Ravensburger Puzzles “Wrap Up” Fun This Holiday Season!

Ravensburger Puzzles bring new life to the puzzle world.   I received this great puzzle to include in our Holiday 2012 Gift Guide and I was so amazed at what Ravensburger has done for the world of puzzles!   Ravensburger Puzzles are the first to add video animation ( which they call Augmented Reality) to four new puzzles….just in time for holiday gift giving.

I have always enjoyed jigsaw puzzles and I can’t wait to get started on this 1000 piece “Underwater Realm” beauty.  We always have a house full of company over the holidays and I like to have a Jigsaw puzzle out on the coffee table so everyone can get involved in putting it together.  Sometimes we even have a contest to see who gets to put in the last piece!  

Now you are probably wondering what “Augmented Reality” means.  This is one of the most exciting technologies around and it brings these jigsaw puzzles to life!  Simply assemble the puzzle, download the free App to your iPhone or iPad, then hold your iPhone or iPad over the puzzle and you will be amazed at what you see!  

The “Underwarer Realm” puzzle that I received portrays a variety of marine animals and when the iPhone screen is placed over the completed puzzle,  a “Find the Fish” game begins which allows the puzzler to explore this underwater world even further.

Ravensburger has three other Augmented Reality Puzzles that would also make great holiday gifts.

“Lofoten, Norway”  This 1000 piece puzzle makes a trip to the fjords of Norway possible.  This puzzle depicts a  beautiful summer scene which can be transformed into a snowy winter wonderland by simply tipping your iPad or iPhone Screen.  Once you have downloaded the free App, you can sit back and watch the spring scene turn into a winter wonderland!


“Above the Roofs of Paris”  Once you’ve completed this 1000 piece puzzle, you can take a spectacular night-time tour over the rooftops of Paris!  Hover your iPhone or iPad over the puzzle and watch an amazing 360 degree tour of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower.    


”  Animals of Africa”  This 1000 piece puzzle shows an expansive safari scene which can be brought to life by tracking over the individual animals.


Another great puzzle creation by Ravensburger is the Puzzleball.  We received a 60 piece Christmas Puzzleball which actually makes an ornament when completed.  All of the pieces are curved — with no straight edges.  




Ravensburger  has a 125 year history as a toy and game manufaturer.  Visit their website to see all of the great products they have to offer:   Ravensburger Website    

The Augmented Reality Puzzles sell for $ 19.99  and are recommended for ages 10+. 

The Christmas Puzzleballs sell for under $ 15.00 and are recommended for ages 12+. 

Where to Buy   

You can order these online, direct from Ravensburger :  Ravensburger Online Store

Or, for a store locator, click here:  Store Locator for Ravensburger Puzzles

Note:  Ravensburger and Grand Communications supplied us with a sample of the Ravensburger Underwater Realm Puzzle for this review.   We also received one Christmas Puzzleball.   No compensation was received.  These are my honest and true opinions.  

Pet Gifts for the Holidays

My daughter, Kacy, sent this picture to me last night.  She said it made her think of my dog Max. We both laughed until we cried!   Max has been with me almost 14 years and he really thinks he is a little boy with fur — not a dog.  He has travelled all over the world with me – content to ride in his carry bag.  He follows me every step I take.  When I’m working on my blog posts, he is on the chair beside me, watching me work.


 When I’m cooking in the kitchen – he’s watching… and hoping for some little taste of whatever I’m cooking.  The other night I was making Eggplant Parmesan for the Velvet Palate wine pairing and guess what… Max was supervising!

Max even made it into one of my YouTube Blooper Videos!   See Max’s YouTube Debut Here


Max also wanted to help with our video review of some of these great gifts for dogs.  To watch the Make Life Special YouTube Video Review with my “Little Helper”  Click here:  Pet Gifts for the Holidays

Here are some great ideas for gifts for your “Little Helpers” this holiday season:

Loving Pets Payton Double Diner

Loving Pets introduces a Black Label collection of Vintage single and double diners for dogs.  Max’s diner is Matte black vintage with scrolls to give this diner an Art Deco flare.  It has no-skid rubber feet and removable stainless steel bowls that are dishwasher safe.  

Sunbeam Pets Microplush Warming Pet Pad

Max absolutely loves this!  He snuggles into this at night and enjoys a toasty warm bed.  This is really soothing comfort for him and any dog would appreciate this gift.  Check out Sunbeam Pets to see all of their heated pet pads and heated pet beds.

  • It has a soft removable microplush cover that is machine washable. 
  •  It can be used with any style of pet bed.
  • It’s great for aging pets ( like Max) because it gives comforting warmth 
  • Exclusively available at PetSmart.  It sells for $ 49.99 and is only available in PetSmart stores – not online.
Sherpa Pop Tote EVA Airline Carrier
Max loves his Sherpa Pop Tote Carrier!  He really feels safe in it.  This is super lightweight and includes a convenient detachable carry strap.  Max goes into his carrier when I’m doing my YouTube videos.  That way he can watch what’s happening without the risk of him trying to be included in the video!  
This great carrier is approved for airline travel, and guaranteed under Sherpa Pet Group’s proprietary Guaranteed On Board program.  This carrier features a fully collapsible design that creates a convenient carry case.  Check out Sherpapet.com to see all of their great carriers. 
Here is their store locator:   Sherpa Pet Store Locator
Evanger’s Nothing But Natural Jerky Treats
Every dog loves treats…and Max is no exception!  Evanger’s Nothing But Natural Jerky Treats make a perfect stocking stuffer. These chewy jerky treats pack the juicy flavor of naturally-raised meat and farm- fresh fruits and vegetables into every treat.  The bite siz, low-calorie treats ( only 6 calories per treat !) are easy for dogs to eat and are perfect for training.  All of Evanger’s food and treats are sourced, blended and packaged in the USA, in the kitchen of Evangers
Loving Pets Grill-icious Gog Treats
Add sizzle to your pet treat assortment with Loving Pets’ new Grill-icious, 100% all-natural Beef, Chicken and Turkey treats.  Made in the USA from USA-grown ingredients, these lean and tasty meat treats mixed with a touch of antioxident-rich sweet potato will light a fire in your dog’s taste buds ! Each treat is naturally seared over a hot grill to seal in a juicy flavor dogs love.  These are available in both regular and bit-sized treats.  Check out the Loving Pets  Website for all of their products and some great offers.  Here is their store locator:   Loving Pets Store Locator
Note:  Propel Communications provided me with samples of  the Sunbeam Pets Microplush Warming Pet Pad,  the Loving Pets Layton  Double Diner,  Evanger’s Nothing But Natural Jerky Treats, Sherpa Pop Tote EVA Airline Carrier and Loving Pet’s Grill-icious Dog Treats for this review.  No compensation was received.  These are my true and honest opinions.


Core Bamboo Cutting Board

My Core Bamboo Cutting Board is one of the favorite things in my kitchen.  I fell in love with it the minute I saw it in the store and I knew I HAD to have it!  I think it is absolutely beautiful!  Now, I can tell you I have other cutting boards in my kitchen – but this is the one I ALWAYS use.  You can check out any of my blog posts or YouTube videos and you can see this great little board in action.

You can watch the Make Life Special Video Review here:  Core Bamboo Cutting Board  Video Review

I bought this Core Bamboo cutting board for three reasons.  

  1. I thought it was a beautiful piece to add to my kitchen.  The lines are perfect and the bamboo has such a great feel to it.  
  2. I have a knife set that I also love and I have always heard that Bamboo is a very knife friendly surface.  
  3. It is so attractive, I thought it would also make a great board for a cheese tray
After I bought my cutting board, I began reading more about Bamboo.  Bamboo is one of the most remarkable resources on Earth.  As a member of the grass family, not a tree, it grows at a much quicker rate than any other wood.  From start to harvest ( 60 to 70 feet tall) it can take just four years.  Bamboo is naturally antimicrobial, therefore stopping bacteria from growing.  It is also one of the strongest yet lightest  materials around.  What is probably most remarkable is its unique extensive root system.  When bamboo is harvested its natural root system spreads and automatically regenerates itself.

After use, just hand wash the Core Bamboo cutting board in warm soapy water and wipe dry. It’s that easy! If your bamboo cutting board ever starts to look tired – just give it a light coat of food safe mineral oil and it will look good as new.  

My cutting board is from the Core Bamboo Pansy Collection and retails for $ 30.00.  That makes it a great holiday gift or hostess gift.  Any cook would be thrilled to receive one of these cutting boards.  

I bought my Core Bamboo cutting board in a department store but you can also purchase them online – direct from Core Bamboo.  Click here to check out all of their products:  Core Bamboo Online   They are currently offering free shipping on orders over $ 50.00.

Note:  I received one Core Bamboo cutting board sample for this review.  No compensation was received.  These are my true and honest opinions.  


Gleegums Make Your Own Chocolate Kit

Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  8+




I love dark chocolate.  Before this kit, I only had a vague idea how it was made.  Turns out, it is a lot of fun to make chocolate!  This is not the sort of project that an eight year old child needs to be doing by themselves.  But, with adult supervision, this is a fantastic project for kids!  This project allows kids to learn about the history of chocolate and experience the science behind this delicious treat.


Each kit comes with organic cocoa butter, organic cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, starter crystals, a temperature indicator, paper candy liners, instructions and the story of chocolate.


The process couldn’t be much simpler.  You can either use a double boiler or your microwave.  I tested this product while my son was sleeping, so I chose to use my microwave (clanging around in my pots and pans would have ended his nap very quickly!).  Melt the cocoa butter.  Add the cocoa powder & sugar.  Stir for a good bit.  Let the mix cool to the right temperature (it took almost 25 minutes for mine to cool enough) and add the starter crystals.  Voila!  You’ve made chocolate!  Spoon it into the wrappers and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to set.  Then, enjoy!  I know I did!


Here is a picture of my finished product (I filled 10 wrappers… not all of them lasted long enough to get photographed…):



 And, the chocolate is delicious!  You can add vanilla, marshmallows, graham cracker crumbles, coconut or any other ingredient that pairs well with dark chocolate.  I chose to keep them plain so I would know how it tasted.  I’m thinking next time I will make half with graham cracker crumbles and half with shredded coconut.  Mmmm…


This will make a fantastic gift for any kid over the age of 8.  The younger the kid, the more adult supervision needed.  But, even the adults will enjoy this kit!


Where to Buy


The Make Your Own Chocolate Kit (as well as their Make Your Own Chewing Gum and Make Your Own Gummies kits) is available at your local Cost Plus World Market and Whole Foods Markets.


Priced at $13.95, you can purchase the Make Your Own Chocolate Kit (It’s listed under DIY Candy Kit – Chocolate) directly from the Gleegum Website  or find a local retail store by using their Store Locator  

For my fellow Amazon shoppers, you can purchase a Make Your Own Chocolate Kit HERE!    



For Additional Information:

Check out Glee Gum’s Facebook  and  Gleegums Twitter    


Reviewed by: Nicole


Note: Glee Gum supplied me with one Make Your Own Chocolate Kit for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

Shimmer and Bliss Scarves For the Holidays

Here is and great holiday gift idea for Mom and the tweeners who borrow everything… the beautiful Shimmer and Bliss silk scarves.

Shimmer and Bliss scarves are made of hand-dyed softest silk and are versatile additions to any wardrobe.  There are so many different ways to wear these scarves.  They can be transformed into tops, skirts, sarongs, shrugs, belt or head wraps.    Click here to get some amazing ideas:  How to wear a scarf 

One Scarf, 12 Ways- Shimmer and Bliss-

One is not like the other in the Shimmer and Bliss dying studio. Each hand-dyed, air-silk scarf is a stand alone statement of style and fashion. Each piece is a work of art and a fantastic flash of color.  With dozens of colors to choose from, men and women will find one, two or three to match the shades of the seasons. Not only are a there a variety of colors and collections to choose from but one scarf can be worn at least a dozen ways. From a top to a skirt, as a belt or a head wrap, it’s the only piece in your closet that can fool your friends if your wore it more than two days in a row. Because of it’s versatility, no one will know it’s the same scarf.

A favorite in the celebrity gifting suite at the 39th annual Daytime Emmy’s, each Shimmer and Bliss scarf comes in an eco-friendly stainless steel canister that can be reused or re-purposed. Shimmer and Bliss scarves are sold online,  in select boutiques and department stores throughout Austin, the state of Texas, VeraMeat New York and at the Duke Cancer Center Belk boutique in North Carolina.

Note:  I received one Shimmer and Bliss scarf to review for the Holiday Gift Guide.  No compensation was received.  These are my honest and true opinions.

Host Adjustable Wine Aerator

The Host Adjustable Wine Aerator allows you to instantly decant any wine from a slight aeration ( equal to 1 hour of regular decanting) to extreme aeration (equal to 6 hours of regular decanting).  Just turn the metal band, pick an aeration setting and decant your wine in a matter of seconds. 

Watch how easy the Host Adjustable Wine Aerator is to use….view Vickie’s Make Life Special Video Review by clicking  here:  Host Adjustable Wine Aerator Review

I was very impressed with the variable settings, the ease of use and how easy it is to clean.  We definitely felt it improved the taste of our wine when we aerated it.  I used the “6” setting for our robust red wines but I like having the option of lower settings for more delicate wines.  

This would be a perfect gift for anyone over 21 who enjoys wine.  It would also make a terrific hostess gift for the holiday season.  

Watch the Host Video by clicking here:  Host Adjustable Wine Aerator Video

The adjustable Host Aerator sells for $ 40.00 and is available in most department stores and wine shops.  However, you can also buy it online here:  Host Shop

For all of the Amazon fans, here is the link to buy it there:  Host Wine Aerator at Amazon.com

I reviewed the handheld unit.  Host also offers a Host Wine Pourer that fits right into the top of the wine bottle and aerates the wine as you pour it into your glass.  This sells for under $20.00.

Note:  I received a sample of the Host Adjustable Wine Aerator to review for this Holiday Gift Guide .  No compensation was received.  These are my true and honest opinions.


World Vision – The Gift That Keeps Giving

World Vision gets down to business with the true spirit of Christmas.  We all love giving gifts ( and getting them).  But, my Dad taught me a lesson about giving many years ago.  I still remember it to this day and I’d like to share it with you.

I was not raised with money.  In fact, far from it.  But I was fortunate to have an abundance of love in my family and all of my basic needs were met.  One year, when I was in grade school, our teacher decided to teach the class how to knit.  She sent us home with a list of supplies we were to bring to school the next day — knitting needles, yarn, etc.  Dad took me to the store that night to buy my supplies.  As we were standing in front of the knitting supplies, Dad asked me about a little girl in my class that I had been telling him about who really lived in poverty. Her name was Beth and Dad asked if I thought she would be able to afford her own yarn and knitting needles.  I told him that I doubted it.  Then my Dad did a very nice thing.  He put two sets of knitting needles and two bundles of yarn in our basket.  As we checked out, I realized that the added cost for my supplies alone was probably a stretch for us, but buying the extra supplies for Beth was really generous.  Then Dad told me that I was to give Beth’s supplies to the teacher and I was to never tell anyone in the class that the supplies had come from us.  He said you should never brag when you do something nice for someone else.  That experience taught me an important lesson about giving.  I will never forget the expression on Beth’s face when the teacher handed her the knitting supplies.  

And now this brings me to World Vision.  What better time of year to give an unselfish gift than the holidays.  There are so many people all over the world who are less fortunate than us.  Many people are starving and World Vision offers all of us the chance to give a gift that can change a life forever.

The World Vision Catalog is quite unique.  You can view the catalog here:  World Vision Christmas Catalog.  On page 3 for instance, you can donate $75 a give a goat that will save a child’s life with milk, cheese and even fertilizer for their garden.  You can see how goats are saving families at worldvisiongift.org/Goats  .   On page 5, you can give hungry children the gift of 2 chickens for $ 25 and this gift will supply them with a daily supply of eggs.  Chickens are easy to breed — so your gift will grow and multiply to share with neighbors and ultimately make life better for the whole village.

The catalog offers lots of choices in lots of price ranges.  You can give sheep, ducks,  a family fishing kit, pigs, fruit trees and the list goes on.  For a gift of between $ 35 and $ 140 you can send a girl to school.  Most girls in developing countries don’t finish primary school.  Most have to go to work or stay home and care for siblings, but World Vision can change that.  

You can select a gift to give in the name of a friend, relative or co-worker.  Your friend or co-worker will then receive a personalized card that features a photo and description of your special gift.  You can also send e-cards or print your own card.  Either way, this alternative gift idea is sure to touch everyone on your holiday list and bring back the true spirit of Christmas.

So, I hope you will take a look at some of these alternative gift ideas which will honor the recipient and create a lasting impact for people in need.

World Vision supplied me with a sample of the coffee set to use in this Holiday Gift Guide review.  No compensation was received.  These are my true and honest opinions.



Spread Holiday Cheer with Hallmark!

Spread Holiday Cheer with Hallmark….With a variety of card collections and sentiments, Hallmark can help you share the spirit of the holidays as you wish your family and friends a happy holiday season!

I have to admit that I am always the person in the card shop listening to all of the talking and  singing cards.  I LOVE them!  I hate to give away my age, but I can remember when there were no talking or singing cards.  All I can say is cards have come a long way…..Now we have so many different ways to spread holiday cheer!

Two of the really great cards I love are the cards with interactive recordable greetings and the new interactive countdown greetings.

The Interactive Recordable Greetings ( like the card pictured above on the left) allow you to record a personal message.  The adorable Mickey Mouse card on the left lets your child record his or her wish list to let Santa, Grandma or someone else special know what they would like to receive for Christmas.  This card is fun for all ages.  I think the Recordable Wish List card is perfect for little ones who aren’t yet able to write a wish list for Santa.  In fact, I’m sending this card off to my grandson, Teddy, tomorrow!  I can’t wait to get it back with his ( and his Mom’s) voices telling this Nana exactly what he wants for Christmas!

I also really like the Interactive Countdown Greetings. With the help of Mickey Mouse ( the card on the right in the picture above), or one of Santa’s friendly elves, these cards double as a holiday greeting and a functioning countdown clock.  Display the card and watch the days and hours tick away, bringing you closer to the excitement of Christmas Day!

Hallmark also offers their regular assorted boxed cards and the Signature Collection cards.  

Visit Hallmark.com to see all of the fun and exciting cards and gifts they offer.  

For a Hallmark Store Locator, click here:  Hallmark Store Locator  

You can shop their products online as well:  Hallmark Online Store 

Right now, Hallmark is offering 40% off on your personalized cards plus free shipping when you order online and enter the code:  CYBER40 at checkout.

Also, don’t miss out on the Keepsake Ornament “Gift of Memories Weekend”.  December 7 – 9, 2012.  This event is only at Hallmark Gold Crown Stores.  You can get bonus points, earn $ 5.00 plus more.

Note:  Hallmark supplied me with card samaples  for this review in our Holiday Gift Guide.  No compensation was received.  These are my true and honest opinions.


Robust Risotto

Risotto originated in Italy and is a rice dish that is cooked in broth to a creamy (dreamy!!)  consistency.  Risotto can be served as a first course – with some crusty bread – as we are doing  here.  As a first course, it is great paired with a Brut Champagne.  Check out this great pairing at Velvet Palate.

Risotto is typically cooked in a meat, fish or vegetable based broth.  This recipe uses chicken broth ( low sodium) .  Many types of Risotto contain Parmesan cheese, butter and onion.  This recipe uses Parmesan cheese, butter and shallots.  Then we ramp it up to robust by adding 1/4 pound diced asparagus, 1/4 pound sliced shiitake mushrooms and Prosciutto (which is a type of Italian bacon).

You have to use a high starch rice to make risotto and this recipe uses Arborio Rice.  This type of rice has the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch and so it is stickier than the long grain rice varieties.  

While there are many variations on Risotto, the basic preparation remains the same.  

  • The rice is first cooked in onion ( or shallots ) and butter or olive oil to coat each grain in a film of fat.  
  • Then, red or white wine is added and has to be absorbed by the grains.  This recipe uses white wine.
  • When the wine is absorbed, the heat is raised to medium and very hot stock ( I used chicken stock in this recipe) is added in small amounts while stirring gently, almost constantly ( this process is what creates the smooth creamy-textured liquid).  
  • At this point, it is removed from the heat and the finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is vigorously stirred in to make the texture as creamy and smooth as possible.  
  • This recipe adds the cooked asparagus and mushrooms at this point and is then topped with the scrumptious cooked prosciutto for a robust and over the top risotto!             

Robust Risotto
Serves: 4
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth, heated
  • 4 ounces diced prosciutto
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ¼ pound asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into small pieces
  • ¼ pound sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1½ cups arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine, heated
  • 1 cup to 1½ cups shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Simmer the broht in a saucepan. Keep warm.
  2. Heat the wine in a separate saucepan and keep warm.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to large pan and heat. Saute the prosciutto for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from skillet and set aside.
  4. Add the asparagus and saute 2 minutes. As they begin to get tender, add the sliced mushroom and cook an additional 3 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is removed. ( do not include any of this liquid or the risotto will not be creamy!). Remove from skillet and set aside.
  5. Add the additional 1 tablesppon of olive oil to the skillet and sweat the shallots and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the DRY rice and saute until each grain is coated in oil.
  6. Deglaze the pan with the warm white wine and stir until completely absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes.
  7. Now, start adding the hot broth to the pan in ½ cup increments; simmer and stir frequently until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next, about 45 minutes total.
  8. Lastly, stir in the cooked asparagus, mushrooms and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Season with salt and pepper, top with cooked prosciutto.
  9. Enjoy!!

Be sure to check out Nicole’s Mushroom Risotto which is a more delicate risotto recipe with a creamy cheesy texture.

This Robust Risotto is a little more time consuming than my other Make Life Special recipes but I was requested to feature this recipe.  I think it is really worth the effort because the layers of flavors in this dish are outstanding.  This really is very easy to make.  Here are the how-to photos:



Crisply cooked Prosciutto ….


Heating the liquids….


Saute the asparagus and then add the mushrooms….


Ladle the broth into the rice…


Grate the cheese…


Ingredients ready to add to the Risotto mixture….


Risotto after it has absorbed all of the liquid…


Stir in the cheese, asparagus and mushrooms….

Risotto is great to serve as a first course with crusty bread or as a side dish with pork.

Remember,” Let’s make life special by sharing great food with our family and friends!”  


Fall Tablescape


Fall Tablescape Idea

Here is a Fall Tablescape idea.  The round table was covered with a black round tablecloth and then topped with a square paisley suede fabric ( rust color) that was trimmed with rust and green fringe.  I used green napkins with burgundy and rust beaded napkin rings.  The eggplant plates with burnished metal charger plates completed the look.  



Make Life Special
2 Cypress Rd Litchfield, IL 62056 US
Phone: 217-556-8297 Website: http://www.makelifespecial.com