Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cheers! Schooooool's......Out...For...Summer!!!!

I remember last summer when I was praying, praying, praying that my hub and I would be able to get to China and back, with our new daughter in hand, all before the 2017-18 school year began. God heard our prayers, and we made it back with exactly one week to spare before that first day of school! 

And somehow, some way, the school year has now come to an end. As we've done the last two years, we are headed to the beach with two of our favorite families in just a few short hours (letting our kiddos skip half a day today as well as tomorrow), but before we hit the road, I wanted to share a couple of things we're saying CHEERS to until I return to blogging sometime next week. On this, our last day of school, we say CHEERS to:

Dance recitals. Last Saturday, Raleigh had her dance recital. She took a combo tap/ballet class all year and was SO excited to finally take the (big!) stage at Winthrop University. She did such a great job, and we were so proud of her! Her big brother and Nana and Pop joined us for the occasion, and we had great seats - second row, front and center - where she could see us from the stage. She locked eyes with us and just smiled so big and sweetly the whole time. Way to go, Rals! We are so proud! She has decided to continue dance next year and will be taking a combo Jazz/Hip Hop class as well as a tumbling class, AND she wants to cheer; so, it's going to be full, fun 2018-19 for our tiny dancer, and I can't wait! <3

End-of-Year Elementary fun. Field Day. Parties. Market Day. Celebrations. Awards. This is what the last week has entailed for Banks and Raleigh, as they have wrapped up second grade and kindergarten, respectively. I am so proud of both of them. They have worked hard and learned so much and have formed new, and strengthened old, friendships. I am SO excited to have more time with each of them this summer.

Healthy baby girl. Bella had her 3-year well-check with our beloved pediatrician earlier this week and had a great appointment! He couldn't believe how far she has come since he first met her and has high hopes for what the future holds for our sweet girl. The day before the appointment, we got a BIG phone call with some GREAT news, and when I shared it with our pediatrician, he was not surprised that this was the news we got, seeing all the progress our little has been making. I'll share more about *that* phone call, the one that made me burst into tears, when I share her next post-adoption update next week. To be totally honest, I want to read the report with my own eyes before I talk about it any more, and I'm waiting for it to arrive in the mail. For now, we say HALLELUJAH!!!!

Summer plans. We have lots of fun family plans for the summer, and I am so excited! We have our two annual family beach trips, one with each "side" of the family, AND my hub and I are sneaking off to Cabo for five glorious days. We haven't been on a nice, extended beach vacation like this, sans kids or friends, just the two of us, for like a decade! And we cannot WAIT!!! I am so excited to celebrate my hard-working hub and soak in time with just him. <3

Also this summer, Banks is doing the Dabo Swinney Football Camp at Clemson, a sleep away camp (!!!) for five days with our church, and a Father-Son  Camp; Rals is doing cheerleading and dance camps; Harrison is doing Vacation Bible School; and Bella will continue three hours of weekly therapies all summer, with our speech, occupational, and (new!!!) physical therapist. We are also in the midst of swim team and All-Stars baseball, both of which will wrap up by the start of July. So, this promises to be a full summer, but also one filled with plenty of family time, friend time, pool time, relaxation time, and memory-making time. 

We are ready for you summer! Bring.It.On. Starting......NOW!

We're outta here, friends! Be back here sometime next week! 

And Happy Memorial Day to all, especially those whose loved ones have battled bravely to keep us safe and are now keeping watching in God's embrace. <3 Have a lovely (long!) weekend, friends!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Cheers to the Weekend, Last Full Week of School Edition

Hi friends! After the May Madness that was last week, this week felt so much easier. Don't get me wrong. It was still busy with a few additional items on our agenda on top of our regular craziness: a school meeting and an evaluation with a new physical therapist for Bella, a well-check for Harrison, end-of-year celebrations for both Raleigh and Harrison, etc., (and did I mention Clay was in California all week?), BUT I just felt lighter and better able to manage the madness now that our three Lu Crew birthdays/parties, Mother's Day, etc., were done as of Sunday. We still had therapies and dance and swim team and blah, blah, blah, but still, I felt a pep in my step. We are SO close to summer!!!

I am so thankful that this is our last Friday of the school year (we'll be yanking the kids out of school early next Thursday, and skipping Friday altogether, for a little surprise :) ), as I love having all the extra time with my kiddos over the summer! This has been the fastest year of my life, and it is absolutely CrAzY that the school year is coming to a close (didn't we just start?!), but it has been a great year for each of my kiddos; so, we have much to be thankful for as we say Hello! to summer next week! For now, though, a few things we are saying CHEERS to this week/end:

Mother's Day. I had a lovely Mother's Day with My Lu Crew last Sunday! After breakfast in bed and a nice, 4-mile run with my sister (who was still in town from Bella's birthday bash), we headed to church, where I got to love on so many littles I love in my class. We then headed to lunch, which....was an absolute FAIL. My hub had made lunch reservations for this cute place in Charlotte. We showed up on time and then waited and waited and waited for our food to arrive. After an hour of waiting, we finally left, and grabbed Moe's on the way home, which we ate around the kitchen table (fine by me! Moe's is my fave!!). While the kiddos napped, I headed up to our neighborhood pool all by myself. I listened to music and just soaked in the sun, solo. Then, my family joined me poolside for playing and pizza. It was perfect. 

And I just have to document the beautiful gift my hub and kiddos gave me that made me cry multiple times throughout the day. Four years ago, moments after Harrison was born, my hub surprised me with a beautiful right-hand ring he had designed himself, which included the birth stones of my (then) three babies (sapphire-Banks; garnet-Rals; diamond-Harrison). A couple weeks ago, he told me he was having the ring re-insured. Lies. On Mother's Day, he presented me with my ring, only it had another band added - one with Bella's birth stone (emerald). I will wear it 'til the day I die. I love it so, so much.

Family weekend last weekend. We were overjoyed to have almost all family members from both "sides" of our family here last weekend to celebrate Bella's 0-3. And one of my sisters, and her sweet trio, stayed with us, and we just had the best time!!! Time with my siblings is so, so special to me. Not only that, but my very kind brother and sister "in law" offered to babysit our seven kids (four mine; three my sister's) while we attended a neighborhood party. Keep in mind their two kiddos were also in the mix, along with my other sister and her two. So, there were 11 kiddos rockin' and rollin' under my roof at one point, which is awesome because those sweet cousins just love being together. Family is my favorite. <3   

90s party. That neighborhood party happened to be a 90s theme party, and my sister and I happened to cheer on varsity together for one year in high school in the 90s (I was a senior; my sister, a sophomore). We both still have our letter jackets, and our friend is now the coach of varsity cheerleading at our alma mater; so, we were able to borrow a couple of uniforms and pretend we were DFHS cheerleaders again. ;) It was SO fun! My hub was there, too, rocking a David Hasselhoff shirt in all its 90s glory. Such a great night with so many friends we love! 

Harrison's big week. Harrison had his last day of school on Monday and closed out the year with the most adorable program on Tuesday. Now, he's officially a big, bad member of the 4s class for his final year of preschool before kindergarten - sniff! sniff! He sang his sweet heart out, rocked his motions, and made me so proud!

The following day, he had the dreaded 4-year well-check. I didn't tell him about the shots until just before the nurse returned with them at the end of the appointment. Luckily, my dear friend hung out with Bella back at the house so that I could focus on Harrison alone during the check-up/shots. He did GREAT! He only cried for a few seconds and recovered quickly. His leg has been a little sore since then, but our feisty little peanut is pushing through. <3 

Raleigh's EOY celebration. Raleigh had the sweetest End-of-Year celebration on Wednesday in her classroom. There were the most precious songs and slideshow, and it took all I had not to lose it. How is my Raleigh graduating kindergarten? But she has done so well this year! She has come out of her shell and is such an excellent reader and writer. She LOVES to write me notes and letters, and they just melt me. She is such a great friend to others and adores her precious new BFF. I am just so proud of this girl and can't wait to have so much time with her over the next few months. 

And that's it for now, y'all! As of last night, my hub is back home (hooray!). We have all-stars baseball practice (weather permitting - hit the road, rain!) as well as a dance recital dress rehearsal tonight and the big show tomorrow. We are also supposed to have Harrison's last teeball game tomorrow (again, go away, rain!), and I have a friend's birthday dinner to close out the weekend on Sunday. Other than that, we'll be gearing up for the last few days of school and prepping for the big fun that awaits next weekend. 

Yay! Have a fabulous weekend, friends! I'll try to pop back in a time or two next week before Summer 2018 officially kicks off! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Bella Turns 3

Birthdays are a big deal to me. And first birthdays are a really big deal. For Banks, Raleigh, and Harrison, we had big parties to celebrate their first year of life. There were smash cakes and thematic decor and people we love there alongside us as they each turned the big 0-1. 

But our Bella never had a first birthday party. Nor a second. It's not fair and it breaks my heart when I wonder if anyone even knew it was her birthday. I pray they did! I pray they snuggled her extra long and gave her something sweet and sang to her. But, I'll never know for certain. 

What I do know for certain is that she had never had a day of birthday celebration surrounded by people who love her as only a family can. So, my hub and I decided we would throw our baby girl a big third birthday. It was INCREDIBLY important to us to have the people there who have been Bella's (and our!) biggest cheerleaders and support system along the way. We wanted to include those who have stood alongside us from Day 1, and we wanted to not only celebrate our daughter but also the people in her life who truly love and support her (and us) through this incredibly amazing, but also hard, journey we are on. Although we were missing a few, we were thrilled to celebrate our birthday girl with nearly 100 guests. And so, so thankful. My gosh, we are so thankful for our precious 3-year-old!

After our girl "blew" out her candle, my hub said a few words to those in attendance, letting them know that this was not only a celebration of our birthday girl but of them, too, who have been such a big part of her life and ours from the very beginning. 

I wanted to speak, too - to say a few words of thankfulness. But I couldn't. I could feel the tears burning my eyes and knew that if I spoke a word, I would fall apart - into a pile of love and gratitude and joy and hallelujahs and thank yous. Here's what I would have said, if I could have gotten a word out without losing it: 

Thank you. Thank you for loving and supporting our daughter. Thank you for loving and supporting us. Thank you for your endless prayers for God's hands to protect and guide and support and build. Thank you for helping us bring her home. Thank you for being our village. We love you. And we love our precious daughter so, so much. Happy Birthday, Bella Elizabeth. <3


And now that the bash is over, I am so excited to share the party fun! As I have previously mentioned, my song for Bella is Somewhere Over The Rainbow; so, when it came time to choose a theme for her birthday bash, there was no question: it had to be all things rainbows...and while we're at it, all things unicorns! Because our girl is magical and so are unicorns and rainbows. :) Here, a look at the party details, the party guests, and the party fun:

The guest of honor. I found the dress and shoes months ago and was giddy to put them on my littlest girl...

I do believe she was looking and feeling festive come party day. :) 

The Invitation. No surprise here! I reached out to my sweet friend, Amy, of One Good Name, when it come time to create the invitation. I loved what she created and loved supporting her business! We were anticipating a pretty big turn-out; so we opted to have it at our neighborhood pavilion and to make it a drop-in. :) 

The Decor. Creating the decor is always one of my favorite parts of throwing a party! I love searching and scouring and brainstorming and creating and displaying the various bunting and banner backdrop, adding rainbow and unicorn touches wherever I could. :) 

The food table

The food and beverage tables

The food and beverage and activity and favor tables

Bunting is my favorite :) 

 It was so fun to create this unicorn banner for my little lady 

<3 <3

And this, too! <3

Unicorn pinatas turned table decor :)

I created a nearly identical tissue-paper-flower-B for Banks' 1st birthday so this brought back sweet memories 

Polka dot straws and gold glitter Mason jars make everything more magical ;) 

The Food/Drinks. We purposefully planned on having the party from 2-4 pm so that we could serve sweets, sweets, and more sweets! Some things I made myself and some things I cheated and store bought. ;) Details of all below: 

Y'all know I LOVE to bake. But I just didn't have time to bake 8 dozen cupcakes during such a crazy busy week. So, I cheated. I ordered 8 dozen pastel blue cupcakes from Harris Teeter....

...but I did create the cupcake toppers myself! Candy rainbows made from Airhead Rainbow Strips - cut shorter, arc-ed, and held in place with white buttercream icing clouds! Easy peasy!

I had also planned to make the "Party Popcorn" myself - I even bought unicorn-marshmallow Lucky Charms for it! But then I spotted this Tutti Frutti popcorn the week before Bella's party and was S.O.L.D. Saved myself the time and stress from doing it myself. :) 

I did make the "Unicorn Horns" myself, which were easy and yummy: Pretzel rods coated in melted white chocolate topped with more (dyed) white chocolate and edible gold sprinkle flecks. :) 

I also made the Rainbow Bark, again easy but tasty!

And it felt important to bake my own Doc Momma Bakes ;) cookies, since this was a major fundraiser we used to help bring our Bellaboo home <3

Close-up of the rainbows 

Close-up of the unicorns 

Close-up of the combo

And since we had record-setting heat (thank goodness for the shade of the Pavilion!), we added "Rainbow Pops" to the menu the day before!

Beverage station. There was iced Gatorades and waters to ensure everyone was well-hydrated. 

The Fun. I wanted to have multiple activities for the kiddos to do since we were expecting guests of all ages. I created three activity stations, and we also had two other activities (in addition to the nearby playground) for the little ones to enjoy:

I purposefully opted to use this vinyl rainbow table cover (Thanks, Target!) in lieu of a fabric one, knowing we could easily toss it, mess and all, in the trash when the party concluded

Make an edible "Uni-Horn" using ice cream cones, frosting, and sprinkles 

Build a "Rainbow Bracelet" using ribbon and Fruit Loops (Bella LOVED this and created two with her Nana)

Make a Unicorn mask by coloring, cutting out, and tying on the pre-printed designs

Pin the Horn on the Unicorn (thank you Target Dollar Spot!)

A bounce house, rented from A Bounceable Time (same company we used for Harrison's 1st Birthday. Highly recommend them, local friends!!!)

The Favors. We had two favors for our party guests to take home! 

First, each took home a magical ribbon wand - these were a big hit with the kiddos! (Also, that art behind the wands was a gift one of my sisters gave to Bella after she first arrived home from China. It hangs on the wall in her room, but we brought it out for the party) <3

Second, we had "Rainbow" seeds. I created all of the food and favor labels myself (not hard at all using Pic Monkey!), and for these "Seeds," I simply put some sour candies into cellophane bags, added the labels, and called it a day!

The Festivities. To be honest, I think I snapped maybe five party pics myself. I was too busy talking to our family and friends and trying to take in and memorize the scene before me. Luckily, I was able to get pictures from others who attended the party and happened to snap pics of their own! :) Here, a glimpse at the party in action. Bels was a little overwhelmed at first, not sure what to think of the celebration happening around her and for her. But as the party went on, this girl had more and more FUN! I think the highlight for her was going in the bounce house. She just laughed and laughed and LOVED it!!! 

And that's a wrap! We had a magical time celebrating our Bella Elizabeth and will be eternally grateful that we get to spend the rest of her birthdays with her. Happy 3rd Birthday, Bellaboo. You are so, so loved!