It Starts With One…

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My first week of marathon training is over and my first long run (it feels silly calling 5 miles a long run considering the end goal) is dedicated to my good friend Emily. It was Emily that introduced me to The Ronan Foundation and the unfair world of childhood cancer. Right after my Uncle Lee died from a long battle with cancer in May 2015, Emily gave me the ‘Fuck You Cancer’ bracelet that I wear all the time now. It was Emily and Ronan’s story that helped put life into perspective for me.

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When I find myself complaining about anything, I think about all the kids who have or are currently going through chemo. When my four year old is pushing all my buttons, I think about the parents who would give anything to have their child here pushing their buttons. If I am having a bad day, I am reminded that there are parents and children who are having the worst days of their lives.

I have also been thinking a lot about Chester Bennington today. Linkin Park was one of my favorite bands in high school. I will always cherish memories of rocking out with my best friend on our drives to and from school. I have always had Linkin Park on my running playlist and today was no exception.

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I was thinking during one of my runs this week…what if we all just picked one cause to fight for? It could be anything. Suicide prevention. Mental illness. Poverty. Abuse. The list is endless. But if we all picked just one thing to fight for with all our might, how much better our world could be.

My fight is childhood cancer. I chose this fight because I am a parent. I chose this fight because I am a teacher. I chose this fight because kids deserve to be kids. They deserve to live. I chose this fight because pediatric cancer is the LEAST funded cancer by our government. This is why supporting organizations like The Ronan Foundation is so important. This is why supporting parents whose children are fighting cancer is a necessity.

My first week of marathon training was harder than I expected. (Guess I shouldn’t have taken almost a month off of running). But then I thought…Children who are diagnosed with cancer don’t get to train before their marathon of chemo. They are just thrown into their treatment, a treatment that is meant for adults. And that’s when I realized it doesn’t matter how hard these runs are. These kids are fighting harder.

Although I know Maya would do anything to have her son back, Ronan continues to live on through me and so many other people. Ronan’s story and others like it are going to change the world of childhood cancer and I will continue to help fight in any way I can.

Thank you all for your continued support!

https://ronanfoundation.org/campaign/3LKRXK4R

Valerie Anne

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I Won the Lottery!!!

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The New York City Marathon lottery that is!

The TCS New York City Marathon is the largest and one of the most popular marathons in the world. Every year around 50,000 people finish this marathon, and exactly eight months from today, I will be one of those people!!

Qualifying for the NYC Marathon is no easy feat. There are three ways to get into this marathon: through guaranteed entry, their charity program or their lottery. Guaranteed entry methods include qualifying by time, getting grandfathered in by finishing 15 previous New York City Marathons, or running nine qualifying races as a New York Road Runners member the year before each year’s marathon. You can also gain entry by running and fundraising with one of the marathon’s registered charity partners.

The final way to qualify is through a lottery drawing. Last year, the TCS New York City Marathon held the biggest general-entry lottery drawing in the event’s 40-year history, accepting 19,083 runners out of 82,172 applicants. That’s still less than a 25% chance of being chosen, and I got in!

I ran my first and only half marathon in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011. It was something I had always wanted to do and I ended up dedicating my run to Hunter Halvorson, who was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) at just 2 ½ years old. (As of November Hunter has officially been classified as CURED!). I finished the half marathon in 2:03:26, just 3 ½ minutes past my goal, and I was able to raise almost $1300 in donations for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

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About a year and a half ago, my coworker and good friend, Emily changed my life by introducing me to The Ronan Foundation. As a mother, learning about the reality of childhood cancer hit my heart hard. It is a cause I have come to be extremely passionate about and I will forever fight to help raise awareness and find a cure for childhood cancer.

Before I got pregnant last year, I was getting the itch to run another race. I had always said if I were ever going to run a full marathon, I would want to run the NYC Marathon. I knew it would probably be the only marathon I would run in my lifetime, and I wanted to run in a place that meant something to me. I wanted to run in this magical city I have called home for the last eight years. I am not sure how much longer we will be calling NYC our home, so I knew I just had to find a way to run the NYC Marathon this year.

Naturally, I knew I wanted to run for Ronan and all of the other beautiful souls that have been affected by childhood cancer. I realized that in order to do that, I would need to win the lottery. A few days before registering, I went for my first run since Alwyn was born. As I was running, I said a prayer asking to be chosen in the lottery, so that I could run for the Ronan Foundation. I was aware that it was a long shot, but I just kept praying. On Thursday, the day of the drawing, I prayed all day. That night, as I laid down for bed, I checked my email. As soon as I saw it, I was instantly brought to tears. I just couldn’t believe my prayers had been answered. I was beyond excited.

I was also completely terrified. It was hard to imagine how I was ever going to find the time and energy to do this with my plate already being so full. But I will. I will find a way. I am going to do this. I have to. If so many young children can go through everything that they go through to fight for their lives, I can run 26.2 miles for them. I can and I will.

So, stay tuned for my fundraising page and wish me luck!!

Valerie Anne

Almost 40 Weeks and Feeling ALL the Feelings

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I’ve been pregnant for more than 39 weeks, but the reality of it just hit me, and it hit me hard.

Tyson took Qwynn to school early yesterday morning so I could have some extra time alone at home since I worked a later shift. I took my time getting ready and even had the chance to work a little on another painting project. On my way out the door, I was sure to grab my headphones since I am rarely alone to listen to music on my commute to work. I of course turned on the Lumineers (Tyson, mine and Qwynn’s obsession lately). My phone was pretty low on batteries, so instead of browsing Facebook and Instagram like I normally would, I just sat there listening to the music and thinking about how at any moment our lives were going to change forever…

I pictured holding our little baby boy and instantly had to hold back tears. For the first time I could actually picture him being here and what it would be like to have another little baby. But I still had so many fears and questions. Could I really do this again? How would this delivery be? Am I strong enough? Can I survive the infant stage again? It’s been so long. What is he going to be like? Is he going to be as easy as Qwynn? Will I have the patience if he isn’t?

And then my thoughts were instantly consumed by Qwynn. How is she going to adjust to having a baby brother? She is so excited and talks about him all the time. “He’s so cute” and “He loves me,” she will say to my belly. But does she really grasp just how things are going to change? The attention he’s going to get and the sharing of Mommy and Daddy. Did I spend enough time with her these last few months? Could I have done more?

And then I started thinking about my pregnancy with Qwynn. How I was so excited to become a mom. How it was something I had always wanted and she made that dream come true. I reminisced about listening to Amy Grant’s “All I Want for Christmas” weeks before she was born and always thinking about her when I heard it. I thought about how much joy she has brought us for so long. I can’t believe that was close to 4 years ago. What amazing years they have been!

I am sad to be ending this part of our story. It’s been just the three of us for so long. But in my heart I know that Qwynn will be fine. I know that we will be fine. And I know that being a family of four will only make our story better.

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We can’t wait to meet you Alwyn Murphy!

Valerie Anne

Be Bold Go Gold 2016 at the Astoria Street Fair

I am 36 weeks pregnant, our apartment is in a state of chaos, and I haven’t written a blog post in months, but I will always make time to spread awareness for Childhood Cancer! This afternoon Tyson, Qwynn and I headed over to the Astoria Street Fair to dance and talk about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and The Ronan Foundation.

Last year my coworker and friend, Emily changed my life by sharing Ronan’s story with me. As a mother, the stories of parents losing their children to this horrible disease absolutely breaks my heart.

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In May, Tyson found out an old friend he worked with in high school lost her little boy, Carson to leukemia. He had been sick for 2 weeks with what they thought was bad strep throat, but when the antibiotics weren’t working, further testing found that he actually had leukemia. While they were waiting for a heart arrhythmia to correct itself, her little boy died just days after finding out.

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In just a week they went from thinking their child had strep to finding out he had leukemia to saying goodbye to him. When Tyson told me about what happened, it was all I could think about for weeks. I just couldn’t even imagine going through something like that. I held Qwynn so close in those weeks.

This is the reason I care so much about this cause. Because childhood cancer does not discriminate. It could tear your world upside down without any warning. We all need to be a voice for these children and their families. It’s not a fun thing to talk about, but it needs to be done.

“For families who have lost a child to cancer, they’re aware of cancer every minute of every, single day. The lack of funds shatters their hearts, because it means less chances for a cure. The lack of awareness crushes their spirits, because they need support. Their children need a voice. All year long, but especially this month, WE can be that voice: We can be kinder, braver, and spicer because of these kids…but it’s also time to make sure they get to lead long, happy, healthy lives. What’s a better mission than that?” (The Ronan Foundation)

So #BeBoldGoGold and make the world a little brighter on behalf of kids like Ronan and Carson. Turn your social media GOLD. Donate what you can, even if it’s $1. Make sure people know about childhood cancer. More awareness = More funding. More funding = more research. More research = a cure.

SOME FACTS ABOUT CHILDHOOD CANCER:

• Cancer is the number one disease killer of children in the U.S. It is the 2nd leading cause of death in children overall, after automobile accidents.

• All 12 major pediatric cancers are getting less than 4% of the United States’ federal funding for cancer research.

• Americans spend 20x more on potato chips than on childhood cancer research.

• The Empire State Building lights up for numerous sporting events, holidays, many other cancers and illnesses and even for filming movies and such, BUT it refuses to light up gold in September for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Valerie Anne

A Much Needed Trip To My “Soul City”

When I visited Colorado for the first time with my family in 1994, I was only 10 years old. It was on this trip that I told my mom, “One day I am going to live here.” It is very fitting that the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with just happened to grow up in Colorado, and I am so happy that we get to visit this beautiful state as often as we do. I absolutely love living in NYC, but the fast paced lifestyle can be quite draining sometimes, and our visits to Colorado are so refreshing lately that I have been referring to Denver as my “soul city.”

We often talk about moving to Denver, and someday I hope an opportunity presents itself to make that possible, but for now I will take advantage of any visit I can. When Tyson told me his work was sending him to the NHL conferences in Denver, I told him he wasn’t going to Colorado without Qwynn and I. So we booked our flights and prepared for our long weekend in Denver. And boy, has it been the most perfect trip ever!

I have many fears about having a second child, but my absolute biggest fear is how my relationship with Qwynn is going to change after baby number two arrives. She has been our one and only for so long and it’s hard to imagine loving another child as much as I love her. I know I will, and I now she is going to thrive as a big sister, but I also know things will change.

Well, this trip has definitely eased some of my fears and I have been soaking up every bit of my one-on-one time with Qwynn while in Denver. I have been trying my best to be carefree and letting her take the lead, and it has provided us with some pretty awesome memories…

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Our visit to the zoo was so wonderful, I had to hold back tears on the carousel just thinking about how much this trip has meant to me. I know life with two is only going to be better and I cannot wait to see Qwynn with her baby brother, but this trip was exactly what I needed before baby boy Christensen arrives and our lives change forever…again.

 

Valerie Anne

Deciding To Have Baby #2

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As Qwynn’s 3rd birthday came closer and closer, I just couldn’t wrap my head around how fast time had gone. She couldn’t really be turning three already?! This realization was especially discouraging because we didn’t seem any closer to being ready to expand our family, something I still really wanted. I never considered only having one and being done. My mom would always say four kids was a good number. “One for each arm,” she would tell me. That seemed like a lot to me. A family I babysat for in college had two boys and their mom told me once that she always liked having two kids because then they can always have one on one attention. I thought this was a good point.

I always pictured us having at least 2 children, maybe even 3, and I wanted them pretty close together, about 2 years apart. This is what I had imagined before we moved back to New York City. A city where even with a discount, we pay more for Qwynn’s childcare than most people spend on a mortgage. A city where rent in a good school zone is at least four times more than most people pay towards rent elsewhere.

For awhile, whenever the topic came up about having another child, Tyson and I were both teeter-tottering on the same fence, but I was leaning more towards having a second little one and Tyson was leaning more towards the not. Not only did having more children mean more financial stress, but he is so smitten with Qwynn, he didn’t want to take away any attention/love from her. I, on the other hand, saw daily how good Qwynn is with the babies in my classroom, and I absolutely knew she would not only be okay, but would make the best big sister ever.

Not being completely on the same page made this decision so much harder because it felt unfair to make this big step of expanding our family if we both weren’t completely sure it was what we wanted. I just kept coming back to the same question though…

Would we ever truly be 100% sure or ready?

Right now, we might think giving up that morning Starbucks coffee or evening bottle of wine would be torturous. Could we do it because we know we have to buy diapers instead?

Right now, we might think giving up cable would be too hard. Would we even care when more of our time will be taken up by another little bundle of joy?

Right now, the thought of not having a car might seem like a huge inconvenience. Could we manage to be able to put more towards rent in the city?

Right now, it might seem like a one bedroom apartment with two kids would be impossible. Would we make it work to have the city at our fingertips?

Right now, it might seem like we cannot manage another child, but I knew we would likely not make any changes in our lifestyle choices until we absolutely needed to…until we had a baby on the way.

Our move to Arizona and then back to NYC taught me an important life lesson. Sometimes what you think you always wanted, turns out not to be what you really want after all. At the same time, sometimes you don’t really know how much you want something until you decide to go for it. Sometimes you don’t really know how much you are willing and able to sacrifice until you have to. Sometimes you don’t know how much you want another baby until you see the little peanut on the monitor and hear that little heartbeat for the first time.

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Valerie Anne

I Blinked and Qwynn is Three!

 

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Qwynn’s birthday month is coming to an end and it’s still hard to believe we have a 3-year-old! The last few months have been a whirlwind of emotions and I’ve been savoring every moment (as proved by my lack of blog posts the last few months!)

Since starting in her new classroom this last September, I have been truly impressed with how Qwynn has grown and developed into such a fun, bright and independent young girl. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning, playing and having daily conversations with her. She’s spelling months from memory, LOVES counting and numbers, and her language has just flourished. She doesn’t even seem like a toddler to me anymore. She is a little girl. A true threenager!

We had such a wonderful time celebrating her 3rd birthday with friends and family in my soul city…Denver, CO. If you know me well, then you know when it comes to Qwynn’s birthday celebrations, I just can’t do simple. Flying on an airplane across the country couldn’t even keep me from creating a fabulous party to celebrate my beautiful daughter!

One disadvantage of a January birthday is that you always need an inside venue, and that can get pricey. We also needed a place to stay for a couple nights while we were in Denver.

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We were quite satisfied with our first Airbnb experience during our Chicago visit this last November, and decided to look into it for this trip, too. We were able to find a great apartment downtown with enough space for us, Tyson’s brother and two of our friends to stay and it was the perfect size to host Qwynn’s small party! WIN-WIN! (We did make sure this was okay with the Airbnb host before we booked it.)

When I asked Qwynn what kind of birthday party she wanted she said “white!” The first thought that came to mind was winter, and it ended up being one of my best ideas yet!! Plus, with her birthday just a few weeks after Christmas, I got almost everything on sale or clearance!

I managed to throw a wonderful winter themed birthday party for her, and I fit everything I needed into my small carry-on sized suitcase. Everything went so perfectly, I’ve even considered looking into starting a business for it…Party in a Suitcase!

Qwynn’s Destination Winter-Themed Birthday

One of my favorite things to make…The Banner! I am just a little doily obsessed, so I had to incorporate them into Qwynn’s banner. I love the elegance of paper doilies, mixed with the ruggedness of the burlap twine. Since we were in a rental, command hooks were perfect for hanging the banner.

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I used the stocking holders I refurbished from the Target Dollar Spot to hang snowflake lights (less than $10 on Amazon) and the banner I made for Qwynn’s party at school on the kitchen island.

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At Target, I also found white snowflake tins for 50 cents to hold the plasticware and burlap trees for $1.50 each, which I painted white for a snowy look.  I found clear candle holders at the 99 Cent Store across the street from our apartment and etched snowflakes on them for a little added decoration. I used glittery silver flameless candles from Party City to put inside them because I didn’t think it was a good idea to have open flames in a rental.

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These paper stars look like snowflakes and came from Target’s Christmas clearance ($4 for the large, $2 for the small.) Plus, they fold completely flat! I got a variety of balloons from Amazon and had them filled at Party City the day of the party.

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I made my own ballon weights using these cute tins from Target. I filled them with a rice, bean, and lentil mixture left over from the centerpieces from my dad’s birthday party, and then hot glued cotton balls to a piece of cardboard to make a lid. I got the burlap lace ribbon on Christmas clearance at Michaels and made the snowflake embellishment using card stock and my Cricut.

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I also got these snowflake ornaments on clearance at Michaels, and it just so happened the apartment had a tree to hang them on!

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I had known the apartment had a ton of windows, so I purchased a couple packs of suction cup hooks from the 99 Cent Store and hung paper snowflakes (Michaels clearance) using burlap twine.

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I’ve bought clay cake toppers for all of Qwynn’s birthdays and hope to keep up the tradition for years to come! This one came from the Etsy shop Hand Crafted Critters by Carly. She does amazing work and they are completely customizable!

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I bought the favor bags at Michaels (Christmas Clearance once again!) and filled them with winter-themed goodies I found on Amazon and yummy Annie’s fruit snacks.

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Overall, I couldn’t have been happier with how Qwynn’s party turned out and I look forward to creating even more magical parties in the future!

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Valerie Anne