Friday, January 29, 2016

Missing Out On Little Moments

Three weeks ago tomorrow, I took a refreshing dip into Lake Lou Yaeger in the name of Stamp Out Cancer, the Montgomery County Cancer Association and the family of Eric and Stacy Lamb, who probably know better than almost anyone what we are going through with this whole INAD unpleasantness. It was an awesome experience and I was glad to be a part of it.

The plunge did have a downside though, besides the fact I had to use an ice scrapper to get my socks off my feet and I fell on my butt in front a hundred or so people. After I got out, I figured I would take a quick sub-zero selfie, because that's what the kids are doing. It was at that point that I realized that my selfie-taking device, aka my phone, was in my pocket… of the pants I just jumped into the lake in.

After some failed attempts to get it working again, we discovered that the phone was a lost cause. Water damaged the screen, meaning that the phone would turn on, but you couldn't answer it or see anything.

In all honesty, I wasn't worried about it that much. I've been trying to unplug a little more and if Lake Lou forced the issue, so be it. It was a little strange though. I wasn't able to talk to Mary any time I wanted. I wasn't able to get updates on how the North Dakota State men's basketball team or Tottenham Hotspur soccer team was doing.

And I wasn't able to use Twitter, which has become a fairly big part of my job. My Twitter updates aren't crucial by any means, they usually just consist of the score or a few random thoughts, but they are a great way to connect with the next generation of Journal-News subscribers, the people who will be paying my exorbitant salary someday.

Still, I had gotten used to being without my phone. I had better conversations, in particularly with my Grandma Virginia and my beautiful wife Mary. I didn't waste my free time on things that didn't matter. I enjoyed watching the game more and interacting with those around me who were doing the same.

It was nice, and still would be, but all good things must end. Today, my father-in-law was nice enough to loan me his old phone, so I would at least have something to get me by for a while. I might have been able to go a little longer, but there was some fear on my part about being stranded in the middle of nowhere on my way home from a game.

To be honest though, one thing made me miss my phone more than anything. Yesterday I was sitting at home, feeding Grace dinner before taking her up to the "Sparkles for Grace" party Mary was at. For the better part of 30 minutes, my princess was non-stop smiles in between waffle bites. We hadn't been able to spend much time together lately due to work stuff, so it was by far the best part of my day.

Those kind of moments are what Mary and I's "#foreverhappydays" project is all about. It's capturing those small little moments that we say we will never forget, but we always do. I'll remember going to Disney World with Grace or the Volley for Grace games or our Make-A-Wish trip, but it's harder to remember those stolen moments. And this time I didn't have a way to capture it.

That's why I missed my phone. I'm all about living the experience, but sometimes I want a souvenir from that experience. I'm still going to try to use my phone less, but it's nice having a way to grab that souvenir when I want to.


Sparkles For Grace

A couple of years ago, Kyle's mom bought Grace a shirt that said "I share my sparkle with the world." We just thought it was so fitting for Grace's personality, especially her sparkly smile.

Thanks to the generosity of Marilyn Mueller of Premier Designs Jewelry, we certainly had a sparkly week and raised a lot of money for INAD research.

Grace was so excited to come to the jewelry party!
Last fall, Marilyn stopped by the paper and told me she wanted to host a Premier Designs Jewelry party as a fundraiser for Grace. We have been so blessed by people giving of their time and talents to help us raise money for INAD.  Originally, we set up a date in the fall, but I ended up having to postpone it when some family came into town. We tried to set up a time before Christmas, but it just got to be too busy for both of us.

In the end, we decided to wait until after the first of the year, and picked a date toward the end of January.  At first, I was a little nervous about sending out all the invitations, but once I got started, it ended up being a lot of fun.

Cousin Izzy came with her mom, and won a new scarf!
Mom and I kind of brainstormed a list of people to invite together, and she was a huge help in getting the refreshments ready. 

Before I knew it, the night of the party was here. I didn't really know how many to expect, but I was hoping to have 20 or so come. Marilyn already had her tables set up when mom and I got there, so we worked on refreshments and punch. 

We loved seeing our friends at the party, and are so grateful to everyone who came!
The guests started arriving, and we ended up with 25 or so, and others have placed orders as well.  I greeted guests as they arrived, some of which I just met that night. One woman introduced herself and said she followed our story in the paper, and that she just loved to see Grace's picture in the paper.

When the party started, everyone had a chance to look at the jewelry and enjoy some refreshments, and then Marilyn made a presentation as well.  She introduced everyone to her friend "Stiffany," which is the model she uses to display jewelry. We had a lot of laughs, and enjoyed seeing the latest in jewelry trends. Marilyn encouraged everyone to try the jewelry, even some pieces they might not normally wear. The first piece she showed everyone was a blingy cross necklace, called Grace. Although I did try it on after the presentation, I decided it was probably a bit bigger than most of the jewelry I usually wear.  I had already decided what I wanted before the party, a silver bracelet called inner strength. The words "she believed she could, so she did," are inscribed in the middle. I thought it was very fitting, and it reminds me so much of Grace.

Marilyn brought TONS of jewelry for everyone to look at!
Kyle brought Grace after she finished her dinner, and she loved the party.  First off, because she got a chocolate chip cookie, but also because everyone stopped by to see her. I think she had a Grace smile for each and everyone there. She may not be able to say the words "thank you," but I think everyone there knew Grace was thankful that they came.

As Marilyn began figuring up the total sales for the evening, I was shocked by how much we were able to raise for the study. Some orders and donations are still coming in, but I'm pretty sure we have raised more than $1,000 from the evening, which I lovingly called "Sparkles for Grace." 

Marilyn showed everyone the jewelry during the presentation.
I say it all the time, but we are so lucky to live in this amazing community, where we are always surrounded by love and support. Thanks to everyone who made "Sparkles for Grace" such a HUGE success, and helping us to #beatINAD.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Life Lessons from Pete the Cat

I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I spent my babysitting money on the latest Sweet Valley Twins or Babysitters Club novel, and was always a member of the rewards program at Waldenbooks.

I could often be found with a flashlight under the covers reading past my bedtime, and I always had a book in my locker at school in case I had a few extra minutes to read in class. Nowadays, I can't say that I read as much as I used to, but I never miss a chance to catch up on the latest Nicholas Sparks novel.

Grace and I love to read Pete the Cat together.
When I got pregnant with Grace, I knew that reading would be one of our favorite activities to do together. I was thrilled by all the books she got at the baby shower, and started reading to her the day she came home from the hospital. I think the first book I read to her was a St. Louis Cardinals book from my Grandpa Phil.

I can say that in the last four and a half years, her book collection has grown and grown and grown. From Disney to Dr. Seuss, we read just about every single night.  This year for Christmas, Grace got an illustrated version of the first Harry Potter book, which is one of my favorites, and we have been reading it together as a family.

As we were reading one night, it dawned on me just how good some of her books really are. So, this year, as I write my columns, I've decided to share life lessons from some of our favorite storybook characters. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

A few years ago, Kyle's Aunt Karen, introduced us to Pete the Cat. And our lives have never been the same.

Karen is an elementary school librarian in the St. Louis area, and has shared many of her favorite characters with us. But it didn't take long for Pete the Cat to become one of our favorites as well.
Pete is seemingly a regular cat, although he is blue in color. He rides the bus, goes to school and just has a great attitude about life.

Our first book, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, was actually the first of the children's books to be published by James Dean. It even came with a CD, so I could sing along with the catchy tune.
In the story, Pete loves his brand new white shoes, but along his journey, he steps in strawberries, blueberries and mud, turning his brand new shoes a variety of colors. But Pete keeps singing about how much he loves his shoes whatever color they become.

And in the end, Pete says "it doesn't matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song, because it's all good."

That was a good take-home lesson for me. Some days, it's tough to get up and face whatever lies in front of my day. Whether it's a deadline at work or a doctor's appointment for Grace in St. Louis, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because it's all good on this "Grace-Filled Journey."

Last year, another friend, Vickie Lovellette, a former elementary school teacher in Litchfield, gave us a few new Pete the Cat books, including Rockin' in My School Shoes, The Magic Sunglasses and My Four Groovy Buttons.

Grace giggles when you read all of them, but one of my favorites has become The Magic Sunglasses. This time, Pete is having a bad day, and feeling blue, when Grumpy Toad gives him a pair of magic sunglasses that help him see things in a whole new way. He goes about sharing his good fortune and his new magic glasses with his friends, who also see things in a better light.

By the end of the story, Pete is saddened when his new magic sunglasses break. He's not sure what he will do, until he realizes that the good mood has been inside him the whole time.

How many times could my day have been better if I chose a positive outlook on the situation? Probably more than I care to admit. But Pete the Cat provides a good reminder to always look on the bright side, because as Pete would say, "it's all good."

I'm looking forward to sharing other life lessons Grace and I have read about in the coming year. We love reading together, and we hope our stories inspire you too!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another Bison Encounter

Ever since we saw Hiltopper graduate Dylan Miller take the court with his fellow North Dakota State teammates take the court in Springfield last November, we have become BIG Bison fans.

We couldn't wait to see our favorite Bison in person again!
Shortly after the game, we looked up the rest of the Bison men's basketball schedule to see if the next time they played close to home. Their home games are played in Fargo, North Dakota, which is a bit of a trek for us, but fortunately, in January, they were scheduled to play in Macomb against the Western Illinois University Leathernecks.  And we've been looking forward to it ever since.

Mommy always finds silly things to take our picture in front of!
Macomb is about a three-hour drive from home, so we planned to make a weekend out of the adventure. We booked a room at the Hampton, cashing in a Christmas present of Hilton dollars. It would be hard on Grace to make the three-hour drive twice in one-day, and we thought it would be fun to be able to take her swimming and relax some too.

Grace was ALL smiles when Wes brought her a Junior Bison Club T-shirt.
So, this morning, we got up early, packed our bags and hit the road for another Bison encounter.  After we got breakfast on the way, we set Grace up to watch Mary Poppins in the van. It lasted almost the entire drive, and she really seemed to like the music.  Once we got to Macomb, we stopped for a quick lunch at Jimmy John's, and then headed to Western Hall for the big game.

Our friends at North Dakota State have been keeping in touch with us ever since we met them in November. They continue to follow our story, and we couldn't wait to see them.  Santa Claus brought us all some North Dakota State gear, and we were excited to wear it to the game.

Of course, Bruce got to go with us to the game!
Believe it or not, we actually arrived at the game before it was already in progress.  Being on time is certainly not one of our specialties, although we do try! But today was different. We arrived in Macomb with plenty of time to spare, picked up our tickets and selected some seats just behind the North Dakota State bench, which was also directly in front of fellow Hillsboro-ites and members of Dylan's family.

Mommy was a little star-struck, but Grace was cool when we met Dylan after the game.
As we got settled into our seats, Wes Offerman, who works for the team, made his way over to greet us.  Wes was the one who set up the meet and greet with the team before the last game, and has become one of Grace's biggest fans.  He came over with some new Bison T-shirts for all of us, and we got to visit with him a bit before the game started. We were also touched that head coach Dave Richman stopped by our seats to greet us before the tip-off.

Grace had more smiles for Brian and Malik, who were gracious to come and see her after the game.
Dylan got to play briefly in the first game we saw him, but this time, he got to start and played for nearly half the game. Kyle took pictures from one end during the first half and then sat with us for the second half.  We had great seats, and it was a great game with the Bison coming out on top.  

Grace stayed awake the entire game this time around, but she fell asleep snuggling with daddy before dinner.
The last time we saw the Bison play, it was a paper day, so we didn't really have any time to stick around after the game. But we did today!  We made our way over to where Dylan's family was talking to him, and he came over just to talk to Grace and to thank us for coming.  He even let us take a photo with him.  Grace also got visits from Malik Clements and Brian Ishola after the game. She had lots of smiles for everyone when they stopped to talk to her.

It was Kyle's lucky day as he was selected the Hampton Inn guest of the day and won a free candy bar.
After Grace finished socializing with everyone, we headed back to the hotel for some pizza and some swimming, something all three of us enjoyed. We even ran into a family from church, who were babysitting their grandson at our hotel.  And mommy got to watch the US Figure Skating championships while Grace got a bath.

Grace was so excited to wear her new T-shirt down to the hotel pool.
Before we knew it, it was time to get ready for bed, and to bid farewell to yet another adventure on this "Grace-Filled Journey." When we met the Bison team in November, we were quick to become fans of their team, but we had no idea they would adopt us into their Bison family as well. All we can say is "Horns Up!" and we'll be cheering for you the rest of the season!


Friday, January 22, 2016

Freezin' for a Reason

Every once in awhile, you do something absolutely ridiculous. And sometimes, it's even for a really great cause!

These crazy people jumped into a freezing Lake Lou Yaeger!
We were excited to learn that our friends Eric and Stacy Lamb were participating in this year's Stamp Out Cancer fundraiser in memory of their daughter, Faith, who died last spring after a second round of cancer. As a fundraiser for Team Lamb, they hosted a "Freezin for a Reason" polar plunge on Jan. 16.  And I was thrilled.

Before the BIG plunge!
Okay, so I was thrilled because I knew it was something Kyle would be up for doing. I'm a big chicken, and it would take me weeks to warm up after jumping in the ice cold lake in January.  But, Kyle had already done one before, so I knew he would be up for the challenge.

On your mark, get set, GO!
And they're off!
With a little encouragement from Eric, Kyle signed up, and I graciously offered to go and take photos for the paper.  After all, someone had to be there to document the craziness for posterity!  And Kyle's mom offered to go along with us and help with Grace.  Kyle really wanted Grace to be able to come and see him, but I couldn't take photos for the paper and keep her warm, so we were glad Kim came.  When Kyle asked her she agreed and said she'd always told him to go jump in the lake!

I think the water might have been cold . . . 
Heading back to shore.
We arrived at the lake just before it started with about 50 participants signed up. Eric and Stacy welcomed everyone and said how much they appreciated everyone who came out to honor Faith. Some wore crazy costumes, lots wore Keeping the Faith shirts, and Kyle wore one of his Grace shirts, along with bright orange knickers and argyle socks. At one point he had on a hat, but it didn't make it out of the van.

The polar plunge itself was very well run, and safety was their main concern. Plungers headed into the lake in groups of four, ran out to a boat and collected a commemorative T-shirt from the event.  I stood on the beach taking photos of all the teams, and Kyle waited with his mom and Grace atop the hill.  As they called his name, Kyle made his way down the hill, slipping only slightly as he landed on the beach. Thankfully, he was okay, and made his way to the starting line, braving the cold water with three other participants.  

All smiles after the plunge!
It was only afterward he realized the only casualty of the day; he had forgotten that his cell phone was in his pocket when he ran into the lake. But, other than that, he said the plunge wasn't even too cold.

Grace had a BIG smile for Stacy and Sicily.
When he got changed into warmer, less soggy clothes, we enjoyed some cookies and other snacks as well as some music in the Fireman's Clubhouse.  Grace was a big fan of the cookies, and she enjoyed visiting with Stacy and Faith's younger sister, Sicily. She had such a big smile for them before we left.

Grace has her very own Super Faith shirt. "Because some heroes wear glitter and bows."
It was such a touching way to remember a little girl, whose bright smile inspired an entire community. Yes, Faith is gone way too soon. But we will always be Keeping the Faith on this Grace Filled Journey.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Newsy Date

While our blog usually follows our adventures with Grace, sometimes Kyle and I enjoy an adventure or two on our own.  Sometimes our date nights include covering events for the paper, other times, we steal away for lunch at the Mexican restaurant. But then, there are times, we get some really special chances too.

We are so grateful to both of our families for being gracious to watch Grace so Kyle and I have some time together, and I think Grace enjoys it as much as both sets of our parents do. 

This particular night, she had a pajama party with Grandma Susie and Grandpa John. And Kyle and I headed to St. Louis for an evening at the Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Kyle and I went to see Newsies at the Fox Theatre.
We left shortly after work, and it's always a big decision where to eat. There are so many choices, and we love to try new restaurants or foodie places. However, time also becomes a factor for us.  We tossed a few ideas back and forth. I suggested Zia's on the Hill and Kyle suggested the Shaved Duck or the Farmhouse, which were both new places to us. In the end, we picked Ruby Tuesday's in Litchfield, which we thought might save us some time and get us to the show before the opening curtain.

Our dinner was delicious, but as well left, it started to snow, and we talked about whether or not we should head out on the roads. Nights out like that can be rare for us, so we chose to brave the roads and said we would spend the night in St. Louis if we have to. 

Cheesing during intermission.
Kyle and I have been fortunate to share many date nights at both the Fox Theatre and the Muny in St. Louis. I feel blessed that Kyle not only goes with me to the shows, but that he enjoys them as well.  We have seen Wicked, Stomp, Mary Poppins, Young Frankenstein and Beauty in the Beast, just to name a few.  

But this week's show was especially exciting for us. It was a production of Disney's Newsies, inspired by the true story from the late 1800s, when the newsboys went on a strike up against the very powerful Joseph Pulitzer.  The music and dancing were fantastic, and of course, we loved the story.  

Grace had fun playing at Grandma and Grandpa's house while we were gone.
As the final bows were taken, we made our way back to the lobby for just a quick peek at the souvenirs. Sometimes we get a collectible pin, but most of the time we just browse. However, at first glance, we caught sight of a newsboy teddy bear, complete with a hat and carrier bag. And we knew Grace just had to have one.  She just loved when we brought it home to her. 

We also talked about bringing her to a show sometime.  Although we haven't picked a show yet, we know it will be an experience she will love.

Grace loved her special souvenir from our date night.
Our night quickly came to a close, and fortunately the snow wasn't too bad, so we were able to make our way home.  Although we missed Grace, it was nice to have an evening not to have to worry about meals or bathtime, or even bedtime.  Kyle and I even got to sleep in a little the next morning. And then we couldn't wait to pick her up from school and give her the souvenir.

Not all of our adventures directly involve Grace, but it's just another day on this "Grace-Filled Journey."


Friday, January 15, 2016

A Viking Invasion In Hillsboro

One of the best parts of our job is that it occasionally offers us with an opportunity to do something really cool and give Grace another "once in a lifetime" experience. Like when we got to meet the North Dakota State men's basketball team, who has become a welcome part of Team Grace over the last few months.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, another one of these opportunities presented itself. It started with a call to the paper from someone who said that they had a family member who played in the NFL and was in Litchfield visiting his grandma. I gave Kristy Sanders a call back and she explained the situation a little more.

She explained that her great nephew, Zac Kerin, had played for the Minnesota Vikings practice squad last season, but had made the big club this season. To be perfectly honest, you can count the number of NFL game's I've seen this season on one hand, with plenty of fingers to spare, so I had to do a quick Google search to see if she was pulling my leg.

She wasn't. Zac had played his college ball for Toledo and made it into four games for the Vikings this year on the offensive line, probably another reason I'd never heard of the young man because that position doesn't get a whole lot of publicity unless something goes wrong.

As I looked up Zac's bio, Kristy told me that he was in town visiting his grandmother, Janis Wise, and that Zac's dad, Todd, had grown up in Litchfield and was an LHS graduate. That was more than enough for me to be interested in doing a picture for the paper. Mary's grandma and grandpa set a standard that when people call, we go and we proudly carry on that tradition today. Plus, it's not everyday that an NFL player finds his way to Montgomery County. Kristy told me that the family was planning on meeting at the Moonlight Y in Hillsboro that night and asked if I'd be willing to come over and take a photo. I said I'd be glad to and the deal was done.

My mind went to the possibility of bringing Mary and Grace along for the assignment, hoping in large part to get dinner out of the deal. We've been trying to eat at home more to save our money and waistline, but I thought I could coax Mary with the Y's garlic dressing, which is one of her favorites.

I also hoped that the possibility would arise that I could introduce Grace to Zac. One of our goals this year is to raise INAD awareness and to continue giving Grace as many unique life experiences as possible. It's for a special cause, so I'm only slightly ashamed that I was willing to use my position at the paper to indirectly benefit my family.

I was a little nervous as we made our way to the Y, worrying that Zac wouldn't want to be bothered with some small town newspaper guy, let alone his wife and daughter. I promised myself that I would only talk to him about Grace if it felt right.

We were met at the door by Kristy, who said she felt like she knew us through the stories about Grace in the paper. Grace even gave her a big smile when Kristy mentioned how pretty Grace looked, something that never fails to bring a grin to my little girl's face.

After that, she introduced us to Zac, who seemed a little embarrassed about all the attention he was getting, but couldn't have been nicer. I took a nice photo of he and his grandmother, that will run in The Journal-News soon with a little bit of info about Litchfield's shoestring connection to the NFL.

As we talked with Zac a little more, I seized the opportunity to bring up Grace. Again he was gracious and seemed to be interested in Grace's story and our journey. I asked him if I could take a quick photo of him with Mary and Grace, which he agreed to, and we gave him a gracelet to remember Grace by. He said that he would hang it from the rear view mirror of his truck, since he had previously tried to wear a similar bracelet in honor of a friend, but had it snap due to the fact that his wrists are bigger than most people's biceps.

After the pictures, we thanked Zac for his time and Kristy for giving us a call. It very well could break Grandpa John's green and gold heart, but we will be rooting for the Vikings when next year's NFL season begins. I know the opportunity probably wasn't a big deal for Zac, who was about as humble as you can get, but the chance to meet a NFL player in our hometown is the kind of experience that you can't buy and what our Grace-Filled Journey is all about.

Mary, Grace and our newest friend on our Grace-Filled Journey, Zac Kerin of the Minnesota Vikings.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

There's Nothing Like A Good Book

Ever since I was a little girl, reading has always been one of my very favorite pastimes.  I used to spend all my babysitting money on books, like Sweet Valley Twins and the Babysitters Club.   Sometimes, I would even get a flashlight and read under the covers if I was supposed to be in bed. I figure mom probably knew, but she was always glad I was so into reading.

When Grace was born, I could hardly wait to share my love of reading with her.  In fact, I read to her the very first day she came home from the hospital. We read a St. Louis Cardinals board book, that my Grandpa Phil gave to her.  

Grace and I reading Harry Potter together before bed.
And ever since then, reading has become a regular ritual at our house. Everything from our favorite Disney characters to Dr. Seuss and Pete the Cat, with a few pirate books in between. Most typically, we read just before naptime and just before bed.  

They are truly some of my favorite times, even if Grace is somewhat particular about her book selections.  Some of her very favorites are these Victoria Osteen books, like "Hooray for My Family." We have read them over and over again, and she always smiles as soon as we get it out.  My favorite part is that Grace still loves to be in charge of turning the pages.  

This has always been one of Grace's favorite books, and she loves to turn the pages.
When we were trying to come up with ideas for Grace this Christmas, one thing that stuck out was a new illustrated version of the first Harry Potter book.  Initially, I thought the entire series had been illustrated, but I only managed to find the first volume, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Grace smiled when she opened it under the tree.

I was living in London when the Harry Potter series was rising in popularity, and I have always enjoyed the stories.  I was so excited about the idea of sharing some of my favorite characters with Grace.  I know she probably won't understand what I'm reading to her, but I make sure to show her all the pictures in the new book, and talk about it.

Reading to Grace on her first day home from the hospital. The books were as big as she was!
We started reading just after Christmas, and have just finished the first chapter. It will probably take us awhile to finish, as I try to stop in time to read some of her favorite stories too. We always end with "All the Ways I Love You" and then a good night kiss.

This actually isn't the first chapter book we have read together. Over the summer, she got the American Girl doll, Grace, which came with a book.  It was much shorter than the Harry Potter book, but we made it through it together.  Some nights, she got mad because she wanted me to read other books, but we have always enjoyed our reading time together.  She also got two new American Girl doll books about Grace for Christmas, so we will definitely have our work cut out for us in getting our books read this year.  

Since Pete the Cat is a family favorite, Grace and I got shirts for Christmas!
Since we love reading so much, this year I'm going to write my newspaper columns on "Life Lessons" from our favorite storybook characters. The first one will be about Pete the Cat, and I will pick different characters each month and share some of our favorite stories. You won't want to miss any of them!

Sometimes it's hard for me not to be able to pass down some of my favorite childhood memories to Grace. But reading is something that we will always be able to share together, and I know these are special times that we will both remember.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Ringing in the New Year

It's hard to believe that we already turned the calendar over to a new year. I would have to say that 2015 definitely had a lot of ups and downs for our family. And while the downs are oftentimes catastrophic, the ups still far outweigh the downs.

Our favorite pirates are ready to ring in the new year.
We prepared to ring in the new year with our friends in Farmersville, who hosted a family friendly party.  Kyle and I are blessed to have great family members who will keep Grace, so we get many date nights throughout the year. Since Grace was born, we prefer to ring in the new year with her. Some years, she's asleep when the clock strikes midnight, but at least we are all together.

Snuggles with my pirate (and Bruce, of course!)
Grace is very lucky to be loved by so many, especially children. The kids at the party were so glad to see her, and enjoyed playing with her. They made pirate hats and princess crowns. Although Grace is definitely our princess, she and her daddy made matching pirate hats together.  They were a huge hit.

Lots of pirate fun!
The kids put on several plays and musical acts throughout the evening, and I felt blessed to get to read princess stories to the girls.  Kyle said he even got to hold the newest addition to our group, baby Caroline, who is only a few weeks old.

Sleepy baby Caroline with her mommy and daddy.
That night, we shared good food and great friends as we prepared to count down to 2016. In actuality, we counted down when the ball dropped in New York City at 11 p.m., but that was still good enough for us before we made the drive back home.

These princesses sure know how to party!
In 2015, our families and our communities helped us to raise approximately $100,000 for INAD research at Washington University. This year, we will ask for your help in raising even more awareness about this devastating disease. Keep an eye on our blog for some exciting things to come, and we hope you will continue to follow "A Grace-Filled Journey" in 2016.

From our family to yours, best wishes for a happy, healthy new year.