Enjoy gourmet treats every month with Sweets GiftBox


Sweets GiftBox


Whenever I'm at the checkout line at a gourmet store, I'm always tempted by the gourmet bites for sale -- squares of caramel, a beautifully frosted cookie, a small chocolate sampler, a bag of nuts -- but I never know which ones to get. Buying them all to take home and try seems like too many calories and too much money. A more practical -- and fun -- solution is a subscription to Sweets Giftbox, a service that sends you 4-5 curated gourmet treats every month. They find the best treats around and send them to you so you can have a delicious time discovering new favorites!

Sweets Giftbox sent me their latest box to try, and I'm so glad this happened in February, because each monthly box has a different theme, and February's theme was -- you guessed it -- chocolate and caramel.
Sweets GiftBox

The box contained:

A Mayana Fix Bar, which like a gourmet Twix bar: vanilla bean shortbread cookie topped with fleur de sal caramel and covered with dark chocolate. I'm already a fan of the ordinary Twix bar, so the Fix Bar was absolute heaven. I'm craving another one already. It's going to be my new fix!
Sweets GiftBox



A pack of fleur de sal caramels from Sweet Jules Gifts. They are sooooo good. All I can say is that I'm glad that 3Po and Jammy have braces and that The Pea is recovering from dental surgery, so none of them can eat caramels right now and I can eat them all by myself.
Sweets GiftBox


A caramel milk chocolate bar from Ethel M. Chocolates. We've visited the Ethel M. museum and factory in Las Vegas so I know how scrumptious their chocolates are, and I can't wait to enjoy this.
Sweets GiftBox


Funky Chunky chocolate caramel pretzels. The salty crunchiness of the pretzels goes so well with the chewy sweetness of the caramel and the creaminess of the chocolate. Shhhh, I ate these all by myself. I couldn't stop!
Sweets GiftBox


The kids attacked and demolished the Lucky Guy brownie before I had a chance to photograph it separately, so I wasn't able to show you how fudgy and rich the inside of this brownie was. It was absolutely divine!
Sweets GiftBox


Other than Ethel M, I have never heard of these brand before, so if it weren't for Sweets GiftBox, I would never have discovered them (seriously, I'm already making plans to buy more of that Mayana Fix Bar).  Other months will have different themes and different products -- think of gourmet chocolates, cookies, candies, popcorn, nuts, etc... You won't know what's in the box beforehand (that would spoil the surprise!) but based on the quality of the treats in the box I received, I think I trust their taste.

You can sign up for a monthly subscription for $25 per month (1 box per month), or you can sign up for just a single box for $30. Shipping is included in the price. That's an average of $5 per treat, which might sound pricey, but I looked up the Mayana Fix Bar online (I told you I was serious), and it costs $8. So you're getting a curated box of goodies at a great price. It's a wonderful present for a friend or a wonderful way to treat yourself to new flavors and yummy discoveries every month. Use the code below to save on your first Sweets GiftBox and taste it for yourself!

Sweets GiftBox

Save on your first Sweets GiftBox

Use the code SWEETSTUFF and receive 50% off a new subscription or 40% off a one-time purchase

Disclosure: I received a sample box to facilitate my review. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Test driving the Mazda CX-9



We've owned a minivan for 12 years now, and it has served us well. But now that our kids are older, we're finding that we need less vehicle space -- no more car seats, strollers, and diaper bags. The van is getting older and as we start to think about replacing it, we find that our eyes are beginning to wander towards SUVs and crossovers. These vehicles still have the space that we need, but they're a bit more sleek and stylish!

Sleek and stylish is certainly the vibe given off by the Mazda CX-9, an SUV crossover designed for families who need performance in a vehicle as much as they practicality. We test drove the Mazda CX-9 during our holiday road trip to Hollywood and Disneyland, and I have to say, it certainly made the 6 hour (8 with traffic!) journey between Northern and Southern California a lot easier to bear!



LUXURY EXTERIOR

Before you even step inside the CX-9, you know instantly that this is a luxury vehicle. The shape is sleek and aerodynamic, and the body has chrome trim throughout. Even the most basic trim level comes with 18-inch wheels, and 20-inch wheels come standard with the Grand Touring level and up. Our vehicle came in a handsome slate grey which really adds to the air of sophistication.


LUXURY INTERIOR

The interior is just as beautiful. Some of the plastic interiors (like the dashboard trim) almost look like rosewood and leather, The leather seats are nice and wide. They're so comfortable, it honestly feels like you're relaxing in a recliner. The CX-9 does a great job of drowning out the outside noise, so you get a smooth, quiet ride. The only thing that keeps me from giving the CX-9 a perfect score for comfort is that the roof is quite low. I'm 5'8" and my husband is 5'11" (which is decently tall but not towering), and we both felt like the ceiling was touching our heads.


I have to give extra points for the pull-up window shades, which is soooo convenient when you have young kids. These shades are perfect for when your kids nap in the car.


INTERIOR SPACE

The CX-9 comes with 3rd row seating, and I was surprised at how roomy the 3rd row was. In many vehicles with 3rd row seating, my 13 year-old twins have to sit with their knees practically to their chest. But in the 3rd row of the CX-9, they were able to sit comfortably for a couple of hours without suffering from stiff legs. That being said, I wouldn't sit a tall adult (5' 2" and up) there for more than an hour at a time.


The split seat capability (60/40 in the 2nd row, 50/50 in the 3rd row) can really improve the space issue, because if you only need one seat in the third row, you can adjust the seat in front of it to give the 2nd row seat a little less legroom, which gives the 3rd row seat a bit more legroom. There's plenty of legroom in the 2nd row, so if you have two smaller adults, you can seat one in the 2nd row and one in the 3rd row directly behind, and share the legroom!


CARGO

With the 3rd row of seats down, there is a good amount of cargo space. I've read reviews of this car not having enough cargo space, but that really wasn't the case for us.


With the half of the 3rd row up and half down, there was enough luggage space for our family of five on a five-day trip.


I love how the rear has so many little storage compartments. Removable panels reveal little spaces to store emergency packs, extra clothes (a must if you have little kids), even your purse or camera. It's the perfect hiding place because no one can see what you're storing inside!



PERFORMANCE

Driving up mountains and passing cars on the highway was a breeze thanks to the 2.5L engine. You barely need to touch the gas pedal and this car immediately begins to zoom zoom zoom! It's definitely a lot of fun to drive (and the responsiveness definitely makes me feel safer in situations where you might need to speed up quickly).  You'd think this vehicle would be a real gas guzzler, but since it only have 4 cylinders, not 6, the fuel efficiency can be as good as 22 city/28 highway.


TECH 

The CX-9 has all the latest tech: color LCD screen with navigation, compass, and trip info, bluetooth connectivity (and lots of charging ports throughout the vehicle), display projection on the windshield, stereo sound, all the bells and whistles. But I have to admit that the touchscreen infotainment system and I did not get along at all. The controls were not intuitive, and even after a week of daily use. Also, I found the projected display (the LCD screen is projected onto the windshield) distracting. Unfortunately, the projection always defaults to "on"! I had to devise my own workaround (lower the viewing angle) to get it to disappear without my having to fiddle with the controls every single time I started the car.


Where Mazda does get the technology right is in their safety features. The backup camera, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert really helped us during our road trip. We felt extremely safe in this car, even when driving in torrential rain at night.


OPTIONS AND PRICE

The CX-9 is offered at 4 levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and Signature. If you can afford it, I would definitely go for the Touring trim level or higher, because you get quite a few luxury features as standard, like leather seats, power front seats, power hatchback and the cool safety features. You can get the CX-9 at its highest level (Signature), fully loaded, for under $45,000, which is a great value compared to other competitors in the 7-seater SUV field. Add in the decent (for its class) fuel economy, and the CX-9 should definitely be part of your short list when shopping for a new vehicle.


CONCLUSION

We had a great time with the Mazda CX-9 on our road trip. It's a comfortable, good looking vehicle with the right amount of space and power for our family's needs.  Check out the Mazda CX-9 at your local Mazda dealer and take it for a test drive!


Disclosure:. DriveShop lent me the use of the Mazda CM-9 for review purposes. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Meet Gabriela, American Girl of the Year 2017 (and a giveaway for you!)


Can you believe that American Girl has been releasing a Girl of the Year (GOTY) doll since 2001? 2017 will mark the release of their 15th doll, and I'm so excited that 2017's Girl of the Year, Gabriela McBride, is a person of color! Out of the last 14 dolls, 3 have been girls of color (Marisol is Hispanic, Jess is half Asian, Kanani is Hawaiian American). Gabriela is the 4th girl of color and the first African American. I could not be happier that American Girl recognizes that America is a diverse country and has released a beautiful doll who exemplifies that diversity!  I know that many girls have been waiting and hoping for a Girl of the Year that they can relate to on the inside and the outside.


From American Girl:

American Girl is excited to celebrate the New Year with the debut of its 2017 Girl of the Year - Gabriela McBride! Available January 1, 2017, Gabriela is a true talent who uses her passion for the arts—specifically spoken word poetry—to overcome personal obstacles and create positive change for her community. Gabriela launches with a beautiful 18-inch doll, plus several performance-inspired outfits, accessories, and toys. We're also happy to share that, unlike past Girl of the Year characters, Gabriela will be available throughout 2017 and beyond.

Yes, you read that correctly: Gabriela will be available throughout 2017 and beyond! American Girl has never done this before -- all other GOTY dolls were sold only for 1 year. But girls don't ever have to worry about missing out on Gabriela! They can save up for Gabriela without a time limit. What's more, whatever the next Girl of the Year looks like, they will always be able to get a Girl of the Year that looks like them.

American Girl sent me a Gabriela doll and book to review, and I have to say, Gabriela is just gorgeous! Here are some photos I took of her:
Gabriela has warm brown skin tones, warm brown eyes, and dark brown hair. Her hair is truly her crowning glory. Her hair cascades in a avalanche of natural curls, down past her shoulders. It looks good piled on top of her head as well. The doll comes with a cute double strand pink headband.  Check out these selfies that Gabriela took!
Gabriela wears denim jeggings, a purple sweater, and a teal tank top.
Probably the only thing that disappointed me about Gabriela is that the skin tone of her cloth body does NOT match the skin tone of her arms and face. At all. When she wears the tank top by itself, the color mismatch is clearly visible. It's not so obvious when she wears shirts with a neckline that is not as open.
Gabriela's shoes are adorable. They are high-top sneakers! The purple and teal colors match her tank top and sweater.  

Gabriela is a multifaceted person that kids will really be able to relate to. She's a poet and a dancer. She has a speech impediment (stuttering). She is passionate about the arts and passionate about her local community arts center. She wants to make a difference in her local community. She is a great role model and I hope lots of girls read her story.

Outfits and Accessories

Gabriela outfits include PJs ($24), a rehearsal outfit (pictured below, $28) , tap shoes ($16), and a glitter performance outfit ($32). Her accessories kit (pictured below, $28) is a dance bag with everything she needs for rehearsal: the bag, water bottle, bandages, hair accessories, and food.


The photo below shows Gabriela wearing her Sparkling Sequins Outfit ($32). She's using her Performance Case ($48) to set up her next amazing music and poetry performance. I think the Performance Case is a great deal because it comes with so many items: a wheeled rolling case, a laptop with retractable cord, headphones, microphone, drum pad, drumsticks, and stickers to decorate the case.

Gabriela's Creative Dance Studio ($58)  has so much potential for open ended play! The backdrop is reversible so it can be the inside of a dance studio or the outside of a building. The set also includes a metal dance barre, water bottle, and towel. 

I plan to head over to the American Girl Store to take more photos of Gabriela, her playsets, her accessories, and her outfits, so stay tuned!


Win a Gabriela doll and book


One lucky Bonggamom Finds reader will win a Gabriela doll and book! Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below by 11:59PM on February 3, 2017. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway



Disclosure:  I received a product sample to facilitate my review, but have not been paid to review the product or give my opinions. Product information (in italics) is provided by American Girl. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Easy, Beautiful Holiday Decorating with Crab Pot Christmas Trees


Crab Pot Christmas Trees

How was your Christmas and First Night of Hanukkah! We had a great time opening presents, watching holiday baking shows, baking cookies, and admiring our holiday decorations. This year we welcomed a new piece of decor -- Crab Pot Christmas Trees sent us one of their sparkly, pre-lit trees, and it is the perfect size for our beloved Derpy Deer ceramic ornament!  Derpy Deer sits outside our home year-round (we love him that much) and welcomes us back home every time we pull into the driveway. The Crab Pot Christmas Tree puts Derpy Deer in the spotlight and we couldn't be happier. This tree is so easy to set up and looks so good outdoors, we will certainly be using it every year from now on!

Crab Pot Christmas Trees


If you don't own a Crab Pot Christmas Tree, now is the time to get one. All trees are discounted right now (gotta love those after-Christmas sales!), and you can choose from trees as tiny as 1.5 feet all the way to a majestic 8 feet tall. Each tree comes pre-lit in a variety of styles. You can choose between colored and white lights, as well as twinkling lights or steady lights. You can even choose LED lights to save energy!

Crab Pot Christmas Trees


The tree arrives in a flat triangular box (keep the box, it's great for storage).  Setting up the tree could not be more simple. Just undo the twist ties that keep the tree closed, then open up the tree in a fan-like motion. Twist tie the two ends together to keep the tree open, and you are done! The tree is already pre-lit so you don't have to mess with stringing and evenly spacing your lights.

Crab Pot Christmas Trees

The finished tree stands all by itself and can be used indoors or outdoors. I would definitely recommend using the tree outdoors, because it's essentially a green chicken wire frame with lights attached to it. You could fill it out with greenery, but it's pretty threadbare on its own.
Crab Pot Christmas Trees


Where the Crab Pot Christmas Tree truly shines (pun intended) is outdoors at night. The green wire frame blends in with the surroundings, so it doesn't intrude on your outside decorations -- but at night, this tree is quite stunning. They fold down so quickly and take up so little space that you can buy lots and lots of trees to create an outdoor holiday wonderland. The tree comes with stakes so you can secure it to the ground and leave it there throughout the season.
Crab Pot Christmas Trees


Save 30%

Right not, Crab Pot Christmas Trees are already discounted, but I have a code you can use to save even more! My Readers save 30% Off Crab Pot Christmas Trees that fold flat and sparkle from every angle Use Code: USFG16


Disclosure: I received a sample Crab Pot Christmas Tree to review. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Give the gift of color this holiday season: Color Blind Glasses


Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics

Alfie is the most color blind person I know. He was told that he has pretty much the highest degree of color blindness there is. Forget mistaking green for red. He also frequently mistakes pink for brown, and blue or lavender for pink. When we watch soccer, he often can't tell the difference between the two teams playing because they're both wearing dark colors and we're viewing the players from a distance. It's difficult to comprehend exactly what his world looks like, but the closest I've come to understanding it is his explanation: Go to your tv and turn the controls for color way down, just a few steps above black and white. Yikes.

When I first heard about color blind glasses that help color blind people see colors, I was so excited, but Alfie was skeptic. He felt that he was so color blind that he would probably be one of the few people for which the glasses wouldn't work. Also, how could we ever tell that he was seeing the colors that you and I see? Finally, wouldn't they cost thousands of dollars?

Lucky for us, I got the chance to review Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics for O2Amp. They're available on Amazon for $304, which is significant but not outrageous... if they work. So, did they? I'm happy to report a big, colorful YES!!  Alfie put the glasses on and passed the Ishihara color blindness test with flying colors (pun intended). Glasses off, he couldn't distinguish a single number. Glasses on, he saw them all.

So, what's it like when a color blind person puts on these glasses? When Alfie puts the glasses on, he says amplifies the intensity of everything he sees, even the colors he can identify. He says that objects almost glow neon (or what he identifies as neon, anyway!).
Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics


How about when a non-color blind person puts on the glasses? The glasses are tinted pink, so when my kids and I put the glasses on, everything turns pinkish. Interestingly, Alfie doesn't notice the pink tinge! We also notice that color intensity increases, but not as dramatically as it does for Alfie. He's really fascinated by how well he can distinguish colors!
Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics


Alfie's final word? He's still a bit of a skeptic -- he says that we still don't know whether we're seeing the same colors..... but then again, who is to say that any two people see exactly the same colors! Also, these are not glasses that Alfie would wear every day. He already has prescription glasses, so he can't wear both at the same time. Also, these glasses have a distinct style, with a wraparound athletic look that would suit road bikers, but probably wouldn't look good when you are wearing a tuxedo at the opera (unless you're Bono).  They are definitely something every color blind person should get. Whether they wear it all the time is up to them. Anyway, Alfie looks forward to seeing the Grand Canyon wearing these glasses!

Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics

About the glasses

Looking for “outside of the box” holiday gift ideas to share with your audience? Consider the Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics for O2Amp. These glasses are a remarkable gift to give to the loved-one in your life who is color blind. Giving the gift of color is a once-in-a-lifetime gift!

For the remarkable 8 percent of men and .5 percent of women with Northern European ancestry who have the most common form of red-green color blindness, they no longer need to let their vision impairment hold them back in life or career. The Color Blind Glasses by Vino Optics for O2Amp further enhance color vision signals, thus aiding those with color blindness to see proper color, perhaps for the first time.






Disclosure: . I received a product sample to facilitate my review, but have not been paid to review the product or give my opinions. Product information (in italics) is provided by the featured company/product. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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SAP Center hosts Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular


I've been to SAP Center in San Jose many times and I've seen many kinds of performances -- pop concerts, ice skating shows, the circus, ice hockey, indoor football, motorcross stunt shows, even animatronic dinosaurs! You'd think by now I'd have seen every different kind of show you could possibly put on in a large concert arena, but you'd be wrong. Last night we saw something at SAP that we've never seen before -- a live orchestra.

We took the family to see Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular, a one-of-a-kind holiday show that combines acrobatic circus acts and live holiday music. The show had about a dozen acrobatic circus acts (I lost count!), each set to a different piece of music. The orchestra is seated at the back of the stage, and the acrobats perform their acts at the front of the stage. The stage backdrop features winter-themed animations that constantly move and change.  Here's a description from the show producers:

Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular is a fun filled family holiday event featuring the cast of Cirque Musica together with all-time favorite holiday songs performed by a live orchestra! Cirque Musica is a concert and visual experience where audiences journey into a world of high-flying adventure with amazing acrobats, aerialists, hilarious hijinks and holiday cheer, too! The show blends the spell-binding grace and dare-devil athleticism of today’s greatest circus performers with the sensory majesty of the greatest holiday music of all time.


Acrobatic Performers
The acrobats were some of the best that I've ever seen. There is nothing to distract from their performance -- no flashy lights or colorful props or scenery, and there are just one, two, or three on stage at a time. So they really have to be good in order to capture the audience's attention! We were on the edge of our seats the entire time, hoping and praying they wouldn't fall. The strength and skill required is astonishing.



Music
All my kids play a musical instrument, so they were just as excited to hear the orchestra as they were to see the acrobats. Hearing a live orchestra is always a treat, and hearing them play familiar tunes is a nice bonus. I was a bit worried that they'd be playing Christmas carols throughout the show, but it wasn't like that at all. They did play some carols and Christmas songs, but they also played classical music by Johann Pachelbel, Rimsky Korsakov, Franz Schubert, and John Williams. My daughter recently danced in The Nutcracker, so we were thrilled to hear two selections from Tchaikovsky's famous score. The musical repertoire was a great mix of classical, pop, and holiday, and I couldn't have asked for anything more.


Insider Tips
The stage was about the size you would see in a concert hall, so it was a smaller performance area than I'm used to seeing at SAP center, which is a big concert arena.  They had chairs out on the arena floor, so for the best views of the acrobatic acts, those were definitely the best seats to get. You'll probably get a better view if your seats are in the 10th row or farther so you don't strain your neck looking up at the stage. The side rows are also good but the regular seats (not on the arena floor) are quite far away. However, every single seat in the arena is a good seat for appreciating the wonderful music!

One final tip, I definitely recommend getting a programme. It only costs $5, and you get a list of all the acrobatic acts and all the music performed during the show.

If you've had your fill of the usual holiday shows like The Nutcracker, Handel's Messiah, A Christmas Carol and the like, Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular is a refreshingly different kind of celebration! It's also a great way to introduce your kids to classical music, because many kids get distracted when listening to an orchestra with no visuals. At Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular , they can watch the acrobats while listening to the music, and it all combines for a wonderful experience.

Tickets and performances
Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular runs till December 18 in California, Texas, Washington and Arizona. Purchase tickets at Ticketmaster.com or on http://www.cirquemusica.com/holiday-spectacular






Disclosure: I received tickets for my family and I to attend the show. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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