I’m In a New York State of Mind

I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I just got home from the most exhilarating girls’ weekend in New York City. Our wonderful former nanny and dear friend, Lisa, is here visiting from California. She had never been to New York, so I took the opportunity to show her around my hometown sans kids (thanks to my amazing and extremely capable husband, who gamely agreed to stay at home with all three kiddos). Lisa and I hopped on an Amtrak train Friday morning and were in New York by noon. We then experienced 48 hours of nonstop grownup fun and freedom—just what this weary mom needed.

Not that I got much sleep. When you’ve got two days in the Big Apple, the last thing you want to do is sleep. We had places to go, delicious food to eat, and cocktails—lots and lots and lots of cocktails—to drink.

We stayed with my aunt and uncle on the Upper West Side, who were fabulous hosts. My cousin, Kim, came along on many of our outings. We showed Lisa all of what I feel are the must-sees in New York, including the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, SoHo (if only we’d had more time to shop), the Statue of Liberty (by way of the Staten Island Ferry, which is totally free and offers an amazing view of Lady Liberty), the High Line, Times Square, and more.

Two women on the High Line in New York City
Walking the High Line

 

We had dinner at two of my favorite NYC restaurants, Buddakan (of “Sex and the City” fame) and Carmine’s. Buddakan is a must-visit if you’re in the city for a special occasion. The ambience is spectacular and the modern Asian cuisine is so good. (Be sure to order the scallion pancakes!) And Carmine’s offers heaping family-style plates of delicious Italian food.

Buddakan restaurant in New York City
The fabulous Buddakan

We also saw the Tony award-winning musical “An American in Paris” on Broadway. It was fabulous. Featuring the music of George Gershwin, “An American in Paris” tells the love story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl, complete with amazing singing and dancing. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it.

"An American in Paris" Broadway theater marquee

And finally, what trip to New York City is complete without drinks at a rooftop bar? Rare View offered a breathtaking view of the Empire State Building on a perfect summer night.

Threee women at Rare View rooftop bar in New York City, with the Empire State Building in the background
Rare View rooftop bar

 

I am still physically exhausted from the weekend and I missed Keith and the kids a ton, but my batteries are totally recharged. I believe every mom needs a girls’ weekend away once in a while, and I highly recommend you do it if you can!

And since I can’t stay away from New York for too long, I’m going back—in two days! I’ll be attending the second annual Blogger Bash, a two-day event at which I’ll connect with some of the biggest toy, travel, fashion, and food brands. We’re talking brands like LeapFrog, Vtech, Fisher-Price, Crayola, LEGO, and tons more. I’ll also get to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group (and meet the blue men!), meet legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes, get hands-on with the hottest new toys on the market at The Toy Insider‘s Sweet Suite (and share them all with you), and lots more.

I’ll be posting many photos and updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram throughout the event, and I’ll do a series of blog posts starting next week to tell you all about the awesome brands I’ll be discovering. It’s going to be amazing, and I hope you’ll follow along! Blogger Bash, here I come!

 

Product Review: “The Ultimate Disney Party Book”

Remember when I hosted the “Cars”-themed Disney Side @Home Celebration? I could have really used “The Ultimate Disney Party Book,” a brand-new book that contains more than 65 recipes, crafts, games, and more to help you throw eight Disney-themed parties. If your child loves Disney, this book will take all the stress out of planning the perfect birthday party for him or her.

"The Ultimate Disney Party Book"

The eight party themes featured in the book are “Aladdin,” Disney princess, “Toy Story,” Mickey and Minnie, “Monsters, Inc.,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Planes,” and Captain Hook. The book gives detailed instructions on how to make everything from invitations to decor to entertainment to fit each theme.

There are projects for people with all levels of craftiness. Some of the items, like Ariel’s Follow-Your-Heart Fruit Skewers, are super easy to make. Others, like the Buzz Lightyear birthday cake, are very involved and difficult. But all of the ideas are really clever and unique and will leave your guests seriously impressed.

Each idea in the book is accompanied by gorgeous, colorful photos, making it really fun to read. Matt and Nate have already spent lots of time looking through it. They’re having a hard time believing it’s actually a book for grown-ups.

Here are my favorite projects from the book:

  • Flying carpet invitations and caramel apples resembling Abu for the “Aladdin” party
  • Cinderella’s glass slipper invitations and Rapunzel’s golden braid garland for the Disney princess party
  • Woody’s cowboy boot favors and Cheezy Wheezy stuffed olives for the “Toy Story” party
  • Homemade Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears and Mickey Mouse sandwich cookies for the Mickey and Minnie party
  • Mike Wazowski spoon puppets and Terry and Terri Terrifying Flatbread Sandwiches for the “Monsters, Inc.” party
  • Plane candy favors and Dusty Crophopper cupcakes for the “Planes” party
  • Pirate flag pennant and Skull Rock watermelon fruit salad for the Captain Hook party

But my favorite party theme in the book is “Wreck-It Ralph” because the ideas are all so fun and different. From the Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade game invitations to the “I’m Gonna Wreck It!” penthouse pinata to Vanellope’s race car brownies, the details in this party are amazing.

I can’t wait for Matt, Nate, and Lily’s future birthday parties so I can put some of these ideas to good use and show my Disney side! You can take a peek inside the book in this YouTube video and purchase your own copy on Amazon. If you decide to throw any of the parties, let me know how it turns out!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of “The Ultimate Disney Party Book” for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

GIVEAWAY: One Double Duty Twins Reader Will Win A Free Night’s Stay at an AmericInn Hotel!

AMERICINN HOTELS IS SEEKING WILD AND WACKY VACATION PICS!

Wild, Wacky and Wonderful. That’s what AmericInn Hotels is looking for this summer—in your travel photos. And they are giving away prizes!

AmericInnHotel&Suites logo PMS

AmericInn—the largest midscale hotel brand in the upper Midwest—is inviting adventurous travelers to enter a selfie or other photo of their wildest, wackiest, most wonderful travel moments.

If they pick your pic, you’ll win a free night at any AmericInn location ($200 value). Even better: up to two people in your photo will also win a great prize. AmericInn is awarding a prize each day all summer long, and will be awarding an additional free night’s stay exclusively for readers of Double Duty Twins!

From the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, S.D.), to the world’s largest concrete gnome (Ames, Ia.), to statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (various locations), there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path locations, unique events, and small-town festivals to see and enjoy, and AmericInn wants to be part of the fun. Original photos from anywhere in the world—or anywhere else you can get to—can be submitted online.

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HOW TO ENTER:

To be eligible for the free night’s stay reserved for our readers, follow these three quick steps:

  1. Use this link to submit your photo to the AmericInn contest: https://adventure.americinn.com?blog=DoubleDuty.
  2. If you haven’t already, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook.
  3. Leave a comment on the Double Duty Twins Facebook page or below this post and tell me what you submitted a photo of—or share the photo!

And that’s it! You’re entered!

Entries must be submitted by Tuesday, July 14. On July 15, AmericInn will choose one Double Duty Twins reader to receive the free night’s stay! You can choose from roughly 200 locations throughout the Midwest and in Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

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Photo entry winners will be selected based on the uniqueness, creativity, and fun reflected in the photos. Entrants may also create a digital postcard with their photo on the contest website.

In honor of the contest, here is a photo of Keith, my brother, and me with the twins back in December 2011, when they were 6 months old. It’s at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO. We weren’t being wacky, but I think it’s hilarious that the boys were so bundled up, you can’t even see their little faces in the photo! It was about 25 degrees that day!

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So get wild, get wacky, get wonderful, and get going. We can’t wait to see where you’ve been! Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner of the free night’s stay at any AmericInn hotel is Jennifer Hayden! Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Jennifer. Please check back for more exciting giveaways to come!

Shopping Via Text Message!

I can’t remember the last time I bought myself anything. With three little ones, I never have time to shop. When I do manage to drag the kids to the mall, it’s nearly impossible to browse the racks in peace.

Moms Sara Peak and Whitney Nordmoe had the same problem. So they created a way for busy parents (and busy everyone) to shop in the easiest manner imaginable—via text message! They started Dean & Grace, a shopping club that allows you to buy unique and high-quality kids’ and adults’ clothing, accessories, jewelry, and more via text. And it’s totally free to join.

deangracewebHere’s how it works: Click here to fill out a quick style quiz that will tell Dean & Grace what kind of items you’re interested in buying. You can also text “Join DG” to 76000, and you’ll receive the signup link via text. Once that’s done, you’ll get a text whenever an item you may like is for sale. If you want it, reply “WANT.” And that’s it—it’s yours! How much easier than that can you get?

Shipping is always free at Dean & Grace, and the items are unique and high-quality. You also won’t get bombarded with text messages: The amount you receive is based on inventory and the number of categories you signed up for. (If you sign up for just one style—say, boy playwear—you can expect about one text per week.) And you can opt out of receiving texts at any time by replying “STOP.”

I signed up two days ago for clothing for the boys and Lily and got my first text today. It was for this awesome kids’ “Free to Be Me” shirt from Blue Eyes and Bare Feet Designs, selling for $18. How cool is it?

Free to Be Me

I’m pretty excited to be a member of Dean & Grace and to have access to this unique and convenient way of shopping. Visit deanandgrace.com/#!style/ctdl to give it a try yourself. If you put “Jennifer W.” in the “Referred By” line, I’ll get credit and you’ll get good karma. It’s a win-win!

Happy shopping! If you get anything cool from Dean & Grace, let me know, and I’ll be sure to do the same!

 

Boogies Be Gone!

Like so many others, I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies since I was a kid. When we were getting ready to move to Northern Virginia, many people warned me that my allergies would likely be worse here. They were right. And unfortunately, Matt and Lily seem to have gotten hit pretty hard, too.

Couple that with the boys starting preschool and catching every cold under the sun (and then passing it to Lily), there’s been a lot of stuffy, runny noses in this house.

Luckily, I’ve amassed a powerful trifecta for dealing with congestion in my kids and helping them breathe easier. Here are my three favorite products:

Boogie Mist. When the kids are really stuffy, I spray this gentle, non-medicated saline mist up their noses to help thin out thick mucus. It comes in fresh, grape, or unscented formulas. We prefer the unscented.

Boogie Mist

NoseFrida Snotsucker nasal aspirator. This thing is not nearly as gross as it sounds, and I’m telling you—it works wonders. It allows you to suck the snot right out of your kids’ noses using a mouthpiece attached to a long tube. A filter in the tube prevents any mucus from getting in your mouth, keeping things completely hygienic. Trust me—I have a weak stomach and I use this all the time. It helps the kids breathe better when they’re sick and keeps them from walking around with snot dripping out of their noses. Matt and Nate are getting bigger now, but even they ask me to “suction” them when they’re really congested.

NoseFrida

 

Boogie Wipes. You know when kids’ noses run and they get that crusty snot all around their nostrils? Boogie Wipes contain saline that helps dissolve that mucus and makes it easier to clean it up. They also contain aloe, chamomile, and Vitamin E to help soothe and moisturize the skin. That means no more red, irritated noses. Like Boogie Mist, Boogie Wipes come in grape and fresh scent or unscented. We prefer unscented. They come in handy little packs of 10, 30, or 45 to toss in your diaper bag, or you can get a large canister of 90 to keep at home.

Boogie Wipes

Luckily, the kids have been snot-free this month, so we haven’t had much use for these products. But they’re ready and waiting if and when they are needed.

To learn more about Boogie Mist and Boogie wipes, and to get a money-saving coupon, click here.

Read more about NoseFrida here.

If you decide to try any of these products, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

 

Another Great NO-AD Product for Summer

We are thick into the days of blazing sun and 90-degree weather here in Northern Virginia, so I find myself chasing the kids around the house daily to apply sunscreen to them before we go out. That typically leaves me little time to lather myself up with sunscreen, a task I’ve been trying hard to streamline.

Enter the new NOAD Sport Body & Face Sunscreen Stick, which looks and glides on like deodorant. Since receiving it in the mail a couple of weeks ago to review, I’ve been applying it onto my face before outdoor activities, and I love it! It’s really lightweight and it goes on clear, which means I don’t have to spend a ton of time rubbing it in to get rid of all the white. And it’s SPF 50, offering great protection against UVA and UVB rays.

NO-AD stick

I was a bit worried that the product would make my skin break out, but so far, so good. And it doesn’t have that strong smell that most other sunscreens have.

But here’s my favorite place to use the sunscreen stick—my scalp! I am just not a hat person in my everyday life, and I’ve been wanting to protect my scalp where my hair parts without getting greasy sunscreen all over my hair. Now I just swipe the sunscreen stick over it and it’s been working great.

I’ve written before about what a huge fan I am of NO-AD products, and this one is no exception. It’s so easy to toss into my purse or diaper bag on the way out the door without taking up too much space. I highly recommend it!

My Experience with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP)

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
  • Jaundice
  • Preterm labor

Other symptoms may include:

  • Right upper quadrant pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild depression

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.

Lily and Mommy
Joy and relief!

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!