Small Art Sale

We recently took down a big wall of art going up our stairs.  We’ve found new homes for most of them, but decided to put a few of them up for sale in MY SHOP.  If you’re interested in any of them, head over HERE and check them out and there are a few sets of stationery on sale still too.  Would love to get those gone!

And if you we’re wondering, we actually went through all our kids art we had kept from the last 10 years, pulled our favorites and tossed the rest in recycling.  It was freeing and felt amazing.  Maybe another post for another time.  Now our favorites are going to adorn our steps…now just have to get some inexpensive frames for them all.  Wish me luck.

Thanks so much.

No Snow Days for Grief

The snow and rain are finally gone here in Tennessee.  The kids we’re off school for 6 days straight + two weekends and then sickness kicked in last week and honestly everyone was ready to get back to school and our normal routine.  One thing we’ve learned about our grief is that routine helps us cope.  It allows us to feel some sense of knowing what is coming even when our grief can quickly derail any day and at any time.  We needed our routine back and although the snow was fun & magical for a short amount of time, it also proved cold and hard and when it all melted away everyone was a bit glad to go back to school and move back into our expected day-in and day-out routine.

The snow even kept Josh Kelley at home for several days and he posted up at our bright yellow table for work each morning.  It was good to have him home with us and the only downside to the snow disappearing was the question from the kids each morning, “Does dad have to go back to work today?”  Everyone loves having him at home.

There was snacking for eternity and cocoa & mini marshmallows from Aunt Jen.  There we’re endless crafts and movie watching galore.  Late nights and long sleepy mornings.

There was ample time for new hobbies taken up and gaming till’ we we’re sure we had killed all their extra little brain cells. 🙂  There was an endless amount of snuggling.

There was playing in the snow, sopping wet mittens, muddy snowy foot prints everywhere and loads of extra laundry for Josh and myself to push through.

And there was grief.  Grief does not get snow days…there is no break from the sadness…there’s no hiding away and not enough movies to watch to diminish our pain and the fact that we thought about Everett and how much he would have loved our ample snow days at home together.  The snow brought a twinge of excitement, but Everett was never off our minds.

On one of our last snow days together with the snow almost gone we all loaded up and drove down the street to his grave.  We wanted a little something special to put out for the New Year and when I saw the colorful strand of stars at Target I knew there was no reason to look any further.  There was just a bit of snow left and lots of mud, but we put out his stars and thought about our brave, strong boy.

So we powered through and made the best of it we could.  We welcomed the snow melting and our routine returning and now we all are thinking about spring, the new life which comes with it and our hearts long for the warm sunshine.  We’re holding onto hope and waiting in anticipation for the newness spring seems to bring with it.

8 Things {Boys Edition}

1. Fresh cuts.  A new barber shop, Fortune & Fadesopened up down the street not too long ago and now Josh Kelley and all the boys can go in for good haircuts.  Josh has long been a Super Cuts kind of guy, but that is no more.  He now gets a legit good haircut every time along with the rest of the Kelley boys.  If you’re local and looking for an awesome barber shop then look no further.

2. Hey Solomon, why don’t you relax a little at the doctor’s officer?!?!  He totally cracks me up.  Keeps us laughing all the time.

3. Hudson is going through lots of grief along with the rest of us.  Most mornings he wakes up feeling really down so when I see that smile it makes my mama’s heart soar.  It’s been so difficult walking each of our kids through losing Everett, but what an honor to be the one there to hold them close, kiss their faces and tell them, “Me too.”

4. To say I love our kids’ teachers is an understatement.  They have loved our children so well during their hardest moments these past 6 months.  They have gone above and beyond and pour so much into each of them.  One of my greatest pleasures is loving on our teachers and school staff right back.  It doesn’t have to be big…a note of encouragement, a quick thank you text, a yummy chocolate bar, a homemade chocolate chip cookie or a pickle jar of flowers.  They deserve all the love and kindness for how they celebrate, love and encourage all their students each day.

5. This guy.  Oh my.  He has all our hearts in such a unique way.  Amon came on the scene when we we’re all deep in grief after losing Mom.  God used him to restore our joy and he has been a wild, wonky, wonderful ball of joy since the beginning.  He also opened our eyes and arms to our sweet heart kiddos.  God used Amon to guide us to Everett and we are forever grateful.  Amon has been experiencing some heart issues lately and we got a mid-year look at his special little ticker.  He has a very leaky valve, but we’re so thankful for another decent report.  Our children’s medical issues have been spotlighted since Everett’s death.  We know we are not promised tomorrow and when you watch one of your children die, it changes you in so many ways as a parent.

6. About 4 years ago we started a new tradition where our children with birthhmamas pick out flowers or a plant in their honor to plant in our yard on Mother’s Day.  It’s become pretty special and something I look forward to witnessing.  I love how they each take such care in what they choose.  It’s a very special time walking among the flowers watching them decide on what to pick out.  Once winter hit, Josh mentioned Everett’s flowers he had chosen on Mother’s Day we’re dying in the cold.  It instantly made me sad.  I desperately wanted to keep those flowers alive.  Next thing I knew Everett’s flowers showed up inside on our warm bathroom floor.  Josh knew and he took it upon himself to keep them alive.  Just a short time later they we’re blooming right in the middle of winter.  I cried at the first bloom I noticed and it has been the sweetest symbol of hope to my heart during this cold, dark winter.

7. I always dreamed of being a mama to a whole bunch of boys and this is one of my top reasons why.  They are crazy fun.  Straight up, uninhibited fun.  And no where is off limits for their fun  They never cease to amaze me, shock me, make me laugh and drive me bonkers.  Bonus:  They give great hugs.

And 8.  Because I just can’t have a boys edition post without our Everett boy.  Another day closer love.  We miss you like crazy.

Everett’s Tree

When Christmas came around it kind of totally sucked.  We really wanted no part of any celebrating and we wanted to sleep through the whole hope-soaked, joyful season.  We weren’t feeling it and all we could think about is Everett…what he would have loved about the whole holiday, how crappy it feels carrying on without him, how we missed out on celebrating Christmas with him.  It all was heavy and weighted and when the season was done with, we breathed a little easier.

It’s interesting how everyone processes grief and loss differently.  For us, it’s important to visit his grave…Everett’s special corner of this earth.  We know he’s not there, but we still feel connected to him there.  It was the place we said our final goodbyes and laid his small body deep within the earth.  It’s where we hung strands of paper hearts cut out by his siblings and cousin and the Chinese lanterns we bought on our trip to China when we became each others…when we saw his sweet face in person for the first time.  This cemetery holds so much of us now and even though all of me loathes that so very much, I also don’t ever want to lose it.

Our dreams and hopes for Everett immediately dissipated the day he died…they died along with him.  They would not come to fruition because our boy wasn’t physically with us anymore.  We we’re left with our memories, the hope of heaven and a grassy spot under a big tree.  We find it important to go there and to decorate and leave little mementos and to talk to him while were there.  For Christmas we decided to buy a tree for Everett’s grave, but it couldn’t be decorated just any old way.  It needed to be special.  It needed to be For Everett, From Us.

I searched the internet over and found the perfect sparkly, rainbow solar lights.  Harper wanted to make ornaments and how appropriate.  Of course his tree needed handmade ornaments by his family.  Josh Kelley talked about how each year from now we’ll pull out his box of ornaments for his graveside tree and my eyes glossed over with tears.

We bought small pinecones and mini pompoms.  We used twine to make hangers and colorful straws to make a big star for the top of his tree.  We also bought cheapo plastic beads and melted them down inside of cookie cutters to make beautiful, glassy color-filled ornaments.  We all might have lost a few brain cells in the process…those fumes we’re legit…but it was well worth it.

The kids loved every minute of it.  It was therapeutic making something for our boy…our FuShuai…our Everett.  It was a mix of deep sadness and deep honor stringing those colorful lights and placing each ornament on his tree just so.  I kept thinking, “How is this our reality?  A Christmas tree for our 3-year-old’s grave.” but I know this is our life now.  The moments of sheer shock are still there, but they are lessening because the longer we are without Everett, the longer reality sinks in deep and cutting.  Even though I’m straight up pissed off our celebrating with Everett now looks like this, I still want to do a really good job at it.

 

As our littlest says all the time, “He’s our boy for always.”  Indeed he is.  I will always include him in the number of children I have.  I will always say his name when asked about my kids’ names.  I will always notice him missing in photos.  I will always hang his stocking up each Christmas.  I will never pass up the opportunity to talk about him.  And I will always celebrate him every chance I get.  My arms and heart will always long for him this side of heaven.  Until then, we will carry on and celebrate and honor his memory any way we can, but especially with all the handmade, rainbow colored goodness.

4 New Shop Faves

Every now and then when I find an item or company I am just absolutely smitten with I like to drop in and share about them here.  I’m always looking to add unique shops to my gift giving toolbox and maybe some of you are too.

Lindsey, from Bottle of Tears, and I finally met in November, but kicked off an internet friendship a little earlier than that.  I gushed my heart out about Lindsey HERE on my post about Guatemala.  If I had all day to talk about how kind Lindsey is that still would not be enough so I’ll make a long story short.  1.  It’s true, Lindsey is crazy kind.  2. Lindsey knows suffering well and she knows how to support those who are suffering, in pain and who are walking through great loss.  3. Lindsey is a gem.  Seriously.  A shiny, amazing gem who has weathered so much…who is still weathering so much, but goodness does she shine.

At this point, I have so many Bottle of Tears items and have given lots of them to friends and family, but right before Christmas Lindsey sent me the Long Arch Teardrop Charm Earrings from her shop and I about died.  They are just perfection.  And gorgeous.  And lightweight.  And when I wear them sometimes they jingle a bit in my ear and I love it so much.  I also have her Vintage Brass Month Adjustable Ring and since the moment it arrived in my mailbox I have worn it every single day since.  Everett was born in July and died in July so I got the July ring.  I had been on the hunt for the perfect little piece of jewelry to wear in honor of him and when I saw this ring I was done.  Instant tears and instantly ordered.  Lindsey’s store is a one-stop-shop for those looking for a special little something for someone in your life who is hurting or suffering or trudging through loss & grief.  Everything is beautiful and thoughtful and not cheesy at all.  Check her out immediately if not sooner.

 

Mercy House Global is an oldie, but a goodie for me.  I haven’t ordered from them in a while, but Harper was looking for a special little something to share with some of her best friends for Valentine’s Day.  When I saw their post about some of their Valentine’s goodies…particularly their Friendship Bracelet Valentines…felt heart made in Kenya filled with colorful friendship bracelets made in the Philippines…it was instant love.  Be still my heart.  When I was a kid I would have eaten this up and since Harper is kind of my mini-me at heart, she asked me to order them and brought me $13 of her cash.  Mercy House has about 1000 amazing items made my women around the world.

From their website:

Mercy House exists to engage, empower and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name. Engage those with resources to say yes to the plight of women in poverty. Empower women and teenage mothers around the world through partnerships and sustainable fair trade product development. Disciple women to be lifelong followers of Jesus Christ.

For Christmas Josh Kelley gave me two of the sweetest gifts in honor of Everett and I have absolutely loved both of them.

I take my rings off most mornings and had really been needing a little ring dish to leave them in.  He bought me one of the Monogram Ring Dishes from Prodigal Pottery.  It is absolutely beautiful.

 Prodigal Pottery is made by women who are/have fleeing domestic abuse and homelessness.  Such an amazing shop with amazing hearts behind it.  They have so many gorgeously crafted items and that sweet little gold E gets me every time.

And the last share for today is The Jackie Blanket from Indy Brand.  You guys, just shut the front door and come take a snuggle with me on our couch.  This blanket is insanely colorful and pretty and reminds me of our sweet Everett.  It’s a great size and perfect for several Kelley’s to cuddle under.  So pleased with this gift and it was a must share.  They have so many other cute items, but this was my first Indy Brand item.

One of my goals for 2018 is to try and stop in more often around here.  When I write my head feels clearer…even if it’s just about shops I love.

This year has taken me an adjustment period.  Maybe you’re like me and your goals didn’t kickstart on January 1st.  It’s never too late and despite it being January 22nd, today feels like the perfect time to get started on some of my goals for the New Year.

First Snow

We are learning that no matter what the first is, without Everett it stings deeply.  Today Tennessee was blanketed with it’s first snow of the year.  The kids we’re out of school even though it didn’t start to actually snow until the afternoon.  Excitement was high and the disappointment was high too when they woke up to only rain.  All day the snow was anticipated and we just weren’t sure it would ever arrive.

The sadness of life without Everett has not lifted even the slightest bit yet, in fact, Josh Kelley pointed out the other day how it seems to be getting worse and he’s right, it is.  We know it won’t last forever, but for now nothing seems to lift the grief.  Nothing seems to ease the pain or take away the sadness.  Our littlest was asleep in her bed and Amon was working on not napping so I told Josh I was going to go up and lay down with him.  I climbed into Amon’s top bunk and cuddled in close next to him.  I held him tight and we both dozed off.  Next thing I knew, about 2 hours later, I woke up to Josh touching my shoulder and saying, “It’s snowing.”

I never take naps, but today I needed this rest.  Our bodies have definitely taken the toll grief brings and we are absolutely exhausted.  Amon stirred and I told him it was snowing.  He responded by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “It still hasn’t shown up.”  I told him what Josh had just reported and his eyes brightened and he hopped down the bunkbed latter as quick as he could.

Sure enough, snow was falling and sticking and making everything pretty and white.  I thought about the last time we’d seen snow…in Beijing…in February right before meeting Shuai for the first time.  I watched how excited the kids we’re and the sadness sunk in quick.  Shuai would have loved this.  He would have been adorable all bundled up and going as hard as his little body and broken heart would have let him.  He would have loved the slowness of the day.  The crafts and pizza and fun snacks and shows and snuggles.  I cannot even begin to explain how much I long to snuggle his sweet little body.  I wish I could have napped with my baby today…breathed him deeply…stroked his dark hair…held him close like I did Amon.

The day carried on and the kids played their hearts out.  I slept through starting the crock pot for dinner and forgetting to tell Josh to do so as well so he walked down to Walgreens to snag 3 frozen pizzas for dinner.  3 out of 8 of the Kelleys ended up eating dinner sitting on our countertops.  Of course I thought of Everett.  How could I not?!?!  We we’re doing his thing.  We we’re sitting in his favorite comfort spots right on top of our counters while eating one of his favorite American foods.

I scrolled social media and saw everyone’s snow pictures and honestly, some just made me straight up angry. I know it’s not right or justified, but it’s the ugly truth of grief.  So much has changed since Shuai died.  So many many things have changed…we’re not the same people, relationships have diminished and new ones have emerged.  Sadness and pain and hope all swirl around mixing together and it’s just hard to navigate most days…especially days that should feel extra special, but feel extra painful instead.

We ended our first snow day with treats and a movie.  I started crying when the kids started rolling off to their rooms to brush their teeth and get ready for bed.  Solomon grabbed my neck and hugged me tight.  If I’m down, he is the first one that recognizes it and steps in to love on his mama.  After the kids all went to bed I finally went outside by myself to see the snow.  I stood there watching the snow fall in the light of the security light in between our house and our neighbors.  I hoped Everett knew how deeply we miss him.  How we think about him all day, every day.  How we long to be with him.  I thought about how I hoped some how he saw our first snow without him and knew we missed him and wished we could have experienced it with him.  I hoped he snuggled up close to Jesus today and napped the way Amon and I had.

No matter how anticipated or longed for the first is, it still proves hard and sad.  My mind is set on Shuai tonight, like it is every night, and how I really hope it feels like a blink of the eye until we’re together again…until I can scoop him up and hold him close.  Another first and our first snow day of this new year means we’re yet another day closer to our boy.

Ethiopian Christmas 2018

A few years ago we started celebrating Ethiopian Christmas with our family.  Solomon and Amon are both Ethiopian and we had not been celebrating this important holiday and decided traditions can start at any point, so we just jumped right in.  We brought in some traditional aspects like Ethiopian food, having coffee & popcorn like they do in the Ethiopian coffee ceremonies and starting our celebration off with lighting candles and a prayer, but we also added our own things to it as well like Solomon picking our desserts and having big glass bottle sodas like we always enjoyed each time we were in Ethiopia.  Everyone loves it, everyone has a good time and we celebrate the rich, beautiful culture of Ethiopia that is so important to our family.

(Above photo was taken by my niece Campbell)

This year we ordered food again from one of our favorite local Ethiopian restraunts GoJo.  There are several Ethiopian places to eat in Nashville, but GoJo has become our go to place.  As with previous years Solomon stepped up his dessert choice game.  He and I watched about 10 different dessert videos before he made his selection…Oreo Dump Cake.  Solomon has always been this wonderful little foodie boy and when it’s time for him to make a personal selection for an type of menu he takes it very seriously and is crazy deliberate with his choices.  He may not like cereal or most breads, but this kid will eat jalapeños and onions and lamb and donkey and all the cooked meats and veggies and dessert his his forte.

He also chose a super yummy Roll Cake again.  Last year he chose this as well, but asked if I could make it green, yellow and red like the Ethiopian flag colors.  This year I asked him if he wanted me to do the same and he said, “No.  This year I’d like rainbow colors for Everett.”  Goodness does this boy miss his little brother.  Solomon was smitten with Everett from the beginning and they had a unique bond that reminded me of the bond between Harper & Amon.  Solomon big brothered Everett so sweetly and so well.  And every night when they went to bed Solomon would chat with Everett until he fell asleep since Amon and Hudson literally fall asleep almost the minute their heads hit their pillows.  I could not have loved Solomon’s selection of the rainbow roll cake any more.

We also had fruit, veggies, some Chick-fila nuggets…I mean, that’s totally authenticate Ethiopian food…hahahaha…popcorn, a candy bowl, glass bottle sodas and everyone…even a lot of the kiddos…had coffee in our Ethiopian coffee cups.

Kids ran around wildly and played their hearts out.  The adults chatted each other up.  Everyone just did their thing and stuffed their faces.

In grief, there is still joy.  It was such an honor and privilege to celebrate Solomon and Amon’s culture…to set aside time to honor them and their beautiful country.  To remember where they have come from and their irreplaceable birth parents who created our treasured sons.  We missed Everett terribly and I will be honest that this looms over every type of celebration or holiday we have been apart of since Everett died.  The night before we celebrated Ethiopian Christmas Josh and talked about a game plan because we knew at some point the next day among the joy, someone would come crashing down in grief.  It’s unescapable…it always happens…and we have learned to see it coming.  Sure enough, near the end of our celebration Hudson came over all teary eyed and said how sad he was.  He snuggled in close and I just held him right there amongst the hustle and bustle of the party.

That night we just chilled out.  We watched a movie and had an easy dinner everyone would like…we didn’t need more tears over a dinner someone didn’t want to eat.  We’re learning what works for our family and our grief.  We’re learning to game plan and think ahead about the ways we can cushion the blow of these joyful/grief-filled days.

This year Ethiopian Christmas snuck up on us…like a lot of things have lately.  We are so buried in our day-to-day survival that it’s hard to think or plan ahead, but we made it happen and I’m so thankful we did.  We want to always celebrate each of our children’s beginnings.  We want them to know where they have come from and who they are deeply apart of.  I cannot say enough how grateful and honored I am for the way God decided to knit our family together.  We are surely the luckiest.

Melkam Gena!

PS:  You can read about our 2016 celebration HERE and our 2017 celebration HERE.

Christmas Things I Hope To Remember

This Christmas wasn’t what any of us had dreamed or wanted.  It was sad and hard and honestly all of us…even the kids…we’re glad when it was all over with.  Now we’re just trying to survive winter break and deal with all the feelings about 2018 being right around the corner.  There are some things I hope I never forget about this holiday season.

*The love among the desperate feelings of loss.  Our family is who we are right now and love jankly still swirls around amongst pain and sadness and our messiness.  And the pain.  I hope every Christmas and holiday I remember how I felt this year.  I hope it births empathy and compassion that remains at the forefront of my mind and heart always, but especially when these seasons where joy is suppose to reign and the sorrowful are often forgotten.  I hope the pain always stays in a way that changes our family for the better.

*Josh Kelley carrying Hudson’s giant sleeping boy man body upstairs.  Our kiddos are so tired from sadness and exhaustion.  We are constantly caught in this “Let’s go do something to get our minds off missing Everett” to “Let’s go home.  This is too sad.  We miss Everett.”  Throw in lack of sleep and grief has taken quite the physical toll on all our bodies.  My kids have always been good sleepers, but these past 5 months have been a doozy.

*Our advent activities which reminded all of us of Everett.  What I loved most about watching our kids and niece Meiya painting their wood slices was that Harper, Meiya and Solomon’s first design was rainbow and then other designs followed.  It made me teary because these kids love fiercely and wanted to spread some Everett love.

*Christmas Eve going to our boy’s grave to check on his tree and take some Christmas flowers.  It was freezing and this was the best photo I got.  Kids stepped in mud.  Hardly anyone remembered their jackets. Everyone was freezing and likely complaining.  As the kids loaded up in the van trying not to get mud all over everything, Josh and I snagged a quick hug and empathetic glance as to how stupid Everett dying feels.

*Swinging by our house after the cemetery by myself to grab everyone’s jackets they forgot on our way to Christmas Eve dinner at Josh’s parents’ house.  I gathered all their coats from the hooks in the kitchen and their lockers in the laundry room.  I looked at Everett’s locker and thought about his small, black jacket still hanging inside.  I opened his locker and pulled out his little shoes he was wearing the day we met him…the shoes he continued to love months after being home with us.  I stood there crying and holding his shoes in my hands.  I would give just about anything for him to be here with us again.  I know things will get better one day, but right now they straight up suck without our boy.

*Sausage balls on Christmas morning.  Always and forever.  I asked Harper what she was most exited about…like what was at the top of her list…and she said sausage balls.  It’s a beloved tradition.

*Going all rainbow wrapping paper for Christmas in honor of Everett.  Traditions do not have to be things you’ve done all your life.  New traditions can be born and taken on at any point.  Rainbow paper for Christmas now is now our new tradition.  One day I hope I’m wrapping my grandkids Christmas presents in rainbow wrapping paper and telling them stories about their brave, strong Uncle Everett.

*Amon asking for only and seriously only “one of those bigs cars you drive around in the yard” a minimum of 100 times and then some sweet friends passing down their boys’ car so our boy could enjoy it.  On Christmas morning Amon hugged it and I don’t even care how worldly or non-Jesus centered that may sound.  DON’T EVEN CARE.  It was the cutest.

*Hudson and Solomon enjoying their usual nerf guns, legos and lightsabers.  Our littlest bringing out each individual item from her stocking slowly and methodically and repeating the same excited expression…”Oooooh tic tacs.”  “Oooooh a candy cane.”  “Oooooh M&Ms.”  It was the sweetest.  And Harper.  Gosh I like her.  She asked for very few things this year, but the one thing she consistently asked for was a box of surprises.  It was so fun putting together a box of surprises all rainbow themed to remind her of her little brother.

*Amon’s sweet tears Christmas morning as we all gathered round to start off our morning with opening our stockings like we do each year.  Everyone had their stockings in their hands.  Josh was putting sausage balls in the oven.  I was sitting on the couch looking at each one of them.  Then Amon began to cry.  He left his stocking and crawled up in my lap and said he missed Everett.  I cried too.  Then we we’re quickly joined with other hugs and tears.  We had a good little cry and group hug, then went back to our stockings and began what should have been our first Christmas with Everett.  What an honor to parent these tender precious little hearts.

*Josh being off work and slow mornings together.  This was his first extended amount of time off since Everett died in July.  He actually only got 3 days bereavement leave which seemed insane.  I still remember the first day he had to go back to work before we’d even buried our son.  I still remember him walking in the door that evening and the look on his face and all the emotions.  A few extra days off for him was really good for all of us.

*Date night.  These are so few and far between.  We asked Josh’s parents if the kids could sleepover and no joke, we grabbed dinner and went home to watch Christmas Vacation with cocktails and sleep.  We obviously know how to party.  I can’t say how physically tired we are and this was a dream date for us.

2018 is coming in hot and fast and I have all the feelings about it.  I am so sad to see 2018 go…the year that held Everett and our time as a family of 8.  Simulatenously the fresh start a new year brings also feels like something we desperately need.  I feel torn because I feel all the feelings about a new year and I can’t push it off…time has always proven to keep marching on even when we’re standing still.  So we’ll head into 2018 reluctant and expectant.