Product Review: Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap, Available with the Reusable Pump and Disposable Base

If you’re looking for an easy way to spruce up your home for spring, look into the inexpensive extras that can turn an ordinary room into a pretty, relaxing sanctuary. You can add fresh flowers, potted plants and flowers, and even scented candles for an immediate visual, but don’t forget to spruce up your towels, tissues, and hand soap, too. The Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap collection is a perfect match for spring and Easter decorating, thanks to the vibrant colors and nature-inspired designs.

What’s unique about this product line is that you have your choice of buying the pump and the disposable base together at first, but when it’s time for a refill, simply recycle the disposable base and insert the pump into a new bottle of Softsoap Ensembles hand soap. When that base is used up, rinse, wash, repeat, as they say.

The Softsoap Ensembles line features two nature inspired designs under the name Fresh Essence – a purple floral design and a green leaf design. The collection also features a Moroccan inspired design with a blue base named Exotic Orchid and a minimalist inspired design with a white base known as Creamy Cotton. The pumps for each of the varieties are a shiny silver gray color, offering a nice look to any bathroom. The variety of styles and designs in the Softsoap Ensembles collection makes it easy to redecorate your bathroom at a moment’s notice. Simply choose the disposable base that best fits the season or your mood.

The fragrance of Fresh Essence is soft, delicate, and lightly floral, offering a delightful scent that lingers. Softsoap’s Ensembles hand soaps do not dry out your skin, which is a welcome benefit any time of year.

Softsoap’s new Ensembles collection offers a low-cost way to bring spring into your bathroom or kitchen with colorful hand soap dispensers that look like the traditional porcelain style. Beginning in March 2009, Softsoap Ensembles are available in grocery stores and mass retailers nationwide. The Softsoap Ensembles starter pump retails for $5.99 and the replacement disposable base retails for $2.99. Softsoap Ensembles are also available online at Amazon.com:

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap Replacement Base – Fresh Essence: 8.3 OZ – Pink and Purple Flowers

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap Replacement Base – Fresh Essence: 8.3 OZ – Green Leaves

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap Replacement Base – Exotic Orchid: 8.3 OZ

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap with Reusable Pump – Creamy Cotton: 8.3 OZ

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap with Reusable Pump – Exotic Orchid: 8.3 OZ

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap with Reusable Pump – Fresh Essence: 8.3 OZ – Green Leaves

Softsoap Ensembles Hand Soap with Reusable Pump – Fresh Essence: 8.3 OZ – Pink and Purple Flowers

Budget Proof Your Vegetable Garden with these Economy Friendly Gardening Tips

Gardening is a popular hobby that also helps individuals and families save money by growing their own food. You can easily budget proof your vegetable garden with a few economy friendly gardening tips for getting healthier crops, producing larger yields, and spending less on gardening equipment, supplies, and water bills.

To save some money on your gardening efforts, try some of these tips for a budget proof garden and a reduction in gardening costs.

1.    Start your seeds in egg cartons. If you start saving your egg cartons up over the winter, you should have a nice supply of perfectly-sized seed cells just waiting for your veggie garden seeds. You can also feel good about being green – reduce, reuse, recycle!


2.    Save seeds from good crops each year.
If your green beans do really well or if you just love how your cucumbers turned out, be sure to save a handful of seeds so you can enjoy a similar crop the following year. The Kitchen Garden Box: Save and Sow Seeds of Your Favorite Vegetables by Mike McGrath, host of Public Radio’s “You Bet Your Garden,” offers countless tips on saving, drying, and storing seeds, as well as a number of seed envelopes to keep your seeds safe and available for next year.

3.    Repurpose your college black lights. Simply pick up a “grow light” at Wal-Mart or a home improvement store and swap out the old bulb for the new one. This is much more economical than buying the entire grow light kit they sell online, and you can use a variety of materials and shelving to create your own plant light environment.

4.    Start your own compost pile. If you want to improve the quality of your veggies without commercial fertilizer, you can always try composting. “My tip would be to create your own compost using yard clippings and kitchen scraps,” says Kristin Grilli of Burpee. “Compost is really great for the vegetable garden.  Plus, it is much more cost-efficient to create your own rather than purchase it from a garden center.” For additional tips on composting, see: http://www.howtocompost.org.

5.    Pay attention to the instructions on each seed packet or starter plant. If your veggie plants prefer partial shade and you plant them in full sun, you may not get the results you are looking for, and in fact, might not see the plants come to full term if the sun is too hot for them. Plant your vegetables in their preferred locations when possible and you should notice they will eventually repay the favor.

6.    If you don’t have good soil, create your own “garden boxes” or garden beds using eight-foot long 2x4s. For each garden box, you need two boards for a four-foot square garden bed, three boards for a four-foot by eight-foot rectangular garden bed, or four boards for an eight-foot square garden bed. For a four-foot square garden box, simply cut each 2×4 in half so you have four-foot lengths. Nail or screw them together and paint them your desired color with spray paint. For the larger size garden boxes, simply nail or screw together the four boards in a large square and then paint them your desired color. Fill the frames with topsoil and compost or manure and enjoy your new garden beds!

7.    Improve your soil before you plant your vegetable garden seeds. If you don’t have good soil to begin with, you can improve the soil quality by mixing in compost. Mike McGrath, author of The Kitchen Garden Box: Save and Sow Seeds of Your Favorite Vegetables, shares that yard waste often makes great compost for home gardens.

Mike McGrath's 8.    Install a rain barrel for watering. Gardeners can easily save a few bucks with this tip. “This way they can cut down a bit on their water bills by using rain water harvested in their rain barrel for watering the vegetable garden,” says Kristin Grilli of Burpee.

9.     Use Epsom salt as a low-cost alternative to fertilizer, pest control, seed starters, and more. You can feed your tomatoes with Epsom salt as well as your houseplants, roses, and more. For additional gardening tips using Epsom salt, see: .

10.    Get creative with the products and recipes you use with the crops you harvest from your vegetable garden. Try new recipes each year or make your own seasonings, condiments, and sauces. Mike McGrath’s The Kitchen Garden Box: Save and Sow Seeds of Your Favorite Vegetables offers tips and recipes for making your own pickles, paprika, hot sauce, tomato sauce, relish, and more.

Tips on Growing Your Own Berries – Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Currants, Gooseberries, Grapes, and Hardy Kiwifruit

Whether you want to save a little money on your grocery bill this summer or you’d like to broaden your gardening horizons, growing berries in your own backyard can be a wonderful pastime that saves you money and brings delicious homegrown fruits to your family’s dinner table. Fruit gardening – specifically growing your own berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and more – can be fun, rewarding, and more than likely, easier than you would expect.

Homegrown berries are delicious.

Stella Otto, author of The Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden, offers professional tips and tricks to help you grow your own berries in your home garden. She shares fruit gardening tips for berries of all kinds – raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, currants, gooseberries, grapes, and hardy kiwifruit. Whether you are a beginner at gardening or a longtime gardening pro, consider Stella Otto’s tips and tricks and get started growing your own berries in your home garden.

Raspberries are a great berry bramble to grow in your home garden.Q. Life Love Beauty – What kinds of berries are best for beginners who want to grow their own fruit?

A. Stella Otto – All of the traditional berries are quite easy to grow in the backyard garden. Brambles, that is raspberries and blackberries, seem to be some of the most popular and easiest to start with. Currants and gooseberries are also very trouble free. These are great choices because they are either quite expensive or not even available in the grocery store. Strawberries are also good because they are quick to come in bearing and so much sweeter from the backyard garden.

Q. Life Love Beauty – What kind of soil do these berries need, and what can you do if your soil is less than optimal?

A. Stella Otto – A fertile, well-drained, sandy loam soil is ideal. Soil should be tested for pH (acidity or alkalinity) with a range around neutral, from 6.5 to 7.0, preferred by most berries. The exception is blueberries and lingonberries, which prefer a more acidic soil in the 4.5 to 5.0 range.

For less than ideal soil – heavy clay or dry sandy types – adding organic matter or compost will eventually help improve the soil drainage or moisture holding capacity. Realize this is an ongoing process not a one-time instant fix. Planting in raised bed can sometimes be a quicker solution if the soil in the beds is well amended.

Q. Life Love Beauty – How much sunlight do the various kinds of berries need?

A. Stella Otto – Most berries require at least 6 hours of sunlight as a daily average to set fruit buds and ripen the fruit. In hot southern climates, some fruit – brambles, grapes, and kiwifruit may need protection from excessively strong afternoon sun. Planting on the east side of a building or in the shade of a large tree can accomplish this. Currants and gooseberries may drop their fruit if temperatures regularly exceed 90 degrees. Consequently, they do not grow well in the Deep South.

You can grow strawberries in containers in your home garden.Q. Life Love Beauty – Where is the ideal location to grow Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, etc.? (Along a fence, next to a shed, in a garden bed, in a barrel or container, etc.)

A. Stella Otto – Any of these locations will work equally well. The important factors are to see that the soil fertility and drainage are appropriate, they receive adequate sunlight and water, and that they do not have heavy competition from weeds. For convenience, you may also need to consider how easy it is to tend the fruit if it is grown on a supporting trellis as you would grapes, kiwifruit and some brambles. Also, remember that containers will dry out more quickly than a garden bed and water accordingly.

Q. Life Love Beauty – How much water do the various kinds of berries require?

A. Stella Otto – The rule of thumb is one inch of water per week. It doesn’t matter whether this comes from rain, irrigation, or a combination of the two. Consistent moisture yields the best quality berries. Trickle irrigation is easy, effective, and water saving. It also helps reduce spread of diseases since it does not wet the foliage or fruit.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Can you provide any other tips for beginners who want to grow their own berries?

A. Stella Otto – One of the most important aspects of growing a bountiful harvest is making sure your planting area is well prepared before planting. It is especially critical that it is weed free. If you have not gardened before, start small. You will be happier with a luscious harvest of berries you have time to care for than struggling with a large overly ambitious project. Get to know the needs of one or two of your favorite fruit the first season and then add more types or varieties as you gain experience.

You can enjoy a generous harvest of your homegrown berries.Q. Life Love Beauty – How long is the harvesting season for each kind of berry?

A. Stella Otto – Most berries have roughly a month long harvest season, although you can stretch this a week or two in many cases by planting several varieties of the same fruit; an early, a mid-season, and a late maturing variety. Of course, if you are growing several kinds of berries, you’ll have something ripening for most of the summer – starting with strawberries, then blueberries, currants, raspberries, blackberries, and grapes – into the fall, depending on what you’re growing.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Do berries need any special care tips, such as pruning or fertilizing?

A. Stella Otto – Each berry has its own cultural needs. All of them will need some fertilizer or compost annually. Don’t over-do the nitrogen fertilizer though or you will have vigorous leafy plants that don’t produce as much fruit. Except for strawberries, most should receive fertilizer in the early spring. Strawberries should be fertilized when beds are renovated after harvest is over. Bush and vine fruit should be pruned annually, usually in late winter or early spring. Brambles should have “spent” fruiting canes removed after harvest as well as having excess new canes thinned out.

Grapes are easier to grow in your home garden than you would expect.Q. Life Love Beauty – Is there any effective way to keep the birds and animals from eating all your homegrown berries?

A. Stella Otto – Protecting plants with netting as fruit is close to ripening is probably the most effective. “Scare eyes” sold in nursery catalogs can be effective in some cases, but will not deter robins or starlings. Unfortunately birds can be a nemesis. Sometimes it’s easiest to just plant a bit of excess and expect to have to “share.” In some areas deer browsing on plants can be a problem. Flicker tape, hanging scented perfumed soap or fencing may keep them away. A family dog that patrols the garden has been most effective, where this is possible.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Where is the best place to get your starter berry bush?

A. Stella Otto – I prefer to get mine from mail order nurseries that specialize in fruit. They offer the widest selection and usually have varieties to suit many different growing locations and conditions. Their staff is also typically best educated to make good recommendations if you are not sure what would do well for you.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Can you grow berries from seed?

A. Stella Otto – Most berries are grown by cloning or division. This insures that they will be true to their variety type. Cloned plants also have less time between propagation and fruit production. One exception is alpine strawberries. They can be grown from seed much like one would grow vegetables such as lettuce or carrots.

Keep Reading: Can you propagate your own berry bushes… and More…

Tips on Using Epsom Salt in the Garden as Fertilizer, Pest Deterrent, and More

If you’re looking for inexpensive ways to improve your gardening techniques this year, the answer might already be sitting in your bathroom closet or medicine cabinet. Growing vegetables for less can be a snap with some homemade, garden-friendly recipes using Epsom salt. Epsom salt, also known as Magnesium sulfate, is a white, crystalline powder commonly used in bath soaks and for other beauty and medicinal purposes.

Epsom salt is a longtime, affordable way to help start your garden or improve your garden once it’s already going. You can use Epsom salt in the garden as a fertilizer, a pest deterrent, and also as a seed starter, to name a few. Epsom salt can also enhance the quality and condition of your lawn and shrubs! Read on for further benefits of Epsom salt to your garden as well as practical applications of Epsom salt for tomatoes, houseplants, roses, and more.

“Tests by the National Gardening Association confirm that Epsom Salt makes pepper plants grow larger than those treated only with commercial fertilizer,” says Pete Smolowitz, who represents the Epsom Salt Council. “Best of all you can find Epsom at any local drug store or hardware store for just pennies a pound.”

Smolowitz shares that research indicates Epsom salt positively impacts the following elements of gardening:

•    Helps seeds germinate.
•    Makes plants grow bushier.
•    Produces more flowers.
•    Increases chlorophyll production.
•    Improves phosphorus and nitrogen uptake.
•    Deters pests, including slugs and voles.

 Tips for Improving Your Plants and Garden Using Epsom Salt from the Epsom Salt Council

•    Tomatoes: 1 tablespoon per foot of plant height per plant; apply every two weeks.

•    Garden Startup: Sprinkle one cup per 100 square feet. Mix into soil before planting.

•    Houseplants: Add two tablespoons per gallon of water; feed plants monthly.

•    Roses: Add one tablespoon per foot of plant height per plant; apply every two weeks. Also scratch 1/2 cup into soil at base to encourage flowering canes and healthy new basal cane growth. Soak unplanted bushes in 1 cup of Epsom Salt per gallon of water to help roots recover. Add a tablespoon of Epsom Salt to each hole at planting time. Spray with Epsom Salt solution weekly to discourage pests.

•    Shrubs (evergreens, azaleas, rhododendron): Add one tablespoon per nine square feet. Apply over root zone every two to four weeks.

•    Lawns: Apply three pounds for every 1,250 square feet with a spreader, or dilute in water and apply with a sprayer.

•    Trees: Apply two tablespoons per nine square feet. Apply over the root zone three times annually.

– Tips courtesy of the Epsom Salt Council

“Magnesium and sulfates are the two major components of Epsom salt,” Smolowitz says. “Crop researchers have determined that magnesium is a critical mineral for seed germination and is vital to the production of chlorophyll, which plants use to transform sunlight into food. In addition, Epsom salt can aid in the absorption of phosphorus and nitrogen, two of the most important fertilizer components.  Although magnesium and sulfur occur naturally in soil, they can be depleted by various conditions, including heavy agricultural use over time. But unlike most commercial fertilizers, which build up in the soil over time, Epsom salt is not persistent so you can’t overuse it.”

Smolowitz also says sulfur compounds, the other major component of Epsom salt, offer an important source of plant nutrients. Sulfur compounds in Epsom salt can contribute to chlorophyll production and enhance the effectiveness of primary nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, found in most fertilizers.

If you would like to try these gardening applications of inexpensive Epsom salt in your own gardens and yard, pick up some Epsom salt at your local drugstore, superstore, supermarket, or even online at Amazon.com.

For more information on Epsom salt and its varied uses for garden, health, and beauty, visit online at: http://www.epsomsaltcouncil.org.

Decorating Tips for Easter

Easter offers a lot of fun options for decorating your home. You can go with a pastel theme, a bunnies and chicks theme, a fresh flowers theme, or anything in between. Decorating your home for Easter can be a ton of fun, especially if you get the whole family involved. Think potted or fresh floral centerpieces, pretty glassware, Easter baskets, and more.

To best decorate your home for Easter, consider each different room as a single location for Easter decorations. You can decorate your bathrooms, dining room, living room, family room, and even your bedroom if you like. You can go for an elaborate look and feel, or keep things simple and classy. Your own style preferences will help you to decorate your home for Easter in a way that best suits you and your family.
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Here are some tips on decorating your home inside and out for Easter:

Welcome Spring Right up to Your Doorstep
Try these tips to decorate the outside of your home for Easter:
•    Plant perennial bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths outside your front walk so that you’ll have fresh flowers in bloom for Easter.
•    If you prefer, pick up a few potted blooms from the grocery store or from your local nursery and place the flowerpots with flowers in bloom outside your front door.
•    Pick out a cute or elegant welcome mat to set outside your front door to welcome all your guests.
•    Consider adding a festive spring flag to the front of your home. You can choose from fun designs like butterflies, flowers, bunnies, birds, and more. You can check out a variety of spring flags, spinners, windsocks, and mailbox covers online at http://www.flagsonastick.com.

Spruce up Your Bathroom for Spring
Try these tips for a festive Easter look in your bathrooms and powder rooms:
•    Set out brightly colored or pastel colored hand towels or embroidered fingertip towels with spring or Easter designs.
•    Set out fragrant candles with spring scents like lilac, peony, and more.
•    Place a potted flower or a small vase with fresh cut flowers on your windowsill or countertop.
•    Set out a pretty soap dispenser like new Softsoap Ensembles, which are available in lovely spring colors. These dispensers are festive in fun colors and they are refillable, too!

Make Your Family Room or Living Room a Festive Easter Haven
Try these tips to decorate your living room and / or family room for Easter:
•    Unless you have another tradition, consider placing your Easter baskets strategically in a high-traffic area where they’re sure to gain lots of visibility. A bay window is a lovely place to sit a group of Easter baskets, with or without the goodies inside.
•    Set out a few Easter plush animals for a fun and casual, home-y feel. Bunnies, chicks, ducks, and lambs make a great addition to any Easter stuffed animals collection.
•    Fold a pastel throw or a special Easter themed blanket or throw pillow on the corner of your couch for cool nights or close cuddling.

Open Your Bedroom to Easter Holiday Fun
Try these tips to bring the fun of Easter into your own room, between the sheets, and more:
•    Invest in a set of pretty pastel sheets or better yet, a set of sheets with cute spring or Easter designs – flowers, animals, etc.
•    Place a vase of fresh cut flowers on your dresser or bureau.
•    Set a potted plant on the windowsill.
•    Place fragrant scented candles around the room – these can help to inspire some springtime romance as well.

General Tips on Decorating Your Home for Easter
For a festively decorated home for Easter, consider the following decorating tips:

•    Beth Dunn, author of Social Climbers, suggests the following decorating tips for Easter:
Pick a theme and stay with it. If you are doing bunnies keep your theme and color scheme consistent. It makes more of an impact.
•    Find simple affordable decorations so it does not take a ton of time. Replace the wreath on your door with a pastel floral one. Put pretty statues as your centerpiece and fill bowl with colored eggs. Napkins with an eaters theme are an easy way to dress up your table and then use plain white or any pastel color place mat and plates.
•    Look through your drawers, etc. You may have stashed pink or other light colored house hold decorations and forgot about them. Now is a good time to use all your items with color. –  Courtesy of Beth Dunn, www.socialclimbers.net

Spring Cleaning Tips for the Weekend Warrior from NorthStar Storage

Try these step-by-step tips on how to spring clean and create a “miracle closet” just in time for spring cleaning!

Step One: Empty and Sort
1.    Pick one closet per weekend, we don’t want you to miss out on the rest of the weekend’s fun.
2.    Empty everything out of the closet onto the floor. I mean everything!
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3.    Create four piles: “keep”, “give away”, “throw away”, and “store.”

4.    For those of us that have trouble letting go of nostalgic items ask yourself: When was the last time I wore or used this? If you can’t remember, get rid of it. If you really love it and don’t use it ask yourself would a picture of the item keep that warm fuzzy ‘ah I loved that pair of go-go boots’ feeling?

5.    If the item is just too difficult to part with at the moment, put it in a clear plastic box or bag with today’s date and place it in your “store” pile. If you go back to use it in the next few months then keep it; if not,  it’s time to give it away and let someone less fortunate enjoy it!

6.    If the item is something you use or wear only during one season a year or it is an item that you feel will come back in fashion (go-go dancing is sure to make a comeback) someday, this item can go into storage.  Full Service Storage companies such as NorthStar Moving and Storage will inventory your boxes. If you pack the boxes yourself, then you’ll need to make the photo or written inventory of what exactly is in each box. The pictures will help you remember exactly what is in good old Box #1. Private Storage from NorthStar Moving allows you to call up NorthStar Moving and request whatever boxes that you want delivered to your home. It really is as simple as “Hi, can I have box numbers 7, 14 and 25 delivered and while you’re here, I’ve got three more boxes for you to pick up.” Isn’t that the ultimate in space saving? Think of your closets as prime real estate that needs to be accessed daily and your storage as the summer vacation home for your stuff.

7.    Look at your “give away” and “throw away” piles and ask yourself: Could someone else use this item even if I cannot?  If so, put it in a bag and donate it to a charity (be sure to get a receipt to deduct from your taxes!).If not, add it to this week’s trash or there is always e-bay, you’ll be shocked what your old pair of jeans will go for!

Step Two: Box and Label
1.    Take photos of each item in your “store” pile. You will need two copies of each photo.
2.    Next, box up all of your items in the “store” category. Place one photo copy on the outside of each box with today’s date and the second photo copy in a file cabinet. This way you will know what is in your storage unit. When you go to get an item out of storage you can easily find what you are looking for without unpacking everything.
3.    In your “keep” pile take photos of shoes and accessories. Don’t forget to tell your shoes to “work it baby” as you snap the photo.
4.    Place the shoes and accessories in clear plastic containers so you can see everything and tape their photo to the outside of their container.  This little step gives you double duty: you can find it easily and better still you can put it away in the exact same spot for next time that hot date rolls around…
5.    For sheets and blankets place them in clear containers and label the outside of the container with the size of the sheet and blanket. Or, if you prefer to let your linens “breathe” make labels (p-touch or by hand) and place labels on the shelves designating size of sheets, pillows etc on each shelf. Make sure that your labels can easily be removed from your closet shelving so that you can reorganize things later if the need arises.

Step Three: Put Items Back and Organize – If you can see it, you can wear and enjoy it.
1.    Decide how many categories you want for your clothes. It’s up to you – tank tops together, long sleeved shirts together, and pants together and then hang them from light to dark or hang them based on occasion – dressy to casual.  Ask yourself – how do I like to decide what to wear and then organize your closet accordingly.  Am I a “gotta wear glitter today girl”, then all that sparkly stuff should be in one place or are you a more “baby it’s cold out there” type and then why not organize by light weight to heavy weight fabrics but remember always within any category organize by color.
2.    Put your boxes of shoes by use or occasion; for example, sport vs. work, and then break down your dressy shoes by flats to heels and light to dark.
3.    For your sweaters and t-shirts and other folding clothes lay them inside your drawers or on the shelf on their side. You can purchase wooden planks or plastic planks to use as dividers. This way you can see all of your clothes at once when you open the drawer. Short sleeved t-shirts together by color and the same for long sleeved shirts and sweaters.
4.    Having your clothes and accessories all in view and organized by categories will help you find items quickly and you will find that you get more wear out of more of your clothes! Not just that same red sweater over and over again. You’ll hear from your friends: Is that new? Well, newly organized!
5.    Last but not least, step back and take a picture of your new “miracle” closet and place it on the inside of your closet drawer so you can keep it that way! Really, do it. You won’t have to revisit organizing that closet for a long time!

About NorthStar Moving:
NorthStar Moving is an eco-luxury moving and storage company with a celebrity clientele (think Angelina Jolie and Eva Longoria).  They have a list of “red carpet” services including photo perfect packing and unpacking for their clients, making the movers true organizational experts.

For additional information:
NorthStar Moving Mobile Storage
NorthStar Moving

Q&A – How to Save Money in this Tough Economy by Planting Your Own Veggies

In the current state of our economy, grocery prices continue to climb and there’s no true end in sight. Luckily for consumers, some stores, like Weis Markets, are initiating a price freeze on popular products that appeal to their customers, promising they won’t raise the price on those groceries for the foreseeable future.

Despite these price freezes – and even the use of coupons – consumers need to find other ways to save money and reduce expenses in the current economy. Last year was a big year for consumers starting their own vegetable gardens, and this year is expected to have an even bigger gardening surge.

In the spirit of saving money in creative ways, George Ball, chairman and CEO of Burpee, shares the following tips for beginner gardeners and anyone who wishes to grow a vegetable garden and save some money on groceries this year.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Roughly how much can a couple or a small family save in grocery money by growing their own produce?

A. George Ball (Burpee) –
A couple – $500-$700
Small family – $1,000-$2,000

Q. Life Love Beauty – Typically, how long is the growing season for the different “zones” in the US? How many months of home grown veggies can gardeners expect in a typical season?   

A. George Ball (Burpee) – 10 months, deep South to 4 months far North, 6 months of home grown veggies

Q. Life Love Beauty – What are the best veggies to grow with grocery store savings in mind?  

A. George Ball (Burpee) – Green Beans, Large Tomatoes, Colored Bell Peppers, Sugar Snap Peas

Q. Life Love Beauty – What are some veggies that may seem challenging or intimidating but aren’t?  

A. George Ball (Burpee) –
Green Beans, Peas, and Cucumbers

Q. Life Love Beauty – Do you have any tips for beginner gardeners who want to try and slash their grocery bill this year?  

A. George Ball (Burpee) – Implement succession planting.  Begin planting cooler weather crops such as lettuce in the spring, then move to warmer weather crops like tomatoes and peppers, and then back to cool weather crops like spinach, radishes, etc.  Burpee developed the Money Garden seed pack especially for this purpose / new gardeners.

Q. Life Love Beauty – What kinds of veggies are the easiest to grow for even those who haven’t tried gardening ever before?

A. George Ball (Burpee) – Radish, Lettuce, Potatoes, Onions

Q. Life Love Beauty – Do you have any other facts or statistics on growing veggies and/or saving money that may apply to this topic?

A. George Ball (Burpee) – Yes.  See price comparisons…Homegrown versus store-bought veggies.

COMPARISON PRICES OF HOMEGROWN VS. STORE BOUGHT (courtesy of Burpee)

Tomato
A tomato—from one plant—you’ll get bout 40 to 50 medium to large fruit, per season.  At the stores, they run about 75 cents to a dollar each, or 35 dollars to 45 dollars per season from one plant.

A seed packet contains, say 25 guaranteed seeds out of 30 total.  Place the average at 40 dollars, multiply it times 25, and you get a thousand dollars worth of store bought tomatoes from a 3 dollar to 4 dollar packet of seed.  This is a ratio of 1:250.  Ten times my (George Ball, Burpee’s Chairman) average ratio.  If someone says, wait, what about fertilizer, etc. you’re still looking at an incredible level of savings.  Say the tomatoes go on sale, at 50 cents each, ratio is still 1:125 or 150.  Way over 1:25.

Bell Pepper
A large red bell pepper—from one plant—you’ll get about 10 to 15 peppers, maybe 20 tops, per warm season.

At stores, these run around $1.50 each.  So, average 15 times $1.50 is $22.50 per plant.  Seed runs at 10 seeds for $3.00 or 30 cents/seed.  From 10 seeds guaranteed germ, you get ten plants resulting in 10 times $22.50 and the yield from the packet is $225.00.  Ratio this time is less, since peppers are less productive, at 1:75.  So, on sale would drop it a bit as would any extraordinary costs or insect problems or cold snap.

Sugar Snap Pea
Sugar Snap Pea—from one plant (vine)—an average customer gets just over a pound, but be conservative and say a pound per plant.  (FYI they run about 90 to 100 pods per pound.)  They go in stores anywhere from $3.50 to $4.00 a pound.  Say $3.75 a pound bag.  Seed runs about 150 seeds for $1.50, in general.  Or a penny a seed.  However, they get “thinned” by 2/3, so that’s 50 vines for 3 cents per.  Fifty vines yield fifty pounds @ $3.75 store bought comp.  So, a $1.50 packet of seed yields $187.50 worth of sugar snap peas.  An average 1:100 ratio this time allowing for the fencing, etc.  Unless you like stringing vines, which I happen to do.

Beans, green snap beans, have a similar profile, of about 1:90, or 1:80, depending on the bean.  Haricot verts will be less, since they’re less productive, as well as more expensive at the store, maybe 1:40.  Real bargain in flavor, especially, unless you live next door to a farmer’s market.

–    All information provided in this comparison is courtesy of Burpee.

Tips on When to Start Your Veggie Garden Seeds
If you are like many beginner gardeners, you may be wondering when to start your vegetable garden seeds, and whether you should start them inside or wait and plant them outside. Growing vegetables from seed is a very interesting and rewarding process. The tender loving care you give to your seeds, seedlings, and plants returns to you many fold in the crops your vegetable plants produce for you.

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants should be started indoors, shares George Ball, chairman of Burpee, adding that all other seeds can be started outside. He also notes that seedlings should be six to eight weeks old when taken outside and planted in your garden, and the best time to plant your veggie seeds is after the threat of frost is over in your USDA Hardiness Zone.

About the Burpee Money Garden:

For gardeners of all aptitudes, Burpee offers the Money Garden, a large packet of vegetable seeds to get your veggie garden going with six types of veggies – Carrot Big Top (1500 seeds), Tomato Steak Sandwich aka: Large Round Tomato (30 seeds), Bean Heavyweight II aka: Bush Snap Bean (2 oz.), Lettuce Burpee Bibb (1000 seeds), Pepper Home Run aka: Bell Pepper (30 seeds), and Pea Super Snappy aka: Garden Pea (300 seeds). This vast packet of seeds costs only $10 and contains enough seeds to produce more than $650 in delicious, homegrown produce requiring a mere tenth of an acre of growing space.

For more information on Burpee, gardening, and vegetables, please visit online at www.burpee.com.

Telephone Calling Strategy in Business, Friendships and New Relationships

People all have a different feeling when it comes to using the phone in new relationships and even established relationships. Communication is important in all kinds of relationships. (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)Having a telephone strategy in a new relationship can have a variety of impacts on your relationship.

When two people first begin seeing each other, they’ll grow together as they learn more and more about the other person. Some people may be shy in a new relationship and may wish for the other person to call them instead. Some people may be more outgoing and very comfortable with using the phone, making initial contact in a new relationship seem much more natural. Some people may be indifferent to using the phone, using it as needed for brief or lengthy conversations.

Whatever the case, it is important to be open and honest about how you feel and express your feelings as appropriate. If you prefer in-person meetings rather than phone conversations, be sure to share that with your new love interest. Work together to establish a comfortable communication style in your new relationships.

Life Love Beauty readers share their feelings on using the phone in general and also which kinds of conversations they prefer. Read on for more details, or see any of our related articles on telephone strategy in new relationships.

Telephone Conversations and Using the Phone in General
“Phones have become necessary conveniences. They allow us to connect with family and friends as well as do business without leaving our homes. Perhaps best of all they are the sentries of our lives since when even a hint of danger threatens all we have to do is press 911. My phone use is quick and direct.  As much as I appreciate my phone I believe it should not replace in-person interaction.”
– Pat Nieh, CA

“My phone style is short but sweet.  I cover all topics in a timely manner.”
– Deb Berg, MN

“Phone style:  I tend to have long phone calls with those closest to me and quick phone calls with everyone else.  Sometimes I really need to hear the voices of loved ones, especially those who live far away.”
– Michelle Henriquez, CA

“It really depends on who I’m calling but with friends my phone conversation style is long conversation. There are so many different things to talk about even without gossip etc. I love a long conversation about what’s happening, what is going to happen, what we wish would happen. LOL”
– Catherine Frausto, CO

“Talk the ears off a tree – I could talk on the phone from sunrise to sunset! I’m really quiet in person but stick a phone in my hand and it’s like someone punctured a word balloon!”
– Jeffrey Gardner, NC

“I usually call only when I need something or want to ask someone to do something with me. I usually ramble but eventually get to my point. If someone wants to have an actual conversation then I’ll put in a little more effort!”
– Samantha Pruitt, CA

“I tend to talk long on the phone.”
– Rosanne Morrison, IL

“Freestyle phone call – I don’t have a style because I am hard of hearing.”
– Floyd Jenkins, FL

“I guess since I am married, any ‘new relationships’ are new friends.  I am usually hesitant to make a call at first.  I tend to have to take a deep breath and just do it.  For first calls, I often don’t leave a message, but am getting better about that. I do try to not call too often as I do not want to seem too pushy (or desperate).  My phone conversation style is often long calls that include a lot of plain friendly gabbing. I even small-talk on business calls.”
– Melanie Horan, NJ

“I make quick calls to only a few businesses, otherwise, I use email to talk to people I know.”
– Ron Frakes, IL

“Quick efficient calls, I can’t hang around on the phone with a three year old and a 19 month old demanding your attention.”
– Katharine Davis, IA

“I chill out in my recliner as I converse with my friends about our buddies and families. We share our thoughts and aspirations. We discuss relatives and the antics they get into. Our neighbors wonder what in the world we are laughing about but we don’t have a care in the world.”
– Randy A. Young, MS

“When I am in a new relationship I find out what they person is comfortable with and this way they can find out the same thing about me. The best solution I have found for this is to be honest and upfront when the relationship begins. Some men love the attention while others feel as if you are crowding them. When we both understand what works best for both of us then there is never any misunderstanding! I think that when you begin a relationship by talking about situations which can and probably will come up then the relationship is so much better as there is no second guessing!

“My conversation style is different for different people. Some of my friends are not big on phone calls, so I tend to make quick phone calls and get to the point. I pretty much play it by ear as if I think the person is ready to end the conversation then I politely do it first so they are not uncomfortable with being the first person to say goodbye.  If it is with a co-worker about my job then I try and call and keep it short. If it is one of my closest friends then I kick off the shoes, grab a can of diet coke and the gab fest is on!”
– Rachel Robertson, MS

“I leave messages for anyone that does not answer; whether it is for companies or friends, or family.  I leave quick message usually, because I never know when the answering machine I am calling will turn off.”
– Marilyn Wons, FL

21 Fabulous New Year’s Resolutions for a New You

Another New Year, another time to desire or decide to make improvements in your life… Exercising regularly is a great New Year's Resolution, but here are 20 more options. Whether you’re set on a New Year’s resolution or still thinking about things in your life you would like to improve, remember to remain confident in your commitments and do your best in all that you do.

Here are 21 New Year’s Resolutions for a new you. Pick and choose the ones that work best for you, or use these to help you come up with your own New Year’s resolution.

1.    Kick a bad habit. Smoking, speeding, binge drinking, overeating, biting your nails, etc.


2.    Exercise on a regular basis.
Do some cardio every week to get your body back in shape.

3.    Do your part to help the environment. Recycle all that you can, don’t print emails you don’t absolutely need, and purchase “green” products when possible.


4.    Stay in better touch with your friends and family.
Call at least one person each week, send a letter via snail mail to a special someone, and keep in touch via email when possible.

5.    Reconnect with old friends. No matter how much time has gone by, reaching out to old friends can be a very worthwhile endeavor. Even if you haven’t spoken in a long time, the worst thing you can do is let that time become even longer.

6.    Reduce clutter in your house, apartment, or car. Do a deep clean this year to clear out the old and either make room for the new, or just make room.

7.    Become more organized. Put things away right away and file important documents so you never lose them.

8.    Pay off credit card debt if you have it. If you really knew how much you would pay in interest over the duration of your debt, you would pay it off lickety-split.

9.    Eat less junk food. This New Year’s resolution is good for your figure and your health in general.

10.    Drink less soda. Many people know soda isn’t good for your teeth, but giving up soda can also help to improve your figure over all. Even if you don’t cut soda completely out of your diet, you can still improve your health and your body by limiting your intake.


Learn something new like playing an instrument. (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)11.    Learn something new – a craft, a language, or skill. Pick up a new hobby like photography, crocheting, mosaic tiling, etc. You can have a great time while learning something new – and then you’ll really enjoy the sense of accomplishment once you succeed.

12.    Work “smarter” at your job, and harder if needed. Strive for that promotion or realize your dream and stretch for it.

13.    Have more fun. Don’t fall victim to the workhorse mentality. Make sure you take time for yourself and your loved ones every week, if not every day, to do something fun and recharge your batteries.

14.    Go to church more often if you don’t go regularly already. Get in touch with your spiritual side.

15.    Always look for the silver lining on a bad day. Whether you believe it or not, there are times when you do have some, even if minimal, control over your attitude and your mood. Take the initiative to find the positive if it is there.

16.    Make an effort to see things from other people’s perspectives. Sometimes it’s hard to see things from the other side when we feel passionately about them, but do your best to take a step back and imagine you are someone else in the situation. If may make all the difference.

17.    Keep your romance alive with regular dates and special time together. With a busy work schedule or a week busy with raising kids, it’s important to make that extra effort to find some special time with your sweetheart.

18.    Look at change as an opportunity to achieve great things in a new way. Not everyone likes change, but all change doesn’t have to be bad. Find the positives and capitalize on them!

19.    Find new and creative ways to save money in this fumbling economy. Whether you clip coupons, carpool, sell items from your home that you don’t need, or start a small home business, you can find lots of creative and interesting ways to save or make more money.

20.    Get serious about your retirement. You are never too young to get started in saving for your future, and if you’re already on your way there, do what you can to increase your savings.

21.    Let go of the past. Life is too short to hold a grudge or carry regrets.

Gadgets and Gizmos Technology Gift Guide for Guys and Girls

Wenger Swiss Army Clipper Knife for Men or Women, available at Amazon.comTechnology is all the rage for many people, so why not fuel the fire by offering gifts that play to your recipient’s talents and interests? Here in our Gadgets and Gizmos Technology Gift Guide for Guys and Girls, we offer a variety of holiday or birthday gift options for your tech savvy friends and loved ones.

Read on to check out the cool presents technology has to offer this year.

Gadget Lovers Gift Guide – Housewares and Tools

Both male and female gadget lovers will enjoy these exciting housewares and power tools. Home repairs, gourmet cooking, and hosting / entertaining are a snap with these small appliances, tools, and kitchen gadgets. Read on for our top housewares and tools gadget guide.

Dremel Multi-Max Oscillating Tool, Available at Amazon.comDremel Multi-Max Oscillating Tool System

Power tools are a surefire gift that men love. The Dremel Multi-Max is an oscillating tool that will let your handyman tackle many projects with ease.  Dremel has become a household name because of the popularity of their multipurpose rotary tools, however the Multi-Max brings new versatility to the Dremel line of products – It’s a grinder, sander, scraper, grout remover and cutting tool all-in-one.

Don’t let the compact design fool you, it is a powerful power tool with variable speed. The accessories are also very easy to change as part of their Quick Fit feature. Even if you don’t understand anything about power tools, you can be sure this is a gift he will love.

To see the Dremel Multi-Max in action, visit online at www.dremel.com.

Cost: starting at $99.99

Accessories, when sold separately, retail for between $5.99 and $39.99.

Buy the Dremel Multi-Max Oscillating Tool: Available at Amazon.com, and at hardware and home improvement centers nationwide.

Dremel 6300-01 1.5 Amp Multi-Max Oscillating Kit

Mr. Coffee 12 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker, available at Amazon.comMr. Coffee 12 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker with eLume Touchscreen Technology JHX33

For java lovers and hostess types alike, the Mr. Coffee 12 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker with eLume Touch Screen Technology makes a lovely gift for all to enjoy. This high tech kitchen gadget is a breeze to use with its removable filter basket, Brew Strength Selector, Fresh Brew Timer, and eLume Touchscreen Technology. The eLume screen displays the settings and options buttonswhen the coffeemaker is in use, but they disappear when the machine is off, giving a sleeker look.

This coffeemaker works great for entertaining, thanks to its Fresh Brew Timer, which ensures the coffee is hot and ready when guests want it. The two-hour auto shut-off is another neat feature that helps to keep your coffee hot when you need it, but shuts off automatically in case you forget.

The design of the Mr. Coffee 12 Cup Coffeemaker is sleek and sexy for any kitchen. The black and chrome combination looks great on the counter so you don’t have to find a place to store it in your closet.

Cost: $57.49 at Amazon.com,retails for $59.99

Buy Mr. Coffee 12 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker: at Target or Amazon.com.

Mr. Coffee 12-Cup eLume CM

Oster Electric Cheese Grater, available at Amazon.comOster CG100 Electric Cheese Grater

The Oster Electric Cheese Grater sure beats grating the cheese by hand with an old-fashioned metal cheese grater. This helpful device features a cordless design with rechargeable batteries for continued use. The Oster Electric Cheese Grater grates both hard and soft cheese with fine and coarse shredding drums, giving you complete flexibility for creating the perfect meal.

A clear plastic door for the cheese allows the user to see how much cheese is still inside the compartment. Perhaps the most surprising feature of all – the electric cheese grater is amazingly small for its mighty purpose. Home-cooked Italian dinners have never been easier.

Cost: $49.99

Buy the Oster Electric Cheese Grater:

Oster CG100 Electric Cheese Grater

Sunbeam Heritage Series Kitchen Assistant, available at Amazon.comSunbeam Heritage Series Kitchen Assistant 2774

The Sunbeam Kitchen Assistant, like the widely known Magic Bullet, offers versatility in the kitchen in a compact blending and chopping device. This handy kitchen gadget features a cylindrical base w
ith metallic finish, rubber feet for table or counter top stability, and a powerful 220-watt motor that allows you to chop, grind, mince, and puree effortlessly.

Use the Sunbeam Kitchen Assistant to chop up nuts or other ingredients for Christmas cookies, to create the perfect salsa or spaghetti sauce, or to mix a splendid smoothie after a long day. The possibilities are seemingly endless with this cool kitchen device that will make your baking and cooking experiences easier than you can imagine.

Six small and two large chopping containers with matching six storage lids and two shaker lids are also included. The lids make mixing ingredients and storing cooking creations a snap. The chopping containers feature helpful measurement marks so you can easily work toward completing a full recipe.

To operate the Sunbeam Heritage Series Kitchen Assistant, simply press down on the bottom of the attached chopping container or run it continuously for a better blend.

Cost: $29.99 and up

Buy the Sunbeam Heritage Series Kitchen Assistant: at www.sunbeam.com, Wal*Mart, or Amazon.com

Kitchen Assistant at Amazon.com – with Free Shipping

Sunbeam Mixmaster Stand Mixer, available at Amazon.comSunbeam 2349 Heritage Series MixMaster Stand Mixer

The Sunbeam 2349 Heritage Series Stand Mixer offers a very user-friendly design with helpful features like off center bowl positioning for easy adding of ingredients and the handy push-button beater release.

The Sunbeam MixMaster Stand Mixer features 12 variable speeds and three-way mixing action with a bowl motor and beater motor.

Cost: $139.99 – $180

Buy Sunbeam Stand Mixer:

Sunbeam 2349 Heritage Series Stand Mixer – White

Check out outdoor gadgets, office gadgets, music and entertainment gadgets, and gadgets for staying connected next….


Product Review: Aliph Jawbone Noise Assassin

I have two words for you: Military Grade. I have two more for you: Audio Processing.  Jawbone Bluetooth Headset with Noise Assassin, by Aliph and available at Amazon.comWhen you put those four words together the technology we can only be talking about is the Jawbone Bluetooth headset.

Jawbone earpiece offer exceptional noise reduction and canceling of sound in the most extreme conditions.  If you want to see a demo, check out the two videos on their Web site – they are very impressive demonstrations and they may seem too good to be true, but they are not fake.

The original jawbone featured Noise Shield technology which was revolutionary in noise cancellation for two way communication devices.  The second incarnation of the Jawbone features Noise Assassin which improved an already leading technology of sensors and software to eliminate background noise and increase the voice clarity.

People who buy a Jawbone are probably mainly looking for the superior noise cancellation capabilities, but the Jawbone also does provide some style (although, I still find it necessary to use the ear loop, which I personally don’t particularly care for).  Some may prefer other high end earpieces’ style, but the Jawbone does offer significant design improvements over many Bluetooth earpieces.  The unit is sleek with hidden buttons and the small non-intrusive light indicator is a plus – big bright light indicators can be distracting and I don’t need everyone knowing that I am having a conversation.

A couple of areas where Aliph (Maker of Jawbone) can improve their product is to offer a technology that allows you to connect 2 mobile phones to the same Jawbone, which would be good for people with a work phone and personal phone.  Also, I felt the audio quality on the earpiece could be improved; while the conversation comes through crisp and clear, the other party’s voice does lack some depth (I know, I am nitpicking).

All in all, I have used both the older and the newer version of the Jawbone and have been impressed with the noise cancellation and audio processing capabilities.  Then again, should I have expected anything less from technology that was borne from battlefield applications.

Buy the Jawbone Noise Assassin or Jawbone Noise Shield at Amazon.com.

Presents People Really Love: The Best Gift I Ever Received

If you want to know what presents people really love, look no further. Here are the best gifts ever received according to a number of Life Love Beauty readers. altIf you are having a hard time deciding what gifts to give or which gifts to put on your own wish list, check out these suggestions.

In November, Life Love Beauty hosted a contest with author Irene Brand to determine the best gifts any of our readers have ever given or received. From puppies to good memories, we’ve discovered the best of the best gifts ever. Read on for heartwarming tales of the best gift a reader ever received.

The Best Gift I Ever Received

A son comes home for the holidays... (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)“The best gift I ever received was the gift I received for Christmas two years ago. Our son is in the Army and was stationed in Afghanistan. I felt like crying Christmas Eve as I looked at the tree. The phone rang and there was Peter on the other end. I asked him where he was and he told me to open the front door. I ran to the door and there exhausted from three days of travel was my son! I will cherish that gift forever.” – Laura Emerson, MS

“My best gift ever received was a handmade Christmas card from my four year old granddaughter. I will cherish it forever.” – Phyllis Beardsley, OH

“My son and his wife gave me the Black & Decker Lids-Off Jar Opener for a gift.  I have a spinal injury from being rear ended in a car accident and it is very difficult for me to do a lot of things.  This works great and allows me to open jars of all sizes except the really ones.  Love it for allowing me to be much more independent.” – Linda Anderson, NV

“A few years ago my kidneys failed and I started dialysis until a donor kidney could be located. I was pretty far down on the list of recipients because of my age and other health problems. One of my sons donated a kidney and maybe that’s why I am alive today.”  – Phillip Stacy, FL

“For my 50th birthday my husband, my three sisters, my parents and my niece chipped in $100 each to surprise me with a Yorkie puppy! I had wanted one for some time since one of the parents from my school brought a Yorkie when she picked up her daughter early as school was turned out for flooding. I really liked that dog and wanted one of my own. I have had Daisy for six years. My husband and I love her sooo much! She was my best gift ever!” – Sharon Seneker, TN

“Last year, I received a diamond solitaire ring from my husband. I had been wearing just a gold wedding band since our marriage. The ring is beautiful, and I love it. I have the most amazing husband…” – Beverley Justice, NC

“My daughter got her first baby doll. It was so sweet.” – Donna Kozar, IN

“The best gift I have ever received is my son. I know a lot of people might say something like this but I waited years for his arrival. I lost a premature son when I was nearly 18. I didn’t meet my now husband until 2004 and married him shortly after. We had a beautiful healthy baby boy in October of 2005 when I was 33. He has just turned three. We went through a lot during my pregnancy. Since I was considered high risk, I had to get a cerclage put in after 16 weeks and my husband had to give me shots to prevent premature labor. On top of all that my dad got sick suddenly and passed away while I was pregnant. I went to visit him in hospice and slept in his room with him for a few days. Shortly after I went back home – I live in another state…he passed away. I had plans to go the funeral but on my way to the airport I ended up going to the hospital with bleeding. Luckily nothing was wrong but I missed my dad’s funeral. I am just so grateful to have a beautiful happy healthy son now.” – Susan Parks, GA

alt“It was our first Christmas together since we started dating and we were both in college. We didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t expect anything for Christmas. We had a nice dinner and my boyfriend told me to close my eyes. He put something in my lap and when I opened my eyes it was the most adorable Lhasa Apso puppy. She was adorable and an amazing dog. That is the best present I ever received.” – Heather Simone, GA

“The best gift I ever received was actually not for me. I was broke one year and a little depressed because I did not have much for my children and my sister came over late one night with a trunk load of gifts for my kids all signed Love Mom and even two big Santa gifts signed ‘Love Santa’. I was my kids’ hero that year and she was mine.” – Joan Olson, FL

“Our two autistic children wear me out on ‘normal’ days. Preparing for Christmas is especially draining. One particular Christmas Eve, I was totally exhausted. With the children finally asleep and presents under the tree, my husband sent me to bed. I quickly fell asleep, awaking to my best Christmas present ever. He stayed up very late cleaning the entire house!” – Elizabeth Ray, CA

“The best gift that I ever received was a DVD episode kit of King of Queens. I know that sounds funny, but my son’s father gave it to me when our son was born. He knew how much I loved KOQ and that I’d be up odd hours breastfeeding or trying to get the baby back to sleep. I thought it was really creative and sweet!” – Autumn Howard, NE

“My father bought me a new pair of shades. It was special to me because I don’t often get to see my father since he’s been so busy. I was very grateful and I wore it every day, especially on a bright, shining day.” – David Tercero, FL

“Used to pursue life of adventure, moving a lot – one suitcase of clothes the other of writings – little else, save a plane ticket and a job offer – caretaking. One day a methodical man asked me to elope to Las Vegas. Soon, they conceived, realizing best gift wasn’t being in adventure but a family which provides plenty of adventure daily.” – Amy Lutz, NM

“The best gift I ever received was my little lapdog because my oldest daughter got him for me when I couldn’t cuddle with my big dogs after a surgery. She found him and paid for him herself from her first job.” – Sherry Conrad

“The best gift I ever got was the adoption of our 16 year old foster daughter; we have had her for over two years, and now this is our first Christmas as a ‘forever family’. We have five grown kids, and she is now #6 and our baby! It’s a really great gift to us.” – Vickie Couturier, TN

“The very best gift I have gotten is the gift of love from my parents. I was one of 5 kids and my parents managed to make our life live able with lots of love. We always got Christmas gifts and we were happy. They took us on camping vacations in the summer. They always sacrificed for us kids. The last gift I got from my mother was a digital camera and I got to take a family picture. Little did I know that I would lose four family members, my little sister, younger brother, dad, mom in two years. I look at that picture and thank Mom for giving me the camera. I know she hears me.” – Kate Usher, PA

***

“To me, the best gifts to give or receive don’t need to cost a lot of money, nor do they require searching every store in town to find the perfect gift for someone.  I believe the best gifts come from the heart and I love to give or receive gifts that may have perhaps taken me a lot of time to make, and I may put that extra special touch on it to tailor it to the specific person I am giving the gift to, but gifts that come from the heart are unique and irreplaceable when you put a lot of thought and effort in making something special for the recipient.

“Remember the days when you used to love to go to your grandmother’s house because you knew she was going to spoil you rotten with all her home baked meals and goodies.  Remember how much you looked forward to that and the love that you felt when you finally arrived to her home and she doted on you hand and foot to make sure you had enough on your plate and you were enjoying the food.  To me, that is the greatest gift in life, those moments are instilled in my memory and I will have them in my heart forever.  That is the perfect gift.  The gift of love and the gift from the heart.

“This Christmas we should all take a step back, remembering our childhood days, when life was simpler and kinder, and no one really used the word technology or internet in our vocabulary.  Take that path back in time and try and reinvent some new Christmas memories this year with your friends and family by not going out and buying that new iPod or cashmere sweater as a gift, but making something you feel is special that the recipient will like and enjoy. You will be surprised how unexpected your gift will be to the person, and how much love and appreciation they will get out of it knowing you took time out of your busy day to make something unique and special for them.”  – Joanna Smith, NY