Reaching out in times of need

Web-based support networks offer help

Angie Pennington, left, and Gina Campbell met face-to-face for the first time after emailing for more than 14 years.

Angie Pennington, left, and Gina Campbell met face-to-face for the first time after emailing for more than 14 years.

Angie Pennington was a nervous wreck during the entire flight.

She worried and fretted over what was to come. But it wasn’t a fear of flying that had her stomach in knots.

It was concern about meeting the woman that awaited her when she landed.

The woman Pennington was to meet wasn’t a complete stranger to her, even though they had never actually met. They had communicated through email for more than a decade. They had shared personal stories and served as sources of support during times of tragedy.

“She was a great support for me when I needed it most,” Pennington says. “We were a support for each other.”

After trying for several years to have another baby, Pennington suffered a miscarriage in 2000. She was overwhelmed by a sense of loss and turned to an Internet support group for help. It was there, in an Internet chat room, that she met Gina Campbell, who was going through a similar experience.

The two women lived almost 2,500 miles apart, but they emailed and offered support to one another for more than 14 years.

“We have developed a friendship over the miles that has survived thanks to the Internet,” Pennington says.

Pennington is the office manager at Mountain Telephone in West Liberty. Campbell is a homemaker near Seattle, Washington, but broadband Internet erased the miles and brought them together.

Pennington knows now that there was no need to be nervous the day they met in a hotel lobby in Seattle. The two women hit it off great and haven’t looked back.

Pennington was in Seattle for a conference and met Campbell for the first time.

Pennington was in Seattle for a conference and met Campbell for the first time.

“It wasn’t like we were seeing each other for the first time,” she says. “It was like we had known each other for so long.”

Campbell says Pennington wasn’t the only one worried about the meeting. She was afraid 14 years communicating online would somehow not be the same in person, but there was no need for concern.

“I didn’t want our relationship to change once we met, but the second I saw her it was as if I had known her all my life,” she says.

Pennington and Campbell, both of whom have had more children, continue to communicate regularly. They continue to email, text and share pictures of their families. And although they have only met in person that one time, they continue to be a big part of each other’s lives and are making plans to see each other again.

“It amazes me how two moms all the way across the country can have so much in common, share the same concerns for our children and be concerned about the same issues,” Pennington says. “She’s become one of my best friends, and she is someone I rely on for advice.”

Online Support

Even though they had just met, they say it was if they had known each other all their lives.

Even though they had just met, they say it was if they had known each other all their lives.

Support groups bring together people with similar experiences and situations to help each other cope with difficult times. Members of a support group typically share their personal experiences and may also offer practical advice and tips.

To find a support group, search online for state or national organizations devoted to your condition or situation. Email lists, newsgroups, chat rooms, blogs and social networking sites are available for people in need of support for almost any reason.

A taste for technology

Morgan County ‘Foodies’ are feasting on Facebook

By Brian Lazenby

David Bradley, left, looks over Larry Lewis’ shoulder at food photos posted on their Facebook page.

David Bradley, left, looks over Larry Lewis’ shoulder at food photos posted on their Facebook page.

David Bradley’s grandmother is responsible for his love of food and cooking. He remembers that she always had a snack waiting for him when he got in from school. She taught him about canning and freezing. But most of all, she loved to cook with her family.

“She always wanted her grandchildren to be with her in the kitchen,” Bradley says. “She would walk you through a recipe every step of the way. I don’t think she ever made anything that tasted bad in her life.”

Larry Lewis shares a similar love for food and preparing delicious dishes.

“I have always had a passion for cooking food,” he says. “For me, it’s a stress reliever.”

The two Morgan County men began posting a few recipes on Facebook along with photos of their latest culinary creations. They soon learned they had quite a following. As a result, they launched their own page, “Morgan County Foodies,” that has grown to reach more than 400 like-minded food lovers from all across the country.

“It’s a group of people that come together to share recipes, food ideas and their love of cooking and eating,” Lewis says.

Most of the members on the Morgan County Foodie page are local, but some are from other parts of the state, as well as from Florida, Ohio and beyond. And even as the number of members continues to grow, it hasn’t lost that local feel.

“It really seems like about 10 people sitting around the dinner table talking about food,” Lewis says. “Even though we are miles apart, it feels like we are dining together. We may begin talking about a recipe, but it could turn into an hour-long conversation about anything.”

Bradley says most of his food is typical country cooking, and he tries to use as many locally grown products as possible. Lewis’ recipes are often less traditional. Bradley calls them “exotic” and says he uses a lot of unusual spices and flavors. But that is one of the great things about technology and social media. Broadband Internet, which they get from Mountain Telephone, connects them to other influences and cooking styles, bringing them together like a giant melting pot.

“Technology brings in new influences and new ideas for cooking,” Bradley says. “There really are a lot of great cooks out there, and this network brings them together.”

While the group’s interactions have thus far been limited to digital dining, Bradley and Lewis say they are planning some potluck dinners where members can meet and socialize with one another in person and share some of their favorite recipes.

“Food can really make you feel good,” Bradley says.

For more information about the group, or to join and share your love of cooking, visit Facebook and search: “Morgan County Foodies.”

The Morgan County Foodies group mostly comes from the local area, but there are some members from as far away as Florida. They are a diverse group with different specialties, but they have one thing in common ­­— a passion for cooking and eating.

The Chop Shop

Locally owned, locally grown

By Brian Lazenby

Jonathan Whitt, owner of The Chop Shop and JSW Farms, offers homegrown meats in Hazel Green.

Jonathan Whitt, owner of The Chop Shop and JSW Farms, offers homegrown meats in Hazel Green.

Farmers markets are readily available to offer locally grown produce and promote the benefits of buying locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Locally raised meats, however, are a little tougher to find.

But The Chop Shop, a meat processing facility in Hazel Green, is working to make sure area consumers have meat choices that come from area farms.

Consumers can rest easy knowing that all meat processed at the facility comes from farms in this area and is raised by local farmers. Meat processed at the facility is available at select area supermarkets or at The Chop Shop’s retail store.

“Everyone is looking for a top-quality cut of meat, and they want their dollar to stretch further,” says Paul Marsillett, plant manager at The Chop Shop. “We are making that happen.”

Inside the retail store, consumers will find coolers full of locally grown beef, pork, lamb and goat as well as other goods produced in this area such as spices and jellies. There will almost always be freshly cooked samples for customers to taste and recipes for how to prepare the meat.

“All livestock coming into this plant was raised right here locally,” Marsillett says. “And we like to have cooking tips and recipes available to customers, so they know how to prepare our items at home.”

Keeping it local

The Chop Shop processes locally raised meat on site and retails its products to the public.

The Chop Shop processes locally raised meat on site and retails its products to the public.

Buying locally grown products is a booming segment of the food industry that shows no signs of slowing any time soon.

Business at The Chop Shop is no different. Jonathan Whitt, who owns JSW Farm in Wrigley as well as the Lee City Stockyard, opened The Chop Shop in October 2013. The facility currently has about 30 employees. He says the rate at which they are processing animals and retail sales continues to grow.

Marsillett says there are many reasons for the growth, but it all boils down to providing a better piece of meat.

“Locally grown meats processed in a local slaughter plant provide a better, more wholesome product,” he says.

A processing facility like The Chop Shop keeps the money in the local economy, provides jobs to area workers and must meet stricter safety and sanitary regulations than butcher shops that purchase the meat already slaughtered and simply carve it for the consumer.

Marsillett says most of the meat processed at the plant comes from JSW Farm in Wrigley, but the plant will also process private and commercial orders. The meat is then sold at local retail stores as well as on site.

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agent Daniel Wilson helped The Chop Shop acquire grants from the Kentucky Agricultural Development to build freezer facilities. He says the plant provides a much-needed service to area farmers, who typically raise their animals to a certain age, then sell them to another producer who will grow them further until they are ready to be processed.

“We just need to teach them how to finish their animals in preparation for this facility,” Wilson says. “It’s a completely different way of doing things than what they are used to. It takes a little more time and personal investment, but with a processing facility like this one, they should see a good return on that investment and have the satisfaction of knowing they are producing for their neighbors.”

Modern meat

Most consumers in the United States have no idea where the meat on their plates comes from or the conditions in which it was raised, slaughtered and butchered. Many feel it is best not to know.

Cheryl Prater cooks up fresh sausage at The Chop Shop for customers to sample.

Cheryl Prater cooks up fresh sausage at The Chop Shop for customers to sample.

But Whitt says The Chop Shop has to meet strict USDA guidelines that ensure the facility is one of the cleanest around. From washing their shoes when going from one area of the plant to another to the handling of knives and tools, everything is strictly controlled.

“There is a USDA inspector on site 5 days a week,” says Whitt, adding that retail butchers who buy their meat already quartered can then cut it up without regulations or inspections. “Anything coming from here, we can’t do that. We have some of the strictest cleaning guidelines you will come across.”

The facility is an example of modern technology. The doors separating one cooler from the next, or one section of the plant from another, slide open automatically and slide closed behind you.

There are 18 cameras throughout the facility, and thanks to broadband Internet provided by Mountain Telephone, Whitt can monitor the video feeds from his home. If a cooler is not functioning properly, he gets an automatically generated text to his phone. And he can monitor and adjust the smoker from his home. “It’s completely state-of-the-art,” he says.

For more information about The Chop Shop, look for them on Facebook or call 606-662-4121.

Whitt says locally grown meats are healthier and a better product than meat from animals raised in large, industrial farms.

Whitt says locally grown meats are healthier and a better product than meat from animals raised in large, industrial farms.

The Chop Shop 

Location: Just north of the Mountain Parkway at the Lee City exit (126 KY 205 North).

Hours: Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Holiday Hours

Happy Holidays from Mountain Telephone

The Mountain offices will be closed during the holidays to allow our employees to spend time with their families.

The offices will be closed Nov. 27 and 28 for Thanksgiving.

Offices will close at noon on Dec. 24 and will remain closed Dec. 25 for Christmas.

Offices will also be closed Jan. 1, New Year’s Day.

Focused on doing the right thing

By Shayne Ison
General Manager

Shayne IsonAs a community-based telecommunications provider, our focus is on meeting the needs of those we serve. To us, that means being ready to do the right thing every day for the communities we serve, no matter what challenges may come along.

As we prepare to celebrate Veterans Day, I am reminded of a story that serves as a powerful illustration of that ideal. It was Feb. 19, 1945, when American forces landed on Iwo Jima, a Pacific island some 750 miles south of the Japanese mainland. The island was a strategic stronghold for the Empire of Japan. If the U.S. could secure the island, it could stop the Japanese from interfering with bombing raids on Tokyo and ultimately use Iwo Jima’s airstrips to launch an invasion of the mainland.

After four days of intense battle, during which hundreds were wounded or killed, U.S. forces took control of Mount Suribachi, a 554-foot high mountain on the southwest tip of the island. Marines scaled to the top and planted an American flag. The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, wanted that flag as a souvenir, so a second flag was brought up to erect.

What happened next changed history.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was not present for the first flag raising, and almost missed the second one as he was piling up rocks to stand on for a better vantage point for a photo. When he saw the five Marines and one Navy corpsman beginning to raise the flag, he grabbed his camera from where he had set it on the ground and took the shot without even looking through the viewfinder.

It wasn’t until later that Rosenthal knew what he had captured. And neither he nor anyone in the photograph could have imagined the impact that single image would have on the overall war. The photo became an icon, a symbol of American victory. To a country growing weary of a world war, the sacrifices on the homefront and the loss of sons and husbands, the photo served as an inspiring confirmation that good would prevail.

It also became the central image of the Seventh War Bond campaign, which would raise billions of dollars to help fund the successful end of World War II. Rosenthal and the flag raisers were serving their country and doing what was right in the midst of incredible challenges. And the impact of their work will be felt for generations.

Though what we face today pales by comparison to the sacrifices of that generation, rural telecommunications providers like us have our own set of challenges. Industry changes, market forces and regulatory action are putting pressures on us unlike anything this industry has ever seen. But we are committed to doing the right thing, to serving you to the best of our ability. And we know that if we remain focused on the task at hand, good things will happen — for your telco, for your community, for all of us.

This holiday season, I encourage us all to take a few minutes to thank a veteran for his or her service, to count our blessings as Americans, to cherish the time we have with our families and to recommit ourselves to being ready to do what is right for our community and those around us. I wish you and your family many blessings this holiday season.

The holidays at Evins Mill

All decked out in its holiday finery, Evins Mill welcomes guests from around the country looking for the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the sights and tastes of the season. Visitors to this Tennessee resort enjoy hiking trails, a 90-foot waterfall and a fishing pond, as well as the historic gristmill and lodge. If you want to go for dinner only, you’re welcome as long as the proprietors know you are coming. Make reservations for dinner, as well as visits to the property, by calling 615-286-2090. The inn and its restaurant are open year-round.

The Thanksgiving menu, priced at $60 per person, will feature such dishes as turkey with all the trimmings, along with numerous side dishes — fresh asparagus, baked apples, sweet potato casserole, mashed Yukon gold potatoes, salads and made-from-scratch desserts.

The inn’s restaurant will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but will pull out all the stops and bring in the New Year in great taste. The New Year’s Eve dinner, priced at $60 per person, includes heavy hors d’oeuvres and a five-course dinner. Special drinks and champagne will be flowing and live music will fill the air. There will also be a New Year’s brunch served on Jan. 1, with select dishes to start your new year off in delicious fashion. The brunch is $35 per person.

For more information, log onto

Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

This side dish is most often served with braised duck at Evins Mill, but works just as well with any of your holiday meals.

1 bag fresh cranberries, washed (substitute with dried cranberries if out of season)
1 cup sugar
1  Granny Smith apple, roughly chopped, with peel
1 fresh orange, roughly chopped, with peel

Combine all ingredients in food processor, pureeing until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled through. Makes about 1 quart.

Au Gratin Potatoes

The perfect accompaniment to pork, beef, fish and chicken, and a standard favorite at Evins Mill.

4 Idaho potatoes or sweet potatoes
2 1/2 cups heavy cream (if using sweet potatoes, reduce cream by 1/2 cup)
2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons roasted garlic, chopped (optional)
Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Wash potatoes and allow them to dry. Slice potatoes as thin as you can, enough to layer bottom of baking dish. Spray baking dish with non-stick spray. Layer the potatoes on the bottom of dish by shingling. Season with salt and pepper and 1/4 of roasted garlic. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the Parmesan cheese. Pour 1/4 of cream over layer. Repeat process for the next three layers. Cover dish with foil. Bake at 325° for 1-1/2 hours or until tender all the way through when testing with knife. Uncover and return to oven to brown top for about 10-15 minutes. Makes 16 (1/2-cup) servings.

Stone-Ground Cheese Grits

Stone-ground grits make the difference in this recipe. Use your favorite, or like they do at Evins Mill, use local grits, such as those ground at The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

4 cups 2 percent milk
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) or olive oil
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 cup grated cheese, preferably sharp cheddar
Salt, fresh cracked pepper & crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Bring milk, butter or oil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to boil. Add grits and reduce heat to a simmer. Stir often until grits are tender and thickening. This will take 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in cheese and enjoy with eggs at breakfast or steak at dinner. Makes 4-6 servings.

Take pride in your sides

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

By Anne P. Braly

Like a movie produced with no supporting actors, a holiday meal produced with no supporting sides would be left on the cutting-room floor.

“Sides are as important as the entree, if not more so,” says Jason Evans, now in his 12th year as executive chef at Evins Mill, a 40-acre resort along the Cumberland Plateau in Smithville, Tennessee. “The side dishes can set the mood for the meal. A beautifully roasted turkey or ham can be part of an elegant, formal dinner or a comforting, traditional holiday feast, depending on what the sides are.”

Evans can’t name a favorite side. It all depends on the season, he says. But for holiday meals, he admits to a traditional craving for mashed potatoes, fresh cranberry relish and deviled eggs — sides for many Thanksgiving and Yuletide feasts. “I try to avoid having all starches like potatoes, corn, and mac and cheese,” he says. “Make sure you have a nice variety with lots of colors.”

For example, go with mashed potatoes, cranberry relish and honey carrots. Or try corn pudding, roasted sweet potatoes and green beans.

Offer as many side dishes as you are comfortable preparing without making yourself too busy to enjoy the meal. Three sides is a good rule of thumb, Evans notes. And to make the meal a family event, ask guests to bring their favorite side dishes, while you prepare the turkey or roast.

Some of Evans’ favorite pairings are:

  • Serve sweet potatoes with pork. Try roasting the sweet potatoes in a little coconut oil for something different.
  • Jason Evans has been executive chef at Evins Mill in Smithville, Tenn., for 12 years.

    Jason Evans has been executive chef at Evins Mill in Smithville, Tenn., for 12 years.

    For beef, Evans likes a side that contains cream or cheese, or a side with a smooth consistency. It makes for a nice combination in the mouth to serve as almost a sauce for the hearty steak or roast. Some suggestions are potato gratin, mashed cauliflower, cheese grits or fresh broccoli casserole.

  • Evans says roasting a chicken makes him want to “kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. If you already have the oven on for roasting the bird, throw some winter root vegetables in the pan with it. Cooking in all those natural juices and fat from the chicken is heaven. Rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, carrot and onion make a delicious and hearty vegetable combination.”
  • Casseroles are usually on the creamy, cheesy side, which is why Evans loves them. “I like contrast in my meals,” he says, “and this is a great time to have something sweet and sour, or a lightly sauteed vegetable medley on the side. Something simple so everyone can still gorge on the casserole, but a side that is going to have a different mouth feel in texture and flavor.”
  • Keep in mind the importance of using the freshest of vegetables and other ingredients for your side dishes. Evans finds local foods to be the best and is committed to the farm-to-table movement, supporting nearby farmers and other food purveyors. “They’re harder to come by in the holiday season since the growing season is all but over for most items,” he says, “but we still try to get as much as we can. We still get local eggs in the winter. I can source local nuts, winter greens, some root veggies, and a few other odds and ends from our local farms. It is just as important for the holidays, just a little harder.”


I’m Dreaming of a Bright Christmas

By Matt Ledger

If you’re planning a very Griswold Christmas and feel compelled to have the best light display in the neighborhood, then it’s already time to get out the ladder and start stringing lights. Or, you could just leave it to the professionals and make a trip to one of ten dazzling destinations of Christmas cheer.


Galaxy of Lights — Huntsville, AL

Galaxy of Lights — Huntsville, AL

Galaxy of Lights • Huntsville,  Ala.

256-830-4447 •

The always-impressive Huntsville Botanical Gardens features a seasonal tour that allows visitors the choice of driving or walking the grounds on certain nights, including two designated for people with dogs. The festival, which lasts from Nov. 14 to Jan. 3, features a panoramic view of Santa soaring above the winter village and other scenes that celebrate characters from nursery rhymes. A Galaxy of Lights 5K Run and Fun Run — routed ­through twinkling snowflakes and the icicle forest — are also scheduled for December.


Festival of Lights • Grand Rivers, Ky.

Festival of Lights — Grand Rivers, KY

Festival of Lights — Grand Rivers, KY

270-362-8844 •

Any visit to Patti’s Settlement is a feast for the senses, and the holidays are no exception.  The 1880s-style village features two restaurants in historic buildings that were relocated to the property. Eight gift shops await those in search of that unique decoration or cherished collectible. Each dining room has a unique holiday theme, as diners tackle the house special, a legendary two-inch-thick 16 ounce pork chop. Starting Nov. 7, families can enjoy the free holiday spectacle of more than 500,000 lights.


Lights of Hope • Anderson, S.C.

864-940-9371 •

Marching soldiers, a dancing ballerina and a nativity scene are among the many scenes at Lights of Hope in Darwin Wright Park. For 20 years it’s been a holiday destination, all for the family-friendly price of $8 per car. More than 49,000 vehicles drove through the grounds in 2013, enjoying more than 3.5 million lights and a magical Santa’s Village that would even put Scrooge in the holiday spirit. Old Ebenezer would be aghast that the event proceeds are donated, with $1.4 million dollars given to local charities since 2004.


Southern Lights • Lexington, Ky.

Southern Lights — Lexington, KY

Southern Lights — Lexington, KY

859-255-5727 •

The Kentucky Horse Park has hosted its annual light show for 20 years, adding new features along the way. From Nov. 21 to Dec. 31, visitors might mistakenly think they’re in Kansas, as this year’s featured display will include Dorothy, Toto and the full cast of characters from “The Wizard of Oz.” Guests can also visit with the live reindeer, except during the week of Christmas. That’s a busy week for reindeer.


Lights Under Louisville • Louisville, Ky.

502-855-3580 •

The bluegrass state is home to the MEGA Cavern, a unique underground cave that comes to life in holiday splendor for a 30-minute ride along 17 miles of passageways. More than 850 characters await the family, during a festive thrill ride unlike any other. Lights on the cave walls and ceiling allow the lights to completely surround guests in flashing stars and stockings hung with care. Families drive through the seasonally decorated sections of the subterranean trails, including one featuring children in the midst of a snowball fight, from Nov. 21 to Jan. 4.


Smoky Mountain Winterfest • Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville, Tenn.

These three towns offer more exciting events than the number of items on your kids’ wish list. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas features millions of lights and a Christmas parade, while Ober Gatlinburg creates a winter wonderland  for sledding adventures. A trolley ride is a colorful and carefree way to view the lights along Pigeon Forge Parkway and spot vendors with seasonal concoctions. Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees features a festive man-made forest that benefits a rescue ministry. A Christmas arts and crafts show provides gift options from talented artisans.


Santa Land • Lindale, Texas

903-882-1518 •

Everything is bigger in Texas, or so it seems, with 2.5 million lights throughout the 24-acre adventure known as Santa Land. The unique drive-thru experience runs Nov. 1 to Jan. 4 with a one-of-a-kind display of characters that adds a bit of humor to the holidays, including handcrafted scenes of a bucking bronco, leaping frog and other animated animals.


Fantasy of Lights • Sumter, S.C.

800-688-4748 •

The picturesque Swan Lake Iris Gardens is illuminated with more than 1 million lights and 150 holiday characters. City of Sumter employees erect the custom creations each year, which is the largest free display in the state. A Poinsettia Festival will help provide decorations for the home, and the Santa Express will expedite those letters to Kris Kringle.


Santa’s Wonderland • College Station, Texas


Santa’s Wonderland allows families to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane, by hayride or horse-drawn carriage, along the colorful Trail of Lights. For the fifteenth year, this charming Christmas experience blends those quintessential holiday figures with a wide-open Texas style and a lone star upon every tree. From Nov. 14 to Jan. 4, the event features live music performances and a cozy campfire for guests to roast hot dogs, and kids will marvel at the live reindeer.


Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland • Asheville, N.C., Sevierville, Tenn. & Myrtle Beach, S.C.

888-321-7547 •

Shadrack's Christmas Wonderland

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

Many holiday displays are held at parks, but Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland has used some unique locations over the years, starting in the shadow of a famous racetrack in Bristol, Tenn. Four extended family members followed their personal fascination with Christmas lights to create Shadrack Productions. Seeking a winter project for their boat dealerships, their concept continues to grow with massive custom-built display figures — such as 12 different types of drummers that measure 25’ tall — and a rotation of precisely synchronized light shows, with Santa’s Beach Party in Asheville and Santa’s Mountain in Sevierville for 2014.

Gadget-giving Gift Guide

By Matt Ledger

Remember the spellbinding childhood experience of thumbing through the toy pages of the old Sears and Roebuck Wish Book catalog? As well organized as that was, kids nowadays are tapping on an iPad to check product availability of Princess Elsa’s Castle Playset even before the TV commercial is finished. For parents looking for gifts for “kids” of any age, or anyone trying to give that perfect present this season, here’s a guide to the latest tech toys.

Streaming TV Player

AmazonFireTVAmazon Fire offers a streaming player comparable to the Apple TV or Roku, with some Amazon-only options. The popularity of streaming TV shows and movies at your convenience led several manufacturers to develop streaming devices. While Apple’s and Amazon’s boxes have some unique features, the Roku 3 offers the most features for the price. Send the Xbox One — and your kids — to their bedrooms after you install this device in the living room to reclaim your recliner.

GoPro Hero4 GoProhero4

The camcorder seems destined for the same fate as the VCR, relegated to our memories of how challenging it once was to make home movies during the holidays. The technological ease of cell phone video clips and this mind-blowing minuscule HD recorder have revolutionized and simplified the process of digitally documenting our lives. Released last month, the GoPro Hero4 has a wide-angle fixed lens capable of capturing sprawling landscapes or extreme close-up selfies with a 13 megapixel sensor.

Netatmo June Bracelet

netatmo-june-4Tan lines and toes in the sand are mere fantasies this time of year, but that doesn’t stop us from dreaming about sunny days and splashing in the pool. Netatmo has created a bracelet that helps ladies know when they have had enough sun. Consistent use of the stylish device, which pairs with a smartphone app, will help reduce the risk of sunburns, premature aging of the skin and long-term damage from lengthy exposure to UV rays.

Oral-B SmartSeries Bluetooth Toothbrush Oral-B-SmartSeries-Bluetooth-Electric-Toothbrush

You may want to give this gift a bit early since there are many reasons to smile this season and you’re destined to be in a few photos. Your teeth could be gleaming for a white Christmas with the Oral-B SmartSeries Bluetooth Toothbrush. The high-tech toothbrush cleans your teeth, warns you of bad brushing habits and even sends reports back to your dentist wirelessly.

WeMo Light Switch

WeMo-Wifi-Light-Switch-1No one has ever written a carol about getting a light switch for Christmas, but this little upgrade will certainly come in handy with shorter days and extra travel this winter. The WeMo light switch offers the same basic function as a timer, but neatly replaces the wall switch and lets you control it from your smartphone from anywhere. Maybe you’re arriving home later than anticipated — simply switch those exterior lights on to safely arrive at your front door. A quick entry of your zip code and the device will turn on at sunset and off at sunrise. You could also install it to replace the ceiling fan remote that the dog ate or fire up that hot tub at the weekend cabin.

Wi-Fi Camera Card Eye-Fi

To share and protect your photos from Christmas morning, Eye-Fi has developed Wi-Fi camera cards that allow amateur and professional photographers to connect certain cameras to other devices. Pairing the quality photos of your camera with the connectivity of your phone, the cards eliminate the time-consuming process of downloading photos. Quicker than the development of a Polaroid picture, the Wi-Fi camera card wirelessly transmits the images to your computer, tablet or phone for storage or sharing via social media.

LeapPad 3

LeapPad3Digital devices are now being used at younger ages, with school systems making the leap to interactive smartboards and iPad labs. Leap Frog’s LeapPad3’s protective screen and shock-absorbing frame are designed to endure whatever a preschooler or first grader can throw at it. The LeapPad3 is a colorful tablet device that offers a Wi-Fi enabled library of educational games to jumpstart their learning at home or while riding in the car. Parents can manage the security controls and the device features a peer-to-peer mode for competitions with classmates or siblings.

Fitness Bands lvt_hires

To counter the tiered towers of Christmas confections, clever new wristbands aim to motivate you to be more active throughout the day. The fitness bands use an accelerometer sensor to track activity with apps to configure daily goals and online competitions with active friends. The Fitbit Flex is a highly popular version that is reasonably priced.  The Withings Pulse O2 and Jawbone UP24 offer a few more features, but for a higher price.