Trip to Greensburg

07.16.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I took the kids back to Greensburg for a long weekend. We all loved seeing some of our favorite people — but it also made us miss them that much more! We enjoyed play dates, pool time, an afternoon at Idlewild, and an Octonauts birthday party. I also visited the new owners of our old house. It was bizarre to walk up to the front door and ring the doorbell — but it also made my heart so happy to see such life and love inside.

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Strawberry Fields

07.16.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Laura invited us to Barefoot Farm in Dover to pick strawberries. We picked a few quarts — and ate at least a quart more — because it’s not really June without sticky red hands and mouths! Sam said it best: “I like the strawberries when the sun makes them warm.”

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June Birthdays

07.16.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

At the beginning of every month, I think, I’m going to blog more. And then, before I know it, the month has come and gone, and I’m forced to play catch-up again. Oh, well. ‘Tis the season of life. So, for posterity sake, get ready for a series of posts from our June adventures.

June is birthday month for the Rowlands’ family: Laura, Dad, and Andrew in just five days. We joined Laura to paint pottery; enjoyed an evening of music and cocktails at Moon Dancer Winery; and feasted on hard shell crabs and corn on the cob for Dad’s 60th. Sam said to the crabs: “Get in my belly.”

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Our Getaway to El Dorado Royale in the Riviera Maya

07.14.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Five years, two kids, one dog, 36 mortgage payments, and an MBA degree later … we returned to the Riviera Maya. And it was just as beautiful as it was during our honeymoon.

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El Dorado Royale (a sister resort to El Dorado Maroma where we stayed on our honeymoon) was the ideal place to celebrate Nick’s graduation and my three years of nearly single parenting. We had not traveled together without kids since Sam was one. It was time.

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Nick took his final final exam from inside the resort, alongside a plate of guacamole and a cold cerveza. Then it was t-shirt time, fruity cocktail time, party time!

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The Resort

Again, we were incredibly impressed by the service at El Dorado. The staff was friendly and accommodating; the resort was immaculate; the food was exceptional. No matter the hour, there were staff members on duty: tidying towels and refilling cocktails; escorting guests in golf carts; cutting down loose branches from palm trees; burying seaweed in the sand before the sun came up.

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Our room at El Dorado Royale was not as memorable as the one we stayed in at Maroma. And I have to admit that the beach was a bit disappointing. It was shallow and rocky and not inviting. We barely dipped our toes in. However, they do have a five-year plan to improve it. And they offer more than enough pools (and swim-up bars!) to make up for it.

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The Food

We learned during our trip that Karisma Hotels & Resorts coined the concept “gourmet inclusive.” The food is simply amazing. And beautiful. And included in our cost to stay, which means we stuffed ourselves silly. We enjoyed Asian, Italian, Mexican, and Caribbean cuisine. Whole grouper, lamb and cactus mixote, duck carnitas, Mongolian beef, sushi, and Nick’s favorite chilaquiles. We drank infused waters, margaritas, sangrias, Sexy Mamas, and tecates.

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We learned on our very first night that you need to arrive early if you don’t want to wait to be seated, especially at the more popular restaurants like Kampai and Santa Fe. Of course, it’s also not so bad to drink a few cocktails and listen to the waves crash while waiting for your table.

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Our most unique dinner was inside the resort’s culinary theatre: Fuentes. The chef took us on a tour of Mexico with his four-course meal presentation. It was entertaining, and the food was, of course, delicious.

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We also enjoyed several afternoons of grilled meats and seafoods poolside and participated in a mole cooking class.

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The Fun

We were lucky enough to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. (Although the day is not nearly as significant to Mexicans as it is to Americans. They compared it to celebrating the Battle of Gettysburg). Nevertheless they took the opportunity to decorate with festive flags and sombreros. And we were told we could only drink tequila. No complaints here!

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We chose not to do any excursions off resort, though we did spend a morning biking off all the gourmet food and cocktails we were consuming. We got a tour of the farm and the greenhouse and met some of the local animals. We also played beach volleyball every afternoon — which granted us permission to indulge every evening.

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The resort offers a variety of entertainment every night — from live music to a circus performance to a Michael Jackson impersonator. It was so much fun to get dressed up and have a date every night during our stay!

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We also treated ourselves to the couples Sky Massage over the water. This was an additional charge, but worth every penny.

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It was the absolute perfect escape. No responsibilities, no school work, no house work, no cell phones (except to FaceTime with the kiddos every afternoon — because, yes, we missed them terribly!). We returned well rested and tanned and ready to embark on our next chapter together.

Get Outside and Play

06.21.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Summer, summer time! That means we make it our mission to get outside and play every single day. We would all go crazy if we didn’t. We find trails to hike and parks to explore. We skip rocks and feed the ducks and use sticks to write our names in the dirt. We swim in lakes and run through sprinklers. I just love exploring nature through the eyes of these two kiddos.

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May Catch Up

06.17.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Since we moved in with my parents, we have been busy busy busy! We fill our days with mini road trips and family visits and lots of fun activities for the kiddos.

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We stop by our favorite park at least once a week. Nora has mastered the slides, and Sam always manages to jump into a game of “good guys vs. bad guys” or “tag, you’re it.” Nora loves the teeter-totter, and Sam has feared the tire swing ever since a big kid spun him in circles, and I couldn’t save him fast enough. He now avoids it like the plague.

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We spend a lot of time at Auntie Laura’s new house. Sam has claimed one of the extra large closets as his room (though we have yet to do an official sleepover), and Nora treats the snack pantry like her own. And almost every visit includes a stop at the dairy farm down the street.

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We celebrated Andrew’s and Emma’s engagement with a family cookout, gin and tonics, and a backyard bonfire — a few of their favorite things. Then we said farewell to the happy couple before their big move to Denver.

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We took a family field trip to Gettysburg during one of Nick’s weekends with us. We found our relative’s name on the Pennsylvania memorial; we visited Little Round Top and Devil’s Den; and we chased the kids all over the rocks and boulders.

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Chrissy and Reese met us in Hershey for a trip to Chocolate World and plenty of playtime. Nora was mesmerized by the chocolate ride, especially the singing cows, and Sam and Reese loved the chocolate art studio. Miss these two so much!

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We celebrated Opa’s birthday in Williamsburg with goofy faces and gourmet cupcakes. It was the first time in over a decade that all four kids were together for his birthday!

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We took a quick trip to Colonial Williamsburg during our visit.

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And finally got to watch our nephew, Sean, play soccer. Sam was in absolute awe of his big cousin!

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Then we kissed the kids goodbye and headed to Mexico to celebrate surviving three years of MBA school. The kids had as much fun as we did!

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The next weekend I flew to Massachusetts to celebrate the upcoming arrival of my girlfriend’s first baby. Work schedules and family obligations and distance have prevented us from seeing more of each other. We really need to change that!

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Finally, we traveled to Philadelphia to see some of our favorites before they become a family of four. As always, they spoiled us with exceptional home brews and home cooking. The boys attempted to have their first sleepover, which ended with the two mommas separating them after almost two hours so that they could actually fall asleep.

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Such a fun month!

Letter to Nora: June 2015

05.31.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

You are such a big girl! Maybe you seem more grown up because we have been moving you from one house to another — our home in Greensburg to Nini’s and Poppy’s house to Williamsburg and Bethlehem to stay with aunts and uncles and cousins — and you have adapted so well. Both you and your brother have been so flexible and have settled right in to every new surrounding. Thank you for that!

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You have become quite independent — you pick out your own clothes and attempt to dress yourself and sometimes successfully get one leg into your pants; you climb into your car seat and onto the kitchen table; and you walk down the stairs while holding onto the railing. You eat with a fork and a spoon and try so hard to drink from a cup. You follow Sam around the playground and love the big sliding boards and big swings. You have no fear of heights. You love when Poppy sits you on top of the refrigerator and when Uncle Steepie lifts you high above his head. Actually, you are often a bit too brave for momma’s liking.

You finished your second semester of Music Together right before we left Greensburg. You still love music, and I can’t wait to enroll you in a new school after we move to New Jersey. Your favorite song is “Trot Old Joe,” which is always accompanied by a horsie ride on Mommy’s back or legs.

And you have developed some impressive dance moves — throwing your hands in the air, kicking your legs, and spinning in circles.

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You love tutus and pigtails and painted toenails. You love your gold sandals and mommy’s makeup bag. And you give the sweetest hugs and kisses to anyone who asks for them.

But you also love to play in the garden and pick up sticks and rocks. You run through the grass in your bare feet and don’t mind if your hands get dirty.

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You say momma and dadda and bubba (for brother) and ball. You woof like a puppy, meow like a kitty, and moo like a cow. You love all animals and point and giggle when you see a bird or a duck. You wave and blow kisses. You shake your head no and nod yes, and I think “yeah” is your favorite thing to say. We still hear a lot of “ehh”s and “ohh”s, and you typically use long car rides to practice new sounds like “nah-nah-nah” and “puh-puh-puh” and “la-la-la.” I think Sammy is especially excited to have real conversations with you.

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Momma decided to trim your bangs a few weeks ago, and I regretted it after the first snip. I won’t do that again anytime soon! You’re still adorable, of course.

We moved you into size 4 diapers and most of your summer tank tops are size 2T. You wear size 5 shoes, though you usually prefer Sammy’s shoes and Mommy’s shoes.

You have recently developed an interest in your aiden + anais blanket and your baby doll and sleep with both. You also still sleep with two binkies, though we recently replaced your wubbanubs with orthodontic pacis. We noticed that your two front teeth were starting to protrude, and I feared that was connected to the round shape of the wubbanubs. Fortunately, your teeth moved back into place just two weeks after making the switch, and your smile is as sweet as ever.

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You show very little interest in television, though you will sometimes watch 5 minutes of Paw Patrol with Sam. But you love my iPhone and quickly learned how to rearrange my icons. In fact, one time you completely deleted my camera app. Maybe you were trying to tell me that I take too many photos??

You like play-doh and kinetic sand and love to draw tiny pictures on paper — and sometimes your arms and legs. You are so good at hide-and-seek and think it’s hilarious when we can’t find you behind the couch or inside the closet. You are observant and notice when anything is out of place — like your blanket on the floor or Daddy’s shoes on the steps.

You love to play outside and often take our hand and lead us to the door and beg for us to open it. You are also quite the little fish. You had so much fun during two recent trips to two different lakes. You played in the sand and filled cups with water and floated with Daddy. I think it’s soon time to start swim lessons!

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You have become quite a snack queen since we moved in with Nini and Poppy. You are constantly pulling boxes of crackers from the cupboard and trying to climb onto the stool to reach the pretzels and licorice. You also still love cheese quesadillas, chicken nuggets, meatballs, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and strawberries. Also, gummies. You love gummies of all shape and flavor. And ice cream cones, obviously.

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You are such a doll, Nora. We love every day with you!

A Fond Farewell to Our First Home

05.19.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We loved our “house on the hill” since we first walked through its doors three years ago. We looked past the steep driveway and overgrown landscape, and focused on the quiet cul de sac and the private backyard lined with tall trees. We saw the potential to add hardwood floors, to open and update the kitchen, and to convert the living room into an office for Nick. We knew it was the perfect place to call our first home.

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Sam was just seven months old when we moved in. We painted his nursery green and hung his birds mobile from the ceiling. He took his first steps in the kitchen and quickly learned to scale the mulched bed in the backyard. He learned to ride his tricycle in the cul de sac and fly his kite among the trees. Before long, he figured out how to climb out of his crib, and so we transitioned his nursery into a big boy room with a railroad crossing sign on the wall and a LEGO table at the foot of the bed.

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Sam helped to mow the lawn and shovel the driveway and pick peppers from the garden. He wore his Steelers jersey to Sunday afternoon neighborhood parties and bravely went down the slide into our neighbor’s pool. He raced scooters with the girls across the street and kicked his soccer ball from one yard to the next.

He raced firetrucks and flew airplanes around the house — from the living room, through the kitchen and dining room, around the desk in the office, past the front door, and across the finish line at the bottom of the steps. He hid behind every curtain, inside every cabinet, and on the opposite side of every door. He helped Poppy to build the beautiful bookcase in our office and reconstruct the railing at our front porch.

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This is the only home that Lucy has known. She grew from a fluffy furball who slid across the hardwood floors to a lioness who watched over the neighborhood from her perch under the tree at the top of our yard. She ran to the street to collect treats from Pete the Mailman and barked when her friend, PJ, came out to play. She slept in the small space between the bookcase and the windows in the office, or on the front porch, with her front two paws hanging off the first step. She chased deer and squirrels from our backyard and ran through the electric fence at least a dozen times to join us in the cul de sac. She protected our house and kept me company while Nick spent late nights at school.

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After almost two years, we finally moved the extra boxes from the room we always knew would become a nursery. We brought Nora home on one of the coldest days in history — our minivan barely made it up the icy driveway. She slept in our room for a few weeks before we moved her into the nursery, painted purple with white furniture and floral curtains. I spent many nights rocking her to sleep, gazing out the window as snowflakes fell.

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Nora took her first steps there, too — across the rug in the living room. And before long, she was following Sam and running laps around the house, climbing the stairs, and trying to escape every time I opened the door to let Lucy out. She squealed with excitement at the top of the steps when she heard Daddy’s car pull up the driveway. She climbed onto the toy chest and looked out the window and pointed and laughed when she saw Lucy laying outside. She was obsessed with the snack cupboard and followed me into the laundry room when she heard the door to the washing machine open.

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It is so sad to think that the kids will not remember this home — the front porch where they consumed many popsicles, the kitchen counter where they stood to help bake chocolate chip cookies, and the basement where we ran races and played basketball and watched movies.

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But we will share the memories and the photos, and we will tell them lots of stories about the house on the hill.

About how we hosted holidays and birthdays there. How we extended our dining room table to accommodate loved ones. How we strung twinkling lights from the banister and homemade birthday banners from the mantle. How we hung snowflakes on every window and every wall, tied superhero capes to the shelves, and stacked orange construction cones across the kitchen island.

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We made friends who feel like family and who will be in our lives forever. The kind of friends who treat our kids like their own. Who bring casseroles and cakes and offer to help when we need an extra set of hands. Who suggest we meet at the park before dinner, or get ice cream after, because it’s just been one of those days. Who invite us over for wine and insist we wear sweatpants. And who text us crazy stories about their kids to make us feel better about our own.

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And we could not have wished for better neighbors. The kind of neighbors who invite us over to watch football on Sunday afternoon and send us home with pulled pork leftovers for the next day. Who include us in family reunions and pool parties and who never forget to spoil our kids on birthdays or holidays. Who leave a strawberry plant or a bag of tomatoes at our door step. Who help to shovel our driveway and offer to feed Lucy if we can’t make it home for mealtime. And who watch the kids so Nick and I can sneak out for a much needed date night.

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We knew we this could never be our forever home — because of Nick’s career aspirations. But our house on the hill will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

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Our Next Big Adventure

05.18.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It’s finally time to share our big news .. the Wileys are moving to New Jersey! Nick starts his dream job on June 1st. And we’re all looking forward to the adventures that await us in the Garden State!

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We put our Pittsburgh house on the market in February, and it sold in less than two weeks. Great news for us — but also much sooner than we had anticipated. And so we spent all of March packing and planning. The kids were helpful — when they wanted to be. Though, more than once, I found one of them with fingers wrapped in packing tape, or permanent marker lines on their arms and legs.

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It was emotional for all of us — sealing our belongings into boxes, not knowing when we would see them again. Removing picture frames from the walls, wiping remnants of crayon from the bath tub, cleaning paw prints from the back door, and vacuuming pine needles that had slid under the rug during the holidays.

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I took Sam and Nora to my parents’ house on a Thursday and returned the next day to help Nick to pack the kitchen and the kids’ rooms, to enjoy our final pad thai from Szechuan Garden and our final pizza from Sunset Cafe, and to toast to new adventures with friends who have become like family.

The movers arrived on Monday morning, and they were the most efficient five guys I have ever met. It took them just four hours to move our entire house down the driveway and into the moving truck. And then I spent the next four hours cleaning cabinets and scrubbing floors and wondering around an empty house that held so many memories.

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On April 13th — just one month shy of three years in Greensburg — we turned over our keys to the new owners. I wiped tears from my eyes as I watched our house on the hill disappear in the rear view mirror.

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So where are we now? The short story is: at my parents’ house. The long story is:

We drove to New Jersey in early March to see what we thought would be our next home. And we put an offer on it before we even arrived back in Pennsylvania. Then we spent the next six weeks talking to attorneys and agents and home inspectors, receiving quotes from roofers and septic system repair companies, and crunching numbers to finally realize this house was not the house for us.

It was a difficult decision and left us without any prospects or any direction for about a month … until we discovered a great rental property just last week! It’s two miles from Nick’s office (as opposed to the nearly one-hour commute he would have had if we had bought the house), and its within walking distance of historic Morristown. It has a fenced-in yard and a rec room in the basement. It’s cozy and charming, and we look forward to calling it home for the next two years!

So between now and mid-July, the kids and I are at my parents’ house. Nick is wrapping up his current job and gearing up to start his new job. And we are all looking forward to being together again.

Change is never easy. But it’s also inevitable. And exciting. New Jersey, here we come!

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Next up: A fond farewell to our house on the hill.

April Catch Up

05.15.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Continuing to catch up on the happenings in the Wiley home …

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We crammed a ton of fun into the first half of April. We kicked it off at Rizzo’s where we had lunch with the Flanders and the Easter Bunny. Nora liked him as much as she liked Santa Claus.

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We hosted Easter Sunday at our house, and it turned out to be a beautiful spring day. So unseasonably warm, in fact, that the chocolate candy in the plastic eggs had melted by the time the kids got outside to hunt for them.

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Nora was exhausted when we finally attempted a family photo. We didn’t get a single snapshot that Sam wasn’t sticking out his tongue. And Lucy only wanted to run around the yard in search of more eggs to chew. #RealLife

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We took the incline to Mount Washington for our favorite view of Pittsburgh. Although we still haven’t been to the top on a day when the temperatures are above 55 degrees.

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We spent a Monday at the Science Center with Chrissy and Reese. And it was the first time that Nora could actually participate. She especially loved the water table.

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Finally, we enjoyed a rare night out with conversation (and cocktails) that weren’t interrupted by diaper changes and requests for more applesauce and the need to intervene when kids start to fight over LEGOs and crayons.

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