Letter to Samuel: Four Years

11.15.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Sam,

Always moving. Always asking questions. Always telling stories. Always making us laugh. You seek adventure and challenges and, sometimes, trouble. You are confident, but not aggressive. You are polite (with the exception of the very dreaded and very typical preschool potty talk). You are impressionable (hence the preschool potty talk). You are stubborn and opinionated, but sensitive and considerate. This is four.


You are excelling in your new preschool. After an unexpected meltdown at orientation and a few tears on the first day of drop-off, you easily adapted to our new routine. You are quick to make friends, and your teacher says, “everybody loves Sam.” Nobody would guess that you are the youngest kid in the class (almost a full year younger than some of your classmates!). You are proud of the artwork that you bring home and are excited to share the new songs that you sing.



Imaginative play has become more elaborate. Good guys and bad guys have evolved into ninjas and knights, zombies and aliens, spies and intruders. You construct detailed stories about spaceships, missions, battles, and celebrations. Every object has the potential to become a sword — an empty paper towel roll, a glow stick, a spoon. You put on your Spider Man suit at least every other day. Then you help Nora into her pink princess dress so that you can “rescue” her from the bad guys. And sometimes I have to be the dinosaur or monster that chases both of you around the house.

You love art and will spend hours in the basement with Nora — coloring, cutting, gluing, and constructing “decorations for the house.” You were especially proud to frame the family portrait that you drew at school — complete with clouds and grass and sunshine.


You recognize about half the letters in the alphabet and can write your name, though you sometimes ask that I “dot the S” for you. We read at least three books every night before bed. Favorites are: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider Man, and the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series (which you have mostly memorized).

Favorite TV shows are: Miles from Tomorrowland, Creative Galaxy, and Paw Patrol (since we finally put the nix on Scooby Doo). And favorite songs are: “Shake it Off” and “Up, Down, Funk You Funk.” You also sing quite an interesting rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” that involves the spider falling off the wall and into the mud.


Some days you can’t seem to eat enough and other days you barely touch your meals. You are always excited to see what Mommy packs in your school lunchbox — favorites include jelly sandwiches, pepperoni, cucumbers with Ranch, pretzels with hummus, and oatmeal raisin clif bars.

You have grown almost five inches in six months and weigh 40 pounds. You wear size 5T/5 clothing and size 11 shoes. You still insist on wearing “soft” pants (as opposed to jeans) and Under Armour shirts almost every day. If I’m able to convince you to wear something else, like cargo pants and a striped shirt, you change as soon as you get home from school.


You played soccer in the fall and insisted on wearing your hand-me-down cleats to every practice (even though some of your teammates played in jeans). You were a fantastic listener and followed directions from the coach (even though some of your teammates spent a majority of the hour playing tag and wrestling in the grass). You are pretty skilled, and I think you’ll be ready for real “games” next season.


For your birthday, you got a scooter, and it took just one time around the park to master it. You also love to ride your bike (with training wheels). You are just a little hesitant on hills and around corners. But no complaints about that from this momma. You are also obsessed with your hand-me-down four-wheeler. Unfortunately (or, fortunately!), we had to leave it at Nini’s and Poppy’s house because we don’t have enough yard space to ride it here. But every time we visit, you shine it up and take it for a few laps around the yard.


Some of the funny things you’ve said recently:
To Nora: “Come on, babe, let’s be adventurers.”
To Mommy: “I like how you smell. I could eat your hair.”
“You’re the best daddy. I need to write a letter to you and ask for a motorcycle.”
“Super Poppy is the best builder man. He can build me a boat.”
“I’m packing up and going to Nora’s room. This is not a good life for me.”
“Sometimes I wear spy goggles, and I can see through people.”
“Are these Halloween M&Ms? Do they taste like mummies and zombies?”

Never a dull moment with you, kiddo. And I still melt every time you ask me to snuggle or sing a lullaby before bed. Love you to the moon and back, buddy!

A Day in the Life | Fall 2015

10.16.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while i may, for it may not always be so.” ? Mary Jean Irion

I saved this quote weeks ago, and it has really resonated with me. It’s easy to remember the big days, but it’s the normal, ordinary, every days that are the best days. And so I’ve attempted to capture one of these days in as many details as I could manage. Because these are the days I treasure — as crazy and chaotic and exhausting as they are.

Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015

Emily: 33 | Nick: 33 | Sam: just turned 4 years | Nora: almost 22 months | Lucy: 3

6:28 am | I wake up without an alarm — kid or otherwise. That’s what going to bed before midnight does for a woman. I choose to lay in bed for another 15 minutes before I jump into the shower. Then it’s a race. Will I finish my shower, get dressed, and dry my hair before the kiddos wake up? Sometimes I win. Sometimes I don’t. Today I win.


7:10 am | Nick is in the shower. And just as I finish straightening my hair, Sam appears in the doorway. With Ricky, of course. He says he has a picture for Daddy and reemerges a few seconds later with the family portrait that we made yesterday. He shows Nick through the shower curtain.


7:15 am | I race upstairs to make our bed before the boys join me. They’re talking about Daddy’s cuff links and the special box he keeps them in. Lucy is not ready to get up.


7:25 am | I hear “Dada Dada Dada” coming from Nora’s room. She always remembers who tucks her in the night before and chooses to greet that person first the next morning. But since Nick and Sam are still chatting, I sneak in to see my little lady. Smiling and ready to start her day! A few minutes later, she’s dressed and reading books on Sam’s bedroom floor. But not before I hear Sam crying from my bedroom. Apparently, he pinched his finger in our dresser drawer and needs a Band-Aid. He chooses Spider Man, but is not happy that the Hulk covers Spider Man when wrapped around his finger. And so we switch it out for a lightsaber one.


7:40 am | Daddy has an early meeting today, and so he’s out the door before we even get downstairs. But not before big hugs from both kids (How grateful are we that an early departure means 7:45? Most of Nick’s colleagues have an hour commute.) Time to get Sam dressed for school. I convince him to wear khaki cargo pants and a hooded striped shirt. I’m surprised neither child argued today about their outfits. Second win of the morning!


7:45 am | We all head downstairs. I let Lucy out the back door and turn on the Keurig. Sam requests to put more stickers on his pumpkin. Nora wants stickers, too, of course. (These pumpkins have been a source of entertainment all week.) Perfect. This will give me time to make breakfast. I get milk for Sam, water for Nora (because she still refuses to drink milk), and pumpkin muffins for both.


7:55 am | Hot coffee. Scrambled eggs (plus avocado for me). And more pumpkin muffins all around. Breakfast conversation consists of: I want to be next to Nora. Nora is too close. Nora, stop looking at me. And, inevitably, we arrive at potty talk. Because Sam is in preschool now, and apparently that’s what preschoolers do.


8:00 am | Nora requests music (by pointing to the Bose speakers and saying “on moo-sick”). And so I pull up one of our Music Together albums on my phone. The first song is Alabama Gal, which leads into a conversation about Oma and Opa (because they live in Alabama). And Sam is excited to know that we will see them next weekend. And Nini and Poppy are visiting this weekend. Then he asks if Poppy is going to fix his clubhouse. Because he always asks: When is Poppy going to fix my clubhouse? Nora dances between bites of her breakfast.


8:05 am | And then she crawls across the table and into my lap. Because she always ends up in my lap during mealtime. And she’s not very happy that I’m trying to take a selfie with her.


8:20 am | The kids are finished with breakfast, so I clean the table. While I pack Sam’s lunch (pepperoni + cheese, pretzels + hummus, clementines, applesauce, and a kid clif bar), they decide to take Lucy’s leash out of the closet and try to walk her around the dining room. I rescue her from their tormenting and fill her bowl with food. Sam runs upstairs to use the bathroom.


8:30 am | Nora and I meet Sam upstairs to brush teeth. We throw their pajamas into the hamper and tidy their rooms before it’s back downstairs. Let Lucy out one more time.

8:40 am | Socks, shoes, jackets. Nora doesn’t want to wear boots or a jacket. She wants sandals. She has taken the barrette out of her hair. And she wants to bring the Christmas book that she insisted we borrow from the library yesterday. We manage to re-focus and get out the door.


8:45 am | Into the stroller and off to school. I love, love, love that I can walk Sam to school. It’s one of my very favorite things about our new house. We pass our favorite bakery, a kids’ consignment store, two wine shops, the creamery, the library, the performing arts center, countless restaurants, and the street that leads to the train station (three blocks from our house and 50 minutes into New York City). Sam talks about the fruit truck that we pass and the police car that’s redirecting traffic away from road construction. Then he says, out of the blue, “I really want to be Spider Man.” I figure he’s talking about his Halloween costume. But I can’t be sure.

9:00 am | Preschool drop-off. I’m convinced it takes less time for us to walk than to drive because morning traffic on South Street can be ridiculous. As always, Sam is excited to see his teacher waiting for him. He gives me a quick smile and a quick kiss. Then he’s off.


9:15 am | Next up. Music class. Just one block behind Sam’s school. But first, we pass one of my very favorite yards. These fall flowers are the absolute best I’ve seen.


Then I fold up the double stroller (I think this is the only building in town without a ramp), and I follow Nora up the stairs.


9:30 am | Girl is having a bit of a morning. I tried to hide her binky in my bag before class started. But she’s begging for it. Not participating. Whining. I finally give in after about 10 minutes. Later she gets mad because the boy sitting beside us tried to take her drum — that she wasn’t even using. I have to admit, I’m relieved when class is over today. I chat with two mom friends whose older sons are in Sam’s class as we walk back down the stairs and outside.


10:00 am | Nora is still being moody. But I have errands to run. So I give her a snack cup of animal crackers, hoping she’s just hungry. And onward we go. Downtown and across the Green to Century 21. I text my girlfriend to confirm the size and color fleece that she wants for her daughter (because neither of us were thrilled with the Champion brand for Target this year, and I found hugely discounted Columbia jackets here). Then I pick out a pink sweater for another friend who just had a baby girl. Next stop is the post office to mail a package to yet another friend whose baby shower I’m going to miss this weekend. And I have to say that I’m continually amazed by the kind people in this town. I was a little concerned about the North Jersey stereotype (think Real Housewives of New Jersey, which is filmed about 20 minutes from where we live). But everyone I meet smiles and says “hello” and offers to hold the door for me (and my double-wide). After just three months here, I love Morristown so much more than I expected to.



10:50 am | Final stop: the grocery store for a few items for dinner since I decided I would rather have pasta than sausage sandwiches tonight. King’s is just one block from our house. It’s like a local Whole Foods, and it’s amazing. But pricey. And so I really try to limit my trips. But it’s super convenient for an onion, a can of crushed tomatoes, and a loaf of bread.


11:00 am | As we approach our house, I hear Nora say: “hooooome,” which she says pretty much every time we arrive back home. As soon as we get inside, she takes off her jacket, her shoes, and her socks. Then she asks for “one Dan-yull” (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood). She has learned to add the “just one” to this request. I oblige. While she’s having some quiet time, I unload the dishwasher and make lunch. I peak in at her, and it appears as though she’s more interested in her book anyway. Good. Now I don’t feel so guilty.


11:40 am | Lunch is chicken corn soup for me (this is my fourth day eating the soup that I made on Sunday, which is about my limit), and grilled cheese for Nora. With a side of Itsy Bitsy Spider. Because, of course, now she wants to sing. We also do the Hokey Pokey. And, as Nora “shakes her sandwich all around,” Lucy tries to snatch it. She finishes lunch and eats three more slices of cheese before climbing down from the table.


12:15 pm | We still have about an hour until we have to pick up Sam. So we head upstairs. That’s when I realize it’s 62 degrees in our bedroom. Yikes! I close the windows and hope that will help because I really don’t want to turn on the heat. I contemplate putting away the two baskets of laundry. And then I decide against it. Nora and I play princesses and read Halloween books instead.

1:00 pm | I get a text from a preschool mom friend, inviting us and a few others to the playground after school. I probably shouldn’t because it will interfere with Nora’s nap, and she’s already been a bit of a grouch today. But I’m incapable of turning down an invitation, so I reply “of course!” Lucy is perched in her favorite spot as we head back downstairs. She likes it here because she can see out the front door and both windows — and bark at every person that walks by.


1:15 pm | I pack waters and snacks for the playground. Then we head out to pick up Sam. On Thursdays, he stays 30 minutes longer for music class, and we pick up the kids in the hallway near the stairs rather than inside their classrooms (which means no fun photo of inside his classroom today!). Sam is pretty pumped when I tell him we’re going to the playground. He jumps into the stroller and yells “see you at the park!” to his buddies. I am so thrilled with the friends he’s making. (And the friends I’m making, too!) I decide to take the residential route to the playground, and we walk along one of my favorite streets in town. These houses are unreal! Multi-million dollar houses just a few blocks from our humble rental. On our walk, Sam tells me about the “macaroni-tosh” apples that he tried at school today (a.k.a. McIntosh!). Apparently they had an apple tasting and talked about cider presses in preparation for our field trip to the farm tomorrow. He’s also very curious about the Halloween display that we pass. But he confirms that it’s not a real spider’s web, just black and white string. Nothing gets by this one.


1:30 pm | So many friends at the playground today! The kids have a blast rolling down the hill, playing tag and Darth Vader, and throwing tennis balls. Nora swings and hangs from the bars and tries to climb the rock wall. And I get to chat with the moms. We talk about soccer, school lunches, and upcoming Halloween events in town.


3:00 pm | Nora is requesting her binky and climbs into the stroller. I know that’s our signal to go. Surprisingly, Sam doesn’t argue. He must be tired, too. I huff it back up the hill to our house. I’m still wearing my fleece vest, and I regret not taking it off before we started the walk home.

3:15 pm | Back home. Nora is content with just one book before I lay her down to nap. And Sam gets some quiet time with the iPad while I check email and Instagram and Facebook for the first time today. Actually, I realize that this is really the first time that I’ve sat down all day.


4:15 pm | Time to pull ourselves up off the couch. Sam goes to his room to play, and I start dinner.

4:30 pm | Sam is back downstairs and decides he wants to do an art project. A leaf like the one Nora made yesterday at the library. So we go down to the basement, and I help him to cut some construction paper.


4:45 pm | Nora is awake. Perfect. Because I really didn’t want her to sleep past 5pm. I give her some graham crackers, and we go downstairs to find buh-buh (a.k.a. brother — I kind of hope she calls him this forever). I set up both kids with crayons, scraps of paper, and glue. This should entertain them long enough to finish dinner prep.


4:50 pm | Almost five minutes without a peep from downstairs. That’s about their limit before I hear arguing and whining, and Nora comes upstairs to “tattle” on Sam. I give her another graham cracker.

4:55 pm | Nick texts to say he’s running late. He won’t be home until about 6:15pm. Again, I know I shouldn’t complain that 6:15pm is late. But anything past 5:00pm feels like an eternity after a full day with the kiddos. Fortunately, dinner can wait until he gets home (pasta shells with sausage sauce).


5:15 pm | I go downstairs to join the kids. Nora wants me to set up the train tracks, but Sam is currently using the train table as “Dinosaur Land.” So I redirect Nora’s attention to the Octopod. And then, of course, Sam takes an Octonaut right out of her hand. There’s always lots of arguing during this time of day. I succumb to Nora’s request for “one Dan-yull.” We’re all tired and hungry and ready to start winding down.


Also, I love that we have this play space in the basement. Otherwise, I think the house would feel too small. (It’s about 1/2 the size of our house in Pennsylvania — and we pay over twice in rent what we paid towards a mortgage there! Definitely the biggest downside to living in North Jersey.)

6:05 pm | Nick calls to say he’s on his way home. And he’s very excited about dinner. (I think he could eat pasta every night of the week.) We decide to get started without him. Sorry, Daddy! Sam asks for plain pasta because last time the sauce was too spicy. I promise him that it’s not spicy tonight, and I convince him to have a bit of both. Along with cucumbers and Ranch for both kids. And salads for the adults.


6:15 pm | Daddy’s home! Hugs all around. And we all enjoy dinner together. Sam tells Nick about the song he sang in music class: “lay down and be still.” And he demonstrates by laying on the living room floor. I’m sure that was a fun task to get a room full of preschoolers to lay down and be still. He also shows off his apple book and tells him about the “macraoni-tosh apples.” That’s never going to get old! Sam eats three bowls of pasta. And Nora eats three servings of cucumbers.


6:30 pm | Sam disappears upstairs and reappears as Spider Man. This happens at least every other night. He also has a cape for Nick, a pirate’s hat for me, and a super hero mask for Nora. He’s carrying a little rubber frog in his hand and singing “five little froggies jumping on the bed.” Nora starts jumping around the living room. Sam busts out some push ups. I really can’t make this stuff up.



6:45 pm | Nick suggests I take Lucy for a walk while he starts baths. And I happily agree! One of the two of us tries to walk her every night. I feel bad that she probably doesn’t get as much exercise as she did in PA when we would play ball with her almost every night. Our current backyard is a fraction of the size of our old backyard. But one positive is that she’s gotten much better on the leash. I enjoy the cool night air. And I wonder how many miles I walked today — I’m guessing close to five. Good thing because I have zero desire to workout tonight.


7:00 pm | Back from our walk, and I sneak into the kitchen to load the dinner dishes into the dishwasher. From the bathroom, I hear Nick yell at the kids: “hands and feet to yourselves!” This must mean that he put them in together. We still do this most nights, but it’s becoming more difficult.


7:05 pm | Nora comes downstairs to find me. She’s wearing hand-me-down Halloween pajamas that both her cousins and Sam wore. Nothing better than hand-me-down jammies! I notice that Nick attempted to brush her hair, but didn’t do a very good job. So we go back upstairs to finish getting ready for bed. Sam is just getting out of the tub and into jammies. Nora is climbing on and off the bed, and Sam is trying to move his nightstand to retrieve the sticky stars he dropped behind it.


7:15 pm | Nora gives hugs and kisses to me and to Sam, and Nick takes her over to her bedroom for stories. This girl loves books, and Daddy loves to read to her. So I let him do bedtime routine with her most nights. Meanwhile, Sam and I get set up in his bed with a few books.


7:25 pm | Lights out for Nora. I love that she’s such a good sleeper. She rarely ever refuses naptime or bedtime. Girls needs her beauty rest! Then Nick joins us in Sam’s bed. Sam decides he want to do the “finding” book, which I really don’t like, but Nick does. So I let the two of them do their thing while I struggle to keep my eyes open beside them.


7:45 pm | After three books and two songs (“Super Sam” by Daddy and “Mommy’s lullaby” by me), it’s goodnight hugs and kisses for Mr. Sam. Followed by “I love you” and “happy dreams.” And then I walk down the stairs and through our cozy living room before joining Nick in the basement. He’s doing some work on the couch. So I call my parents for a quick catch-up before Facetiming with my sister and their new puppy. We can’t wait to meet this furball next weekend! We chat for about 20 minutes.



8:30 pm | I make a cup of vanilla tea and watch the episode of Nashville that I DVRd last night. There are only a few shows that I watch every week, and this is one of them.

9:15 pm | Nick is still working, so I decide to start organizing my notes and photos from today. It’s a little overwhelming, but I know it will be worth it. Lucy tries to get our attention. She would love to go outside to play ball right now. Nick gives her a rawhide and hopes that will suffice.


10:15 pm | This is our time quiet time. Our time to decompress and refuel for the next day. We both get wrapped up in what we’re doing and, before we know it, it’s after 10pm.

10:45 pm | I start to lose steam and decide it’s time to call it a night. Nick went up about 20 minutes ago. Lucy follows me upstairs, and I let her out one more time. Then I wash my face, brush my teeth, and climb into bed. I set my alarm for tomorrow morning (6:45 am) and check the weather forecast for our field trip to the pumpkin farm. Looks like it’s going to be another sunny fall day. I can’t get enough of this weather lately.

11:00 pm | I’m fast asleep within about 10 minutes and sleep straight through until my alarm the next morning. Time to do it all over again :)


Sandbridge in September

10.07.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I am officially convinced that September is the best month for a beach vacation. The water is still warm from the summer’s heat, but the air has a slight crispness to it, which makes for perfect beach lounging conditions. And the crowds have dissipated, which means open sand space for kite flying, Frisbee throwing, and castle building.




We traveled to Sandbridge, VA – just north of the Outer Banks – on the Saturday after Labor Day. It was our first Rowlands Family beach vacation since 2008. We stayed in a house owned by family friends, with just one row of houses between us and the Atlantic. We had more than enough space for 7 adults and 2 children. In fact, Sam was thrilled to have his own room with two sets of bunk beds. We had a pool and a hot tub, outdoor shuffleboard, and a man cave complete with billiards and a pole table.



I love the simple routine of a beach vacation. A leisurely breakfast, followed by a morning spent in the sand and water. Back to the house for lunch, then either more beach time or an afternoon nap – or an afternoon nap on the beach. We rotated dinner responsibilities – Mexican night, a BBQ by the pool, and a proper Southern boil with shrimp, sausage, and corn on the cob. We indulged in cocktails and desserts and enjoyed card games and coloring books after the kids went to bed. And Nick grew facial hair. Then he shaved it into a mustache on our last day. Sam said, “Daddy, you need to go look in the mirror. Something is wrong with your face!”




Sam had no fear when it came to the ocean – he “battled” the waves, boogie boarded onto the shore, kayaked (further into the water than I would have allowed had I not fallen asleep on the beach), and even held a horseshoe crab (after I screamed when it brushed across my leg). He wore his goggles and his “turtle wings” to hunt for fish and seashells and requested multiple times that we bury him in the sand. He was absolutely content to spend all day, every day on the beach. And then immediately jump into the pool when we got back to the house.

beach05  beach06


beach13  beach14




Nora, however, took a little bit longer to fall in love with the beach. She enjoyed filling her bucket with sand, dumping it back out, and rolling around in it (I think there may still be grains of it in her ears); crushing the castles we built; burying our feet; and eating all of the snacks I packed within 10 minutes of arriving. She wasn’t too excited about the water until the last day — of course. And then she requested go, go, go. And more, more, more.









We only left the house twice – once for groceries and once to spend an overcast morning on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach. While there we ate ice cream cones and watched the Blue Angels practice for an upcoming air show. As soon as the sun started to peek through the clouds, we rushed back to Sandbridge for more beach time.




We got a little adventurous one day and rented a kayak and a paddle board. Nick and Stephen were determined to find dolphins, and I was determined to stay up on the board for longer than two minutes. Let’s just say it was more challenging than my first attempt on calm lake water.


We also had multiple handstand contests. Nora was the judge.


September sunrises and sunsets are always beautiful. But they’re infinitely more beautiful at the beach. I still can’t believe that I convinced Nick to wake up before 9am one morning.



Family time is the best time. And it’s even more cherished now that we live in three different states. Time to start planning our next trip!




From the Hudson to the Potomac

09.29.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Two boats, two weekends in a row! Sam was in little boy heaven.

First, Laura and Stephen joined us for a ferry ride from Liberty State Park to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. I still can’t believe that we live just 30 minutes from this view!



We packed a picnic lunch and hit up the playground after. I don’t think the kids realized how special it was to run around in the shadow of the Freedom Tower.



Our stop on Ellis Island was cut short due to two tired kiddos, only one of which was able to fall asleep in the stroller. Definitely worth a trip back to do some digging into our family histories.



As we made the turn past Ellis Island, Lady Liberty came into view. And I was way more in awe than I expected to be.



We would have loved to climb to the top of the crown. But who knew tickets would be booked through November! Sam didn’t mind, though. We took about a dozen pictures of him smiling and holding his pretend torch.


We ended the afternoon with races through Liberty State Park.



The following weekend we drove south on 95 to join my extended family for a cruise along the Potomac River in celebration of my Great Uncle Roy’s 90th birthday.




Fantastic views of the monuments. Sunshine. Delicious brunch. Quality family time. Birthday cake. And bottomless mimosas. My kind of Sunday.




Farewell to Summer

09.09.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Summer’s last hurrah will be celebrated next week in Virginia Beach. But before we leave for a few final days of sun and salt water, let’s catch up on our (very eventful) summer.

33rd Birthday

Nick surprised me with an early birthday dinner at The Accomac Inn. And it definitely ranked in my top ten favorite meals. The highlight was the catch of the day served atop sweet corn and edamame risotto. Though, let’s be honest, a cheeseburger and French fries feels like a gourmet meal when there are no tiny hands pulling food off my plate.


We spent my actual birthday with some of our favorite people in one of of our favorite places: Happy Valley! I gave the kids a quick tour of the WPSU studios, my freshmen dorm, and Beaver Stadium. We walked from the HUB to College Ave, from Old Main to the Creamery, and stopped for a few photos with the Lion Shrine. I have such fond memories of this place.


We even got to indulge in a Wiley family favorite — The Meadows — before heading back east.


4th of July

We spent the fourth with family and tons of festive food.


Nick wore his red pants, I did an improvisational tap dance to When the Saints Go Marching In. And the kids stayed up way past their bedtimes to watch fireworks from the backyard and march around the living room with glow sticks.


Hands-On House in Lancaster, PA

We invited Auntie Laura to the Hands-on House in Lancaster. And I love that this interactive children’s museum stayed so true to its Lancaster County roots. We harvested corn and sorted eggs; we designed race tracks and built fences around miniature horses; we played post office and grocery store; we painted our faces; and we rescued the princess (Nora) from the dragon (Sam). I highly recommend this museum for toddlers and preschoolers!


Lake Anna, VA

We reunited with some of our best friends at Lake Anna after a three-year hiatus. (Our lake reunions have recently been replaced by weddings and baby showers.) We watched the kids jump into the water and race big wheels down the driveway. We enjoyed an afternoon cruise on the pontoon boat, we were entertained by the boys’ highly competitive 2 on 2 basketball game, and we played Cards Against Humanity after the littlest four finally fell asleep. (Not nearly as wild and crazy as our childless reunions, but definitely just as much fun!)




1st Birthday

And we returned to Greensburg for Miss Madison’s first birthday celebration. We visited with best friends and old neighbors and remembered just how much we love that town and the people in it.


California Quinoa Salad

08.26.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Has is really been almost a year (?!?!) since I last shared a recipe? That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. It just means that it’s hard enough to get dinner on the table with one kid demanding the iPad and another kid hanging on my legs, let alone break out my big camera to snap photos and take notes to share.

But I have had several requests for this quinoa salad recipe since I first made it for Laura’s bridal shower. And so, please don’t criticize the collage of iPhone photos. I promise this recipe is worth making! It’s light and refreshing, yet filling, and would be the perfect thing to take to your farewell-to-summer BBQ.


California Quinoa Salad


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • zest of 2 limes
  • 1 mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves


  • Cook quinoa according to package instructions; set aside.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar and lime zest; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine quinoa, mango, bell pepper, red onion, coconut flakes, almonds, raisins, and cilantro. Pour the balsamic vinegar mixture on top, and toss to combine.
  • Serve immediately.

(adapted from Damn Delicious)

Family First

08.26.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

There was no place I would have rather spent our “homeless” summer than in my childhood home. One month later, and I know that my parents still miss the chaos that Sam and Nora and Lucy brought into the house.

My dad’s mornings are definitely more quiet without kids requesting scrambled eggs and pancakes and stealing sections from the newspaper. And I really don’t know how he gets any yard work done without his helpers.


My mom grew quite accustomed to little hugs and kisses every morning before work and every evening when she returned home. They got lots more books and wagon rides and ice cream cones, thanks to Nini.


We also took full advantage of being so close to extended family. It was a special treat to watch my grandparents and aunts and uncles do things with the kids that I remember doing as a child: blowing bubbles, counting daffodils, raiding the fun bag, coloring with chalk, eating popsicles. We were able to attend every family picnic and celebration this summer, and Sam especially loved spending time with the “big cousins.”


And I know not a day goes by that Lucy doesn’t miss wrestling and napping with her buddy, Layla. Not to mention evening walks and playtime with Poppy.


It was bittersweet to pack our things and leave Dover. Of course, we were more than ready to join Nick in New Jersey. But this summer is one we will always cherish.

Letter to Nora: August 2015

08.20.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Sweet Girl,

I’m sorry that life has been too busy to allow time to write regular letters to you. But I’m not sorry that we have been filling our days with outdoor adventures, art projects, and road trips. We have visited farms, museums, parks, and playgrounds. Created mini masterpieces with stickers, markers, glue, and glitter. Traveled to Virginia, Maryland, Penn State, and Alabama. And we are just loving all that there is to explore in Morristown. Perhaps we will be Jersey girls, after all?


You are 19 1/2 months. Full of spunk and sass and a little bit of drama. Your giggle is contagious, your pouty face is hilarious, and your hugs are addicting. When you run at me with open arms, I can’t help but scoop you up and squeeze tight. You know how to bat the lashes above those big blue eyes to get exactly what you want — especially if Daddy is on the receiving end! You are mischievous and often steal things from Sam when he’s not looking, then you hold them tight to your chest and turn and run in the opposite direction. With a sly smile on your face.


It’s not uncommon to find you and Sam in his bedroom, dressed as a firefighter and a superhero or a princess and a train conductor, building a fort out of pillows and blankets and your Pottery Barn chairs. Or inside the closet huddled around flashlights, sharing sibling secrets. Or racing dump trucks and Matchbox cars across the hardwood floors between his room and yours. On rare quiet moments, the two of you will climb into the rocking chair with a pile of books and your favorite stuffed animals (a baby doll, a pink turtle, Minnie Mouse, and a bunny). He absolutely adores you, and you absolutely idolize him, even when you’re fighting over the iPad or the train table or the Little Tykes car or who gets to pull the drain in the bathtub.

You try so hard to keep up with Sam. If he’s pushing his lawn mower up the hill and through the mulch in our backyard, then you are following with your ball popper. If he’s riding his tricycle around the deck, then you are trying to keep up on your giraffe bike. If he’s scaling the rock wall, climbing the spider’s web, crawling up the sliding board, or hanging from the monkey bars, then you are right behind him — looking far too much like one of the big kids.


You like to sing and dance, play the harmonica, and beat the drum. You can walk on tip-toe and twirl in circles, and you try so hard to jump. We play ring-around-the-rosie, duck-duck-goose, and row-row-row-your boat on a regular basis. You roll around on the floor and can almost do a somersault and can climb onto basically every surface in our house.

That bravery got you into a bit of trouble while we were living in Dover. One morning, I found you in the bathroom sink. Another day, you pulled a chair over to the kitchen counter and were trying to reach the spice jars. You also climbed up into the tree house when nobody was watching. And, most shockingly, you got your head stuck between the stair railings! You screamed, Sam cried, I panicked. And Poppy came to the rescue with a wooden board to wedge between the railing just enough to slide your head back out. Whew! Never a dull moment.


You surprise us with new words every day. You love “b” words: ball, boat, book. You ask for water (wawa), cheese, cracker (cacker), goldfish (fishies), eggs. And my new favorite: Lucy, which sounds like “loo-shee.” Other words include: up, down, go, hot, ice, more, done, owl, hi, bye, open (ohp), on, hat. And NO. I sometimes miss the days when you only said “yeah.” Because now you say “no” all. the time. “No” to diaper changes. “No” to milk. “No” to it’s time to come inside. “No” to riding in the stroller. (Until we got our new luxury stroller for you and Sam to ride side-by-side!) It can be exhausting. So can your new desire to do everything by yourself. Like climbing into the tub and washing your own hair and like putting on your pants and shoes, even if you put both legs into the same pants hole and your feet into the opposite shoes. Not only do you try to put on your clothes, you try to take them off, too — diaper included. More than once, I have found you naked, pulling the potty seat out of the closet. At least you know what to do? Though you may be more ready to start potty training than I am.


You are fascinated by books, and we read no less than five every afternoon before nap and every night before bed. Current favorites are: Peek-a-Who (you help to read with “who-who, moo, choo-choo, and boo”), Today I’ll be a Princess (we have to look for the teddy bear on every page), Princess Baby (you get upset if I mix up the order of cupcake, giggly goose, miss muffin, and sweet pea), Ollie (though you do not like when Ollie the egg cracks open), and Peedie (every time Peedie falls asleep, you point to your bed and say “shhhh”), Silly Sally (and we have to turn the book around to see Silly Sally upside down). You can also identify almost every picture in your First Words book. I was especially proud when you correctly identified broccoli and carrots!


Speaking of broccoli and carrots, you love both. You also love waffles and sausage or scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast; pretzels, hummus, raisins, cucumbers, blueberries, or apples with peanut butter for snack; chicken nuggets and French fries, macaroni and cheese with peas, or quesadillas for lunch; and you typically eat whatever we eat for dinner: spaghetti or zoodles with meatballs, tacos with guacamole, turkey burgers, pork chops, or pizza. I still can’t get you to drink milk, so we do a lot of full-fat yogurt and cheese. And ice cream, of course, because it’s been 90+ degrees for most of the summer.

You love to help in the kitchen — measuring flour and oats, cutting bananas with a plastic knife, stirring pancakes, rolling out pie dough, placing cheese and pepperoni onto pizza, stealing bites of cookie dough. It’s challenging to get any cooking done with two mini sous chefs and our new — much smaller! — kitchen. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.


You spent three months as my roommate, while we lived with Nini and Poppy. And then had to spend another three weeks in your pack ‘n’ play after we moved because the hardware for your crib was lost somewhere between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We finally purchased a new crib and assembled it … and you hated it. It took a good four days for you to adjust to the extra space and the softer mattress. But now you love it! You take a solid two-hour nap every afternoon and sleep for about 12 hours every night. When you’re ready to get up, you yell “mamamamamama.” And, if I don’t respond fast enough, you move on to “dada buh-buh dada buh-buh” (daddy and brother).


We did a lot of FaceTiming with Daddy while we lived apart. And you don’t understand why every phone call isn’t a FaceTime call.You always want to smother the screen with sticky kisses. It’s also great for seeing grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends from Greensburg — though they often only see the top of your head because you insist on holding the phone or iPad.

It doesn’t take long for you to figure out technology — just like your brother. I downloaded a few iPad apps for you before our trip to Alabama, and Peek-a-Boo barn is your absolute favorite. You also bring the iPad to me and request Daniel the Tiger (dah-lull) or Elmo. Once I unlock the phone, you know how to find Amazon and click play. You only watch about five minutes, but Daniel and Elmo are definitely your favorites.


Mommy finally bought new shoes for you — blue sandals and pink sneakers — because you complained every time I tried to squeeze your feet into the size 5s. Sorry! But you need to stop growing so fast. You also need a completely new fall wardrobe because you have no pants that fit. At least you have finally learned to keep barrettes in your hair — good thing because your bangs (that I regretfully cut a few months ago!) now hang in your eyes. Oh, and your hair is officially long enough for a ponytail. Which makes you look like a teenager

Nora Kathryn, I love to witness the world through your eyes. Your “whoas” and “ohs” make little things seem like amazing things. I hope you are always so curious and eager to explore.


I love you, sweet pea!

How to Road Trip with Young Kids

08.06.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Summer is slowly drawing to close. But you may have one more road trip planned before August turns to September. If so, here are a few tips that worked for us during our recent road trip from Pennsylvania to Alabama with a 4-year-0ld and an 18-month-old.


1. Stock up on new toys and activities from the Dollar Store and Target, and wrap each thing in fun, colorful paper. I filled Nora’s red basket with: stickers, magnets, glow sticks, blank notebooks, crayons, pop-up books, and a Paw Patrol toy. I included many of the same things in Sam’s blue basket, plus flash cards, a magnetic tic-tac-toe game, a dry erase board, and a new Transformers toy.


The plan was to have each kid open one surprise every hour. But, I will admit, that there were a few rough hours that I allowed three or four gifts.


Biggest hit, by far (besides the fully loaded iPad, of course), was the baking sheet and magnets. For both kiddos.


2. I also included Color Wonder markers and coloring books in each kid’s backpack and Water Wow books. These are the best art supplies for road trips!


3. Download new apps and movies to the iPad. We love these headphones and this seat-back iPad case for traveling. Sam’s favorite apps: LEGO Juniors Create and Cruise, Endless ABC, and Alpha Tots. And Nora’s favorite apps: Peekaboo Barn and Elmo Calls.

4. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. Snacks that the kids love (Goldfish crackers, pretzels, popcorn, applesauce), snacks they have never tried (Rice Krispie treats), and snacks that are for specials occasions only (lollipops and M&Ms). I also filled bags with Fruit Loops and plastic lacing strings to make necklaces. Though they had just as much fun wrapping up my hands.


5. Bring a cooler for water and cold food (apples, carrots, cucumber). And several plastic bags to collect trash.

6. Be prepared to visit many rest stops. And fast food restaurants. And coffee shops. Every time we stopped, we marched and jumped and ran around outside to burn off energy. And we admitted that 14 hours in the car was just too long — for all of us — and so we broke up the return trip with an overnight hotel stay. Best decision ever!


7. Most importantly, be flexible. Don’t worry about Cheerios dumped onto the floor and M&Ms tossed between car seats. Let your kids cover you in stickers and tie your hands together with plastic lacing string. Listen to Shake it Off on repeat if it will grant you 15 minutes of silence. And try not to freak out when the car breaks down 30 minutes from home. Yes, that happened.


Happy road tripping!

Road Trip to Alabama

08.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It’s not really summer unless you strap the kids in the car for a fun-filled good old fashioned road trip, right? Right. Unless your kids are almost 4 years old and 18 months old. And a 10-hour trip turns into 14+ hours with multiple meltdowns, spilled Cheerios and apple juice stains, Shake it Off on repeat, and a momma who thoroughly exhausted every single creative distraction in her book. (More about how I attempted to entertain the kiddos in a future blog post.) Fortunately, I had my father-in-law with me. And it was all worth it to spend the week with Oma and Opa in Huntsville, AL.


Temperatures were in the 90s all week, so we enjoyed plenty of time at the neighborhood pool.


And indoor play with blocks and board games and swords that Nick used to battle his brothers when he was Sam’s age.


We hiked around the lake at Green Mountain. And we were all grateful to have Super Sam to protect us from the baby dragons, sharks, and hot lava.


We took a day trip to Chattanooga, or “Chack-a-nooda,” according to Sam. First stop: the Creative Discovery Museum, and the kids had an absolute blast. They excavated dinosaur fossils from the sand, dressed up as bees and climbed inside a honeycomb, made music, molded clay, and explored the rooftop fun factory. I think we could have spent the entire day at the museum.


We left the museum after lunch and were dripping with sweat within five minutes. We probably shouldn’t have chosen a 90+ degree day to visit the River City. But, fortunately, it is the River City, and there were plenty of ways to cool off.

The Water Steps near the Aquarium were amazing! The kids changed into their swimsuits and walked up and down the steps about three times before wading through the pool at the bottom.


Then we loaded them into the stroller — still in swimsuits — and walked across Walnut Street Bridge in search of more water play on the North Shore. While Nora caught a quick nap, Sam ran through the fountains at Coolidge Park.


Then it was back into dry clothes to ride the 100-year-old restored antique carousel.


A trip to Chattanooga is not complete without a visit to the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The terminal has been converted into a hotel lobby, and you can make a reservation to stay inside one of the Victorian train cars.

I was thoroughly impressed with “Chack-a-nooda” and would love to return one day — on a cooler day, perhaps.

We visited the Botanical Gardens, and I loved it just as much as the first time. (I also loved seeing my friend, Anna, again!) The kids spent most of the afternoon in the cool pond, and I don’t blame them. We did convince them to get out long enough to see some of the dozens of LEGOs sculptures on display.


Final excurstion of the week: Oktoberfest at the Space Center. Yes, we ate bratwursts and schnitzel under the Saturn V rocket ship.


Thanks to Dan and Carol for hosting a wonderful week in Alabama!