A Monthly Box Subscription for Brick and LEGO Lovers

If you know a LEGO and/or building fanatic ages 6 and up, you need to know about Brick Loot. Created last year by 10-year-old Parker Krex (then 9), Brick Loot is a monthly box subscription that sends subscribers four to eight of the newest—and coolest—brick and building products each month. Though Brick Loot‘s partners include some of the biggest names in the toy industry—OYO Sports, Nanoblocks, and BrickForge, to name a few—the contents include unique items you won’t find at big-name toy stores. In the voice of Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”

The company recently sent me its May box to review. Though the twins are not yet 4, they are just starting to dabble with “big-kid” LEGO bricks, so they got super excited when the blue Brick Loot box arrived!

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Here’s what was inside:

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Check out all of that awesome loot! Nate, who seems to have inherited his grandpa’s watch obsession, immediately claimed the Brick Watch and proudly wore it around the house the rest of the day (despite it being about three sizes too big on him). And Matt was thrilled to see the custom Vermin Man minifigure.

The Mostaix Mosaic Art Kit was super cool, and challenging even for me! The kit consists of a plastic grid and tiny, colored plastic brick tiles of different shapes. Using the included picture—in this case, a fish—as a guide, you have to snap the tiles onto the grid to make the picture (no glue or ironing necessary). The tiles were too small for the boys to handle easily, so I put together the mosaic myself. It took about an hour and a half. The boys now have it hanging in their playroom, and I felt a sense of satisfaction at having finished it—a win-win! There are many different Mostaix kits to choose from and you can reuse the tiles to create your own pictures, so they really do provide hours of entertainment.

The box also came with a Mosaic Brick Kit—including bricks of various colors, shapes, and sizes—and base plates with which to create your own mosaic. Brick Loot asked builders to take photos of their mosaics and upload them to the company’s Facebook page for a chance to win a free 3-month subscription to Brick Loot. The boys were instead content to build their own creations with the pieces. Nate made a “chemical fortress” for the enclosed minifigure and Matt made a school. I was really happy to see them being creative and using their imaginations.

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Plus, it gave me time to put together the final set that came in the box—”Wing Warriors.”

The “Wing Warriors” set allows you to build a plane three different ways with the included bricks and instructions. I was challenged enough building it one way, so I just left it at that. My only complaint is that the bricks didn’t stay together very well, so the minute each boy touched the plane to inspect it, it fell apart. But again, Matt and Nate are under the recommended age minimum for the box, so an older kid with gentler hands might not have as much of a problem.

Overall, the boys and I had a blast playing with our Brick Loot box on a rainy day. I definitely plan to buy them a subscription when they’re older if their interest in building continues. The prices aren’t bad, either—$27 for one month, $25 per month for three months, and $23 per month for six months. The hours of quiet fun your kids will have—and the surprise of seeing what’s in their box each month—is well worth it. Plus, I am all about supporting a kid entrepreneur!

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Let me know if you decide to give Brick Loot a try, and be sure to tell me what you think! Happy building!

How My 3-Year-Old Got Lost at a Baseball Game

I recently wrote a story for Care.com about pool safety for kids. During my interview with Connie Harvey, director of Aquatics Centennial Initiatives for the American Red Cross, we discussed how child drownings can actually happen more easily when there are a lot of adults present than when only one grown-up is there. That’s because it’s so easy for us to get distracted when we’re in a large group. We also tend to get a bit more complacent: We figure that with so many people watching the kids, we don’t need to watch them quite as closely.

A few days ago, on Memorial Day, I learned that this does not only apply to drowning. We were at a Mets game with some family. Our group included nine adults and four kids. We had 12 seats across a row (Lily didn’t need her own ticket/seat since she is under 2), which means the people sitting at each end of the row had no idea what was going on at the other end.

After the seventh inning stretch, I got up to use the restroom. Keith, the boys, and I were sitting smack in the middle of the 12 seats. My brother and uncle were at the two seats on the aisle. My parents and cousins were all the way at the other end with Lily.

I asked the twins repeatedly if either of them needed the restroom. Of course, they both insisted they didn’t. So I went alone and rushed up the stairs so as not to block anyone’s view. Keith slid down closer to my parents with Nate.

Matt immediately decided that he did, in fact, need the restroom and decided to follow me up the stairs. My brother and uncle saw me right in front of him and assumed I knew he was behind me—but I didn’t. The poor thing couldn’t catch up to me.

I stood in a short line to use the ladies’ room, washed my hands, and returned to the seats. It took about seven to 10 minutes. When I got back, I noticed that Keith and the boys were gone. I slid down the row and asked my mom where they were, and she replied, “I think Keith took them to the bathroom.”

I was sitting there for about five minutes when my phone rang. It was Keith, sounding confused and a bit panicked. “Did you take Matt to the bathroom with you?” he asked.

In that instant, my heart stopped. “No—I thought you did!” I replied.

“I didn’t,” he answered. “But I just found him with two security guards.”

As it turned out, Keith had taken Nate to the restroom, then decided to  buy bottles of water. While in line, he happened to look up and saw two guards carrying a crying little boy.

I wonder what happened to that poor boy, he thought. Then he realized that poor boy was Matt.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” he called out. “That’s my son!”

Matt looked up and yelled, “Daddy!”

The security guards were very friendly. They told Keith they had found Matt alone and crying and asked him if he was lost. When he said yes, they told him they would help him find his mommy. The poor thing was so scared that he readily let one of the burly men scoop him up.

How scary to think about the panic we’d have gone through if Keith hadn’t happened to look up and see Matt at that moment. Only when he returned to the seats without Matt would any of us have realized he was missing. And that’s because we all assumed someone else had him.

We were all pretty rattled by the experience, but—as evidenced by this picture—Matt got over it pretty quickly:

Mets family

But since then, I haven’t stopped thinking about my conversation with Connie. I know without a doubt that if only Keith and I had been at the game with the kids, we never would have lost Matt. He would have been right next to us the whole time. But with a long row of 12 seats and so many adults around, it was easy to lose track of who had him.

So here are the lessons I learned from this scary experience:

  1. Be extra watchful of your kids when at a party or in a large group. Don’t assume someone else is watching them.
  2. When walking away from your child, verbally hand him off to another adult. I walked away and left Matt with eight other grown-ups, but never said directly to any of them that they were now in charge of him.
  3. Teach your kids never to leave the adult(s) they are with without their permission. Matt didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong by following me, but if he had asked my uncle or brother if he could go with me first, they likely would have realized I didn’t know he was coming.

And now, we’re trying to figure out exactly what to tell the boys to do if either of them ever gets lost again. When we asked Matt how he knew it was safe to go with those security guards, he replied, “They said they would find my mommy.” That means anyone could have told him that and he would have gone with them, whether they were police officers or kidnappers. It’s such a scary thought.

I once read an article in a parenting magazine in which an expert advised teaching kids that if they are lost and can’t find a police officer, they should look for a mommy with a child. That’s because at 3 and 4 years old—or even older—it can be hard for a kid to determine what is an official uniform. A mother with a kid has a very low probability of being a predator and could help  a lost child alert the proper authorities (in this case, the security guards). She’d also  likely stay with the child until he finds his family.

I’d like to think that in Matt’s case, he did recognize that the two men were security guards (they wore the same burgundy shirts and black pants as the plethora of other guards at Citi Field and probably wore name tags) and felt safe with them. But if we were in a different setting—say, at the beach—knowing who to go with would not have been as easy.

In any case, I am very thankful to the kind security guards at Citi Field for taking care of Matt, and grateful that everything turned out OK. Hopefully this post will help prevent other kids from getting lost as we head into the season of crowded beaches, fairs, sporting events, and more.

Do you have any other tips on what to do—and what to teach kids to do—if a child gets lost? Leave a comment here and share. It could help a lot of families!

 

GIVEAWAY: “Big Tractors with Casey & Friends” Book and Toy

Know a young tractor fan? He or she will love the new “Casey & Friends” book series published by Octane Press. The books give kids a glimpse into life on a farm and the machines of modern agriculture. They are geared toward kids ages 4 to 8, but I think even younger tractor buffs would enjoy them. The author—educator and national curriculum writer Holly Dufek—joined Pixar “Cars” artist Paul Nunn to help kids make the connection with farm equipment and the food they eat.

We received a copy of the second book in the series, “Big Tractors with Casey & Friends,” to review. The book was released last month. We also received a CASE IH Magnum 370 CVT tractor toy.

Matt and Nate have never shown great interest in tractors specifically, but they’ve always been big fans of vehicles in general. They both got really excited when they saw the toy tractor. They did the typical routine—fought over it, had it taken away, and finally agreed to take turns playing with it. Luckily it seems to be really well made, so it stood up to the yanking quite nicely!

CASEIH Tractor Toy

Then we settled in to read the book. The boys were drawn in by the real photos of iconic red CASE IH tractors and the descriptions of the tractors’ parts. A cast of cartoon characters, led by a little girl named Casey, explains all of the tractors’ jobs and how they work. Each page has a sidebar with fun farming facts.

A Year on the Farm-cover

The first “”Casey & Friends” book, “A Year on the Farm with Casey & Friends,” was released in January. Two more—”Combines with Casey & Friends” and “Planters & Cultivators with Casey & Friends“—come out in June and September of this year.

And now, here’s the fun part—giveaway time! Octane Press is celebrating the launch of the “Casey & Friends” series by giving a copy of “Big Tractors with Casey & Friends” and a CASE IH Magnum 370 CVT tractor toy to one lucky Double Duty Twins reader and a special kid in his or her life.

The contest is open to all U.S. residents. To enter, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook or follow the blog on Instagram at @jmwalters718. Then leave a comment here OR on the Double Duty Twins Facebook or Instagram pages telling me who you’d like to win the book and toy for. I’ll choose a winner at random on May 31.

Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner of the book and tractor toy is Amanda Evey! Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Amanda. Please check back for more exciting giveaways to come!

Belli Skincare Celebrates Moms with a Huge Month-Long Giveaway

Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday! This will be my first Mother’s Day as a mom of three, so it will be pretty special for me. Here’s a recent photo of my three cuties enjoying a beautiful day in the backyard:

Backyard

This Mother’s Day, Keith made reservations for us to have a fancy brunch in D.C. with the kids. Luckily the restaurant is welcoming of little ones, so I’m pretty excited to have a nice meal with my family. Plus my parents are coming for a visit a few days later, so I’ll get to celebrate with my mom, too.

Do any of you mamas have fun Mother’s Day plans? Regardless of what you’re doing, Belli Skincare—an upscale skin care line for pregnant and postnatal moms—hopes to make it even better. The company is holding its “Belli Celebrates Mom” event throughout the entire month of May. Each day through May 31, moms can visit belliskincare.com for a chance to win an item from that day’s featured brand partner. On the last day, moms can register for the grand prize valued at over $1,500, which will include an item from each sponsor brand.

The value of the all the prizes to be awarded is more than $5,000. And the prizes are pretty great! Sponsors include some of my favorite brands, such as BabyBjorn, Guava Family, Happy Family, and many more.

Throughout the month, moms can also compete for a matching grand prize package in a special contest on Belli’s Facebook page by posting a comment or uploading a photo or video of their mom. The post with the most likes will receive the same grand prize as the sweepstakes winner.

So if you’re feeling lucky, go to belliskincare.com each day and type in your email address to enter the daily giveaway. While you’re there, check out some of the awesome products Belli offers—you can get 20 percent off throughout the month of May with the code CELEBRATEMOM. Every Belli product is allergy tested; free of paraben preservatives, pthalates, and artificial dyes or fragrances; and made in the U.S. The products also avoid ingredients with even remote links to birth defects or miscarriage in published medical studies and those that could be harmful if passed through breast milk.

Good luck with the giveaway, and Happy Mother’s Day!

 
 

 

 
– WHERE:  www.belliskincare.com

New NO-AD Anti-Aging Skin Care Products

Do you feel like you’ve aged a million years since having kids? Yeah, me too. So when I saw that NO-AD introduced a new line of anti-aging body lotions and sprays, I was like, “That has my name written all over it!”

I remember my mom always having a giant neon bottle of NO-AD sunscreen lying around the house. NO-AD, introduced in 1962, is one of the oldest sun care brands in the U.S. NO-AD sells products that are twice the size as national brands for the same price. The reason? The company does not buy advertising, allowing it to offer more product and more advanced skin care ingredients than other national brands for less cost.

NO-AD’s new anti-aging skin care line includes two types of productsPrevent & Repair and Prevent & Brighten. Each type offers a lotion and a spray. Both types have SPF 15 UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection to help prevent photo aging. They are both meant to provide 36 hours of moisturization and to help even and restore the skin’s natural glow. Both have a fresh cucumber-aloe fragrance and are recommended for daily use by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The Prevent & Repair products work to help prevent and repair cell damage, reduce inflammation, boost collagen, and give skin firmness and strength while improving its natural barrier function. They contain watermelon extract, aloe vera, and Vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E.
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The Prevent & Brighten products work to diminish the appearance of age spots and brown spots, even out skin tone, brighten skin, and restore the skin’s natural glow. They contain argan oil and Vitamins B3, C, and E. The lotion contains sunflower oil as well.

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I received a bottle of the Prevent & Repair lotion and a bottle of the Prevent & Brighten spray to try out. I really like them both, but I prefer the lotion simply because I’m not a fan of sprays. I love that these products contain sunscreen, since many body lotions do not.
I also love that they’re not greasy, they absorb quickly into the skin, and they don’t have that sunscreen smell. That makes them perfect for everyday use, since I don’t always want to look and smell like I just came from the beach. (But my skin still feels cool after applying them, and that faint aloe smell does remind me of lazy days by the ocean.)

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t yet noticed whether the products have had the long-term firming, brightening, and other effects on my skin that they claim they will have. What I can say, though, is that they have prevented me from getting sunburned as I’ve gone about my daily activities. The weather was wacky here in Northern Virginia throughout the month of April. Several times I found myself unexpectedly out in the blazing sun with the kids, and my exposed chest and arms did not burn like they normally would have if I were wearing my regular moisturizer without sunscreen.

Now, I wouldn’t rely on the new NO-AD products if I were going to spend the day at the beach or the pool. For that, I would still wear a full sunscreen. But according to dermatologists, only 20 percent of our lifetime sun exposure comes from extended outdoor activities like going to the beach. The other 80 percent comes from daily incidental sun exposure while driving, walking the dog, or even sitting next to a sunny window. That’s the type of sun exposure that accumulates gradually and prematurely ages our skin—and that’s the type the new NO-AD anti-aging moisturizers protect against.

The new products cost only $5.49 for a 12-ounce bottle of lotion and $5.99 for a 6.5-ounce spray. That is super cheap, if you ask me! You’d better believe that once my complimentary bottle of Prevent & Repair lotion runs out, I’ll be buying many more bottles. Hopefully the lotion will help keep me looking a lot younger than I actually feel!

I received the new NO-AD skin care products complimentary to review, but my opinions are my own.

 

 

My New Favorite Diaper Bag

Every parent knows the iconic Boppy feeding pillow is a must-have for baby. When the twins were born, I also fell in love with the Boppy Newborn Lounger, on which Matt, Nate, and later Lily spent many blissful hours during the first months of their lives.

Now, Boppy has introduced a new diaper bag line called the Boppy Bag Collection. Since I’m such a huge Boppy fan, I jumped at the recent opportunity to test one of the bags.

Let it be known that I have long struggled to find the perfect diaper bag. When the boys were born, I got a Skip Hop diaper bag that I loved, but it just wasn’t roomy enough for two babies’ worth of paraphernalia. So then I got a Skip Hop Duo Double Deluxe, which fit everything well and had plenty of pockets, but the thing was huge and really clunky.

When Lily was born, I decided it was time to lighten my load. So I got a Petunia Pickle Bottom Boxy Backpack, which everyone seems to love despite its hefty price tag. And even that didn’t do it for me. It was so deep and didn’t have many pockets inside, so it became like a black hole that everything sank into. It would take me forever to find what I needed.

But then my new Boppy Vail Diaper Bag arrived. I was struck immediately by how great it looks. The gray “Plaza Tiles” design is really pretty, but not too feminine for Keith to carry. (The other three designs it comes in are equally nice and gender-neutral.) The Vail is a nice size, but not too big. It can be worn on the shoulder or cross-body like a messenger bag, and it hangs easily from a stroller. Plus, it sells for $59.99 at many retailers like Amazon.com and Babies R Us, making it a lot less expensive than many diaper bags.

Vail

I decided to try out the Vail for the first time on our overnight spring break trip to Baltimore. I usually carry more than usual in my diaper bag when we’re away from home, so it was a pretty good time to test the bag.

Inside the bag, there are two medium-sized pockets, one large pocket with a Velcro closure, and two small side pockets. In the medium pockets, I put things like my wallet, my phone, Lily’s sun hat, etc. I put changes of clothes for both Lily and the boys in the medium pocket. And in the small pockets, I put little items like travel-size Purell and Lily’s hair brush. The main part of the bag was for baby wipes, burp cloths, formula containers, and bibs.

On the inner part of the bag’s exterior, there’s a large pocket with a cushioned foldout changing pad that’s nicely sized for larger babies (which, ahem, Lily is). The front of the bag has a strap with a clip lock where you can secure your Boppy pillow, which is cool if you need to tote it around. There’s also another large pocket in the outer front where I stored the diapers. A shallow pocket on the bottom is perfect for stashing tissues, napkins, and other things you don’t mind losing should they fall out. And on each side of the bag, there’s a pouch that fits two baby bottles.

Finally, the bag comes with accessories that are really useful. There’s a pacifier case, a wipes dispenser case, and a matching wristlet that I got a ton of use out of. I put a couple of diapers, a travel pack of wipes, and some diaper disposal bags in the wristlet. When it was time to change Lily, I just grabbed the wristlet and the changing pad instead of taking the whole diaper bag into the bathroom and digging everything out separately. But the wristlet would also be great in the future for storing my own stuff separate from the baby’s, so that I can quickly find my cell phone, lip gloss, keys, etc.

Even with the roominess of the bag, we struggled to fit everything in it during the trip because of all the extras we were carrying, such as our camera and extra formula. But since we got home and I removed all those items, I haven’t had a problem fitting everything at all. In fact, the bag is so cute and functional that I still use it as my purse in addition to a diaper bag on most days, and it fits both my stuff and Lily’s things. With all the pockets, I’ve managed to keep it really organized, too. It is officially my favorite diaper bag, and I don’t think I’m ever going to switch.

So now that Boppy has successfully expanded into the diaper bag market, I’m excited to see what the company has in store for us next. Pack and plays? Baby carriers? Bedding? I can’t wait to find out!

Disclaimer: I received the Boppy Vail Diaper Bag complimentary to review, but my opinions are my own.

Family Pizza Night!

Hi there! It’s been a super busy month for us. Now that the weather is (finally) getting nicer, we’ve been having fun exploring our new city, making friends, and just being out in the fresh air. We’ve been preparing for Lily’s Baptism, which is this Sunday. I’ve also been working a lot!

As many of you know, I am now a regular contributor for Care.com, a website with over 13 million members that connects families with caregivers. It’s where we’ve found our wonderful nannies! I write parenting articles for the site, including one about how to travel with kids and stay sane (a topic I’ve tackled before on this blog).

In between all of that work and play, the kids and I (and sometimes Keith) have been testing a ton of awesome products that I’ll be reviewing for you all on this blog in the coming weeks. For one such review, Rustic Crust, which makes organic and all-natural pizza crust and sauce, hosted a family pizza night for us. I was thrilled because it’s so hard for me to get a nutritious dinner on the table that both the grown-ups and kids will enjoy.

Here’s what the company sent us:

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We did our pizza night on a Friday evening, when we often order pizza and watch a movie. We tried two of the crusts—the Crispy Italian Thin Crust and the Cheesy Herb Pizza Crust. Rustic Crust also sent us three packs of sauce, which took the guesswork out of how much sauce to use (one pack per pizza). Since I’m Italian American, of course I already had mozzarella and grated Romano cheese on hand, so it really couldn’t have been any easier.

The twins had a blast helping me make the pizzas—rubbing olive oil on the crusts, spreading the sauce, sprinkling the cheese on top, etc. We used shredded part-skim mozzarella on one crust and sliced fresh mozzarella on the other. We also put grated Romano cheese, minced garlic, and fresh basil on both. Then I popped them in the oven and baked them for 10 minutes, and that was it—dinner was served! Here’s how they came out:

IMG_8635 IMG_8638We had even more fun eating the pizza than we did making it:

IMG_8643 IMG_8645 We forgot to get a picture of Keith eating his pizza, but his mouth was likely too full to pose, anyway.

The verdict? Yummy! Now, I must disclose that I really don’t have a comparison point for the pizza because we never make pizzas at home. I am a pizza snob from Brooklyn and I have a dad who makes amazing homemade pizza, so I never really attempt to replicate his or any of the other amazing slices I’ve eaten. So I can’t speak to how Rustic Crust compares to other packaged pizza crusts or sauces.

But, for organic crusts made with real, non-GMO ingredients and no artificial preservatives, these were quite tasty! I’d certainly make them again for the convenience alone. The Cheesy Herb crust had a great taste, but the good old thin crust was yummy as well. The sauce was good, too! (I probably would have put a little more on each crust than was in the pouch, but that may have made the pizza soggy, so what do I know?)

We never got to make a pizza with the Sea Salt & Basil Ciabatta, but I found that it made a yummy standalone snack!

Give Rustic Crust a try for your next family pizza night. There are several varieties of crust, and they’re available for purchase at various grocery stores across the nation, including Whole Foods. If you do decide to try them, let me know what you think!