Halloween Night

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Happy November, friends. Happy beginning of this month to gather and be grateful. We start this month off in our home by reading my favorite children’s book for the season, Cynthia Rylant’s In NovemberI want to crawl inside this book and live in its pages, I want to hug the author for sewing together all the feels of this season and putting them into poetry.

“In November, people are good to each other. They carry pies to each other’s homes and talk by crackling woodstoves, sipping mellow cider. They travel very far on a special November day just to share a meal with one another and to give thanks for their many blessings – for the food on their tables and the babies in their arms.” ~Cynthia Rylant

The food on our table last night was our annual Halloween chili, and the babies don’t really fit in our arms anymore, but we definitely count them as our greatest blessings.

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And Halloween night will always call for recognition that this gig of raising children–of planning costumes and class parties; running last-minute to the craft store to pick up felt for that one last touch on that dress; of hanging spider webs on bushes five minutes before the first trick-or-treaters arrive because–according to your kid–your house didn’t look “Halloweeny” enough; of holding small hands through dark streets, weaving between clowns and princesses and letting go to watch them run–taller, braver, more confident this year; of coming home to sort piles of candy, trade Sugar Babies for Milk Duds, costume for pajamas; of tucking them in with a “that was fun”…this is our greatest adventure, and no matter how old they are or how we tuck them in at night–in their beds or in our heads, it always makes me gasp with deep appreciation that I get to do this–love them, watch them, dip my toes into their world of imagination and excitement. I love it so much.

This year, we had a very happy Poppy troll who was thrilled out of her mind when she saw herself in the mirror with this. And I was thrilled that it cost less than $10 to throw together.

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And a sprinkle donut who kept telling me that she loved her make-up job.

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…and an Italian chef who yelled “Mama Mia!” after every “Trick-or-treat.”

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I urged him to leave his pasta pot at home, but he burst into tears and begged to bring it, so he ran up to houses clutching a giant pot.

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Oh, I’m sorry, did I say housES? I meant house. One house. One house before this:

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I went as Fall. Mother Fall. Mother Loving Fall. Mother Fu–. Well, nevermind. Just Fall.

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We are sugared up good and so ready for November, and our house has been “cleared for landing.” You know, spiders and skeletons removed in preparation for the decorations of all decorations.

A few more from last night:

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Nella was so happy to have her friend with her and, for the first year ever, didn’t ask to go home early.

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The juxtaposition of hearing about yesterday’s terror attack in New York City while we were nestled in our neighborhood enjoying another year of memories, surrounded by friends and the police car that slowly traveled around our neighborhood, blaring “Ghost Busters” and waving to the kids..it was jarring. And while we lean in to the comforts of our family and the responsibility of fostering a childhood for our kids that is the opposite of these headlines; we listen, offer our hearts to the victims and our hands to the work of making love prevail.

Wishing love to all of you out there as we begin this month of gratitude and gathering.

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Happy Halloween!

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Dash woke up the other night in the middle of the night which meant I woke up in the middle of the night. Thankfully, I don’t often wake up in the middle of the night, but when I do, it sometimes means I am left to lie there and think about all the ways bad things could happen. Which often leads to this kind of phone call to Heidi the next day:

“Can’t shake it.” (this is my greeting when she answers the phone. there are seldom hellos with us because every conversation starts like our friendship…deep in the middle.)

“Can’t shake what?” she asks.

“Cloud of anxiety today. Like we’re talking shroud. Get it off me.”

“What’s it regarding?” she asks–pertinent information for what approach she’ll take.

“Hmmm…funny you should ask. Let’s see here. Oh, I don’t know–Is someone going to sick? Is our country going to war? Are our kids safe? Are people I love going to die someday? Will we have enough money to take care of everyone? Is North Korea a threat? Is everyone a bad person pretending to be good? Am I fulfilling what I’m passionate about? Are we all just living Groundhog Day when we’re supposed to be doing more?” I shove this all into one quick sentence, of course, taking a deep breath after that last word. “So yeah, I guess that.”

She laughs. “Okay. You know how this goes. It will pass. Take a deep breath. Go make some coffee.”

I laugh because I know how it goes too. That balloon-in-my-chest feeling is just a ball of stories my brain throws at me from time to time, usually when I’m tired.

“It all comes down to one question,” my friend Amy tells me later, “Are we doing things that bring us joy?”

The balloon was gone by the time the moon rose later that night, and as I looked around the living room, the answer to “Am I doing things that bring me joy?” was clearly evident. A fire crackled in the fireplace, a half-read book lay open on the coffee table, felt scraps from last-minute Halloween costume changes littered the floor while the tea kettle whistled from the kitchen.

Meanwhile, we’re Enjoying the Halloweenish Things…

Our second annual kid Halloween party.


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I didn’t take a lot of photos this year but managed to get a few before everyone arrived.

Behold, I give you….bloody Band-Aid cookies…

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Cat Poop & Litter Box Delight (rice krispy treats with chocolate that I–yes–hand-formed into cat-sized logs)…

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…and brain cakes.

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My dad turned Dash into this character. I don’t know who it is, but it was funny.

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The  hit of the night was the slime lab we set up in our back bathroom. I basically just lined up gallons of glue, contact solution, shaving cream bottles, bowls, spoons, containers to store concoctions in and a bunch of mix-ins–glitter, foam beads, food coloring, etc. and let them have at it. There was a group of girls huddled in the shower making slime, another at the counters, and the BIGGEST. MESS. WE’VE. EVER. MADE. at the end of the evening.

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The other hit was the fortune booth with Madame Zelda. I had collected some specific information from all the kids’ moms unbeknownst to them, and they were floored with my psychic abilities. “Wait–how did you know that?”

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And then we turned off all the lights and played Sardines. We had some spooky visitors arrive in the middle of the game which had the girls giggling and screaming and running, begging “Can you make it scarier this time?” for each round we played. The littlest ones were removed for this part but ended up wanting to join in once they got to be part of the “backstage” crew, helping my dad and Gary get their masks on.

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And now that we visited our pumpkin “patch” and carved our jack-o-lanterns, there are only two things left on our fall bucket list before we start our holiday one (which I’ll share here and give you a free printable, so stay tuned!). We don’t stress to cross everything off our list and choose simple activities to keep us inspired rather than overwhelmed.

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The bonus for waiting until just a couple days before Halloween to get our pumpkins? We got the cold front for our pumpkin adventure.

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Are we doing things that bring us joy?

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We can’t control it all, but we try where we can…

Visit the pumpkin patch. Wear stripes. Make note of deliciously crisp air. Hug the kids longer than usual. Give a compliment.

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Wear a hat. Red lipstick. Cute socks.

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Replace tomorrow’s worries with today’s recognition…it’s a good day, our favorite season.

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Happy Halloween!

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What College is Like for Me: an Interview with Kirsta Graf

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Two more days of October, the glorious month that holds not only all the fall festivities but the celebration and recognition of how people with Down syndrome are positively impacting those around them, and I saved the best for last. As we progress toward a culture of more acceptance and opportunity, for many families of individuals with Down syndrome, the greatest challenge is still finding opportunities for meaningful employment. Like everyone else, people with Down syndrome want to contribute their voice, talents and time to a job where their work can make a difference, and everything we do to advocate for Nella and support her now keeps that in mind. Hearing about the ways more colleges are developing programs for people with intellectual disabilities and how those programs are expanding opportunities is incredibly hopeful, but of course, we need more. I applaud companies that look for ways they can employ people with special needs and realized I can be one of those people right now. I’ve been blogging for over ten years now and am thankful for the ways our work world has stretched to include so many new creative opportunities for people to support their families and make a living doing things they love. From blog writing and sharing on social media to writing a book and working on partnerships with brands I love, I’ve learned so much and continue to look forward to new experiences. So, new experience–I’ve hired my first intern, Kirsta Graff, and she happens to have Down syndrome. Late in the summer, I shared a little bit about the privilege of joining Ruby’s Rainbow and Kirsta’s family as they dropped her off to college at Bethel University (she’s a Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship recipient) and realized what an incredible perspective she has right now–something I know readers would love to hear. So, I’ll be assigning Kirsta some writing assignments with accompanying photography and will be working with her internship director and student mentor at Bethel to help her learn more about writing, photography, social media and sharing her story in an engaging way. We FaceTime once a week to go over assignments and progress and talk about what she’s working on. And I’m paying her for her valuable contribution to the blog. As I told Kirsta, “My job requires me to find interesting, meaningful content, and your experience there and ability to share that experience is exactly what makes blog content good.” I’m so thrilled to have her as an intern and excited to learn from her.

Want more of this? More paid opportunities for people with special needs to offer their voice? Support Kirsta in the comments and let us know this is something of value to you. And what more do you want to hear from her? Topics you’d love to learn about through her? Tell us! Correspondent reporting for duty from St. Paul, Minnesota!

Kirsta’s first assignment answers some of my own questions about her first weeks in college and what that looks like.

1. You started college in the beginning of September. What has been the most challenging thing so far for you and how are you overcoming that challenge?

A challenging thing is I miss my family. When I wake up in the morning, I think to myself “Take it one day at a time”. This week I know that Thursday night is just around the corner which is fall break. Bethel said no sleeping at home until fall break, so I am really excited to get to sleep in my own bed. I need a nap! At home I would go to bed early, but at school I am staying up until later because there are lots of new experiences. Before I came to school I cried sometimes because I was worried, but I didn’t know why. I’m not normally a cryer. Now that I am here at school, it’s more familiar. If I start to feel jittery or teary, I like to hang out with my friends who make me feel happy. Today I ate lunch with two of my friends from church, and they made me laugh a lot. People are very important to me. I also know that it’s normal to feel homesick at the beginning of new things.

This is a photo of me listening to Brave by Sara Bareilles. I was listening to this song when my mom dropped me off at school because I knew I needed to be brave.

My cousins came to visit me at school because they knew I missed home. This made me cry happy tears because I love them!

2. What has been your favorite moment since you started college?
Homecoming has been my favorite moment for sure. My housing mentor Christina got me and my friends ready in her room. Christina did my hair, and you can even still tell my hair is straightened because she straightened my hair. I did not wear makeup. Makeup is not my thing, it kind of makes me gag.

This is me with my neighbor Nate at homecoming. We had so much fun taking pictures.

3. Can you take us through a typical day at school and give us a day-in-the-life of Kirsta?

7:00am I wake up and get ready for breakfast. I eat breakfast in the dining center with my friend Olivia. This is not easy to wake up so early.

8:00am I have my first class of the day. This class is Independent Living Skills. In Independent Living Skills, we do projects that help us learn about the people around us. One of my projects was listening and writing down positive things people said, and negative things people said. This is my favorite class because it’s about living on my own, but I still love my parents!

10:00am I got to Chapel in Benson Great Hall. I like Chapel because we get to worship God and listen to Pastor Laurel preach. She is really funny and energetic.

11:10am I have Health and Fitness Class. This is at the Wellness Center, and it is where we learn to stay hydrated and fit. My trainer’s name is Tyler, and he is a Packers fan just like me! But I’m not a fan of fitness.

12:00pm I go to the dining center and eat lunch. This is where I see a lot of friends. Sometimes I take pictures of my lunch if it is salad and send to my mom and say “See, I’m eating healthy.” If it is pizza, I don’t take a picture.

12:50pm I have Math and Finances Class. My teacher’s name is Jenn and she teaches us how to add, subtract, and divide money. I do not like math.

2:00-4:30pm I have my on campus internship. My job mentor Kelly helps me give tours to visitors at Bethel. We also work on my writing for Kelle together!

5:00pm I go to dinner in the dining center with my friends.

7:00pm- I go to Shack in my dorm Nelson. Shack is a place we can go and hang out. It is also where we meet to go bowling for the Special Olympics on Tuesdays! We have stuff to do every night.

4. What do you hope this college experience at Bethel will do for you? How do you see it helping you with the next steps to your future?

Bethel is helping me to get experiences working. One job I get to do is being the basketball manager. Another job I get to do is writing this blog for Kelle! This is exciting because one day I could write my own blog and keep sharing my sparkle with others! I love Bethel! It helps me make connections and live on my own.

This is Bethel University’s front desk where I work on campus. I get to greet people with my happy smile.

5. Every college student finds great resources to help them succeed at school. This can be anything from an agenda to help keep due dates organized to tutoring services. What are some of the resources there that are helping you succeed?

I am always wondering “Is it 7 o’clock yet?” because that’s when I have to check in with my housing mentor. I do that with my iPad or phone. I got an iPpad when I came to school and I knew it’d be a part of my life, and it is!  If we want to go off campus, we have to go with an approved person and fill out the form  I finally got that down. We have to FaceTime our housing mentor when we go and come back. 

This is our signout form that we use to go off campus with our friends.

We also use Group Me app for communicating. Our iPad also has my Google calendar on it. All of my classes and activities are put into my Google calendar so I look at it too many times a day to count! I also have many mentors at Bethel who help me to be independent. I have a housing mentor to help me keep my room clean and to be more social. I have a job mentor too. So all these things are tips to help.

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Kirsta, we couldn’t be more thrilled to get an up close look at what your college experience looks like and we look forward to hearing more about what you are learning soon.