Traditional Mardi Gras Dessert Recipe – King Cake with Cream Cheese Cinnamon Filling

Many visitors to Mardi Gras and Louisiana natives will tell you that king cake is a vital element of the Carnival season. King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert. (Photo courtesy of Holly Clegg)The icing colors on king cake represent the feted colors of Mardi Gras – power (yellow), faith (green), justice (purple).

“A king cake is a must during Carnival season,” says Louisiana native Allison Gouaux. “Traditionally, king cakes are made of dough twisted in a circular bread with white icing and purple, green and gold (the traditional Carnival colors) sprinkles. You can either get the traditional cinnamon-flavored cakes or get one ‘filled’ with either cream cheese, pralines, or other fruit flavors. Locals love king cakes from bakeries such as Haydel’s, Randazza’s, and Boulangerie (for a fancy French king cake).”

To follow is a recipe for the traditional Mardi Gras dessert, King Cake With Cream Cheese Cinnamon Filling, from best selling cookbook author and Baton Rouge resident Holly Clegg. The recipe features quick and easy steps and uses commonplace ingredients.

RECIPE: KING CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE CINNAMON FILLING

Makes 16 Servings

“Now, you can make a quick King Cake recipe in your own home any time, without worrying about a complicated yeast dough,” says “trim&Terrific™ Gulf Coast Favorites” cookbook author Holly Clegg. “Kids love helping with this cake year round — try red and pink colors for Valentine’s day, pastels for Easter, and red and green for Christmas!”

Ingredients:
2 (8-ounce) cans reduced-fat crescent rolls
4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Mardi Gras Icing (recipe below)

King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert. (Photo courtesy of Holly Clegg)Directions:
1.    Preheat oven to 350 F.
2.    Coat a 10-inch round pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray.
3.    Separate crescent rolls at perforations into 16 slices.
4.    Place slices around prepared pan with points in the center.
5.    About halfway down from points, press steams together.
6.    In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, confectioners sugar, and vanilla until creamy.
7.    Spread on dough in the center where seams have been pressed together.
8.    In another small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon with a fork until crumbly.
9.    Sprinkle over cream cheese.
10.    Fold dough points over filling, then fold bottom of triangle over points forming a circular roll like a king cake.
11.    Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown.
12.    Cool slightly and drizzle with colored Mardi Gras Icing

MARDI GRAS ICING

Ingredients:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1-2 tablespoons skim milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Yellow, green, red, and blue food coloring

Directions:
1.    In a small bowl, combine all ingredients, except food color. Divide mixture into three bowls.
2.    In first bowl, add a few drops of yellow food coloring. In second bowl, add a few drops of green food coloring, and in third bowl add equal amounts of drops of red and blue food coloring (to create purple).
3.    Drizzle over baked cake.

** Recipe from trim&Terrific™ Gulf Coast Favorites by Holly Clegg
(Holly Clegg Publications; September 2008; $24.95, ISBN: 978-0-9815640-05/soft cover).

About the Expert:
Holly Clegg is the author of the best selling trim&Terrific™ cookbook series and Eating Well Through Cancer. The king cake recipe is from her latest book, Gulf Coast Favorites, with 10 percent of the proceeds being donated to the America’s WETLAND Foundation to fight coastal erosion and wetland loss in Louisiana. For more information, visit www.hollyclegg.com. You can order Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Gulf Coast Favorites (Paperback) from Amazon.com for $16.47.

Super Bowl Party Food and Football Recipes

al fresco Buffalo Bistro Bites - Spicy Pigs in a Blanket (Photo courtesy of al fresco)With the Super Bowl getting closer, it’s a great idea to start planning your menu and gathering the necessary ingredients for all your Super Bowl party food and football recipes. The number of guests attending your Super Bowl party will determine the amount of food and beverage to have on hand, but we would love to suggest some Super Bowl recipes for you to try.

Consider these recipe suggestions for Super Bowl appetizers, main courses, and entrees.

Super Bowl Party Appetizers
Appetizers can be a fun part of the meal and a great way to get your guests appetites going. You can choose from a wide variety of appetizer options, but the Super Bowl calls for some special treats. Consider the following Super Bowl party appetizer ideas for your own football bash.

Most In-Demand Super Bowl Appetizer Idea – Buffalo Chicken Dip
Buffalo Chicken Dip is taking the appetizer world by storm. Almost everyone’s heard of it and many people have tried it at another party. Why not steal some limelight for yourself and serve your guests a batch of delicious Buffalo Chicken Dip? Try this Super Bowl Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe from Frank’s® RedHot®.

Frank’s® RedHot® Buffalo Chicken Dip:
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 cans (9.75 oz each) Swanson® Premium Chunk Chicken Breast, drained
1/2 cup Frank’s® RedHot® Sauce
1/2 cup blue cheese salad dressing (or ranch dressing)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (or shredded cheddar cheese)
Assorted fresh vegetables and/or crackers

 

Directions:
1.    Stir cream cheese in 9” deep dish pie plate until smooth.
2.    Stir in remaining ingredients.
3.    Bake at 350°F. for 20 minutes until hot and bubbling.
4.    Stir.
5.    Serve with vegetables, chips, and crackers.

Buffalo Chicken Dip Tips:
‐ Substitute ranch dressing for blue cheese dressing and shredded cheddar cheese for blue cheese crumbles.
‐ Make it tailgate friendly – prepare ahead of time and transport in a disposable heavy foil pan.
When you get to the tailgate heat it on a grill and serve nice and hot!
‐ Make this in the microwave by heating it on high for five minutes instead of baking.
‐ Keep it warm in a crock pot or slow cooker

More Super Bowl Appetizer Ideas
Try these other delicious Super Bowl appetizer ideas for your football party. From classic spicy pigs in blankets to chicken ranch pizza with bacon and more, your guests will not be disappointed. In fact, you may be the talk of the town next time Super Bowl rolls around!

Chips and salsa are a classic football party menu item, especially for Super Bowl party food. Pace Foods offers a variety of salsa related recipes on their Web site. You can make mini tacos, chili con queso bites, double cheese crab dip, and much more.

Chicken Ranch Pizza with Bacon:
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1 package prepared thin pizza crust (12‐inch)
1 can (4.5 ounces) Swanson® Premium Chunk Chicken Breast in Water, drained
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend (about 4 ounces)
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Ranch salad dressing

Directions:
1.    Heat the oven to 375°F.
2.    Spread the soup onto the pizza crust to within 1/4‐inch of the edge. Top with the chicken, cheeses and bacon.
3.    Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden.
4.    Drizzle the ranch dressing over the pizza.

al fresco Buffalo Bistro Bites - Spicy Pigs in a Blanket (Photo courtesy of al fresco)al fresco Buffalo Bistro Bites – Spicy Pigs in a Blanket
Prep Time:  25 Minutes
Cook Time:  20 – 25 Minutes
Cook Temperature:  400 Degrees

Ingredients:
11 oz Pillsbury Low Fat Refrigerator Rolls
2 oz Crumbled blue cheese
11 oz al fresco Buffalo Bistro Bites (chicken sausage)
1 Large Egg
1 Tbs Dried, grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbs Tap water

Directions:

1.    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.    On a clean surface, unroll the dinner roll into a strip.
3.    Flatten with your fingertip to make strip a little wider.
2.    Cut each strip into 4 equal pieces.
3.    Tap a small amount of blue cheese crumble into each strip.
4.    Roll up each Buffalo Bistro Bite in each strip and place on cookie sheet.
5.    Beat the egg with water and brush the dough around the Bistro Bite
6.    Sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese.
7.    Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.

Keep Reading for More Super Bowl Food – Entrees and Main Courses…

Cocktail Recipes for Your Mardi Gras Party – The Perfect Hurricanes

Hosting a Mardi Gras party at your home may be more A beautiful Southern Comfort Hurricane, perfect for Mardi Gras. (Photo courtesy of Southern Comfort)economical and more logical than flying down to New Orleans and celebrating with the crowds. With the right cocktail recipes (read: Hurricanes!) and some awesome Creole food recipes, you’ll be all set to celebrate Mardi Gras in style.

Perhaps there is nothing quite like an authentic New Orleans Hurricane Cocktail, but you can still have fun trying to concoct the perfect libation. Remember, there’s always more than one way to mix a drink, so get creative with your Hurricane recipes and please drink responsibly.

Try these exciting Southern Comfort Hurricane cocktail recipes at home:

SoCo Hurricane
1 ½ oz. Southern Comfort
1 ½ oz. sweet and sour mix
1 ½ oz. orange juice
1 ½ oz. pineapple juice
Splash of grenadine
 

  1. A beautiful Southern Comfort Hurricane, perfect for Mardi Gras. (Photo courtesy of Southern Comfort)Fill a hurricane glass, or whatever glass you have on hand, with ice.
  2. Add all ingredients to glass and stir.
  3. Garnish with an orange wedge and cherry.
  4. If you are making it for your group of friends, mix a batch in a pitcher in advance.
  5. Pour over an ice-filled glass and serve responsibly immediately.

Hurricane Recipe Tip: “For a twist on the Mardi Gras classic, try a SoCo & Lime Hurricane,” says Allison Gouaux, a Louisiana native and representative for Southern Comfort. “It combines the sweet flavors of a traditional Hurricane with the sour notes of lime for a complex, flavorful, and fun cocktail.”
SoCo & Lime Hurricane
3 oz. Southern Comfort
1 ½ oz. sweet and sour mix
1/2 oz. blue curacao
1/2 oz. sweetened lime juice

  1. Fill a sugar-rimmed hurricane glass with ice.
  2. Add all ingredients and stir.
  3. Garnish with a lime wedge and cherry.

We hope you enjoy these fine Hurricane recipes, courtesy of Allison Gouaux, a Louisiana native, and our friends over at Southern Comfort. If you’d like to dabble in a few more Hurricane drink recipes, see the following:

Check out a Hurricane Cocktail recipe by Emeril Lagasse at FoodNetwork.com.

Check out four more Hurricane drink recipes at DrinksMixer.com.

About the Expert:
Southern Comfort infuses a signature blend of whiskey, fruit, and spices, rich in the culture and spirit of New Orleans. For more information about Southern Comfort, visit online at http://www.southerncomfort.com.

Visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras – Tips and Recommendations from a Louisiana Native

Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is arguably something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. Mardi Gras beads (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)From the parades to the spirited culture and the zesty Creole food, there’s truly something for everyone who visits New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

Louisiana native Allison Gouaux manages public relations for Southern Comfort in the New Orleans area and has a number of tips and recommendations to share with travelers regarding the Mardi Gras celebration.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Where is the best place to stay? What part of the city?

A. Allison Gouaux – Although there are parades happening all over New Orleans, the French Quarter has an abundance of world-class hotels that put you at a great location to experience the French Quarter festivities while also being close to the Uptown and Mid-City parades. Some hotels that come to mind are the Royal Sonesta (located on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter), the Intercontinental and the W (both located on Poydras in the Central Business District), and the Astor Crowne Plaza and the Marriot located on Canal (these are walking distance to the French Quarter too.) Also, because there are several Uptown parades it may be fun to stay at an Uptown bed and breakfast or rent a local’s apartment who is out of town during Carnival. You will already be in the neighborhood, and can easily walk to parades or any restaurants/bars after the parades are over.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Which restaurants or food hot spots can’t be missed?

A. Allison Gouaux – New Orleans food experience is unlike any other. The below listings are local favorites – some dives and some more upscale.

Parasol’s – Local bar with the best roast beef po’boys in the city.
Central Grocery – Fantastic muffalettas! You can also buy your own olive spread to take home with you.
Cooter Browns – Local uptown bar that is known for their freshly shucked oysters and an enormous selection of domestic and imported beers
Café Reconcile – Great spot for lunch during the week
Upperline – An upscale fine dining restaurant known for it’s great food and local character
Commander’s Palace – Known as the grand dame of restaurants in the lower garden district that is a great place to go to brunch
Gautreauxs – Their chef just got recognized by Food and Wine as “Best Chef in 2007”
Dante’s Kitchen – Classic Creole restaurant located in the River Bend uptown with great food
A king cake is a must during Carnival season. Traditionally, king cakes are made of dough twisted in a circular bread with white icing and purple, green and gold (the traditional Carnival colors) sprinkles. You can either get the traditional cinnamon-flavored cakes or get one “filled” with either cream cheese, pralines, or other fruit flavors. Locals love king cakes from bakeries such as Haydel’s, Randazza’s, and Boulangerie (for a fancy French king cake).

A specialty drink known in New Orleans is the Hurricane. Made famous by Pat O’s Bar on Bourbon Street, this concoction is a New Orleans treat. Southern Comfort has a great recipe too.

Mardi Gras is a fun getaway idea for couples. (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)Q. Life Love Beauty – Which parades are the best ones to see?

A. Allison Gouaux – The most talked about parades roll the weekend before Mardi Gras and include Endymion, Orpheus and Bacchus. Mardi Gras Day include Rex and Zulu – after the parades a great spot to be is on Frenchman Street in the Marigny. It is also popular for locals to dress up in costumes on Mardi Gras. You can find plenty of unique costumes on Frenchman and in the French Quarter.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Besides the parades, what other activities are must-see/must-do for couples, families, or groups of friends?

A. Allison Gouaux –
Music – Some great places to listen to some fabulous local musicians include: Tipitina’s, Maple Leaf, DBA.
Family – If you are cominMardi Gras beads come in all shapes and colors. (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)g to New Orleans as a family, some great places to visit include the Children’s Museum, Insectarium, Audubon Zoo, Aquarium

Q. Life Love Beauty – What is the weather typically like this time of year? How should travelers to New Orleans pack/plan to dress?

A. Allison Gouaux – Typically, the weather is warm during the day, but depending on how our crazy weather is acting it may be cool at night. Parade attire is very casual (think jeans and a sweater or t-shirt), and comfortable shoes are a must. It may be a good idea to also pack a small ice chest to bring with you while waiting for a parade to pass with snacks and beverages.

Q. Life Love Beauty – Are there any major safety concerns?

A. Allison Gouaux – New Orleans is no different than any other major city. Sometimes people who haven’t been to Mardi Gras in the past have a tendency to over-indulge which may make them less aware of their surroundings and what they are doing. I say just keep your wits about yourself, and you should be fine.

About the Expert:
Allison Gouaux is a Louisiana native and a representative for Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald, and specifically for Southern Comfort in New Orleans.

Super Bowl Party Snacks, Appetizers, and Dessert Ideas

When it comes to planning your Super Bowl party menu, don’t forget the ongoing munchies and the sweet finale to your delicious spread. Celebrate the Super Bowl in style with Football Cookies! (Photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)Your football fan friends will love your event even more when you’ve got every culinary base covered.

Start off your party and kick off your guests’ appetites with some snacks and appetizers first, then launch into your main courses, and bring your Super Bowl party to the perfect ending with a fine array of goodies and desserts toward the end of the game.

Snacks and Appetizer Ideas for your Super Bowl Party

Every loves a good snack like chips, Doritos, pretzels, veggies and dip, and the like. It’s always a good idea to have some of these items on hand… But you can really WOW your Super Bowl guests with the right selection of football party snacks and appetizers. Depending on your desire on the level of involvement, you can make everything by hand or you can lean on some food companies for a little assistance.

What comes to mind first in thinking about snacks and appetizers for a Super Bowl party – well, why not all the wonderful kinds of appetizers you and your favorite football fans would get to enjoy at a restaurant or your favorite bar? From hot wings and mozzarella sticks to chicken and cheese quesadillas, jalapeño poppers, and more, give your guests the football feast they’ll never forget. Oh, and don’t forget the chips and salsa!

Pace Salsa is a must-have for your Super Bowl Party!Chips and Salsa – a No-Brainer for Any Football Party
The Pace Foods “Pace Big Game” party pack makes a festive and hassle-free addition to your Super Bowl party menu. The party pack contains: “We’re #1” foam fingers; squeezable footballs, “Game Day” banner, tabletop football set; football balloons; referee drink holders, a copy of Pace’s 60th anniversary cookbook, a Pace four-pack, including Pace Picante Sauce, Pace Thick & Chunky Salsa, and the two latest additions to the Pace lineup of specialty salsas, Pace Pineapple Mango Chipotle Salsa and Pace Black Bean & Roasted Corn Salsa.

You might also try this recipe for Pace Sunset Dip:

PACE SUNSET DIP

Prep:
5 minutes
Makes: 12 servings

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup Pace® Picante Sauce
Tortilla chips

1.    Spread the cream cheese in a 9-inch microwave-safe pie plate.
2.    Sprinkle with the Cheddar cheese.
3.    Microwave on HIGH 2 to 3 minutes or until the Cheddar cheese melts.
4.    Top with the picante sauce.
5.    Serve with the chips.

With a salsa spread so wide, your football fans won’t know where to begin! The variety of Pace salsa styles ensures salsa lovers will each find something they like. This party pack is also a great option because it gives you some decorations without having to specially coordinate anything. Your guests will love the festive football foam fingers and squeezable footballs for sure.

Farm Rich Mozzarella Bites are a great addition to your Super Bowl Party menu! (Photo courtesy of Farm Rich)Frozen Appetizers that Taste Just as Great in Less the Time
Did you know you can put out quite a spread of appetizers with less work than you’d ever imagine? Farm Rich offers a tasty variety of “baked not fried”, ready-to-pop-in-the-oven (or microwave!) appetizers that excel in taste as well as ease of preparation.

As the host or hostess, you too deserve a chance to enjoy your own Super Bowl party rather than being locked away in the kitchen all day. That’s why it’s a great idea to get a little help from Farm Rich or another company offering frozen appetizer treats. Your guests would never believe these snacks weren’t made from scratch in your kitchen!

Farm Rich Grilled Chicken and Cheese Mini Quesadilla Slices – Consider the Farm Rich grilled chicken and cheese mini quesadilla slices, which offer a satisfying several bites on each piece. The mini chicken and cheese quesadilla slices feature delicious white meat chicken, a perfect blend of mozzarella, cheddar, and Monterey jack cheeses, and an unbeatable grilled stuffed crust. So good you would swear these mini quesadillas came from your favorite bar menu!

Farm Rich Mozzarella Bites – For larger crowds, you can’t go wrong with bite-sized pieces like Farm Rich Mozzarella Bites. These tasty tidbits offer a toasty pizzeria-style dough shell with a cheesy core of real mozzarella cheese. The cheese bites can be microwaved, but why not toss them in the oven for only six minutes for a toastier crust? Serve up a dish of your favorite marinara sauce and you’ll be all set in no time.

Farm Rich Cheese and Chicken with Bacon Panini – For a hearty grilled chicken club with virtually no prep time, try the Cheese and Chicken with Bacon Panini by Farm Rich. These scrumptious mini sandwiches feature a fine blend of 100% real mozzarella, parmesan, and Romano cheeses, a savory pesto sauce and grilled crust. These appetizer options take between 16 and 19 minutes in your oven, or up to one and a half minutes in the microwave for two slices at a time.

Farm Rich also offers other appetizer and bite-sized snack ideas such as mini stuffed pizza slices, battered mushrooms, and cheese sticks. You can find these easy, delicious appetizers in your grocer’s freezer (find a store near you at: http://www.farmrichfun.com/product-locator.php).

Dessert Ideas for your Super Bowl Party
Great American Cookies brand Cookie Cakes can be customized for your own special party. (Photo courtesy of Great American Cookies)From traditional chocolate chip cookies to brownies and ice cream, you can take the easy way out, or you can be creative with your Super Bowl party treats and desserts. Your main decision is whether you want to do your own baking or have your special Super Bowl desserts made for you.

Great American Cookies offers custom-decorated cookie cakes and cookie tins that could be the perfect fit for your football festivities. The cookie cakes are available in small, medium, and large sizes, and in a round or rectangular shape, ranging in price from $10.99 to $40.

Your guests will be dazzled with the football field cookie cake, which features icing markers and end zones as well as a football in the center. A round cookie cake can show off a festive football scene such as goal posts and a football or a football player with a cheer or jeer of your choice. Your guests will never forget thi
s tasty Super Bowl dessert.

Great American Cookies also offers cookie tins in a variety of flavors, including Original Chocolate Chip, Original Chocolate Chip with M&M’S® Chocolate Candies, Peanut Butter with M&M’S® Chocolate Candies, Peanut Butter Supreme, Sugar, Snickerdoodle, White Chunk Macadamia, Chewy Chocolate Supreme, Chewy Pecan Supreme, Domino, Double Fudge, Oatmeal Walnut Raisin, and Pecan Supreme.

If you find yourself too close to the Super Bowl to order desserts for your party, you can always whip up a sheet cake and decorate it like a football field for your party, or make up some brownies or chocolate chip cookies to delight your guests.

* * *

While you’re at it, why not read up on a few more exciting Super Bowl recipes and Super Bowl party tips? Check out exciting tips at Entertaining Escapades: Time to make those Super Bowl party plans. Shout out to a fellow Eagles fan!

About the Experts:

Farm Rich offers a wide variety of delicious frozen appetizers that you can microwave or heat in the oven. Visit Farm Rich online at www.farmrichfun.com or print a coupon for a dollar off your Farm Rich purchase.

Pace Foods offers a variety of specialty and original salsas and cheese salsas. Pace shares many recipes using salsa on the Web, including main courses, appetizers, snacks, and sides. Visit Pace online at http://www.pacefoods.com.

Great American Cookies offers customized cookie cakes as well as cookie tins for all occasions. Pricing is as follows: Cookie Cakes – Suggested Retail Price: Small (8 x 6 inch): $10.99 – $11.99; Medium (16 inch): $20.99 – $27.00; Large (30-40 inch): $29.99 – $40.00; Cookie Tins – Suggested Retail Price:  $16.99/12 cookies; $18.99/16 cookies. Visit online at http://www.greatamericancookies.com.

Romantic Weekend Escape for Couples in the Poconos – Skytop Lodge

For a secluded, romantic weekend getaway, surround yourself with nature and enjoy a place where you can focus on just the two of you. The Inn at Skytop in the Poconos (Photo by Justin Van Druff)Skytop Lodge in the Poconos of Pennsylvania is that kind of place. The resort is enveloped by natural wonders like waterfalls, visited by wildlife like deer and squirrels, and painted in the most beautiful colors as every season arrives. Take a trip to Skytop Lodge for a romantic weekend getaway you won’t forget.

Skytop Lodge offers all-inclusive packages so guests can preplan some of their trip without having to worry about paying for meals on the fly. Special bonus packages are available, such as the romance package, which includes a fresh floral arrangement in the room, champagne for two, and embroidered robes as gifts to take home.

Skytop Lodge in the Pennsylvania Poconos (Photo by Justin Van Druff)Review of Skytop Lodge, Poconos
My husband and I spent two days and one night at Skytop Lodge, where we found ourselves amid the peak of fall foliage in late October, surrounded by the most beautiful hues of yellow, red, and orange, reflecting off the lake at Skytop. An encircling walking trail presented a pleasant option to stroll around the lake with many picturesque photographic opportunities.

Our room sat above the 18th hole at The Inn at Skytop. A wrap-around deck style balcony stretched across the length of our room and the rest of the second floor rooms, facing the golf course below.  Our favorite feature, our own in-suite gas fireplace, offered instant warmth and true ambiance. The room also featured a flat-screen television, full size closet, loveseat, desk, and bathroom.

Customer service at Skytop Lodge surpassed all expectations. The Inn’s Windsor Dining Room overlooked part of the lake, and the wait staff truly aimed to please. The cuisine selections matched the upscale atmosphere of the lodge, and truly satisfied the palate. The food alone is an exceptional reason to visit the Skytop Lodge for a romantic weekend getaway.

On the lower level of the Lodge at Skytop, a tea room offered a quick bite and a variety of hot and cold beverages. While it was nothing glamorous, the turkey clubs we enjoyed with chips really hit the spot for a late afternoon lunch.

Skytop Lodge also offers a lunch buffet in the two main dining rooms, with such selections as fish, pork, chicken, and more, with dessert options and hot beverages as a finishing note.

All in all, we enjoyed a completely amazing time at Skytop Lodge. The atmosphere, the food, the activities, and the customer service all contributed to a perfect romantic anniversary weekend getaway.

Room with a balcony and a view at Skytop (Photo by Justin Van Druff)View of the green from the Inn at Skytop (Photo by Justin Van Druff)Room with a fireplace at Skytop Lodge (Photo by Justin Van Druff)

Things to Do in the Poconos at Skytop Lodge
The first thing many people notice about the activities at Skytop is the lovely golf course, meandering across the grounds with a few challenging holes. Beyond golf, Skytop offers everything from a spa to a florist shop, with both indoor activities and seasonal outdoor activities such as fishing, tennis, volleyball, and an exercise course, to name a few.

Beautiful fall foliage in October at Skytop Lodge (Photo by Justin Van Druff)Some seasonal activities and offerings at Skytop include:
•    Canoeing
•    Fishing
•    Geocaching
•    Ice Skating
•    Kayaking
•    Mountain Biking
•    Paintball

•    Rock Climbing
•    Shooting
•    Skiing
•    Sledding / Tobogganing
•    Snow Shoeing

Skytop’s Skyview Spa also offers couples spa packages for the romantic weekend getaway. On their romantic weekend, couples can enjoy massages (Swedish, Deep Tissue, Reflexology, and Sports), European facials, wraps, manicures, and pedicures. Guests can also relax at the pool or get a good workout in the Lodge’s fitness center with cardio and weightlifting equipment.

For More Information about Skytop Lodge:
For additional information or to view the Skytop Lodge in depth, please visit online at http://www.skytop.com.

Try Meditation with Movement to Change Your Life

Of course you’ve heard that a positive attitude can do wonders for your life and your achievements. Beautiful views can enhance meditation. (photo courtesy of Lisa Solonynko, morgueFile.com)But did you know that a positive attitude can also help you achieve your fitness goals when coupled with meditation and exercise?

When you focus on body, mind, and spirit, you get so much more out of your workout. Whether you want to improve a certain aspect of your life, kick a bad habit, or change your life’s direction altogether, meditation with movement can help you get there in a healthy and empowering way.

Ellie Peterson has taught exercise classes to every age group. Through her own program, she has raised her children as a single mother, quit smoking, lost weight, graduated from college, remarried, and started her own business. She says she has learned to love and accept herself, which is something that will guide her for a lifetime.

With both a book and instructional DVD on the market, Ellie Peterson wants to promote the helpful concept of meditation with movement. She kindly shares some tips and additional information, exclusively for Life Love Beauty readers.
Free your mind, body, and spirit with meditation. (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)
Q. Life Love Beauty – Could you please tell us some ways that meditation can change or improve someone’s life?  
A. Ellie Peterson – Meditation while moving can change lives because the power of the person’s mind, body and being are working together. Meditation has helped me be aware of who I am so that I can embrace life and love myself. Being at ease with myself takes a lot of the stress out of every day living.
Q. Life Love Beauty – Can meditation help the following things, or others?

Beauty of nature can enhance your experience. (photo courtesy of morgueFile.com)A. Ellie Peterson – Meditating while moving has helped myself and others:

– maintain a positive “can do” attitude
– release stress and tension
– replace bad habits like smoking with positive habits
– increase self-esteem and improve self-image
– feel energized and excited about life
Q. Life Love Beauty – How often should people meditate if wanting to change or improve something in their life? Daily / Weekly? How long?

A. Ellie Peterson – I have found that meditating while moving works best everyday.  If a person can apply the technique for even 5 minutes that is helpful.  We wouldn’t think of not eating every day. So it is with the movement meditation.  For the body to reap benefits, I recommend working out at least 20 – 30 minutes a day.

Beautiful views can enhance meditation. (photo courtesy of Lisa Solonynko, morgueFile.com)

Q. Life Love Beauty – Does more meditation = better results, more goals achieved?  

A. Ellie Peterson – Change occurs slowly – one movement and one affirmation mantra at a time.  People need to listen to their own bodies and self talk. The meditation provides clarity and allows a person’s own answers to come. Living in the present moment can be a result.
Q. Life Love Beauty – How do people get started in meditation? Can they just do it, or will they be better off to take a class or read a book, etc.?  

A. Ellie Peterson – It depends on how a person learns.  I recommend trying meditation on your own by reading a book and then perhaps attending a class if the person wants more hands on instructions.

 

About the Expert:
Ellie Peterson is an author and meditation / exercise instructor who focuses on positive affirmations, yoga movements, and aerobics in her DVD, Power of Positive Aerobics, and in her book, Meditative Movements – Affirm Your Self, Move Your Body, Change Your Life. For more information or to purchase her book or DVD, visit Ellie’s Meditative Movements online at http://www.meditativemovements.com.

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.

Golf Lovers Gift Guide – Great Gifts for Guys and Girls Who Love Golf

Golfers open the door to gift giving with a well-known hobby that welcomes many different kinds of equipment, accessories, apparel items, books, gift sets, and more. Many companies offer special gift ideas for golfers – and a number of them have special gift offerings for female golfers as well as the men. FLOR Putt Up or Shut Up Putting GreenFrom a clever golf book to a new putter and everything in between, open your mind to the possibilities and hopefully you will find that perfect golf gift for your golfer.

Consider these golf related gifts for the golfer in your life. We’ve looked high and low to find a fine selection of gifts for guys and girls who love golf, and we’ve come up with this list of golf accessories, golf apparel, golf books, golf gift sets, golf equipment, or golf training and excursions.

Golf Lovers Gift Guide – Golf Accessories & Apparel

Golfers love golf accessories for the simple fact that companies keep coming out with better and more advanced items. Golf apparel has also come a long way, with the latest performance wear featuring lightweight, moisture-zapping fabric. Golfers can even enjoy golf related jewelry, like cufflinks, which are a conversation piece as much as a reminder of the golfer’s pastime. Consider these exciting golf accessories and apparel for your male or female golfer.

Adidas a381 adilibria L Sunglasses, available at Amazon.com

ADIDAS Adivista a165 Matt Copper 6051 Sunglasses, available at Amazon.com

ADIDAS Golf Eyewear

ADIDAS Women’s Adilibria Golf Eyewear features a fashionable look coupled with a functional design. These hot mahogany-colored shades are available in size large or small, and offer:

  • Double-snap Nose Bridge Technology with Traction Grip (adjustable nose piece)
  • LST Lens Technology (harmonizes light fluctuation to protect eyes; enhances color contrast between the horizon, your ball and the green, eliminating eyestrain)
  • Performance Insert Compatible (accepts a prescription insert so you don’t need to worry about your vision)
  • Quick Release Hinge (no screws to loosen or tighten)

ADIDAS Men’s Adivista Golf Eyewear delivers supreme fashion with true fit and utility for golfers. These dynamic golf shades feature:

  • Light Stabilization Technology (LST) lens tints
  • De-centered Vision Advantage PC Lens
  • Rx Ready
  • Golf-specific Lens Design
  • Lightweight SPX Construction
  • Tri.Fit System
  • Double-Snap Nose Bridge
  • New Temple Shape
  • Quick Release Hinge

Cost: from $119.80 – $159.95

Buy Golf Eyewear: at Amazon.com.

Adidas Adilibria S Women’s Multisport Sunglasses – $119.95

Adidas a381 adilibria L Women’s Sunglasses – $119.80

ADIDAS Adivista a164 Black 6050 Sunglasses – $129.95

ADIDAS Adivista a165 Matt Copper 6051 Sunglasses – $159.95

Fore River Bag - Canvas Tote

Fore River Bag – Canvas Tote

This fashionable golf tote is the perfect size (7.5” X 6.5” X 3.5) to carry around your phone, keys, money, spare golf balls, etc. A wide selection of colors and patterns are available for each handmade, hand-printed bag.

Cost: $49.00

Buy the Bag: online at www.annveronica.com.

PowerSox by GoldToe

Gold Toe PowerSox Anatomical Performance Fit Socks with Left / Right Technology

Keep your feet comfortable while playing sports with the anatomically correct design of Power Sox APF. These socks are made to specifically fit the contours of each your left and right foot by providing extra cushion where you need it and support for your arch – don’t worry there is an “L” and a “R” on each sox in case you are confused.

A feature that you will immediately notice is the elimination of the bothersome seam at the toe.  Since Power Sox is a Gold Toe brand, you can be sure you are getting a quality product. Power Sox come in a variety of colors so you can match with them with your golf bag, tennis shoes, or dodgeball uniform.

Cost: from $10.99 to 26.99

Buy PowerSox: Visit www.powersox.com for ordering or store locations.

Golf Crest Cufflinks

Golf Crest Cufflinks

We all know golfers clean up nice, so a fine set of golf themed cufflinks may be just the gift for your golfer.

These cufflinks feature two crossed clubs above a golf ball with a crown centered above. Set by Umo Lorenzo.

Cost: $21.95

Buy Cufflinks: online at www.ties.com.

Crossed Clubs Golf Golfer Silver Cufflinks with Presentation Box, available at Amazon.com

Crossed Clubs Golf / Golfer Silver Cufflinks with Presentation Box

Crossed golf club cufflinks offer an elegant way to show off a love of golf. Golfers can enjoy their game even while they aren’t playing with these lovely rhodium-plated silver cufflinks.

Cost: $34.99

Buy Cufflinks: Online at Amazon.com.

Sterling Silver Golf Ball & Tee Chain Bar Cuff Links, available at Amazon.com

Sterling Silver Golf Ball & Tee Chain Bar Cuff Links

These golf cufflinks are adorable, featuring a sterling silver golf ball with tee that is actually the back of the cufflink. The design is eyecatching and classy – a perfect addition to any golfer’s wardrobe.

Cost: $44.99

Buy Cufflinks: online at Amazon.com.

Cartoon Golf clubs for the Golfer in Your Life with Presentation Box, available at Amazon.com

Cartoon Golf Clubs for the Golfer in Your Life with Presentation Box

These cartoon style golf cufflinks are of rhodium-plated silver construction and make a nice addition to any golfer’s cufflink collection. The design features a comical fat golf bag with clubs sticking out.

Cost: $28.99

Buy Cufflinks: online at Amazon.com.

Check out other gifts for golfers, such as golf books, golf gift sets, golf equipment, and golf excursions and events…


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