Nella Turns 7: A Sunshine State Party

Seven years ago, right now, I was lying in my hospital bed, holding tiny Nella, waiting for the sun to come up. I needed light and the promise of normalcy that the hustle of day time brought, and my hope laid in sun. It soon came, brightening the hospital room and warming the tone, and not long after, I found it in the night as well–light, not dependent on the time of day or the carefully crafted plans I dreamed up for what my family would look like.

This girl’s been nothing but sunshine, and we celebrated these 7 joyful years and everything she is with a Florida-themed birthday party this past weekend, full of foliage, flamingos and friends.

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Some new friends from her kindergarten class joined us this year as well as friends we’ve known since she was tiny, and watching her take her place in her little village made me so happy. This year, she’s bloomed socially in a remarkable way, and where she used to quietly hide behind us or shy away from interacting with larger groups, she’s now owning her space, comfortable and confident to shine her little light on her own. It’s my greatest wish for her–always own your space, girl; shine your light. You got this.

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Celebrating sunshine and the hope of a bright tomorrow…I bring you, a little Florida party.

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We didn’t have to do much for decorations–some cut paper palm fronds, a bowl of oranges, a few yard flamingos and a gathering of houseplants.

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Afternoon birthday parties are great for offering a few snacks rather than a full lunch.

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These cute dolphin fruit cups were a hit, but Dash pulled all the Swedish Fish out of their mouths and ate them before they were served.

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I made flamingo fascinators for all the girls with this 12-pack of pink satin headbands. I hot glued these large pink feathers along with some smaller ones (multi-color pink pack at Michael’s) to a stiff white felt circle I cut out, and then hot glued to the headbands.

Nella’s dress is from a shop called That Mia Life on Etsy, but for some odd reason, the shop link isn’t working.

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(These plush flamingos are from Amazon, but after I bought a bunch at $4 each, I went back to get one more, and the price went up to $10. Grrrr.)

We had two Make Stations–Hand print Flamingo Canvases (thank you, Pinterest) and Ocean Bottles, and one Game Station–The Jellyfish Toss.

I pre-painted flamingo heads and legs on flat 8 x 10 canvases, and the kids created their bodies with a pink paint hand print, and then added their names with scrapbook letter stickers. They turned out so cute.

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We made little oceans in a bottle with clear plastic juice bottles filled with 2/3 mineral or baby oil and 1/3 water dyed with a few drops of blue food coloring. The kids chose some tiny shells and plastic ocean animals to add to their bottles as well as a little blue glitter for the sparkle lovers.

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When you tip the bottle, you get that lava lamp bubble/ocean wave effect.

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We added some Florida flair to a good old carnival ball toss by adding aquarium rocks and these fun rubber jellyfish to fish bowls.

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The jellyfish were a hit and prompted a follow-up game of fling-a-wet-jellyfish-at-your-neighbor that was definitely a party favorite–screaming, giggling kids running from flying jellyfish everywhere.

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(Moment of silence please for the tail end of her fits-on-hip era. Thank you. Carry on.)

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And the moment her friends all sang “Happy Birthday”? Heaven. She loved it. All smiles.

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Her smile got so big at one point, she just put her hands over her mouth to contain it.

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Our Barbie population grew so huge this weekend, they put on their own Women’s March down our hallway and throughout our living room.

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And Sister was happy. Surrounded by love. Offering her voice, her hands, her spirit to this little community of friends. It’s a gray morning here today, but the sun shines bright in our home.

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We played this little birthday video at a family brunch yesterday morning, and what a joy it was to watch Nella take it in. We surprised her with some birthday messages from family and friends far away and a special treat from the stars of one of her favorite shows, The Fresh Beat Band. I think she’s watched this over 30 times now. I can’t wait to make one for Lainey and Dash for their birthdays this year as well. As always, we are so grateful for the light each of our children brings and love the opportunity of birthday celebrations to reflect on that love.

(video songs: “8 (Circle)” by Bon Iver and “Turn to Stone” by Ingrid Michaelson)

Thank you for all the kind words and birthday messages so many of you sent yesterday. While birthdays are for celebrating life, this one also brings our celebration of how Down syndrome has affected our lives in so many beautiful ways including the opportunity to share this journey. Thank you for learning with us these past seven years. Much love.


Leave a Comment
  1. Oh man, that video. Tears all over the place. Happy birthday sweet Nella — you’ve changed countless lives in your 7 years, and you’re sure to change many more.

  2. Happy birthday, Nella!!!

  3. JodieKingsbury says:

    Happy Belated Birthday Nella!!!

    Looks like she had an amazing day. I love all of your posts.

  4. Happy 7th Birthday Day Nella!!!!!!

  5. I admire your creativity and is constantly inspired by your pictures and words. Now, I am thinking…should I throw a valentine’s day party?

  6. Shelby McCully says:

    Happy Birthday, Nella! That video brought tears of happiness to my eyes. Nella is a definite ray of sunshine to everyone she meets, what a perfect birthday theme for a bright, beautiful girl. May your day be just as sweet as you are. Heres to many more fun-filled years!

  7. I totally relate to your fits-on-hip comment…i too have a 7 year old and miss the days i could carry her around all day without have sore arms the next day! doesn’t stop me from doing it though :) love reading about your family and especially these fabulous parties you throw. happy birthday, nella! xo

  8. what a lucky girl she is to have such a fantastic mama and family. You have done a great job kellee…Happy, Happy Birthday Nella!!!

  9. Laura wilson says:

    Happy birthday beautiful Nella. Your blog has been such a life line for me since my baby was born 8 months ago. Thank you for sharing. (Following from Ireland).

  10. Very cute party. The “tail end of fits on hip era”….very nice. and bittersweet. We have a grandchild who just turned seven….it is unreal to watch the seasons pass and yet the joy of the present age and its wonders moves us forward. Loved sharing Nella’s special day. She obviously relished every minute!

  11. Gail Okeson says:

    This is absolutely beautiful!!! Happy Birthday Nella. What a beautiful little girl you are!

  12. Kathy GEtman says:

    Kelle and family;
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
    Not everyone can write or share pics of life like you do.
    Every family, every life story is unique.
    I love reading and glimpsing yours, and sharing the joys, as well as
    some of the challenges, is touching many lives. You are making a difference.
    A difference I, and I am sure millions, love.

  13. This amazing little girl’s birth story was the post that brought me here. So thanks Nella, for being so wonderful and for letting me discover your family and your amazing mum.

  14. I started reading your blog when I found Nella’s birth story. I can hardly believe 7 years has gone by. Happy Birthday Nella! She has taught me a lot about life.

  15. Happy Birthday, Nella, you are SO beautiful!!!

    Mrs. Mary

  16. Jane Stark says:

    Hi Kelly, I am the woman who stopped you at Publix’s the morning of the party. You were so kind to take time to pose for a photo with me (I was sending it to my daughter who lives in Omaha- she is a HUGE fan).
    Thank you for making my day and my daughter and granddaughters day- they were so excited when I text the picture. From the Birthday party posts- looks like you made Nella’s day also. So happy it was a smashing success.
    Hope I get a chance to bump into you again :-) You are a special person. Jane

  17. Adorable party. Love the photo of Nella covering her mouth… so cute. Cute bottles with glitter & fish. I love your parties.

    Happy Birthday Sweet Nella.

  18. Happy Birthday Sweet Girl!!

  19. Just out of curiosity – what is the hand symbol poster on your wall supposed to be? It looks an awful lot like devil horns, and I was just curious if that was what you were going for? Maybe your family is really into heavy metal?

  20. Carol Greenstein says:

    Happy Bday Neila, Beautiful party….

  21. Happy Birthday Nella! You are such a beautiful little girl. My Ashton, just turned 8 and he went through so many similar stages that I have watched you go through as well, it’s nice to know that we aren’t alone in this life of DS – thanks for always taking the time to write so lovely Kelle.

    PS – where is your skirt / top from ? Beautiful and Bright!

  22. I can’t believe Nella is seven! She is such a beautiful girl and it has been a privilege to watch her come into herself. Happy Birthday Sweetie!

  23. Awesome KELLE, you’ve done it again ! Great party and wonderful video…..you are truly an incredible mom !!

  24. Sheer joy and beauty, honestly! <3

  25. Happy birthday Nella!
    Birthday girl looks beautiful! Kelle, can you tell me how long does it take you to plan such a party? I’m always inspired by your amazing party ideas, but fail to execute them because I simply run out of time and I’m not organized enough to get stuff done month in advance! Am I missing something? Maybe extra pair of hands? =)

  26. Beautiful party for a beautiful girl (by a beautiful mama!). God bless, little Nella!

  27. Jennifer B. says:

    OMG. I am blinking away the tears at work. The video … with your mom singing “Happy Birthday” and the photo of Nella with her hands over her mouth … so sweet.

    What a fun party. I can’t believe your little ray of sunshine is 7 already. It’s been such a joy watching her grow and blossom into who she is. Thanks for taking us along for the ride!

    Happiest of birthdays, Nella! And many, many more.

  28. Jill Anderson says:

    Love the opportunity to learn about this precious life through your journey. Happy birthday sweet Nella!

  29. Dear sweet Nella ~ Happy 7th birthday.

    Love & hugs from FlowerLady

    P.S. This was a lovely post and I loved the little video. I can hardly believe that Nella is 7. Time is zipping right along.

  30. Happy birthday, Nella! I’ve adored you since the day you were born.

  31. LOVE that video!!! Happy birthday Nella!

  32. Christine says:

    Nella is one lucky girl to have such an amazing circle of support surrounding her. You have a beautiful family. Happy birthday sunshine!

  33. You are doing such a great job, mama. Nella is seen and heard and loved.

  34. This makes my heart so happy! In a time where there is nothing but political discord on the internet, this is a welcome reprieve. Thank you for sharing your beautiful family with us, especially your sweet Nella. I’ve enjoyed seeing her blossom. ❤❤❤

  35. Oh my goodness! She is beautiful! I have just stumbled upon your amazing book about little Nella’s birth and finished it last night! Came here to see what has been happening since then and Wow!! Just love reading about your incredible life and pure honesty. Thank you for sharing Kelle!

  36. That video is so sweet and priceless! What app/software did you use to create it?

  37. Joanna Downey says:


  38. Nathalie milla says:

    Happy birthday little Angel!!! And a happy birth day to you too Kelle. So inspiring watching you both grow. Love from Greece xx

  39. Happy belated birthday, Nella! That photo in which she’s covering her smile, getting hugged by a friend — it made my mama heart so happy, I swear. Tears. What a sweet idea for a party — obviously one that was a big hit!

  40. Happy Birthday Nella! I have been following your blog since way back before Nella was born – you have done a fabulous job Moma! She is happy, healthy and very loved…no child could ask for more!

  41. Oh My Gosh!!! I cannot believe Nella is 7!!! Where has the time gone?!? I’ve been following you & the gang for 7 years! Loved seeing her grow through the years! Absolutely adore that little girl! Thanks for sharing – love the video! Melts my heart!

  42. Her hands to her mouth to help contain the smile? Too much. So much love for Nella and your family. Incredibly creative, thoughtful and well done party. (As usual!) Thanks for sharing! xx

  43. God bless Nella and her beautiful family….I love reading your blog Kelle….do you mind sharing how old you are?

  44. So so beautiful! Love following your journey and especially your parties which are always so incredible and really show your kids how much you love them! That video just takes it over the top and made me get all emotional and teary eyed! How sweet. Happy birthday!!

  45. A 7 year reader here….so sweet…the light is bright and BEAUTIFUL!!! Congratulation seem to be in order! Just precious! :)

  46. I just had the blessing of stumbling across your blog. I am seeking sources in my life the reinforce that life is beautiful! You and your family do that in spades! I’ll be here for the long-haul. THANK YOU for sharing your light.

  47. Been following since beautiful Nella was born!!! Can’t believe she is 7! Happy birthday, sweet girl. I’ve shared your “There Is More” post so many times. Spoke to my heart. Thanks for your beautiful writing!

  48. Love, love, love, love love!

  49. Jennifer Creel says:

    LOVE this! Moves me to tears, been following the whole journey with Nella <3
    Happy Birthday sweet girl!!!

    Kelle- what program are you using to put those videos together? I need to put some of my son together and want one I can use easily and put music to but still hear the videos sounds like in yours here. TIA!

  50. Seven is a perfect number!! May love follow you through out living and God may always be present to watch over You.We love you, Nella!!

  51. Thank you for sharing! A beautiful post with an amazing story! I loved every moment of your video and I could not stop scrolling again and again through the pictures. Great ideas that come together in a way that transformed both the inside and the outside into a dreamy birthday theme park! This experience must have created awesome new memories for Nella and her friends. Great job! A wonderful birthday party for a wonderful girl!

  52. Happy birthday sweet Nella!!! And congratulations mom! I am totally in tears as I’m reading this post and I wanted to thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure you have plenty of people who say that…. here’s why my reason why. I was pregnant with twins (conceived through many attempts and finally IVF) and was put on bed rest when only 2 months along. For some reason (I still can’t remember) I was searching the internet and stumbled onto your book -Bloom. I ordered it and read it in a day. So fast forward- I had my twins extremely early (31 weeks) but overall they were healthy. And then my son started showing signs of delay. He was eventually diagnosed with autism and my whole world seemed to crumble into a haze of fear and questions and anger and helplessness…. and I reread your book. I started reading your blog and it has been so inspiring. I am so SO happy to see Nella living life…. taking it by the horns! It makes me smile and have hope. My twins are almost three and we are seeing so much progress with our little Beau. He’s my hero. So is Nella.

  53. #nellacordelialightstheworld

  54. Beautiful!
    My congratulations to you, Nella :)
    I wish I were at this party.
    I’m planning to do something like this party. Who helped you to decorate the venue?

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