Thank you!!

Thank you guys so much for all the kind words about our Winter girl.  You are truly too kind and we are so grateful she is apart of our family.  I had quite a few questions regarding our post and am going to try and answer some of them over on my Instagram stories today.  Life has just been crazy so I haven’t gotten around to it just yet.

In the mean time, I wanted to share some random things going on in the Kelley house.  I had this really surreal moment when looking through my photos to share when I realized I could share photos of Winter now without that little heart over her sweet face.  She’s so grand and a total trip and funny as all get out and as wild as they come and I love being able to share small pieces of her now.

The kids started back to school a little over 2 weeks ago.  On the agenda this year is 6th, 4th, 4th, 1st and full time Pre-K.  I was a bit stressed thinking through 5 kids being in school full time, 8 different teachers and 2 schools.  We’re finally getting into our rhythm and while I can still have some serious anxiety over balancing it all, everyone is really enjoying their year so far.

Every year at the beginning and end of the school year I take the same photo in the same place and we just add kiddos to the photo when time comes.  It’s always super fun to see how much they have changed.

This year’s school start was pretty rough in the grief department.  The plan was for Everett and Winter to start pre-K together.  They would have been in the same grade and same class…another set of “twins” for our family.  It was really hard and sad watching it all unfold without him.  Winter misses him so much and almost everyday has asked to wear rainbow ribbons in her hair.  She loves school, but cried everyday after school for the first full two weeks about missing her boy.  He should be here with us and that is really hard for all of us.  When my friend Melena gave us cute rainbow donkey piñata pins everyone put them on their backpacks.  It was the sweetest to see as they all headed off on their first day.  We carry him with us always.

Leo did not handle everyone going back to school well.  Hahahahaha.  He’s just recently quit following me around all day whimpering or crying.  Change is hard man.  The first day he was befuddled and sad as to where everyone had gone.  It was really pitiful/cute/hilarious, but we did take a nap together so maybe not a total loss.

We celebrated Amon’s Gotcha Day on the 10th.  We always do something fun as a family and Amon asked to go to Chuck E Cheese.  Pizza and skeeball…yes please!  We also celebrated with donuts for breakfast and double chocolate cupcakes with lots of sprinkles for dessert per his request.  Six years has flown by and I cannot fathom our family without him.  He’s just so much joy.

 

Leo got his first haircut.  Pretty sure Josh has given all the boys their first haircuts.  I can get really sad when I realize all the boys/kids except Everett experienced something.  When something comes along and they’ve all experienced it, well, it feels extra special.  Even if it’s as simple as a haircut.

These three become thicker by the day.  They loves to play together and Leo is really learning how to join in on the fun.  Right now their favorite activity is butt boarding on skateboards. 🙂 A close second, is playing PJ Masks…Winter is especially obsessed.

Josh Kelley and Winter are pretty smitten.  She’s had him since the day they met and she wrapped her little arms around him and patted his back at a tiny 10-months-old. 🙂  She’s been quite the lover since she was a wee one…one of her greatest qualities.

Hudson completed his 5th triathlon a few weeks ago.  Look, if you need a good cry just go to a kids triathlon, sit back and observe.  The tears will come unless you are made of stone.  Watching all these kids, with different physical abilities, work so hard and do their best being cheered on by everyone there…all the tears forever.

 And I’ll end with some of our my most favorite photos of Winter and Everett.  I literally have a 1,214 photos I want to share, but I narrowed it down to just a few…for your sake…not mine. 🙂  And again, thank you so much for all the Winter love.  Means the world.  We’re so glad to have her.

Winter

I’ve thought about the words I would write on this day 1000 times over.  I have spun them every which way and back and have thought about how I would ever give justice to this little piece of our story.  I wanted to write it all out prior to Monday, but I just wasn’t sure how Monday would actually feel when it was all said and done.  So I waited.  And here I sit on a Wednesday afternoon pecking away at these keys because the words were creating such a cloud in my head….the anxiousness to get them all out could wait no longer.

It will be 4 years this October since we became a foster family.  When we decide to foster we looked into several different avenues, but we really wanted to work with a group that would put not only the kids, but their parents as well, at the forefront.  We wanted to work along side people who knew reunification was of top importance and who would fight for it when at all possible and when healthy.  With each group I talked with I asked, “What is your adoption rate?” I know it is just one single statistic, but I felt like it was a really telling one.  In the end we ended up becoming a certified foster family with the state of Tennessee mainly because they had the lowest adoption rate.  We were beyond impressed with the way they valued children and their first families and how reunification was always the goal when possible.

And here’s what I just realized I am doing with the above words…I’m making my case…like I have to prove something or solidify something to you.  It’s my pride and it’s a pretty ugly part of me.  We became a foster family to help keep families together.  Reunification was the goal.  We believe that children in foster care need loving and safe people and places to land, but so do those who are working so hard to get them back.  These parents and relatives and guardians need people cheering them on, encouraging them and stepping into their corner to tell them, “You matter.  You are loved.  You are strong.  You can do this.”  Very honestly, when we realized our girl’s case would move to adoption, I felt like I had failed her and her birth mom.  The goal was reunification and it didn’t happen and I took it very personally.  It was a shot to my pride when I should have put my pride down a long time ago.  One day while talking to my friend Sherry about my feelings of failure she said, “Just because it didn’t end exactly how you planned, does not mean that it ended wrong.”  I immediately jotted it down, taped the small piece of paper in our kitchen and tucked her words away in my heart.

I hardly ever understand how life shakes out.  The past 3 1/2 years we have loved our girl and her birth parents the best we could.  We were never perfect, far from it, but we knew life was better together and that we had to try to give this our very best love.  Monday afternoon was incredibly beautiful and special and bittersweet as we wrapped up the past 43 months and a judge made our newest daughter officially Winter Lee Kelley.  Although we’ve been together since she was a baby, it felt like a fresh start…a redemptive Day 1.

All 7 of our children have joined our family so differently each carrying their own unique story.  I don’t know if I’m getting much right in life, but what I do know is it’s my greatest honor to love my kids, to be their mama and to honor each of their individual stories, beginnings and first families.  They make us better.  They make our life richer.  Josh Kelley and I are not obediant or good people and our children have never been, nor will they ever be, our ministry, charity or good deed.  They are simply our kiddos who we feel so utterly unworthy of.  Once again, Josh and I find ourselves the absolute luckiest.

Winter fully anticipated this day.  I bought her a special dress and she picked out a rainbow cardigan to go with it because it reminded her of Everett.  She has been missing him a lot lately and almost everyday requsts rainbow ribbons in her hair.  The rest of the kids sported a rainbow of some sort as well.  We carry him with us everywhere and I love seeing visual reminders of him.

The kids went to school that morning for a few hours before we picked them all up for our big day.  Before Winter left she asked me to hang flags for her and then instructed me where exactly to hang them. 🙂  Next thing I knew, the kids were in school and I was digging through my basket of banners, flags and buntings to complete her request.  I remember making her name banner for her first birthday.  Insert tears.

After snagging everyone from their schools and getting a quick lunch we headed out.  When we arrived at the courthouse Josh’s parents, Jen and Campbell were waiting on us.  Winter went running as fast as she could to hug their necks.  Winter is named after Josh’s sister, Jennifer Lee, so it felt extra special for Jen to be there.  Winter adores her.

As we waited outside the courtroom our friend Cheyenne came up the stairwell carrying her giant camera and wearing a tank top with little rainbows all over it.  When I saw her all I could think was how undeserving of such a kind friend we are.  Cheyenne had no clue we would all be wearing rainbows, but she remembered Everett on her own and it meant the world to me as his mama.  Cheyenne has photographed our highest highs and deepest, darkest lows.  She is far more than photographer.  She is a dear friend who has chosen to step into the messiest parts of our story and willingly walk along side us.  I could never fully express our gratitude for her kind spirit and insane talent she shares with us and the world.

Right on time they called us into the courtroom.  I teared up instantly and could not hold them in.  They called us forward and our attorney asked questions and I answered them…squeaking out my words in between my tears.  Our judge was kind and moved through his words with grace.  And then just like that, Winter was officially and legally a Kelley…our second daughter…the one we didn’t see coming and didn’t even know we needed, but absolutely did.

   We let her plan out the rest of her special day.  On the way home we all got celebratory icees and she requested Arbys for dinner with little Sprites and wanted to eat in the floor while watching Dolphin Tale.  Dairy Queen was her choice of dessert to which she got an icecream sandwich.  She beamed all day long and told anyone who would listen how she was now Winter Lee Kelley.

I anticipated the day feeling heavy.  Special days are hard without Everett and we all just really miss him.  I also carried a heaviness for Winter…adoption is a mix of sadness and joy, loss and gain.  And sometimes those feelings are just hard to balance out, but Winter went into her day head up, eyes clear and joy oozing from her little body.  She was so joyful about this day which in turn made me even more joyful about it.  Her joy lifted my heaviness.  This day was important to her…this was the permanency she’s longed for and deserved, but at the end of the day the truth I know is that I needed this day as much, if not more, than Winter did.

Winter Kelley, you my love are fierce, strong, resilient and the loudest, wildest, most loving firecracker in the sky.  I’ve never met another child like you and you exhibit so many amazing traits we see in your beautiful birth parents.  You feel all the feels and you share all there is to share and you love with every fiber of your little being.  You have made our family richer indeed.  You are loved by so many and we’re all watching as you change the world one hug and awkwardly too honest comment at a time.  We’re so honored to be your family.  We love you Win!

8 Things

1. Solomon saved and saved his money so he could purchase a video game system around his birthday.  Josh and I didn’t even know he was saving for one until whammo…he had enough to purchase a Playstation.  This is our first go at video games and the Fortnite game has been a massive hit…I mean, the dance moves alone are amazing.  Our sweet nephew Cooper gave the boys a headset to make them feel totally legit and now they look like full blown teenagers.  It’s hilarious to watch and hear them chat all about it…living that big kid life.

2. We’ve hit up lots of hospital foods since Leo arrived on the scene.  It feels as if he has unending appointments and we’re never not at our local hospital and doctors’ offices.  My love of Ben & Jerry’s mint chocolate chunk has been rekindled due to this fact.  Thankful for amazing healthcare and physicians who are helping Leo and our family figure out just what he needs.

3. Leo reminds me of a little parrot most days.  He’s watching our every move and following along like it’s a game of Copycat.  He is a total trip and cracks us up so much.  We’re beyond glad he’s here.

4. The day after our big kids got home from camp we had only one thing on the agenda…the Wave Pool.  The end.

PS: Only 2 weekend left to hit up the wave pool.  Summer is officially coming to a close.

5. Usually when I run an errand and Josh Kelley is home I’ll ask to see if any of the kids want to go with me.  Sometimes just one single child wants to join me.  I love this small window of time one-on-one with them.  Hudson was my recent yes guy and helped me with some grocery shopping.  His sock and sandal game were impressive.  He is funny and quirky and kind and we’re crazy glad he’s ours.

 6. I’m not much of a dress wearer, but this summer I declared it The Summer of Dress.  It was crazy hot and humid here in Tennessee…to no one’s surprise…so I snagged 3 cool summery dresses from Old Navy and wore them all summer long.  Two summers ago I declared it The Summer of TankTop.  It’s just this weird thing I do. 🙂

7. Around the beginning of the year I decided to overhaul a lot of the items we use daily…soaps, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, deodorants, etc.  I did it simply to see if it would help the mood of our house.  We were all so sad and down and I was ready and willing to try anything and so I did.  I ended up making a giant batch of laundry detergent from THIS POST I found on Pinterest and I loved it…so much so I just made up my second batch.  It cost me around $22 to make and it lasted over 5 months and we do a ton of laundry.

Here’s the very simple recipe, but for all the details CLICK HERE:

-4 bars Kirks Original Coco Castile Soal Fragrance Free (I quickly cut the bars up and drop them in my small food processor)

-4lbs Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda

-3.7lbs/55oz Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

-3lbs Oxi Clean Free or Baby

*We use 1TB for a small-medium loads and 2TB for large load.*

And 8. I’m always looking for little special things that remind me of Everett.  My eyes are always looking and my heart is always missing him.  When I spot those special things I tuck them in tight and treasure them.  A rainbow in the zoo’s water mister was just what I needed that day.

Our Week Of Yes

At the end of July Harper, Hudson and Solomon all headed off to week long church camp.  This was the first year the boys were old enough to attend and the excitement was insanely high.  They could not wait to go and were all packed up and ready to go a full week in advance.

Amon was pretty bummed he could not go to church camp as well, but this gave us a unique opportunity with just the 3 littles at home to say yes to things we don’t normally get to say yes to.  We decided to let Amon lead the way in planning out the weeks events and I felt like Meatloaf when Amon requested a random string of items.  Donuts, yes. Skating rink, yes.  Chuck E Cheese, yes.  Wave pool, yes.  Movies, yes.  Slip-n-slide & water balloons, yes.  Zoo, yes.  Monkey Joes, No.

“I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”

Meatloaf must have known about Money Joes.  🙂

Monkey Joes is the thorn in my side of childhood loves.  There’s just something about that place that creates hatred in my heart.  Hard pass man, hard pass.

Leo had to have a heart procedure that week so we were tied up pretty tight with him for a few days, but with the help of Josh’s sister Jen, Josh Kelley and I still got to say all the yeses we wanted to.  And Leo did great with his little recovery.

PS:  Leo’s love of his shoes is pretty fierce.  Hospital socks will not detour him from his beloved flip-flops.

It was super fun saying yes pretty much all week long.  I had this mentality of “why not” and so we did.  Amon did request Disney World and a quick trip to Ethiopia which we had to decline, but other than those requests…and the Monkey Joes…everything got a yes.

Slip-n-slide and water balloons.  Yes.

Chuck E Cheese.  Yes.

Roller skating and a movie night.  Yes.

The wave pool, concession stand lunches and icees.  Yes.

The zoo and icees again.  Yes.

Donuts and Uno.  Yes.

All the fun snacks and more icees.  Yes.

It was a really rare and fun and special week.  Amon and our littlest felt like the king and queen.  They lived it up and partied hard and slept even harder…and so did I.  Being fun is hard work.  We missed our big kids, but so enjoyed some one-on-one time with our littles.  Here’s to next summer’s Week Of Yes!  Everyone is already anticipating it…a tradition may have been born.

July 18: An Entire Year

We’ve lived through and survived an entire year without Everett.  The whole month of July has done nothing but suck the life out of us and constantly hit us with reminder after reminder of where we were last year at this time.  It felt like this month aimed to suffocate and keep us guilt ridden.  I had to remind myself constantly Josh and I made the very best decision for Everett with the information we had.  I literally pulled up the letter from Everett’s surgeon on so many days to remind myself of his words…to remind myself of the facts surrounding Everett’s complex and beautiful heart.  We love him with every fiber of our being and we really did our best.  I had to make a choice multiple times a day to believe in these truths.  Grief is a hard fought battle every single day.

We just miss him so much.  I always look for words to accurately describe the depth of our sadness and pain and love for Everett, but words fail me every time.  There are none.  I am humbled daily when I think about him and how I got to be his mom…how God put us together just so…and how thankful we are to Him for every single day we had together as a family.  Everett made us better.  He changed us and there was nothing quite like the feeling of being loved by our FuShaui.

As the 1 year anniversary of losing Everett loomed the sadness just laid heavy on me.  I often feel such deep sorrow I have to physically pull myself from it.  People think 1 year is a long time when it actually is much more like a blink.  Losing a child is like nothing I have ever experienced and the day I held Everett in my arms and his heart beat it’s last feels like yesterday most days.

A little before the 18th we received the sweetest package in the mail from our friend Melena.  Melena works at Forest Lawn where Everett is buried and she took lead on his visitation and funeral arrangements.  She is absolutely the kindest and sweetest person and has been a constant over the past year when she had zero reason to be.  She is the type of person you just feel lucky to know.  We don’t deserve her and yet she has loved our family so well.  In our package were the cutest and most colorful rainbow piñata pins for each of us.  Instantly I knew several other people who loved Everett so well who needed one too.  You can grab your own…or any of their adorable pins…at Corazon PomPom…you must check them out.  Such an insanely cute store.

Everyone promptly placed their pins on their backpacks except Josh Kelley.  Josh loves to take bike rides to clear his head and take a small break.  He put his pin on his bike bag and it created instant tears in my eyeballs.  That sweet colorful piñata and his “143” pin…the number of days Everett was with us…just makes me heart beat faster.  Josh loves his boy well and we carry him with us everywhere we go and always will.  We will never be without his sweet little love.

I woke up early on the 18th and couldn’t get to Everett’s grave quick enough.  My friend Leah was at the gym early that morning with me and gave me the kindest note.  I sat at Everett’s grave with his salsa jar full of flowers and read her words.  There is really nothing quite like thoughtfulness and kindness and empathy and love.  I am learning more and more everyday it really is not a difficult thing to make someone feel seen and loved.  Acknowledgment is so powerful.

I sat at his grave for a long time.  I talked to him and cried.  I held the past year so close and longed for the day when I could hold Everett close again.  I miss the weight of his body in my arms.  I miss his kisses and the way he would wrap his little arms around my neck.  I miss the way he told me he loved me every night in Mandarin and English.  I just want my baby back.  It all feels so stupid and senseless…so incredibly senseless.

When I arrived back home after the grave our house was quiet and still.  Leo was the first one awake and he sat silently at the top of the stairs with his rainbow blanket tucked tight in his arms wearing a sweet smile on his face.  I went to the top of the stairs, brought him in close and whispered in his ear, “I’m so glad you’re here.”  Leo is this beautful, living connection directly to Everett for me.  They knew and loved each other before we knew or loved either of them.  They were family before we ever were.  Leo has reminded my heart of what joy feels like.

I wanted to make sure we had some fun on such a crappy anniversary date so off we headed to the wave pool.  My friend Sandra asked if she could join us and brought two of her grandkiddos too.  She also bought us a concession stand lunch and packed a cooler full of fun drinks and snacks and the small human crowd went wild.  She made us feel so loved!!!  Our friend Stef showed up as well with balloons in hand for the kids to release at the wave pool in honor of Everett.  Just the kindest.

We soaked up the sun and played in the waves and wore ourselves out.  Sunshine is always good for us.  Always.  On the way home we all snagged icees and cheersed to Everett.  One thing I so hope is that we are doing good by our kids in the grief department and remembering their brother.  I never want them to feel like they can’t share or cry or talk about anything.  I also don’t want them to feel like his death overshadows their lives.  I long for them when they think about Everett and his death to know we are always here and to feel a sense of joy and gratitude for their little brother.  Recently Harper told me if she ever has a little boy she’s going to name him Everett and I instantly burst into tears.  Our love for each of them is profound and we just want them to all be okay.

For dinner we had planned to make pork dumplings/pot stickers/jiaozis, fried rice and spicy garlic broccoli.  This is our go-to homemade Chinese meal my SIL Becky taught me how to make and Everett LOVED dumplings.  Hudson would always keep count of how many dumplings they would eat and Everett always ate as many or more than Hudson.  They were his total favorite.  Josh Kelley also came home with a bag full of our favorite Asian treats and I made rainbow colored whoopie pies.

Josh’s sister Jen asked to come for dinner and said she’d order Chinese takeout as her contribution and then one thing led to another and before we knew it more family had showed up with more yummy food and all I could think is how much Shuai would have loved this time with some of his favorite people and his favorite foods.  Being loved by him was a gift and loving him is a gift to us that carries on.

Harper colored our chalkboard in rainbow colors.  We all helped make dumplings.  We drank sodas from small glass bottles printed with words like love, my hero and best friend.  We ate all the treats and more.  We chatted and laughed and I had a few teary moments.  The night was warm and we sat around all together outside while the kids played their hearts out and it felt nice.  It felt like the right way to remember this day.

It was a date on the calendar…another Wednesday like there is in every week, but such a significant date for our family.  I ran the events of last July 18th through my head all day long.  I even wore the same tank top I was wearing while I held his body for the last time here on earth.  We weren’t sure how this day was supposed to go down, but we did the best we could.

We have all changed.  Each one of us have and we are not the same people we once were.  My relationship with Jesus is quite different…not bad, but different.  It’s less fluffy and more real.  It’s less facade and more hard truths.  It’s less accepting of the things I’ve been told by others I must accept and more questions and honest words between Jesus and myself.  It’s been hard and sad and freeing and I hold onto the hope that everyday He is refining me into more myself than ever before.  A lot of days I feel jaded and broken and not the same, but I know He has not left nor wavered in His love for me or Everett or our family.

I have this quote typed out in my phone and I look at it often.  I have no idea where it came from, but I’ve read it a thousand times over this past year:

He pulls you right close tonight and whispers, “Do not be afraid”…He knows how hard things are and He knows how faithful He will be.”

Everett Kelley, you my son are one of my greatest treasures.  It is an honor to be your mom and love you even through death.  I will spend all my days remembering you and longing to hold you in my arms again and helping keep your brave and strong spirit alive within us.  You changed us and made us even better.  You cast out a ripple into this world and we will never fully know how far and wide it spread.  Thank you for trusting us and loving us so quickly.  We will always hold the truth that we are surely the luckiest having known and been loved by you.  We love you to pieces Shuai Shuai.  Another day closer Love.

Eight Things

1.  I can’t begin to say how good Leo is for my heart.  He brings me so much joy and his snuggles are top notch.  Leo has some speech issues and does not have a lot of Chinese or English words yet, but he is working hard on that front.  We’ve seen him come so far already in communication and the kid is killing his sign language game.  We’re just really proud of him and so humbled and honored to be his parents.

2.  Sometimes my nephew Cooper agrees to do different things on his skateboard just so I can snag a photo or video. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.  Either way, I always love watching him do the things he so enjoys doing.

3.  Ice-cream forever people.  Forever!!!  This summer was our summer of cold treats…popsicles, ice-cream, ice cream sandwiches and icees all in regular rotation.  We could not be stopped nor did we want to be.

4.  More documentation of our wave pool love.  I know, I know more of me gushing about the wave pool, but we’re still going strong and taking photos all along the way.  This is the last week the wave pool will be open during the week and then they move to their weekend only schedule.  This is when I get real sad about summer coming to an end.

5.  There’s nothing quite like worn out children from summer.  Finding them in sweet sleeping positions still makes me see their smallness.

6.  Sweetest rainbow bandaid reminding me of our brave rainbow boy.  I look for rainbows everywhere.

7.  Movie days with Big Daddy this summer have been crowd favorites.  I’m always a little jealous when they get to go and I hang back with the littles who aren’t so great at movies yet.  A good show, popcorn, treats and an icee…perfection.

And 8.  Haircuts.  Haircuts for our boys are such an ordeal because they all like to grow their hair and grow their hair and grow their hair.  All three of them were long overdue for fresh cuts and I finally said it was officially time.  When Josh sends me these kinds of photos from Fortune & Fades Barber Shop it makes be beyond happy.  They always clean my boys up so well.  If you’re local and need an awesome barber shop in your life, look no further.

Beach Love

It’s been a while since we had a really great vacation.  Even last year’s beach trip was good, but hard with the weight of Everett’s open heart surgery looming over everyone.  We’ve also become quite the homebodies and none of us like to be away from home for too long so that always makes a trip kind of tricky as well.  Josh Kelley and I have talked many times how this was such a good trip for our whole family.  We had fun.  We smiled.  We fought less.  We laughed.  We relaxed and rested.  It’s been a very long time since we’ve rested.  It was an extraordinarily good trip for us.

Every morning we had slow mornings and breakfast and then hit the beach. We played and dug in the sand and buried one another and made moats and sandcastles and drip castles.  We threw football and ate snacks and caught jellyfish, little minnows and crabs and collected seashells.  The kids had an absolute blast.

Leo loved every single bit of the beach.  We weren’t sure if he’d be down for the sand, but the boy loves the water and he was a fan of both the sand and the ocean.  He played his little heart out and crashed every day at lunch…mid eating.  He loved being in the ocean with Josh…so many sweet smiles and precious time with him.  Leo is just a joy!

One day on the beach there was a large pelican just hanging out.  Josh and another dad on the beach figured out the pelican actually couldn’t fly because it was wrapped up in deep sea fishing wire.  They ended up pulling a full on rescue while the beach looked on.  It was quite dramatic and fantastic and hilarious watching these two men take on this giant pelican while it snapped it’s massive beak at them.  In the end the guys had victory over the fishing wire with the help of a beach towel, some strong arms and a pair of scissors.  I laughed so hard watching strangers after the whole ordeal was over and the pelican was freed, shake their hands, congratulate them and give them keys to the city.  They were beach heroes.  And I got zero documentation…ZERO… of the whole thing because I was just as roped in as the next beach stranger, but also simultaneously wrangling kids and helping Harper get the other dad’s keys which dropped into the ocean during the commotion.  I feel like I will be telling our grandkids this story.

After lunch each day Leo would nap and Josh and I would take turns taking the rest of the gang to the pool.  Our kids could not love to swim more.  They are like freakin’ fish.  They just swim and swim and swim.  After Leo woke up we’d all go back to the beach.  And before dinner we’d go back to the pool.  It was pretty hilarious, but they lived it up and come dinner each night we were unsure how they were all still awake.

Three of my favorite things about vacation were as follows:

1. Fruit Loops for breakfast each morning.  We do not buy fun cereals simply because I would eat them all every single day.  Fun cereals are my weakness and Fruit Loops are my absolute favorite.  I have zero willpower and when on vacation I treated myself every morning and some afternoons. 🙂

2. King size bed + sleeping in each morning.  Gah!!!!  I feel like I’ve been living in a constant state of exhaustion for a full year now and a giant comfy bed plus sleep was crazy nice.  

Bonus: A giant bed meant there was way more room for kiddos to pile in for TV watching.  My mom always let me pile into her bed with her and our kids do the same for shows and early morning chats.

And 3. Netflix.  Oh.My.Word.  I mean, we just didn’t really know what we were missing out on.  It’s like a whole new world.  We binge watched Flaked with Will Arnett…LOVED!!!!!

Laura Kelley Fun Fact #717:  If I had to choose the actor who would play Josh Kelley if a movie was ever made about his life I would pick Will Arnett.  There are just soooooo many similarities and I wouldn’t mind making out with him.  Like, at all. 🙂

We also watched several episodes of Queer Eye and every show had me laughing and crying.  Just so insanely great!!!  Once back home from vacation we quickly took advantage of Netflix’s 30 day free trial and we still have 2 weeks left.  All the hallelujahs.  If you’ve got a favorite show do tell.  We’d love some recommendations for our remaining two weeks.  We’re currently watching House of Cards and White Collar…thanks Marcie!!

So vaction recap:  It was the best vacation we’ve had in who knows how long.  We had fun and felt lighter and we even drove all the way home still happy.  It was a vacation miracle.  Here’s to you, Alabama beaches.  You were just what we needed.

Solomon’s Beach Gotcha Day

Each year for Gotcha Days we do something fun all together as a family.  It’s a family celebration remembering the day our sweet kiddo joined our family and we became even better.  We let the special kid pick fun things like breakfast, dinner and dessert.  They are always days we look forward to.

Last July for Solomon’s Gotcha Day I was in Michigan with Everett and Josh was back at home with the other kids trying to lift spirits.  The next day Everett went into cardiac arrest and was put on full life support.  Josh immediately jumped on the next flight headed to Ann Arbor leaving the kiddos behind.  Solomon’s special day sucked.  It wasn’t anything like we usually intend for these special family days to be.  It was full of angst and sadness and seperation.

This July was pretty terrible.  Constant sadness and pain and reminders and guilt and re-living last July and I am beyond ready for this month to be over with.  As Josh and I were looking at July and thinking ahead to Solomon’s Gotcha Day we decided we wanted to do something extra special for his day this year.  Our whole crew loves the beach so this year a gotcha day celebration on the beach was in order.

We drove down on a Wednesday so we’d be on the beach all day Thursday for Sol’s day.  Before we leave on trips we go by Everett’s grave.  I am fully aware he’s not there, but it feels nice to stop by.  Last year when we went to the beach with Everett we found tons of seashells and a jar full of them now sits in our bathroom.  When we stopped by his special little corner of the earth we each took a seashell from the jar and left it on Everett’s grave.  It just felt right when everything about our life without him feels so wrong.  We miss him terribly and so wish he was still here with us.

We found an amazing cottage right on the beach that fit all our big family’s needs.  It was perfection walking just a minute to the beach and pool every day.  Solomon had already made his Gotcha Day plans so on our drive in we were keeping our eyes open for his food requests.  We cooked every night, except for his Gotcha Day night.

Sol is a total foodie so picking out his favorites is always really special and important to him.  He chose donuts for breakfast, Takis and Twin Snakes for a fun beach snack, spicy wings for dinner and shaved ice for dessert.  We disputed none of his choices because it was all delicious.

Sidenote: If you’ve never tried the TwinSnakes candy and like gummy candy, please do.  They are the absolute bomb!!!!   A total Kelley fave.

Bonus:  Everett was born in the year of the snake so of course they remind me of him.

We spent most of the day on the beach and he lived it up.  He was king for the day and we loved letting him be.  The weather was perfection, the water was clear and the flag waving was purple meaning there was excessive wildlife.  Jellyfish, sting rays, dolphins, giant schools of fish and even a 4ft shark hanging out right off the shore.  To commemorate Solomon’s Gotcha Day Sol and Josh got stung by the same jellyfish together. Hahahaha.

It was so great celebrating him and remembering what an incredible day it was when we became each other’s.  At the end of the day it felt so nice to have spent this day so much differently than we did last year.  9 years home and a lot of life has been lived in those 9 years.  I’ll never forget the moment I held Solomon for the first time and life instantly because even more beautiful.  He makes us better and we’ll tell him until the day we die that we’re the luckiest parents around because it’s just the truth.