Letter to Samuel: 3.5

03.25.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Sam,

Today you are 3.5! While Nora napped this afternoon, we played “minjas.” We put up the hoods on our sweatshirts, placed plastic tools in our back pockets, and chased imaginary bad guys around the house. We hid behind the dining room curtains, did somersaults and spins across the living room floor, and “activated” our super powers. Then you requested a strawberry yogurt snack, which you scooped and stirred and layered yourself. Later we did crafts with friends at Chick-fil-A and ran around a local playground until the sun set. You splashed in the bath tub with Nora, danced circles around her room, and finally climbed into bed beside me for two books and two songs before, finally, drifting into dreamland. Oh, Sam, life with you is non-stop.


You have grown so much since your third birthday. And not just size wise (though you are 2 inches taller and probably a few pounds heavier). You are fully potty-trained (thanks to sticker charts, superhero undies, the Potty Time Power book, a very catchy tune from Daniel Tiger, and lots of patience). You are excelling in preschool — recognizing letters and numbers; learning how to be a good listener and a good friend; painting a new masterpiece every day. You have mostly phased out naps, though you will sometimes pass out on the couch at 4:30pm.

You request to wear Daddy’s deodorant and spend about five minutes every night styling your hair with my brush. You can button your shirts and zip your jacket and almost always get the right shoe on the right foot. And you are incredibly opinionated about your clothing. You wear “comfy” pants and either an Under Armour or superhero shirt every single day.

You still love to “battle” with your superheroes and super villains. You also love your kinetic sand and will sometimes spend almost an hour driving your matchbox cars along the roads you construct. Other favorite toys include LEGOs, magnetic blocks, and your cash register. And we have to play either hide-and-seek, freeze tag, or duck duck goose every day. You are so competitive and are almost always the fastest kid when we race with friends at the rec center. Current favorite TV shows are Wild Kratts and Miles from Tomorrowland, and we have watched Big Hero 6 at least six times — always with popcorn and gummies. “Shake it Off” is your favorite song, and you have some impressive moves for a 3 1/2-year-old.

You are an amazing little sous chef and always request to help me in the kitchen. Your favorite things to prepare are pancakes (you especially love to crack the eggs), guacamole, and larabars. And you even offer to wash the dishes when we’re finished!

You helped Daddy to shovel many, many times this winter. And you are always ready with your tools when he has a project to do.

Nobody makes Nora laugh like you do, and it makes me incredibly happy to see the two of you play together. There are obviously still sibling arguments, but you are usually such a sweet and protective big brother.

Sam, I am so proud of the big boy you are becoming. But I still cherish those moments when you ask me to carry you, then wrap your arms around my neck and your legs around my waist. I savor every “I love you,” especially the ones that are completely unprompted. You’re the best, kid!

Love, Momma

The Evolution of a Ring Bearer

03.12.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Last year was a big wedding year for us: six total. And Sam was ring bearer in three of them. He matured a lot between July and November.

Wedding #1: Sweet drummer boy insisted he walk down the grassy aisle after Mommy, rather than with her. He proudly beat his drum for five seconds before he realized that the eyes of about 100 people were on him.


Daddy to the rescue! Sam reluctantly finished his walk while clutching Nick’s hand.



There were tears, but nothing that a few lollipops couldn’t fix. Plus a big hug from his finally official Uncle Steepie.



He wasted no time after the ceremony, though, morphing back into Wild Man Sam. He ran around the cocktail hour, brought “presents” to me at the head table during the reception, and danced his little heart out with the beautiful bride.


Wedding #2: Classy Country Club wedding in Washington, D.C. Sam wore suspenders and a bow tie and was thrilled to hang out with Daddy and the “big guys.” He also didn’t mind at all walking down the aisle with two blondes.


Once again, lollipops and gummy snacks kept him busy during the ceremony, and he was excited to get photos taken with “Uncle” Mike and his lovely wife.


Mike and Kayley gifted Sam his very own Superman cape, which he wore proudly during the entire reception. And he even allowed some of the “big guys” to borrow it for a few silly “Clark Kent” photos.



Wedding #3: This was the big one: almost 300 guests and the longest aisle yet. But Sam totally rocked it. He looked incredibly dapper in his charcoal tuxedo. And I think he fell a little bit in love with the sweet flower girl. Yes, the day was all about Erica and Matt. But these two almost stole the show.



They even surprised all of us with their entrance into the reception! Cutest couple ever. (Aside from the new Mr. and Mrs., of course.)


And this night marked the beginning of Sam’s obsession with “Shake it Off.”

Gosh, I love this little man!

Letter to Nora: Months 13 and 14

03.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

You are no longer a baby. You are a feisty, opinionated, hilarious little kid. I can’t hardly handle it. And, yet, I love it at the same time.


You are officially walking everywhere! You basically skipped the holding onto our hands phase and the pushing things around the house phase and went straight to this adorable little toddle that gets less wobbly every day. I’m still sometimes surprised to find you behind me in the laundry room, or at my feet while I’m prepping dinner. You are fast. And I think you’ll be off and running before we know it.

Your communication skills are improving daily. You have added “yeah” to your vocabulary, and you say “ehh” in various intonations to create little conversations. “Ehh” accompanied by a point for “I want that” and “Eh?” is your response to every question we ask. You say “moo” when you see a cow and sniff your nose for a pig. And when you shake your head “no,” your whole body moves back and forth.

You point to your belly, your hair, and your teeth. You love “this little piggy” (thanks to Nini!), and you try so hard to step your feet into your shoes.


We have dance parties almost every night. We recently introduced you to “duck, duck, goose,” which you think is so funny. You love to jump on Sam’s bed, and when we went to a trampoline park with Auntie Laura and Uncle Steepie, you begged to join them. You put your hands straight up and tried so hard to jump as high as Sam.

You love the remote control and my iPhone, the Little Tykes car and bouncing on Mommy’s exercise ball, your princess castle and Sammy’s LEGOs. You always take the spoons out of the dishwasher when I open it and pull the washcloths from the bottom of the laundry basket. You are quite good at filling our Keurig carousel and your pink piggy bank. You help yourself to Goldfish and pouches of applesauce from the snack cupboard. And you would much rather drink from Sammy’s Superman cup than your own straw cup. You love to brush your teeth and wash your hands. And you can easily climb up and slide down the stairs.


You will often pull several books off the shelf, then sit on the floor and flip through them. But the best is when you bring one to me and sit in my lap to read. You also love wooden puzzles, crayons and water wow books, pushing the grocery cart or your baby doll stroller around the house, and playing tea party.

You love to throw things, walk to pick them up, and then throw them again: plastic strawberries from our play kitchen, your O-ball, little Octonaut figurines. You spent at least 10 minutes throwing crayons around the big red barn during Tiny Wonder Time. And I’m just grateful that you didn’t face plant onto the cement floor.

We are over halfway through our second semester of Music Together, and you love when I play the songs at home. You tap your legs to the “Hello Song,” just like we do in class.


You dislike diaper changes — especially in public restrooms. And you dislike milk from a sippy cup. But we will keep trying because …

You are no longer nursing! You weaned yourself completely naturally about two weeks after your first birthday. You were too congested to nurse comfortably for two consecutive nights, and by the third night, you no longer seemed interested. I’m so thankful that the timing felt right for both of us.

Of course, no more breast milk means that I am even more conscious of what I put onto your plate. Unfortunately, this also coincides with a particular picky phase of eating. About a quarter of everything I give to you, you throw directly onto the floor. But I can almost always guarantee that you will eat watermelon, grapes, pizza, pasta, quesadillas, and blueberry waffles. And, of course, everything tastes better from Mommy’s plate. You often beg for bites of whatever is on my plate, including quinoa, chili, sausage and kale soup. And I happily oblige, as long as you are eating!


I love to hear the sound of your voice every morning singing, “ma ma ma ma ma ma,” until I come in and scoop you out of your crib. You sleep from about 7:30pm until 7:30am. Though sometimes you are in bed as early as 6:30am, depending on your naps that day. I suspect we will phase out the morning nap in the next month or two because some days you are fine without it.

You have had a constant runny nose since January — darn preschool germs! I can’t tell you how many boxes of tissues and containers of boogie wipes we have gone through in this house. Teething only makes it worse. You cut all four molars since your first birthday, and we had several long, miserable days when you only wanted to be held and wouldn’t eat anything but strawberry smoothies. I have become very good at vacuuming the house with you on one hip and can easily pour my morning coffee and prepare breakfast with you attached to me. A momma has to do what a momma has to do!


We have had several incredibly cold days so far this year and have spent a lot of time inside the house. Yuck! You and Sam definitely have sibling spats, but you are also capable of playing so well together.

You especially love to play “grocery store” with Sam. You hand him pieces of food, he rings them up at his cash register, and then you put them into your bag.

You also just adore Lucy. You bring her bones and pet her so gently. And you always share your food with her. I suspect we have about two more years until she’s covered in lipstick and hair bows!

When we finally had a break in the frigid temperatures (up to a whole 38 degrees!), we ventured outside for your first experience in the snow. You stood in awe as the snowflakes fell around you. And then I pushed you in the sled around the cul de sac. Sam even shoveled a nice seat for you into the bank beside our driveway. Then we came inside and made snow ice cream.

I love that you are curious and confident. I love that you are a little bit stubborn and a little bit dramatic. I love the way you lift your arms for me to pick you up. And the way you wrap your arms around my neck. I love you to the moon and back, sweet girl.


Winter Onederland First Birthday Party for Nora

02.12.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I think I started to plan Nora’s first birthday party in my mind less than a month after she was born. Of course we had to have a Winter Onederland for our January birthday girl!


We covered our house in paper snowflakes, thanks to help (and extremely competitive spirits) from Nick and his sister, Kirsten. I am not kidding when I say that they spent almost 12 hours cutting snowflakes — and no two were the same!




While they made it snow in every room, I focused my attention on the food.


We kept the menu simple: fruits and veggies, hot dogs in the crockpot, and a chili bar.


And cheese sticks all dressed up for the occasion.


As always, the dessert table was the most fun (and most time consuming) to assemble: chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with pink buttercream and gingerbread cookies shaped like snowflakes.



Plus a special cake just for Miss Nora.



Our guest list included 6 three-year-olds, 4 one-year-olds, and a baby. And each received a gift bag with appropriately themed goodies (thank goodness for clearance Frozen items from Target!).


Nora was quite intrigued by her birthday cake. She very carefully took fingers full of pink frosting to her mouth. And I don’t think she ever let her left hand touch the cake. Such a little lady compared to her brother!




Such a perfect celebration for our sweet Nora Kathryn!


Christmas Celebrations: Part 2

01.16.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We spent Christmas Eve with my dad’s family — a tradition we’ve missed for the last three years. We played our favorite gift exchange game; we passed around boxes of mixed chocolates and a bottle of Drambuie; and the kids were sufficiently spoiled by their great aunties and great grandmother.


Christmas morning was quiet — just the four of us, plus my parents. And the two dogs, of course. Nora cruised around the house with her new baby doll, and Sam was thrilled to find Optimus Prime under the tree.




Andrew and Emma arrived just in time for turkey dinner. And Stephen and Laura followed close behind. Then we all changed back into pajamas, drank wine, and played Farkle until midnight.

We did it all over again the next morning — with Mom’s traditional sausage and egg casserole, apple cinnamon buns, and mimosas. The kids opened a few more gifts (and, by that point, were beginning to think that Santa came every day).



Later that afternoon, we kicked off the third annual Appetanza. This year’s dishes included caramelized bacon, turkey salad, pear ravioli, BBQ chicken cups, seafood crostini, a bloomin’ onion that nearly burned down the house, bread pudding with rum sauce, and hot chocolate cookie cups. SO much fun!


After we were thoroughly stuffed — and after both little ones were fast asleep — the siblings exchanged our “make-it or bake-it gifts.” Another one of my favorite holiday traditions! Nick and I were especially proud of our gifts this year: flavored salts from me to Stephen and a key hook in the shape of Pennsylvania from Nick to Laura.


And, as usual, Mom and Dad were so generous and thoughtful with their gifts to us: monogrammed cooler bags with Tervis Tumblers and a picnic blanket — perfect for our upcoming family beach vacation!


The celebrations continued the next day (Saturday, for those keeping track) at my uncle’s house with my mom’s side of the family. Always lots of laughs when this crew gets together!


Things finally started to slow down on Sunday — our last day in Dover before returning home. In fact, Sam was so exhausted from the week’s festivities that he played with his new Kinetic sand for a solid three hours.


And that wraps up Christmas 2014 with the Wileys! We hope your holidays were as celebratory as ours.

Christmas Celebrations: Part 1

01.09.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Santa made a special stop at the Wiley House this year. He visited us on the 23rd so we could spend a quiet day together before heading east on Christmas Eve.

Sam was at our bedside by 7:15am, begging to go downstairs. But I convinced him to wait at the railing with his sister while I “checked to make sure that Santa really came.” Nora didn’t quite understand the excitement, but, as usual, she followed Sam’s lead.


It’s impossible to capture the pure joy on your child’s face when he discovers the magic of Christmas morning.


Santa was certainly good to the kids this year. And Sam would have opened every single gift in less than five minutes, if we didn’t pace him.


Favorite gifts included: Disney Princess Castle, Magna-Tiles, VTech Train Station, and a pair of binoculars. I love that the Paw Patrol pups ended up inside the princess castle; Cinderella rode the train around the track; and the “little tiny Lego guys” were found inside the tower built of “magnet blocks.”


The kids played with their new toys while Nick and I sipped our coffee. It was our first Christmas morning as a family of four, and it was as wonderful as I had anticipated. Yes, there was the occasional sibling squabble. But that’s to be expected with a three-year-old and an almost-one-year + a room full of stimulating new stuff.


We eventually took a break to eat — our favorite doughnuts from the grocery store and milk from the mugs that Bobby the Elf brought.


Lucy got some new bones and chew toys, too.


I was pretty excited for Nick’s gifts this year. Sam painted an extra large coffee mug for him. And I made framed silhouettes of the kids to hang in the office.


Though it was definitely the remote control helicopter that got the most attention that morning.


(I enjoyed my big gift the day before — a 75-minute massage. Plus our new entryway table that arrived a few days later.)

We probably would have spent the entire day in our PJs, if we weren’t expecting an afternoon visit from my brother and his girlfriend. We enjoyed brunch and chocolates from their favorite local candy shop.


We finished our “Christmas Day” with a simple ham dinner and the new Planes movie. Then after the kids went to bed, Nick and I packed the car for part 2 of our holiday celebrations.

Letter to Nora: ONE

01.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Sweet Nora Kathryn,

Today is the day! You are ONE!


Every day you seem less like a baby and more like a toddler. You can easily scale the stairs and climb onto the ottoman in the living room. You step onto Sam’s stool and try to climb into his bed. You love to sit in your rocking chair and ride in the Little Tykes car. You stand at the play kitchen and pour pretend tea into little plastic cups. You rock your baby doll and push her around the house in her stroller. You pull books off your bookshelf, then sit on your knees and flip through the pages. You stack rings and assemble chunky puzzles. You color with crayons and love our Water Wow books. You crawl through the tunnel and lay on pillows inside the tent. And this month we moved you out of the infant car seat and into one just like your big brother.

You mimic everything we do — from wiping our noses and washing our hands to talking on the phone and drawing on paper. You think that every time we take out the computer, we’re going to see Oma and Opa or Nini and Poppy, and you scurry over to peek at the screen.


You are very, very good at stacking blocks and are still so fascinated with Sam’s Legos. Surprisingly, I haven’t yet caught you putting any of the tiny pieces into your mouth. Instead, you very carefully try to build towers like your big brother, and you even try to sit the figurines in their cars. When Sam is in the mood, the two of you sit and play at his Lego table for as long as 20 minutes. You also love his Magna-Tiles and Octonauts.

Thanks to Santa, we finally have some pink toys in the house. You especially love your new Disney princess castle. You set the little princesses on their chairs and push them around in the horse-drawn carriage.


You like to help Mommy with chores while Sam is at school. You wipe the end tables, unload the spoons from the dishwasher, and pull all of the socks out of the laundry basket. And whenever you hear the vacuum, you crawl to me with your arms up, and I’m forced to finish vacuuming while balancing you on my hip.


This month Sam taught you how to bounce on the bed, and now you do it all the time. You even try to stand up and jump just like he does. You also insisted on getting onto the trampoline with the big kids over the holidays. You thought it was so hysterical.


You are still nursing two — sometimes three — times per day. You are much more of a comfort nurser than Sam ever was. In fact, you can be completely finished eating, and yet when I sit you up, you scream and yank at my shirt just because you want a few more minutes of snuggle time. I don’t mind! I cherish those moments with you. It’s the perfect way to start and end our days together.

Most days, you are a very good eater. Your current favorite foods include peaches, cucumbers, spaghetti, cheese quesadillas, turkey burgers, and anything chocolate. You are also a little bit obsessed with smoothies and milkshakes. You drink them so fast!


We had a very busy month with holiday celebrations, traveling, and hosting visitors. It typically takes awhile for you to warm up to unfamiliar faces, especially if I’m nearby. But your aunts and uncles got pretty good at distracting you with presents and big, shiny Christmas ornaments.

We stayed at Nini’s and Poppy’s house for five nights, and you slept in your pack’n’play in their room. Every morning around 6:15, you cried until Nini picked you up (which you never do at home). Then the two of you snuggled together until you fell back asleep about 1/2 hour later. Of course, we had to break you of this habit when we got home, but I know Nini loved it.


You just cut tooth number 7 (on the bottom), and number 8 (on the top) is close behind. The soft curls around your neck grow a little bit longer every day, and you have almost enough hair in the front to swipe your bangs to the side with a barrette. You wear size 3 diapers, size 12- and 18-month shirts, and mostly size 12-month pants. And you finally fit into your sparkly Stride Rite sneakers!


No independent walking yet, though you can easily stand from a squatting position and race around the house with your push toys.

And you are quite the chatterbox! You say mama and dada all the time, and the intonation of your voice indicates questions and answers. Sometimes you torment Sam with your repetition, and it’s actually pretty funny.


Nora, we could not have wished for a more perfect first year for you. Your sweet personality shines a bit brighter each day, and we look forward to every new milestone that awaits us. Happy birthday, little lady!


Holiday Highlights

12.30.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

A few holiday highlights before we ring in the new year.


We were so excited to host our German friend, Anne, in mid-November. We explored Phipps Conservatory, ate at Church Brew Works, and took her to the top of Mount Washington. We also enjoyed a lot of down time with the kids.


Just a few days beforeĀ Thanksgiving, we took Oma and Opa to the Christmas Market in Pittsburgh. The weather was perfect for strolling the German storefronts and enjoying bratwursts in the square. We were incredibly impressed by the display of gingerbread houses inside PPG Place, and the skating rink rivals Rockefeller Center.


Bobby the Elf made his anticipated return on December 1st. He brought breakfast from the North Pole, and Sam’s excitement was contagious.


St. Nicholas visited our house just a few days later. Our shoes were filled with our favorite candies, and we each got a new book and a pair of slippers.


Chrissy and Reese invited us to Rizzo’s for dinner with Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty, Rudolph, and a whole bunch more Christmas characters. Though, not surprisingly, Sam wanted nothing to do with anyone but Santa.


One of our favorite local spots, Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, hosted a Winter Wonderland event with crafts, games, cookies, and a visit from Santa.


Our little friend, Owen, turned one in December, and he had his birthday party at a local firehouse. Both kids loved climbing onto the firetrucks and riding in the sleds.


Tree time! We drove to Fleming’s Tree Farm on a very soggy Sunday and were too intimidated by the mud and the crowds to actually get our tree there. But we did get an awfully cute picture of Sam before we left.


I really should have attempted our first holiday craft project later in the day — when it was acceptable to drink wine. I’m still amazed that our kitchen is not covered in red and green hand prints.


We traveled to Dover for cookies and cocktails and gingerbread houses.


And a new dog joined Santa’s sleigh of Goldens. Hi, Breck!


My little helper did lots of Christmas shopping and baking with me this year while big brother was in school.


We went to the zoo with the Flanders Family for lunch with Santa. Sam was still terrified of the man dressed like a polar bear, and Nora still screamed when we sat her on Santa’s lap.


But everyone loved the animals — the roaring lions, the elephants snacking on hay, the sharks, and the polar bear that swam right over our heads.


Next up: The main event — that lasted a full week.

Santa! I know him!

12.17.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Santa is Sam’s new best friend. He literally shakes with excitement every time we see him. And we have seen him a lot. From Rizzo’s Italian Restaurant to the Christmas Market in Pittsburgh to the Winter Wonderland at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve. Sam hops onto his lap like they are old pals and repeats his wish list: batman, superman, a robot, and a rocket ship. And he is totally oblivious to the desperate screams of his baby sister to “get me away from this crazy bearded man in the red suit!”




Holiday Gift Guide for 1-Year-Old Girls

12.12.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Time for Nora’s wish list! Of course, she enjoys all of Sam’s toys, but little miss needs some things to call her own.


1 | B Zany Zoo | I’ve wanted to buy this fun activity cube since Sam was a baby. And I found it at Target for a phenomenal price on Cyber Monday. Score! I suspect both Nora and Sam will love it.

2 | VTech Go Go Train Station | Another gift that will be enjoyed by both kids. Yes, it will take up a lot of space. But I think it will be worth it.

3 | Melissa and Doug Puzzles | Nora is really into puzzles right now. And I decided that she needs a few of her own. These are perfect for tiny hands.

4 | Melissa and Doug Pretty Purse Fill and Spill | Time for this girl to get her own purse! Not to mention her own wallet. set of keys, and mobile phone. I can already picture her slinging this over her shoulder and “walking” around the house.

5 | Baby Stella Peach Doll | Nora already has a few plush dolls. But I love that this one has a removable diaper and pacifier while still being extra cuddly.

6 | Stroll-Along Walker | You can’t have a baby doll without a stroller! Plus this will be great for continuing to develop balance and walking muscles.

7 | Disney Princess Castle | Nora now purposely plays with Sam’s Batcave and Octopod. Which makes this the perfect time for her first princess castle. She is also getting the Klip Klop Stable, thanks to a generous auntie! Plus several extra princess figurines, of course.

8 | Bilibo Seat | Nora has recently entered the “climb onto everything” phase. And I immediately thought of this fun seat that we used in Sam’s music class when he was her age.

Three more items that Nora currently loves:
B Parum Pum Pum Drum
Laugh and Learn Piggy Bank
Laugh and Learn Tea Set

Finally, previous gift guides, for your enjoyment:
Favorite Toys at Ten Months
Toddler Wish List
Toddler Gift Ideas
Gift Guide for Toddler Boys
Gift Guide for 3-4 Year Old Boys