At 4.5 years old, my twins love building toys. LEGO bricks, Magna-Tiles, Lincoln Logs, and Tegu blocks are regularly strewn all over my family room. As annoying as that can be (we’ve all experienced the misery of stepping on a stray LEGO brick), I love the fact that Matt and Nate are learning invaluable STEM and problem-solving skills—and using their imaginations— while they build. To me, a little mess is a small price to pay to mold the minds of my future engineers or architects.
Naturally, I thought I knew about all of the building toys out there. But then I learned about Brackitz. Brackitz are durable, open-ended blocks that enable children of all ages to build any imaginable structure in any size. Naturally, I was eager to let the boys give Brackitz a try.
We received a Brackitz Inventor 28-Piece Set to try in exchange for our honest opinion. With so few pieces, I thought the boys would get bored quickly. But I was pleasantly surprised by how long they were able to entertain themselves. I was also impressed with how many different creations they were able to come up with.
The kids were eager to build as soon as I opened the box. Even Lily got in on the fun!
Matt was super excited about the 4-way connectors, so the first thing he did was make an X!
Nate made an airplane.
And then of course, Matt had to build an even cooler airplane, while Nate turned the remaining pieces into a “giraffe that’s eating popcorn.”
These photos were taken last week, and the kids have played with their Brackitz every day since then, creating all sorts of vehicles and other crazy gadgets. It’s really interesting to see how creative they have gotten and all the combinations they’ve been able to dream up with only 28 pieces. The 4-way and 3-way connectors really increase the building possibilities, and there are even little motion connectors that let you add moving parts to your creations, such as spinning propellers.
The Brackitz Inventor 28-Piece Set currently retails for $19.95 on Amazon. You can also get 50-piece, 100-piece, and even 200-piece sets. I definitely see a larger set in our future, as well as many Brackitz birthday gifts for the boys’ friends.
If you’ve got a little builder, give Brackitz a try and let me know what you think!
We had a wonderful and busy holiday season full of family, friends, and lots of fun outings. For the first time ever, we hosted Christmas Eve and Christmas, then headed to New York for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The kids went back to school this week and we are all settling back into a routine.
Now that 2016 is upon us, I’ve been reading many people’s new year’s resolutions. For parents, those resolutions often revolve around their children: Spend more time with the kids. Put down the smartphone. Be more present.
I want to do all of those things this year. But I have a few resolutions of my own that I feel will make me a way better mom. Here they are:
1. Wake up before the kids. I used to be really good about this, and it made the morning—and the entire day—go so much more smoothly. I’d set my alarm for about an hour before the kids typically wake up to shower, drink coffee, and eat breakfast in peace. Sometimes I’d even get to read the newspaper. By the time the kids woke up, I felt energized and more focused on them.
But once the colder weather arrived, I got lazy and started using the kids as my alarm clock. That resulted in very stressful and hectic mornings, rushing out the door with coats half on and breakfast barely eaten. Let me tell you, it’s no fun to rush into preschool late with two frazzled kids in tow. So this year, I vow to go to bed earlier and rise before the kids so we can get back to our (mostly) peaceful mornings.
2. End the mom guilt. No mother—whether she’s a full-time working mom, a full-time stay-at-home mom, or something in between—is immune to mom guilt. And that guilt multiplied exponentially for me after Lily was born. Suddenly, I’ve had to divide my attention between three children while taking on more freelance work and struggling to maintain this blog. It’s a seemingly endless loop that goes something like this: “I work too much.” “I don’t work enough.” “I should have more play dates for the kids.” “I should have fewer play dates because I spend the whole time talking to other moms and not playing with the kids.” “I didn’t play with the kids enough today.” “I played with the kids too much and the house is a mess.”
ENOUGH! This year, I am banishing the mom guilt from my life for good. My kids are happy, smart, secure, well-rounded, and incredibly loved. I’m a great mom. And gosh darn it, people like me. (All you Saturday Night Live fans will appreciate that.)
3. Display more photos of the kids. This may seem like a silly one, but it’s actually very important to me. I have thousands and thousands of amazing photos of my kids languishing on my cell phone and hard drive. And, 15 months after moving into this house, I still have a ton of blank wall space. Walking past those walls and seeing the twins’ school pictures, or a big picture of Lily in her first-birthday tutu, or some of the amazing holiday photos my brother took of us, would add a great deal of sunshine to my day!
4. Travel without the kids. Since the boys were born in 2011, I’ve spent several nights away from my children. There was the 4-day trip to Orlando I took with my cousin Kim, the two long weekends I spent in New York last summer, and several other quick jaunts. Keith has also spent many nights away from the kids, mainly for work trips or field time or his deployment. But we have only ever spent two nights away from the children together, and they were when we came here to house hunt when I was seven months pregnant with Lily. And because we spent pretty much the entire 48 hours touring homes, we don’t count that. So this year, come hell or high water, we plan to take a short vacation just the two of us. We need it for both of our sanity!
5. Chill. The F. OUT. I’ve always felt the need to be productive at every moment of every day. If I sat down for half an hour, I lamented all the laundry I could have folded or work emails I could have sent. If I spent 15 minutes on Facebook, I complained that I should have unloaded the dishwasher instead. And even when I was productive, I’d get angry that I didn’t get more done. I should have written that story more quickly, or cleaned faster, or multitasked better.
But lately, I’ve really chilled out—and I am so much happier and less stressed because of it. If I feel like sitting in the coffee shop to enjoy my cup of joe instead of going through the drive-through and drinking it in the car, I do it. If I decide to watch some bad reality TV during Lily’s nap instead of cleaning the kitchen, I enjoy the mental break and move on instead of beating myself up over it. And at the end of the day, instead of obsessing about the the two items I didn’t check off my to-do list, I focus on the five things I did get done. I will continue this trend in 2016. After all, when Mom is happy, everyone is happy!
Sure, there are many other changes both big and small I’d like to make in 2016, like finding more time to exercise and spending less money on groceries. But those are my five main goals that I think will really make me a happier and healthier mom.
What are your goals for 2016? Please share! Happy new year!
The first few months of a baby’s life sure are a whirlwind—the constant feedings, the lack of sleep, the endless diaper changes, etc. One you’re out of that newborn phase, you look back and realize how quickly it flew by. But in the thick of it, you feel like it’s never going to end.
That’s why it’s so important for new moms to take little breaks when they can. That’s easier said than done, of course. But even taking a hot shower while a neighbor holds the baby can brighten a new mom’s day and make her feel just a teeny bit human again.
Lily was born in California, where we lived for the first six weeks of her life before moving cross country. And for me, the ocean is therapeutic. So when I needed a break from the chaos of the twins running around, the baby crying, the moving boxes, etc., I stole away to the beach.
In the very beginning, it may have been just a few moments standing with my toes in the sand, or sitting on a bench on the Redondo Beach Esplanade to watch the waves crash ashore. As I regained strength, walking along the beach while Keith or a visiting relative watched the kids invigorated me. Sometimes I’d bring Lily along and push her in her stroller, as she also seemed to be calmed by the ocean.
The beach was certainly a huge part of my “formula for happiness” in Lily’s newborn days. But every mom has a unique formula that includes her own personal pick-me-ups—a 15-minute bubble bath, a quiet moment in the garden, a trip to the grocery store sans kids, or any other simple pleasure.
But there is one thing that’s part of every new mom’s formula for happiness—SLEEP. That means sleep for her baby and, therefore, sleep for herself. Sleep helps give babies energy and puts them in the mood to learn, explore, and enjoy their day as they grow and develop. And sleep gives moms more patience and energy to care for their little ones and themselves.
Unfortunately, babies aren’t born with the ability to sleep through the night. And there are all sorts of theories and methods out there on how to get your baby to do just that. But whatever strategy you use, the goal is the same—a good night’s sleep.
The folks at Gerber® Good Start® Gentle seem to understand just how essential sleep is for moms and babies. So, they’ve enlisted a certified sleep consultant, Christina Gantcher, to provide free one-on-one baby sleep consultations to expectant and new parents via telephone. During these consultations, Ms. Gantcher will share her tips on creating a safe and sleep-friendly environment for baby, suggest gentle sleep solutions and strategies for babies ages 0 to 6 months, and provide support for sleep challenges in older infants.
I think it’s awesome that Gerber is providing this type of service—which normally would cost moms a pretty penny—for free! You can schedule your 15-minute phone conversation with Ms. Gantcher, or with Gerber® Good Start® Gentle’s nutritionist or certified lactation consultant, at gerber.com/experts.
Here’s to finding your own formula for happiness, and to many restful nights with your new baby!
Disclosure: I received compensation for this post as part of a promotional program with Gerber® Good Start® Gentle and MomSelect. All opinions are my own!
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:
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:
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, TheStationeryStudio 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.
I couldn’t resist these glittery gold star straws from Etsy shop Fabulous Little Party:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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!
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!
June 2015 is ICP Awareness Month. ICP stands for Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. It’s a rare and serious liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy. If untreated, it carries a 15 percent chance of stillbirth.
I was diagnosed with ICP when I was pregnant with Lily. To help spread awareness of this scary condition during ICP Awareness Month, here is my story.
When I was 37 weeks pregnant with Lily, I began to get really itchy. Not just mosquito-bite itchy. The kind of itchy where I wanted to claw my skin off. My arms, my belly, the palms of my hands, and the soles of my feet would go through bouts of sudden itching, with no accompanying rash. Since it happened to coincide with a particularly brutal heat wave in Southern California, I figured it was just late-pregnancy heat sensitivity.
On Friday, August 29, I went in for my last check-up before my C-section, which was scheduled for the following Friday. I hadn’t been itchy that morning and was feeling great. Consumed with excitement about my last week of pregnancy, I gave my doctor a big hug and told her I’d see her in the operating room in a week.
Later that morning, I took Matt and Nate to their My Gym class. I was standing with a couple of mom friends and, without realizing it, scratching my arms and palms. One of my friends asked if I was OK.
“Ya know, I’ve been really itchy lately. It must be some weird late-pregnancy symptom,” I said.
“Hmm…I never experienced that,” she replied.
My other friend hadn’t, either. That’s when I began to wonder if maybe something else was going on.
The rest of the day passed with the itching coming and going. We had a nice family dinner out, then went into the boys’ room to start their bedtime routine. As we sat on the floor and read books, my soles suddenly got so itchy that I had to stand up and start rubbing them on the carpet. Then my palms started to itch.
“You know, I’m gonna jump online and Google my itching,” I told Keith. “I just want to make sure this is a normal pregnancy symptom.”
Keith always discourages me from Googling symptoms because I can be a bit of a hypochondriac, but even he was curious about the itching. So as he finished putting the boys to bed, I went into the office and started to research.
What I read terrified me. It turned out that my itching was not a typical pregnancy symptom. It was, however, a major symptom of Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, which most often begins in the third trimester of pregnancy. Here is a list of the most common symptoms:
Itching all over—often more severe on palms and soles—without a rash present. The itching can be constant or recurring and is often worse at night.
Dark urine and/or pale stools
Other symptoms may include:
Right upper quadrant pain
Loss of appetite
More About ICP ICP affects the normal flow of bile. Bile acids are chemicals in the bile of the liver that help with digestion. With ICP the bile flow begins to slow down, causing the bile acids to build up in the blood. ICP is associated with an increased risk of stillbirth, preterm labor, fetal distress, respiratory distress, maternal hemorrhaging and meconium passage in utero.
But it’s very rare. Overall, ICP affects only 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 U.S. pregnancies. In the past, it was thought to be a benign condition. For those reasons, some health care providers are not fully aware of the possible risks ICP carries or of the most up-to-date treatments.
Proper treatment of ICP generally includes medication, weekly blood tests and monitoring, and delivery of the baby at 37 weeks gestation.
My Diagnosis Once I showed Keith the information I’d found, he was concerned enough to place a call to my doctor, (who was, of course, heading out of town for the long Labor Day weekend). He left a message with the answering service and she called him back quickly. As soon as he told her my symptoms, she advised us to go into the hospital right away to get tested.
Of course, we lived thousands of miles away from family, but one of our wonderful friends (also a mom of young twins) was able to come over to stay with the boys. We headed to the hospital at around 10 pm to begin a long night of monitoring and testing.
I was hooked up to a fetal heart monitor to make sure Lily was OK. I got a special ultrasound. Most important, I got two important blood tests—a Fractionated Bile Acid Test and a Liver Function Test. The Bile Acid Test measures the level of bile acids in the blood, while the Liver Function Test measures liver enzymes.
When we got the results of my Liver Function Test a few hours later, they showed that my liver enzymes were, in fact, elevated. Unfortunately, the Bile Acid Test had to be sent to a lab and would take several days to come back, so they couldn’t definitively diagnose me with ICP.
We returned home around 2 am, exhausted and scared, with orders to closely monitor Lily’s kick counts and to return to the hospital on Sunday for the same round of monitoring and blood tests. We dropped the boys off at a friend’s house on Sunday and went back in. The fetal monitoring and ultrasound went well, but my liver enzymes were still elevated. Unfortunately, my bile acid results still had not come in.
That meant back to the hospital we went on Tuesday for more monitors and tests. At least my parents were in town by then to stay with the boys, but it wasn’t exactly how we’d envisioned the last week of pregnancy going.
I was at the beach with my family the next afternoon—two days before the scheduled C-section—when my doctor called to say my test results had finally come in: I did, indeed, have Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. I panicked, fully prepared to head right into the hospital to have Lily. But she had consulted with a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and they both felt that my bile acid levels were not high enough to require delivery right at that moment. They felt the benefits of carrying Lily the full 39 weeks outweighed the risks at that point.
Keith and I went in the next day for more monitoring, and all looked good. The next day—after a frightening and stressful week—I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, 8 lb.-4 oz. baby girl.
As scary as our experience was, it was nothing compared to what most women with ICP go through. ICP is typically diagnosed earlier in the third trimester—sometimes even before that. That means most women with ICP experience weeks of intense itching (often to the point that it disrupts their sleep) and other symptoms, weekly blood tests, a huge amount of fear and stress, and an early delivery—and, in rare cases, worse.
I’m not trying to scare anyone unnecessarily, as itching during pregnancy is usually nothing to worry about. But if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, I urge you to read up on Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. If you experience intense itching with no rash present—especially if it’s on your palms and/or soles—call your doctor. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s better to be safe and get it checked out!
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
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.)
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!
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.
I set up the boys’ Cars cars on the train table.
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!
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.
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:
Hahahahahaha! 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.
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?