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    DVD review: The Diamond Queen and The Queen's Palaces

    The Queen's Jubilee honoring Queen Elizabeth II's incredible 60 years serving as Head of State of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth and the first time in modern history a queen has reached such a milestone is in full celebratory swing. Royalty watchers and history buffs—as well as fans of awe-inspiring places and spaces—can learn much about the history of the Queen and the historic palaces she calls home thanks to two new releases from BBC Worldwide Americas: The Diamond Queen and The Queen's Palaces.

    The Diamond Queen offers a fascinating look at the history behind Queen Elizabeth II being thrust into power at the age of 25, what she's accomplished since, and a year-long glimpse into what that royal life entails. Sharing everything from her father's story (which many might know from the recent film, The King's Speech), to her move into the palace then the position, her duties of meeting with Prime Ministers (starting with Churchill) and all it takes to fulfill her personal motto of "I have to be seen to be believed," the three hour-long episodes hosted by Andrew Marr enlighten and entertain. Interviews with members of the Royal Family and world leaders who have come to know her best add to the in-depth look at the woman and her impressive accomplishments. The episodes include archival footage dating far back in the family history as well as events as current as the Queen's visit to Ground Zero and the recent royal wedding of Prince William and Kate. A commemorative montage special feature provides additional material marking the Queen's rise and record-breaking reign.

    The Queen's Palaces provides an extensive look at the Queen's three royal homes: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and The Palace of Holyroodhouse. In three hour-long episodes, Fiona Price shares the amazing artwork and architectural details as well as the history behind the impressive structures. Many of the prized possessions housed within each are highlighted along with the history behind the pieces that made them significant to the Queen and to the country. The bonus feature on the DVD is a seemingly heartfelt introduction by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on these incredible places that were and continue to be significant to the Monarchy and Britain.

    What I loved about the DVDs: I am neither a history buff nor a royalty watcher, but I thoroughly enjoyed both DVDs. The Diamond Queen brought Queen Elizabeth II, an historic figure I've never known much about, to life for me and showed me a personal and touching side to her I never considered. The Queen's Palaces is just incredibly lush and extravagant to look at and to imagine that real people actually lived and continue to live among such treasures. Both DVDs, I must admit, were eye-openers for me—in a good way.

    The Diamond Queen and The Queen's Palaces from BBC Worldwide Americas retail for $19.98 each.

    Disclosure: I was provided free DVDs for review, with no obligation attached. Opinions are my own.


    DVD review: Spot and his Grandparents Go to the Carnival

    Little kids love carnivals nearly as much as they love their grandmas and grandpas. So when the two combine, as they do in Spot and his Grandparents Go to the Carnival, it makes for a doubly delightful tale for tots.

    Spot, the happy and popular little pup created by Eric Hill, spends the day with Grandma and Grandpa—a very special day at the carnival. Fortunately it's an old-timey kind of carnival, more along the lines of the old-fashioned fun in Charlotte's Web than a realistic look at the unseemly sort of carnivals typical of today. Even more fortunate is the surprise fun Grandpa has in store when he pulls out his fire engine to tote Spot and his buddies in the carnival parade. Then disaster strikes in the form of a flat tire. Oh, my! How will Spot and his friends (a crocodile, monkey and hippo) get to enjoy the carnival shenanigans or root for Grandma to once again win the prize for best baked goods.

    It's just the right amount of suspense for the toddlers for whom the adventure is intended. Bubby and Baby Mac both were entranced from the very beginning, thanks to the fun music played while Spot traipses to Grandma and Grandpa's house and the happy hugs, kisses and tail-wagging that goes on once he gets there.

    What we loved about the show: Dogs, fire engines, carnivals and Grandma making cookies? What more could Bubby and Baby Mac ask for to keep their attention? They watched the entire 30-minute episode without wandering away from the TV. As for me, I enjoyed the "It's grand, grand, grand being a grandma!" ditty which inexplicably had the feel of some of my favorite tunes from Mary Poppins—and quickly became an earworm.

    What I didn't love so much: The DVD includes two bonus four-minute episodes; one features Spot with Grandpa and the other features Spot with Grandma. It irked me a tad to see that the story with Grandpa was all about having fun with him at the park and out in nature and so forth, while the one with Grandma was about Spot helping her do the chores around the house. Yes, I admit that as far as PawDad and I go, he is the fun one and I'm usually the one doing the necessary chores when grandkids visit, but still...Grandma should get to be the fun one now and then, especially in cartoons.

    Spot and his Grandparents Go to the Carnival, from BBC Home Entertainment with a suggested $9.97 retail price, runs approximately 40 minutes. Find out more about Spot and his adventures at

    Disclosure: I received a free DVD for review. All opinions are my own.


    Giveaway: ReadySetEat — What's for dinner?

    Some days the biggest challenge and frustration is trying to figure out what to make for dinner. ReadySetEat, a ConAgra Foods initiative, is here to help in two ways.

    One, ReadySetEat serves up quick and delicious recipes that take 30 minutes or less to make. And they take a mere fraction of that amount of time to find, thanks to the ReadySetEat Pinterest presence. Their boards include Quick and Healthy Meals, Easy Southwestern Meals and more. You can also get those recipes and more—cooking tips, coupons—directly from the ReadySetEat website, where those Pinterest boards originated.

    The second way ReadySetEat is here to help you serve up dinner? By giving away all the fixins you need to try out a few of those recipes. Right here, right now. All you need to do to be entered to win the prize package of the items pictured above (plus maybe a little more thrown in for good measure) is comment below with the answer to this question:

    What are your dinner plans for tonight?

    If you need inspiration before answering, simply click on the ReadySetEat links above. Entries accepted through 11:59 MDT Wednesday, May 30. Winner will be chosen by and notified by email Thursday, May 31, so be sure you've included your email address. Prize will be shipped directly from a ReadySetEat representative.


    Movie Review: Cowgirls 'N Angels

    With Katniss from The Hunger Games and Princess Merida from the upcoming Brave, there's certainly no shortage of strong, young female characters in movies this summer. Now you can add to the list of strong and spunky heroines Ida, as played by Bailee Madison in Cowgirls 'N Angels, coming to theaters May 25.

    In the movie—which I received a DVD screener of for this review—twelve-year-old Ida sets out in search of her father, a rodeo rider whom Ida has never met, nor has her mother ever divulged details about. In order to up her chances of finding him, Ida goes against her mother's wishes and joins the Sweehearts of the Rodeo team of young female trick riders.

    Ida tours the southwest with the Sweethearts, causing a ruckus here and there, thanks to her rebellious personality and her passionate, determined pursuit of her daddy. Along the way, she makes friends, enjoys a line dance or two, and surprises herself and others with her newfound trick-riding ability.

    As I watched the movie, I thought again and again about how this is exactly the kind of movie my daughters would have enjoyed when they were preteens, as Ida is feisty and courageous and a young gal they could relate to and want to emulate.

    Older viewers likely won't be as enthralled with the film, but overall it's a heartwarming story with a good message that makes for good grandmother/granddaughter (or mother/daughter) viewing. Bonus: It won't make grandmothers (or mothers) squirm in their seats at love scenes, foul language, disrespectful behavior or violence.

    I was impressed with little Bailee Madison, as I have been each time I've seen her since her heart-wrenching scene in Brothers, opposite Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman. Other stars of Cowboys 'N Angels include James Cromwell, Alicia Witt, Jackson Rathbone (from the Twilight Saga, so a main attraction for gals who saw that) and Dora Madison Burge who played spunky Becky Sproles in Friday Night Lights. Funny thing is, several of the actors in Cowgirls 'N Angels had long-term roles in Friday Night Lights, but I was unable to figure out the connection between this movie and that series, which was one of my all-time favorites.

    Cowgirls 'N Angels runs 92 minutes, is rated PG, and opens in theaters this Friday, May 25.


    Book review: For My Children - A Mother's Journal of Memories, Wishes and Wisdom

    I talk to my adult daughters nearly every single day. But it's the day in, day out kind of chit chat, not deep conversations about the past and moments that made a difference, made us who we are. There's just not time for that as life and living now gets in the way.

    Dionna Ford, author of For My Children: A Mother's Journal of Memories, Wishes and Wisdom apparently felt the same way. In the introduction to her book (which I received for free for review), Ford writes, "My mom and I rarely find the time—or make a concerted effort—to delve into family history or chat about fun, random questions."

    For My Children ($14.95, Ulysses Press) is Ford's way of remedying that. It's a journal featuring one thought-provoking question per page, with plenty of room for Mom to respond there. The book is divided into seven categories—Motherhood, Family and Home, Children, Life Wisdom and Wishes, Love and Relationships, You in the World, On Being You—with related questions for each category.

    This isn't the kind of journal a young mother pens for her little ones so they know where Mommy came from and what memories she has of Christmas, her grandparents, her favorite pastime when she was 10 years old. No, these are the kinds of things a young adult woman, possibly a mother, might want to ask her own mother—if only she had the time.

    What I loved about the book: The questions are different than what's typically found in similar journals. Questions such as "What are the themes of your recurring, favorite, or worst dreams?", "What lifts your spirits when you experience sadness or depression?","What do you value most about your children?" and "What have you been putting off until 'someday' that you wish you hadn't?" to name just a few. And there's plenty of space for responding, not just a few blank lines. I also enjoy the spare but colorful illustrations by Melanie Mikecz throughout. They add a touch of whimsy without seeming cloying.

    Bottom line: For My Children: A Mother's Journal of Memories, Wishes and Wisdom would make a lovely gift for a mother, who would in turn—after completing it, in her own handwriting—offer it as a unique and heartfelt, heart-filled gift to her daughter.

    Clicking on the book cover will provide more information on the book. It is NOT an affiliate link; I earn nothing by you clicking on it.


    Review: Neat Zori Orthotic Sandal

    For a variety of reasons, I have a difficult time finding comfortable shoes. I'd rather go barefoot, but that's not really an option the majority of the time.

    I recently received a free pair of Neat Zori Orthotic Sandals to review. The package text promised "You'll never want to take them off!" Despite my preference for wearing no shoes at all, I really did find myself never wanting to take them off.

    That was after getting used to the basic flip-flop feature of a thong between my big toe and second toe. I don't typically wear flip-flops, as the thong thingee has never been comfy to me. The Zori, though, has a nylon toe piece that didn't take long to adjust to. From there, the "orthotic" features of the ergonomically designed Zori were responsible for me wanting to wear them everywhere.

    The Neat Zori, based on traditional Japanese footwear, offers stabilizing insoles with a high arch designed to relieve foot fatigue. My feet and legs always get tired, fast, thanks to some health issues. The high arch of the Zori not only kept my feet from getting pooped, it made them feel good. Like a mini-massage in the arch of my foot. And I did every activity I could think of that would test that. I wore them on my recent visit to the desert to hang with my grandsons. The Neat Zoris kept my feet going and going and going. I wore them on walks, at the park, to the mall, on the hot sidewalk in the back yard, during our visit to the Children's Museum, and for my flight home. Not once did I feel like kicking off the Zoris and going barefoot (and not just because the ground is so freakin' hot in the desert).

    When I returned home to the mountains, I wore my Zoris when grocery shopping, gardening and more. Again, never did I wish I had on different shoes or none at all.

    What I loved about the Zoris: The sandals are lightweight but well constructed. The sole is soft and padded and so darn comfortable, and the straps are padded. Despite being so comfortable, the sandals are more attractive than the typical flip-flop sandals. Plus, as I did gardening in them, they got rather dirty but washed up easily to look good as new.

    Neat Zori™ Orthotic Sandals come in red or tan (I received the tan/black ones like in the photo), and are available for women and men in sizes 6 to 12 at Duane Reade, Navarro and Raley’s stores and online for $49.95-$55.