Sunflower Bridal Shower

07.15.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

The Summer of Laura continued with her bridal shower in June. We rented the Classroom Building at Codorus State Park in Hanover, PA for the festivities. It was the perfect location for Laura! Not only does she love the outdoors and the water, but it’s also where Stephen proposed.

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When we arrived that morning, the circular building was completely empty. And we had less than two hours to transform it into what I envisioned for Laura. Tablecloths, navy polka dot runners, and mason jars of sunflowers really cozied up the tables.

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We hung bright yellow paper lanterns from the windows and displayed chalkboard signs plus a canvas print of one of their engagement photos.

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Of course, the arrival of the guests really made it feel like a party!

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And here comes the guest of honor! We kept the location of her shower a secret, which made it so much fun. And she was just the most beautiful bride-to-be.

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We prepped most of the food the day before and kept it simple: ham and turkey wraps; croissants stuffed with chicken salad from the local market; strawberry and spinach salad with avocado and slivered almonds; quinoa salad with mangoes and a tangy lime dressing; plus fruit kebabs and a tray of veggies.

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I had a little fun with the cheese plates.

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And this cream cheese dip for the apples was a big hit!

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The dessert table included a two-tier cake (lemon and blueberry plus strawberries and cream) from Providence.

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And bouquets of sunflower cookies from a local baker.

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We played two games: bridal bingo and how well do you know Laura? Plus we asked each guest to write a date idea on a Jenga piece (which Laura had so much fun reading later).

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I had also included blank recipe cards with the bridal shower invitations. And it was fun to fill Laura’s recipe box with favorites from her family and friends!

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No shower is complete without stacks of wonderful gifts!

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It was such a lovely afternoon. And Laura was so appreciative of the details.

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I can’t wait to celebrate Wedding Day with this great group of ladies!

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{Thanks to Mandy for taking the beautiful photos!}

Graduation Party for the Nursing Student

07.14.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

This summer has been named The Summer of Laura! The celebrations started in May with her graduation from nursing school.

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Laura’s college experience was drastically different than mine. She did a lot more studying and a lot less partying. And I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishments — and discipline!

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My mother planned the perfect party to celebrate her graduation. It was a small gathering of family and friends — with lots of appropriately themed treats!

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The cake was designed and baked at a local bakery (Amy’s Custom Cakery). It wasn’t only beautiful, it was delicious, too!

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The lollipop bandaids were purchased from Etsy.

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And the heart shaped EKG cookies were from another local baker and friend of my mom’s.

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We filled pill bottles with M&Ms.

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And stuffed plastic bags with “sterile” utensils.

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And for the “after party,” we enjoyed s’mores and pina colada jello shots from specimen cups.

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A Pinterest-worthy party, indeed! Way to go, Mom. And congratulations, Laura!

Letter to Nora: Six Months

07.13.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

Happy half birthday, little lady! Plus one week because Momma has had no time to sit down and write your letter. Life is certainly busy these days. But, oh, so wonderful.

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You are such an active and attentive little peanut! You are always on the move, and it’s become impossible to keep things out of your reach. You squirm and scoot across the floor to get to Sam’s cars or Lucy’s bone, and that pretty vase of flowers is no longer safe on the kitchen table.

You sit straight up and out of your bouncy seat, and you arch your back as soon as I loosen the straps on your car seat. You easily bounce and spin in your jumperoo, and you are able to turn complete circles while laying on your belly in the pack’n’play. You also now ride like a big girl in the stroller and the grocery cart!

You can sit without assistance for several minutes, but you usually spot something across the room and topple over to get to it.

As active as you are, though, you seem to be less destructive than Sam was at this age. Your movements are more graceful, and your grasp is more gentle. Perhaps it is your petite size, or just that feminine touch.

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You got two teeth this month! Both on the bottom. The first popped up totally unannounced, and the second wasn’t far behind. So that explains all the drooling and the constant need to have something in your mouth. Of course, most things still end up there. You are especially fond of napkins, washcloths, tags, and the nylon belt used to buckle you into your high chair.

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Speaking of your highchair, you’ve been spending much more time there this month. You never took much interest in purees — you would purse your lips together every time I tried to give you a spoonful. So towards the end of the month, we gave baby-led weaning a try. I put a slice of pear on your tray, and you reached for it right away. It was a bit slippery, so I helped to guide it to your mouth, and you started sucking on it immediately.

As expected, you love food much more now that you are in control! Since that first slice of pear, you have also had roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash; avocado; roasted apples with cinnamon; watermelon, cantaloup, and honeydew; banana pancakes; pasta and cheese; and lemons (!!). You also love to play with Cheerios while I prep our meals. It’s amazing how quickly you have learned to grasp and guide and release bites into your mouth. And you get so angry if I take the food away before you’re finished!

Most of your meals still end up in the pocket of your bib, or on the floor (Lucy doesn’t mind!), but a surprising amount gets ingested, as is evident by the new surprises in your diaper.

While we’re on the subject of eating, let’s talk about the bottle. You absolutely refuse to take it! Mommy had to spend a night away from you this month while celebrating Auntie Laura’s bachelorette party. We “practiced” several days leading up to that weekend, and you screamed every time the bottle touched your lips. I figured you would take it if you were hungry enough, but I was wrong. Nini tried everything, and even resorted to giving you spoonfuls of my milk and sips from a tiny shot glass. It was awful, and it broke my Mommy heart to see you so distressed (and likely a bit dehydrated) when I returned on Sunday morning. Needless to say, I will NOT be leaving you again anytime soon.

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Another cause for anxiety this month came after your six-month visit with the doctor. The doc heard a “clicking” in your hips and instructed us to take you for an x-ray to rule out hip dysplasia. Of course, I was a nervous wreck waiting for the results, but I am so very thankful that the tests came back normal.

In fact, you are a very healthy and happy baby girl. You weighed 13 lbs 9 oz (9th percentile) and measured 27 inches (89th percentile) at your appointment. Even though you are still so long and lean, I swear I’ve noticed little rolls and dimples on your legs. And you still have those chubby cheeks that I have loved since the day you were born!

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Sleep was quite a struggle this month. Prior to our 10-day trip to Dover and during it, you were waking up between 4 and 6 times every night. And I almost always had to nurse you back to sleep. We were both exhausted! So as soon as we got home, we got a little more strict with nighttime sleep. It took just two nights of listening to you cry before you figured out how to self soothe. It helped that I also stopped swaddling you, which means you can now grab your WubbaNub and put it back in your mouth. You still wake up between 2am and 4am to eat, and I am totally fine with that. I’m just grateful for a few more solid hours of sleep.

Naps have only gotten slightly better, however. I’m lucky if you get a total of two hours throughout the day — usually dispersed among several cat naps. When we’re home all day (which is rare), I put you down around 10am and again at 1pm. You do so much better on this schedule, it’s just nearly impossible to stick to it right now. So I’ll keep taking what I can get — in the car, in my arms, or in your crib.

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One of my absolute favorite things is watching you interact with Big Brother Sam. You just adore him. You give him the sweetest smiles and watch him with such curiosity. You’re both learning to “play” together, and I can’t wait to see the things he will teach you! Sometimes, of course, he still likes to roar like a dinosaur in your face. But you have gotten much better at “yelling” back. You certainly let him know if he’s bothering you, or if he’s squeezing your hand too tight.

You’ve also started to pay more attention to Lucy and usually try to grab fistfuls of her fur. Poor puppy is going to be outnumbered very soon!

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Nora, you are such a doll, and you make our lives so much fuller. We love you, sweetheart!

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Sweet Summertime

07.08.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Well, it appears as though I took an unintentional month-long break from the blog — the longest time I’ve spent away from this space since I starting writing here in 2007. And I have missed it! Time to play catch up (mostly for my own memory keeping sake).

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We spend our summer days at local parks and playgrounds. We pack picnic lunches and explore nature.

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We say yes to every opportunity to swim.

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Even if it’s in our own backyard.

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We eat lots of popsicles (always on the front porch)

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And sometimes, after the kids go to bed, Nick and I sit on the patio and drink wine. And try really hard to ignore the yard work that always needs to be done.

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Life is busy. And so very good.

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Letter to Nora: Five Months

06.06.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Little Miss Nora,

You are five months old! Yes, the months are passing far more quickly than I would like, but we honestly couldn’t pack any more fun into our days.

You are such a sweet, happy baby girl. Strangers are constantly commenting on your contagious smile and big blue eyes.

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You have become much more interactive and playful this month. You absolutely love to bounce in your jumperoo and play with the birds that hang from your activity mat. You have gained control of your hands and can easily reach for and grasp your toys — and Sam’s, too. Fortunately, he doesn’t mind if you grab his cars or dinosaurs. Unless you drool on them, of course, which almost always happens.

You are still content to accompany us on playdates and to the library or the park or the mall. Though you now prefer to be part of the action rather than snooze in your stroller. I often strap you in the Ergo, and we follow Sam on his adventures. We take hikes and play in the sand and throw rocks into the lake and sometimes the three of us hold hands and go down the sliding board. Just wait until you can run along right beside him!

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You have learned to yell and can put up a pretty good fight to get our attention. You also sing and giggle and make funny faces as you explore new sounds. You cry if I put you in another set of arms, and I can only take a few seconds of that little lip quiver before I scoop you back up. I can’t help but love how much you love me.

You hold my fingers and grab my face with both hands and lean into me when you’re sleepy. You clutch your Wubbanub and like to cuddle with your blanket. You are such a sweet love bug!

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You got your own seat at the table this month (and Mommy is happy to have her hands free again at mealtime!). And you have tried a few foods: rice cereal mixed with breast milk and bananas, applesauce, pears, watermelon, avocado, and sweet potato. If you don’t like something (avocado), you spit it right back out. And if you love it (pears!), you grab the spoon and beg for more. We plan to continue homemade purees twice a day until you reach six months, then we’ll follow the baby-led weaning approach.

You still nurse six times a day, and I swear your little legs are finally plumping up. Though you are still very long and lean. Your 3-month pants fit like capris, and your 6-month clothing is far too big around the belly. And we’ve had more diaper blowouts this month than I can count. I suspect it’s because the diapers aren’t snug enough around your itty bitty waist.

It’s become more challenging, however, to nurse you in public because you are too easily distracted. I attempted to feed you during Auntie Laura’s graduation ceremony, which resulted in a major meltdown in the middle of the president’s speech and a blushing momma with her shirt still unbuttoned rushing out of the tent with you screaming at me from under a blanket.

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You only nap in 30-minute increments during the day — and most often in your car seat or in my arms. You refuse to be swaddled in your crib for naps, and as soon as I lay you down on your back, you roll onto your belly and just cannot get comfortable. (I’ve caught you resting your head a few times while playing on your belly, so I know you’ll figure it out soon.)

You don’t mind the swaddle at bedtime, however. Thank goodness! Though your little left hand always escapes. You sleep from about 8pm until 3am when you request a quick snack. And then I hear you whimper again around 6:30am. However, your eyes are often still closed, and so I just bring you into bed with us to sleep for another hour. We’ve had a few nights with multiple wake-ups, but I think we (mostly) avoided the dreaded four-month sleep regression.

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You and Mommy have had some special girl bonding time this month, which I absolutely love. I often feel like our days revolve around Sam, and although you are content and cooperative, it’s so nice to have time with just you. We go shopping and out to lunch and sometimes we just sneak upstairs to play while Daddy takes Sam and Lucy for a walk.

We had a busy month of travel, but you handled it like a pro. We went to New Jersey to build Lauren’s playground and to Dover to celebrate Auntie Laura’s graduation. No matter where we are, though, you let us know that you are ready for bath and bed no later than 7:30pm.

Unlike your brother at this age, you are perfectly content to lay in the bathtub with minimal movement or splashing. You smile up at me while I wash you, and you treat it like your own personal spa! And when it’s Sam’s turn, you love to stand next to the tub and watch him play. He hides from you and blows bubbles in your face to make you giggle. You think he is hysterical!

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Though you are tiny, you are so strong! You easily and gracefully roll from your back to your belly and vice versa. You can spin full circles in your pack’n’play, and you often try to escape from your bouncy seat. And you have even started to lift your booty and scoot across the floor. Slow down, lady!

Two more firsts this month: first dip in our neighbor’s pool and first time on a swing. You obviously loved both.

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Sweet Nora, your personality is really starting to shine. You light up our days, and we couldn’t love you more!

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Lauren’s Playground

06.03.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It has been nearly 18 months since our sweet cousin, Lauren, lost her life in the tragedy at Sandy Hook. And a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to join an amazing team of volunteers to construct a playground in celebration of Lauren’s love for children and her passion for teaching.

The Sandy Ground Project was created by a group of New Jersey firefighters to honor the victims of Sandy Hook and to also help rebuild communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. The 26 playgrounds sit along the coast of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and are personalized to represent each life lost. Lauren’s playground is on Long Beach Island, NJ.

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I just cannot give enough praise to the people who support this project — firefighters, police officers, teachers, community volunteers. They considered every detail and built a memorial that we were all honored to be part of.

Grandma was named project foreman for the weekend and shoveled the first dirt from the site.

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And then she added her hand prints to Lauren’s mother’s and father’s in a plaque that sits near the entrance to the playground. Grandma’s hands were framed with a heart of 30 1982 pennies, to represent the year Lauren was born and the age she was when she died.

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We dug dirt and drilled and assembled the purple playground until the sun set. There were butterflies and cats, and Lauren would just love it.

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We laughed and cried with family members and new friends.

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Sam and his cousin and their new girlfriends filled buckets with sand and built castles to their little hearts’ content.

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And, of course, little man had to get in on the construction action. He was also the first to test the tube slide!

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Nora was pleased to be passed from one family member to the next.

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Each of us was asked to shovel some dirt over a section of the playground that will forever keep a photo of Lauren buried beneath it.

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It was a day of reflection. And a day of celebration.
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Hard to believe that this was an empty stretch of sand just hours before.

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The next day we took some time to explore the island, including Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.
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It should come as no surprise that Sam climbed all 200+ steps by himself, while wearing his backpack. He wants so much to be just like his cousin, Jackson!

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Later that night we were invited to dinner with The Sandy Ground Project crew. And we were, once again, amazed by their love and generosity.

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We woke up on Sunday to beautiful sunshine — the perfect day to dedicate the playground to Lauren.

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Dozens of townspeople came out for the ceremony, and we were so thankful for their support.

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The morning was just incredible. Several people offered kind words about Lauren and thousands of dollars were donated to The Sandy Ground Project from the city of Long Beach Island. A member of the team performed a beautiful song about “where the angels play.” Kirsten and Amy (Lauren’s cousins) raised the flags that will soar over the playground.

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We distributed pennies to everyone in attendance to wish them luck, just as Lauren’s mother had put a lucky penny in her shoe on her first day of kindergarten. And, to everyone’s surprise, a plane soared overhead with a message from Lauren: “Be strong, and stand with me.”

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Grandma received her official foreman hat, and Lauren’s brothers received a replica of the bell that hangs atop the playground. (You must read the story of these bells.)

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Finally, they unveiled the dedication sign — perfectly true words about our cousin.

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Then they released the kids to PLAY!

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It was quite appropriate that Nora’s first trip down a slide was at Lauren’s playground.

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We could not have asked for a more wonderful weekend. And we find great comfort in knowing that this playground will bring¬† joy to children for many, many years. It’s exactly what Lauren would want her legacy to be.

Limited Edition Art from Minted

05.28.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We recently celebrated our two-year anniversary in our home. And we have done so much in that short time. We laid hardwood floors in the dining room and office, installed granite countertops and a backsplash in the kitchen, painted walls and hung crown molding. OK, my dad did most of the work, but we gave good direction! And Sam is the best little assistant that Poppy could ask for.

One of my very favorite house projects is the custom bookcase in our office (designed and built by my dad, of course). The office is probably the most changed room in our house.

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But we still have a big blank wall (across from the bookcase) that is just begging for some pretty artwork. Enter Minted and their new line of limited edition wall prints. I’ve been browsing for a few weeks and am just about ready to make a purchase. Here are a few favorites.

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{Ruffled Feather}

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{Sun Drop}

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{Quiver}

Minted offers a variety of sizes at reasonable prices, and they have the option to include a frame, as well. Definitely worth checking out if you have some empty wall space to fill!

I am an affiliate of Minted and will receive a small commission on all customer sales. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Wedding Season

05.19.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

‘Tis the year of weddings. Two down and four to go!

In April, we attended the wedding of Nick’s colleague and friend. It was also our first night out since Nora was born!

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The ceremony was held at Robert Morris University, where the couple met, and the stained glass of the chapel was just incredible as the sun set and the two exchanged their vows.

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The reception was fun and classy — just like our friends.

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But the real highlight was the cookie table! This was our first Pittsburgh wedding, and this regional tradition did not disappoint. The bride’s family baked over 4,000 cookies for the big day! And we tried our best to sample each and every one.

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The following weekend, we traveled east to Elizabethtown for my cousin’s wedding at the beautiful Ironstone Ranch. And this time the kiddos joined us!

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I just love to dress up my baby girl. And she just loved her pretty pink party dress!

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Fortunately, the rain stopped and the skies cleared just in time for the ceremony.

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And Sam did as good as can be expected for a 2 1/2 year old at a wedding. Lollipops helped. And he loved the horses. In fact, he yelled “Mommy, here comes a horsie!” as my cousin’s chariot approached the grove.

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It’s not often this crew is all fancied up, and so we took advantage of the photo op!

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After a casual cocktail hour on the lawn, we headed into the barn for the reception. It was rustic and simple and so perfectly Meg and Sam.

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They served whoopie pies for dessert, and their personalized cake topper included their dog, Frankie! As favors, they gave little jars of strawberry jam (one of my favorite family recipes!).

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I got to dance with my boy, and Nick got to dance with his girl.

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Of course, Meg, was the most beautiful bride. But Nora certainly won the prize for cutest guest.

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Despite getting about nine hours of sleep the previous night and no nap that afternoon, Sam was a trooper. He rarely wanted to leave the dance floor. Though by 9:30, he was basically sleeping with his eyes open.

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I am the oldest of ten cousins, and I just love that these kids are turning into amazing adults. We danced until our feet hurt, shared beers and laughs, and we are already counting down the weeks until the next big family wedding — my sister’s!

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Spring Things

05.19.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Spring has arrived! And we are so thankful. Especially since a certain toddler no longer naps. We visit a new park or playground every week. We have picnics and eat ice cream on the front porch. We play with friends and participate in community activities. We fly kites, kick the soccer ball, and play baseball. We pull weeds, dig in the dirt, and take walks around the neighborhood. And the fresh air helps us all sleep better at night!

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What Sam Says: Volume 1

05.13.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I have an ongoing notes file on my iPhone where I record all of the silly and surprising things that Sam says. The things that make me laugh and the things that leave me wondering, when did he turn into this little person with questions and opinions and an awesome sense of humor.

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To his baby sister: “I yuv Baby Nor-wah with my whole heart.”

To his favorite stuffed animal: “I miss you Ricky. I so worried about you.”

To Mommy before our cousin’s wedding: “I yuv your dress. It’s so boo-full.”

To Daddy on the phone after finishing his dinner: “My belly get bigger and bigger like yours.”

He is so considerate and is always asking: “You OK in there?” Or: “You OK up there?”

I told him he would get a lollipop if he sat on the Easter Bunny’s lap. And he said: “No, I have my own yoyyi-pops.”

He heard Daddy using the saw in the garage, and he said: “Sounds like Bob the Builder.”

Paw Patrol is one of his new favorite shows, and he is constantly saying: “Ladder up.” And: “Sammy on the case.”

He loves to fix his cozy coupe car, and one morning he said: “I need to fix the cracks. Hmmm. I have an idea. I get tape!”

He came running into my room shouting: “We have an emergency!” When I asked what was wrong, he said: “I lost my drill. Don’t worry, Mommy. I find it.”

After a full day of play, he says: “I tired. I work all morning.”

When Daddy tickles him or Mommy gives him too many kisses, he yells “enough!” between giggles. And he often holds up his finger and says “one second.” (I think he gets that one from me.)

A few of my favorite mispronounced words: slippy (slippery), hungy (hungry), and gubs (gloves). Fs still sound like Shs and Ls still sound like Ys. And everything is “like Sammy doos” or “like Daddy doos” or “like Mommy doos” (does).

Three favorite phrases that he uses a lot: “I do it more again.” And: “That’s a big problem.” And: “That not supposed to happen.”

After a particularly long day, I said to him: “The clock says bed time.” To which he replied: “No, the clock says movie time.”