Tag: military families

Mudpuppy Puzzles Are Perfect for Travel!

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

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

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

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

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

Mudpuppy Princess Castle Pouch Puzzle
Our completed Pouch Puzzle

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Unique Holiday Cards on Minted

The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it an endless to-do list of gift buying and wrapping, decorating, baking, and more. One of those to-do’s is sending holiday cards.

I am always looking for great ways to show off photos of my kids on our cards. That’s why I was excited to find Minted’s new collection of photo holiday cards. It includes some of the most fun and unique designs around, whether you’re going for elegant, funny, quirky, or anything in between. Just look at this luggage tag-shaped card:

Luggage tag

If you’ve got little mischief-makers like my twins, this hilarious design would be perfect:

Wreck the Halls

You can eliminate the need for a Christmas letter with this design (which also helps military families like my own announce where they are currently living):

MIN-WT4-HPC-001NEWYEAR_A_PD

Or if you had a Christmas baby, you can send a holiday card and birth announcement in one:

Birth announcement

And though it’s not part of the new collection, this Minted comic-book card is simply awesome for comic book fans or families with little superheroes in training:

Compics

Seriously, there are so many cool holiday-card options at various price points on Minted, but I don’t have time to show all of my favorites here on the blog. If you haven’t yet chosen and sent your holiday cards, check out Minted’s new Christmas card collection. Many of the designs have express service available, so you still have time to get them out before the new year.

 

Coming Up: New Baby, New Crib!

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

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

IMG_9072

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

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

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

New house
Our new home!

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

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

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

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

IMG_7001
Me at 32 weeks pregnant with baby girl!

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

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

The Los Angeles Kings Northrop Grumman Hero of the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hero of the Game
Keith as Hero of the Game!

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

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

Kings game

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

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

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

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