Category: Cool Stuff

Family Pizza Night!

Hi there! It’s been a super busy month for us. Now that the weather is (finally) getting nicer, we’ve been having fun exploring our new city, making friends, and just being out in the fresh air. We’ve been preparing for Lily’s Baptism, which is this Sunday. I’ve also been working a lot!

As many of you know, I am now a regular contributor for Care.com, a website with over 13 million members that connects families with caregivers. It’s where we’ve found our wonderful nannies! I write parenting articles for the site, including one about how to travel with kids and stay sane (a topic I’ve tackled before on this blog).

In between all of that work and play, the kids and I (and sometimes Keith) have been testing a ton of awesome products that I’ll be reviewing for you all on this blog in the coming weeks. For one such review, Rustic Crust, which makes organic and all-natural pizza crust and sauce, hosted a family pizza night for us. I was thrilled because it’s so hard for me to get a nutritious dinner on the table that both the grown-ups and kids will enjoy.

Here’s what the company sent us:

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We did our pizza night on a Friday evening, when we often order pizza and watch a movie. We tried two of the crusts—the Crispy Italian Thin Crust and the Cheesy Herb Pizza Crust. Rustic Crust also sent us three packs of sauce, which took the guesswork out of how much sauce to use (one pack per pizza). Since I’m Italian American, of course I already had mozzarella and grated Romano cheese on hand, so it really couldn’t have been any easier.

The twins had a blast helping me make the pizzas—rubbing olive oil on the crusts, spreading the sauce, sprinkling the cheese on top, etc. We used shredded part-skim mozzarella on one crust and sliced fresh mozzarella on the other. We also put grated Romano cheese, minced garlic, and fresh basil on both. Then I popped them in the oven and baked them for 10 minutes, and that was it—dinner was served! Here’s how they came out:

IMG_8635 IMG_8638We had even more fun eating the pizza than we did making it:

IMG_8643 IMG_8645 We forgot to get a picture of Keith eating his pizza, but his mouth was likely too full to pose, anyway.

The verdict? Yummy! Now, I must disclose that I really don’t have a comparison point for the pizza because we never make pizzas at home. I am a pizza snob from Brooklyn and I have a dad who makes amazing homemade pizza, so I never really attempt to replicate his or any of the other amazing slices I’ve eaten. So I can’t speak to how Rustic Crust compares to other packaged pizza crusts or sauces.

But, for organic crusts made with real, non-GMO ingredients and no artificial preservatives, these were quite tasty! I’d certainly make them again for the convenience alone. The Cheesy Herb crust had a great taste, but the good old thin crust was yummy as well. The sauce was good, too! (I probably would have put a little more on each crust than was in the pouch, but that may have made the pizza soggy, so what do I know?)

We never got to make a pizza with the Sea Salt & Basil Ciabatta, but I found that it made a yummy standalone snack!

Give Rustic Crust a try for your next family pizza night. There are several varieties of crust, and they’re available for purchase at various grocery stores across the nation, including Whole Foods. If you do decide to try them, let me know what you think!

 

 

Our Disney Side @Home Celebration

I’ve been a huge Disney fan since I was a kid. During our 15 months in Southern California, I passed that love on to Matt and Nate by taking them to Disneyland no less than 10 times. (Keith and I had annual passports, and the boys got in free since they were under 3 at the time.)

Naturally, I was thrilled to be one of the bloggers selected by Disney Parks and MomSelect to host a Disney Side @Home Celebration. For the celebration, I received a party kit full of awesome free products from some amazing sponsors. My kit’s theme was Disney Cars, one of the twins’ favorite movies. Here’s what it contained:

  • Tons of fun Cars party decorations, including napkins, cups, plates, a tablecloth, treat boxes, and more
  • A Wilton Mickey Mouse cake pan, a Duff Goldman by Gartner Studios Tie Dye cake mix, and colorful Wilton sprinkles (with which I attempted to make a Mickey cake and failed miserably—see the photo at the end of this post)
  • Disney-themed games and activities, including “Pin the smile on Mickey Mouse,” Bingo, paper fortune-tellers, and more
  • Goodies for the kids: Cars place mats, chore charts, Crayola crayons, fun prizes including a Mega Bloks Hot Wheels building set and a Disney puzzle, and more
  • Goodies for the moms: HP CMYK (Create Memories You Keep) Packs containing HP photo paper and envelopes, Twinings Tea from Twinings of London, Disney luggage tags, and Beyond Meat coupons
  • Goodies for me: A giant tub of All detergent Mighty Pacs and samples of Wisk Deep Clean detergent and Snuggle Scent Boosters fabric softener (By the way, I love the Mighty Pacs. They are way more easy and convenient than pumping or pouring out liquid detergent and dripping it all over my floor. I just make sure to keep them out of reach of the kids, since detergent pods can be dangerous if little ones ingest them.)

We received the party kit in late January, and the boys had a blast opening it. Since we were required to have the party in January or February and didn’t have much time to plan, I decided to turn it into a giant play date for some of the new friends they’ve made since moving to Virginia a few months ago. I figured it was a good excuse for the mommies to get together as well. And because we’ve had a pretty brutal winter and everyone is going a bit stir crazy, we had an awesome turnout for a Tuesday afternoon—13 kids and seven moms!

I set up a fun party table with some of the goodies we got. The Cars cupcake tower I received in my party kit served as a display for the kids’ treat boxes that also came in the kit. (I filled them with Cars stickers and inexpensive Cars fruit snacks I found at the grocery store.)

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Since the party was at 1:30 pm and everyone had eaten lunch already, I kept it simple and put out some light snacks such as carrots and hummus, pretzels, and veggie straws. Luckily, my friend Amber livened it up a bit with the fun Mickey-shaped Jell-O treats you see at the front of the table!

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It doesn’t take much to entertain a bunch of 3- and 4-year-olds, so I kept the activities simple by pulling out pretty much any Cars-themed item the boys own. We had coloring books, puzzles, and magnetic scenes.

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I set up the boys’ Cars cars on the train table.

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I also set up little coloring stations around the house with the Crayola crayons that came in the party kit and some Cars coloring sheets I happened to have. They were a huge hit!

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We even got some of the bigger kids to play “Pin the Smile on Mickey Mouse,” though they refused to be blindfolded and simply stuck their smiles onto the correct spot on Mickey’s face.

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Overall, our Disney Side @Home Celebration was a blast for the kids and grown-ups alike! Unfortunately it was so hectic (in a good way!) that I didn’t get a chance to take many photos of the kids, but that’s a sign of a fun party!

Also, though my Duff Goldman Mickey cake was delish (I swear!), it … um … didn’t end up looking so great. (I am not a baker!) Since many other Disney Side hosts have been posting pictures of their gorgeous bakery-like Mickey cakes, I thought I’d put myself out there and post a photo of my monstrosity:

IMG_8544Hahahahahaha! My cake may have been an epic fail, but our party was a big success—and that’s all that matters! We all had a great time showing our Disney side! Thank you, Disney Parks and MomSelect, for this fun opportunity!

If you want to host your own Disney Side Celebration, visit disneysidecelebrations.com for lots of great theme ideas, recipes, activities, and inspiration!

I received free products in order to host a Disney Side @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Biscotti and Kate Mack: Pretty Dresses for Pretty Girls

I’m sure all you mamas of girls can relate: Lily is 5 months old, and I’m having a ton of fun dressing her up in all of her pretty clothes. (Seriously, you should see her closet. She has a larger wardrobe than I do.) I can’t wait for a special occasion so I’ll have an excuse to put her in a fancy, frilly dress.

And when that fancy occasion does come, I’ll know just where to turn to find that extra-special princess dress: Biscotti and Kate Mack. This company—a favorite of celebrities like Katie Holmes and Heidi Klum—makes beautiful, fun, frilly dresses and swimsuits for babies and girls size 3 months to 14. The clothing is available in luxury department stores including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Saks, and more; at specialty boutiques across the nation and overseas; and at biscottiandkatemack.com.

Biscotti and Kate Mack sent me a gorgeous pink dress to try on Lily, and it’s absolutely stunning! I am so impressed by the level of detail. The top of the dress has six pretty flowers with tiny pearls and crystals in the center. The bottom has layers of gorgeous tulle cascading down, and there’s a tulle ribbon to tie in the back. Lily looked, quite simply, like a princess. (She squealed in delight the whole time she was wearing it, meaning she already knows a pretty dress when she sees one!)

The only catch? The dress was very short on Lily. It was size 9 months, which is the size she currently wears. So if you have a tall girl like mine (she was in the 90th percentile for height at her last appointment), I’d probably go a size up in Biscotti.

Here’s Lily modeling her Biscotti dress. What do you think?

Lily Biscotti dress IMG_8577

 

Little Twig Baby Wash and Lotion

There comes a point in your kids’ lives when bath time is no longer a soothing, bonding experience for you and them. One peek into my bathroom after the twins have bathed will prove this point. (Think water all over the place, soggy towels, and a tub full of wet toys.) That’s why I am soaking in every moment of bath time with Lily while I still can.

Lily loves baths. She sits back in her infant tub and smiles up at me, her rolls and baby folds glistening in the water, as I gently wash her. And a few weeks ago, bath time got even better.

I received a bottle of Little Twig Calming Lavender Baby Wash to test and review. This organic baby wash is made of a blend of essential oils and mild foam. It combines skin- softening vitamin E with a hint of lavender and chamomile and is gentle enough for newborns.

LT baby wash

I also received a small sample of Little Twig Calming Lavender Baby Lotion. This lotion contains a mix of lavender and lemon to soothe the mind, as well as vitamin E, jojoba, and tea tree oil to heal and soften the skin.

LT lotion

The first time I squeezed out a bit of the baby wash, the subtle lavender scent instantly transported me to a spa. I could almost hear the soothing music playing in the background. There really is something calming about the smell of lavender!

The lotion smelled just as awesome. Lily cooed and smiled at me as I rubbed it into her skin, and Keith and I couldn’t stop sniffing her after that.

But the best part of these products is that they really are gentle on baby’s skin. Little Twig products are phthalate-, paraben-, and sulfate-free. There are no synthetic fragrances. There are also no, nut, soy, or wheat products in them, making them a great choice for little ones with allergies or sensitivities to those foods.

We’ve been using Little Twig for the past few weeks in place of our usual Johnson & Johnson, and I have to say I really see a difference. Lily has extremely sensitive skin. (In fact, our laundry detergent used to make her break out whenever she’d rest her head on our chests.) She’s also always had some dry skin on her forehead. But the dry patches have been much fewer since we started using Little Twig.

I also was pleasantly surprised when I visited the company’s website and found that as far as natural products go, they are not too expensive. The baby wash is $12.50 for an 8.5-oz. bottle, $17.50 for a 17-oz. bottle, and $31.99 for a 34-oz. bottle. The baby lotion is $12.50 for an 8.5-oz. bottle. You can also get them a bit cheaper on Amazon.

If you’re not into lavender, Little Twig products also come unscented or in tangerine. In addition to the baby wash and lotion, you can get bubble bath, shampoo, conditioning detangler, baby powder, and diaper cream. Check out the full product line at littletwig.com and let me know what you think!

 

An Easy, Inexpensive Way to Measure Little Feet

A friend once told me a story about how her son’s teacher noticed he was limping one day at school. The teacher thought he may have gotten injured. After some investigation and a visit to the shoe store, my friend discovered the problem—his shoes were a size and a half too small! Once he started wearing the right size, he stopped limping and all was right again.

It turns out, this is a common problem among children. Kids’ little feet grow so quickly—sometimes after only a month! Several studies have found that more than half of children wear the wrong shoe size. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), wearing the wrong size can aggravate children’s feet and prevent them from fully participating in sports and other physical activities. That’s why it’s important to measure children’s feet frequently to ensure they’re wearing the proper size.

To prevent this problem with Matt and Nate, I’ve been taking them to Stride Rite—where I buy all of their shoes—every other month or so to get their feet measured. As they’ve gotten older, this has become a huge hassle, as the boys want to run all over the store and pick all the shoes up from the displays. If their feet haven’t grown, they get upset that I’m not buying them new shoes. Plus, it’s just another errand to fit into my already chaotic days.

Enter Squatchi. Squatchi is an inexpensive at-home foot sizer for kids. Created by two Atlanta moms, Squatchi measures sizes 2 Toddler all the way up to 5 Youth.

Squatchi

Squatchi is super easy to use. Just have your child stand and rest his or her heel against the lip at the bottom, bearing weight on the foot. The line closest to the longest toe without touching is your child’s shoe size. Be sure to measure both feet, as they can vary slightly in size, and use the measurement of the larger foot. Then you can head to the shoe store only if your child’s foot has grown, or you can buy new shoes online. Easy peasy!

The company sent me a complimentary green Squatchi to try out on the twins. I’d had their feet measured only about a month ago and they were an 8.5, so that’s the size they’ve been wearing. I was almost certain it was still the proper size. Sure enough, Squatchi measured them at an 8.5.

An added bonus is that Squatchi can become a nice keepsake—like a mini growth chart for feet! Each time you measure your child’s feet, you can mark and date his or her size on the side of the Squatchi using the included permanent marker. There is plenty of space on both sides of the ruler, so I was able to mark Matt and Nate’s sizes on either side.

The only downside I can think of is that Squatchi doesn’t measure width. But based on their research of children’s shoes and feet, as well as their market research with moms of toddlers, Squatchi’s founders determined it wasn’t necessary. One reason is that the width options offered by many children’s shoe manufacturers aren’t very specific, and some don’t even offer wide or narrow sizes. Another is that the velocity of change with a child’s width is minimal, while the child’s foot length can change every month. Finally, toddler moms who tested Squatchi prototypes with width lines found that the lines were confusing. Most moms considered them unnecessary since they generally already knew if their child had normal, wide, or narrow feet.

Overall, I think Squatchi will be a great tool for me to have to monitor the boys’ foot growth. You can get your own at Amazon.com, Buy Buy Baby, Toys R Us, and several other websites and boutiques. Squatchi retails for anywhere from $14.95 to $19.99 and is available in blue, green, orange, pink, red, and white.

Score Free Stuff From Influenster!

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you’ve likely seen me post about some of the awesome free stuff I’ve received from Influenster. If you haven’t yet checked out Influenster, you should do so right away!

Influenster is a community of consumers who share their opinions of products and experiences. Anyone who is active on social media can participate on Influenster to earn VoxBoxes. VoxBoxes contain full-size product samples—anything from cosmetics to toiletries to snacks— for recipients to test and review. All you have to do is sign up, complete a profile, and link your social media accounts, and you’re well on your way. You can then boost your chances of scoring VoxBoxes by engaging on the site—reviewing products, answering questions, etc. You can spend as much or as little time on the site as you want, so it’s a great way for busy moms to score some free stuff.

I’ve been active on Influenster for less than a year and have spent an average of only a few minutes a day on the site. Even with that minimal time commitment, I’ve earned four VoxBoxes so far—a Mary Kay cosmetics one, a beach-themed one containing products like after-sun lotion and waterproof mascara, a Victoria’s Secret box that included a sports bra and leggings, and, most recently, the Moda VoxBox.

I really loved my Moda VoxBox! It contained a wide variety of amazing products. Here’s what I got:

VoxBox

  1. Puffs SoftPack: The new Puffs SoftPack has a flexible wrapper instead of a destructible cardboard box. My SoftPack has really come in handy for me because my allergies have been terrible here in Northern Virginia, and I can easily toss it in my diaper bag alongside the baby wipes. Plus, the wrapper has a really fun design!
  2. resource Natural Spring Water: I had never heard of this water until a big ol’ bottle arrived in my VoxBox. Resource is a sustainably sourced, 100-percent natural spring water with naturally occurring electrolytes for a clean, refreshing taste. I guzzled that bottle down during a late work night, and it really kept me going!
  3. Hair Food Moisture Hair Mask: I’ve only used this brand new product a couple of times so far, but it made my hair feel really soft, smooth, and shiny—like I just came out of the hair salon. Plus, the honey and apricot oil smelled really luxurious!
  4. Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa: This was my favorite product in the VoxBox! I love Christmastime, so I really enjoyed curling up on the couch and drinking this cocoa out of my Santa mug. I buy the original Swiss Miss every winter, but I really liked the Simply Cocoa. It tasted richer than the original, and it contains only five ingredients—sugar, cocoa, nonfat milk, salt, and natural flavor. Yum!
  5. JERGENS Ultra Healing Extra Dry Skin Moisturizer: Now that I’m living back in a wintry climate (ugh), I once again have to contend with dry, cracked skin on my hands and elbows. Eczema cream is super pricey, so I was thrilled to receive this product in my VoxBox. It’s been working great! It contains Vitamins C, E, and B5 and keeps my skin smoother longer.
  6. Rimmel London Scandaleyes Rockin’ Curves Mascara: This mascara is awesome! It goes on smoothly, it doesn’t clump, and it really makes my eyes pop. The curved brush makes it easy to coat every lash.
  7. Rimmel London Moisture Renew Lipstick and Lip Liner: Since I don’t wear lipstick (I’m more of a lip-gloss girl), I have to admit that I only tried this out in my bathroom. But the color was rich, and the transparent lip liner made it easy to quickly apply the lipstick without getting it all over the place. It seems perfect for busy moms in a hurry!

I just got an email informing me that I have another VoxBox on the way—the Frosty VoxBox—and it also looks like it’s going to be a good one. It contains an EcoTools Hair Brush, McCormick Gourmet Thyme, and more.

Get in on the action and give Influenster a try! Let me know how you like it!

*I received the above products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

Unique Holiday Cards on Minted

The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it an endless to-do list of gift buying and wrapping, decorating, baking, and more. One of those to-do’s is sending holiday cards.

I am always looking for great ways to show off photos of my kids on our cards. That’s why I was excited to find Minted’s new collection of photo holiday cards. It includes some of the most fun and unique designs around, whether you’re going for elegant, funny, quirky, or anything in between. Just look at this luggage tag-shaped card:

Luggage tag

If you’ve got little mischief-makers like my twins, this hilarious design would be perfect:

Wreck the Halls

You can eliminate the need for a Christmas letter with this design (which also helps military families like my own announce where they are currently living):

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Or if you had a Christmas baby, you can send a holiday card and birth announcement in one:

Birth announcement

And though it’s not part of the new collection, this Minted comic-book card is simply awesome for comic book fans or families with little superheroes in training:

Compics

Seriously, there are so many cool holiday-card options at various price points on Minted, but I don’t have time to show all of my favorites here on the blog. If you haven’t yet chosen and sent your holiday cards, check out Minted’s new Christmas card collection. Many of the designs have express service available, so you still have time to get them out before the new year.