How LED’s Are Changing The Holiday Season

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Every year, millions of cities, towns, villages, stores and homes get decorated for Christmas and the other holidays happening at this time of year. But did you realize that over the last decade there has been a seismic shift in how we decorate? It’s a change you might not have noticed, but is certainly affecting how we see the season nonetheless.

The change is happening due to the emergence, and new dominance of LED lighting. LED stands for light emitting diode. This technology has been around for decades, in fact, they were invented in the 1960’s and are now over 50 years old. However, it’s taken decades for them to get established as a real option for homes, businesses, governments and organizational use. This is mainly because the technology was expensive to produce when in its infancy. However, in the last decade or so, the initially high price of LED lights has come down substantially, making it comparable to other lighting sources. Thanks to this, and the many other advantages and benefits of LED lights, like space saving, energy saving, durability and customization, LED’s have finally earned their place in the lighting arena.

One place that these lights have come to dominate is holiday decorating. When you pass homes in your neighborhood that are lighted up with thousands of holiday lights, there’s a strong chance most of them, or even all of them are LED based lights. One big reason for the switch is that LED lights cost less to run than the old fashioned and traditional lights of yesteryear. Also, many people are finding that they need to replace those old lights, and the best options for resplacement are LED based lights.

The more advanced technology in LED lighting also allows for much more technical light displays. Instead of just having one color in a single bulb, there are lighting strings available that incorporate all of the lights in the string in every single bulb. This makes for a fantastic light show. Not only that, but the lights are much brighter, making the displays more vibrant than those traditional bulbs of yesteryear. The switch to LED’s for Christmas tree lights may also be saving lives. Did you know that LED’s are cool to the touch when on? You can’t say that for the old bulb style of light. This makes for a dramatically lessened fire hazard wherever you place the lights. LED’s save energy and might even be saving lives during the holidays!

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Xbox One – A Great Choice This Holiday Season

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Christmas, Christmas time is here. Time for toys and time for cheers! Yes, that’s right! Christmas is just a month away. We are no in November and we are starting the count down until we all get the great (or not so great) gifts that we have been wanting all year long. Hot on this list is game consoles.

With Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all having next gen gaming consoles on the market, not to mention the slew of new twisty, bendy laptops and other gadgets, what is the best gaming platform?

I have always been a PlayStation man, however I did briefly own an Xbox 360 before the red ring of death got it. Then about 6 months ago, my PS3 blew up. What was a gamer to do? I did a lot of research. I found that the GPU, the unit that drives the graphics behind the 2 machines, PS4 and Xbox One, were both created by my favorite CPU/GPU creator, AMD. When AMD makes a chipset then you know it is built right. Therefore, that did not help me much in deciding.

The PlayStation 4 (PS4) does have a faster, higher grade of ram memory in it as it utilizes DDR5 and the Xbox One still uses the standard DDR4. Therefore, I was jumping at the bit to get my hands on the PS4. I am glad I did not, however.

I found a great bundle deal that had the Xbox One console, the Kinect camera, and a $60 game thrown in for the giggles. This bundle cost me $450 at Walmart and that was not during a sale such as Black Friday. That was the everyday bundle price at that time. Heck, without the game that system was running $499. By the way, Titanfall alone was worth buying the Xbox One when I did.

For starters, what may not be learned off the box the Xbox One comes with, is that the Xbox One is designed to use the cloud created by Microsoft called Azure. Being able to utilize this cloud (many, many different servers systems hooked up together) the Xbox One can harness the power of the servers it is connected to, giving the console the ability to be 4 times stronger than the hardware that is enclosed in this console. This was the icing on the cake for me.

Throw in that the Xbox One has both an HDMI out as well as HDMI in so that you can plug up your high def cable box to this console, so that you can control what you watch on TV through voice command and hand gestures, this console just gets more exciting! With a slew of Xbox One Apps now on the market for free, yes free, as of a couple months ago you no longer have to pay for a Gold Live account as you can now use the apps and play the games online for FREE!!

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The First Christmas Stamp – A History of Holiday Postage

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Today Christmas stamps are sold by many countries during the holiday season and are used to add a little color and cheer to Christmas cards and letters. But how did this tradition start?

In December 1898, Canada issued a 2-cent stamp celebrating the introduction of imperial penny postage and inscribed with the words “XMAS 1898.” This stamp is usually regarded as the world’s first Christmas stamp, but it wasn’t actually released to celebrate the holidays. Instead, as legend goes, Postmaster William Mulock suggested to Queen Victoria that the stamp should be released in November “to honor the Prince” (meaning the Prince of Wales). But when the queen showed obvious displeasure with the idea and asked which prince he was referring to, Mulock quickly answered, “Why, the Prince of Peace, ma’am”. So when the stamp was issued in December, it bore not only the image of a world map, but also the words “XMAS 1898” at the bottom of the stamp.

It wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that another country issued a Christmas stamp. This time the country was Austria. In 1937, it issued two stamps billed as “Christmas Greeting Stamps,” but neither had a Christmas theme. One showed a zodiac sign and the other one depicted a rose. Brazil was next in line, issuing four semi-postal stamps in 1939, and Hungary followed suit with a semi-postal stamp in 1941. Semi-postal stamps are ones that are sold above the stamp’s value to raise money for a specific cause.

So it wasn’t until 1943 that Hungary issued the first Christmas-themed stamp that was sold specifically as a holiday stamp. Now many nations of the world issue postage stamps with a Christmas theme that are intended for use on seasonal mail.

The first Christmas stamp issued by the United States came was a 4-cent stamp issued in 1962. The green and red stamp featured a wreath, two candles, and the words “Christmas 1962”. The postal service anticipated a huge demand for the new stamp and ordered 350 million printed, the largest number ever produced up until that time for a special stamp. But it wasn’t enough. When the initial supply quickly ran out the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began working around the clock to print more. By the end of the season, one billion of the first Christmas stamps were printed and distributed.

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Neat & Simple Checklist to Simplify and Organize Sending Holiday Cards!

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Here’s a step-by-step checklist to simplify and make it easier to send those holiday cards on time.

1. SIMPLIFY / CUT BACK ON YOUR LIST

The most important reason for sending a card is how it will make people feel. With that in mind, go ahead and make some cuts. For example, keep only the following people on your card list:

  1. Family members and friends who send you cards and would feel hurt if you didn’t send a card.
  2. People who exchange updates with you every year.
  3. Older people you know don’t get a lot of cards, don’t have computers, and for whom receiving a card means a lot to them. As you get older, you start to lose friends and family. Receiving cards during the holidays can be a wonderful comfort.

2. START EARLY & PREPARE THE “INGREDIENTS”

Start a couple weeks before Thanksgiving if you can. Chunk out your tasks into manageable bites as shown below. During the weeks before Thanksgiving, strive to get 2 – 4 of these tasks done.

  1. Update your address book and mailing label lists & print out the labels (I recommend using a Word Template for address labels from Avery)
  2. Print out or gather your Return Address Labels.
  3. Buy Holiday Stamps from the post office online. They are usually available by Thanksgiving. If you order early you never have to worry about your local office running out.
  4. Make sure you have the right number of cards. Buy cards right after the holidays when they are on sale.
  5. If you send out photo cards, choose your photo & get them ordered.
  6. If you send a holiday newsletter, start outlining the things you want to include.
  7. If you send pictures inside a cards, choose one and get it duplicated.
  8. Write your Newsletter first draft.

3. PUT YOUR INGREDIENTS TOGETHER & MAIL. Week 1 after Thanksgiving do the next steps. You can do most of these while watching your favorite TV programs.

  1. Put Return Address Labels on all your envelopes. Try doing 20-50 cards at a time.
  2. Put Stamps on all your envelopes.

Week 2 after Thanksgiving do the next steps.

  1. Put Recipient Address Labels on the cards
  2. Do your final edit, then print and fold your holiday Newsletters (if you have one) and put them inside the cards.
  3. Put each card with it’s stamped and addressed envelope.
  4. Divide your stamped, addressed cards into sets of 5 – 10 cards each.
  5. Write personal notes and sign your cards. Each day work on a set of cards. Get a plastic bag to carry cards with you. Anytime you have to wait somewhere, like at a doctor’s office. If you really don’t want to spend time on personal notes, you can order pre-printed cards. If you do that, you can just skip this step.
  6. Mail the set of cards.

Do a set each day or two and even if you have 100 cards, you’ll have them all personalized and sent in 7 -10 days. If you have more cards than 100, go back to Step One and Simplify. Or start a week or 2 earlier. Wishing you Happy & Healthy Holidays!

© 2006 Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed

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Why Is Holiday Decorating Good For You?

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December gives us the perfect excuse to pamper ourselves with holiday cheer. No matter which holiday tradition you celebrate, decorating your home is good for you. Psychologists report that change, planning, and entertainment make people happy. Change your environment for the holidays and plan to entertain yourself as well as guests.

Holiday decorations change stagnant rooms. When your accessories and mementos stay in the same place day after day, you soon get used to them and no longer notice your treasure in the same old location. Moving things around and adding holiday decorations to your spaces makes everything feel new again.

You increase your happiness when you decorate your home for the holidays, if you take out the stress. When you make a huge production out of decorating your home for the holidays, you can easily become overwhelmed and turn a happy event into a stress-filled ordeal. Balance, the key to happiness, will help you keep holiday decorating FUN. Don’t take on too much. It doesn’t take a lot of decorations to instill holiday cheer!

Have you ever noticed that when you plan a party that the actual planning makes you happy? Psychologists say that’s because people love to daydream and plan. An added bonus, the more time you take to plan a party, the more organized the event, and the better the result.

Guests love to come to a home decked out in holiday splendor. The festive air created with candles, decorations, and music provides the backdrop for happy interactions. It’s hard for someone to not be happy when they enter a home in celebration mood.

Take some time for yourself and enjoy your holiday decorating. Pamper yourself and your guests.

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Holiday Events – Entertainment Options Matter

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Everybody has been to the office party where Sally has a little too much to drink and ends up sitting on the boss’s lap while his wife watches in horror. And nobody wants to repeat that event. In fact, many professionals will avoid attending office parties because of the opportunity for such embarrassing events to happen.

But the office party doesn’t have to become a horrifying and embarrassing experience for anyone. Here are a few fun options that don’t include over imbibing in the spirits of the season:

1 – Present a Dance and Cover Band Challenge

Hire two bands, schedule them to play two sets, and have the attendees decide which band is the best. You’ll want to do this event early in the season with plenty of dance time, food and tables for conversational discussions among the different teams. And selected teams who are designed to confer over the dance bands to determine who is the best band. By encouraging your teams to work together on their selection based on several factors, you’ll be growing team efforts, and building relationships,while keeping them focused on a specific project.

End of the night, the best band gets a repeat performance at another party later in the season. Much like the Winter Formal and Prom, the first one is a practice run for the Grand Event.

2 – Motivational Speaker or Comedian

Stand up comedy can bring a whole different spectrum to the Holiday Event, if your crowd wants to be entertained, rather than participate in the entertainment. Nothing is better than a Tony Robinson event to move your team off-center, grow some team-building spirit, and walk away from a fun event exploding with energy and desire to move through the season making more effort to achieve greater goals. And even the most driven motivational speaker can offer solid comedic hilarity to an evening out.

3 – Impersonators Roaming the Room

Didn’t you ever want to dine with Elvis Presley? What about a dance with Taylor Swift? Can you imagine sitting at the same table as Marilyn Monroe? Or how about just a chat with Abraham Lincoln over current political challenges? Sometimes the most exotic forms of entertainment can be the least staged, and still the most well planned events.

And nobody does gratitude better than Elvis, “Thank you, Thank you. Thank you, very much.”

Building your team through events where entertainment, connection, and relationships mix can be fun, successful, and well-structured. Don’t look now, but Elvis is in the room!

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Creating a Holiday Grief Affirmation

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During the holiday season, while others are celebrating family togetherness, gift giving, traditions of thanksgiving, and holiday joy, you may be challenged with feelings of sadness, loneliness, and emptiness. This time of the year is known as the season to be jolly, but you are facing the reality that your life as it was has been changed forever. You might even experience envy, although innocent, as you feel that others are enjoying the season and have forgotten about your loss.

A powerful and effective coaching exercise to help you cope during the holiday season is to create a personal holiday affirmation. An affirmation is a strong positive statement declared to be true. The subconscious mind is powerful and only responds to what you feed it. Focus only on the death and you get more hopeless emotions. Focusing more on the life lived and the cherished memories will help you shift to a place of meaning, purpose, and gratitude. If you are new to affirmations, stick with this exercise for at least a seven-day period to begin feeling a more positive perspective on your grief journey during the holidays.

Begin and end each day by repeating your holiday affirmation. You can use all or parts of the following affirmation or create your own.

“I embrace each day of the holiday season with love and gratitude. Love for myself, which I will extend to others. Gratitude for the many blessings I receive daily.

I accept that this holiday will be different, but will have new meaning.

I let go of thoughts of how I wish things were this holiday.

I will make this holiday season a time of peace and reflection.

I will cherish the gift that my loved one’s life and legacy has been to me.

I am powerfully, fearlessly, and wonderfully made and capable and deserving of a fulfilled, happy, and meaningful life.

I seek to find what I am to learn, where I am to grow, and how I am to serve.

I look forward to my future with new expectations.

I maintain good self-care with proper nutrition, exercise, relaxation, sleep, and stress management.

I devote time for spiritual meditation and reflection.

I embrace love, peace, and joy in myself, my family, my friends, and the world.

I am happy that I am making a difference in my life and the lives of others.

I now breathe new life into my heart and soul and commit to greet each day with love and gratitude.”

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Holiday Printables For Creative Corner Cutting

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Some holiday is just around the corner and the stores are full of merchandise you can buy to celebrate it. Every year it seems that every holiday has some new items enticing you to part with your money. Not to begrudge retailers the way they make their living, but families need to watch their bottom line also. A great way to introduce some creativity into your holiday in a budget-conscious way is to go to the internet for many of the ideas and printables there.

Printables for every occasion are available for little or no cost but the price of your own printer’s ink and paper. Are you planning a holiday party? You can print custom invitations and envelopes, wrapping paper, and gift tags. For party decorations you can print napkin rings, place cards, banners, garlands, party favors, and gift bags. Many decorating motifs available on a printable invitation or coloring page can be adapted to a centerpiece by mounting on sticks and adding other traditional centerpiece elements, such as fresh or dried flowers, branches, leaves, fruit, candy, ribbons or any number of things. Printable games like bingo, puzzles, and activity sheets can also be party icebreakers.

Do you love to craft? Scrapbooking is one of the top forms of crafting today. On the internet you can find printable scrapbooking supplies in the form of free printable pages of backgrounds, borders, frames, alphabets, journaling helps, ‘diecuts’, and clipart. Be certain to load your printer with acid-free paper and you are on your way to adding all kinds of creative, colorful embellishments to your holiday scrapbook pages or anytime pages.

Children love to get into any holiday frame of mind with printables just for kids. Coloring pages are the easiest and most prolific kids’ holiday printable and are available by the hundreds in nearly every topic of interest to kids in addition to holidays: animals, cartoon characters, fantasy, outer space, dinosaurs, transportation, the seasons and educational topics like learning their alphabet. Children’s holiday coloring pages can become a holiday greeting card, a gift, or even gift wrap or an ornament. Children love to decorate their windows for the holidays, so you could try the following craft. Print a coloring page and have your child color it with marker pens. Very lightly brush the page with vegetable oil and blot with a paper towel. Tape the picture inside a homemade construction-paper frame and hang in a sunny window. This treatment gives the coloring page a translucent “stained window” quality.

Another fun thing you can do with a holiday printable is to make your own custom stickers. Start with any printable clip-art or graphic or even your own photographs. Use your favorite publishing or word processing program and full size label paper. Avery is a popular brand of label paper, but any brand will do. Simply set up an entire page of the pictures you want for your stickers and print them on your label paper. Allow the ink to dry thoroughly, and then cut apart into individual stickers. If you like your stickers a little bit more moisture proof, you can spray a couple of light coats of clear acrylic spray on them before you cut them apart. Another option would be to print your designs on plain paper then use a photocopier to copy them to the label paper. This second option will be the most moisture proof.

If you never before had a look at what is available on the internet, do so before your next holiday. Anything that comes from paper may possibly be a free printable available for you. Even some things you may not usually think of printing may be out there, because there are some very original and clever ideas out there if you look. For creativity and economy, printing your own holiday supplies is the way to go.

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Proven Holiday Stress-Busters!

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Does your stomach tighten when you think about the holidays? Stressed out? Worried about getting into arguments, not meeting others’ expectations, not picking the right gifts? The American Psychological Association says anxiety goes up during the holidays. Though holidays should be a fun time, they bring lots of stress and sometimes dishearten us, weakening our relationships.

Wonder why this season brings stress and headaches instead of a glow of excitement?

Think about how most of us prepare. We overspend energy and money on gifts and meals, argue over misunderstandings, and pack “fun” events into every minute, every day, every night. No wonder it’s not fun anymore!

Peek inside the word “holiday.” It means “holy day,” but holy days should be about building stronger relationships, sharing and loving. So many times, they end up just being a hassle.

All those flashy ads: best gifts, best prices, best deals! They’re about body and mind, not the soul to soul connections we need most now. “The hype and commercialism of the season causes increased stress,” says a recent psychological report. Holy days should be about strengthening relationships, sharing and loving.

Sure, there are hassles: the cousin who hosts everybody, then fumes because nobody invites her back. The friends who share nasty gossip. The relative who drinks too much and picks a fight, leaving everyone wondering whether they should bother coming next year.

Why bother?

If that’s how you feel, just adjust your own outlook. Make this season different so you can finally enjoy and even have fun! Enjoy it like a kid again, with all the blessings of family and love.

Make the holidays a time of soul-to-soul connection. Meet others without expectations (“I chose him a great present and all he got me was this cheesy gift card!”) and the holidays will surpass your dreams. Open your heart and exchange the gifts of love, sharing and caring, with these nine easy tips to renew your holiday spirit today!

1. Find out who needs help. If you are comfortable and well-fed, visit seniors, visit hospitals or give out socks to homeless folks. Don’t forget your cousin in the army, or that neighbor down the street who lost his wife last year!

2. Reconnect with friends. Think of someone you haven’t seen in a while and have tea together. If you live too far away, look them up on Skype and say hello.

3. Avoid hot button topics. Try not to bring up sensitive issues… keep it light and fun.

4. Remember the kids. Many organizations arrange Santa visits, plays or concerts to make Christmas in the hospital a happier time for kids.

5. Plan a field trip. Buy treats your own children can give out in a seniors’ residence or to adults with disabilities. Tell them people who seem different deserve a wonderful holiday, too.

6. Discover your own style. Just because your sister-in-law hosts a slick New Year’s buffet brunch doesn’t mean that’s your thing. No MIMICKING what works for others! Your style may be a potluck lunch instead. Just make it your own!

7. Take care of you and Relax. Your body won’t thank you for rich, indulgent party food. Too rushed to cook and eat properly? Find simple foods to prepare easily and truly nourish your spirit. Go for a walk, practice yoga if you’re up to it. Sit quietly and relax, without distractions: put away your phone, mp3 player, remote control, notepad…

8. Make that call. There’s one person out there you feel you can’t call. Maybe you lost touch because her husband was sick. Maybe he’s fighting with a friend of yours and you didn’t want to take sides. Mend those fences, and you’ll heal yourself, too.

9. Do your best, then let go. Despite your best intentions, life will throw you a curveball. Unexpected health surprise? Cash crisis? Don’t let them undermine all the work you’ve done. Take a deep breath, refocus, and keep trying.

Finally, a word about forgiveness. Hearts are soft at this time of year; we are ready, willing and able to forgive. Forgive yourself first, and let go of grudges. Ask others for forgiveness. What an amazing gift: “I think I hurt your feelings; I’m sorry.” Only a grinch would say no to a chance to reconnect on a soul-to-soul level.

Always thank God for the blessings before you, release your burdens, and offer the world the gift of your renewed spirit, with love and laughter and lightness to last through 2014 and beyond. Let us pray together for this coming holiday season:

Let us reach out beyond ourselves.

Let us bring light to the world

By being light in the world.

Let us serve others with joy

Let us reach out with joy

Surrender expectations

And feel only wonder

Surround ourselves with love

By spreading love in the world

Changing only ourselves

We can change the world.

“Love and Light to All”

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Holiday Grievers Gifts For a Friend

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The holidays are approaching and the flurry of preparations is felt as we gear up for those wonderful times with family and friends. Memories of childhood celebrations flood our minds, and a feeling of contentment wraps ’round us as we turn our attention to holiday tasks. Following traditions brings continuity to our lives, and the memories may even evoke a giggle or two as we remember the hustle and bustle of past holidays, when cooks burned the turkey or decorated trees crashed to the floor.

Every family has cherished traditions that bring them together, whether it be religious in kind, or personal in nature.

“We always do this at our house,” is often heard amongst groups of children and grownups alike. It imparts a sense of belonging, acceptance, and a place to be that is yours to keep.

When someone dies, there is an empty chair at the holiday table, seen or unseen. A somber note clouds over the festivities, softening the gaiety, as painful memories of the loved one crowd the mind in the midst of celebration.

Mourning a loved one clashes deeply with the spontaneity of fun-filled holiday fare. It can provoke overwhelming grief and sadness, making celebration nearly impossible for the griever(s), and rendering others helpless in the wake of such pain.

Despite the pain, a healing balm can come from those joyous festivities we celebrate with our loved ones. The noise and commotion can be overwhelming to anyone, but especially to the broken-hearted, whose loved one is not there to share this day with them. Those present try their best to “cheer up” the griever, to no avail.

Helping the bereaved isn’t about cheering up someone; it’s about sharing their grief so as to lighten the burden. Here are some wonderful gifts you can give a friend or family member who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

o Listening is a magical balm that eases the pain of loss. Listen with quiet attention, allowing the person time to tell the complete story. It’s said that no one wants to talk about grief. True, but for one exception. Those in mourning want and need to talk about it as much as others will listen. Healing begins when a friend sits down and gently asks to hear their story.

o Sharing memories of the loved one, serious and funny, is a blessed cord that keeps the living connected emotionally with those they’ve lost. Humor doesn’t bring dishonor; rather it gives life to the memory of one whose laughter we remember. Anecdotes from those who also miss our loved one are a reminder that people touch many lives, and are remembered in special ways.

o The comfort of touch gives immeasurable solace to those who mourn. Holding someone’s hand connects you and imparts reassurance that one is not alone. An arm around the shoulders draws one close, allowing contact that grants security and peace of mind. And hugs are always in order. Drawing someone into your arms is more than comfort; it says, “I feel your pain and healing will come.”

o Crying together cleanses both the mind and the soul. Tears are a release and an acknowledgment that sadness and pain need expression. When someone cries, cry with them. It brings full circle the joy experienced in knowing the deceased.

As the holidays approach each year, you will be reminded of that difficult time when you first lost your loved one. Yet, celebrating the familiar traditions with people who love you brings a sense of quiet peace and joy.

I want to leave you with a quotation from the book You Better Recognize! By Valerie Rose (Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, MN. 2002).

“Love is what’s in the room with you at the holidays if you stop opening presents and listen.” – Bobby, age 5

Embrace hope. The joy of celebration and the peace of contentment can be your healing balm.

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