There have certainly been years that I had all my presents bought and wrapped by Thanksgiving, White Elephant treats tucked away for exchanges and a tidy calendar full of organized events. Not this year. Not by a long shot and I'm okay with it (I think :) ).

I never feel like we need to do everything possible under the banner of holiday activities. I try to simplify and make the things that we do meaningful...but it still is a full month.

We always want our children to be very conscious of giving and we love Operation Christmas Child and packing shoeboxes which we did last month. Then we really enjoy the World Vision Gift Catalogue and looking through it to purchase a family gift that can totally change the lives of children and families in developing countries. In years past we've bought bikes, medical packages for new moms, goats, pigs and all kinds of fun stuff.

There are lots of school activities on the calendar...the kindergarten performance and the third grade Nutcracker performance is coming up. Church parties, I am speaking at the Ladies' Christmas Dessert night on Friday, and then we have the regular stuff we like to squeak in during December: visiting the tree farm, baking, sledding, a date shopping night for Ben and I, and this year we are going with some friends skating. We're getting cozy at night, reading books and watching old Christmas movies.

For gifts we really do try to keep things simple and useful. Even if we had the money to buy every toy at the store for our kids....I don't want to do that. We really want to teach them to be thankful for blessings. I try to follow the rule of thumb with toy buying of looking for toys that have a different outcome every time you use them. These are the imagination and creativity toys that we prefer. Blocks, trios, dishes, art supplies, outdoor toys...things that require thinking and interacting as opposed to "push a button and your toy does this one thing" type of items. I feel like we get a whole lot more "bang for our buck" with these toys as well. I am sure our trio blocks are used for about two hours a day!

Most of all, we are having conversation about Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. How grateful we are for His love and sacrifice. In a world where there is a lot of hurt and broken hearts, He is the Truth and the Light and we are so thankful for the gift of knowing Him.

One thing that definitely needs to be done for me in the craziness is Christmas pictures of the kids which get put in their frame ornaments for the tree and in a frame on the Christmas picture bookshelf! I can let go of rolling chocolate truffles but can't let go of this :).

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On Thanksgiving weekend, we headed out to take the Christmas pictures after church. I had bought these funny Christmas hats on clearance at Old Navy last year for these pictures and I love how they look. The bookends were both penguins, and on Ruby's we added a flower and eyelashes.

One her wishlist this year: a dog, wheelie shoes, money towards a Kindle (which she's been saving cat feeding and allowance money for all year).


Jasper's wishlist: a dog, batteries, a tree, a big balloon with our house number on it.

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Tymen: fart shoes like Fozzy Bear (hmmmm), a dogcage with a dog.

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Theo: puppy, puppy, puppy and cheese.

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For your information, we are NOT getting a dog. Four children is enough...a dog would send me over the edge!

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This ended up being my favorite for our picture this year. Ben is SO GOOD at getting them to laugh. He knows how to press the crazy button.

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Jimgle bells.

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My peek-a-boo penguin. Oh, how we love this guy.

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We are blessed and we are thankful. Whatever I get done off my list is great but really I want to enjoy this precious time with our family.