Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where's Santa Now?!

It's Christmas Eve, and the kids are excited because soon Santa will be here.

But what's Santa doing right now?! You can show them with the latest Christmas tech:

Santa Claus Live webcam.
Inside and outside the workshop views in real time from Santa's office on the Arctic Circle.

Norad Santa
Track Santa through his Twitter stream, download the iGoogle gadget to countdown the hours, even follow him on your mobile phone!

Thanks to Chris Webb for the heads-up on these Santa links!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Put the Grinch in Christmas!

What would Christmas be without the Grinch? For us, watching the Dr. Seuss classic is one of our favorite Christmas traditions, along with the musical version of a Christmas Carol, Scrooge.

Now Oceanhouse Media has brought the very first e-Book version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to the iPhone so you can enjoy this timeless kids' classic in an entirely new way.

Now available on the App Store, the How the Grinch Stole Christmas e-Book is $3.99 and includes such new features as professional narration, background audio and enlarged artwork for each scene.

Here's a demo, so you can see how the e-book looks on the iPhone.

Cool feature: Individual words are highlighted as the story is read and words zoom up when pictures are touched to help encourage children to read the e-book themselves. The How the Grinch Stole Christmas e-book will appeal to readers of all ages who love the original.

By the way, Oceanhouse media has two other Grinch apps available for the iPhone as well. Their game, "Grinchmas” is currently #1 in Kids Games and #32 in paid apps in the entire App Store and “Dr. Seuss Camera – Grinch Edition” hit #60 in the Photography category. Check out their website for more information.

I received a free promotional code from Oceanhouse Media to assist me in my review of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas e-book app.

Feeling Tipsy?

From Sheila Lirio Marcelo, Founder of, come these timely tips for...tipping!

Holiday Tipping Guidelines

Gift-giving can be confusing, especially when it comes to caregivers and other service providers. Determining the etiquette behind finding the right gift for the right person is a tough challenge! I've put together a few tips and tricks to help guide your family when it comes thanking your caregivers this holiday season.
Tips for Child Care Providers:

• Nannies and Au Pairs: If you have a full-time nanny, offer them a tip or a "Christmas bonus" that reflects 10-15 percent of one week's pay.

• Regular babysitters: If you have a regular, go-to sitter who takes care of your children regularly, thank her (or him!) with a tip or a gift ranging from one or two night's pay—whatever equals about a week's worth of service.

• Coaches, tutors, and instructors: I always like to have Adam involved in thanking his teachers with a small gift or a thank-you card and a gift certificate.

• Pet sitters: If you have someone regularly take care of your animals while you're at work or traveling, say thank you with a week's pay. And if your dog is like Blake and Sydney and requires regular visits to a groomer, don't forget them, either!

• Home-care attendants and caregivers: I suggest a thank-you of one week's pay, but give two weeks for extra special care or long-term service.

If money is tight, you can be creative about saying thank you for your regular caregivers. Often, families give them a few extra days in paid time off to use throughout the year. Your cost remains the same, but you don't have to worry about finding extra funds for gifts around the holidays.

But beyond the care providers you can find on, there are a lot of folks out there who bring care into our lives and deserve an extra thank you. Some of these people can be forgotten during the holidays—but not by you!

Other People You Should Tip:

• School bus drivers: I find they're often overlooked. A small thank you (a $10 gift certificate and a card signed by your children) is a nice "something extra" in December.

• Service industries: Think of the people that make your home life a little easier—your mail and newspaper delivery people and garbage collectors While you don't have to necessarily tip them a week's wage or the price of a recycling pickup, I always try to help them feel special around the holidays. A nice card with a $10 gift certificate for coffee or a plate of fresh cookies goes far when it's cold outside!

• Maintenance people: If you've hired a regular landscaper or have a building manager that regularly does work around the property, shovels walkways, and plows driveways, let them know they're appreciated. It doesn't have to be much—just slip 10-15% extra in their December bill as a thank you.

• Housekeepers: If you have a regular housekeeper or house cleaner, tell them thank you by giving them an extra week's pay during the holiday season. But if you only hire one for occasional tidying up, it's okay to just wish them a verbal "Happy Holidays!"

• Baristas/clerks: Some of us have those regular spots that we visit daily for our morning coffee or bagel. If you're used to seeing the same person and they give you great service, say thanks! Buy them a cup and give them a card. They'll be surprised, and pleased, by your consideration.

Again, just like mom always said, "It's the thought that counts." Don't feel like you have to get caught up in what you give or how much it cost. The point is to show gratitude for the people who matter to you and your family.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Secret Santa Surprise Gift! Don't tell!

Okay, everybody, here it is, the gift I got for my Secret Santa!

Now, I'm not going to tell you her name, and don't go trying to figure it out, and maybe ruin the surprise, okay?


So..I got her a Gift Basket, complete with a Christmas sleigh, loaded with chocolate truffles (because who doesn't like chocolate?)!

And, in keeping with the theme, I also bought a Santa gift bag to dress it up for my Secret Santa! And I stayed under the ($25 giftcard) limit, which is really impressive, because it's a super-nice gift set.

Thanks, TJMaxx!

I'm really looking forward to finding out what my Secret Santa thinks of her gift soon. She'll be getting it before Christmas, thanks to the TJMaxx folks, as they also paid for shipping.

Unless I get my present tomorrow from my own Secret Santa, I'll have to let you know after Christmas what it was (the suspense is KILLING me), because that's when we'll be home from our trip.

Unless I can get the cat sitter to open it up and let me know. Hmmm....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shopping at TJMaxx

In our last post, we learned about Viv's Secret Santa! Now let's follow along with Viv as she goes on a shopping adventure...

Sorry, I just couldn't resist! ;)

Okay, so I was sent two TJMaxx cards, one for a gift for another blogger, and one for myself. Let's get me out of the way first, since I'm easy (Hey! No jokes).

Since I'm going up North into wintry weather--real wintry weather, snow and ice and sleet, stuff this Floridian girl is not used to!--I decided to get some cold weather duds for myself.

I was pleased with the selection at TJMaxx. Living here in the South, you can't always find a big selection of nice sweaters and coats, or even casual everyday cold-weather wear. But they had dressy clothes and active wear that really fit the bill. It didn't take me long at all to find what I wanted: comfy clothes for the long trip in the family mini-van.

But what most impressed me was, surprisingly, the fitting room! They'd been completely redone since the last time I was there, and I really liked the transformation. They were well-lit (none of that ultra-bright flourescent light that shows every line, crease and dimple), had full-length mirrors on two walls for that important front and back view, and even had soft cushy red seats. Take a look for yourself over on the right.

Yep, that next picture is me, in my comfy, oh-so-practical black pants and blue sweater top. Can you believe that BOTH of them together were only a shade over $25 at TJMaxx?!

Next, I went shopping for my Secret Santa.

But what to get?

I didn't know her clthes size, but TJMaxx doesn't just have clothes, so that wasn't a problem. Oh, no. There was almost too much for me to choose from!

Cool artsy sculptures. Seriously, look at this picture over here>>>.

All KINDS of gift sets, like perfumes and lotion, bath salts and foot rubs and loofahs, coffees and teas, even Betsey Johnson socks and underwear sets (can you imagine if I bought her underwear? Wouldn't that FREAK YOU OUT, getting underwear from some stranger on the net?!)

And...chocolate. Oh, man, they had ALL kinds of chocolate!

Hmm...I'm starting to get an idea!

Oh, and look, they even have GIFT BAGS and WRAPPING PAPER.

It was all coming together.

So, now, if you all promise to be good, and not give away the secret, do you want to see what I got for my Secret Santa?!

Saturday, December 19, 2009's a Secret!

So this year, I am taking part in several Secret Santas, and a cookie swap, but with a twist: they are ALL internet-based.

So, yes, basically I am trading gifts with total strangers I met on TEH INTERNETS.

Over on Metafilter, for the second year now, I am participating in the Secret Quonsar exchange.

Quonsar was a member who was known to be a bit...inflammatory in his posts and his opinions, so the Secret Quonsar exchange is firmly tongue-in-cheek. I sent my Secret Quonsee a flash drive with "Merry Christmas from your Secret Quonsar!" on it (I had it personalized because I knew I would be taking part in the swap), loaded with some of my favorite Christmas tunes in it, and packed along with a couple pouches of bacon salt, because everyone loves bacon, right? Well, okay, maybe not vegetarians. But my Quonsee liked it.

Sadly, I haven't gotten anything from my own Secret Quonsar, but it's not Christmas yet, so hope springs eternal.

I also took part in a cookie swap over at Metafilter, and sent out some of the coconut oatmeal cookies I featured here. I've heard from a couple of my cookie swap buddies and results were favorable. So far, I have received chocolate almond cookies in return.

I'm expecting two more batches (each of us sent out to three other people), but since we are leaving town soon for Christmas up north with the family, I may just come home to a house full of cookies after Christmas!

Which brings us to my final Secret Santa exchange, which I am really thrilled about because it was in conjunction with TjMaxx and Marshall's!

I was given a blogger's name to shop for (NO, I can't tell you the name yet, she doesn't know who her Secret Santa is!), and a giftcard to TJMaxx.

Because the TJMaxx folks are generous to a fault, I also got a giftcard to shop for myself!

Next post: My Secret Santa shopping adventure!

Friday, December 18, 2009

'Tis the Season for Giving (Part II)

From Devin Hermanson, a charitable giving expert and national director of World Vision’s Gift Catalog, come these tips for involving your children in giving to those less fortunate this holiday season.

"The holiday season can be a stressful time of year. There are gifts to purchase and wrap, cookies to bake, and family and friends to visit, but when we pause to help our neighbors in need, we all experience Christmas in a more meaningful way," says Hermanson.

Five ways for parents to teach children
the true spirit of the holidays

  1. As a family, select a charitable organization you'd like to support. Use online tools like Charity Navigator to find an organization that you trust. Give your children a budget and encourage them to decide how your family will donate to that organization this holiday.
  2. Cherish the stories of your family. Have your children talk to their grandparents and write down the stories of their past. Create a book to share with the entire family or record it online through Story Corps.
  3. Consider do-it-yourself gifts, like no-sew fleece blankets, that you can make with your children. Donate those blankets to a local homeless shelter. Find other homemade gift ideas at’s Family Crafts page.
  4. Work with your children to create a coupon book for your neighbors that might need an extra hand this year. Coupons could include shoveling their sidewalk, watching their children, or providing a meal.
  5. Bake cookies or sweets with your children and deliver them to your local nursing home or school-in-need. Start with this list of holiday recipes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tomorrow is Free Shipping Day!

Okay, I promise this is my last post about holiday shipping. ; )

Because, really, if you let this day go by? Good luck on getting your gifts there on time. Just sayin'.

Tomorrow, December 17, is Free Shipping Day. This is a one day shopping event when participating merchants offer free shipping to their customers with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

Twice as many retailers have signed up this year than last year, and it looks like the number of merchants offering free shipping on tomorrow will surpass 500. You'll even find big names like The Apple Store, Toys R US and Zappos taking part.

To see all of the retailers participating, and to make that final shopping run online with FREE shipping and GUARANTEED holiday delivery, head to

Tis the Season for Giving (Part I)

I like to encourage my children to give back in little ways, like collecting items to bring to our local Goodwill or charity, helping kids with toy donations, simply depositing a coin here or there to help institutions like the Ronald McDonald House (because I personally know parents whose children were helped by them), or the Humane Society (as we participate in pet rescue).

Christmas, to me, is about giving and spending time with family more than anything else, so this is the perfect time to talk about worthwhile causes for your family's donation choices.

And sometimes, those donations come with additional gifts.

Like Oceana's Adopt a Creature program.

Oceana's valuable work includes promoting good fishing practices, putting an end to the pollution of our seas, and protecting the marine creatures that inhabit them. You and your children can help by adopting a sea creature this holiday season.

Choose a hammerhead shark, killer whale, dolphin, seal, or all four to adopt this holiday season, and you will receive a special gift!

With a $35 donation, you will receive a personalized adoption certificate and a cookie cutter in the shape of your sea creature.

A $50 donation earns you a stuffed plush animal with your personalized adoption certificate.

For $75, you will have the adoption certificate in a wooden frame along with your stuffed animal, or if you choose the cookie cutter option you will receive an additional two hot pads.
For $100, you can have the entire set of SIX cookie cutters (dolphin, octopus, penguin, polar bear, shark and sea turtle), the personalized adoption certificate, framed, and two hot pads.

And for a $150 donation, you can opt for the full set of FOUR stuffed plush marine creatures, (including hammerhead shark, dolphin, seal and killer whale) along with your framed adoption certificate.

There's also a special adoption kit for sea turtles honoring Casey Sokolovic.

A Greenville, NC resident, Casey Sokolovic was a finalist for Oceana’s 2009 “Ocean Heroes” award ( At age nine, Casey became an environmental steward and role model for others her age when she began a sea turtle conservation campaign called L.A.S.T. – Love A Sea Turtle. She has raised over $3,000 for a North Carolina-based sea turtle rehabilitation hospital, in part by selling sea turtle-shaped sugar cookies.

With your donation, you allow Oceana to carry out our important work to protect the oceans from overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution.

“It is so exciting to help Oceana protect turtles. Sea turtles are in a lot of trouble. They are in danger of disappearing and that is sad because they are so important to the oceans.” - Casey Sokolovic.

Casey's special honorary adopt-a-sea-turtle gift set, $200, includes all of the items below:

  • 22" Sea Turtle plush
  • Sea Turtle cookie cutter (tin, 4.25")
  • Oceana oven mitt
  • Personalized adoption certificate (wood frame, 4" x 6")
  • Original sugar cookie recipe, provided by CakeLove (4" x 6")
  • Sea Turtle fact card with a special note from Casey
  • Complimentary gift wrapping
You will need to place your order with 2-day priority shipping at this time when you make your donation and adopt your sea creature.

I received a complimentary adopt-a-sea-creature set with a plush killer whale from Oceana for this post. Because I believe so strongly in what they are doing, I also adopted an octopus at my own cost.
Let's see, we've had some healthy cookie recipes and an edible centerpiece.

What about holiday cocktails? If you're watching your weight, some of them can sabotage your best efforts. What you may not know: the mixers you use can be just as deadly to your dieting as the alcohol.

Here are some lower-calorie cocktails you can try out this holiday season with healthier mixers in them:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mmm..Decadent Cookies!

Okay, we've covered healthy, low-cal choices, but everyone needs a splurge now and then! Here are my favorite cookie recipes this holiday season.

Easy Coconut Oaties:

This delicious cookie recipe takes just one bowl to mix and is chock-full of coconut flavor. You can also experiment with other pudding mixes to change it up a little, like lemon, vanilla or chocolate.

1/2 cup solid shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp imitation coconut extract
1 cup quick-cook oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 package of instant coconut creme pudding pie mix
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together sugar and shortening. Add egg and extract, then gradually beat in remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Batter may be slightly crumbly at this stage. Using hands, roll dough into balls (about 1 inch in diameter). Place balls on greased cookie sheet or pizza stone. You can flatten them a bit with a fork if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes* or until cookies are browned around the edges. Makes about 2 dozen coconut oaties.

*If using pizza stone, add about two minutes to baking time.

Easier Sugar Cookies:

I like to use the slice-and-bake refrigerated sugar cookie dough (you can find Nestle, Pillsbury and even store brands these days) and then add my own embellishments.

Some really successful batches:

  • Roll entire sugar cookie dough "loaf" in colored sprinkles.
  • Use a cinnamon-sugar grinder to lightly dust cookies with cinnamon before baking.
  • Press slivered almonds into dough before baking.
  • Press dough with thumb before baking and, a few minutes before cookies are browned, sprinkle colored sugar/nonpareils or sprinkles into the thumpbrint "well".
Somewhat successful:

Use thicker slices so that cookie doesn't brown too fast, then use thumbprint method to add hershey's kiss in center of cookie before baking. This makes a DELICIOUS cookie as long as you have provided a thick enough base for the kiss.

Not-quite successful, but tasty:

Maraschino cherries. I know, this is madness, but I tried it. Again, you have to make the cookie base thick enough, and I would drain the cherry before I added it to the middle of the sugar cookie, as I had one fall right through! But the other cookies tasted great. :)

Easiest Chocolate-chip cookies:

I buy the big bucket o'cookie dough for these. I know, I know, but I have made them from scratch and put them side-by-side with the pre-made dough and found the kids couldn't tell the difference.

Pillsbury also has a version with miniature Hershey's Kisses instead of chocolate chips that the Rhino LOVES.

The Perfect (Easy! Edible!) Holiday Centerpiece

Made from bright and juicy Driscoll’s strawberries that are bursting with flavor, the tree-shaped centerpiece is guaranteed to add a personal touch and a bit of health to holiday celebrations. Cookbook author Tish Boyle created this step by step method with kids in mind. No sharp knives or glue guns are needed and little hands can easily help with each step. This project can be completed in under an hour.

Driscoll’s Very Berry Holiday Tree

Special equipment:

1 floral foam or green styrofoam cone (measuring 4-5 inches in diameter at the base and 12 inches high)
1 box of toothpicks

4 one pound containers of fresh Driscoll strawberries
1 bunch fresh mint
1 slice from a carambola fruit (also known as star fruit)*

*Note: If you can’t find a carambola, you can use a 1-inch star-shaped
cookie cutter to cut out a star shape from a mango slice instead.

1. Wash the strawberries and blot them dry with paper towels. Pull off the green stem from each strawberry. Reserve a perfect strawberry for the top of the ‘tree’.

2. Push a toothpick halfway into the side of the cone, about 1/2 inch from the bottom edge. Secure a strawberry to the toothpick, piercing it through the stem end. Secure another strawberry right next to the first one. Continue securing strawberries to the cone in circular rows up to its top, covering the cone completely. Secure the reserved strawberry to the top of the tree.

3. Remove some mint leaves from the bunch of mint and tuck them between the berries, placing them at about 3-inch intervals.

4. Secure the star-shaped carambola or mango slice to the top of the cone using a toothpick.

Tip from Viv: I've also seen a delightful Christmas Tree centerpiece with a variation to this, where instead of berries, cold coiled shrimp were attached to the styrofoam with toothpicks. Served with cocktail sauce, it made a lovely appetizer as well as centerpiece. Another variation might include speared broccoli with red cherry or grape tomatoes scattered for "ornaments," served with Ranch dressing--be creative and design your own!

Tish Boyle is editor in chief of Chocolatier and Pastry Art & Design magazines. A graduate of Smith College and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, she has been a caterer, pastry chef, and food stylist. She is the author of The Good Cookie and Diner Desserts, and coauthor of Simply Sensational Desserts (IACP Award Winner), Chocolate Passion, and the Grand Finales series of books.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stressless Holiday Shipping with FedEx (and a chance at an iPod Touch!)

I've already posted the shipping deadlines for the season, and I know that shipping can be the most stressful part of the holidays (right after holiday travel).

In fact, shipping can be stressful any old time!

So here's my first special tip for stress-free holiday shipping: when shipping wrapped Christmas or Hanukkah gifts, put clear packing tape over the gift label on your wrapped gift. This keeps the gift tag from falling off and causing chaos when your recipients get them--you don't want Grandma mistaking your teen's latest Metal CD for one of her presents! And the teens might not be too keen on that Snuggie you ordered for her, either.

My second tip? Rely on FedEx. I had to ship back a (*gulp*) laptop recently, and I knew I could trust FedEx to get it back in a timely manner and to take care of that package while it was in transport. I was able to schedule a pickup time and have them come to my house so I could hand it right to the FedEx guy. That REALLY eased my worries about returning a computer!

FedEx just really gets it, you know? They recognize, for example, that while we may be tired of waiting in long lines (I know I am), we also want--even need, in this tough economy--to find the best deals for shipping out our gifts this holiday season. We just can't afford to pay high rates. And since we have enough to do with all the shopping (unless you are one of the lucky ones whose spouse and children actually go out holiday shopping...yeah, right!), we really do need a one-stop solution.

So FedEx is helping us all to save time and money this holiday season with discounts!

Here's an example: When you visit a FedEx Office location, shipping with FedEx Ground costs 10% less than with UPS. And while you are there, the new FedEx Office Print & Ship Centers offer tips and help on shipping unusually-shaped or large-sized containers. They will even help you figure out how to ship safely while cutting down on the weight of your package, so that shipping will cost you less.

In-store or online (more about FedEx online in a minute), you can design calendars for your family, or you can print customized holiday newsletters to let the rest of the clan know what your kids are up to. You can even get personalized holiday cards, which FedEx will deliver to the local FedEx center or right to your entire Christmas list! Now THAT'S a time-saver.

Even better, you can save up to 16% on FedEx Express services and 8% on FedEx Ground and Home Delivery if you sign up on the FedEx site this season. Now, if that wasn't incentive enough (and saving money is a pretty good incentive, IMHO), they're running a contest!

Anyone who signs up for a free account on as a result of this post and records their name and confirmation number here:

Will be entered to win ONE OF 5 APPLE IPOD TOUCHES!

Okay, I KNOW you have to be psyched now. Remember, you don't have to do anything other than sign up for that free account on Fedex. I just did it myself, and it is really easy. Took me five minutes. Then I just entered it in that link above and presto, I might be a winner!

So you really have nothing to lose, and wouldn't someone on your list just LOVE to get an Apple iPod Touch?

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of FedEx and received a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Free Holiday Music Counts Down the Days Until Christmas!

When the time comes to wrap presents, I find I have a love/hate relationship with gift wrap. I want to make everything look so nice, but I can't cut the paper on a straight line (this makes the Engineer snicker), I run out of tape and my back ends up aching from bending over the table so long, cutting and taping.

So I always put on some holiday tunes to rev me up and get me in the mood for wrapping. So I was really pleased to find FREE holiday music available right now from both (offering a new tune every day from your favorite artists, like Lady Gaga and Tori Amos) and iTunes (a sampler of 20 holiday classics).

My favorite downloads available so far include Jars of Clay's version of "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen," from Amazon, and Lady Antebellum's "Baby, It's Cold Out There" off of the iTunes Holiday Sampler.

If you've never shopped for music at Amazon before, they offer a special downloader that makes accessing music easier and lots of choices for inexpensive holiday CD's and holiday playlists, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Woot! Unique Gifts, Every Day

Looking for original gift ideas? is where all the cool kids shop.

Each Woot site offers "One Day, One Deal". I'm a huge fan, for the product descriptions alone, which are always inventive, and the low prices.

In addition to the original woot, which features a variety of items (today it's a sandisk mp3 player), there are several subsites.
There's a kid's woot (pinball games today!), a shirt woot (I bought a zombie Einstein shirt for the Rhino, my junior scientist, which says, "Science NEEDS YOUR BRAINS"), a sellout woot, and a wine woot.

Worth checking every day to find that special deal--t-shirts, for example, are just $10 when featured on shirt.woot.

Gifts for the Hostess on your List

I was just enjoying this post by a fellow blogger and thought I would give her some props! Check out the suggestions over at the Party Bluprints Blog!

Holiday Hostess Gift Ideas

Squeeballs Party is fun for the whole family

Looking for a gift idea for the kids? Maybe a video game that's not full of vampires and zombies? Something the whole family can play?

Squeeballs Party is a fun, family-friendly game full of unique challenges. Starring the Squeeballs, twelve cute and endearing "heroes" your kids are sure to love, the game offers hours and hours of entertainment.

What are Squeeballs? Toys made on a secret island somewhere in the Pacific, they aren't ready to go out to all the kids until they've been fully tested and put through their paces.

And that's where you come in.

You can play Squeeballs Party by yourself or against others, in head-to-head challenges for two players or party mode at up to four players. The 6 Nintendo DS party games (11 on the Wii) range from lava-filled canyons to snow-capped mountains, with stops in between in science labs and bowling alleys.

I had a chance to try out Squeeballs Party for the Nintendo DS, and it's pretty addictive (but in a good way). You start out with four basic challenges, and then more open up as you progress. The challenges get more and more difficult, and eventually (I'm told, because I didn't get this far) there are 70 challenges on the Nintendo DS game, and the Wii version has 150 challenges in total.

That should keep your kids busy for a while!

Here are some of the challenges contained within the Squeeballs Party game:

Tenpin Bowling--This one is really cute. Your job, as you bowl, is to knock the Squeeballs off the pins. They get scared when you come close and laugh in relief when you miss them.

Cannon--Bat away the Squeeballs with a racquet as they are sent at you from the mouth of a cannon.

Paint by Squeeballs--Now you catapult the colorful Squeeballs into a creative, colorful masterpiece.

So: cute characters, 150 mini-games, fun for the whole family...what else?

Oh, that's right, I almost forgot the best part!

Squeeballs Party is now only 19.99 for the Wii or Nintendo DS!

You can find Squeeballs Party at Gamestop, Walmart, or wherever video games are sold.

I received a copy of Squeeballs Party for the Nintendo DS to facilitate my review.

Help! I Need Toys for the Kids!

If you have a niece, nephew or grandkid to shop for, or if your kids are getting harder and harder to buy for, could be a lifesaver this holiday season. helps you choose the right toys for your family, with toy safety facts, free downloadable play guides, and even discussion boards where other parents let you know the real deal on the toys you are considering before you purchase them.

While on the site, you can sign up for important recall notifications to be sent to you automatically.

Coming up on a video from "The Moms of Toy Safety." A discussion from Moms, and even a grandmother who are also safety professional within the toy industry, this upcoming episode will remind watchers of TV's "The View" of the roundtable with Barbara, Whoopee, Sheri, Joy and Elizabeth. is your one-stop resource for anything and everything about toys and play before you buy.

Once you know the skivvy, you'll also want to check out lists all nominations for the "Oscars" of the toy industry, the 2010 Toy of the Year Awards for only the top toys.

What's great about this year that is not only do you get the consensus from the experts, but parents and kids can indicate their own favorites--and register to win one of more than 11 prize packages!

Coming up in next in the Holiday Handbook is Viv's personal pick for a videogame the whole family can play together (and your kids will love)!

I wrote this blog post as part of blog tour from Team Mom.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Healthy Holiday Cookies (that your kids will love!)

Laurel Hudson, culinary instructor at Wellspring Academies, has created several tasty cookie recipes your family will love, and has graciously allowed us to reprint them here as part of the Cool Moms Rule! Holiday Handbook.

Gingerbread Cookies
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

½ cup Fiber One original bran cereal
1 package whole wheat gingerbread cake or cookie mix
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ginger
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ cup granulated Splenda
Pinch of salt
½ cup canned pure pumpkin
¼ cup warm water
3 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
6 packets of Truvia no calorie sweetener
Pam spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with Pam.
3. In a food processor, grind the cereal until it looks like flour, then pour into a bowl.
4. Add the gingerbread mix, all the spices, the baking powder, Splenda, and salt and mix well.
5. In small bowl, combine the pumpkin with the warm water, molasses, and vanilla and mix well.
6. Add the pumpkin mixture to the other bowl and stir until blended.
7. Knead the dough to combine.
8. Roll dough into 1/2” balls, making 36 cookies dough balls total, and place on cookie sheet.
9. Flatten balls or scoops with back of a spoon dipped in Truvia, so dough doesn’t stick to spoon.
10. Bake in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until the edges are firm.
11. Let cool for 5 minutes, then place in the refrigerator to cool completely.
12. Remove from the pan and enjoy!

Approximate Nutritional Information:
54 calories/0.1g per cookie

Glazed Cranberry Orange Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup Splenda, granulated
1 tbsp egg whites
2 tsp orange zest
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ginger
1 cup chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup Splenda, granulated
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
Pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp orange extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with Pam.
3. Combine the applesauce, Splenda, egg whites, orange zest, salt, ginger, chopped cranberries, and vanilla in a bowl and stir.
4. Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and stir until just combined, no longer.
5. Drop by the small spoonful onto the baking pan.
6. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are firm.
7. Combine the glaze ingredients and stir until smooth.
8. Taste the glaze and adjust flavorings if needed.
9. Let cool for 5 minutes, and then remove from the pan.
10. Drizzle glaze over cookies.
Approximate Nutritional Information:
27 calories/0.1g per cookie

Peppermint Meringue Crisps
Yield: 18 cookies

· Juice of 1 lemon
· 2 egg whites
· Pinch salt
· ¼ tsp cream of tartar
· ½ cup Splenda, granular
· 1 sugar free candy cane
· ½ tsp vanilla extract
· 2 tbsp sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray lightly with Pam.
3. Combine the egg whites, lemon juice, cream of tartar, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
4. With electric mixer, whip egg whites into meringue, until whites are thick & stand up in peaks.
5. Add the Splenda and vanilla and whip for 30 seconds.
6. Drop by the spoonful onto pan, making 12 cookies.
7. Crush the candy cane into small bits.
8. Sprinkle the candy cane on top of the cookies.
9. Bake 1 ½ hours, then turn oven off and let cookies sit in partially-open oven until oven is cool.
10. Remove the cookies from the tray and enjoy!

Approximate Nutritional Information:
12 calories/ 0g fat per cookie

Are You Prepped for Santa?

Want to spend some quality holiday family time together?

Here's something that will give the kids a little Christmas cheer.

Tonight, tune in to ABC at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time to watch Prep & Landing on ABC.

Prep & Landing tells the tale of an elite elf unit assigned to pave the way for the big guy in red each Christmas Eve. Disgruntled veteran Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley) and his new partner, eager beaver Lanny (Derek Richardson), run into a few snags at a little boy's home that threaten to derail Santa's visit - unless the elves go above and beyond. It's a warm, funny, and visually gorgeous holiday treat. The brand-new holiday special was created by Walt Disney Animation Studios - their very first foray into TV specials.

Prep & Landing was two years in the making, employing a team of animators with feature-film experience. The result isn't just pretty animation, though – it was crucial to everyone that Prep & Landing be filled with Christmas spirit and warmth.

Directors Stevie Wermers-Skelton and Kevin Deters felt that it was pivotal to portray the spirit of the season in Prep & Landing. Stevie says, "We wanted first of all to find the heart in the story." And Kevin agrees, "What makes a holiday movie special? For me it's heart and charm, and having an undying sincerity to the story. We wanted to do something that felt timeless."
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