Letter to Nora: June 2016

06.03.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

Your baby brother or sister is due to arrive any day. But before you’re promoted to “big sister” status, I want to remember you as our littlest.

You are our blue-eyed beauty. Our spunky and opinionated one, sometimes stubborn and demanding and dramatic, but also empathetic and sensitive.

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You love with your whole heart and give the greatest hugs. You are constantly rubbing and kissing my belly. And if I cry in the middle of the day, for no reason at all (thank you, pregnancy hormones), you are quick to wipe away my tears and say “I yuv you so much, Mommy.” I love that I can still calm your cries, too, and sometimes the two of us just take a break to rock together or snuggle on the couch.

You are, and always will be “daddy’s baby,” and you immediately correct us if we say otherwise. You give him multiple kisses goodbye every morning and wave to him from the front door. You love to “honk” his nose and jump on his back for rides around the house. Sometimes you grab his face in your hands to get his attention, and he pretty much turns to mush and will do whatever you ask. “Daddy’s baby,” indeed.

You and Sam certainly have your sibling spats, but you are constantly thinking about your big brother — like when you ask me to save a slice of pizza for him to eat after school, or you beg to play with him for “just one more minute” before nap time. And one of my favorite parts of the day is when you give him a kiss on the forehead before bed. You still call him bubba, but also “Dam,” which I adore.

You insist on feeding Lucy and letting her out the back door — even though it triples the length of time to do both tasks. You also love to dust and sweep the deck and help carry the laundry basket up the stairs. Honestly, I don’t know how I would accomplish anything without your assistance.

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You are going to be such a big helper when our new baby arrives. Every day you practice feeding your baby dolls, changing their diapers, and tucking them into their cradle. I love how you “shhh” them to sleep and bounce them and sing “rock-a-bye.” And insist that they are swaddled just perfectly. Interesting how that motherly instinct is already so strong. You make cozy beds for them out of pillows and blankets, or use tissues for your littlest princesses and Paw Patrol pups and Peppa Pig.

One weekend, while Nini and Poppy were visiting, you snuggled up to Nini with a toy bottle and pretended to drink from it. Ironic, considering you never, ever took a bottle when you were an infant. And when I asked you why, you said “because I did it like this with Mommy” while leaning in to Nini’s chest. We were all shocked that you remembered this despite not having ever seen a mother nurse a newborn. Such a smarty pants!

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For about two weeks, you developed an unexpected obsession with a toy dinosaur that you named Rexy. He went everywhere with us — to the park, to preschool pick-up, to Panera, to gymnastics, to Sam’s swim class. And it was the very first snuggle buddy you have ever requested to sleep with. Not the soft and squishy stuffed animal that I would have chosen for you, but it was pretty darn sweet. You said, “Rexy is my best friend.”

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I love that you equally enjoy “girl” things and “boy” things. You wear tutus and bracelets. You bake cookies in your kitchen and have tea parties in the bathtub. But you also pretend to be a ninja with a sword and a shield. You build magnet block castles for Matchbox cars and LEGO spaceships. You pick dandelions and throw rocks in puddles. You know Cinderella and Rapunzel and Spider-Man and Darth Vader.

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We just wrapped up our six-month session at the Little Gym, and we are both going to miss it! You have gained so much confidence since January, and it’s been amazing to watch. You walk right up to the colored circle at the beginning of class and answer “Nora” when asked “what’s your name?” You flash a shy smile, then do your forward roll, and quickly run back to me for high fives. You are a good listener and follow directions while most of the other two-year-olds run circles around the gym. You especially love running and jumping across the air track, swinging from the rings or bars, doing the bear walk, and jumping on and off the foam blocks. You do not like hanging upside down from the bars or climbing from the low bar to the high bar. You get so excited for “ball time” and “bubble time” at the end of class. Though you have cried more than once if you weren’t fast enough to grab the red ball or the blue ball, depending on your color preference of the day.

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You love art projects: drawing circles and lines and “letters” on paper, coloring flowers and butterflies in Mommy’s books, standing at your easel with markers or sticks of chalk, painting on paper plates. You still switch between your left hand and right hand, though you seem to have a bit more control with your left. We try to get to the library every Tuesday morning for toddler storytime and crafts, and you are always so proud to show off your creations to Daddy and Sam. You can also spend an incredible amount of time rolling and cutting play dough, scooping kinetic sand and forming it into balls, or standing at your sandbox on the back deck.

Your favorite color is red; purple is a close second. You know Sam likes dark blue, and Daddy, too. And you insist that Mommy likes brown because I like chocolate. You can count to 12 and are just starting to recognize letters, which is pretty cool. You are a sponge, soaking up everything we say and do and not forgetting a single detail.

You love books and tend to request the same book every night for a week before moving on to the next. Recent favorites include Goldbug (of course, you and Sam compete for who can find Goldbug first), Snuggle Stories (Minnie’s Sleepover, Donald Duck, and Rapunzel), and Our New Baby book. You will often sit and flip through books and say “Just one minute, I reading now.” And you are quick to catch us if we change a word or skip a page.

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We’ve reached so many important toddler milestones since your second birthday. First, we ditched the binkies. We decided going cold turkey was the best approach. So I bought a special pink box for you to put them in before bed one night, and we left the box outside your door for the binky fairy to pick up and deliver to babies who needed them. At first, you were really excited, but as soon as you realized that those binkies were not coming back into your room, you cried and cried and cried. It took you so long to settle and soothe yourself that night, and you woke up multiple times. But the next night was a bit better, and the one after that even better. And, by day three, you had completely forgotten about those beloved binkies.

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Next, potty training! I have to say that this was a much easier process than it was with Sam. You wanted to wear your Minnie Mouse undies right away and never refused when I asked you to sit on the potty. In the beginning, we rewarded you with mini marshmallows and smiley face stickers. And we must have sang the Daniel Tiger potty song at least 100 times. You have now developed a potty routine (as with every single thing in your day), which involves putting the little seat onto the big potty, climbing onto your stool and up onto the seat, singing the ABCs, doing your business, wiping, climbing down, removing the little seat, flushing, closing the lid, and washing your hands. Whew. Yes, it is as exhausting for me as it sounds. But it works. You have had very few accidents and are totally comfortable going in public restrooms — also totally comfortable singing the ABCs at the top of your little lungs. You still wear pull-ups for naps and nighttime, but almost always wake up dry. Good job, little lady!

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And, finally, we moved you into your “big girl bed.” You were so excited to help Daddy and Sam take apart the crib and assemble your bed. Mommy was also pretty excited to get that beautiful piece of furniture back into your room. We put on the butterfly sheets and purple quilt that you helped to pick out and added your little lamb pillow and favorite pink fleece blanket. Of course, you (and Sam) had to test out its bounciness on the first night. But you finally calmed down for a book and a story and a song. You didn’t get out of bed at all and only woke up once during the night. Again, completely different than your brother! In fact, you still stay in bed until Mommy or Daddy comes to get you in the morning. Now, this is not to say that you sometimes don’t make a dozen requests for a cup of water, a tissue, or a blanket adjustment. But it’s getting better.

We purchased a tot clock for your room while you were still sleeping in your crib, and before I turn out the light every night, you repeat at least ten times: “Goodnight, Sweet dreams, Until my green light comes on.” Then you almost always stay quiet in the morning until the green light comes on at 7:15am.

I think you love your room as much as I do. You will often play quietly with your toys while I clean or cook or shower. I love listening to the way you talk to your baby dolls and the scenarios you create with your miniature characters.

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You love bacon and maple syrup, apples with the skin peeled off, grapes, watermelon, pretzels and carrots with hummus, potato chips, pizza, gummies, and strawberry ice cream. You still won’t touch milk and have just recently taken a liking to apple juice. Your favorite shows are Peppa Pig, Caillou (despite the fact that Daddy and I cannot stand Caillou), Princess Sophia, and the baby episodes of Doc McStuffins. And you love to play the Daniel Tiger games on my iPad.

You are definitely not one to be left behind and are constantly trying to keep pace with Sam and his friends. You race around the playground, demand to ride scooters that are too big for you, and confidently climb over rocks or walk along stone walls. Now that shorts season has arrived, I believe that your legs will be permanently decorated with little scrapes and bruises.

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A few of your cutest expressions: What you doing? What happened? Did you see that? I have an idea. Oh my goodness. No, I not did it. It was an acci-didnt. It was an oopsy-daisy. Yummy in my tummy. I promise. I’ll never do it again. I can’t right now. I do it by myself. You get it, I don’t have any hands, see?

And everything you say is with such emotion — whether it’s excitement or concern or irritation.

Oh, Nora, I could go on and on about how much fun you are at this age. And we are just so excited to see you in your big sister role. We love you, sweet girl!

Bumpdate: The Third Time

05.20.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I meticulously recorded every detail of my first pregnancy: the kicks, the cravings, the size comparisons to exotic fruits and vegetables, and the nursery that was almost completely decorated before I entered the third trimester. Nick even joined in on the fun and added commentary to our weekly updates. We took a picture of my growing belly every single week, had two different maternity photo sessions, and later created a book dedicated to “Waiting for Peanut.”

I remained pretty adamant about capturing memories during my second pregnancy: the discomforts and indulgences, our gender reveal photo shoot, the excitement of purchasing itty bitty pink clothing, the curtains and bed skirt that I sewed for the nursery. I set up my camera on the tripod and took a bump shot at least once a month and recorded videos of Sam talking to my belly.

But, oh, sweet child #3. At almost 37 weeks pregnant, I am writing my first update since our pregnancy announcement. It’s not that I haven’t cherished every kick and flip and dreamed of the shape of your nose, the color of your eyes, and the warm weight of you against my chest. It’s just that my days are consumed by your big brother and big sister. And having to hold down the fort while Daddy travels for days at a time. But every night, when I finally have a chance to sit down, you remind me of your presence. I place my hand on my belly and feel you push back against it and my heart swells with love for you. So while there may be few recorded memories from the past nine months, please know that they are tucked away in my mind and my heart.

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First Trimester

We always knew we wanted a third. And we had barely decided that we were ready to start trying when … bam! Our quickest conception yet. (And, trust me, I know how blessed we are.) Nick was traveling, and I took an early pregnancy test because I just had a feeling. A very, very faint second pink line revealed itself several hours after taking the test, which I knew could be a fluke. So I waited a few days and took another test, and that time there was no denying the bright pink line that appeared almost immediately.

I made a little card for Nick — one blue heart, one pink heart, and one question mark. We laughed and hugged and thought, “Oh my gosh, what are we getting ourselves into?!” We told the kids shortly after. We went out for ice cream, and I asked Sam what he thought about having another baby sister or baby brother. He was surprised and thrilled! And Nora kept saying “baby, baby, baby.”

We had planned to wait a few weeks to tell our families. But my mom and sister suspected it during our visit around 6 weeks. I was exhausted and a little edgy, and they must have asked if I was okay at least a dozen times. By Sunday, Laura finally guessed, “Are you pregnant??”

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My very first prenatal visit was scheduled for 8 weeks and set the tone for this wild third rodeo. Nick unexpectedly had to leave town, and I wasn’t able to reschedule my appointment, so I had no choice but to take Sam and Nora with me. I filled my bag with stickers and snacks, double checked that my phone was fully charged, and hoped for the best.

Little did I know that protocol at my new practice included an internal ultrasound to confirm the conception date. Yes, that’s right. I was forced to distract the big kids with Goldfish and iPhone games and had to raise my arm more than once to keep them away from the thin sheet that was draped over my knees while the doc did her thing with the “magic wand.”

I then had to drag them down the hall for blood work and assure them that the needle hanging out of Mommy’s arm did not hurt at all. Despite the wad of gauze and band-aids that followed.

Let’s just say that Daddy owed me big time after that morning.

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Shortly after that first appointment, the nausea set in, which came as a big surprise because it was not something I experienced with my first two pregnancies. The only foods I could tolerate were bananas, scrambled eggs, and baked potatoes. Thank goodness for the frozen food section at Trader Joe’s, which sustained the kids while Nick was traveling. Did I mention that he traveled a lot during the first trimester??

There were many, many days that required a morning nap after preschool drop-off and an afternoon nap after I put Nora down. The kids watched an obscene amount of Netflix on the iPad while I slept beside them on the couch. And I started the countdown until bedtime around 5pm every night. Those first few weeks were all about survival.

Fortunately, Daddy was able to join us for the 12-week ultrasound, as well as both Sam and Nora. Sam was especially amazed by the “hot lava” on the screen (which the tech thought was hilarious), and he kept referring to you as “her” and “she.” Yes, he was convinced from the very beginning that he was getting another sister.

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Second Trimester

The second trimester has always been my favorite. The bump is finally significant enough for strangers to notice, but doesn’t yet get in the way. Tiny movements are a daily reminder of a growing peanut’s presence, but aren’t yet strong enough to cause pain. The body has made necessary adjustments and energy levels are high. And this time was no different.

I tackled house projects and cooked meals and chauffeured the kids to karate and gymnastics and birthday parties. We traveled to Williamsburg and Greensburg and made several trips to Dover. We hosted friends for dinner parties and weekend visits. I shoveled snow and built blanket forts and baked cookies during the coldest days. I even spent a weekend in Boston with my girlfriends.

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Third Trimester

If the second trimester was marked by energy and enthusiasm and ease, then the third trimester will be remembered by increasing discomfort and fatigue, sleepless nights and sore muscles, little motivation to cook or clean, viruses and allergies, hormones, and tests in patience and flexibility and acceptance.

Sam brought home lots of nasty preschool germs and was pretty sick for two weeks. Of course, Daddy was traveling again (!!), which left me responsible for all middle-of-the-night wake-ups. Because what’s a few less hours of sleep when you have to get up multiple times to pee and blow your nose? I caught the tail end of his virus and had a cough for over a month before I requested an antibiotic from the doctor. There were lots of steamy showers before bed, peppermint oil in the humidifier every night, and cancelled plans.

I did manage to spend several days in Dover while Poppy recovered from surgery and radiation treatment. It was an emotional rollercoaster for a few weeks, which left this hormonal momma feeling drained and guilty that I couldn’t do more to help.

Finally, big sister Nora tackled several major milestones, including ditching her binkies and diapers and transitioning to a big girl bed. All three required time and patience to adjust. And, of course, later bedtimes and less sleep all around. Plus, between pregnancy and potty training, I think we’ve visited half of the public restrooms in Morris County.

Fortunately, Daddy and I were able to escape to NYC for a weekend to indulge in delicious food that required no sharing with little mouths, adult conversation and a Broadway show, long walks without kids pulling us in opposite directions, and uninterrupted sleep. We called it our mini babymoon.

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Being pregnant while also being responsible for a preschooler and a toddler may make my days more challenging, but it also makes them sweeter. The way that Nora rubs and kisses my belly and constantly asks, “I hold baby?” She talks about meeting you at the hospital every time we pass it (which is pretty much every day). She has accompanied me to almost every doctor’s appointment, thinks it’s hilarious that I have to pee in a cup, and loves to move the doppler over my belly to hear your “heart beep.” She still loves to snuggle in my lap — even though there’s barely any room to do so — and says, “Oh, I feel baby move!” when she feels your kicks against her chest.

Then there’s big brother Sam: observant and inquisitive. He walks around with a rubber ball under his shirt and says his belly is bigger than mine, tells his friends that my belly button has disappeared, and asks how does the baby eat inside my belly and how will the baby come out of my belly. He still always refers to you as “her” and “she,” although if Nora is nearby, he will happily argue that you are a boy. He may find pleasure in irritating his sister and pretend to be a ninja the majority of every day, but I know he will be so sweet and tender with you.

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A few more things that I want to remember: How you like to hang out on my right side, which means it sometimes feels as though your little feet are nearly wrapped around my back. And how you toss and turn at bedtime until I agree to roll onto my right side. How I eat a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Life cereal every night. And like to drink Ginger Ale and LaCroix pineapple strawberry sparkling water. How I know my belly has dropped because it now hits the sink when I wash the dishes. How the extent of baby prep at almost 37 weeks has included moving Nora’s old crib into our bedroom, unpacking unused newborn diapers, washing hand-me-down clothes from your brother and sister, and buying a new diaper bag backpack that I can also use to tote around big kid necessities.

Sometimes I get caught up in all that still needs to be done: locate the bottles and the breast pump, wash and install the car seat, prep food, pack my hospital bag. But I’ve admitted that I need to slow down, accept help when it’s offered, and give myself some grace. I no longer attempt to walk Lucy while simultaneously pushing the double stroller. I have requested that Daddy do baths and carry the baskets of laundry up and down the stairs. I’ve accepted that grilled cheese or delivery pizza are okay dinner options. And I welcome invitations from mommy friends to help with the big kids so I can get some rest.

As long and demanding as the days may seem, not one goes by that I’m not thankful for the healthy and thriving life growing inside of me. Hearing your heartbeat and feeling your tosses and turns are a constant reminder of all that we have to look forward to.

We are so excited to meet you, little one!

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Funny Valentines and Sugar Cookies

04.12.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I have baked these soft sugar heart-shaped cookies with the kiddos for the past three Valentine’s Day. And I’ve never blogged the recipe. So, even though, it’s April, we’re going to travel back in time to February. (2013 | 2014 | 2015)

First up, a sweet Valentine’s Day party at Sam’s preschool. They sang songs, gave heart mobiles as gifts, and indulged in lots of red and pink treats.

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Daddy even got to sneak out of the office for 45 minutes to join us.

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That evening we headed to Dover to celebrate the rest of the holiday with Nini and Poppy. My mother didn’t disappoint with her selection of decadent desserts.

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And we treated her to a nice dinner: scallops over risotto with green beans. Because sometimes it’s fun to feel fancy.

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On Sunday, we played our tenth game of Valentine’s Day Bingo. And then we baked cookies.

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Soft Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 5 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients for Buttercream Frosting

  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3-4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • food coloring and sprinkles

Directions

  1. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and sour cream; mix until combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until combined.
  3. Split dough into two pieces, and place in saran wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours.
  4. Once dough is chilled, roll out dough onto baking mat or parchment paper. Add another 1/4 – 1/2 cup flour if dough is still sticky. Cut with floured cookie cutter.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes.
  6. For the buttercream frosting: Combine all ingredients, mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Frost on cooled cookies and decorate.

(adapted from I Heart Naptime)

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This is definitely a tradition that we will continue for many years to come!

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Catch Up (Again)

03.31.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

During this season of life, I don’t have the time (or, honestly, the mental capacity) to share recipes or toddler crafts or parenting tips in this space. But that’s okay. Because this blog still serves a very important role in my life. I don’t want to forget these days — the good ones, the grand ones, the exhausting ones. And so away we go. A highlight reel of the past two months.

Nora rocked her first dentist appointment. They cleaned and flossed her teeth … and discovered that she has an extra tooth! It’s the right lateral incisor, and the dentist explained that this formed in utero. The tooth bud simply split into two during early development. It’s not uncommon, and she suspects just one adult tooth will push out the two baby teeth. Either way, the girl has a beautiful smile.

Sam also impressed the hygienist and dentist with his cooperation. He even marched down the hall all by himself to get his first round of x-rays. Of course, by the time the three of us left the office and walked down the hallway, the kids were racing and fighting over who got to push the button for the elevator.

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I enjoyed a long overdue weekend in Boston with a few of my favorite ladies. The four of us could not be in more different phases of life, and we don’t get to see each other nearly often enough, and yet it always seems as if no time has passed between us. That’s the beauty of having friends who have known you since grade school.

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I continued to hold down the fort while Nick traveled to Calgary for work. Sam’s mid-winter break from preschool presented an extra challenge. But we treated ourselves to dinner at our favorite local deli, and the kids were surprisingly well behaved. And I dug through art supplies and activities to keep them busy during the day. About 45 seconds after I took this photo of Sam the Scientist, I got up to refill Nora’s water cup, and Sam decided to put the purple cap onto the container and shake it up. Know what happens when you add vinegar to baking soda and shake it up? It explodes. I guess the “volcano” just wasn’t big enough for him. So I spent the next 15 minutes scrubbing green vinegar off the walls, the rug, and Nora’s face.

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We hosted Pennsylvania friends during two different weekends. The kids stayed up way past their bedtimes, and so did the adults (playing Cards Against Humanity). We went to the theatre to see Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Nora was completely enthralled, and Nick was impressed that I knew every single song. Our time together is never long enough. But at least we still live close enough for weekend visits.

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We took the kids to the Great Swamp in Chatham to learn all about maple syrup. Because we figured that we consume enough of it, and it was time to find out where it comes from. The classroom portion was a bit much for Sam and Nora (geared more towards a grade school audience), but Nick and I learned a lot. Like how to identify a maple tree, what are the ideal conditions for tapping, and that it takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce one bottle of syrup. Then we went outside to peek inside the buckets, to find out how they boil down the sap to get syrup, and to taste several different grades (the kids favorite part, of course!)

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Though we found ourselves in the middle of a rough patch in early March with lots of tears and timeouts and more yelling than I’d like to admit (thanks to not enough sleep for Nora and a particularly challenging phase for Sam), I tried my best to start each day with a positive attitude. Sunshine helped. We took advantage of the warmer weather with scooter rides, late afternoons at the playground, and ice cream cones.

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I rarely get to visit my family without the kiddos in tow. But we all need quality time with our parents (despite our age), and so Nick granted me a weekend away. We talked without interruption, enjoyed the market on Saturday morning, and watched movies together. It was much needed for all of us as my dad prepares to face a challenging spring. But he’s Super Poppy, and we’re all confident that he’ll beat this, just like he did ten years ago.

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Finally, we enjoyed our first St. Patrick’s Day in Morristown. Also, we felt really old. Especially when I walked outside in my maternity sweater and slippers to throw a dirty toddler diaper into the trash can while the 20-somethings across the street were blaring music and playing beer pong. Nick really wanted to join their game, but he decided he didn’t want to recreate the Frank the Tank scene from Old School. When did that happen, anyway? When did we trade pints of green beer for sippy cups of milk and live music late into the night for early bedtimes and popcorn on the couch? But this is our life. And we love it.

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And since Lucy didn’t make it into any of the photos above … The sometimes annoying and always endearing characteristic of Goldens: they must always be in the middle of the action.

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Snow Day

02.18.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Winter Storm Jonas brought over two feet of snow to North Jersey in late-January. It was snowing when we woke up on Saturday morning and didn’t stop until after we went to bed that night.

The kids couldn’t wait to get outside, despite the frigid temperatures. I allowed them to put on their snow gear and go explore while I watched from the frosty kitchen window. Then we corralled them inside for pancakes and bacon and our first round of hot cocoa.

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The rest of our morning consisted of movies and popcorn and puzzles and board games. And after lunch, I finally gave in to their pleas to go back outside.

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I had to tighten Sam’s snow pants and replace Nora’s gloves about a dozen times, but it was worth it. The snow was too fluffy for snowman building or sledding, so they simply entertained themselves by walking/crawling from the deck to the swing set and back again.

While Nora was napping, I whipped up some chicken corn soup and chocolate chip cookie brownies. Because it’s not a proper snow day without comfort food and sweets.

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When Nora woke up, Nick took them back outside for yet another of snow play. Then they collected a bowl of snow to make ice cream (which ended up being about 1/2 snow and 1/2 sprinkles) while I dried hats and gloves and socks and snow pants for the third time that day.

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We woke up Sunday morning to beautiful blue skies and a winter wonderland. The temperatures were much more conducive to play, so we bundled up and went outside after breakfast. Nick and Sam attempted to dig out our cars and shovel the sidewalk while Nora and I rolled around in the front yard. And Lucy was in absolute heaven sprinting up and down the sidewalk.

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It was the kind of weekend that I remember from my own childhood: snow up to my waist, sled paths in the backyard, snow angels and snowball fights, snowflakes on eyelashes, hot cocoa and blanket forts. It’s so fun to feel like a kid again with your own kids.

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Christmas in VA and PA

01.20.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

The only year that we spent Christmas at home was the year that I was 38 weeks pregnant with Nora. Every other year, for eight years, we have traveled to spend the holiday with both of our families: from Pennsylvania and California to Alabama and Virginia. But it’s always worth all of the prepping and packing and the hours spent in the car or on an airplane.

This year we started at Laura’s and Stephen’s house in York, PA. It was the perfect spot to stop for the night on our way from NJ to VA. They treated us to dinner and a fire in their beautiful new fireplace. And Sam was thrilled to finally have a sleepover in his “room,” a.k.a. the gigantic closet that he claimed as his own on the first day that he visited their house last year.

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We left early the next morning and stopped to visit friends and eat pizza in Alexandria, VA. Bonus that the kids were sufficiently worn out by the time we got back in the car. Which means Starbucks and Serial podcasts for Mommy and Daddy.

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Final stop: Williamsburg, VA! We rolled in just in time for dinner. Though Sam immediately disappeared up to the playroom with his cousins, which is where he remained for almost the entire week.

Christmas week was filled with so many fun activities: gingerbread houses with the cousins, Polar Express and a hot cocoa bar with Oma and Opa, a glow stick party hosted by Aunt Kirsten, and so much delicious food prepared by Megan. The older boys went to the Star Wars premier one afternoon, and we took the kids to the playground on the only sunny day of the week. Nick stayed up late playing video games with Sean, and I got to sleep in several times, thanks to aunties and grandparents. Many days we stayed in sweatpants and ate a ridiculous amount of sweets. And Nick and I escaped one afternoon for a quick, rainy stroll through Colonial Williamsburg.

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On a very humid and rainy Christmas Eve, we headed to Busch Gardens for Christmas Town. We saw several impressive shows, including Scrooge and Gloria. We walked from country to country and marveled at their light displays (Germany’s Festhaus and tannenbaums was a definite favorite). We even got to catch up with NJ friends, although the kiddos did not cooperate for a photo to commemorate the occasion. Then we enjoyed dinner with Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves. Sam and Nora and their cousins visited with Santa and shared their final Christmas list wishes. And everyone enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies baked by Mrs. Claus.

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We got to bed late on Christmas Eve. But that didn’t stop the kiddos from waking up bright and early to find out whether Santa had visited.

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And he did! We tried to control the chaos of four kids and three dogs and piles upon piles of presents. But the chaos is what makes Christmas so wonderful. Favorite finds under the tree included a baby doll that Nora promptly named Baby Margaret, the Millennium Falcon, several Pete the Cat books, and a set of walkie-talkies that Nick was as excited about as Sam. And Momma got a new camera!

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We concluded our week in Williamsburg with a festive feast and more sweets before heading north to PA to do it all over again.

Sam helped Nini to prepare our traditional Christmas breakfast of egg and sausage casserole and apple nut ring with mimosas. Then it was on to more gifts. Sam was immediately obsessed with his new microscope and science set (he even declared, “I love science!), and Nora spent the remainder of the day feeding and diapering her baby doll. And the adults were pretty excited about our beautiful canvas bags filled with camping supplies. The five (!!) dogs made our celebration even crazier than usual. But we wouldn’t have wished to have it any other way. We were especially grateful that Andrew and Breck drove all the way from Colorado to spend the holidays with us!

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The rest of the week was spent entertaining the kids with their new games and gifts and puzzles like Spirograph, Ants in the Pants, and LEGOs. We went bowling one rainy afternoon, and the boys played several rounds of frisbee golf at a local park. We stayed up late playing cards almost every night. And the dogs were permanently caked in mud from wrestling outside. Mom and I prepared an amazing feast of filet of beef with Gorgonzola sauce, smashed Parmesan potatoes, and green beans — and we all declared it restaurant quality. And Sam expertly wrapped bacon around pheasant, courtesy of Stephen and Andrew and their hunting dogs.

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We rang in the New Year with lasagna and Mexican Dominoes and all managed to stay up past midnight.

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The fact that we got to spend so much time with both families, and that the kids really enjoyed and appreciated the generosity of everyone made this one of my favorite holidays yet.

Letter to Nora: TWO

01.19.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

You are smart and sassy. Independent and opinionated. Stubborn and sensitive. Silly and oh so sweet. You are a storyteller and an artist. And such a love bug. You are two!

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At your two-year check-up, you weighed 26 pounds and measured 34.5 inches. You allowed the doctor to check your eyes, your ears, your mouth, and your belly without shedding a single tear. You told her about the baby in Mommy’s belly and how Aunt Kirsten painted your pretty purple nails. You jumped and touched your toes on command and exceeded every expectation listed on the “what to expect” worksheet.

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You say more words than I can count and surprise us with new ones every day. You speak in full sentences and tell imaginative stories about needing an umbrella to keep your hair dry when we play in the rain; about having to rescue Minnie from the hot lava; and about the stars and the big moon outside. You have memorized the words to all of your favorite books, including May I Please Have a Cookie, Alfie? and every book in the Gossie and Friends series. You even imitate Mommy voices and deep Daddy voices when you read. You sing songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and The Wheels on the Bus. You can count the groovy buttons on Pete the Cat’s shirt and identify the colors of his shoes. You are basically a little sponge, soaking up everything you see and hear every moment of every day.

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We celebrated your birthday with a family brunch at Nini’s and Poppy’s house. You were so spoiled by grandparents and aunties and uncles and enjoyed being the center of attention. You clapped when we sang “Happy Birthday to Nora” and blew out your candle — with a little help from Sam. You opened your gifts while everyone watched and had a cute reaction to almost every new book or toy or article of clothing. In fact, you insisted that you immediately put on a new pair of pants, a new skirt, a new t-shirt, a new hoodie, and your new Under Armour sneakers. Then you danced for your audience and showed everyone two fingers when we asked “How old is Nora?”

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You run up and down the stairs, walk on tip-toe, spin in circles, climb onto beds, and jump from one piece of furniture to the next. Thanks to Little Gym, everything has become a balance beam or a set of monkey bars, and you do forward rolls every chance you get. You can kick and throw balls, ride Sam’s scooter around the deck, and much prefer the big kid swings and slides to the toddler ones. You love to play hide-and-seek, and I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I have lost you in our little house. Your favorite spots are under your crib, or in my closet behind my hanging clothes.

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You play creatively and independently. You like everything from baby dolls and princesses to matchbox cars and swords. You build LEGO towers and block castles and Magna-Tiles spaceships. You have mastered all of your chunky puzzles, and we have moved onto simple wooden ones. You love to draw and paint and use glue sticks and play with kinetic sand – you will often spend more than 20 minutes completely engrossed in an art project. We have tea parties and bake pretend cookies in your kitchen. We race trucks around the house and run away from pretend zombies. I love that are you are exposed to all types of toys and all types of play, thanks to big brother. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find you wearing a tutu, a superman cape, a firefighter hat, and a pair of light-up heels.

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You wash your hands and brush your teeth. You can remove every article of clothing, including your diaper. And you insist on trying to dress yourself every morning, which adds at least 10 minutes to our already hectic routine. You tell us when you have to go potty – sometimes we get there in time and sometimes we don’t. I suspect (and hope!) that you will be potty trained before baby brother or sister arrives.

Speaking of the new baby, you love to kiss Mommy’s belly and speak to him/her in a whispered voice. You have accompanied me to several doctor’s appointments and are so fascinated by the sound of the itty bitty beating heart. Both you and Sam are convinced that we’re having a girl and that her name should be Baby Margaret (thank you, Daniel Tiger!). I know that you are going to be a fantastic little momma helper. You love to feed your baby dolls and change their diapers and sing them lullabies. I’m getting excited to see you in your big sister role! Although … every time we refer to you as a big girl, you quickly correct us: “No, I’m Daddy’s baby.” Oh, Daddy is in trouble!

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You most definitely exercise your independence and test your boundaries on a daily basis. You say “No, I got it” at least 20 times before lunch – from putting on your boots to climbing into the car to buckling your seat belt. And if I try to help, or if I do it the wrong way, then we have to start all over. Whew. It’s exhausting! Fortunately, the tantrums over the wrong pair of socks or the wrong color toothbrush or the wrong water cup have already decreased.

You are a girl who thrives on routine, especially at bedtime. Bath is always followed by brushing your teeth, spitting into the sink, and taking a sip of water. Then we move into your bedroom to put on lotion and PJs and comb your hair. You say “beep, beep” and insist on sitting on the chair beside me, rather than on my lap, for story time. We read at least three books and always sing “Rock-a-Bye, Nora.” Then we have to stand up, and I cradle you in my arms while we sing it again. Finally, it’s into bed with your pink blanket and three binkies. One more sip of water, one more song, a big hug and a big kiss, and lights off. Daddy has finally figured out the order of events after several attempts that resulted in you screaming for Mommy. You are typically in bed between 7:30 and 8pm and sleep until about 7:15am. And you nap like a champ every afternoon. We have plans to move you into your big girl bed this spring, and I sincerely hope that the transition doesn’t affect your stellar sleep habits.

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You love to eat pretzels with hummus, cucumbers with Ranch, and waffles with syrup. Your favorite snacks are raisins, marshmallows, gummies, popcorn, and applesauce. You can eat an entire apple, all the way down to the seeds, and will often eat two bananas in one sitting. You still don’t care for milk (unless it’s poured over cereal), but you eat lots of cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.

You love Daniel Tiger, Mickey Mouse, and Pete the Cat. You can identify all of our family members and friends and their pets by name. And when asked, “What’s your name?” You say, “Nora Wiley.” You say “Hi” and “Bye” to strangers and will give a hug to anyone who asks for one.

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My heart melts a little bit every time you say “thank you, Mommy” and “I love you, too.” I savor your squeezes and kisses. Gosh, this is such a fun age. And I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. I love you, sweet girl!

Countdown to Christmas

01.12.2016 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We kicked off Christmas season with a walk down to the Green to welcome Santa Claus to Morristown. We sang Christmas carols with hundreds of other community members as we waited for the big guy’s sleigh to land on top of the Century 21 department store building. The kids were mesmerized as we watched Santa ride the fire truck ladder from the top of the building to the ground.

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Bobby the Elf arrived on December 1st and brought chocolate chip muffins for breakfast. Every morning after that the kids raced downstairs to look for Bobby and open another door on their advent calendar.

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While Nick jet-setted off to Germany for work obligations, I took the kiddos to Dover to bake cookies! Dad and Laura and I have mastered our family’s sugar cookies, and Sam did a pretty decent job as decorator and taste-tester.

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Back to New Jersey to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. Our own St Nick brought back some authentic goodies for Germany, including Rittersport and Kinder Eggs. The kids also got robes and slippers (Spider Man and Minnie Mouse) and new Christmas books to add to our growing collection (George and Ollie).

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Before Daddy left the country again — for Canada this time — we sprinkled some Christmas joy around our home. We opened the box of our very first artificial tree (because our limited time at home this month just didn’t justify a real tree) only to find that the 7-foot white-lit slim pine that we had purchased had been replaced by a barely 5-foot multi-color tree with frayed branches and a few old ornament hooks. Yes, that’s right. Someone bought a new tree and returned their old one. And they got away with it. Sam was especially bummed and couldn’t understand why we had to pack it up for Mommy to return to Target the next day. Fortunately, they still had a slim pine in stock, and we set it up as soon as I got home.

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Auntie Laura spent a few days with us while Nick was traveling. We watched movies and ate popcorn, worked on Christmas tree crafts, and did a little shopping. While at the mall, Nora caught her first annual glimpse of Mr. Claus. She was perfectly content to wave at him from a safe distance.

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Two weeks before Christmas, on a 60+ degree day, we thought it would be fun to take the train into New York City. Not only was the city packed with holiday shoppers, there were also 20,000+ drunk Santas stumbling around. It was not at all the fun, festive family outing that we had envisioned. At one point, we had to recruit help from a muscular man to hoist the double stroller over a 4-foot barrier because we were stuck for 45 minutes in a mob of people outside of the Disney store. But don’t get me wrong. There were moments like this: seeing the pure joy on Nora’s face when she spotted the tree at Rockefeller; watching the ice skaters at Bryant Park with Sam; dancing with the Salvation Army donation team; devouring slices of pizza on the steps of Madison Square Garden while waiting for our train back to NJ. Those moments made our crazy adventure idea seem a little less crazy.

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On the Monday before we headed south, I dressed up the kids in their holiday attire, and we were off to see Santa. Sam prepared his list, which included Star Wars guys, a robot, and walkie-talkies. And Nora seemed surprisingly excited about the idea of sitting on Santa’s lap, “with buh-buh, too” she added every time that I asked. When we arrived, both kids were successfully distracted from the long line by Charlie Brown and Snoopy and fake snow falling from a larger-than-life-size snow globe. Of course, they threw handfuls of the fake snow at each other, and I frantically tried to brush it from their hair and clothing before our names were called. And then it was our turn. Sam ran right up to the jolly old man, and Nora clutched my leg as tightly as her little arms could manage. But Santa was amazing. He got onto his knee, looked into Nora’s eyes, and addressed her by name. Before I realized it, they were talking about baby dolls and Daniel Tiger. However, she still wouldn’t get any closer than the plastic white stool at his feet. But I’ll take it!

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After Nora’s meeting with Santa, she was even more interested in all things Christmas. And her mind was totally blown when I showed her the special video message that he sent just for her. Every time he said her name (which was about five times during each viewing, and we watched the 3-minute video at least 35 times), her face lit up with the most amazing smile. Gosh, I love witnessing the magic of Christmas through our children’s eyes.

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Finally, we closed out the week with a little Christmas concert and party at Sam’s preschool. The kids performed several songs, including “chopping down the Christmas tree,” which Sam had practiced for Nick via FaceTime the night before. They then binged on cookies and cupcakes and apple juice before hugging each other good-bye until the new year.

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Rewind

12.12.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

October and November are mostly a blur. Probably because I spent the better part of those two months solo parenting a busy preschooler and an increasingly opinionated toddler while simultaneously growing a third little peanut inside my belly. I felt nauseous all day, almost every day, and allowed the kids to watch an embarrassing amount of television and eat frozen pizza for dinner on more than one occasion. But we all survived the first trimester, and Nick’s project in Calgary is almost complete. Plus Christmas is less than two weeks away, so how can we not be full of merriment and good tidings?

But before we pack our bags and head south the celebrate the holidays with family, here’s a look back at how we spent our fall.

We spent a Saturday in October at Ort Farms. While 90 percent of North Jersey was at the infamous Alstede Farms just two miles away, we opted for the quieter and just as festive option. We pet the baby farm animals, pretended to drive the John Deere, got legitimately lost in the corn maze, ate apple cider doughnuts, and picked our pumpkins from the patch.

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We painted pumpkins and carved pumpkins. (I think it’s obvious which method Nora preferred.)

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We visited another pumpkin patch with Sam’s preschool friends and spent an afternoon at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm. We cracked corn, washed rags and hung them to dry, harvested eggs, and fed a baby calf. We also let the kids run wild. Because that’s what they do best.

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We enjoyed the Millersville Homecoming Parade (superhero-themed!) with Dan and Carol, and the kids consumed a ridiculous amount of sugar. Then our favorite alumni gave us a tour of campus where they met 40 years ago.

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We visited the best pumpkin farm in Lancaster County before driving back to New Jersey where fall gourds are at least twice as expensive.

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Sam rocked his first Halloween parade. I still can’t believe he wore his mask during all eight laps around the gymnasium.

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Then Spider Man and Bat Girl celebrated Halloween with Strawberry Shortcake (and her momma — two people we miss most in Pennsylvania!). We trick-or-treated in downtown Morristown, and they each filled their bags with sweets. Then we decided they needed some salt to counteract all that sugar, so we had a popcorn and movie night — in matching PJs, of course.

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And just like that, it was November. While Nick was scraping snow and ice from his rental car in Calgary, we were enjoying 60-degree days here. We thought we would be helpful and clean up the leaves while he was gone, but we really just raked piles and proceeded to jump into them.

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We spent several of those unseasonably warm afternoons at parks and playgrounds around town.

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We traveled to Pennsylvania to meet the newest furriest member of our extended family — Aunt Lucy (her brother is Lager’s father) was especially excited to have a new playmate. Then we drove west for a far-too-short visit with friends that we don’t get to see nearly often enough.

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Thankful for library crafts and preschool projects that melt my momma heart.

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Finally, Thanksgiving in Bethlehem. When it was our turn to share what we are grateful for this year, Nick told our circle of family members that we are expecting baby #3. There were hugs and kisses and congratulations and even a few tears.

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That brings us to December. Decking the halls, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, trying to remember to move Bobby the Elf every night. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Brooklyn for the Day

12.12.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Considering our proximity to New York City, we don’t visit nearly often enough. I’m sure it would be different if my brother hadn’t moved from Manhattan to Denver just one month before we relocated to North Jersey. Or if we didn’t have two children and all of their necessities to take with us every time we leave the house.

But I decided that we were due for a little family trip — so we planned a Sunday in Brooklyn during a break in Nick’s work travels to Canada and Germany. I chose Brooklyn because I knew we wouldn’t have to tackle the subway with the double stroller and because I knew there were plenty of playgrounds and family-friendly food options.

The drive from Morristown to Manhattan was far too easy. And it barely took any time to cruise through the Holland Tunnel (words we would be eating later that day). We parked in a garage near Cadman Plaza Park, loaded up the kiddos, and headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge.

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We let the kids stretch their legs and run around the Pier 1 Playground while we all enjoyed the panoramic views of Lower Manhattan.

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The playground is geared more towards the toddler crowd — but we promised Sam that bigger things awaited him.

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Because it was lunch time, and because we were within sight of Shake Shack, we decided it was necessary to stop. Sam ate all of his burger and part of Nora’s. Probably because she was too focused on the vanilla milkshake.

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Time to walk off lunch (and work on building up our appetites for dinner), so we strolled along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Well, we strolled, and Nora ran.

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Next stop: Slide Mountain at Pier 6. It was super crowded, thanks to the gorgeous sunshine, but Sam and Nora both managed numerous trips down the slides. We didn’t have a chance to check out Swing Valley, but I’m sure it’s equally as awesome

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We took our time getting back to the bridge and stopped at every rock to climb, log to jump, and exhibit to explore.

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Finally, back to the main attraction. We attempted to carry both kids in the double stroller up the ridiculous amount of stairs the reach the bridge. And, fortunately, a nice young man offered to take my load. Otherwise, we might not have made it up in one piece.

We managed to keep the kids strapped down until we reached the Manhattan side, then they were both eager to get out and explore for themselves. This lasted for about 20 minutes until we bribed them with lollipops to get back in, and they both (thankfully!) fell asleep before we got back to Brooklyn.

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Every other person we passed had a selfie stick. Time to invest in one?

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Dinner time! We debated between Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s. Both had lines — even at 4pm. Since we had eaten at Grimaldi’s in Hoboken several years ago, we decided to give Juliana’s a try. And, boy, am I glad we did. It was probably one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. Nick still flops between New York style and Chicago deep dish. But I much prefer the thin, crispy crust and simple tomato/basil/mozzarella toppings. Bonus that we had a perfect view of the pizza chefs throwing and stretching the dough and building the pizzas. Sam was especially enthralled.

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Time to make our trek back to New Jersey. And what a trek it was. While it took under an hour to get there earlier that day, it took almost 2 1/2 hours to get home! Fortunately, our phones were fully charged and kept the kids entertained during the drive. And, really, it was well worth it for such a fun day in Brooklyn. See you again soon, NYC!

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