Sunday, March 17, 2019

Thank You For Being A Friend

Thank you for being a friend. Every time I have stopped to think about our church’s pancake fundraiser, I can’t help but think of the theme song from the Golden Girls. And I keep singing it over and over again in my head, because we really, truly are blessed to have such amazing friends.

Family photo at the pancake and sausage benefit.

Some of the decorations in the church fellowship hall.
One of our favorite photos of Gracie Lou!
Each year, our church hosts a pancake and sausage breakfast as a fundraiser for someone in the community, and this year, they asked if they could host it for us to help offset the travel costs of taking Grace to the clinical trial in New Jersey. Although sometimes it’s hard to be accepting of such generous thoughts and gifts, we agreed, mostly because it is a HUGE help to us in paying for the travel expenses, which add up fast, even when you’re frugal!

Grace's friends colored Beat INAD pictures for the wall.
Toppings for the pancakes.
Not that we arrived when it started first thing in the morning, but the church’s fellowship hall was absolutely beautiful. They had purple balloons on every table, and special Grace-Filled Journey placemats. Kids in the church’s preschool program and Grace’s kindergarten class colored Beat INAD pictures that hung on the wall in one corner of the room. They even set up a special coloring table where kids attending the breakfast could color their own pictures and hang them on the wall. We especially liked a photo booth type station where kids and families could get their photo taken with Flat Gracie.

Charlotte and her Mickey Mouse pancake.
I just happened to check Facebook when I was getting ready in the morning, and some of our friends had already been to breakfast and had tagged us in photos. It was so much fun to see them enjoying themselves and a really special community event.

Volunteers from the church wearing new Grace shirts.
Although breakfast was served starting at 7, I would say we arrived sometime after 9:30. It takes a little while to feed Grace in the morning, and most anyone that knows us, knows we don’t see 7 a.m. very often! 

Grace and her teachers.
Since it was raining, Kyle let me and the girls out underneath the awning and some of her former classmates were already waiting to see her. She had big smiles when Hazel and Kendall came over to say hello. And we enjoyed visiting with all those who came while we were there.

Grace and her friends Tim and Kris Carpenter.
Grace and some of her friends at the breakfast!
I have to say the food was fantastic as well. We loved the pancakes and sausage, and Charlotte even got a Mickey Mouse pancake that they made special for the kids who came. I think her dad ended up eating most of it though, as there was WAY too much going on for Charlotte to care anything about eating.

Kinsley Trader saved $100 of her own money from working to give to Grace.
 One especially touching moment was when Kinsley Trader, a junior high student in Hillsboro, brought Grace the money she had herself saved to donate. She had been working hard in her Uncle Matt and Aunt Alora's food truck and wanted to save her money to donate. Her mom told me she made a thermometer chart so she could keep track of her goal to raise $100. How amazing is that!!

Hanging out with my mom and dad.
After we ate, we just enjoyed chatting with our friends who came from all over the county to support us. Some came over to the table to get their picture taken with Grace. Others enjoyed visiting while Charley and I mingled around the room. But that entire morning, I just had such an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everyone. From those who came early to set up and cook, to those who served and cleaned up, and of course, all those who came to eat, we feel truly blessed.

Charley coloring pictures with Dahlia and Demi Maass.
They announced in church the following morning that the breakfast raised about $5,700. Wow! Can you believe that?! We were so humbled, and that money will definitely help us offset the travel expenses we incurred in our first two trips out east, and we will save the rest for our return trip in August.

Grace's friends Lucy and Frankie in the photo booth.
So, to everyone who helped out that morning and to everyone who continues to follow our story and help us raise awareness for INAD, thank you for being a friend.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Team Grace

Team Grace: Because some of the best athletes know that it’s always about more than just a game.

Over the past five years, countless teams have shared in our Grace-Filled Journey and invited Grace to be part of their team. From local junior high and high school teams, club teams, college teams, and even one Major League Baseball pitcher, we feel pretty blessed for the opportunity to raise awareness through sports.

The Lady Hiltoppers gave Grace one of their state medals.
Holding her state medal.
 In the past week alone, four teams have found a way to recognize Grace through their efforts. And that’s just the past seven days.

It started at the Orlando International Airport. I happened to be wearing one of the t-shirts from the Grace-Filled volleyball tournament last year, and two girls in line asked me if I was a volleyball player. After Kyle stopped laughing hysterically at their question, we had the chance to tell them about Grace. Turns out, they were part of a women’s rowing team at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island and they had a spring camp down in Florida. They wanted to know more about our story, so we shared a Flat Gracie with them and told them about our blog. We even managed to take a photo in the airport before we went our separate ways.

Members of the Johnson and Wales University women's rowing team and Flat Gracie.
When we returned home, we took the girls to the IESA seventh grade volleyball sectionals in Nokomis. Kyle’s cousin is a member of the team, and we went to cheer them on. When the team won regionals the week before, they posed with Flat Gracie for their team trophy photo. It was a fun game to watch, and we even had a connection to the opposing team, who also wanted to get her photo taken with Flat Gracie. When it came time for the team photo with the sectional trophy, the Lincolnwood coach came over and asked if Grace could be in it, as part of the team.

The very next night, we had been invited to bring the girls to the Hillsboro High School girls basketball season banquet. Coach Tuetken had texted Kyle the week before that the senior girls wanted to give Grace one of their state medals. After the meal, the five senior players got up to present a medal to Grace (who slept through the whole thing!) Senior MVP Sammi Matoush thanked Grace for being a special part of the Lady Toppers’ journey and for allowing the team to be part of hers. This momma might have cried just a little bit. I’m so grateful for such amazing young people with big hearts and a beautiful little girl, who shows the world what it means to be courageous each and every day.

Grace with the sectional champion Lady Knights volleyball team!
And before the week was done, we received a message from Kenny Lauderdale, a men’s soccer player at Rockford University (and an alum of the Grace Cup), inquiring about a Flat Gracie to take back to school and take a photo with his team. They want to be part of the journey too.

And like I said before, that’s just one week. There have been so many special teams and great athletes over the past five years. And we have tried to take Grace to as many games as we can, so she can be a part of all these amazing events.

Grace hanging out with Mary, who played on the Hardin-Calhoun seventh grade team.
Earlier this year, we got a letter from one of our favorite Team Grace members. She talked about what she had learned being part of this Grace-Filled Journey and why she wears her gracelet all the time. Even though she can’t wear it when she plays, she wrote that she put it on her water bottle to help her remember that it was just a game, and that she’s blessed to have the opportunity to play, something that’s truly not guaranteed for everyone.

Lincolnwood Lady Knights eighth graders and Flat Gracie.
We know that it’s highly unlikely Grace will ever kick a soccer ball, score the winning basket or run the one-mile race, but in her short seven years, she has already taught so many of us about the things that really matter in life. It’s fun to play, and even more fun to win. But at the end of the day, it’s always still just a game. And the things that matter most are the players who take some of these lessons to heart.

No matter the mascot or the team colors, all the players on Team Grace will always be the biggest winners in our book!


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Benefit Breakfast

If you’re anything like me, you’re already thinking about your next meal and and how you’re going to get away with not cooking it.  Well, on Saturday morning, we have a great plan already set in motion for you!

Our church family at the Hillsboro United Methodist Church (537 Rountree St.) is hosting its annual pancake and sausage breakfast as a benefit for Grace and to help our family offset the costs of taking her to New Jersey for the first-ever clinical trial.

Charlotte loved her Mickey Mouse pancake last year.
Before I get too far along, here’s the details on how you can participate. Church volunteers will be serving pancakes and sausage in the fellowship hall from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 9. Donations will be accepted for the meal. And I’ve heard there will even be Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kiddos!

We feel so blessed that our church family has offered to help us out this year. For many years now, our church has hosted this breakfast and raised funds for local families or groups. This year, organizers knew we would have added expenses in taking Grace to New Jersey so she could be part of the clinical trial. This year, we will have three trips out east and one next February at the completion of the trial.

The trial itself is free for Grace to participate in. We don’t have to pay for any of the medicine or any of the testing or appointments that go with it. However, we do have to pay for the travel to get out there, which has included gas, hotel stays, airfare and meals. We try to be pretty thrifty when we can, but this benefit will definitely help us out in making sure we have everything covered.

It’s always a really neat day too. When Kyle and I first got married, we used to volunteer on the Friday evening before the benefit to help set up tables and get everything ready. You see, Kyle and I aren’t exactly what you call “early risers,” so the Friday night set up worked much better for us than actually having to be there by like 5 a.m. (which we almost never see . . . )

Since having kids, it’s gotten harder for us to volunteer, but we always try to make it to eat there and support our church and the community they are helping that particular year. Last year, it fell on the same day as Charlotte’s first birthday party, so we didn’t get to eat there, but we managed to get a to-go order and eat at home.  She was thrilled with her Mickey Mouse pancake, and I’m sure she will love it just as much this year!

Our family is planning to be there that morning to enjoy some awesome breakfast and say thanks to everyone who continues to support us on our Grace-Filled Journey. You probably won’t find us there when it starts at 7 a.m., but we look forward to being there. We hope to see you there too!


Monday, March 4, 2019

Happy Tenth Anniversary

As we rode into Walt Disney World last Thursday, I told Kyle it was just about the same time that we were getting married ten years earlier. In some ways, it seems hard to believe we’ve been married for ten years, while other times, it’s hard to remember a time that we weren’t together.

Anniversary Dinner at Cafe Narcoosee's
This year, we celebrated with a three-day trip to Orlando, FL, to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. We started talking about taking a trip to celebrate sometime last year, and it seems like we talked about a million places. Kyle lobbied for New York City in the beginning because he wanted to take me to see a show on Broadway. But ultimately, we decided that Universal Studios was the perfect place to mark ten years together. And thanks to our friend, Laura Wagahoff at It’s a Small World Adventures by Laura, it was perfect. Extra special thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Galer for keeping the girls so we could enjoy a weekend getaway.

All dressed up to celebrate our tenth anniversary.
Laura did all the booking for us, and somehow, we’ll say that old Disney magic, everywhere we went, people knew it was our anniversary. We got purple and orange Happy Anniversary balloons (to match our Magic Bands) when we checked into the hotel, along with a photo signed by Mickey and his crew. The hotel manager even left a card on our bed with a chocolate treat in celebration of our anniversary. I would definitely say we felt spoiled the entire time we were there.

Getting spoiled at dinner.
Although we stayed on Disney property, we hadn’t really planned on visiting any of the Disney Parks, so Laura found us a romantic restaurant called Cafe Narcoosee’s at the Grand Floridian to celebrate on our anniversary. We took a bus from our hotel to the Magic Kingdom, and then Kyle suggested a boat ride across the lagoon to get to the restaurant. Our table was right on the water and the food was amazing. We capped off the evening watching the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom.

Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We spent the next day wandering around two parks at Universal Studios. And from the “caraoke” on our first Uber ride to the butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, the day was nearly perfect. We enjoyed walking around all the Harry Potter sights and doing some shopping. And even though we were way too chicken to ride the Harry Potter roller coasters, we found a few rides in the Dr. Seuss section that were more our speed. I even beat Kyle at air hockey in the arcade.  To end our day, we found an Italian restaurant just outside Universal that reminded us of our honeymoon to Italy.

Drinking butterbeer at Universal Studios.
All too soon, it was the final day of our trip. We slept in and enjoyed some time at Disney Springs. Lunch at Frontera by Rick Bayless was one of the best meals of our trip, and of course, we did way too much shopping for the girls again. Before we left, we stopped for some gelato, which also reminded us of our time in Italy ten years ago, and a visit with one of my high school friends.

Throughout the weekend, Kyle and I talked about other anniversary celebrations. We moved into our new house the day before our first anniversary, so that one was extra special to us, celebrating in our first home. My mom brought over dinner, and we dined by candlelight before eating some not-so-delicious year-old wedding cake. I’m not sure who started that tradition, but I think it’s one we could live without!

Lunch at Disney Springs on the last day of our trip.
Other years are fuzzy. TimeHop reminded me that Kyle made me breakfast in bed of French toast a couple of years. And we love to eat out at the former Church Street Pub and Canton Inn. We’ve taken a couple other trips to celebrate over the years, just not on our anniversary date. We spent one cold weekend in Madison, WI, to see the Avett Brothers, and another warmer weekend in July to see the same band at Red Rocks in Colorado.

It’s kind of funny that we had trouble remembering what we did on our anniversary the previous nine years. And we didn’t always celebrate on the exact day. But we always make time to celebrate both our love and our marriage.

Having some Italian gelato before heading home.
When we returned to our hotel room after dinner at the Grand Floridian, we watched a video of our wedding highlights on Facebook posted by Video Edited Memories. The video included our vows, “in good times and bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”  I can’t say that when anyone ever gets married they feel like there will be bad times. I just remember being so incredibly happy that day, thinking that marriage would be like all those romantic comedies I watched all those years.

Marriage is definitely not the simple “happily ever after” portrayed in all those movies. Marriage means compromise (which is always hard). It means being there for the other person when he or she is having one of those bad times. And it means always remembering why you fell in love in the first place.

So, here’s to the next ten years of marriage, and the next 20 after that. I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.