Nella Turns 7: A Sunshine State Party

featured

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.

 photo print 49_zpsks1zadfc.jpg

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.

 photo print 45_zps36yhkbng.jpg

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

 photo print 1_zps6nbws6wj.jpg

 photo print 5_zpseipvhsqd.jpg

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.

 photo print 8_zpsth87p6ny.jpg

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

 photo print 13_zpsmfgnjs7o.jpg

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.

 photo print 15_zpsjimewhpe.jpg

 photo print 19_zps9skcm9yg.jpg

 photo print 20_zpsdu3kqulf.jpg

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.

 photo print 21_zpsjexjocdi.jpg

 photo print 23_zpsioxxdhuw.jpg

 photo print 24_zps3l3cxkc5.jpg
(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.

 photo print 27_zpst47wr7zi.jpg

 photo print 30_zpsoavfntfv.jpg

 photo print 31_zpsknywao7c.jpg

 photo print 65_zpshboqzzvc.jpg

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.

 photo print 67_zpsq4evbbyu.jpg

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

 photo print 66_zpse4y6vnu6.jpg

 photo print 64_zps3euzxu5m.jpg

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

 photo print 33_zpsdqzb3zzb.jpg

 photo print 35_zpsovhuedhh.jpg

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.

 photo print 36_zpssxgcokmz.jpg

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

 photo print 38_zps3khrpexv.jpg

 photo print 2_zpsdodbukmv.jpg

 photo print 39_zpsfbvmujgh.jpg

 photo print 40_zpskofs0jaf.jpg

 photo print 42_zpspedvpbdt.jpg

 photo print 43_zpshj38palk.jpg

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

 photo print 46_zpszstz9gct.jpg

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

 photo print 47_zpsqgyhecff.jpg

 photo print 51_zpslsso3jdv.jpg

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

 photo print 60_zpsr8pe4c2o.jpg

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.

 photo print 61_zpspnffuhoa.jpg

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.

Let’s Go to the North Pole

featured

Oh hey, Christmas friends. I’m drunk on cocoa and sugar high’in from marshmallows and cookies, but I’m here. In red plaid jammies if you must know.

We had our sixth annual North Pole Party this past weekend and, after editing all the pictures, I’m feelin’ the feels. Why is it that December brings out so many feels? It’s like a month long push on a bruise–the hurts are hurtier; the goods are goodier. We let those feelings come to the surface as they may in December, and we throw parties to celebrate all of it. Six years in now, this little North Pole party holds some nostalgia. It’s hard not to look out at the crowd of kids listening to the Christmas story and remember every one of them when they were in that same spot six years ago–chubbier cheeks and imaginations unshackled by all that the world tells them that is possible. At the same time, it is such a celebration of growth and change and a solid reminder to be grateful–all these kids, all these mamas, all these years. We’re healthy, we’ve grown in numbers, we’re bound by friendship and love.

So, here we go. Some holiday cheer for you–kids and jammies and Christmas and cookies.

Wait. Quick. Go make some cocoa. With marshmallows. I’ll wait.

….

….

Back? Now light a candle. And you’ll need some Christmas music, so I took the liberty of making you a playlist of our absolute favorites.

Click play.

Welcome to the North Pole.

 photo print 2_zpseqbiu3mz.jpg

 photo print 25_zps5v9g9qn6.jpg

 photo print 5_zpspftrshcr.jpg

I am unwilling to try any other Christmas sugar cookie recipe because I can’t imagine this one being topped. It’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook recipe (page 200 in mine–the page is all crusted with flour and falling out of my book). I roll out the dough pretty thick so that they’re soft and chewy, and I pull those feckers out of the oven when they are just barely brown around the edges. Our frosting might not be the smoothest/prettiest frosting, but it tastes so much better than the royal icing recipes I’ve seen that make picture perfect cookies. I don’t measure. I just soften a stick of butter, add a shit ton of powdered sugar, a teaspoon or so of vanilla and then enough milk to get the consistency I want. It sets enough to be able to stack cookies and yet your teeth can still sink into it.

 photo print 7_zps6myq7mw2.jpg

Also, I’d like to throw out a big Thank You to our hot cocoa bar for staining Dash’s brand new white Hanna Andersson jammies. Hoping Oxy Clean pulls through for me.

 photo print 11_zpsionvhaod.jpg

 photo print 16_zpssapp4za8.jpg

We do an ornament station at the party, and I’ve found that these work great as a self-run craft station. Cover a table with butcher paper. Put all the supplies out. Write step-by-step directions on the paper. (porcelain ornaments, Michaels–as well as the minis, currently 70% off)

 photo print 17_zpssptixarr.jpg

 photo print 23_zpsndxgdu5i.jpg

 photo print 19_zpspkdeyd0n.jpg

 photo print 20_zpsoctbdxuq.jpg

 photo print 22_zpsfkqyfj74.jpg

 photo print 28_zpsgat9qdda.jpg

These adorable hot cocoa ornaments (Target) were the take home treat and made the cutest garland.

 photo print 26_zpswvnvecqm.jpg

Brett sets up our beach tent in the front yard every year and strings Christmas lights all over it. We put blankets under it, and it makes the perfect gathering spot.

 photo print 27_zpshjwpb8ll.jpg

I remember driving to the hospital, a week before I delivered Nella, to hold these these twin boys.

 photo print 29_zpsaxke3aja.jpg

 photo print 30_zps6wob0nha.jpg

 photo print 31_zpskj7xca3z.jpg

 photo print 32_zpslj9vjtzj.jpg

 photo blog 1_zpsakouxtis.jpg

 photo print 35_zpscw0mgrim.jpg

Little finished ornament projects drying. Swoon.

 photo print 42_zps5ph5rhwq.jpg

We do an outside scavenger hunt in the dark every year, but we switched it up a bit this year so it didn’t get too redundant. Two hundred candy canes were hidden along our street, and the kids ran with flashlights to find them all.

 photo print 43_zpseoldmtmr.jpg

My dad read a Christmas story to the kids again, and all I can think watching him is “You will remember this forever.”

 photo print 49_zpsznndue1k.jpg

My favorite thing about this year? Nella fitting in. In past years, she’s kept her distance, often choosing to go read alone or hang with an adult away from the crowd. Not this year. Sister found her place. Ran with the kids on the scavenger hunt, weaseled through the crowd to get her cookies, sat with friends under the light tent, laughing and drinking it all in.

 photo print 48_zpscidnylgo.jpg

So many times throughout the night, my dad, Brett and I all found each other and whispered, smiling, “Look at Nella. She’s so happy.”

 photo print 50_zps5z7crj8e.jpg

 photo print 51_zpsfccejvax.jpg

And that, my friends, is Christmas.

 photo print 52_zps9qj5g1mf.jpg

Also, I should share that a kid gift exchange with 24 kids of different ages and genders is a shit show, and that I fail miserably at orchestrating it, but that’s half the fun. Because the adults all laugh amid the chaos and say, “This is a mess. We should never do this again.” But we do. And we will. Because tradition.

I love this night, I love these kids, I love these memories.

(Party aftermath…Dash grazing the leftovers).

 photo print 53_zpsoxaahv5a.jpg

To see past years’ parties–North Pole Party Archives: 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

A Spooky Halloween Night

featured

Happy Halloween! This is it, folks–the night of childhood dreams. Grab your brooms, light your candles, stock your candy. I love Halloween–but that’s obvious because holidays are my jam. To be honest, I think we all have a little something extra when it comes to chromosomal makeup, and we figure out what it is along the way. Mine definitely includes some kind of over-the-top enthusiasm for Halloween, but enough about me. IT’S HALLOWEEN!

This is the first year we did a Halloween party, and because I could not come up with anything more original, I called it SPOOKY PARTY but always said it dramatically and with a British accent and followed by a dracula laugh  (moo-ha-ha-ha-ha).

 photo print 54_zps381frfat.jpg
I turned Lainey into a witch in this picture using Pic Monkey, and Brett’s dad printed it for me for some festive fireplace party decor.

When I went to Utah a few weeks ago, one of the moms was telling me all about the Halloween party she does every year, and I was so inspired, I stayed up in my hotel room googling Halloween-inspired food and ordered a fog machine. That’s how these things start. Whatever the case, we had so much fun. It even felt–dare I say–a little bit like a night at Hogwarts. Dash had his own sleepover with his grandma that night, so it ended up being a girls’ party. And the morning of, Lainey woke up early, came and found me and said, “Mom, I’m so excited I can’t sleep.”

Cue Harry Potter theme song, cue fog…

 photo print 21_zps6yaqeczs.jpg

 photo print 49_zps2ke5ucfi.jpg

 photo print 66_zps9ggacxzj.jpg

 photo print 46_zpsuthdambt.jpg

 photo print 48_zpsn8kdqkvs.jpg

 photo blog 1_zpsvb2fzqx5.jpg

We served a full dinner of Halloween-inspired food including a witch wart potion that smoked and bubbled all night (I’ll never do Halloween without dry ice again!).

 photo print 36_zpswrtyhg4l.jpg

Turns out spaghetti is super easy to die black. Just cook pasta as usual, and then soak for about 3 minutes in a big Ziplock with a little bit of water and several drops of black food coloring.

 photo print 39_zpsul5dyqxq.jpg

The bat bile was a mint mousse that turned out delicious–just heavy whipping cream, melted white chocolate, powdered sugar, and a little green food coloring and peppermint extract.

 photo print 35_zpsk8ihlq8l.jpg

As for decor, the  Target dollar spot was ON POINT this year–flasks and beakers and test tubes, graveyard stones and almost everything else we needed. Throw some inexpensive spiders and snakes in the mix, drape some spider web, blast a fog machine, and everything turns spookatacular.

 photo print 33_zpsfgbq5klj.jpg

Radioactive bat poop favors (Nerds).

 photo print 32_zps31kdhass.jpg

The brain cupcakes were super simple to make, and I swear I don’t mean that in a Martha Stewart “it’s so easy, all you need is 10 professional pastry bag tips, a blow torch and 6 free hours” kind of way. It’s just two shades of pink frosting. You frost the dark layer on first, gently slice a knife to make two hemispheres, and then pipe the light pink frosting on with a big Ziplock bag. (also, not my idea–found these on Pinterest).

 photo print 56_zpshsmzgugp.jpg

 photo print 55_zpsnmi4hgzh.jpg

 photo print 29_zpsuutth5wm.jpg

Madame Zelda came to the party too and set up a fortune telling boot.

 photo print 28_zpsgflwcjjc.jpg photo print 25_zpsha2lv0cw.jpg

And giggling little girls all in witch hats, eating around the table in a mist of fog and illuminated by candlelight? BE STILL MY HEART. Magic.

 photo print 42_zpsgfz5m7wu.jpg

 photo print 1_zps97tcunfm.jpg

 photo print 3_zpswrp0oven.jpg

 photo print 7_zpsbab5hoap.jpg

 photo print 8_zpstu7nzskw.jpg

The fortune telling ended up being a huge hit. They all lined up and took turns as Madame Zelda read a fortune fish for each girl (have you tried them? So much fun!), and then looked into the crystal ball to see their future. I made up fun tales for all of them and included some that Lainey had written for them earlier–like “Tonight you are going to do the Dab Dance with a skeleton.” It is pretty easy to make fourth grade girls giggle. I’m not sure we can pull that off in another couple of years, but it’s fun while it lasts.

 photo print 14_zpsmikf9xdk.jpg

We got this $20 plasma ball to use for our crystal ball, and the kids loved it. It’s definitely something fun we’ll tuck away and pull out for parties again.

 photo print 11_zpss33de2wk.jpg

Little Ivy was all big eyes and 100% belief for her reading. It was precious.

 photo print 16_zpsfahmnhty.jpg

A few of our Instagram stories from the night:

The girls also made witch balm for their lips, and everyone got to take home their own tin. It’s a great party activity, is pretty easy to make, and kids have so much fun creating their own flavor concoctions. We made the balm from this post–four simple ingredients, and it’s my favorite lip balm. I keep a tub of it in my kitchen cupboard, and it lasts me forever.

 photo print 52_zpsarplcv4g.jpg

And what’s a sleepover party without s’mores? Halloween style, using black widow egg sacs instead of marshmallows, of course ;o) We love our indoor s’mores maker.  It’s so much fun to have for sleepovers and cozy movie nights–or breakfast, har har. Speaking of sleepover, does anyone have any tips for how to get a bunch of girls to STOP TALKING AND GO TO SLEEP?! Brett kept coming out and asking me, “Aren’t you going to tell them to go to sleep?” And I was all, “I did. Five times.” YONO. (you’re only nine once)

 photo print 19_zpshqkvfo63.jpg

A few easy ways to transform a party into a witchy good time?

*Switch out light bulbs with green ones–found in the regular light bulb section and a cheap transformation.
*Buy dry ice! We got a huge chunk of it at Publix for $12, and popped pieces throughout the night into our witch potion punch which kept it bubbling and fogging all night. You can also drop a small chunk into individual glasses–better with bigger kids as you don’t want little ones touching the actual ice.
*Fog machine. You’ll use it every Halloween. Makes everything look spooky.
*A candleabra. It added the perfect Halloween touch to our table and made for a great centerpiece. Very Hogwarts. The more candles, the better.
*A spooky playlist. You can find a ton of Halloween playlists on Spotify, from Monster Mash to Thriller.

 photo print 61_zpsxohmjpqh.jpg

And the best part? We get a whole ‘nother round of Halloween fun tonight. Grab your brooms, witches!

 photo print 53_zpsc6t38nix.jpg

And a favorite Halloween post from the archives: Our Storybook Halloween.

Have fun tonight!