Saturday, May 28, 2016

Haircuts For A Good Cause

 I can be honest about my weaknesses, and I've just never been good at doing hair. My own, anyone else's. It didn't really seem to matter.  I could leave it down or pull it partially back in a barrette, but that was the extent of my abilities.  

Getting ready for Grace's big girl haircut!
You would think I would have been worried when Grace was born, but fortunately, she didn't really have any hair for more than the first year of her life.  And even then, most of the bows had velcro, and you sort of just stuck them on her head.

Our "before" picture!
As she got bigger, it was still pretty easy to do her hair.  Even I could pull it back just a little, and she still looked cute as a button.  Kyle always went for the headband, and that was pretty cute too.  

Tina carefully cuts off her ponytail.
She was excited to get her hair cut.
Since her hair did grow pretty fast, one of our favorite activities was participating in the Old Settlers longest pigtail and ponytail contest.  She won a ribbon in her age division every single year.

Grace was pretty impressed with her ponytail.
Adding some finishing touches!
But the last couple of years, it was getting long. I mostly went with a ponytail and a princess or Minnie Mouse bow. It didn't always look great, but at least it kept it out of her face during preschool and therapy.  On occasion, I would do pigtails because they were one of Kyle's favorite looks.

I love haircut snuggles!
A new bow for a new look!
The drawback to having fine hair though, is lots and lots of tangles.  And Grace would cry when you would wash or dry her hair, and just sob when you would try to comb it.  

Mommy got to hold up her ponytail too!
So, as cute as her long hair was, we started talking about getting it cut.  And since it was so long, we talked about donating it to charity. The more we talked, the more excited we got. Then I decided I would let mine grow out until it was long enough to donate too.  

As we started looking at when we would get it cut this spring, Kyle's sister, Mikaela said she wanted to join us too.  So, it took some scheduling, but Mikaela joined as at Hair Designs in Coffeen on Friday, May 20, where Tina Leefers did the honors.  Tina has been my hairstylist forever, and did Grace's first haircut, so we knew she would help us out on this special day.

Then, it was Aunt Mikaela's turn!
I asked Tina to find a place we could donate to, where they accepted eight-inch ponytails, and she found a non-profit organization called Children with Hair Loss, that provides free hairpieces to children with a wide range of medical illnesses, including cancer.  

When we arrived at Tina's, we decided that Grace should go first, and I held her on my lap.  To date, Grace had only really had her bangs trimmed, and Tina usually has to do it while Grace was shaking her head no.  Let's just say Tina is a woman of many talents!  But Grace actually did pretty good, and seemed to like it when the hair would brush her face.  Tina carefully measured an eight-inch ponytail of blonde hair, and Grace was left with a cute chin-length haircut that framed her face.

It was fun to hang out with Daddy, Grace and Quincy at Tina's.
I went next, and had about eight inches to donate as well.  My haircut is about the same length as Grace's, and I must say it's been a long time since my hair had been too short to pull into a ponytail.  But it's a really cute look, and still doesn't require a lot of ability to style it. Although I use the word "style" in a very loose way.

Finally, it was Mikaela's turn.  She had the most hair of any of us, and was left with a shoulder-length cut.  She likes to be able to pull hers into a ponytail at work, so it's good that hers was a little longer.  Kyle, Grace and I entertained Quincy while Mikaela got hers cut, and that was a lot of fun.

Before we left, the three of us posed for a photo in the newspaper with Tina, who did an awesome job on all three haircuts. And it was such a fun afternoon to be together.

That hair will help make hairpieces for children who need it!
The day after the photo ran in the newspaper, I got a message from a local resident, who thanked us for picking Children with Hair Loss, as they provide a hairpiece for her daughter. She told me they are an amazing organization to work with, and she was glad we donated.  I was glad to hear they help local people too.  

We know that Grace has touched many lives in her four and a half years, but we want to give her every chance to help others and make a difference.  I can only imagine some little girl with a new blonde wig, using Grace's hair.  It makes my heart leap with joy.  

All finished and looking beautiful!
She looks so grown up in her new haircut, but it's much easier to brush now.  We've both gotten lots of compliments on our new hairstyles, and as long as they don't say I look more grown up, I'll be doing great!


Monday, May 16, 2016

School's Out For The Summer

As we carefully unpacked the last of her artwork from her backpack this year, Kyle and I sat back to reflect on another really great year at preschool, especially the past two weeks.

Grace loves playing at preschool!
Last week was the annual St. Louis Zoo field trip, which is always one of our very favorite places.  The preschool charters two buses for families, and the last two years, Kyle and I have both taken the day off work to go with Grace.  Since this year's trip was on a Thursday, Kyle's mom brought our nephew, Quincy, and his brother, Shane along for the trip, and we met them there.

Hanging out with Grandma Kim, Uncle Kyle and Quincy at the zoo.
Daddy and Grace hanging out with the sea lions.
The bus leaves the church at 7:45 a.m., which means an earlier morning than usual for us, but we made it.  I even fed Grace her breakfast on the bus, which worked out very well.  We stuck her stroller under the bus, and looked forward to a fun day in the sun.

We ran into Hazel and her family at the zoo!
Grace and Mommy like Big Cat Country!
Shortly after we arrived at the zoo, we found the rest of Kyle's family, and headed for Kyle's new favorite exhibit, the polar bear!  The only drawback of getting up so early that day, was that Grace was pretty tired by the time we got to the zoo.  She managed to give a few smiles to Uncle Shane, but then she fussed for most of the rest of our morning at the zoo.  

Grace and her friend, Mia at the zoo!
Grace fell asleep on the zoo train!
Since Grace and Quincy both love the train, we opted for a train ride around the park, and within minutes, Grace was asleep on my lap.  She slept for most of the rest of the zoo trip, but we still enjoyed walking around looking at all the animals and sharing lunch with Grandma Kim and Quincy.

Watch out for that shark!!
Got a quick photo with Kenna before we left the zoo!
After leaving the zoo, the preschool classes stopped at a nearby park for a quick picnic lunch, and all too soon, it was time to head for home again.  While we hated that Grace was so tired during the trip, we were glad to share the experience with our preschool families.

Gracie and her friends at our picnic in the park!
Hudson and Cody held Grace for the group photo.
Then, this week, marked the final three days of preschool. Tuesday night was Moving Up ceremony for the morning class. Grace was part of the program last year, and it's always a really great time.

Grace just smiled during the songs for the program.
This year, Grace sat with her aide, Alex, in a rocking chair, and just loved the music.  Although she was more able to participate last year, like trying to sign Jesus Loves Me with her class, this spring, she really enjoyed the music. And absolutely loved sharing the stage with Alex.  The kids sang some of their favorite songs, like "If I Were a Butterfly" and "Wiggle Praise," and they recited their shapes, colors and numbers. 

Grace got her Moving Up sash from Mrs. Brown.
At the conclusion of the program, each child got a Moving Up sash, a Bible and a certificate from her teachers and Pastor Joy. Each student had a chance to talk into the microphone to say what they are thankful for and what they want to be when they grow up.  It was a little bittersweet for me, as her teacher said she thought Grace was thankful for her family and her friends and her teachers, and that she would probably want to keep on being the sweet little girl that she is. 

Grace and her class after the program.
Sometimes, I miss all the cute little kid sayings, and wish Grace could tell me things. However, as the tears welled up in my eyes, I started looking at Grace and watching her smile and her teachers. I know she's right where she needs to be, and I'm so proud of her for all that she accomplishes in her own way.

Hanging out with Grace's fan club after the program.
After the program, there were only two days left of school. I couldn't be there on the very last day, so I stopped by early on the second to last day and watched the kids play in the playroom. It warmed my heart to see how many of her friends stopped to play with Grace. One friend brought her the play phone, while another two had a puppet show for her.  These kids don't see any limitations when they look at Grace. Instead, they see my sweet little girl, who loves when her friends come and talk to her and play with her.  We hope to have some play date get togethers this summer too!

Hudson brought Grace a Minnie Mouse apron and a tiara!
Grace and her friends, Kenna and Dahlia, on the last day of school.
I was worried about sending Grace to school last fall because she was so far behind all her classmates. But these past two years have been some of our best memories, especially the youngsters who call Grace their friend.  I just love hearing the stories from moms about how much their kids love Grace and that they pray for her. We are so grateful for her teachers, her friends and their families for adopting us and being part of our Grace-Filled Journey. We can't wait for next fall!


Friday, May 13, 2016

Forever Happy Days

Many of our readers have probably seen the #foreverhappydays photos that both Kyle and I post every day on Facebook. Today marks the start of the third year we have been posting the photos, and it's truly become not only a daily habit, but a daily inspiration.

Day 1 - our first #100happydays photo.
It started on May 13, 2014, when a friend of mine, Stephanie Carls, shared that she was going to join the #100happydays challenge. The idea is simple; post a photo every single day for 100 days in a row that makes you happy. Their website, sites that 71 percent of the people who start the challenge fail to complete it, and say it's because they ran out of time. In reality, most days, it takes us less the one minute to post a photo or multiple photos of something that made us happy that day.

Day 14 - at the Hillsboro Memorial Day service.
The website goes on to say that people who successfully complete the challenge started noticing more what makes them happy every day, were in a better mood, started receiving more compliments from other people, realized how lucky they were to have the life they have, became more optimistic, and some even fell in love during the challenge.

Day 18 - nothing beats a good Dairy Queen ice cream cone.
Kyle and I started the challenge six months before we had ANY idea what the four letters INAD stood for. Grace had some delays, and we were working on that with her, but we started it long before we knew just how devastating four little letters can be.

Day 190 - Grace's first Thanksgiving Day program at preschool.
We started it together, on the same day, because we felt like no matter what happens each day, there was always something that happened to remind us how blessed we are.  I'll be honest, some days that's harder than others. Some days, when the alarm clock goes off, I want to snuggle back under the covers and go back to dreaming about Grace walking and talking and about a world where INAD doesn't exist.

Day 353 - the first Step Up to the Plate for Grace series.
However, INAD is a reality for me and for Kyle and most of all for Grace. Unless new medical discoveries are made, INAD means that Grace will never walk. She will never talk, and she may not live to see her 10th birthday. And that's devastating. Every single day.

Day 400 - Bowling has always been one of Grace's favorite games!
But here's what INAD can't take from us. INAD cannot take away the chance to see Grace's smiles each and every day. It can't take away our opportunities to make as many wonderful memories with Grace as possible. And it can't take away our love for Grace and for each other.

Day 455 - Big Puppy has also been one of her favorite toys!
After becoming part of the 29 percent of people to complete the 100 Happy Days challenge, Kyle and I decided that wasn't enough. We created our own hashtag, #foreverhappydays and continued posting photos, reaching both the one-year and two-year marks. Since Kyle and I both post #foreverhappydays photos, the campaign represents more than 1,400 moments over the past two years.

Day 464 - Grace's Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii!
People stop us all the time to tell us they log onto Facebook each day to make sure they see our photos, and how much it inspires them. And we love hearing that. We love hearing how many lives that Grace touches and how her happiness can be contagious.

Day 724 - Just pure happiness - no caption needed.
But the people who are impacted the most by #foreverhappydays are truly me and Kyle.  There are some days that I feel like life is too tough to find a way to be happy. But instead of dwelling on that, I work hard to find the things that make life worth living, even on hard days.

Day 728 - Bowling with the princess.
Shortly after we started the photo challenge, Kyle's sister, Mikaela, sent us a quote that said, "When life gives you 100 reasons to cry. Show it you have 1,000 reasons to smile." And no matter what life throws your way, I challenge you to find 1,000 reasons to smile, just like Grace. You won't regret it.


Thursday, May 12, 2016


For the past several years, Kyle has been working with Jim Odle on covering a competitive golf outing at Indian Springs Golf Course, just outside Coffeen. The tournament has grown, and has now become part of the Metro Cup, drawing some of top amateur golfers in this area.

Although I had read Kyle's stories, I didn't know much about it, until last year, when Jim told Kyle he would be collecting money for INAD research at the tournament, and asked if we could bring Grace out for the event.  She would have the chance to be the honorary starter, and even got her own trophy!

Helping Grace sink her putt with her brand new putter!
As the spring golfing season got underway, Jim told Kyle that he and fellow golfers donated $650 to INAD research at the first of the Metro Cup golf outings at Oak Brook Golf Course in Edwardsville. The winner of the tourney that day, Jake Erickson, donated $250 of his winnings back to INAD research.  Talk about awesome!

Hanging out with Jim Odle and Jake Erickson.
Jim asked Kyle if Grace could once again be this year's honorary starter at the Indian Springs tourney on May 7, and we were excited to go. However, when the morning arrived, Kyle ended up being sick, and didn't get to join us.  So, Grace and I grabbed Grandma and Grandpa Galer and headed out to the golf course, where Wade and Natalie Fuller treated us to lunch.

Even though the golf tournament starts bright and early in the morning, we asked if Grace could start the second round after lunch, since it takes us awhile to get going in the morning.  So, we enjoyed watching part of a Blues playoff game while we waited for the golfers to finish their first round and get some lunch too.

Dr. John stopped by to say hi to Grace.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was getting to see one of Grace's physical therapists, John Mekala, who was one of the golfers in the tournament. She eventually warmed up to him, once she was certain he wasn't going to make her work!

After everyone got back to the clubhouse, Jim introduced Grace to everyone and passed out gracelets to any of the golfers who wanted them. I got a chance to tell everyone thanks for their donations, and we got to meet Jake Erickson and get our picture taken with he and Jim. Then Jim presented Grace with her very own putter, as well as a dozen golf balls signed by many of the players that day.

Grace and I got to thank everyone for supporting INAD.
And then it was time for Grace to be the honorary starter. I'm not the world's greatest golfer, and it was Kyle who helped Grace last year, so I was a little nervous.  Jim picked out the golf ball that he signed for Grace, and thankfully only placed it about six inches from the hole on the putting greens. And together, Grace and I sank her putt!  

It was so neat to see the golfers wearing their gracelets!
Before we left, I had to take a few photos for the paper since Kyle couldn't come, so Grace hung out with mom and dad and enjoyed the sunshine. Jim even asked me take a photo of him wearing his gracelet, which I think he plans to wear at other tourney events this year.

In the end, Jim presented us with a total of around $1,500 from the first two golf outings of the Metro Cup, including a $300 donation from Indian Springs. We have already put it up in our research fund, which has already grown to $15,000 again. 

Hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa Galer.
There are days it can feel hopeless on this journey, but other times, I stand in awe of the many people who share our story, our journey and our hope. And all together, we will find a way.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Shut Up And Dance With Me

I hate dances. I have enough social anxiety to paralyze a gorilla and for some reason, dances bring that out more than almost anything. So I wasn't particularly shocked that my heart was in my throat last Saturday, April 30, in the hours leading up to the Daddy/Daughter Dance in Raymond.

Daddy and his beautiful date before the dance!
Grandma Susie and Mommy picked out new pretty shoes for the dance to go with her new dress.
I knew that my date would be the center of attention, something that she loves, but the residual attention I receive still makes me want to hide under my bed. In addition to her being the most adorable thing since a box full of kittens, Grace was sort of the reason for the dance, which benefitted a scholarship named after Grace for a Lincolnwood student going into a career in the medical field. Add in 70 or so very excitable young ladies and I was what I like to call "a case of baskets" leading up to the event.

Grace was all smiles hanging out with her cousins at the dance.
Bruce got to come along to the dance as well.
God bless my beautiful wife, Mary, for not only encouraging me to go, but for sticking with me when the struggle seemed more than I could take. Once we got to the dance, Grace was quickly met with smiles by many of the little girls, who kind of treat her like a minor celebrity. It was nice that my cousins Kayley, Kensey and Katelyn were there as well. They treat Grace like a little sister. Actually I've seen the way they treat each other sometimes, so they probably treat Grace better than a sister.

Grace loved dancing with Kayley and her daddy.
Grace liked snuggling with Kayley too.
For the first 15 minutes or so, I basically hid in the back of the gym with Grace and Mary. Mary told me later that she tried to distance herself from Grace and I so I would truly feel like it was our night together. After the fact, I appreciated that. At the time, I wanted her to get back over and protect me from whatever neurosis I was suffering from at the time.

Kyle and Grace, along with Kendal and Peyton dancing.
The turning point came soon after my initial shock and awe of the situation. I chatted with two of my buddies, both of whom had brought their daughters, and my Uncle Pat, who was there as Katelyn's date. Talking with Pat really helped me loosen up. He's lived a pretty unique existence and I'm totally intrigued by his new wardrobe philosophy, which he told me consisted totally of Hawaiian shirts from here on out.

Grace and her daddy dancing to George Strait.
Once I became more comfortable, I began to focus my attention less on myself and more on Grace, who was happy as a clam with all the attention. She, Kayley and I had our first dance of the night, then our second, both of which were pretty awesome. After a short break to rest my arms (a wonderful necessity as our girl has started to gain more weight!!!) and some snuggles for Kayley from Grace, we hit the dance floor again.

The night really seemed to fly by after that. We danced with Kensey to "Shut Up And Dance With Me" by Walk The Moon (one of my favorites, not kidding), watched the other daddies and daughters hula hoop and limbo, talked soccer (that's going to happen anytime my buddy Travis and I are in the same room) and witnessed the most impressive Cupid Shuffle performance ever by Katelyn and Uncle Pat.

Hanging out with Travis and Claire at the dance.
Soon the lights were coming on and everyone began to head for the doors, where it was difficult to see was happier (and sleepier), the fathers or their little girls. As I sat at one of the tables, I just held Grace and exchanged smiles. It was an awesome night, one that I almost made it all the way through without it getting a little dusty. George Strait's "I Cross My Heart" tore me up a little. It's still a mystery to me why King George never made a Pure Country 2. Love that movie.

All in all, the event raised more than $1,000 for the scholarships, which we will hand out on May 12. The purpose of the scholarship is to help keep Grace's legacy alive for years to come. Mary and I both really appreciate everyone who pitched in to make the event a success. It was definitely a night to remember for me.