By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer

(St. Louis Park, Minn.) - The next time you want to pick up a gift for a birthday, holiday or just to let a friend know how much he or she means to you, what will you buy? Instead of another sweater, electric mixer or box of chocolates, how about giving the gift of a smile?

"A smile is the best gift of all," says Margie Zats of St. Louis Park, Minn. She should know. She has been putting them on the faces of friends, family and complete strangers for as long as she can remember.

Zats recently downsized -- sold her family home and moved into a comfortable condo in St. Louis Park where there is constant activity. "The key to longevity is staying active," says Zats. "I know a lot of people who just sit back and watch the grass grow. Not me. I meet friends, I write and I laugh as much as possible. Sometimes life situations are so ludicrous all you can do is laugh because the opposite is to get depressed and feel sorry for yourself and that is not an option."

Ask anyone who has ever met Margie Zats, or read one of the four books she has written, and they'll probably tell you -- "She is one of the most positive people I've ever known!" In her latest book, A Platter of Chatter, Charming Stories and Terrific Recipes (Amber Skye Publishing, Sept. 2010, $16) Zats shares her recipe for happiness and success, and oh, many delicious dishes too. 
Readers are delighted when they discover how well she knows her way around the kitchen. Zats is a Paris-trained pastry chef who taught French cooking at the St. Louis Park Byerly's. Some of the recipes she has developed from scratch are in the book. Among them, Turkey Almondine, Chicken Mimosa and Chocaholics Cookies.

Also in the book, short stories that will leaves readers in stitches, like Zats' description of what it was like to downsize from a single family home to a condo; her take on all those silly sayings we have in the English language, like Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Pie in the sky and Icing on the cake; and all the things people should do because life is too short.

"I hope that readers' hearts will be a little lighter as they read my book, that they'll be more relaxed and sleep better at night and they'll have some points of reference when they need to pull in something light hearted. They'll go to the book and make it all better," says Zats who has a history of helping "make things better" for people.

She is among the parents credited with starting Groves Academy, a school for children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders that opened in the early 1970s. "My son, who is now a grown man, had dyslexia before the term was accepted," she explains. "We didn't know what to do at first, but finally found a boarding school in Florida that accommodated children who couldn't learn mainstream. It broke my heart to put him on the plane every year, but I owed him a future," recalls Zats. "I loved him enough to let him go."

Towards the end of her son's high school years, Zats and some of the other Minnesota parents who sent their kids away for a better future started talking about starting a school for children with learning disabilities here at home. Groves Academy opened in 1972.

"We had a magnificent opening day with Hubert Humphrey coming to cut the ribbon. Today, 35 years later, this school is a model. People move here from all over the United States to enroll their children," says Zats, who wishes her own son had been able to go there. "I sleep better at night knowing that there are other '˜Billys' out there whose lives have changed because people were kind and compassionate and understanding," says Zats.

In addition to Groves Academy, raising three sons and achieving her dream of becoming a professional pastry chef, Zats is also proud to have started up a gourmet dining program for diabetics at Mt. Sinai Hospital that received national recognition, and to have had her own successful business. "Margie's Marvelous Munchies" was a pastry/gift basket business she operated for a number of years.

But she considers becoming a published author to be one of her greatest accomplishments. A Platter of Chatter, Charming Stories and Terrific Recipes is Zats' fourth book. The other three are Stories from Someone Older than Television, Great Recipes From Someone Who Loves to Eat, Garnished with Humor and a cookbook for diabetics titled The Elegant Touch, which is no longer in print.

"I love to write and consider my books to be a lasting legacy I can leave so my grandchildren can one day say to their own children, '˜This was your Grandma.'" says Zats.

All three of Margie Zats' available books can be ordered online or at your local bookstore.