I spent Friday evening talking with new friends in a cozy living room not far from our home. My friend Rebecca came with me, and while we intended to stay only fifteen minutes or so, we found ourselves exchanging hugs two hours later with people we seemed to have known for a very long time—a warm and friendly couple and their twenty-nine-year old son, Matt.

I’ve known Matt since he walked up to me at the Valentine’s Day Dance last year and pulled me to the dance floor, no questions asked. I say I’ve known him and yet really, I don’t know much about him except that he can dance, he owns a room when he’s in it, he’s thoughtful and genuinely aware of others’ feelings, and when he’s wearing his cowboy hat, he likes to be referred to as “The Lone Sheriff.” We’ve shared many dances, Matt and I, but it wasn’t until Friday night that I really learned more about Matt’s life.

Matt has Down syndrome. And that statement is the only thing many people walk away with when they see him working at McDonald’s or riding the bus home after his shift or sitting with his parents at a restaurant.

That’s what I would have walked away with three years ago, and I’m so glad I know differently today.


Friends, Nella turns three next week. Many of you have been reading since her birth, a few even before, and many new friends have joined this year to read and share and be a part of this community. Since Nella turned one, we’ve decided to use this time of year to celebrate the many ways in which we are different and to ask your help in raising awareness for individuals with Down syndrome.


This beautiful community right here raised over $100,000 for the National Down Syndrome Society in honor of Nella’s ONEder Fund two years ago. Last year, you helped us raise another $100,000 and have continued to contribute for a current $208,698 to support the efforts of the NDSS in raising awareness and advocating for the acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.

We are so grateful for this community and the way that you have embraced the mission our family shares with over 400,000 other families in this country alone. We want our children to grow up loved and valued. We want them to have opportunities for education and fulfilling jobs. We want the world to see their personalities, their abilities, their smile, their determination and not just an extra chromosome. Thank you, thank you for what you have given, for how you have shared.

We ask for your help again, on the celebration of our Nella’s birth. This year, we’re launching N3lla’s Triple Crown to celebrate three years of life.


Can we stretch our goal to $300,000? I think we can.

If you come to this blog to read, to look at pictures, to share—if you find something valuable in this space, we ask that you give back to a community who needs a louder voice. I pay $20 a year for a few magazine subscriptions that make me happy. I pay $5 for a tall cappuccino when it’s worth the splurge. And yes, $5 and $10 donations make a difference. You’ve proven it two years in a row. Please help us celebrate three years by donating to N3lla’s Triple Crown for her birthday this year.  Every dollar goes to the NDSS.

How much I’ve learned in three little years. How differently I see people now. I learned a lot about Matt the other night as well as some other friends, and I can’t wait to share more in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, I am remembering where I was three years ago. Much like right now–pregnant, waiting, dreaming. Seriously, this girl rocked our world in the most incredible way.


Loving her hurts so good, and her squinty-eyed, squish-nose smile will forever remind me what an absolute blessing she is.


I hope you see the vibrant, inquisitive, gentle little girl we do.  A girl with a very bright future.


Please join us in celebrating three years.  Join us in showing the world that Down syndrome does not define our children.  There’s so much more we want you to see.



Thank you for giving, for sharing, for being part of our journey.  More to come this month!

Learn more about the mission of the NDSS and contribute to N3lla’s Triple Crown HERE.



Leave a Comment
  1. Happy early birthday, Nella <3

  2. Happy Birthday Miss Nella, and thank you for sharing Kelle

  3. She is so beautiful! Happy Birthday, Nella!!

  4. I love you Nella! So happy and thankful for exactly who you are.

  5. Happy Birthday beautiful Nella!

    By the way Kelle, the other day I saw a movie on Netflix called Monica and David – it’s about a couple with down syndrome who decides to get married. I instantly thought of you. It’s very heat warming. I hope you find the time to watch it,highly recommend it!


  6. I can’t wait to be a part of this! Your blog and book are beyond inspirational and I love that I can give in some way.

  7. I love all that you do to help raise awareness for our beautiful children. Thank you for sharing your beautiful family with us and enjoy these past three years with your “special” little girl she is beyond beautiful.

  8. Happy Birthday Nella! You bring joy to so many people!

  9. I’ve been reading your blog since right after Nella was born and I can’t believe how big she is getting and how much she has grown and developed! Such a sweetie!

  10. Without hesitation. Thank you for sharing your little one with the world.

  11. For the third year in a row… I love this, I love this, I love this. Love how you’re changing the world, love how you’re helping others change the world. Happy early birthday to beautiful Nella.

  12. I simply CANNOT believe Nella Bean is turning 3!! THREE!! WOW! Where did the time go?! I’ve loved every minute of the journey, and I will definitely be contributing in honor of the MOST beautiful little girl ever! She’s gonna do AMAZING things, this I know for sure!

  13. This is so wonderful. I love little philanthropists…and who wouldn’t want to make N3lla smile!!! Good Luck

  14. Your family and drive is just beautiful. Happy birthday to Nella!


  15. Nella is beautiful. I read your book and I love reading your blog.

  16. Happy birthday beautiful Nella! Although I don’t know you or your lovely family personally, I’ve learned so much about you, Down syndrome, and how unique and amazing you are. Your mom and her words have inspired and blessed my life in many ways. Hugs! xoxo

  17. Happy Birthday beautiful girl – all the way from New Zealand. Thank you for all the smiles you and you family bring to us all.

  18. so excited to see what happens this year! happy birthday sweet girl!

  19. Happy Birthday Nella! Enjoy the fabulous party your mom throws for you! Can’t wait to see pictures.

  20. She is so beautiful and you are amazing!! I can not believe it has been three years already!! Time sure goes by fast!!! Happy Birthday sweet little one!!! May the Lord Bless you always!!!

  21. Happy early birthday beautiful girl!
    Kelle – thank you for sharing your life, and for educating the world about the importance of seeing people – all people – for who they are, not just what you can see at first glance. This is so important to me, too; my nephew has DS and one of my worries (besides health issues – I’m a nurse) is always how other people will treat him. I think because of you, less people will be inclined to view others on a superficial level, will look a little deeper, and be a little kinder and show more love to each other. Thank you.

  22. Happy Birthday Cute little ladie 😉

  23. Nella is truly something special. Both your girls are lucky to have such an amazing mother.

  24. I look forward to this post every year for the adorable photos of Nella. She is so stinkin’ cute and she never fails to bring a smile to my face.

    You should consider selling Nella calendars to raise money … she could bring a joyful expression to each month! :o)

    It’s obvious how special and spirited she is … it shines through in every picture of her. Thanks so much for sharing her with the world.

    I’ll definitely be contributing as I have each year. I think it’s awesome that you do this.

  25. Count us in Kelle belly…and in case you haven’t heard it yet today, the world’s a better place with you in it. xo

  26. is there an easy way to give from Canada?
    i really enjoy your photography, your style of the story telling and not looking and saying cheese.
    happy birthday to nella!!

  27. Seriously…she just keeps getting more and more beautiful. Happy birthday sweet girl!

  28. My boyfriend and I got to talking – Those individuals with Down Syndrome always appear to be so happy and so full of life. Maybe we should all have an extra chromosome 21?

    On a different note…
    Happy Birthday, Sweet Nella!

  29. Kelle, I was beginning to worry about you, it seemed like so long in between your posts, well it’s because I enjoy them so much,HA. ***Janita, I love your comment, so cute and so true!!, Kelle, I can’t wait to help make this birthday money total rise.

  30. Happy soon to be Birthday to Nella! I’m reminded every year it’s her birthday as she shares the same date with my son who is turning 5! I can’t believe i’ve been reading your blog for 3 years! I hope you all have a wonderful day! :)

  31. Three years! I love every single picture in this post. Sweet girl.

  32. i just love that nella bella

  33. Kelle, thank you for sharing your family… and for opening our eyes and our hearts.

    Happy almost birthday to Nella :)

  34. A doll over and over! Happy early birthday precious little one whom the world has fallen in love with. Different, same, I don’t care…all you need is love to see the specialness one possesses!!!
    Tejas love,

  35. Happy Birthday Nella!!!!

  36. Love, love, love!! So happy to be a part of it!! Thanks for the opportunity :)

    Happy Birthday, Nella. You rocked your mommy & daddy’s world a few years ago but you also rocked mine. I’m forever changed. Thank you, sweet girl.

    Angie from Ohio (angiepics on Instagram)

  37. 3 years ago Nella rocked my world in the best kind of way. Thank you for sharing your story.

  38. Happy 3rd Birthday Nella!! She is such a cutie :) I am in tears just reading this Kelle. I DO SEE so much through your stories and pictures of beautiful Nella!! I would love to meet her one day!! This is the first year I am reading about the fundraiser. I am reading your book right now, have been following your blog for awhile but have a lot to catch up on. I am so incredibly inspired by your family’s journey and drive for change to have everyone embrace people with Down syndrome the way we would with anyone else we meet, with love and kindness. I will proudly participate in this fundraiser! Wishing you all the best Kelle as you prepare to celebrate your precious Nella’s special day! Michelle

  39. I’ve been reading since a little before Nella was born. The way you write inspires so many to see beyond just the Down Syndrome. She is such a beautiful and vibrant little girl. I can’t wait to see the total rise to 300,000 this year!!

  40. Nella, the world is a better place because you are in it! Happy Birthday beautiful girl.

  41. Happy “early” 3rd birthday Miss Nella !

  42. Happy “early” 3rd birthday Miss Nella !

  43. I stumbled upon your blog by accident several weeks ago. Since then, I have taken the time to go back and read as many blog entries as I can.
    I have fallen in love with your sweet Nella (and your whole family) through the eyes of your camera lens. I truly feel like you have embraced the essence of motherhood and that you have learned to embrace every moment.
    Happy Birthday, Nella!

  44. woot woot!!!!! we are in. Three. Oh, my. So much my favorite age. Enjoy every minute. Ours is now a whopping 18…

  45. I came across your blog a few weeks ago and I have been reading the back story of your family’s life ever since, and I just wanted to tell tou that you are so inspiring. I am 8 days overdue with my first baby and as excited as I am, I also find myself worried about most things under the sun regarding the health and welbeing of my baby. Thank you for showing me that no matter what happends there is nothing to fear with a positive mindset. Your family is truly beautiful and I just love the way you capture life through your pictures

  46. Happy Birthday to Nella! She is so adorable!

  47. Look at her long hair! Beautiful girl! I started reading just after you had Nella and am inspired by you every day. x

  48. Beautiful. She’s just so beautiful :)

  49. I’d do anything for sweet Nella! I have a sweet “boy” friend with Down Syndrome. Matthew is 26, I think, and he’s one of the greatest people I know. My late husband always said of him, “Matthew makes my day better every time I see him.” I think the same of Nella and I only see her in photos. Bless you all!

  50. I’ve recently discovered your blog and I’ve become easily addicted. Checking in daily.

    Happy birthday to Nella and I hope she will continue to shine and set the example for everyone as she is doing now!

  51. I’ve learned so much in three years…I’m so glad you share your stories with us.

    Happy birthday to Nella. Three is a wonderful age!

  52. She is absolutely beautiful!

  53. I’ve just lost my job and I’m in a difficult situation right now, but I will give my help to the association!
    A big hug to you, and Nella and all the starordinary people with down sindrome

  54. Thank you.

    I stumbled on your blog just a few months before Nella was born. I love your attitude & insight, your photography, and all your great family/kid ideas. I know DS is a big part of your life and I’ve learned a lot from you about that, but it’s never one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of your blog or your family. Often I forget about it completely till you do a post like this. You’ve done so much to show Down Syndrome is just one of many, many pieces of who Nella is and who she will become.

  55. I remember that sharing Nella’s ONE-der fund was the first “public” (i.e., on Facebook) sharing I did about Down syndrome, when we were waiting for Ellie. How the heck is she three? (And how is Ellie nearly two!?!??!)

    So glad you are continuing to do this!

  56. From Italy, with love……happy birthday Nella!!!! Thank you for……you!

  57. Hello!
    I follow your blog and your instagram profile, and I saw that you have the northern light on your bucket list now. Therefore, you have to see this short film from my hometown Ålesund in Norway. Beautiful nature and amazing northern lights.


  58. Just look at all the love your lil Nella has created in the world! She is a gift no doubt about it. Happy, happy birthday precious little one. May you always know a life full of joy, wonder, love and unicorns.

  59. Our babies share a birthday and I think of Nella often as I watch my gabe growing. He was born with only half of his heart. It’s not an outwardly condition but it causes him to not be able to do all the things we originally thought he would. I’ve grown so much. Been stretched to find new ways, determined to not let a little something different steal his full life.

    Praying for you Mama and both your sweet girls. Life isn’t always what we dreamed but boy oh boy is it sweet.

  60. Kelle, can we celebrate you too? Look how you have stepped into these advocating, fund-raising, consciousness-raising shoes as if it were exactly what you were meant to do with your one wild and precious life (aside from orange-picking and child-nurturing and showing us how to enjoy the small things). xo

  61. Have you seen this? These two boys are amazing, standing up for their bullied sisters who have Down Syndrome:

  62. What a little sweetheart! Happy Early Birthday Nella!

  63. oh my gosh! she looks so Big Girl in that red dress! so neat to see her growing before our very eyes! i’m honored to contribute for Nella Bean!

  64. Happy early birthday Nella from Norway – my girls turn 8 Monday – they almost share your birthday!

  65. Happy early birthday Nella! Gosh, she’s grown so much in the time I’ve been following the blog (since right after she was born). Can’t wait to contribute a little this year. :-)

  66. I can not believe she is turning 3. 3 years old. WOW! I love her smile. I love that I get to see it so often.

  67. She’s such a beautiful girl, and she’s going to make a wonderful big sister. I hope my donation helps you guys get to the $300,000 mark. I hope more people can see how beautiful and amazing people are, even (or especially) with Downs syndrome.

  68. Tears…of course. But I’ve finally realized it’s not just because I’m an “emotional person” or that it’s just “that time of the month”….hahaha! But more because our world was rocked too, and because you helped stabilize it once it was catapulted to a place I never knew existed before Nora, before Nella, before Matt…
    My heart has always been tender for differently abled souls, it’s just that now the love inside has been amplified and unable to be contained.
    I can’t wait to sit down with Jim and donate some of that love just waiting to bust out :). With tears, I am sure!

  69. she is just BEAUTIFUL.
    happy b-day little lady :)

    xo – heather
    This Life Is Yours Blog

  70. Nella is so gorgeous! I’ve loved watching her grow over the last year (when I started following.) Today is my birthday and the best gift to myself was donating to NDSS. Thanks for all you do Kelle.

  71. Happy Birthday beautiful Nella! Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous family with us all Kelle…it is a pleasure to help you to support such a fantastic cause x

  72. Happy Birthday! Can’t wait to be a part of something so wonderful :) Nella is such a doll!

  73. Kelle,
    Three years! You have brought so much light to dark places, turned fear into joy and taken us all along on this incredible journey. Am so grateful to have found you. Give that Nella bean a big birthday squeeze from her friend Quinn!

  74. These photos may be my favorite of yours yet.
    Thank you for all you do for the DS community. My sister is 21 now, and has DS and I so wish someone like you would have been around back then. You are educating and changing people’s views and stereotypes and I think you and your family are pretty amazing.
    P.S. The sunglasses photo is my favorite…that smile just melts my heart.

  75. Kelle, you do really amazing things in the world. And I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know Nella and read more about Down Syndrome through your blog. Your fundraising achievements are incredible, and I agree, if I can buy a $5 coffee, I can donate to a very good cause. (that being said, I live in little New Zealand, and $5 here is probably about 0.35c with our dreaded exchange rate – but every little bit helps right?!)

  76. Nella is beautiful. ABSOLUTELY beautiful. I love looking at every single picture you share of her ~ thank you.

  77. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a photo of Nella and not broken into a smile. She is an absolute darling. Happy Birthday to her, I hope you all have a wonderful day celebrating and that she gets a huge slice of cake!

  78. Thank you for helping me remember the important things in life. Xoxo

  79. Kelle
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words and pictures. I cry almost every time I read your posts. Your openness and love of your children is truly beautiful. Thank you for teaching us more about DS and how beautiful life really can be.

  80. You are so blessed to have such a beautiful little girl, she is gorgeous! xo

  81. Joy. Hope. Love. That is what i see in here… Keep smiling and continue keeping photography memories – so nice! Have a happy happy birthday… benetia from Greece.

  82. Thank you for everything that you do for Down Syndrome Awareness, – you’ve changed so many attitudes, which is the most important – cause it reflects on personal treatment towards anyone with DS. Happy to support you!! And congrats – three years, lovely Nella. :)

  83. This is exciting stuff! Can you believe how much money you’ve raised??! Crazy!!! Love you Nella. You are one special little girl.

  84. Happy Birthday Nella! I have been reading for 3 years and have been truly continued to be inspired by your writing, your photographs and your outlook on life. You make the world a little brighter. I have learned so much about DS since reading. I too looked at it differently, well, until I meet little Nella and I feel like I truly know your family by reading. Thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing your life with us. I pray that Nella will continue to be accepted in this world and not looked at differently, but equally.

  85. I have visited here, sometimes frequently and often less so but today I knew I would have to say something. The impact of Nella’s life and how you’ve taught us, this reader community, is likely so widespread it scarcely gets documented, so I wanted to tell you today about Richard.

    Richard bags my groceries at Kroger. He’s slow and methodical and I see people get frustrated. Maybe I would have too, but because of your insight into this beautiful world of Down Syndrome, I now make it a point to get in Richard’s line. I talk to him about his day, ask about his plans, tell him mine. He is a sweet man, and I likely would never have known it were it not that I stumbled upon this blog three years ago. And I never get home with squished bread or broken eggs either 😉

    So thank you, Kelle, for opening my eyes and mostly, my heart, to this sweet part of the world I was missing out on. Blessings to you for making the time to balance so much that “feeds” so many.

  86. Hi Kelle, thanks for this post and the encouragement to give. I linked to you here
    because I would very much like everyone I know to experience Miss Nella (and of course Lainey) for themselves.

  87. Hi Kelle, thanks for this post and the encouragement to give. I linked to you here
    because I would very much like everyone I know to experience Miss Nella (and of course Lainey) for themselves.

  88. I just listened to this song that is part of a video put together for my dear friend’s son who has a rare condition called Diamon Blackfan Anemia where he needs blood transfusions roughly every 3 weeks to stay alive and as I was watching the video again and crying the lyrics just made me think of sweet Nella and what a blessing each child is to us. To celebrate everyone’s differences and treasure their uniqueness. I hope this song and words make you smile as your sweet Nella, your pictures, your blog, your stories and your love for your family and this community make me smile so much.

    The song is called: Amazing by a Christian Singer/Songwriter Janelle

    Living For Something – Amazing

    The morning cold and raining
    Dark before the dawn could come
    How long in twilight waiting
    Longing for the rising sun
    Oh, Oh
    You came like crashing thunder
    Breaking through these walls of stone
    You came with wide eyed wonder
    Into all this great unknown
    Hush now don’t you be afraid
    I promise you I’ll always stay
    I’ll never be that far away
    I’m right here with you

    You’re so amazing
    You shine like the stars
    You’re so amazing
    The beauty you are
    You came blazing
    Right into my heart
    You’re so amazing
    You are, You are

    You came from Heaven shining
    Breath of God still fresh on you
    The beating heart inside me
    Crumbled at this one so new
    Oh, Oh
    No matter where, how far you wander
    For a thousand years or longer
    I will always be there for you
    Right here with you
    I hope your tears are few and fast
    I hope your dreams come true at last
    I hope you find love that goes on and on and on and on and on
    I hope you wish on every star
    I hope you never fall too far
    I hope this world can see how wonderful you are

    Happy Birthday sweet Nella!!

  89. Happy happy birthday to sweet Nella!! My older daughter is turning 3 also in March and it is bittersweet! My younger daughter, Chandler, is four months and has Down syndrome..just wanted you to know that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and book! I cried reading this particular post because I can relate to your words! I love that you say she has a very bright future, because she surely does!! And that Down syndrome does not define our children. I look forward to reading more..

  90. Just found your site today oddly enough through a Pinterest post about Nella’s birth. I’m three years behind, but I cried. Such a beautiful baby has turned into such a gorgeous little girl! She certainly does seem to have a bright future! What a blessing. Can’t wait to read more and congrats on your not-yet-here baby boy!!

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