its beginning to look alot…

…like Christmas!!!
as i sit here listening to James Taylor’s Christmas Album, i’m just stopping in to talk a little Christmas with y’all!
as soon as the last Thanksgiving dish was washed, Christmas started in full swing around here:

the very next day, we went and gathered our trees…yes…plural…trees.

the crazies traditionally always get their own little tree to decorate with all our “fun” ornaments. i pretty much let them go to town on their little tree:
this year their little Charlie Brown-ish tree got its own perfect spot in the window of their room, complete with a starfish as a tree topper…fitting, huh?

(thanks, Taylor, for the awesome banner!! its perfect!!)
admiring all their hard work from our front window:
since they use all their fun ornaments to decorate their tree, momma gets to decorate her tree the way she likes it…neutral and pretty!
the halls were most certainly decked!
and with the start of the Christmas season, we Floridians got a very (very) quick cool front for a few days, before climbing right back up to 80!
when that happens, our back doors fog over, making for the perfect drawing board:
Belle can be entertained for a long while, trying to cover every inch that she can reach with her handprints:
but possibly the most exciting thing yet has been this package that was dropped at our front door on December 1st:
The Elf on the Shelf

upon opening, we discoverd a letter from Santa:  (see update at end of post for the letter)
let me pause a minute to talk a little Santa with y’all.
here’s my take (for what its worth!)
i {big fat heart} Santa…a whole heck of a lot!!! we totally believe in him around here, and we enjoy the excitement and celebration that He brings.
i know there are differing thoughts on the proper way to deal with Santa and kids. i understand and truly respect those who choose to do it differently than we do…i really do! but we’ve chosen to enjoy his presence in our house because i don’t want my kids to grow up without the excitement of wondering, hoping, and joyfully awaiting his arrival. i have very vivid memories of being absolutely SURE that i heard sleigh bells as we were leaving church on Christmas Eve, Rudolph’s hooves landing on my roof, and i can’t tell you the wonder it brought my brothers and i to see that Santa had eaten the cookies we had left out for him. there’s nothing quite like that feeling, and i want my kids to enjoy that feeling FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE!!
in my opinion, enjoying Santa with our kids is not lying to them or creating scars for them not to trust us. its instead choosing to give them the opportunity to be kids, to wonder, hope, imagine, dream, play. this world doesn’t offer too many opportunities like that anymore, for kids to just simply be kids, innocent and playful and imaginative. i’m committed to giving them a childhood, even in this world that makes them grow up way too fast, and i personally believe Santa is one (of many) ways of doing that. so there…that’s my take :)
we believe that Santa has the capability to deeply add to the meaning of this season. one thing that Santa has over the years done for our family is remind us of the most wonderful gift that we are celebrating. In all his communication with our family, he always tells us that his gifts are twofold…
1) they are to show us that Jesus is sharing with us the joy of His birthday celebration, His coming to earth, God with us. Jesus bestows gifts on us because of His great love for us, personally.
2) they are a reminder that the best gift we have ever or will ever receive is the gift of a Rescuer.
here’s one of our favorite kids books about that very thing.  Santa’s Favorite Story:
We also hold firmly to the fact that Santa is NOT just an old man who you have to please in order to earn his presents. we believe that Santa operates out of grace, because we all mess up and we need to know that we are still loved in spite of our naughtiness!
SO….i have to tell you that we don’t really subscribe to the whole naughty and nice list thing. we desire for our crazies’ behavior to be a result of knowing that they are DEEPLY loved and cherished by Jesus and by us. so the naughty and nice list just doesn’t fit into our parenting style, because that would put the focus on behavior rather than the heart, and those precious little hearts that live in this house are WAY more important to us then behavior.
as a side, in case you are interested. two books we’ve read (that deserve their own post one day) that have greatly helped us with this parenting style are  Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus and Shepherding a Child’s Heart:
so, although the contents of our package from Santa might look like The Elf on the Shelf, it is in fact just a little bit different.
Our package from Santa contained an Elf named Eli. he came to us with a special letter from Santa, explaining that Elves are special creatures, kind of like our special stuffed animals, Plopper and Sniffer. we can play with him, talk to him, imagine with him, but he usually likes to come alive at night. Santa told us that he loves Eli very much, but that Eli tends to make naughty choices. Santa thought that maybe Canaan and Bella could use those moments to remind Eli of Jesus’ love and grace. so my crazies are supposed to teach him about grace when he does naughty things….which turns out is pretty often! and boy…do my kids get a kick out of it! :)
the crazies watched him like a hawk that first morning…i mean…like didn’t take their eyes off him. they were convinced, completely convinced, that he kept moving his eyes.
seems, though, that Eli knows just when to act up, cause every morning we wake up to find him being a little stinker:

my personal fave so far…
i think the Bug is a little tired of cleaning up after Eli. i caught her disciplining him the other day, and then proceeding to stuff him in the dresser drawer so that he “can’t get out and do any mowe naughty tings!”
i’m sure there will be lots to report about Eli and the adventure he brings to our house over the next few weeks!

ps: i get that some of this might seem outlandish to some of you. it might seem like a stretch…like we are trying too hard to fit a secular thing into our spiritual world. but…isn’t that what life is really like anyway? aren’t we always trying to find God in the very places where we think He’s not? i like to think that every bit of life, of this world, has His very presence, in some form or another. Santa is just one way that we link up our secular world with our spiritual one…which really, when you think about it, is one and the same anyway :)

since so many of you have requested to see the details of the letter that Santa included in the package with Eli, i’m posting it as a JPEG below.  i figured that was easier than responding to each individual email.  although the font below is just a normal font, when i printed it out to use in the package, i used “aka Frivolity” so that it resembled fancy Santa writing :)

you can click on the picture below to see it enlarged.

Eli the Elf is going to be featured on CNN’s Headline News channel this afternoon, December 3, 2012, at 4:00 p.m. E.T. during the show Making it in America.  he is SO excited, and wants you all to tune in to see his National Television debut :)