Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Organically Grown Review

Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Gifts For Kids

Organically Grown

Whether you’re shopping for your bundle of joy or need a gift for proud new parents, Organically Grown carries an adorable line of baby outfits. The company recently launched their new holiday line, a darling selection of winter-themed clothes perfect for keeping baby warm during the chilly months.

Organic Cotton Girls "Winter Friends" 3 Piece Bodysuit Set

Organic Cotton Girls “Winter Friends” 3 Piece Bodysuit Set – $20.00

Organically Grown sent me this Organic Cotton Girls “Winter Friends” 3 Piece Bodysuit Set, which features an adorable winter theme. The bodysuits are decorated with friendly polar bears, penguins, and snowflakes – it is such a cute little set! There is a new mommy on my list who is going to love this.

Organic Cotton Girls "Winter Friends" 3 Piece Bodysuit Set

Organic Cotton Girls “Winter Friends” 3 Piece Bodysuit Set is available at ShopOrganicallyGrown.com for $20.

Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Blizzie Review & Giveaway – Ends 01/06

Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Gifts For Kids

Blizzie

Do your kids love slushies? How would they like a simple cup that would enable them to easily make their own slushy drinks – no special equipment needed? Then let me introduce you to Blizzie, a great stocking stuffer idea for Christmas 2010! One lucky Contest Corner reader will win a Blizzie of their own, so read on!

Blizzie is a unique slushie maker that creates frosty treats thanks to its special ice cubes. To create a slushie, pop the Blizzie’s ice cubes in the freezer until frozen solid, add them to the Blizzie cup, then take your favorite pre-chilled soda, energy drink, or juice and pour it over the cubes. Screw on the lid and shake it up until it turns into a frozen treat!

Lemon-lime Blizzie

Lemon-lime Sodastream slushie created with Blizzie

The key to this is making sure that the cubes are totally frozen before attempting to make a slushie – I had a hard time with it at first because the cubes weren’t cold enough. But once they’re frozen, it’s easy to make a slushie. Bear in mind, this makes a very small serving of slushie, so it’s the perfect serving size for children but might not be enough for an adult.

The Blizzie ice cubes are re-usable and can be used hundreds of times – just rinse off the cubes and pop them back into the freezer! It also comes with a combination straw/spoon that makes it easy to enjoy your frosty treat. I love how simple it is to make a frozen drink, and the fact that it requires no special syrups or complicated preparation. I can’t wait to use this during the summer months!

Blizzie retails for $14.95 and is available at MyBlizzie.com.


Giveaway time!

Blizzie

One lucky Contest Corner reader will win a Blizzie of their own! Here’s how to enter:

1. For your first entry, click here to visit MyBlizzie.com, then come back here and leave a comment mentioning something that you learned! This step is required to qualify for the drawing.

Want extra entries? Do any of the following, and leave a separate comment for each one:

2. Write a post on your blog linking to this giveaway and Blizzie. Then come back here and leave me the link!
3. Write about this on Twitter, then come back and leave me the link to your tweet! One Twitter entry per person. You can use the button at the bottom of this post to tweet with one click!
4. Subscribe to my blog updates by clicking here. Then come back and leave me the email you subscribed with!
5. Become a follower of my blog by clicking the “Follow” button in my sidebar! Then come back here and let me know in a separate comment!
6. Post Contest Corner’s button on your website – just copy and paste the following code, and let me know where you put it:

7. Add the Holiday Gift Guide 2010 badge to your website – just copy and paste the following code, and let me know where you put it:

Rules, regulations, and other important stuff: Giveaway ends on January 6th, 2011 at 11:59 PM, PST. Winner will be chosen the following day via Random.org. Winner has 48 hours to respond to my notification email, or a new winner will be chosen in their place. Giveaway is open to US residents.

Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Honestech Software

Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Nerdy or Novice: Christmas Edition!

Welcome to a special holiday edition of Nerdy or Novice?, our technology column! Here, you will not only read about the latest tech toys, you’ll also get a well-rounded perspective thanks to my co-columnist (and fiancé!), Jai! A seriously tech-savvy guy, Jai owns a computer repair business, and will dissect the technical prowess of these gadgets and games. Meanwhile, I will be providing the layman’s perspective on the user-friendly qualities of this geek gear.

Today’s gift pick is Honestech software. We included Honestech as a gift pick in last year’s guide, and these are such fun gift ideas that we thought it was worth repeating! Honestech has a wide variety of programs for each member of the family on your shopping list:

Gifts For Kids

Claymation Studio

Claymation Studio 3.0 Deluxe – $79.99

Honestech’s Claymation Studio is a wonderful, creative gift geared towards children that the whole family can enjoy. You hook up a digital camera to the software, and it takes single-frame snapshots which are animated and turned into a stop-motion film. If you have a child that is interested in art, this would be the ideal present. This provides endless hours of fun, and is an excellent learning tool in addition to being a creative outlet – things like this really help to nurture invaluable skills. And the adults in the family will have a blast with this, too!

We received a copy of Claymation Studio 2.0 last year, and I used the program to record an entry into Gear Live’s HP Envy 13 contest – click here to see the video. I used a doll and some props to create this short little movie. It was really fun to make, and simple to figure out – it’s like a very pared-down version of Adobe Premiere. It didn’t recognize my iPhone camera or Flip Mino as viable cameras, so I used my Logitech webcam. I moved my doll slightly for each new frame, creating the illusion of movement. If you’re thinking of giving this as a gift, I think it would be a good idea to buy some supplies to include, such as figurine clay and wire; this way your children can make their own characters and manipulate them easier. The name “Claymation Studio” is somewhat of a misnomer, since no actual clay is provided!

The options are somewhat limited when it comes to editing the sound. You can record your own voiceover and overdub a soundtrack, but I couldn’t figure out a way to synch the soundtrack right where I wanted it – the music just automatically starts at the beginning. However, it doesn’t feel fair to criticize them too much for the program’s limitations, since I realize that they are trying to keep it as simple and easy to understand as possible since it’s geared towards children. Also, they are now on version 3.0, so I can’t speak to the features of the latest version.

Jai also had fun making his own stop motion videos:

The video ended abruptly when the snail took a nap on Bach’s shoulder during filming. Jai took this photo to prove that no snails were harmed in the making of this video. ;)

No snails were harmed in the making of this video!

We had a blast using this, and I only wish something like this had existed when I was little – I would have loved it! It makes stop-motion films easy to create for people with no prior experience and makes a great learning tool for children.

Our final verdict:

Jai says: “Simple enough for kids, but with tools that a pro could use.  I didn’t expect that it would have features like chroma key (green screening to replace backgrounds), and rotoscoping (make your own Ah-ha “Take on me”  video. ”
Beeb says: “Children and adults alike will have hours of fun, creative play with this program!”

Our rating: 5 out of 5 Santa hats! Santa hatSanta hatSanta hatSanta hatSanta hat

FOTOBOX Plus

FOTOBOX Plus – $79.95

Our next gift idea is one the whole family might enjoy – FOTOBOX Plus, a photo slideshow creator.

Last year, I created a slideshow that was played at a memorial service. Finding the right program for the job was somewhat of a nightmare, and I had to ditch one slideshow altogether and start all over again on another program after realizing that the first program which I had tried did not have advanced enough controls to produce what I wanted. So when I sat down to review Fotobox, I was really curious to see if this was the program that could have saved me all that time when I was assembling that slideshow.

Fotobox is unique in the fact that there is no software: You simply slot your camera’s SD card into the Fotobox device, plug into your USB, and the program launches automatically. You can choose either Beginner’s mode or Advanced mode, depending on the level of control you desire. For a novice, this is definitely as easy as it gets – it’s fairly self-explanatory, and although at times I had difficulty reading files, for the most part it was totally simple and efficient.

This ease of use comes with some limitation on the controls: You can’t set the photos to display for less than 5 seconds, or the transition time for less than 1 second. I think this would not be an issue for most users, but it would be nice to allow full control of the timing. When I was creating the slideshow for the memorial, the hardest part was syncing up the audio with the video in a coherent manner – the songs and photos were telling a story together, so it was important for certain photos to queue up at specific points in each song. I like how you can apply a time duration change to multiple pictures, but it would be nice if there was a way to select all photos automatically instead of clicking on each one.

This wouldn’t be appropriate for all types of slideshows – the slideshow that I made for the memorial service was complex, so it would not be possible to re-create that in Fotobox. But I think for most people this will be a quick and easy way to make a fun presentation, and the user-friendliness and plug-and-play features will surely appeal to the majority of users.

Our final verdict:

Jai says: “If your situation is as follows:  ‘I would like to take the pictures from my camera and turn them into a slideshow. Where do I start?’  Then this is by far the easiest place to do it. All in all I found Fotobox’s approach to be as easy as it gets. The only snag I hit was when I wanted to edit the Introduction frame of the slideshow, It took me a lot longer than it should have. I ended up finding it as a small asterisk-like button after looking for about 2-3 minutes in the “menu”. I’m including an illustrated screenshot of the Fotobox program so that nobody else has to search around for where to go – click here to view it.”
Beeb says: “An easy way for the casual user to create fun slideshows!”

Our rating: 4 out of 5 Santa hats! Santa hatSanta hatSanta hatSanta hat

Gifts For Adults

Easy Video Editor 3.0

Honestech Easy Video Editor 3.0 – $39.99

Finally, we have a program that might appeal to the person on your list with an interest in video editing: Honestech Easy Video Editor 3.0!

I’ve done a moderate amount of video editing in the past, and I’ve used a number of different programs to do so, ranging from the extremely complex to the extremely simple. A few years ago, I used Adobe Premiere to create Anime music videos for Kumori Conyes, I am really that much of a geek! More recently, I’ve used the built-in software in my Flip Mino to do very simple edits, such as clipping off a few seconds of the video. Honestech Easy Video Editor 3.0 falls somewhere between the two extremes: More functionality than the basic program in my Flip, but not overly complex. This aspires to be a happy medium for people who want a few more options when editing their video files without having to use complicated software.

When I first opened the program, I tried to load one of my MP4 files, which is what my Flip Mino saves my recording as. Unfortunately, Honestech Easy Video Editor 3.0 does not support MP4s. I tried to open one of my MP4s that had been converted to AVI, which their program does support, but I got an error message even though there was nothing wrong with the file. Finally, I opened a MPG file which I made with another Honestetch program, Claymation Studio, which the program recognized and was able to open.

The first option I tried was the video file splitter. This splitter is easy to use- just pause to where you want to split your file, and hit the green button. This creates a separate file with all the data after the cut point. I think it would be nice if this splice tool had more options – since you can only cut off the end of a clip, you have to go back and forth several times if you want to isolate one particular section.
I like how the storyboard is layed out somewhat like Adobe, but in a very simple fashion. It was simple to trim portions of the video clip and arrange them on the storyboard. Once you’ve arranged the files to your liking, you have the option of adding effects. I probably wouldn’t make use of any of these personally, but others may enjoy playing around with them.

Once you’re finished, you can then save the file, burn to a disc, upload to YouTube or convert to iPod format. I saved it as an MPG and it worked just fine.

Here is Jai’s thoughts on this software:

“I recently tried out Honestech’s Easy Video Editor 3.0 software. A relative had asked me to help recover and clean up some footage taken on a VHS camcorder from the early 90′s and I thought this would be a great real-world test run. After using another Honestech product, VHS to DVD 4.0, to actually extract the video from the video tape, I was ready to begin. It took me a little time to wrap my head around the editor, but it wasn’t as difficult as I was anticipating. Video editors are notorious for having a long learning curve and this product really tries to help you through the process. I ended up with a very nice result. I was VERY impressed with the ability to burn to Blu-ray, and export to ipod/iphone formats. I was also happy with the variety of video formats that it would accept. Some of the more obscure formats like DVD raw (.vob) files wouldn’t take but there are very few situations where this would be needed. Every .avi, .wmv. and .mpg I could find loaded like a champ. Even the .avi’s dragged ‘n’ dropped straight from my Canon camera.

Everything worked in both Windows 7 and Windows XP. The only snag I ran into was updating the software under Windows 7 using the update patch from their website. I kept getting “The installed version of the application could not be determined. The setup will now terminate.” This was of little consequence since everything worked fine without the update.”

Our final verdict:

Jai says: “If you already have a working solution to edit your videos, I wouldn’t try and switch over unless you’re interested in the Blu-ray features.  If you’re looking to jump into video editing for the first time, this package does the job and it’s very inexpensive.”
Beeb says: “Bottom line: If you have a lot of video editing needs, you’re probably better off using something like Adobe Premiere. But if you’re a casual user that just wants to spruce up your home movies, this might be the program for you.”

Our rating: 3 1/2 Santa Hats out of 5! Santa hatSanta hatSanta hatHalf Santa hat

Jai & Beeb

All the Honestech products seen in this article are available to purchase on Honestech.com.

Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Imagination Movers “In a Big Warehouse” CD Review & Giveaway – Ends 11/16

Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Gifts For Kids

Walt Disney Records

Imagination Movers

The Imagination Movers are back with another fun, family friendly album! In a Big Warehouse was released on September 21st – and one lucky Contest Corner reader will win a copy of this album, perfect for holiday gift giving, so read on!

The Imagination Movers are known for blending pop, rock, and reggae beats with a kid-tailored approach – I’ve reviewed the Imagination Movers previously, and I think that any fan of the series will enjoy this latest effort from the gang. In a Big Warehouse features 18 fun tracks, including:


1. Getting Stronger
2. Bounce
3. My Friends And Me
4. Up, Up, Up
5. Sunrise Sunset
6. Slip Sliding
7. When You Grow Up
8. Luck Of The Irish
9. Let The Sun Shine In
10. On My Way Home (Hawaiian Lullaby)
11. Riding The Waves
12. Butterfly
13. Friendly Guy
14. Get Serious
15. The Sensible Life Of A Pirate
16. Easy Come, Easy Go
17. Caribbean Rhapsody
18. Springtime

I received a copy of this album to review, and I took it along on our roadtrip to Seattle. I wanted to listen to it in the car so that I could give it to a friend that we were going to visit, since I knew her son would enjoy it. We were on our way to the Maroon 5 concert, so I had also brought along my Maroon 5 and OneRepublic CDs. Well, when Jai heard the Imagination Movers CD, he mistakenly assumed it must be one of the opening acts that we were going to see! When we got to the concert, he kept jokingly asking, “So they’re not going to play the pirate song?” ;)

Giveaway time!

Would you like to stuff your child’s stocking with Imagination Movers – In a Big Warehouse? One lucky Contest Corner reader will win a copy of the album – here’s how to enter:

1. For your first entry, click here to stream samples from Imagination Movers – In a Big Warehouse. Then come back here and leave a comment on this post telling me which song you think would be you or your child’s favorite! This step is required to qualify for the drawing.

Want extra entries? Do any of the following, and leave a separate comment for each one:

2. Write a post on your blog linking to this giveaway and Walt Disney Records. Then come back here and leave me the link!
3. Write about this on Twitter, then come back and leave me the link to your tweet! One Twitter entry per person. You can use the button at the bottom of this post to tweet with one click!
4. Subscribe to my blog updates by clicking here. Then come back and leave me the email you subscribed with!
5. Become a follower of my blog by clicking the “Follow” button in my sidebar! Then come back here and let me know in a separate comment!
6. Post Contest Corner’s button on your website – just copy and paste the following code, and let me know where you put it:

7. Add the Holiday Gift Guide 2010 badge to your website – just copy and paste the following code, and let me know where you put it:

Rules, regulations, and other important stuff: Giveaway ends on November 16th at 11:59 PM, PST. Winner will be chosen the following day via Random.org. Winner has 48 hours to respond to my notification email, or a new winner will be chosen in their place. Giveaway is open to US residents.

Holiday Gift Guide: Playhouse Disney: Let’s Dance – Review & Giveaway – Ends 11/15

Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Gifts For Kids

Walt Disney Records

Playhouse Disney: Let's Dance

Welcome to Contest Corner’s 2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide! I’m so excited to share my top gift picks for the season with you. To kick things off, let’s start with something classic that is adored by children of all ages: Disney! One lucky Contest Corner reader will win a copy of Playhouse Disney: Let’s Dance to tuck under the tree, so read on!

Playhouse Disney: Let’s Dance is a fun CD for kids that features songs from all your favorite Playhouse Disney pals. You can sing along with Mickey Mouse, the Imagination Movers, Handy Manny, Special Agent Oso, and more! This album features 25 tracks, and would be a big hit with any child who loves Playhouse Disney!

Track listing:

1. Rock ‘n Ride ‘n Rally – Cast – Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
2. Super Goof – Goofy
3. I’m a Friend, You’re a Friend – Cast – Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
4. Rolling – Los Lobos
5. Hey Manny – Manny and the Tools
6. One Step At a Time – Manny and the Tools
7. Somebody Somewhere – Pat
8. Can You Teach My Alligator Manners? Main Theme – Mikey
9. Beat Box – Choo Choo Soul
10. Veggie Dance – Choo Choo Soul
11. The Birthday Song – Choo Choo Soul
12. Do the Octopus – Dance A Lot Robot
13. Race Car Song – Dance A Lot Robot
14. The Dinosaur – Dance Dance A Lot Robot
15. The Flower Dance – Dance A Lot Robot
16. Tasty Time with ZeFronk Main Title Theme – Dom
17. The Italian Way – Happy Monster Band
18. London Town Happy – Monster Band
19. Siesta, Siesta Happy – Monster Band
20. Boing Cluck Cluck – Imagination Movers
21. Try Again – Imagination Movers
22. Jungle Junction Theme – Cast – Jungle Junction
23. Wolfie and Dottie (One Unique Pair) – Joey Gian
24. Shutter Bug Time – Renee Sandstrom
25. Oso (Oso’s The One) – Renee Sandstrom

I think Playhouse Disney: Let’s Dance would be a fun holiday surprise for the child on your list. And I know firsthand that this CD makes a nice gift – because I gave my copy to a friend’s son!

Giveaway time!

One lucky Contest Corner reader will win a copy of Playhouse Disney: Let’s Dance! Here’s how to enter:

1. For your first entry, click here to stream samples from Playhouse Disney: Let’s Dance. Then come back here and leave a comment on this post telling me which song you think would be you or your child’s favorite! This step is required to qualify for the drawing.

Want extra entries? Do any of the following, and leave a separate comment for each one:

2. Write a post on your blog linking to this giveaway and Walt Disney Records. Then come back here and leave me the link!
3. Write about this on Twitter, then come back and leave me the link to your tweet! One Twitter entry per person. You can use the button at the bottom of this post to tweet with one click!
4. Subscribe to my blog updates by clicking here. Then come back and leave me the email you subscribed with!
5. Become a follower of my blog by clicking the “Follow” button in my sidebar! Then come back here and let me know in a separate comment!
6. Post Contest Corner’s button on your website – just copy and paste the following code, and let me know where you put it:

7. Add the Holiday Gift Guide 2010 badge to your website – just copy and paste the following code, and let me know where you put it:

Rules, regulations, and other important stuff: Giveaway ends on November 15th at 11:59 PM, PST. Winner will be chosen the following day via Random.org. Winner has 48 hours to respond to my notification email, or a new winner will be chosen in their place. Giveaway is open to US residents. Walt Disney Records provided me with a copy of this CD for review purposes.