Family First

08.26.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

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

family1

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

family2

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

family

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

family3

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

Letter to Nora: August 2015

08.20.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Sweet Girl,

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

facebookwiley-779

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

facebookwiley-780

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

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

facebookwiley-772

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

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

facebookwiley-775

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

facebookwiley-787

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

facebookwiley-768

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

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

facebookwiley-774

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

facebookwiley-784

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

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

facebookwiley-790

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

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

facebookwiley-794

I love you, sweet pea!

How to Road Trip with Young Kids

08.06.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

howtoroadtrip

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

roadtrip1

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

roadtrip5

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

roadtrip6

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

roadtrip2

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

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

roadtrip3

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

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

roadtrip8

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

roadtrip7

Happy road tripping!

Road Trip to Alabama

08.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

opa

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

pooltime

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

swords

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

greenmountain

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

chattanooga1

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

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

chattanooga2

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

chattanooga3

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

chattanooga4

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

chattanooga5
I was thoroughly impressed with “Chack-a-nooda” and would love to return one day — on a cooler day, perhaps.

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

botanical-gardens

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

space

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

wileys

Cousin Time

08.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I didn’t realize how lucky I was to grow up within 30 minutes of all of my cousins. Unfortunately, Sam and Nora will not know that luxury. With aunts and uncles in four different states, their cousins will always be a long car ride, if not a plane ride, away.

18629238244_f63a1e927a_z

We were able to stop in Virginia for less than 24 hours to see Sean and Jackson before we continued south to Alabama. We enjoyed pizza at Chuck E Cheese, playground time, and a glow stick party after the littlest cousin went to bed. Sam absolutely idolizes these two, and I love to see his face light up when they’re together.

19251698175_6f69e3d415_z

Lake Tobias

08.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I recruited Laura to help take my little animals to the Wildlife Park. Lake Tobias is home to lions, tigers, alligators, bears, zebras, monkeys, and more. The buffalo, bison, deer, and alpaca roam free on 150 acres, and we got to feed them while on our safari tour. Nora thought the animals were hysterical, but Sam was a bit skeptical.

18404834213_c6cab7413f_z

18837837628_9746d50985_z

19025500405_cf13c1daab_z
18837844018_06fbe153d1_z

19020002992_ba534df300_z

19028610061_261ff55120_z

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.

greensburg1

greensburg3

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.”

strawberries1

strawberries2

berries2

strawberries3

berries1

strawberries4

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.”

pottery

winery

winery2

crabs

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.

royale1

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.

royale2

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!

royale3

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.

royale4

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.

royale6

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.

royale7

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.

royale8

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.

royale9

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

royale10

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!

royale11

royale12

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.

royale13

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!

royale14
royale15

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

royale17

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.