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He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He did not go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born.

He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While he was dying his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Twenty centuries have come and gone and today he remains the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s’ progress.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned put together, have not affected the life of man on this planet so much as that one solitary life.

— James Allan Francis, 1864-1928

Here it is, the eve of the day we’ve been focusing on for so many weeks. I know how easy it is to get so caught up—perhaps even lost—in the hustle and pressures of the season with all of the preparations and activities, that we miss what really matters most.

As I write, the house is very quiet. It is nearly daybreak as the sky is turning from dark to barely light. Our family has arrived safely and soon breakfast will be on the table.

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Gifts are wrapped, stockings are hung, and the finish line is within sight. The grandchildren can hardly wait one more day!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get all of my plans accomplished because as usual, I overplanned. But it’s enough. No regrets. We’re ready.

Now it’s time to relax and enjoy our family as we reflect on why we do this. It’s for the love and joy that brings us hope—the true meaning of this season.

Our hope is that today will in some way bring you closer to those whom you love and cherish most. And may the glorious message of joy fill your heart!

Love and peace,

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Family traditions are the rituals and practices a family shares that strengthen that family’s bonds and create lasting memories.

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Traditions, those things we do much the same way over and over again, provide a source of identity,  comfort, and security. They reinforce family values. Kids love traditions!

Traditions can be elaborate and complex or simple but meaningful.

According to this study cited in this article from The Atlantic, the time we spend focusing on anticipation, experiences, and simply being together can have a profound impact on how much we enjoy life.

Traditions give families assurance that even in an uncertain and changing world, there are some things they can count on to always be the same.

The way I see it, anything you do in the same way at the same time, year after year becomes a tradition. Whatever it is, if you’ve done it once but plan to do it again, it counts as a tradition. 

Make a list of your family’s best traditions. Talk about them, treat them with a sense of respect and joy. Explore ideas for intentionally spending meaningful time together and then repeat often.

In time, your family traditions—especially those related to Christmas—will become trusted anchors in your children’s lives.

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There was a time that I felt compelled to rise early on Christmas morning to bake Cinnamon Rolls—my family’s breakfast item of choice on that very special day of the year.

When I say early, I mean 3:30am. It takes hours for sweet bread dough to rise multiple times. And let’s just say that over the years, some attempts have been more successful than others.

Those days are gone. I’m done with that routine and not because I don’t love my family.

Now I sleep in until exactly 43 minutes before I want everyone to wake up to the smell of fresh, hot, decadent, perfect-every-time Cinnamon Rolls.

I may regret letting the cat out of the bag on this because they still think I’m a world-class Cinnamon Roll baker, but for right now, I’m excited to show and tell the most outrageously awesome food hack I’ve ever discovered. Read more

If you could use an injection of fresh ideas for how to make this Holiday Season meaningful for the children in your life, take a lesson from my friend, Connie Copeland. 

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Connie’s clever creativity allowed her and her husband to give their four kids and now her 13 grandchildren the four things kids really want for Christmas, even when money was tight:

  • Relaxed and loving time with family
  • Realistic gift expectations
  • Evenly paced holiday season
  • Reliable family traditions

When her kids were little, Connie would spread the excitement of Christmas throughout the month. She did that with little notes—one tiny note per child, per day.

Most days the notes were similar, such as:  Read more

It’s here … the biggest gift-giving season of the year which kicked off with Black Friday,

One news site referred to yesterday as “Season’s Beatings!” That just breaks my heart when I consider what gift-giving is really all about—what a pleasant and joyful thing it should be—not retail chaos.

Today, with Black Friday in the rearview mirror and Cyber Monday right ahead, I’m releasing below the first of seven Holiday Gifts Guides 2018 that I have compiled for you. Maybe this will help to ease the stress.

I’m a practical gift giver, and I’m sure this year’s Guides will reflect that. I love thinking about the ways my recipient can use a gift—every single day, if at all possible. And it’s a big bonus if I can come up with something my giftees would not buy for themselves. And if I can pull off a big surprise, that’s the icing on the cake. Or maybe I should say the star on the tree!

Today’s Holiday Gift Guide features things that have made my life better in the past year. I’m calling it Mary’s Favorite Things. Then watch for Guides for Her, Him, Seniors, Foodies, Kids of all ages, and one for Anyone.

Note: Prices mentioned below are only approximations, as prices can change quickly. Please make your own independent verification.

I hope you have as much fun checking out this year’s Gift Guides as I’ve had creating them.

Happy shopping and stay safe out there!

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1. BLACK+DECKER Steam Iron

This is one amazing steam iron for the money. It gives me great results. It is comfortable to use and has enough heft to give a good press. The high steam rate blasts away wrinkles. Auto shutoff has saved my bacon on a couple of occasions.

2. Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker

This portable wireless speaker for iPhone, Samsung and more is just fantastic. It has 24-hour playtime, 66-ft Bluetooth Range (which I test to its limits frequently) plus a built-in mic. And the sound quality is amazing. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got along without a quality, affordable wireless speaker like this one.

3. Instant Pot Duo 6 Qt

It’s the most amazing thing—one kitchen appliance that replaces seven. That’s why it’s called Instant Pot Duo 6 Qt 7-in-1. The manufacturer has come out with bigger models that do more things, but this is the one I have, love and am certain that it is all I need. Right now the price is also super.

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If you are or have ever been, plagued by credit-card debt, I can nearly guarantee that revolving expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation. The problem? Procrastination.

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Face it, when it comes to Christmas, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend. The opposite is also true: The sooner you get started the less you’ll spend.

Everyone procrastinates in some area. And some people procrastinate about everything. Why do we do it?

We feel overwhelmed. The holiday expectations we place on ourselves plus those that come from our families, the community, even the church can be so great we feel paralyzed. So we do nothing until the only choice we have is to spend as much money as it takes to get by.

We overestimate how much time we have. From where we sit here in July, Christmas seems so far away. We tell ourselves we have “plenty of time!”

We have to do it perfectly. Experts tell us that at the root of procrastination is perfectionism. Because we feel we have to do everything perfectly—and fear that we might not—we do nothing rather than run the risk of failing.

We say we work better under pressure. Waiting until the last minute can provide quite an adrenaline rush. Procrastinators believe they cannot operate without that creative surge, so they sit back and wait for it to happen.

The way to deal with procrastination is to identify why you do it. Ask yourself: What price have I paid in the past for the delay? Do I really want to pay that price, or even more, again this year?

If the answer to the last question is yes, you have lots of time; you don’t need to be thinking about the holidays yet.

If on the other hand, you are not willing to go into debt to measure up to others’ expectations, get started. Do something now even if all you do is stash $25 a week for Christmas shopping in December. Once you are in motion it will be easier to keep going.

1. FAMILY PHOTO

Whether it’s for your family Christmas card or to frame for a gift to friends and family, get that picture taken now. Then shop around for the best price on high-quality prints.

Costco. It’s hard to beat Costco’s prices and service, but you need to be a member. However, right now it doesn’t appear you can order holiday photo cards—if you want to go this route. You’ll have to check back in a few months to see if their holiday templates are available.

Snapfish. You can get 5×7-inch photo cards printed for as little as $1 each when you order a package of 20—and the price goes down if you order more. Even though it’s July, Snapfish has its holiday templates available for you to order and print.

Vista Print. A great source for a postcard with your photos, plus many other options. VistaPrint has frequent specials and sales throughout the summer, so check back to see if you can get a deal at VistaPrint.com. Caution: You will be hounded throughout the order process to buy all kinds of “add-ons.” Don’t waste your money. Buy only what you came to buy.

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When the holiday season arrives, the best gifts just might be from your kitchen. And when those gifts are extra decadent, well that just makes them even better.

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A couple of years ago I got the crazy idea to take my homemade gifts of food beyond cookies, cakes and pure vanilla extract to bacon. Seriously. More specifically Bacon Jam.

Yes! And I have to say that with all the challenges you’ll discover as you read to the end, Bacon Jam is quite possibly the best holiday gift ever. I say that because it’s what local friends and family clamor for.

Bacon Jam

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (note 1)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (note 2)
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, more or less to taste
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (the real deal, please)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Note 1: Ignore the molasses in the photo.

Note 2: I’ve tested substituting bacon crumbles for bacon and wasn’t thrilled with the result. Your results may vary, which means crumbles are certainly an option.

Note 3: May substitute apple cider vinegar for all or part of the balsamic vinegar, which is what I do now after considering my own taste and feedback from my recipients. However, either will give you great results.

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The first step is to cut the bacon crosswise into one-inch pieces and cook them in a large skillet, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon is lightly browned about 20 minutes.

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