Play Power!

A few years ago, I wrote a cover story for Scholastic’s SuperScience magazine called “The Power of Play.” The story explored the benefits of free play, or unstructured play—something kids are unfortunately getting way too little of these days.

With pressure mounting to increase students’ test scores and grades, more and more schools are cutting back on recess or eliminating it altogether. Kids’ schedules are also filling up with homework and extracurricular activities. As a result, “play is disappearing from the lives of children,” Joan Hoffman, a play expert at Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, told me at the time.

And that’s a huge problem. Research has shown that play has all sorts of physical, social, and cognitive benefits for kids. It helps children develop many of the skills they’ll need to be successful adults.

Through play, kids learn problem-solving skills, critical thinking, decision-making, and teamwork. Play allows them to act out their fears and emotions and teaches them empathy and understanding. Play builds kids’ confidence, boosts their creativity, and reduces their stress. It also helps them develop strong and healthy bodies, which is so important in the fight against childhood obesity. Research has even found that play helps kids perform better in school by improving their concentration. And I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. If you don’t believe me, watch this video to see the power of play in action:

The video is part of the Toy Industry Association‘s Genius of Play campaign, which seeks to spread the word about the importance of play. I recently took the campaign’s Play Pledge, meaning I’ve committed to support Matt, Nate, and Lily with opportunities to play every week.

It’s something I was already doing anyway. I have never been one to overschedule my kids with too many structured activities, especially during the summer. And that has allowed their imaginations to blossom.

The boys like to turn Lily’s Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Home into a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window, then have me “drive” up and place my order. They arrange their Hot Wheels cars and action figures into elaborate parades. They raid their dress-up bin and transform themselves into astronauts and superheroes. They pretend our backyard is the zoo, weaving in and out of the shrubs to see all the “animals.”

And Lily already loves it when I sit back and let her explore. Every time she pushes buttons on her toys to hear sounds, stuffs the boys’ Star Wars figures into her toy fishbowl, or taps the LEGO Duplos against her xylophone to make music, her mind is bursting with new discoveries.

So click here to join me in taking the Play Pledge to ensure your children get enough play time each week. Better yet, get down on the floor and play with them!

And to learn more about the Toy Industry Association, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Toy Industry Association. All of the information is research-based and factual!

Four Fun Baby Toys from Lamaze

When Matt and Nate were babies, they inherited their big cousin Ava’s Lamaze Freddie the Firefly toy. It had been her favorite toy, and it quickly became their favorite. They then passed it on to Lily — along with several other colorful and engaging Lamaze toys — and she too loved to play with it. So, Lamaze is definitely a favorite in our family!

This fall, four Lamaze soft toys and books for babies will become available (or have recently become available) at Walmart for the first time. The company sent me those four toys to test with Lily. Here’s what we thought!

Freddie the Firefly Peekaboo Book (12 months+)
Freddie himself is the star of this soft, brightly colored book full of peekaboo flaps and satisfying crinkle sounds. He flies around a garden to explore and meets new friends along the way.

Freddie book

Lily really enjoys holding and looking at this book. Unfortunately, she finds it so much fun that I don’t  think she realizes it’s a book. I’ll usually read only one page before she snatches it out of my hands and starts crinkling the flaps. So right now, we simply enjoy playing peek-a-boo with the animals on the pages. Hopefully when she gets a little older she will listen to the story, too!

My First Fishbowl (6 months+)
This adorable fish bowl includes four colorful, multi-textured sea creatures that crinkle, rattle, jingle, and squeak. (The water-trapped sides of the bowl contain floating mini sea creatures.) Gripping and grabbing the four creatures helps baby develop hand-eye coordination and stimulates his or her tactile senses.

FishbowlBecause the minimum recommended age for this toy is only 6 months, I was worried it would be too babyish for Lily (who turns one in a couple of weeks). It turns out, this is her favorite of the four toys. She has so much fun dumping out the sea creatures and placing them back in the bowl one by one. She also likes to shake and squeeze them to hear the different rattling noises they make. And she thinks it’s hilarious when I use the bowl as a mini basketball hoop and try to toss the creatures into it. I think she’ll enjoy this toy for many more months!

My Friend Emily (newborn-24 months)
Meant to be baby’s first doll, My Friend Emily comes with multiple textures and sounds to keep baby entertained, including a rattle necklace. It can clip onto strollers, car seat carriers, and diaper bags, making it easy to take along wherever you go.

My Friend EmilyThough this toy is recommended for babies up to 24 months, I definitely feel it’s geared more toward younger infants. It’s adorable and very colorful, but Lily has not shown much interest in it. It could be because she already has a “first doll” that her Grandma gave her when she was 6 months old, and she has shown a sweet loyalty to that doll. I do think My Friend Emily would make an awesome baby shower gift for a mom-to-be who’s expecting a baby girl!

Flip Flap Dragon (newborn-24 months)
Pull the white clip to make Flip Flap Dragon‘s purple satin wings flip and flap back and forth. Baby can also explore his crinkly feet and squeaky nose. Flip Flap Dragon features soft fabrics in a variety of colors and six different materials to help develop baby’s senses. The clip lets you hook it to strollers, car seat carriers, and diaper bags for on-the-go fun. Flip Flap Dragon is coming to Walmart.com in early September.

DragonLike My Friend Emily, Flip Flap Dragon seems geared more toward the younger set. I think Lily would have enjoyed this adorable toy way more when she was 4 to 9 months old than she does now. (I have noticed that she seems to grow out of toys more quickly than the boys did. Many people tell me it’s because she has older siblings and sees them playing with their big-kid toys. So other older babies may be more into this toy than Lily is). In any case, she really gets a kick out of helping me pull the clip to make the dragon’s wings flap. Even Matt and Nate like to steal it from her and do it! Like My Friend Emily, I would certainly buy Flip Flap Dragon as a gift for younger babies.

If you have a special baby in your life, I’d definitely recommend buying him or her one of these fun Lamaze toys! Also, be sure to head over to Lamaze’s website to see the company’s full line of adorable and fun infant toys.

Disclosure: I received these Lamaze toys free of charge for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

Back to School with PlanetBox

When the twins started preschool last year, I was introduced to the crazy world of making school lunches. The boys only go to school three days a week, yet it didn’t take long for me to run out of fresh ideas. I mean, how many PB&J’s and cheese quesadillas could I make?

So I started putting together lunches using little things the boys like to eat—fruit, carrot sticks, cheese and crackers, hummus, etc. Not only did that leave me with a ton of tiny containers to wash, but the boys would often come home with half of their lunch uneaten. They’d say they ran out of time to eat, partly because it took them so long to open everything.

That’s when I realized why so many moms and kids love bento-style lunchboxes. These sectioned lunchboxes make meals visually appealing, help you pack a well-balanced lunch, make it easier for kids to eat, and create less waste.

I tried different styles of bento boxes, but it was hard to find one that works for us. Some have too few sections, others are too deep, etc. Then I saw this post from Catherine McCord of Weelicious, in which she showcases some of the fabulous bento lunches she makes for her kids. Immediately, I started pining for the lunchbox in the photos. It’s called the PlanetBox Rover, and when I was recently given the opportunity to test one out for review, I jumped at the chance.

PlanetBox is a high-quality stainless steel lunchbox that keeps foods fresh and well-portioned. It comes in three sizes and can be personalized with fun magnets and a range of accessories.

The Rover, which holds 4.5 cups of food and measures 10 x 7 x 1.5, is the most popular model. It has five sections: one large square one (perfect for a sandwich), a longer skinny one to hold a cheese stick or other small items, two medium-sized ones, and a small one in the middle that’s perfect for a small treat. It also comes with a Big Dipper and a Little Dipper, round lidded containers that can hold dips, sauces, yogurt, and other wet foods.

The magnets for the rover come in 29 fun designs and have space to write the lunchbox owner’s name. We chose the Rockets design.

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You can also get a carry bag for the Rover with a water bottle pouch and a snack pocket on the outside, as well as an inner mesh pocket. The bag has a short handle and an adjustable strap. We got a blue bag.

As soon as the PlanetBox arrived, we were sold! Matt and Nate immediately started fighting over who would get to eat lunch from it, so I immediately ordered another one—same magnets, but with a red carry bag. As soon as that one arrived, the boys begged me to make their lunches in their PlanetBoxes even though we weren’t going anywhere. Here’s what I cobbled together:

IMG_4431I put the yogurt in one of the main compartments and not in the Little Dipper (where the crackers are) since we were eating at home. The boys loved it, and it was the quickest they have ever finished their lunch!

Suffice it to say, Matt and Nate can’t wait for school to start so they can carry their cool new lunchboxes. I think I’ll have a lot more fun packing their lunches, and cleanup will be so much easier—I can pop them in the dishwasher! Also, the boxes are BPA-, phthalate-, and lead-free, so I know they’re safe for the boys. Click here for some other things that make PlanetBox great.

Now, here’s the thing: PlanetBox is pricey. The Rover sells for $49.95, the magnets are $3.95, and the carry bag is $12 to $14. That makes the whole set around $70. But I honestly feel it is well worth it for a lunchbox that is such high-quality and will last for years and years. Plus, PlanetBox can easily be handed down simply by switching out the magnets.

To build your own personal PlanetBox, click here. In addition to magnets and a carry bag, you can add a water bottle and accessories such as utensils and cold packs. And if you need meal ideas, get them here! Happy lunch-making!

Disclosure: I received a free PlanetBox with magnets and a carry bag for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

Show Your Team Spirit with Softjox

Last month at Sweet Suite, I saw so many amazing, high-tech new toys that I am really excited to tell you about in the coming months. But sometimes, in a sea of gadgets and gizmos, it’s the simplest toys that bring kids so much joy.

One such toy is Softjox, a new line of customizable plush sports characters that I and the twins have fallen in love with. Designed by a dad with two active young athletes, the inaugural Softjox line features super-soft and cuddly football characters that come in four colors—blue, red, green, and black. They are available in two sizes, 15 inches and 20 inches, and can be customized with any name and number on the back. There is also a 17-inch purple soccer character.

Matt and Nate were absolutely beside themselves when Softjox’s owner—who happens to be the nicest guy ever—sent them their very own 20-inch football guys. Matt picked number 23—Keith’s baseball jersey number in high school—and Nate picked 19, his birthday. Matt chose red and Nate picked blue (their respective favorite colors). Check these guys out:

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Aren’t they awesome??? The boys just love them and have been sleeping with them every night. And every morning, they come downstairs toting their Softjox guys in their arms.

Here is a photo of the boys a couple of nights ago getting ready for bed with their football pals:

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I mean, do you see those smiles??? After I snapped this picture, they insisted I take another photo so they could show off their names:

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Then, as is typical, Softjox just had to join in on the boys’ bedtime story with Dad:

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And then they made us tuck their Softjox guys into bed with them. I was going to sneak in later to take photos, but I was worried I’d wake the boys up. But just picture those round helmets sticking out from under the covers and you can imagine how cute the scene was.

Softjox would make the perfect gift for any sports fan for holidays, birthdays, or any other occasion. They are also available to special order with the name or logo of your organization on them. That makes them great for sports teams and leagues, schools, promotions, fundraisers, and even special party favors.

What’s even more exciting is that more sports characters will be released soon—baseball, basketball, hockey, and even cheerleaders! Matt and Nate are so excited for the baseball guys to come out so they can get those, too.

I write about many products I like on this blog, but seriously, I am so beyond excited to share Softjox with you all. Any sports fan, young or old, would just love one. It’s such a simple, yet unique toy that could really become a special friend in a child’s life. Plus, as I mentioned, the owner could not be a nicer guy, so it just feels great to support his growing business.

The 15-inch football character and the 17-inch soccer player cost $19.95, and the 20-inch football character for $29.95. Customization costs $7.95. And for a limited time, Softjox is offering free priority shipping and a 100-percent money-back guarantee on all orders.

Click here to purchase your own Softjox character. Then be sure to take a photo of your child with his or her new pal and share it with Softjox on Instagram!

Disclosure: I received Matt and Nate’s Softjox characters free of charge in exchange for my honest review, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

Really Cool Coffee Delivered to Your Home!

If you know me, you know I love my coffee. I NEED my coffee. And most of the time—especially in these steamy summer months—I prefer iced coffee to hot coffee.

Usually, I brew an entire pot of hot coffee, dump it into a pitcher, and place it in the fridge to cool. But that’s not ideal because I always have to drink the first cup hot, and then it takes forever for the rest of the pitcher to chill. Plus, the coffee often develops a bitter taste.

Recently I learned about another option: cold brew coffee. Cold brew coffee does not use heat, and the brewing process occurs over time. That results in a balanced cup of coffee that is said to be 60 percent less acidic and easier on your stomach than iced coffee, without the bitter taste.

Sounds complicated, right? I thought so too. But then I had the opportunity to try a new coffee brand called Really Cool Coffee.

Really Cool Coffee is cold brew coffee that’s delivered right to your doorstep in one-, two-, or three-month supplies. Each stay-fresh foil pouch contains three biodegradable bags of coffee.

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Here’s how you brew them:

  1. Place all three bags in a pitcher.
  2. Fill the pitcher with eight to 14 cups of water—eight for coffee concentrate, 10 for very bold coffee, 12 for bold coffee, and 14 for medium coffee.
  3. Let the coffee steep overnight (18 to 24 hours).
  4. Remove the bags.

And there you have it: A pitcher of cold brew coffee that will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks!

I received a sampler pack of three coffee bags to try. The coffee was so easy to make. I used 12 cups of water for a bold flavor. When I removed the bags the next morning, I was surprised at how smooth the coffee was—no grinds floating around and no bitter taste! The coffee tasted full-bodied and delicious.

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I added a little hazelnut creamer and some sugar and it was still a bit strong, so next time I’ll probably use 14 cups of water (since I prefer my coffee a little lighter).

Two more things to note about Really Cool Coffee:

  1. If you want hot coffee from time to time, the Really Cool Coffee bags can also be hot brewed and will fit almost any traditional filter coffee machine.
  2. The coffee is vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-free.

If you like to drink your coffee cold like I do, I’d suggest giving Really Cool Coffee a try. It’s inexpensive, it tastes great, and it’s super convenient. (I mean, how much easier can you get than having coffee delivered right to your door?) You can order a sampler pack here to see if you like it.

If you do like it, the three-month supply is the best value. It costs $67 and makes 120 to 180 cups of cold brew coffee. That’s only 37 to 56 cents per cup—way cheaper than what you’d pay at a coffee shop. And for a limited time, there is free shipping on all U.S. orders! Check it out at reallycoolcoffee.com.

Disclosure: I received a free sampler pack of Really Cool Coffee for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

GIVEAWAY: Win a Family Four-Pack of Tickets to Blue Man Group!

If you read my Blogger Bash recap, you saw that I got to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group. The show was wildly entertaining and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Blue Man Group combines music, comedy, and state-of-the-art technology to create a truly unique form of wacky entertainment. It is continually refreshed with new music, stories, and instruments.

Blue Man Group has been performed in 15 countries and seen by more than 35 million people worldwide since 1991. It has permanent productions in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, and Berlin. There’s also a tour in North America and Latin America.

Here’s what I found especially cool about the show:
  • The music. The band was super talented and had everyone rocking for the entire show!
  • The neon paint drumming. Audience members in the first few rows even had to wear head-to-toe ponchos to protect them from splattering paint.
Blue Man Group National Tour Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik paul@paulkolnik.com nyc  212-362-7778

Blue Man Group National Tour
Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik
paul@paulkolnik.com
nyc 212-362-7778

  • The fact that it was really interactive. The Blue Men came into the seating area several times to interact with audience members. They even recruited two members to go onstage and backstage to help them with bits. Here’s a photo of vlogger HeyThatsMike helping the Blue Men make body art during our special performance:

Blogger HeyThatsMike onstage helping create art at the Blue Man Group Blogger Bash performance
Now, the big question: Should you bring your kids? Blue Man Group touts itself as a family-friendly show, appropriate for ages 3 and up. And on the show’s website, you’ll see photos and testimonials of happy children who loved it.

I do urge you to use caution, though, when deciding whether to take your own kids. If you have children who get easily frightened by darkness or loud music, you may want to hold off on taking them. Also keep in mind the following:

  • The show is 90 minutes long with no intermission.
  • The lights are often turned off or really low to illuminate the neon paint, costumes, and more used in the show.
  • The band wears glowing neon skeleton outfits and face paint:

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Older kids and teens would definitely find Blue Man Group to be really cool. If you do decide to take your children, you can find some fun activities and resources on the show’s website to prepare them before the show.

So, do you want to go? Cue the giveaway! One lucky Double Duty Twins reader will win a family 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group show of their choosing in New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, or any of the North American Tour dates! The winner will receive a certificate in the mail that can be redeemed for any show from September 8, 2015 through June 8, 2016.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me who you’d like to bring with you to Blue Man Group. Then click on “Leave a blog post comment” in the form below, followed by, “I commented!” Once you do that, you’ll unlock opportunities to earn three more bonus entries. You have until August 28, 2015 to enter, and I’ll pick a winner at random on August 29. Good luck!

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CONTEST RULES
PRIZE RESTRICTIONS
THE FULFILLMENT PERIOD BEGINS SEPTEMBER 8, 2015, FOR SELECT PERFORMANCES ONLY, AND TICKETS MUST BE REDEEMED BY JUNE 8, 2016. ALL REQUESTS ARE SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY AND MUST BE SUBMITTED A MINIMUM OF TWO (2) WEEKS IN ADVANCE. IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR BLUE MAN GROUP PERFORMANCES TO SELL OUT, SO ADVANCE PLANNING IS REQUIRED. THE BEST SEATS AVAILABLE ARE LIKELY TO BE SUNDAY THROUGH THURSDAY SHOWS. HOLIDAY BLACKOUT PERIODS VARY BY CITY, AND THE CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID DURING THOSE BLACKOUT PERIODS. THE CERTIFICATE DOES NOT GUARANTEE THAT TICKETS WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR CHOICE. CERTIFICATE HAS NO CASH VALUE AND IS NON-TRANSFERABLE. VALID FOR THE BLUE MAN GROUP SHOW ONLY WITH SEATING LOCATION AT THE DISCRETION OF THE BOX OFFICE. NOT VALID FOR VIP UPGRADES, THEME PARK, CLUB, OR SPECIAL EVENT ADMISSION. PARKING IS NOT INCLUDED. THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES ONCE TICKETS HAVE BEEN ISSUED. ALL REDEMPTIONS ARE FINAL. NO SUBSTITUTIONS, CASH EQUIVALENTS OR TRANSFERS ARE PERMITTED. NOT FOR RESALE. CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID AFTER EXPIRATION DATE OF JUNE 8, 2016. BLUE MAN GROUP IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR REPLACING LOST OR STOLEN TICKETS AND/OR VOUCHERS.
ELIGIBILITY
EMPLOYEES OF BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, SPONSORS, AND ANY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE AFFILIATES’ EMPLOYEES AND EACH OF THEIR HOUSEHOLDS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE TO ENTER. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY.
GENERAL CONDITIONS
ALL ENTRANTS RELEASE SPONSORS, BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE FOUNDERS, PARENT COMPANIES, AFFILIATES, SUBSIDIARIES AND THE DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AND AGENTS OF THE FOREGOING ENTITIES, AND ALL OTHERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DEVELOPMENT AND EXECUTION OF THIS CONTEST (ALL AFOREMENTIONED PARTIES, THE “RELEASED PARTIES”) FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FROM INJURY, LOSS OR DAMAGE OF ANY KIND. SPONSORS AND BLUE MAN GROUP RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CANCEL, MODIFY, OR TERMINATE THIS CONTEST OR ANY OF THE PRIZES AT ANY TIME, INCLUDING AFTER WINNERS ARE CHOSEN. ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION SUPPLIED BY ENTRANTS TO SPONSOR OR ITS AFFILIATES WILL BE SUBJECT TO SPONSOR’S PRIVACY POLICY , EXCEPT WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW AND BLUE MAN GROUP’S PRIVACY POLICY LOCATED AT http://WWW.BLUEMAN.COM/PRIVACY-POLICY, ENTRY AND/OR WINNER’S ACCEPTANCE OF A PRIZE OF ANY KIND CONSTITUTES PERMISSION FOR THE SPONSOR AND BLUE MAN GROUP TO USE WINNER’S NAME, ADDRESS (CITY AND STATE), PHOTO, LIKENESS, BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION, STATEMENT AND VOICE FOR ADVERTISING/PUBLICITY PURPOSES WORLDWIDE AND IN ALL FORMS OF MEDIA IN PERPETUITY, WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE TO OR COMPENSATION IN CONNECTION WITH SAID CONTEST OR THE PRIZE AWARDED. ALL ENTRANTS EXPRESSLY RELEASE THE SPONSOR, BLUE MAN GROUP, AND THEIR AFFILIATES, PARENT, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE AGENTS, EMPLOYEES, LICENSEES, DESIGNEES, AND ASSIGNS FROM AND AGAINST ANY AND ALL CLAIMS WHICH THEY HAVE OR MAY HAVE FOR INVASION OF PRIVACY, DEFAMATION, OR ANY OTHER CAUSE OF ACTION ARISING OUT OF ANY SUCH USE.

MISCELLANEOUS
BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, IS NOT THE SPONSOR OF THE CONTEST AND IS SOLELY PROVIDING THE PRIZE. THIS BLOG IS THE OFFICIAL SPONSOR. ENTRANTS AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE PRIZE RESTRICTIONS, ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS, AND SPONSOR RULES. BLUE MAN GROUP AND ALL RELATED INDICIA ©2015 BLUE MAN GROUP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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.

Disney book

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!

UPDATE: The winner of the free night’s stay at any AmericInn hotel is Jennifer Hayden! Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Jennifer. Please check back for more exciting giveaways to come!

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