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!”

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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.

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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

Holiday Gift Guide for 3-4 Year Old Boys

12.11.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

‘Tis the season for holiday gift guides! I love reading these as much as I love researching and writing my own. And this year I have the joy of playing Santa to two little kiddos.

First up, from Sam’s wish list.

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1 | Optimus Prime | Sam is no exception when it comes to little boys’ attraction to Transformers. He has Bumblebee and Heat Wave, and he’s been asking for awhile to add Optimus Prime to his collection. These figures from Playskool hold up well to lots and lots of transforming.

2 | Richard Scarry Busy Town Game | We love Cars and Trucks and Things That Go (a.k.a. the Goldbug book), and I suspect this game will be a hit. It got great reviews and encourages more “I found it!” play.

3 | Kinetic Sand | I’ve heard this is even more fun than play-dough. And, I admit, that I’m pretty excited to play with it!

4 | Pogo Jumper | I’m all for anything that gets us up and moving during the cold winter months. And it can support up to 250lbs? I envision jump-offs in our future!

5 | How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? | This is one of our favorite series of books, and I look forward to adding this one to our shelf.

6 | Binoculars | Perfect stocking stuff for our little explorer.

7 | Magna-Tiles | Sam’s big Santa gift this year! Everyone I know who has this set says it is well worth the price tag. Sam’s preschool classroom even has one, and there is about a 90% chance that I will find him and his buddies playing with it when I arrive for pick-up.

8 | LEGOs | LEGOs get a ton of play in our house. We have several sets of DUPLOs, and Sam recently graduated to the “little tiny blocks.” He has to keep them in his room and out of Nora’s reach, which makes them an even more desirable toy. I love that these foster creativity in our little engineer!

A few other Sam-tested and Sam-approved toys:
Crocodile Creek Puzzles
Imaginext Batcave
Battat Take-Apart Plane
and our beloved Melissa and Doug kitchen

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

Links are affiliate.

A Winter Wedding

12.10.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

This Thanksgiving was an especially celebratory one. Our traditional turkey dinner was coupled with the wedding festivities of our cousin, Erica.

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The dinner was beautiful — and catered, which meant no dirty dishes! And although the ground was covered with snow, it was warm and cozy under the tent.

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Sam was thrilled to spend time with his cousins, Sean and Jackson. They played LEGOs and colored pictures and watched movies, and he basically didn’t leave their sides the entire weekend.

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After I put Nora to bed on Friday night, Nick and I went out for drinks with some family members. I don’t know who had more fun — us or Sam!

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Saturday was Wedding Day! And it took about 20 minutes to convince Sam to button the top button of his shirt so I could attach the bow tie. He also wore cuff links and suspenders as part of his Ring Bearer ensemble. I could hardly stand the cuteness.

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Eric was stunning! I love that I got to see her before she walked down the aisle — one of the perks to being the momma of the Ring Bearer.

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This was Sam’s third Ring Bearer appearance this year. And he totally nailed it! It helped that the Flower Girl looked like a real-life princess. They held hands for a good five minutes before they even walked down the aisle. We have decided that he is now ready to rent out for upcoming weddings.

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It was really special for Nick’s four siblings to be together this weekend. His oldest brother returned from a one-year deployment in Afghanistan just a few weeks prior, and his other brother left for (thankfully a very short trip to) Afghanistan the following day.

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The reception venue seriously took my breath away. Every detail was accounted for and executed perfectly.

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And, wow, does the Wiley Family know how to party! The DJ was not your typical wedding DJ. This guy knew how to spin records, literally. I was basically on the dance floor the entire night. And so was Sam — until he could barely keep his eyes open any longer, and he hitched a ride back to the hotel.

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The weekend was filled with so much love and gratitude. Congratulations to Matt and Erica!

Letter to Nora: 11 Months

12.05.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

You are 11 months old today! Though I’ve started to say “almost one” when someone asks your age. Almost ONE? Really? How did that happen?

Every day with you is more fun that the last. You are playful, and a little bit mischievous. You are sensitive, and a little bit sassy. You are sweet, and a little bit stubborn.

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You can now follow simple directions, like “give it to Daddy,” or “put it in the basket.” You drive Sam’s cars around the living room and make “vroom, vroom” sounds. You love the tunnel and the tent and Sam’s Thomas the Train chair. You would climb the stairs, if we let you. And you are constantly getting stuck behind and under furniture. You comb your hair and try to put on hats and shoes. You drink water from a real cup like it’s no big deal. And you love the animal magnets on our refrigerator.

And you can now cruise around the house with your push toys! You get frustrated when you run into a doorway or the end of the island, and sometimes you get going a little too fast across the kitchen tiles, but you are so proud of this new trick. You have even taken a few wobbly, barely assisted steps between us, while Sam cheers and says “go, Baby Nora, go!”

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You play more intentionally now with Sam and Lucy. And I love to watch the three of you chase each other around the house. Sometimes if Sam is coming after you, you laugh and race to get to me. Although you can also be quite dramatic if Sam doesn’t follow your “rules.” You wrap your arms around him and yell and try to tackle him to the ground. I envision sibling wrestling matches in our future.

You clearly understand the word “no,” though you like to test your boundaries. You unravel toilet paper and shred tissues (which has made potty training your big brother much more challenging). You like to empty the contents of our cabinets, and it’s impossible to keep you away from Lucy’s water bowl. We haven’t yet set up our Christmas tree, but I suspect we’ll have to put a gate around it when we do.

Speaking of Christmas, we visited Santa twice so far, and both experiences were pretty traumatic for you. Of course, that didn’t stop your momma from snapping photos while Sam ignored your screams and chatted with the big guy about his never ending list. Third time is a charm? Maybe?

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We finished our first semester of Music Together class and signed up for another semester after the holidays. It has been so much fun to watch you develop an interest in music. By the final class, you would climb into my lap, clap your hands, pat your knees, and touch your head along with the songs. And at home, you love our family dance parties!

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You have become a bit picky at meal time, much to your mother’s dismay. You throw food onto the floor if you don’t want it (broccoli, cucumbers, raspberries) and scream for more of the food you do want (toast with hummus, mandarin oranges, pears). And one night you refused to eat anything but graham crackers.

I still nurse you three times per day, and you take two one-hour naps, sometimes just a long one in the afternoon if we’re out and about all morning. I love that you are so flexible, though you definitely sleep best in your own bed. And when you’re ready to get up, you let me know by throwing your binkies onto the floor and yelling “ma-ma-ma-ma.” Although sometimes Sam gets to you first and quickly climbs into bed with you. Then the two of you jump and giggle until I come into the room

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You are growing up so fast, little lady! But it’s in those final few minutes before bedtime that you still feel like my baby girl. I rock you and quietly sing songs while you hum along. Then I kiss your forehead before I lay you down. I love you, oh so much, sweet Nora Kathryn!

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First Day of Preschool

11.21.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

With a late September birthday, it was difficult to find a school that would take Sam this year. But I really wanted to get him into some sort of organized program. He has never spent time away from me, and I felt it would be beneficial to his social development. And, admittedly, I was looking forward to devoting a few hours each week to Nora.

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We toured the Taylor Street School over the summer, and we were pleased with the structure, the flexibility, and the philosophy. They offer rolling enrollment, which means Sam could start as soon as he turned three. Classes are small and mixed ages, and because they are also a daycare facility, kids don’t have to be potty-trained before starting. Plus, plus, plus, and plus.

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The night before his first day, we talked about the new friends he would make and the fun he would have. But my heart almost broke when he asked, with a quivering voice, “But where are you going to go?” and “Who will stay with me?”

Despite the hesitation that night, Sam woke up excited and ready to go! He wore his new shoes and his robot backpack while eating breakfast from the “you are special” plate, and he looked so proud as he posed for pictures on the front porch.

Nick and I were really pumping him up, too, although he kept telling us to “calm down” and “settle down.”

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We arrived at school, and he walked in like it was no big deal — a little bittersweet for this momma!

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There were no tears as he hugged us goodbye. And he walked with such confidence right over to the play kitchen that he had been talking about since we visited the school a few months prior.

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I am just so darn proud of this kid. Almost two months later, his teachers say he is making friends and following directions, and he looks forward to going every day. I’ve noticed changes at home, too. He will actually sit and focus on learning activities and puzzles and board games.

I know not every parent sends their child to preschool at age 3, but it was definitely the right decision for us.

Letter to Nora: Ten Months

11.06.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Little Miss Nora,

We are fast approaching your first birthday. And I’m not really sure how to feel about that. Every day you seem less like my baby girl and more like this curious, comical, confident little person. When I peek into the living room and see you sitting on your knees beside Sam, having a pretend tea party, I swear you look almost as big as he does.

I am simultaneously sad to see babyhood coming to an end and anxious to watch you become a toddler.

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New tricks include clapping and waving. You love to hide your toys inside boxes and under plastic cups. You intentionally push your animals down the zoo slide and try to put the wooden rings onto your stacking toy and push the colorful beads around the wire maze. Oh, and Sam recently taught you how to pull toilet paper off the roll. You are constantly trying to play with his superhero figurines and Legos. Sometimes he lets you, and sometimes he doesn’t. You try to climb into the Little Tikes car and onto the musical turtle. Basically, you are so much fun!

You are crawling everywhere — in fact, you have tiny bruises on your knees from crawling all over the hardwood floors — and you are pulling up onto everything. I find you standing at the back door and at the washing machine and at our bedroom windows. Sometimes you let go for a few seconds, then slowly sit back down. No signs yet of walking, though you are easily cruising across furniture.

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Your current favorite word is “uh-oh,” and you still say “da-da” way more than “ma-ma.” You may not be talking, but you sure know how to tell us what you want — like more food, your cup of water, or to please get Sam out of your face.

I have seen sure signs of sibling rivalry this month. If Sam takes something from your hands, you scream and try to take it back. The two of you often fight for my attention — and my lap. If we’re all sitting on the floor and playing, and you suspect he’s coming for me, you quickly dive headfirst into my lap, then crawl up to my shoulders and wrap your arms around my neck. It’s pretty darn cute.

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Speaking of demanding my attention, it’s become nearly impossible to dry my hair in the morning, or unload the dishwasher at night, without you hanging on my leg. You bounce and beg for me to pick you up. Sometimes I can distract you for a few minutes with some cloth headbands or a bin of plastic cups, but you always end up in my arms.

You still love to ride in the backpack with Daddy and in the laundry basket with Sammy. I tried to get you in the bounce house during a particularly warm October day, but you were a bit scared. Probably because Sam was bouncing around you like a little wild thing.

We took a trip to New York City earlier this month to visit Uncle Andrew and Emma and their new puppy, Breck. Not surprisingly, you were intrigued by the hustle and bustle of the big city. But your favorite activity was the Hippopotamus Playground at Riverside Park. It was the perfect place for you to explore.

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You are still obsessed with Lucy’s water bowl, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught you splashing your hands in it. I’ve also caught you licking the front door and biting the bookcase shelves and sucking on the knobs of the entertainment center. Yuck!

While we’re on the subject of germs, Sam has been exposed to a lot more of them since starting preschool. Which, of course, means that you typically catch whatever he has. Hopefully this is all strengthening that little immune system of yours!

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At your 9-month well visit, you weighed 17lbs 3oz (24th percentile) and measured 30in (95th percentile). You are wearing 12-month clothing and some 18-month shirts. And I finally ordered a box of size 3 diapers.

Your hair now lays over your ears, and you have random long pieces that nearly touch your eyes. I can’t wait until it’s long enough to pull back with cute barrettes.

You got three new teeth this month! Two on the top and one more on the bottom. Their debut was, of course, accompanied by several rough nights. But nothing that couldn’t be calmed by Mommy snuggles and a few extra nursing sessions.

Typically, I feed you three times per day, and you eat three solid meals, plus at least one snack. You still love graham crackers and applesauce, and you still dislike eggs and bananas. I now have to order a second Chick-fil-A kids meal just for you, and sometimes you eat more grilled chicken than Sam does. You also love fruit smoothies and milkshakes.

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You have recently started to lay your head in my lap or on my shoulder, or even on a random blanket or stuffed animal. It is so sweet. So are your grins and giggles.

Nora, my heart is so much bigger and so much happier because of you. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

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Fall Fun

10.31.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It’s been a busy fall — just the way we like it. So just hours before we flip the calendars to November, let’s take a look back.

Oktoberfest at Idlewild

Pretzels and root beer. Sam’s first ride on the ferris wheel. A Bavarian band and a gigantic blow-up boy in lederhosen. It’s no Munich, but it was fun for the whole family.

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Local Apples and Pumpkin Spice Ale

Our dear friends visited during the first weekend in October, and we decided to take the boys to a local apple festival. We certainly weren’t prepared for the near freezing temperatures, but we still enjoyed kettle corn and hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks. Afterwards, the adults treated ourselves to local pumpkin spice ales while the boys had a dance-off in the middle of the restaurant.

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Pumpkin Patch at Schramm’s Farm

It was cold and overcast when we finally found time for an October trip to the farm. But the kiddos still had fun crawling/running around the patch and through the corn maze. And we left with one perfect little pumpkin for Sam. He was so proud to carry it to the scale and pay for it with his three dollar bills.

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Weekend in Dover and Apple Harvest Festival

We spent a weekend in Dover, complete with multiple backyard bonfires, a family wedding, and a trip to the National Apple Harvest Festival. We ate apple sausage sandwiches and apple fritters and drank sweet apple cider. Sam rode a pony named Tucker and carried around a bag of “apple babies.” He almost cried when I later chopped the fruit and turned it into applesauce.

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Hallowboo at Idlewild

Once again, Idlewild impressed us with their Halloween festivities — from trick-or-treating in Storybook Forest to the hundreds of pumpkins scattered across the park to the green water that filled the little ponds. Fireman Sam ate every lollipop and tootsie roll before we left the park, and our sweet Dalmation passed out as soon as we strapped her into the car seat.

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Carving Pumpkins

Sam carved his first pumpkin this year. Not surprisingly, his favorite part was pulling out the seeds. And Nora cheered him on from the sidelines.

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Pumpkin Hunt

We had perfect weather for the annual pumpkin hunt with our Moms@Play group. Although both kids were more interested in the crunchy leaves than the tiny pumpkins.

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Halloween

Our third consecutive cold and rainy Halloween in Greensburg. But this year we actually made it out of the cul de sac. Fireman Sam was excited to say “trick-or-treat!” to each neighbor that opened the door, and he couldn’t wait to get home and dump out his pumpkin full of treats. Even Baby Nora got a few cracker snacks that she refused to share.

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I have no doubt that the next two months will be just as busy — if not more busy than the previous two. Thanksgiving, our final wedding of the year, Christmas, and a certain little lady’s first birthday. Time, please slow down!

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Laura and Stephen Get Married

10.20.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

My little sister married the love of her life in July. Laura was an absolutely stunning bride. And Stephen’s love for her was obvious in every look and every kiss. They were wed at the quaint Lakeview Farms, located less than five miles from my parents’ house. Tilande Entertainment created an awesome video of their big day, and Erin Keough Photography took the lovely photos. Enjoy a few of my favorite moments and memories!

I took my title of Matron of Honor quite seriously. I designed their invitations and programs and the chalkboard signs that decorated nearly every corner of the venue; I  happily gave her my wedding earrings to wear; I intercepted questions and concerns on the big day; and I beamed with pride and tears and true joy as I stood beside her at the altar.

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Our little drummer boy had a minor meltdown when he realized all eyes were on him. But he quickly recovered with help from Daddy and lots of lollipops.

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Dad escorted Laura through a set of barn doors and down the grassy aisle lined with sunflower pomanders while the guitarist performed “A Thousand Years.” Stephen’s cousin officiated the ceremony, which included communion and footwashing. They exchanged vows and rings and sealed their promise with a kiss. It was beautiful and spiritual and perfectly represented their honest and radiant love.

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Following the ceremony, guests were ushered to the cocktail hour where they enjoyed delicious food prepared by a family friend.

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I followed Laura and Stephen around the farm while they posed for amazing photo after amazing photo — holding Laura’s train with one hand and a plate of food for the newlyweds with the other.

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Then it was time to head into the barn to celebrate! Every single detail was just as Laura and Stephen had envisioned — from the table runners made by my mom and the chevron napkins sewn by my aunt to the mason jars with hand lettering by Laura and the various wood projects completed by my dad to the menu cards designed by me and the sangria made by Stephen.

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Laura and Stephen danced their first dance as husband and wife, then she rocked out with Dad to “My Brown-Eyed Girl.”

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And I somehow managed to get through my Matron of Honor speech without getting all choked up.

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Laura and Stephen were excited to hire the DJ from our wedding (and Stephen’s brother’s wedding, too!), and he was just as wild and fun as ever. Wild Bill certainly has a knack for getting folks onto the dance floor!

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Stephen’s sister baked the cake, and the mini desserts were prepared by the same family friend who catered the cocktail hour.

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They had lots of fun with the garter and bouquet toss. And we were all pretty excited that my brother’s girlfriend caught the bouquet!

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The dance floor was crowded until the very end of the night when we all lined up to send off the newlyweds with sparklers (that we didn’t get to use at my wedding five years ago because of the torrential downpour).

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It was truly the perfect day to celebrate the love of two of my favorite people. Congratulations to Laura and Stephen!

Superhero Birthday Party

10.14.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Sam requested a “super party” months before his birthday.

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He asked for super capes for his friends, pizza, popcorn, and blue cupcakes. Easy enough!

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I spent every evening for about a month working on the capes. But they were well worth the time and effort! In fact, they are the coolest thing to come out of my new sewing machine thus far. (I will post a full tutorial soon.)

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And, of course, you can’t have a cape without a mask. These were easy to make from felt and elastic. (Painted letters from his nursery!)

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I pulled a few quotes from my interview with Sam and wrote them on a scrap piece of wood turned chalkboard. Simple decoration for the mantle.

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I designed a pennant banner and used leftover table runners from his first birthday party to spruce up the dining room.

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I baked (the best!) funfetti cupcakes — both big ones and mini ones because kids only eat the frosting anyway. And I bought festive baking cups and picks from Amazon.

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Since Sam requested popcorn — one of his favorite snack foods — I picked up some cute paper boxes to serve it. We also ordered pizzas and served veggies with dip and fruit salad.

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For the big surprise … a bounce house! We decided to buy one rather than rent one because I anticipate using it for many future parties. The birthday boy loved it!

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As always, the sand box was a big hit with the kids.

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And the dirt box. Give kids some shovels and a few dump trucks, and they can entertain themselves for an entire afternoon.

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I really wanted to get photos of the kids in their capes and masks, so I created a little “Gotham City photobooth” using blue fabric and cardboard boxes that I spray painted. And you can download the signs here.

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A few of the kids were a bit camera shy. But not my kid!

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I convinced the grown-ups to get in on the action, too.

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Don’t you love the super shirts that my mom made??

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It’s not a party without cupcakes. The more sprinkles, the better.

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Most of Sam’s gifts were superhero themed. And he couldn’t have been happier.

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Boys and their toys!

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Sam may have been the guest of honor, but I think Nora may have stolen the show with her cute super sister outfit. I found my Wonder Woman shirt and cape at our local Halloween store, and I picked up Nick’s Superman t-shirt at Old Navy.

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I love that some of the kids dressed in their superhero best!

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We had such a wonderful afternoon celebrating our Super Sam with family and friends!

Sam’s First Birthday: Polka Dot Party
Sam’s Second Birthday: Construction Party