My Amazing Experience at Blogger Bash 2015

Several months ago, an invitation to Blogger Bash landed in my inbox. Blogger Bash is an annual event that connects hundreds of bloggers, vloggers, and social media professionals to more than 100 lifestyle brands.

I spent weeks going back and forth about whether I should purchase a ticket. After all, this blog makes up just a small portion of my part-time freelance writing career. But I finally decided to take the plunge. After all, Blogger Bash was set to take place in New York City—my city—on July 16 and 17. My sister-in-law, Pat, came to watch the kids, and my cousin Kim let me stay at her apartment (which just so happens to be within walking distance of Pier Sixty, the gorgeous venue at which the event took place). And I was excited for the opportunity to make connections and meet other bloggers.

So on Wednesday afternoon, July 15, I hopped on  an Amtrak train to New York. The next few days were a whirlwind of parties, information sessions, and meet-and-greets. And now that I’m back home and have had some time to gather my thoughts, I cannot describe how thrilled I am that I decided to go. I met so many wonderful people, made valuable connections with amazing brands (some of which I am already working with), learned so much about the blogging world, ate delicious food, and had a great time! Here is a recap:

DAY ONE:

Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch

Day one began with the Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch, where I took the #ShareYourCare Oath and became an official #ShareYourCare ambassador. (Puffing my chest out with pride!)

shareyourcare_WEBI learned all about the new series “Care Bears & Cousins,” coming to Netflix November 6, as well as a new line of adorable plush toys. The highlight for me, though, was meeting 10-year-old Zach Kaplan, who was honored with Care Bears’ first #ShareYourCare Ambassador Award for his commitment to helping others through philanthropy. Last year he raised over $1,200 for Typhoon Haiyan relief, and this year he is collecting stuffed animals to hand out to homeless kids in New York City. Of all the young philanthropists I have met through my writing for Scholastic, Zach is one of the greatest. Learn more about him here!

Blue Man Group performance

Having lived in New York City for nearly 30 years of my life, I’m lucky to have seen many Broadway and off-Broadway musicals and plays. But one show I never had the pleasure of seeing was Blue Man Group. So I was thrilled to learn that Blue Man Group would be doing a special performance just for Blogger Bash attendees at the intimate Astor Place Theatre.

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Blue Man Group blends music, comedy, and technology into a dynamic, fun, and wacky performance. There wasn’t a single dull moment during the show. Afterward, we were treated to a Q&A with Creative Director (and longtime Blue Man) Randall Jaynes. I even got to take a photo with one of the Blue Men! Don’t we look cute together?

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Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Blue Man Group. I will also be giving away a 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group performance in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, or any national tour stop!

Sweet Suite 2015

After Blue Man Group, we returned to Pier Sixty for Sweet Suite 2015, also known as the Biggest Night of Play. And boy, did I play! Nearly 100 toy companies were there displaying their hot holiday toys for 2015, many of which have not even hit shelves yet. Here are just a few photo highlights:

My new friend Katrina of Tots Network and I grabbed some yummy cocktails on the way in!

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This lovely lady and a few of her friends greeted us!

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And now for my favorite holiday toy, hitting stores later this year: Playmobil is releasing a new NHL line! The initial line will include a hockey arena, zambonis, referees, the Stanley Cup, and players from the original six NHL teams. We all know which players Matt and Nate will want. (Let’s Go Rangers!!!)

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Another favorite of mine was Wicked Cool Toys‘ Girl Scouts Cookie oven, set to arrive this fall. Kids can make popular Girl Scout Cookie flavors including Thin Mints, Trefoils, and more!

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There are so many more amazing toys coming out this year, but I don’t want to give them all away at once. I can’t wait to share them with you in the coming weeks, and I’ll also have some handy Holiday Gift Guides for you starting in October!

DAY TWO:

Disney Infinity Breakfast

Day two began with the Disney Infinity Breakfast, where we were among the first to play the new Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition, coming soon. Star Wars joins Disney, Pixar, and Marvel for this latest installment of the toy/video game hybrid. What a great way to start the day!

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All-Day Expo and Rite Aid Recharge Lounge

After the breakfast, Katrina and I headed over to the All-Day Expo to get to know more amazing brands. Some of my favorites—which I will write more about in later posts—were Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Kolibree, and Crunch Live.

By that point, our backs and legs were starting to hurt from all of the amazing swag we’d been receiving. Good thing for the Rite Aid Recharge Lounge, where we got to recharge both our and our phones’ batteries! At the lounge—which offered sweeping Hudson River views—we indulged in delicious chocolate, drank refreshing beverages, and received amazing beauty kits filled with top brands like Maybelline, Neutrogena, and Physicians Formula. Many bloggers also indulged in free massages!

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Baby Palooza

Next up was Baby Palooza, where we connected with top baby brands and learned about some amazing products for infants. Brands included Fisher-Price, Gund, TOMY, and more. Once again, I will be sharing some of those amazing products with you in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

For me, though, the highlight of Baby Palooza was meeting legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes. She even signed a board book full of her beautiful photos for me!

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Peanuts Keynote Lunch

We then headed over to the Peanuts Keynote Lunch. This event was truly a blast! We got to meet the young stars of THE PEANUTS MOVIE, which hits theaters November 6. They were so cute and charming! I just can’t wait for the movie to come out.

We received amazing Peanuts swag bags filled with some awesome products, including all laundry detergent, Horizon Organic mac and cheese and other treats, a Hallmark Snoopy ornament, and more.

Oh, and I met Snoopy! Swoon!

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After the lunch, I headed back over to the All-Day Expo to meet with some more brands. By that point, I was pretty exhausted. I spent some time at a health and wellness event hosted by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother, checked out a fashion show, and popped into a closing carnival sponsored by Canadian Lentils. I was too tired to take photos at that point, but there were ladies hanging from chandeliers and serving drinks. Really!

Blogger Bash was such an amazing event, and I am so awed by all of the hard work and detail that went into it. Thank you to all of the sponsors, the staff, and the incredible hosts: Laurie Schacht of the Toy Insider, Joey Fortman of Real Mom Media, and Charlene DeLoach of Charlene Chronicles. I can’t wait for Blogger Bash 2016!

I’m In a New York State of Mind

I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I just got home from the most exhilarating girls’ weekend in New York City. Our wonderful former nanny and dear friend, Lisa, is here visiting from California. She had never been to New York, so I took the opportunity to show her around my hometown sans kids (thanks to my amazing and extremely capable husband, who gamely agreed to stay at home with all three kiddos). Lisa and I hopped on an Amtrak train Friday morning and were in New York by noon. We then experienced 48 hours of nonstop grownup fun and freedom—just what this weary mom needed.

Not that I got much sleep. When you’ve got two days in the Big Apple, the last thing you want to do is sleep. We had places to go, delicious food to eat, and cocktails—lots and lots and lots of cocktails—to drink.

We stayed with my aunt and uncle on the Upper West Side, who were fabulous hosts. My cousin, Kim, came along on many of our outings. We showed Lisa all of what I feel are the must-sees in New York, including the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, SoHo (if only we’d had more time to shop), the Statue of Liberty (by way of the Staten Island Ferry, which is totally free and offers an amazing view of Lady Liberty), the High Line, Times Square, and more.

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Walking the High Line

 

We had dinner at two of my favorite NYC restaurants, Buddakan (of “Sex and the City” fame) and Carmine’s. Buddakan is a must-visit if you’re in the city for a special occasion. The ambience is spectacular and the modern Asian cuisine is so good. (Be sure to order the scallion pancakes!) And Carmine’s offers heaping family-style plates of delicious Italian food.

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The fabulous Buddakan

We also saw the Tony award-winning musical “An American in Paris” on Broadway. It was fabulous. Featuring the music of George Gershwin, “An American in Paris” tells the love story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl, complete with amazing singing and dancing. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it.

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And finally, what trip to New York City is complete without drinks at a rooftop bar? Rare View offered a breathtaking view of the Empire State Building on a perfect summer night.

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Rare View rooftop bar

 

I am still physically exhausted from the weekend and I missed Keith and the kids a ton, but my batteries are totally recharged. I believe every mom needs a girls’ weekend away once in a while, and I highly recommend you do it if you can!

And since I can’t stay away from New York for too long, I’m going back—in two days! I’ll be attending the second annual Blogger Bash, a two-day event at which I’ll connect with some of the biggest toy, travel, fashion, and food brands. We’re talking brands like LeapFrog, Vtech, Fisher-Price, Crayola, LEGO, and tons more. I’ll also get to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group (and meet the blue men!), meet legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes, get hands-on with the hottest new toys on the market at The Toy Insider‘s Sweet Suite (and share them all with you), and lots more.

I’ll be posting many photos and updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram throughout the event, and I’ll do a series of blog posts starting next week to tell you all about the awesome brands I’ll be discovering. It’s going to be amazing, and I hope you’ll follow along! Blogger Bash, here I come!

 

Product Review: “The Ultimate Disney Party Book”

Remember when I hosted the “Cars”-themed Disney Side @Home Celebration? I could have really used “The Ultimate Disney Party Book,” a brand-new book that contains more than 65 recipes, crafts, games, and more to help you throw eight Disney-themed parties. If your child loves Disney, this book will take all the stress out of planning the perfect birthday party for him or her.

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The eight party themes featured in the book are “Aladdin,” Disney princess, “Toy Story,” Mickey and Minnie, “Monsters, Inc.,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Planes,” and Captain Hook. The book gives detailed instructions on how to make everything from invitations to decor to entertainment to fit each theme.

There are projects for people with all levels of craftiness. Some of the items, like Ariel’s Follow-Your-Heart Fruit Skewers, are super easy to make. Others, like the Buzz Lightyear birthday cake, are very involved and difficult. But all of the ideas are really clever and unique and will leave your guests seriously impressed.

Each idea in the book is accompanied by gorgeous, colorful photos, making it really fun to read. Matt and Nate have already spent lots of time looking through it. They’re having a hard time believing it’s actually a book for grown-ups.

Here are my favorite projects from the book:

  • Flying carpet invitations and caramel apples resembling Abu for the “Aladdin” party
  • Cinderella’s glass slipper invitations and Rapunzel’s golden braid garland for the Disney princess party
  • Woody’s cowboy boot favors and Cheezy Wheezy stuffed olives for the “Toy Story” party
  • Homemade Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears and Mickey Mouse sandwich cookies for the Mickey and Minnie party
  • Mike Wazowski spoon puppets and Terry and Terri Terrifying Flatbread Sandwiches for the “Monsters, Inc.” party
  • Plane candy favors and Dusty Crophopper cupcakes for the “Planes” party
  • Pirate flag pennant and Skull Rock watermelon fruit salad for the Captain Hook party

But my favorite party theme in the book is “Wreck-It Ralph” because the ideas are all so fun and different. From the Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade game invitations to the “I’m Gonna Wreck It!” penthouse pinata to Vanellope’s race car brownies, the details in this party are amazing.

I can’t wait for Matt, Nate, and Lily’s future birthday parties so I can put some of these ideas to good use and show my Disney side! You can take a peek inside the book in this YouTube video and purchase your own copy on Amazon. If you decide to throw any of the parties, let me know how it turns out!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of “The Ultimate Disney Party Book” for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

GIVEAWAY: One Double Duty Twins Reader Will Win A Free Night’s Stay at an AmericInn Hotel!

AMERICINN HOTELS IS SEEKING WILD AND WACKY VACATION PICS!

Wild, Wacky and Wonderful. That’s what AmericInn Hotels is looking for this summer—in your travel photos. And they are giving away prizes!

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AmericInn—the largest midscale hotel brand in the upper Midwest—is inviting adventurous travelers to enter a selfie or other photo of their wildest, wackiest, most wonderful travel moments.

If they pick your pic, you’ll win a free night at any AmericInn location ($200 value). Even better: up to two people in your photo will also win a great prize. AmericInn is awarding a prize each day all summer long, and will be awarding an additional free night’s stay exclusively for readers of Double Duty Twins!

From the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, S.D.), to the world’s largest concrete gnome (Ames, Ia.), to statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (various locations), there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path locations, unique events, and small-town festivals to see and enjoy, and AmericInn wants to be part of the fun. Original photos from anywhere in the world—or anywhere else you can get to—can be submitted online.

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HOW TO ENTER:

To be eligible for the free night’s stay reserved for our readers, follow these three quick steps:

  1. Use this link to submit your photo to the AmericInn contest: https://adventure.americinn.com?blog=DoubleDuty.
  2. If you haven’t already, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook.
  3. Leave a comment on the Double Duty Twins Facebook page or below this post and tell me what you submitted a photo of—or share the photo!

And that’s it! You’re entered!

Entries must be submitted by Tuesday, July 14. On July 15, AmericInn will choose one Double Duty Twins reader to receive the free night’s stay! You can choose from roughly 200 locations throughout the Midwest and in Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

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Photo entry winners will be selected based on the uniqueness, creativity, and fun reflected in the photos. Entrants may also create a digital postcard with their photo on the contest website.

In honor of the contest, here is a photo of Keith, my brother, and me with the twins back in December 2011, when they were 6 months old. It’s at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO. We weren’t being wacky, but I think it’s hilarious that the boys were so bundled up, you can’t even see their little faces in the photo! It was about 25 degrees that day!

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So get wild, get wacky, get wonderful, and get going. We can’t wait to see where you’ve been! Good luck!

Shopping Via Text Message!

I can’t remember the last time I bought myself anything. With three little ones, I never have time to shop. When I do manage to drag the kids to the mall, it’s nearly impossible to browse the racks in peace.

Moms Sara Peak and Whitney Nordmoe had the same problem. So they created a way for busy parents (and busy everyone) to shop in the easiest manner imaginable—via text message! They started Dean & Grace, a shopping club that allows you to buy unique and high-quality kids’ and adults’ clothing, accessories, jewelry, and more via text. And it’s totally free to join.

deangracewebHere’s how it works: Click here to fill out a quick style quiz that will tell Dean & Grace what kind of items you’re interested in buying. You can also text “Join DG” to 76000, and you’ll receive the signup link via text. Once that’s done, you’ll get a text whenever an item you may like is for sale. If you want it, reply “WANT.” And that’s it—it’s yours! How much easier than that can you get?

Shipping is always free at Dean & Grace, and the items are unique and high-quality. You also won’t get bombarded with text messages: The amount you receive is based on inventory and the number of categories you signed up for. (If you sign up for just one style—say, boy playwear—you can expect about one text per week.) And you can opt out of receiving texts at any time by replying “STOP.”

I signed up two days ago for clothing for the boys and Lily and got my first text today. It was for this awesome kids’ “Free to Be Me” shirt from Blue Eyes and Bare Feet Designs, selling for $18. How cool is it?

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I’m pretty excited to be a member of Dean & Grace and to have access to this unique and convenient way of shopping. Visit deanandgrace.com/#!style/ctdl to give it a try yourself. If you put “Jennifer W.” in the “Referred By” line, I’ll get credit and you’ll get good karma. It’s a win-win!

Happy shopping! If you get anything cool from Dean & Grace, let me know, and I’ll be sure to do the same!

 

Boogies Be Gone!

Like so many others, I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies since I was a kid. When we were getting ready to move to Northern Virginia, many people warned me that my allergies would likely be worse here. They were right. And unfortunately, Matt and Lily seem to have gotten hit pretty hard, too.

Couple that with the boys starting preschool and catching every cold under the sun (and then passing it to Lily), there’s been a lot of stuffy, runny noses in this house.

Luckily, I’ve amassed a powerful trifecta for dealing with congestion in my kids and helping them breathe easier. Here are my three favorite products:

Boogie Mist. When the kids are really stuffy, I spray this gentle, non-medicated saline mist up their noses to help thin out thick mucus. It comes in fresh, grape, or unscented formulas. We prefer the unscented.

Boogie Mist

NoseFrida Snotsucker nasal aspirator. This thing is not nearly as gross as it sounds, and I’m telling you—it works wonders. It allows you to suck the snot right out of your kids’ noses using a mouthpiece attached to a long tube. A filter in the tube prevents any mucus from getting in your mouth, keeping things completely hygienic. Trust me—I have a weak stomach and I use this all the time. It helps the kids breathe better when they’re sick and keeps them from walking around with snot dripping out of their noses. Matt and Nate are getting bigger now, but even they ask me to “suction” them when they’re really congested.

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Boogie Wipes. You know when kids’ noses run and they get that crusty snot all around their nostrils? Boogie Wipes contain saline that helps dissolve that mucus and makes it easier to clean it up. They also contain aloe, chamomile, and Vitamin E to help soothe and moisturize the skin. That means no more red, irritated noses. Like Boogie Mist, Boogie Wipes come in grape and fresh scent or unscented. We prefer unscented. They come in handy little packs of 10, 30, or 45 to toss in your diaper bag, or you can get a large canister of 90 to keep at home.

Boogie Wipes

Luckily, the kids have been snot-free this month, so we haven’t had much use for these products. But they’re ready and waiting if and when they are needed.

To learn more about Boogie Mist and Boogie wipes, and to get a money-saving coupon, click here.

Read more about NoseFrida here.

If you decide to try any of these products, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

 

Another Great NO-AD Product for Summer

We are thick into the days of blazing sun and 90-degree weather here in Northern Virginia, so I find myself chasing the kids around the house daily to apply sunscreen to them before we go out. That typically leaves me little time to lather myself up with sunscreen, a task I’ve been trying hard to streamline.

Enter the new NOAD Sport Body & Face Sunscreen Stick, which looks and glides on like deodorant. Since receiving it in the mail a couple of weeks ago to review, I’ve been applying it onto my face before outdoor activities, and I love it! It’s really lightweight and it goes on clear, which means I don’t have to spend a ton of time rubbing it in to get rid of all the white. And it’s SPF 50, offering great protection against UVA and UVB rays.

NO-AD stick

I was a bit worried that the product would make my skin break out, but so far, so good. And it doesn’t have that strong smell that most other sunscreens have.

But here’s my favorite place to use the sunscreen stick—my scalp! I am just not a hat person in my everyday life, and I’ve been wanting to protect my scalp where my hair parts without getting greasy sunscreen all over my hair. Now I just swipe the sunscreen stick over it and it’s been working great.

I’ve written before about what a huge fan I am of NO-AD products, and this one is no exception. It’s so easy to toss into my purse or diaper bag on the way out the door without taking up too much space. I highly recommend it!

My Experience with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP)

June 2015 is ICP Awareness Month. ICP stands for Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. It’s a rare and serious liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy. If untreated, it carries a 15 percent chance of stillbirth.

I was diagnosed with ICP when I was pregnant with Lily. To help spread awareness of this scary condition during ICP Awareness Month, here is my story.

When I was 37 weeks pregnant with Lily, I began to get really itchy. Not just mosquito-bite itchy. The kind of itchy where I wanted to claw my skin off. My arms, my belly, the palms of my hands, and the soles of my feet would go through bouts of sudden itching, with no accompanying rash. Since it happened to coincide with a particularly brutal heat wave in Southern California, I figured it was just late-pregnancy heat sensitivity.

On Friday, August 29, I went in for my last check-up before my C-section, which was scheduled for the following Friday. I hadn’t been itchy that morning and was feeling great. Consumed with excitement about my last week of pregnancy, I gave my doctor a big hug and told her I’d see her in the operating room in a week.

Later that morning, I took Matt and Nate to their My Gym class. I was standing with a couple of mom friends and, without realizing it, scratching my arms and palms. One of my friends asked if I was OK.

“Ya know, I’ve been really itchy lately. It must be some weird late-pregnancy symptom,” I said.

“Hmm…I never experienced that,” she replied.

My other friend hadn’t, either. That’s when I began to wonder if maybe something else was going on.

The rest of the day passed with the itching coming and going. We had a nice family dinner out, then went into the boys’ room to start their bedtime routine. As we sat on the floor and read books, my soles suddenly got so itchy that I had to stand up and start rubbing them on the carpet. Then my palms started to itch.

“You know, I’m gonna jump online and Google my itching,” I told Keith. “I just want to make sure this is a normal pregnancy symptom.”

Keith always discourages me from Googling symptoms because I can be a bit of a hypochondriac, but even he was curious about the itching. So as he finished putting the boys to bed, I went into the office and started to research.

What I read terrified me. It turned out that my itching was not a typical pregnancy symptom. It was, however, a major symptom of Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, which most often begins in the third trimester of pregnancy. Here is a list of the most common symptoms:

  • Itching all over—often more severe on palms and soles—without a rash present. The itching can be constant or recurring and is often worse at night.
  • Dark urine and/or pale stools
  • Jaundice
  • Preterm labor

Other symptoms may include:

  • Right upper quadrant pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild depression

More About ICP
ICP affects the normal flow of bile. Bile acids are chemicals in the bile of the liver that help with digestion. With ICP the bile flow begins to slow down, causing the bile acids to build up in the blood. ICP is associated with an increased risk of stillbirth, preterm labor, fetal distress, respiratory distress, maternal hemorrhaging and meconium passage in utero.

But it’s very rare. Overall, ICP affects only 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 U.S. pregnancies. In the past, it was thought to be a benign condition. For those reasons, some health care providers are not fully aware of the possible risks ICP carries or of the most up-to-date treatments.

Proper treatment of ICP generally includes medication, weekly blood tests and monitoring, and delivery of the baby at 37 weeks gestation.

My Diagnosis
Once I showed Keith the information I’d found, he was concerned enough to place a call to my doctor, (who was, of course, heading out of town for the long Labor Day weekend). He left a message with the answering service and she called him back quickly. As soon as he told her my symptoms, she advised us to go into the hospital right away to get tested.

Of course, we lived thousands of miles away from family, but one of our wonderful friends (also a mom of young twins) was able to come over to stay with the boys. We headed to the hospital at around 10 pm to begin a long night of monitoring and testing.

I was hooked up to a fetal heart monitor to make sure Lily was OK. I got a special ultrasound. Most important, I got two important blood tests—a Fractionated Bile Acid Test and a Liver Function Test. The Bile Acid Test measures the level of bile acids in the blood, while the Liver Function Test measures liver enzymes.

When we got the results of my Liver Function Test a few hours later, they showed that my liver enzymes were, in fact, elevated. Unfortunately, the Bile Acid Test had to be sent to a lab and would take several days to come back, so they couldn’t definitively diagnose me with ICP.

We returned home around 2 am, exhausted and scared, with orders to closely monitor Lily’s kick counts and to return to the hospital on Sunday for the same round of monitoring and blood tests. We dropped the boys off at a friend’s house on Sunday and went back in. The fetal monitoring and ultrasound went well, but my liver enzymes were still elevated. Unfortunately, my bile acid results still had not come in.

That meant back to the hospital we went on Tuesday for more monitors and tests. At least my parents were in town by then to stay with the boys, but it wasn’t exactly how we’d envisioned the last week of pregnancy going.

I was at the beach with my family the next afternoon—two days before the scheduled C-section—when my doctor called to say my test results had finally come in: I did, indeed, have Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. I panicked, fully prepared to head right into the hospital to have Lily. But she had consulted with a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and they both felt that my bile acid levels were not high enough to require delivery right at that moment. They felt the benefits of carrying Lily the full 39 weeks outweighed the risks at that point.

Keith and I went in the next day for more monitoring, and all looked good. The next day—after a frightening and stressful week—I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, 8 lb.-4 oz. baby girl.

Lily and Mommy

Joy and relief!

As scary as our experience was, it was nothing compared to what most women with ICP go through. ICP is typically diagnosed earlier in the third trimester—sometimes even before that. That means most women with ICP experience weeks of intense itching (often to the point that it disrupts their sleep) and other symptoms, weekly blood tests, a huge amount of fear and stress, and an early delivery—and, in rare cases, worse.

I’m not trying to scare anyone unnecessarily, as itching during pregnancy is usually nothing to worry about. But if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, I urge you to read up on Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. If you experience intense itching with no rash present—especially if it’s on your palms and/or soles—call your doctor. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s better to be safe and get it checked out!

 

 

A Monthly Box Subscription for Brick and LEGO Lovers

If you know a LEGO and/or building fanatic ages 6 and up, you need to know about Brick Loot. Created last year by 10-year-old Parker Krex (then 9), Brick Loot is a monthly box subscription that sends subscribers four to eight of the newest—and coolest—brick and building products each month. Though Brick Loot‘s partners include some of the biggest names in the toy industry—OYO Sports, Nanoblocks, and BrickForge, to name a few—the contents include unique items you won’t find at big-name toy stores. In the voice of Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”

The company recently sent me its May box to review. Though the twins are not yet 4, they are just starting to dabble with “big-kid” LEGO bricks, so they got super excited when the blue Brick Loot box arrived!

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Here’s what was inside:

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Check out all of that awesome loot! Nate, who seems to have inherited his grandpa’s watch obsession, immediately claimed the Brick Watch and proudly wore it around the house the rest of the day (despite it being about three sizes too big on him). And Matt was thrilled to see the custom Vermin Man minifigure.

The Mostaix Mosaic Art Kit was super cool, and challenging even for me! The kit consists of a plastic grid and tiny, colored plastic brick tiles of different shapes. Using the included picture—in this case, a fish—as a guide, you have to snap the tiles onto the grid to make the picture (no glue or ironing necessary). The tiles were too small for the boys to handle easily, so I put together the mosaic myself. It took about an hour and a half. The boys now have it hanging in their playroom, and I felt a sense of satisfaction at having finished it—a win-win! There are many different Mostaix kits to choose from and you can reuse the tiles to create your own pictures, so they really do provide hours of entertainment.

The box also came with a Mosaic Brick Kit—including bricks of various colors, shapes, and sizes—and base plates with which to create your own mosaic. Brick Loot asked builders to take photos of their mosaics and upload them to the company’s Facebook page for a chance to win a free 3-month subscription to Brick Loot. The boys were instead content to build their own creations with the pieces. Nate made a “chemical fortress” for the enclosed minifigure and Matt made a school. I was really happy to see them being creative and using their imaginations.

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Plus, it gave me time to put together the final set that came in the box—”Wing Warriors.”

The “Wing Warriors” set allows you to build a plane three different ways with the included bricks and instructions. I was challenged enough building it one way, so I just left it at that. My only complaint is that the bricks didn’t stay together very well, so the minute each boy touched the plane to inspect it, it fell apart. But again, Matt and Nate are under the recommended age minimum for the box, so an older kid with gentler hands might not have as much of a problem.

Overall, the boys and I had a blast playing with our Brick Loot box on a rainy day. I definitely plan to buy them a subscription when they’re older if their interest in building continues. The prices aren’t bad, either—$27 for one month, $25 per month for three months, and $23 per month for six months. The hours of quiet fun your kids will have—and the surprise of seeing what’s in their box each month—is well worth it. Plus, I am all about supporting a kid entrepreneur!

photo 2

Let me know if you decide to give Brick Loot a try, and be sure to tell me what you think! Happy building!

How My 3-Year-Old Got Lost at a Baseball Game

I recently wrote a story for Care.com about pool safety for kids. During my interview with Connie Harvey, director of Aquatics Centennial Initiatives for the American Red Cross, we discussed how child drownings can actually happen more easily when there are a lot of adults present than when only one grown-up is there. That’s because it’s so easy for us to get distracted when we’re in a large group. We also tend to get a bit more complacent: We figure that with so many people watching the kids, we don’t need to watch them quite as closely.

A few days ago, on Memorial Day, I learned that this does not only apply to drowning. We were at a Mets game with some family. Our group included nine adults and four kids. We had 12 seats across a row (Lily didn’t need her own ticket/seat since she is under 2), which means the people sitting at each end of the row had no idea what was going on at the other end.

After the seventh inning stretch, I got up to use the restroom. Keith, the boys, and I were sitting smack in the middle of the 12 seats. My brother and uncle were at the two seats on the aisle. My parents and cousins were all the way at the other end with Lily.

I asked the twins repeatedly if either of them needed the restroom. Of course, they both insisted they didn’t. So I went alone and rushed up the stairs so as not to block anyone’s view. Keith slid down closer to my parents with Nate.

Matt immediately decided that he did, in fact, need the restroom and decided to follow me up the stairs. My brother and uncle saw me right in front of him and assumed I knew he was behind me—but I didn’t. The poor thing couldn’t catch up to me.

I stood in a short line to use the ladies’ room, washed my hands, and returned to the seats. It took about seven to 10 minutes. When I got back, I noticed that Keith and the boys were gone. I slid down the row and asked my mom where they were, and she replied, “I think Keith took them to the bathroom.”

I was sitting there for about five minutes when my phone rang. It was Keith, sounding confused and a bit panicked. “Did you take Matt to the bathroom with you?” he asked.

In that instant, my heart stopped. “No—I thought you did!” I replied.

“I didn’t,” he answered. “But I just found him with two security guards.”

As it turned out, Keith had taken Nate to the restroom, then decided to  buy bottles of water. While in line, he happened to look up and saw two guards carrying a crying little boy.

I wonder what happened to that poor boy, he thought. Then he realized that poor boy was Matt.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” he called out. “That’s my son!”

Matt looked up and yelled, “Daddy!”

The security guards were very friendly. They told Keith they had found Matt alone and crying and asked him if he was lost. When he said yes, they told him they would help him find his mommy. The poor thing was so scared that he readily let one of the burly men scoop him up.

How scary to think about the panic we’d have gone through if Keith hadn’t happened to look up and see Matt at that moment. Only when he returned to the seats without Matt would any of us have realized he was missing. And that’s because we all assumed someone else had him.

We were all pretty rattled by the experience, but—as evidenced by this picture—Matt got over it pretty quickly:

Mets family

But since then, I haven’t stopped thinking about my conversation with Connie. I know without a doubt that if only Keith and I had been at the game with the kids, we never would have lost Matt. He would have been right next to us the whole time. But with a long row of 12 seats and so many adults around, it was easy to lose track of who had him.

So here are the lessons I learned from this scary experience:

  1. Be extra watchful of your kids when at a party or in a large group. Don’t assume someone else is watching them.
  2. When walking away from your child, verbally hand him off to another adult. I walked away and left Matt with eight other grown-ups, but never said directly to any of them that they were now in charge of him.
  3. Teach your kids never to leave the adult(s) they are with without their permission. Matt didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong by following me, but if he had asked my uncle or brother if he could go with me first, they likely would have realized I didn’t know he was coming.

And now, we’re trying to figure out exactly what to tell the boys to do if either of them ever gets lost again. When we asked Matt how he knew it was safe to go with those security guards, he replied, “They said they would find my mommy.” That means anyone could have told him that and he would have gone with them, whether they were police officers or kidnappers. It’s such a scary thought.

I once read an article in a parenting magazine in which an expert advised teaching kids that if they are lost and can’t find a police officer, they should look for a mommy with a child. That’s because at 3 and 4 years old—or even older—it can be hard for a kid to determine what is an official uniform. A mother with a kid has a very low probability of being a predator and could help  a lost child alert the proper authorities (in this case, the security guards). She’d also  likely stay with the child until he finds his family.

I’d like to think that in Matt’s case, he did recognize that the two men were security guards (they wore the same burgundy shirts and black pants as the plethora of other guards at Citi Field and probably wore name tags) and felt safe with them. But if we were in a different setting—say, at the beach—knowing who to go with would not have been as easy.

In any case, I am very thankful to the kind security guards at Citi Field for taking care of Matt, and grateful that everything turned out OK. Hopefully this post will help prevent other kids from getting lost as we head into the season of crowded beaches, fairs, sporting events, and more.

Do you have any other tips on what to do—and what to teach kids to do—if a child gets lost? Leave a comment here and share. It could help a lot of families!

 

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