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“I just don’t think we have IT and I’m not sure we ever did” are NOT the words every woman longs to hear on her anniversary. I know from experience.

Lucky number thirteen. That was the anniversary I was “celebrating” when I heard those words. My husband, however was not celebrating. He was escaping. He was looking for a spark, an ember, some sort of storybook romance that just doesn’t seem to burn as hot after thirteen years of marriage, two kids, and a mortgage. Well, not when it’s not fostered. And that’s where we were.

Scott and I were doing life together. We were great friends. We had a good partnership – as in, I cook the dinner, he cleans the dishes. I run the kids around and manage their activities, he works outside the home and pays for everything. Sometimes we spend “alone” time – in front of the TV, or out to dinner and a movie – when we weren’t exhausted from this mechanical routine built on complacency and obligation. NOT how a marriage should work. But still, I wasn’t expecting those words. And especially not on my anniversary.

My immediate reaction was to argue and say “Of course we had IT. We just need to remember what we did with IT and bring IT back.” He was not so convinced. And so began our separation. That night. An awful way to end an anniversary evening. In bed. Alone. With a box of Kleenex. Or three.

There were lots of tears through those next several weeks. There was a lot of anger, resentment, rude words, hurtful confessions and ultimately, blame. I blamed him for everything falling apart. After all, he was the one who brought it all up, right? Wrong. I was equally to blame. An ugly realization.

I had taken him for granted. We were married. Committed. For life. Although, when that mentality sinks in the way it did for me then, I realized that meant that I still had LOTS of work to do. On myself – the only one of us I had control over. I read lots of self-help books: Codependent No More, Boundaries, my Bible. I saw a fantastic counselor. I worked on me. It was eye-opening.

Weeks after spending time apart, which was so hard, especially during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, I had resigned myself to the fact that our marriage was over and I started accepting it. My husband however, did not. He finally saw what a wonderful gift we had and how fragile our relationship was. He understood that we both had work to do and made the commitment to do the work WITH me.

That was over two years ago and we work really hard to never let ourselves get to that place. We have date nights. A lot. Sometimes we go out, without the kids, sometimes we stay in, and have our date night after the kids are in bed. And sometimes we have family date nights. We communicate often. The TV goes off, the conversation begins. Funny how that works. We say “No.” A lot. To friends, family and our kids. We have decided to put our relationship with God and each other above all others. Even our kids. That was tough. Our time together now is sacred and we guard it. We share intentional, relationship-building moments. We have built intimacy through these intentional moments. And that’s where IT comes from. Finally, we have IT back. And IT is better than ever before.

 
 
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One of my favorite memories growing up is making Christmas cookies and candy with my Nana. She does it all: Thumbprints, Sugar Cookies, Pecan Tarts, Wedding Cookies, Buckeyes, Turtles, Fudge. She gave us each jobs from the time we could hold a spoon.

Now that I’m a mom, I look forward to making Christmas baking memories with my kids. Thumbprint cookies are a favorite recipe in our house. The kids can easily add the ingredients, roll the dough balls and press their little thumbs into each cookie, giving them an extra bit of love. The kitchen is a mess when we’re finished, but our bellies are full and and so are our hearts.


Thumbprint Cookies (Makes 3-dozen cookies)
Ingredients:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, separated
2 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
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Directions:
Heat oven to 350ºF. Mix brown sugar, shortening, butter, vanilla and egg yolks in medium bowl. Stir in flour and salt until dough holds together. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Beat egg white slightly. Dip each ball into egg white. Roll in nuts. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Press thumb deeply in center of each. Bake about 10 minutes or until light brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Fill thumbprints with butter icing (recipe below.)



Butter Icing
Ingredients:
4.5 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
Food color of choice (optional)

Directions:

In medium bowl, mix powdered sugar and butter with spoon or electric mixer on low speed. Stir in vanilla, 1 tablespoon of the milk, and food coloring, if using. Gradually beat in just enough remaining milk to make frosting smooth and spreadable. If frosting is too thick, beat in more milk, a few drops at a time. If frosting becomes too thin, beat in a small amount of powdered sugar.
 
 
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The American Marketing Association Dictionary defines Brand as the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.” Derived from the term that farmers used to differentiate their cattle from another's by means of a distinctive symbol burned into an animal’s skin with a hot iron stamp, this word is now widely used in business, marketing, and advertising. Brand is the personality that identifies a product, company or service and how it relates to consumers, employees, and investors. It can be a name, term, sign, symbol, design or a combination of them.



Brands are typically made up of various elements, such as:
  • Name: This includes the word or words used to identify a company, product, service, or concept.
  • Logo: This is the visual mark that identifies the brand.
  • Tagline: This would be the descriptor or one-line catchphrase that is associated with a company. For example: Nike’s “Just do it.”
  • Graphics: This is the main visual element that is part of a brand. For example: the ribbon that is a part of the Coca-Cola brand.
  • Colors: These are standard, recognizable colors associated with a brand. For example: Coca-Cola’s red, or Facebook’s blue.

Brand identity is the outward expression of a brand. It includes these elements and is usually assembled by the owner of the brand or a designer hired to create the visual elements of the brand. It reflects how the owner wants the consumer to perceive the brand. This is very important in creating brand recognition and loyalty going forward.

Proper branding can lead to higher sales of a product or service and can create loyalty in a market For instance, if someone loves Nike shoes, he or she is more likely to also purchase other Nike products, like clothing or accessories. This creates brand loyalty. Brand loyalty consists of a consumer’s commitment to repurchase or continue using the brand. Brand loyalty can establish life-time users and in essence, spokespeople for a brand.

It is the hope of most business owners to create an iconic brand, like Apple, Nike, or Volkswagen; however, it is not always possible. For small business owners, having a strong visual presence, communicating your message effectively, and creating positive brand experiences is key. Brand recognition is the most important goal in the early months and years of a company or product’s introduction. It is evaluated, generally as a percentage of the target market. Do your ideal customers recognize you? Can they recall your brand? Do they have positive feelings about your brand? Awareness, and positive awareness, most importantly, helps your brand stand out from the others in this very competitive market.

So, not only are the individual elements of your brand important: your name, logo, graphic elements, colors; all these elements combined (which creates your overall brand) create the experience for your ideal customer. Remain consistent in your message, your visual elements and most of all your customer experience. THAT is the way to create a loyal following and in turn, create customers for life.