Category: Cool Stuff

Holiday Gift Idea: Sands Alive! Glow

If you’ve got a preschool-age or older child on your holiday shopping list, I’ve got the perfect gift idea for you—Sands Alive! Glow from Play Visions. I was first introduced to this awesome product at Sweet Suite over the summer. Shortly after that, the company sent us a set to test, and the boys and I have been having a blast with it ever since.

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The first time we tried it, my 6-year-old niece was here as well, and she had an equally great time playing with it. It kept them busy for literally hours!

Boys playing with Sands Alive! Glow

Girl playing with Sands Alive! Glow

Sands Alive! Glow is moldable sand that’s incredibly soft and fun to squeeze. (Remember those squishy stress balls you’d keep on your desk at work? It’s got the same effect!) But the difference between this sand and others is that this sand glows in the dark! It comes with a UV pen light so you can write glowing messages on it, and the UV LED eyeglasses make it continually glow. What kid doesn’t like things that glow in the dark?

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Here are some more things that make Sands Alive! Glow awesome:

  • It’s not sticky or grainy and it stays together well, so it’s not too messy and it’s easy to clean up. Plus, it comes with a play tray to contain it, so you never even have to place it on your table if you don’t want to.
  • It never dries out! That means that if your child forgets to clean it up and it stays out overnight, it will be just fine the next morning.
  • It’s bacteria free.
  • It’s affordable! The Starter Set, which comes with one pound of sand, the UV pen light and eyeglasses, and the play tray is currently selling for less than $25 on Amazon.
  • The Toy Insider selected it as their 2015 Award Winner for The Toy Insider Top Holiday Toys.

You can’t ask for much more than a toy that is safe, provides hours of fun, stimulates kids’ creativity, and is easy to clean and affordable. We’ve already given it as a gift to some of Matt and Nate’s friends and will continue to do. Try it out for yourself, and let me know what you think if you do!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Sands Alive! Glow Starter Set to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

 

Giveaway: Win A VersaVia Kid-Proof Car Seat Cover

If you have kids, there’s a good chance your car’s backseat is covered with goldfish, spilled milk, muddy footprints, and more disgusting messes. And chances are, the seat protector underneath your child’s car seat does little to contain the mess. Trust me, I know—before Lily came along, the space between the boys’ car seats was gross.

What I really could have used at that time was a VersaVia Kid-Proof Car Seat Cover. Unlike most seat covers meant to go under car seats, the VersaVia covers the entire backseat. This thing is no joke! At 54 inches wide and with adjustable straps, it fits securely in most cars, small trucks, and SUVs. It’s made from a heavy-duty waterproof material (polyester and nylon) to protect seats from even the biggest messes. And it comes in grey, tan, or black, so it matches most car interiors.

We received a grey VersaVia car seat cover to test out ourselves. Unfortunately, the cover does not have openings for middle seat belts, so we couldn’t use it in our SUV because we have all three car seats across the backseat. We do, however, have spare car seats for the boys in Keith’s Acura (sometimes one, sometimes both), so we put the VersaVia in there. And we love it!

IMG_9860The VersaVia seat cover blends in nicely with the car and does not look out of place at all. It was quick and easy to install. Because it has a non-slip backing and seat anchors, it does not slide around, and the car seats still have a tight fit. It has openings for both seat belts and latches, but we found it fit more securely with the latch system, so that’s what we used. And so far, after two months of use, it looks as good as new. It also has a lifetime warranty!

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I highly recommend the VersaVia Kid-Proof Car Seat Cover for anyone with one or two car seats in their backseat. You can purchase it on Amazon—it’s currently priced at $79.90—or you can win one by entering my giveaway!

To enter, just leave a comment below by midnight on Sunday, December 6, letting me know your choice of color—grey, tan, or black. I will choose a winner at random on December 7 and the company will send your prize directly to you. Good luck, and thank you for entering!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary VersaVia Kid-Proof Car Seat Cover to facilitate this review and giveaway. All opinions are my own!

GIVEAWAY: Win A Copy of “The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish”

If you’re a parent, then you probably know who the grumpiest fish ever is—the Pout-Pout Fish, who swam into our hearts in March 2008 in a book of the same name. That book has been in heavy rotation in our house ever since the twins were big enough to request it, and it’s one of our favorites.

Since the debut of The Pout-Pout Fish, author Deborah Diesen and illustrator Dan Hanna have teamed up to release several more titles in the New York Times best-selling series, including The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School, The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark, and more. In total, there are more than 2.5 million copies of the books in print.

In September, the latest book in the series hit stores, and it’s perfect for the holiday season!

Not Very Merry Cover

In the book, The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish, Mr. Fish is down in the dumps over holiday shopping. He is so consumed with buying the perfect gift for each of his friends that he forgets the true meaning of the holidays. Just like the other books in the series, this one is full of catchy, repetitive rhymes that kids love:

“A gift should be big,
And a gift should be bright.
And a gift should be perfect—
Guaranteed to bring delight.
And a gift should have meaning,
Plus a bit of bling-zing,
So I’ll shop till I drop

For each just-right thing.”

When Mr. Fish—with his signature Pout-Pout Fish frown—comes up empty-handed, Miss Shimmer intervenes with a plan to make homemade gifts. He soon learns that it’s not about busting the budget or gifting the season’s hottest item, but giving from the heart. Together they experience the joy that comes from giving and sharing—the merriest gifts of all.

We received a copy of The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish for our review, and the boys and I are loving it! The illustrations are beautiful, and it’s a nice break from all the Santa- and Rudolph-heavy books in our holiday rotation.

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish is published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Books for Young Readers, a division of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, and is geared toward kids ages 2 to 6. It is available for purchase at a wide range of retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

But before you purchase a copy, enter my giveaway to win a free one! Macmillan will send a copy of The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish to one lucky Double Duty Twins reader just in time for the holiday season! All U.S. residents are eligible to win.

To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post and let me know who you’ll give the book to if you win. But hurry—the contest ends at midnight on Tuesday, November 24, 2015! I will pick one winner at random on November 25.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish to facilitate this review and giveaway. All opinions are my own!

“The Pump and Dump” — A Hilarious and Raucous Night Out for Moms

Last week I had one of those mommy days. I had just spent 20 minutes looking for my cell phone and finally found it in between the couch cushions. Then I walked into the kitchen to find Lily eating a Cheerio off the floor. (I have no idea how long it had been there.) As I scooped her up, Matt came running into the house screaming, “Mommy! Nate needs help!” I ran outside to find my adventurous 4-year-old hanging by his leg from our tree, his foot wedged between two limbs. As he stared at me with wide, frightened eyes, I did the only thing I could think to do in that moment—I burst out laughing.

This may seem like an odd response to a stressful parenting situation, but I’m hardly alone. A couple of days earlier, a friend had gone into her daughter’s room after nap time to find that her one-year-old had pooped—and decorated her entire crib with it. My friend stood frozen in place for a moment, then started to laugh uncontrollably.

The thing is, parenting can really suck. Kids can be gross, they can act like assholes, and you can get completely overwhelmed. You could deal with that by having a nervous breakdown … or you could take a step back and find the humor in the situation.

Comedian/musicians (and TheBump.com contributors) Shayna Ferm and Tracey Tee (a.k.a. MC Doula) understand the power of laughter when it comes to raising young children. So they created “The Pump and Dump: A Parentally Incorrect Show and Night Out, For Once,” a raucous and hilarious musical comedy show inspired by parenthood. The 90-minute show features parental commiseration, fun swag, and live performances of original songs such as, Eat Your F-ing Food and “When I Die, I Want to Come Back as a Dad.”  Audience participation is encouraged with segments like “The Most F-ed Up Thing My Kid Did This Week,” where moms write down the craziest thing their child did and the ladies read the cards on stage.

The show began three years ago  in a Denver bar, performed to a small crowd of burned-out, sleep-deprived moms who needed a break. It has since grown to fill 600-seat venues and sell out premiere comedy clubs across the country. And it’s easy to see why. Just try to watch this performance of “Eat Your F-ing Food” without laughing hysterically:

Don’t believe me yet? Check out “The Lies We Tell Ourselves”:

I was lucky enough to score free tickets to a performance of “The Pump and Dump” at the Arlington Drafthouse this coming Thursday, and my friend Christina and I can’t wait to go. Christina also has three young children that include a set of twins, and she’s in such dire need of a night out that when I invited her a few weeks ago, she lined up a sitter within five minutes just in case her husband doesn’t get home from work in time.

In preparation for the show, I asked Shayna, who has a 4-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, and MC Doula, who has a 4-year-old daughter, a few questions. Their responses show just how relatable they are:

Q: We all think we’ll get sh*t done when our babies go to sleep, but that’s a lie! What do you actually do after your kids are in bed?

A: We watch a little TV and are zonked before 10 p.m. You know, like every other parent in America.

Q: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever resorted to in order to get your kids to eat their f-ing food?

A: Bribery? Sent them to bed hungry? Begged? Cried? We’ve done everything.

Q: If you suddenly got an hour all to yourself, what would you do?

A: We’d probably just wander around the house thinking about all the things we could get done in an hour.

Q: How do you manage to maintain such an awesome sense of humor while raising young children?

A: Once we realized we could admit that parenting is pretty f—ed up and ridiculous, it became easy to laugh about. There are plenty of tears, too. Parenting is HARD. The worrying is really hard. But that’s what friends, drinks, and nights out are for—to release the pressure gauge.  One could argue that we literally created the show to save ourselves—ha!

Check back on the blog for a review of the show next week. I’ll also fill you in on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While the Arlington show is sold out, there are several more shows scheduled in 2015, including ones in Nashville; Tempe, Arizona; Denver; Fort Lauderdale; and West Palm Beach, Florida. More nationwide tour dates are coming soon, so be sure to follow Shayna and MC Doula on Twitter so you don’t miss out!

Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to “The Pump and Dump” to facilitate this blog post and upcoming review. All opinions and uncontrollable laughs are my own. 

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!