brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s been making a lot of art recently. We worked on one together, but the other is all him.

niko_garden_art_collage

He told me that he wanted to cut out some flowers and glue them to paper to make a garden. So we sat down together and I helped him cut out some blossoms. He tried cutting out stems but got frustrated so I did that. He glued some of them down before getting bored so I finished that up, then he helped me glue the grass down. He drew the sun and I drew some clouds. I wanted him to draw the sun on a piece of white paper, or cut out a piece of yellow paper for the sun, but he would have none of that.

I’d like to do this again on a piece of bristol board, using patterned paper and a better glue (spray on adhesive instead of glue stick) because I think that’d be a cool piece of art. Using decorative paper punches that made flower heads, leaves, etc would also be cool/fun and speed things up quite a bit.

niko_art_allosaur

Remember when I mentioned the white board and how much Niko liked it? He’s been drawing a lot of awesome dinosaurs on it. This is one of them, an allosaurus. On the left you can see its enormous head and massive teeth and on the right you can see its feathered tail. You can also see its hands and feet with fingers/toes. FUN FACT: in Serbian, prst means both “finger” and “toe.” “Digit,” says Nesko. “It means digit.” I did not help with this one at all.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

One of the things I like about our little family is the traditions we’re developing like going to Day Out With Thomas (2 years in a row) or to Wagner Farm every year for the Rotary Club fund raising (3 years in a row) or… uh. I guess that’s it, so far.

Anyway, we made the trek up to The Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois for the 2012 Day Out With Thomas. It was great. It was fun last year, but it was rainy, and Niko was younger and cranky and nap disruptions made everything terrible (everything!). And even though he’s been a jerk about sleeping and napping lately, he’s old enough that he was able to hold his shit together allowing us to explore and do more things.

"Niko Posing With Thomas"

Nikola turns around long enough for a photo.

As they do, they had platforms set up for photo ops with Thomas. There were three platforms and of course the one in the middle was the most popular. There were professional photographers and you had the option to view and purchase a pro photo (perhaps in a fancy commemorative frame?) but we did not go that route because we are cheap assholes with our own (shitty) camera. How shitty? Let me just say that if you have an iPhone 4 your phone has a batter camera than my straight up camera. I discarded literally over half the photos I took because they were crap not because of anything I did but because it’s just a crap camera. Enough complaining! Niko was far more interested in checking out Thomas than turning around for his photo op, but he was very kind and patient with us and eventually turned around and consented to have his photo taken. Bless. We only backed the line up a LITTLE bit.

"Nikola checks out a hand car"

Nikola checks out a hand car.

There are many, many sheds with trains on display– engines, coaches, freight cars, CTA cars, cabooses, and more. Most of them have signs and are genteely roped off but apparently it’s ok to climb on this one. At least I hope it’s ok. Other people were doing so and there were no ropes or signs saying not to. Here’s Niko on a yellow hand car.

"Nikola sees a huge steam engine"

Nikola is stunned by the sheer immensity of a black steam engine.

And here he is checking out a huge black steam engine which, he was quick to tell us, looked just like Gordon. Well of course.

"Nikola and Nesko in front of a steam enginge"

Nikola and Nesko stand in front of a big steam engine.

I took, no exaggeration, about 50 photos of the awesome trains inside the sheds including the Nebraska Zephyr and some simply IMMENSE engines. None of them turned out. My camera, a point and shoot, has issues with its flash I guess. The photos in strong natural light, like this one, turned out much better. Steam engines are incredibly huge! And loud! And huge! I kind of have a thing for taking photos of people in front of GIANT TIRES and have done so both here and at Wagner Farm in front of a tractor’s giant tires.

"Niko on a caboose"

Niko also got to check out a caboose.

He also got to clamber around a caboose/brake van. It’s a cheerful red, as cabooses should be.

We went on a short street car ride but skipped the longer 19 mile ride because Niko was fading fast and while Nesko thought it’d be a chance for us all to relax including Niko, I was afraid Niko would get cranky and disrupt things. We checked out the Zephyr, which Niko’s been talking about for months, and also checked out the CTA train they’ve been restoring. We were also able to check out the museum’s gift shop and we bought a beautiful print for $5 of a pencil drawing of street car passing the Chicago theater.

This was a super great time and if we lived closer than an hour away we’d seriously consider buying a membership. A family membership costs $65, which is pretty cheap, and they have lots of events and it’d be super fun to just be able to look at the trains and ride them whenever we had a weekend to do so. We miiiiight look into hotels in the area and do a 3 day vacation out there, exploring the railway museum and also the Wild West Town and KOA campground and one room school house in the are. I AM A SUCKER FOR HISTORICAL REENACTMENTS, you have no idea.

Maybe you’re curious as to how accessible the museum is. There are designated handicap parking spaces on asphalt, but most of the parking is on grass, which may not be as much of an issue on NON Day Out With Thomas days. There are wide paved walkways throughout the grounds of the museum, but many of the sheds have a step to get in and some of them are not super well lit. They have paved walkways in the sheds. Some of the doorways are not very wide. I don’t think any of the trains are accessible. They are historic trains with narrow, steep, widely spaced steps. We all had problems boarding and disembarking. The museum has golf cart “courtesy shuttles” for Day Out With Thomas, but I don’t know if they have them at other times. The museum gift shop has a ramp leading up to it, but it’s narrow inside. I saw people at Day Out With Thomas using wheel chairs, motorized chairs, walkers, crutches, braces, and assistance dogs. So obviously some persons with disabilities are able to navigate the museum. There were also a lot of people using strollers and wagons along the pathways and over the grassy areas, although those weren’t allowed on the trains or in the gift store or in the museum’s diner. There were many portapotties, some of which were accessible, but I don’t know if those are a constant fixture or brought in specially for Day Out With Thomas. The diner has a big bathroom and the lady’s room had a handicapped stall but I don’t remember if the doorways were wide enough for a wheel chair user. It’s a newer building, though.

To sum up, “Day Out With Thomas” was a great time. I don’t think it’s possible for a more perfect day to have happened. We had a really good time and just as Niko talked about last year’s event all year I’m sure he’ll be talking about this year’s event for a long time as well. If you have the chance to attend “Day Out With Thomas,” or the Illinois Railway Museum, and you or someone you love is All About Trains, check it out. It’s well worth the money and the drive.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

I got new shoes the other day. Niko was very excited to have these awesome new toys to play with.

Niko discovers shoes

Nikola discovers my new shoes in the kitchen.


Niko grabs the shoes

Niko starts moving the shoes around, creating order from chaos.


TOOT TOOOOOOOOOT SHOE

The shoes are a train. Did you know that? TOOT TOOOOOOOOOOT.


He tries to shoe me

Niko has a promising career shoe-ing people.


Shoes are reversed

He lined the shoes up in front of my feet. Sort of.


Then he remembered that he had his OWN new shoes to play with and tried to put them on.
One shoe off and one shoe on

One foot jammed in the wrong shoe, the other about to jam in.


Overbalanced

Who knew putting on shoes was such hard work?


Second Try at Shoes

Second try at putting on shoes (on the wrong feet)


Defeat

He gave up, I put shoes on him.


His original shoe fell off and he got upset and gave up. There was throwing. I put his shoes on the correct feet and he scampered off, then insisted I put his hat on his head and started putting his favorite toys in his diaper bag. OBVIOUSLY it was time to go someplace! Sadly, we were unable to leave the house.
broken key

Betrayed by the door!


Nesko’s key had snapped in half while he was unlocking the door, and he was borrowing my key. I had no way of locking up the house to leave. (I still don’t, he’s still borrowing the keys, he got copies of my keys made and NONE of them work. NONE. N.O.N.E. Not even one. Frustrating!)


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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Most people who celebrate Christmas have specific traditions and customs surrounding the holiday. The same can be said of any holiday, but Christmas (at least in the USA) can have really variable traditions. Do you open presents on the 24th, or the 25th? If it’s the 24th, is it just one present or all of them? Do you do Santa? Does he bring a lot, or a little? Are his gifts wrapped, or unwrapped? And then there’s the decor, the food, the parties, the music.

When I was five, my parents bought a house after years and years of renting. One of the first things my mom did was put in a garden, a garden of her very own, one she wouldn’t have to leave behind. She planted some plants she got from her mom’s garden, Lillies of the Valley. And either that year or soon after, I forget when, we started a new Christmas Tradition. Instead of a cut tree (we had a small collection of various tree stands) or a fake tree (we never had one) we started picking out a fir tree with a root ball still attached; a living tree. The adults would troop out after Thanksgiving dinner with a pick axe and shovels and break up the possibly frozen definitely clay-y soil and dig a hole, then cover it with boards. The tree wouldn’t actually be delivered until just before Christmas. We often didn’t get it into the house and set up until the 23rd or 24th. They were pretty ugly trees, too. They were younger than the trees you get when you buy a cut tree (the root ball could add a foot or two of height) and had naked bits and gaps and crooked leaders. And there was the wet, muddy, burlap-sack-covered and sheathed in plastic sheeting root ball to contend with. One had to be careful of present placement, even when plastic and cloth had been put down, swathing the root ball. But oh, the trees smelled so incredibly good. And now my parents have the most beautiful line of giant healthy pine trees along their house.

I miss the smell of a fresh live pine tree. I hate our fake tree. My husband, how grew up with fake trees, wants to upgrade our tree to a better quality fake tree next year. He points out that a cut tree would be hard to get in and out of the apartment, they shed needles, the city picks them up for “recycling” (shunts them into a wood chipper for mulch) before Eastern Orthodox Christmas which means we’d either need to take the tree down early or else dispose of it ourselves (and a tree sat in the alley for a good six months at our last apartment, set out too late or possibly covered by snow and overlooked and then ignored), and we’d wind up spending money every single year on a new tree, and blah blah hassle blah blah blah. And he’s right. But fake trees are so incredibly awful for the environment. Most of them are made in China, which means their carbon footprint just for shipping is immense. They’re made essentially in sweatshops, of PVC, can have high levels of lead, and you can’t (easily) recycle them which means almost every single artificial tree (and swag!) ever made is going to last forever. Cut trees are shipped as well, but a much shorter distance, and the ones that are cut are planted specifically for that purpose and then a new sapling is planted.

So we’re currently at a Christmas Tree Impasse and will probably just keep using our fake tree until it falls apart or something. I guess it’s becoming a tradition in its own right… more so now that Niko has reached the helpful stage.

So, you know, there’s that. (Nesko was the one doing the actual tree assembly. This was early on a lazy weekend morning so he hadn’t showered yet, so I’m not putting pictures of him with dirty hair up on the web. he is, however, wearing a “bumble” t-shirt from “Rudolph.” He still has his teeth on the shirt, the only reason I permitted purchasing it OH MY GOD WHAT A FUCKED UP MOVIE.)

Nesko likes colored lights on the tree and lights that blink or chase or glow or fade in and out or otherwise act in ways that distract me or give me a migraine. So we have white lights that don’t twinkle or fade or dance or sing or do anything ridiculous or tacky (YES YES I AM JUDGMENTAL, UNREASONABLY SO, ABOUT CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTS ITS JUST WHO I AM, OK?) except for some giant blue bubble lights that just kick all kinds of ass.

(pretend that plastic bag under the tree isn’t there, ok? it held garland earlier and I forgot to pick it up.)

We intend to 1) get more bubble lights (THEY ARE SO COOL) 2) upgrade to LED lights 3) get strands of both clear/white and red because I find red an acceptable compromise color wise and this way we can unplug the red lights and just have white when I’m feeling ornery and have merry berry-like lights the rest of the time.

You may also have noted the mismatched garland and the desperate use of ribbon to fill garland-less space. Also the gaping holes in the tree because it’s a shitty tree. I HATE YOU TREE OK. We have three strands of one garland I love, two strands of another garland I love that totally clashes with the first style, and two strands of a super cheap garland we got at Walgreens the first year we put the tree up and that looks like crap. ALL OF THEM TOGETHER ARE NOT ENOUGH. But that’s ok. You may also have noticed that the ornaments look a little sparse. I have FIVE MILLION ORNAMENTS, most of them incredibly breakable. I have a 21 month old who came running up to me the other morning, arms full of ornaments he’d harvested from the tree. “Ball,” he exclaimed delightedly. “BALL!” and then threw them at me and ran off to get more. I am so incredibly glad I didn’t hang any of the fragile, breakable, some of them antique almost all of them heavy with meaning (or else cheap but very breakable) ornaments. What you see there is all our unbreakable stuff, some of it incredibly creepy and from the 1950s. I should take close up photos of some of the creepier ornaments, which include a ladder of santas with inhuman faces, and a small teddy bear whose eyes are dripping down his face.

Speaking of ornaments, one of our traditions (started when I was a kid) involves buying everyone a new ornament every year. Before we had Niko, Nesko and I used to hit Marshall Field’s (before it was Macy’s) every year AFTER Christmas so the ornaments we got were on sale. Now we try to hit a local small business and shunt our money there (FUCK YOU MACY’s oh god my Christmas traditions involve a lot of hate). When Niko’s old enough to really be aware and take part in selecting ornaments we’ll go back to the pre-Christmas tradition. We’ll also resurrect the tradition of checking out the window displays downtown. But he is just a BAAAAAAAAAABY right now and I’m not taking him out in sub-zero weather unless he’s going to enjoy it and remember it.

The nativity scene is a big deal at Christmas, and the Baby Jesus (HE IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON YOU GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!eleventy) is in the 25th day of the perpetual wooden advent calendar we have. You may also notice the candles with spinning angel thingy and the jars of candy ALL TRADITIONAL. Them being on top of the tv is not traditional, but our mantle is filled with books so there’s no room over there (OH GOD NO ROOM FOR JESUS ON THE MANTLE history is repeating itself :C :C :C).

You can totally tell when this photo was taken by counting the doors. I do the advent calendar for Nesko (he’s used to the cardboard ones with really crappy chocolate inside. One year I got him one from Fannie May and he was over. the. moon.) and put little candies inside that he’ll like. One of these days I’ll have my act together enough (and will have money enough) to put tiny gifts in there as well. One of our plans is to construct an Advent Calendar with 14 extra doors, for Eastern Orthodox kids/families who are into Advent Calendars, so they can start Dec 1st and go all the way to Jan 7th/Christmas.

See the little porcelain Santa next to the calendar? I was an overly precocious child and every. single. year. my Christmas List was topped by “actually seeing Santa.” So every single year my overly clever parents frustrated me with Santa ornaments and stuff. This guy’s one of my favorites.

Oh man, look at those stockings! They’ve got our (correctly spelled) names on ‘em and everything. How classy is that? For the first time IN MY ENTIRE LIFE there’s a fireplace I can hang stockings by. How awesome is that? This particular fireplace has been blocked off but I think we’re going to install a gas fireplace insert (my father in law and I both had the idea at roughly the same time, without talking to each other, WE SHARE ONE MIND APPARENTLY) next year. And then we’ll have a fireplace. I was kind of bummed by the fact that a gas insert doesn’t let you open the doors and burn actual wood for that wood smoke smell, nor can you pop popcorn or roast marshmallows or whatever. And then I was all DURR WHEN WOULD YOU ACTUALLY DO THAT PS WOOD SMOKE MAKES YOUR ASTHMA WORSE IDIOT. Anyway, stocking contents have to include a candy cane, a Terry’s Chocolate Orange in the toe, some loose chocolates and hard candy and nuts, and small toys/presents. These stockings were a gift from my in-laws and I adore the fact that we all match. LOOK I AM A MATCHY PERSON. I have a condition. (I am not joking about that.)

I worked at Fannie May right before they declared bankruptcy. It was a pretty awesome job in general, and I loved my co-workers, although we had some terrible scams that we foiled (or laughed over, in the case of the tiny old lady with an Irish accent who would try to dump whole sample trays in her purse and then scold us for not having samples out for her to try) and I lost my taste for sweet things for awhile (between that and the bakery, oh my LORD, I just wanted to curl up with a salt lick). That Christmas season I collected all the FM stuffed animals and here they are. Ultimately they’ll be down lower, but I don’t want Niko sucking on their eyes and shoving them under the couch and generally LOVING them, so up they are and up they’ll stay for awhile.

These little angels were always one of the big harbingers of Christmas, for me. So I got my own set. The original ones were owned by my grandma and on her death passed to my mom. I’ve missed these little musical angels for years, and a quick eBay search brought some home to me. Aren’t they cute?

That’s actually all the decorating we’ve done for Christmas, in large part because we have a very active toddler who gets into everything. We currently have two chairs wedged in the doorway between the living and the sunroom (which is where the tree is) to keep him from harvesting more ornaments from it. We’ll do more when he’s older (assuming there isn’t another tiny child getting into things).

Some of our other traditions include Certain Special Movies– “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” for me and those claymation classics like “Rudolph” and “Frosty the Snowman” for Nesko, movies I’d never seen until after we’d moved in together. “The Nutcracker Suite” is a big one for me, and when Niko gets older I want to start going to a production every year. Until then we watch it on PBS and listen to a CD with the music. A glut of cookies, lots of baking, my mom makes rich deep moist boozey fruitcake most years. One present on Christmas Eve and a midnight Mass with candlelight vigil, some kind of catch as catch can breakfast of rolls and milk (coffee for the adults) and candy Christmas morning, presents from Santa and stockings torn into, all other gifts opened carefully in turn. Thank you cards written right after. Christmas cards written and posted within the week after Thanksgiving (I’m late this year due to dashed hopes of getting a family photo taken and printed in time; I haven’t sent out a Christmas card in a few years, though).

One unusual thing this Christmas is snow.

We live in the Midwest (Chicago! woo! Chicago!) which means that every winter we get hit with huge amounts of snow, but usually we get flurries around Thanksgiving and then no actual snow until January. I’ve been seeing a lot of melt recently, but I think we’ll actually have a White Christmas this year.


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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

(This actually took place about a month ago. Niko’s had a hair cut since then. It was very windy that day, but fun.)

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko has a dancer in him. It’s probably a tiny dancer, as he’s fairly tiny himself. But it’s in him, and tries to bust out at every opportunity. He loves music and sings along to songs he’s familiar with (mostly “London Bridge” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep/Twinkle Twinkle Little Star/The Alphabet Song” and a few I’ve made up) and oh, he loves to dance.

One of his favorite songs to dance to is “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor” (which I sometimes sing as “What do you do with a cranky baby” when warranted). I start singing it and he starts dancing and jumping and running in circles. Which is utterly hilarious. UTTERLY.

From 2010-10-08
From 2010-10-08


And here he is saying “shhh.”

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