Friday Favourites…

Here I am, bellying up (literally) to a feast on a recent trip to Salt Lick BBQ 

Hello readers!

A bit of news today to share with you on this fine Friday afternoon. Although I have closed the shop until August 15th, I have taken a bit of time to re-do Niko & Nonnie’s main website. Please stop by to have a look at all of the streamlined changes. Overall, I am rather happy about the look and feel of the site, so the only thing now is to iron out the mini-glitches that I am detecting on mobile and tablet devices. We’ll get there!

Secondly, I’d like to begin ‘Friday Favourites’ on the blog, most known in the Twittersphere as ‘Follow Fridays’ or #FF. On Fridays I’ll be sharing my favourite moments of the week – pictures, events, design inspiration, things that make me smile, think, analyse, fall in love… I’m hoping to blog a bit more often in the coming days; given my current stats, it seems baby’s arrival is very imminent and writing always keeps me focused (and distracted!)

So without further ado…Friday Favourites.

#1. Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act is upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. The swing vote in the 5-4 decision? Shockingly, conservative Chief Justice Roberts. I’d say that hell had frozen over and pigs were flying outside my windows, but it’s still hot as heck here in Texas and the only pigs are in the bbq pits. In any case, this is absolutely huge news, and a grand triumph for the Obama administration on the road to re-election this November. Put a sock in it, Mitt Romney. The SCOTUS has spoken.

#2. There has been a bit of hard news lately, particularly the number of friends I know facing some pretty horrifying challenges. I present here the links for two blogs, each one having to do with struggling to beat cancer. I am so grateful to my friends for putting their emotions into words and for sharing their journeys with the world. Please show them your support and add these blogs to your roster of weekly reads.

#3. Canada Day is coming up in just a couple of days…and my second home and (not native) land is turning 145 years young! Oh Canada – how we do miss and adore you! For Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, across the Capital region or across the country please visit Patrimoine Canadien-Canadian Heritage.

Two of my favourite fellow Canadians, Oct. 2008

#4. In honour of the upcoming Fourth of July, what better than Salt Lick BBQ – Dripping Springs, TX

#5. Who says it can’t be done? This car-less mother of six proves there is never any impediment to going green!

Til next time.


If I knew you were coming…

I would have baked a cake! In fact, I did. And it was a bloody disaster.

To mark the end of a successful half-year of homeschooling, I thought I would treat the kids to a big chocolate cake, complete with thick frosting, sprinkles…the works. I had just enough ingredients in the house to complete one 10-inch cake, and boy, did the batter ever look good. We all salivated over the cake as we stirred in one delicious ingredient after another – unsweetened cocoa, organic cane sugar, vanilla extract…We melted butter, greased and sugared the pan…

In the meantime I made a large bowl of delicious fudgy frosting, let A+F lick the whisk, and placed the bowl into the refrigerator. This cake was going to be fabulous.

Until disaster struck. I should have known not to bake when it is 100F + outside. Not only does our house heat up abominably from the oven, but the oven itself – well, I just think it cannot compete in this weather. There is indeed a reason why serious bakers bake in proper professional kitchens! After a solid 20-25 minutes of baking, I removed the cake from the oven. The outer edges seemed well-cooked but the middle was still bubbling and clearly uncooked. I lowered the oven considerably and baked until my cake tester came out clean.

I don’t know how with so many wonderful ingredients a cake could taste bad, but did this cake ever taste awful! I had to pry it away from the fingers of my ravenous children, who after waiting patiently for nearly 1.5 hours, burst into tears. So now not only did we have a rather dejected, mangled-looking cake sitting on our countertop – a total waste of time and energy – but that coupled with hysterical children – this was not going to end well. The children were demanding that I bake another cake immediately while I explained that mama is too pregnant to be on her feet any longer in a hot kitchen. That certainly fell on deaf ears. Breaking bad news to your kids is equivalent to your children hearing you and processing your words but refusing to comprehend why logistically, this might be a tad complicated.

A+F returned to the dining room, weeping and weeping. “We’re the saddest kids in the whole wide world” declared my daughter, who has a great flair for the dramatic. “All we ever wanted was to eat chocolate cake.” Good heavens, is she ever good at pouring it on! As a parent you never want to disappoint your children, and feeling that you have let them down, however unintentionally it might be, cannot possibly sit well with you.

I pulled out the frosting from the fridge, sliced up two bananas and spread the frosting on top of the banana pieces. I then cooled it down in the freezer for a few minutes, popped them out and shook rainbow sprinkles all over them. Two plates of chocolate-covered banana ‘cakes’ for two very deserving children.  Sometimes all you have to do is to use a word in a slightly different context and children’s imaginations will do the rest. There was not one ounce of cake on those plates, and yet apparently they were ‘the best cakes we’ve ever had.’ Crisis averted, I now can send my superhero cape to the dry cleaner with confidence.

Makeshift and last minute – but evidently delicious!


Life as we know it…

As June winds down to a close, our homeschooling is slowing coming to an end. Finishing up homeschool for the school year lacks the kind of pomp and circumstance you’d find at a kindergarten graduation ceremony; it’s also sorely lacking in the cap and gown department.  That being said, my children have worked incredibly hard the past six months, and I am so proud of their abilities to cooperate with each other as well as to learn independently.  I feel like we are a product of our experiences, and A+F seem to always want to vacuum up knowledge, to ask more questions than we are able to answer, to work on just one more art project for the afternoon… As such, we are going to throw a little party for them, complete with certificates, snacks and applause, to congratulate them on being such wonderful students and to thank them for all of their hard work since we arrived in Austin.

Making + shaping moon dough

June 20th marked the Summer Solstice (or Midsummer) and we celebrated by doing a simple craft.  The children traced around a large, circular flower pot and around their hands as well. After cutting out the various components, we then took their handprints and attached them to the back of the circles to make the sun’s rays.  We hung all of the suns they made from the windows and on the walls, then sang songs to celebrate the official arrival of summer. We quite enjoy celebrating all of the seasons together, and it reminded us of the fun we had during our Moon Festival last year.

With less than 3 weeks until baby#3 is expected to arrive, we are adding the final touches. I’ve already started to dilate a bit, something that is apparently quite normal and expected at this point, and we’ve been warned that baby might make his debut before his due date. I’ve responded to this by making sure to have the house as close to in order as possible every evening, so that if I do go into labour, at least things will be tidy and easy to find! This is of course easier said than done, but a house without clutter means that my mind is clear and I can breathe in deeply. We have also succeeded in getting A+F into an earlier bedtime schedule- we will definitely take our small triumphs where we can get them!

Here is some recent belly progress (although I do believe the belly has dropped a bit since this photo):

And some new artwork to adorn the wall above baby’s crib…

Prints purchased from our favourite Etsy shop, Trafalgar Square

Precious sibling moments with best friends, A+F…

Granny Smith apples, aviators and my sweet boy’s big-time antics in the produce section…
An afternoon taking impromptu photos with my lovely little girl…

Hope this finds you relaxed and enjoying the fine weather. Happy Summer to all!
**The shop is currently on vacation. Niko & Nonnie will return for business on August 15th.**


In Focus: Mama-to-be, Part 2

Welcome to our second installment of In Focus: Mama-to-be! In today’s post, we are featuring Sandra, from North Carolina, USA. Sandra and her husband are expecting their second child this autumn.

Tender moments between mama and toddler

N&N: Congratulations on your pregnancy! How many weeks along are you?
Sandra: Thank-you! I’m just over 22 weeks now (I flip on Saturdays), due October 13, 2012.

N&N: Have you experienced any morning sickness with this pregnancy?
Sandra: Oh, yes. It started at 5.5 weeks this pregnancy and finally dissipated a little after 19 weeks. I still feel somewhat nauseous in the mornings, but I am no longer throwing up or a slave to Zofran just to function.  Thank goodness! My toddler would follow me into the bathroom and lovingly pat me on the back as I threw up, making for an uncomfortable and yet very-loved experience.

N&N: What are your cravings or aversions (if any)?
Sandra: At the beginning, I wanted fruit –especially pineapple– as well as veggies with ranch dip. It has been different from my first pregnancy when all I wanted was sweets, cookies, and carbs. Now I’m just hungry all the time and enjoying eating a lot! The only real aversion I can put my finger on is cooking raw chicken. Oh, and I crave half-sour pickles, which are impossible to find where I live outside of Raleigh in North Carolina.  On our recent trip to New York to visit family, I ate many, many pickles, in true pregnant woman fashion.

N&N: Have you found your current pregnancy different from your first? Are you feeling better or worse?
Sandra: Everything has been much worse this pregnancy. From the morning sickness to the random cramps to the crunching pelvic pain, I find myself amazed that anyone finds being pregnant to be enjoyable.  That said, I feel more comfortable this pregnancy simply because I’ve had an easy labour and delivery and a healthy baby before, and that makes me hopeful and optimistic that all will continue to go well.

N&N: What are the challenges of being a Stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) to an exuberant toddler while pregnant?

Sandra: The biggest challenge is not giving in to her constant pleas for “tee-vee” (my 17 month-old is a Blue’s Clues addict). I still try to get out with her and run around as much as before.  I’ve had to rely on my husband to wake up with her sometimes to give me an extra hour of sleep because the bathroom breaks make my overnight less than refreshing, but he has been a team player for the most part. I love how my daughter presses on my belly button and says “bee bee” even though I know she doesn’t really understand what it means.  Today we went to storytime at the library and some of the other mothers helped me corral my rambunctious happy girl and keep her in the room; Megan likes to walk up to everyone sitting on the floor, look right in their faces, and say, “Hi!” — I’m lucky she’s so friendly and that everyone is so helpful. 
N&N: What are your go-to items for getting dressed in the morning?
Sandra: A comfortable bra!!! I also love my Old Navy maternity pants I had from last pregnancy. And on hot days, a sun dress is an easy option.
N&N: Have you altered your beauty routine during this pregnancy?
Sandra: I haven’t had much of a beauty routine since my daughter was born almost a year and half ago, so not much else has changed.  I do miss getting my eyebrows threaded, but that’s a function of not being able to take my toddler along and not having to do with the pregnancy.
N&N: Will you be finding out gender?

Sandra: At 12 weeks, we asked if there was a chance to know, and the sono tech scanned down and found a penis! We were so surprised! It was confirmed at our 20-week ultrasound.  We are having a boy, a baby brother for our little girl!

N&N: What, in your opinion, are staples for any woman building her maternity wardrobe?

Sandra: As previously mentioned: comfortable bras! A few pairs of great pants that don’t ride or roll down (I love the ones from Old Navy that I had from my first pregnancy) and stretchy shirts that make you feel comfortable in your own body.

N&N: What kind of clothing, gear or accessories are absolute necessities for baby?

Sandra: Aden + Anais products are my go-to favourites. I love their swaddler blankets, and especially their burby bibs (great, absorbent burp cloths that double as bibs), and recently discovered they also make crib sheets now!
(*N&N Editor’s note: Yes, we are totally coveting those new muslin crib sheets as well!)
N&N: What items did you find unnecessary or end up not using?
Sandra: While I loved the swaddle blankets, we did not use them for swaddling past Day 4. So specific products meant to swaddle (i.e. the Miracle blanket) and sleep sacks were unnecessary for us.  Silly as it seems, we never used any sort of gum/mouth cleaner before our daughter got teeth, and instead went straight to the toothbrush.  I also didn’t use many different lotions and body washes I’d received. My daughter has extremely sensitive skin so we exclusively use Cetaphil products on her for bathing.

N&N: What have been your favourite moments about being pregnant? Not-so-favourite?
Sandra: Feeling the baby move is always wonderful. We have also enjoyed the sonogram appointments and catching glimpses of the little man growing inside (last appointment, he stuck his tongue out at us)! The exhaustion and sickness have been difficult, but I keep my eye on the prize!

N&N: How have you prepared for baby’s arrival? (Setting up nursery, buying baby gear, etc.)
Sandra: I’ve slowly been purchasing clothing for our little man (as well as recently sent a huge box of my daughter’s clothes to a friend who just gave birth). We haven’t bought much else, but I started a registry online to keep my ideas in order of what we will need for the new baby. For now it’s all about giving my daughter all the attention I can while she’s an only child, as well as helping her to learn to play independently while I’m in the room doing something else so she learns to enjoy entertaining herself.  It’s a very exciting time for all of us!

N&N: Many thanks to Sandra! Wishing you a healthy and safe delivery and a lifetime of happiness with your new baby boy! 

If you are a pregnant mama and are interested in being featured in an installment of In Focus: Mama-to-be, kindly send an email to

Nesting time

Needle felted Mama-to-be

Here I am, under the weather…again.  This massive cold/sore throat extravaganza comes on the heels of a recent not-so-lovely stomach virus that tore through our household. So today I am doing what I can to perk myself up and to keep the children entertained. It is positively blazing outside and I feel totally unable to leave the house, let alone open the door for some fresh air.  I suppose that would kind of be like opening a hot oven and sticking your head inside – more than counterintuitive at best! Popping outside and watering the lemon tree and the rosemary plants was all I could muster this afternoon, and those small tasks took all of five minutes.

As I sit and type and await Vietnamese takeaway (nothing makes you feel better like a generous bowl of steaming, brothy soup), I am going through the mental check list of all we have accomplished this week, and what still needs doing.  With 5.5 weeks left until #3 arrives, nesting is in full swing. I am proud of our family because I think we have been relatively organised so far.  I have been sure this time not to leave things til the last minute. To our great surprise, #2 arrived one-month early and he ended up sleeping in a laundry bin (I kid you not!) for the first week of his life – not something you necessarily wish to repeat! This time, I vow to be prepared, even if it means starting a wee bit early. I have even needle felted myself a little Mama-to-be. For the moment she is looking quite pale and I will have to get some flesh-toned wool so that I can finish her soon. I plan on bringing her with me to the hospital and using her as a focus object during labour. Doll in one hand, grasping Grant’s hand with my other…

Taking time to smell the roses…and lilies!

Grant and I celebrated our 8th anniversary several days ago and he brought me home the gorgeous flowers you see above. I ordered him a brand new cookbook that had just been released for publication in the US on May 27th – luckily, it arrived in time for the 31st. Despite always being on the culinary pulse, Grant didn’t know about this volume, and I was very pleased that my crafty research paid off. It’s not often that I can beat him to the punch, especially where cooking is concerned, and I hold these small triumphs close to my heart. The book is incredible: if you are interested in modern molecular gastronomy, it’s a must-own.

Here’s what we are reading at our house this week:

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking by Andoni Luis Arduriz

Bedtime reading for the grown-ups 
Bedtime reading for the little ones

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
(The children vastly prefer this book to DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux. It is much less frightening and more engaging on the whole. Confession: I actually bought this book years ago and shed so many tears reading it. It’s a kind of Velveteen Rabbit for the modern age – simply wonderful!)

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers
(We love all books by Jeffers, and this one is among our favourites.)

Trains Go by Steve Light
(For the young train enthusiasts of the world!)

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson
(Classic series by Swedish-Finn writer/illustrator Jansson)

Preparing for baby – art prints by Kit Chase of Trafalgar Square

Mary Cassatt is ever-present to adorn our walls

As far as readying the house for #3, we have dedicated half of our bedroom as an area for the baby’s crib. For some reason or another, this little square of the house is causing us immense irritation. We have bought some artwork to hang above the crib from one of my favourite Etsy shops, Trafalgar Square. While I adore the prints, I am somewhat disappointed in the paper matting that came with these frames I bought (it seems as though the humidity is getting to them), so I am on the hunt once again for some replacements. In addition, in the course of our last move, we lost a few nuts and bolts for the crib, which has prevented us from being able to complete our set-up.  I fear the replacement pieces we just bought online are not quite big enough – eyeballing it we can already tell that something is askew, and it is definitely not an option to jerry-rig a crib!

Needs finishing!

It’s at times like these when I wish we had a car and could just run over to the hardware store to take care of these small matters, which unfortunately, end up becoming big on frustration. Sometimes I ought to suppress my desire for things to be perfect – advice I always give to others but never seem to heed myself. The irony is that neither of our children were ever willing to sleep in that crib, and therefore we have always had a family bed – something that will no longer be possible with 5 of us! If anything, it will serve as a quiet place for the baby to relax, and an area to put him down so we can manage all-important tasks like showering and putting away laundry.

Our house tends not to have a tonne of natural light, and so I’ve ordered some new drapes to brighten the bedroom in anticipation of baby.  Our local West Elm was out of the ones we’d chosen, but I managed to find them in their online store.  Other than that, I’m trying to keep it fairly simple décor wise. If we’ve learned anything from A+F it’s that you need a lot less gear than you think you need. We were also excited to receive the Tiny Love 3-in-1 Rocker Napper in the mail this week. It’s a brand new product and incorporates both a rocking baby bouncer seat and a cradle in one – a very well-thought out design that seems extremely practical and will last baby a good while.

Rocker Napper in upright, inclined position

Rocker Napper in cradle mode

An array of baby toys, both old and new, and always all-natural! I love going through these well-loved pieces, re-visiting memories, and looking forward to new moments to cherish.

Friends from Maileg, Haba, Kaloo, N&N and Manhattan Toy

The mostly packed hospital bag, including favourite newborn organic basics from Zutano and ultra-soft bamboo muslin swaddling blankets from aden + anais.

Who’s this cutie with that toothy grin? My baby boy, soon to become a big brother!

Mid-afternoon antics

Newborn clothes, washed and put away

The excitement around here is palpable and we almost feel ready. While we most likely have no idea of the chaos that is going to hit us in a few weeks’ time, for the moment, we can breathe a little easier. A loving home, a safe and cozy place to sleep, and a nurturing family – sounds like a perfect place to start for all of us.