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.

DIY: Magnetic Chalkboard Wall

04.22.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Since we bought our house last May, I have been searching high and low — literally — for a place to paint a chalkboard wall for Sam. I considered a space in the kitchen beside the refrigerator and another area in the downstairs hallway. But when we decided to convert the basement into a playroom, I knew that was the perfect place for my project. It would be easily accessible to Sam but far enough away that Lucy wouldn’t be tempted to devour the magnets.

magnetic chalkboard wall | theculinarycouple.com

I love projects like this one that are aesthetically pleasing to adults and also provide hours of entertainment to toddlers.

Here’s how to add a magnetic chalkboard wall to your home.

Supplies

  • level, yardstick, painter’s tape, and pencil to sketch the space
  • magnetic primer and chalkboard paint (Rust-Oleum brand)
  • small paint roller with two 1/4-inch nap brushes
  • white chalk, a soft cloth, and an eraser to prep your board before use (I used sidewalk chalk for this step)
  • jumbo triangular chalk sticks (Melissa & Doug brand)
  • wooden shapes from a craft store plus magnetic tape to make your own magnets
  • magnetic numbers and letters and animals (Melissa & Doug brand)

Instructions

First, use a level and a yardstick to sketch the space you plan to paint. My original sketch was 60″ wide x 42″ tall , but after talking with Nick, I decided to decrease the width to fit within the studs so we could add a frame to it.

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(Yes, I changed the color of our Dr. Seuss prints. The red and green and blue seemed too bright after I hung them.)

When you’re happy with the size, break out the paint. I like Rust-Oleum brand for both the magnetic primer and the chalkboard paint — I found both at Lowe’s. I used a small paint roller with a 1/4-inch nap brush for both layers, however, I did have to toss the brush I used for the magnetic paint because it was far too sticky to even think about cleaning and reusing. Also worth noting: the magnetic paint requires a lot of stirring before you start. And by a lot, I mean at least 15 minutes. Be prepared for a major bicep workout before you even pick up the roller.

Paint (at least) two coats of the magnetic primer, allowing 30 minutes to dry between each coat. Two hours later, paint the first coat of chalkboard paint. Wait two hours before adding the second coat. Allow 24 hours to dry completely.

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Then add your frame. We used scraps of window casing that we already had in our garage and painted them to match the woodwork in the room. Nick measured and cut the wood using a saw and coping tool, then he nailed it to the wall with a nail gun. I filled in the corners and nail holes with caulk and touched up the paint.

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And ta da! Before you let your kid at it, though, don’t forget to prep the board. Take a white piece of chalk (I used sidewalk chalk), turn it on its side, and rub it across the entire board. This gets messy! So don’t forget to cover the area with a drop cloth or thoroughly vacuum when you’re finished. When the entire board is covered in chalk, take a soft cloth or paper towel and rub it into the board, using circular motions. Finally, wipe it down with an eraser, and you’re ready to go!

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I lined the board with letters and numbers and homemade magnets and wrote “Samuel” across the middle, and I couldn’t wait to show it to our boy. The verdict? He is obsessed.

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There are few activities that occupy his attention for more than five minutes, but this is one of them.

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And, surprisingly, he’s kept the chalk within the confines of the frame. Though it does get all over his hands and pants. But what’s one more outfit change when we’re already used to him being covered in dirt?

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Eventually we’ll use the board to practice our ABCs and 123s, but for now it’s a great space to exercise his creativity. Always with Mr. Ribbit tucked under his arm, of course.

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This is one of my favorite house projects to date! Speaking of house projects, we are fast approaching the one-year mark since we bought our home (crazy!), and I plan to do a full house tour next month. Stay tuned!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

04.18.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

There’s a cookie monster in our house. And his name is Sam.

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If he hears the words cook or bake or chocolate or cookies or brownies, he immediately drags a chair across the kitchen and hops on top. He knows where to find the measuring spoons, and he gets upset if I try to use the whisk without him. He’s a great helper and never forgets to lick the spatula clean.

Perhaps we make too many sweets in this house?

Bah. No such thing.

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Here’s a recipe for one of our current favorite cookies. They come together quickly — no stand mixer involved. And we always have a few balls of dough in the freezer because there is nothing better than soft, warm cookies straight out of the oven. Bonus points when they also contain peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Print the Recipe)

Makes about 18 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Add butter and peanut butter to a microwave safe bowl, and heat in 30-second increments until melted. Cool completely.
  2. Combine flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together cooled butter/peanut butter mixture and sugars. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla; whisk until combined. Switch to a wooden spoon, and gradually add flour; mix until dough forms – it will look crumbly at first, but it will come together. Fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Use your hands to shape dough into balls the size of golf balls. Place on a baking sheet two inches apart and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. The centers should be soft and puffy. Do not over bake.

(Adapted from How Sweet It Is)

Spring has Sprung

04.15.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I believe it’s finally safe to say that spring is here to stay. Daytime temperatures have barely dropped below 50 degrees, and we’ve even seen the 70s several days. Trees are budding and daffodils are blooming, and I can almost hear the hum of the lawn mower.

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Sam was barely big enough to truly enjoy the outdoors last year. But, oh boy, is he soaking it up now. Every morning he bangs on the door that leads to the backyard and stomps his pajama-bottomed feet on the floor and demands to go outside. No sooner do I get him changed and into his sneakers than he’s sprinting down the sidewalk or scaling the rocks.

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He is obsessed with the dirt and now requires no less than three outfit changes per day. He shovels it and rakes it and carries it around the yard in his bucket. I have found it in his diaper and up his nose. He no longer owns a clean pair of shoes. He is fascinated by bugs and worms. He has scuffed his nose and skinned his right knee and rolled down the hill more times than I can count. He is all boy.

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We have visited every park and playground within a 15-mile radius and have returned to our favorites several days in a row. Sam is still not a big fan of the swings — he would rather run and climb and crawl and slide. He thinks he’s such a big kid.

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We spent an entire morning collecting sticks and throwing rocks into the lake and yelling “duck duck duck.” And when he reached up to hold my hand while we walked along the water, my heart swelled.

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Nana joined us one day, and he held her hand, too. I think it was her favorite moment of the weekend.

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Lucy has been enjoying our company in the backyard, although it’s impossible to keep Sam’s colorful plastic toys out of her mouth.

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Evening baths are now a necessity, and we’ve all been sleeping sounder after full days of fresh air. Spring, we love you so.

A Letter to Samuel on the 50th Anniversary of the Loss of the USS Thresher

04.10.2013 · Posted by Nick (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Samuel Woodford,

It’s no secret that you make your mother and I very proud. You are kind and generous. You are inquisitive. And you are devilishly cute. You certainly wear the Wiley name well.

I want to tell you today about your Great Uncle John, another Wiley to be very proud of.

John was born in Altoona — just like you, little buddy — and he was the second of six children, your Opa’s older brother.

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In high school, John was recruited by several ivy league schools, but instead he chose to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated near the top of his class in 1961 and was presented his diploma by President John F. Kennedy.

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Following graduation, John volunteered for submarine duty and was trained as a nuclear engineer. In December, 1962, he reported to duty to his first submarine: the USS Thresher. The Thresher was the best of its time — the Navy said that it could “dive deeper, move faster, and carry more weapons than any other submarine in the fleet.”

On April 10, 1963, the USS Thresher was tragically lost at sea, taking with it 129 crewmen and civilian personnel. The loss of the Thresher gripped the nation, and devastated the Wiley family, including John’s wife of just over a year.

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Today, fifty years later, we honor Uncle John’s memory and the sacrifice made by those brave young men. I got to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire this past weekend to commemorate the USS Thresher, and it was an experience that I will cherish.

Uncle John’s legacy lives on with the Wiley name, a name that you so admirably bear. I love you, big guy.

From Your Daddy

In Motion on Vine

04.09.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Please tell me I’m not the only one whose iPhone is currently holding over 1,000 photos plus dozens of videos. Yes, it’s time to do some spring cleaning. Which means you get to enjoy a few videos from our wild and crazy and incredibly fun life. I created these short clips with the Vine app, which makes it really easy to record and share videos. You can find me on Vine @ Emily Wiley.

big slide from Emily Wiley on Vimeo.

pop pop machine from Emily Wiley on Vimeo.

plastic bags from Emily Wiley on Vimeo.

little Ikea builder from Emily Wiley on Vimeo.

throwing rocks from Emily Wiley on Vimeo.

Wednesday Randoms

04.03.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I’m behind on blogging — about Lucy’s introduction to obedience class, Sam’s language development, the new color of our laundry room, and the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies I can’t stop eating. Until I have time to formulate my thoughts into a coherent post, here is an update via bullet points.

• There is a wonderful little historic town adjacent to ours. Each fall it is host to Ligonier Days to commemorate the 1758 battle of Fort Ligonier. We attended two years ago for our fill of history, fall foliage, and pumpkin whoopie pies. I also visited during my culinary tour of the Laurel Highlands. Two weekends ago we went back for the 4th annual Soup’s On Soup Walk and, once again, I was impressed by Ligonier’s community outreach. Also, I wish more small towns could prosper like it does. It was a fantastic afternoon with friends and tasty soups like roasted cauliflower and brie, butternut coconut curry, and lobster bisque.

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• During the soup walk, we met the girls behind eatPGH. I picked up a copy of their new book, and I can’t wait to start eating our way through it.

• Speaking of Pittsburgh eats, we finally tried Burgatory. And for the first time ever, I had a burger with an over easy egg on top of it. Trendy, yes, but it was pretty fantastic. We also ordered a chocolate peanut butter shake for the drive home. And Sam refused to share it. (This is exactly why we did not indulge in one of their famous hard shakes. Next time.)

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• I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We really hit the neighbor jackpot when we bought our house. They’ve helped to mulch our flower beds and shovel our driveway. They graciously invite us to use their pool and deliver homemade desserts to our doorstep. They’ve saved me when I was sick or just plain overwhelmed during a single parenting week. Yeah, we’re lucky. We’re also the “young kids” on the block — by about 20 years. But who cares. We celebrated a 50th birthday last weekend and everyone partied like we were still in college. We hired a babysitter (the teenage daughter of another neighbor — score!), I wore lipstick, and Nick drank a few too many cocktails. The party was in their home, but they have the most legit basement bar I have ever seen — complete with a 12-foot beautiful marble top bar, multiple flatscreen televisions, and a “last call” bell. So. Much. Fun.

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• Here’s a sneak peek of our new laundry room and my most recent DIY project.

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• And, finally … Who You Gonna Call?

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The Easter Bug … and Bunny, too

04.01.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

While we were expecting a visit from the Easter Bunny last weekend, we were also host to a very unwelcome guest: the stomach bug. It hit Sam first — fast and hard. And three days later it got to me — just hours after Nick left for Chicago, of course.

How does a momma, who lives hundreds of miles away from family, cope with the stomach bug while simultaneously caring for an active toddler and a wild puppy? With Goldfish crackers and rawhide bones and far too much TV. That’s how. Also, neighbors who graciously take the toddler for two hours so momma can sleep and then send him home with slices of homemade pizza. TGFGN. (Thank goodness for good neighbors.)

By the time Nick returned from his trip, our laundry hampers were overflowing, stacks of dirty dishes still sat in the sink, and at least ten different varieties of crumbs could be found scattered across the living room floor and in the creases of the couch. But we survived. Whew.

I spent the next two days in bed or in the bathroom, very very sad to miss time with my sister and her boyfriend, but also grateful they were here to bring Easter cheer.

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Fortunately, I had the foresight to purchase a few plastic eggs at Target the week before, so we filled them with M&Ms and hid them in the backyard. It wasn’t the big egg hunt we had planned to do at our local farm on Saturday morning. And Sam wasn’t carrying a basket or wearing his cute checkered button-up shirt. But he still had a big smile on his face.

 

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I’m also glad we had the opportunity to dye eggs with friends at a playdate earlier in the week because we didn’t have a chance to do any of our own.

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And on Easter eve, still laying on the couch, I realized I didn’t have an Easter basket for Sam. Thanks to Amazon Prime, I had a few gifts to give him, but there was no festive basket to fill with fake grass and colorful eggs. And so I chose the next best thing: a toolbox. Which, really, for our boy, was far better than a frilly basket anyway.

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And so ends the story of our Easter 2013. Typically, details and sentiments are so very important to me. But in this case, they were not. I had my boy back in my lap, and that is what mattered most.

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Letter to Samuel: 18 Months

03.26.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Happy half-birthday to our sweet and silly Sam!

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It’s hard to believe that we celebrated your first birthday six whole months ago. It feels like just yesterday. And yet you have changed so much. You become more independent and more opinionated each day. Your current favorite word is “no” and you say it all the time. “No” you don’t want milk. “No” you don’t want Mommy to change your diaper. “No” you don’t want Lucy to take her ball out of your hands. “No” you don’t want Daddy to put on his jacket and go to work. “No” you don’t want to close the refrigerator door because you would rather rearrange its contents than eat your snack. You get the idea. Sometimes it’s hysterical to watch you say “no no no” and shake your head with such ferocity. And other times the “nos” lead to full-blown tantrums, and then it’s not so funny. Oh, toddlerhood.

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You also love to say “ohhh” and “oh no” and “whoa.” You are so full of expression. Your Nana says she would expect nothing less with me and your Daddy as parents. What can I say — we have personality, and we passed it along to you.

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You constantly surprise us with your attention to detail. If you see a piece of trash on the floor, you immediately pick it up and throw it in the trash can. And if the trash can drawer is not pushed in completely, and you notice it, you must fix it. If we leave our shoes sitting near the front door, you open the coat closet and put them inside. You actually like to clean up your toys — and each has its place on your shelf.

I have learned that if I just involve you in my daily chores, I can get so much more accomplished. You dust the furniture and sweep the floors and take the utensils out of the dishwasher and put them into the drawer. Daddy thinks you work too hard, but you honestly love it. Yes, you are my son.

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We got a new washer and dryer this month, and you think they’re just about the coolest things ever. You love to move towels from one to the other, and you get angry if Lucy steals a sock from the basket you’re trying to load. You love to watch the clothes spin, too, and thank goodness for the child lock feature.

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We had a few warm days this month (though not nearly enough, if you ask me!), and you spent an entire morning shoveling dirt and making piles of rocks and sweeping the driveway. I absolutely cannot wait to spend our spring and summer outdoors. I think I see a garden and a sandbox and a water table in our future.

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You have incredible concentration and dexterity for a one-and-a-half-year-old. This was best exhibited this month when you  helped Mommy assemble your new table and chairs from Ikea. Without any direction from me, you put the long screws into every available hole on the chair and proceeded to pound them with your hammer and tighten them with your drill. I finished assembling the second chair and the table after you went to bed that night, and I couldn’t wait to show you the next morning. But instead of sitting down in your new seat, you turned the chair onto its side so you could take it apart and put it back together again. Yes, you are — and always have been — our little engineer.

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You have begun to show more interest in crayons and stickers and play-doh. But these things still ultimately end up in your mouth, and so we have to limit our time with them. You also love to make copies on Daddy’s printer. Sometimes you stick your hand on the scanner bed, and we end up with a dozen copies of your little paw.

You are also entering a cars and trucks and trains stage. You will stand and play at your train table for 10 minutes at a time, which is practically an eternity for a toddler. I love to hear your little “vroom vroom” and “choo choo” sounds. You push the cars up and down the hills and through the tunnels, and I can just see your imagination at work.

You have discovered our box of winter accessories and like to try on hats and mittens and scarves. You also love to walk around the house while wrapped up in blankets. It’s a pretty funny sight.

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Dress-up is especially fun when Mr. Ribbit plays, too.

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You continue to pretend play with your kitchen, too. Though you now prefer the real thing. If you hear the words “cook” or “bake” or “help Mommy” while in the kitchen, you immediately grab a chair and pull it over to the counter. You regularly help to stir pancake batter and spin lettuce leaves and roll pizza dough and any other task we deem suitable for your little hands. I am just thrilled that you are so interested in food, and I hope you are always so willing to be my sous chef.

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Your food preferences have not changed much since last month, except you have discovered the joy of “dipping.” Pretzels into peanut butter, scrambled eggs into ketchup, pork into applesauce, french fries into ranch dressing. You’re obsessed. You still love bananas and berries and grapes. You typically prefer meat over vegetables, and you rarely leave a rigatoni or tortellini on your plate. One night I prepared stuffed sole for dinner, and because there were only two pieces, I made chicken nuggets for you. But guess what. You preferred the fish, and so Mommy had to eat your nuggets. Actually, this happens quite often. You end up in my lap at the dinner table with my fork in your hand. But I don’t mind. At least you’re eating!

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And, yes, you still have an unbelievable sweet tooth. Favorite indulgences this month included a chocolate peanut butter milkshake from Burgatory (which you did not want to share with Mommy and Daddy) and Hershey’s kisses (which you can unwrap all by yourself).

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You and Lucy are still the best of friends — and partners in crime. She started obedience class this month, and we’re hoping life gets a little less crazy with a trained puppy in the house. But for now you continue to throw your toys over the gate to her and chase her around the kitchen with your “pop pop” machine and give her bites of whatever you’re eating. You try to lift her cheeks to see her teeth and sometimes you pull her tail, but the sweet girl doesn’t flinch. Perhaps we should send you to obedience class instead?

But then there are moments when Lucy is on the receiving end of your biggest hugs and kisses, and it makes all the wild times worthwhile.

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You are our affectionate little man. You have learned to give real kisses (as opposed to open mouth ones) and will give hugs to anyone who asks for one. Sometimes you put lotion on my face or brush the hair out of my eyes, and I just melt. We now hold hands while walking, and your hands still feel so itty bitty in mine.

One night Daddy tried to rest his head on my shoulder after a particularly long day. You were busy playing until you saw this unfolding. And immediately said “no no no” and came running over to claim your spot. I have to admit, I kind of loved it.

Yes, you are my snuggle buddy, but sometimes you surprise me with your bravery. For example, you have no fear when it comes to slides and were the youngest kid by far in the Chick-fil-A playplace this month. You climbed up all by yourself and squealed while coming down the tube slide. You did it at least a dozen times and, of course, you did not want to leave when it was time to go.

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You weigh about 26 pounds (50th percentile) and measure about 32 inches tall (40th percentile). You have a mouth full of teeth, which makes you look like such a big kiddo. You have started to mimic everything we say, and I can sense your verbal communication skills improving every day. Your favorite animal sounds are “baa baa” and “quack quack.” And you know all of your body parts.

We introduced the potty to you this month. And for a few days, you were pretty obsessed with it. You sit on it (naked, before your bath) with a book in your hands and sometimes you “squeeze,” and we try so hard not to laugh. I don’t think any of us will know how to react when something actually ends up in that potty!

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Oh, sweet boy, you light up our lives. We love you more than you will ever know!