Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


We want to thank each and every one of you awesome readers for coming back each day and checking out what's new over at Just Us Girls. Without you, all of the products we review and giveaways we host wouldn't be possible. We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We'll see you all next year!


Holiday Rice Krispies Treats with #Kelloggs

I really do enjoy being a Kellogger. Not only do I receive gifts from them monthly, but they introduce me to their new products that I end up loving, buying and sharing with my friends and family.

This month was no different. They sent me a huge red box filled with goodies to spread the Holiday joy with my family and make some Christmas Rice Krisipes Treats.



We really couldn't wait to make these. My kids were excited because they wanted to decorate the treats with the sprinkles and red and green sparkle gel that was in the box. These treats were easy to make, kid friendly and best of all, delicious and perfect for this holiday season. So, will you be spreading the holiday joy with these yummy treats?


 Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I am a Kellogger and receive products to test out and share. No post was required.  No compensation was received.


A Free Short Story from The UnFairy Tale Series This Holiday Season!


In a couple of months we will be a part of The UnFairy Tale Series Blog Tour. Until then, I'm very excited to share with you all this freebie from the author, Anna Staniszewski. She's offering us all a free short story from the series called, Jenny's First Adventure," this Holiday that we can add to our collections and enjoy. In this short story we'll get the inside scoop on how an average day in gym class changed Jenny’s life into a real live magical fairy tale...often with not so happy endings.


Click the image above or HERE to get your free copy of this short story to this amazing series!



Holiday Party Entertainment Tips from Metro!


With the Holidays being so close and so many parties and gatherings going on, some times it can be overwhelming  I received an amazing gift basket from Metro a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to try some new products from their Irresistibles line.

In the basket was Maple Butter, Dark Almond Fruit Cake, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, European Biscuits, Sun-dried Tomato crisps and a $20 gift card to go check out some of their other appetizers they have.  Let me tell you, everything in that basket was delicious and perfect appetizers for any Holiday gatherings you may be having or going to. I can't wait to head to Metro to pick up a few of their treats for our annual New Year's Eve party we'll be hosting this year.



Along with the gift basket they shared some awesome tips that I thought everyone could use around this time of year.


10 Holiday Party Planning Tips via Metro:
  1. Creative serving – Instead of communal bowls of nuts, try a more eye catching and hygienic presentation by putting snacks in clear-glass, narrow-necked decanters. Guests can pour nut and trail mixes themselves, and it looks great, too! 
  2. Stagger serving times – If all food is served at the start of the night, guests are likely to gorge and go home early. Keep your party hopping by serving your tasty hors d’oeuvres all night long. 
  3. Impress with a signature cocktail - Channel your inner mixologist and offer guests a unique signature cocktail for your holiday party. Be sure to have other non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages to offer alongside this cocktail. (This is one of my favs., I love having drinks that I can serve that's unique and new to my guests during a party.) 
  4. Prep in advance – The ‘day of’ for the party planner is always hectic! Between set up, last minute errands, and wrangling the kids – stress is high. Try prepping what you can a few days before. Things like fruit trays, cheese and cracker platters and Swedish meatballs can all be put together a day or two in advance.  
  5. Presentation is everything – When preparing food trays and hors d’oeuvres platters, have fun! Use the Canadian winter landscape as inspiration by placing pinecones and frosted pine needles in your tray display.  
  6. Fast and fancy – Limited time? Solicit the help of the frozen food aisle! Metro’s private label line, Irresistibles, offers delicious appetizers perfect for party planners, with selection and creativity covered. 
  7. Tidy as you go – No one likes waking up to a mess, by tidying bit by bit during your party, the house will be kept clean for your guests, too! (Another great tip that I live by. This helps so much once the party is over) 
  8. Set the ambiance – A beautiful candle display can never go wrong at a holiday party 
  9. Provide plenty of options – Be sure to provide an assortment of appetizer options at your holiday bash to keep all types of appetites full and happy! 
  10. Enjoy yourself – This is your party, too! You’ve worked hard and it’s important to enjoy the environment, interact with your guests and taste your delicious treats!
What are some tips you use for hosting gatherings and parties around this time of year?

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received a gift basket from Metro for the purpose of this post. No other compensation was received.

Tips from @Petcurean on Keeping Your Pet's Healthy During The Holidays


It's that time of year. Tons of family and friends are going to be getting together over the next couple of weeks to enjoy one another's company. The holiday season is known to be a time of excess but what most Canadians/Americans don't know is how it can affect the family pet. Delicious food (so much temptation), great parties (extra hands to slip a little "treat" from the appetizer table) and time to laze around on snowy afternoons don't only affect the two-legged members of the family.




I know for us it's hard to host a party with our Boston Terrier, Izzie, because not all people like dogs and I know that our dog is very hyper and runs around a lot when we have people over. So during this time of year when we have people visiting or over for a dinner and/or party I try and make sure to feed her before they come. And I make sure she goes potty because she has a weak bladder and gets excited very easily.

Below you will find some simple and easy tips for  hosting the perfect holiday party courtesy of Petcurean   for those of us who have pets and how to make both guests and pets feel comfortable:

  • DO: Leave a cute festive note on food tables reminding guests not to share people food with the four legged guests.
  • DON'T: Leave food and drinks on a low table during the party.
  • DO: Give your pets an early dinner to keep them full during the party and less likely to beg for snacks from your guests.
Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received coupons for Petcurean pet food for the purpose of this post. No other compensation was received.

@bigfishgames : Christmas Stories: Nutcracker Collector's Edition Review & Giveaway



 You all know how much I love playing games on my laptop, especially games from Big Fish Games. They're fun, addicting and are easy to have access to once you download and purchase them. All you have to do is download their Game Manager and all of your purchases will be accessible to you. I love this because even if I remove a game, I can always go to their Game Manager and download it again.

This time I was able to review their number one Holiday classic game, Christmas Stories: Nutcracker Collector's Edition, which is a great game, especially around this time of the year.


This was a hidden object game that was filled with fun adventure and like most of the games on Big Fish, very addicting. It took me all of two days to complete this game and it was so much fun.

In this collector's edition game you are invited to a Christmas party only to have missed it. Once you arrive you find The Nutcracker and help him rescue his love, Mary from the evil Rat King. Throughout the game you come across many puzzles and hidden object mini games. You also meet new friends that you help and in return they help you along the way through your journey. Once all of the puzzles are completed you reach the end to where you have to defeat the Rat King, which I enjoyed doing. I also loved that along the way on the adventure the game shares with you the story on how the Nutcracker became what he is and the history on how the Rat King became who he is.


I really had a great time playing this game. Big Fish has a handful of Christmas games out right now that would be awesome to play especially around this time of year and would be great gifts. Here are a couple:


Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received Christmas Stories: Nutcracker Collection at no cost for the purpose of this review and was compensated for this post. Big thanks to the people over at Big fish Games for the giveaway prize!


Delicious @OMGscandy Review & Giveaway

  Delicious chocolate goodies. This is what I said when I first took a bite of the goodness that is OMG's. My husband's first word was, "Wow, OMG!" He laughed, but said, "Seriously, these are the best pieces of chocolates I've had in a long time." I couldn't agree with him more.

We were sent a box filled with around 12 bags of these Canadian made treats called, OMG's. OMG's are delicious chocolate  graham clusters that are made up of chocolate, graham crackers, toffee bits and diced almonds in them. Seriously, if you haven't tried them yet, go buy a bag. How can any chocolate treat get better? I will rave and rave about these because it's so worth it. They come in two different chocolate flavors, dark chocolate and milk chocolate. My husband loved the milk chocolate, I loved both, but I'm a dark chocolate kind of girl.



With 12 bags in the house, these little treats did not last long in our house. I even gave some to my sister and brother in law who seriously came over the next day praising these treats. My niece and nephew even complimented them and asked what store to find them at so I looked on their site and you can find them at any Shoppers, Rexall, Zehrs or Loblaws out here in Canada. This would be a perfect addition to your dessert tray during your holiday parties. I know I'll be having them for my guests to try at our annual New Years Eve party this year.

To find out more about OMG's candy check them out on their website, Twitter and Facebook!

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received a box of OMG's Candy at no cost for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received. Thanks to OMG's Candy for the giveaway prize!




Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Blu-ray DVD Review



Everybody’s favorite wimp, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), is back for three times the fun in the latest film based on the super-popular book series! When Greg’s dad (Steve Zahn) threatens to send him to military school if he doesn’t stay out of trouble, Greg finds all-new ways to land himself in the doghouse! For starters, Greg’s in over his head when he pretends to work at the swanky country club where Rowley’s family has a membership. Things don’t go much better on a father-son camping trip with the Wilderness Explorers, and then there’s the Heffley’s new dog, Sweetie, who fetches even more trouble for Greg in this hilarious family film!

MY REVIEW
We are huge fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series in our house. We've seen the first couple of movies and absolutely loved them, which got my daughter into reading the books, even though they came out first. As long as she's reading, right? 

Like the first two movies, Dog Days is filled with another new adventure for Greg. This time he needs to stay out of trouble, but as always, there are always things getting in his way to prevent that from happening. This third edition to the series did not disappoint me. I absolutely loved this movie and can't wait for the next installment. If you have kids that are fans of this series you should definitely check this movie out, they'll love it!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days hits stores today, December 18th!

Check out the deleted scenes clip we have for you below! 


Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days at no cost for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green Blu-ray DVD Review



From Academy Award-nominated writer/director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), and starring Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Oscar winner Dianne Wiest and CJ Adams as Timothy Green, comes this highly imaginative story about a happily married couple who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. Then one stormy night young Timothy shows up on their doorstep. Soon they and the small town in which they live learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts. The story is written by Ahmet Zappa (“American Gangster,” “Changeling”).

MY REVIEW
I first saw the trailer for The Odd Life Of Timothy Green in theaters this past Summer. The trailer alone gave me chills and I had water in my eyes. I knew it was a movie that I had to see. It came out and I wasn't able to make the time to go see it in theaters  but I am so glad I got the opportunity to review the movie because it was definitely worth a watch.

This filmed was cast perfectly. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton did an amazing job with their characters and how can I forget about young Timothy himself played by, CJ Adams. His performance in this movie was fantastic. From beginning to end this movie had me hooked. We watched it as a family and by the end of  the movie we were all cuddled on the same couch. I cried, I laughed, I got so emotional, but I'd watch it again in a heartbeat because it was that good. This is definitely one of those family movies you can sit down and watch with your family and a month, a year, a couple of years later come back and still love it. The Odd Life Of Timothy Green is now out for purchase. Make sure Santa brings this to your home for the Holidays!

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received The Odd Life of Timothy Green for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received. 

Benefits from using Insurance Hunter

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Insurance Hunter for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Auto Insurance is important to have. You need it just in case anything happens and although it's a pain in the butt to pay, when and if something does happen, you'll be happy that you have it. But you do want the best that isn't too expensive and that is where Insurance Hunter comes in.

Insurance Hunter is an online insurance brokerage that offers and provides Ontario residents free access to auto, home and travel insurance quotes from the big name Insurance companies. They offer their service 24/7 and help you with comparing and saving on insurance that you can leave feeling happy with. 

The benefits from using theses guys is that you get efficiency, choice and convenience. The one thing you don't want is someone pushing down a certain insurance company down your throat that you're not going to end up being happy with. With Insurance Hunter they're an independent online insurance brokerage with no ties or loyaties to any specific insurance company. They want to look out for what's best for you. 

Their free insurance quoting tool is very easy to use. I had an opportunity to try it and it only took a few minutes and wasn't hard whatsoever. You go through three different steps before they give you your quote and that's it. It doesn't take long at all and it was less than five minutes, which normally getting a quote from an insurance company can take up to a full day. If you're looking for Car Insurance and need to hurry up and get a quote, Insurance Hunter is worth looking at. 

Visit Sponsor's Site

Aviva: Making Positive Change in Canada @avivacf

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Aviva Community Fund for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

One of the things that I love finding out about companies is finding out that there's actually more to that company than  just trying to make money, but that they are also trying to make a difference in their community. So when I found out that Aviva Insurance funds and supports the Aviva Community Fund and their annual charitable activation, I was honored to be able to share with our readers more about this community and how you can get involved as well.   

Aviva 2

Aviva Community Fund's focus is to help influence positive change in local Canadian communities. They want to help support the causes that are important to you. So they gave people from all over Canada the chance to enter their positive change idea and are now looking for your help on voting for your favorite idea. Canadian voters determine 98 semi-finalists in three qualifying rounds of voting. A Semi-Final round of voting determines which 30 will receive a minimum of $5,000. And the following round will be decided by the judges. Winners will be announced January 29,2013.

Aviva 1


WHO CAN VOTE? 
Anyone in Canada who is registered on the Aviva Community Fund website can vote for ideas during the Idea Entry and Semi-Final phases of the competition.

HOW DO YOU VOTE? 
Once you're registered and signed into the site, all you need to do is click on the "Vote Now" button on any idea that you like.

Or, if you registered using Facebook Connect, you can now vote directly through our Facebook voting app, which you can find on the Facebook page of most ideas or at Facebook.com/AvivaCommunityFund.

WHEN CAN YOU VOTE?
You can vote during each of the Qualifying Rounds and the Semi-Final phases of the competition. You can cast 15 votes during each of the three initial rounds and another fifteen votes during the Semi-Finals at any time within each round, but you can only vote for each idea once a day. 

The best part is you can support as many ideas as you'd like with your votes. But use them wisely. Once a vote is used, you can't take it back.

 To keep up with the voting process and to keep an eye out for the grand prize winner be sure to  Like Aviva Community Fund on Facebook and Follow @Aviva on Twitter. 

 

Visit Sponsor's Site

An IAMS Holiday Treat For Your Pet!




We're huge Iams fans in this house. When we switched over a couple of years ago, I noticed a huge difference in our Boston Terrier, Izzie. She didn't shed as much and her fur seemed so much healthier, plus it didn't give her gas, like, the brand we used to give her did.

I shared with you all a couple of weks ago how Iams does their Annaul  Pet Adoption Drive, which made me very proud in being an Iams customer.

Since the Holidays are around the corner, Iams wanted to do something a little special for your pet and give one of you lucky Just Us Girl Canadian readers a chance at winning this huge basket catered to your pet and valued at around $300. All you have to do is enter below, good luck!


PRIZE INCLUDES:
- Pet bed 
- Pet blanket 
- Food container 
- Food scoopers orange 
- Poop bags
- Two food coupons for large bags of food
- Iams fanny pack for water bottle / water dish 
- Iams water bottle for pets 
- Swifter cleaners 
- Febreeze pet odour spray 
- Iams Christmas stocking 
- Iams pet brush 
- Iams bandana

The Royal Royal: The Royalty Review & Giveaway


  
 A couple of weeks back we reviewed the album from Hillsong. Now I want to introduce to you two brothers who toured with them last Summer, Nathan and Gabriel Finochio also known as, The Royal Royal. I had the opportunity to review their album, The Royalty, and I must say it was very inspiring.

Not only is this album inspiring, but each song on the album has a bit of modern rock in it and is filled with songs that you know are from two guys that are singing their hearts out on something they believe in, which is what drew me to this album more.

I also love that they're from Ontario, Canada. (Woot!)

This is definitely an album that can go on the Christmas music list or something you can listen to all year long. I think my favorite song has to be, Your Voice from the album, it's a song I've had on my playlist this last week playing with some of my folk/indie music I have on one of my playlists and I just enjoy it so much. 

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received The Royal Royal: The Royalty album for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received. Thanks to the PR company for the giveaway prize.


Bebo Norman: Lights Of Distant Cities Review & Giveaway



Ever hear a song that just makes you feel good? How about an entire album? The lyrics, the voice, the instruments playing somehow touches you with a mixture of emotions. This is exactly how I felt when listening to the album, Lights of Distant Cities by Bebo Norman. I'd never heard of him before, I don't know how that happened, but I instantly became a fan after listening to this album.

Whether you're a Christian or not, have faith or not, this album will definitely touch you where you can relate to a song or two or all of them.  Not to mention this guy's voice. It's amazing. This album has eleven songs and trust me, you won't want to skip any of the songs. It was hard to choose, but my favorite had to be Collide. It's a song that's now on my playlist and one I've been listening to over and over again for the past couple of days. Check out the video of the song below.


Throughout Bebo's seventeen years as an artist, he has been applauded for laying it all on the table with his lyrics and musical vulnerability. Lights of Distant Cities is definitely an album worth listening to and sharing to your friends.

To find out more about Bebo Norman and his music check him out on his website, Facebook and Twitter!

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received Bebo Norman: Lights of  Distant Cities for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received. Thanks to the PR company for the giveaway prize.

Ellie James Guest Post: About those Dragonflies…

Special thanks to Ellie James for yet another great guest post on Just Us Girls. If you're unfamiliar with her, check out our interview with her back in May and our review on her book, Shattered Dreams.


It’s happened four times now. I’m at a book signing and someone comes up to me, usually with a hesitant, slightly glassy look in their eyes. Lowering their voice, they tell me they’ve always loved dragonflies or that they have one that visits on special occasions, or maybe they collect dragonfly art—or they’re wearing a dragonfly brooch. And they always say, “you know why…don’t you?”

Or maybe it’s the reader who sends me a note, directing me to their dragonfly-themed blog, or the interview questions, all wanting to talk about the dragonflies…. 

But here’s the thing. I didn’t know. I didn’t sit down to write a story with a heavy dragonfly-motif. I didn’t plan a dragonfly theme. I didn’t even know that much about dragonflies, except that they often darted and buzzed the pool in the evenings.
  
But then I’m writing Shattered Dreams and I reach this key place in the story, this place where my main character, Trinity, a sixteen-year-old orphaned psychic, is given a talisman that had once belonged to her mother, and suddenly I’m describing a dragonfly.
No forethought. No pondering or considering. No planning. The dragonfly appeared all by itself—and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years writing, it’s that those unplanned things in stories, those gifts, as I think of them, are always the most pure, organic elements there are. They always occur when they’re supposed to occur, and they change everything.
I’ve learned a lot since that dragonfly first showed up in the story. I’ve spent hours researching and exploring dragonflies. I’ve spent more hours watching the dragonflies play in the twilight of my backyard. I’ve bought my own talisman and found myself doodling dragonflies all over the place, including a foggy shower door. And now I know, I know why the dragonfly appeared in my series about a teenage psychic, and I know why the amulet passed down from mother to daughter could have been nothing else.

Symbolism
Agile and graceful, poised and powerful, beginning their lives in water and ending them in air, dragonflies symbolize change and the recognition of the deeper meaning of life in almost every culture, every civilization, in which they are found. They embody transformation and renewal, illusion . Worldwide, dragonflies are recognized to have a strong association with light. They both reflect and refract. They change colors depending upon the angle of light or shadow, and in doing so they inspire us to explore this power, that of light, to transform and usher in positive life changes. Additionally, they are a creature of the water, like all creatures of the water symbolizing the subconscious mind and deeper thoughts. They  bare strong associations with dreams and desire.

But let’s get back to the transformation thing for a second. It’s not just transformations within life, but from life. To many Native American cultures (as well as many other around the world), dragonflies are the souls of the departed, hovering close before moving on. The stories are everywhere. All you have to do is go out to Google and look up “dragonflies and death.” This is the main thing readers want to talk to me about. The stories they want to share. Stories about the loss of a loved one and the sudden, mysterious appearance of a dragonfly. A dragonfly where one has never been seen before. A dragonfly where there shouldn’t be one. A dragonfly that appears at just the right moment, and leaves only when a new strength, a new balance, has been achieved.

It’s all pretty awesome.

Here’s a story I ran across over and over:
 In the bottom of an old pond lived some grubs who could not understand why none of their groups ever came back after crawling up the stems of the lilies to the top of the water. They promised each other that the next one who was called to make the upward climb would return and tell what happened to him. Soon one of them felt an urgent impulse to seek the surface; he rested himself on the top of a lily pad and went through a glorious transformation, which made him a dragonfly with beautiful wings. In vain, he tried to keep his promise. Flying back and forth over the pond, he peered down at his friends below. Then he realized that even if they could see him they would not recognize such a radiant creature as one of their number.

The fact that we cannot see our friends or communicate with them after the transformation, which we call death, is no proof that they cease to exist.
  To many, dragonflies represent a reminder that death is not an end, but rather, a change, part of a larger, more intricate cycle, a transformation that requires a higher form of communication.

I worked as much of this as I could into the Midnight Dragonfly books, in particular the third book, Fragile Darkness. Here are two of my favorite passages:

“She always said they’re the souls of those who have come before us,” he said, and then his hand was there, slipping by mine to finger the greenish crystal in the center. “Darting by to see that we are safe, and to remind us of what is to come.”

And…
“Like the dragonfly, you are of two worlds, two realms, the here and the now, while still being connected to the mysteries of the Universe. You are both light and the reflection of light. You see beyond what your eyes show you.”


Look around you. The magic, the mysticism, the transformation, is everywhere. 



About Ellie James
Most people who know Ellie think she’s your nice, average wife and mom of two little kids. They see someone who does all that normal stuff, like grocery shopping, going to soccer games, and somehow always forgetting to get the house cleaned and laundry done.
What they don't know is that more often than not, this LSU J-School alum is somewhere far, far away, deeply embroiled in solving a riddle or puzzle or crime, testing the limits of possibility, exploring the unexplained, and holding her breath while two people fall in love.
Regardless of which world Ellie’s in, she loves rain and wind and thunder and lightning; the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall; family, friends, and animals; dreams and happy endings; Lost and Fringe; Arcade Fire and Dave Matthews, and last but not least…warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.

 You can follow Ellie on Facebook 

Her next book, FRAGILE DARKNESS, is available from Griffin Teen November 27, 2012. 



About the Midnight Dragonfly Series
Glimpses. That’s all they are. Shadowy premonitions flickering through sixteen year old psychic Trinity Monsour’s dreams. Some terrify: a girl screaming, a knife lifting, a body in the grass. But others--the dark, tortured eyes and the shattering kiss, the promise of forever--whisper to her soul. They come without warning. They come without detail.

But they always mean the same thing: The clock is ticking, and only Trinity can stop it.

Find out how in Shattered Dreams, Broken Illusions, and Fragile Darkness, available from Griffin Teen!

What Does Christmas Mean To You?



What does Christmas mean to you? Making mince pies and gingerbread men, wrapping presents by the fire whilst watching Christmas movies, or simply spending quality time with your loved ones? Everyone has their own traditions, and the great thing about Christmas is that you can make new traditions as the years go on.

I believe Christmas is a time to spend with all of those people who you don’t get the chance to see throughout the year, doing things as a family and enjoying each other’s company, and I especially feel this is the perfect time of year to be creative and use your imagination! There are so many ways in which you can do this, making special ornaments, Christmas garlands, wreaths or home baking, there is always a way for each and every one of us to show our creative Christmas edge.

From being young I have always made my own Christmas crafts, from Christmas cards to gorgeous holiday calendars for the oldies; it has become a tradition in our home to make Christmas treats. Despite this being a great way to bring the family together, you are also showing that you believe in the spirit of Christmas.

I have created a list of some of my all-time favourite Christmas crafts which are suitable for the whole family:

Make Your Own Snow Globes  
This was one of my favourite things to do as a child, and can be equally as fun as a grownup; all it takes is an empty jam jar, some mini figurines, glitter glycerine, (Which is actually easier to get hold of than you think!) and some enamel paint, and in no time you have your homemade snow globes!

Christmas Cards and Calenders As we are all about saving the environment, this year we have chosen to make our own Christmas cards out of old wrapping paper and ribbons which were too beautiful to throw away from previous years. All it takes is a piece of plain card, some ribbon and a beautiful pattern from an old piece of wrap to make stunning Christmas cards. Granted this does take some organisation, however it wouldn’t cost much to buy a role of wrap and use your creativity to turn it into something special. If this isn’t your thing, why not use pictures and photographs of your family to include in your homemade Christmas cards or calendars.

Wooden Letters  As long as an adult is present in the making of this Christmas craft, it can be one of the most rewarding and beautiful homemade crafts. By using old wood found in the garden along with a sharp saw, you can turn almost anything into gorgeous Christmas letters, a couple of coats of gloss paint and you have something which has cost a fraction of the price that it would have cost to buy in a store.

There are many more Christmas crafts that I love, but as Christmas is the time for sharing why don’t you tell me what your favourite Christmas craft is?! 

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. This was a sponsored post. Compensation was received.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green DVD/Blu-ray Giveaway



 I'm very excited to be able to host this giveaway for our Canadian readers only. I first saw this trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green while I was watching Madagascar 3 in theaters with my family over the Summer. I teared up and got goosebumps with just watching the trailer  so I know when I watch it this week I'm sure there will be some water works happening. Check out the trailer below, enter the giveaway and come back next week to read my thoughts on the movie! 


From Academy Award-nominated writer/director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), and starring Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Oscar winner Dianne Wiest and CJ Adams as Timothy Green, comes this highly imaginative story about a happily married couple who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. Then one stormy night young Timothy shows up on their doorstep. Soon they and the small town in which they live learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts. The story is written by Ahmet Zappa (“American Gangster,” “Changeling”).

Guest Post: Transforming Love By Anne Elisabeth Stengl & Starflower Autograph Book Giveaway



*A big Thank You to Anne for guest posting today as well as hosting a giveaway. Be sure to enter below!*


  
Every time I sit down to write a new story, I wonder what I'm going to say. Not about the story itself; usually that's pretty well set in my mind. I'll have the various heroes and heroines, their adventures, their desires, their ups, downs, and climaxes decently worked out in outline and/or short-story form. The plot as a whole is ready to go when I actually begin to pound out that rough draft.

But I always wonder what I'm going to say.

Writing fiction is about more than merely telling an entertaining story. Each book is a new opportunity to communicate my heart to hundreds and thousands of readers. The journey each of my characters travels is a journey my readers pursue as well. For a writer to say "It's just a story!" is the gravest mistake in the world. It's never just a story. It's a life, a series of lives, caught on paper, lived vicariously through many other lives. Every story, good or bad, matters in some way.

This is why I believe every good story has something to say. Some truth to impart through its characters and their adventures. Some truth that is deeply personal to me, but which also has significance to hundreds of people whom I have never met.

Which, when you really stop and think about it, is awfully overwhelming to a writer! I mean, it's hard enough, isn't it, to come up with compelling characters and surprising plot twists, breathtaking climax and a satisfying resolution. And now, suddenly, I have to communicate a universal truth as well? You've got to be kidding.

So I felt when I sat down to write the first draft of Starflower. Here I had a story, a fun story involving all sorts of things that had nothing to do with my personal life. A story of immortals pitted against mortals, of dragons bent upon revenge, of suns and moons personified, of rivers with voices; a story of ritualistic sacrifice. What deeply personal bit of universal truth am I supposed to wring out of all that?

I struggled on with the manuscript for many months before the answer came . . . in a most unexpected package.

I was sitting out in my sunroom one evening--about halfway through the first draft of Starflower--when a movement in my backyard caught my eye. Turning to look, I saw four beautiful, bouncing kittens gamboling about on my lawn as though they owned it.

"SQUEEEEEEE!"

I live on the edge of a little bamboo forest that is home to a feral cat colony. For those of you who don't know, feral cats are wild animals which have had no human interaction. They are as timid as squirrels and vicious when cornered, and after they reach a certain age are unlikely ever to be comfortable with people. They live harsh, brutal lives, struggling for every meal, falling prey to a number of predators and diseases. Most of them don't live long . . . just long enough to reproduce more wild kittens in far too great abundance.

The kittens in my yard that evening were feral kittens, born of a feral mother. The moment I stepped outside, thinking to give them a plate of food, they hissed and ran in terror. Which is a bit heartbreaking when you're talking about four gorgeous, fluffy, little balls of adorability!

Something had to be done.

Setting aside my manuscript for Starflower, I set about catching these kittens in a live-trap. One at a time, I caught them and took them down to my basement (I had to isolate them from my own cats because of the threat of diseases and fleas). There I set up a little room for them with a litter box, a bed, and plenty of food and water.

They were utterly terrified. Some of them hissed and scratched and snarled, trying to attack me if I reached out to handle them. Some of them merely curled up into quivering balls, unable to move as long as I was in the room. Their instincts ruled them, and their instincts screamed, Danger! Danger!

But I sat in that room for hours, talking to them, singing to them, touching them gently as they allowed me, offering them treats from my fingertips. I showered them with love. And one by one--some sooner, some later--I watched the transformations occur.

Those little kittens, so frightened, so vicious, turned into little balls of purring fluff, happy to cuddle in my lap for hours, offering to play sweetly. They no longer lashed out to claw me but would gently catch my hand between their paws and chew daintily on my fingers. They turned their bellies up for rubs, the ultimate sign (in cat language) of vulnerability and acceptance.

They turned from creatures of survival, instinct, and brutish fear into little personalities, each different from the others, each eager to give and accept love. The potential, which had always been inside them, blossomed, and they became devoted companions.

One day, sitting down in that basement with the most difficult of the kittens newly tamed and purring in my lap, eyes closed, belly-up, basking in the love I poured on his stripy little head, I suddenly knew what Starflower was meant to be about.

Starflower was going to be a story about transforming love.

What makes the difference between a man and a beast? What turns us from creatures of survival and instinct, focused only on our own desires and our own immediate needs and concerns? The answer is simple . . . and yet so profound. The answer is love.

Without love, my little feral kittens would have lived the short, brutish lives of their ancestors, moving from immediate need to immediate need. The same is true for you and me. Without love, would we be any different? We'd be concerned only with our next meal, our next comfort, our status, our immediate security. But love takes us outside of ourselves. Love gives us meaning beyond survival, beyond instinct.

Through love divinely showered upon our heads from a source beyond our understanding, we become greater creatures, more than animals. We become souls intended for relationships. As animals, we would only take what we needed. As beings of love, we can give and we can receive.

Through love, we become what we were always intended to be.

Those little kittens of mine were not born to be brutes. They were not born to hunt and kill and to be killed. They were born to be someone's companion. They were born to be small reflections of our own selves, giving love and bringing joy to others. And as I sent them off to their new homes and their new lives, I saw those kittens become what they were meant to be . . . but which they never would have become without love’s interference.

I owe those kittens a tremendous debt. Through what I learned while fostering them--and continuing to foster more kittens over these last few years--I discovered what Starflower was intended to say to my readers. Starflower is a story about love and its transforming power. It's a story about creatures becoming whole, about souls discovering what they were meant to be, beyond the limitations of selfish desires.

So when you read Starflower, I hope you will be caught up in an engaging, otherworldly adventure. I hope you will be enchanted by the seductive rivers and the wily Faerie queens; I hope you will shudder at the machinations of the dragon-witch; I hope you will be left breathless at the perils faced by my brave heroine and her immortal companion. But I also hope that you will see and understand the much deeper, more meaningful story behind the colorful characters and intrigue. I hope what I meant to say will reach out and touch your heart, and leave you eager to explore the power of transforming love in your own life.
  
Find Anne Elisabeth Stengl on Facebook, Twitter and her Blog!

Celebrating This Holiday with Our Favorite Dreamworks Characters!



 When Santa and his reindeer crash onto the island of Madagascar, it’s up to Alex, Marty, Gloria, Melman and those wacky Penguins to save Christmas. Get ready for a sleigh full of laughs in this hilarious holiday classic, Merry Madagascar. And don’t miss The Penguins in A Christmas Caper!

After Shrek promises Fiona and the kids a Christmas they’ll remember, he is forced to take a crash course in the holiday. But just when he thinks he has everything, Donkey, Puss in Boots and the gang crash the party.
 Shrek the Halls is the greatest holiday tale that’s never been told… until now. Also includes Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular!

The Dragons are back in the exciting next chapter to the Academy Award -nominated film. The epic story of Hiccup and Toothless continues as they take flight in a thrilling, adventure to discover an island of never-before-seen dragons – Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury. Explosive action and fire-breathing excitement collide in this exhilarating story.


MY REVIEW
Oh how I loved this Holiday special from Dreamworks. Not only did we get an opportunity to see Holiday specials with one of our favorite bunch of characters, but this movie included three different Holiday specials from Madagascar, Shrek and How To Train Your Dragon. All three different movies that have been favorites in our home for years and when we got the chance to watch them for a Christmas special, it made us love these characters even more. This is 85 minutes of laughter, great stories and holiday cheer and my kids just loved it. 

This certainly put us all back in the holiday spirit since we've all been sick with the flu lately. My kids loved the Madagascar Christmas story the best, mainly because of those crazy penguins. For me it had to be Shrek, I just love that big Ogre. 

This is definitely one Christmas collection you'll need to have on and see during this holiday and definitely one you and your family will enjoy together.

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received Dreamworks Holidays at no cost for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received.

A Toy Kids Will Love This Holiday: The Trash Pack



It's getting harder and harder to find  gifts you know your kid will play with for weeks and months at a time. A toy you will get your moneys worth. I was pretty excited when I got the opportunity to review, The Trash Pack. The Trash Pack is perfect for little boys everywhere. My daughter even fell for this toy and she's pretty girly when it comes to toys. Both kids have been playing with The Trash Pack since we've got it and even told their cousins about it.

The Trash Pack is a mobile storage garbage truck that comes with two different characters to play with. Not only will they have hours of play time, but one of the best things I found about this is that there are tons of collectible little Trashies  that your kid can collect. Each collectible character comes in three different colors that are common, rare, ultra rare, special edition Trashies , exclusive Trashies  and they even have glow in the dark Trashies .



When a toy like this comes along you are sure to get your money's worth. Not only will you kid enjoy playing with these mini characters, but the most fun will be collecting each different character.

With The Trash Pack you can smash your Trashies by launching them from the Wheelie Bin and knocking them into a wall of trash cans. I think this was one of my son's favorite parts about this toy. He loved smashing his Trashies into the garbage bins.



There is also room to store the all of your Trashies that your child collects. Each truck stores up to 12 trash cans. Along with smashing them and storing them, you can also dump them in the wheelie bin and most of all display them on the display stands.

There's tons of different ways to play with The Trash Pack and this leads to hours and hours of play time for your little guy or girl. The Trash Pack can be found exclusively at Toys R Us and retail around $19.99.

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received The Trash Pack at no cost for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received.


Dreamworks: Kung Fu Panda Holiday Blu-ray/DVD Review



In this hilarious action adventure, Master Shifu calls on Po to host the year’s biggest event – the Winter Feast, a special time of the year to celebrate family, tradition and the awesomeness of Kung Fu! Po and the Furious Five must team up to throw the best celebration the Valley of Peace has ever seen. Can Po pull off the perfect party, impress his heroes, and discover the true meaning of the Winter Feast?



MY REVIEW
There is something about Jack Black that I just seriously love. Not only have the kiddos, hubby and I been a fan of Kung Fu Panda since the first movie, but we've been dedicated fans that watch the series on TV weekly. So when we had the opportunity to review the Kung Fu Panda: Holiday  on blu-ray and DVD we were all thrilled and excited.

 It took us little to no time to finish this holiday special and through it all we laughed and bonded even more as a family. I love that Po is not only the Dragon Warrior, but that he makes mistakes and learns from them because no one is perfect. I'm glad that this is a show that can teach kids that it's okay to make mistakes, you will always be loved. In this Holiday special, Po not only realizes what's more important during his planning for the Winter Feast, but also helps Master Shifu understand that some times change is good and that family is important. This is definitely a holiday special your entire family will sure love.

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. I received Kung Fu Panda Holiday  at no cost for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received.

Sausage Egg Mcmuffin: #BreakfastReady w/ @Dempsters & Giveaway


Breakfast is a must have in this household. It's what helps start and get our day going. It's one of the first things that bring us together on the weekends when there's no school rush.

One of the many products that I've come to love and use daily for my household are the bread products from Dempster's. I've been using them for years and have no complaints. They're affordable, taste great and a brand we trust. Not only do we use their bread daily, but we are also big fans of their flour tortillas and English muffins as well.

Speaking of English Muffins, we were sent a few coupons from Dempster's to try a couple different varieties of their English muffins and share our favorite recipe we like to use when eating them. Their English Muffins are now softer than ever and come in three different varieties; regular, whole wheat and cinnamon raisin.

When eating their English muffins I can eat them toasted with peanut butter and jam, as a base for our mini pizzas we love to make, but best of all and my all time favorite is making them into homemade sausage and egg "Mcmuffins." So I took the recipe from Dempster's site, added my own spin on it and want to share with you my all time favorite way to eat an English muffin. Homemade just tastes so much better!

SAUSAGE EGG MUFFIN
Source adapted from Dempster's
Serves 1

Ingredients
Non Stick cooking spray
1 Dempster's English Muffin
1 Cooked Sausage Patty
1 Egg 
1 Slice of cheese

Directions:
Cook sausage patty as directed from the package and set aside, next put your English muffin in the toaster and as it's toasting scramble your egg. Before placing on stove-top  place a circle cookie cutter (please use one that can stand the heat). Cook until done. Place cheese on English muffin followed by the sausage patty and egg. Top with other half of English muffin. Eat and enjoy!

To find out more about Dempster's and their products check out their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Disclosure: I am a member of the MLF Connects program. As part of my participation in this program I have received compensation, however all opinions in place and ideas on this blog are my own.

   
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