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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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Lucy got some new bones and chew toys, too.

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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.

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

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(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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Holiday Highlights

12.30.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.