Category: Cool Stuff for Babies

Lily’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” First Birthday Party

As hard as it is to believe, our little Lily turned one year old on September 5. We celebrated with a pink and gold “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” themed party in our backyard with about 50 guests, 20 of whom were kids. Yes, I may be crazy, but the party was a ton of fun. Everyone—especially Lily—had a blast!

Here are photo highlights from the party. Most of the photos, including the gorgeous first portrait of the birthday star herself, were taken by children and lifestyle photographer Daniel Marino of Marino Photography (http://danmarinophoto.com). Lily’s outfit and headband were made by Etsy shop Princess Cute Boutique:

Baby in first birthday outfit
We set up a canopy over the backyard patio and hung gold stars of various sizes from it. We also put gold stars on the sliding glass doors behind the food table, as well as an adorable “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” banner from Party Made Pretty:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star banner
I ordered Star Fantasy Napkins from The Stationery Studio and had them personalized to say “Our little star Lily.” If you’re not familiar with The Stationery Studio, you should check out the site! With over 22,000 products to choose from, The Stationery Studio is the online leader in personalized stationery and gifts. Its large celebrity fan base includes Kim Kardashian West, Elizabeth Banks, Bethenny Frankel, and Julie Bowen.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star napkins

I couldn’t resist these glittery gold star straws from Etsy shop Fabulous Little Party:

Pink and gold star straws

For food, I kept it simple with catering from Wegman’s. Everything from the sandwiches to the sushi to the chicken bites was delicious! For the kids, my sister-in-law used cookie cutters to make star-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and topped them with awesome gold star cupcake toppers from Etsy shop Below Blink:

Star-shaped sandwiches

Of course I made a giant bowl of sangria, which was a huge hit. The stickers on the water bottles matched the invitations and thank-you cards from Etsy shop Ooh La Llew:

First birthday sign
Entertainment was a bit tricky because there were so many kids of different ages. Luckily I happen to be friends with an amazing woman and party entertainer who goes by the name of Miss Mollie, and sometimes Mollie the Clown! Miss Mollie did face painting, parachute play, and balloon creations for all of Lily’s little friends, and the kids were absolutely thrilled. I highly recommend Miss Mollie for kids’ events. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and have kids ages 0 to 5, you can check her out yourself every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 10:45 a.m. at PB & Jack in Fairfax.

Children standing under a parachute at a birthday party

Kids standing around a parachute at a birthday party

A party entertainer makes balloon creations.

At the end of the party, everyone moved inside for cake and dessert. Rachel from Dazzle Cakes, LLC made a delicious and gorgeous star cake that everyone loved. She’s based out of Burke, Virginia. My best friend Christine from SugarSisters made equally beautiful and yummy Rice Krispie treats that doubled as favors. SugarSisters makes incredible candy tables and treats for events and is based out of Staten Island, New York. I also picked up some star cookies from Costco and, for a homemade touch, made pie-crust star crackers. In the background of the last photo, you’ll see the banner I made with Lily’s monthly photos:

Star themed birthday cake

Star-shaped Rice Krispie treats

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star themed dessert table

First birthday party dessert table

The highlight of the party was singing “Happy Birthday to Lily” and then watching her tear into the special cupcake Rachel made just for her. It was her first cupcake ever, and it’s safe to say she loved it!

Baby in 1st birthday hat clapping

First birthday cake smash

I know the party was a bit over the top, but it was so much fun and completely worth it. Thank you to all of our family and friends who came to help us celebrate our little star, Lily!

Disclosure: I received complimentary products from The Stationery Studio to use at the party and include in this post. My high opinion of the products is completely my own!

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!

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!)

Care Bears #ShareYourCare ambassador badgeI 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.

Blue Man Group

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?

A woman poses with a member of the Blue Man Group

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!

Two ladies hold cocktails in front of a #BBNYC backdrop

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

A costume woman on stilts holds a giant lollipop at Blogger Bash

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!!!)

Playmobil hockey rink and players

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!

A woman holds a toy spatula in front of a Girl Scout Cookie Oven

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!

A still shit from the new Disney Infinity Star Wars game

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!

Rite Aid Recharge Lounge at Blogger Bash

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!

Photographer Anne Geddes

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!

A woman poses with a Snoopy character at Blogger Bash

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!

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?

Free to Be Me

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.

NoseFrida

 

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!

 

Belli Skincare Celebrates Moms with a Huge Month-Long Giveaway

Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday! This will be my first Mother’s Day as a mom of three, so it will be pretty special for me. Here’s a recent photo of my three cuties enjoying a beautiful day in the backyard:

Backyard

This Mother’s Day, Keith made reservations for us to have a fancy brunch in D.C. with the kids. Luckily the restaurant is welcoming of little ones, so I’m pretty excited to have a nice meal with my family. Plus my parents are coming for a visit a few days later, so I’ll get to celebrate with my mom, too.

Do any of you mamas have fun Mother’s Day plans? Regardless of what you’re doing, Belli Skincare—an upscale skin care line for pregnant and postnatal moms—hopes to make it even better. The company is holding its “Belli Celebrates Mom” event throughout the entire month of May. Each day through May 31, moms can visit belliskincare.com for a chance to win an item from that day’s featured brand partner. On the last day, moms can register for the grand prize valued at over $1,500, which will include an item from each sponsor brand.

The value of the all the prizes to be awarded is more than $5,000. And the prizes are pretty great! Sponsors include some of my favorite brands, such as BabyBjorn, Guava Family, Happy Family, and many more.

Throughout the month, moms can also compete for a matching grand prize package in a special contest on Belli’s Facebook page by posting a comment or uploading a photo or video of their mom. The post with the most likes will receive the same grand prize as the sweepstakes winner.

So if you’re feeling lucky, go to belliskincare.com each day and type in your email address to enter the daily giveaway. While you’re there, check out some of the awesome products Belli offers—you can get 20 percent off throughout the month of May with the code CELEBRATEMOM. Every Belli product is allergy tested; free of paraben preservatives, pthalates, and artificial dyes or fragrances; and made in the U.S. The products also avoid ingredients with even remote links to birth defects or miscarriage in published medical studies and those that could be harmful if passed through breast milk.

Good luck with the giveaway, and Happy Mother’s Day!

 
 

 

 
– WHERE:  www.belliskincare.com