To the Zoo

06.03.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We took Sam to the zoo on Memorial Day. And I admit that we were more excited than he was. At first.

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The lions and leopards and giraffes were so far away, and Sam was more interested in trying to climb the railing — much to his mother’s dismay.

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But then we entered the elephant house, and he was mesmerized. We watched the baby elephant swing a bat with his trunk for at least 10 minutes.

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Laura and Stephen joined us for the fun day, and we were thankful to have the extra hands to chase our little monkey.

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Yes, our little monkey liked the real monkeys, but he loved the fishies. The aquarium was a huge hit.

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And I think we all loved the penguins as much as he did.

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Sam was even brave enough to crawl through the water tunnel — with Auntie close behind — to get closer to the stingrays.

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The polar bears were another favorite. So playful!

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Needless to say, Sam didn’t spend much time in his stroller.

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Personally, I would have appreciated a break from trekking through the African Savannah and Asian forest.

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Surprisingly, our little trooper lasted all day without a nap. And he had zero meltdowns. He was rewarded with a sweet little tiger.

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Before we left Pittsburgh, we took Laura and Stephen up the incline for our favorite view of the city.

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We will definitely be back to see the animals again soon!

Catch Up

05.23.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I have started no less than five posts since we returned from Alabama. And, yet, it has remained awfully silent around here. So let’s play a little catch up, shall we? Because we all know those draft posts aren’t going to get finished anytime soon.

It’s been hot here. In fact, it’s felt more like July than May. I’m not complaining, though. And neither is this guy.

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Hot means corn on the cob. And running through sprinklers in barefeet.

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And it means ice cream and popsicles every evening.

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We celebrated Mother’s Day, and I was so lucky to not only be with the one who made me a momma …

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But also with the one who taught me to be a momma, as well as both of my grandmothers. I truly cherish moments like this.

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My boys spoiled me with a day at the Hershey Spa.

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And I was in wonderful company. We enjoyed massages and pedicures and, as always, an endless supply of Hershey’s kisses.

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And while we were away, Sammy enjoyed a day with Daddy. Chocolate and pickles — what more could a boy ask for?

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We’ve been having playdates …

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and celebrating college graduations.

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And, believe it or not, we’ve found time for yard work, too.

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Hope your May has been as eventful as ours!

Alabama Visit

05.14.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

After an extra long drive to the airport (thanks to the Pittsburgh Marathon), two flights plus a three-hour layover in between, and another two hours in the car, we finally arrived at Oma’s and Opa’s house in Huntsville, AL. But all of those hours were well worth it. Sam and I had a fantastic four days with family — and friends, too!

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Sam doesn’t get to see his cousins nearly enough. In fact, the last time we had the three boys together was last June. Sean is now eleven, and he is growing into such a sweet and thoughtful young gentleman. And Jackson, who turned five earlier this year, is a little spitfire. Just like Sam!

We took the younger two to the playground one morning and played hide-and-seek and follow-the-leader. Of course, Sam tried to do everything Jackson did. We had to suggest a few times that Jackson wait until Sam wasn’t watching before he jumped off the tire or went down the sliding board head first.

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When we got home, the kiddos enjoyed ice pops on the back porch. Of course, every afternoon after that, Sam begged to open the freezer so he could have another. And another. And another. And every time, he instructed us to sit in the same spot as that first time. One day, though, Jackson wanted to sit by himself on the opposite side of the porch. What did Sam do? Dragged his chair across the cement to sit beside his cousin. Jackson asked, “Why does he have to do everything I do?” And I said, “Because you’re the cool big cousin.”

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Fortunately, Nick’s parents saved all the best toys from their kids’ childhoods — some date back nearly 40 years! So Sam had plenty to do during our visit. Although I think his (and Jackson’s) favorite activity was wrestling with Opa! I’m pretty sure Dan slept for three days after we left.

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One afternoon, while Sam was sleeping, my mother-in-law took me to “the secret place.” Carol has been talking about this spot since they moved to Alabama, and I was thrilled to finally see it. This picture does not do it justice. Think fairytale garden in the middle of the forest. The landscaping was immaculate and full of so many different colors and textures. Carol says it looks different every time she visits.

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On our final full day in Huntsville, we met our dear friends Anna and Ryan at the Botanical Gardens. We have not seen them since they left Altoona two years ago and, well, a lot has happened since then! Namely one Sam and one Lila.

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It was so fun to see Anna and Ryan as parents. And Lila is such a sweetheart! I do believe Sam was mesmerized by her beautiful dark eyes.

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The Botanical Gardens was the perfect place to take our toddlers. Sam especially loved the splash pools. I wonder if we can put one of these in our backyard?

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It is so wonderful when family and friends move to the same town!

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Thank you, Dan and Carol (and BJ and Megan, too!) for a wonderful visit. Since Sam was such a good little travel buddy, we’re already looking forward to planning our next trip! (More to come on traveling alone with a toddler.)

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A Morning at the Museum

05.13.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Sam and I had the pleasure of joining our friends, Jenn and Dominic, last week for a morning at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.

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Sam was mesmerized by the robots …

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… and the trains. He begged to blow the whistle and tried several times to climb under the railing to get closer to the railroad.

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Sam and his buddy wanted so much to throw the basketball with the big kids. They tend to act more like they’re almost five rather than almost two.

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But they both still have that unbridled enthusiasm that only exists in toddlers.

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The fish at the Science Center were even cooler than the ones we see at the pet store. And Sam spoke their language well.

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We greatly appreciated the hands-on and interactive approach to all of the exhibits.

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Especially on the fourth floor, a.k.a. the exploration station. The water table was insane, and we let the boys play for at least 30 minutes.

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Sam also loved collecting and launching balls in the ball factory.

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We even decided to try a planetarium show: One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure. And, believe it or not, the boys loved it! They watched Big Bird and Elmo navigate the stars and the moon, and sat almost completely still for the entire 20 minutes.

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We had such a fun day and can’t wait to go back again.

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Thank you, Jenn and Dominic!

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Letter to Samuel: 19 Months

05.03.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Hey little buddy! Today you are 19 months and 9 days old. You keep Momma so busy that it’s become difficult to find time to write your monthly letters. But I don’t want to forget a single moment. In fact, I would love to hit the pause button and save this age forever.

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You have so much personality! And your enthusiasm for life is contagious. From washing your hands to checking the mailbox to watering the flowers, everything is an adventure in your world.

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You are constantly babbling and telling stories in your own little language. The “b” sound is still your favorite: ball, banana, bird, binkie, bug (though you say “gub” instead of “bug”). And you have perfected the “m” sound, which means you say “mama” all the time! You also say more and milk. And since I listen to you every day, I have figured out your versions of “Elmo” and “pretzel.” You still say “no” quite a bit, though I am happy that you have also added “yeah” to your vocabulary. I’m anxiously waiting for the day when your communication skills really take off — I know it’s right around the corner!

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I do believe you have the best cheese face ever. And, heck, even your cry face is adorable. Though I am happy to report that the tantrums have significantly decreased since last month. You still throw a fit every time I bring you inside. But I can’t blame you with the gorgeous spring we’ve had thus far. In fact, you often squeeze past me when I’m trying to get Lucy inside, and you run right out the door in your jammies or bare feet. You giggle and squeal and get halfway down the sidewalk before I’m able to catch up.

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We explore a different park or playground nearly every day. And you still amaze me with your coordination and strength. You can officially scale the rock wall and you always attempt to climb the spider’s web. You have no fear and follow the lead of the bigger kids despite being half their size.

Sometimes we pack a picnic lunch to take to the lake, and sometimes we share our crumbs with the ducks. You have perfected your duck call, and you love to throw rocks into the water.

We also have a million things to keep us busy in our own backyard. I do believe that gardening has replaced dusting as your new favorite chore. You have your own little gardening set that includes a rake and a shovel and a bucket. But, of course, you prefer to use our tools. You also love to wear our gloves. Though Lucy is quick to steal them right off your hands. She is constantly snatching the hat off your head, too.

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So far this season, you have helped to pull weeds and plant tulip bulbs and spread mulch. Such a hard worker!

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Other favorite outdoor activities include mowing the lawn (and you insist on going up and down the steepest part of the yard), collecting “worms,” playing with your new sand/water table, blowing bubbles, and decorating the driveway with chalk. Needless to say, by the end of the day, you are covered in dirt. And you’ve already skinned your knees at least a half dozen times. Fortunately, Mommy’s kisses always make your boo boos better.

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When I do manage to wrangle you inside for an afternoon, I’m likely to find you playing in your kitchen — always with the oven mitt on one hand. One day you managed to fill your sink with water from your sippy cup, and I found you washing your produce. It was a proud moment for this momma!

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It’s also exciting to watch you develop an interest in books. You’ve always enjoyed listening to Mommy and Daddy read before bedtime, but you are now content to flip through a book on your own. Current favorites are Little Blue Truck, all Karen Katz lift-the-flap books, and the book I created for you full of family photos.

We’ve also started to devote time every day to flashcards and puzzles. And we work on letters and numbers and animals with the magnets on your chalkboard. You are such a little sponge, and I suspect you will love to learn as much as your parents.

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This month we took down the gates to the living room that had previously penned Lucy into the kitchen, which means you have more room to run and ride your giraffe bike. It also means Lucy snuggles on the couch! Yes, she’s still your buddy. And, yes, the two of you still get into a whole lot of trouble together. But I have learned to except the crazy moments because they are often followed by sweet ones.

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Every morning before Daddy leaves for work he says: “Take care of your Momma today. You’re the man of the house.” And, Sam, you do just that. You’re concerned if I’m not wearing my slippers, or if I have a full cup of water that I haven’t sipped from. You point out any loose threads on my clothing and adjust my glasses if they’re crooked. I really don’t know what I would do without you, kiddo!

I’m so grateful for you each and every day. I love you, Sam.

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Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

05.03.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It’s May. And you have at least a month until swimsuit season. Which means you have plenty of time to bake this insane dessert.

Fudgy brownies + peanut butter cups + salty peanuts + a little snap, crackle, and pop. I promise you won’t be able to eat just one.

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You’re welcome.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

(Print the Recipe)

Makes 25 brownies.

Ingredients

  • 1 box brownie mix (not family sized), plus ingredients listed on the package
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 1 bag mini peanut butter cups, chopped
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 heaping cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 3/4 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Directions

  1. Line a 9×9 pan with foil, and bake the brownies according to package directions.
  2. During the last 5 minutes of baking, remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle chopped peanut butter cups and chopped peanuts on top. Return to the oven for remaining 5 minutes to melt the chocolate.
  3. As soon as you pull the brownies out of the oven, smooth the melted peanut butter cups and peanuts on top. Let them cool.
  4. In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter. Heat in the microwave for 1 minute; stir when done. If needed, continue heating in 20 second increments until chocolate is melted.
  5. Stir in vanilla and cereal until evenly combined.
  6. Pour the mixture over the brownies and smooth. Chill until set, about 2 hours.
  7. Cut into squares and serve.

(Adapted from Cookies and Cups)

Little Ladies Man

04.29.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

We had an invasion of pink in our home last weekend.

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Our friends visited with their three beautiful girls: Kennedy (4 1/2), Leyton (2 1/2), and Henley (6 months). Not surprisingly, our little ladies man loved it.

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We took full advantage of the sun on Saturday afternoon and let the kids run around in their barefeet.

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By the time we brought them inside for baths, they were covered in sand and dirt. After all four were clean and clothed in jammies, we sat down for some quality adult conversation. (Side note: why do we never get any photos of the adults?)

Sunday morning was rainy and quiet. Well, as quiet as is possible with three kiddos running around and ripping through toys. The older girls fought for Sam’s attention, and he just soaked it up.

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But he saved plenty of lovin’ for Baby Henley. “Hi, baby … Baby’s nose … Kisses for baby.”

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We don’t get to see this crew nearly enough. Thanks for visiting, Turocys!

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And because side-by-side comparisons are impossible to resist. Here they are (minus little nugget) last April.

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Oma + Opa Visit

04.25.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Every few months, Nick’s parents make the drive north from Alabama to see their littlest grandson. We don’t get to see them nearly enough, and we pack as much fun as possible into their short stays.

During their visit this week, Sam and I took Oma and Opa to Twin Lakes park and playground.

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Sam showed off his sliding board skills, and he perfected his duck call. Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic lunch and a walk along the water.

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Back home, we put them to work. We accomplished a tremendous amount of yard work during their visit, and we are so thankful for their help!

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Of course, we had plenty of time to play, too. Opa was Sam’s block-building-buddy …

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… and provided a comfy seat during Sesame Street.

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We even found a free evening to take them to Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh where we were joined by a few more members of the Wiley clan, including Sam’s second cousins.

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As usual, we wish they could have stayed longer. But guess what? Sam and I are headed down south next week to see them again! Yes, I am willingly flying alone with a toddler. Any tips?

Thanks, Oma and Opa, for a great visit!

Pittsburgh Brewer’s Ball

04.25.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I love an excuse to wear lipstick and heels. And when there’s beer involved? And drinking it supports a good cause? Sign me up!

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Last Friday night, Nick and I attended the Brewer’s Ball in Pittsburgh to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Western Pennsylvania Chapter. There were about 20 microbreweries in attendance — each with multiple brews on tap and some with tasty bites on the side.

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Favorite dish of the night was the Pulled Pork with Bourbon BBQ Sauce, Vinegar Slaw, and Candied Bacon from Fat Head’s. I do believe that candied bacon would make even the dullest dish a winner. And we especially enjoyed talking with the fine folks from local Greensburg brewery All Saints.

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Before leaving the city, we couldn’t resist a nightcap at The Cheesecake Factory.

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It was the perfect night out with friends, and we were so happy to support a worthy cause.