Some Favorite Things

A box showed up on our front porch that read “perishable” on the side.  We knew this meant something edible likely was inside.  When we opened the box and found Pancho’s Cheese Dip we all about died.

Laura Kelley Fun Fact #53:  If I were given only one choice of what food to eat for the rest of my life it would be cheese dip…and chips.  I know that’s technically 2 foods, but then again is it really?!?!  They go together…it would unnatural to separate them.

We had never tried Pancho’s before, but were super excited to give this Memphis, TN jewel a try and it did not disappoint.  If you haven’t tried them and you like queso, look no further.  So so crazy good.  You can have it shipped…which is like the most fun mail ever…or pick some up at Walmart and Sams Club.

We went to see Incredibles 2 with Jen and Campbell and it was really good.  I actually was not a giant fan of the first Incredibles.  I remember cringing when little Harper, Hudson and Solomon would pick it for movie night because it was such a long kids movie, but the new one…I’m a fan.  It was so funny and it had a lot of relevant life happenings.  Mrs. Incredible was empowered being back in the work force, Mr. Increbile felt overwhelmed at first by staying home, but then came into his own and the kids found their place too.  It was just a neat movie and we all laughed so hard and really enjoyed it.

Friendship bracelets are all the rage at our house right now.  It’s a boredom buster and I was able to bust out my friendship bracelet making skills I refined way back in middle school.  I was admittedly a bit rusty at first, but finally remembered some of my old tricks.  The kids were all impressed and now most everyone in our house is wearing at the minimum one friendship bracelet.  I made myself a new rainbow one since my old one is hanging on by mere threads.

I read rave reviews about The Laws Guide To Nature Drawing & Journaling and new I needed to check it out asap.  Our library had it so I have been enjoying it this summer and if you’ve ever wanted to learn more about nature journaling and lots of helpful tips, this book is for you.  I love it!!!

We’ve been listening to lots of audio books this summer.  The top crowd pleaser so far was Public School Superhero by James Patterson.  Every one of us LOVED this one.  It made me laugh out loud and cry.  It was sweet and witty and hysterical and real life and inspiring and made my brain swirl.  I’m thinking it might take the award for most favorite of the summer unless something comes along and knocks it out of place between now and August.

We received the sweetest gift in the mail recently from Jorden.  At first Josh Kelley was hopeful it was a painting of me and him 😉 but turns out it was even better.  It made me teary.  Jorden is a medical student and while studying the heart she thought of our heart guys and especially Everett.  I immediately found a place for it in our kitchen.  I imagine it being a family heirloom.  Thank you so much’s really beautiful.

Asian snacks forever!!!  Josh Kelley is usually the one going to one of our local world markets to pick up all our favorite Asian snacks, but the kids and I recently went when we ran out of rice and they had so much fun.  We found all our favorites and picked up some goodies for a new friend too.  They always have these cute animal containers filled with the equivalent of kid jello shots and one container is gone in 5 days flat in our home.

 And Josh and I went on a date recently and after dinner we snagged dessert at Five Daughters Bakery.  We’ve enjoyed their treats before, but I had never had their chocolate sea salt cronut.  You guys!!!!  I  have been thinking about this treat even since.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  Like I think about it so much…an embarrassingly amount of my brain space is given to this donut.  If you even get the chance, please for the love of humanity, try this deliciousness.  You will not be disappointed.

If you’ve got some favorite things I’d love to hear about them.  I’m all ears!!!

10 Things

1. I can’t.  I just cannot handle his cuteness.  When he lays on his little belly and places those hands under his chin.  Gahhhh!  One of his all time favorite things to watch is Mandarin Elmo episodes on Youtube.  His total fave.

2. We’ve got two blue belts in the house now.  I have no idea how long karate will last, but until it ends I will adore them in their gis.  Their handsome smiles…geeze.

3. The other day I was going out to get the mail and I grabbed Harper’s shoes.  I slipped them on and THEY FIT!!!!!  Why?!?!?!  Why do my 11-year-olds shoes fit me?!?!?!  This is not okay.  She is almost as tall as me and she’s just a really neat kid so that makes it really hard to be ticked at her for all this growing.  Alas.

4. Some times they ask me for something or to do something and they make these faces.  They legitimately think it will work…that they can sway me with those faces and posture.  Sometimes I exchange a photo for their request and all is right in the world.

5. These two + Kroger’s car cart + free cookies = true love

Go ahead boys, just take all my money forever.  I am completely smitten and hopelessly powerless against your adorable faces.

6. Hudson is such a fun and quirky kid.  He is always drawing and reading and making and building things and he is the king of handmade gifts.  I imagine he will be in some sort of engineering job when he grows up…maybe a roller coaster creator.  I feel like he would kill at this kind of job.

PS:  Crossed-legged sitters forever!

7. Solomon and Leo were upstairs in their room for quite a bit the other afternoon.  Then they appeared on the stairs together and Solomon had dressed Leo up in our Ewok costume.  It was beyond adorable and he really embraced his crazy Ewok persona.  Solomon was quite pleased with himself.

8. His kisses, well, they are the sweetest.

9. We often talk about how far Leo has already come.  He is a night-and-day different kid then when we were first together in China.  He has come insanely far in a short period of time and we are crazy proud of him.  When he goes running as fast as his skinny little twig legs can carry him to greet Josh at the door I always think about how he used to not even like Josh…didn’t want him to touch him or carry him or anything.  And while that is completely normal for a child recently adopted, their relationship feels extra sweet.  I adore watching them together.

And 10.  Because he’s always on my mind and missed beyond comprehension and I’ll never not want to share his sweet face with whoever will take a look.  Love you sweet boy!

Wave Pool Forever

You guys, I know I do this every single summer, but I just have to sing the wave pool’s praises.  It’s deep in my blood at this point and year after year after year they prove themselves worthy of our summer praise.

We go all the time and every single time it’s just as fun as the last and sometimes even more.  The best days are when we find friends there or Aunt Jen & Campbell join us.  The more the merrier all the time.

The kids are also insanely pumped when we ditch the packed lunches and devour all the concession stand tastiness.  There are always at least 7 of us so that can get a bit pricey if we do it every single time, so we save it for extra special feeling wave pool days.

Last week we discovered our littlest gal is now also tall enough for the big tube slides and she has felt fully empowered by this.  She goes over and over again while chatting up anyone in between her and her next turn down the slide.  She and Amon are thick as thieves on those tube slides now.  Definitely the top summer event for them so far.

People ask me a lot about why it seems empty.  We usually avoid weekends, we always try to arrive when it opens and we like to go on days with a large chance of rain.  Hahahaha.  This will usually lighten the crowd.  It always gets busier as the day moves on, but nothing that’s too much for us.

So if you’re in the area and looking for a fun outing this is your place.  Everyone is nice and the lifeguards are ON IT and it’s seriously so much fun.  And this is completely unsolicited.  I get nothing for telling people about Wave Country…they don’t even know I’m doing it…they are simply our summer jam and I love places that are diverse and fun and doing a really good job.

Head over HERE for all their details and they always have a COUPON you can print for each person going.  Hola!

Father’s Day 2018

It will never be waisted on me how hard and sad and painful these special holidays which line our calendars are for so many people for so many reasons.  They just will never be all sunshine and roses…they will be a mix bag of joy and sadness.  Always.  Father’s Day has felt heavy and broken and wonky to me for many many years.  Losing Everett has added to this day and it’s not even my day.

I thought about Josh Kelley over and over again and how this day would feel to him.  There is loss and paid and grief, but Josh is wit and humbleness and love.  He’s a dad who needs nothing special from us, but that just means I want to celebrate him even more.  It will also never be lost on me to have him in our lives.  He goes above and beyond every single day and nothing is off limits in fathering for him.

Josh does everything I do and more.  He works so hard for our family and then comes home and changes diapers and does laundry and bathes kiddos.  He helps keep us afloat.  He digs in deep to parenting and family and he’s here for it all…the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.  The kids all made him cards for Father’s Day.  They drew pictures and wrote sweet words.  Harper made her card from her and Everett.  I died.  Solomon made his from he and Leo and even got Leo to scribble all on the outside of his card.  I died again.  When Josh opened Solomon’s card a $5 bill fell out that Sol had given him from his own money.  I’m completely dead.  Josh is the dad who’s worthy of his 9-year-olds $5 bill.

For Father’s Day I forced him to make some choices…like what he wanted for lunch and dinner and special dessert.  He picked donuts for the kids for breakfast.  He chose grilled hot dogs with diced onions and chips selected by the kids for lunch.  Cheetoh Paws made it into our cart and the crowd went wild.  THESE strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese icing served as dessert all day long.  And for dinner he wanted THIS roast recipe.  It’s amazing.  Try it now.

We spent a good chunk of the day at the football field with his dad watching the boys play their last flag football game of the season.  We all slurped on icees and tried to stay cool in the shade.  It was crazy hot so we we’re working overtime to keep Leo cool.  Josh ended up wrapping his head in a water soaked bandana to try and keep him cool and it was cuteness overload.

Grief is so different for each of us and everyone deals so differently as well.  I’m all about us all going to Everett’s grave together and colorful decorations and Josh, he likes some alone time there so he went solo on Father’s Day to visit Everett’s special corner of this earth.  I ran how that must have felt to him through my mind over and over again.  We just so wish our sweet boy were here with us.

It’s hard bouncing back and forth between this time last year with Everett and this time now with Leo.  Leo has brought our family so much joy and he’s been good for all of our hearts, but he is not Everett.  And we never expected him to be.  He was not Everett’s stand-in or replacement…he is our son…he is the littlest brother…to us all…including Everett.  The connection they have is beyond priceless and it’s a connection I am forever and deeply grateful for.  Knowing that Leo has been loved by Everett, gosh, I just don’t have the words.

As time moves on and these holidays and moments keep rolling in we will keep remembering and honoring even in the pain.  Nothing is completely desolate.  Nothing is completely void of joy.  There will always be good and Josh Kelley is such a gift we do not deserve.  He makes us better and once again, we find ourselves the luckiest.

8 Things

1. Josh Kelley keeps me laughing for literally all the days.  All.Of.Them.  He is crazy smart and so witty which means his dry humor is quick and hilarious.  One of his most favorite things to do is to take awkward photos of me without me knowing and then randomly text them to me at any given time.  I cut my eyes up just in time for this one.  I’m contemplating having a coffee table book made of all his endearing photography.

2.  I don’t want to talk about it too much or give any deatils at all because we are super afraid to jinx anything good going on in this department, but Leo has improved a tish with his sleep.  That’s it.  I should say no more.  The end.

3.  Flag football came to an end and it was adorable.  Amon could not have been more excited and proud of his metal.  Seriously his little life was made!!!!  It was beyond fun watching these boys play this season.

4.  I’m thinking about declaring it the summer of group selfies.

Bonus: Amon’s faces.  Always.

5.  A friend told me about this little gem of a tee at Target.  The next time we we’re there I was on the hunt.  Bought it on the spot and I regret it zero.  Fiesta…forever.  Always making me think about our boy.  Gah I miss him.

6.  2 Things Leo Loves To Do Daily:

1. Look at Everett photos.  Every single day he sits and looks through our basket of Shuai photos.  Leo has some speech issues…Mandarin and English…so he doesn’t have many words in either language, but every day we are working on saying “Shuai Shuai”.  By the way his sweet little concentrated look absolutely kills me.

2. Look through our fridge.  The kid LOVES LOVES LOVES his food.  Every time the refrigerator opens it’s like Leo magically appears to see what he can find.

7. A summer staple only Josh Kelley does in our house.  I can confidentally say I don’t think I’ve ever blown up one single water balloon.  All Josh Kelley.  And the kids love him for it.

And 8.  Harper is the best big sister around.  She just is.  I don’t know why or how we got so lucky to have her as the leader of our crew, but she does such a great job at sisterhood.  She loves so fiercly and it really is something to behold.  We’re the luckiest!!

Summer So Far

This summer feels heavy and light, fun and overwhelming, easy and hard.  It’s this giant mix of living in a state of grief and constant reminiscing & looking back, feeling like we have to make up for the sucktasticness of last summer, trying to do all the things and have all the fun with Leo and just survive.  I’m feeling it in my heart, mind and body and some days it’s too much and others it’s the push and Vitamin D I need.

So far we’ve visited the Wave Pool at a minimum of twice a week.  It’s our place.  It’s our #1 favorite thing to do.  We always get to see Ms. Ashley and sometimes we throw caution to the wind and don’t pack lunches, indulging in concession stand goodness instead.  Amon has been dying to go down the bigger tube slides for his entire life and this year he still came up short…until today.  We saw my friend Anna there and she was all, “I’ll take you up there.”  And away they went.  I watched from our  towels with the other littles and Solomon.  And turns out Amon hit the mark on his tippy toes and down he went.  Anna had to give him a little pep talk, but once he went down he was a tube slide junkie and couldn’t stop.  Thank you Anna!!!!  He hasn’t stopped talking about it.

Sometimes I have members of my timeout club at the wave pool.  Yep, act like a yahoo and find yourself missing out on some serious pool fun.  It’s bothersome and sad and adorable all rolled into one.

Leo is still sleeping pretty terrible.  We’ve literally tried all the things.  ALL OF THE THINGS.  He will at least take a good nap during the day, but just needs some extra reassurance all throughout the night.  One day he will sleep.  I keep telling myself that surely he won’t go to college waking up 43 times in the night. 🙂  And maybe sleep is overrated or maybe Josh Kelley and I will perish due to sleep deprivation.  Only time will tell.

Josh’s work had a Nashville Sounds night and provided tickets and dinner for everyone.  We pretty much lived it up.  We ate all the foods and sweated it out with the best of them.  A sweet man, we did not know, bought all the kids a baseball helmet full of popcorn and their lives were complete.  Sounds games are a long time favorite of the Kelleys.  They never disappoint.

That night after all the kids were in bed, Josh and I talked about how we’d both had moments during the game where we thought about how Everett never got to go to a game.  This is seriously our lives surrounding big and little moments and everything in between…hashing out his precious little life and death with us.

We’ve still been doctor visiting it up.  Six kids at any doctor’s visit can be semi stressful…shout out to all you parents with 7+ kiddos all piled into doctor’s offices…but watching my big kids do their thing is also really sweet.  None of our kids are perfect and they can fight and annoy and bug with the best of them, but our big kids are typically really good to the littles and I love watching it.

We have regular weekly Sonic dates when our littlest goes to therapy.  While she’s working hard and being brave we all walk next door and sit outside and enjoy a treat.  There’s usually slushies, Cinnasnacks, Sonic blasts, milkshakes and the occasional plain vanilla cone and everyone is quite pleased.  Sometimes someone goes rogue and orders a small fry and we all gasp.

Throw in a whole slew of other random things like grocery shopping and slime making and skateboarding and rollerskating and going to the playground and shooting basketball and Target trips and visiting our library and swimming with friends and reading our faces off and FortNite and movies for days and doing chores and catching fireflies and drawing all the pictures and this is our summer.

It’s been so interesting to watch how the kids, Josh and myself have changed since Everett’s death.  Everyone use to love to go and do and then we became serious homebodies when Everett died.  With summer everyone has moved back into wanting to go, but for only limited amounts of time.  We used to spend hours upon hours at the wave pool and now our trips usually do not span more than 2 hours and they are ready for home.  We planned a vacation this summer, but only for 4 days because we knew even that would be pushing it.

We’re spending lots of time together and trying to soak each other up.  We’re constantly living in last summer while also in this one.  It’s exhausting and nice and painful and sweet.  We’re just doing our thing and moving at our own pace and trying to be okay with it all.

Heart Randomness

I really believed Everett was going to be healed.  There was naturally nervousness and fear, but really and truly I believed he was going to live.  I had even gone so far in my head to when we would finally fly back home to Nashville, Everett in tow, that our friends and family would greet us at the airport because this had been no small victory…hard fought…long hospital stay…heart wrenching ups and downs…every parents nightmare, but Everett had made it.  I could see all our people there waiting for us.  I could see their faces, hear their words and feel their hugs.  Walking off that plane in Nashville with Everett’s hand and foot print molds in my hands instead of my son was one of my lowest moments.  I remember I could not stop the tears as we walked through the airport and saw Josh’s dad standing there all alone waiting on us.  This was so far from how it was supposed to be.  Nothing about this moment was right and it will forever be wedged deep in my heart.  Everett should have lived.

I’m currently reading Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle.  I read his other book Tattoos on the Heart several years ago and found myself absolutely stunned and grateful for his writings.  His new book has left me the same.  In this time of my life when I feel utterly misunderstood and so many opinions flying around about me and towards me, this book has been soothing.

“Some things are random and other things are meant to be in our control.  So God is with me when “shit happens” and God is rooting for me when I need to decide things.  And I’m okay with that. I don’t need God to be in charge of my life.  I only need God to be at the center of it.”

“I believe that God protects me from nothing, but sustains me in everything.”

I keep thinking about all these families who are being separated at the border.  I keep thinking about those children and then my own children and their trauma.  I keep thinking about how so much of this flies in the face of what Jesus really longs for from us and really how so much of America’s history does.  We’re not exactly known for treating others as we want to be treated or looking after the poor, the widowed, refugees, the imprisoned, the marginalized, etc.  It all just makes me sad.

THIS ARTICLE is great if you feel overwhelmed, like I do, in how and what you can do to help with parents & children being separated at the border.  I spent a brief part of my morning sending messages to my Governor and Senate & House representatives by texting the word “RESIST” to 50409.  It walks you through the process while letting you share your own words.

I loved this Twitter thread by Marlena Graves:

1) I’ve had Christian ppl tell me that families being separated at the border deserve it because they broke the law. First, some news outlets are reporting that those who merely present themselves to DHS for help/asylum are separated

(2) crossing the border has in the past been a misdemeanor, like a speeding ticket. Imagine if your children/family members/ were taken away from you for a speeding ticket. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

(3) Christians, let’s read our Bibles and consider our experiences. Moses’s mother, Jochabed illegally hid him. The midwives didn’t kill the Hebrew boys like Pharaoh had commanded them to. Jesus “broke the law” by healing on Sunday & eating grain in the fields with his disciples

(4) Christian missionaries break national laws by smuggling Bibles and witnessing to others in countries where it is against the law. Why do those who say “families who break laws by crossing the border get what they deserve” ask for pastors and other missionaries to be released

 It just keeps running through my mind.

The wave pool is our favorite summer place.  It’s not just a fun place for me to take the kids, but it’s weirdly comforting.  All of my children have experienced this place with me during the summer and it holds such fond memories.  I can vividly see Everett here with us.  I hope I always can.  The wave pool evens the playing field.  Which sounds weird, but people of every kind go there.  It’s hot and smothery in Tennessee and the wave pool is a giant pool…it speaks all languages and regards no one as unwelcomed…unless you’re wearing a thong. 😉  It’s the most diverse place for summer fun in Nashville.

And I don’t get a chance to listen to too many podcasts…there are just far too many small humans in my ears ALL THE TIME, but when my friend Sherry told me her and Kami were recording a podcast for the Archibald Project about foster care I knew this would be a MUST LISTEN for me and boy was it.  When the epidsode finally came out I could not escape my family quick enough. 🙂  Please give it a listen.  Kami and Sherry are so poised and wise and kind and honest and I could not love it more.  These are the words we need to here from famillies who have had their children removed and from those foster families stepping in to help not only with the child, but also to cheer on these families who are working so hard towards reunification.  CLICK HERE to listen and be in awe of these brave, strong women who are for each other.


He’s The Same, But I Am Not

Everyday feels like I’m just making it.  At any given moment I can burst into tears…a song playing at the gym at 5am, a memory remembered driving down the road, in the mascara aisle at Kroger, walking into the wave pool for the first time this summer, seeing certain dates on my calendar.  Gushing tears at a moments notice.  Truth is I hate living in this “after Everett died” life.  I miss him so deeply words could never come close to explaining the depth.  I long to hold his little body close one more time.

I remember after we left his body at the hospital for the final time and had to go back to our room just down the hall to get our bags I asked Josh Kelley multiple times, “Should we go see him one more time?”  The finality of that moment makes me cry the hardest, hottest tears because that was it.  That was the last time I would hold my baby on this earth and we weren’t given near enough time together as a family of 8.  I didn’t have near enough snuggles or kisses or time watching him sit on our counter, but would any amount have been enough anyways?!?!  Of course not.

Life is difficult right now…as it is for so many of you.  I feel like I’ve worn out most welcoming mats and that we’ve over talked about Everett to those who wanted to listen.  I think 1000 thoughts to myself daily and sometimes feel like I might burst with insanity, but usually keep them to myself feeling like they are far too much for most.  I see how as a Jesus-loving body we often suck at handling the broken hearted and downtrodden.  It’s made me re-think deep pieces of myself.  When we should be lifting the burdens of the broken and grieving, we often add weight to their already weighed down shoulders.  We make them responsible for how their pain and sadness and loss or how they are handling it makes us feel and we are so quick to tell them so.  We’re also quick to say all the go-to Christiany words even though they just do not fix anything and often sound empty.

I’m putting my religion to the test.  I’m running it through the hot fires of grief and watching my 3-year-old’s heart beat it’s last.  I remember watching the tears of our nurse Matt as he wiped them away with his hand.  I sat there holding Everett’s body in my arms asking Matt over and over if Everett was gone because his heartbeat had become so faint in his neck and his chest was no longer rising and falling.  Watching a small little body who depended on me to keep him safe die in my arms has pushed my thoughts and beliefs and everything I ever thought I really knew to the full on max.  It’s  made me examine and re-examine and re-examine again what I thought I really knew and understood.  I miss my old self, but I also don’t want to be the same as I was.  Sometimes I read my old words and cringe wondering how they made others feel.  I want to be more and I want to be better.  I want to know my suffering really personally and do better when I get the honor of walking with others in their own suffering.

I feel a lot of anger. It’s nice when people tell us they are praying for us, but also in a very respectful I-don’t-want-to-piss-anyone-off-kind-of-way…I’m tired of the “We’re praying for you.”s.  I’m just not sure it changes things for us.  Now does praying change the person doing the praying?  Yep, I can get behind that.  I just don’t think our prayers are going to make God do things.  I’m skeptical if by praying for someone to have a good day we are going to will God to step in and make their day better.  Instead maybe the better comes in knowing someone was thinking about you that day and talking to God about you.  Just call me the skeptic at this point.  It’s also semi exhausting people telling us how we should feel and what we need to do and how we should think.  I’m tired of the loneliness.  I’m tired of others thinking they have even a smiddgen as to what our day-to-day survival looks and feels like without Everett.  What I love is the kindness and gentleness and the empathy and compassion.  Those are the pinholes of light in our darkness.

I’ve been dissecting prayer and hashing it out.  Does it really do anything? Is it meaningful? What’s the real point behind it?  So far I’ve landed on just trying to talk to God more…like a real conversation.  I can’t ask Him for things right now because truthfully I don’t think our prayers persuade Him to do something or not to do something…minus salvation and forgiveness.  And truthfully I like it better that way.  I like just telling Him about my day and things I hope for verses begging Him to do/not to do/allow/not allow whatever to happen.  It makes more sense this way to my brain and heart because then God isn’t some God sitting on His throne appointing miracles to some and snatching miracles from others.  I do not know that kind of God.  Rather it’s like a roll of the dice.  We’ve got one heart kid who lived through surgery and one heart kid who died.  I don’t like thinking God “chose” to let Amon live and “chose” to let Everett die.  What I’d rather think is life is life and sometimes it’s good and some times it is really terrible because our world is fallen.  God rejoices with the good and grieves with the broken, but he’s not picking and choosing based on the amount of prayers, chosen people/not chosen people, who He’s still using, who He’s done with, etc.

I’m trying to dig deep and understand more, knowing full well I’ll never understand it all.  God is still God and I am not.  He owes me approximately zero.  I know He loves us all, I know He loves Everett and I know His ways are not mine.  I remember saying and writing over and over again God would not change based on the outcome of Everett’s surgery and I still believe that.  He is still the exact same God, but I am not the exact same person.  I did the changing and part of me is still grieving that loss too, but I feel like putting to question some of these things I thought I knew and thought were “right” will move me towards more compassion and empathy and love and a more firm hope.  I’m not going to get it all right along the way, but I’m not afraid to ask my questions and to throw out things I thought I knew in exchange for a handful of things I feel fully confident in.  I have no idea how it’s all going to shake out, but I’m here for it and I know God is too.  I’m in for the deep rooted heart change; I’m in for things being flipped upside down.

I think about Everett every single day and how yet again God is using him to change me.  We will never see the extent of the ripples Everett set in to place and just how big and wide they got.  Miss him every single day.