Friday, May 31, 2013

The Blue Q Team

I had intended a little Enjoying the Small Things post today, but the juggling act of routines is looking a little balls-all-over-the-floor lately. 
 
So, I'd love to feature the awesomeness happening at the headquarters of one of our sponsors, Blue Q
 
I've introduced Blue Q's fun conversation-sparking products, but I'd love to highlight what's happening behind the scenes there.  Blue Q is the largest private employer of individuals with disabilities in their county (12 full time employees), and it's become one of the things about their company that not only customers love but employees as well.

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As Mitch, one of the founders of Blue Q, explains:

 "We have a huge airy workroom where thousands of things get their final packaging every day.  This crew has made literally millions of items over the past 20 years. Right now, for instance, they're super-busy assembling our all-natural "Lip Shit Lip Balm." They fold and staple the packaging and place the finished goods in display boxes.

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We work with the local branch of a state agency that helps us with details and support; we have two full-time AMAZING social workers who are in tune with each individual's needs and skills.   We're very proud of the operation. We regularly go on all kinds of great field trips together--picking apples at the local orchard, learning how bread is made--and we have local artists bring projects into Blue Q, etc.   So our work space is filled with color and creativity.  Then there's growing lettuce and pumpkins in our company garden!  

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It's tons of fun,  lots of great work gets done, and frankly an important segment of the community gets the hard-to-locate gainful employment they crave and need to have a sense of self esteem and accomplishment. The whole world's the winner, and it's the soul of Blue Q.   

Maybe this extra bit of goodness shines through on everything we make?  
We like to think so."

*****

I'm so proud to be working with Blue Q and anxious to hear about more companies expanding their employment opportunities and consequently the quality of all their employees' experiences.  Win/Win. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The World Lies Upward

I spent this morning talking to a mama on the phone.  Twenty-nine years ahead of us on this journey, her voice oozes with the same love I feel for my own kids except there's more--years of stories, struggles, victories, experience.  You can hear it behind her words, you can feel it in her voice.  Her thirty-two-year-old son shares Nella's extra chromosome, and after speaking briefly with him last week during a radio interview, I can't wait to meet him and his mama soon. We look ahead on this journey, following the path paved by many before us, and we learn from other mamas who fought hard and loved much. 

"What can't Nella do?" my friend asked me the other day.  "I mean, seriously, what are the known things she'll have to face?"

I thought for a moment and rattled off what I know--cognitive issues, muscle tone stuff, increased likelihoods for a number of medical complications.  Together, those things spell out that things will be harder for Nella.  Harder to learn, harder to prove what she knows, harder to gain acceptance, harder to get a job, harder to make friends, harder to claim the rights we all enjoy and take for granted. 

That sucks.  And when you love someone so much--so, so, so, so, much--and you stare at her little three-year-old self all smiling at you and completely na├»ve about her future and how hard it might be--sometimes you feel like you're going to vomit. 

But there's Fight or Flight.  And I can fight like Mohammad Ali.

Sometimes when I'm running and I feel like I want to stop; sometimes when I'm cleaning and I'm too tired to finish; sometimes when I'm working and I need a break; I think about Nella and how much harder she'll have to work and all the extra obstacles she'll face in life.  When I think about that?  I can't stop.  Sometimes I even play silly games in my head, ridiculously pushing myself as if in doing so, I'm taking some of the burden off my child. 

I wish it was that easy.  What I can do is believe in her.  Love her.  Read to her.  Celebrate her.  Teach her. 

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"I am conscious of a soul-sense that lifts me above the narrow, cramping circumstances of my life. My physical limitations are forgotten- my world lies upward, the length and the breadth and the sweep of the heavens are mine!” ~Helen Keller

So that we do.  And we will continue to learn as we support each of our children, creating as best as we can an environment that both challenges and celebrates them. 

I received an e-mail a few weeks ago sharing a speech that will be delivered to a graduating high school class this year.  Carrie, who graduated from the school in 1997, also has Down syndrome. 

Carrie as a baby in 1976:

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I'm thrilled she's letting me share her speech with you today.  She's worked very hard, and I'm so inspired by her determination.  No matter what our circumstances may be with Nella (and Austyn and Brandyn and Lainey and Dash!), stories like Carrie's provide hope and promise.

*****

As a graduate of the class of 1997 I am very honored to speak to you today!  It took most of you who are graduating today twelve or thirteen years to complete your education.  My education began in 1976 when I was six weeks old and enrolled in an Early Intervention Program and continued until I graduated twenty-one years later with an I.E.P. diploma.

While I was here at DCS I repeated kindergarten and second grade and then was mainstreamed in third grade when it became obvious that I also needed to be in special education classes. The blend of regular and special classes, known as inclusion today, continued throughout my schooling here.  Speech therapy for language delays and articulation also started when I was six weeks old and continued until I graduated.

The extended time and intervention occurred because I was born thirty-six years ago with Down syndrome. There are three types of Down syndrome.  Trisomy 21, the type I have, is one where every cell has a complete additional 21st chromosome and is the most common.  The reason for Down syndrome is still unknown.  It usually results in delays of physical, cognitive and speech development. 

Heart surgery, the replacement of the tympanic membrane and one bone of my right ear, cataract surgery on both eyes, a thyroid condition called Grave’s Disease plus sleep apnea are my most important medical issues. Daily workouts at the local YMCA six days weekly along with Tae Kwon Do two evenings a week help to maintain my physical fitness. Unfortunately, those of us with Down syndrome have slower metabolisms and tend to gain weight easily.  

I would like to point out that it was not until sixth grade that I really understood how Down syndrome was affecting my life.  It bothered me that I could not learn and keep up with my classmates and why some students would tease me. I am so thankful to my Dad who was able to share in simple terms what was going on. He told me that my learning would always be a challenge and that repetition, visual aids, hands-on activities and tutoring support would be needed.  My Dad and Mom helped me understand that I had two choices in dealing with students who unkindly teased me.  I could ignore them or try to educate those who were not kind to anyone with a disability.  I have chosen to educate.

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I actually wrote a story about this called “The Special Tomato” here in an English class.  It has been published in a book and many publications plus there are note cards. You each will receive one this morning! 

The support and the encouragement of so many teachers and administrators in this school were extremely helpful to me.  I went on to complete a two-year program in Early Childhood education at BOCES and then attended Herkimer Community College where I received a Teacher’s Assistant certificate. It took me four and a half years to complete my college work because I only took one or two classes a semester. I learn at a different pace but I do it!  Those are my “True Colors”!

Presently, I am living independently in Rome, NY with staff assistance forty-two hours a week through the NYS Self-Determination “Individualized Initiative” program (say that ten times real fast!).   I work with toddlers at Upstate Cerebral Palsy, teach a Tai Chi class to the elderly at the Rome Hospital, and give self-advocacy presentations both locally and nationally. None of this could have happened without the education and support I received here.

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I hope that you graduates feel thankful like I do for your education and experiences here at DSC as you move on and find your way.  I would also hope that you would be open to diversity and those of us with disabilities.  My quote is: "I took the “dis” away from disability and made it my ability to make this world a better place for all of those with special needs”.  Yes, I have Down syndrome and want others to know I have the same hopes and dreams as most people have.  I can feel the excitement and a little of your apprehension now as you graduate and begin to realize your hopes and dreams.  You have the “true colors”: knowledge, heart, and duty to make this world a better place.  Congratulations class of 2013!

*****

As we continue on this journey, preparing for school and new social situations in a few years, introducing letters and words, investigating new learning strategies for Nella and constantly stretching, shifting, and challenging our perspectives, we hang on to those powerful words of Helen Keller:  "...my world lies upward, the length and the breadth and the sweep of the heavens are mine."

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Thank you so much, Carrie, for sharing your story with us. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

ETST Sponsor: Tea Collection

Post Memorial Day, pre Independence Day and some brewing anticipation for summer, it seems appropriate to welcome back sponsor Tea Collection with some red, white and blue favorites.  Perfectly festive for picnics, summer barbecues, parades, play dates or vacation road trips, these staples deliver that famous Tea comfort and quality and mix and match well with other closet favorites.


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Top, from L to R: Coastal Stripe Flutter Tee, Gypsy Cargo Pants, Flower Petal Top, Umizi Play Shorts, Coastal Stripe Boy (or Girl) Tee, Sharp Sharp Beach Shorts, Red Whale Tee, Bafana Plaid Shorts
Bottom, from L to RNavy Saltwaters, Venda Strappy Mini Dress, Nogazi Polo Baby RomperFlap Bucket Hat

Tea Collection is known for their globally inspired designs (currently inspired by South Africa) as well as the comfort and quality of their kids clothing.  And, in their words, "We explore. We discover. And we bring it home through modern designs that, in our fondest wishes, inspire children to embrace difference, dream big and live with a sense of adventure."

Can I get an Amen?

Welcome back, Tea Collection.  Thank you for making summer look so good. 

Now stock up on sparklers and light up the grill.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Art of Beach Shlepping

As all good holiday weekends go, we set out for the beach last night, except this night was different.  Since I've had kids, I have promised myself that one day I would splurge on one of those roll-y beach carts--the ones you see effortlessly pulled by pretty models in the SkyMall catalogue.  We've sort of been the Griswold Shleppers when it comes to beach excursions and, while I've mastered the art of cute beach totes and proper sand toy bags, there are still a lot of bags to be carried from car to beach.  And when you factor in the additional kids-to-be-carried and coolers-to-be-carried and chairs-to-sit-in, what you get is a lot of turning heads on the beach--and not for a great bikini.  Which is perhaps why I have a thing for cute baby bathing suits and little girl sun hats.  It's an attempt to redeem our beach dignity, to distract from the hot mess dragging blankets, dropping shovels and begging her crying kids to follow her. 

But this weekend?  I was ready.  Forget the roll-y beach cart, I found something better.  A roll-y beach wagon that promised to glide through sugary sand.  Constructed of heavy metal with plenty of room for coolers and bags and stray shovels, my wagon was going to transform our beach trip. I knew it.  Goodbye Shleppers.  We were going to skate onto that beach, and we were going to look good doing it. 

Feeling unusually prepared for our trip, I maintained responsibilty with all the beach necessities--like a cooler packed with ice as opposed to a grocery bag with a few juice boxes tossed in it.  We had the towels, the beach chairs, new pails that weren't broken, new shovels that weren't bent. And I set out to the beach last night with pride.  Finally, after all these years, we were going to do it right. 

I would normally curb the "to bring" list for lack of hands to carry things, but last night?  We have a beach wagon!  Kids, bring your dolls!  Bring your toys!  Fill 'er up!

We loaded that baby to the brim.  Chairs, cooler, bags, boogie board.  And I cockily (um, new favorite word) rolled it along the parking lot, up past the boardwalk and down unto the edge where board meets sand.  The true test. 

Epic failure.

The wheels came to such an abrupt stop that the whole wagon fell over.  Blocking the boardwalk.  While families waited for us to clear the path.  And the Griswold Shleppers returned.  Except this time I held a baby, called to another one to follow me (she wouldn't) and grimaced while I pulled with all my motherfreaking might, a steel constructed wagon with crap wheels.  Friends waved in the distance while I planned my route.  A kind man came to offer help, but I was more embarrassed watching him pull it for me than I was pulling it myself.  He was grunting.  And leaning at a forty-five degree angle, feet skidding in the sand, just to get the wagon to barely budge.  And he was sweating so profusely, my friend (who finally picked up Nella) pointed at the drip marks in the sand and mouthed "Oh my God."

"Please tell me you're not going far," Kind Man said.  And though I saw my friends still waving in the distance, yards away from us, I smiled and answered, "Nope.  Right here is great."  Because I couldn't bear to watch him grimace and sweat any longer for us. I waited until he was out of sight and then continued the haul until we made it, breathless, to our friends.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and the widest stretch of shallow water, broken by sand bars peppered with shells, sand dollars, star fish and inky sluggy things.

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retro polka dot suit, Popina Swimwear

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We carefully examine living beach creatures and then return them, unharmed, to the water.

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Baby boy loved Nature's Boppy.

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And we loved God's little post-sunset encore.

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The beach wagon will be returned, and we will scout out a new beach cart with the rolliest wheels possible.  A do-over is in the works.  It will be good.

Today did make up for yesterday's wagon failure.  It was everything a rainy day should be.  Coney Island for lunch.  Back home for quiet.  I actually laid in bed this afternoon, snuggled next to a sleeping Dash and listened to my girls color and play while it rained outside. Nella wrote on the window with crayon, and I let her.  All is well.

This past week, we enjoyed:

Pre Summer Activities. 

Like Hula hoopin'

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And Driveway Site Word Games.

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Increased Curiosity for Critters...and a little less fear for getting close to them.

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Newsboy Caps. 

Seriously.  It's Baby Guy Ritchie.

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Wayward Braids.

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Afternoon Sunflare.

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Over-the-shoulder Peeks.

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Catching the Girls Reading (and hearing Lainey sound out words aloud).

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Color Games with the Girls.

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Found these footprints at the teacher store, taped them to the floor in the bedroom, and Nella likes saying the colors as she walks the path.  Fun way for Lainey to play teacher too.


*****

For those who have asked, Brett is recovering slowly at home.  He had some incision complications and can't lift or hold the kids right now.  He's feeling better but being very careful to make sure things heal up as quickly as possible.  Things are a little "off" at home right now, but we are so glad he's okay.  I heard a lot of appendix stories and know we are lucky.  Looking forward to when he's fully recovered and, in the meantime, thankful to family and friends who've helped out. 

One day already down this week--four more to fill up. 

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I smell summer.

Happy Memorial Day.  Big love to all the soldiers and their families out there.  xo

Thursday, May 23, 2013

ETST Sponsor: Dashing Bee Children's Consignment

Online children's consignment store Dashing Bee returns in sponsorship with a special Memorial Day sale that begins today.  Use code SUNSHINE15 for 15% off your entire order. 

Dashing Bee gives you an opportunity to shop (from home!) great brands at a fraction of the price with their gently used children's clothing and accessories.  You can search their site by size and clothing style.  And, if you'd like to earn money on clothes your kids have grown out of, check out their consignor program.

My current summer favorites on their site right now:

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Dashing Bee is a great way to expand your children's wardrobe without breaking the bank, and is a great resource for parents with multiple children!

Use Code SUNSHINE15 for 15% off your order.

Welcome Back, Dashing Bee!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dig This Reunion.

After uploading photos from last week, I was at first a little bummed that I missed a lot.  I'm usually so good at remembering to take photos, and here I was enjoying a memorable week with very special people we don't get to see very often, and I forgot to capture things I would have loved to preserve.  Like that one night our kids piled into the hot tub together or the following morning when they wore princess dresses to the beach. 

But after I edited twelve good photos from our time with friends last week and uploaded them for this post, I stopped to notice that the "upload complete" page told a very nice story.  Twelve photos--three rows of four--summarizing everything I wanted to remember.  An album of connection and friendship. 

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I met Nici through blogging shortly after I started Enjoying the Small Things and, after e-mailing and talking for a couple years, I finally met her in person when the girls and I traveled across the continent to spend a week with her family in Montana in 2010.  It was very this-should-be-weird-but-it's-not.  We immediately connected--from that first hug shared at the Missoula airport terminal, the one that lasted longer than most hugs do.  And the rest is history. 

We used to joke about how funny it was that we became such good friends because, on paper, we were "so different."  But I don't know what that really means now.  I mean, I guess she grows her own food, sews her own clothes, and her kids eat stuff my kids won't.  But those are just itty bitty things that don't define us.  What does is that we both love adventure and finding new ways to connect.  We enjoy spending time with our kids, being creative, nuturing our families, writing about life and learning from people around us.

Tomatoes, Tomahtos, we're really pretty much the same people.  (recurring theme: ding ding ding ding ding!) 

I do know that my friendship with Nici has taught me a lot about tearing down my own walls.  Because sometimes when I see someone do something differently than me, I conceal my curiosity with judgment.  Like maybe I assume she thinks she's better than me because her kids eat tofu and spinach every day and don't know all the Nick Jr. characters by heart like mine do. 

I think most of our "I bet they think they're better than me" assumptions have nothing to do with them and everything to do with us.  And no one can make us feel crappy about the way we parent, what we eat, how we tend to our marriage, where we shop, how we spend our money or what kind of person we are--no one but ourselves. 

All this to say, there was a time when I thought that maybe Nici coming to Naples and seeing us in our not-so-Missoula-ish glory might not be a good idea.  I mean, we live in a subdivision for Pete's sake.  I thought maybe she'd judge us, but what that sentence really means is that I judged us.  And that's silly. 

It's sort of this awesome little path I'm on lately (lately, as in the past thirty-four years):  the less I judge myself, the more I accept other people for who they are.  Win, win.

So here we are, two life-loving creatives from two different places on the planet.  I live in a subdivision, she lives in the mountains.  I believe in God, she believes in the Universe.  I shop at Publix, she shops her garden.

But we love each other.  And we're curious about each other's lives and what we are learning. 

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woods selfie


So last week, my friend and her beautiful family arrived to Naples.  And I was all "Oh my God, you are in my house.  You are tripping over toys in our Sanford and Son garage.  You are in my closet trading shoes with me." 

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Our kids picked up where they left off.

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Heidi's bathroom turned Merle Norman

And so did we.

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Dinner at Heidi's

I toyed with the idea of exposing them to as much of Naples as we could fit in a few days but settled with the much more doable plan of just the best.  Which leaves us at the beach.  With cool people.

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And an epic sleepover that took all the elements of a sweet sixteen party (ghost stories--we each have real ones, laughing, three girls to a bed, finally hitting the pillow around 4 am) and balanced them out with good grown-up stuff. Like things we've been through, things we're learning, things we hope to overcome.  Beer that isn't preceded by Root. 

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This mama means so much to me, and what an incredible week we enjoyed.

My friend Nici and her family fit well into our little subdivision.  Her mountain kids played with my beach kids and her Slinky curls took to our humidity. 

I'm so glad, way back when, we focused on our sameness. 
Or we would have missed the chance to learn from our differences. 

I dig this chick.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Make People Happy

When we feel vulnerable and unequipped to make things better both in our own lives and in those around us, there's a small place where we can begin. 

To all those in Oklahoma and to those affected by yesterday's devastation, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Someone sent me this video today.  Zach Sobiech, the amazing young man featured in this short film, passed away yesterday.  His enthusiasm and kindness will be remembered.  This video was twenty-two minutes well spent.

I love what Zach concludes at the end:  It's simple.  Just make people happy.

That, I can do.  When I don't exactly know what to do, I can begin by brightening someone's day. 



And to do a little more today for the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes, consider donating to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 or see a list of organizations helping in relief efforts here.

I am remembering tonight that so much is out of our control.  And that thought can paralyze us or fuel us to value and make the very best of what we can control. 

Sending love and sharing our hearts with those whose hearts are broken tonight.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Six Years: Secret Agent Party

It's been an event filled week--the kind that seems impossible to hold all that it did; but here we are, the Monday after, and there's a mind cellar full of newly canned memories to last us a very long time.  Thank God I got the analogy of the day over with.  That was stressing me out.  Moving along...
More later on reuniting with old friends.  For now, someone had a birthday this weekend--the little someone who transformed years of dreaming about being a mama into reality.

Our girl is six. 

After my dad gave her a giant fake diamond for Christmas and we used it as a prop in "Find the Missing Diamond" secret agent games, she decided she wanted a secret agent birthday party this year.

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And my dad thought it was so cool that Lainey was born in 2007, the last three digits being 007, of course. Whoa, right?  I mean, we had to do the secret agent thing at some point.  So, a roll of crime scene tape and a few fake passports later, we had ourselves a TOP SECRET soiree for the C.I.A.'s newest agents.

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Cupcake toppers: Top My Cupcake Etsy shop

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With utmost attention to protecting the agency's classified files, all new secret agent recruits were welcomed with thorough background checks.  Alias creation (ranging from sophisticated names like Rebecca to imaginative alternatives like Sparkle and Stink Bomb), fingerprinting, print scanning--we don't mess around here at the C.I.A. 

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Very cool app called Finger Scan that makes you feel all Mission Impossible.

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Once all agents were cleared, we set off to follow a series of clues to solve the mysterious case of The Missing Diamonds. 

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Left: A password hidden in one of the agent's hats.

After finding some evidence of shed fur, a few dog food kernels and a leash hanging from the tree, the agents concluded Sophie & Latte stole the diamonds.  Until a sweet little wide-eyed girl piped up, "But how could dogs steal diamonds?  They don't have any hands!"  This is true.  This is true. 

But they have good digging paws which came in handy when those sneaky dogs buried the diamonds in the woods.

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Moral of the Story:  Kids are smart.  Or something like that. 

And the rest goes something like a good party means the house gets trashed.  I'm still picking up from the house being overtaken by little agents, but it was worth it.

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Inexpensive table cloths: Cover tables with butcher paper, stamp it everywhere with a CONFIDENTIAL stamp, roll a line of crime scene tape down the middle.

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And look--our youngest agent. 

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Coincidentally, this weekend's recruit training included sleeping through the night for him (twice!). So yes, Agent Dash has been promoted.

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I'm finding mustaches stuck to everything, and Lainey now wants every activity to include clues.  But it was a good day followed by a sweet night of remembering just how incredible these past six years have been.

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Kids clothes have a toddler "T" that follows all the sizes until size 6.  Then it just stands there all alone, no "T" to soften the blow of this-kid's-getting-big.  It comes with so much good though, and as she grows, so do we. 

Another birthday.  More Love.

Happy Monday, Friends.

******

Party Details: 

All print goods I made.  I used Top Secret free font from DaFont.
Fedoras, magnifying glasses, passports, glasses (popped out the sunglass lenses), white lunch boxes, mustaches, black notebook and pen sets: all Oriental Trading.
T-shirts: 5-pack white Hanes t-shirts, painted black tie.
Party Music: Downloaded Mission Impossible and Secret Agent tunes from iTunes

And thank you to Heidi who took most of the pictures in this post so I could tend to C.I.A. duties.