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

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

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

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

Not Very Merry Cover

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

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

For each just-right thing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comedian/musicians (and 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. 

A New Mom’s Formula for Happiness

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.

A baby sleeps at Redondo Beach.
Redondo Beach … our happy place!

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

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!

Lily’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” First Birthday Party

As hard as it is to believe, our little Lily turned one year old on September 5. We celebrated with a pink and gold “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” themed party in our backyard with about 50 guests, 20 of whom were kids. Yes, I may be crazy, but the party was a ton of fun. Everyone—especially Lily—had a blast!

Here are photo highlights from the party. Most of the photos, including the gorgeous first portrait of the birthday star herself, were taken by children and lifestyle photographer Daniel Marino of Marino Photography ( Lily’s outfit and headband were made by Etsy shop Princess Cute Boutique:

Baby in first birthday outfit
We set up a canopy over the backyard patio and hung gold stars of various sizes from it. We also put gold stars on the sliding glass doors behind the food table, as well as an adorable “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” banner from Party Made Pretty:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star banner
I ordered Star Fantasy Napkins from The Stationery Studio and had them personalized to say “Our little star Lily.” If you’re not familiar with The Stationery Studio, you should check out the site! With over 22,000 products to choose from, The Stationery Studio is the online leader in personalized stationery and gifts. Its large celebrity fan base includes Kim Kardashian West, Elizabeth Banks, Bethenny Frankel, and Julie Bowen.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star napkins

I couldn’t resist these glittery gold star straws from Etsy shop Fabulous Little Party:

Pink and gold star straws

For food, I kept it simple with catering from Wegman’s. Everything from the sandwiches to the sushi to the chicken bites was delicious! For the kids, my sister-in-law used cookie cutters to make star-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and topped them with awesome gold star cupcake toppers from Etsy shop Below Blink:

Star-shaped sandwiches

Of course I made a giant bowl of sangria, which was a huge hit. The stickers on the water bottles matched the invitations and thank-you cards from Etsy shop Ooh La Llew:

First birthday sign
Entertainment was a bit tricky because there were so many kids of different ages. Luckily I happen to be friends with an amazing woman and party entertainer who goes by the name of Miss Mollie, and sometimes Mollie the Clown! Miss Mollie did face painting, parachute play, and balloon creations for all of Lily’s little friends, and the kids were absolutely thrilled. I highly recommend Miss Mollie for kids’ events. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and have kids ages 0 to 5, you can check her out yourself every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 10:45 a.m. at PB & Jack in Fairfax.

Children standing under a parachute at a birthday party

Kids standing around a parachute at a birthday party

A party entertainer makes balloon creations.

At the end of the party, everyone moved inside for cake and dessert. Rachel from Dazzle Cakes, LLC made a delicious and gorgeous star cake that everyone loved. She’s based out of Burke, Virginia. My best friend Christine from SugarSisters made equally beautiful and yummy Rice Krispie treats that doubled as favors. SugarSisters makes incredible candy tables and treats for events and is based out of Staten Island, New York. I also picked up some star cookies from Costco and, for a homemade touch, made pie-crust star crackers. In the background of the last photo, you’ll see the banner I made with Lily’s monthly photos:

Star themed birthday cake

Star-shaped Rice Krispie treats

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star themed dessert table

First birthday party dessert table

The highlight of the party was singing “Happy Birthday to Lily” and then watching her tear into the special cupcake Rachel made just for her. It was her first cupcake ever, and it’s safe to say she loved it!

Baby in 1st birthday hat clapping

First birthday cake smash

I know the party was a bit over the top, but it was so much fun and completely worth it. Thank you to all of our family and friends who came to help us celebrate our little star, Lily!

Disclosure: I received complimentary products from The Stationery Studio to use at the party and include in this post. My high opinion of the products is completely my own!

Play Power!

A few years ago, I wrote a cover story for Scholastic’s SuperScience magazine called “The Power of Play.” The story explored the benefits of free play, or unstructured play—something kids are unfortunately getting way too little of these days.

With pressure mounting to increase students’ test scores and grades, more and more schools are cutting back on recess or eliminating it altogether. Kids’ schedules are also filling up with homework and extracurricular activities. As a result, “play is disappearing from the lives of children,” Joan Hoffman, a play expert at Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, told me at the time.

And that’s a huge problem. Research has shown that play has all sorts of physical, social, and cognitive benefits for kids. It helps children develop many of the skills they’ll need to be successful adults.

Through play, kids learn problem-solving skills, critical thinking, decision-making, and teamwork. Play allows them to act out their fears and emotions and teaches them empathy and understanding. Play builds kids’ confidence, boosts their creativity, and reduces their stress. It also helps them develop strong and healthy bodies, which is so important in the fight against childhood obesity. Research has even found that play helps kids perform better in school by improving their concentration. And I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. If you don’t believe me, watch this video to see the power of play in action:

The video is part of the Toy Industry Association‘s Genius of Play campaign, which seeks to spread the word about the importance of play. I recently took the campaign’s Play Pledge, meaning I’ve committed to support Matt, Nate, and Lily with opportunities to play every week.

It’s something I was already doing anyway. I have never been one to overschedule my kids with too many structured activities, especially during the summer. And that has allowed their imaginations to blossom.

The boys like to turn Lily’s Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Home into a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window, then have me “drive” up and place my order. They arrange their Hot Wheels cars and action figures into elaborate parades. They raid their dress-up bin and transform themselves into astronauts and superheroes. They pretend our backyard is the zoo, weaving in and out of the shrubs to see all the “animals.”

And Lily already loves it when I sit back and let her explore. Every time she pushes buttons on her toys to hear sounds, stuffs the boys’ Star Wars figures into her toy fishbowl, or taps the LEGO Duplos against her xylophone to make music, her mind is bursting with new discoveries.

So click here to join me in taking the Play Pledge to ensure your children get enough play time each week. Better yet, get down on the floor and play with them!

And to learn more about the Toy Industry Association, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Toy Industry Association. All of the information is research-based and factual!

Four Fun Baby Toys from Lamaze

When Matt and Nate were babies, they inherited their big cousin Ava’s Lamaze Freddie the Firefly toy. It had been her favorite toy, and it quickly became their favorite. They then passed it on to Lily — along with several other colorful and engaging Lamaze toys — and she too loved to play with it. So, Lamaze is definitely a favorite in our family!

This fall, four Lamaze soft toys and books for babies will become available (or have recently become available) at Walmart for the first time. The company sent me those four toys to test with Lily. Here’s what we thought!

Freddie the Firefly Peekaboo Book (12 months+)
Freddie himself is the star of this soft, brightly colored book full of peekaboo flaps and satisfying crinkle sounds. He flies around a garden to explore and meets new friends along the way.

Freddie book

Lily really enjoys holding and looking at this book. Unfortunately, she finds it so much fun that I don’t  think she realizes it’s a book. I’ll usually read only one page before she snatches it out of my hands and starts crinkling the flaps. So right now, we simply enjoy playing peek-a-boo with the animals on the pages. Hopefully when she gets a little older she will listen to the story, too!

My First Fishbowl (6 months+)
This adorable fish bowl includes four colorful, multi-textured sea creatures that crinkle, rattle, jingle, and squeak. (The water-trapped sides of the bowl contain floating mini sea creatures.) Gripping and grabbing the four creatures helps baby develop hand-eye coordination and stimulates his or her tactile senses.

FishbowlBecause the minimum recommended age for this toy is only 6 months, I was worried it would be too babyish for Lily (who turns one in a couple of weeks). It turns out, this is her favorite of the four toys. She has so much fun dumping out the sea creatures and placing them back in the bowl one by one. She also likes to shake and squeeze them to hear the different rattling noises they make. And she thinks it’s hilarious when I use the bowl as a mini basketball hoop and try to toss the creatures into it. I think she’ll enjoy this toy for many more months!

My Friend Emily (newborn-24 months)
Meant to be baby’s first doll, My Friend Emily comes with multiple textures and sounds to keep baby entertained, including a rattle necklace. It can clip onto strollers, car seat carriers, and diaper bags, making it easy to take along wherever you go.

My Friend EmilyThough this toy is recommended for babies up to 24 months, I definitely feel it’s geared more toward younger infants. It’s adorable and very colorful, but Lily has not shown much interest in it. It could be because she already has a “first doll” that her Grandma gave her when she was 6 months old, and she has shown a sweet loyalty to that doll. I do think My Friend Emily would make an awesome baby shower gift for a mom-to-be who’s expecting a baby girl!

Flip Flap Dragon (newborn-24 months)
Pull the white clip to make Flip Flap Dragon‘s purple satin wings flip and flap back and forth. Baby can also explore his crinkly feet and squeaky nose. Flip Flap Dragon features soft fabrics in a variety of colors and six different materials to help develop baby’s senses. The clip lets you hook it to strollers, car seat carriers, and diaper bags for on-the-go fun. Flip Flap Dragon is coming to in early September.

DragonLike My Friend Emily, Flip Flap Dragon seems geared more toward the younger set. I think Lily would have enjoyed this adorable toy way more when she was 4 to 9 months old than she does now. (I have noticed that she seems to grow out of toys more quickly than the boys did. Many people tell me it’s because she has older siblings and sees them playing with their big-kid toys. So other older babies may be more into this toy than Lily is). In any case, she really gets a kick out of helping me pull the clip to make the dragon’s wings flap. Even Matt and Nate like to steal it from her and do it! Like My Friend Emily, I would certainly buy Flip Flap Dragon as a gift for younger babies.

If you have a special baby in your life, I’d definitely recommend buying him or her one of these fun Lamaze toys! Also, be sure to head over to Lamaze’s website to see the company’s full line of adorable and fun infant toys.

Disclosure: I received these Lamaze toys free of charge for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

Back to School with PlanetBox

When the twins started preschool last year, I was introduced to the crazy world of making school lunches. The boys only go to school three days a week, yet it didn’t take long for me to run out of fresh ideas. I mean, how many PB&J’s and cheese quesadillas could I make?

So I started putting together lunches using little things the boys like to eat—fruit, carrot sticks, cheese and crackers, hummus, etc. Not only did that leave me with a ton of tiny containers to wash, but the boys would often come home with half of their lunch uneaten. They’d say they ran out of time to eat, partly because it took them so long to open everything.

That’s when I realized why so many moms and kids love bento-style lunchboxes. These sectioned lunchboxes make meals visually appealing, help you pack a well-balanced lunch, make it easier for kids to eat, and create less waste.

I tried different styles of bento boxes, but it was hard to find one that works for us. Some have too few sections, others are too deep, etc. Then I saw this post from Catherine McCord of Weelicious, in which she showcases some of the fabulous bento lunches she makes for her kids. Immediately, I started pining for the lunchbox in the photos. It’s called the PlanetBox Rover, and when I was recently given the opportunity to test one out for review, I jumped at the chance.

PlanetBox is a high-quality stainless steel lunchbox that keeps foods fresh and well-portioned. It comes in three sizes and can be personalized with fun magnets and a range of accessories.

The Rover, which holds 4.5 cups of food and measures 10 x 7 x 1.5, is the most popular model. It has five sections: one large square one (perfect for a sandwich), a longer skinny one to hold a cheese stick or other small items, two medium-sized ones, and a small one in the middle that’s perfect for a small treat. It also comes with a Big Dipper and a Little Dipper, round lidded containers that can hold dips, sauces, yogurt, and other wet foods.

The magnets for the rover come in 29 fun designs and have space to write the lunchbox owner’s name. We chose the Rockets design.

Planetbox Rover with rocket magnets

You can also get a carry bag for the Rover with a water bottle pouch and a snack pocket on the outside, as well as an inner mesh pocket. The bag has a short handle and an adjustable strap. We got a blue bag.

As soon as the PlanetBox arrived, we were sold! Matt and Nate immediately started fighting over who would get to eat lunch from it, so I immediately ordered another one—same magnets, but with a red carry bag. As soon as that one arrived, the boys begged me to make their lunches in their PlanetBoxes even though we weren’t going anywhere. Here’s what I cobbled together:

Bento-style school lunch in a Planetbox RoverI put the yogurt in one of the main compartments and not in the Little Dipper (where the crackers are) since we were eating at home. The boys loved it, and it was the quickest they have ever finished their lunch!

Suffice it to say, Matt and Nate can’t wait for school to start so they can carry their cool new lunchboxes. I think I’ll have a lot more fun packing their lunches, and cleanup will be so much easier—I can pop them in the dishwasher! Also, the boxes are BPA-, phthalate-, and lead-free, so I know they’re safe for the boys. Click here for some other things that make PlanetBox great.

Now, here’s the thing: PlanetBox is pricey. The Rover sells for $49.95, the magnets are $3.95, and the carry bag is $12 to $14. That makes the whole set around $70. But I honestly feel it is well worth it for a lunchbox that is such high-quality and will last for years and years. Plus, PlanetBox can easily be handed down simply by switching out the magnets.

To build your own personal PlanetBox, click here. In addition to magnets and a carry bag, you can add a water bottle and accessories such as utensils and cold packs. And if you need meal ideas, get them here! Happy lunch-making!

Disclosure: I received a free PlanetBox with magnets and a carry bag for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!