February is National Children’s Dental Health Month!

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and it’s reminding me of the first time Keith and I took the twins to the dentist. They were only about a year old, with gummy smiles and just a few teeth popping through. We took them to a pediatric dentist in Colorado Springs, and I remember being surprised and excited by how different the experience was from when I was growing up.

I don’t think pediatric dentists even existed when I was a kid. I went to the same dentist my parents did, and I remember being in a sterile-looking room with scary tools and gross-tasting tooth products.

For today’s kids, going to the dentist is a whole different experience. Like most pediatric dental practices, our kids’ dental office here in Northern Virginia has a waiting room full of toys and books, toothpastes and fluoride treatments in a wide range of yummy flavors (think watermelon, chocolate, and grape), fun sunglasses for kids to wear during treatments, and a treasure chest of goodies they can choose from at the end of their appointments.

Little girl at dentist
Look how much fun she’s having!

This isn’t to say that all kids will magically start loving the dentist. Even with all of these diversions, Matt still has a lot of dental anxiety, and visits can be stressful. But we still take the kids for their checkups and cleanings every six months because dental health is so important. Luckily, none of the kids have had cavities yet, and we hope that by teaching them the importance of regular brushing and dental visits (we’re still working on flossing), we’ll instill in them good dental habits for life.

But of course, none of this would mean anything if the kids’ dentist and dental hygienists weren’t so wonderful. They are highly skilled and very friendly, patient, and gentle with the kids. It means the world to know that our children are getting great dental care without it being a traumatic experience for them.

To help aspiring dentists/dental hygienists and those who wish to work in academia afford a college education, Oklahoma dentist Karl Jobst, D.D.S. is offering a $1,000 scholarship to high school seniors who have been accepted into a U.S. college or university. Students from all majors and areas of study are encouraged to apply for the Karl Jobst Scholarship. For more information and an application form, visit Karl Jobst Grove OK. The submission deadline is May 1, 2018. Good luck to all who apply, and here’s to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Karl Jobst, D.D.S.

 

Creating Good Financial Habits — and Passing Them On to Our Kids!

My parents were never the type of people to live above their means. When they first got married and needed a dining room set, they waited until they saved enough cash to buy it outright rather than charge it to a credit card—and they cherished it all the more because of that. When my brother and I were born, they worked hard to provide us with all the food, clothing, and toys we could possibly need without overdoing it. We vacationed to places like Pennsylvania and Florida rather than tropical islands or faraway countries, making priceless memories just the same.

When I graduated from college, I remembered the good financial habits my parents taught me. The biggest one was doing everything I could to keep my debt as low as possible. So rather than blow my meager paycheck from my first job on rent, I lived at home and put every cent I could toward my student loans, paying them off in only a couple of years. I used cash or my debit card when I shopped or went out with friends so I could keep track of my spending. And when I did need to charge things, I almost always paid my balance in full each month.

Naturally, things changed a bit after I got married. Cars, houses, kids, and vacations have obviously required Keith and me to give our credit cards more of a workout than we’d like at times. Sometimes we carry more of a balance than we’re comfortable with. But luckily, we have the same attitude towards debt. We work well as a team to keep it under control, while at the same time saving money for our kids’ education. And we’re committed to teaching our kids the same good financial habits that our parents taught us.

Sports-themed piggy banks
Rather than single piggy banks, our twins each have a set of four sports banks dedicated to saving, investing, donating, and spending. We are happy to teach them good financial habits early on!

Still, I know how easy it can be to suddenly find yourself in over your head with debt. And when that happens, things can seem hopeless. Luckily, there are all sorts of resources out there that can help you take back control of your finances. One of them is a debt reduction service, like Nationwide Debt Reduction Services. This type of service can help you consolidate and reduce your debt and get back on your feet financially. Just be sure to do your research and make sure the company you choose is part of the American Fair Credit Council, like Nationwide is.

Please not that I am not a financial professional—just a mom who learned good financial habits from my parents that I’m hoping to pass on to my own kids. Here’s to a healthy financial future for all of us!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Nationwide Debt Reduction Services.

New Year, New Opportunities

I have never been a big fan of new year’s resolutions. They’ve always put a lot of extra pressure on me at a time when I really need to chill out after the madness of the holidays. Then, when life with a husband and three kids and freelance work inevitably gets in the way of sticking to my resolutions, I end up feeling like a complete failure and falling into a depression.

So instead of making big resolutions that are almost impossible for me to succeed at, I just think about little changes I want to make in the new year and resolve to do my best to make them. These changes are much easier to incorporate into my busy life, and I feel successful when I simply try my hardest to make those changes.

Some of the changes are things that can greatly impact myself and my family, like getting everyone to bed earlier, yelling less, and making more time for this blog. (I can’t believe I haven’t written here in over five months!) I will talk more about these things in a future blog post.

But some of the changes are things that will simply allow me to put more positivity out into the world— small actions that can brighten other people’s days. One of these changes is to leave positive feedback or write great reviews when I receive exceptional service. Everyone—myself included—is always so quick to write a one-star Yelp review when the food or service is bad at a restaurant, or to ask to speak to a manager when we receive poor customer service from an employee. But we often don’t take the time to write a five-star review—and mention our exceptional server by name—when we have an excellent dining experience. We rarely ask to speak to a manager to tell him or her how helpful an employee was to us.

But I’m going to take the time to do these things, starting right now. I’m going to send an email to Madewell and Amazon to let them know about the outstanding customer service I received from two employees during the holidays. In the Madewell case, I purchased a gift card online for my cousin that never arrived in the mail, but I didn’t realize it until a week before Christmas. The customer service representative canceled the funds on that card and overnighted me a new one, no questions asked.

In the Amazon case, I purchased a picture frame that had residue from a large sticker stuck on the glass. I emailed customer service to let them know, and the representative immediately issued me a refund for my trouble—even though my husband was eventually able to get the residue off.

These were two of the fastest and best customer-service experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m embarrassed that I never left glowing feedback for these employees. But I’m doing it right now.

So if you’re in the process of making new year’s resolutions—or simply thinking about some changes you’d like to make in 2018—consider taking the time to leave feedback for great customer service, not just bad customer service. And if you’re a business that wants to better grow and serve your customers, and thereby reduce the number of customer-service calls you receive, check out UserIQ. This customer success software, founded in 2014, can help keep your business running smoothly and keep your customers happy.

Happy new year to all, and thank you for sticking with this blog even in the quiet times. Here’s to positive changes and great customer service in 2018!

Disclosure: This a sponsored post on behalf of UserIQ.

Family in front of Christmas tree
Happy new year!

Back to School, Plus a Chance to Win a $1,000 College Scholarship from Groza Learning Center!

Many children across the U.S. are getting ready to head back to school. But here in Northern Virginia, public school doesn’t start again for another four weeks.

Still, the summer has seemed to fly by for us. For one thing, it’s a week shorter this year: Our district shifted the school calendar so that school will end a week a week earlier in June and start a week earlier (the week before Labor Day). But because the 2016-17 school year still followed last year’s calendar, our kids still got out at the same time. That means this summer break is only 9 1/2 weeks for us, instead of 10 1/2.

Then, Matt had a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy only three days after school ended. Due to a complication, the recovery took two weeks. Add to that a 10-day trip to New York and lots of pool time, movies, ice cream, and other fun in between, and more than half of summer break sailed by.

In some ways, the thought of the kids starting school again makes me sad. I’ve been loving our more relaxed schedule: staying up too late to roast s’mores and play catch, sleeping in, lounging around in our pajamas all morning instead of rushing out to catch the school bus.

Ice cream cones
Nothing says “summer” like ice cream before dinner!

But at the same time, I know that in four weeks we’ll all be ready to get back to our regular routine. Our bodies will crave a more consistent sleep schedule and healthier meals instead of frozen yogurt for lunch. Our brains will need to be challenged again (I’ve cut back on work for the summer). The kids will be excited to see all of their school friends again.

Sleeping toddler
Summer has us sleepy like…

Still, the first few weeks of school will be an adjustment. Lily will start preschool a week after the boys go back and will only go to school 12 hours a week, so I know she’ll be asking for her brothers at first. And when all three are at school, I’m pretty sure it will be a bit unnerving! Yesterday, Lily told Keith, “Daddy, soon my brothers will go on the school bus and Mommy will drive me to school and then she will be ALL ALONE!” Keith replied, “Yeah, and then Mommy will have a party!” If you call writing stories, working out, and showering without interruptions a party, then he’s right!

But as big of an adjustment as I and all of my fellow parents will have once school starts, it can’t compare to the big changes parents with kids heading off to college will go through! I’m sure they’ll be feeling a mixture of excitement, sadness, nostalgia, and pride as they drop their kids off at their new schools. And with the average cost of tuition and fees being $33,480 at private colleges (according to the College Board), many of them will also be feeling some sticker shock.

Groza Learning Center in Pacific Palisades, CA—which specializes in tutoring, test prep, reading, and homeschooling—understands the high costs of college tuition. So, the center wants to help students reach their goal of attending college or university by offering a $1,000 scholarship to 2017 high school graduates or currently enrolled college or university students. The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2017. Click here for more information about the scholarship and to apply. Good luck!

I wish all of the students heading back to school—and all of their parents—a healthy and happy school year! In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the rest of our summer at the beach, the pool, a theme park, and baseball games!

Disclosure: This a sponsored post on behalf of Groza Learning Center. 

10 Truths About Twins … and Matt and Nate Turn 6!

Next week, Matt and Nate turn 6. SIX!!! That means they’ll no longer be part of the early-childhood set. They’ll officially be considered big kids. And I just can’t believe it. I feel like I’ve been through the biggest challenge of my life and have made it through the other side mostly unscathed, aside from a few more wrinkles and gray hairs.

2 month old twin boys
Whaaaaaaat? We’re turning 6 years old???

I started this blog when I was pregnant with the boys and admittedly terrified at the prospect of having twins. Once they were born, it was comforting to write about the challenges of having two babies—the huge expense of buying two of everything, the struggle to get anywhere on time, the lack of sleep.

But at some point—and I can’t say exactly when it was because it just snuck up on me—having twins stopped being so difficult. At some point, once both boys were potty trained and could dress themselves and we stopped having to lug the giant double stroller everywhere—having twins actually got easier than having a singleton in many ways. I’ll explain more here, along with nine other truths I’ve learned over the years about having twins:

  1. Twins become easier than singletons in certain ways. The main reason for this is that they always have a playmate! Two winters ago, we got slammed with a blizzard that closed school for a week. I’d get texts from mom friends saying, “Losing my mind!!! Running out of entertainment ideas! Must get out of house!!!” But Matt and Nate spent hours playing with action figures, having light-saber battles, and building LEGO creations in the basement. When they started kindergarten and got on the bus for the first time, I was significantly less nervous than my fellow kindergarten moms because I knew they had each other to sit with. And when Nate went through a phase where he was afraid of the dark, we got him to (mostly) stay in his bed at night by reassuring him that Matt was right next to him.

    Twin boys wearing Buzz Lightyear and Woody Halloween costumes
    They’ve always got a friend in each other!
  2. If twins are the same gender, people won’t be able to tell them apart. It doesn’t matter if they look completely different or they’re different sizes or they’re wearing t-shirts with their names on them: People, especially kids, will consistently mix them up. Matt and Nate have different eye and hair colors, an 8-pound weight difference, and different face shapes, yet they’ll still get called each other’s names. Kids who’ve known them for months will ask them, “Are you Matt or Nate?” Usually they let it roll off their backs, but sometimes Nate will get tired of being called “Matt” and yell, “I’m NATE!”

    Twin boys in baseball gear
    When we really want to confuse people, we give them eye black and matching Angels shirts!
  3. They’ll develop at different rates. Matt walked at 11 months, Nate at 17 months. Nate potty trained right after turning 3, Matt took until almost 3 1/2. Nate has been zipping around on a two-wheeler for months, Matt is still mastering pedaling. Matt just lost his first tooth, Nate doesn’t even have a loose one. I could go on and on, but my point is that I learned early on to NOT COMPARE THE TWINS. Seriously, don’t do it. All new moms worry when their kids don’t meet milestones as early as friends’ kids, but the worrying can really get out of hand when you’ve got another child the exact same age in the house. Just take a deep breath and remember that even though your twins shared a womb, they are individuals who will develop at their own rates. Relish each milestone as it comes!

    Twin 1-year-old boys eating birthday cake
    At one year old, they discovered a mutual love of cake!
  4.  What’s best for one set of twins isn’t necessarily best for yours. One instance when this becomes true is when they start elementary school. Some schools require twins to be in different classes, while others leave it up to the parents. And that’s when you have to consider your own twins’ personalities and learning styles. The default at Matt and Nate’s school is to keep twins together for kindergarten and then separate them in first grade. But I spoke with the boys’ teacher, who said they are not competitive, that neither one relies too much on the other, and that they each do their own thing at school. For those reasons, we have decided to keep them together until we have reason not to. But other twin parents I know had to separate their twins because they were too attached, too competitive, or simply wanted to be in their own class. So do what’s best for your twins and your family!

    Twin boys' first day of kindergarten
    Headed off to kindergarten together!
  5. They’ll want their own stuff. One of the benefits of having a same-sex twin is that you’ve got double the toys and double the clothes. But at a certain age—for my boys, it was 4—twins start to want to claim things as their own. I’ll never forget the first time I pulled a shirt out of their drawer to put on Nate and he said, “No, that’s Matt’s shirt!” even though they had always just pooled their clothing. That was around the same time the boys started identifying which toys belonged to each of them. Even if they had two identical dinosaurs, they’d somehow be able to tell which one was Nate’s and which was Matt’s.

    They definitely need their own bikes now!
  6. Some kids will find them intimidating. My friend has a son Matt and Nate’s age and our boys get along well. But whenever we’d set up play dates, her son would retreat to the other side of the room or the park and get really quiet. After this happened a few times, she asked him why he did that. He confessed that he felt left out because there were two of them and only one of him! It seemed like such an obvious thing that neither she nor I picked up on. At 4 and 5, kids are still learning how to make friends and interact with others. It’s natural for them to feel insecure around two kids who already know each other so well. So talk to your twins about being sure to play with the other kids during parties and playdates!

    Twin boys wear pirate accessories
    Ahoy, mateys! Ye can play with us too!
  7. People will continue to be fascinated by them. I imagine this is especially true of identical twins. But even my boys, who look nothing alike, still draw admirers. People will look back and forth at them a few times, ask me if they’re twins, and get very excited when I say yes. Then they’ll tell me about their mother’s cousin’s best friend who has twins, ask a probing question like, “Were they natural?” or spout out a cliche like, “You have your hands full!” When I was an exhausted new mom I’d admittedly find it irritating at times, but now it just makes me realize how blessed I am to have twins.

    Boys wearing stormtrooper helmets
    Yes, they’re really twins. No, they’re not really stormtroopers.
  8. You’ll share a special connection with other twin parents. I’m lucky to have lots of mom friends I bond with over tantrums and school struggles and our perpetual exhaustion. But no one gets me quite as much as other twin moms do. I imagine this is similar to the connection shared between military members who’ve gone to war together. Yes, I’m exaggerating … but only a little.

    Mom with toddler twins
    Twin moms, ya feel me???
  9. The twin bond is real. Seriously—my boys are very in tune with one another. When they were smaller and still learning how to pronounce words properly, I’d sometimes ask them to translate what the other was saying for me. If one is in a bad mood and won’t tell me what’s wrong, I’ll ask the other, and his guess will usually be spot on. They also really look out for one another and are generally concerned for each other when one of them is sick. It’s heartwarming to watch. Of course, they can get into bigger fights and arguments than anyone else I know, too. But they always make up in the end!

    Twin boys on bench
    They were fighting about 10 minutes before I took this picture!
  10. Life will never be boring … or quiet. This is true for any parent, but there is something about having two kids the same age in the house that brings a whole new energy. Add in a little sister, and you can be sure you’ll be on your toes pretty much non-stop. You just never know what kind of adventure each day will bring. I recently had a root canal, and when the endodontist walked in to start the procedure, she told me I was the calmest person she’d ever had in her office. I told her it was because it was the first few minutes of peace and quiet I’d had all day!

    Three kids at doctor
    Even a doctor visit turns into a fun time!

Needless to say, having twins has been an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Though the early-childhood years are behind us, I know the school-age years will bring many more adventures, challenges, and happy times. I couldn’t be prouder of the kind, hilarious, smart, silly, and handsome little men my boys have become. The fact that my preemie twins who couldn’t even eat on their own in their first days of life are now reading, playing baseball, and spouting out the names of all 45 presidents is so amazing, it brings tears to my eyes.

Happy 6th Birthday, Matt and Nate!

Keep Lice Away This Summer!

With the school year winding down for some kids and already over for others, this may seem like an odd time for me to be writing a post about head lice. But unlike schoolchildren, head lice don’t take the summer off. And without all the back-to-school warnings and media coverage that August and September bring, many parents are probably letting their guard down when it comes to lice.

But I’m not. While it’s true that head lice is more prevalent during the school year, the little buggers can still spread at day camps, indoor play gyms, rec centers, and other places at which kids congregate during summer break. And though lice isn’t the end of the world (despite its reputation), who wants to waste precious pool time combing nits out of their kid’s hair?

So I’m going to continue using my lice-prevention arsenal on the kids this summer: Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Hair Care products. Fairy Tales makes shampoo, conditioner, conditioning spray, hair spray, and styling gel that contain organic rosemary, citronella, tea tree, and geranium oils. These ingredients are clinically proven to repel lice. The products are free of sulfates, harsh chemicals and toxins, gluten, soy, dairy, and nuts, so they’re safe for daily use for all kids. They also contain jojoba and chamomile to moisturize, hydrate, and soothe the scalp.

Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel hair care products

I received these products complimentary last summer to try out. I’d already been planning to buy them before the twins started kindergarten and Lily started preschool, because several of my friends were using them on their kids and swore by them. One even mentioned that her daughter had never gotten lice until she ran out of her bottle of Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Shampoo. After a couple of weeks of not using the shampoo, her daughter got lice.

So, I’ve been using the products religiously on all three kids for the entire school year, and so far (knock on wood) none of them have gotten lice. I’m not saying that’s fully because of the products, but using them definitely hasn’t hurt! The shampoo and conditioner do a great job of cleaning and moisturizing the kids’ hair. The conditioning spray helps get the knots out of Lily’s hair. The styling gel does not hold as well as some heavy-duty gels on the market, but it provides light hold without leaving residue behind. And I’ve only used the hair spray a few times on the boys’ hair for special occasions like school pictures, but it seemed to do the job just fine.

I’ll admit that the smell of the products takes a little getting used to. They do smell a bit like the herbs they contain, and the scent of citronella doesn’t exactly evoke thoughts of the best parts of summer. But the smell dissipates pretty quickly, and you don’t even notice it after a bit. Plus, it’s a small price to pay to protect your kiddos from lice!

If you want to give Fairy Tales hair care products a try, visit fairytaleshaircare.com to order them or to find a store near you that carries them. I hope you have as much success with them as I’ve had. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and lice-free summer!

Disclosure: I received complimentary hair care products to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Upcycling with Chick-fil-A

As a member of the 2016-2017 Chick-fil-A Mom Panel, I get to try menu items for free in exchange for my opinions about food, kids’ meal prizes, and more. Sometimes, I am also asked to participate in fun challenges.

Recently, Mom Panel members received coupons for free bowls of chicken tortilla soup or chicken noodle soup and were challenged to upcycle the empty containers. According to Merriam-Webster, upcycle means “to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value).”

It wasn’t long before the Panel’s Facebook page was flooded with posts showcasing all of the amazing things my craftier comrades were creating with their plastic containers—bird feeders, turtle crafts, toy boats, etc. But if you know me, you know I I am not the crafty type—at all. I’m the mom who buys her kids’ “homemade” classroom Valentines on Etsy.

So when thinking about how to make use of my soup containers, I thought about it from a more practical standpoint. As a busy mom with three kids ages 5 and under, I have a lot of STUFF all over my house. So the soup bowls, with their tight-fitting lids, offer endless possibilities for helping to control the clutter. Here are some items that can be stored in the containers:

TOYS/KIDS’ ITEMS:

  1. LEGO bricks — You can even glue mini base plates to the lid to make a travel building kit!
  2. Crayons — Throw a small notepad inside, too, and you’ve got an on-the-go coloring kit.
  3. Pokémon or other trading cards
  4. Barbie shoes and accessories
  5. Shopkins, Army men, and other small toys
  6. Beads, pom-poms, and other craft items
  7. Tiny hair clips, rubber bands, and other hair accessories
  8. Stickers
  9. Kids’ jewelry
  10. Rocks, marbles, and other collectible treasures

HOUSEHOLD ITEMS:

  1. Office supplies like paper clips and rubber bands
  2. Receipts
  3. Box Tops, if you collect them for your kids’ school (which I do)
  4. Business cards
  5. Band-Aids, gauze, and other First-Aid items — You can keep a mini First Aid kit in your car or diaper bag!
  6. Q-tips, cotton balls, and other small bathroom items
  7. Cosmetics
  8. Travel-size toiletries — You can just toss the whole container in your bag when it’s time to travel!
  9. Snacks such as pretzels, goldfish, and nuts
  10. Batteries

As for my soup container, here’s what I am using it for:

Chick-fil-A soup container holding perfume samples

Chick-fil-A soup container holding perfume samples

Yes, that would be my collection of mini and sample perfumes, which previously were scattered all over my bathroom vanity. I am thrilled that they are now all in one place. Why didn’t I think of corralling them sooner?

As for Keith’s soup container, I was going to let Lily decorate it and use it to store her beloved stickers. But, she went a little paint happy on it and ended up making a big mess out of it, which gave me another idea for the soup containers—you can use them as paint cups during art projects!

Chick-fil-A soup container used as a paint cup

I’m glad this challenge got me thinking about ways to reuse items that pass through my home every day rather than tossing them into the recycling bin or the trash. It’s a great way to help protect the Earth and save some money.

Also, this challenge inspired Keith and me to try Chick-fil-A soups for the first time—we had always been loyal to our salads and chicken sandwiches. We thought both the chicken tortilla soup and the chicken noodle soup were delicious, and perfect for days when you want a lighter lunch option. Thank you for the fun challenge, Chick-fil-A!