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!
If I could hook myself up to an IV that would pump caffeine through my veins, I would. That’s how much I rely on coffee to get me through my hectic, busy days with three kids ages 4 and under. The holiday season has made things even crazier for me, which explains why I have been all but MIA from this blog.
Even though I make almost-daily trips through the drive-through of my favorite coffee shop, I do brew lots of coffee myself at home. I like to make a giant pot every few days and turn the leftovers into iced coffee. So I was very excited to learn about the Community Coffee Company, which supports the military through its generous online Military Match program. As a military spouse, supporting the troops is very important to me.
I recently had the opportunity to try out some premium ground coffee from the Community Coffee Company in three flavors—pumpkin praline, golden caramel, and cafe special. They were all delicious! The pumpkin praline was perfect for the fall season, the golden caramel felt like an indulgence, and the cafe special had a rich and full flavor. The company also makes lots of other blends and flavors, including my favorite, hazelnut. Plus, they make whole-bean coffee, single-serve coffee, and tea.
But the best part about this family-owned company is its generous support of our troops. Through the Military Match program, the company has shipped over 55,000 pounds of coffee —about 2.2 million cups—to active-duty military personnel!
Here’s how it works: For every set of four 12-oz., 16-oz., or single-serve 18-count coffees you buy, the company will match your purchase with an additional four items and send all eight items to the APO/FPO or military base address you provide. The company will also include a Signature Military Mug in the shipment. It’s a wonderful and affordable way to support troops stationed overseas and/or away from their families by sending them a cup of home. I know Keith and his buddies would have really appreciated receiving this delicious coffee when they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Visit communitycoffee.com/militarymatch to learn more about the Community Coffee Company’s Military Match program and to send some coffee to a servicemember. And if you’re a coffee lover like I am, buy some for yourself, too!
Disclosure: I received complimentary packages of Community Coffee Company premium ground coffee to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!
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.
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!
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?
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!
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!
The 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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.