happy birthday, abe!

What a day! When the alarm went off on Friday, I woke Abe up by wishing him a cheery “Happy birthday!”.

“Let’s not overstate it,” Abe groaned, as he dragged himself tiredly out of bed. “How about saying just ‘birthday’?” (Abe’s least favorite part of every day is getting up, so feeling happy in the morning can be slightly daunting for him.)

Ooooh, boy, I thought to myself. We’re going to have to work extra hard to make this day special.

I jumped out of bed, made Abe a birthday breakfast, prepped his lunch, and got to work cleaning the kitchen. As soon as he left for work, I hauled out the vacuum and cleaned all the floors and carpets, and then I busted out the dusters and wash rags and cleaned until the house sparkled. After cleaning, I squeezed in a scripture study and then practiced the piano for a good three hours. At that point, I started to panic about the food. It was about noon and I had yet to:

  • assemble, ice and decorate the cake
  • make Abe’s favorite borscht (recipe follows–you will see it requires an insane amount of cutting and chopping)
  • make and fry potato pancakes (using a box grater because my food processor is back in Hyde Park. This task was also daunting because I am terrified of frying and all of the spattering oil.)
  • make three appetizers (rye bread with homemade Liptauer cheese and radishes, cucumber slices with trout pate and dill, and stuffed Medjool dates–some with goat cheese and pecans, and others with cream cheese and pecans)
  • wash my hair and dry my hair (an hour + long process that I had put off for almost two weeks!!)

All this had to be done in a total of less than six hours. It might seem like a long time, but each of the things on the to-do list could easily consume an hour or more. Plus, I had a billion dishes to do between each dish! And, to make matters more interesting, Abe and I had been up until the wee hours the night before assembling training packets for his officers. I was exhausted, but I wanted Abe to come home to a clean and birthdayed-out house, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Here are the finished products:

Appetizers! Malika saved the day and made a whole other plate of stuffed dates because I ran out of time after putting these two trays together.
I used the leftover red dye for the piping on top, but it came out pink. So it looks like a cake for our baby girl instead of my 27 year old husband. Oh well. The red velvet cake was great, thanks to my friend Betsy! Check out her blog for the inspiring recipe (and pics of a superior end product):http://betsyandmicah.blogspot.com/2010/05/red-velvet-cake.html I have not piped in years, and so I covered the cake with a cake cover because I was sure all of my ridiculous baubles would melt and fall off the cake. I didn’t want to witness its sad demise. Tragically, when I removed the cake cover, I managed to smear off half of the decorative edging!
This is the most amazing borscht! It’s not very traditional, but it sure is yummy. I am posting the recipe at the end. Seriously, this is a winner (and it’s even vegan if you don’t garnish it with sour cream!).
Potato pancakes with sour cream and caviar. Thanks, Lily T., for the tip on World Market’s caviar! (It’s only $6!) Also, the pancakes weren’t burnt! One looks black in this picture, but I promise that’s my camera’s fault. They really were a pretty brown color and turned out very well, despite the fact that I was scared to death of flipping them in that hot, splattery oil!
I forgot to take a picture of Abe on his birthday!! So he wore the same outfit two days later and posed with a piece of leftover cake. His outfit matched the cake–very retro. He’s wearing his grandfather’s sweater–and shoes. =)
Here Malika and I are  having a very serious discussion about the joys of cream cheese frosting.
Anthony, Abe’s best friend, looking pensive. Abe had fun discussing Anthony’s childhood with Malika, who was curious. One of my favorite quotes of the night was Abe saying that Anthony was every teacher’s favorite student because “it’s just so hard to find a third grader that cares.”

How did the surprise go, you might wonder? Well, I managed to drop the Skype call just as Abe was walking in the door, so I made him go back out and come in two more times before I was finally ready. But it all worked out. His family sang “Happy Birthday” to him and his friends called in for the next half hour and sent along birthday greetings. Some of them are planning on coming out to meet our baby, and they had fun joking about how they’ll have diaper changing parties together. (Can you just imagine a group of male Wharton grads getting together and changing diapers? Talk about a break from Wall Street. The thought makes me laugh soooooooo hard!)

As for the piano performance, it went…okay. I managed to botch every single piece, but Abe professed to not notice. He insisted on taping the performance, so eventually we might post it to the blog. I introduced each piece by saying a little something about it. When it came time to introduce the Chopin Ballad in g minor, I mentioned that music critics often say this piece feels like a battle between Heaven and Hell. I meant to talk about why it represents to me how a couple in love can overcome their inner demons and the trials of life together, but it sounded hokey…so I ended up comparing the war between Heaven and Hell to marriage, and it came out all wrong. By the end of the piece, Malika exclaimed, “Wow, that makes me afraid of marriage!” Oops! But hopefully Abe knows I love him, even if I managed to compare our marriage to divine warfare.

So in the end, we had a wonderful time. By the end of the night, my legs were so swollen from standing and working all day that I could barely move, but everyone was well fed and happy. And Abe felt so loved! Thanks, everyone, for all of the recipes, suggestions, tips, skype dry-runs and phone calls. You helped make Abe’s 27th birthday a success, and I love you all for it!

Ooh, and Abe’s dad just sent me a Skype photo he took of Abe during the birthday Skype session!

Here’s the borscht recipe for those interested in tasting the best, most nutritious borscht of their lives. (This was given to me by Abe’s dad, who got it from Abe’s Aunt Christina):

Tomato-Beet (Borscht) Soup
1 (14&1/2 ounce) can tomatoes
1 (16 ounce) can sliced beets (use homeade bottled beets when available)
2 cups diced, peeled potatoes
2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage strips
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup drained, canned sauerkraut
1 (3-ounce) can tomato paste
2 cups tomato juice
4 cups water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dillweed (or 2 teaspoons dried dillweed)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream for garnish

1.  Drain tomatoes and beets, reserving liquid.  Chop beets and tomatoes.

2.  In large pot, combine tomatoes with liquid, beets with liquid, potatoes, cabbage, onion, celery, carrot, and sauerkraut.  Stir in tomato paste, then tomato juice unitl blended.  Add water, parsley, dillweed, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well.

3.  Bring to boiling.  Reduce heat.  cover and simmer 45 to 60 minutes until potatoes are tender.

To Serve:
1.  Remove bay leaves.  Ladle soup into serving bowls.  Garnish with a daub of sour cream.

Yield:  8 Servings


I am planning Abe’s birthday, which includes an element of surprise. Abe thinks I can’t keep surprises, and he is right! I have already asked him twice if he wants to know what his surprise is, and he insists he doesn’t want to know. But I want to tell someone! I feel confident confiding this to the family blog because Abe is super, super busy this week, and he will have no time to discover this post. (Even if he did have time, he usually just waits until I tell him we have a new post before checking.) So I can tell you, but promise not to tell Abe, okay? He appears to want to be surprised.

I am planning a surprise party for Abe–but not the kind where people actually show up. Follow? Abe’s bests friends, with about one exception, all live far away from Chicago, and so I am planning a Skype surprise! Well, actually, one of his friends has very generously offered his conference line for the occasion, so Abe’s friends will all be plugged in via a conference call, and Abe’s family will plug in via Skype. I am very nervous because I hate coordinating stuff like this–so many things could go wrong! I have visions of dropped calls, Skype not working, people getting left out, people forgetting, and so many other bad-case scenarios. Also, it has been years since I’ve used Skype, and I am sure I will botch up the group Skype session. But I love Abe, and I really want him to know he’s appreciated on his birthday, so I am risking disaster all in the hopes that he will feel surprised and loved.

Here’s how it will work (if it works):  Unbeknown to Abe, Abe’s best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend are coming up for the evening.  When Abe walks in the door, he will be greeted by the three of us. One of us will be holding a phone with  seven of Abe’s best friends on the line, and the other two of us will be holding computers with skyped in family members. We will all yell “Surprise!” and tell Abe how much we love him and how happy we hope his birthday is.

Then I am planning on serving a bunch of appetizers (thank you wonderful Facebook friends for your helpful suggestions!), which Abe and our friends can eat while I play the piano for Abe. He loves listening to the piano, but I rarely ever play for him because I’m always out of practice. I hate producing substandard music, but I have been working this past week to get a Mozart sonata and a Chopin Ballad in shape to play. My muscle stamina still is horrible, so I’m hoping if the pieces fall apart the food will be good enough that no one will care.

Then we’ll have dinner, after which everyone except me will jump in the hot tub. (No hot tubs while pregnant! Plus I don’t really enjoy the sensation of being boiled alive, even if it’s in the company of friends.) After that we we’ll come back and play some board games and enjoy everyone’s company. Abe has to get up the next morning at 5am for work, so we can’t stay up too late. On Saturday he works from 5am- 9am and then attends our birthing class from 9-4pm, after which he returns to work until who knows what hour. Same thing on Sunday, only I am hoping he gets some time off of work in the evening so we can go to a violin concert at 6pm. Abe looooooooves concerts, so I’m thinking the violin concert would be a nice extension of his birthday celebrations.

Whew! That feels good to tell about the surprise. I just can’t keep secrets. But I’m hoping you can! =)


On Thursday Abe and I went a little crazy at Buy Buy Baby–the store really lives up to its name! We went in expecting to purchase a total of three items and walked out with the following:

  • a jogging stroller
  • a car seat
  • a bassinet
  • a baby monitor
  • a baby bathtub
  • a nursing pillow
  • bottles
  • pacifiers
  • a baby sling
  • a diaper changing pad
  • a diaper changing pad cover
  • onesies
  • a diaper genie
  • other stuff that I am too lazy to catalog (it’s all in bags right now)

Needless to say, it was interesting trying to fit all of the stuff into Abe’s car, but we he managed to do it.

Obviously, that means our hallway is full of boxes and bags, and ever since Thursday I have been saying I will take care of unpacking and assembling these new items. I figure it’s only fair since Abe unpacked and assembled the entire nursery back in Hyde Park. But, as usual,distractions abound. Thus far, I have managed to assemble the bassinet you see displayed on the right.

I am quite proud that I assembled this piece of furniture. It wasn’t hard, but you have to understand, I am easily daunted. At one point today, Abe, who had to work, called home to see how I was doing.

“I’m doing great!” I responded cheerfully. “I just finished assembling the bassinet all the way up until the steps that require a screwdriver. I have no idea where the screwdrivers are, so oh well.”

“They’re above the laundry machine on the second shelf,” said Abe helpfully.

Ominous silence on my end of the phone.

“Um, I mean,” said Abe, back peddling furiously, “I have no idea where they are. I’ll find them as soon as I come home and take care of the rest.”

“You are so wonderful!” I gushed. “Thank you for being so incredibly helpful!”

Last year I learned a technique called Boys Town, wherein positive praise is used as a way to condition students to comply with school rules. Occasionally–okay, more than occasionally–I use this technique in my marriage. Whenever Abe does something really great, I lavish on both specific and general praise and hope for opportunities to repeat the process in the future.

This time, however, I did some reflecting after I hung up the phone. I thought about my mom, who single-handedly hauled one ton (no exaggeration) of slate to redo the walkway of our house. The image of her hauling stone to and from the station wagon flashed in my head, and in the back of my mind I heard her saying “We can do tough things.”

I sighed. Certainly, getting a screwdriver and screwing in a couple nuts and bolts does not count as tough, so I really had no excuse not to complete the project I’d started. I flipped on Saint Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” for Lydia to hear as I went to work finishing her bassinet, and when it was all done I stepped back to admire the finished project.

I eagerly anticipate the positive praise I will undoubtedly receive when my tired husband comes home and discovers he doesn’t have to finish my project.