A Fond Farewell to Our First Home

05.19.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Next Big Adventure

05.18.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Catch Up

05.15.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March Catch Up

05.15.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I do believe this has been my longest blog silence to date. Nearly two months. Yikes! But it is certainly not for lack of content. For memory keeping sake …

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There was snow. Lots of snow. Which meant shoveling and sledding and snowman building … and shoveling some more. And sugar cookie baking, of course.

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Nick and I spent less than 24 hours in New York City. We ate dinner at Freemans Restaurant (cozy little place at the end of an alley off Bowery where we enjoyed trout, venison, and German sausages) and had brunch at Good Enough to Eat (pancakes and omelettes and lots of coffee on the Upper West Side). We laughed a lot with Andrew and Emma and chased Breck around Central Park.

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The snow finally stopped falling, and we enjoyed some much needed Vitamin C.

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Nick and I finally dined at Meat and Potatoes. We have been wanting to eat here ever since they took top honors at Savor Pittsburgh. And it did not disappoint. Hip and casual with high quality food. The fried pickles were especially memorable. Definitely one of my top ten favorite meals ever!

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The kids and I visited nearly every playground in Greensburg and stayed out until the sun set.

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We also spent a whole lot of time planning and prepping for our next big adventure. More on that next week.

Letter to Samuel: 3.5

03.25.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Sam,

Today you are 3.5! While Nora napped this afternoon, we played “minjas.” We put up the hoods on our sweatshirts, placed plastic tools in our back pockets, and chased imaginary bad guys around the house. We hid behind the dining room curtains, did somersaults and spins across the living room floor, and “activated” our super powers. Then you requested a strawberry yogurt snack, which you scooped and stirred and layered yourself. Later we did crafts with friends at Chick-fil-A and ran around a local playground until the sun set. You splashed in the bath tub with Nora, danced circles around her room, and finally climbed into bed beside me for two books and two songs before, finally, drifting into dreamland. Oh, Sam, life with you is non-stop.

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You have grown so much since your third birthday. And not just size wise (though you are 2 inches taller and probably a few pounds heavier). You are fully potty-trained (thanks to sticker charts, superhero undies, the Potty Time Power book, a very catchy tune from Daniel Tiger, and lots of patience). You are excelling in preschool — recognizing letters and numbers; learning how to be a good listener and a good friend; painting a new masterpiece every day. You have mostly phased out naps, though you will sometimes pass out on the couch at 4:30pm.

You request to wear Daddy’s deodorant and spend about five minutes every night styling your hair with my brush. You can button your shirts and zip your jacket and almost always get the right shoe on the right foot. And you are incredibly opinionated about your clothing. You wear “comfy” pants and either an Under Armour or superhero shirt every single day.

You still love to “battle” with your superheroes and super villains. You also love your kinetic sand and will sometimes spend almost an hour driving your matchbox cars along the roads you construct. Other favorite toys include LEGOs, magnetic blocks, and your cash register. And we have to play either hide-and-seek, freeze tag, or duck duck goose every day. You are so competitive and are almost always the fastest kid when we race with friends at the rec center. Current favorite TV shows are Wild Kratts and Miles from Tomorrowland, and we have watched Big Hero 6 at least six times — always with popcorn and gummies. “Shake it Off” is your favorite song, and you have some impressive moves for a 3 1/2-year-old.

You are an amazing little sous chef and always request to help me in the kitchen. Your favorite things to prepare are pancakes (you especially love to crack the eggs), guacamole, and larabars. And you even offer to wash the dishes when we’re finished!

You helped Daddy to shovel many, many times this winter. And you are always ready with your tools when he has a project to do.

Nobody makes Nora laugh like you do, and it makes me incredibly happy to see the two of you play together. There are obviously still sibling arguments, but you are usually such a sweet and protective big brother.

Sam, I am so proud of the big boy you are becoming. But I still cherish those moments when you ask me to carry you, then wrap your arms around my neck and your legs around my waist. I savor every “I love you,” especially the ones that are completely unprompted. You’re the best, kid!

Love, Momma

The Evolution of a Ring Bearer

03.12.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Last year was a big wedding year for us: six total. And Sam was ring bearer in three of them. He matured a lot between July and November.

Wedding #1: Sweet drummer boy insisted he walk down the grassy aisle after Mommy, rather than with her. He proudly beat his drum for five seconds before he realized that the eyes of about 100 people were on him.

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Daddy to the rescue! Sam reluctantly finished his walk while clutching Nick’s hand.

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There were tears, but nothing that a few lollipops couldn’t fix. Plus a big hug from his finally official Uncle Steepie.

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He wasted no time after the ceremony, though, morphing back into Wild Man Sam. He ran around the cocktail hour, brought “presents” to me at the head table during the reception, and danced his little heart out with the beautiful bride.

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Wedding #2: Classy Country Club wedding in Washington, D.C. Sam wore suspenders and a bow tie and was thrilled to hang out with Daddy and the “big guys.” He also didn’t mind at all walking down the aisle with two blondes.

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Once again, lollipops and gummy snacks kept him busy during the ceremony, and he was excited to get photos taken with “Uncle” Mike and his lovely wife.

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Mike and Kayley gifted Sam his very own Superman cape, which he wore proudly during the entire reception. And he even allowed some of the “big guys” to borrow it for a few silly “Clark Kent” photos.

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Wedding #3: This was the big one: almost 300 guests and the longest aisle yet. But Sam totally rocked it. He looked incredibly dapper in his charcoal tuxedo. And I think he fell a little bit in love with the sweet flower girl. Yes, the day was all about Erica and Matt. But these two almost stole the show.

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They even surprised all of us with their entrance into the reception! Cutest couple ever. (Aside from the new Mr. and Mrs., of course.)

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And this night marked the beginning of Sam’s obsession with “Shake it Off.”

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Gosh, I love this little man!

Letter to Nora: Months 13 and 14

03.05.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

You are no longer a baby. You are a feisty, opinionated, hilarious little kid. I can’t hardly handle it. And, yet, I love it at the same time.

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You are officially walking everywhere! You basically skipped the holding onto our hands phase and the pushing things around the house phase and went straight to this adorable little toddle that gets less wobbly every day. I’m still sometimes surprised to find you behind me in the laundry room, or at my feet while I’m prepping dinner. You are fast. And I think you’ll be off and running before we know it.

Your communication skills are improving daily. You have added “yeah” to your vocabulary, and you say “ehh” in various intonations to create little conversations. “Ehh” accompanied by a point for “I want that” and “Eh?” is your response to every question we ask. You say “moo” when you see a cow and sniff your nose for a pig. And when you shake your head “no,” your whole body moves back and forth.

You point to your belly, your hair, and your teeth. You love “this little piggy” (thanks to Nini!), and you try so hard to step your feet into your shoes.

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We have dance parties almost every night. We recently introduced you to “duck, duck, goose,” which you think is so funny. You love to jump on Sam’s bed, and when we went to a trampoline park with Auntie Laura and Uncle Steepie, you begged to join them. You put your hands straight up and tried so hard to jump as high as Sam.

You love the remote control and my iPhone, the Little Tykes car and bouncing on Mommy’s exercise ball, your princess castle and Sammy’s LEGOs. You always take the spoons out of the dishwasher when I open it and pull the washcloths from the bottom of the laundry basket. You are quite good at filling our Keurig carousel and your pink piggy bank. You help yourself to Goldfish and pouches of applesauce from the snack cupboard. And you would much rather drink from Sammy’s Superman cup than your own straw cup. You love to brush your teeth and wash your hands. And you can easily climb up and slide down the stairs.

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You will often pull several books off the shelf, then sit on the floor and flip through them. But the best is when you bring one to me and sit in my lap to read. You also love wooden puzzles, crayons and water wow books, pushing the grocery cart or your baby doll stroller around the house, and playing tea party.

You love to throw things, walk to pick them up, and then throw them again: plastic strawberries from our play kitchen, your O-ball, little Octonaut figurines. You spent at least 10 minutes throwing crayons around the big red barn during Tiny Wonder Time. And I’m just grateful that you didn’t face plant onto the cement floor.

We are over halfway through our second semester of Music Together, and you love when I play the songs at home. You tap your legs to the “Hello Song,” just like we do in class.

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You dislike diaper changes — especially in public restrooms. And you dislike milk from a sippy cup. But we will keep trying because …

You are no longer nursing! You weaned yourself completely naturally about two weeks after your first birthday. You were too congested to nurse comfortably for two consecutive nights, and by the third night, you no longer seemed interested. I’m so thankful that the timing felt right for both of us.

Of course, no more breast milk means that I am even more conscious of what I put onto your plate. Unfortunately, this also coincides with a particular picky phase of eating. About a quarter of everything I give to you, you throw directly onto the floor. But I can almost always guarantee that you will eat watermelon, grapes, pizza, pasta, quesadillas, and blueberry waffles. And, of course, everything tastes better from Mommy’s plate. You often beg for bites of whatever is on my plate, including quinoa, chili, sausage and kale soup. And I happily oblige, as long as you are eating!

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I love to hear the sound of your voice every morning singing, “ma ma ma ma ma ma,” until I come in and scoop you out of your crib. You sleep from about 7:30pm until 7:30am. Though sometimes you are in bed as early as 6:30am, depending on your naps that day. I suspect we will phase out the morning nap in the next month or two because some days you are fine without it.

You have had a constant runny nose since January — darn preschool germs! I can’t tell you how many boxes of tissues and containers of boogie wipes we have gone through in this house. Teething only makes it worse. You cut all four molars since your first birthday, and we had several long, miserable days when you only wanted to be held and wouldn’t eat anything but strawberry smoothies. I have become very good at vacuuming the house with you on one hip and can easily pour my morning coffee and prepare breakfast with you attached to me. A momma has to do what a momma has to do!

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We have had several incredibly cold days so far this year and have spent a lot of time inside the house. Yuck! You and Sam definitely have sibling spats, but you are also capable of playing so well together.

You especially love to play “grocery store” with Sam. You hand him pieces of food, he rings them up at his cash register, and then you put them into your bag.

You also just adore Lucy. You bring her bones and pet her so gently. And you always share your food with her. I suspect we have about two more years until she’s covered in lipstick and hair bows!

When we finally had a break in the frigid temperatures (up to a whole 38 degrees!), we ventured outside for your first experience in the snow. You stood in awe as the snowflakes fell around you. And then I pushed you in the sled around the cul de sac. Sam even shoveled a nice seat for you into the bank beside our driveway. Then we came inside and made snow ice cream.

I love that you are curious and confident. I love that you are a little bit stubborn and a little bit dramatic. I love the way you lift your arms for me to pick you up. And the way you wrap your arms around my neck. I love you to the moon and back, sweet girl.

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Winter Onederland First Birthday Party for Nora

02.12.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I think I started to plan Nora’s first birthday party in my mind less than a month after she was born. Of course we had to have a Winter Onederland for our January birthday girl!

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We covered our house in paper snowflakes, thanks to help (and extremely competitive spirits) from Nick and his sister, Kirsten. I am not kidding when I say that they spent almost 12 hours cutting snowflakes — and no two were the same!

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While they made it snow in every room, I focused my attention on the food.

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We kept the menu simple: fruits and veggies, hot dogs in the crockpot, and a chili bar.

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And cheese sticks all dressed up for the occasion.

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As always, the dessert table was the most fun (and most time consuming) to assemble: chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with pink buttercream and gingerbread cookies shaped like snowflakes.

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Plus a special cake just for Miss Nora.

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Our guest list included 6 three-year-olds, 4 one-year-olds, and a baby. And each received a gift bag with appropriately themed goodies (thank goodness for clearance Frozen items from Target!).

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Nora was quite intrigued by her birthday cake. She very carefully took fingers full of pink frosting to her mouth. And I don’t think she ever let her left hand touch the cake. Such a little lady compared to her brother!

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Such a perfect celebration for our sweet Nora Kathryn!

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Christmas Celebrations: Part 2

01.16.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We spent Christmas Eve with my dad’s family — a tradition we’ve missed for the last three years. We played our favorite gift exchange game; we passed around boxes of mixed chocolates and a bottle of Drambuie; and the kids were sufficiently spoiled by their great aunties and great grandmother.

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Christmas morning was quiet — just the four of us, plus my parents. And the two dogs, of course. Nora cruised around the house with her new baby doll, and Sam was thrilled to find Optimus Prime under the tree.

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Andrew and Emma arrived just in time for turkey dinner. And Stephen and Laura followed close behind. Then we all changed back into pajamas, drank wine, and played Farkle until midnight.

We did it all over again the next morning — with Mom’s traditional sausage and egg casserole, apple cinnamon buns, and mimosas. The kids opened a few more gifts (and, by that point, were beginning to think that Santa came every day).

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Later that afternoon, we kicked off the third annual Appetanza. This year’s dishes included caramelized bacon, turkey salad, pear ravioli, BBQ chicken cups, seafood crostini, a bloomin’ onion that nearly burned down the house, bread pudding with rum sauce, and hot chocolate cookie cups. SO much fun!

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After we were thoroughly stuffed — and after both little ones were fast asleep — the siblings exchanged our “make-it or bake-it gifts.” Another one of my favorite holiday traditions! Nick and I were especially proud of our gifts this year: flavored salts from me to Stephen and a key hook in the shape of Pennsylvania from Nick to Laura.

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And, as usual, Mom and Dad were so generous and thoughtful with their gifts to us: monogrammed cooler bags with Tervis Tumblers and a picnic blanket — perfect for our upcoming family beach vacation!

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The celebrations continued the next day (Saturday, for those keeping track) at my uncle’s house with my mom’s side of the family. Always lots of laughs when this crew gets together!

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Things finally started to slow down on Sunday — our last day in Dover before returning home. In fact, Sam was so exhausted from the week’s festivities that he played with his new Kinetic sand for a solid three hours.

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And that wraps up Christmas 2014 with the Wileys! We hope your holidays were as celebratory as ours.

Christmas Celebrations: Part 1

01.09.2015 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Santa made a special stop at the Wiley House this year. He visited us on the 23rd so we could spend a quiet day together before heading east on Christmas Eve.

Sam was at our bedside by 7:15am, begging to go downstairs. But I convinced him to wait at the railing with his sister while I “checked to make sure that Santa really came.” Nora didn’t quite understand the excitement, but, as usual, she followed Sam’s lead.

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

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Santa was certainly good to the kids this year. And Sam would have opened every single gift in less than five minutes, if we didn’t pace him.

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Favorite gifts included: Disney Princess Castle, Magna-Tiles, VTech Train Station, and a pair of binoculars. I love that the Paw Patrol pups ended up inside the princess castle; Cinderella rode the train around the track; and the “little tiny Lego guys” were found inside the tower built of “magnet blocks.”

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The kids played with their new toys while Nick and I sipped our coffee. It was our first Christmas morning as a family of four, and it was as wonderful as I had anticipated. Yes, there was the occasional sibling squabble. But that’s to be expected with a three-year-old and an almost-one-year + a room full of stimulating new stuff.

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

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Lucy got some new bones and chew toys, too.

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I was pretty excited for Nick’s gifts this year. Sam painted an extra large coffee mug for him. And I made framed silhouettes of the kids to hang in the office.

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

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(I enjoyed my big gift the day before — a 75-minute massage. Plus our new entryway table that arrived a few days later.)

We probably would have spent the entire day in our PJs, if we weren’t expecting an afternoon visit from my brother and his girlfriend. We enjoyed brunch and chocolates from their favorite local candy shop.

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We finished our “Christmas Day” with a simple ham dinner and the new Planes movie. Then after the kids went to bed, Nick and I packed the car for part 2 of our holiday celebrations.