When Daddy’s Away, the Ladies Will PLAY!

by Sarah Novak on December 10, 2014

As you’ve probably read here or on Facebook, it’s been me and the Nia-meister for the last 8 days while Nick was away in Russia and Ukraine.  I was definitely nervous about how the week would go, so I deferred to my tried-and-true strategy, the book-every-minute-with-activities plan.  It worked like a charm.

The weekdays looked pretty much like normal (Sarah working, Nia at school).  The bonus was that Grandpa Novak was in town for work, so we got to see him 3 times for dinner over the course of the week.  We ended the work week with a Christmas movie night (with popcorn on the couch even!).


Saturday morning we woke up and put on our party clothes to head over to our friend Kim’s Cookie Exchange.  This woman knows how to party – look at that spread above!


My only challenge was that Nia has grown tall enough to reach stuff now so every 5 minutes or so I’d catch her in the kitchen reaching her hand up over the edge of the counter to see what kind of cookie she could snag.  She tried this maneuver no less than 8 times, of which I caught her 5 times.  So she had at least 3 cookies, probably closer to 5 in reality though.


The picture shown above was taken seconds before she decided she got excited and knocked that entire bowl of beads crashing to the floor.  Ever tried picking up 300+ pony beads off a wood floor?  Good times indeed.  Thank goodness there were 20 of us to assist.

Saturday afternoon Nia and I met up with her friend from school to enjoy a ballet performance of the Nutcracker (sorry, no pics).  She was very into it and kept repeating “I see nutcrackers and princesses!”  Translation: Princess = ballerina

I felt good coming out of Saturday and decided to push my luck by attempting church.  I hoped there’d be a kid’s area, but upon asking, I was told by the usher that kids are most welcome and encouraged to make noise.  I had a feeling we’d be making good on that offer.

High point: Dancing with her in my arms to 2 of my all-time favorite church songs and watching her try to sing along.

Low points: When she started singing Jingle Bells LOUDLY during the homily.  When she reached over and grabbed the long necklace of the woman sitting next to us.  When she put the kneeler down on an old lady’s foot while she was exiting for communion.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad.  I’d give her a B-.  I’m going to try again next week and bring some better distractions for her.  And to their credit, no one shot me dagger eyes when Nia bothered them (despite my best attempts to keep her from doing so).  Yay for welcoming church communities!


We were determined to end our weekend with a bang, so we arranged to go to ZooLights at the National Zoo with our neighbor Kai and his Mom (who we went to Sesame Place with).


It was cold but boy oh boy did we have a good time.  Nia’s had very limited opportunities to wear her snowsuit, so that was a hit and animals ALWAYS score big with her.  Oh, and did I mention we took the Metro?  Another fave.  It was so exciting, in fact, that it took me 90 minutes to get her to sleep.  Worth it though for all the fun we had.  So there you have it.

I give myself an A+ for solo parenting, even if we ordered pizza 3 times.  :)

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Look What Nick Got Us in Russia!

by Sarah Novak on December 9, 2014


Hi everyone – If you’ve been following Facebook you know that I’ve been solo parenting for 8 days while Nick took a work trip to Russia and Ukraine.  He did plenty of working, but in his spare moments he made it to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg (above) and Red Square in Moscow, home of the famous St. Basil church (below).




There was a Christmas market set up in Red Square and it was there that Nick picked up a souvenir for Nia and I.  As a girl, I remember my Great Aunt Marlene visiting Russia and bringing us back a Russian Nesting Doll.  I remember how precious it was to my sisters and I and requested that Nick get one for Nia.


Well surprise, surprise . . . not only did Nia get a Russian nesting doll, but Mama did as well!  Here’s a look at my Matryoshka Doll, affectionately named “Angel” by Nia.  Note: You can see Nia’s Matryoshka on the video below.



I did some research on Wikipedia to learn a bit more about the origins and craftsmanship behind these dolls.  Here’s what I learned:

  • The first Russian nested doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo.
  • Russian Nesting Dolls often follow a theme; the themes vary, from fairy tale characters to Soviet leaders.
  • Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan, a long and shapeless traditional Russian peasant jumper dress
  • The word “matryoshka”, literally “little matron”, is a diminutive form of the Russian female first name “Matryona”.


The dolls are constructed from one block of wood in order to create a proper fit. Production involves use of a turning lathe, along with various woodcarving knives and chisels. No measurements are made during this process; sizing to fit is done by eye. After all the dolls are made, they are treated, painted, and coated, before nesting them inside one another.

Source (Photo & Description): Wikipedia

This post wouldn’t be complete without a video showing me taking apart the stacking doll I received.  Before you watch, take a guess as to how many dolls are inside!

I hope you loved her as much as we do!

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A Recap of Thanksgiving Weekend in DC

by Sarah Novak on December 1, 2014


It was a lovely, quiet holiday weekend for the Novaks.  Nick made us a Thanksgiving feast complete with homemade pumpkin pie, turkey, mashed taters and gravy.  I was totally spoiled!  It was our first ever turkey and a major upgrade from the Dominos Pizza we had last year!


Other Thanksgiving fun included watching the Macy’s Day Parade and setting the tree up.


On Friday Nick had to work and Nia was off school, so we decided to try our luck at ice skating.  This was Nia’s first time ever and my first time in probably 15 years.  So yeah, it wasn’t pretty.  Nia pretty much panicked and cried the whole time, despite the fact that she had this amazingly cool penguin to push around that helped her stand.  She liked the idea of it, just not the actual experience so much.  :)


After about 30 minutes of coaxing and sadness on the ice, we abandoned ship and went to Starbucks for a warm-up.  Doesn’t my little big girl look so grown up with coffee (hot chocolate actually) in her hand!


Saturday was focused on 2 things: decorating the tree & making cookies.  The tree decorating got hijacked because Nia wanted to play with all the ornaments and refused to let us put them on the tree yet.


As for cookies, we did our customary Peanut Butter Blossoms (my personal fave).  Nia was the designated chocolate-unwrapper.  She proved to be surprisingly meticulous with this and didn’t even try to steal any in the process.  Grandpa Novak arrived in town that night, so we enjoyed a welcome feast with him as well.


Sunday we had aspirations of visiting the model train exhibit at the Botanical Garden but the lines were an hour plus so we abandoned that idea and simply walked around the rest of the Botanical Gardens (which are lovely and decorated as well).  Later that afternoon we bid Daddy adieu for an 8 day trip to Kyiv, Moscow and Saint Petersburg.  It’s already feeling strange without him here, but happily we have Grandpa to enjoy for the entire week!  That was our Thanksgiving weekend – hope yours was equally lovely!


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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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