Category: Military

Mudpuppy Puzzles Are Perfect for Travel!

Military life comes with frequent moves. That often means being far away from family and friends—and driving or flying long distances to visit them. So, military kids often do a lot of traveling.

My children are the perfect example. My twin boys logged at least five cross-country airplane flights by the time they were 2. My daughter took a 3,000-mile road trip with us at 5 weeks old when we moved from California to Virginia. Over the past two years, we’ve driven to New York to visit family more often than I can count. Add to that our various vacations, and you’re looking at some very well-traveled kiddos.

But while my kids’ extensive travel experience has made them a bit more flexible than other kids in many ways—they can easily sleep anywhere, they can handle schedule changes pretty well, etc.—at the end of the day, they are still kids. And just like any kid, they need to be entertained on long flights and car rides. They need things to do in the hotel room or at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And because Keith and I don’t want their travel entertainment to consist solely of TV and iPad time, we’re often forced to devote way too much suitcase space to toys and books.

So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to have the chance to try out some of Mudpuppy’s portable puzzles. They are light and compact, making them easy to toss into my carry-on bag or diaper bag. And they are adorable and lots of fun! Here’s what we tried:

Pouch Puzzle: Mudpuppy’s 12-piece Pouch Puzzles (for ages 2 and up) come in zippered pouches, not boxes, making them flat and super easy to tote around. We received the Princess Castle puzzle, perfect for my little girly girl. We took the puzzle with us to Hawaii and on several trips to New York, and even when we’re not traveling Lily loves to put it together. The thick pieces are perfect for her little hands, and the puzzle is just hard enough that she feels challenged, but can still put it together on her own. Pouch Puzzles come in 16 themes and retail for $10.99.

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Our completed Pouch Puzzle

Puzzle To Go: The 36-piece Puzzles to Go, geared to ages 3 and up, are 12″ by 9″ when put together. That means they fit perfectly into an airplane or train tray table! We received the Outer Space puzzle and the Airplane puzzle, which was perfect because Nate loves space and Matt loves transportation. We first whipped these puzzles out on our long flight to Hawaii, and they entertained the boys for about an hour each! They were so excited to be able to do puzzles on the plane. And because they come in a drawstring pouch, the puzzles took up hardly any space in my carry-on bag. Mudpuppy makes 10 Puzzles To Go that retail for $9.99 each.

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Look how small the pouch is!
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Our completed Airplane Puzzle To Go

 

My First Touch & Feel Puzzle: Each of the six My First Touch & Feel Puzzle sets come with four three-piece puzzles for ages 1 and up. The pieces are chunky, and each puzzle has one textured piece for little hands to feel. We received the “In The Garden” set, and even at 2 1/2 Lily absolutely loves these puzzles. I’d say this set is the least portable of the puzzles we tried because it comes in a box, but a bonus is that the puzzles are small enough to fit on a tray table. My First Touch & Feel Puzzles retail for $12.99.

Mudpuppy My First Touch & Feel Puzzles
Our completed My First Touch & Feel Puzzles

 

In addition to these awesome puzzles, Mudpuppy makes lots of other fun travel toys and games for all ages, including Magnetic Build-It sets, felt Play Scenes, Ring Flash Cards, and more. So with spring break travel coming up and summer vacations just around the corner, now is the perfect time to visit galison.com/MUDPUPPY and get some for yourself!

 Disclosure: I received complimentary items to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Share Your Hero With Mrs. Fields

Merriam-Webster defines the word “hero” as follows: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities. I can’t think of anyone who fits that description more completely than my husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters. Keith has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which he received three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in combat. He is well respected by so many soldiers and officers who have served with him. Those are the reasons he is considered a hero to many.

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This was at 6 am on July 4, 2011. Keith was holding one of our 2-week-old twins before leaving for Afghanistan … and he was still smiling. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is!

But to me, Keith is a hero because of the way he lives his life each day—because of the type of husband, father, family member, and friend he is. He is a hero every time he pushes through a run despite having been shot in the leg in Afghanistan. He was a hero when he happily looked after our three kids and my friend’s three kids—all age 6 and under—in our basement on a Friday evening so I could have the girls over for wine. He was a hero when he moved a morning work meeting to take care of the kids so I could sleep off a stomach bug. He was a hero when he practically carried my father, who’s over 6 feet tall, up the stairs during an illness earlier this year. He’s a hero every time he shovels a neighbor’s driveway in the bitter cold.

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But enough about my hero. I want to hear about your hero—and so does Mrs. Fields! The cookie company has launched the Share Your Hero campaign to help embrace local heroes who serve their communities all across the country. Through October 31, 2016, you can go to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com to nominate a hero. Mrs. Fields will choose one nominee to be America’s Hometown Hero, and will donate $5,000 to a charity of his or her choosing. And as if that weren’t sweet enough, everyone who nominates a hero on the site will receive a coupon for $1 off a box of Mrs. Fields cookies. (Trust me, they’re delicious!)

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So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com and #ShareYourHero. And while you’re at it, leave a comment below and let me know who you nominated. Can’t wait to hear all about your heroes!

Coming Up: New Baby, New Crib!

Summer is often a busy time for military families because it’s PCS (permanent change of station) season, AKA moving season. But this year has been especially crazed for us, as we happen to have, ahem, a few things going on. Where to even begin? Here we go:

1) The twins turned 3 on June 19, and their birthday party was two days later. We decided to have the party at our own home this year. That meant weeks of preparation and lots of cleanup, but it turned out to be so much fun. The boys chose a superhero theme, so we had all the kids (about a dozen) decorate their own capes. We also gave each child a felt mask. And, Superman himself flew in to entertain the kids! He was incredible, and Matt and Nate could not have been more thrilled. They still tell everyone all about how the real Superman came to their party. If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to hire a character for your next party, we highly recommend Wishing Well Entertainment. You and your kiddos will not be disappointed!

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2) We flew to New York a week later to visit family. It was the boys’ ninth round-trip flight, but their first since last November, and I have to say—flying with 3-year-olds was way easier than flying with 2-year-olds! We didn’t need a huge bag stuffed with toys with which to entertain them on the flight. All they needed were iPads, a few books, and some crayons, and they were good to go. They even walked through security on their own! The trip lasted nearly two weeks, and we had a great time catching up with family and friends.

3) Two days after we arrived in New York, Keith and I drove down to Virginia (the boys stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house) to look for the new home we will move into in late October. Since our 5-year anniversary was coming up on July 18, we decided to treat it like a mini anniversary trip/babymoon and stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City. It was fabulous! We managed to look at about a dozen homes in the three days we were there, which was pretty tiring with me being nearly seven months pregnant in the heat and humidity. But, it did lead to the next big thing that happened:

4) We bought a house!!! It’s in an awesome, family-friendly community in Northern Virginia, and it is the perfect home for our growing family. There is a huge, grassy backyard with a big deck and a basketball hoop, a large basement, five bedrooms, and lots of space. The best part is that it’s move-in ready, which is crucial since we’ll be moving in with a 7-week-old baby. Keith’s commute to the Pentagon will be pretty easy, too. As sad as we’ll be to leave California, we’re really excited to move into our new home!

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Our new home!

5) Back in New York, my best friend from high school, Christine, threw me a surprise mini baby shower (also called a “sprinkle”). About a dozen of my closest ladies attended, and it was so wonderful. I received a ton of adorable baby clothes for the little princess, and I just can’t wait to dress her up!

Thing have not slowed down since we arrived back in California on July 8. My days and evenings have been consumed with preparations for the baby and the move. I spent two days straight researching and contacting preschools in our new neighborhood to see if I could find a good one that happened to have two openings this close to the new school year. It really was like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, I did find one that I think will be a great fit for the boys. They will start in November and they’ll be going Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 am to 1 pm. It’s exciting and nerve-racking, but I know they will love it!

I’ve also spent a lot of time researching doctors in the new area, since the baby and I will both need follow-up care as soon we arrive. The kids and I are on Tricare Standard, which means we can select our own physicians. However, depending on where you live, it can be hard to find good doctors who accept Tricare. I’ve had to rely solely on Internet research and reviews from patients, but I finally found a pediatrician for the kids and a doctor for me who I believe will be good fits.

Things are not likely to slow down for us until well after the move. Today marks 33 weeks of pregnancy for me. I have a C-section scheduled for September 5, which means the baby will be here in only six weeks (or less)! Eeeeeek!

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Me at 32 weeks pregnant with baby girl!

The boys have started a weekly two-hour drop-off class at Gymboree called School Skills, which we’re hoping will help ease their transition to “real” preschool. They love the class so far! They’ll also continue to take weekly gymnastics classes at My Gym. Nate is now fully potty trained—even at night—but Matt is still struggling with the process. We’re trying not to push him too hard, but with preschool starting in a little more than three months, we’re feeling the pressure.

And then there’s the big move, which will begin October 15 if the baby gets the all-clear. Yes, we are driving cross-country with two 3-year-olds and a 6-week-old baby in a Toyota 4Runner with no third row. Yes, we are a tad bit crazy. But we are used to these “adventures” of Army life. After all, this will be the boys’ fourth home in their fourth city and they’re only 3 years old! So please think of us over these next few months, and I’ll continue to keep you all updated on the blog!

First Pregnancy vs. Second Pregnancy

Today I am exactly 27 weeks pregnant, which according to many experts (including the American Pregnancy Association) marks the beginning of my third trimester. WHAAAAT? When did THAT happen? This pregnancy has seriously flown by. That’s probably because it’s my second one, and I’m so focused on caring for the twins, I barely have time to think about being pregnant. We’ve also been running around like crazy trying to soak up every bit of Southern California before our upcoming move to the Washington, DC area in October. Add to that list working, trying to get this blog active again, and prepping for the move, and it’s no wonder this final stretch of pregnancy has snuck up on me.

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27 weeks pregnant!

 

 

So, that brings me here—more than six months into the pregnancy and writing only my second blog post about it. Seriously—in the past six months, I’ve only had time to write about this pregnancy twice. In contrast, I wrote 18 posts about my pregnancy with Matt and Nate. But then I also had time to nap when I was pregnant with them, so…

But that’s only one of the differences between this, my second pregnancy, and my first pregnancy with the twins. Here are some of the others:

1st pregnancy: I took my prenatal vitamins religiously, at around the same time each day.
2nd pregnancy: When’s the last time I took the vitamin? I think it was yesterday morning. Or maybe it was the day before. Shoot, I’d better go take one now. 

1st pregnancy: We painstakingly pored through baby-name books and websites, making comprehensive lists of boy and girl names we liked. By week 14, we had two first names and two middle names picked out for each gender.
2nd pregnancy: Questions of, “Have you chosen a name yet?” are usually met with blank stares and the panicked realization that, oh yeah, we actually have to name this child.

1st pregnancy: We knew exactly when all of our doctor appointments were.
2nd pregnancy: We’ll be sitting at dinner when it suddenly hits me that we haven’t seen the doctor in a while. “We just went, like, last week!” Keith will respond between bites of food. Then I’ll check my smartphone calendar and realize that we actually went four weeks ago and our next appointment is tomorrow at 9 a.m. Crap! Hope the nanny is free to watch the boys.

1st pregnancy: I followed every diet rule in the book—no soft cheeses, no lunch meat, etc.—and then panicked if I accidentally consumed a forbidden food.
2nd pregnancy: I’ve been known to shove entire slices of salami into my mouth in a ravenous fury, and I honestly don’t even remember the full list of food no-no’s. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant with a friend a couple of months ago who is pregnant for the first time (with twins), and she made sure to ask the waitress if the cheese in the saag paneer was pasteurized. It hadn’t even occurred to me to ask that question.

1st pregnancy: I bought a pregnancy journal and carefully filled it out each week throughout the pregnancy.
2nd pregnancy: I ordered a pregnancy journal in a melodramatic panic a couple of weeks ago because I don’t want my daughter to find Matt and Nate’s journal years from now and ask why she doesn’t have one. Now I’m going through it and struggling to figure out exactly how I felt each week, what I was doing, etc. Half the stuff I write in it probably won’t even be accurate. Oops.

1st pregnancy: Keith took photos of my growing belly on the same day each week—and I probably overshared them on social media.
2nd pregnancy: I’ve had several friends ask me, “Where are all the belly shots?” Ummm, I have some, but they were taken on the most random days, and I don’t even think I’ve sent any to my mother. Sorry, Mom.

1st pregnancy: Babies R Us was our second home. We were there about four times a week, including Friday nights.
2nd pregnancy: I think I’ve been in Babies R Us twice since learning I was pregnant, and that was to buy Pull-Ups for Matt.

1st pregnancy: We researched the heck out of baby gear, looking at user reviews and safety ratings.
2nd pregnancy: The boys’ old Exersaucer, swing, and bouncy seats are somewhere in the black hole that is our garage. We should probably dig them out at some point. Soon.

I could go on and on, but the more I list, the more guilty I feel about the lack of attention I’ve been paying to this baby. I mean, she won’t even have a nursery for her first two months of life! (Since we’re moving when she is only six weeks old, she will just sleep in our room until we get to the new house.)

But for everything that’s different about this pregnancy, there’s a lot that is the same. We love this baby girl just as much as we loved Matt and Nate when they were in my belly. Though we aren’t as consumed with preparation for her arrival, we—and our entire extended family—are just as excited to welcome her into her lives. Keith has made it to every single doctor appointment, just as he did the first time around, and he still makes time every night to talk to my belly.

Also, there are some things I’ve been more involved in than I was with the boys’ pregnancy. I managed to spend three entire afternoons (that I was supposed to be working) researching baby-girl nursery decor. And trust me, when we buy our new home, I am pulling out all the stops. This girl is gonna be living in style! (Crystal chandelier, anyone?) I’ve also been excitedly stocking up on things I never thought I’d get excited about, like flowery headbands and tutus.

Besides that, this baby girl has something Matt and Nate did not—the love and excitement of two older siblings who can’t wait to meet her! Last night, as I was lying on the couch with my burgeoning belly exposed, the boys climbed up on either side of me and said, “Hi, Baby! I love you!” Then they started rubbing and kissing my belly. It was truly priceless.

I am still feeling great and have lots of energy. There is a ton to do in these waning weeks of pregnancy, but I’ll try my best to do better at keeping you all updated. Oh, and Matt and Nate turn 3 next week. Time to get back to planning their big superhero birthday bash!

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These little superheroes turn 3 next week!

 

The Los Angeles Kings Northrop Grumman Hero of the Game

Several months ago I wrote about the Los Angeles Dodgers and the great support they show for our military. Today I want to tell you about another professional sports organization that supports our military—the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings! At each home game, the Kings honor one local member of the military as the Northrop Grumman Hero of the Game. The honoree and his or her guests (up to three guests for regular-season games and one for playoff games) receive amazing seats in the 100 level of STAPLES Center, as well as dinner at the exclusive Lexus Club before the game. The servicemember is honored at center ice during the National Anthem and on the big screen at his or her seat later in the game.

My husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters, had the honor of being the Hero of the Game for game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals between the Kings and my beloved team, the New York Rangers. It was a truly memorable experience, and we are so thankful to the Kings and their fans for their hospitality and kindness. I want to say a special “thank you” to Jonathan Anderson, the Kings’ Community and Alumni Relations Assistant, for coordinating the Hero of the Game program and for welcoming us so warmly!

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The Kings’ Hero of the Game—and my everyday hero—near the Wayne Gretzky statue in front of STAPLES Center!

Jonathan had us meet him outside STAPLES Center near the Wayne Gretzky statue. (For a hockey fan, that alone was super cool!) He escorted us into the Lexus Club, where we were welcomed just as warmly as the celebrities probably are. We enjoyed a delicious buffet-style spread of seafood, sushi, meats, salads, desserts, and more.

Since Keith was already wearing his dress blues, several regular club members came over to chat with us and to offer to buy us drinks. It was very kind of them, but a bummer when you’re 6 months pregnant! Keith also did not want to drink while representing the Army in uniform, so we had to politely decline.

The best part of our Lexus Club experience was when former hockey great and longtime Kings player Luc Robitaille—now the president of business operations for the Kings—came over to introduce himself and to thank Keith for his service. He told us proudly that he is now a U.S. citizen and that he really appreciates the military. What a classy and sweet guy, and a huge honor for us to meet him!

Jonathan met us about an hour later and took us down to the concourse from which Keith would enter the ice. I got to hang out there for a great view of the ice during the National Anthem. The announcer welcomed Keith and thanked him for his service, and he got to stand next to The Tenors and salute the flag as they sang the National Anthem. On his way off the ice, he got to shake Wayne Gretzky’s hand. (Gretzky dropped the ceremonial first puck of the game.)

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Keith as Hero of the Game!

The best part? Keith’s introduction and the anthem were actually televised on NBC, so all of our friends and family got to see it! Our nanny had the twins watch it and videotaped their reactions, which were priceless. The boys have since had me play it for them about 300 times. Matt likes to pretend he is the announcer by using his mini hockey stick as a microphone and saying, “Introducing … DADDY! The greatest hero in the world!” What a great reminder that for all the sacrifices military kids make, they are so lucky because they get to have real heroes as their daddies and/or mommies.

We then got settled into our seats, which were incredible—12 rows from the ice! We sat in the same section as Larry David and Gretzky himself. Will Ferrell was in the section next to us. Most of the fans surrounding us were season-ticket holders who all knew each other, but they were happy to chat with us throughout the game and really made us feel at home.

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Keith was honored on the big screen about 15 minutes into the first period. Nearly everyone in the arena stood up to applaud him. In fact, it was so loud in there we could barely hear the announcer reading Keith’s bio. What an incredible feeling! I stood beside Keith and made it to onto the screen myself, much to my six-months-pregnant dismay. They also put us on the kiss cam in the second period. I totally didn’t see that coming, although I certainly should have!

And let’s not forget the game itself: It was a really exciting one, with both teams playing hard. The game went into overtime, and the Kings won 3 to 2 only a few minutes into it. But despite the loss for my Rangers, it was such a fun and extremely memorable evening. I was so proud to see all the fans stopping to talk to Keith, to thank him for his service, and even to take a photo with him. I know so many great servicemembers who deserve to be honored, but I think Keith truly represents them and the U.S. Army well.

So, thank you again to the Los Angeles Kings for being such a classy organization that truly supports our men and women in uniform. It means so much to military families!

To nominate a servicemember to be the Northrop Grumman Hero of the Game at a 2014-15 Kings game, click here!

My Love Story in the Los Angeles Times!

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Nicole Daddona / For the Los Angeles Times

Military life certainly has its share of challenges—frequent moves, long separations, dangerous deployments, etc. But it also opens the door to so many new experiences—and teaches you things you never knew about yourself.

I, for one, was a true New Yorker in every sense of the word and planned to live there forever. Then I met Keith. I first left my beloved city in 2006, kicking and screaming. I quickly discovered that there was a big, beautiful country—and a whole new world—outside of New York.

Today, I had a story published in the Los Angeles Times about falling in love with Keith—and with Southern California. If it weren’t for the military, I would never have met this amazing man, discovered this wonderful place, or had my beautiful children. So for all of the sacrifices I’ve made as a military spouse, I’ve gained a beautiful life full of love, laughter, and joy. Read all about here: Battle of L.A. vs. NYC ends in a love match.

 

 

BIG NEWS!!!

I seem to always have excuses for my long absences. This time, though, I have a legitimate reason for being M.I.A.—I’m PREGNANT!!!! I’m 19 weeks along, to be exact.

But that’s not the only news. On Monday, we found out we’re expecting a baby girl! We are absolutely thrilled beyond words to be embarking on this new adventure. We’re also sort of terrified. The idea of caring for three little ones age 3 and under is a bit daunting. We’ll also be moving to the Washington, D.C. area in mid October, when the baby is only about 6 weeks old. That means we’ll be adjusting to a new home in a new city while caring for a newborn. It’s an awful lot to handle, but that’s military life for you! And hey, we’ve never been the type to do things the easy way, anyway.

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The proud big brothers show off an early photo of their baby sister!

Everyone says that after caring for two babies at once, one will seem like a breeze. And I see their point. But caring for a girl will be a whole new world for us. I feel like we’re experts at all things boy-related, but girl stuff—like styling hair—is foreign to us. Plus, instead of just pulling out the bins of boy clothes and dusting them off, we have to buy a whole new girl wardrobe. (Dress shopping—yay!) But we will figure it all out, and we’ll have a blast doing it.

The boys are super excited to become big brothers. Nate loves to tell total strangers about the baby in his mommy’s belly, which he describes as “so much fat.” Matt likes to pretend the baby is in his belly. But they both say they’re excited to help take care of, play with, and tickle their baby sister. (Let’s see how excited they are when she’s a little older and tries to play with their toys!)

While we are obviously super excited about this pregnancy, it’s been quite different from the first one. When I was pregnant with the twins, I was completely obsessed with the pregnancy. I read all the pregnancy books, spent hours designing the nursery, pored over baby name books, took childbirth classes, etc. But this time around, I’m lucky I remember I’m pregnant half the time. When I am not working, I am just so fully focused on the boys that I don’t have much time to think about the pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong, I take my prenatal vitamins, go to all my appointments, and take care of myself. But while we had huge lists of possible boy names at this point in my twin pregnancy, we haven’t thought of a single name yet for Baby Girl. While I have weekly belly shots from my twin pregnancy, I only have four so far with this baby—and they’re not even on the exact dates. But I guess that is typical of second pregnancies!

The boys have also been extra challenging these days. We are going through so much transition with them because there’s so much we want to get out of the way before the new baby and the move. Here are some things we’ve been up to:

  • We are still struggling with potty training. Nate is fully trained (except at night), but Matt pretty much refuses to use the potty. Everyone assumed that once Matt saw Nate using the potty and wearing underwear, he’d want to. But for a while it was actually the opposite—Nate would see that Matt wasn’t using the potty, so he didn’t want to, and he’d have lots of accidents. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months doing laundry and cleaning poop and pee off the floor.
  • We finally transitioned the twins from cribs to big-boy beds last weekend after Nate started catapulting himself out of the crib. (Until then, both had been perfectly content in their cribs.) It hasn’t gone well. Instead of napping, the boys now jump on their beds, jump off their beds onto each other, slam their sliding-glass closet door shut repeatedly, and throw their books all over the place. It’s mayhem, and instead of spending their naptime doing chores or getting work done, I spend it going in and out of their room to scold them. They were also repeatedly leaving their room at bedtime until we bought a lock for their door and threatened to put it on. They now stay in their room at night for the most part, except for one visit Nate made to our room at 3 am.
  • I decided it was time to enroll the boys in more structured classes in preparation for preschool. They were taking Gymboree Play & Learn and Music Together classes, which were great, but the boys would spend the whole time running around and doing their own thing. Now we take an art class at Gymboree and a gymnastics class at My Gym. Both require them to follow directions, listen to their teachers, sit still for certain stretches, take turns, etc. It was a struggle in the beginning, but they are now doing great, and they’ve been a lot more focused. Plus, we just love both classes and have a lot of fun!
  • The boys are transitioning from the “Terrible Twos”—which actually weren’t so terrible at all—into the “Tumultuous Threes.” I’d been hearing from many friends that three is actually worse than two, and boy, were they right. Nate, especially, seems to be testing us lately—knowingly breaking rules, protesting everything, throwing epic tantrums, and basically being as difficult as possible. Matt has been losing his temper easily when he doesn’t get his way. I’m hoping this phase passes quickly!

So, that’s what we’ve been up to here in the Walters house! I have been busier than ever and constantly on my toes, but still having a blast and enjoying California. I am going to scale back on my Baby Gizmo writing to have more time to prepare for the baby and the move and to focus on some of my other projects. I will also be spending more time on this blog, which will soon have a new look and some other cool updates. I hope to make it a valuable resource not only for military families and families with multiples, but for all families with young kids. Stay tuned, and thank you all for sticking around!