Don’t Give Up!

When I first started writing this blog while I was pregnant with the twins, I mainly intended it to be a way to keep my family and friends updated on the pregnancy and babies. It was also a way for me to continue to put my writing out there. I had left my full-time job at Scholastic in order to move to Colorado Springs, and my freelance writing career hadn’t really taken off yet. So, I had a decent amount of time to spend on my little hobby.

Then life got crazy. The boys, and later Lily, were born. Keith deployed to Afghanistan and was wounded. We moved to California, then to Virginia. We traveled. And most of all, my freelance assignments began to pour in. I found myself with less and less time to devote to the blog.

But then, public relations folks began to take an interest in the blog. They started to reach out to me, asking me to review their products or visit their family-friendly locations. Then I received an invitation to Blogger Bash last summer, where I met and became inspired by so many successful bloggers. I decided to try to spend more time on Double Duty Twins and use it to impart some of my hard-won parenting advice to other moms and dads. And for a while, I was able to post more regularly.

But I’m not going to lie: It’s been extremely hard for me to keep it up. My writing career has really taken off, and I’m regularly juggling several assignments at once. I’m still writing a ton for Scholastic, and Care.com and Bentley University have kept me very busy as well. (You can check out some of the stories I’ve been working on at jennifermarinowalters.contently.com.) I also wrote four children’s books for Red Chair Press that are slated to hit shelves in August.

The kids have also been keeping me on my toes. The boys are in tee-ball, soccer, and swimming, and Lily and I go to Gymboree and other activities while they’re at school. Then there are the play dates, trips to the playground, birthday parties, etc.

It’s a very tough balancing act. I feel caught between the stay-at-home mom and the working-mom worlds. I’m trying to be both at the same time, but I am not fully either one, which makes managing my time really difficult.

I’m not complaining. I love being busy with work. I love doing fun things with the kids. It’s just impossible to do everything, which means something has to get lost in the fray. And that something, unfortunately, is usually this blog.

But I’m trying. I’m always looking for ways to organize my time better. I found a really great co-working space in Vienna, Virginia called Play, Work or Dash, and it’s got on-site child care for Lily. She and I go there weekly while the boys are in preschool. I’ve also been making better use of Lily’s nap times now that the boys are older and can entertain themselves. I have a nanny come about 12 hours a week while I work. And being a night owl helps, too, because I can write late at night while everyone is asleep.

My point is, I am not giving up on this blog. I’m asking that you don’t give up on it, either. It is never going to be my full-time job or my main source of income—especially as I continue to land more and more freelance-writing clients. But it’s always going to be a place where I can speak my mind and talk about the things that I want to talk about. And that is priceless to me.

So I will continue to do my best to write when I can and to find interesting things to share with other parents. I will also attend Blogger Bash again this summer, where I’ll get lots of new material. So please stick with me! If you want to stay updated on new blog posts (whenever they may come) and on my other stories, follow me on Twitter at @jmarinowalters. You can also find me on Instagram at @jmwalters718, and on Facebook at facebook.com/doubledutytwins.

And just for fun, here is a recent photo of my crazy crew during our recent trip to Disney World!

Minnie Mouse Disney World

Hope everyone is having a great month!

 

“He Named Me Malala”: Global Broadcast TV Premiere

If you’re home tomorrow night (Monday, February 29, 2016), be sure to tune in to the National Geographic Channel at 8 pm EST/PST or 7 pm CST. The channel, in partnership with Fox Searchlight Pictures, will present the exclusive global broadcast television premiere of Academy Award-winner Davis Guggenheim’s feature documentary “He Named Me Malala,” an intimate portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai. Malala was shot and severely wounded by the Taliban while returning home on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in October 2012.

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He Named Me Malala” will air commercial free on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo MUNDO in the U.S., with a global rollout planned within a week in 171 countries and 45 languages.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance screener of “He Named Me Malala.” Keith and I were left speechless by the film, which offers an intimate look into Malala’s life before and after the attack. Malala was only 15 at the time of the shooting, when she and her father were singled out for advocating for girls’ education. Malala miraculously survived and is now a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization that invests in and advocates for girls’ secondary education.

The film explores both the extraordinary aspects of Malala’s life, such as giving speeches at the United Nations and hobnobbing with politicians, to her typical teenage activities of joking around at home with her parents and brothers and blushing over cute boys. I was so inspired by the strength, bravery, and passion of this otherwise normal teenage girl, who proudly woke up each morning and went to school despite constant threats against her life. The film also explores Malala’s close relationship with her father, who instilled the importance of education and advocacy in her from a young age.

I was particularly struck by the video clips of Malala when she was little—probably around the same age as my daughter, Lily. Seeing those videos of a young Malala laughing and playing with her dad reminded me that Lily is no different than the 60 million girls worldwide who cannot go to school. Lily is simply fortunate to grow up in a place where education for women is valued and encouraged. She is fortunate to grow up in a family who will have the means to send her to college when she is older. But so many girls around the world who are just like her—girls who love to play and tease their brothers and hug their daddies—don’t have access to education.

But you can help Malala make education accessible to girls worldwide. The National Geographic Channel and 21st Century Fox, in partnership with the Malala Fund, have launched a social initiative to raise awareness for girls’ right to education. Facebook fans can show their support and stand #withMalala by transforming their profile picture into a yearbook photo that includes animation that dissolves female users’ photos from the page. Facebook users can visit supportmalala.com to get started. For every person who participates, $1 will be donated to the Malala Fund.

A $1 donation will also be made to the Malala Fund for every tweet using the hashtag #withMalala through March 10, for a total donation of up to $50,000.

So if you stand #withMalala, watch the powerful documentary and show your support on Facebook and Twitter! Teachers can also access free education resources, discussion and curriculum guides, and more at education.nationalgeographic.org/malala.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Review Wire Media for 20th Century Fox. I received information to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

 

Give the Gift of Books All Year Long

Monthly box subscriptions for kids are all the rage these days, and they come in all kinds of themes to suit any interest—Kiwi Crate for kids who love to craft, Little Passports for geography lovers, Brick Loot for little builders. (Check out my review of Brick Loot here!)

Recently, we had the chance to try out a subscription box that suits my little book lovers perfectly—Bookroo. Each month, Bookroo will send your child three board books or two picture books—whatever you choose.

My kids love books and love to have me read to them. Now that the twins are 4.5, they’re also learning to read themselves. So I feel we can never have too many books in the house.

The problem is, when given the chance to choose books for themselves at the bookstore or library, they almost always go for the Star Wars or superhero books. While that’s perfectly fine—I firmly believe that kids should be allowed to read whatever they choose—I do want to make sure their reading selections are varied. So I always pick a book or two on my own. Once I read it to them, they usually end up loving it, and have actually found some of their favorite books this way.

So I was really excited to give Bookroo a try and to see what books we would get. I signed up for the box that would send two picture books. When it arrived, the boys were really excited to see their names on it and to open it. And when they did, I was super impressed! The hardcover books were individually wrapped with pretty paper and tied with twine. It was like receiving a present directly from a loved one.

Bookroo books

I was even more pleased with the selections we received: “Ribbit!” by Rodrigo Folgueira and “Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleepover” by David Melling. Both books are colorful and beautifully illustrated, and the kids were laughing out loud at the stories!

“Ribbit!” is about a lovable pink pig who tries to make friends with other animals by “ribbiting” like a frog and tweeting like a bird, much to the animals’ bewilderment. “Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleepover” is the third book in a series about a bear named Douglas. In it, Douglas gets invited to Rabbit’s sleepover, but ends up inviting too many of his animal friends to go with him. With too many animals and not enough space, how will anyone ever get to sleep? Douglas finds the perfect hilarious solution.

Bookroo picture books

I enjoyed the books as much as the boys did. So did Lily, who is 16 months old. They will make great additions to the kids’ library.

But what if we had already owned one or both of the books that came in our subscription box? All we would have had to do was email Bookroo a picture of us giving the book to someone else and we’d receive $5 off our next box.

So if you are looking for a gift for a child who loves books, or you just want to discover new books for your own child, give Bookroo a try! It comes in a 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month subscription. The price ranges from $15.99 per month for a 12-month subscription to $17.99 per month for a 1-month subscription. Shipping and handling to the U.S. is $5 per month. Plus, use this link to purchase your subscription and you’ll receive $5 off. It’s a coupon just for Double Duty Twins readers!

If you decide to try Bookroo, leave a comment here and let me know what you think! Happy reading!

Disclosure: I received a discounted Bookroo box to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Check Out These Adorable and Stylish Baby Shades!

Remember when my family and I lived in California? And remember how I couldn’t stop talking about how much I loved every warm, sun-soaked moment?

I did—and so did my twins. But protecting their little eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays was a struggle. It stressed me out. After all, pediatric optometrists warn that lifetime UV damage starts in early childhood, with retinal damage from the sun having its greatest impact in kids under 10 years old.

We bought the boys all sorts of fun little toddler shades. But no matter what we did, their shades could not seem to survive very long. They always seemed to end up mangled at the bottom of the beach bag, crushed under the double stroller in the trunk of the car, or destroyed by grubby little hands that managed to find them even when I thought I had put them in a safe place. Eventually we gave up, tired of constantly spending money on toddler shades that were just going to break anyway, and just tried to improvise by shielding their eyes as best we could with sun hats and baseball caps.

Recently, I received an email offering me the opportunity to try ro•sham•bo baby shades. These stylish, Italian-made sunglasses come in many fun designs named after ’90s icons, like “Kelly Kapowski pink” and  “Zack Morris blue.” (Where are all my “Saved By the Bell” fans?) They block 100% of the sun’s UVA/B rays and are BPA- and pthalate-free. They’re also a favorite of celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Jamie King.

But here’s the part of the email that intrigued me the most: “Designed specifically for babies and children’s use, abuse, and love of putting things in their mouths, ro•sham•bo are so durable that they can be bent, stretched, pulled, and stepped on (they have even been run over and survived!) and bounce right back to shape.”

Um—yeah right, I thought. They haven’t met my Lily, who shares her big brothers’—ahem—curiosity. But this video of the shades being manhandled and surviving was quite convincing:

 

I wrote back and said I would love to try the shades. I received two adorable pairs—one in “Breakfast @ Tiff’s teal” and one in “Simpsons yellow.” Lily seemed to prefer the teal ones, and so did I. So, even though it’s winter here in Northern Virginia, we bundled up and took them with us to the playground on a warmer day. She looked super adorable in them! She also wanted to wear her brother’s blue puffer vest—a little fashionista in training. Here’s Lily modeling her cool new ro•sham•bo shades:

Toddler wearing teal shades
See? Adorable! (Please excuse the crumb on her chin!) Since that day at the park, we’ve had gloomy days followed by the mega blizzard now known as #Snowzilla16, so Lily hasn’t had much opportunity to sport her shades out and about. However, I have allowed her to play with them to her little heart’s content, and so far, they really have held up! She even chewed on them a couple of times. I’m really surprised that there aren’t any scratches yet.

Now, the question is: Will Lily keep them on for longer stretches at the pool, the park, and the beach this summer? I think she will. The lightweight arms bend gently inward to help keep the shades on a baby’s head. And because they’re so soft, they seem to be a lot more comfortable than stiffer shades. I know because I tried them on. (No, I will not post a picture of that!)

ro•sham•bo baby shades fit babies and toddlers ages 0 to 2 and up, depending on the size of the child’s head. And, get this: They come in adult and kids’ sizes, too! I’m seriously considering getting teal ones for myself and the boys so we can all match. (I doubt I’ll get Keith to go along with it.)

To purchase your own ro•sham•bo baby or adult shades, head to roshambobaby.com. Baby shades sell for $20 per pair and adult shades cost $35 per pair. Buy three pairs and enter the coupon code Family10 to get 10 percent off your order. Purchase four or more pairs and enter the code Family15 to get 15 percent off your order. Then, feel great about your purchase: The company donates a portion of all proceeds to autism research!

Now, let’s hope summer gets here quickly!

Disclosure: I received two complimentary pairs of ro•sham•bo baby shades to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

 

Build STEM Skills With Brackitz!

At 4.5 years old, my twins love building toys. LEGO bricks, Magna-Tiles, Lincoln Logs, and Tegu blocks are regularly strewn all over my family room. As annoying as that can be (we’ve all experienced the misery of stepping on a stray LEGO brick), I love the fact that Matt and Nate are learning invaluable STEM and problem-solving skills—and using their imaginations— while they build. To me, a little mess is a small price to pay to mold the minds of my future engineers or architects.

Naturally, I thought I knew about all of the building toys out there. But then I learned about Brackitz. Brackitz are durable, open-ended blocks that enable children of all ages to build any imaginable structure in any size. Naturally, I was eager to let the boys give Brackitz a try.

We received a Brackitz Inventor 28-Piece Set to try in exchange for our honest opinion. With so few pieces, I thought the boys would get bored quickly. But I was pleasantly surprised by how long they were able to entertain themselves. I was also impressed with how many different creations they were able to come up with.

The kids were eager to build as soon as I opened the box. Even Lily got in on the fun!

IMG_0335Matt was super excited about the 4-way connectors, so the first thing he did was make an X!

IMG_0342Nate made an airplane.

IMG_0344And then of course, Matt had to build an even cooler airplane, while Nate turned the remaining pieces into a “giraffe that’s eating popcorn.”

IMG_0354These photos were taken last week, and the kids have played with their Brackitz every day since then, creating all sorts of vehicles and other crazy gadgets. It’s really interesting to see how creative they have gotten and all the combinations they’ve been able to dream up with only 28 pieces. The 4-way and 3-way connectors really increase the building possibilities, and there are even little motion connectors that let you add moving parts to your creations, such as spinning propellers.

The Brackitz Inventor 28-Piece Set currently retails for $19.95 on Amazon. You can also get 50-piece, 100-piece, and even 200-piece sets. I definitely see a larger set in our future, as well as many Brackitz birthday gifts for the boys’ friends.

If you’ve got a little builder, give Brackitz a try and let me know what you think!

 

 

My New Year’s “Mom Resolutions”

We had a wonderful and busy holiday season full of family, friends, and lots of fun outings. For the first time ever, we hosted Christmas Eve and Christmas, then headed to New York for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The kids went back to school this week and we are all settling back into a routine.

Now that 2016 is upon us, I’ve been reading many people’s new year’s resolutions. For parents, those resolutions often revolve around their children: Spend more time with the kids. Put down the smartphone. Be more present.

I want to do all of those things this year. But I have a few resolutions of my own that I feel will make me a way better mom. Here they are:

1. Wake up before the kids.
I used to be really good about this, and it made the morning—and the entire day—go so much more smoothly. I’d set my alarm for about an hour before the kids typically wake up to shower, drink coffee, and eat breakfast in peace. Sometimes I’d even get to read the newspaper. By the time the kids woke up, I felt energized and more focused on them.

But once the colder weather arrived, I got lazy and started using the kids as my alarm clock. That resulted in very stressful and hectic mornings, rushing out the door with coats half on and breakfast barely eaten. Let me tell you, it’s no fun to rush into preschool late with two frazzled kids in tow. So this year, I vow to go to bed earlier and rise before the kids so we can get back to our (mostly) peaceful mornings.

2. End the mom guilt.
No mother—whether she’s a full-time working mom, a full-time stay-at-home mom, or something in between—is immune to mom guilt. And that guilt multiplied exponentially for me after Lily was born. Suddenly, I’ve had to divide my attention between three children while taking on more freelance work and struggling to maintain this blog. It’s a seemingly endless loop that goes something like this: “I work too much.” “I don’t work enough.” “I should have more play dates for the kids.” “I should have fewer play dates because I spend the whole time talking to other moms and not playing with the kids.” “I didn’t play with the kids enough today.” “I played with the kids too much and the house is a mess.”

ENOUGH! This year, I am banishing the mom guilt from my life for good. My kids are happy, smart, secure, well-rounded, and incredibly loved. I’m a great mom. And gosh darn it, people like me. (All you Saturday Night Live fans will appreciate that.)

3. Display more photos of the kids.
This may seem like a silly one, but it’s actually very important to me. I have thousands and thousands of amazing photos of my kids languishing on my cell phone and hard drive. And, 15 months after moving into this house, I still have a ton of blank wall space. Walking past those walls and seeing the twins’ school pictures, or a big picture of Lily in her first-birthday tutu, or some of the amazing holiday photos my brother took of us, would add a great deal of sunshine to my day!

A family poses on a New York City rooftop.
Seriously, how can we not hang this photo on a wall? (Photo by children and lifestyle photographer Daniel Marino of Marino Photography, http://danmarinophoto.com)

4. Travel without the kids. Since the boys were born in 2011, I’ve spent several nights away from my children. There was the 4-day trip to Orlando I took with my cousin Kim, the two long weekends I spent in New York last summer, and several other quick jaunts. Keith has also spent many nights away from the kids, mainly for work trips or field time or his deployment. But we have only ever spent two nights away from the children together, and they were when we came here to house hunt when I was seven months pregnant with Lily. And because we spent pretty much the entire 48 hours touring homes, we don’t count that. So this year, come hell or high water, we plan to take a short vacation just the two of us. We need it for both of our sanity!

5. Chill. The F. OUT.
I’ve always felt the need to be productive at every moment of every day. If I sat down for half an hour, I lamented all the laundry I could have folded or work emails I could have sent. If I spent 15 minutes on Facebook, I complained that I should have unloaded the dishwasher instead. And even when I was productive, I’d get angry that I didn’t get more done. I should have written that story more quickly, or cleaned faster, or multitasked better.

But lately, I’ve really chilled out—and I am so much happier and less stressed because of it. If I feel like sitting in the coffee shop to enjoy my cup of joe instead of going through the drive-through and drinking it in the car, I do it. If I decide to watch some bad reality TV during Lily’s nap instead of cleaning the kitchen, I enjoy the mental break and move on instead of beating myself up over it. And at the end of the day, instead of obsessing about the the two items I didn’t check off my to-do list, I focus on the five things I did get done. I will continue this trend in 2016. After all, when Mom is happy, everyone is happy!


Sure, there are many other changes both big and small I’d like to make in 2016, like finding more time to exercise and spending less money on groceries. But those are my five main goals that I think will really make me a happier and healthier mom.

What are your goals for 2016? Please share! Happy new year!

Send A Cup of Home to U.S. Troops Stationed Overseas

If I could hook myself up to an IV that would pump caffeine through my veins, I would. That’s how much I rely on coffee to get me through my hectic, busy days with three kids ages 4 and under. The holiday season has made things even crazier for me, which explains why I have been all but MIA from this blog.

Even though I make almost-daily trips through the drive-through of my favorite coffee shop, I do brew lots of coffee myself at home. I like to make a giant pot every few days and turn the leftovers into iced coffee. So I was very excited to learn about the Community Coffee Company, which supports the military through its generous online Military Match program. As a military spouse, supporting the troops is very important to me.

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I recently had the opportunity to try out some premium ground coffee from the Community Coffee Company in three flavors—pumpkin praline, golden caramel, and cafe special. They were all delicious! The pumpkin praline was perfect for the fall season, the golden caramel felt like an indulgence, and the cafe special had a rich and full flavor. The company also makes lots of other blends and flavors, including my favorite, hazelnut. Plus, they make whole-bean coffee, single-serve coffee, and tea.

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But the best part about this family-owned company is its generous support of our troops. Through the Military Match program, the company has shipped over 55,000 pounds of coffee —about 2.2 million cups—to active-duty military personnel!

Community Coffee Military Match

Here’s how it works: For every set of four 12-oz., 16-oz., or single-serve 18-count coffees you buy, the company will match your purchase with an additional four items and send all eight items to the APO/FPO or military base address you provide. The company will also include a Signature Military Mug in the shipment. It’s a wonderful and affordable way to support troops stationed overseas and/or away from their families by sending them a cup of home. I know Keith and his buddies would have really appreciated receiving this delicious coffee when they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Visit communitycoffee.com/militarymatch to learn more about the Community Coffee Company’s Military Match program and to send some coffee to a servicemember. And if you’re a coffee lover like I am, buy some for yourself, too!

Disclosure: I received complimentary packages of Community Coffee Company premium ground coffee to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!