Movie Review: A Doggone Christmas



This time of year I enjoy watching holiday related movies and television shows. There are some I watch faithfully every holiday season, like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and Jingle All the Way to name a few. In addition to the films we watch every year, we are also open to watching other holiday related entertainment.

Did you know the film’s A Christmas Story and Elf didn’t exactly do well in theaters? These days they are a holiday staple. In fact, channels show the film’s in marathon airings.

I like to give all holiday film’s a chance. You never know when the next holiday classic might come about.

I was recently given the opportunity to review a holiday film, A Doggone Christmas. This film was made for home viewing (it was not shown in theaters).

The film stars Dominique Swain (“Alpha Dog,” “Magik”), Rib Hillis (“General Hospital”), Lauren Parkinson (“Avengers Grimm”), Paul Logan (“Sniper: Special Ops”) and child stars Jolie Ledford, Walker Mintz, Jonathan Tysor, Jayden Hedden and Dilan Patton.

I have not heard of any of these actors before, but that’s OK.

The star of the film is “Just Jesse the Jack” Russell Terrier. Apparently he’s a social media super star. He’s been seen on David Letterman and by millions online. I think I’ve seen him in another film, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the film.

In “A Doggone Christmas”, Jesse plays an amazing pup with telepathic abilities who has escaped a government facility and run straight into the loving arms of two young brothers. But the Washington brass won’t give up their secret weapon that easily, and with a no-nonsense special forces agent hot on the trail, the boys and their school buddies must hide the charming canine from helicopters and drones—and their mom and dad, who’ve forbidden them to have a pet. Can these unexpected heroic kids, armed with only their wits, their bikes, and a strong bond with this special dog save the day?

I’m on the fence about this being a Christmas movie. I mean, there are elements of Christmas, but I would not classify this as a Christmas film. Some people think Die Hard is a Christmas film (like my husband), but I don’t. I guess these things are all a matter of opinion. For me there just wasn’t enough Christmassy things to make me consider this a Christmas movie. It’s more so a movie about a special dog and children who are trying to protect him for the “evil scientists” and government officials.

The kids in this film are super cute. They did a wonderful job. I suspect this might be the first film for most – if not all – of them. For “newbies” I applaud them. They did a good job.

The adult actors on the other hand were a bit too “cheesy.” This is meant to be a silly film to begin with. They made this film to be entertaining, not to win an Oscar.

Jesse the dog is super cute. He stole all the scenes he was in. He’s just too cute. I also happen to really like Jack Russell terriers. Our dog is part Rat Terrier. I like Terrier breeds.

Overall I thought the film was cute and entertaining. Adult might roll their eyes a lot throughout the film because there are some really silly scenes and the adult actors are not all that great (the kids are better if you ask me). None the less, this would be a fun Family Movie Night film. I would watch it again if I saw it on television.

I think this film is best suited for little ones. Teens and ‘tweens might think it’s just too juvenile for them.

Doggone Christmas is distributed by Vision Films. Look for the film where ever movie are sold.

Below is the trailer for your enjoyment.



*I received a free screener copy to review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way.




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9 Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas to Trim Your Holiday Spending


Christmas shopping

Here are a few alternative Christmas gift exchange ideas for you to create a fun experience while keeping your holiday spending in check.

Pick a secret Santa.

This game is a classic, but by only giving one gift to a family member, you can focus more on the gift-giving experience (and picking out something extra special) rather than spending money on several gifts that may or may not hit the mark.

You can even up the ante by asking family members to leave secret notes and treats for the person whose name they’ve drawn leading up to December 25. Be sure to put a dollar limit on how much each person can spend on the final gift given on the holiday!

Make a coupon book for family members.

I love this idea because it’s personalized and can be a lot of fun depending on how creative you get!

These coupons can be for “Making Your Bed for a Week,” “Doing the Dishes for 1 Week,” or “Letting You Pick the TV Show We Watch.” Choose simple things that can make other family member’s life a little easier or a little more fun!

Set gift expectations early.

It’s important to set gift expectation for kids early on. Let them know that even if they have a long wish list, only a few presents will show up under the tree.

You can make this into a learning exercise by having your children prioritize which gifts they really want. Have them rate each gift idea by putting stickers next to them on the list, coloring in stars, or writing out why they want this particular gift more than others.

You can also help your kids choose a couple toys they already have to donate to charity. This kind act makes room for a few new ones while teaching them about giving and sharing with others.

Road Trip

Take a family trip.

Instead of spending money on everyone’s presents, use the money for an outing. It can be as simple as a local trip — you’ll even find some good deals during the week between Christmas and New Year’s while the kids are still on vacation.

Even if you just travel to a nearby town or a local park, it’s the act of getting away as a family.

Let your kids do the shopping.

If they’re old enough, give your kids a set amount of cash, allow them time to search for deals and coupons, and then let them shop away for gifts for family.

The cash will help them learn the value of every dollar and how to stay within a set budget, plus most kids love the thrill of shopping on their own!

Give back as a family.

You can sponsor a family in need by making a donation through Heifer International. As a family you can provide a gift of a cow, goat, or chickens to a struggling family from another part of the world.

You may also be able to sponsor a local family through your local Salvation ArmyFamilies First, or even adopt a military family for the holidays through Soldiers’ Angels. It’s a wonderful way to feel the real meaning of the holidays and do something as a family!

Trade favorite recipes.

For extended family, have everyone make their favorite dish or dessert and attach hand-written recipe cards — one for every member of the family. Gather together for a family meal and swap recipe cards so everyone in the family can build their own family recipe book!

Share a family photo collage.

Photos are one of the least expensive and most treasured gifts, in my opinion, so why not build a family photo album together?

Have each member of your family print up to 10 (or more if you like!) of their favorite photos from that year for each person in your family. (That would be six copies of each photo if you’re a family of six.) Then, share your memories while enjoying time together. You can also have each family member bring an empty photo album with them to fill with the photos they receive so they can look back on their wonderful holiday experience next year.

Create a family gratitude journal.

Grab a beautiful journal or inexpensive notebook and set it in a public place where every member of the family has access to it. Starting on January 1 or even as early as December 1, each person will write one thing they’re thankful for in the journal each day. In 2018, you can all look back on your thankful messages together!

Three christmas stockings hanging on decorated fireplace

About the author:

These tips are compliments of Coupons.com savings and consumer trends expert Jeanette Pavini

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Creating memorable moments during the holiday season

*This post was brought to you by Disney. All opinions are my own.

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

I cannot believe that it’s already the holiday season. It feels like only yesterday we were hanging out at the beach. Now we’re prepping for the holidays and making up holiday shopping lists.

Our kids are teenagers now, so the holidays have a new “feel” to them (it was more fun when they still believed in Santa).

Instead of spending money on clothing and other things they want/need, we are thinking about spending most of our holiday budget on taking the kids out to dinner in New York City, catching the holiday show at Radio City Music Hall then swinging by the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center before heading home. Our kids are on board with the idea too. I think we all feel the same way at this point – it’s all about spending quality time with one another.

Even having a family movie night at home (which we do often) is special to us. It’s nice to still be able to snuggle on the couch with our teens and enjoy a movie together complete with hot chocolate (with extra marshmallows) and popcorn. Maybe even a freshly baked treat.

One movie we plan on watching is the new version of the classic Disney film Pete’s Dragon. I am a huge fan of the original (I even have an Elliot on my desk). I can’t wait to see the new film.


Pete’s Dragon might be targeted towards younger children, but parents and teens can enjoy this wonderful family film about friendship, love, family, courage and perseverance. I have a feeling it might be a bit of a tear-jerker, so I plan on having plenty of tissues on hand. Pete’s Dragon is a magical adventure, which makes it the perfect family film to watch and enjoy during the season where most of us choose to still believe in magic.

I love this time of year. I have so many wonderful memories centered around the holidays. I may be forty-something, but when it comes to the holidays, I feel like a little kid again.

I can’t even look at candy canes or a box of crayons without my mind instantly being transported back to my youth. Candy canes remind me of all those time Santa Claus would ride on the back of a firetruck and drive up and down the streets in my neighborhood handing them out to all the children. Crayons remind me of my Christmas stocking. Santa always brought me a new box of crayons and coloring books. I have always loved to color, and still do.

When we decorate for the holidays there are plenty of special decorations that hold a lifetime full of memories.

My desk is decorated with decorations from my childhood, like the ones my mom kept in the formal living room (the kind of decorations children shouldn’t touch). I also have a little Elf, which is the very first Christmas gift I ever purchased. I gave it to my mom. My sister helped me to afford it (I didn’t have enough money to buy it).

Some of the decorations from the formal living room that the kids (me!) were not allowed to touch or play with I now have and display them for my kids to see and enjoy.


My Desk (circa 2010). The elf my sister helped me to buy is on the middle shelf near the photo.


The nativity set my mom set out year after year.

Desk 2

My desk (circa 2010). The ornaments on the middle shelf are all from my childhood and belonged to my parents. They bring back such wonderful memories.


Some of the decorations from the formal living room that the kids (me!) were not allowed to touch or play with. I have them now and display them for my kids to see and enjoy.

As a mom, I have tried to make the holiday season equally as special and memorable for my kids. It warms my heart when we go through the decorations, and my kid will recall a special memory that they are reminded of when they look at them. One day I hope to pass those decorations on to them to share with our future grandchildren.

A fun thing that we do each year is giving our kids a new ornament. Some are personalized, some are not. That tradition started with my mom. It’s a tradition I passed on to our kids.

When I was young, my mom used to buy me a new ornament each year for our family Christmas tree. Some are personalized (and dated). Others she let me pick out myself.

Her logic was that by the time I moved out, I would have plenty of ornaments to decorate my own tree. That is exactly what I did when my husband and I got married. Our first Christmas tree was decorated with all those ornaments my mom gave me over the years.

One year, my mom was in the hospital for the holiday. So as not to break with tradition my uncle bought me a new ornament that year. I still know exactly which one it was and every year I hang it on my tree I remember when my uncle presented it to me.

My uncle gave me this ornament when my mom was in the hospital during Christmas time. It has to be about 40 year old by now.

My uncle gave me this ornament when my mom was in the hospital during Christmas time. It has to be about 40 year old by now.

I think many people have lost track of what the real meaning of the holiday season is. It’s not about buying the latest and greatest blow-up decoration for your home (to compete with the neighbors), or buying the “must have” toys of the season. The holiday season is about spending time with family and friends and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Pete’s Dragon is available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere.  I can’t wait for family movie night!

In addition, Disney Movie Rewards has a special promotion going on when you purchase the film through DMR. In addition to the film you can also purchase the ‘Elliot Gets Lost’ children’s book from the film at an exclusive price ($9.99).

If you would like to learn more about the film you can visit the official webpage, Disney.com/PetesDragon.  You can also check out the film on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The official movie hashtag is #PetesDragon.

Have you seen Pete’s Dragon? If so, what did you think about the film?

What do the holidays mean to you? Do you have special memories and family traditions?

My family - they are what makes the holidays special.

My family – they are what makes the holidays special.


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2016 Hess Toy Truck – A great holiday gift & tradition


Watching certain holiday movies and specials are one of many holiday traditions my family has.

Watching certain holiday movies and specials are one of many holiday traditions my family has.

Do you have any special holiday traditions?

We have several holiday traditions. Some are small, some are a bit more important. Some are even a bit silly. Take for exampled Malted Milk Balls. When I was younger and I didn’t have much money for gifts I used to buy my dad a box of Malted Milk Balls for Christmas as a gift. It was his favorite treat. Even as I got older and had money to buy actual gifts, my dad always appreciated a box of Malted Milk Balls. So every Christmas I would buy him a box.

Another holiday tradition we have is going on out Christmas Eve and check out all the holiday decorations. As we drive around the neighborhoods we’d give out “awards” for titles like “Most Beautiful,” “Most Creative,” “Tackiest,” and so forth. They were not real awards. It was just something that my family would come up with as we were driving around.


Here is something you might want to consider if you have a child or grandchild – get them a new ornament every year for the holiday. My mom started that when I was a little girl. She’d gift me a personalized ornament every year (with the year on it) so that when I moved out and I had my own Christmas tree I had plenty of ornaments to decorate it with.

Mom started doing that for my kids. After she passed away my husband and I continued it (although not all of their are personalized or have the year on them). This year both of my kids got a personalized snowman that lights up and changes colors.

We also have a special key that we put on the outside of our condo door on Christmas Eve before we go to bed. Since we live in a condo and we don’t have a chimney, Santa needs some way of getting inside to deliver gifts. Even though our kids are teenagers (our daughter will be 20!), and haven’t believed in many years, we still hang the key outside the door on Christmas Eve. It’s a family tradition.


Going back to my dad. He had a tradition he did with the grandchildren. It started with my nephew and eventually all the grandchildren were a part of it.

Each year my father would buy my nephew the Hess Toy Truck that came available around Thanksgiving. My nephew has a wonderful collection of Hess trucks. When my kids were born my dad did the same thing for them as well as my niece. It didn’t matter if they were boys or girls – all the kids enjoyed the Hess Toy Trucks. All the kid knew they would get one on Christmas morning.

When my dad passed away we didn’t want to let that tradition die with him, so my husband and I took over buying our kids a Hess Toy Truck for Christmas.

When our daughter got older she didn’t have a need for them anymore, but our son likes to collect them, so we would buy a new truck for him. It’s a way to honor the memory of my dad every holiday season.

Dad would have loved the 2016 Hess Toy Truck.


This year the Hess Toy Truck features a Dragster. It’s sold exclusively at www.HessToyTruck.com for $31.99 with free standard shipping and five Energizer® batteries included.

Thank goodness that it come with batteries because as soon as you take it out of the box you’ll want to play with it.

The 2016 Truck features LED lights, a slide-out ramp, and 4 realistic sounds including a race starting countdown.  The dragster’s innovative weight-transfer design and pull-back friction motor enable launch  in either a flat or wheelie position. Together, the duo features green accents, sleek chrome styling, and more than 50 brilliant lights.

Here is a brief video that I took of the one we have. It’s not easy to press buttons and video at the same time. I think I missed a button.


The sounds are very realistic and the volume is pretty loud too (as you can tell from the video).

There are plenty of lights on both vehicles. On the truck you can choose from stationary lights or flashing lights.

Once again, Hess Toy Truck did not disappoint. This is an awesome truck that any child – or collector – will enjoy.


If you would like to purchase the truck for your collection or as a gift, www.HessToyTruck.com. On the site you can also check out Hess Toy Trucks from previous years.

The brand is also found on social media. All of their links are found on the bottom right of their website.



*I received a free sample to review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way. 

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Enjoying the Holidays: 9 tips for Families of Children with Special Needs


Christmas Gifts

The holidays can be fun, but they can add stress to the lives of children with special needs. The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization serving children with special needs ages 5-14 in the greater Washington, DC area, offers the following tips to help.

“Children with special needs enjoy the holidays but they are especially sensitive to the changes in routines that the holidays bring,” said Dodd White, president and CEO of ECC. “Making a plan and adjusting your expectations can go a long way to creating a positive holiday experience for the entire family.”

Tip #1

Make a plan for the holidays and share it with your family. Create a schedule for your family’s holiday activities and post it for your child to see. You may need to use pictures to help a young child. Talk about the schedule with your child, so he or she can anticipate what will happen. Review the schedule weekly. Also discuss the schedule with others in your home, so they understand what is going on and how they can best support your child with special needs, so everyone can have a fun holiday.

Tip #2

For holiday gatherings, give your child a job and a schedule. Ask your child to help collect coats, give out treats, or greet arrivals. Rehearse the plan. Give your child a schedule for a festive occasion so he or she knows what to anticipate.

Tip #3

Maintain routines as much as possible. There may be special activities for the holidays, but try to keep your child’s schedule as close to “normal” as possible.

Tip #4

Eat healthy foods and know how new or special foods impact your child. During the holidays there are all sorts of fun foods and treats to enjoy. Some children are more affected than others by dietary changes. Pay attention to your child’s moods and how diet and situational changes may be impacting him or her. Bring along with you food that is familiar to your child if you think it may be needed.


Tip #5

If your child is sensitive to unfamiliar smells, help manage them. You can add a little cinnamon to play compound to help a child experience this smell minimally. Ask guests visiting your home to not wear heavy perfumes if your child is sensitive to them.

Tip #6

Get your child into the spirit of the season through gift giving. Gift giving provides an opportunity to practice social skills. Help your child make a gift for someone else, and practice how to give the gift to that person.

Tip #7

Take breaks when needed. Sometimes children need a break from the hubbub of holiday activities and busyness. Fill a bag or backpack with a few favorite toys, games or activities. If you see your child is getting stressed, get out the bag and find a quiet spot to get them out.

Tip #8

Do not allow presents to be a hindrance to enjoyment. Some children with special needs find it disorienting to unwrap things that are new and unfamiliar to them. If that is the case for your child, wrap a few favorite toys for your child to unwrap. Children who have trouble with fine motor skills may find unwrapping some gifts frustrating. You can adjust packages to their comfort level by loosening ribbons and paper. And ask others who give your child gifts to be aware of his or her needs.

Tip #9

Give your child the gift of your attention. Holidays can be busy for grown-ups and children. Make sure you spend a few minutes of quality time with your child. Give him or her your full attention. Practice active listening, where you listen to what your child is saying and then repeat it back to them to demonstrate that you were listening.


About the author:

The Episcopal Center for Children (Center) is a nonprofit, nondenominational school and treatment program for children contending with emotional challenges from the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Accredited by the Joint Commission, the Center serves children who are 5-14 years old in grades K-8. The goal of the Center’s treatment, therapeutic milieu, and individualized special education program is to empower each child to function productively within his or her family and community. Building on strengths within children, the Center partners with families in treatment and focuses on enabling its students to access and become their best possible selves. More information is available at eccofdc.org and on Twitter @ECCofDC.

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Expert Tips for a Happy Friendsgiving, A New Way to Celebrate Thanksgiving



Have you gotten an invitation yet to one of the hottest new trends for Thanksgiving? If you haven’t, you may very well be getting one soon. It’s called “Friendsgiving”—aka a Thanksgiving celebration with friends. The big difference is you get to call all the shots and do it your own way. Friendsgiving can happen on Thanksgiving Day, but most people host them a few weeks before so they can enjoy both. Typically Thanksgiving with family is a traditional holiday and on the conservative, tame side (if you’ve had relatives fall asleep in the Lazy-Boy right after the meal, you’ll know what we’re talking about), but Friendsgiving can be anything you want!

Now aren’t you excited to throw your own Friendsgiving? Below you’ll find Vänt Wall Panels Design Expert Jeffrey Welder’s tips for hosting a distinctive, fun and festive Friendsgiving:

The Invitation List.

It’s a good rule of thumb to invite friends who are grateful to share your table. Stick with a good group of people who are unlikely to create stress or drama. Try to invite like-minded friends and those that you think will get along well. Set a simple rule upfront that some topics are off limits such as politics, religion, and how the Cubs won the World Series.

Keep It Simple. There is very little point in hosting a dinner party if you don’t enjoy it. The easiest way to do this is by keeping everything simple. What’s most important is your guests are happy and comfortable. Set a minimal table with a couple of candles and a little nature, like pinecones or greenery in a glass vase. Skip the formal dinner setting—save that for a family Thanksgiving or Christmas. Make it even easier by setting up a buffet table where your guests can help themselves. This also makes clean-up faster.

Sunday roast - Thanksgiving turkey dinner

Set a Meal Theme.

Since this isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving, feel free to have a little fun. Pick a theme such as Throwback Thanksgiving and have friends bring side dishes that were popular in another era. You can also ask your guests to dress the part. It will make for a memorable Friendsgiving! You can also step completely away from the typical fare of turkey and mashed potatoes and go with Mexican, Italian, or Asian. Or be bold and order pizza with store bought pies. Shortcuts are welcome here. You’re not trying to impress your mother-in-law with this one. Just remember to ask everyone to bring a side dish to help make your job easier, go potluck for the entire meal, or order it from a local restaurant.

Delegate Responsibilities.

These are your friends and they’re going to want to help you out and you should let them. It will make the day so much more relaxing if you’re not stressing and overworked in the kitchen. If you have friends that are meeting for the first time, helping out is a great ice breaker. Jot down the tasks on post-it notes and have everyone grab one on their way in the door. You may find your boyfriend’s best friend doing dishes with your old college roommate. What an easy way to get the conversation going, “How about you wash and I’ll dry?”

Don’t Forget the Entertainment.

No Friendsgiving would be complete without entertainment! Are any of your friends musically inclined? If so, have them bring their instruments and get a sing-a-long going. Another fun activity is karaoke. You can pick up a home karaoke machine very reasonably or find a used one. Put on some fun music and encourage everyone to pick a song. A simple homemade photo booth will also keep the fun going. Just hang a sheet or tablecloth on the wall, lay out some props and signs to hold (like “Friendsgiving 2016—Where You Can Pick Your Friends”). You can simply use the camera on your phone or let your friends use their own phones for photos.

Give Back at Your Friendsgiving.

In America, 1 in 5 kids are struggling with hunger. Your Friendsgiving can make a difference. By hosting a No Kids Hungry Friendsgiving, your guests can have fun enjoying your dinner party while also giving to a worthy cause. No Kid Hungry will offer tons of resources to make your event a success from fundraising tips to exclusive chef recipes. Or you can simply ask each guest to bring a canned good to the dinner to donate to the local food pantry.

Don’t Forget to Uber. 

Dinner parties like Friendsgiving usually include cocktails and wine. Relaxing and having a couple of drinks is expected. Just make sure your guests get home safely by calling Uber or a taxi.


About the author:

Jeffrey Welder is the Marketing Director and Interior Decorating Expert at Vänt Wall Panels. Vänt Wall Panels completely transform a room in just minutes. Inspired spaces make for inspired living. It’s the most innovative, cost and user-friendly wall décor system ever created. They’re perfect for every room in the house from the kitchen and bedroom to the living room and office. Learn more about Vänt by visiting (https://www.vantpanels.com/).

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