Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Christmas nativity like you've never seen it before

With my birthday over for another year, it's time to think of Christmas.

And what would be Christmas, without guinea pigs?

That's right, guinea pigs.

Christmas just isn't complete without a retelling of the Christmas Nativity story, but the story has never been told with guinea pigs before.

Until now ...

Take a look at the cutest trailer you will see this festive season ...

You know the story ...

Mary and Joseph make the journey to Bethlehem, only to find there's no room at the inn.

Along come angels, shepherds, and three kings from afar to worship the baby Jesus in the manger.

A Guinea Pig Nativity is the classic Christmas story as you've never seen before, starring guinea pig photographed in the starring roles.

Sweet, humble and funny, they bring their own brand of guinea pig joyfulness to the nativity in a way that is completely irresistible. Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, RRP AUD$14.99, hardback.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing, I have two copies of this delightful book to give away.

To win, you must be a follower of my Facebook page. Then, leave a comment below sharing what story you'd like to see the guinea pigs act out next and why. Winners will be drawn on Wednesday December 4, at 5 pm AEST.

See? You've never lived unless you've experienced the Christmas Nativity told by guinea pigs!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bronnie's birthday week - and a giveaway

I've gotten behind on blogging again because LIFE.
However, I know a few of you wonder what's going on when I'm offline for too long. So I thought I'd quickly drop by and reassure you everything is fine.
It's just I've been busy with wrangling kids and pets. I've been catching up on travel writing, and reading books to review, and you know, LIFE.
Then there's the end of the school year screaming towards us, and Mr 12 is graduation from Grade 7, and where-the-hell-did-that-time-go? And since when did primary schoolers graduate anyway? I finished up with a half-day at the swimming pool, cordial, and an ice-block if I remember correctly. Mind you, that was back in the Dark Ages.
And Missy Moo's garden has been taking over the back yard, and the kids have been eating me out of house and home, and bursting out of clothes and shoes with reckless abandon as they grow even taller and bigger. Much like the plants in Harmonie's garden.
And there have been bills and appointments and Dr Who (gasp) and, you know, LIFE.
And the year is just flying by faster than Santa's reindeer on the night of December 24th.
Speaking of which, this is the time of year that I start to feel a little bit festive. Stressy, but festive.
Today is my Mum's birthday - happy birthday Mum - and it has always marked the start of the holiday season for our family. My birthday is next, on November 27th. What a wonderful late birthday present I must have been for poor Mum. .
Apparently, I gave Mum pre-eclampsia, and a horrible labour, and then she was briskly told to put make-up on and look nice for her husband before Dad came to visit.
Later, one of my big brothers demanded I be taken back to the hospital and be swapped for a boy! My big sister dropped me on my head, Accidentally she insists. My other brother was too busy fussing over chooks and hens to worry too much about the noisy new arrival.
His birthday is next, followed by my father's big day. (Four Sagittareans in the one household. Can you imagine what it what like growing up in that fire pit?)
And then there is Christmas.
I always like to think birthdays should be celebrated in weeks not days. After all a day is over far too soon, don't you think?
I started this week off with mangos. Bowen Specials not the horrid stringy variety. I can't wait for cherries to hit the stores, then I get really happy.
And then today, I had lunch with two girlfriends from high school. They are just as lovely now as they were back then and it was a tonic to see them. We're grown-ups and mums now, but despite that, the years disappeared as we giggled about old times and caught up on gossip.
I've a few other treats planned for the week, including a visit to the hairdresser and a massage (bliss), not to mention special time with my two favourite humans in the world, Chase and Harmonie.
I love to travel for birthdays, but the demands of the rugrats' school agenda isn't going to allow that to happen this year. So in the spirit of giving, I'd like to give a perfect day away to a lucky MIA follower.
Thanks to Sovereign Hill and Maid In Australia's Countdown To Christmas Giveaways I've got a family pass to fabulous Sovereign Hill to give away.

"Sovereign Hill has been delighting visitors since it was officially opened to the public on Sunday, 29 November 1970.
In the 1960s, the Ballarat community recognised the need to preserve the unique heritage of the city through a network of museums that would collect research and interpret the significance of the goldrush era. From this vision, Sovereign Hill was born.
Sovereign Hill is an internationally renowned, award-winning outdoor museum operated by The Sovereign Hill Museums Association, a not-for-profit, community-based organisation. This means that operating profits are invested back into the museum so that new experiences can constantly be developed.
Sovereign Hill has an equivalent full-time staff of 200 and more than 200 volunteers who provide costumed interpretation of the Outdoor Museum and a range of heritage-related functions behind the scenes." 

It's an awesome day out for the whole family.
And guess what? They have fantastic gifts as well. I'll be featuring some of them in my Christmas gift guides, but I found a few for my birthday wish list.

A little birthday bling always gives a girl some heart. Nice for Christmas as well. This floating gold heart is gorgeous.

Sucks to be in the high risk group for skin cancer. But this lacy parasol would protect this ageing skin a treat. And so feminine! 

Some of the goodies on offer at Sovereign Hill. And I have some for a lucky reader as well. Read on ...

The lovely people at Sovereign Hill are giving a lucky follower a family pass valued at $117.50. You'll have a decent amount of time to use the pass, but obviously you'll have to get yourselves to Ballarat to use it.

Can't get to Ballarat? Never fear, you can have a taste of Sovereign Hill instead. Because we also have a hamper of delicious treats similar to those pictured above, valued at $45. It contains a jar of raspberry drops, a bag of Sovereign Hill boiled lollies, brandy sauce, a candle, cranberry sauce, and quince paste.

To win, you must be a follower of my Facebook page. Then simply leave a comment below sharing your favourite birthday indulgence. Winners will be drawn on Monday December 2 at 5.30 pm. Please don't forget to check back to see if you've won. 

Main Street, Sovereign Hill

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Food Of Love Cookery School - and a giveaway!

Every Nicky Pellegrino novel should come with a warning.
Because I can guarantee that within a few pages of each of her novels, you will be pining for delicious, soul-warming food; dreaming of a trip to Italy; and perhaps considering a romance with the sexy barista at your local cafe.
Her latest book, The Food Of Love Cookery School is just as delicious as those that have come before.
This time, Nicky tells the story of four women who travel to the Sicilian mountain town of Favio, to attend Luca Amore's tenderly run cookery school. They cook, visit vineyards and olive groves, taste chocolate, and of course, eat. As sparks fly, and secrets are shared, their lives change forever.
The always-entertaining Nicky took time out from writing her next novel with MIA.

Nicky Pellegrino

Why did you start to write? Tell us about moving from your previous career as a journalist to writing ……. I had always wanted to write a book but, working full time as a magazine editor, thought I didn’t have the time. I kept telling myself some day I’d do it but some day never came. Then I had one of those seize-the-day moments. I was at work and received an email that said a woman I knew quite well had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and didn’t have long to live. That woke me up. I realised none of us know what’s round the corner and some day might never come so if you really want to do something you have to get on with it now. I went home that night and began writing my first novel Delicious.

Are there themes or ideas that you particularly want to explore in your writing?..... I’m interested in the way we connect with other people, the nature of happiness and how we end up in the lives we have. The Food Of Love Cookery School is very much about limits – how we limit ourselves and how the world limits us. Oh and food too obviously!

Do you plan and plot or do you let it unfold as you write?..... I sort of know where I’m going but I’m never quite sure how I’m going to get there. I write the way I live my life – organised chaos. But I think if I knew exactly how a book was going to pan out it would be boring to write it. This way I get as caught up in the story as hopefully the reader will.

Can you tell us about your average writing day – where do you write and how do you write? …..I have a studio in my garden that is full of books, a sofa for the dogs to lie on and a desk for me. Ideally I’d be sitting at it early in the morning and write until about 3pm which is when my energy levels dip and I start feeling sleepy. At that point I need to get up and move. Often I’ll go and ride my horses. This provides valuable thinking time and is often when I’ll solve issues I’m having with characters and the story. With The Food Of Love Cookery School my characters got stuck in a cafĂ© having coffee at one point. I couldn’t seem to move them on. Horse-riding helped!

What advice would you give other aspiring writers?...... Just do it. The publishing landscape has changed so much since I began but the one thing that has stayed the same is the necessity of sitting and thinking and writing for long, long, long hours before you can get anywhere. The most difficult thing of all is making yourself do that.

Where does your inspiration come from – the ideas?..... Things just pop into my head often as a result of something I’ve said, heard or done. That’s why, as well as the long hours spent writing, it’s useful to be out in the world doing things and meeting people.

How much research do you do?..... It varies depending on the book. For When In Rome there was a lot of research needed as I fictionalised the life of a real person – the singer Mario Lanza. For The Food Of Love Cooking School I didn’t need to do as much. For the next book I’m just starting and I can see that the research will be fascinating and so there is the potential to go completely overboard.

Do you get to choose your book covers?..... Not exactly but if I totally hated a design I don’t think they’d go with it. Fortunately I love the new ones for When In Rome, Delicious and The Food Of Love Cookery School.

What three qualities fascinate you most in people and inform your characters?..... I am nosey so I don’t think I could narrow it down to three characteristics. I’m fascinated with other people, how they live their lives, why they make their choices and most especially by their flaws – I think they are what make us most interesting.

What does the future hold? Do you want to keep writing? ….. I never think very far ahead. At the moment I’m focused on writing the next book, getting my new horse Uno going well enough to enter some competitions, sorting out my vege garden and working on some really interesting journalism.

Thanks to Hachette Australia, I have four copies of Nicky's novel, The Food Of Love Cookery School, to give away. To enter, please check you are a liker of my Facebook page. Then leave a comment below, sharing your favourite meal to cook for someone you love, and why. Entries close at 5 pm on Tuesday November 19, 2013. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Santa's wish list - the countdown begins

As November rushes by, we're starting to feel a bit festive.
We're not bringing out the Christmas decorations just yet, but the not-so-little-anymore kids in the family well and truly know the countdown is on.
November is always a fun month I find.
The weather is getting more summary by the day, mangos are coming into season, and my birthday is looming as well.
My last few birthdays haven't been that flash, so I'm looking foward to doing a bit more celebrating this year.
And thanks to my lovely supporters, I want to share the love with my followers, by running as many giveaways as possible in the lead-up to birthday time and Christmas.
I'm kicking it off with a fabulous prize from Whole Kids Certified Organic, a delicious range of snack foods for kids.
With the party season on its way, it's nice to be able to offer kids a selection of additive-free, allergen-friendly snack foods that don't contain any nasties.
The products have been developed in consultation with more than 300 parents, as well as dieticians from Melbourne's Royal Children Hospital, to ensure the snacks aren't just good for you, but are yummy too.
No one wins when you try to feed the kids with healthy foods but they just don't appeal to their taste buds!
The official spiel is that the Whole Kids range of organic corn chips, popcorn, sultanas, fruit bars and juice is GMO free. There are no artifical colours, flavours, preservatives, synthetic pesticides or herbicides.
Oh and they are packaged in FSA-accredited BPA-free packaging too.
What matters to my kids is that they are delicious!
We were sent a selection of the range to try, and the kids raved over them.
It was nice to put something in their lunchboxes as a bit of a treat, without worrying about any of the usual allergy and preservative triggers at school.
Chase, 12, and Harmonie, 10 particularly loved the organic corn chips, and popcorn, which they said tasted fresher and lighter than the usual brands we eat. (The corn chips are made with organic wholegrain stoneground corn and cooked in organic non-hydrogenated vegetable oil! And the popcorn is air-popped to retain the corn's fibre. They particularly loved the Manuka Honey popcorn)
The fruit bars were a hit too, and nut-allergic Chase was relieved to see that for a change these snack bars were not "produced in a factory that also manufactures products containing nuts". (Which rules out a lot of popular snacks for him.)
No, the Whole Kids snack bars are cooked in a nut-free bakery and are oven-baked, not fried.
The Whole Kids Organic Juice was yummy too, as were the Frooshie fruit smoothies, which were shared with the kids next door. These contain organic fruit and vegies, honey, wholegrain quinoa and rice flakes, with no added sugar. Perfect for lunchboxes or snacks on the go. The only thing the kids didn't like about the Frooshies is that they all had banana in them ... and that's not their favourite fruit.
Oh and there are sultanas, and apricot and sultana packs too. What kid doesn't love those? (As long as they don't shove them up their nose like Chases did at pre-school when he was a tot. Queue, one more visit to the hospital ER ...)
I'm sure your children wouldn't possibly do anything like that!
To win one of three $60 Whole Kids Certified Organic goodie packs, make sure you're a liker of my Facebook page. Then, leave a comment below sharing your favourite kiddie lunchbox snack as a child, or tell me the funniest thing your child has ever done with food.
Entries close at 5pm on Monday, November 18.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Weird World Wednesday

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's ...

A giant penis!

This firecracker display supposedly held in Scotland on Bonfire Night gave new meaning to the term 'happy ending.'

Talk about a big banger!

However, despite the phallic fireworks show being reported in various newspapers around the globe, there is some doubt about it's validity.

If it really happened, some pyrotechnic experts would be standing proud right about now, wouldn't you say?

And in other news from around the world, an Indonesian spa is offered stressed out customers the chance to 'relax' by letting a couple of snakes squirm on their back.

Apparently the adrenalin sparked by fear, and the movement of several pythons pummelling your muscles can send a person into a sense of marvellous relaxation. (Or maybe it's just relief that you're still alive?)

The weirdest fact about this idea, is that it isn't new! No, snake massage has been done for ages at spas in Israel and Russia, where snakes are allowed to roam the head and face as well, apparently exerting soothing pressures on the body.

If you're not up for a snake rub, the enterprising proprietor of an Israeli spa obligingly places rats and mice on patrons' feet to give them a pleasant massaging effect.

I could have posted photos and videos as well, but if you've got a snake phobia like me, you would Freak The Hell Out and I wouldn't want that to happen.

You cannot make this shit up!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The gift for the person with everything - including gas!

We love a good fart joke at Chez MIA.
Chase once had a fart pen shaped like a finger. He took great delight carrying it around with him, asking people to 'pull my finger'. And when they did, the pen would emit one of several horrible-sounding farts.
It actually went off once in the middle of Big W, when I needed a pen to write a message down with. Everyone looked at me.
Oh how the kids laughed...
Anyway, someone shared the following product on Facebook and I cracked up laughing at some of the reviews. We all know gas and bowel problems can actually be a serious matter, so I'm not making fun at people with a genuine need for these aids.
But I never knew these items existed, and I just know of so many people (thinking of a few males of my acquaintance), who could  use some of these pads.Imagine the embarrassment they could save.

These Flatulence Deodorisers come in packs of ten, and are disposable charcoal pads that you wear inside of your undies (they are only shown worn on the outside here for illustration purposes.)  You can also buy pads, thong disposables, and chair pads.

"End your fear and embarrassment when in public with Flat-D Flatulence Deodorizer," the sales spiel goes. "When intestinal gas is expelled the flatulence filter pad absorbs the gas odor normally associated with the gassy discharge or flatus."

I can almost see the infomercial now. 

The reviews are priceless.

Here is one:

So these absolutely work, but maybe too well. When you fart there is no smell and eventually they train you to just fart your heart out. Well the other day I was in a client meeting and forgot to put a pad in my underwear. Oops, I let a massive silent heat bomb out and the room cleared out faster then I could say, "who farted?" Good product, but keep in mind if you forget to put one on, people will smell your gas. 


My flatulence would come uncontrollably, usually in the sound of a high pitched owl "hoo". These underpads have given me my life back! Not only do they mask any smell, they muffle the "hoo's". On the occasion where my flatulence makes a "normal" flatulence sound, like when sitting in chairs, I've found that you can still silence them if you place both your hands about one inch away from the rectum bilaterally and giving traction to spread the anus open. Thank you Flat-D for the confidence to date again

And one more for good luck ...

I farted several times today and no one even knew!!! I even tried to smell them by bending down where my rear was immediately after I ripped one, and to my surprise, nothing! The only down side is that it doesn't of muffle the sound of the farts, and isn't very absorbent.

What is the funniest product you've seen for sale recently?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Not-so-common scents

There are times when our home smells simply delicious.
When biscuits or cakes are baking in the oven, or a pot of home-made soup is bubbling away on the stove.
When Chase has decided to treat us to some of his home-baked bread, or Harmonie has talked me into making lasagne or Japanese Curry.
We aren't completely undomestic at Chez MIA!
But there are times when there is nothing in the oven, the garbage is waiting to be taking out, the washing is festering in the laundry, or the house has been shut up because no one has been home all day.
And we open the door and are hit by an ... aroma. Kind of like a combination of mouldy socks, wet dog, and fetid school lunch boxes.
Even after giving our home a good clean, a kind of 'lived-in' smell often lingers. I guess it's not altogether gross, but society and advertising makes me feel that houses must smell of vanilla, cinnamon, and unicorn sprinkles to be homes. (I may have made that last one up).
Before kids, I used to burn incense and candles for ambience, but I've learnt it's not a good idea when kids are about, not even now my two are older. Candles are just too tempting for young ones, and my kids find the smell of incense overpowering.
We tried air fresheners, but we never really found one that didn't smell like something lovely trying to cover up something that Was Not Lovely. And that was worse than the original smell!
And then we interviewed Layla Subritsky, of Big Brother 2012 fame, and the official Ambi Pur/Big Brother 2013 ambassador.
Apart from learning a lot about living in the Big Brother house, we were sent a few of the most popular Ambi Pur products to try at home.
First up, was the Ambi Pur Car Mini. It arrived, happily, on the day we had to take a road trip with our mini chihuahua-pomeranian Lucy. For some reason, known only to her, she had decided to wee in her bed, just before we left on our journey. Excitement maybe. But stinky for us.
My son Chase simply clipped the car mini thingy onto the car vent and the odour was magically eliminated. And it wasn't just masked, it was replaced with a pleasant vanilla-like smell. We all travelled quite happily. Except perhaps for Lucy, who knew she was in disgrace.
When we returned from our road trip, we tried the Ambi Pur adjustable diffuser and fragrance. You put a little bottle into the diffuser and plug the whole thing into an electrical socket.
This particular one was supposed to smell like green meadows after the rain. Okay, it didn't smell like that to us. At first. But it still smelt pretty nice.
To be honest, we did have to turn it off from time to time because it took a while for our allergy-sensitive noses to get used it.
But we soon found it was lovely to switch on before visitors arrived, or when the house needed a freshen-up.
In fact, I leave it on all the time now, switched on to low. It's funny how it really makes a difference to come home to house that smells lovely and fresh and - welcoming.
There is no lingering smell of cat, or dog, or lived-in couch; just a happy aroma reminiscent of flowers and, I'll admit it now, rain!
We were also sent some Ambi Pur Air Effects, for the bathroom and shower. They work much better than products we've used before. (Can you believe some expensive and highly recommended products used to make Harmonie cry because she couldn't stand the smell? So we just gave up on using them altogether. Until now.)
The Spring and Renewel Febreze has a pleasant lavender aroma, that is so nice Harmonie has taken to spraying it in her room when she leaves for the day, and the room still smells inviting when she arrives home.
But by far my favourite product of those we were sent to try, was the Febreze Ambi Pur extra strength fabric refresher.
Our cats are both rescue pets, and one of them lost his mother a little too early. As well leaving him with an adorable fondness for suckling and massaging my childrens' soft toys, his abandonment issues mean that he doesn't like moving. (Well, who does, right?)
And so it was, that a week or two after moving here and having our couch professionally cleaned, Kit Kat well and truly let his feelings well and truly be known. Yep, right on our good-as-new couch. (It's okay, there was a blanket on it at the time. But, you know. Seepage.)
Despite my very best efforts, working my way through odour and stain busting spells cures, the remnants of of an act forgiven, but not forgotten, lingered.
Not any more. The room and couch smell as fresh and clean as they look.
If you'd like to give the range of Ambi Pur products a try, you'll be happy to know that they are giving 2 MIA readers the chance to win an Ambi Pur summer survival kit!
The kits each contain contain:

    1 x Car Mini, New Zealand Springs
·         1 x Electrical Plug In, Meadow and Rain
·         1 x Toilet, lavender and Rosemary
·         1 x Febreze
·         1 x Candle, Medlow and Rain
·         1 x Air Effects, Lavender and Comfort

To win, simply make sure you are a liker of my Maid In Australia Facebook page, and leave a comment below, sharing your favourite smell and why. The competition ends on Sunday the 17th of November at 5 pm. Good luck!

Layla Subritsky with an armful of Ambi Pur goodies