hotel she threw up all over the front of her dress.  Poor thing… I think she did a wee bit too much spinning on the dance floor.


All in all, it was a grand weekend full of wonderful memories.  We are so excited to officially welcome Jim to the family (although it feels like he’s been with us forever).  If only Nia and I could shake off the post-wedding exhaustion – we’ve rolled out of bed 2 hours later than normal for the last 3 days!  Hopefully we’re all caught up now and can get back to life as normal.

Best wishes to the Griffins!

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Friday Music Break!

by Sarah Novak on September 5, 2014

This vocal is downright lovely (not to mention the song is a classic).

Nicole Scherzinger: Don't Cry For Me Argentina (2013)

Enjoy your weekend!


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Fun at the Farm

by Sarah Novak on September 2, 2014


We decided to spice up Labor Day 2014 with a little trip to the countryside.  We had intended for it to be a family trip, but Nick had to bow out at the last minute because the hot water heater was leaking.  So it ended up just being Nia and I.

After doing a bit of research we went with Great Country Farms in Bluemont Virginia, a little over an hour outside of DC.  Key things I was looking for were honeycrisp apples, animals and kid-specific activities.  This farm checked all the boxes (and then some).


We arrived at 10 AM and bee-lined it for the jumping pillow, a monstrosity that I have never before seen (that’s Nia jumping atop it).  As you might imagine, it was hugely popular with the kiddo and we managed to get some quality time on it before the big kids arrived.


Next up was apple picking.  We jumped aboard the wagon and headed out to the fields.  Again, we did this relatively early in the day, so there were just a few of us out when we picked.


Nia found apple hunting to be a grand old game – she even managed to select some of our best apples!


She was quite awed by the vast landscape and took off to explore for a bit.  So much of Nia’s life has been in densely-populated areas that it was refreshing to show her what open countryside felt like.  I could tell she liked it, big time.  Iceland, here we come???


The hands-down favorite activity of the day was feeding the goats.  We purchased a cup of feed and Nia meticulously doled out 1 pellet at a time to the impatient goats.  She was very particular in her feeding, making sure each goat got an equal amount.

Here’s a short video of the Nia-meister doing her thing with her goats:

Given the immense popularity of this outing and the fact that orchard season is just starting up, I imagine we’ll make another 2-3 trips to various farms before the end of October.  This makes Mama very happy, as apple-picking was one of my favorite annual traditions as a girl (shout out to Pine Tree Apple Orchard!)  May Nia come to love it as much as I did!


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The Tale of the Coffee Table

by Sarah Novak on September 2, 2014

Once upon a time there was a coffee table (originally owned by a beautiful, blonde-haired lady).  In its day this table was the center of girl chats, group board games and many a memorable dinner party.  Sadly, it got abandoned to a warehouse when the beautiful, blonde-haired lady married the dashing diplomat.

The lady & diplomat had forgotten all about the coffee table until it showed up on their doorstep just months ago.  Alas, the coffee table had seen better days.  It was bruised and broken from it’s travels; the glass shattered to pieces.

Lying in disrepair, the table remained in the corner until one day the blonde-haired lady & diplomat’s offspring took a liking to it.  The offspring delighted in this unusual find, managing to find a way to climb on it each and every day despite protests from the lady and diplomat.

After weeks of “talks” about the purpose of coffee tables, the lady & diplomat gave up, relinquishing use of the coffee table to the offspring.  The idea of replacement glass was abandoned (because the offspring would probably just stand on it and destroy it right?) and the offspring came up with dozens of creative uses for her new table.

Here best ideas included sitting on it and doing puzzles (not pictured),

practicing yoga,


doing push-ups and….




Sadly, the coffee table was never restored to its former glory.  On the upside though, it saw more use than it had in the last 5 years, so that’s something right?

The moral of the story – don’t let your offspring lay claim to your coffee table.


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The Diplomatic Community Steps Up Once Again

by Sarah Novak on August 16, 2014

diplomatic community

It was about this time last month that I found myself in a bit of a conundrum.  We were in the process of setting our new apartment up and it was very obvious that there was no room for my beloved custom-designed chaise lounge from the Philippines.  I was heartbroken.

I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to sell it (I’m not into storage anymore, if there’s no room for it, then it’s gotta go).  I started posting it in our diplomatic community facebook forums and listservs. The response was overwhelming, but not in the way I had expected.  I got reply after reply telling me that I absolutely could NOT sell the chaise.  And interestingly, a unique solution emerged that I never would have considered.

The Diplomatic Community Never Fails to Surprise Me

People started volunteering to ‘house sit’ the chaise for a few years until we headed to our next post.  And mind you, these were not long-time friends, but total strangers.  There I was, humbled yet again by the generosity of our diplomatic community.

I accepted an offer from a lovely family whose timing matched ours (translation: we wouldn’t have to take it back before we leave again in 2-3 years).  We coordinated via email and they showed up yesterday with a big ole moving truck.  Not only did I not have to get it to them, but they didn’t even want my help carrying it from the apartment to the truck.  Talk about service, huh?!

Big thanks to Lauren, David and Lily for helping us find a creative solution to our problem!  No matter how big or small the challenge, I am thankful that we’re never in this alone thank to our amazing foreign service community!

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